Thursday, December 20, 2007

Beans, Beans, Good for Your Heart...

Ah, beans. Gotta love the little gassy devils! I love just about every bean and/or lentil that crosses my path; however, just like the Alka Seltzer commercial; they don't always love me back. It sucks getting old. Dutch oven!

Ha! Just kidding (not really). Anywho, it's a strange thing that sometimes I make a tasty beanie dish and I'm fine, but other times, I'm tootin' right along. My favorite bean dish is an exquisite Mediterranean number that I can eat happily cold or at room temperature. It's great as either a side dish or as the main act, and it simply sings for a glass of red wine for accompaniment.

The original recipe called for cannelloni beans (no go for me), then I tried Northern beans (can I get a toot-toot?). However, I've yet to try this with chickpeas, but I bet that would be wonderful too. I usually make this when hubby is out of town on a business trip. No prisoners darlings!

Tomato, Basil, and White-Bean Salad

1 eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
2 cans (19 oz) cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
½ lb small roma (plum) tomatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup EVOO
3 garlic cloves, minced (sometimes I use 4-5...I love garlic)
Juice from 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place sliced eggplant on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil, and dust with salt and pepper. Roast eggplant till lightly toasted; remove from oven and cool. Combine beans, tomatoes, basil, and salt in a bowl, and season with pepper. Dice cooled eggplant and add to bean mixture. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sautee garlic and cook, stirring till fragrant, but not browned, 1 ½ - 2 minutes. Pour over bean mixture, add lemon juice, and gently toss. Let stand 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld. Salad can be covered and kept at room temp for up to 4 hours.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Best Thing on Sliced Bread

Want to make something that takes you back to memories of apples, cinnamon, and all things good? Then my friends, I will submit to you my most favorite canning recipe (at the time being): Apple Pie Jam

This jam is so completely different from all others, yet so simple and well rounded. It will make you swoon. I did. Best of all, if you take the lid(s) off and microwave this loverliness in the microwave, you have the most fan-friggin-tastic ice-cream sauce. Pour it over vanilla ice-cream with some graham cracker crumbs, and you will slap your booty and say, "Day-yumm!"

This recipe is another jem from The Cooking Forum and I give many props to Linda Lou for sharing it with us.

Linda Lou's Apple Pie Jam
Makes 5, half pints

4 cups tart apples, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 box pectin
1/2 teaspoon butter

Add water to chopped apples to measure 4 cups total. Measure sugars and set aside. Place apples and water into large, heavy saucepan. Stir in lemon juice, cinnamon and allspice. Stir pectin into fruit. Add butter. Bring mixture to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Quickly stir in both sugars. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon. Ladle quickly into hot, clean jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands on finger tight. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm not Doing so Bad!

The James Beard Book Awards Committee has released a list of their top 20 cookbooks in honor of their 20th anniversary. Hmmm, let’s see…I have about 5 of these at home. I guess I have good taste! How many do you have? What do you think of these books if you have them?

1. American Cookery by James Beard (BBS Publishing, 1996).

2. Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Rick Bayless (William Morrow, 2007).

3. Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (Better Homes and Gardens, 2004).

4. Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni (William Morrow, 1980).

5. Complete Techniques by Jacques Pepin and Leon Pererr (Black Dog and Leventhal, 2001).

6. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (Macmillan, 1995).

7. How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman (Wiley, 2006).

8. The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (Scribner, 2006).

9. The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Book (Countryman Press, 2003).

10. Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts by Maida Heatter (Andrews McMeel, 1999).

11. Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook by Martha Stewart (Clarkson Potter, 1999).

12. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck (Knopf, 2001).

13. The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes by Barbara Tropp (William Morrow, 1996).

14. The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst (Barron Educational Series, 2007).

15. The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson (Oxford University Press, 2007).

16. Rick Stein's Complete Seafood by Rick Stein (Ten Speed Press, 2004).

17. The Silver Palate Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso (Workman, 2007).

18. The Thrill of the Grill: Techniques, Recipes and Down-Home Barbecue by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (William Morrow, 2002).

19. Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison (Broadway, 2007).

20. The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Knopf, 1993).

Friday, December 07, 2007

He Lived

Update: Hubby made it home fine last night. He "forgot" to call. I beat him with an empty wrapping paper roll.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Party and A Funeral

Tomorrow morning I have a funeral to attend. This is the second one I've been to this year, and I have to tell you; it's been a strange year. The funeral for tomorrow is for a coworker that I worked with not to long ago. It's a strange situation, but she had some serious health problems and it's thought that she overdosed on drugs and alcohol. She just couldn't take it anymore. Very sad.

This is a depressing thing to go into just before the holidays. My mind starts to panic and wander and it doesn't help that hubby is on a business trip with plans to come home tonight. I spoke to him around noon today and he said he would call from the airport before his flight. His flight was supposed to leave around 8 p.m. and I haven't heard from him. It's almost 9 p.m. He never says he's going to call and then not. Never.

So, to keep myself busy and from turning into Chicken Little, I'm wrapping Christmas presents. I drive myself crazy by asking, "Am I wrapping for a dead person?" That's fucked up, right? I know I have issues, so let's not go there. Anyway, when he gets home, I'm going to kill him! I mean, who goes on a business trip 3 weeks before Christmas to an area with bad weather and not call??!

And then to end a weird, manic day, we're going to a Christmas party tomorrow night! Strange days indeed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I Can Haz a Hiztory?

Oh, hai. So this teh story of cheezeberger?

Monday, December 03, 2007

And the Skies Parted; Angels Sang

A miracle of miracles happened this weekend my friends. For the very first time, out of my many attempts, I successfully made marmalade. I’m talking no pectin here. Real, honest-to-God marmalade. This may not sound like much, but for me, it was a sign of hope.

You see, I have a shady history with marmalade. For the longest time, I’ve labeled myself as “Marmalade Challenged” in the canning and preserving department. Every year it seems I would offer my sacrificial offerings to the Marmalade Gods, and be rewarded with either some sort of syrup or something completely inedible. Every other canning or preserving project I’ve set out to try has turned out beautifully, except marmalade. It always eluded me. I could never figure out what I was doing wrong. If I were Mel Gibson, marmalade would be my rocking chair from the movie The Patriot.

And it was so disappointing. I live in Florida. I have friends and family who willingly GIVE me free access to all sorts of wonderful, fresh, organic citrus fruit year round. I’m talking Key Limes, Kumquats, Persian Limes, Grapefruit, Honey Bell Tangelos, Navels, Tangerines, Meyers Lemons, and many more. There they sat. Taunting me.

I’ve read somewhere that expectations are just premature disappointments, so this year, I let go of any expectations. I figured it was time for another batch of “Maybe Orange Marmalade”, which by the way, made a fabulous syrup for Asian sauces and flavoring for buttercream icing. So, off I went. I found a reliable recipe, followed it to the letter, and to my thrill, found it starting to come to the gel stage towards the end of processing. Eureka! Of course, I haven’t tried the final, canned product (only what I tasted on a spoon), and it was fabulous. But at least I’m on the right track!

Orange Marmalade
(makes 7-8 half pints)

4 med oranges (I used a slightly sour Honey Bell Tangelo. Try to stay away from overly sweet oranges like Navels)
2 large lemons
8 cups water
8 cups sugar

Cut each orange and lemon in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut the oranges and lemons into very thin slices. You could probably use a mandoline, but I’ve never had much success with mine using citrus. Place the citrus slices and any reserved juices into a large stockpot. Add the water and bring to a boil, stirring often. Remove from heat and add the sugar; stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place a lid on your pot and let the orange mixture sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, bring orange mixture back to a boil, then lower temperature to a steady simmer. Simmer orange mixture for 2 hours, stirring often. After 2 hours, bring heat back up to medium-high and boil for 30 minutes to gel stage (220 degrees). The orange mixture should have a dark golden orange color. Ladle hot orange mixture into prepared canning jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

All Dressed Up For Christmas

Oh, and the mustard I made earlier was a bust. The Oktoberfest mustard still tasted awful, but the Ginger Garlic mustard improved quite a bit and has good potential. I’ll post that recipe soon. Till next time darlings!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Theme Day?

You know, I've been thinking about having a theme day here at JTRS, but I'm having a hard time trying to figure out what I want to talk about besides food.

I know! How about a "William Shatner Tuesday"? Yes? No? One can never have enough William Shatner in their lives, don't 'cha know.


Monday, November 26, 2007

How'd It Go?

Well, we made it. We made it through the fuss and muss in the kitchen, the cleanup, the…ugh, leftovers. We made it through the “fun” in dysfunctional family members, Black Friday, and “The After Thanksgiving 5” (the five pounds you inevitably gain). Whew!

As I mentioned earlier, hubby and I had the day all to ourselves. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel your pain. I knew you were working hard, dear readers, and I was there with you in thought and prayer. I’ve been there too. Oh yes. I have.

This past year has been more than hectic for both of us, so we just thought we’d pull into ourselves and stay close to home. It was worth it and quite a treat. But since Thanksgiving is the Holy Grail of holidays for us foodies, I couldn’t let the day pass without putting in some effort.

Now, some people are pretty much forced to stay within the comfort zone of cuisine for Turkey Day. Heaven forbid you don’t make the dreaded Green Bean Casserole, or Aunt So-and-So’s favorite dressing. But I think that’s comfort in itself. There is comfort in tradition, and it’s one of the few things we can rely on and look forward to each year. I usually make a big batch of brandied cherries every year. Last year I didn’t and I thought there was going to be a mutiny. “Ye’ will walk the plank for such insufferable grog! Arrrgh!”

I think they just wanted the booze.

Others like to experiment and try new things. I’m in that camp for sure. Whether it’s a new appetizer or side dish, Thanksgiving is the one time I’m pretty much guaranteed to have a captive audience and honest feedback. So true to form, I tried two new dishes, even if it was just the two of us. The first was a Potato and Gruyere casserole; sort of like a grown-up scalloped potatoes. Second was a Tried-and-True goodie that’s been haunting The Cooking Forum for several years and I just never got around to making it. It’s called Cranberry Jezebel and I could have eaten a whole bowl by myself. Where have I been?

Potato and Gruyere Casserole
Recipe Source: Southern Living

Note: The jury is still out on this dish. I can’t decide if this was “special” or if it was a waste of a healthy wedge of gruyere. Try it; you might like it.

12 med Yukon gold potatoes
2 tsps salt, divided
2 T butter
1 large sweet onion, chopped
½ teaspoon pepper
2 cups shredded Gruyere (may sub Swiss or Cheddar)
Cream sauce

Peel and thinly slice pototoes. Bring potatoes, 1 tsp salt, and water to cover to a boil in a large saucepan. Cook 8-10 minutes; remove from heat; drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over med-high heat, add chopped onion and sauté 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Layer half the potatoes in a large 13x9-inch greased baking dish, sprinkle with ¼ tsp of salt & ¼ tsp pepper. Top with half each of the onions, Gruyere, and cream sauce. Repeat layers once, ending with cream sauce. Bake at 350 for 1 hours and 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cream Sauce

¼ cup butter
1/3 cup all purp flour
2 ½ cups milk
1 cup dry white whine
¼ tsp salt

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk and wine; cook over med heat, whisking constantly, 18-20 minutes or until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in salt.

Cranberry Jezebel

Note: This was SOOO good!

12 oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c. water
3/4 c. white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
3 Tablespoons horseradish
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

Wash and pick over the berries. Put water and sugars in saucepan (large enough to prevent boil over) and bring to a boil, add berries and return to a boil, cook on medium for 15 to 20 minutes from the time it returns to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cool to lukewarm then stir in horseradish and Dijon mustard. Refrigerate for a few hours at least and enjoy!

Additional Notes from others: Reduce the amount of white sugar and substitute some fresh-squeezed orange juice for some, or all of the water. I also like to add a couple tablespoons of Cointreau. Sometimes I'll stir in a little orange zest along with the horseradish and Dijon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This is It!

This is it. This is the time where many self-proclaimed foodies are frothing at the mouth and pacing their kitchens with nervous anxiety. There may even be a few panic attacks thrown in. Definitely exhaustion. Many are cooking for “T-Day” even as I write this post.

Me? I’ve been sick. Yesterday, I spent the entire day on the couch watching (hallucinating?) a full weekday’s worth of the Food Network. This was a rare treat for me, as I usually am entirely too busy on the weekends or weekday evenings to indulge. But thanks to a virus going around the office, I was forced to remain supine for several days straight. What better way to spend the time than to watch the unfolding Thanksgiving Day Frenzy?

Every single show was zeroed in on prepping, roasting, and baking for the big day. With the exception of Tyler Florence (he made some outstanding meatballs and spaghetti), I was fascinated by all the different bird roasting going on and varieties of stuffing and dressing. See, I could never understand the difference. I guess stuffing goes into the bird, and dressing is cooked on the outside. Maybe I’m wrong. Growing up, we always called it stuffing, no matter how it was cooked.

Alton Brown did his brining. Robin Miller cut her bird up into pieces prior, which allowed for faster roasting time. Ina Garten roasted straight on the pan (no roaster rack?). And the ever efficient Rachel Ray didn’t’ waste any time and roasted two gorgeous turkey breasts. No pieces-parts for that lady; no siree!

Speaking of Rachel, somewhere in my over-the-counter cold and flu induced hallucinations, I had a dream that I was on the Rachel Ray show. We were laughing, and she told me a joke. I responded, “Get right out of town!” and we laughed some more. Then she said, “Your face is so red right now!” and we laughed again. Then I woke up and rolled over to see Rachel on t.v.; she was grating some carrots for a leftover turkey shepherd’s pie or something. That’s some damn good cold and flu medicine!

Then there was the stuffing-dressing sessions. Rachel made “stuffin’ muffins” where the stuffing was scooped into individual muffin tins and baked. Each person got their own “stuffin’ muffin”. Then there was the onslaught of ingredients: nuts, carrots, apples, oysters, onion, celery, rice, etc. It seems stuffing-dressing can be just about anything as long as it has bread. Everyone has their own recipe. Me? I prefer my mom’s sausage stuffing, which is really simple and of course, my favorite.

Hubby and I will be having ham and scalloped potatoes. It’s just the two of us this year, as the family will be celebrating further south. Whatever you’re doing, and however you’re making it, I hope you and your family have a safe, blessed, and happy Thanksgiving.

Back to the couch!

Friday, November 16, 2007

I Don't Know Who Beatty Is...

Oh, chocolate. Oh, chocolate. You are my favorite cake flavor of all. From the moment you’re mixed into a sinful batter, to the decadent frosting, you have me dancing around the kitchen like a giddy school girl. And then, in a glimpse; I’m a woman, and have urges to do naughty things with you that involve my husband. Oh, chocolate; where have you been?

I can’t remember the last time I made a chocolate cake. There’s something about it that immediately takes me back to childhood; with smudged faces, and lots of giggling. Big, sloppy kisses. It’s no wonder that eating chocolate makes you happy; it evokes the same rush you feel when you’re in love. Sigh.

Now, I’m a pretty lucky girl. Not only does the company I work for tolerate me bringing in my baked goods on regular basis; they actually pay me to bake the monthly birthday cake. Sweet! So, this month, I had a special request to make a chocolate-chocolate cake. Where, oh where, do I start? There are a million chocolate cake recipes out there!

As it went, I started with a reliable source in Ina Garten. I like Ina. She’s elegant, simple, quality, and has an affinity for kosher salt, which is alright by me. In her latest book, “Barefoot Contessa at Home,” I found heaven in a chocolate cake recipe created by a woman named Beatty. Now, I don’t know who Beatty is, but she sure makes a mean chocolate cake! Friends, this has got to be the best chocolate cake yet. I'm talking the best I've ever had. Repeat.

I’ve. Ever. Had.

And let me tell you, in my 20 years of baking; I’ve made a lot of chocolate cakes. This cake wasn’t too rich, too sweet, or overwhelmingly chocolatey. It was simply perfect: dark, moist, had a zen balance between the icing and the cake, and was darn easy to make!

So, as I skip around the kitchen, licking the leftovers off the mixer paddle, I will leave you with this wonderful recipe. Please make it; you won’t be disappointed. Beatty, whoever you are; I thank you.

Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
Recipe source: “Barefoot Contessa at Home”

1 ¾ All purpose flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cup good cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (I used large)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8-inch round cake pans for baking (butter, flour, etc.). Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into your mixing bowl. Mix using a paddle attachment on low speed until combined. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients. Next, add the coffee and mix until combined; scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans (it will be a very wet batter), and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting

6 ounces of good semisweet chocolate (I used chips and they worked fine)
2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature (I used large)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 T instant coffee powder

Place chocolate in a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup and melt over a double-boiler. I used the microwave for the chips and that worked fine for me. Be careful not to introduce any water into the chocolate when melting, or it will seize. After melted, set chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat at medium-high speed with a paddle attachment until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue to beat for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping the mixer bowl down with a rubber spatula. In a small glass, dissolve coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of very hot tap water, then add to butter mixture. Add chocolate to butter mixture and continue to beat at medium speed until thoroughly combined. Don’t whip! Spread immediately onto cooled cake.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mean Mrs. Mustard

…Works in the shop,
She never stops,
She’s a go-getter…

I know that verse is about a woman named Pam, but I couldn't get that song out of my head when thinking of a title for this post. Ahem.

I love long weekends. One of the benefits of working for the government is the government holidays. I have tomorrow off, which is Veterans Day, and that makes for a nice, long weekend. This means I have more time to experiment in the kitchen and play with savory and spicy concoctions like mustard.

You see, I wanted to try a different approach this holiday season when it came to gift giving. For the past few years, I’ve been giving home preserved goodies in the form of jellies, jams, relishes, and salsas as small gifts for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They weren’t much, really. Just a little extra something outside of the ordinary cookie swap or holiday greeting card. It’s taken a little while to get my coworkers used to home preserved goods. I remember the first time I brought some in to give away; they looked at me like I had grown antlers out of my head. I guess people in Florida don’t can as much as they do up in the Midwest or further north, but now my coworkers snatch up any and everything I’m willing to share. They know a good thing now!

So this year, I thought I’d try my hand at mustard and maybe some other homemade condiments. Everyone loves ketchup and mustard, right? The new Ball Blue Book, “The Complete Book of Home Preserving” came out last year and included some spiffy new recipes for home preserved mustard. I decided to try the Ginger Garlic Mustard and the Oktoberfest Beer Mustard. My overall opinion of both mustards was meh. They both tasted especially bitter and not very mustardy at all. The mustard seeds I used were fresh from Penzey’s Spices, so I know the ingredient quality was there. Anyway, I’m glad that both recipes only made 4-5, 4 oz. jars, so at least I don’t have a million of these little jars to give away.

I’ve heard these things need to “age” a little while, so I’ve a little time to wait and see. If you're one of my family or friends reading this, try to act surprised when you get one of these as a gift, 'kay?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Big, Fat Juicy Ones!

When I was a little girl and went to the local Girl’s Club after school, we used to sing this really disgusting song about eating worms. It went something like this:

Nobody likes me;
Everybody hates me;
I’m gonna eat some wor-or-orms.

Big, fat, juicy ones!
Long, skinny, slimy ones!
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy wor-or-orms!

Well, this past week, my friends, I ate some big, fat, juicy worms. First, they were gently poached in a sea-salt seasoned (nice alliteration!) bath. Next, they were generously tossed with some homemade pasta sauce, courtesy of Marcella Hazan, “The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”. Finally, they were dusted with freshly grated Romano cheese, and eaten with gusto. Yum!

Are you kidding me? Actually, I decided to make gnocchi from scratch. Remember the roasted turkey from last week? Well, you have to have mashed potatoes with roasted turkey, which left me with said leftovers for gnocchi. Marcella describes how to roll the gnocchi dough on the back of a fork and then finish with some sort of flicking action, but I didn’t get the hang of it. My gnocchi came out looking like worms. If fact, I commented they looked so much like bot fly larvae that I won’t go near the things. I can’t eat them. Just the sight of the doughy little dumplings staring back at me from their Tupperware container in the refrigerator makes me want to run around the kitchen and flap my arms.

In case you’re interested, I followed a gnocchi recipe I collected from a Williams and Sonoma catalog last year. It’s pretty good, and very easy to make, if you can get over the whole worm thing.

Homemade Gnocchi
Recipe from Williams and Sonoma

4 large russet potatoes, about 2 1/4 lb. total
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
Fresh tomato sauce for serving

Directions: Peel and prepare the potatoes as you would for mashed potatoes. Place the prepped potatoes in boiling water and cook until fork tender. When potatoes are ready, remove them from the boiling water and process through a potato ricer or chinois. It is important to have completely lump-free mashed potatoes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot over high heat, bring 6 quarts salted water to a boil. Line a baking sheet with a lightly floured kitchen towel or paper towels. Mound the potatoes on a lightly floured work surface and make a well in the center. Pour the eggs into the well. Season the potatoes with salt, nutmeg and white pepper. Sprinkle 1 cup of the flour over the potatoes. Using a fork, gradually blend the eggs with the potato mixture. Using your hands, mix the dough, adding more flour as needed to form a firm but moist dough; do not overwork. The mixing process should take no more than 5 minutes.

Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 3⁄4 inch thick, flouring the work surface as needed so the dough is not too sticky. Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces and gently roll each piece on a gnocchi ridger. Place the gnocchi on the prepared baking sheet. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the tomato sauce. Working in batches, cook the gnocchi in the boiling water for 5 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the pan with the sauce and toss to combine. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Late to the Party

For the past year, I’ve watched the whole No Knead Bread craze from afar. I was skeptical dear readers, as is my nature when something appears to be too easy. You see, several years ago, I wanted to learn how to make bread. I mean really learn how to make a good loaf of bread. I had dabbled a little into bread making when I was a chef, but never had the chance to really get the hang of it, so I decided that it was time to get my feet wet.

Whenever I want to learn about something that really interests me, I jump in completely. I almost become obsessed. I buy and read books, I find online forums, I watch videos, I read blogs, I pick people’s brains; it’s all consuming. So, two years ago I did just that with bread. For a whole year, I made bread from scratch every weekend. The King Arthur Flour website became my favorite haunt. I nurtured poolishes, and sour dough starters of every shape and size. I bought a baking stone and a baking peel. I had a large assortment of flours and grains, depending on what I was in the mood for or what I wanted to tackle next. I had bread baking containers of every size and element. My husband was in heaven. Who wouldn’t want homemade, fresh bread every weekend?

So when I felt comfortable with what I had learned and experienced, I backed off. I never wanted to become a bread making expert, but just wanted to really learn it well. You know, just in case. But most importantly, I wanted to understand the science behind bread baking. I’m kinda nerdy that way.

So, this weekend I decided to give this No Knead Bread thing a try, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a good loaf of bread! I knew it would be good because it sang the Crackling, Cooling Bread Song after I pulled it out of the oven. What’s that? You aren’t familiar with the Crackling, Cooling Bread Song? Well, when a rustic loaf of bread is baked to perfection, it makes crackling noises as it cools; the signal to a perfect, crunchy crust. It’s a beautiful thing!

So, if you haven’t joined the party darlings, put on those cute little sling-back heels and your best cocktail dress and come on over! Fashionably late is so couture!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Just Like Momma Did It

This weekend, I decided to make a Thanksgiving feast. What’s that you say? Thanksgiving isn’t for another 3 or 4 weeks? Why go to all that trouble?

Because I wanted to, and darn it I like turkey!

It’s a shame we limit ourselves to having certain culinary treats to one or two times a year, and only on special occasions. Oh I understand the traditions and all; nothing says Thanksgiving to me more than turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, but why wait for special occasions? Why not make every day, and every meal a special occasion?

All this turkey goodness originated from Ree over at The Pioneer Woman Cooks, where she was discussing (and showing) just how truly easy it is to brine a turkey. A lot of people are hesitant to brine a turkey, and I really think it’s the salt factor and the possibility of ruining an expensive (and important) meal. People worry about making the bird too salty or the resulting meat quality afterwards. Plus there’s all the preparation work, and waiting, and hoping you made the right salt-to-water-to-bird-weight-ratio. It IS intimidating. But is brining the way to go?

Now I have brined with the best of them. Alton Brown turned me on to brining several years ago and got me thinking about moist turkey possibilities. Still not entirely brave enough to try brining, years later I saw another wonderful example described in Pam Anderson’s “The Best Recipe” and decided that I would brine the next turkey I roasted. By that time, I had seen my sister-in-law brine a turkey, and I really did notice a considerable difference in the bird’s moistness and flavor. No more chalky, dried out turkey breast! So, off I went into The Brining Bird Abyss and never looked back.

So here I was this past weekend, drooling for dark meat and gravy, but didn’t want to go through the hassle of brining a turkey. Then I remembered when I was a little girl, my mom used to roast her turkey and pot-roasts in one of those oven roaster bags, and never had any dryness or flavor issues. Of course, I’m biased and everything my mom made was wonderful, but I thought, “What ever happened to those oven roaster bags? Why don’t people use those things anymore?”

Now, from what I understand, when you cook a turkey in one of those oven roaster bags, you are basically steaming the bird. Moisture can’t effectively escape, and viola, you have a moist bird. Not to mention you also get the best turkey juice for gravy! But the drawback is the bird doesn’t end up looking like a picture-perfect, roasted turkey. Usually, the thing just falls apart, and if you’re a crisp, turkey skin lover, you’re in for a big disappointment. The end result is a pasty, steamy creature that once resembled the turkey you placed in the bag three hours ago. But it tastes great!

So, this got me thinking. Surely there had to be a way to get the moist, flavorful benefits from one of those oven roaster bags, yet have a presentable, brown and crispy bird.

It turns out all I needed was a pair of scissors!

I did a little research and found out from some of my Cooking Jedi Masters over at The Cooking Forum that oven roaster bags work wonderfully for turkey if you cut the bag open about 45 minutes before it is done roasting. This gives the skin a chance to brown up without the bird drying out; all the steamy goodness has already happened. The rest is just vanity.

So, I went out and bought a nice 16 lb. turkey and gave it a shot. A little salt and pepper, a little seasoning, a sliced lemon and onion in the cavity, and three hours later I had turkey nirvana! Perfectly moist in every way and a nice brown skin. Heaven! I’ll never go back to brining and all that trouble, unless I’m trying to impress someone with my cooking repertoire.

So I guess what’s old can be new again. I’m good with that just as long as they don’t bring back those nasty aspic or jello salads. You know the ones with chicken livers or shredded carrots? Shudder.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Salsa, Lies, and Videotape

I like to be proven wrong, especially when it comes to my convictions and cooking. For example, when Molly over at Orangette teased her readers with the simplicity of a buttery tomato sauce, I thought “It couldn’t possibly be that easy. Surely there must be something missing!” But as Molly has faithfully proven to me before, simple can work. She’s a very trustworthy person, that Molly. She’s even convinced me to eat brussel sprouts. Sneaky!

I was convinced the Beer and Gingerbread recipe was a spoof. Not only do I have reservations about using a boxed cake mix (the recipe calls for 2 boxes), but it contained thick, dark beer. A lot of beer. But as I mixed and tsked my way through the cake and buttercream directions, I was stunned to find potential. The buttercream actually tasted better than my usual recipe I use from Wilton! Of course, I could not leave well enough alone and I modified the original buttercream recipe. It initially called for an all butter buttercream, but I find those icings to be too rich.

A mixture of half butter and half shortening cuts down on the richness factor, but not the fat. Hey, it's cake isn’t it? I also added a tablespoon of meringue powder, as called for in the Wilton buttercream recipes, as I think it adds more body and flavor. And then of course there is the beer; a full quarter cup of beer in the icing. The actual cake batter calls for 2 ½ cups!

All in all, it turned out surprisingly tasty and moist. Unless you knew it had beer in the ingredients, you wouldn’t be able to taste it, but it did have one of those “I can’t quite figure out what's in this” moments. It’s not something I would make on a regular basis, but I would definitely make it for an Octoberfest themed party.

On a different note, I made some lovely Peach Salsa this weekend. This past year has sent me into experimenting with different salsas that I could home can (preserve). There are tons of recipes out there for home preserved salsa; however, nothing compares to Annie’s Salsa, and it’s the only true tomato salsa I’ll make. All the others taste the same and don’t compare. But lately, I’ve been trying different kinds like this zesty peach variation. Of course I tweaked the recipe and added some fresh lime juice, a little bit more honey, and a touch of salt. Next, I’ll venture into a spicy little cranberry number that I’ve had on file for a while, but have never tried. Ole!

Take a look; isn’t it pretty!

Kathy's Peach Salsa

6 cups peaches -- diced
1 1/4 cups red onion -- chopped
4 jalapeno peppers -- chopped*
1 red pepper -- chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro -- loosely packed
1/2 cup white vinegar
¼ cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons honey
3 cloves garlic -- finely chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon canning salt

Place all ingredients in a heavy 8 quart saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Pack into prepared hot jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (0-1000 ft.), 15 minutes (1001-6000 ft.), and 20 minutes (above 6000 ft.). Makes 3 pints.

*We like it a little spicy, so I leave all of the seeds and ribs.

Note: If you do not do your own home preserving, follow the recipe prior to packing the salsa in the jars and chill for several hours before serving.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Beer and Gingerbread

O.k., I know I haven’t been here for a while, and I don’t really have much of an excuse, but I promise you dear readers that I will do my best to be faithful, and maybe even a little witty, from now until...well, from now on. Please forgive me.

When people ask me if I cook with beer or wine, I can’t help but want to blurt a little silliness, “Sure! And sometimes I even put it in the food!” But in reality, I do like to cook with booze on occasion. There’s the ol’ reliable slow cooker pot roast, with either a healthy slug of beer or wine depending on the end result, or whatever I feel like finishing off with a glass on my own. There’s beer bread and even savory cheddar beer soup, which my mother adored. There are silky sauces to be made from classy bottles of Italian Barolo. Then there’s deglazing, and marinating, grilling, and zesty batters. So many options! But in all my experience as a cook, I’ve never heard of using beer, especially very stout beer, for baking a cake. The very thought of it makes my face do funny things and strange noises come out of my mouth.

This month’s issue of Southern Living magazine has devoted an entire set of recipes to cooking with beer. Oh, I can understand the connection, what with it being October and all, but sometimes I think you can take a thing too far. The very first recipe is a Gingerbread and Beer Cake with Stout Buttercream. Not only do you put beer in the cake batter, you add it to the icing too! Ugh. But Southern Living’s test kitchen “has given it their highest rating,” so I’m off to give it a try, mostly out of sheer curiosity.


design + development by kelly christine studio