27 January 2011

A Salute to My Tio

As we near the anniversary of my favorite uncle's passing, I feel the need to pay tribute to one of the greatest gifts he gave me--an unyielding passion for the kitchen and everything it represents.

I had the great fortune of spending a semester abroad in Spain when I was in college, and before I started school, my friend Mary and I spent a week with my family on the east coast of Spain. Although I barely knew them at the time and they didn't have a lot of room or fortune, they shared everything they had--love, passion, and good stories--to make the transition a bit easier.

For those of you who knew my uncle Tavi, you knew that besides having a story (and joke, usually) for everything, he also knew his way around the kitchen. I think my perfectionist personality gave me a tendency toward baking, but my time in his kitchen gave me a new appreciation and fire for cooking. He was hard on me at times, but he helped me let go and enjoy it finally. One time in particular was when learning "Spanish" way of cooking a fried egg (throwing scalding hot oil over the top). I kept getting splashed with hot oil and was complaining (odd, I know) and he looks at me and says, "you wanna cook? Suck it up." Pretty much. I'm not attaining those abuelita hands by wearing oven mitts.

Video of his tutorial in the Spanish kitchen.

So, here's to you, uncle Tavi. Your kitchen lessons often turned into life lessons and for that, I am eternally grateful.

22 January 2011

Caramelized Vegetable Soup....a love story

When I first starting making Sunday dinners, I would browse through pretty much any magazine my mother would hand down to me for something perfect to suit the weather (this was well before the time I had internet steadily or my many America's Test Kitchen cookbooks). She received Bon Appetit from a friend of ours every year for Christmas and never had time to cook anything out of it, so I got the majority of them. One winter day I asked Michael what he wanted for dinner and received a quick reply of potato leek soup. I had never made nor tasted potato leek soup at that point, so I set about trying to find a recipe (remember...no internet readily available). When I happened upon this recipe I saw that it had my two main ingredients: potatoes and leeks. Never mind the fact that is not even close to what everyone knows is potato leek soup. Nonetheless, I made it and received the highest praise one can receive for a blended soup: "there's NO cream in this??" said incredulously. Nope. Not a drop and unbelievably, it's also entirely vegan. Wait...did I just admit that one of my favorite winter recipes is (gulp)....vegan?! This town really has done a number on me. Ha ha.

Potato Soup with Caramelized Vegetables

8 servings

6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 12-oz russet potato, peeled, cut into ½ inch cubes
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in heavy large pot over high heat. Add onions, leeks, celery, and carrots; sauté until most vegetables are deep brown, about 20 minutes. Add potato, 6 cups water, and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Pour soup back into pot and season to taste with salt and pepper*. Bring soup to simmer.

Cleaning and chopping all those veggies probably takes the bulk of your time in making this dish.

I left the lid partially on during caramelizing the vegetables to procure more of the moisture out. Near the end, I left it off mostly and kept scraping up the yummy fond forming on the bottom.
Adequately caramelized vegetables take some time, but it's so worth it.
After adding the water, I put a bit of "chicken" broth powder and some turmeric to boost the earthy flavor and just because it's really good for you.

After the potato is soft, you puree it (easiest with an immersion blender, but you can work in batches through a blender...be careful!). Serve with good sopping bread and wine, of course!
*This recipe originally called for the soup to be strained, but I really prefer not to do that--you get rid of all the good fiber from the vegetables and are left with less of a main dish, in my opinion.

New Toy!

My friends got me a beautiful new cast iron skillet for a birthday present (after a little mishap with the original cast iron skillet they got me) and it was finally delivered just before Christmas. One use and I'm already in love.
I used it to make indoor grilled steak to use in tacos. I love using a cheap piece of meat, like London Broil, and turning into a seemingly decadent treat. It's really all in the way you cook it. Well, ok, I did do some tenderizing with a fork, but mostly, just cooked it to perfection using a preheated skillet and a very hot oven.

Throw some lime juice on at the end and there you have it...perfectly cooked and economical steak for the perfect taco. Yes, I realize now I should have taken a picture of said tacos.

10 January 2011

Perfect Pot Roast

The forecast for morning snow flurries and a cold Sunday afternoon inspired this Sunday dinner's menu. That and the $2.99/lb chuck roast at New Seasons (ever the bargain shopper...). This was the perfect meal to have after a cold and long 7-mile run--most of the work was done, just had to whip up a couple sides to go with it.

Steps to a perfect pot roast...

Separate the roast by the seam and cut away large knobs of fat. Salt and let the roasts sit (untied) for about an hour at room temp. Before using, tie with twine into little loaves so they cook evenly.
Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a large Dutch oven. Throw 2 thinly sliced onions in to caramelize. After they are soft and starting to brown, add 1 chopped carrot and 1 chopped celery stalk. Add a couple of minced cloves of garlic, and then...
Add a cup of beef broth (thanks Stacey for the homemade broth!), half a cup of dry red wine, tablespoon of tomato paste, a bay leaf, and a sprig of thyme. Bring to a simmer.
Nestle those little loaves of cow yumminess in the liquid, cover with a large piece of foil and snugly tuck them in for the 3 1/2 to 4 hours of cooking time in a 300 degree oven. Top with the lid. Halfway through the cooking time, rotate the pot.
Yep, that's done. Yum.
And yes, I could barely pick it up without it falling apart.
A lovely Sunday dinner table set for four, complete with matching yellow plates (thanks CA mom!)
Not a bad way to end the weekend.
I made buttermilk mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli to go with it. I also made the gravy from the liquid and vegetables in the pot roast. Just separate the fat, add the veggies to a blender, put the defatted liquid in blender, add enough beef broth to bring content up to 3 cups and blend. Add to a medium size saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Add another 1/4 cup of the red wine, some more fresh thyme and a splash of balsalmic vinegar to brighten it up. I'm getting pretty good at this American cuisine stuff...well, thanks to Cook's Illustrated.

03 January 2011

NYE Baking Extravaganza!

Happy 2011!

For New Year's Eve this year, we decided to have our friends over rather than going out spending tons of money trying to figure out the place to be at midnight. Too much stress...So, we had a party. Not at all stressful. Ha ha. For some reason, I wanted to add to that and start a couple of projects for the next day. Shawn requested that our first meal of 2011 be beef stew, as he's been craving it for a few weeks now and it seemed like a good do-nothing kind of day meal. Clearly I needed to make a loaf of no-knead bread.

And since we're trying to be conservative with our budget, but I still wanted a good breakfast on Saturday, I made my first attempt at English muffins. This was all on top of the other snacks I was making for that evening. Surprisingly, I had about an hour free before anyone arrived. I must be getting better at this planning thing.

America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book English muffins

1 recipe for American sandwich bread

First you have to make the bread and let it do its rising thing (boring pics I've posted a bajillion times). Then you roll the bread into a 12-inch log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, work each one carefully into small rolls. Spray with vegetable oil, cover with plastic on cornmeal-dusted pan and do some more waiting.
Here we are....waiting. After they have doubled in size again, flatten each into about 3/4" disk, and sprinkle liberally with more cornmeal. Cover with plastic and heat up your skillet.
Woo hoo! We're finally grilling. Takes 3-6 minutes for the first side. They should be deep brown (not burnt) before flipping.
You have to keep pressing them down so they don't become little domes. I think I messed this part up and pressed down too much, because there was a serious lack of nooks and crannies.
Right after they come off the grill (each batch, not the whole lot), put them in a 350 degree oven. Now, I know I messed this part up. I waited too long and I think that was part of their demise.
So, they weren't what I expected. I know a couple of things I did wrong now and will try again sometime soon. They tasted good, but just had more of a bread feel than English muffin feel. Oh well, live and learn.

Christmas Recap

The holiday of eating is officially over. I'm finally writing about my Christmas dinner, and actually have a New Year post...I'm probably the busiest unemployed person I know. Anyway, without further ado, our Cook's Illustrated Christmas Feast.

Cornbread and sausage stuffing
Definitely the most popular dish of the night: cauliflower gratin
Simple roasted green beans (something healthy!)
That's me attempting to cut the ham the way Cook's Illustrated recommends. Worked well until I gave up.
Tangy and delicious buttermilk mashed potatoes
Yep, that's a feast (grandma's macaroni and cheese is also featured). This is also my one and only picture of the amazing mustard vermouth pan sauce I made to accompany the ham.
Chocolate tart (before the refrigeration)
Apple upside down lemon-thyme cake (similar to a tarte tatin in method, but with a cake underneath instead of crust)
Most of the dinner went pretty smoothly. It all came out hot and on time. The only hiccup I had was reading the very lengthy directions on the cornbread stuffing. I sat there with my cream mixture and broth still sitting out of the dish wondering what in the heck happened. I somehow missed that step that said to let the broth and cream soak into the dried cornbread. Oops! Well, it fortunately turned out just fine, as you can see.

The cauliflower gratin was the hit of the night--who doesn't love creamy, cheese goodness topped with crispy breadcrumbs?? Although, if you ask my grandma, the chocolate tart was the best. A woman who normally doesn't eat much and isn't a huge fan of chocolate managed to sneak more than half of my mom's dessert while we were all talking.

Happy Holidays everyone!