Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beef Bourguignon

I got a new pot! After recently cooking Poule au Pot in a poor substitute for a something that works in stove-to-oven recipes, I have been keeping an eye out for an enameled cast iron pot at TJ Maxx, and pleased to see some options from Le Creuset, Chantal, Cuisinart and others. Then came the question on size. I really didn't want to own/store two of these, especially since I've survived this long without even one, so it made sense to get a big pot that would hold a whole chicken or cook a large pot of stew. I did my research on whether it is worth it to spring the hundreds of dollars for Le Creuset (it's not) and then pulled the trigger on a beautiful green 7 1/2 qt. Chantal from their Talavera collection.

So, the night I brought this home I decided to try it out right away with a beef bourguignon. Yes, I read Julie & Julia (and no, I'm not planning to read Julie Powell's new book) and was excited to try this classic recipe for the first time.

I was surprised to discover that it isn't truly a one pot meal, as the mushrooms and onions are cooked separately and then added in at the end. Or, in the case of our family, the onions are added in and the mushrooms are served to those who like them. And, I confess I was planning to take a shortcut and purchase frozen pearl onions, but when I couldn't find any at the grocery store, I ended up buying fresh ones instead. I'm not sure how the others would have compared, but these fresh ones tasted fantastic!

And, one more snag to best laid plans... our oven died! Instead of preheating, the oven just spun the fan for a little bit and then displayed an error code. Argh! But, I felt confident in the quality of this new pot purchase and was pleased to be able to finish cooking this for the remaining few hours on the stove without any issues. Results? I thought it was fantastic. Though, the kids weren't enamored. Perhaps, Jim suggested, the full bottle of wine was a bit much for their tastes. Ah well.

Beef Bourguignon
Inspired by Julia Child

1/4 pound bacon

1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil
3 1/2 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 (750mL) bottle full-bodied, young red wine , such as a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3-4 parsley stems
4" section of celery stalk
1 pound small white (boiler) onions
1 pound whole or halved fresh mushrooms

 Cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long) and simmer for 5 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In large Dutch oven, sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Remove and put aside with the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced carrots and sliced onion. Pour out the sautéing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Allow flour to cook through.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon. Make a bouquet garni by nesting thyme sprigs, parsley stems and bay leaf in celery stalk and tie with kitchen twine. Add to the pot, and bring everything to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
 While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Fill a medium pot with water an bring to boil. Saute mushrooms in wide skillet with butter and allow each side to cook undistrubed for several minutes to brown nicely. Set them aside until needed. Add the boiler onions to the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Remove from water and remove outer skins. After mushrooms have sauteed, place peeled boiler onions in the skillet with butter and sautee on all sides to carmelize.

When the meat is tender, remove the bouquet garni from the pot. Add sauteed mushrooms and pearl onions and stir gently to combine. Serve over egg noddles or potato.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Happy Hanukkah!! Last night I celebrated Hanukkah early in the evening by lighting candles with the kiddos and opening presents. After they went to bed, neighborhood friends from book group came over for discussion... and food! Since I was hosting the book group discussion this month during Hanukkah, I definitely wanted to share some traditional holiday goodies. It was so wonderful having friends who were eager to participate as well. Though, what's not to like about jelly donuts and thawed ruggelach baked last week!

Of course, a Hanukkah celebration would not be complete without latkes - potato pancakes. Like many Jewish recipes, there is no 'standard' (as my friend who tackled making a delicious sweet kugel discovered!) and when working with produce as the main ingredient the quantities and ratios aren't exactly set in stone.

Last year my latkes we pulsed so fine in the food processor and, although tasty, were a bit to creamy inside without much potato texture. This year, I made sure not to repeat that and only used the shredding blade on the food processor. As a result, this batch were awfully similar to hash browns, but still extremely tasty!

A new tip from my sister this year was to add the cut ends of the onion into the oil as it is heating up. The bonus is two-fold as you get onion flavor permeating the oil that the latkes will fry in, and the sizzle will let you know when it has reached the correct temperature to start cooking the latke so they will start frying immediately upon being placed in the oil. Brilliant.

I did my frying two days before book group to give the house time to air out from the smell. But, one big bummer was that our (new) oven died and last night I was forced to reheat them in the microwave instead, which unfortunately didn't allow them to be crispy. But, they still tasted awesome, and I think it was the only food item on our buffet table feast that disappeared completely. On the positive side, the dead oven is forcing me to sit around and wait for a service call at this moment in time, so I'm able to catch up on blogging.

The recipe below is a suggestion of amounts & ratios and can absolutely be modified

2 pounds of potatoes
2 eggs
1 onion
2 Tablespoons matzoh meal, or flour
salt & pepper
lots of oil

Peel potatoes and shred using a food processor. Switch to cutting blade and pulse a few times to break up the larger shreds. Transfer potatoes to a strainer inside of a bowl to allow excess liquid to drain.

Fill frypan or griddle with 1/2" of oil. Cut ends off onion and place in the oil as it heats up. Continue peeling onion and add chunks to the food processor. Pulse until finely chopped and added to draining potatoes. Mix together to help prevent browning and transfer drainer mixture to a bowl. Add beaten eggs, salt, pepper and matzoh meal and mix everything together.

Drop raw potato onion mixture into hot oil - size of latke depending on preference. Allow first side to brown for about five minutes, then flip and continue frying on the other side for 3-4 minutes. Remove and drain on wire racks. Serve immediately, or can be cooled and then frozen at this point. Re-crisp by placing in the oven on a wire rack over a baking sheet for a few minutes on each side.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Earlier this week, all of the neighbors (wives) on our street got together for a Christmas cookie exchange. Last year, our first December in this house, I brought one of my favorites - you know those nut ball cookies made solely out of ground pecans, powdered sugar and butter that just melt away in your mouth. But, so did my neighbor a few doors down. Oops. This year I wanted to make sure I wasn't stepping on any toes again. So I turned to a few of my favorite sources for inspiration on what they thought were some of the ultimate cookies to make for a party. After leafing through all of the recipes in the various December issue magazines at the house, I hadn't found anything that jumped out at me. Then, the answer came to me so obviously I could have smacked my own forehead (maybe I did?) I should make a Jewish cookie to bring to the exchange. Perfect.

Of course, there wasn't much competition for what it would be - ruggelach. Ruggelach (pronounced RUH-guh-lah) or 'ruggies' for short in our house growing up, have always been one of my favorites. They are a bit labor intensive, but always present for special occasions. When Spencer was born, there was a blizzard in NY and it was three more days before my mom caught a flight down to meet her first grandchild. When she arrived, her suitcase was filled with FIVE large plastic containers of sweets, two of which were all ruggleach. (OK, so the goodies were mainly for the bris - not because a first-time mom needs 10 dozen cookies in the freezer.)

Strangely, I'm pretty sure that I had never made them on my own before this week. I was pleased to see that a single recipe makes 64 cookies, which meant I could bring three dozen for the cookie exchange and still have plenty left over to stash in the freezer. Score.

I confess, I'm really not much of a baker. I'm too inexact in the kitchen - did you see my rolled 'circle' of dough above? But this actually isn't too complicated. The only requirement is starting this a day in advance so the dough can chill in the fridge overnight. Even with a simple recipe, I still managed to goof up a few times, but hey, they're cookies, so even the ones that aren't perfect still taste yummy.

Now that I've made these exactly once by myself, I feel that I am in a position of authority to impart tips to keep in mind when making these in the future.
1. MUST USE A SILPAT BAKING SHEET. I put this in all caps because it's really not optional. Without them, this is a miserable experience.
2. Place cookies on baking sheet with point tucked underneath to prevent it from opening up in the oven.
3. Transfer cookies from baking sheet while they are still warm. The ensures the leaked filling will remain on the baking sheet, instead of hardening as unattractive 'wings' on the edges of the cookies.
4. Put some in the freezer, otherwise they will all disappear very quickly.

Recipe from Sylvia Fayne (need to ask mom who this is, her name is written in the recipe book mom made for me after graduating college)

3 Cups flour
1/2 lb butter
8 oz container sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Apricot Jam or Preserves
Shredded coconut
Chopped walnuts


Use a food processor to cut cold flour into butter until pea-size crumbles form. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until combined. Ball and refrigerate overnight. Cut dough in fourths, and roll each ball into a 12" circle. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, roll one more time, then flip over. Cut dough into 16 section. Mix filling together in a bowl and place 1-2 teaspoons of filling 1/2" from the wide edge of each section of dough. Starting at the wide end, roll one section the dough towards the middle. Repeat for all section, and remaining balls of dough. Place rolled cookies on a baking sheet lined with Silpat and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350ºF or until slightly browned.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chicken Soup

Ah, Jewish penicillin, as they say. Nothing tastes better than home-made chicken soup when one is feeling under the weather. This crazy TX weather (snow on Friday!) has snuck up on us, and now my husband is sick, too. Plus, it seems I can't get enough soup these days since the weather turned cooler - as I look back and realize that I've made one, after another, after another.

Making chicken soup isn't very difficult at all, but it does take time, and a few tips make the difference. These I've learned from various sources over the years. Of course, starting with the boiler plate from my mom and grandma, and going from there.

Tip #1 - you must use chicken with bones. Any chef will tell you that bones have flavor, but equally important in the case of making soup, is that cooking the bones & cartilage releases the natural gelatin. Note: This also means that the soup will 'set' after it cools down in the frdige. You can either start with a whole chicken, and/or use parts that have a higher bone-meat ratio like legs and wings. Bonus - these parts are usually less costly than boneless breasts. I made this soup yesterday with a few pounds of organic drumsticks and only paid $6.

Tip #2 - throw everything in and worry about making it pretty later on. I picked up a tip a few years ago to use onions with the skin (I searched the web just now to try and give proper credit, but have no idea where this came from originally,) which helps impart a beautiful golden color. At the very end, use a strainer or chinois, with cheesecloth if you want a totally clear broth, but this is unnecessary in my opinion. I'm too frugal for this next tip, but I've seen recipes that discard everything used to make the broth after it is strained and add in new veggies, if desired. I was going to take a picture of the straining process, but the collection of bones and mushed veggies was wholly unappetizing.

Tip #3 - while the soup needs to cook on the stove for hours, the chicken meat will definitely be over-cooked if it remains in the pot that long. But, the bones need to remain in for hours in order to give up their goodness to create a flavorful broth. Solution - after an hour or so, remove the meat from the bones, set aside, and return the bones to the pot.

Tip #4 - if you are making chicken noodle soup, boil the noodles in a separate pot and add the cooked noodles in at the end. Putting uncooked noodles in the soup pot uses up good broth.

Chicken Soup
Inspired by mom and grandma

2-3 pounds of chicken, with lots of bones
2-3 large carrots, sliced in 1" rounds
2-3 stalks celery, cut in 3" sections
1 onion, cut in half
1-2 parsnips, cut in 3" sections
1 bunch dill
1 bunch parsley
salt (be generous) & pepper

Throw everything in the pot and add enough water to cover. Place a lid on the pot and simmer; try to avoid a rapid boil, as this will encourage scum to form on the surface. After an hour take the chicken pieces out, remove the meat and set aside, and return bones to the pot. Taste broth and add more salt and/or pepper if needed. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 2-3 hours.

When soup is done, remove carrots and set aside with chicken meat. You can also retrieve celery and parsnip, if desired. Pour all contents of the pot through a strainer or chinois (with cheesecloth, if desired.) Return broth to the pot, add in chicken meat and carrots. Serve with egg noodles (boiled in a separate pot) or matzoh balls.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Artichoke & Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

I really like soup. And it's actually cold here (30s!) which is all the inspiration needed to start making soup this week. A few days ago I made some beef vegetable barley soup. Yesterday I made a pot of this soup, and as I type, I'm having leftovers for breakfast. Soup for breakfast is the perfect way to start a chilly day! (Well, maybe not the beef vegetable barley first thing in the morning.)

I've made this soup several times before using only regular (globe) artichokes. But, I noticed that my favorite grocery store sells Jerusalem artichokes too, and I was so excited to make it with both! Actually, I had never purchased (or even eaten) Jerusalem artichokes, so I was anxious to see how it would be different that what I had made in the past.

Plus, it's always fun to use an immersion blender. Though, some words of advice when making this at home. Artichokes are very fibrous. Even after then are trimmed and sautéed and simmered. You will likely need to pause and clean the blades a few times when blending the soup.

And, even after it looks nice & smooth, it needs to be run through some kind of strainer or chinois to remove the rest of the fibers because having any of those remain in your finished soup is not good. Trust me. It's not a fun process, but the results are well worth it. Note: Do not use the inside of a salad spinner as shown above. This was not nearly fine enough and too many shreds of fibrous material made their way into the finished soup.

Artichoke & Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Adapted from Gourmet

1 lb Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)
2 globe artichokes (or use 3-4 if not using Jerusalem artichokes)
1 lemon
1 onion
olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 Cup white wine
2 1/2 Cups chicken broth

1. Prepare vegetables:
  • Jerusalem artichokes by peeling and cutting into large (1/2") dice/slices
  • Prepare globe artichokes by snapping back outer leaves until they break. Cut off the rest of the leaves, within 1" of the base. Peel the stem and trim off the end. Quarter the artichoke and remove the fuzzy choke with a grapefruit spoon. Split the section again to make eighths. Drop the cleaned & trimmed pieces into a large bowl of water with juice from one lemon squeezed in to prevent browning.
  • Dice one onion
2. Melt butter and olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot. Drain globe artichokes, and add them along with onion and Jerusalem artichokes to the pan. Sautee for 8-10 minutes until onions are translucent and veggies are crisp-tender. Add white wine and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add chicken broth, bring to boil then cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Turn off heat and allow soup to cool in the pot for 15 minutes or so. Use an immersion blender to puree the mix. Clean the blade frequently as it may become clogged with fibers. The soup can also be pureed in batches in a blender or food processor. Strain the pureed soup through a strainer or chinois. This will be a real workout on the arms pressing it through. Make sure to scrape down the goodness will adhere to the back of the strainer.

4. You can make this a cream soup by finishing with up to 1/2 Cup of heavy cream, but it's not required. And I'm not really sure it needs any garnish either, but am open to suggestions!