Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thank you

The ornaments are back in their box, the absence of snowmen and garland has the house looking normal yet sparse and it is not without melancholy that Christmas carols no longer fill the air of the Pierce household.  Christmas has come and gone, and though handing someone a wrapped present at this date is less than ideal, I do have a few deliveries to make to the friends we celebrated with this year.

I started baking Christmas gifts 4 years ago after the birth of my child left a staggering mark on my discretionary income.  Over the years, as I improved at budgeting I also improved with baking and therefore kept the tradition alive.  Whether is a scone with jam, or a simple sweet bread this gift always seems to say exactly what I need it to: thank you for celebrating with us, I appreciate our time together.

I came across this recipe in the December issue of Food & Wine.  Thus far, I have baked 6 separate loaves and still plant to whip up another 3.  With it's sweet glaze and citrus-tasting cake, this is a perfect thank you gift, a hostess gift for New Year's Eve, or just an indulgent breakfast before New Years resolutions take hold.

Lemon-Glazed Citrus-Yogurt
Pound Cake
Recipe By: Food & Wine Magazine, December 2011
I doubled the glaze as it made it just that much more indulgent.

2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
1/2 cup full-fat plain yogurt (I used greek)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

3 TB fresh lemon juice
3 TB granulated sugar
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 TB unsalted butter, softened

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a 9 1/2-by-5 inch glass loaf pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a small bowl, whisk the grapefruit juice and yogurt.  In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar on a medium-high speed until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs and lemon zest.  Beat in the dry and wet ingredients in 3 alternating additions; scrape down the bowl as necessary.  
  2. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached.  Tent the cake with foil halfway through the baking to slow the browning.  Transfer to a rack to cool for 20 minutes, then unmold and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, make the glaze.  In a small microwave-safe bowl, microwave the lemon juice and granulated sugar at high power for 20 seconds, until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer 2 TB of the lemon syrup to a bowl and whisk in the confectioners sugar and butter.  Using a pastry brush, brush the lemon syrup all over the cake.  Let stand for 10 minutes to allow the syrup to seep in.  Spread the sugar glaze over the cake and let stand until completely dry, 30 minutes.
This was a popular gift among family and friends.  Hope you enjoy the remaining days of 2011..... any resolutions worth mentioning? 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lighten up, it's just Christmas

While driving in traffic this week, I took the opportunity to change radio stations and mistakenly let a car length fill between me and the car in front.  As I moved my foot from the brake, I heard a honk from behind and glanced backwards only to receive a creative hand wave.  A bit later that afternoon, the husband pulled into the street only to be gestured and hollered at from what would have been a very sweet looking old lady. Add to this the scenes at the shopping mall and the facebook venting, it's clear that it's Christmas time in the city.

What does this have to do with food? Browsing the aisles of Whole Foods, I came across a beautiful bag of chestnuts and remembered a soup I made nearly two years ago when the dinner party marathon was in its earlier chapters.  Inspired, I picked up a bag and the remaining ingredients.  As I reminisced on the recipe, I recalled a labor intensive chestnut peel... imagining it was no worse than rolling out a pie crust I moved forward.  Without stress or procrastination I dove into this progress early Sunday afternoon and immediately remembered a whole different experience.  You have two choices when peeling chestnuts: straight from the steamer, you peel back the skin and dig out the scalding nut pieces, or once cooled you saw through the tightened skin to dig out nut pieces. Needless to say, it is clear that time filed down the memories of this prep, and while we enjoyed a good bowl of soup yesterday, we will not enjoy it again for another year.  

Christmas is a few days away.  Dubbed the most wonderful time of the year, it is also the suicide hotlines busiest evening.  I can only hope that all of us let time file down the memories enough to move lightly into the new celebrations.  If not, well... there are always pre-peeled chestnuts.

Chestnut and Celery Root Soup 
with Sage Croutons and Bacon
Recipe By: Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Soup
Budget Note: I consistently freeze the ends of bread loaves giving me great options for bread crumbs, stuffing on in this case, croutons. Enjoying a more rustic feel, I don't cut the crusts off of my croutons.  

1/2 loaf good quality french or italian bread
2 TB unsalted butter
2 TB olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tsp. fresh sage, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 slices bacon
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 tsp celery seed
6 cups chicken broth
1 celery root, peeled and chopped
1 15-ounce jar steamed chestnuts
1/2 cup half and half

  1. Cut off and discard crusts from the bread (optional). Cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes; you should have about 4 cups bread cubes.
  2. In a large frying pan, melt 1 TB of the butter with the olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the garlic and half of the sage and cook gently until the garlic is light golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Remove and discard the garlic.  Raise the heat to medium, add 1/4 tsp salt and the bread cubes, and stir to coat the cubes with the flavored oil. Cook, stirring and tossing often, until the croutons are crisp and toasted 10-12 minutes. 
  3. In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined.  
  4. Pour off all but 2 TB of the bacon grease, and return to medium heat.  Add the remaining 1 TB of butter, the onion and the celery and saute until soft, about 7 minutes.  Add the celery seed and cook stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the stock, raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. 
  5. Add the celery root and chestnuts and return to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the celery root is tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, crumble the bacon and set aside. 
  6. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and process until a smooth puree.  (You can also use an immersion blender.)  Pour the puree into a clean pot and add the half and half, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper to taste.  Place over medium-low heat and cook gently until heated through, about 10 minutes.  
  7. Ladle into warm bowls, garnish with bacon, croutons and the remaining sage.  Serve right away. 
For all of its drama, this is an amazing soup.  Creamy without being heavy, this is a wonderful holiday lunch.  It's all about the right nut, as it always seems to be this time of year. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Kick-off!

An english muffin smothered with butter and jam.... that was my daily breakfast until the college years whisked me away from that magic refrigerator; the one that was constantly stocked with a package of wolfermans and a jar of smuckers.  Now an adult with my own magic refrigerator, I'm forced into the more sensible breakfast choices.  That is, until the holiday season goes into full swing.  A part-time-work-from-home mom, I look forward to the two week Christmas break every bit as much as the kids.  This is a time for family visits, holiday parties and above all, the enjoyment of decadent recipes that are easily excused 'because it's the holidays.'

A holiday visit with mom and dad is not complete without the Milchovich champagne breakfast: a spread of French Toast, bacon, eggs, ham and of course, mimosas. So, before the break-bound kids run through the door at 3:00, I thought best to enjoy a quiet morning with the husband and a nod to family tradition.  This is your basic French Toast recipe; nothing new nor innovative.  However,  I can offer some handy tips: use day old artisanal bread, half and half over milk and above all, do not rush the cook time.  Cooking French Toast over a medium low heat will ensure a fluffy and fully cooked center.  There is nothing worse than gummy French Toast destroying your morning buzz.

French Toast
Recipe By: Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and
Ethan Becker Joy of Cooking

2/3 cup half and half or milk
4 eggs
2 TB sugar or maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
8 slices bread
bread as needed

  1. Warm a griddle or non stick pan over medium low heat.  In a shallow bowl, whisk together the half and half, eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. 
  2. One at a time, soak the bread in the egg mixture.  Brown one at a time on the prepared pan or griddle. Enjoy!

Of course there are more elaborate breakfasts you could make this Christmas morning, but why not enjoy the basics?  Add some spoon fruit and a mimosa and you have the high class brunch under your own Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Let your heart Golightly

Each year, there seems to be one holiday that's a bit more challenging than the others.  For me, 2011's emotional ties wrapped themselves around Thanksgiving.  In a myriad of melancholy, determination and a genuine love for Thanksgiving food, I found myself desperately negotiating my way through the holiday.  I deconstructed the meal, considered leaving town, suggested dinner at a Chinese restaurant....finally, I admitted that the holiday tradition had changed.  I needed to change with it. Thankfully, there are times when a pair of big sunglasses and a little black dress are all that's needed to regain your hope.

I was about seventeen years old when my mother rented Breakfast at Tiffany's; I watched Holly Golightly mingle about with her pointe shoes safely stored in the refrigerator and immediately fell in love with her disheveled elegance.  Fast forward many years, I could not help but think of my more refined muse enjoying her pastries in front of a Tiffany Window as I stood in front of the stove with a glass of wine in hand, my kitchen filled with people on none other than Thanksgiving Day.  My previous Thanksgiving failures: the salty gravy, dry turkey, runny casseroles and the inevitable emotional breakdowns became my cigarette in a woman's cocktail hat; the imperfections that make this my kitchen.

So with Thanksgiving long gone and Christmas on the horizon, I thought best to share my most imperfectly perfect dish: a souffle. Dug up from a dusty Williams -Sonoma cookbook, this sweet potato and gruyere cheese dish is a wonderful precursor to any holiday dinner, or a fantastic lunch paired with a salad.

Sweet Potato Souffle
Recipe By: Williams Sonoma Complete Seasons Cookbook
Serves: 6
2 lb sweet potatoes
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 TB unsalted butter
1 white onion, minced
1 1/2 cup milk
3 TB all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 ground ginger
6 eggs separated 1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Pierce potatoes two or three times with a fork and place on a baking sheet.  Bake until easily pierced with a knife, 30-40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Cut in half and scrape out the pulp into a bowl.  Using a potato masher, mash to form a smooth puree; you should have 2 1/2 cups.  Leave the oven set at 375.
  3. Butter a 2 quart souffle dish and dust the bottom and sides with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  
  4. In a large saucepan oven medium heat melt the butter.  Add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan over medium heat, warm the milk until small bubbles appear along the edges of the pan; remove from the heat.  Add the flour to the onion and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.  (Do not brown.) Whisk in the milk all at once and summer, continuing to whisk, until thickened, 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg, allspice and ginger.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the sweet potato puree and the gruyere cheese and stir until well blended.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  
  5. In a bowl, using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat the egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks.  Using a rubber spatula, fold one-fourth of the egg whites into the sweet potato mixture to lighten it.  Then gently fold in the remaining white just until no white streaks remain.  Pour into the prepared souffle dish.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. 
  6. Bake until golden, 45-50 minutes. 
My souffle could have used another 5 minutes for perfection, but like our holiday it was imperfectly fabulous.  It's no wonder that when my daughter asked who it was in the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany photo that hangs in our hallway, I shamelessly answered "that's mommy."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Y'all Be Faithful

Two things are critical to a Thanksgiving meal: turkey and faith.  The turkey of course being the iconic centerpiece and the faith being what pushes you to spend an entire afternoon roasting that turkey to perfection.  As I meander through this Thanksgiving meal, I'm learning just how much faith I lost over the years.  Last year I attempted a jalapeno and smoked paprika turkey.  My result was a dry bird with an incredible salty gravy..... not a great combination.  So, in an effort to return faith to the table, I dug out a basic recipe and decided to make the largest midweek dinner this family has seen.

In reality, a turkey is no more difficult than chicken or any other roasted meal. However, you really want to focus on the gravy; this is what saves your ass should you botch the turkey and have a dry bird on your hands.  For this reason, I add 1 1/2 cup dry white wine to the bottom of the pan before roasting as the drippings are much more flavorful and lead to a better gravy. This particular recipe doesn't call for gravy, so my suggestion to find your own recipe, remove the veggies with a slotted spoon and prepare as desired.

Perfect Roast Turkey
Recipe By: Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties!
I used a frozen turkey which I brined the evening before in Sur La Table's turkey brine.  If roasting a larger turkey, be more liberal with the amount of butter and increase the cooking time as needed. 

1 fresh turkey (12 pounds)*
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon halved
3 Spanish onions
1 head garlic halved crosswise
4 TB butter at room temperature*
1/2 cup good olive oil
8 carrots peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
10 red new potatoes halved
3 heads fennel, fronds removed and cut into wedges

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Take the giblets out of the turkey and wash the turkey inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan.  
  3. Liberally salt with pepper in inside of the turkey cavity.  Stuff the turkey cavity with the thyme, lemon, one of the onions (quartered) and the garlic. Rub the outside of the turkey with the butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  (If using, add wine to the roasting pan) 
  4. Tie legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.  Peel and slice the remaining onions, toss them with 1/4 cup olive oil and scatter them around the turkey.  
  5. Roast turkey for 1 hour.  Toss carrots, potatoes, and fennel with 1/4 cup olive oil and add to the orasting pan.  Continue to roast for about 1 1/2 hours or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh.  
  6. Remove the turkey to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil; let rest for 20 minutes.  Stir the vegetables and return the pan tot he oven.  Continue to cook the veggies while teh turkey rests.  Slice the turkey and serve on a platter with the roasted vegetables. 
This was an amazing turkey with a fantastic gravy.  Also, I think I caught my mistake from last year; not sure if it's the wine, the seasonings or the vegetables but my drippings were already quite salty; so much so that I did not need to add any salt to the gravy.  Remember to taste before you go nuts on the salt and pepper; recipes are mere suggestions, not contracts.  Where is the beautiful photo of this turkey?  I forgot to snap one.... without proof of success, you just need to grab a turkey and have some faith.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brokedown Holiday

As we near the holiday season, it is only natural to reminisce on those past: family recipes and grand dinners at the table.  I cannot help but notice the plethora of magazines featuring beautiful pictures of turkeys or roasts displayed on perfectly set tables and I wonder how the **** do they do that?

A devoted home cook, I'm notorious for disastrous holiday dinners.  The husband insists it's due to over commitment.  I have decided to test the theory and make my entire Thanksgiving dinner not in one day, but over the next few weeks.  By the end of the month the family will have enjoyed the entire meal with something they have never had before; a calm mother.  I figured dessert was as good a start as any and this week I made the apple pie.

With a dear friend coming over for dinner, I thought an apple pie was a wonderful way to add the fall spirit to our menu.  I followed the basic recipe from Food Network magazine.  The crust came together quite easily in the food processor and after chilling it for about an hour, I had my first disaster.  As I rolled out the dough, it simply would not stay together.  In panic mode, I picked up the pieces of dough and pressed them together in the pie dish.  I prayed for a more cooperative top, however no such luck.  With the luxury of knowing it isn't Thanksgiving, I merely pieced together the top and placed a beastly looking apple pie in the oven.  An hour later I removed a much better looking pie, one that could even pass for charming in a rustic way.   The taste was wonderful, however next time I think I'll double the crust recipe as this one was a bit thin.  How will I deal with the breakage issue?  Williams Sonoma has adorable leaf shaped pie crust cutters, perfect for making my ineptitude decorative.

Basic Apple Pie:
Recipe By: Food Network Magazine November 2011
2 1/4 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 TB cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
10 TB cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 pounds mixed apples (I used gala, honey crisp and golden delicious)
2/3 granulated sugar
2 TB fresh lemon juice
6 TB unsalted butter
1 TB AP flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 large egg. beated
coarse sugar for sprinkling

  1. For the crust, pulse the flour baking powder, sugar and salt in the food processor.  Add the shortening and one-third of the butter; pulse until the mixture looks like a coarse meal.  Add the remaining butter and pulse until it is the size of peas.  Add 1/4 cup ice water and pulse a few more times.  Is the dough doesn't hold together when squeezed, add more ice water, 1 TB at a time, pulsing.  Divide between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.  Pat into disks; wrap and chill at least 1 hour.  
  2. Peel and core the apples; slice 1/4 inch thick.  Toss with the granulated sugar and lemon juice.  Heat 4 TB butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the apples and cook, stirring, until tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the flour, cinnamon and salt; cook until thickened, 1 more minute.  Let cool.
  3. Roll out 1 disk of dough into a 12 inch round on a floured surface; ease into a 9- inch pie plate.  Add the apples, mounding them slightly in the center, and dot with the remaining 2 TB butter.  Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round.  Lay it over the filling; press the edges of the crust together, then fold the overhang under itself and crimp to seal.  Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Cut a few slits in the top crust.  Chill 1 hour.  
  4. Place a baking sheet on the lowest oven rack and preheat to 425 degrees for 30 minutes.  Place the pie on the hot baking sheet; lower the temperature to 375 degrees.  Bake until golden, 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes.  Cover the edges with foil if they brown too quickly.  Cool on a rack. 

From my mistakes I can offer a few tips if you plan to bake your own pie this holiday: 1) chill: the dough needs to be cold in order to have a flakey texture.  I often set the prepared pie plate in the freezer for a few minutes.  2) know your lemons: taste the filling as I have followed a few recipes only to douse the apples in too much lemon juice for a sour outcome.  3) mix up your apples: I like to use a mixture of hybrid apples as the outcome is not too sweet.  The husband, he prefers dark red.  All in all, I would only tackle dessert this holiday if you are not responsible for the dinner. Otherwise, outsource!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wednesday Celebrations

Antone's sandwiches, sushi to go and whole foods chicken nuggets.... That is what the family lives on when I'm not at full power.  They don't complain; at times I think they enjoy the change.  However with both feet healed, and still glowing from last week's successful pumpkin dish, I turned to French Fridays with Dorie for a new challenge; I ended up with an elegant midweek meal that turned our usual Wednesday into a celebration: seared duck breast with salad, fresh bread and a bottle of champagne.

Dorie described how un-french we all were for not envisioning duck as a midweek meal.  As grease from these duck breasts flew from the deep enamel pot I learned that not only am I not French, I am not my mother.  Who knew the mess from an elegant French meal rivals that of Southern fried Sunday dinner?  This is a meal I can't wait to share with mom, however it will have to be done at my house where among other things, the standards on frying are quite a bit lower.

The meal came together beautifully, and the family enjoyed coming back round the dinner table for a cheer and check-in on the week's progress.  True to suggestion, the leftovers made a wonderful lunch with fresh greens, tomatoes and cucumbers.  I participated in the early rounds of FFwD, and sadly fell off for several months.  Back at it the past few weeks, this cookbook is slowly becoming a favorite.  I look forward to a good bowl of soup this week!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Time for something healthy

Inspired by my peasant food findings during my shut in phase, I have done a quasi cleaning of the pantry and found a plethora of potential. While I do make an effort to buy only what we need, once in a while I fall under the Heidi Swanson spell.  Author of 101 Cookbooks, this vegetarian chef brings new life to whole grains and veggies and  after reading her posts, I find myself throwing bags if quinoa, pumpkin seeds or kombu into the grocery cart without care or clue as how to prepare it.  It was on one of these rants, that I purchased a container of bulgur.  Other than tabboleh, which is not a popular dish in this house, I have never had use for such a grain. But, after a flip through the recipe collection I found the following salad which made for a healthy lunch and a little less clutter in the pantry.  The caramelized onions add deep flavor while the cayenne pepper lends a kick that is immediately cooled from the fresh mint.   Still holding on to some healthy habits before the holidays are in full swing? This is your recipe.

Bulgur and Lentils:
Recipe By: Eating Well Magazine, September/October 2011

2 TB extra virgin olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 TB plus 1 1/4 cup water, divided
1 1/2 cups cooked lentils
2/3 cup bulgur
1/4 cup fresh mint diced
1 lemon cut into wedges

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onions and salt; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add 2 tablespoons water and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown and very soft, 13 to 15 minutes. Stir in cayenne pepper.  
  2. Stir in lentils, bulgur and the remaining 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons mint. Serve with the remaining mint, yogurt and lemon.

I prepared the red lentils the day before so this lunch came together rather quickly.  Two days later, the leftovers microwaved up beautifully for a lunch on the run.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Great Pumpkin

After days of limping around the house, I was determined to turn out something fabulous for a Thursday night dinner. With easy prep and a long cooking time, this French Fridays with Dorie recipe had seemed just the project. Up until October 27, all previous Pierce family pumpkins have become jack-o-lanterns.  As I tossed bacon, cheese and a dosing of heavy cream into the pumpkin shell, my husband became more than a bit concerned.  Luckily, he kept the faith.  After what seemed like an eternity in the oven, we sliced up and enjoyed every bite of this dish as I congratulated myself for coming back to the living after days of couch-bound illness.

In Texas, it's hard to see the first sign of fall; the leaves don't change, and the temperature is still in the high eighties.  A little Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin, a baked pumpkin and a bottle of wine; I think we have the new Pierce fall kick off.

The times are changing.  I used to read books, I now carry a Nook.  I used to wonder about old friends, I now see their pictures on facebook.  I used to attend book club, I now cook new recipes from a French Cookbook along with hundreds of cooks I have never met.  What makes me love this cooking group?   There is something comforting about reading through blog posts and noticing how different some people's lives may be, and yet how similar.... as we all sit down to the same meal.  Love the camaraderie, hate the rules; I can't share the recipe.  Buy a copy of the cookbook; this is one recipe you have to make. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When it rains, it pours.... peasant food

"stay off of your feet," the kind doctor told me.

Yes, a mere three weeks post food poisoning, I was attacked by fire ants and ended up couch-confined with a serious infection.  Some say this is the karmic result of my constant reference to the 1992 Ross Perot SNL skit describing the role of Texas fire ants in the death penalty.... I've always accused God of being a fair guy.

Regardless of nature vs. nurture or where an apple falls in relation to the tree, two days on the couch has forced me to embrace my biology: one half Milchovich who can't sit still and one half Atkinson who can make a meal from anything.   With the inability to peruse the grocery store, I was confined to the findings of our fridge and pantry.  Luckily, we received a farm share box three days prior to the outbreak.  With leftover veggies, and a pantry of staples I have been able to throw together two humble but tasty meals; one was a simple vegetable soup enjoyed with the Level Headed One, who took pity on my condition and completed 100% of the clean up.  The other was a pasta dish.  Leftover pancetta, veggies and whole wheat pasta came together in a wonderful meal that we enjoyed bowl after bowl.

BLT-ish Pasta
Recipe Created By: Lori Pierce
Serves: 4 
2 swirls of the pan grapeseed oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 spring or yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red peppers
salt and pepper
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
3 fresh tomatoes diced
1 handfull of green beans trimed and halved
parmesan cheese
1 pound whole wheat pasta

  1. Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat.  Add grapseed oil and warm through.  Add pancetta and saute until browned.
  2. Add the onion and cook stirring until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and stir before immediately adding the tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer, lower heat and cook for 10-15 minutes.  Add the green beans and cook 5 minutes longer. 
  3. Meanwhile, boil pasta in plenty of salted water reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Drain pasta, do not rinse.  
  4. Combine the pasta and sauce adding cooking water as needed.  Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and enjoy.  
In an attempt to follow doctor instructions, I sat at the bar with my foot propped on an adjacent stool while chopping.  The husband helped with cleanup and we were able to avoid take out for one meal.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mommy's French Food

I remember the first time I watched my mother throw anchovies into her spaghetti sauce.  I was in my own moody preteen years, and found the whole thing repulsive.  Unmoved by my moods, my mother continued cooking and ultimately served my favorite sauces: spaghetti puttanesca.  This same angst has caused me to pass over pissaladiere. Anchovies fried into a sauce is one thing, biting into a whole anchovy is quite another. However, with the memory of my failed blini still fresh, I was hungry for a French Friday win.

The beauty of this recipe is in the minimal effort for delicious results.  The long simmered onions were elevated with the addition of chopped anchovies.  And, the crust was a work of art.  Not a crunchy thin crusted pizza, a true flaky French pastry that instantly differentiated this pissaladiere from your gourmet pizza.

Enjoyed with a glass of white wine, this is a meal to have in the midweek, or a great appetizer to have at an elegant dinner party.  Perhaps I'll serve pissaladiere this holiday season instead of blini!   

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hello Failure, it's me.... again....

Stories good and bad.... that was my focus this year.  On average, I have a pretty good success rate in the kitchen.  I have a few meals that don't get at least one good rating, and even fewer that go straight ot the trash.  Enter holidays.  I don't know what happens on the holidays but I cook for days and end up in tears.  I assure you, there are few things as pathetic as a thirty-three year old woman standing amidst 11 scratch made dishes with a glass of champagne in one hand and a kleenex in the other. Interestingly enough, I had the holidays in mind when I attempted the French Friday's with Dorie recipe for Blini with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche.  Some traditions refuse to die.

I swear I followed the buckwheat recipe completely; precise measurements, resting time.... my result was a runny mess resembling some sort of ameba.  Tired, frustrated and worried the dough would ruin my brand new garbage disposal I slopped it into the trash and went to my recipe archives.   In my determination to not waste the smoked salmon and creme fraiche, I rediscovered Martha Stewart's Savory Shortbread.  With a few southern twists, I manipulated this recipe into the perfect canvas for our toppings, and quite possibly, an elegant addition to a Christmas Eve cocktail party.  

Savory Shortbread with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche
Recipe Adapted from: Martha Stewart, marthastewart.com
2 1/4 cup AP flour
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups Gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 cup milk
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and cayenne pepper and pulse.  Add the butter and pulse until the flour resmebles a coarse meal; 8-10 seconds. 
  2. Add cheese to the food processor and pulse to combine.  Add milk and Worcestershire sauce and pulse until dough just comes together. Have ready several pieces of parchment paper.
  3. Form the mixture into 2 one inch diameter logs.  Wrap each in parchment and chill in the refridgerator for at least 1 hour.  
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Unwrap chilled dough and slice into 1/4 inch slices.  
  5. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes rotating the baking pan halfway through.
These are divine treats that paired perfectly with the smoked salmon and creme fraiche.  I frozen the second log of dough and plan to defrost and test prior to the big Christmas Eve.... stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Saturday Soup

I have my moments that some would call dramatic.  Personally, I think I'm just a romantic.     When I envision life on a farm I think of beautiful sunny mornings enjoyed with family as I pick ripe vegetables  all the while dressed like Anna Nicole's Guess shoot circa 1992.  A bona-fide city girl, the closest I get to this vision is a weekly delivery from my CSA; a box filled with the freshest vegetables begging to be included in our weekly meals.  Having a CSA has brought more recipes into regular rotation than anything else;  it may be the best decision I have ever made as a home cook.  Faced with a box of veg, I often turn to one of my vegetarian cookbooks for inspiration.  Even as a meat eater, I find these an absolute necessity.  With vegetables sitting front and center, a vegetarian recipe is the best way to learn flavors, cooking techniques and most importantly, how to integrate new tastes to your everyday diet.

This week's CSA box included the season's first sweet potatoes and an array of spring onions.  Time to make one of my favorite vegetarian dishes:   Sweet Potato and Cashew Soup with Avocado Cream.  This healthful bowl of goodness with its tangy garnish is the perfect light lunch.  Ready in under an hour, we enjoy it on Saturday afternoons or as a light midweek meal paired with a salad.

Sweet Potato and Cashew Soup with Avocado Cream
Recipe By: Terry Walters, Get Clean
Avocado Cream:
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 avocados
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3 TB lime juice
1/4 cilantro leaves (I omitted)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 medium onion
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 TB grapeseed oil
3 medium sweet potatoes peeled and chopped
1 cup cashews
5 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken stock I had on hand)
Sea Salt
1/2 cup scallions (I omitted)

For the Avocado Cream:

  1. With the food processor running, drop in garlic and process until minced.  
  2. Halve avocados, and remove pits.  Scoop out avocado flesh, add to processor and whip until smooth.  Add yogurt, lime juice, cilantro and salt and process until evenly combined.  
  3. Place in airtight container with pits to prevent browning and set aside or refrigerate until ready to serve. 

For the Soup:
  1. Place a large soup pot or Dutch Oven over medium heat.  Add oil until shimmery.   Add onion and celery and saute until soft, 4 to 6 minutes.  
  2. Add sweet potatoes, cashews and stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender.  Season to taste with salt. 
  4. Ladle into bowls and place a large dollop of cream on each portion.  Enjoy!
I used my immersion blender for this recipe, but can only imagine what a vitamix would do for the texture.  I did freeze individual portions of this soup, but without the avocado cream it tastes rather healthy.  Perhaps add a veggie sandwich to this lunch on the run for a full experience.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Soup & Sandwich Sundays

I love Sunday dinners; comfort food leisurely enjoyed round the dining room table as family and friends savor what is left of the weekend.  I also love my husband and for several months a year am willing to give the Sunday meal a makeover to accommodate his favorite tradition: NFL football.

Though I've never been a fan of football, there is something about the smell of simmering soup and the sounds of sportscasters that take me back to the chilly northern falls of my youth.  Fast forward a few decades, I have actually grown to enjoy our new Sunday afternoons for the excuse to sit on the couch and leaf through magazines while my husband paces the family room and endures Pizza Hut commercials.  The perfect meal for these Sundays?  Soup and sandwich; not some condensed chicken noodle and a turkey on wheat but a thick and hearty soup paired with a pressed sandwich oozing with all of the indulgences of a weekend.  Add a few glasses of wine and a casual visit from friends; this is the stuff of greatness.

This soup was inspired by a recent issue of the Williams-Sonoma Catalogue.  Created for a Cuisine Art Soup gadget, it was easily reinterpreted for stovetop cooking.  With a hearty texture and rich flavors, this is a perfect soup enjoyed on the couch, at the dining room table, or from your thermos in the midweek.  

Smoky Lentil Soup
Recipe By: Williams-Sonoma
3 thick cut bacon slices, diced
2 TB Oil
1 Carrot, peeled and cut into a 1/4" dice
1 celery stalk cut into a 1/4" dice
1 large yellow onion, diced
1-2 garlic cloves minced
1 TB tomato paste
1 14 oz. can peeled tomatoes crushed by hand (I used 1 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved)
3/4 cup Red Chief Lentils
1 quart chicken broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Fry bacon in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat until crispy.  Remove from the skillet and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.  
  2. Lower heat, and add carrot, celery and onion. Saute until soft, about 7-8 minutes.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant; 90 seconds.  Add tomato paste, canned tomatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil add the lentils and lower heat to a simmer.  Cover, and simmer lentils until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.  
  3. Using an immersion blender, give the soup a quick swirl; your intention is to puree about half of the soup.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  
  4. Ladle into soup bowls and top with bacon. 
Williams-Sonoma recommended a Grown Up Grilled Cheese with this soup.  Finding their recipe a bit dull, I opted for Ina Garten's Ultimate Grilled Cheese.  An ultimate grilled cheese it was!

Ultimate Grilled Cheese
Recipe By: Ina Garten, How Easy is That?
12 slices thick cut bacon
1 cup good quality mayonnaise (I used Hellmans with olive oil)
1/4 cup Dijon Mustard (I used my homemade variety)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 loaf sourdough bread (12 slices)
6 TB salted butter at room temperature (I salted my unsalted butter to prevent buying two ingredients)
6 ounces aged Gruyere or Comte cheese
6 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange the bacon on a baking rack set over a sheet pan in a single layer and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until nicely browned .  Drain on a plate lined with paper towels and cut in 1 inch pieces.  
  2. Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Lay 12 slices of bread on a board and spread each one lightly with butter.  Flip the slices and spread each one generously with the mayonnaise mixture.  Don't neglect the corners. 
  3. Grate the cheese in a food processor fitted with the largest grating disk and combine.  Distribute the bacon evenly on half of the slices of bread.  Pile 1/2 cup grated cheese evenly on top of the bacon and top with the remaining bread slices, sauce side down. 
  4. Meanwhile, heat an electric panini press.  When the press is hot, cook the sandwich for 3-5 minutes in batches until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.  Allow to cool for 2  minutes.  Cut in half and serve warm.  
These rich sandwiches are a meal in themselves.  This is certainly a meal that you can cook in the afternoon and completely neglect all eating for the rest of the day.  If you are lucky enough to have vegetarian friends stop by with cookies, sub the bacon for canned tomatoes and enjoy over wine.  This is what Sundays are made for.
Budget Note:  Batches of soup make quite a few portions; even this family can let them go bad before finishing an entire pot. My recommendation?  Purchase 1-2 cup tupperware containers and freeze individual servings.  These make perfect lunches on the go, or a last minute dinner on a chilly evening.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Classic with a Twist

I started cooking in the most American way..... it did not involve days in the kitchen with my grandma, nor holidays spent mastering family recipes.  Though my mother is a fantastic cook, she thought better than to move an unwilling ADD child into the kitchen to mess up her groove.  I started cooking from a Rival Crock Pot and a Fix it and Forget it cookbook.  About a month later, I had grown accustomed to skipping the drive thru, but was quite sick of soup.  My next cookbook purchase was entitled "chicken".  My aspirations were not high in the beginning years.  I still have that ten year old crockpot, and on occasion, break it out for a slow simmered meal.  

My family has come to expect chicken soup on at the first sign of a cold, allergies or general bad day.  As I walked my youngest into school last week amidst a sea of hacking children, I was sure fall's first cold was upon us.  This recipe from Food Network Magazine takes your everday chicken soup and gives it a twist.  With lemon zest, fresh dill and a sprinkling of feta cheese, this soup is delicious and unexpected.  Simple to prepare, it is the perfect thing to throw together pre work, and enjoy with a crusty piece of bread in the evening.

Slow-Cooker Chicken and Pasta Soup
Food Network Magazine April 2010 (adapted somewhat)
4 carrots quartered lengthwise and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 long strips lemon zest
4 sprigs fresh dill plus 2-3 TB chopped
kosher salt
4 skills, boneless chicken breasts
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup small pasta
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 bunch fresh spinach, stemmed
freshly ground pepper
4 ounces feta cheese
Lemon wedges and crusty bread

  1. Combine the carrots, lemon zest, dill sprigs, olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in 5-6 quart slow cooker.  Season the chicken with salt and add to the cooker.  Add the broth and 4 cups water, cover and cook on low, about 8 hours.  
  2. About 20 minutes before serving, bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook 1 cup pasta according to package instructions. Drain, and reserve. (The original recipe suggests placing the dry pasta into the crock pot 20 minutes before serving.  I don't like doing this as I think the pasta takes on a weird texture.) 
  3. Remove chicken from the crock and using two forks, shred into bite sized pieces.  Return to the crock pot.  Stir the chopped dill, peas, and spinach into the soup and cover until the spinach wilts, about 2  minutes.  Add pasta, and season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowl and crumble feta on top.  Serve with lemon wedge and crusty bread.  
What a fantastic take on traditional chicken noodle; a perfect way to ward off your fall sniffles, or just end a long day in the cold. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Breakdown, Breakthrough?

In the two years that I've written this blog I have made several stabs at organization.  The most successful seems to be the most unsophisticated; I cook throughout the week photographing along the way.  The recipes I love get shared, the ones I don't....  This system sustained deadlines and hectic work weeks.  It did not however, sustain food poisoning.

Not sure if it was a faulty quick thaw of my farmer's market beef, or just a bad experience at the pizzeria but the past few days were nothing good.   Though able to hold down solid foods, browsing through photographs of food has been most unappetizing.  With strength on my side and tea in my hand I present what very well may be the only pizza I eat again.  Its vegetarian and gluten free.  Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

This recipe first caught my eye as a gluten free option that did not require a specified a mix or xantham gum. With a Grey's Anatomy premiere on the tube and leftover roasted beets in the fridge,  I let my imagination go wild on what ultimately became a delicious meal.  A bit labor intensive, this is not a quick mid-week fix.  It is however, a fantastic option to add to your pizza night in, or as I learned the next day, a great brunch option when topped with a poached egg.

Polenta Pizza Crust:
Recipe By: Terry Walters
Clean Start Cookbook
3 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp dried parsley (I omitted)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups polenta

  1. Over high heat, bring stock to boil.  Reduce heat to medium and add salt, basil, oregano, parsley, pepper and olive oil.  Whisking constantly, pour in polenta and continue whisking for 5-7 minutes until smooth and thick.  Pour into two 11 inch tart pans and spread evenly over the bottom of each pan.  Cool slightly and then refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.  (According to the author, this can be done hours ahead of time) 
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place pizza stone or baking sheet on middle rack.  Remove polenta from the refrigerator, sprinkle pizza stone or baking sheet with cornmeal, transfer polenta to the stone or baking sheet and bake 40 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.  

Vegetable Pizza Toppings:
Recipe By: Lori Pierce
1 TB butter
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 beets, roasted and sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
handful of sunflower or other micro greens
4 ounces goat cheese
kosher salt and freshly pepper
  1. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter.  Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and saute for 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the onions are browned and caramelized.  
  2. Layer the onions on your pizza and top with beet slices, tomatoes, and dot with goat cheese. 
  3. Return pizza to the 350 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes, until heated through.  
  4. Remove from oven and sprinkle with micro greens.  Enjoy now, or the next morning!
More a fork and knife pizza than a grab a slice, this was fresh and oh so delicious.  The gluten free crust, made with readily available ingredients was an inventive take on a crust, and a suitable substitute.  Nothing like a pepperoni pizza, I think I will be trying this recipe again soon.