Monday, December 26, 2011

Taking a Break recover from the holidays. See you on January 1st!

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Minx Fruitcake

Believe it or not, people have been asking for my fruitcake recipe. I usually just give guidelines but have finally put the whole thing in one place. Please to enjoy - it really is good! (And I normally hate fruitcake.)

Minx Fruitcake

1 1/2 cups of assorted dried fruits (chopped apricots, chopped figs, cherries, pineapple, blueberries, raisins, currants, candied ginger, cranberries)
1/2 cup rum
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup candied orange rind
1/4 cup chopped neon green or red cherries for fruitcake (optional)
1 cup assorted roasted unsalted nuts (cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, brazil nuts, filberts)

Put dried fruit in a microwave-safe bowl and pour over the rum. Stir well, cover with plastic wrap, and nuke on high for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray a loaf pan with release spray and set aside. Combine the first five ingredients in the bowl of a mixer (or use a hand mixer) and mix until thoroughly combined. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and spices. Add the macerated fruit (plus the rum) and nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

With the fruitcake still in the loaf pan, poke holes in it with a toothpick. Pour over about 1/4 cup booze of your choice (rum is nice). Allow to soak in. Add another 1/4 cup or so after the cake has cooled a bit. When cake is completely cool, remove from loaf pans and wrap tightly in foil.

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Pretzel Crunch

A recent party opportunity presented an occasion to make the pretzel crunch from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook I received for my birthday last month. I had originally wanted to make Chex Mix, but cereal is so damn expensive! Instead, I bought some malt powder, milk powder (which can be used for other Milk Bar recipes in the future), and a bag of pretzels, and whipped up some salty sweet crunchy goodness that ended up being a huge hit.

While it's lovely as is, I think it would be even better with the inclusion of some toasted nuts. Or maybe chocolate. Or both. Give it a try!

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Top Chef Texas Episode 8 Recap

This week, the story begins with the chefs still sweating and cursing in Tim Love's tiny Lonesome Dove kitchen. Padma comes in and tells them she wants them all to pack their knives and go. Seriously, they had to pack their knives - clothes, toiletries, Squinty Chris' hair scrunchies, Handsome Chris' hair spray, Heather's SuperBitch3000 vitamin supplements, etc. - and head on to Austin.

On the road, Ed mentions that there had been several handsome judges this season. (What's with all of the metrosexual competitors this season?) He then asks Heather - who, as a bitch is obviously lonely - if she would rather do John Besh or get $5,000. She chooses the man over the money. Poor John Besh. In the other car, the girls are teasing Handsome Chris with his nickname, "Malibu." Because he's pretty and (fake) blonde.

Anyhoo...the cheftestants settle into their rooms at the Hotel Driskill, then suit up and head to the Cordon Bleu, which again will be their temporary kitchen for this leg of the Tour O' Texas. Tom has joined Padma in the kitchen for the Quickfire this week, which seems to alarm some of the 'testants.

Because the "social media phenomenon" (aka, something with which to avoid doing any actual work) Twitter was unveiled at SXSW in Austin in 2007, this Austin-based Quickfire is going to be dictated by real-time tweets from fans. But not really "real time" as this was filmed in the summer, so I hope none of you bozos got out your phones during this challenge.

The first tweet chosen requires that the chefs make something with bacon. Padma gives them 45 minutes, and the cheftestants are all happy that they've received an easy challenge.

But then Tom pulls up a second tweet that requires the chefs to create a hash as a component of their bacon dish.

And then finally, each chef has to grab an ingredient and hand it to another chef.

After time is called, Padma and Tom taste the chefs' dishes. They are not particularly fond of Grayson's "shrimp puff," Squinty's overly-salted scallop dish, nor of Ed's hash, which was burnt. On top were Beverly's pressure-cooked pork belly, Sarah's burrata-stuffed squash blossom, and Paul's winning dish involving clams and blackberries. Padma tells him that while he's just won ten grand, he gets no immunity in the next challenge. Tom jokes that with the $30K Paul has won so far in the competition, he needs to buy everyone a drink. Then he says the first round is on Bravo and the chefs should meet that evening in the hotel bar.

Later, in the bar, the cheftestants are getting liquored up. Ed remarks that the male and female chefs seem to be segregated, so some of them switch seats. Poor Handsome ends up between Grayson and SuperBitch, which makes him sweat even more than the sultry Austin air.

After a few moments of shenanigans, the piano player announces the legendary Patti LaBelle, wearing a sleek black wig and what looks to be creepy green contact lenses. She then proceeds to destroy Lady Marmalade. And not in a good way.

Yeah, I know it's her song, but what she did up there would be better called "interpretative warbling" than "singing." The chefs politely applaud, and Sarah seems to be having hot flashes, as she's constantly fanning herself.

Padma comes out on stage. It would have been amusing to see her attempt a duet with LaBelle, but instead she tells the cheftestants that they will be cooking a dinner for Patti and her friends. Each chef must think about their first culinary influences and create a dish to honor this cooking inspiration.

After 30 minutes of shopping, the chefs head back to the Driskill where we are mooned by Squinty Chris. Handsome Chris alerts him to the problem by saying, "crack kills." And thus ends another appetizing food show interlude.

The next day, the chefs have two hours to prepare their dishes in the Driskill Grill kitchen. While they are cooking, we hear about the people who inspired them culinarily - mostly parents and grandparents, apart from Jor-El, who was most inspired by his Japanese nanny.

Meanwhile, in the dining room, Padma and Tom enter with this week's judge Emeril Lagasse, plus Patti LaBelle (in an entirely new wig) and her "friends" - her pianist and a skinny girl who's probably a backup singer. She must have scared off her other friends with her interpretive warbling.

The dishes are presented in pairs. First are Squints and Super Bitch. SB has made beef Stroganoff, that she fancied up with rib eye. Only the rib eye was spongy and weird. Emeril can't even figure out what cut of meat it is, and LaBelle calls it "Bigfoot." Paul and Sarah present next, and the judges rave over her stuffed cabbage, saying it was nice and light. Paul's dish also garners praise. Handsome and Beverly are next. His salmon is leaking albumen, which Tom attributes to being cooked too fast and too hard. In  my experience, it also comes from frozen salmon, no matter how it's cooked. Unless there's salmon in the Gulf, I'm betting that the salmon Handsome used was frozen and then thawed at the store. Beverly's Korean short ribs with edamame purée are delicious, and I'm hopeful that she wins and Heather gets her bitch ass kicked off the island this week. Lindsay and Ed go next. While her dish is good, it's a bit too rich with butter. Ed's bibimbop, the only vegetarian dish of the evening, is a huge hit. Finally, Kal-El and Grayson bring out their dishes. Kal's fried chicken strips are gorgeous and delicious, but Grayson's humongous rib-eye is both boring and poor-textured.

Padma calls out Grayson, Handsome, and SuperBitch to face Judges' Table first, which confuses all of the chefs. In a wee twist, these are the bottom three. They get dressed down and sent back to the kitchen to retrieve Ed, Sarah, and Beverly. These three get praised and Sarah is awarded the overall win for her stuffed cabbage. Back to the kitchen they go, and the bottom feeders are sent out once again to face the firing squad.

Happily, SuperBitch's nasty spaetzle and weird steak are enough to get her the boot right in her big fat keister. And the season's biggest drama llama is no more. Whee!

Next time: Sarah gets the vapors and takes an ambulance ride. And there's BBQ, too.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pumpkin Fruitcake

I know a lot of folks don't like fruitcake. I don't either, actually, especially not the typical dyed cherry-filled abomination. But my Dad loves the stuff - plastic fruits and all - so I gave him rather fabulous home-made fruitcakes for the past two Christmasses in a row. He got one for his birthday this year, too, but it was a fruitcake in name only. A pumpkin bread studded with dried fruits and nuts, this moist creation was also a big hit.

Pumpkin Fruitcake, adapted from this recipe

1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup water
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3/4 cup roasted unsalted nuts of your choice, chopped into rough chunks
3/4 cup dried fruits including figs, apricots, sour cherries, cranberries, raisins, chopped into rough chunks

Preheat oven to 350°.

In one bowl, cream butter and sugar. In another bowl combine eggs, water and pumpkin. Add butter mixture to pumpkin mixture and mix well. Stir together dry ingredients in a third bowl. Add about one-third of the dry ingredients at a time to pumpkin mixture, stirring well after each addition. Mix in nuts and dried fruits. Bake bread in greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan for 60 to 75 minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out with only a few dry crumbs attached.

Photo: © Poisson d'Avril/SoFood/Corbis 
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spicy Chili

I enjoy making chili. For relatively little effort, it offers great rewards.

I seldom use the same recipe twice. I don't use a recipe at all, actually, I just toss ingredients into the pot, tasting frequently, until the flavor profile matches the one I keep filed away among the other junk cluttering my brain. So no matter what I put in my chili, it tastes pretty consistent from batch to batch - meaty, tomatoey, somewhat sweet, and only barely spicy. This time, I thought I'd try something completely different.

OK, maybe not completely.

Uncharacteristically, I used a bunch of dried whole chiles. I removed most of the seeds after soaking them, and I'm glad I did because their fumes nearly choked me in the process. I like spicy stuff, but I don't want my mouth (or any other body part) to burn. I also wanted the chili to have a predominant smoky flavor, so I used chipotles, fire roasted tomatoes, smoked paprika, and even a little smoked salt at the end to finish it.

It was darn tasty, and a perfect accompaniment to a Ravens victory.

Spicy Smoky Chili

3 dried ancho chiles
3 dried chipotle chiles
3 lbs beef stew meat
1 onion, chopped
olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup prepared molé sauce (I used the molé from my chicken nachos)
2 15oz cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup beef broth
Soak dried chiles in boiling water until they are pliable. Remove stems (and seeds, if desired). Chop peppers in a food processor with a bit of beef broth until they become a chunky purée. Set aside.

In a dutch oven, brown meat in batches. Remove meat and add onions and a pinch of salt. Stir well to pick up any browned bits from the meat. If there doesn't seem to be enough fat, add a dribble of olive oil. Cook onions over medium heat until they are beginning to brown.  Stir in cumin and coriander.

Add meat back to pan along with garlic, combining well. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add molé, pepper purée, tomatoes, and beef broth. Bring to a boil. When mixture comes to a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer for about 3 hours, or until beef is very tender.

Serve with your favorite chili condiments (cheese, onions, cilantro, sour cream) and tortilla chips.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Bacon and Eggs

Here ya go, Ginger. :)
Recently I got a SousVide Supreme water oven to play with. Unlike the large, two-piece "immersion circulators" seen on Iron Chef and Top Chef, the SousVide Supreme is a completely self-contained unit that carefully controls the temperature of water placed within it. I gotta admit - I'm a little intimidated by it. It just seems too easy, you know?

So I tried something easy-peasy. A poached egg.

Serious Eats' Kenji Lopez-Alt recommends poaching eggs at 142ºF, while the manufacturers of my machine recommend 147º. I decided to compromise and use 144º. Turns out 147º was what I wanted, as my egg whites were a bit...snotty. Not a problem - I poured them out of the shells into ramekins and nuked them for 15 seconds to set the whites.

As an accompaniment to my poached eggs - or vice versa - I made some risotto with bacon. Crush has offered a completely-irresistible bacon-and-eggs risotto in the past, which I attempted to recreate, using brown Carnaroli rice instead of the usual white Arborio.

I had played with this brown rice in the past and ended up with unpleasantly chewy risotto. (I don't like brown rice, so I'm not sure why I bought it in the first place.) This time, I parcooked the rice for a bit, which helped the texture quite nicely. The result was still a bit on the bouncy-side, but was extremely creamy, as a proper risotto should be.

Bacon Risotto with Poached Egg and Asparagus

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups brown carnaroli rice and 3 cups water
OR 1 1/2 cups regular arborio or carnaroli rice
5 cups low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons bacon fat
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
6 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled into large pieces
1/4 lb asparagus spears, peeled, cooked, and cut into 2" lengths
salt and pepper
Additional finely grated Parmesan cheese (for garnish)

Preheat water oven to 147°F. Place eggs in water bath and cook at least 45 minutes, and up to 4 hours. Or, soft boil or poach conventionally.

Put the rice and 3 cups of water into a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the rice starts to get tender. Drain rice well. (If using conventional short-grained rice, skip this step.)

Wipe the starch out of the rice pot and put the chicken broth in it; keep at a low simmer on the stove.

Heat bacon fat in a large sauté pan. Add onions and cook over medium heat until soft and just beginning to brown. Add rice to pan and stir well for a minute or two to coat with bacon fat. Add wine, stirring until absorbed. Add warm broth to pan about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed. Repeat until rice is tender but still a little firm to the bite and sauce is creamy. This will take about 25-30 minutes. (With the brown rice, you will probably  use all 5 cups of stock). Add butter, Parmesan, all but one tablespoon of bacon, and asparagus. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper.

Remove eggs from water bath. Gently peel eggs. If for some reason they are too soft, pour them into a ramekin, cover with a bit of plastic wrap, and microwave for 6-10 seconds.

To serve: Place risotto in a bowl; top with additional Parmesan. Place a poached egg on top and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with reserved bacon.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Gifts for Foodies

If you're looking for foodie-appropriate gifts this holiday season, look no further than my list here.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top Chef Texas Episode 7 Recap

This week on Top Chef.... (can you feel the excitement?!)

The cheftestants file into the temporary Top Chef Kitchen to find Padma standing with guest judge, former Top Chef Masters competitor and all-around good guy, Tim Love, owner of Lonesome Dove Bistro. Behind them is a table chock-full of Don Sponsorio tequilas of every style and age. For the Quickfire Challenge, the cheftestants have to participate in a "tequila tasting," choose one, and then scurry off to create a dish to pair with it - all in 30 minutes. Wisely, most of the chefs seem to grab a bottle and go, rather than tasting the gamut. It's still early in the day and drinking tequila probably isn't the best thing to do that soon after brushing one's teeth.

Even so, Tim looks a bit disheveled, as if he's already had his own private tasting. And what's Padma wearing? Those yellow pants did such unflattering things to her ass. Or maybe her ass is just weird.

Sarah is all excited about tequila and tells us that she and her boss Tony Mantuano knock down a couple three shots of blanco tequila before they have to get on a plane. Lord help any flight attendants who try to stop those two from playing Words with Friends after the doors close.

Thirty minutes are gone in a flash (even faster if one's been drinking) and Tim and Padma make the rounds. Tim's an old hand at this so Padma doesn't even have to prompt him to name his least favorite dishes.

He thinks Heather's is too "chain restaurant," which cracks me up. She thinks so highly of herself and is still a bit cocky from last week's win. But this probably didn't knock her down the notch or ten her ego needs. Squinty Chris' chicken is a bit dry, and Sarah's risotto is undercooked. Guess she was doing more reminiscing about drunken flights than stirring her rice.

On top were Handsome Chris for his briny oyster (insert Padma joke here), Lindsay for her salmon, and Kal-El for his spicy Thai clams. Ultimately, Kal's dish impressed Tim the most, so he got the win and a five thousand dollar bonus. immunity.

The Elimination Challenge gets a bit more complicated. Tim invites the cheftestants to a game dinner - and I'm not talking Pictionary or Scrabble - at his restaurant, only as the chefs and not the guests. The guests will be some fancypants celebrity chef buddies of his, including former Top Chef Master-testants Anita Lo and John Currence, and Brian Caswell, who didn't win Next Iron Chef a couple years ago.

Here's where the actual complicated part comes in: Padma pairs the chefs up where they stand. Lucky for Heather, she's standing next to her favorite person on earth, Beverly. And lucky for Beverly, there are knives nearby. Then Padma tells the chefs they are cooking a six-course dinner, with each course featuring a game meat favored by one of Tim's illustrious but non-winning guests. The chefs draw knives for protein assignments and it shakes out like this:

Squinty and Grayson get Tim Love's favorite, elk
Dakota and Nyesha get Brian Caswell's favorite, venison
Edward and Jor-El get Vinny Dotolo's favorite, quail
Handsome Chris and Lindsay get Jon Shook's favorite, boar
Heather and Beverly get John Currence's favorite, duck
Paul and Sarah get Anita Lo's favorite, squab (which of course must be pronounced, "thquab," Daffy Duck style)

Still doesn't sound complicated? How about this: not only do the chefs have to cook for the celebrity chefs and of course the regular judges, they also have to prepare plates for each other. By my count, that makes...6+3+10 = 19 plates of food per team, unless the cheftestants are going to share. The judges will choose the winners, but the cheftestants get to pick their three least-favorite teams and put them up for elimination. The judges will then choose one of those teams to go home. That's right folks, a double elimination.

So the chefs go shopping and then hit the kitchen to prep their dishes. The whole time, Heather is acting like a raging bitch. She's bossing Bev around, not wanting to take her suggestions for the dish, and stirring up lots of...what's the opposite of good will? Animosity. Ed tells us he respects Beverly and that Heather is acting like "a complete bitch." But Bev is used to it. She tells us she had been in an abusive relationship in the past and when the bastard was at work, she left him.

The next day, the chefs finish their dishes in the tiny and extremely warm Lonesome Dove kitchen, where they get to season everything with their sweat. Poor Bev is trying to cook duck breast while Raging Bitch is raging and sweating and breathing down her neck. Bev is clearly afraid of Bitch and I'm wondering if her fight or flight mechanism is going to kick in at some point very soon. Instead, Bev is asking questions, trying to appease the monster beside her.

I saw that on MI-5 once. Grue-some.

Lindsay and Handsome Chris present their boar dish first. Apart from his mooning around for Padma, these two are a nice, quiet, businesslike team. The judges say theirs is a nice plate of food, but it's not particularly exciting.

Bev and Raging Bitch go next and present rubbery duck with skin that's not quite crisp enough. I start hearing the sound of bus breaks screeching on asphalt.

Squinty and Grayson then present their elk dish. Squints had the idea to make a "chain" out of sweet potatoes, because it's something that he's done at Moto. But then he fucks up the potato and has to resort to making oddly-shaped fries out of it instead. One of the game-eatin' guests calls their plate, "1982 banquet food," which I'm guessing is not a compliment. Hasn't Squints learned from his "cigar" mistake a couple of weeks ago that he should probably just leave the Moto food at Moto?

Edward and Kal-El then present their quail which gets lots of praise. Yay! Ed's my favorite chef in the competition, but Kal is quickly becoming a favorite as well. Back in the kitchen, Dakota is having issues with her venison. While it looks nearly black on the outside, she's worried that it's not cooked through enough. She panics and goes to Nyesha for help, who basically thinks that Dakota is a big girl and should figure it out for herself. Meanwhile, Nyesha's making a gratin. Even though last week someone went home for making a gratin, and someone even questioned why a gratin would be served in 500° weather. As far as I can tell, it hasn't gotten any cooler.

As it turns out, the gratin is the best thing on the plate. Not so great is the nearly raw venison.

Finally, Paul and Sarah present their thquab, which is called "a nice plate of food."

Immediately after noshing, Padma comes into the kitchen and calls out Ed and Commander Zod. They are the winners of the challenge and are awarded $10K to split between them.

Then those two go back to the kitchen to thquabble over who should be thrown to the wolves. Dakota and Nyesha are pretty obviously the bottom of the heap, and eventually Bev and Bitch and Thquinty and Grayson are voted off the island as well.

When they face the firing thquad, Tom asks Bitch and Bev if they think they deserve to be out there. Bitch says she's only out there because the other chefs are jealous that she won the last challenge. Or maybe they just want to see her bossy ass gone. And then she lays into Bev about that last challenge and how it took her two days to peel and clean 400 shrimp. Not that it made any difference, since Bev's dish was neither a winner nor a loser, and Heather wasn't even on her team. Dakota comes to Bev's rescue and defends her worth ethic.

The judges are annoyed and dismiss the bunch of them. Tom says they don't really give a crap about the petty thquabbles between cheftestants and the judges need to base their decision on today's food. Dakota and Nyesha's venison was clearly the worst of the bunch, despite their good side dish, so those two go while Raging Bitch lives on. Arrgh!

Next week: the cheftestants head to Austin, Patti Labelle howls like she's in pain, and Emeril finally makes an appearance as a judge.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Quince Butter

One doesn't normally see quince in just any old supermarket, but there they were, large yellow fruits that resemble a flattened pear or a pot-bellied apple, sitting forlornly in the tiny selection of exotic produce at my local Safeway. I rescued two from their inevitable fate of being tossed in the trash and took them home, where they sat on the counter, looking sadder by the day.

Come Saturday, I realized I had to do something with these things. But what? Quince are too sour and astringent to eat raw, so they must be cooked. After a quick perusal of teh Innernets, I found recipes for quince butter and quince jam in addition to homemade dulce de membrillo, the jelly-like paste enjoyed with cheese in many Spanish-speaking countries. I was most intrigued by a Martha Stewart recipe for jam flavored with star anise, and a butter flavored with vanilla, so I combined the two.

The resulting star-anise-and-vanilla-flavored butter is thick and dense, delicious on toast, scones, or on a cracker with a bit of Manchego cheese.

Quince Butter

3 cups water
2/3 cup sugar
2 quince, peeled and cubed
1 whole star anise
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add quince and star anise. Cover partially and cook over medium heat until fruit is very soft and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 hour. In a food processor or with a stick blender, blend fruit into a purée. Stir in vanilla.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Potato Soup

I seldom follow recipes as I cook. Most of the time I see what I have in the fridge and pantry and throw something together. This could involve home-made leftovers, canned goods, frozen food, or the doggie bag from Saturday's dinner out. If I'm lucky, the resulting dish turns out well and I can call it dinner.

Once recent evening I did my usual fridge inventory and discovered a container of mashed potatoes. I've never been a huge fan of leftover potatoes - I think they taste funny. Stale. So if I have to eat them, I like to disguise them with lots of flavors. I poked around some more and found three cans of hominy in the cupboard. Three. I suppose I had forgotten that we had some and bought more. And more still. So I had hominy and potatoes. Because my mind works in mysterious ways, I immediately thought of soup. Because it was 62 degrees outside and it's always fun to eat hot soup when it's warm outside. Like I said - mysterious.

We had fresh tarragon and thyme in the house. Despite my not particularly liking thyme, I had bought a live plant to use in a recipe I was testing with my new Sous Vide Supreme (more on that eventually) and it's been growing nicely in the dining room window. The tarragon was a back-up herb, in case the thyme died before I had a chance to use it.

Once I tasted my soup creation - if you're following, that would be potatoes, hominy, tarragon, and thyme so far - I dumped in some smoked paprika, too. Why the hell not? And to add protein (cuz Mr Minx needs his protein), I utilized one of the several packages of chicken sausage that occupied the freezer.

Sounds really weird, the resulting dish was also really good. Even if it was too warm to eat soup.

Mashed Potato and Other Stuff Soup

1 onion, thinly sliced
olive oil
pinch salt
2 cups mashed potatoes
1 can yellow hominy
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart chicken stock
1 pack chicken sausage in your favorite flavor (we like spinach and feta), cut into chunks
salt and pepper

In a soup pot or dutch oven, cook onion in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat until translucent. Stir in potatoes, hominy, and seasonings. Sprinkle on flour and stir into potato mixture. Pour in stock, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

While soup is cooking, sauté sausage chunks in a bit of olive oil until browned on all sides.

Serve soup in large bowls with a handful of sausage stirred in.

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Monday, December 12, 2011


Every year my group at work has a holiday party, and every year I like to take the opportunity to show off my culinary chops, especially since more and more folks are bringing store-bought food. There's usually at least one vegetarian around, so I try to be nice and prepare something that they can enjoy. The thing is - we have limited fridge space and only two microwaves with which to reheat food, so, ideally, I need to make a dish that needs neither refrigeration nor warming.

I usually end up making the same brownies or Asian noodles (that I can keep plenty cold on the windowsill in my office), but this year I wanted to do something completely different. I got my inspiration from my birthday dinner, a selection of mezze at Lebanese Taverna; my favorite dish of the evening was shakshouky, a cold salad of eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, seasoned with lots of garlic and olive oil. Served on LT's warm pita bread, it was an absolute delight.

After determining that both resident vegetarians enjoy eggplant, I poked around online and found Lebanese Taverna's recipe, which I modified to make up for my lack of pomegranate molasses. I made a test batch to try at home, and it was a roaring success. Let's hope they love it at tomorrow's party.


1 eggplant
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/2 jarred roasted red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic mashed with a pinch of salt
teaspoon of honey
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Preheat oven to 350F. Cut eggplant in half from top to bottom and place, face down, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Scrape eggplant into the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and puree. Place eggplant into a bowl; add the remaining oil, the scallions, bell pepper, lemon juice, garlic, and honey. Mix well. Add salt and pepper and taste for seasonings, adding more lemon juice if necessary. Stir in pomegranate seeds.

Serve on bread-like substance of your choice.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Flashback Friday 12.9.2011

This post was originally published on November 5, 2008.
Khoresht-e Fesenjan

We bought a pomegranate at the Superfresh the other day.  When I was a kid, my Uncle Frankie bought a pom every fall for my mother and me. He had done this since she was young, and after so many years of wrestling with the fruit, she let me mangle and eat most of it.  When Frankie died, in 1983, so did the annual tradition of red hands and stained kitchen table.  Nowadays, I slice open the fruit and rip it apart in a big bowl of cold water.  The arils sink to the bottom and the tissue-like membrane floats to the top, making the fruit a breeze to dismantle. Plus the water keeps my hands from getting stained.

The pomegranate sat on our kitchen counter for a few days when I was struck with the idea of making fesenjan, a Persian preparation featuring pomegranate and walnuts.  I had eaten a version with made with duck at the Orchard Market and Café many years ago and remembered enjoying it. We had a small half leg of lamb in the freezer, and I decided that would be the perfect protein to match with the tangy fruit and nut sauce.

I got Mr Minx to whip up some of his delicious pilaf (sautéed onions, broken capellini pasta, and leftover rice, flavored with saffron) as a go-with, and cooked some okra pods with various spices: mustard and cumin seeds, charnushka, coriander, salt and pepper.

The meat was deliciously tender.  I had cut off most of the fat but left all of the annoying silver skin and other connective tissue, which melted away during the long slow cooking.  The sauce was tangy and rich, with just enough spice flavor to keep it far away from the realm of ordinary lamb stew.  In short, it was delicious, and I would definitely make this dish again.  Perhaps I'll try chicken next time....

Lamb Fesenjan
Serves 6

1 large onion, chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tblsp oil
2 lbs lamb, cut into cubes
1 tblsp flour
8oz walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup hot water
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
5 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tblsp honey (optional)
salt to taste

Sauté onion with turmeric and pepper in the oil until browned.  Remove from pot.  Add meat and brown on all sides.  Sprinkle meat with the flour and the chopped walnuts and sauté for a few minutes.  Add water, pomegranate juice, cardamom, and cinnamon and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer 2 hours or so until meat is very tender and the juices have thickened.  Add salt to taste and honey, if the pomegranate is too tart for you.  Conversely, if you want the dish to have more tart flavor, add lemon juice.

Serve with rice or pilaf.

Posted by theminx on

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Top Chef Texas Episode 6 Recap

Last week, I wasn't completely motivated to do a recap. That's actually been true every week. But this week takes the cake. I don't really have much to say about episode six. Despite bitchiness and bloodshed, it was boring. Or should I say, Boring.

The cheftestants are still in Dallas, with the kitchen of Le Cordon Bleu (Paul's alma mater) standing in as Top Chef Kitchen. James Beard winner Chef Dean Fearing is this week's guest judge. He's actually famous enough that I didn't have to look him up. Of course, my brain works in strange and magical ways. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear "Dean Fearing" is "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," but then I immediately realize that is the title of one of my favorite books, written by Annie Dillard. Dean Fearing was the executive chef at the vaunted Mansion at Turtle Creek before leaving in 2007 to open his own restaurant, Fearing's.

A Chorus Line, Top Chef stylie.
The Quickfire Challenge, mercifully, doesn't have a Texas theme. Rather, it seems inspired by the very kitchen they stand in: take an old school "mother sauce" and put a twist on it. These sauces are classified in this manner not because they are a "mother" to prepare, but because they are the starting point for many other sauces. Saucemaking is one of the most important courses a chef-in-training takes at culinary school, besides Washing Your Hands 101. For those of you not in the know (that's most folks, I reckon), the mother sauces are Bechamel, Velouté, Hollandaise, Espagnole, and Tomate. In other words, cream gravy, cream of chicken soup, the stuff you put on Eggs Benedict, mushroom gravy, and Ragu.

The chefs draw knives for their sauce assignments and, with 90 minutes on the clock, commence to cooking.

When time is called, Fearing and Padma do their tasting bit. Fearing has some powerful tastebuds. He's able to zing just about every other chef for not making a roux, or for not making a roux of the proper color, just by tasting the sauce. I'd be intimidated if I were these kids. I'm intimidated anyway. Sorry, Dean, while you seem like a really nice guy, I'll probably never invite you to my house for dinner.

He chooses Nyesha, Dakota, and Beverly to be his least favorite sauciers. Too bad for Nyesha, because she had been bragging that if she had to pick one position in the kitchen, it would be saucier.

On top were Grayson, Handsome Chris, and Paul. While the guys' sauces were good, Grayson's Hollandaise was perfection, which gained her immunity in the next challenge...

...which involves steak. Because apparently they don't eat chicken in Texas.

The cheftestants are told that they will act as one team and prepare a four-course meal for 200 guests at the Cattle Baron's Ball, to be held at Southfork Ranch. The chefs break themselves into four teamlets, one for each course, and get to planning. Team Appetizer (Beverly, Dakota, and Sarah) decide to make a gazpacho; Team Second Course (Ed, Squinty Chris, and Paul) are doing a seared beef carpaccio; Team Entrée (Jor-El, Whitney (who?), and Nyesha) are making steaks; and Team Dessert (Heather, Grayson, Lindsay, and Handsome Chris) are making cake. Why are four people needed to make dessert? Or gazpacho, for that matter? Four blenders, maybe.

With $4000 in their pockets, the teams head to Whole Foods for shopping and eventually back to the kitchen for three hours of prep.

General Zod, who has two years of steakhouse experience under his belt, has taken charge of the steak course. But while he's prepping some bone marrow for Nyesha's compound butter, he stabs himself quite viciously in the hand with an oyster knife. He's all Mr Responsible and shit, so he gets a medic to bandage him up and promises to finish his prep before he heads to the ER for stitches.

The next morning, we see him trudging back to the apartment, four stitches in his left hand. He gets about an hour's sleep before he has to be up and at 'em and at the Southfork Ranch to finish prep and cooking for the meal.

Once the chefs get to the Ranch, the show's incidental music suddenly becomes a unreasonable facsimile of the Dallas theme. For you whippersnappers who were born in the 90s, Dallas was an over-the-top nighttime soap opera about rich, big-haired, cowboy-hat-wearin' folk with too much money and not enough sense who happened to live on the Southfork Ranch in Dallas. It starred Larry Hagman, who was most famous for playing handsome astronaut Major Anthony Nelson on the 60s sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie. Tony Nelson. :::swoon:::

God I feel old. the Ranch kitchen, Beverly is working on deveining shrimp and Heather is all up in her face about it. Apparently, Heather is the bully of the group. She's the person I always strove not to be when I was growing up - the fat loudmouth know-it-all. So I failed, but at least I tried. It seems reasonable, however, that Heather is upset about Bev playing with shrimp because that's all she did in the three hours the previous day, too. But then we find out that there were 400 shrimp to peel, devein, and poach, and sympathy swings back to Bev's side. Only a little, because Bev's as annoying as Heather is bossy.

Eventually, the guests arrive. None look particularly Cattle Baronic to me, because they're probably not. It's just a random group of folks off the street that agreed to put on cowboy hats and cheap jewelry and eat steak while being filmed. Like the dumbasses last week, they probably thought they were auditioning for Real Housewives of Dallas.

The first course of gazpacho comes out and seems ok, despite not having as much watermelon flavor as advertised. It's a bit safe. Then the second course of seared steak carpaccio is presented. While the meat itself is very tasty, the dish as a whole doesn't have a point of view.

Meanwhile, outside, Kal-El is grilling steaks in the 112F heat. He's seasoning them with his sweat now, adding a finishing touch after the blood and tears from the day before. The idea is to get grill marks on the meat, and then fire them to medium-rare in the ovens just before the third course is to be served.

Heather has appointed herself and Lindsay as Queen Bitches. Linds is all worried that the steaks might need to be fired NOW, but when Ed puts them in the oven to help out, the end up being fired too soon. Some of the steaks end up too well done, while others don't get cooked enough. But what do you expect with 200 steaks that need to be cooked at the same time? Perfection, apparently.

After all of the faux cattle barons and baronesses are fed and sent home, Padma calls Heather, Nyesha, and Squinty Chris to Judges' Table. Nobody is quite confident in their food, so these three don't know if they're in or they're out. After Padma tells them they are on top, they sigh in relief. The judges loved Squinty Chris' carpaccio, and Nyesha's compound butter (seasoned with Jor-El's blood). They also raved over Heather's cake, which apparently they did not notice was the same cake she made for the Quinceanara a few weeks back, from Ed's recipe. But it was good enough to get the bossy bitch a win, and the keys to this week's Toyota Sponsormobile, the Venza.

Then Ed, Whitney, and Kal-El are called to the table. Kal is a good guy and takes full responsibility for the steaks, not throwing Ed under the bus for firing some of them too early. Ed is dressed down for his carpaccio topping of tomatoes and whatnot. It's not "Top Chef" caliber, apparently, and he knows it. Finally, Whitney (who?) is taken to task for producing undercooked potato gratin, despite having six hours to cook it. And she is sent home.

Next week: Heather and Bev get teamed up! Will there be bloodshed? Let's hope!

Posted by theminx on