Love in the Kitchen by Anne

cocina.con.amor.anne Last Friday I was excited to teach a cooking class -- "Cocina Con Amor" -- a Spanish-themed meal for February.  Yes, I wanted to take Valentine's Day into consideration, but really that kind of love was not the sole inspiration for the class.

The central ideas--and a huge driving force in my cooking--had to do with increasing joy in the kitchen and having that translate to even more delicious food for your beloved family, friends, & guests.  The techniques and tips focused around decreasing annoyances & avoiding feeling overwhelmed (as with a dinner party).  I talked about the mostly make-ahead dinner and gave a sample plan for the week before a dinner party, and I gave some concrete cooking and anti-annoyance prep tips.   The evening was so much fun, thanks to the lively and wonderful class participants!  I'll list the menu at the end of the post.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot lately about how to keep my mood joyful when preparing food.  I mean, moods happen.  What do you do when you're feeling tired, grumpy, sad, or distracted?   Here's what I've been doing lately:

  • Play favorite guilty-pleasure music.  This one is huge for me!  I have one CD that will make my tired and grumpy body start dancing, in spite of me.  I feel a little like a marionette, tugged upward against my will by guitar strings, but it spreads to my brain eventually. It shocks me how well this one works.
  • Think about some things I'm grateful for, especially the people who will be eating the food
  • Pay close attention to the thing I'm doing right then.  This most often occurs to me when I'm cutting things.  Thank goodness, right?  It's nice having my fingers.  It's also fun to listen closely to the rumbling bubbles of pots boiling.
  • Drink water.  This helps the tiredness, anyway.
  • Don't cook, after all (frozen pizza is our lazy last-minute standby)

What are your tricks?

Caramelized Onions & Idiazábal Cheese; Marcona Almonds; Castelvetrano Olives

Cocina Con Amor Menu

  • Tapas/Pintxos - idiazábal cheese skewers with caramelized pearl onions; marcona almonds; olives 
  • Salad - mixed greens with dried apricot, hazelnuts, and sherry vinaigrette
  • Main -cerdo al chilindrόn (saucy braised pork with serrano ham, tomatoes, and fresh & dried peppers)
  • Side -  fideo con azafrán y limones preservados (short capellini scented with saffron & preserved lemons)
  • Dessert - traditional spanish flan

Finally! Yogurt from "Scratch." by Anne

yogurtYes, for me, success comes in the shape of a white blob.  How many months ago did I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and think, "Wow, I really want to try to make cheese this week, or at least yogurt" ...?  Well, I lost count after a dozen months.  But now I reign victorious and have broken the mental roadblock of intimidation.  It's that dang thermometer again.    

Over the holidays, my father-in-law, who had recently given us a yogurt maker (essentially a plug in low-heat incubator), showed me in no uncertain terms how easy the task is.  You heat a quart of milk with 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk for added richness.  You cool the milk down to a certain temperature range.  You add 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek style yogurt).  Stir, incubate overnight. Refrigerate.  It's done.

I'm not giving specifics on heating and cooling because the details I saw online are different than the ones my father-in-law told me, so I need to experiment more before I go and toot that horn. 

The point is, you can make yogurt with a few ingredients and no official equipment (besides a thermometer).  I used the yogurt maker for a few jars of yogurt, but I also experimented with keeping a bowl of the mixture covered and on a heating pad and got equally good results.  It sounds like you can use other heat sources, such as a previously heated oven or even a crock pot.  

I like that I can control the thickness and acidity.  I also love that making yogurt costs about half as much to make it than to purchase it.  Next up: Cheese.  Yes.  This will happen.  It will happen before a dozen months from now.  I've used the thermometer, and I've made something from a culture...there's no turning back!

Fun With Salad by Anne

salad.pasta I read recently that your dinner plate is "supposed" to contain only 1/4 meat, 1/4 starchy stuff and then all the rest is vegetables.  Or something like that.  Maybe it was exactly one bite of meat followed by three pounds of vegetables.

At any rate, the ratio was interesting to consider, since many of the meals I make for my family are usually super meat-happy.  Michael has passionate carnivorous tendencies, and Rosalie is no stranger to the meats, either.  I am somehow less so.  Not to say that I'm a bunny--although I was a semi-vegetarian for a few years.  I'm definitely an omnivore with all the delights that go with it, but after awhile, I feel like I need a break from the meaty side of life.     Also, with all the food experimenting I like to do (especially lately with chocolate), it's easy to start feeling gross from all the richness. 

Salad is one of my favorite dishes.  It's a pretty broad category, so there's no shortage of possibilities there.  Especially when you do the weird thing that I've been doing lately with my salads.  Basically I make a dinner for Michael and Rosalie that would make them happy, then I mix a small serving of whatever is for dinner into a huge, crunchy, colorful salad. 

Here's the deal.   A vast expanse of plants on my plate can be fun for awhile, but it can become tedious, especially when the rich part of the meal (the enchilada, the baked potato, the pasta, the pizza) can just ruin the fun of salad by hanging out there being intense and delicious. I don't want salad to ever become a chore. 

So. If I'm going to eat the healthy salad and the alluring rich food all in the same meal anyway, why not make a salad with vegetables that are harmonious with the main dish, then dump that dish right on my salad?

For example: Pizza?  Cut it into cubes and you have pizza croutons.  How about chili? Just think "taco salad" and include veggies that work in that context, such as bell pepper, avocado, onion, crisp lettuce, and tomatoes.  All manner of meats thrive in a salad when cut up small enough, and the sauces just add some complexity to the vinaigrette. 

Tonight I transformed a bowl of soup into a salad by cutting up only chunky veggies rather than leafy ones, then pouring the soup over them (without most of the broth).  What broth there was broadened the flavor of the simple olive oil and vinegar.

At first I started doing this just because it was fun and it tasted good.  Now I'm considering it a challenge.  How many dinners or lunches can become salads?  When does it go too far?  Indian curries or Thai food?  I think not, especially if it's a heavily spinachy salad.  Seriously. Is there a single homestyle meal you can think of that absolutely would not work on top of a big old salad? I can't think of one yet.

Butternut Squash Arancini by Anne

arancini.closeup

Unbelievable! I wrote this post on the evening of November 24.  I was looking for this recipe on my site and couldn't find it...sure enough, there it was in "drafts" rather than "published."  Was it that late at night when I wrote this?  Anyway, here is the post:

Arancini (risotto fritters),  translates from Italian as "little oranges," since these little fried risotto balls do resemble oranges.  Arancini originated in Sicily and are usually filled with meat or tomato sauce, peas, or mozzarella. 

The Romans have a similar version of these croquettes, called Suppli al Telefono (which I believe translates to "telephone wires" or "on the phone"), which adorably refers to the strings of melted cheese that connect the two halves of the fritter when it is cut or bitten in half.   As the name indicates, Roman Suppli al Telefono are usually filled with cheese. 

These arancini are a non-traditional recipe, made with butternut squash risotto and stuffed with Pecorino Toscano, which is a creamy cheese.  I think a mild mozzarella would be fine as well.

Butternut Squash Arancini

Ingredients:

  • One recipe of risotto (butternut squash or other kinds work as well), cooled
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T milk
  • 4 oz Pecorino Toscano (NOT Pecorino Romano. Choose a creamy cheese.  Mozzarella is fine)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups dry bread crumbs
  • 3 cups vegetable oil for frying

Directions:

  1. Cube the cheese into 3/4 inch chunks.  In a small bowl, beat two eggs in with the milk.
  2. Stir the third egg into the cooled risotto.  Roll 2 tablespoons' worth of the risotto mixture in your hands, then with a finger, push a piece of cheese into the center of the ball.  Re-roll the ball around the cheese cube. 
  3. Roll the ball into the flour, coating it lightly.  Drop the ball into the  egg mixture, then roll it in the bread crumbs.  Lay the ball on a cookie sheet or a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Make the rest of the balls, which will give a chance for the first balls to dry out slightly before frying. 
  4. Slowly heat the oil in a medium, deep saucepan to 350˚.  The best temperature to do this is medium-low.  In small batches, fry the balls until they are evenly browned, turning them if necessary.  This will take several minutes.  Test the first ball to make sure you are happy with the interior--the cheese should be well-melted. 
  5. When a fritter is finished, lay it on paper towels to absorb the extra oil. 
  6. These arancini freeze well.  After frying them, lay them on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer.  After they are well-frozen, seal them in a freezer bag.  To re-heat, place fritters on a cookie sheet in a 350˚ oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  Alternatively, you can freeze them before frying them as well.

Did it! by Anne

the end Today marks the last day of NaBloWriMo, National Blog Writing Month.  I feel proud to say that I wrote 30 entries in a row (having learned about this only on November 2, I wrote two entries on the 2nd).  Somehow this doesn't sound like a big number as I write it, but it was definitely a bit of a brain marathon.

Though the challenge was merely to get out there and post each day, I did make an effort not to just dump out whatever was on my mind, like a fat purse, willy-nilly. I was thinking about you and other people who might stumble upon this site and wanted to offer some kind of entertainment, information, or food for thought.   

If you have been reading in the last month, I hope you have felt entertained, informed, or fed, at least once!  It's been a great challenge and learning experience, and if you keep a blog yourself, I hope you might consider doing it next year, too.  I'm going to do it again next November. 

I'd like to share another completely adorable tidbit from the book I mentioned last night, Food for the Hungry

This book has a chapter on "The Dinner Pail" (i.e., the lunchbox), and how to make lunches wonderful and exciting for your loved ones. Really, she's targeting "the stomach of a tired man whose appetite has been dulled by mechanical, in-door toil."  I wish I could share all of the fun and fanciful ideas she has for that lunchbox (is this woman a turn-of-the-century Martha Stewart, or did this stuff really happen???). 

However, I don't want to wear out my welcome in your brain, so here's just example of something fun from the chapter that  I actually plan to try, just to see how it turns out.  As you will see, it is right up any person's  alley whose subliminal desire it is to make truffles out of everything.

Deviled Eggs (Turn of the Century Style!)

Partially quoted and borrowed from Food for the Hungry

  1. Boil six eggs (hard).  Slice the eggs lengthwise and scoop out the yolks into a small bowl.  "Rub to a paste with a generous teaspoonful of butter.  Season with pepper, salt, and a suspicion of mustard."
  2. Mold the balls into spheres of their original size and fit the yolk back into a hollow half.  Line up the other half of the egg so that you have put the puzzle back together.  
  3. "Roll each egg up in tissue paper, as you would a (get this--) bon-bon, twisting the paper at the ends.  If you wish to make the entree ornamental (of course you do! Who wouldn't?), fringe the squares of paper before enveloping the eggs. 
  4. You can  also make the yolks "yet more savory" if you add giblets & gravy to the yolks to moisten the paste. 

Serves 6 dinner pails?

IMG_5191

Vintage Recipes by Anne

food for the hungry Sitting at the Thanksgiving table last Thursday, I exclaimed (as usual), "This is SO good, Mom!"  Who knows which dish I was talking about?  It was all delicious.  It might have been the yeast rolls at that moment.  She started talking about the trick to the dish, and I commented, "You should totally start a food blog, too!"

"No," she reminded.

"Oh yeah.  No," I agreed.  Too much measuring and exactitude for her. She doesn't like to be bothered with recipes except as launching pads for her own creations.   Only a very few of her trademark dishes have been documented in recipe form onto paper.  The rest of it all is measured by "until it's right."  Surely I learned the art of intuitive cooking from her.  Who knows where I also got this love of recipes?  Last summer I about drove her nuts trying to get the measurements for her fried fish batter.  This will likely be the last time I chase her around with a teaspoon and a notepad. 

Anyway, we started talking around the table about the "olden days" of cooking, a time before any one of us at the table was born, when measuring utensils were incidental if even present, and any written communication included such abstractions as "some," "a few," "enough,"  and "more."  This is how cooking began, not with carefully calculated ratios and measurements.

I told my family that this reminded me of Serve it Forth, the first book by MFK Fisher, who is a hugely influential, idiosyncratic, and brilliant culinary writer.  In this witty journey of culinary history, written  in 1939, she presents cooking practices and recipes dating back to ancient times, along with her droll and wonderful commentary. 

She quotes a recipe from The Harleian, a medieval cookbook, in which you are to "Take clean fresh brawn...and seethe it, but not enough."  On this, MFK Fisher comments, "No step-by-step procedure for young brides here!  It is rather the terse understatement of one expert to another."   Later in this old cookbook, the reader is to "...take salt and vinegar, and cast thereto, and look that it be poignant enough, and serve forth."  I'm guessing this is where the title of her book came from (If you are interested in culinary history, I hope you will read this book! I have not done it justice here).

So, back to the Thanksgiving dining room table.  I mentioned this book as the mashed potato coma started to hit.   I probably said something detailed like, "MFK Fisher's book talks about how they didn't measure food in recipes a long time ago!"  I also tried to briefly describe Fisher's 1942 book, How to Cook a Wolf, as a cookbook for eating with dignity while keeping the "wolf at the door" during those lean times of war shortages.

Mom got the picture.  Later that day she presented me with an old book, the one pictured above, called Food for the Hungry - A Complete Manual of Household Duties --compiled by Julia MacNair Wright, et al, and published in 1896.  Mom had this book left over from her antique dealing days. 

I was elated!  Greedily, I opened the book near the middle.  The first word I saw was "Oranges."    This was to be the first course served on a breakfast menu.  Here's what Julia et al had to say:

"As a preparatory course to the heavier business of breakfast, ripe, fresh oranges are held in high esteem.  They are served whole, and eaten as individual taste dictates, either pared, then divided into lobes, which are eaten with or without sugar, or cut in half, without paring, and scooped from the shells with a spoon.  Finger bowls and doilies are set on with them, and every vestige of this course is removed before the next is brought in."

At this point I called Mom over to check this out.  "Doilies and finger bowls???" We started to laugh.   "This is probably intended for people who could afford servants at that time," Mom observed.  After all, who has "brought in" the next course?  So, the title Food for the Hungry doesn't exactly parallel How to Cook a Wolf, does it?  This was a clearly a different kind of hungry. 

I'll bet you want to know what the whole menu of that breakfast was.  I know I did.  Here it is:

No. 32.  Breakfast.

Oranges. 

Pork Chops, with Tomato Sauce.

Crumb Griddle Cakes.  Maple Syrup.

Toast.   Brown Bread. 

Meringued Cafe au lait.  Tea.

I'm just curious: are you getting the same nostalgic longing that I have when I read this?  Who would have eaten this meal?  What was it like to have servants, when it apparently was a more common, no-big-deal thing?  What was it like for the servants?  Who actually did the cooking?  How precious were oranges then?  How about maple syrup?  What is the deal with serving both toast and brown bread?  May I have a meringued cafe au lait, please? 

I am seriously tempted to serve pork chops with tomato sauce for breakfast one morning and see what that's like.    To follow the recipe in this book, all I'm lacking is a "potato beetle" to pound the chops flat. 

 

Thank You, Chickens by Anne

rooster

Michael and I love chickens.  We own The History of the Chicken on DVD, we took a class on chickens, and we dressed Rosalie up like a baby chick for Halloween 2008.  They are so adorable, so alert, so interesting!  

Anyway, I probably am genetically predisposed to love chickens; my mom is passionate about keeping chickens and has done so for more years than I can accurately count. This picture of the rooster above is one of "The Three Stooges," some banties that Mom and Stan raised from eggs this year.  They do not produce the bulk of the eggs in the household, but they sure are friendly and cute.  They roam around the property and stick together like a little club, the three of them.

We plan on having chickens here in the city, too.  Anytime now.  The class Michael and I took was about keeping chickens in the city, and we know what we need to know.  Our neighbors up the street also have a few, so we have neighborly and parental support.  But we keep not having chickens.  Why?  You know, because blah, blah, blah, blah.  It will happen.  We have joked before that we were waiting for Rosalie to help care for them, but that excuse is out the window.  She was just feeding the chickens this morning before we left the farm to come back home. 

So.  Why have chickens, besides their companionship and occasional entertainment?  You know the word: eggs.  Oh, there is a difference.  Check it out:

eggs

Hmm.  Guess which egg came from a happy, free, well-loved chicken?  Which one came from a "cage free" egg carton at the store?  If you guessed that the egg on the left, with the robust, vibrant, perky yolk came from Mom and Stan's place, then you're adept at picking up my subtle hints. 

Below is another compare/contrast that I took last spring with the same thought in mind.   I imagine you can tell which is which.

eggs boiled

 

Our neighbors insist that caring for chickens is virtually effortless once things are set up.  My mom would agree, too, although she keeps more chickens, so it may require a bit more effort at her place.  

If you are interested in keeping chickens in your backyard and you happen to live in Seattle, then I recommend taking a class for taking care of chickens at Seattle Tilth.  The guy that taught our class was so great--he had a degree in chicken husbandry, I believe, and he talked about the natural history of the chicken before launching into the nuts and bolts of their care.  By the way, did you know that chickens' ancestors lived in the jungle? 

If having chickens in your backyard or jungle is not an option, or if your parents don't have a few chickens handy of their own, there is still hope to eat fresh and beautiful eggs.  Go to the farmer's market in your area and look for the stalls where they sell eggs.  Identify the stall that always has the longest line as your first clue; then come back extra early another day and get eggs from that stall.   Hope you have a great brunch!

Tired Turkey Sandwich? by Anne

cranberry relish spoonRaw cranberry relish.  I didn't even know this was possible.  For me, raw cranberries have had the taboo quality of all those other shiny,  forbidden berries I was tempted to eat off the shrubbery when I was 5 years old.  Really?  You're allowed to eat these raw? When Rosalie's teacher was telling me about it the other day, though, she explained that her favorite cranberry sauce is raw cranberry relish, especially on her turkey sandwiches.  Well, this thought stuck with me, and by the time I was ready to give it a whirl today I had already forgotten the ingredients that she had mentioned.  

Fortunately, there are many intriguing-looking raw recipes out there.  I borrowed a simple one from simplyrecipes.com.  I almost didn't get a chance to taste it on a sandwich, because I kept eating it straight from a bowl with a spoon.  It's delicious. 

I'm anxious to try other versions, too, though.  From what I've seen, there are many exciting directions you can go with this raw relish.  I have seen recipes that include ingredients like horseradish, sour cream, dates, lemon, sweet onion...so many possibilities!  By the way, those ingredients were not all in the same recipe.  Don't worry.  Anyway, try this raw relish if you'd like a little zest in your leftover sandwiches this week.

Now I have the opposite problem than the usual one at this time: I need more turkey to work with!

Raw Cranberry Relish

Adapted from Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and picked through
  • 2 tart apples, such as Grannysmith, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 seedless orange, chopped into large chunks--with the skin still on
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, or to taste.

Directions:

  1. Place the cranberries, apples, and orange chunks into a food processor.  Pulse for as few times as possible--you want to avoid a mush--perhaps around 8 - 10 very brief times.  
  2. Pour the processed food into a bowl and pour over the sugar, stirring until incorporated. 
  3. Let the mixture stand for at least a half an hour to let the fruit macerate in the sugar.

Makes about 3 cups

cranberry relish I ingredients

What's a Vegetable? by Anne

spinach I

spinach I

Happy Thanksgiving!  Did you have pumpkin debates at your house, too?  Ours hit us by surprise.  World Championship Punkin Chunkin' was on TV, and after a particularly good launch, some dude on the show commented, "Not bad for a vegetable." 

"Except that a pumpkin's a fruit," I commented, probably smugly.

Mom protested with equal authority, "Except that it's a vegetable." 

"Pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers, watermelon.  All fruits," I insisted.  "They blossom, they have seeds on the inside.  Fruits!  Oh yeah, by the way, did you know that strawberries aren't really fruits? Their seeds are on the outside.  They're in the rose family." 

Now Mom's eyes narrowed suspiciously, a look I recognize from the bluffs we try to pull on each other during Scrabble games, trying to sell fictional words with made-up definitions.  She informed me,  "The only reason I'm not checking this out right now is because I decided I wouldn't use my computer on Thanksgiving..."   I was already opening up my laptop bag and getting online. 

Sure enough, I was right.  So was Mom. The ideal argument conclusion for a day of thanks.

Each time I've ever learned about another "vegetable" actually being a fruit--tomato, capsicum, eggplant, squash--I've gotten a mini thrill.  On a botanical level, they are considered fruits (and yes, the strawberry is botanically a "false fruit"). Knowing this feels like being in on a botany secret. 

However, as I picked up these nuggets of info, it didn't occur to me that there's not an equivalent "vegetable" botanical category as with various fruits. Scientists do use the word vegetable to refer to plants, such as "vegetable matter."   However, fruits and vegetables are not mutually exclusive.  So much for that mental game of Red Rover in which we sort out who's who: "Oh, goody, spinach still gets to be on my side!  The veggies are ahead!  Oh well, you get beans."  

The word "vegetable" is a culinary or cultural term.  Any edible plant or edible part of a plant can be considered a vegetable: leaves, roots, stems, flower buds, bulbs, and even fruits.   And, of course, since the term is culinary and cultural, that means people can come together to decide whether something's a vegetable or not.  For example, in 1893 the US Supreme Court ruled the botanical fruit, tomato, to be a vegetable for taxation purposes.  Cultural vegetable, botanical fruit.   

 Well, now that that's settled, I have to say: Punkin Chunkin'???  A World Championship for it?  This is the first day I've heard of it.  It's a whole different area of food-related science I've been missing out on: physics.

Information Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetable

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/624564/vegetable#

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squash_(plant)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_culinary_vegetables

Spiced Swedish Meatballs by Anne

swedish meatballs I love this meatball recipe because it's a delicious wintertime comfort food.

I love this meatball recipe because of how simple it is to make.

I love this meatball recipe because people have literally demanded to know how the meatballs can be so impossibly tender.

I love this meatball recipe because the majority of the cooking time is hands-off: no skillet browning!

Most of all, I love this meatball recipe because it was the first dish that Michael cooked for me--on Valentine's Day, no less.    It was an auspicious and delicious beginning.  I think it's a good dish to make for someone you love.  It definitely gets the message across.*

*And if your loved one is a vegetarian, I believe heartily that these meatballs would taste great with TVP (texturized vegetable protein) instead of the meat.  You might want to make them a bit spicier if you do this, perhaps use a bit of cayenne.  Also, for those who are allergic to dairy, this recipe also tastes great with soy milk and soy sour cream. 

Spiced Swedish Meatballs

These meatballs make delicious hearty appetizers or can be served as a luscious, saucy topping over egg noodles.

Ingredients for Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 T dried parsley
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce  

Ingredients for Sauce 

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1 T freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 3/4 cup sour cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.   
  2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, chopped onion, bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper, incorporating the ingredients with your hands.
  3. In a small bowl beat the egg, milk, and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients into the large bowl and mix again for a consistent texture. 
  5. To make the meatballs, scoop out about a tablespoon’s worth of the mixture and shape into a ball.   Place in the baking dish, covering the dish in a single layer.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Shake the pan one or two times during the course of baking to allow the meatballs to brown on different sides. 

When the meatballs are almost finished baking, make the sauce:

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the oil, flour, paprika, allspice, salt, and pepper.  Continue to whisk until the mixture begins to sizzle. Gradually stir in the hot water while whisking. Reduce heat to low and then add the sour cream, still whisking until completely smooth.    Stir in hot water and sour cream until smooth and heated through.  
  2. When meatballs have cooked 30 minutes, pour the sauce over the top, and gently stir the sauce into the pan drippings, making sure to coat the meatballs completely. Return to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes. 
  3. Before serving, stir the sauce well until it is smooth.

Makes about 40 meatballs

Butternut Squash Risotto by Anne

Squash, Saffron Threads, & Arborio Rice

 

This recipe is a vegetarian modification of The Barefoot Contessa's Butternut Squash Risotto recipe.  If you wish to revel in your omnivorousness, use chicken stock and also add a bit of pancetta or bacon to sauté with the shallots.  I'm sharing this recipe as step 1 to making butternut squash arancini (risotto fritters), but the risotto is delicious as its own dish.  I'll add the fritter-y step tomorrow. 

This dish would taste lovely in a dinner that includes a light spinach salad, braised leeks, grilled shrimp, and/or many kinds of pork dishes.  Also, if you like sage, it would taste delicious in this risotto or in an accompanying dish as well. 

Butternut Squash Risotto

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups of peeled, seeded, and cubed (3/4 inch) butternut squash
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • 6 to 8 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade (chicken stock is also good)
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter  
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • ½ tsp marjoram, crushed with your fingers or a mortar and pestle.
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss squash on a cookie sheet with the olive oil and 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Do not let the squash dry out.  Set aside.
  3. Heat the stock on the back burner over low heat.  Keep warm during the risotto cooking process.
  4. Put 1 tsp. salt and the saffron threads into a mortar and pestle or a small bowl with a spoon.  Crush the saffron into the salt until the threads have been finely broken up.
  5.  Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed pot. Sauté the shallots just until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the rice, stirring to incorporate the grains with the butter and shallots. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of stock to the rice, plus the saffron and salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, which should take about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes.
  6. Continue to add the stock, 2 cups at a time, continuing to stir periodically. With each addition, cook until the mixture has lost its liquid, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. You may not use all of the stock. Stir in the margoram and remove pot from heat.  Stir in the squash cubes, and with the bottom of a flat glass or cup, mash some of the squash into the risotto a few times.  Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Gorgeous Glut of Cupcakes by Anne

cupcakes

My friend Ammi loves baking so much that she has often celebrated her own birthday by baking herself a cake.  The whole experience makes her happy, from finding a recipe to try, to taking the first bite with friends.  It's inspired me for several years and has caused me to want to bake cakes, too. 

Since Ammi had a baby, though, baking cakes has taken the back burner--or bottom shelf-- for now.  Instead she chose to celebrate by inviting us to indulge with her in obscenely delicious cupcakes from Trophy Cupcakes.  I could be wrong about this, but only a few years ago it wouldn't have been possible to find an individual cupcake this good.  Nowadays, however, it seems like Seattle cupcake spots are as ubiquitous as coffee shops.  No, that's crazy talk.  But seriously, where did all of these places come from?  How are they staying open?  

I remember hearing around town that gourmet cupcakes were The Thing, and feeling charmed by it.  How long ago was that?  Five years?   I think the trend started with a Sex and the City episode, but wow.  Obviously people were ready for it.  Between those and fine donuts, it's as if our poor little rich country was starving for sweetness and comfort, in small, hand-held servings.  Soon after this Atkins-backlashing phenomenon, there even seemed to be an influx of gourmet carb coma products that weren't even edible, such as buttercream lipgloss. 

I loved the notion of cupcakes.  They are adorable, sweet, like your cute little buddy.  A tiny island of luxury.  So when I first went to pick up a gourmet cupcake at a shop dedicated to these confections several years ago, I was surprised to taste a dry, crumbly cake with a too-sweet frosting that was also a bit dry and crumbly.  I returned to that spot some time later and ordered another cupcake, selecting one that was recently frosted.  Then, at least, there was a chance that the frosting would be soft and creamy.  That worked.  Those two experiences cured my curiosity for awhile, but when I would sit at that shop for the free wi-fi, sometimes I was tired of coffee and obliged to pick up another cupcake to buy my time at the table.  Obligatory cupcake-eating. It was fine, but far from transcendant.  For several years, my feeling was, "Yeah, yeah, cupcakes." I'd try a new, seasonal flavor, but I'd never write home about it.

Fast forwarding to the last year or so, it seems that a new, robust competition has arisen among cupcakeries in the Seattle area.  Nobody has said this, but I sort of get the sense that the place I first tasted a "gourmet" cupcake has become more of a ghetto cupcake place compared to some recent specimens I've sampled. 

Trophy Cupcakes and Wink Cupcakes in particular are both phenomenally dreamy.  These companies seem to make a concerted effort to ensure that their cakes are delicate, moist, and loaded with intense flavor.  The frostings are also not overlooked.  When I first saw the tall layers of frostings on these cupcakes, my stomach turned as I imagined a sickly sweet, yet flavorless goop that was colored with dye to match the cake. However, the frosting is just as thoughtfully prepared-- created to enhance and complement the cake. 

For example, tonight, my lucky husband's "Chocolate Graham Cracker" cupcake was topped with a ridiculously smooth and velvety marshmallow cream, piped on in a textured tower and then toasted with a torch to accentuate this texture in swirling, golden-brown stripes.  That is correct: Michael was eating the most elegant yet playful S'more you ever saw (it's partially pictured on the far right in the pic above).  Also, I was relieved that Rosalie was not interested in the cupcake that I ordered for her, because that lemon cupcake tasted so vibrant next to its coconut frosting, topped with a toasted puff of shredded coconut.

Only now am I starting to respect the cupcake phenomenon.  I mean, if these are supposed to be gourmet cupcakes, I am glad that there are places worthy of the cupcake connoisseurs out there.  And I'm glad that my friend had a chance to enjoy the cake experience that she loves so much, even with her cute little cupcake of a daughter hindering her own birthday baking this year. 

wink.cupcakes

Great Salt Debates by Anne

salts How does salt enhance flavor?  I have read different explanations and don’t know which one is the most accurate a reason—or if they all play a part.  One interesting fact I have read recently in a book called The Inquisitive Cook is that salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), stimulates your taste receptors, since those nerves endings are stimulated by NaCl.  Therefore, salt actually makes your tongue more sensitive, rather than making the food itself actually taste more like itself.  Isn’t that fascinating?  Personally, I’m rooting for that explanation, because it blows my mind to think that salt isn’t necessarily enhancing flavor, it’s enhancing your tongue’s ability to taste the flavor. 

I also have heard that NaCl, when it comes in contact with food, upsets the food’s molecular structures, drawing moisture out of the molecules and releasing the flavors, making them more easily accessible to the tongue to taste.  Actually, this is also a cool idea to think about.  And it does tie in with salt’s known function of removing liquid from foods.

I also wonder about the intensity each salt crystal itself.  Some people say with great confidence that certain salts are more “mellow tasting” than others.  Others—with equal conviction—insist that all salt tastes intrinsically equally strong—it’s just that salt with bigger crystals doesn’t have as much surface in contact with the tongue, so there’s less of the salt to taste, even if it is the same amount.  Again, I have no idea who is correct.  Most of this “information” about salt flavors was collected from salt-lovers at parties, the grocery store, and restaurants.  I am not a chemist, but wouldn’t NaCl always be NaCl?  In other words, are there more and less potent versions of it?

We just bought a new container of coarse sea salt (the third one in the picture), which once again got me thinking about this last debate.   I already know that I love coarse sea salt on food, but it seemed like it would be fun to conduct another one-person tasting.  Today I just wanted to experience the difference in salt crystal size—I will probably move on to other comparisons.  Nowadays there’s a whole myriad of salts to choose from.  It seems like a tasting of that scope should involve more people.  Want to come to a salt tasting? 

Today was more of an idle desire to taste, back-to-back, the contrasting experiences of eating food with  small crystals and large. I made two small bowls of tabbouleh salad, one with fine sea salt, the other with coarse sea salt.  I stirred both in well.  Unsurprisingly, the small salt tasted uniformly salty and pleasant, while the big salt overall did taste “mellower,” but with the occasional crunchy thrill of a large salt crystal.  Those little crunches did not taste overwhelmingly salty, though, and the texture was so satisfying to my teeth, especially in a dish like tabbouleh salad, in which texture is one of its distinctive pleasures.   

Tonight’s conclusion?  Use coarse sea salt with your tabbouleh.  Also, please pass the salt.  There’s more to think (and taste) about.

Late-Night Tartar Sauce Non Sequiturs by Anne

tartar sauceLots of people do something in Seattle that I had never seen before in Texas or Oklahoma.  They order tartar sauce with their fries.  If you were born and raised in Washington, you might be thinking, "People everywhere don't put tartar sauce on their fries?" and if you have lived and traveled mostly around Southwest, you might be saying, "They do WHAT, now?"  Obviously regional cuisine exists in our big old melting pot.  But I think of fast food chains as being somewhat universal: Fries plus ketchup.  The occasional wild moment: mustard mixed with ketchup.  Ranch dressing.  Now that I think of it, have I ever seen a Seattleite opt for ranch dressing with fries? Anyway, it makes elegant sense that this area of the country would use tartar sauce (people just say "tartar" around here) as one of the most common condiments.  Seattle's a port, after all.  A local burger chain, Dick's, has their own tartar-type sauce that automatically goes onto all their "Dick's Special" and "Dick's Deluxe" burgers.  It's wild, man.  As in, wildly delicious.  They sell the stuff in tiny tubs as a dip for their fabulously greasy fries.

This morning I accidentally bought two jars of tartar sauce--both recipes from local fast food fish 'n' chips places around this area.  Rather than return one of the jars, I thought it would be fun to have a one-person tasting.  This is how I like to spend my Friday nights. 

The basic ingredient lists on these jars are similar, except that while one has dehydrated milk powder, the other one contains MSG and onions.  And then there's the enigmatic ingredient, "spices," that sets the two apart.  I approached the two sauces with an open mind and was astonished by their distinctly different qualities.  One -- the Skipper's brand, tasted almost like it contained horseradish, which would be a brilliant move, actually.  Was that part of "spices?"  This Skipper's tartar was smoother, also.  It made me imagine that you could eat that tartar with prime rib.  Mostly kidding.  Who in the heck would drop some cash on a nice prime rib and then enjoy it with fast-food tartar sauce? 

The Ivar's sauce was chunkier with relish (actually, they call it "cured cucumbers."  Really? You mean, pickles?), and it tasted heartier, somehow.  It was the one with the onions and the MSG.  It was definitely less sweet, too.   "Sugar" was far lower on the ingredient list.  This sauce belongs nowhere near a prime rib, but it would be right at home on a burger. 

I just now started thinking about the history of Tartar sauce, which led me down the Internet rabbit hole.  I just surfaced with a few tidbits--naturally, its origins are ancient, as far back as Rome.  Seafood was not the only thing that a sauce like this would top.  Many meats were dressed with sauces that included mayonnaise-type emulsions.   

If you feel like serving tartar sauce with a dish but wish to sound more fancy, you could also call it sauce rémoulade, a French sauce that is very similar.  Actually, I dare you to do that: Buy a jar of tartar sauce from the grocery store and serve your meal with "rémoulade." Ha! That would be hilarious.  In Denmark, they sell frites and remoulade at takeaway places.  Doesn't that sound so much more fabulous and worldly than fries and tartar? 

Well, I've left this blog post slightly more knowledgeable than when I started.  If you are still reading this (and hoping for me that I get some sleep rather than continuing to ramble on about condiments), I hope you also leave this post knowing something new, too.

I would never be writing this blog post if it weren't for NaBloWriMo.  Hm. Thank you...?

Your Leftovers Will Thank You by Anne

 romesco sauce finishedI spread "Toasted Hazelnut Romesco Sauce" on crostini with the Gambas al Ajillo, as I mentioned the other day.  Tonight we used some of the leftover sauce in a bizarre yet delicious combination of...should I tell you this?  Leftover linguine, roasted chicken, and a combo of frozen corn and canned creamed corn.  Well, that doesn't actually sound all that weird.  But I don't think I've ever had pasta mixed in with creamed corn before.  Somehow the romesco made it work as a bridge ingredient.  I was really getting into eating this sauce with the pasta and the creamy corn, along with a crunchy slice of bread.  Think about it.  There are chile peppers in romesco sauce, which taste great with corn in a very American (as in the southern part of the continent, not just the USA) way.   The pasta had an affinity with all ingredients of the sauce as well. 

Anyway, the point is, this romesco sauce does not have to be hoity-toity just because it is Catalan and cool.  Actually, it does an incredible job of making boring leftovers more robust and alive.  Yes, The New Spanish Table recommends pairing the sauce with hip ingredients like fennel sticks, endive leaves, or poached asparagus, but imagine this tangy, deep and smoky sauce on a baked potato or french fries! 

To keep proving this point I just went over to my empty-ish fridge to see what other things might taste good with the last of this sauce, and I stumbled on a package of bacon.  Oh, baby.  A BLT with romesco!?!?!?  I totally know what we are having for dinner tomorrow.

Toasted Hazelnut Romesco Sauce

From The New Spanish Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 1 dried medium sized ancho chile, stemmed, seeded, and cut or torn into small pieces
  • 2/3 cups hazelnuts
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 ½ T toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 small plum tomato, chopped
  • 1 T sweet (not smoked) paprika, preferably Spanish
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne, or more to taste
  • 6 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T red wine vinegar, or more to taste
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea)

Directions:

  1. Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water over the pieces of chile in a heatproof boal.  Cover and steep for at least half an hour. 
  2. Meanwhile, toast and skin the hazelnuts:  Place the nuts on a cookie sheet in a 350˚ oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the skins look blistered.  Be careful not to let them burn.  Remove the cookie sheet and pour the hazelnuts into a clean dishtowel.  Wrap the towel around the them and let them sit for 15 minutes.  While dishtowel is still closed, squeeze and twist the towel to grind the hazelnuts' surfaces against each other to help scrape the skins off.  Open the towel and with your fingertips, pull off and scrape as much skin off as possible.  It's not necessary to remove all of the skins.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until they are a semi-fine texture.  Add the peppers, 1/3 cup of the soaking liquid, garlic cloves, bread crumbs, tomato, paprika, and cayenne and process until mostly smooth, with a slight texture from the hazelnuts.  Scrape the sides of the food processor bowl.
  4. In a thin stream, slowly add all of the olive oil with the processor running. 
  5. Scrape sauce into a bowl, and stir in the vinegar.  Add salt to taste.
  6. Cover, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.  May be made ahead up to a week.  Before serving, check the sauce's flavor to see if more salt, vinegar, or cayenne should be added to finish.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Fun with Tempered Chocolate by Anne

chocolate lego Safety advisory: Lego and train not edible.

The post below is a continuation from the post a couple of months ago about the "shiny science of chocolate."  

When dipping truffles, you can easily tell if your chocoloate is in temper or not by how quickly it sets.  In this picture below, the truffle on the left was dipped in chocolate that was simply melted to 108˚ rather than tempered.  It is still wet, even though it was dipped quite a bit earlier than the truffle on the right, which was dipped in (almost!) tempered chocolate.  Notice, however, that there are a few faint streaks in the truffle on the right.  This is because I jumped the gun on the dipping, and the chocolate wasn't completely in temper yet.  Not enough cocoa butter crystals had formed to be completely stable and consistent yet--I believe this is why you can see those very faint swirls.

compare.tempered

 

Thanks to the new and fabuloso tempering machine, the chocolate did reach perfect temper a few minutes later, and I managed to make some streak-free chocolates. 

However!  There are so many other tiny details that affect the outcome of a truffle.  For example, even when in temper, chocolate can vary in viscosity with each 10th of a degree.  This affects how thick of a crunchy coat the truffle will have.  It's something to think about:  Do you want an eggshell-thin coating around your soft ganache, or something more substantial? This subtle variation  is just one factor to consider.  Others include the texture of the surface--smooth, or swirly ridges?  Perfectly smooth looks elegant, although there is no room for error.  If you choose imperfect ridges, you get some textural interest, plus it's a bit more forgiving.   Also, the sheen can be affected by how you dip the truffle.  If you use a dipping tool, you have the option to make your chocolate very shiny because nothing comes into contact with the surface.  However, it takes longer to use a tool than your fingers. If you do use only your hands, then contact with your fingers gives the chocolate a pearly matte glow, which also looks very pretty, and you can dip much more quickly this way. 

Yep, I'm probably going to try the infinite variations.   If I run out of truffles to practice with, I may move on to rubber duckies.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes by Anne

Mashed Potatoes Photo by Quinn Dombrowski (thank you!) Well, here come those holidays.  For many turkey or tofurky consumers, this means mashed potatoes are coming, too.  I have several favorite mashed potato recipes, but there's one in particular that is a splendid, fluffy, make-ahead recipe, which is perfect if you are either joining a Thanksgiving/holiday potluck or are hosting and needing to juggle many dishes in one day. 

I love this recipe because the potatoes are incredibly light, fluffy, and creamy.  You can make it ahead and then bake it right before you are ready to serve it.  After eating and adoring this recipe that my stepmom made several times, I finally had to demand to know the secret behind the gorgeous light texture and the tangy richness.  

Once I learned the ingredients, I was surprised.  Perhaps you will see the ingredients and think it doesn't even sound that good.  However, trust me.  This is an incredible bowl of mashed potatoes--a perfect foil for some rich gravy and stuffing.

Baked Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of peeled, boiled and very well-mashed potatoes
  • one 8 oz. package cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T flour
  • 1/2 cup finely minced onion
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients together in a medium-large bowl until it is completely creamy.  Spoon into a baking dish, and either put dish into a 350˚ oven immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. 
  2. Bake uncovered for about an hour or until lightly browned and puffy.  If the potatoes are browning too quickly, you can add a cover until the potatoes are finished baking.  You don't want the potatoes to be too dry.

Makes about 8 servings

Gambas al Ajillo by Anne

gambas and romesco crostini Yesterday I talked about food that changes your mind.   I'm still thinking about that.  Here's a recipe that changed Michael's mind about shrimp.   Shrimp was definitely on his "no thanks" list until one evening a few years ago, in Spain.

We first tasted this dish, gambas al ajillo (shrimp with sizzling garlic), in a Madrid bar, where this was the only food they served.  We had just made friends with some fellow travelers, and they were excited to try this.  Michael, being polite, went along with this idea, although I know he wouldn't have opted to go here if it were just the two of us.   We shared a cazuelita (a small, shallow earthenware dish which you can use cook over a low flame) full of gambas, still sizzling in the dish with the garlic  and chiles, immersed in pungent olive oil.  It was much too small, and we were much too in love with this dish.  Our new friends were traveling on a tighter budget than we were, so for some strange polite reason we didn't go back and get more, but instead continued on with our tapas hopping.  I still regret this.  This serving of shrimp changed Michael's mind about shrimp forever, and it made me love it even more deeply.  We both look upon those 15 minutes in that bar with fondness and longing. 

Fortunately, I have a book called The New Spanish Table, and it has many recipes that aptly recreate some flavor celebrations we experienced in Spain.   Thank goodness for this book.  This preparation seemed so simple when we saw it in action, but it was helpful to have the book reassure me just how simple it truly is.  Granted, I did buy a cazuela (a large version of the cazuelita we had at that Madrid bar) solely to make this shrimp, but it's really not necessary.  A heavy pan or skillet will work fine as well.

Gambas al Ajillo

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp, adapted from The New Spanish Table

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound shrimp
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small chile, such as arbol, crumbled--or 1/2 tsp dried chile flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 T minced flatleaf parsley

Directions:

  1. Pat the shrimp dry, and salt generously. 
  2. In a cazuela or heavy sauté pan, slowly warm the oil until it is shimmery and aromatic.  Add the garlic and chile.  After it begins to sizzle gently, cook for about two minutes. 
  3. Add shrimp and cook just until pink, about three minutes.
  4. At the last moment, add the flatleaf parsley.
  5. Serve in the pan at the table with lots of bread for dipping into the oil.  If serving as a crostini, spread Romesco sauce* onto the bread and place shrimp onto the sauce, as shown in the picture above.

Serves 4 as a heavy tapa.

*Romesco sauce recipe to come.

Apple Inspiration by Anne

honeycrisp apples The other day I offered an apple slice to my friend, Heather.  She doesn't care for apples, but I had forgotten this fact.  She politely took it from me, then exclaimed in a surprised voice, "This is delicious!  What kind of apple is this?!"  It was a Honeycrisp. 

This apple is indeed crisp--in an incredibly light and sweet way.  It's an ethereal, angelic apple.  Heather was converted.  That week, she started doing research on Honeycrisp apple trees, to see if she could grow one in her yard.  Her husband kidded her about it, but she said, "Look.  There's a fruit I have hated my entire life.  The other day I ate one that completely converted me.  That is pretty significant."  Wow, when she put it that way, I was pretty moved.  I love foods that change your mind like that.

One thing I don't adore is pie.  I wonder if I can have a conversion experience, too.  The other day I was in a cookie bakeware shop called "Cookies" in Ballard, and the owner and I were chatting about various baking challenges.  She mentioned that Kathy Casey makes apple pie by placing a thin layer of marzipan on top of the crust before filling it with apples.  The marzipan acts as a barrier between the liquidy filling and the crust, which gives the crust a chance to have its own independent, crust-y texture.  This is very intriguing to me, even though I also am not a huge marzipan person, either.  It keeps coming back to me, though.  I'm feeling a pie experiment coming on.  Have you ever done this (with marzipan)?  

I could even use Honeycrisps, which supposedly keep their shape well in baking.  However, for this upcoming pie experience, I want to use the trick I read in Cook's Illustrated:  Use a variety of apples in the same pie to create a complex apple flavor.  Wowza.  Bring on the conversion.

Epiphany by Anne

Butternut Squash Risotto Fritters with Lemon-Sage Sauce I was probably about eight years old when I came up with a brilliant business scheme.   I made a cafeteria in my bedroom.  Using food from the cupboard, I made several different options to choose from.  The only dish I remember right now is the canned corn that had been heated up and buttered.  

Anyway, I set up a buffet in my bedroom, called it something profoundly creative like "Anne's Cafeteria," and--get this--invited my parents to dine there and charged them a market-standard fee to do so.  They thought this was hilarious.  Eventually I realized that they were laughing because I was charging them to eat food from their own cupboard.  I found it pretty funny, too, but I still charged them, and they still enjoyed a nice dinner.

However, this week I realized: Wait.  Isn't that what catering is, really?  People buy food.  Then they pay you to cook it for them.  Sure, you're usually responsible for going out to get the food for them yourself, but don't you think if this eight-year-old had had the means to get to a grocery store (and up-front capital), she would go buy the canned corn for her in-house operation?  I think yes.   Does this mean I could tell a potential client that I've been catering since 1978?