Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cooking for the Weekend: Rum-Spiced Cider

Finally getting sick of all those pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint hot chocolates?  I know you are, don't lie.  As fantastic as they are, and as much as I obsess about them when they first show up each year, eventually they've run their course.  So what do you do when you've run out of warm things to drink?  Heat up some cider, throw a pat of butter on top, and settle back for some full-body heating action.  This drink will put a serious dent in a cold night.  Promise.

Rum-Spiced Cider
Adapted from Cooking for the Weekend by Michael McLaughlin

2 quarts apple cider, preferably fresh and unfiltered
⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
2 pieces cinnamon stick, each 2 inches long
12 whole cloves
12 allspice berries
2 cups dark rum or spiced rum (optional)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, sliced into 8 pats (optional)
8 long cinnamon sticks, for garnish (optional)

In a non-reactive pan, combine the cider, brown sugar, short cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice. Set over medium-low heat, partially cover, and slowly bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally and skimming any scum that forms on the surface.

Meanwhile, divide the rum among 8 large mugs. Drop a pat of butter and a cinnamon stick into each mug, if desired. Strain the hot cider into the mugs and serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Southern Plate: Green Bean and Shoepeg Corn Casserole

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it, but I review cookbooks for a website called ChefTalk.  Every couple of months they send out a list of available cookbooks, and I get to fight it out with my fellow reviewers to get the most interesting cookbooks.  I always try to get something interesting (and avoid things like a Crohn's and colitis cookbook, which I'm sure isn't a bad cookbook, just not up my alley).  I was super excited that I got my first pick, for Southern Plate (which is based on a blog), which I thought would be similar to a Paula Deen cookbook.  I made some recipes out of the book, which is very nicely photographed, but unfortunately, it just felt like a let-down to me.

I really hate it when cooks write cookbooks that basically amount to throwing a bunch of canned or frozen food together.  It's a shame really, especially with today's grocery stores being so well stocked.  I just don't understand it.  This casserole probably would have been fantastic with fresh haricot verts and corn straight off the cob, but the way it's written, I just can't get past the metallic flavor of the green beans and freezing destroys the integrity of corn.  Disappointment.  The sour cream adds a nice tartness to the sauce, but I'm also not thrilled with using condensed soup.  This might be good for a harried mom trying to throw dinner together after work while the kids are tearing the house down, but it just didn't do it for me.  At least the buttery Ritz crackers on top were delicious.

Green Bean and Shoepeg Corn Casserole
From Southern Plate by Christy Jordan

½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped bell pepper
½ cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 (11-ounce) can shoepeg corn, drained
1 (11-ounce) can French-style green beans, drained
1 (11-ounce) can cream of celery soup, undiluted
1 cup sour cream
½ cup crushed Ritz crackers
4 tablespoons butter or margarine

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together except for the crackers and butter.  Place in a casserole dish.  Melt the butter in a skillet and mix with the crushed Ritz crackers.  Spread over the top of the vegetables and bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbly.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Desserts by Pierre Hermé: Lemon Loaf Cakes

I was just feeling lemony today.  That, and I realized I still hadn't made anything out of my Pierre Hermé dessert cookbook.  I mean, talk about a sin!  Plus, I needed to get rid of some crème fraîche.  I hate nothing more than spending $7 on an ingredient of which I use one tablespoon.  While most of the desserts in the book look a little more complicated, these lemon loafs are pretty straight forward.  And honestly, you can't beat a good pound cake.

The loaf weren't that hard to pull together, but when I tasted them, I was...underwhelmed.  They are lemony.  They just aren't LEMONY.  They need to take a bath in lemon syrup or something.  Maybe some lemon extract in the batter.  Maybe I just like my lemon cakes really tart.  Otherwise, they were fabulous.  I would follow the directions in small print below the recipe that suggest toasting a slice with butter.

Lemon Loaf Cakes
From Desserts by Pierre Hermé by Dorie Greenspan

2⅔ cups cake flour
¾ teaspoon double-acting baking powder
Zest of 3 lemons - removed with a zester and very finely chopped
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup crème fraîche, at room temperature, or heavy cream
3½ tablespoons rum
Pinch of salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
About 1 cup of lemon marmalade, for glaze, optional

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter and flour two 7½ by 3½ by 2½-inch loaf pans, dust the interiors with flour, and tap out the excess; set aside.  (These are the perfect size pans for these cakes, but they're not always easily found.  If you don't have them, use two 8½ by 4½ by 2½-inch loaf pans.  Your cakes won't be as tall, but they'll be every bit as flavorful.)  Prepare an insulating layer for the cakes by stacking two baking sheets, one on top of the other, or use an insulated (air-cushioned) baking sheet.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and reserve.

Place the chopped zest and sugar in a large mixing bowl and rub them together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic.  Add the eggs and, using a whisk, beat until the eggs are foamy and pale.  One by one, add the crème fraîche (or heavy cream), rum, and salt and whisk until the ingredients are incorporated.  Using the whisk or a large rubber spatula, gently stir the flour mixture into the batter in four additions; you'll have a smooth, thick batter.  Finally, fold in the cooled melted butter in two or three additions.

Immediately pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans, place them on the baking sheet(s), and slip them into the oven.  Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until the cakes are crowned, split down the center, and golden.  A long thin knife inserted into the center of each cake should come out dry and crumb-free.  (Check the cakes at the 40-minute mark.  If they are browning too quickly, cover them loosely with foil tents for the remainder of the baking period.)  Remove the cakes from the oven and turn them out of the pans onto a cooling rack; invert them so they're right side up.  Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature before glazing or serving.

If you want to glaze the cakes, place the marmalade in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over low heat (or heat it in the microwave oven); strain the marmalade.  Use a broad pastry brush to paint every surface (except the bottoms) of the cakes with a thin coat of glaze.  Allow the glaze to dry at room temperature before serving (or wrapping).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Alton Brown: Good Eats Roast Turkey

I have felt like a failure for years now.  I have never been able to make a Thanksgiving turkey that is: 1) juicy, 2) cooked properly all over, and 3) tasty and brown.  I was beginning to think you couldn't have all of those things at once.  I glared at the turkey beauty shots in the cooking magazines, convinced that they had been rubbed with brown shoe polish or something.  I was a good cook, so why did my turkeys never turn out?

Well, Alton Brown saved me.  I used his recipe for roast turkey from his Good Eats television show.  It requires that you make a brine and soak the turkey the night before you plan on roasting it.  Then, Thanksgiving Day, you put that bad boy in the oven with all sorts of things shoved up in the body cavity (apple?  cinnamon stick?).  You stick a probe thermometer in the breast, walk away, and enjoy some time with your family.  And what you get is a fabulous, moist, tasty, perfectly browned turkey.  Success!!!

Good Eats Roast Turkey
From Alton Brown

1 (14- to 16-pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1½ teaspoons allspice berries
1½ teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

2 to 3 days before roasting:

Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38°F.

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat:

Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500°F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161°F. A 14- to 16-pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2½ hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saveur: Colicchio and Sons' Parker House Rolls

Ah, the notorious rolls.  The rolls that have lit up like a Christmas tree.  They work for no one!  Horrible recipe!  The chef is full of it!  Um, actually, no, he's not.  It works.  This picture is proof.  I let my breadmaker do the hard work of making the dough and dealing with the first two rises.  I divided up the dough and let the pan sit on a heating pad for about half an hour on the lowest setting and then turned it off for the rest of the rise.  Voilà.  Perfect fluffy amazing rolls.  Incidentally, if you decide to use a bread maker like I did, put the milk and barley malt syrup in first, then flour, then salt, then make a little indention for the bread machine yeast, then drop the butter around the top in chunks.

Colicchio and Sons' Parker House Rolls
From Saveur magazine, November 2010

¾ cup milk, heated to 115°F
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon barley malt syrup or dark corn syrup
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
2½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, softened
¼ cup clarified butter, for greasing and brushing
Fleur de sel, to garnish

Stir together milk, yeast, and malt syrup in a large bowl; let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt; add to milk mixture along with butter and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, 5–6 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour. Uncover and punch down dough; cover and let sit until puffed, about 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 325°F. Portion dough into fourteen 1½-inch diameter balls, about 1¼ ounces each, and transfer to a greased 8-inch cast-iron skillet or 8x8-inch baking pan, nestling them side by side; cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Brush with clarified butter and bake until puffed and pale golden brown, 20–22 minutes. Transfer to a rack and brush with more clarified butter; sprinkle each roll with a small pinch of fleur de sel and serve warm.

Makes 14 rolls

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Molto Italiano: Risotto with Mushrooms and Vin Santo

My sister and I went to a Halloween festival downtown yesterday, and as part of the city's big push to re-invigorate the arts district, they had various specialty vendors selling beautiful things like fresh flowers and wild mushrooms.  There were two guys selling the mushrooms, and since they had a decent stash, we dug through for some good looking specimens.  And what could be better to highlight fresh mushrooms than a luscious mushroom risotto?

I don't have my entire collection of cookbooks at my disposal currently, but I did have a copy of Molto Italiano.  And it does have a risotto recipe.  Now, I've had some experiences with Mario Batali's recipes that haven't been exactly turned out, so I was a little hesitant to use his recipe.  I should have listened to my inner chef.

The risotto turned out pretty good, taste-wise, but texture-wise?  Total disaster.  The stock was not absorbed by the rice in anything approximating the time table in the book, so the rice slowly became mush.  I seem to keep having these kinds of issues!  Why, Mario, why?  I want to love your food, I really do.  Well, not all of it.  You can keep your offal.

Risotto with Mushrooms and Vin Santo
From Molto Italiano by Mario Batali

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, finely chopped
8 ounces porcini, sliced
8 ounces shittake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
1½ cups Arborio rice
8 cups chicken stock, heated until hot
1 cup Vin Santo (or dry sherry)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned. Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated and opaque, about 3 minutes.

Add a 4 to 6 ounce ladleful of the stock and cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Continue stirring and adding the stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more, until the rice is tender and creamy but still al dente, about 18 minutes.

Add the Vin Santo and cook until the alcohol smell is gone, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the butter and Parmigiano, and stir vigorously for 25 seconds. Season with salt and pepper, divide the risotto among four warmed plates, and serve.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Staff Meals from Chanterelle: Cauliflower Gratin

I love cauliflower.  I know that I'm basically an outlier by espousing this view, but that's okay.  More cauliflower for me.  And that also allows me to have more of the cauliflower gratin I made tonight from the Staff Meals cookbook that I found at Half Price Books.  When you have an extra head of cauliflower in the refrigerator, this is just about the best thing you can do with it.

You have to make a bechamel sauce to pour over the cauliflower, and then you coat it in Gruyere.  Sounds like heaven.  Except when you don't salt the cauliflower enough.  Then it tastes like cardboard.  My mistake.  But the table salt shaker helped me to salvage what otherwise would have been a terrible loss.  Note to self: cauliflower needs salt just as much as potatoes need salt.  Lesson learned.

Cauliflower Gratin
From Staff Meals from Chanterelle by David Waltuck

Course (kosher) salt, to taste
1 large head cauliflower, thick core removed, cut into florets (about 6 cups)
Bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
½ cup grated Gruyére cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the cauliflower florets and cook until just tender but still slightly crunchy, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the florets.  Drain well and arrange in a single layer in a baking or oval gratin dish.

Pour the bechamel over the cauliflower and sprinkle evenly with the grated Gruyére and Parmesan.  Bake until bubbly and browned and the cheeses are melted, about 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Bechamel Sauce

5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups half-and-half
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons grated onion
Course (kosher) salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
A few gratings of nutmeg

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking frequently, until the roux develops a nutty aroma, about 10 minutes.  Be careful not to let the flour brown at all.

While the roux is cooking, bring the half-and-half to a simmer in a second small saucepan over high heat.  Immediately remove the half-and-half from the heat and add it to the roux in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until blended and smooth.  After all the liquid is added, continue to cook the bechamel over low heat, whisking frequently, until thickened, about 3 minutes.

Add the bay leaves and grated onion and continue to simmer the bechamel slowly, uncovered, whisking frequently, until the flavors are blended and it's somewhat thicker than heavy cream, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and strain the bechamel into a heatproof bowl.  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fried State Fair Food

Today I went to the Texas State Fair and absolutely stuffed myself with the grossest/awesomest fried food concoctions EVER.  I have to admit I had never had a corny dog before this point in time (does that mean I have to give up my adopted Texan status??), but I now must say they are awesome.  I of course procured mine from Fletcher's and smothered it in mustard.  The fried dough was crunchy on the outside, but soft and cornbread-like on the inside.  The hot dog inside was beefy and hot.  I have never been one to put mustard on my hot dog, but this one just seems to cry out for it.  I can't imagine using anything else.

I also decided that I needed to try the fried Frito pie.  It was...underwhelming.  I'm not saying I won't eat it again, but I certainly loved the corny dog more.  Much more.  The corny dog is now my go-to fair staple.  The chili was mixed up in a batter and fried into little nuggets.  Then they give you a little packet of sour cream and a packet of salsa on the side to eat with the Frito pie nuggets.

Later in the afternoon I was talked into trying another fair favorite: the fried Snickers bar.  This thing is evil.  It's so incredibly chewy and melty and sugary and fatty that you almost go into a coma eating it.  You want to keep eating it even though you can feel every artery clogging at the same time.  God bless you, fried Snickers.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Greek Food Festival of Dallas: Keftehes (Greek Meatballs)

One of my favorite things to do in the Fall is to go to the Greek Food Festival.  I listen to the music, watch the traditional dances, and eat amazing food.  I think I always end up getting the combination plate since you get a bunch of delicious things without having to exercise any sort of decision making skills.  This year the plate was chicken oreganato with rice and pita bread, a Greek salad, a couple of meatballs (keftehes), a piece of spanakopita, and a piece of tiropita.  After dinner I had some Greek coffee, which is like a delicious sludge, and some baklava with vanilla ice cream.  Delicious.

Keftehes (Greek Meatballs)
From Joanne Canellos, Dallas Greek Food Festival

2 pounds ground lamb or beef
1 cup Progresso Italian style bread crumbs
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 large eggs
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Small amount of all-purpose flour
Canola oil, for frying

Place meat in a large mixing bowl; add bread crumbs.  Place onion, eggs, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a blender and liquefy.  Add the egg mixture to the meat mixture and mix until all ingredients are well blended.

Using a medium-size scoop, form meat into balls; flour each meatball lightly.  In a large frying pan, place oil up to ½-inch deep.  Heat to 400°F and then lower to 350°F.  As you place each meatball into the pan, flatten them slightly.  Allow the meatballs to brown and then turn them over.  Keep the heat of the oil between 325°F and 350°F so that the meatballs will cook through and not burn.  Use a fork to turn them over and a slotted utensil to lift them out of the pan.  Let the meatballs drain as you lift them out and place them on paper towels.  Meatballs can be eaten warm or cold.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bon Appetit: Quick Sautéed Kale with Toasted Pine Nuts

I always thought that kale had to be cooked to death in order to be enjoyable.  I mean, the stuff is tough.  It needs a good long simmer in some potlikker.  Except this recipe completely proved me wrong.  Kale can also be good when it's sautéed with onions and pine nuts.  Need a veggie to go with that Italian meal you're planning?  Here you go.  Want to get on the kale bandwagon?  Here you go.  Don't have time to babysit greens as they stew away?  Here you go.

Note:  I used Lacinato/dinosaur/cavolo nero/black kale. (How many names does this crap have??)  You can use the same thing, or try some curly kale.  Or red Russian kale.  Any type of kale is fine.

Quick Sautéed Kale with Toasted Pine Nuts
From Bon Appetit magazine, January 2010

4 bunches kale (about 2 pounds)
¼ cup olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup pine nuts, toasted

Fold each kale leaf lengthwise in half; cut stem away along crease. Tear leaves coarsely. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion is soft, about 6 minutes. Add half of kale, packing slightly. Cook until kale wilts, tossing often, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining kale and half of pine nuts. Toss until kale is just tender and still bright green, about 3 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining toasted pine nuts and serve.

Makes 8 servings

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Recipes from an Italian Summer: Torta con le Mele (Apple Cake)

Since apples are a fall fruit, I'm not exactly sure I see the connection between them and an Italian summer, but we'll just go with it.  The cake tastes like a shortcake, except with the apples mixed in, instead of on top.  And trust me, it's a huge pain to try and mix the apples into the thick batter.  Oh, and the original recipe did not mention a pan size, but I figured that out for you.  Luckily, as a whole, the cake is pretty easy to make, or it would definitely be up for consideration for the fail pile.  Honestly?  I think there's much better things you could be doing with apples, but if the heat of summer makes you want a dessert that's plain and unassuming, this would be it.

Torta con le Mele (Apple Cake)
From Recipes from an Italian Summer

3 large eggs
¾ cup superfine sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
2¾ cups self-rising flour, plus extra for dusting
3 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
Whipped cream, to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Grease a 9-inch cake pan or mold with butter and dust lightly with flour.  Whisk together the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the butter until thoroughly combined.  Sift the flour into the mixture, then add the apples and mix gently.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan or mold and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool, then turn out, or serve immediately while hot.  Serve with whipped cream, if you like.

Makes 6 servings

Friday, July 23, 2010

Recipes from an Italian Summer: Avocado Salad

I can't believe that I went pretty much my entire childhood without avocados.  How does something like that happen?  Something that is now the bright center of my universe.  Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration.  Chocolate is the bright center of my universe.  Avocados are the next galaxy out.

Avocado Salad
From Recipes from an Italian Summer

2 avocados
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
2 mandarin oranges or tangerines
1 head romaine lettuce, separated into leaves
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 green onion, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons (generous ⅓ cup) olive oil
Salt and pepper

Peel, halve and stone the avocados, then cut them into slices and sprinkle with the lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Peel the mandarins, remove all traces of white pith and cut into round slices. Arrange the lettuce leaves on individual dishes. Make a layer of tomato and spring onion slices on the leaves, cover with avocado slices in a circle and top with slices of mandarin. Sprinkle with the parsley.

Whisk together the mustard, oil, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper in a bowl, pour over the salads and serve.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recipes from an Italian Summer: Spinach Pie

I was testing some recipes from Recipes from an Italian Summer for a review I was writing, and I just about died when I saw a recipe for spinach pie.  Can you tell I like spinach?  I took advantage of the summer's bounty and bought a bag full of fresh greens, which I then cooked down, mixed with cheese, and baked in a puff pastry shell.

While the rule of summer is generally no ovens, I think this pie is definitely worth heating your kitchen up over.  It can be eaten hot or cold, so you can even drag it around on picnics or family reunions.  The only thing I didn't like is that the garlic flavor tends to get really lost.  I also didn't salt it enough before baking, so the salt had to be added at the table.  I also kept wishing it had...more.  Like sautéed mushrooms or something.

Spinach Pie (Torta di Spinaci)

2¼ pounds spinach, coarse stalks removed
4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing
1 clove garlic
2 eggs
Generous 1 cup ricotta cheese
Scant ½ cup heavy cream
1 pound 2 ounces puff pastry dough, thawed if frozen
All purpose flour, for dusting
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper

Wash the spinach and put it into a pan over low heat with just the water clinging to its leaves. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the spinach well, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the garlic clove and cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, until golden brown, and then remove and discard the garlic. Add the spinach to the skillet, and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, then remove the skillet from the heat and let cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a pie plate with butter. Finely chop the spinach, put it into a bowl, and stir in the ricotta, eggs, and cream. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll out ⅔ of the pastry dough on a lightly floured counter and use it to line the prepared pie plate. Spoon the spinach mixture into the pastry shell. Roll out the remaining dough. Brush the rim of the pastry shell with egg yolk, place the dough on top, and press the edges together to seal. Brush the pie with egg yolk and prick the lid all over with a fork. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden brown. Serve warm or cold.

Serves 6

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Epinards a la Crème (Creamed Spinach)

This is my favorite vegetable dish ever. EVER. I could eat creamed spinach every night for the rest of my life. But I've only ever had it at restaurants or from frozen packages. I've never made it from scratch because I somehow thought it would be a long complicated process. This recipe, however, was surprisingly simple.

You have to work off of two preparation recipes before getting to the actual creamed spinach recipe, but the preparation is basically just blanching the spinach, squeezing out water, and adding butter and seasonings. I did learn something new from Julia. Apparently spinach becomes bitter if you cook it in aluminum or iron. Didn't know that. That explains quite a bit about previous spinach dishes for me.

Epinards a la Crème (Creamed Spinach)
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

3 cups blanched fresh spinach
3 to 4 tablespoons butter, divided use
Salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1½ tablespoons flour, sifted to remove any lumps
1 cup brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or whipping cream

When 2 tablespoons of butter is bubbling in a saucepan over moderately high heat, stir in the spinach.  Continue stirring for 2 to 3 minutes until all the moisture from the spinach has boiled off - the spinach will begin to adhere to the bottom of the pan.  Season to taste.  Lower the heat to moderate.  Sprinkle on the flour and stir for 2 minutes more to cook the flour.

Remove from heat and stir in two thirds of the stock, bouillon, or cream by spoonfuls. Bring to the simmer, cover, and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the spinach from sticking to the bottom of the pan, and add more liquid if the spinach becomes too dry. Correct seasoning.

Remove spinach from heat, fold in the remaining butter, and turn into the serving dish.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Barbecue Meatloaf

This is the flavor of my childhood. When I need something warm and comforting, this is one of the things that I put on the dinner menu. I'm not sure where my mom got the recipe, but this is a fabulous meatloaf. It has a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal, with barbecue sauce in the loaf and on the top. It's perfect with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes. It's even more perfect in a meatloaf sandwich, but there's very rarely any leftovers for the next day.

Barbecue Meatloaf

1 cup Progresso dry Italian breadcrumbs
½ cup milk
 pound ground beef
 pound ground pork
 pound ground veal
½ cup white onion, diced
¼ cup green pepper, diced (optional)
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup barbecue sauce, divided use

Grease a 9x9" glass or ceramic baking dish. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Soak breadcrumbs in milk for a minute, then add ground meats, onion, green pepper, and beaten egg. Add ½ cup of barbecue sauce a little bit at a time until the mixture has a sticky texture and stays together. You don't have to add the whole amount of barbecue sauce if it reaches the right texture with a lesser amount.

Form the mixture into a football shaped loaf and make sure to pat away any cracks or crevices. Any cracks will open further while the loaf is cooking. Put the loaf in the greased dish. Mix the remaining ½ cup of barbecue sauce with about ¼ cup water. Brush some on top of the loaf and put in the oven. Bake for 1 hour, basting every 20 minutes or so. Let stand for about 15 minutes before trying to cut, or it may try to crumble on you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kyle Bailey: Butter-Poached Radishes

I have rarely eaten radishes, and they have only ever been in a salad. Or one of those fancy rose things decorating the salad. Needless to say, they aren't high on the "yummy" list, but when I was in the grocery store the other day, they had a fabulous bag of bright red radishes. This bag of beauties was just begging me to buy them. At about $1.50 I'm not sure they count as an impulse buy, but I bought them without having any clue what to do with them. I seemed to distantly remember that I had seen them cooked in some forgotten tome of French food, but didn't remember when or where.

After snooping around on the internet (okay, so I'm ALWAYS snooping around on the internet), I found a recipe for butter-braised radishes from a chef that was at Allen & Delancey in New York City. And no, I don't know the restaurant, nor have I ever eaten there, but it sounds fancy, right? Well, the radishes were delicious, without the bite they have raw, almost tasting like cauliflower. And they are so pretty on the plate. I might have to reconsider my opinion of them.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly... I didn't have any raspberry wine vinegar (does anyone seriously keep this on hand??), so I used white wine vinegar. I didn't want to crack open my big box of vegetable stock for just 1/4 cup, so I used some leftover beef broth from the fridge. And I didn't have French radishes (with the pretty white roots), just regular old red radishes which I sliced. They still turned out delicious.

Butter-Poached Radishes
Adapted from Kyle Bailey

1 bunch French breakfast radishes (about ¾ pound), greens and bottoms discarded
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
3 dashes raspberry wine vinegar
¼ cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon

Depending on size, halve or quarter radishes lengthwise. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet until melted.

Toss in the chopped radishes and season with salt and pepper. Sauté over low-medium heat until they become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the raspberry wine vinegar and sauté approximately another minute until the radishes turn a vibrant pink. Add the vegetable stock and the remaining tablespoon of butter and cook for another minute to glaze the radishes.

Remove from heat and tear fresh tarragon leaves directly onto the radishes. Season with salt and pepper, and serve as an accompaniment to roast chicken, pan-seared duck breast, or meaty fish like striped bass.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Bon Appétit: Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars

When I saw these bars in my June issue of Bon Appétit, I knew I had to make them. Who could turn down Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars? Not me. Not anyone I know. Graham cracker crust, caramel cheesecake center, and gooey dulce de leche topping. These bars are going to be part of my regular rotation. My very regular rotation.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars
From Bon Appétit magazine, June 2010

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2¼ cups finely ground graham crackers (from about 17 whole graham crackers)
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, melted

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup purchased dulce de leche
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
 cup purchased dulce de leche
3 tablespoons (or more) heavy whipping cream
Fleur de sel

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray. Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl. Add melted butter; stir until coated. Transfer crumb mixture to pan. Press evenly onto bottom of pan. Bake until crust is light golden, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on rack.

Blend cream cheese and sugar in processor until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs 1 at a time, processing 3 to 5 seconds to blend between additions. Add dulce de leche and vanilla; process until blended, about 10 seconds. Spread batter evenly over cooled crust. Bake until just set in center and edges are puffed and slightly cracked, about 38 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool completely.

Heat dulce de leche and 3 tablespoons cream in microwave-safe bowl in 10-second intervals until melted. Stir to blend, adding more cream by teaspoonfuls if too thick to pour (amount of cream needed will depend on brand of dulce de leche). Pour glaze over cooled cheesecake; spread evenly. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour (glaze will not be firm). Cut cheesecake lengthwise into 4 strips, then crosswise into 6 strips, forming 24 bars. Sprinkle bars with fleur de sel.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ad Hoc at Home: Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I have an admission to make... And it might mean my southern cooking license will be taken from me... I have never made fried chicken. Ever. At least until today.

For my birthday I ordered myself a copy of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. My favorite, most drool-worthy picture in the entire book is his fried chicken. It was inspiring. So I made up the brine recipe, soaked the chicken pieces overnight, dipped them in the flour and buttermilk, and spent the next 40 minutes hovering over the oil like an overanxious mother. My conclusion? It's way too hard to keep the oil temperature steady.

Nevertheless, my chicken came out brown and crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. It's quite a bit darker than the picture in the cookbook, but I followed the directions to a "T", I promise! Ah, well. It took me five or six times to get my buttermilk biscuits the way I wanted them, so I have a feeling this is the beginning of a long fried chicken journey. At least it's a delicious one.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
From Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

For the brine:
1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
12 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, halved
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
About ½ ounce (1 large bunch) thyme sprigs
About 2 ounces (1 large bunch) flat leafed parsley sprigs
5 lemons, halved
Two-2½ pound chickens, each chicken cut up in 8 pieces
10 cups peanut oil

For the coating:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 quart buttermilk
Kosher salt

For the brine: Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely before using.

Rinse the chickens and place the chickens in the cold brine and refrigerate overnight or for up to 12 hours. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat the chicken dry, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin.

Bring the peanut oil to 340°F. in a 6 quart sauté pan.

Mix the coating ingredients together in a bowl and place the buttermilk in a second container. Just before frying, dip each piece of chicken into the coating, patting off the excess, then into the buttermilk and back into the coating. Place the chicken on a parchment lined sheet tray.

When the oil has reached the proper temperature, carefully lower the pieces of dark meat into the oil. The temperature of the oil will decrease. Adjust the heat as necessary to bring the oil to proper temperature. Fry the dark meat for about 13 minutes, to a deep golden brown, cooked throughout and very crisp. Remove the chicken to a tray lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

Carefully add the white meat to the oil and fry for 6 to 7 minutes until cooked.

Remove to the tray, sprinkle with salt and turn off the heat under the oil. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes to cool slightly. It is very hot when it comes out of the oil.

Cook's Note: Use a 6 quart sauté pan with splatter screen. Be careful. The oil can spurt as the chicken is added and fried, making this a perfect recipe to use a splatter screen. Place a thermometer in the oil to help monitor the proper cooking temperature. It is a good idea to make this brine a day ahead and refrigerate it. Do not add the chicken to warm brine and do not leave the chicken in the brine longer than the specified time or it may become too salty.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Vichyssoise (Cold Leek and Potato Soup)

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I have never had vichyssoise, even though I threw the name around a lot as a kid. I loved the way the name rolled off the tongue. It sounded so foreign, so high-society. But it also seemed much too fancy for my family to eat. Little did I know that it's just leeks and potatoes, and not really all that complicated.  Definitely follow Julia's advice on the salting - the soup needs a little extra to hold up when it's cold.

Vichyssoise (Cold Leek and Potato Soup)
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

3 cups peeled, sliced potatoes
3 cups sliced white of leek
1½ quarts white stock, chicken stock, or canned chicken broth
Salt to taste
½ to 1 cup whipping cream
White pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons minced chives

Either simmer the vegetables, stock or broth, and salt together, partially covered, for 40 to 50 minutes until the vegetables are tender; or cook under 15 pounds pressure for 5 minutes, release pressure, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Puree the soup either in the electric blender, or through a food mill and then through a fine sieve.

Stir in the cream. Season to taste, oversalting very slightly as salt loses its savor in a cold dish. Chill.

Serve in chilled soup cups and decorate with minced chives.

Makes 6 to 8 servings