Wednesday, November 18, 2009

thank you and a giveaway

i've told you before that i have
a love affair with cookbooks.
very little makes me happier
than getting a new one,
sitting on the couch,
reading it cover to cover,
mentally bookmarking the

as you can imagine,
such a habit is big and bulky
and despite buying a large
bookshelf to house them all,
the collection has expanded
slightly out of control.

yes, they're on shelves.
cookbooks on the shelves
more cookbooks
and more cookbooks

but the books are also on the floor
of larry's closet.
cookbooks in the closet

and they're on the bed in our second bedroom.
cookbooks, everywhere

not to mention that i'm pretty
sure there's a few in the kitchen,
our bedroom and probably
in places i cannot even imagine.
yes, i love cookbooks.
and that's why it meant so much
to me this morning when i
found out that my cranberry sauce
will be featured in food52's.
thank you for voting and
supporting me, the blog,
and of course, the cranberry sauce.

so in honor of today's news
(ok, that's not true,
we were going
to do this anyway),
i have a giveaway.
and no, it's not a cookbook.
or exactly food related.
you may have noticed the
very cool new logo
not lazy. rustic. has
been wearing since sunday.
well, here's the story
behind it. well, ok, wait -
one other story first.

i've talked about lauren
several times before -
how we met in camp,
have stayed friend's since
and have super bowl get togethers.
but, here's the real beginning.
we had already had the towel experience.
but then, a couple weeks later
we were out playing kickball.
i was put in the outfield. sadly, i was always
put in the outfield. nothing ever went out
there. ever. so i sat on the ground and
used a broken twig to dig in the dirt.
lauren - who i think was supposed to
be covering second base - came over to
me and said,
if i were you, i'd stop digging.
otherwise, you'll dig too far and
some old man from china is
going to start pulling on the other side
and you're going to end up in china
with no way of getting back home.
we were 10. but, i listened to her.

and since then, she's been there
to support me, snap me out of funks
deeper than outfield-relegated isues,
pack me up for college when i
could not handle the thought of
leaving my family and friends,
cleaned my room (looking at it
like a challenge, not a nightmare),
helped larry put our bed together
when we moved into this
apartment 3 1/2 years ago
and encouraged me to start this blog.

and finally, i have a small
opportunity to support her.
earlier this year,
lauren and her sister, stephanie,
started AnaStella (look, i even capped
for them) - invitations and stationary
with style & spark!
everything is beautiful, from their
wedding and shower invitations to
moving announcements to save the dates
and stationary. and now, logos!

i contacted lauren last week with a
very vague...does stephanie do logos...
i want something...not sure what...
is this even a possibility? type of of e-mail.
a minute later i got back an e-mail:
she already designed one for you,
she didn't send it?

i really had no idea what i was looking for,
i knew i wanted something that represented
not lazy. rustic. but that's about it.
when i saw the design - one that stephanie
made for the fun of it weeks before - i knew it was perfect.
stephanie conveyed more about the blog
through her logo, than i could have with words.

and, so, to celebrate the new logo,
lauren and stephanie are offering one
custom stationary set to a winner
chosen at random. check out their
website and their page on
then e-mail me
by wednesday, november 26.
please include your name,
complete mailing address,
which style you would like and how
you would like them personalized
(they can print initials or names).

the winner will be notified by the
end of next week.
exciting day, right?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

i made cranberry sauce muffins (then got news that made my day)

pear, brandy and brown sugar cranberry sauce
i was off on wednesday.
i woke up with a clear plan:
shop for dinner,
shop for muffin ingredients.
make muffins,
make dinner.

i was planning to tell you
about the muffins a week
from now, when we were closer
to thanksgiving and they were
sure to make a little more sense.
but then on thursday something really
great happened.

it was august when i found out
about food52. i was reading another
blog, talking about this recipe contest:
two winners each week, both
published in a book at the end of the year.
i pretty much enter any situation with
trepidation (sadly, true), and this?
if i entered, this would really be putting
myself out there. i'm not going to lie,
the blog in the beginning, was scary.
but in that really good way.
like the blog, i had a feeling that
food52 would be a good
thing to be a part of, for the community of it,
the inspiration and, yes, the possibility
of submitting a winning recipe.
after weeks of watching
and waiting for a category that i felt
strong and confident about, i entered
into the smoked paprika contest with
sherry steamed clams. i didn't win, but
it was not at all the scary experience i
thought it could be. so, i entered again
with a variation of the squid stew.
after a few contests, i felt
like i hit my groove and have continued
to enter when inspiration strikes.
fresh cranberries
two weeks ago, i entered the contest for
best cranberry sauce. and on thursday,
i found out that i was a finalist.
it's a recipe, i feel, that is true
to me and who i am as a cook:
not completely traditional,
but not so wacky either.
it's full of flavors and
different textures,
and, the whole thing is made
in one pot, so cleanup is minimal.
while i will not back peddle and say that i didn't
feel passionate about the other recipes
that i submitted, i know i can
stand by the cranberry sauce,
regardless of if it makes its way
in the cookbook or not.

the only problem with making
cranberry sauce a month before
the holiday, is that there are leftovers.
a lot of leftovers. and considering
that my thanksgiving day plate usually
holds only one small piece
of obligatory turkey, anyway,
i was not about to make anything
turkey now. i thought about fish,
and briefly toyed with chicken,
then thumbprint cookies,
before having a dream that i
made cranberry sauce muffins.

when i woke up, i realized
that it was not such a bad idea.
i planned to adapt a muffin recipe
that i already had, but then all it
took was one click of the button
to realize something:
someone else had already thought
of it. of course. what was i thinking?
brown sugar, whole wheat flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt
starting the cranberry sauce batter
so, i read a few and decided to
go with a recipe published last year
in serious eats. i was drawn to
this particular take because of
the whole grain flour and
oats, combined with a small amount
of oil and only one egg.
i was looking for something slightly
wholesome, not rich and buttery.

(in spite of liking the
good-for-you additions,
i'll admit one thing.
without a recipe in hand, i had
picked up white chocolate the
the night before, sure that it
was what the
muffins would need
to play off the tartness
of the cranberry.)
cranberry sauce muffins with white chocolate
the other thing i liked was that,
with a few modifications,
i had all the ingredients in the
house. sure, i had to swap out the
skim milk for 1%, which is odd
because we are usually a skim
milk househould, and i used
whole wheat flour instead of
whole grain because that's what
was stashed in the freezer.
but otherwise? all in the kitchen.
i cut my shopping trip in half.
cranberry sauce muffin batter
there is absolutely nothing
complicated about this recipe
and if you're not trying to
make cheese at the same time
(more on that later),
the muffins should take you
no more than 10 minutes
to mix together.

i added the white chocolate
in, which i kind of liked -
the pieces added sweetness and
moisture, to an otherwise
almost savory muffin.
but, if i didn't have any in the
house - or if you, like many,
are not a fan - i'd leave it
out and not worry.
also, i will tell you,
once simmered into a sauce,
cooled and then baked into
muffins, the cranberries
are not as tart as they once were.

these, i think, are great
to bake, cool and
throw in the freezer -
perfect to thaw for yourself as needed.
if i'm being completely honest,
i'm not sure these are the muffins
i would whip up for company.
unless, of course, the company
is your immediate family who doesn't
judge and who you cook for all the time
and are so famished after waking up
from their thanksgiving comas,
they're just impressed that you
made last night's cranberry sauce
into this morning's baked good.
cranberry sauce muffins - a little too brown
cranberry sauce and white chocolate muffins
adapted from michael harr via serious eats
you can use any leftover cranberry sauce - what i loved about using mine (wow, that sounds snobby) is that it was made with walnuts and grated pear, so as the sauce was incorporated with the other wet ingredients, nuts and pears created their own pockets in the finished muffin. two weird things about this recipe: 1) it said that it should make about 12 muffins, but i had a lot more batter. i decided to make mini muffins with the remaining batter and i actually liked those better than the big ones. but that may be because of 2) the baking temperature. i bake most things somewhere in the 300-350 range. this recipe calls for 400˚f for 20-22 minutes. if i had used my head sooner, would have lowered it by 50˚. but i didn't, and at 19 minutes, the large muffins were browner than i would have liked. if i make these again, i will stick to normal baking temperatures. here is the recipe, how i made it.

1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces (optional)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups leftover cranberry sauce (recipe below)
1/2 cup 1% milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

heat oven to 400˚f. line wells of a muffin tin with paper baking cups. have a mini muffin tin on standby, just in case. (because i didn't expect to use the small muffin tin, i didn't have it out. after finding it under everything else i owned, i didn't bother adding muffin cups - i just coated the tin with nonstick spray.)

in small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour with white chocolate pieces; set aside.

in large bowl, combine remaining all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. in medium bowl, whisk together milk, oil, cranberry sauce and egg. using spatula, fold all dry ingredients into wet ingredients; stir just until moistened. fold in white chocolate pieces.

fill muffin cups 3/4 of the way full; spoon extra in greased mini muffin pan.

bake 20-22 minutes, or until just golden brown (i'd start checking somewhere around 15 minutes if you bake at this high a temperature), and toothpick inserted in muffins comes out clean. for mini muffins, bake 8-10 minutes.

let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

pear, brandy and walnut cranberry sauce
1/3 cup, plus 2-3 tablespoons brandy, divided
2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half
8 black peppercorns
12 ounces fresh cranberries, picked over
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 medium bartlett pears, peeled (ripe, but still firm)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted and divided

pour 1/3 cup brandy into liquid measuring cup; add enough water to equal 1/2 cup water total. set aside. place cinnamon sticks and peppercorns in in cheesecloth or large tea bag; tie closed using kitchen twine.

in medium saucepot, combine cranberries, brown sugar and cinnamon-pepper bundle. using large holes on box grater, grate pears into saucepot. stir in brandy-water mixture.

over high heat, bring cranberry mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook 10-12 minutes, or until cranberries have burst and the mixture has combined, stirring occasionally. remove from heat.

stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons brandy. let cool. remove and discard cinnamon bundle; stir in all but 1 tablespoon toasted walnuts. transfer mixture to a small seving bowl; sprinkle with remaining walnuts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

creamy mushroom soup with sherry

mushroom soup with roasted mushrooms
five days after larry returned
from chicago,
he was tasked with spending
the day in washington d.c.
he was to wake up early,
catch the 7 am train down
and the 6 pm back up.

for my part,
i had been actively
collecting different types
of mushroom for the past
several days, along with
dried mixed wild mushrooms,
and i knew that i wanted to
greet larry home on this
especially cold and rainy
fall day with a bowl of
mushroom soup.

but cut to that evening.
i was in the midst of
work craziness and larry
was able to catch
the 5 o'clock train.
when i got the text around
7:35 that he was about
25 minutes from pulling into
penn station, i looked at the
pile of raw, still uncleaned
and unsliced mushrooms.
and then i kind of panicked.

i had been craving mushroom soup
for quite a long time.
first i found the dried mushrooms
at an excellent price.
then food52 ran their
and then shiitakes went on sale
the same weekend that i found
beautiful creminis for what i still think,
is a very good deal.

so then, i did what i always do:
research like crazy. i found recipes
that were thick,
bowls of clear broth dotted
with ingredients,
soups without dairy and those
so brimming with cream,
i wondered if you could even
taste the mushrooms.

when i was done, i realized two things:
none of the recipes were exactly what i
was looking for and if i wanted a delicious,
truly mushroom soup, i better use
a ridiculous amount of mushrooms.

and, so, larry returned home
at almost 9 pm to a very hot
kitchen and me muttering things
like crazy and too many mushrooms.
whose recipe is it, larry asked?
to which i stepped down from the chair
i had been standing on - directly above
the stove to take a good picture -
and said, my own. i made it up. i'm a fool.
a whole lot of mushrooms
i think the mushroom fumes may have
gotten to me. it wasn't really that bad.
but when you start out after 7:30 at night
with 40 ounces of mushrooms,
each one demanding of you to
clean them gently
slice them nicely
saute them deliciously,
and still expect you to take their
picture frequently, maybe you don't
love all those mushrooms
you once so lovingly chose from the lot.

after they had been sliced, i had an epiphany.
they were never going to saute well in
a stock pot. instead, they would steam,
rendering themselves flabby and flavorless.
so i knew that my best bet was to
dirty another pan by sauteing them first
in the largest skillet i own, deglazing
and then transferring the whole mixture
to a saucepot with broth.

that was my aha! moment.
the next one was about
1 minute later when i looked
at the mushrooms sitting well above
the rim of the skillet and thought
hmm, now what?
at that point, i had no choice but to
remove half the mushrooms from
the skillet, brown the ones that
stayed and then switch them out
with the raw slices. when they were
all cooked, i tossed them back into
the skillet, added several splashes
of sherry and let them sizzle.
that's when larry came home.
sherry glazed sauteed mushrooms
from where i was standing -
high on that well-positioned chair -
i saw the kitchen for the first time
through a newcomers eyes.
several cabinet doors open,
vodka on the counter.
(i swear, i was looking for the sherry.)
a few mushrooms had fallen to the floor -
this was the first time i noticed.
oh goodness, i made a mess.

it's fine. every thing's fine,
i promised. i brought the mushrooms
and broth to a boil, along with the
soaking mixture from the dried mushrooms
and set to work making the kitchen
not look like the laboratory of a lunatic.
strained mushroom soaking liquid
pureeing the soup was
a last minute decision -
up until that time, i still thought
about leaving it brothy and
heavily dotted with mushrooms.
but, i'm so glad that i yet again
pulled out the immersion blender.
the hot liquid was transformed from
a simple fall soup to an
creamy mixture that was earthy and filling.

the best part?
i didn't need any milk or cream.
i had bought a carton of milk,
just in case. but when i tasted
the soup, it didn't need it.
i just added a bit more broth
to thin the whole thing out,
tasted it and realized
the pot was fine and that
it was time for me to walk away.

or, um, spoon them into bowls
so that larry could finally eat
dinner. and then (then!),
i topped the soup with
one of my favorite things:
roasted mushrooms.
oh! these are totally optional
and to be honest,
soup is probably not the best
dish to let them strut their stuff,
but wow are they good.

like everything else that benefits
from roasting, they lose all of
their moisture so that their
mushroom flavor is completely
concentrated. they become crispy
and amazingly decadent and you'll
swear you're eating something
so much more than a slice of mushroom.

when i spoke of this soup
the next day, i chose not to mention
that by the time
the picture taking was done
and the goat cheese toasts
for dunking were made,
we didn't eat it until close to 10.
or the fact that when we finished
eating, i ran into the kitchen first
saying, see, it's not so bad in here,
right? oh, don't look on that side.

but instead, i focused on
the soup: full of mushrooms
would be an understatement.
but thick, rich and exactly
what i crave to cut a chill,
make me forget
that rain is pounding
hard on my window,
and remember
that my husband is back home
would be right on point.
mushrooms - straight from the crate
creamy mushroom soup with sherry
i think this recipe took me a long time because let's face it: i was making it up as i went along. by far, the longest part of the process is cleaning and slicing the mushrooms. after that, it's a straight shoot. i meant it when i said that the soup doesn't need the milk, but i'll add one caveat to that. this soup is absolutely for mushroom lovers and if you're feeding this to someone who is eh about them, this might be a bit intense. in that case, mellow it with some milk (or half-and-half) (or cream). still know, it's a rich soup.

and for the garnish - i splurged and bought two chanterelles (which i halved) for roasting and adding to the top. i also reserved two large shiitakes (which i stemmed and quartered) and three or four creminis (which i thickly sliced). i tossed them all on the pan, along with some olive oil and kosher salt. after about 18 minutes at 400˚f, tossing twice, they were golden and crisp. just be sure to keep an eye on them - going from golden to burnt in a flash is one of their favorite party tricks.

1 cup dried mixed wild mushrooms
2 large shallots, peeled and diced
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
24 ounces cremini mushrooms, wiped cleaned, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
10 ounces white button mushrooms, wiped cleaned, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 cup pale sherry, divided
7-8 cups chicken stock

place dried mushrooms in medium heatproof bowl. in small saucepot, bring 2 cups water to a boil; pour over mushrooms. let sit 30 minutes. using slotted spoon, remove mushrooms from broth. chop. place coffee strainer carefully into measuring cup. carefully (so that the filter doesn't move) pour soaking liquid into cup. the dirt and grit from the mushrooms will stay in the strainer. reserve chopped rehydrated mushrooms and strained liquid.

[i found this tip in my travels when reading about balthazar's method for making mushroom soup. it was great.]

meanwhile, in the largest skillet you have over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. add shallots and cook 10 minutes, or until softened. add garlic and cook 2 minutes, more, stirring constantly, or until golden brown.

add 1 tablepoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter; increase heat to medium-high. let melt and heat up. add half the mushrooms to the pan; stir to coat and season with kosher salt and pepper. increase heat to high. cook mushrooms 6-8 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring often. (they will seem like they've absorbed all their moisture, then they'll release water and then they'll start to brown.) transfer cooked mushrooms to a plate. repeat with remaining olive oil, remaining butter and remaining mushrooms.

add the first batch of mushrooms back to the skillet along with the dried mushrooms. remove the skillet from the heat and add 3/4 cup sherry. carefully place the skillet back over the flame. let cook 1 minute, or until the sherry is reduced to a glaze, stirring to release everything stuck to the bottom of the skillet.

transfer mushroom mixture to large saucepot. add 6 cups chicken broth and mushroom soaking liquid. over high heat, bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer 25 minutes, or until mushrooms are very soft. using immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. (or use a blender and puree, very carefully by pressing on lid with a dishtowel, in batches.) add 1 cup chicken stock (or more) to thin out the soup to your desired consistency. stir in remaining sherry. reheat on low heat, if necessary.