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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Things I Can Count On



There are few things in life that I know I can count on.  For me, I know that I can count on Ted.  Unequivocally.  I know I can count on the fact that I will have to text Charlie at least three times before he texts back.  I can also count on the fact that Charlie's phone call returning skills are much the same, maybe even worse, than his text returning skills.  On the other hand, I know I can count on the fact that Kate will call me without my having to place the first call.   Ditto the texts.  And she will keep me (more than) updated on the goings on in her life.  It's a girl thing.

I can count on my sister Jill, other assorted relatives, and my friends.  I can count on the fact that my hair salon will call a couple of days before my appointment to remind me of my appointment, despite the fact that I have told them over and over that if I put it on my calendar, I will be there.

I guess they're not sure they can count on me.

I can also count on the fact that I will love any recipe Ina Garten writes.  Yes, even Ina's too tart Chicken Piccata, which my aforementioned sister doesn't like.  I love Ina's recipes so much that I was willing to overlook the abundance of lip smacking-ness that accompanied that particular dish.

But I digress.  Of course I digress.  You can always count on my digressing.

Ina's new cookbook, Make It Ahead, is clock full of delicious tasting recipes (at lease those I've already made).  Included is a recipe for Sour Cream Cornbread.

Let me just start out by saying that I have never met a cornbread recipe I didn't like.  Also, as stated above, I've never met an Ina Garten recipe I didn't like.  I'm calling this a win-win.

Aside from being a really nice recipe, this one had a little something extra.  By baking it in a loaf, it can be sliced and popped in the toaster and served up at breakfast with a little butter and jam.  How cool is that?  I'll admit that it was just the teensiest bit crumbly, but that's another thing to count on:  cornbread bring crumbly.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Cornbread
Ina Garten, Make It Ahead, 2014

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients:

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Bob's Red Mill medium-grind yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder (see note)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
11/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sour cream
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
Salted butter and strawberry jam, for serving

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line the bottom of two 8 1/2 × 4 1/2 × 2-inch loaf pans with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, sour cream, and eggs and then slowly whisk in the melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and mix them together with a rubber spatula, until combined. Don't overmix! Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the top, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Place the pans on a rack and cool completely.

When ready to serve, slice the corn bread, toast it, and serve with salted butter and strawberry jam.





Thursday, December 4, 2014

Barking Up the Right Tree



Even though the stores have been festooned with holiday decorations for months, the holiday season has now officially begun.  I no longer get annoyed at the twinkle lights adorning the mall.  It's okay now.  Thanksgiving is past and we are now officially on to Christmas, Hanukah, and eventually, 2015.

Back in the olden days, when I was just a young pup, Thanksgiving meant something.  Sure, it was a day to give thanks, but moreover, Thanksgiving was an actual dividing line.  Sometime on Thanksgiving, the Holiday Elves would sneak into malls across America (and the world, I think), and overnight entire shopping centers would be transformed into twinkling winter wonderlands.  Shopping malls would go from the harvest theme to a winter snow scene in just the blink of an eye.  Santa would arrive with his cadre of elves.  It was magical.


Gone are those days.  Pre-holiday sales start sometime around Halloween, and Thanksgiving is just another day on the retail calendar.  Santa arrives right after the Great Pumpkin display is dismantled.  I don't mean to be preachy, because I do not judge, (remind me to tell you a funny story about our tour guide at Middlebury College), but dammit, I'm judging.  It's just plain wrong.

The point of this rant is that I have made it my personal mission to not give the holidays one iota of thought prior to the passage of Thanksgiving.  Not one.  I block out all glistening snow scenes and search Target for cornucopias instead.
Fast forward.  Thanksgiving was a week ago and as such, I have decided to indulge in one of my favorite holiday pastimes: making chocolate peppermint bark and French chocolate bark.   I will plan to give these treats to others, but this is a lie.  I will put it all in containers and then spend the next couple of weeks breaking off just a nibble.


Actually, this is not entirely true.  Kate has requested that I send she and her friends a care package filled with chocolate peppermint bark to help them get through finals.  No problem.  I bought extra chocolate so whipping up another batch or two will be no problem.

Let the holidays begin.

Recipe:  Ina Garten's French Chocolate Bark

Ingredients:

8 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

Melt the 2 chocolates in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using a ruler and a pencil, draw a 9 by 10-inch rectangle on the paper. Turn the paper facedown on the baking sheet.

Pour the melted chocolate over the paper and spread to form a rectangle, using the outline. Sprinkle the cashews, apricots and cranberries over the chocolate. Set aside for 2 hours until firm. Cut the bark in 1 by 3-inch pieces and serve at room temperature.

Recipe:  You Little Tarte's Triple Layer Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Ingredients:

6 ounces semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil
12 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped, divided
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup Peppermint Snow or crushed candy canes

Directions:

Start by lining a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Draw an 8 by 8 inch square on the paper.  Turn the paper facedown on the baking sheet.

Melt half of the white chocolate with 1/2 teaspoon of the canola oil in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once the chocolate is melted, add1/4 teaspoon of the peppermint extract and stir well.  Pour the melted chocolate over the paper and spread to form a square, using the outline.  Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or until hard.

Melt all of the semi sweet chocolate, along with 1/2 teaspoon of the canola oil.  Pour it over the hardened white chocolate and spread to cover the bottom layer of white chocolate.  Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until hard.

Melt the remaining white chocolate, along with a 1/2 teaspoon of canola oil.  Once the white chocolate is melted, add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract and stir well.  Pour and spread over the refrigerated chocolate layers.  Sprinkle the Peppermint Snow (or candy canes) evenly over the top white chocolate layer.  Return to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, making sure the chocolate is completely hardened before continuing.

Remove the bark from the refrigerator and break into 1 to 2 inch pieces.  Refrigerate in a tightly sealed plastic container until use.  





Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Braise the Roof


It's that time again.

"The weather outside is frightful.
But the fire is so delightful.
And since we've got no place to go
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!!"

How could I resist?  It's December.  The weather is, shall we say, less than ideal.  And,  in lieu of a bunch of holiday gifts that my kids neither need nor want, we are going on a warm weather vacation.  As a result, I have no real holiday shopping to do.

What to do with all this spare, housebound time?

Braise.

I love, love, love braised food.  Maybe it's my eastern European roots.  Maybe it's my fear of roasting.  Maybe it's that braised food is just so damn comforting.  Who knows?  But I'm a fan of braised anything.

I am especially fond of tagines.  They're hearty and the ultimate in one pot cooking.  This recipe from Ina Garten's new cookbook, Make It Ahead is full of all my favorite braised things: lamb, butternut squash, Moroccan spices, and sweet potatoes.  Served over simply cooked couscous, you'll look like you slaved away all day, when in reality you slaved for about a half an hour and the oven did the actual slaving away for three low and slow cooking hours.

You'll have a reason for staying in your nice, warm house all afternoon.  Maybe you'll tackle that closet that needs reorganizing, or that pantry that needs a little straightening.  Or not.


Recipe:  Moroccan Lamb Tagine
Ina Garten, Make it Ahead, 2014

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
6 small frenched lamb shanks (5 to 6 pounds total)
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
teaspoons chile powder
teaspoons ground turmeric
teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cinnamon stick
1 can (28 ounces) dicedntomatoes (such as San Marzano)
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons lightly packed light brown sugar
4 slices of lime, ¼ inch thick
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound (2 medium) Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch dice
1 pound (½ medium) peeled butternut squash, cut into 1-inch dice
½ pound (1 medium) sweet potato, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch dice

Directions:

Set the oven at 300 degrees.

In a very large (12- to 13-inch) flameproof casserole or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Pat the lamb shanks dry with paper towels. In batches, cook the lamb shanks over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side, until they are nicely browned. Transfer to a plate and brown the remaining shanks, adding a little more oil if necessary. Transfer all the shanks to the plate; set aside.

Add the onions to the pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds. Add the
chile powder, turmeric, cumin,
cardamom, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Stir in the tomatoes, with their liquid, the chicken stock, brown sugar, lime, a generous pinch each of salt and pepper, the potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil. Return shanks to the pot, spooning some of the sauce and vegetables over the meat (they will not be completely
submerged). Cover and transfer to the oven.

Cook for 3 hours, until the lamb shanks are very tender. Serve with steamed couscous.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eating My Books

Eat Your Books

They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving a problem.  Okay.  Here goes.

I have a cookbook problem.  Yes, that's right.  I just can't get enough.  And shelf space is becoming a problem.  As is keeping track of said cookbook collection.

I love cookbooks, maybe even more than I love luxury leather goods.  For those of you who know me, and who know of my vast and wide ranging shoe and handbag collection, admitting that cookbooks may be more of a problem is, well, probably quite shocking.

The truth is that I actually use my cookbooks, which sets this collection apart from my shoe collection.  I cook from a cookbook everyday.  Really.  I'm not just saying that the justify the collection.  I don't make a roasted potato without looking for a new way to make them more delicious.  Maybe a higher heat?  More garlic?  Thyme instead of rosemary?  The possibilities are endless and I am determined to try and try again until the absolute deliciousness completely overwhelms me.

My real problem isn't that I buy a lot of cookbooks.  For heaven's sake.  I could have worse vices.  I don't really drink and I don't smoke.  I don't cavort around town with unsuitable people.  Okay, maybe my shoe addiction is a little out of hand, but on a scale of one to 10 in the vice department, I'd say I'm at the low end of trouble.

My real problem is keeping track of which cookbooks I already own.  After buying my second copy of David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen, I knew I had to take action.  (If you don't own it, you really should consider it.  The Chicken Lady Chicken alone is worth the purchase.)

Enter Eat Your Books.  For a small fee, this website provides a fantastic indexing and management system for cookbooks, blogs, and other recipes.  It doesn't give you recipes, but instead what it does do is provide you with a listing of which recipes are in which cookbooks.  So, if I want to make Coq au Vin for dinner (oh, that does sound good, doesn't it?) Eat Your Books will give me a listing of all of my cookbooks that include recipes for Coq au Vin.  Genius.

Now, there's a catch.  I had the enter all of my cookbooks in the database, but it's so worth it.  First of all, it was kind of fun to go through all my books, and second of all, it reminded me of a lot of cookbooks I own that I used to cook from and that have somehow moved to the bottom of the pile.

It's a win-win!

Now I have a system down.  When I add a book to my collection, the first thing I do is enter it into my personal database on Eat Your Books.  It's easy.  And then I start cooking.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Joining the Rotation


My friend Lisa was coming to visit for a couple of days and I thought it would be nice to whip up a batch of muffins to serve at breakfast.  Why not?  Who doesn't love a muffin?

Right around that time, I was chatting with my sister Jill on the phone.  I mentioned that I was in the mood for an almond poppy seed muffin.  Did she have a good recipe?

Jill gave me a great recipe: "Use your favorite basic recipe and adapt".

Adapt?  I don't adapt.  I religiously follow recipes, to the letter.  I do not adapt.

Still, Jill thought I could adapt.  I thought, "Well, if Jill thinks I can be adaptable, then why not?"   I'm nothing if not adventurous.

Once I got started, I found that a favorite basic recipe really can be just a jumping off point.  I could do anything.  I could make the almond and poppy seed muffin of my dreams.  In fact, I could indulge my wildest muffin fantasies.   Wow.

So, here it is.  My own adaptation of Almond Poppy Seed muffins.  They were delicious, and I think they may just become one of my rotating muffin recipes.

It pays to be adaptable.  Stay tuned for more...

Recipe:  Almond Poppy Seed Muffins
Adapted from The Daring Gourmet

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup white granulated sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup virgin coconut oil
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon good quality almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Sliced almonds
Turbinado Sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, coconut oil, and sugar for at least 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, almond and vanilla extract, and buttermilk and beat until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat just until combined, being careful not to over-beat.   Add the poppy seeds and stir gently until combined.  Fill muffin cups to about 2/3 full.  Sprinkle with a few sliced almonds and a little turbinado sugar.

Bake for approximately 20 or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean but moist.  Let cool for about 10 minutes in the muffin tin, and then transfer to a wire cooling rack to finish.




Monday, November 10, 2014

Comments on Condiments


There's really nothing I like better than a good condiment.  Just ask my family.  For years they have been deriving enormous humor from my hotdog preparation at Pirates games.  I think of the hotdog and its accompanying bun as the delivery system for the condiments.  Ted and the kids think the whole things turns out to be pretty messy and gross.  I think it's perfect.  The more mustard, onions, relish, and kraut, the better.  I like it that way.  No apologies.

My love of condiments extends far beyond hotdog fixings.  I love all condiments, and that includes even the weird ones like chutney.  Is it sweet?  Is it savory?  It's a little of both.  And that suits me fine.

Generally speaking, chutneys are served with roasted meats.  They add a nice sweetness and spice -- think Major Grey's Mango Chutney.  I'm a renegade though.  I like to serve chutney in unexpected ways. This particular apple chutney is really nice on toasted  multigrain bread or cornbread.  Think of it as an interesting fruit compote.  It adds an interesting little something something to everything it touches.

This is an Ina Garten recipe so you know (1) it'll be good, and (2) it'll be fairly easy.  For the record, I was out of raisins.  (Who runs out of raisins?  Running out of raisins is like being out of milk.  It just doesn't happen.)  I used currants instead and it was still tasty as can be.  The chutney took just minutes to whip up and the leftovers kept for a week or so in the refrigerator.

So, spread your condiment wings.  Live a little.  This chutney could be your new favorite condiment.

Ina Garten's Sweet and Savory Apple Chutney
Make It Ahead, 2014

Ingredients:

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and half-inch diced
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
3/4 cup good cider vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon whole dried mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup raisins

Directions:

Combine the apples, onion, ginger, orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes and salt and in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Take off the heat and add the raisins.

Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.







Thursday, October 30, 2014

Picture Perfect






I think we can all agree that I am no food stylist.  I think I am also safe in assuming that none of you thinks I am a gifted food photographer either.  That's okay.  I know my limitations.

Let's face it.  There's only so much you can do with an iPhone.  Yes, there are those people out there that are gifted selfie takers.  I get that.  I've watched Keeping Up With the Kardashians.  I am pretty much convinced that besides parading around with her boobs hanging out, all Kim Kardashian does is take selfies.  It's no wonder she's good at it.  She gets a lot of practice, what with all the Selfie Books she makes for Kanye.  Everyone needs a skill, and I suppose that selfie taking is as good a skill as any.  True, Kim isn't solving world hunger, but it's important to work with what you've got.

But back to me.

I've often thought about how I might make the photos on my blog better.  First and foremost, I could do a better job of staging them.  Charlie's girlfriend has suggested I take the pictures from above, but that would require moving a step stool or some other something to stand on.  I could also veto the really bad pictures and not use them.  I don't do that either.  I always think all my pictures are artistic, which is really just an excuse for pictures that off center or blurry. Maybe it's that I don't have a good eye for these things.  Who knows.

My overall photography approach is quick and dirty.  I snap, I download, I post.  I guess I think that the food should speak for itself.  Sometimes this works.  Sometimes not.

Today was a good day.  Not only is Yotum Ottolenghi's Cauliflower Cake beyond divine in terms of taste, it also came out looking looks picture perfect.  I'm not kidding.  I took these pictures of the actual cake I baked.  Right out of the oven.  Honestly, I don't think I've ever made anything that spoke for itself better than these pictures.  (If you disagree please don't tell me.  I'm on a high from the sheer thrill of it all.)

I'm sure these and every other photo I've ever taken could be improved.  Maybe someday either (a) I'll get better at the whole food styling/photography thing, or (b) become so wildly successful that I can hire someone to do it for me. (Personally I'm voting for option (b), but I wouldn't mind a little smattering of option (a) either.)

Until then, bear with me.  And enjoy this picture perfect treat as either a light main course or a really special side dish.





Recipe:  Yotum Ottolenghi's Cauliflower Cake
Plenty More, 2014

Ingredients:

1 medium cauliflower
1 large red onion, peeled
5 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
7  eggs
½ cup chopped basil
1 cup all purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ cups grated parmesan
Salt and black pepper
Melted butter, for greasing
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350F.

 Break the cauliflower into medium florets, put them in a pot with 1 teaspoon of salt, cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes, until quite soft. Strain, and leave in the colander for a few minutes to dry.

While the cauliflower's cooking, prepare the batter. Cut 2 or 3 rings off one end of the onion and set aside (these will go on top of the cake); coarsely chop the rest. Heat the oil in a pan and on a low heat sauté the chopped onion and rosemary for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to cool down, add the eggs and basil, and whisk.

Sift the flour, baking powder and turmeric into a large bowl, and add the parmesan, one and a half teaspoons of salt and plenty of black pepper. Add the egg mix and whisk to eliminate lumps. Add the cauliflower and stir gently, trying to keep some florets whole.

Use baking parchment to line the bottom of a 24cm round cake tin with a loose base. Brush the sides with butter, put in the sesame seeds and toss them around so they stick to the sides. Tip in the cauliflower mix and arrange the onion rings on top.

Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set. Serve just warm or at room temperature.