Thursday, December 31, 2009

Eclairs with Chestnut Cream

You must forgive me for not having a clue how this recipe went together.  Eclairs used to be one of my favorites, and chestnut puree (marron glace) still is a rare treasure.  So when Emily offered up this combination, I couldn't refuse.  She then launched into a research frenzy - dissecting and compiling the best aspects of each eclair recipe she could find before firing up the stand mixer.  (She does this often, usually with good results.)  The upshot is that I have no way of telling you how to replicate exactly the flavor and texture combinations created in our household , but I can give you a hint.  She found these recipes for the cream puff dough and the chesnut cream particularly inspiring.  Good luck!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Deviled Eggs

When I was a kid, I used to eat only the whites of a hard-boiled egg and throw the chalky yolks away.  Little did I know that like-minded cooks had already invented the deviled egg to solve just that problem.  They are a great app for holding you over rather than just making you more hungry, and you can mix in a great variety of things.  These are a Martha Stewart recipe and use thyme.  You can be free to experiment with the flavorings, slightly more/less mayo, different kinds of vinegars or mustards.  I saw a recipe for roasted red peppers mixed in that looked like a great idea.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows

Some people like the cocoa, some people like the marshmallows.  Well, if you are tired of those microscopic marshmallows in the Swiss Miss packet, I have a recipe for you.  These homemade cubes are man-sized.  There is a lot of sugar in the recipe, but the liquid is really where the potential for greatness lies.  The basic recipe is here.  Variations we have tried include peppermint (use water and a tsp of peppermint extract) and apple cider (use cider and some apple-friendly spices).  One marshmallow per mug.

 On a side note, we happened to have a really great cup of hot chocolate the other day at Pitango Gelato on P Street in DC.  It's a steal compared to the other prices in the shop, and it is well worth it - in consideration for my "best of" list.  According to their website, they are also in Baltimore and Reston.  They don't top with marshmallows, but definitely don't refuse the whipped cream - it is top quality.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Meyer Lemon Coffee Cake

Try this cake if you are a lemon lover.  It's winter time now and that means it is time for citrus.  The Meyer lemons for this cake did not come from our tree - we had three flowers on it, but no fruit yet - they came from a surprisingly cheap bag of them at Whole Foods.  They get sliced up thinly and put into the cake rind and all.  The recipe is a good one - the cake is moist and the topping crunchy, crumbly and sweet.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Okay, now that some of the holidays are behind us,  I can start to fill you in on some of the things that happened in our kitchen.  Here is one of the really good ones: gougeres.  These are a French type of cheesy puff with big taste.  The traditional ones are made with gruyere cheese, and that how these were made.  For a second batch we tried manchego with very similar, but maybe not quite as good results.  The comments on the recipe's main page are correct - there is indeed too much salt in the recipe.  We took it down to 1.5 tsp the second time around and they came out less powerfully salty.  They are great right out of the oven when a puff of steam emerges as you break it open.  Try not to eat them all right then, they do save for a nice appetizer.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pork and Pinto Bean Chili

I made this "chili" recipe out of the dozen or so on Martha's website, recipe here.  I was impressed with the Texas Chili recipe and I wanted to try another.  I picked it for a couple of reasons.  One was the choice of chilis - roast poblanos which are a slightly hot, but flavorful.  Another was the achiote paste, which I had not used before.  I learned that achiote is a ground form of annatto, which is bright red.  Finally, it was a pork-based chili, which I am not accustomed to, and I thought that maybe it had potential.

What came out was great for a snow day, but it was more of a spicy bean soup than a chili.  Serve as a stew over rice, or just stick with Texas style.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Polenta Quickbread with Lemon and Thyme

Martha occasionally does an article on a theme and posts a lot of recipes online with variations on that theme.  This one was quickbreads which I must say is an appealing concept.  There is never enough time to make them all, but so far, I think that you do better reading the recipes carefully and picking the best one anyway.  At first they all look amazing, but then as you get serious about picking a recipe, suddenly none of them seem that appealing.  This quickbread was interesting... it appears on the surface to be more of a savory bread, but in fact is a bit sweet.  It's not quite a dessert, not quite a plain cornbread.  The lemon-thyme flavors are nice, but what does it go with?  The recipe is here.  This subject is worth returning to for further evaluation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad

I wonder if you have gotten all you can out of this year's butternut squash season?  This is a nice little salad that makes a filling winter meal, but is still light.  The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, and though I don't rave about eating this one over and over again forever, I can see how it would be a good standby.  We actually did the make-ahead directions a little differently - we roasted a big batch of squash and used half of it in another recipe and saved half for this recipe.  When you do that it mixes up very quickly for a weeknight meal.  The salad does benefit from being a little bit warm.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quick Pork Tenderloin Dinner

It has been too long since I cooked meat and potatoes - I forgot how easy it is.  Salad, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, roast pears, and a little pork tenderloin.  There is no recipe for this because each item is very simple.  Cranberry sauce: it's on the bag - boil a cup of water and a cup of sugar, throw in the berries and cook.  Salad: pull some leaves off a head of lettuce, put 1/2 vinegar 1/2 oil in a jar, shake, and pour.  Potatoes:  peel and cut 2 potatoes into 6 chunks, boil until soft, mash, add salt, milk, and butter until they taste good.  Pork and pears: Salt and pepper raw tenderloin, brown all sides in a skillet on med-high, throw in quartered pears, put whole pan in 400 degree oven.  If you get in the groove, I bet you could have all this on the table in half an hour - the trick is to get them all going at once.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Swiss Chard and Italian Sausage Lasagna

I've gotten a number of comments from readers that they would like to see come recipes posted.  While I want to continue the quicker "journaling" aspect of the blog, I've decided that certain recipes merit further attention and modification, and that readers might like things broken down in a bit more detail.

So I'm starting with this Swiss Chard Lasagna, or Christmas Lasagna for short since my version is red, green and white.  The red color comes from the Red Swiss Chard stems, not tomato sauce, and the green comes from the leaves.  White is the color of the bechamel and fontina cheese, which makes this taste luxurious and addictive.  It's based on a Martha Stewart recipe, which can be found in its original form here.

Let's get the noodle discussion out of the way before we dive into the recipe.  Fresh is best.  No surprise there, but it takes some time and equipment to go this way.  We have a pasta roller attachment to our stand mixer which makes relatively quick work and nice-looking noodles.  Alternatives that can be found in the store are standard dried pasta and the no-boil kind.  The standard kind can be a pain to boil - requiring a large pot and longer cook time, but no dough prep time.  It yields a thicker, softer noodle.  The no-boil kind are super easy - you just layer the dry noodles right into the lasagna pan, but I can't guarantee results in this recipe without testing.  These noodles soak up moisture from the sauce, so the recipe that follows would need to be adjusted to add more bechamel or you risk a dry lasagna.  in general they are thinner and have a little bite, which is okay, but still not the same as fresh.  My inclination is to use these with tomato-based sauces where adding extra sauce tastes good and won't make the dish too rich.

The basic pasta recipe we use is derived from a Chez Panisse cookbook:  Mix 3 cups flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/3 cup water in a large bowl.  This will not be enough water, so you will need to add just enough to get the dough to stick together.  This is a dry, dense, "strong" dough that is probably very unlike other types of dough.  Moisture content is a key parameter, and according to Emily should be the consistency of dry playdough.  You want smooth and firm dough - not tacky or something that would stick to the rollers of the pasta machine.  One or two tries using the pasta machine and you will get it - the rollers can work wonders.  Knead the dough by hand for 15 minutes - it will be too strong for the stand mixer.  Cover the dough ball with plastic wrap and let sit for 45 minutes.  Then cut it into 8 equal portions and roll out in the pasta machine.  We used number 5 thickness on the pasta machine. These noodles boil up in 2 minutes.

Red chard should look beautiful in the store when it's in season late autumn.  The red stalks are bright and the greens are deep and crisp.  This is a good hearty fall recipe.

Swiss Chard and Italian Sausage Lasagna (Christmas Lasagna)
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, October 2008
Serves 8

Chard and Sausage Filling:
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, meat crumbled into small pieces
3 shallots, peeled and diced
2 pounds Red Swiss chard (two big bunches)
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced crosswise
1 lemon's zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice from the lemon
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

Bechamel Sauce:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 onion, 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups 2% milk

Fresh Lasagna Noodles
5 ounces fontina cheese, finely grated

1. Prep your filling ingredients.  Separate the chard leaves from the stems by running a sharp knife along both sides of the stem.  Rinse the stems, discard the ends, and then thinly slice cross-wise in two batches.  Run the leaves through a salad spinner, grab them all together and chop roughly crosswise into 1/4" strips.  Prep the shallots, garlic and lemon zest.

2. Heat oil in a large regular saute pan.  Remove casings from sausage and cook on medium high heat, breaking up sausage into smaller and smaller pieces until well browned and cooked through, 6-7 minutes.  Transfer to paper-towel lined plate.

3. Immediately add chard stems and shallots.  As they release their water, scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate pan juices and fond into the chard.  Cook until soft, 6-8 minutes.  Add leaves and cook, stirring so the leaves wilt evenly, 1-2 minutes.  Add garlic, lemon zest, and salt and stir.  Cook another 3 minutes until wilted and turn off heat.   Stir in lemon juice and transfer to a colander to drain.

4. Preheat the oven to 400.  Make the bechamel.  Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and red-pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk, a little at a time, until incorporated. Bring to a boil, stirring often, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring gently and often, until thickened and creamy, about 10 minutes. While bechamel is cooking, start a pot of water to cook the fresh noodles.  Remove from heat.

5. Get out a 9x13 baking dish and cover the bottom with a layer of bechamel sauce.  Cut your pasta noodles to size and cook.  With fresh pasta you can work in batches by layer - they only need to boil for 2 minutes and drain for a few seconds.  Start the layering with a noodle.  Then cover with 1/3 the chard and 1/3 the sausage and some bechamel sauce.  See the amount we used in the pictures above - this amount tasted just right to us - you won't use all the sauce.  Repeat until you use all your ingredients.  Top with a noodle, then bechamel, and then grated fontina.  Don't skip the bechamel on top as it keeps the noodle soft.  I have seen others that like to put cheese in the layers - stay away from this - the top really works the best.

6. Bake until cheese is golden brown and sauce is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Serve with a vinegary salad on the side.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Spinach Mushroom Swiss Eggs

Since the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I have been taking a little break from serious planning and cooking, preferring instead to eat the stockpiles of prepared food in the freezer, or whip something simple up for a quick meal.  I am posting this picture mostly because it is green, and there is too much brown food showing itself recently here, when the truth is that fruits and greens intersperse themselves throughout every meal in this house.  Eggs are my mainstay for times such as these.  The other night I did egg-chorizo-cubanelle tacos.  In Chicago I made tomato-fontina-chicken andouille-spinach for a brunch with friends (the opportunity for which I am most appreciative).  A late brunch this Sunday morning was in sandwich form.  For the mushrooms, saute them in butter and thyme until well browned.  Then cook the eggs, and mix in the mushrooms, swiss cheese, and spinach at the end so the leaves just wilt.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Apple-Onion Tart

I hate it that this recipe is good.  Martha went overboard with the prep time on this.  So much so that Emily gave up ever having dinner the night she started making it.  We put everything in the fridge and waited a couple days to get the strength up to finish.  When we sat down to eat, we were ready to dismiss this recipe to the memory hole... but it was good.  The onion and apple really blended their flavors into something a bit unique, and the butter crust went well with it.  Savory but sweet.  Onion soup lovers might want to give this a try.  But don't wait until after Thanksgiving, because it's some work.  You may have noticed a lag in the postings... just getting my feet back on the ground after the holiday.