Sunday, February 28, 2010

a weekend project to beat all others :: cassoulet

I often take the spare hours on the weekend to attack a cooking project. Who's kidding who, I don't have spare time, but what I do is make the time. I tend to choose something fairly complicated that I wouldn't have time for during the week.

This month's Fine Cooking had an article on assembling a cassoulet. It's something I've always wanted to tackle. It's not simple, but ahh, is it ever good. The flavors are distinct, yet at the end they blend together as one.

Wikipedia describes a Cassoulet as:
(from Occitan caçolet [kæsəˈleɪ; Fr. kasuˈlɛ]) is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans.

From perusing many different cookbooks, including Julia of course, I found that every region of France has a unique version. This is locavore food at its core. Whatever you have, you use. Some insist on duck confit, others lamb. I am not a french farmer's wife, so I do not have a natural leaning toward one. I relied on Fine Cooking's research for this delicious creation.

I'm not going to put the exact recipe on here, but please check out Fine Cooking. My only cheat was buying Duck confit from Zingerman's deli. I figure that overall it's not that big of a cop out. Also, I didn't do this all one one day. Saturday's jobs consisted of braising pork shoulder and soaking beans. Both need several hours, so it's great to complete those earlier than you when you plan to assemble.

What I am going to do is give you a photo version of the recipe. Hope you can follow along.

beans soaked overnight, then boiled with aromatics for 2 hours

vegetables sauteed one at a time in fat rendered from pancetta, then mixed with above beans

edwards breakfast sausages, seared for 5 minutes over med high heat

I love Zingerman's. Have I mentioned that before?!?!

bean and vegetable layer on bottom of casserole dish

meat layer: duck confit, braised pork shoulder (not individually pictured) and slices of sausage

topped with another bean & veggie layer

fresh bread crumbs to be mixed with grated parmesan and olive oil, added in several stages for a thick crispy layer that provides a wonderful contrast to the tender meats and velvety beans

(* My major mess up was not saving the bean liquid to pour back over the casserole. I improvised and instead used two cups of chicken stock poured into the edge. You should use enough to see the top of the liquid but not covering the beans)

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tiramisu :: Daring bakers February

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I went traditional style here. No need to mess around with perfection.

Homemade from start to finish:
  • ladyfingers
  • marscapone + whipped cream + zabaglione

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cafe Martinique

Have you ever had a flawless meal? One that made you stop and ponder the complexity of flavors and textures of every bite?

I often ooh-and-ahh about even the simplest dishes. If it tastes great, is well prepared, and is well thought out, I'm on board. It does not have to be fancy, in fact, I generally prefer it not to be.

However, tonight's dinner at Cafe Martinique on Paradise Island, Bahamas (Jean-George Vongerichten) was a step above. It was fancy AND flawless. There were so many thoughtful dimensions that several times I did have to stop and think "What is that and why does it work so well together?". It was not just fancy for the sake of being fancy. Cafe Martinique was clearly on top of it's game.

I don't know a lot about JG Vongerichten, except what the food media puts out there. And I have never been to another one of his restaurants. But this dinner definitely left me craving more.

Amuse bouche:
Called a lobster risotto - was actually more of an arrancini that sat upon a sweet pepper cream. Interesting way to make risotto into a perfect single bite.

Bacon wrapped shrimp. Simply described but elegantly prepared. This made us take notice- we were not in Dexter anymore. Fresh shrimp wrapped in bacon alongside a papaya horseradish salsa. The multiple dimensions were stunning. The sweet heat of the salsa complimented the smoky briny salt of the shrimp.

Wild mushroom tart. Shitake embedded puff pastry topped with frisee. Sounds simple, But again, the dimensions... In between the mushroom caps and the pastry was an aromatic roasted garlic paste the totally brought the dish together.

Raspberry sorbet palate cleanser, naturally.

Pumpkin soup. Poured at the table over wild mushrooms, chives, and diced steamed pumpkin. This was not your flat boring squash soup. It must have had a chicken stock base- too deep not to.

The Last bite lesion award for the evening goes to...
Mahi mahi, pan seared served over a wasabi mash. Here's what got our attention. Supremed oranges and grapefruit, microsprouts, olive oil, lemon infused oil or juice, pink peppercorns and coriander seeds topped this fish. Each bite was accented slightly differently, depending on what combination of flavors and textures were on your fork. We savored every last bite.

(iPhone, if you're really all that, why can't you take better pictures?)

Crepes normandie. Crepes filled with sauteed pears, topped with caramel and a scoop of caramelized pear and Ginger ice cream. Plate dusted with a praline dust that could turn me into a fairy any night.

Miniature house cookies served with coffee - still warm as if they were made just for us.

As I said before, I often swoon over any food that's been thoughtfully prepared, but it's more than that. You can taste when someone considers cooking an art. You can taste passion. You can taste when someone loves to feed the brain and soul, as well as the body. We tasted that these folks have "the lesion", an Anastasio-coined term that means that part of your brain, and even maybe your soul, is dedicated to making tastebuds sing and dance.

-- Posting From My iPhone

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MESA - Bobby Flay takes the Bahamas

Fried conch with mango salsa
A terrible picture of a great app.

Posting From My iPhone

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

food = love

Valentine's Day. I think of it mostly as a crock of nonsense. Saint Valentine was a special guy, but Hallmark takes advantage of his martyrdom, for sure.

For me food is always love. Not just on V-day. On this particular Sunday of love we were already looking forward to dessert. The whole day we had our brains and eyes and tongues holding out for a recipe from Giada for Orange and Chocolate Zeppole.

We had already whipped up a little fondue appetizer. We weren't in the mood to mess around. A gruyere fondue with Zingermans baguette slices.

We had impressionable children in the house, so as much as we wanted to skip right to the italian doughnuts, we had to put together a little dinner. Just remember it's all about the portion size. Use smaller plates, people.

the last bite of
Seared salmon with a tomato rub, homemade lemon aioli
Black olive tapenade orzo
pan-seared asparagus (threw them in the salmon pan for the last 3-4 minutes)

Here's the finale. This is what we were waiting for. Zeppole dusted with orange sugar dipped in warm chocolate ganache. This wasn't just in honor of the day of love. This also happens to be the week of fat Tuesday, a holiday close to the heart of Michigan.

don't you want to lick the edge of this ..... mmmmmm ... warm chocolate ganache

Sugar. Garrett Gue.
(I'm a sucker for simple music, just as I am for simple food)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Roadhouse does it again

I have so much to post about from this past weekend's visit with my sis, but here I am again at my favorite Ann Arbor restaurant. This time around it's a Mardi Gras tasting dinner. Jealous? You should be!

Can't say I've ever had snails before that I liked so much. Well executed bourguignon. Fabulous house made puff pastry.

Coush-coush (as in cushion) - a traditional fried bread made to sop up sauces. According to my Time Life: Creole and Acadian cookbook, this can also be served with hot milk and sugar. Would love to try that version one day for breakfast.

The best gumbo on earth - but that's not news.

So much goodness on one plate, it's hard to know where to start. Loved the chicken rochambeau. (rock/paper/scissors - or nut kicking, yikes!). Also I had not ever tried a mirliton. Awesome texture and flavor.

Crawdaddy boil - suckin out the heads if you're brave.

Forgot to get a shot of dessert. You get the picture. A culinary adventure.

Bravo, my friend.

-Posting From My iPhone

Sunday, February 14, 2010

potato gnocchi

A visit with sister dearest. So much to post about. Here was the first food project we tackled.

Potato Gnocchi

Bake 4 potatoes (about 2 pounds) at 400 degrees for one hour. Remove and let cool slightly. Scoop out all potato flesh, and run it through the food mill or grate it on a box grater. Cool on a rimmed baking sheet. In the meantime, measure out one cup all purpose flour. Separate two eggs (save the whites for a different recipe).

Combine milled potatoes, flour, two egg yolks, six grates of fresh nutmeg and two teaspoons kosher salt. Add one cup grated gruyere (or
parmesan reggiano if you have that instead). Knead together by hand until incorporated. Dough will be shaggy. Split into fourths.

On a floured surface roll out each ball of dough to a rope measuring about 3/4 inch in diameter. Cut rope into 3/4 inch pieces, and lightly press a fork into the side of each gnocchi to create the ridges that will hold the sauce. There is a fancy tool for this, but no need. We were a little casual - feel free to make circular ridges around the whole gnocchi.

Boil in water for about 4-5 minutes until the gnocchi come to the surface of the water.

In a different pan, brown 6 tablespoons butter over medium high heat. Add 4 sage leaves & black pepper. Scoop gnocchi from boiling water into pan where butter is browning. Saute gnocchi in brown butter until golden brown.

Topped with crisped prosciutto. Bake thin prosciutto slices at 400 degrees for 5 minutes until crispy.

Serve with escarole salad.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Smoked mozzarella & basil pesto, grilled on Zingerman's whole wheat farm bread

Sometimes it just takes a few ingredients to make a wonderfully satisfying lunch.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

a recipe for the most comforting of all foods

Mac and cheese is one of those things that every one has specific preferences for. That's what makes it a "comfort food". Most moms or cooks have a special secret that gives theirs a unique taste. Mine is most definitely a mirror of my mother's recipe. She has made this so many times, she could probably do it in her sleep. As a young adult coming home from college for the weekend, she would always welcome us with this. To this day, she'll make it for my kids if we are visiting. And it's amusing to me that although I know she must have made this homemade version when I was in grade school, what I remember eating and craving most is the mac and cheese out of the blue box. You know what I mean. Don't pretend you have no idea...

Linda's Mac & cheese
serves 8-10
  1. Melt 8 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan. Lightly saute one finely diced large shallot or 1/4 cup finely diced red onion until softened. Add one tablespoon dijon mustard, three or four grates of nutmeg, two teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, and one small pinch cayenne pepper (just a little bit will give you a background flavor without noticing the heat outright-add more if you want a kick). Stir until incorporated until fragrant.
  2. To this mixture, add 1/2 cup flour. Whisk together over medium heat until flour begins to brown lightly, about two minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium low, and add 4 cups whole milk. Continue whisking until the mixture begins to thicken. This might take 3-4 minutes depending how high your heat is.
  4. Remove from the heat and add 4 cups shredded white sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese. Shred your own cheese, folks. That pre-shredded stuff is okay for a kid's quesadilla, but don't make real food with it. It's coated with starch, and that's not yummy. *If you're low on cheddar or aren't in the mood, feel free to substitute cheeses. Gruyere, Monterey Jack, grated pecorino romano, colby, or a combination of some. It's all good.
  5. Meanwhile, boil enough water for one pound pasta. Pick your favorite shape. Some people have to have elbows. Others don't mind mixing it up with cavatappi or gemelli. Whatever floats your boat.
  6. Salt water when it comes to a boil. (Did you know that pasta water should be as salty as sea water? For one pound of pasta, this means adding 2 tablespoons kosher salt to 6 quarts water.) Boil one pound pasta to al dente. Drain, but do not rinse.
  7. Combine cheese sauce with pasta.
You can most certainly eat this as is for the creamiest version or you can...

Combine one sleeve Ritz crackers pounded into crumbs with another cup shredded sharp cheddar. Put sauced pasta into a buttered baking dish. Top with Ritz mixture. Drizzle with 1/4 cup melted butter. Bake at 350degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. **One other note, this freezes very well. Split this in half, put each in a baking dish, put topping on both halves, bake only the one you intend to eat tonight. Label and freeze the other. Can be baked directly from the freezer.

But, Cari, I can do you one better than that. I've been wanting to share a composite blog dedicated to Mac and Cheese called 30 Days 30 Ways, and you gave me a perfect excuse. It's an ongoing challenge where 30 bloggers are each given a chance to post a recipe for their favorite version. Check out the listing on the side for the previous recipes. All of them sound interesting. Some even sound worth trying. Do you have a spare month? And low cholesterol?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

food gimics of the internet :: part two

This is most definitely the happiest scanner in the world. It's job is to scan sandwiches. Unbelievable.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Bon Appetit - Grilled cheese extraordinaire

Have you seen this Bon Appetit knocking around the grocery store or maybe even your coffee table? If this cover picture doesn't inspire you to make an awesome sandwich, you might be hopeless. This is a kicked up grilled cheese, with chunks of braised short ribs, arugula and pickled caramelized onions. And yes, it was good as it looks.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

eggs in purgatory

For a foodie, there's nothing worse than expecting to get a meal, looking forward to a special meal and then having it stolen from you. Not literally stolen, although I suppose that would be terrible too. Figuratively stolen.

We were planning on driving over the border last night. A trip to Windsor, Canada's Little Italy. I've heard from other east-coasters that this is where it's at. This one mile strip in Windsor is pretty close to the Italian-American food of my childhood - of Little Italy in Manhattan or Hanover Street of my beloved Boston. All week I'd been thinking that I would gladly blow my calorie counting for one night of Italian-Canadian (?) food.

But alas, we did not cross the border last night. Elementary science fair preparation took precedence, leaving us with little time or energy for the hour commute back and forth. This didn't change the fact that I was in the mood for a high-flavor Italian dish last night. It also didn't change that my fridge was fairly low stocked because I was planning on a night out.

Eggs in purgatory came to my rescue. And it could come to yours one night too, if you follow these simple steps. Prepare polenta, according to your favorite recipe (see below). Top it with eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. Yesterday evening, I used a jar of arrabiata that I made with the summer's tomato abundance. Serve it with a simple arugula salad and chunk of your favorite toast (Zingerman's roadhouse bread, all the way). I was definitely satisfied by this dinner, and best of all, I didn't have to listen to little ones for an hour long car trip back home.

Perfect Polenta
serves 8 (will make more than you need for this recipe - tomorrow's polenta fries!)

Bring 8 cups of stock or a combination of half stock and half water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Gently pour 2 cups of polenta into the simmering water. Whisk as you add more. Continue whisking for a minute or so to ensure that the grains separate as they enter the liquid. For about 30 minutes let polenta bubble away over medium heat, stirring frequently so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat. Add two tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup grated parmesan and 1/2 cup grated asiago if you have any knocking around your fridge. Stir in until incorporated. Taste and add additional salt and pepper.

Poaching eggs in tomato sauce
serves 4 for dinner

In a wide frying pan, saute 1/2 cup chopped pancetta in 1 tablespoon olive oil, until fat begins to render. Add one jar homemade arrabiata or marinara - or your favorite storebought brand. Crack an egg into a small cup and slowly add into sauce, trying to keep the egg together as you drop it. This is easy enough that my 10 year old successfully did it. Repeat adding another 7 eggs into the pan. Set the heat at medium low or at a level that the sauce is gently bubbling. Cover. Let cook for 5 minutes, but check eggs halfway through. Depending on how you like your eggs (I prefer runnier then they came out last night), this time might be shorter or longer.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

sweet potato pie ~ pure comfort

My eldest daughter recently requested a sweet potato pie. I had never made one before, but one of my favorite cookbooks had an interesting recipe that incorporated buttermilk. This page must have caught her eye when she was flipping through. The southern brothers, Matt and Ted Lee, have a wonderful cookbook called The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. In the intro of the recipe they mention that they have tried many sweet potato pies and often find the texture and flavor of a typical pie to be "leaden and dull". I have had many similarly yucky pumpkin pies. Flat and boring - not so appetizing. However, they've managed to create a recipe that turns out to have the texture and tang of a cheesecake with the light background flavor of a sweet potato. It's almost mousse-like. Served with a dollop of brandy whipped cream, it's heavenly. And for several mornings this week for my family, it was totally worthy of being called breakfast.

Sweet Potato Pie

from the Lee Bros. Southern cookbook

  1. Steam 1 1/2 pounds of peeled and diced sweet potatoes. Strain and mash with a fork or potato masher. For this recipe you need only 1 1/4 cups mashed sweet potato. Save the remainder for another dish.
  2. To the potato, add 4 tbsp melted butter, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix until combined.
  3. Separate 3 eggs.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk 3 yolks for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup sugar and whisk until light yellow, about 2 minutes. Add this egg mixture to the sweet potato mixture. Add 2 tbsp flour a little at a time, stirring after each addition, until thoroughly incorporated. Add 3/4 cup buttermilk.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. With a wooden spoon, gently fold the egg whites into the sweet potato mixture. Pour mixture into prebaked sweet pie crust. Bake on middle rack until the center is firm, about 35 or 40 minutes.
  6. Remove pie from the oven and cool completely on a rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled with whipped cream.

Friday, February 05, 2010

extra tortillas part two

Tortilla Soup :: a perfect way to use extra tortillas
based on a recipe from Mexico: one plate at a time
, Rick Bayless
  1. Saute 4 garlic cloves, one diced onion, one tbsp cumin, two teaspoons chili powder and one tsp ground coriander in 2 tbsp oil until softened but not browned, about five minutes. Add one chipotle pepper and one tablespoon adobo sauce. Continue to saute for another minute until fragrant.
  2. Add one 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, six cups chicken stock and two cups water. Bring to a simmer. Taste and season - start with one tbsp kosher salt & one tsp black pepper.
  3. Roughly chop 8-10 corn tortillas. Add to pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 20 minutes until tortillas have broken apart.
  4. Using an immersion blender, puree soup in pot. If you don't have an immersion blender, carefully transfer soup to a food processor or blender. Be careful when pureeing hot liquids in the blender. I have had blender tops explode because of the pressure.
  5. Once pureed, add two cups of chopped grilled chicken, one can of rinsed black beans and two tablespoons lime juice. Taste and season again.
  6. Serve hot with toppings below.
Optional Garnish - fried tortilla strips
  1. Slice 6 tortillas into 1/4 inch strips.
  2. Heat 1 inch vegetable oil to 350 degrees in a 4 quart saucepan, making sure there is plenty of extra room in the pan. The oil will bubble a lot when tortillas are added.
  3. Add a handful of tortilla strips to the oil. Watch carefully and remove when they are light brown and crispy. Remove them from the oil with a spider or slotted spoon.
  4. Salt immediately while they are still hot.
Other toppings include: shredded cheddar, lime wedges, sour cream, salsa verde, or avocado slices/guacamole. Serve with bread and salad.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

a note about tortillas and mexican food

Typically I buy flour tortillas. They're easier to work with for the standard americanized quesadilla or burrito -- not to mention that there's something about the texture that the kids prefer. It amuses me that we've worked in the quesadilla to our standard kid rotation. Sometimes I'll even make a quick one in the morning to put in the lunchboxes. It's a mutant of the classic grilled cheese that I grew up with. Grilled cheese is still preferred by me, unless of course the quesadilla is filled with roasted veggies or the like.

This week I found myself with dozens more tortillas than we could ever get through. They were leftover from Saturday night's mexican fiesta. The menu for the evening was upscale tacos; three different meats, niman ranch flank steak, pork butt, bell & evans chicken breast each prepared with their own sauces, chimichurri, coco adobo, and roasted tomatillo salsa.

The food was great, but what I'm blogging about tonight is the leftover corn tortillas made by Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory. Not what we typically use for the every day breakfast burrito. They're more brittle than the flour counterpart. We could stretch ourselves, sure, but there were so so many. What to do...

Another mexican family favorite around here is the enchilada. Shredded meat (for simplicity's sake use a rotisserie chicken), rolled in a tortilla covered with enchilada sauce, a tomato based chili pepper sauce. It's a great family meal because it can be made earlier in the day and then baked later.

Finally to the point. If you make enchiladas (or even a layered mexican lasagna) with flour tortillas, consider switching to corn. Instead of turning into a gloppy mess which tends to happen with the flour tortillas, the corn absorbs the liquid from the enchilada sauce. It turns into a distinctly different product, filling in the gaps between the meat and sauce, taking on the consistency of the masa in a tamale.

This what I decided to do with the leftovers - enchiladas. Shred the remaining meat mix it with a touch of the sauce, roll it up in the tortillas, cover it with the homemade enchilada sauce (recipe below), top it with sharp cheddar and bake for 25 minutes.

However tasty they might be, they do not photograph well. I tried, and it looked more like something that came up, instead of something about to go down.

Enchilada sauce
according to Mark Bittman, The Best Recipes of the World, page 325

5 garlic cloves
1 onion peeled and quartered
4 tomatoes cores and quartered
6 dried chiles stemmed and seeded (I used one canned chipotle pepper and 2 tbsp adobo)
2 teaspoons ground cumin (I used 1tbsp seeds)
1 quart chicken stock
kosher salt and pepper

Saute cumin seed, garlic and onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and chiles and cook until tomatoes have softened the chiles, another 5 min. Transfer mixter to a blender and blend until smooth, adding sufficient stock to make a loose but still creamy mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

guess you all liked that one...

potato pierogies (frozen-gasp!), seared kielbasa with red onion, sauteed spinach
roasted red pepper butter, rustic italian farm