Monday, November 29, 2010

Popovers with Compound Butter

Popovers were a large part of my childhood, and especially remind me of cold winter nights (sort of like tonight). My mother could whip these up quickly and she often did. They have always been a favorite of mine, and the recipe is shockingly simple. I've based this recipe off of Mark Bittman's popover recipe in How to Cook Everything.

Serve (or just eat) them warm with jam, honey, or plain butter. To lend an extra special touch to this easy recipe, I recommend serving them with a compound butter that complements the rest of the meal. A compound butter is basically a flavored butter, which can be used for any number of things. You can go savory or sweet with these butters, and they (like popovers) are ridiculously easy to make. Below, I've given you a recipe for garlic herb compound butter.
Adapted from Mark Bittman's popover recipe in How to Cook Everything

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk
2 large eggs (at room temperature--this is very important)
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

{Garlic Herb Compound Butter}
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, softened (but not melted)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme and rosemary this time)
3 cloves garlic

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine all ingredients in a blender, or in a bowl with a whisk (the blender is the better option, as it will incorporate more air into the batter and ultimately create taller, more dramatic, popovers). Pour batter into greased muffin tin (or popover pan), filling the cups 2/3 of the way.

Bake at 450˚F for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350˚F and bake for 20 more minutes. It is very important you do not open the oven door during this time. If you've got an oven light, feel free to check on your popovers that way, and if you don't--leave yourself in suspense. Opening the oven door during cooking (especially during the first part) will cause heat to escape quickly, changing the temperature of the oven and probably resulting in the collapse of your popovers. Just don't do it. Put the popovers in, set the timer, and walk away. 

Remove the popovers from the oven and enjoy with a little jam, or compound butter, or anything else you'd like.

{Garlic Herb Compound Butter}
Boil garlic in a small pot for approximately 3 minutes, then immediately drain hot water and submerge garlic cloves in an ice bath. Chop finely and mix with rest of ingredients in a small bowl. I find a fork mixes most thoroughly.  Once all ingredients are combined, put butter in a square of parchment paper and roll into a cylinder. Close ends of parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. To speed the process, freeze for about 30 minutes. Remove from fridge (or freezer) and cut into slices to serve. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The BEST Roast Turkey Ever (Happy Thanksgiving!)

Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing Anthony Bourdain speak about his adventures in food and travel. One thing he said has been stuck in my mind ever since: cooking is a way to communicate. This gets at the heart of why I love food. My family and my friends have always communicated this way--from the time I was young, the cure for the common cold was generally leek and potato soup. And, of course, my first care package for a college apartment was a box that included flour, sugar, chocolate chips and really quality vanilla extract.

On that note, my boyfriend and I got together with some of our friends this weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving together, a bit early. I figured it would be a great opportunity to spend time with everybody and prep sides to share with you on this blog. However, I came down with a bit of the flu and ended up only doing some prep work (chopping ingredients for the stuffing) and then taking a nap for the rest of the day in my friend's bed... 

And so, without further ado, I offer up a recipe for the best turkey I have ever had. My CRT, a turkey-making expert (who also completed all of my other recipes and took photos for me while I was sick), followed Alton Brown's recipe, except he did not brine the bird beforehand and he let the internal temperature get up to 171 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 161. This produced an incredibly juicy and flavorful bird, and the end product was Norman Rockwell-style beautiful (but we didn't pause for long enough before eating it to get a picture.) So, here is the turkey in prep:

Alongside the turkey, we opted for homemade cranberry sauce. Another thanksgiving favorite, baby Brussels Sprouts, is on the menu for later this week. Please enjoy and have a healthy and happy holiday.

Baby Brussel Sprouts & Buttered Pecans (Happy Thanksgiving!)

My mother is not a traditionalist in any sense of the word, whereas I try to make every event into a celebrated family tradition. Much to my dismay, my mother's devil-may-care attitude about food traditions extends to Thanksgiving, and every single year she hands me a stack of new recipes. After a bit of whining, I'm usually persuaded to try some of them out as long as I can still enjoy my green bean casserole (yes, I mean the canned version, and no, I'm not ashamed). This dish, made with baby Brussels sprouts (which are significantly less bitter than grown-up Brussels sprouts), changed my mind about two things. One, I now love Brussels sprouts. Two--I now happily try a few new recipes each Thanksgiving, in hopes of finding another time-honored favorite like this one. The rest of the family (with us that means 30+ people) agreed that these were delicious, so I'm not alone here.
Baby Brussel Sprouts & Buttered Pecans
Gourmet, November 2006
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3 Tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 pounds baby Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1/2 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°FSpread pecans in an even layer in a baking pan. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until you can smell them. Be careful not to burn the pecans. Remove pecans from oven and toss in 1/2 Tbsp. butter and 1/4 tsp. salt until all are evenly coated.

Prepare a bowl of ice and water, large enough for the Brussels sprouts to rest in after boiling. Set aside and have ready.

While the nuts are in the oven, cook Brussels sprouts in a medium saucepan full of boiling salted water, uncovered, until just tender (5-6 minutes). Take the Brussels sprouts out of the boiling water (by draining the hot water from the pot or straining the Brussels sprouts) and move the Brussels sprouts into the ice water bowl immediately. This process is known as blanching and is important in keeping the Brussels sprouts from overcooking.

After a few minutes, remove the sprouts and pat them dry. Set aside.

Melt remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for about a minute. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring only occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until parts of the Brussels sprouts are partially browned. Add a splash of lemon juice, pepper and remaining salt, give it all a stir and toss with the prepared pecans. Serve, and enjoy (possibly with surprise). I doubt any of your guests would complain if you served this alongside cranberry sauce and the Best Roast Turkey Ever.

Cranberry Sauce (Happy Thanksgiving!)

As delightful as the can-shaped version of cranberry sauce is, the homemade variety might lend a more personal touch to your Thanksgiving table. My boyfriend's family does their cranberry sauce this way, and he introduced me to the wonder that is homemade cranberry sauce. This is also his recipe.

This is a great recipe to make the night before your feast, and as a bonus, you can add this to the list of things your vegetarian (and even vegan) friends can eat!
Cranberry Sauce
David Aguilar
2 (12 oz.) bags of  fresh cranberries
2 cups of granulated sugar
2 cups apple cider

Pour all fresh cranberries into a medium saucepan. Top with granulated sugar, and then with apple cider. You should add enough apple cider to fill in the gaps in the pot left by the cranberries, but not to cover the cranberries.

Put the saucepan on medium to medium-low heat and bring to a slow simmer. After about 5-10 minutes, you should see the skins of the cranberries begin to crack or "pop." At this point, continue to cook the mixture for another 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is fairly thick. Pour into a heat-safe container and place in the fridge overnight. If you've forgotten to make it ahead of time, you can also just freeze the mixture for a few hours until it sets. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Butternut Squash Gnocchi (madness)

I used to think gnocchi was a tasteless and a little bit disgusting. Little balls of dough in a nondescript sauce? *Shudder* Then I met Chef John Jerabek. On my first day of service at Fresco (in Madison, WI), he taught me how to say the word correctly ("knee-oh-key"). He also taught me that if you oven dry ricotta cheese and put it in the gnocchi dough, what once were little, tasteless, lumps of pasta become individual bursts of flavor. 

So began my love affair with gnocchi.
I've been thinking about making butternut squash gnocchi for almost a solid month now, since I first tried Chef Jerabek's latest version of gnocchi--butternut gnocchi, tossed in a bleu cheese sauce.

This is a versatile recipe, as once the gnocchi is made, it could be good lightly sauteed in butter (with some vegetables, too) and topped with aged cheddar, or Parmesan. It could be lightly tossed in bleu cheese sauce (recipe forthcoming in another post). It could also be combined with some fresh chèvre and toasted pine nuts--I guarantee nobody would complain about that.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Adapted from Hungry Cravings

1/2 of a large butternut squash
1 cup of flour (approximately)
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar or Parmesan cheese
salt and peppr to taste
4 cloves roasted garlic (optional)
more flour for dusting surfaces

First, you must roast your squash. Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise and place one half open/cut side down on a lightly oiled baking tray. Roast at 400˚F for 30 minutes, flip over and continue to roast for another 45 minutes (or until the squash is very tender and you envision having an easy time pureeing it). Let the squash cool to almost room temperature. 

Peel the squash and puree it in a food processor. If you don't have a food processor and your blender breaks, don't even consider doing what I did--I finely minced the cooked squash (this made a mess), then pushed it through our strainer with the back of a spoon (this made a bigger mess). It took me hours. A food processor is next on my kitchen equipment list! Basically, at the end of all of this, you want butternut squash that looks as though it has been turned into baby food.

Season your puree with salt and pepper, and (if using) roasted garlic, stir this into the mixture until thoroughly mixed in. At this point, once again, make sure your mixture is room temperature. 

Next, add the flour and the cheese and mix together. The dough will feel as though it will fall apart on you at any moment, and it really might (but the end result is truly worth it). 

Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper on it, to set your gnocchi-shaped dough on. Portion the dough out and roll into 1/2 inch thick strips. From these strips, cut 1/2 inch chunks. Using the inside of a fork, and lightly squeezing each side of the chunk with your fingers (thumb and middle finger worked best for me), roll the chunk of dough up against the fork until you get the required texture (see photo above). This really isn't required, but the sauce you serve with the gnocchi will settle nicely into the grooves if you do it!

Now, walk away. Let the gnocchi pieces dry for at least one hour and up to two. Come back (maybe after prepping whatever it is you plan to toss with said gnocchi), and cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling water (stirring occasionally) for only a few minutes. The gnocchi should float to the top within 3 minutes, and this means that they are done--this is actually a rule of thumb for all fresh pasta. Get the gnocchi out of the pot, saving a bit of the pasta water for any sauces you might make later.
Serve immediately with whatever you'd like, and enjoy. I served ours with mandolin-thin zucchini, a little too much butter, salt, pepper, and a whole lot of Blue Mont Bandaged White Cheddar--aged 13 months. This just goes to show that buying bandaged aged white cheddar is never a mistake

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich

A good friend of mine ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every day  for at least 8 years straight. And, while I love that classic combo as much as any American school kid, I'm in my twenties and peanut butter and jelly is starting to get old. 

I'd been craving more interesting (but still convenient and totable) lunches for a while in college when my parents took me to New York City to tour the French Culinary Institute as a prospective student. After a day spent observing culinary students (sidenote: amazing experience), the FCI treated my parents and I to a delightful lunch at L'Ecole, the school's restaurant. One of the many amazing things served was a curried chicken salad sandwich, with avocados. I thought about that meal for years, and the sandwich never left my mind. 

I recreated it (quite successfully, if I do say so myself) a few months ago and it seems to be a hit. So, I thought I'd share it with you!
Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich
Alexandra Rogers

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 ripe, ready-to-eat, avocado
2 slices of good, whole-grain bread
1 clove of garlic
3/4 cup non-fat (or low-fat) plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
salt & pepper (I used about 1/4 tsp of each)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, if you like it spicy)
a hand full of finely chopped cashews (optional, if you like a bit of crunch)

Place chicken breasts in a pot they fit somewhat snugly in and cover with warm water (cover with about 1" of water). Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a slight simmer (leave the lid slightly ajar) and cook this way for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for about 10 minutes. Quite frankly, if you mess this step up and the chicken boils for a couple minutes longer than it should, it really isn't the end of the world. Remove the chicken breasts and allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, mix the yogurt and spices together in a medium bowl. Shred the chicken breasts with a fork (or with your fingers) and add to the mix. Add the cashews here, if you're using them. The chicken salad will stay good for 3-4 days. 

Toast two slices or your favorite, crusty, bread. Cut one clove of garlic in half and rub (cut side down) the garlic against the warm toast. Place a couple of slices of avocado over the garlic side of the toast and top with the curry chicken salad. Put the other slice of bread on top, cut, and enjoy. Or toss it in a ziploc bag, or wrap it in parchment paper (refrigerate if you're waiting a while to eat it) and pull it out at lunch to make all the other kids (or grad students, or co-workers) jealous.

Makes 2 sandwiches. Enjoy.

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