Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hearty Bacon Clam Chowder

There are some annoying questions asked in this world.  Such as, what are you going to be for Halloween.  I don't know.  Myself?  I get all stressed out even thinking of what to be.  I am absolutely not creative.  And I can't pull off one of those clever easy costume things like scribbling the word book on your face so you can say you are "facebook".  I also hate spending money on costumes.  So I just tend to avoid it.  And then Halloween comes, or some other Halloween activity rolls around, and I dress in my normal clothes.  Or maybe, maybe - a festive Halloween shirt.  I probably sound like the Halloween grinch.  I like other parts of the festivities!  Like the previously posted candy mix.  How can someone be anti-candy?  And we make silly little holiday crafts and carve pumpkins and watch something scary.  But I just don't want to dress up.

Another annoying question is "soup or salad?"  In what world is this an okay question to ask?  How is that even answerable until you know all the possibilities!  Not all soups are the same! Chicken noodle is not crab bisque.  It is not.  I probably wouldn't order chicken noodle unless I was super sick, but then I probably wouldn't be in a restaurant to begin with.  So it just wouldn't happen.  And not all salads are the same!  What lettuce is being used?  What other things are on the salad?  What dressings do you have?  These are all critical pieces of information for us to have to make an informed decision!  Anyways, I'm not sure I've come anywhere close to talking about this clam chowder, except to say, it's hearty, it's bacon-y, and given a choice between this soup and almost any salad, I'd have to go with the clam chowder.

3 cups half and half
1 cup whole milk
1 sprig thyme
8 peppercorns
2 peeled garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
extra virgin olive oil
6 pieces of bacon, chopped
2 russet potatoes, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 small shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
plus more olive oil if needed
8 ounces clam juice
1/2 cup white wine
2 (6.5ounces) cans of chopped clams
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper

Gently heat the milk, cream, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, and sprig of thyme in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Don’t let the mixture boil.  Once the mixture is very hot, take off heat and let the aromatics infuse the milk for 20 minutes. 

In a small pot, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour.  Keep stirring, until it begins to bubble (about 2 minutes or so).  Take off heat and set aside.

In a large pot, pour a bit of olive oil in to cover the bottom, and get the oil nice and hot.  Add the bacon, and let it crisp up (about 5 minutes or so).  Once it has crisped up, remove from the pan using tongs.  Set on a paper towel.  Add in the chopped potatoes.  let the potatoes cook in the bacon fat for a bit (about 3 minutes or so).  Then add in the celery, carrots, shallots.  Cook (feel free to add more oil if needed) until the potatoes have begun to brown.  Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).  Stir in the white wine.  Reduce, then add the clam juice, and cans of chopped clams.  Add in the the infused milk and reserved flour mixture (roux).  Stir, and cook until the vegetables have achieved the desired tenderness, and the chowder has become thick.  Add the salt and peppers, and adjust seasonings.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween Muddy Buddies (aka Puppy Chow)

They say that if you love something, set it free.  If it comes back it is meant to be.  I hate pithy statements like this.  I really did love it and very very very reluctantly let it go.  Well, more like it was forcefully taken from my hands.  I made this candy mix.  A whole glorious batch of ridiculous festive candy in celebration of Halloween.  So garish and bright and delicious.  And placed it into a gigantic container.  And I loved it. Oh how I loved it.  I had no intention of setting it free.  And then Seth told me that it was an absurd amount of candy for one toddler and his parents.  So he was taking it into his office to share.  I hate sharing.  And obviously my container of candy does not have motor skills, so it can't find its way back to me.  But I will contend that it was meant to be.  As I fully intend to make another batch over the weekend.  Maybe, you know, just half a batch. And Seth will not be prying this one away from me.

adapted from

9 cups Rice Chex
2/3 cup butterscotch chips
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup Nutella
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon vanilla salt (see this post for details)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
a bunch of whatever Halloween candy floats your boat
  I used:
  1 bag of Brach's candy corn
  1 movie theater sized box of Reese's pieces
  ~ 10 ounces of pretzel M&Ms
  ~ 10 ounces of peanut M&Ms

In a large bowl, pour in the Chex.  In a medium glass bowl, place butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, Nutella, and butter.  Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir.  You want the mixture to be melted together.  Stir in vanilla.  Sprinkle vanilla salt over the Chex, then pour the Nutella mixture over the cereal.  Get the cereal as evenly coated as possible, then sprinkle with the powdered sugar.  Place the mixture on waxed paper to dry.  In a medium bowl, mix together all the Halloween candy you are using.  Mix with the cereal mixture once it has dried.  Place in an airtight container.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cilantro and Lime Fried Egg on Toast

Fate intervened.   Had I not been compelled to move the tupperware container sitting on a shelf in the fridge, I would not have spied the sad looking plastic bag behind it.  But I did move it!  I did!  And since then, our breakfasts have taken a delicious turn.  The lucky find was cilantro, an herb that was used days before and then quickly forgotten.  So that morning, I made eggs over easy with toast, some spices/herbs, and then a generous dusting of cilantro.  It was good, but we decided that the sourdough bread needed to be bronzed on a skillet in order to be easier to eat (plus, you know, more fat and deliciousness).  So the next day we did the bronzing with the same herbs and spices and the cilantro.  Then I wondered what would happen with a drizzle of lime juice, so the next day, we did the bronzing, the herbs and spices, cilantro... and the lime juice.  Harmony.  Seriously, what an unexpectedly awesome combination.

I can't bear to think what would have happened had I not moved that container when I did.  Instead of a wonderful new breakfast, a slimy green mess would have been found...  then tossed.

chopped cilantro
kosher salt
crushed red pepper
garlic powder
slices of sourdough bread
extra virgin olive oil
lime wedges

Heat olive oil in cast iron skillet.  Place the slices of sourdough bread on the griddle and bronze each side.  Take off heat once both sides have browned.  Set aside.  Pour in more olive oil if needed.  Crack the eggs into the hot skillet.  Sprinkle with oregano, salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic powder.  Once the white looks pretty cooked (about a minute), get the spatula (be sure to get it underneath the yolk) and flip the whole thing to finish cooking (over easy).  It should only take a few seconds.  Then place on bronzed toast.  Cover with a healthy sprinkling of cilantro.  Serve with lime wedges.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Butternut Squash and Apple Risotto

The butter had been melted.  The shallot had been added, and was wonderfully soft.  The rosemary and sage gave off their woodsy scents.  Garlic was emitting its pungent fragrance.  It was time to add the rice.  So I measured out the rice and stirred it into the onion and butter mixture, letting the rice get all toasty in a quick herbal butter bath before adding the white wine.

Then I noticed something strange.  I had poured in long-grain brown rice?  How did this even get into the cupboard, let alone get into my pan?  I must have purchased it up by mistake.  Do not make the same mistake I did.  I gave it a chance, trying to cook it for a bit, praying that somehow a risotto would force its way out of this mixture.  A risotto did not emerge.  I guess it could have, if I had given it about a year to cook.  So yeah, do not mistakenly grab long-grain brown rice at the grocery store than grab it from your cupboard to make risotto.

I had to restart the whole thing, of course.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 sprig rosemary, needles removed and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped sage leaves, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 cups Arborio or medium-grain rice
smoked sea salt, to taste
ground white pepper, to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups butternut squash puree
2 Granny Smith apples, cored
1/2 cup toasted pinenuts, for garnish

Note: I roasted a whole butternut squash in a 425 degree oven for about 90 minutes to 2 hours, then scooped out the seeds and stringy parts and ran the flesh through a food processor.
To toast the pinenuts, I place in a dry skillet over medium high heat and toss until they have developed a golden brown color (about 4 minutes).  

In a medium pot over medium heat, keep the chicken broth warm.  Melt butter in a large saute pan.  Add the shallot, rosemary, and sage.  Once the onion has softened (about 4 minutes), add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, til fragrant.  Add the rice.  Stir the rice and let the butter coat the rice.  Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper.  Pour in the white wine and stir the rice.  Once the rice has absorbed the wine, add in a ladleful (about 2/3 cup) of chicken stock.  Stir and let the rice absorb the stock.  Once it has absorbed it, add the next ladleful, and keep repeating.  Be sure to stir frequently.  Once the rice has cooked, stir in butternut squash puree.  Grate the apples into the risotto and stir.  Top with toasted pinenuts.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kale Pesto Breakfast Pasta

The wise Dr. Seuss asks "Did you ever fly a kite in bed? Did you ever walk with ten cats on your head? Did you ever milk this kind of cow?"  He then goes on to say, "If you never did, you should.  These things are fun and fun is good."

I totally agree - fun is good.  I have yet to fly a kite in bed, walk with ten cats on my head, or milk any cow (though, i remain skeptical that walking with ten cats on your head could be considered fun, as I'm pretty sure the result would be a flurry of biting and scratching).  But we did have pasta for breakfast. And that was fun.  Therefore it was good!

I worry that it appears that we have a kale obsession.  This is not the case.  I promise!  I just happened to have a ridiculous amount of the stuff around and wanted to use it up.  So I made this.

For the pesto:
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
4 cups chopped kale
1/2 cup olive oil
zest and juice from 1 lemon
smoked sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper

For the breakfast bowls:
kale pesto (about 2 tablespoons per bowl) (I made this night before I wanted to use it)
cooked spaghetti (I cooked it the night before to help speed things along for the morning, you probably want about 1/2 cup -1 cup per bowl)
egg yolks (1 per bowl)
slices of bacon (1 per bowl)
chopped parsley (about a tablespoon per bowl)
grated Parmesan (about a tablespoon per bowl)

To make the pesto, place garlic, walnuts, lemon zest, and kale in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse.  Slowly pour in the olive oil and lemon juice while the food processor is still running.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste, then refrigerate.

Place cooked and heated pasta in each serving bowl.   

Fry up bacon slices on a griddle over medium heat.  Once both sides have crisped, remove from griddle and place on a paper towel.  Chop.  In a skillet (I used my trusty cast iron skillet) over medium heat, fry the egg yolk.  It will only take about 30 seconds to a minute.  You want it to be warm, but still runny.   

For each bowl, toss the pasta with the pesto.  Then top with fried egg yolk, chopped bacon, chopped parsley, and grated Parmesan.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Brown Butter Blondies with Chocolate Maple Glaze

Ugh I hate packing.  I think I somehow manage to both overpack and underpack at the same time.  It is a gift.  I was looking for the new toothbrush holders that had been picked up a few days ago, and I knew I saw them the day before.  I had looked right at them in their bag.  Somehow, during those hours, they got lost.  I don't understand how that happens! Am I getting old and senile?  Did I just imagine toothbrush holders?  Was the whole act of going to the drugstore and placing said holders in my basket, checking out, and then coming home with them just an elaborate fantasy in my head?  Is it a trick being played by some sort of supreme being?  Did the cats take off with the package and wrap yarn around it?  Did Max claim it for his own, burying it under a forgotten pile of toys?  Did it disappear through a wormhole into an alternate dimension?  I HAVE NO IDEA! It is confusing.  I was so annoyed about this situation.  I know it really isn't a big deal in the scheme of life, but it doesn't take away from how frustrating it feels at the moment.  So I tried to let it go (okay, lets face it, I'm not really letting it go) and accept the fact that the toothbrush holders have found a new home and would not be accompanying us on our trip.  Then I went to the kitchen and made these.  Eating these made me feel better.

For the blondies:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, ground
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips

For the glaze:
1/4 cup chocolate chips
pinch salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon half and half

Heat oven to 350.  Grease an 8x8 baking pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and ground walnuts.  In a medium skillet, melt the butter.  Keep and eye on the butter, it will become foamy and brown specks will be at the bottom of the pan, and it will have a wonderful nutty fragrance.  Take off heat and stir in brown sugar and maple syrup.  Let the mixture cool.  Once cool, whisk in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.  Stir in flour mixture and then the chocolate chips.  Bake for about 25 minutes, until  the top is golden brown and it has cooked all the way through.  Let cool.  To make the glaze, place the chocolate chips, salt, maple syrup, and half and half in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 30 seconds to a minute (you want everything to be nice and melted together).  Stir, then use a pastry brush to glaze the blondies.

Adapted from the blondies recipe in Joy of Cooking  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fall in Coffee Form

So I totally got (stole?) this idea from my friend Jess.  We were on the phone talking about fall and coffee, fall flavored coffee, and how much we love all of that.  You would probably be amazed by how often this comes up as a topic. We haven't seemed to exhaust this subject.  We clearly are not adults, but children.  Children who drink coffee.  Incidentally, Max would like to be one of those.  He loves swiping sips from my mug.  I have learned to guard my mug more carefully.  But just the other day Jess and I were talking about FAVORITE COLORS.  We were having the same conversations that preschoolers have.  I'm guessing tomorrow will bring some in-depth explorations on our favorite and least favorite animals.

Jess was talking about how she loves getting pumpkin pie flavored coffee and stirring in cream and maple syrup.  I was like oh my god, that might be one of the best things ever.  So the next morning, I added some pumpkin pie spices to the coffee grounds before brewing as usual, and then stirred in a maple syrup mixture.   It was... well... Fall, in coffee form.  Pretty much the only way I can experience Fall here.

But not longer!  This Thursday, Seth, Max and I are heading back East, and we get to do all those awesomely cheesy festive autumn things - like pumpkin patches, and hay rides, and corn mazes, and apple orchards. Jess and I can drink this coffee - together!  All while we talk about very important life subjects such as favorite colors and favorite animals.

For the spice mixture:
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

For the maple syrup cream:
1/2 cup half and half
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon fresh orange juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch kosher salt
cinnamon sticks, for serving
orange wedges, for serving

Mix all the spices together. Brew with your favorite coffee.  I used 1 teaspoon of the spice mixture with a scant 1/2 cup of coffee grounds in my 8 cup french press.

Whisk half and half, maple syrup, orange juice, vanilla extract, and salt in a bowl (or shake in a sealed jar).  Pour desired amount into the spiced coffee, serve with cinnamon sticks and orange wedges.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Baked Apples with Pine Nuts, Juniper Berries, and Orange

It is surprising to me that apples in this day and age still have cores.  I mean, watermelons and grapes are now seedless.  Apples are wondering when their day is coming.  Okay, I'm wondering that.  I'd also advocate for pit-free cherries.

I thought it would be all meditative and soothing to be coring apples (and I only did 4!).  Looking back, I have no idea why I thought that would be the case.  At all.  For one thing, I am completely incapable of having those kinds of attributes.  Instead, I lean towards "anxious" and "stressed."  I feel like that is something I need to work on, but that just makes me more anxious.  So it is what it is.  And yes, I've tried the whole yoga thing.
Secondly, maybe the 90 degree weather also played a part in making things not so fun.  Okay, probably a large part of it. In addition to being the anxious type, I am also stubborn and delusional - stubborn in that, since September 1, I have declared it to be Autumn here... and delusional since "here" is Southern California.  It has been like 90 here the past few days.  And it is October.  I'm confused by this.  But because it is Autumn, I must do Autumn things.  Even if the weather doesn't cooperate.  And perhaps I should consider one of those apple corer gadgets.  But despite the annoyance of taking out the cores and the overbearing heat, I loved every bite of these.  Completely and utterly worth the hassle.  

4 granny smith apples, cored
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon crushed juniper berries
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
pinch salt
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/4 teaspoon all spice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons orange juice
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup water
vanilla whipped cream, for serving

Heat oven to 350.  In a medium bowl, mix together the brown sugar, juniper berries, melted butter, salt, pine nuts, all spice, orange juice, and orange zest.  Fill the apples with brown sugar mixture.  In a small bowl, mix brandy and water, and any remaining brown sugar mixture.  Place the stuffed apples in ovenproof dish, then pour the brandy mixture on the bottom.  Bake for about 45 minutes or until the apples are tender but hold their shape.  Serve with vanilla whipped cream.
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