Thursday, April 30, 2009
Somewhere in our conversation, between mouthfuls of a pretty darn good cinnamon bun, she mentioned that a friend of hers had given her some salmon from his recent Alaskan fishing trip, and that she had no idea what to do with it... and then she asked me if I had any ideas. I know. OF COURSE I had ideas, the biggest one being that I should come over the next night and cook it. When S. readily agreed, my heart did a little happy jig, River Dance style. Oh yes, my friends. This poor fish-loving girl who's been as landlocked as it gets for the past 2 years just got her hands on some incredibly fresh salmon.
To showcase the Alaskan-y freshness of the salmon, I opted to poach it and serve it with an Irish butter sauce. I went the traditional white wine and aromatics route for my poaching liquid, but there are dozens of variations you could use. With a simple saute of spinach, criminis, shallots, and tomato on the side, this proved a very delicious yet simple meal, and it was a pleasure to prepare with S. and to enjoy with her and my husband.
Irish Butter Sauce
2 egg yolks (straight off the farm, if you can help it)
2 teaspoons cold water
1 stick (1/2 C) butter, diced*
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Whisk egg yolks and water together in a small stainless steel bowl, then place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (basically, a double boiler). Immediately add a couple pieces of butter and whisk until melted. Continue to add butter a few pieces at a time until and whisk until all butter is melted. Add lemon juice.
*If you use unsalted butter, you will want to add a pinch or two of salt.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I decided to do something out of the ordinary and turn to the archives at foodnetwork.com. Lest you think I'm about to go on the tired old rant about sell-out celebrity chefs and how they've ruined the food world, I'm not. Most of their celebrity chefs are quite talented and well-trained in their respective fields, and generalizing all of them into one lump category is beyond disrespectful; however, a handful of them do pander toward... how can I put this nicely... the lowest common denominator (has anyone ever seen Sandra Lee and her infamous Kwanzaa Cake??), and I struggle to trust a network that would put the Sandra Lees of the food world right up there with the Ina Gartens. It's culinary sacrilege. I've also found that many of the recipes on the website are inaccurate when compared with how the chef prepared that particular dish on their show, so unless you've watched the corresponding show, it's hard to know if you're getting the correct recipe or not. But I digress... I needed jambalaya guidance, and in a moment of weakness, I took a chance on the food network.
Unfortunately, this particular recipe didn't wow the hubs and me. It wasn't horrible, but I am kinda bummed that I used all of my andouille and a good chunk of my fresh shrimp for this. Ok, more than bummed- I'm downright sad. I only get goodies like that when we travel (because really, where am I going to find fresh shrimp in the middle of Kansas?), and it's going to be another month before we escape the state again. The amount of salt in the recipe made it taste like a boxed jambalaya mixture, and the spice ratio seemed wrong, overbearing enough that we could barely taste any of the other ingredients, including my prized fresh shrimp and my wonderful andouille. I had reservations about the whole dish when the spice mixture recipe read like an advertisement, but I was already committed at that point. *Sigh.* Why didn't I just find a fellow food blogger with a peer-tested recipe? Why didn't I just put in the extra ten minutes to find a recipe that didn't have me questioning it from the beginning? Because, I am human, and I err... and this time, I erred big.
* 12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
* 4 ounces chicken, diced
* 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, recipe follows
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/4 cup chopped onion
* 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
* 1/4 cup chopped celery
* 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
* 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
* 3 bay leaves
* 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
* 1 teaspoon hot sauce
* 3/4 cup rice
* 3 cups chicken stock
* 5 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
* Salt and pepper
In a bowl combine shrimp, chicken and Creole seasoning, and work in seasoning well. In a large saucepan heat oil over high heat with onion, pepper and celery, 3 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Stir in rice and slowly add broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice absorbs liquid and becomes tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. When rice is just tender add shrimp and chicken mixture and sausage. Cook until meat is done, about 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning.
*NOTE: Reader comments suggested that this turned out too soupy, so I doubled the veggies and added a tiny bit of extra rice.
Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):
* 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
* 2 tablespoons salt
* 2 tablespoons garlic powder
* 1 tablespoon black pepper
* 1 tablespoon onion powder
* 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
* 1 tablespoon dried oregano
* 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly.
Yield: 2/3 cup
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The downside to all this heat is that it completely saps away any desire I might have had to make something for dinner that involves a lot of time in front of a hot stove. My inner cheapskate is determined to not turn on the AC until I am just shy of heatstroke, so the less heat I have going on in the kitchen, the better. I want something quick and tasty that doesn't require much forethought or prep work, and something that I can use as a back-pocket meal throughout the summer for those nights that we just can't say no to an impromptu run or a last-minute tennis game.
This dish definitely falls into the "quick and tasty" category, and it's quite versatile to boot. Depending on my mood, I might leave out the chili paste and just drizzle the dish with sesame oil right before serving, or for a completely different feel, I might leave out the sesame seeds/oil and throw in a couple shots of lemon or lime juice with a the chili paste (or without the hot stuff- it's different every time). It's fun to see how many things you can do with this type of dish.
Shrimp and Bok Choy (serves 2)
1 Tbsp. vegetable/canola oil
3 heads baby bok choy, coarsely chopped
10 large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 cloves garlic, germs removed and minced
salt, to taste
chili paste, to taste
generous handful of sesame seeds, toasted*
sesame oil, for drizzling (optional)
Heat oil in wok or saute pan and add garlic and bok choy. Add a pinch of salt and cook until garlic is aromatic and bok choy is just beginning to wilt. Add shrimp and chili paste, cook just until shrimp is done. Stir in sesame seeds just before serving, and drizzle with sesame oil (if desired).
*In my usual fashion of not creating more dirty dishes than absolutely necessary, I dish out the stir fry onto plates, wipe the pan with a paper towel, and then quickly toast the seeds in that same pan, making this a one-dish meal. Booyah.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I must preface this post with an apology to my mother, because I feel I have just betrayed her in some small way. For my whole life, I've been a staunch loyalist to her banana bread. I've tried dozens of other banana breads that were always too dry and usually pretty flat in the flavor department, and as much as I wanted to like them, they always fell short of my mom's recipe. She set the bar pretty darn high, and nothing I have tried has come close... until now. You see, I've never created a quickbread recipe from out of nowhere, but I had these nearly black bananas that needed to be used, and I had this sour cream, and this bottle of rum that had barely anything left in it, and new stoneware mini loaf pans just begging to be used, and I had to do SOMETHING about it. I felt confident enough in my improvisational baking skills to be able to just throw together a decent banana bread, but I swear I didn't think it would be THAT great... and oh, was I wrong. It's great. It's sweeter than my mom's recipe, almost more of a dessert bread than her breakfast bread, and it's ever-so-slightly more moist. A splash of rum gives it a nice bananas foster-ish feel, and the nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves add a nice autumnal touch (not exactly springtime flavors, I realize, but they could probably be scaled back or swapped out for whatever you'd like). I'll probably use a bit less sugar next time and maybe throw in some toasted pecans, but it's fantastic as is. I'm sorry, Mom. I still absolutely adore your banana bread, but I'll be using this recipe just as often as I use yours.
1 stick + 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I used my homemade stuff)
1 1/2 Tbsp. rum
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
generous pinch of ground cloves
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter 4 mini loaf pans* (or whatever size you want to use. I like my minis).
2. In stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (should take about 4 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition just until incorporated. Add vanilla and rum.
3. While creaming butter and sugar, mash bananas together with sour cream in a small bowl and sift together dry flour, powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in another bowl.
4. Add 1/2 of flour mixture to creamed butter mixture and beat just until incorporated. Add banana mixture, then add the rest of the flour and beat until just incorporated.
5. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes (for minis) or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
*I used stoneware pans. If you're using dark pans, you may want to reduce your oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Though the food was good all around, the stand-out on the menu was their house made peanut butter. Sure, you can go for their great brunch menu (try their yogurt. They make their own, scented with lemon and vanilla and topped with fresh berries. It's divine) or their fantastic bison burgers or even their strangely sweet and delicious black currant sausage bread that tastes nothing like you would expect (you've just gotta trust me on that one), but even if the rest of the food completely and utterly sucked, you would still need to go there, order some toast, and slather it with their PB. It's not the smooth, anemic peanut butter of your childhood; no, this stuff is what every little peanut wishes it can grow up to be. I'm talking heavenly roasted peanuts with honey, brown sugar, and spices that just bring out a certain flavor that I didn't know peanut butter could have. I could eat that stuff for days- and luckily for me (and for you after you taste it), I can. They sell it, and probably make a killing off of it. Really, even if you never make it to the restaurant, I BEG you to at least order it off their website. I don't mean to sound like a commercial for them, but it's just that good. If I haven't convinced you yet, they also serve their toast with an out of this world blackberry jam and blood orange marmalade, which I am kicking myself for not purchasing. I know it sounds strange to be talking so much about peanut butter and jam, but I really REALLY like toast.
We enjoyed everything else we tried, with one exception: my husband's ham, poached pear, and melted fontina sandwich. I heard a piece on NPR with Gourmet's Jane and Michael Stern several months ago raving about how it was one of the best sandwiches in the country... but we found it texturally lacking and a little too sweet. I was expecting something a tad more savory, and something crunchy tucked in there would've been nice... but who cares. I just really liked the peanut butter.
Monday, April 20, 2009
But enough of my emotional verbosity- you're here to read about the food, and the Twin Cities do not disappoint in this arena. We hit several places, which I will post about later this week, but I have to tell you about what has to be the best pizza place in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me at the time, so you'll just have to believe me when I say that you HAVE to try it if you're ever in the area. Pizza Nea makes incredible Neapolitan pizza (which is, incidentally, one of my top 5 favorite foods ever). I'm quite particular about this stuff and had been craving a good pizza for days, and this place totally delivers exactly what I like in a pizza: a not too thick, yet not too thin crust with the perfect crispy exterior, satisfyingly chewy interior, and full flavor that only a traditional brick oven can create. My husband, his brother and I shared and devoured the con funghi e proscuitto and the salsicce pizzas. You know when you find something that you know you should slowly savor, but you just can't help yourself? Or when you say you'll only eat one or two slices, yet you find yourself sheepishly grinning at your husband over a few leftover crumbs where a whole pizza pie recently sat? That's how I felt. I can't even begin to describe how good the funghi e proscuitto is, with the porcinis and the reggiano and the basil and tomatoes on a perfect crust... and the salsicce was just as good, though I favored the porcinis (as I am prone to do). I washed mine down with a few sips of prosecco and left knowing that I will return every time I'm in Minneapolis. As a bonus, there's a wonderful Polish restaurant and meat shop right across the street that's worth a visit (or three).
I'd love to share more with you right now, but unfortunately, our still-packed suitcases and growing pile of laundry are beckoning, and I have some gardening to do and dinner to make. I'm thinking something with bok choy and rice noodles tonight...
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Don't be fooled by how normal this cake appears. It's moist, chocolatey, and decadent. Generally, I don't like chocolate cakes because there's usually too much other stuff going on in them that gets in the way of the chocolate, but this... this takes the cake. (Get it? Haha! I kill myself). This is not a child's cake, nor is it something for someone seeking the hypersweetened chocolate cakes of their youth. Everything about this recipe plays to chocolate's strong points and brings out all the depth, richness, and complexities in chocolate that most recipes unwittingly destroy. It's not too sweet, it's slightly spiced, and oh, whatever genius out there figured out what coffee and cinnamon can do to a chocolate cake deserves a really big hug, because it's just awe-inspiring.
I've made this before and followed the recipe, but yesterday I was making it for a crowd who wouldn't appreciate (or even remotely like) the ganache frosting called for, so I used swiss buttercream instead. They loved it, but I thought it just got in the way of the chocolate. The pictures here show the buttercream version, but please, do the ganache. Also, if you want to substitute a different jam for the filling, feel free, but I promise you that nothing will reach perfection like raspberry.
I wish I could tell you where I found this recipe, but I have no idea... chances are it's from a fellow food blogger. If you're out there, and you read this, please let me know so I can give credit where it's due. This recipe makes a ton of batter (it filled my standard-size KitchenAid to the brim and made for a very tedious mixing process), so you may want to either scale it down or make it in 2 smaller batches. Also, if you're one of those weirdos like me and my husband who use their coffee maker strictly for hot water and don't want to contaminate it with coffee flavor, a venti black coffee from your local coffee shop is the exact amount needed.
5 1/3 cups cake flour
5 1/3 cups sugar
2 2/3 cups unsweetened (NOT Dutch process) cocoa powder
6 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/3 sticks (20 2/3 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups buttermilk
5 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
2 2/3 cups freshly brewed coffee, cooled
1 cup seedless raspberry jam (for filling)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour cake pans for baking.
2. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until just moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy (2 to 3 minutes).
3. Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, beating only until blended after each addition and making sure to scrape sides of bowl. Divide the batter among the prepared pans.
4. Bake for 25-30 minutes (for 9" cakes), or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 20 minutes and turn out onto cooling rack. Cool completely before filling and frosting.
5. Fill with jam and frost with ganache
2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, broken up
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups heavy cream, heated slightly
1/2 cup brandy or Cognac
1. Place the chocolate and butter in a double boiler and stir to blend as they melt.
2. When completely melted, remove from the heat and whisk in first the cream and then the brandy. Be sure to scrape down the bowl well and mix thoroughly. Mixture will thicken to a loose frosting consistency as it cools.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I say this meal has been a long time coming because I have been searching for a truly authentic recipe for what feels like aeons, and I am almost positive that this is as close as it gets. A three hour long simmer ensures that the flavors meld together seamlessly into a delicious sweet-sour-salty broth that's poured over thinly sliced beef and rice noodles, then topped with your choice of herbs and sprouts... I could ramble on forever about how good this is, but I'll spare you if you PROMISE to try this stuff, soon. It's cheap to make and goes a long way. Oh, and please forgive the lack of good photos. I didn't have the willpower to not eat this right away.
2 onions, halved
4″ nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
5-6 lbs of good beef bones (preferably with good amount of marrow)
4-5 quarts of water
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
5 star anise
1 cardamom pod
6 whole cloves
1 1/2 Tbsp salt
Roughly 1/4 cup fish sauce, depending on strength
1 inch chunk of palm sugar OR 1 oz. white sugar
2 lbs rice noodles
1/2 lb flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round
mint, cilantro, and basil (for garnish)
2 limes, wedged
2-3 chili peppers, thinly sliced
1. Place ginger and onions on baking sheet and brush with a bit of oil, broil on high until ginger and onions begin to char. Flip and char other side.
2. While onion and ginger are charring, fill a 12- qt pot with cool water and bring to a boil. Add the bones, and boil vigorously for 10-12 minutes. Drain, rinse the bones and rinse out the pot. Place bones back in pot and add 6 quarts of cold water. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Remove any scum that rises to the surface.
3. Add charred ginger and onion, spices (in a mesh bag or tea leaf ball, if you have it), salt, fish sauce, and sugar, and simmer uncovered for 3 hours. Strain broth and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning.
4. Prepare rice noodles according to package directions (which can vary widely). Slice beef very thinly.
5. Return broth to boil. Fill each person's bowl with rice noodles and raw meat slices. Once the broth is boiling, ladle on top of noodles and meat (the hot broth will cook the thin slices of meat). Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their own bowls as they wish.
Friday, April 3, 2009
That's more snow than this Virginia girl has seen in her entire life, let alone in late March. Two days later, with the return of warmer temperatures, it was all but gone. I'm tempted to start my garden, but I'm still not familiar with the weather patterns here to know if that's safe or not. Maybe I'll wait until the end of the month.
But enough of my rambling- let's get to the cookies. Ever since I made those delicious little browned butter cookies, I've been thinking of trying browned butter in a chocolate chip cookie. Usually, I pass on most chocolate chip cookies because they've become that standby cookie that everybody makes, but few make well. I know, I know... it's heresy to treat such a classic childhood treat so cavalierly, but someone's gotta do something about it. I just can't take another overbaked, cloyingly sweet yet otherwise flavorless disc studded with bad chocolate that isn't even worth its weight in carob chips.
I'll be totally honest with you- I already have a recipe for the most perfect chocolate chip cookie (which I will share with you next time I make them), and I was going to just try browning the butter in that one to see if it could possibly make it even better... but then Cooks Illustrated showed up in my mailbox with the same general idea, so I decided to try their cookie instead. Their recipe left me hesitant, as did the overly analytic instructions (which include three 3-minute intervals of letting the batter rest and beating it for 30 seconds), but I tried it anyways and ended up with a surprisingly good cookie; however, as I suspected, they didn't have the level of crispy-chewy contrast I seek, and their flavor didn't reach that coveted toffee nirvana. The browned butter definitely made a difference in flavor when compared to a run-of-the-mill chocolate chip cookie, but not to the degree that I had hoped.
The only changes I made to the recipe were using slightly fewer chocolate chips (in order to better taste how the browned butter affects the dough) and baking at 325 degrees instead of 375 degrees (because with my oven, I have to avoid the 375 setting like the plague. It's the setting of evil and burns everything). I also opted out of the nuts (again, to not interfere with tasting the browned butter). I'm thinking that with a couple of small adjustments to the dry ingredients and adding more vanilla (or maybe just replacing it altogether with Kahlua, rum, or Bailey's), these cookies could live up to their potential. So, without further ado, here is the better-than-average but not quite perfect chocolate chip cookie.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Cooks Illustrated
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
14 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz.) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and soda together in bowl, set aside.
2. Heat 10 Tbsp. butter in a 10" skillet over medium high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1-3 minutes (Nic's note: this may take longer, depending on the quality of butter you use). Remove from heat and transfer to heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 Tbsp. butter into hot butter until completely melted.
3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk again for 30 seconds. Repeat resting/whisking process 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, giving dough a final stir to ensure no air pockets remain.
4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons. Arrange 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (10-14 minutes), rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool completely before serving. (Nic's note: I don't know why they say to leave the cookies on the sheet- that's a great way to overcook them with the residual heat. And cool completely before serving? Are they crazy?!)
Thursday, April 2, 2009
In preparation for our trip, I get to find creative ways to completely clean out the refrigerator, which will either create a wealth of bloggable MacGyver-type meals or leave me grasping at straws for material. We'll see. In the meantime, let me tell you about this tasty little cake I made the other day.
Ok, so by "little," I meant "ginormous" and by "cake" I meant "somewhere between a cake and cornbread," since it really does remind me more of cornbread than a cake. I do understand, however, that "cranberry orange corn bread" doesn't sound as appealing as "cranberry orange cornmeal cake," so I'll let that slide. . . but I digress. Whatever you want to call this behemoth, it's good. I can't say that it's earth-shatteringly, mind-bendingly, where-have-you-been-all-my-life good, but it's definitely something to keep in your "We're having company" recipe box. And trust me, you'll need company to help polish this one off.
Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake
2 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
Zest of 1 orange
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 1/2 cups cranberries, divided
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round by 3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, oil and vanilla. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, 1 cup sugar, salt and zest. Mix just until thoroughly combined; do not overmix.
4. With the mixer running, slowly incorporate the egg mixture into the butter just until combined.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add one-half of the flour mixture to the batter and quickly mix for 5 seconds. Turn off the mixer and add the rest of the flour, the ricotta and one-half of the cranberries. Mix the remaining ingredients into the batter over low speed just until combined, being careful not to overmix.
6. Gently pour the batter into the cake pan and smooth the top. Scatter the remaining cranberries over the top of the cake, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
7. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Place a loose piece of foil over the top of the cake if it starts to darken. Cool the cake on a wire rack before removing it from the pan.