Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nice and slow

I just a slow cooker.  For those of you who grew up in the mid-west, or in a family of home cooks, its also called a crockpot.  My mother's had a red brick pattern on it that reminded me of the 70's.  Which is probably when she got it.  Probably as a wedding present.  I have to admit a little bias here.  I love my mother's cooking, but it always reminded me of a farm.  Not in a bad way, but in a down-home, rustic sort of way.  I spent most of my adult life moving in the exact opposite direction.  Living in a foreign country, eating things like foie gras and escargot, learning to cook veal Prince Orloff (with 2 different stuffings), living in a glass and stone penthouse apartment, traveling the world, and generally trying to be more worldly than my mother's cooking.  And I'm certainly not saying the I've abandoned the desire to spend my days overlooking the Med and eating caviar and blinis (or at least quite a few days doing that) but I suppose I've started to see some of the value in rustic food.  And maybe even that sense of farm land and family and permanence.  After all, a slow cooker is a pretty permanent investment.  It takes up a lot of space on your counter, and if my mother's is any indication, this thing will last forever.  I'll be slow cooking the cockroaches that are left after the apocalypse.  As long as they have some good red wine to braise them with, I think we'll be fine.

However, since we aren't at the end of the world and I do have more options than cockroaches, I've decided to make chicken in a white wine, garlic, and thyme sauce.  The smells coming from the kitchen actually remind me of a farmhouse in Burgundy.  I think that's probably the right level of combination for me.  A little homey and a little exotic, all mixed up in my own kitchen.  Now, I think I'll enjoy my glass of American Chardonnay and pet my French Bulldog while I wait for dinner to be done.

Chicken in Wine in a Slow Cooker
1 C wine (or 2 cups, start with 1 for yourself)
1/3 C flour
1 1/2 t thyme
1/2 onion
4 garlic cloves
4 chicken breasts
1T olive oil

Salt and pepper chicken.  Make sure the wine is the right level of slightly oaked and slightly grassy.  Taste again just to make sure.  Brown the chicken in olive oil.  If your slow cooker has this function too, use it.  I'm all for keeping cooking juices in the same pot.  Are you sure the wine is right?  Better check again.  Take the chicken out.  Lay onion, garlic, and thyme on the bottom of the slow cooker.  Put the chicken on top.  Mix the wine and the flour together and pour on top of the chicken.  Put on the lid and set to cook for a few hours.  Maybe until its dinner time.  Taste the wine again.  Freak out that you forgot to change the setting from "brown" to "slow cook for a long time."  Adjust to slow cook.  Take a couple sips of wine while you try to figure out when you husband will come home and want to eat.  Decide that you should cook it for 5 hours so it will be ready you want to eat.  Take another sip of wine.  Make sure you have an extra bottle in the fridge, because its always nice to drink what you cooked the meal in.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Crummy Stuff

I know, I haven't written in a while.  It's taken me a while to get back on this particular horse.  Partially because Trey is on a diet, and partially because he spent six weeks in New York after Sandy doing clean-up.  Which, as my sister-in-law pointed out, means I should never have to worry about making garbage pick-up again because he is an expert at taking out the trash now.  And of course while he was gone I subsisted on micro-waved soybean patties, chardonnay, and whatever is left on my kid's plate when she's finally convinced me she would prefer to watch Dora the Explorer than eat dinner.  The one cooking episode while he was gone was when my family came to visit me for a week.  I decided to make Thanksgiving dinner for them, about 2 weeks early.  My brother can't eat glutin, and my sister-in-law is a vegetarian.  Hmmmmm.......soooooo........ peanut butter for dinner?  Well, turns out my sister-in-law does eat some meat, and there are lots of glutin-free substitutions you can make (yup, that was me at Whole Foods scowling over the ingredient list of flour, I bet you walked by and thought "lady, its flour, what else are you expecting in the bag?").  We ended up having a great dinner.  Turkey turned out wonderful, bathed in herb butter of course.  The mashed potatoes and gravy were pretty standard.  The mac-and-cheese was great, despite being made from glutin-free pasta, perhaps it was the sheer volume of cheese and butter.  And the two deserts, pumpkin pie and flour-less chocolate cake, were a big hit.  The best part though was that I made homemade stuffing from a dried french-bread loaf which, in my opinion, was a little soggy.  But it was all worth it when my 3-year-old nephew asked "can I have more of Auntie Em's crummy stuff?"

Recipes to come when I have some free time.......  Perhaps in a few years........

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Masochism and Braised Meat

Anyone else like to test themselves sometime?  See how good you really are?  Yup, I decided to stack the deck against myself and then throw a party.  A wine tasting party.  Immediately after Trey was gone for a week, I was gone for a week, the baby still isn't sleeping much, oh and the hurricane is bearing down on us like a hungry bear on a barbeque buffet.  So, with only about a day to prepare and nothing to fortify me against the challenge ahead besides baileys in my coffee I set out to plan, prepare, serve, and entertain a total of 8 adults and 8 kids.  Kids are easy, mac and cheese, hot dogs, and cookies.  Of course, I know I could serve simple things like that for the adults.  But it wouldn't be nearly challenging, frustrating, and fraught with "I can't do this in time......aaaarrrrggghhhh.......maybe with another glass of wine I can make it."  Read here, not as much fun.  I know, not many people define "fun" as crying over ruined chicken kebobs......

So its a wine tasting, which means the food needs to go well with wine.  I kind of took the attitude that with enough wine the food will taste fine.  Plus, how do you match food with wine described as "well, it sat around in our cellar for so long that the label fell off and we aren't sure what it tastes like so we'll let our new friends be the guinea pigs."  We actually did open some pretty good bottles from our cellar. And a couple interesting ones.  And I think the food went pretty well.  Here's what the menu evolved into:

Wine Braised Short Ribs
Spicy Chicken Kebobs
Mushroom Truffle Soup
Feta Stuffed Mini Peppers
Cheese Plate
Charcuterie Plate
Assorted Chocolates

Wine Braised Short Ribs
4 lbs. trimmed beef short ribs
1 bottle wine plus a glass
1 onion
3cloves garlic
T olive oil
3T veal Demi glacé

Heat olive oil in a big-ass braising pan (yes, they do come in that size, just ask the prissy lady at Williams Sonoma, and tell her I sent you).  Brown the ribs on each side, about 4 min per side. Remove from pan and set on a plate. Sauté onions and carrots until crisp-tender, add garlic and sauté an additional 2 min. Pour yourself a glass of wine to make sure it will go well with the meat. Add about a cup of wine to the pan to de glaze.  Add another cup and a half plus 2 cups of stock.  Whisk to combine and place ribs back into pot in 1 layer, making sure they aren't completely covered in liquid.  Put the top back on and place into the oven. Bake for 3-4 hours, checking the meat about every time you refill your wine glass.  Remove ribs from braising liquid and st aside. Strain the braising liquid and return to the pot. Reduce for about 20 min, adding the veal Demi glacé and stirring. Return the ribs to the pot and serve.

More to come when I have another break from bottles, babies, and bath time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

So this is brunch?

A lazy Sunday brunch, on a sunny day, with mimosas and friends.  Doesn't get much better than that.  Plus the nice thing about Sunday brunch is that you don't have to get a baby sitter, just some kid friendly food and a room that they can more or less safely dismantle.  So we invited 3 families in our neighborhood over for Sunday brunch.  Amazingly the house withstood the 7 kids, all under the age of 10.  And the cooking was actually pretty simple.  Well, except for the homemade croissants, which I had to start 3 days in advance and use a bulldozer to roll all the butter into.  But otherwise it was pretty simple.

  • Mimosas
  • Blood Mary's
  • Croissants, with butter and jam
  • Sticky Buns (made with croissant dough)
  • Ham and guyere quiche
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Waffles (for the kids)
  • Fresh fruit (so we could all pretend like we ate something healthy)

I was most proud of the croissants and sticky buns.  The dough took 3 days, and lots and lots of rolling.  But they turned out the perfect fluffy layered croissants that I've had in Paris.  Of course they were about 50% butter by weight.  But hey, its not like I make them every week.  The quiche was kind of made up.  Quiche is a great brunch food because its savory and eggy, but unlike omelets and scrambled eggs it doesn't taste so bad if it isn't perfectly warm.  And it went pretty well with the vaguely French theme that seemed to crop up as I planned out the menu.  Which is good because cooking for 15 people, 7 of which are picky by nature, is no small feat especially for a Sunday morning.

As usual, we all gathered in the kitchen for drinks and then the 3-ring circus of feeding the 7 kids.  Afterward we sat down to what was a very nice brunch.  It ended a little earlier than I was expecting, and there was only 1 bottle of champagne and 2/3 bottle of vodka consumed, so it was a pretty mild event. But I am pregnant, so its not as if I was able to contribute.  I ate extra croissants to make up for it.  I can't wait for the next one.

Ham and Guyere Quiche (approximately)

  • 1 round pre-made pie crust (refrigerated type)

  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped in 1/2in pieces

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1/4 lb thinly sliced smoked ham, diced

  • 6 oz Gruyère, coarsely grated (1 cup)

  • 2 oz Italian Fontina, coarsely grated (2/3 cup)

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2/3 cup sour cream

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

  • Preheat oven to 375.  Bake pie crust for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.  Cool pie crust but leave oven on.  Saute onion in butter until golden and caramelized.   Whisk eggs, pepper, and nutmeg.  Stir in ham, cheese, and caramelized onions.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pie crust and put back in the oven.  Check part way through and cover crust with aluminum foil if it becomes too dark or dry.  Bake for a total of 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until center is set.  Serve warm or room temperature.

    That's It! Right There!

    I found it.  The sweet spot.  The perfect combination.  I've been trying for a couple years to find the perfect sourdough recipe recipe.  Its partly the right starter and its partly the recipe.  Recipes with just starter, flour, and water are a little bland.  So after searching and trying and growing what probably amounts to gallons of sourdough starter, I found the right combo of richness (milk and sugar in the dough) that still lets the sour starter show through.

    One note about sourdough bread.  People will think you are crazy.  Apparently it was standard in California kitchens about a century to century and a half ago that you could always find sourdough starter bubbling.   However, in this modern day of making sure everything is hermetically sealed and preserved beyond recognition, having something bubbling, growing, and smelling sour on your countertop will make people worry about your sanity and the cleanliness of your kitchen.  Perhaps talking to it and feeding it periodically doesn't help the matter........  But really, its the best way to get good sourdough.  And there is nothing better than hot sourdough straight from the oven with a good smear of butter.  Real butter.

    San Francisco Sourdough Bread

    • 4 3/4 cups bread flour
    • 3 tablespoons white sugar
    • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
    • 1 cup warm milk
    • 2 tablespoons margarine, softened
    • 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
    • 1 extra large egg
    • 1 tablespoon water

    1. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, salt, and dry yeast. Add milk and softened butter or margarine. Stir in starter. Mix in up to 3 3/4 cups flour gradually, you may need more depending on your climate.
    2. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turn once to oil surface, and cover. Allow to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in volume.
    3. Punch down, and let rest 15 minutes. Shape into loaves. Place on a greased baking pan. Allow to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled.
    4. Brush egg wash over tops of loaves.
    5. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 30 minutes, or till done.

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    A is for Apple Cake

    It's getting cold. And rainy. Yes, yes, go ahead and get your "world's smallest violins" out to go along with my whining. I like winter, when it's crisp cold and I don't have to go outside much. Right now it's just wet cold and I have to walk to work. What better thing to make me feel better than to steal some of Trey's apples that he keeps around for healthy snacks and turn them into a butter-laden, caramel-topped spice cake. That's right. Call me the grump who stole the healthy snacks. But I did make a very nice dark, spicy, rich and utterly perfect apple cake. Especially when you pour caramel over the top part way through baking so it comes out a little more like sticky toffee pudding than actual cake. Even Charlotte liked the cake. Of course she called it "big cookie" and demanded it for breakfast. But if I was eating it for breakfast its kind of hard to tell her no.

    Well, I'm sitting here watching the movers pack up my kitchen for what I really hope is the last move for a very very very VERY long time. I'll let you know how the new Wolf stove works out. Perhaps I'll even get to make pancakes this weekend.

    Man I'm hungry. Too bad we finished the apple cake yesterday. Well, I suppose it's time to put something in my stomach before I get so hungry the packing paper starts looking good. Next post from the new house!

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    In the kitchen

    Why is it that when you have a party everyone ends up in the kitchen?   It never fails.  We had our house warming party last weekend.  About 20 people, lots of new neighbors and great fun.  We cleaned the whole house, had a ton of food in the dining room, nicely arranged the chairs and tables in the living room.......  And everyone ended up in the kitchen.  Its probably because it allows for the most table room to set glasses, or the most mingling because people are standing and moving.  Or, most likely, because that is where the drinks are.  In a nod to our previous Christmas's in Germany we served hot Gluhwein.  Plus mulled cider.

    My big accomplishment for the party was my mom's chocolate coconut balls and a completely invented eggnog cheesecake in chocolate cups.  Trey's big accomplishment was cleaning up the enormous mess I left in the kitchen from above mentioned treats.  I also made the savory cheesecake with caramelized onions that I think I've blogged about before.  The rest was pretty standard crudites with a garlic and dijon dip, ham with sandwich fixings, cheese plate, meat plate, cookies, a few more cookies, and last but not least more cookies.  As a matter of fact, I think there are so many cookies, cakes, pies, and candies in this house that I'm getting a sugar high through osmosis.

    And then follow that up with family in town so of course I had to make a gingerbread cake with cream cheese icing.  Its pretty sad when the cashier at the grocery store recognizes you, looks in your basket, and shakes her head disapprovingly.  And then you remember that she was the one that checked you out earlier in the week, when you again had 5 lbs. of sugar and 2 lbs. of butter in your cart.  Sigh.  Even the cashier at the grocery store thinks I have too much sugar in my house.

    So, here are some of the recipes I've made lately.  Please, please, please come take some of this off my hands!  And when you do, could you bring a candy thermometer?   My bourbon caramels just aren't coming out right......

    Eggnog Cheesecake Candies
    Pre-made chocolate shells (about 2 dozen)
    1/2 C Store Bought Eggnog
    3/4 C Cream Cheese, room temperature
    1/4 C Powdered Sugar

    Place eggnog, cream cheese, and sugar into a bowl.  Pour an extra glass of eggnog.  Whip eggnog, cream cheese, and powdered sugar until thick.  Refill glass of eggnog.  Stiff peaks should appear and hold their shape.  If too wet, add more cream cheese and powdered sugar.  If too thick, add more eggnog, and refill glass of eggnog.  Pipe into chocolate shells.  Chill.  Contemplate the amount of eggnog you just drank.  Wish it had more alcohol in it.  (or if you aren't pregnant, drink the stuff with alcohol)

    Mom's Coconut Chocolate Balls
    1/2 lbs. butter
    2 lbs. powdered sugar
    1- 14 oz can Sweetened Condensed Milk
    1- 16 oz bag of shredded coconut (sweetened is fine)
    1  tsp vanilla
    Cream the butter and add the remaining ingredients.  Roll the mixture into small balls and place on foil lined trays. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
    Melt in a double boiler:
    1/2 block paraffin wax (about a 2 x 2 1/2 piece) used for canning (I don't use this, but it is part of the recipe)
    24 oz semisweet chocolate chips
    Dip the chilled balls into chocolate and place on foil sheets and cool.  Pretend that you are going to put them into pretty tins and give them as gifts.  Then realize that between you and the other people in the house you have consumed half and don't really want to give the rest away.  Give gift certificates instead.

    Gingerbread Cake recipes from Epicurious.  I didn't do the pistachios, but the rest was awesome.