Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Citrus Tarragon Vinaigrette Dressing with Smoked Trout & Bacon Horseradish Scones

December in Silicon Valley is cold. Even so, it's citrus season here, and when my friend brought me some lemons and oranges from another friend's garden they called out to me to be paired with some salty smoked trout and delicate, herbaceous greens. I wanted something sort of summery to keep the winter chill at bay, and it occurred to me that citrus zest smells more like the fruit than its juice and pulp. A little fresh tarragon completes the flavor profile. I'm suggesting you serve this alongside my Shepherd's Pie w/ Beer Gravy, or you could pair it with these yummy bacon horseradish scones and whip up a batch of perfect scrambled eggs, for a sophisticated breakfast for dinner, or an easy brunch.

Citrus-Tarragon Dressing
(Makes enough dressing for 1 & 1/2 bags of salad)

1 lemon + 1/2 lemon zest (approx. 2 teasp.)
1 small orange + 1/4 orange zest
1 Tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
1/4 teasp. mustard powder
1 small shallot, pulsed into a paste in the food processor
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, to taste
fresh black pepper, to taste

For the Salad:
1 1/2 bags of pre-washed mixed salad greens.
1 tin of trader joe's smoked trout (3.9 oz), or weight equivalent

1. Whisk all ingredients together until fully incorporated. I made my dressing the night before so the flavors would have time to marry.
2. Coat your salad with dressing.
3. Serve topped with 1/4 tin smoked trout.

Bacon Horseradish Scones
(Makes about 8 smallish scones)

6 slices of bacon
6 Tablesp. chilled butter, chopped

Dry ingredients:

1 3/4 c. flour
2 1/4 Teasp. baking powder
1/2 teasp. salt
1/4 teasp. pepper

Wet ingredients:
2 large eggs
1/3 c. of milk
2 Tablesp. horseradish

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Cook bacon in a pan on medium heat until bacon is slightly underdone.
3. Reserve 1 Tablesp. bacon grease to add to the dough.
4. While the bacon is cooking, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Mix to combine.
5. When bacon is done to your liking, remove from the hot pan and set aside to cool.
6. Add the chilled, chopped butter to your dry ingredients and, using your fingers, pinch and roll butter into the dry ingredients until they resemble small, off-white crumbs.
7. Mix together wet ingredients in a separate bowl and when combined, add to the butter/dry ingredients mixture. If the batter seems too dry, you can pour in a bit more milk.
8. Chop up and add the bacon and reserved bacon grease.
9. Roll out batter slightly and cut into wedges or form into balls. Set them on a greased baking sheet.
10. Put your scones into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops have just started to brown.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

P.S.: The picture is of a brunch menu I concocted for another website; it features a different salad and a different scramble, but it's the only pic I have of the scones. Pic of the salad to follow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Beef & Mushroom Lasagna

Rich meat sauce...earthy, chewy baby bella caps and ooey...gooey...cheese...

Perhaps my love of using season-appropriate foods in my cooking stems from my conviction that fresh, well-sourced ingredients are the true secret to any good meal. Whatever the reason,mid-October's gray skies and chill have had me craving hot, filling, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food. To many people, lasagna is the very definition of a comforting, rib-sticking dish. Many home cooks will protest that they already have a favorite lasagna recipe--a few may even protest that since it was the first dish they mastered, a recipe would be almost irrelevant. To them I say: you haven't had lasagna this decadent, this harmonious. With a three hour bolognese as the base and fresh thyme in the ricotta, this is an unforgettable twist on an old classic. I always use Marcella Hazan's recipe for bolognese, which I cook for about 3 hours total, and add large pieces of portobello and fresh baby spinach to the sauce at the end. I'm ashamed to say that I don't make my own noodles, but I swear the other elements in this lasagna are so delicious that I never miss them. A couple of things to note with this recipe are: don't use anything but fresh mozzarella (trust me, the other stuff simply doesn't do a three hour meat sauce proper justice!); this is an American style lasagna--Italian lasagne typically has little to no cheese and includes both a white sauce and a meat sauce; also, please feel free to look at this recipe as a starting point for lasagna experimentation. When I made my first incarnation of this dish, a meat and vegetable lasagna I simply browned the beef before tossing in the veggies, sauce ingredients and some roasted garlic. Having tried it with the bolognese, I highly recommend taking the time to make one. If you opt to just brown the meat, I'd say omit the mirepoix (carrots, onions and celery), milk, nutmeg, and wine and toss in some roasted garlic along with the tomato sauce ingredients, after the beef and mushrooms have been sauteed. If you don't opt to use a bolognese, please try making it at least once, as it tastes amazing.

This recipe makes a lot of lasgna, so you may want to freeze some. Wrap it in plastic wrap or tinfoil after it is cooled and store it in the freezer in an airtight, covered container, otherwise the freezer will destroy all that effort!

The recipe for Marcella Hazan's bolognese can be found here (reprinted in the Seattle Times): http://seattletimes.com/html/foodwine/2002983420_bolognese10.html


10 ounces of baby or portobello mushroom caps, roughly chopped
1 lb. baby spinach, stems removed
Optional (for quick sauce) 1 Tbl. roasted garlic
(See bolognese recipe for meat & sauce ingredients and assemble either quick meat sauce or bolognese; if you're going with a quick meat sauce, saute the mushrooms before adding the tomatoes, but if you're making the longer meat sauce, toss the mushrooms in in the last 25 minutes of making the sauce and make sure they are covered in liquid to poach.)

3/4 lb. chopped fresh mozzarella
1 box of lasagna, cooked al dente (you probably won't need the whole box)
1 15 ounce container of ricotta
2 Teas. dried Italian herb mix
3 sprigs of thyme
1 jumbo, or large egg
1 pinch of salt (for the pasta water)

1. Make the bolognese. While the sauce is cooking, this is an excellent time to prep for other dishes on the menu (garlic bread, salad dressing, dessert), or just catch up on your favorite show. In the last hour, put up a pot of water to boil, add the pinch of salt and cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. I have a very knowledgeable chef friend who suggested that the no cook lasagna noodles always turn out the best end result, but I haven't yet tried this. I'll get back to you, dear readers, if I have more success with that type of product.

2. Strip the thyme leaves from the woody stems and add leaves to the ricotta. Mix the ricotta with the fresh thyme, egg and dried Italian spice mix.

3. Add a little extra water to the bolgnese and stir to create a little extra sauce liquid. Ladle some sauce liquid into the bottom of your baking dish, then lay down a layer of noodles. Spoon a thin layer of ricotta cheese over the noodles, then cover with a thin layer of sauce. Sprinkle sauce with chopped fresh mozzarella. Top with another layer of noodles, then more ricotta, then more sauce and more mozzarella cheese. Repeat until dish is filled, ending with a double layer of noodles with some remaining mozzarella sandwiched between. Cover pan with tinfoil and cook at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook at 400 degrees for an additional 15 minutes, or until the top is browned and/or crunchy.

4. Serve with a salad (my recommendation) and enjoy!

I hope you like this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Pictures to follow!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Greek Style Lamb Sliders with Drippings-Finished Oven Fries

In part, this entry is to make amends for all the time I've spent away from this blog lately, training for my new job; but I mostly wrote this because spring is on its way, and as the weather starts to warm up, I dream of the grill, which makes me think of burgers. Since spring is still in its early phase I wanted to incorporate that symbol of early spring, lamb, but do it in a playful way. I remembered a long ago menu for a bbq I had thrown for my friends to celebrate early spring in New York City--in particular the greek style lamb sliders with yogurt herb dressing that everyone gobbled as fast as I could grill them up. In my effort to make amends I'm also including a recipe for oven fries with thyme, which not only pair well with the sliders, but are also incredibly easy to make. I used roasted garlic in the lamb burgers, to add moisture and sweetness, and it was really worth the extra effort to make it. I just preheated the oven to 400, peeled away the papery outer layers of skin around a small head of garlic and cut the tips off of the cloves, exposing the garlic, brushed it with olive oil and put it in a muffin tin, covering the top with tin foil in the oven for about 35 minutes.

We've been having a spate of unusually cold weather for the season, so I had to forgo grilling and pan fry these instead. If you also have to pan fry, the upside of it is that the drippings, when poured over the fries, make for an absolutely delectable treat.

Thyme Oven Fries

2 lbs. medium yukon gold potatoes, cut into wedges
3 sprigs of thyme
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (this stuff is really spicy!)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Parboil potatoes for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are just starting to be tender.

3. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of your roasting pan and put in potatoes; toss to coat. Strip the thyme leaves off of the woody stems into the pan. Add cayenne, salt and pepper and toss to coat.

4. Roast in oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they can easily be pierced with a fork.

Optional: Add drippings from the lamb burgers after they've all been cooked up and toss to coat.

5. Serve with greek style lamb burgers.

Greek Style Lamb Burgers with Yogurt Herb Dressing

For the Dressing:
8 ounces plain greek yogurt
1/2 bunch oregano
4 sprigs thyme
zest of 1/4 lemon
(optional) 1 teaspoon honey - only use if the dressing is distractingly bitter when you taste it

For the sliders:

2 lbs ground lamb
1 cup steamed petite green peas
6 cloves roasted garlic, smashed into a paste with 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinamon
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Juice of 1 whole lemon

1. Make the dressing: put oregano and thyme leaves (strip them off of the woody stems) into the food processor on low for a few seconds. Mix herbs into yogurt, along with lemon zest. Mix well and taste. Add honey, if needed. Remember, the burgers will be a bit on the sweet side, so you may want the yogurt to provide contrast to that.

2. Mix all slider ingredients together well, then form ten small patties, about 3 ounces each. Add olive oil to hot skillet and place as many sliders into the pan as possible. Cook the sliders on medium heat without flipping them for 4 minutes, covered with tinfoil. Flip and cook covered for another 3 minutes, or until they're no longer pink in the center. Repeat until you have cooked all the patties.

3. Serve patties on a toasted mini bun or dinner roll with a dollop of yogurt dressing and a big, crunchy slice of cucumber. Fries on the side.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Spicy Italian Sausage

Hello again faithful readers! I realize it's been awhile since I've written a new entry, and that's because I've been busy training for a new job: docent at the Intel Museum, which is a great fit, since (I'm sure you can tell) I'm a bit of a know-it-all. As promised, here is one of my favorite pasta dishes of all time!

If there is a theme emerging from my latest foray into blogging, it is this: good, clean, simple flavors, in concert with a few key complementary flavors, make for the best dishes. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I find complex dishes, such as bolognese sauce, with its minimum of three hours of cook time, to also be largely worth their effort; however, when I think of basic staple recipes, dishes I love to cook and consume and consider comfort food, those recipes are often simple. A great example is the lovely marriage of flavors between the spice and vague liquorish-y flavor of Italian pork sausage and the also (very) vague liquorish flavor of broccoli rabe or broccolini--they serve as an excellent counterpoint to the earthy richness of garlic infused olive oil.  If I'm so moved (and they're in season), I'll throw in a chopped roma tomato or three.  It changes the subtle sauce, but can really be a wonderful in season addition. The key to making simple dishes taste phenomenal is to source their few ingredients carefully. I always purchase my Italian sausage from a retailer that promises responsible farming and food handling practices if I'm not lucky enough at a given time to live near a good butcher who makes spicy Italian sausages. I also prefer to purchase my broccoli rabe (or broccolini) from a farmer's market, and barring that I always buy organic. My garlic is organic (when available), as well. My olive is extra virgin organic olive oil made by Spectrum (available online, in health food stores, and also in Whole Foods). I also like to try to select a pasta from a company I have had good experiences with in the past, in terms of taste and construction. The recipe which follows is beautiful in its simplicity and an absolutely lovely offering in a pinch. It's also one of Josh's favorite dishes.

Fusilli with Broccoli Rabe and Spicy Italian Sausage

1 lb. fusilli pasta
1 lb. or 1 bunch broccoli rabe (also called broccolini), chopped into 1.5" pieces.
3 large Italian sausages (roughly 2/3 to 3/4 lb.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic minced or put through a press
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. In a large saucepan over low heat, combine garlic and olive oil and a dash of salt. Cook for ten minutes to infuse the olive oil with garlic. If you notice the garlic turning at all darker, you have the heat too high.
2. Remove sausage casings and crumble meat inside; add to pan and increase the heat to medium. Cook until sausages are browned and starting to ooze fat.
3. Put up salted water to cook pasta and add pasta when it is boiling.
4. Add broccoli rabe, more salt and pepper to taste to saucepan with sausage and garlic. At this point I like to cover the saucepan to allow the broccoli rabe to steam in its own moisture, but feel free to leave it uncovered and sautee the broccoli rabe; in any case, your broccoli should take about as much time to cook as the fusilli does to boil.
5. Before draining pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
6. Drain pasta and toss with ingredients in pan and reserved pasta water.
7. Serve topped with freshly grated parmesan and minced fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley, if you have it on hand.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Andouille Sausage and White Bean Soup - Soup Weather Part Deux

There are as many incarnations of this soup recipe as there are variations on a basic red pasta sauce. The only thing on which the various versions can concur is that the creamy, nutty taste of white beans and their broth is a perfect marriage with the earthy taste of leafy greens and the lusciously fatty, zingy taste of Cajun style pork sausages. This variation on the recipe calls for a bouquet garni, a small bundle of herbs that is typically used in stocks and soups and is traditionally wrapped in a leek (use a leaf from the discarded dark green outer leaves).

Because of its thick, creamy broth this is a hearty soup to have as a meal. I recommend serving it with some toast brushed with a crushed garlic clove and a salad with your favorite dressing.

Andouille Sausage and White Bean Soup

Makes 6 - 8 servings

2 - 4 Andouille sausages, roughly diced (the more sausage you use, the spicier the soup will be)
1 Leek, cleaned and all but one dark green leaf discarded (the leaf is saved for your bouquet garni) and sliced into 1/2" pieces
3 Medium carrots, cut lengthwise and sliced into 1/2" pieces
2 Cans white northern or navy beans (15 oz cans)
1 bunch of kale, chopped small
3 sprigs of thyme
1 bayleaf
1 clove of garlic, gently crushed
6 Peppercorns
6 cups low sodium organic chicken broth
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons cooking sherry
4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
(Optional) salt, to taste
(Optional) 1/2 lb. orzo or a small tubular pasta such as canneroni or mezzi rigatoni (or you can even go for something as fun as stars or alphabet noodles), cooked according to the package directions with 1/2 cup of the cooking water reserved

1. Place thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns and garlic inside outer leek leaf and fold edges over both vertically and horizontally. Secure bouquet garni with kitchen twine as if you are putting ribbon on a wrapped gift. Set aside and, in a soup pot warmed to medium heat, add olive oil. Add sausage to pot and cook until just browned, about 10 - 15 minutes.
2. Toss in sherry and vinegar, and cook 3 - 5 minutes to pick up the fat from the bottom of the pot.
3. Add leeks, carrots and kale and saute until tender, about 8 minutes.
4. Add beans, bouquet garni, stock, water and bring to a boil briefly, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, until broth starts to get creamy with bean broth.
5. Stir in the cooking water from your optional pasta, if you've made it--it will give the soup a sweet, starchy boost, and cook for an additional 5 minutes to incorporate.
6. Serve each bowl with roughly 3 heaping tablespoons full of cooked pasta (optional).

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rugelach 3 Ways with Citrus Zest

This evening's post includes a recipe that is based closely on my mom's Rugelach recipe. Rugelach are a Jewish celebratory sweet--halfway between pastry and cookie, with cream cheese in the dough. My mother's Orthodox friends in her local Chabad community tell a story about this cookie being made as a jubilant confection when Yudit (Judith) slew Holofernes, as he was an enemy General of foreign occupiers who forbade the Jews from carrying on their religious traditions. I do enjoy the odd grisly anecdote, but not necessarily with dessert and so my favorite things about these cookies are that they bake up soft and biscuit-y, no matter how much you work the dough, and also the fact that a single batch of dough can easily make up to four different flavors of Rugelach. The crescent shapes can seem intimidating, but are actually no more difficult to get the hang of than canned crescent rolls. For this recipe I've separated my dough into 3 sections so that I can make orange zest/chocolate chip cookies, lime zest/raspberry jam cookies and lemon zest/sugar cookies (to which you can add any type of chopped nuts you'd like, if you're so moved; even pistachios), and each of those three sections can be divided in two, rolled out into a circle and cut into 12 wedges. My favorite raspberry jam to use is Bonne Maman (available at most stores or online), because it's sweetened with real sugar and I've been eating their jams for so long I now know whether additional sugar is necessary to make the jam palatable in a given recipe (in this case, it's not). The only snag I hit was that it is full of raspberry seeds, so you'll want to warm the jam to loosen its consistency and force it through a sieve before using it. The dough can be made up to three days before and kept in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped in plastic cling wrap, and is also fine to keep in the freezer for a cookie craving day.

Citrus Zest Rugelach
Makes 6 dozen

2 sticks unsalted organic butter (1 cup total), softened
1 package of organic or rbg3-free cream cheese (8oz.), softened
1/4 cup sugar (I use evaporated cane juice sugar that I find at Trader Joe's)
2 cups all purpose flour
*1/3 teaspoon each zest of an orange, lime and lemon

For the fillings:

1/3 c. raspberry jam, strained for seeds if necessary
1/3 c. quality semi-sweet chocolate chips (I live near SF, where Ghirardelli is readily available, but I've seen it in supermarkets across the country)
1/4 c. sugar

*They'll go in the dough after you've portioned it into 3 equal pieces (one for each fruit).

1. Cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar. Fold in flour.
2. Separate dough into 3 equal pieces and add fruit zest (one type of fruit per piece). Work thoroughly into dough.
3. If dough is too soft to roll out, refrigerate, covered tightly in plastic cling wrap, for 20 - 30 minutes. Otherwise, flour a clean work surface and roll out the first piece into a circular shape with a 9" radius. You can roll this cookie dough rather thin, as it puffs when it bakes life puff pastry.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
4. Cover dough evenly and liberally with corresponding fillings (chocolate chips for the orange zest portion, sugar for the lemon zest portion and raspberry jam for the lime zest portion). Cut circle into wedges as though you are slicing a pizza.
5. Starting from the base of each wedge, roll the cookie up until it resembles a crescent roll, with the tip of the wedge on the outside; roll as tightly as possible and pinch the skinny (outside) end of the dough into the cookie to help them keep their shape.
6. Lay on greased cookie sheet, with the outside point of the cookie (tip of the triangle) underneath the cookie. Baste with a little melted butter and sprinkle with a light dusting of sugar. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes, or until tops start to get golden.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lemon and Herb Roasted Chicken with New Potatoes

One of the best things about doing this blog is the food smell after each new kitchen experiment; it often lingers. Sometimes up to 24 hours. The only thing I enjoy as much as a lovely lingering smell is an easy, 1-dish dinner. This roast chicken, relying on classic techniques, such as placing a fork-pierced lemon inside the cavity and rubbing the skin with butter, so that it mixes with the chicken fat lemon and fresh herbs to form a luscious roasting sauce for the baby potatoes and onions, is more delicious than words can describe! I guarantee this will make your house smell heavenly! I like to serve this with my favorite greens mix, dressed in vinaigrette.

As a bonus, the chicken carcass makes a great base for homemade chicken stock.

Lemon and Herb Roasted Chicken with New Potatoes

1 lemon
1 clove of garlic, gently crushed
1 large sprig of rosemary
3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 onion, quartered
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 lbs. medium sized new potatoes, any type (yukons are great with this), washed and quartered
1 onion, quartered

1. Preheat oven 400 degrees. Rinse the chicken with water inside and out and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels (the drier it is, the crispier the skin).

2. Season the cavity with salt and pepper.

3. Roll the lemon back and forth on a clean countertop, pushing down with the heel of your palm, to help release the juices. Going around the lemon, pierce the fruit from top to bottom with a fork every 1 or so inches, so it has rows of piercings. Rub butter all over the outside of the chicken, then place lemon, garlic, bayleaf, thyme and rosemary inside the bird's cavity. Season the chicken skin with salt and pepper. sprinkle the remaining butter all around the chicken in the pan.

4. Add to greased roasting pan, breast side up, and tuck the wings in. Tie the drumsticks together, to help the chicken hold its shape. If you can use a single long piece of twine and also wrap it around the breasts, keeping the wings tucked in, this will further help its shape.

5. Toss the onions and potatoes in a bowl with 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add to roasting pan and roast at 400 degrees for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours, making sure to baste the bird occasionally and turn the bird over after 40 minutes and test the potatoes--they are done, or maybe need 5 minutes more to reach the desired tenderness. Carve and serve with the potatoes.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shepherd's Pie w/ Beer Gravy

A couple of years ago I did prep for an Irish Pub in So Cal. The owners of the place owned several other eateries in the area, and while the menu mainly consisted of standard bar/comfort food, there were a few staples of Irish Pub food, such as Corned Beef and Cabbage and Shepherd's Pie. I enjoyed the latter so much that I came up with my own version. I need hardly extoll the fabulous taste of this dish, except to say the gravy, veggies, beef and homemade mashed potatoes just work together.

If you'd like to make a vegetarian version of this recipe you can substitute the beef for 1 pound of Texturized Vegetable Protein soaked in mushroom stock for 20 minutes on a 1:1 ratio, and one large sprig of rosemary, or if you prefer you could poach 1 lb. of Tempeh in low sodium vegetable stock and when it has softened (about 15 - 20 minutes) fluff it apart with a fork.

I like to serve my Shepherd's Pie with a bag of prewashed Arugula (sometimes called Rocket), dressed very simply with the juice of 1/2 a small lemon, a small glug of Olive Oil (less than 1 Tablespoon) and a pinch of salt. The peppery greens are a light and zesty compliment to the rich and meaty taste of the pie. If your supermarket doesn't stock arugula (as you can see from the picture my nearby one didn't; that's butter lettuce posing beside the Shepherd's Pie), use the greens of your choice and add a small dash of freshly ground pepper, to compliment the acidity of fresh lemon.

Shepherd's Pie
Makes 6 - 8 servings

Pie filling:
1 lb. ground beef (the best fat to lean ratio to use is 10fat/90lean)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Medium onion, diced
2/3 Cup carrots, shredded (you can buy it this way from the store), or diced
1/2 Cup frozen shelled petite peas
2/3 of a 12 oz. bottle of a darker ale, such as an IPA or Porter (1 cup)
1 1/2 Cup milk, anything with more fat than skim
1 1/2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
Salt, to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Optional: a pinch each of any or all of the following fresh herbs: Thyme, Rosemary and Sage

Mashed potatoes:
6 Medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
1/2 Teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 Cup of milk, or more to taste
2 Quarts (8 cups) water

1. Add water, salt and potatoes to pot and bring to a boil. Cook until soft (they can be easily pierced with a fork), about 12-15 minutes. Reserve 1/4 of a cup of the cooking water to add to the potatoes, then drain. Add butter, cooking water and milk to potatoes as you mash them, along with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. When there are no lumps and your potatoes are creamy, cover to keep warm and set aside.

2. In a smaller pot, blanch the carrots and peas in boiling water seasoned with a small pinch of salt (about 3 minutes), then drain and set aside.

3. In a saucepan combine 2 Tablespoons butter and onions. Cook on medium until onions are translucent (about 3 minutes). If you have fresh herbs, now would be the time to toss them in. Add beef and some salt and pepper and cook until browned (about 10 minutes), stirring frequently.
4. Add beer and simmer about 15 minutes, until the carbonation has been cooked out and some of the alcohol as well.

5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

6. Add milk and a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes. Slowly add flour, 1/2 Tablespoon at a time, to thicken gravy.

7. Add carrots and peas, stir to combine and transfer to an ungreased baking pan.

8. Using a rubber spatula or similarly shaped utensil, cover the pie filling in an even layer of mashed potatoes and bake for 15 minutes so the ingredients can set together.

9. Serve alongside dressed arugula and enjoy.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Cook's note: pictures to follow.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Soup Weather: Potato Leek

Winter isn't half over, and for many of us that means months to go of extreme weather conditions and bitingly cold temperatures. This is the time of year you'll hear the phrase "soup weather," spoken plaintively and sincerely. Indeed, warm liquids--particularly more hearty and nourishing fare like soup--are excellent balms to chapped hands and cold toes in this harsher season.

For me it was as much convenience as a desire to beat the cold that had me concocting a recipe for Potato Leek soup--one batch makes up to 10 servings, and I made this dish on the last day of the year, knowing I might not be in a mood to cook the next day. I cannot overlook that there were other factors that put me in mind of this particular soup, namely childhood nostalgia, and a love of the wild onion-y flavor of leeks, paired with the sweet, earthy starch of potatoes.

If you decide to puree your soup and are so inclined you could top your soup with a dollop of dill creme fraiche (mix 1 part chopped fresh dill to 3 parts creme fraiche).

Potato Leek Soup
Makes 8 - 10 servings

5 medium - large leeks, cleaned with the dark green parts discarded, sliced 1/2" thick
6 medium yukon gold potatoes, cut into roughly 1" cubes
1 small onion, julienned
1 quart organic vegetable or chicken broth
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced or put through a press
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, woody stems stripped off
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or more to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup cooking sherry
1 quart (4 cups) water
1 cup cream

1. Put your soup pot on the burner and turn it to medium, add butter and when the butter is melted, add leeks, onions, garlic, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Saute on medium heat until leeks are translucent, about 15 minutes.
2. Add cooking sherry and let cook for another 10 minutes.
3. Add potatoes, water and stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for roughly 45 minutes, until the potatoes are soft enough to break apart with a nudge. Adjust for salt and pepper
4.Using a handheld mixer on low speed, or (once it's cooled down enough to handle) a food processor, puree the soup. If you'd rather go low-tech you can also force it through a fine mesh sieve instead. Add the cream, stir to incorporate and serve, garnished with a tiny pinch of thyme leaves.*

*Cook's note: I prefer mine not to be pureed, since I love the mouthfeel of the occasional soft potato and silky leek. For presentation's sake, you should know that if you choose not to puree your soup you may want to leave out the cream (this was my mother's method, growing up), as it will separate and look strange; however, it will still taste delicious, particularly if you stir the soup up before portioning it out. That being said the dill creme fraiche is quite strange as a condiment in non-pureed soup.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!