Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As Summer Fades Away

I strolled through the Farmers' Market this past Sunday, filling my basket with the last of the fine delicacies of summer produce. These were my finds....

white peaches

fingerling and purple potatoes



cherry and pear tomatoes

purple bell peppers

For a bit of fun and games...anyone want to take a stab at the surfaces that served as backdrops for my lovely fruits and veggies?? :-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Canned Pumpkin Scarcity

Just as the autumnal weather comes upon us, causing me to gear up for Fall baking endeavors with my delicious pumpkin, I discover a SHORTAGE of canned pumpkin at the grocer. Yes, you read that correctly: a scarcity of canned pumpkin.

My past few promenades down the canned vegetable aisle have left me disappointed without a trace of pumpkin in sight. I thought it was merely a coincidence. But then, a few days ago I went to the store, eager to buy some pumpkin for these scones I've been craving, and found a gaping hole where the canned pumpkin should have been. I was seriously in disbelief. How could it be that no stores in my area were keeping pumpkin in stock! Especially this time of year when everyone is beginning to crave that scrumptious Fall veggie! Scandalous! I kept glancing up and down the aisle, hoping that they had been misplaced. We even consulted a clerk as to whether they were on special display somewhere else in the store.

Not a can in sight.

I resorted to the pumpkin pie canned mixture and tweaked my recipe to accommodate. (Doesn't quite taste the same though, but did the trick.)

Then, as we are checking out, bemoaning the fact we could not find our beloved canned pumpkin, the cashier informs us that there has recently been a run (and, therefore, a scarcity) on canned pumpkin caused by a new fad of feeding pumpkin to one's dogs.

Apparently, pumpkin is the new doggie diet pill. It is recommended for overweight dogs to replace a bit of the dry food with canned pumpkin. It aids them in digestion and keeps them full longer due to the added fiber, keeping them from eating too much fattening dry food....Hey! Maybe we should try this diet for fat humans too! Ingenious. I claim the canned pumpkin for the humans. We get first dibs! Sorry, but I'd rather keep myself looking svelte than my that selfish?

So, yes, if you want to make anything other than a pumpkin pie right now (unless your local pumpkin patch is open and you want to cook a pumpkin), your fresh out of luck because our dogs are on the skinny pumpkin diet. Currently searching for a substitute....sweet potatoes, anyone??

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hot and Sweet

I discovered this new flavor of Jelly Belly the other day: Chili Mango. It is their latest in the 50 Flavor line-up. It produces a progression of flavors, from fruity sweetness to a spicy kick. The lady at the shop said she tried it with some chips and salsa....I do love me some mango salsa. Perhaps I'll give it a whirl.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Monkey Bread

Disclaimer: No monkeys were harmed in the making of this bread.

At the school where I work, Thursday is always our 'Diner Day' where we let the kids kick back and watch a movie and indulge in some special treat. Ideally, we like to choose ones where the kids are involved in the making process. They just love to get their hands dirty! And there is something all the more enjoyable when beholding the final product when it is created by your own hands....

I was racking my brain last night for a good food project to do with them. My co-teacher has decided to let me handle the baking projects from now on as he claims I "seem to know what I'm doing." ;-) As a matter of fact, the process of creating and baking enthralls me, so I couldn't be more happy to oblige.

Even artists have 'writers' block' some days; I was rather stuck in the mire last night. But then the thought came to me of this moist, gooey, sugary treat Ryan had made one day for his co-workers and left me a bite of. Its main components are sugar and cinnamon. Actually, it is ideal if you are craving cinnamon rolls but are short on time.

He kindly acquiesced to my request. And, I can honestly say, had he been present, the children probably would have trampled him to death with their affection, they were so in love with his yummy monkey bread. (Although, initially, some where seriously concerned that we would be making bread with monkeys in it....that's just gross.)

All it takes is 4 cans of refridgerated buttermilk rolls (such as Pillsbury) which are cut into forths and rolled around in some cinnamon and sugar. To get the kids involved, I gave each of them 8 pieces in a sandwich baggie and dumped a bit of the cinnamon/sugar mixture inside. We had them shake up the baggies for a good 5 minutes. Probably that much time was unnecessary, but it kept them entertained. Certainly important. :-)

We then placed all the little cinnamon and sugar balls into a buttered pan (traditionally, this is done in bundt pan, but in a pinch you can use any old baking dish), and drizzled them with 1/2 c. of melted butter and 1 c. of brown sugar mixed together. This forms a nice caramelly crust on top when baked.

They go into the oven at 350 F for 25 minutes -- and voila! -- monkey bread....sans the monkeys.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tarte Tatin

Sorry not the greatest of pictures....not so pretty. But, oh so delicious!

Something strange happened the other day: I discovered an apple treat made WITHOUT cinnamon that I enjoyed. Without cinnamon. A few days ago I would have told you that it was impossible to make an apple dessert without its lovely cinnamon. I mean, they're like salt and pepper, milk and cookies, French fries and ketchup, Corona and lime.... They can't truly THRIVE without each other.
Can they??
But then I happened upon a recipe for Tarte Tatin, a necessary ending to my fine French supper the other night. Julia's recipe I did not use as that resides in the second volume of which I am without at this point in time. So I took out my trusty Bubby's Homemade Pies to search out an apple tart recipe. It did not fail me.

Another recipe I've been intimidated by (man, I need to regain a bit of confidence in the cooking/baking department these days....!!), for it requires you to bake your pie upside down. You place your filling in the bottom of the dish, the crust on top, and then you invert your pie once it comes out of the oven so that your delightful apple 'flower' is featured.

And, as I was saying, no cinnamon. The caramel sauce drizzled into the bottom of the pan soaks into the lemony apples. Hence, the result is a zingy, caramelized flavor. It stands on its own without the help of my trusty cinnamon.

Truly, I didn't even miss the cinnamon.

Tarte Tatin
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
2 T. unsalted butter
pinch of salt
3 lbs. apples
2 T. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 T. lemon zest
1/2 c. sugar
pinch of salt
4 T. unsalted butter
To Make Caramel: Place water in a saucepan and add the sugar. Heat over medium-high heat, shaking the pan as the sugar dissolves so that it mixes and does not stick to the edges of the pan. Do not stir. It is important to keep the sugar-water moving so that it does not burn. Eventually the sugar-water will boil rapidly and begin to gel a bit. Keep shaking the pan around. It is done when it becomes a light shade of brown. If you like really burnt caramel, you can wait until it is the color of amber and reads about 380 F on a candy thermometer. (I made mine without the thermometer, removing it from the heat when it was somewhere in between honey and amber colored.) Pour this into the bottom of your pie dish to cover the bottom. It can be made ahead and set out at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Peel and core apples, slicing to about 1/4 in. thickness. You want them to be of uniform size as they will be made into a spiral pattern in your dish. Toss them in a bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and zest. Heat them in a large saucepan on the stove over medium heat until the edges are soft. Cool to room temperature. (So that you do not burn your fingers while assembling like I did because I'm too impatient.)
Using the dish coated in caramel, make a spiral pattern starting from the center outwards, using your nicest looking apples on the bottom. Continue the pattern a second time on top of the first layer. At the third layer, just toss in the remaining apples.
Roll out your pie crust to a size slightly larger than the pie dish. Place the crust on top of the apples and trim off around the edges leaving about an inch extra. Fold the edges around the apples. This will be the bottom of the crust eventually so no need to vent or decorate.
Bake the tart for 15 minutes. Then, turn the oven down to 350 F and bake 30 more minutes.
Cool the tart for 5 minutes before inverting. Run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen the tart. Place a dish larger than the tart on top of the pie dish. Flip it over quickly (key word -- otherwise it will slide like mine) to remove the tart from the pan. Scrape out any remaining caramel and drizzle over the top.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

I was transported to another place and time last night. Ryan and I may have been sitting in his cozy condo listening to the hum of air conditioning unit on the porch, but in my mind I was with him at a sidewalk cafe on the bank of the Seine, feasting on a fabulous French supper.
Something about a glass of red wine, a rich beef stew and crusty bread, carries me away to those warm summer nights in France.

I have to say, Julia's Child's Boeuf Bourguignon is worth all the hype surrounding it and more. I think I was seriously swooning after the first bite. I possibly could have eaten the whole pot if not for a serious exercise of self-control.

The process for creating the dish was lengthy, but enjoyable as I sliced, diced and danced my way around the kitchen. The bacon was seared, the meat was browned, the vegetables sauteed, before adding the herbs, beef and red wine. It then slowly simmered in the oven for 3 hours, gently coaxing all the delicious flavors into a fine symphony of taste. Tiny onions and mushrooms were sauteed in separate pans before being added to the pot at the end. The tiny onions are actually boiled in red wine for about an hour, which lends them to truly stand out when encountered in the dish. And, no, it is not too much onion... ;-) (I was a bit worried about that. Although I think I would add another carrot or two next time. I like my veggies.)
My biggest 'beef' (har, har) with this dish was the number of pots and pans I had to dirty....actually, some several times since the number of pots and pans in the kitchen is rather low; hence, some did double, or even triple, duty throughout the course of the night. Scrub-a-dub-dub......

My choice of wine for the evening -- both in regards cooking and drinking -- was Beringer's Merlot. It was a simple wine, but deep enough to satisfy.

The juices soaked up beautifully with a piece of bread and/or mashed potatoes. In fact, I would say they are essential elements to this meal. My beouf bourguignon was accompanied by Pugliese and white cheddar mashed potatoes.

Will I make it again?? You bet. As a matter of fact, I'd like to try some of Julia's other recipes. I've been intimated, as they seem like so many hoops to jump through for the final result, but the truth is, is that Julia's just thorough with her instructions. This dish took a long time to cook, but not too horribly long to prepare. And as long as I have a good tune playin' in the kitchen, I'll
stay in there as long as it takes to get the job done. :-)
Good to the last drop....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Julie and Julia

I have been hugely remiss the past few months in cooking, baking, blogging...all those things which keep me on an even keel. I've been occupied with some other pressing activities lately, but I'm beginning to realize that even the most of hectic of lifestyles --at least for me -- must include some time for domestic activity and related rambling thoughts.

The other night, I went to see the film, Julie and Julia, based on the memoirs of Julia Child and her aspiring follower, Julie Powell, who blogged her way through the first volume of Julia's cookbooks over the course of a year. (Both of which I received as a birthday gift this year.)

Although it may be a film about food and cooking, for all intents and purposes it is primarily a full-fledged chick flick. I mean, it would have to be based on the director's (Nora Ephron) previous track record, such as Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. It is hugely an analysis of how these women's enterprises affect their relationships with their husbands. Nevertheless, it was also a culinary inspiration to me -- a kick-in-the-pants, you might say -- to get my butt back in the kitchen and start cooking on a regular basis again.

There is much talk throughout the film about Julia's famous Boeuf Bourguignon. Julie's favorite childhood memories include that of her mother making the dish. The thought of the delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen when she was young spawned the idea of using Julia's cookbook as inspiration for her blog. In Julie's first attempt at making the dish -- no less on a night when someone famous is scheduled to come to dinner -- she falls asleep during the 3 hour cooking process, misses the alarm, and wakes up to a charred mess. It turns out splendid on the second round, although her dinner guest cancels due to inclement weather.

Her husband's perfectly happy to take care of the leftovers though.... ;-)

At any rate, this weekend's family supper will feature this delicious dish. It's about time I do Julia proud by whipping up this fantastic beef stew. I'll let you know how it goes.... :-)

Ecole des Gourmandes, here I come.