Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Homemade Biscuits

I often get into a biscuit baking mood.  Sometimes it's an environmental thing ("Ooh, it's cold out and it's breakfast time.  I need to make biscuits.") or sometimes it's out of need ("Hmmm, I have a whole thing of buttermilk and not a single use for it.").  This was the latter.  And since you never really know when buttermilk has gone bad, purely for the fact that it smells sour to begin with, I figured I'd better use it up for fear of it going really, really bad.

Buttermilk Biscuits (from Southern Living)

1/2 C cold butter
2 1/4 C self rising soft-wheat flour
1 1/4 C buttermilk
Self rising soft wheat flour
2 T melted butter


1. Cut butter with a sharp knife or pastry blender into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle butter slices over flour in a large bowl. Toss butter with flour. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender until crumbly and mixture resembles small peas. Cover and chill 10 minutes. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 3 or 4 times, gradually adding additional flour as needed. With floured hands, press or pat dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Sprinkle top of dough with additional flour. Fold dough over onto itself in 3 sections, starting with 1 short end. (Fold dough rectangle as if folding a letter-size piece of paper.) Repeat entire process 2 more times, beginning with pressing into a 3/4-inch-thick dough rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches).

3. Press or pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface; cut with a 2-inch round cutter, and place, side by side, on a parchment paper-lined or lightly greased jelly-roll pan. (Dough rounds should touch.)

4. Bake at 450° for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; brush with 2 Tbsp. melted butter.

The cast of characters, including that bottle of buttermilk that had no immediate plans.

Slice the butter into one tablespoon-thick slices and add to the flour.  I used a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour until it was well mixed and in pea-shaped pieces.  I really like how my camera flash is creating that aura in the bowl. 

Pour in the buttermilk and mix well.  This is going to be pretty wet and loose.

That's what I was talking about.  I thought for sure this would never, ever become something I could roll out, but with enough flour, anything is possible.  I used a pretty good amount of flour here.

After it became something I could roll out flat, I cut as many rounds as I could.  Something interesting I learned recently is that when you're cutting biscuits, don't push down the cutter and twist.  That effectively seals the edges of the biscuits and prevents them from rising as much.  Instead, push down on the cutter and then pull up.  I learned this after I make this batch of biscuits, so you'd better believe I will be making another batch soon with my new found knowledge.

Here we go!  Biscuits on the parchment and ready to go into the oven.

Melted butter to brush on the biscuits.  Prepare to have this ready when they come out of the oven.

And the final, piping hot product!  Brush the melted butter over the tops, being sure to use up all of the butter.  Does it look like the biscuits have enough butter?  No, keep brushing, for it is a cardinal sin in the South to not have food swimming in butter.  Trust me.  Eat these with apple butter or make ham biscuits the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas, or just enjoy them with butter and/or honey.  So good.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Roasting a Whole Chicken

I am the only person in my house who can deal with raw poultry.

The Husband is a mighty hunter, having graced our dinner table with a number of different beasts. He also had a hand, if not solely managed, the preparation and serving of each one. He is known to go elbow deep into the cavity of a deer when necessary. He has no fear of any animal.

But he can’t deal with a chicken breast. Eh, we all have our quirks. You’d want to have me committed if I started listing all of my eccentricities. He has his reasons, though: it’s icky.  Folks, I cannot argue with that.

Alas, I am the chicken preparer. I trim, prep and cook said chicken. I am most familiar with the standard chicken breast, although I’ve also dabbled in thighs and wings. I thought I could handle it all.

Then comes the day I was wandering in the grocery store and saw whole, raw chickens chilling in the meat section. Could I do it? No, I didn’t actually ask myself that question. I’m not one for much forethought on stuff like that. I picked up the bird, plopped it in my cart, and brought it home. I found this recipe from Southern Living and I was set.

Herb-Roasted Chickens
Yield: Makes 8 to 12 servings
Prep time:20 Minutes
Bake:1 Hour, 25 Minutes
Stand:15 Minutes

6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup poultry seasoning
1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
4 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 (3- to 4-lb.) whole chickens

1. Stir together oil and next 6 ingredients until well blended.

2. If necessary, remove giblets and neck from chickens, and reserve for another use. Rinse chickens with cold water; pat dry.

3. Loosen and lift skin from chicken breasts with fingers (do not totally detach skin). Rub 2 Tbsp. olive oil mixture evenly underneath skin of each chicken. Carefully replace skin. Rub remaining olive oil mixture over both chickens, coating evenly. Place chickens, side by side, on a lightly greased wire rack in a pan.

4. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes; cover loosely with aluminum foil, and bake 45 to 55 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest portion of breast registers 165°. Let stand 15 minutes before slicing.

Note: Dried herbs and seasonings may be substituted for fresh. Substitute 1/2 tsp. garlic powder for minced, but use the same amounts for the other herbs and spices.

Chicken cooking day arrives. I plopped the naked bird in the sink, wrestled with the best way to cut into the wrapping, dodged the stream of chicken juice, et al, that sprayed in my general direction after cutting into said wrapping, and surveyed pre-dinner. I was suddenly at a loss as to what in the hell I was to do next. As I began to inspect the bird more closely I determined there were still little feathers stuck into its skin. Whaaa? Did I not pay enough to get the feather-free bird? I mean, they were just little stubs, but still. I plucked out the ones I could get to, rinsed the whole thing, patted it dry and put it on my pan. By the way, I’m doing all of this pretty much single handedly, literally, since I’m holding the chicken in one hand and working the faucet with the other. We don’t want any chicken cross contamination in this house. To quote the husband, that’s icky. Oh, and thank goodness the good people at Tyson decided to take out the neck and giblets for me; that could have potentially been a deal breaker.
Raw chicken

The rest of the prep work was relatively uneventful from this point forward. I mixed the seasonings and oil together, smeared it all over the bird and tied its little feet together. The bird also had a pop-up timer to tell me when it was done, but I ended up not trusting it. I wasn’t in the mood for undercooked chicken, so I changed up the cooking times slightly: 15 minutes at 425, then an extra 70 minutes at 350, until I was absolutely sure it was cooked all the way through.

Cooked chicken

When it was done, it smelled fabulous! I tented it with foil for about 10 minutes while our sides finished up and then we cut into it. The herbs had seasoned the meat really well and the skin kept everything very moist. The herbs weren’t overpowering even though I used a lot of them. I also learned a new word – flensing. Defined as removing all of the useable chicken meat from the carcass. Related definition: something that takes an inordinate amount of time, causes back pain from hunching over the counter for up to 45 minutes, and results in maybe a pound of chicken leftovers that you will struggle to find a way to use before you just freeze it and forget about it until the next time you roast a chicken and you think to yourself, "Dang it, I still have all of that other flensed chicken in the freezer from the last time I cooked this blasted thing!" Chicken leftovers are why the Good Lord made chicken noodle soup, chicken salad and chicken sandwiches.

Edit: I must amend my earlier statement that the Husband can’t deal with raw poultry. The mighty hunter bagged a turkey recently, providing enough meat for five meals, and he just tore into that bird to get the meat. Literally. When I brought up his poultry aversion, he said, “Yeah, but I know where this bird has been,” meaning from the field to our kitchen counter, he knows exactly how it was handled and prepped. With the grocery store variety bird, he can’t guarantee that so he’s less sure of it. Makes sense.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

DIY Pumpkin Purée

So I had this great idea. It was post-Halloween and I had two pumpkins sitting on the counter. I had intended to carve both of them but with a baby at home, well, it just didn't get done. My next thought was that it was a shame for them to not get used at all, and my thoughts went to creating my own pumpkin puree. Why not? It can't be that hard.

First, the pumpkin. Wait. Why does my pumpkin look like it is wearing a luchador mask? Well, because my original intent was to carve and paint this pumpkin like I did for a contest a few years ago.

I lost the contest, unfortunately. Not that I harbor any feelings of retribution or anything like that, because that would be silly. That was a dang good pumpkin.

Yes, maybe this is a bit dramatic. But hey, it's Halloween. Moving on.

I sliced up the pumpkins, removed the guts...

And cut them into neat sections so they would all fit on my baking sheet.

You can add some oil to the pumpkins before they go into the oven, but I opted to have the naked pumpkin in all its glory. I baked them at 350 for about 45 minutes until a fork easily went into the skin. I let them cool and peeled off the skin. I don't have a large capacity food processor, so I planned to do the puree in my blender. My poor blender, which I received as a wedding gift ten (10!) years ago and is not nearly as spunky as it once was. This is all to say that the blender didn't work out. So I had to use my mini three cup food processor. It took a little while, but everything was pureed and put in a bowl like so.

At this stage, you can probably see in the bowl where there is an excess of liquid.  I stretched some cheesecloth around the mouth of another bowl, secured it with a rubber band and dumped the pumpkin puree into the cheesecloth to let it drain for about 30 minutes.  It released a lot of liquid and left me with a more firm puree, though still a little less firm than what you find in a can.

Here's where the math comes in.  Consider yourselves warned.

My yield was about six cups of pumpkin puree, which I bagged and froze in two cup servings.  So that's roughly 48 ounces. 

The going price at CVS this week for a 15 oz can of Libby's pumpkin is an unreal $0.88.  I'm beyond positive that is the lowest price out there for pumpkin right now and I'm shocked that the news headlines haven't included stories on riots with frantic bakers raiding the shelves.  I need about 3.2 cans of Libby's pumpkin to equal 48 oz at a cost of $2.82.  Divided by 48 oz, that's roughly $0.06 per ounce.

On the other hand, I used two whole pumpkins for this project which were purchased for a total of $8.00.  Divided by 48 ounces again, that gives us roughly $0.17 per ounce.  However, when you include the time it took to prep, bake, puree, drain and package my pumpkin, the unit cost actually skyrockets to about $35.18 per ounce.  No, actually that's not 100% accurate, but it sure feels correct. 

In closing, it's more economically sound and sanity preserving to get in the car, go to the store, and pick your canned pumpkin off the shelf.  I'm glad I tried this method, but I'm pretty sure I won't be replicating it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tom Kha Gai

I’ve tried for so long to find a good recipe for Tom Kha Gai, or Thai Chicken Coconut Soup. There’s a great restaurant in our area that serves it and the Husband gets it almost every time we go there. It’s creamy and silky and it has an explosion of Thai flavors that are very specific to the cuisine – if you’ve had Thai food before, you know those flavors. Tart, sweet, spice, heat, all rolled into one dish typically. It’s so amazing. I was looking at doing a cooking class at our local Viking Cooking School and I found this recipe and decided to give it a shot. Bullseye!

Tom Kha Gai

16 ounces chicken stock
4 to 5 kaffir lime leaves*, bruised in a mortar and pestle
2 stalks lemongrass*, white and pale green tips only, trimmed, bruised in a mortar and pestle
1 (2-inch) piece galangal* (or ginger root), thinly sliced
1 (8-ounce) can straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
1 (13-1/2-ounce) can coconut milk, thick cream removed and reserved from top of can
1 whole dried red chile pepper*, or to taste, slightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 (6-ounce) chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste (juice of about 2 medium limes)
6 green onions, green tops only, cut into 1/16-inch thick slices
1/4 cup whole fresh cilantro leaves, packed
Steamed jasmine rice, for an accompaniment (recipe below)


In a medium sauce pan, combine the chicken stock, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, and straw mushrooms over medium-high heat. Bring mixture to a boil, then add the thin coconut milk, Thai chile, and chicken pieces. Immediately reduce the heat to medium and simmer gently, uncovered, until the chicken is just cooked through, about 2 minutes.

Just before serving, stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, green onions, and cilantro. Taste and adjust the seasoning with fish sauce, lime juice, and chiles as needed. (Hint: The key to this dish is executing the final seasoning; for a saltier, more complex dish, add more fish sauce, one teaspoon at a time, up to 4 tablespoons. For a brighter, livelier soup, add more lime juice. For a fiery finish, stir in another chile.) Just before serving, top each bowl with a dollop of coconut cream; serve immediately with jasmine rice.

*These aromatics (kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, and whole dried chiles) are for flavoring the liquid only; they are not to be consumed. If you prefer, you may place these aromatics in the center of a dampened, 6-inch square piece of cheesecloth folded double. Draw up the sides to form a pouch and tie with kitchen twine. Continue with the recipe as directed above, then discard the sachet before serving.

To make it light: Substitute light coconut milk; omit the coconut cream.

I’ve made this soup before, using a different recipe, and the results were nothing to write home about. It was watery and the heat was overpowering. But this version is incredible. There’s such a great balance of all of the flavors and they come together really well. I used light coconut soup in the recipe and there was no difference in taste, plus we saved a few calories.

Some of the items may seem very unfamiliar, for instance, fish sauce.

This is some pungent stuff! Just a tip – don’t stick your nose into the opening of the bottle trying to decide if I’m right about this. It will turn you inside out and you may very well try to make the soup without the fish sauce because you cannot agree to put something this foul smelling into your food. You actually don’t get the overpowering fish taste in the soup – trust me. It’s just enough to where it’s a necessary amount, but again, please don’t do a sniff test for yourself. And don’t turn to Google to read about how they make fish sauce. You don’t want to know.

Some other unfamiliar items are kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and lemongrass. The lemongrass is something you can find in the spice aisle of the grocery store. It looks like lightly colored, rolled up cinnamon sticks. Some recipes may call for it to be rehydrated and diced, but here you just use it as flavoring. The galangal looks like ginger root and is of the same family, but the taste isn’t exactly the same. The recipe notes you can use ginger in its place, and that’s what I did. The kaffir lime leaves are really interesting, though. I was able to get these leaves from the international food market in town, the same place I purchased the zatar for the Grilled Middle Eastern Meatballs. They came in a little plastic bag, about 8-10 leaves total, and they smelled like the freshest bunch of limes you can imagine. As with the galangal and lemongrass, these are just used for seasoning. But the flavors resulting from these items are definitely one of a kind.

What I also discovered after the soup was finished cooking is that it really doesn’t make very much. At all. Like, I could have eaten the whole pot by myself. So I steamed some jasmine rice, added a little of the remaining coconut milk that I had reserved for just this use, nuked a thing of Asian vegetables and tossed in some sautéed shrimp I had in the freezer. Ta da! Instant dinner. And a really delicious one at that.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dinner Party!

This past Saturday the 13th, the Husband and I hosted another dinner party! This was our third one to date and again, it was a total blast (if I do say so myself). Both of us took off Friday to prep for it, which I highly recommend.  I don't think we did that for the last two dinners, and I don't quite know how we got everything done to be honest. Either way, after two days of cooking and prepping and cleaning, everything finally came together beautifully. 

The theme for this party was French and here's our menu:
  • Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Sliced Almonds and Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Boeuf Bourguignon (From Julia Child, natch)
  • Whipped Potatoes with Boursin (my own recipe, which basically consisted of eyeballing everything and adding in Garlic and Herb Boursin, heavy whipping cream, kosher salt and pepper until I thought it tasted good)
  • Artichoke and Haricots Verts Casserole (Source: Penzey's Spice Store, but I can't seem to find it online)
  • Brioche Rolls (Source: Cooking Light magazine)
  • Mousse Chocolat (Source: Betty Crocker)
I even designed the invitations myself with some Eiffel Tower images and stamped the outside of the envelope with a silver fleur-de-lis.  Just because I'm fancy like that.

Despite having to throw a few small things together at the last minute and a temporary loss of party momentum when we couldn't find a bottle opener to save our lives, the end result was a beautifully set table using the good wedding china and a table full of old friends enjoying everyone's company.  We told stories that none of us had thought of since college and ate until we were stuffed.  Since our last party a year ago, we have one new baby and two new pregnancies in our group and we're looking forward to seeing all of the kiddos grow up together.  Awww.

What's that?  You want to see pictures?  Well, see, the thing is... yeah, I didn't have time to even consider taking pictures of the feast.  I do wish I had a picture of the table when it was so beautifully set because it was truly a work of art, but alas, it was not meant to be.  And the thing with using the good wedding china is that it ALL has to be hand washed.  Thank goodness we found out the flatware is dishwasher safe.  This is so embarrassing, but it is SIX DAYS post dinner party and I still have stemware and china sitting on the dining room table that hasn't been washed yet.  I'm totally hanging my head in shame here, you have to trust me.  And I have my reasons: the Husband has been gone on business this week, leaving me with solo mommy duty to our nine-month-old, so it's difficult to get a whole lot done in the evenings.  I've managed to wash a few things here and there but it's not yet done.  Obviously, that is my goal for tonight.  Promise.  This is so embarrassing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rising like a Phoenix through the ashes

The blog lives! And it now lives as a completely new brand - The Bake Bake Blog. The original idea behind this blog has long passed and I felt it needed a rebirth. So here we are! And this now gives me new reasons to start blogging again. Let's go.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Boeuf Bourguignon

Had I never watched "Julie and Julia," I never would have been interested in cooking this recipe. But since I did watch the movie and it was a central focus of the plot, and also because I've gotten used to taking on recipes that look incredibly difficult, I dove in this one head first. It took hours - literally. With prep, stove time and oven time, it was about a five hour process. But the results were amazing, beautiful and a feast for both the eyes and the mouth. Seriously, this was fantastic and I'd do it over again in a heartbeat.

Boeuf Bourguignon

1 6-ounce chunk of bacon
1 9- to 10-inch fireproof casserole 3 inches deep
1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil
1 slotted spoon
3 pounds lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups of a full-bodied young red wine such as one of those suggested for serving or a Chianti
2-3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
a crumbled bay leaf
the blanched bacon rind
18-24 small white onions (brown-braised in stock)
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms sauteed in butter
parsley sprigs

Remove rind and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2-inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Saute the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you saute the beef.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Saute it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sauteing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 - 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

(*) Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.


Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.


When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.


Boiled potatoes are traditionally served with this dish. Buttered noodles or steamed rice may be substituted. If you also wish a green vegetable, buttered peas would be your best choice. Serve with the beef a fairly full-bodied, young red wine, such as Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, Bourdeaux-St. Emilion or Burgundy.

Yes, this is the entire recipe. Like I said, this was difficult and I wasn't immediately sure where to begin since there was so much involved.

First, the bacon. I couldn't find the chunk of bacon with the rind, most likely big thick slab bacon. I just used regular packaged breakfast bacon and I think it turned out fine. The bacon is by no means the star of the dish, or even part of the supporting cast, but it's still important enough to have this level of attention devoted to it. I cut the bacon into small pieces and readied my pot with some water and dumped the bacon in there to simmer. And you know what that created, kids? Bacon water! Yes, it was bacon flavored water. No, I didn't drink any of it, but still, the kitchen smelled like bacon and it was fabulous. Think of all the stuff that could be made better with bacon! Bacon ice cream, bacon flavored chocolate, bacon bourbon! Oh, lovely bacon. You make me happy.

The recipe calls for lean stew beef, and the closest thing I found at the store was a really nice chuck roast. Very lean and it still didn't dry out at the end of the cooking process. I cubed the meat and patted them dry to promote browning.

And then the meat went into my cast iron pot, about five pieces at a time. I didn't want to crowd the pot and I needed to give each piece of meat ample space to brown properly.

Once all of the meat was browned, it went off to the side while I browned my sliced onions – not the pearl onions – and sliced carrots in my pot. I added the cubed, browned beef back to the pot with the bacon, tossed with flour, and put it into the 450˚ oven – which is hot! – for four minutes. The buzzer went off, I tossed the meat a little in the pot, the back into the oven for four more minutes. The pot came out again and I lowered the heat to a more respectable 325˚. My kitchen smells fabulous at this point, but it’s also hot as hell in there!

At this point, the Husband has wandered into the kitchen to see where I am in this monumental process. He approves of the smells emanating from the oven and agrees this is heading in the right direction. Then he sees me adding in the next batch of ingredients and he suddenly starts to give me a weird look. A look that says, “I’m not really sure about this anymore…” I’ll tell you why he gave me that look a little later.

This recipe calls for a lot of wine – three cups. The Husband purchased a large bottle of Macaroni Grill Chianti which was delicious. That’s a key rule – never cook with wine you wouldn’t otherwise drink. So I dumped three cups of Chianti into the pot, added some stock to just barely cover the meat, then the tomato paste, herbs and garlic. As for the bacon rind, I just didn’t have it. So… I didn’t add it. I don’t think it made a huge difference, but then again, I’ve only made this dish one time. So what do I know?

After everything went into the oven for its three hour sauna, I started the prep for my pearl onions. Even though the onions are part of the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe, they are actually separate. Here is the recipe straight from Julia’s cookbook:

Brown Braised Onions

18 to 24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter
1½ Tb butter
1½ Tb oil
½ cup of brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine, or water
Salt and pepper to taste
A medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, ½ bay leaf, and ¼ tsp thyme, tied in cheesecloth

When the butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.

Then either braise them as follows:

Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet. Serve them as they are, or follow one of the suggestions at the end of the recipe.

Or bake them as follows:

Transfer the onions and their sautéing fat to a shallow baking dish or casserole just large enough to hold them in one layer. Set uncovered in upper third of a preheated 350-degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes, turning them over once or twice. They should be very tender, retain their shape, and be a nice golden brown. Remove herb bouquet.

The onions may be cooked hours in advance, and reheated before serving.

I had never worked with pearl onions before and I was convinced I wouldn’t end up using all of the onions I bought – they were in a bag of about 20 or so. I didn’t want the dish to be too onion-y tasting and in my experience, 20 onions, regardless of the size, would cause that to happen. But, obeying Julia, I went ahead with the recipe and began to peel them as best I could. Those little paper skins stuck to my fingers and made a sizeable mess, but in the end they all came out very nicely.

I opted to use the stovetop braising method since my oven was already occupied. These little beauties went into the pan with copious amounts of butter and oil, along with beef stock (my liquid of choice) and herbs. That’s another thing – the French sure know what they’re doing when it comes to cooking. I have never used so much butter and oil in a dish before and it made everything taste and smell so good. According to Williams Sonoma, the combination of butter and oil is because the butter provides flavor but will burn at a relatively low heat, while the oil can withstand a higher heat and therefore allows the butter to be heated to a higher temperature. This method also does a great job browning the onions without burning them. They also break down a little during the cooking process which makes them more tender and able to soak up a lot of the flavor. Also, after 40 minutes of cooking, the natural sugars have emerged and those little onions are now as sweet as can be! They are brown and delicious and tender and I had a hard time not going ahead and sampling one right then and there.

See how good these look? And this isn’t the final product. They continued to reach a deeper brown color and soaked up every bit of that flavor.

Next, the mushrooms. Again, this recipe is separate from the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe.

Sautéed Mushrooms

2 Tb butter
1 Tb oil
½ lb fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large
Optional: 1 to 2 Tb minced shallots or green onions
Salt and pepper

Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.

Toss the shallots or green onions with the mushrooms. Sauté over moderate heat for 2 minutes.

Sautéed mushrooms may be cooked in advance, set aside, then reheated when needed. Season to taste just before serving.

Use these mushrooms either as a vegetable alone or in a combination with other vegetables, or as an integral part of such dishes as coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, poulet en cocotte. Successfully sautéed mushrooms are lightly browned and exude none of their juice while they are being cooked; to achieve this the mushrooms must be dry, the butter very hot, and the mushrooms must not be crowded in the pan. If you sauté too many at once they steam rather than fry; their juices escape and they do not brown. So if you are preparing a large amount, or if your heat source is feeble, sauté the mushrooms in several batches.

This last part in italics is an admonition from Julia to ensure the proper way of sautéing mushrooms, or anything really. It was news to me, so I’m glad I had this extra bit of information. So into a pan go more butter and oil:

And then the mushrooms went into the pan. My heat isn’t feeble, but my pan isn’t that large. Looking at my picture now, I realize I probably still put too many shrooms into the pan at once. I should have broken then down into smaller batches. But as I cooked them, they adhered pretty closely to the above description where there wouldn’t be any excess juice and they did brown well, so I guess it turned out well after all.

Yep, I would say they turned out just fine.

Before I know it, three hours have passed and my house smells like le Cordon Bleu on graduation day. The Husband has gravitated back to the kitchen to see the finished product and as I take the lid off, the smell almost knocks me off my feet – but in a good way! I wish I had taken a photo of this step. The sauce had reduced to a thick, rich version of its former self and it was a deep reddish-brown. The meat had retained its shape and was visually falling apart in the pot. I happened to notice the Husband has brought his earlier “I’m not really sure about this anymore…” look back to life and is hovering over my shoulder while I fawn over my intoxicating concoction. Brushing him off, I picked up the other pot where I had just finished boiling up some egg noodles and began plating everything. The onions and mushrooms went into the pot and I stirred everything to mix. Noodles on the plate, Boeuf Bourguignon on the plate.

Admittedly, I did skip a large step here. The recipe calls for the casserole contents to be dumped into a sieve over a stock pot, ideally so the solids stay in the sieve and the liquid falls into the sauce pot. Then the pot should be washed out, the solids returned to the pot and the sauce simmered in a separate pot, then again combining the two. What? Huh? Why in the world would you do that? First of all, that cast iron pot just came out of a hot oven after baking for three plus hours. Don’t you think it will take some time to cool down before it can be washed? Second, do you not think the step of washing the pot would erase an untold amount of taste and complexity from the dish? And third, why bother? I don’t pretend to know what was going through the authors’ collective heads when they wrote this recipe, but I’m not following. This step seems like a huge waste of taste and time so I just didn’t do it. That’s how I roll.

And here it is. We even used the good china! In a combination of astonishment, slight arrogance and downright giddiness, I can’t help but say “I can’t believe I did this!” in between every bite. The meat was fork tender – and when I say this, I realize that a lot of cuts of meat can be fork tender. But this was different. Just putting the tines into a piece of meat and turning the fork slightly resulted in an entire hunk of meat separating from itself with no effort. The fibers in the meat had almost completely disappeared, even though this was a seriously lean cut of meat to begin with. The rich sauce thickly coated everything it touched, but it didn’t weigh the dish down. It didn’t become goopy or anything like that. The flavors had melded so well and combined perfectly. Which brings me back to the husband’s “I’m not really sure about this anymore…” look. He tells me this as we’re both devouring the meal. When he first saw me add so much wine, his first concern was that the entire dish would have an overpowering wine taste. But I can say that was absolutely not the case. Neither of us could detect a taste of the wine – the flavors had come together that well. The reduction likely strengthened the flavor but also helped to break it down. I can’t say for sure, I’m just opining. His second concern was the addition of so much liquid. He felt for sure that amount of liquid – remember, it came all the way up to the level of the meat in the pot – would result in boiling the meat and cause it to be tough and leathery. Neither was the case. The acid in the wine likely contributed to the meat being so tender and helping to break down the fibers. Again, just my opinion.

The end result is an amazing dish that I can add to my “I had no idea I could cook stuff like this” list. Seriously, I have determined that as long as it has directions, I can make it. Just follow the stinking directions et voila, I have a masterpiece. This is off the charts. Thanks Julia.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ask the Blogger!

On Saturday I received a call from my friend who was in the middle of a cooking conundrum. She had a lot of overripe bananas and was making banana bread. She was in the middle of mixing ingredients when she realized the recipe called for baking soda, and she only had baking powder. Hmm. She called to ask if the two are interchangeable, since she didn’t want to stop what she was doing to go to the store and get a box of baking soda.

I said I had used one in place of the other before, but truthfully it was only because I wasn’t paying attention to my recipe and didn’t realize what I had done until after everything was already mixed. Oops. But after some quick research, I discovered that they are interchangeable in a pinch. The website Joy of Baking states the two products are both “chemical leavening agents that cause batters to rise when baked.” They suggest an appropriate substitution is two teaspoons of a double-acting baking powder. It is also noted that too much baking powder can give batter a bitter taste, so that’s why it’s really appropriate only in a pinch. If you’re interested in looking at more of the chemical reaction of baking soda, here’s a link.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Salsa Verde

I didn’t actually set out to make my own salsa verde. I have a black bean soup recipe I’ve made before that’s really good and it calls for a whole cup of the stuff. I figured if I’m making this soup from scratch, then why in the world can’t I make the salsa verde from scratch, too? Good question.

Salsa Verde


2 large fresh Anaheim chilies
1/2 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, diced
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 large green onions, chopped
1 large serrano chili, stemmed, seeded
1 large garlic clove
1/4 cup (firmly packed) fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon whipping cream
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (optional)

Char Anaheim chilies directly over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag; let stand 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and chop chilies.

Combine tomatillos, broth, green onions, serrano chili, and garlic in medium saucepan; bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until mixture is reduced to 1 2/3 cups, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes. Transfer mixture to blender. Add Anaheim chilies, cilantro, and cream. Puree until smooth. Season salsa with salt and pepper. Add lime juice, if desired. (Can be made one day ahead. Transfer to small bowl; cover and chill. Rewarm before serving.)

This is pretty easy to make, but it does take a little while what with all of the charring and husking and cooking involved. The tomatillos are funny little things. They’re so cute and like… you guessed it… little bitty tomatoes. They are firm and not juicy at all so they dice really well. As far as the Anaheim chilies, I tend to use Poblanos. They’re available in my local stores and while I’ve seen the Anaheims (lighter green) before, I’ve just always used Poblanos (darker green).

Unhusked tomatillo

Tomatillo after being husked and rinsed

I also use jarred sliced jalapenos instead of a Serrano. I just don’t want to have that level of heat. I could use a fresh jalapeno, too. I know there would be a taste difference in the two, especially if I can get some of the fresh ones from our summer farmers market. The most recent time I made this, I used too many jarred jalapenos and the salsa came out a little on the spicy side. The chips evened it all out in the end, and with the addition of the salsa to the soup as called for in the recipe, the other flavors greatly tamed the heat.

If I ever got into canning, I would make batch after batch of this stuff and put it up all summer long. It’s really good and so fresh tasting. It’s even really good to eat alone. I can dip chips in this stuff all day long.

Simmering on the stove

Open wide!

So back to the black bean soup recipe I mentioned earlier. After I made the salsa, I added the requisite one cup of it to the blender along with two cans of undrained black beans, a teaspoon of cumin, a handful of cilantro, a cup of chicken broth and a dash of fat free half and half.

Getting ready to blend this bad boy up

After it was thoroughly blended, the soup went into a pot and simmered on the stove until it was warm. Then I topped the soup with a little more salsa verde and some crumbled queso fresco. Delicious and good for you on a cool evening.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My take on the movie "Julie and Julia"

I just saw this movie for the first time this past weekend, courtesy of Netflix. And yes, I immediately recognized the parallels between my life and the life of Julie Powell (both writers, both young-ish, both feeling that we would be farther along professionally, both like to cook). I do have the point out, though, that the movie was released nationally in August 2009 and I started this blog in December of 2008, so no direct copying there. Also, I honestly hadn't heard of Julie Powell and her blog before I started this one. Besides, our goals were totally different. And why am I defending myself to y'all anyway?

I can appreciate wanting to take on a task as monumental as cooking/blogging through the entirety of
Mastering the Art of French Cooking and then debating whether you were actually sane when you decided to undergo such a feat. That's pretty much the feeling I have toward this blog. If you've been paying any attention to my original list of recipes, you would see that I am about five short from completing my goal. However, life gets in the way of these things sometimes and I think it's important that I'm continuing to blog regardless of the actual recipes I make. But to Julie Powell's credit she trudges through the whole cookbook, even cooking more than one recipe per day since the cookbook's 524 recipes divided by 365 days equals 1.4. I wonder how that worked out.

Julie is also comparing herself to people around her who are much more professionally advanced than she is and feels that she will never compare to them as long as she stays in her current job. From what I gather, she was able to stop working post-movie or post-book deal, whichever came first, and now spends her days as a full time writer. Jealous, party of one. But her feelings of inadequacy didn't immediately spur her to start the blog to one-up her friends or land a book deal. She had no idea that would ever happen. She just thought she would be spending time doing something she enjoyed that didn't revolve around work. She liked cooking, she liked writing, so she combined the two. She also wanted to have something she could finish for once. A goal she could work toward and be able to say at the end, "I finished something." Honey, I know the feeling.

So in the end, and I'm really not spoiling anything here, both Julie and Julia get their desired results (Julia with her cookbook and Julie with her new found fame thanks to the blog) and they all appear to live happily ever after. The only problem I have is that the movie ended so abruptly, but hey, they didn't consult me. But what I loved about the movie is that they actually showed the Julie character cooking throughout the movie. She makes lobster, hollandaise sauce, poached eggs and even bones a duck toward the end of the movie. I'm not into boning any ducks, but the recipe of Julia's that I would love to make is Boeuf Bourguignon, which you can retrieve
here from the website of the company that originally published her cookbook back in the day. I am totally going to do this meal, but it will have to wait until a weekend so the proper amount of time can be devoted to it.

So, the movie was good, the lesson was even better, and I loved the connection with cooking and blogging. Highly recommend it.