Credit- Cooking with what ya got (Stuffed Orange Peppers)

Last night, feeling better and finally having an appetite after 5 days of strep induced grossness, I took at crack at the challenge I called upon Curtis Stone to tackle.

Since I know Curtis Stone will never actually receive my taunting challenge (unless, of course, some jackal of a creative scout from Food Network or Bravo is out there scouring the little known sites on the internet for new ideas…. and good lord do they need them) I decided it was time to take my own challenge. Having been bedridden for the last 5 days, it was no surprise that I found scarce amounts of sustenance in my kitchen. You could sum it up by listing fuzzy strawberries and some orange bell peppers hanging on for dear life by a thread.

After searching the freezer, we found some ground beef, and I knew immediately what was for dinner:

Stuffed roasted orange peppers

Ingredients: 2 bell peppers, 1/2 jalapeno pepper, ground beef, rice, stock, canned tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil,butter and whatever condiments you got lying around (I’ll explain later)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cut out the stem and seeds from the bell peppers and wrap them in aluminum foil.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I put them in the oven (fully wrapped) hole-side down so that the juices would trickle out and not sit in the bottom of the pepper for the 30 or so minutes it takes to roast them through. Depending on the presentation you want at the end, you may want to roast them for less time. The longer they’re in the oven, the softer they get. So when you peel that sort of tough waxy outer skin off your roasted pepper (and you want to do that), a less cooked pepper will have a better chance of being able to be stuffed whole and be served standing up. 

While the peppers are in the oven, dice 1 onion, finely chop up your garlic (about 4-5 cloves) and, depending on your taste, 1/2 or 1 whole jalapeno. Then arrange the results artistically near soft light so as to take ridiculously over worked photos of them for your own food blog.

 

 

 

Over medium heat, melt a large tab of butter into a few teaspoons of olive oil. When the butter has melted, but not yet starting to brown, sauté the onion first until translucent and then add the garlic and jalapeno peppers (with seeds if you like heat!) I think I put some fresh thyme in the onions while they were sautéing, but I just happened to have that lying around, so don’t worry about it if you don’t have any.

Then you want to add your ground beef (defrosted, obviously, and patted dry). Once the meat releases some of its juices, add the uncooked NOT INSTANT rice. The idea here is the juices from all your other ingredients will cook the rice. Not to mention, your rice will soak up all those awesome flavors from the sauce in which it’s cooking!

It is at this point that you can start madly experimenting with condiments you found in the fridge. I added a few splashes Worchestire sauce, some soy sauce (for Umami, naturally) cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes and a large can with juices of canned tomatoes.

Turn the heat down to low, and simmer uncovered until you notice the juices are running low. This is where the stock comes in handy. Essentially, from this point out it’s like you’re making the poor man’s risotto. You gotta keep replenishing the juices until the rice is fully cooked. Don’t forget to stir with some regularity.

I thought it would be a worthy experiment to add some beer to the mix to see what that would bring, flavor wise, to the sauce. It was Dos Equis… most interesting, I know! Honestly, I just had lying around the house.

You want to add any alcohol first so it loses that straight alcohol taste while it simmers and doesn’t make it appear that you accidentally spilled your drink in the food when it comes time to serve it. So I added about 1/2 bottle of beer and let that simmer then from here on out I added chicken stock. I would guess it took about 2 cups of stock to fully cook the rice. You just want to keep sampling little bites of the rice to gauge when it’s fully cooked. Once the rice is fully cooked, let the rest of the liquids cook out (you want the rice, beef and veg mix to be sticky not soupy!) Then taste for salt and pepper and serve with your roasted pepper.

Credit- Barrelhouse Flat (The Soft Opening)

Tonight, I had the pleasure of attending the soft opening of Barrelhouse Flat.

At first glance, this is a much less austere cousin of Violet Hour brought to you by none other than Stephen Cole of the aforementioned Violet Hour and Greg Buttera of Aviary. The windows are still boarded up, but inside the vibe is warm and unpretentious. We got there on the early side for the neighbors event, so we got to chat with the bartenders, specifically Dante and Greg. They took us through the specialty cocktail menu, which is enormous. They offer two full pages of creations made from each alcohols they feature… that would be Whiskeys, Rums, Gins and Brandies and “Others” (on top of that, each category has rubrics consisting of Stirred, Shaken, Bubbles and Egg)

I was ill (recovering from strep) at the time, so couldn’t sample too much liquor, but was able to make my first meal in days out of the Sweetbread Bites they have on menu that came with a lovely dipping sauce from their open kitchen. Other options for nibbling were the Pig Face Poutine, Double Deviled Eggs, Seasonal Pate, A (very large) Porchetta Sandwich and a lovely array of Dips (roasted red pepper and pepper and chorizo, snappy cheese, smoked trout, chipotle sweet potato and carmelized onion). You pick three for $12 and can expect to enjoy yourself for at least 45 minutes! Also available were a Salad and a Bleu Cheese and Mushroom Beignet!

They have some great craft beers on draft and a few select wines available, but the real appeal is the cocktail menu that has been a long time in the making. It’s 8 pages long!

I was interested in a local gin (North Shore) which was scented with lavender so the bartender let me sample it along side the gin they normally use in the cocktail I ordered (The Clover Club). They normally would use a Beefeater… A gin I love. But since I was interested, he let me use one as a sounding board for the other, and I decided upon the local gin for my cocktail.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience. Right before we left, someone started tinkering on a piano I hadn’t noticed until then, which made me even more upset that I had to leave! I hope to go back, and I thank Greg and Dante for their kind attention and hospitality! What a wonderful evening, even at my own half capacity with strep throat barely on the outs.

Credit- Fall Lunch of Soup and Salad

Ah, Soup and Salad. The reason this is a great fit for an autumnal lunch is that it’s hearty and warm, but won’t weigh you down! So I’ll skip my trademarked (and decidedly very verbose) introduction and get right to it.

Caesar Salad (with homemade dressing)

I remember I once had a tiff with someone over whether or not anchovies have a place in a Caesar Salad. I’m pretty sure it’s obvious where I’ll land on this, but I say absolutely they do! I love anchovies so much I put them in the dressing AND add a few whole filets to the salad.

So for the salad dressing, combine 3 anchovy filets, an egg yolk, and a clove of garlic (more if you like garlic!) into a deep dish and use an immersion blender to blend thoroughly. At first, the garlic clumsily tumbled around in the mixture without getting fully incorporated, but once I added more liquid to the mix it all worked out… so don’t worry!

Gradually, add your oil while using the immersion blender to incorporate it. As a side note, I looked in Ferran’s cookbook, and he calls for sunflower oil, but, alas, my pantry is not stocked with sunflower oil. So I just used extra virgin olive oil. I added about a quarter cup of oil, one spoonful at a time. Once that is fully blended, the mixture will have a frothy consistency. Add 2 tsps of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar) The last step for the dressing is to add about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan.

The rest is pretty standard. Chop up some romaine lettuce (iceberg works fine too!) and toss the lettuce with the dressing. You can buy croutons, but they are fairly easy to make if you have some old bread you want to use.

You want to cube some bread (crusts optional) and toss the bread with melted butter or olive oil and if you want to get a little more fancy you could add some spices to the mix. I’d suggest some garlic salt, for instance. You throw those on a baking sheet and into a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Check on them. You want them to be croutons… not slightly soggy pieces of stale bread, so if they need a little more time in the oven, use your best judgement and give them time!

Toss the dressed lettuce with the bread crumbs and more parmesan cheese (I like a lot!) and for all you anchovy lovers out there, I like to lay out a few more filets of anchovy. Et voilà. Now for the soup.

Leek and Potato Soup: (this is where I get creative!)

I thought I had saved a chicken carcass from which to make the stock, but it turns out someone threw it away. So I had to get a little creative because I had my heart set on homemade stock.

I dissolved 10 bouillon cubes (check the pack to see what the right ratio is for your bouillon cubes if you’re using them) into 10 cups of water. Since that seemed ever so bland and uncreative of me, I channeled the folks on Chopped  (for lack of a more obvious choice of cooking show to match this particular situation) and made lemonade out of the proverbial lemons my pantry had thrown at me.

While I’m on the topic, I think it would behoove some network to make a show out of professional chefs having to cook out of an average home without inflicting the world with that insipid Curtis Stone ambushing people in a grocery store. See, that’s too easy, TLC. He gets to pick out his ingredients at the store! I say throw the pro chefs into a home where they have to work with only the ingredients they find there.

I can tell you from experience, it’s an amazing -and humbling- thing to watch someone who really knows what they’re doing transform dried fruit, old wine, some butter, a raggedy piece of frozen chicken and whatever else he managed to find in our understocked kitchen, into a phenomenal dish right before your eyes. And it was completely on the fly. In my defense, by the way, we had all been out of town for a while and hadn’t made it to the store. That’s my show idea (should I copyright that?!) Think you can handle that challenge, Curt’?

Where was I?

While the “broth” was simmering over low heat I threw in a bunch of fresh thyme and chopped an onion in half and then sectioned it. In my mind, that would let out more flavor and juices as there were more places for the broth to seep into the onion and extract flavor…

Then I chopped up 2 large leeks. After slicing off the root end and all the undesirable leafy green parts, I checked for dirt and sand. It tends to creep into the leeks, so when in doubt, wash away. I then sliced all the leeks into half moons and did the same with peeled potatoes. Set the potatoes aside in a bowl of water (so they don’t brown) and sauté the leeks in some butter.

I seasoned them with salt and white pepper. Again, who knows why I do what I do in the kitchen, having never been professionally trained. It made sense to sauté the leeks before adding them to the stock to bring out the juices and get some flavor out of them. They’ll cook while the soup is simmering (that’s how I treated the potatoes) but I just wanted more flavor out of my leeks.

It’s now time to throw everything in the pot of simmering broth and let it stew for a while. Before you go throwing the (raw) potatoes and sautéed leeks in the broth remember to fish out the sprigs of thyme and the halved onion. As hard as it is for me to discard ingredients, no one wants to find a whole sprig of thyme in his or her soup.

I let the soup simmer for over an hour covered. Then add a bit of heavy cream. I eyeballed it, but if pressed, I’d say it was about a 1/2 cup… maybe less.

Then comes the million dollar decision. Creamy or chunky? Today, I chose to purée it. This decision may have been the result of my new toy, the immersion blender…. the world may never know!

I leave you with my take on homemade soup and salad, and request that you forgive me for not uploading a photo of the end result as I had gotten so frustrated with the iPad camera quality that I gave up on photographing my masterpiece.

Meals cooked by friends: Gabrielle’s Gougères

It’s no secret that I have little luck with baking, so I recently enlisted the help of my former roommate and future pastry chef extraordinaire, Gabrielle, heretofore known as Pumba.

Mission Gougères of last week was an epic failure. It could have had something to do with the flour I used or my makeshift pastry bag made from a ziplock bag (at least I’ll tell myself that!) but it could have also been my mediocre pastry skills leading to a listless pâte à choux. Most disappointing.

So hunker down and join me on my gougère lesson with Pumba. To the right, she demonstrates what a pâte à choux should look like before you bag it!

To start she preheats the oven to 400 and lines a few baking sheets with parchment paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then she measures out a 1/2 cup of water and a 1/2 cup of milk, 4 ounces of butter and a pinch of salt and brings it all to a boil. Once that gets nice and hot (the aforementioned boil) she adds in 1 cup of AP flour). It will start to look something like the above right photo.

She then puts the dough in a stand mixer and lets it cool by turning the mixer on and letting it churn the dough for a few minutes until the steam subsides. Then, one by one she adds the eggs. (Though it should take about 4 eggs).

The reason she does this in steps, she explains, is because the consistency of the pâte à choux should drip to form a long oozing triangle from the tip of the mixer blade. You must make sure each egg is encorporated before adding the next one.

 

Here she shows Mary a dough that isn’t quite ready to be bagged and piped onto the sheets

Once the dough is at the appropriate consistency she adds the cheese (about a cup of gruyère cheese) and a pinch of nutmeg and some pepper. You should grate a little more cheese though, because she sprinkled a wonderfully heaping amount of gruyère over each gougère.

 

 

After transferring the dough into a pastry bag with a tip (she has that kind of stuff lying around, but she assured me a ziplock bag would have worked just fine!) she pipes the dough onto the parchment lined baking sheets.

That accomplished, she sprinkles the remaining cheese over the gougères and pops them in the oven for about 20 minutes. Basically, you want to leave them in there till they turn golden brown. And with a little skill (for Gabrielle) and some future luck for me, they’ll come out perfectly!

So, thanks again for letting me into your kitchen with a camera (though you’ll notice the iPad’s camera quality is absurdly bad) I’ll be back for more lessons in baking!

Credit- The Great Outdoors

Just some photos from the camping trip… errr proof that I can hack it in the great outdoors.

[Mis]adventures in baking: mission popovers

I am a confident cook.

I’m fairly sure it’s because I know most of my basics. I make a pretty mean stock, I make a solid béchamel, I can roast a chicken and make a sauce from what’s left in the pan… Perhaps most importantly, I’m not afraid of making mistakes because, usually, I can figure out what went wrong and fix it.

One of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, for instance, was when cooking a pork loin I decided to brown the piece of meat so as to seal in the juices before putting it in the oven to cook through. That would be fine and dandy had I not crusted the dijon marinated pork loin with bread crumbs and worse yet… parmesan cheese. The second I let go of the meat I realized what I had just done.

After cursing myself for a solid 15 seconds for the rookie mistake that I would have avoided had I not had my head in the clouds thinking of five other things, I grabbed the loin with my bare hands and threw it (violently) on the cutting board. On the side that hit the oil, all of the beautiful crust had washed away and was beginning to form a large glob of burning gunk on my pan. Had you asked me on any other day whether to perform this baffling maneuver when cooking a parmesan crusted loin, I would have scoffed and said absolutely not… but this was, unfortunately, not any other day. It was the day I seared the crust right off my loin.

For the record, all was not lost. In fact, I salvaged the meat, re-crusted it and threw it in the oven, cooking it the correct way. But that was only after sitting on the kitchen floor pouting like a toddler for almost fifteen minutes and bemoaning my mistake to my poor roommate who had to sit there and listen to me go through all the stages of a psychological break: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. It was a pathetic sight to say the least.

All of that to say, I am a confident cook…. but I SUCK at baking. Seriously, forget breads, pastries, or anything stemming from batters (besides crepes, which I’m convinced I can only handle because they don’t go in an oven).

So when I set out on “Mission Popover” I was bracing myself for the worst possible outcome. I made lentils and a fried egg for breakfast and had a hankering for something buttery and kind of gooey when I thought of it. Popovers were the perfect addition. But they are indeed a baked good. [Cue foreboding music.]

I had just gotten my copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty in which he discusses and demonstrates via fairly simply recipes the 20 techniques everyone should know. Naturally I went straight to the sections on baking.

Popovers, thought I. How can I mess this up? It’s literally

5 ingredients (milk, eggs, butter, salt and flour).

Since this is not, in fact, my recipe I won’t post the steps, but encourage you to purchase Ruhlman’s Twenty for yourself. If this book can guide me to the unexpected bliss of perfect popovers (that’s right! I successfully created a baked good) then it’s certainly worth having in your own kitchen.

Meals cooked by friends: Rachel’s Fiesta

It’s a new kind of post! Cooking with friends… rather, my friends cooking for me!

In an attempt to bring some diversity to my home cooking chronicles, I figured it would be fun to document other people cooking at home.

            

On that note, I am very excited to own (and must admit to having spent the last hour reading) Ferran Adrià’s The Family Meal. It’s 400 pages, and 31 meals, of very clear and well documented steps that will hopefully help bring to my home what Ferran Adrià considers home cooking. Dare to dream! The book has a great layout and nice photography. What isn’t to love?

But back to Rachel.

After about a week of playing phone tag, and each suffering from ill-timed migraines, I was finally able to encroach on her kitchen and help her assemble what she called a meal of leftovers… but it was nothing short of awesome. So “Credit- Rachel” for introducing me to

Egg and Chorizo Tacos with Homemade Refried Black Beans. 

When I arrived, Rachel had already soaked her black beans overnight and was simmering them over low heat. (If you want to cheat on this process you can always boil the hell out of the beans for about an hour and a half instead of letting them reconstitute overnight.)

Refried Black Beans:

Once they are cooked through, she drained the black beans and put them in a pan she used to sauté a small diced onion. To the vegetable oil, she added one finely chopped jalepeno pepper with its seeds. The beans will cook down till they start to break apart and thicken into the

consistency we tend to think of when we picture refried beans. Once that happened, Rachel added chopped carrots to the pan for some texture and color.

Chorizo and Egg Tacos:

After heating (thoroughly!) the chorizo, Rachel added a mixture of eggs beaten with salt and some finely chopped cilantro (2 heaping tablespoons as far as my eye could tell). Given the contents, it’s quite important you thoroughly cook this portion of the tacos so as to avoid giving yourself or your dinner guest food poisoning. Cook the chorizo as detailed on the packaging (it varies, but cook it so that it’s beginning to brown but is not burning). The eggs will cook just like scrambled eggs.

She finally heated up some tortillas in a small non stick skillet and grated some cheese on the top so that it melted.

And you’re done!

A huge thank you to Rachel for hosting me (and my camera phone) and letting me invade her kitchen to show the world how she feeds herself on a Wednesday night! She was a great sport, and I look forward to coming back when she’s had some time to plan ahead. I’ll admit I surprised her by asking to document her cooking on an average night. If she can make this out of leftovers on a whim, I can’t wait to see what she can make with a little advanced planning!


Discredit- Shameless Self-promotion

Thanks to Brett Hickman you can read more of my blither on his fabulous website Rock ‘n Roll Ghost! His layouts are so much cooler than mine.

He posted a gussied up version of the review of Maude’s Liquor Bar:

http://rocknrollghost.com/2011/09/30/restaurant-experience-maudes-liquor-bar-chicago

And here’s the one that goes directly to the D’Artagnan Piece:

http://rocknrollghost.com/2011/09/30/dartagnan-meat-and-mingle-announces-arrival-of-company-to-chicago

Experiments in cooking: Sunday Brunch Part 2

Crepes with sautéed spinach, mushrooms and ham in béchamel sauce with gruyère 

For Sunday Brunch (part deux), I was going for simplicity… a sort of “all components of the meal in one pretty little package” kind of thing.

After picking Alia up at the train station, we headed to the Logan Square Farmers’ Market. My first stop is usually the mushroom guy from River Valley Ranch, and this trip was no different. It appeared we were going to be cooking with shiitake mushrooms until he, sensing my general disappointment that he had no oyster mushrooms left, reached under the table and pulled out a “mushroom medley” bag which he sold me for $10. Inside were the remains of the day’s oyster mushrooms along with some shiitake. After passing the crepe stand, it was pretty much a done deal, savory crepes were gonna happen.

After spending a questionable amount of time wallowing in the grass and applying those helicopter leaves to our noses like the mature, grounded and poised adult we are…

 

 

 

 

…. we collected our belongings and went back to Lincoln Park to cook.

 

I give you my “simple” crepes with mushroom, spinach and ham in a béchamel sauce with gruyère

Ingredients:

1 bag of miscellaneous mushrooms (I’d say there was about a pound of mushrooms)

1 small bag of spinach

3 cloves of garlic

Eggs (let’s say 2 large ones)

Flour (about 3 cups)

Butter (1 stick)

Whole Milk (3 cups)

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So this is a meal that has multiple steps, but they are all quite easy, so fret not.

Step 1: The crepes

I was once told by a French woman that making crepes was almost like a game of tug of war. She said it was a constant battle between flour and milk, that is to say whether the batter needed more flour or milk. When you overcompensated with one you just add a little more of the other. Generally speaking I’d say start with 2 eggs and try to mix in as close to 1 cup of flour and slightly more milk than you’ve put flour (give or take 1 1/4 cups).

Beat the eggs and add some salt. I’ve been told to add the flour little by little first then gradually mix in the milk. Essentially what will happen is you’ll get a big ball of fairly dense dough to which you’ll add milk to until you get the desired consistency (runny).

Once you’ve achieved that, you’ll notice there will be some bits of dough that haven’t gotten fully dissolved… instead of driving yourself completely insane trying to blend them in, pass the mixture through a strainer and let the stuff that made it through the strainer sit while you prepare the filling. Needless to say, discard the stuff caught in the strainer…. unless you can think of something really clever to do with tiny nuggets of chalky flour in a runny egg and milk mixture. I’m not holding my breath.

Step 2: The Filling

a) Béchamel Sauce:

Melt your butter over medium heat (about 1 stick) in a pan and whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour. Gradually add the milk (3 cups) stirring until it becomes a lovely, frothy and thick mixture. I added about 2 teaspoons of salt, ’cause I like things salty. That’s Alia making her first béchamel sauce… it’s enough to bring tears to my eyes! She seems pleased with herself, too. Gabrielle is lending her emotional support.

b) The veg:

I just sautéed the mushrooms (which I cut into fairly uniform pieces) with some olive oil, a splash of white wine, a healthy pad of butter and salt. I don’t know why I always say this, but I say that you should salt your mushrooms until you feel like you’ve overdone it with the salt and then add a little more for good measure. There could be no rhyme or reason to this, but I think they taste much better when they are given enough salt to actualize and not just taste like gummy little pieces of fungus. Also, I want to note that mushrooms may very well be my favorite thing to eat, so please don’t think I’m dissing mushrooms… unsalted mushrooms are just gross.

So after transferring the mushrooms to a plate lined with a paper towel, I sautéed the spinach in the same pan with a bit more olive oil, some pressed garlic (which is discarded after cooking the spinach with it) and salted accordingly. I transferred the spinach to the same plate and pressed out the excess oil.

That would be the béchamel, sautéed spinach and mushrooms…

and the corner of Gabrielle’s purse.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, I wiped off the same pan and threw in the chopped up ham (the same junky deli meat I used for the baked eggs I made the previous week with Alia), the freshly sautéed materials and the béchamel. I put that on low heat and let that heat up while I made the crepes.

 

Step 3: Cooking the crepes

Crepes might seem daunting, but if I can make them using a nonstick skillet that has no business being a crepe pan, then so can the rest of the world.

I essentially put a small pad of butter in before each crepe. On medium to high heat, once the butter has melted pour the crepe batter into the pan (about 2/3 of a cup) and tilt the pan in all direction to lightly coat the entire pan with the batter. It should take about 45 second for the batter to cook through (the top or uncooked side will dry up). Once that happens, flip the crepe (they flip really easily with a spatula) and finish on that side for about 20 seconds or so.

All that’s left to do is spoon the filling into the crepes and add copious amounts of grated cheese. Et voilà!