Monday, March 29, 2010

Jamie Oliver

This is amazing stuff. I'm in total agreement here, nodding and agreeing with this well-spoken ambassador. He's singing my song.

A definite recommendation to check out his TV show.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

future egg layers of America

I've started a journey, my friends. I have purchased my first farm animals. It's something I have wanted to embark on for years, as soon as I embraced my new midwest homeland. I've got the bug. So don't be surprised if someday you read a blog about my homemade goat milk yogurt or something the like.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we started with ten egg laying chicks from Destiny Farms in Milford, MI, and now we are down to nine. Sadly our over-enthusiastic dog got the better of one.

I've got a coop on the way and am in final stages of planning for what part of the yard to surrender to them. In the meantime, they're watered and fed and hidden in the basement under heat lamps just around the bend from my garden corner. Tonight I was thinning some hollyhocks and let the two largest birds "free range" around that basement room.

Do they realize the irony of growing up among the artichoke and pecking on the arugula and broccoli seedlings? I don't think so. There's not much going on in those little chicken heads.

a wee kale leaf

Certainly there will be more about them and their beautiful eggs to come.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

vegetarians unite!

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a vegetarian, but I often think I could easily be one if it weren't for the darned pig. Anyway, this recipe for double broccoli quinoa, with all of the components, perfectly created by Heidi of 101cookbooks, is FABULOUS! Sorry for yelling but I wanted you to hear me.

I wish I could upload one of her photos to entice you to go to the site, but I probably am not allowed to and/or it would take longer than I have right now to figure it out.

Trust me, broccoli pesto, quinoa, avocado, feta, almonds, chili fire oil. Oh yeah, baby.

Monday, March 22, 2010

and the Kahlua was so successful

that I've started limoncello.

1.75 liters vodka + peel from 12 lemons

In four weeks, I'll add six cups of simple syrup and plan a dinner party!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

did you know you can make your own kahlua?

Yes, you can. And like many other things that I write about, it's so simple. The most frustrating part of it is the waiting. I started this project on October 14th of last year. Kahlua for Christmas parties and gifts is how I thought of it. But I made way more than I needed for either. Thank goodness I did, because it continues to improve every day.

Here's what you do. In a container large enough, mix one gallon vodka (you'll get a couple of raised eyebrows at the liquor store), with one pound espresso beans (your favorite - Zingerman's for me - surprise, surprise), six cups simple syrup (boil six cups sugar with one quart water, until sugar is dissolved), and one vanilla bean. Stir, cover, and let sit for four weeks. The longer you wait the better it gets. Trust me.

Serve straight up, with equal parts half and half, or a dash in your coffee. I love to leave the beans in there as I pour each glass. Looks cool and then you can also chew a couple sweetened beans when you're done drinking.

Typically this is an evening nip for my husband and I. Today, after mixing a little Kahlua and cream for this picture, I can't let it go to waste. Can I? Doesn't matter that it's only 1:30. Shhh. Don't tell anyone...

Friday, March 19, 2010

a quick note about rice

I've never believed people when they said that rice could be cooked like pasta, but I'm here to let you know that I've tried it AND... it works. This stemmed not in my desire to run a cooking experiment at 6pm with four hungry kids waiting, but rather that the direction of my meal changed upon cooking. I had intended to cook pasta for dinner, so I filled up the pot and let it sit on the back burner on low for a while during kitchen brainstorming. Suddenly I found myself sauteeing cauliflower and paneer with garam masala, simmering lentils in a Trader Joes' punjab spinach sauce, and realizing that pasta didn't really belong in this meal. So I took a deep breath and threw two tablespoons of kosher salt and two cups of jasmine rice into the 5-quart of boiling water, gave it a stir, put a loose lid on that sucker, and went onto other kitchen tasks.

You see, I have a fear of rice cookery. The word fear might be a bit of an exaggeration, but coming from Italian roots, pasta was generally the starch of choice growing up. It wasn't that we never had it, but just much less frequently. I can remember as an adolescent being scolded by my aunt for lifting the lid to the cooking rice. "Don't! It will clump! It will stick!" I was amazed, first of all for being scolded about such a stupid thing, but that cooking rice could be quite so finicky. After all, people who live in huts cook this stuff over open fires. Now, I realize that some rice cooks best under specific conditions. However, I'm glad to find out, and you should be too, that you can relax a little when it comes to cooking rice.
Drop it in a stockpot of boiling water, stir a couple of times during the 20-25 minutes, then drain in a fine sieve. What you will be left with is fluffy soft separate grains, of perfect consistency.

In addition, the extra liquid allows for more wiggle room in flavoring your rice. If you're going the Asian route, throw in a stalk of lemongrass and a chunk of ginger; Moroccan tangine? add a cinnamon stick and a star anise to the pot. When not every molecule of the water is being absorbed, the flavoring will be more consistently distributed around each grain of rice, compared to a clump of ginger sitting right along side of a specific grain.

A note: I wouldn't try this method with sticky sushi rice. Leave that to your rice cooker, or a pot with a tightly fitting lid. Otherwise, basmati or jasmine will do just fine.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

a food etsy

Have you seen this site?

I love ETSY. Handmade arts sold online. This is a version for foodies. And it's awesome. 'Nuf said.

Monday, March 15, 2010

baked potato night

A baked potato night. Such a great way to satisfy everyone's individual cravings.

No recipe necessary. Bake a bunch of potatoes. Prepare whatever toppings you're in the mood for.

Our standards are:
  • steamed broccoli
  • shredded sharp cheddar
  • bacon pieces
  • pulled barbeque pork
  • sour cream
  • butter (it is in itself a topping)
  • scallions
  • spinach
  • caramelized onion
  • fresh arugula
  • srirachi
  • avocado
Everyone gets his own blank canvas. Set it out in the center of the table, and watch how they flock.

then, of course, the toddler version, note: no potato

Sunday, March 14, 2010

a public letter to Sara or meatballs, done the right way

Dearest Sara, I'm so very sorry for the delay. Yes, I've got the world's best meatball recipe. Many times I make these just by feel, but if you do them enough, you'll get the hang of it.

Here are the most important points from one Italian girl.
  • Soaking the bread in cream or milk gives almost a pudding-like texture to the interior of the meatballs. Fantastic.
  • Finely grate the garlic and finely chop the onion. They will soften a bit, but the smaller you make them the less noticeable they are.
  • Use three types of meat. I'm not a huge fan of veal. Well, let's put it this way. I'm a huge fan of the taste, but a little bit skittish of the killing of the baby cows. I just try to forget about that aspect. The texture and flavor of the veal add a remarkable background taste and texture in comparison to the harshness of the beef.
  • Because of the soft texture of these puppies, you don't need to have them simmer in tomato sauce for a long time. If you do, they'll fall apart. I've had much success baking them dry, then tossing them lightly with marinara right before serving. I often freeze half of the batch, unsauced, in ziploc bags. They freeze very well and are a great throw together meal on a night that you're busy.

Meatballs, done the right way
  1. Soak 3-4 slices of white bread (crusts removed) in one cup cup half-and-half. Set aside.
  2. Combine one half pound of each, ground pork, veal and beef, two eggs, 3/4 cup grated pecorino romano, 1/2 cup very finely chopped onion, two garlic cloves (grated), 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, two or three grates of nutmeg, two teaspoons kosher salt, one teaspoon black pepper.
  3. Squeeze bread lightly to get some of the half-and-half out. Gently crumble into small pieces. Add to meat mixture.
  4. Mix together. I always start mixing with a spoon, only to end up having to use my hands. It feels gross at first, but you just have to pretend that it's not raw meat.
  5. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil onto sheet.
  6. Using an ice cream scoop or a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop out mixture and roll into balls.
  7. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Let me know if you have any questions. I'm always here to help.

With love,

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Pithivier. A what?

Kids want dessert. Strike that. Spoiled kids who don't know how good they have it want dessert. Thin mints will be good enough, but around here we don't strive for good 'nuf. We strive for...well, we strive for more than that. We want tastebuds to dance and sing. We want the moans of "Wow. Mom this is awesome." Most nights I get that. Tonight I captured it yet again.

Looking in the fridge I saw an unused sheet of puff pastry. The first sheet became mushroom gruyere tarts a couple nights prior, (that'll be a recipe for another entry) and strangely enough, I had an unclaimed tube of almond paste. The wheels turn, turn, turn.

When I'm in the mood to indulge in the morning standing at the bakery counter, I will almost always choose an almond croissant. Quality croissants, of course. Not the squishy kind from Sam's club - the ones over at Zingerman's, Pastry Peddler or something like that. The dimensions are what get me. The crunchy, almost brittle, flaky, outer layers contrast the not-too-sweet buttery, sexiness of the inside. Everytime, it gets me. Add a smooth and heady almond paste to that mix, and I'm in heaven.

Last night's dessert captured this same sensation. It was deceivingly easy to prepare. After putting this dessert together, I flipped through a cookbook and found a French dessert made almost exactly the same way, except for the circular shape and an extra egg. I invented a Pithivier. Only not really; many had come before mine in Pithivier, France.

Made individually they'd be great for a party. Prepare them ahead of time. Set them in the fridge unbaked for a couple of hours. Pop them into the oven when you sit down for dinner. You'd have oohs and aahhs, and they'd want to know the name of the elf in your kitchen.

Pithivier Dexter

Roll out one sheet of thawed puff pastry to an approximately 14 inch square. In a stand mixer combine one roll/tube of almond paste (approximately 7 oz) with one egg and one half cup sugar. To kick it up, add one tablespoon fresh orange zest. Put the mixture vertically in the center third of the square of puff pastry, leaving an inch on the bottom and top. Fold the bottom inch up over the bottom of the almond mixture. Repeat with top edge. Using a pizza cutter, cut the sides into parallel strips. Fold the strips into the center one at a time, alternating each side for a braiding effect.

Brush with heavy cream or an egg yolk. Sprinkle generously with raw sugar. Bake at 425degrees for 20-25 minutes or until dark golden brown. Let cool slightly, but it will be very hard to wait.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

butternut squash soup

Don't fret. Dinner is right around the corner.

Rough chop a fresh butternut squash. Toss it in olive oil, add plenty of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, a small pinch of red chili flakes and a healthy pinch of thyme. Roast for an hour at 375degrees or until soft but not dark.

In a stockpot, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add one tablespoon cumin seeds and coriander seeds when fragrant. After 30 seconds on medium heat, add one finely chopped onion, and three cloves of garlic. Saute until soft, not browned. Add roasted squash, & 6 cups chicken stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender or transfer to food processor to puree.

Float a few yummy slices of sauteed chorizo on the top of your liquid gold to add a contrast in taste and texture. You'll be digging for these lovelies.

Serve with gruyere toasts & a light salad (for this evening, chopped romaine with homemade green goddess dressing - a favorite around here).

Props to this blog, A Glug of Oil, for inspiration. It's where I got this soup idea. A way to tackle the butternut squash that's been hanging around my kitchen.
~check out how my last bite garden is growing~

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

you say challah, i say holla!

I'm a gentile. There. I said it. I had to get it out there. I have no business making challah in my home. But, I did grow up with a mother who passionately loves every Jewish person she has ever met, with a fervor that sometimes makes me think she wishes she could convert. As a result, you can often find me buying matzoh and coconut macaroons as soon as they're seasonally available, making latkes left and right and other such things. I even save the schmaltz after roasting a chicken and use it for different meals.

We are always buying challah downtown because the kids love it. I've been thinking I should try my hand at it. My friend has a new blog called The dinner chronicles, and I'm always impressed that there's a loaf of freshly made challah on her table. Because I have an obsession with multi-tasking, I threw making a loaf of challah into the Sunday that also included assembling a cassoulet. I'm a glutton for punishment.

If you've been a long time reader (my sister), you know that I have had a running issue with yeasted breads, specifically sourdough. I've never totally flopped a loaf, but they're never as good as I expect them to be. Mostly I'm scared. Yeasties are alive, and they can smell the fear. I feel like if I don't coddle them correctly, they'll misbehave. They need a lot of positive reinforcement, those little buggers. Kind of like the other little buggers that live in my house.

I used the recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Peter Reinhart (see below), and I'm happy to report that it was a success.
There's only a small chunk left, and I won't be surprised if it disappears as soon as the kids get back from school.

from the Bread Baker's Apprentice, Peter Reinhart
  1. Stir together 4 cups bread flour, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/3 instant yeast in a mixing bowl or bowl of the electric mixer. In a separate bowl whisk together 2 tablespoons veg oil, 2 large eggs, 2 large egg yolks (Thanks, Kelly!) and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water. Pour egg mixture into the flour mixture. Mix until all the ingredients gather and form a ball. Add up to 6 more tablespoons water, if needed.
  2. Knead for about ten minutes by hand, or at medium low speed for 6 minutes with the dough hook of the food processor. Sprinkle in more flour if needed to make a soft, supple, but not sticky dough. The dough should pass the windowpane test, and register approx. at 80 degrees.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl. Form dough into a bowl, and transfer into oiled bowl, rolling it around to coat with oil. Ferment at room temperature for one hour. (I let it go even longer than this because I left the house - bad bread maker!)
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for 2 minutes to de-gas. Reform it into a bowl and return to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and ferment for an additional hour. It should be at least 1.5 times its original size.
  5. Remove from the bowl and divide it into three equal pieces. Form each into a ball, cover with a towel and let rest for ten minutes.
  6. Roll the pieces out into strands, each the same length, thicker in the middle and slightly tapered toward the ends. Braid them together. Line a sheet pan with parchment and transfer loaf to the pan. Brush the loaf with the leftover egg whites. Mist the loaves with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
  7. Proof for 60-75 minutes or until the dough has grown to 1.5 times it's original size.
  8. Preheat oven to 350degrees (convection if you have it)
  9. Bake for 20 mintues. Rotate pan 180degrees and continue baking for 20-45 minutes depending on the size of the loag. The bread should be a rich golden brown and register 190degrees in the center.
  10. When done, transfer to a rack and cool for at least one hour before slicing or serving.