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Posts from the ‘cooking’ Category

simple childhood pleasures

19 February 2010

dj

i love working with dough. a clear throwback from my Play-Doh period, in which i immersed myself in sculpting the brightly colored, salty-tasting goop into unrecognizable shapes. the other day, i felt the urge to craft something a bit more practical, easily identifiable and with a significantly improved flavor profile.

as i contemplated my packets of yeast, i recalled a particular conversation between my dear childhood friend Harriet and her mom, Mrs. Welsch. the chat centered on Harriet’s school-lunch preferences. ‘”Wouldn’t you like to try a ham sandwich, or egg salad or peanut butter?’ Her mother looked quizzically at Harriet while the cook stood next to the table looking enraged. “Tomato,” said Harriet not even looking up from the book she was reading at breakfast. “Stop reading at the table.” Harriet put the book down. “Listen Harriet, you’ve taken a tomato sandwich to school every day for five years. Don’t you get tired of them? ” “No.”‘

yes, ok. so, Harriet is a fictional character (aka Harriet the Spy, created by author Louise Fitzhugh), and as a voracious young reader, i probably spent more time in my tree house lulling away the hours with her (and other fictional favorites) than with living, breathing humans. to toast Harriet , her love of tomato sandwiches and our common bond of faithfully following our respective true norths, i elected to bake a simple, hearty loaf of white bread. the perfect canvas on which to slather mayo and gently place the revered tomato and sorry, Harriet, a few strips of bacon from Skagit River Ranch.

Classic White Bread
a variation based on a recipe from Martha Stewart Living
makes 2 loaves
i found the amount of coarse salt in the original recipe to be completely overpowering, so i cut the suggested quantity in half. i also increased the amount of honey to give the loaf a sweet finish.

INGREDIENTS

2 1/4-ounce packets active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees)
4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for bowl and pans
7 cups organic white flour
1 short tablespoon coarse salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. butter a large bowl (for the initial rise) and 2 loaf pans; set aside.
  2. in a measuring cup, sprinkle yeast over 1/2 cup warm water.
  3. add two teaspoons of honey to mixture and whisk until yeast dissolves.
  4. let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  5. transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer.
  6. add melted butter and remaining 1 3/4 cups warm water and 4 tablespoons honey.
  7. whisk flour and salt in an another bowl, then add 3 cups of these dry ingredients to the stand-mixer bowl and combine on low speed until smooth.
  8. add remaining 4 cups of dry ingredients 1 cup at a time, mixing until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and forms a ragged, slightly sticky ball.
  9. knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic (my favorite part of the process!), but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes.
  10. shape into a ball, transfer to bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  11. let the dough stands in a warm place until it doubles in volume, about 1 hour. the dough shouldn’t spring back when pressed.
  12. punch dough down, and divide in half.
  13. shape 1 dough half into an 8 1/2-inch-long rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick.
  14. fold along sides of dough into middle, overlapping slightly; press seam to seal.
  15. transfer dough, seam side, down to loaf pan.
  16. repeat with remaining dough.
  17. brush each loaf with melted butter, or dust with flour for a more rustic look.
  18. drape loaves with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until the dough rises about 1 inch above tops of pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  19. preheat oven to 400F.
  20. bake, rotating pans after 10 minutes, until tops of loaves are golden brown, about 20 minutes. recipe indicates total cooking time of 45 minutes; my loaves were done in less than half the time.

with any remnants of your loaves, consider making thick slices of cinnamon-orange french toast, topped with Vermont maple syrup. i haven’t regretted the indulgence for a single second.

my little dumpling

2 February 2010

dj

sometimes good fortune comes your way when you least expect it. and in an equally unexpected form. no, i don’t mean like a winning lotto ticket or receiving an inheritance from a long-lost relative. i can’t deny those would be quite lovely, but i try, upon occasion, to be a realist. i mean something that elevates your spirit and quality of life. something—or should i say someone—like Elroy.

almost two years ago to the day, i found myself face to face with a snorting, chortling, droopy-tongued, wild-eyed English bulldog. toting a floppy toy in his broad jaw and panting heavily, he scurried frantically around his foster mom’s home, searching for a place to light. surrounded by two adult English mastiffs of mammoth proportions, a petite female English bulldog, a cat and several children, he seemed overwhelmed by this friendly, but bustling crew. yeah, one of the mastiffs was kicking back on the living room sofa, but so…

at this first encounter, i wasn’t certain Elroy and i were that match made in heaven. i had envisioned adopting a couch potato—a delightful creature of habit who wouldn’t raise an eyebrow until it was time to chow down. but once he settled into a more private, quiet space, Elroy became that laid-back dude i’d been yearning for. as i introduced myself, he cocked his head to one side and immediately stole my heart. apparently, i’m a sucker for big brown eyes, a single spotted ear and an extreme under bite.

in our quiet little life, Elroy hangs out with me as i work and happily pads after me, wherever i go. sure, he has a few previously acquired quirks, but who doesn’t? several weeks ago he spun a few cookies around the family room coffee table and blew his ACL. he’s recovering nicely (as shown in the photo above) from last week’s surgery. and i’m grateful every day for his presence.

i did a short gig as a conehead following my surgery.

Elroy may not be the consummate couch potato, but he’s my little dumpling. to celebrate our two-year anniversary together, i made the humans this extreme comfort food with Elroy’s leftover, post-surgical chicken. ideal for chilly winter weather, when all a bulldog wants to do is have a good meal, then fall into a peaceful slumber.

you can find out more about adopting and supporting swell dogs like Elroy through a variety of organizations, including the Humane SocietyN.O.A.H. and Bulldog Club of America Rescue (if you live in the northwest, as i do, visit Bulldog Haven NW).

Chicken and Dumplings
a variation on a recipe from Tyler Florence and Food Network
as always, i invite you to take a look at the original recipe.

INGREDIENTS

for chicken and stock
1 whole organic chicken ( 3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
10 Tellicherry peppercorns
1 tablespoon coarse salt

for dumplings
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/8 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup buttermilk

for sauce
4 tablespoons butter
2 carrots, diced
1/3 heaping cup organic all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock (this will come from the whole chicken you’ll cook)
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup fresh or frozen pearl onions
1/4 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
chopped chives, for garnish

DIRECTIONS

  1. place the chicken and all stock ingredients in a large Dutch oven and cover with water.
  2. over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour until the chicken is tender.
  3. when the chicken is done, remove it from the pot and place on a cutting board.
  4. shred the chicken into bit-size pieces and set aside.
  5. strain the chicken stock and set aside, but keep the pot for the next step.
  6. in the Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
  7. add the carrots (and fresh pearl onions, if you’ve chosen to go fresh) and saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
  8. stir in the flour to make a roux, and cook for 2 minutes.
  9. one cup at a time, slowly pour your reserved chicken stock into the pot, mixing well after each addition.
  10. add frozen peas (and frozen pearl onions, if you went in this direction).
  11. let the sauce simmer until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes.
  12. while the sauce is cooking, prepare the dumpling batter by sifting the dry ingredients together in a medium-size bowl.
  13. in a small bowl, whisk the eggs, chives and buttermilk together.
  14. pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients, and gently fold until the dough comes together. (the batter should be thick, like biscuit dough.) set aside.
  15. when the sauce has thickened, add the heavy cream and freshly ground black pepper.
  16. fold the reserved shredded chicken to the sauce, and bring to a simmer.
  17. using two spoons, carefully drop heaping teaspoons of the dumpling batter into the sauce. (the dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching each other.)
  18. let the dumplings poach for about 15 minutes, until they’re puffy but firm.
  19. garnish with chives before serving in low soup bowls.

oh, you softie

7 January 2010

dj

well-honed technique. vast experience. a combination possessed by the finest master craftsmen. i was one of these craftsmen. an award-winning fire builder by the age of 10 (according to a panel of expert girl scout counselors), i specialized in the log-cabin style. in the heat of competition, i’d scour the woods for the kindling i knew would ignite the fastest. locating the right-size branches, i’d construct a design that would make my counselors beam with pride. arms piled high with the highest-quality materials and with the clock ticking, i’d sort my stash and become immersed in my creative process.

meticulously building the log cabin came naturally (the persistent perfectionist). and i had refined my technique sufficiently to streamline the process. surely and swiftly, i lit my match, then touched it to the kindling. blowing steadily, but softly, i encouraged the flame to engulf the smaller pieces of wood. soon ablaze, the dry wood began to crackle, flames leaping high (don’t worry; there was a water bucket within reach). i heard a whistle blow, and one of the counselors announced the victor: me. blush. not bad for a nerdy bookworm.

to the victor go the spoils. in this case, the counselors came and sat around my fire. i added a few logs, so we could settle in for our evening program of eating too much sugar and singing. there was just enough daylight remaining to prepare for the most important portion of the event: roasting marshmallows, and making s’mores. it was my reward to find some green, yet sturdy, willow branches to use for roasting. with my trusty girl scout emblem-embossed jackknife, i expertly carved sharp points on each of five branches, then handed four of them to my beloved counselors. with the last branch, i pierced a marshmallow, and held it over the coals of my fire, until the ooey-gooey substance became golden brown. then i popped it in my mouth. heaven. i passed on the graham crackers and Hershey bars, content to revel in soft and puffy confection.

thanks to Ashley Rodriguez, whose not without salt blog inspires and illuminates. and from whom i borrowed this wonderful marshmallow recipe. it’s really fun to make and took me back to a very sweet time in my life.

homemade marshmallows
a recipe from Alton Brown, adapted by Ashley Rodriguez

INGREDIENTS

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup (or glucose)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds removed
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
nonstick spray

DIRECTIONS

  1. place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer, along with 1/2 cup water.
  2. in a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt.
  3. cover the pan, and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. uncover the pan, clip a candy thermometer on the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240F (approximately 7 to 8 minutes). immediately remove from heat.
  5. with the whisk attached, turn your stand mixer on low speed and slowly pour the syrup mixture from the pan down the side of the bowl and into the gelatin mixture.
  6. when all the syrup has been added, increase the mixer speed to high (be careful that the hot mixture doesn’t splat on you).
  7. add the vanilla seeds, and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes.
  8. while the mixture is whipping, combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside.
  9. line a 13 x 9-inch metal baking pan with aluminum foil (i used nonstick foil), then coat with nonstick cooking spray.
  10. completely cover the sides and bottom of the pan with the sugar and cornstarch mixture, and return the remaining quantity to the bowl to use later in the process.
  11. pour the whipped mixture into the prepared pan, using a spatula sprayed with the cooking oil to spread the mixture evenly in the pan.
  12. dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar/cornstarch mixture to lightly cover, and reserve the rest for later.
  13. let the marshmallows sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
  14. turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board, and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel or sharp knife dusted with the sugar/cornstarch mixture.
  15. once the marshmallows have been cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture.
  16. store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks (really? i can’t imagine these marshmallows being around that long).

try the marshmallows in a mug of rich hot chocolate or as part of a decadent s’more.

family traditions with a twist

13 December 2009

dj

a few days ago, NPR broadcasted an interview with The Atlantic National Correspondent  Jeffrey Goldberg, who commented on the genesis of Utah (R) Senior Senator Orrin Hatch’s new Chanukah composition (watch the studio music video). whatever your religious or political beliefs, i’m taking the high road to say the senator’s effort was a thoughtful gesture, however musically underwhelming.

while my mom and i are more aligned in our political philosophies than in our faiths, i wanted to extend my own heartfelt Chanukah gesture by creating a little dinner (we’d had a rather hefty lunch) reminiscent of her childhood. over the years, she’s shared stories about her father, Julius, who regularly made the family latkes (in fact, i’ve been using his recipe for decades); i knew some kind of potato pancake needed to be part of the plan. her dad served them with applesauce, another natural addition to the menu. finally, to address my mom’s love of yeast-based breads, challah would serve as the complement to our light meal.

the first step: find the right challah recipe. sweet, but not as in a dessert. tender, based on the appropriate amount of eggs and fat content. after culling through my cookbooks, i decided to put my trust in the anal editors of Cook’s Illustrated. after our taste-tasting, i have to report that, while verbose (takes one to know one), the editorial team didn’t lead me astray. for the applesauce, i found a phenomenal oven-roasted recipe on Martha Stewart’s site: it’s simple, with a nice layering of flavors from the combination of spices and the varieties of heirloom apples i used, skins on. i gave the latke recipe a little twist by choosing garnet yams, instead of Yukon golds. of course, my mother thought i was serving her carrots. but i imagine there are few 87-year-olds with 20-20 vision. i’ll be hearing from some opthomologists on that topic.

dinner was a smashing success—once we got past the carrot discussion. i trotted out a few little gifts to combat the frigid Northwest temps, like some toasty, sherpa-lined shoes she can kick around in. and a magenta hat trimmed with black buttons to go with her new black pea coat. who says there’s an age cap on the role of fashionista? certainly not my mother.

Challah

a recipe from The New Best Recipe, All-New Edition
makes one large loaf

INGREDIENTS

3 – 3 1/4 cups unbleached organic flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg separated (reserve the white for the egg wash)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup water, plus 1 tablespoon, at room temperature
1 teaspoon poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. in a medium bowl, whisk together 3 cups of flour, the yeast, sugar and salt; set aside.
  2. in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the 2 eggs, egg yolk, melted butter and 1/2 cup water.
  3. using the dough hook, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients.
  4. knead at low speed until a ball forms, about 5 minutes. add the extra flour 1 tablespoon at a time, only if needed.
  5. place the dough in a very lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough over to coat.
  6. cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  7. in a small bowl whisk the egg white with the remaining tablespoon of water; cover and refrigerate, until you’re ready to use.
  8. when the dough has doubled, gently press down to deflate.
  9. cover again with plastic wrap and let rise again until double, 40 to 60 minutes.
  10. transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, and divide dough into 3 equal pieces (the actual recipe has more intricate instruction for braiding, but i kept it simple).
  11. roll each piece of dough into a 16-inch-long rope, about 1 inch in diameter.
  12. line up the ropes side by side, and braid them together, pinching the ends of the braid to seal them.
  13. place the braid on a lightly greased baking sheet, loosely drape the loaf with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until the loaf becomes puffy and increases in size by a third, 30 to 40 minutes.
  14. adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position, and preheat oven to 375F (my oven tends to run hot, so i chose 350F).
  15. brush the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle with seeds, if you’ve chosen to use them.
  16. bake until golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes (i cooked for about 20 minutes, and the loaf was done).
  17. place the baking sheet on a wire rack, and let the challah cool completely before slicing.
  18. adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position

Roasted Applesauce
a recipe from Martha Stewart Living
makes eight 1/2-cup servings

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
a pinch of coarse salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
3 pounds small assorted apples, about 10, cored (i used a mix of King David, Waltana, Gravenstein and Golden Russet, which created a more tart applesauce…yum!)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
a hefty pinch of ground cloves

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 425F.
  2. combine water, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
  3. core apples (the heirloom apples didn’t need to be peeled).
  4. scatter butter pieces over mixture; top with apples.
  5. roast until apples are very soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
  6. working in batches, pass the apple mixture through the medium disk of a food mill and into a bowl. (um, i don’t have  a food mill, so i pureed the batches in my KitchenAid blender. alternatively, try a food processor.)
  7. serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.

the applesauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Juli’s Sweet Potato Latkes
makes 8 latkes

INGREDIENTS

one large sweet potato, grated (ok, not technically; i used a garnet yam)
1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
2 large eggs
3 heaping tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil

DIRECTIONS

  1. in a medium bowl, combine grated sweet potatoes and chopped onions.
  2. add eggs and stir until well integrated.
  3. add flour and mix until well combined.
  4. add salt and pepper.
  5. let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes.
  6. heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  7. cook the latkes on each side until golden brown.
  8. serve warm, with roasted apple sauce and/or sour cream.

holiday sidekicks

24 November 2009

dj

when my friend Paul asked me for Thanksgiving side-dish ideas, i began to think not about food, but about classic and cult television characters. go figureLucy and Ethel. Mary and Rhoda. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. for me, the combination of perfectly balanced personalities (comedic mastermind and straight gal; independent, midwestern career woman and artistic, husband-seeking New Yorker; cape-clad super-heroine teacher and student) and sometimes zany antics entertained and demonstrated that things are generally better when you have a trusted sidekick.

so, what side dishes best complement the Thanksgiving turkey? the pairings are clearly endless. i keep my holiday meals simple, but they have combinations of rich, spicy, wonderful flavors. i’ll share just some of the things i plan to make in the next few days. hope you’ll let me know what you’re creating.

beginning with dessert (of course), i’ve already prepared and frozen Kate’s Apple Pie, with Arkansas Black, Belle de Boskoop, Golden Russet and Waltana heirloom apples. i just need to bake it on the big day. tomorrow i’m going to try Tyler Florence’s pumpkin and banana pie (minus the meringue…ack), using Kate’s crust recipe. i’ll let you know how that turns out; i plan to top it with lots of whipped cream.

next, the carbs: Perfect Northwest Macaroni and Cheese, minus the King Crab, plus some crispy pancetta for the topping. mashed potatoes are a definite requirement, so some rose fingerlings, whipped with a good measure of butter, half-and-half  and some Velveeta. did i really say that? yes, that’s how my dad made them, and that’s how everyone at my house likes them.

grandma Ida

i do a pretty traditional whole-berry cranberry sauce. this New Englander cuts back on the sugar, so the sauce is more tangy. oh, and i’ve had a request for a butternut squash dish; i’ll bake and whip the squash, add some spices (like a little cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves), then finish the dish by baking in a casserole with a mixture of pecans and my apple crisp topping. if i had a family-favorite to share, it would be this: my grandmother’s sweet potato and apple casserole. super easy to make, with that lovely balance of sweet and tart.

whatever your traditions, there can never be too many good sidekicks. i know i’m particularly grateful this year for my happy-go-lucky, laid-back sidekick, Elroy, who is continually glued to me. especially when there’s something cheesy in the kitchen, with his name monogrammed on it. wishing you and yours a happy holiday!

Ida’s Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

INGREDIENTS

3 medium-size fresh sweet potatoes (i use garnet yams)
2 – 3 tart apples (e.g., Granny Smith or Waltana)
1/2 stick organic butter, cut into small pieces, and more to butter the casserole dish
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus a little more for sprinkling
2 teaspoons cinnamon, plus a little more for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

  1. peel the sweet potatoes and place in a large pot of cold water.
  2. boil the potatoes until they are cooked through, but are still firm; be careful not to overcook.
  3. drain the potatoes, and let cool.
  4. butter a covered casserole dish. (mine is 3 quarts)
  5. peel and core the apples, then slice into 1/4-thick pieces.
  6. preheat oven to 350F.
  7. cut the cooled sweet potatoes into a little slimmer than 1/2-inch slices.
  8. place a few pieces of the butter on the bottom of the casserole dish.
  9. put a layer of the sweet potatoes over the butter.
  10. place a layer of apples over the sweet potatoes.
  11. sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over the apples (use more, if your taste dictates).
  12. sprinkle a teaspoon of cinnamon over the sugar.
  13. dot the apple layer with butter.
  14. repeat the process (the top layer should be sweet potatoes).
  15. bake covered for about 40 minutes, or until the apples are cooked.
  16. remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little sugar and cinnamon.

old haunts, warm memories

31 October 2009

dj

beer-cheese souplike many these days, i’m aspiring to manage my budget as expertly as an Olympic hopeful springing gracefully along a narrow balance beam. clipping coupons to save on basics. strategically grocery shopping at a variety of venues to land the best deals. if i’m vigilant, i can still purchase organic meats and produce from local stores and farmers’ markets. i don’t eat out very often, not only as a measure of prudence, but because i savor the ritual of cooking at home.

that said, i just returned from a trip to Colorado, where neither horrifying holiday nor unseasonal snow storm could deter me from visiting just a few of my favorite eateries. waxing nostalgic, i wanted them to be just as i remembered: great food, great service, within my budget. i can happily report that my old haunts continue to serve simple, mouth-watering meals at reasonable prices. tonight, in the spirit of the holiday, i celebrate Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, in the heart of Colorado Springs.

Phantom Canyon burgerPhantom Canyon’s menu goes well beyond standard pub fare, and i’ve enjoyed some dishes with southwest twists on occasion. but for a juicy, grilled, signature half-pound burger cooked to order (yes, i could actually get it medium-rare), topped with my cheese of choice (if i hadn’t shared the meal with dear Tootie, i would have selected blue cheese) Tootie at Phantom Canyon

and crispy steak fries salted to perfection, Phantom Canyon delivers year after year. Phantom Canyon Root Beeri can’t personally speak to the pub’s handcrafted brews—although i’ve heard accolades—but i can say its in-house root beer hits the bull’s eye.

despite the phenomenal burgers and sparkling root beer, want to know the real reason i’d hang at Phantom Canyon? the smoked gouda and blonde-ale soup. the photo at the top of this post may appear a bit pasty, but the flavor of this soup is anything but. it’s rich and smoky, with a smooth, creamy texture. in bygone days, the pub would serve the beer-cheese creation topped with a few pieces of popcorn to give it a nice, little crunch. guess that tradition fell by the wayside. the soup, however, continues to please my palate. i haven’t made it for quite a while, but i dug out the recipe originally printed in the Colorado Spring Gazette. it’s intended to feed the multitudes, so be sure to cut it back to meet your needs. i remember it’s important to use an ale that’s light bodied and low in bitterness. otherwise, the beer will overshadow the soup.

i miss the mountains and Colorado Springs. i carry the warm memories of both and of Phantom Canyon with me, wherever i go. serve this mellow ale-cheese soup on a chilly Sunday, when the Denver Broncos are playing. they will, undoubtedly, emerge victorious.

Phantom Canyon Smoked Gouda and Blonde-Ale Soup
another gentle reminder to cut the recipe back, as needed

INGREDIENTS

8 cups chicken stock
6 cups Queen’s Blonde Ale
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 cups heavy cream
2 pounds Gouda cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. in a large pot, combine the stock, beer and potatoes, then bring to a boil.
  2. reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender.
  3. remove from heat, and puree the mixture. (be careful handling the hot liquid; i’ve used either a hand blender or KitchenAid blender.)
  4. return the mixture to the stove and add the cream, salt and pepper.
  5. bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 – 7 minutes.
  6. remove from heat, and add stir in the cheese.
  7. top with a few pieces of popcorn, if you’re so moved.

the odd couple: the pig and the cow

20 October 2009

dj

chicken pot pie

fictional hero Forrest Gump said he and lifelong love Jenny went together like peas and carrots. some perceived them, perhaps, as an odd couple. but most as a beloved one. and so, to me, has become the pairing of the pig and the cow.

much like barbecue, cooks of all abilities are impassioned about the contents of their pie crusts: all-butter. all-shortening. a perfect split. or something more asymmetrical. ever on the mission to improve my mediocre attempts, i’ve spent what some might deem an inordinate amount of time  researching the topic. until i unearthed my pie crust true north: a fusion of rendered leaf lard (the fat that protects a hog’s kidneys) and european-style butter.

great cooks have already waxed poetic about this winning combination—a combination that yields the most flaky, memorable crust ever known. so, i set out to try my hand at re-creating all its glory. first, i sent an e-mail to Heath Putnam of Wooly Pigs to ask if he had any leaf lard on hand. Heath was kind enough to give me a call to let me know he planned to bring some leaf lard to the next Seattle University District Farmers’ Market. then, early (i’d say bright and, but it was one of those Pacific Northwest gully washers) on Saturday morning, my friend Lourdes and i met at the market. even though we got soaked to the skin, we had a totally fantastic time and left with Wooly Pigs’ leaf lard in shopping bag. the next step? rendering the lard.

i learned a ton about rendering leaf lard from Ashley’s wonderful not-without-salt post and by watching her video, where she uses the stovetop method. there’s also a very nice compilation of other leaf lard-related references on her blog. feeling elated, but pooped after our market outing, i chose to render my leaf lard using the oven method. lessons learned?

  1. exercise patience during the oven-rendering process (i.e., stop looking through the glass door every 20 minutes; the temp is only on 200F; go to bed). rendered leaf lard in mini muffin tins
  2. probably don’t store your beautifully rendered, precious-as-gold lard in muffin tins (one of the methods i read about); go out and get a nice Ball canning jar. easier to manage and store.
  3. pie crust born of the perfect union of pig and cow can be used for both savory and sweet applications. oh, and from my new vantage point, simply cannot be surpassed.

i introduced the pig and the cow to the chicken (they became fast friends). you’ll find the results here, created mostly with a bunch of leftovers. a rich, hearty filling that takes advantage of  the flavors of seasoned rotisserie chicken. and, of course, topped with that heavenly, flaky, to-die-for crust. sigh.

Odd Couple Chicken Pot Pie
a variation based on a turkey pot pie recipe from Emeril’s TV Dinners

INGREDIENTS

for the pie crust
recipe of your choice. mine new favorite is here. i don’t pretend for one second to know how to make it like Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie, but i aspire to learn one day.

for this recipe, you can choose to have a top and bottom crust or just a top crust. i went with the latter.

for the filling
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion (e.g., Walla Walla, yellow)
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons unbleached organic flour
2 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup diced potatoes (i just cooked small Yukon Golds in boiling for about five minutes, then let cool and cut up) or any leftover potatoes (not mashed!)
1 cup leftover, diced sweet potatoes
1 cup diced carrots (i used whole petite carrots and threw them in with the Yukon Golds for about two minutes)
1 cup sweet young peas, fresh or frozen; defrost if frozen (i used fresh snap peas)
2 cups shredded cooked, leftover rotisserie chicken or turkey

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 375F.
  2. grease a 9-inch square baking dish (i used 4 small, individual casseroles).
  3. heat butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.
  4. add the onions, season with salt and pepper, cook/stir for 2 minutes.
  5. stir in the flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to make a roux.
  6. stir in the chicken stock, and bring the liquid to a boil.
  7. reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 4 to 6 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken.
  8. stir in the half-and-half and continue to cook for another 4 minutes.
  9. season with salt and pepper.
  10. stir in the potatoes, carrots, peas, chicken and any other leftover vegetables.
  11. season to taste.
  12. if you’re using a bottom crust, line the baking dish with the rolled-out crust.
  13. pour the filling into the prepared pan.
  14. place the top crust on top of the filling. unbaked pot pie
  15. carefully tuck the overlapping crusts into the dish, forming a thick edge.
  16. crimp the edges, and cut vents in the top crust.
  17. place the baking dish on a cookie sheet.
  18. bake until the crust is golden brown, around 25 to 30 minutes.
  19. let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

when the pasta’s on the pumpkin

16 October 2009

dj

scout's pumpkin ravioli

ah, fall in the Pacific Northwest. no, the frost isn’t on the pumpkin—yet. but the rain is overflowing the gutters, already laden with pine needles. the leaves of many colors are plastered on the lawn (which is blessedly green again), beaten down from heavy precipitation. our resident rabbits’ cotton tails? completely vanished. the entire warren running rampant and undetected as they blend into the drab landscape. on occasion, there’s a rare glimpse of sunshine. and i experienced one of those golden moments just the other day.

i’d been contemplating what to do with the remaining sugar pie pumpkins i’d picked up at Jones Creek Farm. the cooking-project criteria: creative. a little bit of a challenge. and, oh yeah, delicious. i dug out my recipe binders. pumpkin soup. nope. pumpkin fudge. nope. pumpkin bread. pumpkin pie. nope, nope. pumpkin cheesecake. save for Thanksgiving. pumpkin ravioli. now we’re talkin’.

i began by filling the house with the smell of baked pumpkin. nice. things were already looking up. then, i combined what i felt were the best components of four different recipes to come up with the variation you find here: a sparkling pumpkin ravioli true north. it’s delicate yet rich. with fragrant herbs and a wonderful burst of fall flavors to brighten up any soggy day.

Pumpkin-filled Ravioli with Butter, Sage and Toasted Pine Nuts

a variation based on recipes from Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Giada De Laurentiis and Martha Stewart

INGREDIENTS

for filling
1 small sugar pie pumpkin (about 1 pound) (or 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parrano cheese (or Parmesan cheese)
2 tablespoons butter
salt
pepper

for basic egg pasta
(i made this with my KitchenAid stand mixer and pasta roller attachment, according to the recipe in the provided instructions. there are certainly other recipes and methods, including purchasing sheets of pasta.)
1 3/4 cups of unbleached organic flour
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon water (this is what the KitchenAid recipe calls for; i used nearly 2 1/2 tablespoons to get the desired consistency)
1 egg beaten lightly for egg wash

for sauce
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons of the leftover pasta cooking water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
8 sage leaves

for topping
1/4 cup pine nuts

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. remove stem from pumpkin, and cut in half.
  3. scoop out seeds. (here are a few neat ideas for toasting the seeds as snacks.)
  4. brush surface of each half with sunflower oil.
  5. cover cookie sheet with non-stick foil, and place pumpkin on the cookie sheet pulp side down.
  6. bake for about 1 hour, 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. (Mario’s recipe says to cook the pumpkin for 30 minutes; i don’t know how the pumpkin would soften in that amount of time, but wanted to call it out.)
  7. after the pumpkin has cooled, remove pulp and transfer into a food processor.
  8. puree the pumpkin.
  9. turn the pumpkin into a medium saucepan and add heavy cream and herbs.
  10. cook over low heat for approximately 1 hour, or until the mixture is thick, and the liquid has evaporated. stir occasionally to prevent scorching. (be careful of the splatting hot pumpkin mixture, even at low heat.)
  11. remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter, cheese and nutmeg; salt and pepper to taste; set aside to cool.
  12. make pasta sheets with your chosen methodology. it’s recommended that the sheets be rolled as thinly as possible.
  13. cut the pasta into two sheets and place on a floured surface (i dust parchment paper with flour and place the pasta sheets there).
  14. brush one of the sheets with the egg wash.
  15. using a teaspoon, place 24 equal mounds of the pumpkin mixture on the egg-washed dough, about 2 inches apart.
  16. cover the mounded dough with the second sheet of pasta, and press around the mounds of pumpkin to seal the dough together.
  17. using a sharp knife or a biscuit cutter, cut the ravioli into squares or circles.
  18. press edges together to seal. (i was paranoid of the filling coming out in the boiling water, so i actually crimped the edges with a fork.)
  19. preheat oven to 350F and toast the pine nuts until light, golden brown, about 5 minutes; set aside.
  20. bring 6 quarts of water to a boil; add some salt to the boiling water.
  21. drop ravioli in the water and cook for about 4 minutes. remove the ravioli with a slotted spoon, saving the water.
  22. while pasta cooks, melt the stick of butter in a 12- to 14-inch saute pan with high sides, until the butter begins to foam; be careful not to burn the butter.
  23. add 2 tablespoons of pasta water and balsamic vinegar to the butter and whisk to emulsify.
  24. add sage leaves and ravioli to the pan, tossing gently for about 1 minute to coat pasta with the sauce.
  25. divide ravioli among four warmed plates, and top with pine nuts; serve immediately.

is there really one perfect macaroni and cheese?

11 October 2009

dj

Northwest Mac and Cheese

as a nine year old, i thought my macaroni and cheese casserole reigned supreme. a recipe from the tattered pages of my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cookbook, Best-Ever Macaroni and Cheese took Velveeta to previously unattained heights. my family piled on the praise when i served it. or was that because none of them had to cook that night? and over the years, it’s become the most-requested comfort food of family and friends.

about a week ago, as i strolled through the isles of the local organic market, i spied a display of cheese piled high. unable to resist, i made a beeline for the stack, where i discovered Beecher’s Flagship Reserve. crafted by artisan cheesemakers at Pike Place Market in Seattle, the buttery, award-winning Flagship Reserve is pure heaven. i suddenly had an epiphany: to create the supreme northwest macaroni and cheese dish, with the Flagship Reserve as the star ingredient. when i excitedly told my friend Amy about my new cheese discovery, she said, “oh, yeah, i think Beecher’s has a recipe for mac and cheese using Flagship Reserve.” of course they do. Amy found the recipe for me online, and i couldn’t wait for the weekend to get cooking!

my mom and i drove down to Pike Place Market and picked up the cheese at Beecher’s. tPike Market mascothen we went back to the grocery store to complete our shopping. we first maneuvered through the produce section, and nearly bypassed the seafood counter, UNTIL something pretty and pink caught my eye. cropped crabs legsoh, my gosh. are those fresh Alaskan King Crab Legs? just flown in this morning, said our cheery seafood specialist. i looked at my mom and said with some trepidation, let’s splurge. we got a two-pound cluster and headed for the checkout, before there was any further collateral damage. oh, the price of comfort food.

your macaroni and cheese true north may be filled with gooey Velveeta and topped with seasoned bread crumbs, cherry tomatoes and paprika. or your heart may call you to fulfill your mac-and-cheese destiny with some yet unarticulated recipe. for me, both ways are just about perfect.

i can only describe the following recipe as creamy, rich and deliciously decadent. hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Perfect Northwest Macaroni and Cheese
a variation based on a recipe from Pure Flavor (i’d invite you to review the original recipe as the spice blend differs from my approach.)

INGREDIENTS
12 ounces penne pasta

for sauce
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup unbleached, organic flour
3 cups whole milk
14 ounces grated Beecher’s Flagship Reserve cheese (0r cheddar cheese); about 3 1/2 cups
2 ounces grated Beecher’s Just Jack cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

for topping
2 ounces grated cheddar cheese
2 ounces grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

optional
fresh Alaskan King Crab legs (of the 2-pound cluster purchased, i used half of the actual crab meat in the casserole)

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. butter a 3-quart baking casserole dish. (original recipe recommends a 13-by-9-inch pan. i used a 2-quart casserole and ended up with leftover sauce.)
  3. melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat.
  4. whisk in the flour and continue to whisk for 2 minutes.
  5. slowly add the milk, whisking constantly.
  6. continue to stir, and cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
  7. remove saucepan from heat.
  8. stir in the cheeses and spices, until all the cheese has melted, and ingredients are incorporated (about 3 minutes).
  9. cook the penne pasta  until al dente; drain the water, and place pasta in a large bowl.
  10. pour the sauce over the pasta, add the crab, and mix carefully but thoroughly.
  11. scrape the pasta into the baking dish.
  12. sprinkle the topping cheeses over the pasta.
  13. sprinkle the bread crumbs over the topping cheeses.
  14. bake uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden.
  15. let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

premature for pumpkin? never!

6 October 2009

dj

pumpkin bread pudding servingto most children (and retailers), the pumpkin crop serves as Halloween’s welcome-wagon representative and precursor to candy booty. due to this year’s extraordinarily warm weather, Washington state pumpkins arrived  prematurely, triggering unprecedented, mid-September Halloween excitement. my friends who are parents formulated strategies to delay trips to local pumpkin patches, or at minimum, to postpone carving, so that the orange fruits would survive until the end of October.

to be honest, Halloween has always been my least-favorite holiday. at our house, it felt like an extravaganza. no, my parents didn’t create a scary haunted house for all the neighborhood kids to frequent (thank goodness). but my mom decorated our front porch with crepe paper and other Hallmark paraphernalia, including a giant honeycomb skull that enveloped one of our lampshades. and mom would put one of those little disks at the base of the light bulb to make it flash off and on. sporting an enormous witch’s hat, she greeted everyone at the front door, oohing over their costumes and tossing handfuls of candy into their goodie bags. to preserve our pumpkins, she’d artfully paint their faces in oils, then place them on the front stoop.

painfully shy, i loathed going door to door to trick or treat. and, unlike my extroverted little sister, i didn’t like dressing up as someone (or something) other than myself. until one Halloween, when my parents felt moved to throw a party for me and a group of my friends. mom and dad transformed our basement playroom into a hip, happening party scene. mom made me a costume that matched the outfit of my Mattel Scooba-do talking doll—a scat-singing, long-black-haired beatnik. at the party, we all bobbed for apples. danced to groovy music from The Monkees. and chowed down on never-ending party snacks. even with my sister underfoot, the party rocked. and i’ll always cherish the memory.

clearly for me, the best part of the upcoming holiday is the pumpkins. you’ll find my first recipe of the season here.

an endnote: c’mon, sis – did Scooba-do or any of my other Mattel toys, like my red-headed, bubblecut Barbie, really need haircuts?

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
a variation based on a recipe from everyday FOOD

INGREDIENTS

1 baguette (8 ounces), sliced 1/2 thick (i actually cut the slices into more bite-size pieces)
4 large eggs
4 cups half-and-half
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree, extracted from one good-size sugar pie pumpkin (or 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried tart dried cherries or dried cranberries

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. remove stem from pumpkin, and cut in half.
  3. scoop out seeds. (here are a few neat ideas for toasting the seeds as snacks.)
  4. brush surface of each half with sunflower oil.
  5. cover cookie sheet with non-stick foil, and place pumpkin on the cookie sheet pulp side down.
  6. bake for about 1 hour, 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft.
  7. after the pumpkin has cooled, remove pulp and transfer into a food processor.
  8. puree the pumpkin, and set aside.
  9. butter a 2-quaret shallow or 8-inch square baking dish; set aside.
  10. toast bread on baking sheet at 300F, turning occasionally, until lightly browned (20 – 25 minutes). note: instead of this approach, i just use a stale baguette.
  11. in a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, pumpkin puree, vanilla, brown sugar, spices and salt.
  12. add the bread to the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture.
  13. place a plate small enough to fit inside bowl on top of plastic wrap, then weight down with a can. this ensures the bread will soak up the custard and results in a velvety consistency.
  14. place in fridge, and let the mixture soak until saturated, about 25 minutes.
  15. if you haven’t used the oven yet, preheat to 300F.
  16. transfer mixture to prepared baking dish, spreading evenly.
  17. sprinkle the dried fruit over the mixture, allowing some to sink in.
  18. bake on a rimmed baking sheet until firm, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 – 70 minutes.

serve this comforting, sweetly spiced autumn pudding warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar and/or top with whipped cream. or a splash of half-and-half. of course, appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner.