Saturday, October 30, 2010

Robert Redford Cupcakes

Over at the Greasy Skillet, Muddy is embracing his inner Paul Giamatti, and thinking about the burden of glamor that the more photogenic Bradley Pitt must bear. I hear where he's coming from. I could watch a movie where Giamatti stands in line at the bank for two hours.

Been making a lot of working class, unglamorous soups lately. Meals that seem intended to be sipped from the cup of a Thermos, sitting on the back of a pickup tailgate or even better, many stories up in the air on an I-beam during your 15 minute lunch break. No fine china or linen table clothes with these meals. Just a sip from the Thermos, and then wipe your mouth with the sleeve of your Carhart jacket.

Form vs function ... can't be all of one with none of the other, but there's no clear mathematical formula to determine how much of one, how little of the other you should have.

What's funny is, it's easy to dismiss things for being "pretty." Like maybe Bradley Pitt. But it's not his fault that ShowBizWeekly puts him on the cover every week, and what exactly do the bio-metrics of his facial features have to do with the construction work he's doing in the 9th Ward? Besides, pretending to not care about fashion and style is one of the lamest conceits out there. After all, Wrangler and Carhart and Cinch all put their logos on their clothes, and no-nonsense working types check each other out for the "right" kind of clothes, tools, pick-ups, you name it.

With that in mind, we present the Robert Redford cupcake. Named after Robert Redford because it might be all pretty on the outside*, like maybe Hubbell Gardiner, but there's still some Jeremiah Johnson in there, with it's whole wheat flour and hearty fruits and nuts.

* or would be, if someone with a steadier hand than mine did the icing.

Banana-Pecan Cupcakes, aka the Robert Redford Cupcake.
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, preferably King Arthur White Whole Wheat
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
6 bananas, very ripe and mashed
¾ cup buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup unsalted butter at room temp
1 ½ cups brown sugar
3 large eggs (room temp)
1 cup pecans, toasted and coursely chopped

Heat the oven to 350º. Line muffin tins with paper liners. In one bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a second bowl, mix the bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla.

In a third bowl, mix the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on med-high until creamed. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat until completely incorporated.

Turn down the mixer to low and add the flour mixture and banana mixture in alternating batches, about a cup of each at a time. Mix until just combined, then add the pecans and gently stir until uniformly distributed.

Fill the lined cups about three-quarters full and bake for about 20 minutes. You can test with a toothpick. Cook before removing from the pans.

Makes about a billion, or at least two dozen.

Icing: Standard vanilla buttercream from Mark Bittman's iPhone app.

4 Tbs butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 Tbs cream or milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream butter, work in sugar, drip in the milk, keep beating, stir in the vanilla.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fall Salads

Basic apple / spinach

1 Honey-crisp apples, cored, cut into large dice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 package (8 cups) baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries

Toss apples with 1 Tbs of the lemon juice. Place spinach in a large bowl; remove long stems and bruised leaves. Whisk together remaining juice, olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt, and ground pepper to taste. Toss spinach with apples and dressing. . Top with cheese and walnuts.

Fennel and Apple Salad with Cider Vinaigrette

1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider or apple juice
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tsp honey or agave nectar
1 large honey-crisp apple, cored, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced
2 cups arugula
1/4 cup pecans, toasted
Optional: dried cranberries or cherries

Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend; season dressing with salt and pepper. Combine apple, fennel and arugula in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Mound salad on 4 plates; sprinkle with pecans.

On the right: Kitchen Sink Frittata

Potato Chowdah and Cheddar Biscuits

Falls here ... so you know what that means ...

Potato Chowder with lots of Root Veggies and (of course) Bacon
from Bon Appétit, Oct 2003

2 bacon slices, chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
3 medium leeks, thinly sliced (white parts and up to about an inch past where it starts to turn green)
1 pound parsnips, peeled, ¼ inch dice
2-3 medium carrots, peeled, ¼ inch dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tsp dried thyme
1 ½ pounds potatoes, 1/2-inch dice
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
3 cups milk (some whole, some half-n-half, whatever you got)
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, plus or minus enough to get the consistency you want

2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

Cook bacon in large pot (or my personal fave, the Dutch oven) over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels. If you have a lot of burnt bits stuck to the pan, deglaze with a few Tbs of broth.

Add oil to drippings in same pot; warm up for a minute or so. Add leeks; sauté until tender but not brown, about 7 minutes. Add parsnips, carrots, garlic, and thyme; sauté 5 minutes. Again, deglaze if necessary with a few Tbs of broth.

Stir in potatoes, then flour; stir 1 minute to coat.

Gradually add milk and 3 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender and soup thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made a day ahead. Cover and chill bacon. Cool chowder slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing, thinning with more broth, if desired.)

Stir bacon into chowder. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with parsley; serve.

Cheddar Biscuits

Bowl #1:
2.5 cups flour (either all all-purpose, or a mix of white and whole wheat)
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cubed as small as possible
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

(Hint: freeze the butter while you're getting everything else ready. Cold, cold, cold butter cuts into the flour more easily.)

Whisk all of the dry together and cut in the butter with a fork, pastry blender, or food processor. Add the cheese.

Bowl #2
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

Beat the egg, mix in the buttermilk.
(Optional, for extra-rich biscuits, add 1-2 Tbs of melted butter.)

Head the oven to 450º. Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper.

Slowly stir the dry into the wet, just until incorporated. Scoop about ¼ cup balls of dough and space two inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until the tops start to brown.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chupacabra Soup

This isn't quite a non-recipe, in the sense that you can pretty much substitute anything you want in any quantity and it'll still turn out basically the same.

But it is a highly negotiable one, with a lot of options in the meat vs vegan, bean, and chile departments.

Chupacabra might be a bit hard to find in your local grocer's meat department, since one has never actually been caught, at least as far as the USDA and FDA know. But I think the combination of shredded chicken with two cups of Dynamite chile peppers tastes about the same.

(Truth in lending here: I have no idea what a Dynamite chile pepper is. That's all they had left at this little mom and pop farmer's market I just found. Looks like an Anaheim, but I'm assuming from the name it's a wee bit hotter. Yeah, I know ... I was born at night, but not last night ... didn't just fall off the tuna truck, ya know.)

The basic recipe goes like this: shredded chicken plus beans plus a veggie combo of onions and chiles with or without tomatoes plus broth equals soup.

  • Rotisserie chicken works great here, assuming you can't round up a chupacabra.
  • Made the last batch with half boiled chicken, half ground Jennie-O turkey. Mixing in a little ground meat was something I tried when I was short on pork loin and I wanted to make a double batch of green chile stew, and I think it adds a little depth to the dish. Same idea works here.
  • If you boil the chicken, then you'll already have a pot of brothy-water to make the chicken broth later. I've been hooked on Better Than Bouillon chicken base lately, for it's convenience, price, and most importantly taste. Bon Appetit loved it, and it's ridiculously cheap at the base commissary — about nine quarts of chicken broth for around three bucks, with no cans or cartons taking up space.
  • If you're going to add ground turkey or chicken, then brown the meat first and then cook the veggies in the same pot, so that the meat juices work into the onions and peppers.
  • Chiles: all I can say is, play around with them. It's always easier to start mild and work your way up. Kinda like unringing a bell, if you over-do the peppers, there's only so much diluting you can do later. This last batch, I used about two cups of Dynamites. I loved it, but it was too hot for M., and she had to cut the soup with sour cream. (Which is so odd, because she nearly always out-hots me under the table.)
Chupacabra Soup

Chicken: One rotisserie chicken, or a smallish over-roasted bird, or a pound or so of grilled chicken (shredded), or a pound or so of boiled chicken (again, then shredded) with maybe a pound of ground turkey, browned.
Olive oil as needed
Two small-to-medium onions, yellow or sweet (I like sweet mixed with chiles, but that's just me), medium to fine dice
3-4 garlic cloves, finely diced or minced
½ to 2 cups chile peppers (depending on your own personal taste and constitution), roasted, peeled, and diced (or, about 14-15 ounces of canned Hatch chiles)
2 cans black beans or 1 can black, 1 can pinto, rinsed
1 Tbs quality chile powder (Savory Spices is a great place to start, or grind your own.)
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp to 1 Tbs Mexican oregano
3 cups chicken broth plus more water if needed

1-2 cups of diced tomatoes or 14-28 ounces of canned tomatoes
1 cup corn

Green onions
Strips of fresh tortillas

First, get your meat ready, either from a rotisserie chicken or by grilling or boiling chicken breasts. If you boil the chicken, then save the water for your chicken broth.

If you're using ground turkey or chicken, brown it in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. If you want, spice the meat with a little chile powder and cumin. Remove and set aside, then sauté the onions in the same pot, using the remaining fat from the meat plus as much olive oil as you need to keep the onions for sticking. Go with about medium heat for 6-7 minutes, and then add the garlic and chiles. Stir gently but frequently. If you have burnt bits on the bottom of your pot, lightly deglaze with a few Tbs of chicken broth (or a splash of wine or beer, if you happen to have some open).

Add the beans and gently stir. Add the spices and gently stir. Add the tomatoes and corn and gently stir (optional items). Then add your broth, and gently stir again before bringing the pot to a boil. Immediately turn it back down to a simmer, giving it 15-20 minutes. Then add your chicken (or chupacabra, if you found one) back to the pot.

Update: I love this technique of thickening the soup with a corn starch slurry at Edible Mosaic.

The key to this soup is managing your chiles. Too many of a too hot variety and you have jet fuel. Too few of a too mild, and you have nursing home cafeteria soup.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Food Trucks

Used to call the AAFES vendor the Roach Coach. Sold nothing but reheated burgers and cold coffee.

Times have changed.

Food Trucks Taking Sidewalks By Storm, from NPR.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bookmarking a few for later

Gotta save these before I forget them:

World's Greatest Mac-n-Cheese, from Denver's Rackhouse Pub
I need some green in my mac and cheese, so I added some roasted broccoli and chile peppers, the broccoli from the grocery store and the peppers from M's mom's CSA.

Tips on how to spice seeds and nuts, from Sur la Table

Candied Walnuts, from One Perfect Bite

Bourbon Pumpkin Pie, from Gourmet

Curried Chicken Salad with Garam Masala Biscuits, from Food and Wine

Butternut Squash Cake with Walnut Icing, from the Gastronomer's Guide

Roasted Apple and Squash Soup, from Chef Louise

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mango Chutney

We have this combo that never fails to come out perfect. I'm thinking they all originally came from the Colorado Collage cookbook, from the Denver Junior League, or maybe just two out of the three did. But they work together both on the plate and during preparation.

(Left: mango chutney chicken with rice pilaf and grilled eggplant)

The combo is a mango chutney chicken, with a rice pilaf and oven-roasted tomatoes on the side. You prep the chicken, bake it for a while, cover it with chutney and finish baking it. While it's baking the first time, you prep the rice and tomatoes. You put the rice on the stove and the tomatoes in the oven during the chicken intermission. And there's no hands-on for the last ten minutes or so, so you can get everything cleaned up. Henry Ford would be proud of the assembly line efficiency.

But here's the one thing I don't like about the ensemble: the mango chutney. Now, I love mango chutney, or just about any type, for that matter. But come on, five or six bucks for the tiniest jar. And those jars. They typically have a tiny mouth that keeps you from sticking a spoon in there, but also a curve in the bottle that keeps a knife from getting the last ounce out of the jar. If I'm going to pay five bucks for a jar of something, I'm going to get every drop onto my plate.

I just assumed chutney was some terribly difficult thing to concoct. It's sort of like jelly, so there had to be boiling of jars and canning and vacuum seals, right? If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have realized that it's more like cranberry dressing, and our cranberry chutney takes all of about five minutes to whip up.

So I took the time to actually read the instructions for a mango chutney that's in The Dutch Oven Cookbook, by Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne. Super simple, it turns out ... but ... for whatever reason, this recipe, like nearly every other one out there, calls for a metric ton of mangoes and a few dozen onions, and makes enough to feed the Royal British Air Force. Not sure what the thought process is there ... maybe because it freezes well, so you can jar 9/10ths of it and pull it out as you need it.

Next time I may try the Dutch oven version that makes six cups, but there wasn't room in the freezer thanks to chili and stew, so we whittled it down to about six servings.

Mango Chutney

2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 mangoes, chopped into 1 inch cubes
(or 2 cups frozen mango)
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup dried currants or golden raisins
1 Tbs ginger, finely chopped
dash red pepper flakes
dash ground turmeric or curry powder (or, both)
dash cinnamon
1 Tbs lime juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar

Like all good non-recipes, the details aren't important and nearly all of the ingredients are negotiable. Heck, leave out the mangoes, for crying outside, and make it with apples or whatever. Go heavy on the red chili flakes, or leave 'em out. Add nuts, like pecans or macadamias. Add cardamom to the curry powder, or try it with green or red curry pastes. Lots of ways to play around with this one.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and then add the onion, garlic, mango, red pepper, currants, and ginger. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, then add everything else. Continue to sauté on medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring frequently. Then lower the heat and simmer on low for about an hour. Cool and serve. Will store for about a week in the fridge or longer in the freezer.