Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pasta For Men.....And Three Year Olds

Sometimes when I am cooking and writing about ANOTHER pasta dish I feel like I am being a little repetitive.  But in my household pasta is a staple, our culinary life blood if you will.  There literally isn't a week where we don't have pasta, in some form, and maybe it is sad to say, but I honestly would be lost without it.  So here I am, writing about yet another pasta dish, letting you know ahead of time that there will be more pasta on this blog, and hoping that the few readers I have won't stand up and leave me. 

For this dish I wanted to have something very hearty, something that feels like it just sticks to your bones, which in the winter is exactly what I crave.  In the pasta world I think that there is one sauce that does just that, ragu.  Ragu's are always heavy on the meat (which is why I think men love them) and require a fair bit of cooking time.  Now I know that I have done a ragu on the blog before, but I wanted to offer a little less time consuming one for those short weekday nights.  Also, the great thing about ragu's is they get better with time, so the sauce can be made the night before and then reheated for pasta time the next day.  The beauty about a ragu is that you can also use any variety of meats, I have used lamb, and even chicken as a meat base for my ragu's. 

For this one I decided to use ground beef, pork sausage, and a little prosciutto, because the beef gives that richness in flavor, the sausage adds a bit of peppery kick, and the prosciutto adds a bit of a savory flavor, and fortunately all of them don't need hours of cooking time like larger tougher cuts of meat.  The pasta choice for this dish was pappardelle, the fatter cousin of fettuccine, which I think holds up well to a rich meaty ragu.  A ragu also traditionally uses a sofritto as a base, which is a mixture of onions, celery, and carrots.  But for this ragu I decided to just go heavy on the onions and garlic, and add a little bit of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, which is usually one of purposes that I think a sofritto serves as in a ragu. 
I also went with the addition of some sun dried tomatoes, which also added a wonderful rich tomato flavor, and a variety herbs to bump up the complexity a bit.

So I ragued away, and plopped this enormous bowl of pasta covered in meaty deliciousness in front of my husband, who with some affection says "why do you cook for any army?"  But judging by how quickly my picky little three year old blew through a bowl of this pasta on her very own (she's definitely Italian), I would say that I was glad I cooked for any army, and for three year olds.

Pappardelle With Ragu

Cook Time: 1 hour

1lb lean ground beef
1/2lb pork sausage
8oz prosciutto chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion chopped
8oz Crimini mushrooms sliced
3 cloves garlic minced
28oz crush tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1-1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup Mascarpone
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2lbs Pappardelle

Preheat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the prosciutto and cook until starting to brown, about 3 minutes. 

Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the ground beef and sausage and cook until no longer pink, about 8 minutes. 

Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and wine.  Reduce heat to medium low and bring to a simmer.  Once the sauce is at a simmer add the sun dried tomatoes, the bay leaf, sugar, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Cover and simmer the sauce over medium low heat for about 30 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. 

After the 30 minutes add the remaining fresh herbs, and the Mascarpone.  Simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes.  Meanwhile heat a large pot of boiling water over medium high heat.  Salt the water and add the pasta. 

Cook the pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes if using dried pasta, if using fresh reduce the cooking time to three minutes. 

Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water.  Toss the cooked pasta with the ragu, using some of the pasta water to loosen the sauce and to thoroughly coat the pasta.  Sprinkle the tossed pasta with the Parmesan and you're done!  Buon appetito!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Daydreams Of Mexico

The other day I was reading a post by David Lebovitz about a recent trip he took to Mexico, and the yummy Arnold Palmer's he was having (in Mexico?) and it got me thinking, well obsessing, about how much I love Mexican food......and unfortunately how crappy the dreary view from my front window is. 

But while hallucinating about a skinny version of myself frolicking on white sand beaches in a bikini that I only could have worn when I was eight, I started to day dream about the flavors that I have experienced eating some of the more memorable Mexican meals in my day.  All I could think about was the heat, smokiness, and the freshness of Mexican cuisine. 

Then for some unexplained reason I looked down at my cup of tea and out of the blue shifted gears and thought, "a good piece of shortbread would be nice."  Sometimes I wonder how my brain even functions.  But this randomly placed thought, smack dab in the middle of my Mexican daydream, gave me the grand idea of how to fuse British and Mexican, killing two birds with one stone, satisfying my lust for shortbread with my longing for the flavors of Mexico.  Long story short (or short story short in this case), I ended up with chocolate, dulce de leche, cinnamon, vanilla, shortbread and chiles.  The perfect accompaniment to my tea as I watch the rain and think of Mexico.

Mexican Inspired Millionaire's Shortbread

Cooking Time: 45 minutes

2/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 oz dulce de leche
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
6oz chile infused dark chocolate

Note: I like to make dulce de leche at home, and David Lebovitz has some excellent instructions here to do it, but you can buy it commercially as well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8x8 inch pan and set aside.  In a small bowl combine the flour, salt and cinnamon and set aside.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment blend the butter and sugar together until well combined.  Add the vanilla and mix again. 

Add the dry ingredients and blend until the dough comes together.  Press the dough into the prepared pan and bake until pale in color and the edges are slightly golden, about 20-25 minutes.  When the shortbread is done remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Once the shortbread is completely cool in a small bowl heat the dulce de leche in a microwave just until soft enough to spread, about 2 minutes.  Add the vanilla bean paste and then spread the caramel over the shortbread.  Allow the caramel to set at room temperature before you start on the chocolate.

When the caramel has hardened, melt the chocolate and the butter in a double boiler or in a bowl over simmering water.  Pour the chocolate over the caramel, spreading it evenly, and allow to set at room temperature.  When the chocolate has started to harden but is still a little soft, cut the shortbread into serving sized squares, then allow to completely set.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Waste Not Want Not

When it comes to food or anything used to make food I'm a little bit of a clepto.  I am one of those people who goes to the supermarket knowing that I probably have a box of panko, but just to be sure I need to buy another one.  So needless to say, at one time I think I had five boxes of panko bread crumbs in my cupboard......oh, and I currently have about 5 pounds of Irish butter in my refrigerator, and three bottles of the same type of paprika.  You get the picture. 

One of the more disturbing collections I have rests in peace in my freezer, well, resting in peace until its soup time.  In fact if you peered into my freezer you might question my sanity (although you might without even looking in my freezer), since what you would see are bags and bags of little skeletons.  Whose skeletons would they be?  The numerous chickens and turkeys that gave their lives for my palette, and in my opinion I wouldn't be doing them justice if I didn't maximize their use.  What is the moral to this disturbing tale?  When you cook a chicken or a turkey, don't throw out the bones, you're missing the best a clepto damn it in the worst way!

Now changing gears a little bit the dish created for this post is a tried an true soul endearing dish.  Grandmother's around the world would testify that chicken soup feeds the soul, and in every way I would agree.  You can be on death's bed and feel like you're gonna die and to have a bowl of steaming chicken soup presented to you can lift you from that abyss and make you feel human again.  Is it because it's the best tasting dish ever made?  No.  Don't get me wrong, its delicious, but I think the draw of this dish is the the fact that chicken soup is quite simply, a symbol of love.  And frankly that is what cooking is all about, to show those around you how much you care, and how much the people in our lives mean to us.  At least in my mind that's what it should be about.

Chicken soup inspired, I decided to deviate a little bit and make a traditional variation of this dish, chicken and dumplings.  But after rummaging through my bone collection I stumbled upon a turkey that I made earlier in the fall and decided to go with turkey and dumplings instead of the standard chicken.  So on a Saturday night there was boiling, chopping, and stewing.  I can safely say that making this dish was equally as enjoyable as eating it, because by the end of the night my whole house smelled like turkey soup, and as I turned out the light in my room to go to sleep, the smell of yummy soup still waffling in the air, I found myself reminiscing about the chicken soup moments in my life, and I fell asleep.....easily.

Turkey And Parmesan Dumplings

Cook Time: 2 hours (not including cooking time for the stock)

8 cups turkey or chicken stock (I prefer homemade)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 medium yellow onions chopped
2 medium parsnips chopped
4 large carrots chopped
4 celery stalks chopped
2lbs shredded cooked turkey meat
1 teaspoon thyme
2/3 cup half and half
1/3 cup flour
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup cold butter diced
2/3 cup cold buttermilk

Note: For homemade turkey stock simply take a leftover turkey carcass with a fair bit of meat still on it, I typically have a lot of dark meat left on my turkey's, which works great for this soup.  Cut the carcass up a bit and place in a large stockpot.  Add a couple carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and parsnips to the pot.  Add some fresh herbs such as bay leaves, rosemary, and thyme along with some kosher salt and pepper.  Add about 10 cups of water and simmer covered over medium heat for about three hours.  Strain the stock, reserving all the meat from the turkey.  Let the fat settle and scoop away with a spoon.  Making the stock the day ahead and refrigerating it will make this much easier.

In a large stockpot heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted.  Add the veggies and sweat until slightly tender, about 8 minutes.  Add the turkey meat and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes.  Add the stock, and the thyme, and bring the soup to a simmer. 

Cook covered on medium low heat for about 45 minutes, occasionally stirring the soup to prevent it from sticking.  To thicken the soup, mix the half and half and flour together.  Add the half and half mixture to the soup slowly, stirring constantly.  Season with the salt, pepper, and parsley.

To make the dumplings, mix the flour and baking powder using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Add the butter and beat until the butter is the size of small peas.  Add the cheese and parsley and mix quickly to combine. 

Add the buttermilk and mix just until combined and the dough comes together in a ball.  Form the dough into about 2-inch sized balls.  Flatten the dough balls into disks and place in the soup.  Turn the heat down to low and cover and cook for about 15 minutes (no peeking).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oh Canada!

After struggling the last few days to find inspiration for another post I suddenly realized I didn't have to look far.  In fact all I had to do was look to my mum, and grandmother, who both happen to be two Canadians alive and well living here in the U.S.  It is because of this very fact that my summers as a kid usually involved a trip to central Canada, where my grandmother and mother grew up and where my great grandfather and grandmother had a farm.  Some of the greatest memories of my childhood were centered around these family trips up to "the farm" as we affectionately called it (I know, how inventive).

One particular summer stands out in my memory.  It involved  the grand idea of all of us renting some horrible RV, loading up the lot of us and driving all the way to Calgary........together, for hours....yeah, not so good.  By the end of the trip I swear we were all ready to kill each other and I think my grandmother had just about enough of being a grandmother by the end of that trip.  I think it was me spilling an entire bowl of potato salad all over the floor that sent her over the edge, or maybe the continual screaming that my twin cousins did (who were about 8 months old at the time) from about Idaho till....well....Calgary, or maybe last but not least my uncle and father rocking out to Phil Collins at the highest decibel.  Ahh, good times, torture can be enjoyable. 

Torture aside, I can still remember the way that part of Canada smells, like fresh cut grass and cows.  I remember the way the crickets sounded in the barn in the evening and how my great grandmother's house always smelled like fresh milk and pie, which I know sounds strange but if you've ever been around freshly pasteurized milk (not homogenized) you'll completely understand where I'm coming from.  It is these memories that make me love Canada, and dearly miss it when I am away.  So it seemed natural to me to use this bit of inspiration to cook a uniquely Canadian dish.

So what was this Canadian dish you might ask?  I decided to try my hand at poutine.  Now for those of you who don't know what this heavenly creation is, it is simply french fries smothered in gravy with cheese awesome is that!  It is your classic drunk food, yes I said it......and you all were thinking it.  I think it was invented to help all that Molson go down much easier.  So with poutine on the brain I first had to conquer the gravy.  Traditionally the gravy used to make poutine is chicken stock based, but a mixture of beef and chicken stock can be used.  I liked this idea since I have always wanted to take a stab at making homemade beef stock and I also think beef stock just has a great richness in flavor.  So, beef stock it was. 
In order to conquer this task I had to get some soup bones, which required a trip to my favorite butcher, and luckily he had some beautiful bones (yes, I mean the soup bones).  So with utter joy I headed home and started the stock, but made one crucial error. 

While the bones were baking I decided to sit and watch a little TV, and "Dirty Jobs" just so happened to be on.  And wouldn't you know it, it just so happened to be an episode where they butcher a very cute dairy cow.  The combination of this horrid show paired with the house smelling like a tannery sent me to a very unhappy place, and I seriously contemplated becoming a vegetarian.....well somewhat seriously.  Nevertheless I was able to put my conscience on the back burner, think happy thoughts about cows in green meadows, totally forget where my soup bones actually came from, and finished up my stock.  And after a little salad, and a prayer for the bones as they went in the trash I whipped up the poutine.

The verdict on mission worth it, even though I was mentally tortured by cow slaughter and the subsequent sight of cooked femur bones, and the best part of the mission had to be my husband's reaction which was "that's it?  With a name like poutine I was expecting more."  But I think the name does it justice. It may be simple, but it is absolutely one of a kind, and worth a big name.  Kind of like my memories of Canada, simple yet the best that there is.


Cook Time: 1 hour (Excluding stock cook time)

Note: The fries for poutine are typically deep fried, but I decided to go a little healthier and roast the potatoes, but if fry away if you prefer!

31lbs russet potatoes cut into wedges
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups beef stock (for the stock you can use
homemade or store bought)
2 cups chicken stock
1 yellow onion sliced
2 garlic cloves minced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 cups cheese curds

For homemade beef stock simply take about 3 pounds of soup bones, preferably with some meat still on them, along with about a 1/2 pound of stew meat and bake them in a large pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Remove bones and meat from pan and place in a large stockpot.  Add about 2 cups of water to the pan the bones were baked in and scrape up all the browned bits.  Pour the water over the bones in the stock pot and add your flavor enhancers.  I like to use onion, carrots, garlic, parsnips, celery, fresh herbs (thyme, bay leaves, and rosemary) and peppercorns.  Add an additional 8 cups of water and simmer, covered, for about three hours.  You may have to periodically remove scum from the surface of the stock while simmering.  Strain the stock to remove all the veggies and bones and refrigerate.  Skim off all the fat that has solidified on top and discard, and voila!  Yummy stock.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Toss the potatoes in the olive oil.  Add the salt and pepper and toss again.  Pour potatoes onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast the potatoes until crispy, about 35 minutes, occasionally stirring the potatoes so they evenly brown.  While the potatoes are roasting make the gravy.  Start by melting the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. 

Add the onions and garlic and saute until tender and the onions are starting to caramelize, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour, cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the stock, stirring constantly.  Cook the gravy until it is thickened, about 10 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  To serve simply pour gravy over roasted potatoes and top with the cheese curds and parsley.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Curing A Little Writer's Block

As you can probably guess from the title I am having a little writer's block......major writer's block really.  In fact I have been questioning just all together how interesting writing about food can really be?  It's not like I am traveling to exotic places, or doing something cool like eating my way through Italy while telling you about the meaning of life. 

No, I am just another boring home cook telling you about my boring life!  Ok, maybe I should take a deep breath and get off that subject.  Whew!  Anyway, I have been doing so much cooking lately I think the source of my writer's block might be from a little cooking fatigue (how is this possible?).  The sad state of my personal physique is not helping things at all as well, because I am literally growing by the minute, as a result of all this cooking.
So today I attempted to remove my mental block by engaging in an afternoon of classic brainstorming, but in the end I quite literally sat on my butt most of the day, watching Harry Potter way too many times, drinking too much tea, and not coming up with any ideas on the following: what recipe to post, what to write, and how to demonstrate, in some small measure, that I am interesting enough to risk reading this silly blog on a regular basis. I think it was about after my third run through Harry Potter that I looked over at my dark kitchen and decided get up off my big butt and cook something, anything, in the hopes of restoring some inspiration to my blogging life.  Because the best way to ride the bull is to get back on after you fall, right? 

Now I know I am suppose to try to be inventive and interesting and I know I have already posted something involving blood oranges before but I just have too many of them in my refrigerator to ignore and damn it, it's my blog so I will use them again as a last ditch effort to bring me back from the brink of writers purgatory.  So to end this useless story I whipped, I stirred and I baked, and in the end made something delicious.  And even though I still feel like I am facing a writing wall I feel like I have taken a few steps back, back enough to blog another day.  Now hopefully for the next post I can find a way to be interesting.

Blood Orange Pound Cake With Blueberries
And Cardamom Scented Whip Cream

Cook Time: 1-1/2 hours

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon blood orange zest
1/3 cup blood orange juice
2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon blood orange juice
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Cardamom Whip Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sugar

Fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place baking rack in the middle of the oven.  Butter and flour a 9x5 inch loaf pan and set aside.  In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Set aside.  Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment whip the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes. 

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add the vanilla bean paste and zest, and mix well.  Add the sour cream, then half of the flour mixture, the juice, then the remaining flour.  Mix well between each addition of the wet and dry ingredients. 

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.  If the cake starts to get too brown cover with a piece of foil.  Remove the cake from the oven and place on a rack and cool for 10 minutes in the pan.  After 10 minutes invert the loaf pan and remove the cake from pan. 

For the glaze combine the powdered sugar, orange juice and vanilla.  Drizzle the glaze over the cake while still warm and allow to cool completely.  While the cake is cooling in a medium bowl beat the whip cream until soft peaks form. 

Add the spices, vanilla and sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  To serve, once the cake is cooled, slice the cake and spoon some of the cream over the cake.  Top with the blueberries.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Falling Off The Wagon......Big Time

Now I know that I said I was going to eat healthier, but old habits die hard, especially when it is dreary and cold outside.  Winter weather here in the Pacific Northwest comes in one form......rain, and more rain. 
Usually I take this in stride but occasionally I find myself needing a little pick me up, and rich delicious comforting food will do that (at least for me). 

So what to make?  For a little background information I am a big tea drinker, especially black tea with some milk and sugar.  There are not too many nights that I don't have a spot of tea in the evening, and this particular night definitely called for tea so I decided to go with something that would complement my little cup of hot wonderful.  The initial thing that came to mind was colcannon, which is a hearty, stick to your bones dish from Ireland. 

Colcannon to me is the one of the ultimates in good cheap comfort food, and it is quite simply a mix of buttery mashed potatoes and kale or cabbage.  I decided to got the cabbage route since I just so happened to find a beautiful head of cabbage at the market.   And if this dish wasn't fattening enough, add some yummy bacon just for good measure.  I justified this decision by telling myself that this is also a traditional addition to this dish, and why not go with tradition right?  I followed it up with some crusty bread and some good Irish cheddar and voila!  I found myself in fat heaven, along with my cup of hot wonderful of course.  So did it cheer me up?  Yes.  Did my butt grow an inch as a result?  Yes.  Oh well, maybe it's time to invest in a treadmill......or some willpower.


Cook Time: 20 minutes

3lbs russet potatoes peeled and quartered
1/2 lb bacon chopped
4 cups chopped cabbage
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup half and half
1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large pot boil potatoes over medium high heat until for tender, about 15 minutes.  While the potatoes are boiling heat a large skillet over medium heat. 

Add chopped bacon and cook until the bacon starts to get crispy, about 4 minutes.  Drain the excess fat and add the cabbage to the pan.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute until the cabbage is tender but not too soft, about 5 minutes. 

Drain the potatoes and mash using a food mill, potato ricer, or mixer.  Add the butter, half and half, and remaining salt and pepper.  Stir in the the cabbage and bacon mixture and serve immediately.

Note:  Leeks, chives, or scallions would be a very yummy addition to this dish....maybe even some good grated Irish cheddar.