Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter Soup Night

Cold January nights just beg for a nice, hearty bowl of soup. I had a good supply of homemade chicken stock in my freezer (and a pile of carcasses waiting to be made into another round of stock) and the winds have been blowing hard around here lately, so last night I decided to make a nice bowl of comfort for Kevin and me.

This time around I didn't improvise or make anything up. I used an actual recipe. I have long been intrigued by a recipe I saw in Food & Wine for a chestnut soup made with celery root and mushrooms. I still had a good supply of of those Hen of the Woods mushrooms from my brother and was looking for a good way to use them. I had never tried a soup like this before. Since I'm sure many people feel I'm too much of a picky eater and need to expand my horizons, this was the perfect soup to make. Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream (without the actual Grappa cream) it would be.

Bacon is always an auspicious start. The recipe actually called for pancetta, but it seemed to be hiding in the store. I couldn't find any. This applewood-smoked bacon I bought was wonderful. It had the best bacon scent when you cooked it.

My less saturated-fat-laden ingredients. Here we have mushrooms, chestnuts, shallots, and the celery root. Celery root is such an ugly vegetable, isn't it? It ranks up there with jicama and rutabaga. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for in scent. I think it smells wonderful when I peel it.

All of the ingredients in a pot: bacon, celery root, shallot, mushrooms, brandy, sage thyme, bay leaf and chicken stock.
What did I ever do before I had an immersion blender? I shudder at the thought of having to transfer this whole pot to the food processor and blend in batches. All hail the immersion blender!

I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished soup in a bowl with the cream added. Doodyhead! What can I tell you? It looked like mushroom bisque. It tasted even better than your average mushroom bisque. The bacon added a smoky, salty dimension. The chestnuts gave it sweetness. The herbs added all kinds of fresh flavor. It was an excellent soup and I will happily make it again.

I didn't want to add the grappa cream on top as the recipe called for. This recipe was meant to be served in small portions as an appetizer and I was serving up big dinner-sized bowls of it. Kevin and I are trying to watch our weight a bit and adding whipped cream to the soup seemed like overkill. Besides, I didn't have any grappa.

I still felt like I needed to have *something* in the soup. I thought about garlic toast. Then I thought about how we're trying to cut down on our bread intake. I wondered if a soup filled with bacon, cream, and butter really needed anything more.

I settled on this walnut-wheat bread I found at Whole Foods. I just hacked off chunks and dunked them!

The next morning I made myself a nice low-calorie breakfast.

Open-faced bacon, egg, and cheese on grilled walnut-wheat bread. The extra fat is to keep me warm while working with my horses in the freezing cold.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dinner with the Big Boss (and not a single drop of JD)

Last night was one of my most momentous and most nerve-wracking dinner parties. Kevin and I had the "Big Boss" and the rest of the senior staff from his company over for dinner.

We've been to BB's home for dinner in the past. That's one of the reasons I wanted to have him over. I like to reciprocate other people's hospitality. What makes it so scary (besides wanting to make a good impression on the company's head honcho) is that these folks live on a completely different plane than us (or at least it feels that way). Let's just say we live in radically different income brackets. You know how apartments in Manhattan are all supposed to be the size of shoeboxes (if you're lucky)? Well, I would say at least three of my suburban condo could fit inside their Central Park West diggs. It's immaculate to boot. I took extra time off from work cleaning and tidying up and fixing every little crack and every little error because we wanted so badly to make a good impression.

Of course what matters most is the food. One can hope that if the food is delicious, that no one will care about anything else. Kevin and I are old hands at entertaining these days, right? The key is to treat the party like any other.

As always, there were food obstacles. I had two non-cheese-eaters (plus Kevin). I had one vegetarain. I had Kevin, the non-red-meat eater. That made it hard to come up with a universal crowd pleaser. BB told Kevin how much he loves pasta and garlic bread. (I think he's had spaghetti and meatballs on the brain every since Kevin told him I made that for Kevin's birthday dinner.) My issue with that is that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to boil a box of spaghetti. I like to make things that are a little more special when people come over for dinner. I don't want them eating things they could easily eat at home. I opted to make homemade spinach gnocchi. Rather than make meatballs, I decided on a nice, hearty bolognese sauce alongside a marinara sauce for the non-meat eaters.

My gnocchi are not pretty. Rolling and cutting these grew rather tedious after the first ball or so of gnocchi dough. I cut them bigger and bigger as time went on. I certainly wasn't going to mess with making cute little fork marks in them. They were tasty and light though, so there were no complaints about the size and shape.

Everyone arrived and we had some nibbles. There were nuts, Terra chips, olives, bocconcini, and garlic-sherry mushrooms. Everything was purchased but the 'shrooms, which I made using the same recipe I used for my Crostini Duo except that I cut the mushrooms into chunks instead of grinding them into little bits.

Dinner started with a salad. No recipe needed for this. It's arugula, orange sections (I used the oranges for it), thinly sliced fennel, and toasted pine nuts. The dressing is olive oil with equal parts orange juice and red wine vinegar and some chopped shallot.

Here are my sauces. The bolognese was a variation on the classic Marcella Hazan recipe and was the best bolognese I ever made. I don't know why I never made a recipe like this before. Wowsers was it good! A few of the guests were eager to try both sauces. I received plenty of compliments on all of it. It certainly eased my nerves and Kevin's to hear people were enjoying the dinner.

Then came dessert. Dessert was special. Dessert was a crowning achievement for me.

You see, Tartlette is not a blog to be trifled with IMO. It is a wonderful blog in terms of the writing, the gentle humor, and the wonderful stories. However, when it comes right down to the nitty gritty, it's pure dessert porn for me. I drool over the photos and recipes. I have always considered it to be a blog on a higher plane, one whose recipes I can dream of making, but I rarely feel that I can aspire to such creations with my meager talents. It's a blog sweet dreams are made of.

But one day I saw the Transatlantic Squares and something just clicked in me. Maybe it was because the base was just an easy, good old fashioned brownie. Maybe it was because I entered the "Name the Dessert" contest. Maybe it was just because it looked so darned delicious. I don't know. I just knew when I saw it that it was going to be the dessert at my next dinner party, even if it did mean doing risky (for me) things like making caramel.

It didn't get to an auspicious start. I made the brownie layer with no problem, but I hit a roadblock with the caramel mousse. I'm not sure what I did wrong. I think I probably overcooked the caramel or simply didn't let it cool enough, or didn't let the chocolate cool enough. I also think I overheated the cream that is added to the caramel. All I know is that when I blended the caramel with the chocolate, I got a clumpy, greasy mess. I decided to go ahead and fold the whipped cream into it anyway. Nothing integrated well. I had these gummy lumps of caramel inside whipped cream. Discouraged I threw the whole thing out.

I had a choice at this point. I had enough sugar, chocolate, cream, and butter to start over. I could also just say, "Screw it," and try to find time to make some ice cream to go with the already-made brownies instead. (Ice cream I know I can do pretty well.) I decided to give it one more try.

I was very careful about how much I cooked the caramel. I decided that there were different degrees of "dark brown". I also made sure the cream I stirred into it wasn't so warm that it formed a skin. My caramel was a different consistency this time around. I let it cool a good long time and did the same with the melted chocolate. When I blended them together, the consistency seemed a little grainy, but there were no gummy lumps. Cautiously I folded in the whipped cream. The texture still seemed slightly grainy, but it wasn't lumpy and it all blended consistently. The mixture seemed loose, but I took my chances, spread it over the brownie, and put it in the fridge. To my pleasant surprise, it was quite firm in a couple of hours and ready for the ganache. I received many kudos for this, including from one of the guests who is a professional pastry chef.

I successfully made the squares. I was a klutz at cutting them. This photo unfortunately doesn't do the taste justice. Getting my desserts to look pretty has never been my strong point.

Then again, I have to say this whole meal tasted much better than these photos look!

After all of the fears and dread, it was a great party. I tried some new recipes, took some risks, and had fun with some important people. I have leftover bolognese sauce that I hope to turn into a butt-kicking lasagne dish at some point.

Spinach and Potato Gnocchi

2 10 oz packages frozen spinach
2 pounds potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
1.5 - 2 cup all-purpose flour
2 egg s
1tsp salt

Defrost spinach and squeeze out excess liquid. Even though it's chopped, chop it up a bit more.

Peel and cut the potatoes. Steam them until tender. Mash with a food mill, a ricer, or if you have neither of those things, a masher.

Make a well in the center of your mashed potatoes and put in the eggs, salt, flour, and spinach. Knead together. If you want nice gnocchi, get your hands dirty.

Roll the dough into 1-inch thick ropes and cut into 1-inch long pieces. If you aren' t using them right away, put them on a floured tray and cover with plastic wrap.

Drop gnocchi in boiling water. They are ready when they float to the top.

Roasted Garlic Bread

1 head garlic,
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsely
1-2 tsp salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 loaf hearty Italian bread

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut the top off a head of garlic. Loosely wrap in foil and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for about an hour.

Mash garlic to a paste with all ingredients expect bread.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Split bread in half. Spread garlic paste evenly over bread.

Toast until crispy.

Marinara Sauce - My Way

2 Tbl olive oil
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
Handful of chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup of white wine

Heat olive oil and add crushed red pepper flakes and mix around a bit. Add garlic and heat until fragrant.

Add tomatoes and cook at least a half an hour. Add wine and basil and cook a few minutes more.

For a smooth consistency, blend with an immersion blender. Leave it chunky if you prefer.

Bolognese Alla Breve Cuoco Di (dis)Ordine

1 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 diced celery stalk
1.5 pound ground chuck
1 cup milk
1 cup red wine
Few grates fresh nutmeg
1 28-oz can diced tomates
2 bay leaves

Cook onion until translucent. Add carrot and celery and cook for about two minutes until well coated.

Add the meat to the pan. Break it up and brown it. Add a little salt and pepper.

Add the milk and simmer until it is bubbled away. Grate in some nutmeg. Add the wine and simmer till that evaporates too.

Add the tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a low simmer. Simmer at least 3 hours.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More New Featured Ingredients

My mother-in-law's Christmas gift has finally arrived. Once again, she has sent Sir Pickypants and me a box of oranges, more oranges than two people can easily eat quickly.

Once again I have to come up with creative ways to use these.

I still have plenty of this.

And I had to deal with this kind of day yesterday.

It was a good day to start getting creative.

A cold, snowy Sunday is the perfect kind of day for roast chicken. I decided to make roast chicken with a citrus twist. (No pun intended - okay, maybe I intended a little pun.)

I took a little advice from Sue, who always knows what to do with everything you have too much of in the kitchen. She's been saying this all along.

I sliced an orange very thin and put the slices under the chicken skin. I chopped up some sage and smooshed it into some butter and stuck that under the skin as well. Into the cavity went whatever parts of the orange didn't fit under the skin and some whole sage leaves. I lightly coated the outside with olive oil and spinkled it liberally with salt and pepper (because I love a salty, crispy skin).

It didn't look pretty going in, but I hoped it would look pretty coming out.

Ah, That's better. This chicken was incredibly moist and flavorful. It got the Sir Pickpants seal of approval. I will definitely do this again with my chicken.

I served with a couscous and vegetable pilaf on the side. I got the recipe from Shape magazine. No recipe needed. Just saute some onion, garlic, tomato, carrot and zucchini in olive oil. Then cook with couscous in chicken broth according to package directions. Season to taste. I used a little oregano and a little cumin.

But wait, there's more!

When I'm home alone all day, I always like to bake. I decided to make something that would utilize both the bourbon and the oranges. Although it was a bit risky, I decided to adapt a cake recipe to include both. I used a vanilla pound cake recipe from Julia Child and substituted the milk in the recipe for a mixture of bourbon and orange juice and some of the vanilla in the recipe was replaced with grated orange peel.

I hope I'm not being too immodest when I say this cake was DELICOUS. When it was baked, I poked a few holes in it and sprinkled more bourbon on top. Then I glazed it with a mixture of milk, powdered sugar, and orange extract. It was too die for. It's rare I love soemthing without chocolate quite so much.

Orange-Bourbon Pound Cake

2 sticks of room temperature butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, whisked to combine
3 cups flour
1/2 tespoon salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 fresh orange juice
3/4 bourbon
1 tsp grated orange peel
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a Bundt pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Combine OJ and whiskey. Set aside.
In a mixer, cream butter until soft. Stream in the sugar and continue beating on medium speed until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs just a little (about a tablespoon) at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Mix at medium speed until all eggs are mixed in and mixture is pale and gaining more volume.

Add flour and whiskey mixture alternately, ending with the flour. When it is well mixed, gently stir in vanilla and orange zest.

Pour mixture into pan and bake for 55-65 minutes. Use the toothpick test to test for doneness. When baked cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then remove from pan.

Orange-Sage Roast Chicken

1 whole chicken, neck and giblets removed.
2 Tbl butter, softened
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
8-10 thin orange slices
Olive oil
Additional orange slices and sage leaves for stuffing cavity.

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Smoosh butter and sage together until well combined. You can get fancy and roll this into a log and cut slices, but that take chilling and stuff like that and maybe you don't want to do that kind of work, so don't think you have to be fancy.

Loosen the chicken skin and slice orange slices and random bits of the sage butter. Lightly brush the outside of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle the outside with salt and pepper. Stuff more orange slices and sage leaves into the cavity.

Roast chicken in hot oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 and continue cooking for around 45 minutes or so depending on size. I use a probe thermometer and cook it until the thigh reaches the proper internal temperature and juices run clear.

When chicken is cooked allow to rest 10 minutes. Carve and serve.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More Fun with My Good Friend Jack

I'm on a roll with that bottle of bourbon. This time I decided it was time to try it on pork.

I like experimenting with brining meats and thought it would be fun to give some pork chops a brine. I'm not sure where I first heard of the concept, but I knew that there were cooks out there who used coffee in their brines. I had tried tea brines with chicken so I was ripe to try one with coffee. After looking over a few recipes, I came up with my own coffee brine. I mixed coffee, water, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves.

If you're going to use pork chops, go big. If you're going to eat pork, eat pork. Buy yourself some big hunks of pork love.

Next came the bourbon part. I made these very much the way I did the chicken with a bourbon glaze. I made my glaze a little differently this time. I mixed bourbon with molasses rather than brown sugar and added some mustard. I kept it all pretty simple. I didn't want to overwhelm with too many flavors.

I seared the chops in a pan and covered them with that lovely sauce right before putting them in the oven.

As with the chicken, they were good, but not quite what I had hoped. With the chicken I thought they were too sweet and not spicy enough, so I know if I make the recipe again, I would add less sugar to the glaze. With this one, I'm not sure what I would add or take away. They were wonderfully melt-in-your-mouth tender, just as I had hoped they would be. The coffee in the brine was evident in the smell while they were cooking, but not so much in the taste. At times they seemed very salty and other times too sweet. A little more mustard would have improved them, but maybe not.

Coffee-Brined Bourbon-Glazed Pork Chops

4 big, thick pork chops
1 cup cold coffee (instant is fine, really)
3 cups water
1/4 cup salt
1 Tbl peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 molasses
2 Tbl dijon mustard

Combine coffe, water, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves and submerge chops in the mixture. Allow to sit in the brine for several hours. Rinse chops well and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oven to 400 degrees

Combine bourbon, molasses and mustard and set aside. Heat a little oil in a pan and brown chops well on both sides. Pour glaze mixture of chops and let them get nice nad coated. Place in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes or until internal temperature is around 160. Serve topped with the pan juices.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Whiskey Troubles

Don't worry. I haven't become an alcoholic. In fact, "troubles" was just an exaggeration. I just have a little too much bourbon on my hands.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted a link to a wonderful chocolate whiskey cake recipe in the NY Times in her Facebook. I decided to make it for the New Year's Eve party I was going to. I didn't bother blogging about the cake as others have blogged about it and there wasn't too much to say about it other than it was delicious. Now I have just one problem.

What do I do with all of this JD? I'm not a drink-hard-liquor-straight kind of gal. I'm a wine-and-fruity-cocktail gal.

I used to make a lot of Kentucky Derby Pies, so I always had this stuff in the house. It's one of my husband's favorite desserts. Unfortunately, I can't eat those pies anymore due to my walnut allergies, so that's out of the question. It was time to get creative and start making up some good bourbon recipes.

Last night I experimented with some chicken thighs. I thought it would be fun to make a bourbon glaze. I decided to just experiment with different flavors and see what would happen. I wanted a mix of sweet, salty, spicy, and smoky. I mixed the bourbon with brown sugar, smoked paprika, a few drops of hot sauce, and a little salt. I also cooked up an onion with the chicken for added flavor.

Start by cooking the onions down a bit.

Nestle in the chicken and brown well on both sides.

When chicken is browned add the bourbon mixture and continue cooking till chicken is cooked through. You can remove the chicken from the pan and cook the liquid down a bit until it's thicker and pour over the chicken.

My sweet and tasty chicken with a kick. I thought it was a little too sweet though. Next time I'm decreasing the amount of sugar and adding a little more paprika and hot sauce. I served it with some roasted asparagus alongside it. Just toss some spears with a little oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes depending on how soft you like it. It's nice tossed with a little hazelnut oil or balsamic vinegar.

Bourbon Chicken Thighs
1-2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tbl olive oil
1/2 cup bourbon whiskey
2 Tbl brown sugar
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
Few drops of red pepper sauce

Heat olive oil in a pan and add onions. Cook over low heat until soft and sweet.

Mix the bourbon, sugar, paprika, salt, and pepper sauce.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Nestle chicken in the pan and brown on both sides over medium heat..

When chicken is brown, pour bourbon mixture into the pan. Cook over medium heat until cooked through.

Remove chicken from pan. Set heat to high and let the sauce reduce down a bit. Pour over chicken.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year to All!

I hope everyone has recovered from his and her respective NYE hangovers and that we're all ready to start 2009 with a bang and plenty of great food.

2008 was a good year for cooking for me. I made some attempts to push myself out of my comfort zone a bit. I made my first doughnuts, my first brioche, my first matzah balls, my first blueberry pie, and my most successful cream puffs. I had resolved to bake some new things this year. I never did make good on my resolution to cook a duck though. That one has to be on my list for 2009.

My cooking is most often about taking a bit of inspiration, whether that inspiration is something I have in my kitchen that needs using up, something I came across in the store, something I read about in a magazine, or something I see in someone else's blog. I like to find an idea or an ingredient, and find ways to cook something new with it.

Even though I'm a bit freeform (or should I say [dis]Ordered?) I do like to try new recipes and actually make them as they are written down. Although I subscribe to two different food magazines and own a shelf full of cookbooks, I am finding over and over again that the recipes I want to make the most are the ones I see right here on the blogs. Sometimes I just use the ideas they gave me and I do my own variations, but I also will make those recipes as they are written.

Whenever I poach a recipe, I do try to blog about it so the blogger knows I made it and gets the well-deserved public acknowledgment and credit for it, but it isn't always the case. Because of this I would like to acknowledge the following blogs for their inspiration. Every single blog in the list below was used at least once this year for a recipe. I'm sorry if I didn't always blog about your recipe, but know that you provided me with something delicious to eat in 2008 and hope to have your recipe links in one of my blogs in 2009.

Baking with Dynamite
Bunny's Warm Oven
Food Blogga
Fun and Food
More Than Burnt Toast
Nik Snacks
The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Proud Italian Cook
Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewey
Sugar Plum
Thursday Night Smackdown
Use Real Butter
We Are Never Full

I would also like to give props to Everyday Cooking whose recipes I haven't technically used, but have provided me some nice fodder for some of my own.

Also a special shout-out to Sue of Food Network Musings who has been my first, and most faithful reader for the past two years and has held my hand through my first Thanksgiving and beyond.

If you didn't see your blog listed as something I made a recipe from, trust me, you will see one of your recipes on TERP eventually. I like to read blogs whose recipes I want to make.

Thanks to everyone who has loyally read this blog and been supportive with your feedback and comments. This is an awesome community. I'm equally glad I had to opportunity to meet some of you in 2008 and I hope that I can meet even more of you in 2009.

Happy New Year Everyone!!!!