Thursday, February 17, 2011

Redemption: a dish best served warm and gooey

First of all, I should apologize for not posting in over a month. I was in fact feeding myself while I was on hiatus, but I wasn't sufficiently impressed with my chili and beef stew to recommend the recipes while the dishes were still photogenic. Like most soups and stews, however, they went from "ho-hum" to "yum!" after a couple days in the fridge. They froze beautifully as well.

You can find the chili recipe here. The beef stew was actually a carbonnade, or Belgian beer & beef stew. (I know, right?) The recipe I used was from America's Test Kitchen (subscription required), but I think this blogger followed their recipe pretty closely.

And I'm afraid I have to make another blogger confession - the recipe below is actually a repost of a recipe I posted on my first blog over two years ago. (I realize that I started that post with a confession as well - Catholic guilt dies hard). I think this is the first time I've made this cake since then, but I definitely redeemed myself from the spectacular failure of my last endeavor.

I made this cake last night on a whim because I craved something chocolate. (I blame the lingering effects of Valentine's Day marketing). This pudding cake was both simple to throw together and immensely satisfying. As you can see in the picture, the middle of the cake was thick, gooey, and bubbling when I took it out of the oven - like chocolate lava. Beware the sugar coma. ;)

Old Fashioned Chocolate Puddin' Cake

  • 1 cup flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons melted shortening or oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1¾ cups hot water


Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, combine first 9 ingredients. Mix at medium speed until well blended. Spread in ungreased 8 or 9-inch square pan. In small bowl, combine brown sugar, ¼ cup cocoa and hot water; pour over batter. Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes or until cake is set. I like to serve the cake warm, topped with vanilla ice cream.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potato Soup

No, dear reader, your eyes do not deceive you. I made another orange soup. But while my carrot soup awakened the palate with a good hit of spice, this sweet potato soup melts in the mouth like butter. Buttah . . . . This soup is so rich and creamy that it verges on a puree, but the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cayenne keep things interesting. (Tip: if you hate sweet potato and/or pumpkin pie, this soup is not for you.) I encourage you to thin out the soup with additional liquid if you so desire, but keep in mind that this may dilute the flavors. Season accordingly.

Roasted Sweet Potato Soup

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 ounces heavy cream
  • 8 ounces low-fat milk (I used 1%)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into a half-inch dice. Spread on a sheet pan in a single layer and roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in a heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook until roux is just turning brown.
  3. Add the broth and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer.
  4. Stir in the sweet potatoes and spices and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
  5. Ladle soup into a blender and puree.
  6. Return the soup to the pot and add milk and cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Curry Ginger Carrot Soup

To me, there are few things more comforting than a piping hot bowl of soup. A cold sandwich or a salad just won't do when the thermostat refuses to creep above 40.

The amount of spice in this recipe makes it the perfect soup for anyone battling a cold, but feel free to reduce the curry powder and cinnamon if you prefer a subtler flavor. In addition to being highly tasty, this soup is a breeze to put together, even on a weeknight.

Curry Ginger Carrot Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 two inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 ounces heavy cream

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion and ginger and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the curry powder, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander. Add 4 cups chicken broth and 1 cup water. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a blender and puree. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Pie Crusts

Cornish Pasty



As anyone who has heard me speak at length about celebrity chefs can attest, I have a deep-seated aversion to Sandra Lee. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her "semi-homemade" philosophy, Lee's approach is to combine "70% ready-made products with 30% fresh and creative touches" so that you take "100% of the credit." As if a cuisine based heavily on sodium-laden spice packets and canned soups weren't bad enough, the woman prances around her kitchen like a beauty queen. She adopts a theme each episode and then selects her outfit and redecorates her kitchen to match. Don't get me started on "tablescapes."

So, given my dislike of Lee, you can imagine my horror one evening when I found myself watching her show with rapt attention. Even worse, my mouth started to water as I watched her make caramelized onion and goat cheese tarts.

I pride myself on being rational and fair, however, so I promptly bookmarked the recipe on the Food Network website. I even decided to make them for my holiday party. The concept, I reasoned, was sound. Most of the ingredients were in their original state. Except for the frozen chopped onions, that is. And the store-bought pie crust. Oh, the pie crust.

Homemade pie crust has long been de rigueur in my family. I remember the first Thanksgiving when my mom gave me the task of making the traditional pumpkin and pecan pies. Making a pie crust from scratch seemed rather daunting at the time, so I suggested that we use store-bought crust. My mother's response was "Didn't I raise you right?"

Of course it would be easy to substitute homemade pie crust in the recipe, but I figured I'd cut myself a break given the time constraints inherent in throwing a party. Still, I felt some major filial and foodie guilt.

Ironically, I ran out of time to make even the shortcut recipe, which meant that I had 3 boxes of store-bought pie crust sitting in my fridge with 2 crusts to a box. That's a lot of dough.

One crust made a pumpkin pie that I took to my office holiday party. Another went into the trash after I tore it trying to make the crust for that pie. That left 4 crusts. Figuring that I should make myself something slightly more substantial than pie for dinner at home, I decided to make 2 Cornish pasties and a quiche. I found that store-bought pie crust was much better in the former application than in the latter.

As Wikipedia will tell you, pasty is indigenous to Cornwall, England. My mom would make pasty for us growing up, but her version was in a deep pie pan with a huge domed crust. As is typical of most Midwestern fare, hers was loaded with ground hamburger, onions, potatoes, and carrots. We would cut huge slices and then smother the filling in ketchup.

No offense, Mom, but I think the recipe below is much tastier. I've adapted it from this recipe at I think the blue cheese really makes the dish, giving it a nice piquancy that plays against the earthiness of the root vegetables.

Cornish Pasty

  • 1 15-ounce package refrigerated pie crusts (2 crusts)
  • 12 ounces stew meat
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped peeled sweet potato
  • 1 cup chopped peeled rutabaga
  • ¾ cup chopped peeled carrot or parsnip

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • Crumbled blue cheese
  1. Using on/off turns, coarsely chop meat in processor.
  2. Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add sweet potato, rutabaga, carrot, onion, parsley, thyme and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are just tender, about 12 minutes.
  4. Add meat. Sauté until meat browns, about 10 minutes.
  5. Mix in cream. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper. Cool filling completely. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover; refrigerate.)
  6. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  7. Unfold crusts on work surface. Spoon half of filling onto half of each crust. Sprinkle blue cheese over the filling. Fold other half of each crust over filling. Crimp edges or seal them with a fork. Transfer turnovers to baking sheet. If desired, beat an egg and brush over the tops of the pasties for a shiny crust.
  8. Bake turnovers until golden, about 30 minutes. Cut each in half and serve.

While I'd declare the pasties an unqualified success, the quiche was another story. The crusts on the pasty baked up golden and flaky. The quiche was a soggy, sorry mess. The bottom of the crust barely cooked at all, and the edges were so thin that they almost burned. My fluted edges refused to hold their shape. A homemade crust would work much better, especially since there would be more dough to fold over to form the fluted edge (a thicker edge would be less susceptible to burning). Here's the recipe I used, courtesy of another blogger.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Quiche

  • 1 standard 8" pie crust
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 cups (about 2 large) onions, thinly sliced (a mandolin works really well here)
  • ½ - 1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • A few ounces goat cheese
  • Nutmeg
  • Cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Heat butter in heavy pan until melted, add onions and saute slowly over medium to low heat until caramelized. This step may take 30 minutes or so. Stir in thyme.
  2. Meanwhile par-bake the pie crust at 375° for 5-10 minutes, until golden-brown, then reduce oven to 325°.
  3. In large bowl gently beat together eggs, milk, a pinch of fresh grated nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Add salt & pepper.
  4. Spread the onions over the crust, and pour in egg mixture. Crumble goat cheese over the top.
  5. Bake at 325° until quiche is set, approximately 30 minutes.
  6. Broil it for a minute or two at the end to give the top a nice golden top.

Incidentally, I realized as I was writing this post that I pitted a very classic English dish against a very classic French dish. It seems the Anglo-French rivalry continues, at least in the kitchen. This round goes to the English.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Risotto Carbonara

You likely still have enough spiral ham, turkey, or roast beef to last you through a nuclear winter. But there will come a day when your stomach is rumbling and your fridge is depressingly empty. When that day comes, why not try this warm and filling risotto? A carbonara is usually a pasta dish that combines parmesan cheese, egg, and some sort of fatty pork product (panchetta or bacon). I took the best elements of a classic carbonara and incorporated them into this risotto. This isn't exactly a light dish, but I figure you burn more calories to stay warm during the winter months. Enjoy!

Risotto Carbonara

  • 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 6 ounces pancetta (or bacon)
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ¾ cup frozen peas (just eyeball it)
  • 1 ounce (or more) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Bring chicken stock to a simmer over medium low heat in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, cook pancetta in a large skillet over medium high heat until most of the fat has rendered. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon and let drain on a plate lined with some paper towels.

Pour most of the rendered fat into a mug or bowl for later disposal, but reserve about 1 tablespoon in the pan.

Cook the onion in the rendered fat until translucent. Add garlic.

Add rice and cook for about 1 minute.

Stir in wine and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Ladle in approximately ½ cup of the chicken stock and stir until absorbed. Repeat this step until you've used up all of the chicken stock.

After you've added the final stock to the risotto (it can still look a little loose), return the pancetta to the pan. Add the frozen peas to the risotto and stir until cooked and bright green (this won't take very long at all). Stir in the cheese until it melts. Finally, add the lemon juice (watch the seeds!), salt and pepper.

A New Year, A New Blog

Hmm...won't be cooking on that thing any time soon

Yes, gentle reader, it's technically still December. But after being stuck at home by yet another massive snowfall, I needed some diversion.

So here we are, another attempt at blogging. For those of you who are familiar with my earlier work, do not despair. I will likely update that blog with whatever culinary creations appear here. But the scope of this blog will likely encompass more than just cooking. Culture, crafts, current events are all fair game.

So, without further ado, welcome!