Nov 052016
 

Belgian beer, beef, and barley srew

I wish I could remember what originally inspired me to develop this recipe. Maybe I just figured that I like beer and I like beef, and I really love carbonnade, so I should just run with it an turn it into a beef stew with more typical ingredients. And this is the result: a multi-layered stew packed with coordinating flavors with beef that melts on your tongue and a broth with a luxurious mouth-feel. Utterly delicious and satisfying, ideal to warm you up on a brisk fall day!

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 Posted by on November 5, 2016 at 11:00 am
Nov 012016
 

Slow-cooker curried chicken breasts

I think everyone knows that I love fall. I eagerly await cooler temps, getting more and more irritated with 70-degree weather, because we all know that that is just simply too hot.

Have I mentioned that I want to spend my life in Alaska? Things are probably making more sense to you now.

This autumn has been especially fun because The Wee She-Om-Nom-Sauce is all excited about the leaves turning colors and falling off the trees. She is obsessed with the idea that fall is one day in its entirety and that all the leaves will fall on that day — despite evidence to the contrary, since I’ve raked the front yard at least half a dozen times since the equinox. She’s not too fussed with this evidence, so long as I leave a pile of leaves for her and the Wee He-Om-Nom-Sauce to play in. But I digress.

Slow-cooker curried chicken breasts

Fall means something else — I can finally be a lazy cook again! Soups! Stews! Slow-cooker meals! I will double all the recipes! I will put everything in the freezer! I’ll only have to cook like two times a week! As much as I love to cook, it can be hard while your Wee Ones are trying to set up picnic blankets right in the middle of the path from your prep space to the stovetop. Plus, we have all those leaf-piles to play in. Priorities!

So here’s my first slow-cooker meal of the fall. Curries are great in the slow-cooker because while the appliance can dull many flavors, the spices in Indian food stand up to the low/slow/steamy method. I paired it with a terrific Madhur Jaffrey recipe for green beans (which I will definitely be repeating) and everyone was happy. Back to the leaf-pile!

Slow-cooker curried chicken breasts

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 Posted by on November 1, 2016 at 11:00 am
Oct 262016
 

Pumpkin yeast bread

It’s fall and the pumpkin spice must flow. Only, a person can get tired of all the cloyingly sweet applications. Don’t get me wrong: I love the cookies, the quick-breads, the martinis, and the occasional half-the-syrup latte. And the pie! The pie will soon be upon us! After a while though, I yearn for something more savory.

Enter a bread from Whole Foods that I’ve adored for years. It’s savory, but still spiced like familiarity craves, soft, delicious, and divine — utterly divine — as a vehicle for runny egg yolk. The problems are two-fold: a) being from Whole Foods, it’s exorbitantly expensive, and b) they don’t roll it out until Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving!!! Where is the sense in that, I ask?! No one else waits until Thanksgiving to bring out their pumpkin amazingness!

Clearly, it was time for me to take matters into my own hands.

There were plenty of unknowns (what is the hydration of the loaf? How exactly does pumpkin affect the hydration percentage of a dough?) but enough knowns (thank you, ingredient label) for me to get a good start. And to borrow a phrase from my favorite wild-yeast baker, this is bread, not birth control, so it doesn’t have to be perfect while I figure out how to get the recipe just right. I figured out that one cup of pumpkin puree roughly replaces one cup of flour AND one cup of liquid (that was a surprise!) and looked to Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challah for inspiration for a soft-yet-brown-crusted dairy-free loaf.

After plenty of tweaking and enlisting my family and friends (thank you to the Om-nom-sauce family, my mom, Heather, and Crystal) as test-bakers and guinea pigs, I’ve settled upon a loaf that I’ll proudly serve, and which has served to spawn even more inspiration through the endless possibilities of variations. I hope you love this loaf as much as I do!

Pumpkin yeast bread

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May 112014
 

Towering tangy English muffins

I adore a good English muffin. And like all things bread, they are infinitely better when made at home. The good news here is that they are ridiculously easy to make. This came as especially good news to my Dad, who adores these little disks of nooks and crannies. Since I discovered they he loves them so much, they’ve become A Thing, something we can make together. You see, he doesn’t ask for much (I’m way more demanding when it comes to “Hey Dad! Make me that delicious thing you make! And this! And that! PUT IT ALL ON THE GRILL!”), so I’m thrilled to have something in my back pocket that I can make when we’re together and I know he’ll genuinely appreciate it and love it (though I have to admit that the making of English muffins often gets usurped by our shared quest for the perfect nacho and guac).

Towering tangy English muffins

I first dipped my toes into the English muffin pond back in my BBAC days and it was pretty apparent to me then that these were something special, something fun, and (I know I already mentioned it before, but it bears repeating) so easy. Griddle-bread is something special and fun — kind of like a mating between the processes for tortillas and sandwich breads. And they are an ideal vehicle for so many things that are good to put in your mouth that I have a hard time resisting them.

Towering tangy English muffins

One of the best things about home-made English muffins is the sheer scale of these things. These suckers are tall. Whether it’s because you can give them a long time to cook and set their internal structure before flipping them (that perhaps a factory-bakery can’t) or the fact that you don’t have to be stingy with the dough (the way a factory-bakery would), I can’t say. Just think about all the jam you could pile on to a split muffin! All the clotted cream! (Which, by the way, I’ve never had, but that does sound scrumptious.) All the almond-butter and bananas! All the poached eggs! (And yes, of course, Hollandaise and bacon too.) People, these are English muffins as you’ve never had them before. So please, if you are an English muffin-phile, go forth and remedy that situation!

Towering tangy English muffins

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May 042014
 

I find the concept of terroir fascinating. It’s a set of characteristics about where a food was grown or produced that affects the way it tastes. This concept is used a lot in wine and it refers to the special characteristics of a region’s soil, water, micro-climate, etc. that make it impossible to reproduce. You can’t just dig up a grape plant from France, plunk it down in Ohio, and expect it to taste the same. You also see this idea in cheeses from pasture-fed animals (as special characteristics of the place’s grace ultimately affect the cheese’s taste) or wild-yeast breads (as many strains of lactobacillus are regional and unique in flavor), or from man-made sources such as the bagels in New York City (whose special flavor is rumored to come from the water’s pipes).

This dish has absolutely nothing to do with that. But I have to admit that this recipe has a special terrior in my memory. Though this is a distinctly regional dish, it really has nothing to do with the more conventional definition. It’s difficult to explain, but whenever I cook this or eat it, I’m transported to specific points in space and time in my memory. I remember fun times with my friend Adrienne and the great pride that she has in this wonderful family recipe. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this dish from her several times and can remember with searing detail so much of those meals. And, fortunately for me, I was able to peer over her shoulder one day as she cooked it and she showed me what she meant when she said “cook it until it looks right.” Adrienne is one of those people who understands the transformative power of a good meal shared with the right company and the power of such food to cement an experience in your mind and the ability of it to transport you back in a split-second — its mental terrior, as I’ve clumsily attempted to explain. And even if this recipe isn’t tightly moored in wonderful and happy parts of your brain as mine is, I think you’ll find that this is most definitely some good eats.

Sittie's red beans and rice

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Apr 132014
 

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

Do you ever have those moments in your food-related life when you come across an idea so great and so simple that you really have to give your brain the stink-eye and ask, in your most accusatory voice, “Really? You couldn’t grace me with that idea?”

I know I sure do.

This bread is the most recent in a string of such events. Our locally-owned grocery store has a fantastic bakery, and one of the crown jewels of their ovens in a 100% whole-grain sprouted-wheat pumpkin-seed bread. Whew. Quite a mouthful.

(Ha! See what I did there?)

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

I this is where I start to interrogate my brain. Adding pumpkin seeds to bread is such a great idea, I have to wonder why on earth I never thought of it myself.

So I set out to make a tasty version myself. I wanted to use my favorite buttermilk loaf as the basis for it, but didn’t because a) I started this when I was still on the dairy-elimination diet, and b) I was worried that the acid-tenderized gluten wouldn’t be able to stand up to the addition of an enormous amount of seeds. I settled on this version because, well, it’s delicious. It’s not the same as the loaf that inspired it, but it is lighter in texture and better-suited for pan-shaping. Perhaps one day I’ll try a sprouted wheat version, but today? Today I’m perfectly content with the loaf I have in front of me right now.

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

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Apr 032014
 

Norwich sourdough

I grew up under the impression that I disliked sourdough bread. I suspect I am not alone here, as I grew up before the bread revolution and there was a glut of face-puckering super-sour sourdoughs on the market. I suppose they were ostensibly trying to emulate what people though San Francisco sourdough should be, but let’s face it: it didn’t make for very good eats.

Seven years ago, I started baking my own bread. As I delved deeper and deeper into the lifestyle of homemade bread, I started to get interested in the idea of sourdough because I lived in Alaska at the time and sourdough is a big part of the state’s cultural history. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I finally got up the nerve to pull the trigger and start a wild yeast culture.

As with so many new-to-me things in the bread world, Peter Reinhart and the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge were the original things that nudged me into trying out wild yeast. I built a seed culture and promptly abandoned it after a few days not because I thought it was dead, but because I was seriously afraid that it was going to eat the house. I now know that I had a pretty wicked leuconostoc culture going, but that bacteria would have died out in time as more desirable lactobacillus bacteria pulled eminent domain in my starter.

In 2011, I had a pretty good starter named Zeke going, using instructions from 52 Loaves (which is a great read but not the best way to raise and care for a starter), though I didn’t know any better and kept it in the fridge and didn’t refresh it properly before baking with it, so it was never able to raise a good loaf without spiking the dough with some commercial yeast. Then I got pregnant, couldn’t even look at food (much less feed my food), and Zeke The First died, though he lives on in a portion that I shared with Heather when she visited once.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago. I have a toddler and haven’t done much bread-baking since she was born (shocking, isn’t it?). I was at a breastfeeding mamas group meeting and just happened to get into a sourdough discussion with a friend, and the bread-baking bug — all eighteen months’ worth of suppressed water, flour, yeast, and salt — reared its head and roared. Twenty-four hours later I had thrown together a starter (again named Zeke, this time using the method from the Wild Yeast blog), and ten days later when it was (finally) mature (hey, my kitchen was cold), I started baking with it and haven’t slowed up since.

This recipe is one I had pinned oh-so-many years ago, back when Zeke The First was still with me. I decided this Norwich sourdough would be an excellent inaugural foray for Zeke The Second simply based on the fact that it is Susan-of-Wild-Yeast’s favorite. She knows her stuff, so it naturally seemed like a good starting point. And though there were some mis-steps and hiccups along the way because my skills need some rust knocked off, it was still quite tasty and I was thrilled to see that I really could bake bread with only water, flour and salt.

Yesterday I decided to bake another round of Norwich, and oh my goodness, this is seriously some of the prettiest and tastiest bread I’ve ever made. Zeke imparts a pleasant tang, completely unlike the sourdoughs of my youth. And this crust? Oh my, you don’t get this sort of crust from commercial yeast. I don’t even know how to describe it: perhaps one that sings upon being taken from the oven and has shattering layers with a bit of chew? Zeke is still a young’n and his flavor will continue to develop for another week or so, and I can’t wait to see what adventures we’re going to have together.

Norwich sourdough

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Jul 212013
 

Roasted poblanos

I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I really did resist the whole idea of hominy for a long time. I’m not sure why, but there was some strong reaction to the word (not the concept, just the word) in my brain. Maybe it was because it sounds somewhat like homily, which is a thing I found to be exceptionally tedious in my formative years. Of course, hominy and homilies have absolutely nothing in common, unless I’m going to use this here platform to preach to you about the virtues of nixtamalized corn. Which I might just a little bit, given that this is my blog and all and I do have a tendency to go on about food that I really, really like.

Ahem.

My love affair with hominy began just shy of a year ago when I was cooking like a mad-woman to stock the freezer before The Babe was born (yes, I was totally bare-foot and pregnant in the kitchen). I had never had the stuff but decided to make a pork-hominy-tomatillo stew to squirrel away for the post-partum days. (We ate better than the average newly-minted parents. It was a priority.) I was pretty-much ensnared once I discovered than it smelled like a really really good corn tortilla tastes. And the stew? Heavenly. One of these days I’ll get around posting it here. But I digress.

Having repented of my anti-hominy ways, it wasn’t long before I was ordering more of the stuff from Rancho Gordo, which meant, of course, that I needed to find more ways to cook it.

Enter the poblano: while she was visiting one weekend, Mrs Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice and I discovered these in Tucson at a chef demo at my favorite farmers’ market. The chef had soaked strips of the pepper in tequila and simple syrup and then dehydrated them to make a candy. Delish! I had found a new favorite pepper. So when I came across a recipe on the Rancho Gordo website that used both roasted poblanos and hominy, it took me all of about two seconds to decide that I was going to have to try it. I’ve made it several times and several different ways and it never disappoints. So throw irrational food prejudices and caution (except when it comes to those serranos — whoo boy, those should be used sparingly) to the wind and whip up a pot of this. Else I’ll be forced to go on a hominy homily, and really, no one wants to hear that.

Roasted poblano pozole

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Jul 072013
 
Strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam

Strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam

A glut of fresh fruit is one of the best things about summer, wouldn’t you agree? Last week I found myself in a situation where I came back from the farmers’ market with strawberries so ripe that you could smell them from five yards away (how can anyone resist such a siren’s song?) only to discover that I still had some left-over from the previous week’s excursion. So I had a lot of strawberries — certainly great for just eating out of hand — but I decided that I wanted to try something I had never done before and make some jam.

Not having, well, any canning equipment except some stray mis-matched Mason jars, I decided to go the easy route for my first foray and settled on freezer jam. I took some inspiration from a jar of freezer jam a friend gave me when I lived in Alaska, from the Freezerves at Snow City Cafe that were so sublime, I’d always order extra toast (and then would get all sneaky stealing jars of the stuff from other tables if they had the flavor I was coveting), and from opening the pantry and seeing the container of bourbon-barrel smoked sugar sitting just so atop the regular sugar canister when gathering supplies for jam-making.

And let me tell you, having enjoyed the fruits of this labor so much, that I’m hoping that the whole “really good fruit + booze = om nom sauce” equation holds true for other tasties and spirits too. I couldn’t help myself and already proved that cherry-brandy is a delicious combination, but how about others? Nectarines + white wine? Blackberries + rum? Raspberries + kahlua? The possibilities are endless and it’s so easy to whip up a batch of this stuff that I really have no excuse not to!

Cherry-brandy freezer jam

Cherry-brandy freezer jam

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Jun 162013
 

Corn tortilla dough

I’ll go ahead and say it: I haven’t done a great deal of Mexican cooking in my life. But I do know what I like, and though I’m a little ashamed to say it, Tex-Mex is kinda what I know I like. I know there’s a whole other world of fantastic Mexican cuisine out there for me to try, but I spent a bigger chunk of my formative years than I’d like to admit to in Texas and it appears to have shaped my tastes. Though my acquired tastes will hopefully grow as I do something like go buy and cook from a great book or two and learn about real Mexican food, as far as I’m concerned, San Antonio will always boast the be-all end-all of Tex-Mex cuisine. The farther you get away from the city, the more precipitously the quality falls, and the first place you’ll notice it is in the tortillas.

I’m a huge tortilla snob. I went to college in San Antonio and all of my favorite places made their tortillas in-house and you could tell. Chipotle was just getting big during my time at Trinity University and even though they were like a mile away from campus and they were really, really good at finding excuses to give burritos to college students for free, I preferred several other smaller, more expensive, much farther away burrito places because of — you guessed it — the tortillas. I don’t know if they ever got their act together, but come on, you can not come in to San Antonio with tortillas that taste like they were made in a factory a thousand miles away and expect to have good things happen — well, those good things won’t happen with my wallet, at least.

Corn tortilla dough

After college, I lived about three hours from San Antonio, and the tortillas there? Ugh! In retrospect though, we could absolutely blame that one on the water that was used in the tortillas. (There were anecdotes about people’s pets dying after drinking the tap-water and I have a hypothesis that the huge number of dialysis centers in the town were due to the hard water. West Texas water is NASTY. If you boiled it, the steam took the form of skulls and crossbones. But I digress.)

Corn tortilla dough

After several years of wandering the country, I ended up back in the southwest. Luckily, my time in Arizona taught me that you can find great tortillas in other places too. Though the flour tortillas never lived up to my expectations, you could find some killer corn tortillas at places like the Sunday St. Phillip’s Plaza farmers’ market in Tucson. But, being someone who’s been attached to the military in one form or another for my entire life, I knew we wouldn’t live there forever, so it was high time I learned to make these little tasties myself so I wouldn’t have to go without.

I took my inspiration, as per usual, from Rancho Gordo. I had long ago seen a video of Steve Sando making tortillas and it seriously looked really easy. Sure, he was using a tortilla press — something that I didn’t have at the time — but how hard could it be to roll out the dough? Turned out it was pretty freakin’ hard, so I would suggest either getting the press, or using something like a cast-iron skillet to squish the dough to the desired diameter. Me, I threw out my uni-tasker rule and my kitchen now houses a solid cast-iron tortilla press and it makes everything so much easier and faster.

Making corn tortillas: the action shots!

Aaaaaaand: action! Thanks to Mister Om-Nom Sauce for taking these shots. (Yes, I know the background is not immaculate. I actually use my kitchen and there are things in the background on real action-shots such as these.)

Having only two ingredients, tortillas are very simple, but they do take a bit of practice to actually make. The first batch or two can be very frustrating as you figure out optimal thickness, best way to hold the flattened dough, or how to deal with seeming disasters on the hot hot heat. Before too long though, you’ll hit your stride and you’ll be making fresh, delicious-tasting tortillas like a pro!

Corn tortillas

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