the most perfect fried egg EVER (and some polenta)

attempted a totally new food tonight, which for some reason i thought might be difficult but in the end couldn't resist the simple elegance of the recipe--polenta. and not just polenta, but buttery polenta with cheese and an olive oil fried egg, adapted from a recipe that appeared, i think, in the new york times.

it was a last-minute whim.

it was easy. and delicious. and the cheese (i used jack, because the polenta box encouraged me to experiment with cheeses) added this extra touch of decadence to an otherwise light and sensible meal.

and i knocked another leftover out of the fridge--some chicken stock.

next time, i want to use mozzarella cheese or parmesan and top it with some tomato sauce, because i think that would be out of this world.

third time's the charm - "julie and julia"

it seemed so simple, and so brilliant and so the perfect type of book for me, i remember thinking as i perused--i forget what, probably the new york times--and saw a reference to julie powell's julie and julia project.

a woman who dedicated her year to learning how to cook.
like me. i hoped for inspiration--for my writing, for my cooking, for ideas that i could incorporate into both.

i immediately ordered a copy. or maybe i went straight to borders after work. i started reading the night i got it. that's how eager i was.

and then i put it down in disgust. it wasn't her language--i'm from new jersey, i can swear like a sailor and appreciate the release it offers in one's vocabulary. it was her attitude. whiny. despairing. woe-is-me.

that was my first turn-off.

several months later, i picked it up again, convinced that i had just given it short shrift. it's pretty rare, after all, that i don't bother to finish a book that i've started. i got much farther into the book this time--nearly halfway--and again, i got distracted and annoyed by her writing style. this, i rationalized, may have been because i had started the book all over again from the beginning instead of merely picking up where i left off, giving all of the original prejudices a chance to rear their heads again. i donated the book to a used book store.

and then, in spite of myself, i picked up another copy off of a discount table at barnes and noble. surely, surely the third time would be the charm. surely the information and hope that i had envisioned were somewhere within the pages of this conceptually brilliant book.

so this time, just last week, i decided to throw it into my weekend travel bag for a 3-hour train ride and give it one last try. i started from where i'd left off, approximately. i read it non-stop for 3 hours. and it did, at last, begin to grow on me. i shared her affinity for buffy, her inability to make pastry cream even after a dozen practices. i loved her chapter about her murderous rampage of the lobsters in new york city. and here is where i really found the weakness of this book--not in the tone, or the despair, or the language or the attitude. it was actually in the structure of the book itself.

julie seemed incapable of adhering to a timeline. everything was an anecdote that tied back to something else. and since she wasn't really writing chronologically, on a recipe-by-recipe basis, each anecdote had to be explained before it could be joined with the cooking example at hand. she interrupted her best chapter, about the lobsters, with a story about being home for christmas and finding out that her best friend wants to have an affair with a punk rocker from bath.

every successive example of seriously good writing was similarly misspent. her chapter about preparing to cook for a food reporter--interrupted. her chapter about the final month of the Project--scattered to the winds.

and above all, she doesn't write enough about the food, which is what i really wanted to hear. yes, i sympathize about her government-secretary-syndrome, but i don't want to hear abotu how your day sucked, i want to hear about cooking that day's recipe and how it affected your day. were you mad while you were shopping? did the recipe turn out? what, for heaven's sake, were you even making? how far into the Project are you?

(these tidbits were scattered across the chapter heads, but there was nothing more specific than that)

her writing lacked the consideration, the sensuality, even the day-to-day rhythm of, say, nigel slater's kitchen diaries. he made everything sound sexy. even the recipes that failed were still fantastic to read about. it made me think about how incorporate food and cooking into my daily life and how shopping for lunch can be a hassle, but it can also be the highlight of your day.

nigel made the food sound sexy.
julie talks about how cooking ruined her sex life.
enough said, right?


a day of two soups

in spite of my determination to be freed of the tyranny of my leftovers, i found myself once again scouring the fridge this morning. only because i was tired of spending so much money on lunch, i swear.

fortunately for me, all i found was a half-bowl of potato chowder, which gave me a perfect excuse to bring the soup and indulge in a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch (which i guess isn't quite the same as getting to leave the gun, but bring the cannoli...).

however, coming home tonight and finding my apartment just as freezing cold as it usually is on a winter's night, i decided to heat up a simple miso soup (a la nigel slater) while i stir-fried out of the exquisite kylie kwong's simple chinese cooking.

the problem was merely that i dumped too much miso in the mug, convinced that it couldn't be nearly as simple as nigel claimed--"heat water, and stir in a teaspoon of miso paste."

kylie's book has been getting a lot of press, including my local daily, the washington post, which did this entire rave dance about her stir-fried chicken with cashews and how revolutionary (not to mention delicious) it is.

revolutionary, maybe. delicious? the jury is still out. the revolution springs from her lack of a classic chinese-restaurant style brown sauce for the chicken. i did like the lightness of the marinade--just some shaoxing wine mixed with a few drops of water and some cornstarch--but as i ate the shaoxing-drenched chicken (extra shaoxing having been added during the frying process), i realized that i miss the thickness and flavor of a brown sauce. as much as i might ridicule the sameness of a lot of marinades--shaoxing, oyster sauce, a swirl of sesame oil and some cornstarch to thicken--i love that texture and the way it clings to the ingredients.

sorry, kylie.
maybe we'll have better luck next time.


risotto #6 - rice cooker risotto with porcini, proscuitto and mozzarella

call the risotto police, 911. i have committed a crime...

came home tonight tired but still in the mood for risotto, so i decided to try once again the technique of cooking risotto with the aid of a rice cooker. mikey always tells me that this is anathema, and for a while i waffled, first disagreeing, then agreeing most heartily. tonight i found the in-between happy place where one can cook risotto properly, if one has the time, or can throw it all into the bowl and let the machine do the work. the key to my success--the first real one i can claim with the rice cooker--was cutting off the porridge cycle early instead of relying either on the complete cycle or the regular cook cycle (both of these result in cloying, thick and sticky rice soup instead of a proper risotto texture).

clearly i am not yet finished with my quest to empty the fridge. tonight’s effort used another half-quart of mikey’s stock, the rest of the fresh mozzarella, and another layer of the parma-style virginia ham masquerading as proscuitto. the porcini were a last minute inspiration for an extra flavor and some texture, and i used the mozzarella instead of parmesan, inspired by a recipe from one of my books of risottos.


leftovers, leftovers and more leftovers

i desperately need to cleanse my palate. all week and this weekend, i’ve been subsisting on nonsensical combinations of cooked meals from last weekend and early in the week. it all feels heavy. it all feels the same. all week, i’ve been snatching pieces of leftover meals in order to make a fresh one--skirt steak smothered in brie with potato chowder. half a bowl of rice with a crumbled meatball on top. supermarket gnocchi with sweet potato soup sauce. chicken fingers. cold quinoa. partially-cooked risotto pancakes.

i long for a fresh meal.


pizza rustica (WTSIM...Pie)

it started off as a pipe dream. i was flipping through my copy of baking with julia, looking for some new ideas, and the page fell open to the section on tarts and pies. mostly out of boredom, i started reading the recipes. pie dough scares me. all i’ve heard about is how difficult it is to make, and my one attempt last year was such a disaster that i am still in recovery from it. almost in spite of myself i found this recipe for a savory pizza-like pie. i didn’t read the recipe that carefully, but the idea of it seemed creative and appealing. still, because of the pastry crusts, i chalked it up as “pie in the sky.” literally. and i put the book back on the shelf.

i couldn’t get the idea out of my head. a stuffed pizza, baked between sheets of pie crust instead of pizza dough. what a bizarre thought, right? it would be impossible. i’d never pull it off.

and then i met nigella. there i was, innocently sitting in a secluded corner of the smallest cafeteria in my office building, gobbling up page after page of nigella lawson’s how to eat. right there, in her basics section, she had several pages of material about savory and sweet pie crusts, and how making them used to drive her insane, until she took a deep breath, practiced, and figured it out. her technique seemed foolproof. simple ingredients, not too time-consuming. surely i’d have a few failures but it seemed well worth trying. i became determined to make the pizza rustica.

of course, life interfered. i usually save a lot of time on the weekends for cooking experiments, but due to a fluke in the calendar i’m scheduled to be out of town for practically the next month. to add further insult to injury, if i wanted to participate in WTSIM...#2, i’d have to find the time before february 26. which meant cooking the pizza on a weeknight.

i’m a big fan of weeknight cooking, really i am. it’s a great way to unwind after a horrible day at the office, and then have something yummy and warm and filling to show for it. but i usually like to keep it simple during the week. stir-fries are a big favorite. the occasional batch of cupcakes, if there is something special going on. i’m long over the days where i’d stay up till 1 baking during the week. on top of everything else, this particular week was one of refrigerator intimidation and a lot of useless stress in the office.

i took a deep breath. i planned carefully. i made a supplementary trip to the supermarket after work on tuesday. i laid out all of the ingredients for a stir-fry, put some rice in the cooker, and made my move on the pie dough. it seemed to be working, much like my pate sucre from the weekend had. i became optimistic--until i had to roll it out. it was ornery stuff. i had to beat it into submission. i made a huge mess on my kitchen table. i had piles of pie crumbs surrounding me and flour all over my hair and clothes (because foolish me, i had doubled the recipe in order to get two crusts--it worked, but it was not a pretty sight). and then, at long last, i had pressed into the pie dish a layer of crust, a sheet of waxed paper, and another layer of crust, all wrapped up and ready for use on wednesday.

driven by this early success i came home today like a girl on a mission. i preheated the oven. i attacked the fridge, looking for anything that might make an intriguing layer in my pizza. i pulled out a tub of ricotta, a bag of mozzarella, some parma-style virginia ham, two fresh sausage links, some cremini mushrooms. i browned these with a vengeance (and a lot of garlic) in the leftover sausage grease. with baited breath, i pulled out the pie crusts (nigella had suggested that they could be stored for a day, but i was less certain of my cooking than of hers). aside from a few minor cracks along the edges of the dough, they seemed in good condition. i didn’t have to blind bake, so i started layering the flavors. mushrooms on the bottom. a layer of mozzarella. some ham. another layer of mozzarella. the sausage. topped it all with a ricotta-egg mixture and, for good measure, another sprinkling of mozzarella. i clumsily arranged the top crust over the dish, pinching the sides unevenly and haphazardly until i was sure it was sealed.

it was then that i realized i had put the pie in the wrong kind of dish (the recipe i was working from recommended a springform). but it was too late to turn back, and i vowed that keep a vigilant eye on the pastry so as to save it from my ineptitude (and keep it from burning). half an hour into the baking, it looked golden brown. surely it wasn’t done already? i decided to trust my instincts. i tented a sheet of foil over the crust and put it back in for another half an hour.

the result was the closest thing i’ve found to a culinary masterpiece (at least so far as my own kitchen efforts go). the layers melded together in a delightful dance of flavors--earthy, salty, spicy, and tangy. the crust, into which i’d thrown a spoonful of ricotta during the mixing stage, was buttery and light without being overpowering.

i had, in short, something yummy and filling and warm to show for all of my weeknight effort.

pizza rustica
(inspired by dorie greenspan’s baking with julia and adapted from two versions of giada delaurentis’ recipe, culled from the food network website and giada’s family dinners)

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces mild Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced and browned in grease and garlic
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped
4 large egg yolks, beaten to blend
2 pieces of pastry dough, rolled out to fit a 9" pie plate
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Position the rack on the bottom of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat. Add the sausages and saute until golden brown, breaking the sausage into pieces, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the same frying pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sautee until light brown and starting to give off liquid, about 5 minutes.

Into a large bowl, add egg yolks and beat lightly. Stir in the ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Add the sausage, the mushrooms and prosciutto to the mixture and stir to combine.

Set up the dough in a 9-inch pie plate by placing the bottom crust in the plate. Trim the dough overhang to 1 inch. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the dough-lined pan. Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round. Place the dough over the filling. Pinch the edges of the doughs together to seal, then crimp the dough edges decoratively. Brush the beaten 1 large egg over the entire pastry top. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan over the top. Bake on the bottom shelf until the crust is golden brown, about 1 hour.

Let stand 15 minutes. Release the pan sides and transfer the pizza to a platter. Cut into wedges and serve.


did she really make fresh bao?

i’m feeling totally intimidated by the refrigerator this week. after my completely self-indulgent comfort food weekend, what do i hit back with? especially when i have piles of leftovers in little ziploc jars inhabiting every inch of space?

i decided today to cook my way through the leftovers, incorporating what i can into new meals and working from scratch where necessary. with the mood i was in today, this felt like a total revelation instead of mere common sense--i went all out. there were lists involved, and a supplementary trip to the grocery store!

first, i worried about all of the fresh cheese i’ve accumulated. the mascarpone was easily disposed of by making a batch of ice cream with the black forest brownies from sunday afternoon. the ricotta took more creativity. i decided on a pizza rustica, which takes care of not only the ricotta but the virginia cured ham masquerading as proscuitto, the quickly-failing white button mushrooms, and an excuse to keep practicing the pie crust. the brie is easy--a steak and brie sandwich, which has the added bonus of using up the little piece of flank steak i’ve been saving as well as giving me a foil for the potato chowder that’s hiding somewhere on the bottom shelf (the result of yet another weekend experiment to use up ingredients).

then i have the issue of the raw chicken. i wanted to make a teriyaki chicken salad with rice vermicelli, but this takes too much cooking and doesn’t address the half-pint of buttermilk crawling through the depths, left over from last week’s red velvet. so that got all dunked together to make a few more chicken fingers, which will pair with the cheesy quinoa casserole i finally got around to making on monday afternoon.

but wait, there’s more. i haven’t even scratched the surface of cooked leftovers. there’s the pseudo-soupy stew that failed, full of sweet potatoes and veggies. there’s at least a cup of cooked risotto. there’s the aforementioned casserole. i’ve got meatballs and rice left from saturday, and zasai beef from last week (obviously these will become lunch fodder).

back to the bao. sunday’s last-minute foray to the farmers market endowed me with more fresh pork and lamb than i had previously ever seen in my life, so i chose something out of kylie kwong’s ‘simple chinese cooking’ that would take care of a pound of ground pork as well as the straggling shiitake mushrooms, remnants of last week’s zasai beef. (on an unrelated note, i was suddenly struck by the fact that nearly all of my really good asian stir-fries are exactly the same when you get down to the liquids: shaoxing, oyster sauce, soy and sugar, with a swirl of sesame oil) i threw some brown rice into the cooker and started prepping the pie dough for the pizza rustica before i remembered to dump the chicken bits into the some buttermilk. it wasn’t until i started the mise en place for the pork bao that i realized i had completely mis-interpreted the recipe. far from a basic stir-fry, this was meant to be a much cooler and crunchier prandial experience: lettuce leaf wraps, bean sprouts and carrots were all active players for the final stage.

alas, i had none of these things in my fridge, even after my impulse trip to whole foods. all i could do was let the rice cycle finish and stir-fry the beef, mushrooms, garlic, ginger and liquids and mix it all together in the regular boring way. i’d never stir-fried with pork before, though, and i was pleasantly surprised by the flavor and texture. it’s almost milder than chicken, with a very different texture, and it melded well with the salty-sweet sauce and the shiitakes. i may have to revise my thinking on the other white meat and utilize it more often.

i’m forced to admit, however, that the salty sweetness of the fried pork and mushrooms would have kicked ass wrapped in a cool, crisp lettuce leaf and topped with some julienned carrots and sprouts...


risotto #5 - comfort food weekend (monday)

i decided to save my risotto for tonight since i had the luxury of a 3-day weekend and risotto is my ultimate comfort food. oh, how i love risotto. i’m sure i ate it as a child, because i’ve seen my mother cook it, but it was not until an evening on my own in rome in the campo di fiore that i really experienced the bliss that is a well-prepared dish of risotto.

it was warm outside, even warm enough to eat out, at the small, deli-like (in lighting, at least) trattoria on the edge of the campo near where the city buses stop. the waitstaff thought i was hysterical, on my own with my dog-eared paperback novel and little map of the city. i remember that i wasn’t in the mood for pasta, or meat, and that i noticed a dish of rice and mushrooms. but first i devoured a plate of parma ham and fresh mozzarella, all wrapped up with each other, while i waited for the risotto to arrive.

most people, i think, go on vacation and come back dreaming of local pastries, or gelato, or the special teas or wines or home-made pastas or baguettes or croissants or macaroons or a myriad of other things that one can seemingly experience properly only while traveling. for me, my life-changing meal was this plate of risotto--which was, incidentally, an enormous bowl that was much too much food for poor little me. and yet i was so taken with it that i could think of little else for the rest of my trip. i even went back to the same trattoria on another evening just to experience it--the creaminess, the bite, the texture of the rice--all over again.

it was nearly two years after my return that i first ventured into a kitchen to attempt the feat on my own. silly me, i thought it would be simple, the matter of less than an hour, surely, on a quiet friday night. but the risotto had the last laugh. it quite kicked my ass. there was too much of it, it was undercooked, underspiced, i had no cooking wine, and i hated onions and so declined to saute them with the aromatics. i bravely left it in the fridge for nearly a week, convinced that i would find the stomach for it, but i was forced to admit defeat when it started growing little burrs of greenish fuzz.

however, two years again since my first failed attempt, i am pleased to report that risotto served as my comfort food, my indulgence, as the cap of a 3-day weekend. with porcini mushrooms, parma ham, and fresh mozzarella, if you please.

risotto with porcini mushrooms
(adapted from williams-sonoma's italian cookbook)
8 cups chicken stock
½ cup porcini mushrooms, dried
½ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ lb. wild mushrooms, fresh, stems removed. shiitake, portobello, oyster
½ lb. white mushrooms
3 cups arborio / carnaorli rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
bring stock to a simmer, remove from heat.

add dried porcini. let soak for 20 minutes.
drain mushrooms through cheesecloth, reserving the stock.
return stock to saucepan and simmer over medium heat.
maintain at a gentle simmer, low heat.
chop dried porcini.

heat olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
add fresh mushrooms and cook until softened (about 5 minutes).
add porcini and 1/2 C of the simmering stock and cook until thickened (about 5 minutes).
using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a bowl. set aside.

add the rice to the same pan.
stir over medium heat until each grain is translucent with a white dot in the center (about 3 minutes).
add the wine. stir until completely absorbed.

add the stock 1 ladleful at a time, stirring frequently. wait until stock is absorbed before adding next ladleful. reserve 1/4 C of stock for the end.

after about 18 minutes, add the mushrooms and extra ladleful of stock.
cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are heated (2-3 minutes).

remove from heat and stir in the butter and reserved 1/4 C of stock.

my first pie crust

today i attempted pie crust for the first time!
i spent the first half of the morning procrastinating by making stock lunches for the week.
then, of course, i had to do the dishes, because who can cook in a dirty kitchen?
i deliberated most seriously over the pros of regular pie pastry versus pate sucre.
and finally, i could delay no longer.
the moment of truth had arrived.

i was working out of nigella lawson’s ‘how to eat’ and the first crisis came immediately. i had forgotten to defrost a stick of butter. yes, of course i realized that most recipes recommend freezing the little chunks of butter for a time before making it, but i was worried that they would be too frozen to properly incorporate with the flour! i settled for leaving the stick out while i cleaned the dishes and hoping for the best.

my second crisis was the matter of flour. nigella recommends italian 00, a flour i’ve been hearing much about of late but which is not easily obtained (and is backordered from king arthur’s besides). all i had was AP and i worried, would this be good enough? nevertheless i combined it with the chunks of butter and settled the bowl in the freezer whilst i prepared an egg/vanilla/sugar mixture, per ms. lawson’s instructions.

now was the time to fire up the trusty kitchenaid. had a bit of a scare when the butter didn’t incorporate as quickly as nigella suggested. i kept in my head the image of scone dough as i worked, thinking that the process seemed very similar. i held my breath and poured in the chilled egg mixture. surely that couldn’t be enough liquid! grasping at the pages of my book, i poured ice water in, “drop by precious drop,” and i fancied i began to saw some clumping action within the dough. now i worried, was it clumping too much?

when i could stand it no longer i poured the crumbling mixture onto a sheet of plastic film and left it in the fridge for 20 minutes while i recovered my breath and prepared a set of mini-tart pans (mini because i am just one person, after all, and the idea of keeping a few bits of pie crust at the ready, well-wrapped, blind-baked and frozen, is utterly appealing) to receive the dough. when i pulled it out, it looked a bit like pasta dough as it absorbs the egg and i hoped it would be as pliable.

at first i tried rolling it out, well-floured, between two sheets of wax paper. d’oh! too much flour on the sheet gave me little traction as i rolled. undaunted, i flipped it over and continued working until it seemed thin enough, and round enough, for a regular pie pan. at this point i quartered it and worked with individual slivers, rolling them out just a bit thinner and pressing them tenderly into the tart pan.

also, i nearly spilled the pie weights everywhere while i waited for the oven to preheat.
10 minutes and 400F later, i was well on my way. i fear i could not take the time to wrap bits of foil along the edges, and so i just waited for them to brown at a lower temperature as i attempted to whisk up a sort of orange curd for my inaugural treat (this, in comparison to the pie crusts, was a complete disaster).

another 10 minutes in the oven and voila--could it be? four neat little crusts. had i really made them all on my own? dare i hope that i can repeat it someday?

only time will tell...


saturday - comfort food weekend

skipped breakfast, although i had planned on steaming up a bowl of oatmeal, and concentrated on my croque monsieur for lunch--which prompted a revelation. i was using a martha stewart recipe--it was closer to hand than my grilled cheese book--and i realized that she’s sort of the like ATK. efficicent, works every time, but sort of soulless. and her macaroni and cheese is not nearly as good.

but i’m really getting good at whipping up a bechamel. and kings to me for not setting the oven on fire when i melted the cheese under the broiler!

finally up and made the autumn stew with potato topping tonight--a sort of a shepherd’s pie, i suppose. the prep was easy enough, and i did it this afternoon so as not to be bothered after av left. i regret to say that the result was not at all what i had hoped for! there were, i think, several factors--firstly, i put too much liquid into the mix, and perhaps not enough cornstarch. i don’t think i cooked it long enough, and i forgot to spray the top with some cooking spray, so it didn’t brown or crisp at all.

but mostly, i just didn’t like the flavor. i felt like i was eating mush that mostly tasted of sweet potato and apple, with the occasional bite of sausage (although i am pleased that i got the chicken apple sausage for the dish, because that flavor was quite lovely). i’m not really sure what to make of it. i nearly threw it away, but decided that it might work with some of the leftover macaroni, or perhaps some chicken, or as a quickie side dish during the week.

i also made a batch of brownies, the recipe from my ‘passion for desserts’ book. it’s my plan to whip up a batch of mascarpone-base ice cream and make a sort of black forest gateau flavor. these brownies are much fudgier than my usual preference, so i’m excited to see how the ice cream works out. i’m usually on the cakey side of the brownie fence.

For the Vegetable Stew:
(adapted from a recipe at Je Mange la Ville)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium leek, cleaned well and sliced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
15-20 button mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 apple, grated
1 ear of corn or 1/2 cup frozen corn
3 cups vegetable broth (+ 2 tbsp more)
3 chicken apple sausage
2 fresh sage leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon corn starch
sprig of fresh rosemary and 3-4 sprigs of thyme, bundled together by a little string if you are feeling very organized or — just loose if feeling lazy
salt & pepper
For the mashed Sweet Potatoes:
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon butter
2% or fat-Free milk
Fresh sage leaves
Fresh thyme leaves
salt & pepper
2 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs
cooking spray

This starts like many stews start, by adding the olive oil to a large soup pot, over medium heat. Toss in the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Let it all cook for about 5-6 minutes, then add the stock. Stir.

Next comes most of the vegetables. Add the carrots, squash and grated apple. Also add the poultry seasoning now along with the fresh herb sprigs. Let the stew simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are getting pretty tender.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, brown the veggie sausage. When it’s done, crumble it and set aside.

Add the spinach and corn kernels next. Also, mix in the veggie sausage. Combine the cornstarch with the extra broth and stir that in as well. It should thicken a bit. Add salt and pepper to taste and also the chopped sage leaves now.

Adjust the other seasonings and fish out your herb sprigs. Next, ladle the stew into small oven proof bowls (this will make at least four servings with some likely leftovers) and set aside.

You can also do this while the stew simmers…
Add the sweet potatoes to a pot of water and let simmer/low boil until the potatoes are done — about 12 or so minutes. Test with a fork to be sure. Drain and either use a potato ricer to mash or a potato masher.

Myself, I couldn’t love my potato ricer more. It is my best friend at Thanksgiving. Well, the ricer and my oven, actually. They are my best friends. Oh, and the wine. The wine is a very good friend at Thanksgiving.

Anyway, add the butter, milk, salt and pepper to the potatoes. You want the potatoes creamy but not soupy. Add enough milk to do that. Add fresh thyme and sage. Fresh chopped chives would also be nice if you have some.

Let the potatoes cool a little and then spread some on top of each stew bowl. Try and get it even, this is best achieved by dropping little spoonfuls of potatoes over the whole top and then spreading it out. Cover each with a little bread crumbs. You can either bake it now at 375 for about 20-25 minutes or you can let it cool completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Before you do bake the stews, hit the to of each with a a little cooking spray. This will encourage browning. From the fridge give them about 35 minutes in the oven.

When done, top each with a sage leaf and serve.


friday - comfort food weekend

decided today at work to spend the weekend doing comfort food. usually, i dedicate saturday lunch to this sort of thing, but after discussing with mikey the sunday evening menu, and pondering my desire to finally make that sweet potato-topped veggie pie i’ve been salivating over, and coupling that with the fact that i had no idea WTF to cook for dinner after i got home, comfort food weekend was born.

started tonight with what is quickly becoming my all-time favorite, the ATK macaroni and cheese. i made a few buttermilk-soaked and breaded chicken tenders as a way to use up some of that extra buttermilk (also made a loaf of bread, but it was far less successful than the chicken) and baked those while i was whipping up the bechamel sauce.

skipped dessert, although i had wanted to have a hot mug of cocoa, and just had a smirnoff. sometimes it’s so cold in my house that i get too lazy to even boil the water for cocoa. plus, the kitchen was, as usual, disgusting after so much cooking, and what with all of the lights still being out it’s obnoxious to clean in the dark.


who knew i had so many excuses for baking? cherry vanilla cupcakes

finally found an excuse to make the cherry-vanilla cupcakes AND use not only the mascarpone in the fridge but some of the cherries in the freezer. unfortunately, it is a sad occasion--yet another deserter from our office. i’m not sure if people are going to get as into these as they did with the red velvets, mostly because i think we’re going to have a ton of food. but that just means more for me, yeah?

i used a LOT of vanilla in this recipe, more than it called for, and i also threw in some dried flecks of vanilla into the batter. while i was filling the cupcakes, i kept snacking on the scraps. also, bonus points for my first filled cupcake experiment. next on the list--boston cream cupcakes!

also, i’m not sure exactly how i felt about the resulting cherry filling. part of me is seriously convinced that they would work better with a high-quality cherry jam or preserve instead of a half-assed cherry compote. and i think the compote could have used more water.

cherry vanilla cupcakes with vanilla mascarpone frosting
(adapted from the cupcake bakeshop)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2-¾ cups all-purpose flour
1-½ teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
Vanilla Mascarpone Frosting:
8 oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla paste (extract is fine)
1 tbsp milk
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
Cherry Filling:
2 cups cherries, pitted, fresh or frozen
½ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds.
2. Add sugar. Beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Add eggs one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.
4. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add to mixer bowl. Add the milk and vanilla. Mix to combine.
5. Scoop into cupcake papers about half to two-thirds full (depending on whether you want flat or domed cupcakes).
6. Bake for 22-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

Note: These cupcakes tend to rise quite a bit and will overflow if you put too much batter in the cupcake paper. Keep it under two-thirds full. They also tend to pull away from the papers as they cool. It should be minimal if the cupcakes were baked enough and shouldn’t be an issue. (At least it isn’t for me.)

1. Sift powdered sugar into a bowl or onto parchment
2. Beat butter at medium-high speed until creamy
3. Add half of the sugar, the vanilla and the milk. Beat until combined
4. Gradually add remaining sugar until you get to the consistency and sweetness you like.

1. Add cherries, water, and vanilla to a pot. Cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat.
2. Stir together sugar and cornstarch then stir into the cherries.
3. Cook until thick, about 20 minutes.

1. Fill each cupcake with filling. I used the “cone method”, but many methods will do.
2. Frost filled cupcakes.
3. Top with a rinsed and patted dry maraschino cherry.


"i don't care if it's jersey" red velvet cupcakes

in spite of my fights with mikey over the validity of red velvet cake as a food, i can’t resist. it’s nearly valentine’s day, i sacrificed my red velvet craving for the potluck, and here in front of me is a genuine excuse to make red velvet cupcakes.

plus, i saw them on martha stewart last week.

cupcakes are sort of a recent thing for me, i guess that is why i get excited by them. and i haven’t had red velvet cake since camille made me one the day before passover, a week before i left the city, so i have a fond memory of the deep red hues (she covered hers with candied flowers). i’m going for a more chintzy angle: red velvet conversation hearts. i’ve prepped tirelessly--getting icing over the weekend, and extra food coloring, and buttermilk. i dug out my bottle of cider vinegar. i looked up a wikipedia on necco’s sweetheart candies. i made the cupcakes on monday night, and spent all night tuesday watching studio 60 on the sunset strip and frosting the cakes. i’m all set.

i decided not to make martha’s buttercream, mostly because i dislike buttercream, but also because i don’t feel like taking quite that much time. i’m equally sure that my office will completely devour the cakes regardless of whether or not the icing is homemade!

red velvet conversation hearts
(adapted from martha stewart and matt lewis)

Mini Heart-Shaped Cakes

Makes six 4-inch heart-shaped cakes

1/4 cup cocoa powder

2 tablespoons red food coloring

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable shortening at room temperature

1 2/3 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Speckled Cinnamon Frosting

1/4 cup melted dark chocolate, for decorating

1. Preheat to 325 degrees with rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, butter parchment, and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, food coloring, and 1/4 cup boiling water. Set aside to cool.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and shortening on high speed until smooth. Add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Stir buttermilk and vanilla into cocoa mixture. Into another medium bowl, sift together flour and salt. With the mixer on low, add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat until incorporated.

5. In a small bowl, mix together vinegar and baking soda until baking soda dissolves; mixture will fizz. Add to batter and mix until just combined.

6. Pour batter into prepared baking sheet, smoothing the top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes, rotating pan after 10 minutes.

7. Cool cake completely on a wire rack. Using a 4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out 12 hearts.

8. Place 4 strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy susan. Place 1 layer on the cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the cake; top with another heart, bottom side up. Cover entire cake with a thin layer of frosting and transfer to refrigerator for 10 minutes. Repeat process with remaining ingredients.

9. Remove cakes from refrigerator and cover each cake with a generous layer of frosting, smoothing as you go around to create a flat surface.

10. Place chocolate in a pastry bag fitted with a small plain round tip; decorate as desired.

Note: Recipe courtesy of Matt Lewis from Baked


risotto #4 - cauliflower risotto

pulled this one from a new blog i’ve been following, the traveler’s lunchbox. she wrote about it so eloquently that i couldn’t help myself, describing the cauliflower as “a silkiness and subtle umami” so i had to try it even though i don’t like cauliflower. i was completely skeptical at first, especially as the scent of steeping cauliflower filled the kitchen and again as i started tasting the risotto for done-ness. i felt like all i could taste was cauliflower.


when i finally reached a nice consistency, threw in the parm, butter and seasonings, and let the rice relax for a few minutes, i did in fact taste the silkiness and the umami, and it was subtle and pleasant, just as promised. i’m already looking forward to making croquettes or stuffed cakes or suppli telefono with this rice, because i feel like the flavor of the cauliflower will help overcome the leftover-ness of the risotto, and taste very nice with some cheese besides.

potluck dessert - solved

i've been agonizing--or at least thinking really hard when i should be doing other things, like my day job--about what sort of dessert to bring for my photopgraphy potluck. it's so rare that i get a real opportunity to make a cake or something especially dessert-y that i really want to have fun with it. my first thought was a red velvet cake, but mikey gave that a quick veto--"you can take the girl out of jersey, but you can't take the jersey out of the girl"--even though urband legend has red velvet as a southern specialty.


then, while perusing over at the traveler's lunchbox (yet again while i should have been working), i stumbled over the author's rave review of dorie greenspan's far breton (which, coincidentally, i had recently seen dorie bake with martha stewart. ALSO while i should have been working!). i was inspired.

the far breton was nothing short of sheer delight. i ended up not soaking the cherries (cherries instead of prunes or raisins, because i like cherries but i don't like prunes or raisisns) in anything--mostly because i went out for drinks on saturday night, intending to stop at the liquor store for some amaretto on the way home and just never made it--but they lent this gentle sweetness to the cake, and a nice bit of something chewy besides. the far flavor was subtle--although i could definitely taste the extra schlug of vanilla i threw in there--and the lightness of the cake itself made even the confectioners sugar stand out as a flavor.

i ended up using half-and-half as a base because all i had was skim milk, and half a bottle of fresh cream. i rather fancy i could taste the cream flavor in there, adding a bit of thickness, but that could just be me.

happily, the far was very well-received by my fellow photographers!
all that was left was a tiny sliver, which i left for mikey when i went to pick up firewood after our kaffee-klatsch was over.

sugar high fridays #28 - blood orange truffle cake

Sugar High Fridays #28:
Sweet Seduction...

the first boy to ever try to seduce me with home-cooked food and sweets had a fondness for cheesecake that i still can’t quite comprehend. perhaps it was the fact that doing a no-bake cheesecake required little effort, and with the use of an oreo crust and a pile of cherry pie filling provided a pretty impressive sweet when one considered that it came out of a dormitory kitchen! but this was a full-court-press type of meal, with multiple courses and wine and even, dare i say it, place settings on the living room coffee table, and he was very proud of his cheesecake.

our second meal was crowned once again by cheesecake, only this time in the form of ice cream, dotted by small bites of blueberry. this was rather more impressive, and required more effort, because all he had was an old-fashioned hand-crank machine. i do confess that we got tired of waiting for the cream to fully freeze, but he--and i--were pleased with the result. (in a manner of speaking. i DETEST cheesecake! i really should have taken that as a sign--but i, i must confess, was dazzled enough by the effort that i ate the cheesecake. both times.)

what i really prefer is chocolate. not a deep, dark chocolate but a more mild, semisweet variety will do me just fine. brownies, cookies, cupcakes, cake, little bits of chocolate chunks stuck in my ice cream, candy bars--if it comes from a cocoa bean, i will most likely devour it. these days, my other favorite flavor is the tart sweetness of the blood orange. i save recipes all year, waiting for blood orange season to arrive. i love the red flesh, and the strange taste, and the way they make duck and sorbet and most especially chocolate taste even better. were a gentleman to find a way to mix these flavors, i’d probably melt right along with the chocolate...

Blood Orange Truffle Cake
(adapted from a recipe found on an old usenet newsgroup posting, because i made it for just myself instead of in a 9-inch pan! it rises a lot, almost souffle-like, and collapses just as quickly, but if you can eat it while it is still warm, you will know what nirvana really is)

1 blood orange
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
½ cup sugar
6 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup softened butter

Heat the oven to 350F.
Melt chocolate with butter, then stir in 1/3 cup or blood orange juice, and
the finely grated peel of the orange (reserving 1/2 tsp), and the sugar.
Stir until all is well combined and sugar is dissolved. Add the eggs, a
little at a time, and combine well. Butter a 9" springform pan and dust with
cocoa. Add a layer of foil around the outside of the pan and place in a
water bath that goes halfway up the side of the pan. Bake for 55 minutes.

i served the cake with a freshly segmented blood orange and a few dollops of blood orange-honey mascarpone icing.

more cupcakes! (and icing issues)

pomegranate-blood orange cupcakes. it seemed like a good idea at the time--as in, when i saw the recipe on the cupcake bakshop--and i even made a small batch, but they were foul. not sweet enough, not enough flavor (either pom OR orange) and the inclusion of the pomegranate seeds in the batter made for a very unpleasant crunch.

adapted the tangerine-honey cupcake frosting i found online (also, i think, at the bakeshop) to make blood orange mascarpone frosting, but all of the recipes i found suggested incorporating butter, which to my taste left this very intrusive butter taste in the midst of a light, fluffy pillow of honey and fruit floating on the mild mascarpone flavor. turns out that mascarpone is a delightful substitute for standard cream cheese.


comfort food on a cold and strange night

kitchen diaries to the rescue again. not completely substantial, but ideal for a later-than-planned comfort food type of supper on a chilly friday evening. soothing and warm and starchy.

followed up saturday morning with the ricotta pancakes

i confess, i didn’t love them, but i also didn’t make them quite the way mr. slater suggested. i didn’t separate the eggs and get that extra air into the whites to make them fluffy. still i thought that the cheese flavor was a bit much, and the pancakes a bit dry.

more from the kitchen diaries

my fatal error on these chicken patties--which smelled so good when i first mixed them with the rosemary and garlic--was baking them instead of pan-frying them. they completely dried out! the sweet potato fries were an easy compliment to the mixed flavors of the proscuitto and the chicken. especially good were the bites where i picked up a blend of chicken and ham--light yet salty and flavored.

risotto #3 - chicken confit

another saturday, another risotto. i wish i could have tried the confit with duck fat, but the olive oil was light and unintrusive, and it blended really well with the risotto. the texture of the rice was a bit different--presumably because i used olive oil instead of butter--and the rice actually reheated well! the one off note was the carrot. in future, i should only add carrot if i have fresh ones from the market, so as to borrow their sweetness and easy texture.

chocolate bread and bread puddings

chocolate bread turned out to not be chocolate-y enough, and making the candied cherries was a waste of time (should have just used straight dried cherries with sugar). but the bread pudding cupcakes (cupcake bakeshop) turned out to be delightfully tasty! since i had the chocolate in the bread already, i used a white chocolate cream base to make the pudding and served it up with a creme brulee cocktail (pulled the recipe from the cook and eat blog). the little cakes were sweet and chewy and warm, perfect for a late sunday night snack.

proscuitto bread and what became of it

was totally stupid with the bread machine and accidentally turned it off! fortunately, it had already kneaded and was in the middle of its second rise, so i just baked it as-is. turned out noticeably flatter than before, but still didn’t get that proscuitto taste. next time, i’ll just make a straight bread.

did get several perks out of it, though! toasted it, smeared it with brie, and made it divinely dunkable with a bowl of mushroom soup:

and then used some of my fresh mozzarella and even more soup to make a mozzarella en carozza:


quickie "quesadilla" for a bone-chilling night

dreamt all day of something gooey and casserole-y, possibly the peruvian potato and quinoa “macaroni” i’ve been saving for almost a year, but found when i came home that i lacked the energy--and the warmth--to do much of anything at all. decided to do something completely un-weekday-like and crank up the heat, light a real fire, get straight into pajamas and have a quickie dinner. i pulled one of the huge market portabellos out of the fridge, sliced it up--didn’t even bother browning it first--and plopped it on a tortilla with some jack cheese. while the cheese was melting--i didn’t cook it much more than to melt the cheese--i simmered some pre-made sweet corn soup and spiced it up with some pepper, paprika, cayenne and a dash of cumin and drank it out of a mug.

light, i admit, and pretty weak sauce, but it definitely hit the spot.

tomorrow for lunch--leftover risotto with the tomato soup.

notes while reading nigella's 'how to eat'

definitely another cookbook worth reading cover to cover, recipe by recipe. she’s very engaging, chatty even, and makes everything seem simple and doable.

i like her mantra of picking a skill to work on and then practicing it until it feels natural instead of a challenge. will apply this to making pie crust (pastry crust?) over the next several weeks...

i’m just in the “basics” section right now--it seems to dovetail with the ease and serendipity of the nigel slater’s recipes. which makes sense, given how many times he states that nigella lawson is one of his favorite cookbook authors!

the section on stocking your fridge, freezer and pantry strikes me as totally common sense and yet utterly useful. i often fantasize about starting a kitchen from scratch, and i well recall how the last two times i moved i lugged along boxes of canned and boxed goods that ended up being useless, because i was trying to stock the pantry.

i’m less enthralled by her cooking in advance section, because although the advice is again sound and quite sensical, i’m less impressed with the recipes (largely for soups and stews that i can only assume are british-type favorites) but her writing is really shining through (“i loathe the acrid dustiness of standard-issue sherry,” she explains when she describes why she uses orange liquor in her trifles).

into the actual cooking sections now (one and two; fast food) and i’m starting to see very tempting ideas and recipes, instead of just “mere” inspiration for goals. i particularly liked the pasta recipes in “one and two” and am now enthralled by the simple soups and suppers of “fast food.”


gnudi (ricotta cheese gnocchi)

i pulled this recipe from epicurious.com, and as i trolled my recipe file for ideas this week i was struck with inspiration for the tub of ricotta i had sitting around, waiting to be eaten. aside from the obvious cannoli cream, the two possibilities that appealed to me me were for pancakes of some kind or, in a stroke of seeming genius during work one afternoon, this recipe for “gnudi.” (which i had never heard of, but have since seen by other names on several blogs and other sites)

so, the prep: while a bit time-consuming (albeit in an inactive prep sort of way), the overall preparation of this recipe was so easy that i was able to prep three other recipes whilst this one was going (cherries for the bread, brining some chicken for tomorrow’s risotto, and starting a new loaf of proscuitto-stuffed bread (although this time, i used more of the ham and in larger slices in hopes of evoking more flavor).

then i did the sauce, which consisted of sauteing some mushrooms and reducing some chicken broth, and as this was boiling i formed the bits of pasta. which was also easy.

so then we are left with the eating. the consistency was so cool--like a little ricotta scrambled egg, and the taste was particularly enhanced by the earthiness of the mushrooms and the saltiness of the ham. on its own, the cheese was a bit strong, but i chalk this up to me having made he individual bits of pasta much much too large for any normal person. they were at least twice as large as i should have made them, perhaps even more. so herein lies the major flaw in my meal for the evening. with such large lumps of the pasta, i was quickly overwhelmed by the cheese flavor and as such didn’t eat nearly a full plate. which also explains why epicurious suggests them as an appetizer--which i can fully agree with, having tried to eat them for dinner.

bang-on with the bangers and mash, and weekend goals

so, this weekend will be another cookfest, although i think i will take it easy on sunday. for a change.

tonight, it's the ricotta pasta. not sure about dessert yet, but while the pasta is chilling, i'll make a batch of candied cherries (for the bread), i'll prep the confit for tomorrow's risotto, and maybe i'll start a batch of the proscuitto bread for tomorrow's lunch.

tomorrow, i'll probably stay light on the breakfast so i can do a soup and sandwich lunch, and then for dinner the confit. in between, i'll do the chocolate bread (leaving a few slices to dry out for bread pudding), and maybe a cookie. i've a fancy to try one of the weirder cookies i've been collecting instead of a basic drop cookie (since i have muffins, brownies, and a log of chocolate chip in the freezer). dessert saturday, maybe i'll try the bread pudding cupcakes, since i can make a small batch of them and decide how i actually feel about bread pudding.

sunday, i'll finish off the ricotta with some ricotta pancakes, either cherry or orange or raspberry. i'll go easy on the lunch and do one of the veggie stews for dinner. maybe the sweet potato stew? not sure yet. maybe more cupcakes. :-) if i end up defrosting any of the frozen cherries for pancakes, i'll do the cherry-vanilla cupcakes, because one of my winter goals was to use those damn cherries.

in other news, dinner last night was awesome. the mashed (whipped, really) potatoes were bang-on and i loved the combo of the bangers and the mash. didn't end up eating a whole lot of it, because it was seriously rich and filling, but i did plate it with a side of green beans that i had fried in the rendered sausage grease. yum. with lots of leftovers. make a quick batch of brownies--love the KA recipe because there is no chocolate melting involved and it's easy to halve. just like the nigel slater entry that inspired the meal in the first place.

i had never used the mixer to make mashed potatoes, although i know a lot of people covet the mixers because it makes that sort of dish so easy. little did i know how delightful it would be! i just boiled some baby yukon golds, threw them in the mixer, turned it on, and as they whipped i threw in some spices and some cream until i saw a consistency and taste that suited my mood. nothing could be simpler.

p.s. am just reminded of the far breton cake. hmmm.