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Friday, April 30, 2010

Dry Rosé Me, Please!

It's Friday, and I'm slightly buzzed from the non-stop Wine Friday tasting I just did with two of my distributors. I'm generally really good on these days...I try to sip demurely, and only one or two sips before dumping into the bucket.
(This is not even half of what we tasted today...)

Today wasn't exactly one of those days. It just so happened that one distributor was newish, and coming by with an entire stock of things for us to taste. And so we did. And then my FAVORITE rep came by, with French bounties from Provence and Chinon, and I tasted. And tasted. And tasted.

Given the spring into summer like weather here in the lower mitten, I'm totally digging on the two dry rosés we tasted today. The Chinon in particular, The Couly-Dutheil "Rene Couly." Delicious, slightly maturated in color...a gorgeous pinky rose. Light, bright, and crisp. Just how I like them.

I have favorites, trust me. This one, from Bordeaux, being an absolute fav. I have a $10 one I delight in drinking on super hot days. They run the line for me, from perfect porch sipping happiness on a hot day to an outdoor supper.

Rosé has this rep...people in the "know" (whoever the heck that is!) know how much they love the summer refreshingness of a glass. But for many others, the sight of the gorgeous pinky color reminds people of Franzia White Zinfandel, and their faces turn green with memories of stealing Mom's box for 9th grade slumber parties.

I'm here to tell you, TRY THEM!  It's what red wine drinkers drink in the summer, and there is no similarity to Boone's Farm, I promise. Trust your server or wine salesperson...

Better yet, trust me!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oh Yes, It's Burger Night...(And I'm feeling alright.)

(Made by an incredibly good husband)

We're back. And stuffed. But not so stuffed that I didn't eat the entire world today. Tomorrow starts my post-vacation what the hell happened I have to get my freaking body back in check feeling. Today I ate. A lot. While J and I spent the day in full-on recovery mode (one definitely needs this post-Jazz Fest) we talked about food, and I had a thought that I would make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Of course, we had NO food in the house, and since we needed to run a few crucial (ahem, bank) errands, we decided to make a quick stop at the store.

Only it got BETTER! See, we have this freaking amazing butcher in the area. (Actually, we have several pretty amazing butchers.) The kind of place locals and tourists rave about--and there is a reason. Trust me, you'll hear a TON about their amazing chicken brats this summer! We made a quick stop for some ground sirloin, and being the super cool butcher Falatic's is, they fresh ground me some sirloin. With the fat, for moisture. Far too delicious to be wasted on meatballs--this meat called for burgers damn it! Which also means it called for someone ELSE to do the cooking tonight.

Like many men, my husband (who is actually a great cook but rarely makes the move to cook dinner) ROCKS two very specific art forms. Breakfast and the grill. Both equally wonderful efforts. I mean, insane. (First meal he ever made me was burgers, actually.) He cooks a burger that men would fight wars over. Women drool over these burgers, or they would, if I allowed him to make them for anyone else.

I tried to get him to write a guest post for you, on the art of these particular burgers. But alas, he was in no mood. So instead, I sat cross-legged on our kitchen island and forced him to use a measuring spoon and took notes and pictures for you.

Take note: our burgers are eaten in VERY DIFFERENT manners. Me? I go "healthyish." Stuff that patty in a whole grain pita with spinach, avocado, onion, and a tiny bit of goat cheese. His is more, um, traditional. My side includes about 10 fries and a salad...he eats the remainder of the fries and generally speaking, 1 1/2 burgers. (By the way, for quick easy fries? We buy Oreida Golden Fries and once baked, sprinkle liberally with Old Bay and salt. OHMYGOODNESS!)

(My healthy version)
(And J's...)
But American Cheese or avocado, it doesn't matter. J's burgers hit the EXACT spot needed to set me on the path to recovery.

J's "Bay" Burgers
1 lb coarse ground sirloin (with some fat in mix--or whatever ground meat you want)
1/2 tsp (plus extra) cracked black pepper
1/3 tsp (plus extra) kosher salt
1/2 tsp Old Bay
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 slices (per burger) American cheese, if desired
Buns (I like whole grain hamburger buns, pita, sprouted wheat. J likes pretzel rolls or good burger buns)

Preheat a flat, cast iron (preferably) griddle pan to medium heat. You can also use a skillet, but the point is to use something flat to keep the burgers moist and help with the crust. (The crust is key.)
In a bowl large enough to work in, fold spices into meat JUST enough to make sure the seasonings are evenly incorporated. Do NOT overmix/obliterate (J's word) the meat.
J makes 3, 1/3 lb burgers. Mold 1/3 of the meat into a circle, and then GENTLY press and push the ball into a patty (do this on wax paper). DO NOT SLAP THE BURGERS. (Again, from J.)
Liberally salt and pepper BOTH sides of patties, and gently push into burger with fingertips to ensure good crust.
Put burgers on griddle. Don't move--cook 6-8 minutes (for medium) burgers on one side.
Flip, cook approximately 3(ish) minutes. Add sliced cheese, and "tent" burgers with a metal bowl, tin foil, or overturned pan.

Now, for fixins:
J slices an onion into 1/4 inch slices (ok, I do this) and puts them on the griddle for about 4 minutes a side with a bit of olive oil spray.
Once onions are removed, J puts a bit of butter on the griddle and toasts his buns.
He makes this INSANE sauce, which he uses as a condiment on the burgers. 
J's Killer Sauce
1/4 C ketchup
1 tsp Sriracha (or other non-vinegary hot sauce)
dash toasted sesame oil
1 TBSP olive oil mayo
cracked pepper to taste
Stir to combine, slather on burger buns. When burgers are properly dressed, dilute remainder of "sauce" with ketchup and use as dip for fries.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Please Send Mylanta

J's night stand at the apartment. Appropriate.

No. Seriously. Please send a rescue crew with all the sodium bicarbonate one can find.

We're wrapping up our week in NOLA with one last show tonight. A big event called "Instruments a'comin'!" Sounds amazing, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Except I can't eat anymore. I know, I know, I write an entire blog about eating (and drinking.) But I'm done. I can't do it.

My body is craving leafy greens NOT slathered in mayo or crawfish remoulade. I'm dying for a drink of something non-alcoholic and NOT a delicious coffee freeze from the fairgrounds. I'm fairly certain I've expanded my waist about 3 sizes, and my energy level is nil.

But...what a ride. J and I have been really really bad about taking pictures of our food. It just hasn't exactly been easy, what with rain, a ton of people, dirty muddy fairgrounds, etc. But when we return home (and have slept off the rest of our exhaustion) I will try my damndest to report back in massively descriptive detail all the wonders of my favorite things. Cochon du lait. Crawfish strudel. Rosemint iced tea, and white chocolate bread pudding. And, to the absolute and total delight of my husband, I've fallen in love with Crystal hot sauce. (We're smuggling several bottles in our suitcases.)

And the music...Anders Osborne rocked. Galactic (though insanely late, causing my entire circadian rhythm to wig out) was incredible. New Orleans Nitecrawlers. Simon and Garfunkel...ah.

Soon my friends, soon.
Can't believe I'm saying this, but NO MORE BEER!

Bourbon Street. Daytime. 

J and I during Simon and Garfunkel. The sun had finally come out!

Dinner Friday night. Cochon Butcher

Brother Andy and I at a party last night

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Food Porn for a Skinny Vanilla Latte Woman...

I am, I swear. It's true. But on vacation in cities that revolve around food? PLEASE!

When I have a bit of time this weekend, I promise to post pictures and blog as much as possible. And when I get back? Oh my. I'll have to do some serious editing!

But to tide you over, pictures from day 1. Cafe du Monde for beignets and iced cafe au lait. Johnny's for po' boys. Bloodies and Abita Amber. (By the way, New Orleans has, by far, the best bloody mary I've ever had. More on that next week, but for real. Insane.) Emeril's NOLA for dinner. Tonight? Jacques Imo's for dinner.

And now I remember why I overpacked: one needs at least two sizes of everything in order to eat in NOLA.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Label Me This

In the middle of getting my whole life organized before heading to New Orleans tomorrow, I had a glass of wine slash new iPhone tutorial with my friend Rebekah. We both knew we shouldn't-we were swamped with work-but she needed some quick info on how to use her new phone, and who am I to say no? I mean, I was either going to have a glass of wine at home, over loads of laundry, or allow R to pour me an ample glass while showing her how to make her phone stop ringing? Easy choice, obviously!

She pulled out a bottle of Valley of the Moon Zinfandel, from Sonoma. With this statement, "Want to taste that awesome inexpensive wine we told you about with the worst label?" And seriously? She wasn't kidding.
You have to love the "frosty" effect on the bottle!

The wine was phenomenal! Around $10 (from Wine Discount Center in Chicago, I'm guessing) it was earthy and full, without being to "jammy"--something both R and I tend to dislike in California reds. It was really wonderful. But it got us talking about those other REALLY good bottles with terrible labels...and then, of course, the NOT so good bottles with the really bad labels. 

I'm definitely not a label-buyer--obviously, I rarely see labels until I'm tasting the wines, which is a bonus of being in my business. A lot of my customers are label purchasers, though, and it makes total sense! There are times when it's great, and I'd be lying if I didn't purchase certain stock because I KNOW people will buy for the label. 

At the end of the day, great label or not, if the wine isn't good, you're not going to repurchase. And vice versa, I'll buy a great bottle with a horrible label (above) again and again.

But to quote a very wise man, "I'd never bring that bottle to a BYO restaurant!"

What about you? Are you a label buyer? Share your stories, good and bad! 

Some of my favorites?
I've written about this wine before--it's fantastic and retails for around $9. 
But the label is like the decor from the tv show "Too Close for Comfort!"

A lovely Sauvignon Blanc I just started carrying. Retails for about $13. 
But for label buyers? It's terrible!

This is one of those not so great wines with an even worse label. Don't even get me started!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pesto: The Last of My Rampage

Pesto is fascinating, isn't it? Ok, maybe not fascinating...but certainly interesting. It's easy and gives you instant gratification. All you need is a food processor (or a blender, but I think you REALLY need a food processor to make it work well) and some ingredients and POW! You have a dip, a sauce, a spread...("it's a hat, it's a brooch, it's a Teradactyl.")

Traditionally, pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. That's it, aside from salt and pepper. But there are recipes that switch that up all over the place. Spinach, peas...all can be made into pesto with the right balance. I've made a tarragon and parsley pesto. I make a spinach and walnut pesto that is one of my absolute favorites! I tend to start the processing of the pesto with stock, just to lighten it up a bit and get the greens moving...and then stream in the olive oil. But it's basically hard to screw up. Just taste and test as you go, blending and adding to your heart's content.

I decided to use the remainder of my ramps (sad to see you go, happy for the week's worth of meals I had) to make a pesto, per the genius of my friends at Kitchen Lab. I took it a step in a new direction, swapping in pistachios for the pine nuts (they also made one with walnuts) and using manchego cheese. It needed some lemon (zest and juice) and I lightened it up with a bit of stock, but it was tremendous! Throw in some chicken sausage and bulgur and we had a beautiful meal. More importantly, we had a few beautiful jars to give away!

Bonus points go to the readers that can name the quote above!

Pesto (in a nutshell)
3 or so C (packed loosely) greens, herbs, ramps, whatever
Heavy splash of vegetable or chicken stock (if you want to lighten it up)
1/2 C toasted nuts of your choosing (just toast them in a dry pan for a few minutes)
1/2 grated cheese (again, try different hard cheeses to mix it up)
Lemon (zest and juice) if necessary, depending on your greens
1/2-3/4 C olive oil (depends on consistency)
salt and pepper

In the bowl of the food processor, pulse the nuts til they're mostly chopped.
Add greens and a splash of stock (or oil) and process down to a rough paste.
Add in cheese and lemon zest (if using) and turn your machine on, slowly streaming in the olive oil, tasting and testing as you go.
When you reach desired sauciness, add in salt and pepper, more cheese if necessary, lemon juice if necessary, and stir.
Serve with pasta, meat, as a dip...the possibilities, they are endless! 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How Do YOU Grill Your Cheese?

It's been pointed out to me, about 6 or 7 times, that April is National Grilled Cheese Month. This makes me laugh for several reasons, not counting that I think it's funny that people tell me these things, AND that there is an entire MONTH for Grilled Cheese. Makes sense, of course. Is there really anything better than gooey cheese and great toasty bread, hot and messy and yummy?

I live by two standards of grilled cheese sandwiches. One, which I try to eat far less frequently, is the true deliciousness of four or five different cheeses, and some prosciutto or bacon, melted together beautifully between two pieces of challah or brioche, with the aid of a well seasoned frying pan and some butter. Did I mention the fried egg in it? Oops.

Guilty? Yes, but still amazingly good.

The other, I eat often. (Probably too often, really.) I break out one of my top 5 appliances, the glorious panini press, and a bit of olive oil spray. I melt together some less than totally bad for me cheese, maybe with some meat (maybe not) on some kind of almost really good for you bread--generally sprouted wheat, if I'm being honest. It's not exactly health food, but it's not bad for me either.

So, in honor of National Grilled Cheese Month, I thought I'd share my top 5 tips for a great, good for you grilled cheese:

1: Bread. Choose wisely. Yes, things like buttery brioche are insanely delicious, but they are not so good for my jeans. So, try to pick something a bit denser, with some high protein or great fiber. Ezekial bread works well, and like I said, I live for sprouted wheat bread.

2: Cheese. Duh.  I try and use a little of something really strong and yummy in flavor, like a manchego or an extra sharp great cheddar. Then, if I want more melty goodness, I use a low-fat, part skim mozzarella to help that meltiness come into play. Of course, there are days when nothing but a beautiful piece of fresh buffalo mozzarella will do. Those days, just go with it. You're being healthy in other ways.

3: Flavor. Because you're going the healthier route, and forgoing butter and the fatty deliciousness known as semi-soft cheese, you're going to want something to bite you back. Go for the gold. Spicy grainy mustard, or a great pepper jam. Pesto. A bit of Giardiniera peppers. Don't go overboard, just go enough. And don't forget the salt and pepper!

4: Non-stickiness. Whether you're using a panini press or a grill pan, don't use butter. Just don't do it to yourself. (And if you're one of those people who butter doesn't bother, don't listen to me!) I go for olive oil, or better yet, an olive oil spray.

5: Extra flavor. Better known as dipping! Some of us are dippers, some of us are not. I most DEFINITELY AM! So, dip away in my book. Mix up a crazy good honey mustard, heat up some tomato or roasted red pepper soup (I firmly stand by those cartons of soup from Trader Joe's or Pacific, especially for this!) If you're J, mix up something super spicy and use bbq sauce and probably one other dip.

So enjoy! Grill your cheesy little hearts content! What are your favorite ways to grill some cheese?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ramping Up the Carbs for a Ramptastic Pasta!

Apparently, I've just crossed a big one off of my "foodie bucket list." Ramps. From those who gingerly walk into the food world one toe at a time, or those who cannonball right into the pool, ramps are key. They are a spring bounty, a triumph, and often rated with morels as the "to use/to find/to hunt ingredient."
Even more apparently, they grow right where I live. In droves. I've eaten them before, but never hunted them or cooked them. Until this week, of course.

Ok, I didn't hunt them. But our fabulous friends did. And they gave me TONS! Along with 2 really killer homemade ramp pestos--one with walnut, one with pine nuts. And several warnings on the meditative (translation: lengthy) cleaning process of said product. I set about this task on Tuesday, contemplating for 30 hours prior just what I wanted to do with my first ramp trick. I admit, I was a bit intimidated, only because chefs like Alex Guarnaschelli tweet about them with excited glee. In a slightly cheating manner, I decided to both use the ramps AND the aforementioned pesto, so as to make my dish even more ramptastic--and to insure at least one part would be insanely good (the pesto.)

But here's the deal--the dish was amazing. The ramps, when I bit the leafy top raw, had a pungent garlic flavor. But when sauteed in a bit of olive oil and renderings from a ridiculously amazing prosciutto from Iowa, they mellow out and get a lovely balanced flavor. I tossed the crispy prosciutto with the whole-grain, flax-seed rotini, and heated the walnut-ramp pesto with it. Using some pasta cooking water to thin out the pesto, and tossing it all together with the sauteed ramps...well, it was awesomely fantastic.

Today, I clean more ramps, and am going to attempt my own pesto, as well as using the raw greens in a salad. And feel insanely foodie-cool.

Go on, go to the farmer's market (those of you lucky enough to live in cities) and pick some up. Or, for those of you country-folk like moi, go outside and hunt. You never know what you'll find!

Basic Pasta...Ramped UP!
1 lb whole grain short cut pasta
1/4 lb thinly sliced prosciutto, sliced in strips
1 lb ramps, cleaned, tops cut from stem, sliced in half
1 small jar pesto (if it's ramp pesto, even better!)
1 lemon
Parmesan Cheese (or some other hard grating cheese)
salt and pepper
olive oil
While pasta boils, in a large skillet, heat 1 TBSP olive oil and render prosciutto strips until just crispy. Remove, and drain on paper towel lined plate.
Add ramps into oil/prosciutto renderings, and sautee until they wilt to a spinach like consistency.
Remove, set aside.
When pasta is almost al dente, reserve 1 C pasta water and drain pasta.
Toss in pan from prosciutto and ramps, and toss with pesto. Add ramps, and toss, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Add lemon zest and juice and toss.
Add in prosciutto, and grate parmesan cheese over, tossing. 
Serve immediately (and be ready for seconds.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Salmon: Gorgeous, plain and simple.

We're all looking for simple and gorgeous. In most everything these days. A great beer, a great set of dishes, a great cookie, a great dinner party. Everything should look effortless, according to Martha and Ina and others...but they don't always make it effortless for US! And often, we NEED effortless. In a world where we work our butts off, and then work some more, we don't always have hour upon hour to cook a four-course dinner for our friends.

This salmon recipe personifies that feeling. I cannot take credit for it--it's my mother's. One of the things she always goes to for a dinner party or holiday, it's incredibly beautiful, and I've never seen anyone NOT ask for seconds. But the best part? It's wicked easy. I know, I've made it.

Your spouse will adore you, your dinner guests will marvel at your skill and technique, wondering if you've had a private lesson from Moonen or Bourdain.

But the best part? It's one of those dishes that inspires you. It makes you feel/look like a rockstar in the kitchen. Which, for most of us, is something we want even more than just simple and gorgeous.

Gingered Salmon
1/2 finely sliced scallion
6 TBSP finely grated peeled fresh ginger (you can also finely mince it)
6 TBSP grapeseed oil (or other light colored oil)
1/2 C soy sauce (I use Tamari--and always reduced sodium, no matter what)
2 TBSP sugar (I used turbinado sugar, or raw sugar
2 tsp mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 t pepper 
4 lbs salmon fillets, the skin and any bones and brown fat discarded (My mother has her fish guy remove the skin from the back as well--I didn't, as it's easy to remove once the fish is cooked.)

Make the marinade:  In a small skillet cook the scallion and the ginger in the oil over moderate heat, stirring until the mixture is golden. Remove the skillet from the heat.  
In a bowl whisk together the soy, sugar, mirin, sesame oil, pepper and the scallion mixture.

Arrange the salmon in a large shallow dish, pour the marinade over it and let the salmon marinate, covered and chilled for at least 1 hr or overnight. 
Transfer the salmon with tongs to the rack of a foil-lined broiler pan.
Brush it generously with the marinade, and broil it under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 5 minutes per 1/2 inch of thickness
(Mom bakes it for about 10 minutes before she broils it, or you can grill it--delicious!)
It is not necessary to turn the salmon.  Serves 8-10

The crispier the top, the better!

**Note: You want to use really good salmon. Wild, not farmed. For more information on why, please visit Rick Moonen's blog listed above. I used sushi grade and it was ridonkulous--it doesn't need to cook a lot, so you want really good product. Rant over.**

Soe's Insane Burger with Fried Egg and Bacon

The photographic proof of the fried egg burger. J hadn't had it, so we went for lunch yesterday.
And no, I didn't eat it. Once a week works for me! :)

More later. I've got ramps to clean!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Favorite Dirty Little Trend

There's a trend in food right now. It's been around for a long time, but it is resurfacing in a massive way. And I love it. I lovingly call it the "clearly everyone knows that everything tastes better with an egg" trend. Seriously, have you noticed? Saladsgourmet snacksfries. Everywhere you look, eggs are turning up in one way or another to make our dishes that much more delicious. And caloric, of course.

But here's my dirty little secret about this trend, other than I freaking love it. I didn't use to love it at all. In fact, not even a little bit. I'm not a fried egg kind of girl, or at least, I wasn't. Nothing runny near my eggs for breakfast, please. The sight of someone mopping up the yolk of their soft-poached egg with their toast brought me close to gagging. (Never mind watching my adventurous 5 year old niece dip pieces of bread into an egg cup at Le Pain!)

But somehow, slowly but surely, the eggs kept creeping closer and closer to my plates of food. A bite of J's yummy egg and bacon panini here, a dip for the aforementioned fries there. The glory of the fried egg atop the Pastrami Primanti's. And then, before I knew it, I was straight up ordering dishes BECAUSE of the egg. I now scour menus for fried eggs and often jump in head first without thinking another thought.

Last night, I had such an experience. I had a late dinner with friends after work, at a local place that recently underwent a chef change that has been receiving rave reviews. Specifically from these friends who have eaten there every weekend for the last few weeks. There was one dish, however, getting the most praise, and I had been craving it. A burger, made more wonderous by the additions of bacon and a fried egg on top. And...ohmyholygodreally? Wow.

We split it. I wished we hadn't. My thighs/hips/chin are glad we did.

When J arrived home from his gig at 2:30am, I babbled to him about it. And again this morning. And again on the way to work. I'm making him go there tomorrow night. Enough said.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Health" in 15 minutes

Yesterday kind of blew. Just one of those days, dealing with a lot of those things, yada yada. Between the weird weather, the killer work screw up and other things, I was less than in the mood for anything all day. Until J and I had to, ahem, run an errand to the local microbrewery The Livery . Where I had a beer. Which helped.

After the porkapalooza eating fest in Chicago this week, I had intended to make something healthy and easy for dinner. Until J got a beer in him, and decided he wanted pizza. I did not. I could not. Couldn't happen. So I started thinking of the easiest option in the kitchen (yes, in the car) and really really knew that I did not want a salad. Anyway, here's what I knew I had in the house: quinoa, chicken stock, chicken sausage, broccoli rabe and feta cheese. (And balsamic vinegar, which I always have.) I figured, that sounds like a good meal? Slightly comforting while still being healthy, and fast enough that I could make it while J's pizza stayed warm in the oven and he cleaned out the litter boxes.

15 minutes later, I had something that resembled mac and cheese in terms of comfort food but wouldn't make me feel like total crap after eating it. Filling and flavorful, it made a crappy day a little less crappy, instead of giving into the instinct of mowing down on half of J's pepperoni pie.

And of course, left room for some very necessary dessert.

Quinoa with Chicken Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Feta
2 servings (one for dinner, one for lunch!)
1 C Quinoa
2 C chicken stock
1 link chicken sausage, sliced
1 C broccoli rabe, chopped
1/4 C crumbled or chopped feta
Balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper, to taste

Bring quinoa and chicken stock to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Once boiling, cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook approximately 10-15 minutes. 
Meanwhile, sear up chicken sausage in a skillet, remove.
Bring a small pot of water to a simmer, and cook broccoli rabe for about 5 minutes, to take out the bitterness. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
When quinoa is almost done, add broccoli rabe to pot of cooking quinoa, and cook until done.
Remove from heat, add feta and stir. Add in vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

I also added in a bit of garlic at the end, because I was in a garlicky mood. But the trick with this, I think, is that the possibilities are endless. No chicken sausage but a leftover rotisserie chicken? Throw that in. No feta but goat cheese? Done. Don't like broccoli rabe? Throw in peas or whatever other veggie you have. This dish LOOKED pretty and tasted insane--no reason not to feed it to your mother-in-law, neighbor, or boss.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Apron Anxiety's Recipe for Hot Bread Success

If you follow me on facebook or twitter, or read this blog regularly enough to pick up on my links, you know I LOVE Apron Anxiety. Moreover, I love Alyssa, who IS Apron Anxiety. Alyssa and I have been friends since my insane wild child days in NYC (don't ask, I won't tell you anyway) and our friendship has survived breakups, marriage, several careers in PR, a crazy dating blog, and more. Somehow, we're better than ever, and I have to thank our love of food, cooking, and writing for some of that. She's a genius at her laptop, and becoming a rockstar in her kitchen--thanks to her relationchef (she's engaged to Spike Mendelsohn, the hot, fedora wearing, wise-ass from Top Chef Chicago.) 
Here is Alyssa's fool-proof recipe for homemade bread, sure to make any man fall to his knees.

I’d love to say that I learned to bake bread from a peasant lady in Lisbon. Or because I’m earthy, crunchy and cool. But let’s be real- I learned to bake bread because I like the way it makes my house smell. And when your fiancé comes home at the crack of dawn - tired, starving and craving comfort – this makes him worship you.

I guess ignorance is bliss because I didn’t even realize bread-baking was any sort of badass accomplishment. It came really naturally. Which is baffling since things like roasting chicken and boiling potatoes still result in me plea-bargaining for Percocet.

Then again, if we do indeed turn into our mothers (oy!) I suppose I was destined to stalk strangers on the bus, take bubble baths before bed, ignore my husband’s opinion and become an amazing baker of bread.

This recipe is a no-brainer. Literally – it requires no brain (I know this because I’ve made it while very distracted and not-in-the mood). It has a short rise-time and very simple ingredients. Everyone enjoys it. Best with good butter or a few slices of cheese.

Your home will smell sensational. Brilliant night to ask for that beach house, baby or back rub. You can thank me later.

Shaker-Style Walnut and Rosemary Loaf, as found on
2 1/4 cups very warm whole milk (120°F)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup warm water (110°F to 115°F)
 2 envelopes active dry yeast
 1 large egg, beaten to blend
 6 1/2 cups (about) all purpose flour
  1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  Vegetable oil
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon whole milk (for glaze)

Pour milk into large bowl. Mix in sugar, butter, and salt; cool to lukewarm. Place 1/4 cup warm water in small bowl; mix in yeast. Let stand 6 minutes.

Stir yeast mixture and 1 egg into lukewarm milk mixture. Mix in 4 cups flour. Beat with wooden spoon until mixture is smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sponge stand until bubbles appear at edge, about 15 minutes.

Mix nuts and rosemary into sponge. Mix in flour, 1/3 cupful at a time, until soft, slightly sticky dough forms. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky, sprinkling with flour as needed, about 10 minutes. Brush clean large bowl with oil. Add dough; turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Brush two 8 1/2x4 1/2x2 1/2-inch nonstick loaf pans with oil. Punch dough down and turn out onto work surface; shape into two 8-inch-long loaves. Place in pans. Let rise, uncovered, until almost doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Using serrated knife, make shallow cut down center of each loaf. Brush loaves with glaze. Bake until golden and crusty, about 35 minutes. Turn breads out of pans. Cool on racks.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Holy Purple Pig, Batman!

I literally just had one of the best restaurant experiences of my life. At The Purple Pig on Michigan Avenue. Literally one of the best. (And that's not just the dry rosé/pork high talking.) They're not joking when they say "Cheese, swine and wine." Apron Anxiety, your man would be proud.

J and I are down in Chicago for a few days for various reasons. We're staying near Michigan Avenue, again, for a variety of reasons. I left him in the room this afternoon and went out to run a few errands, passing by The Purple Pig on the way. I have been DYING to eat here, ever since I read phenomenal reviews, not to mention hearing from Alain Joseph (Emeril's Culinary Assistant) that it was one of the best. So, I took note, and considered it for a meal tonight. Upon my journey to return to the hotel, J decided that he wanted to eat first (and then go meet friends to watch Butler do their best to try and smoke Duke) and we figured we'd just meet there.

Upon entering, I was excited. Large communal tables, two-top banquets, and a long marble bar. The waitress mentioned that there was "chef's table" seating, on the end of the bar. I ran to it. It was early, around 5:30, and I knew J would be rocked to eat there. The menu is insane. A virtual smorgasbord of pork-related  wonder. I ordered a glass of a great dry rosé (Vega Sindoa) and waited for J while perusing the menu. Of course, once he arrived, we set about it, asking the chefs in front of us as well as the waitress for their expert opinions.

We ordered the following: salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachios, prosciutto bread balls, fried pigs ears with crispy kale, cherry peppers, and a fried egg, the serrano jamon with roasted asparagus and grilled bread, and the balsamic braised pig tails with egg salad and parsley (to cut through the acidity.) The chefs in front of us, on the flat grill, were kind enough to give us an order of both marinated olives and the insane pork-fried almonds, as well! Um, needless to say? Freaking amazing. The pig tails and the serrano were the high stand outs. The pigs ears were great, but a little rich for our full menu of ordering. EVERYTHING was outstanding.

It wasn't just the outrageously delicious food that made this experience so delightful. It was the service, the attention, the talkativeness of the chefs/servers, and the knowledge they all had. Asking our waitress about cheese and wine was an educational lesson--and I know wine! The selection they have, the informative way they deliver was all fantastic.

We ended the meal with a farro and sweetened ricotta pudding with melted chocolate sauce. Ridiculous. That is all I can say about it.

I cannot say enough that you MUST try this place. It is so right smack dab in the middle of the tourist-action that is Michigan Avenue that you'd trip over it if it was Dick's Last Resort. But it's good...oh, so so so good.

So good that as I sit here, attempting to get off my pork high behind to go watch the basketball game, I'm literally debating going back for the fried sardines.

What Can I do for YOU?

I'm in Easter-recovery mode. Meaning, I've overdosed on my mother-in-law's ridiculous baked goods, my sister-in-law's fantastic Easter lunch, and my father-in-law's Easter crack of choice, dark chocolate covered marshmallow eggs. Lord.

It's the first time we've been with J's family in a while, and, of course, we had a great time. Our niece Abby is unbeatable, and getting cuter and more amazing by the day. But enough about that. Eventually, talk turned to my blog a bit--on a walk to the park to watch Abby play. My sister-in-law asked for more "side" recipes. She told me she often just makes an easy protein, and needs recipes for good, healthy, easy sides to prepare for dinner. So that got me thinking, and I'm plotting a few recipes tailored for her in the coming days/weeks.

Taking a cue from Gini Dietrich, who's blogging and social media skills inspire me daily, I thought I'd ask if anyone else has any special requests. Comment and let me know. I'm open to ideas. I'm happy to create and test and work on things...just for you. It will keep me inspired, and keep me working.

I know you're out there--so here's your chance to tell me EXACTLY what you need.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Stuff This: A Matzoh Stuffing

The recipes in my Passover arsenal are fascinating. Mainly because they're good enough to make all year round, though I hardly do. My brownies are probably the best I make all year round, though I've never tried to "un-Passover" them. Don't even get me started on Haroset or hard boiled eggs with salt water.

I feel that way about this stuffing. You could make it with bread and go traditional--it would be amazing. The recipe is more about the combining of perfect flavors that work together whether you're eating whole wheat matzoh or a fabulous artisanal sourdough loaf.

Something about the combination I used makes me feel like I'm eating something insanely decadent, though in truth this recipe is also really healthy--I mean, as far as stuffings go.

Cranberry, Chestnut, Fennel Stuffing

3 c unsalted chicken stock
1 c dried cranberries
2 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 carrot peeled and chopped
2 fennel bulbs, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 egg slightly beaten
About 8 whole wheat matzohs broken into medium sized (larger than bite-sized) pieces
2 c prepared chestnuts halved (they come in a jar)
2 T chopped fresh sage
1 T chopped fresh thyme
2 T chopped fresh flat parsley
salt and pepper
2 T reserved fennel frawns (tops) chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm stock until steam begins to rise 3-5 min.  
Remove from heat and add cranberries; set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil.
Add onion, fennel, carrot; sauté stirring occasionally until tender and translucent, 8-10 minutes. 
Add chopped parsley, sage, and thyme. 
Transfer to a bowl, set aside.

In a large bowl, stir egg while slowly pouring in stock and cranberries (be careful stock is not too hot or egg will scramble!).  
Add matzoh and stir until well blended. Use your hands--trust me!
Let stand, stirring occasionally until stock is absorbed 6-8 min.  
Add vegetable mix, chestnuts, and fennel frawns.  
Season with salt and pepper and stir to mix well.  Transfer to prepared baking dish.
Bake until browned and crispy 45-50 min.  

Interfaith Brownies

I'm in an interfaith relationship. It's true. My husband? Not so Jewish. Which is fine--ALL the time. Doesn't matter at all. Except when Easter falls smack dab in the middle of Passover (two years running I think) and makes me totally breakdown and lose the exciting feeling of actually managing to KEEP passover for the whole 8 days. (Um, excluding beer. Which in my world, is fine.) We go to my in-laws for Easter, almost every year. And there's this REALLY good ham. And cookies. And Reese's peanut butter eggs. (If you do not know of the difference between a Reese's CUP and an EGG, I pity you.)
(Cooling in pan, 1/2 nuts, 1/2 no...)
So, to clear out my fridge before our pilgrimage to Rockford, IL for the eggy holiday, I've been getting rid of all the Passover goodies I cooked. I took a plate FULL of the brownies/matzoh to the shop with me today, and left them on my counter. Offering them to distributors, customers, and of course, the people who love me and see me there daily. It must have been a big day of Jewish tourism, because several of my customers, or people who came in, wound up being Jewish. So, I offered. I mean, they're kosher for Passover. And one by one, people were blown away. (Hi people who ate my brownies and got my blog address when asked for the recipe! Hope you're having a nice day!) The thing about these brownies is that they're insane. So good. NO idea why I don't make them all year round and leave out the kosher for passover part. They're THAT good. Mushy, gooey, delicious. And flourless, of course. Someday, I hope to try and figure out a way to make the same recipe without the matzoh cake meal, which just aint that easy to find. But until then, here you go. I SERIOUSLY recommend them. Like, for real. Serious.

Make them for Easter and you TOO can have Interfaith Brownies.

Passover Chocolate Interfaith Brownies
4oz bittersweet chocolate (I use a high quality like Ghiardelli bar)
1/2 lb butter
4 eggs
2 C sugar
1 cup matzoh cake meal (hard to find, but if you do--you can store it in the freezer.)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 TBSP vanilla
2 TBSP good strong instant coffee or espresso
1 C chopped walnuts (optional)
1 C chocolate chips (again, good quality)

Preheat oven to 325. Spray a square baking dish with cooking spray or butter.
In either the microwave or a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter together and cool. I do this both ways, and microwaving is fine. Just put them in a big bow, and microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring each time it dings. You don't want to over melt the chocolate, so just keep stirring in between. Or, be safe, and do this over a double boiler and stir a lot.
Beat eggs with sugar.
Blend in salt, vanilla, and chocolate/butter mixture.
Gradually stir in coffee and matzoh cake meal
Add 1/2 C nuts (if using) and 3/4 C chocolate chips.
Pour into prepared pan and sprinkle remaining nuts and chips over the top.
Bakes for between 35-45 minutes, but take it out just when the edges start to crisp.

Double this recipe. Trust me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Meat that Change My (Culinary) Life

The night that we celebrated the inauguration of President Obama, my life changed. No, not just because of the O's. It changed because I was introduced to a couple it would take me another year to actually connect with, and those people would change my life. Or at least, change the way I cook red meat. I met The Schuttlers of Middlebrook Farms in Three Oaks, MI.

When I knew I was cooking Passover, I decided I wanted to try and do it as local as possible. This is not an easy accomplishment where I live, especially in March. But I wanted to try. I knew I'd be cooking brisket, and my first stop was to call Janet Schuttler and see what she would have for me. Turns out, they had four pieces of brisket for me, totaling the 10lbs I needed. Grass-fed, locally grown, super well taken care of flat brisket. I had never had Middlebrook's meat before, but I went with my gut. The farm is approximately 10 miles from my house, and only 2 from the shop--does meat get more local than that?

J and I went to pick up the brisket a few days before Passover, and were blown away by the farm. Gorgeous I had expected. But breathtakingly, incredibly, awe-inspiring...I had not. I only wish I had been smart enough to have my phone on me--I would have taken pictures for you. There are huge red barns and an adorable yellow farm house. Large cows outside, grazing on the same grass that grows right in front of my shop. (Ok, not exactly.) Janet met us, and after we settled up, she took us on a tour. Calves had just been born that week, so we went inside the barn and met them. We met them mothers, we met the llama that takes care of the cattle. Apparently, the llama knows instinctively how to keep coyotes away from the cows. Incredible. We met the chickens that would be giving us farm fresh eggs this summer, and saw the cool upstairs barn space where I'm ITCHING to throw a beer dinner--more on that soon. It made me want to give up life and be a farmer--a feeling that passed soon after, when we stopped on the drive home to scrape the chicken poop out of our sneakers. I'm not exactly cut out for the farming lifestyle. But I'm happier than anything to reap the benefits of people, like the Schuttlers, who ARE!

I'd be lying if I said the experience of meeting a cow I might someday eat wasn't weird for me. It was. But, I'm not a vegetarian, and I openly eat meat. I turned the weirdness into this incredible feeling of cool...knowing that the meat I would be cooking and eating had a wonderful existence, cared for by this amazing couple. I knew the meat had a good life, and wasn't tortured or treated badly.

And honestly, that has to be good enough for me. I can tell you the brisket was insane. Delicious, lean, flavorful. If you have the opportunity to buy from a local farm like this, I really encourage you to do so. If you can't, just allow yourself to try grass-fed beef, just once. I'm almost positive you won't switch back if you have the option.

It's good for you, it's good for the planet. What more can you ask?

Photos: Middlebrook Farms

Oh, AND you want the recipe for the brisket? Sure!

Jill's Made Up Passover or Absolutely Any Time Brisket

10 lbs of brisket (obviously adjust for proper size)
2 heads of garlic
1 bottle Cotes du Rhone or other dry red wine (you may not use the whole bottle)
2 C beef stock, more if necessary
salt and pepper
3 large spanish onions, sliced
1/2 C packed dark brown sugar
1/3 C balsamic vinegar (use the cheap stuff here, it will carmelize and thicken in the pan)
2 TBSP dried thyme
2 tsp dried rosemary
2 TBSP dried sage
**cooking times refer to grass-fed beef. If using regular beef, cook 30% longer on the last cooking stage.

Preheat oven to 500
Dry brisket and place in a roasting pan or casserole big enough to hold the meat and a lot of juices.
Peel cloves from garlic (keep in mind this was for 10lbs) and with a paring knife, cut small incisions in the fatty side of the meat, stuffing each clove of garlic into a different incision.
Season liberally with salt and coarse black pepper.

Place brisket fat side up into hot oven for approximately 4-7 minutes, until top browns. Turn brisket and place back in oven to brown other side.
Reduce heat to 350.
Remove brisket from oven and add  Cotes du Rhone (or other dry red wine) and beef stock (again, this was for a lot of meat.) You want the liquid to come up to about 1 inch on the side of the pan.
Cover brisket with foil and place in oven for 1 hour.
While brisket is cooking, slice onions and place in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Salt liberally.
Allow onions to cook for 30-45 minutes, until fully carmelized and liquid has evaporated. Set aside.
Remove brisket after one hour, and add onions, sugar, balsamic vinegar and spices to pan. Add more liquid if necessary. Stir brisket around to incorporate all ingredients.
Recover and cook for 1 hour.
Test with instant read thermometer--should be around 135 when you pull the pan out.
Allow to rest for at least 25 minutes (depending on size) and then slice and return meat to pan with all juices. 
Allow to cool completely, and refrigerate until next day. (Not necessary, but really? So much better!)

To reheat, bring pan up to room temp and place in 275 oven until warm.
When meat is up to temperature, remove from pan and place all pan drippings in blender/food processor with 1/2-2 C of chicken/beef stock (will depend on amount of liquid meat gave off) and 1/2 C red wine, 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar. Puree until desired consistency (I like mine thick) and warm through before serving.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Second Seder: Leftovers

We're a few days into the Passover holiday, and I've been very good. No grains, no flour...not even any beer (which is usually my "allowed sin.") That is due in large part to the insane amount of food I made for our first seder on Monday night. I've still got a fridge full of leftovers...

On Tuesday night, the "seder" was to be just J, my mom, and me. Which in our terms meant eating leftovers with Crystal Bowersox and Dr. Drew. Now my food on Monday was great. But as much as I love leftovers, I couldn't bring myself to eat the exact same plate of food again. All of a sudden, in a flash between seeing Alice in Wonderland 3D (hey, it was a day of rest!) and buying hair gel at Target, I decided I'd make a leftover shepherd's pie!

Shepherd's pie is a tried and true favorite in the world. How could it not be? Cook up some meat, add in some vegetables, and cover the entire thing with mashed potatoes? I'm sorry, what DOESN'T sound good in there? So I set about chopping up my brisket, smashing up some sweet potatoes with the beet horseradish we'd had for the seder (the color was the most gorgeous combination of bright orangey fuschia!) and making us a delicious 2nd seder meal.

What? Surely there is one Jewish celebrity on Sober House, no?

I should say this: I HATE leftover "recipes." In truth, how many of us often have the exact leftovers the recipe calls for? It's bogus. So, for this, the only thing to know is that if you didn't cook a 10lb grass fed brisket for dinner this week, feel free to cook up any kind of meat you want--the recipe will still be delicious. You may need to add some more garlic, or onion or season it a bit more--just go with it.

Leftover Brisket Shepherd's Pie
About 5-7 thick slices of brisket, chopped into small dice
Gravy from brisket
Chicken Stock
1lb bag frozen pearl onions
1/2 lb bag frozen peas
3 sweet potatoes, chopped
3 TBSP prepared horseradish
2 TBSP non fat greek yogurt
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375
Chop sweet potatoes, cover with cold water, cover pot and bring to a boil. (Be sure to remove the lid when the pot starts boiling, or it will boil over.) Cook til fork tender, drain, place back in hot pot on stove.

In a large skillet, add brisket and a bit of gravy to pan. Heat through, adding chicken stock to loosen the gravy.
Add pearl onions.

Mash the potatoes with the horseradish, about 1/4 C of chicken stock (more if necessary) and greek yogurt. Add salt and pepper as needed.
I like my potatoes mashed, not whipped--but this is your world, so do what you like.

Add peas to meat and onions, cook an additional 1 minute.
In a prepared casserole dish (just spray with some olive oil cooking spray) add meat mixture.

Then spoon mashed potatoes on top, spreading a thick layer all over. Make sure to "seal" in the meat with the potatoes.

Bake for 10 minutes, then broil on low until the potatoes get a bit crispy on top.
Garnish with parsley, and serve with additional gravy and horseradish!