Monday, July 27, 2009

blackberry blossom

So, J-Cat plays the mandolin. He started taking lessons in January and he's really gotten quite good in a short period of time. It's fascinating to watch this grown man take music lessons for the first time, because I have been a musician all my life and was classically trained from childhood. I think it's a pretty different experience. I will say that he is more dedicated about practicing than I ever was when I was a kid. I practiced a lot, but I'm sure my mother would tell you that sometimes (most times?) it was a bit of a struggle to motivate me. So I'm so impressed and proud of J-Cat, and I try to be as supportive as humanly possible, but sometimes, when he's playing the same little song over and over and over and over again every night for over a week, it tries my patience a tiny bit. Teeeeny tiny bit. I do my best to bite my tongue, but I may have expressed my distaste for a song or two here or there. Not his playing, just the song. His playing is 100% lovely. Anyway, what's my point? One of the first songs J-Cat learned was a fiddle tune called Blackberry Blossom. And this is one of the songs that never ever bothered me, because I just like it. I like the old bluegrass fiddle tunes. I wish his teacher would only stick to those, but I guess it's good to branch out a bit. If you're wondering what it sounds like, go here.

And if you are anything like me and the thought of a song called Blackberry Blossom makes you crave berries, try out this recipe for Sour Cream Blackberry Muffins.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
1 tbsp milk
2/3 cup sugar
8 Tbsp warm melted butter (1 stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla
11 oz of fresh blackberries, cut in half (You can use frozen blackberries if fresh are not available, defrost and drain them first.)

Position rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a standard 12 muffin pan or line with paper muffin cups.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, milk, sugar, butter and vanilla.

Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix together with a few light strokes, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add the berries. (If you are using frozen berries, defrost them first, then drain the excess liquid, then coat them lightly in flour.) Do not overmix! Overmixing will cause the muffins to be dense, not fluffy. The batter should not be smooth.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of 1 or 2 of the muffins comes out clean, 17-20 minutes (or longer). Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes before removing from the pan. If not serving hot, let cool on a rack. These are best served warm, but keep very nicely in an airtight container.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

it's shameless plug time!

Claire is back! Tune into the-network-that-shall-not-be-named-on-this-blog to see new episodes of a show that I have poured blood, sweat, and tears into. Delicious, bacon-flavored tears. In celebration of the upcoming premiere, here's a sneak preview of one of Claire's delicious dishes that I just had to make myself - lamb chops with a mint-almond pesto. A perfect recipe for summer when mint is growing out of control in Beth's garden and she unloads piles of it on me. Recipe after the jump:


12 frenched baby lamb chops (3 per person)
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
1 lemon, zest and juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a cast iron grill pan over high heat until very hot. Season one side of the lamb chops with salt and pepper, and drizzle with oil. Place on the hot pan season side down. Season and oil the top side before flipping. Grill for about 3-4 minutes per side for medium rare, depending on the thickness of your chops. Remove to a plate to rest while you prepare the pesto.

In a food process, combine the mint leaves, almonds, lemon zest, and juice. Pulse to begin breaking down. Turn processor on and slowly drizzle in olive oil until the mixture resembles a thick paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you would like a looser consistency, you can add a bit of water.

Serve lamb chops either topped with the pesto, or on the side as a dipping sauce.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

in season: blueberry buttermilk cake

When the summertime berries come into season, it is physically impossible for me to make a dessert that doesn't feature them. All I want to eat in the summer is fruit. This Blueberry Buttermilk Cake couldn't be easier; super moist, light, flavorful, not too sweet. My perfect summer dessert.

You can swap out any nice plump berry in this recipe, which was originally written for raspberries. I intend to try it with the raspberries soon, but the blueberries happened to look better that day, and in truth I love no berry more than a blueberry. Serve it with some fresh whipped cream, or a nice vanilla ice cream, or just eat it straight for breakfast. Versatility in a simple cake. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, June 2009

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh blueberries (about 5 oz)

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter berries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

j-cat cooks (srsly!): beef wellington (srsly!!)

It must be freezing in hell right now, because a couple weeks ago, J-Cat decided that he loves to cook. I don't think it should be too surprising that I have mixed feelings about this development. On the one hand, it is awfully nice to get cooked for, for a change. It's also nice that he finally understands why I love it as much as I do. But on the other kitchen.

Because J-Cat is not just someone who wants to cook; he wants to experiment. It's not fun for him unless it is some complicated undertaking that has maybe a 50/50 chance of being a disaster. The first big dinner he cooked for me? Beef Wellington. Because cooking a nice steak or a roast the very first time he ever cooked meat is not enough of a challenge, he had to go that giant leap forward and tackle the infamously tricky Beef Wellington. But let me just say, it really was quite good. I only had to step in a couple of times, and I only had a small heart attack when I saw the state of my kitchen at the end of the night.

The mushroom duxelle that he spread all over the tenderloin was so yummy that we spread the extra on bread and turned it into an appetizer. The meat itself was cooked to a lovely medium-rare, and cut like butter. The puff pastry was appropriately thin and crisp and shining with an egg wash. It was thoroughly impressive. And thank god for that, cause we spent a small fortune on the ingredients. My nerves may have been shot for the whole afternoon that he was tinkering in there, but this lovely dinner - which he made for our anniversary - more than made up for it.

He served the wellington with a side of truffled mashed potatoes, proving that after all these years, he does know the way to my heart after all. Recipe after the jump:


1 lb beef tenderloin fillet
salt and pepper
1 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
8 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
1/2 cup mushroom duxelle, recipe follows
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 egg yolks, beaten

Mushroom Duxelle (this recipe makes extra, and is delicious spread on baguette on crackers)
1 shallot, diced
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, rough chop
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, rough chop
1 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Generously salt and pepper the tenderloin fillet. Heat the canola oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Sear the fillet on all sides until brown. Remove from the heat and allow to cool while you assemble the duxelle.

Place the roughly chopped mushrooms and shallots in a food processor and process until it turns into a paste. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the mushroom paste to the butter and saute until it begins to release liquid. Lower the heat and allow to simmer until the liquid evaporates. Set aside to cool.

When the fillet has cooled, brush on all sides with the mustard. Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Place the slices of prosciutto slightly overlapping on the plastic wrap, making the layer of prosciutto about as wide as the fillet is long. Spread the cooled duxelle evenly on the prosciutto. Set the fillet on the edge of the prosciutto and roll the prosciutto around the fillet. Wrap in the plastic wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll out the sheet of pastry on a lightly floured board to a size that will fully wrap around the beef. Place the cooled fillet in the middle of the pastry. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash, the fold over the fillet and seal. Fold the sides up and over to cover the edges. Make sure the seal the edges well with the egg wash. Turn the wellington seam side down, brush the entire surface with egg wash. Cut shallow slits in the surface of the pastry. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes.

Remove the wellington from the refrigerator and give it an additional brush of egg wash. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the internal temperature of the meat is 125-130 for medium rare. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing. Slice into 1-inch thick slices to serve. Serves 4.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

changing my mind about chicken

I've been hearing about this famous Zuni Cafe roasted chicken for a while now. It's one of those recipes that every known food blogger seems to have attempted at some point. And I have a confession; I have a hard time imagining a roast chicken so good that it would cause this much commotion. This one singular chicken recipe. And that is probably because I don't love chicken. Is that horrible to say? It's not that don't like chicken, I just don't love it, and I am fully aware that this is a result of the fact that about 95% of the chicken I've ever been served in my life has been pretty lame. So at some point, I just stopped ordering chicken in restaurants. Unless it's fried, that's a different story. But I have just never been inclined to ordered a roast chicken in a restaurant - even a great restaurant - because I figure it's on the menu for the diners who are least adventurous. But now I am realizing that that is a pretty unfair way to look at it, because obviously there are restaurants out there that are doing such great roast chicken that people all the way on the other side of the country are talking about it. And talking about it, and talking about it. And since I'm over 3000 miles away from that famous chicken, it's pretty lucky that they shared their recipe so I could make it for myself.

What stunned me about this recipe was how simple it was. It appeared that the main secret to this lauded roast chicken was a dry brine, and a long dry brine at that. Just salt the heck out of that chicken, and stick it in the fridge for 1-3 days. That's it! And the result? Juicy, delicious, perfectly crisped skin, and a chicken that changed my mind about chicken. Recipe after the jump:

From The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

[Note: The originally recipe is written in conjunction with the bread salad that they serve with the chicken at the restaurant. I have pulled out just the portion of the recipe regarding the chicken because the technique for roasting is what I was most interested in. Go here for the recipe in its entirety.]

1 small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
About teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
A little water

Rinse the chicken thoroughly in cold water. Using paper towels, dry the chicken inside and out very thoroughly. Slide your finger under the skin of the breast, carefully separating the skin from the meat. Place a sprig of your herb of choice under the skin. Season the bird inside and out with a generous amount of salt and the black pepper and rub into the skin. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 days depending on the size of the bird.

Preheat the oven to 475. Unwrap the brined bird and pat any condensation on the skin off with a a paper towel. Heat a saute pan or skillet just larger than the bird over medium heat for about five minutes. (I used a 10-inch skillet for a small 2 3/4 pound bird). Place the bird breast side up in the hot skillet and place in the middle of the preheated oven. Roast for 20 minutes. At this point, check that the skin is browning. If it is not, raise the heat to 500. If it looks too dark, lower it to 450. After it has roasted 30 minutes, flip the bird over. Roast for 10 to 20 minutes depending on size. Flip back to expose the breast and roast an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Total roasting time will be 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Leave the bread salad to continue warming for another 5 minutes of so.

Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings.

Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste-the juices will be extremely flavorful.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

french food i did not eat in france: gratin dauphinoise

I have actually eaten potatoes gratin in France before, just not on this trip. I once had them aside a steak and it was extremely memorable. My thighs still remember it. Nobody doesn't love potatoes gratin. In fact, gratin is the answer to everything, like getting people who don't like a vegetable to eat copious amounts of that vegetable. But this is the classic; simple yet complex in flavor, quick to put together, ultimate comfort food. And this recipe, despite being a little lighter than your classic gratin recipe, tastes as decadent as it gets. Recipe after the jump:


3 tablespoons melted butter, divided
6 peeled russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
2 tbsp finely chopped chives

Preheat oven to 425F. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until scalding, then add the nutmeg. Spread an 11-by-7-inch baking dish or gratin dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Arrange half the potatoes in dish, sprinkle with half the garlic, drizzle with half the remaining butter, half the cheese, and half the salt and pepper. Repeat layers. Pour hot milk over potatoes.

Bake for 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender, milk is absorbed and top is browned. Garnish with the chopped chives.

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