Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Better Than Boeuf

Not all went as planned in the kitchen this holiday season. There were some definite highs and lows. Unfortunately, our Christmas Eve dinner of Boeuf Bourguignon was a low. I used Julia Child's recipe, of course, and all seemed fine as I prepared the dish. The end result, however, was just not to my liking. The braised onions and sauteed mushrooms were quite good, and the sauce was fine, but the boeuf was not tender and the overall beefy flavor was unpleasant.

The tenderness issue could have been because of the cut of beef I chose lean stew meat, cut not specified; or the size of the beef cubes a little on the small side; or the meat may have been overcooked beyond the point of tenderness, or maybe it wasn't cooked long enough and never reached the desired tenderness to begin with. There was still plenty of stewing liquid when I removed it from the oven, so I doubt it was overdone, but I'd never made Boeuf Bourguignon before and I'm not much of a beef person anyway, so I'm really not sure.

That was the other issue the fact that I'm not much of a beef person. The dish sounded so good: rich stew, red wine sauce, carrots, onions, and mushrooms. But the kitchen smelled like, well, beef. The whole house smelled like beef. I smelled like beef. And the meaty beefy-ness of the dish was kind of a turn-off, not just to me, but to my husband and kids too. I had a few bites of beef then picked out onions, mushrooms, and pieces of carrot, which were good with the sauce even though a little less... let me think... beef flavor would have been nice.

That night, I couldn't wait to get my clothes into the laundry, wash my hair, and air out the house to get rid of the beef smell that seemed to be everywhere. And for days now, the boeuf leftovers have been sitting in the fridge, mocking me. "Where's the boeuf? Here's the boeuf!" I know it's going to end up in the trash. I really don't know why I haven't dumped it already. I guess I just feel bad. It's such a waste.

Next was Christmas Day. Our tradition is to make homemade pasta with red (marinara) and green (basil pesto) sauces. My husband is the pasta expert, so I usually leave that to him and the kids, who have a lot of fun running the dough through the pasta machine. I focus on the sauces and a side salad. Well, the first problem was that I had trouble finding fresh basil. Trader Joe's, my usual source, was out. I got the very last bunch from another store, but it looked a little iffy. Indeed, when I opened it up on Christmas day to make the pesto, it just didn't smell or look right. On top of that, my husband had a bad head cold and wasn't in the mood to exert any effort into making pasta. Plan B: dry pasta and marinara sauce. It was fine. Everyone likes spaghetti, right? Yes. And to change things up a bit, I had my pasta with a drizzle of olive oil, freshly grated Pecorino, and a few grinds of black pepper. It was yummy!

Moving on to the highs... I received a cookbook for Christmas: The Big Book of Soups & Stews. Yes, there's a recipe for "Oven Burgundy Beef Stew" (pictured on the cover, in fact), which I definitely will not be making, ever. Then there's a recipe for Coq Au Vin, which is probably what I should have made for Christmas Eve dinner (we'll do it next year). There's also a recipe for "Greek Chicken Stew with Rice." I made it the other night and we loved it! Many other recipes look delicious too, and I think I'll make a number of them over the next few months during our cold, rainy season. I'll be steering clear, however, of the boeuf section. At least for a good while.

Another high was lobster! About ten days before Christmas, I arrived home to find a box on the front porch marked "Legal Sea Foods." At first I thought, Oh how nice. Instead of a box of Omaha Steaks, the husband's company has sent us sea food for Christmas. That idea was quickly discarded from my brain (they would never do that). Next I checked the return label Boston  and I started to think about the unlikely possibility of lobster. I opened the box and looked at the packing slip, which sat atop a slab of Styrofoam. It was an early Christmas gift from my in-laws. My heart was pounding as again, I dared to think lobster. I lifted up the Styrofoam and there, surrounded by a bunch of seaweed, were two live lobsters! Also in the box, I found jumbo shrimp cocktail, crab cakes, and clam chowder with all the necessary fixings, even claw crackers and plastic bibs. All we needed was butter!

Coincidentally, it was my husband's birthday. Birthday dinner plans obviously changed and I completely forgot what we were originally planning to have. We got out the big wort pot from our beer-making days, and put on the water. We munched on shrimp cocktail and drank white wine while we waited impatiently for the water to boil. With only a little squeamishness (I'm sure the wine helped), I plunged the poor guys into the boiling water, melted some butter with lemon juice and thyme, and 12 minutes later we were feasting on lobster! It was one of the best gifts ever, obviously perfect for me, and definitely the funnest gift I've received since Barbie's Dream House! Thank you so much to my in-laws!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Peppermint Bark

My 7-year-old had a homework assignment to have Mom or Dad help him follow a recipe to make a holiday treat. I thought about it and informed him we would be making peppermint bark didn't even give him a chance to make suggestions. One of my sisters makes the best peppermint bark that she sometimes sends to me at Christmas-time. It's super pepper-minty I love it! I thought it would make a nice, homemade gift for our neighbors too. After a little more thought, I decided not to try to replicate my sister's awesome recipe, but make chocolate peppermint bark instead.

To be honest, although my son usually loves to help me in the kitchen, he wasn't that into the whole peppermint bark thing. But he was a good little cook, followed directions, smiled sweetly for the camera, and even took a few snapshots himself.

The stuff turned out terriffic! If you like strong peppermint flavor, I'd recommend adding peppermint extract as we did, otherwise leave it out. And definitely use semi-sweet chocolate as opposed to milk chocolate. We used pretty red, green, and white candy canes, but obviously you can use whatever color you like. Just watch out for those crazy, fruit-flavored candy cane imposters.

This will make at least two tin-fulls, if you're thinking about making Christmas gifts.

Chocolate Peppermint Bark  PRINTABLE RECIPE

24 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
24 oz. white chocolate chips
16 peppermint candy canes
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract (optional)

1. Unwrap the candy canes and place them in a food processor. Pulse a few times until the candy is crushed into small pieces. The largest pieces should be about 1/4" and some of it will basically be powder.

2. Cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.

3. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler. Pour the melted chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet and, using a spatula, spread to a little more than 1/8" thick, up to 1/4" thick at most (ours was on the thick side and it was fine). It doesn't have to be perfectly even or reach the edges of the pan. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator until the chocolate is completely hardened.

4. Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in your double boiler. As it's melting, stir in the peppermint extract and most of the crushed candy canes. Set aside 1/4 cup or so of the candy.

5. Remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator and spread the white chocolate over the semi-sweet chocolate.

6. Sprinkle the remaining crushed candy over the entire surface and press down ever-so-gently to ensure it sticks. Place the baking sheet back in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes until the white chocolate is hardened.

7. Remove the peppermint bark from the refrigerator and break, by hand, into small, uneven pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. (Don't let it get too warm, for obvious reasons.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thanksgiving Food Photos

My 7-Year-Old Helper, chopping green onions.
The "Cranberries"
The Turkey, Gravy, and Gluten-Free Stuffing
(GF stuffing was disappointing, but OK with lots of gravy).

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Crispy Shallots (that were not
crispy). The "Cranberries" again. And the Salad - the Best!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Roasted Vegetables

For years and years I ate boring steamed vegetables. I can't believe now that I ever even enjoyed them that way. These days, I grill them, stir-fry them, or  my favorite  roast them. It started with asparagus. It's been many years now, but the first time I roasted the asparagus, I knew I could never go back to boiled or steamed. Then it was broccoli. I don't think I've ever shared my roasted broccoli recipe here (I just want to keep that one for myself), but it's good stuff. People who think they don't like green vegetables love this broccoli. Someone once told me it tasted like steak (in a good way, of course)!

My new favorite recipe for roasted vegetables is super simple. I'm not even sure why it's so good as there's not much to it. Maybe because the vegetables can just roast and caramelize a bit with very little fuss, and that allows their wonderful flavors to come out all on their own. I found the original recipe from Gourmet magazine via Epicurious on my iPhone. It was for Brussels sprouts. Now, if you don't like Brussels sprouts, it's probably because you've never had them roasted. Am I right? Believe me, you've got to try them. Anyway, the Brussels sprouts were great, but I've used the same recipe for carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and I bet it makes great beets and other vegetables too.

Roasted Vegetables with Caraway Seeds  PRINTABLE RECIPE

About 1-1/2 lbs of firm vegetables (any one or any combination): Brussels sprouts - trimmed & halved, Carrots - peeled & sliced to 1/4" thick, Broccoli - small flowerettes, Cauliflower - small flowerettes, Beets - peeled & sliced to 1/4" thick
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp caraway seeds
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450°

2. In a large bowl, toss vegetables with olive oil, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet and arrange in a single layer.

3. Roast on center rack of oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with caraway seeds, and toss. Arrange again in a single layer and roast for about 10 minutes more, until vegetables are crisp-tender and browned in spots. 

That's it. Simple, right? Enjoy! 

By the way, I have to say thank you to Mike Caldwell  wherever you are these days  for helping me to learn to spell vegetable way back in 5th or 6th grade:  VE - GE - TABLE.  I still sound it out in my head that way every time I write (or type) the word. Thanks!