Friday, September 12, 2014

Nothing says Welcome to My Rental Home like Gray Chicken

                Laurie Colwin might have felt liberated by rental house cooking, but I was stymied. It was one of those ill-advised invitations that is extended on the shoulder of the morning caffeine high and by mid-afternoon, I was thinking, “What was I thinking?”
                I invited Mom and Steve to come to dinner. I chose to make a simple white wine and tarragon braised chicken. Apparently, not only did I leave all my cookbooks behind in Virginia, I also left my lifetime of accumulated experience, experience that would have guided me away from braised chicken with vivid memories of its rubbery texture, would have warned me off cooking with white wine bc the flavor is so unpleasant, so sour and tangy, so like white wine. And never mind the tarragon. In Virginia I knew to elide tarragon in any recipe. Here I embraced it like some 1962 House Beautiful-reading, Julia Child-imitating Stepford wife.
                The first thing I was missing was a wine bottle opener. Well, really the first thing I was missing were chicken thighs. None of those to be had, so I subbed in breasts and drumsticks. I burned the butter and browned the chicken in it anyway; I burned the shallots, but the recipe said they should begin to caramelize, so I flipped them over and burned the other side.
                Then it came time for the wine. No opener, not even a Swiss army knife. Nary a Leatherman to be found. Who lives here? Pentecostalists? Everything is in English. Mormons? Only one master bedroom.  
                After a few misbegotten attempts with a flat-nosed screw driver and a hammer, and then a Phillips head screw driver and hammer, I found my way with this tool. 

Not sure what it’s called, but it worked beautifully to hammer the cork into the bottle and then to hold the cork at bay as I poured the wine out. Mustard, tarragon, simmer til done, simmer til thick, simmer til rubbery, then simmer some more to reheat.
                I had decided to accompany the chicken with Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon. I’m not sure about the complementing flavors, but usually I love these. The rental house oven needs some calibrating, so in the time it took to walk Mom and Steve around the house looking for the cable box, the Brussels sprouts had been burnt to their carbon essence.
                I had bought a loaf of olive bread, so there was that.
                The finished chicken was gray. There was the assaultive white wine flavor. And then there was another off flavor, something with a vaguely chemical top note and a decidedly petroleum finish. I thought it could have been from the shreds of wine cork which were actually plastic—classier than screw top, but without the pretentions and impracticality of real cork. Then I wondered if I should have washed that mystery tool before I poked it into the wine, at least rinsed off the Rust-Oleum. When a green flatworm wriggled onto my fork, I realized it was the tarragon. It came back to me with the force of a fabricated repressed memory of devil worship and kitten sacrifice—I loathe tarragon.

                Mom repeated a variation on, “This chicken is delicious” at least ten times. After the second time, you know it is just pity praise. Not only was the chicken disgusting, it was so rubbery cutting it risked some terrible slapstick routine where the chicken goes flying into your mother just as your chair loses purchase and tips over backwards and only the dogs are happy until one of them chokes on a bone.
                When I said that I thought the Brussels sprouts were burned, she insisted that she likes them crispy. With a mother like that, a dismal dinner can transubstantiate into a tolerable meal, and you wake up the next morning telling yourself, “That wasn’t so bad,” and answering, “It could have been worse,” reminding yourself that the wine was good (mom brought it, with an opener) and reflecting that the napkins sure looked  peppy. 


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cow Pie Cobbler

Dear Marg,

The berries at the farmer's market were irresistible. My friend Jean had made a wonderful summer vegetable galette based on this recipe. It seemed like I could fuse the two together. At least it tasted good.

Love, Elise

Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer Weekend

Dear Margaret,

Do you remember who said that the two most perfect words in the English language are summer afternoon? I would add summer weekend as the second two most perfect words.

We spent the last one with Bob and Erin and Erin's parents at their place in the San Juans. It was the most perfect of summer weekends - work (we helped them paint), exercise (hike, bike and kayak), good food, several naps, some reading, and lots of sitting on the deck watching the ocean. I even went swimming in the 54 degree water in your honor.

It's salmon season here and the purse seiners were out fishing. Every evening they came into the bay in front of the house, lights on and the sounds of men's voices ringing through the dusk. The salmon buyer was there, recognizable by the bright red buoys on the side of his boat that allow the fishing boats to tie up to it. It was fun to think of the salmon making their way from right in front of the house to markets and restaurants all over the world.

The sounds are so interesting there. So different. The squawk of the great blue heron and the snorting FWOOF! of the seals are punctuated by an oyster catcher's ululating and an eagle's high pitched cry. It was fascinating to sit on the deck in the morning with the fog so thick you couldn't see a creature and just listen to them.

The cake is David Leibovitz' Raspberry Nectarine Upside Down Gingerbread Cake. The recipe really hit a chord for me. Since Amos' birthday is in June and gingerbread is his favorite cake we always have a bit of stand off. Here's how it goes.

Me: what kind of cake do you want for your birthday?
A: gingerbread
Me: long silence...
A: ... but whatever  you want to make will be fine...
Me: no, it's okay. I can make it. It's just so... unseasonal, that's all.
A: how about something else then? maybe with berries?
Me: no, it's fine. Long sigh.

I was intrigued that DL who I trust implicitly with all things dessert would pair summer fruit with a fall cake. I had to try it. And you know what? There will be a different conversation next June. The recipe is at the end of the post. Past all the photos.

 Nectarine-Raspberry Upside Down Gingerbread Cake
from Ready for Dessert, David Lebovitz‘s latest book

For the fruit topping:
4 tablespoons salted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup fresh, ripe raspberries (I used less because that's what I had)
3-4 medium-ripe nectarines, pitted and sliced

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup of mild molasses (I used Grandma's Old Fashioned)
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
1/4 cup milk (also room temp)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Place the butter in a 9 inch round cake pan and melt over low heat, then stir in the brown sugar. Remove from the burner and let cool while you prep the fruit.
3. Evenly distribute the raspberries over the brown sugar/butter mixture. Then, scatter the nectarine slices on top of the raspberries. DL suggests overlapping circles but that was too fussy for me. Set aside while you make the cake.
4. Whisk the dry ingredients together.
5. Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 3-5 minutes (until it is light and fluffy).
6. Beat in the molasses.
7. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
8. Mix in half of the dry ingredients, stir in the milk, then mix in the rest of the dry until just incorporated.
9. Pour the batter over the fruit, and even it out.
10. Bake the cake for about 50-55 minutes according to DL. When I tested it for doneness by inserting a wooden toothpick into the center it was still soupy inside. It ended up taking just over an hour for me.
11. If you make the cake ahead of time so you can take it with you to an island, carry it in the pan and then heat it up at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes or so. Invert onto a plate and photograph while your waiting friends curse you and your camera.

It is excellent with port.

Love, Elise

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Luang Prabang Fusion Salad

Dear Marg,

It's hot here. Very hot. By any standards, but by Seattle standards it's a melter. 94 degrees and not an air conditioner in sight. I made this salad a few months ago and loved it so this seemed like the perfect time to try it again.

I basically followed the recipe except for leaving out the chili pepper, and substituting Italian parsley for cilantro. You know how I feel about cilantro. Next time I am going to make it with turkey and add some mint leaves to the greens.

Luang Prabang Salad recipe

Give it a try next time the temperatures rise in your 'hood. I'm going to crawl into the refridgerator now for a nap.

Love, Elise

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chocolate Buttercream Ice Cream

It's the summer of ice cream, which doesn't really differentiate from any other summer.
My favorite ice cream ever was Chocolate Butterccream ice cream from Mad Martha's in Martha's Vineyard. I had it years ago; I've always wondered about recreating it. And I think I just did.
David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop has a recipe for Milk Chocolate Ice Cream. I substituted Vanilla for the Cognac and increased the salt to a generous 1/4 tsp. 

I used this chocolate.

Chocolate Buttercream Ice Cream Barely adapted from David Lebovitz.

8 oz. milk chocolate with at least 30% cocoa solids, finely chopped
1 1/2 C heavy cream
1 1/2 C whole milk
3/4 C sugar
generous 1/4 tsp salt
4 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla

       Put the chocolate and the cream together in the top of a double boiler over, not immersed in, simmering water and stir it just until the chocolate melts, then take it off the simmering water.
      Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a heavy pot and stir it until the sugar mostly dissolves. Whisk the egg yolks. Very carefully and slowly, I use a ladle, add about half of the milk to the egg yolks, whisking like crazy. Then pour the egg and milk mixture back into the rest of the milk, still whisking like crazy.
      Stir this with a heat proof spatula over low heat, or medium low if you are impatient, but then really watch it. It will thicken and coat the back of the spatula. If you over cook it, the custard will curdle, and then you probably have to start over. Unless it just curdles a little bit, like mine did, and then go on and make it anyway. The little bit of curdling didn't seem to adversely effect the finished product. Once it is thick enough, take it off the heat.
      Pour the custard through a strainer into the cream and chocolate mixture, add the vanilla and chill it, either in an ice bath or in the fridge. When it is well chilled freeze it in your ice cream maker.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fresh out of Beef Broth

There I was with the bone-in chuck roast defrosted and a freezer full of chicken broth.
Mom is always raving about John's pot roast and Harry's short-ribs and how each one claims the magic ingredient is Lipton Onion Soup Mix.
I started there and searched for pot roast recipes that didn't require beef broth. The most promising was a brisket recipe that wanted Ketchup, Heinz Chili Sauce, Lipton Onion Soup Mix and red wine.

You are probably wondering what the less promising ones wanted. I added some carrots and onions and left it all in the slow-cooker overnight.

It was delicious. The beef broth wasn't even missed.

Love, Margaret

Freezer is Bare Pot Roast

1 Bone-in Chuck Roast
1 C Red Wine
1 C Heinz Chili Sauce
1 C Heinz Ketchup
1 envelope Lipton Onion Soup Mix
2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped

Brown the roast well on all sides. Remove it from the pan and saute the onions and carrots together, until the onion is softened and golden.
Stir together the chili sauce, ketchup, wine and 1 C water.
Put the roast in the slow cooker, put the onions and carrots around it, sprinkle the soup mix over everything and then pour the sauce on. Shift the roast a little this way and that to allow the sauce to seep underneath it. Cook it on low for 10 hours.

Oh dear...

Maybe I shouldn't have believed the recipe when it said to use a spray instead of buttering the pans. Or maybe I should have taken them out of the pan while they were warm instead of going to bed right after they came out of the oven.
Fortunately, it doesn't taste very good either so there's no great loss.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tres Leches Cake in A Cup

I know you're in Paleo-land but I also know you love Tres Leches.I think this recipe could use some tinkering, or at least replacing the sauce with caramel, but dessert in a mug that only takes 10 minutes from beginning to end? That's my kind of dessert.


Love, Elise

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Hot, good and easy. I'm talking about soup.

                It’s winter in paleo land.  Soup meets three of the four criteria for winter dinner- good, hot, easy. The fourth criterion is all-done-even-the-dishes-by-6:30. This is so I can be a member in good standing of the HBN (horizontal by nine) club. I’m thinking of fomenting a schism in the ranks of HBN and creating a fundamentalist off shoot called HBE. At any rate, if the dish meets the first three, then the last one comes down to pilot performance.
                Slow cookers are wonderful for soup. Homemade stock is sine qua non.  A hand held blender can make your life so much easier and more pleasant. It removes that pour-the-scalding-liquid-into-a-narrow-mouthed-blender step and the dirty-two-pots-because-you-have-to-blend-in-two-batches step. Just remember our 11/3/11 cautionary tale and unplug the blender every time you turn it off or you might be adding in the trip-to-the-emergency-room step not to mention the come-home-to-a blood-spattered-kitchen-and-have-to clean-it up-before-bed step.
                One of my go-to soups this time of year, really any time of year except full summer, is Curried Sweet Potato Soup. It’s a three season soup. 


                Good—curried sweet potatoes, say no more.
                Easy—peel and slice the potatoes, cook them in broth and coconut milk, as some curry paste or powder and some grated ginger, blend when soft. Finish with salt and pepper.

                While this might sound pretty tame, it’s not. If you are still feeling underwhelmed, you can dress this soup up with a myriad of sides, garnishes, accompaniments and additions. Toasted sliced almonds, raisins, sautéed bananas, chopped crystallized ginger, chutney all go well on the side.   

You can add spinach or kale and double your superfoods. You can add some cooked ground turkey for a third superfood or shrimp sautéed in ginger and garlic if you have a little more time on your hands.
                His Lordship thinks it tastes like candy. 

Curried Sweet Potato Soup
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 cans coconut milk
6 cups chicken broth
2 TB grated fresh ginger or more to taste
1-4 TB curry powder or paste. This is vague because curry powders and pastes vary spectacularly and you have to know yours and add accordingly
                Put the first four ingredients in a pot and simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft. Stir in the curry. Blend until soft.
                Tart it up with toasted sliced almonds, raisins, sautéed bananas, chopped crystallized ginger, chutney. Health it up with some cooking greens and/or cooked ground meat.