Thursday, January 27, 2011

Something Different

This time last year I was bestowing the virtues of the current issue of Fine Cooking. There w were many fabulous recipes and it was an issue that stayed in the kitchen for a long time. It's now dog eared and full of oil spotted pages. Well, they've done it again and the February/March issue is chock full of good stuff. One of my favorites is this Celery, Fennel and Black Olive Salad with Parmigiano Dressing. A perfect way to change up your winter veggie doldrums.

The "Big Buy" this month is Celery. Usually relegated to stock and Thanksgiving stuffing, using it as the star is something new. It's inexpensive and has satisfying crunch so why not? Be sure to purchase organic, since celery is on the Dirty Dozen list. Organic is only a bit more expensive and well worth it for your health, as well as the planet. Bonus-it takes more calories to digest it than are in it!

What else? Fennel is one of my favorite winter vegetables that adds bit of anise flavor and more fresh crunch. Try it if you never have. Oil cured black olives can be tricky to find in a jar so check the olive bar at your local grocery. They have a different texture than brined olives and provide a deep olive flavor.

Finally the Parmesan. Use only real Parmigiano-Reggiano and finely grate it yourself. Perfect reason to use your microplane.

Doug loved this salad. I felt sort of bad when I ate all the leftovers the next day.

Celery, Fennel, and Black Olive Salad with Parmigiano Dressing
Fine Cooking February/March

3 1/2 c. thinly sliced celery, sliced on the diagonal (use a mandoline if you have one)
1 small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced (again-the mandoline)
1/4 c. thinly sliced fresh flat-leaf parsley (I didn't have any so I skipped it but do include it)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 c. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2T. mayonnaise
1T. fresh lemon juice
1 t. finely grated lemon zest
1 anchovy fillet, minced (huge flavor booster, the paste in a tube is good in a pinch)
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. oil cured black olives, pitted and chopped

In a large bowl, combine the celery, fennel, and parsley. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

In a small bowl, mix the Parmigiano, mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, and anchovy (if using). Whisk in the oil until combined. Season to taste with fresh salt and pepper.

Toss the celery mixture with the dressing, fold in the olives and serve.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In First Place....

Henry decided to join Cub Scouts and is a proud Tiger. Of course, one of the best parts of scouting (besides the uniform) is the Pinewood Derby. Henry worked very hard on his car, modeled after a Star Wars Land Speeder. Needless to say he was very excited.

Imagine how thrilled he was, we all were, when his Land Speeder, presumably because of its speediness, came in first for ALL the Tiger Scouts.

Districts, here he comes!

Nurse June

Doug hasn't been feeling well. Monday he gave in and stayed home to rest. He took a nap on the sofa and June was more than willing to comfort him.

Didn't she do a good job?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cherry-Almond Breakfast Bake

When I used to visit my Grandma she always made real oatmeal, just for me. Not the instant or quick cook but "real" oatmeal. When she was a kid, oatmeal was a required breakfast dish. Later in life, she made the same face she made when she talked about drinking milk. Milk tasted like cows according to Grandma.

Anyway, oatmeal was always accompanied by cream and brown sugar. Most likely buttered toast and bacon, too. Oatmeal is the simplest of foods but one we seldom made at home. (mom made Cream of Wheat.) Irregularity makes simple things super special.

I love oatmeal but sometimes I forget how much I love it. Sometimes I plan to make it in the morning and sleep too long or am too dazed to even attempt a simple task. Other times I don't think of how much I'd like a bowl until 2 in the afternoon. It seems weird to make oatmeal at 2 in the afternoon.

I came across a recipe in a magazine last fall that allows you to make a yummy "bake" enjoy it immediate and the leftovers can be reheated for mornings to come. Perfect, eh? It takes the pressure off of cooking before coffee.

Very promising. Nuts, wheat germ, dried fruit, cinnamon. Maybe some flax seed? Stir it all together with some low fat milk and put it in a pretty baking dish. Ooooooo, low fat.

Bake until bubbly...

Okay, if you pour super decadent organic, cream line half and half over the top maybe it's no longer low fat....

Now you can have oatmeal every morning while the coffee brews. You can even eat it at 2 in the afternoon.

Dried Fruit and Nut Breakfast Bake
modified from Kiwi August/September 2010
*fruit and nut quanities are suggestions only

2 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
4 cups 1% milk
1 cup raw almonds/walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup dried cherries, chrerries or other dried fruit
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. almond or vanilla extract (depending upon your fruit + nut choices)
1 t. salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish.

In large bowl, combine the oats, wheat germ, milk, nuts, dried fruit, maple syrup, cinnamon, extract, and salt.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 45 minutes. Serve with additional milk and maple syrup Oatmeal will last (at least) three days in the fridge.

Microwave individual servings for 1-2 minutes to re-heat.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Ultimate Taco Project - Corn Tortillas

We in the yellow house really like Mexican food. Doug makes great fish tacos exceptional tamales and really good guacamole. When it comes to cooking Mexican food, I like to leave it to Doug. It's one of those meals I don't cook. I am, however, very good at cutting limes, opening Coronas and making Chillatas.

Summer of 2009 we worked all season on The Ultimate Burger Project. (Check out the first post here.) Summer 2010 was a blur and there were no projects that really called to me. And then I decided the Ultimate Taco Project needed to be addressed. While as stated above, much of the work will be in Doug's hands there are a few things I'll be bringing to the table.

Case and point...

Corn tortillas!

We had talked for a looong time about making our own and then talked a loooong time about purchasing a tortilla press. This required a trip to Sur La Table (gasp!) and recently, I finally got around to it. Side note: W-S now carries a press, same price, online only. Just sayin'.

They couldn't be easier. The toughest part is getting to a Sur La Table. (gasp!) Anyway, masa harina, salt and water. Masa harina, is "the Spanish word for "dough", masa is the traditional dough used to make corn tortillas. It's made with sun-or fired dried corn kernels that have been cooked in lime water( water mixed with calcium oxide). After having been cooked and soaked in lime water overnight, the wet corn is ground masa. Masa harina literally "dough flour", is flour made from dried masa." Gosh, I love The Food Lover's Companion! I need to be thorough, after all, my involvement in this project is limited.

I won't include a recipe since most are very similar and you'll find one on the back of the flour bag. I will share a few tips I've picked up through reading and experience, albeit limited.
When making the dough add water judiciously. It should stick together like Play-Doh but not be too sticky.

If you find it's too dry as you break it into pieces, wet your hands to add a bit more water to the dough and prevent it from sticking. Keep the portions covered with a damp flour sack towel to prevent the dough from drying out. Smash dough slightly before placing it into the press. For a 4" tortilla you need about an ounce of dough. Larger tortillas obviously require a bit more, maybe 1 1/2 to 2 ounces.

Place the dough ball onto the tortilla press that's been lined with a plastic bag. Use a ziploc bag rather than plastic wrap, it's easier to manage. I cut the bag so it opened like a book, placed the bag in the press with the "binding side" to the back of the press. When I was done, I left the bag, wiped of crumbs in the press to use again the next time.

As you press them, pop them into a super hot cast iron pan. Take a few minutes to tap them gently with your finger tips between flips to create air pockets for a light tortilla. As they finish, place them on a flour sack towel to cool but stay moist. You can use them right away or wrap them in plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out in the fridge.

Ready to fill.

Before we ate them with some fast pork tacos, we tossed them onto the gas burner to warm and brown them up a bit. They were delicious and far superior to anything I've ever bought.

Next up? Flour tortillas.

Horchata, too. You've gotta drink horchata with a spicy taco.

Check back soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Meant To Be A Farmer

Yesterday, in the way only a puppy can, Junie B. was tormenting Milly. She never really hurts her but sufficite it to say, when I rescued the poor thing she was pie-eyed and soggy. Since it was so cold, I thought I should dry her off and warm her up a bit before returning her to the yellow hen house. Isn't that what a real farmer would do?

She was exhausted by her ordeal. So I wrapped her in an old towel and held her like a baby. I really miss holding babies.

Once she started to warm up she perked up a bit.

We enjoyed a little light reading. It wasn't The Little Red Hen, but still of that sustainable genre. She began to feel better but her fluffy feathers were still a bit matt-y. Max, my right hand chicken wrangler, and I gave her a bit of a blow out with a cool hair drier on low.

Isn't that what a real farmer would do?

Okay, in my defense I was wearing a flannel shirt.

It had a cute, trendy cut in a funky plaid with pearl snaps. Does that still count?

Spanish "Mac and Cheese"

Yesterday my evening meal was inspired by a stop into Williams-Sonoma. I happened across a recipe by Michael Voltaggio of Top Chef fame. (the cocky brother). It struck me so much, I left the store with the recipe and rice and went directly to the store to buy Manchego and chorizo.

Bomba rice is short grain primo rice grown in Calasparra. It looks like arborio - see the little pearl in the grains? The difference? Bomba is able to absorb three times its volume in liquid and yet remain individual rather than become creamy like arborio. This is the only rice for paella.

Unfortunately, I decided to post this after I had gotten some of the prep done so I don't have the greatest of pictures to share - just the greatest recipe. Spanish chorizo differs from Mexican chorizo in that it is flavored with garlic and paprika rather than peppers. This dry aged sausage is packed with flavor and available mild or piquant. Check out this recipe for other ways to use it. Better pictures, too.

After sweating the onion and garlic, add the rice, bay and saffron. I chose not to use the saffron because I detest it. Perhaps what I mean is if you don't want to invest in it for this dish which is a bit costly in the first place, you can skip it. Coat the rice with the oil until it becomes translucent then deglaze the pan with sherry.

Now begin to add the water one cup at a time. Once it has been absorbed add another cup. The above picture is a a few minutes away from ready for more water.

Add the cream (or 1/2 + 1/2 if you're healthy like me) goat cheese, ignore the additional calories, don't drool in the pan.

Top with grated Manchego and pop it under the broiler. My broiler is particularly hot and it was only in about 6 minutes. Keep an eye on it.

Ta-Da! This twist on mac and cheese is beyond fabulous and a great cold weather meal. We enjoyed it with sauteed swiss chard (mmmmm...healthy) and bread. It only took about an hour to put together and was well worth the effort.

Though it was not in keeping with my new attempts to eat more healthfully....what the hell!

Now I am going to go make cookies.

MichaelVotaggio's Spanish-Inspired "Mac and Cheese"

1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup diced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups diced Spanish chorizo
1 1/2 cups Bomba rice
Pinch of saffron (I didn't use it)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry sherry, preferably Manzanilla (I used what I had)
4 cups water
1 cup heavy cream (I used 1/2 + 1/2)
2 cups coarsely grated soft Spanish goat cheese (I used chevre)
kosher salt, to taste
1 1/2 cup grated Manchego
2 T. chopped fresh chives

In a large saute pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5-6 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the chorizo and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice, saffron and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the sherry and cook until absorbed.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the water 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each addition has been absorbed and the rice is just al dente, about 20 minutes. Add the cream and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Fold in the goat cheese and season with salt. Transfer the rice to a casserole dish or large fry pan (I kept it in the pan I prepared it in) and sprinkle with the Manchego on top. Broil until the cheese is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. Garnish with chives

Serve 6-8

Friday, January 14, 2011

Happy Cha-Cha Slide Friday!

It's no surprise that I love a house full of kids. It may also not be a surprise that I am somewhat of a dork and relish nothing more than doing dorky things with kids. Okay, maybe acting like a dork and making them do dorky things. All in the name of fun.

Awhile back after school on a Friday, Jake and I were listening to music in the kitchen and decided to do the Cha-Cha Slide. Familiar with it? The Cha-Cha Slide by Mr. C is the line dance sweeping roller rinks and weddings across the nation. (ha!)

It of course followed that the Cha-Cha Slide became obligatory on Friday after school - no matter who you are.

To date we've had just over a dozen partake of this Friday ritual. If you are here, you must dance. Oh yeah, we all dance in the kitchen.

Get funky with it!

They get better every time as does the level of enthusiasm.

Two new cross country kids did their inaugural dance last week. Good sports and a great group of kids!

The best part is the "regulars" know to expect it and actually look forward to it.
I love that almost as much as I love that they are here.

Happy Cha-Cha Slide Friday!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sausage Making 101

For awhile now Doug and I have talked about making our own sausage. So for Christmas, I bought him a sausage making book and the stuffing attachment for the Kitchen-Aid. After a trip to Costco, we were ready to give it a shot.

Andouille and Chicken, Apple, Chardonnay were the choices for this go. Never one to do things small, Doug doubled the recipes. FYI - it takes a loooong time to make 18# of sausage.

The andouille, of which we made the most, required lots and lots of onions and garlic. Chopping it all was my job.

Freshly ground black pepper (love my new spice mill), thyme, cayenne and salt pumped the flavor up.

The base meat is pork, specifically pork shoulder with a bit of added pork fat. About 80% meat to 20% fat.

It was then all pushed through the food mill attachment. That was Doug's job. Extreme patience, strength, height and a stubborn streak were key attributes for a really tedious job. He's the best.

After the meat is ground, the aromatics are added, mixed together well and chilled.

Next up, chicken. The recipe calls for chicken thighs, which I think are highly underutilized. They are perfect for sausage because of the extra fat. Fat = Flavor, right?

Added to the chicken, chardonnay, granny smith apples, salt, pepper and a bit of ground ginger.

Ready for stuffing. It a took a bit of time to execute this key aspect of our project. Trial and error taught us the hardest part is keeping the process moving with a rudimentary stuffer and the colder the meat the easier it is. My job was to keep the casing moving and twisting the links. I am not good at twisting the links. The Andouille was tied with twine and that was way easier.

Is there anything more thrilling to make cool food from scratch?

The chicken sausage, to be eaten fresh is wonderful. The ginger, which Doug was concerned about was very subtle and the texture just right.

After stuffing, the Andouille was smoked by the King of the Smoker. To say that it is phenomenal is an understatement. Boy is he talented.

We rock. We now have a freezer full of sausage and can't wait to make more. I am thinking one, just one, batch of bulk maple breakfast sausage sounds perfect for a Sunday morning.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Loose Ends of 2010

The new year is a time of resolutions. Fresh starts. Do overs. I have come to realize in my fresh starting frenzy, it's also a time of loose ends. Time to tie up the stuff never addressed or completed last year and put it to bed.

I need to finish painting the wooden switch plates in my house. I need to complete the living room drapery project and order the fabric to recover the too sweet (what what I thinking?) floral. We should really apply for our passports. The taxes...

All of these thoughts bouncing through my head at about 11:30 last night got me to thinking about kitchen projects left with loose ends. Feeling as though I cheated or worse yet lied about sharing results, I thought I'd update you on a few...

Remember the Olive Project? It started with a bang. They cured, they sat, I checked on them. When they were done brining I never really finished them. Thoughts of adding crisp garlic, garden fresh herbs and strips of citrus zest sort of flew out the window. They are still in the fridge. It took so long to brine them, I think I lost interest. I should really address them.

The other project is the Apple Project #1 -cider vinegar. Initially, all went well. It sort of smelled apple-y and vinegar-y and good. Then the mother in the bottom of the jar turned into this bigger, huge-r, nasty thing and it started to smell funky. If I had a dime for every time I tried to make vinegar I'd be rich. It doesn't work for me. I will never be able to make vinegar or a proper pot of rice. Ends knotted.

So, in the end, I've decided that perhaps it's my attention span (look there's a chicken!). I love the process of the projects I take on but if they take too long I loose a bit of steam. Also, I don't like science.

And for the record, I really did see a chicken.

(Okay, not really but you believed me didn't you?)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Quirkier the Better

I love old, quirky stuff. Last month at the flea market I picked up quite a few old and quirky things but amongst my favorites was a galvanized chicken feeder. I thought it would be a perfect addition to the yellow house. And no, I don't mean the yellow hen house.

For Christmas it sat on the dining room table (get it?) filled with greens. For the doldrums of January it's yellow split peas and vanilla candles from the dollar store.

To think the kids thought it was actually for the chickens.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

News From The Yellow Hen House

Over break when Brenden, the kid we like to call our 4th son, was here hanging out, I sent him out to the coop to check for eggs.

When Doug asked if he found any, his response was, "Yeah, but is this one supposed to be green?"

FINALLY, my late blooming Milly, the Aracauna, has laid an egg.

And yes, Brenden, it's supposed to be green!

Monday, January 3, 2011

2....1....and Now It's The Year!

Two, then one day before Christmas.....

We had an especially lovely dinner with dear friends. Thank you for a really fun evening!

In her spare time, my dearest friend Holly baked all of these wonderful cookies. SHE can make spritz and those tasty Norwegian twists. Her chicken coop kicks butt, too.

Are you a fan of Holmes of Homes on HGTV? Not me, I am a fan of Henry on Homes. If you need any handy work done, call. Don't Grandmas think of the best gifts?

Oh my! A trifle! Don't you wish you had this recipe?

Through the screen door, a Christmas Eve delivery to Margaret.

A houseful of family and lots of good food.

The annual scratching of the lottery cards. Thank you Uncle Jono! We actually won some this year.

A very tired Christmas puppy.

It was a Glee-ful Christmas in the yellow house. They are GLEEKS. Notice the backward "L's"? Irony?

I know they are mine but could they BE any cuter?

I busted out the favorite cookies, cocoa crinkles. Perfect with a cup of Jake's fancy cocoa. I always hide some of these lest there be none for Christmas.

And now the new year is upon us. All good things are ahead. We are healthy and happy and together.

We are so blessed.