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Archive for November, 2009

You know what season it is?  It’s the season with significantly less variety.  Root vegetables, anyone?   Call me crazy, but I’ve never been a big fan of parsnips, or rutabagas.  Or winter squash.  Or sweet potatoes.  Sorry.  They’re just so….starchy! Or maybe I should just say that it’s the season that leaves me a little cold in the kitchen (no pun intended).  See, I’m not really an eater of full meals.  I thrive on snack-y type things.

Spring and summer are made for quick preparation.  Just slice a tomato and have a quick sandwich, or toss together some cucumber, red onion and basil for a quick salad…

But autumn and winter bring us long-cooked items.  “Fast food” is harder to come by.  So I find myself concentrating on making leftovers to provide me with the necessary “fast food” the next day.  I could eat braised greens everyday til the cows come home.  And soup.  And don’t get me wrong- I love Brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli (come to think of it, I guess I’d have to include the whole brassica family).

So, what I’m trying to say is….if you’re like me…then make these yummy onions!  I love having little condiment-like things in the fridge.  Like those tomatoes-yup!-still in there getting used in a million different ways.  Have you ever made harissa?  or romesco?  -they are perfect things to keep in the fridge, adding a little excitement to what you already have…

And yes, sure enough, I did make little nibbles with toasted baguette slices, Monte Enebro cheese, and these onions.  And it was good.  And I was happy.

Melting onions in red wine adapted from The Cook and the Gardener by Amanda Hesser
yields about 2 cups

  • 2 Tablespoons virgin or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespooon unsalted butter
  • 3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3-5 sprigs thyme
  • 1 cup full-bodied red wine (Cab, Merlot, Syrah…)
  • 1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Choose a heavy-bottomed pot or straight sided saute pan that is big enough to hold the onions in a layer that is about 2-inches deep.

Place the pot over medium-low heat and add the olive oil and butter.  Once they are melted, add the onions, sugar, salt, and thyme.  Stir well to coat.

Turn the heat to low, and cook them slowly, covered for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so.  Once they have softened, remove the lid, and continue to cook, slowly, stirring regularly, until most of the excess liquid has evaporated.

Add the red wine and vinegar and continue to cook over low heat until the wine has reduced and begun to bind with the onions, creating a bit of a sauce in the pan.  At this point, don’t stir as often.  Allow the onions to just begin to stick on the bottom of the pot (slightly caramelizing).  Then stir.  Do this about 3 or 4 more times.  This slight caramelization adds flavor!

Taste for salt, adjusting as necessary.

Cool.

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Houston?

Houston?

Hello?  Houston?

Oh!  Hi, Houston?  Umm, we have a problem…

…and now I’d like to segue into the inevitable song in my head for the rest of they day….Dad?  You know where I’m goin’ right?  Houuuuuu-ston.  Houston means that I’m one day closer to you.  Oh honey, Houuuuuu-ston.  Houston means the last day of the tour is through.  Well honey youuuuuuu and, God in heaven above knows I love what I do.  (Well, you know that it’s true.)  But honey Houuuu-ston, Houston means that I’m one day closer to you…

That musical interlude was brought to you by the Gatlin Brothers.

…and in other news…here begins the 2009 effort to Clean Out The Freezer…yikes.

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My new love

Monte Enebro, sometimes called Montenebro is my new love.  It’s considered a  Spanish goat’s milk bleu because the rind is washed with the same bacteria as is used for Roquefort, penicilium roqueforti, but the interior of the cheese remains snow-white.  The cheese literally melts on the tongue like butter.  It’s dense and goaty- but not overly pungeant as some bleu cheeses can be.   It’s made in a long, flat, loaf-type shape and is typically portioned out into rounds.  Our only choice was to buy the end-cut, so we did a lot of scooping!  If you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, check the web- I googled it and found quite a few cheese websites selling it…and I think it would really be good served on crackers with the melting onions in red wine that I’ve got cooking right now! (pics and recipe to come!)

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X marks the spotroasted chestnutsFor some reason, this crazy Jewish husband of mine has been singing Christmas songs since the beginning of November.  I told him he’s reminding me of our local drug store.  Can’t they at least wait until after Thanksgiving?

Actually, there are a few reasons he’s got Christmas songs in his head.

1) I’ve been playing around with chestnuts (or Chad’s nuts, depending upon how immature you are.  But I prefer the term, “young at heart”)

2) Scott likes to play music via itunes set on “random”.  And if you have as many Christmas albums as I do, you’ll find yourself dancing to Willie Nelson’s White Christmas directly after Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.

Anyhooo…

I’ve learned a bit about chestnuts this year, so I’ll share the love.

  • Look for chestnuts that feel dense and heavy for their size, and don’t rattle when shaken.
  • They should always be stored in a cool, moist environment.  The best way to do this at home is to place them in a zip-top bag with a barely moistened paper-towel.  Keep them refrigerated.
  • You can do a “float test” to determine if they’ve been stored properly, and are still plump and moist inside.  To do this, place the chestnuts in a bowl of water.  They should sink.  If they float, discard them.
  • If chestnuts are improperly stored, ie. left out on the counter for too long, the nutmeat will dry out and shrink, creating space between the nut and the shell where mold can grow.

To Roast Chestnuts

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cut an “x” into the flat side of each chestnut (This is a very important step which allows steam to escape as they roast, so they don’t explode!)

Place the chestnuts in a small oven-proof saute pan or cookie sheet, and roast for about 15-20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for just a minute.  You must work as quickly as possible, as they are much easier to peel when hot.  I’ve had success in reheating them slightly if they’ve cooled too much.

Using a small knife, peel off the outer shell and the inner skin.

You’ll be left with this:

PB040020And from here, the possibilities are endless.  Last year, we made a delicious stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner…

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Lamb Shanks

Alright, I know, I know.  I realize that a mere 4 months ago, I was begging for this, but I’m really wishin’ for a rainy day now.  So I’ve been doing the rain dance, turning off the sprinklers, and making “winter food” for dinner every night, hoping to bring forth the rain.  Despite my efforts, however, my herbs are turning brown (maybe I shouldn’t have turned off those sprinklers), and we’re practically sweating at the dinner table, choking down stews and soups!

But, hey!  I wanted to make lamb shanks.  And so I did!  I friend of mine works part-time at the restaurant, and helps his dad run their farm in Sacramento part-time.  He brought me a grocery bag full of goodies last week, including a huge bunch of lemon verbena.  I love lemon verbena, as you may remember.  He gave me so much that I’ll be able to use it for at least a few different recipes.  But I’ve been wanting to try braising with it.  My original idea was to make a quick fish fumet (a stock made with fish bones) using the lemon verbena leaves as flavoring, and then do a quick braise with some halibut or rock cod.  I was likening it to the use of lemon-grass in thai food.  But lemon verbena leaves are so tender that I was afraid their flavor would dissipate quickly.

Well, the day I had designated for my “lemon verbena braise” was so down-right grey and dreary, that I just couldn’t fathom a light dish.  So lamb shanks it was!  Boy, did it turn out fantastic.  I added ginger to compliment the lemon verbena and the two went together beautifully.

Lamb Shanks with Lemon Verbena and Ginger
yields 2 servings with some leftovers for soup, etc.

If you want to serve one lamb shank per person, look for lamb shanks that weigh about 1 pound each.  If you just want to let the meat fall off the bone and have leftovers, look for shanks that wiegh 1-1/2 pounds each.  Also, you can ask your butcher to “crack” the bone, whereby they will saw through the bone, allowing the marrow to be exposed, adding richness and deliciousness(!) to the dish.

If you’re very concerned about removing excess fat, you might want to make this dish a day in advance, then refrigerate the whole thing.  The fat will rise to the top and solidify over-night, allowing you to easily lift it off the top and discard.  Then simply re-heat, covered, over medium-low heat until warmed through.

  • 2 lamb shanks totaling about 3-1/4 pounds
  • 2 small red onions cut into a large dice
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken stock or low sodium broth
  • 2 fresh red tomatoes, or  4 pieces of canned whole tomatoes, cut in half
  • 7 leaves of lemon verbena
  • 1/2-inch hunk of ginger, sliced
  • 5 medium garlic cloves
  • salt

The day before cooking, salt the lamb using 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt per pound of lamb.  The next day, place a large stew-pot over medium heat and add 2 Tablepoons of pure olive oil or vegetable oil.  Brown lamb shanks until they are golden on each side.  Remove lamb and place on a plate. Pour off all but 1 Tablespoon of the fat. Turn the heat to medium-low, and add the onions, whole garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt.  Sweat down until they are translucent.  Add tomato and ginger.  continue to cook for about 5 minutes allowing them to soften slightly.  Add the stock and simmer.  Place the lamb shanks back in the pot, cover, and simmer very slowly for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.  The cooking time will vary, depending upon how large the shanks were.  The meat should be tender enough to fall off the bone.

And while I didn’t manage to snap any pictures of the braised shanks, I did manage to snap a picture of the yummy soup I made with the leftovers….

lamb shank soup

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Gorgeous polenta

gorgeous polentaJust look at how pretty that is!  This is the Rustic Polenta Integrale from Anson Mills.  Its so nice and coarse, you feel like you’re biting into pieces of corn when you eat it.  I purposely made too much so that I could chill some, turning it into hard polenta, but I think I prefer it soft.

Cooking Rustic Polenta Integrale

Use 1 part polenta to 4-5 parts water.

Bring the water to a simmer in a sacue pan on the stove top.  Whisk the polenta in all at once, and continue whisking every 30 seconds, or so, for the first 5 minutes, or until you begin to see that the polenta is suspended in the water.  Turn down the heat to low, and continue to cook for about an hour, whisking regularly.  Add a healthy pinch of salt and a pat of butter.  If the polenta seems to be getting too thick, add a trickle of water to thin it out.  Serve immediately, or pour it out into a flat baking dish and refrigerate to make hard polenta.

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those chocolate sliversYou see, it’s just that…that…well, doggone.  It just seems a little unfair when you think about it.  But everytime you rip daintily open a bite-sized reeces peanut butter cup, you end up with little chocolate slivers stuck to the paper.  And I feel that the ratio of chocolate lost to chocolate devoured goes up with the bite-sized version.  And I think to myself, If I’m only gettin’ one bite, you can bet your be-hind that I’m not gonna allow those little slivers to go to waste! And that’s when I find myself cleaning every little crevasse of that candy-wrapping with my tongue while I sit in traffic only to look up and see the person in the car next to mine smirking at me.  And I think to myself, I bet you’re a candy-wrapper-licker too.  You’re just a closet candy-wrapper-licker.  And here I am, proud enough to do it in public! And then I begin to lick all the stickiness off my fingers in the most respectable way possible.  Then change lanes.  Quickly.

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