Monday, March 31, 2008

super simple sides: roasted cauliflower

Another concert weekend unfortunately means no Sunday Supper this week. My Sunday evening was spent celebrating Pam's bday with the family at Dos Caminos. Pitchers of Sangria, lots of guac, and grasshoppers. Seriously, grasshoppers! I've had fried grasshoppers before, but I was impressed that J-Cat wanted to be so adventurous. Unfortunately I thought these were very overspiced, all you could taste was chili powder and cumin. Also adventurous was Baby Otto, who took a liking to the guacamole - the spicy guacamole - and shoved impressive amounts of that into his adorable cheeks.

Anyway, never wanting to leave my dear loyal readers with no recipe at all, here is the easiest thing you can possibly make - a Super Simple Side dish - Roasted Cauliflower.

1 head cauliflower
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely minced
1 lemon
Olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut or break cauliflower into florets. Toss the florets with olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and thyme until evenly coated. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 15-25 until lightly browned and fork tender.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

chowder, she wrote

Up in an idyllic little town on the coast of Maine, a lot of people get murdered. It's not Jessica's fault, even when it's death by New England Clam Chowder. Her recipe does not include Barbitals, just lots of clams and potatoes and cream and deliciousness. In Cabot Cove, Jessica is famous for her chowder, seafood bakes, and all things coastal and New England-y. Dr. Hazlitt can't get enough of her cooking (wink wink). So in honor of a truly great mystery show that I've been watching nonstop lately, this is my version of Mrs. Fletcher's Barbital-Free New England Clam Chowder.

It should have been thicker. Perhaps I didn't need two bottles of clam juice. Clam juice, doesn't that sound appetizing?

My ratio of half-and-half to milk was perhaps a little off, but the milk I used was creamy, delicious whole milk, and I thought it would be thick enough.

Despite the slightly runnier consistency, this was still wonderfully delicious and, of course, quite sassy. I think Jessica Fletcher would be very proud of it. I would never invite her over to dinner, though, I value my life. Recipe after the jump:

6 slices smoky bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 pound red potatoes, diced
2 8-ounce bottles clam juice
1 bay leaf
1 pound chopped sea clams, frozen or fresh (or 2 6-ounce cans)
2 cups half and half
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy stockpot or dutch oven, crisp the bacon over medium heat. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Saute the onion and celery in the rendered bacon fat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the vegetables and stir to coat evenly. Add the potatoes, bacon, and clam juice. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the chopped clams, half and half, milk, and thyme leaves and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes until it thickens and bubbles. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with oyster crackers or crusty bread.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

can you ever get tired of tarts?

Not really, right? They're all different enough. I finally feel like I've conquered the tart crust with this one - a very simple apple tart from Chez Panisse. Alice Waters attributes the recipe to Jacques Pepin. This really is the simplest tart ever, and is wonderfully delicious in its simplicity. It is also quite rustic and can be done as a free form crostata if you don't have a tart pan. This was perfect served warm with vanilla ice cream. I'll be using the crust recipe again, it was the best I've done so far - light, flaky, buttery, delicious. Recipe after the jump:

For dough:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water

For filling:
2 pounds apples (Golden Delicious or another tart, firm variety), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar

For glaze: 1/2 cup sugar

MIX flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.

DRIBBLE in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.

PLACE dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan, or simply on a parchment-lined baking sheet if you wish to go free-form, or galette-style with it. Heat oven to 400°F. (If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the rack.)

OVERLAP apples on dough in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using the tart pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals.

BRUSH melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and the other 3 tablespoons over apples.

BAKE in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.

MAKE glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth.

REMOVE tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.

BRUSH glaze over tart, slice, and serve.

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easter sunday supper

So I guess lamb is an Easter thing? I'm utterly in the dark about most things religious, but as yesterday was Easter and technically my mom is a good Catholic girl, I roasted up a stuffed leg of lamb. It was, for the most part, an exceedingly simple recipe, but it was also pretty much the first thing I've made that required another set of hands. The stuffing - a delicious concoction of bread crumbs, pecorino romano, parsley, and garlic - was a giant mess that kept spilling out all over my freshly cleaned kitchen floor. But it was the rolling and tying of the 7+ pound boneless leg of lamb that almost pushed me over the edge. I had to call J-Cat over to hold the thing together while I tied the twine as tight as I could, hoping at least some small fraction of the stuffing would actually remain stuffed. This is why I never stuff things. Here is the stuffing before it flew all over the kitchen. This would be awesome on fish.

Once it was all rolled and tied, there was pretty much nothing more to be done, yet another recipe that works really well when you're having company. I had plenty of time to make dessert (coming up shortly), and do my last minute tidying. And it only cooked for less than 2 hours, since lamb is best eaten medium rare. The leg is also a relatively mild cut, great for feeding a large group. Here's a close-up of the finished lamb, with that pesky stuffing all over the outside of the meat. Not where it belongs:

Recipe after the jump:

1 6-pound boneless leg of lamb
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons minced garlic
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rinse and pat dry the leg of lamb and lay out on your board cut side up. Season well with salt and pepper. In a skillet, heat olive oil and toast the bread crumbs until golden brown. Combine in a bowl with the cheese, parsley and garlic. Lay the stuffing out evenly on the cut side of the lamb. Roll the leg back into it's natural shape and tie securely with several lengths of butcher's twine. Season the outside of the roast with salt and pepper. Rub a small amount of olive oil over the skin. Place on a rack in a roasting pan, adding about 1 inch of water to the bottom of the pan. Place in the middle of a 375 degree oven and roast for about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours until medium rare, or until desired doneness. My roast had temperatures varying from 125 to 140 degrees. Medium rare is generally about 120 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest at least 10 minutes before carving.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

junk food confession

I have a confession to make:

We like Domino's Thin Crust Pizza. Now, just to be clear, we don't at all consider it pizza, it's just a thing unto itself, and it's good. It's good because it's ridiculously cheap, and it's pretty much the only thing you can get delivered in this neighborhood past midnight. It also reheats really really well. Crispiness, I have such a weakness for thee. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Domino's pizza boxes are really sturdy, and Opaw appreciates this. It means that we don't really mind it if she lounges on them since they're not going to get smushed under her weight and get cheese stuck on the inside lid. And nothing makes Opaw happier than a warm cardboard box.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

dutch baby

Apparently, a Dutch Baby pancake is basically a giant popover. And that can't be a bad thing. Actually, it was easier than a popover because you only have to make one. It was an eggy, doughy, buttery delight, and a nice change from the normal pancake. Sort of like a cross between a pancake and an omelet? With maple syrup all over it. I was surprised that it puffed up quite as much as it did, although a few minutes later it had already deflated. I'm not sure if I did something to cause that or if that's just the way these things evolve. Recipe after the jump:

4 tbsps butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup flour

Place a cast iron skillet into an oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Put the butter in the pan to melt. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients. Once the butter has melted, remove the pan, pour in the batter, and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until puffed up and browned. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with maple syrup.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

sunday supper: delicious brined meats and their effects on my honeys

For minimal effort, you can get at least 3 different meals out of one incredibly easy preparation. The magical meat? Corned beef. This dish is so easy to prepare, I almost feel like I should actually brine-cure the beef myself or it really is cheating. But I really don't know where I'd get saltpeter. Buying a pre-cured brisket leaves only some simmering to do for a delicious meal. In some ways, the leftovers are the best part, you get corned beef hash with the leftover potatoes, or simply some sandwiches on rye bread.

And here's a peek at the typical post-supper Sunday evening at my house.

1 3-lb uncooked corned beef brisket
16 cups water
2 tbsp black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
4 whole allspice berries
2 bay leaves
1 small head green cabbage (about 2 pounds), cut into wedges
6 small potatoes, cut in halves or quarters, depending on size

For Horseradish Mayo:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
3 tbsp prepared horseradish, or more to taste
zest of half a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse the brisket well under cold water and place in a large dutch oven or stockpot. Cover the brisket with the water and add the peppercorns, cloves, allspice, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that collects on top. Lower the heat to a moderate simmer and cover. Simmer for about 2 1/2 hours or until very tender. You can also put in a 300 degree oven to simmer. When the meat is tender, remove from the pot, set on a board and cover with foil. Add the cabbage and potatoes to the pot and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Serve with horseradish mayonnaise.

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sunday supper: irish eyes

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Though I am neither Irish nor Catholic, I have a fondness for corned beef, cabbage, and soda bread, so I make an Irish feast every year. We ate this meal while watching Once, and I didn't even realize when we picked it that it was perfect for the occasion.

My Irish soda bread sort of served as a dessert; it's not particularly sweet, but spread with some jam it's really lovely. My understanding about soda bread is that here in the states, we add sugar and raisins and make it a little sweet, and that is actually not how it is traditionally done in Ireland, but it is awfully tasty that way. The bulk of the leftovers made it into the office this morning and it got a good review from Kristen the Irish girl, so I'm pretty happy with that. Recipe after the jump:

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
4 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in the butter until it is pea-sized. Add the raisins, then stir in the buttermilk. Once the dough starts to come together, turn it out onto a floured board and knead for about 1 minute until evenly mixed. Shape into a disk about 8 inches in diameter and place on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Cut a cross in the top of the dough. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown. Serve with tart apple slices and cheddar cheese, or butter and jam.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

feel the burn

When J-Cat is out of town, my dinners get kind of strange. Am I reverting to college behavior by eating chips and salsa for dinner? That probably doesn't sound all that weird, until you find out that the other part of my dinner was salami and a baguette...

The jalapenos that I had were pretty big. I discarded most of the seeds so I didn't think it would turn out so spicy, but damn. The reason I did end up eating salami and bread was because it somehow tamed the burning on my lips. Recipe after the jump:

5 firm plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1-2 fresh jalapenos, depending on size
juice of 1 lime
salt, to taste

Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro in a medium bowl. Slice jalapeno into matchsticks, discarding the seeds and ribs if you do not want the salsa to be too spicy. The amount of jalapeno you add depends entirely on your taste. Dice the sliced jalapeno into a very fine dice. Add to bowl, then toss with the juice of 1 lime. Salt to taste, but take into consideration how salty your tortilla chips already are.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

sunday supper: tart take two

It just drives me crazy when something doesn't come out well. After the various glitches with last week's tart, I was compelled to take another stab at it. But I didn't want more lemon curd, I just wanted a good crust. So this week, I went for a classic fresh fruit tart, and made some small adjustments in the guilt department.

First off, I made the crust with half whole wheat flour, half white flour. Though this crust came out far better than last week's butter party, the 50/50 ratio of whole wheat to white did end up with a grainier texture than I generally would have liked. So I recommend not using more than 30% whole wheat.

These classic fruit tarts usually have a thick, creamy filling - like pastry cream - but there are several different kinds that could work. Actually, that lemon curd that I made last week could be a good fruit tart base. But I generally prefer something in the whipped cream family over something in the custard family. It's also a lot simpler to make. So I started with mascarpone cheese, milk, sugar and vanilla. Of course, I screwed that up by sloshing in way too much milk, making it far too runny to fill the tart, but had no mascarpone left to correct the balance. Instead, I turned to some plain greek yogurt. This turned out to be a very happy accident. Not only was the cream filling much lighter, but the tang of the yogurt really added to the flavor of the tart. It worked well with the fruit, and cut the sweetness of the crust nicely. In fact, I was happy just scooping up the cream right out of the bowl with the leftover berries.

I definitely could have done a better job of layering the fruit to look professional and really hide the cream, but I admit, I was in a rush to finish it and eat before "The Wire" came on. Recipe after the jump:

For the crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1 large egg, beaten
1-2 tbsp ice water

For the cream:
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup 2% strained Greek yogurt
1/3 cup milk or cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract, or the seeds from one vanilla bean

For the glaze:
2 tbsp apricot preserves
2 tbsp berry liquer (like creme de cassis) or water

For the topping:
3-4 cups of berries or fruit of your choice. I used sliced strawberries, kiwis, and blackberries.

To make the crust:
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Pulse in the butter cubes until it is evenly incorporated and resembles pebbles. Add the beaten egg and about 1 tbsp of ice water and pulse until it comes together in the bowl. You may need to add another 1/2 or 1 tbsp of water if the dough is too dry to hold together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead for a minute to make sure the butter is incorporated evenly, then flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and place in the refrigerator to rest for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, remove the dough from the fridge and roll out between two sheets of wax paper to about 13 inches in diameter. Carefully line a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with the crust, pressing lightly to fill the corners and stick to the sides of the pan. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the pan to cut away excess dough. Return the pan to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dock the crust several times with a fork. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray, lay into the tart crust, then fill with dry beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven to cool while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:
Using an electric mixer, beat together the mascarpone, yogurt, milk, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy and thick. Spread evenly into the cooled tart shell up to about 1/4 inch from the top of the crust. Arrange the berries and sliced fruit over the cream filling. Combine the apricot preserves and liquer or water and heat over a low heat until well combined. Brush the glaze over the berries evenly.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

sunday supper: tart tart

In keeping with the French theme of my Sunday night dinner, dessert was a lemon curd tart from a recipe by Ina Garten. I had a string of little disasters with this recipe. First, I ignored her directive of buttering foil to line the crust before weighting it and blind baking. Every crust that I've blind baked before I've simply used parchment paper to line and had no problems. But this time, it did stick to the parchment paper, and I peeled away a couple of thin patches from the bottom of the crust. This wasn't a hugely big deal since it was a fairly thick crust and that part is filled anyway, but I was annoyed with myself. The second problem was not my fault, I think the baking time for the crust was way too long. Even removing the crust 10 minutes before the recipe called for, I had baked it too long. It was darker than I wanted it, and a couple of minutes more would have burned it. The third problem was mostly my fault, I didn't thicken the custard enough over the stove before filling the crust, and the result was a really runny tart. The recipe says it should take about 10 minutes on the stove, I stopped after 15, it probably needed more like 20. Hence, no photo of a slice.

It was still pretty yummy, though extremely rich. The crust was so buttery and crunchy, it was like a giant shortbread cookie filled with lemon custard. I think this crust recipe called for a lot of butter compared to other recipes I've seen. I would probably be inclined to find a lighter crust recipe and use the lemon curd filling again. I made some adjustments to the recipe after the jump:

For the tart shell:
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch salt

For the lemon curd:
3 small lemons, zested, plus 4 lemons juiced, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the tart shell:

Mix the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Press the dough into a 10-inch-round or 9-inch-square false-bottom tart pan, making sure that the finished edge is flat. Chill until firm.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter 1 side of a square of aluminum foil to fit inside the chilled tart and place it, buttered side down, on the pastry. Fill with beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, prick the tart all over with the tines of a fork, and bake again for 10-15 minutes more, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.

For the lemon curd:

Remove the zest of the lemons with a vegetable peeler or zester, being careful to avoid the white pith. Squeeze the lemons to make 1/3 cup of juice and set the juice aside. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lemon zest. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 20 minutes. The lemon curd will thicken at about 175 degrees F, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat.

Fill the tart shell with warm lemon curd and allow to set at room temperature.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

sunday supper: moules marinieres

Last night's Sunday Supper was the bistro classic Moules Marinieres, mussels steamed in white wine, served with fries and a crusty baguette for soaking up the sauce. I made a very simple, classic recipe with shallots, garlic, parsley, white wine and cream. I admit that I approached the mussels with some trepidation, I have always been a little wary of cooking mollusks. My guess is that this fear is due to an upsetting experience I had once eating a bad fried oyster (I didn't cook it, it wasn't my fault). I just assumed there was much opportunity for screwing something up and poisoning somebody. But I reasoned with myself that it really can't be that easy to screw things up, and I was right. The only thing remotely difficult about the process is scrubbing the shells. The cooking part was as easy as any cooking gets.

J-Cat was also nervous when I told him what I was making. To my shock, he had never had mussels before. I think he's been living in a cave. He also had never seen Alien, so I made him watch that, but only after we finished eating. We were noting that a lot of the alien stuff was clearly made with food - the alien pods were that fatty stomach lining of a cow, plus some chicken - and I'm pretty sure I saw some oysters or mussels in there at some point. I'm glad we weren't still eating. But the good news is that J-Cat loved the mussels, and the movie, and actually asked me to make it again soon. Victory!

2-3 lbs fresh live mussels
1 tbsp olive oil
4 shallots, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Wash and scrub the mussels well, removing any beards with a knife. If any mussels are open, squeeze on them firmly. If they do not close after you squeeze them, discard the mussel.

Heat the oil in a large heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots and garlic until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cream and bring to a light simmer. Add the mussels and give them a good stir. Cover the pot and let steam for about 3 minutes. Give the pot a good shake, then turn off the heat and let it sit covered for another 2 minutes, until all of the mussels have opened. Remove the mussels from the pot and discard any that have not opened. Bring the liquid to a simmer and taste, adjusting for salt and pepper. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes to reduce slightly, then add the parsley. Spoon the sauce over the mussels and top with additonal parsley. Serve with crusty bread for sopping up the sauce.

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer.

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