Archive for February, 2011

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are almost too easy to bother writing up. But there are a few tricks that make them even better. The problem is, everyone likes them to be a little different. I like mine velvet smooth. Maybe you like yours lumpedy with skins. I keep the flavor simple and mild to serve as a good side to a rich or spicy dish. Mr. B would prefer a few cloves of roasted garlic in his. So I’ll just tell you what I do here.

It all starts with potatoes.

Ingredients (serves 2)

2 medium or 1 honkin’ big russet potatoes

about 4 T butter

1/4-1/3 cup heavy cream (or milk or sour cream as your taste prefers)

1/2 t mustard powder

1/2 t salt (okay, I use more. I use more salt than any other living human, though.)

cheese and seasonings to taste

Directions

Peel the taters and chop into about 3/4 inch dice. Boil them in at least enough water to cover them for 10-15 minutes, until the chunks split in half when you stab them with a fork. Then drain them in a colander and smash them all up. I use a potato ricer, because it clears out every little last lump, but a traditional smasher or a fork or just a sturdy whisk will do.

Cut the butter up and toss it into the potatoes. Add the cream a bit at a time. No two potatoes are the same size nor absorb the same amount of water, so the amount of cream it takes to make them light and fluffy will always change.

Sorry, taking a picture of white food with flash can be complicated, especially when one is as unskilled a photographer as I am.  After that shot, I used my hand mixer on low speed to incorporate everything. You do not want to mix too long or too fast. Too much mixing leads to mashed glue, for sciencey reasons I’m too tired to go into at the moment. Remind me later. Sprinkle in salt and spices and mix just to incorporate, then gently stir in grated or crumbled cheese, if using. And voila, mashed potatoes. One of the greatest side dishes known to man.

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Ginger Lemon Cremes, or Three Little Problems

I have a problem.

No, not the lizard. Let me rephrase. I have three gorgeous yellow problems that have been staring at me, pouting from their spot on the counter, for over a week. It’s pathetic. I am talking about Meyer lemons. Half lemon, half orange, thin skinned and succulent, subtle yet immensly powerful. What on earth am I going to do with them? If I don’t find the perfect recipe to showcase these gems they are going to turn into horrible mouldy mush and the world will end.

I have a second problem. I have an addiction to these little cookies that cannot be sated, but I know they can be improved.

I have a third problem. I may be certifiably insane, because I decided to use one of the precious lemons to make the lemon creme for these cookies. And I decided to base my recipe around guesswork and the ingredients list from the package.

They’re not perfect, I’ll warn you. I need to make the cookies crisper and more crackery next time, but I haven’t figured out yet how to do that without sacrificing their flavor, which is rich and creamy and molasses-dark, a perfect counterpoint to the light, bright lemon creme sandwiched between them.

 

Lemon and ginger, as a combination, cannot be beaten. The ginger adds heat and spice to the lemon, highlighting it like Fourth of July sparklers. The lemon provides a sunny tartness that nevertheless feels cool against the ginger, like a lazy summer day in the swimming pool I no longer have because I left Florida like an idiot. Um, anyway. Cookies!

Owl, king of the cookie sandwich!

Ingredients (makes about 2 dozen cookies, or 12 cookie sandwiches. What constitutes a serving is up to you and your owl.)

For the cookies:

6 T (3/4 of a stick) of softened butter

1/3 cup molasses

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 t vanilla

1 1/4 cups flour

2 t baking soda

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 t ginger*

1/4 t salt

For rolling:

1/4 cup of granulated sugar

1/2 t ginger

*I know, it’s not a lot of ginger. We’re going for gentle and mild here. If that’s not what you want, double the ginger, but use a regular lemon in the creme instead of a meyer one, or the citrus will be overpowered.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F and get started on that batter.

Cream butter and sugar, then add molasses, egg, and vanilla, mixing well between ingredients. Molasses is messy and almost bitter and you’ll want to wash your counter after using it, but it makes this cookie. Please, if you make substitutions, leave the molasses alone. It is the best part.

Now the dry ingredients. I have no patience for dirtying a second mixing bowl just for flour and friends. I dumped all the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon  into my fine mesh strainer, stirred it a bit with a spoon, and sifted directly into my one bowl. Then out with the handy dandy hand mixer to blend it all together. In the end, it looked like peanut butter.

This was my first hurdle. This dough is sticky. I chilled it for a couple of hours in the fridge, but it was still sticky. So I mixed 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and 1/2 a teaspoon of ginger in a little dish, and rolled my dough balls in it. Make the dough balls about 1 T each. I think I made each one a little bigger than the last, and ended with one monster cookie at the end that we just ate straight out of the oven before it could destroy Tokyo or get tricked by a fox or anything else untoward.

Arrange the dough balls on a parchment lined baking sheet and squish ’em a little. I Just put the little stars on to measure spreading, an effort that proved futile as the stars melted totally out of view. Let me just say they spread a lot. Bake these at 350°F for 8-10 minutes, turning and swapping the positions of the pans after 4 minutes. When they’re done, slide the parchment off of the cookie sheets and onto the counter so that the heat from the cookie sheets stops cooking them. This is easier if Mr. B hasn’t chosen this exact moment to take over half of a counter and the stovetop for the making of tea.

While the cookies are cooling, make the lemon filling.

Ingredients

6 T butter

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

zest and juice of 1 meyer lemon

I thought about using cream cheese instead of butter for a thicker, creamier, and more intense filling. I’m glad I went with butter, which contributed to the lightness I was going for and didn’t compete for attention with the meyer lemon at all.

Directions

Cream butter and zest together, then sift in the sugar and mix on high. It will seem like it’s not working for a few minutes, but will then rather suddenly turn into a nice thick frosting. Juice the lemon into a small bowl, then strain out the seeds. I just poured mine through the same fine mesh strainer I used to sift the sugar. A spoon works just as well for juicing citrus as a traditional reamer does, just squeeze and twist. I got about 3 1/2 T of juice out of my lemon. If you get much more, you may need to add a bit more sugar to the mix to keep it from being too liquidy. Use your own judgment; I’m not in your kitchen to see what’s going on. Mix well until the lemon creme is light and fluffy.

Spread a good sized dollop of filling onto a cookie, top with another cookie, and squish. Continue until all of your cookies are cookie sandwiches. If you have an odd cookie out, make a cookie burrito out of it with lots of filling. You’re the cook, so you’ve earned first taste, right?

So they aren’t really that close the the source of the addiction, and they do need some tweaking, but I’m still going to have to take these to work to keep from eating them all here. So they’re definitely good.

Now what should I do with those other two lemons?

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Stir Fry: Any Way You Like It

Stir fry is my go-to dish for last-minute dinners, quick hot lunch, and emergency solution for days when Mr. B and I just don’t want the same thing. Stir fry is fast, it’s easy, and it’s fun. I’ve been avoiding providing a recipe, though, because I don’t think we’ve ever made it the same way twice. Still, I make it all the time, and almost everything I cook can be wildly altered. I mean, that’s half the fun of cooking, right? Making stuff up as you go? So here it is: stir fry any way you like it. Just the basic principles here!

Ingredients (to serve 2)

3/4 cup of long grain rice

1 cup of water

1 T mirin

Per person:

about a cup of mixed vegetables, or 1/2 to 3/4 cup of vegetables and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped meat

favorite seasonings, to taste

soy sauce and mirin, to taste

one egg, optional

You see why I was avoiding giving a recipe now, don’t you?

Directions

First, make rice. No, I don’t have a rice cooker. Tiny apartments are not highly conducive to owning a million gadgets, so I had to settle for half a million gadgets. Pour the rice and water and about 1 T mirin (rice vinegar) into a small saucepan, cover with the lid, and bring to a boil. Let it boil about a minute, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 12-14 minutes. Boring rice time is over, let’s play with veggies!

This is one I made for lunch a couple of weeks ago right before going to the grocery store. 1/2 a cup of frozen peas, diced sweet potato, sliced purple potato, and a dab of miso paste. I don’t usually go so carb heavy. Tonight, for instance, I used broccoli, asparagus, carrots, peas, and diced chicken. Mr. B had broccoli, ground beef,  and egg. Just whatever’s in the fridge. Toss these ingredients in whatever spice you want. Chinese five spice, pepper, garlic, salt, curry powder, whatever.

So, heat your wok (or heavy bottomed sauce pan) on high, add 1-2 T of cooking oil once it’s nice and hot, throw in all of your ingredients and stir furiously with a spatula or wooden spoon for a few minutes (three to five minutes?)

At this point I usually turn off the heat and throw in a little mirin and/or soy sauce and toss a moment more before mixing with rice and serving. Mr. B likes to fry his rice, too. To do that, scoop all your vegetables to one side in the wok, crack an egg into the empty half, and scoop 1/2 of the rice you made into the wok on top of the egg. Count to 10 to let the egg start to fry, then stir furiously again for about 1-2 minutes before serving.

There you go. A simple and delicious way to use those last few bites of veggies lurking in the back of the fridge.

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German Pancakes

This was my favorite breakfast when I was a kid, and it still is now. My mom makes it a little differently than my grandma did, and I’m sticking with Mom’s recipe. Sorry, G’ma! If you’ve never heard of a German pancake, they’re fantastic. Pillowy and crisp as sopaipillas, but without the deep-fried guilt and hassle, plus a pile of eggs to add an almost omlette-like texture. You might call them Dutch babies or Bismarcks or anything else you like. It doesn’t matter, they’re still the best easy breakfast out there.

Ingredients (serves 2 today and 2 tomorrow. Or just 2 today if you are a voracious little wombat.)

6 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup flour

4 T butter, melted

1/2 t salt

2 t vanilla

Directions

This could not be easier. Butter two 9-inch cake or pie tins and preheat the oven to 450° F. Combine all ingredients and blend for a full minute until it’s all a bubbly liquid. I use an immersion blender because it is small and my kitchen doesn’t have room for a real blender. Mom and G’ma use a regular blender. You could also use a hand mixer on high speed. It doesn’t matter as long as it gets mixed up.

This recipe makes two, so pour the batter evenly into your two buttered cake tins.

See the bubbles? and don’t worry about the batter being thin. You want it that way. Bake at 450°F for 15-20 minutes, when they will be golden brown and shiny with butter and also, magically (okay, science happens and the water trapped in the pancakes becomes steam which takes up a larger volume so basically, you get pancake hills.)

Look how much taller it is than the pan! It’s like a soufflé! I thought this was the coolest thing ever as a kid, and I won’t lie, it’s still pretty cool now. from the top they look like this:

It will deflate pretty quickly, I’m sad to say. Serve however you like. We had ours with honey and slices of moro orange and apple juice and Italian hot chocolate.

Other good toppings are peanut butter, Nutella, cinnamon-sugared apple slices, maple syrup, anything you like. Eat up, they’re delicious!

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Asparagus Sandwiches

I don’t know what’s come over me. I’ve eaten asparagus about four times this week, and I’m still craving it. We had asparagus with duck on Monday, asparagus and peas in lemony pasta on Tuesday, asparagus beef rolls for an appetizer on Thursday, and now this.

This is proof that a sandwich needs no meat to be a filling meal unto itself. And it’s so easy! All you need are a few things.

Ingredients (serves 2 hungry people)

about 20 asparagus spears, trimmed of woody parts

2-3 ounces of nice stinky cheese, grated (we used raclette, but I’d love to try asiago or chaumes)

8 little slices of ciabatta or 4 bigger slices of a tasty sourdough or rye

a bit of butter or oil

Directions

Finely grate the cheese and sprinkle it over the bread. put that in the oven at 350°F while you cook the asparagus.

Heat a grill pan (or cast iron or nonstick skillet) over medium high and add a bit of butter or oil to flavor the asparagus and keep it from sticking. Cook the asparagus 4-5 minutes, turning over with a spatula halfway through to cook it evenly.

My grill pan is pretty tiny, so I did this in two batches. Pull out your cheesy bread and enjoy the smell of melted cheese. It makes everything better.

My ciabatta was store bought and way too holey, which is why I had to use the baking sheet. Not using a baking sheet is better, as it allows the oven to crisp up the bottoms of the bread slices. Asparagus packs a nice bit of crunch on its own, so this was still good, but there’s just something about crunchy bread that’s unmistakable and better than everything else. Moving on. Top 1/2 of the bread slices with asparagus spears (4 or 5 fit on these skinny slices), sandwich it up, and devour. Then take a moment to realize that you just made a delicious and fairly healthful lunch in only ten minutes. That means you’re allowed to have dessert, right?

 

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Smoked Duck Legs in Red Wine Sauce

Duck is amazing. The meat is dark and flavorful, the fat makes some of the best hash browns known to man, the skin crisps in no time flat and is incredibly forgiving and resistant to burns, and I just got a five and a half pound duck at the Asian market for $12. Or, to put it another way, cheaper than ground beef. Anyone who says duck is too expensive is not looking hard enough.

That sauce is really garishly purple. I wasn’t expecting it. I used to refuse to eat oddly colored foods, and I have to admit I was a little concerned about this one. In the end, I wished I had more of it to pour over the asparagus.

Duck Legs in Red Wine Sauce (serves 2)

Ingredients

For the marinade:

2 cups red wine (I used Bogle Syrah. because it was cheap, and we like Bogle generally.)

2 T miso paste

1-2 T mustard (or some mustard powder and a bit of minced garlic)

A great big sprig of fresh rosemary

Duck neck fat (I know, gross, right?)

For the rest:

Legs and wings of one duck

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Marinate the duck for at least a couple of hours. The best way to do this is probably to throw it in the marinade in the fridge before going to work (or even the night before) so it will have a good long while to soak and you won’t have to eat too late.

It was only coincidence that we ate something so darn pink on Valentine’s day, okay? Once you’re ready to cook, set your smoker up like we talked about before. Turn the stove up to medium and arrange the meat on the rack.

Shut the lid once it starts to smoke and ignore it for half an hour. This is when you make the sauce. I hope you didn’t throw out the marinade, because that’s pretty much what the sauce is. Slash open the skin of the neck flesh to expose the fatty layer and simmer in a small saucepan to render the fat. Discard the rest of the neck flesh, or feed it to the small carnivores. Either way works. Add the rest of the marinade to the saucepan and simmer until it is a consistency that makes you happy. I went for pretty darn thick. It will be purple. This may not make you happy.

Then the giant box-shaped timer in your kitchen will beep, and it’s time to check on the duck.  I had been planning to toss it under the broiler as I did with the chicken, but the skin was already brown and crisp so I just left well enough alone.

Sauce, duck, and vegetable ready to go. I plated the duck and asparagus, poured the sauce over the duck, and we were done. It is worth noting that each duck wing had about a half of a sliver of meat on it. I mean there wasn’t enough meat to feed my fish. It wasn’t worth the effort. But the legs were fantastic. Also, all the fat dripped right into the smoker drip pan and were easily poured into a little jar that is now waiting in my fridge. I look forward to the next time we want hash browns.

As a side note, want to add atmosphere to any dinner? Add a cheese course, or just one cheese. That smoked cheddar complemented the duck wonderfully, and made the whole meal feel a bit fancier for no effort.

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Tomato Free Lasagna with Artichokes and Kale

I literally can not remember the last time I had lasagna. The tomato allergy put a lot of really amazing Italian dishes right out of reach for me, so when I started making this last night, I was terrified. Maybe it would be awful. Maybe it would be just fine, but I wouldn’t like it. Maybe some dishes just can’t be adapted to not use tomatoes.

I shouldn’t have worried. It was creamy and complex with a cracker-crisp layer of parmesan over the top and had just enough vegetable to feel like a whole meal in one casserole. This recipe, in other words, rocks. I will confess, I didn’t measure everything. Until I started putting all this stuff on the Internet, I only ever measured for pastry and eyeballed everything else. I like to use as much of something as looks or smells or tastes right. Actually, I feel dough when I bake and add flour or liquid as needed. So my old habits kicked in tonight, and for a few things I’m just going to have to guess how much I used. Use your own judgment if it doesn’t seem right to you. Recipes are meant to be played with!

Ingredients (makes a 9X13 casserole, serves 6-8)

3/4 pound lasagna noodles (15 sheets)*

4 cups carrot sauce (double this recipe)

2 eggs

1 pound mozzarella, grated. I used the cheap stuff. It’s a whole pound of mozzarella, and melting rather improves it.

4-6 leaves of kale, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 eight-ounce bag of frozen artichoke hearts.

some sour cream (We talked about this. I just used a spoon, okay?)

3/4 cup grated parmesan

Directions

 

Steam makes any photo look ominous.

 

First make the carrot sauce. If you’re smarter than I am you have some in the fridge, but I tend to make small batches and them wish I had more. So I made the double batch, and discovered that my immersion blender can handle it (Good; that much sauce will not get along with my food processor. Not in one batch, anyway.) Stir the eggs into the carrot sauce and set aside.

 

 

Boil the lasagna noodles until al dente, according to the instructions on the box. This only deserves special mention because of what happens next. Once you drain them, they will try to weld themselves together with an adhesive strength rivalling that of concrete. So I peeled them apart, cursing up a storm as I burned every one of my fingers, and draped them over the sides of my colander. There has got to be a better way.

 

 

Preheat the oven to 375°F and start making lasagna layers. Assembling the lasagna is actually fun for someone as compulsive as I am. First, three noodles to cover the bottom of my dish. Then I spread some sour cream over the noodles with the back of a spoon. I probably used about two teaspoons per layer, but just use as much or as little as you want. This turned out to be my accidental secret ingredient, as I forgot to tell Mr. Blackbird about it and he was obsessing over that one flavor he couldn’t name. Oops.

Then sprinkle about 1/5 of the mozzarella over the pasta, smear about 3/4 of a cup of sauce over that, and layer in some artichoke hearts and kale. I didn’t measure any of this, and it came out great, so please don’t worry if one layer has a whole cup of sauce and the next has too many veggies, because it will all work out. I promise, this turned out to be an incredibly forgiving dish.

That right there, for instance, was a not-enough-kale layer. The next one made up for it. Repeat with all the layers but the top one, where you want the cheese on top for bubbling purposes. The parmesan goes on top of that. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, then uncover and bake another 5-10 to get the top nice and crispy. I actually cranked the oven up to max broil for two minutes and got a thin parmesan cracker over the top of the casserole, which I declared the best part. Mr. Blackbird does not agree. He liked the artichokes best. Serve with wine and a bit of bread, if you like. It really needs no accompaniment. Next time I might throw in some pulled smoked chicken breast, but this dish honestly holds its own without it.

I tried to show the layers here, but I don’t think it comes across. Or maybe it does. Look at how nicely everything just smooshes together into one amazing, savory bite!

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