Friday, December 28, 2007

pie & presents & personal injury

I was a walking accident the whole long Christmas weekend, and of course many of my little accidents happened in the kitchen. Some of them were more painful than others. Not only did I get a big old second-degree burn on my arm from the oven, I managed to accidentally pop the burn blister the next day when changing a pillowcase. This ensured that the burn would be the most painful burn I've ever had. Less than an hour after that lovely incident, I stepped on the claw of a hammer and took a chunk out of my big toe. Specifically, right on the joint of the big toe, so that every time I bent my toe, it would hurt. Don't ask me why there was a hammer on the floor. The next day I cut my finger while trimming fat off the brisket. I actually hardly ever cut myself cooking so I was kind of pissed. What the hell was wrong with me? Then, the ultimate in stupid accidents. This one didn't involve personal injury, unless you consider feeling stupid a personal injury. I spent all this time laying out the lovely lattice crust on my Sour Cream-Walnut Apple Pie for Christmas dinner, when I realized that I had forgotten to add the walnut layer to the pie. The layer that goes underneath the crust. I had to remove the entire freaking crust, add the walnuts, and place the crust a second time, only now the lattice strips were all slimy from the sour cream filling. Great.

Anyway, it wasn't all lame, because of course there were presents. J-Cat overdid it, as usual, and presented me with a parade of gifts throughout the evening, which culminated in my new shiny friend:

That's the Breville Juice Fountain Elite and it rocks. It's super powerful, great looking, and it's not such a pain to clean. Actually, it's very easy to clean being as that J-Cat is the one who has cleaned it every time. He's obsessed with it. The first night we searched around for something - anything - that we could juice, but all we had in the house was one very big carrot. Not surprisingly, we did juice that one carrot, and it yielded a pathetic amount of juice:

But now J-Cat is crazy for juicing, and has been making delicious juice every morning this week. By the time I'm out of bed and done working out, I've got a fresh glass of juice waiting for me. It's awesome. It's almost better than coffee. He's been using carrots, beets, kale, apples, watercress, parsley, ginger. I think I pretty much like anything with beets in it. This weekend I'm going to get a bunch of other fruits and veggies and do some more experimenting.

I didn't think presents could be better than that, but there is one more that I'm really excited about. He got us tickets to the Moscow Cats Theatre for tomorrow. Awesome.

Continue Reading "pie & presents & personal injury"

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

brisket and beer, revisited

What to do with the rest of a 5-lb brisket when the Steak & Guinness Pie only used 2 lbs?

Braise it. And what better to braise it with than a bottle of the Guinness you bought for the pie? The great thing about this recipe is that despite the two main ingredients being exactly the same as the pie, it tastes completely different. The pile of onions sitting atop the brisket brings an incredible sweetness to the gravy. I browsed around at dozens of slow-cooked brisket recipes for some ideas, and noticed that a great many of them called for Heinz Chili Sauce. I didn't even know what the was, but luckily found it in the local grocery store. The verdict on that stuff is that it's pretty much ketchup with some vaguely pepper-like tinge, but the moniker Chili Sauce is a little misleading. Stuff is sweet.

Paired with the brisket was simply sauteed white cabbage with caraway seeds. Also rather sweet, but a nice light contrast to the beef and gravy.

The gravy, by the way, was the best thing ever. Recipes after the jump:


3 lb flat-cut brisket
2 bay leaves
2 small onions, sliced into rings
1 bottle (12 ounces) dark beer
1/4 cup chili sauce (Heinz style)
3 tbsp brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Rinse and pat dry brisket and trim off excess fat. Salt and pepper liberally. Place in a slow cooker set on High, 6-hour setting. Scatter onion rings and bay leaves over the beef. Mix together beer, chili sauce, sugar, garlic and thyme and pour over brisket. Cover and braise 6 hours or until it begins to fall apart with a fork. Remove brisket and set aside on cutting board to rest. Transfer the sauce to a saucepan. Skim off any excessive fat, but leave at least a couple of tablespoons worth in the pot. Mix the cornstarch and water, add to sauce and simmer on low until thickened, about 10 minutes. Slice brisket against the grain and serve topped with the gravy.


1 small white cabbage, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
1 small onion, diced
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Melt butter over medium heat in a large, heavy saute pan. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add caraway seeds and allow to toast for 1 minute. Add cabbage and saute until soft.

Continue Reading "brisket and beer, revisited"

Monday, December 24, 2007

sunday supper: battle pastry, pt 2

If there was any part of me that felt like a cheat for using frozen puff pastry in the entree, I think I counteracted with dessert -- a Rustic Pear Tart. This free-form tart is pretty simple to make, yet if you have the patience to lay the pear slices out prettily can look super fancy and complicated. Mine fell somewhere in between I suppose.

The hidden gem in this tart is the layer of pulverized almonds hiding under the pears. It's certainly not a necessary element for a simple pear tart, but the subtly rich touch of almonds works beautifully against the sweetness of the pears. It's also the easiest part of the recipe, simply throw some almonds, flour, and sugar into a food processor, pulse until it becomes a fine sand, and set aside until you assemble your tart.

The real pain in the ass is, as always, the crust. It's just a simple all-butter shortcrust pastry, but I always have a bit of an issue with shortcrust pastry. It always seems like the classic half fat to flour ratio is too high, the resulting dough feels so soft that I worry it will simply melt when I bake it. I pretty much always end up adding much more flour than the recipe calls for, at least when I am rolling out the crust. After all, this stuff will stick to everything if you don't flour it liberally, and I even use a Roulpat!

In the end the crust came out fine - flaky, buttery, a little on the rich side, but that's to be expected if you choose to do all butter instead of half butter-half shortening. But I do think I have a ways to go in mastering shortcrust pastry, which is pretty lame considering that it is supposed to be the easiest pastry to make. As for the pears, the ones I had were less ripe than I would have liked, but I'm so into pears lately, they may overtake apples as my favorite dessert fruit. Recipe after the jump:


Almond Filling:
1 tbsp almonds
1 tbsp flour
2 tsp sugar

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small chunks
1/4 cup cold water

Pear Filling:
3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, cored and sliced thin
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar

1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup water

Start by making the almond filling. Combine the almonds, flour, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Empty into a bowl and set aside. For the crust, combine the flour and sugar in the food processor and pulse a couple of times to mix. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles crumbs. Add water little by little and pulse to combine. You may not need all of the water depending on the moisture in the air, just add enough for the dough to begin to come together. Remove dough, shape into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. When the dough has chilled well, roll into a round crust, about 1/8 inch thick, on a well-floured board. You may need a fair amount of flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the pin and the board. Transfer the rolled out crust onto a baking sheet and return to the refrigerator while you prep the pears. Peel, core, and slice pears thinly. Toss the pears with the lemon juice and sugar and set aside. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and sprinkle the almond filling evenly over the center of the crust, leaving about a 2 inch border all around. Lay pear slices over the almond filling, overlapping in a pinwheel pattern.

In a small saucepan, combine apricot preserves with water and heat until warm and syrupy. (You could also do this in a microwave, heating on high for about 1 minute). With a pastry brush, brush the apricot syrup over the pears.

Bake tart in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Continue Reading "sunday supper: battle pastry, pt 2"

Sunday, December 23, 2007

sunday supper: battle pastry

Most people who know me at all know that I'm crazy about pastry. All kinds of pastry. Yet I haven't worked much with pastry beyond pie crusts or shortcrusts. I don't know why I haven't, considering how easy many pastries are. Because frozen puff pastry is the most amazing food item ever. Now that I've started working with it, I really think I may try wrapping everything in puff pastry. It would just make everything better, after all. For dinner tonight, I broke out a couple sheets of puff pastry to make a simple, hearty Steak & Guinness Pie.

Beef stew, wrapped in puff pastry? Bring it on. The ultimate in comfort food. Recipe after the jump:


2 lbs stew meat (round or brisket), cut in 1-inch cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup portabella or cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 sprig rosemary
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1 can Guinness Stout
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium dutch oven or stock pot, heat olive oil. Saute onions and garlic until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery, carrots, mushrooms, rosemary and butter and saute until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add beef, sprinkle with flour, and season with salt and pepper. Add Worchestershire sauce and Guinness. The liquid should just come to the top of the beef but not completely submerge it. Add water or beef stock if there is not enough liquid. Cover and simmer in preheated oven for 2 hours, stirring periodically. I recommend skimming the fat off about halfway through the simmer, depending on how fatty your beef is.

After 2 hours, remove the stew from the oven but do not turn off the heat. Set stew aside to cool slightly while you roll out the pastry. Roll out one sheet of puff pastry to about 1/8th inch thick and lay in the bottom of a 2 quart ovenproof deep casserole or bowl, allowing excess pastry to hang over the sides. Fill with stew, but avoid putting too much liquid in the pie. Roll out the other sheet of pastry a bit thicker than the first. Score lightly in a crisscross pattern. Brush the edges of the bottom crust with beaten egg. Lay top crust and press lightly around edges to seal. Bring excess bottom crust up over top crust. Brush top of crust with egg wash. Return to the 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes until crust is golden brown.

Continue Reading "sunday supper: battle pastry"

Friday, December 21, 2007

what a tart

There is always a need for an effortless way to make an apple dessert. I didn't think there could be anything easier than my Apple Dumplings using premade pie crust, but this super-easy apple tart actually seemed easier.

I have actually never used frozen puff pastry dough before, if you can believe that. I had wanted some sheets of puff pastry to roll out for the crust of a steak and guinness pie (which I will finally be making this weekend, stay tuned), but when J-Cat ran out to the grocery store for me, all he could find were the puff pastry shells. At the time I just stuck them in the freezer, knowing they wouldn't work for the steak pie, but also knowing that eventually I'd think of a fun way to use them. I always figured that fun way would involve something sweet, and probably something fruity. So last night, after watching an episode of Good Eats focusing on pocket pies and desperately craving an apple pocket pie, I decided to break out those frozen pastry shells, slice up some apples, and improvise a tart. I was really happy with the results, though perhaps not as happy with the mess it left on the baking sheet. It was still completely worth it. Incredibly easy, and incredibly satisfying. Plus, I don't feel guilty about using pre-made puff pastry, since I don't think that many people really attempt puff pastry from scratch at home. It's not like I have a giant marble counter or anything. Recipe after the jump:


1 package frozen puff pastry shells (6 shells)
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
5 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pea-sized pieces

Set frozen pastry shells out to defrost at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour, until pliable enough to roll. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll each shell out into a 5 inch disk and lay out on a baking sheet. Place the apple slices overlapping on the shells, leaving about a centimeter border around the edge of the pastry. Mix the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the apples. Dot the top of the apples with the butter pieces. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the edges of the pastry have puffed slightly and are beginning to brown.

Continue Reading "what a tart"

Monday, December 17, 2007

chocolate cream pie

A classic and a favorite of mine -- chocolate cream pie. I'm actually not a big chocolate freak, but if you top it with a pile of whipped cream I'm much more interested. This pie seemed more cream than chocolate in the end, and I'm not complaining, but that probably goes against most other people's tastes.

I had to laugh at myself when I substituted some of the flour in the pie crust for whole wheat flour. Who was I kidding? Did this really make it any less bad for me? But strangely enough, in the end it was an interesting choice. The resulting crumbly texture put this crust somewhere between a classic pie crust and a cookie crust, either of which would go fine in a chocolate cream pie. I guess it was best of both worlds, with some extra fiber thrown in.

The only downside to this pie is that you have to do a lot of waiting. The pie crust dough needs to rest before rolling out and being baked, and the chocolate filling needs to cool and set for a while before adding the topping and serving. It's a little torturous.

But definitely all worth it in the end. Recipe after the jump:


Pie Crust
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled
4 tbsp shortening, chilled
3 tbsp ice water

3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chilled heavy cream
1 tbsp confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. To make the crust, combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter, quickly cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles tiny split peas. Do not use hands to mix, as the heat from your hands will melt the butter and result in too dense a crust. Add the ice water and combine with a fork. Gather dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
2. To make the filling, combine sugar, flour, milk, and chocolate in a 2 quart saucepan or a double boiler. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble. Continue stirring for 2 minutes. Mix a small amount of the hot mixture into the egg yolks to temper, beating rapidly to avoid cooking the yolks. Stir the warm yolk mixture into the remainder of the chocolate mixture, and cook for an additional 90 seconds. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla. Set aside to cool while you roll out the pie crust.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Line the pie plate, flute the edges and dock the bottom and sides with a fork. Lay a piece of parchment paper in the crust and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes until lightly browned, removing the weights for the last 5 minutes of baking. Allow to cool before filling.
4. Pour filling into pie shell and chill until set, about 2 hours. Shortly before serving, combine the topping ingredients and whip with an electric mixer to stiff peaks. Spread the whipped topping evenly over the chilled chocolate pie, and finish with shaved dark chocolate.

Continue Reading "chocolate cream pie"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

a little eggplant parm, a big cheat

I'm usually a purist. When I'm going to cook a classic -- one might say iconic -- dish, I want to know how it's always been done and I want to do it exactly that way. Well, this is one big exception. I started making this modified, easier, faux-healthier version of eggplant parmigiana ages ago, and I must admit that I have never gone back to making it the traditional way.

There's more than one reason for this. The first being that I love eggplant parm, but I'm rarely motivated enough to make a classic one from scratch when I can just get some fairly good takeout at half a dozen places within half a dozen blocks. The breading, the frying, the oil, the stacking, etc. A big mess, and a good bit of time. This version eliminates the step of frying the eggplant slices in favor of baking them in the oven. You could also tell yourself that this makes the dish much healthier, but I try not to think that way when I'm piling on tons and tons of cheese. Regardless of the question of health, I realized after making this a zillion times that I actually prefer it this way, because it is much less greasy.

Of course, in a perfect world, you'd have a vat of homemade, slow-cooked marinara in the freezer at all times. I do try to remember when I do make marinara that you should always make 10 times more than you need and freeze batches for quick recipes. But let's be honest, the freezer is packed full enough already, so your favorite jarred marinara will do fine as well. The same homemade vs. storebought question goes for the breadcrumbs, which are best made fresh, but on a weekday night, I'll break out the Italian style in the canister. And yes, I eat this over rice. Short grain, sticky, Asian rice. Keepin' it real.
Recipe after the jump:


2 medium eggplants (I think about 5 lbs total?)
3 cups (or 1 24 oz jar) marinara sauce
4 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup shredded parmesan
1/3 cup shredded romano cheese
1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds and place in a single layer on a sheetpan sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Spray the surface of the slices with cooking spray. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Lower the oven to 375. In an 8x8 casserole dish, spread a layer of marinara sauce and sprinkle with an even coat of breadcrumbs, parmesan, and romano cheese. Lay the baked eggplant slices on the sauce layer. Top with another layer of sauce, breadcrumbs, parmesan, and romano. Top the layer with half of the shredded mozzarella. Repeat the layer of egglplant, sauce, breadcrumbs, parmesan, and romano, but do not put the final layer of mozzarella. Bake in the lowered oven for 30 minutes. Add the final layer of mozzarella and return to the oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Serve with crusty bread, pasta, or over rice.

PS. This dish is even better the second day.

Continue Reading "a little eggplant parm, a big cheat"

Monday, December 10, 2007


I have not disappeared! It's just that time of year. Holidays, social obligations, awards screening season, hibernation. Sadly, I have not had much time for cooking. Or, more accurately, I have not had much time for thinking about cooking. And with me, thinking and planning is more than half the battle when it comes to cooking. Ironically, now is the time that J-Cat has been getting increasingly interested in cooking. This weekend, he made me breakfast both mornings, and seemed to actually really have fun doing it. Yesterday he asked me what I was craving, and I answered hash browns, even though I did not really think he would attempt it. I love classic grated hash browns, but I can never seem to get it unless I go somewhere in the south with a Waffle House. What's with the preference for home fries around here? Home fries are whack. Anyway, J-Cat was determined to give me my home fries, so he googled around for some recipes, decided that he would pick and choose parts of various recipes, then essentially just wing it. Awww, just like me. And he said it was really fun! I guess he's finally starting to understand why I love it like I do.

The result was more like a giant latke than classic hash browns, but I love latkes so I still thought it was tasty.

Anyway, no Sunday Supper last night, as I was enjoying a lovely crafting afternoon at Leah's. I did manage to finish another stripe and a half on my ripple afghan, but it still doesn't look like I'm making any progress whatsoever. So since I do not have a great experiment to share, here's one of my quick and easy made up dishes from last week -- Stuffed Peppers.

Growing up in my household, I don't think I ever really tasted the classic versions of many foods. Both of my parents were totally incapable of making a dish without completely tweaking it to suit their tastes. This was not a bad thing, as my mom's meatloaf and my dad's burgers were awesome. I just never knew what real meatloaf tasted like. So Stuffed Peppers is kind of my homage to that. I don't even know what Stuffed Peppers are usually like. I don't think I've ever eaten them. I don't know what people usually stuff in them. I just kinda made this up.

The peppers were giant, so one per person was plenty. I stuffed them with a mixture of ground beef, onions, garlic, tomatoes, spices, cheese, and bulgur wheat. Recipe after the jump:


4 large green bell peppers
1 lb lean ground beef
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 tbsp worchestershire sauce
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the bulgur wheat with 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to steam for 15-20 minutes. While the bulgur is steaming, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until translucent. Add ground beef, breaking up with the spoon, and saute just until it begins to brown. On a hot spot on the skillet, add the tomato paste and let carmelize for a minute before mixing in. Add the tomatoes, reserving about a quarter cup, and stir to combine. Drain off any excess fat, if desired. When the bulgur is tender, drain with a fine sieve and return to bowl. Add the browned beef, seasonings, and cheese and toss to combine well. Set aside while you prep the peppers. Slice off the top of the pepper and remove all seeds and ribs. Fill with the beef mixture and place in a baking dish just large enough to hold the four peppers (this will help prevent the peppers from falling over when they soften). Spoon tomatoes over the top to prevent drying. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, then sprinkle cheese over top and return to oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

Continue Reading "stuffed"

Monday, December 03, 2007

sunday supper: apple crisp

It's bad timing that just as the holiday season kicks off and our sunny presence is requested at a zillion social functions, I start moving into my hibernation mode. It's cold, it's snowy, it's dark too early, and I just want to sleep. I'm trying to strike the balance between the enforced socializing and the hiding away, but even then I feel busy and haven't had much time to cook. Last night, strangely enough, J-Cat even made dinner and I just handled dessert. Actually, to be more accurate, J-Cat made breakfast, he just made it at 7PM. He has become the king of omelets, he's really quite good at them, and made a delicious omelet with goat cheese and sauteed spinach and onions. Delicious. I went for something pretty simple with an Apple Cranberry Crisp.

Crisps are a perfect stand-in for pie when you're just too lazy to make pie crust. I kept this one really simple, with just oats, flour, brown sugar and butter making the topping. The oat-y flavor was perfect comfort food on our first snowy day of the season, and the smell made the whole house cozy. Recipe after the jump:


4-5 medium baking apples, peeled and sliced thin (I used Cortland)
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 tbsp room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine apples, cranberries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Toss to combine well and set aside while you assemble the topping. In another bowl, combine oats, sugar and flour and toss to combine. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, break up the butter into the oat mixture evenly. In a 1.5 quart greased baking dish, pour the apple mixture and spread evenly. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Lightly dust the top with cinnamon. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbling. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Continue Reading "sunday supper: apple crisp"