Monday, February 23, 2009

cute puppy interlude #1



Holey Swiss Cheese Batman, on my Onion Soup!

Let's face it, nowadays it's easy to find recipes for just about anything. So when we had leftover, now flat, champagne, a 3lb bag of onions and some stew beef in the freezer it would have been all too easy to make something like this . But where is the fun in that? One of the joys of cooking, at least for me, is the feeling of adventure (have you read the blog title?) and creativity. Besides, we had beef but no beef stock and yes I could have bought some, but in the interest of being thrifty I decided to strike out on my own and create something that at least closely resembled French Onion soup. Here's what I did:

For Soup:
.5lb Stew Beef
2lb Onions
1 Stalk Celery
1/2 Stick Butter
2 tsp Dry Thyme
1 Bay leaf
2 tsp Salt
1 Tbs Flour
4 c. Water
1/2-3/4 c. Dry white wine or flat Champagne

For Garnish:
1 Baguette (Thickly sliced, the more stale the better)
Cheese (Usually Gruyere, Emmental, or Cantal, are used)

Slice all your onions and celery, however thick or thin you like, remember they have to fit on a spoon. Try not to cry (I failed this step). Set aside. Get a big pot out, at least an 8qt. Add a smidge of oil to the bottom, set to med-hi heat and throw in beef chunks to sear. You don't want to cook them, just get them nice and crisp on all sides. When this has happened take out beef and set it aside. Turn the heat down to med and add butter, thyme, and salt. Let the butter melt without burning it and then throw in your onions and celery. Stir them around so they are coated in butter mix. Take a moment to inhale deeply and smile. Onions and thyme are like rainbows and sunshine for you nose. Cook down onions slowly till they begin to turn brown. Ok, here comes the kinda tricky part. You know that tablespoon of flour this recipe calls for? Well you need it to make a roux. This is actually the main reason you used such a big pot. Push onions to the sides of the pot and slowly add your flour to the butter on the bottom while stirring constantly. Alternatively you can melt a little more butter in a bowl in the microwave, mix the flour in and then pour this on top of your onions. (A little extra butter never hurt anyone, right?) At this point you have a choice. You can transfer the onions and the beef you have set aside into a crock pot, add the water, champagne and bay leaf and let it cook on low all day (this is what I did because I had to go to work) Or you can add the beef, liquid, and bay leaf directly to your onion pot, turn down the heat and simmer until the beef is done and everything is a nice golden brown color. It's really just a matter of preference/how much clean up you want to have later.

When you are ready to serve your oh-so-wonderful soup get some bowls that can withstand broiler heat and ladle your soup into them. Top bowls with a slice of your crusty bread and sprinkle the whole thing with a generous amount of cheese. Put bowls on a cookie sheet and set them under the broiler. When the cheese gets nice and bubbly take them out and enjoy! Oven warning: all broilers/ovens are different, I would crack the door a bit and watch the bowls because it probably wont take more than a minute or so for the cheese to melt and seconds after that the whole thing is burnt and you have ruined all your hard work!

So there you have it, French Onion soup made without beef stock but with beef actually in it. It may not be perfectly traditional but it still tasted oh so sweet ;)

Aw nuts, not granola!

Homemade granola is simple and delicious. And now you have no excuses! It's easy to scale this recipe up or down for what you need-- a half batch makes enough for two people for a few weeks. Humidity disclaimer: like the biscotti, granola won't get crunchy if it's too humid. (No pictures today, sorry!)

The Basics:
5 cups rolled oats (NOT quick-cooking)
1/2 c. canola oil
1/3 c. honey (or maple syrup)

Fancy-Pants Additions:
3/4 c. nuts of your choice, chopped (pecans are excellent, as are walnuts, almonds, can't really go wrong here)
dash or two of cinnamon
small dash cardamom
1 t. vanilla or almond extract
2 T. flax seeds (you can't taste 'em but they're good for you!)
3/4 c. dried fruit (ideas: raisins, cranberries, apricots, apple, prunes)

Preheat oven to 350F. Stir together everything EXCEPT the dried fruit. Don't be tempted to use your hands; it's super sticky. Add more nuts, because if you're like me you'll eat them out of the granola as it cools. Maybe a bit more cinnamon too, what the heck. (I've also been known to lightly coat a handful of extra pecans in oil and honey and cinnamon and bake them alongside the granola; voilà, candied pecans!)

Spread on two greased cookie sheets in an even layer--no more than 1/2 inch deep. Place in oven on center rack and set the timer for 5 minutes. When it goes off, take the trays out and stir gently but thoroughly-- make sure all the oats get moved around so they don't stick. Back into the oven for another 5 minutes. Stir. Repeat 2-3 times. Don't be tempted to set the timer for longer than 5 minutes because the granola doesn't cook linearly-- it cooks slowly for a while (15-30 minutes, depending on your cookie sheet and the humidity) and then browns (and burns!) very suddenly towards the end. A good indicator is it starts to smell heavenly when it's almost done.

Remove from the oven when it's golden brown and stir again. [Turn the oven off.] As the granola cools on the cookie sheets, stir it every 10-15 minutes to avoid serious sticking. When it's completely cool, add the dried fruit and store in an airtight jar. Our favorite breakfast around here is plain yogurt with blackberries and granola, yum!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sausage, spinach pasta

So no pictures on this one because the camera still needs batteries but dinner tonight was simple, tasty and worth sharing. I was feeling lazy and there isn't a whole lot in the way of groceries. I wanted more than just a box of Annie's so I started looking for ways to spice it up and get some more nutrition out of the meal. The following is what I came up with.

1 Box Organic Shells & White Cheddar Annie's
1 Small Onion
1 Fist full of Spinach
2 oz Ground Sausage

Cook pasta according to directions. While that's going dice the onion and cook over medium heat for about 5 mins. Throw sausage and spinach in with onions and continue cooking until spinach is wilted, onions are glassy, and sausage is done. Use some pasta water to make the sauce for the pasta and mix it in with the meat and veggies, then throw the pasta on top of it all and enjoy! I also threw a dash of creamy yogurt on top of mine for some added tangyness. Try it. And yes Dad-the-meat-man, I made something with meat for dinner. It was organic sausage and it was oh so wonderful.-Love you

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Butternutty Bisque

We had a butternut and some cream... and Epicurious decided that I should make this:

They were so right. My alterations:
  • Our butternut was probably only about 3 lbs, so
  • I only roasted one bulb of garlic. And we didn't have any foil so I just put it in an oiled casserole dish with a lid-- it worked great.
  • I baked the butternut (in the oven with the garlic) instead of peeling and boiling it, then just scooped it out of the skin to blend with the other ingredients.
  • I used homemade chicken stock instead of canned, naturally.
  • Instead of fresh thyme I used 2 tsp dried, and
  • added a tsp or two of cayenne for kick.
Some of the reviewers on Epicurious mentioned that the soup doesn't need the cream, and they're right. I had one bowl of it cream-less right after I made it, but then added it to the leftovers because it needed to get used. Either way, it's delicious! Fairly easy too; the oven does most of the work.

P.S. I swear all of the post titles won't have "nutty" in them. But I couldn't resist this one...

Nutty Biscotti

Over the weekend I had a hankering to bake, and since we already had three kinds of cookies (more on those later perhaps) and two loaves of bread in the freezer I decided on biscotti. The recipe came from my mother, and I think she got it from Whole Foods, back when the one near us was still called Wellspring. You can use almonds or hazelnuts (or even leave the nuts out), or chocolate chips or whatever strikes your fancy. Climate warning: If you are making biscotti in the summer or anywhere humid, they may never fully harden. They still taste great though!

Biscotti di Prato
2 c. AP flour
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
3 eggs (or 6 egg whites)
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract (orange might be good too)
1- 1 1/2 c. whole hazelnuts or almonds, untoasted

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine flour, sugar and leavenings in small bowl. Whisk together eggs and extracts, then add dry ingredients. Mix to form a stiff and sticky dough. Knead or stir in nuts.

With floured or oiled hands, form dough into two long longs, 1-2 inches in diameter. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 20 minutes, or until logs are golden and firm. Remove from oven and immediately slide onto a cutting board. Slice on the diagonal into 1 inch-wide pieces.

Spread pieces on baking sheet again and return to oven for 5-7 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on racks. They will harden as they cool. Store in an airtight jar and enjoy with coffee or tea.