December 26, 2009

Ginger Gin & Tonics and Blood Orange Margaritas

I spent Christmas morning eating bacon, eggs, & cream cheese butter braid, watching Julie & Julia (a gift from Jerad), drinking bloody marys, and watching it snow. Big, fluffy flakes floating around. Not a bad way to spend a holiday.

December 18, 2009

For the love of cooking; Or, why schools need home economics classes

Today was the last day of school for the semester. And, I ended on a high note.

My College English class finished with a unit on food. We watched Food, Inc. (if you haven't seen it yet, go rent it NOW) and wrote response essays, arguing one of the questions the film presents. Before the movie, I asked students to briefly research one of the topics mentioned in the film (things like Monsanto, processed food, E. Coli, etc.) and present their findings to the class. They had a bit of difficulty understanding what processed foods were, so the next day I brought in a bunch of food packages. We discussed whether or not they considered each item "healthy," then we looked at the ingredients in each. We also talked about foods they typically eat, what they're made of, and how good they are (or are not) for you.

December 17, 2009

Ginger Oatmeal Rum Raisin Cookies

We had our HuLuBu (Humanities Lunch Bunch) holiday party today. Everyone brought food and an ornament for our gift exchange. I tried to find the gaudiest, tackiest ornament I could. Of course, I had quite a selection to choose from at Target. At first, I was going to get this huge lime green ball with hot pink glitter. I finally chose an owl made from nuts. (Ironically, someone else chose that same one to give away!) But, since there were so many tacky ornaments to choose from, I ended up buying one for each person...specifically chosen to match their personality.

December 16, 2009

Cookie Dough Brownies

When I was teaching in Highland, the teachers on my team would get together once a month or so to socialize outside of school. We'd take turns hosting, and everyone would bring something to eat. Susie, the other English teacher on my team, was notorious for her sweet teeth. The huge bag of chocolate chips (we're talking bulk-sized) that she kept in her freezer to snack on was often a topic of conversation. Surprisingly, she remains one of the thinnest people I know!

Susie would almost always make cookie dough brownies--brownies topped with gooey cookie dough & a layer of melted chocolate--and everyone loved them. Here's her recipe:

Cookie Dough Brownies

1 pan of brownies, baked & cooled
  • Use your favorite brownie recipe (or boxed brownies).
  • Use a 9x13 pan, or if you want thicker brownies use an 8x8 pan.

For the cookie dough:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
  • With a stand mixer (paddle attachment), cream the butter & sugars together until well-blended.
  • Add the extract & milk, blend until incorporated.
  • Slowly add in the flour & stir until combined. Spread on top of the cooled brownies.
For the chocolate topping:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or vegetable shortening)
  • Melt the chocolate with the butter in a double-boiler (or in the microwave).
  • Pour over the cookie dough. Let cool to set before serving.

December 15, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Cafe Volcano Cookies

MacDuff of Lonely Sidecar chose this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe: Cafe Volcano Cookies.

Basically, these are espresso nut meringues. They are super easy to make...heat sugar, egg whites, espresso powder, & toasted nuts in a saucepan. Scoop by the teaspoon onto a silicone-lined cookie sheet. Bake. Done.

Dorie's recipe calls for almonds & walnuts, but I just used all walnut chips.

Here's what they look like:

Dorie calls them "higgely piggely shaped."

December 14, 2009

Menu for Hope 6

Menu for Hope starts today! Be sure to browse the list of items up for raffle...including special meals, getaways, signed cookbooks, chocolates & homemade foods, kitchen tools, wine, artwork, and MORE!

Here's the skinny from Pim, the campaign's creator:

What is Menu for Hope?

Menu for Hope is an annual fundraising campaign hosted by me and a revolving group of food bloggers around the world. Five years ago, the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia inspired me to find a way to help, and the very first Menu for Hope was born. The campaign has since become a yearly affair.

Each December, food bloggers from all over the world join the campaign by offering a delectable array of food-related items for the Menu for Hope raffle. Anyone – and that means you too - can participate. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual ticket to bid on an item of your choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim on Monday, January 18.

Who is the beneficiary of this year's campaign?

Menu for Hope (for three years and counting) supports the good work of the UN World Food Programme. WFP is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.

How can you help?

Browse the amazing array of delectable items offered by food and wine bloggers from all over the world. You may also browse the bid items by region:

Europe (hosted by David Lebovitz)
Asia Pacific (hosted by Ed of Tomatom)
USA: East Coast (hosted by Helen of Tartelette)
USA: West Coast (hosted by Shauna of Gluten Free Girl)
Canada (hosted by Tara of Seven Spoons)

or if you're a wine geek you might want to head directly to see Alder at Vinography for the wine related bit items.

Once you find an item or items you want, then go and make a donation to Menu for Hope 6 at First Giving. For every $10 you donate, you may select one raffle bid item. The more you donate, the more chances to get the item(s) you want.

December 13, 2009

Cacio e Pepe

I was recently accused of being a Francophile. Ok, I'll admit to being slightly obsessed with French culture. Sure, I long to travel to Paris, to eat cheeses & baguettes in an outdoor cafe while sipping champagne. Is that so wrong?

My accuser is Italian, so I can understand how he'd object to my "distinctly Francophilic leanings." Little does he know, I cook pasta more than anything at home. In fact, I've posted way more authentic Italian recipes than French carbonara, risotto, bolognese, ravioli, minestrone, and panzanella.

Last night, I tried a pasta recipe from Gourmet Today. I received a copy of this massive new cookbook at a luncheon with Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief of the recently defunct Gourmet magazine. She came to St. Louis to promote the book, a visit that was originally postponed because of Gourmet's sudden demise.

Me with Ruth Reichl
Lunch was a multiple course meal prepared by St. Louis's best chefs, including Josh Galliano of Monarch, Gerard Craft of Niche, Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe, & Michael Roberts of Atlas. (Francophilic sidenote: I finally tried the cassoulet at Atlas. It's as good as people say it is!)

Before we ate, Ruth declared that Gourmet Today may be the "last cookbook of its kind." She explained that the twelve chefs in the magazine's testing kitchens would make a recipe five or six times before perfecting it. Even the simpliest recipes--which she says are the most difficult to perfect--were tested numerous times. She specificially mentioned the spaghetti with pecorino Romano & black pepper recipe with its list of only three ingredients.

According to the cookbook, cacio e pepe is a classic Roman dish that "is so sublimely simple that initially we wondered if you would even need a recipe to make it. As it turns out, perfecting it was challenging, but ultimately we found the ideal combination of spaghetti, melting pecorino Romano, and crushed black pepper."

Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano & Black Pepper
For this recipe, you need to grate the cheese with the ragged-edged holes of a box grater for ease of melting. Don't use the small teardrop-shaped holes or a rasp (Microplane), as your cheese will clump up in the bowl.
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1/2 pound spaghetti
2 1/2 ounces grated Pecorino Romano (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
  • Toast peppercorns in a dry small skillet over moderately high heat, swirling skillet, until fragrant and peppercorns begin to jump, 2 to 3 minutes. Coarsely crush peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or wrap in a kitchen towel and press on peppercorns with bottom of a heavy skillet.
  • Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente.
  • Meanwhile, fill a large glass or ceramic bowl with some hot water to warm bowl. Just before spaghetti is finished cooking, drain bowl but do not dry.
  • Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta quickly in a colander (do not shake off excess water) and add to warm pasta bowl.
  • Sprinkle 3/4 cup cheese and 3 tablespoons cooking water evenly over spaghetti and toss quickly. If pasta seems dry, toss with some additional cooking water.
  • Divide pasta among 4 plates, then sprinkle with pepper and 2 tablespoons cheese. Serve immediately with additional cheese on the side.

December 12, 2009

Tree Trimming & Egg Nogging

My family used to cut down a fresh tree every year for Christmas. We'd pick one out at the tree farm near my grandparents' house the day after Thanksgiving. A couple weeks later, we'd traipse back out to the tree farm with a saw to cut it down.

The holidays weren't complete without the whole family fighting over the tree decorating. The first problem was that my mom insisted on a HUGE tree, one that was over 15 feet tall, since our living room had a towering cathedral ceiling. Of course, trees always look smaller out in the field. Inside, however, they barely fit.

My dad would struggle with getting the tree home in our pea green station wagon (think Christmas Vacation). Once, the tree flew off the top of the car on the highway. My dad ended up laying in the wayback with the tree, holding on to it so it wouldn't fly out of the car. Then, he'd struggle with getting the tree inside. We always had to bring it in the back sliding glass door. We usually had to tie it up so it would stay straight. One year, he busted the ceiling fan with the ladder. Eventually, we'd begin decorating with multi-colored lights (the kind with the big bulbs), bubble lights, family ornaments, silver tinsel (strand by strand, as mom insisted), and candy canes.

Even though there was always drama, I miss that time so much. My dad hasn't put up a tree since my mom died almost 14 years ago.

Unfortunately, my ex-husband wasn't too keen on getting real trees. He (and his family) always put up a pre-lit, artificial tree. It made me sad. Luckily, Jerad's family always got a real they even cut down themselves! A couple years ago, I was supposed to go out to the tree farm with Jerad and his mom. It was a cold, rainy day--and I wasn't feeling well--so I told them I'd just meet at Jerad's parents' house to help decorate later that day. About an hour later, they showed up at my house with a gorgeous 12-foot Douglas Fir, lights, and ornaments.

I can't really explain how much that meant to me. It made me realize that I'd found my "home."

Today, after searching around two different fields, we cut down the biggest Christmas tree I've ever seen! Seriously, it takes up almost the entire room. It's crazy big! I'm still waiting for a squirrel to jump out.

Of course, every tree trimming party needs a cocktail. This is the one I made tonight, after we'd finished decorating and were enjoying the lights & strong fragrance of pine.

Homemade Egg Nog
from Kitchen Conservatory

Makes 1 gallon

12 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups bourbon (or brandy)
4 cups heavy cream
nutmeg, to taste

  • In a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar together with a pinch of salt until pale yellow and fluffy.
  • Continue whipping and, very slowly, pour in the bourbon.
  • In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold peaks.
  • In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it holds peaks.
  • Fold together the egg yolks, egg whites, and whipped cream. Garnish with lots of freshly-grated nutmeg.
Note: This will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

Jerad worshipping at the altar of The Tree.
He's a little like Clark Griswold.

December 11, 2009

Favorite Holiday Recipes

I'm really trying to like the holidays more each year. What helps is all the rich, fattening, & sugar-laden foods that are perfectly acceptable to gorge yourself on during the month of December.

Food traditions also help me to love the holiday season. For a few years, I made real Fettuccine Alfredo (heavy cream, butter, garlic, & Parmesan cheese) with crab on Christmas Eve. It's the ultimate in indulgence. Last year, we made Homemade Ravioli & Meat Sauce at Jerad's parents' house on Christmas Eve. We plan to make that our new family tradition.

My favorite Christmas morning brunch dish is Salmon-Stuffed Puff Pastry, a roll of puff pastry filled with smoked salmon & herbed scrambled eggs. It goes perfectly with a mimosa (or two). Espresso Walnut Cake makes a tasty breakfast treat as well. I also make a lot of gingerbread during the holidays. My two favorite recipes are Chocolate Gingerbread and Triple Ginger Bread.

Speaking of gingerbread, a couple years ago I was obsessed with gingerbread syrup (the kind of syrup they use in lattes). I got two huge bottles to make "Christmas in a glass" cocktails (champagne with a splash of spicy gingerbread syrup. I had so much of it, though, that I started coming up with different ways to use it, including a Gingerbread Vinaigrette which is delicious on a spinach & fruit salad with goat cheese.

What holiday food traditions do you have in your family?
What are your favorite holiday recipes?

December 10, 2009

Give the Gift of Grub

My favorite gift to give to friends, co-workers, & neighbors is homemade treats. Here are a few of my best "make to give" recipes:

Christmas Fudge - So, it uses marshmallow fluff. Who cares! It's easy to make and tastes good.

Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti - Very festive with green & red specks!

Spiced Pecans - No one can resist a pretty jar full of these sweet & spicy snacks.

I've also given jams & homemade bread, spice mixes, candied citrus peel, and cookie mix jars as holiday gifts.

You could also make infused vodkas (bacon vodka, anyone? It's so good in a bloody mary!) or limoncello.

One idea on my gift list that I plan to try this year is Paula Deen's Pear Honey:

1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple with syrup
16 cups (about 6 pounds) peeled, cored, and chopped pears
10 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice or 4 pieces ginger

Mix all ingredients and cook until pears are tender and mixture thickens, approximately 30 minutes. Place in sterilized jars and seal while still hot.

December 9, 2009

Quinoa Pilaf with Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, and Bacon

Ok, so, this is day 9 of NaBloPoMo. I've been pretty proud of myself for posting every day so far, without much fluffy filler. While I have a lot of recipes waiting in the wings to get posted, I am running out of witty banter. Instead of telling an enlightening story, let me catch you up on what's been going on around here.

First of all, I can't seem to figure out why the bold feature won't undo itself on the text in this post (or why some of the text is bigger than the rest).
I've tried selecting all the text and pushing the "b" button & resizing the text, but it doesn't work. So, this post is in bold. With some bigger letters. Deal with it.

For those of you who've been asking, there are NO wedding plans yet. We've talked about a couple possibilities, and even though I want to do something simple, we are running into a few snags (mainly WHEN to get married). I thought I had the perfect plan: Spring break, Vegas ceremony early in the week, pig roast reception later in the week. But that's probably a little too soon for our budget and a Vegas wedding/outdoor reception in the summer doesn't seem like such a good idea. So, we're still working on it.

There is just over a week of school left before winter break. I still have a ton of papers to grade between now and then, but I've really been trying to not bring so much work home this year. All in all, I've had a fairly good year and am excited about some of the things going on in my classroom.

I STILL haven't done any holiday decorating or shopping. I doubt we'll get a tree this year, since Jerad isn't done refinishing the floors yet. I suggested we not buy gifts for each other, since he just bought a ring and we should start saving for the wedding, but I don't think he's going to stick to that. So, I'll be shopping for gifts at the last minute like I always do.

Today, I simply don't have a story to tell about quinoa or making this recipe...other than that the way I got Jerad to eat it for dinner was to remind him that there was BACON in it & that the quinoa was toasted IN BACON FAT.

Oh, and, I've made quinoa before. If you're not sure what quinoa is, or even how to pronounce it, read that post.

Quinoa Pilaf with Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, and Bacon

adapted from Serious Eats

According to
Serious Eats: "Full of fiber and antioxidants, this is one-bowl meal you can feel virtuous about eating.
The bacon contributes smoky flavor and a nice textural contrast, but you could leave it out if you wanted to make this a vegetarian dish. (In that case, skip the bacon step and instead sauté the onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.)"

2 to 4 slices of bacon, diced
1/4 large onion, cut in half and sliced thin
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 medium sweet potato, peeled & cut into 1/4-inch cubes
8 ounces baby spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil

My notes: First of all, when a recipe calls for 2-4 slices of bacon, I'm going to go with 4...because when it comes to bacon, more is always better. Right? Right. This, however, meant that I had too much bacon fat left in the pan. So, I drained some out until there was just a thin layer left in which to toast the quinoa.

  • In a medium saucepan cook the bacon over medium heat until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Reserve the bacon bits.
  • Saute the onions into the hot bacon fat, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the quinoa and toss until coated with the fat and the grains are slightly toasted, about 2 minutes more. Add the water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, bring to a boil, stir once, cover, reduce to low and let cook undisturbed until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes.
  • While the quinoa is cooking, toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil and salt and cook in a medium skillet until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
  • When the quinoa is cooked, stir in the spinach & cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the sweet potatoes and reserved bacon.
  • Serve with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

December 8, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Sablés

Hey, lookie here! I finally made another Tuesdays with Dorie recipe (I had to take a break, because there were simply way too many sweets around here all the time)! This week's recipe was chosen by Barbara of Bungalow Barbara.

Sablés are delicate French shortbread cookies made with butter, sugar, egg yolks & flour. The dough, which is very crumbly, is shaped into logs & chilled before being cut & baked.

Dorie suggests brushing the logs with egg yolk & rolling them in decorating sugar before cutting, to create a colorful edge on each cookie. Instead, I cut the logs first (no egg wash) then gently pressed coarse sugar into the top of each cookie. I decorated some with peppermint-flavored red & white sprinkles and others with black & opal sugars.

Since I am still getting used to my new oven, which is actually registering hotter than it should, I slightly burned the first batch of cookies. The rest, luckily, turned out great!

December 7, 2009

Hot Buttered Rum

We got our first snow today. It wasn't a big snow, but there was a dusting of white on a few lawns when I left for work this morning. It seems that winter is finally here (after an unseasonably warm fall).

The warm weather has really put a damper on my holiday spirit; it just doesn't feel like Christmas to me. It threw off my whole seasonal clock when it was warm AND getting dark by 5:00. Plus, I haven't put up any decorations (we were supposed to get a tree this weekend, but then Jerad decided to refinish the wood floors), I haven't bought any presents, and I haven't done any holiday baking. I haven't even read my annual "anti-Christmas" book yet (though, I have this year's book picked out already...You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs * ).

But, I'm ready to enjoy the winter. I'm ready for lazy days during holiday break, sipping a hot drink while a fire crackles in the fireplace. The December issue of Sauce Magazine featured several hot drink recipes I'd like to try, including real hot chocolate with a few tasty stir-in ideas & a bourbon-apple toddy.

However, my favorite warming winter drink is hot buttered rum. It's spicy, rich, potent...and quite soothing for a sore throat. Plus, only during the holidays is it acceptable to drink melted butter...mmmmm, butter.

Hot Buttered Rum

Makes 8 cups

1 stick unsalted butter (not margarine!), at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
spiced rum
boiling water
cinnamon sticks, for garnish (optional)
  • Mix the butter with the sugar & salt.
  • Put 1 tablespoon of butter in a mug.
  • Add a shot of spiced rum to the mug.
  • Fill mug with boiling water, stir to combine.
  • Serve with a cinnamon stick.

* Every year, I read an "anti-Christmas" book. You see, I hate Christmas (though, the past couple years have been pretty good thanks to Jerad and his family). Several years ago, I read David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice (a collection of his Christmas stories) and it made me feel better because it was so disturbingly funny (as are most of his stories). My favorite selection from that book is the holiday letter from a dysfunctional family. Afterwards, I decided to read one book like that each December. So far, I've also read An Idiot Girl's Christmas (so funny!) and The Stupidest Angel.

December 6, 2009

Creamy Tomato Soup

Speaking of comfort foods...the ultimate comforting meal for me--and I'd guess for most people--is usually tomato soup & grilled cheese, old school style. It reminds me of childhood winters, of coming inside for lunch all pink-cheeked after playing in the snow; of grade-school cafeteria lunches, of being excited about getting to buy a lunch instead of packing one or walking home for lunch; of dorm-room meals cooked in a microwave and electric sandwich maker. It reminds me of my mom.

I still crave the comfort of tomato soup and grilled cheese, but these days I forgo the canned soup & white bread with American cheese slices for a more "mature" version.

Creamy Tomato Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
38 ounces crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion & garlic and cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Stir in the crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
  • Add the stock, curry powder, and paprika. Simmer for 7-10 minutes.
  • Puree the soup in a blender in three batches (be careful when blending hot liquids, as they expand). Pour each batch of puree through a strainer into a saucepan.
  • Stir in the cream. Taste and add salt & pepper as needed.
  • Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley & a few cheesy croutons (recipe below).
For the croutons: Simply cut 1/2-inch thick slices of a baguette or a good loaf of bread. Toast the bread on both sides in a skillet with a bit of olive oil. Top each slice with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated cheddar & Parmesan cheeses. Broil the slices just until the cheese melts. Cut into cubes & add to your soup.

December 4, 2009

Momofuku Pork Belly Buns

A couple weeks ago, my friend Stephanie (aka Iron Stef) helped me make David Chang's roasted pork belly & Chinese steamed buns. The recipe comes from his new cookbook Momofuku, named after his acclaimed New York noodle bar (which was named after the guy who invented instant ramen).

Chang's book received attention when it was released in October not only because of the recipes and gorgeous color photos but also because of his narrative voice. In the introduction to each section, Chang "relays with candor the tale of his unwitting rise to superstardom, which, though wracked with mishaps, happened at light speed." And he curses. A lot.

On Oct. 27, the day Momofuku was published, Ian Froeb made some interesting observations in his Twitter updates (Ian is the food critic for The Riverfront Times & editor of their "Gut Check" blog):

# of paragraphs in Momofuku cookbook before first f-bomb? 7.5
in other words, having read only the intro, ready to declare Momofuku cookbook of the year. certainly the most entertaining.

The book does make for a good read. In fact, I read it cover-to-cover like a novel. Even the recipes themselves are entertaining reading. For example, in his steamed buns recipe he writes: "Cover the armada of little dough balls with a draping of plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes." Good stuff.

Warning: This cookbook is written for serious cooks. Chang even admits that some recipes aren't meant for home cooks. Other recipes, like his infamous pork belly buns, are fairly easy; they just require many time-consuming steps. But in the case of the pork belly buns, the time is totally worth it.

Pork Belly

One 3-pound slab skinless pork belly
1⁄4 cup kosher salt
1 ⁄4 cup sugar
  • Nestle the belly into a roasting pan or other oven-safe vessel that holds it snugly. Mix together the salt and sugar in a small bowl and rub the mix all over the meat; discard any excess salt-and-sugar mixture. Cover the container with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge for at least 6 hours, but no longer than 24.
  • Heat the oven to 450ºF.
  • Discard any liquid that accumulated in the container. Put the belly in the oven, fat side up, and cook for 1 hour, basting it with the rendered fat at the halfway point, until it’s an appetizing golden brown.
  • Turn the oven temperature down to 250ºF and cook for another 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until the belly is tender—it shouldn’t be falling apart, but it should have a down pillow–like yield to a firm finger poke. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the belly to a plate. Decant the fat and the meat juices from the pan and reserve (see the headnote). Allow the belly to cool slightly.
  • When it’s cool enough to handle, wrap the belly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and put it in the fridge until it’s thoroughly chilled and firm. (You can skip this step if you’re pressed for time, but the only way to get neat, nice-looking slices is to chill the belly thoroughly before slicing it.)
  • Cut the pork belly into 1⁄2-inch-thick slices that are about 2 inches long. Warm them for serving in a pan over medium heat, just for a minute or two, until they are jiggly soft and heated through. Use at once.

Steamed Buns
Makes about 50 buns

Okay, fifty buns is a lot of buns. But the buns keep in the freezer for months and
months without losing any quality, and if you cut the recipe down any more than this,
there’s barely enough stuff in the bowl of the mixer for the dough hook to pick up. So
clear out a couple of hours and some space in the freezer and get to work.

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
11⁄2 cups water, at room temperature
41⁄4 cups bread flour
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Rounded 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 ⁄3 cup rendered pork fat or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • Combine the yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with the dough hook. Add the flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and fat and mix on the lowest speed possible, just above a stir, for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough should gather together into a neat, not-too-tacky ball on the hook. When it does, lightly oil a medium mixing bowl, put the dough in it, and cover the bowl with a dry kitchen towel. Put it in a turned-off oven with a pilot light or other warmish place and let rise until the dough doubles in bulk, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
  • Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Using a bench scraper or a knife, divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 equal pieces. Gently roll the pieces into logs, then cut each log into 5 pieces, making 50 pieces total. They should be about the size of a Ping-Pong ball and weigh about 25 grams, or a smidge under an ounce. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover the armada of little dough balls with a draping of plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cut out fifty 4-inch squares of parchment paper. Coat a chopstick with whatever fat you’re working with.
  • Flatten one ball with the palm of your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll it out into a 4-inch-long oval. Lay the greased chopstick across the middle of the oval and fold the oval over onto itself to form the bun shape. Withdraw the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and put the bun on a square of parchment paper. Stick it back under the plastic wrap (or a dry kitchen towel) and form the rest of the buns. Let the buns rest for 30 to 45 minutes: they will rise a little.
  • Set up a steamer on the stove. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the steamer, steam the buns on the parchment squares for 10 minutes. Remove the parchment. You can use the buns immediately (reheat them for a minute or so in the steamer if necessary) or allow to cool completely, then seal in plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to a few months. Reheat frozen buns in a stovetop steamer for 2 to 3 minutes, until puffy, soft, and warmed all the way through.

Quick Salt Pickles

Makes about 2 cups
(halve or double the recipe as needed)

2 meaty Kirby cucumbers, cut into 1⁄8-inch-thick disks.
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Combine the cucumbers with the sugar and salt in a small mixing bowl and toss to coat with the sugar and salt. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Taste: if the pickles are too sweet or too salty, put them into a colander, rinse off the seasoning, and dry in a kitchen towel. Taste again and add more sugar or salt as needed.
  • Serve after 5 to 10 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
TO ASSEMBLE THE BUNS: Slather each bun with hoisin sauce. Then place a slice of pork belly, a couple pickles, & a sprinkling of sliced scallions inside the buns. Eat & be amazed that you made such a tasty dish. The next morning, take some buns from the freezer, steam them for just a couple minutes to reheat, then stuff each with scallion scrambled eggs & leftover pork belly that you've reheated in a skillet. Dress with hoisin sauce (or hot sauce if you're feeling frisky) for a breakfast of champions.

Thanks to Steph for taking the photos!

December 3, 2009

Grandma Tuffy's Sauteed Spinach

I've eaten this spinach dish two times in the past four days. It's THAT good.

Jerad's mom makes this recipe every year for Thanksgiving. It comes from her great-grandmother on her mother's side, Tuffy Lilian Iztwig (whose parents were German immigrants).

The first time I spent Thanksgiving at Jerad's parents' house, his mom became too ill to finish cooking dinner. So, his sister asked me to make the spinach; there was no written recipe, and I'd never eaten--or even seen--the dish before. I was informed that it had "spinach and bouillon" in it. That sounded easy enough.

I dissolved a couple bouillon cubes in about a cup of hot water, then I cooked the frozen spinach in it.

I was later informed that my spinach wasn't right; it tasted nothing like it should.


Last Saturday, I actually got to watch Gwen make the spinach. Wow, was it good! I ate the leftovers for breakfast with a poached egg on top. WOW, so good! I also made the spinach Tuesday night with our dinner of seared sirloin and cauliflower gratin. Our friend Ashby said the spinach was his favorite part.

Grandma Tuffy's Sauteed Spinach

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 beef bouillon cubes, crushed
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
14 ounces frozen baby spinach, slightly thawed
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan.
  • Add the bouillon cubes & mix to dissolve.
  • Stir in the flour to create a thin roux.
  • Add the spinach, stir & cook until the sauce coats the spinach and it's all warmed through.

December 2, 2009

Menu for Hope

I am thinking of offering a prize for this year's Menu for Hope campaign (see below for more info) & I need ideas! In the past, prizes were anything from home-baked cookies to signed cookbooks to dinner at local restaurants to trips to wine country.

According to the campaign's creator: "The prize you offer need not be of high monetary value, but it should appeal to your readership. A small rule of thumb we'd like to suggest is that each prize offered should have the potential to raise at least $200. That means, don't offer a prize unless you are pretty sure you could get at least twenty of your readers to donate $10 for a raffle ticket toward that prize."

I've thought of offering a private cooking lesson or a catered dinner, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with going to stranger's house for that (unless, of course, one of my friends were to win!).


I am hoping one of my favorite local chefs/restaurants/businesses (you know who you are!) would be interested in donating something that I could offer through my blog (I'll handle all the hosting details & contact the winner with information on how to claim their prize). I'm thinking....dinner for two at one of St. Louis's best restaurants? A private cooking class at one of the city's best cooking schools?

PLEASE CONTACT ME IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN DONATING SOMETHING! I'd really like to see St. Louis get involved in this worthwhile endeavor.

* * *

From Chez Pim:

What is Menu for Hope? Menu for Hope is an annual fundraising campaign hosted by me and a revolving group of food bloggers around the world. Five years ago, the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia inspired me to find a way to help, and the very first Menu for Hope was born. The campaign has since become a yearly affair. For the past three years, Menu for Hope raised nearly a quarter of million dollars in support of the good work of the UN World Food Programme, helping to feed hungry people worldwide.

Each December, food bloggers from all over the world join the campaign by offering a delectable array of food-related prizes for the Menu for Hope raffle. Anyone – and that means you too - can buy raffle tickets to bid on these prizes. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on a prize of their choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim.

When will this year's campaign take place?
December 14 through Christmas.

Who is the beneficiary of this year's campaign?
Once again we've chosen to work with the UN World Food Programme. WFP is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.

This year, we are supporting a new initiative at the WFP called Purchase for Progress (P4P). P4P enables smallholder and low-income farmers to supply food to WFP’s global operation. P4P helps farmers improves farming practices and puts more cash directly into their pockets in return for their crops. This will also help buoy local economy by creating jobs and income locally. We food bloggers understand the importance of buying locally and supporting our local farms, P4P helps do the same for farmers in low income countries around the world. More on P4P at

December 1, 2009


So, I’ve decided to participate in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) , an event that challenges bloggers to post every day for a month.

I’m attempting this for a few reasons. First, I get a couple of weeks off this month for winter break, so I’ll have more time to do some cooking and writing...and there are so many things I've been wanting to cook!

Secondly, December is a great food month. I plan to post several of my favorite holiday and winter recipes as well as some ideas for food gifts.

Finally, I kind of hate this month. Christmas is usually a stressful and emotional time for me. (Though, the longer I am with Jerad, the more I like it.) Nonetheless, daily posting will help to distract me from my normal bah-hum-bug-ness. Hopefully, anyway.

So, here we go...

Since the weather has finally gotten cold (I actually had to scrape ice off of my car windows this morning), Jerad had a good duck hunt today (he says the best in two years). Instead of just cutting out the breast meat, he also harvested (harvested? that seems like the wrong word) the livers and cut off the legs (we are going to try making confit sometime soon).

Tonight, Jerad sauteed the livers--that were soaked in milk then seasoned simply with salt & pepper--in a little olive oil. He served them with baguette slices and rendered duck fat (that we schmeared on the bread like butter). I was skeptical, thinking the wild duck livers would be too gamey, too--well--livery. But, there were delicious!

November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving '09: A diamond ring & creamed leeks

Jerad was supposed to go duck hunting yesterday morning, but he was still in bed when I woke up a little before 7:00 am (he usually leaves around 3:30).

"Weren't you going hunting today?" I asked as I woke him up.

"Yeah, what time is it?" he replied.

"It's almost 7! Didn't you set an alarm?"

"Oh shit! I must have turned my alarm off. Can you turn on the light?"

I rolled over to turn on the lamp, and when I rolled back Jerad had a diamond ring in his hand.

"This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you," he said. "Will you marry me?"


He never planned to hunt yesterday. Sneaky bastard! ;-)

I've known that Jerad had a ring for a while now; he asked me to go to the jewelers to get sized last month (He had the ring specially made). But, I didn't know when he was going to propose. He caught me completely off-guard yesterday. It was the perfect way to start the holiday.

I think I’m too much of a negative person sometimes; I tend to focus on my daily stresses, instead of on all of the good things in my life.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about what I am grateful for…

I am thankful for Jerad. He’s my best friend. I am lucky to have him in my life. He is very important to me. He calms me down, helps me focus on the important things, makes me laugh, makes me feel needed & wanted, takes care of the things I can’t (house chores like cleaning a dead possum out of the dryer vent & building new steps on the porch). Simply put: He’s awesome.

I am thankful for Gwen & Dick, Jerad’s parents. They have been so accepting of me and have generously welcomed me into their family. I am glad they live close & we get to see them often. I don’t feel so “motherless” anymore.

I am thankful for my friends, especially the Food Blogger Mafia gals (Kelli, Annie, & Steph): It’s nice to know a group of intelligent, funny women who’ve got my back. And for Ashby: I love that guy. And the Erins: I miss them both.

I am thankful for having a good-paying job, health insurance, a place to live, and the means to provide for myself.

I am thankful I am getting to know some of my co-workers better. It makes going to work a more enjoyable experience.

I am thankful for my job at Kitchen Conservatory, for all of Anne’s advice & guidance, and for knowing the wonderful women on staff there.

I am thankful for the opportunity to write for Sauce Magazine. My second feature article will be in the December issue!

I am thankful for Lewis the Beagle. Those big brown eyes and floppy ears melt my heart, even if he’s peed on the floor.

I am thankful that Mark from Bigelo’s offered Jerad a job. The bar is going to be open late on the weekends now, and Jerad will be bartending on Friday & Saturday nights (starting next weekend) from 9-12.

I am thankful I made creamed leeks with dinner yesterday. They were so good!

Creamed Leeks

photo & recipe from Gourmet

Serves 4

3 1/2
lb leeks, root ends trimmed
cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from a country loaf, crusts discarded)
teaspoon salt
teaspoon black pepper
stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
cup heavy cream
  • Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.
  • Cut each leek into an 8-inch length, measuring from root end, and halve lengthwise, then cut crosswise into roughly 1 1/2-inch pieces. (You should have about 8 cups.) Wash leek pieces in a large bowl of cold water, agitating them, then lift out and transfer to another bowl. Repeat with clean water, then drain leeks well.
  • Cook bread crumbs with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in 3 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp and pale golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Cook leeks with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 12 minutes.
  • Transfer leeks with a slotted spoon to gratin dish. Sprinkle Parmesan evenly over the top. Pour cream slowly over leeks, then scatter bread crumbs on top. Bake until cream is bubbling and slightly thickened and crumbs are golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

1. Bread crumbs can be cooked 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature. Scatter bread crumbs over leeks just before baking.

2. Leeks can be cooked and assembled in dish with cream (but not sprinkled with crumbs and baked) 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then covered & chilled.

November 21, 2009

Cranberry Sangria & Other Thanksgiving Favorites

I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving. I'm not ready for it at all! I think it's because we've had a much warmer--and wetter--fall than usual. It's just doesn't seem like the holidays to me. Then again, it is good that this semester has seemed to fly by. Only a few more weeks of school left until Christmas break!

Every year Jerad's family has lobster & beef tenderloin for Thanksgiving dinner. So, we've started a tradition of cooking turkey with all the fixin's at my house on the Saturday afterwards. This year we're deep frying a fresh turkey again (our favorite way to cook the bird) & I'm also making:

mashed potatoes & gravy
sweet potato-cornbread pudding
shaved brussels sprout salad
real pumpkin pie
(as in, I'm roasting & pureeing a pumpkin myself!)


Cranberry Sangria

1 48-oz bottle cranberry-raspberry juice cocktail
1 bottle dry, full-bodied red wine
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
1 orange, sliced thin
1 lemon, sliced thin
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 cups champagne

Combine first three ingredients in a large pitcher. Add fruit slices & cranberries. Chill. Stir in champagne just before serving. Serve over ice.

Makes about 13 cups.

If you prefer a sweeter drink, add about 1/8-1/4 cup sugar to the first three ingredients, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Here are some of my other favorite Thanksgiving dishes:

Honey-Nut Glazed Brie
Roasted Carrot Dip

Soup & Salad:
Butternut-Cider Bisque
Chestnut & Potato Soup
Carrot-Raisin Salad
Grandma Martin's Cranberry Salad
Gingerbread Vinaigrette

Side Dishes:
Scalloped Oysters
Asparagus-Gruyere Tart
Spinach Gratin
Chestnut & Pancetta Stuffing
Potato & Mushroom Gratin

Whole Bird Alternatives:
Turkey Saltimbocca
Turkey Ossobucco

Pumpkin & Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Creme Brulee
Espresso Walnut Cake

November 16, 2009

Muffaletta with Olive Relish

When I taught middle school many years ago, the team of teachers that I worked with got along pretty well. We used to get together at each other's houses once a month or so to socialize outside of school, to get to know everyone's families. I am convinced it helped us to work together better.

So, in an effort to promote faculty bonding (something which we needed after a somewhat stressful & drama-filled beginning of the new school year)...AND because personally I needed to have some fun instead of working every day...I invited some co-workers (the Humanities Lunch Bunch--i.e. HuLuBu--and a few selected "VIP's") over on Friday for some food & libations.

John, Joni, & Bill: They're funny people!

Neely & Jesse: The "newbies"

I know that this crowd isn't all that adventurous (yet) when it comes to food, so I tried to keep the menu fairly simple. And, wouldn't you know it, the first things to get devoured were the popcorn and taco dip!


Assorted cheeses, crackers & olives
Veggies & curried hummus
Truffled popcorn
Muffaletta sandwich (see recipe below)
Roast duck-seasoned chicken wings
Spinach, tofu & black tea spring rolls with roasted tomato chutney
Trashy taco dip (by request)
Honey-lavender ice cream
"World Peace" cookies

I did manage to get Jeni, the self-professed anti-cook who requested that I include some "white trash" food, to help with some of the cooking. She volunteered to assemble the spring rolls. I think she just wanted to look cute in my apron! Nonetheless, she did an excellent job. There is hope for her yet!

Jeni looks so happy cooking!

My favorite recipe of the night was the muffaletta. Originating from Central Grocery in New Orleans, this monster of a sandwich is made on a huge round loaf of Italian bread with piles of salami, ham, mortadella, mozzarella, & provolone. It's dressed simply with a flavorful--salty & slightly spicy--olive relish.

Olive Relish (for Muffaletta)

1 1/2 cups pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
1 cup prepared gardiniera (pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery & pepperoncini), chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallions
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a bowl or jar, cover and let sit overnight or up to a week.

November 11, 2009

Lobster Thermidor

I learned a valuable lesson last night: Cooking French food is a HUGE pain in the ass, but it's worth it!

I was making lobster Thermidor, practicing Julia Child's classic recipe for my Girls Night Out class on Saturday. For the class, I've chosen all dishes from the Julie & Julia movie: steamed artichokes with lemon butter sauce, onion soup (in France, it's called simply onion soup, not FRENCH onion soup), lobster Thermidor, & chocolate cake with almonds.

Steaming live lobsters is actually much less traumatic in real life.

Ok, so, there are A LOT of steps to making lobster Thermidor...which is basically just lobster meat mixed into a cream sauce with mushrooms, then topped with cheese & baked. Here's a general break-down of the steps:
  1. Steam the lobster in broth of white wine, water, onions, celery, carrots, bay, tarragon, pepper, etc.
  2. Stew sliced mushrooms in butter & lemon juice.
  3. Remove the lobster & drain the broth.
  4. Strain the mushrooms & add their liquid to the lobster broth. Reduce.
  5. Cook butter & flour together, then add the lobster broth.
  6. Strain the lobster's guts (the coral & green gunk inside) and mix with egg yolk, dry mustard, & cream. Add the broth to this mixture.
  7. Add more cream to the sauce, cook until thickened.
  8. Remove the lobster meat from the shells. Cook in butter, add cognac.
  9. Mix the lobster meat with the cooked mushrooms and some of the sauce.
  10. Spoon in the empty shells, top with more sauce & grated Parmesan.
  11. Broil until bubbly & browned.
Half way through all this straining, mixing, & reducing I thought to myself, "There's got to be an easier way! I could have just made a mushroom cream sauce to mix with the lobster. This is RIDICULOUS!" I think Jerad felt the same way; he was getting a tad frustrated after I'd dirtied nearly every pan in the house and gotten lobster juice all over the counter.

But, I was determined to follow the recipe.

An hour and a half later, as I was eating the creamy & richly-sauce lobster, I had an epiphany. THIS is why people are so smitten with French food! I finally understood that all those steps--all the straining, mixing, & reducing--is necessary to create all those LAYERS OF FLAVORS. A simple cream sauce wouldn't have tasted like that. No way. Even Jerad is now a French food convert.

A few notes:
  • Julia's recipe calls for steaming the lobster for 20 minutes, cooking the meat in butter for 5 minutes, and baking the assembled dish for another 10-15 minutes. I think this is WAY too long to cook lobster. I didn't want rubbery pieces, so I steamed the lobster for only 8 minutes (just long enough to kill it and start cooking the meat). I finished cooking the meat in the butter, then just broiled the final dish for a few minutes to heat it through & brown the cheese.
  • I think I'll steam the lobster for a couple minutes longer next time. When I cut it in half, there was green gunk EVERYWHERE inside. I didn't get much to add to the sauce.
  • Cutting the whole lobster in half to use the shells for serving was more trouble than it's worth. I plan to serve this in scallop shells at my cooking class.
  • I found the sauce to be TOO thick, so I added much more cream (and white wine) at the end.
  • While it turned out good in the end, I think part of the trouble was that I was trying to make only a third of the recipe. I'd do either HALF a recipe or the whole thing.
Lobster Thermidor
from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

So many steps are involved in the preparation of a really splendid lobster Thermidor, no wonder it costs a fortune in any restaurant! But it is not a particularly difficult dish to execute, and everything may be prepared in advance and heated up just before serving. This is an especially attractive recipe for lobster Thermidor because the meat is stirred in hot butter before it is sauced, and turns a rosy red. Buy lobsters weighing a good 2 pounds each, so the shells will be large enough to hold the filling.

A Note on Dealing with Live Lobsters: If you object to steaming or splitting a live lobster, it may be killed almost instantly just before cooking if you plunge the point of a knife into the head between the eyes, or sever the spinal cord by making a small incision in the back of the shell at the juncture of the chest and the tail.

Serves 6

Kitchen Supplies:

* Covered, enameled or stainless steel kettle with tight-fitting cover
* Covered, enameled or stainless steel saucepan
* enameled or 4-cup stainless steel saucepan
* 1/2-quart enameled or stainless steel saucepan
* Wooden spoon
* Wire whip
* 3-quart mixing bowl
* 12-inch enameled or stainless steel skillet
* Shallow roasting pan or fireproof serving platter

Steaming the Lobster:

* 3 cups dry white wine or 2 cups dry white vermouth
* 2 cups water
* 1 large onion , thinly sliced
* 1 medium carrot , thinly sliced
* 1 stalk celery , thinly sliced
* 6 sprigs parsley
* 1 bay leaf
* 1/4 tsp. thyme
* 6 peppercorns
* 1 Tbsp. fresh or dried tarragon
* 3 live lobsters , 2 pounds each
* 1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
* 1 Tbsp. butter
* 1 tsp. lemon juice
* 1/4 tsp. salt


* 5 Tbsp. butter
* 6 Tbsp. flour
* 1 Tbsp. cream
* 1 Tbsp. dry mustard
* 2 egg yolks
* 1/2 cup whipping cream
* 4 to 6 Tbsp. more whipping cream
* Pinch cayenne pepper

Sautéed Lobster Meat:

* 4 Tbsp. butter
* 1/3 cup cognac

Final Assembly:

* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Swiss cheese
* 2 Tbsp. butter , cut into bits

Steaming the lobsters: Simmer wine, water, vegetables, herbs, and seasonings in the kettle for 15 minutes. Then bring to a rolling boil and add the live lobsters. Cover and boil for about 20 minutes. The lobsters are done when they are bright red and the long head-feelers can be pulled from the sockets fairly easily.

While the lobsters are steaming, stew the mushrooms slowly in the covered saucepan with the butter, lemon juice, and salt for 10 minutes.

The sauce: When the lobsters are done, remove them from the kettle. Pour the mushroom cooking juices into the lobster steaming juices in the kettle and boil down rapidly until liquid has reduced to about 2 1/4 cups. Strain into the 4-cup enameled or stainless steel saucepan and bring to the simmer.

Cook the butter and flour slowly together in the 1 1/2-quart saucepan for 2 minutes without browning. Off heat, beat in the simmering lobster-cooking liquid. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Set aside. Film top of sauce with the cream.

Split the lobsters in half lengthwise, keeping the shell halves intact. Discard sand sacks in the heads, and the intestinal tubes. Rub lobster coral and green matter through a fine sieve into the mixing bowl, and blend into it the mustard, egg yolks, cream, and pepper. Beat the sauce into this mixture by driblets.

Return the sauce to the pan, and stirring with a wooden spoon, bring it to the boil and boil slowly for 2 minutes. Thin out with tablespoons of cream. Sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon fairly heavily. Taste carefully for seasoning. Set aside, top filmed with a spoonful of cream.

Sautéing the lobster meat: Remove the meat from the lobster tails and claws, and cut it into 3/8-inch cubes. Set the skillet with the butter over moderate heat. When the butter foam begins to subside, stir in the lobster meat and sauté, stirring slowly, for about 5 minutes until the meat has turned a rosy color. Pour in the cognac ("Off the heat!" says Kelly. "You don't want to set your kitchen on fire!") and boil for a minute or two, shaking the skillet, until the liquid has reduced by half.

Final assembly: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fold the cooked mushrooms and two thirds of the sauce into the skillet with the lobster meat. Arrange the split lobster shells in the roasting pan. Heap the lobster mixture into the shells; cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. The recipe may be prepared ahead up to this point and refrigerated.

Place in upper third of 425-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until lobster is bubbling and the top of the sauce is nicely browned. Serve immediately on a platter or serving plates.

November 3, 2009

Mirrasou Wine, Mia Rosa, & Polenta Fries

As a blogger, I often get emails asking me to sample products or inviting me to restaurants for dinner. The implication of such offers is, of course, that I'll write something nice about it on my blog. While I have accepted a few free products to try (like Amano chocolate, Fig 'n Ginger Chutney, & Country Bob's sauce) and given away a couple free cookbooks, most of the time I turn down these invitations.

This summer, a fellow food blogger asked me what I wanted to "get out of blogging." I was confused by the question. I don't want to get anything. While some people nearly make a living out of pimping other people's products, that's not what I want my blog to be all about. Sure, I like free dinners, but I am simply not going to sing the praises of any chain restaurants or big corporate breweries.

However, when I received an invitation to attend a wine dinner with Mirassou Winery at Mia Rosa, a local Italian bistro, I jumped at it. Here was a chance for me to not only score a free dinner but to also give props to a local chef and a family-owned winery.

Mirassou Winery is owned by the country’s oldest winemaking family; they recently celebrated their 155th anniversary. To celebrate, David Mirassou (6th generation) visited six cities in the country where he hosted wine dinners for bloggers and media folks. As part of the tour, he also unveiled an online cookbook--Taste & Toast--featuring recipes from the restaurants that housed the wine dinners.

David told us an interesting story about the start of his family’s winery. In 1854, Pierre & Henrietta sailed to California from France with their prized grapevine cuttings. They were reprimanded by the ship’s captain for using too much water to keep the plants alive, so Pierre purchased all of the potatoes onboard and inserted the cuttings into pieces to keep them alive.

The wine dinner was held at Mia Rosa (4501 Manchester). The rustic Italian restaurant is manned by chef-owner Philip Noe (who also teaches cooking classes at Kitchen Conservatory). Chef Noe took time to prepare dishes that actually paired with the wines.

Our menu for the night consisted of six-courses with seven wines:

2008 Pinot Grigio

Roasted Garlic & Roma Tomato Flat Bread
2008 Sauvignon Blanc

Gorgonzola Polenta Fries (recipe below)
2007 Chardonnay

Smoked Scallop Carpaccio
Pinot Noir

Warm Beet Salad with Goat Cheese on Spinach

Veal Medallions on Garlic Mash with Tarragon Broth
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

Zeppole with Chocolate Sauce
2007 Riesling

The food was absolutely amazing and paired quite nicely with the wines. My favorite dish of the night was the smoked tender & flavorful. Another favorite was the polenta fries. I could have eaten those all night! All in all, I was very happy with the food. I look forward to going back to Mia Rosa for dinner sometime soon.

As for the wines, I started out the night taking detailed tasting notes but after a few glasses (ok, SEVERAL glasses), I either neglected to write stuff down or my handwriting was too ineligible. Here’s what I do remember...

The sauvignon blanc was smoother and more “buttery” than the pinot grigio.

The chardonnay had a “cleaner” mouth feel than a typical chard, mainly from being partially fermented in stainless steel.

Then I wrote something that looks like a pound sign next to the word “merlot.” At least, I THINK that says merlot.


Gorgonzola Polenta Fries

(photo courtesy of Mirrasou Winery)

Makes 8 servings

2 cups water
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon minced garlic
salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
6 cups canola oil
  • Bring water, cream, garlic, salt & pepper to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal.
  • Cook over medium-low heat until the mixture begins to thicken, then stir in the cheese. Cook, stirring vigorously, for about 5 minutes more or until mixture is a thick as bread dough.
  • Spread mixture 1/2-inch thick on a baking sheet & refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • Cut into 1/2-inch strips resembling French fries.
  • Heat oil to 325 degrees in a large, deep pan. Carefully cook fries in hot oil until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.