Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Christmas Everyone


About two and a half months ago Kris' best friend Rochelle got Pneumonia it was a bad case. She ended up in the hospital with it, the first two weeks in a medically induced coma. She is much better now but just got out of the hospital on Christmas Eve so it was a long fight for her. Up until about three weeks ago she couldn't eat at all, then she was on the "mechanical soft" and "ground" diets in the hospital. Can you imagine eating pureed bread? On top of that every day that she could eat she had chicken or turkey in some form that is hospital cooked chicken or turkey understand. When she decided that she was getting out of the Hospital on Christmas Eve Kris and I decided that we were going to make her and her family Christmas Dinner.

The menu was easy to plan; she had a tough couple of months so she needed comfort food, not just your regular comfort meal, but one on steroids. The menu:
Glazed Ham and Gravy
Sweet Potato Hash
Scalloped Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Bourbon and Brown Sugar Cranberries


I will probably pick at a few menu items above in the next couple of weeks... today however it is Ham and Ham Gravy that I want to talk about. I have found that a lot of people have never made or even tried ham gravy, which is a crime. Even if you have never had it there is something so warm and wonderful about the thick, salty, silky, slightly sweet sauce that makes you want to just curl up on the sofa and not let anyone near.

"Comforting, How much so?" you ask. Here is a true story, when my ex wife and I were getting to the end of our marriage both of us had found separate places to live, the court papers were about to be filed. She called her best friend and the following conversation took place:

Ex Wife R:
"Mrs. A, it is over... Bryan and I are getting a divorce, it is for real this time, there is no way to fix it."

Mrs. A:
"I don't believe it, you have ruined Easter!"

Ex Wife R: (not expecting that) "What?"
Mrs. A:
"Who is going to make Ham and Gravy at Easter now? We might as well have bologna sandwiches."


I heard this story, more or less the same from both parties involved, I kind of always thought thought it funny that the conversation didn't go something like "Thank God... I don't know why you didn't leave that jerk years ago!" or "What, are you crazy? He is Mr. Wonderful." The conversation went right to my cooking... at least I do something well.

All that being said here is how it is made:


One ham, this time I used a bone in spiral sliced ham but whatever ham I have used the gravy has always rocked.


2 TBS Grey Poupon Mustard

3/4 cup white wine

1/2 cup Honey

Juice from 2 Oranges

3 cups Chicken Broth


Put the ham, open side down in a roasting pan, mix the next four ingredients together into a slimy mixture and pour/spread over the ham. Poor the chicken broth into the bottom of the pan. Cover tightly with foil and cook, this was a nine pound ham so it was in a 300 degree oven for an hour then a 375 degree oven for another hour. I basted about every half hour. When it is all done take some of the drippings off the bottom of the roasting pan and put into a saucepan (I did about 2 cups) add a little bit of roux and bring to a simmer until thickened.

Taste then just try to put the spoon back for your guests... it takes willpower but once they taste it you will be the cooking superhero that you always wanted to be.

Tenderloin with Black Pepper Cream Sauce

It is one of those things that I do sometimes, it was a Thursday evening, nothing special but I made some Beef Tenderloin. Yes, on an average Thursday evening I made some good old Filet Mignon with a Black Pepper Cream Sauce. It is the kind of sacrifice that my family and I are willing to make for you, my loyal readers.

Ingredients:
2 cups of Beef Broth
3 TBS Butter

1 pound of Beef Tenderloin this was actually medallions so I cut 4 Steaks about 3 inches around and 1 inch thick from the tail end of a well trimmed tenderloin

1 small Onion diced
2 cloves of Garlic minced
1 cup heavy cream
3 TBS Brandy
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
Salt to taste

This was actually pretty easy, I started by simmering some beef stock for about half an hour (yes it was a store bought stock, low sodium... I need control of the salt) until the two cups reduced by half. When that was almost done I melted the butter in a saucepan then sauteed the Onions and Garlic then I put the Steaks into the hot pan and cooked for about 3 minutes on each side when they were RARE I took them off tented with foil and put then in a plate in the warm oven while I made the sauce.
Deglaze the pan that the steak was cooked in, to do that poor the cup of hot beef broth into the pan and use that liquid to get all the yummy crumbly bits off the bottom of the pan. Then add the Heavy Cream, Brandy and a good amount of Black pepper, how much? I don't know... how much do you like pepper? and a little salt. Let that cook in the skillet over medium heat until it thickens to a nice sauce consistency I think it took a 7-8 minutes; stir very often so that it doesn't burn. When it is as thick as you want poor through a strainer, to get all of the bits of stuff out. This is like liquid silk put a little on your plate then add the steaks. In the background is a stuffed baby artichoke.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dont' Forget... DUCK!

This was on my computer when I got back from a meeting last week. Don't Forget, Duck! Ominous warning? or just a helpful tip to a forgetful co-worker? This post actually begins about two years ago, my Co-worker Scott and I were eating lunch and talking about thanksgiving plans. I was planning to try to cook turkey another way to convince Kris that she liked it, Scott was planning on going duck hunting with his dad. I am not a hunter, I love animals, they are delicious, I have just never had what it takes to get up before dawn and sit in a tree in the freezing cold until a tasty critter walks, flys or scampers by and then do what it takes to take that critter from his happy scampering to my dinner plate. I thank God that other people do.

Anyway Scott started talking about the difference between the ducks that he and his dad got and the domestic guys that I am used to and said that he would bring me back a duck from his trip that year. He didn't... he said that he forgot. He went on hunting adventures a few more times and never remembered to bring one back. Until this year! he did bring back a wood duck that he got. The note on my computer keyboard was to remind me to bring it home before someone else took it from the freezer.

I looked around for some recipes for wild duck that would bring out the natural flavor, most of them seemed to be focused on hiding the flavors. Look at this recipe it is like Mole on Crack it has so many steps, could there be more stuff on it? If you want to cover up the flavor so bad why not get the chicken. Ok, I am a bit of a hypocrite here, the last time I made duck breast I spent two days making a sauce to go with it, but this time I wanted to keep it simple, you know new dish real flavor.

I made it as simple as I could:
1 small Wood Duck killed and cleaned by your friend
1 Apple sliced
1 Onion sliced
1 handful of Cranberries
1 cup of Red Wine
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 then rinse the duck off and stuff most of the Apple, Onion and Cranberries inside what doesn't fit put in the bottom of the roasting pan (in this case a loaf pan) rub the outside with salt and pepper place the duck, breast side up, in the pan and then poor wine over it all. Roast for about an hour basting every few minutes until done.

I was going to make wild rice for this but found I was too lazy to go to the store and get some so I took the drippings from the roasting pan and tossed them with pasta... Actually this might have been better. It went well with the duck with out taking anything away.

I was the only one in the house that was willing to try this one, well me and the dog (on the plus side I think she will love me forever now). I have to say that Scott was right wild duck has almost nothing in common with it's domestic counterpart. The meat more firm (this guy actually flew around) and you could really taste the North woods of Michigan. Would I make it again? In a second, well more likely in two years when I can get another duck out of my friend.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sausage Cheese Biscuits

As we are getting closer to the big day, Kris and I are having trouble getting some of the needed things done. It is hard to wrap gifts when your kids are stuck to you like gluesticks. Plus they never sleep, actually Miss Lu has been sleeping pretty well lately but doesn't fall asleep until after 9:30 most nights, I know that it doesn't sound hard to wait her out, but I get up a 4:00 most mornings and Mr. Man has taken to waking every 20 minutes between midnight and 3:00 am with bad dreams so he wakes everyone (except Miss LU) by SCREAMING "THAT'S MY CAR, YOU CAN'T HAVE IT," "SISSY STOP" or "NO, I WON'T EAT THAT!" So wrapping gifts while they are asleep is not easy since neither of us can stay awake long enough. So in the effort to leave Kris at home alone for at least a little bit I took Miss Lu and Mr. Man to the Mall to shop for her birthday present (Kris' birthday is Jan. 1).

Understand that this means going to Woodfield Mall the Saturday before Christmas, For those of you that aren't from the area, Woodfield Mall was the biggest indoor mall until the Mall of America was built in Minneapolis. To me though Mall of America is more of an attraction than a mall, Woodfield is a 2.7 million square foot Goliath boasting nearly 300 stores on 3 or 4 levels (hard to count) connected by a bizarre series of ramps, stairs and escalators. It is a nightmare on a good day. So in order to take squawky and the shopper there I needed enough breakfast to get me through. I had some sausage in the freezer so I made Sausage Cheddar Biscuits with egg.

Preheat the oven to 450 then here is how the biscuits go:
1 cup Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
3 TBS Butter softened but not melted
1/2 cup Milk (or a little less)
4 oz of Sausage browned
1/4 cup shreaded Cheddar Cheese
1/2 tsp Fennel Seed
Brown the Sausage (if there are casings discard) add the Fennel while cooking when done set aside. Sift the Flour, Baking Soda and Salt together then add the softened Butter. Using two knives cut them together until well mixed... I have to say here, Grandma's cookbook aside, I get bored and use my fingers to evenly mix the ingredients. When well blended form a bowl in the center and add the cooked Sausage and Shredded Cheese then about half the milk. Stir until well blended and add the rest of the milk a little at a time until it is just moist enough to pull from the side of the bowl and form a nice ball.

Now I am a sucker for Drop Biscuits so I stop while they are almost blended and pull the dough out about 2 TBLS at a time and put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet then bake for 12-14 minutes.

I had two biscuits topped with a very easy egg, yes the drink you see above is what you are thinking. By the way on the way home from our adventure I think I made the comment to the kids that will win me the father of the year... "If you two will be good in the Liquor Store daddy will buy you a bag of M&Ms for the trip home."

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Pork Tenderloin

While my in laws were here I made the Risotto that I talked about recently, here is the Pork Tenderloin that I made to go with it. Pork Tenderloin is one of my "go to" dishes for company it is quick, easy and inexpensive and like chicken it takes on the flavors that I decide to give it. I never cook it past medium then it is juicy and pink inside so the texture is great. This time I marinated the Pork Tenderloin in a Balsamic Vinegar Glaze then cooked it on the grill.

This is exactly the reason that Kris and I went on the hunt for a gas grill in the fall. So that I could step outside on a day when the high was lower than 20 degrees and still make a good dinner for all.

Marinade:
2 Cloves of Garlic Minced
1/2 cup of Balsamic Vinegar
1 cup of Olive Oil
splash of dry Red Wine
some Fresh Thyme
1 TBL Honey

I marinated for about 1 hour in the refrigerator then another half hour on the counter while I made the Risotto. When it was time to cook I did the two Tenderloins on the grill for about a total of 10 minutes turning twice. I took them off and let them rest (tented under foil) for about 5 minutes while I got out the serving dishes. I sliced them about 3/4 of an inch thick and served.

I have been trying to take a good picture of this dish during the cooking process for a while, I would take the pictures... Look at them, edit them but I couldn't quite figure out why they were unusable they just were. Like I said this is one of my "go to" dishes so I have made some variation of it 8-10 times since I started this blog and haven't talked about it because I didn't like the photos. A couple of weeks ago a blog that I read regularly said the reason clear as a bell (I have changed it a little to fit my situation) they look like grilled poop. I decided on this picture instead of the others it is a little more dramatic anyway.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A little more about fun than food

So last week and this weekend were a little busy at work. On Friday we were serving about 2300 people a Prime Rib dinner; well really it was Prime Rib, Parmesan Crusted Tilapia or Butternut Squash Ravioli but face it most people are in it for the mammal. Of course these were served with all the appropriate side dishes. So I was at work for a little over twelve hours on Thursday getting ready, then longer on Friday. Unfortunately I drew the short straw and had to work the weekend too, I have mentioned that weekends involve getting up at 3:12 am to be on the South side of Chicago by 5:00. Add to it this was the weekend that my in-laws were coming for dinner on Saturday overall it was busy.

Ok, so everything went well on Friday at work, I left at about 8:00 pm and headed home where I pored some Vodka on Ice, gave Kris, Miss Lu and Mr. Man a kiss and went to bed. When I got to work on Saturday morning my office was in worse shape than usual. Seriously I am not a neat freak by any means but this was a bit much even for me, so I got out a shovel and rake and tried to finish taking care of the Friday mess in my office and the kitchen.
Actual picture of my office at 5:00 am on Saturday
When I got home we started planning dinner for my in-laws... understand that this is actually the fun part of the day for me. I picked up Pork Tenderloin and started marinading it then made the Risotto from my last post. It was a very good evening... well afternoon, they are on Eastern time and I was a little tired. After Christmas presents for the kids (then helping us out some too) and dinner my in laws left for Arizona. I sat on the sofa for a few minutes and quickly fell asleep at 7:00 pm.

When I got home from work on Sunday Miss Lu and Mr. Man were WIRED FOR SOUND the only thing to do was build snow creatures. We are known through the neighborhood for our snow sculpted antics...

Miss Lu during our snow painting adventures last year

anyway we made some snow creatures then came in for Hot Cocoa. Nothing complicated we had some regular Swiss Miss Cocoa with just a touch of Triple Sec and Brandy (1 oz of Brandy 1/2 oz Triple Sec 1 cup of Cocoa) Well Kris and I did, the kiddos had milk in theirs.

This winter's first snow beast

Monday, December 14, 2009

Risotto

My in laws were coming through town a couple of days ago, they were on their way from the U.P. of Michigan to Arizona where their other daughter lives. Like so many people that live in the tundra areas of the US (where there only seems to be about 3 hours of sunlight each day) they travel during the dark months. Having a child in Arizona (high temp 70 degrees today) works well for them. Having us in Chicago is at least on the way, they said they were coming to visit with us for a couple of hours and I wanted to make dinner. I like to make a good meal for guests. Personally, I think they were coming to make sure that we were keeping the bathroom clean enough to meet their standards. After their last visit they "joked" that if they ever found the bathroom, the one that my father in law completely re finished for us on their last visit, to be a mess they were going to repo the sink. It seemed like a joke, but Kris and I both have our doubts...

I have to admit that I have always been a little afraid to make Risotto... I know such a classic dish but I have never made it. Every time that someone I know has made Risotto they come from the kitchen telling tales that almost compare cooking Arborio Rice to killing a wild boar with the same wooden spoon. Turns out it is not hard at all, there are a few steps but really all you need to do is be near the stove for about 25 minutes.

Here it goes:
4 cups Chicken Broth

1 cup Water

1 pound of Asparagus trimmed then cut into 1 1/2 pieces

1 tsp Olive Oil

3 TBS Butter

10 oz package of Portobello mushrooms stems removed and sliced

1 small Onion chopped

2 cloves of Garlic minced

1 1/2 cup Arborio Rice
1 cup of White Wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
Parmesan Cheese


Bring Broth and water to a boil, add asparagus and cook until crisp (3 minutes or so) then transfer asparagus to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Keep the broth over low heat so it stays hot.


Put the Olive oil and one TBL of butter into
a 4 quart saucepan and heat, add the sliced mushrooms and saute until done, set them aside in a bowl.

In the same sauce pan melt the remaining 2 TBL Butter then add the Onions and Garlic saute until soft (3-4 minutes) then add the Rice cook until it is all hot (maybe a minute or two) then add the white wine and cook until absorbed, this part goes pretty quickly.
After the wine is absorbed start adding the broth first a cup at a time then in 1/2 cup increments stirring frequently and allowing each addition of broth to be absorbed before adding the next. Keep adding until rice looks smooth and creamy about 20 minutes. There should be some leftover broth, save that in case you need that to thin it a little when it is time to serve.

Remove from heat add Asparagus, Mushrooms salt and pepper (to taste) 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese and mix together then put into your serving dish. If it is a little stiff add some broth to thin. Garnish with a little more Parmesan Cheese and serve. I served this with Grilled Pork Tenderloin (post to follow). Actually this was really easy dish, do not be afraid, and the results are great!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lace Cookies

Ok there is something special when there is a shell to crack with your dessert creme brule is wonderful not only because of the smooth creamy custard, but the burnt sugar shell makes it a little like opening a present. Today, one of those many days off that I have between now an 2010, I made lace cookies. Kris described them best when I gave her one, "it's like peanut brittle only it tastes good." Like my lovely bride, I have never been a fan of the church craft fair peanut brittle that for some reason people thought was an actual treat when I was a kid. It was always thick heavy, tooth breaking hard and filled with the awful Spanish peanuts that my grandmother's friends favored.

When these cookies came out of the oven they looked like little bits of stained glass and tasted as light and delicate as the sunshine that passed through them. They are airy and crisp with the sweet crunch of caramelized sugar with the light touch of shaved almonds. However these cookies weren't going to be served alone (though they are really good, I stashed about 10 away for me later) these were to be made into crispy sugary bowls for Ice Cream... chocolate of course. .

Start by heating the oven to 350 then mix the ingredients:
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds
pinch of kosher salt

Put the first four ingredients into a small sauce pan over a low flame and stir until smooth, remove from heat and add the flour, almonds and just a pinch of salt then stir until blended. Here is where this recipe turns cool! let the batter cool for a few minutes then take it out a scant tablespoon at a time and put them two at a time on greased parchment on a cookie sheet. Put the cookie sheet into the oven for about 7-8 minutes, I found it worked better if I left them in a little longer than I thought I should. The cookies will be about 5 inch amorphous shapes; thin, lacy and delicate when done.

To make them into cookies take them out of the oven and set aside to cool. When they are cool enough to handle set them aside on another sheet of parchment to harden. To make them into the delicate dessert vessel that they were meant to be pull them off the greased parchment when they are still too hot to handle and form them over the bottom of a small bowl (these are 4 ounce tempered glass dishes for custard) then let them harden there. If you get a little burn just suck it up it is worth it in the end.

These are painted with chocolate... I know you were just thinking that these couldn't possibly get any better, but they do... I melted a Hershey's Chocolate Bar and 1/2 of a 12 oz bag of chocolate chips in a double boiler until very soft then used a fork to drizzle one of God's perfect foods on top of the lacy bowls and the cookies that I set aside for myself. Here they are.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Waffles


I have gone back and forth about this particular dish. It almost seems too easy to post, I mean after this what is next "Bryan's buttered toast"? I can see that one... "sometimes I top it with Cinnamon Sugar and if the mood is right Strawberry Jam! Serve with fresh hot coffee; to make that start with cold water..." well you get the picture.

In the end I thought that what makes this a great recipe is the simplicity of it. When I got the Waffle Iron several year ago I didn't use it that much because most of the recipes that I found for waffles involved whipping Egg Whites into soft peeks then gently folding those into a batter then gently spreading that on a hot waffle iron. Here is one of my idiosyncrasies, I don't mind spending 4 hours on a Saturday afternoon making lamb stock from lamb bones, mirepoix and an aromatic spice bundle. In fact I find things like that to be relaxing, almost meditative. However, the idea of spending 7 minutes on a Sunday morning whipping egg whites into soft peaks is somehow unfathomable to me. (I know it doesn't make sense).

I spent some time trying different recipes for waffles some fell flat (literally) some were rubbery, some only aspired to be rubbery but this one really works. It is simple, quick and comes out fluffy and has a nice flavor:

2 cups all-purpose Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
2 TBLS Sugar
1 tsp Salt
2 cups Milk
2 Eggs
2 TBLS Melted Butter
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

In a large bowl sift the dry ingredients together then add the the Milk, Eggs, Butter and Vanilla. Poor into a hot Waffle Iron and close when the stem stops shooting out of the waffle iron check. Golden Brown = Done, serve immediately.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

History Lesson


I know some of you may find this hard to believe, but I am kind of a nerd I know it is hard to believe but true. I enjoy all kinds of food related nerdy things. I can talk about the history of different foods or dishes and bore normal people to death. Once when I was bored at work I tried to write down the 100 ways to prepare eggs (the 100 pleats on a togue represent the 100 ways to prepare eggs) I got to 87 not bad, yeah my boss got her money's worth out of me that day. I am not kidding here on the book case next to my bed there are no fewer than 25 Culinary books, from cook books and text books food related short stories and even poetry. Apart from occasionally boring my co-workers I keep most of my nerdy foodie trivia to myself.

Today (December 5th) however is a very important day in the history of not only food (ok beverage) but an important day in the history of America and keeping the freedoms that all of us have earned. The very Freedoms that make up the foundation of our fine country were restored! On December 5th, 1933 our representatives cast their votes to ratify the 24th amendment to the Constitution. The sole purpose of the 24th amendment was to overturn the 18th amendment commonly known a prohibition.

Prohibition started in January of 1920 when the transport or sale of intoxicating beverages became illegal in the U.S. a law that arguably brought the organized crime organizations together and corrupted law enforcement in many cities. Thus the Capone era of the mafia was born. Bootlegging, Moonshine and "bathtub gin" became common place along with the transport and sale of beverages without tariffs and taxes.

Since it was illegal to buy, sell and transport people started making their own. Some California vineyards sold what they called a "wine brick" a non alcoholic beverage base that carried this dire warning on the back "Do not dissolve the contents of this package in one gallon of warm water then place in a cupboard for 20 days because it would turn to wine"
Canadian Club on the Rocks
So take a moment today and raise your glass of Canadian Club (Capone's drink of choice) and be thankful that we live in America after 1933.

Side note this was a fun post to research, the picture at the top of the page is all real (Red Wine, Brandy, Vodka Martini, Bourbon Manhattan, Margarita) and once you pour it well you can't put it back so...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Calzonnes

Tonight we were hanging out in the kitchen/dining room doing projects. Kris picked up gingerbread house and gingerbread train kits. Thank God that they make the kits now, a little bit of glue like frosting, put them together and you are ready to stick 200 Smarties to the roof. Fun way to spend the evening. We were thinking that if we did projects from the time Miss Lu got home until bed time we would wear her out however it just seemed to wind her up. As long as we were working on the dining room table and were decorating the gingerbread I thought we could build our own Calzones too.

My pizza dough (old French bread dough recipe) is one of the few yeast bread recipes that I am fully comfortable with. Years ago I managed a pizza place and we made about 50 pounds of this recipe every day. So I got used to it and still use it, it is versatile and easy to handle. I doubled the Pizza Dough recipe that I have used before:

2 cups of All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 TBL Sugar
2/3 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 cup of water with a tsp of vinegar in it
2 tsp dry active yeast

Dissolve the yeast in the 2/3 cup warm water and let sit until it starts to activate (gets foamy at the edges) while you are waiting mix the dry ingredients together, then add the activated yeast water, the other cup of water and vinegar; mix with dough hooks for 2-3 minutes until well blended. It should form a nice ball and pull from the sides of the bowl well. Give it a quick spray with vegetable oil and set aside. This takes about 2 hours total so plan your time, after the first hour have a kid pound the dough down, turns out that part is fun... or kneed it for a few seconds to deflate and set aside for another hour.

When the time comes divide into 4 dough balls (actually I had enough left over to make 5 bread sticks too which finished faster than the calzones so I had my appetizer and didn't share). Roll them out and let people stuff their own, for stuffing choices we had:

Marinara Sauce (store bought)
Pepperoni
Italian Sausage
Onions
Gypsy Peppers
Portobello Mushrooms
Mozzarella and Parmesan Cheese

Miss Lu Becoming the expert at this sort of thing

There is no science here, let the kids fill them with what they like. By the way... very hard for me to give up control of food, but worth it, usually even Miss Lu will eat what she cooks. When they are topped fold the dough over and pinch shut. I brushed the top with a little garlic butter and baked all 4 in an oven preheated to 375 for 35 minutes until golden brown.

How were they? Here are the comments
Kris, "I was ready to do chicken nuggets if I had to, but this is good, wow!"
Mr. Man, "More"
Miss Lu gave me the wink and the thumbs up.

This one will definitely make it into the regular cycle

Blueberry Muffins

When my in-laws were here last time my mother in-law brought us some wild blueberries I used some that day in the Brandy and Blueberry Demi Glace. It was really good, but only went with the Duck that Kris wasn't going to eat (she and her mom had chicken). Then she suggested that I make something that everybody would eat with the rest of the blueberries that she picked. So I put them into the freezer and left them for weeks because after duck sauce what do you use blueberries for?

I mention often that pastry isn't my thing, it is too precise. I treat a recipe as a list of suggestions that worked well for someone else; when you get to using leaveners of any sort you really have to measure. Against my better judgment I decided to make Blueberry muffins during my few days off. first off I pulled out the old McCall's Cookbook, I assume that I got it from my mom, it was printed in 1963 the cover is mostly intact but the pages are brittle and yellow with age, the binding is altogether gone but it has the treasured flapjack recipe and one for banana bread that I use along with about 5 others inside it's 1000 pages so I can't let it go. Yesterday morning I got up early and followed, to the letter, the Blueberry Muffin recipe. It took about 45 minutes from beginning until I pulled them out of the oven. They resembled hockey pucks in every way but color and couldn't have tasted worse if I had made them using sawdust and other sweepings from the garage floor instead of flour and sugar.

Look at them... hard dry blech!



OK stubborn as I can be when everybody went to bed last night I started searching the Internet for another recipe, you know the kind that you can actually eat. Then I actually had to read reviews because I only have today off before I am expected back at work. Anyway I did find one with 35 reviews and a 4.5 star rating! So again this morning while my coffee was brewing I made another batch of Blueberry Muffins (from allrecipes.com):

1 1/2 cup sifted Flour
3/4 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/3 cup Vegetable Oil
1 Egg
1/3 cup (about) Milk
1 cup frozen Blueberries

Topping:
1/2 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Flour
1/4 cup Butter
1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 and grease muffin tin

Mix all ingredient for the topping together your fingers until pea sized crumbly bits form and set aside.

Combine dry ingredients then in a 1 cup measuring cup put 1/3 cup Vegetable Oil, 1 Egg then fill with milk to make 1 cup. Add that to the dry ingredients then mix until almost blended then add the Blueberries and fold.

Fill the Muffin cups to the top (I wanted mine to look like the Muffins at Starbucks only without the $5.95 price tag) then top with the topping blend.

Turns out that is about 4 times the amount of topping that you actually need if you want to cut it back that is fine you do the math, I have done enough with measuring today.

When these came out of the oven they were wonderful, they tasted lovely, the were light and fluffy and the house smelled like it should after baking not like yesterday when the kitchen smelled almost like the day I set the spatula on fire.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Distractions

I know that I have been crying about working the holiday and weekend... it is just that alarm at 3:12 am is brutal and so unforgiving. The reason I do it is I almost have no work before or after Thanksgiving because I get my holiday and weekend days made up during the days surrounding the holiday so I don't have to be at work again until Friday! The only down side is there are guys working on my roof today. Kris and I noticed that our roof needed to be replaced as soon as the ice thawed this year (around February) so we got around to having someone actually do it today, yes on December 1 they showed up and started stripping my roof. I was just starting my second cup of coffee when the van pulled up and it began.

I have mentioned before one of my favorite day off breakfasts is some form of Chorizo and Eggs, today I was making my typical day-off breakfast listening to the cacophony of four big Polish men poun
ding on my roof. I was cooking the chorizo in one pan at the back of the stove and cooking corn tortillas on one of the front burners. I put a little bit of oil on each one and put them one at a time into a hot pan turned them cooking over high heat until they were crisp. Then I set the tortillas aside and melted clarified butter in the same pan to fry eggs.

I was using my favorite spatula, we all have one admit it, I have had this cheap plastic spatula for at least 10 years it is my "go to" utensil, the one that I grab when I saute anything. When the eggs were done I put the tortillas on my plate, topped them with the spicy chorizo then set the soft fried eggs on top. I set my spatula down where I always do and put some shredded cheddar cheese on top and put the inverted skillet that I was cooking in on top of the plate to hold the heat in and help melt th
e cheese while I got some salsa from the refrigerator.

When I turned around I saw it, on top of the stove my spatula was on fire! I had set it on an open burner and it didn't just melt... flames were lapping up the side of my pasta strainer, and the smoke it was too much... I am just a little broken up, I don't know if I should say a few words to remember it by or hide it before my wonderful wife figures out that I am dumb enough to set a plastic spatula on an open flame.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holy Mackerel

I was actually looking for fresh Trout, this was to go with the Sweet Potato Pancakes that I made a week or so ago, they just seemed like they would go together. I went to the store that I usually shop at for anything that isn't a suburban white guy favorite. It is an interesting store, when you look at the signs hanging over the aisles they are labeled "Pickles and Olives," "Beans and Rice," "Mexican Food," "Jewish Food," "Bulgarian Food," "Asian Food," "Italian Food," and "Polish Food." That is kind of nice, because if I want Polenta or Arborio Rice I can go to the Italian Food aisle or Rice Noodles I head for the "Asian Food." Oddly, in this store there is an aisle marked "Ethnic Foods" I had walked past that aisle about 100 times and never looked to see what could possibly be an "Ethnic Food" after all that... Turns out it is every non-American born cookie on the market.

Sorry, rambling again... Focus. So I go to the store to get Fresh Trout, they have it but in packs of 6 I can't eat 6 Rainbow Trout and if you follow this blog you know that the fish is only for me. I think the meat department would have broken the package up for me, but I recognized the guys at the counter and my Spanish is only a little worse then their English I just didn't have the energy. Then I saw Mackerel, I remembered a recipe from a book I have brought up before "Hungry Monkey" by Matthew Amster Burton (read this book by the way it is very good). There is a recipe in this book for Mackerel with Teriyaki Sauce. So I picked up the package of 2 Mackerel and put it in the cart with the rest of my shopping.

I won't go into too many details about preparing whole fish, just a little scoop on the inside, remove the head then run a very sharp knife down the length of the fish right along the spine to fillet. Mackerel is really bony so once you get the fillets put them over a bowl t
his will expose the bones. Now is my favorite part because you need tools! take the needle nosed pliers from your tool box and pull out any bones that you missed during the fillet process. This is the part where Kris came home and looked at what I was doing and asked, "where are you going to cook that?" which I know means "Are you cooking that on the grill or am I going out to dinner with the kids?" I know better, this was going on the grill. I had non-fish dinner for her and the kiddos.

I put the fillets in a zip lock bag, I almost feel silly calling it a recipe:
2 TBS Teriyaki Sauce
Juice from one orange
2 tsp honey
2 Mackerel Fillets

Let them marinade for about 20 minutes them put on the grill first skin side up, to hold in the moisture for about 4-5 minutes then carefully flip (I brushed it again with the marinade) and grill, covered for another 4-5 minutes until done, and the skin is slightly charred.

I had never thought of Mackerel at all really, but this recipe really does work.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving at our house pt 2

The rest of our completely non-traditional Thanksgiving holiday involved me getting up and going to work while My Mom, Kris, Miss Lu and Mr. Man went to IHOP for brunch then spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon in the Hotel Pool. After work Mom took us out to dinner (very nice Italian) and like the Godless heathens that have become this holiday none of us ordered the turkey and stuffing.

After dinner we went back to the pool, that is the way to spend a holiday, it only would have been better with a pool side bar. We live near Schaumburg IL, a Chicago suburb and maybe the shopping capitol of the Midwest. Schaumburg's website boasts 92,000,000 square feet of shopping space. I was surprised by how many people we met at the hotel that were traveling the area to start their Christmas Shopping. There were a couple of families here from Indiana to "get the door buster deals" and another family that was going to the American Girl Place down town. More power to them, I just want to avoid the malls and shopping centers today.

Anyway this mindless rambling isn't what this post is about I wanted to brag about the Cranberries I made for Wednesday's non Thanksgiving dinner. I will post or link this around Christmas too since no one will eat the sour little fruit between now and then.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Cranberry Sauce:
1 12 oz Package of Fresh Cranberries
1 tsp grated Orange Peel
1 Cup lightly packed Brown Sugar
Juice from one Orange
3/4 cup Bourbon
Splash of Triple Sec

Cook all ingredients together at a very light simmer for about 15 minutes stirring often until cranberries have popped and sugars break down. Put in the refrigerator uncovered for at least a couple of hours or overnight. The slow simmering does remove some of the alcohol but by no means does it come even close to evaporating so this is not the dish for your kids (though you may want to give some to your cousin's brats) or recovering alcoholics. However once you taste it you won't want to share anyway. The leftovers are all that I am planning to have for dinner tonight. By the way we were still haveing fun with the flowers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving at our house pt 1

I may have mentioned before that my wonderful wife Kris is a bit picky about what she will eat, while we were dating she told me some of the foods that she just doesn't like; all seafood (smells bad) most pork (too dry and not much flavor) most casserole dishes (too many things in one pan) turkey (too dry, too gamey) were all on the list. I am a pretty good cook so I have convinced her to try some new things or old things prepared well and she has changed her mind about some of them. Still on the list; all seafood (I usually cook any fish outside, I have to admit it does have an odor) and Turkey. I have tried Turkey in every way shape and form and she just doesn't like it.

Add to the fact that Kris isn't a big fan of Turkey, Thanksgiving is usually the Holiday I have to work so Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday I will be getting up at 3:15 so that I can be on the South Side of Chicago by 4:45 to open up. We decided to do two things different than most. First, Thanksgiving took place on Wednesday in our house. Second, this year Turkey and Stuffing were off the menu completely they were replaced by Beef and Polenta. I recently read a statistic that suggests 90% of Americans eat Turkey on Thanksgiving day, really I don't know how that statistic was arrived at or if it was just made up but I am going to run with it for now. If you figure 90% of us are eating Turkey on Thanksgiving then take into account that about 5% of Americans are Vegetarians that puts me and my family in the small 5% of us that forsake the bird on this day. So the Thanksgiving menu in our house was:

Beef Tenderloin with a Red Wine Reduction
Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans
Grilled Polenta
Brown Sugar and Bourbon Cranberries

The Sauce:
1 TBL Vegetable Oil
6 Green Onions Coarsely Chopped
2 Portobello Mushrooms Diced
1 TBS Brown Sugar
2 TBS Balsamic Vinegar
2 Cups Red Wine
1 Cup Beef Broth
1 Cup Chicken Broth
2 sprigs Fresh Thyme
2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
1 tsp Peppercorns
1 tsp Flour
1 tsp Butter

Heat oil in sauce pan the add the Onions and Mushrooms and saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes then add the Brown Sugar stir until that has melted then add the Balsamic Vinegar and Saute until all the liquid has evaporated (a minute or two).

Add wine, both broths, herbs and peppercorn and cook over medium/low heat for about 45 minutes. When the sauce is done put the butter and flour in another saucepan and make a roux then strain the sauce into that pan cook until thickened (maybe another 1o-15 minutes)

The Beef
1 1/2 pounds of Beef Tenderloin
2 TBS Olive Oil
2 Cloves minced Garlic
1 very small Onion diced
Salt
Pepper
a little bit of Butter

Preheat oven to 350 then heat the olive oil, saute the garlic and onions for a couple of minutes then brown the beef on all sides (I deglazed the pan with chicken broth and cooked my green beans in that liquid) Place beef on baking pan and top with salt, pepper and about 3 pats of butter then put in the oven for about 35 minutes. Until it registers 120-125 on a thermometer for medium rare, or if your daughter "looks at" your thermometer for only a few seconds and returns it broken into several pieces, guess. Let it rest on a cutting board for about 10 minutes then slice 3/4 of an inch thick and top with a little sauce. You can see in the picture that we were having a little fun with edible flowers

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Red Wine Poached Eggs


Ok here it goes again, I think that I have mentioned the precarious hold that I may have on my "man card" this post is further proof the next sentence says it all. This dish is a perfect brunch.

Told ya.

Actually, the author of a foodie blog that I follow a few weeks ago talked about an obscure Parisian Cafe that she went to making perfect Red Wine Poached Eggs for lunch. and was just raving about them. It wasn't a dish that I was really familiar with so I wanted to pursue it on my own. I tried some different recipes and got it right on the 3rd or 4th try here it is:

1 1/2 Cups of red wine (I used Merlot this time)
1 1/2 cups Chicken Broth
1 tsp Rosemary
1 clove Garlic
1 tsp Fennel seed
2 stems of Tarragon
Salt and pepper

Bring all ingredients to a low boil for about 10 minutes to let all the flavors steep together then strain the liquid through a sieve. Then bring to a boil again, there are two ways to proceed; if you are just making these for yourself or maybe one more crack the eggs into the boiling liquid and let cook for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes then serve. If you are preparing for a larger group drop the eggs one at a time into the boiling liquid for about 2 minutes then pull out with a slotted spoon and drop into an ice bath. When it is time to serve put them back into boiling water for about a minute to reheat. I have found the second method gives a nicer (if less intense color) but the flavors both ways seem to be about even.

Here the eggs are served with Spring Greens and toasted Baguette. I topped the Greens with a little Strawberry Vinaigrette and fresh Pepper.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Periodic Table of Condiments


This is just for a little fun, when I started a food related blog I thought that it was a unique idea. I could write about food and life in a place were people who want to read my culinary ramblings can visit and the people that don't care to hear about the silky perfection of pumpkin soup don't have to. Great idea, really how many people would have thought of that? Turns out about a million, many really good ones too. There are a few that I follow pretty well these come to mind as favorites








I also follow the Epicurious blog segment which tends to be a little more comercial, but has some fun guest writers. That is where I found this graphic it made me laugh and I wanted to share.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Do you know what today is?

I got up this morning and was watching TV for a few minutes before everybody came out and started their day (I do that on most of my days off from work). On the days that I work I am typically at my destination an hour away from home by 6:30 am and since I am a horrible caffeine addict I have to get at least a cup or two of coffee in me close to that time every day or the results are not pretty. Kris came into the living room, sat down and said the words that every guy fears...

Do you know what today is?

I know I have a very precarious hold on my "man card" anyway, "honey I have brioche bread crumbs in the pantry" took care of that pretty well but those six words even scare me. I went through everything I could think of quickly in my head; anniversary? no, birthday? no, kids birthday? no... I had to admit I was lost.

A year ago Kris, Miss Lu and I got up and took a train into Chicago where we spent most of the day at the Daily Center. The morning was spent with a Lawyer then we had lunch, went shopping and came back to court. That was the day I went into the office of the court of Cook County and had my fingerprints put on file.

"Ok," the Officer said, "your prints are in the system, if you decide to take up a life of crime I suggest that you buy some gloves." Good advice I suppose, hopefully I won't have to use it. A year ago is when I adopted Miss Lu. The reason that it doesn't stick out in my head so much is that isn't the day she became my kid, the stubborn, opinionated beast was one of my kids as soon as I walked in the front door of the house that I now live in and met her. I showed her pictures of my oldest two daughters and we talked for a few minutes about the things that she and I find important. Since then she has done what any kid should she argues with me, throws things at me, tells me that she loves me and hates me (usually a few minutes apart). She has a knack for picking up my worst habits and has started to take a shine to science fiction movies (yeah mom likes that). Yes, she has been one of my kids since we met, the courts just took a couple of years to catch up.

In honor of the official day Kris and I got cake! and I made one of the girl's favorite meals, Breaded Chicken and Mashed Potatoes:

The chicken is easy take a couple of Chicken Breasts and pound them flat then dredge them in Flour, Egg wash and Bread Crumbs. Fry for a few minutes then finish in the oven while the potatoes boil. I won't spend too much time on the potatoes but the chicken is easy:

Flour mix

1/2 cup flour
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper until I get tired of grinding

Egg wash
1 egg
a splash of milk
.
Breading
1/2 cup bread crumbs (seasoned with whatever you like)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

This has been a staple in the house for ages, it has always been one of Miss Lu's Favorites. It is best cut up and dipped in the mashed potatoes and eaten.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sweet Potato Pancakes



I have found myself in that strange situation again where I get to the end of the year and have a bit too much vacation time left. I have never run out of vacation time before the end of the year before yet I have an impossible fear that it will happen so I save my days until the end then try to take them all in a frenzy in November and December. So for the next several weeks I don't think that I will be working more than four days in a row ever.

The the plus side is that I will get a little needed rest and have time to try some new recipes, the down side is my schedule is so strange that writing them down may be sporadic. Please bare with me. Recently I tried something new, Sweet Potato Pancakes these I served with Mackerel that I filleted, for me anyway I have mentioned before that I am the only one in my house that eats fish. The Mackerel will come up in another post. The rest of my family had pasta.

The recipe itself is pretty simple for each person that you are serving you need:
1 Sweet Potato shredded
1 TBS finely chopped Green Onion
1 egg
1 TBS flour
1/2 tsp Orange peel finely grated
1 tsp Maple Syrup

the rest is easy just like you would regular potato pancakes take these out about an in about Tablespoon sized globs and put on a hot skillet. Press down and cook for about 5 minutes on each side until golden brown they really are a nice touch to a meal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Apple Shortbread Bars

With the several trips to the farmer's market that I have taken with the kiddos for Jack O Lanterns and other pumpkin products we have picked up several Apples. Once after we all picked out our pumpkins I was looking at the other produce when I looked back at Mr. Man and he was taking apples one at a time out of baskets, licking them and setting them on the gingham covered table (Mr. Man is 3 by the way). Two thoughts quickly went through my head since he wasn't biting them but only licking; the first, maybe I can put them all back before anyone notices... the second why are you licking an apple?!?

I then thought of picking up an apple that some other kid had done the same to and decided to purchase the ones that he had defiled so we came home from that visit with Jonathan, Gala, Macintosh and Granny Smith apples. So now you are thinking. "Is Bryan one of those parents that lets his kids run wild or is his son a really fast licker?" Neither... both, I don't know, in my defence I bought some non-licked apples so once I got home I could pretend the apple that I was eating was of the non-slobbered variety.

As happens with produce after a while on the counter I had already lost a couple and would be losing more soon so I decided that I had to use them up. I poked around and found a recipe on Epicurious to work from:

3 slices of bread ground into crumbs

for Shortbread Base
11/2 sticks Unsalted Butter
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt

for Apple Topping
1 1/4 Sticks Butter Melted
2 Pounds Tart Apples
2/3 cup Granulated Sugar
2 TBS Flour

Toast the breadcrumbs at 350 for about 5 minutes, they should just cover the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking pan, then set them aside for later, leave the oven on.

To make the shortbread crust put the Flour, Salt and Brown Sugar into a mixing bowl then slice the cold butter into the mix about a tsp at a time blend until it forms small lumps. I used a mixer, a food processor would work too. Evenly coat the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking pan and press it down lightly. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

To make the topping set the 1 1/4 sticks butter on the stove to melt then peel and core apples then cut into quarters and slice them thin. I used 5 apples 2 Granny Smith, 2 Gala 1 Jonathan (all medium sized) that may or may not be the ideal varieties, but it is what I had on the counter. When you take the crust out of the oven sprinkle 1/2 the sugar flour mix on top put the sliced apples on that, sprinkle the rest of the sugar flour mix on them. Here I added a sprinkle of cinnamon you can if you want. Top all of this with bread crumbs then drizzle the melted butter on top of the whole thing.

Put it back in the oven and bake for 50 minutes maybe a little longer. About 1/2 way through you will want to pull it out and press the filling down with a spatula to even it out. Cool for about 20 minutes.

I don't say this often, ok maybe I do, but I really mean it this time. This is sooo good, if you only make one recipe that I have blabbered on about this is the one! My house smelled like angels came in and kissed the oven and it tasted wonderful. Kris was going to give some to the neighbor so we don't just end up fat in my house, she was going to start working on the whole block. Then decided that she would share something else.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Visit part 1

When my In-laws came for their visit last week; we were waiting for them to arrive, not quite sure when they would get here or what they were planning. Oddly we (really Kris) is expected to know what they are planning before they arrive and act accordingly. We were discussing what we should have ready for them for dinner that night.

The first option and my favorite was Pasties. Pasties, if you are not familiar with them, are one of the world's most perfect foods it consists of Beef, Onion, Rutabaga, and Potato
es wrapped in a pie like crust and baked golden brown. I have wanted to make pasties for quite a while but it is one of those dishes that I want to learn from a master (read Kris' mom) before I do. I am pretty sure that Kris is afraid that I will try to "improve" on them one day which would be a crime, Salmon and Poblano Pasties would upset the balance of the universe. By the way this was my favorite option for the evening because it only involved turning on the oven.

The second option was spaghetti with meat sauce, nothing exciting, just like your mom made it. Spaghetti, with ground beef and red sauce from a jar . Kris usually makes this one so I am not sure what she doctors the sauce up with but it is good. This was my least favorite option because Kris would be making the sauce while I discussed the first three in-law topics.

The third option that we had come up with was ordering Pizza. After all we live in Schaumburg, a Northwest Suburb of Chicago... the Pizza Capitol of the world (if you are from New York just shut up, you know it is true). I was pretty good with this option too since I was getting home from work about 25 minutes before they arrived.


When they came into our house and the three dinner options were laid out I discovered that there was another option, the one that we should have known to begin with. "We hoped that Bryan would come up with something... we really like the good potatoes."

"No problem!" I said, "let me see what we have..." The good potatoes were easy that is the foil wrapped cheesy potatoes that I cook on the grill but meat? Ok I had some chicken so I would work from there:

Grilled Chicken Breast with a Bourbon, Apple Cider Glaze:
"Marinade" In quotation marks because there wasn't really enough time to marinade.
1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

1 cup Olive Oil
1 1/2 TBS Honey

5 Chicken Breasts (thawed)


Put the Chicken Breasts in the marinade while preparing all side dishes then put the glaze on the stove and cook for about half an hour until it reduces by half.

Glaze

1/2 cup Bourbon
1 cup Apple Cider
1/2 cup brown Sugar


Put glaze on medium heat while preparing potatoes
Once potatoes have been on the grill for about 5 minutes take chicken out of the marinate and soak in the warm glaze for a few minutes then put on the grill. Grill over medium heat for about 3-4 minuted then dredge through the glaze and put it back on the grill. Do this once more then serve.

The Chicken came out tender and sweet, the dinner came together pretty fast and kept everyone a bay for an evening. Tomorrow the real work would begin
.