Sunday, January 31, 2010

Venison Stew

Venison is beautiful meat when raw.  It is dark and lean and looks amazing.  Friends gave us a couple cuts from this year's hunting season and I couldn't wait to cook with it - it's not something you can just buy at the store so it's something special.  This recipe was made from the hams - the upper leg.  The other cut we have yet to try is the tenderloin.  I figured the best thing to do with a leg was to stew it.  It's winter after all, and a warming stew is appealing.  We got a bottle of red wine (for the stew) and some stewing vegetables and followed an Italian recipe from the Silver Spoon.  This we served on a bed of egg noodles.   The stew was tasty - but it took on the taste of the wine and the vegetables and seemed to dull the taste of the meat.   With the tenderloin I think I'll try a lighter touch that will let the meat come through a bit more.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chipotle Kidney Beans

Today, I'm not going to write about the beans I made.  These are just some beans I threw in a pot to kill a bag of kidney beans that was lingering in the pantry, get rid of a half onion in the fridge, and use up these old dried chilies.  I'm going to talk about cooking in general.

I always sort of liked to cook, to put eggs together for Sunday breakfast, or make the spaghetti sauce I learned in Home Ec.   In college I'd cook for myself to make cheap meals.  I enjoyed trying new restaurants and exotic foods.  But somewhere in there, and I don't know exactly when, I discovered the feeling I call "French Full."

There are all types of "full": belt-loosening full, pain-full, greasy full, full of soup, too many cookies, Thanksgiving full, sushi full, Jerry's pizza full - they all have a distinct character.  Many bad due to over-indulgence, but some good.

"French Full" is the name I gave to the good feeling that normally ensues a good French meal.  The dishes, while perhaps familiar, have been well prepared, well cooked, and well seasoned.  Portion sizes were ample but not grotesque.  Every dish is tasty and the meal overall is balanced.  It is eaten slowly with relish and pleasure.  Having 3 courses and good friends and conversation helps accomplish this last bit.  By the end of the meal your belly is in a state of gentle satisfaction.

It is this experience that I wish to replicate.  Not that every meal needs three courses and a full belly, but that every meal should make you feel like the meal you just ate was just exactly what you wanted.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Belgian Sugar Waffles

There is a waffle iron in our kitchen taking up precious space, and this, this recipe is the reason why.   We have a stack of ideas for various dimpled concoctions, including a chocolate-chip cookie waffle that ended in failure, but the Belgian Sugar Waffle was always going to be the shining star.  Now I have never gone much beyond the make-your-own waffles in the hotel breakfast bar, but I assure you that this recipe does.  Think brioche with an almost crispy carmelized sugar crust.  No syrup needed.


The difference between this and an Eggo starts with the dough.  I say dough and not batter for these waffles because it is made ahead of time and looks more like bread dough.  Emily is still experimenting with the recipe, so I won't say too much until we are definitive experts on the optimal consistency.


The sugar is another key ingredient.  Authentic waffles use pearl sugar, which is to granulated white sugar as kosher salt is to table salt.  It's difficult to find in the store, and kind of pricey online... but the key is a local IKEA.  Take a spin around their food department and you can find the pearl sugar (along with lutefisk, fontina cheese, and bake-your-own swedish rye bread in a milk carton) for reasonable prices.   The sugar's job here is to melt a little bit in the iron and coat the waffle with a crisp sugar crust.


We like the kind of waffle iron with deep pockets for the most crispy surface area.  On the other hand they are a bit more difficult to clean.   My favorite is to eat these hot with lots of fresh fruit.


Belgian Sugar Liege Waffles
Adapted from many many waffle recipes, and not quite yet perfected...
Makes 12 mini or 6 large waffles 

1 tsp active dry yeast
¼ cup whole milk
3 tbsp water
1 egg, room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp light brown sugar
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla
8 tbsp butter, softened

Belgian pearl sugar for coating

Heat the milk and water in the microwave until it’s hot to the touch (about 110 degrees F). In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the yeast with the milk & water until dissolved. Let stand for a couple minutes to allow yeast to bloom.

With the mixer on a low setting mix the egg in until incorporated. Add the flour and mix until the flour is fully incorporated. The mixture will be dry. Cover and let rest in a warm spot (about 72 degrees F) for 90 minutes.

With the mixer on medium low, add the sugar, salt and baking powder. When mixed in, add the honey and vanilla. Mix until fully incorporated, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until each piece is mixed in before adding the next. Once all the butter has been added, mix for another 4-6 minutes scraping down the bowl as needed. Cover and let rise overnight.

In the morning, turn the dough over a few times and let rest while pre-heating the waffle iron and pouring the pearl sugar into a bowl. When ready, scoop the dough into tablespoon size balls (for small waffles, more dough for larger waffles) and roll in the pearl sugar. Cook in the waffle iron about 3 ½ minutes (or longer based on your waffle iron and how crispy you like the outside of the waffle to be). Remove with a spatula or tongs. 

They are best eaten warm so either store them in a covered dish while cooking the rest of them or in a low temp oven.

Cooked waffles can be frozen, reheat in the oven. Shaped dough balls can be frozen too. Defrost in the fridge overnight before cooking as directed above.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Meyer Lemon Cranberry Scones

Emily discovered a killer combination with this scone recipe.  Again taking advantage of Whole Food's $2 deal on a bag of Meyer lemons, she turned them into scones with cranberries.  I can't get enough of the super tart cranberries and lemony flavor.  Emily amped it up with a lemon icing.  You can find the recipe here.  These scones were reviewed (and polished off) by the office and seemed to get good reviews.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Red Beans and Rice

This is my first request recipe... it took longer than I thought to get around to it, but I hope it is worth it in the end.  The request was for a red beans and rice recipe.  I interpreted this to mean kidney beans, and that a good New Orleans style recipe was what was desired.  When it comes to New Orleans I always turn to Paul Prudhomme for guidance... he is awesome and these beans don't disappoint.  For practicality, I've replaced homemade stock with boullion cubes (Herbox is my favorite)... feel free to use stock in place of water the way his recipe recommends.

Red Beans and Rice
Adapted from The Prudhomme Family Cookbook

1 pound dried red kidney beans
2 sausages of chorizo, chopped (or try another smoked pork sausage or bacon)
About 6-7 Herbox chicken boullion cubes
3/4 pound Cure 81 smoked ham, or other smoked ham cubed
2 1/2 cups onions, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley chopped

Cooked Rice

1. Cover the beans with water at least 3 inches above the beans; soak overnight. Drain.

2. In a heavy 5 1/2-quart saucepan or large Dutch oven, combine the beans with 7 cups of water and 3 boullion cubes. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently and scraping pan bottom well so the beans won't stick. Continue boiling until the liquid just covers the beans, about 25 minutes, stirring and scraping frequently so beans won't scorch.  Err on the side of extra water in the pot.  Don't wait until the beans look dry because they will be scorching.  If they do scorch, change to a new pan without stirring.

3. Stir in 2 cups more water and one boullion cube and return to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue boiling until liquid has again reduced enough that it just covers the beans, about 15 minutes, stirring and scraping pan bottom frequently. Add 2 cups more water and one boullion cube; cook and stir about 15 minutes. Add 3 cups more water and one boullion cube; cook and stir until beans (both centers and hulls) are very tender and don't taste starchy, 30 to 40 minutes.  If beans require longer cooking to tenderize them, continue adding water as needed, 1 to 2 cups at a time.

4. Now stir in 2 cups more water and add the ham, onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. Return to a boil and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chorizo and continue cooking over high heat about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until flavors marry, about 30 minutes, stirring and scraping pan bottom frequently.

5. Finally, stir in the parsley and add more stock or water if you want the beans juicier; continue cooking about 10 minutes more, stirring frequently and being careful not to let the beans scorch. Remove from heat and add salt, if needed.

To serve, allow mounded in the center of a bowl or plate and surround with beans.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

There is not much to say about potato-leek soup - it speaks for itself.  It is wintry, earthy, warm, humble and seasonal.  When you come home and sit down to a bowl of potato-leek soup, you wash away the week and start again.  Any recipe is pretty good, this is the one that we made this week - it has a little spice in it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

White Bean Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Broccoli

Warm salads are a great way to eat greens in the wintertime.  The slight warmth of the broccoli and the white beans wilts the baby spinach and has a satisfying effect.  We have made this recipe from Martha many times and it is still a favorite.  The roasting brings out the good flavors of the tomatoes and broccoli, and everything melds in the vinagrette, which has a hint of spice.  Serve on a piece of toast if you like.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wasabi Rice Cakes

Rice, even the picture above, may not excite you until I tell you a little more information.  The rice is sushi rice meaning its mixed with sugar and rice vinegar, it's coated with sesame seeds and furikake, fried lightly in sesame oil, and yes that white sauce on the side is wasabi-mascarpone.  We served this as an appetizer, and it makes a tasty snack.  Like the california roll salad, it is reminiscent of the sushi flavors, but with a much richer, not quite dessert taste that is new but familiar.  The recipe can be found here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Turkey Burgers

Turkey burgers are their own breed.  Don't try to make a beef-tasting burger out of them because it's not beef.  It's turkey and it tastes good in its own right.  The ground turkey you buy in the store will not make a burger like this one, however.   Somehow that stuff is always too lean and just doesn't do well in a burger.  At worst it feels dry and tastes a bit off.  Grinding your own is not out of reach!  These burgers come out great using the food processor.  Cook's recommends the turkey thighs for the proper amount of juiciness.  Guacamole makes a perfect topping.  One trick to ripening those rock-hard grocery store avocados: put it in a paper bag with an apple, and in a day or too it will be soft and ready to eat.

Turkey Burgers
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Serves 4

For the Burger:
1 turkey thigh 1.5-2 pounds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

For the Guacamole:
1 ripe Hass avocado
1/4 onion, chopped fine
10 grape tomatoes, halved
1 small clove garlic, toasted
salt to taste
pepper to taste

For the Bun:
1 pack of potato rolls

1. Skin and bone the turkey thigh and cut it into 1-inch chunks.  Put them on a plate an place in freezer for half an hour until they are semi-frozen.  Working in 3 batches, pulse the chunks with 12 to 14 one-second pulses until it looks like evenly ground meat.

2. Put all 3 batches together in a bowl and mix in salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard.  Form patties by hand.

3. Heat a little oil in a skillet on medium-high.  Put the patties in and cook them so they get a nice brown crust on both sides and are cooked through, perhaps 5 minutes a side depending on how big you made them.

4. While the burgers are cooking, halve and peel the avocado into a large bowl.  Mash thoroughly with a fork or other mashing utensil.  (My molcajete is almost seasoned, but not quite ready for use).   Then stir in the onions and tomatoes.  If you like, mince a garlic clove, heat it momentarily in the pan with the burgers, and mix it in too.  Add a pinch of salt and some fresh pepper.  Taste.  Add more salt.  Taste.  Ad more salt.  Repeat until it tastes great.

5.  When burgers are cooked, serve on a potato roll with a heaping dollop of guac.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cauliflower Gratin

This is one of my favorite ways to cook cauliflower, but it really makes sense to do when you have bechamel left over and sitting in the fridge.  (Maybe from making the swiss chard lasagna).  I served with an arugula salad and a piece of toast (use a baguette if you have one.)

Cauliflower Gratin with Ham
Fills a 9x13 baking dish - feeds 4 as a meal

1 head cauliflower
1/4 pound deli ham
1 cup bechamel sauce (recipe here)
black pepper
1/2 cup shredded parm, gruyere, or combination

Preheat oven to 350.  Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil.  While coming to a boil, chop the cauliflower into florets with about a square inch of a top.  Slice the ham into strips.  When water is boiling, add a pinch of salt, and then the cauliflower.  Boil for 3-4 minutes and drain.  Arrange cauliflower in a 9x13 baking dish, add ham and bechamel and mix gently to coat.  Grind fresh pepper on top to taste, and sprinkle cheese.  Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.  Turn on the broiler and brown for 5 more minutes until golden.  Serve hot.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Basta Pasta

This is what happens after you've done too much holiday cooking and just get lazy.  "Pasta Two Kinds."  Leftover fresh noodles come out of the cupboard and are dressed with pesto from the fridge.  Canned crushed tomatoes are cooked into a sauce with onions, garlic, and basil.  Then both are plopped simultaneously into a single bowl for a lazy evening.  Not quite as impressive as two soups in one bowl, but getting there.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Gingered Brussels Sprouts

This dish was once the vegetable of the day at Vegetate, a really nice vegetarian restaurant here in DC.  As one friend described it, it's more of a "restaurant that happens to not have any dishes with meat in them" than a vegetarian restaurant.  According to their website, they are now in the process of moving and their 9th St location is closed.  I hope they open again soon, and in Southwest!  Anyway, these brussels sprouts were grilled and just bursting with juicy gingeryness and were amazing.  So good, in fact that I am working out the recipe.  What follows is my first attempt.  It needs work, but I will refine it the next time I get my hands on some good b-sprouts.

Gingered Brussels Sprouts
First tasted at Vegetate DC

Pick smaller, dark green, tight sprouts.  If you can find them on the stalk, they are probably fresher. Rinse your sprouts and remove any yellowing outer leaves if they happened to get in your bag.  Trim off  just a sliver of stem to remove the dried part but not cut any leaves.  Place them in a medium bowl and microwave for 2-3 minutes.  Move on to the marinade.  In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, 1 tsp fresh grated ginger, 1 Tbsp honey and bring to a boil.  Continue boiling to reduce by half.  When cool, cut the sprouts in half and dress with some of the liquid.  Heat a small amount of olive oil on high in a pan and toss in the brussels sprouts, cut side down.  Brown for a minute or two, then turn off heat and mix in remaining liquid, tossing to coat.  Serve hot.

I need to try this a couple more times to refine the amounts and get the ingredients and technique better.  I would love to try this on the grill the way it was intended.  I may need a return trip to Vegetate.