Friday, September 27, 2013

Vicky's Sixty: An Adirondack Celebration!

My friend Vicky turned SIXTY today, and to celebrate in grand fashion, she rented out an entire campground (Camp Pok-o-MacCready in Willsboro, NY) and invited all of her friends to celebrate her over the weekend in the glorious Adirondacks! My other friends, June and Lee Ann, and I were the party planning committee, mainly in charge of meals. We are expecting as many as 60 people for dinner tomorrow night, and Vicky wanted comforting but elegant dishes served buffet-style.

We decided to let the appetizers be a true potluck from the attendees, and we will also make salads, procure baguettes from Panera, and assemble an ice cream sundae bar (by request from the birthday girl) for dessert. Moreover, each of us food preppers opted to provide a crock pot of soup and two lasagna pans of a particular entrée. Lee Ann's mother-in-law will bring a seafood bisque and Lee Ann is making her popular spinach alfredo pasta. June is bringing her famous pumpkin soup with cran-apple relish (a la Rachael Ray) and making jambalaya.

As for me, I decided to make pasta fagiole in the style of Olive Garden and the world's most involved version of cottage pie that turned out FABULOUSLY, if I do say so myself! First, the beefy vegetable soup. I pretty much followed the recipe below, but instead of canned beans, I started with my beloved Rancho Gordo beans that I cooked in the crock pot overnight in beef broth with a couple of bay leaves. Then when I made the soup, I added some chopped zucchini to the other ingredients, and as it turned out very thick, I thinned it to a desired consistency with a spicy Bloody Mary mix that I happened to have in the fridge. Also, I cooked the pasta separately, and I will stir it in right before serving so that it doesn't go mushy. (The picture below doesn't have the ditalini in it yet.)

Olive Garden Pasta Fagiole
(Source: Top Secret Recipes)

1 pound ground beef
1 small onion diced (1 cup)
1 large carrot, julienned (1 cup)
3 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 15 ounce can red kidney beans (with liquid)
1 15 ounce can great northern beans (with liquid)

1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
1 12 ounce can V8 juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 pound ditali pasta

Brown the ground beef in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat, drain off most of the fat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and saute for ten minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and simmer for one hour. About 50 minutes into simmer time, cook pasta, drain. Add the pasta to the large pot of soup and simmer for five to ten minutes and serve.

This cottage pie may turn out to be my finest creation. It is an EXTRAORDINARY pain in the ___ to make, but lordy, is it GOOD, and certainly worth the effort for a special occasion. Instead of shepherd's pie (which is made with lamb), or a low-rent ground beef version of cottage pie, I opted for chuck roast, like you'd use to make a Sunday pot roast. Also, instead of peas or green beans or what have you, I decided to use roasted root vegetables as a nod to the harvest season. And lastly, to add some color and extra flavor to the mashed potatoes, I threw in a couple of roasted sweet potatoes with the Yukon Golds. I assembled all this, sprinkled it with paprika, and stashed it in the fridge overnight. I will bake it off tomorrow night before the party. I declare this the ultimate meat-and-potatoes comfort food...taken to the next level!

Cottage Pie

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 1/2 to 3 lbs. boneless chuck roast
3 teaspoons steak seasoning, divided
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced--divided
bay leaf
1 stem of tarragon
bunch of thyme, tied with string
2 large sweet potatoes
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup beef broth
2 lbs. carrots, peeled and diced
1 lb. parsnips, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced (leaves reserved)
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves
4 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon chicken soup base
1 stick butter
1 cup half-and-half, more or less as desired
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the roast with steak seasoning, and brown on both sides. Pour off excess oil, add balsamic and red wine over the meat, and toss in the bay leaves, tarragon, and thyme bundle. Cover and cook in a 350 degree oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until fork-tender. While you are braising the meat, throw the sweet potatoes (unpeeled) in the oven to roast at the same time, for about an hour or until tender.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the Dutch oven. Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes until thick, then whisk in the balsamic vinegar and beef broth to make a gravy. Shred the reserved meat by hand, removing excess fat, and add the meat back to the pot.

Place the carrots, parsnips, celery and onions on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of steak seasoning and roast for about 30 minutes or until tender and slightly browned. Add the roasted vegetables to the meat and gravy, along with the parsley and celery leaves, and gently stir to combine.

In a stock pot, cover the potatoes with cold water and add the chicken soup base. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender all the way through. Drain the potatoes, and add the stick of butter and half-and-half. Peel the roasted sweet potatoes, add those to the pot, and then mash everything to desired consistency. Stir in fresh chives, granulated garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.

Scoop the mashed potatoes on top of the meat and vegetable mixture and smooth the top. Sprinkle with some paprika, and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven (probably 45 minutes to an hour from cold).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Maybe I don't hate oatmeal.

I have always hated oatmeal, but I made the Padula-meets-Gaiman version this morning, and I must say, it was YUM! I toasted whole oats in a dab of butter, then added fresh milk (from Woven Meadows Farm) a half cup at a time until they absorbed as much as they could--risotto-style--then finished it with a little brown sugar and vanilla (to taste). To serve, you add a blob of your favorite jam and a good splodge of fresh cream. What's that? You say you don't have farm-fresh cream? Well, it sucks to be you, and you should probably reevaluate your priorities and start living right!

Update: Ok, now I've done it. Instead of plain oats, I took a five-grain blend from Bob's Red Mill and prepared it Padula/risotto-style with farm-fresh milk, cooking until tender. When the porridge was almost done, I threw in some chopped Honey Crisp apple. Before serving, I swirled in a spoonful of Biscoff (speculoos) spread and garnished it with some toasted almond slices and the requisite splodge of cream. My roommate Cyd declared it "the best thing she's ever eaten."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Build me up, buttercup.

My friend June made a lovely autumnal butternut squash soup last weekend , and when I spied a especially big and gorgeous buttercup squash at my local farmer's market, I thought I might make my own the crock pot, of course! What could be more heart-and-soul-warming than this? WELCOME FALL!

Buttercup Squash Soup
1/2 pound bacon, chopped (I used smoky end pieces)
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
2 large shallots, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 large buttercup squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks (or the winter squash of your choosing)
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon chicken soup base
1 large bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick (break in half)
big pinch of peppercorns
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup cream, optional
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until brown and crispy. Strain out the bacon bits and set aside. In the bacon fat, sauté onions, shallots, and garlic until tender. Deglaze the pan with white wine, and cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed by the veggies.

In the meantime, add the chunks of squash to the crock pot and cover with a quart of stock. Stir in the chicken soup base. To a tea ball/strainer, add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and star anise. Throw the tea ball of spices into the pot along with the sautéed veggie mixture.

Cook on high for about three hours or low for six. Remove the spice ball and purée the soup with an immersion blender. Add the ground cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and cream (if using). Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with a sprinkling of the reserved bacon bits on top!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book Club: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

My book club FINALLY got around to meeting again today. We read a short book--Neil Gaiman's dark fairy tale, The Ocean at the End of the Lane--but it seemed nearly impossible to find a date and time when we all could get together! But at long last, we made it happen, and the menu was comfort food in general with some specific dishes that appeared in the story. My favorite thing on the buffet was "porridge" with blackberry-beer jam and a good slosh of cream from my favorite Strafford Organic Creamery in Vermont. So simple, so incredible...and I don't even like oatmeal!

“'We have breakfast here early,' she said. 'Milking starts at first light. But there’s porridge in the saucepan, and jam to put in it.' She gave me a china bowl filled with warm porridge ...from the stovetop, with a lump of homemade blackberry jam, my favorite, in the middle of the porridge, then she poured cream on it. I swished it around with my spoon before I ate it, swirling it into a purple mess, and was as happy as I have ever been about anything. It tasted perfect." --Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

In the picture, you can see the big casserole dish full of oatmeal that my lovely friends, the Padulas, brought, along with a cauldron of incredible chicken and dumplings as well (not appearing in the book, but delicious and comforting nonetheless). Another highlight was this unusual meatloaf that had rye bread in it (pictured at the top of the frame) giving it a wonderful tangy quality. I will have to ask our hostess, Kathleen, for the recipe. As for my contribution, I ran across an article online where Gaiman himself shared his family recipe for the lemon crepes featured in his magical tale, so of course, that's what I made and took to the party, although instead of filling them with plum jam as in the story, I topped them with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

Nail Gaiman’s Lemon Pancakes

(Excerpted in total from Joe Hill’s interview on Omnivoracious)

JH: There’s a lot of wonderful food writing in this book. I had to put the thing down several times to rummage desperately through my fridge. Can you give us the recipe for the Hempstocks’ lemon pancakes? Please don’t let that part be make-believe.
NG: There is no make-believe in cooking. There were few things I took as much fun in cooking, when I was a boy, as pancakes. (I liked making toffee, too, because it was a little like a science experiment.)

Right. The night before you are going to make them, you mix:
1 cup of ordinary white flour
2 eggs
a pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups of milk and water (a cup and a half of milk and a cup of water mixed)
1 tablespoon of either vegetable oil or melted butter
(You’ll also need some granulated sugar, and a couple of lemons to put on the pancakes, along with other things like jams and possibly even maple syrup because you’re American.)

Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Crack the eggs in and whisk/fork the egg into the flour. Slowly add the milk/water mixture, stirring as you go, until there are no lumps and you have a liquid the consistency of a not too thick cream. Then put the mixture in the fridge overnight.

Grease or butter or oil a non-stick frying pan. Heat it until it’s really hot (377 degrees according to one website, but basically, it has to be hot for the pancake to become a pancake. And these are crepes, French style, not thick American round pancakes). Stir the mixture you just took from the fridge thoroughly because the flour will all be at the bottom. Get an even, consistency. Then ladle some mixture into the pan, thinly covering the whole of the base of the pan. When the base is golden, flip it (or, if you are brave, toss it). Cook another 30 seconds on the other side.

For reasons I do not quite understand (although pan heat is probably the reason), the first one is always a bit disappointing. Often it’s a burnt, sludgy, weird thing, (always, in my family, eaten by the cook) (which was me). Just keep going, and the rest will be fine. Sprinkle sugar in the middle. And then squeeze some lemon juice in, preferably from a lemon. Then wrap it like a cigar and feed it to a child.

(You can experiment with other things in the middle, like Nutella, or jam, or even maple syrup–but remember that these pancakes are not syrup-absorbent like American style pancakes.)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Picnic at the Agility Trial

My friend, June, invite me to another agility trial with her poodle, Beau, today. I had to be at her house at zero-dark-thirty to travel to lovely Lewis, NY, but we had a very nice day. It started off quite chilly, but the sun came out by the afternoon. And June and Beau qualified and placed first on all of their runs! But best of all was the picnic lunch that we prepared.

June brought two thermoses full of this wonderfully spiced butternut squash soup. She said she based it off of a recipe that she found on Epicurious that she will direct me to later, but basically, she started with bacon and shallots, vegetable broth and white wine, the squash, of course, and then star anise, peppercorns, and a bay leaf in a tea ball, and a sprinkling of cinnamon and fresh nutmeg at the end. So warming, filling, and DELICIOUS!

Since June did soup, my job was sandwiches. And I began by pondering the eternal question, why couldn't you combine a BLT and a Caprese salad into one incredible sandwich? As it turns out, you definitely can! So for the BLT part of the equation, I used local Bibb lettuce, peppered bacon, yellow heirloom tomatoes and a little mayo on a toasted crusty roll (ciabatta would be awesome, too). Then for the Caprese elements, I added fresh mozzarella slices, basil leaves from my herb garden, and a drizzle of thick balsamic glaze--the tomato being the common denominator, of course. You could also blend the mayo and basil leaves to make an herby spread, but I just layered on the whole basil leaves. SO YUMMY! The ultimate end-of-summer sandwich!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Early Oktoberfest

As much I as ADORE fall, there is one thing that I can't stand about it, and that's the beginning of football season. On Sundays, my roommate commandeers the television to watch her beloved Patriots, and I usually scurry off to the kitchen to catch up on my favorite Sirius Radio shows from the previous week and cook something more elaborate than usual for our Sunday supper.

Last night, I made this interesting casserole that might be more fitting for Oktoberfest than early September, so file this one away for a few weeks. I particularly liked this dish because it made use of some potatoes that were starting to get eyes on them, a half a jar of leftover sauerkraut that was banging about the fridge, and a piece of good Emmenthal cheese that needed to be used up before it spoiled, and some polska kielbasa that I found in the back of the freezer. (Can you tell I'm Frugie McFrugal?)

Oktoberfest Bake

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (peeled if you prefer)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 cups sauerkraut, drained
1 lb. polska kielbasa, cut in half lengthwise and sliced*
2 cups Emmenthal (or Swiss) cheese, shredded or thinly sliced
1/4 cup whole milk or half-and-half

In a large skillet, melt the butter and olive oil together. Add the sliced onions and stir to coat. Cook on low until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally (30-45 minutes). Set aside to cool.

Coat a 9x13 glass baking dish with cooking spray. Layer in half of the sliced potatoes, overlapping them. Sprinkle with half of the salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then half the sauerkraut, half the sausage slices, half of the reserved onions, and top with half the cheese. Repeat this process to form the second layer of the casserole. Before you get to the final layer of cheese, pour the milk evenly over the top of everything. Top with cheese, cover loosely with foil, and bake for two hours at 300 degrees.
*Note: When I make this again in the future, I might brown the pieces of sausage first before building the casserole.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Getting fizzy with it (na na na na na na na)!

A week ago, a couple of my PBGV/dog show friends came to my region to do some hiking in the Adirondacks. My roommate and I met them in Lake Placid last Sunday night for dinner at one of our favorite (semi-)local eateries, Liquids and Solids at the Handle Bar. The food, weather, and company were all delicious, but I was especially taken with a cocktail that we tried called a Lavendula. Their drink had just raspberry puree and a lavender simple syrup, but when I tried to recreate a similar version at home, I used a triple berry blend and basil from my garden instead of the lavender. Also, I used less sugar and swapped out Fresca for club soda because that's what I had on hand. DELISH!

Berry Gin Fizz
(Source: adapted from Bon Appetit and Smitten Kitchen)

1 cup fresh berries (I used blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries)
6 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup (4 liquid ounces or just shy of 3 shots) gin
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from two juicy limes)
one can of Fresca
2 sprigs sweet basil

Purée berries and sugar in a blender until as liquefied as possible. Strain purée through a fine-mesh sieve then discard the seeds. (You won't use all of this--it's probably enough for two more cocktails, yay!)

Fill two 16 oz. glasses 3/4 of the way with ice. Divide gin and lime juice between glasses, add 1/4 cup of the berry purée to each glass and stir to combine. Top with soda and a sprig of basil. (Might need another quick stir to combine.) Share with someone you like.

Friday, September 06, 2013

There's a nip in the air...

We've reached that weird shoulder season where you might use the air conditioner one day, then need to start a fire in the wood stove the next. But it has been decidedly autumnal the last few days, so it seemed appropriate to take the first crock pot of soup--Ham, Mayocoba Bean, and Swiss Chard--to school to share with my colleagues.

I didn't take a picture because, well, they ate it all up before I got back from my afternoon class, and because it was pretty much the same formula I use for most of my bean soups, give or take. But people ooh'ed and ahh'ed and inquired after the recipe. Recipe? We don’t need no stinkin’ recipes! Tee hee. I can, however, describe my general methodology, especially for my co-workers that requested it.

So I soaked a pound of beans for a few hours in cold water last evening. Then I brought them to a boil for five minutes, turned off the heat and let the beans just sit in the hot water while I did all my cutting and chopping. I cut up two medium onions, two large stalks of celery, the stems of six stalks of Swiss chard, and four large carrots. I sautéed all of this in two tablespoons of olive oil until tender. Then I threw in four cloves of minced garlic and cooked the mixture for another couple of minutes. I deglazed the pan with a half cup of white wine, and then threw the beans and liquid, sautéed veggies, two bay leaves, a big branch of tarragon, and the big bone from some leftover ham into the crock pot. I filled it to the brim with chicken broth, and also added 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and about a tablespoon of chicken soup base. I cooked all of this overnight on high.

In the morning, I fished out the bay leaves and tarragon bundle, and the ham bone, removing any fat or gristle, and tossing the meaty bits back into the soup. Then I added two additional cups of chopped leftover ham, and the leaves of the Swiss chard (also chopped). You just need to heat the ham through and wilt the greens, and the reserve heat of the crock pot will do the trick. No need to continue cooking. That’s about it. It was YUMMY, if I do say so myself! ;-)

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Sloppy seconds...and thirds...and...

You know how the middle of the work week finds you staring blankly into the freezer until you unearth a lonely pound of ground beef, though you can't possibly come up with yet another way to prepare it that you haven't done a million times before? Well, I've got another one for you! I ran across this recipe for Sloppy Tacos--yep, a Sloppy Joe/taco hybrid--in a recent issue of Bon Appetit. It's easy, yummy, and just right for a midweek quick fix. But unless you're feeding a crowd, or want to eat this for days, I suggest you halve the recipe! I had this two nights in a row, both as soft tacos and with fried, crispy shells. It's good either way. Your call.


Sloppy Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Crema
(Source: Bon Appetit, September 2013)

Cilantro-Lime Crema:
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • Kosher salt
Filling and  Assembly:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 pounds ground beef chuck
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 12-ounce bottle tomato-based chili sauce (such as Heinz)
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons ancho chile powder or chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 12 crisp taco shells, warmed
  • Shredded Wisconsin cheddar, lettuce, pico de gallo, cilantro, and lime wedges (for serving)
For cilantro-lime crema:
Mix sour cream, lime zest, lime juice, cilantro, and vinegar in a medium bowl; season with salt. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.             
For filling and assembly:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook beef, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in skillet. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Add tomatoes to skillet; cook, breaking up, until thickened, 8-10 minutes. Add beef; chili and Worcestershire sauces; chile, garlic, and onion powders; sugar; and cumin. Cook, stirring, until flavors meld, 10-12 minutes. Spread in a 13x9x2" baking dish; bake until a crust forms, 30-40 minutes. Serve filling in shells with toppings.