I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

December 28, 2009

A bit of Summer in the heart of Winter

Sometime in the latter part of summer when the last of the heirloom tomatoes were giving themselves to us one at a time so stubbornly (did anyone else have a bad tomato year?) I came across a few plants on the first tier of my Dad's ranch that were overflowing with golf ball sized cherry tomatoes. They didn't have the sweet tart "pop" of the sweet 100's that we prefer for salads and eating raw, but were more mild and filled to bursting with seeds and juice.

Never one to waste something like this, I set out to fill two 5 gallon buckets and a large bowl with these little gems and tried to figure out how I could somehow easily preserve them so that somehow I could have fresh tomatoes somewhere down the line when the farmers market doesn't yield them and the supermarket tomatoes are tasteless fleshy blobs.

So I stemmed them and soaked them. Triple washed them and went through them to get rid of any blemished, squishy or not quite ripe ones. Sorted out the bugs and picked off the last of the tops and proceeded to cook them down, batch by batch.

And there were a LOT of batches.

Then I strained out the seeds from a couple of batches.

But there were a LOT of seeds!

So I got a little lazy and cooked them down a bit and mom helped me pack them up in 1 quart Ziploc bags that we froze and split between us. In reality, she actually packed them up because by the time they were cool, I was in my bed a few miles down the road.

Since then I have used a bag or two for spaghetti sauce, but tonight decided that I wanted something so comforting that I think every American child has it imprinted on their brain as one of the top 10 comfort foods of all time.

Tomato Soup served with......

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches! (you knew that was coming!)

Currently suffering from a head cold, allergies and an earache I decided about mid day that this was exactly what my inner child was crying for.

So here I am in my kitchen enjoying a few of my Christmas presents and making a nice batch of Tomato Bisque to go with grilled cheese sammiches. :)

New bamboo cutting board made by my sweetie....that gets stored so nicely in it's custom made rack. How awesome is he? If you are in the market, I can put in a good word to Santa or St. Valentine or the birthday fairy.

Shiny red Dutch oven with which to make all kinds of delicious meals. Isn't it nice that we are so color coordinated for our maiden voyage in the Dutch oven???

Fuzzy red Mary Jane slippers with sparkles to slog around on my cold tile floors (they had to match the Dutch oven, ya know?) . You know you think they are sexy....

And a new laptop with which to type my blog from right in my kitchen instead of schlepping my lazy ass upstairs to type on the old desktop. :)

Christmas was unexpectedly great, this year in general was pretty awesome. Hope yours was just as blessed.

Tomato Bisque

1 quart tomatoes in juice-you can use canned if you have to!
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled & diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, diced
1 bay leaf
1 T sugar

Bring all ingredients above to a simmer in a soup pot for about an hour or until carrots are tender. Strain through a sieve remove bay leaf and smash as much of the vegetable through as you can. Return to soup pot.

2 T butter
2 T flour

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, stir and cook for just a few minutes. Add to soup pot and whisk over low heat until incorporated and the soup starts to thicken a bit.

1 C Milk (whole milk or cream, no low fat stuff as it will curdle)

Scald milk and add to the soup. Season with S&P as needed.

If you are looking to step outside the box, you can flavor this with any number of herbs or spices including the traditional Italian basil, oregano and rosemary. You can garnish with croutons or lump crab meat, swirl in a little creme freche for ultra decadent soup.

Or you can serve it as is with a buttery toasted grilled sourdough Swiss and cheddar filled sandwich that is cut in to triangles and call it a day.

Guess what I did?

December 17, 2009

Best. Meatloaf. Ever.

Or so I am told.

By everyone I make it for.

I happen to think so as well. (visualize me tooting my own horn. Toot toot!!)

Passed down to me by my Mom and to her from my Nana, I am unsure of it's exact origins, but if you google "Sicilian meatloaf" you are bound to come up with something very close. Seasoned very simply, with the addition of a little V-8 juice, it is flattened and rolled around ham and Mozzarella. Over the years we have made one minor update in substituting prosciutto for the original deli ham that was called for.

It freezes and travels raw and ready to be cooked beautifully and I have brought it on many a camping trip only to be hailed as the goddess of the kitchen, a title I think is pretty well deserved. It also makes for the BEST meatloaf sandwich the next day. And the next day. And the next if you still have leftovers.

In making it tonight I came across one glitch in my planning. After searching the pantry I found I had no bread crumbs. Gasp! What's a girl to do???

Crush up some fat free herb seasoned bread crumbs and voila! I am a genius sometimes.

Sicilian Meatloaf

2# Lean Ground Beef
2 Eggs
1/2 C V-8
3/3 C Bread Crumbs (or crushed croutons!!!!)
2 T Parsley
1 T Oregano
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
1 Clove of Garlic, minced (or 1 tsp Garlic Powder)
6 slices of Prosciutto
1 1/2 C Shredded Mozzarella

Mix all ingredients except Prosciutto & Mozzarella in a bowl. Turn out on a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Shape in to a rectangle as shown....

Lay down Prosciutto and sprinkle mozzarella over the meat, leave one edge clean to seal the loaf

Roll up into a nice fat roll, keep seam side down and pinch the ends so the Mozzarella does not leak out during cooking (waste cheese??? I think not!)

Bake at 350 for about an hour + 15 minutes. The interior should be about 150-160. Take it out and let it rest.

Slice and serve with awesome gravy. Mashed potatoes are a natural side dish, so go ahead and indulge. :)

The gravy is best made with...you guessed it! Homemade beef stock!

Heat 3 T of oil or bacon fat (Pork fat rules!) and add 3 T of flour, cook for about 5 minutes until it starts to brown a bit. Add in 2 Cups of stock, whisking the whole time to break up the lumps. Cook until thickened and add 1/2 cup of V-8. Season to taste. If it is not thick enough, add some more flour to your V-8 before adding it in and it should thicken up.

If you are in the desert on New Years Eve or camping somewhere where beef stock is not a viable option and not lucky enough to have my friend Jamie's kitchen supplies, packaged gravy does quite well, just don't forget to add the V-8, about 2 packages of gravy to 1/2 cup V-8. :)

December 9, 2009

They call me Toffee Claus

I had a bright spark of inspiration a few nights ago and it led me on the path to another whirlwind day in the kitchen. Knowing that I might get goodies from friends for the holidays and taking heart to Brock's statement of "We need a tradition" I decided to spend the day making confections to hand out to a few of our family members and close friends.

I scoured my fridge & pantry to see what I had on hand, what I would have to buy and also took inventory of items that I could use up in alternate recipes.

Inspiration number one....My Mom's Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook 1953

Gooey caramel candy with just a little bit of sea salt (my updated addition) and crunchy butter toffee studded with various nuts.

Inspiration number two....the Ziploc bag of candied orange peel leftover from another baking day.

Almond Florentines with Candied Cherries & Orange Peel with a Smear of Dark Chocolate

Inspiration number three....a personal craving for more salty sweet stuff led me to find a recipe for pulled Salt Water Taffy.

After a quick trip to the market and a stop at the .99 cent store for packaging and I was set to go!

Round 1 was Pecan Toffee....perfection in itself!

Round 2 was batch one of the Caramel....too hot to taste, but it looked pretty damn good!

Round 3 was Almond Toffee....again, perfection!

Round 4 was batch two of the caramel...might have overcooked this one, gotta wait for it to set and find out.

Quick break to drop a sample of toffee for my friends at Ventura Rentals and to go visit my BFF who was having her own cookie day with her mama & sister in law....mmmmm....puppy chow and peanut butter kiss cookies!!

Back in the ring for....

Round 5 was a go at the Salt Water Taffy....Looked right, smelled good, colored pretty. But then I started pulling it, and pulling it, and pulling it....and then like some cartoon strong woman, I pulled so hard that it snapped! And I had pink, peppermint flavored rock candy scattered all over my kitchen floor. Arg.

It wasn't even good to eat, hard enough to break in pieces, but too chewy to eat without fear of losing multiple fillings. Toss in the trash and move on!

Quick check on the caramels revealed batch one as perfect as hoped and batch two overcooked and solidified in to a very pretty caramel colored tile. I guess I could give it to Brock for skeet shooting?

I was 3 and 2 at this point and not feeling as confident as I had earlier in the day.

Round 6 was the Almond Florentines, so lacy & pretty just begging for a coat of chocolate on the flat side!

Round 7 was another batch of caramel, I was NOT going to let it get to me!!! Crossing fingers all the same.

Got my groove on....it was perfect!

Round 8 was Cashew Toffee....damn I am getting GOOD at this toffee stuff!!!!

Round 9 was Pistachio Toffee at the request of my darling who's only complaint was that I didn't make enough. Gotta love that complaint. :)

Round 10 was all about packaging. Cutting the caramels in to 1" squares and then cutting the waxed paper to fit and THEN actually wrapping the little guys. Breaking the toffee in to reasonable sized pieces, counting the cookies to figure out how many everyone got....Then bag, bow, ribbon, ornament & tag.

Somewhere in between rounds 7 and 9 I browned some Italian Sausage and heated up some spaghetti sauce from the freezer for dinner too. Is it any wonder I was conked out on the couch shortly after I inhaled my dinner?

I love my new tradition and am looking forward to expanding it next year!

Crunchy Butter Toffee

1 C Sugar
1/4 C Water
1 Stick Butter
1/2 tsp salt

Cook all ingredients over medium high heat until it hits 285 (hard crack) and is a golden caramel color. Remove from heat immediately and stir in 1/2 cup of whatever chopped (salted or unsalted) nuts you have on hand.

Pour in to a very well buttered glass pan or on to buttered marble and let cool. Lift and break in to pieces.

You can also drizzle or smear with chocolate if you are so inclined!

Then if you are lucky like me you make puppy eyes at your boyfriend who will cheerfully deliver it to your loved ones since you have to work the next day.

November 30, 2009

What are you thankful for????

So many things, so let me get started!

My family is fairly set in its traditions for Thanksgiving. My moms side of the family shows up the night before or around noon, the football game is on and at approximately 1:00 ish we decide that it is damn near 5:00 in some part of the world.

A bottle of bubbles gets popped and the girls toast to our family and the fact that we are here together and lift our eyes to the sky, raising a glass to my Nana who left us some years ago, but is with us at every family gathering.

I am thankful to have spent as much quality time as I could with my Nana before she passed.

The boys then gather around the counter where we have vodka, Clamato, Tabasco, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, Magi seasoning, horseradish, fresh lemons, olives & celery and proceed to make Bloody Mary's in various degrees of preference....extra salty and no vodka for Bapa, no olives for Uncle Jay, tons of horseradish for Brock....you get the point!

I am thankful that my Bapa is with us on every holiday and is as sassy as they day is long. And that he passed on his personality and twinkling eyes to my Uncles Jay & Brian.

In anticipation of a fabulous and very hefty meal, we limit our consumption of appetizers to cheese & crackers, venison sausage from Dad's latest hunting foray and last, but in no way the least as there are usually several bags.....of Puffy Cheetos.

The McKaye branch of the fam just can't have a gathering without these, no person is immune and we are not afraid to fight for the last one. Orange fingertip are a badge of honor and woe to the man (or woman) who brings the crunchy variety instead of the puffy.

I am thankful to whoever the genius is that invented Cheetos, but wish that my Uncles would bring a crispy bag once and a while for mom & me. I am also thankful for my Dad and Brock who know how to bring home the "bacon" or elk or deer for us to snack on!

For dinner this year, Mom opted to try something a little different for our main course and the centerpiece of the meal...instead of doing a brined and baked turkey, she ordered a specialty from cajungrocer.com.

Meet the Tur-duc-hen!

Partially boned out turkey (wings & legs intact), stuffed with a boned out duck, stuffed with a boned out chicken, stuffed with Cajun sausage. Sounds insanely good, right? There isn't anything in there that none of us like, and yet....

It was kind of boring. It lost a lot of liquid and didn't have much flavor in that you could not tell one meat from the other once you cut it up. Plus, there were no good drippings in which to make gravy, so that kind of sucked and we had to fake it. And fake gravy is really not the best kind, Next year we go back to brining the turkey, stuffing butter & herbs under its skin, roasting it and fighting over crispy morsels of turkey skin while waiting for it to be carved.

I am thankful for turkey skin...or duck skin...or chicken skin...as long as it is seasoned and crispy I am thankful. Trying to fit in to my pants afterwards is another story...

The sides, however, are a whole different ballgame!

Butternut squash with sage & brown butter, mashed potatoes (no fanciness here, just good old fluffy taters with butter & milk), Parmesan & Swiss chard stuffing, green beans with a mustard lemon vinaigrette & almonds, cranberry & fig sauce with port and from my friend Sarah, a jar of cranberry apple sauce.

Nothing ostentatious or over the top, just good food, prepared well and enjoyed completely.

I am thankful for my mom who I love to cook with and for friends who cook their tasty recipes and are good enough to share with me.

Dessert was brown sugar pecan cupcakes stuffed with pumpkin custard & frosted with caramel butter cream. My mouth waters just thinking about the butter cream because it is not only caramel which I will go for over chocolate any day, but it is also salty caramel....I can't come up with the words to tell you how good the butter cream is, you just have to hope I make it for you because I can't share this one!

Included in this issue is the Cranberry Fig Relish recipe....Ever since I "inherited" a cranberry sauce recipe from my friend Mandy's mom, I have had way too much fun experimenting on different ways to make that plain old jellied stuff in a can in to something amazing.

I am thankful for my friends....the ones who have contributed in the present or past, been a guest at our table for and the ones who I see rarely, but think of often.
Cranberry & Port Relish with Dried Figs

1-2/3 C Ruby Port
1/4 C Balsamic vinegar
1/4 C (packed) Golden Brown Sugar
8 Dried Black Mission Figs, Stemmed & Chopped
1-6" Long Sprig Fresh Rosemary
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1-12oz Bag Fresh Cranberries
3/4 C Sugar

Combine first 6 ingredients and bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the rosemary and add in the cranberries and remaining sugar. Stir over low heat until cranberries have burst and the sauce thickens. Chill until it is time to serve.

I am thankful that I can write this and know that at least a few of you will appreciate it and hopefully try out one of my recipes.

Happy Holidays!

November 19, 2009

Lunch with a friend

Once or twice a month, when the stars are in alignment and the goddess smiles upon us, my best friend Clover and I have the same day off together with no other commitments. This may sound far fetched and exaggerated, but it is altogether and sadly true. Between both of us working in hotels (where weekends are really the middle of our week), her holding another job, family commitments and other random things that keep us busy, we get to hang out fairly often, but it is rare to have a whole day of BFF time where it is just us.

If you have a BFF, and I hope you do, you recognize the value of this as worth it's weight in gold. No interruptions (except that one client who has my cell phone number of course), no time constraints, no agenda and no pressure. I am extremely blessed to have a few of these from various points in my life, from elementary school, high school, college and of course my mom, who I can hardly go a day without talking to.

As it draws near to my favorite holiday of the year, I just want to give thanks to my friends. You are what makes my life awesome and complete.
As Clover and I realized that we had all the time in the world, we decided to get out of our sweet little town and head up the coast to Santa Barbara where a flash of inspiration on a roadside sign led us to the Santa Barbara Zoo. On a mid week day it is about the most relaxing place to meander around and just talk and look at all the cool creatures. Small enough to make the circuit in about 2 hours and still have plenty of time for wine and lunch before going home.

We saw the gibbon eating

And we saw the penguins eating....

And we saw the gorilla eating....

I know you aren't supposed to stare, but I don't think a camera counts, right? Besides the grass is the most appetizing thing this guy was eating!

And then we saw the giraffe eating..... we have no clue WHAT it was eating.

After a full circuit of the zoo decided to get our own sustenance as we had worked up a powerful hunger in our travels.

We drove to the Santa Barbara Pier and parked on it just like a good tourist does.

Found a hidden wine bar on the second floor of the shops at the end of the pier....wine tasted with a sweet young man who had a hefty pouring hand.

Meandered over to Moby Dick's for a little lunch, which was not so memorable. But who cares when you have your BFF, a view of the harbor and ocean, a glass of wine in hand and a beautiful day with the sun shining on you.

After much good conversation we proceeded home and guess what we did????

Naps are just awesome!

Even when the lunch is kind of forgettable, lunch with a friend is really about the person you had lunch with and in my case, they are unforgettable.

Thank you for being my friends, when can we do lunch????

November 17, 2009

Cry Baby Soup

OK really? Refrigerated onions? Don't cut the root end until the very end? Chewing gum? An unlit matchstick under your tongue? Lighting a candle? Bread in your mouth? Carrot up your nose? Cutting underwater? A lit cigarette in your mouth (a la Peg Bundy!) Breathing just through your mouth?

And don't even mention putting on swim goggles while slicing up an onion, it just ain't gonna happen. Although I am assured by my moms best friend from college that it does indeed work for her.

Maybe I am sensitive, but I ALWAYS cry when cutting onions. There are none of the above that have worked for me and believe me, I have tried most of them. Fresh onions, old onions, shallots are especially bad....my eyes tear up and I dab. Then I dab again. Then I use my bicep and sleeve to rub away the tears. Then I rub my knuckles in to my eye sockets to try and alleviate the burning. (Yes, I know this is bad for me and my skin, but like a 3 year old I really don't care). With mascara and tears running down my face I then slap my knife down, wash my hands and run to the bathroom to wipe off the evidence and blow my nose.

Because we all know, crying makes your stupid nose run. Especially in allergy season. Which is year round for me now.

So glad I was home alone for this because truthfully I looked like hell. And if I can't be truthful with you then why am I here?

Oh the lowly onion. You are kind of a pain in the ass to peel. Stinky and sharp when raw (except those few lovely sweet varieties!). Exuding amino acid sulfoxides when we cut you, our eyes well up with tears...I cry....I cry.....

Sorry, momentary lapse in to what I thought might be poetry.

For reals though...the onion is the base for all stocks and broths....the foundation of sauces on every continent...they come in multiple shapes, colors and degrees of stinky & sweet. Yet there are a multitude of ways that onions are prepared to complement or enhance a dish, but only a few where it is the star.

Tonight I made French Onion Soup with Guinness where the onion is the true star of the meal. A nod to a version Brock & I have enjoyed many times in downtown Ventura at Dargans combined with my own culinary idols recipe from her book "How to Cook". Um, that would be Julia just in case you didn't know.

Remember how I have waxed poetic on the virtues of homemade stock????? This is where it comes in to play. No bouillion in the world is going to make this soup taste as good as a homemade stock or broth.

Guinness French Onion Soup

3 Large onions, sliced thin
3 T butter
1 T peanut or vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 T flour
48 oz (6 cups) Beef stock
1-16oz can of Guinness
(They come in 4 packs, drink the rest or serve to your loved one)
Salt to taste

Sourdough bread slices, about 3/4" thick
1/2 C Gruyere Cheese
1/2 C Swiss Cheese

Melt the butter and add oil, add onions and saute on high for 10 minutes until translucent. Add sugar and salt and turn on med/low. Stir often for about 30-45 minutes until brown and caramelized...scrape the bottom of the pan as needed.

**Note & FYI the sugar helps the onions to caramelize...as referenced in the pear bread pudding, sugar + butter = caramel flav-ah = goooooo-ooood!

Add flour when the onions are dark and stir thoroughly. Add 2 cups of stock and stir....add the rest of the stock and stir. Then turn up to a simmer and cook for about an hour.

Toast the bread in the oven, remove and cover with the shredded cheese. Broil until melt-y. Serve the soup topped with the cheesy bread and enjoy! Just like my handsome guy below. :)

**And for the cheap eats tag....if you don't have enough to buy Guinness, just make it all with beef broth or stock. :)

November 9, 2009

Kick ass in the kitchen

Every once and a while I go just a little bit insane and start cooking. And I keep cooking. And then I find something else to cook. And eventually my feet scream at me (because I am barefoot on tile), by upper back seizes on me and I realize 4 hours have gone by in a blink. Then I look around and realize that I have made caramelized pear bread pudding, vanilla pastry cream, homemade caramel sauce, Anaheim chile & tomatillo sauce, I have picked apart a pile of shredded chicken breasts, chopped cilantro & green onion, (these are waiting for the sauce and tortillas for enchiladas sometime this week), made broth from the chicken bones, meringue cookies and somehow managed to whip up a quesadilla for a quick carb boost lunch.

Sometimes it stems from boredom, sometimes because I have had one of my shopping trips to the market where I find something that begs to be made, sometimes I am trying desperately to use up the leftovers in the fridge before they go to waste (hate waste!).

Yesterday was a little of each. I started out with the intention of making the bread pudding to take to friends house for a Sunday night dinner. It started out very simple....I was testing out a new recipe (who better to experiment on than friends???) of Caramelized Pear Bread Pudding....

Caramelized anything = good

Decided to make my homemade caramel sauce to accompany it...then decided it needed pastry cream as well....Forgot to take a picture of the cream, but you get the idea.....

Looked at the leftover egg whites from the pastry cream and had a flash of inspiration from above, I HAD to make Nina's Shaum Torte cookies (also known as meringue cookies to anyone outside my family)....

While cooling the bread pudding, noticed some leftover chicken breasts from a roast chicken that would go perfectly with the chiles, green onions & cilantro that I just happened to pick up at the farmers market on Saturday to make awesome green salsa enchiladas. (recipe to follow another day!)

Then the bones, some carrots, onion, celery went in to a pot for broth to stick in the freezer for the next time I need it...once again, to distracted for picture taking!
You dizzy yet? I certainly was after I came up for air.

Bear in mind that if I was in a commercial kitchen I could have doubled my production, but I live in a condo with a fairly small kitchen (but very nicely renovated). So space is at a minimum both on the counter, the cupboards and the fridge. If you come cook with me, be prepared to dance a little!

Previously I have gone to town on things like duck confit, beef wellington (made the puff pastry from scratch, oh yeah!), vats of tomato sauce soup and stew, salsa, cookies, biscotti....whatever it may be, it generally ends up on friends tables, packed in containers for my Grandpa's dinner or it gets brought to the kitchen counter at work so the ladies in my office can enjoy at their leisure.

I have to say, that when I get in these moods, I do resemble an insane person, but I do kick ass in the kitchen.

Caramelized Pear Bread Pudding

8 Cups Challah Bread cut in 3/4" cubes
6 Eggs
4 Cups Whole Milk
2 oz melted butter
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 T Ground Cardamom
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon

4 Pears (Bartlet, Bosc, D'Anjou) peeled, cored and sliced 1/8" thick x 1" wide
4 T Butter
1/4 Cup Sugar

Blend eggs, milk, melted butter, sugars & spices together in a bowl, blend very well. Pour over bread and let it soak, stirring gently to thoroughly distribute liquid.
Melt butter and add sugar, stir for a few minutes until the sugar melts. Add pears and stir....there may be some hardened sugar chucks that form, but they will melt again as the pears cook. Stir over medium heat until all liquid is evaporated and the pears are caramelized.
Butter a 13x9 pan and put 1/2 of the bread mixture in the bottom. Dot the center with the pears, distributing evenly and top with remaining bread mixture. Pour any leftover liquid in the pan.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until set.

Serve with caramel sauce and pastry cream (or whipped cream....or ice cream!)

November 3, 2009

When the man is gone....

I eat what he won't... Hee hee hee!
Can you see me hovering over my counter & stove, chopping, dicing, stirring and concocting???

Brock is definitely what I term a "good eater" he will try anything I (or mom) makes at least once without batting an eye. And trust me, he has tried more new "interesting" items in the time he has been with me that I can count. But if he doesn't like it, he isn't afraid to say so and I just don't make it again, no biggie. If he likes it, it goes in the cookbook with a star next to it or posted here on the old blog just in case I need reminding.

And then here comes hunting season. As the nights get dark earlier and the temperatures drop, my darling man leaves me at night to go hunt the elusive wild pig in the hills of the Ventura foothills. Or takes off on a day trip with his buddies to find quail, dove or duck. Or leaves for multiple days to hunt deer or elk. And then I am what my mom and I term "hunting widows"-ladies left alone at home without their man for a time. Maybe a gruesome term in some respects, but what it really is for us is a time for us girls to relax, unwind, watch a girly movie (or several episodes of Sex & the City), open a good bottle of wine and perhaps make a meal that we love that our spouses don't.

Tonight, after leaving the warm confines of the Ojai Valley, I arrived in a Ventura that was enveloped by fog. A night that just begged for slow cooked, comfort food. A quick stop at the market found beef shanks & beef bones just waiting for me to make them in to something delicious!

As much as I appreciate (and use on occasion) items such as bouillon, pre-made stock or broth, I do find that any time you have even a half an hour to make your own stock or broth, your meal turns out 200% better tasting than if you used a product that has MSG, corn syrup, yellow #5 or mechanically separated chicken (my favorite) or "chicken flavor" in it.

How exactly does one get "chicken flavor" aside from making the stock I would like to know....I wish you could see my visualizations....
I know these things are there for our convenience, but I do try to make my own stock when I have the means and the time, it makes a huge difference.

So quick quick quick...I trim the fat from the package of 2 beef "soup" bones, wash them under cold water, toss them in a sauce pan with 1 peeled chopped carrot, 1 celery stalk and a chopped white onion. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Skim the funk from the surface as it cooks. Strain, remove any fat that is left and wait for the next step. Or freeze in ice cube trays and wait for the next time you need yummy meat flavor. For even MORE meaty flavor (if you have the time), roast the bones at 400" for a half hour-45 minutes until they are crispy and brown and then make the stock.

And now for my delicious beef shank...

When shopping for it, get ones that are well marbled, somewhat smaller and about 1" thick. This recipe makes enough for 2, so now I have lunch for this week, yay!

(2) 4"-5" round beef shanks, bone in (they are cheap too!!!)
2 T flour
1 small fennel (anise) bulb-sliced thin
1 Portobello Mushroom-sliced 1" x 1/4"
1 dozen (ish) pearl onions, ends removed, skinned*
2 garlic cloves, minced
*Easy skinning technique as these guys are a pain in the you know what-sies to skin raw....boil some water (or your stock!) and thrown them in for a few seconds, the skins just slip right off!

Season the shanks with salt & pepper, dredge in flour

Heat 1 T olive oil + 1 T butter and brown the shanks in a medium sized sauce pan, set the meat aside. Add another 1 T olive oil and add veggies, stir until slightly softened.

1 cup red wine
2 cups beef stock (or bouillon if you must) :)
1 T salt

Add meat back in and cover, turn on low/simmer and leave for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, uncovered, until meat is pretty tender. Add liquid if needed, but you shouldn't if I have steered you right. :)
Skim off 1/2 cup of liquid and add 2 ice cubes to cool it. Add 2 T flour and whisk until blended. Add this back in to the pot and stir until thickened, season to taste.

Now I should clarify that this totally IS something my darling will eat...but I served it with polenta and broccoli, which he doesn't care for. So next time I make this, I will make sure to serve it with pasta or gnocchi and a big old salad, now that I know this recipe kicks ass.

On another note, in regard to meal cost....I know that many of use are not as comfy as we used to be "considering the economy" (blech!). This is a meal that I think cost me all of $10 and served 2 people. The beef shanks were $4, the bones $.98, the broccolini $3 and everything else I actually had in my house as what I consider staples. Cuts of meat like this are more affordable and often way more flavorful than pricey cuts and you can do a whole heck of a lot with the veggies that are hanging out in your crisper drawer. Sub the polenta for the bag of pasta in your pantry and you are good to go.

Any questions, feel free to email me. :)

October 31, 2009

Meat & Puddin' for two

Oh what to do....got meatloaf & gravy, but no potatoes to mash and serve with it.

This was my quandary a few nights ago as I conjured up a meal from ingredients I had in my freezer, fridge & pantry. This is something I do often as I generally have enough food in my home to cook for a family of 4 for a week. I didn't want to go to the store this night and challenged myself to suck it up and get creative. Not wanting to go to the store is a fairly common event in my life as I am a self admitted food hoarder. I buy things because they look good, are on sale, are interesting or because I think that I might be out of them and God forbid I run out. At one point I had 5 jars of julienned sun-dried tomatoes from Trader Joe's in the pantry. I think this is when I realized I had a problem.

My half hour drive home from work definitely has its benefits...I can unwind, enjoy the solitude and conjure up what to make for dinner. This particular morning I defrosted a package of bone in country pork ribs (stocked up when they were on sale!) and thought about a dozen different ways to make something tasty...and then it hit me. Pork Meatloaf. With bacon in it. (Pork fat rules!!) And some other stuff mixed in . And maybe gravy. Got green beans (yay!). And then I hit a wall.
The man I love's face popped in to my head with a sad face because I had not tackled the starch/carbs yet. Knowing I had no potatoes and only Fried Rice a Roni in the house for easy substitutes, I racked my brain to find an alternative.

Thanksgiving on the brain helped, because as my thoughts went from meat & gravy to starch and to my plate at the table...and what is always dressed in a little in gravy at the table in late November? My moms awesome stuffing! I mentally patted myself on the head because I had a beautiful loaf of Challah left over from a recent shopping/hoarding expedition that I had yet to put to use.

Mental inventory of the kitchen revealed the lack of sausage, which is a key ingredient in stuffing in my house.

So my thoughts turned then to a bread pudding type side dish with no sausage (sniff), but with the fresh eggs from my Papas chickens, wild mushrooms and caramelized onion cheddar. Can you say winner winner???

For the meatloaf....first I trimmed out the meat from the bone, it was about a pound and a half piece, good for 2 people :) Then we hauled out the Kitchen Aid mixer with the grinder attachment and ground up our meat. If you are grinding this yourself, it is best if the meat is chilled to the point of being almost frozen when grinding.

Take the trimmed bone, add water enough to cover it (about 3 cups), chop up a small onion, 1 carrot & 1 celery stalk. Simmer for about a half hour - an hour, skimming any fat off the top. Strain and set aside.

Then we cut up:
1 small onion, fine dice
1 carrot, fine dice
1 garlic clove, minced
3 strips thick cut bacon, chopped fine

Saute in olive oil until tender, add 1/2 cup red wine and simmer until almost all the wine is evaporated. Let cool and add to the ground meat.

Add 1 egg, 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs, 1 1/2 T salt or salt based seasoning (i.e. garlic salt, Lawrys...whatever your preference) and crack some fresh pepper in to it.

Mold in to a log and bake for 45 minutes at 375. The loaf should read 160 degrees internally when you bring it out. Let the loaf rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

For the Puddings....

Dice up 1 1/2 cups stale bread-can be egg bread, challah, sourdough or whatever you have hanging around.

Whip together:
1 large egg
2/3 cup Milk (can be any % fat you want, it will just be richer with a higher content)
1/4 cup grated cheese (I used the caramelized onion cheddar from Trader Joe's)
About 1 T salt
dash of white pepper
1/2 cup chopped wild mushrooms (re hydrated and squeezed dry or if fresh, saute for a few to release the water)

Drench bread in the milk mixture and let it sit for a few minutes to let the bread absorb everything. Stir around if needed. Butter 2-4oz ramekins and scoop bread mixture in the ramekins. Bake with the meatloaf for about 30-40 minutes. They will hopefully look like this!

And then the gravy.....

Homemade gravy is not really that hard to make and sure beats the heck out of any package mix I have ever opened.

If you have fat drippings from the meatloaf (you should have a little), scoop or drain that in to a small sauce pan. Add about 3 T butter and 4 T Flour. Stir together over low heat until it is all blended and starts to smell a little like peanut butter (I am not crazy, I promise, it will). Start adding your homemade stock a little bit at a time, whisking the mixture to blend it and make it smooth. It should thicken up as it hits a boil. Season with salt and if it is too light (pork gravy tends to be), add a little Magi seasoning to make it more "meaty".

And the gravy absolutely goes on the bread pudding...decadent yes, but oh so tasty. I do hope you enjoy!