Monday, November 29, 2010

In which Kate transforms a recipe without testing it first

The day after Thanksgiving, my friend Scott sent me a link to this recipe for a bourbon cranberry sauce. I read through the recipe, and thought I'd give it a try, but the more I read, the more I thought, "I can do a little better."  Their list of ingredients:

1 pound (about 4 cups) cranberries
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup bourbon

The amount of bourbon seemed about right, but a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon for a whole pound of cranberries? That didn't sound right to me. After some mental calculating, I came up with this:

My list of ingredients:
1 12 oz package of cranberries
1.25 cups sugar
generous half teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 Tablespoons bourbon

This is so easy to make, it's scary. If you're teaching a child to cook, this would be a great one.

Preheat the oven to 350F
Rinse the cranberries in cold water, put in a 9x9 baking dish
Stir in sugar and cinnamon until the berries are well coated
Cover the baking dish with foil, bake for approximately one hour
Stir in bourbon, let cool.  Serve warm or chilled (I like it warm)

While cranberries are still in the store, I'm considering trying a variation that uses Gran Mariner and lemon zest. Watch this space!

Questions? Comments? Death threats? Let's hear them!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An odd Thanksgiving Tradition

Last year, I got it in my head to start baking bread. I've made bagels before, so I wasn't completely inexperienced with yeast doughs. Still, it had been a while, so I thought I would start with a soda bread. I'm only a wee bit Irish (a great-grandmother I never met was half-Irish. Touch of English, too, which explains why I have a taste for good whisky and make tea when there's a crisis)

There are a lot of Irish soda breads out there. Which is like saying New York City has a couple Irish bars, but anyway. Some recipes add flavor with caraway, some with raisins, some with oatmeal. I came across one set of base ingredients I liked, then another recipe mentioned using herbs instead of caraway and raisins, and I thought the buttery flavors in the bread would go well with herbs, so I ended up with the following:

3 Cups all-purpose flour
1/4 Cup sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
4 T unsalted butter (half a stick)
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (I've made this with rosemary and thyme so far, the thyme wasn't as successful. This year I'm trying chives)
1 Cup buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

-Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well
-Add the butter and blend in until it disappears into the dry ingredients--if you can get it the size of large pebbles, you're in good shape
-Stir in the herbs and blend well
-in a separate small bowl, whisk the egg and buttermilk together
-add liquid to dry ingredients, folding in with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. If it still remains dry, add another tablespoon of buttermilk
-lightly flour a work surface and turn dough onto it.
-fold dough over itself a few times and shape it into a loaf. I've done both oval and round; either works fine
-cut a cross in the center (without fail, all the recipes I've read say this is to let the fairies out. Who am I to argue?)
-bake in center of the oven for fifteen minutes
-turn heat down to 350 F and back for another fifteen to twenty-five minutes, checking for doneness with a toothpick in the center. Crust should be deep golden brown and toothpick in the center should come out clean.
-cool on a rack for as long as you can stand it.
-serve with butter as desired.

This went over so well last Thanksgiving, that my uncle asked me to make it again. So maybe later in the holiday season I'll try something yeasty. When I lived in Salt Lake City a friend used to make Parker House rolls every Thanksgiving, and they were delicious. They also were the perfect size for a small turkey sandwich the following day.

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Beer cheese soup. Hold the chicken.

No, really, hold the freaking chicken.  I like poultry in a variety of presentations. Between marsala, cordon bleu and other variations, I think I've established that I have nothing against the bird and enjoy it frequently.

But there are some places where, in my less than humble opinion, it doesn't belong. In my clam sauce, for example, from a couple weeks ago. There was no reason to put chicken broth in a clam dish. I might add it to the sauce for my chicken cacciatore, but that dish is all about the chicken.

After cruising the web for a couple hours looking for the right beer cheese soup recipe to try, I almost threw in the proverbial towel. Over 90% of the recipes I found contained chicken broth. WHY? I was looking for a very specific flavor profile--beer, cheddar and a little bit of vegetables.

I was surprised to find a recipe for beer soup. Yes, beer soup. I would not lie to you. I may try it at a later date as an academic exercise, but don't look for it any time soon.

Also to my surprise, I ended up with one of Rachel Ray's recipes for this week's venture. I've never been fond of Rachel Ray. I can't handle that much perky. I am the anti-perky (you might have noticed I don't put up a lot of breakfast and brunch recipes). But I have checked out a few of her recipes and this one worked really well:

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped 
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • One 12-ounce bottle amber beer, such as Dos Equis
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • Croutons, for garnish
I liked this ingredient list a lot. It depends on the beer for flavor, by asking for an amber as opposed to a Light or a "lite." A little mustard? Why not, though a bit of horseradish might also be interesting. A lot of the recipes I looked at wanted celery, which I like, but I like leeks much better and might not have thought of that on my own.

  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the carrots and leeks, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until soft, 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
  2. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the beer and mustard and bring the soup to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking, until creamy and thickened, about 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the cheese 1 handful at a time until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with the croutons.
The instructions here are easy to follow. When you add the flour to the butter and vegetables it's going to clump up until you add the milk. Don't panic, it'll all thin out when you add the milk.

One important note: either made this ahead of the rest of your meal, make the rest of your meal ahead, or get some help in the kitchen. You really need to be whisking almost constantly. I served this with a salad and some turkey tenderloins and it made an excellent accompaniment. The leftovers were a main dish with a salad.

I think I might cut down to 1 large carrot and throw in a shallot instead. The suggestion to use gruyere instead also intrigues me. I'm saving that for a later dish.

Questions? Comments? Death threats? I'm all ears!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

another crumby recipe

I haven't deconstructed anything recently, unless you count the below as deconstructing my last bread crumb and herb mixture. I've been in a more creative mood in the kitchen, and have really enjoyed myself. If you have a recipe you'd like me to deconstruct, I'd love to hear from you.

This recipe is a crumb mix for chicken, though I suspect it would work on pork chops as well.

3/4 cup panko
1 heaping T of lemon peel
1 heaping t dried thyme
1 heaping t parsley
1 heaping t sage
a few grinds of black pepper to taste
1 t garlic salt

This one worked really well on about a pound and a half of chicken breasts (cooked covered with foil at 375 for about 40 minutes, flipping halfway through). I didn't even oil them beforehand and they came out nice and crunchy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. The herbs worked very well together, and the overall effect was light and tasty.

To add some earthiness to the meal, I caramelized some onions, mixed them with some mushrooms I sauteed in white wine and olive oil, and stirred them up with some quinoa. If you haven't tried quinoa, I recommend it. It's got a nice nutty flavor, but not so strong that it doesn't work with herbs and spices. I also served some peas. Overall, I was very pleased with the combination.

This doesn't mean I'm done with bread crumbs. Not by a long shot. Putting this together was a lot of fun, and I'm sure I'll be doing it again!

Questions? Comments? Death threats? Let me know!