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.