Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Challenge Chilaquiles - Almost Entirely Leftovers!

We killed so many birds with one stone with this one as far as living up to the challenge of using up things in the freezer. The best part for us was that I started the meat/chile sauce cooking in the slow cooker before I left for the day, and Jenean assembled and baked it at the end of the day. Total teamwork meal. Also - if you didn't know (and we didn't before trying it, though we had a hunch), Chilaquiles is (are?) a delicious and homey dish. It's like Mexico's answer to lasagna.

We thought of making this because of the shocking number of almost-finished bags of tortilla chips that were malingering in our pantry:

and Jenean has this "Beautiful Mexico" cookbook where there is a dreamy recipe for Chilaquiles (which I have been wanting to make for years but never have) that involved boiling a chicken, soaking various kinds of dried chiles, pureeing them up with garlic, etc. We realized it could work, even with the Challenge, because we had in the freezer:

some country style pork ribs
half a container of roasted chopped green chiles
and a few remaining tablespoons of chipotle in adobo sauce (I swear, I opened that can 2 years ago, and have been chipping off a little at a time for recipes ever since)
some stock
some chopped tomatoes and onions (really! Just sitting in the freezer, I have no idea why)
leftover salvadoran crema that needed to get used up somehow

So - I fried the pork in a frying pan, then moved it to the slow cooker. Into the frying pan I added some chopped garlic, a chopped onion and some cumin and chili powder, and some salt and pepper and the two kinds of chiles from the freezer (green anaheims, I think, and the chipotles with all the remaining adobo). I added stock, and brought it to a boil, and then blended that up in the blender, then added it to the slow cooker. Then I added the mysterious chopped tomato stuff to the frying pan to heat up, and a little more stock, and some more spices, and once that was hot, whirred it up in the blender and added it to the slow cooker. 7 hours on low.

When Jenean got home, well - I'll let her take it from here.

Hi!! When I got home, I simply layered tortilla chips, delicious chile/pork mixture, cheese, tortilla chips, delicious chile/pork mixture, cheese - 3 total layers. And I topped it off with lots of cheese and the crema Elaine mentioned earlier. Popped it in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes and PRESTO!

Totally declicious and everything I want in a Mexican dish - hot and smoky from the chiles, tender pork, lots of corn flavor from the tortilla chips and of course the best part, we used up all those silly bags of chips hanging around. So happy not to see those in our pantry anymore!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Clementine Muffins, or Morning Sunshine Muffins

Saying Clementine Muffins gets the job done - you know what you're eating. Morning Sunshine Muffins (Jenean's idea) is much more evocative of the lovely experience you will have while eating them.

Have you ever bought a big box or bag of clementines, and at first it is a delight, you are eating three a day and loving every bite, but by the time you're about two thirds of the way through, you are clementined out, and some of them are starting to go bad, and they begin to create anxiety in your household? That's where we were on Thursday evening. So we googled around a bit for ideas for what to do with clementines in a cooked capacity.

We found this recipe, at the beautiful blog smitten, which I believe is originally (or possibly only most famously) Nigella Lawson's. It calls for boiling several clementines in their skins (go look at smitten's beautiful photos of that process, I failed to take any) for 2 or sometimes 3 hours. I saw another recipe on orangette that was very similar, but used an orange and a lemon, and only boiled them for 30 minutes... Anyway - Friday night rolled around, I was all alone in the house and feeling anxious about the clementines, so I set them to boil, and turned them off after 30 minutes. Then Jenean got home and reminded me of the 3 hours in the other recipe, so we added more water and turned the heat back on... and we went and ate dinner, and watched some tv... and we forgot about those clementines. Not till a mysterious, possibly corn-dog-type smell began to waft from the kitchen did we realize what was happening - all the water had boiled off, and the bottom of the pan of clementines was scorching. Quel horreur. We felt terrible. What a waste of what we had thought was a process to SAVE those clementines from going to waste! Dad would be so mad!

We poured in a bunch of water, and joked about burnt sugar clementine cake, and Jenean went to bed. After a little while, I thought it couldn't hurt to at least take the next step, which is to drain the boiled clementines and grind them up, skin and all, in the food processor. Weirdly, the burned bits remained large and separate, and the orange clementine-y bits ground up into a pretty, dark orange paste. I pushed it through a mesh strainer to catch out all the black burned pieces, and sheepishly put it in the fridge.

The next day I decided the Clementine cake recipe, though thrilling, was not what was called for, considering it calls for expensive things like 3 cups of blanched almonds. I wasn't wasting all those nice nuts on burned clementines. So I modified the basic muffin recipe from the Joy of Cooking (not the old one, and not the newest one... the in-between one), and by George, they came out really really good! I mean, I'm going to make these all the time type good! They have such a nice round citrus flavor, without having to grate zest, or squeeze juice, or any of that, and they're really moist. You want to make these. And so without further ado, the recipe for...

Clementine AKA Morning Sunshine Muffins!

Boil 5 clementines in their skins (after removing any stickers, stems, etc and washing), in plenty of water for 1 hour (I really think that's enough). Try not to forget about them and burn them, but no big deal if you do!

Drain, and allow them to cool.  Cut into them to check for seeds, then grind them up into a paste in the food processor. For me this yielded about 1 cup, and it had the consistency of sour cream (up to this point can happen at least a day in advance, if not a lot more).
Have a 12 cup muffin tin ready, lined with paper liners, or just grease it up. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Measure out 3/4 cup of the clementine puree into a medium sized bowl and add and whisk together with:

2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar

6 tbsp melted butter (or 4 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp oil)
1 tsp vanilla

in a large bowl meanwhile, whisk or sift together:

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (if you don't have it, just do all A-P flour, I wouldn't sub regular whole wheat flour here)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ones, and as the Joy of Cooking says, "mix together with a few light strokes just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter should not be smooth." That's just so well said, I had to quote. Anyway, parcel out the batter into the cups, it should come almost to the top of the cup, when they bake the make nice domed tops. These took my oven about 21 minutes to bake... the recipe says to start checking after 12-15 minutes. You'll be able to see they're done when they're fully dry on top, even in the little cracks. Toothpick test them to make sure, and cool on wire racks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

mama's b-day ravioli with prosciutto and mushrooms

I've decided my posts are too long-winded. So this one will be mainly photos. We made ravioli for Mom's birthday dinner. Everybody helped. Mom chopped up the prosciutto, and we fried it till it was crispy and removed it from the pan.
Dad chopped up the mushrooms, and we fried those up nice and brown, then Jenean chopped and added garlic and some fresh rosemary.
I set aside about 1/4 of fried up prosciutto for later, and chopped the rest up smaller, and put it in a big bowl with the mushrooms, garlic and rosemary.
Then I added about 2 cups of ricotta, and a cup of grated parmesean, an egg, and some salt and pepper, and some freshly grated nutmeg.
Then Dad and I took turns rolling out the pasta dough. It's so much fun with this awesome contraption.
We portioned out the filling in heaping teaspoonfuls.
Dad and I just folded the dough over, using an egg wash to stick it together, and cut it into raviolis with a knife. I think I kind of want one of those nice crimper cutter things, for next time. ALSO, next time I'm gonna roll out the dough a bit thinner - level 6 instead of 5.
I made a quick sauce in a big pan while the raviolis boiled in well-salted water by melting a lot of butter with extra virgin olive oil, some more chopped garlic, some capers, and the remaining prosciutto. Toward the end of the ravioli boiling I stole some of the pasta water to add to the sauce, maybe a cup. When the ravioli was done, I threw them into the pot with the sauce, and let them bubble together to let it thicken up a bit.
Poured it out on a platter, with some more grated parmesean. Happy Birthday Mama.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Roman-Style Braised Artichokes - Hooray for Spring!

Right now, Trader Joe's is selling 4 packs of modest sized artichokes for $3, which seemed like a pretty great deal to me. It's artichoke season - March through May! So it's the right time for them to be delicious.

Usually in our family we just steam or boil artichokes, doing a minimum of trimming, and eat them leaf by leaf, dipping them in either melted butter or mayonnaise (I know, mayonnaise sounds crazy. But it's good, trust me - as long as it's Hellmans/Best Foods), till we get to the utterly delicious heart. Mmm.

For our Mama's birthday dinner though, I thought I'd try something special with them. I used a recipe in a book on Italian country cooking by Anne Willan. It's such a great recipe, there are hardly any ingredients but the flavor is amazing, and it can be made ahead and served at room temperature. It's meant to be an appetizer, but it made a nice accompaniment to the prosciutto and mushroom ravioli we made for the main dish.

you need:
6-8 cloves of garlic
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
8-10 sprigs of mint
salt and pepper
2-3 lemons (I think she calls for 3 to supply garnish... i skipped that)
6-8 young globe artichokes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Now it's time to trim the artichokes - the only tough part to this recipe (you can do it!). Have a big bowl of cold water ready, in which you have squeezed the juice of one lemon - leave the lemon pieces floating in the water. Now the artichoke: You first want to cut off all but 1 1/2 to 2 inches of stem, and if it looks really tough, peel the outside. Then you want to go around and peel back the leaves one by one, trying to leave the base of each leaf (the edible part) behind. Your first go round the artichoke you'll probably want to pull the whole leaf off - the outermost ones are totally tough. Keep going around and around, till you get past the dark green leaves and expose the inner, lighter green ones whose tips are all close together in a cone shape (I didn't go quite far enough in, afraid to waste them, but next time I'll be bolder, because we all ended up with a couple rows of leaves we had to discard for being too fibrous, and the goal here is to trim down till everything is edible).

Now once you're down to the inside cone of more tender leaves, you get a nice sharp knife, and cut that whole cone off, to expose the really short yellow-to-purple leaves with the sharp tips(depending on how old the artichoke is), and the hairy choke. Get a small spoon or a melon baller, and dig out all those sharp little leaves, and every little bit of the hairy choke, until there's a little cavity, all clean, surrounded by nice tender leaves. Rub it all over with one of the halves of lemon, to keep it from turning brown, and then throw it in the lemony water while you finish up the rest of the artichoke trimming.
Phew! I promise, the hard part is over. When that's all done, chop up your garlic, parsley and mint nice and small, and mix it all together in a little bowl.

Now get a nice wide saute pan that has a lid, one that can fit all your artichokes flat side down in one layer. One at a time, pull your artichokes out of the water bath, and fill the cavities with a couple spoonfuls of the garlic and herb mixture, and put them cut side down into the pan. If you have some of the herb mixture left over, sprinkle it on now, or better yet, save it for later.
I had left my stems too long to fit under the lid, so Dad trimmed them off and threw them into the braising liquid, they were delicious little snack nuggets later.
Sprinkle plenty of salt and pepper over the artichokes, then pour over the 1/2 cup of olive oil (really! don't hesitate, it's not too much) and enough cold fresh water to come up the sides of the artichokes about halfway (I also threw in the squeezed out lemon halves from before). Put the lid on the pan, put the pan over medium high heat, and bring it to a boil. When it's boiling, lower the heat and let it simmer, 25 minutes if you have small artichokes like I had, or more, up to 45, if they're big, until they're tender and a knife point goes in easily.

Then (here's a step I forgot to do, and it was totally fine... but I think I would do it next time) move the artichokes out of the pan and onto a serving platter, and reduce the cooking liquid in the pan to about 1 cup. You can add in the remaining herb mixture now if you have any, and once the boiling down has been accomplished and you like lots of lemon, you could add some more fresh lemon juice, maybe 1/2 a lemon's worth. I might even throw in some freshly grated lemon zest next time, but only after the cooking is done.

Pour that beautiful sauce over the artichokes. This dish is ideal at room temperature, making it great for dinner parties, you can make it way ahead. And oh my heavens, the sauce is so good (even if you don't boil it down) - you'll definitely want some crusty bread around for sopping it up - a messy but worthwhile procedure. The leftover sauce (several days later) made a great afternoon snack with bread and a piece a cheese.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Roasted Shrimp with Romesco Dipping Sauce

Well, not the greatest picture ever (I was too busy scarfing these down) but a delicious recipe nonetheless.

The sauce consists of 1 cup roasted red peppers, 3 cloves garlic, cayenne and some olive oil. Blend in the food processor - EASY!

I roasted my shrimp as I discussed here.

For the topping on the shrimp process together one slice of bread, one clove of carlic and 2 tbs of slivered almonds. Put this mixture in a skillet with a little olive oil and allow it to crisp up, then top the shrimp with it and serve along side the sauce.

There was left over breadcrumbs and sauce so we will probably make a pasta dish with these two things in the very near future as part of efforts to clean out the fridge.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who's de What?

Here's one thing in our fridge that we'll have no problem eating up:

Chocolate Blood Orange Pots de Creme (adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe) that I made for my beautiful Mommy's birthday this weekend. These seem so fancy (especially when you put them in cute mismatched tea cups like this) but they really are simple and very versatile. I used chocolate and blood orange for flavorings, but you could easily use vanilla and lavender or any number of other combinations.

Here what you need:
8 oz of bittersweet chocolate (I used 75% but Cook's Illustrated recommends 1o oz of 60% - ah well)
5 egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups half and half (didn't have this so used an additional 1/2 cup cream and 1/4 cup 1% milk)
1 vanilla bean
Zest from one orange, peeled into strips with a peeler not a zester
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
More heavy cream for whipping

Here's what I did:
Finely chop chocolate and set aside in a large bowl.

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until combined, then whisk in heavy cream and half and half. Pour into saucepan and add vanilla bean split and scraped of its seeds (I added the pod too) and zest from the orange. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat while mixture thickens, about 8-12 minutes or until it reaches 175 degrees. It shouldn't ever come to a boil or even a simmer.

Pour the mixture, through a strainer, over the chocolate and let sit for about five minutes until the chocolate melts. Add the espresso powder dissolved in water (great to bring out the chocolate flavor) and whisk until combined. If you don't have a vanilla bean, now would be a good time to add vanilla extract instead. Fill tea cups (or ramekins) with chocolate mixture. We got 8 tea cups full out of this. Let sit until the chocolate comes to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

When ready to serve, top with whipped cream and eat. Chocolate and orange is one of my favorite combinations and these were full of orange flavor without being overpowering. You will both enjoy and impress with these lovelies.


We've challenged ourselves to eat everything in the fridge, and everything in the pantry before stocking up again, because this is getting ridiculous:

I always envy people who are able shop and eat one week at a time and use every single thing they buy and make, so maybe this is our chance to use it all up and start from scratch. Good luck to us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

quasi indian friday night dinner

Our lovely friend Emily came over for dinner on friday. We've had two small pumpkins sitting on the windowsill since Halloween, if you can believe it, so I decided earlier in the week to finally do something with them for friday dinner. I remembered a recipe our CSA farmers sent home in a newsletter late in the season last year - chunks of winter squash, roasted in the oven with butter and curry powder, with chunks of apple added later on in the cooking.

Sadly, though both little pumpkins LOOKED good still... their pretty outsides hid a dark secret - only about one quarter of one of them was still usable. Luckily the Hi-Lo sells chunks of some kind of giant squash, so I got a couple of those. We also had some collard greens in the house, so I thought I'd get some tofu and make a kind of fake saag paneer with them.

Some baked brown rice (I added toasted cumin and ground allspice to this batch), and some homemade naan seemed like good a way to round things out... plus Emily brought all the fixings for, and made, some cucumber raita.

The squash (wish I had a picture for right here):
I had probably 2 pounds of squash, cut into cubes, and
2 onions, cut into chunks
mixed up in a big bowl with oil, and a curry powder mix I had made a while back - the usual things like turmeric, coriander, cumin, allspice, cayenne, a little cardamom, and I think a little fennel and cinnamon (it was Sri Lankan style, sort of). I also added a lot of salt and pepper, and some garlic powder.
I poured it all on an oiled baking sheet, covered it with another baking sheet (didn't feel like wrangling a bunch of foil), and put it in the 375 degree oven where the brown rice was already baking. After about 25 minutes I took the top sheet off, and added 3 small apples I peeled and diced, and let it stay in there another 30 minutes or... more. It turned out really tender, and sweet but savory.

The greens (that is, the fake saag paneer):
I sort of made this up as I went along. I put a big chunk of ginger, rough chopped, and 6 or so cloves of garlic rough chopped, and some toasted cumin seeds in the food processor, till it was all ground up.
I added about half the collards (I had 2 pounds total) to the food processor, and let it go till it was ground way down - it looked like a rough pesto.
I fried the cubed tofu, seasoned with salt and pepper, in a good amount of oil in a big frying pan. After I took the tofu out of the pan I added in the ground-up ginger garlic and collards mixture and let it fry up, with some salt and pepper. Then I added a bunch of water, more than a cup, but just a little at a time - I just kept adding water until it looked like a sauce. Meanwhile I put the rest of the collards in a microwave safe bowl, poured in some water, covered with plastic wrap, and microwaved it for two minutes. Then I added it all into the chopped collards in the frying pan, put a lid on it, and let it all bubble together on low heat for a while.
When it was time to eat it, I added some salvadoran crema I got at the Hi-Lo (it's kind of like sour cream or creme fraiche, it turns out! Only, a little cheesier and very salty - Emily warned me it goes bad fast so I'll have to think up something to do with the rest soon), maybe a half a cup, or more, and stirred in the tofu. It turned out better than I expected - in fact I personally felt it was more delicious than the average saag paneer - the collards gave it a little dark-greeny-bitterness that I really liked, better than spinach. I think in the future I might grind all the greens down in the food processor instead of just half of them (then i could skip the separate microwave steaming step). Also next time, I might buy some of the queso para freir they sell at the Hi-Lo, seems like it would be a lot like paneer.

The Naan (this one turned out mitten shaped!):
I used this recipe for naan, sort of. The only thing is that I've been growing a sourdough starter, lately, and had some I had to discard (I'll explain when I post about the starter, some other time), so I had to fudge some of the details. We did use the cooking method (Emily and Jenean spearheaded the naan baking) - which is to roll balls of it out nice and thin and throw it on a very hot stove top grill pan (ours it cast iron, which gets really hot), and flip it when it gets bubbly to cook the other side. Once they were done we brushed them with melted butter which I had put some chopped garlic in. They turned out good - tender and chewy, and crispy on the edges.

The Raita:
Emily brought an english cucumber, toasted ground cumin, yogurt, fresh mint and a lemon. She grated about 2/3 of the cucumber and chopped the mint, and mixed it all up with the juice of half the lemon, some cumin, and salt and pepper. It was so fresh and perky.

what I did with some of the leftovers (indian calzone?):
Emily wisely shut down the naan baking operation when we had 8 of them made, since there were only 3 of us eating. That left me with a pretty big chunk of naan dough sitting in the fridge waiting to get baked. Over the last few days we've been eating all this stuff for meals, so there was just a little bit of the collards left. I rolled out a little piece of it into a thin circle, put last of the collards on (probably just a 1/2 cup), pinched the edges shut, put it on an oiled pie plate, drizzled with a little more olive oil, sprinkled with salt, poked a couple holes in the top, and baked it at 450 for about 15 minutes. It was seriously good.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Homemade EGGS!

Look at these little beauties:

I have two adult students who are a married couple, and they happen to live in a town north of here where keeping your own chickens is legal. They got a bunch of chicks back in November sometime, and since I go to their house for their lessons, I've been able to get updates on them weekly. They have built the chickens a beautiful heated coop, and have given them names like Henry, Joanne, Ashley and Halloween. Actually, the truth about Henry is that he is no longer with us - he was beating up on Joanne so badly that the family had to step in. After a few failed attempts, they finally succeeded in... killing him, and ate him for dinner.

But that's not what this post is about! It's about the adorable little eggs the hens are finally laying! Here is a photo of them with a regular sized supermarket egg, for scale.
Three of them made a nice serving. Their shells were surprisingly hard - much harder than supermarket egg shells. They were really delicious - creamy bright yellow yolks. We just fried them up in butter with the last of the CSA ham steak.
Also surprising is how beautiful all the chickens are - there are almost no two alike in the... herd? is that what you say with chickens? Oh, flock. Right. Some are huge and black and white with red wattles, and some are golden colored with tons of feathers around their legs, making them look like they're wearing bell bottoms. They're pretty adorable, actually. But that's not to say I'm planning to stop eating chicken. I would have eaten Henry, had I been invited to dinner that night, with all due respect to him.

Anyway, according to the family, they're getting about 6 eggs per day now, and have to brave rooster attacks to get into the coop to get them. It's really fun, I hope I can keep chickens someday. I'll try to take pictures of them next week to post here.


I've been making huge batches of granola lately which we all dip into for a quick breakfast option. There are so many different recipes out there that it really comes down to using the ingredients you enjoy the most - I mean, being in control is one of the best things about cooking at home. Plus, store bought granola tends to be so full of sugar and fat - you can control all these things when you make your own.

Generally, all granolas start with oats, have one or more nuts/seed ingredients, some dried fruit, and then something to bind everything together. Here's what I put in mine today:
- 3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 cup pecans
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
- 1/2 cup fruit juice (new addition, usually it is 1/4 cup brown sugar but wanted to try this today)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries (I would prefer these be cherries, but apparently I cannot read labels so cranberries it is!)

Combine oats, coconut, pecans and wheat germ in a large bowl. Over medium heat, I combined the juice and maple syrup. I thought maybe it would all thicken up and it did a little but obviously the syrup thinned down so not really sure what the net result was. Anyway! I poured the juice/syrup mixture and the olive oil over the dry ingredients and mixed to coat. Spread this mixture on a baking sheet in one even layer and pop in a 300 degree oven. Total cooking time is 40 minutes, but you will want to stir it every 10 minutes. Incorporate the cranberries only for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Allow the granola to cool on the baking sheet before storing in an airtight container.

This is great with milk, soy milk, yogurt and would also be awesome on ice cream or stuffed inside some apples for baking.

I love making this stuff because you can get really creative - some other things to add:
- sunflower seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- walnuts
- almonds
- flax seeds
- any type of dried fruit (I may make a tropical version for the summer time with dried papaya or mango to go with the coconut)
- cinnamon
- vanilla

The possibilities are endless. Go do it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Steak Frites or Steak and Freets

To me, Sunday night always feels like a great night for a big homey, hearty meal. With plenty of time to plan and cook during the day, it gives a little more time to make something you might not normally have time for. This Sunday it was Steak Frites. We decided to use up the chuck steak included in this month's CSA share and make some real Frenchy type Frites. FREEEETS. Sorry, I haven't been able to stop saying it since Sunday.

We used a Cook's Illustrated method to make the fries (sounds so awful to call them fries) and winged it on the steak. Elaine cut some Yukon gold potatoes into planks and instead of heating the oil first, she put the fries into the cold oil and let everything come to a boil together. Cook's tested this and claims that the potatoes actually absorb less oil. Healthy fries, my dream come true! Well, not exactly but we can pretend every once in a while. Once the potatoes come to a boil, we let them boil along for 15 minutes and then stirred them to loosen any from the bottom of the pot (preferably a Dutch oven). We cooked them for 5-10 minutes more until golden, drained on paper towels and sprinkled with salt immediately.

Mushrooms - No, not that kind
In the meantime, I sauteed mushrooms. I'm sure you all know that to properly sautee a
mushroom, you must never introduce liquid into the situation. Clean your mushies with a paper towel only, no water! I sliced them, heated a pan until screaming hot, added olive oil and tossed in the mushrooms. Do you know what you do then to attain a perfectly golden brown, nutty and delicious mushroom? Do you? You do nothing. You add salt and pepper and you do not touch. Not until they are beautifully caramely brown on one side. Then you can flip, but do not stir. I guarantee you will have perfect mushrooms every time.

After removing the mushrooms from the pan, I added my salt and peppered steak to a little more olive oil and butter in the same pan. Seared on high heat for about 4 minutes and again, didn't touch. Flipped once, 4 minutes on the other side and presto, beautiful medium rare steak. I removed the steak and covered with foil to rest - very important step to allow all the juiced to run back into the meat - cut it without doing this and you will have a lot of meat juice on your cutting board and a very tough piece of meat.

The sauce was sort of an after thought, I had originally intended to just top the steak with the mushrooms, but then this beautiful sauce just materialized before us. I sauteed a shallot and some garlic in the same pan that I used for the steak and mushrooms (with a little extra butter, for flavor). Then Elaine said, "do you want some brandy?" and I said "why yes, yes I do." We added the brandy in stages but I think it ended up begin about 1/2 - 3/4 cup. This is traditional for Steak au Poivre sauce so my mind automatically went to adding cream, which we didn't have. But we did have sour cream, so that went in, probably 1/4 - 1/2 cup along with some salt, all over medium high head until everything had meshed together to become a delicious, mushroomy, cream batch of loveliness.

We sliced the steak and served the mushroom sauce over top, with the magical crispy frites on the side, along with roasted broccoli and a lovely salad. Great beginning to the week. Hope its a good one for all of you as well!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Friday part 3 - Squash Sesame Noodles with Fried Tofu

Ok is anyone still with me? Friday was a big day for cooking, it just turned out that way.

Not long after I finished the pretzels, it was getting to be dinner time! A while back, Jenean made a garlicky puree of this big squash we had - the squash itself had a really dense, dry texture, making a very thick puree (she roasted it first, then put it in the food processor). Because it was so thick, she didn't end up needing all of it for her recipe (a yummy baked penne with ricotta, the squash puree and mushrooms), so we had some in the fridge, waiting for someone to need it.

Meanwhile, I was sending my friend Lettuce (code name from 1st grade has finally come in handy!) some fast and easy Mark Bittman recipes I've saved but never made... and realized I could make this one with the leftover sqaush. My favorite thing about Mark Bittman recipes is that once you get the idea, you don't actually have to look at the recipe [sheepish foot shuffling and shrugging]. The idea I got from this one was to make sesame noodles (like, the kind where the main ingredient is peanut butter, plus things like toasted sesame oil, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, etc.) with pureed roasted squash in it. So here's what I did:

In a blender I whirred up about a tablespoon of chopped ginger with a little rice wine vinegar and some water, maybe 1/2 a cup, trying to break up the ginger.
Then I added some of Jenean's squash puree, maybe 2 cups. It was already really garlicky, otherwise I would have added some fresh chopped garlic along with the ginger.
It was super thick so I added some water.
Then some natural style peanut butter - maybe 1/2 cup, it was all I had left, might have put more if I had more...
Then some toasted sesame oil (a tablespoon or more), soy sauce, and a little more water till it was sauce consistency. It was really tasty just like this - sweet, salty, nutty, gingery, garlicky and... squashy.
Then I threw the pasta in the boiling water - we had some whole grain pasta which seemed like a good match for the sauce.

Then I cubed up my tofu after dutifully drying it off, 1 inch cubes.
In a really hot pan, I put in some olive oil and laid the tofu in all careful like.
I chopped up some more ginger, because I was worrying things weren't gingery enough.
I'll admit it - flipped those little cubes of tofu one at a time. There were 24 of them, I counted. Once they were flipped I threw in the ginger, tossed it all around, drizzled in some soy sauce.

I let the pasta cook past the al dente stage - that's how Cook's Illustrated says to do it, let it get nice and soft - then it's good hot OR cold. I drained it (saving some of the cooking water) and threw it back in the pan and tossed it with some olive oil and some more toasted sesame oil (I can basically never get enough of this stuff), then poured in the squash sauce, some of the pasta water till it was nice and loose looking, and then threw in the fried tofu and some sliced scallions. It sure turned out orange. I think we got a lot of beta carotene up in there. Jenean and Axel F cleaned their plates.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday part 2 - Soft Pretzels Are Just Dreamy

You Guys.

I've been dreaming of soft pretzels for weeks. I think it started when I saw an article about them in the Times or something. They seem like the world's best snack, somehow. Very grab-able, easy to eat in one hand while driving, for example.

So just before I made the soup for Jenean, I started the dough for the pretzels, I used (and slightly modified) a recipe that claimed to be
just like Aunt Annies. It looked a lot like the Alton Brown recipe, minus the boiling water step.

I mixed:
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/4 tsp yeast

and stirred to dissolve it, then mixed in:
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt

Then the recipe called for 1 cup bread flour and 2 cups all purpose flour. I didn't have any bread flour, so I used this "white whole wheat" flour I got at Trader Joe's the other day.

I fired up the kitchenaid and sent that dough on its way. (My sister rallied my parents and my grandma to join her in giving me that kitchenaid for my 30th birthday, and it remains one of the awesomest gifts I have ever gotten. Thank you Neanie).

Part way through the process it seemed like the dough was too stiff for the machine, so I took it out and did some kneading by hand. There's a funny story about that, but I feel like this is going on too long already so I'll skip it. I left it to rise for an hour near the radiator which was actually warm, unlike every other day (meanwhile I practiced!), punched it down, let it rise another half hour.
Then I divided the dough into 12 pieces, and one at a time rolled them into snakes (felt like 2nd grade art class!), very long and thin (almost twice as long as this very blurry picture shows), then pulled the ends up into a U shape, crossed them over each other and pressed the ends into the bottom of the U.

Then as per the Aunt Annie's recipe, I filled a slightly-bigger-than-pretzel-sized bowl with warm water and dissolved a couple tablespoons of baking soda in it. That recipe just had you dip the formed pretzels in the baking soda water before putting them on a baking sheet.

After I did the first 6 pretzels that way, I decided to go a little test-kitchen-y and try Alton Brown's method with the remaining six, which is to bring that baking soda water to a boil, and boil each pretzel for 30 seconds, then drain on a rack, before putting them on the baking sheet to rise for another 15 minutes.

During this whole process, my cat Oz was loitering around the kitchen hopefully, thinking I was in there to give him dinner (note my grammatically correct use of the word hopefully. I include this aside as a loving tribute to my grandma, who felt passionately about many things, high on that list being the proper use of the word hopefully). Anyway, Oz had to wait.

After all the pretzels were formed, variously dipped or boiled, and briefly risen, I brushed them with melted butter and baked them in a 450 degree oven for 12 minutes, turning the baking sheets 6 minutes in, and swapping the two sheets top to bottom, too.
The verdict on boiling versus dipping? Boiling. It wasn't that fussy a process, actually, and the boiled ones had a better texture and browned up prettier.

When they came out of the oven I brushed them with more butter, sprinkled them with kosher salt, and then finally ate one! And man, it was really good. (Don't worry, I fed the cat eventually).
Part 3 (the final part, don't worry) of Friday's cooking and eating coming soon: Squash Sesame Noodles with fried tofu.

Friday part 1 - Sick Day Freezer Soup

Friday was a big day, wow. Fridays are the day I don't do any teaching, so it's my day to... you thought I was going to say cook all day, didn't you? Actually no! It's the day I should be practicing all day. Truly, I did get a fair amount of work done at the piano, 3 or (maybe) 4 hours. Could have been worse. But it could also have been better! But you can't cry over spilled milk.

Jenean was so so sick, and though she almost never lets herself stay home sick, she did stay home Friday, thank God. So since you feed a cold (right? and starve a fever?), I made her some stuff.

For breakfast, a soft boiled egg on toast. Only, I didn't read through the whole recipe for soft boiling, and ended up over cooking it. I was "using" a recipe from
Cooking for Engineers, but here's a hint for all of us, You Guys - something I struggle with pretty severely myself - when you're making something from a recipe, read the whole recipe first. Like, the WHOLE recipe. Suffice it to say, I over cooked it. Jenean was nice enough not to complain.

Then I went and practiced for a while. Then I made chicken noodle soup (no meat, just broth). We had in the freezer a big tub of chicken stock we made a few weeks ago, and also in the freezer, a zipper bag of collected fresh pasta bits leftover from the three times I've made pasta (Axel F gave me the PASTA ROLLER ATTACHMENT for my kitchenaid for Christmas, I am a lucky girl). I felt foolishly frugal doing it at the time, but when there were small unshapely ends of pasta sheets, I just started throwing them in the bag in the freezer, for a future unknown use. And here it was today! I:

boiled the stock (maybe a quart?),
threw in a diced onion and two sliced up carrots,
added a little crushed red pepper, black pepper, and not quite enough salt (oops),
and when the carrots were soft, I threw in a couple handfuls of the still frozen pasta scraps.
those cooked up fast, got nice and plump and floaty.
I threw in some minced parsley, and it was sick day freezer soup lunch!

I'm gonna stop here - there are a couple more things to tell you about (teaser: soft pretzels and squash sesame noodles!), but it seems like overkill to put it all in one post.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chipotle Pork Cheeseburgers - Say What?!?

Last night, in honor of National Pig Day (Monday) we made cheeseburgers with the ground pork we got in our CSA. Chipotle Cheeseburgers, no less and boy were they delicioso. The burgers were juicy and tender, almost buttery and the spicy smokiness of the chipotle balanced nicely with the sweetness of the meat. Here's what we had on hand:

Ground pork
Chipotle in adobo
Cheddar cheese
Whole wheat English muffins

Lainie, per my instruction (ha ha), chopped up a chipotle and added that along with 1 tsp adobo sauce and 2 cloves garlic to our lovely CSA ground pork and mixed it up good. Once formed into patties, we fried them up in some olive oil, layering on the cheddar cheese after we flipped them. We covered and let the cheese melt until the burger was just cooked through. We ate them on toasted whole wheat English muffins with mayo and mustard and some chopped cilantro and scallion. Probably took 15 minutes total and was totally delicious. I can't wait to make these when avocados are in season as that will really take them to the next level.

Elaine made a Tex-Mex inspired casserole on Friday which included brown rice, refried black beans, spinach, corn, salsa, green chiles and shredded cheese. We have plenty leftover and this was the perfect accompaniment for our burgers.

I'm a happy camper.