Tuesday, November 18, 2008

coq au vin in white wine

coq au vin

I think it’s safe to say that winter is on its way. I could not bundle myself warmly enough today – and it came so suddenly on Sunday. What with Saturday night so warm, Sunday greeted us with gusts of wind, dropping temperatures, scarves and sweaters. And warm stew-like food.

I’ve been in a chicken mood lately. Not just any chicken. Chicken that is soft, succulent, falling off the bone chicken. Chicken that doesn’t need to be cut with a knife. Chicken that is so warm, comforting, moist and fragrant, you will be actually excited about the cold weather outside. Hard to believe?

I know I’ve been telling you about how easy various recipes are, and pretty soon I’m going to lose my credibility with you. Maybe? Maybe not. Because this is yet another one of these dishes that practically cooks itself. I know I said that about the last chicken dish, but I swear this is another one just like it, if not easier.

ooh the garlicky broth!

I’ll confess I’m not a big fan of white meat – I find it too dry, even if it’s not overcooked. The meat is just a bit too tough for me. With the dark meat, you come out looking like a chef extraordinaire while the work you put in is quite minimal.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

warm potato salad with horseradish and bresaola

Potato Salad with Horseradish & Bresaola

We all have our favorite potato salad, but I think this might be gaining a top spot in my repertoire. I’ve already waxed poetic about Jamie Oliver’s braised peas and this is no different. In fact, I will probably be making something else from his book this weekend.

Potatoes - cooked to clear your sinuses, just eat a spoonful

In its title, Jamie Oliver calls this salad “amazing” and let me tell you, it is nothing short of being just that. In fact, I think it maybe my new favorite way to eat potato salad in the winter. The key here is warm potatoes – which, in the chill of fall or winter, are nothing short of bliss for me. The salad is comforting and filling, and can be easily turned into a vegetarian dish by simply omitting the bresaola.

celery hearts

Speaking of bresaola, does everyone know what it is? Because I didn’t and had to actually look up what it was – air-cured beef. It’s deep red in color, has a clean, powerful taste and perfectly complements the potatoes. I also liked the fact that instead of an expected mayo dressing, Jamie suggests sour cream or crème fraiche. And what Russian would turn down sour cream from a recipe? But the real clincher here is the horseradish, giving an otherwise predictable salad a bite and much-needed dimension. While I did my best to find fresh horseradish to grate, I couldn’t locate it anywhere and had to settle for the pre-made kind. It turned out beautifully, but to anyone who’s ever had fresh horseradish – there is no substitute. Of course, trying to grate raw horseradish is a test of one’s resolve and dedication – it makes chopping onions a sheer pleasure.

Potato Salad with Horseradish & Bresaola

The only thing I would change in this salad is perhaps the amount of lemon juice. I would start with half the suggested amount and see where you are, taste-wise. You can always add more, but for my palate, the suggested amount was far too much. And while I absolutely loved the salad, I knew I kind of went overboard with lemon juice. And because tarragon was missing from every place I tried, I had to make do with fresh thyme, which I highly recommend as well.

Still, lemon juice excess and all, this salad is a keeper. I may even serve it around Thanksgiving, maybe even along the braised peas. Two sublime dishes that take minutes to pull together and taste big and complex – who wouldn’t want that?

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

pizza with caramelized onions, gorgonzola and pecans

Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola and Pecans

I’ve been trying to find a good way to tell you about this pizza – but haven’t found a clever way. I’ve been feeling rather un-clever, which might have something to do with a dire need for a short break from work. I did some quick math in my head and realized it’s been like eight months (8!) without a vacation – I need to get some time to regenerate, and I need to do it soon!

after 90 minutes of caramelization

So I’ll get right to the point – like my last post, I adapted this recipe from several sources: Deb over at Smitten Kitchen – and a combination of ideas from Epicurious.com. I had a friend coming over for dinner and I wanted to impress and please. I envisioned us having a dazzling conversation over pizza, salad and wine. I used Deb’s dough and the mustard part, but improvised with the onions, Gorgonzola and pecans. And people, if I had any figs on hand, they would have gone right on top of the onions! So, if you do make it, see if the figs work – I bet they’ll be excellent.

pecans

Deb notes that if your yeast/water blend doesn’t foam, start with a new batch. I gave this practice three tries and on the fourth, I gave up, and threw my foam-less yeast mix into flour and held my breath. My dough rose beautifully and was delicious – I think the foaming is always a good sign, but I was having issues with it that day and I wasn’t about to take no for an answer.

Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola and Pecans

Was the result delicious – yes! Was it easy to make? Again, yes. I know I keep claiming these recipes are easy, and I swear to you they are. The only thing with this pizza is that it takes time. Short on time after work? Make the dough the night before and let it rise overnight in the fridge. Cook your onions on another day and throw the whole thing together the following night. With a little planning, it’s totally doable and even more so, you’ll be rested in time for dinner to provide your companions with your usual wit and sparkle.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

red velvet cupcakes

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should probably begin saying that this recipe and post were born out of my snobbery and stubbornness. I’m loathe to make food that comes from boxes for the most part. Sure, I use canned tomatoes, beans and pumpkin, but I always have a preference for my own. Sometimes, I don’t have the foresight to make chili by soaking my own beans – the mood just sort of strikes me, and out come the canned beans. But certain things are just as easy to make from scratch as their boxed cousins – like cupcakes. It takes mere minutes to make cake batter and the frosting, and before you know it, you have lovely, decadent cupcakes waiting for you and your friends. And who doesn’t love homemade frosting?

ready for the batter buttermilk
frosting

Since my friend Sharon was craving red-velvet cupcakes, I decided to give this Magnolia Bakery recipe a go, but, opted for a cream cheese frosting, rather than the suggested vanilla icing. I’m used to red-velvet cake to have a cream cheese frosting, and also, find Magnolia Bakery frosting impossibly sweet and a little grainy. Oh yes, and there’s too much of it and I’m very particular about my cupcake-to-frosting proportion.

gotta love the food coloring is it red enough?

People, let me tell you – this took up probably slightly more time than a cake-from-a-box project would have and it was worth each and every additional minute. The whole thing was a cinch – and a delicious cinch at that.

eggs

While Paul and Sharon liked the cupcakes, they preferred the cake part to be slightly more moist, though my Sharon indicated that this is how Magnolia cake part tastes on location. So if you like their cake consistency, then stick with this batter recipe. I liked the cake part as it was, it was little lighter than usual cupcakes, slightly spongier. The recipe called for 6 tablespoons of food coloring, which I think is a typo. We used one bottle – could probably have used a little more to give the cake a deeper shade of red, but 6 tablespoons implies six of those little bottles – which seems a bit much, no?

I would have to say this frosting was quite a winner – an agreement we all shared. It must have been the half a stick of butter blended in that just made the texture light and creamy. I think it’s important to beat the frosting for the time the recipe indicates – it makes a huge difference, make sure you don’t under-beat it. The result will make you swear off pre-made frosting forever – and you’ll be glad you did.

red velvet cupcakes

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Friday, November 7, 2008

roast chicken with pears, shallots and leeks

Chicken with Pears and Leeks

If you’re lucky enough to find a handful of dishes that sort of cook themselves you’ve got a pretty good repertoire that you can always fall back on in case you’re not exactly prepared to make dinner for a friend whom you had invited over eons ago and just delayed figuring out a game plan. Not that this ever happens to me. Yeah, right.

As much as I am a born planner and a pretty much a control-freak in most aspects of my life, even I slide at times and kind of let laziness take over. I procrastinate, I watch mindless television, I wonder where did the time go? No, really? Are The Hills that worth my time? Apparently they are – how else would you explain this weekly mind-numbing ritual?

Chicken with Pears and Leeks

Well, here’s a meal for you that does indeed practically cook itself. It’s so unbelievably easy you’ll be tempted to keep this secret to yourself and not let others in on it. After you feed them this chicken, they will beg you for the recipe, they’ll have seconds and thirds and they’ll think that you slaved all evening over the stove.

Nothing can be further from the truth. This is a one baking dish meal and it takes minutes to put together and once you stick it in the oven, you only have to check on it once to turn the pieces over and then – voila! It will be done and delicious. Which, of course, means you have more time for The Hills, or something more intellectual perhaps? Gossip Girl, anyone?

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

tomato soup with cilantro stems

spicy tomato soup with cilantro

I know that in many people’s minds, soup is not the kind of thing you get overly excited about. It often gets overlooked on the menu in favor of a more exciting appetizer, and unless it has words like velouté in its title, it just doesn’t have much sex appeal to many. But not this girl. This girl loves soup, loves it unabashedly and wholly, placing it in the three top reasons to love fall and winter; the other two being squash season and thick wool sweaters. And red wine. And hot cider. Okay, so maybe more than three, but you get the gist.

I’ve been meaning to make soup for quite some time now this fall, but the weather’s been playing tricks on me. I’ll get ready to prepare a pot of a hot and hearty soup and sneaky fall will flirt with Indian summer, pushing the temperatures well into their 60s. And here I am, with beets and cabbage in tow, ready to make borscht. It’s been so unsettling – this lack of soup in my kitchen this fall, I was beginning to wonder when it might happen for me.

spicy tomato soup with cilantro

And then there was last week, when the weather was downright abysmal – pouring rain, nearly black skies and me staring longingly outside the office window wishing I was home on my couch with a pillow and a blanket and a good book. But seeing as I wasn’t anywhere near these comforts, I had to find solace elsewhere – in the form of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – perfect rainy day meal, if you ask me. The grilled cheese sandwich hit the spot, but the tomato soup, watery and bland, left me wanting.

spicy tomato soup with cilantro

I wanted something hearty and thick, something hearty with intense flavors. And so I set out to find a recipe that might deliver those qualities. After much searching I found a recipe at Martha Stewart, but never content with first good find, continued to peruse the web. Which is when I happened upon Molly’s write up on the very soup I bookmarked at Martha Stewart.

It sounded delicious, it used cilantro (which is one of my favorite herbs ever), and with some jalapeno chopped up finely, the soup offered a little bit more heat than its mere elevated temperature. It sounded delicious and simple – and given how demanding work has been this fall, simple is a concept very much embrace.

spicy tomato soup with cilantro

Besides, Molly’s praises of the soup were so glowing, that I was instantly convinced. Besides, she recommends passing the time, while you wait for the soup to cook, with a glass of wine. Which, when you’re hosting a small dinner for your friends, might be precisely what you need to get you in a festive dinner-party mood. And since it’s red wine season again – go ahead, put the soup on, and pour yourself a glass. You earned it.

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