Beef Bourguignon

January 1, 2014

Wow!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, huh?  Sorry about that!

I stumbled upon a beautiful recipe when I was looking for a hearty and classy beef stew to serve at my Winter Solstice party, but after a first, trial run, I discovered that it needed a significant amount of tinkering (I’m glad I had that trial run!).  Here’s how I do it.  It’s a little fussier than I usually go in for, but it’s TOTALLY worth it; trust me.

Start by cooking a few slices of thick bacon in a deep, wide pan.  I usually go with four slices, because that’s what fits in the bottom of my pan, and cook the rest in the oven to snack on while I get on with the rest of the recipe.  Once the bacon is crispy, transfer it to paper towels and let it drain, then dump two thinly sliced onions (I love my mandoline slicer!) into the bacon leavings and cook them over medium-low heat until they turn soft and slightly caramelize.  Just before they’re done, drop in a few cloves’ worth of chopped garlic, making sure that the garlic doesn’t burn.  Fish the onions and garlic out of the pan and transfer them to the bottom of a crock pot.

While that’s going, prepare your stew beef.  Make sure all the chunks are about evenly sized and lay them out on paper towels to dry.  Sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper, then brown the meat in batches and transfer it to the crock pot, too.

The original recipe called for a half cup of cognac, but since I don’t keep cognac in the house, I use a half cup of good Scotch.  Pour it in with the last batch of the beef and use it to deglaze the pan, then light that puppy on fire (watch your eyebrows!).  Once the flames die down, pour what’s in the pan into the crock pot.

Into the crock pot, dice or crumble the bacon, drop in a small can of tomato paste, a couple cups of baby carrots, and a bag of frozen pearl onions, and cover the whole thing with a bottle of the red wine of your choice (I use pinot noir, but whatever you really like is fine).  If you find you need more liquid (I never do), top it off with some beef broth.  Stir it around to distribute the tomato paste and the vegetables, pop on the lid, crank your crock pot to high, and leave it alone all afternoon.

About ten minutes before you’re ready to eat, clean and quarter a bunch of white mushrooms and sautee them in butter; you can add these to the stew at the end or, as we do in my family, allow those who like mushrooms to scoop some into their bowls.  My usual vehicle for this yumminess is toasted rustic bread spread with a little roasted garlic paste, but it would be fabulous over polenta or coarsely mashed red potatoes, or even rice (or in a bowl all on its own).  It reheats beautifully and makes a really nice lunch a few days later; this is a dish that could even be prepared the day before you need it.

Enjoy!

Heavenly Rolls

December 30, 2012

I love Chef John from foodwishes.com.  He makes fussy recipes seem easy; he’s got a laid-back demeanor and he just sounds like a wonderful guy.  Watching his videos is spirit-boosting; he comes across like someone who, if you were sharing a kitchen with him, would make you feel competent and confident; he never gives me the impression that he could be condescending or harsh.

I found a recipe for King Arthur Flour pull-apart rolls just before Christmas, and I thought that I’d put together a batch for our feast.  The day before the holiday, I remembered that I’d seen Chef John post a video for a similar recipe earlier in the month, so I went back through his archives and found it.

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I compared the recipes and decided that I liked Chef John’s better, so I busted out the KitchenAid and got to it.  It was stupid-easy and the results were sublime.  I doctored the recipe a bit, which is another thing I love about Chef John; he’s perfectly okay with your mucking about with his recipes; if you don’t like something, sub it out for something you do like.  It’s okay; it’s all good.

Here’s how I worked the recipe on Christmas – and again this afternoon, though today I’m making loaves instead of rolls.  I can’t recommend this recipe enough; it really is delightful.

Start with 2 and a quarter teaspoons of active dry yeast in the bowl of your KitchenAid fitted with the dough hook.  To that, add a quarter cup of warm water and let that sit while you melt a half a stick of butter in a cup of milk (Chef John does this in a little saucepan; I do it in a Pyrex measure in the microwave).  Pour the resultant slurry into the yeast, squeeze in a tablespoon or so of honey (or of sugar; your choice, and how much you put in is entirely up to you), a good teaspoon of salt (I just grab a big pinch), and – here’s where *I* think the magic happens – a good, heaping blop of roasted garlic paste.  I shake in some dried oregano, then scoop out two cups of flour and turn the machine on low.

Once that gets going, start adding flour, a little bit at a time, until the dough started to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  From there, let the machine spin for another 5 minutes or so (that’s the stupid-easy part; there’s literally no hands-on work to this recipe).  Once that’s done, free your dough hook and hold the ball out while you drop a little olive oil into the bowl, then swish the dough around in the oil until it’s well-coated.  Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm spot for an hour or so or until it’s doubled in size.

From there, turn the dough onto a board (DON’T flour it; you won’t be working the dough very much and the oil from the rising should be sufficient to keep it from sticking to everything) and shape it as you will.  I made little pull-apart balls for Christmas, but this afternoon’s treatment involved my patting it out into a rectangle, spreading a little more garlic paste onto the top, and jelly-rolling it into a loaf that went onto a silpat-lined cookie sheet.  Paint the bread with an egg beaten with a little bit of water and sprinkle of something – sea salt, garlic salt, parmesan cheese, herbs; whatever makes you happy.  Back into the warm spot it goes for another half hour or so, or until it re-rises.

Take the bread out of your oven if you’re using it as a proofing box, and then crank it up to 375°.  Park the bread in the oven and figure out how long it’ll need to cook; little rolls get about 20 minutes; a larger loaf may need twice that (I test by temperature; pop the bread out of the oven and stick a thermometer in its underbelly; if you’ve got 200°, you’re in business).

Really; Enjoy!

Breakfast Cookies

November 18, 2012

Here’s the thing; I don’t like to eat breakfast.

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE breakfast food.  I mean, come on; bacon!  Hello?  French toast, waffles, hash browns, scrambled eggs, omelets; there’s really very little about breakfast food that doesn’t appeal to me.  My problem with it, though, is that its served so early in the morning.  If I can eat breakfast at 10 am, that would suit me just fine.

I shouldn’t wait that long to eat, though, and because I’m trying both to be healthier and to set a better example for my daughters, the quest to find something that I’m willing to stomach in the wee hours took on some serious focus a few months ago.

I went looking for some form of baked oatmeal – something that could be made ahead and stored (to eliminate the “I don’t feel like making anything” excuse) and which could be eaten on the go (because, while I personally don’t have a whole lot of time constraints in the mornings, my daughters do not always rise early enough to allow themselves leisurely mornings).  After messing with a couple of different recipes, I’ve managed to Frankenstein together something that I really like.

Start with half a cup each of honey, peanut butter (I use smooth and all-natural, but whatever you like is perfectly acceptable) and apple sauce (you can sub bananas for the apple sauce, but I’m not a big banana fan, so I don’t).  I drop in a blop of vanilla here, just because I can.  Mix these together in a large-ish bowl until they’re well combined.

Into that, drop a cup of old-fashioned oats, half a cup of flour (I use whole wheat white flour for this application), a quarter cup of dry milk powder, and  a quarter teaspoon of baking soda (you can sift these things together if you’re fussy enough to need to do that, or if your milk powder is lumpy).

After that, the world, as they say, is your oyster; add in whatever suits your fancy.  Like nuts?  Drop some in there!  Cinnamon and nutmeg?  Why the hell not?  If you’re a raisin kind of person, I say have at it.  My personal preference is for a handful each of chocolate chips and dried cherries, but that’s just me.

Drop the batter in generous lumps  – like, a quarter of a cup – onto a baking sheet lined with parchment (or silpat; I love that stuff) and park the pans in a 350° oven for about 10-15 minutes; you want them cooked, but not dry.  Let them cool, pop ‘em in an airtight container, and keep ‘em on your counter.  One of these and a nice glass of milk should hold you over until lunch (and they make completely acceptable after-school snacks, too).

Enjoy!

(pictures to follow…)

Quinoa Bites

August 21, 2012

I found this recipe on Pinterest.

If you’re not familiar with Pinterest, it is pretty much the brainchild of Satan.  It’s a place where people (mostly women with too much time on their hands) go to “pin” things that they find on the internet.  These things can be arranged into “boards” according to the individual’s needs, and people (eherm… Me…) can lose hours – HOURS, I tell you! – surfing the site (and if you’re not careful, you’ll leave a session with Pinterest feeling like you’re completely inadequate).

There are a lot of really great things on Pinterest, but you’ve GOT to be choosy because there’s also a LOT of crap.  The problem is that it ALL looks gorgeous, so weeding out the winners from the clunkers is often a matter of actually trying it yourself.

I found a winner.

The original recipe is here.  I’m rendering it here as I will modify it next time.

Start with a cup of quinoa and cook that in whatever way you do.  If you don’t know how to cook quinoa, the process is sort of a mix between rice and couscous; take an amount of quinoa and double that amount for the liquid – I often use chicken broth, but any liquid works just fine (including milk!) – and bring it to a boil.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, then fluff the stuff with a fork.  My favorite cooking process is in the rice cooker – dump everything in, push the button, and you’re in business.

While the quinoa is cooking, combine about a cup of grated parmesan, 3 eggs, 3 tablespoons of flour, a cup of shredded carrots, a good handful of chopped green onion, and as much minced garlic as suits your taste.  I’m going to include a dash of garlic salt and perhaps some mushrooms and chopped yellow onion the next time I put these together; I found them to be a tiny bit bland.

Mix everything together (I didn’t bother to cool the quinoa first – it went from rice cooker to mixing bowl with little ill effect) and spoon the mixture into muffin cups – oh; and unless you’re using silicone muffin tins (which I would HIGHLY recommend), make sure you oil them well or you’ll never get the bites out.  Next time I make these, I’m going to sprinkle some cheese in the cups before I put the mixture in, but I’m using silicone muffin pans, so I can do that.  Sprinkle cheese on top and pop them into a preheated 350° oven for about half an hour.  I ended up turning the broiler on over them for the last little bit, just to crisp up the cheese on top, but in terms of aesthetics, it didn’t matter because I finished them off with a swath of tomato sauce and served them with a green salad.  Mr. Chili, Bean, and I LOVED them (Punk was babysitting and didn’t eat dinner with us tonight).  These are absolutely going into the Chili Family dinner rotation.

Oh yum, indeed!

image credit

Nutella Bread Pudding

August 17, 2012

We invited the gentleman who owns the cottages we rent at the lake to dinner last night.  At Mr. Chili’s request, I put together a recipe of lemon chicken picatta (which turned out particularly lovely), but I was stumped over what to make for dessert.

It’s summertime, and that usually means fruit or ice cream for after-dinner sweeties around here.  I wanted something a bit more impressive, though, and as I mused over the possibilities, my eyes rested on a box of mini croissants and a jar of Nutella sitting on the counter.

Bingo.

Here’s how you do it.  Preheat the oven to 350° and break out a dish – I use a souffle dish, but you can use a loaf pan or a cake pan or pretty much anything that’s of sufficient size for your pudding.  Split croissants (day-old or older is better; I’d bought this box on Monday and cooked the pudding on Thursday) and slather them with a generous swath of Nutella and put the tops back on.  Once you’ve got them all sandwiched together, cut them into chunks – my mini croissants worked perfectly cut into halves; I would imagine that standard sized pastries would need to be cut into thirds or quarters – and arrange them in the dish, jigsaw-puzzle wise.

In another container (I use my measuring cup), whisk a half cup of powdered sugar with a cup of cream (the original recipe calls for heavy cream, but I almost never have that to hand; I have perfect success with half and half), two eggs, and a healthy shot of vanilla.  Pour this over the croissants and let the whole thing sit for about half an hour.  I go back and prod the bits back into the custard mix periodically, just to encourage their soaking up the liquid.

When you’re ready to bake, cover the dish in foil and park it in the oven for about half an hour, then take off the foil and let it go another ten minutes.  I leave the pudding to cool on the counter for about 20 minutes before I serve it; you want it warm, but not rocket hot.

This is gorgeous just as it is, but it doesn’t suffer one bit from a splash of cream.  Nor, I imagine, would a scoop of ice cream or a splot of whipped cream go amiss, either.

You’re welcome.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

August 13, 2012

It’s that time of year again!!


I love zucchini.  My beloved, however, does not.  It’s one of his ‘weird’ foods; he objects to the texture (and, to be fair, his mother ruined all forms of squash for him when he was a kid; what IS it about some people that they insist on cooking the stuff in ways that render it more like warm snot than the yummy vegetables they are?!).

My friend and neighbor grows the stuff, though, and is generous enough to share her harvest with me.  I’ll dice it in my salads to eat it raw, I’ll saute it with some butter as a side dish (for me; I’m the only one who’ll eat it.. more for me!) and I’ll ask Mr. Chili to grill it (he’s not so grossed out that he won’t deign to touch the stuff….).  One of my favorite things to do with zucchini, though, is to turn it into chocolate yumminess that everyone, regardless of their feelings about the stuff, will gleefully consume.

Start by grating your zucchini.  Most of the recipes I’ve found recommend peeling the veggie first, but I never bother with that; didn’t our grandmothers always tell us that all the good stuff is in the skins?  You’ll need two cups, give or take.  Set that aside while you preheat the oven to 350° and grease two standard loaf pans.

In a bowl, beat 2 cups of sugar with a cup of vegetable oil, three eggs, and three teaspoons of vanilla (you’ve met me, right?  I never measure vanilla; just drop a healthy shot into the bowl and call it even).  In another bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups of flour, a half cup of cocoa powder (I always make this a rounded measure), a quarter teaspoon of baking powder, and a teaspoon each of salt and baking soda.  The original recipe calls for a teaspoon of cinnamon, but I always leave that out; feel free to include it if the fancy strikes  you.  The original recipe DOES NOT call for a healthy handful of chocolate chips, but chocolate chips make everything better, so there.

Add the dry bowl to the wet bowl, stirring until just combined, then dump in your grated zucchini and chocolate chips and stir those around.  Divide the mess into the loaf pans and park them in the middle of your oven for about 45 minutes (the toothpick test is reliable here).  Make sure you let them cool for about 10 minutes or so after coming out of the oven before you try to take them out of their pans; they need a bit of solidifying time.

We love this stuff straight up, but Punk discovered last year that it’s particularly good toasted with a bit of cream cheese frosting on it (I was making carrot cake and had some extra frosting.  We joked that the Chili women really know how to negate ALL of the nutrition in a recipe!

Enjoy!

French Chocolate Cake

December 24, 2011

Let me begin by saying that I have NO IDEA what makes this cake “French.”  All I know is that, when I got the recipe years and years ago, that’s what it was called, so I’m running with it.

Start by prepping a springform pan by buttering it well and lining the bottom with a round of parchment paper.  Since I find that nearly all springforms leak, I also wrap the bottom of mine in tin foil, too.  Next, set the springform in a baking pan big enough to hold it, put the kettle on, and preheat your oven to 350°.

In the pan of a double-boiler, start melting 9 ounces of good quality chocolate with 2 sticks of butter (I know, I know, but trust me…).  Once you’ve got it mostly melted, stir in a scant half cup of white sugar and stir until it’s all smooth.

While that’s happening, beat together 5 eggs with a tablespoon of flour (yes, that’s all; just one tablespoon).  When the chocolate, butter, sugar mess is all nice and smooth, stir in a tablespoon or so of vanilla, then mix it all together with the eggs.  Scrape it all into the prepared springform, pour hot water into the baking dish, and park it in the center of your oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until set but still soft.  Let it cool completely on a wire rack (I usually pull the springform ring off it if, just in case any water got through my tin foil defenses).

Whether you choose to fridge it or not before serving it in little slivers (be careful; it’s rich) is entirely up to you.  This needs nothing in the way of extra, but I usually sieve a little powdered sugar over the top before I serve it.

You’re welcome.

Creme Brulee

December 24, 2011

I have a love-hate relationship with custard.

As a high school student enamored of kitchen art, I took every home ec. class I could cram into my schedule.  I was a whiz at recipes, and I always did exceedingly well in the classes.

That is, until we got to custard.

I failed custard, miserably and repeatedly.  I would follow the recipes to the letter, but invariably I’d be left with weeping, split, inedible messes.  What’s more is that I didn’t give up after my first couple of disasters.  No; I was damned and determined that I wasn’t going to let this process get the better of me, so I marched doggedly back into the high school kitchen lab to try again.

And again.  And again.

Eventually, my teacher put her hand on my shoulder and told me that I should let this fight rest and move on to other skills (I think she was starting to fret the number of eggs disappearing from the lab’s fridge).

I never really gave up on custard, but it was a very long time before I was willing to confront the process again.  I don’t know whether there was something in my teenage energy that was disrupting the natural order of custard or what, but I found that, now that I’m older, custard doesn’t present the same problems for me that it used to (and don’t discount the energetic theory, either; I used to stop watches, too).

So, here’s my go-to recipe, boosted with love and gratitude from Alton Brown.  Start by putting 4 cups of heavy cream, into which you should drop a split and scraped vanilla bean (and, if you have it, a little dash of Trader Joe’s vanilla bean paste), into a heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Set that to gently reach a boil over medium heat, then fish out the vanilla pods and set the pan aside to cool for about 15 minutes and put the kettle on.

While the cream is cooling and the kettle is heating, preheat your oven to 325° and get out the Kitchen Aid fitted with the whisk attachment.  Into the bowl goes a half a cup of sugar (I don’t level the measure) and six egg yolks, which get whisked together until the mixture starts to take on a light, lemony color.

While the mixer is running, pour the cooled cream in to the egg and sugar, whisking until it’s all nicely combined.  Pour the resulting liquid into 6 ramekins which you’ve put into a baking pan, pour the kettle into the pan so hot water comes to about halfway up the dessert cups, and park the baking pan in the middle of your oven for about 40 minutes.  The custards should be set, but still jiggly in the middle.  Remove the cups to the fridge to cool for at least two hours, but they can sit for a couple of days (cover them in plastic if they’re going to wait a while before serving).

The “brulee” part of creme brulee is just singed sugar.  If you’ve thought ahead and popped a vanilla bean in some sugar, use that; if not, plain sugar will work just fine.  Take the cups out of the fridge and let them sit at room temperature for a half hour or so before you sprinkle the tops with sugar.  Then, using a torch if you have one or the broiler if you don’t, heat the sugar until it just starts to caramelize (if you’re doing this under the broiler, DON’T LOOK AWAY!  Sugar goes from nicely browned to irretrievably burnt in the blink of an eye).  Give the cups a few minutes to cool again, then serve them to everyone’s delight.  The juxtaposition of the velvety custard and the crunchy sugar is sublime.

I’ve popped brulee’d cups back in the fridge and enjoyed them days later, but there’s a good chance you won’t have occasion to do that; these are too delicious to leave leftovers.

Oh, Fudge!

December 20, 2011

I’ve always been a fan of fudge.  Real, honest fudge, not that stuff that calls itself fudge but is really just condensed milk and marshmallow fluff.

The thing is, though, that the milk-and-marshmallow stuff got popular because it almost always works.  You see, baking and candy-making  involve science; if the conditions aren’t met, the product doesn’t work.  That’s why cakes fall and custards split and fudge seizes; something in the process or in the ingredients wasn’t quite right, and the whole thing goes to hell.

Here, though, is a recipe that is pretty consistent, once you get the technique down.  I’ve made several batches of this with round success (if we except the first attempt, when I tried to usurp the process by speeding the cooling, which resulted in the aforementioned seizure, so let’s not mention that, shall we..?).

Start with a heavy saucepan.  To that, add 2 cups of white sugar, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1 tablespoon of corn syrup (it doesn’t seem like much, but remember what I said about science; the stuff’s in there for a reason).  Then, dump in 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder (I don’t level the tablespoons; the cocoa’s in there for flavor, not science) and a half a cup of chocolate chips.  On top of all that, pour 2/3 of a cup of cream (I’ve used half and half consistently with great success).  Give it a stir and let everything melt together over medium heat.

Once everything’s melted and smooth, get a pastry brush wet and brush down the sides of the pan to get rid of whatever is clinging there (SCIENCE!  Doing this keeps the sugar from re-crystallizing, and re-crystallizing is something you don’t want).  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure the bottom of the thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high and leave it alone.  Don’t stir it, don’t swirl the pan, just leave it to happily bubble along.

Eventually – and it’ll feel like it’s going to take FOREVER to get there, but believe me, it will get there, so keep an eye on it – it’ll reach about 234° on the candy thermometer.  Once it does, take the pan off the heat and set it on a cooling rack – don’t stir it, don’t swirl it, and leave the candy thermometer where it is; you’ll want to check in on it periodically as it cools because you’ve got work to do when it settles down to about 110°.

While you’re waiting for the cooling to happen, get an 8×8 inch glass pan and butter it well.

Once your candy gets to 110°, take the candy thermometer out, get yourself a sturdy wooden spoon, and start stirring the crap out of it.  This is going to be a lot harder than  you expect, but that’s okay – just think of it as working off the calories you’re about to consume.  After about 5 or 7 minutes of furious stirring, your fudge will start to thicken and lose its glossy sheen; THAT’S when to pour it into the prepared pan, smooth it out with a spatula, and let it cool the rest of the way down (at this point, you can fridge it, but don’t try to speed the first cooling process by putting the pan in the fridge or on the back porch… trust me on this).

This really is a lovely recipe, and I hope you are as successful with it as I have been!

Everything’s Better with Bacon

December 17, 2011

A couple of years ago, the girls had a bacon-wrapped appetizer for their annual Christmas party.  Because the girls don’t treat the help like the help, they encouraged us to have some and, MAN!, were they yummy.

I haven’t made them yet, but here’s what you do.  Preheat the oven to 350° and toast a couple dozen almonds (or however many you’re making) for about ten minutes, or until they’re just lightly golden and fragrant.  Take them out and let them cool.  Then, take an equal number of pitted dates and shove an almond in the middle of each of them, wrap each little package with a strip of bacon and, if you’re that fussy, secure each with a toothpick.  Pop them back in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp and cooked through.  Park the lot on a paper towel to drain and serve ‘em warm.

YUM!


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