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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jet Lagged Shopping

Don't go grocery shopping hungry. Don't go grocery shopping drunk. And now I must add:

Don't go grocery shopping tired and jet lagged. I did this coming back from Germany. With a couple friends coming over for dinner a couple days later. I had no idea what I was going to make. Which should have set off big, loud, fire alarm style warning bells. Of course I was tired and jet lagged so the bells fell on foggy inattentive ears. And off to Whole Foods I went. Remembering my previous debacle with the fish counter I avoided that. However that was where my good judgement for the day ended. I moved straight to the red meat counter. And what happened after that was kind of a blur. There was some sort of ordering, a parcel was handed to me, and a few minutes later money exchanged hands.

Fast forward to when I actually woke up and thout about cooking dinner. Opening the fridge was like Christmas when you are a teenager. Are you going to get that perfect pink Walkman you have been begging for? Or will it be pink socks that you father will try to make some joke about that he got the color right and you have to pretend you like it. Well, to my surprise I had actually bought butterflied leg of lamb. Have I ever cooked this cut of meat? No. Did I even know what this piece of meat was when I bought it? No. Did I have a recipe? Well, the Internet is an amazing thing. After an hour or so of searching and being totally unsatisfied with all the options I decided to make something up. Garlic and rosemary stuffed lamb based in a balsamic and red wine glaze. Came out amazing. I was thoroughly impressed. And not as fatty as I thought it would be. Meat was beautiful. The sides were pretty standard oven roasted potatoes and spinach salad with bacon and goat cheese. Desert was also something I completely made up.

I saw a pie recipe for salted caramel pie. But I couldn't for the life of me remember where I saw it. So I made the caramel part I thought I remembered and pored it over apples sautéed with cinnamon. And there you have it, Caramel Apple Pie. And it was darn good. Caramel could have been slightly softer, but overall it was pretty awesome.

Recipes for both to follow later. Time to land. Off the Charleston. The land of decadent seafood!

Visions of Sugarplums

We just put a contract on a new house. And by new I mean brand-spankin', smellin' the paint, picking out the granite new. In Annapolis, MD. A block from the water. And best of all it has an enormous kitchen. A feeding the masses sort of kitchen. And since it is new I get to pick out appliances! So, I'm taking a poll. Do I need a 48" Wolf range with an infrared grill?

Do you have any idea what I could cook with a stove and an oven like that? First meal, Tur-Duck-In! We are hoping to close around thanksgiving. That could mean Christmas in the new house. And cooking all sorts of sweets and savories and snacks and big meals in the new kitchen. Tur-Duck-In may be a little much, but I can't wait to do something equally outlandish. Now, do I really need a 48" stove?

After all, I did cook thanksgiving dinner for more than 20 people in my shoebox sized kitchen in Germany. And it was pretty successful. But the big stove would be so fun! And maybe I would do more entertaining like I did in charleston. Like the time I cooked beef Wellington for Trey's boss. Or the Chinese New Years party that had more people than our wedding. Or the Oktoberfest party with schnitzel, kase spatzle, and apfel strudel. There are definite benefits to being "the commander's wife." ok, so the plastered on smile and small talk with the other wives about the price of cabbage isn't so much fun. Or that silent pressure that the response to every question is either "we're just so excited about (fill in something inane and mandatory like having to listen to someone drone on for hours about how important it is to volunteer for the presidents day fund raiser)" or "of course I didn't mind the deployment.".

So fast forward the couple weeks since I started this. We actually did buy the Wolf range. And Sub-Zero fridge. Yes, I am spoiled. So......

Tur-Duck-In at my place!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Warm and Soft

When I'm sick there is nohing that I want to be more than someplace warm and soft. Right now my throat feels like someone has taken a power sander to the inside. And my head has a full orchestra of jackhammers and cement drills going on. And don't get me started on how I can barely take a breath because a 400 pound gorilla is sitting on my chest. So what did I decide to do? Yup, you guessed it, NOT stay in my nice warm bed and continue to eat the velvety garlic chicken soup I made from scratch yesterday. No. I got up at 4 am and took a flight to New Jersey. Where it is raining.  And I'm lost.  Of course I have my GPS with me.  I still got lost.  I'm good like that.

Fast forward a few hours and I made it through, made the plane by seconds, sat on the runway for an hour (grumble grumble grumble).  But I did make it back to the house in time for bath time and one more cup of soup before crawling into my bed.  Aaaaaahhhhhhh.

I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of soup.  Something about being force-fed vegetable soup that was "healthy" when I was a kid.  Just to be clear, anytime you tell your kids something is healthy they will hate it.  Healthy means it tastes bad.  So, this soup is NOT healthy, it is actually just tasty.  Especially if you like garlic.  The best thing about this soup is that it is creamy and almost velvety.  Perfect for soothing a sore throat.

Chicken, Garlic and Bacon Soup 
10 Cloves of garlic, sliced thin
2 Pieces thick bacon
3T Butter
1/4C Flour
6C Chicken Stock (homemade is best)
3 Egg Whites
Salt and Pepper to taste

Render the fat from the bacon slices and remove bacon when crisp.  Add butter.  Saute garlic in butter and bacon fat until translucent and sweet smelling (yes, garlic does smell sweet when cooked, I promise, its really really good, even 10 cloves of it).  Whisk flour into mixture and cook, stirring often, until mixture looks medium brown and smells nutty (or just rely on look if your nose is all stuffed up like mine was).  Pour in 3-4 cups chicken stock and whisk to remove lumps.  Bring to low boil and cook for 10-15min.  If soup appears too thick, add additional stock.  Soup should coat the back of a spoon but not be too dense.  While whisking, add egg whites and cook additional 2min whisking constantly.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with crusty french bread and crumbled bacon on top.  Best eaten curled up in bed on a rainy day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fair and Balanced Dinner

In case you haven't caught onto the recent theme (no, not the failures theme, the actual food I'm trying to cook), I'm trying to eat healthy.  We're in a land of whatever you want at whatever time you want and while I'm all for buying a lawn mower at 3am, I do want to keep some of the habits we've established by living overseas.  Namely eating food that is fresh.  Perhaps even prepared by me.  Luckily for me, and unluckily for my husband and my bank account, we live walking distance to a Whole Foods.  And yes, they are incredibly expensive, and no, I can't help myself.  Luckily this one doesn't sell caviar.  Just over-priced eggplants and the like.  This one also has a pretty nice fish counter.  Of course you need a credit check just to approach, but once you've been reviewed by the loan officers you are allowed to actually look for what you will over-buy and then only cook half of.  Which is all beautiful.

Now, I'm usually a salmon or tuna girl, as is my husband, since they most closely resemble red meat.  He likes sword fish, although I'm not a fan.  White fish to me is hit or miss.  Sometimes they just taste like a carrier for the sauces and sometimes there's a flavor.  Mulling over all these things, I"m pacing the fish counter.  The loan officers begin to be concerned that I'm running too many numbers in my head and perhaps am not able to afford the almost criminally beautiful layout of oceanic tastiness in front of me.  In the nick of time the light-bulb goes on and I settle on red snapper.  Yes, its a white fish, but I've heard great things and have actually had it and liked it a time or two.

Of course I buy the snapper without knowing how I'm going to cook it.  A quick internet search pops up some great inspiration and I settle on an Asian style.  Sweet and spicy soy glaze over the fish while it cooks, and a cabbage, red pepper, and onion stir fry.  To the side I had a cold soba noodle salad with a light peanut dressing.  All in all, the flavors were perfect, nothing was overpowering, the stir fry was still slightly crispy and soaked up the extra glaze nicely.  Oh yeah, and the fish cooked perfectly and tasted pretty darn awesome.

So, fresh veggies, a small portion of lean protein, and a whole grain side.  Perhaps the hippies at Whole Foods are wearing off on me.  Regardless, I'm pretty pleased with making a tasty, healthy, and balanced dinner.  Recipes below:

Red Snapper and Stir Fry

  • 1 red bell pepper sliced thin

  • 2 cups thinly slice Napa cabbage

  • 1/2 thinly sliced red onion

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 tablespoon season rice vinegar

  • 3/4 cup Sweet Spicy Soy Glaze (see below)

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

  • four 4-ounce red snapper or grouper fillets with skin

  • Preheat oven to 350.  Oil baking pan with 2 teaspoons vegetable oil.  Place red snapper fillets skin side down.  Pour 1/2 C of Sweet Spicy Soy glaze over the fillets.  Bake in the oven for 20min or until nearly cooked through.  Turn oven to broil for an additional 5min to caramelize the glaze, basting additional glaze over the fish just prior if necessary.  While the fish cooks, heat 1T vegetable oil in a non-stick pan until almost smoking.  Add bell peppers and onions, sauteing while stirring for 1-2 minutes.  Add cabbage and continue to stir, preventing the vegetables from burning, for no more than 7-8 minutes.  Add rice vinegar and saute for an additional 1-2 minutes. Take off of heat.

    Serve fish and vegetables with additional glaze on the side.

    Sweet Spicy Soy Glaze

  • 1/2 pound shallots (about 5 large)

  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 2 tablespoons honey

  • 1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh gingerroot

  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest

  • Heat vegetable oil in a sauce pan and caramelize shallots, about 5min.  Add all other ingredients and cook together for 10-12 minutes so that all flavors meld.  Spoon over fish or vegetables.

    Two at a Time

    Yup.  That's how we're doing it these days.  Two at a time.  Now that there are veggies available other than potatoes and cabbage, I'm attempting to cook 2 vegetables for every meal.  Yes, that is difficult.  And no, they are not always good.  Tonight's were 50/50.  See, that's the good thing about doing 2 different veggies, you have a 50/50 shot at getting one right.  Either that, or you bomb both and feel like a complete failure, crawling into a bottle of cheap merlot washed down with take-out chinese.  Nothing complements the bitter taste of failure like cheap liquor and take-out.

    But back to tonight.  Tonight was not a complete failure.  It was a learning experience.   Really.  I'm serious.  Ok, so kind of was a failure.  Damn, that merlot is looking pretty good right now.  The attempt was bacon sauteed brussels sprouts and oven sweet potato fries.  The sweet potatoes actually came out with a nice flavor since I broiled them with olive oil, a little bacon grease, salt, pepper, and cajun spices.  The texture was a little bit more like mashed potatoes than crispy fries, but overall the taste was excellent.

    The brussel sprouts were also a learning experience.  Don't order me the take-out yet!  This one wasn't a failure.  The texture was nice, the color was nice, and after boiling them I sauteed them with bacon.  If one were to like brussels sprouts, I think this would be wonderful dish.  I nearly lost everything in my stomach trying to choke down my 4th bite.  Ok, so I don't like brussels sprouts.  What the hell do I do with the rest of the bag?  I'm thinking a sling-shot is in order here.

    And I'm sure you are now going to astutely point out that bacon on top of veggies is not the most healthy way to cook them.  Well hey, at least I didn't wrap the bacon around a block of cheddar cheese and deep fry it like I wanted to.  Every little bit counts!

    I was about to write about last night's dinner, but I don't want to spoil the "I'm a failure" mood.  I'm half way through the merlot.  An "I'm a success" might require more moderation, or acting like an adult, or something.   So let me wallow, enjoy my cheap merlot, and I'll add last night success story in a different post.


    Friday, August 19, 2011


    Finally settled back in the US.  Its been a rather hectic and time-consuming ordeal.  As I'm sure you can guess by my lack of posting.  Eating in restaurants and staying in hotels for 2 months doesn't provide a lot of fodder for blogging about food.  That is, unless you want to hear about the 4th schnitzel that week, or Charlotte's extreme dislike of anything presented to her by a waitress.  So we'll by-pass that less than heart-warming section of our travels and come straight to the rebuilding phase.  Its a little daunting to move, especially when it involves leaving such a solid base of friends, community, and well, who can forget the pretty awesome food options in Europe.  But here we are, working on building a life in the DC area.  Of all the places to land, its pretty nice.  We're finding some routine and starting to explore a little.  And what's best is that I get to start cooking again.  So here's some of the first attempts:

    What?!  As a functional caffeine addict how can you even think of talking about making coffee?!  Well, apparently I am out of practice with using a French Press.  Couple that with barely sleeping due to a fussy two year old and an uncomfortable air mattress and it appears that my coffee making skills have suffered.  The result was highly caffeinated sludge.  Resembling the consistency of tar.  Or perhaps black colored caulk.  At one point I think it even growled at me.  And no, I did not throw it out.  I just got a spoon.

    Oatmeal Pancakes
    Please see my previous article about leavening.  Baking soda and baking powder are wonderful things.  And pancakes without them, especially when made with oatmeal that already has a pretty gluey, heavy consistency, came out the consistency of paving stones.  Flat, dense, hard, and a mottled brown.

    So, come on over to my place in Alexandria.  Grab a glass of wine and a shovel.  Between the wine, the tar, and the new pavers we're ready for rebuilding.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Au Natural

    Baking soda and baking powder are awesome.  From a chemists perspective.  Their ability to react in measured, timed increments with other baking ingredients all coming together to make a fluffy cloud of a cake is really pretty incredible.  And then talk to someone who grew up eating things without chemicals or preservatives.  All of sudden it isn't so cool.  So I took it on as a challenge to bake a cake without chemical rising agents.  Baking bread without chemical rising agents is easy.  Yeast.  Souffles rise without chemicals, but you also can't pack them in a cooler and eat them at a picnic.  So, after hours of research...... yes, I'm that sort of nerd, I spent hours online and in baking books researching frontier-era cake making...... I found that there are 2 standard non-chemical cakes.  Pound cake and Génoise.  

    Ok, so one cake is a normal American butter cake and the other is a complicated Italian cake.  Which did I choose?  Yup, you guessed it, the Italian one that takes precise heating of sugar and eggs, while whipping them silly and then gently folding in a little bit of flour and baking for precisely 8 minutes and 23 seconds.  Then removing from the oven and immediately rolling into a jelly roll.  Of course to go inside the roll you have to have something creamy.  Hmmmmm.......  buttercream?  Too sweet.  Custard?  Doesn't stand up as well.  Jelly?  Sure, but still need something creamy.  (insert wild frantic search through fridge because I hadn't bothered to think about this until the day of, which of course was a Sunday and nothing was open.......  perhaps something with coconut milk and maple syrup, I have that......)  Big sigh of relief, I found some creme fraiche and mascarpone.  So, a slightly sweet-sour cream with bourbon vanilla resulted.  Combined with the jelly and sponge cake it wasn't too bad.

    But it was missing something.  There was a lack of depth.  I think it needed to be brushed in some sort of alcohol.  That would have made it a little less dry.  Of course since this was the day after the fest, the last thing I wanted to smell was more alcohol.  By the way, who thought it was a good idea to open the rum last night?  Come on, fess up!  Anyway, next time I'll brush it with alcohol (but not rum), reduce the jelly, and add more creme fraiche to the icing.  But overall, it was a good cake.  Good ending to the easter brunch.

    Here is an actual recipe for Génoise: 

    Oh, and don't forget to whip the eggs like < insert inappropriate analogy of choice >

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Bacon and Alcohol

    What does one bring to the house of one's very best friends?  Why, bacon and alcohol, of course!  On a Monday night I found myself without family and thought that a quiet evening with friends would be just the thing.  So I offered to cook dinner, a small gesture to off-set the hundreds of times I show up unannounced, drink their liquor, eat their food, sunbathe on their porch........ as a matter of fact, now that I think about it, why do they still answer the door when I come by?  No Emily, don't pull that string too hard, just be glad they do.

    So anyway, I decided to make a pretty simple somewhat healthy dinner.  Chicken and salad.  What's more healthy than that?  Yup, you guessed it, I couldn't just make chicken and salad, I had to make salad with bacon and the chicken should have had a white wine sauce, but we drank all the wine before it was time to make the sauce.  So I wrapped the chicken in bacon too.  Actually I wrapped the chicken in prosciutto, which is much classier, but essentially still bacon.   And of course I love cheese and no meal is complete without it, so I fried 2 different types of goat cheese to see which one fried better.  Hmmmm......  Perhaps my definition of "healthy" and "simple" needs some work.

    Well, the meal went perfectly with the wine that was supposed to go into the sauce, I was a huge hit with the 5-year-old because I left a couple pieces of bacon whole for him, and he actually liked the chicken.  Of course my early, calm, not drinking night was all three things............sort of.  Its what I love about my friends, while eating we talk about what we ate previously, the flavor, texture, combination, and nuances of what we are currently eating, and what we will eat next.  Its my kind of crowd!

    Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken
    2 Large Chicken Breasts (sized DD if you can find them, in Europe they don't enhance them as much so we had a full C), alternatively you can use chicken tenders about 1lb of meat total
    6 pieces Thin Sliced, High Quality Prosciutto (substitute thin sliced bacon, must be smoked)
    2T Light Olive Oil or Sunflower Oil
    Salt and Pepper to taste
    (sauce contains white wine, lemon juice, chicken stock, and heavy cream...... but I can't comment on proportions since I drank all the white wine and a white wine sauce without wine is a little like wearing running shoes with your business suit)

    Pound chicken breasts to about 1/2-3/4 in thick.  Cut into 2-3 pieces each.  Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides.  Wrap each piece of chicken in prosciutto, starting at one end and leaving both ends of the prosciutto tucked under the same side of the chicken.  Let the chicken rest with the seam side down while you head the olive oil in the pan until hot but not smoking.  Olive Oil has a low smoke point, sunflower oil is a little better so it doesn't make as big a mess and doesn't risk burning at as low a temperature.  Place the chicken in the oil seam side down.  Cook for 2-3 minutes until bottom is lightly browned.  Carefully flip the chicken and brown on the other side for 2-3 minutes.  Chicken may take an additional 2 minutes per side for the prosciutto to become golden brown and the chicken to cook through, depending on the thickness of the chicken.

    Feld Salat with Shallot, Bacon, and White Balsamic dressing
    1 Large Bunch of Feld Salad, substitute other tender leafy green if you are somewhere other than Germany
    1 Package of Bacon (6-8 pieces, this is German sized package, not US)
    2 Large or 3 Small Shallots minced
    3T Olive Oil
    2T White Balsamic Vinegar
    1T Lemon Juice
    1T Dijon Mustard
    Salt and Pepper

    Fry bacon until crispy.  Remove bacon from pan but leave drippings.  Add 1T of olive oil to the pan if there is not enough fat rendered from the bacon.  Caramelize the shallots in the bacon grease until translucent and soft.  Using a slotted spoon remove the shallots and put into a bowl.  In another bowl, whisk 2T olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and mustard.  Add shallots.  Salt and pepper to taste.  To serve, toss the greens with the dressing and top with crumbled bacon.

    Fried Goat Cheese
    1 Log of Goat Cheese
    10 Crackers (Ritz are good, I used parmesan crackers)
    2T Olive Oil

    Crush the crackers on a plate.  Cut the goat cheese log into rounds about 1/2in thick.  Roll the goat cheese in the cracker crumbs, pressing gently to adhere the crumbs to the cheese.  Heat the olive oil in a pan, preferably the one from above with the shallot and bacon grease, everything tastes better fried in bacon grease.  Heat until smoking....... the pan, not you......  Gently place the goat cheese rounds in the oil and fry for 2-3 min.  Very gently, using a spatula, flip the goat cheese and fry on the other side.  It will most likely ooze a little.   Place directly on the plate with the salad and chicken.

    Then open the 2nd bottle of wine and enjoy with friends.

    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    It Felt French....

    So there we were, deciding what to do on a Saturday night.  Perhaps a calm night in?  Sounds good.  And we should cook.  Yeah!  Cooking together as a big groups will be fun.  We'll help each other, and each do a dish or two.  It will be easy and simple......

    Of course, I don't do anything simple.  And neither do my friends.  So for a simple meal in together we made the following:
    Caramelized Onion tart with anchovies and olives
    Pork Wellington with apples and proscuitto
    Tenderloin in a red wine reduction
    Potatoes au Gratin
    Bête Noire with Grand Marnier whipped cream

    Oh, and did I mention there were only 5 of us eating?  That's right, a full French meal with two meat dishes for 5 people.  Now I know where the idea for fois gras came from.  All dishes were very very good.  Decadent and complicated good.  So much for the simple night in.

    And of course we helped each other.  I helped Ivan wrap the tenderloin in puff pastry.  Migle watched the au gratin in the oven.  Jim managed the oven space.  Trey poured wine.  It all went well.  Until Ivan decided to help with the Bête Noire.  Now this is a very simple cake.  In fact, it requires eggs, sugar, chocolate, and butter.  Seriously.  That's it.  But it has about 48 steps that have to be exactly right.  One of them is whipping egg whites then gently incorporating them into the rest of the mixture.  Well, Ivan misunderstood my direction and poured the hot chocolate directly onto the whipped egg white deflating and partially cooking them.  Of course at that point there is nothing you can do but laugh and either bake it, start over, or skip desert.  We, being the experimental sort (no not that least not until after desert), threw the whole thing together and baked it.  Texture was a little off, but really not bad.  The whipped cream with Grand Marnier helped.

    I'll give the cake recipe here.  The tart recipe came from the Beautiful French cookbook, and was very tasty.  Sounds strange to have caramelized onions, anchovies, and olives, but the anchovies and olives with their salty taste cut the richness of the pastry and sweetness of the onions beautifully.  I guess that's why they call it the Beautiful cookbook.

    Well, here is the One, the Only, the Richest Chocolate Cake ever: bête noire!  Literally translated: The Black Beast.  I used the recipe from the Beautiful cookbook (the more I write that, the more I can feel the book jumping up and down in front of me shouting "look at me I'm so beautiful", which in fact it is, it is also the size of an atlas and nearly broke Charlotte's toe when she dropped it.  Good cookbook, but a little pretentious....).  Anyway, below is the one from Epicurious which is exactly the same except for the addition of vanilla.  Oh, and I used half and half 60% and 70% belgian chocolate.  Oh, and make sure you put the chocolate into the yolks not the whites.

    For cake
    • 12 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
    • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
    • 6 large eggs, separated
    • 12 tablespoons sugar
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper or waxed paper; butter paper. Wrap outside of pan with foil. Stir chocolate and butter in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Cool to lukewarm, stirring often.
    Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 6 tablespoons sugar in large bowl until mixture is very thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Fold lukewarm chocolate mixture into yolk mixture, then fold in vanilla extract. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, beating until medium-firm peaks form. Fold whites into chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Pour batter into prepared pan.
    Bake cake until top is puffed and cracked and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack (cake will fall).
    Gently press down crusty top to make evenly thick cake. Using small knife, cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Remove pan sides. Place 9-inch-diameter tart pan bottom or cardboard round atop cake. Invert cake onto tart pan bottom. Peel off parchment paper.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    I made what?

    As you know, I don't do anything simple.  Not even the currently popular "simple but elegant" type of things like pan-roasted steaks with a simple herb butter or fresh fruit with a Grand Marnier whipped cream.  Nope.  That's just not me.  I make chocolate eclairs for a BBQ and cognac-mustard sauce for a Tuesday dinner.  So what was I smoking when I decided to make MEATLOAF?!  That's right, I made meatloaf.  The classic ketchup-based variety.  I guess it was for the excitement in Trey's face when I told him I made meatloaf.  Its such a classic, simple, mid-week type of dish.  It actually turned out pretty good.  The ketchup and brown sugar topping I put on it was a little too sweet, but that's what you get when you don't measure anything for a dish you've never made.  In all, it turned out very well, if you like meatloaf (which I don't, so again, why did I make it?).

    In a strange combination of dinners I made 2 similar menus, but both more classic and also more put-together than I usually do on a weekday.  On Tuesday night I had some friends and their kids over.  While the three girls (their 2 and mine) dismantled the living room my friend and I drank copious amounts of Sekt and I pulled random things out of my refridgerator and cooked them.  The menu actually turned out pretty nice:

    Turkey in a White Wine Cream Sauce
    Green Beans sauteed with lemon and garlic
    Feldsalat with a white balsamic dressing
    Bread (from a Pilsbury can....don't judge me, I made this all up as I went)
    Meatloaf for the girls, and green beans without garlic and lemon for the girls too

    The whole menu came as a "what in my fridge needs to be consumed before I leave town for a few days."  In all, I was pretty impressed.  Below are the recipes, or as much as I remember seeing as I was cooking with wine.  Well, cooking with Sekt actually.  I'll take Sekt any time I can get it :)

    Turkey in White Wine Cream Sauce
    1 Large Turkey Breast, cut into large pieces
    1T Olive Oil
    1 1/2C White Wine
    1/4C Heavy Cream
    1/2C Cream of Mushroom Soup (again I was making this up while I was drinking, don't judge me for using a can)

    Pre-heat oven to whatever temperature you baked the bread at.  Brown the turkey pieces in a large skillet with the olive oil.  Remove turkey and place into greased baking dish.  Deglaze the pan with the wine, adding in 1/4C amounts, scraping browned bits off the bottom, and only consuming a little bit of the wine.  Or pour your self a glass and use the rest of the bottle for the pan.  That's actually easier.  When reduced to about 1/2C volume, stir in heavy cream and cream of mushroom soup.  Stir to combine and cook for about 2 min.  Pour over turkey and bake for 20-30min.  Serve immediately.

    Green Beans with lemon and garlic
    3 large handfuls of green beans, or as much as you want to eat (really? do I need to do all the math for you?)
    1/2T butter for each handful of beans
    1/2t Crushed Garlic for each handful of beans
    1/2t Lemon Juice for each handful of beans

    Boil beans in a large sauce pan for 4-5min.  Beans should be crisp-tender (no, that isn't an oxymoron, it means they are still crisp but not raw.  Seriously.  Don't debate me on this, just boil them for 4-5min and you'll figure it out).  Drain the beans.  Heat the butter in a large skillet.  Put beans in the hot butter and saute for about 2 min.  Add garlic and lemon to the pan.  Toss to coat.  Saute an additional 2-3min.  Remove from heat.  Serve immediately.

    White Balsamic Dressing
    2T Olive Oil
    2T White Balsamic Vinegar (the White Balsamic Vinegar cream is even better)
    1T Dijon Mustard
    Pinch of Salt
    Pinch of Pepper
    Honey as needed

    Mix all ingredients together with a whisk.  Add honey in 1/2t sections until desired sweetness is achieved.  Pour on greens.  Prepare for fawning....

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Thermodynamic Lesson

    During Trey's block leave we decided to have a smoking party.  No, not the California-hippy style smoking party.   We smoked meat.  I mean, we smoked MEAT!  Full brisket and 5 or 6 racks of ribs (St. Louis cut).  Plus just to round things out I threw some veggies in the smoker for fun.  Smoking meat takes about 10 hours, depending on the size of the meat.  A brisket takes about 10 hours to get fork tender but not falling apart.   Of course during this time you must periodically stoke the fire, check the temperature, and check on the meat.  The active time is about 1 hour total, wedged into 10 hours of drinking beer and poking at a fire.  Trey is in charge of the smoking.  I open beers.  Its a good trade.

    Of course, you can't consume that much meat yourself, so you must invite people over.  And if people are coming, you must have additional dishes to serve to round out the table.  Otherwise the table would tip over from the enormous amount of meat on one side.  I decided to go with basic BBQ style sides.  My traditional bluecheese coleslaw, baked potatoes, and because I can't stand to do a party completely simple..... chocolate eclairs.  With homemade pastry cream.

    As you know, meat that is smoked usually has BBQ sauce either on it or on the side.  Trey made his own BBQ sauce.  He was heating it up at the last minute to pour over the meat for the last half hour of smoking.  In his effort to minimize the amount of dishes (smart, since he's the one that does them), he decided to heat the sauce in the Pyrex measuring cup.  Now Pyrex is a pretty amazing substance.  It goes from oven to fridge with no problem.  However, what he did not realize was that oven heat and stove heat are different due to the different thermodynamic properties of air vs. glass.  This lesson was made abundantly clear when the 4 cup measure containing the BBQ sauce exploded all over the kitchen.

    I was just so happy that the explosion wasn't my fault that all I could do was laugh.  And then hand the 3 guys in the room mops and towels to clean up.  Luckily we had enough ingredients for another batch of BBQ sauce, which was made in a pan, and I got a brand new Pyrex measuring cup out of the deal.

    Exploding sauce notwithstanding, it was an excellent party.  Good food, good company, whiskey tasting, and I won an argument with Ivan about whether meat caramelizes (it does, due to the natural sugars in muscle tissue).  At one point I came into the family room and all 4 children were furiously jumping up and down on the couch.  I guess the cookies that Mallory brought were a hit too.

    Pate a Chou

  • 1 1/4 cups water

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour

  • 4 to 6 large eggs

  • Preheat oven to 425.  In a heavy saucepan bring water to a boil with butter and salt over high heat. Reduce heat to moderate. Add flour all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from sides of pan, forming a dough.  Transfer dough to bowl of a standing electric mixer and beat in 4 eggs, 1 at a time, on high speed, beating well after each addition. Batter should be stiff enough to just hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. If batter is too stiff, in a small bowl beat remaining 2 eggs lightly, 1 at a time, and add to batter, a little at a time, beating on high speed, until batter is desired consistency.

    Pipe onto cookie sheets covered in parchment paper.  Pipe mounds 1 1/2 inches in diameter, leaving 1 1/2 inches between circles.  Using a wet finger, smooth the tops of the mounds.  Bake at 425 for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 400 and bake an additional 20 min until golden brown and hollow sounding.  Turn oven off and let stand in oven for 30 min.  Then remove and allow to cool completely. 

    Vanilla Pastry Cream

  • 1 1/2 cups half and half

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Bring half and half to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Whisk sugar, eggs, egg yolk and flour in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot half and half. Transfer to saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to boil, about 5 minutes. Boil 1 minute. Pour into medium bowl. Stir in vanilla. Press plastic onto surface of pastry cream. Cover; chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    Drinkin' and Drivin'

    There are many things you should not drive when you are drinking.  Cars, trucks, tractors, and a new one to add to the list is shopping carts.  Especially when said shopping cart happens to be in Feinkost Bohm.  For anyone who is a regular follower of my blog will now be slapping their forehead saying "oh no, she didn't go in there AGAIN?  Doesn't she know the devil works there?"  And in fact he does.  Yes, this is the tall, dark, handsome, vaguely-British accented man that convinced me to buy Iranian caviar and 2 bottles of champagne because of course I needed it.  Well, this time I was in for a quick shopping trip.  Yeah, yeah, I know, no such thing with me.  But I was also kind of playing hooky from work, so there were multiple reasons for my visit.  Plus I needed food to cook for dinner with my in-laws.....

    Cue suspense music.......

    And then he appeared, informing me that there was a special on a new, small vineyard champagne and I should try some.  So after a try, or two, I went on my merry way patting myself on the back for not succumbing to the temptation to buy an entire case of champagne.  And in my glow of self-satisfaction I decided to buy some steaks for dinner.  Upon glancing up and down the meat counter I decided on Waygu beef.  In filet and ribeye cuts.  They looked lovely and I planned to make them with a cognac mustard sauce.  I was feeling so proud of myself for avoiding the damage of a case of champagne and having a nice classic dinner planned.  And then I went to the register with my armful of parcels.

    Big cymbal crash as the monster leaps out........

    Yes, I had, in fact, bought the most expensive meat possible.  In the most expensive cuts.  Imported from Japan.  My pocketbook had a seizure, the credit card company began collectively shaking their heads, and all the while the devil is sitting in the background with a placid smile and a glass of Champagne.

    No more drinking and driving shopping carts.

    I will tell you that the beef was amazing, the sauce turned out perfectly, and the blue-cheese cheesecake that went on crackers as a sort of side dish was perfect with the steak.  I also made a green bean casserole which was good, but unremarkable.

    2 cuts of the most expensive steak you can find
    1T Olive Oil
    Pinch of Salt
    Pinch of Pepper

    Let steaks rest at room temperature while you consume your first glass of wine and explain to your spouse why you are now broke.  Heat olive oil in pan until very hot but not smoking.  Salt and Pepper steaks on both sides.  Sear steaks on both sides, 6 min total if Medium Rare.  If wanting another type of cooking, buy less expensive steaks.

    Cognac Sauce
    3T + 1/2C Cognac
    1T Dijon Mustard
    1/4C Heavy Cream

    Deglaze steak pan with 3T Cognac sauce.  Sip the rest, pouring small amounts into the pan to get the right consistency.  Add mustard and heavy cream.  Stir until thickened.  Salt and Pepper as needed, but taste first.  Salt and pepper from the steaks rubs off a little.  Pour over steaks.

    Blue Cheese Cheesecake
    1 Refrigerator Pie crust
    1/2 Package Cream Cheese
    4-6oz. Blue Cheese (depending on desired taste)
    1 Egg
    1/4C Heavy Cream
    Pinch Salt
    Pinch Pepper
    2 Large Onions
    2T Butter
    Pinch of Sugar (about 1t)

    Preheat oven to 375.  Blind bake the pie crust in 7in pie pan.  Remove from oven when light brown.  Cream both cheeses, egg, cream, salt and pepper.  Pour into pie crust.  Bake for 20-35 min, until cheesecake is solid in middle. 

    Cut onions into slices.  Heat butter in large frying pan.  Cook onions in butter until golden brown, stirring frequently.  Add sugar and cook for additional 3 min, until medium brown.  Serve on top of cheesecake.