Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

Last week we had a brief tease of fall weather. I miss not having that season here in Houston. During these momentary cool temperatures I was inspired to make a 'classic autumn' recipe. Ironically, butternut squash soup was not something we ever ate growing up in NY, but it seemed like the right place to turn, and I bought a beautiful 2 1/2 pound squash on impulse at the grocery store.

After flipping around for recipe inspiration, I concluded that there aren't really radical differences. So, I closed the computer and made up my own by drawing on whatever information had remained in my brain. The ones that recommended roasting squash first definitely sounded tastier, so I started with that. And peeling a whole squash was something I'd never done so I thought it was be good to mark that off my culinary checklist. I would have simply roasted the halves, which some recipes recommended, and I'm sure would be just fine.

The amount of other veggies are simply based on what was on hand. I mean, seriously, does anyone ever measure out "1/2 Cup diced onion?" I never do. Just cut it up and throw it all in. Unless, it seems to be in gross excess, then I'll still chop up the whole onion and put half in the fridge for something else. Though, I must confess, this approach of 'use what you have' ended up bitting me in the rear. I had half of a (4 C) container of chicken broth in the fridge which I discovered was not enough for a proper vegetable:liquid ratio to yield what one would call a 'soup.' It was more like a vegetable puree. It still tasted amazing, even if it the consistency reminded me of something I spooned into Charlotte's mouth as a baby.

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from an assortment of recipes

1 butternut squash (2 lbs)
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 rib of celery, diced
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage (or 1 Tablespoon fresh sage)
4 C chicken broth
salt & pepper
olive oil

1. Heat oven to 400. Peel squash and cut into 1" cubes. Toss with olive oil and roast for 30-40 minutes, until carmelized.

2. Sautee onion, carrot and celery in a pot on the stove over medium heat until softened, 8-10 minutes. Add roasted squash, sage, salt & pepper and stir. Add 3 C chicken broth and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Use immersion blender to puree until smooth. Adding additional 1C chicken broth as needed to yield desired consistency.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Arroz con Pollo

Seriously, who doesn't appreciate one-pot meals? Even in my attempts to feed the kids dinners that aren't typically labeled as 'kid food' I'm genuinely not looking to make my life harder. Though, I'm quite sure that my husband believes otherwise. Anytime I come across a dish with protein, vegetables & carbs all together I think "Whoo hoo!" Even though it's a rice dish, it is sticky enough for young Charlotte to practice using silverware without too much frustration. But, the best part about making a one-pot meal, even better than the reduction in dishes to be done that night, is the fact that this makes lots of leftover, which means far fewer dishes for at least two to three more nights!

When America's Test Kitchen said this dish gets thumbs up, I was on board. Despite their claim of always having the most perfect recipe (technique is always impeccable, if not a huge pain,) the base recipe for this dish is very much boiler plate, and I felt compelled to poke around and see what others had included in their versions. I came across one which advised me to use beer and capers - two more thumbs up. Further inspiration came from my favorite grocery store, which is amazingly only 1.0 miles from our house. A fact which makes me smile every time I think about it. When I saw piquillo peppers (a store brand, no less! I could hardly believe it either!) I knew they would find their way into my version too. I've never bought them before - heck I don't think I've ever eaten them before - but I was excited after seeing them make many appearances on Iron Chef America.

I must say, humbly, the house smelled amazing while this was cooking. And the taste? Well, let's just say that Charlotte used this inspiration to string together four words as she declared "yummy chickens! more please!" Cuteness!

Arroz con Pollo

Pollo (chicken)
4 cloves garlic, pressed or mashed
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt & pepper
4-5 chicken thighs (with bone & skin)
3-4 chicken breasts (with bone & skin)

Arroz (Rice)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 teaspoon pimenton (or regular paprika)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 bay leaf
1 pound chopped tomatoes
1 12 oz bottle beer
1 1/2 C chicken broth
2 C long grain white rice
1/2 C manzanilla (green olives) with pimento, halved
1/4 C capers
1/2 C piquillo peppers, roughly chopped

1. Combine ingredients for marinade, then add chicken pieces to coat. I'd prefer to use all thighs, but some folks in this house prefer white meat, so I use both for this recipe. Set aside (in the fridge) for half an hour or so.

2. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and green pepper and cook until softened. Move veggies to the side, increase heat to medium-high and add chicken in a single layer on the bottom.  Let cook, undisturbed for 3-4 minutes, then flip and leave for another 3-4 minutes. (I needed to do this in two batches because my pot is not wide enough.) Remove all chicken from pot.

3. Add pimenton, oregano, cumin and rice to the pot. Stir to combine so spices coat rice and vegetables. Add tomatoes, manzanillas, capers, piquillo peppers, beer and chicken broth. Return chicken to the pot and try to ensure it is covered by liquid. Add bay leaf, cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low.

4. After 20 minutes or so, remove chicken from the pot, (and the bay leaf if you can find it, if not don't forget to pull it out later.) If rice is too dry or sticky, add additional 1/4 C broth. Replace lid. Remove the skin from chicken, and remove chicken from bone by using two spoons to pull it apart into large, bite-sized pieces.

5. Return chicken to the pot and gently mix everything together. If rice is tender, turn off heat and let sit for five minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chocolate Cinnamon Babka

For dessert on Charlotte's second birthday, Spencer decided that she would be most happy with some chocolate cinnamon babka to conclude her birthday dinner. While Charlotte isn't choosy about her carbs (and even less choosy about dessert carbs) I have to say that Spencer hit the nail on the head.

Babka is a dessert of Russian-Jewish origin made with a yeast dough that is rolled/layered with chocolate or cinnamon. Though, for this version, the chocolate and cinnamon are included together. Why be forced to choose between these two? Earlier this year, my sister and I were in NY for my grandmother's funeral (a wonderful lady of Russian-Jewish origin) and tried to decide whether we preferred the chocolate babka or the cinnamon babka that friends had brought from Susan Lawrence. I don't remember if we came to a conclusion, but I do recall how amazing they tasted.

Around this same time, I signed up to do some beta-testing, er, beta-baking, recipes for Peter Reinhart's new bread book. (My name is in the credits - buy a copy!) After completing my first 'assignment,' we were allowed to pick subsequent doughs from a list, and I was so excited to see babka! I confess, I was a bit daunted by the amount of time it took. I've made his recipe twice, and it is a two day process in our house. Or, I suppose it could be done in a single day if you don't have children, or if you strategically plan your time out of the house around the multiple rise times.

I had to keep Charlotte contained in her high chair to watch the assembly process. She was becoming a bit frantic seeing the quantity of chocolate in front of her, yet out of reach. While it was funny/sad to watch her squirm and beg "choc-o-late! cin'min! choc-o-late! cin'min!" it was wonderful to see the pure delight on her face at the end of the evening. Spencer is already starting to put some thought into what dessert he would most like for his sixth birthday later this year.

Chocolate Cinnamon Babka
Adapted from Peter Reinhart, though I'm also curious to try Martha Stewart's Babka one of these days, but am more than a bit scared by the pound of butter and more than two pounds of chocolate!

2 Tablespoons instant yeast
3/4 C milk, lukewarm
1 stick butter, room temp
6 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 egg yolks
3 1/4 C all-purpose flour
less than 1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 stick butter, cold

Streusal Topping (optional)
1/2 all purpose flour
1/2 C brown sugar
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Sprinkle the yeast in the lukewarm milk. Stir to dissolve the yeast and set aside for about five minutes.

2. Cream the soft butter with the sugar using the paddle attachment on medium speed, until smooth. While the mixture is creaming, add the vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk lightly to break up the yolks. Slowly add the egg yolk/vanilla mixture to the sugar mixture in four installments. When all the eggs are incorporated increase the mixer to medium high speed and continue mixing for another 2 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy. Turn off the mixer, exchange paddle for dough hook and add the flour, salt, and lukewarm milk and yeast. Reduce the speed to low and mix for approximately 2 to 3 minutes to make a soft, supple, tacky dough.

3. Dust the work surface with flour and transfer the dough. Knead the dough by hand for an additional two minutes, adding more flour, if needed, to make the dough pliable. The dough should be a beautiful golden color and feel soft and supple, “like a baby’s bottom.” Form it into a ball and place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover the top of the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough ferment at room temperature for about 2 1/2 hours. It will rise somewhat, but will not double in size.

4. While the dough is rising, prepare the chocolate cinnamon filling by grinding the frozen chocolate in a food processor until the chocolate is nearly powdered and add in the cinnamon. Cut the cold butter into 8 to 10 pieces, add it to the food processor, and pulse until the butter is evenly cut and dispersed into the chocolate mixture to make a streusel-like chocolate crumble. Set the filling aside at room temperature for later use.

5. On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the risen dough into a 16” square, anywhere between 1/4” and 1/8” thick. Use a metal pastry blade or a plastic bowl scraper to lift and continually dust under the dough to prevent sticking. Sprinkle the chocolate/cinnamon/butter mixture over the entire surface, breaking up any clumps so that it covers the surface of the dough evenly (leave a 1/4" border around the full perimeter without chocolate). Roll up the dough like a jelly roll log and roll the log back and forth to extend its length a few more inches.

6. For coffee cake-style, grease a bundt with spray oil, wrap the log around the tube and press the dough into the pan to connect the ends of the log. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for two to three hours, until the loaf fills the pan or is about 1 1/2 times larger than when first formed. You can either refrigerate it overnight at this point or proceed to baking. If holding it overnight, remove the dough from the refrigerator approximately two hours before baking to take off the chill.

7. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Poke a few holes in the top of the loaf with a toothpick to eliminate possible air pockets between the layers of chocolate and dough. Brush the top of the loaf with egg wash and top the loaf with streusel. Bake for 20 minutes and then rotate the pan and continue baking until the top is a rich dark brown. The loaf will begin to brown quickly because of the sugar, but it won’t burn, so bake until it is golden on both the top and bottom, about 50 to 60 minutes total time. The center of the loaf should register approximately 190ºF and the sides of the loaf should be a rich golden brown, not white. The loaf will sound hollow when thumped. The sides may feel soft because of the air pockets caused by the spirals. The bread will soften as it cools. Allow the bread to cool at least 90 minutes before serving—best served at room temperature after the chocolate has had time to set.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ziti Casserole with Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Yesterday, our baby girl turned two! My goodness! Happy Birthday Charlotte! Not unlike her big brother, this girl loves to eat.  It's amazing how their likes and dislikes emerge so early - some of her favorites include fish (especially salmon,) pickles (actually, she'll eat anything pickled, not just cukes,) cheeses, tomatoes and pasta. For our family dinner celebration at home, I sat down to think about what would make our little girl happiest for her special day. Cheese, tomatoes, pasta... endless possibilites to combine these three items into something delicious. During our trip to NY last month, mom made a ziti casserole for the kids while Jim and I enjoyed a peaceful escape to the Adirondaks. She was awed, and a bit scared, by the quantity of food the two kids put away.

I also thought this would be the perfect excuse to make some fresh ricotta. While I've made mozzarella with friends on several occassions, this would be my first time to make ricotta. In my opinion, making it yourself is a bonus because organic ricotta costs $8 (!) at the store and to make it from a 1/2 gallon of organic milk costs $3. I ought to look next time I'm shopping, but I think that even regular (non-organic) ricotta cheese costs about $4. The process to make cheese is quick and straightforward - heat up milk with citric acid, wait a few minutes, separate curds from whey, and hang to drain for half an hour. Easy.

Even without making your own cheese, this recipe is easy and delicious. It was the first time I made it in our home, but will definitely be adding it in to the rotation, even when it is not for a birthday dinner. If you are interested in making cheese at home, definitely visit the cheese queen where you can order supplies.

Ziti casserole
Adapted from an old newspaper clipping which mom scanned & emailed

1 lb ziti (seems that most pasta comes in 14.5oz boxes these days, that's fine. I used penne rigate as Barrilla doesn't make a whole grain version of ziti.)
1 lb ricotta cheese (again, hidden inflation means this is probably 15oz. Or make your own ricotta using 1/2 gallon of milk.)
2 eggs
1/2 C parmesan cheese
3-4 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded
1/4 C parsley
1 qt jar pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cook pasta according to directions and drain. Mix ricotta, eggs, parmesan, parsley and tomato sauce. Add cooked pasta and combine. Transfer mixture to a greased (cooking spray) casserole dish and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 minutes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spiced Apples & Raisins

The first time I decided to make barbecued pork ribs I wasn't sure what to serve on the side. And after some poking around on the web, I decided that the traditional complement of apples would be the perfect side for our family. Though, I underestimated how much of a hit it would be - as we finished the entire recipe at one sitting.

Stepping back and thinking about this dish objectively, it's really a dessert just masquerading as a side dish! Like apple pie without the crust. Fruit, sugar, juice... what's not to like? Use the varieties of apples best suited for pies and baking, as you definitely want these to hold their integrity and not turn into mush during the saute process. Whenever I make this now, I try to remember to buy a ridiculous amount of apples, because this goes so fast. For those who live near orchards now, or places where fresh apples are showing up at the farmers' markets, I'm quite envious.

Spiced Apples and Raisins

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut in thick wedges or chunks
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup white grape juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch dry mustard
Melt the butter in a clean skillet over medium-low heat. Add the apples and coat in the butter; cook and stir for 8 minutes to give them some color. Toss in the raisins and add the juice, stirring to scrape up the brown bits. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and dry mustard; simmer for 10 minutes or until the apples break down and soften.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pork Ribs with Barbecue Sauce

I like Martha Stewart. I really do. I was a fan before she built her massive empire and her face appeared on every media venue. Though, about a decade ago, I decided that her "Living" magazine wasn't really for me, because many of the recipes required two days! Little did I know at the time that was EXACTLY what I should have been doing, because working on a meal for that length of time with two small kids is a bit ridiculous. When "Every Day Food" appeared on the scene a couple of years ago, I knew this was for me. Plus, its own show on PBS - fantastic!

We never ate ribs growing up, so I was a bit at a loss as to how to prepare them. When in doubt, Martha has the answers. Not only did her guidance produce perfectly cooked ribs, the homemade BBQ is amazing. Seriously. I served a platter of these ribs to guests this summer and they kept coming back for more helpings.

Homemade BBQ sauce is awesome. You get to decide what goes in and (more importantly) what doesn't. This recipe makes four cups, which is more than enough and means you'll be able to store additional sauce in the fridge for next time.

Pork Ribs with Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Every Day Food

2 slabs of baby back or pork spare ribs
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons mustard powder
3 tablespoons light-brown sugar
2 cups ketchup
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Season ribs all over with salt and pepper. Stack slabs on a large piece of heavy-duty foil; seal tightly, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Cook until meat is fork-tender, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

Make barbecue sauce by heating oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in remaining ingredients - mustard powder, sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire, vinegar, molasses, and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.

Open foil carefully and brush cooked ribs with barbecue sauce. Set oven to broil and return for 3-5 minutes so the sauce get thickened and sticky. (Or, finish ribs on the grill instead.) Remove ribs from foil, and slice using a sharp chef's knife. Serve with more sauce.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moules Frites

I'd actually never heard of this combination until this past year (again, thank you to Throwdown with Bobby Flay.) And, mussels were one type of shellfish that I really hadn't eaten very often - when given a choice, I'd choose clams. When Jim was traveling last month, Spencer's top request during our seafood extravaganza week was clams - my version of a linguini vongole. But, they had no clams at the grocery store on Monday. Or Tuesday. Or any day that week! So, that Friday even we subsitituted and made mussels perpared in a similar style. Now time for the truth: while I fully planned to serve Moules Frites when Jim was between Brussels and Geneva, Spencer kindly asked if we could have the clams that he missed out on last month. So I obliged. But, in the spirit of the continuing Euro tour, below in the info on our mussels.

As for the frites, or fries, I don't own a deep fryer and nor do I want to own one. I do know the secret to really awesome fries is frying them twice - once at a lower heat to cook the potatoes through, and a second time at a higher temp to crisp up the outside. For me, oven roasting in the way to go for making fries at home.

Back to the mussels, the real star of the show! I think they tend to release easier from the shell than clams do, making this even more kid-friendly. A term I use for how little interaction is required on the part of an adult during mealtime. During cooking, the mussels give off their juices which combines with the wine and makes a heavenly liquid that pools in the bottom of your bowl. Wise Spencer knows this is the most amazing part of the dish. Be sure to serve with a crusty European bread to soak it up - usually I buy ciabatta, but this week I discovered a freshly-baked French batard just asking to be taken home and served with this meal.

Side note: I am continually amazed & impressed at what can be found at our local grocery store.
Side note #2: If you are anti-cooking with alcohol for your children, substitute either some seafood stock (from the soup aisle) or bottled clam juice (near canned tuna.) And when I get around to posting penne a la vodka, with a full cup of vodka, we'll talk about other substitutions.

Moules Frites
no specific source

1 lb fresh mussels, scrubbed & cleaned
2 large shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2/3 C white wine
2T olive oil
2T parsley

Heat oil over medium heat and sweat shallots and garlic. Add wine and reduce for a few minutes. Then, crank up heat, add all mussels at once (try to get them in an even layer) and cover the pan. After 7-8 minutes, all mussels should be opened. If not, wait another minute or two, and any that still have not opened should be discarded. Remove from heat, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately with french fried potatoes (frites) or crusty European-style bread.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Belgian Waffles

The quest for the perfect waffle began about five years ago when Jim gave me a Belgian waffle iron for my birthday. Mom had a waffle iron when we were growing up, and I loved eating waffles on the weekends. Truthfully, who out there without a gluten intolerance doesn't? The first batch I made in the new gadget was this sweet potato waffle recipe I had recently watched on tv. While it was extremely tasty (grated orange rind is amazing in there!) a 'standard' waffle recipe still needed to be found. I eschew most mixes and prepackaged food around here, especially for something like waffles. Store-bought mixes contain basic ingredients (though sometime you can get a little something extra, like salmonella) so making from scratch barely adds any additional time.

Even though a waffle only contains simple ingredients - flour, sugar, salt, eggs, etc., the various recipes out there are not created equal. So began the quest. We had a morning of cake-y waffles. A few weeks later we had dough-y waffles. Then followed waffles that tasted like pancakes. Truthfully, I was starting to think I didn't want this new kitchen toy after all. It made terrible waffles! But then, at last, I found it! The perfect waffle recipe. It was light, buttery, with a slight crispy texture on the outside. I knew this was the right recipe before I even made the batter, as the editor talked about discovering Belgian waffles at the 1964 World's Fair in NY. My mom worked at the World's Fair that summer as a teenager, and said that was where she too first tried them. So, I felt confident that the recipe I grew up loving would be contained within. It did not disappoint! And since then, this is the only waffle recipe we have used.

As Jim's Euro week continued into Brussels, it seemed most fitting that we have Belgian waffles for dinner. Complete with strawberries and whipped crean, of course! Charlotte was a bit skeptical after being sprayed by the whipped cream (white dots on arm) but she got over herself in a hurry!

Belgian Waffles
Perfect batter recipe from Belgian Buttermilk Waffles

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 large eggs
Vegetable oil for waffle iron

Put oven rack in middle position and put a large metal cooling rack directly on it. Preheat oven to 250°F and preheat waffle iron.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, and eggs in another bowl, then whisk into flour mixture until just combined.

Brush hot waffle iron lightly with vegetable oil and pour a slightly rounded 1/2 cup* of batter into each waffle mold. Cook waffles according to manufacturer's instructions until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer as cooked to rack in oven to keep warm, keeping waffles in 1 layer to stay crisp. Make more waffles in same manner.

*Note: all waffle irons are not the same. This recipe was listed as yielding 8 waffles, but on a good day I get 6. Use measured scoops to experiment and see how much batter to put in your waffle iron.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mushroom Crepes

Crepes! Of course we must have crepes while Jim is in Paris! Though, it dawned on me last night that our attempt to have dinners which match Jim’s trip to Europe is actually off by a day. We had our first meal, Croque Monsieur, when he was actually still on the plane en route across the Atlantic. And last night as the kids and I sat down to eat our crepes, Jim had actually departed Paris at the end of his workday and was already in bed for the night in another country. Ah well.

I made the batter for the crepes and the mushroom filling after dinner on Monday, and have to be honest when I say how little effort the prep work required. When Tuesday rolled around to actually cook the crepes, I was fully prepared to ditch the first several as I learned how to get the right technique, but after this first one which didn’t have enough batter to coat the pan, the rest of them came out perfect. PERFECT. I’m still a bit awed. Some lessons I learned along the way: 1) my 1oz scoop was the perfect size for measuring the right amount of batter into the pan. 2) If I watched closely, I could see exactly when it was time to turn the crepe because it is so thin, the shiny batter became matte when it was ready.

Now comes the funny part. Spencer climbed into his seat while I buckled Charlotte in the high chair. On the table was a lovely pile of crepes alongside a fragrant filling of shiitake mushrooms. I looked at the two plates, and realized that I was not actually sure the proper way to combine them! I could only remember eating a crepe one time before - at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas after taking break from playing craps, which was actually taking a break from playing hockey, and that crepe was a monstrous size, filled with gooey chocolate, folded in quarters on the plate and topped with whipped cream and more chocolate. But, thinking more about it, I don’t believe I’d ever order savory crepes in my life. Now that I have lived more than half of my years in Texas (gasp) I did what came naturally – placed the filling down the middle of a crepe, rolled it up, and handed one to each kid to eat with their hands like a taco. Spencer took a bite and commented “Oh mom! Did you realize it was going to taste this good?”

For dessert, simple chocolate crepes were made by zapping mini chocolate chips on a crepe in the microwave for a few seconds before spreading with a butter knife and rolling up. Shortly, I realized that the spreading step is not necessary as rolling them mashes the warm chips just fine. I had planned to convert the remaining batter specifically for dessert purposes by adding a little sugar and vanilla, but I mistakenly mentioned that it would be for chocolate crepes, and once I said the word “chocolate” I needed to deliver the goods to the table asap!

So, it turns out that crepes are easy to make. Who knew??

Mushroom Crepes
Crepe batter recipe followed exactly, and filling inspired from Mushroom Crepe Cakes

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
Butter, or spray, for coating the pan

In a blender, combine all of the ingredients (excepting the butter for coating the pan) and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour. This allows the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking. The batter will keep for up to 48 hours.

Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1 ounce of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to the cutting board. Lay them out flat so they can cool. Continue until all batter is gone. After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months. When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling.

Mushroom filling:
2 tablespoon butter
1/2 lb shiitake mushroom, cleaned & chopped
1 large onion, diced
1/3 C milk
3-4 oz shredded Gruyere
salt and pepper

In a large saute pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and sweat the onion. Add the mushrooms and additional 1 tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms are soft. Add the milk and reduce by half. Add the cheese and melt. The consistency we're looking for is similar to that of a potpie.

Note: The crepe batter recipe will yield about 20 crepes, and the amount of mushroom filling will fill about 10. Increase filling if desired, or use remaining crepes for a dessert application.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

French Green Bean Salad

Seriously, this title would mean absolutely nothing to me if I stumbled across it in a recipe list. Laughably, I found a recipe with a (very) similar title on a site which shall remain nameless that had two ingredients: green beans and salt. And the directions said to briefly simmer the green beans in salted boiling water. That's it. Hmmm.

My inspiration for making this dish came from some truly awesome-looking green beans at the market. Awesome enough to entice me put back the asparagus from my basket (that was on sale!) and the fact that Jim is still in Paris. After making Poule au Pot and Potatoes Lyonnaise on Sunday, I wanted to add something new to the table when serving leftovers for dinner on Monday.

I kept this somewhat simple so the green beans were the star, and included a few of my favorite ingredients commonly found in a green bean salad. For me, this meant shallots soaked in red wine vinegar for an hour or so beforehand to help mellow the bite (a technique I learned from my sister,) chopped walnuts (didn't get around to toasting them, which would have been preferable,) and some amazing artisanal hand-made herb chevre I found at the grocery story, called "Femme Fatale" from Austin-based Cheesy Girl. Who would have guessed that the shallots turned out to be the start ingredient? I must say, even though yelling at the table is generally not a good thing, it made me smile inside to hear not quite two-year old Charlotte demanding more "Shallots! Shallots!"

French Green Bean Salad
Adapted from a lot of similar recipes

1 pound green beans, or haricot verts if you want to play up the French theme
2 large shallots, sliced extremely thin
2 oz of your favorite chevre, crumbled
1/4 C roughly chopped walnuts, toasted
red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt & pepper

Mix thinly sliced shallots with enough vinegar to cover, 2-3 tablespoons, and set aside. Wash green bean and trim ends. Steam (or boil) until crisp-tender, then plunge into ice water bath to stop cooking and set the bright color. Dry beans (salad spinner or towel) and toss with shallots, vinegar & oil (to taste) and plenty of salt & pepper. Top with toasted nuts and crumbled chevre.

Potatoes Lyonnaise

I love making tasty food from staples I find in the pantry! When trying to figure out a side to have with our Poule au Pot, I decided upon trying Potatoes Lyonnaise for the first time. Yum! And I had everything on hand to make it (except for parsley, which I ought to remember to keep in the fridge as a staple, because I find that when I buy a bunch I always use it for much more than I think I will.) Not wanting to put a(nother) pot in the oven that is not listed as oven-safe, I changed the approach slightly for this recipe. First sauteeing onions on the stove, then the potatoes, and transferring to a different dish for time in the over. There isn't much that smells better than onions cooking down and getting all carmelized. Spencer appeared in the kitchen a few times just to tell me "mom, it smells DELICIOUS in here!"

Related, does anyone have experience with the new 'green' non-stick cookware that has emerged in the last year or so??

I bounced around between two recipes to arrive at my own combination, driven by quantities of ingredients on hand (a little less than 1/2 a 5 lb. bag of potatoes, and two large onions in the pantry) and trying to not use an entire stick of butter in a single side dish. The end result could have been more heavily salted, which also makes me lean towards trying a version of this with bacon next time! One recipe called for thick (1/2") sliced potatoes and the other for shredded. I met in the middle with thin (4mm) slices but whichever approach you choose, I highly recommend using a food processor. I've had my Cuisinart for 15 years and love it.

Potatoes Lyonnaise
Adapted from Classic Lyonnaise Potatoes Recipe and Pan-Fried Potato Cake with Onions and Bacon

2 pounds baking potatoes, like russets, peeled and sliced
2 onions, julienne
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes in a pot of salted water. Bring the potatoes up to a boil and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, drain, and cool. Skip this step if you are using shredded potatoes.

In a large ovenproof saute pan, heat 2T butter. When the butter is hot, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Saute the onions until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Move the onions into a bowl.

Place the pan back on the stove and melt 2T butter. When the butter has melted, cover the bottom of the pan with 1/3 of the potatoes. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Cover the first layer of potatoes with 1/2 of the onions. Cover the onions with 1/3 of the potatoes. Season with more salt and pepper. Repeat the layering with final 1/2 of the onions and 1/3 of potatoes. Sautee 10 - 12 minutes until to bottoms are golden brown. If you are feeling adventurous, slide the potatoes and onions onto a platter, then place the inverted skillet (or oven-safe dish) on top and flip so the crispy side is on top. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until the potatoes are golden brown.

Using a spatula, gently lift the potatoes out of the pan and place on a platter. Garnish with parsley.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Poule au Pot

Spencer thinks this is funny to say out loud. I'm sure I'm not saying it quite so accurately myself, as I never formally studied French (though I was in the French Club in high school - trips to see French films in NYC and eating chocolate croissants!) Translated, it is referred to as French Chicken in a Pot. Jim is still in Paris, complaining about the number of steps in the Eiffel Tower (really, you're complaining sweetie? while I'm home with a barfing toddler?) so we are continuing our culinary tour of Europe each night.

I'm a huge fan of America's Test Kitchen. A few years ago, my sister and I surprised each other with a gift subscription to Cook's Illustrated for Hannukah. I love their attention to detail, and how they make so many iterations of each recipe to get it absolutely perfect. Though, I let my subscription lapse after that year because, as much as I enjoyed reading it each month, I never found myself actually cooking anything from the issues and the black & white sketches just didn't inspire me. Not long after, I discovered that America's Test Kitchen airs on PBS on weekend mornings. Seeing these exact same recipes in color on the big tv screen has got me hooked. I've tried so many and they are always, of course, perfect!

Recently aired was an episode entitled "French Classics, Reimagined" and I saved it on the DVR because I knew I'd be making their French Chicken in a Pot. And, I happened to have a whole chicken in my freezer from a local poultry farm I purchased at a meat co-op. I've prepared plenty of whole roasted chickens before, but this technique was new to me. So new, in fact, I didn't actually have a "pot" to cook it in and ended up using a lidded deep sautee pan. Nonetheless, this chicken tasted AMAZING. So moist, so delicious - two little kids and I put away half of a 3 1/2 lb bird, and both kids were begging for more of the jus. Seriously. It's that good. Whole chickens are inexpensive, even tasty organic ones.

Poule au Pot
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen French Chicken in a Pot

1 whole roasting chicken, best available you can find. Giblets removed and discarded, wings tucked under back
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion
, chopped medium (about 1/2 cup)
1 small stalk celery , chopped medium (about 1/4 cup)
5 medium garlic cloves , peeled and trimmed
1 bay leaf

1 medium sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add chicken breast-side down; scatter onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary (if using) around chicken. Cook until breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon inserted into cavity of bird, flip chicken breast-side up and cook until chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove Dutch oven from heat; place large sheet of foil over pot and cover tightly with lid. Transfer pot to oven and cook until instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees when inserted in thickest part of breast and 175 degrees in thickest part of thigh, about an hour for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 lb bird, closer to 2 hours for a 5 to 6 lb bird.
2. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent with foil, and rest 20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain chicken juices from pot through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator, pressing on solids to extract liquid; discard solids or save to return to the strained liquid (you should have about 3/4 cup juices). Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then pour into saucepan and set over low heat. Carve chicken, adding any accumulated juices to saucepan. Stir lemon juice into jus to taste (about 3/4t for every 3/4C.) Serve chicken, passing jus at table.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Croque Monsieur & Croque Provencal

Jim is affectionately referring to this week as his European Death March. After two days in Paris, he'll end up traveling every night and working in four cities in four days. Ugh. Last time he was out of town for a week, the kids and I had a "Seafood Extravaganza" as that does not rank high on Jim's list of food prefences. I thought about doing S.E. Part II, as we didn't get around to linguini vongole or cioppino last month. But instead, decided that this time the kids and I would follow his travels through Western Europe via the culinary spectrum.

Paris, a city I've never visited as a tourist (and have avoided international routing through CDG) is almost too easy a location to begin with. So many choices for great French food. How to pick? Two main factors drove Saturday night's selection: 1) Charlotte attended a birthday party that wouldn't get us home until 4:00 and 2) leftover baby swiss cheese and applewood smoked ham from making chicken cordon bleu earlier this week. I have no idea why chicken cordon bleu has become my 'go to' meal for friends with new babies. I think the cheesiness and the wine, & just being happy to eat a meal that one wouldn't have time to prepare with a new infant around.

A quick dinner, that uses ham and cheese... Croque Monsiuer! Which is really just a hot ham and cheese sandwich. Doesn't get much easier than that. And, Croque Provencal has some sliced tomatoes, which, surprisingly takes the flavor combination to an entirely different level. The kids and I all vastly preferred this version.
Everyone has their own way of making grilled cheese. Here are three things I rely on to make mine awesome.
  1. Butter the bread, rather than putting butter in the pan itself.
  2. Use a big pan to make all of the sandwiches at once. I LOVE my big Calphalon griddle Jim bought for me about five years ago. I really have no idea how I made it so long without it.
  3. Dome it, baby.
What? Dome what?? A while back I saw an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay and the 'masters' making Philly cheese steaks said the only way to do it right was to put one of those ubiquitous metal bowls from commercial kitchens on top of the sandwich after the cheese was added. This guaranteed awesome melting every time. In our house, I improvise with something to serve as a lid, but the result is the same. Cheesey! (Ironically, these pictures show no oozing cheese because it took far too long to round up the kids for dinner before they were cut & ready for pictures!)

Croque Monsieur (& Croque Provencal)
Too basic to site a source

6 slices whole wheat bread
6 slices baby swiss cheese
6 slices your favorite ham
sliced Campari tomatoes
spreadable butter

Spread butter on three slices of bread and place on the griddle. Layer on a slice of cheese, two slices of ham, then tomato (if making Croque Provencal, which we highly recommend) and another slice of cheese. Put medium heat under the griddle and prepare the tops by buttering the remaining three pieces of bread and capping off the sandwiches. When bottoms are grilled golden brown, turn them over. Put a dome on top (skillet lids, metal bowl, whatever works to keep the heat in) until sandwich bottoms are golden brown and cheese is melted.