Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stephen Crout's "A cook's book for cooks"

To find Stephen's blog and order your copy, click

Stephen Crout is a man who definitely knows his way around the kitchen.  His wonderful book is part memoir, part cookbook. Stephen experiments in the kitchen and as a result his cooking is exciting, he pushes the culinary envelope.  He has some fabulous techniques and flavor combinations and he's also very clever with frozen artichokes - and he's funny - really funny. 

I have to confess I have yet to brine a chicken, although after reading this book there is simply no way I can get away with that any longer.  Hand on heart the next chicken will be brined.  His recipes are (not only delicious) but intriguing.  Consider "Sauteed ham slices with miso "red-eye" gravy" - Stephen promises it will blow your mind - it blew mine just reading the recipe.  Then there's "Son of Slaw" and "Highway Patrol Succotash" - original and mouthwatering.

If you would like an irreverent cookbook with some delicious  recipes with an unusal spin, "A cook's book for cooks" is your book and Stephen Crout is your man. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Sweet Day in NYC and Apple Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

My little one had the day off school yesterday.  She's learning about the ancient Egyptians and seems quite captivated, so we zipped into NYC and paid the Metropolitan Museum of Art a visit with a special stop at the Temple of Dendur.  It was wonderful, we had a blast - and then we were hungry.   Off we went to Magnolia Bakery.  It's delightful and whimsical and the staff are SO friendly.   There is almost every conceivable flavor of cupcake and cake - Katie and I did our best to sample as many as we could and we thought they were delicious.  

We thoughtfully bought a box of cupcakes home to the rest of the motley crew.  When these had been devoured I was asked "Why don't you make anything like this?" (I thought I did). So of course the next day I decided I would set about making a Magnolia like cupcake.  How about apple cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting - I'm still very much in the throes of Fall.  I have to say I was thrilled with the way these turned out - I think I could give Magnolia a run for their money! If you're into the flavors of Fall - give these a try. 

Not content with baked goods we then slipped across the road into Dylan's Candy Shop to do some early Holiday shopping - but of course it's a little tricky not to nibble on any of those goodies before the Holidays.  A grating of Dylan's milk toffee crunch chocolate bar over the top of these cupcakes, although not essential, doesn't hurt.

For the cupcakes

2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups of sugar
4 eggs
3/4 cup of sour cream
1/4 cup of apple sauce
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
Pinch of salt

For the frosting

The butter and cream cheese must be at room temperature otherwise the frosting will be lumpy.
1 stick of butter
8oz cream cheese
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioner's sugar

Heat the oven to 350F

Line 24 cupcake trays with liners.

Beat the butter and sugar until really light and fluffy,

Add the eggs, one at a time and scrape down after each addition.

Add the sour cream, applesauce and vanilla. Stir until just combined.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Stir until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the cupcake trays and bake for 20 - 30 minutes - until golden and bounce back when gently touched on the top.

Leave to cool in the trays for 10 minutes, then remove from the trays and transfer the cupcakes to a cooling rack until completely cool.

To make the frosting beat all the ingredients until smooth.  Pipe or spread the luscious frosting over the cupcakes.  Decorate with grated chocolate if desired.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Everything in the Fridge Bean and Vegetable Soup for a Perfect Fall Day.

This morning I was taken for a brisk walk by our Jack Russell along the banks of the Hudson River.  It was a blustery Fall morning, the swaying trees were full of vibrant shades of reds, golds and oranges.  The dog trotted along, tail up, nose quizzically exploring the scents along the riverbank with her little ears flapping in the breeze.  This morning was the perfect morning for making soup!

Soup, I believe is not an exact science - unlike baking.  Soup takes into account all the variables in life - like what you have in your fridge, how long you have to cook it and just how bolstering you need it to be.  Sometimes I feel the need for a brew using beef stock and perhaps a helping of barley in the soup.  In my more Zen moments I use spring water (and it always amazes me that the stock produced with the cooking vegetables is substantial and delicious). Other times, chicken stock with some ditalini pasta does the trick.  Just depends on the mood.

Hurry up, let's go for a walk!

Feel free to substitute almost any vegetable, kale, collards, turnips, parsnips etc are all great options.  I didn't have any leafy greens left in the fridge (horror) so I threw in a handful of baby spinach leaves from a salad box and it was delicious.

Olive Oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 carrots, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
3 potatoes (I leave the skins on) finely chopped
2 garlic cloves (minced)
1 sweet potato (peeled and finely chopped)
A handful of fresh herbs (I used parsley and very finely chopped rosemary)
salt and pepper
2, 15oz cans of beans of your choice (I used 1 of butter beans and 1 of cannelini)
32 oz of stock (beef, chicken, vegetable or water)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 cup of frozen green peas
1 cup of baby spinach leaves
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil.

Saute the onions for 5 minutes on a low heat.  Sprinkle with salt to avoid burning.

Add the carrots, celery, garlic and potatoes and saute for a further 5 minutes.

Add the drained beans, stir well.

Add the stock and the tomato paste, bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer.

Add the frozen green peas and baby spinach leaves about 5 minutes before the soup is cooked.

Partially cover the pot and cook, simmering gently for about 30-40 minutes, or until the veggies are cooked through but not mushy.

If you like a thick soup, ladle out 1 cup and puree in a blender, return to the pot and stir through the soup. 

Pour the tablespoon of red wine vinegar into the soup and stir.  Check the seasonings.

Let rest for five minutes or so.

Serve with a drop of olive oil and a few more freshly chopped herbs sprinkled on top.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chicken Parmigiana

This is my fourteen year old's favorite supper. Despite my enthusiasm (or perhaps because of it) she has a limited palate. As my husband says, she is the long term case study in chicken consumption. She really only eats chicken. Once she became a vegetarian - we feared she would perish. It didn't last long. Anyway, there's always a smile on her face when Chicken Parmigiana is served for supper.

I like it as it's a fairly quick do ahead supper and if you make enough of it you can have it in sandwiches the next day.  It's wonderful in a squishy ciabatta bread with fresh basil, salad greens and a swirl of mayo.

I know many people pound their chicken breasts when they make this but I don't.  The reason being I find if they are thin they tend to get rather dry and stringy - which is no fun for anyone.  Better to be plump and juicy, remember they are going to cook through in the oven.

If you are a purest use your homemade tomato sauce, if you are a mum in a hurry use your favorite store bought variety.

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 eggs
1 cup of dried breadcrumbs laced with salt, pepper and very finely chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano are all good options)
olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter

1 1/2 - 2 jars of your very favorite store bought tomato sauce
1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese (grated or shredded) USE MORE IF YOU LIKE
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
A healthy handful of freshly chopped herbs (parsley, basil or oregano)

Heat the oven to 400F

Beat the eggs on a large plate.

Pour the breadcrumbs, chopped herbs, salt and pepper on a large plate.

Dry the chicken, dip in the egg wash and then press into the breadcrumb mixture until thoroughly coated.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and butter until hot and foaming.

Lay the chicken breasts into the pan and brown on both sides.

While the chicken is browning, pour the tomato sauce in the bottom of a large ovenproof dish.  Use enough so that the bottom of the dish is thickly covered.

Lay the browned chicken breasts on top of the tomato sauce.  Don't worry if the chicken breasts are not cooked through.  They will finish cooking in the oven. Sprinkle with the chopped fresh herbs.
Pour more tomato sauce over the top of the chicken breasts until they are fairly well coated. 

Place the mozzarella and Parmesan over each breast. 

Place in the oven, uncovered for approximately 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is bubbling.

Remove from the oven and serve with a fresh green salad and warm crusty bread to sop up the sauce.  Don't forget a glass of pinot.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meatless Monday's (or Tuesday's) Lentil Shepherd's Pie.

Sometimes it just feels good to fully embrace vegetables and legumes and leave meat alone.  I have to make a conscious effort to do this as I have become so brainwashed into thinking it's not a proper meal without meat.  How ridiculous - I'm very into Meatless Monday at the moment - and if I can stretch it to Tuesday and Wednesday I'm all for it.  

Three out of the four girls really liked this.  I think it's absolutely essential to serve it with peas and lots of ketchup.  I made it in individual dishes which always pleases.  I can't argue that this is an elegant meal but it's certainly good home cooking.

For the potato topping

4 large potatoes (peeled or unpeeled depending on how much fiber you want) cut into chunks
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 - 4 tablespoons butter
2 - 4 tablespoons milk 
salt and pepper

For the filling

1 cup du Pry French lentils
olive oil
1 onion (finely chopped)
3 carrots (finely chopped)
3 sticks celery (finely chopped)
2 leeks (finely chopped
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
1, 24oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
A good shake of Worcestershire Sauce
salt and pepper
Fresh herbs (I used rosemary and thyme)

salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 375F

Place the lentils in a medium sized bowl.  Pour boiling water over the lentils and cover. Leave for at least 30 minutes.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.  Salt the water and add the potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Cook until tender.  

Drain and mash with the butter and milk.  Check seasonings.  Add a few very finely minced herbs for a very pretty (and delicious) look.  Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven.  Add the onions and gently saute until soft.

Add the carrots, celery, leeks, garlic and chopped herbs.  Saute all the vegetables for approximately 8-10 minutes on a gentle heat.

Drain the lentils and add to the vegetables.  Combine.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until fully combined. If the mixture looks very thick, add 1/2 - 3/4 cup of water.  Stir to combine.  

Bring the mixture to a boil and turn down to a simmer.

Pour the lentil mixture into an ovenproof dish and top with the mashed potato.

Place in the oven until the potato is just browned (about 30-40 minutes).

Remove from the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.  

This tastes really great the next day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Lovely Liebster Award and Beef Stew for a Chilly Day.

Thank you to for the award - I'm really thrilled to have it.  This award is for “blogs you like who have less than 200 subscribers, and who you feel should have more.”   I love awards because it shines the spotlight on blogs you might not otherwise know.  I'm going to pass this lovely award on very soon.

As the weather turns cooler I find the family is craving more substantial comfort food.  What could be more so than a Beef Stew.  There is no one recipe or right way of cooking stew.  I like it because it invariably works with whatever vegetables I have lurking in the fridge.  I like to cook it long and slow, but I do think the quality of meat makes a difference.  Cheaper cuts of meat usually take a little longer. 

Here's a blueprint that works well for me.

1 1/2 lbs of stew meat
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
2 onions (finely chopped)
4-6 carrots (peeled and chopped)
4 sticks of celery (chopped)
2 leeks (well rinsed and chopped finely)
2-4 cloves of garlic (minced)
A good sized sprig of fresh rosemary (and or thyme, parsley, sage)
1/2 cup of red wine (optional)
32oz of beef stock
A couple of shakes of Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 medium bag of frozen peas (optional)
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons of flour

Heat the oven to 325F

Dry the meat and season with salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and a tablespoon of butter until hot and sizzling.

Dry the meat and season with salt and pepper.

Brown the meat without overcrowding the pot.  When browed remove to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.

When all the meat is browned and resting under the foil, add the onions, carrots, celery and leeks to the pan.

Combine well and scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.  Cook on a medium low heat for about 5 minutes and then add the garlic and chopped herbs, continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

Add all the meat back into the pan, combine well.  Pour in the wine if using.  Pour in the stock.  Use enough stock so that the meat is just about covered.  Add the tomato paste and the Worcestershire Sauce.

Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer.  Place the stew into the oven for approx 2 1/2 hours.  After 2 hours mix the butter and flour together into a thick paste.  Take a tablespoon of the stew liquid and mix with the flour and butter.  Pour this back into the stew and stir well to thicken the stew.  If you are using the frozen peas, put them in now. Put the stew back into the oven  for a further half hour or until the meat is tender.

When the meat is tender remove from the oven. 

Let the stew rest for at least 15 minutes if possible.  I always think it's best made a day ahead if you can.

Serve with mashed or baked potatoes and a fresh green salad.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Cake!

I recently had a small mention on the lovely shopping site Pocket Change "Best of the Web" section. If you're interested in doing a little online shopping or visiting their great "tips center" click on the link 
Back to Chocolate Cake.  It seems to me it is a very personal matter. Some like it sweet, some dense and chewy, others crave a mousse like confection.  This is my current favorite when the mood strikes.  Chocolate sponge, chocolate chips and chocolate glaze result in a fairly intense chocolate fix.  I'm loving my bundt pan at the moment, my cakes turn out looking like an architectural delight - without the slightest effort on my part. 

If you weren't going for such an intense chocolate experience you could make the sponge vanilla, by adding 3 cups of flour and omitting the cocoa powder.  Your choice.

For the sponge

2 sticks of unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
4 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 cup of sour cream (room temperature)
1/4 cup of coffee
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of cocoa powder (I use Hershey's)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of chocolate chips (tossed in 1 tablespoon of all purpose flour)

For the glaze

1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350F

Grease and flour a 10 cup bundt pan.

Beat the butter and sugar until really light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time.  Scrape down the bowl after each addition.

Mix together the sour cream, coffee and vanilla extract.

In another bowl mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt.

In another bowl toss the chocolate chips in a tablespoon of flour and set aside.

Add half the flour mixture to the sugar and egg mixture. Combine gently.

Add the sour cream mixture and gently beat until just combined.

Add the remainder of the flour mixture and fold in.

Add the chocolate chips and gently fold in.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 50 - 1 hour.  The cake is cooked when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool in the the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

To make the glaze, combine the chocolate chips and the cream in a saucepan over a medium/low heat.

Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is a smooth velvety consistency. 

Place a large plate under the cake and pour the glaze over the cake.

Let set and serve.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pasta with Roast Cauliflower, Lemon and Parsley.

My husband, ten year old and I stole away the other night to a lovely local restaurant.  Being a creature of habit, I always order fish. The time had come to radically break with tradition and order pasta.  I never order pasta - but oh my, I was so glad I did.

The combination of cauliflower, kalamata olives, lemon and parsley was full of flavor.  There was so much deliciousness with the veggies that the pasta was merely a minor supporting role in the dish. Which in my view is what pasta should be. 

This is my attempt to recreate that lovely meal.  The family liked it - one or two of them picked out the cauliflower - but really you can't expect miracles.

1 large cauliflower, broken into florets, cut the florets in half if they're big.
2-4 cloves of garlic, skins on
2 medium onions, quartered
Olive oil
A sprinkling of red pepper flakes
2 lemons
Chopped parsley
1 cup of toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup of black kalamata olives
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Salt and pepper

1 box of your favorite pasta - I used orecchietti

Heat the oven to 425F

Place the cauliflower, onions and garlic cloves on a baking sheet.  Pour over a tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, the red pepper flakes and a handful of chopped parsley.  Mix so that everything is lightly coated in the olive oil.

Place in the oven and roast for approx 40-50 minutes.  Stir around from time to time so that the veggies brown evenly.

Meanwhile toast the pine nuts and set aside.

In a large serving bowl place a large handful of chopped parsley, a good grinding of salt and pepper, a healthy gulg of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of butter and the juice and zest of two lemons.

Chop the olives and add them to the serving bowl.

Cook the pasta.  Drain and pour into the serving bowl. Add the cooked cauliflower, onions and pine nuts and toss together.

Check the seasonings and add more salt and pepper, lemon juice and parsley if required.

Serve warm.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mushrooms on Toast with a Poached Egg

With the girls back at school I occasionally find a few minutes of solitude in the day. They are fleeting but much appreciated.  To take full advantage of these golden moments I make a lunch that if served up to my children for dinner, would cause mutiny.  By eating these foods for lunch I can fully appreciate their deliciousness which would otherwise be ruined by shrieks of "Ughhhhhhh"  and "What's that?" and "I'm not hungry any more."   One such blissful, lonesome lunch was mushrooms on toast with a poached egg - what could be more perfect?

This is not so much a recipe than a reminder of a lovely simple dish with some big flavor paybacks.

A good handful of however many and whatever type of mushrooms you may have in the fridge - a combination might be nice - washed, or wiped and chopped.
1 tablespoon of butter
A splash of white wine (optional)
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley
A squeeze of lemon

A nice fresh egg

1 piece of really good quality whole grain bread, lightly toasted.

To make the mushrooms, melt the butter in a pan and add the mushrooms.  Let them saute away, adding a pinch of salt and pepper and a sprinkle of parsley.

Meanwhile heat the water for your poached egg.  In the past I've had a lot of trouble with poaching eggs - ridiculous really - but now I put a large gulg of vinegar in the water and that really seems to keep the white together better.

Pop the piece of toast in the toaster while your egg poaches and your mushrooms saute.  At this point if you are using the wine, add a splash and turn up the heat.  If not, just add a squeeze of lemon juice.  Toss them around in their juices.

When toasted, pour the mushrooms onto the toast, slide the poached egg on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little more parsley and enjoy in perfect peace.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup and "What Makes a Great Cook?"

What makes a great cook? Is it a tender cut of meat, a short list of ingredients, a long list of ingredients, a gentle hand with an exotic spice, an ability not to over or under cook, patience, confidence, fresh ingredients?  The leafy greens one buys at the Farmer's Market practically gleam with radiance and seem almost alive when consumed as opposed to the lack luster, droopy eared variety one finds on the supermarket shelves.  My husband picked our first pumpkin from the pumpkin/tomato patch the other day and its orange brilliance was almost dizzying.  A day or so later, although still lovely, it's vibrancy was fading.  Perhaps it's a cooks technique that makes them special, surely that helps.  Is it practice - after all that's supposed to make us perfect. Fine tools - or is it all of the above? 

I think it's patience.  Patience seems to come in all shapes and sizes, I can stir a risotto for as long as it takes, wait for a cut of meat to cook and brown perfectly but ask me to sift some flour or wait for dough to rise and steam will begin come out of my ears. 

What do you think - what makes a great cook?  While you're thinking, have a bowl of butternut squash and apple soup.  It's very centering.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup.

1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 apples, peeled and cored
2 garlic cloves, in their skins
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of cumin
Salt and pepper
Fresh sage, full leaves
Olive oil
Water (if preferred chicken or vegetable stock)

Heat the oven to 425F

Place all the ingredients into a large roasting pan (if the pan is overcrowded use 2 otherwise the veggies will steam instead of roast).

Pour over a tablespoon of olive oil to cover the veggies, garlic and sage.

Roast for approximately 50 minutes to an hour, until all the veggies are soft and slightly brown at the edges.

Remove to cool a little for 10 or so, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and then blend all the ingredients in a blender with water, or if you prefer chicken stock or vegetable stock.

Check the seasonings.

Serve with a garnish of sage and a small dollop of creme fraiche, or if you prefer, a swirl of cream.