Wednesday, December 17, 2008

blue cheese and walnut "crackers"

i made these blue cheese and walnut "crackers" (they really seem more of a savory cookie) for a friend's holiday brunch this weekend.  i dearly love the contessa and like most everything she does.

based on the comments made regarding the recipe, i decided to wait to add salt towards the end.  when i tasted the nearly-complete dough, i decided that the crackers didn't need salt.  i believe it was the right decision.

i made the dough the night beforehand and chilled the log over night.  in the morning, i sliced the decidedly blue crackers and baked them.  they browned nicely on both sides (after a flip halfway through cooking) and were a total hit at the party.  people having bloody mary's were especially appreciative.  i think the acid from the tomato juice complemented theses savories nicely.  

made with love

the boy got home from a two-week visit to vietnam on sunday.  i told him i would have dinner ready for him when he got home from the airport and he requested "american" food.  

the following recipe resulted in a delicious beef stew that i served over mashed potatoes.  i cooked this for a really long time (nearly 7 hours).  the result was a very rich and flavorful dish.  you can sacrifice cooking time, but the meat won't be as tender and tasty.  

first stage:

3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 shallot - finely chopped
1/8 cup red wine
2 lbs chuck stew beef - cut into cubes
1-1/2 cups water
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon coriander
salt and pepper to taste

in large pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter on medium-low heat.  slowly add flour, stirring to blend as you add the flour.  once flour is incorporated into the butter (you want the mixture to be reasonably thick), add the shallot and wine.  cook on medium heat until shallot softens (7-9 minutes).

put shallot mixture into a reserve bowl.  melt 1 tablespoon butter and place salted beef cubes in the pot.  brown well on both sides.  add the shallot mixture, cloves, and coriander to the pot and cover beef with water.  simmer, uncovered, on low heat for 1-2 hours - until beef is tender.  (note: make sure when simmering uncovered, that water does not completely evaporate).  remove beef from pot, let cool, and then shred and remove any excess fat.

second stage:

1 tablespoon butter
2 medium carrots - sliced
1 medium onion - chopped
1/8 cup wine
2 cups chicken stock (or beef or veggie stock, i just had chicken on hand)
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon coriander
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

melt butter in the same pot, add carrots and onion and cook on medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes.  add wine, cloves, coriander, salt and pepper and bay leaf.  add shredded beef and chicken stock.  let simmer on low heat for 3-4 hours.  the liquid should reduce and the mixture will thicken.

serve over mashed potatoes or cous-cous.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

best sugar cookie recipe, ever.

sugar cookies and christmas go together.  every year my mother and sister and i would cut out the cookies and decorate them with colored sugar.  there was always one problem:  after only moments out of the fridge, the dough would stick (to the rolling pin, the cutting board, our hands, everywhere).  we'd try different recipes, different methods, and still, the sticking problem persisted.

a number of years ago, i tried the following recipe and it is truly the best sugar cookie recipe ever.  it is, predictably, from my girl martha.

1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
4 and 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for work surface)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup buttermilk

with electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  sift dry ingredients and gradually blend into the sugar/egg mixture, alternating with the buttermilk.  

wrap dough in plastic and chill until firm.  martha suggests 1 hour to overnight.  i generally chill this dough overnight.  it also freezes well.  

heat oven to 350 degrees.  on floured surface, roll dough out to approximately 1/8 inch thick.  cut into desired shapes.  bake until just golden but not too brown - about 10 minutes. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

favorite chicken salad

this chicken salad is a favorite amongst my friends.  as you'll see, its a different kind of chicken salad. 

when i make this for dinner, whether for friends or for myself, i serve it with a diced cucumber and tomato salad, crusty bread, and brie.  to me, these things go together in a manner that cannot be questioned.  


2 medium-large chicken breasts -- cooked through (i prefer baking versus boiling)
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small-medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup almond slivers
1/2 cup (or more to taste) mayonaise
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (reserve 1/4 for topping)
1/2 lemon - juiced
1/2 cup fried onions
salt and pepper to taste

generally, i take two chicken breasts, rub them in salt, pepper and olive oil and bake them at 375 in the oven for approximately 45 minutes.  after cooling, i shred the chicken and mix with the onion, celery and almonds.  i like to add the oil/juice that accumulates while roasting the chicken.  this adds a bit more moisture.  i then add the mayo, lemon juice, and half of the parm to the mixture.  mix well and then place in flat baking dish.  sprinkle top with fried onions and remaining parmesan.  bake at 325 for 20 minutes. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

recession chili

its "snowing" here in new york (i think i saw a flake or two float by my window earlier) so i decided to make chili.  i, like many other people, have become slightly obsessed with the state of our economy and, after spending a chunk of change on dinner last night, decided to make this particular batch of chili with an eye towards thrift.  

so, along with the recipe, i'll document the costs.  these are manhattan grocery prices, which tend to be really high, but my neighborhood grocery store has decent weekly sales.  with sale items and the spices i have at home, i made this batch of chili that will make at least 6-8 servings for less than seven dollars.  

1 lb ground beef (in the interest of economy, i used ground chuck - $3.11)
1/2 large onion - finely chopped
1 28 ounce can whole or diced tomatoes in puree (on sale at .99 per can)
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce (.89 per can)
1 can pinto beans (.75 per can)
1 can white kidney beans (.75 per can)
1 cup chicken stock (homemade - i make in one cup batches and freeze)
1 tablespoon (or more) chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

in large pot, brown meat and onions together.  add the cumin and half of the paprika along with salt and pepper to meat/onion mixture while browning.  once meat is cooked through, add remaining ingredients, salt and pepper to taste.  simmer on low heat, adding chili powder to taste (this is where the "or more" part comes in) as it cooks.  i like to slow cook my chili for at least 3-4 hours.  definitely a sunday afternoon kind of project.

i rinse beans before putting them in the chili -- i don't like the extra thickness you get from the starch in canned beans.  but, i generally like a less-thick chili, thus the chicken stock.  if you want something thicker, don't rinse the beans, eliminate the chicken stock, or add another can of beans.  

serve over cornbread or with whatever chili fixins you like.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

homemade cranberry sauce

if you're like me, your childhood thanksgiving included cranberry sauce straight from the can.  i accepted this as the only cranberry sauce that one had on thanksgiving.  when i "grew up," i had thanksgiving at a friends house.  he made a cranberry sauce from (gasp) real cranberries.  his concoction was a bit too sweet (i couldn't get over the cloying taste of the grand marnier) and had a bit too much going on for me (raisins, walnuts, etc.).  but, i happily copied down his recipe and below is my adaptation.  

its simple and refreshing and its almost as easy as opening a can . . .

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries
1/2 lemon - juiced
a bit of lemon zest
1/2 orange - juiced
1 medium apple - chopped
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup brandy (optional)

Combine water and sugar in saucepan on medium-high heat on the stovetop.  Stir occasionally until sugar is completely dissolved.  Add remaining ingredients and turn heat to medium.  Stir frequently.  Cook until cranberries and apples are soft -- approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

a weekend of culinary delights (and disasters)

the knitting girls came over on friday night for an evening of good food, wine and chatting (and knitting!). the menu consisted of a shrimp ceviche with a roasted red pepper spread for snacking and then a pork roast with sweet potato gnocchi and sauteed brussel sprouts for dinner, and strawberry jam filled sugar cookies for dessert.

thursday evening i started with the sugar cookies -- they were the easiest for me since i've been using this recipie for years (thanks martha!). the ceviche was next and was fun to make (when is it not fun to chop up pretty ingredients and mix them together). for some reason, i left the gnocchi for last. even with help from my trusty sous chef, i was up until 12:30 being a gnocchi monkey.

on friday i picked up a four pound pork roast from one of my favorite local butchers and some crusty bread for the ceviche and spread along with a pound or so of brussel sprouts from my yuppie grocery store. (note: despite its yuppie-ness i love this store, probably because i've banned myself from its more over-priced counterpart.)

i wasn't thrilled with the gnocchi -- i sauteed them in butter and sage and probably should have let them brown quite a bit more. i blame this on my wine-ing and gossiping while fixing that portion of the dinner. i'm going to work on the recipie, and hopefully will provide it at some point down the road.

the hit of the evening was definitely the red pepper spread, and i loved the ceviche, so below, find the recipies:

Shrimp Ceviche

1 pound shrimp, cooked, shelled, deveined, and chopped
1 medium shallot, finely diced
1/2 fennel bulb, finely diced
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/8 cup fennel fronds, finely chopped
1 and 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1 and 1/2 lemons, juiced
1/2 medium orange, juiced
1 teaspoon honey
olive oil to bind (probably 1/4 cup, but add it slowly until you're happy)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all above ingredients, let marinate overnight, and serve with any sort of chip or bread! Serves 4-6 people for appetizers.

Roasted Red-Pepper Spread
1 red pepper, roasted, skinned and de-seeded
1 medium shallot, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fennel fronds
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Chop red pepper into sections. Sautee shallot with fennel fronds. Place pepper, shallot and fennel fronds in food processor, add salt and pepper and roughly chop ingredients. Add olive oil, one tablespoon at a time, to the food processor, chop between additions.

Notes: I liked this roughly chopped and so I didn't over process the mixture. If you want a finer spread or a more dip-like substance then whirl away, and you may want to add more olive oil than I did. Also, this dish was really popular (more so than the ceviche) -- one red pepper doesn't make much, so I recommend doubling the recipie. 4 of us demolished the spread pretty quickly.

One more note, I really think that roasting your own peppers is important. They taste better than the jarred stuff, and its not hard to do at all. If you want to learn how, just email.