Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween, working backwards

This weekend brought my birthday and a small party. While work has kept me extra-busy with midterm season, I've also been cooking up a storm and entirely failing to blog about it. So, here goes.

I made a big batch of granola since we've been feeling poor. I was a little self satisfied to discover exactly how many forms of grain I had on hand. So full of myself that it's the only photo I got of the entire process.

That's right, five, count 'em, five types of whole grains. And that doesn't even include the nuts and seeds. (Almonds, pecans, and flaxseeds, to be exact)

Here's a rough guideline for granola. The beauty of this formula is that you can freely substitute any dry or wet ingredient you may have on hand, so long as you preserve the wet-to-dry ratio. This is handy if your pantry isn't quite as over the top as mine.

Basic Granola

Mix in a large bowl
6 c. dry cereal/whole grain anything
(I used 2 c. old fashioned rolled oats, 1 c. quick steel-cut oats, 1 c. steel-cut oats (the best and most expensive of the bunch) 1 c. oat bran cereal, 1/2 c. crushed whole grain Total flakes, and 1/2 c. flaxseed)

In a different bowl
1- 1 1/2 c. liquids
(I used 1/2 c. + 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 c. + 2 tbsp white sugar, 1/3 c. honey)

Add the 1 c. of the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients slowly, looking for a dryish texture. You want to be able to spread it out in a cohesive layer, but still be able to break it into chunks later. I recognize the texture right away, but that comes with experience.

Spread onto a greased 1/2 sheet pan. Bake at 250 for 15-20 minutes, but check at 10 minutes to be sure it doesn't burn.

It was tasty and I've been eating it with yogurt all week.

Next on the reverse list comes Chicken Piccata.
This is a dish that I 'discovered' independently. I made up my own version of this called, I kid you not, "Lemon Garlic Chicken"
according to the old food journal, I made this for some friends in late November of 2004. My version deviated from the classic by adding roma tomatoes and sweet sugar-snap peas. I continue to make it with the romas, but decided to try the traditional version for a change. It was delish and we'll make it for sure again, soon.

Chicken Piccata

Pound out to 1/3 in. thickness
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed

dredge in
1 c. flour
seasoned with salt and pepper (Be sure to season the flour very well. I sometimes add cayenne. yum)

shake off all excess flour.
in a 3 qt. sauce pan (or any NOT non-stick pan with a wide heavy bottom)
melt olive oil and butter over med. high heat

put the chicken into the pan and do NOT move it until it's cooked halfway through, checking along the profile of the chicken. This will help you develop those tasty bits so essential to this dish. I use my fancy-schmancy All Clad copper core saucier (best wedding gift ever)

Once browned on both sides and cooked through, place the chicken on a plate with paper towels and keep warm in a low oven or microwave. To the pan, add a little more oil if needed. In this oil, soften

1 shallot, minced

You really are looking for more of a sweat than a sauté. You want the shallot to melt into the sauce eventually.

Once softened and translucent, add

2 cloves garlic, minced

cook for only 1 minute, stirring constantly.

deglaze with

1/3 c. white wine (I like pinot grigio. go with something whose sweetness will balance the lemon juice)

scrape all the bits off the bottom. add

the juice of one lemon
2 tbsp. chicken stock or water
2-3 tbsp. capers

bring to a simmer and reduce to a syrup, about 1/3-1/4 of the original volume. Once reduced, remove from heat.

Add, 1 tbsp. at a time, up to 8 tbsp. chilled butter, whisking until the butter melts.
(I only needed six)

This sauce is far from a béchamel. A thin texture is what you're looking for. It's almost like a jus of lemon wine chicken, thickened only with the chilled butter. If it isn't thickening enough for you, you may use a roux, just be sure to cook it long enough to get the raw taste out of the flour.

taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with some starch. We used egg noodles. So tasty and fast. The chicken should be well seasoned and fork tender. The sauce should be rich, flavorful, and with a sour bite. The capers should soak up the sauce and provide little bursts of brine.

Finally, we come to the Korean food, as promised. Apparently, word that I liked Korean food, EVEN kimchi, got around to some of my Korean students, who generously gave me a ticket and invited me to a food bazaar at the local Korean Baptist church. I brought the husband and we had a great dinner for around $7. Since I didn't do any cooking, no recipes here, just a few great-looking photos.

The man got the famous bulgogi, thin strips of beef marinated and grilled.

I got something I'd never heard of, bibimbap. It's a mixture of vegetables and mead served over rice topped with an egg. (Mine was fried, but apparently it's traditionally a raw yolk) I was given a cup of broth which I mixed into the bowl, stirring all the ingredients together. The shitake mushrooms were excellent. Very tasty.
wiki it

I had to order the delicious mung bean pancakes next, two for one dollar. They came warm and were fantastic. I only had room for one, but the other was eaten soon after.

It was a fantastic dinner, and I was thankful to see the vibrancy of the Korean community.

One last thing to document, *phew*

Indulgent weekend breakfasts are a serious weakness of mine.

Mom's super delicious breakfast thingies

preheat oven to 350


1 lb. bacon, pan fried, cooled, and crumbled

We like center cut bacon

1 pkg. softened cream cheese
8 oz. sour cream
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
12 hard-boiled eggs
2 sliced green onions
1 tsp. garlic salt

(The trick to perfect hard boiled eggs is not overcooking them, which causes that icky green layer surrounding the yolk. Start eggs just covered in COLD water on high heat. Bring to a full rolling boil, then remove from heat. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse one in cold water, peel, and slice in half. If the yolk looks cooked but still moist, you're good to go.)

Mix together. Pile atop sliced English muffins. Top with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

As usual, the final product disappeared too quickly to be captured.

Well, I only realize now how much work I've done since the last blog. I suppose that's the point of this blog for me, to notice patterns in my cooking and develop my skills and observations. I'm reading How to Read a French Fry by Russ Parsons, a food science book. It's very interesting and makes a lot of connections between events in the kitchen. It's been enlightening, to say the least.

Even better, I got On Food and Cooking from the husband for my birthday. I can't wait to read it. This book has won awards from the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP)

We're experiencing yet another Indian summer, so I'm spending as much time outside reading as possible. Fall is good!!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Five Bean Chili and Minestrone

With the weather cooling and our pockets tight (*shakes first at student loans*) I've been making lots of soup. I made a veggie noodle concoction that was intended to be a light watery minestrone earlier this week. It used up a lot of the veggies I had lying around the house from farmer's market this weekend, and was really fabulous when dressed up with a baguette, some parmesan, and pesto, care of my neighbor Ruth.

The pesto was the right herby bite I needed to cut the tomato broth. It was yummy, healthy, and very easy. Skotye tried to take pictures in my woefully under lit dining room. They're not great, but I posted them since they're all I have.
I'm working to push my food studio beyond the sad single lamp I use for lighting. Soon enough...

Researching for this blog, I discovered the true definition of 'minestrone'. The root word is minestra, Italian for 'soup'. According to my food-lover's dictionary, 'minestrina' is a thin broth, while 'minestrone refers to a thick vegetable soup that generally contains pasta and sometimes peas or beans'. (390)
I discovered that this soup is indeed a true minestrone.


in an enamel dutch oven or stockpot with a heavy bottom
begin by sautéing in a mix of olive oil and a little butter

1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 lb. green beans, chopped into 1 in. pieces
3 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

Sautee for 2 minutes. Then add
2 lbs. 93/7 ground beef
2 tsp. salt

Once cooked through, add

1 28 oz. can of chopped canned tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic, minced (we eat a lot of garlic. you could easily use just one clove)
puree of 5 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped and pulsed in the food processor.

(to accomplish this step, I usually put my garlic in the food processor first to mince it, and then add the chopped tomatoes and puree)

(Here you can do any combination of liquid tomatoes. If you don't have any fresh on hand, all canned is fine, and vice versa. It's delicious made with all fresh tomatoes.)

Stir, getting any brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
This should look like a slightly watery version of what you'll end up with, so be mindful of the ratio of liquid to meat. Add the pureed tomatoes a little at a time. If you still don't have the desired texture, you may add water or beef stock.

Cook this until thick. Here it still needs a few minutes-

Once it's close to the consistency you want, add
10 oz. noodles (I used whole wheat egg noodles, macaroni or cavatappi would work fine.)

cook until the noodles are al dente. They will get mushy eventually, unfortunately. I have yet to work this issue out.

Taste for seasoning.
At the last minute, stir in

1-1 1/2 c. shredded parmesan

This will help the soup thicken and give it tons of flavor.
Serve with toasted slices of baguette, more shredded parmesan, and a dollop of room-temperature pesto.
Here is Scott's artful portrayal (including some lovely martini-glass candles and my bracelet for some reason...)


yum. reheats well, minus the noodle issue. I'm thinking I may need to blanch them instead of cooking them in the soup, but I still think they'd get soggy.

You can see the tomato skins in these photos. They don't bother me, but if they bother you, you'll want to slice an X into the base of the tomato skin, boil for 2 minutes, then plunge into very cold water. The skins will peel right off.

Five Bean Chili

This is a go-to recipe for me in the cooler months. It's cheap, easy, and really filling. It really is the dinner version of dump cake. You open about 6 cans and you're done. We love it with aged cheddar.

Begin by sautéing in a mixture of olive oil and a little butter (Is that how ALL of my recipes start?!)

1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 lbs. 93/7 ground beef
2 tsp. salt

once brown, add

1 12 oz. can of beer
1 15 oz. can black beans
1 15 oz. can great northern beans
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
1 15 oz. can red kidney beans
1 12. oz can chili starter beans
1 28 oz. can of chopped tomatoes
1-2 c. water/beef stock
2 tsp. fresh ground cumin

This will result in a mess that looks something like this...

I do not drain or rinse the beans I use for this recipe. I think the liquid they come in is nice and salty, and really helps to thicken the soup. If you're watching your sodium, you may want to drain and rinse them, add a little more water, and check for seasoning at the end.

now, just simmer for as long as you can stand it. Be sure that you've got it at a gentile simmer and not a full on boil. (as I've read, boiled soup is spoiled soup.)
It should look like the tar pits, only with tomato. Like this-

Absolutely delicious with aged white cheddar and a pilsner, but if you're on the cheap, the plain yellow stuff and whiskey do just fine in the right company.

No pictures of the final product; a testament to its deliciousness, I suppose.

Both of these soups would be equally delicious without the meat for all our veggie friends out there. In fact, they're both vegan if the meat is removed, too.

Soup is a great way to get your veggies, and apparently cooking tomatoes allows our bodies to better use the lycopene in them than when they're fresh, so eat up! Also, either of these, like most soups, would do great in a slow cooker.

The hubby and I were lucky enough to be invited to a Food Bazaar at the local Korean Baptist Church by a student of mine. We had dinner there this evening and it was fantastic. More on that soon...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mmm...cinnamon rolls

Now that we drink coffee, sweet breakfast things are very attractive to the Ambler family.
I have had this book for a few years now-

It was written by Peter Reinhart, a baking instructor at Johnson and Wales. He's written multiple books, but this little gem won cookbook of the year from both the Internation Association of Cooking Professions AND the James Beard Foundation! Impressive. I didn't know it existed until a friend going to culinary school was given a copy as a gift. I received his old copy, and haven't been the same since.

When I first got it, long room-temperature ferments consumed my culinary interest and I baked almost everything in it. Bread quickly took over my life. (I finally realized why there the position of chef is in two areas; pastry/bread and everything else)

I perfected Greek celebration bread, bagels, lavash crackers, and his pizza Napoletana. I was also studying papermaking at the same time, and the tactile practice was a welcome break from grad school drudgery.

When I sat down to make these cinnamon rolls on a whim, I spent a good part of the morning on hold searching for a Kitchenaid dough-hook attachment to no avail. But, once I started to handle the dough, I remembered that kneading is a huge part of why I like to make bread in the first place. Looking back on this cookbook after a few years, I still find it full of things I want to try.

Here, I've picked the book back up and found a formula that's newly of interest; cinnamon rolls.

Begin by creaming

6 1/2 tbsp. granulated sugar
5 1/2 tbsp. unsalted sweet cream butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. salt

In a stand mixer on medium speed with a paddle attachment.

Once fluffy and light in color, add
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. citrus fruit extract/zest (e.g. orange) (optional)

Then, add
3 1/2 c. a.p. glour
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/8 c. buttermilk

Mix until dough forms a ball. Switch to a dough hook attachment, or begin to knead by hand. Spray surface first and sprinkle hands and top of dough with flour to prevent sticking. Knead for 12-15 minutes until it becomes 'sikly and supple, tacky but not sticky'. Once it passes the window-pane gluten test, roll into a ball, put into an oiled bowl and proof for 2 hours or until it doubles.

It'll look like this when you start-

Then this after two hours or so-

Mist the counter with oil. Roll into a rectangle 2/3 in. thick, 14 in. wide by 12 in. long.

Sprinkle on
3 tbsp butter, cubed
1/2 c. cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tbsp. sugar plus 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon)

roll tightly.

Seam side down, cut the dough into pieces about three fingers wide with a bread knife.

Proof at room temp. for 90 minutes.

bake at 350 f. for 20-30 minutes.

Yum already-

After cooling for 10 minutes in the pan, move to cooling rack. Drizzle with glaze-

Serve at room temp. or warm with coffee, tea, or anything. So good.

Leftovers: Chicken Pot Pie

The next day, our individual portions were gone but a bit of stew and puff pastry remained.
So was born the mini chicken pot pie lattice top casserole. Another invention of necessity that, in some ways, bested the original. (Some prefer a higher ratio of innards to pastry)


Chicken Pot Pie

I made this dish over a week ago, and now I'm catching up while my cinnamon rolls rise. (See next post for that deliciousness)

The weather turned a little bit cooler and the leaves are just starting to change, signaling the approach of the best-of-all-seasons; fall. Aside from the fact that it's the season of my birthday, I love fall because Iowa is staggeringly beautiful this time of year. Roosevelt Street has treated us very well since we've moved in, and it continues to become more and more pleasant as the season changes. The canopy of trees reminds me of my childhood neighborhood in CR

The side yard has been getting a lot of use with bocce and croquet. This shot shows the ancient tree that graces our front yard with shade and rain cover.

I snapped this beauty in our little flower garden earlier this week.

All this outdoor beauty spurred some creativity in the kitchen. I begun thinking of warm and fuzzy foods, and this came to mind. The temperature dipped to 60 degrees and I had a rotisserie chicken to use, so chicken pot pie seemed in order. This is great in individual portions, but would be fine as a casserole. (See leftovers, below)

6 tbsp. butter

1 yellow onion, diced
5 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins or half-moons
6 stalks celery, sliced

Once soft, (approx 10 minutes) stir in
1/2 c. unbleached a.p. flour

Cook while stirring for two minutes.

Whisk in
1 c. warm chicken stock

Cook while whisking for another two minutes until thickened.

Stir in meat from
1 rotisserie chicken, shredded

Once combined, put into individual oven-proof bowls or casserole.

Cover with puff pastry

Bush with egg wash. (1 egg beaten + 1 tsp. water)

Baken in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.

It ought to look something like this

Crack into the puffy pastry and scarf the chicken stew inside.
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