Dec 162012
 

eggnog_2012-12-15_06

Ahh, eggnog. What’s not to love? Aside from the cloying taste and extra-thick unnatural texture, that is. I also want to wail in despair whenever I read the ingredient list, as cheap, low-quality sweeteners are usually the second ingredient and it just goes down-hill from there. Luckily, those issues are easy to remedy by making this holiday treat at home.

I had long wanted to tackle this drink at home, but hadn’t dipped my toes in until this year, when I saw a great write-up on America’s Test Kitchen feed, and inspiration struck. So we headed to the market to get really good eggs, and you can imagine what happened from there.

Yesterday was a very Christmas-y day in our kitchen. I made my family’s gingerbread mini-muffins, and when the process was interrupted (as it invariably is these days) by the baby’s need to eat, The Hubs jumped into action and made the nog. So there were plenty of reasons to be merry in the house, and if you are looking for one to brighten up your own holiday, you can look no further!

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Sep 042012
 

Kentucky bourbon French toast with bourbon-triple-berry coulis and bourbon whipped cream

There’s something I discovered about The Hubs’ family last year: they really love bourbon. And really, they have a point: there is something extremely compelling about the scent alone that evokes all sorts of warm and woodsy mental images.

So, last summer, there was a family reunion out at one of his relative’s houses in Kentucky, just on the outskirts of bourbon country. We took some time to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery, which was the point at which I discovered The Hubs’ and his dad’s mania for good bourbon. I kind of fell in love with the stuff myself: I could pitch a tent in the aging room with all the barrels and live there quite happily for years, methinks. I wouldn’t need food or water or anything else in particular, really: I could just live off that aroma.

So here’s where my dirty little secret about bourbon comes in. I don’t particularly like to drink the stuff. I really, really wish it tasted as good as it smells, but for me it’s just like Scotch in that I’ll happy sniff up that aroma all day but wouldn’t think about, say, drinking it straight. The lone exception is the time my parents and I found ourselves in the midst of a twenty-car pile-up on the freeway between Phoenix and Tucson in the middle of a giant you-can’t-see-six-inches-in-front-of-your-face dust-storm known as a haboob, narrowly escaped death and/or serious injury three separate times, and somehow managed to get out of that version of hell without a scratch. Once we got home, you bet your ass I poured myself a generous helping of Maker’s straight-up. But I digress.

You may be wondering how I am able to enjoy the scent so much when you can burn your nasal passages pretty well when you go in for a sniff. I learned this trick at the Maker’s distillery: put your nose in the glass and then inhale through your mouth, not your nose. This has allowed me to enjoy that amazing aroma to my heart’s content and has been especially helpful during my pregnancy, since it’s not really cool to drink massive quantities of bourbon when one has a bun in the oven.

Cooking with bourbon is ideal for someone like me: it burns off that ouch-burning alcohol but leaves the warm, vanilla-y, woodsy flavor behind in whatever you add it to. So when I discovered at the end of August that September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and that someone had compiled a list of recipes that used bourbon, I got really excited. I wasted no time planning out the first of our forays into a bourbon-soaked menu, and this amazingly delicious breakfast was the result. We’ll see how long we’re able to keep this up, since the end of my pregnancy is going to mean the end of cooking for a while, but hopefully we can get another couple of recipes made before that happy event!

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Oct 042009
 

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been cooking. It doesn’t matter what your favorite cuisine is or whether or not you actually know that you’re looking for something: there is a recipe out there for each of us that we have been yearning to make.

In this dish, I found mine: whether I knew it or not, zuppa di farro is the type of Italian food I’ve been trying to make since I learned how to cook.

No, it’s not smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It isn’t pasta and there is neither a meatball nor a wine-soaked pan-fried chicken cutlet to be found. But this, folks, is the real deal – it’s not Italian-American, it’s apologetically Tuscan.

Not that the Tuscans have a single thing to apologize for in their cuisine. The days I spent in Florence and Siena were non-stop food bliss. And though I never tried this soup while I was over there, as soon as I tasted it I knew that zuppa di farro was unmistakably at home there.

Cesare Casella, the author of this recipe’s cookbook, said that this soup is like the Italian equivalent of chicken soup – it cures all ills. It screams comfort food, and the moment it hit my lips I wished that the temperature would drop a good forty degrees and that the rain would start falling in sheets from the sky. So the next time a day like that rolls around, take my advice: put on a cozy chunky sweater and lounge around the house with a good book in your hand and a somnolent hound at your feet while a pot of this simmers away on the stove.

Zuppa di farro

Click for the recipe →

Oct 262008
 

You may be sad because summer has come to an end, taking with it delightful foods like nectarines, plums, berries, and locally grown vegetables like greens, cauliflower, chard, beets, and carrots.

But don’t fret! Fall has its place in a foodie’s heart because it brings delights like root vegetables, butternut squash, pumpkins, an untold number of apple varieties, Bartlett pears, and pomegranates.

I recently celebrated fall by having a harvest dinner (suggested by my most wise and venerable husband). On the menu was a roasted pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, cabernet-glazed shallots, butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, sauteed pork tenderloin with an apple-sage sauce, and stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. I love this menu — it’s so autumn-y with its warm, subtle flavors and unifying themes. Sage and apple are present in many of the dishes but are different and subtle enough to not get old or tiring. And as my guests pointed out last night, there’s plenty of booze in every dish! So dig in and get to love autumn as much as I do, and share it with some good friends too.

Savory, delicious flavors star in this sumptuous autumn feast
Nikon D50

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Jul 112008
 

Lasagna: there is so much to love about it. It’s cheesy, it’s gooey, it’s a meal in itself, it’s comfort food. It’s easy to make to boot. This was something I could make in my dorm kitchen, following the recipe on the back of the Barilla box. What that recipe lacked in finesse it made up for in cheese. Not that we minded – we were college students starved for a homemade meal, and so we always had fun popping this into the ovens in the dorm kitchens, opening a bottle of wine, and making a meal such that we were the envy of most dorm residents.

Now that I’m out of college though, that cheese-laden flavor-lacking thoroughly Americanized version isn’t going to cut it anymore. And that Souffer stuff? Forgetaboutit. Why oh why would you buy something like that when lasagna is like the easiest thing to make ever??? Anyway, I’d been looking for a good recipe for a several years until this winter when we had a dinner party at my swim coach’s house and my friend Ginger brought a tray of the most fantastic lasagna. It had just the right amount of cheese and wasn’t greasy and had some substantial herbs to it, which is really something that most recipes lack. So what did I do? I asked her for the recipe, of course.

The assembled lasagna awaits the oven
Nikon D50

“Oooh, I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my mom about it!” Apparently the lasagna recipe is akin to a state secret: Ginger’s mom worked really hard to develop the recipe (it shows!) and only gave it to her daughters under the condition that they would keep it as proprietary information. Lucky for me though, Carol agreed that it was ok for Ginger to give me the recipe because I had shared my family’s pumpkin cookie with her. Totally a great swap, if you ask me. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have permission to share this recipe on this blog! I’ve modified it only a little bit, because the core premise of the recipe is so solid. It uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which I think is a really great idea because it’s really tough to find good ricotta in the States. I absolutely love the sauce that you make for the recipe, and it’s fantastic with either traditional or turkey Italian sausages. I did substitute dried Italian herbs for dried basil because basil’s flavor is so volatile in the presence of heat and the dried version retains so little of the fresh’s flavor – but I just added in the fresh basil later in the recipe. The overall effect of the recipe is a way-less heavy version of the typical lasagna, but still retains all of the flavor that you want.
Thank you so much, Carol, for sharing this recipe with me! You did an awesome job creating this lasagna and I really appreciate being let in on the secret!

Mmmm lasagna
Nikon D50

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Feb 242008
 

Espresso. Brandy. Ladyfingers. Chocolate. Marscapone.

When you look at that list you may find yourself wondering, “What possibly could go wrong?”

And if you answered an enthusiastic “Nothing!” you would be so, so wrong. I sure as hell hope you didn’t bet the farm on that one.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

Tiramisu, at its best, is light yet rich, warm-tasting with brandy notes, with espresso to offset the sweetness, and because everything is better with chocolate, a liberal dusting of some Scharffen Berger. However, when executed improperly, it’s flat tasting, bitter, and soggy. Trust me, you don’t want soggy tiramisu.

It’s one of those dishes where everything has to go right. Because of that, I won’t order it in restaurants anymore, not even the one that Cory took me to for dessert on my birthday, because they screw it up and frankly, mine is a hell of a lot better (sorry Cory, I know you meant well!).

Luckily, if you have a good recipe, like the one I’m about to share with you, you can’t go wrong. Too many recipes for tiramisu are too vague and include verbiage like “stir a couple of times” or “heat until lukewarm” and that sort of imprecision, while maybe appearing a little less intimidating to the novice cook, is a recipe for disaster. For soggy, flaccid, bitter disaster. And you know I would never do that to you.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

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Feb 242008
 

I’ve been waiting to post this recipe for quite some time.

You see, you might call this dish Highly Significant.

It’s so significant that I often find myself asking if Cory and I would have gotten married if it were not for this recipe.

It’s one of the first things we ever cooked together, and from the point that we starting smooshing up those tomatoes with our hands, it was painfully apparent that we were meant to be.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

We still cook up a batch of chicken cacciatore every time we’re together. I thought it was criminal that he didn’t have a copy of the recipe or The Joy of Cooking, so when he moved into his current apartment I bought him a copy the newly released 75th anniversary edition as a housewarming gift. Before I bought it for him I made sure that the recipe hadn’t gotten the axe and was included in that version, but when we brought it home and we inspected it more closely we found that it calls for diced canned tomatoes, not whole tomatoes that you crush with your hands. On that alone, I’ve basically panned the whole edition. It’s not worth buying! Find the 1997 edition! That older recipe helped Cory and I find love, and I who am I to deny anyone else that opportunity by recommending an inferior tome?

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

I’m going to admit upfront: my version of the classic Italian chicken is so not traditional. Every recipe I’ve ever seen and everyone else who’s ever served it to me – including places in Italy – call for chicken parts, not chicken breasts, but when I was first learning to cook I had no clue what the heck a chicken part was. Even if I had been savvy enough, I simply didn’t have the equipment to cut up a chicken and then cook it. So maybe it’s for the best that I’ve bastardized it. I still think it’s delicious, and it has the health benefits of being all-white meat.

Not everything about this recipe is 100% positive though. There is something about chicken cacciatore that makes living alone an especially bitter pill to swallow. This dish is so obviously meant to be cooked with people and then shared with people. That alone explains two of my behaviors: I always call Cory when I’m starting to crush up those tomatoes with my hands and tell him that I wish he was there with me, and whenever I’m cooking for a group people for the first time, this is the recipe I pull out. It’s just too good to not share with others. It’s not just the end result that’s important, it’s the whole process – from the first time you throw the onions and herbs in the pan and the fragrance makes everyone exclaim with delight to the times when the pan is in a long simmer and you can just sit around and enjoy the company of your companions to the first bite of that warm, earthy, wine-herbs-and-tomato chickeny goodness. Nothing says “I care” like chicken cacciatore.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

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Jan 142008
 

Every year since I can remember, my family has eaten beef burgundy on Christmas Eve. The warm wine and beef flavors, served atop noodles, the meat perfectly tender… this is the food that memories are made of. Which is good, because it means that the substantial effort required to put this meal on the table is worth it. I mean, come on, this is a dish three days in the making – you know it has to be good. This recipe is like the poster child of the slow food movement.

The beef begins its long slow marinate
Nikon D50

Even though this year was the first that I’d ever enjoyed this meal on Christmas itself (it was our tradition to eat this on the Eve), this is the single dish that I associate the most with warm and cozy family dinners around the holidays. We often spent Christmas with extended family, but Christmas Eve was a smaller affair, and beef burgundy, with its warm and sensuous flavor, was the perfect dish for a more intimate setting.

Deliciousness is served
Nikon D50

Now that I’m all grown up, having married and struck out on my own, I find that I’m in a fun situation: I get to make my own traditions with Cory now. Not surprisingly, beef burgundy made the cut. We enjoyed our first Christmas as husband and wife huddled over a bowl (or two), eating the food that will tie the years of our lives together.

Every family deserves a beef burgundy of their own.

For the backpacker’s version of this recipe, scroll all the way to the bottom: it’s posted at the end of the traditional version of the recipe.

I don't want to wait another year to eat this again!
Nikon D50

Click for the recipe →

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