Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweets For My...Self

I must interrupt this not at all regularly scheduled post to tell you that I am, for the first time ever, an Aunt!!! That's right, my big sister gave birth to the most precious baby boy that has ever been witnessed Thursday afternoon. I believe I may be glowing. He came a bit early. I was only going to have to wait about 3 weeks to meet him, and now I have to wait allllll the way until Thanksgiving. That's a whole month! Who can wait that long?! You won't be seeing his face on uglybaby.com. No, sir. He is an angel. The most beautiful baby I have ever seen. Welcome to the world Bagel*!

Ok, back to the food. I felt the need for baking last weekend, and actually ended up overdoing it a bit. It's Friday and there are still sweets looming around the kitchen. That is unheard of! Especially with my cookie monster husband on the loose. I just couldn't help myself. I've been saving up pumpkin recipes all year. I'm busting at the seams with them! Unfortunately, it wasn't what I would deem a successful baking adventure. Check it out.
  • Pumpkin swirl brownies, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I don't know why it took me so long to make these. I've been drooling over this recipe for almost a year now. These turned out good, but dry. Very dry. I think I may have over-mixed? They're also a bit crumbly. But you know what I realized while I was baking them? That was my first attempt making brownies from scratch. We always used a box mix growing up. And, well, I just don't make brownies as often as I should. As such, I think it was pretty darn successful. And I would definitely attempt this recipe again. Deb says to thin out the chocolate batter if it's too thick, but I wonder if it would turn out better to have the chocolate a bit on the thick side and the pumpkin a bit on the lighter side. Maybe the pumpkin flavor would come through a bit better that way? Ok really I think from her pictures, hers just look tastier than mine. See? The pumpkin got lost a little bit amidst the chocolate.
  • Pumpkin cinnamon rolls, courtesy of White Apples. If you can believe it, this was also my first time making cinnamon rolls. We never had cinnamon rolls growing up, so I just never thought to make them before. But I do think they're tasty, and with pumpkin thrown in the mix, downright irresistible! But I did have some problems. I did everything per the recipe, but somehow about 10 minutes into baking the top started to brown. By 12 minutes I was concerned. Could they really be done already? Thankfully the recipe listed the internal temperature because my handy dandy thermometer told me that even though the top was browning, they weren't done yet, so I popped them back in. After about 15 minutes they were done. And the top was a little hard. I'm pretty sure cinnamon rolls aren't supposed to have a crispy top, are they? Did I over-steam them? Next time maybe I'll try baking them at 375. The rolls themselves were delicious. Husband says they weren't pumpkin-y or cinnamon-y enough. I think they were fine on both those counts, but I had issue with the icing. I thought the coffee was very overpowering. Next time I think I would nix the coffee and add some pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice instead. Since the pumpkin was subtle in the roll, I don't think it would be too pumpkin-y to have it in the icing too. I think I would add a bit of pumpkin pie spice to the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture as well. I just can't get enough pumpkin pie spice. For some reason I decided to use an oval baking dish, rather than my square 9" pan that would have perfectly held, say, 9 cinnamon rolls. I think it was full of brownies or some such nonsense. Thus the very oddly shaped roll. That's ok, though. It still tasted delicious.
  • Raspberry breakfast bars, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Ok, what is wrong with me? These turned out the worst of the three! Costco had a huge flat of raspberries for disgustingly cheap last weekend, and I immediately thought of making these bars. I had wanted to make them all summer, but raspberries were always too expensive. Are they an end of summer fruit and I just didn't know it? I'm new to this seasonal eating them, so pardon my ignorance. Anyway, these turned out...well, soggy. I cooked the bottom layer until golden brown, as instructed, but I guess it's wasn't quite golden enough because once I baked it a second time with the raspberry mixture introduced, it wasn't even chewy. Just soggy. The flavors are still excellent. It's just not a "bar". I've been eating them on top of Greek-style yogurt as an afternoon pig-out-fest snack. Next time I think I'll try reserving just a cup of the mixture for the top, and upping both baking times. Hopefully that'll scare any sogginess out of these puppies. Yes, even though these were the biggest disaster of the weekend, I would still make them again. The flavors were good, so hopefully it just needs some tweaking. They sure don't look like much, but, as I'm eating one right now, I can attest to the deliciously sweet raspberry flavor.

Add on top of this the pumpkin ice cream I found at the grocery store (I was only in the ice cream section because Husband requested it for easier consumption of the dry brownies), and we were both on dessert overload this week. Husband, bless his heart, has been taking baby steps to get in better shape. He started off by tagging along on more of my nightly walks with Theo for exercise. Then he started getting up earlier, with the intent that once he's used to getting up earlier, he might actually be able to push himself to run that early. He's also really started watching his portion sizes. It's amazing how much less we eat compared to last year. And the baby step of this week? Requesting that next week be dessert free. He's been able to keep a few pounds off, but thinks without the sweets he may be able to drop some more rather than just maintain. Gee, what a concept! I like to have a little something, but this week was total overload. My bad. And since I'll be on travel for work next week, I can easily comply with the request. Hey, how about I skip cooking too? Heh. I chose to believe this line of reasoning than the alternative: he wants a break from my baking disasters. That couldn't be it....could it?



A big welcome to all the people checking out this blog for the first time via Theo's blog. Hope you like it! I am making an effort to take more pictures, since I'm a very visual person. I have a hard time getting excited about a recipe unless I see a picture of it. The recipes I link here have a picture 30 times better than mine probably 99% of the time, so there's always that option, but it's been fun to capture the food I make too. Since I do my cooking late Sunday night (ok, that's actually when I end up finishing everything. I start much earlier), I don't usually end up taking pictures until the next day or later, since the lighting can be so bad, and I'm usually too tired by that point. Thus the same glass container you'll probably start seeing more and more. That would be my lunch box!




Did I mention I'm an Aunt? Because I am. Just a tad excited. Just saying.



*His name is not really Bagel. It's a nick name of sorts. You can't expect my family to constantly refer to a growing life form for 9 months and not name it something. No way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

SQUASH!

Heh, ok. I will now officially shut up about squash. I just needed to get that out of my system. I didn't even cook with it that much this weekend. Just a wee bit.

I feel like I've already talked typed you face off this week, so I'll just get right to it. I'm still in fall foods mode, even though it warmed up considerably this week. Sure, it rained on my run yesterday morning, but I was also in a t-shirt and shorts and not the slightest bit cold. And I get cold very easily. Got to love Southern California. Anyway, more roasting, a thick starchy soup, and some earthy flavors were what I was in the mood for. Check it out.
  • Fire-spiced chicken with honey-lemon glaze, courtesy of Luna Cafe. First off, I broken down a whole fryer chicken for the first time for this recipe. With the help of the ever-followable Alton Brown, it was no problemo. And I saved the carcass for making stock later! Look at Martha-wannabe me! Second, I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off all last weekend because I was insanely busy, so I didn't end up spice-rubbing the chicken until, oh, 8 hours before I cooked it, rather than the recommended 24-48 hours. It was all good. This tasted amazing. The meat turned out juicy and perfectly cooked. The glaze added a nice sweetness and the spice rub gave it a nice complex flavor with no hint of boring chicken flavor in sight. I only did one chicken, so I halved the recipe for the rub. Interestingly, I had about 4 times more rub than I needed, but I had just enough glaze even though I didn't halve it. I tend to be a bit heavy handed with glazing (don't ever ask Husband about the turkey basting incident...), so I didn't get that nice crispy char on the skin. I will try to show more restraint next time. And yes, there will definitely be a next time. I'm ready to roast more chicken this weekend! I love this recipe because it's definitely adaptable to other flavors. With a different spice mixture it could be an entirely different dish! Sorry for the crappy picture. I forgot to snap a photo until the next day. It don't look like much, but it tastes divine. Also, the picture up top with the slices is a bit more appetizing at least.
  • Hashed brussells sprouts, courtesy of Simply Recipes. Friday afternoon found me suddenly in the mood for brussells sprouts. If you'd have asked me when I was 5 if I would ever be in the mood for brussells sprouts I would have said heck no sir! Hated 'em. Of course, things change, including taste buds. And now I wouldn't say I love them, but I appreciate them for their bitter leafy healthy goodness. I was, as the recipe put it, feeling ambitious, so not only did I cut out the core and thinly slice all the brussells sprouts, I doubled the recipe and did 2 pounds worth! Sufficed to say, it took awhile. If you plan on making this recipe (which I recommend you do!), plan to find someone to put to work. Heh. Minus all the knife work, this recipe was super simple and quick. Just heat oil and butter, cook the veggies, throw in some liquor and lemon zest, and you're done! I used white wine instead of vermouth because apparently I was fresh out. No martinis for me! I like this preparation because I think finely slicing the leaves allows for the flavors to really meld with the fat and acid to remove a lot of the bitterness. You might think you don't like brussells sprouts, but if you venture to try them again, give this recipe a try. And don't be shy on the zest and wine!
  • Butternut squash risotto, courtesy of Ina Garten. She, hands down, has the best risotto recipes out there. Ok, so the only risotto recipes I've attempted have been hers. But I can't imagine anything better. The texture is so creamy, the flavors are so nutty from the squash and cheese, but still very light. I agree with the website's assessment, this was super easy, and considering I was juggling quite a few dishes at the same time as assembling this, it was a good thing! I can't decide which of the two I like better. Each bite of this is like a mouthful of happiness. The thing with risotto is that from pictures it never looks that appetizing to me, but of course, once I make it, I can't wait to scarf it all down. My own picture below is, unfortunately, no exception. A food photog I am not!
  • Quinoa-stuffed peppers, courtesy of NPR's Kitchen Window. I love quinoa. It's a super healthy whole grain. It's nutty (which is apparently I flavor I like since just about everything I've described in this post has been nutty, heh), and I like how the texture is like little pearls that pop in your mouth. I see a lot of recipes with cous cous, but I prefer quinoa because I think it's a bit better for you since cous cous is basically a pasta (though they do sell a whole wheat cous cous at Trader Joe's I've been meaning to try). I have to say, I don't quite understand the big deal with stuffing peppers. Is it just for the wow-factor of the presentation? This recipe turned out good. Really good, in fact. But I think next time I'd be tempted to just cut up the bell pepper, cook it with the rest of the ingredients, and put it all in a pot to cook in the oven. That way I wouldn't have to deal with all the cutting and what not when I'm trying to shovel the delicious food in my mouth. I think I would also add more tomatoes. I used heirloom cherry tomatoes that were so delicious in it that I ended up fishing them out of the dish. Overall all the flavors went really well together. The pine nuts definitely bring it all together and go great with the quinoa. The pepper and tomato adds a nice sweetness, and the fennel seeds definitely gave it a more interesting flavor. Re-doable for sure! Ok, I am kind of loving this picture.
  • Roasted autumn vegetable chowder, courtesy of Pinch My Salt. My first excuse to use my dutch oven! Woohoo! Oh, that's another thing I never mentioned this week. Husband and I had some Amazon gift cards that added up to quite a bit, and he generously insisted that I use them to buy the Le Creuset dutch oven I've been coveting for so long. What a stud! Of course, he knew what was in it for him was lots of good eats! Ladies, if your husband ever gives you a hard time about buying cookware or kitchen gadgets, just show him the episode of Good Eats where Alton talks about why you need whatever the item in question is. Thanks Alton for your episode on dutch ovens!!! Anyway, I felt like a nice thick soup to go with the Autumn weather, but I didn't want anything heavy or creamy. Starchy, however, fit the bill perfectly! This soup really did the trick. Potatoes are used to thicken the soup, rather than dairy, so it's still has some bite without being heavy. It's a little on the bland side, but apparently Nicole employs the same strategy I use when faced with bland soup. Cholula! I think if/when I make this soup again, I'll roast the vegetables for a bit longer to let their flavors develop a bit more. Also, make sure you keep all the vegetables about the same size, with the potatoes even on the small side. They ended up a bit undercooked. But overall, very satisfying. And I'll keep with the theme here and offer another picture note. The reason my pot looks so pathetic is that I forgot to snap my picture until I had ladled most of the soup into a tupperware before stashing it in the fridge. I was too lazy to spoon it all back, so imagine this soup, just more of it.
  • I made the same no-knead bread I've made in the past, except I found whole wheat bread flour in the bulk bin section of my healthy food grocery store. How awesome is that!!? Husband thinks it's a bit on the heavy side and suggested I try adding more yeast. I might try that next time, but I really don't mind it on the dense side. Mmmm, nutty! It ended up going fantastically with the next item. And also, this one fuzzy picture was all I was able to get before we scarfed the whole loaf!
  • Strawberry freezer jam. Have you heard of freezer jam? When I was in Seattle last month I was dining at the ever-wonderful Chinook's for brunch we noticed the jam on the table said it was freezer jam. We didn't have a clue how freezer jam differed from regular jam, nor did the packaging give a clue. Then I saw this article at NPR's Kitchen Window about freezer jam. Apparently freezer jam is, well, jam! The freezing just refers to the method of preservation. It would be like calling traditional jam "canning jam". This highly appealed to me because I fear canning. I don't really want to mess with all the necessary hardware, and then possibly killing myself with bacteria when I mess it up. Though I did by chance just watch Alton Brown's episode of Good Eats on making and canning jam this morning, and it is decidedly less scary (though equally a pain). As it happens, I am trying to take up more space in my freezer anyway (it saves energy to keep it full!). I didn't end up using any of the recipes in the article because when I got the pectin home and excitedly read the directions, they point blank said "DON'T VARY FROM THESE EXACT INSTRUCTIONS OR YOUR JAM WILL NOT SET. EVERYTHING WILL BE RUINED. AND YOU WILL GO STRAIGHT TO HELL WITHOUT COLLECTING $200!" Or something like that. I decided it was ok to be a bit vanilla for my first time. So I used the package instructions for making strawberry jam. Just 4 cups of strawberries and 3 cups of sugar. Easy! I thought it would be overly sweet because that's a lot of sugar, but it's actually quite tasty! It's more reminiscent of a jelly than a jam to me, but whatever. It still tastes amazing on the no-knead bread I made, or on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yum! I'd really like to try the citrus pear jam, but I'm afraid. The recipe says to follow the directions on the pectin for how much to use, but the package only calls for using the whole thing. I'll save this for a day when I'm feeling brave. And after I buy more freezer jam containers, because all mine are currently in use! And when I have some pork standing by that I can eat my failure on if it doesn't end up setting.
These containers are special freezer jam containers. Even though my grocery store only sells one kind of pectin, they also, amazingly, sell these. Hilarious. They're supposedly safe for use in the freezer (some plastic containers are said to leech chemicals into the food at temps that low), and they have handy dandy screw caps. And they were only $4!

Phew! It was a busy weekend indeed!

Recipe: Black Bean Pumpkin Arugula Saute

Three recipes in one week?! Who is this person? And more pumpkin to boot? What can I say, I'm just a fan of boots.

Did I mention that I bought furniture last weekend to house all my squash? I don't think I did. Well there I was at Trader Joe's (and 2 other grocery stores, in fact). They had every kind of squash that can make your mouth water, and they were cheap! And I had a thought. In these hard economic times (I think everyone should work this phrase into a conversation at least once a day. It's fun to watch people's eyes roll.), you have to shop smart (oh, that's another winner). More precisely I thought "Squash stays good for weeks and weeks, so I won't have to be without it should the mood strike!" That's me. Always thinking with my stomach. Too bad Husband wasn't with me that trip. It's a good think I've been pumping iron because squash is heavy!

So I got all the squash home and then came to a realization. I didn't have anywhere to store it. I don't really have a pantry, per se. More like designated cabinets (though my sister, quite understandably, often tells me to stuff it since I have about 3 times more storage space in my kitchen than she does). It's no walk-in like my parent have, which I constantly drool over whenever I'm there. *sigh* Anyway, I was left with a dilemma. Where to put it? On the counter was not an option. The only open space was in front of the coffee maker, and several pounds of round, unstable, and heavy vegetables between me and my eyes opening in the morning was just not a good idea. So it was off to Pier 1 to look for a solution! I would have preferred the opportunity to shop around a bit and try to find something, ya know, not wicker. But desperate times call for measures that actually work out ok. We found a floor-standing 3-tier dark wicker basket thingy that was just what we needed! And I think wicker is actually fine since it's holding something earthy and colorful, ya know? And you know what? It's perfect! It holds all my squash, plus my potatoes and onions! Woohoo! I set it up right at the edge of the counter, so it doesn't take up much room. It's very efficient, and I smile when I look at it.

How does this relate to the black bean pumpkin and arugula saute recipe I'm about to post? It doesn't. I just wanted to share my squash storage adventure with you. And also, I felt the need to liven the post a bit, since I wolfed this down before I had a chance to take a picture of it. It was seriously good. What prompted it? Leftovers. What else? I had leftover pumpkin from the bread and leftover beans from...well I just like beans. I always have some arugula and mache on hand for salads and adding greenery to my dinners, so I thought, why not just put it all together? And of course, a fried egg makes any dinner a winner in my book. And another plus, this took me literally 10 minutes to throw together. Enjoy!

Black Bean Pumpkin Arugula Saute

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 10 oz arugula
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups mache (aka lamb's lettuce)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:

  1. Melt butter in saute pan over medium heat. (Note: you could use cooking spray or oil instead, but I think a little butter adds a nice flavor)
  2. Add arugula, and toss to coat with butter. Add pumpkin and beans and stir to combine with arugula. Add salt and pepper to taste. Saute until arugula wilts and beans and pumpkin heat through, about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat another skillet over low-medium with some kind of non-stick agent (butter, oil, or cooking spray - whatever floats your boat). Cook the eggs to your liking. Husband likes scrambled whites (obviously if you do this you'll need more than 4 eggs and a little milk, or even better, buttermilk). I like it simple and fried - just crack the egg straight into the pan, try not to let it run all over the pan. Cook for a few minutes until the bottom is cooked well enough to flip. Then, you guessed it, flip! Cook for another 2 minutes or so, until the white is set to your liking.
  4. Fill four bowls with 1 cup of mache each. Spoon 1/4 of the bean/pumpkin/arugula mixture on top. Top with the fried egg (or whatever preparation you used). Enjoy! (To best achieve said enjoyment, you might start with piercing that ooey gooey yolk and letting it spill out over the beans. *drool!*)
Note: I actually made this with a pre-cooked Trader Joe's bean medley they sell in the refrigerated section along with the pre-roasted beets. I wrote the recipe with black beans because that's probably what I would use in the future, but really any beans that tickle your fancy would work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recipe: One Bowl Boozy Pumpkin Bread

Sometimes right smack in the middle of the week I'll get a big time craving for baked goods. I think it's my mind coping for still having another half of the week to get through. Either way, I've found myself regretting not having any fresh baked goods laying around to house to stuff my face with. I always plan on baking, but I never have enough time, or I'm missing one key ingredient (which is why I always have plenty of eggs, butter, and buttermilk on hand now).

Last week the craving hit, and I wanted pumpkin. Trader Joe's is selling 100% organic pure pumpkin puree for $1.99. You know the canned pumpkin puree you buy at the grocery store? That's not actually 100% pumpkin. It's mixed with other squash. You know how it's that bright orange color? Well the good stuff from Trader Joe's is a much more natural light yellow-orange color. And you can taste the difference too. It was so good, in fact, that I stocked up on a ton of it last weekend, in fear that it would be gone from the store forever in too short a time.

So there I was, Wednesday night, wanting pumpkin bread and having no recipe. Naturally, I went to the interwebs. I wasn't in the mood for an extensive search, so I went to a few of my go-to sites. They all had some delicious pumpkin bread and muffin recipes, but each one I came across I found I was missing one stinking ingredient for. Arg! How could I forget to buy more buttermilk? Why don't I have an aversion to keeping heavy cream on hand? I didn't find a single recipe that caught my eye. Then I saw the banana bread recipe I made a few weeks ago, and a thought struck me. What if I swapped the banana with pumpkin? What if I used pumpkin pie spice instead of, well the spices in the recipe were pretty much already pumpkin pie spice minus the ginger. What if I put in a little whole wheat flour for a bit more fiber and protein and nutty taste? I decided to go for it.

The results were amazing! See in how the loaf is already a fifth of the way or so gone in these pictures? That was my "it's not really all the way cooled, but I want to taste it before I walk Theo" bite. The bite may have ended up being two slices...but who's counting? This pumpkin bread was no long for this world. It was nutty and spice-y and substantial without being heavy. Not too sweet. Perfect for fall. And I only dirtied one bowl! A quick cleanup is always a plus.

I know all I did was swap an ingredient or two, but Husband was a little blown away. He kept saying how proud of me he was. He knows all about my neuroses with following recipes, and what a total chicken I am about adapting or changing things. What if it doesn't come out right? What a total waste of food that would be! Thankfully these breads are pretty easy. If the batter tastes good going into the oven, chances are it'll taste even better coming out, right?


One Bowl Boozy Pumpkin Bread

adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Jacked Up Banana Bread

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (up to 1 cup if you like it sweeter)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or the equivalent of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, which you can find on the interwebs)
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine the pumpkin puree and melted butter.
  3. Add the brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and bourbon (you may find 1 tablespoon is not an adequate amount, feel free to add more), then add the pumpkin pie spice.
  4. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Then add the AP flour and whole wheat flour and mix until just combined. Don't over mix your flours! As Alton Brown says, just walk away.
  5. Pour mixture into a buttered or baking sprayed 4×8 inch loaf pan.
  6. Bake for 35-50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (at 40 minutes mine was perfectly done: the tester was clean but the cake was moist, and my oven runs a little on the hot side, so definitely err on the side of caution). Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Recipe: Lamb Stout Stew

I love Fall. Sure, people say that Southern California doesn't have seasons (or at most we have two: Winter and Spring), but there's definitely been a change in the air the last few weeks. The weather is getting cooler. People are putting up decorations for Halloween. It's getting dark earlier and earlier every day. Plus, there's just something in the air. A calm quiet that I can't put my finger on. It's all so cozy, you know? Bring on the cider!

My favorite part of Fall, at least this year, is definitely the food. Apples, pears, and pomegranates are everywhere. Not to mention squash! But I won't get into squash here because that's a whole other post. Let's just say I like homey foods, comfort foods. When I cook, I don't tend toward recipes that are too fussy. I like bold flavors from simple foods. Isn't that what comfort is all about?

Husband is a big stew person. Being that I wasn't a fan of big hunks of meat until very recently, I was never a big fan of stew. Well ever since I've started cooking my own food my tastes have changed dramatically. There is now not a food I know that I would own to not liking. (Although I still would be happy to go my whole life without trying sea urchin. It looks like a tongue! Bleck!) Anyway, I made stew, I tried it, I'm converted to Husband's view. Stew is awesome. The meat is succulent and tender, the veggies add great texture and flavor, and the broth takes on all the flavors deliciously! Oh man, the broth. The Guinness really added a nice complexity to it that kept it from being bland and boring. Booze just makes everything taste better, doesn't it? (That's me buttering you up for my next equally alcohol-laden recipe coming up.)

Lamb Stout Stew

Adapted from Martha Stewart's Beef Stout Stew (similar to this one, minus the herbs and garnish)

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:
  • 2 lbs lamb stew meat
  • 2 TB canola oil
  • 3 TB butter, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 stalk leeks, white and light green parts sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 lb cremini mushrooms (or any variation), sliced
  • 2 cups stout, like Guinness
  • 2-3 cups chicken or beef broth (I had chicken on hand, but beef would probably go better)
  • 2 TB flour
  • 1 TB Dijon mustard
  • 8-10 cipollini onions, peeled and quartered (or pearl onions whole)
  • 1 lb baby white potatoes, halved
  • 1 TB rosemary, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
  1. Heat large stock pot (or dutch oven if you're lucky enough to have one) over high heat. Add the canola oil and 1 TB of butter. When hot, sear the lamb in batches until you get a nice, crusty brown on all sides (about 3-4 minutes total per batch). Make sure you don't crowd the pieces in the pot or they won't sear properly. After one batch is done, move the meat to a bowl while you cook the rest. It took me 4 batches. If the pot gets too dry between batches add another tablespoon of butter, or more oil. Whatever floats your boat. Note: If you use a non-stick pot to brown the meat, then you won't have yummy bits to deglaze afterwards, so I recommend a non non-stick pot (a stick pot?).
  2. Once the lamb is done browning add enough chicken stock to deglaze the pot, about 1/2 cup. Use a wooden spoon to break up all the cooked-on lamb remnants. Once all the delicious remnants are free from the bottom of the pot and mixed with the broth, pour the liquid into the bowl with the lamb. Just let them stew together and forget all about them for awhile. Get it? Stew? Ha!
  3. Put the pot back on the stove, turn the heat down to medium, and add the remaining tablespoon of butter (you could use canola oil or olive oil, I just think butter works best for this homey recipe). Add the onions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the leeks, celery, and mushrooms and let 'em sweat out their deliciousness for about 3-5 minutes or until you have some room in the pot again. If anything sticks to the pot during this period, you can use some chicken broth to deglaze it a bit. I had no sticking issues.
  4. Clear a small spot on the bottom of the pot and add the flour and mustard. Mix the two together until they form a paste and let cook for a minute or two (to cook off that raw flour flavor), then stir the mixture into the vegetables.
  5. Add the lamb and all the wonderful drippings that have accumulated back into the pot. Add the stout and enough broth to cover the meat (or more if you're into broth). Bring stew to a boil and then partially cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. You want to keep a steady and gentle simmer, not too violent, not too docile. Skim the fat that accumulates on the surface periodically.
  6. Add the cipollini onions and potatoes. Partially cover and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, or until the additions are tender.
  7. Stir in the rosemary, salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you desire, and let it work itself around the stew for a few minutes.
  8. Serve either in a bowl by itself, or spoon over some egg noodles or brown rice. (I used brown rice noodles!)

Note: Feel free to use this recipe as a base and change the ingredients how you see fit! Use beef instead of lamb if you want (it sure is cheaper!). Or leave out the mushrooms if they don't float your boat. This recipe is hard to mess up as long as you follow the general technique.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Breaking Out Of My Shell

I'm not the most adventurous cook. I don't trust myself not to completely mess up a dish, so I usually follow a recipe to the letter, or at least pretty dang close. When I see an ingredient that I want to use, I'll search for hours online for a recipe that looks good rather than just make up my own. But several things have happened over the last few weeks that have empowered me to break out of my shell.

First, Husband and I went running around a local lake. It's exactly 5 miles around (I had my runkeeper app open to keep 'em honest), and I ran it in 40:44. I ran five miles in forty minutes and forty four seconds!!! That's an average of an 8 minute mile. This is kind of momentous for me. I think it took me over 14 minutes to "run" the mile in high school. And that was just one, not five. Sure, I wanted to roll over and die afterwards (it was in the 80s and I was a wee bit dehydrated), but I was too busy being proud of myself to do that. Did I feel empowered after I left everyone else running around that lake in the dust? HELL YES!

Second, I made two recipes that were from/inspired by my new Martha Stewart cookbook, courtesy of the most thoughtful sister on the planet. One turned out pretty darned good considering I messed it up, and the other turned out down right delicious! And I wasn't even really following a recipe, per se. It was more like a set of instructions for technique. But more on that later. Look at me, I'm learning to cook! Thanks Martha and thanks Sis! Hello empowerment!

Third, last night I used a banana bread recipe to make pumpkin bread. Yeah, pumpkin/banana bread is probably laughably easy to make, but I still took a recipe and modified it quite a bit to make something else. It might be easy, but not something I would have dreamt of attempting just 3 months ago.

My shell is so far behind me I can't even see it!

Oh, and in other good news, I was un-laid off. As in, I'm not fired. For now... I'm sure I'll be laid off again in a few months, but hopefully that won't be until after Christmas, and I'll have the year ahead and me to figure something out. I'm feeling a bit like super woman this week, so I'm taking this a great news!

Thankfully the little bars of crack were safely deposited with friends and co-workers so by Monday night they were gone. Another reason I was glad to be un-laid off? I was completely unwilling to feed people who were firing me, no matter what it did to my waistline. This was a little reminder of why they should keep me around for a little longer. Ok, not really because I don't work directly with the big wigs in charge of those decisions. But let's just go with it. Here's what else I stuffed my face with this week:
  • Prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin with pear and current chutney, courtesy of Martha Stewart. I'll start with the chutney. I decided I wanted a little sauce of some kind with the pork (because I'm a sauce girl), and I had pears. Armed with the interwebs my fingers did the rest. I ended up using currant instead of raisins because I'm apparently out of raisins. Who knew? I used regular ol' onion instead of shallots because I never have shallots on hand (I rarely use 'em). Also, the only balsamic I had was the cheapy cheapy stuff I bought years and years ago before Alton Brown educated me on the importance of buying quality vinegars (for the same reason you don't use cooking wine, because if it tastes nasty going in, it'll taste nasty coming out!). So not surprisingly, the flavor was a bit...potent on first taste. But I cleared that right up with a little red wine. It added a bit of sweetness that was missing without completely changing the chutney. It was good!
The pork tenderloin, which I unfortunately didn't manage to get a picture of, was good. In fact, considering I way over-cooked it, it was fantastic! Basically you take pork tenderloin (the recipes actually called for just loin, which led to the overcooking because the tenderloin was like half the amount of meat), and sear it in a pan with some oil until brown on all sides. Then let it rest for about 10 minutes. Then chop up a tablespoon of rosemary and rub it all over the meat. Wrap the meat in prosciutto (a 6oz package was perfect for me), and use butcher's twine to tie it in place (who the heck carries butcher's twine? They don't carry it at any of my grocery stores. Bed Bath and Beyond maybe? It seems kinda silly they don't just sell spools of it at the store). Put the pork back in the pan and roast in a 400 degree oven for...well that's the part I messed up on. I think I did 40 minutes, which was way too long, so I'd probably go with 20 and check it every 5 minutes after that. I forget what the target temperature was, maybe 140 degrees? Mine was like 175. Oops! I'd definitely make this again (correctly, of course).

But as I said, it's a testament to the recipe that even though it was completely overcooked, it wasn't actually dry or tough. With the chutney it was still really tasty! And of course, the crispy prosciutto on the outside was delicious!
  • I paired the pork with some roasted root vegetables because I always have to have a veggie, and because fall is here! I chopped up some yukon gold potatoes, fennel bulbs, rutabagas, and carrots, tossed them with some olive oil, chopped rosemary, salt, and pepper, and through them in a roasting pan in the oven for the 40 minutes that the pork was in the oven (so 400 degrees). They were mighty tasty, though I wasn't wild about this preparation for the fennel. I like fennel, it's just a bit much taste and texture-wise so plain.
  • Potato and leek mini gratins, courtesy of The Kitchn. Simple and light. Just layer some sliced potatoes and leeks with Gruy√®re cheese, which I think tastes like a cross between Parmesan and swiss, so maybe try mixing the two if you can't find it. Heh. Then just add some milk (I used 1%), and bake away. Easy! I'm kind of loving leeks right now. I didn't love this dish, but really, what's not to like? You could always try a higher fat milk for a creamier flavor. Erm, you might notice there's no link to the recipe. That's because apparently the webpage with it doesn't exist anymore. Don't know what happened there. Poop.
  • Lamb stout stew, courtesy of me! As I said, I used my new cookbook to learn the stew-making technique, then added my own ingredients. I'll post the recipe next, along with the pumpkin bread.
I hope I can keep it up!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Baker Beware

Baker beware because I have discovered something dangerous. Twix bars. That's right. I said homemade twix bars. Hold, on I need a minute... Ok, I have control of my faculties again...but look at those! Oh man, these are like heaven in your mouth. Technically they are chocolate caramel shortbread, courtesy of How to Eat a Cupcake. I'm sorry to say they are super easy to make. Too easy! Basically you mix the shortbread ingredients, spread it out in a pan and bake it. Then you thicken some condensed milk and a little butter on the stove, pour it over the shortbread, and bake it some more. Then you sprinkle some chocolate chips over it, put it back in the oven to melt, and spread out the chocolate once it's all melty and delicious. Oh man. The hardest part was by far waiting to let it set up. Once they were hardened and cut up into pieces it was very difficult not to run back to the refrigerator every 5 minutes to sneak one. That's why I made sure to give half of it away to my friends the very next day. Hehe. They really taste best when eaten straight out of the refrigerator. These bars are the perfect mixture of buttery cookie, sweet, chewy caramel, and bittersweet chocolate. I am literally drooling right now.

PS: I was inspired to make these from Sara at Rhymes with Spoon. I don't know how she got her layers to look so pronounced, but she did. So my photography hats off to her!

Another thing I baked up this weekend was oatmeal blueberry scones, courtesy of Joy the Baker. This is my first attempt at scones, though I've saved off about 10 recipes now, I had just never gotten around to it before. Then I saw this recipe from Joy, and I'll just admit it, it was the oats. I am a sucker for oats in baked goods. They are so delicious and they're a whole grain! They looked yummy and quick and I had the spare time. I have to say, these are fantastic. I haven't made enough scones to know exactly what I want out of it, but these are darn good. They're not dense, heavy, or crumbly, like the kind you get at Starbucks. The oats add a nutty, chewy flavor, but they're still light and fluffy. They were a tad (the teeniest tad) on the dry side, but I think that's how scones should be, since they're meant to go with tea or coffee. I made them with blueberries because that's what I had in the freezer, but I think I'll have to pick up some raspberries so I can try that flavor next time. With a little of the apple butter I made last weekend, they were to die for. Yum!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More Fun With Roasting

I have a feeling the "colder" months to come are going to see me using my oven more and more. I'm a fan of slaws and all, but nothing beats a roasted vegetable, especially a root vegetable. Mmmm, starches....

Not much rhyme or reason to what I decided to make this week (well last week now). Basically just whatever sounded good and was in season, as is my way sometimes. Check it out:
  • Coq au vin, courtesy of the Pioneer Woman. Coq au vin, if my French isn't too rusty, just basically means chicken in wine. You had me a wine. This recipe turned out quite delicious. The vegetables went well, the chicken was juicy and tender, and the sauce was sweet and complex. I used brown rice pasta for the first time, and I'm hooked. It's light like regular pasta, but closer nutritionally to whole wheat pasta. Yum! I forwent the stick of butter that she added, of course. This recipe is definitely a keeper, perfect for fall. I used chicken breasts, rather than a whole chicken. I was too lazy to cut one up. The picture to the right is the coq au vin, pre-roasting.
  • Oven roasted broccoli, courtesy of Alton Brown. I had this on the side with the coq au vin. Pretty straight forward. Roasting made is tasty, and the cheese and bread crumbs adds to the deliciousness. Definitely a good preparation for a simple side.
  • Golden beet and pomegranate salad, courtesy of Simple Recipes. Over a bed of arugula or mache with some walnuts sprinkled on top, this was sweet and delicious. I used Alton Brown's method of seeding the pomegranates under water, that way I got zero juice on me. I was amazed. AMAZED! If it stains, I usually get it all over myself. So my hats off to Alton, as usual. The beets and pomegranate seeds worked well together and I liked the hints of orange. Without the extra lettuce and nuts, it was a bit plain for a meal. Since the beets had some great looking greens on them, I went ahead and sauted those in some of the leftover chicken broth and a wee bit of butter. They went great with the salad as well.
  • Brown rice with winter squash and cashews, courtesy of The Kitchn. I've made this one a few times now. I had some acorn squash to use up. It's yummy. I highly recommend this one. Instead of boring old brown rice I like to use the brown rice medley I buy at Trader Joe's. It adds a bit more of a nutty flavor and the texture. I was out of cashews this time, so I used pecans. Nom!
I feel like I'm forgetting something...but that's what I can remember making for the week. Heh. It was good and I felt good eating it! I think everything here was a keeper.