Thursday, December 30, 2010

A really quick, easy, but amazing way to cook you some shrooms

Ok, I adore mushrooms. Short of my friend John Lange, I think I love them more than anyone else I know. So earthy, so versatile, to use some obnoxious chef terminology so full of umami (it's the japanese word for the extra taste sensation of savory). There are countless ways to cook/use them, but I thought I'd just throw out a really tasty, really easy way to do so, especially if you are doing some entertaining. It has great flavor, and makes for a really nice presentation...............what we are talking about is "en papilotte". Sounds fancy? Really it just means baked in parchment paper.
First, prep the parchment.
Basically, you just need to cut a big heart out of the parchment paper. After loading in all of your mushrooms and other items on one side, fold the other side over the top & starting at the bottome or tip of the overall heart, tightly roll the bottom lip over the top lip, until you have a nicely sealed oval shaped packet full of shrooms. This is just then popped into the oven for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees, then when you are ready to serve, pop it onto whatever plate you want to present on, tear a hole in the top, and voila, perfectly roasted mushrooms all with a little sauce in the bottom of the paper for all to enjoy, an people will think you a properly trained french chef, schooled in the techniques used by the masters, such a Larouse, or Pepin.
Anyway, enough of that, I guess I should include a recipe in this ramble.
1 lb of assorted, or not assorted mushrooms
**Just buy what looks best freshest at the market, but mushrooms with a little more body work best, such as the above pictured chantrelle or porcini, but crimini, hedgehog, even buttons all work
1 tblsp fresh chopped thyme
1 tblsp fresh chopped rosemary
1 tsp fresh chopped oregano
3 tlbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tlbsp butter, cold, cut into 5-6 pieces
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh black pepper
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
Optional - 1 tsp chili flake
Cut mushrooms into similarly sized pieces, especially if using multiple types. If just using crimini, not really necessary, but if you have large porcini, you will want to break them down a bit. Just make sure to leave them in pretty good sized pieces to be able to have a good, meaty texture at the end. Toss all ingredients together, except for the butter, and let marinate for ten minutes. Then, pile into parchment, as described above, top with the slices of butter, then seal the parchment, as described above, and roast and serve, once again, as described above. Dead easy, can be prepped ahead of time, and is absolutely wonderful.
As always, some ponderables..
"Every mushroom is edible.........once"
"One can only imagine the amount of mushrooms a sane person would have to eat to be convinced that a frisbee is a fearsome threat"
--Gary Lewis--
"Love is like a never know if it's the real thing until your already commited"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gnocchi...a little bit of work, a whole lot of delicious

This is I guess another edition of the "dinners on a budget variety", but don't be put off by that. I make these all the time, and they are extremely popular chez moi and with fam and friends. Technically, I would say that this is actually a potato dumpling recipe as I don't use the traditional gnocchi roller to give it the classic gnocchi shape, but if you feel so inclined, feel free.

Just a quick note before we get into the recipe: It is easiest to get the dough all ready to go, stuff it into a disposable pastry bag, and then cut the dough with scissors as you squeeze it out directly into the boiling (salted) water (just remember to give each one a little squeeze as you cut it to give it the indentation to hold the sauce), but if you don't have a disposable pastry bag (and are too cheap to invest the $3.25 for ten of them), then it works just as well to put portions of the dough on a floured board, hand roll them into long "snakes" of dough and then cut by hand (really, by knife). That is how I will lay it out in the recipe below, but I prefer the pastry bag method. There are countless ways to serve/sauce the gnocchi once they are cooked, and we'll get into the variations and my favorites post-recipe, just don't think gnocchi covered in red sauce is the limit of these pillows of deliciousness.

Basic Gnocchi Recipe

3 large baking (Idaho) potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), scrubbed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 tblsp fresh chopped thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed

1)Bake potatoes at 400 degrees until tender. Then, using a kitchen towel to not hurt your hands, peel the potatoes completely.
2)Use a ricer to finely mill potatoes. If you don't have a ricer, mash them with a fork until no lumps remain.
3)Allow potatoes to cool, then form a well with them on your cutting board. Whisk together egg, salt, thyme, pepper and nutmeg. Place egg mixture in center of the well, and work into the potatoes with your hands.
4)Gradually, start adding flour & cheese into the mixture, kneading with your hands. Don't overwork the dough, or the gnocchi will get tougher. About 4 minutes should be plenty. Your hands may get a little messy, but that's part of the fun. Just scrape whatever dough is on your hands back into the dough. Note: you may not need all of the flour, just keep working it in until you have a dough that is no longer sticky to the touch.
5)Flour your work surface, and place dough on board. Flour the top of the dough, and divide into 5-6 portions. Take each portion and gently roll it into a roughly 1/2 inch thick rope (you may need to add flour as you roll to keep the dough from sticking, then cut into gnocchi. Take your thumb and make an indentation in one side of each gnocchi (this helps it hold the sauce) and place on a floured sheet.
6)To cook the gnocchi, drop into boiling salted water, and cook them for about one minute AFTER they rise to the surface. Gently stir as you do this. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into ice water as you remove them. After they are cooled, drizzle with olive oil and you can keep them refridgerated until ready to cook.

To serve the gnocchi:

1)Remove from fridge and sit them out for 1/2 hour.
2)Brown some butter in a saute pan (just over medium heat until butter starts to brown and smell sort of like baking bread), and toss gnocchi in a even layer. Brown on both sides and then do one of the following

a)serve as is with the brown butter and some shaved parmesan
b)toss with your favorite (homemade of course) marinara or pesto sauce
c)Reduce 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 3 tblsp white wine by half, add 1/4 cup of gorgonzola, fontina, or gruyere cheese. Stir until cheese is incorporated, then toss in gnocchi
d)Cook some bacon lardons until crispy, add some finely chopped scallion and sage, then toss in gnocchi..................mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

As always, play around with how to sauce the dish. These little pillows of delight are quite versatile. Serve on a bed of spinach, or toss with some pulled roasted chicken and a little jus if you want more of an entree.

PS - for a great variation, add 1/4 cup of good quality ricotta to the gnocchi dough, you will need more flour to make it come together, but it is a great addition.

Noush, I expect reports of how your gnocchi came out by the end of the weekend :)

"The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later, you're hungry again"
---George Miller---

Enjoy, and let me know how the gnocchi come out

Monday, December 20, 2010


Firstly, apologies to all 10 of my followers, but I've been having internet issues chez moi, so that's why I haven't been posting lately. I'll make up for lost time, I promise. Secondly, ballsy title, I know, but it's true. I know I'm biased, and have a taste for this dressing because I've been eating it since I was 2, but it really is my favorite. Versatile, garlicky, salty, deliciousness.

The odd picture above is my mother, holding a jar of said vinaigrette, talking on the phone (quelle fucking surprise). It is there because it is actually her recipe, and I don't want to take credit for a recipe that isn't mine. I'll steal the recipe and publish it onto the interweb happily, but I won't take credit for it. Also, she will love the fact that that picture is online for all to see, so....added bonus. Anyhoo, on to the recipe.

2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tblsp maggi seasoning sauce (this stuff is great, available at most grocery stores, and is very versatile. Think soy sauce made by Germans...great in stews, soups, marinades, etc)
2 tblsp dijon mustard
1/4 c white balsamic vinegar
1/2 c olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh black pepper

Mix all ingredients other than oil together till emulsified, then slowly whisk in oil.

This is perfect for a nice mixed green salad, but also makes a great topping for slices of avocado, a great marinade for some grilled chicken, or is a great finisher for a lighter grilled steak dish.

As always, I'll leave you with a couple of quotes, these ones about mothers:

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. ~Tenneva Jordan

A suburban mother's role is to deliver children, obstetrically once, and by car forever after. ~Peter De Vries

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his. ~Oscar Wilde

Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own. ~Aristotle

Saturday, December 4, 2010


My cousin Kenny is a huge Manchester United fan. Some may be tempted to call him a front-runner, but I must defend him. He was cheering for the reds long before they started buying championships etc, etc. By the way Kenny, nice game from Berbatov. 5 goals a game will probably keep Chicharito on the bench a while longer.

I am a dedicated Chelsea fan, and while we haven't been on form lately, we have some key players starting to come back into the fold and I think we should be coming in to form by say....December 18th or so. It just so happens that we play Man U. that day, so here is my proposal.

If Manchester wins, I will record myself singing Glory, Glory Man United and post it to this blog, however if Chelsea wins, Kenny, you must wear a Chelsea Jersey to work during the next Manchester game televised and send me pictures of it to post.

What do you say? DO WE HAVE A BET?

Sweet Potato Tartlets - better late than never right? Right?

Ok, here finally is my response to my sisters cry for written form anyway. I did call her and get her this recipe in time for her holiday meal for the record. I don't usually leave her hanging as this site was basically created to inspire her culinary adventures. This recipe also gets a high recommendation from Kenny "Mr Man U" Leahy. He ate a couple of these over the Thanksgiving holiday and either lies well, or did greatly enjoy them. I think this is a dead easy recipe that is a little fresher tasting than your average pumpkin pie, and a little easier too. Also, Miguel (my brother in-law), just for the record, scooping out the filling that my sister made into the pre-made pie crust that TESCO made, doesn't quite qualify you to make the statement "well, I made the desserts", but I least you were in the kitchen. :)

First up, the pastry crust. A quick note, the real key to this is using COLD butter and shortening, and ICE COLD water. Also, this is a basic recipe. You can get a LITTLE creative and add flavors if you like, but don't upset the overall ratios too much. Pastry cooking is a fickle bitch. I am usually a much better savory chef because it's less science and more feel and intuition. Taste it, adjust it, add this, add that. You can't do that in most pastry/dessert, and if you do make a mistake, you usually don't know until it's time to chuck everything in the trash and whip up some berries and whipped cream as a substitute dessert. So, ranting aside, get the basic recipe down first, so you understand the process, then try some variations on the theme.

1.5 cups + 2 tblsp AP Flour
1 tblsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes and chilled
2 tblsp shortening (also cold)
5 tblsp (or so, maybe 4, maybe 6) ice water - you love this sort of vagueness in recipes, I know

1)Sift together flour, sugar, and salt
2)Add butter and shortening. Rub them between your fingers until the mixture takes on a coarse crumb texture.
3)Add ice water 1 tblsp at a time, just until the dough comes together.
4)Shape and smooth the dough, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes

1/2 stick butter
1 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup Heavy Cream
1 vanilla bean (you could sub 1/4 tsp of real vanilla extract....I suppose)
3 tblps AP flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 lg sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed, and boiled until soft

1)Using a egg beater, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy
2)Add eggs and beat for 30 seconds
3)Add heavy cream and vanilla, continue mixing
4)Add sweet potatoes, flour, salt, and spices gradually and continue to beat until smooth.
5)Preheat oven to 320. Get out your dough and roll on floured board until nice and thin. Using a small-medium cookie cutter, punch out dough and place in a small-medium muffin pan. The size you punch out the dough should be determined by the size of your muffin pan. The dough should just come up the edges but not overlap.
6)Scoop out the filling and fill the dough 3/4 full. Bake until filling is just set and pastry is turning a nice golden brown on the edges.

Hope you all enjoy this recipe, even if you have to stash it until next Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sisterspeak: But what if I don't have tinned pumpkin?

Okay, here's a good one for you. A few years ago, Miguel and I went to a Thanksgiving dinner (in Ireland) hosted and prepared by my American friend, Rachael. To this day, he still talks rapturously of her pumpkin pie. Which, I concur, was very, very good.

So this past Wednesday night, when I forced him to sit down and plan our Thanksgiving menu -- we're celebrating with friends this Sunday -- he refused all dessert options that weren't pumpkin pie. I threw lots of options at him too -- chocolate mousse, jam tarts, chocolate bread pudding. He was having none of it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm afraid of making pumpkin pie. But tinned pumpkin is hard to find in Ireland and, well, mama's feelin' a little lazy, come the weekend. I don't mind carving the suckers up at Halloween, but spending my Friday night making pumpkin goo filling just isn't my idea of a good time. (Instead I'll be spending it addressing and stamping my wedding save-the-dates, which wouldn't be high on my list of "good times" either, but I digress...some things in life are necessary evils.)

And now, Nick, for my ask: is there something I can use instead of real pumpkin that isn't tinned pumpkin, but that will taste Just Like Pumpkin for my pie? I'm sure with your deep knowledge of gourds, you can pull this one out of left field for me.

I eagerly (and hopefully) await your reply. And Happy Black Friday. (You're totally out shopping right now, aren't you?)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Entertaining made a little easier

Ok, as a disclaimer, I actually enjoy going way over the top and cooking 5 course seated dinners with all the stops pulled out. However, I DO NOT enjoy the cleanup involved after such affairs, and more to the point, neither does my beloved. Usually, I plan so much kitchen work that she is invariably left struggling to do everything else to get the party ready. This is really pretty unfair because I enjoy my part of the work, whereas I don't think Danielle actually gets a very big kick out of scrubbing our bathroom "clean for the guests", or trying to remove the fine coating of dog hair that seems to coat pretty much everything in the condo (kitchen not included, don't worry dinner guests). So, that being said I have agreed to tone down my culinary exploits to a heavy hors d'ouevres and lots of wine. I think it'll be a nice change....a little more low key, lots of different flavors in little bites, LESS MESS. So I'm going to give you 3 dead easy, delicious hors d'oeuvres that will take the guesswork, and just a lot of the work out of throwing a holiday/whenever party. No more chafing dishes full of tepid swedish meatballs for us, but if you're like me, your wife may still make you dust the inside of your towel cupboard or some such other non-sensical pre-party cleaning activity......easier not to debate the value of said task by the way, you will lose in the end, and will just be dusting later.

Puff Pastry Squares with Green Olive Tapenade and Shaved Parmesan

Simple, but delicious, and a good option for all those annoying vegetarians who show up (to all my vegetarian friends, just kidding, I love cooking for you :)

1 cup green olives, pitted

1 clove garlic, chopped fine

1 tblsp sundried tomatoes

2 tblsp Olive Oil

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp fresh basil, chopped

1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

2 fillets of anchovies (use white anchovies if you can find them)

1 tsp red chili flake

1 pckg puff pastry - unless you have a dough sheeter, if you do, feel free to make your own

1/8 lb good quality parmesan, shaved with a peeler

1)Heat oven to 400 degrees

2)Place pastry on baking sheet lined with parchment/wax paper

3)Using a fork, prick the dough all over. This prevents it from puffing too much

4)Bake 12-14 minutes until light, golden brown all over, remove and set aside

5)Puree all of the top group of ingredients in a food processer till mostly smooth, but with just a little chunk to it

6)Spread a thin layer of tapenade all over pastry. Cut into 1/2 inch squares and top each with a curl of shaved parmesan.

Marinated Crab Salad on Cucumber Rounds with Citrus and Mint

Doesn't get much easier than this, but it's crab so everyone will fawn over it

1 lb lump or jumbo lump crab meat

2 tblsp fresh mint, chopped

2 scallions, chopped thin

1 clove garlic, minced

juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1 lime, 1 orange

1 small thai chile, deseeded and chopped fine

1 tblsp italian parsley, chopped fine

2 tblsp mayonaisse

1 tblsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp clover honey

1 tblsp toasted white sesame seeds

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 large european (seedless) cucumber, cut into 1/4 inch rounds

1)GENTLY fold together all of the ingredients in top list, other than sesame seeds.

2)Let marinate at least one hour in the fridge

3)Scoop a nice quenelle of the crab onto each cucumber round and sprinkle the top with the sesame seeds

Herb Crusted Tenderloin on Crostini with Horseradish-Basil Aioli

Very easy once again, and it will satisfy the carnivores in your crowd

Crostini - Thinly slice baguettes, toss with olive oil, salt & pepper and bake at 400 till golden brown


1/2 c mayonaisse

2 tblsp basil chiffonade

1 tblsp fresh grated horseradish

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1)Mix all together and chill in fridge at least one hour

Beef - I like mine pretty red, so that is how I'll lay out the recipe. If you like yours a little more done, just leave it in the oven longer

2 lb beef tenderloin

1 tblsp fresh rosemary

1 tblsp fresh thyme

1 tblsp mustard powder

1 tblsp cracked black pepper

1 tblsp kosher salt

2 tblsp olive oil

1)Mix together all the spices, herbs, and oil, and rub all over the beef. Refrigerate at least two hours, then pull from fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 500 degrees

2)Pour excess oil from marinating pan into large skillet and set on high heat. Sear beef on all sides for 1-2 minutes, or until nicely browned. Place in oven for 5-10 minutes, until internal temperature is 135.

3)Let rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.

4)To plate, top each crostini with a nice heavy smear of the aioli, then place a very thin slice (BTW, always cut the meat against the grain, it is more tender this way) on top folded once.

5)Garnish with a sprinkle of sea salt and some rough chopped parsley.

Just put platters of these three things out, accompanied by many, many drinks, and everyone, hosts included, will have a relaxing, easier to clean up, "dinner" party.

"The best number for a dinner party is two -- myself and a damned good head waiter"
--Nubar Gulbenkian

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's November, I guess we should start the Thanksgiving recipes now

Well, it's that time of year again. Here in Georgia, it doesn't exactly feel like fall, let alone winter yet....we are still enjoying 60-70 degree weather (sorry to all those out there in the NE or say...Ireland), but that doesn't mean we can't get into the spirit of things.

I don't know about you, but Thanksgiving is one of my favorite meals of the entire year. Really it's just an excuse to cook to much and overeat, followed by football watching, and some friendly family vs. family gambling. However, I will admit to a small degree of snobbery when it comes to Thanksgiving food. All of this should be taken with a grain of salt since I have been known to create such Thanksgiving classics as whole roasted lobe of foie gras with cranberry chutney, or replace the gravy with a foie gras infused bordelaise sauce, but my idea of good eats is not sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows or green beans mixed with cream of mushroom soup and topped with onion straws. Far be it from me to judge however, so if those are your or your family favorites, there is much to be said for tradition. This post is just meant to offer up some different, not necessarily better (although I think they are.....see what I mean about my snobbery, I just can't help it), ways of cooking these Thanksgiving staples.

First up, the sweet potato.................

Recipe 1 - Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cayenne Pepper and Smoked Paprika - The potatoes in this recipe get a very nice sweet/spicy/savory balance from the different ingredients coming together....simple but tasty

3 lbs Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 stick butter
2 tblsp oil, not olive
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Smoked Paprika, you can sub in regular Paprika if smoked is unavailable, but smoked is better
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped fine

1)Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2)melt butter in a pan over low heat and add cayenne, paprika, sugar, garlic powder and salt
3)Turn pan off, and mix in the olive oil. Let sit ten minutes
4)Toss sweet potatoes in oil/butter mixture and spread out on a roasting sheet, make sure that your sheet is big enough to put potatoes in a single layer, or they will roast unevenly and not caramelize
5)Bake for 25-30 minutes until potatoes are tender and lightly caramelized
6)Put potatoes in a serving dish and toss with thyme and any excess butter from the roasting dish and enjoy.

Recipe #2 Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Bananas...yes bananas

2 lbs Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large slightly underripe banana
10 cloves roasted garlic (to make roasted garlic, simply cover garlic in a vegetable oil in an oven proof dish, cover and roast at 250 degrees for about an hour. They are done when they are deep golden and very soft. It softens and sweetens the garlic flavor and is a great ingredient to keep around for every day use)
4 oz milk
1/4 stick of butter
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste

1)Slice banana in half lengthwise and place under broiler until well caramelized. Remove fruit from skin and set aside
2)Boil sweet potatoes until fork tender in salted water
3)Place potatoes, banana, & garlic cloves in large mixing bowl and mash until smooth
4)Melt butter and milk together...this is probably one of the few times when I will suggest a microwave, just don't tell anyone I told you to do it that way
5)Mix milk/butter into potato mixture and add cayenne & nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper
6)OPTIONAL - You can then take this and serve as is, or mix 1/2 cup pankot breadcrumbs with 1/4 stick of melted butter and 1/8 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans together, top the potatoes with this mixture and bake until topping is golden brown...approximately 20 minutes

Both of these are interesting, balanced (flavor-wise), and fairly easy substitutes for the overly sweet, goopy concoctions that grace many a Thanksgiving table. Give them a shot.

And now, on to les haricots verts......I mean green beans, I'd probably get some dirty looks from the southern Thanksgiving cook calling them by that fancy french name.

Recipe 1 - Marinated Green Bean Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette and Candied Pecans - we are going to break this recipe down into a few different parts since it can be made a little in advance and then put together at the last minute. This is useful if, like me, your Thanksgiving menu gets a little ambitious, and your list of side dishes is longer than your actual guest list.

1 lb pecan halves
1 egg white
1 tblsp H2O
1 c sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp Herbes de Provence, this is a common spice mix and is easily found, if unable to locate, go with rosemary, but this only shows that you are lazy and unwilling to source good ingredients...just kidding, sort of

1)Heat oven to 250 and grease one baking sheet lightly
2)Whip egg white and water together until THICK and frothy...soft peaks
3)In a seperate bowl, mix sugar, salt, and spices
4)Toss pecans into egg mixture and stir gently to coat
5)Take pecans out of egg mixture and mix into sugar. Toss to coat
6)Bake 1 hour, mix them around every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

These are great just to snack on or to put out when folks come over for drinks. I do feel a little bit like Martha Stewart with that last sentence, but it's true

Marinated Green Beans
2 lbs green beans, topped, not tailed
1 tblsp olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp FRESH ground black pepper

1)Blanch green beans in salted water until just slightly tender. I like my beans with a bit of crunch and you need it to stand up to the bacon vinaigrette later.
2)Shock beans in ice water once you remove them from the boiling water, transfer to a dish, and toss with remaining ingredients.

These are also a nice addition to a salad, or as a cold side for a grilled steak in summer, but those days are behind us. Just remember to refer back to this post come May.

BACON Vinaigrette
1/4 lb, bacon, diced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated fine
1 clove fresh garlic, diced
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp fresh thyme
1 red onion, diced small
2 tblsp dijon mustard
1/4 c cider vinegar
2 oz apple juice
1 tblsp sugar
1 small chile (thai chile would be a good option), diced very small, OPTIONAL
Salt and Pepper to taste

1)Put bacon in a cold pan and place over medium heat. Cook until fat is thoroughly rendered and bacon is crispy. Remove 90% of the rendered fat and set aside. Remove crispy bacon to a paper towel and save for garnish
2)Add oil to pan, then add onion, garlic, & chiles. Cook 3 minutes until onions have some color to them. Add fresh ginger and thyme and cook 1 more minute.
3)Add remaining ingredients, except mustard and reduce the volume of the liquid by 1/4.
4)Remove from heat and whisk mustard in until smooth. Whisk in reserved bacon fat, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
5)Get chilled green beans out, and toss with warm bacon vinaigrette....mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Sorry, got distracted for a second there.
6)Place in serving dish, and top with reserved crispy bacon and candied pecans. Save some to share with your dinner guests if possible.

This vinaigrette is great on a lot of things....avocados, sliced tomatoes, cream? I mean bacon + apple juice + sugar, what isn't this going to taste good on?

So, there you have it. The first post taking a few traditional Thanksgiving ingredients and making them a little more interesting, (less cloyingly sweet or covered in canned mush would be how my inner snob that I'm trying really hard to suppress would phrase it), and maybe a bit lighter along the way too. That way we'll all be a little more healthy this Thanksgiving, or at least have room for yet another slice of pecan pie or Candied Apple Flan (you might get lucky and see this one in the near future).

Happy Early Turkey Day Everyone

"It was dramatic to watch my grandmother decapitate a turkey with an ax the day before Thanksgiving. Nowadays the expense of hiring grandmothers for the ax work would probably qualify all turkeys so honored with 'gourmet' status." - Russel Baker

"You can tell you ate too much at Thanksgiving when you have to loosen the belt.....on your bathrobe" - Jay Leno

"Vegetables are a must when on a diet. I suggest zuccini bread, carrot cake, and pumpkin pie"
- Jim Davis

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hated Foods.....but should they be?

So there are a ton of foods out there that people just have an ingrained, adverse, and repellent opinion of. I think a lot of it is born in childhood, and then either through close-mindedness, or inadventurousness (pretty sure that's a word, if not, you get the gist), stick around into adulthood. Well, we here at SMSCC (first time I've gone anacronym on you, let's see if it sticks) are going to blow the lid off of these narrow-minded preconceptions that are preventing you from enjoying some of the best foods out there. Specifically this time we are going to be tackling brussels sprouts and fennel. I think brussel sprouts are probably the best example of what I am talking about, but fennel, while it avoids some of the absolute hatred that brussels have attained, suffers from a lack of use. It is a great, versatile veggie, and should be in everyones repertoire. We'll hit some basics on each, and then give you a couple starter recipes for both. Think of these as the training wheels of culinary open-mindedness.
Brussels Sprouts - First off, they are a member of the cabbage family, and are very high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and folic acid. They are also thought to prevent colon cancer and thyroid disease (you could say this about pretty much every cabbage, but few are as tasty as the brussels sprout). I think that where they get their bad rap is basically from bad cooks. If you overcook them, it releases some sort of compound/element/something (I am not a scientist, so I have probably not named the correct THING that is released, try to stay big picture and not nitpick me) that smells and tastes of SULFUR. Not appetizing. However, just don't overcook them and all is avoided. To get them ready to cook, a few simple steps must be taken
  • If they are on the stem, remove them from it. If they have already been removed, then cut away the small stump that remains. It will be the hard, whitish thingy at the bottom of your sprout.
  • Peel away the tougher, darker leaves around the bottom. These are technically fine, but don't get as tender as the rest of the sprout, and we don't want that.
RECIPE 1 - Blanched Brussels with Walnut Oil and Shaved Parmesan
It really isn't going to get much easier than this one, so if this stumps you.......
1 lb Brussel Sprouts, prepped as above and then cut into quarters (lengthwise)
2 tblsp salt
1 tblsp walnut oil
1 tsp FRESH cracked black pepper, i like it pretty coarse, but whatever you prefer
1 tblsp butter, unsalted
2 tblsp chives, finely chopped
1 tblsp italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt to taste - I know salt is in here twice, it's not a mistake
1/4 c Parmesan, shaved into long strands, use a veggie peeler
1)Place oil, butter, chives, parsley, and pepper in a serving bowl and set aside
2)Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, then add 2 tblsp salt and brussel sprouts. Boil 7-8 minutes till tender. It depends on the size of your sprout, but fork tender is a good judge
3)Drain sprouts, put in serving, toss to melt butter and evenly coat all sprouts, season to taste with salt, and top with shaved parmesan. Serve and enjoy....pretty simple no?
RECIPE 2 - Sauteed Brussels with bacon and shallots
This is the Thanksgiving favorite around chez Leahy...anything is easier to get someone to try with bacon right? Also, as a side note, ask my sister about properly cooking bacon lardons such as these, she knows the secret :)
1 lb Brussels Sprouts, prepped as above and cut into quarters (lengthwise)
2 tblsp bacon, diced small
1 lg shallot diced small
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1/2 tblsp rosemary, chopped fine
1/2 tblsp thyme, chopped fine
2 tblsp dry white wine
1/8 cup stock, I'm sure you now have a stash since you have been making it since we talked about the importance of stock in August, but if not, low sodium veggie or chicken
Salt & Pepper to taste
1)Bring a pot of water with 2 tblsp salt to a rolling boil as in the first recipe, but this time only cook the sprouts 4-5 minutes until they START to become tender. Drain and reserve
2)Heat a 10-12 inch saute pan over medium heat, and place the bacon in even before it starts to get hot. This will render the fat better from the bacon, and give us all we need to saute in
3)Saute bacon 3 minutes until nicely rendered and getting crispy. Remove bacon from pan (not the fat, keep the fat in there) and place on paper towel to drip off. Add shallot and garlic to pan and saute 1 minute. Add sprouts and saute 2 more minutes
4)Increase heat to high, add wine and stock, and cook until it has reduced by 80% and is starting to get glazy. Add herbs, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy....
RECIPE 3 - Shaved Brussels with lemon, basil, and chili flake
A little fresher take on the SPROUT...quick note, chiffonade means very thinly sliced. To chiffonade basil, or really anything, take the basil leaves and stack them on top of eachother about 10-12 at a time, roll into a tight bundle, and thinly slice across.
1 lb Brussels Sprouts
1 tsp red chili flake
1 small red onion, sliced fine
zest and juice of 1 lg lemon
1/4 cup basil, chiffonade
1/8 c stock, see above recipe for my rant about stock yet again
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 tblps butter
1)Shave Brussels very thinly into rounds. I use a mandolin, and if you have one, you should too. If you don't, cut the brussel in half so you have a flat surface, then thinly slice across into half circles
2)Melt butter over medium high heat, add onion, and cook for 2-3 minutes until starting to color.
3)Add brussels, and toss to coat with butter. Saute for 2-3 minutes until starting to become translucent. Add lemon, stock and chili flake, and cook until liquid has reduced at least 80%
4)Toss basil through, and season with salt and pepper.
These brussels will be a little more "toothsome" than the first two recipes...that's ok.
And now, on to.....
FENNEL - This plant/herb...whatever, I think suffers less from a hatred, but more from a "what the f*c! do I do with that" sort of situtation, and therefore is sadly left off of the menus of many the home cook, sadly. It is a delicious plant, quite versatile, and it fronds are a great addition to salads, salad dressings, potato salads, and on and on and on. You could also make your own absinthe from it, if you can locate any wormwood anyway, but that's another blog for another time......chasing the green fairy mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Prepwise, there is one really KEY step. Cut off the fronds, and reserve for later use as we talked about above. Then, cut the fennel bulb in half from top to bottom. If you look at the cross section of what you have just cut, there will be a very distinctive, slightly differently colored triangle on each side. You must cut this tastes extremely bitter, and no amount of anything you do will change that. Now on to cooking.
RECIPE 1 - Shaved fennel salad, with citrus, mint, & chiles (drop the chile if your not a spice fan, this is still a delicious salad)
1 head fennel, prepped as above, then sliced very thin
1 small red onion, sliced thin
2 small serrano, or thai chiles, sliced thin
1 tblsp fresh mint, chopped rough
1 tblsp italian parlsey, chopped rough
1 tsp clover honey
Juice and zest from 2 oranges, 1 lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
1)Combine all ingredients and toss to completely mix. Refrigerate at least 1 and preferably 3-4 hours to marinate. Serve and enjoy. This is a great salad for a piece of grilled swordfish, or a roasted chicken or rack of pork. A little fresh, acidic crunch really adds a lot to the meal, and the delicious flavor of anise really complements the delicate taste of the fish or white meat. You can even use some of the juice from the bottom of this salad to make a marinade or glaze for the proteins.
RECIPE 2 - Sweet Caramelized Fennel
This is a really easy side dish, with just four ingredients, that goes perfect with a roasted chicken, prime rib, veal chop, really just about any meat or game, or sturdier fish....Easy and delicious.
1 lg fennel bulb
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 1/2 tblsp olive oil
1)Prepare the fenneal as above, and then cut in each half in half lengthwise two times. Sorry if that's confusing are looking for 8 total, not too thick wedges. about a 1/2 inch in width on the outside is perfect
2)Heat the oil over low-medium heat. It is important to not get the oil or pan too hot. If you do, the oil may scorch, and you wont cook the fennel slowly enough to tenderize it and bring out its' sweetness.
3)Season fennel with the salt and pepper, and place in pan. Cook 25-30 minutes turning occasionally, until the fennel is a deep golden brown in color, and very tender.
Serve and enjoy. If you like, a nice squeeze of lemon can be added to the fennel just as you pull it from the pan. I wouldn't do this if serving it with beef, but for the other options above, it's a nice touch.
"A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do." P. J. O'Rourke
"We kids feared many things in those days - werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School - but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts." Dave Barry

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sisterspeak: How 'Bout that Housewarming Dinner-for-Two?

So, I'm sitting in bed on a Saturday morning, laptop on...lap, soaking in the wonder that is our new (functioning) wireless Internet connection -- and thought I'd finally update my experience cooking the housewarming dinner-for-two.

Let's begin with my shopping trip for the ingredients. Things that are apparently impossible to find in an Irish supermarket on a Sunday afternoon: shallots, hot sauce and avocados. Yes, shallots. The other two, I can sort of understand -- maybe there was a run on the raw ingredients for guacamole earlier in the day...but I expect to be able to buy a shallot when I want it. Deep breaths.

Thankfully, I returned home (with a few onions, just in case) and found a shallot in the deep recesses of my veg bowl. So, All Was Not Lost. In lieu of the hot sauce, I purchased a sort of chili paste. And well, there's really no substitute for avocado. I did consider buying ready-made guacamole. but had only to think of Nick's face...

In the end, I decided to make only the main meal and leave dessert and appetizers for another day, when I and my beloved, for whom I was preparing the apology, were less hungry. Miguel, in fact, was so hungry -- and so excited by the recipe -- he insisted on making the twice-baked potatoes himself. (If you want to get an Irishman excited in the kitchen, show him a new way to prepare the humble a treat. Just don't give advice, ever, about anything related to the recipe -- chopping, dicing, grating. It goes over about as well as trying to show a two-year-old how to color inside the lines, ie: "let ME do it...!" [Stamp foot] "I can do it mySELF!")

I cooled the chicken in the fridge with the buttermilk and chili paste for about three hours and watched the chicken breasts swell to about twice the original size. Mmmmm. Not having read through the recipe, I didn't realize the chicken, once-breaded, needed to sit back in the fridge for half an hour before it went in the pan. I did consider skipping this point, but pushed aside my hunger -- in the end, I'm glad I did, as the breadcrumbs would have fallen entirely apart otherwise.

Once the chicken was in the oven (with Miguel's twice-baked potatoes), I turned my attention to the spinach. I'd diced the shallots etc beforehand, so adding the remaining ingredients and wilting the spinach only took about 2 minutes to cook all together. So easy and SO delicious.

With everything ready, I plated it and served Miguel, put on my Serious Face and started in on my speech: "look, I'm really sorry if I've been difficult to the past few weeks. [Heavy sigh.] It's just been stressful with the move, all the IKEA furniture, work..." But I might as well have been saying sorry to the wall, so focused was his attention on how to get as much chicken and potato on his fork, dipped in the spinach cream sauce, at one time.

I'm choosing to interpret his squeaky clean plate as "apology accepted."

Friday, October 29, 2010

A romantic (hopefully) housewarming dinner for two

What pressure!!!!! I have been tasked by my sister to craft a menu that will repair a week of petty arguments and sniping that inevitably occurs whenever couples, no matter how blissfully in love they are, attempt things like moving. Other activities that also fall into this category include: putting together furniture (unfortunately, this one often occurs with, and thus exacerbates, the moving situ), driving through unfamiliar territory on vacation, having mixed family get togethers, and clothes shopping (really shoe shopping is the ultimate test, but it's all strenuous). All kidding aside, we all know how stressful and PIMA-like moving can be, so I have decided to go with a nice comforting meal so that everyone can relax and finally be able to enjoy each others' company again.

The menu will play out as such:

Hors D'Oeuvres
Smoked Salmon and Avocado "mousse" on cucumber rounds with chilies and mint, paired with a nice, crisp sauvignon blanc

Buttermilk Soaked Pan Fried Chicken, with Twice Baked Gruyere Potatoes, and Spicy Creamed Spinach

Drunken Fruit Salad with Vanilla Whipped Cream

Without further ado, the recipes:

Smoked Salmon mouse:
2 oz smoked salmon
1 avocado, pitted and mashed
1/2 lb cream cheese, softened to room temp
1 tblsp mint, chopped
1 thai chile, diced fine (optional, I know Migs doesn't love the HEAT)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 seedless cucumber, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
S+P to taste

1)Dice salmon into small even pieces, set aside
2)Fold together all the other ingredients, and season to taste, and return to fridge, covered to chill for 20 minutes
3)Place one quennelle (this is a fancy french word for pretty looking dollop) of avocado "mousse" on top of each cucumber round, and sprinkle top with smoked salmon. I like to garnish with a little extra black pepper.

Pan Fried Chicken
2 lg Chicken breasts
1 cup buttermilk
1 tblsp hot sauce
2 eggs
1 tblsp black pepper
1 tblsp cayenne pepper
1 tblsp salt (kosher or sea only, iodized salt is the devil)
1 tblsp Herbes De Provence
1 cup plain breadcrumbs (Snobbily, I would suggest making your own...cheaper and better)
1 cup plus 1 tblsp flour
Oil of your choosing, just not olive, it's smoke point is too low, i like peanut

1)Marinate chicken in milk and hot sauce for at least one hour.
2)Combine all dry ingredients together in wide bowl, except the extra tblsp flour
3)Remove chicken from buttermilk, and whisk in two eggs
4)Return chicken to milk mixture, and wet thoroughly
5)Dip chicken into breadcrumb mixture, and coat thoroughly
6)Return chicken to milk mixture
7)Return chicken to breadcrumb mixture and again coat thoroughly
8)Sprinkle extra flour on plate and put your breaded chicken on it and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
9)Heat oven to 450
10)Heat pan with oil about 1/4 inch deep over medium-high heat (on a 1 to 10 burner, we're talking about a 6.5)
11)Saute Chicken on both sides about 2 minutes or until golden brown
12)Place saute pan in oven and cook 6-8 minutes more depending on thickness of breast.

****A breading tip : have a "dry hand" and a "wet hand". In other words, handle the chicken in the liquid with your left hand and in the breadcrumbs with your right hand, otherwise you will very effectively bread both of your hands and make a huge mess.

Twice Baked Potatoes
2 large potatoes
1 lg egg, beaten
1/2 cup Gruyere, grated
1 tblsp Parmesan, grated
1 tblsp chive, or scallion, chopped fine
2 tblsp heavy cream
1 tsp red chili flake
1 tblsp butter, melted
3 cloves roasted garlic, if you don't have any roasted garlic, 1 clove fresh, diced fine will do
S+P to taste

1)Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2)Bake potatoes in oven, plain, for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Don't pierce the potatoes beforehand
3)While still piping hot (I wear glove at this point, it makes things easier), slice potatoes in half lengthwise, and scoop out as much of the insides as you can without tearing the skin. It's okay to have a little interior left, it gives it a little structure.
4)Mash potatoes thoroughly, NO LUMPS, and mix in all ingredients except Parmesan, you are looking for basically a nice smooth mashed potato texture, not too runny, not too stiff
5)Refill the potato skins with your potato mixture, top with Parmesan, and return to oven for 25-30 minutes

Spicy Sauteed Spinach
1 lb spinach
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tblsp Thai chili paste (srirachi is the best)
1 shallot, diced fine
1 clove garlic, diced fine
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tblsp butter
S+P to taste

1)Melt butter over high heat, add onions and garlic before butter browns
2)Saute one minute, the add spinach, vinegar, heavy cream and seasoning
3)Let cream reduce, while stirring constantly, to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (this is called nappe in cooking terminology just in case you read it in a cookbook anywhere)
4)Stir in your chili paste and enjoy

There really isn't a need for a sauce for this meal, as the cream from your spinach should serve as one, and go really well with everything else on the plate

Drunken Fruit Salad
4 oz Strawberries, halved
4 oz blueberries
4 oz raspberries
4 oz blackberries
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tblsp plus 3/4 tblsp sugar
1/8 cup brandy, or rum
1 tblsp honey

1)Chill a metal bowl in the fridge.
2)Split vanilla bean down the middle, and scrape with a pairing knife to get all o the goodness out of there.
3)Mix vanilla, COLD heavy cream, and 3/4 tblsp of sugar in the cold bowl, and whisk using the biggest whisk you have until firm peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use. **the bigger the whisk, and the bigger/colder the bowl is will make this easier
4)Mix all of the fruit with the remaining sugar, and the booze. Use a plastic spatula to gently toss the fruit without damaging it. Refrigerate for one hour at least

To serve:Spoon a generous portion of berries with just a little of the "juice" into a bowl and top with a generous portion of the whipped cream, ideally served with some champers, or a kir if you are so inclined as a nice end to a nice, if filling night.

Hope this helps create a blissful, romantic night at the new house Noush and Migs. Let me know how it goes (the food that is).

And Miguel, don't forget the old but true saying:

"The four most important words in any marriage....I'll do the dishes"

Sisterspeak: Housewarming Menu à Deux

So, I've just moved into a new house (yet again), bringing my total to 5 moves in five years. I'd love to say this is down to my jet-set, high-powered lifestyle, but really I've just been making my slow way up from south Wicklow to south Dublin with various year-long stops on the way -- Arklow, Greystones, Booterstown, Blackrock. (Safe to say that I have a kind of love-em-and-leave-em relationship with rental properties. In stark contrast to my propensity for serial monogamy when it comes to people.)

With this latest move, I promised my significant other we would stay for minimum two years, barring any major life changes that would require otherwise. Given the new nest came unfurnished (I can put my stamp on it!) and has a working heating system -- both major improvements over former rental forays -- I think his cautious optimism is well-founded.

That said, I've not really been a Fun-Person-To-Spend-Time-With over the last two weeks of stressful packing, moving, cleaning, unpacking, re-packing etc. In fact, I think the only time he's seen a smile since mid-October was during a brief sojourn to IKEA, where I confess I morphed into a 4-year-old on a serious sugar high let loose in the playground. What can I say? Inexpensive home decor just does it for me.

So let me make it up to him! I'm in search of a Housewarming "I'm going to be nice to you again from now on" Menu for Two, which I plan to cook at some point this weekend, assuming I can find the necessary pots and pans. I have a dessert idea, but need appetizer/main inspiration. Nick, can you help?

In the meantime, I leave you with this article about another of my former residences. Apparently the most recent occupants of my freshman college dorm room (Harbin #926 circa 1996, holla!) have been using it as a center for cooking of an entirely nefarious sort:

Kids today! Tut, tut...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cheap Eats - Omelettes like a pro

Ok, we're back to eating good on a budget. One of my favorite "cheap dinners" is an omelette. There is a saying among chefs that cooking eggs is a good test of the skill of a chef. This is because there really isn't much hiding a mistake when cooking an egg. It is a simple process, but if you don't know the technique, or make a mistake, it is going to be very obvious. I love eggs, cook them all the time, and (modestly) am pretty damn good at it. The other nice thing about an omelette is that there are endless combos of ingredients to stuff them with, so it never gets boring. Also, you can usually find a tasty combination of things in your fridge/pantry, so they're even more convenient/inexpensive that way too.

Now, I'm going to do a little photo series on the process of omelette cooking, then explain the steps:

Ok, the first picture is there because I have been admonished for putting unflattering pictures of others, namely my sister and my wife, on the blog without their permission and I figured the only way to make that acceptable was to put up an unflattering picture of myself.....This definitely qualifies. Is it just television cameras that add 10 lbs, or is it point and shoot digitals as well?

The second picture is an example of the ingredients for a two egg omelette. 2 tblsp chopped tomatoes, 2 tblsp scallions, 2 tblsp diced ham, 1 tblsp jalapenos.

The third picture is the proper technique for cooking a perfect omelette. You saute your stuffing ingredients lightly, pour in your eggs, and then pull the cooked egg in towards the center of the pan while tilting the pan so that the liquid egg flows to the outside, and becomes cooked. Doing it this way gives you a evenly cooked omelette, and allows you to have a nice, soft, tender end result.

Finally, a basic recipe

2 eggs
2 tblsp milk
1 tsp hot sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

For any filling you decide on, about 2 tblsp per ingredient, and no more than four ingredients is the right ratio, and always use a plastic/rubber spatula. It's just easier to be gentle with these than it is metal. The exception to my 2 tblsp rule of thumb would be something like spinach. For spinach, you would saute it first, strain it, chop it, and then use the 2 tblsp amount.

1)Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, and seasoning till pale yellow and frothy
2)Melt 1/2 tblsp butter in saute pan over MEDIUM heat, and saute your filling ingredients for 1 minute. If you use a really hot pan, you will end up with a burnt, crispy, untender omelette, or in other words, a failure.
3)Pour egg mixture over filling and use the technique I described in pic #3
4)If using cheese, add 2 tblsp grated cheese just as the egg is finishing cooking before pulling it from the pan.
5)To remove from the pan, pull it to one edge of the saucepan, pull half of the omelette off onto plate, then use the pan to fold the other half over the top.
Your end result should look like this, or thereabout.

Some of my favorite fillings are
1)Ham, Jalapeno, Smoked Cheddar
2)Bacon, Tomato, Green Onion
3)Artichoke, Feta, Red Onion
4)Grilled Chicken, Spinach, Roasted Peppers, Parmesan
5)Squash, Tomato, Red Onion, and Mozzarella (Fresh)

These are just some options, but like I always say, go with your mood, what's in your pantry, or what looks best at the market, and you'll probably be doing ok. For omelettes, simpler is usually better.

As for wines, simple, crisp whites are best. Try Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2008. Good clean, crisp, straight-forward wine.

I leave you with a few egg quotes to enjoy:

“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.”
- anonymous

“This recipe is certainly silly. It says to separate the eggs, but it doesn’t say how far to separate them.”

- Gracie Allen

“You CAN make an omelette without breaking eggs. It’s just a really bad omelette.”
- Steven Colbert

“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”
- Bernard Meltzer

"The way to become rich is to put all your eggs in one basket, and then WATCH THAT BASKET"

-Andrew Carnegie

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Conquering the coq (au vin), keep it clean people

So I thought I’d do a quick post up of my experience cooking the Coq au Vin. As promised by El Chef Nick, it was surprisingly easy to create this French classic from scratch – and, proof in the pudding, my Dad had seconds, despite the onions.

It all kicked off the night before my parents arrived. I’d been cleaning the house for 3 evenings straight, wiping down baseboards, alphabetizing the cupboards and fridge, throwing out the various science projects that may have been growing in the back of each, stuffing all of my laundry into a downstairs closet I was 95% sure my mother wouldn’t open…the usual. Suffice to say – my body not accustomed to all this domestic activity – I was exhausted. Could I get away with pasta? I admit, the thought flitted through my mind.

But Nick, you’ll be proud: I took the dogs on their walk and then we drove, furry friends and I, direct to Tesco to make my purchases for the Coq. A small moment of panic, when I realized I’d forgotten my carefully written shopping list chez moi -- before realizing with much gratitude that I could just look at the blog online from my phone. Oh, the Power and Genius of online recipes. (A shout out also to my phone, itself, and to my employer for having gifted me said phone last Christmas. I would never have bought a smartphone of my own volition, but now cannot recall how on earth I coped without immediate, direct access to Internet at ALL TIMES, ANYWHERE, including the aisles of Tesco.)

Anyway, once I had all the ingredients back the house, I panicked a little again. Did I really want to start this at 9 p.m. at night? But thoughts of serving tortellini in pre-made sauce to my mother (horror, shame!) spurred me on and, once I got into my groove, it was fine. PLUS, I got to use my fabulous turquoise Le Creuset casserole pot – the only item in my kitchen (barring Miguel, the dogs or my cafetiere coffee maker) on which I consistently lavish love and attention.

What I liked most about making this is that, once the chicken thighs are browned, it’s basically just a question adding everything to the pot (in stages) and letting the oven do the work. I am a big fan of the one-pot recipe – this is only slightly more complicated.

Anyway, long story short – by the time I took the dish out of the oven on Thursday night, it was laaaate. Actually, it was so late and I was sufficiently tired that I set my alarm for 2:30 in the morning, so I could get up and pop it in the fridge once it had cooled to an appropriate temperature. But don’t let these machinations put you off – most normal people wouldn’t start making Coq au Vin at 9 p.m. at night and can easily avoid the above.

So, the question you’re all wondering, did I cheat at all? Well, no, not really. I did only cook 6 chicken thighs instead of the recommended 8. And I caved and bought a ready prepared “bouquet garni for white meat” (shhhhh, maybe Nick won’t notice), instead of the individual herbs. But other than that, it really was straightforward enough for an occasional cook to handle from start to finish. And the divine smell of onions (among other things) cooking in wine and chicken stock is worth the effort alone.

As Julia Child herself might say, “un grand succes!”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Outside my usual vein, but...........

Just for anyone who might be contemplating going to the movies anytime soon

THE TOWN = one of the best movies i've seen period in recent memory

Ben Affleck is suprisingly awesome, the characters are well developed. The story is good, I really had zero complaints, and was, as cliche as it sounds, on the edge of my seat to see what happened.

Following the movie, we went to eat at the Bangladeshi restaurant Panahar, whose review will soon follow.....pretty good.

As a side note, I rented "greenberg" with Ben Stiller, and I couldn't even watch an hour of this pile of crap. I haven't seen a movie this awkward and putrid since Danielle went through her "I like Swedish Film phase". That was a rough period, but I digress.


Some wine picks for the fall

It's time. Fall is upon us. Time to put away the sauvignon blanc, and move into some new varietals to ring in the new season. I'll tell you a few of my favorites for this time of year, and what they pair with. Fall wine is almost as varied as fall food, and I'm ready to pop open some Gruner Veltliner and fire up the smoker!!!!!!!!!!!

1)Gruner Veltliner - one of my favorites for this time of year. It's Austria most planted grape, and is really a very versatile wine. Medium bodied, usually with good fruit, some minerality, and a good, but not over crisp, acidity. This is the wine to drink if you're smoking a turkey......Thanksgiving Dinner?? Perfect match. This will really do well with most grilled/smoked white meats, and a lot of hardier flavored/textured seafood i.e. grilled swordfish.

2)Gerwurtztraminer - This is a great option for fall patio sipping. Usually pretty viscous and full bodied, this wine comes in both sweet and dryer forms. I personally like the drier ones. Usually, a good balance of floral/citrus notes with good zest and spice to even it out. Not as syrupy, USUALLY, as reislings. Deloach is a good one to try it out to see if you like it for not too much money, $12ish. Good with pork dishes, cream dishes, and smoked fish.

3)Viogner - Once again, this is a thick, full bodied wine. Usually, very floral, sweet but not overly, and aromatic. This is a great wine for thai food, good spicy dishes, and shellfish. I love a viogner if I'm having bouillabase, cioppino, or paella. The best Viogner still comes from the Condrieu area in France, but there are some very good, more affordable options coming from California.

Malbec - This is not only I think the best wine for the season, it's also one of the easiest to not break the bank on and still get a great bottle of wine. Look for the Mendoza region as some of Argentina's best examples are from there. It's a versatile wine too. Cigars in the evening...perfect. Roast leg of lamb....beyond perfect. Brisket..good too. Really any meat, or any dish with a tomato base to it is ideal. This wine has good substance to it, enough tooth to make it stand up, but isn't so huge that you have to have a steak to make it drinkable. Good balance, GREAT VALUE.......good combo.

2)Petite Syrah - This wine is great for fall because it is a heavy, intense, tannic grape without being overyly any of the aforementioned. Tooth-stainingly purple in color, and with enough backbone to stand up to spicy BBQ, smoked anything, but enough subtlety to not overpower a great steak, this is just all-around a great grape. However, the cheapies on this grape are not usually a good way to go. Spend the money on this one though, it'll be worth it.

3)Negroamaro - grown mostly in Puglia and Sardinia, this wine translates literally to black and bitter. This is a pretty good clue to it's taste and appearance. It's usually a very dark, very earthy, rustic wine. That being said, it is also usually quite aromatic and perfumed, especially when it's blended with other grapes, usually about 80% NM, 20% other. This creates a really well balanced fall wine which is still usually just labeled Negroamaro. This is the wine for fall pastas, grilled pizzas, or that wild boar ragu that I know you're planning on making next week....or maybe that's just me?

Anywho, hope this helps, or leads someone to try a wine they haven't before. I'd love to hear what you guys like to drink while the leaves change..........let me know

"It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, the death of a friend, a present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason"
I Like this quote I dislike this quote
"Wine is a peep-hole on a man" - ALCAEUS

"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken from me" WINSTON CHURCHILL

PS - if you ever need a quote about anything, check out winston churchill, he talked about everything, and was either amusing or insightful about all of it

Friday, October 8, 2010

OK Andrew, Sorry this one took so long

First of all, yes, this is my own basil that I'm growing....not too shabby looking huh? Secondly, this is a request from my friend Andrew. He has done even better than me at growing his basil, and now needs something to do with it all before the frost starts. So, we are going to make a big batch of pesto, and then I'll tell you the best way to freeze it so you can eat fresh from the garden pesto 3 months after the garden is, sadly, no more.

First the first, the recipe:

4 cups of packed basil leaves
6 cloves of garlic, I like mine garlicky, if you don't, go down to four
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted (dry pan, low heat, till lightly colored)
1 1/3 cups olive oil, use a good one
1 cup parmesan, or pecorino cheese, it comes out a bit different with each, but both are tasty
Salt and Pepper to taste

1)This is your basic recipe. Place basil, garlic, and nuts in food processor. Pulse until a nice, uniform, pasty consistency is formed.
2)Slowly, while processor is on, drizzle in 1 cup of the olive oil so it emulsifies. I don't like broken pesto, it looks like s&^t
3)Add cheese, and blend till smooth again.
4)Season to taste. Put into 8 oz deli containers and top each with remaining oil. Refridgerate or freeze depending on when you're going to use it.

Like I said, this is the basic recipe. A lot of the time, I'll add a serrano chile for a little spice. Or, you can take out the basil, and use cilantro....delicious on a piece of grilled fish. Or sub pecans for the pine nuts. Really, pesto is as much a technique as a recipe, so play around with the ingredients, just master the process.
Because, as the great Julia Child said

"Master a recipe, and you can eat for one night, learn a technique, and you'll eat every night"

Hope y'all enjoy...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Installment two of the dinner on a budget series>>>>DUCK CONFIT!!!!!!!!!

So, I was feeling a little cash poor today, and was thus motivated to continue my little series on how to make great dinners without spending great sums. Today, we are going to transform duck legs (above) into one of the most delicious forms of poultry known to man, duck confit (below). A quick disclaimer, this is not ever going to appear on 30 minute meals, not only because it is beyond Rachel's viewership talent range (that was below the belt, and kind of untrue, because this is actually a very easy dish), but because it is a multi-day process. First we cure the leg (24 hours, but only about 5 minutes of actual work), then we confit the leg (overnight in the oven, but once again, you just pop it in there and go to sleep), then we actually get it ready for eating. So, it takes a little commitment, but oh so worth it in the eating.

First, just to define what we are doing here...the term confit refers to slowly cooking something in (its' own usually) fat. This means, yes, you are going to buy duck fat...however, it is an incredibly useful thing to have around the kitchen, keeps forever, and can be used to make the best roasted potatoes you have ever tasted. I'll give you that recipe at the end of this one....maybe.

And so, without further ado........LA RECIPE
Stage 1:Curing your duck legs
4 duck legs
3 tblsp sugar
3 tblsp kosher salt
4 juniper berries, coarse ground
1 tblsp black pepper, coarse ground
1 tblsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seed, coarse ground
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tblsp herbes de provence

1)Mix all ingredients together, and thoroughly coat duck legs in the salt mixture.
2)Wad up some aluminum foil and place in bottom of deep tupperware container
3)Place coated duck legs atop foil, cover, and leave in fridge for a minumum of 24 hours and a maximum of 48 hours. Pretty easy so far, right?

Stage 2:confiting, confit?
All you need is your now cured duck legs and a tub of duck fat (roughly 2-3 lbs). Simply place your duck legs in a thick oven proof dish. A cassoulet pot is best, but you can improvise. Then, top with your duck fat, so that the duck will be completely covered once fat melts. Place in the oven at 250 degrees for 6-8 hours (or so). Just check and make sure the duck looks like it's about to fall apart tender and you're good to go. I just put it in around 11pm as I'm getting ready for bed, and take it out when I wake up in the morning. As a side note, some chefs like to put things like garlic or herbs in with the fat at this step....up to you. Once you pull the duck from the oven, leave it in the pot with the fat and refridgerate. If you try to mess with the duck at this point, it will more than likely just fall apart.

Stage 3:Getting it ready to eat.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place confit skin side down in a nice, thick saute pan. Put duck in oven, and leave it there until the skin has rendered out and is nice, golden, and crispy.

My favorite way to serve it is either
1)atop a nice simple salad of arugula, maybe with some grapes, and pistachios
2)atop a nice simple white bean stew (white beans, mirepoix, chicken stock, and a few fresh herbs). This would be pretty close to the traditional french way.

As far as wines go, I like a nice, fairly fruity red with this's probably one of the few things that i'll recommend a pinot noir with. The SLIGHT gaminess of the duck is paired nicely with a little sweet fruit.


Oh, I almost forgot. Once you have crisped up and eaten your confit, what to do with all that duck fat. Strain it, and it will keep in the fridge for over 6 months. Saute veggies in it. Make a warm vinaigrette with it instead of olive oil. Or roast potatoes in it, they will be the best potatoes you have ever eaten.

2 lbs idaho potatoes, cut into one inch cubes
1/8 cup duck fat, room temp
1 tblsp fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Toss all the ingredients together and let sit on counter for 15 minutes. Then place in 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes. Then, go hide somewhere, and eat all 2 lbs of potatoes by yourself. Just kidding.........maybe.

Monday, September 27, 2010

And now we go WAAAAY old school, at my OLDer sisters request

What better way to start a post than with a big, slightly disturbing, and classically overly enthusiastic picture of the one & only Julia Child. There are many things that we could poke a little fun at her about, but you can't deny her passion for all things culinary (as long as they were french anyway). As a quick side note, that Julie & Julia movie was godawful. First of all, it should have been called Julie stalking Julia, and secondly, if my friend invited me over to her house and was dressed up as JC, including impersonating her accent, I'd probably have her mental stability checked.

Enough of all that. The reason we're starting this post off with a Julia Child reference is that my sister called asking me for a recipe that she can make for my parents when they come to visit. My dad is a slightly picky in if he can identify it as a vegetable, no go. My mom is thankfully gastronomically adventurous, and also the reason I fell in love with cooking, so she's easy. I decided to pull one out of the archives for her because, a)my dad will actually eat it & b)you make this a day ahead, so it leaves her time to frantically make sure there are no crumbs in her silverware drawer and hide the non-crystal wine glasses in preparation for my mother entering her humble abode. This is just a little friendly teasing of both of them, and their very close, but sometimes nitpicky relationship. So without further ado, from the archives, here is one of Julia Child herselfs' favorite recipes:

COQ AU VIN - for those of you who ne parle pas le francais, this literally means rooster in wine, but we will be going for the ultra modern version using chicken thighs. It's actually hard to find a rooster nowadays, especially one from Bresse, which most authentique recipes call for.
That being said, it is a fairly simple, utterly comforting dish, which is best eaten the second day after all the flavors have gotten together. HERE GOES..............

4 chicken leg and thighs, skin-on - if you can only find thighs, make it 8
8 shallots, peeled, but left whole
2 ripe tomatoes
1/2 lb mushrooms, simple buttons work fine
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled & diced
2 stalks celery, diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh thyme, left whole
2 bay leaves
6 oz bacon, or fatback, cut into lardons - Noush, you cannot leave this out
1/4 c AP flour
1/2 stick butter
1 bottle of red wine, or if you follow the JC recipe 2 bottles, one to drink, one to cook
2 1/2 cups, roasted chicken stock, this should be from your stash of homemade stock in the freezer --- check early august post
S & P to taste

1)Place bacon in cold pot(this pot should be oven proof, and large enough to fit all the ingredients in it at once) over medium heat and render out fat. Once bacon is crispy, set aside, but leave the delicious fat in the pan. While this is happening, get some kitchen twine, and tie it around your herbs. This makes it easy to simply remove them before serving. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

2)Season chicken with salt and pepper and sear in the pot until nicely caramelized on all sides. Don't crowd the pot. If you have to do this in stages to not bunch the chicken together, do so. It will be better and easier this way.

3)Set chicken aside with bacon, and add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery to this mixture of rendered chicken and bacon fats.....this is how we build layers of flavor. Cook until vegetables are lightly caramelized. Then add shrooms and tomatoes and cook until mushrooms release their liquid

4)add herbs to the pot, then butter. Once butter is melted, stir in the flour, ensuring that no lumps occur. Cook the roux (that what the mix of fat and flour is called) for 2 minutes, stirring pretty much constantly

5)Add wine and stock to pot SLOWLY, stirring constantly to ensure no lumps yet again. Return chicken to pot, and add shallots. Cover and place in oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. You can't really cook this too long.

6)Remove from oven, let cool, then refridgerate. The next day, 2 hours before serving, simply pop it back in a 250 degree oven and forget about it until you're ready to eat.

To serve, remove chicken and shallots and place on serving platter. At this point, you can either drain your sauce (if like my dad, you aren't a veggie fan...I like veggies, so I leave them in) or not. It should be a consistency somewhere between stock and gravy, enough to coat the back of the spoon. If it's still to thin, just cook it down a bit more...if it's too thick, just add a bit more stock. Pour sauce over chicken and shallots, and top with your crispy bacon from yesterday (if you didn't snack it all down during the cooking process). This can really be served with any starch....good old mashers, rice, polenta...whatever you like. I usually like to go with a slightly lighter vegetable option like a nice, fresh green salad, or marinated tomatoes, just so the meal doesn't get too heavy.

As far as wine pairings go, this is a fairly obvious choice --- a nice burgundy. Really, any red with some nice backbone, but not overpowering tannins. This isn't the dish for your 1988 barolo, but nor is it a chicken dish to have a nice light sauvignon blanc with. A good rule of thumb would be to drink it with what you cooked it with.

Anyway, I say I say, enjoy..............

And to finish, some great quotes from Mrs. Childs
Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it
Life itself is the proper binge.
Everything in moderation, including moderation.
I think every woman should have a blowtorch.
How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Top ten reasons I would rather spend eternity in Hell over Houston

I have recently had to spend quite a bit of time in this godforsaken sh&*($le of a city, and would just like to post this as a warning to other people who might be pondering going there. These are the ten things I dislike the most, they may not be something you would hate, but such is the way of opinion.

1)I should never be the skinniest person in a city. I am not exactly model skinny, but compared to most of the people in Houston, I am positively malnourished. This is especially true, sadly, of the women. It's F.U.P.A. heaven there.

2)I think 97% of the restaurants in Houston are comprised of Jack in the Box, WhataBurger, Burger King, & KFC. No wonder this city is so damn fat. Outside of the downtown area, it seems difficult to find a place to eat where they prepare more than 3% of the menu outside of the fryer.

3)I don't know what kind of birds they are, but the city is covered in these small, black, raptorish looking creatures that have no fear of humans and just screech non-stop at you in every parking lot, every time you get out of the car. They just stare at you and caw, and you can't tell if they want food, or are warning you to clear the area before they go all Alfred Hitchcock on you. Also, this isn't a pleasant little tweet they emit. It sounds more like a herd of chihuahuas getting their tail stepped on. I am an animal lover, so I don't condone a mass slaughter of these things or anything, but they are some creepy SOBs.

4)There is no air in the entire city. It's just one hot, stagnant, wind deprived, sweaty, dry place of bad body odor and misery.

5)The road system is crap....and that's from someone who is from the land of Peachtree everything. Everyhting is a highway, so you have to drive 1.2 miles past your destination, exit, and then do a U-turn. This gets very old, very quick. Also, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to whether the second lane from the left at a light is a turn lane or a straight lane. The natives seem to just make it whichever they want, regardless of markings, or whether or not you're driving a rental car where they are trying to go.

6)Women should not have haircuts that look like Marge Simpson anymore. I don't really have much else to say on this point.


8)If you do venture out of Houston, and go 20 minutes south to Galveston, forget what I said about the wind. It's pretty much a constant gale force wind that seems to have blown away all of the charm and class that this oceanside community might have.

9)This city is hypocritical. This one is just kind of a joke, but everything in Houston is named the George Bush something or other.......including the GEORGE BUSH WILDLIFE PRESERVE. Are you kidding me? A wildlife preserve from the oil drilling, off-shore supporting, clean air destroyingest President we have had in recent memory. Oh, the irony.

10)This last one is to make my wife happy on the off chance that she actually reads my blog. Undoubtedly, the worst part of me being in Houston is the fact that she is in Atlanta, and I have to go somewhere between two and five days without seeing her. BOOOOOOOOOOOO

Sunday, September 19, 2010

To appease my darling wife.........

Just FYI, she is the one on the left.

For a while now, I have been getting pestered about the inaccuracy of one of my posts. In the deserted island discussion, I apparently listed my wife's 5 choices incorrectly. I defend myself by saying that she flip-flops back and forth on the list, but nevertheless, if only for my own personal peace & quiet (and general sanity), here is the official and updated (as of 9/19/10) list of Danielles' top 5:

1)Garlic - this is true, I could serve pan seared shoelaces, but if I had garlic bread on the side, it would probably be okay with her

2)Chocolate - I said this was a little bit of a reach, as chocolate has multiple ingredients, and I don't think she wants to eat raw cacao, but at this point I saw the look in her eyes. To even think of denying my wife chocolate, even in a hypothetical sense, is just plain suicidal on my part, so I let it go.

3)Sourdough bread - no arguments here, it was pretty much down to baguettes or sourdough for my list, so this'll work

4)Figs - she never even ate them until a few years ago. Now, she is more knowledgeable about fig growing seasons ("we'll start seeing them in the markets in 4-6 days from now, depending on the rain in Southern Georgia"), the different varietals, and what they are best used for than most chefs (moi included), farmers, or gourmands.

5)Parmesan Cheese - I put this as brie in the last post....big mistake. Since that fateful day, she has been making me buy ever larger and more expensive wedges of imported Parmesan to drive the point deep into my memory. Lesson learned

Hopefully this will satisfy her, and I can stop getting pestered.......about this anyway :)