Sunday, January 29, 2012

Flexibility - a necessary tool

When it comes to families and dinner planning, one must always be prepared for change. I suppose that goes for all food planning really - ingredients can be unavailable or spoil (!), or just not taste as good as hoped, and I wouldn't want to waste them on a "good" meal. Take today for example. We got out of church, ran home to grab snow pants, which were then forgotten on the back of the chair, stop for lunch on the way to the in-laws for a quick visit before going for a hike at a local Audubon site. On the way home, I ask each of the family if they are hungry. We had eaten lunch out and that always can lead to a question at dinnertime, plus we didn't leave for home until close to 5 PM. I had planned on making mushrooms stuffed with a creamy, cheesy, spinach filling, baked falafel (from the Bob's Red Mill site), and cheese (cheddar bacon spread) & crackers. Yes, picky, fun foods. However, Alan was still full from lunch and it was far too late to make the mushrooms or falafel in time for dinner. To the rescue was the frozen pizza I bought yesterday. I know, I rarely have processed foods in the house, but I couldn't resist. At Shaws they had 2 California Pizza Kitchen pizzas for $10 and you got a free container (can't say 1/2 gallon anymore - pout) of Edy's Ice Cream. How could I pass that up? And guess what? It was really good! Shara voted for the spinach, garlic & cheese pizza. We had that along with our leftover roasted broccoli from yesterday. I also had a salad and then we ate big squares of the rice crispy treats we made yesterday too. Great day!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

broth-braised potatoes - French Fridays w/ Dorie

I wanted to make this week's FFWD recipe early because last week at this time I was nice and relaxed. I made the quarter-quarts the Monday before and had several days to put up the post. Too many times Friday comes about and I'm trying to figure out the logistics of making the assigned recipe and getting the pictures and summary posted, not to mention figure out what to serve with it and when.

Now you may be reading this and thinking, "why is she so stressed out over a club that's supposed to be fun?" The answer is, I really don't know. It's ridiculous, however the real issue is that I do enjoy it because it's a creative challenge, in the kitchen, yes, but also the blog component. How can I make a lump of dough look interesting? And sometimes more difficult, what interesting point can I make about a lump of dough? Being challenged is important to me and maybe I'm a masochist, but I'm never bored! In fact, I'm trying to figure out a way to not need sleep. Imagine what could be done if we didn't need downtime? Can you tell I'm suffering a severe deficit right now?

Anyway, with eyes burning, and close to a years worth of FFWD recipes completed, I give you, Broth-Braised Potatoes. I actually made these once before and I highly recommend them. I love little boiled potatoes and often in the summer we'll make a meal of sliced tomatoes, corn and steamed & salted potatoes. Add good rye bread and it's heaven. On a rainy winter evening these were a welcome accompaniment to our super-quick after dance night dinner. I was given another challenge of making egg sandwiches too. My daughter was given a choice between pancakes or fish and she went for secret option number three; egg sandwiches. Timing the eggs to be done but not overdone was tricky, but I managed to pull it off. I put the eggs down just as I heard the garage door open and then by the time they were ready to sit down, the eggs were done.

So the eggs & potatoes were joined with turkey bacon - Applegate Farms and I swear I thought I was going to have a mutiny on my hands but we all really liked it, though I thought it looked terrible - and that's pretty much it. No other vegetable or fruit. Just lots of starchy goodness! Boiling the potatoes in a broth well seasoned with garlic, herbs, and lemon is a fabulous way to flavor what could be bland potatoes. The ones I got weren't organic, very unusual for me, but they were nice little fingerling potatoes. Perfect for this preparation.
garlic & herbs, awaiting the broth

egg & potato face

Thursday, January 19, 2012

quarter-quarts - French Fridays w/ Dorie

This recipe is a basic pound cake, but lighted up by whipping the whites and folding them in at the end. It's a small recipe, so you can make it for a family dessert and not have to wait for a crowd. There is a good sweetness to it, but not overwhelmingly so. I made this last Monday on our day off for Martin Luther King Jr. day and we're still enjoying it. Actually the last piece is slated for me tonight (shh).

I thought a pound cake sounded good, but wanted to jazz it up. I thinly sliced a few apples and sprinkled the with lemon juice. I then made a little bit of caramel - just sugar and more lemon juice. I heated it until it colored and poured it in 1/2 of the bottom of a springform bundt pan.
Caramel in the pan

Topped the caramel with the apples and then tried to gently top the apples with the batter. I only had enough caramel to do the one half of the pan, but it didn't change my baking time. I baked at 350 for 28 minutes.

I read in one of my classic, go-to cookbooks how to make pineapple upside down cake, thinking the concept was similar. It sounded pretty close, so I followed the instructions on how to unmold.

I think the caramel solidified too much and stuck to the bottom along with some of the cake, of course, but I was able to piece it together. The taste was great even if it wasn't as picturesque as I'd have liked. I liked the apple side best, but the plain side had a very lovely and rich taste as well. It may have been because of the vanilla I used. My father sent me a Mexican vanilla which is amazing. It has a sweet and almost coconutty flavor. Not much like vanilla and really stands out almost every time I use it. The other flavor that added to this was the lemon juice. I think it cut down on what may have turned out to be too sweet.

I'd love to serve this cake with berries and whipped cream. It will make a lovely spring dessert. But this time it made an unintended birthday cake for Dr. King. Yes, we did sing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

m. jacques armagnac chicken - French Fridays w/ Dorie

Another recipe where I can understand why they didn't put a picture in the book, however after you taste it you won't wonder why it's in there to begin with. I had gotten a chicken from my sister, who raises them, several months ago and didn't have a chance to roast it yet. I took it out of the freezer a few days before I was going to cook this, to give it time to thaw, and put it in out downstairs refrigerator. I always thought the refrigerator didn't feel cold enough, and was a bit nervous that I'd be ruining this, but apparently it's fine. After two full days the chicken was still frozen on the inside. So the rest of this story is not a good representation of the recipe, since I didn't want to wait to cook this. It was actually Sunday, so I did have quite a long time before the "deadline", but that wasn't the point. The point was I wanted to make the chicken on Sunday. So I did.

I cooked onions, carrots, and parsnip in a little oil, just until they were heated through a bit. I really didn't believe I would be able to fit a chicken in the pot too, but managed. Originally I was going to use my Le Creuset pot and then realized the handle wouldn't heat to 450 and I didn't feel like taking it off for this project so switched to my stainless one. I didn't think there would be a need for the iron because nothing would be caramelizing.
The carrots and parsnip are from my winter CSA. I have been saving these for special dishes and thought a Dorie one would be worthy. After these cooked a bit, I got the chicken and did not do any washing of the bird. None was needed, especially since half of it was frozen anyway. I know, I could have done a water bath and had this bird thawed in an hour or so, but I didn't want to. I actually thought that we would eat it on Monday and I'd just cook it longer. I was simply being lazy. After I put the chicken in I got out the only brandy in the house that I would use for this. My mother has always put apricot brandy on her roast turkeys and baked stuffed chicken breasts (with the skin on so they'd get nice and crispy - oh these were sooo goood!) and I always have a bottle around for similar situations, this being one of them. I didn't think the raspberry brandy would fit this dish. I also realized that baking this at 450 wouldn't be too cook for a 1/2 frozen chicken so I lowered it to 400. After 5 hours (just kidding, it was about two) I took out the chicken and it looked fine. There was a good amount of juice and fat, so I was actually happy to be waiting until the next day so I could take off most of the fat. The smell was incredible. I think this would be on my list of favorite food smells and it's all about the brandy. I will try it with  Armagnac because I love prunes with roast chicken. My mom used to make Chicken Marbella as well! After the chicken cooled I put it in the refrigerator and realized with all the vegetables it would be difficult to get the fat off. To make it easier, I rested the pot half-way on a lid so it would tilt the juice to one side. I am a genius (at the time sure I felt like it (- : 

The next evening I had by husband take out the chicken and put it in a 350 oven when he got home. I then turned it up to 400, took the lid off and got it heated up more, removed the chicken and cooked down the juice on the stove a bit. There was so much juice I didn't add the water. I served it with leftover mashed potatoes, thanks to my mother-in-law, and that was pretty much it! It tasted wonderful and I'm sure it was due to the quality of the ingredients over the cooking method. 

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Brioche, part deux

Ok, these are sort of odd looking, but the kitchen smells amazing. I topped these with a little bit of orange zest mixed into about a tablespoon of sugar. I then pushed a bit if that on after brushing with the egg wash. I hope people like them. I have to serve them to non-family!

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

bubble-top brioche rolls - French Fridays w/ Dorie

I don't want to fill the post with yum, so I'll try not to say it too often. This was a great recipe; easy, tasted great, and could be prepared in stages without a ton of attention. Still, the long weekend was a perfect time to take on this task. I've also learned to read the recipes far in advance so I'm not rushing around on Thursday, making sure I have the ingredients, let alone the time in-between steps.

Monday, a holiday for all of us here, I started the dough. I used regular Cabot unsalted butter, not a European kind with a higher fat content. I'll have to try it some time with a European butter but I have so much left over from holiday baking I can't justify purchasing more right now.

The whole process was very simple. I made sure I followed the directions and didn't cut corners, as usual. The only thing I changed, and it didn't seem like much of a change, was to use all skim milk rather than 1/2 whole and 1/2 water. I used all the butter and white (!) flour, though there was some white whole wheat in the top of the flour container that got in it. I was hoping it was all the white wheat, but it wasn't. I'm also planning on making more of these to bring to a dinner party this weekend and will use all white flour for that too, but when I make these for just us, I'll experiment a little.

Here are the photos of the process.

yeast, proofing

very shaggy - before the eggs & butter were added

after the eggs, before the butter

finished dough, waiting to rise

portioned out rolls, waiting to rise

after the rise - not very high, but needed to get them in the
oven, so took a chance. Put some cinnamon-sugar on a few.

wow - they rose nicely in the oven!

This step I did a little differently. I had to work on Tuesday, so after going in the refrigerator overnight, I shaped the dough into the tins, covered with plastic, and left in the refrigerator for the day. My husband took them out when he got home, to give them the 1-2 hours to rise. We only were able to give them about 40 minutes. I thought I'd be clever and put them on the stove, with the oven on, to speed things up, but read Rosie Birnenbaum's advice to not get them anywhere too warm - all the butter, so took them off pretty quickly. They ended up being fine.

These were a huge hit and we're still eating them. To freshen them up, I put them in the oven for a few minutes and they're almost like the first night. The texture is like Challah, but the taste is much butterier. Fantastic!

I looked on the web to see what others had done and in another cookbook, Dorie has a plum tart with brioche base. I'll have to try something like that next time. Or chocolate rolls, or sticky buns, or....