Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All Mushrooms Are Edible- Once

I picked these up on a walk with the puppers. The weather here has been crazy this fall (snow! this past Sunday! big fat flakes!), but apparently it's just right for wild mushrooms to flourish.

We eventually tossed them- I'm no mycologist, and it's not worth a hospital trip (or worse).

Still, they were beautifully tempting.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baby, it's Cold Outside! Citrusy Roasted Beets

According to the weather reporters around here, we're having one of the coldest Octobers on record.

The lovely people at the The Old Farmer's Almanac who are, incidentally, known for their amazingly accurate weather prediction skills, are telling us to expect a colder-than-average winter this year.

And I'm the only person I know who is genuinely gleeful about this- I adore harsh winters, snow shoveling and all!

I'm sure this is due, in part, to all the body-and-soul-warming cooking that can happen only when the kitchen isn't 102'F and/or dripping with the nasty, oppressive humidity that Boston likes to dump on everyone each spring and summer.

Naturally, something I really love coming back to each fall is roasting. We roast everything around here- meat and vegetables, obviously, and often fruit, too. It's such a beautifully easy technique, and best of all, roasting (in this case) gives you foolproof caramelization, which catapults humble vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, parsnips, celery root and beets from dry and fibrous to sweet and succulent.

I can't think of a better way to discover that you like beets!

When in season, blood orange juice lends a lovely tart zip. These are particularly good added to winter salads.

Citrusy Roasted Beets
serves 4 as a side dish

1 pound beets, trimmed, peeled and quartered*
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon orange zest
pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 425'F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat OR use a cast iron skillet large enough to hold the beets in a single layer.

Stir together orange juice and orange zest. Set aside.

Toss beets in olive oil and tip onto baking sheet/into skillet. Sprinkle with salt.

Roast, tossing occasionally, until the beets are soft when pierced with a fork, usually around 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your beets.

When done but still piping hot, toss roasted beets with orange juice + zest mixture.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

* There is some debate as to whether beets should be peeled before or after roasting. I like to peel and cut them up first because this way, you get great caramelization on the cut sides of the beets.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Williams-Sonoma / All-Clad Ultimate Chicken Roaster?!

An ad for this contraption (straight out of The Jetsons?) arrived in my inbox this morning. After a long weekend of fun houseguests (S & A!), daily feasting and tipsy revelry late into the evenings, it certainly had me checking that I'd put my contact lenses in the right way.

Now, let's be clear here: I love you, Williams-Sonoma. I love you, All-Clad. I love you, fun kitchen gadgets and tools and cookware.

But honestly, how are we supposed to take this "Ultimate Chicken Roaster" seriously (especially given, according to someone who had already reviewed it, that the arm can't easily hold a heavy chicken)?

Alton Brown really is right about the unitaskers and gadgety kitchenware gone too far- 99% of the time, it's just. not. worth. it.

Buy good, humanely-farmed meat, take the time to brine, prep, season and cook it properly, and you will have fabulous roasted chicken every time. Sure, it takes a little time and effort, but it's not rocket science!

However! If they want to work on a roasting pan big enough to hold the 27+ lb CSA turkey we order each year for Thanksgiving? That is the kind of cookware design we'll get behind!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bad Day Pizza

For those who love cooking, and even for many people who don't, pizza seems like a fairly easy thing to make. Mix up some dough in your stand mixer (or buy raw dough balls from your local pizzeria or well-stocked store), let it sit overnight, toss it around, slap on some toppings, bake for 10 minutes, eat. Right?


Ok, maybe I should rephrase that.

When you're having a good day, the dealing-with-the-pizza-dough-bit is easy. It relaxes in your hands, stretches out and bounces back just so, forms the perfect shape for your pan with just a bit of mindful effort, and doesn't rip into long, gaping holes in the middle... and on the sides... and everywhere in between.

When you're having a bad day... well, it's all about those damn holes.

Perhaps pizza dough is some sort of cruel stress barometer. A few days ago I was a crazy ball of stress, and it culminated in the most frustrating of pizza-dough-rolling experiences that went something like this:

1. Attempt to shape pizza dough. Fail.

2. Attempt to reshape pizza dough. Harumph.

3. Attempt to reshape pizza dough. Scream.

4. Attempt to reshape pizza dough. Cry.

5. Vaguely hear L say soothingly, "honey, it's fine, don't worry about it, we'll fry it up into doughboys instead."

6. Decide that one's cooking pride is at stake and that damn *%&^4#@!!! pizza dough is NOT going to win.

7. Wash hands. Take deep breath.

8. Beat pizza dough into submission- or rather, a perfect pizza shape- with a French rolling pin (given a nice rest after all this work, the dough is chewy, tender, and not too tough).

9. Declare win: petite gourmande 1, pizza dough 0.

10. Celebrate victory with a Harpoon Oktoberfest (and wonder why you didn't think of the rolling pin earlier).

If you would like to beat your very own pizza dough into submission on a bad day (or a good one), I suggest you start with purchased raw dough or Heidi's dough recipe (homemade dough freezes really well, and we keep it on hand for nights when we're not so tired that we get takeout, but we still want to do very little labour-intensive cooking) and Heidi's baking instructions.

Top with whatever sauce or ingredients you like, of course. We go for simple tomato sauce + mozzarella, or in this case, thinly sliced red potatoes + these caramelized onions + mozzarella + feta.

And the best part? Deliciously stress-melting comfort food leads me to #11: forget to be angry with that damn pizza dough.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Goodbye, Gourmet Magazine

Thank you, Gourmet, for giving us decades of wonderful reading!

I'm sorry that I was only able to enjoy 20 years of you (and so grateful that my mom started me early).

It's high time this household has a few new cocktail recipe test runs in your honour.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ina Garten's Pappa Al Pomidoro (Tomato and Bread Soup)

Why is it that all of Ina Garten's recipes both work perfectly the very first time and taste so damn good?

That woman is some sort of cooking sorceress, in the best sense, a la my beloved Strega Nona (every new baby who comes into our circle of friends gets a copy of that book, because no one should go without her special brand of magic).

It seems that we're on a soup kick in this house, because after the Avgolemono was eaten up, Ina Garten's recipe for Pappa Al Pomidoro was simmering on the stove (aided by the consumption of a few bottles of crisp Magic Hat Wacko and malty Harpoon Oktoberfest).

Perhaps it was a subliminally-propelled last nod to summer captured in spicy basil, fragrant fennel, and sweet, zesty tomatoes.

In other words: scrumptious.

As an added bonus, tonight, 2 cups of the leftovers are going into a beef+pork meatloaf that, at this moment, is making all the stomachs in this house grumble in anticipation! Project Clean Out the Pantry and Fridge is underway in full force, and I am very pleased indeed.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Chicken Soup)

With both of us spending the majority of each workday in academic institutions alongside germy dorm-living students, we've both been miraculously healthy at the start of this cold and flu season. So far. I'm tempting fate rather boldly by saying that, aren't I?!

However! General household exhaustion means that neither of us wants to spend much time cooking, and that we're keeping ingredients on hand for comfort-food soups (good for no-energy cooking AND colds and flus)... which leads me to one particular recipe for Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Chicken Soup) that I absolutely love and crave. With a salad it makes up a perfect quick dinner, and it's especially soothing when you're sick (sometimes, when you can't taste anything else, the lemony bite still comes through).

We especially like it with shredded poached chicken and tiny star pastina. It's funny how fun pasta shapes- stars in particular- really do add something.

I'll let Serious Eats' Blake Royer explain how this recipe came about, as I couldn't do it better. I discovered it in the epicurious comments not long after A Cook from Boston, MA posted his/her version, and we've been hooked ever since.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Liquid Black Forest

A house favourite around here, especially when the weather is chilly, courtesy of the Sunset Grill & Tap's fabulous beertail menu! Is fearr de thú Guinness!

Liquid Black Forest

1 pint cold Guinness
2 shots (3 fluid ounces) cold framboise lambic (we like Lindemans)

Pour the Guinness into a pint glass.

Hold a spoon, bowl side (aka. curved part) up, directly over the surface of the Guinness. Slowly and carefully pour the lambic over the spoon so that it runs down the inside wall of the glass and into the beer. It should settle to the bottom of the glass.

Enjoy your beertail and, if applicable, your new-found bartending trick!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ina Garten's Brioche + Savoury Bread Pudding

The latest stretch of lovely, chilly, fall weather we've been enjoying has got me itching to bake!

I'm driving up to New Hampshire tomorrow to visit my parents (who are here on a very long vacation) and my grandmother (who has a sheep- for textiles only!- farm with a gorgeous mountain view). And since our freezer and fridge are overflowing with CSA goodies, I begged them to let me offload some in the form of bringing supper!

A few nights ago, over a dinner featuring, incidentally, flounder and whiting from our Cape Ann Fresh Catch fish share, I was thinking about what I'd bring tomorrow. Nothing too liquidy, as it has to travel well over MA highways and NH dirt roads; nothing too huge, as it has to fit into a cooler; nothing that I have to go grocery shopping (again) to complete; nothing that takes too long to put together or cook when I get there.

And then it came to me- a savoury bread pudding! The bread soaks up the liquid so it won't slosh all over the cooler, braising greens make it a great one-dish meal (though I usually can't manage supper without a salad, too), I can do all the prep and assembly work tonight, and it will cook in less than an hour.

One particular Epicurious recipe for Arugula, Bacon, and Gruyère Bread Pudding fit the bill perfectly, so I'm putting it together tonight.

I reeeealy didn't want to go back to the grocery store, so I went freezer-shopping and decided to use up some of our many sticks of butter on an old, easy peasy standby bread recipe that we love: Ina Garten's brioche. Instead of making rolls, you divide the dough in half, pat each piece into a 6"x8" rectangle, roll it up lengthwise, and place the pieces seam-side-down into loaf pans so they can do the final 2-hour rise. Brush with egg-water mixture, bake until golden brown and a tap on the crust produces a hollow sound, and voila! Fabulous, irresistible homemade brioche.

At the moment, the two loaves are rising. I'll bake them and then slice them into cubes, and then do a quick oven-toast because I don't have time to let them go stale naturally.

Braising greens, including arugula, will work in place of just arugula. I'll substitute parmesan for the Gruyère, too, because that's what we have. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention! With some herbed, roasted potatoes and a tomato + macerated red onion + red leafy lettuce salad, we'll have an easy, lovely cool-weather supper.

Next on my to-do-list: find a wine to go with all this food!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Christmas Cookies 2009. Already.

Yes. I am already thinking obsessing about this year's Christmas cookies.

The problem is that I like to make lots of different ones, and I haven't found too many recipes that I really love (and that warrant the time, energy, and expense of making tin after tin of sweets).

I will absolutely make my favourite gingerbread recipe, because to me, it's not a truly proper Christmas without it. Same goes for the pecan fingers/puckle warts, though those are a much newer addition to our must-have Christmas cookie list. My mom, in particular, looooooooves them, which is reason enough to keep them on the list.

I'm pretty sure that I will make molasses crinkles again, as they're easy and always a big hit. Part of me wonders if they're too much like the gingerbread, but then again, they satisfy my craving for cookies speckled with chewy, spicy pieces of crystallized ginger in a way that the gingerbread doesn't.

I've also fooled around with mint chocolate cookies and bitter cream & orange biscuits. Both were great, they didn't meet the last-more-than-a-few-days and ships-well requirements.

I could always choose from the slew of gorgeous, delicious Czech Christmas cookies my family makes... but honestly? I get huge boxes from two households every year, and they've been making them for ages, so how can my baking compare? I'd like to make something different for us and to give to friends and family.

Since the cookie recipes passed down in family all fall into the Czech (and already being made by others) category, my first inclination is to search for their highest-rated offerings. Italian fig cookies? Grasshopper squares? Salty-sweet langues de chat? Pâtes de fruits (aka. have I lost my mind)?

It's enough to make me crazy (or maybe it's just me making myself crazy?!). Funny how as the colder weather moves in, visions of sugarplums swirl in my head as I try to fall asleep.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Formatting. Hrmph. A Move to WordPress?

Blogger's formatting issues are making me crazy. Am contemplating a move to WordPress, not least of all because I like the colours on one particular template. They remind me of this moscato label, actually. Hrm.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like... I'm an OCD Planner?

Yesterday, I ordered our New Year's Cards... for this year AND next. I got the New Year's Card bug from my mom, who was always late with her Christmas cards until she decided to screw it and do cards for the New Year instead, since they can be sent out whenever you wish. Apparently, I also got the planning-ahead bug as backlash to my mom being late with everything. So yes, I know. I'm insane (L/mr. petite gourmande informed me of this, in case there was any question).

The problem is that I've discovered tiny*prints. And I have become completely and utterly addicted.

Rather than putting pictures of ourselves on the cards, though, I opted to use our furry little troublemaker. L and I are both camera shy, and honestly? We both agree that it's a little odd to receive holiday cards that showcase pictures of people we see regularly. We know what you look like, people! I can see why people use pictures of their kids, as they change and grow so quickly- that makes more sense to me.

To each their own, I suppose. It's just not for us.

Anyway, tiny*prints has one design that I've been drawn to for the past year, which I wrote off because I didn't have a furbaby picture that suited it. And with my luck, I know they would discontinue it before I got to use it for one year's cards. So yesterday, I bribed the pup with some tiny Trader Joe's liver treats, draped some tinsel around his collar, and fooled around with the camera until I got some (mostly crap +) a few great shots. I need to use that camera more or I forget about all the cool settings.

He wondered what the hell I was doing for about two seconds, and then decided the treats were all that mattered. We think he's part pig.

How does this OCD-ness relate to cooking? Well, I bought all the spices for my Christmas gingerbread cookies last weekend. Of course. I was so happy to find whole mace at Eastern Lahmajun (in Watertown). I have to make the cookies before the end of October, or they won't have aged properly by December!

The only thing left to think about is what I want to make out of gingerbread this year. Last year I did cookies and iced trees (why didn't I take pictures of those? stupid stupid.), and my hands ached for days afterwards- all that rolling, cutting out cookies, and then holding an icing bag steady for an entire evening. The trees were the most fun, but they don't ship well to family and friends, which is a problem. Cookies can get boring towards the end, but are certainly the easiest decision. A gorgeous iced house or two would be so much fun, but those take good planning and are really hard to share with my family across the country.

Decisions, decisions...

Maybe all this is my subconscious longing for snuggly cold weather clothing, lovely snowstorms and winter vacation?

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Mom's Alsatian Fruit Tart

my mom's pluot tart, ready for half-baking (then we add the flan!)

My mom is an amazing cook, though she doesn't believe it when we tell her that.

My family is here (where my mom grew up) for three weeks. They're visiting other family and friends during the weeks, and coming back to us each weekend. Last night, we had a dinner for friends and family, and as I'd been drawn to some odd-looking, mottled pluots and bought a kilo on a whim (we used all but 4 of the pluots for this tart), I asked my mom to show me how she makes this tart. I have the recipe, but I hadn't watched her make it in a few years, and I like cooking with her better than following a recipe anyway.

It's super gorgeous and very easy. You make a buttery pâte brisée (no blind baking the shell) and line the tart pan with it. Then you put, cut side up, as many firm plum/pluot/apricot halves as will fit in the raw crust. Put this into a 400'F oven for 30 minutes or so. While it's baking, mix up the custard ingredients (this recipe would work nicely). Carefully pour this mixture into the hot, half-baked tart and bake until the custard is set and browned.

If your fruit is very juicy, skip the flan, sprinkle sugar on top of the fruit, and just bake it until the crust is golden, the juices are bubbling, and the sugar is a bit caramelized and crunchy.

We made this with elephant pluots, which were sort of dreary looking on the outside but turned out to have beautifully vivid, sweet-tart flesh. My mom makes this tart with all sorts of firm stone fruits (damson plums and apricots being her favourites), though the original recipe is for a tarte aux pommes alsacienne (Alsatian apple tart). The original recipe is from Elle Magazine en français, ca. 1970s, which she had a subscription to because she liked the recipe cards and knitting patterns, and because she liked to keep up her French reading skills. Not that she needs the help- she's a language whiz.

I was lucky enough to grow up thinking that everyone ate desserts like this.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Minister's Red Currant Rum

In order to explain this recipe, I must admit something here: I love love love the Harry Potter

Complete. Total. Sucker.

A few years ago, after I'd read the actual books, L gave me the audiobooks. When I am in the mood for a comfortable, familiar voice and story, when I want to zone out, or when I want to hear something calming as I fall asleep (audiobooks are great for shutting up a racing brain at bedtime), I put on one of those recordings. I think it must drive L nuts- or maybe it's so far past that now that he can just tune it out!

Pumpkin pasties and butter beer aside, every time I hear the Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge order red currant rum, I've thought about how superbly delicious that sounds. Alas, as it so often is with things you crave (nevermind the fact that I'd never actually tasted it), I could not find a recipe for red currant rum anywhere. Not in cookbooks, not online, and not in the hands of fellow cooking-obsessed friends.

So in the end- poor poor me- here was a ready-made excuse to invent and test and try and taste and play around in the kitchen! As you can imagine, I was thrilled!

I originally wanted to drink this rum neat, and I do like a little sweetness in my straight-up-booze, so I made multiple batches of the red currant rum with a few different natural sweeteners. As usual, I preferred the particular flavour and sweetness of honey, perhaps because it reminds me of mead, and certainly because it's a perfect, earthy foil for the bright, tart currants.

If you don't like honey, I don’t know if I can be friends with you you can use sugar, keeping in mind that honey often tastes sweeter than sugar, so measure accordingly. I generally use a 3:4 ratio of honey to sugar. Drink sweetness is such a personal thing that I suggest you play around- start with a little and add in small increments- until you find a level that you like best. This rum ages well, so experimenting in this way is easy.

And before you go all, "why are you posting this now? currants aren't in season until late summer!" on me, just consider how much time you now have to plan!

The Minister's Red Currant Rum

1 cup fresh or frozen red currants
1 liter white rum
3 tablespoons honey (double or triple this if you want something more like a liqueur)

You will want to make your red currant rum in a glass (not plastic) container so that you can safely use a bain-marie, or water bath, to release those yummy currant flavours. I also believe that, in general, glass is a safer container for storing foods.

To prepare your bain-marie, heat a few liters of water in a saucepan large enough to accommodate your rum container.

If your currants are fresh and on the vine, pick them off. Wash the currants gently in cold water and let them drip dry in a colander or on a clean towel.

If your currants are frozen, just defrost them in the rum.

Drop the currants into your glass container (or pour them in, if you didn't insist on using a bottle with such a tiny mouth- argh), drizzle in the honey, and then add the rum.

At this point, carefully check your bain-marie. The water doesn't need to be boiling or just-boiled, but steam should be rising from the surface. If you're using Pyrex, you can keep the water at a simmer; if you're unsure about the quality of your glass, make sure the heat under the saucepan is turned off.

Put your rum container into the bain-marie and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, remove the rum from the bain-marie and let it sit at room temperature until cool.

Seal/stopper/cover the rum and let it sit in a cool, dark place for at least six months and up to one year. Give the container a good shake every month or so. I like concentrated flavours, so I try to keep myself away from the rum for as long as I can!

When you're ready, strain the infused rum into a clean, sterilized container.

Enjoy your red currant rum neat, in your favourite cocktail recipe, or after aging, well-sealed, in a cool, dark place for up to a few years.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A hopeful return and thank you!

Thank you! Thank you so much for all the sweet comments asking about this blog.

Alas, at the end of the semester last year, my busy life and crazy job kicked in with a vengeance and I dropped off the face of the earth... at least, where this blog is concerned. Well, actually, I think some of my friends would agree here, too, as I haven't seen them nearly as often as I'd like.

Now that I feel a little bit less like I've been holding my breath and racing along for a year, I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things here.

I will try to pull myself away from the cookbook reading that is such a nice diversion from shoveling miles and miles of snow!