Thursday, December 29, 2011

Recovery


It has been a whirlwind around here for the last week or so and I have barely cooked. There was a solid 10-15 minute block of time on Christmas Eve where I tried to help with the cooking, but my eyes were closing as I was working and I had to be forcibly sent to the couch for a nap. So have I baked, yes. Oh my yes, but cooked? Not so much. NB: in the last two sentences I have typed cookied instead of cooked each time and had to go back and fix it. Clearly there has been some rewiring of my brain following the week o' baked goods.

Last night all I could think of was clean, fresh, non-butter infused flavors. Something hearty and warming though (because have you been outside? It is insanely cold out there) but not rich or creamy or anything like that. Stellacarolyn's vegetable soup sounded so tempting but I was a bit short in the vegetable departments so instead I turned to Lidia. I adapted a barley and bean soup to make it a bit less labor intensive and it is so delicious. Tomato soup, but better. Vegetable soup, but with fewer pesky vegetables. I am so very happy it made an excessively large quantity.

BARLEY AND BEAN SOUP
gluten-free adaptation at the end...

INGREDIENTS:
1 C chopped turkey bacon
1 C chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
5-6 baby carrots (maybe 2 if using full sized?)
2/3 C crushed tomatoes (from can)
8 C chicken stock
2 baking potatoes, peeled and diced
2/3 C barley
3 bay leaves
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
about a cup of small white beans, rinsed and drained (or pick your own bean!)
olive oil
1/4 C parm (which I skipped because I accidentally over salted)
salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:
In a large stock pot, crisp up some turkey bacon. I cooked mine on medium for 8-10 minutes. Remove the bacon, but not the lovely bacon leavings. Toss in the chopped onion and again cook for 8-10 minutes. Toss the onion in the bacon fat so it gets all golden. In a food processor, combine the garlic and carrots with 2 T olive oil. Mix until it is very smooth. Once the onions are softened, add the garlic and carrot mixture to the pot and cook for 2 more minutes over medium low heat. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 8 more minutes. Then add the stock, the potatoes, the barley, the bay leaves and the rosemary. Bring up to a boil and the reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste at this point. Add the beans and cook for 10-15 minutes more. I served mine with little toasts with mozzarella broiled on them, but as long as you have some delicious bread to soak up the sauce, you'll be all set. If adding the parm, I would mix it in right before serving. Sprinkle the reserved bacon on top.

to make gluten-free:
Make sure you're using a gluten-free chicken stock and bacon (believe me, your bacon really shouldn't have gluten in it, if it does you really need to look into better bacon). Barley is a wheat product, so you can substitute rice instead. I'd use about 1 C cooked rice. The rice should be added at the very end, after the beans. I don't like to cook rice directly in soup because it can take on too much water.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Chaos


It's possible I have stumbled on a fool proof diet for the holidays. It so happens that I may have made a slight error this year when I was deciding how much I could reasonably bake for Christmas. The result is something in the neighborhood of seven dozen decorated butter cookies and gingerbread cookies. And now I honestly don't even want to look at another cookie ever again. This means that my mother, my aunt, my uncle, my husband and my cousin all need to eat around 17 cookies each. Sounds reasonable to me.

I am not making much (any?) of tonight's dinner though, so I might just undo all the good I'm doing by skipping the cookies. As in years past, we're doing a buffet of appetizers. Luckily by we, I mean my uncle and my mother. That's my favorite kind of we. I'm not even sure of the whole menu, but what I do know, I'm happy to share.

Christmas Eve Menu:
Empanaditas filled with Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese
Deviled Eggs
Anne's Stuffed Mushrooms (I was truly hoping to have that recipe for you, but the making of them was snatched out of my hands).
Spanish Tortilla
Chorizo in Puff Pastry
Pork pie - the original version, although I've made it with turkey too.
Shrimp in garlic sauce

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Past

Every other year, my grandparents would come for Christmas. I went to school exactly one block away from my house. From school, you'd cross the street, walk to the end of the block and turn the corner. As I approached that corner I would be so excited hoping for a glimpse of their car parked in front of our house. Nana and I had a special Christmas ritual when she came; we'd make the bows for all the gifts. Since she and Grampy drove down from Cape Cod, they'd have wrapped the presents, but bows would have been smooshed on the journey. Nana and I would sit down with long strings of ribbon and she'd show me just how to make the first loop over my thumb, then each loop to the side growing in size until the bow was finished. We'd staple the middle and tape our handiwork to each gift. It was something special we always did, just the two of us. I didn't often cook with Nana. The treats at her house were usually made and waiting when I arrived, but I do remember making applesauce with her. Once you're old enough to be trusted around a stove, it's the perfect thing for a child to make, since other than the chopping and peeling, all the stirring, tasting and sweetening and spicing can be done by even the smallest of cooks. NANA'S APPLESAUCE

INGREDIENTS:
2 apples (although make as much as you want!!)
1 t lemon juice
1 T water
1 tsp sugar (although this you should change depending on how sweet your apples are and how you like your applesauce).
1/2 t cinnamon

DIRECTIONS:
Peel, core and chop your apples (this is the job an adult needs to do). Put them in a saucepan on the stove. Add the lemon juice and water and let the apples cook down until they are soft and mushy. Add the sugar and cinnamon, I wrote you how I like it, but this is a perfect experiment for beginning chefs to try adding a bit more of each until it's how they enjoy it. You can serve it homestyle or make it smoother by putting it through a food mill or mashing it with a potato masher.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mood Mexican

On Friday, Ryan and I went out to one of our favorite local Mexican spots. When we got there, the place was dark. The sign on the door read: We've moved. I was still trying to process it when I read the next sign. Turn around. Across the street, light poured from the windows and the door swung open as people bustled in from the cold. Their new space is beautiful, so much nicer than the cafeteria level decor they'd had for the last 20+ years (yes, I've been going there for that long). We'll definitely be going back more often now that it's a pleasant place to eat. I had enchiladas, which were completely delicious. Of course, it also reminded me that I have a homemade enchilada recipe which is also completely delicious. And which I've been keeping from you due to sheer laziness and a lack of decent photos.



See? Messy. They really only look so sloppy because I used queso fresco instead of cheddar or monterery jack. It's delicious, but it certainly isn't pretty. But these enchiladas are really tasty and will definitely tide you over just in case your favorite Mexican place hasn't just moved to a lovely, cosy new spot.

DELICIOUS ENCHILADAS
adapted from Cook's Illustrated May & June 2005 issue

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 T vegetable or corn oil
1 onion chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 T chili powder
2 t ground cumin
1/2 t salt
2 t sugar
12 oz of chicken, I used breasts but you could use thighs
1 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes
3 oz of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce - this was about 4 peppers for me
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated for filling plus 3 more for topping
corn tortillas

DIRECTIONS:
In a large pan, heat the oil to medium. Add the onion and cook until it's softened and starting to brown about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt and sugar and cook stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Chop the chicken into bite sized slices and add to the pan. Toss it so it is coated with the spices. Then add the tomato sauce and a 1/2 C of water. Chop up your chipotles and add them along with the adobo sauce. Bring it up to a simmer and stir to make sure the chicken is all separated so it doesn't clump together. Cook, stirring frequently for 6-8 minutes. Try to separate out about a cup or so of sauce, by shoving the chicken to the side, so that you have a bowl of mostly sauce and a bowl of mostly chicken mixture. If you really want you can strain the sauce, but it is a huge pain in the ass and makes me dread making the recipe. Also, it is a nightmare to clean the strainer after. So feel free to go informal with it. Remove from heat, pop in the fridge to cool.

Preheat your oven to 300. Spray the tortillas (10 of them) with cooking oil. You can brush it on if you don't have a spray. Make sure you get both sides. Pop them on baking sheets in the oven for 4 minutes, until they are pliable. You can roll cold tortillas they will break on you. Once you take them out, increase the oven temp to 400 degrees F. Okay, get a large baking dish, a 13x9. Cover the bottom with a thin layer of sauce. Then take the chicken mixture and mix it with your shredded cheese. Fill the tortillas (I scooped the filling into all the tortillas and then rolled to make sure I was being fair about the filling). Then roll each one up and tuck it into the pan. Cover with the remaining chicken-free sauce. Finally, sprinkle with the rest of the grated cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saving a Favorite


As we sat newly stuffed in front of our Thanksgiving dinner plates, I was already cataloging the leftovers. And when I mentioned ragout my father's face fell. He hadn't thought about ragout. It's not one of the big, obvious in your face things that he can't eat like pasta or pizza. It's just one of his childhood favorites that happens to have homemade dumplings. I reassured him without even being sure of what I could accomplish. I promised that I would come over and make him ragout and that it would be okay. And of course I went over and made it and much to my great relief (and I'll admit, amazement) it really was okay. More than okay. It was completely saved. So just in case someone else out there is longing for some chicken and dumplings that are safely gluten-free, here's my nana's ragout:


NANA GRENON'S CHICKEN RAGOUT

Ingredients:
For the soup -
1 C onion, chopped
1 C celery chopped (I mince mine because Ryan does not like celery)
2 C carrots (cut into disks, coins, whatever you call them)
5-6 C chicken stock (or turkey stock) preferably homemade
salt and pepper
2-3 T olive oil
1 T sage
1 T thyme
approximately 2 C of chopped leftover chicken or turkey. Use what you have. The dumplings will make up for it if you don't have enough. You can use chopped white meat or all the little bits you have, it's up to you.

For the dumplings -1 C stock - cooled
2.5 C gluten-free flour - I used Annalise Robert's mix, which you can either find in her cookbook Gluten-Free Baking Classics or purchase it ready mixed from Authentic Foods.
salt and pepper
thyme

DIRECTIONS:
Pour the oil in a large stockpot. Add the onion and celery and cook on low for about 5 minutes. Add the stock, carrots and whatever chicken or turkey bits you're add. Add salt and pepper for taste. This recipe takes a lot of salt, so taste carefully. Bring the stock almost to a boil. While you're waiting for it to boil, make the dumplings. Use a cup of cool stock (I usually set it aside before I start cooking) and mix it together with the gluten-free flour and about a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper. Add about 2 t fresh thyme to the dumplings if you like. The thyme is completely inauthentic, but it is tasty. The dough will be sticky and hard to work with. Roll out the dough between two pieces of Saran Wrap, you can use cheaper rice flour to assist in the de-sticking of the dough. If you don't get it thin you will have yucky gloppy dumplings. When it's thin (maybe less than a 1/4 inch thick?) slice in 1" squares. These can and will be very irregular, some will sort of stick as you pick them up, I sort of use the knife to scrape them up and then drop them in the soup as described below. Don't worry about the irregularity, it gives the soup character. When the stock is very hot but not boiling, Add the thyme and sage and throw in the squares of dough and cook for 3-5 more minutes until the dough is cooked.

The soup is better on the second or third day because the flavors will meld.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Life After Turkey Sandwiches

So, it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without some type of cooking dilemma. This year, my generous mother-in-law was unable to purchase a bird that she felt was big enough to feed our crew (8 adults and 4 children). So she bought two, one 14.6 lb turkey and one 9.6 lb turkey breast. Of course, two rather large birds don't exactly fit in her single oven at the same time. I'm not going to go into any of the panic or research or soliciting of opinions that went into figuring out how to deal with the second bird, because in the end all you need to know is that I cooked it, it was ready in time and it was gorgeous. And...it was also completely unnecessary. The first turkey and its 14.6 lbs of poultry goodness was more than enough to feed us all and yield a heap of leftovers. Which means that we have currently over 9 pounds of leftover turkey. I like turkey sandwiches plenty but there's just no way I can dispatch that much turkey through lunch alone. Luckily my overage of turkey can be your good luck because this mishap sent me hunting through my archives in search of something, anything else we can do with turkey.

Before the guests even leave the house...
Whip up a brunch or luncheon broccoli and cheese quiche. The turkey will taste very different plus you'll make some room in the fridge before the weekend's even over.

Run with the Thanksgiving=Pie theme...
Turkey Pot Pie Turnovers will rescue even a dry bird.
Mushroom and Leek Pot Pie is an easy variant just substitute turkey for chicken.
This is the most traditional pot pie recipe I use, but sometimes classic is the way to go.
Go French Canadian and make a pork turkey pie. Drawback: You'll need a meat grinder. Bonus: You'll also use up a lot of leftover mashed potatoes.

Spice it up...
Add some cooked turkey to Portobello Quesadillas
White Turkey Chili - in the best news yet, this freezes like a dream. Stash some for when holiday shopping has you dreading dinner plans.
Enchiladas will mask the turkey nicely when you're feeling like you can't face it even one more time.

Soup...
There's nothing more classic than chicken soup, try my Nana Grenon's turkey ragout for a Thanksgiving twist (this will also freeze well, BEFORE the dumplings are added). Check back next week, I'm going to try a gluten-free version for my father.
I can already feel my throat getting raw and sore. I will also be really relieved to get away from traditional Thanksgiving flavors. This Asian Noodle Soup is definitely going on the menu.

Even more...
Use dark meat turkey and cream to whip up an easy pasta.
Try a different turkey sandwich by tucking some in to this Monte Cristo
Who doesn't like a nice baked pasta dish with tomato sauce? This is also a great make and freeze option, just use turkey in place of the chicken.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving

In all honesty, Thanksgiving fills me with a sense of dread. It's all well and good to fancy myself a good cook from behind the safety of my keyboard. No one ever actually tastes my cooking. Other than Ryan and sometimes my parents and sometimes Stellacarolyn. But Thanksgiving is the time when I feel this incredible pressure to shine. Which is ridiculous, because I'm not even making some fancy gourmet Thanksgiving menu with a special theme (Southwestern! Original Pilgrim!). I'm just trying to get a turkey on the table with a minimum of cardboard flavor and a maximum of pleasantly starchy sides. This should be completely within my skill set. But it isn't. I estimate I've made a grand total of 3 turkeys in my life. I'm no expert. So I have to do something that I have very little practice at and somehow not be awful at it. It's like all my cooking cred is on the line on that day. And then there's the compounding factor that I make Thanksgiving at someone else's house. Which means I don't know where anything is. I'm trying to list everything I'll need in advance so that I'll be as well prepared as possible, but nothing really prepares you for hunting down a cup measurer or a rolling pin from the depths of someone else's cabinets. Then there's the fact that I feel like a total ass when I get stressed out in front of people. So I need to freak out very quietly and inside my head. Ryan knows this and so always offers to make the dinner so I don' t have to freak out, but he just doesn't get how much it makes me feel like a failure to not make the dinner. Right? I'm the one with the stupid blog. I should be able to make Thanksgiving dinner, shouldn't I?

Just in case you're making Thanksgiving dinner, you have my deepest sympathies, and here, some recipes that might be of use to you...you're on your own for the bird.

Starters:
Sweet Potato Soup
Winter Panzanella

Sides:
Cornbread
Dinner Rolls
Gingered Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Popovers


Vegetarian Main:
Stufffed Squash - fine, my recipe calls for sausage, but I make it without about as often as I make it with.

Dessert:
Apple Cake

Apple Turnovers
Sweet Potato Pie

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I Love My Husband

Growing up, I never was allowed to eat processed food. I wasn't even really aware of the whole "not allowed" part. We just didn't. It has often lead to cravings for things that I'm not actually even sure I like. Once in high school I wanted nothing but Spaghettios. For weeks, I was dying for Spaghettios. And then I had them, and they were SO gross. But tater tots? Tater tots are not gross. Tater tots are crispy balls of joy. And when we were first dating and I had a fabulous, talented repertoire of say, maybe, two whole dishes that I knew how to cook, we ate a lot of chicken nuggets and tater tots. They weren't regular chicken nuggets though, they were some special organic, all white meat, magically healthy chicken nuggets that I got from a health food store near where I lived. It's been years. (Fine, a freakin' decade!) But the other day, I decided that I really, really, really wanted to eat chicken nuggets and tater tots. And then I searched. And I could not find a single store bought nugget that I felt okay about. So I didn't buy any and I whined about it loudly and frequently. And this is why I love my husband. Because he made me, especially from scratch, without a single word, comment or expectation, homemade chicken nuggets. They are delicious. They might not fool a kid raised on the packaged (or fast food restaurant) ones, but they certainly were enough for me.


HOMEMADE NUGGETS

Ingredients:
2 boneless skinless breasts
1 t paprika
1/2 t red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
bread crumbs
egg

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Salt and pepper the chicken breasts generously. Cut the breasts in chicken nugget sized pieces. In a small bowl, whisk an egg. Add a bit of pepper to the egg. On a plate, put the bread crumbs, between a half cup and a cup, mix in a teaspoon of paprika and the red pepper flakes, a bit more salt and pepper. Then take the raw nugget hunks and dip in egg, shake, then dip in the breadcrumbs, shake again and place on a cooking sheet lined with tinfoil. Bake at 400 F for 10-12 minutes. You can flip them at 5 minutes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pretty Is as Pretty Does


When I picked out this recipe to make, I was fondly recalling one of my favorite Philadelphia restaurants, Melograno. They're a relatively big deal in a fairly big space right now, but when we used to go, they had a tiny corner spot just a few blocks from our apartment. Despite a pretty tasty looking menu, I always ordered the same thing, beet ravioli. Here, read the menu description for yourself - homemade pasta filled with roasted beets & mascarpone cheese finished in a brown butter sage sauce and poppy seeds. It's like candy (unless of course, you're someone for whom beets taste like dirt. J, look away honey, it's going to get worse before it gets better). Dessert for dinner, in a delicate pasta shell. So in my head, this was going to be roughly the same thing. After all, it had pasta, beets, poppy seeds and brown butter. This version was much earthier, probably from the farro pasta and the goat cheese rather than ravioli with sweet mascarpone, but definitely still tasty. It wasn't all that filling though, so you may prefer it as an appetizer or with substantial sides. Also, it was seriously, mind bogglingly, pink. So, you know, if you ever need something pink to eat...

PRETTY PINK PASTA
adapted from epicurious

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb red beets, peeled and destemmed, this was about 4 bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball sized beets
1/8 C water
1/8 C olive oil
1/2 lb farro pasta (I'm sure you could use regular or whole-wheat)
4 T butter
1 T poppyseeds
1 t salt
1/4 C pasta water
a young, mild, goat cheese

DIRECTIONS:
So, I tried to do what the recipe said in terms of roasting beets, and it didn't really work. I used a 400 F oven and cut the beets into quarters. I placed them in foil lined roasting pan and added the olive oil and water. I roasted them for an hour, but they weren't done. I upped the temperature to 450 for the last 15 minutes and it was fine. Let them cool.

Make the pasta according the the box directions.

Place the butter in a pan large enough to accommodate the pasta. Turn the heat on high and let the butter sit for 2 minutes. It should get to be a nice golden brown color. Add the poppyseeds and toast for 2 more minutes. Then add the beets, and mix well. Add your pasta water and again stir to combine. Add the drained pasta and toss well to coat. Serve with a dollop of goat cheese on top.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

This Space Unintentionally Left Blank


One of the things I find truly fascinating is that busy is relative. Right now, I am busy. So busy, that I have been neglecting both my blogs, totally phoning in the dinners (hello, frozen tortellini you tasty beast) and generally shirking anything I think I can, things like exercise and vacuuming. I feel this incredible sense of stress and busy because it is evaluation time in my work life, and because I have a massive work presentation tomorrow. But honestly, I'm not all that busy. Last year, I worked 3 tutoring jobs, ran an after school club and pretty much got home 2-3 hours later than I do now. Two years ago I had physical therapy for an hour and a half to two hours 3 night a week and would still make the dinner. Clearly I am not so busy as all that. Clearly I am not so busy as many of you, who are reading this. But it is really amazing how many of us have this base level of functioning that we can sustain, and then if something else is added, that's when you feel busy. It's completely relative. And I want to be clear that it is entirely my own fault that my brain is leaking out my ears and I am unable to compose a coherent post let alone come up with an interesting title.

Okay then. About that dinner. Bone in skin on chicken breasts, with a spicy crisp coating. All you need to do is "massage the bird" (thank you Julia) and stick it in the oven. It's soothing comfort food, just what you'd want someone to make for you if you were stressed and didn't have the same illicit relationship with frozen pasta or tater tots that I do.

DEVILED CHICKEN
inspired by a recipe from Cook's Illustrated book about Chicken

INGREDIENTS:
2 bone in skin on chicken breasts
2 T butter, softened
1 T dijon mustard
1 T white or red wine vinegar
1 t hot sauce (more if you like spice!)
1/4 t cayenne pepper (again, more if you like spice)
1/3 C bread crumbs
salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 425. Prepare a cooking sheet with a rack over it, I've used flat racks and roasting racks, it doesn't really matter, so long as there's a way for the heat to circulate around the bird and the breading won't get mushy. Soften the butter and mash in a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Divide the butter equally between the breasts. Then lift the skin and rub the butter under the skin of each bird.

Mix the mustard, vinegar, hot sauce and cayenne in a small bowl. Massage the mixture over the breasts, front and back. Then coat each breast in bread crumbs.

Place on the rack and into the oven. Cook 40-45 minutes. You may want to start checking the temperature at about 30 minutes to see how it's going. You'll want 165 F for cooked poultry.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

'Twas the Night Before Halloween

You know, I was getting good and riled up about how all the stores want to skip directly to Christmas. I'd been making snide comments about the neighbors that have hung their holiday lights up when it's not even the end of October. But now Mother Nature's in on it all, blanketing the area in wet, heavy snow. Come on! How am I supposed to enjoy fall when even the environment conspiring to brush past fall and bring on the jingle bells?

Well, I'm not going quietly folks. Here's a list of Halloween-y dinner suggestions just in case you want to fight too.

First Course Options:

Sweet Potato Soup - make it cuter and more festive by using a witch on a broomstick cookie cutter to cut pieces of toast. Place on the soup to make it look like she's flying in front of the Harvest Moon.



Creepy Carrot Fingers - from stellacarolyn over at My Family Table.
Just in case gruesome is how you like your vegetables.




Main Dishes (Ranging From Simply Seasonal to Super Spoooooky):

Butternut Squash Lasagna - So delicious and decadent. No tricks here, it's all a treat.



Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese - Worried the kiddos will OD on candy with nary a vegetable in sight? This tastes rich and creamy, there's no need to mention all of the squashy goodness.

Fresh Fettucine with Butternut Squash - Sophisticated and sweet!




Mummy Meatloaf - stellacarolyn always does Halloween right, this time with a recipe from epicurious.





Side Dishes:

Ghostie Potatoes - doubtless the most adorable thing you can serve on Halloween. Another of stellacarolyn's amazing Halloween creations!



Frankenpeppers - stellacarolyn's menacing vegetable and pasta sides.





Dessert:
Eyeball cupcakes - Heading to a school Halloween party? You still have time to whip these up. Boxed cake mix + canned frosting and a smidge of effort will have stellacarolyn's cupcakes making you the hit of the afternoon.



Pumpkin snickerdoodles -simple, homey and perfect with a cup of cider.



Halloween sugar cookies - Not for the faint of heart, these sugar cookies will take up a lot of your time. But they're ridiculously fancy looking if you need to impress.



Tarantula cookies - I know plenty of people who'd leave a party if these were served. Which is fine. More for the rest of us, I say. Another stellacarolyn Halloween treat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Newest Old Love: Sara Moulton's Back!


I am finished with the Food Network. Oh I watch the channel, I even get sucked into to their "Next Food Network Star" programming. Sadly, this leads to watching the show of the next "Star" (which is in quotes for a very good reason) and wishing that you were the kind of lush who plays drinking games on a Sunday morning because "chef's" narration is largely telling me to take some of this "here" and a bit of that "there" until I don't know the difference between the two anymore.

But that's all over now. I have a new love: Sara's Weeknight Suppers. Back in the day, I used to watch Sara Moulton, on what had to be one of the first call-in cooking shows (Cooking Live, if you are old enough to remember). Then the Food Network decided to trade chefs for "talent" and I spent years watching inferior shows. But now, my local PBS station is rescuing me from getting sloshed before lunch. Sara Moulton has a new show, oh glory Hallelujah.

Why I love this show:
1. Sara Moulton actually knows how to cook. CIA trained. Executive chef for Gourmet magazine.
2. She gives helpful tips (the marinade will permeate the meat faster if you leave it all on the counter instead of putting it in the fridge).
3. She knows me. In the first episode she was making four meals out of two, by repurposing the leftovers (and not by making two disgusting meals, as Robin Miller would have you do). She mentioned exactly how happy you'd be when you get home at 6 o'clock and realize you already have dinner mostly made. If I found two already cooked lamb chops in the fridge I'd think the damn food fairy came.
4. She doesn't try to bullshit you. She made nachos for dinner. With a disclaimer that she couldn't believe she was trying to pass this off as a recipe, but on a Friday night, who really cares anymore. At no point did she try to tell you that your nachos would be the centerpiece of a Cinco de Mayo feast that would be so Yum-O that your neighbors would anoint you with EVOO for being the one true queen of Mexican cuisine.
5. Her recipes work and are delicious. Case in point, these chickens. Loved the chickens Sara.
6. She really doesn't seem like an asshole and is pro-women in the workplace. Unlike some other chefs talent I could name.

So come on over, be converted. You don't need that Food Network cable crap. Just good old public programming and you can learn to love cooking shows again too!

CHICKEN WITH LEMON AND OREGANO RUB
adapted from Sara's Weeknight Meals

INGREDIENTS:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
zest of one lemon
1/2 t salt
1 t oregano
black pepper
1/8 t water
extra virgin olive oil
for a super quick pan sauce: 2 T butter and a dash of white wine

DIRECTIONS:
Trim your chicken breasts and remove the tenderloins. Add a drizzle of olive oil, lay a bit of plastic wrap over the chicken and pound until uniformly thin (maybe about as thin as a tenderloin). In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest, salt, oregano, a few turns of the pepper grinder and the water. Using the back of the spoon, mash it up until it forms a paste. Rub the olive oil that you drizzles onto the chicken before all over the breasts, adding a teaspoon more if needed. Then divide the rub evenly between the two breasts. Carefully rub this all over the chicken. Don't leave clumps because it will be very strong. I put the rub on my tenderloins too. Then set it all aside to sit for 30 minutes. Right before you're ready, add 2 teaspoons olive oil to a pan and heat to medium high. Add your breasts and tenderloins and cook 3-5 minutes a side (the tenderloins will need less the breasts may need more depending on how thin you pounded them). If you are making in a pan and want a super quick pan sauce, remove the chicken to plates, add 2 T butter and a dash of white wine, let it burble, scrape off the chickeny bits that are stuck to the pan and pour it over. Delicious.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Unholy Revelation

This past week, my father was diagnosed with Celiac disease. On the grand list of things that could be wrong with a person, it's not really that bad. But it's not fair. And I don't think I'm taking a too small and self-centered view of things to say that it's less fair for my father. My father loves food, passionately, nearly fanatically. It should tell you something that when I was reading Jeffery Steingarten's book The Man Who Ate Everything and I got to the part where he's checking the codes on ketchup bottles to find the ones that were bottled in summer when tomatoes are at their freshest, that I was reminded of my father. He has that level of intensity about food. The bread at the local supermarket isn't up to his standards, so he special orders it. They know him in the bakery department. How is someone who thinks most lovely, gluten packed breads aren't up to snuff supposed to get by with a substitute? It's just plain old not fair.

We are very lucky in that I happen to know quite a few people who are very knowledgeable about the subject and who shared a ton of resources with me that I could pass along to my parents. But it's not going to be an easy transition. Clearly, my mother is going to have to learn to bake all over again and I don't plan on letting her do it alone.

As a starting place, I've gone through and marked recipes on this blog as gluten-free. Some will need you to check labels carefully, but if you're cooking for someone with Celiac disease, that shouldn't be anything new. As I try out new recipes that are gluten-free (and don't suck) I promise to share them, and tag them. I'll also be experimenting with substitutions in my current recipes. I have quite a few that use flour only as a thickening agent, which should be an easy thing to fix, but I don't feel comfortable advising how to best switch the thickener until I've tried it myself.

Since I'm a complete amateur at this, feel free to let me know if there's any information or labeling that doesn't seem right.

I have faith that in time my mother and I will be able to produce baked goods that are up to snuff, but I hope my father's tastebuds survive the journey.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pink Elephants On Parade

Another year, another baby shower, another set of sugar cookies! This time, pink elephants were the star of the show.

Sugar Cookie Logistics:
Start with this recipe.

I tend to do this over two days. Either make the dough and bake one night, then ice the next or make the dough one night and bake plus ice the next. All in one night will drain you!!

You can dye the dough to make cute cookies with less icing. Keep in mind that butter cookie dough has a yellow cast and therefore blues can have a greenish, unappetizing cast (ask me about the blue elephants I didn't photograph for you).

The dough needs to be C-O-L-D when you work with it. If you have it out too long it will stick to your counter or rolling mat and you'll lose your hard work.

Ideally, the baking sheets should cool between each batch. A failure to do this will mean your cookies could have random bubbling. I am lazy and don't care. But if you're going to go fancy, you very well might.

I've never had trouble with this recipe spreading. If you usually have trouble with spreading, try this one. If you still have trouble, let me know. I'm really curious.

You must pull the cookies before they brown. You might think they're underdone, but they look so ugly when they start to brown. Act quickly!

Icing Logistics:

I use meringue powder for safety reasons, especially when baking for a baby shower. Real royal icing means raw egg whites. Ew.

Most meringue powder has its own recipe printed on the container. Mine calls for four cups of confectioner's sugar. I could probably coat every surface in my kitchen with that amount of icing. I made a quarter recipe for the detail work on about 4 dozen cookies. If you're flooding (covering the whole surface of the cookie), you may want a much larger amount, but if you're only piping on details (much easier to do well if you're a beginner), don't do it. Unless you have some holes that need spackling.

If you make a quarter recipe, like I did, you'll really want a hand mixer, not a stand mixer. It doesn't have enough volume for your stand mixer to really work with. (Yes, I've held the bottom bowl up so that the mixing attachment could actually mix it, but it's a much bigger pain that you want to deal with).

If you're flooding, you need two consistencies of icing, a thick and a thinner. Do the thick first, then when you've done the details, use water to thin out the remaining icing.

Use a ziploc bag to pipe. It's cheap and accessible. You can use a knife to poke out the bottom hole or a pair of scissors to snip. You want a TINY hole. Much easier to control that way. I usually fill the bag and dye the icing first and then snip.

It's easiest to fill the ziploc bag if you put it in a glass. Think trash bag. So pop the ziploc in a cup and arrange the edges over the side. Then the glass will hold it up for you while you pour in your icing. You can even do your dying then and stir it around with a spoon, and only squish the sealed bag to evenly distribute the colors.

A little goes a long way when it comes to color. Also, plan ahead. If you want blue icing and green, then make the blue first, use it and then add your yellow dye to that bag to make green.
Also, I'd rather run out of a color and have to dye more of the base icing than have an excess of pink and nowhere to use it. I dye each color as I need it rather than making the colors in advance.

If you trace the cookie cutter onto paper, you can use a pencil to plan your design so you know about where the eyes should go or if a tail makes it look like the elephant is pooping (hint, yes, it does).

Unless you're perfect, you'll have a couple of substandard cookies. Ice these first. You can keep them, rather than bring them to your event or serve them at your party, but it won't matter if you wreck them and it will help you get in a rhythm for icing and try out new ideas.

Icing can be really tiring. I do it sitting down at the dining room table. I find I have a steadier hand and better stamina when I sit.

Make sure you let the icing dry completely before putting the cookies away! You don't want your hard work to go to waste!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Not Just a Side Dish

It seems the men in my life, despite (because of?) being hearty eaters are a bit particular about what constitutes dinner. Sample cases:

Soup - Doesn't count as dinner unless it has a filling side. This has evolved into a game of culinary chicken. Will I break first and make something to go with the soup? Or will I stay strong and force Ryan to forage and make himself something to go with the soup?

Salad - Ah, salad. It's like gambling. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. With Ryan the odds are in my favor. Salad will count. With my father, it's betting a longshot. You might get lucky, but chances are you're just wasting your time.

Macaroni and cheese has always been a side dish in these parts. Without meat or its own side dish, I just couldn't get it to pass for dinner. Luckily my mom has years of experience trying to get meals past my father. With just a few tasty additions, mac and cheese can appear in the starring role.

FANCY MAC AND CHEESE

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 oz bacon (this was about 2-3 strips)
8 oz sliced baby bella or button mushrooms
1 C frozen peas
1/2 lb elbow macaroni
1 T flour
3 T butter
1/2 C milk (whole milk is best, but any will do)
1 T mustard (I use whatever I can grab first)
1 1/2 C grated cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:
Set a pot of water to boil for the macaroni. Chop the bacon into smallish bacon bits - maybe 1/4" squares? Eyeball it, do not measure with a ruler or anything picky like that. Cook in a fry pan over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until it is crisp. Remove from the pan and set aside. Retain some of the fat in the pan (pour off some if it looks like a ton). Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and cook for 5-7 minutes until golden and tender. I often add a splash of balsamic. It's up to you. Then add the peas and cook for another 3-5 minutes.

When the water boils:
When it reaches a rolling boil, toss in the pasta and cook until done 8-10 minutes. Drain, and set the pasta aside in the colander. In the pan you made the pasta in, melt the butter and add the flour. Mix well and cook on very low heat for about four minutes. Turn off the heat and add the milk and the mustard. Whisk to blend. Return to heat. I always add back the cheese and cooked macaroni alternately, stirring to combine in between each addition. Then add the mushrooms, peas and bacon. Fancy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Perfect Anytime Roast Chicken

Two Sundays ago, I made this roast chicken for the first time. I couldn't believe how easy it was, or how well it turned out. Or how much it was exactly as comforting and full of fall flavors as I'd imagined, which is almost never the case with roast chicken which is often dry and lacking a little something. Nope. I overcooked this by a solid 20 minutes and it was still really, really good. And that juicy sauce you see up there? Pure heaven. I mean, it's beer+cider+chicken juice. What's not to like? You may find yourself sizing up possible dipping items, so plan well. Oh, and did I mention it cooks its own vegetables too?

Carrots and parnsips. Which taste like candy and yummier candy. Also, you can use your Dutch oven, not that stupid roasting pan which is stuck in a closet or on top of a cabinet or in some other highly inconvenient location. And it doesn't need a rack. It really is the perfect roast chicken, to be made anytime. Like tonight, if you're still trying to figure out your Rosh Hashanah menu (appley! sweet! double win!) Or on Sunday, when you have the time to roast a chicken. Or anytime! Now if only I can get it to wash its own dishes. Hmmm.

ROAST CHICKEN WITH BEER AND CIDER
from Lidia.

INGREDIENTS:
4 lb roasting chicken
2 tsp kosher salt
2 medium onions peeled and quartered
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into uniform sized pieces. Or a handful of baby carrots. Whatever.
2 medium parsnips, done like the carrots. Oh shut up. You'll like them.
2 T fresh sage leaves
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1.5 C chicken stock
1.5 C beer or ale (make it something you like, and yeah that's a whole bottle)
1 C apple cider

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat the oven to 400. Get out your Dutch oven. Get your onions, carrots and parsnips and toss in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Add the cinnamon stick and cloves and sage. You're making a nest for the chicken, so make sure they're distributed kind of evenly. Prep that chicken, trimming off the nasty bits, removing whatever lurks inside, salt and pepper the whole beast inside and out. Plop the chicken on top of the veggie bits, breast side down. Pour in all the lovely liquids - stock, beer and cider. Stick the whole thing on the stove and simmer 15 minutes uncovered on the top of the stove. Then, flip him over, so the breast side is up. Then you pop it in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, basting at 10 minute intervals. Roast another 30 minutes (if it's getting too brown, cover it with your Dutch oven lid) again basting every 10-15 minutes. Check the temperature at each basting. Poultry should get to 165 but will continue to cook a few minutes after you take it out. Roast another 10-20 minutes if needed - mine never has, but Lidia's did. Remember to watch the top for overbrowning too! When done, remove the chicken and veggies to a platter. Then put the Dutch oven o'juice back on the stove and cook on medium high (a nice boil if you please) until the sauce reduces quite a bit (half mayhaps, if you are patient). You can be carving the chicken whilst the sauce is doing its thing. Serve with sauce. Resolve to make it weekly at least. It's that good and that easy.

Make it gluten-free:  Beer is NOT gluten-free, so you'll need to substitute. I used half cider and half stock to make up the beer amount and it turned out great!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bed & Breakfast

You know what a bed and breakfast is right? Quaint little inn, where the tasty morning offerings are supposed to make up for the lack of modern amenities enhance the historical charm? Now I want you to imagine just how good the muffins would have to be in order for you to forgive being trapped in your room. Honest to goodness, pulling on the doorknob with both hands, calling any phone number for the main desk you can find from your cell phone (no real phones in an inn mind you), eyeballing the drop from your window to the ground, pounding on your door and shouting for help until the elderly gentleman who was staying across the hall came and liberated you, trapped in your room. Those would have to be some seriously good muffins right?

In the interest of honesty, it took more than just the muffins to placate me. They had to plane down the damn door too, so that we could come and go as we pleased. Muffins alone will not make me okay with room confinement. I require action.

This is not the recipe for the actual pear and ginger muffins provided by the inn, but they are delicious, and will go along way towards soothing any disgruntled houseguests or erm, spouses, that you may need to bribe.

PEAR AND GINGER MUFFINS
adapted from Nigella Express inspired by a Rhode Island inn that shall remain nameless since I disparaged their door situation

INGREDIENTS:
1 3/4 C flour
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C packed light brown sugar
2 t baking powder
1t ground ginger
2/3 C sour cream
1/2 C vegetable oil
1 T honey
2 eggs
1 1/2 C peeled and chopped pears - about a 1/4 in" dice - I used 2 bartlett pears for this
2-3 T minced crystalized ginger


DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 400 F. Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin with muffin cups (paper or silicon will work).

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and ground ginger. In a smaller bowl, mix together the sour cream, vegetable oil, honey and eggs. Use a fork or whisk to combine well. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry. Finally, add in the pears and ginger bits. Fold in with a spatula and then fill your muffin cups. They will be quite full. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan to a cooling rack. These will last a few days if stored in an air-tight container, but are best right away!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Please Stand By...We Are Currently Experiencing Technological Difficulties

Here's the thing people. Under normal circumstances I have access to three computers. A work computer, my own laptop and my husband's laptop. Allow me to break my current computer status down for you.

Work computer which cannot under any circumstances be used for anything other than work = dead battery.

My own laptop = dead power cord, leading to a dead battery.

My husband's laptop = at work with him. For all of the million bajillion hours he works.


Which means a) computers don't like me and b) I'm typing this right now on my mother's itty bitty netbook. So I suppose I could type up a recipe for you. Maybe I could. But it would be without a picture. And a picture is worth a thousand words, and I am not the type of person that has an extra thousand words lying around. I am the type of person whose computers all fail at the same type in some type of computer-based anti-blogging conspiracy. So I beg of you. Do not abandon me. I have AT LEAST 4 yummy recipes. Ready to go. With pictures. Just as soon as I can get the whole pictures part of that happening. And as soon as I actually, you know, type them up instead of just having them scribbled on notepaper in my kitchen and story ideas sloshing around in my brain. You could vote on which one you want first though! In my only tech-savvy move of the week - a poll!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hold Yer Horses - It Ain't Fall Yet



Look, they might be selling, but I'm not buying. It does not matter how many ads for school supplies, football games or Halloween costumes I see on TV. It does not matter that the school children are all safely tucked into their classrooms. It doesn't even matter that I succumbed and turned the page in my calendar so that it reads SEPTEMBER. As long as the weather is still in the eighties, it's just not fall. There are no stews or soups simmering away in my kitchen. I have no plans to begin my annual pumpkin bake off in which I try to bake and consume as many pumpkiny treats as I can. I just can't do it. I'm still struggling with my decision to turn off the air-conditioning.

Luckily, I still have some recipes left that aren't trying to hurry summer out the door. These lettuce cups are sort of seasonless, but are delicious and really sort of low effort if you're into that sort of thing.

SUPER TASTY LETTUCE WRAPS
from blogchef

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb ground turkey (or beef, whatever)
1 T vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion (about a medium onion)
2 minced garlic cloves
1 T soy
1/4 C hoisin
1 t rice wine vinegar
2 T sesame oil
1 t sambal
1 C cashews
head of lettuce (hey, I only had romaine, so I made do, although Boston would be nice)

gluten-free note: make sure to find gluten free soy sauce and hoisin (Premier Japan makes a gluten-free hoisin). Rice vinegar is gluten free and sesame oil should, although check the label of sesame oil for additives. Sambal is gluten-free as far as I'm aware.

DIRECTIONS:
Put the oil in the pan and heat the pan to medium. Toss in your onions and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then add your ground meat. Break up the meat as it browns (5-10 minutes). Then add soy, hoisin, vinegar, sambal, sesame oil. Toss gently so the sauce is throughout the meat. Cook for 1-2 more minutes, then add the cashews. Scoop the warm mixture onto your lettuce leaves. You can fold these up to eat them.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cheddar Biscuits



When I grow up, I want to be Ina Garten. I want a gorgeous house, a loving husband, amazing gardens, friends visiting all the time. I want to be both a talented chef and smart enough to work in the White House on nuclear energy policy (no really, she did). The problem is, I'm kind of already grown up and my chances aren't looking too good. Right now, just about the only list item I've accomplished is a loving husband (which is pretty important as far as list items go, but not really much headway on the whole list). Oh well. At least I can make her food, this time, cheddar biscuits that are just delicious.

INA'S CHEDDAR BISCUITS
from Ina Garten - Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

INGREDIENTS:
2 C flour - plus more for rolling out - I'd make sure you've got at least another 1/2 C to a C in the house because these are some sticky biscuits.
1 T baking powder
1 1/2 sticks (12 T) of salted butter. If you use unsalted, it says 1 1/2 t salt, but I think that's WAY too salty, so be careful.
1/2 C buttermilk shaken (I didn't have buttermilk, so I used 1/2 C milk + 1 1/2 t vinegar - let it stand for 10 minutes - magic buttermilk substitute)
1 egg
1 C grated cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 425F.
Put the 2 C of flour and the baking powder (and salt if you insist) in your stand mixer. Quickly mix to combine. I usually chop the butter up a bit and then toss it in and blend until you have a nice sandy texture. In a small bowl (or heck a large glass measuring cup if you're lazy) combine the buttermilk and the egg and whisk it a bit with a fork to combine it well. Then pour that into the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Finally, toss the cheddar with a bit of flour, add that to the other ingredients and give it a final mix. Prepare a highly floured surface for your kneading and rolling. Pour the dough onto the surface and give it a quick knead (Ina says about 6 times, I say, get it to come together and not stick to everything under the sun). The roll out the dough. Ina says to cut it into biscuits using a knife (check out her recipe for details) but I used a glass (I don't own a biscuit cutter) to make round biscuits. I put them on a Silpat mat. I did combine and reroll the scraps to get more biscuits and got quite a few more than she did. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until they are browned and cooked!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Soup for Sick People

I'm a freak. I mean, you probably already knew that, but really, I am. Whenever I get sick, I get a rash. It's mainly on my neck and torso but depending on how sick I am it can spread to my arms, face, legs. It often completely stresses out doctors when they see it for the first time. They always think I have scarlet fever, or fifth disease or something else dire. But over the years I've grown used to it. Sometimes it shows up before I even feel sick, like a bad omen. When it happens like this, I lay in supplies and prepare to take off work. Sometimes it shows up in the middle, a little, Hey! Guess what? You know how crappy you feel? It's because you're SICK, IDIOT! And sometimes, it waits until I am mostly recovered and throws me a Gotcha! And you thought that was allergies FOOL! Which is exactly what happened last week. After tossing back allergy pills, sniffing prescription steroid nasal sprays and working my way through the better part of a tissue box, I found out that really, I'd just been sick after all. Oh well. At least the treatment was the same. A big bowl of homemade sausage and rice soup. And trust me this was easy to make. I made it when I was sick, after all.

SAUSAGE AND RICE SOUP
adapted from Mario Batali

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 C onion chopped
2-3 T duck fat (butter will do if you don't keep duck fat in your freezer!)
1/2 lb hot Italian sausage - casings removed (I used turkey sausage as usual - if you want gluten-free, check your sausage labeling to confirm)
2 quarts chicken stock (that's 8 C)
1-2 rinds of parmiggiano-reggiano (if you don't have these, just add a bit more parm at the end. I save my rinds in the freezer to use in soup, it adds a lot of depth of flavor with almost no effort on your part)
1 C rice
a few cups of spinach, washed and stems removed, rough chopped if it's not baby spinach.
2-3 carrots cut into coins
1/4 C grated parm (double this if you are rindless)

DIRECTIONS:

Let's talk about the rice before we even start. It is well documented that I can't cook rice. This extends to soup situations. Therefore, I put 1 C rice plus 2 C water in my rice cooker and made the rice that way. I then added it to the soup at the proper time. Mario advocates tossing the rice into boiling soup and giving it 15 minutes to cook. What you decide is your business.

Okay. In a large pot, over medium heat, add your duck fat (or butter) and your onion and sausage. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, breaking the sausage down with your spoon until it is browned and in nice little nibbly pieces. Add your stock (and your rinds if you have them) and bring it to a boil. If you have raw rice toss it in now and wait 15 minutes for it to cook. If you have cooked rice, toss it in now and keep going. Add the carrots and spinach and grated parm. Cook for about 5 more minutes (I have no idea what this would do to the raw rice?). Taste the soup. Mine required absolutely no seasoning, between the salty parm and the spicy sausage it was perfect just the way it was, but please add salt and pepper if needed.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

By Popular Demand - Lemon Ricotta Cake


Dairy products and I have a love-hate relationship. Milk, for example, is the nectar of the devil. It tastes awful and it makes me sick to my stomach. I need it on occasion to bake, but that is it. Consequently, it is really hard for me to tell if milk has spoiled. I have to rely entirely on how it smells, because it always tastes off to me. Cheese on the other hand, I adore. Hard cheeses, soft cheeses, stinky blue, creamy brie, nutty gruyere. So deliciously happy-making. However, in between these lie a sort of dairy limbo that includes yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta. On any given day I can enjoy one of these thoroughly, or take against it. The latter is particularly true when freshness is in question. No amount of rational thought can ease my worries. I simply can't. Just can't. Hate. And this exact thing happened when I went to use up the ricotta from the tomato crostini. It had only been open a few days. The expiration date swore it was fine. But that nagging little dairy fairy on my shoulder was saying "ew" really loudly. And I decided the only way to deal with it was to make sure the ricotta was baked. Because somehow, that would make it okay. (Which is ridiculous, because of course it was okay, I swear I'm not baking with nasty ricotta here). Lucky for me, using up dairy that irrationally scares me can result in a completely heavenly dessert. Like little clouds of lemony cakey goodness. And the pendulum swings back to love.

LEMON RICOTTA CAKE
inspired by Giada De Laurentiis

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 C flour (all-purpose will do)
2 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 C salted butter (this is 1 1/2 sticks) plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 C sugar
1 1/2 C ricotta cheese (I used part skim and it worked fine).
3 large eggs
1 t vanilla
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest from 1-2 lemons
powdered sugar for dusting
optional: 1/4 to 1/2 C lemon curd

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9" round cake pan.
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar (about 3 minutes). Add the ricotta and mix until incorporated. One at a time add the eggs, mixing between each. Then add your vanilla, lemon juice and zest. In a bowl,combine the flour and baking powder. Add your dry ingredients and give it a final mix. My batter was lumpy and also all the zest attached itself to the paddle. I fixed the zest problem by tossing it back into the batter and quickly mixing with a spatula before pouring it in to the cake pan. The lumps baked themselves away. Bake for 35-40 minutes. It is done when a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Optional section: If you like, slice the cake in half so it has two layers (Doesn't that sound easy? It was my first attempt at something like that and those were not so even. Oh well.) Then spread lemon curd on the bottom layer. I used a quarter cup because I wanted it to be subtle, but it may have been almost too subtle so I might move up to a half cup next time. Or maybe I'll just be lazy and not do it at all. Either way.

Serve with powdered sugar on top (you do this by holding a fine mesh strainer over the cake, pouring in a bit of sugar and then tapping the side of the strainer gently so the powder comes down). If you are serving the whole cake at party powder it all at once, if you're eating the slices for dessert each night powder a slice at a time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cook a Book

I have a particular weakness for books that involve cooking. Not just cookbooks mind you, but any books that have lots of cooking in them. My latest read that sent me running to the kitchen was a teen book called Flavor of the Week. Not the best thing I've ever read, but I've held it out of the library for about two weeks after finishing it because it has recipes. Mouth watering recipes. Recipes like this one for kitchen sink cookies. Who can resist something that is not only delicious but allows you to clean out your cabinets! Do you have any favorite foodie books that we should read?


KITCHEN SINK COOKIES
from Flavor of the Week

INGREDIENTS:
1 3/4 C flour
1 t baking soda
2 sticks butter, softened (remember, I usually bake with salted butter, so if you use unsalted, throw in a pinch of salt).
1 1/4 C firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 t milk
3 t vanilla extract
2 C uncooked old fashioned rolled oats (I just bought quaker, regular not instant)
1 C chocolate chips (the recipe calls for semisweet, I only had bittersweet, still delicious)
1-2 C other stuff, like nuts, or coconut flakes, or whatever. I used 1 package of mini m&ms, about a cup of chopped pecans and a half cup of mini marshmallows.

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Combine flour, baking soda and salt (if you need salt). Mix well. In your stand mixer, combine the butter and brown sugar. Mix until creamy. Add the eggs and mix again. Add the nutmeg, milk and vanilla. Mix again. Add the flour mixture (guess what?), mix again. Remove your mixing bowl from the stand mixer, because you're finishing up by hand. Add the oats and mix by hand. The add your mix-ins. When everything is combined, drop rounded tablespoonfuls onto your lined cookie sheets (I used silpat, use parchment if you don't have silpat). Bake for 9-10 minutes. Cool for 1-2 minute on sheet before removing to a wire rack.

PS: David Lebovitz has his own version in case you're interested. He'll even let you use up bugles, or pretzels or chocolate covered marshmallow bears (I want one!).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Little Bites of Heaven

Now that I live country-adjacent (the directions to get to my apartment include the words: turn at the corn) and am no longer a city mouse, I have to say that my access to ridiculously amazing produce has increased. Just the other day I stopped by a farm stand and picked up a pair of beautiful heirloom tomatoes. Best thing ever? The stand had a tray of tasting bites each labeled with the tomato name. I picked out a Purple Cherokee and a Persimmon. Really, my restraint is admirable, because I did not just eat them in the car on the way home. While you can dress up tomatoes any which way, heirlooms deserve better. They should not be buried in a sandwich or blended into gazpacho. They should be the star. Ryan complained that I even did anything to these, but I think they were delicious with the trimmings, and so easy to make!

HEIRLOOM TOMATO AND RICOTTA BITES

INGREDIENTS:
1 (or more) heirloom tomatoes
ricotta cheese
baguette
salt
extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS:
Slice your tomato into thinnish pieces, don't make them too thin, but don't do huge chunks either. Then cut the largest pieces in half. Count how many you have. Then slice a corresponding number of rounds from your baguette. Make these pretty thin, because you don't want the bread to overpower the tomato. Toast them lightly (I do mine in the toaster oven, but you'd be better off with a real oven than with a toaster-toaster). Smear a bit of ricotta (maybe a tablespoon) on each toast. Gently place a tomato slice on top. Continue until all bites are constructed. Arrange on a plate, sprinkle with salt, drizzle with olive oil, enjoy!



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Salvage Mission


Sometimes, I hate technology. The other day I spent over two hours on the phone with Comcast, LG, SMC and Netflix trying to figure out why my movies would no longer stream. Everyone did an amazing job of coming up with an explanation why it was someone else's fault and why they could not possibly help me. All except SMC. They just never called back. When he got home, Ryan tried his best to rescue me from the drudgery by providing one store bought rotisserie chicken for our dinner. I was so relieved I didn't even care that the chicken tasted largely of cardboard and was about as moist. It didn't matter. At that point, the day was utter crap anyway. The only problem was the next day we were left with half of a really dry chicken. And our Netflix still wouldn't work.

Fortunately, the Netflix issue randomly resolved itself. And the chicken? I could fix that easily, and so can you!! Whether you've brought home a dud from the supermarket, or you are personally responsible for the dry bird (I won't judge), with just a little kitchen magic, it can be one of the most delicious, luscious dinners you've eaten - Chicken Pot Pie Turnovers. And if you're certain you'll never need to save yourself from overcooked poultry, just tuck this away until Thanksgiving. You can use it to save yourself from another day of turkey with stuffing as well. The flaky puff pastry crust will melt in your mouth. The cream and vermouth make a rich sauce, and the duck bacon? Oh lordy, the duck bacon.

CHICKEN POT PIE TURNOVERS
Inspired by some Food Network show, although I couldn't find the recipe or the show when I went back to make it again. Sorry!

INGREDIENTS:
4 oz duck bacon (you can use regular bacon or pancetta)
1 T flour
1/2 medium onion chopped fine
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 C carrot, chopped
1/2 C peas
3-4 stems fresh thyme
1/2 C vermouth
1 C milk
1 t dijon mustard
1 1/2 - 2 C leftover chicken (or turkey), shredded
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted (save the other, or make Apple Turnovers,
Alsatian Onion Tart or Palmiers (scroll down).)
optional: 1 egg to make an egg wash for the turnovers so they will be glossy and beautiful.

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 400F. Get a large skillet, put it over medium heat. Chop your bacon product into small pieces. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until cooked through, but not overly crispy, don't blacken. Especially if you use duck bacon or pancetta this will result in a lot of delicious fat being released into the pan. Don't pour it off, but remove your bacon from the pan and set aside. To the delicious fat, add your onions and garlic, lower the heat if necessary. Cook for 3-5 minutes until softened and the onions are translucent. Add 1 T of flour and mix in. It should coat the onions and garlic and collect all that fat so that it will thicken your sauce. Then add the carrots and peas. Let it cook for just a minute or two.Then add your thyme (maybe 3-4 springs of fresh, stems removed). Increase the heat slightly and add the vermouth. Let it cook off (reduce the liquid by at least half), then reduce the heat to low and add your milk and your mustard. Mix it all in and cook until it's thickened a bit, just a few minutes. Add in your cooked chicken and your bacon. When it's time to roll the puff pastry, act fast and with cold hands. Using a bit of flour, roll out your sheet of puff pastry. Be gentle and be particularly careful with the seams, you may need to sort of press your thumb or fingers on them to keep them from separating. Use a knife to cut into four equal pieces, I think mine were about 4-5" square. Transfer these squares to your baking sheet. I lined mine with a silpat mat. Evenly divide your filling between the four squares. Fold them in half to form triangles and pinch and fold the edge closed. Cut a small slit in the top. If you want, take one egg, whisk it and the paint the top of each with egg, it will make it pretty, but won't alter the taste. I am too stingy and lazy. I used a milk wash (just brush the top with milk) instead. If you don't act fast with the pastry stage, your filling will break through the bottom, which is why I advise adding the filling once the pastry is already on the baking sheet. Pop them in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden brown and tasty looking. Be incredibly grateful that your leftovers will be far superior to the initial dinner.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I Baked a Cake!


During the summer I don't always get a lot done during the day. But every day Ryan asks what I did. I tend to mumble out of embarrassment due to my utter lack of productivity. "I read. I watched TV. I took a nap. I tickled the dog". But Wednesday I had something to report. I practiced saying it. Excited: "I baked a cake today!" Casual: "Oh, you know, I just baked a cake." I even debated the basic grunt and point "Urg. Cake." Because come on, isn't that cake pretty enough to do the talking for itself? Two moist chocolatey layers, light and fluffy frosting of whipped cream and cream cheese, sweet sweet strawberries. It's so good. You know you want to be able to brag about it too!

CAKE!
A million thanks to Debbie for the basis of the cake recipe and guiding me through the round pan thingy. Go Debbie!! Also, Debbie now has a cookbook. You really might need it. Lookie here.
Please note, all the things I have done to this cake firmly negate any low calorie/weight-watchery virtues she may have mentioned.

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 C flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t salt (if you use salted butter, please only use a pinch, if that. This measurement is for unsalted butter users)
1 C dutch-process cocoa (admission, I used Hershey's because it's what was in the cabinet. It sufficed).
10 T butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
2 t vanilla
2 large eggs
1 C plain nonfat yogurt

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Debbie suggests greasing and flouring your pans. I found this insufficient and would put parchment down in the bottom of each round if doing it again, this was a nasty little beast to remove from the pans.

In a medium bowl combine your flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt (if using). Set aside.

Cream your butter and sugar until thoroughly mixed and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs and then mix again until combined. Alternate adding the yogurt and the dry ingredients about a third at a time. After each addition, mix. This is a thick batter, so don't overmix it.

Evenly divide it between your pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan (try a half hour) and then run your knife carefully around the edge to separate it further. Very, very carefully turn it out and cool completely, on a rack if you can manage it, but one of mine was so fiddly it needed to cool on a plate. Be careful.

FROSTING!
adapted from here
INGREDIENTS:
8 oz cream cheese
2 C heavy cream
1/4 C sugar

DIRECTIONS:
Whip together the cream cheese and sugar. Then add the heavy cream and keep whipping until the cream can hold a stiff peak. Feel free to mess with the ration of cream cheese to whipping cream, just keeping in mind that the more whipped cream vs. cream cheese you use, the less stable it is, and it will need to be eaten sooner. But you may like the fluffier consistency if the cake will be eaten same day.

NB: Due to a slacker shopping job, I made/used a half recipe of this frosting. As you can see, it made do just fine. I'm giving you the whole recipe because I felt a bit stingy. You may want to feel extravagant or have the option of frosting the sides or you know, just stick your face in it. I don't judge.

ASSEMBLY!!
Rinse, dry and slice up most of a 16oz package of strawberries.

On a pretty serving plate, lay down one of the chocolate layers. Smooth on a suitable amount of the frosting. Artfully arrange the strawberries. (I'm a freak, the inside layer looks pretty much like the top, minus the one central berry). Carefully lower on the second chocolate layer. Top with more whipped cream frosting deliciousness. Artfully arrange more berries. Admire. Announce to anyone who will listen that you baked a cake.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another Year, Another Birthday

I'm a couple of weeks late with this one, but Ryan's birthday was this month and as per tradition, I did not make him a cake. He doesn't like cake remember? Or chocolate? Or ice cream? Lucky for me, he does like fruit tart, and this couldn't get any simpler. I used different fruit this year, cherries and peaches instead of berries and it turned out just as delicious.

FRUIT TART:
Just a new spin on an old favorite - berry tart

Make the crust and filling as directed in the berry tart. Peel and slice a peach - I needed a little more than 1 peach, so buy two and snack on whatever remains of the second. Pit some cherries, this used less than a bag of the prepacked kind, it seems like maybe a cup or two. Slice your cherries in half. Arrange artistically. This time I painted the glaze using warmed up ginger preserves, but it didn't taste particularly gingery. I'd use apricot if I were to do it again, no use in wasting the ginger. Just use a pale color so the peaches don't get painted red or something. Stick it in the fridge. Serve.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Company Coming!

Or company came, rather. This past week I hosted some friends for breakfast and then my dearest friend came to stay with her adorable daughter. It was busy and fun. But honestly, the breakfast was fun because it was no work. I know what you're thinking. You clearly see a picture of baked something or other up there (strata, if you must know) and you are wondering how exactly this was no work unless I purchased it. I didn't purchase it. And still, I maintain it was no work. Also, really delicious. Want to have this delicious eggy cheesey browned breakfast goodness? Read on. The recipe is from this gem of an inn in Maryland. If the idea of even this no effort breakfast is stressing you out, it might be best if you just go get it from the source.

STRATA
adapted from The Brampton Inn - Chestertown, Maryland. Seriously, check out their website, gorgeous, no?

INGREDIENTS:
8 1/2" slices of crusty French bread, buttered on one side
5 eggs
3 C whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 C shredded sharp cheddar (I used a mix of cheddar and asiago)
6 oz crumbled breakfast sausage, cooked and drained
(optional - a few teaspoons of hot sauce)

DIRECTIONS:
1.Butter an 8" square ovenproof dish
2. Arrange bread slices in two rows, buttered side down
3. Whisk eggs in large bowl
4. Add milk, salt and pepper and hot sauce
5. Pour egg mixture over bread
7. Sprinkle with sausage and cheese
8. Cover and refrigerate overnight

Then the morning of:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Uncover and bake for 50-60 minutes (mine took 65), until puffed and no longer liquid in the middle and golden on top.
Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

See? Almost no work.

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