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.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

May 4: Classic Creamy Chicken Salad

Holy Cheebs. I thought I had my yarn habit well in hand, and then today I fell totally off the wagon. It's not my fault though. It's the first weekend in May, which my Stitch & Bitch Nation page-a-day calendar just told me that the first weekend in May is the Maryland State Sheep and Wool festival. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but fiber artists are really a home-schooling, socially-awkward bunch of Mom-Jeans wearers. Sorry, maybe I shouldn't say that, but I thought knitting was becoming hipster, and it isn't by the looks of that crowd. There were nearly 300 vendors; the vendors sold a wider variety of yarns than even the most diverse local yarn shop that I've ever seen in my life, and I've never seen most of them before, and I couldn't afford almost any of them, but I did pick up some gorgeous natural cotton that is going to make a dreamy baby blanket, and my big splurge was a rayon-silk blend chenille that is so incredibly soft and drapey and gorgeous I couldn't resist even the $35 price tag. I've never spent anything even close to that for a skein of yarn before, but if you could see this thing, you'd understand it. The artist had washed it and it lofts up like a dream when you wash it, and I can't wait to cast this bad boy on.

So, of course, I'm pushing the Advanced Pantry back yet another day. And it is late and I am so freaking tired from running around out in the dirt and the hot that I can barely keep my eyes open.

It's spring, and I'm craving chicken salad sandwiches, inexplicably.

Classic Creamy Chicken Salad

2 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (large, at least 1 1/2 pounds each)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Table salt

For Salad
2 medium ribs celery, cut into small dice
2 medium scallions , white and green parts, minced
3/4 - 1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 small lemon
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Set breasts on small, foil-lined jelly roll pan. Brush with oil and sprinkle generously with salt. Roast until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast registers 160 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature, remove skin and bones, and shread meat into bite-sized pieces (about 5 cups). (Can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 2 days.)

2. Mix all salad ingredients (including chicken) together in large bowl, including salt and pepper to taste. Serve. (Can be covered and refrigerated overnight.)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

May 3: White Bean Puree

The Kitchen will return after these messages: my best friend, The Cutest Little Pregnant Woman On Earth, is pregnant and expecting a baby next month. Next month, holy crap, people! This is the woman who was never interested or amenable to having children, and it took this girl about six seconds to get pregnant once she decided to go for it, dammit! I have a lot of knitting to do for her little person, I have been woefully neglectful. I have finished a gorgeous little lacy blanket and am working on booties and a hat in the same soy yarn to go with it; I also have a very simple little striped acrylic blanket in vanilla, chocolate, and swirl which is halfway done, more or less.

The good news is that I have lots of free time.

I will hit you with the Advanced Pantry tomorrow. I am looking forward to it. I've finished one bootie tonight and tomrrow I'm planning on going to the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival, and I am going to cry a little when I think about all of the gorgeous, exotic, locally-grown fibers I'm going to put my hands on tomorrow, and not be able to afford. In fact, I anticipate shedding so many tears that I may be a little dehydrated and unable to knit tomorrow, so I need to get on with this second little bootie (OMG, yo, so stinking cute, and incredibly easy) while I still have my head about me. So, instead, here's an Intermediate Pantry recipe--with the exception of hot sauce (which I don't keep in my pantry because I make my own). Spread on toasted baguettes, this is a wonderful, elegant, simple appetizer, it comes together in about a second, seriously. It's a nice change from hummus, which I love.

White Bean Puree
4 cloves garlic
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups canned white beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Hot pepper sauce

In a saucepan, sweat the garlic in chicken stock. Add the beans and cook until heated through.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and puree with the remaining ingredients, except hot pepper sauce. Adjust seasoning, and add hot sauce, to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May 2: The Intermediate Pantry; Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms

I agree with Merseydoats that the basic pantry needs several different vinegars. I left those off of yesterday's list, so I'm tacking them on to The Intermediate Pantry, but I do think they're important staples. I also forgot colanders--infinitely important for everything from draining pasta to washing fruit. I have three--a fairly fine wire mesh colander, a large plastic one, and another metal one that serves as a basket in my stockpot. These are basics--find a shape and a configuration that works for you and how you cook.

This is the pantry for people who've expanded beyond the basics--people who entertain casually, people who want to eat well every day, people who are up for a challenge in the kitchen. This pantry supports more complicated techniques, more in-depth recipes, more homemade and less prepared foods, and it still respects the two-career household, the idea that a working mom may not take the time on a Tuesday night to make her own mayonnaise.

The recipe is one of my favorites--it is plenty fattening, terrifically decadent, and yet still easy enough to make on that Tuesday night. With some roasted broccoli, a side of tomato-sauced spaghetti, and a big green salad, it's a hugely satisfying meal with lots of protein and lots of fiber, both of which will keep you feeling full for a long time. For Kimberly's baby shower, I made sausage-stuffed mushrooms, just regular white mushrooms, and they were a hit. This is a meal-sized variation on the theme, with some spinach thrown in to draw attention away from all the cheese and pork.

The Pantry
Everything from The Basic Pantry, plus...

  • Dark brown sugar
  • Cake flour
  • Bread flour
  • Fleur de sel
  • Quick-cooking grits
  • Baking chocolate in Bittersweet and Unsweetened
  • No-bake lasagna noodles
  • Orzo
  • Brown rice
  • Red potatoes
  • Avocados
  • Red onions
  • Shallots
  • Tortilla chips
  • Walnut or grapeseed oil
  • White wine vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Balsalmic vinegar
  • Bananas

  • Dried spices: Chipotle and Ancho chile powder, Chinese Five Spice powder, Pink peppercorns
  • The Canned Goods

    Everything listed in The Basic Canned Goods, Plus...

    • High-quality tuna packed in olive oil
    • Refried beans (vegetarian tend to be healthiest, but the Old El Paso brand makes one with chorizo which is just so good.)
    • Pinto Beans
    • Black beans
    • White beans
    • Garbanzo beans

    The Refrigerator

    Everything listed in The Basic Refrigerator, Plus...

    • Brick-style cream cheese
    • Sour cream
    • Swiss cheese
    • Part-skim mozzerella
    • A wedge of real, aged parmesan cheese
    • Full-fat or reduced fat plain yogurt
    • Lowfat buttermilk
    • Mayonnaise
    • Ground turkey
    • Large (usually 20-28 per pound) shell-on shrimp
    • Bone-in pork loin chops
    • Sweet and/or hot Italian sausages
    • Seasonal vegetables (peas or asparagus in spring, sweet corn and great tomatoes in summer, although the tomatoes don't belong in the fridge, it's bad for their flavor, butternut squash in the fall, beets in the winter)
    • Corn tortillas
    • Spring mix
    • Spinach
    • Portabello or cremini mushrooms
    • Breakfast sausage

    The Freezer

    • Vanilla ice cream
    • Frozen waffles (I know, I know, but seriously, they are so easy, and yummy)
    • Frozen vegetables: peas, corn, green beans--whatever you like
    • Frozen poundcake (for an impromptu dessert)

    The Gadgets and Tools

    All of the Basic Gadgets and Tools, Plus...

    • Microplane grater
    • Meat mallet or pounder
    • High-quality, sharp 5-6 inch utility knife
    • High-quality, sharp, thin, flexible fillet knife
    • Knife sharpener
    • Slotted spoon
    • Sloped-sided, long-handled saucepan or saucier (If you're dying to buy me a present, this would be lovely.)
    • 6-8 quart Dutch oven (This one is excellent.)
    • 12-inch heavy-bottomed traditional (not non-stick) skillet (This one is surprisingly affordable and extremely durable, although the base could be a little wider.)
    • Loaf pan, either metal or glass (I like Pyrex, but some people like metal. The silicone ones are popular too.)
    • Large roasting pan with a V-rack (I have this one, it's almost too huge, but I know it'll be more useful to me as I go along.)
    • Food processor (At least 8 cups, 11 would be better, with a minimum of a chopping blade, a shredder disk and a chopping disk. I recommend this one).

    The Intermediate Pantry Recipe: Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms

    4 large portabello mushrooms, wiped clean, dark gills scraped out with a spoon

    1/2 lb. hot or sweet Italian sausages, removed from casings

    1/4 lb. fresh spinach

    2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press

    8 ounces (one package) brick style cream cheese, at room temperature

    4 ounces part-skim mozzerella, shredded

    2 ounces parmesan, grated

    1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

    1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

    Salt and pepper to taste

    Preheat oven to 450. Place mushroom caps upside down on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast at 450 degrees until slightly softened and giving off some of their liquid, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, pour off liquid, and let cool.

    In a large skillet over medium heat, brown sausage, breaking up with a spoon or a spatula. Stir in garlic and saute until fragrent, 30 seconds or so. Drain off most of the rendered fat, remove sausage from skillet and set aside. Add 1/4 cup water to skillet, raise heat to medium high, and add spinach. Steam spinach until wilted and tender, 3-4 minutes. In a colander set over the sink, drain the spinach, pressing down on the spinach to get out as much moisture as possible.

    Move the spinach to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Process in 1-second pulses, 5-6 of them, until spinach is well-chopped but not pureed.

    In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, sausage, spinach, bread crumbs, half of the mozzerella and about 3/4 of the parmesan. Stir in the Italian seasoning and taste for salt and pepper.

    Divide stuffing among mushroom caps. Top each with the leftover cheese. Bake at 450 degrees until bubbly and browning. Serve.

    May 1: The Basic Pantry, Easy Beef Stroganoff

    Kimberly and Michael asked me, while I was in Kentucky recently, about a pantry primer. I love this kind of post: a list of what should be in everyone's pantry, whether you can barely boil water or whether you entertain regularly and cook like a domestic goddess (I loathe that term, by the by, much as I loathe the term by the by.)

    These are the kind of things that make a wide variety of basic recipes. If your talents or interests are limited, if you're on a tight budget, if you're just learning the ropes, or if you live in a tiny little condo at the top of two flights of stairs and you hate carrying up groceries like I do, these are the things you can't live without.

    This list may seem absolutely outrageous to you; it's not short. But imagine if you were starting from scratch, with an empty kitchen. This is what you'd need to get by.

    So let us start here, with the basics, and a basic recipe made from the basics. It is not traditional beef stroganoff, which is made with expensive beef tenderloin and sour cream--this is a little lighter, still filling, and a quick weeknight dinner, made from things that are probably already in your kitchen.

    If they're not, they should be. Go on, make a grocery list. Do it now.

    The Pantry
    • Granulated sugar
    • Light brown sugar
    • All-purpose flour
    • Instant-acting yeast
    • Kosher salt
    • Table salt
    • Cornmeal
    • Cocoa powder
    • Baking soda
    • Baking powder
    • A long strand pasta, like spaghetti, capellini, or linguine
    • A short, stubby curved pasta, like shells, rotini, or penne rigate
    • Wide or extra-wide egg noodles (sometimes labled "dumpling style" or "homestyle")
    • Long grain white rice
    • All-purpose, Russet, or Yukon Gold potatoes
    • White or yellow onions
    • Garlic
    • High-quality, fruity, fresh extra-virgin olive oil (find a brand you like and get it from a reputable source with a stock that turns over quickly; I like 365 brand from Whole Foods. Also, buy it in small quantities--it may cost a little more over time, but it won't go bad before you can use it)
    • Corn, vegetable, or canola oil, or some other non-animal-based, "healthy," neutral-tasting fat for cooking and baking
    • High-quality white sandwich bread (Pepperidge Farms Hearty White is excellent; even if you don't think you'll eat sandwiches, this makes the best fresh breadcrumbs around)
    • Apples
    • Oranges
    • Dried spices: oregano, Italian seasoning, thyme, rubbed sage, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, whole peppercorns

    The Canned Goods

    • Good quality canned diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Organics, but they are pricey. A good, lower-priced stand-in is Redpack.)
    • Good quality canned crushed tomatoes
    • Good quality canned tomato sauce
    • Good quality canned tomato paste
    • Chunk light tuna in water
    • Cream of mushroom soup
    • Cream of chicken soup
    • Reduced sodium chicken broth (I buy broth in aseptic cardboard cartons--it just tastes better to me--but canned is fine too.)
    • Reduced sodium beef broth

    The Refrigerator

    • Unsalted butter
    • Skim or reduced-fat milk
    • Half-and-half
    • Brick medium-sharp cheddar cheese
    • Lean ground beef
    • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • Carrots
    • Celery
    • Iceberg or Romaine lettuce
    • Flour tortillas (come on, you didn't seriously think I would leave tortillas off this list, did you? Are you new here?)
    • White mushrooms (may also be called button mushrooms)
    • Eggs
    • Bacon

    The Gadgets and Tools

    • Garlic press
    • High-quality, sharp 3-4-inch paring knife
    • High-quality, sharp 9-10 inch santoku or chef's knife
    • Vegetable peeler
    • Rolling pin
    • Box grater
    • Plastic or silicone spoon
    • Silicone-tipped tongs
    • Plastic or silicone pancake turner
    • Plastic or silicone spatula or "spoonula" or scraper
    • Heavy-bottomed 3-4 quart saucepan with a lid
    • Heavy-bottomed 8-10 quart stock pot with a lid
    • 12-inch nonstick skillet
    • 9x13 inch casserole or baking dish (I use my late grandmother's old Pyrex)
    • Rimmed cookie sheets (I recommend at least two)
    • Oven-safe wire rack
    • Pepper grinder

    Easy Beef Stroganoff

    2 tbsp vegetable oil

    1/2 yellow onion, diced small

    2 cloves garlic, pressed

    1/2 pound white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and quartered

    2 tbsp all-purpose flour

    1 lb. lean ground beef

    2/3 cup half-and-half

    1 cup low sodium beef broth

    Salt and pepper to taste

    1 teaspoon dried thyme

    1 pound wide or extra-wide egg noodles, cooked according to package directions and kept hot

    Over medium heat, preheat 12-inch nonstick skillet and oil until shimmering. Add onions and garlic to pan and cook, stirring, until softening and translucent but not browned. Add mushrooms to pan and stir until mushrooms are softening.

    Add ground beef to pan and cook over medium, breaking up with a spoon or spatula, until browned. Add thyme and flour to pan and cook 2 minutes, stirring to combine.

    Add broth and half-and-half, stir and raise heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened to saucy, gravy-like consistency. Taste, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately over egg noodles.