Thursday, June 12, 2008

June 12: Black Bean Soup with Chipotle Chiles

I am having a hectic and very odd week, which I will maybe not go into a lot of detail about here, because you're probably here about the food. So, I will keep it brief, but still attempt to be interesting.

In Michigan, there is a wonderful Mexican restaurant in a small town called Otsego that serves the best black bean soup on this earth. Seriously.

I have never been able to recreate it, but this may not be a bad approximation. In addition, chipotles are smoky, which eliminates the need for bacon. Make no mistake, I am not saying that bacon is a bad thing, but, you know, some people don't dig on the pig. There's a ham steak in here too, which you can totally do without. Just leave it out.

Black Bean Soup with Chipotle Chiles


1 pound dried black beans (2 cups), rinsed and picked over
4 ounces ham steak , trimmed of rind
2 bay leaves
5 cups water
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped fine (about 3 cups)
1 large carrot, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
3 ribs celery, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
5 - 6 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 1/2 tablespoon)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced chipotle chiles in adobo
2 teaspoons adobo sauce
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons lime juice , from 1 to 2 limes


lime wedges
minced fresh cilantro leaves
red onion , finely diced
avocado , diced medium
sour cream

1. FOR THE BEANS: Place beans, ham, bay, water, and baking soda in large saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; using large spoon, skim scum as it rises to surface. Stir in salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer briskly until beans are tender, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours (if necessary, add another 1 cup water and continue to simmer until beans are tender); do not drain beans. Discard bay. Remove ham steak (ham steak darkens to color of beans), cut into 1/4-inch cubes, and set aside.

2. FOR THE SOUP: Heat oil in 8-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking; add onions, carrot, celery, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic and cumin; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in beans, bean cooking liquid, chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, and chicken broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 30 minutes.

3. TO FINISH THE SOUP: Ladle 1 1?2 cups beans and 2 cups liquid into food processor or blender, process until smooth, and return to pot. Stir together cornstarch and water in small bowl until combined, then gradually stir about half of cornstarch mixture into soup; bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, to fully thicken. If soup is still thinner than desired once boiling, stir remaining cornstarch mixture to recombine and gradually stir mixture into soup; return to boil to fully thicken. Off heat, stir in lime juice and reserved ham; ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately, passing garnishes separately.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

June 11: Chocolate Ganache and Raspberry Tart

Bon Appetit, I love you. Not only do you appear magically in my mailbox every month for free, you never let me down. I always find some must-try thing in there that sends me off to the grocery store for extravagant and expensive ingredients. This month is no different.

If it's dessert for me, it's gotta be chocolate. Otherwise, it's not worth the calories. Chocolate and raspberries are probably one of my favorite combinations of flavors. Those first summer raspberries, sweet and tart and floral, in combination with the heady richness of good chocolate, are a match made in heaven. Those first summer raspberries, warm from the sun, are unbeatable in my book.

What are your favorite, slightly unlikely food combinations? I used to think chile peppers and chocolate were not something I'd ever think of eating together, but then about fifteen years ago I tried a traditional Mexican mole, and it changed my mind in one bite. I love strawberries with balsalmic vinegar, which I never would have though of as even remotely appealing, but boy, was I off.

Make this dessert for company, or a special occasion. Maybe a special occasion like, I don't know, a Tuesday.

Chocolate Ganache and Raspberry Tart

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons water
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons Kahlúa, other coffee flavored liqueur, or strong coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups fresh raspberries (three 6-ounce containers)
3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

Using on/off turns, mix flour, butter, and sugar in processor until coarse meal forms.

Mix egg yolks, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water in small bowl. Add to processor; mix until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic. Chill 30 minutes.

DO AHEAD: Dough can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Roll out dough on lightly floured work surface to 12-inch round. Fit dough into pan; trim overhang. Freeze 20 minutes.

Bake crust until golden, 25 minutes; cool.

Meanwhile, bring cream just to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; stir until smooth. Stir in liqueur and vanilla. Cool ganache 15 minutes.

Transfer cooled crust to platter. Spoon chocolate ganache into crust and smooth top. Arrange raspberries atop chocolate. Stir raspberry jam and 1 1/2 teaspoons water in small saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Brush warm glaze over berries. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

June 10: Chicken Breasts with Orzo, Carrots, Dill and Avgolemono Sauce

Sorry, no witty banter tonight. Chicken with a sauce--a light, lemony, Greek-style sauce. Yum. Food and Wine magazine. Must go, so tired.

Chicken Breasts with Orzo, Carrots, Dill and Avgolemono Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/3 pounds in all)
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 1/2 cups orzo
4 carrots, quartered and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 eggs
2 tablespoons lemon juice


In a large stainless-steel frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over moderate heat. Season the chicken breasts with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and add to the pan. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken; add the broth, dill, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and simmer, partially covered, until the chicken is just done, about 4 minutes. Remove the chicken and cover lightly with aluminum foil to keep warm. Set aside the pan with the broth.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the orzo for 6 minutes. Add the carrots and continue cooking until the orzo and carrots are just done, about 6 minutes longer. Drain and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

In a medium glass or stainless-steel bowl, beat the eggs, lemon juice, and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper until frothy. Bring the chicken broth back to a simmer and add to the eggs in a thin stream, whisking. Pour the mixture back into the pan and whisk over the lowest possible heat until the sauce begins to thicken, about 3 minutes. Do not let the sauce come to a simmer, or it may curdle. Put the orzo and carrots on plates and top with the chicken and sauce.

Monday, June 9, 2008

June 9: Duck and Pear Salad with Mango Chutney Dressing

Holy Cheebs, it is hot. It is really nasty awful hot, sticky, gross, and awful. I can't think of enough bad things to say about the weather. I do not care for hot weather.

I want to eat duck maybe twice a decade, and when I do, it's usually in this salad, or some variation of it. I love smoked duck breast; you have to get it from a specialty market. I don't have a good source for smoked duck breast in the D.C. area. If you can't find smoked duck breast, get regular duck breasts. Use a very sharp knive to cut through the skin on the diagonal, making a diamond pattern. Don't cut the meat. Grill or pan-saute over high heat until the duck is medium-rare, or rare, or however you like it. If you like it well done, you should go eat chicken, because that is a terrible thing to do to a duck breast. Give it a short rest, five or ten minutes or so. Slice the duck breast 1/4-inch thick on the bias across the grain.

This is a gorgeous main dish summer salad, perfect for the awful weather we're having. I would sprinkle a few toasted, chopped pecans over, and maybe a crumble of good stinky bleu cheese--I love bleu cheese and pears. I would arrange all of this over a big pile of mesclun greens. Yum. It is adapted, of course, from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Duck and Pear Salad with Mango Chutney Dressing

4 boneless duck breasts, boned or prepared as described above, cooled
3 cups cooked rice, cooled
1 cup chopped celery
4 scallions, well rinsed and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
Grated zest of one orange
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 ripe but firm pears
1 cup lemon juice
Mango Chutney dressing (see below)

Remove the skin and slice duck breasts across the grain into 1/4 inch strips.

Toss the duck and cooked rice together ina mixing bowl. Add the celery, scallions, and orange zest and season with salt and pepper. Toss again and arange the salad on a large serving platter.

If the skin of the pears seems too thick or spotty, peel the pears. Otherwise, quarter, core, and thinly slice them, and toss them with the lemon juice.

Drain the pear slices and arange them across the duck salad. Serve immediately with the mango chutney dressing, offering the peppermill to your guests.

For the dressing:
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup blueberry or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup mango chutney
1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup peanut oil
1 cup corn oil

Combine all ingredients but the oils in a food processor bowl. Process for 1 minute. With the motor running, drizzle in the oils in a slow steady stream. When all of the oil has been incorporated, shut off the motor, scrape down the sides of the bowl, taste, and correct the seasoning.

Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

June 8: Gazpacho

By the by, the cheese spread was delicious, as usual. I did something a little different: cheddar, cream cheese, and white wine, with a few crushed fennel seeds mixed in. Food processor for a long, long, long time. It ends up light and yet incredibly rich and delicious. I served it on French bread toasts, and not only did we enjoy it, our teacher-friend who came over to watch the baseball game today thought it was pure heaven.

Dear God is it hot out. 105 today, with brutal humidity. I am already dreading going to work tomorrow, as it will involve being outside my own living room. It's perfect weather for a cold soup.

Here are my soup rules, as adapted from The Silver Palate.

1. Use great homemade stock, if at all possible. Make big batches of it so that you can freeze it and keep it on hand.

2. Remove from the heat and let cool before pureeing.

3. Add herbs just before pureeing.

4. Cook onions and leeks for a long time, slowly, in butter.

5. Think really hard about what flavors and textures balance and match. Sweet and spicy are a good match. So are sweet and sour.

Gazpacho is one of my favorite summer lunches, especially with a slice of garlic bread and a salad. It's simple and refreshing and tastes like summer. Do yourself a favor--make it with the freshest ingredients you can find, the best of the summer farmers' market. I like mine a little spicy, with a shake or two of tabasco sauce. Think bloody mary without the vodka, in a bowl.


6 large ripe tomatoes
2 red bell peppers
2 medium yellow onions
2 large shallots
2 large cucumbers
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups canned tomato juice
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Core and coarsely chop the tomatoes; save the juices. Stem, seed, and coarsely chop the peppers. Peel and coarsely chop the onions and shallots. Peel, seed and coarsely chop the cucumbers.

In a bowl whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, reserved tomato juices, canned tomato juice, and eggs.

In a blender or a food processor, puree the vegetables in small batches, adding the tomato juice mixture as needed to keep the blades from clogging. Do not puree completely; the gazpacho should retain some of its crunch.

Stir in the dill, cayenne, and salt and pepper. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours. To serve, stir, taste, and correct seasoning. Ladle into chilled soup bowls.

Friday, June 6, 2008

June 7: Cheddar-Beer Spread

I love Friday nights. I am a little more willing to put some time and effort into what I eat on Friday nights, since I don't have to get up in, like, four hours. That means a sort of "happy hour" around here, with some sort of adult beverage and a snackie of some kind.

This is it for tonight: Samuel Adams and cheddar-beer spread on bagel chips. You can buy all kinds of cheese spread in the grocery store, but you can also make your own, it's easy and it's delicious. Here's the thing: simmer the beer. It gets rid of the raw alcohol taste and mellows it, making it a really nice soft counterpoint to good sharp cheddar cheese. It's an extra step, but it's worth doing. All of these flavors come together and complement each other, making something so much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Spread it on crusty toasted bread, or crackers, or--oh, here's something: stuffed into celery. Nomnomnomnomnom.

Cheddar-Beer Spread

1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 shallots, very finely minced
1 cup domestic beer (a not-too-hoppy, light beer is good, like a pale ale)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the beer to a simmer until reduced to about 2/3 cup. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Combine cheeses, butter, garlic, shallots, salt, pepper, and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is smooth and homogenous, at least 1 minute. With the processor running, pour in the beer, and continue to process until the beer is completely incorporated.

Chill for at least an hour. Serve with toasts or crackers.

Ed.: Due to the monster storms that blew through the area on Wednesday, our internet service has been up and down. This should have gone up yesterday, but we were in an outage. Forgive me.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

June 5: Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw

I love coleslaw, really good homemade coleslaw. I love it in a big bowl next to a burger, I love it on a barbecue sandwich, I love it on a turkey sandwich with swiss cheese and russian dressing, I love it on a hot dog with chili and onions. When I was 16, I went to Russia for two weeks and I swore I'd never eat cabbage again, but as it turns out, it was a promise I couldn't keep.

Coleslaw: it's easy to do, but the flip side of that is that it's easy to do badly. Yucky store-bought dressing, under-chopped, leathery cabbage, watery, weepy salad.

So, here are the rules of engagement: homemade dressing. Finely chopped cabbage, salted. They're small things, but coleslaw, by nature, is simple. If it's simple, it has to be pretty much awesome.

I like America's Test Kitchen's recipe, so here it is. It suggests patting the coleslaw dry with paper towels; I think that's a bad idea. I use a salad spinner.
Creamy Buttermilk Dressing

If you are planning to serve the coleslaw immediately, rinse the salted cabbage in a large bowl of ice water, drain it in a colander, pick out any ice cubes, then pat the cabbage dry before dressing.

1 pound cabbage (about 1/2 medium head), red or green, shredded fine (6 cups)
table salt
1 medium carrot , shredded on box grater
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small shallot , minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Toss shredded cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in colander or large mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Let stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse cabbage under cold running water. Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Place wilted cabbage and carrot in large bowl.

2. Stir buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, parsley, vinegar, sugar, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper together in small bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss to combine; refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. (Coleslaw can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June 4: Pan Roasted Chicken with Peach and Bourbon Glaze

Right now, you would not believe the smells that are coming from my kitchen. You really wouldn't. I am roasting that 40-cloves-of-garlic chicken I talked about a few days ago right now, so that we'll have a big delicious roasty garlicky chicken for chicken salad, or for chicken sandwiches, or for chicken eaten straight out of the refrigerator standing over the kitchen sink at 3 a.m. when I can't sleep. Whatever. It's not even for dinner tonight, and it smells so good I can barely stand it. I even threw down some of that rosemary from the plant I bought at Eastern Market this weekend.

Instead of telling you how delicious this chicken is going to be, how it smells like total heaven, I am going to show you this picture from Anthony Bourdain's new book. I love Anthony Bourdain.

Hi Tony. That's a nice bone. And by bone, I mean...bone.

Well, that's enough. Back to talking about food. And by food, I mean Tony's bone. Stop it, Molly! Jeez, this is supposed to be, you know, not full of my usual obscenity and inappropriateness. Family-friendly and all.

Chicken. Yes. Chicken. Here is some more roast chicken. I am still thinking about Anthony Bourdain, only to be distracted by the smell of roasted chicken, but here's some more roasted chicken. It includes the technique of flambe, which involves fire and alcohol. It's not as difficult as it sounds, and I think Anthony Bourdain would approve. Wouldn't you, Tony? You fine thing.

Pan Roasted Chicken with Peach and Bourbon Glaze

For Chicken:
4 four-ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons canola oil
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/2 cup finely diced onions

For Sauce:
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 cup fat-free chicken broth
1/2 cup all-fruit peach preserves
4 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

FOR CHICKEN: Season breasts with salt and pepper; then pan roast in a heavy, covered skillet with the oil, using spray as needed. After 3-4 minutes, turn chicken and cook for 2 minutes. Add onion and cook for 2 more minutes. Set chicken aside, covered.

FOR SAUCE: Flambé bourbon in skillet. Deglaze with stock, and add remaining ingredients. Simmer to sauce-like consistency. Correct seasoning and add any accumulated chicken juices. Pour over chicken.

One last Anthony Bourdain related thing: I have categorized this entry under Food Porn. I am hilarious.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

June 3: Fresh Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes and Sausage

My job is beginning to be hard work. I am exhausted. And tomorrow I have to go bowling. Seriously, that's my assignment tomorrow. I even have a bowling shirt.

I don't have it in me to be clever. We had pizza tonight, not delivery but from the deli case, fresh, with some extra veggies and cheese thrown on. I worked my ass off today and I've come home tired.

Here's some pasta. I love pasta, but I'm too tired to cook it tonight; I'll just write about it instead.

Fresh Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes and Sausage

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 pound Italian sausages, casings removed
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 3/4 cups chopped plum tomatoes
1 cup shelled fresh fava beans (from about 1 pound), blanched 3 minutes then peeled, or double-peeled frozen, thawed
3/4 pound fresh pasta sheets, cut as desired, or dried egg fettuccine
2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese plus additional for passing


Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add next 3 ingredients. Sauté until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add sausages; break up with fork. Sauté until brown, about 3 minutes. Add wine; simmer 1 minute, scraping up browned bits. Add tomatoes and fava beans. Sauté until tomatoes soften, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to same pot.

Add sauce to pasta. Toss over medium heat until sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed if dry, about 2 minutes. Mix in 2 tablespoons cheese. Transfer pasta to bowl.

Serve, passing additional cheese.

From Bon Appetit: "More info: In this dish, Alex uses maltagliati (badly cut) pasta. To make it, cut fresh pasta sheets into trapezoids. Don't worry about making each piece exactly the same size or shape. The pasta should have an irregular look."

Monday, June 2, 2008

June 2: Scattered California Roll With Lobster

I have a fancy-shmancy new job and I couldn't be more excited about it. It is incredibly challenging and very hard and difficult work, but I need the challenge, I want to grow professionally, and it's a really wonderful place to work--smart people doing good work to advance science and engineering. I am an editor working on scientific papers and helping to put together huge, 800-page programs for meetings. So far, I have mostly sat through incredibly complicated and opaque meetings in which a lot of acronyms have been mentioned but not explained. Also, I've filled out a lot of paperwork, and had a grilled-chicken taco salad in a restaurant across the street from my office with my team of co-workers.

My brain is horribly full, and I am exhausted by all of this. I can't stop yawning.

I posted a recipe yesterday, one for waffles, but mysteriously it showed up on March 8th, back when I wrote a draft. Check under the heading "bread" or "breakfast" over there on the right, and you'll see it. Really. I didn't miss a day.

I love that this is like deconstructed sushi. I realize that part of sushi's beauty is the construction, but I am a big believer of form following function when it comes to food, and the function of this salad is to taste good, not look pretty. Also, this is easier than assembling sushi.

Thanks to Food and Wine magazine for this recipe.

Scattered California Roll with Lobster

1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups Japanese or sushi rice (10 ounces)
2 cups water
One 1 1/2-pound lobster
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped pickled ginger
2 teaspoons powdered wasabi mixed with 2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
4 radishes, cut into 1-inch julienne
2 scallions, cut into 1-inch julienne
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch julienne
1 ripe Hass avocado, cut into 1-inch julienne
One 8-by-7 1/2-inch sheet of nori (Japanese seaweed), finely shredded

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the vinegar with the sugar, stirring until dissolved. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice with the water and bring to a boil. Stir, then cover and cook over low heat until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Spread the rice on a large platter and toss with the sweetened vinegar. Refrigerate briefly until cool.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the lobster and cook for 8 minutes. Remove the meat from the tail and claws. Discard the intestine in the tail. Coarsely chop the meat and let cool.
Toast the sesame seeds in a small dry skillet over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar with the oil, ginger, wasabi paste and soy sauce. Season with the sea salt. Add the rice, radishes, scallions, cucumber and lobster meat and toss gently to combine; let stand for 15 minutes to blend the flavors. Fold in the avocado, sesame seeds and nori just before serving.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

May 31: Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic

This morning, Dan and I bought some herb seedlings at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill and have planted them and have them growing on top of a bookcase in our dining room. Our dining room is very bright and sunny, as opposed to our old apartment. It's a perfect place for herbs to grow.

It is silly to be excited about $20 worth of herb seedlings, but I can't tell you how happy all of this makes me. Fresh herbs are one of my favorite things: plucked right off the stem and tossed into a simple green salad, chopped and tossed with hot pasta and butter and parmesan cheese, stirred into a sauce just as it comes off the heat. I can't think of a single application for fresh herbs that I don't think is sheer genius.

We are keeping it simple, just because we're limited on space: chives, thyme, rosemary, and basil. We're also going to put a couple of tomato plants on the deck, and I am pushing for some arugula and a hot pepper plant, because yum, hot peppers.

I have a new job and am going back to work on Monday. I'm quite thrilled about this and I really can't wait, but I have a significantly longer commute than I used to (although the new location is in Dupont Circle and I am really just incredibly excited about the good restaurants and). I have been cooking a lot in preparation for this longer commute: pork barbecue in the slow cooker (not bad, had to use the fattiest pork loin I could find because my supermarket didn't have shoulder, so it's not quite as juicy as I like, but still incredibly tender and delicious), ground turkey taco filling (this is so good, almost better than ground beef), and my mother was here and I took her to the Penzeys Spice outlet in Vienna, Virginia last week, and gave into temptation and bought bratwurst seasoning, mixed it into a mixture of ground beef and ground pork, and made the best burgers I have ever had in my life--they really taste like brats! It's like magic. I highly recommend this stuff. Tomorrow I'm planning on making a mushroom-spinach-chicken stromboli with roasted garlic, and making two so that there'll be an easy dinner one night next week.

I'm also planning on making this dish from Everyday Food's May issue, and making chicken salad or chicken enchilada filling with the leftovers. This is classic French bistro food, simple, clean, intuitive eating, mostly hands-off. I do plan on brining the chicken before roasting it; I really think that brining is to chicken what vanilla is to cookies. Is that analogy too cerebrally foodie? I hope not. Anyway, it also calls for a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Which I have now! Whoo-hoo!

40 cloves of garlic sounds ridiculous, I know. Do it, you won't regret it. The heat mellows the garlic to this sweet, toasty gorgeousness. Take half the garlic and mash them into some potatoes with lots of butter and whole milk, and save the other half in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, toss it with sauteed shrimp and pasta or into risotto or mash it and spread it on pizza under the sauce and toppings and cheese. You're welcome.

Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic

40 cloves of peeled garlic from 3 or 4 heads
1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), rinsed, patted dry, giblets removed
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 475.

Place chicken in a large oven-proof skillet or roasting pan. Rub all over with 1 tablespoon butter; season with salt and pepper. Add thyme, garlic, and remaining butter to skillet.

Roast, basting occasionally with juices and stirring garlic, until instant-read thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh (avoiding bone) reads 165, 45-60 minutes. Remove from oven, rest for 10 minutes. Carve and serve with pan juices.

Friday, May 30, 2008

May 30: Key Lime Pie

Several years and several boyfriends ago, I dated a guy who liked dessert and had friends who liked dessert. I didn't care for dessert, but when he turned 30, it seemed important that his friends like me and so I made several desserts for his birthday party.

He was not very grateful, as it turned out, mostly because he didn't see any point in celebrating his birthday, but also because he just wasn't a particularly grateful person.

His friends, however, remained my friends through our breakup, and I give the credit to that for this pie. Not this exact pie, but a delicious and easy key lime pie. I'm not surprised, to be honest; I can't imagine anyone wanting to risk missing out on this pie by breaking up with me.

However, I am a little weird about food. It's been well-established.

The pie I originally made was Nora Ephron's key lime pie from her novel Heartburn. In the novel, she's invited to dinner, along with her philandering husband, at some friends' house. She has learned earlier in the day that her philandering husband has continued to philander, despite the fact that she has just given birth to their premature son, that she has publicly humiliated her husband's mistress, and that she actually left him in the beginning of the book when she first finds out that he is a philanderer. She makes the pie and they take it to dinner at their friends' house, and during dinner she has a revelation: sometimes love just dies. It's of course more complicated than that, but the upshot is, you can go through your life and love someone and then one day love just dies.

So she takes the pie and smashes it in her husband's face at the dinner table at her friends' house, and then she takes their children and leaves him, for good. I love this ending, because shortly after I made this key lime pie for my ungrateful lump of a boyfriend, love died and I left him too.

In retrospect, I wish I'd thrown this pie at him, for things he'd done and not done and one thoroughly crappy lie that he had told me and himself that had the potential to ruin my life if I'd held onto our floundering relationship just a little longer. If I had it to do over again, I would totally smash this pie in his face just to have the literary ending, and he would have deserved it. However, I lack both the guts and the timing.

Instead, I'll just give you the recipe. Eat it, or else very immaturely smash it in the face of someone who is making you unhappy. Your call.

Key Lime Pie

For the Crust:
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon melted margarine
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup granulated sugar

For the Filling:
Two 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
5 large egg yolks
Grated zest of 1 lime
1 cup fresh lime juice

FOR THE CRUST:Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the inside of a 9-inch-diameter deep-dish pie dish with 1 teaspoon of the melted margarine.

In a mixing bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, sugar, and 1/3 cup of melted margarine. When the ingredients are fully combined, use the mixture to line the bottom and sides of the pie dish. Place the pie dish into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.

FOR THE FILLING:While the crust is baking, in a mixing bowl, make the filling by whisking together all the ingredients.

When the crust is baked, remove it from the oven and pour in the filling. Return the filled pie crust to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more. Let cool to room temperature.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 29: Raspberry-Cream Cheese Muffins

Blahhh, that's enough of that. My mother was here for a week and now she's gone. I am a little surprised at how uncomfortable I am with people in my personal space, and I live in a 700-square-foot condo. All of my space is personal.

I like a good muffin from time to time--chocolate chip, blueberry, cherry pecan, lemon poppyseed. Have you seen those new "muffin top" pans? They just make the muffin "tops" which are of course arguably the best part of the muffin anyway.

This thing sounds irresistable. I get about eleven email newsletters about food and cooking and that sort of thing, and this came in one of those. It sounds like dessert, not anything I'd eat for breakfast, but muffins are really too sticky-sweet for breakfast for me anyway. This thing sounds like cheesecake made portable. I'm all over it.

Raspberry-Cream Cheese Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 of an 8-ounce container cream cheese with strawberries
2 beaten eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
Powdered sugar (optional)

Lightly grease eighteen 2 1/2-inch muffin cups or line with paper baking cups; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in cream cheese till the mixture resembles crumbs about the size of a pea. In a small mixing bowl combine eggs, milk, melted butter or margarine, and vanilla. Add all at once to flour mixture. Stir just till moistened. (The batter will be lumpy.)
Fold in fresh or frozen raspberries. Spoon into the prepared muffin cups, filling each two-thirds full. Bake in a preheated 400° oven about 20 minutes, or till golden brown. Remove from pans; cool slightly on racks. If desired, sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I keep seeing this recipe, and I am dying to try it, because I love the name and because it sounds wonderful. I think just about every country in the world has some version of this recipe. My mother in law makes cabbage stuffed with ground beef or venison, rice, and tomatoes, then braised in a ginger-garlic-tomato sauce. It's classic Polish food.

This is an Asian variation on that theme. I have seen Rachel Ray make it, I have seen recipes on just about every food website I've ever seen for it, and they were talking about it on The Splendid Table on National Public Radio this weekend. I'm sure there are simpler versions of this, and I'm not sure what you would use for substitutions for some of the more unusual ingredients, but I have great faith in my readers.

My mother is still here, by the way, which is why I am so brief.

Lion's Head

1 large head (about 1-1/2 pounds) napa cabbage
4 ounces bean-thread (cellophane) noodles
1 pound lean ground pork
1/4 cup (about 4 ounces) drained and finely minced canned water chestnuts
1 tablespoon minced green onions, white part only
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
3 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons premium soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup water

1. Trim off the root end of the cabbage head and reserve. Quarter the leaves lengthwise and then cut them again crosswise into thirds. Set aside.
2. To prepare the noodles, pour hot water over the bean-thread noodles in a bowl, and let them soak until they are soft, about 15 minutes. Keep the noodles in the water until ready to use, as they tend to dry out quickly.
3. To form the meatballs, combine the pork, water chestnuts, green onions, ginger, 2 teaspoons of the salt, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, wine, and white pepper in a bowl. Using your hands, gently mix all of the ingredients together until well combined. Don't overmix or the pork will become gummy. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. Using a 1/2-cup measure, loosely form the pork into 4-ounce balls and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Set aside.
4. Line a plate with paper towels and have it ready near the cooktop. Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat until a bead of water dances on the surface and then evaporates. Cover the bottom of the skillet with a thin film of the oil and swirl to coat. Arrange the meatballs in a single layer in the bottom of the pan, but do not overcrowd them (depending on the size of your pan, you might need to cook the meatballs in several batches). Decrease the heat to medium and cook the meatballs, turning with tongs to cook evenly, until all sides are well browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared plate. Repeat this process for as many batches as needed.
5. Put the reserved root ends of the cabbage in the bottom of a large saucepan. Gently place the meatballs on top and pour over the chicken broth and the 1/2 cup of water. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, decrease the heat to medium-low, and simmer the mixture, uncovered, until it has cooked down a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the cut-up cabbage leaves and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and continue to simmer until the meatballs are cooked thorough and the cabbage is tender, about 10 minutes more.
6. Drain the noodles, add to the saucepan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and stir to combine well. Remove the pan from the heat.
7. To serve, arrange the meatballs on top of the cabbage and noodles on a platter. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May 27: Sauteed Chicken Breasts

This is The Simplest Recipe On Earth. Seriously. But it's delicious, and chicken breasts are surprisingly easy to screw up. They're lean and they can be flavorless and they overcook in a flash. But the upside is that they're widely available, almost everyone likes them, and you can do almost anything with them.

If by some chance you're just learning to cook, this is a good place to start. It's from a cookbook called Now You're Cooking by Elaine Corn. It's a great cookbook for recent college grads or anyone who's just learning to cook and who wants to cook well with good ingredients.

Sauteed Chicken Breasts

4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on or off
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley ( leaves, not stems!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

1. Wash the chicken breasts. Pat them dry with a paper towel and put them on a plate.
2. Sprinkle the breasts with salt and pepper and have the plate convenient to the stove.
3. Chop the parsley and leave it on the cutting board.
4. Get out a large, good-looking serving platter. This is your last chance to wipe up any mess before you cook and eat.

1. Put the olive oil and butter in a skillet. Turn the heat to high.
2. When the butter foams, put the chicken in the pan with your hands, skin side down.
3. Let the pan heat up again until the chicken crackles. Now, reduce the heat to medium (or medium-high), so the chicken continues to crackle but doesn't burn or stick.
4. During the sautéeing, shake the pan now and then to make sure the chicken is loose, but don't move the pieces or pick them up any more than necessary.
5. After 5 or 6 minutes, when the underside is golden brown, flip the breasts over, using tongs. Keep sautéing over even heat for 5 to 6 minutes more. Pay attention!

1. Take the chicken from the pan with tongs ( or a spatula) and put it on the good-looking platter.
2. Garnish with lots of parsley and serve with the pan juices poured on top.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I know, I know. I left you guys hanging yesterday. We were in Ocean City, Maryland, eating crabs and playing skee-ball, and we didn't get home until after midnight. Even today I am tired and bloated from all the fun I had and the salt I consumed yesterday.

One of the simplest appetizers of all time is just a block of goat cheese or cream cheese with some kind of chutney or jam poured over it, served with a basket of crackers. Any kind of jam is good, especially raspberry, but my favorite is a savory onion chutney flavored with chiles and garlic. It's the kind of thing you find in a specialty food store, and even then it's not easy to find, so I was thrilled to find this recipe for an onion jam.

This is easy and flexible and meant to be played with. Use great ingredients, taste it as you go to measure the need for seasoning, and give it lots of time to turn sweet. Besides the appetizer I mentioned above, try it with grilled tuna, or with sauteed greens like kale or escarole.

Slow and Easy Savory Onion Jam

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 to 6 medium red onions, thinly sliced
10 large shallots, thinly sliced
8 to 10 big cloves garlic (not Elephant type), thinly sliced
salt and generous freshly ground black pepper
shredded zest of 2 large oranges (optional)
1/4 cup currants or raisins (optional)
1 small fresh tomato, peeled, or a canned tomato
1/4 to 1/2 cup wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Heat oil in a 12-inch saute pan over medium high. Add onions, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper, tossing to combine. Once they begin sizzling, turn heat to medium low, cover pan and cook 30 minutes, adding zest and raisins half way through cooking. Once onions become soft and clear, uncover, raising heat to medium high.

Brown the onions. Stir often, scraping up the brown glaze on the bottom of the pan. You may need a little water as they approach being done. Once deep gold, stir in tomato and 1/4 cup vinegar, cooking it down to nothing.

Taste for a soft sweet-tart balance. If necessary, cook in a little sugar, or more vinegar. Tomato should meld into the onions, while the vinegar cooks down to an appealing backdrop, not a sharp accent. Cool quickly and pack in jars. Keep cold, but serve close to room temperature.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

May 24: Fresh Pasta with Roasted Walnut Sauce

Remember those roasted onions from a couple days ago? Yeah, I've been looking closer at the website where I found that, The Splendid Table from American Public Media. What a treasure trove of creative, innovative, intuitive and delicious sounding food.

I am being brief these days. My mother is here, and she doesn't really know I do this, so...if you see her, don't mention my blog, please. It's the only way I can talk about her behind her back, airing our dirty laundry to the entire internet-connected world.

I am only posting a recipe for the sauce--not posting a recipe for fresh pasta. People who make it already have a good recipe, people who don't but want to can google it and choose from the 1.9 million results that will come back. People who don't really care to make their own pasta can buy that refrigerated pasta from the deli case. Fresh pasta is delicious but it is a pain in the ass. Sometimes I don't mind a pain in the ass. Did I mention that my mother is visiting?

I'm posting this verbatim again, just because it's beautifully written.

Fresh Pasta With Roasted Walnut Sauce

Cook a pound of fresh tagliatelle, fettucine, or other "ribbon" pasta in abundant, sea-salted boiling water to the al dente stage, drain, and toss with 1½ cups of the following sauce. If fresh pasta is not available, substitute dried artisinal pasta.

The Sauce (Makes about 2 cups)
8 ounces shelled walnuts, lightly roasted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Several gratings of nutmeg
Sea salt and just-cracked pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup late-harvest white wine such as Vin Santo or Moscato

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse the walnuts until they are the texture of very coarse meal (do not grind them too finely - more texture is better than less).

Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and pulse two or three more times to combine; with the machine running, pour a mixture of the olive oil, cream, and wine through the feed tube and process only until the paste is emulsified. Taste and correct the sauce for salt and spices.

Friday, May 23, 2008

May 23: Savory Bread Pudding With Parmesan and Mushrooms

Remember Tiffani, that awful egomaniac from the first season of "Top Chef?" One of my favorite moments in TV history was watching Dave tell her to shut up, the "I'm not your bitch, bitch" line. I've never in my life seen anyone who needed to be told that so desperately.

As much as I disliked Tiffani, I loved her food. She made a Krispy-Kream bread pudding during one challenge that just looked fabulous.

I love the textures and flavors of bread pudding, the custardy sweetness. Even more, though, I love a savory bread pudding. It's so unexpected, like Thanksgiving stuffing, but stepped up. It could be a rich, filling side dish, it could be a vegetarian main dish. I can't wait to try this.

Savory Bread Pudding With Parmesan and Mushrooms

1 (1-pound) loaf crusty country-style white bread
1/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (such as crimini, button, portobello, and stemmed shiitake), thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
8 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Cut bottom crust and short ends off bread and discard. Cut remaining bread with crust into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups loosely packed). Place cubes in very large bowl. Add oil, thyme, and garlic; toss to coat. Spread cubes out on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Return toasted bread cubes to same very large bowl.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and bell pepper. sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables and parsley to bread cubes.Whisk heavy cream, eggs, salt, and ground pepper in large bowl. Mix custard into bread and vegetables. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Sprinkle cheese over.

Cover and refrigerate.Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake stuffing uncovered until set and top is golden, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

May 22: Roasted Onions

I am lacking any kind of culinary inspiration tonight. I overcooked the spaghetti tonight, something I never do. My mother arrives tomorrow. Clearly I am a little distracted.

This is a recipe from The Splendid Table, which is a genius show on NPR hosted by Lynn Rosetto Casper, who I love but whose last name I may have misspelled because I am too lazy to go find her cookbook and look at it. Her show, but Jamie Oliver's recipe. I think Jamie Oliver is a little spazzy, but still sort of adorable in a pallid British way.

Jamie recommends serving this dish with cod or roasted chicken. He also describes this as "The dog's kahunas." Given the size and shape of onions, I will work very hard to keep that phrase out of my head. I have gone ahead and put his recipe verbatim here, just because I love how he talks.

Roasted Onions

4 tennis-ball-sized white onions, peeled
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 twigs of fresh rosemary, lower leaves picked and chopped
8 tablespoons heavy cream
A couple handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of pancetta or bacon

Boil the onions in plenty of water for 15 minutes until slightly tender. Remove from the pan and allow to cool. Then, with a sharp knife, remove the top inch of each onion, finely chop and place to one side. If need be, slightly trim the stalk end of the onions so that they will sit flat on a roasting tray. Cut about a heaping tablespoon out from the inside of each onion, keeping the outside intact. Finely chop and add to the rest of the chopped onion.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat a frying pan and add a little olive oil, your garlic, the chopped onions, and just a little chopped rosemary. Fry for a couple of minutes until softened, then turn the heat down, add the cream and remove from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan and season.

I like to wrap a nice slice of pancetta around the middle of each onion and just spike it in place with a sharpened twig of rosemary or wooden toothpick. The rosemary and pancetta will make the onion taste lovely as it cooks. Place the onions on a roasting tray and spoon some of the chopped onion mixture inside each one. Bake in the preheated oven for around 25 minutes until soft and tender, depending on the size of the onions. It's cool to experiment with different cheeses, so give it a bash.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

May 21: Chicken Cacciatore

Boy oh boy, have I seen chicken cacciatore go wrong. And by wrong, I mean, convoluted and overcooked. Chicken cacciatore is something that I think of as being intuitive, flavors that go together effortlessly: chicken, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, olives, white wine. It's rustic slow cooking at its best.

I don't make chicken cacciatore often, because it requires a long list of ingredients and the peppers are hard on my husband's digestion. But when I do, it's a production, and I freeze it and eat it for weeks.

I am a chicken racist--strictly a white-meat girl. It presents some challenges. Chicken breasts are lean and turn to sawdust in a heartbeat. They don't have much flavor on their own--it's the lean thing again. And in a braised dish, like cacciatore, chicken skin can do this awful, flabby, sloppy thing that just is not appealing on any level.

When I make cacciatore, I don't cook from a recipe. Like I said, this is something I think of as being intuitive. Nothing here is too terribly confusing or exacting. If you like mushrooms a lot, add more. If olives aren't your thing...well, I think you're kinda wrong, but go ahead and leave 'em out.

Seek out great canned tomatoes though. I've said it before, let me just do it again: Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Diced. It's a no-miss, and Muir Glen doesn't pay me to say that.

Serve this with a long strand pasta, like spaghetti or linguine, or better yet, with garlic mashed potatoes. Mmmmm, potatoes.

Chicken Cacciatore

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil (no need to use extra virgin here, it's expensive and you won't taste it anyway)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium white onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 cup good dry white wine
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 14.5 ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
pinch of crushed red pepper
1/2 pound white mushrooms, wiped clean, cut in half, and sliced
2 red peppers, seeded and diced
1 cup pitted black olives, quartered lengthwise
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Heat a medium high-sided skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper. Brown chicken in skillet until well seared, 5-6 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and set aside.

Using the same skillet, add the additional tablespoon of oil. Over medium high heat, saute onions and garlic until transparent. Do not brown. Add mushrooms, peppers, and red pepper, and saute until mushrooms are darkening and peppers are softening, 4-5 minutes.

Using tongs, remove the chicken skin and discard. Return chicken to the pan, and add wine to the pan. Using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine has mostly cooked off, add the broth, tomatoes, and olives. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and partially cover. Simmer 30-35 minutes, until sauce is reduced and thickened and chicken is cooked through and tender.

Stir in oregano and parsley. Serve.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May 20: Deep Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake

I love the idea of dessert so much more than I love the actual dessert course. Isn't that sad? But, like I've mentioned before, I've lost my sweet tooth, and usually I'm happy if I can get a main dish and a couple of sides on the table.

But this blog is not so much about what I actually want to cook--it's more about what's fun to think about eating. Dessert falls into that category for me, that deep dark fantasy that I don't want to commit to, really, but that is pure heaven to think about. Somewhere between reality and fantasy is where this blog usually lands, I think--for example, I would never blog about what I am actually having for dinner tonight, which is turkey sloppy joes and salad. Sure, it's the reality of what a foodie is having for dinner on a Tuesday, but exciting reading it isn't. That's why I go out looking for recipes like Deep Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake.

I don't bake a lot, but I love to make pound cake. It's forgiving and delicious and easy to manage, goes with a multitude of accessories, and doesn't need to be frosted or decorated. A slice of poundcake, a scoop of really great ice cream, a handful of raspberries--that's my idea of dessert.

This recipe, incidentally, is from Besides having the greatest selection of cooking gadgets, pans, pots, and small appliances for sale, they have a really wonderful collection of recipes. Yesterday's recipe, the honey-bourbon barbecue chicken, is from too. A lot of my recipes, ones that don't come from my own library, are from America's Test Kitchen. One I've meant to use more is Martha Stewart Living. I occasionally use a recipe from Food Network as well. There are a few other food blogs I read, most notably The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet, Homesick Texan, Pioneer Woman Cooks!, and Sunday Nite Dinner, and I occasionally borrow a recipe from one of those (and anyone who hasn't tasted Pioneer Woman's Mystery Rolls is missing out.) Anybody have any recommendations of other great food websites?

Anyway. Pound cake. Here we go.

Deep Chocolate Sour Cream Poundcake

For Cake:
2 1/4 cups self-rising cake flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate cut into 1/4 inch pieces

For Glaze:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

FOR CAKE: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter a 10-inch loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper; butter the paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa and baking soda.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter with 1 1/2 cups of the sugar at medium speed until blended. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. On low speed, alternately beat in the sour cream and the dry ingredients in 3 batches. Add the chocolate pieces and beat just until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cake cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then unmold and let cool right side up.

FOR GLAZE: In a small saucepan, combine the 1 cup of sugar with the water and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Brush a thin layer of the glaze over the cake and let set. Brush the cake with the glaze 2 more times, allowing it to dry between glazings.

Cut the cake into 3/4-inch-thick slices and serve with whipped cream.

Monday, May 19, 2008

May 19: Honey Bourbon Barbecue Chicken

There are a few things I don't keep in my kitchen. Unless I need it for a specific recipe, honey is one of them. I just don't get a lot of use out of it, it ends up becoming fossillized and weird, and I throw away that cute little bear. Molasses is another.

These are two things that show up in recipes a lot. Like, a lot. And they're both in this recipe. I actually have honey in my kitchen right now. I also have bourbon. Of course I have bourbon. My mother is coming to visit on Friday. I may not have enough bourbon. There may not be enough bourbon on earth.

For this, I'll go buy the molasses though. This looks delicious. I am a sucker for barbecued chicken. Barbecued chicken, sweet corn, potato salad, strawberries and pound cake. I think it would be a suitable last meal, were I on death row.

Oh, this recipe says that the bourbon is optional. Okay, listen: the bourbon is never optional. Make it with the bourbon. It's called Honey Bourbon Barbecue Chicken, after all.

Honey Bourbon Barbecue Chicken

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups ketchup
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
6 natural chicken breast halves, bone in, skin on
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the next 7 ingredients. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook slowly for 20 minutes; until the sauce thickens. Stir in bourbon.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in the grill.

Mix salt and pepper together. Sprinkle over chicken breasts and under the skin. Grill chicken about 10 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Reserve 1 cup of barbecue sauce. Brush chicken lightly with remaining sauce and cook for 2 minutes longer.
Place chicken on a platter and cover loosely with foil until ready to serve

Sunday, May 18, 2008

May 18: Corn and Green Chile Tamale Casserole

My best friend, who is going on nine months pregnant, is nesting. When I was nine months pregnant, three years ago right now, all of our discretionary income was going one of two places: into baby stuff, and to the grocery store. It was shortly before Memorial Day and all of the grocery stores had Memorial Day picnic food on sale, including what I thought was the greatest sale of all time: buy two packs of Ball Park hot dogs, get three free. I think that at one point there may have been twenty packs of hot dogs in my freezer.

Kimberly is doing what I would have been doing, were I not too busy buying every package of hot dogs in Southern Maryland: she's making casseroles and freezing them. I didn't bother--my mother was coming for three weeks, my mother-in-law was coming for another ten days beyond that. I figured I'd need something to give them to do, and cooking kept them from driving me totally, hormonally insane. Also, my mother seemed eager to indulge every whim that I had.

Kimberly claims that I am a fussy eater. I think that's the pot calling the kettle black. I can't remember if she eats all of this stuff or not, but this looks delicious, and like it would freeze well. I think it'd be great with baked chicken, or pork chops, or even just some pasta tossed with garlic and butter. If you look around a little, you should be able to find frozen tamales in the freezer section of a well-stocked grocery store with a Latino clientele. If you can't, the reviews on this say that you can substitute empanadas or even taquitos.

Corn and Green Chile Tamale Casserole

6 4-ounce frozen chicken or beef tamales
1 10-ounce package frozen white or yellow corn (unthawed)
1 4-ounce can diced mild green chilies
3 green onions, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup whipping cream
1 7-ounce can salsa verde
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
Avocado wedges
Additional salsa verde (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place frozen tamales in microwave and cook on high until thawed, about 5 minutes. Remove husks. Cut tamales in half lengthwise. Place in single layer in 10-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Sprinkle with frozen corn, chilies, green onions and 1/2 cup cilantro. Whisk cream, salsa verde, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper in medium bowl to blend. Drizzle over casserole. Sprinkle grated cheese over top.

Bake casserole until heated through and bubbling, about 35 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cilantro. Serve with avocado and more salsa, if desired.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

May 17: Turkey Cutlets with Peas & Spring Onions

Dan and Max and I went down to the Charlotte Hall flea market in St. Mary's County this morning. Most of what was for sale in the farmer's market section of the market was not homegrown or particularly appealing, but St. Mary's County has a lot of Amish residents, and they had some spring produce for sale. I bought two huge bunches of spring onions from an Amish family. Spring produce is one of my favorite things ever, artichokes and peas and those soft, sweet lettuces like butter lettuce and Bibb lettuce.

I don't think I've done even a single turkey recipe on this blog, which is sad because we eat a fair amount of it, between turkey sandwiches and ground turkey and turkey sausage. This caught my eye, and not just because the same Amish family who was selling produce was also selling turkeys in cages, and they scared the crap out of my kid. It incorporates some of my favorite things, and I did happen to pick up some peas as well.

Turkey Cutlets with Peas & Spring Onions

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound 1/4-inch-thick turkey breast cutlets or steaks
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 bunch spring onions or scallions, sliced, whites and greens separated
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen, thawed
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1. Whisk flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge each turkey cutlet (or steak) in the flour mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey and cook until lightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; cover with foil to keep warm.

2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onion (or scallion) whites and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are browned and the whites are slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add broth, wine and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly reduced, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in peas and onion (or scallion) greens and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute. Stir in lemon zest. Nestle the turkey into the vegetables along with any accumulated juices from the plate. Cook, turning the cutlets once, until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.

Friday, May 16, 2008

There's a recipe that made me fall in love with almost every piece of cookware that I own. Belgian beef stew with onions and beer in my Dutch oven. In my big, heavy-bottomed traditional skillet, it's blueberry-glazed chicken breasts. And in my slow cooker, it's caramelized onions.

No, really. The slow cooker is a phenomenal piece of kitchen machinery, and I'm not just talking about for pot roast or spaghetti sauce. You slow cooker does more than you think it does, and caramelized onions is just one of the things it does. And it does them really well, and much more simply than caramelizing onions on the stove top, where they need stirring and babysitting.

Using your slow cooker virtually eliminates the chance of burning the onions. The other bonus is that you end up with this amazing onion-flavored butter at the end of cooking. You can use it in pastas, risottos, to saute vegetables. The onions themselves--well, you can use them practically anywhere: pizza, fish, meat. They're part vegetable, part condiment, and totally sweet and delicious and unforgettable.

Slow-Cooker Caramelized Onions

3 pounds Vidalia or other sweet onions (4 to 5 onions, 3 to 4 inches in diameter), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick to 1/4-inch-thick slices
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter


Place the onions and butter in the insert of the slow cooker, cover, and cook on LOW for 12 to 14 hours, until the onions are deep brown and very soft. It's almost impossible to overcook these; make sure to let the onions cook until they are mahogany colored.

Notes: While this recipe calls for Vidalia onions, you can use other sweet onions such as Maui, Walla Walla, or Texas 1015s. If you have a large slow cooker, you can double the onions. It is not necessary to increase the amount of butter.

Don't blanch at the amount of butter called for here. When you drain and chill the onions, the onion-flavored butter will congeal on the surface of the cooking liquid. Skim it and use it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

May 15: Cheddar Cheese Sauce

My mother was late a lot when I was a kid. I got so that I could count on her being 15 minutes to an hour late, and I would plan accordingly. I grew up with a lot of resentment toward her, not being able to count on her being where she was supposed to be when she was supposed to be there.

Now that I'm an adult, I know it was mostly not her fault. It was the fault of her having a demanding job and being the sole breadwinner, and also a teensy bit flaky sometimes. But one of the things it did for me is gave me a bias toward a sure thing, things that I could depend on to do exactly what they were supposed to do. There is something intensely comforting about the fact that when you cook flour and fat together and add stock, it will get thick, every single time. It's reliable, dependable, and best of all, it's gravy. And I love gravy.

I don't make sauces a lot, and when I do, usually they are simple pan sauces to go with a chicken breast or a pan-seared steak. But America's Test Kitchen has a recipe for a cheddar cheese sauce that is so simple, so straightforwardly cheesy, so delicious and perfectly balanced and just-right-all-over, that I can't get enough of it. It's delicious over steamed vegetables, and if you drag out your deep-fryer only once a year to make real homemade french fries, you may as well make this cheese sauce to go along with them. You can mix it with a little cooked pasta for easy real mac-and-cheese. It's even great on a hot dog.

But my favorite thing? It's a sauce. I am comforted by sauces, because it is a safe bet how they will behave. I am very seldom left waiting by a sauce that doesn't show up when it's supposed to.

I may need a little therapy.

Okay, so let me say this: use good cheddar cheese, and grate it yourself. Pre-grated cheese is coated with some kind of chemical that keeps it from clumping. Yuck.

Cheddar Cheese Sauce

1 3/4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
Pinch cayenne pepper

Bring 1 1/2 cups of milk to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup of milk together, then stir into the simmering milk. Continue to cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened, about 2 minutes.

Off the heat, stir in the cheese and cayenne until the cheese is melted and smooth. Season with salt to taste.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

May 14: Sweet, Tart and Spicy Shrimp and Cucumber Salad

I am drinking a really delicious California zinfandel tonight, and neglecting to eat. It's been a bit of a stressful day, and I'll tell you about it some other time, but suffice it to say that alcohol and an empty stomach are a surprisingly good combination, if one that's making me maudlin at the moment.

My mystery subscription to Bon Apetit arrived again today. There is something great about getting a cooking magazine in the mail, there really is, especially for someone like me, who reads about food for fun. Bon Apetit is a terrific magazine too, full of great, smart, creative, clever, delicous-looking food that is accessable and yet elegant.

This is from Bon Apetit. I hate most restaurant Chinese food but I love great Asian flavors, like the ones described here. I like that the ingredients are exotic without being precious or obscure. I like these seasonal ingredients.

I like wine. I think I shall have another glass of wine or two.

Sweet, Tart, and Spicy Shrimp and Cucumber Salad


1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
1 teaspoon hot chili paste
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger


2 pounds cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cups lightly salted roasted peanuts
1 pound cooked deveined peeled medium shrimp
4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
1 large red bell pepper, cut into matchstick-size strips
3 green onions, cut into matchstick-size strips
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 torn fresh Thai basil or regular basil leaves
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds, toasted

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl; let dressing stand while preparing salad.

Peel half of cucumbers; cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds with small spoon. Cut into 1/4 inch cubes and place in large strainer over set over bowl.

Cut off ends from remaining cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds. Cut halves crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices and add to strainer. Sprinkle with salt, let drain 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add peanuts, saute until golden. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel.

Combine shrimp, cabbage, bell pepper, green onion, cilantro, and basil in large bowl.

Pat cucumber pieces dry and add to salad. Toss with dressing, sprinkle with peanuts and sesame seeds.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May 13: Wild Rice Salad

One of the first things that I was ever allowed to make on my own was pasta salad. My mother figured that, at age 12, I could handle slicing up vegetables and boiling water. I made crazy, schizophrenic pasta salads with everything in the refrigerator: vegetables, cheese, tuna, olives, bottled salad dressing. It could not possibly have tasted good.

But I still love good pasta salad. Orzo with red peppers, red onions, feta, and Greek olives, with oregano and red wine vinaigrette is one of my favorite things. Rotini with basil, salami, and fresh mozzerella, with olive oil and balsalmic vinegar--also delicious. So is penne with diced chicken, sharp cheddar, shredded carrots, sliced radishes, and ranch dressing. I also like just plain old macaroni salad, with mayonnaise, celery, onion, and dill relish.

I have started liking rice salad a lot too. The texture is a little different, the flavors play out a little differently than pasta salad, but I am liking it as well as I like pasta salad.

Here is the rice salad I'm making this week. I am getting a little carried-away in the kitchen these days, and I need to start maybe freezing some things because I was offered a really juicy, yummy dream job of a job today and I am going back to work early next month. But I love this rice salad with grilled chicken and corn on the cob, or pork tenderloin and sauteed apples, or grilled shrimp and a crunchy romaine salad. It's also delicious eaten two days later, standing in front of the refrigerator at 2 in the morning.

Wild Rice Salad

1 6-ounce package Uncle Ben's Wild and Long Grain Rice, Original Flavor
10 ounces chopped, toasted hazelnuts
1 cup sweetend dried cranberries
1/2 of 1 medium red onion, finely diced
2 cups bottled balsalmic vinaigrette dressing, or homemade (I usually make my own, 3 parts good olive oil to 1 part good balsalmic vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a very small pinch of sugar if it tastes too tart--but Newman's Own balsalmic vinaigrette is widely available, and delicious)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook rice according to package directions, omitting seasoning packet and shortening cooking time by 1-2 minutes. Rinse rice in a strainer in cold running water and drain completely. Toss rice with dressing and other ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Chill and serve.

Monday, May 12, 2008

May 12: BLT Salad

If I had any sense at all, it might embarass me how much I like bacon. Bacon should be a guilty pleasure, eaten in secret, and not talked about.

But I am not someone who feels guilty about pleasure. I never have been. Guilt is not in my nature. If I'm likely to feel bad about it later, I probably won't do it. And I seldom eat anything I feel bad about later. I am an unabashed carnivore. I have gained weight over the years, mostly due to my intensely lazy nature and my feeling that, because everything else in my life is going so well, I just don't feel that need for the element of control that comes from depriving myself of things just to deprive myself. I still practice moderation almost all the time, because if I didn't, I would practice bingeing instead.

You would never have known it based on the weather today, when it barely got out of the 40's here, but it is almost summer. I hate being too hot, and much warmer than about 78 degrees is too hot for me. You wouldn't think summer would be my favorite thing, but I like baseball and after three seasons of heavy, long-simmered rich stews and braises, I love summer food.

Is there anything as great as a BLT? Well, yeah, lots of things, but I'm talking about a real, mid-summer's night dream of a sandwich, with great bread and thick-sliced bacon and serious juicy summer tomatoes. By the time you're down to the end of the sandwich, the juice has soaked into the bread, making a sort of bread-slush with tomatoes and mayonnaise (I seem to be talking a lot about mayonnaise today), with the pieces sliding apart and everything falling apart in your hands...wait. Hold on, that part's not so great.

Yeah, the one drawback to a BLT, the mess that you're left with. Some people (like my mother) are okay with it. Me, not so much. I like my food like I like my husband: orderly, put-together, consistent, and...wait, that's not my husband. Who is that guy?

Anyway, the BLT. There's an answer. It's a good answer and as much as celebrity chefs sort of turn me off (*cough* Rachael Ray *cough*) Alton Brown came up with this one. It's a panzanilla, a bread salad that he gave some clever name that doesn't bear repeating. I love bread salad of all varieties, including a panzanilla with oil-cured olives and spinach and feta which I will try to remember to tell you about some other day.

We were at the farmer's market at Eastern Market in D.C. this weekend, and the tomatoes are starting to taste good again--not those awful pink things with the texture and consistency of a baseball. They're not the big juicy beefsteaks that you'll find in August, the ones that are almost erotic in their ripeness, the ones that are still warm from growing on the vine in the sun when you slice into them, but they'll do. Make this salad now, and then come back to it in July or August and make it again.

If you're like me and cook by the seat of your pants, or you just forgot to set the bread out, you can dry the bread in a very low (like 150 degrees low) for 20 or 30 minutes. I have half a loaf of homemade rustic bread that I would probably use for this--just something serious and sturdy that you can cut into 1-inch cubes. Don't go and try to use Wonderbread for this, or you get what you deserve. I assure you that it's as much about the bread as it is about anything else, and you know me--for me it's always about the bacon.

And the mint? In the dressing? Ummm, no thanks. Add it if you like, but mint and bacon sounds like Doritos and ice cream to me.

BLT Salad

4 cups French bread cut into 1-inch cubes and dried overnight
6 slices bacon, cooked, chopped, drippings reserved
2 cups halved grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons oil, for searing
2 cups halved yellow pear tomatoes or roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chiffonade mint
1 tablespoon chiffonade basil

Toss bread cubes in the bacon drippings. Sear the halved grape tomatoes in 2 tablespoons of oil, cut side down, until caramelized about 5 minutes, set aside. Combine red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl, slowly whisk in olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified. Combine all tomatoes, bread, bacon, and lettuce and dress with vinaigrette, toss well, garnish with mint and basil and serve.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

May 11: Compound Butters of All Persuasion

I have been just a little boring lately, I know. I am finding being unemployed just a tiny bit more taxing than I anticipated. I know, poor me, right? But there's all these great meals to cook, though, and suddenly I have time to do it. I've been baking bread. I've been doing all of the running-around that had to be worked around somehow when I had a job; including quitting the bank that I have loathed for the past almost-three years and finding a new one, getting all of our accounts switched around. The upshot of all of this activity is that I am thoroughly exhausted by 9 PM. And no, I'm not pregnant, so as it turns out, all I am is a very old lady.

I will say this though: today, for Mother's Day, we went to Eamon's in Old Town Alexandria. And I ate two battered, deep-fried sausages for lunch. And they were just as good as you would think that two battered, deep-fried sausages would be. Better, even. And I don't even care how fattening they were. They were fricking amazing.

I meant to write more about compound butters yesterday, but Blogger ate my post. I hope it was delicious.

A compound butter is not complicated, but it's a thing of beauty. Fat, which is mostly what butter is, is a great vehicle for flavor. Fat picks up flavors easily and transfers them to other things. Also, fat tastes good. Compound butter is butter mixed with other things.

Compound butters are great on almost anything. Vegetables, steaks, fish, pasta, even popcorn. That one from yesterday, that cinnamon-honey butter? On a waffle? Oh mama. A lot of high-end groceries like Fresh Fields and Whole Foods are selling their own compound butters now, and they're excellent, but you don't have to be limited by what they have available.

All you need for a compound butter is softened, room-temperature butter (I like salted butter for compound butter, just because the salt makes the other flavors pop a little) and some other ingredients of your choice. Here are a few compound butters and some suggestions for what to do with them.
Here are a few of my favorites, and my favorite ways to eat them.

Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter (or 1 stick unsalted, and 1/8 teaspoon table salt), softened to room temperature
Other ingredients of your choice (see below)

Beat the butter with a fork until it's light and fluffy, then work in the other ingredients until incorporated. Store the butter in a small, tightly covered container in the refrigerator, or roll it tightly into a log in plastic wrap, store it in the fridge, and cut off rounds as needed.

Sour Cream & Chive Compound Butter
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped or snipped fresh chives
Great on baked potatoes

Cheddar-Bacon-Scallion Compound Butter
1/8 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons crumbled, crisp-fried bacon
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (white and light-green parts only)
Potatoes of any kind--especially in twice-baked potatoes

Basil-Red Pepper Compound Butter
1/8 cup chopped roasted jarred red peppers
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
Tossed with cheese tortellini

Garlic-Herb Compound Butter
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 tablespoons fresh finely chopped herbs of your choice--try parsley, thyme, and sweet basil
Spread on toasted country bread for easy garlic bread

Chipotle Compound Butter
1 chipotle pepper in adobo
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from chipotle can)
Spread on outside of chicken quesadillas before grilling

Cilantro-Lime Compound Butter
4 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons finely-chopped cilantro
Melt over grilled fish--mahi-mahi, grouper, and red snapper would all be good

Lemon-Pepper Compound Butter
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
Tossed with angel-hair pasta and sauteed shrimp

Gorgonzola-Worcestershire Compound Butter
1/8 cup crumbled gorgonzola or other strong bleu cheese
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
Melt over grilled steak

Sun-dried Tomato-Parmesan Compound Butter
3 tablespoons oil-packed, finely minced tomatoes
4 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
Spread on white bread for grilled cheese sandwiches
Or, tossed with roasted broccoli

Saturday, May 10, 2008

May 10: Cinnamon Honey Compound Butter

When did I become such a little old lady? One glass of wine with dinner and I'm falling asleep on the couch. What if I have to give up drinking? Oh my God!

Compound butter: if you haven't tried them yet, you're missing out. I baked bread today, something I love to do but don't do often enough. The exactitude required by baking does not suit my free spirit in the kitchen. Measuring stuff is sort of stifling to me. But I love fresh homemade bread, particularly with compound butter. All it is, is butter with stuff mixed in. Seriously--butter and stuff.

Compound butter is good for all kinds of things: popcorn, fish, pasta. I love bleu cheese butter on a freshly grilled steak; I love chicken breasts with chipotle butter; I love spaghetti with garlic-basil butter.

For the homemade bread, I made my favorite sweet compound butter. Let me just say that I think this would be amazing on pancakes, or waffles, or toast. There was a restaurant in Kalamazoo that we used to go to that served warm rolls with this butter, and it is so good, it is all I can do to not slather my three-year-old in this stuff. Believe me, based on his behaviour today, it would be an improvement.

Cinnamon Honey Butter

1 stick salted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Whip butter with a fork until fluffy. Mix in honey and cinnamon.

Keep cool. Will keep, tightly covered in refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, May 9, 2008

May 9: Bacon, Scallion and Caramelized Onion Dip

Sunday is Mother's Day. My mother will be here for a short visit on the 23rd, and I anticipate eating well while she is here. My mother loves great, extravagant food, has a huge sweet tooth, and will eat anything. She is a lot of fun to cook for, because everything is the best thing she's ever had.

One of my favorite things that my mother makes is tuna noodle casserole, with canned cream of mushroom soup and frozen peas and buttered breadcrumbs on top. I am not going to bother with the recipe for that. It's ubiquitous and everybody's had it and either loved it or hated it, so I won't bother. Take my word, though, that my mother makes delicious tuna noodle casserole.

Instead, here is something that my mother would love. I inherited my love of dip from her. I would serve this with a variety of crackers, or maybe just eat it with a spoon alone in my living room.

Bacon, Scallion, and Caramelized Onion Dip

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 pound onions, root end cut off, halved pole to pole, peeled, and sliced 1/4 inch thick across the grain
1/2 tablespoon water
Ground black pepper
3 slices bacon (about 3 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 scallions, minced
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
3/4 cup sour cream

1. Heat butter and oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat; when foam subsides, stir in salt and sugar. Add onions and stir to coat; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and release some moisture, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are deeply browned and slightly sticky, about 40 minutes longer. (If onions are sizzling or scorching, reduce heat. If onions are not browning after 15 to 20 minutes, raise heat.) Off heat, stir in water; season to taste with pepper. (Can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 7 days.)

2. Fry 3 slices (about 3 ounces) bacon, in small skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes; remove with slotted spoon to paper towel–lined plate and set aside.

3. Combine caramelized onions, cider vinegar, scallions, sour cream, and bacon in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve. (Can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 3 days.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

May 8: Fennel Mashed Potatoes

Fennel is good for you. It keeps you from having bad breath and it aids digestion. And it tastes delicious. It tastes a little like licorice, but not in a yucky way. I like it raw, I like it braised, I like it steamed.

I think I'd like it this way too: mashed into mashed potatoes. Because I am totally that person who likes mashed potatoes pretty much any old way you can think to make them. Plain, with milk and butter, through the ricer? Check. Mashed with about fifteen cloves of garlic? Check. With smoked cheddar and chipotle pepper stirred in? Oh my yes.

Found this one on Epicurious. I do love that site.

Fennel Mashed Potatoes

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered, cored, thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup (or more) half and half
Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add sliced fennel bulb and crushed fennel seeds and stir to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until fennel is tender but not brown, stirring often, about 20 minutes. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Place potatoes in large saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Return potatoes to pan; cook over medium heat until no liquid remains. Mash potatoes.

Add 1 cup half and half to fennel mixture and bring to simmer. Working in 2 batches, add fennel mixture to potatoes; stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm over medium heat, adding more half and half as needed if dry.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

May 7: French Onion Soup

Man oh man, what a dilemma. French onion soup can be rich, sumptuous, the best possible kind of comfort food. Or it can be salty, one-note, tired, and covered in congealed, poor-quality cheese. When you order it in a restaurant, you never know what you're going to get.

What's the answer? Make it at home. It's not difficult, and it's made mostly of things you have around the house (and I promise I'll get around to that Advanced Pantry still). It's a great Sunday afternoon lunch for a rainy day, maybe with a little salad and a tall glass of milk.

You need the right bowls for this--heavy crockery that can take the heat of the broiler. There are special French onion crocks with handles that make handling a scorching-hot bowl a little easier. Either way, as my son says, be safe, be careful. French onion soup can make for some impressive burns.

This is awesome: I'm watching the Nationals game while I write this: Paul LoDuca got hit in the already-injured hand with a pitch and is clearly in quite a bit of pain. A knucklehead fan from the other team (The Houston Assholes, I mean the Astros) gave him some crap as he went back to the dugout, and security came and escorted this fine gentleman and his knuckle-dragging ape of a buddy from the ballpark. This has nothing to do with soup. This has to do with me and how much I love baseball.

French Onion Soup

2 lb medium onions, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced lengthwise
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dry white wine
4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (32 fl oz)
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 (1/2-inch-thick) diagonal slices of baguette
1 (1/2-lb) piece Gruyère, Comte, or Emmental
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cook onions, thyme, bay leaves, and salt in butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft and deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in broth, water, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

While soup simmers, put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Arrange bread in 1 layer on a large baking sheet and toast, turning over once, until completely dry, about 15 minutes.

Remove croûtes from oven and preheat broiler. Put crocks in a shallow baking pan.

Discard bay leaves and thyme from soup and divide soup among crocks, then float a croûte in each. Slice enough Gruyère (about 6 ounces total) with cheese plane or very sharp knife to cover tops of crocks, allowing ends of cheese to hang over rims of crocks, then sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until cheese is melted and bubbly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

May 6: Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Strawberries

I've lost my sweet tooth, mostly. It's the curse of being a diabetic--I mean, it's the curse if you don't think of retinopathy, peripheral neuropathy, kidney failure, circulatory failure, or increased risk of stroke to be a curse, per se. But I rarely have dessert, and I love ice cream, so if I'm eating something sweet, it's probably a menage a trois with me, Ben and Jerry.

I do like an occasional fruit dessert, though. I like all kinds of fruit crisps and lemon squares, if they're good ones. This cake looks tasty, though; it's from an old Bon Apetit from my mother's collection that I absconded with. I can't remember what recipe in here I was originally interested in, but this sounds yummy, and seasonal. If you're a mother, you should find someone who wants to make this for you.

Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Strawberries

1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
3 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 16-ounce package frozen sliced sweetened strawberries, thawed

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
5 tablespoons frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
2 1-pint baskets strawberries, hulled

FOR CAKE: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Beat sugar, butter and lemon peel in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon juice. Sift flour, baking soda and salt into medium bowl. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer pans to racks and cool 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and cool completely. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)

Boil sliced sweetened strawberries with juices in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture is reduced to 2/3 cup and begins to thicken, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

FOR FROSTING: Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in lemonade concentrate and lemon peel.
Divide strawberry mixture between 2 cake layers and spread over tops, leaving 1/2-inch border around edges. Let stand until slightly set, about 5 minutes. Place 1 strawberry-topped layer on platter. Drop 3/4 cup frosting atop cake by spoonfuls; gently spread over top. Top with remaining strawberry-topped layer. Drop 3/4 cup frosting by spoonfuls atop cake; gently spread over top. Top with remaining cake layer. Using spatula, spread remaining frosting in decorative swirls over sides and top of cake. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and chill. Let cake stand at room temperature 1 hour before continuing.)

Decoratively arrange strawberries, pointed side up, atop cake. Cut into wedges and serve.

Monday, May 5, 2008

May 5: Pork Chops with Grainy Mustard and Raisin Suace

Well, this is an interesting little something...Fine Cooking's e-newsletter has an article in it about creating your own quick recipes using quick cooking "centers" (like meat, fish, pasta, or a grain), high-heat cooking methods, flavorful add-ons, and pantry staples. Here is their list of pantry staples. They've got some interesting add-ons (like two mustards) and also their pantry lacks a few things that I really can't do without (like melting cheese.)

In the pantry: anchovies
artichoke hearts (canned or frozen)
beans (canned)
bouillon cubes
broth or stock
chipotles (canned in adobo sauce)
dried chiles
dried fruits
dried mushrooms
hoisin sauce
oils: olive, canola, vegetable, peanut, toasted sesame
roasted red peppers
soy sauce
spices and dried herbs
sun-dried tomatoes
tomatoes (canned: whole, diced, crushed, sauce, paste)
vinegars: balsamic, sherry, rice, white and red-wine
water chestnuts

In the fridge or freezer:
bacon or pancetta
feta cheese
fresh herbs
mustards: Dijon and grainy
sour cream

I had intended to do a Cinco De Mayo recipe today--we had chicken fajitas for dinner tonight, one of my favorite meals ever. But then I found this recipe for pork chops with grainy mustard and raisins, which is a really great pantry staple recipe, and sounds wonderful.

Pork Chops with Grainy Mustard and Raisins

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup golden raisins
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 thick cut boneless center-cut pork chops
1 tbsp paprika
Salt and pepper
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 375.

In a small sauce pot over high heat, combine the chicken stock, wine, and raisins. Bring it to a simmer, then turn off the heat and let it sit.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season the cops with paprika, salt and pepper. Place chops in the skillet and sear on both sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer the chops to a rimmed cookie sheet and place in the oven to finish, 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let chops rest, tented loosely with foil.

While the chops are in the oven, return their skillet to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsp of oil, onions, thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock, wine, and raisins. Add the mustard and cream. Bring the misture to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 4-5 minutes. Finish the sauce with the parsley. Serve the sauce over the rested pork chops.