Friday, January 31, 2014

Lemongrass Beef Stew

In Austin, winter doesn't last long, so while it's here, I try to make the most of it.  We're a soup once a week or so type of family.  I embrace recipes that require long periods of time simmering on the stove or slowly cooking in the oven.

This recipe comes from my other Christmas present cookbook:  Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan.  I am so excited to cook out of this book, partly because I know I will learn some new cooking methods, some new ingredients, and some new recipes!

We loved this and our house smelled like loveliness for an entire day.  I started this in the morning, then set it aside and finished it later in the afternoon.

This serves 6 - 8.

Lemongrass Beef Stew
adapted briefly from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan

3 lbs boneless beef ribs (I used chuck ribs, you could also use boneless short ribs or even boneless stew meat), cut into 1 1/2" cubes
4 T olive oil
1 t salt
1 large (about 2 c) onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c finely chopped lemongrass (cut in half, remove the thick out leaves and then finely chop)
3 T tomato paste
2 x 1" piece of ginger, peeled, then smashed or grated
2 whole star anise
6 c beef stock
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2" lengths
8 oz daikon radish, peeled and cut into 1/2" lengths
2 T fish sauce
1/4 c basil (Thai preferable), finely sliced, for garnish (optional)
1 hot chile (a Thai chile or jalapeño is preferable), thinly sliced, if desired

Place the beef in a bowl.  Drizzle with 1 T olive and sprinkle with 1 t salt and 1/2 t black pepper.  Stir to coat and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven, heat 3 T remaining oil over high heat.  Working in batches, brown the beef on all sides.  Set browned beef aside.  In same pot, reduce the heat to medium and add the onions.  Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is a deep golden brown, stirring frequently.  Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the lemongrass, tomato paste, ginger, and star anise and stir to combine.  Add the beef and any accumulated juices to the pot.  Pour the stock over top.  Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat so the stock is at a gentle simmer.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is just tender.  Add the carrots and daikon, cover again, and cook an additional 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through and the meat is very tender.  Remove from heat and stir in fish sauce.

To serve, top with basil and sliced chiles if desired.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cranberry Beans and Kale

We got home from visiting my family in Virginia at 9 pm on New Year's Day.  The next morning, we were doing Christmas with our kids.  Since ours are still on the younger side--4, 6, and 8 years old, we knew it would be an earlyish morning.  Curtis's mom was giving over to spend time with us as well.

I had planned on pulling a pan of lasagne out of the oven first thing and having that for lunch.  However, after a week of eating wonderful food, full of meat and goodness, I was ready for something a hair lighter.  Lasagne just didn't sound good to either Curtis or I.  After putting the kids to bed, I thought, "I have beans."  The plan was just to have beans and rice for lunch,

I went to my pantry and found a bag of fancy Bob's Red Mill cranberry beans.  I have no idea when or where I bought these--this wasn't a typical purchase.  I usually buy my beans from the bulk bins.  I looked at the back of the bag for cooking instructions and found this recipe.

It was perfect!  I had everything I needed in my house and I had kale that needed to be cut in my small garden outside.  I soaked the beans overnight, cooked them while we opened presents and started the soup once were were done opening presents.

We all loved it.  Curtis and I thought a little chipotle tabasco made the perfect garnish.  Much better than my pan of lasagne and we felt much better about ourselves for eating it (always a nice benefit on January 2).

This serves 6 - 8.

Cranberry Beans and Kale
adapted from the back of the bag of Bob's Red Mill Cranberry Beans

1 1/2 c dried cranberry beans (or other light colored beans--not black, pinto, or kidney)

2 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 t cumin
6 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 (6-oz) can tomato paste
1 lb (more or less) kale, center stems removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 c cornmeal 
1/2 c water
juice of 1/2 lemon

Soak the beans overnight.

The next day, cook the beans in enough water to cover by 1 - 2" inches in a large pot for one hour, or until beans are tender.  (The beans should simmer gently away for that hour--not a fast boil).  Drain beans and rinse out pot.

In large soup pot, heat olive oil.  Add the onions and cook until tender.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Stir in the cumin.  Add the chicken broth, cooked beans, tomato paste, and kale.  Simmer until the kale is tender.  In a measuring cup, mix together the water, cornmeal, and lemon juice into a paste.  Pour it slowly into the simmering stew.  Simmer for another 15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper

Serve hot and add some tabasco if you desire.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chocolate Dipped Espresso Shortbread

Back in the day, I used to have a favorite restaurant I frequented quite a bit.  This particular restaurant also had a fabulous in house bakery and espresso bar.  I don't want to admit how often I stopped in after dropping a child or two off at preschool, chatted with the barrista (who knew me!!), and would get a pastry.  Usually, I would get their cinnamon buns or bear claws (almond rolls…warm almond paste).  I knew how to time it just right, so the bear claws would be fresh out of the oven and still warm.

I would also stop in the mid morning or mid afternoon for some gelato or a cookie.  One of my favorite cookies was the chocolate dipped espresso shortbread.  This restaurant still sells this cookie, but it is not open in the mornings for coffee any more, they've discontinued my favorite pastries and taken some of my favorite meal/sandwich items off the menu.  Needless to say, I don't go there much at all any more.  It's now reserved as the stop after a kid gets a shot at the doctor (for the gelato….).

However, that doesn't stop my love of the chocolate dipped espresso shortbread.  A few years ago, I found a similar recipe in Dorie Greenspan's Baking:  From my Home to Yours.  I tried it, wrote copious notes in the margins, and put it my list of favorite cookies.  Since that first time, the recipe has only gotten better as I have changed a few things and I finally have a recipe that rivals the Chocolate Dipped Espresso Shortbread.

Chocolate Dipped Espresso Shortbread
inspired by Mandola's Restaurant and adapted from a Dorie Greenspan recipe

1 T instant espresso powder
1 T boiling water
1 c (16 T or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c confectioners sugar
1/2 t vanilla
2 c flour
4 oz bittersweet (60% cocao) chocolate, finely chopped

4 - 6 oz chocolate chips for coating (this is just a guess…)

Dissolve the espresso powder in the boiling water.  Set aside and allow to cool.

Using a mixer (I prefer a hand mixer over a stand mixer for this.  It helps prevent me from over mixing my dough--which is the bain of shortbread), beat the butter and sugar together until the mixture is very smooth.  (Don't go for light and fluffy like most cookies.  You don't want extra air in the batter.)  Beat in the vanilla and espresso, then add the flour, mixing only until the flour is incorporated into the dough (again, don't over mix so you keep the typical sandy texture of shortbread).  Fold in the chopped chocolate by hand.

Divide the soft dough in half and roll into two long longs, about 1 1/2 - 2" in diameter.  Roll in plastic wrap and put in a zip bag.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days.  You can also freeze the doth for a longer period of time before baking).

Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into slices 1/2 - 1/2" thick.  Place on two baking sheets and bake at 325 degrees for 18 - 20 minutes.  For best results, rotate pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking time.  Let cool on a rack.

To dip cookies:  Melt chocolate.  I prefer to just do this in a microwave-safe bowl.  Heat chocolate on half power for 1 1/2 minutes.  Stir and heat in 30 second increments, stirring in between until chocolate is melted (at half power as well).  Dip the cooled cookies in the chocolate and place on a piece of parchment paper.  Refrigerate until the chocolate sets.  Bring to room temperature to eat.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

French Onion Soup

I feel like this soup doesn't need much of a preface.  It's a wonderful soup.  Everyone in my family loved it.  It's happiness in a bowl and not nearly as complicated as I remembered french onion soup years ago when I made it.  This was simple to make, most of the prep time was slicing onions.  Other than that, it was just a couple of hours of happiness as our house was permeated with the aroma of onions and beef.  What a wonderful winter Sunday afternoon.

Love. this. soup.  Need to make it again soon.  Thanks Deb! (of Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 4 - 6.  Maybe.

French Onion Soup
from Smitten Kitchen.com

1 1/2 lbs thinly sliced yellow onions
3 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
1 t salt
1/4 t sugar
3 T flour
1/2 c dry white wine (optional)
2 qts beef stock

Optional for serving:
crusty bread, toasted
Gruyere or swiss cheese, grated

Melt the butter and olive oil together in a Dutch oven over med-low heat (4 or 5 on my stove).  Add the onions, toss them to coat them in butter/oil and cover the pot.  Reduce the heat to low (2 on my stove) and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes.  Ignore them.  Don't peek.  After 15 minutes, uncover the pot, raise the heat (to a 4 or so), and stir in the salt and sugar.  Cook the onions, stirring frequently for 30 - 40 minutes, until the have turned a nice brown.  This is the caramelization.  Don't rush this step (don't rush any of these steps in fact).  The slowness of the process is what gives the soup its wonderful flavor.

Once the onions are caramelized, stir in the flour and cook briefly.  Stir in the wine if using.  Add the stock, a little at a time, stirring between additions.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes.  If you are using homemade beef stock, you may have foam float to the top.  You can skim that off for a clearer broth.

Enjoy.  For a fancy meal, put a piece of crusty toasted bread in the bottom of a bowl, sprinkle with gruyere and place under the broiler for a few minutes.  I'm scared of my broiler, so I simply cut my crusty bread into croutons and sprinkle grated Gruyere over top and enjoy.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tangled (Angel) Hair and Kale

In December came Christmas and Christmas means new cookbooks.  I got cookbooks from both my brother and sister (they know me so well!!).  I've been enjoying each.

This has been one of my favorite new recipes so far.  It was great the evening we served it and I enjoyed it a couple of days afterwards as leftovers.  For leftovers, I fried up an egg, leaving the yolk nice and runny and served it over the cold pasta and kale.  Mmm….

Kids weren't a fan, but that won't stop me from making it again. M usually loves kale, so I'm not giving up on this recipe yet (except M did mention that I always made things I liked, versus always things she liked.  So true, M, so true).

The original recipe called for chili sauce (of the Chinese persuasion) and garlic go in the dressing.  I left both out, because I knew the kids wouldn't do spicy and I can't do uncooked garlic.  If you want to add these back in, use 2 T Chinese chili sauce and 1 clove minced garlic.

Tangled (Angel) Hair and Kale
adapted a hair from The Heart of the Plate by Molly Katzen (of Moosewood Fame)

1 t orange zest
2 t sugar
1/4 t salt
2 t rice vinegar
1/2 t soy sauce
1/4 c olive oil
1 lb (less is ok, too) kale, large stems removed and coarsely chopped
8 oz angel hair (capellini) pasta
2 oranges, peeled, sectioned and sections removed
1/2 c sliced almonds, toasted

In the bottom of your serving dish, combine orange zest, sugar, salt, rice vinegar, and soy sauce.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking the soy sauce mixture vigorously.  Set aside.

Place kale in a colander in the sink and rinse well.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions.  When the pasta is al dente, drain the pasta in the colander with the kale in it.  The boiling pasta water and hot pasta briefly wilts the kale (I love this method!!).  Add drained kale and pasta to the serving bowl with the dressing.  Mix the kale and pasta with dressing using tongs, lifting from the bottom of the bowl to coat all the pasta equally with dressing.  Mix in the orange slices and almonds.  (Next time, I'll serve the almonds on the side, because that was M's biggest complaint).

This is also good at room temperature or cold.  If you don't serve this right away, wait to add the oranges and sliced almonds until immediately before serving.

Leftover suggestion:  Add a fried egg with a runny yolk to the cold kale and pasta.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Tale of Two Shakshuka's

Sometimes owning two cookbooks by the same author is a problem.  For example, last night, after a week of eating lots of meat and "fancy" (although not really fancy, just different than what we eat) food, I wanted comfort food.  I remembered the velvety warmth of Ottolenghi's Shakshuka---roasted red peppers with an ample dose of seasoning which cradled soft cooked eggs.  Although the red peppers aren't in season, this dish screams winter comfort food.

I am usually a mostly organized person.  I can find what I need and I have things arranged that make sense for me.  Usually.  When I make new recipes, I make annotations in my cookbooks, so I can remember how I made it or what I would do differently next time.  Usually.  Once I decided to make shakshuka last night for supper, I looked first in Jerusalem and then in Plenty.  In Jerusalem, I saw no notes, in Plenty, there were notes.  I proceeded to make the recipe from Plenty, thinking as I went, that this recipe seemed different.

When I was just a couple of minutes out from finishing the dish, I read the note I had written in Plenty.  The note said, "Curtis and I love the version in Jerusalem."  What???  Turns out, I never had made this version before.  Why in the world would I write a note on the recipe I didn't want to make?

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending, Curtis and I loved the Plenty version of shakshuka too.  I fed the kids plain fried eggs, along with roasted root vegetables and orange slices.  It was a wonderful winter, light meal and I am looking forward to recreating it this morning for breakfast.

Here are the two versions.  They're both good.  Choose the recipe you want to make based on the ingredients you have or the time you have (the version from Jerusalem is just a hair faster).  Each recipe will serve 4.  To adjust the serving size, just change the number of eggs you use--for just the two of us, I make a full recipe, but only use two eggs.

The First Shakshuka
adapted from Jerusalem

2 T olive oil
+/- 2 T harissa (I use store bought--this is the spiciness in the dish)
2 t tomato paste
2 lg red bell peppers, diced (about 1/4" pieces)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t cumin
2 (14-oz) cans diced tomatoes or 5 c fresh tomatoes, chopped
4 eggs
crusty white bread (toasted if you feel like it)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add the harissa, tomato paste, bell peppers, garlic, cumin, and 3/4 t salt.  Stir and cook over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, until the peppers have softened.  Add the diced tomatoes, simmer, and cook for another 10 minutes, until the sauce is thick.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Make 4 little holes in the bell pepper/tomato sauce.  Gently break each egg into a hole.  Simmer gently, covering with a lid, for 8 - 10 minutes until eggs are at your desired doneness (I like a runny yolk, Curtis doesn't.  I try to customize, but have yet to been successful.  If you are more adept with eggs than I am, this shouldn't be a problem).  Remove from heat and serve with bread--I like my eggs and peppers on top of bread, Curtis likes the bread on the side.

The Second Shakshuka
adapted from Plenty

1/2 t cumin seeds
2 T olive oil
1 large onions, sliced
2 red (or a combination of red and yellow) bell peppers, cut into 3/4" thickness
2 t sugar
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped (optional if you don't have it)
1 (15-oz can) diced tomatoes (or 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped)
a pinch of saffron threads
a dash or two of cayenne, depending on your heat tolerance
4 eggs
crusty white bread

In a large skillet, dry roast the cumin seeds on med-high heat for a couple of minutes.  Add the oil and onions and sauté for 5 minutes.  Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and cilantro and cook for another 5 - 10 minutes on med-high heat until the peppers are soft and the onions have a nice brown color.

Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, and salt and pepper.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add a bit of additional water at a time to achieve and maintain a pasta sauce consistency.  Taste and adjust seasonings (salt and cayenne primarily).

Make 4 little holes in the bell pepper/tomato sauce.  Gently break each egg into a hole.  Simmer gently, covering with a lid, for 8 - 10 minutes until eggs are at your desired doneness (I like a runny yolk, Curtis doesn't.  I try to customize, but have yet to been successful.  If you are more adept with eggs than I am, this shouldn't be a problem).  Remove from heat and serve with bread--I like my eggs and peppers on top of bread, Curtis likes the bread on the side.




Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Not-so-secret Top Secret Amish Sugar Cookies

When the name of a cookie is so long, you know there's a story behind it.

First graders at my children's school had a heritage project before Christmas this year.  They needed to research a country their family was from, a holiday that country celebrated, and then create a poster, and present their research in a living museum. On their poster, a recipe needed to be included.

On my dad's side of the family, we have Amish roots (yes, I know this isn't a country, but it's interesting, especially in Texas!).  J choose to research the Amish and we scrambled to find a recipe. I goggled Amish cookies (because, we all know, My name is Melani, I have a baking problem and when given an option, I bake).  I found sugar cookies pop up several times.

These aren't your normal cookie cutter sugar cookies.  They aren't crispy like sand tarts, nor flat like cookie cutter cookies.  This are cake like and domed.  By themselves, they are relatively unimpressive, but top them with some white icing and sprinkles (or a raisin in the center like I remember my aunt making them.  I opted not to included the raisins because it reminds of breasts), they are something else.

For the winter party, we were asked to share Ethnic foods and this was ours.  A bit of stretch, I know, but the whole project was a bit of a stretch for us.  The cookies were a hit with kids--a mom who was there told me all the kids loved them and J also told me how everyone loved them.  He told them though that no one could have the recipe because it was a Top Secret Recipe.

I laughed, this was the first time I've ever made the recipe and it was published in a cookbook.  So, without further ado, here is your Christmas gift--a not-so-secret Top Secret Recipe.

This will yield 6 dozen cookies (or more) depending on how big you make the cookies.

Amish Sugar Cookies
from my mom

Cookies
1 1/2 c white sugar
1 2/3 c brown sugar
1 1/8 c (18 T) butter, at room temperature
4 eggs
6 1/2 c flour
3 t baking powder
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 1 /2 t salt
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 1/2 t vanilla

Icing
6 T butter, at room temperature
3 - 4 c confectioners sugar
1 t vanilla
water

For the cookies:  Cream together the sugars and butter until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and mix thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to the sugar/butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla (start and end with the dry ingredients).  Drop by teaspoonful (the kind you eat with, not the kind you measure with) onto a cookie sheet.  Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven for 12 - 14 minutes (depending on size).  You can check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of one--the edges may be starting to brown just a hair.  Cool on a rack.

For the icing:  Cream together 2 c confectioners sugar and butter in a bowl (I use a handheld mixer). Add the vanilla.  Add the remaining confectioners sugar a bit of a time, adding water to help achieve desired consistency.  Taste periodically to find the desired sweetness (and how much confectioners sugar you need).  

Ice the cooled cookies and decorate with sprinkles, a raisin, or leave only iced.  Let icing harden, then store in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or waxed paper.