Monday, December 31, 2007

Cooking Mario Style

Here’s a little more vacation cooking for you. In fact, it could also be a “I got home early on Friday” dinner as well. It’s all up to you I suppose.

I’ve been dying to try out my brand spanking new Mario Batali pan and last night was the night to do it. I had leftover chicken from my last posting and a whole bunch of Arborio rice. What’s a girl to do??? Well, make risotto of course!

So, here’s a good one from Mario’s Molto Italiano. This cookbook has tons of inspiration. Everyone should check it out if only for the fantastic writing. Enjoy!

Saffron Risotto (this is half the recipe to serve 2 people)

½ tsp saffron threads
4 c chicken broth, warmed
4 T olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
¾ c Arborio rice
¼ c white wine
2 T unsalted butter
¼ to ½ c grated Parmesan

Heat broth with saffron until hot. Keep it that way to add to the rice. In a sauté pan (or a sparklely Mario risotto pan!!!) heat oil until almost smoking. Add onion and cook until translucent but not brown. Add rice and stir until toasted and opaque, about 6 minutes.

Add wine and then a ladle of stock. Cook and stir until broth is absorbed. Continue adding stock until the rice is al dente and will not hold any more. The dish will be creamy.

Remove from heat and add butter and Parmesan. Stir until well mixed. Season with salt if needed. I eventually topped mine with sliced leftover chicken .

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vacation Cooking

There’s something special about vacation cooking for me. A plethora of time both for prep and cooking cinches it. There isn’t that rush to have everything ready ½ hour after you get home from work- just the luxury of time.

I’ve been wanting to try out the Chicken in a Pot recipe in the January/February 2008 issue of Cook’s llustrated since receiving it. This recipe is the epitome of vacation cooking – easily obtained ingredients (some may say pedestrian), little prep time, and a long cooking period, not to mention, a promised fabulous end product. I was not disappointed in the least.

I will say that buying quality ingredients when there are so few involved is a fundamental part of cooking. I found a beautiful natural chicken at Whole Foods. I opted for that rather than the organic for two reasons: a) the 50¢ per pound difference and b) the natural just looked better. Maybe it’s me but a pallid chicken is not one I want to buy. Give me a nice yellowy fatty chicken any day!

I didn’t have the celery called for in the recipe but I did have carrots. I planned on roasting a bunch as a side anyway so I did a little aromatic switch-a-roo. I don’t have any complaints based on the final product.

So here’s a little vacation cooking courtesy of Cook’s … my family enjoyed it and I hope yours will as well.

Chicken in a Pot
Serves 4ish

1 whole chicken (4 ½ to 5 pounds), giblets removed
2 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
6 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh rosemary (optional)
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 250ºF with oven rack on the lowest position. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a heavy cast iron Dutch oven (I have a Le Creuset that I love) until just smoking. Add the chicken breast side down, scatter aromatics and herbs around it. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Flip the bird over by shoving a wooden spoon in the cavity and manhandling it over. Cook until well browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Cover the entire shebang with aluminum foil then with the lid of the Dutch oven. Place in the preheated oven for 80 to 110 minutes. Check the thigh temp with an instant read – it should be 175º.

Transfer the bird to a cutting board and cover with foil to keep warm. Let sit for 20 minutes. In the meantime strain out all the lovely bits left in the pan, keeping the liquid. Defat and warm up. Add a little lemon juice for brightness.

Serve the carved bird with a little pan sauce. Should there be leftovers I’ve a recipe coming in the next few days that will look after them.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Yule and Merry Christmas too

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Santa has come down the chimney and left many wonderful delights for the Eating In household this year. What a whirlwind morning thus far. Colorado has been blessed with a white Christmas and I with a white Mario Batali risotto pan.

Soon I will be playing Santa myself and delivering little boxes of sweets to neighbors. Many thanks to Anita at Dessert First for the fabulous Honey Caramels. I could not resist making these immediately upon sight. I’m fortunate to have the gift of honey from my parent’s farm to make these soft confections. Just creating them on Christmas Eve brought back memories of Christmas past with my family. And isn’t that what it’s all about … family and friends?

Blessings and Light to you and yours!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sugar High Friday - well almost!

This month's theme for Sugar High Friday is PUDDINGS! Upon discovering I could make it under the wire for it, I whipped up a little something I found in a recent Bon Appetit. Fall and winter always bring on a yearning for the warm spices – ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg. My family has always been partial to gingerbread, even my son, who tends to be a picky eater.

I think he began his enjoyment of gingerbread when I made muffins for breakfast one morning and he mistook them for chocolate. I like to use dark molasses so the muffins were really dark. He was surprised that the flavor wasn't what he expected but delighted it was a new one he liked even more! I also like to put cream cheese frosting on them even though that renders them a bit decadent for breakfast. So we eat them on Sundays and call them special. Sadly the child hasn't formed a liking for cream cheese quite yet - he gets to eat his plain while his poor ol' parents have to deal with a little decadence!

When perusing the December issue of Bon Appetit I found a recipe requested by a reader for Gingerbread Pudding Cake. The original was made at the Beach House at Purdy which is no longer around. I was intrigued – Gingerbread in a pudding cake form?!? How could I resist?

I happily whipped it up and was to delighted to get a delicate cakey top with a syrupy, oozy, gooey bottom. I served it warm with a little whipped cream but I’m envisioning making a little cheesecake ice cream to go with it next time.

Gingerbread Pudding Cake
Serves 8

1 ¼ c flour
1 tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp salt
¼ c unsalted butter at room temp
¼ c sugar
2 T beaten egg (from 1 egg)
½ c molasses
½ c water
¾ c packed brown sugar
1 ½ c hot water
5 T unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and 8x8 baking pan. Whisk flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a bowl. In a large bowl beat ¼ c butter and ¼ c sugar until blended. Beat in the egg. Stir molasses and ½ c water in a glass measuring cup. In the cake method, add flour mixture alternating with the molasses mixture to the beaten sugar and butter. Pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the brown sugar.

Stir the hot water and melted butter together in another glass measuring cup. Carefully pour this over the cake (this will be the saucy goodness after it bakes). Bake for about 45 minutes. The cake will be cracked on top and a pick should come out clean. Serve warm.

Fungus in my Belly

When the weather turns cold and the days are short my soul turns to comforting foods. Now mind you, the days are much shorter in the winter and the temps are mostly sub-zero where I grew up but I still have the yearning for a good hearty bowl of soup or stew to get me through.

Recently, the temps in Colorado took a little nose drive and I was compelled to whip up a really good soup. I turned to my trusty Frog Commissary Cookbook for inspiration. Right there staring me in the face was Mushroom Barley Soup.

I had already planned a trip to Whole Foods because it was grocery day. Being that it is Whole Foods my potential time suck was also the Whole Day. I knew I had pearled barley on hand so set that soaking so the final cooking time would be substantially less. With my grains happily swimming in broth I took off for Whole Foods.

I have a love/hate relationship with this place. The foods, the colors, the organization … Huzzah! The people, the crowds, the parking lot … Blech. Luckily, I left early in enough in the morning that the place wasn’t a teaming mass of humanity. Instead it was a calm nirvana that grocery shopping should be. I only had to compete with one other person for the mushrooms. He was interested in the porcinis and shitakes. I, on the other hand, was in search of one of my favorites, the lion’s head mushroom. I must have prayed to the right fungus god that day as I bagged a beautiful example of the species. Alas, I forgot to photograph it in my haste to devour it. The lion’s head in addition to a bunch of brown mushrooms comprised the fungusy portion of my soup.

Once home the soup cooked up like a dream. Quick, easy, and so tasty. A big hunk of bread also procured at the Whole Foods, a nice neat salad, a glass of Burgandy and lunch was served.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Makes about 3.5 quarts

3 T butter
1½ c chopped onions
1 c chopped carrots
2 tsp minced garlic
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
3 quarts broth … I used chicken and beef as it was in the fridge
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp thyme … I used herbes de Provence
1 c pearled barley

Melt butter in a large stockpot. Add onions, carrots and garlic and sauté until tender but not brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until barley is tender, about 40 minutes. This soup reheats really well so you can have it for lunch at work the next day.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Proven Daring Baker - Yule Style

I’m proud to present my first entry into the Daring Baker’s Challenge, December’s Yule Log. I have to say that when I sent in my request to be considered for the Daring Baker’s at the end of November I had a sneaking suspicion the challenge for December would be a Yule Log. After all, what baked bit of tastiness screams “ ‘Tis the Season “ and is a bit daring to make??? I relished the opportunity to pull out a lot of rusty skills to do this challenge.

As a few know, Eating In is based on fairly quick and easy dinners and the like for the average family wanting to bring new culinary delights to the table. So here’s the disclaimer … a Yule Log is not for the faint of heart nor is it quick and easy. I planned a whole weekend around getting the job done. Now it’s not like I slaved night and day over the stove but I did do a bit of planning.

Step 1: Make sure you’ve got everything … no sweat … lots of eggs and butter … CHECK!

Step 2: Make everything is a room temp. Buttercream does not, repeat does not, respond well to cold butter in the making faze. CHECK!

Step 3: Have a decent mise en place. All eggs separated as need be, flour out and sifted, butter unwrapped and on a movable surface. CHECK!

In the end, the genoise and buttercream were a snap to make. As I told Lis, I have my mother and grandmothers to thank for that. You see, when I was a kid we had tea. That’s not sit down with a cup of tea and slurp. It’s a full blown, cookies, tiny sandwiches, cold cut plate, little pastries kind of tea. Even during harvest … outside … in the fields … with china tea cups on the endgate of the pickup truck … You get the picture. We had jelly rolls a lot. Quick to make, pretty to look at, used up old jam, and were tasty to boot. Can’t complain about that. So the whole making a genoise, filling it, and then rolling it up wasn’t too tough. I did make my genoise a chocolate one as most of my holiday party guests love chocolate. I thought the coffee buttercream would be a nice foil for the chocolate cake.

The buttercream went together very nicely. I was a little nervous as I haven’t made buttercream in years. The hubby shouldn’t be eating it, but hey, it’s the holidays after all. My only problem was that I refrigerated it after filling the log. The next day, like the day of the holiday party, I went to finish the cake by frosting it in buttercream. Well, can you say breakage?!? Holy crap!!! After a moment of panic, I melted a bit of the buttercream in the micro, added it to the sad pile of broken buttercream and beat the hell out of it. Miraculously it came together and became a Yule Log!

The mushrooms were a delight to create. I’m usually not fond of meringue but this was superb! When I served slices to my guests after a fine feast of prime rib roast and roasted veggies I was asked, “Why are there mushrooms on my cake!” I totally took it as a compliment. After all, if my meringue mushrooms looked that real they must have been a success. And by the way the entire cake disappeared I’m sure it was.

Many thanks to Lis and Ivonne for the Challenge this month. I’ve got to thank the esteemed Helene for a wonderful FAQ and tips posting as well. Girl, you saved my bacon with that one!

Sources: Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert
Serves 12

Plain Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Filling and frosting the log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Meringue Mushrooms:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.

2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.

3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

4.Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.