Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Things we know how to do...

Sometimes it's all about doing simple things well. And learning to do them well takes trial and error and lots and lots of practice. Years later, it may dawn on you that...hey, I've got this thing down!

One of the things that is bordering on perfection in my house is my roommate's method of making oven-roasted potatoes. I have made them myself many times, of course, but Cyd's always come out SO much better! So I finally pinned her down and made her describe her technique in as much detail as she could muster. Simple, but simply delectable! Here are her directions:

Cyd's Oven-Roasted Potatoes

Wash but do not peel your potatoes. Cut into big but still bite-sized chunks (for an average-sized potato, in half, then in sixths). Throw them into something like a glass oblong baking dish, and toss the potatoes with enough olive oil to coat. Then add some stock (preferably, vegetable but whatever you have on hand will do) about halfway up the potatoes. Season liberally with coarse salt and pepper (or your favorite seasoning blend) and lots of minced garlic. Also, feel free to throw in any herbs that you like--fresh thyme is a favorite here or rosemary. Just squish the whole herbs down into the broth.

Roast uncovered at 450 degrees for about an hour or until fork-tender inside and browned outside. (Keep adding a little stock as it cooks off, until the potatoes are almost completely tender, then let them finish roasting until they are as crispy as you want them to be.) Cyd says the "secrets" are the vegetable broth for extra flavor and the high roasting temperature to get them all lovely and browned.

The second thing that I've decided is ready to be shared with the world is my method of making a pork roast. We've all had a lot of dry, flavorless pork roasts in past, and I am making it my business to rid the world of the inedible lot of them! Now, parts of my "recipe" may sound a little weird--like ill-advised Asian-German fusion perhaps--but please trust me when I say that this combination of flavors is divine and perfectly enhances the succulent porkiness of the roast. Here's what you do:

Gina's Slow-Braised Fusion Pork Roast

You start with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a 5-qt. stock pot. (You could also do this in a large skillet and then transfer to a slow cooker.) Rub a 3-4 lb. pork SHOULDER roast (avoid the loin roast...it is usually dry no matter how long you braise it) all over with salt, pepper and granulated garlic, or your favorite seasoning blend plus extra garlic and pepper. Brown in the olive oil on all sides. Chop up a large onion, and once the roast is browned, toss the onion in and cook until translucent in the fond (the browned bits on the bottom).

At this point, you could transfer this to a crock pot and then continue with the following instructions. To the pot, add two cups of stock (vegetable or beef), and a pound of sauerkraut. (Even if you think you don't like sauerkraut like I used to believe, add it anyway! You won't be sorry!) Also shake on about a tablespoon each of worcestershire sauce and soy sauce--I usually use reduced sodium.

Cover the pot, and braise in a low oven (275 degrees) for about 2 1/2 hours. Halfway through, turn the roast, and I like to coat the top with some of the juicy sauerkraut to keep everything moist. After 2 1/2 hours, I flip the roast again, cover it, and put it back in the oven which I then turn off. I let the roast sit in the still-warm oven for about a half an hour while I get on with my sides. Homemade mashed potatoes are a must, topped with some of that savory sauerkraut, and then a green veggie to give you the illusion that you're eating healthy. ;-)

*Just the most delicious, most comforting meal EVER that will surely warm you up now that the weather has become brisk. Make one for yourself soon, and then leave a comment to thank me for my gastronomical genius. Tee hee.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Anne's Appetizing Autumnals

Food Network strikes again! There I was, minding my own business, watching an episode of "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef," when that Anne Burrell goes and makes the most FABULOUS autumnal menu that I had to try and recreate immediately! The entree was a chicken and butternut squash pot pie, but as I had sweet potatoes on hand and some kale (left over from the kale chips), I made chicken, sweet potato and kale pot pies. YUM!

And though it's extra work to make the crust yourself, Anne's recipe is made decadent and delectable with cream cheese, and almost comes out like a cross between pie crust and a biscuit--flaky and DEE-LICIOUS! Only one word of caution: I ended up with enough filling for four small pies, one double-sized one, and I had the remaining cup or so over rice for lunch at work one day. Sheesh! But no biggie. The pies freeze beautifully, so you might as well make several while you're in the making mode.

Autumn Chicken Pot Pie(s)
Food Network, "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" with Anne Burrell)

For the crust:
1 stick butter, cut into pea-size pieces
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into pieces 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
pinch kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1 to 2 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:
extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
3 pounds skinless chicken legs and thighs (I used boneless/skinless thighs)
4 cups rich chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (I used sweet potatoes)
1 1/2 cups 1/2-inch pieces haricots verts
*I also added a couple of cups of kale, stemmed and chopped
6 sage leaves, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of water, for egg wash

To make the crust: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the butter, cream cheese, flour and salt. Pulse to combine. Pulse, pulse, pulse until the ingredients start to come together and resembles Parmesan. Add the egg yolk and one tablespoon of water. Pulse a couple of more times until the ingredients start to form a ball. If the mixture is exceedingly wet, add some more flour. Or conversely, if the mix is dry, dry, dry, add in a few more drops of water.

When the mixture has come together into a ball, turn it out onto a floured work surface and knead it a couple of times to help it come together. Dust it with flour, form it into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use. This can be done a day ahead.

Cook's Note: When ready to use the dough, remove it from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before rolling, to allow it to warm up and soften.

To make the filling:

Coat the bottom of a stock pot lightly with olive oil put over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and the carrots and sprinkle with salt, to taste. Saute the vegetables for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sweat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt, then add the chicken and the chicken stock. If the stock doesn't cover the chicken, add water until it does. Bring the stock to a boil, over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the chicken is simmering, add the butternut squash to a large bowl, drizzle with some olive oil and add salt, to taste. Toss to coat the squash with the oil and transfer to a baking sheet. Roast until the squash is cooked but still has some texture, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Remove the chicken and vegetables from the stock and put into a large bowl. Reserve the stock. When the cool enough to handle, remove the bones from the chicken and stir into the vegetables. Add the roasted squash to the chicken and vegetables. Stir to combine and season with salt, if needed. Stir in the haricots verts and the chopped sage.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir to combine with melted butter. Cook stirring frequently until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand and is starting to turn a little beige, about 6 to 7 minutes. Gradually whisk in the reserved chicken stock. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. When the stock is combined into the roux, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until it has a gravy-like consistency, about 20 to 25 minutes. If the gravy reduces too much and becomes too thick, whisk in a little more chicken stock or water.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Add the chicken mixture into a 2-quart casserole dish or 4 individual (2 cup) crocks. Ladle the "gravy" over the chicken mixture until the dish(s) are 3/4 filled. (I combined the chicken filling and the sauce, and then filled my dishes.)

Dust a clean work surface with flour and roll the dough into the shape of the casserole dish or large enough to cut circles to cover the individual casserole dishes. Whichever dishes are being used the dough needs to have generous overhang of dough on the edges of the dish. Brush the outside edges of the dish with a little of the egg wash to help "glue" the dough to sides of the dish. Fold the edges of the dough under and press it onto the edges of the dish. Brush the top of the dough with the remaining egg wash. Cut a couple of vents in the top of the dough to allow the steam to escape.

Bake in the preheated oven until the dough is golden brown and the inside is hot and bubbly, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

I also made a version of Anne's Butter Lettuce Salad with Crispy Prosciutto, Oyster Mushroom Chips, Cabrales and Pears from the same episode, but I swapped out so many of the main ingredients, it's hardly recognizable as the same dish. Mine was sort of a lower-rent version of her salad based on ingredients that I had on hand. But let me tell you, it was just incredibly flavorful, and one that I will be making again and again during apple season!

My salad was comprised of butter lettuce (my favorite!), sauteed baby portabellas instead of the oyster mushrooms, bacon swapped for the pancetta, domestic bleu cheese instead of the fancy Spanish, and Macintosh apples instead of pears. And I made a creamy blue cheese vinaigrette for the top because I wanted something to coat the apples (in the Waldorf fashion). I must say again, the resulting salad was EPIC! Don't you just love fall and all of these wonderful harvest-time ingredients? :-D

Sunday, October 17, 2010


What a GORGEOUS fall we're having, and despite the moonsoon we had this past Friday (leaving miniature lakes in everyone's yards!), the weather has been crisp and lovely. In fact, a few weekends ago, a friend from work invited a gang of us over to their house (just down the road from the old house in Sciota) for a day of apple cider-pressing and baking with her multi-talented husband in the fantastic wood-fired brick oven that he built out back. There was a smattering of rain on the way to their house, but once that front had passed, it was a beautiful, sunny, autumnal day.

We worked hard all day sorting, washing, chopping, and pressing the apples. But we took breaks along the way to make delicious individual pizzas for lunch in the wood-fired oven, and also to bake loaves of homemade bread (my favorite was the molasses bread). And even though I got a wicked blister on my hand from cutting up apples, our labors were rewarded with about seven gallons of sweet, tangy, refreshing, fresh-pressed cider from 100-year-old heritage apples. YUM! Here are a few miscellaneous pictures from the day, which I certainly hope becomes an annual fall event:

Since it is the High Holy (Apple) Season, I would also like to share a recipe for a terrific apple bundt cake from Smitten Kitchen that I made for my friend Vicky's birthday. I took more than a few liberties with the original recipe as is my way, the most significant of which was to convert the recipe for use in a bundt pan. But the very best amendment was the buttered rum glaze that added to the top! This very moist, flavorful cake is a must-make at this glorious time of year!

Apple Cake with Buttered Rum Glaze
Smitten Kitchen)

6 apples, I used Macs and Spartans
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar (I used 3 T white + 2 T brown)
2 3/4 cups flour, sifted (I used 1 1/2 C white whole wheat, the rest AP)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar (I reduced this to 1 1/2 C and used 1 C white + 1/2 C brown)
1/4 cup orange juice (I used our fresh apple cider!)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional, but I used them)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan (I used a bundt pan sprayed with flour-added spray). Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice (or cider), sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. (I whisked the wet ingredients together--including the eggs but not the cider--for two minutes, then added half the dry ingredients, the cider, then the rest of the dry stuff in the traditional manner. Then I stirred in the chopped walnuts.)

Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. (In the bundt pan, I alternated 1/3 of the batter, 1/2 apples--and juice--1/3 batter, the remaining apples, and the last of the batter.)

Bake for about 90 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. (You may need to tent the top with foil if it gets too brown before the end of baking.)

Buttered Rum Glaze:

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup dark, spiced rum

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and water, and bring to a boil for five minutes. Remove from the heat, then add the rum. Bring back to a boil for a minute. When the cake comes out of the oven, poke it all over with holes using a long wooden skewer, and apply about half the glaze to the bottom with a pastry brush. Once the cake has cooled for about a half hour (until the pan is not hot to the touch, just warm), turn it out onto a rack and use the rest of the glaze all over the top and sides of the cake.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Meatless Mondays

I have a dear friend and colleague whose husband is struggling with his weight and diabetes that was off the charts. His doctor had a serious come-to-Jesus meeting with him back in July, and around the time of my own health crisis, he and his wife decided to take extreme measures and adapt a strict vegan diet, at least until his diabetes was under control. Six or seven weeks later, and he'd lost a lot of weight and inches (down more than 30 pounds and several pants sizes), and his diabetes went from a reading of 12 (the scale goes to 12) down to 7 (6 or below is considered normal)!

My roommate and I were both very impressed at the changes in our friend's appearance and health, and we vowed to start incorporating some meatless entrees into our own weekly menus. One of the dishes my friend suggested that her entire Italian family enjoys (even before the vegan conversion) is pasta and lentils. Strange combo, you say? I thought so, too, but the lentils are sort of meaty in and of themselves, so you don't feel unsatisfied eating a vegetarian meal. And this recipe makes a TON! Like other hearty dishes of this nature, they taste better the next day (and the day after that), so this makes great leftovers to take for lunch at work. I took enough to share with my officemate one day, and she concurred that you don't even miss the meat.

There isn't a proper "recipe" for this. My friend described the process for me as she was teaching an afternoon chem lab. LOL! And of course, I took a few liberties, like adding a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and a chopped up sweet pepper that I had on hand, plus a pinch of red pepper flakes for zip. It's healthy, hearty, and tasty--what more do you really need?

Pasta e Lenticchie

1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
1 sweet pepper, seeded and chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 15 oz. can diced (preferably, fire-roasted) tomatoes
1 lb. lentils, rinsed
5 to 6 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb. (preferably, whole-grain) spaghetti, broken into fourths

Garnishes: vinegar (white wine vinegar or the brine from a jar of pickled peppers) and shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet (I used a 3.5 quart). Add the onion, carrots, celery, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft and just starting to color. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes (with the juice), lentils and five cups of stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are almost completely tender.

In a separate pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta almost to al dente then drain (rinse with cold water to hold for awhile, if necessary). When the lentils are almost done cooking, add the pasta to the skillet and combine. Continue to simmer until lentils and pasta are completely tender. Add more stock if needed. Taste to adjust seasonings. Serve with a good splash of vinegar and an ample sprinkling of cheese (which, of course, would make it vegetarian, not vegan).

Oh, and I have another healthy, vegan, super-cinchy treat to share with you! I first heard about this crazy idea from my friend (and super-skilled cook), Mike. He had been raving about his new favorite snack on Facebook, and though I was skeptical, anything Mike swears by always turns out to be fabulous! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you....KALE CHIPS!

Kale chips, you say? Blech! Bitter greens as a snack food? TRUST ME, dear readers...have I ever led you astray? And I profess to not even like kale, except in soups and such. But by some miracle of the Maillard reaction, once you mix them with a little olive oil and bake them, they go from leafy to soggy and wilty to amazingly crisp in the span of about 15 or 20 minutes. And even more remarkably, they taste very like potato chips! I have no explanation for that, but I can vouch for how yummy they are--especially when we dipped them in a little homemade garlic blue cheese dressing. ;-)

To make your chips, start with a big bunch of kale. In the regular size bunch that you get from the grocery store, I used about half. Wash and spin your greens to get rid of any grit. Remove the stems and tear the leaves into potato chip-sized pieces. Toss the pieces of kale with a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of the vinegar if your choosing (I liked seasoned rice vinegar here), and a couple of good pinches of salt. Lay the pieces of kale in a single layer on two large baking sheets (I prefer to use Silpats underneath the chips), and bake for 15-20 minutes at 350. You want the chips to be crisp, but they taste bitter if allowed to brown. So keep a close eye on them!

Monday, October 04, 2010

As usual, I blame the Food Network....

It is a well-established fact that I watch far too much Food Network, and now The Cooking Channel as well. And this compels me to fall under evil influences like Paula Deen and friends, and I end up making things that I probably shouldn't! Recently, Miss Paula had a guest on her show named Cheryl Day who is the proprietor of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, and Paula talked the nice lady into making her famous "biscones" on her show. "Biscones" is Cheryl's nickname for these luscious, fat-filled creations that are halfway between a biscuit and a scone. Happily, they are easier to make than either one, as there is no rolling and cutting, just scooping the dough right onto a pan.

Now I made my biscones to fashion some egg sandwiches out of them for Sunday brunch, but they would also be wonderful to accompany a big pot of soup, chili, or beans. And you could add lots of different things to the dough to make endless tasty variations (mine were garlic, black pepper and parmesan).

Back in the Day "Biscones"
Cheryl Day on "Paula's Best Dishes," Food Network)

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons to toss onto dough before baking
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt *optional for savory scones
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup cold butter, cut in cubes
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk
1/2 cup grated sharp white Cheddar (I used parmesan)
*I added about a teaspoon of granulated garlic as well.

egg wash

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Add all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Cut in the cold butter with a fork or pastry blender until the butter is the size of peas and some larger pieces. Gradually add in the cold buttermilk until it is just combined. Stir in the cheese. Do not overwork the dough.

In the same bowl, pat down dough and dust the top with the remaining two tablespoons of flour. Using an ice cream scooper, arrange scoops of the biscone mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with egg wash and bake, turning halfway through, until the tops are golden brown about 18 to 20 minutes.

It used to be just the Food Network that I was addicted to, but now we have their spin-off, The Cooking Channel, too. My favorite show on that sister network is called "Foodcrafters," where we learn about small, independent food businesses around the country. It was because of that show that I discovered things like Laloo's goat's milk ice cream out of Petaluma, CA--SO delicious, creamy but with half the fat and a delicious hint of tanginess, also more digestible for the lactose intolerant. If you can find it (check your local health food co-op), try the Rumplemint which is awesome!

And though I'd heard of them before, The Cooking Channel's segment on Rancho Gordo heirloom beans compelled my roommate to place a small order of three different kinds of beans: yellow-eye, Rio Zape, and Ojo de Cabra (goat's eye). The yellow eyes were cousins to the navy bean, so I decided to make a big pot of savory ham and bean soup with those. And when I was invited to a "True Blood" finale party that would also be attended by vegans, I made some zesty red beans and rice with the meaty Rio Zapes. I haven't tied the goat's eyes yet, but if they are anything like the first two varieties, they will be wonderful! Who knew beans could have so much more flavor and texture than those dry old dusty things we usually get in the supermarket?

For those of you that are hesitant to cook beans from their dried state, the basic cooking method is pretty simple. First, you rinse the beans well, and cover by about an inch with cool water. Soak them for at least a couple of hours and (preferably) up to six. Do NOT drain the beans. The prevailing wisdom these days is that many of the vitamins and nutrients leech out into the soaking liquid.

Toward the end of the beans' soaking time, cut and chop a basic mirepoix of onions, celery and carrots. You may also consider some sweet or hot peppers and a few cloves of garlic. Saute everything except the garlic in a little olive oil until the veggies are tender and just starting to color. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two.

Add the beans, their soaking liquid, and the softened veggies--and perhaps a meaty ham bone or a couple of smoked turkey wings--to a large, heavy-bottomed pot. If the liquid doesn't cover the beans by at least an inch, add more water or, better yet, some flavorful stock. Bring to a vigorous boil for five minutes, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and let it simmer until the beans are tender, which will probably take a couple of hours. If the liquid starts to disappear along the way, add more water or stock as necessary.

At the end of the cooking time (say, the last twenty minutes or so), season the beans and add anything acidic like tomatoes, citrus juices or vinegars. If you add salt or acids at the beginning of the cooking process, it may toughen the beans. And that's it...a perfect--and perfectly delicious--way to cook beans! Serve your savory, rib-sticking beans with some homemade biscones, and you have a surefire recipe for surviving the chilly days ahead.