Celebrate Summer

For me, summer means corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  On the cob, sautéed, in corn pudding.  Corn everywhere.  There really isn’t anything like fresh corn on the cob, with just a little bit of butter and salt.

My grandmother used to come home with sweet corn every. single. day. in the summer because my grandfather loved it so.  He’d eat several ears each night.  Which meant lots of shucking corn took place pre-dinner.  We’d sit on the deck, the afternoon sun turning into a cooler evening one,  a paper bag between us and see who could shuck faster.  It still feels a bit wrong to me to shuck corn inside.

It’s been a bit gray here for the last few days, which is not something I’m complaining about since prior to these dark(er) days, it’s been sunny, 90+ degrees and humid.  It’s nice to have some relief and a change.  It also means that I can use corn in another favorite way, chowder.

Last year I read somewhere about making corn broth.  I tried it and was blown away.  Sweet, light, fresh and delicate.  I put it into a corn chowder and could truly taste the difference.  Of course, I can’t remember where I read about it and I have the suspicious feeling that I may have blogged about it at the time– a quick search through the posts here and I couldn’t find it so maybe I just thought really hard about blogging it.  Or maybe this is my second time talking about it which would suggest that you really should try it; it’s that good.

So, based on my need for corn broth, I threw together this chowder recipe.  It’s more of a soup than a chowder because while it’s cooler here, 70’s does not scream thick, heavy chowder to me.  Let’s call it more of a summer chowder.  Chowder-lite.  Nothing lite about the taste though.  And you’ll still have to shuck corn.  Ready?  Go!

Summer Corn Chowder

Ingredients

4-6 ears of corn, shucked

about 8 small red potatoes (or one to two larger)

half of a large onion or one small onion (I prefer sweet but yellow would be fine)

one half to one of a sweet red pepper (optional for those of you who don’t like pepper)

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2-3 cups corn broth (wait for it, I’ll tell you how) or chicken broth or veg broth or water

1/2-1 cup milk

Directions

First, we make the broth.  Cut the kernels off of the ears of corn.  Set them aside, as we’ll be using them later.  Using a fork, sort of scrape down the ears of corn into a large soup pot.  Throw in the ears themselves and add enough water to cover.  Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for as long as you can.  You may need to add more water if it gets too low (i.e. most of the cob isn’t covered).  I was somewhat lazy when I cut my kernels off.  You can see that there are some still on.

photo 2

After it simmers for at least an hour or longer if you like, take out the ears of corn and discard them.  They’ve served their delicious purpose.  Pour the broth through a fine sieve so that all the solids stay behind.

photo 3You will be left with what looks like, unfortunately, urine.  Which can lead to some funny conversations if left in your fridge in a glass container.  But if you take a spoonful, you will be rewarded with the light, delicate, sweet flavor of corn in liquid form.  Try not to drink it all please.

photo 4Now that the broth is made, get to work on the rest.  Peel and chop your onion.  Clean and chop your pepper and potatoes.  Small dice is good for the onion, a little bit chunkier for the potato.

photo 1Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup or stock pot.  Once it’s melted, add the onion and saute until soft- don’t let it burn or brown.  You may need to lower the heat.

photo 5 Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few more minutes, until they are soft as well.  Nothing should burn or brown.  Sprinkle the flour all over and stir well.  Let it cook over medium heat for a minute in order to get the raw flour taste out.

photo 2Pour the broth in and stir.  It will thicken a bit- I used a bit less flour because I wanted it thick but not too thick- feel free to experiment with this to taste.

photo 3Let everything simmer until the potatoes are soft and then season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can add a little bit of milk as well, to make it even more creamy or you can serve without.  Either way, it’s the perfect cold-for-summer-weather-soup.

photo 4

Odds & Ends (or, Is It Summer Yet?!)

Every year around this time, the May-Almost-June-Wait-It-Is-June! time, I think to myself, “Next year I’ll organize better and will be able to spend these last weeks of the school year clearing out my files and cleaning up my office.”  This has yet to happen since I have almost no control over the amount of testing that I have to do at the end of the school year but I keep hoping.  As a result, I haven’t been blogging or really doing much of anything.  I have to say, I have been working out (hello double jogger!) but that’s really the only “extra” thing.

So, I give you a few odds and ends from the last month.

I had a birthday.

My HipstaPrint 973539269_4G. helped my mom to pick out the cake and, of course, needed some treats for herself and her brother, too.

My HipstaPrint 973539269_3For my birthday I got this cookbook (can’t wait for some time to try something!) and these lovely prep bowls as well.  We promptly used them to measure M&M’s for cookies.

My HipstaPrint 973539269_2Which we made and ate pretty quickly.   So quickly, in fact, that I couldn’t even get a photo.  But here’s the clean-up.

My HipstaPrint 973539269But what am I cooking, you ask?  Well, the level of my cooking has gone way, way down.  So many reports to write, so little time at home…  So today I threw a cut of pork into the slow cooker, added a bottle of oh-so-bad-for-you BBQ sauce (first on the ingredient list? High Fructose Corn Syrup!  It wasn’t my usual sauce, what can I say?) and let it cook for about five hours.  Shredded it with forks, threw it on a roll, added some pickles as a “vegetable” and called it a night.  Delicious, easy and maybe better than fast food.  Maybe.

My HipstaPrint 973539269_5So this is the state of my life these days.  I am longing for the lazy, long days in July in August, when I can blog, cook and hang out with my kids to my heart’s content.   I know that summer will FLY by this year because it always does and because it’s on the shorter side due to a number of snow days.  But that’s ok.  I can’t wait!

Hang with me until then, won’t you please?

A Lot Like Love

Cooking, for me, is a lot like dating.  You don’t always know what you’re doing when you start but by the end, if you’re lucky, you’ve fallen in love and you’re left with something comforting and warm.  Take my friends, C. and C., for example.  They started dating and they knew they liked each other. That like quickly turned to love and soon they were living together.  Yesterday they took the next step and became engaged.  It’s a sweet love story and one about which I am super thrilled.  They’re my age and it’s a second marriage for one of them which, for me, makes it so much sweeter and more genuine.  Something about knowing what you want and getting it, makes me so happy.

Anyway, I was cooking tonight and thinking about them and realized that the food I was making was something like their story (hey, it’s a cooking blog, stick with me through the strange parallels!).  I had an idea in my head of what I was making but then I sort of went with the inspiration and ended up with such a delicious dish that I wish I had measured and photographed all the way through so that I could share it with you in more detail.  A lot like falling in love:  by the time you remember to take photos, your partner is there, on one knee proposing.  Or something like that.

Balsamic Honey Chicken

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts

olive oil – just enough to coat the pan lightly

butter,  just a pat or two

balsamic vinager- maybe a 1/4 cup?

honey- about 1/8 of a cup- maybe more

chicken broth- maybe 1/2 cup

Directions

Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil and butter on medium high heat in a saute pan.  Place the breasts in and brown on each side.  Turn heat down to medium, add the chicken broth and cook until just cooked through.  If you have thicker cut chicken breasts, they will take longer.  Take out the chicken breasts and put them on a plate to rest.  Turn the heat back to medium high and add the balsamic and honey.  Whisk together and let it reduce until syrupy.  To be really decadent, add one small pat of butter as well.

photo 1Even more perfect for me is that I had this glorious jar of honey, just begging to be used.  It’s from Georgia and my friend C. of the aforementioned newly betrothed bought it for me when she was there.  Could it be more pretty?

photo 2Slice your chicken breasts.  Maybe more neatly and more uniformly than I did.

photo 3Return them to the pan and coat them in this amazing sauce.  Let them heat back up over low heat.

photo 4I served mine with a side of steamed broccoli and some leftover pea risotto.  It was unexpectedly delicious, warm and comforting.  Much like love.

photo 5

Copy Constant

One of my favorite people in the world writes one of my favorite food blogs in the world, The Hungry Hippo.  Her resolution for 2013 is to make more of the recipes from the cookbooks she owns.  These are cookbooks I love and I will sit for hours and browse them when I visit her (I can do this because she’s the one playing with my kids while I do).  She posted this recipe a few weeks ago (from a Parisian cookbook, no less!) and I could not wait to try it.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin

Ingredients:
2 cups of broccoli
2 cups of cauliflower
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of flour
1 1/3 cups milk (I used whole)
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup cheese (according to the Hippo, the recipe called for gruyere, she used 1/3 C cheddar, 1/3 C parm and I used what I had in my fridge.  I think it was jack and cheddar, maybe?) plus some extra for sprinkling
about 1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used panko)
salt and pepper
sprinkle of nutmeg (I skipped this)

Directions

Wash and chop your veggies into same size florets.

IMG_4732 Put some water on to boil and once it has come to a rolling boil, add the florets.  Cook them for 1-2 minutes.  Take them out immediately- you don’t want them to get mushy, just slightly less crisp.  IMG_4734Set them aside and work on the sauce.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  When it has melted, add the flour and whisk together, letting it cook for a minute to get the raw flour taste out.  Slowly whisk in the milk and let it thicken. Take your pan off the heat and add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking while you do.  Try to avoid making scrambled eggs in your sauce.  Add the cheese, again, whisking while you do so that it will melt evenly.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg (if using).

IMG_4736I used ham in mine, even though the Hippo did not.  I cubed a ham steak.

IMG_4733Then I added it to a hot frying pan to brown and crisp it over medium high heat.

IMG_4735Butter a casserole dish and add your veggies.

IMG_4737Sprinkle the ham around to fill in the spaces.

IMG_4738Pour your sauce over this.

IMG_4739Mix your breadcrumbs with some of the cheese and sprinkle on top.

IMG_4740Bake at 400 until the top is golden brown and it’s heated through and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

IMG_4741This could be a side dish but with the added meat, it can also be a lovely main dish.  The egg yolks add a silkiness to the sauce that isn’t there in a basic white sauce.

IMG_4742It was good for a cold night.

IMG_4743

Go To Foods

As you can see, it’s harder for me to post these days.  Work is so busy and both kids have hit strange sleeping phases which pretty much eat up my whole evenings.  This too shall pass.

The direct result of this is that I end up cooking the same old standbys for dinner.  I’m not so creative in my cooking when I have exactly an hour from when I set foot in the house to when my kids will begin to melt-down without eating.  Especially when that hour is also time for keeping the almostthisclosetowalking baby off the stairs, out of the dog’s dishes and off of his sister’s hair (he has a hair fetish.  I have no idea why.  If he can pull hair he is the happiest child alive and he will go to great lengths (ha!) to reach any available hair).

My most recent go-to food is from a blog called Brave Tart.  It is written by a CIA trained pastry chef, Stella Parks, who lives in Kentucky and has her own restaurant.  Her desserts have won awards and she has a number of posts about re-creating those processed desserts of our childhoods- fruit roll ups, keebler fudge strips and nutter butters, to name a few.  She also has this dish which is so, so good.  I’ve made it about ten times in the last two months.  It’s quick, easy, healthy and delicious.  I could not recommended it more.

Oyakodon (as written by Brave Tart)

Ingredients

1 large onion

2 Tablespoons of oil (Brave Tart says to use a neutral flavored oil, I like sesame or peanut)

2 Tablespoons of sugar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth (you could use vegetable or beef)

4 eggs

2-4 cups rice, cooked and hot (I use Jasmine)

Optional:

1 cup shredded (cooked) chicken or meat (this time around, I had none)

1-2 cups of vegetables (I used sugar snap peas and spinach because that’s what I had)

Directions

Peel and slice your onion.  Heat the oil on medium heat and let the onion get slightly golden- should take about 15 minutes.

photo 1

Wash and slice up your vegetables.

photo 2

Once your onions are golden (not browned), add your vegetables.  I didn’t add the spinach right away because it would have gotten too wilt-y.photo 3

Once your vegetables are tender, add the sugar, soy sauce, and broth.  You can add the meat here as well if you’re using it.

photo 4

Let this cook over medium heat for a few minutes.  I added my spinach at this point.

photo 5Let this cook until the spinach is wilty.

photo 1In a separate bowl, crack your eggs and whisk them together.  Pour them into your pan along the side and let them sit for about a  minute.  You can then start to scramble them into the broth.

photo 2Meanwhile, cook your rice.  I do it in my rice cooker.  I’ve also used day-old rice as well, heated up, and that’s been fine too.  Put some into a bowl.

photo 4With a slotted spoon, fish out the meat and vegetables and spoon them over the rice.  Pour the broth down the side of the bowl (in order to maintain the most clumpiness as possible).

photo 5It may not be that pretty but oh, it is just so delicious.  I may even make it tonight.

(Not so) Fast Food

What’s your fast food guilty pleasure?  Mine used to be Chicken Nuggets, at least until I saw Food Inc.  That quickly took them off the table for me. I also adore Friendly’s   peanut butter sauce (which is quickly becoming scarce as they are going bankrupt all over the place).  But in real life, for all of my life, it has been Chinese as the go-to take out or pick up or delivery in a pinch.  As a liberal, reform Jew, it is traditional to have Chinese food on Christmas Eve or Day.  My husband, a Catholic, has said that he likes Chinese food, he just doesn’t like it the way I do.  What can I say?  It is the non-traditional food of my people.

It only stands to reason, then, that I learned how to make some of my favorite Chinese food dishes.  In doing so I have learned that some things just take time.  It’s why they make, say, dumplings in bulk.  Because while the act of cooking the dumpling isn’t bad, it the filling and shaping that takes time.  Lots of time.  Which is to say, here I give you my recipe for dumplings and spring rolls along with a warning- it will take time.  Recruit some friends to help, sit around the table and gab while you each fill dumplings.  Then freeze the ones you don’t cook that day for later when you do want fast(er) food.

Chicken and Vegetable Dumplings and Spring Rolls

Ingredients

1 lb ground chicken or dark meat turkey (traditional uses pork but I prefer chicken)

1/2 head of green cabbage

2-4 carrots, peeled

pinch of Chinese 5 spice powder

Soy sauce- a few tablespoons

hoisin sauce- a few tablespoons or to taste

dark Chinese vinegar- a few tablespoons

sesame and/or peanut oil- few tablespoons (are you sensing a pattern here?)

Chicken broth or water- about a cup.

Dumpling wrappers (square or round) and Spring Roll wrappers

Directions

First, shred your cabbage and carrots.  I use the cuisinart.  You could also save time by purchasing the bagged coleslaw mix.  Set aside for now.

Brown your meat in a saucepan with a little bit of sesame and/or peanut oil.

Add the cabbage and carrot mixture when the meat is mostly cooked through.  Throw in a bit of 5 spice powder (I use about a pinch- it has a strong flavor).

Cook until the cabbage starts to wilt- it will sort of turn translucent.

At this point I usually add a few splashes of soy sauce and vinegar.  If you can find dark soy sauce, that’s even better.  This is the vinegar I use:

Anyway, add those to the pan and let it cook down a bit.  This is also a good time to add some hoisin sauce if you like that.  Taste and adjust to suit yourself.  I end up liking the filling so much that I could eat it all plain.

Once it’s all cooked through and hot, set it aside to cool slightly.  You want it warm but not so hot that you’ll burn your fingers while you’re working.  While it cools, set up your station to fill the wrappers.  You’ll need a sheet pan to put the finished product on, damp towels to cover the finished dumplings as well as the wrapper skins, a small bowl with a bit of water and enough space to spread out and work.  You may also want to sit for this process.

Ok, start with one spring roll wrapper.  Place it on the counter/table so that it looks like a diamond shape.

Place about 2-3 teaspoons (I actually use an espresso or baby spoon) of filling in the center.  Sort of spread it around a bit so that it makes kind of a log shape.

Pull up the bottom corner over the filling while sort of tucking the filing in and the corner under.

Fold the left corner over.

Fold the right corner over.

Now roll up, towards the top corner, while kind of tucking as you go.

Use a little bit of water to help seal the top corner down- put a drop or two on your finger, moisten the corner and press to seal.

Place seam side down on your sheet pan and cover with a damp towel.  You should also cover your opened dumpling wrappers with a damp towel so they don’t dry out.  Basically, air will dry out the wrappers and make them brittle and yucky.

Now, to the dumplings.  Start with a dumpling wrapper and add about a teaspoon of filling to the center.  So there are about a zillion different ways to do this and I do it differently each time.  One method is to brush some water along the edges of the wrapper and then bring diagonal corners to meet each other.

You could also try to crimp but that works better with round wrappers, which I wasn’t using.  Instead, I did a sort of tortellini style.  So, fold in half (pull the bottom to meet the top, making sure to moisten the edges first with a little bit of water- too much and it will be too slippery to hold.)

Now, sort of make a u-shape by making an indentation in the center and bringing the corners up to meet each other.

Press the corners together to seal.

Add to your sheet pan and cover with a damp towel.  Repeat until you are out of filling, out of wrappers or out of patience.

Now, in a large fry or saute pan, heat a few tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Add the dumplings and let them brown on the bottom (whatever you decide the bottom is)- probably about a minute or so.

Once they’re crispy on the bottom, add enough chicken broth or water to cover the bottom of the pan and put on the lid.  Let them cook until the liquid has evaporated- this steams the rest of the wrappers.

Serve with soy sauce or just gobble them all up as they come out of the pan.  So much work, for such a quickly disappearing meal.

For the spring rolls, follow the same steps- heat the oil in the pan and add the spring rolls.

Once they’re crispy on one side, turn and let them crisp up on the second side.

You can serve these alone or along with other dishes as a whole Chinese-themed meal.

Love Story

When I started my pre-doctoral internship, I did it at a site an hour and fifteen minutes from my house.  I figured I could do anything for a year.  In the end, I worked there for over three years and it was one of the best experiences of my life.  What I learned both professionally and personally has stayed with me over the years.  I could go on and on but what I want to tell you about now is one of the people I worked with there.

J. was the other predoctoral intern with me.  I met her for the first time on the day we both went for a tour.  My first impression was that she was gorgeous and clearly incredibly smart.  As the months went by, we became closer and closer and I began to admire her even more.  She was a mother and had given birth to her son at a young age. She was blessed with supportive parents and while her child’s father did not stay in her life, she raised her son and graduated from high school, college and graduate school (predoctoral internship, remember)?
J. was (and still is) kind, compassionate, smart, loving and always ready to see the best and have faith in  those around her.  She will always give those in her life second and third and fourth chances and will always encourage them to do their best.  As you can imagine, this can be both a positive and negative quality.

When I knew her best, J. was involved with a man she’d met a few years prior.  Their relationship was difficult with extreme highs and lows.  They became engaged a few months after I did and they were guests at my wedding.  J. and I began to lose touch after that when she left our common workplace.  We spoke a few times and through our emails and facebook, I saw that she had broken her engagement, met someone new and moved across the country after marrying him.  From all that I can tell now, this was the best decision she ever made.

She and her new husband are incredibly well suited, incredibly happy and, I must say, incredibly beautiful.  J. has found a happy ending to her love story.

But nothing in life is that cut and dry, black and white.  While she’s happy now, she could only get there by taking the path she did.  Her relationship with her former fiancée was difficult but had some good points as well.  One of them was this stew.  She posted about it on Facebook recently and it looked so good that I immediately emailed her, demanding the recipe.  She responded with some guidelines and I went to work.

I cooked a dish that I have never eaten.  I have no idea what it should look or taste like but it did end up being delicious.  I used J’s guidelines and searched the internet for cachupa rica.  This is what I ended up with- the wrong kind of corn (couldn’t find samp so had to use hominy), no plantains but, in the end, still delicious, filling and hardy.  Good for a cold day.  Plus, it made me think about J and her love story the whole time.  Made me happy.

Cachupa Rica (with deepest apologies to all Cape Verdens everywhere)

Ingredients

6 cups golden samp (I used plain hominy because I couldn’t find samp)

4 cups of beans (I used canned kidney and pinto)- You could use dry and soak them with the samp beforehand.

Meats of your choosing.  I used:

chicken thighs (about 4-6 boneless, skinless)

bacon (I used a package)

Chorizo sausage

country stye pork ribs

1 large onion

Lots of garlic

2 peeled carrots, cut into chunks

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

between 6-10 cups of chicken broth

Directions:

I made it all in one pot.  J. makes it across several.  Because I used canned hominy and beans, I didn’t need to cook them separately.

Start by chopping up your bacon and browning it in a large pot.  Take out the bacon once it is crisp and add your sausage (chopped).  Let that brown up as well and then take it out and set it aside with the bacon.

Season your chicken with salt and pepper.  Add them to the pot with the bacon/sausage fat and brown them as well.

Once they’re brown on each side, set them aside with the bacon and sausage.

Finally, brown your short ribs in the pot.

It’s a lot of meat.  (insert dirty comment here)  Now, chop up your onion and garlic and brown it in the pot with all the fat left from the meat.  Maybe not all.  Maybe drain a bit of the fat, leaving about a tablespoon.

While the onions are cooking, peel and roughly chop your sweet potato and carrots.

Add them to the onions and let them brown a bit as well.

Once the veggies have started to soften and brown a little, add the hominy.

Add the beans and meats back in and then cover the whole thing with chicken broth.  Let it simmer over lowish heat for a long time.

J.  suggests making a sofrito of onion, garlic and tomato paste which you can then add for more flavor.  She also suggests a bay leaf or two (removed before serving) and some coriander.  Not my favorite flavors so I left them out.  J. also reminded me that if you were using samp and dry beans, you’d want to let them get good and tender (about an hour) before adding the veggies and meats back in- otherwise they’ll get too soft and be mushy.

Serve with lots of broth.  Mmmm.

J also suggests frying some of it the next morning (minus the broth), letting a good crisp form on the hominy/samp, and serving it with fried eggs.  I could see that being delicious.

Week One Down

Whew.  This was my first week back at work with kids and all.  I had forgotten just how hard it is to get everyone out of the house on time!  It meant that I was throwing things together for dinner- I did my planning and all but, somehow, I was just more exhausted at the end of the day.  I’ll put it this way, if I were single and without children, it would have been a cold cereal and toast for dinner kind of week.

But, tonight.  Well, it’s Friday which is Shabbat and after my years of eating at my grandmother’s table on Friday nights as well as my time in Israel, it’s kind of ingrained in me that you eat a real meal on Friday night.  So I gathered my strength and cooked.

I had recently (Ok, a few weeks ago) tried a maple-soy glazed chicken recipe from Cooking Light.  It was really good.  I had some chicken thighs to use up as well as a bunch of vegetable odds and ends.  Rooting around in the pantry, I found some udon noodles.  Ah, a dish was born.

Maple-Soy Chicken and Vegetable Noodles

(Adapted- ever so slightly- from Cooking Light)

Ingredients

3/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 scant cup lemon juice

2-3 Tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon peeled, grated (fresh) ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

8 Boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts if you prefer, though you’d probably only need 2-3 of them)

Whatever vegetables you can find.  I used broccoli, onion, carrot, green beans and mushrooms.  Garlic would be nice, as would celery, bok choy, peppers, etc.

1 package udon noodles

Directions

In a bowl, mix together the syrup, soy, lemon juice, ginger, and sesame oil.  Add the chicken, turning it a few times to ensure that it gets coated and is mostly submerged in the marinade.  You could also use a zip-lock bag.  Cooking Light says to let it marinate an hour but I did it for less.

Raw chicken really isn’t that pretty, huh?

Set a big pot of water on to boil.  Salt it liberally.  Once it’s boiling, add your udon noodles (or spaghetti or whatever you want) and cook for 8-10 minutes or until tender but not mushy.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, chop your veggies.  I threw the broccoli, green beans and carrots into a steamer basket so that I could partially cook them before I put them in with the rest.  I steamed them in a pot of boiling water for about 2-3 minutes or until they were tender but still crisp, not mushy.

The onions and mushrooms I did not steam.   Instead I left them by themselves to cook in the wok.

*Once I was done with all the vegetable prep,  I cut up my chicken into somewhat more bite-sized pieces.  I tossed the pieces quickly in cornstarch which is a totally optional and somewhat unnecessary step.   Don’t dump the marinade!  Put it in a saucepan and let it boil for several minutes, so as to kill off any yucky leftover from the raw chicken.

I cooked the chicken in the wok, then took it out.  I added the onions and mushrooms to the wok and once they had softened, I added the crisp-tender veggies.  I threw the chicken back in, along with the boiled marinade and the udon noodles.  I tossed it all together and let it heat up.

It was quite delicious, if I do say so myself.  Both my mom and my husband agreed.  The toddler was reserving judgement but did enjoy the plain udon noodles.  Go figure.

* The lack of photos from this point on is due to a cranky toddler, screaming from hunger baby and underfoot dog and cat.  Sometimes that’s my life.

A Tribute To Julia, Part II

This post comes to you courtesy of my partner-in-crime (or my wonder twin, depending on how you view our partnership!) at my workplace.  She and I conspired over the summer to celebrate Julia Child’s 100th birthday with good food and wine.  I posted about it here and here.  Now, I give you her post about her cooking experience.  Thanks, C.!!

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In the movie, “Julie and Julia”, the character of Julie describes a dinner party where her mother made boeuf bourguignon for a dinner party.  She remembers her mother saying it was like Julia was in the kitchen with her, on her side, cheering her on as she made the signature dish.  After last week, I know exactly what she’s talking about in that scene.

For many years, I have dabbled in cooking.  I watched my mother make her own pasta sauce without a recipe, and then as an adult, recreated her sauce simply by remembering what was laid out on the counter while she cooked.  Mine is a bit different than hers, but everyone who’s eaten it loves it.  I’ve watched the Food Network ad nauseum and tried to recreate recipes seen there.  I have cookbooks about chicken, baking, pasta, “old fashioned cooking”, vegetarian dishes (which reminds me, I love that spinach and rice casserole from Moosewood), and countless others. I am in no way a professional cook; I wouldn’t even call myself a semi-professional amateur, but I know my way around a pantry.  I daydream in Williams-Sonoma.

So when I realized that this year was the 100th birthday of Julia Child, I felt compelled to mark this occasion.  StellaCarolyn has already written here about our continued bonding over her Julia mementos, and I knew she would be the perfect co-conspirator.  I texted her in the middle of a family emergency (hers, not mine) and told her to think about it.  She just replied, “Absolutely in.  We’ll talk.”  My darling partner decided for me what I would cook—the grande dame, boeuf bourguignon.

The reason is this: many years ago, an ex with a gift for gift giving gave me the combination of Julie and Julia and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Which scared the crap out of me.  A few years later, another more casual ex and I decided we would start cooking the recipes.  I got as far as the roast chicken and a perfect soft boiled egg before putting him (and the book) aside.  My darling, who believes in me like no other, was convinced that the boeuf was the only way to go for this dinner.  So, Stella and I planned, and I went shopping.

I bought the recommended red wines.

And lots of amazing groceries at Whole Foods. I even consulted the butcher counter about a good substitute for the bacon, and was not disappointed with the pork belly.

I read the recipe again.  And again.  And again.  And I discovered something quite interesting about Mastering the Art of French Cooking:

The cookbook is REALLY EASY to follow, once you understand the organizing principle.  Which is, the left hand column is the ingredients, laid out in the groupings and order in WHICH YOU NEED THEM, not in one grand master list.  The right hand column are the exquisitely written steps to Les Trois Gourmandes recipes.  The special educator in me studied the format, studied the lists, and realized, “I can do this.”

And even if it isn’t perfect, no excuses, don’t apologize.

I woke up really early the day of the cooking, eager to get chopping.  Realizing I was about 4 hours ahead of schedule, I made some copies and watched Season 1, Episode 1 of The French Chef, read the paper, and drank coffee.  Finally, I started chopping.  I pulled out all my great prep bowls, and my needing-to-be-sharpened santoku, and within half an hour, the recipe was laid out in a neat grouping on my counter.

At noon, the cooking began.  I chopped, blanched, then sautéed the pork belly.

The beef was dried,

and browned in batches.

Vegetables browned,

and then all combined with wine and stock to begin the initial cooking.

While that all bubbled away, I prepared the braised onions

and the sautéed mushrooms,

which I could have eaten straight out of the pan.  I have been doing this wrong for years.  Never again.   Cleaned the house, set the table, and finally checked on the stew.

Now, here’s the step where I yelled at the ghost of Julia watching over my shoulder.  The step requires that you drain the beef out of the casserole and strain out the sauce into a sauce pan, wash out the casserole, and return the beef to it while you simmer the sauce to skim off the fat.  Draining the beef and sauce into the pan was easy enough, but that cassrole was the temperature of the surface of the sun, so washing it was really challenging.  I decided to begin skimming and wait for it to be a more reasonable degree of hot.  Which, actually made cleaning it out really easy.  I returned everything to the pan, with the onions and mushrooms (picture 9), and let it cool until my guests arrived, where it would resimmer just before serving.

StellaCarolyn, her husband, and another couple arrived at our house, SC with dessert and sparkling wine, couple number two with more wine.  We had brie and pate while I reorganized the stew, and finished the boiled potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts.

We served ourselves, and then conversation briefly stopped.  It had been a success.  We toasted Julia, and her inspiration and her legacy, and toasted the good friends around the table.  We ate every last bit of dinner.  SC assembled the bombes des trois chocolates, which has been previously described.

Julia was definitely with us this night.  Julia, who loved a good meal, with people she loved.  Who brought this beautiful world of food to American women and convinced us, in words and grainy black and white tv, and later, better, clearer color tv, that this world was ours to explore.  All we needed was a good knife and the right skillet, some friends and some good French wine.  And she’d be with us as we went.

Happy Birthday, Julia.  It was a pleasure celebrating with you.

200th Post

Not only is this my 200th post, according to WordPress, it is also the post that follows my Julia post, which was chosen to be “freshly pressed” by WordPress.  So, no small amount of pressure here.  It’s sort of paralyzing, really- should it be a Grandma recipe?  A family story?  A long over-due letter to my six month old son?

Yipes.  The pressure….

After much thought, I’m throwing caution to the winds and giving you a recipe from my father.  On this blog, I talk a lot about my grandmother who was a fantastic cook and poke fun at my mother, who was not.  I’ve written a bit about my father before but perhaps now I can say a bit more.

My dad and my mom divorced when I was 8.  They had been married 13 years and together for many years prior to that.  They were college sweethearts and managed to maintain a strong relationship after the divorce.  In fact, they remain friends now. Part of this was due to a mutual desire to co-parent me, part of it is just who they are.

A large piece of it was how close my dad was to my mother’s family.  Dad wasn’t close to his own family after high school and he and my (maternal) grandmother hit it off right away.  In fact, my parents are together- they both say- because when they broke up after college, my dad still spent time at the house with my mother’s brothers and parents.  When my mother pointed out to her family that they’d broken up and so maybe my dad shouldn’t be around all that much, her family replied, “But we didn’t break up with him, you did!”  My parents could see they weren’t going to win that battle and so, got married.

My father’s favorite memories of my grandmother are from when he would stay at the house.  He and my grandmother were morning people and so would sit together at the table, before anyone else was up, and have coffee, toast and chat about everything: stuff they read in the paper, things about the family, random thoughts.  They were very close.

So it’s only natural that my father was the other big cooking influence in my immediate family.  I mostly recall him cooking breakfasts for me but when I was in college, he’d cook dinner for me when I visited.  His range has expanded over the years but I most associate Tex-Mex with my college visits.  This is because we were in Colorado, not New England.

So, it’s no surprise that when he was here last, he cooked enchiladas for me.  He likes to cook when he comes to visit.  I cook with him- much like I did with my grandmother- and we chop vegetables, stir and gossip as we go.   In the end, we’re rewarded with yummy food and another bonding experience to add to our list (which includes wiffle ball games, walking on the beach, cook outs and attending CC  hockey games.  It also includes having “adventures”- which were everything from getting lost to trips to historical places.).

Here he is with my daughter, having an adventure (we visited the zoo). I’m pretty sure I have the exact same photo somewhere, only it’s me and we’re wearing more 70’s clothing.

I give you Dad’s bean enchiladas.  They’re quite good and other than the filling/rolling, not too hard or time-consuming.  You could, if you wanted to, add chicken or another meat but they don’t really need it.  The spice level can also be tailored to suit your tastes.  Dad eyeballed it and may have added a touch more cayenne than we meant to but in the end, it was all good.

Ingredients

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped (I don’t like green so we used one orange pepper)

1/2 onion, chopped

28 oz can tomato sauce

1 1/2 cups of corn (frozen is ok)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped (if you’ve been reading along you will not be surprised by my hiss as I left this out- cilantro is the devil)

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2- 1 teaspoon cayenne or 1 chopped jalapeno with seeds

1 package corn tortillas

4 cups of shredded mexican cheeses (usually cheddar and montery jack along with others)

1 28 oz can red enchilada sauce (you can actually make your own enchilada sauce without too much fuss- Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe)

Directions

Saute the peppers and onions in a little bit of olive oil over medium-high heat.  I’d throw in the onions first and let them brown a bit and then add the peppers. You want them soft but not burnt, crispy or caramelized.  Stir in the tomato sauce and the beans.  Then add the corn and seasonings.

Here’s Dad, adding ever so slightly too much cayenne pepper. Spicy!

You can vary the amount of sauce, adding a bit more if it seems too dry or thick.  Once it’s all combined, simmer over low heat for about five minutes.

Meanwhile, line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil.  Trust me- it makes for easier clean-up.

I was going to add these tomatoes to the sauce but we ended up just snacking on them as we cooked.  Sungold tomatoes may be the best thing about summer.  I’m just sayin’.

Here is where I diverge with my dad.  He says to use the faucet to thoroughly wet two tortillas at a time and then to microwave them on a paper towel for 8-10 seconds.  He claims this will heat and soften them enough to fill and roll them without cracking.  This was not true for me.  Mine cracked anyway.  I usually dip each one in the enchilada sauce and then roll them.  And they crack anyway.  So, I’m open to tips on how to do this without cracking?  I suspect the brand of tortilla as well as its age may be a factor.

At any rate, pour a little bit of enchilada sauce into the baking pan and preheat your oven to 375.  Get your tortillas ready any way you please and spoon a bit of the filling into each one.  Be careful, the filling is probably hot.  I’d say about a solid tablespoon or two should do it.

Add some cheese. Or put in the cheese first.  Either way.

Then roll it up- carefully, as it will crack, unless you’re a wizard or something- and place it, seam side down in the pan.  Continue until you have run out of filling.  Or are too impatient to do any more. (If that’s the case, the filling is yummy over rice or pasta or just all on its own).

Pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the pan, making sure to cover all the tortillas so they don’t dry out.  Top with cheese.  Lots of cheese, if you’re me.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is all melted, gooey and yummy.

These freeze really well, too, so pop a few into a freezable container and then you’ll have dinner all ready when you’re craving something warm and comforting.