Blueberry Biscuits

Blueberry Biscuits

Blueberry biscuits are my new breakfast crush. Warm from the oven, made from ingredients I always have on hand, and fifteen minutes prep time -- yes, please!

The recipe is based on this Smitten Kitchen recipe.  The first time I tried it, I used frozen strawberries.  They were delicious - frozen strawberries, thawed and patted dry, became super jammy in the biscuits.  Oh, my.

Blueberry Biscuits

But, I wanted easier.  And I wanted blueberries. I started to make a batch weekly, freezing most of the biscuits and baking them off as I wanted them for breakfast.  Over a couple of weeks, the recipe evolved.  And, voila.

Blueberry Biscuits

280g all purpose flour

1 TBS aluminum free baking powder

50g granulated sugar

1/2 tsp (heaping) coarse kosher salt (or, 1/2 tsp table salt)

1 tsp lemon zest

1/4 tsp cinnamon

85g cold unsalted butter (frozen, preferably)

1 c frozen blueberries

1 c plus 2 TBS heavy cream

 

Preheat oven to 425F.

Whisk to combine the first six ingredients in a large, wide mixing bowl.  Using a hand grater, grate butter across the surface of the dry ingredients as evenly as possible.  Add blueberries the same way - spreading them out on top of the butter.  Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to quickly and gently fold the butter and berries into the dry ingredients.  Add cream and fold though.  Bring any crumbly bits into the dough by hand.  You don't want to over handle it, but you'll need to put in some errant dry bits.  When you have a mostly cohesive pile, turn it on to a lightly floured cutting board and pat it into a rectangle like so.

Blueberry Biscuits

Then, because it's easier, cut your rectangle like so -- avoiding the hassle of re-patting the remaining cuttings of round biscuits.

Blueberry Biscuits

Transfer the biscuits you'll eat right away to a prepared baking sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden at the edges.

The remainder of the biscuits can be frozen (I put them on a silpat in the freezer, well separated, for a couple of hours) and then individually wrapped in parchment and dropped in a freezer bag for future use.  These will require a few extra minutes in a the oven at 425, but they can be baked directly from the freezer.

Slow Cooker Guinness Beef and Bean Chili

Guinness Beef and Bean Chili

This slow-cooked, shredded beef and bean chili is a result of some crazy iron-rich food cravings I've been having.  I wanted something a little different than my go-to chili - I'm trying not to get too set in my ways, and I'm trying not to bore my husband to death.  I made this in my slow cooker overnight; we'll eat some for dinner tonight and freeze the rest (2 whole additional quarts).

Guinness Beef and Bean Chili

Ingredients:

1 1/2 Tbs olive oil

2 3/4 lbs beef chuck, well trimmed and cubed to 1" pieces

1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt (plus additional to taste)

1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 huge or 2 small onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

1/2 c good quality chili powder (see note)

2 tsp ground cumin

1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp cider vinegar

1 14 oz diced tomatoes with juices

1/3 c Guinness or another stout (try a chocolate stout, and reduce the cocoa powder)

25 - 30 oz of pinto beans (one giant or two normal sized cans)

Chili powder note: I used a mixture of chili powders - roughly equal parts Penzey's medium hot chili powder, Penzey's hot chili powder, and ancho chile powder.  Whatever you choose, just make sure it's fresh, and that it's a salt-free blend.

Slow cooker directions:

Note: If your slow cooker insert is not flame proof, start this in a 5 quart or larger heavy pot.  You'll transfer the chili to your crock pot or slow cooker after the Guinness has been added and the chili brought back to a simmer. 

Over medium heat, brown beef in olive oil.  When beef is browned on all sides, add onion and garlic and cook until translucent.  This could take 8 - 12 minutes, but don't rush it.  Add the chili powder(s) and cook 3 - 4 minutes until very fragrant and juices are visibly thickened.  Add remaining ingredients, with the exception of the beans, which are added toward the end of coking so they don't break down.  When the mixture has returned to a simmer, transfer to your slow cooker and cook on low for 10-12 hours, depending on your slow cooker.  When it's ready, it will break apart as you stir - leave it as shredded or chunky as you like, though the chunks will melt in your mouth.  I've learned that they vary wildly, but you're looking for beef that is so tender that it has broken apart.  (Note: I think if I did it again, I might do an hour on high, and then 10 on low - but again, know thine own crock pot.) Add the beans and heat through.  At this point, taste for salt - salt is personal.  Keep in mind that if you are planning to freeze it, freezing foods makes things need more salt, so you'll end up adding salt when you reheat it.  Better to under salt and salt at the reheating.

We like to serve chili on rice around these parts, with a bit of cheese, Greek yogurt, and chunks of avocado.

Stove top and oven directions:

Follow directions above - minus anything relating to a slow cooker.  However, you're going to need a heavy pot with a well fitting lid.  Once you've added your stout and brought it to a simmer, move it to the oven. Try 275 - 300 F, you'll want barely a simmer, and the heat will again depend on your pot and oven.  Keep that lid on and check it - you'll likely have good results in 5-6 hours, but I haven't done this chili in the over before.

Let me know if you try it, and how it goes!

Easter Coffee Cake and Blood Orange Mimosas

 

Wicked Delicious Coffee Cake

We had a quiet Easter morning -- a few friends, this coffee cake, and mimosas with either blood orange juice or ruby red grapefruit juice, both of which I squeezed last night.  I finally picked up the citrus juicer attachment for my kitchen aid - possibly the cheapest existing attachment - and it's life changing.

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Look out citrus: I decimated nine pounds of fruit in 20 minutes.  There will be much fresh juice in our future, yes, because it's healthy blah blah, but also because margaritas are heavenly, and even more so with freshly squeezed juices.

This coffee cake is Ree Drummond's "Best Coffee Cake. Ever" and that's no lie.  I only made a few tweaks - nothing worth rewriting the recipe for - but I'd do the same again.  I used good, dark Muscovado sugar for 2/3 of the brown sugar.  I also had to bake it a bit longer, and the pecans in the dark brown sugar topping caramelized in a gorgeous way.

We have our eye on this bad boy for Christmas morning.  Possibly Fourth of July.  And random Sundays.  It was my very first coffee cake and it shall be my last - freaking delicious and the house smelled like heaven - win win!

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder and Hypertensive

It's been one month and thirteen days that we've been without a functioning kitchen.  I've had four home-cooked meals, thanks to good and loving friends concerned about our sodium levels.  I am beginning to feel like a salt lick with legs - is it possible to get hypertension from six weeks of take out and restaurant meals? I can't stop thinking about meals I made in the months before the demolition.  Even the ones that were kind of meh are now crave-worthy, simply because I knew what was in them, really.

There was this pork loin braised in milk from Dinner a Love Story.  The cookbook was a wedding gift and a joyous surprise.  I picked it up to read this fall and was hooked; this was the first recipe I tried and it delivered.  My only suggestion is to get the largest-diameter pork loin roast you can, so you don't have to add a ton of extra milk.  Make it, though, it's awesome.  And make it for friends who appreciate ugly, delicious food.

Braised Pork

I long to make slow-cooked stocks.  A friend recently launched a lovely new blog and posted her stock recipe, which I've been dying to try -- 40 hours of slow cooking, loaded with good healthy things.  No salt lick.  I keep thinking about how much fun I had cooking for Thanksgiving - crazy flip charts and all - and how proud I was of my homemade stock for my first homemade gravy.  It was groovy, groovy gravy.

Making Homemade Turkey Stock

I don't have a picture of the gravy.  We ate it.  Right down to the picture.

And then there were the rum runner hand pies.  When I can bake again, I'll bake these again, and try to mail down the recipe.  Oh the burden.

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We are so, so close to eating all of the vegetables I can dream of.  The floor is in, mostly.  The cabinets are in, mostly.  By midweek we should have our appliances back in their new places and a temporary counter.  We'll be cooking with gas, even if it's prepared on temporary plywood counter tops. Which will be replaced with lovely new ones a week after that.  Give or take a few minor setbacks, I'm sure.

In the meantime, enjoy your kitchen - even if it has crazy, crappy, cracked fifties tile and windows painted shut and cupboard doors that don't close and house legions of silverfish.  If you didn't have it for long enough, you'd miss it (a little).

Kitchen Renovation is Not for Sissies

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After more than four years of talking about it, we started the renovation of our 1954 kitchen in January.  It's been a bit more than a month so far (this is an older picture, or I'd be considerably more frazzled than I am anyway) and we have 2-3 weeks before it's usable again.  A couple of weeks after that, it will be the heavenly new kitchen that I know is at the end of this insane process.

I really did have the most optimistic intentions.  I got an induction burner (review: unpredictable) and set up a mini kitchen in the corner of my already mini living room.  I was vaguely reasonable in my expectations of what might be possible: slow cooker stuff, soups, omelets.  What I totally underestimated was the challenge of washing dishes in our mini bathroom sink.  And now matter how many times a day I clean my bathroom sink, I still feel a little grossed out by having dishes in there at all.  I know, first world problem.

What I did make, two days in a row after three days in a row of Thai food, was tortellini and kale soup.  With lots of onions and some chili flakes.  It's a great go-to weeknight soup: flexible, fast, reliant on very few fresh ingredients.  Add white beans, potato, frozen butternut squash, frozen cauliflower, some farro - whatever soothes your soul.  Throw some good parm on top and dinner is served.

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But, washing parm out of the bottom of a bowl can be challenging in a tiny bathroom sink.  So, back to take out we went.

In a few weeks, we'll be back in business around here.  In the meantime, I leave you with the following words of wisdom: don't hire a plumber with no wheels.

How to Avoid a Thanksgiving Freakout and Susan Feniger's Street Food

This is my first Thanksgiving as hostess. It's something I have been waiting for, day dreaming about, and collecting recipes for since before there was a Google.  I'm so excited that I need to give someone, anyone, a present - one copy of Susan Feniger's Street Food, to be exact.  But give me a minute to get there.

I've hosted enough dinner parties at this point to have learned some good lessons about large, multi-dish meals that I feel generally prepared.  I'm sharing the cooking responsibilities rather than trying to do it all myself; we're not attempting to make seven different  dishes that require baking at four different temperatures; and, we're doing a lot of prep, including one entire dish, in advance. Also, we're having a cocktail hour before dinner - that way, if things are a little late or a little overdone, everyone will be in full festivity and just plain won't care.

For the turkey, which is the one part that makes me a bit angsty, I'm going with this recipe.  It's Bitten Word-endorsed, so it's tested and approved by the best, and it's spatchcocked, so it will cook faster and take less room in my oven.  I've said this before, but if you're still planning your meal, go read their full Thanksgiving extravaganza for this year and past years and you'll end up with more great ideas than you can imagine.  I'm making my grandma's sausage stuffing and sauteed shaved Brussels sprouts and leeks with bacon and breadcrumbs, both of which you'll find posted here in the coming weeks.  I'm on the fence about making a variation of Ina's potato and fennel gratin (the original here).  It's one of my absolute favorite foods and I can only justify consuming that much heavy cream and Gruyere at a major holiday; however, we have a small group and I don't want to be completely ridiculous.  Our friend Rach will make the mashed potatoes and this haricots verts and white bean dish with a shallot vinaigrette -- also Bitten Word.  It's totally make-ahead and really fresh and bright, so it will balance the richness of...everything else.  Rach is also making these Gingerbread cupcakes, also Ina's.

If I had to make Thanksgiving dinner on a desert island and had only two recipe sources, The Bitten Word and Ina Garten would be all I'd need.  Plus, I'd invite Zach and Clay and Ina, because they seem like they'd be a blast at a desert island dinner party.

My lists are finished - menu and food to-do's and set up to-do's and grocery lists.  My cocktail hour playlist is in the works and my dinner playlist is in my head.  Tomorrow, I'll set out linens, glassware and place settings and make sure I have the right serving dishes for the meal.  I'll make sure the fridge is cleaned out so I have plenty of room this week, chill the white wines and sparkling wines, and make sure I have the red I need for the meal.  Monday night I'll brine the turkey and Wednesday night I'll pull it from the brine and stick it in the fridge overnight.  I'll also prep the sprouts and chop the veggies for the stuffing.  We're not eating until 2:30 or 3 and my turkey takes less than two hours, so if I decide to add the gratin, I have time on Thursday morning.

In about an hour, we're going to do some cocktail recipe testing - we now have five different kinds of bitters.  I received this book on bitters last year and didn't expect I'd pick it up too often, but I'm completely taken with it.

So, to summarize, this is my recipe for not freaking out:

1 part sharing the fun

1 part liquoring up my victims in advance

1 part list making and advance prep

3 parts keeping in mind that this is about being thankful to have such bounty and such friends to share it with

(And if all else fails, I'll close my eyes and think of Lake Garda, Italy and that infinity pool at the top of the page.)

 

So tell me, how do you keep calm, cool and collected?  And enter to win a copy of Susan Feniger's Street Food right here and give a  shout out to your favorite side dish!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Earl Grey and Chocolate Budino -- #TBWC2C

Chocolate Budino

Also known as wicked fancy chocolate pudding.  Which reminds me that I should tell you about The Great Pudding Fight of 2008.

It was fall of 2008 and Felix and I had been dating for less than a year.  I was inspired to make pudding from scratch (I'd just started reading food blogs, starting with Orangette).  I mixed and whisked and blended and chilled and served my pudding to my English then-boyfriend.  We hadn't even been dating for a year when it happened.

I handed the pudding to him - dish, spoon, napkin, expectations, hopes.  He took a bite and then two.  And then another.

"Good." He's a man of many words.  "What is it?"

"Pudding."

"I mean, what IS it," he said.

"It's pudding, "I said more loudly, but still kindly, as if I were speaking to an elderly Bloodhound.

"But what KIND of pudding?" He seemed a little annoyed, for a man with a belly full of homemade pudding.

"It's CHOCOLATE pudding!" I was expecting oohs, ahhs, thank yous, proposals, kisses, worship - all kinds of things, but not grumpy bastards who questioned my pudding.

"But WHAT KIND OF CHOOCLATE PUDDING?" It had become an all-caps conversation.  The caps lock was ON, baby.

"SERIOUSLY.  It's CHOCOLATE PUDDING.  Like, Bill Cosby, ugly sweater, J-E-L-L-O, but FROM SCRATCH."

"Oh, custard.  Got it.  It's good."

And that was our first fight.

Had I only known about this recipe, I could have made it, and it would have been like pudding to me, the American, but I would have said it was Chocolate Budino, avoiding all conflict.  Thank goodness we made it through.

Long story slightly shorter, I made this Milk Chocolate and Early Grey Budino as part of The Bitten Word (Super Awesome) Cover to Cover Challenge.  The first time I made the recipe, I made it exactly as directed.  It was a perfect assignment - I had a tin of very fancy Earl Grey from Fortnum & Mason in London and this was a perfect use.  (What, I'm supposed to drink it?)

We found the result to be really flavorful - the Earl Grey gave it a complexity that we loved.  It was was unique, fragrant, but not too floral.  Pretty amazing.  But the texture wasn't quite as pleasing as I'd hoped - it was indeed smooth, but it was a bit plasticky rather than silky.  The version below is adjusted to fix that.  The Early Grey whipped cream on top was lovely, but I was inspired by the tea to try a different flavor pairing in the whipped cream - honey.

(Conflict-free) Chocolate and Early Grey Budino

Adapted from Milk Chocolate & Earl Grey Budino, Food & Wine October 2012

3 oz. Sharffen Berger semi-sweet chocolate chunks

1 TBS butter

2 TBS cornstarch

1 TBS unsweetened cocoa

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp Earl Grey tea leaves

2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk

 

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 tsp powdered (confectioner's) sugar

1 TBS honey

flaked sea salt, for sprinkling

 

Instructions

Add chocolate chunks and butter to a heatproof bowl.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk sifted cornstarch and sifted cocoa powder with granulated sugar and tea leaves.  Add milk and bring to a low boil, whisking constantly until quite thick.

Chocolate Budino

This took me a solid 3 minutes of bubbling to achieve.

 

Pour the thickened mixture through a fine sieve over the butter and chocolate and let sit for 30-60 seconds.

Whisk to combine.  Divide chocolate budino among four 6 oz ramekins and chill for at least an hour.

To make whipping cream, whip cream until soft peaks form and then add the powdered sugar and another 20 seconds.    Drizzle honey over the cream and gently turn it through to combine.  When you're ready to serve, put a dollop of cream on each pudding (budino, whatever) and sprinle with flaked sea salt.

No raising of voices necessary, unless you want to shout, Awwwwww, yeaaaahhhhh.

Also, if you're not reading The Bitten Word, you should be - they really do rule.  Some of my favorite Bitten hits are this spatchcocked turkey -- and if you're hosting Thanksgiving, reading all of their Thanksgiving posts would serve you well -- this adult beverage, this cake, and this sophisticated twist on tuna casserole.

Notes:  This recipe is a great base for variations.  I look forward to subbing a teaspoon or two of instant espresso for the tea, or perhaps simmering the custard mixture with a strip of orange zest - even just a dash of vanilla instead of Earl Grey would make for a nice variation.  Go wild.

Wicked Delicious Smoked Chicken Wings

Smoked Chicken Wings

Since our Big Green Egg, a wedding gift from my father-in-law, arrived, I've been scouring the internet for the perfect recipe for her maiden voyage.  A while back, I'd bookmarked this recipe for Spicy Smoked Chicken Wings at Ezra Pound Cake, a blog which should win all the prizes in the land for having the best name ever.  This seemed to me to be a great newbie recipe - a cheap cut of meat, a relatively short cooking time, and a temperature low enough for a new BGE, which apparently needs some low-temp runs under its belt before you can crank it up (pizza here we come!).

That recipe, though, calls for some oven time, which I'd failed to notice.  I was going to have dinner in the oven, so I wanted an all-BGE recipe.  I went back to the internet for help, learning once again what we all already know: the internet is your hysterical, paranoid aunt who, when she hears hoof beats, thinks neither horses OR zebras, but thyphoid-carrying zombie unicorns.  In ten minutes of looking at chicken wing recipes, I had learned that my skin would get rubbery, or stay raw, that the meat might be mealy if it's over cooked, or undercooked, that the texture will probably be awful - possibly mushy, maybe stiff, potentially foam core board-like. That chicken is the hardest thing to smoke on the planet.  And that we're all going to die.

I was very thankful that my test run was for an appetizer, not the main meal.  I did learn a few tips, though, reflected in the recipe below, and I decided to go forward and conquer, because I had four pounds of chicken wings in the fridge. (Spoiler alert: the wings were freaking awesome and no one has died.)

I did employ a certain approach that I highly recommend when trying new recipes or cooking methods for dinner guests: invite only your easiest friends and ply them with strong margaritas, just in case.  Drunk people will generally eat anything and be thankful for it.  In the method of Ina, I prepared a pitcher of this easy-cheater margs in the afternoon and popped it in the fridge to chill.

 

Tinkerbell Margaritas

2 cups good tequila (use good stuff, because you're using it generously with not much else....)

2 cups Santa Cruz Organic Limeade

1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (this took me 2 oranges, because they were a bit old)

Combine, stir, chill, and serve straight up in tiny glasses.  Be careful: I call them Tinkerbell margaritas because they are small and fresh and pretty, but if you don't pay attention, they'll knock you on your rear like an angry Tinkerbell.

 

Smoked Chicken Wings

Ingredients

3/4 c medium-hot chili powder (I use Penzey's)

1 tsp crushed red chile pepper flakes

1 TBS smoked paprika

1 TBS dried oregano

4 lbs chicken wings with tips

1 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt

1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

4 TBS cornstarch

1 1/2 TBS butter or olive oil

 

Directions

Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet and set aside.  Combine chili powder, chile flakes, paprika and oregano in a small bowl.

Remove wing tips and pat chicken wings dry.  Coat with salt and pepper first and then your dry spice mix - you want a good, dense coating.  Dust the wings with cornstarch (I used a small sieve) on both sides - it should look like confectionary sugar on a cake, but don't eat it.

Spread your wings on your prepared baking sheet; the cooling rack will allow air to circulate around the wings in the fridge.  These should chill at least 4 hours - overnight should be fine.

These guys above don't have their cornstarch yet - as soon as I took this photo, I realized I had forgotten something important.  No need to panic.

Prepare your smoker and get her up to about 325F (I used BGE lump charcoal and a mild wood chip blend).  As a newbie, I struggled with maintaining a steady temp (and yet no zombie unicorns attacked!), but I imagine you know what you're doing so that won't be a problem.  I let mine go about 35 minutes and then flipped them, upped the heat to about 350/375F and let them go another 30 minutes.

With about ten minutes to go, a few of the wings looked a bit dry-skinned, so I brushed them with a touch of butter.  Worked like magic.

These wings could be eaten with any manner of dipping sauces, like this one, any of these ones, or this one.  We ate them standing up around the kitchen island like animals with no sauce at all and they were awesome.  These could clearly be done on a regular old grill at 350 for an hour, flipped regularly.  You'll miss some smokey flavor, but I don't think you'd miss that much, so if you don't have a fancy Big Green Egg, don't fret.  Go for it.

A Very Jet-lagged - and Gentile - Rosh Hashanah

I was driving us home Friday evening after we arrived home in LA after 20 hours of travel when I heard something on KCRW about Rosh Hashanah. “Oh shit!” I said, “It’s Rosh Hashanah tomorrow!”

“What’s that?” Felix could have been referring to Rosh Hashanah or to the car in front of us. We were tired.

“It’s the Jewish New Year!”

He was relieved or unconcerned, or both.

I managed to sleep a solid 11 hours Friday night and woke up at 6:30 in the morning. I was at Whole Foods by 7am getting milk for coffee and a couple of urgent basic staples to fill an empty fridge. Due to jet lag and general Whole Foods seduction, that included a bottle of dry Vermouth and a “new” ancient alcoholic beverage made from some sort of root and cloves, and three packages of gartisnal oat cheese and some hand-pulled mozzarella. I also bought my Rosh Hashanah brisket, well sign-posted in the meat section for the holiday.

About 4:30 or 5 that day, crumbling like a toddler who’d missed her nap, I asked Felix f we should really eat the brisket that had been cooking for 7+ hours or if we shouldn’t maybe go out for Mexican. I had just learned that Rosh Hashanah was not in fact that day but would start the following day. I was distraught. Felix was again unconcerned.

“We could have the brisket,” I said, “but it needs more time. I need more time. There’s stuff I need to figure out.”

“We’ve been eating out for two weeks.” It’s been more than that, really – I don’t think I’ve cooked since wedding week, a month ago.

“But Rosh Hashanah isn’t until tomorrow.” I was seriously distraught.

“We aren’t Jewish.”

Point taken. While I’d shared many a Rosh Hashanah with friends over the years, leaving me with many good memories and a fondness for the holiday, Felix – meh, not so much.

But I still wasn’t up to finishing the brisket in any meaningful way and I realllly wanted to eat it on Rosh Hashanah, because it would have just been weird otherwise. So, I defrosted a quart bag of this chili from the freezer, which was truly delicious and ready in ten minutes.

Sunday I was able to finish the brisket with the attention it deserved. I was still pretty disastrous – I’d been up since 3 that morning, when my body declared it was done sleeping. That being said, it was quite tasty and if I could do it in the state I was in this weekend, you can do it – make this tangy, tender brisket, maybe next Rosh Hashanah – but double check the date.

Please note that this brisket is inspired by my friend Nicole’s mom’s brisket, but I’ve made a bunch of tweaks and additions. As such, and given that we are not actually Jewish, I have no idea if it’s still fit for the holiday table, for if you're just paying homage to the Jewish New Year, it'll do nicely.

 

Wicked Delicious Brisket

Ingredients

4 large onions, sliced

6 cloves garlic, whole

20 sprigs of thyme

10 sprigs of marjoram

3 lb brisket, fat layer trimmed (but not obsessively so)

3 tsp salt, divided

2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

6 oz tomato paste

4 oz dry vermouth

½ tsp cinnamon

1 tsp (heaping) Dijon mustard

2 tsp cider vinegar

½ tsp Worcester sauce

 

Directions

Layer 2/3 of onions, all garlic, and ¾ herbs (give or take) in the bottom of a 7 or 5 quart slow cooker. (See oven instructions below*)

Using half of salt and all of the pepper, season the brisket and lay it on top of your pile of onions and herbs.

Combine remaining six ingredients and remaining salt in a small bowl – I used my 4-cup measuring cup. The tomato paste won’t want to combine with the vermouth, but with a little whisking, it will do what it is told. Pour the sauce on top of the brisket, making sure to cover the meat.

Top with remaining onions and herbs.

Set your slow cooker for 2 ½ hours on high followed by 5 hours on low.

Ideally, you’ll have two days to do this – the flavor and tenderness really will be the better for it. At this point, you’ll transfer the whole mess to a baking dish, let it cool a bit, and move it to the fridge overnight.

Remove the chilled brisket and onion goo from the fridge about 2 hours before you’re ready to eat, so that you can make the sauce and have it re-heated in time for dinner, including buffer time for getting your sauce tasting just right.

Separate the meat from the goo. Slice the meat in ¼ inch slices, wrap it in foil and return it to the fridge while you work on your sauce.

Pull out all of the herb stems and then run all of the tomato/onion mixture and juices through either a food mill or a food processor. If you use a food mill, which I did, you’ll lose some solids and may want to return the sauce to a small saucepan and reduce it a bit more, to thicken the sauce and concentrate the favors. If you use a food processor, your sauce will have a bit more body because you’ll have retained all of the solids. Either way, put your blended sauce in a pot and heat it up so that you can tweak the salt and pepper and make any other modifications you feel it needs (too sweet? Add a little more vinegar and/or mustard. Too tangy? Add a touch more cinnamon, etc.)

When you’re ready to reheat your brisket, you’ll pop the sliced meat in a baking dish and pour the sauce all over it, making sure to work it in between the slices. If your sauce is already warm or hot, it won’t take that long to get this heated through and bubbling.

Preheat your oven to 325 F and bake, covered with foil, 25 – 35 minutes, until bubbling and well-heated though.

Alternate Oven Directions

The first time I made a similar recipe (using chuck instead of brisket, but otherwise the same) I did it in the oven. It was before I had the world’s most amazing slow cooker – but it worked absolutely fine, if it was maybe slightly more demanding of my attention.

Preheat oven to 350.

Make sauce as directed and pour 1/3 in to the bottom of a 7 or 5 quart heavy pot with a tight fitting lid. Layer onion, garlic and herbs with meat as directed, topping the beef with the remaining sauce, instead of the full recipe of sauce.

Bake at 350 F for one hour. Give the onions a stir, topping the beef again with some onions and juices. Reduce heat to 275 F and bake for 3- 3/12 more hours. Brisket should be easily pierce-able with a fork – if not, continue baking at 275 and check every 30 minutes until it is. When it’s fork-tender, proceed with chilling, sauce-making and finishing as directed above.

NOTES

I see no reason why you couldn’t do the first stage of the process two days in advance, making this a great make-ahead dinner party main dish.

I served this with a fingerling potato, grilled artichoke heart, and arugula salad with Dijon mustard vinaigrette, which made a great pairing for an everyday meal.

I Now Pronounce You

So that’s what I’ve been up to.

I’m sorry to have abandoned Wicked Delicious for so long, but it’s been busy around here.  We lost our wedding venue back in the late Spring and planned a wedding in 48 days – I said to a friend at one point that I felt like I was starring in a reality show that was the hell spawn of The Amazing Race and Say Yes to the Dress. 

It could have been an absolute disaster, but we were exceptionally lucky: a snazzy little hotel called Hotel Erwin in our neighborhood was available on our non-negotiable wedding date, August 18.  It has a rooftop bar overlooking the Pacific, a brand new chef who, like me, believes that cake pops are an abomination, and an event coordinator who felt like our fairy godmother.  Michal, our savior-coordinator, and Chef Larry Monaco dove in like champs – more than that, they dove in like good friends.  They were committed heart and soul to our happiness and our success.   Through Michal, we found our wedding planners – again, savior-planners – who, without judgment or visible fear, pulled off our wedding in roughly seven weeks.  Katie and Dee at No Worries Event Planning allowed us to focus on the good stuff, spending time with our family and friends, and managed all of the tedious details.

We ended up with exactly what we wanted: a union of not just the two of us but of our family and friends as well. And not just a wedding day but a wedding month, really.  We had picnics and beach trips and family meals and community dinners with people we love from around the world.   Our friend Brad officiated, our friend Kristian DJ’d, apprenticed by our friend and ring-bearer Billy, and our friend Trip managed crowd control and toasts and transitions.   We were stood up for by my sister and Felix’s brother and our friends, Arlo and Pee.

I’m sure I’ll share more details as time goes on, particularly since so many of our wedding presents are kitchen-oriented (a Big Green Egg from my father-in-law!).  For now, we’re honeymooning in Italy and celebrating the wedding of good friends from Los Angeles here in Tuscany. Photos, of food and ancient Italian things and happy celebrants, to follow in the weeks to come.

Ciao – I’m off to an all-wild boar dinner in the Umbrian countryside!

Wicked Delicious: Joy the Baker's Single Girl Metly Chocolate Cake

 

 Oh, that Joy the Baker!  I was so pleased with my (admittedly food-poisoning-induced) ten-pound weight loss… And then Joy the Baker’s “single girl melty chocolate cake” came into my life, courtesy of the Joy the Baker Cookbook.  This bit’o’cake is petite and addictive and far too easy.  I’ve made two versions (for the sake of science, obviously) and both made me want to make out with the cake.

 Joy is wrong about one thing: this is a two-person cake.  Both nights I made this cake and ate it (for science) I was unable to finish it, although I tried my best.  It was silky and seductive, heavy with chocolate, simple, direct, something to think about hours after it was gone.  Dear god, this cake was the best affair I’ve never had – and it was just too much.  With a wee scoop of ice cream, this is a two (to four) person sweet treat.

Before I go any further, I must implore you:  buy this book:

It’s everything I hoped it could be – it’s well written, engaging, informative, and full of things I wanted to make.  It didn’t freak me out or make me feel inadequate; it is simply, beautifully, humorously inspiring.  It’s full of things I can handle, in ways I’ve never thought of – absolutely marvelous.  I was lucky enough to receive Joy the Baker’s cookbook as a KCRW angel member (another thing I implore you to go for, if you’re a KCRW listener) and I’m so thankful.  I never buy baking-skewed cookbooks because I’m easily frightened, so, thanks, KCRW! (Note: KCRW is my local public radio station – the programming is stellar and you can listen, and subscribe, online.)

Okay, the recipe.  You want this – you want to keep it in your virtual back pocket.  This is something you can make anywhere you have access to basic ingredients and have fifteen minutes of spare time.  You know how on Top Chef everyone is defeated by dessert?  It’s because they don’t have Joy the Baker as an ally – her cake will make you king the lab, Top Chef champion, and the best date ever.   It will make you look like a rockstar chocolate goddess.  After making it twice (for the sake of science) I had the recipe memorized.  It’s like having a superpower, or an edible Invisibility Snuggie.  It’s awesome.

 Adapted from Joy the Baker’s Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake, found in Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes

 

Ingredients

1 tbsp butter

¼ c semi-sweet chocolate chips, or heaping ¼ c chunks

1 egg

4 tsp sugar

1 tsp flour

pinch salt

 

Variation options:

¼ tsp instant coffee (add to melting butter and chocolate) OR

1 tsp strong-brewed coffee* (add to melting butter and chocolate) OR

Pinch orange zest (add to melting butter and chocolate) OR

Pinch cinnamon (add to flour and salt)…..and on and on.

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 375F and butter ¾ c or 1 c ramekin.

Heat butter and chocolate in a double boiler**.  As this is melting, whisk egg and sugar vigorously in medium-sized bowl - I gave it a serious beating the second time and my tiny piece of heaven rose beautifully.  When chocolate and butter have melted and combined, add to egg/sugar mixture and whisk.  This will thicken.  Stir in flour and salt.  Pour into butter 3/4-cup ramekin and bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, checking regularly after 8 minutes.

Let the cake rest for 2-3 minutes.  If you plan on turning it onto a small plate, run a knife around the edge.  Or, do as I have done and set the ramekin on a folded napkin on top of  a small plate (to keep it from sliding onto your legs and ruining your night).

Notes:

* you’re adding liquid, so it will impact the texture and cooking time – I had trouble getting this version out of the ramekin cleanly, but the taste was so extraordinary that I’m happy to eat it directly out of the ramekin.

** or microwave, or glass bowl set above an inch of simmering water, which is what I did…

I used Scharffen Berger semi-sweet chunks; chocolate is the bulk of this dessert, so use the best you can.

Wicked Delicious Chorizo Chalupas

 

One of my favorite family dinners as a kid were something we always called chalupas, but I think they’d be more accurately called tostadas.  The were corn tortilla shells smeared with refried beans and spiced ground beef, cheese, pickled jalapenos, and sour cream (if I recall correctly).  I resurrected this family fave recently (so…zombie tostadas?) and plan to make this a regular casual dinner party meal.  Most everything can be prepped ahead, so you're free to sit and drink margaritas on the front porch with your guests.

I make no claim that these are in any way traditional Mexican fare, only that they are delicious.  We’ve updated the family recipe with Mexican chorizo, fresh jalapenos, and fresh cilantro and avocados, which are much easier to find and afford here in California than in Massachusetts in the 80’s.  We’ve also swapped Greek yogurt for the sour cream; nothing wrong with sour cream or crema, but we always keep Greek yogurt in the house, so it was a matter of convenience.

When we were kids, a major characteristic of a successful family meal was sweat – specifically on our upper lips and brows.  We liked a spicy meal.  In the grand family tradition, we’ve upped the kick on this version: the chorizo is spicy, I used a local dairy’s spicy pepper jack cheese, chiles in the refried beans, topped them with some habanero salsa, and purely by chance we ended up with the three hottest jalapenos in the land.  These zombie tostadas were fantastic and the margaritas and beer kept us cool – or at least gently soused, so we didn’t care that we were on fire.

If I were at my best, there are a few things I might have made from scratch.  I would have liked to have tried out Elise Bauer’s refried beans , Michael Ruhlman’s Mexican chorizo recipe (seen here with an amazing egg recipe!) , and homemade salsa.  However, even if like me you’re temporarily impaired, and look a lot like Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles, you can use some prepared ingredients with great results.

Zombie Chalupas

Ingredients

18 tostada shells – these are round, flat and already crisp corn tortillas*

2-14oz cans refried beans with chiles (or an equal amount of homemade)

1 pound of Mexican chorizo, browned and well drained

8 oz. pepper jack or jack cheese, grated

1 bunch scallions or green onions, sliced

3 jalapenos, sliced

8 oz Greek yogurt, crema or sour cream

1 cup + salsa

2-3 avocados, sliced

1 cup+ cilantro leaves

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Sauté Chorizo, breaking up meat with a fork or my favorite, a potato masher.  When fully cooked and well browned, drain and set aside on a paper towel lined plate.  Meanwhile, heat refried beans in a small saucepan.

Lay out your tortilla shells on a lined cookie sheet.  I found that six per cookie sheet fit nicely.  Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of beans on each tortilla, spreading evenly and to the edges.  Sprinkle with one tablespoon of chorizo and about 2 tablespoons of cheese per tortilla.

Bake 10-12 minutes, until cheese is well melted and chorizo is quite hot to the touch.

We set up the remaining ingredients as self-serve in little bowls on the table, so everyone could dress their tostada to their own liking.

 Serves 6-8, depending on side dishes

 

Notes:

Expect to need to drain the chorizo at least once as you're browning it - it's some fatty stuff.

We can get tostada shells in the grocery store in California, but when we were kids my stepmom would have to buy soft corn tortillas and fry them, so that's an option if you can't find them near you.

We went minimalist, so we just served it with this jalapeno slaw (also: margaritas), conveniently finishing the huge head of red cabbage in the fridge from our pulled pork extravaganza.  However, sometime I’d love to do this Baked Buttered Corn or just corn grilled in their husks, maybe with some lime zest, chile powder and butter.

I ate some of the remaining tostada shells with a fresh batch of beans and some avocado and salsa nearly every day for lunch - the pictures above, with the exception of the chorizo, are from a lunch batch.  While it was lacking some of the fixings, the key points of what make this so tasty and delightful – crunchy AND creamy, hot AND cold, spicy AND refreshing – remained in the leftovers.  Take some license, add what you like and omit what you don’t, but try it – and let me know what you think!

Baking Bacon and a Bacon, Egg and Tapenade Sandwich

Life is pretty simple these days.  Post-op recovery has been slower than expected and I still can’t move my neck enough to cook, never mind drive, but as I have found myself stranded in my neighborhood, unable to do much more than meander around looking at things that are just at head height, I can’t imagine a better neighborhood to be mildly invalided in than this one.  My typical day includes a doctor-ordered stroll and then hours of icing.  A heavy day includes a shower and even more icing.  It could become mind-numbingly boring, but low expectations and a good audiobook make all the difference.

The gardens here are gorgeous and varied – succulents galore, fruit trees and grasses, palms and a hundred flowering things, jasmine, honeysuckle, roses, camellias, morning glories, bougainvillea. 

I head north past my neighbor’s lovely roses and take a left at bushes of heady-smelling, warm white jasmine and toward the canals.

It would be easy enough to just zigzag through the canals, watching ducks and paddlers and eccentrics pushing dogs in strollers, but after a week of that I needed to branch out.  There are walk streets that lace through Venice, blocks and blocks of houses facing one another separated just by shady paths, streets and driveways hidden at the back.  It’s a peaceful and cool place full of brightly painted old craftsman cottages and striking modern, glass front homes.

Venice is decidedly quirky and firmly a community.  This is my favorite sighting from the weekend’s walks: a mini lending library, nailed to a front fence.

It’s amazing how hungry a mosey can make you.  My kitchen abilities are limited, but I have found a new favorite egg sandwich that makes a lovely brunch and, with some help from Felix at the weekend, I can put it together myself.  Hard boil some eggs and bake some bacon, which can be reheated quickly, and all of the makings are at the ready.

Baking bacon is easy-peasy and I love that it doesn’t just sit festering in its own fat.  Line a baking sheet with foil and prop an oven-safe cooling rack on it.  Spread out your bacon and bake at 375F.  The length of time required will depend on the starting temperature and thickness of your bacon.  Start your timer at 20 minutes and then check at 5-minute intervals until it’s almost perfect – it will cook just a touch more even after you take it out.  

I use the bacon all week – not just in sandwiches but minced in cannelloni filling or chopped in quiches or pastas.  We’ve been eating less meat, so this adds a hint of smoky meatiness to a recipe without overdoing it.

To assemble the sandwich, crumble just a tablespoon or so of soft goat cheese with the tines of a fork onto your bottom bun and top with a slice and a half of hot bacon.  Cover with wedges of egg and close with the top of your bun, smeared with black olive tapenade.  A bit of wild arugula, if you have it, is a fantastic addition.

Mmmm.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Jalapeno Cabbage Slaw

As mentioned previously, I’m recovering from a spinal surgery that has rendered me useless in the kitchen.  For the first couple of weeks, due mostly to the coincidental food poisoning less than a week after surgery, I was firmly anti-food.  I know I’m starting to return to normal not just because I can move my head a bit side to side, but because I’m itching to cook or bake (or even steam, for crying out loud, so long as it’s me doing it).  I have had this link open for days, but I’m nowhere near ready to knead.  And this  one has been calling to me again – all cinnamon spice and sweet.  When I can lift a pot in and out of the oven, I’m all over that one.

The worst thing about this stage of the healing process is boredom – I’m just vigorous enough to want to be active and social but it’s better imagined than done.  I get sore and cranky and sometimes just cry unattractively for no reason.  That’s just not fair to one’s friends, and my friends deserve the best.  I've had persistent, dedicated visitors these last couple weeks, armed with homemade scones or dinner or movies and unafraid to put goo on my wound or brave the grocery store at dinner time.

It was weather for eating out this past weekend, and I’d been in pajamas for two weeks and I was aching to flex my hostess muscles.  Felix humored me with strict guidelines: he was not going to spend his day cooking and his night cleaning it up.  Therefore, I could play hostess if I took help – from the store in the form of prepared foods and from my lovely friends.

Before dinner we snacked on Cypress Grove goat cheese, local Adam’s Ranch olive tapenade, and crackers that are likely not as good as homemade, but are damn tasty nonetheless and require no baking or dish washing.

For the main event I chose pulled pork sandwiches with slaw.  I used a good quality store-bought sauce but made a great dry rub for my pork butt (shoulder) and Felix did the literal heavy lifting – putting two four-pound roasts in the oven, well rubbed, for 7 hours.  I used this method and a combination of dry mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper, hot chili powder and a chili powder blend (Penzey’s Chili 3000, which I didn’t love in chili and repurposed as a rub with great results).  Small brioche rolls were purchased and Felix made our absolute favorite slaw recipe, below.  It’s adapted from Smitten Kitchen and originally Bobby Flay’s.  It’s genius, particularly if you’re not a huge mayo fan and you like some kick.  In this case, slaw should be on the sandwich, of course, but it makes a great side dish for enchiladas or tacos or ribs or burgers on the grill.

Our friend Nicky brought a bean and avocado salad – citrusy and smoky and substantive – and our Rachel brought a bright, sharp wild arugula, tomato and avocado salad of which I had thirds (!) .  Finally, or should I say (Grand) Finale, Molly brought these cookies by Ronnie Fein.  Absolutely amazing team effort - I'm so grateful.

 

Jalapeno Cabbage Slaw

1 cup green onions, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3 jalapenos, stem removed and seeded

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon mayonnaise

1/2 cup pure olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

1 very small head or ½ large head purple cabbage, finely shredded

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

 

Combine first six ingredients in blender and puree until very smooth.  When ready to serve (and not before, unless you want a sodden, soggy, separated swirl of sad cabbage at your supper), combine shredded cabbage and dressing.  I like to put the cilantro leaves on the top of the serving bowl or platter, rather than mix them in.

Enjoy – this made for a wonderful, low stress meal among friends when I desperately needed it.  There’s nothing like breaking bread with friends to make you feel like part of the world again – particularly if that bread is full of pork.

Another False Zombie Sighting: Wicked Delicious House Breadcrumbs

 

Well, that sucked.

I haven’t posted because I haven’t cooked in a few weeks.  I had spinal surgery two and a half weeks ago and have had a crap recovery – bad reaction to meds and allergic reaction to surgical tape followed by food poisoning.  On the up side, I lost nine pounds – there’s a silver lining I can get behind.  But boy was I disinterested in food – eating it, yes, even reading a bout it or thinking about it.

You can’t keep a good appetite down for long, though.  My first real meal after days of veggie broth and rice was that bowl of pasta up there.  It was heaven.  Simple, but perfect – just from the pantry with some crunchy, herby gussied up breadcrumbs (recipe below) and a crumble of goat cheese.

I’m still not able to cook – it’s amazing how much head movement and arm use is involved – but I’ve guilted Felix into being my hands while I stand by and bark orders like a lovely little general in an apron and a neck brace.  Stay tuned.

The following breadcrumb recipe first appeared on this site with the Sausages with White Beans and Tomato Sauce.

 

House Breadcrumbs

I use this recipe as a base and add different herbs to top various gratins or pastas – with a little chopped tarragon and a small amount of Dijon mustard, you have a great topping for a zucchini and leek gratin. I don’t use these in my meatballs or in most places where breadcrumbs are used for binding; I like using these when they’ll have real impact in a simple dish.

 

Ingredients

1 Tbs butter

1 ½ Tbs extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp crushed red peppers

½ c wheat panko crumbs

½ Italian seasoned panko crumbs

3 Tbs chopped parsley

2 Tbs chopped basil

1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper

In a small sauté pan, heat butter and olive oil on medium-low heat until just staring to foam. Add crushed red pepper and swirl pan once. Add remaining ingredients. Stir occasionally at first. Once crumbs start to turn golden, reduce heat and turn more often until mixture is uniformly light golden brown. Depending on what you’re doing with these, they may get hit with more heat when added to a recipe, so you’re better off slightly under toasting.

 

Quickie Weeknight Chicken Curry

Easy Chicken Curry

 

I've mentioned before that weeknight cooking is to cooking as commuting is to driving.  All the same mechanics, but none of the thrill.  I'm always happy -- finding water on a desert island-level happy -- when I stumble on an easy weeknight meal.  This easy chicken curry has become not only a weeknight dinner time staple, but a freezer staple as well.

Last week I took a whack at an easy curry, hoping to save money on take-out, and I stumbled on meal that requires few ingredients and takes little hands-on time.  This won't rock your world if you're a real curry aficionado, but if you need something cozy and mildly kicky that doesn't take all night, this is great.  I've eaten it four times in a week and I'm not sick of it yet.

 

Ingredients

2 TBS vegetable oil

2 medium onions, quartered and sliced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 1/2 inch of fresh ginger root, grated

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thighs would be fine, but adjust cooking time and trim well) cubed in 1 1/2 inch pieces

2 1/2 TBS good quality curry powder

pinch cayenne

1 cinnamon stick or 1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup good quality chicken stock

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with juices

1 package frozen chopped cauliflower

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup frozen petite peas

1/3 c Greek yogurt (2% or whole fat - you're less likely to have the sauce "break" if you use whole fat)  Note: If you plan to freeze this, don't add the yogurt until you thaw and reheat.

cilantro

unsweetened flaked coconut, toasted

 

Directions

Over medium-high heat, saute onions, garlic and ginger.  Don't be afraid to let them sizzle and get a little brown -- the more color you have now, the more flavor you'll have later.  While you've got this going on, trim and cube your chicken breasts.  When the onions are all translucent and partly browned, add the dry spices -- curry, cayenne, and cinnamon.  When really fragrant, add the cubed chicken breast - mixture will be fairly dry in the pan.   Add the wine and reduce until it has barely evaporated, and then add tomatoes and chicken stock.  Finally, add cauliflower and bring to a simmer.

I've been using my amazingly awesome slow cooker, the insert of which is flameproof.  At this point in the cooking, I put the insert back in the slow cooker base and cook it on low for about 30 minutes.  You can achieve the same result, but with a bit more vigilance, on the stove on low.

Give it a taste at this point and adjust salt, cayenne, and acid.  With the last batch I needed to add a tsp of honey -- the tomatoes weren't quite as sweet as they could have been.  Add your peas at this point -- they won't take long to come up to temperature.  Finally, add your Greek yogurt.  Alternately, you could add 1/4 cup coconut milk.  If you do this, you most definitely won't need honey -- the coconut milk will add sweetness.  Simmer a few minutes to thicken.

Serve over rice and sprinkle with cilantro leaves and toasted coconut and some store bought nan, heated in the oven.  When my stepmom made curry when we were kids she always added cashews and raisins to the top, too, and it was one of my favorite meals. (Honestly, hers was better but I've never been able to get the recipe out of her.)  I've developed a strange dislike for fruit in my food over the years so I skip the raisins.  The coconut, because it's unsweetened, I still love.

Serves 4 with leftovers.

Better than Cream Cheese: Poached Eggs on Avocado Toast

I am a cream cheese fan – a hot, toasted bagel with cream cheese will tear down my defenses and destroy my diet every time.   The only thing better, and it is hands-down better in every way, is creamy mashed avocado on toast.

Last Saturday I picked up a beautiful loaf of from 3 Square, a neighborhood bakery that’s my Saturday morning haunt, post-workout, and some fresh eggs at the farmer’s market.  On Sunday, we had a friend in town from England.  He’d run the neighborhood and cycled the neighborhood and meandered the neighborhood and had just a half hour before his long flight back for brunch.

My favorite quick meals almost always involve a poached egg, and when I can get a poached egg, good bread, mashed avocado, and Cypress Grove goat cheese in one place, I’m a happy girl. And after brunch on the front deck in the sun I seemed to be a happy girl with a happy guest – bonus.

Many happy things have happened since I was here last with my Bolognese – most of them were small and fleeting and left no specific impression, just a general glow.  A few things stuck out, though.  I got to talk to my sister, who lives 3,000 miles away, and got general updates from home.  I spoke to my niece on her birthday; she told me that she is two and she like cupcakes, and then my heart exploded into sparkles.   My friend and work cube neighbor made beet cake and was converted.  Her children were nonplussed by beets in their cake, and her chocolate-loving husband was impressed.

And finally, our newest friend, the six-week-old beautiful baby girl of our good friends, smiled at me. Twice!!

Life is busy, what with a new job and home construction and wedding planning and a million other things life throws at you as you’re bending over to pick up your car keys while holding an overstuffed grocery bag with eggs perched on top.  In the meantime, I’m making the most of sunshine when we can get it, and fresh avocados and second birthdays and smiling newborns.  Why on earth would you focus on anything else?

Update: Elsewhere on the internet, on the very same day, this was posted on this very cool food and music blog I just stumbled across!   Who knew?!

Hearty Bolognese for an LA Winter's Day

A couple of Saturdays ago, while many were making their corned beef and cabbage, I made a batch of bolognese for a cool, damp, Winter evening in Los Angeles -- we have them, I swear.  I started it in the afternoon, browning meat and sauteeing veggies, and then let it sit in the slow cooker for a number of hours.  This can just as easily be done on the stove top.

The recipe makes enough for four with leftovers for eight.  Last night I pulled one of these tubs out of the freezer and, using the beet greens leftover from last week's beet cake, made ricotta and beet green cannelloni with this bolognese to bring to dinner with good friends who are always willing to try an experiment.  Plus, they have a two week old beautiful baby, for whom said beet cake was made in celebration, so I was thinking that even if dinner was awful, they might just be too tired to notice.

It worked well, actually.  Unlike spinach cannelloni I had made in the past, I didn't mix the greens into the ricotta I just layered them  -- I was worried the deep red veins of the sauteed greens would turn the filling pink.  The greens were earthy and fresh tasting and the saute with shallot had softened most of the bitterness.  The sauce balanced any remaining bite in the greens.

 

Bolognese

Ingredients

3 slices American bacon or prosciutto, chopped

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground veal

1 tsp coarse kosher salt

½ tsp black pepper

2 medium onions, quartered

5 cloves garlic

2 large stalks celery , quartered

3 small carrots, quartered

2 Tbs fresh thyme leaves

8 oz. whole milk

½ tsp crushed red pepper

8 oz. beef stock

8 oz. red wine

1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes with puree or juice

14 oz. can diced tomatoes with puree

pinch cinnamon

 

Render bacon or prosciutto fat in large, heavy bottomed pot – I use my large le Crueset dutch oven.  While the fat renders, mince onion, carrot, and celery in a food processor – each separately until they reach the the size of dry lentils.  If you don’t have a food processor, cut each to the finest, most even dice you have patience for. 

When fat is rendered and bacon or prosciutto is getting golden, add beef pork and veal and brown with crushed red pepper, salt, black pepper and thyme.  Add onion, garlic, carrot and celery and saute until translucent. 

Add the following, simmering until each liquid has mostly reduced before adding the next: milk, beef broth, wine.

Add the tomatoes.  Bring almost to a boil and then reduce to a simmer on low 2-3 hours (or put in the slow cooker for three hours+ on low) until flavors have concentrated and sauce is thick and rich.  Test for salt and pepper – add if needed.  Finally, add a dusting – less than a pinch, just a teensy flutter – of cinnamon.  It will round out the sauce beautifully.

I think this sauce is best suited to a rigotini, but I served it with fresh and fettuccine and was happy as a clam -- fresh pasta will do that.  Frankly, give me a piece of grilled bread, a little bowl of this and a salad -- and a glass of red wine -- and i could do without the past entirely.

Enjoy!

Wicked Delicious: Joy the Baker's Chocolate Beet Cake

First, this cake!  It can’t be BEET!

That was neither or a typo or a misspelling.  It’s a beet cake.  A cake full of beet, frosted with beet.  And it can’t be…beat.  (Sorry about the punning, it’s genetic.)  I pulled the old fisherman's trick of holding my catch out in front of me for the picture, so I should tell you this does not make a giant mutant cake, as this photo might lead you to believe.  It's a perfectly normal-sized two layer cake.

Go make this cake –STAT.   It will become my standard chocolate cake.  It’s moist and flavorful and secretly slightly better for you.  Just one more amazing recipe from Joy the Baker.

So, yes, I’ve been away.  I have some ‘splaining to do, I know, and I’m sorry.  It’s been hectic – the wedding planning, a job change, and home renovations, which exploded in an invasive cloud of plaster dust that had us Swiffering the avocados on the kitchen counter along with every other item in the house.  We did 14 loads of laundry that weekend.  It was an oops, an ugh, and a cough that lasted a week.

I should mention that this happened four days before my mother-in-law came to stay with us for the first time.   Anything that I had planned to do in advanced of her visit was scrapped and the day before she landed I managed to buy only flowers for her room (finally plaster dust free but still somehow lacking), a vacuum cleaner, and a large bottle of gin.   I still can’t figure out what my intentions were with the last two – but the flowers were marvelous.

The trip was marvelous, too – very productive, but still calm and easy.  Maybe it was the gin.  We had a few lovely dinners at home including a Bolognese I will post tomorrow - promise.  We had it with fresh fettuccine but I like it best with dried rigatoni – and always with pecorino romano and a little crushed red pepper.

As long as we don't have another major plaster dust uprising, I should be back to regular programming.  So happy to be back!

Wicked Delicious Basic Tomato Sauce

My stepmom is the reason I came to cooking.  When we were kids, we had meals from around the world and dinner as a family nearly every night – even if it was a little on the late side to accommodate everyone’s schedules.  She’s fearless – she’ll try any recipe; she made cooking seem…doable, limitless.   Also limitless: her creativity.  I was in my mid-twenties before I realized we’d eaten chicken in one form or another pretty much seven days of the week.

One of my favorite meals hands-down was always her sauce – meat sauce, meatless, meatballs, I loved it all.  It wasn’t exotic, but it was magnificent, every time.  My seconds were always just sauce.   Sauce on a plate.  To this day, I crave tomato sauce on a regular basis.

I have a couple of recipes on deck  that, like the Sausages Baked with White Beans recipe, that call for basic tomato sauce.  While I do worship at the church of Rao’s jar sauce, it’s super expensive, plus, it’s nice to make your own.  So, here’s my basic tomato sauce recipe – enjoy!

 

Wicked Delicious Basic Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 28oz can whole plum tomatoes

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, grated

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/8 tsp crushed red pepper

½ tsp coarse kosher salt

1/8 tsp ground black pepper

5 leaves fresh basil

 

Directions:

In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot, sautee onion, carrot and garlic with salt and black pepper in olive oil until translucent.  Add tomatoes, crushing by hand as you add them to the pot, and all of the juices in the can.  Add basil leaves whole.  Bring to a simmer and keep on low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally.  This is a matter of preference and application, really. If it's getting a bit dry, you might need to put the lid on it for a bit.

Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend until relatively smooth.  Test for salt and pepper.  If it taste a bit acidic, add a tablespoon of butter and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and give it another taste.

Note:

Using a blender isn’t recommended – it tends to aerate the sauce too much for my liking.  Also, if your basil is super sweet, you may want to taste-test before blending; remove the basil if it’s already on the sweet side.  Finally, I like a little more kick in my sauce as a rule, but I almost always add a little extra when I use the sauce in preparation, so I go easier here.