Category Archives: recipe

Sauerkraut-braised Kielbasa with Cabbage and Potatoes

the cabbage & potatoes alone wouldn't be a terrible meal, either, especially with a hunk of brown bread and butter 

My friend Voxphoto gave me some tasty homemade sauerkraut, which reminded me of the kielbasa appetizer recipe from Sarita Ciatti that we included in the wedding cookbook. The only two ingredients in the appetizer are kielbasa and sauerkraut—you slice the kielbasa thinly, fry it until it’s crisp, refrigerate it overnight, and then spread it in a pan on top of a bunch of drained, rinsed sauerkraut and bake it until the whole mess gets sweet and tender and starts caramelizing around the edges. So. Good.

before the sauerkraut softens and sweetens and the beer cooks down

But I’m not entertaining much these days. Not really cooking much either. Working 60+ hours a week will do that to you. So I decided to look for something similar that would be a little less “party” and a little more “something resembling a meal you can make a lot of on Sunday and eat all week.”

Combining elements from half a dozen other recipes, this is what I came up with—it’s basically a stovetop version of the appetizer served alongside stewed cabbage and potatoes. The kielbasa got some beer and brown sugar and the cabbage stew also has carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, some herbs and mushroom bouillon. All of that is probably optional, but if you’re only going to cook once a week, might as well pull out the bay leaves, right?

Turned out pretty tasty, and pretty cheap, too, even if you don’t get your sauerkraut for free.

after, see all those caramelly brown sauerkraut bits?

Recipe: Sauerkraut-braised Kielbasa with Cabbage and Potatoes

  • the non-kielbasa part1-2 lbs kielbasa 
  • 1 cup sauerkraut (rinsed if you prefer to minimize the sourness)
  • 1 cup beer, wine, or cider (I used Bell’s Christmas Ale, the only sign of the holidays I don’t resent seeing before Thanksgiving)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons sugar (preferably brown)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons butter, rendered bacon fat, or neutral cooking oil
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • about half a head of cabbage
  • 1/4 lb. carrots
  • 2 pounds of waxy potatoes
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
  • a handful of fresh sage leaves or 1 tsp. rubbed
  • ~4 cups water, stock, and/or bouillon (you could also add an ounce of dried porcinis soaked in hot water and minced, along with the water)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Slice the kielbasa thinly and fry in a single layer in a skillet until brown and crispy around the edges. (This is the first and key step in the appetizer version. The next steps: refrigerate the kielbasa overnight, rinse a 12 oz. can of sauerkraut and spread it on the bottom of a casserole dish. Put the refrigerated kielbasa on top of the sauerkraut and bake for about an hour at 350F. Unbelievably delicious, and I could eat a bowl of it like a meal so I’m not 100% sure why I thought the rest of this was necessary, but anyhow:)

2. Add enough sauerkraut to cover pan in a thin layer and about a cup of beer, wine, or cider (alcoholic or not), 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar to cut the sourness, and turn the heat down low and braise for 1-2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, heat the fat in a large pot.

4. Roughly chop the onion, shred the cabbage, mince the garlic, and peel or scrub the potatoes and cut them into 2-3” chunks.

5. Sweat the onion and garlic in the fat until the translucent and starting to color.

6. Add the cabbage, potatoes, bay leaves, thyme, sage, water or stock and bouillon if using. something about a big pot of potatoes and cabbage feels very "peasant," even though who knows if any peasants ever ate anything like it and if they did, they definitely didn't boil it with mushroom bouillon all soft, but not dissolving.

7. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer and cook until tender (about an hour).

8. Keep an eye on the kielbasa and add more liquid if necessary to prevent it from burning.

9. When the cabbage and potatoes are tender, drain (if desired, or you could leave it kind of soupy) and add the salt and pepper.

10. Mix it all together. Or serve the braised kilebasa on top of the cabbage and potatoes.

Hello, Fall! Smoky Black Bean Soup

am i just confused about what a "hock" is? i thought it was a foot. there is no way this is a foot, unless the big is the size of an elephant.. Nearly 3 pounds of smoked ham hock!

Soup Swap, Hunter’s Widow Edition

I went to another gathering of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers last weekend. Mother’s Kitchen had a half-empty house because her menfolk were off hunting, so she invited us over for a third annual MLFB soup swap, which is just like a cookie swap: everyone brings a pot of soup and some containers and takes a little bit of each kind home. Perfect timing—my freezer is now full of diverse, delicious meals ready to be reheated on a moment’s notice, which will definitely come in handy on busy, chilly nights this Fall when there’s too much going on to cook. Including a flavorful, creamy Roasted Tomato Soup from Fruitcake or Nuts and nourishing, zesty White Chicken Chili from Mother’s Kitchen.

that's 2.81 lbs.My contribution was a smoky black bean soup, inspired by the gigantic ham hocks I got from Ernst  Farms. I bought two of them sight-unseen through Lunasa, a bimonthly Market Day-style order & pickup system for Ann Arbor-area farms, expecting them to be roughly the size of my fist like the ones I typically see at the grocery store. Instead, they’re the size of my head. And then, remembering that TeacherPatti doesn’t eat pork, I picked up some smoked turkey necks to make a pig-free version (and she didn’t even show up! The nerve!). The pork and turkey versions turned out remarkably similar. I imagine any smoked meat product would work. You could probably even do a passable vegan version with pimenton and/or liquid smoke.

Bean Basics I: Taming the Magical Fruit

Some people claim that the foam that rises to the top of a pot of simmering beans is connected to the gas many people get after eating them, and that skimming it off will prevent or reduce that effect. Not true. The reason beans make people fart is because of the indigestible carbohydrates—mostly oligosaccharides—that pass through most of the human GI system intact and then get devoured by bacteria in our lower intestine, causing a sudden spike in gas production. The foam in the pot, on the other hand, is produced by water-soluble proteins that trap air bubbles as they rise to the surface of the water. You can skim it if it bothers you, but it won’t affect how flatulent the soup is, or how it tastes or looks.

that foam, it is non-flatulent.

Hock shoved mostly beneath the surface, this batch got one turkey neck too.

So how do you make beans less flatulent? There are basically two options: 1) soak them overnight and throw out the soaking liquid (along with lots of nutrients and flavor) or 2) cook them a long time, which breaks the oligosaccharides down into easier-to-digest sugars and starches. Various folk traditions also claim that adding a slice of ginger, a bay leaf, a piece of kombu seaweed, epazote, cumin, and/or fennel seeds to a pot of beans helps reduce gassiness too. I’ve also seen a few recipes that claim adding baking soda helps, but according to Harold McGee, all that does is decrease the cooking time, which works against flatulence-reduction (McGee 2004 [1984] : 486-9). Since it’s basic, it can also make the soup taste alkalai or soapy.

Bean Basics II: Keeping It Together

If you’re okay with your beans basically dissolving into mush, a long cooking time is no problem. But if you like your beans to retain a little structural integrity, you should add a little acid, sugar, and/or calcium. Again, McGee: 

Acids make the cell-wall hemicelluloses more stable and less dissolvable; sugar helps reinforce cell-wall structure and slows the swelling of the starch granules; and calcium cross-links and reinforces cell-wall pectins. So such ingredients as molasses—somewhat acid and rich in both sugar and and calcium—and acidic tomatoes can preserve bean structure during long cooking or reheating, as for example in baked beans (ibid., 488).

What you definitely shouldn’t add, at least before the beans are done cooking, is salt. Salt increases the cooking speed by reducing how much the starch in the beans swells as it cooks, which not only works against the slow-cooking flatulence-reduction strategy, it can also make the beans mealy instead of creamy. For most bean dishes, water, alcohol, or unsalted homemade stock make better cooking liquids than canned broth or bouillon. If you really want to use bouillon in a bean recipe, stir it in at the end.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Like most soups, this is less a recipe anyone should follow exactly than a set of general guidelines you can adapt based on what you have on hand. In general, for every pound of dried beans, you’ll probably want about one large onion, a half dozen cloves of garlic, a can or two of tomatoes (or the equivalent in fresh), a carrot or two, a bunch of hearty greens, a pound of smoked meat, and about 5 cups of cooking liquid.

not-quite mirepoix. how many great soups start off this way?

I might have added celery, too, if I’d had any.

As McGee notes, molasses is good for flavor and bean texture—at least a tablespoon per pound of beans. I’ll almost always throw in a few bay leaves. I don’t even know what kind of flavor they add, I just reflexively add them to long-simmering soups. Additionally, this time, I added oregano, allspice, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Plus a splash of dry sherry and a squish of lemon. Fresh cilantro at the very end, salt and pepper to taste.

I bet orange juice, ginger, and allspice would be a pretty tasty combination. Sweet potatoes or winter squash would work instead of (or in addition to) the carrots. A beer in place of some of the broth would have been good in place of the sherry. Fresh or frozen corn and/or bell peppers might be nice if you wanted more veggies. Some hot peppers if you like things really spicy. Leave out the meat if that’s not your thing (in which case, a little MSG or nutritional yeast and additional oil would make up for some of the umami flavor you get from the bones & fat & cartilage).

Serve it with sour cream or shredded/crumbled cheese, green onions, more cilantro or parsley, lemon or lime wedges, corn bread, tortilla chips, a hunk of crusty sourdough, or just by itself. 

This is what I ate while I watched SDSU completely fail to capitalize on Michigan's 3rd quarter meltdown Also a good nacho topping.

Recipe: Smoky Black Bean Soup (adapted kinda sorta from allrecipes and simplyrecipes)

Makes 6-8 servings, doubles or triples well

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Tablespoons neutral cooking oil or rendered bacon fat
  • 1 large onion
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes or 2-3 large raw tomatoes, diced
  • about one bunch of hearty cooking greens or 1/2 lb frozen spinach
  • 1 lb black beans, soaked for at least 6 hours
  • 5 cups of the soaking water, beer, wine, and/or low-salt stock
  • 1-2 lbs smoked bones with some meat on them—ham hocks, turkey neck, etc. OR 1 Tablespoon pimenton or liquid smoke to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons molasses
  • a hearty glug of dry sherry (2-3 Tablespoons?)
  • juice of one lemon (or lime, or a little vinegar, or a lot of orange juice)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • a handful of chopped cilantro, chopped
  • salt, pepper, and more lemon juice or vinegar to taste
  • optional garnishes: cheese, sour cream, chives, cilantro, hot sauce, lemon or lime wedges

Method:

1.  Heat the oil or bacon fat in a large pot while you dice the onion, mince the garlic, and slice the carrots, adding each one to the pot as you finish cutting.

2. Cook until the onions begin to take on some color, and then add everything except the cilantro, salt, pepper, and garnishes.

3. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat until the soup is just simmering and cook for 2-3 hours, or until the beans are cooked through and the meat is falling off the bones.

4. Remove the bones from the pot and let them cool for about 30 minutes (let the soup keep simmering). Remove the meat and chop it into bite-sized pieces or shred it between your fingers. Discard the skin and bone.

5. Add the cilantro, salt, pepper, and more lemon juice to taste.

meat removed, cooling; the other turkey necks from the kosher batch were on a separate cutting board--i take food avoidances seriously!That’s the hock on the right, totally falling apart after about 3 hours of simmering.

shredded turkey neck meat added back to the pot The meat from the turkey neck, shredded back into the pot

cilantro--obviously optional if you're a soap person The turkey neck version after seasoning to taste and adding the cilantro: ready to serve!

Bulgogi-esque Grilled Ribeye

This did smoke; use the exhaust fan if you have one.

Quick, Easy, Kind of Korean

It may be grilling season, but sometimes it still seems a little too time-consuming or wasteful to fire up the outdoor grill when you’re cooking for one or two people. For nights when I just want dinner to happen quickly, but I also want it to have char marks and smoke, I’m loving our new slab of cast iron. It’s smooth on one side—good for pancakes and eggs—and ribbed for your charring pleasure on the other, as you can see above.

I grabbed this recipe off Slashfood for something reminiscent of bulgogi. Standard Asian marinade—soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, sugar, black pepper, green onion. Hard to go wrong there. I might add some red pepper flakes next time. And then, instead of having a butcher cut the steak into thin strips or freezing and then cutting the steak, I just bought a 1-lb ribeye, marinated and grilled it whole and sliced it after resting.

the thinner end turned out about Medium the thicker end was Medium Rare, verging on Rare

I turned the burners up as high as they’d go about 10 minutes before cooking and cooked the steak for 5 minutes on each side, accompanied by thick slices of onion that had also been marinated. Then I rested the meat for 5 minutes before slicing it against the grain. We ate the meat and onions together, wrapped in romaine leaves with Sriracha. Totally inauthentic. Totally delicious.

I know--wrong kind of lettuce, wrong kind of hot sauce, wrong way to do the meat. Whatever, it tasted awesome.

Recipe: Bulgogi-ish Ribeye (adapted from Slashfood)

Ingredients

  • a steak or two—something like ribeye or flank steak (you probably want about 8 oz per person, scale up the marinade if cooking for more than 4 people)
  • one large white or yellow onion
  • optional garnishes: lettuce leaves, hot sauce, steamed rice and pickled things

For marinade:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • a thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • one green onion, minced
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, cayenne powder, or Sriracha (optional)

Method

1. Whisk together the marinade ingredients and pour the mixture into a zip-top bag or other container large enough to accommodate the meat. Slice the large onion thickly and place the steak and onion slices in the marinade. Toss and turn or shake to cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 8 hours or overnight.

2. Get your grill or broiler hot. Put the steak and onions on and let cook for 5 minutes. Turn both the steak and onion slices once and cook 5 minutes more on the other side. For a typical cut, that will turn out mostly medium rare (or, for uneven thickness, a range between medium and rare). Cook more or less if you like it more or less done. For thicker cuts, cook to 125 F in the middle for rare, 130 F for medium rare, 140 F for medium, 150 F for medium well, and 160 F for well). Or use the finger test.

3. Let the steak rest for 5 minutes, and then slice thinly against the grain.

4. Serve with garnishes.

Roasted Garlic & Mustard Sourdough Soft Pretzels

thinner ropes = bigger holes, higher ratio of crust: interior, better for noshing with beer & sausage; thinner rope = no holes, better for slicing and making pretzel roll sandwiches

When Improvisation Fails, I Turn to Alton Brown

A few months ago, I tried making pretzel bites to go along with some cheese sauce I took to a Superbowl party, and they were a complete disaster. I thought I could just throw together a batch of no-knead dough, shape it into ropes, cut those into bite-sized pieces, boil them in a baking soda bath & bake them until they were brown. Voila: pretzel bites…right? Uh, no. Turns out, that’s a recipe for ugly lumps of soapy-tasting bread.

Raw ugly lumps of soapy-tasting bread! Baked ugly lumps of soapy tasting bread!

Ugly Lumps of Soapy-Tasting Bread
(not likely to be a family favorite)

Thank god there was cheese sauce to dip them in, which just barely made them edible.*

I think my primary mistake was using too wet a dough. The no-knead dough depends on moisture to enable gluten formation. Making pretzels that don’t look like turds depends on dough at least stiff enough to hold the shape of a rope. Also, the wetter dough nearly threatened to dissolve in the alkali bath (which gives it the deep brown exterior, more on that below the jump) and absorbed way too much of the baking soda taste. Also also, they were overdone inside before the outside was brown. So by the afternoon of the day I baked them, they were beginning to get stale. Ugly lumps of soapy-tasting stale bread.

I decided to try again, this time using Alton Brown’s recipe for pretzels, which I adapted to use with my sourdough starter. Instead of bites, I made more traditionally-shaped pretzels because they were not designed for dipping, but for nibbling while wandering around at the 2011 World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth. And since I was afraid plain pretzels without anything to dip them in might be a little boring, I decided to add a head of roasted garlic, some garlic powder, mustard powder, and msg to the dough. I was basically going for something like Gardetto’s mustard pretzels in soft pretzel form.

Peeling roasted garlic is kind of a pain. I kind of wish you could just buy it in a tube, like tomato or anchovy paste. Maybe you can? I would be so on board with outsourcing this step to the food industry.        Mashed the garlic up with melted butter. This shows the before & after becasue I made two separate batches to see if I could tell the difference between mustard powder and prepared Dijon. I could not.

Simple roasted garlic: wrap head of garlic in foil, place in 400-500F oven for ~45 minutes

This attempt was far more successful. The dough was stiff enough to hold the desired shape, they took on just enough of the baking soda flavor to taste like pretzels instead of bagels, and had a glossy, chewy crust and soft interior. And the garlic and mustard and msg gave them a slightly tangy, savory flavor.

they split a little while baking, but I think that makes them rustic & attractive.

If you’re the kind of food purist who refuses to eat garlic powder or msg, you can certainly omit those things and they should still be tasty. Or you can add whatever other herbs or spices or cheeses you want in your pretzels. Or leave them plain. The one thing you should NOT do is store them in a plastic bag. They were lovely the night before the Expo when I made them, but after a night in plastic, the crust got soggy and lost its glossy, chewy appeal. By the World Expo, they had transformed into dense and slightly clammy garlic & sourdough-flavored, pretzel-shaped hockey pucks. I should have known better. Alas.

*In case I never get around to posting recipes for the rest of the things I made for my defense: that cheese sauce is now my default for mac & cheese, too; I use the sharpest creamy cheddar I can find (cheddar so sharp it’s crumbly will make the sauce grainy) and two batches of sauce per pound of pasta (e.g. 1 lb pasta = 16 oz cheese and 24 oz. evaporated milk). You can just coat the pasta in the sauce and serve as is if you like your mac & cheese saucy or bake it for 30-40 minutes at 350 F if you prefer it casserole-style. Breadcrumbs optional.

On Browning and Lye

some other time, i'll do a baking soda/ baked baking soda/ lye comparison. Egg wash only, Baking soda bath only, Baking soda bath + Egg wash

Alton Brown’s recipe calls for boiling the pretzels in a baking soda bath and then brushing them with an egg wash. As both of those promote browning, I decided to try a tiny experiment to see how much each step was contributing to the crust. The egg wash-only pretzel was a great illustration of the importance of the alkali bath—it barely browned. The boiled-only pretzel browned nicely, but—although it’s hard to tell from the picture—it had a much more matte finish. So the egg wash is what provides the gloss.

Traditional Bavarian pretzels are dipped in diluted lye before baking (a mixture called Natronlauge which produces a Laugenbretzel). Supposedly, this technique was discovered by accident in 1839 at the Munich Royal Cafe when a baker by the name of Anton Nepomuk Pfanenbrenner was preparing pretzels while the kitchen was being cleaned. He meant to brush them with a sugar water solution, but accidentally used the sodium hydroxide cleaning solution instead. They came out of the oven with a glorious deep brown patina and distinctive, delicious taste.

You can buy food-grade lye online, but it’s a harsh corrosive that must be handled with gloves and lab goggles. If it comes in contact with your skin, it will make you peel and bleed. And I’m not entirely sure it’s safe to boil (lye fumes, anyone?) so the boiling and soaking may become separate steps. But despite the fuss involved (or maybe because of it?) many people swear by lye as the only way to produce “authentic” pretzels. 

When it comes to peeling, bleeding skin, I say screw authenticity. Baking soda will give you results like the ones you see above. If you’re not satisfied with that, you can make a slightly stronger alkali by baking the baking soda. I tried that when I made the pretzel bites, and thought they came out bitter and soapy tasting. Of course, that may have been due to the too-soft dough. I may try that again the next time I make pretzels, but I thought the regular baking soda worked just fine. For more on baked baking soda, see Harold McGee

Recipe: Sourdough Soft Pretzels (adapted from Alton Brown)
for 8 ballpark-sized, 16 medium-sized, or 24 fist-sized soft pretzels

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups refreshed 100% hydration sourdough starter*
  • 3/4 cups warm water (110-114 F)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 7-8 cups bread flour (or more, as needed)
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar (or honey or malt powder or other sweetener)
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast (optional)
  • herbs, spices, etc. (optional. I used 2 heads of roasted garlic, 2 t. garlic powder, 4 t. mustard powder or 2 T. dijon mustard, and 2 t. msg)
  • oil for coating rising bowl(s) and baking sheets
  • 2/3 cup baking soda for every 10 cups of water used in boiling bath
  • 1 egg for egg wash
  • coarse salt for sprinkling

*if you don’t have a sourdough starter, add another package of active dry yeast and 2 1/4 cups more water and flour (a total of 2 packages or 4 1/2 t. yeast, 3 cups of water, and at least 9 1/4 cups of flour)

Method:

1. If using roasted garlic, mash it into the melted butter to form a smooth paste.

2. Whisk together the starter, water, yeast, and garlic-butter mixture, and then add the flour, sugar, salt, and any other seasonings you want.

3. Knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball, adding more flour if necessary to make a stiff dough that does not stick to you. For the chewiest pretzels, knead for 15 minutes until you get a baker’s windowpane.

4. Coat the mixing bowl lightly with oil, place the ball of dough in the bowl, and turn to coat. Cover and let rise for 3-24 hours, or until doubled in size. The longer you let it rise, the more sourdough flavor will develop. However, if you want to wait more than 24 hrs before baking, you may want to refrigerate it to prevent it from becoming too sour & retarding the oven spring.

5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 F and bring 10 cups of water to boil with 2/3 cup of baking soda.

6. Divide the dough into as many balls as you want—I used 110 g./3.8 oz portions of dough to make twenty-four pretzels (each about 3 1/2 oz after baking). Shape each ball into a rope by rolling it on a clean surface. Make each rope into a large U, and then fold the long pieces down like crossed arms.

if the dough won't stick to itself, you can use a little egg wash to "glue" the strands togetherlots of theories on the origin of the shape--my favorite is that they were shaped like arms in prayer and given as a reward to children to encourage them to learn their catechism  like the "kosher" bagel, the pretzel was traditionally seen as a lenten food because it is traditionally made with no fat or egg in the dough

Or if you want to do the classic twisted shape, see this guide at The Kitchn. Or cut the ropes into 1” pieces for pretzel bites. Or make circles, like bagels. Or letters. Or whatever.

7. One or two at a time, gently place the pretzels in the boiling baking soda bath. Boil for 30 seconds to a minute, turning halfway through. Using a spatula or slotted spoon, remove to a colander to drain for a few seconds and then transfer to a baking sheet coated in oil or lined with parchment paper.

intially, the pretzels sunk to the bottom and occasionally stuck to the pot; just gently nudge them lose and they'll float to the surface the unboiled guy is hanging out up there in the left corner. I used a reddish kosher salt from somewhere in Utah

8. Whisk a raw egg with a tablespoon or two of water or milk, and brush the tops of the pretzels. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

9. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the crust is a deep, glossy brown and the interiors are 190-200F.

10. Consume immediately, or store in a paper bag. Plastic/airtight containers will destroy the crust.

Pho Ga with Cilantro or Anise Stock

The bottom left is the lighter cilantro broth; the upper right has the more heavily-spiced anise & clove broth

If I had to pick just one of the international varieties of chicken soup to eat for the rest of my life, I’d probably pick phở  (pronounced “fuh”). Phở doesn’t always involve chicken; in fact, phở bò, with beef, is probably the most popular version. But phở gà is the one I crave when I’m feeling sick or sad or anxious. I think the reason I like phở better than all the other cure-for-what-ails-you chicken soups out there is its tangy, spicy edge. It has all the familiar comforts of chicken noodle soup plus the sweet heat of charred ginger and bite of lime and freshness of basil and kick from hot chilis and crunch of bean sprouts, all in perfect balance.

I’m sure dissertation stress is probably the main reason I’m on such a chicken stock kick lately. But another part of it is that although stock is time-consuming, it’s not too labor intensive. With just five minutes of work here and ten minutes of work there, I end up with the something that feels like really nourishing homemade food.

Plus, once you’ve got the stock made, phở is an almost-instant meal. All you have to do is soften some rice noodles in hot water and put them in a bowl with some cooked meat (or a substitute) and greens. Heat the stock to a simmer and pour it on top. Garnish with bean sprouts, lime, basil or cilantro, green onions, and as much rooster sauce as you like. If you combine the garnishes into a little salad, you can keep it in the fridge along with separate containers of chopped, cooked meat and greens, and then each serving of phở takes less time to prepare than a bowl of instant ramen.

noodles, chicken, shredded bok choy & a few thin slices of onion

add stock, garnish as desired; voila: pho

Do the prep on a weekend and you can feast on rich, spicy, tangy, steamy phở at a moment’s notice anytime that week. If you make two batches of stock at once, which only takes a tiny bit more effort than making one batch, you can freeze anything you won’t eat immediately in pint jars or 2-cup tupperware containers, which are perfect single-serving sizes for any future phở needs.

Another fun thing you can do if you make two versions of the stock at once is play with the flavor profiles. Last weekend, I made one batch with cilantro and coriander and one with anise, cloves, and cinnamon. Both were great. The cilantro version was grassy and bright, and the anise one had rich, elusive layers of spice. In addition to using a whole chicken for each batch of stock, I also used turkey necks and chicken feet—about a pound  of each in each batch. That dramatically increases the collagen content, so after 8 hours of simmering, it was rich enough to become a solid gel in the refrigerator. 

anise stock, just after adding all the spices

Chicken and Star Anise Jell-O!

If you’re not quite up to making the stock from scratch, you can improve a canned stock or even diluted bouillon by simmering it for an hour or so with a big piece of smashed ginger and the same spices or herbs (anise/cloves/cinnamon or coriander/cilantro).

Pro tip: A friend of mine tells me that Tsingtao is an excellent pairing for pho. Although he was talking about phở bò, the chicken version has same kind of spicy, savory, multi-layered flavor thing going on, which I think would certainly complement a pilsner in that addictive refreshing light beer + spicy food way.

Also, I am totally proud of myself that I refrained from making in any stupid phonetic jokes (okay, groan, but even that’s a homonym not homophone!). Recipe below.

At least it doesnt's start with "Mother" new head asplode text! "PPPPPPHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOO..."

 

Recipe: Phở Gà (adapted from Viet World Kitchen)
(serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • One batch whole chicken stock (either the traditional pho or lighter pho variations) or 3-4 quarts canned stock or bouillon, simmered with ginger and either 2 T. toasted coriander and a bunch of cilantro or 5-7 star anise, a cinnamon stick, and 1 t. whole cloves for an hour
  • 4-5 cups cooked chicken meat
  • 2 lbs rice stick noodles
  • 4 cups baby bok choy, or other greens juiced limes, jalapeno because the market was out of serranos, the rest of the garnishes arleady in the bowl
  • 1 yellow onion

Garnishes:

  • 3 cups mung bean sprouts
  • 2 limes
  • 2 serrano chilis
  • 1 bunch green onions, green part only
  • 1/4 cup basil or cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • rooster sauce (optional)

Method:

1. Slice the onion paper thin and soak in warm water for 10-15 minutes (to take away the bite).

safety glove works better for me than the mandoline guard; I think of it as my kitchen chain-mail

2. Roughly chop the bok choy (I used a mandoline for this, too, to get thin slices of the tough parts & shred the green tops)

3. Juice the limes, dice the chilis, dice the green part of the green onions (reserve the whites for another use or poach gently in the stock and serve with the soup), and roughly chop the basil or cilantro. Combine with the bean sprouts and sesame oil and toss to combine. Alternatively, quarter the limes and put all the garnishes out in separate bowls for people to add as desired.

4. Boil a few cups of water and submerge the rice stick noodles for 15 seconds to a minute—just until softened.

5. Heat 2 cups of stock per serving until it’s steaming and prepare the bowls: place individual portions of noodles, chicken, and bok choy in each bowl. Rinse the onion and add just a few thin slices to each bowl.

6. Pour the steaming stock into the bowl, and garnish with the bean sprout salad and rooster sauce.

steam condensing on the sides of the bowl

Ozark Pudding, aka Huguenot Torte: Dessert in a Flash (albeit an unnecessarily belabored flash)

Not really what I think of when I think of a pie or a torte. Maybe it needs a new name? Mystery meringue? Apple-pecan pouf?

This is a rough transcript of the internal monologue that followed a semi-last-minute decision to take dessert to a friend’s house for dinner yesterday (scroll down to “results” if you just want to know what the heck Ozark pie/Huguenot Torte is and aren’t interested in the documentation of my neuroses):

The Process

“I should just buy something. I don’t have time to bake. But how do you even do that? I can’t just buy a bag of Oreos or something, can I? A grocery store bakery pie? I don’t even want to eat that. Is there anywhere else I can buy a pie? Why are there a half a dozen stores that sell cupcakes and nowhere I can buy a goatforsaken pie…

Goat in a hat from Off Base Percentage My goat, my goat, why have you forsaken me pie?

“Is it okay to show up at someone’s house with a pint of ice cream? What if they don’t have any freezer space? Is that offensive—like a suggestion that they are incapable of purchasing ice cream or perhaps that if they did have ice cream on hand it wouldn’t be as good as whatever you brought? Oh, this is so stupid. [Generous host] specifically said there was no need for me to bring anything. What is wrong with me that I don’t know how to be a dinner guest without bringing something I made “from scratch”? This is why I am not done with my dissertation and will obviously fail at everything forever. Thanks, superego, helpful as always. sigh Surely there is something I can make that won’t take very long and will make me happier than showing up empty-handed or with a bag of Oreos…

filters Delicious tags by “recipe” and “dessert” and opens these four links

“What was Huguenot Torte again? Oh, right, some kind of sunken apple-pecan meringue thing. Huh. Maria del Mar Sacasa of Serious Eats says it’s simple, ugly, and delicious, which sounds about perfect. Maria del Mar Sacasa's cherry-hazelnut Huguenot Torte--I think hers is darker because she included some of the liquid from the jarred cherries, reducedBut she also gave it a “makeover” with sour cherries and hazelnuts in place of the apples and pecans. I was not impressed with the canned sour cherries I got for NYE. Maybe I should just make the original…

opens these three links

“Egad, that sounds awfully sweet. And Amanda Hesser of the NYTimes says she likes it warm and that when it’s cold ‘you have to do battle to cut it.’ That does not sound like the best thing to make in advance and take somewhere. I wonder if I could make individual portions? Hey, the 2009 Recipe Redux by Sarah Magid is for ‘boozy apple-thyme meringue cookies’—maybe that would work?

“Curses! This recipe is so much fussier. You have to caramelize the apples separately and then use a piping bag to make individual meringues and it calls for both superfine and confectioner’s sugar…guh. The whole point of this recipe was that it was going to be simple. Hm. I wonder what the internet thinks about ‘individual Huguenot tortes’…

googles “individual Huguenot tortes,” and opens these four links

Balls. None of these are actually for individual-sized portions, although Up Chef Creek came to the same conclusion because the caramelized crust, which is the best part, sticks to the pan & becomes impossible to serve after it’s cooled. So it would probably be better to bake it in individual ramekins. But who knows how that would affect the baking time? Or how full I should fill the cups? And do I really want to cart a bunch of individual cups of ugly apple-pecan meringue business to someone’s house? That seems stupid. I should just make the original. ‘Golden oldie’ Maria del Mar Sacasa, said. ‘I cooked it fairly often,’ she said. That is not something you do with a recipe that sucks…

“Wait, didn’t Amanda Hesser say this wasn’t actually related to the Huguenots at all and actually descended from something called Ozark Pudding? I wonder what the internet thinks about Ozark Pudding…

googles “Ozark Pudding,” and opens these three links

Nostalgia Snark fom the Economical Epicurean, who got it from Amazon.com“Amen, Economical Epicurean, that Recipe Redux is the perfect example of taking something that sounds simple, easy, & relatively cheap and making it into a huge, fussy production. Although sometimes huge, fussy productions are worth it, and I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say that cookies and cupcakes are ‘tearing at the fabric of society.’ I guess you did admit this was a melodramatic rant.

“Oh, Marion Cunningham, it’s actually unclear whether or not fewer Americans are sitting down to a ‘traditional home-cooked dinner these days’ or how many of them ever did and I never did get around to writing the follow-up to that post about the studies about families who eat dinner together and how the television being on doesn’t actually matter. Of course, the researchers just shrugged and decided that there must be another causal mechanism, not that the relationship isn’t causal or that the arrow might go in the opposite direction (happy, healthy families –> more likely to eat dinner together).

“However, this recipe attributed to Bess Truman does sound easy and is scaled to fit in a pie pan and I have almost everything I need to make it already. I guess it’s worth a try.”

The Results

Totally easy—prep time was 15 minutes, start to finish even though I added a few extra steps. And pretty darn delicious—kind of like a cross between pavlova and pecan pie. The top was crunchy and the middle was kind of gooey and the bottom was chewy and sort of caramelized. I would totally make this again.

Brown sugar cognac cream makes the world seem lovely in spite of imminent defense datesMy modifications:

1) Instead of just greasing the pan, I greased it, dusted it with flour, and then sprayed it with cooking spray. It still stuck a little bit, but overall was pretty easy to get out of the pan, even though it sat for at least two hours before we served it.

2) I whipped the cream with some brown sugar and cognac. I would have used bourbon if I’d had any on hand because that would have been a natural pairing for the apples and pecans, but there was an unfortunate incident earlier this week involving a bottle of Bulleit and a flimsy plastic bag (yet another reason to take your own bags to the grocery store).

3) I tossed the apple pieces in a lemon-water bath to prevent oxidation while I was making the batter because I just do that automatically whenever I’m baking with apples.

This might be part of the reason my dissertation isn’t finished in a more general sense—the above doesn’t even begin to compare to the consternation and fussing about cooking I usually do when I’m not panicking about an imminent defense date—but it’s certainly not this particular recipe’s fault. I’d rank Ozark Pie near the top of my list of high reward/effort recipes. Right up there with no-knead bread and popcorn chickpeas and butternut squash soup.

The base recipe is also kind of a blank slate, so you could probably substitute just about any kind of fruit and nuts you had around…or chopped up chocolate or butterscotch or toffee bits or whatever else you thought might taste good in a meringue-type base as long as it isn’t super watery. Berries and chopped white chocolate might be good, or pear and almonds. If you wanted to fancy it up a bit, you could try any of the following: baking it in 1/2 cup ramekins filled slightly less than halfway, adding an herb or spice, or making a sabayon instead of just whipping some cream (bourbon-spiked would probably be great with the original apple-pecan).

Recipe: Ozark Pudding, aka Huguenot Torte (from Marion Cunningham’s Lost Recipes, via NPR)
serves 5-6 as written, or double and make in an 8×12 or 9×13 pan

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • I threw the apple pieces in some water with the juice of half a lemon while I prepared the other ingredients. probably not necessary, but so easy why not? 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup apple pieces, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 of a large Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2-3 Tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon bourbon, rum, or cognac (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease, flour, and spray a 10” pie pan (or just grease it, but don’t be surprised if it sticks).

2. Beat the egg and sugar together until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix well until combined. Fold in the apple pieces, nuts, and vanilla.

3. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. It will poof up, and then will fall when you remove it from the oven.

4. Whip the cream to soft peaks, adding the brown sugar and alcohol if desired.

It makes less than 2 cups of batter, don't be alarmed if it's just barely enough to cover the bottom of the panPouf! It isn't the prettiest thing I've ever made, but I think the Serious Eats writer was a little harsh. Even after it fell a little more, it wasn't "ugly"

Spicy Ginger Peanut Stew and a Soup Swap: Take That, Michigan Winter!

Actually, that's sunflower butter b/c I ran out of peanut butter. Same idea, though. Incidentally vegan (which is not incidentally my favorite kind of vegan)

Soup Season is ON

I think the worst thing about January in Michigan is knowing even after we survive it, we still have to deal with February. Would you like some soup? I would like some soup.

I first discovered this recipe sometime during the year or two I ate (mostly) vegan. In many ways, it’s just a standard vegetable soup. It starts with garlic & onion, and then you add some vegetables—it doesn’t really matter what kind. Top with canned tomatoes and enough broth to cover, cook until the veggies are done, season with salt & pepper to taste, and that should be pretty tasty, even if you don’t add anything else. But it’s probably nothing to write home the internet about.

You can add more nut butter if you want something really peanutty. I like it better with just a little.It’s the three elements in the name that make this something worth sharing—a hefty scoop of cayenne pepper, a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh ginger, and a few heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter. Together, they transform this from just your average vegetable soup into a spicy, hearty, creamy stew. A hint of coconut, which you can get either by sweating the veggies in coconut oil, adding some coconut milk with the nut butter, or garnishing the soup with a sprinkle of unsweetened dried coconut curls adds another layer of flavor and richness, but it’s also great without the coconut.

To make it more filling, I sometimes add potatoes or rice. In this batch, I used sweet potatoes because I think they’re especially nice with ginger, cayenne, and coconut. Sometimes I throw in a bell pepper or some hearty greens. Carrots would be a welcome addition, too. I actually have a hard time thinking of anything that wouldn’t be good in this—cabbage, peas, corn, winter squash, white potatoes. And although I’ve never tried it, I imagine it would also be good with some beans, shredded cooked chicken, or diced ham if you wanted to add more protein or had leftovers hanging around that you wanted to use up. 

Apparently 2 big onions, a whole head of cauliflower, two heads of broccoli, 4 sweet potatoes, and 5 cans of diced tomatoes is kind of a lot of vegetable matter. Filled 3/4 of my biggest pot, and took over 10 cups of liquid, in addition to the tomato can juice, to cover.This is a 12-qt pot so as written below it makes ~8 quarts of soup?
Easily scaled down—the original recipe makes 4-6 servings.

Swapping Soup

I usually make a giant batch of this once a year and then freeze it in pint jars or 2-cup screw-top tupperware containers, which usually last me through the winter. However, thanks to the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers—especially Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts who hosted the swap—this batch got magically transformed into six different kinds of soup: 

It's like a Michigan winter survival kit!

Clockwise from the top left, that’s Cheddar and Potato with Canadian Bacon (by Bee of Good Food Michigan), Curried Red Lentil Soup (by Mary of A Million Grandmas), a Potato & Sausage soup with lots of fresh dill (by Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts), my Spicy Ginger Peanut soup, a Corn Chowder with Red and Green Bell Peppers (by Sarah of Una Buona Forchetta), and a Winter Stew with Pork, Beans, & Greens (by Yvonne of Wool and Water).

We tasted them all, along with drinks & bread provided by Shayne and mint chocolate chip cookies from Bee—all of which were delicious—and then filled the containers we’d brought with the leftovers. Kudos to whoever came up with this idea. It would be a great thing to do on a regular basis with a group of friends with similar food preferences/restrictions.

I’ll link to their recipes when/if they post them. Here’s mine:

Recipe: Ginger Peanut Stew (adapted from VegWeb)
makes enough for a crowd, halve or see VegWeb for a smaller amount

  • 4 T. coconut oil (or any neutral cooking oil)How many great recipes start just like this: mince some garlic and/or ginger, dice an onion...
  • 1 head garlic
  • a 2” piece of ginger (about 2 T. minced or grated)
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 head cauliflower*
  • 2 heads broccoli*
  • 4 sweet potatoes*
  • 5 14-oz cans of diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 6-10 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 t. cayenne (depending on your heat tolerance, you might want to start with 1/2 t. and add more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter**
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or unsweetened shredded coconut to garnish (optional)

*can substitute any diced vegetable for the cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet potatoes; add slow-cooking things like root vegetables and winter squash first; hold back on anything you want to remain tender-crisp

**I prefer crunchy, but creamy will work too; you can also substitute any other nut or seed butter you like.

1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat.

2. Peel and mince or grate the garlic and ginger finely and add them to the oil.

3. Dice the onion and add it to the pot. Stir to coat and let cook while you chop the other vegetables (or, if using pre-chopped or bite sized things, just let them cook for 5-10 minutes until they’re soft). The heat was on a little to high when I started so by the time I got done dicing the onions, some of the garlic & ginger had browned. But at least it didn't burn. Starting something over becasue you burned the garlic is so depressing.Potato cubes need not be perfect, just as long as they're all roughly the same size they should all cook through in the same amount of time

4. Peel and dice the potatoes, if using, and any other root vegetables or winter squash into 1/2”  cubes and add to the onions. Repeat with the cauliflower and broccoli, or whatever else you’re putting in the soup.

Everything chopped and in the pot--it takes me about 40 minutes to throw it together and is ready to eat in just over an hour.5. Sprinkle the veggies with cayenne, stir well, and let cook 3-5 minutes. The onions should be turning golden, if not continue cooking, stirring occasionally until they are.

6. Add the canned tomatoes with their liquid and the water or stock, using more water or stock if necessary to cover the vegetables.

7. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are all cooked to your liking. 

8. Stir in the peanut butter and the coconut milk (if using), and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coconut oil, but no coconut milk in this batch.

2010 Year in Review, Part I: Top Ten Recipes of 2010

Clockwise from the top right: buckwheat crepes, tofu clafoutis with spiced plums, green bean casserole, challah, tomato soup, whole steamed artichoke, flourless chocolate-orange cake, rutabaga, peeps

The Year is Dead, Long Live the Year

Is it just me, or does it seems like it’s been ages since the last winter Olympics? Trying to remember watching the U.S. curling team choke until they finally benched Shuster is like trying to remember a dream. But at the same time, it feels like only yesterday that I was trying to figure out why artichokes make everything else taste sweet or cursing the marshmallow fluff I was trying to shape into Peeps before it turned into one big marshmallow in the shape of a piping bag. How can we possibly be knocking on 2011’s door? 

There should be a word for this sense of time simultaneously collapsing and expanding and the slightly dizzy feeling of trying to look backwards and forwards at the same time. The first time I remember feeling it was about a week before my family went to Disney World when I was seven or eight. I was sitting in the passenger seat of our sedan and watching the minutes tick by as I waited for my mom to finish an errand or something. I was itchy with anticipation about the trip and amazed at how slowly time could pass, but I also had this sort of flash of realization that in almost no time at all, we’d be packing and getting on the plane and that everything would be a warm, colorful, exciting blur, and then we’d be home again. That while the minutes now seemed endless, in what would seem like the blink of an eye, I’d be back in that car, watching time crawl again as my memories of Disney World began to fade away.

End of year retrospectives always seem like a futile attempt to hold on to what will not stay. Or maybe they’re a way of paring an unwieldy mass down to something that can be cupped in one hand. But I thought in lieu of a better indexing system, this might serve as a reference for anyone who wants to revisit an old post or who started reading regularly midway through the year and might be curious about what they missed.

I’ve divided the Year in Review into two parts: recipes and non-recipes. I apparently posted 69 recipes in the last year, although many of them were clustered two or three to a post. I’ve unclustered them, shoved them into some typical cookbook categories, and briefly annotated them below. Also, since 69 is kind of a lot, I singled out the ones I liked best—these are recipes I make habitually, the ones I know by heart, the ones I can’t wait to make again next year:

Choosing was harder than I thought it would be; also I've made a note to start posting more of the things I make all the time but rarely think to feature because "main dishes" are way overrepresented here and it turns out I'm not super excited about the cookies and candy that get disproprtionate blog space.

#10 Spiced Nuts, #9 Buttermilk Biscuits and Vegetarian Gravy, #8 Crusty Multigrain Bread, #7 Sour Cherry Pie, #6 Turkey & Leek Risotto with Homemade Turkey Stock, #5 Taffy Apple Cream Dip, #4 Lemon and Herb Chicken Drumsticks, #3 Whole-wheat Bagels, #2 Alain’s Winter Squash Soup with Homemade Croutons 

And the #1 Recipe of 2010 is….

This makes me long for spring to come again  #1 Morel "Risotto" with Israeli Couscous

2010 Recipes: The Complete Index

Basically a pie crust with cheese in place of some of the butter, spiked with cayenne and paprika. Appetizers & Snacks

Spicy Cheese Straws—Fancypants homemade cheez-its. 

Spiced Nuts (#10 favorite of 2010)—I made these last Christmas to put in gift baskets and serve at our annual New Year’s Eve party. I hadn’t planned on making them this year because no one seemed especially excited about them, but then Brian came home with 4 lbs of nuts and started following me around the house making pathetic faces and whimpering sounds. Then, I forgot to pack them so we had to buy another pound of nuts when we got to his mother’s house because apparently without them, it just wouldn’t be Christmas. In addition to nibbling, they’re great on salads with pear, blue cheese, and a mustard vinaigrette.

Artichoke & Roasted Garlic Chick Pea Dip—A delicious hummus with artichokes, rosemary, and cayenne.

Whole artichokes with butter—How to prep, cook, and eat the inimitable artichoke.

Popcorn chickpeasCrustless Benedictines and Pimento Cheese sandwiches, the perfect accompaniment to afternoon tea or mint juleps. Almost as fun to eat as they are to watch fly around the kitchen.

Benedictines—Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches based on a recipe from the classic Louisville  restaurant Benedict’s. 

Pimento Cheese—A fantastic sandwich spread or vegetable dip made with homemade mayonnaise, cheese, and pimentos.

Kale Chips (or Chard or Kohlrabi Tops)—Bitter greens baked to a crisp, salty, addictive snack. Best coated with a little nutritional yeast and chili powder, too.

Curried Squash FrittersDeep-friedSee how yellow? zucchini shreds in a spiced chickpea batter. 

Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli—Not clear that the saffron made any difference, except perhaps enhancing the yellowness of the yolk mixture. Still good, just not that different from normal deviled eggs.

Taffy Apple Cream Dip (#5 favorite of 2010)—A brown-sugar and cream cheese dip lightened with whipped cream stabilized with corn starch. It’s airy enough for berries but substantial enough for slices of tart apple.

Soups This would also work with more easily-accessible greens, like spinach

Alain’s Winter Squash Soup (#2 favorite of 2010)—A simple, silky pumpkin or butternut squash soup—probably the recipe I use  most often. Vegan-optional.

Cream of Nettle Soup—A classic roux-based cream soup full of nourishing spring weeds.

Fresh Tomato Soup—Classic or creamy, trounces Campbells even though I’m a fan of the can. Vegan-optional. 

Jook (Chicken and Rice Porridge)—A savory, healing A fusion of Chinese & Euro-American chicken soup traditionsporridge made with rice cooked in bone broth until it begins to fall apart and an examination of the science behind cross-cultural beliefs about the healing power of chicken soup. 

Breakfast

Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune CompoteA comforting porridge with a citrusy dried fruit topping. Vegan.

Buckwheat Crepes—I filled some of them with fresh ricotta & cinnamon-apples and the rest with soft-scrambled eggs and cheese.

Baked Eggs in Tomato SauceI routinely forget about this porridge for months on end, and then get really excited when I remember it again.A true anytime dish: savory and satisfying enough for dinner, but quick and easy enough for breakfast.

Buttermilk Biscuits and Vegetarian Gravy (#9 favorite of 2010)—Milk gravy flavored with crumbled shallots, vegetable bouillon, black pepper, and nutritional yeast with cracker crumbs for texture. Honestly, I prefer it to meat gravies.

Main Dishes

Morel "Risotto" with Israeli Couscous (#1 favorite of 2010)—A rich showcase for morels with shallots and parmeggiano reggiano (#  above)

Lemon and Herb Chicken Drumsticks (#4 favorite of 2010)—This was the only entree that didn't make the top ten, and it was definitely a close runner-upBest on the grill, but also good in the oven, though you might want to use a rack to help keep the skin crisp. I have it on good report that this also works well with chicken thighs. Think classic roast chicken, but quicker and something you can scale up and make for a crowd.

Pork Chops with Cider Reduction and Greens—Because pork loves apples. Turns out the mustard-cider reduction also makes a good salad dressing, combined with a little mayonnaise, cider vinegar, and neutral oil.

Turkey and Leek Risotto (#6 favorite of 2010)—Homemade turkey stock from the leftover Thanksgiving bird shines in this simple, but amazingly rich and savory risotto. The bones and meat on a leftover roast chicken would probably be almost as good.

Yeast Breads (all  work with sourdough starter or active dry yeast)A hot oven and pizza stone will give you big, fat bubbles

Crusty Multigrain Loaves (#8 favorite of 2010)—An adaptation of the Jim Leahy/New York Times no-knead  bread recipe using sourdough starter if you have it (active dry yeast if you don’t) and a pizza stone + water for steam instead of a covered baking dish. That allows you to make the loaves any shape you want and slash them for more even rising rather than being confined to the rustic, round boule.

No-knead pizza dough—An effortless dough with a hint of olive oil flavor, no kneading required—make in advance and have pizza for dinner with less than 20 min. of active cooking timeThese are possibly the most fun bread to make because you get to watch them rise right in front of your eyes, and then flip them and watch the classic browned circles form

Whole-wheat Bagels (#3 favorite of 2010)—Boiling makes them chewy. Malt extract makes them “authentic.” Topping them with things like fried shallots and coarse salt makes them delicious.

Challah—A soft, sweet, decadent loaf of bread that makes a beautiful braided loaf, a perfectly soft sandwich bread and great burger or sausage buns.

English MuffinsGriddled buns that pull apart to reveal lots of nooks & crannies.

Baguettes, regular or whole wheat—The classic long, skinny,Classic rubens: American rye, corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, Russian or Thousand Island dressing (mayo + ketchup + sweet pickle relish) crusty loaf originally from Austria, but popularized by France. 

American Pumpernickel—Classic deli rye with a laundry list of ingredients including cocoa powder, caraway, instant coffee, and molasses to create an almost-black bread.

Sandwich Bread—A reliable basic recipe for a standard loaf with a soft crust and even crumb. I like it with honey and oats and about half whole wheat flour.

Soft Pull-Apart Wheat Rolls—A buttery, slightly-sweet dough similar to challah, scaled up to produce 30 perfect dinner rolls. The rolls are risen and baked in two 9×13 pans so they form two continuous sheets. The reduced surface area means you can make them up to three days in advance and they’ll still stay soft and fresh—just pull them apart right before serving, or let people pull them apart at the table.

Quick Breads

Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits—Very buttery and awfully similar to ones you get at Red Lobster. Still my favorite use of garlic powderAs my friend Kevin discovered—these do not work well with whole wheat flour.

Neglected Pear Bread—A pear & almond quick bread, ideal for bruised, overripe pears

see also: Biscuits & Gravy under “Main Dishes”

Vegetables & Sides

Rutabaga Purée—A whole stick of butter made this more like a condiment than a side dish. Since then, I’ve cut the butter by half, so it’s still decadent but a little less Would also be good without the kohlrabioverwhelming.

Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds—A simple sautéed vegetable side—the almonds make the dish.

Swiss Chard Gratin—Swiss chard, stems and all, baked in a cheesy sauce with bread crumbs on top. Decadent.

Summer Squash Fritters—Shredded zucchini bound with a little egg and flour—easy and delicious. Also works as a vegetarian main dish or sandwich filling.

Fried Green Tomatoes—Egg to bind, cornmeal for crunch.  

Fresh Green Bean Casserole—Steamed fresh green beans baked in a thick, homemade mushroom cream soup with crunchy fried shallots on top.

See also: the Whole Steamed Artichokes under “Appetizers”

Dressings, Garnishes, & Building Blocks

Sourdough Starter—Flour + water + time = a yeast creature you can call your ownI tried chopsticks & toothpicks and found that the toothpicks worked better

Homemade Croutons (#2 favorite of 2010)—A great way to use up stale bread, also way better than store-bought

Homemade “Ricotta"Fresh cheese, starting with milk instead of whey

Candied Orange Zest—Extra pretty when twisted around toothpicks to dry

Candied Basil—Whole basil leaves, crystallized with a simple syrup and more sugar to coat.

Ranch “Raita”—A buttermilk crema flavored with onion, dill, and msg or nutritional yeast.

Spiced Tomato Jam—Sweet-savory refrigerator jam. Great with a strong cheese like an aged cheddar or gouda. Turkey stock and/or aspic.

Chili-yogurt sauce—A spicy, tangy yogurt dressing with only four ingredients.

American Buttercream—Less sugar, and more butter is the key to making a simple, uncooked buttercream that isn’t overly sweet.

Turkey Stock—A bone broth so rich it sets up solid in the fridge, slow-simmered in the oven for up to 18 hours.

Pouring Custard—Basically, unfrozen ice cream, also known as “crème anglaise.”

A lemony, nutmeg-spiked cognac & sherry punch. Not too sweet. Very alcoholic. Drinks

Admiral’s Punch—Like a bowl full of sidecar, but with cognac, not brandy

Jell-O Jiggler Shots—A little more booze and a little more gelatin = cocktail-strength shots you can hold in your hand. Bonus, instructions on how to make crazy layered designs.

Fresh Tomato Juice—Intense tomato flavor fresh from the garden.

Mulled Wine or Cider Pouches—Whole spices and brown sugar wrapped up in cheese cloth for single-servings or whole jugs of mulled wine or cider.

Desserts I served the crumble with pouring custard, which makes almost any dessert even better.

Apple-Berry Crumble—A little lemon juice and some dried mixed berries perk up even non-baking apples. 

Tofu Clafoutis with Spiced Plums—A thick, custardy pancake studded with spiced, roasted plums. Vegan.

Flourless Chocolate-Orange Cake—Rich, dark chocolate paired with sunny citrus, best the day after it’s made.

Sour Cherry Pie (#7 favorite of 2010)—Tart cherries make a pie filling entirely unlike the canned version—the perfect foil for a buttery crust and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Cookies & BarsRaspberry, peach, and blueberry shortbread bars in one pan--the recipe makes a huge amount

Austrian Shortbread FingersButtery dough, frozen and grated into the pan around a layer of fruit  preserves, any flavor you like, or make multiple flavors in one pan

Tomato Shortbread Squares—Just like lemon bars, but with tomato instead. Shockingly good

Green Tomato Mincemeat Bars—A vegetarian mincemeat-filled bar cookie. Rich and boozy, not for everyone.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies—Thick, puffy, not-too-sweet cookies, perfect for A tray full of matzoh toffee--just as buttery-rich as normal toffee, with the added crunch of a matzoh crackerChristmas decorating.

The Momofuku Compost Cookie—A cookie with sweet and salty snacks in the style of the New York Times “perfect chocolate chip cookie.”

Candy

Matzoh Toffee—The cracker base makes these super easy even without a candy thermometer

Peppermint Bark—A layer of rich peppermint-flavored dark chocolate ganache sandwiched between two layers of tempered white chocolate topped with crushed peppermint

Homemade Peeps and Chocolate-covered Marshmallow EggsShaped marshmallows, flavored with traditional vanilla, or cinnamon, almond, and/or orange. Mutant rabbit-chick- snail-beasts dusted in colored sugar and vaguely oblong lumps dipped in chocolate.Chocolate and peanut butter, bearing an uncanny resemblance to both the tree nut and the deer eye

Buckeyes, aka Peanut Butter Bon-Bons—A confection with a political history.

Chocolate-covered buttercreams—I made non-traditional flavors, aside from some classic peppermint patties, but any thing you can infuse, extract, concentrate, or preserve will work.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting

A Modern Tradition

This my mother’s sugar cookie recipe, from her mother before her. I don’t know who my grandma got it from or when it acquired the name “old fashioned.” It can’t be older than mid-19th C. because it calls for chemical leaveners.These are not, however, the softest sugar cookies I've ever made. Click on the picture for the link to that recipe. The whole point of the sour cream is to provide an acid to react with the alkali baking soda and produce a tender, puffy cookie. That makes them completely unlike really “old-fashioned” cookies, which were usually unleavened and baked until they were completely hard and dry (for more on cookie history, see foodtimeline.com). However, now that chemical leaveners have been around long long enough to be part of recipes handed down for three generations or more, I suppose they can be “modern” and “old-fashioned” at the same time.

I like this particular recipe for Christmas cookies because it’s not as sweet or rich as most sugar cookie recipes—the ratio of fat : sugar : flour in the dough is 1: 1: 3. Compare that to the “Classic Sugar Cookies” in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, which are 1: 1: 2, or Dorie Greenspan’s Sablés, which are 4: 3: 8. I’d go with one of the other recipes if I were going to leave them plain or just sprinkle them with colored sugar before baking, but I think the slightly less-sweet base makes them a better vehicle for frosting.

Frosting presents bakers with something of a dilemma: either you can make something gorgeous, sleek, and stylish, or you can make something delicious. In the cake world, that dilemma is primarily represented by fondant vs. buttercream. In the cookie world, it’s largely royal icing vs. buttercream. Behold Royal Icing: 

If I thought I could actually do half as good a job as Olivia does, I admit I might be a little more conflicted. dorie greenspans cookies                           From the Kitchen of Olivia                                                  Chow.com

Even though those are really pretty, and royal icing also has the benefit of setting up hard enough to handle any amount of stacking or transport, when it’s a choice between butter or no butter, I’m almost always going to choose butter.

They're cute enough, right? Although the noses almost invariably get squashed before anyone can appreciate them. In retrospect, I probably should have done a garland on the tree instead of ornaments, which have a vaguely pox-like effect.

Buttercream Nationalism

There are basically two kinds of buttercream—cooked and uncooked. However, there are varying techniques, and they’re referred to by nation. Italian buttercream is made by beating egg whites to stiff peaks and then cooking them by gradually adding a hot sugar syrup. Then you add softened butter, which will initially look curdled as it mixes with the hot meringue but eventually emulsifies. Swiss buttercream is similar, but instead of drizzling in a syrup, you cook the meringue by holding it over boiling water while you beat the egg whites and sugar together. French buttercream is made using the same technique as Italian buttercream, but with yolks instead of whites (a base called pâte à bombe).

For cakes and fillings, cooked buttercreams can’t be beat. All three versions are smooth and airy, pipe like a dream, and—most importantly—are totally delicious. They’re kind of like a custard or mousse made with butter instead of cream. But they’re not great for cookie decorating because they’re not very firm at room temperature. They’ll harden if chilled (just like the butter they’re largely composed of), but you wouldn’t be able to stack them first—you’d have to refrigerate or freeze them in single layers, which is a pain. And you’d have to keep them chilled in order to transport them without the frosting melting into goo. I make these primarily to send them to people who live across the country, so I need something with a little more structural integrity.

If you don't want to bother with all the fussy details, a slightly thicker layer plus some sprinkles can look just as festive.

The usual answer for cookies is American buttercream, which is just butter and powdered sugar thinned with a little milk or cream and beaten until smooth. It’s acquired a bit of a bad reputation because most grocery store bakeries use that technique, but they substitute shortening for the butter. The result is the flavorless, waxy, tooth-achingly sweet frosting you get on most grocery store cakes, which usually gets eaten around or scraped aside and left on the plate. But the method isn’t really the problem, it’s the shortening and the ratio of sugar: fat. 

Most recipes for homemade American buttercream call for nearly 4 : 1 sugar: fat. I cut the sugar by more than half. That makes it a little softer at room temperature, and if you’re going to use piping bags, you have to use small portions in the decorating bag to prevent the heat from your hands from melting it. But once it air dries, it’s just hard enough to stack (gently). Depending on how elaborate and delicate your decorations are, and what kind of abuse they have to withstand, they might arrive at their destination slightly squashed, but at least they’ll still taste terrific. 

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
(makes approximately 3 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • Sour cream1/4 c. melted butter 
  • 1/4 c. melted shortening or lard
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1 t. regular table salt)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg or 1/2 t. cinnamon, or a dash of both
  • 1/2 c. sour cream

Method:

1. Pre-heat oven to 425F

2. Combine the melted fat, sugar, egg, and vanilla in one bowl. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3 additions, alternating with three dollops of sour cream. Stir until well combined.

4. Divide dough in half, and cover one half with plastic wrap. Roll the other out to approximately 1/4” thick and cut in desired shapes and place 1” apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

5. If you’re not planning to frost them, sprinkle them with coarse or colored sugar. Otherwise, leave plain. Bake 8-10 minutes or until just beginning to darken slightly at the edges.

christmas cookies 019christmas cookies 022 

Recipe: Vanilla Buttercream
(makes approximately 3 cups, which is enough to frost about 3 dozen cookies) 

christmas cookies 043Ingredients:

  • 20 T. butter, softened (2 1/2 sticks) 
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • a pinch of table salt
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. heavy cream

1. Using a stand mixer or a spatula, beat the butter until smooth and creamy—about 1 minute.

2. Add the salt and gradually add the sugar, beating slowly until incorporated. Add the vanilla and heavy cream and beat until combined.

3. Increase the speed to high and beat for 4-10 minutes, or until no lumps remain and it’s satiny smooth.

Tis the Season for DIY Gifts: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

If you want perfectly smooth chocolate coating, you have to use a plastic mold. Otherwise, unless you're a chocolate-dipping ninja, they will look "homemade." But that's sort of the point, right?

Making Candy Worth the Effort

A friend and fellow Michigan food blogger just celebrated her 10th Wedding Anniversary. The internet  informed me that the 10 years is the “tin” anniversary and her weddingAnd yet I made peppermint patties anyway because they're a classic I knew people would enjoy even if they weren't excited about the other flavors. (not-)colors were black & white, so I thought a tin full of black & white candies would be an appropriate gift. The first thing that came to mind were peppermint patties. Bittersweet chocolate may not be quite black, but contrasted with the white, creamy center, it has the right effect.

However, it seemed a little silly to make peppermint patties by hand when those are so easy to find ready-made. Sure, if you use expensive chocolate and real butter, a homemade peppermint patty might taste a little different than a York. But probably not enough to justify going to all the trouble of clearing out space in the fridge for multiple rounds of chilling and dealing with the mess of dipping things in molten chocolate.

Instead, I decided to make an assortment of flavors that aren’t as easy to buy. The black & white theme restricted the flavor options a little, mostly because I thought it would be a little strange to eat something with a white filling that tasted like something with a firmly-established color signifier, like raspberry or orange or maple. Additionally, I have this silly desire to use the “real" thing when possible or something based on it—i.e., if not fresh or frozen raspberries, then raspberry preserves or Chambord, etc. So I had to come up with flavors that 1) aren’t readily available in commercial chocolates but do go well with chocolate and 2) make both culinary and aesthetic sense in white (or nearly-white) buttercream.the hibiscus tinted the buttercream a very pale pink (left) and lavender tinted it a barely-discernable lilac which almost looked greyish (right)You could also use milk or white chocolate

The answer seemed to be other herbs, like peppermint, or something similar: flowers, spices, tea, etc. Basically anything that would make the buttercream gritty if you tried to add it in its usual edible form. So texture was the culinary justification. The aesthetic justification is that there’s not as strong of a color association with things like jasmine or cardamom. Even things like lavender, both a color and a flavor/scent, doesn’t seem like it has to be purple in the same way that raspberry has to be red. The problem with things like lavender and jasmine is they run the risk of seeming more like bath salts than candy, so I decided on a few combinations and decided to make different shapes so people could distinguish between them visually:

Peppermint (patties)
Cinnamon-orange (squares)
Lavender-almond (balls)
Hibiscus-rose (striped balls)

peppermint  cinnamon-orangelavender-almond 

For a slightly more elegant presentation, you could put them in individual fluted foil or paper cups in a flat gift box.

Choose Your Own Flavor Adventure

You can use any edible extract, oil, or concentrate or infuse a flavor into the liquid in the buttercream. Some options:

Extracts and essential oils: Most grocery stores carry peppermint, lemon, orange, almond, and raspberry extracts. Some also have rum, maple, hazelnut, chocolate, strawberry, and cinnamon. Natural or specialty foods stores sometimes have essential oils designed for therapeutic use, but many of those are not safe for internal use. You can order edible essential oils online in a wide range of flavors including all the classics and more unusual things like bergamot, clove, oregano, and key lime. Essential oils are much stronger than extracts, so you only need 1/4 and 1/2 t. Start with the smaller amount and add more if necessary. Any of them can be combined—I’m especially fond of almond + orange.

Fruit: You can flavor any kind of buttercream with 2-4 T. fruit preserves—any kind of jam, marmalade, or curd will work. If you can’t find preserves in the flavor you want or don’t want to use something pre-made, you can make them yourself by cooking the fruit down into a concentrated paste, adding sugar if desired. You may want to add a flavor extract to the buttecream, too—raspberry preserves + raspberry extract will have more “pop” than either one alone.

Here's the lavender being strained out of the milk. The floral flavors were very strong in the buttercream, but were somewhat masked by the bittersweet chocolate. But the lavender-chocolate combination was especially nice, even though it was subtle.Infusions: Herbs, spices, tea, or anything masquerading as tea can be incorporated as follows: heat the evaporated milk or cream to a simmer (20-30 seconds in a microwave on high) and add 2 T. fresh or dried leaves or flowers, and/or 1-2 t. whole spices crushed slightly. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then press through a fine mesh strainer. This is where you can really play with things that don’t show up in commercial candies—basil, rosemary, tarragon, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom pods, earl grey, oolong, rooibos, chai, tea scented with jasmine or fruit. The only thing you have to avoid are spices too finely ground to strain out of the liquid, although even those could be used if you have a very fine mesh bag—one of those disposable bags some coffee shops use for loose teas would probably work.

2 1/2 lbs of Callebaut bittersweet ($15) was more than enough to cover 120 chocolates Some flavors I considered and might make in the future, especially if color isn’t an issue, are cardamom-plum, strawberry-basil, and orange-bergamot. Of the four I made this time, cinnamon-orange is my favorite, but I’m pretty pleased with how they all turned out.

They may not be quite as sophisticated as truffles—buttercream is a cheap, pedestrian filling compared to ganache, and this recipe doesn’t even call for a real, cooked buttercream, it’s the powdered sugar version. Additionally, the chocolate coating has a little shortening added to it, which is a cheat that ensures the coating will be hard and shiny without the fuss of tempering, even if you store them in the refrigerator. So these are easier, less expensive, and more of a blank canvas for other flavors. I think that’s what makes them an ideal DIY gift—what makes them special isn’t pricey ingredients, but how you customize them for your recipients. 

Recipe: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams (adapted from The Joy of Baking and Chocolate Candy Mall #3)

all the flavorings involved--lavender and hibiscus flowers infusing in hot milk, rose water, and peppermint, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, and almond extractsIngredients:

  • 3 cups (240 g) powdered sugar
  • 4 T. (20 g) butter
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 t. of another flavor extract and/or 1-2 T dried herbs, loosed tea, or flowers, 1-2 t. whole spices, or 1 tea bag*
  • 3 T. (30 ml) evaporated milk or cream
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T. shortening

*The Classics:
For peppermint patties, use 2 t. peppermint extract or 1/2 t. peppermint oil, which is much stronger
For maple creams, use 2 t. maple extract 
For vanilla buttecreams use an additional 2 t. vanilla extract
For all other options, see the notes above.

1. Let the butter come to room temperature. If using dried flowers, herbs, spices, and/or tea, heat the evaporated milk to a simmer (about 20 seconds in a microwave on high), and steep the flavor element in the milk for 10-15 minutes. Press through a fine mesh strainer.

2. Combine the first five ingredients, using a spatula or a stand mixer—hand mixer not recommended  because the powdered sugar will just get everywhere. If using a stand mixer, start on a low speed. Once everything is combined, increase the speed and beat until the mixture is very smooth and creamy (2-3 minutes with a stand mixer, 5-10 minutes by hand).

powdered sugar, softened butter, hibiscus-infused milk, vanilla, and rosewaterin a different bowl, this one peppermint

3. Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to a small container with a lid and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Prepare a few cookie sheets by covering them with foil and dusting them lightly with powdered sugar. Shape as desired—For balls, quickly roll small amounts of the batter between your hands to form 1” balls. For patties, flatten balls with your hand or the bottom of a drinking glass to a thickness of about 1 cm. For squares or rectangles, place the buttercream in a quart-sized zip-top bag and roll flat with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Cut away the bag, and cut into desired shapes.

this is way faster than shaping them all by hand, but the squares are a little harder to dip whatever shape I made, 1 batch = approximately 30 candies

4. Return shaped buttercreams to the refrigerator for another 30-60 minutes.

5. Melt the chocolate and shortening in the top part of a double-boiler, a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave just until smooth. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and then begin dipping the buttercreams one at a time, making sure they get completely coated. Remove with two forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Set back on the foil or on waxed paper. Return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes if desired to set faster—the shortening will prevent the chocolate from “blooming.”

if you're not making a quadruple-batch, feel free to use a smaller bowl the little pooling bits can be snapped off after they're cooled