Friday, December 18, 2009
I use an iron skillet because you can transfer it from the stove top to the oven. I also use skinless chicken breasts, and I don't feel I've been missing out...
I usually serve this with cous cous and a salad or green vegetable.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Last week I saw this recipe and I was caught by the biscuit bug again. The limited number of ingredients--cream being the only binder--sparked my curiosity. The simplicity of it just made sense. Weapon in hand (spatula), I folded the flour and cream together, stopping just when the flour was moistened and the dough began to form. I didn't use a rolling pin, but flattened the dough with my hands.
These biscuits are the best I have ever had, and I still can't believe they emerged from the very oven installed in this old apt. Each biscuit had a light velvety crunch on the outside that gave way to a fluffy-soft inside. After my knock-down, fish-and-chips failure, it felt good to get on my feet again with these redeeming biscuits.
Friday, December 11, 2009
This past Wednesday, I tried my hand at fish and chips. When I saw a recipe in my new Cooking Light mag., I had visions of paper bags filled with deliciously crisp, white, flaky fillets of haddock wreathed in chipped potatoes and dotted with malt vinegar--the kind of fish you can get in the UK and nowhere else. When I saw the recipe's gorgeous accompanying photograph, I thought--ha! I'll show London!
Mistake number one, I purchased a bag of frozen cod from Wal-mart. When I cut open the bag, soggy, grey fillets slid from their individually wrapped packets into a shallow dish. The fillets seemed to be disintegrating as I handled them, at which point I began to have second thoughts about the whole ordeal. Then I looked at the picture again and thought, surely the difference is that these fillets are raw and those are cooked. Onward ho! But I really should have stopped there.
I turned back to my heating skillet of oil and my bowl of flour. I added the called-for beer and whisked it into a frightening brown froth. I submerged each piece of fish beneath the bubbles and it came up dripping with a mix of what looked like a concoction of latex paint and scuzzy sea foam.
I plopped the fish into the oil, keeping the tearing pieces together with the flour/beer glue. After the alloted three minutes per side, the poor fillets looked as though they'd been beaten to a pulp. Like bad pancakes, I slapped them onto our plates, flung them on the table, and force fed myself and my family a truly abominable dish. Even the oven chips turned out poorly . . .
Lesson learned--never buy cheap fish! And also, I am no match for London.
(I tried to provide a link to the recipe, but found out that it had been removed from the Web site! Ha!)
Monday, December 7, 2009
That evening, I made Fennel-Dusted Chicken with Brown Butter and Capers--my favorite new recipe of the season. As you already know, I love brown butter, but I also love capers. Capers are flower buds plucked from shrubby plants found on the cliff sides of the Mediterranean. I feel like some sort of kitchen nymph serving flower-bud-speckled sauces on my fillets beef or chicken or fish to an audience unsuspecting of the little treasure they're about to eat.
I paired the chicken with mashed potatoes with caramelized shallots. When you put these two on the plate, let the mashed potatoes lean into the caper sauce. A little extra butter never hurt a potato...
I kind of make up the potato recipe as I go along, but below are some guidelines. Please note that these are guidelines only.
8 large potatoes (white or russet) cleaned, mostly peeled, and cut in half or thirds depending on size
4 tablespoons of butter (or more)
3-4 shallots, thinly sliced
Olive oil as needed
1/2 cup of buttermilk
1/2 cup of milk, plus more as needed
salt and freshly ground pepper
(other yummy additions are freshly grated parmesan cheese and sour cream)
Boil a large pot of water with plenty of salt. Add potatoes to the water and boil until they can be easily pierced with a fork--about 20 minutes for big potatoes.
While potatoes are boiling, bring some olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) in a small skillet to medium heat. Add shallots, decreasing heat if necessary. Season with a little kosher salt. Saute for 15 - 20 minutes until deep golden in color. Remove from heat.
Preheat broiler with rack in the middle or upper third of the oven.
Drain potatoes and mash by hand with a potato masher, until the pot of potatoes is broken up. Add butter, mashing to encourage it to melt. Add buttermilk, mashing a little more. (If adding cheese or sour cream, add here.) Then add enough milk to reach your desired consistency, mashing a little as you go. With a slotted spoon, remove the shallots from the oil and add them to the potatoes, folding them in with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon potatoes into a ceramic baking dish. Make six swirls in the top of the potatoes, leaving pools for butter. Cut pats of butter and place in the empty pools. Broil for a few minutes until some of the swirled peaks begin to brown and the butter has melted.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The addition of milk and a hint of nutmeg might have a few southern Italian food lovers turning up their noses (eh hem, Dad!), but I promise, this is a great dish and won't taste either milky or nutty when you're done.
This is a perfect weeknight recipe. It's inexpensive; it makes a lot; and it gets better with age (next day is better than the first!)
* Usually needs a little extra salt once plated.
* Serve with plenty of fresh grated parmesan cheese.
* Add a little finely grated cheese (1/4 cup) to the sauce to thicken it up a bit.
* While sauce is still in the pan, add some of the pasta water and cook a bit of it off so that the sauce is not so runny.
* Leftovers: reheat in a large skillet, adding a little water to freshen up the sauce.
I can't wait to try this next summer with sun ripened tomatoes from the garden!!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
More on that pie later . . . can't taste it until tomorrow.
The recipe says it is optional to crisp the proscuitto before adding it to the salad; I would 100% disagree. If you are going to make this, you will not be sorry you took the extra time to crisp the garnish. I tried it both cooked and uncooked. There is only one choice here, and it is the first.
ARUGULA SALAD WITH FIGS, PROSCIUTTO, WALNUTS, AND PARMESAN
Serves 6. Published November 1, 2006.
Although frying the prosciutto adds crisp texture to the salad, if you prefer, you can simply cut it into ribbons and use it as a garnish. Honey can be substituted for the jam in any of these salad recipes.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto , cut into 1/4-inch-wide ribbons
1 tablespoon raspberry jam
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup dried figs , stems removed, fruit chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 small shallot , very finely minced (about 1 tablespoon)
5 ounces lightly packed stemmed arugula (about 8 cups)
1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
2 ounces Parmesan cheese , shaved into thin strips with vegetable peeler
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; add prosciutto and fry until crisp, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper-towel-lined plate and set aside to cool.
2. Whisk jam and vinegar in medium microwave-safe bowl; stir in figs. Cover with plastic wrap, cut several steam vents in plastic, and microwave on high until figs are plump, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons oil, shallot, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; toss to combine. Let cool to room temperature.
3. Toss arugula and vinaigrette in large bowl; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide salad among individual plates; top each with portion of prosciutto, walnuts, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Also this morning, I was reminded of the last line of The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." It had me combing our bookshelves in the bedroom to find it before I even brushed my teeth. The first time I read that was about nine years ago, but I will never forget it because it seemed to me, so true. I'm revisited by those words often as life changes, as things fall apart and rebuild, as I clutch to things and let others go. At this very moment, I don't feel that the past is so much my problem as is the tumultuous present; nevertheless, the words are there in my head reminding me that I am quite small and yet not alone.
At least my dinners this week don't require a lot of work, special tricks, or clean up.
This recipe makes A LOT of salad. It's the first dinner salad we haven't been able to finish. A perfect dish for the season of pot-lucking.
Mediterranean Chopped Salad
Serves 4 as a light entrée and 6 as a side dish. Published July 1, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.
1 medium cucumber , peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 pint grape tomatoes , quartered (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 medium garlic clove , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas , drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
1/2 small minced red onion (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 romaine heart , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
4 ounces feta cheese , crumbled (about 1 cup)
Ground black pepper
1. Combine cucumber, tomatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt in colander set over bowl and let stand 15 minutes.
2. Whisk oil, vinegar, and garlic together in large bowl. Add drained cucumber and tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, onion, and parsley; toss and let stand at room temperature to blend flavors, 5 minutes.
3. Add romaine and feta; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Serves 6 to 8. Published September 1, 2008. From Cook's Illustrated.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil , plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion , chopped medium (about 1 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
Pinch hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 large slices good-quality sandwich bread , crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes (if using), and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain. Stir in sugar and bread; bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.
2. Transfer half of soup to blender. Add 1 tablespoon oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and oil. Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in chicken broth and brandy (if using). Return soup to boil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve soup in individual bowls. Sprinkle each portion with pepper and chives and drizzle with olive oil.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I still can't put my finger on what is so good about this--I'm chalking it up to comfort food.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
- 3 ripe but firm pears (about 1 1/2 pounds), quartered and cored (see note above)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus an additional 2 teaspoons
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1/2 medium head green leaf lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
- 2 small bunches watercress, washed, dried, and stemmed (about 4 cups)
- 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved into thin slices with a vegetable peeler
- 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
Monday, November 16, 2009
Tonight, I tried a recipe from Cook's Illustrated: Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo. I just started using the Cooks Illustrated website and have found that their recipes offer lots of useful tips and new techniques that you can apply to other dishes as you tweak and refine them. I wouldn't have thought to add a little cornstarch to Alfredo, but my sauce was beautifully thick and smooth after I did. I wouldn't have thought to warm the serving bowls with some of the boiling pasta water to keep this very temperature sensitive dish at it's best on the table. I'm sure I'll use these tips again!
This recipe called for a little bit of grated whole nutmeg (see previous post) and a cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It was worth every penny to get the real P-Regg. rather than the more affordable Americanized version--"parmesan." I don't always splurge on this, but for the Alfredo I did and would again. It adds the zing you need to balance out the cream.
I'll confess that Alfredo has not always been a favorite dish of mine, but I have been warming to it over the past two years. With some extra cheese grated on top, this recipe was delicious. Brandon wasn't sure about the nutmeg, which added some fullness to the flavor of the dish. "Woody" came to mind for me, but I suppose the obvious adjective is "nutty." Next time, I might substitute the nutmeg for a little garlic powder...
In the end, I'd say this Alfredo recipe is a good one to have in my pocket.
LIGHTER FETTUCCINE ALFREDO--Cooks Illustrated, March 22, 2007
|1/8||teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg|
|9||ounces fresh fettuccine|
|2||ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano , grated fine (about 1 cup)|
|Ground black pepper|
1. Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Using a ladle or heatproof measuring cup, fill four individual serving bowls with about 1/2 cup of the boiling water each; set the bowls aside to warm.
2. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup of the half-and-half, the nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a simmer in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Whisk the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup half-and-half together, then whisk it into the simmering mixture. Continue to simmer the sauce, whisking constantly, until it has thickened, about 1 minute. Cover and set the pot off the heat.
3. Stir 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta into the boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, until al dente, 1 to 2 minutes. Reserving 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain the pasta.
4. Return the half-and-half mixture to medium-low heat and whisk in 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Slowly whisk in the Parmesan. Add the pasta and cook, coating the pasta evenly with the sauce, until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Season with pepper to taste. Working quickly, empty the serving bowls of water, divide the pasta among the bowls, and serve.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I love to build a layer cake. It's got a structure to be determined (I love to use square pans), then a tedious stacking process, and finally a color palate to choose and apply. It's your own little (or big) creation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's always a learning process. This was my first time spreading the icing with an icing spatula. I HIGHLY recommend this tool. It helps you spread wide sweeps of icing.
Monday, November 9, 2009
I have been trying to recreate those soups ever since. I don't feel that I have succeeded yet, and perhaps I never will. I'm sure a part of their deliciousness is tied to the very cobblestones of South Street.
Creamy Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup in Cooking Light (can you tell I have a subscription?)--a spiced purreed soup that looked similar to my Scottish favorites--I had to try it. The recipe was part of a section of sides and starters. I picked out the Candied Walnut, Pear, and Leafy Green Salad to go with the soup, warmed some ciabatta bread and called it dinner.
The soup needed a little extra salt to bring out the festive flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweet potato, but it was well worth the tinkering. The recipe requires you to brown the butter after adding it to the pan--I can only compliment the original chef on this tactic. Browned butter is one of the great delights of my life--if you haven't tried it, you must! (I'm sure a future blog post will be devoted purely to browned butter.) I used an immersion blender to puree it, which worked beautifully and cut down on clean up. The salad was delicious as well, the best thing being the dressing. I ended up using brown balsamic vinegar because that was all I had, but it was still great! This dressing could work for other salads--very handy to have in your repertoire. To cut down on cost, I used only romaine lettuce and cut the ingredients in half to serve just the two of us.
So we felt quite gourmet last night with our steaming bowls of soup and salad plates decorated with glazed nuts and greens. The eating and tasting gave us something new to do. What a way to dress up an average Sunday evening!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
On Sunday, I attempted to make Cooking Light's Classic Roast Turkey and Giblet Gravy because every cook, and every mom for that matter, should know how to make a good turkey dinner. Someday, I hope that I will host our own Thanksgiving meal, so I'd better start practicing now if I want to achieve that grandma finesse.
My experience was definitely a testament to doing too much and going too fast. The recipe wanted me to make the homemade turkey broth a day in advance. But Saturday was so quickly swallowed by dishes of past (made this the night before) and present and other household novelties, that I postponed until Sunday morning. At 8:30 a.m. I hoisted the turkey from the fridge to the sink, unwrapped it, wrestled the turkey neck from the bird's cavity (still a bit frozen) and yanked out a plastic packet of what I thought was premixed gravy (label said something about gravy). So, I tossed the packet, only to realize later that it contained the all important giblets, and threw the neck alone into a big stainless steel pot with hot oil. I was supposed to brown this for 15 minutes. The sputtering and spattering commenced as I held my baby girl on one hip and was soon distracted by her coos and arm flails and shrieks. Before long, we were both sitting in front of the computer staring at facebook when the smell of smoke started to tug at our noses. After only 8 minutes, I had completely charred the turkey neck. I put down the baby and took the pot onto the porch. Grabbed a towel and started waving it like a flag around the fire alarm. Thus the failure of step number 1.
But then I delved into the real cooking. I had a blast chopping up the herbs and learning how to pin those pointy turkey wingtips behind the bird's back. I took fingerfuls of the herb-butter mixture and stuffed it underneath the skin. Cooking gets fun when you get your hands dirty. There's something elemental about shoving your hands underneath turkey skin and jamming in the shrubby herbs.
I thought my creation really was glorious slathered with butter and situated securely in my never-before-used giant roasting pan. I placed it in the oven and went back to baby watching...
In the end, it turned out pretty well--even the gravy. I think I still have a long way to go before roasting the perfect classic, moist turkey, but this one still had its charm.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
To be dubbed a keeper in my book, it's got to make me sit back and go yum--I mean really close-your-eyes yum. If a recipe can't do that, it's not worth my time to make it again. Lately, I've been trying to figure out exactly what makes me (and others) go yum--once you figure that out, you start to unlock all sorts of recipe and cooking secrets. Soon, you'll almost be able to determine just by reading a recipe if you might like it, if you should add something or take something away. You start to learn tastes and how tastes blend, for better or for worse.
Last Sunday, I made a recipe that I thought looked scrumptious--a sure yummer. Alas, it was not. The recipe was called Braised Chicken Thighs with Peppers and Olives, from Fresh and Simple, Cooking for Friends. I made the recipe carefully--rinsed, dried, and browned the chicken, sliced the olives, used a white wine as the liquid of choice. But, in the end it was bland and the leftovers were even worse. I'm still stumped as to why this recipe didn't really work (but others in that book are quite good!) It turned out slightly dry, but also lacking in real flavor.
There's always something to be gained from spending a little time behind the stove, even if the recipe is a flop. In my case, I have not quite yet learned all there is to know about the yum factor, but I'm one bum recipe closer!
Monday, October 19, 2009
Gravy is one of those mysterious foods that, until you know all the tricks, is hit or miss. It has always baffled me that the simple ingredients in sausage gravy (milk, flour, sausage, salt, pepper) combine to form a consistency so different from their natural—if you will—state.
Katie's method is to brown the sausage, remove it with a slotted spoon from pan. Add a bit of butter and 1/4 cup flour. Brown the flour a bit. Then add about 2 cups of milk + sausage. Stir and cook until thickened. I wanted to try (a bit of my mom's influence in this method) keeping the meat in the pan, adding the flour directly to it to brown, and lastly, adding the milk a little at a time.
"A little more?" I asked Katie, as we both leaned over the pan to judge.
"A little more," she said. I added enough milk to make it look like sausage was not the main ingredient.
"It'll thicken," she reassured me. "We just have to wait."
In a few telling minutes our gravy thickened. We sat at the table and ladled full, steaming mounds of it over biscuits. It felt good to know that after 13 years of being friends, we still have things to share—a comfort reaffirmed through the common experience of making and enjoying food.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I set a high goal for myself last weekend--to make two apple pies. Making pie is an intimidating task as so many things can go wrong. The best thing to do is take your time. I found this to be my first challenge. Taking my time is a very hard thing to with my 8-month-old toddler around. Not to mention a needy cocker spaniel and a husband (he's very sweet). Not only did I attempt to manage the peeling and slicing of 14 apples, the cubing of 4 sticks of butter, and measuring of all that flour--but also the active and demanding home.
When little Rosie wanted to be fed just as I pulled the ingredients from their resting places, and then held, and then changed...I realized I would have to revise my game plan. I made the pie dough Saturday and ended the weekend with one complete pie on Sunday, the other on Monday.
Finally, with baby pushing an unopened jumbo box of wipes to help her cruise around the kitchen, a wooden spoon or two to serve as "new toys," and a few treats scattered about to keep her occupied, I opened my cherished book by Williams-Sonoma: Pie and Tart.
I've tried a lot of pie crust recipes, and the Williams-Sonoma basic pie dough always turns out the best. The dough is the toughest part. The goal is to achieve a crust that is golden, flaky, melt-in-your mouth delicious. Too much water and/or blending and it will be tough and rock hard. The Williams-Sonoma basic pie dough recipe uses a stick of cold butter per crust -- for two pies, I used 4 sticks!
Every stage of pie making reveals little discoveries like:
- it's a good idea to blend the "seasoning" ingredients (flour, cinnamon, sugar, etc.) for the filling before adding to the fruit;
- taking your time to blend your butter cubes with a pastry blender thoroughly into the "small pea" stage helps with the next step (though hurts your arm after four doughs!)
- mixing the dough with a fork only until all (or most!) of the loose flour is incorporated is a rather difficult task, but the most essential of all. You MUST NOT OVER MIX. Do not be afraid if the dough isn't in a nice ball when you stop mixing it. Mine is usually separated, until I gather it into a ball with my hands;
- to get the "very cold water" called for, I keep a mug filled with water from the fridge with ice cubes in it to dip from with my tablespoon.
This pie dough recipe is a beautiful golden color when you roll it out--not pale like those doughs that require shortening. It's sturdy too, easy to fold and handle.
On Sunday, I finally draped the second pie crust over top a heaping mound of cinnamon spiced apples, tucked in the edge, and sealed it with a fork. After cutting the five top slits in the shape of a star and chilling it a bit, I took it out to bake.
It looked so very traditional waiting on the stovetop to be baked--waiting to fill the house with a smell that meant someone was home preparing a place for you, waiting to be eaten and to elicit that satisfied, deeply good feeling of a thing earned, a thing home-baked.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
That's what this blog is about. The joy that comes from cooking in the home and the day-to-day experience of food. I start with a tribute to butter because it makes so many things better. It's what I call a foundation food--a basic ingredient that renders your pies, cookies, main dishes, and appetizers (even regular toast!) absolutely delectable. In a word, butter keeps family and friends coming back to a table that's part of the home's foundation.
My dad flat out refused to ever keep butter substitutes in our house growing up, and I know now that it was for reasons beyond just the taste. It was for what the taste meant to him--it meant comfort, family, home, enjoyment, devotion, love--all wrapped in a stick of butter. It's good for the soul.