Monday, October 31, 2011

Jamie Oliver's Parents’ Spicy Butternut Squash Soup… Because I Have Gas Problems

I had a lovely apple-braised pork shoulder recipe all set to post today, but was unable to finish it off because PG&E turned off the gas line to do repairs on our street. So, stay tuned for that tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s a great butternut squash soup video from Trevor and Sally Oliver, parents of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Jamie’s one of my favorites, and not only are his parents adorable, but you can see where he gets some of his skills from. Enjoy!

This video was originally posted on Thisisbrandculture's YouTube Channel, February 22, 2011.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Riding High at the California Olive Ranch

Michele and I were invited to tour the California Olive Ranch this week, where we got a firsthand look into how olive oil is produced. The ranch is the largest producer in California, and uses state-of-the-art equipment and technology to produce extra virgin olive oil that’s cold pressed within a few hours of picking.

I was shocked to learn that only two percent of the olive oil purchased in the United States is made domestically, but thanks to producers like California Olive Ranch that number is sure to be going up. The oils are reasonably priced, and tend to be more on the buttery/fruity side, than their more intense and peppery European counterparts.

The ranch plants three varieties of olives that were selected especially for the high-density planting method they employ; Arbequina and Arbosana from Spain, and Koroneiki from Greece. The trees are much more shrub-like than one would expect, but perfectly suited for the ranch’s unique harvesting methods.

It would have been cool enough just to watch how these olives are harvested, but when we were actually invited to climb up on the Oxbo picking rig, the tour went to a whole other level…literally, like 20 feet off the ground. I was amazed at how quickly the large bin next to the picker was filled with fruit. Luckily the machine has a large storage unit inside which holds the olives until another bin is brought into position.

After a loud, dusty, but nonetheless thrilling ride though the fields, we headed into the mill where we saw the rest of the process, as the olives were turned into oil in a remarkably short amount of time. The tour ended with a tasting, where I enjoyed everything I sampled, especially their Miller's Blend. We also got to taste some bright green, just-pressed olive oil, which was a rare and special treat for sure.

By the way, we were joined on the trip by Amy Sherman from Cooking with Amy, Chrystal Baker from The Duo Dishes, Aleta Watson from The Skillet Chronicles, and Jane Bonacci from The Heritage Cook. I invite you to check out their blogs for what I’m sure will be more great coverage.

Here’s a short video with some of the sights and sounds from our tour. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into what I found to be quite a fascinating experience. A sincere thank you to Kirsten Wanket, Mike Forbes, and the rest of the California Olive Ranch team for all their hospitality. Enjoy!

Disclosure: This is not a paid endorsement, or sponsored post, however, the California Olive Ranch did take us out for a lovely dinner after the tour, and provided us with overnight hotel accommodations.

Ham and Potato Soup – Tuberlicious!

This title is dedicated to all those who chimed in on our root vegetable gratin video to let me know that a potato is a tuber, and not a root, even though I mentioned that fact in the video and the post! Bless your hearts. ;-)

I know we did a black bean soup not too long ago, but I had a piece of leftover ham that needed to be used up, and this time of year you just can’t have too many soup recipes. In addition to being a proven antidote for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the recipe is definitely filling enough to serve as a main course.

The version I presented here is a little on the lighter side, but by adding more meat (including bacon, sausage, etc.), and finishing with cheese, you can significantly increase its heartiness.

By the way, if you do want to finish this with some nice sharp cheddar, or perhaps a pepper Jack, do NOT add it until you’ve turned off the heat. Cooking the cheese is never a good thing, unless you want an oil slick floating on the surface of your soup. There will be plenty of residual heat to melt shredded cheese, so turn off the heat, stir it in, and dig in.

If you’re one of these vegetarian types, may I suggest you caramelize some diced mushrooms to a dark meaty brown first, and then proceed with the rest of the procedure as shown. Either way, I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

1 1/2 lb gold potato (or any other kind will work)
1 onion
1 carrot
1 celery
8 oz diced smoked ham
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Reheat Soggy Leftover Pizza

I’m not sure when or where I started reheating leftover pizza using this stovetop method, but it’s one of my favorite kitchen shortcuts of all time. By the way, since I don’t remember learning this from anyone, I’ll assume I invented it. 

So, if you’ve been actually been doing this for years, and know many others who do the same, please keep it to yourself, and just let me have my moment.

There are so many advantages to using this method. There’s no insufferable wait for an oven to preheat (10 minutes in real time is 45 minutes in “I have the munchies” time); you don’t waste all that extra energy (you’re welcome, Planet Earth); and most important of all, you get perfectly crisp crust. In fact, you’ll get a crust that’s hotter and crispier than it was when it was first served.

Of course some of you will go to the old toaster oven card, and while that does work just as fast as this method, it does not give you the same quality of crispy crust. Besides, many of us haven’t seen a toaster oven since college [insert hilarious dorm room cooking anecdote here].

Not only do I use this method for reheating day-old pizza, but also for crisping up pizza that was just delivered. Because the pie steams in the box, even the best pizzerias, with the fastest delivery systems, can’t bring you a pizza with the same texture as one fresh out of their ovens. Now, using this method, you can take care of that yourself. Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bay Scallops with Garlic Parsley Butter Sauce – I’ll Have the Nostalgia on Toast

They say smell is the sense most closely linked to memory recall, and that was certainly the case while making these garlicky, buttery bay scallops on toast. As waves of the wonderful aromas wafted up from the pan, they brought back a flood of vivid memories of my first real kitchen job.

Barely a teenager, I was hired as a dishwasher at an Italian steakhouse, called The Depot (pictured below is the train station that predated the restaurant). While it was fun being inside a bustling kitchen, washing dishes was anything but. By comparison, what I saw the line cooks doing looked like the greatest job ever, and this certainly played a role in my future career plans.

Anyway, there was a scallop dish on the menu, which consisted of 6 large scallops being placed in a small metal broiler plate, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then doused with wine, lemon, garlic, and butter. This was placed under the flame until the scallops were browned, and the sauce was bubbling below. It was finished with fresh parsley, and served with toasted Italian bread for dipping into the amazing juices.

(c) All rights reserved by John R. Stewart
The smell of that sizzling plate as it went by my station was almost too much to take, and once in a while, thanks to some kind of ordering mishap, I’d actually get to eat one. It was pure bliss, and a flavor combination I still love to this day.

By the way, unlike the large day-boat scallops you’re seen me cook before, these are way too small to worry about searing brown. In a restaurant kitchen, if we’re just cooking a couple ounces, we could get a decent sear and still finish the sauce without overcooking. But doing this many at home, all we really need to concentrate on, is not over cooking them. Besides, bay scallops are so naturally sweet, tender, and delicious, the sear is not as important as with the larger ones.

As I mention in the video, this makes a beautiful appetizer, but will also make a killer pasta sauce with some cream added in to stretch it. I hope you can find some small, wild scallops soon (frozen are great, as long as “Scallops” is the only ingredient listed on the bag), and give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4-6 appetizer size portions:
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 pound bay scallops
4-5 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup white wine (NOT cooking wine)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp cold butter, cubed
cayenne, salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
buttered and toasted Italian bread slices
*Note for pasta sauce, add a 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream with the wine, and proceed as shown. Should make enough sauce for about 4 portions of pasta)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Quick and Easy Black Bean Soup – Something from Almost Nothing

This black bean soup saved me during a recent attack of, “Oh my God, there is nothing in kitchen to cook with!” Even though it sometimes seems that way, there's rarely, literally nothing to cook with. I quickly found a few slices of bacon, a couple cans of beans, and an onion, and with the help of a spicy lime and green onion relish, turned it into a very decent bowl of soup.

It got me thinking about all those long shelf life, must-have pantry and fridge staples you can count on to produce a meal when lacking supplies. My short list is olive oil, beans, pasta, bacon, Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggs, tomato sauce, anchovies, salami, capers, garlic, onions, potatoes, and fresh citrus. As long as those things are close by, I can still look forward to a great meal no matter how sparse the rest of the provisions.

By the way, this will work with any smashable bean, and rumor has it that a handful of sausage in place of the bacon is a great variation. With wet, chillier days ahead, I think you’ll have occasion to give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 Servings:
6 slices bacon
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth or water
2 cans black beans, rinsed, plus 1 can of water
pinch dried oregano
pinch cayenne
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
salt and pepper to taste
For the relish (note – I only made a little bit in the video. This is enough for 4 servings):
1/3 cup minced green onion
2 tsp crushed or minced red chilies
juice of one lime
green onions to garnish
sour cream to garnish

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hamburger buns

A long time ago I thought that this blog would be about me testing out recipes I found in books and then telling you if they worked or not. But then I discovered that it was much more fun writing about me, me, me and my various problems and then tacking a recipe for, like, beans on toast at the end and hoping that no-one would notice that I wasn't really fulfilling my brief.

It became like a sort of free therapy, except that it didn't work and I went mad anyway and am having to get some very expensive therapy in Central London administered by a woman we'll call Dr O.

I went to see her for the first time today. I was ten minutes late because I couldn't find her bastard office and made a small joke about me not being anxious about being late because of all people who would be understanding it would be her. She gave me a pleasant but uncomprehending smile and I realised suddenly that she has no sense of humour. And what the fuck was I doing trying to make my therapist laugh anyway? Grow up.

That's beside the point. My point is that I found in the Hawksmoor cookbook a recipe for hamburger buns, which declared that the secret was to use custard in the dough.

"Awesome!" I screeched. "Custard!!! What fun. I will go back to my roots and test this out and say if it works or not."

And it's the stupidest bloody recipe I've ever done. And I've now decided that I HATE cookbooks especially restaurant cookbooks because they're always written by people who've been cooking for 8 million years and assume all sorts of things about the domestic cook and the recipes are never tested properly and they're always shit.

Say what you like about Jamie Oliver but he's got some proper recipe-testing going on. He doesn't just sling the recipes out to various relatives in a huge panic 5 days before the book goes to the printers, all of whom say they will test the recipes and then don't and lie and say they did and that they're fine causing ME to WASTE MY TIME making stupid hamburger buns that are crap and at least 50% less nice than if I'd just had a crack, blindfolded, at making them off the top of my head.

I mean... *legal panic*...not that I'm saying Hawksmoor doesn't test their recipes properly, I'm just saying that Jamie Oliver does.

Anyway, shall I bother with the recipe? I don't think I will actually. You can have the photo because I know how you all like a photo, but it was such a silly recipe, so lazily done, so inaccurate and unhelpful and rotten than I don't think I'll do it the service of even copying it out here.

Custard! I ask you... Dingbats.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bacon Ranch Chicken Skewers – Perfect for Tailgating and/or Vampire Staking

These bacon ranch chicken skewers were intended to star at your next football tailgate cookout, but since these are made with sharp, wooden sticks, they could be used to inflict the true death to smaller, slow-moving vampires at your Halloween party as well.

Regardless of your party’s theme, these tasty chicken skewers are easy, interesting, and incredibly adaptable. As I sometimes do when showing a new technique, I’ve kept this recipe ultra-simple, and only used ranch dressing and hot pepper as my marinade.

I was hoping that as you watched, your mind would be racing with ideas on how to make this already delicious meat-on-a-stick even more amazing. This is the kind of thing you could do a different version for every game of the season, and still not run out of ideas!

The part I hope you follow exactly is how to weave the bacon over the chicken. Using this method, you really get two kind of bacon. The exposed bacon gets beautifully caramelized and crisp, while the meat next to the chicken stays soft and fatty, more like a thin slice of pork belly.

Speaking of thin slices, don’t use extra-thick slab bacon for this. It will not cook before the chicken is overdone. I actually like to use the thinner, extra-lean bacon, as it has just the right about of fat to flavor and moisturize, without starting a raging fire on the grill. Anyway, next time you’re planning a game day tailgate buffet, I hope you give these a try. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 12 Bacon Ranch Chicken Skewers:
12 bamboo skewers
4 large (8-10 oz) boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup ranch dressing
1 tsp hot chili paste or any spicy condiment
12 strips bacon
24 pieces of red onion
salt and pepper to taste
extra ranch dressing to dip

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Halloween Party Food Idea: Cheesy "Severed Fingers"

If you're looking for a mildly disgusting, yet fun and creative Halloween appetizer for an upcoming party, consider these severed fingers made from string cheese. I ran this video a couple years ago, but wanted to repost in case you hadn't seen it before, or just needed a reminder. Don't be on the link below the photo and check it out! Enjoy!

Click here to watch the video and read the post.

Black pudding and lentils

I rarely bother writing about "assembly" dinners (i.e. you take a lot of nice things and cook them and have them on the same plate and that's that) because I reckon you can probably work that kind of stuff out for yourself. But I was moved to write about this farewell dinner my husband made for me on Sunday night before disappearing for another week's filming.

We have in this house, I think, quite an odd diet. We don't eat pasta or potatoes except in emergencies and limit fish to very special occasions.

We also rarely - like, never - eat steak or fillet or any prime cuts of anything. Not even free-range organic stuff. We mostly eat the offcuts - belly, shin, cheeks, wings, beaks, feet, ears etc - to assuage our complex feelings about eating animals. By living off these odds and ends we are not the ones driving intensive farming and the slaughter of animals, (killed primarily for "prime" cuts like steak), we are merely mopping up the leftovers, giving a home to the scrag ends that would otherwise go in the bin.

But then this weekend because we were feeling out of sorts my husband bought from the farmers' market some really properly luxe fillet steak. And it was FUCKING AMAZING. We bought too much and roasted it with half a baked potato each (just to keep our spirits up) a couple of marrow bones and a parsley salad and then had the leftovers in sandwiches the next day.

From the same butcher (Twelve Green Acres, if you are interested) we also bought some fantastic black pudding and my husband made it for dinner on a bed of lentils and popped a coddled egg on top. And it was as nice as the fillet steak - just in a slightly different way.

Black pudding and lentils, by Giles

For 2

2 eggs
100g (dried weight) green lentils
1 onion
salt and pepper
1 or 2 discs (each) of the best-quality black pudding you can get your hands on
oil for frying
(We had some tired tomatoes hanging about so roasted them for 30 mins, but by all means leave them out.)

1 Boil your lentils until very soft - about 25 minutes in salted water.

2 In a frying pan fry the chopped onion gently in oil for about 15 minutes. If you had some chorizo knocking about you could fry a few cubes of that alongside it, but it's not essential. I have not included garlic because my friend Henry, who is a chef, said the other day that he's stopped automatically adding garlic to everything he cooks because he thinks it's lazy and makes everything taste the same. But you are free to add garlic if you fancy it.

3 Add the lentils and heat through. Shift the lentils and onions to one side when done and fry off your discs of black pudding in the same pan to save on washing up.

4 If you have an egg coddler, do two eggs in that. If not, poach if you're able to. If not, just fry the buggers.

5 Assemble your dinner by putting down a layer of lentils, then the black pudding then the egg on top.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Watch Cream Cheese Frosting Being Made and Relax

As promised, here is the cream cheese frosting recipe that co-starred in our red velvet cupcakes video last week. If you’re a regular cake baker, you may be wondering why a video is even necessary for such a simple frosting? I used to think like that.

When I posted the red velvet recipe on YouTube, and teased the fact that I’d show the frosting in a future video, I was instantly met with a huge wave of panicked comments, all having a similar message; something to the effect of, “When the hell is the frosting video being shown? I want it now. I need it now. Give it to me now!”

So, not wanting an angry mob of people waving pitchforks and unfrosted cupcakes in front of my house, I quickly edited the footage and posted it today. This shows that no matter how simple a recipe or technique is, people just feel better and more relaxed about making it, if they can see it being done first.

Anyway, the next time you whip up a carrot cake, or batch of red velvet cupcakes, I hope you give this ultra-simple and delicious frosting recipe a try. Enjoy!

Ingredients for a cake or 12 cupcakes (plus maybe some leftovers):
*Double recipe if you like a thicker layer of frosting.
1/4 cup soft butter
4 oz room temp cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar (or to your taste - start with a cup and go from there)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hello from Washington D.C.!

“The Awakening” by J. Seward Johnson
Just a quick note to let you know that Michele and I are in Washington D.C. this weekend for my niece Brittany’s wedding. Her and her fiancĂ©, Casey, are getting married at the gorgeous National Harbor in Maryland. 

We’ll be back in San Francisco on Monday. Hope you all have a great weekend, and we’ll see you soon!

How to save a stew

There are in my life perhaps five people (not counting immediate family) I would consider to be my friends. I used to have a lot more than that, but over the last few years I have succeeded, both intentionally and accidentally, in shouldering off all but the most hardcore, trusty lot.

These five are my dead prostitute friends: that is, people I would call if I woke up in a hotel in Las Vegas and there was a dead prostitute in my room.

Three of them - Simon, Slang (girl) and MH (boy) - are criminal barristers. Julia Churchill, who often makes cameos on this blog, is a literary agent and Arnold (girl) is a television producer.

Arnold - a master of logistics - would spirit me out of the hotel and get me a fake passport and a rented flat in Havana, the criminal barristers would keep me from the chair if the feds ever came knocking and Julia would secure me a sweet book deal whatever happened.

They are also terrific in non life-or-death situations, too.

For all sorts of  reasons I have been thinking about my DP friends recently and I realise that I've learnt something about friends in the last ten years: it doesn't matter how many you've got. Even if you've only got one: as long as they'll be on the next flight out to Nevada to save your skin, that's all you need.

Speaking of saving things, my husband performed open-heart surgery on the goulash that I had lovingly prepared for him and then BURNT and saved it from the bin.

What happened was this: I made the goulash (q.v.) in the normal way but made it in much too big a pot, so the water bubbled away leaving a trailing mess of burnt pork and peppers.

"Fuck." I said, looking at it.

"No it's fine," said my husband. He scooped out everything except the most burnt stuff, mashed it up in a different, smaller pot, poured over a wineglass of water and then heated it all very gently for about 20 minutes. Then we had it with a lot of buttery macaroni, sour cream and parsley and it was really actually quite nice.

"You can do this with anything that you've burnt a bit," said my husband. "I mean, not completely to a cinder, but the secret is not to disturb the most burnt parts, get out the stuff that isn't burnt and then rehydrate it elsewhere."

So there we go: how to save a stew.

And if you commit any more serious crime than that, in your kitchen or elsewhere, I know some great lawyers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes and My Big Moment on Just Desserts

I don’t make a lot of cupcakes, but since I’ve always been fascinated by the red velvet cake, I decided to try a version based on this venerable American classic. 

I’ve gotten so many requests for cupcakes and red velvet cakes that I figured I’d kill two food wishes with one video. They came out really well, and as I tasted, I actually caught myself daydreaming about being on Top Chef Just Desserts.

I imagined I’d furiously finished frosting these red velvet cupcakes just as time expired (I think the faux-hawked prima donna with the Jacques Torres tattoo next to me hid the cream cheese to screw me over). I bring them up to the judge’s table, and watch as the lovely Gail Simmons takes a big bite. She swallows, smiles, and then says, “Really not that bad for a food blogger.” Okay, so she’s too classy to ever say that, but still, it would be pretty cool.

Anyway, back to reality. I will also post the cream cheese frosting recipe next week, just in case you’re wondering. I joke about the red food coloring in the clip, and it does give the cake such a unique look, but feel free to leave it out if that’s not your thing.

Party season is upon us, and what holiday dessert table wouldn’t benefit from a plate of these classic cupcakes? It would be like Johnny Iuzzini's face without the side burns. In other words, just not as good. I hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 12 Red Velvet Cupcakes:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons softened butter
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon red food coloring
Bake at 350 for about 22 minutes

Sherry and tonic

The more I think about it, the more I think that maybe not doing much cooking recently is only partly to do with anxiety and more to do with the fact that I've run out of things to cook. It's just good old-fashioned lack of inspiration.

Among duty cooks, (i.e. the person in the household who does dinner on dreary weeknights - as opposed to performance cooks, who do nothing for months and then roast beef for 18 for Sunday lunch), this is known as "cooking fatigue". If left unchecked it can go on indefinitely and result in you alternating roast chicken with spaghetti bolognese for 16 years. At which point your children leave home and you eat soup and cheese every night for the next twenty years. Then you go into an old people's home. And I'll leave it there.

My husband has been away filming for the last few days and I traditionally like to welcome him home from these trips away with something nice for dinner. I say I LIKE to welcome him home with something nice for dinner but usually what happens is he comes home to find Kitty with a cold and the kitchen full of fruit flies.

So this time round I want to nail it. But what, what, what to cook? I can't do fish, because there isn't a fishmonger within my reach who has the correct green cred for my husband. Roast chicken is just a massive cop-out, we're always eating bloody curry, ditto my two vegetarian recipes. My latest "special" (yet easy/impressive) thing is slow-roast pork belly, but we've had that about three times in the last month.

While I mull it over, I may help myself to a sherry and tonic, which is my new favourite drink. It's closely related to the Seventies cocktail-hour favourite, white port and tonic, but sherry works just as well.

Next-eldest sister introduced me to this and we've been drinking it ever since. It's milder and sort of fruitier than a gin and tonic, it's a thirst-quencher, it's festive and doesn't get you instantly hammered [insert weary thing about how marvellous getting very hammered very quickly is here].

As documented, I can't drink these days - I just can't do it. And when I say "drink" I mean drink a lot - (and by a lot I mean so that you say slightly ill-advised things at the time, wake up to pee and take nurofen in the night and then feel a bit green the next day). It's a thing I've decided that I used to do when I didn't have anything else to do. Next-eldest said to me once "You can do it all - you can work and have children and go out. But you have to sacrifice getting pissed."

But once Kitty's a-bed and whatever scrabbled-together dinner we're having is on the go it does seem a shame not to have a weeny drinky. And this is the answer.

It's also a terrific, unusual and very practical thing to offer as a cocktail for a party because it looks nice - fizzy tumblers of pale drinky with clattering ice. If you want to be really fucking classy, add a strip of lemon peel.

You can use any sherry you like, fino or manzanilla. (I'm pretty sure they sell all sorts in Waitrose. Only Schwepps Indian tonic water will do.) If you once had fino sherry and found it to taste like pencil shavings, give this a go anyway because the tonic takes the edge off. And if you don't like tonic, well - I give up.

This post was brought to you by the letters S and C and dedicated to my friend Emelie Frid (@emfrid), who loves sherry and who has been having a shit time because her baby isn't well.

By the way, I wish I had post-natal depression, as some of you have thoughtfully pointed out. But alas, I've always been a jumble of nerves for as long as I can remember. I'm feeling much better now, as it happens, and think back to the dark days of the last fortnight with amusement, wondering if maybe I imagined the whole thing.

But I won't think about it too hard. It will only make me anxious.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Country Gravy – Deliciously Dingy and Definitely Diner

This sausage country gravy recipe comes from a time before cooks tried to think of ways to trim a few calories, but rather, thought of ways to sneak more calories into a dish. This was a meal that was meant to fill you up and keep you satisfied for a long time.

In addition to the astronomically high calorie count, another advantage of a milk gravy that’s been thickened with a roux made from the rendered fat of meat scraps, is it’s very cheap. So, when you combine “cheap,” with “filling,” and “delicious,” you have all the makings of a diner classic, which this certainly is.

In a diner, this gravy (also known as sausage gravy or cream gravy) would be made with leftover cooked sausage links and other breakfast meat scrapes like crumbled bacon, or ham ends. Since we’re making ours from scratch, we have the advantage of all that freshly rendered fat to make the light roux.

This method is more authentic and flavorful, but admittedly does nothing to improve the recipe’s dingy color and questionable appearance. Let’s face it, some great recipes are just plain ugly and that’s the way it is. I used a low fat milk, which makes for the dingiest color, but whole milk or cream, if you want this extra rich, do look marginally better.

As I mention in the video, if you’ve eaten this before, and know how shockingly good it can be, the look of the dish never crosses your mind. If this were a blind date, the recipe would be described as being “really fun with an amazing personality.”

As far as serving suggestions go, you can’t miss with fresh baked buttermilk biscuits (even though I used store bought, we have a great recipe, which you can see here), but this is also out-of-this-world on things like country-fried steak, and fried chicken. I really hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

2 tbsp butter
8 oz breakfast sausage
4 strips bacon
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup packed all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne to taste
2 1/2 cups milk, more or less as needed

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Help Choose Our New Food Wishes Logo Design!

I'm very excited to announce that Food Wishes is getting a new logo! This is something I've wanted to do for years, and I'd love to get your opinion on which of these two designs you like better (btw, this is for the basic design only - colors will be explored after the final logo is chosen). So, take a look, then simply click your choice and vote in the poll below the images. Thank you for your help!


Which logo design do you prefer?
 Logo 1: Swirl Design
 Logo 2: Star Design free polls 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Soy-braised tofu with butternut squash

You've got no idea how time-consuming suffering from crippling anxiety is. All the space that I used to occupy is now occupied by anxiety. There is no room for anything else. That is all there is left of me. All I can do is perform tasks to a very basic level and respond by turning my head when someone says my name. But my eyes are glassy. There's very little left of the person at home.

There is a TS Eliot poem, most of which I don't understand, (I don't understand any poetry, let alone anything by TS Eliot), that says something along the lines of this is me and I am here and everything else is not everything else, rather it is simply everything that is NOT me. Well right now everything in the whole world is only a thing in relation to my anxiety.

I went to see the doctor. My husband politely suggested it might be a good idea. I went with one sole aim: to not cry in his office. I had a shower and washed my hair. I put on non-mad clothes. I put plasters on my fingers where I had been attacking my cuticles and they were sore and bleeding. I put blusher on to hide the fact that I hadn't eaten or slept much recently.

But I cried anyway. Because you do. When you're anxious or depressed and you go to the doctor to ask for a referral to get your head examined (again) you cry. It's just the rules.

This is a long way of saying that I haven't been cooking much. When you suffer from chronic anxiety you tend not to be that interested in food. I've never been that bothered about food, just generally, in life, that's why I never learnt to cook until I had to feed a family. Left to my own devices I would (and have) live off McDonalds and pre-prepared macaroni cheese.

But once my anxiety (trembling hands, multiple night-wakings, constricted throat, leaden weight in the chest, nausea, clenched teeth, clearly hearing my child's cry in my head) has dragged on for a week and I have exhausted all permutations of takeaway, baked potatoes, dinners out and things my husband has cooked I have to return to the stove. And once I have run through my entire repertoire and Recipe Rifle hasn't been updated for nearly three weeks, it's time to hit The File.

The File is a stained purple cardboard file in which I occasionally shove torn-out recipes I mean to test out. Except that I don't always put the torn-out recipes in The File because I quite often lose The File and so shove the torn-out recipe somewhere else and then lose them.

So when I turn to The File, there is often not much interesting in there and always five or so recipes that I know I am never going to try (twice-baked souffle? Sorry, Xanthe Clay, can't be arsed) but am too superstitious to throw out.

Anyway this time I thought it would just pick something at random and cook it. It happened to be soy-braised tofu and butternut squash with spinach.

And it goes something like this:

For 4

1 pack cauldron tofu from Waitrose, about 350g
1 butternut squash
2 star anise
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
250g spinach OR some baby bok choi
1 red chilli, sliced
500ml water

1 Peel and chop up your bastard butternut squash. I have had such bad experiences with butternut squash remaining rock hard after several days' sauteeing that I nuked this fucker in the microwave for about 5 mins before cooking. I advise you do the same. (Chop, place in plastic container with 2 tbsp water. Balance a lid on at a jaunty angle. Toy for the 500th time with putting something metal in there too, just to see what happens. Reject idea, despite living very near a fire station. Press 5 min and hit Go.)

2 Get tofu out and stick it between two chopping boards and then put something heavy on the top to squish all the water out. Leave it for about 15 mins then dice into 3cm-ish cubes.

3 Fry off the tofu in oil and set to one side. Then sautee your butternut squash for 10 minutes (which will be enough if it has been prepped in the m/w).

4 Throw over the squash the ginger, soy, star anise (which I personally don't like, but works fine here so any haters can approach with confidence), sugar and water and the tofu and boil all this briskly for about 15 minutes. The sauce ought to reduce to a syrupy consistency and the squash out to have relaxed but not be complete mush.

5 Take off the heat, add the spinach/bok choi, sprinkle over the red chilli and serve.

Giles loved this but I wasn't that crazy about it so I wouldn't bother with it if I were you.

Go to McDonald's instead.

Miso Maple-Glazed Salmon – Canadian Japanese Fusion Cuisine at its Finest

While Canadian Japanese fusion cuisine may not actually be the most popular dining trend right now, this tasty combination of cultures suggests maybe we should explore this further. The salty and very savory miso paste is a perfect match for the sweet Canadian sap. The rice vinegar marries the two, and a few drops of hot sauce are all you need to complete this incredibly easy, yet sophisticated preparation.

Cooking fish this way is virtually foolproof, and will take less than 15 minutes start to finish. As you’ll see, by searing the fish briefly in the pan before going under the broiler, the filets will cook much faster and more evenly. This is the perfect recipe for beginners to get over their fear of cooking fish, and will work with a wide array of seafood.

Below you’ll note that I’m encouraging you to taste and adjust the ingredient ratios. Keep in mind that the glaze should taste fairly intense, since you are counting on such a thin layer on the surface to flavor the whole filet. This is one of those things that doesn’t necessarily taste great by itself, but once caramelized on the salmon, really is amazing.

By the way, just because my maple syrup was from Canada doesn’t mean you can’t substitute something from New England. Japanese-New English fusion cuisine is very similar. Enjoy!

For the glaze (make enough for 1 large rounded tablespoon per piece of fish):
1 part yellow miso paste
1 part seasoned rice vinegar
1 part real maple syrup
hot sauce to taste
*you should taste and adjust these proportions to your liking

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Perfect Time for Pumpkin Pancakes

A friend sent me a nice note recently that his wife had made these pumpkin pancakes for dinner, and that they were thoroughly enjoyed by all. I always appreciate those kinds of messages, especially since they often serve as a reminder for doing seasonally appropriate recipe re-posts.

This was the week pumpkin made its yearly appearance into my life. On restaurant menus, on television, in store windows, on neighbors’ steps, and all over our living room…and dining room…and kitchen…and, well, you get the idea. So, to celebrate the beloved American gourd, I decided to rerun this tasty winter treat. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Root Vegetable Gratin – Notes from the Underground

[I hope you enjoyed our first and last Dostoevsky reference] Whenever I see those big piles of rutabagas at the market, I always think to myself, “who the heck is eating all these root vegetables?” 

I understand that there’ve been times when we literally had no choice – it was either gnaw on a parsnip or perish, but nowadays with so many other delicious choices, why would anyone eat root vegetables on purpose? Has anyone ever stumbled out of a smoky dorm room late at night, in search of a big plate of steamed turnips? Probably not. 

So, while you’ll never catch me boiling up a batch of these fugly roots to enjoy their intoxicating sulphurous savoriness, I have been known to tolerate them in the occasional gratin.

Of course, I cheated and added some potatoes to mellow things out, but still, all kidding aside, this is a very delicious and enjoyable way to eat them, and would make a fantastic side dish for the holidays. And yes, I do know that potatoes are tubers and not roots, so save your emails. Enjoy!

1 turnip
1 rutabaga
1 small celery root
2 yukon gold potatotes
1 parsnip
* root vegetable sizes and shapes vary, but bottom line, you’ll need enough to fill a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish up 3/4 of the way
salt to taste (be sure to generously salt the boiling water!)
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
3 cloves minced garlic
1 cup cream
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cayenne
1 tbsp fresh picked thyme leaves
1 1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Stump a Chef" with Average Betty

One reason I don’t interview celebrity chefs is because I feel so sorry for them. I can’t imagine having to answer those same inane questions, over and over. And that’s from the real food journalists; imagine how brutal us bloggers’ questions are.

However, there is one interviewer that does things a little differently; my buddy, Average Betty. Here she is at the Los Angeles Times and Food & Wine “The Taste,” breaking the modern record for most chefs stumped in 5 minutes or less. You can see her full post on the event here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Classic Slow Cooker Beef Pot Roast – What's Next? A Jell-o Mold?

I’m not sure why I’ve always had such a bad attitude towards slow cookers. It does a great job turning out delicious braised dishes like this “7-bone” beef pot roast, it’s efficient, and could not be easier to use. So, then why have I used my crock pot fewer times over the last decade than ice skates? By the way, I don’t ice skate.

It probably has something to do with going to culinary school, and judging everything from the point of view of the professional kitchen. They’re certainly not something you learn about at a cooking academy, or see in the back of a restaurant, and are generally associated with the dreaded, “housewife cooking.” This is the same reason we can’t serve jell-o molds.

There’s no chef slur quite as hurtful as having your food called “housewifey,” which is ironic since most of us were first taught about food and cooking by housewives. I’ll have to work through these deep seated slow cooker issues with my therapist, but in the meantime I will say that I’m glad I dusted off the old crock pot and used it for this succulent pot roast.

The real secret here is making sure you sear the meat before the long, slow braising. The slow cooker does a great job of cooking the meat, but unless you brown the beef thoroughly beforehand, you’re missing out on a lot of flavor. I hope this entices you to drag out your crock pot, and get your housewife on soon. Enjoy!

2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
AP flour as needed
1 “7-bone” beef pot roast (about 5 pounds)
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 carrots, cut in chunks
2 ribs celery, cut in chunks
a few springs of rosemary and thyme
*Cook in slow cooker on high for 5-6 hours, or on low setting for 8-10 hours

Monday, October 3, 2011

Slow Cooker Tips for Dummies

I'm going to be posting a recipe for slow cooker beef pot roast tomorrow, and in anticipation I was checking out a few related videos on YouTube. I've always assumed the people who write those "For Dummies" books must be really smart, but based on this, I may have to reconsider.

It's been a long while since I posted a video just to poke fun at it, but I couldn't resist. Just for fun, see how many strange, disturbing, wrong, and/or crazy things you see and hear in this offering from (btw, the glass cutting board doesn't count). Enjoy!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Grilled Calabrian Chicken – A Deliciously Stubborn Hen

When I told Michele I was making a grilled chicken recipe using a jar of chilies from Calabria, she said, “Well, you’ll have to call it stubborn chicken then!” We both laughed. You see, when Michele first met my father, John, he asked her what part of Italy her family was from. When she answered, “Calabria,” he said, “Oh, so you’re really stubborn.”

Michele laughed, and agreed that she was, but asked what that had to do with being Calabrian. My father explained that where he was from, “Calabrese” was jokingly used as a term for a stubborn person, apparently stemming from an inappropriate, yet possibly accurate stereotype.

Far from being insulted, Michele embraced this revelation, and it’s been a source of pride ever since. I know, that’s so Calabrese. Anyway, now that I’ve taken three paragraphs to explain the inside joke with the title, I can finally get to this recipe.

When we first posted our Cornell Chicken recipe, I mentioned wanting to try the same method using different herbs and spices. When I saw a jar of Tutto Calabria chili peppers on a recent shopping trip, I remembered that, and decided to give this a whirl. It was great! Here's a link to their homepage, in case you want more information on this cool hot product (btw, you'll need to be able to read Italian). 

You should be able to find some at your friendly, local gourmet shop, but if not, it's not hard to get online. It’s similar to Sambal, and other crushed chili pastes, so if you can’t get it, don’t worry, and just substitute with whatever you find. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

2 chicken halves, or 2 spatchcocked game hens
1 -2 tablespoons Calabrian crushed chilies
2 tbsp rosemary leaves
2 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp orange juice
1 anchovy filet
1 cup white wine (or plain) vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
1 egg
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 1/4 tsp fine salt)