Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thicker Than Soup, Thinner Than Stew…

First of all, if anyone ever used the word “stoup” to describe the above condition to me I’d laugh in their face and give them a nice, hearty slap to bring them back from the kiddy kitchen fun time hour, or maybe the other way around I haven’t decided yet. Just because you can make up imaginary, cutesy terms to describe something that you’ve “made” doesn’t mean you should. I wonder if She Whom We Shall Not Name has ever considered the fact that her adorably rancid little term already exists, for something far more interesting. Also, why bother using euphemisms in your little cooking show when you have to explain what they mean? Every. Single. Time. It’s called 30 Minute Meals, not Kindergarten Speech Therapy. Plenty of actual chefs don’t have to resort to childish abbreviations or speech patterns when performing on their shows, and I suppose they don’t have to because they actually have intelligent and useful things to say. Every TV ‘chef’ is annoying to some degree if you watch them too much, but She Whom We Shall Not Name is agitating after a record 4 seconds.
Moving on. Chowder-it’s thicker than soup, thinner than most stews…oh…wow.

Corn Cheddar Chowder
Recipe derived from this awesome food blog: http://www.lastnightsdinner.net/

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced sweet Spanish onion
1 cup sliced scallions
4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
8-10 small red potatoes, cut into about 1 inch chunks
16 oz portabella mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chopped or pureed (use blender/food processor) roasted red/yellow bell peppers
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 lb. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Kosher salt to taste

Melt 2 tbs of the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add onion and scallions. Season with salt and cook on med low until lightly caramelized. Add vinegar and cayenne, cook 1 minute. Add corn, stock, potatoes, pepper puree, stir and cover. Simmer over medium-low heat until potatoes are fork-tender, about 20-25 minutes.
While you wait for the timer, sauté the mushrooms in the remaining butter in a separate pan with some salt and pepper. Move the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. Reduce the mushroom water/butter left in the pan until it forms a dark, thick syrup, then pour into the mushroom bowl.
When the potatoes are nice and soft, taste and add additional salt, cayenne or vinegar if necessary. Spoon some of the soup into a blender, filling no more than half way. Put on lid and hold a thick cloth over the lid and blend until smooth. Pour the result back into the chowder and fill blender halfway twice more. You could also use an immersion blender or food processor for this if you have them. Stir in the blended remains and add the shredded cheese, stir well. Now add your mushrooms with their lovely sauce and mix again. Serve with a thick piece of rustic bread, I like Portuguese Saloio. If you're entertaining you could garnish with a sprinkle of cheese and chopped scallions.

So. Damn. Good. Even with frozen corn, it would likely be even better with fresh. I still can't believe I actually made this, I'm shocked. This is my first ever fully independent soup-like conconction. That tablespoon of cayenne does add quite a kick, so if you don't like spicy you should cut that in half, or more. The original recipe did not call for mushrooms or balsamic vinegar, but it's fall and I wanted to make it more autumn-ish so in they went. I also gave a thought to using yams or sweet potatoes instead of red and doubling the Spanish onion and omitting the green...maybe next time.
Before I added the cheddar, but after I pureed some of the potatoes, I did a taste test. Holy crap this was good, even without the cheese! So the low fat alternative would be to sauté the onions and mushrooms in olive oil, and just forget the cheese altogether. Hazaah!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Last year I convinced my Yia Yia to give me her Greek family recipe collection. I told her I was going to combine it with some other stuff to make a family cook book that I would give to all the women in our family. So yeah, I still haven't gotten around to making the book, but I have finally made one of the recipes. I've helped make almost all of the recipes she gave me and almost every April of my childhood was marked by twisting and moulding hundreds of koulourakia and kourabiedes for the Greek Festival thrown by my church.

Man, those were the days, sitting at an incredibly long table with at least 20 old Greek church ladies on both sides, rolling and twisting and telling stories. I was always the youngest one there, none of the other Yia Yia's brought their grandkids. I would sit very quietly and try to decipher their bad english to understand what the hell they were all laughing about.

However, now I'm trying to cook this stuff completely on my own, in my tiny, barely functioning kitchen. Oh yeah, American pronuciation of this cookie is 'kool-eh-dakia' just so you know. Many of the recipes for kourourakia I found on the internet claim they are a "traditional Easter cookie" and I don't know why. Maybe my family, and the entire church congregation is wierd, because there are pans and pans of the stuff served with coffee and this wierd, sweet barley cereal stuff every Sunday after the morning service. Easter is usually when someone in the family makes the good stuff - baklava (which I despise but still appreciate), kourabiedes (my fav), ravani (a farina cake), finikia...and those fucking awful white almonds. God I hate those things, and I just know that when I get married there will be little tulle wrapped bags of them EVERYWHERE. Moving on...
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1 lb unsalted butter softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
6 large eggs (or 5 medium) + 1 egg
1 orange zested and juiced (at least 1/2 cup liquid)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp clove
1/2 tsp salt

7-8 cups flour (plus more for rolling)
4 tsp baking powder
Sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F. This recipe makes 60-70 cookies, about 3 half sheet pans full, so you can halve it if you want.
Cream the butter and the sugar until light yellow color, add in the orange zest and juice, and the vanilla and clove. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time and mix very, very well after each.
In a separate bowl sift the flour and baking powder together.
Add the flour to the wet mix 1 cup at a time.
Ok, the original recipe called for 4 cups of flour and 4 tsp baking powder, but it wasn't enough flour, the dough needs to be formable into twists. So I added somewhere between 3 and 4 more cups of flour, until the dough didn't stick to the sides of the bowl and I could roll it into a ball in my hands. Don't use a mixer for this, or you'll be buying a new one, use your hands to kneed in the flour after the first 2 cups.
If you have the time, let the dough rest in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up so it is easier to form.

You can make these into any shape your little heart desires, but the traditional form is rope twists and curled S shapes. Either way you have to start out with a stable, floured surface at least 1 ft. wide. take a small palmfull of dough and roll into a slight ball, then rub your hands together to get a long, tube shape. Put the dough on the floured surface, flour your hands, and roll into a long, thin cylinder, approx. 10" long, and about 1/4" thick. This does not have to be the exact measurements, just try to make all the cookies about the same size so they cook evenly.
Now for the rope twist, just flip one end over the other so you have a little hole at the top, then continue to flip the ends over each other until you run out of straight dough.
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For the curly S, start at one end (make sure surface is very well floured) and curl it in on itself, like a centipede does when it dies. Don't lift it off the surface, just curl it as it sits, a little less than half way down the length. Then curl the other end in the opposite direction, keep curling until you run out of straight dough and you meet the other curl.
If you arent' using sesame seeds, transfer formed dough to cookie sheet. If you are using the sesame seeds, put them on a flat plate and carefully flip the twisted cookies onto the plate top side down, press very lightly so the seeds stick, then place top side up on a cookie sheet.
Beat the extra egg in a bowl with an optional tsp sugar. Brush tops of cookies with egg and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. These are hard, scone like cookies so don't freak if they aren't soft coming out of the oven.

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Mine came out a little light, probably because my oven SUCKS! They should be a little darker than this. On a side note the clove and vanilla are my own additions to this, my grandmother's recipe, although I have seen both used in other kourourakia recipes.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Potatoes Jess

Yesterday while I was surfing for recipes instead of sucking my brain dry on Poisson ratio charts, I came across this recipe for mashed potatoes with cheese on top. The key to hitting the print button was its simplicity, and good ingredient proportion. While I was at my ghetto ass Superfresh for the potatoes and cream I saw some decent looking sliced baby portabellas, and I thought: yes…YES! Of course I couldn’t find anything remotely similar to Gruyère, and I have this unfortunate aversion to Swiss. I found myself in that Bermuda triangle of quality, the processed cheese aisle. You know the one, with rows of Kraft singles as far as the eye can see. I’m looking for something, anything good that doesn’t have the word cheddar (although that would be killer too), Kraft, or imitation on the label. Cracker Barrel to my rescue, featuring a package of sliced natural Fontina. I’ve never actually purchased or cooked with Fontina before but I’ve heard that word on many a cooking show, so at the very least I’d have something culinarily relevant. Ha! I think I’m forgetting that this is a glorified bowl of mashed potatoes, so anyway, on with the recipe.

Potatoes Jess

6 Idaho baking potatoes
16 oz portabella mushrooms
½ lb unsalted butter – 2 sticks plus an extra 2 tablespoons
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup grated parmesan
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ to ¾ cup Fontina cheese, just rip up a few slices. Cheddar would also kick ass.
¼ cup fresh herb – chives, parsley, basil…

Wash and dry potatoes, poke all over with a fork, and bake on an aluminum foiled cookie sheet for 45 minutes at 425F until fork tender.
While the potatoes are doing their thing, wash and slice (if you got them whole) the shrooms, dry with a paper towel, and sauté in 2 tablespoons of the butter and a little salt and pepper over medium heat.
When the shrooms are soft, remove them and set aside, leave the liquid in the pan.
Using the leftover liquid, sauté the garlic until fragrant (2 minutes on med-low heat).
Let the potatoes sit for a few minutes after they are done or use a towel so you can handle them. Scrape off the skin with a knife and put the naked spuds into a large bowl. Coarsely mash with a fork into small pieces, the potato should fall apart easily, if not, well I don’t know how to fix that so I guess you’re beat.
Cut the remaining butter into tablespoon pieces (melts faster) and add them, the cream, parmesan, herbs, and the cooked garlic with pan drippings to the potatoes and mix with a big spoon until all the liquid is soaked up (a couple minutes of stirring does just fine). Taste and add salt and pepper accordingly.

Take out some sort of baking dish, I used a 9 inch round cake pan because I had nothing else small enough. Spread half of the potato mixture on the bottom of the dish, pour the mushrooms on top, then gently plop the rest of the potatoes on top of that. Flatten the top and layer on the torn up cheese pieces, if you are really lazy you could just lay on whole slices. Turn on your broiler and put the dish on the second from top rack. Broil for about 5 minutes until lightly brown and slightly puffed. Keep an eye on that mess, I don’t know how easy it is to burn Fontina and it was too expensive for me to experiment.

Voila! Instant happiness. You'll notice the absence of herbage in my pics, well that's because my "Super" grocery store only had dill and cilantro, so just put some imaginary green bits in there and that's what it'll look like. I ate this with some steamed broccoli to make me feel a little better about the whole ½ lb of butter thing. There are four layers of awesome in there so use a big spoon.