Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's beginning to look like...Halloween! (and Carrot Ginger Soup)

I know, I know. It's not even October yet. You're probably thinking I'm some Halloween freak who already has my house, yard, and bathrooms decorated. And you'd be right.

Now that that's out of the way...let's talk carrot ginger soup. Why do I think of soup when it comes to Halloween, you ask? Well here's where I pour you some sparkling apple cider (alcoholic at my house) and pull you up a chair. Several years ago, Kris and I got a bug up our bottoms to leave San Francisco and head for the midwest. The promise of having a 'normal life' or at least something more like what we had growing up in Texas - i.e. a house and a yard and a mortgage - made us glaze over with excitement, shunning the naysayers who said "Fargo?"

So off we went, buying a 1905 Victorian house near Lake Calhoun. Our first fall there was the first 'real' fall Kris and I had ever had. Leaves turned into orange confetti and fluttered through the air like a scene from Charlie Brown. Mittens were broken out by October 1st along with hats and snow boots and I thought I was living in the middle of an after school special.

About that time, a friend told me how it was a tradition in the Minnesota neighborhood where she grew up to give kids soup after trick or treating. At first it sounded weird to me (who wants soup when you have a bag of candy?) but when Halloween came around, I got it. It was damn freezing out and most kids actually had to flash their Halloween costumes at us like miniature perverts because it was already so cold out they were hidden under huge down coats! Of COURSE they'd want a bowl of hot soup once they were finished pounding the freezing pavement all night for a sugar high - probably along with a blanket and a nip of brandy...or hot chocolate.

Hearing this tradition made me want to raise 10 kids in the freezing midwest just so I could partake in it. But then second winter came hitting negative 5 degrees before Thanksgiving and I changed my mind (though I could brine a whole turkey in a bucket on the back mud porch - loved that!)

Anyhow, that's why I think of soup at Halloween. And what soup could be more perfect than one that's this color?

Carrot Ginger Soup
Makes 6 servings.

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) salted butter
1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (use a 1 inch knob for more ginger flavor)
3 shallots, chopped medium dice
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 pounds carrots, cleaned, ends removed and sliced into thin coins
1/4 teaspoon coriander
pinch kosher salt
pinch fresh cracked pepper
4 cups (32 oz box) low sodium chicken stock

Add the butter to a large dutch oven and put over medium heat. Once melted, add the ginger, shallots, and garlic. Saute, stirring often, until the shallots are translucent, lowering the heat a little if at any point the garlic begins to brown or crisp. Add the carrots and coriander, salt, and pepper, and saute for 20 minutes - until the carrots have softened and the begun to brown along the bottom of the pan. Raise the heat to high and pour in the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, give a good stir to ensure nothing's stuck to the bottom of the pan, then lower the heat so that the soup is just simmering with the lid closed - not hot popping mad boiling. Let simmer for 30 minutes, then kill the heat and move the pot to a cool burner and let cool for another 30 minutes.

Use a ladle to add, in batches, to a blender or food processor. Once all blended, return to the pot over low heat, if eating right away to heat through, taste for salt and pepper and make any last minute adjustments before serving.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Broken Spoke Pork Chops

These have no official affiliation with The Broken Spoke other than I had just come back from a late night there seeing Mr. Dale Watson with friends when I remembered we had gone to Central Market that day and bought some delicious fat and juicy pork chops. Sensing I might be hungover the next morning (who, me?), I decided there was no time like the present (3 am) to go about marinating them.

I went with my gut throwing things in the marinade that sounded good to me at that hour. Luckily those things actually tasted good the next night when we came back from the lake - starving - and threw them on the grill.

And that's the story of how these became the Broken Spoke Pork Chops. Good night. (PS - rude super huss waitress who yelled at us to leave while Dale was graciously chatting with us - you have a fat granny ass. Night y'all;)

Broken Spoke Pork Chops

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped (no need to peel)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, rubbed between your fingers
4 small dried (Turkish) bay leaves, crumbled up with your fingers
Juice of 2 limes, reserving the bodies to cut up roughly and add to marinade
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
Good pinch red pepper flakes
Couple grinds of fresh black pepper
Fat sprig of fresh basil
2-4 bone in, healthy pork chops

Add the olive oil, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, lime juice and chopped spent limes, salt, red pepper and black pepper, and basil to a large ziploc or sealing marinade bag. Close and smush everything around until well combined then immerse the chops in the marinade, turning over several times to be sure they're well coated. Refrigerate overnight - remove one hour before grilling to let the chill come off. Grill at medium/high heat for 4-5 minutes per side - depending on thickness. Remove and cover with foil to let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Italian Pepperoncini Beef for Lots and Lots of Sandwiches.

This is one of those recipes that is so simple your first instinct is to just skip it altogether or try and give it some jazz hands. But you'd be crazy to do either. It's perfect just the way it is.

It makes a TON so it's ideal for laid back parties (my favorite kind) or for when you want something you can make a lot of meals out of during the week when you're really busy.

A few years ago we had house guests staying with us and they went through the whole batch in one day while Kris and I were at work. Needless to say I don't recommend eating it all in one sitting unless you want to volunteer for a meat sweats study, but this will keep in the fridge for up to five days to make sandwiches out of. Go for the best quality sourdough rolls you can get your hands on and don't forget to toast them. Sourdough + Italian Beef + Melted Provolone = Mama Mia!

Italian Beef, For Sandwiches
* From Charlotte Wixom.
* You can adjust the heat if serving to kids. I.E. only use half the jar of pepperoncini and juice and add 1/2 cup of water or beer to the crock pot make up for the moisture.

1 (3-4 lb) beef roast (sirloin, shoulder or rump)
2 (1 oz each) packages dry Italian dressing mix (Good Seasons brand)
1 (16 oz) jar pepperoncini peppers, whole or sliced
Slow Cooker
Provolone slices, for sandwiches
Sourdough rolls or buns, toasted, for sandwiches

Rinse the beef off with cold water and pat dry. Add the beef to your crock pot then sprinkle the packets of seasoning over and pour the jar of peppers - with the juice - all over and around the meat.

Put the top on and cook on low for about 10 hours or until the meat shreds easily with a fork. (You could also start this in the morning for the first two hours on high, then put on low for the remainder of the day if making for a party that night.) Once the meat pulls apart easily, let it cool for 20 minutes before shredding with two forks. If using whole pepperoncini, remove the stems and slice them up a little if desired.

Serve the meat on toasted sourdough rolls with slices of provolone cheese.

Let cool before storing leftovers. Leftovers should keep for up to 5 days in the fridge well sealed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pioneer Woman's Mac and Cheese

I have to admit, I was so excited about The Pioneer Woman's show premiering on Food Network that the first episode was a massive letdown. It wasn't the show's fault. It's just because I had built my expectations up to epic Ed McMahon knocking on my door or waking up to double D's.

Now that the initial disappointment has passed I am utterly hooked. How could you not be? I mean it's too good to be true (full disclosure - part of me still believes PW is a fictional creation of the media. Home schooling 4 kids while maintaining the most popular food blog of all time AND writing cookbooks AND making your family dinner every night while professionally photographing it AND looking cute as all get out... Self doubt, anyone?)

Anyway it prompted me to make her mac and cheese for my most recent family gathering. I get a little giddy when I get to make an old fashioned recipe that can feed an army. My nephews and niece are all over 5'7" and they're all under 17 (I'm 5'4" on a tall day) so they can MOW THROUGH SOME FOOD. And I love it.

Cheers to family. And to old fashioned recipes. And to the pioneer woman.

Pioneer Woman's Macaroni and Cheese
* mildly adapted
Prep Time: 15 Minutes | Cook Time: 15 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 8 as a meal, 12-14 as a side dish

4 cups Dried Macaroni (1 lb box)
1 whole Egg, beaten
1/4 cup (1/2 Stick Or 4 Tablespoons) Butter
1/4 cup All-purpose Flour
2-1/2 cups Whole Milk
3 teaspoons Dry Mustard
1 pound sharp cheddar Cheese, Freshly Grated if possible
3/4 teaspoon Salt, More To Taste
1/2 teaspoon Seasoned Salt (OLD BAY is what I use)
1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
pinch fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Cook macaroni until very firm. Macaroni should be too firm to eat right out of the pot. Drain.

In a small bowl, beat egg.

In a large pot, melt butter and sprinkle in flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat. Cook mixture for five minutes, whisking constantly. DO NOT LET IT BURN.

Pour in milk, add mustard, and whisk until smooth. Cook for five minutes until very thick, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low.

Take 1/4 cup of the sauce and slowly pour it into beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid cooking eggs. Whisk together till smooth.

Pour egg mixture into sauce, whisking constantly. Stir until smooth. Add in all the cheese besides a half cup and stir to melt. Add salt, seasoned salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Taste sauce and add more salt and/or seasoned salt as needed. DO NOT UNDER SALT. Pour in drained, cooked macaroni and stir to combine. Serve immediately (very creamy) or pour into a buttered baking dish, top with extra cheese, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Smoked Tomato, Goat Cheese, and Sausage Pasta

The other day I was going through my cabinets when I came across a stove top smoker, still in the box. Oops. I'd bought it over two years ago never used it. I happened to have Roma tomatoes on hand and the next thing I knew I was drizzling them with red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and smoking them.

I let them go for a few hours until they were halfway to the 'sun dried' phase - wilted but not completely shrunken - then tossed them with olive oil, fennel seeds, garlic powder, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes.

At this point I knew I had something special on my hands. Part of me wanted to hoard them in a jar in the fridge but hunger got the best of me and soon I was mixing them into pasta. If I die right now I'll feel like I accomplished something. These tomatoes are that good - rich, smokey and sweet. A haunting combo. They would also make a fantastic appetizer stuffed with a little goat cheese and fresh thyme...but I digress.

If you don't happen to suffer from my gadget affliction and own a stove top smoker, no matter. That can be solved in a matter of seconds. Do it.... DO it....

I can't wait to experiment with what to smoke next!

Smoked Roma Tomatoes, for Pasta, Appetizers, or Anytime
6 Roma tomatoes, cut in half, length-wise
Red wine vinegar, for drizzling
salt and pepper

Place your stovetop smoker on a gas burner. Add a pinch of cherry wood chips to the center then place the rack inside. Scatter the tomatoes over the rack, cut side up, then lightly drizzle them with red wine vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Shut the top leaving a half inch crack and set the heat to medium. As soon as you see smoke coming from the crack, shut the top all the way and smoke the tomatoes for four hours, checking on them every half an hour or so after the first hour to make sure you don't need to adjust the heat. (If it's blackening too quickly, lower the heat, if not much is happening after the first hour, raise it a little.)

After four hours, the tomatoes should be thoroughly shrunken and be about half the size they were, but not withered to the sun dried phase. Remove them from the smoker with tongs and toss with the following in a glass or plastic lidded container:

1/4 teaspoon thyme, rubbed between your fingers
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Couple dashes garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 large bay leaf or two small
2 tablespoons olive oil

Set aside until ready to use or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days. To make the pasta, continue to the following recipe:

Pasta with Smoky Tomato Sauce, Turkey Sausage, and Goat Cheese
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1.1 pounds turkey sausage, removed from casing and broken up with your fingers or wooden spoon in the pan
3/4 pound whole wheat pasta (rotini, penne, or whatever you like)
1 cup pasta water (use 1/2 cup to deglaze the sausage/onions in pan, plus as much as needed afterwards to help the goat cheese meld into the sauce)
3 oz goat cheese
3 tablespoons Parmesan, plus additional for garnish
2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves plus additional sprigs for garnish

Add the butter to a medium/large dutch oven and put over medium heat. Add the onion, season with a good pinch salt and pepper and saute, stirring occasionally until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage and break up with your spoon as you cook it through - about 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add in a handful of kosher salt, return to a boil then add your pasta and cook until JUST al dente, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water to your onions and sausage to 'deglaze' the pan and help you scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then use a spider to add the cooked pasta to the pan. Mix well then toss in the goat cheese, parmesan, and thyme leaves. Give a good stir to melt and break up the goat cheese, adding a splash or so of the reserved pasta liquid to help things get along, then add in your smoked tomatoes (and all the oil and seasonings.) Stir again (tomatoes will break up which is fine) and check the consistency to see if you want to add more pasta water to make it more moist and taste for seasoning. Add any salt and pepper if necessary and serve in heaping bowls garnished with sprigs of fresh thyme.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lauren's Pan Roasted Shishito Peppers. Let the party begin.

The only thing more fun than cooking is cooking with a friend that loves to cook as much as you do while another friend whips up margaritas. I was lucky enough to experience all of the above this past Labor Day weekend with our dear friends from New York. We had come back from a day on the lake (witnessing the horrific fires at Steiner Ranch), we were starving and attempting cooking on the Big Green Egg for the first time ever.

Things could have (and almost did) go horribly wrong. But then Lauren whipped up these amazing pan roasted peppers, sprinkled sea salt on them, and all was well. Three ingredients and ten minutes is all you need to create the most addictive, delicious appetizer I've ever eaten. And while generally mild, like any pepper you never really know what you're going to get which only adds to the fun of eating them. Every couple of minutes somebody yells "I got a hot one!"

Lauren's Pan Roasted Shishito Peppers

15-20 shishito or padron peppers, rinsed and pat dry
1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
flaky sea salt - a good pinch or so to taste
1 large rimmed nonstick or cast iron skillet

Put the skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and let heat through for one minute. Add the peppers and saute, flipping every couple of minutes until the sides become just blistered and deeply bronzed. You still want some green on them so don't let them completely blacken - just get some good color on them.

Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle immediately with flaky sea salt. Serve hot (though they're still good at room temp or even cold.)