Battle of the Blog

Hello there.  Remember me?  I haven’t forgotten about you.  It’s just that I’ve started a new semester at school and, well, things are a bit busy for me.  I’m not making excuses…just stating the facts, ma’am.  Don’t worry, we’re still eating, still taking photos, and still making notes.  Consider it a stockpile if you will, of…ahem, culinary greatness.

That’s how life is, though, isn’t it?  One day you have all the time in the world, and then BAM! you’re buried under a pile of William Blake, John Keats, and William Wordsworth!  Not a bad pile, but we still have to eat, right?  For the most part this last week, I’ve really given it my all and tried a few new things.  Not just new dishes, but new ways of looking at my kitchen and the ingredients within.  In the past I have been known to go to the store for one or two missing ingredients in a dish I’m dying to try.  Not anymore!  

I make my list, go to the market, and when I get home I’m left to figure things out.  I usually have a few dishes in mind for the week when I’m pushing my cart around the store, but I never have an entire meal plan set in stone.  I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried to think that far in advance and truly plan – make a menu of sorts.  But nope, it never works.  Baby steps, is what I say.  I’ll get there someday.

So, if I’ve exhausted all my ideas for the week and it’s only Thursday, what happens then, you ask?  I choose to go to war with the remaining ingredients in my kitchen and come up with something delicious.  I will not go to the market.  I will not go to the market.  That is my mantra and it keeps me going when all I want to do is give up because I have a half-written paper looming over my head and I just need more time.  Instead of wasting gasoline and my precious time going to the store, and instead of giving up and going out to eat, I say to myself, “What do I already have?  What can I do with these things?”  In fact, by asking myself this very question, I made for us last week our very first vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie and yes, it was delicious.  We had some Boca crumbles in the freezer and the rest, as they say, is history.  Sorry, no photos, though.  You already have the recipe…just substitute Boca for the real deal.

At some point last week I realized we had the proper ingredients for one of my favorite cold weather “nights.”  Chili Night.  I love chili.  I love making chili, I love eating chili, and I love the way the scent fills the house as it simmers away on the stove.  I tend to follow a basic outline for chili, but it’s never quite exactly the same, as sometimes I have less of one ingredient or not enough of another.  But chili is forgiving that way.  It says, “Go ahead, toss in whatever you want.  More beans?  Sure!  A little cinnamon?  Why not?!”  It’s only request is that you start early so it can truly come together as it simmers.  The longer the better.  I like my chili somewhere between soup and the point at which I can stand my spoon upright. 

It’s important to develop your flavors in the base of the chili.  This is when I toss in a few of my secret ingredients.  I’d love to tell you, but someday I plan on winning a chili contest at a county fair with this recipe.  I’m taking home a blue ribbon if it kills me.

If you have the time (which you will, because you’re letting your chili simmer, right?) and the ingredients (whadda ya know?  I did!) you can whip up a batch of honey cornbread muffins.  Chili Night is not complete without cornbread! 

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that you can challenge yourself to come up with a delicious dish even if you think you have nothing in the cupboards.  You’d be surprised how motivating a lack of obvious ingredients can be.  I battled my sparsely-stocked kitchen and I won.  And now I feel that my next battle is looming with Wordsworth and Keats at the front lines.  I will be victorious and I will soon find the balance between homework and blogging.  For those of you who read this, thank you for your patience. 


The Classic Reuben Sandwich

Pasta Night

So, the other day, Scott and I stood in the kitchen and discussed how many foods have a “night” of their own during the week?  Meaning, par exemple, when say, Thursday rolls around, is it Taco Night or Chicken Night or Chili Night in your house?  When I was growing up, we most definitely had “nights” devoted to certain foods or dishes.  I can recall Taco Night, for sure.  It usually consisted of ground beef with a taco seasoning packet mixed in, along with several bowls filled with various accompaniments (shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, onions, shredded cheese, and of course, salsa.  I loved Taco Night.  I got to eat with my hands and customize my own dining experience!  What’s not to love?

One night that most families have (I’m sure) is some form of Pasta Night.  For my family, it was Spaghetti Night, but for others, perhaps you’re looking at Lasagna or Alfredo Night.  Who knows?  The point is, from time to time it’s good to have nights devoted to certain dishes.  Not only does it make menu planning a breeze, it also drastically simplifies grocery shopping.  Besides, it’s fun to look forward to your favorite “night,” isn’t it?

As you may or may not know, for my birthday Scott gifted me a pasta-making attachment for my KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  It is divine.  I adore it, and it is why I look forward to Pasta Night at our house.  More specifically, Ravioli Night.  Oh yes, and I think I have found the most perfect pasta dough recipe!  It is made with a mixture of both all-purpose flour AND cake flour.  That’s right, cake flour!  I was skeptical as well, but you know me, I’m always willing to try something new in the kitchen!  The cake flour supplied the lightness pasta needs and contributed to its delicate mouthfeel.  This is definitely my go-to dough recipe from now on!

Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats homemade ravioli, but getting there is labor-intensive.  You have to want it.  You will not be sorry, though.  Just start early, and allow yourself some time to make the mistakes you will inevitably make.  Take deep breaths and I promise you, all will work out.  Add this recipe to your weekly dinner rotation.  Give it its own night.  You won’t regret it.

Arugula and Goat Cheese Ravioli
adapted from Gourmet, 2007

For Pasta:

2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water

For Filling:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 pound baby arugula, chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup (4.5-5oz) soft goat cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese

For Sauce:

1/2 stick (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/3 cup pine nuts (1.5 oz)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped arugula

To make pasta:

***Note:  I use a food processor to make my pasta dough.  I know, I know, I should probably be making it by hand on my marble board.  But you know what?  This is simpler, cleaner, and the dough turns out just as lovely.

Blend together all the dough ingredients in the food processor just until it starts to form a ball.  Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  You can add just enough flour to keep it from sticking.  Wrap the dough in cling film and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour. 

***Note:  If, for any reason, you’re going to be leaving the house, or you’re starting this dough early in the day, place it in the fridge to chill, but make sure to let it come to room temp before you start working with it.  It’ll make rolling easier.

Make filling while dough stands:

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then add garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic begins to turn golden, about 1-2 minutes.  Don’t let the garlic burn!  Add the arugula and zest and cook, turning with tongs, until arugula is wilted, about 2-4 minutes.  Transfer arugula mixture to a colander or fine-mesh strainer and press with the back of a wooden spoon to squeeze out any extra liquid.

Make ravioli:

***Note:  Yes, you can do this with a rolling pin, it’ll just take a lot longer.  But, if you have a pasta maker or a tabletop pasta roller, use it. 

Cut dough into 8 equal pieces.  Cover 7 pieces with cling film and gently pat out remaining piece into a flat rectangle.  Dust generously with flour.

Set rollers of pasta maker on widest setting.  Feed rectangle, short side first, through rollers.  Fold rectangle in thirds, like a letter, and feed it, a short side first, through rollers.  Repeat 6 or 7 more times, folding dough in thirds and feeding it through rollers, a short side first each time, dusting with flour to prevent sticking.  Turn dial to next (narrower) setting and feed dough through rollers without folding, a short side first.  Continue to feed dough through without folding, making space between rollers narrower each time, until the second to narrowest setting is used.  When we made this, we stopped on number 5 – we found this was just thin enough not to tear when filled.

Put sheet of dough on a lightly floured kitchen towel with a long side nearest you.  Drop 3 or 4 rounded teaspoon size mounds of filling 1.5-inches apart in a row down the center of the right half of sheet, then lift left half of sheet and drape it over the mounds.  Press down firmly but gently around each mound, forcing out air.  Cut pasta between mounds with a knife (for square) or round cutter.  Line a large baking sheet with another kitchen towel, then arrange the ravioli in 1 layer.  If your round cutter doesn’t already have a crimper built in, then just run the tines of a fork around the outer edge of each ravioli.  Continue with the remaining dough and filling.

Make sauce:

Heat butter in a cleaned 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook pine nuts, stirring frequently, until pale golden, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes.  Add lemon juice and oil, swirling skillet to combine, and remove from heat (leave sauce in skillet).

Cook ravioli:

Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a gentle boil.  While water is heating, reheat sauce over low heat if necessary.

Add half of ravioli (we only boiled half of what we originally made – we froze the rest) to gently boiling water, carefully stirring to separate, and cook, adjusting heat to keep at a gentle boil, until pasta is just tender 2-4 minutes.  Lift cooked ravioli with a slotted spoon, draining well over pot, then transfer to skillet with sauce and gently swirl skillet to coat pasta.  Transfer ravioli carefully to serving plates (or bowls).  Spoon a little sauce over the ravioli and sprinkle with chopped fresh arugula. 

You Say Potato…

Given that my last post was sans recipe, I thought it only fair to include a recent dish (and its recipe) in this post.  As much as I would have liked, we didn’t just eat brioche for dinner the other night, we had actual food.  And that food was one of the most delicious potato soups I’ve ever eaten.  Normally I don’t gravitate to potato soups or chowders because the ones I’ve eaten in the past have been entirely too chunky for my taste.  Not this one…this one spoke to me on a visceral level.  This soup would end up as a purée, and it had bacon in it!  How could I go wrong?

Not only did this recipe have some of my favorite flavor profiles, but it was also so simple to make.  And I (miraculously) had all of the ingredients on hand!  So, I began the task of prepping my mire poix and peeling my potatoes.  Usually, Scott plays the role of sous chef in our kitchen, but he was busy in the garage building my soon-to-be-awesome custom prep table, so I let his absence slide this time.  Besides, I knew it would please him to emerge from the garage and smell the lovely scent of garlic, rosemary, and onions sautéing away in butter.  

The best part you ask?  Well, in Scott’s opinion, it was the Bacon Vinaigrette.  Clearly.

Potato Soup with Bacon Vinaigrette
adapted from Food52

For the Soup:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced,
1 large (or 2-3 medium) carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced,
1 sprig (1 tablespoon) fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
3-5 medium Russet potatoes (weighing in at least 2 pounds), peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
7 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (I used my homemade)
1 cup lowfat sour cream (I used plain yogurt)
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

For the Vinaigrette:

3-4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
3 scallions, finely sliced
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar (you could also use white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch Kosher salt
pinch freshly cracked black pepper


Add butter to stock pot  and melt over medium-high heat.
Add carrots, onion, celery, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Sauté veggies until onions are soft, roughly 8-10 minutes.
To that, add the potatoes and stock.  Cook on medium-high until potatoes are very tender, roughly 20-25 minutes.
Turn off heat, add sour cream (or yogurt) and puree with immersion blender (or in a regular blender) until smooth.
Stir in champagne vinegar. 
Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

To make vinaigrette: 

Cook bacon until crispy and let drain on paper towel. 
In a small bowl, combine bacon, scallions, vinegar, salt, and pepper. 
Add oil and stir to combine.
Top bowls of soup with 1 tablespoon vinaigrette.

Labor of Love

To me, there is nothing more divine than the smell of bread baking in the oven.  Okay, well, actually, the smell of yeast mixed with warm milk and sugar sends me into an almost coma-like state of joy, but for this post, I’ll settle for bread right out of the oven. 

I really enjoy baking bread.  Yes, there are quick breads out there that one can put together in an afternoon.  But the breads I enjoy making take at least two days out of my life.  Brioche is one of those breads – if you do it right.  And trust me, it’ll be worth the wait.

When I was living in France (almost 8 years ago – wow!) I was an Au Pair for a family with three young girls.  I was absolutely terrified when I first arrived and became a part of their daily lives, but soon enough, I was settled in and not a day passed when I didn’t learn something about them and myself.  Fiona, Amandine, and Aurelie were easily some of the most influential people in my life and I miss them all the time. 

Among my daily responsibilities was the task of meeting the girls at their school (usually with snacks in my bag) and walking them back home.  If, for any reason, I didn’t have a snack with me, I knew there would still be a loaf of brioche and a container of Nutella waiting for them at the apartment.

Now, I’d never eaten brioche before and I had no idea it could be purchased at the store, pre-sliced, in a plastic bag, like Wonder Bread.  Magnifique!  So began my love for brioche.  Clearly, the bagged brioche couldn’t hold a candle to the real deal, and I understood that as soon as I stepped into a Pâtisserie and saw one on the shelf. Ooo, la la!  So buttery, so light, and with just the right amount of sweetness.  I was in heaven! 

Making brioche at home is an activity that requires a great deal of patience, attention to detail, as well as a love for the process of baking bread.  Carefully adding yeast to warm milk and sugar and watching it bubble is one of the simple joys in life, if you ask me.  The hard part is waiting for the lovely dough to rise, only to be deflated in order to rise, yet again.  After a night chilling in the refrigerator, the gorgeous, golden, and buttery dough is ready to be rolled carefully into balls, situated in a pan, and what? – more rising?!  Yes, once it’s in the loaf pan, one must continue to wait for a final rise.  Then and only then can it be brushed lightly with egg wash and spend some quality time in the oven.  Thirty (or so) minutes later…bread!

My experience with those three girls in France changed me in a profound way.  They were a labor of love, and every time I bake brioche, I think of them and what they added to my life. 

Adapted from Gourmet, May 2000

Yield: 1 standard 8 1/2 X 4 1/2 X 2 1/2-inch loaf

Special equipment:  a stand mixer with dough-hook attachment

For starter:

1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup warm milk (at least 105ºF)
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)

For dough:

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon hot milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice, well softened
1 egg, mixed with 1 tablespoon milk and 1 teaspoon sugar, for egg wash

Make starter:

Stir together sugar and milk in a small bowl.  Sprinkle yeast over the top and let it stand until foamy, at least 10 minutes.  Stir flour into yeast mixture, forming a soft dough.  Let starter rise, covered with cling film, at room temperature for 1 hour.

Make dough:

Combine salt, sugar, and hot milk in a small bowl and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved.

Fit your stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat 2 eggs at medium-low speed until frothy.  Add the sugar mixture and beat until combined well.  With the motor running, add in order, beating after each addition: 1/2 cup flour, remaining egg, 1/2 cup flour, about one fourth of softened butter, and remaining 1/2 cup flour.  Beat mixture 1 minute.

Remove bowl from mixer and fit mixture with dough-hook attachment.  With a rubber spatula, spread the starter over the dough and return the bowl to mixer.  Beat the dough at medium-high speed for at least 6 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Add remaining butter and beat for 1 minute, or until butter is incorporated.

Lightly butter large bowl and scrape dough into the bowl.  Lightly dust with flour to prevent a crust from forming.

Cover bowl with cling film and let it rise at room temperature until more than doubled in size, at least 2-3 hours. 

Punch down the dough and lightly dust with flour.

Cover bowl with cling film and chill dough, punching down after the first hour, at least 12 hours.

Bake brioche:

The next day, remove dough from refrigerator, gently punch down and turn out onto a lightly-floured surface. 

Work the dough gently into a disk and divide into 8 equal portions.  Roll each portion into a ball and place side by side in a greased loaf pan.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  When the dough has risen, brush with egg wash mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and it sounds hollow when tapped.  If, for any reason, the top begins to brown too quickly, cover gently with foil.

Turn loaf out onto a wire rack to cool.

7 Foods You Should Never Eat

When Life Gives You Lemons

Have you ever had one of those days when you just know you shouldn’t leave the house?  Those days when you’re feeling so distracted that you’d be a danger to yourself and others if you got behind the wheel of a car?  Two days ago, I experienced that feeling.  Things are changing a bit in my life and lately I’ve been distracted by those changes.  Typically, when I’m feeling anxious about an upcoming event or stressed about a looming project or due date, I get into the kitchen and cook it out.  I had the of best intentions the other day when I put my apron on…unfortunately, the cooking gods didn’t want to cooperate. 

I just wanted to make a lemon tart.  Was that too much to ask?

I started out with an unfamiliar recipe for tart dough.  Common cooking sense would have told me that there was entirely too much sugar and butter, but not enough flour in the dough, but as I said, I was distracted and evidently, it looked fine to me.  I should have just gone with the dough recipe I always use, but nooo, I wanted to try something new. 

I forged ahead, thinking to myself, “It’ll come together in the fridge while it rests, of course it will.”  In 30-minutes time, I pulled it from resting in the fridge and it was still a sugary, buttery, nowhere-near-tart-dough mass.  As my blood pressure rose, I thought, “No, this is fine…it’ll roll out just fine on my board.”  Nope.  Wrong again.  It smeared like wet sand all over my nice, shiny marble board.  With a swift flick of my wrist, I scraped it up and added it forcefully and deliberately to my “circular file,” as my dad would say. 

I was not about to give up.  No way.  I’ve successfully conquered far too many pie and tart doughs to let one misstep have the better of me.  So, armed with a new stick of butter, more flour, and a clearer head, I began again. 

And let me tell you this: the end result was divine.  Seriously.  The new dough came together as it should and the lemon curd set up like a dream.  After all the stumbles, after all the distractions, I managed to get over it and cook through it. 

Lemon Tart

For dough:
adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons cold lard
1/4 cup ice water

Combine flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a bowl and place in freezer for 30 minutes.  Put flour mixture into bowl of food processor and add the butter and lard and pulse until the butter is broken down into pea-sized pieces.  Add ice water and process until dough comes together.  Turn out onto lightly floured board and press into a disc.  Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Roll out dough and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with removable sides.  Be careful not to stretch the dough when placing it in a pan, as it will shrink when baked.  Cut off excess dough by rolling the pin over the top of the pan.  Line the tart shell with a piece of buttered aluminum foil, butter side down, and fill with dried beans or rice.  Bake shell for 10 minutes.  Remove beans and foil and prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned.  Cool completely.

***Lower heat to 325ºF.

For filling:
adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

zest from one lemon
1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 2 medium lemons)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream

In mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice and sugar and whisk until well blended.  Add eggs and whisk well until the eggs are incorporated, then whisk in zest and cream.

Place pre-baked tart shell on baking sheet.  Pour mixture into shell, being careful not to over-fill it.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the custard is set.  Remove from the oven and let cool before slicing.  If you want to fancy it up a bit, serve it with fresh whipped lemon cream, lightly sweetened (2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 1 teaspoon lemon zest).