"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cranberry-orange muffin

I've been feeling somewhat under the weather lately (sinusy evil), so I haven't been much in the mood for cooking, hence the lack of posts extolling the glories of edible goodness. A friend of mine recently asked me for a recipe I've been meaning to post on here for months, so in honor of her and her new mini muffin pans, I share with you the recipe for cranberry-orange muffins from Baking Unplugged. These muffins are delicious: moist, flavorful, and addictive. And they're made with buttermilk, and let's face it: when it comes to baking, what's better than buttermilk?

Cranberry-Orange Muffins
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, soft
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh or slightly thawed frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup muffin pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, ginger, baking soda, and salt until well combined.

In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. (Note: I use an electric hand mixer for this, because it is much easier and much quicker.) One at a time, whisk in the eggs, then the orange zest and vanilla.

Stir in half the flour mixture and then the buttermilk and orange juice. Dump the remaining flour mixture into the bowl, place the chopped cranberries on top, and then gently stir until the batter just barely comes together. (A silicone spatula works great for this because you can fold the batter up and over easily without breaking the berries or overmixing the batter.)

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the top of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool as soon as you can comfortablyremove them from the pan.

Cranberry-Orange Bread

To make a loaf instead of muffins, reduce the amount of buttermilk by 1/4 cup. Bake the batter in a buttered and floured loaf pan at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Boeuf bourguignon: a meaty love story

I can't believe I haven't talked yet (at length) about my Christmas gift from Jeremy, love of my life and chopper of my vegetables. This year it wasn't fancy gems or an entire season of Ugly Betty on DVD, fantastic gifts in their own right that I've gotten in the past, but instead it was a new baby for the kitchen: a 5-quart oval dutch oven pot from Le Creuset, in beautiful, wonderful Sonoma Green. Behold the glory!

Squee! I love love LOVE my new pot! It is beautiful! It is spacious! It is cast iron coated in porcelain enamel! It weighs 9 pounds, more than the average newborn infant! Pinch me, I'm in love. Sigh.

Since I first became seriously interested in home cooking, I have wanted a Le Creuset dutch oven. Yes, I know that Le Creuset is sort of a status piece of cookware, but for a reason. This baby will outlive me. I will have this pot until I die. And this makes me happy. I could get a lower-priced dutch oven, but none would have made me as happy as this one. Doesn't a lady deserve a little happiness every now and then? (Correct answer: yes.)

Jeremy and I went to pick it out at Williams-Sonoma right after the holidays. Yes, I know that Williams-Sonoma is a purveyor of all things evilly overpriced ($24! For a spatula!), but they also happen to carry a wide range of Le Creuset products AND they also happen to be the only ones who carry the beautiful Sonoma Green color pictured above, which I just had to have. Doesn't that color just make you happy? Doesn't it just conjure up all that is bountiful and healthy and life-sustaining?

I'm getting carried away. Love will do that to a girl, you know.

Anyway, we picked out our new baby at the store and were congratulated—congratulated!—not once but TWICE by employees in the store on our purchase. I felt like we were entering some sort of secret, exclusive club of real, serious cooks. It felt very glamorous, in a weird, cookery kind of way.

"What are you going to make in it first?" the saleslady asked as she rang up our purchase.

I leaned across the counter conspiratorially. "Boeuf bourguignon," I said.

She smiled. "Julia Child's recipe?"


"You've got the book and everything?"

"I do," I replied.

"Enjoy," she said, with another big smile, and handed me the bag, which proceeded to drag me nearly halfway to the floor when I took it off the counter, so I made Jeremy carry it. (Seriously, if I make a stew a night in this thing, I could get seriously BUFF upper arms just lifting it in and out of the oven.)

I knew just how long it takes to properly make a Julia Child boeuf bourguignon, having read the recipe before, but dammit, I waited a long time for this new pot, and by God I was going to use it immediately. So around 5:30 on a Saturday, I assembled my ingredients and began.

This is not a tactic I recommend to anyone. A momentary lapse in sanity is what I chalk it up to. Over-excitement. A new love going to my head. Because we didn't end up actually getting to EAT boeuf bourguignon until about 11:00 that night.

How long can it REALLY take to make a beef stew? A beef stew when you follow Julia Child's recipe down to the letter? Do you know how long it takes to pat dry three pounds of top-notch chuck beef, when the beef is already beautifully cut into small cubes? Do you know how many paper towels it takes? Do you know how much patience you need to cut up a half-pound of bacon into lardons? Do you even know what a lardon is? (For your information, it is a matchstick-size piece of meat.)

Did you know that before you begin, you must blanch the bacon so that nothing is too overwhelmingly bacony? Does this feel slightly wrong to you, but you do it anyway, because you trust Julia implicitly? Do you know how glorious it is to render the fat out of something in a pot that has nice, high walls that prevent said fat from splattering all over you? Do you know the pleasant surprise of realizing that the patting dry really does let the meat brown more quickly in the fat? Do you know how many batches you must brown the meat in, because 3 pounds is a lot of meat, and you shouldn't crowd the pan?

Have you ever had to toss three pounds of meat with flour? Do you know what a pain in the ass that is? Do you know what a difference it makes? Have your eyes ever grown wide with delight while pouring an entire bottle (!) of burgundy wine into a pot with stock to make a sauce? Have you known the terror that comes with nearly dropping a 9-pound pot brimming with 3 pounds of meat, half a pound of bacon, half a pound of carrots and onions, and an entire bottle of wine? Because with all that in it, it no longer weighs just 9 pounds. How relieved are you when you remember that your beau can do this for you, because that's what muscled men are for?

While unbelievable smells waft around your kitchen and drive you half-wild with impatient desire, something (insanity, perhaps?) has compelled you to continue making more accompaniments to go with your stew, so you soldier on. Have you ever peeled 24 tiny white onions, one at a time, to roll around in a pan of butter and then braise in broth? Have you ever made an herb bouquet? At 9:00 at night? Have you ever sauteed a pound of mushrooms in yet more butter, even though you know your partner dislikes mushrooms and you know you will be eating them all alone? Has this thought made you secretly happy because it means you get the buttery, soft, glorious mushrooms all to yourself? Have you checked on the meat several times and each time judged that it's just not fork-tender enough, even though you want to gnaw off an arm in hunger and your beau has taken to napping in his ravenous frustration? Have you run out of paper towels yet?

Have you periodically been dragging your back-aching, sore-footed body over to the sink to wash dishes so you're not stuck washing dishes all night? Does this still prevent you from scrubbing dishes after midnight? No. And how is everything in sight covered in a greasy, buttery, fatty film? Where did those paper towels go?

When you finally, finally remove the pot from the oven, deeming the meat soft enough to eat, do you realize, after spooning out the meat and vegetables from the pot, that you will need to defat the sauce? And after you do realize this, why don't you remember that you bought a fat separator for this specific purpose until after you start defatting the sauce using a spoon? Aren't you too tired to give a shit if you serve yourself and your beau fatty sauce? Sort of, but not totally. Not defatting the sauce would be giving up. Not defatting the sauce would be failing Julia, and failing my beautiful new pot, and failing myself. So into the separator it goes.

How amazing is a fat separator? How the holy hell did people get by without these things? How much fat can one really pour out into an old glass sauce jar kept expressly for the purpose of disposing of leftover fat? (Answer: a frighteningly large amount.)

How delicious is this dinner, albeit served at 11:00 p.m. when both of you are almost past the point of caring? How worthwhile was it to braise those two dozen tiny onions? How pleased are you to eat your beau's discarded mushrooms? How horrified are you to find that there is a thick layer of brown, greasy gunk coating the inside of your new pot and its lid? How amazed and pleased and food-coma-stupefied-thrilled are you that said grease wipes right off your new pot? Once the dishes are cleaned and the leftovers are put away, how pleased are you with yourself? How long has your beau been passed out in a beef-induced semi-comatose state?

Where does your pot live? Not in a cabinet under the sink, or crammed into the pantry, but on top of the stove, where you see it every time you walk into the kitchen. Where you loving run a hand along the lid every time you pass it on your way to the pantry or recycling bin. Where it stands as a constant reminder of your love, for the kitchen and for your partner for understanding your love of the kitchen and for never getting between the two of you, and for always eating what you offer him, no matter what time it is or how insane he might think you are for doing things the way you do. Where it can remind you that you are confident, and capable, and good at and passionate about something on the days when you are most feeling frustrated with your life and yourself and your achievements, or seeming lack thereof.

Congratulations. You have now cooked your way through your first—and last? No, certainly not last—Julia Child boeuf bourguignon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Apple oatmeal quick bread

If you're anything like me (and don't think I'm implying that you are), you might be feeling somewhat overindulged, bloated, and downright blarghy after the bingefest that was the holidays, and you've resolved to be healthy. But if you're anything like me, you also don't want to give up on certain pleasures in life, because honestly, you only live once, and woman cannot live by bread alone.

Although if it's this apple oatmeal quick bread I recently discovered, then perhaps you could feel like you live by bread alone. It's that good. I've always loved quick breads, which—let's face it—are just cake in loaf form. But because of their intrinsic cakeyness, quick breads are also often loaded with sugar and butter—two things you don't necessarily want a lot of when you're trying to be healthier. Enter the apple oatmeal quick bread.

I love this recipe because the butter is replaced by low-fat vanilla yogurt, which clearly has a lot less fat than butter, but which also adds a moistness and softness to the cake. The oatmeal and whole wheat flour give it a really hearty, tasty feel, but it doesn't feel heavy. The apples also keep it moist. I discovered this recipe on the back of a Stonyfield yogurt container, and I did do a few slight modifications (adding raisins, using a little more apples, and adding more cinnamon and introducing nutmeg), but it's not very different from the original recipe.

Remember to make sure your egg is room temperature before beginning the recipe, although if you're using just the egg whites, it'll be easier to separate your eggs while they are cold and then allow the whites to come to room temperature before combining. (Stash the yolks, covered, in the fridge for another use; they will keep for a couple of days.)

Apple Oatmeal Bread

1 cup Stonyfield Organic Low Fat French Vanilla Yogurt
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 egg or two egg whites, slightly beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups finely diced unpeeled apples (I use Granny Smith, which are tangy and lovely!)
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries (I haven't tried it with those yet, but what's better than cranberries and apples together?)

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix together yogurt and oats and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together egg(s), oil and brown sugar.

In another bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir into the egg mixture. Add yogurt mixture. The batter will be lumpy and it will feel like you're stirring a bowl of cement. Do not despair! Put your back into it and fold in apples and raisins or cranberries if you decide to use them. Trust me, the batter will become light, moist, and scrumptious. The first time I made this, I too doubted that this could become something other than concrete in a pan. Pour into greased pan and spread about evenly.

Bake 45 minutes or until golden brown or a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from pan immediately. Wrap it up in foil; it'll stay moist and soft for about a week and doesn't need refrigerating. I like eating this with some apple-cranberry butter or other fruity jelly or jam on top. It is also a tasty and filling breakfast when you're on the go.

I'll probably be trying some more yogurt baking and cooking in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for the results, good, bad, and everything in between.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Well-used cookbooks

I love this article about well-used cookbooks. There is no better gift to pass on generationally, I think, than recipes, be they contained in a battered old edition of a beloved cookbook or a box of recipe cards, or even a notebook with hand-written favorites inside.

My copy of How to Cook Everything is rather battered. I have a softcover edition, and the spine is cracked, the edges curled, the pages marked with all variety of post-it notes and folds and little drips. But I find that most of my hardcover cookbooks not only are too beautiful to get dirty, but also are too stiff to stay open unsupported.

Voila! Behold! The beauty of my new cookbook stand, courtesy of my parents' Christmas offerings. It keeps the book open at an adjustable angle and it also protects pages from splatters. It's also a small size, which fits perfectly in my tiny kitchen.

Maybe I'm just finicky, but many of my cookbooks are like small works of art, full of glossy pages of beautiful photos, and I thus don't want them to get dirty. This is why I'm so happy for my cookbook stand. No more propping the book open on a kitchen stool with cans of beans to keep it open! Huzzah!

But I have to say, I do like the fact that my HTCE shows the signs of wear, because this is the book that first taught me how to cook. It's also probably too enormous to wedge into the stand, so it's great that it already lies flat whatever recipe I need. And I did also just get a spiral-bound journal to write my favorite recipes in, so I'll be able to collect and create my own "custom" cookbook of sorts. This is a book I hope to pass on to someone in my family someday, or to a close friend who I know will treasure it.

What are your favorite cookbooks? Do you have a favorite cookbook or recipe collection that you want to pass on to someone? What do you do with your favorite recipes--do you clip them out and put them in an envelope, do you have a dedicated recipe journal, or do you have some other filing system for them, physical or otherwise? (Some people keep their favorite recipes filed in their brains!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

The ultimate comfort food casserole

Ah winter... the perfect time to indulge in warm, comforting carbs. What more perfect carb for this than the humble but mighty potato? Potatoes are not only incredibly versatile (boil them, bake them, fry them...) but they also lend themselves well to pairing with things you add to them, like shepherd's pie or pierogies.

Years ago my mother clipped a recipe out of a magazine for a potato-spinach casserole. We tried it one year for our Christmas Eve dinner, and it was such a hit that it's made a repeat appearance every year since. The recipe is easy and the end result is delicious. I made some this weekend and figure there's no better way to ring in the new year than with a carb-o-licious recipe.

- 6 to 8 large potatoes
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
- 8 oz. sour cream (you can go low fat), or use 8 oz plain yogurt
- 1 package of frozen spinach, thawed
- 2 tbsp chopped chives, fresh or dried, or in the absence of chives, use a generous helping of onion salt
- salt and pepper to taste
- shredded cheddar cheese

Scrub the potatoes, peel, and cut into small chunks. Add to a pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a rolling boil, then lower the temperature until you get a constant gentle boil. Cover the pot loosely (I just tilt the lid over the pot so steam can escape), and boil for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Drain. (I find that it's easiest to assemble this dish in the warm pot, as it helps melt the butter and it's easy to mash everything together in the pot.)

Mash the potatoes with a masher, adding chunks of butter as you mash them to help the butter melt and incorporate. Add the salt and pepper (and onion salt, if you're using it instead of chives). Start adding dollops of sour cream and spinach, incorporating into the potatoes with the masher, until you've added them all. Add the chives.

Spray a square casserole dish (Pyrex or Corningware work perfectly here) with nonstick spray and spoon in the potato mixture, spreading it evenly around the dish. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the casserole happily for the day or even overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put the casserole into the oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with a layer of cheese, then return to the oven for 5 more minutes or until the cheese is melted. Enjoy! The leftovers keep pretty well (covered) for a few days, but I doubt they'll last that long. :)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tea time

As I've mentioned before, I love tea. One of my Christmas gifts from Jeremy this year was this nifty new tea infuser that's not only practical but that's also completely adorable.

Holy toledo, Batman! How cute is THAT? Fun AND functional!

Mine is yellow. It's made of silicone, so you can put it in the microwave, and, as the picture states, the lid that you use to cover your mug while your tea is brewing also doubles as a saucer. I'm currently enjoying a mug of Adagio fruit sangria tea, which is quite scrumptious. Life is good.


I was just looking at my computer desktop and I found a screenshot of an ad from Craig's List that was just too good NOT to share. Behold!

I could comment at length on the sheer absurdity of every part of this ad—the fact that someone is selling a dried gourd, the fact that they priced it at $3, the fact that they want exact change, the fact that they photographed it—but I'll shut my mouth and just let you revel in the glory that is this ad. I wonder if anyone ever bought it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Here's to a new decade of cooking

Happy new year! And new decade! No, I didn't drop completely off the face of the earth, but I did disappear from the blogosphere for the past month because of how insanely busy the holiday season is. Between end-of-the-year madness at work, a freelance editing project, gift buying, and other holiday happenings, I just didn't have it in me to blog. I also was so busy that I really didn't embark on any particularly fun and savory cooking projects, although there was a lot of food involved in my holiday celebrating, natch!

One of my resolutions is to definitely post in here two to three times a week for the rest of the year, and now that things have settled down and I feel less busy, I can stick to that schedule.

My holidays were hectic but good. Christmas Eve dinner is always held at my parents' house, where my mother cooks up a Cubano feast that includes roast pork loin, black beans with rice, and yucca. I can do without the yucca, but the rest of it is scrumptious! We also have some potato casserole, hors d'ouevres beforehand, and dessert, which this year was a Queen of Sheba cake. It looks so impressive but really isn't that challenging to make, especially when you pulverized so many almonds the first time you made it that you have leftovers. I promise that the recipe will be forthcoming! There are a few variations of it out there in online land, but I'd only trust Julia Child's recipe. I do whatever she tells me to do because I know she will not fail me.

I was disappointed because I traveled home early this year in order to help my mother cook for Christmas Eve, only to find that she'd already cooked everything, so all she had to do on the 24th was pop things in the oven. I really wanted to help in the kitchen and learn to do everything so I can one day carry on her cooking traditions for my family, but hopefully next year I can learn instead.

One thing I made this year that was a big hit last year was olive penguin appetizers. This isn't a photo I took, but this is exactly how mine turned out.

Too adorable! And they're also extremely easy to make. You'll need a can of pitted jumbo black olives, a can of pitted medium black olives, a few baby carrots, toothpicks, a baggie, and a tub of whipped cream cheese, which is softer and easier to use than the non-whipped kind. (I use chives whipped cream cheese, which I find adds a really nice little tang.)

Stand each olive up on one end and cut a small panel out of it, maybe about half an inch. (Save the pieces you cut out for a salad or cooking.) Cut the carrots into thin coins, then cut a wedge out of each circle to form the feet. Reserve the wedges you cut out of the slices to use for beaks. Turn each medium olive around to the bottom, where the cross-shaped cut is located, and insert one carrot wedge to serve as a beak. (You may need to trim the wedge a bit depending on how large you cut it.) Spoon some of the cream cheese into a zipper-top sandwich baggie and seal. Use a pair of scissors to snip off just the corner of the bag to form a spout and push the cream cheese down into that corner to use as a piping bag. Fill each jumbo olive's cavity with a dab of cream cheese to form the tummy on the body.

To assemble, insert a toothpick into the carrot coin directly across from where the cut-out wedge is--the toothpick will act as the penguins spine. Slide a jumbo cream-cheese filled olive on top of that with the white facing the cut-out wedge, then slide a medium olive on top with the wedge beak facing forward. Serve to a chorus of, "Ohmigod, that's so adorable!"

These look labor-intensive, but I find that if you just do each step (cut out all jumbo olives, cut all the carrots, etc.) and then assemble at the end, it doesn't take much time. I made about 25 of these in like 15 minutes. They are really tasty too! Stand them up in a cute dish and cover loosely with plastic wrap and they'll keep in the fridge for the day until you're ready to unveil them at night.

More tasty posts to come (including scrumptious Christmas gifts!), but in the meantime: how do you celebrate the holidays? What special meals or traditions do you and your family have?