Friday, October 31, 2008

Korean-style ribs and a "weird food" rant

I have been waffling with this recipe for a while. Put it up. Don't put it up. This goes back to the whole "weird food" accusation that has been levelled at yours truly by some conservative steak-and-potatoes type eaters. You know, the thing is, as I look at the list of recipes running down the right side of this page, it looks pretty solid to me: Raised in the ingredient and ethnically rich environment that is metro New York, none of this is shocking, joltingly new, or inconceivable - to me. And, umm, it is my blog, after all so I need to put what I know to be delicious and wonderful. Not what suits those with a very slim list of dull consume-ables. Right?

Admittedly, The Hostess needs to get a thicker skin about this. But The Hostess also thinks, privately to herself but lashing out now on screen, that those who cast the first stone at my choice in foods could stand to do one or all of the following: Travel internationally. Read on a worldly level. Eat good food from more, if not every, culture one can locate. Think more open-mindedly. Be adventurous. Stop whining: I am not giving you offal recipes (that's variety meat as they used to say - organ meat, not a spelling error). Have you read Chris Cosentino's blog called Offal Good? Had I chose that subect for a blog then, (then!) my accusers would have something to talk about but Korean Ribs, come on! Get out of the house or the Golden Corral once in a while.

My three closest friends in this world; the fates blessed me with them. There is not an ethnic food they will not eat and love, nor a corner of the world too unknown or dangerous for them to venture into to get a taste of something new or different. They don't, as far as I know, consume offal either, but they know there will always be something great from every cook that will suit them and light up their memories and their palates. On any given evening you can find them snacking and laughing over hibiscus margaritas and sopas, peking duck and sake, samosas and good beer. They know that good food is universal and a trust-worthy phenomenon all humanity shares. No one wants to eat bad food. It's a human thing, and has to do with taste buds. Here's to those that Becca, Dori, and Lois were born with and here's hoping you are using yours today.

Korean-style Beef Ribs
6 first course servings

2 pound beef Korean-style cut ribs
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
1 teaspoon hot sauce (Siracha)
2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the short ribs liberally with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together molasses, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, rice wine vinegar, hot sauce, lime juice, and a pinch each salt and black pepper. Put aside.

Pour this marinade into a large ziplock bag steadied inside a mixing bowl. Add ribs. Place bag with ribs inside a casserole dish and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Grill over medium high heat, preferably over a wood and charcoal fire, for 3 minutes on the first side, and 1-3 on the second. Allow to rest 10 minutes

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Living dangerously

We did not, and as yet do not, hold dear a fried chicken recipe as a family. It was not in the repertoire of three American generations. Nor was it a British or Irish dish that would have travelled with our forebearers. It is something I eat, once in a while which became a subject of interest when it came to Mother's Day picnics. For a while, my Mom and I would have loved to make picnics a tradition. A tradition which included cold "picnic chicken."

This was an ill fated pursuit: The picnics, not the chicken. However, the chicken has evolved and I have learned from my missteps: Members of my family will not eat chicken from a bone. In the spirit of compromise that first and last picnic year, I deployed my best loved fried chicken method: I plunged chicken cutlets into buttermilk and Tabasco to soak overnight, then seasoned flour dredged it and fried it all up in peanut oil, and it was fine. As fine as what I imagine any fast food fried chicken cutlet to be. Not satisfying, somehow. It just had no soul. And food without soul has no place on a table.

One does not see a lot of fried chicken in Northern Westchester, New York to be quite frank about it. Nor much fried food at all. For a while I was nervous to roll it out to the swank sophisticates around me. But then I got to thinking about how Becca would sometimes order it late at night in the diner when we were kids. She was devoted to the stuff. I decided it must have a fan club here somewhere. As time went by, we became afficiandos of the fried chicken, even travelling to Hatties in Saratoga to order the chicken. You know, because it's good. And because it has soul.

Bones or not, I think most of those swankies hold a place in their heart for fried chicken though it may not have been part of our understanding: There was a lot of Shake-N-Bake in those early days.

By now, I've brined chicken in cider and salt mixtures. I have egg-bathed and not. I have used three varieties of oil. I have yet to run into another cook who truly knows fried chicken and agrees with any other cook on how the best fried chicken is made: Many of them came up eating their Mama's and that way is always best. I can respect that. Hopefully, they run into my Baby Face one day and she tells them her Mama had two recipes: Traditional and a little lighter and both have a place in the tradition that is our table.

Below is the lighter of the two. Now, don't go imagining this is health food (all things in moderation). It is a lovely new texture and finish for a fabulous work horse of a concept. It does sit a little lighter on the belly because it is not dipped in a thick milk or egg. This chicken has a finely crispy skin and for those looking for one less step in the game, it is perfect hot cold and everywhere in between. Most importantly, it has soul.

It is not buttermilk chicken, no. But The Hostess is nothing if not daring rule-beaker: I serve this gorgeous chicken quite fearlessly even on Sundays, with Cote du Rhone, and sometimes with a hip and tangy celery root remoulade slaw. Call me a Hostess living dangerously or whatever you want, but way down South they don't call me a woman who can't make fried chicken...

Rice Flour Fried Chicken
Serves 8

1 3–4-lb. chicken cut into 8 pieces each (buy a cut chicken or ask the butcher)
Kosher salt
Peanut oil
1 cup flour
1 cup rice flour
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Lay the chicken out on a large baking sheet of a size which will fit in the fridge. Season generously with salt on both sides. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Over high heat, pour enough peanut oil in a deep 12" cast-iron skillet to reach a depth of 3⁄4". Heat the oil until a thermometer indicates the oil is 350 degrees.

Place both flours and cayenne in a pie plate and mix until evenly combined. Dredge chicken in flour mixture and fry on the first side until light brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate. Repeat with remaining pieces being sure not to allow too much gunk to build up in the oil which will scorch and leave the chicken tasting burned.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You will know my name

This is a delicious roast which, while it is a tough photography candidate, reaches into my heart and calms things in the place where I am always anxious. I don't remember it from childhood, I have hardly known it long as an adult. Truly only long enough to be inseparably devoted to it, however long that is. About three years ago, I began tinkering with "pot roast" recipes. While I have never arrived at an affection for the term "pot roast" (which is always sounding a little down at the heel, a little disrespected, a little wrong-side-of-the butcher-counter), I have deep affection for this roast and it's complex, haunting pan sauce.

As I was writing this post to you, I was thinking this truly grand Sunday-dinner-worthy roast deserved a more elegant name. After all, it is no step-child of my kitchen. On the contrary, this will be one of the recipes scribbled in my own hand to my children in a cookbook passed to them, the way my most precious family recipes have been passed to me. Without further adieu, I give you the sweepingly vague but nonetheless more regal now: Braised Roast.

Braised Roast
Serves 4

I prefer to serve this roast with spaetzle (shown here) or a potato and celery root puree which is far easier to coax on to a fork. Always have plenty of crusty bread as well.

I have, in the past, used whatever other lovely vegetables were on hand: Chanterelle mushrooms quartered, parsips sliced, and so on...

While I do not instruct you to do so, as it is really the taste of the chef and dependent on the accompanying dishes, you may wish to reduce the pan sauce to concentrate the flavors and thicken the pan sauces slightly. If you wish to do so: One half hour before you will serve, ladle a few cups of the pan juices into a saucepan and over a medium high stove heat, allow it to simmer until it is reduced by half. Add 1 tablespoon butter and return the sauce to the roast pot.

1 (3 to 4 pound) beef chuck roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 cup red wine (Cabernet or Barbera) plus two tablespoons
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup good dark coffee
2 tablespoons tomato paste stirred until dissolved in two tablespoons red wine listed above
2 yellow onion, halved
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, stems removed and sliced in half
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
3 bay leaves

Season all sides of the beef liberally with salt and pepper. In a large, high-sided saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over moderately high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Transfer the meat to a crock pot or dutch oven. Pour in the can of tomatoes, red wine, beef stock, coffee and the tomato paste dissolved in red wine. Scatter the vegetables and herbs around the pot roast, season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and set heat to low: In the Crock Pot on an 8 hour setting and basting when you remember to do so. Or in a dutch oven, braise over low heat about for 3 hours, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices, until the beef is fork tender in either case.

Slice the pot roast and arrange on platter surrounded by the vegetables. Serve with some of the pan juices spooned over the top of the roast and the remainder in a gravy bowl with a ladle.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Confusion Begets Greatness

A post on dish confusion and fabulous ideas afoot at Blushing Hostess Entertains.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Three bites

Once again, I was taken in by a photo. Not even a good one. This year's Bon Appetit Restaurant issue (Sept., '08) has a minute photo on the cover of a chocolate cake. Referenced to an incorrect page number by the index, I did finally locate the Vanilla Bake Shop's recipe for Chocolate Caramel Fleur de Sel Cake.

Anyway. Hmmmm. Yummm. I thought when I read the recipe title. And here I am trapped in a culinary black hole far from my beloved New York where something like this is only a train, subway, and long foot race away! I was going to have to do it myself. And so, I did. I skipped the almond garnish they called for, it seemed like an unnecessary cloaking device for an imperfect ganache (isn't is supposed to be? I don't want it to look like the bake shop made it, after all.).

That is not the camera's resolution preventing a clearer shot, the cake is black as death with chocolate, espresso, deep amber caramel (and perfect insanity).

The trouble with this drop-dead magnificent moist, rich heavy four layer chocolate, caramel and salt cake is that I am half passed out on the floor, using the keys of the computer which landed next to me to me as I was felled by this chocolate demon, to type on the keys I know so well and desperately advise you ever so delicately that one should be ever so careful with this cake, ah-hem (Look out! Don't try to eat a slice alone! Have a battalion on standby! And a freaking medic, for Pete's sake! This thing is madness! What kind of lunatic could come up with such a thing?!). What did I think I was going to do? Take these pictures then eat that slice of cake?! Three bites later, here I am, really only writing to advise this is probably goodbye.

Here is a shot I took as I was heading towards the floor: Hail Mary play of food blogging.

Sure, make this cake. Then try to eat it. I triple dog dare you. Is is good? Perhaps a tad too sweet for my taste but if you care for overwhelming rich desserts then, by all means. The recipe is accurate and the method was pretty much fool-proof (as evidenced by this post, from the floor!)

Fun Hostess Fact: The Hostess is a little obsessed with roses in just-overbloom, just starting to be "gone by" as they used to say. These were the last thing I saw before blacking out they brought me a last moment of joy...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mario Batali's Salmorejo: All is not lost.

Salmorejo. Say the word and it is evocative of so many things, possibly. So many Andalusian things? Potentially?

These are things I am not familiar with, rendering me incapable of plying you with language which marks your soul in such a way that you may desire nothing more for yourself than to make this salmorejo and eat it while savoring every last Andalusian spoonful. I wish I could spark your imagination to such a height that you, being so taken by how magical this dish is, immediately spirit yourself to Andalusia figuring everything there must be equally as dreamy and awe-inspiring: Maybe to vacation, maybe to stay.

I don't have the language for two reasons: First, I have never been to Andalusia. I have only been to an Andalusian restaurant of dubious culinary skill which once did business in a magnificent courtyard in Charleston. As for Mario Batali's salmorejo recipe in Food and Wine of September, 2008 - called both a "super thick gazpacho" and a "tomato and garlic dip" - it is not devastatingly special. It improves in the fridge overnight. Sparkling praise, this is not. Consequently, neither experience sent me dreaming of Andalusian afternoons spent nibbling on bits of lovely crusty bread, sipping red wine which glows ruby in the lowering afternoon light, and chatting away with my new Andalusian friends. Nor am I left wishing I could make and eat this salmorejo more often. Or, for that matter, ever. The good news is: It does not turn a person off to Andalusian food. Great, right?

After making this recipe twice (the Hostess is not easily swayed in any direction) I harbor some suspicions where this dippy gazpacho is concerned: First, I suspect that if the tomatoes were slow roasted, it would have been notably more tasty and piquant. As it was, with the gorgeous vine-ripes and romas I used, it lacked flavor. Second, I believe that were the recipe not so rigid with regard to the amount of olive oil used and it instructed the cook to add the 1/4 cup and reassess the consistency in the event it needs a bit more oil, I would eventually come to associate the sludge before me with the pretty pink soup in the glossy photo.

The recipe makes a lot of sludge and therefore uses and solutions had to be developed for a substantial amount of leftovers. Should you find yourself with the same enigmatic, "What to do with all the salmorejo?" puzzle before you, the Hostess has suggestions which were actually much better than the not-gazpacho-y at all soppy thing resulting from making this recipe:

1. Use the salmorejo as a sandwich spread. It definitely took my BLT up several notches: Toasted artisan peasant bread (which you will have left over from the salmorejo recipe), spread with the salmorejo, and layered with seasoned arugula and crispy pancetta. Why, on a particularly big day, I might even combine the salmorejo with mayonnaise as a spread.

2. Use the salmorejo as a dressing for pan roasted fish: I pan roasted a richly pink piece of wild coho salmon for dinner, combined the salmorejo with a bit more olive oil to loosen, coated the top of the coho fillet, and threw both under the broiler for five minutes. It was blog-stoppingly lovely.

3. Use the salmorejo as a dip for a crispy chicken cutlet: Add a little olive oil to the salmorejo and use dip in it trimmed chicken cutlets, then dip the cutlets in seasoned bread crumbs. Place on a canola-greased baking sheet and spray the top of each cutlet as well to help with browning. Bake until golden.

All is not lost.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Harvest Bread

I felt I had to do it. Not that I did not want to, you understand. It is just that this warm, autumn-loving loaf has travelled the planet with me for years, since long before I left New York the first time. It was then that the season's predictable pumpkin breads did not have enough oooomph to make me want to get mixed up mixing them up. After much tinkering, the recipe that appears before you now was developed and I have never been sorry to have tried and retried to arrive here. The only thing that held me back in passing this on to you is that just every big food blog feels compelled to pass on their pumpkin and squash recipe to you this month. I read them. All. And I am just gourded-out at the moment. One might say the gourd thing has lost a little magic due to remarkable overkill.

On the flip side though, if I turned up with an artichoke recipe now you would think I was daft and completely out of. It is hard to win them all, no? So, if you too feel put upon by pumpkin, look away. I will not hold it against you, kind one. Just stop back tomorrow when I move back to, well, whatever strikes me, seasonal or not.

Here you have it. My prized fall bread recipe. Call it an heirloom because that is how I think of it. As time has passed there have been changes and additions according to the contents of the pantry or the tastes of the tasters but the recipe that appears here: Pumpkin, apples, walnuts, and ginger is the one that is always best and certainly endures for that reason.

Harvest Bread with Cream Cheese Cinnamon Icing
Makes two 9x5 loaves, a two layer 8" layer cake, or 24 muffins

Canola spray or softened butter for greasing pans
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 15 ounce can solid pack pumpkin
4 eggs
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Cream Cheese Cinnamon Icing:
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
4 + cups confectioners sugar (have more standing by)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the two loaf pans and set aside.

In a medium bowl sift in the dry ingredients: Flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, oil, and both sugars.
Add the pumpkin, beat until combined, an scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the eggs one at a time beating between each addition. Add flour mixture and beat again until combined, scrape the bowl down again. Fold in the apples and walnuts with the spatula.

Divide batter between the two loaf pans. Bake until the center of each cake bounces back to the touch, 50-60 minutes, checking after 40 to switch or turn pans for even browning. Cool in pans for 20 minute then turn out onto racks and cool completely, about 1 hour additionally before icing the cakes.

Icing: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, place the cream cheese and butter. Mix together until evenly combine, scraping the bowl down once in the process. Add 4 cups confectioners sugar and cinnamon and mix until combined. Check the consistency and taste of the icing with a small spoon. If the icing is not stiff enough for your taste, add more confectioners sugar in small amounts and mix until you are pleased. As with all icings of the creamed nature, if you find it too tight, add one teaspoon of milk at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If you don't generally hang in the blogosphere...

You may not be aware that food blogs and their relevant photography are the genuine article: They are counted on for information, recipes, testing, and insight by a food community once completely dependent on just a few magazines monthly and an occasional useful book release. No more. Now, it is all food all the time should you wish it to be.

Once in a while, I will get an email here at Blushing Hostess or have a comment from a friend regarding how they "don't get" this blog. Or, my personal favorite and a hot-button issue with the Hostess that they don't eat "weird" food and therefore, "don't get it."

From the beginning, Blushing Hostess was not intended to be a "what's Catherine up to" continuing newsletter of sorts. Though there are many fine blogs of this nature which fill an important communication role especially for those far away from the people they care about, this is not one of them. No, the Hostess is here to chronicle a life in cooking, voracious culinary reading, experiences, and all things related to food. But even more so, I arrived here as encouragement: This cooking thing, it's not hard, it does not take too long, it is better for you and your budget than eating out, and I truly believe gathering at table helps people stay together and persevere. There are others like me blogging (writing) on food for a thousand other reasons and interests. The community is huge, talented, and comments on an immense amount of items relevent to everyone in some way because we all need to eat to survive.

I am pleased to note the premier institution of culinaria, The James Beard Foundation. will recognize food bloggers for their work as members of the culinary writing community as reported by Slashfood today. It isn't all just glossy magazines anymore...


Finally, a chilly snap of weather. That is to say, 65 degrees but here in the semi-tropics we Northern-winter born take what we can get to momentarily feel the environment nod to autumn. Even if leaves do not change color and sweaters are things we tell our babies about while holding pictures of our home towns in their snowy, wintry blankets with trees tipped in icicles. Far distant places and memories it would seem.

Except for that "cold" snap I mentioned. That was Sunday. When it seemed one had to take their only chance for weeks to make something warming, something vastly different from the local grouper with key lime butter and a thousand varieties of shrimp which is the norm here year round. Not that I'm complaining. But everyone needs a change now and then.

Food and Wine republished a recipe for Chickpea Spinach Stew in the September issue (cited below). It sounded complex and different. Saffron. Chickpeas and their liquid. Tomato. Spinach. And I certainly would have loved to write to you now how we enjoyed it. But, for reasons having to do with a tiny dancing baby hereabouts, "stew" and only one tomato is not an option. Were it not for these differences in our needs, I know the recipe would have been pitch-perfect. I also know this because in the original form it was deemed a reader favorite, hence the republishing.

A good deal more tomato and water or broth to make it a true soup, then and we were off to a land of chilly air, soup bowl grasping, and sweater dreaming. A land where, happily, an increasingly discerning toddler ate all her soup and her tiny nips of crusty French bread. This soup is gorgeous to behold and even better on the palatte.

Spinach, Tomato, and Chickpea Stew
adapted from this Janet Mendel recipe, Food and Wine '05
Serves 6

Once the soup is heated, do not go on cooking it or you will lose what little liquid is within to condensation and it will once again become a stew. Unless you prefer it.

If you wish to keep it warm for a party, put it in a tureen in a residually warm oven until service time or keep it on the warm setting of a crock pot. The garlic/ saffron/ salt flavor seems to quickly and permanently dissipate if the soup is mishandled over heat. But the good news is that treated gently to reheat, the left over soup is an even better soup than the first. It was hard to believe it could be better but indeed it was.

A note on the spices: If you are not familiar with ground clove, I suggest you taste a bit before using the full amount here, some care for only a hint. The original recipe calls for cumin, which you may care to add. Finally, saffron is a costly ingredient. However, it is a good keeper and a little goes a long way. Trader Joe's Markets have it very reasonably, if you happen to be near one.

3 cups water, divided
10 ounces baby spinach
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Pinches saffron threads
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
One 15-ounce can chickpeas with their liquid
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

Pour 1 cup water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and cook over high heat, tossing frequently, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain the spinach in a colander, pressing hard on the leaves to extract the liquid. Coarsely chop the spinach.

Using the flat side of a large knife, mash the garlic to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the saffron. Transfer the garlic paste to a small bowl. Add the paprika, cloves and mash until combined. Stir in 1/4 cup of the chickpea liquid.

Wipe out the pot. Place over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, crushing them between your fingers as you add them. Add the spiced garlic sauce to the onion and tomato in the pot and cook for 1 minute. Add 2 cups water and return to a simmer.

Add the chickpeas and the remaining chickpea liquid to the skillet. and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Add the spinach, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. To serve, drizzle with remaining olive oil.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another city, not my own

At home, the long frequented restaurant of horse country in metro New York, 121, serves a Potato and Leek Soup with a Mini Grilled Cheese in the center and it is, besides cold, clear air and dancing fires in stone hearths, what I have been thinking of lately when imaging home, as I find myself doing too often these days.

Just at the moment I am, as Dominick Dunne so aptly put it for all of us occasionally or permanently displaced wanders, in another city, not my own. Or country. When you're gone, you're just gone, you know? Could be half a mile or half a world off, you're just not there; where you belong. No matter how far away a child of that horse country gets, autumn will always bring a picture of wild colors, the damnedest desire to be back on horseback and riding on the hunt paths at home, and the taste of several comfort foods. I never could shake any of what that place put in me. I admit to having a heart unnerved by the thought of even trying to break ties.

I can never shake off Wednesday and Friday nights either, when I know they have all assumed their places in the hearth room at 121: All paddock boots, puffy jackets or old oil coats, and glasses of wine in their rein-warn hands. That is what home is after all: Something comfortingly familiar, not perfect. My perfectly imperfect is all and everything it is.

Way back home tonight, the people I miss will eat this soup. They will do so with my love and best wishes in every drop. You know what they say: Home is...

Cream of Potato and Leek Soup
Serves 6

You can strain the soilds after processing if you wish. I prefer the texture and whatever nutrients ossible remain, consequently, I do not.

2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 leeks, trimmed, sliced thin, and soak-cleaned
1 medium onion
2 large baking potatoes, diced
6 cups chicken stock (I make and freeze the Zuni recipe, totally worth the effort...)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Chives, for garnish
Mini Cherve Grilled Cheese on Baguette for an accompaniment

In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat place the butter and olive oil, heat until the butter is melted. Add the leeks and onion and cook until tender and translucent, do not allow them to color. Add the potatoes and stock and and season with salt and pepper. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat medium low and simmer until the potatoes are cook through and tender about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool 10 minutes.

In a food processor, puree the soup until it is as close to completely smooth as it will come. Now you will choose whether you wish to strain the soup to remove the remaining solids or, do as I do, and leave them (the Hostess cannot tolerate waste but can tolerate texture. Either way, transfer the soup back to the pot. Turn to medium heat and bring to a boil again.

Ladle a small bit of soup into a bowl, add the cream and whisk to combine. Add the mixture to the soup pot and whisk until smooth. Season to taste again with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with snipped chives.

If you chose to serve this as a chilled soup, you can refrigerate this soup covered for several hours, re-taste for seasoning as cold soups generally require a good deal more seasoning and serve.

Friday, October 17, 2008

An old school race track

Even in the most idyllic of places the troubles of the world are becoming closer and more real. According to the news, we hardly know where to turn when everything we have been promised would never happen does, and everything we hoped for may not. In the end, the human heart always heads for home, does it not? In good times and bad.

It seems to me home can be a million things. If it is a place of comfort, warmth, and memories formed over things made by our own hands rather than bought from someone else, maybe we can add to the things we associate with home the feeling of triumph in completing something we thought we could not. Something to warm the noses, hearts, and bellies of those around us.

In my Grandmother's day, this was called race track bread. Though, it eludes me whether that refers to the circle of bread itself or the circles of filling in the inside. It does not really matter to me, what does is that we break this bread together, and that our other circles go unbroken.

Pistachio Race Track Bread
Serves 12
loosely adapted from Beard on Bread, by James Beard

After the bread has a first rise and is formed, you can place it in the refrigerator and bake it off the next morning, just be up early enough to give it a second rise. This method is described in the photos at bottom.

Mr. Beard recipe was a tad dry and sleepy for my tastes. I have added the brown sugar and golden raisins because I felt it really needed tasty additions, especially since he deemed this a "coffee cake". I was trying not to get too far from his original though I do humbly think adding cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg and clove to the brown sugar would be very nice. Also, I would not at all mind a glaze though, I am aware I cannot glaze every breakfast item I make here at Blushing Hostess... so please note, here is one without.

Cooking spray for greasing the rising bowl
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 or 4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 egg, beaten for egg wash

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, place yeast, sugar, and warm water. Stir to combine and dissolve yeast. Allow to sit for ten minutes. The mixture should foam. If it does not foam, discard mixture and begin again. Add the warm milk, softened butter, remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and salt.

kosher salt, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Mix until evenly combined. Add the flour, one cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. If, when you have added three cups of flour, you have a silky, substantial dough which rides the paddle, do not add the fourth cup of flour. If the mixture is still sticky to the touch and shiny with wetness, add another half cup of flour and mix again, reassess, add small amounts of flour as needed thereafter.

Switch to the dough hook attachment and turn the machine on low. Allow it to knead the dough for ten minutes. Transfer the dough to the greased rising bowl. Cover and place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place to rise until double in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down with your fist. Allow to rest for a few minutes. Transfer the dough to a floured board and with a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a large rectangle. Brush the surface of the dough thoroughly with melted butter, leaving a 1/2inch border around the outside. Sprinkle evenly with light brown sugar. Evenly coat with the chopped pistachios, then do the same with the golden raisins. Working from the long side of the dough, lift up the edge and begin to roll the dough up gently like a jelly roll. Be sure the seam is under the roll when finished.

Transfer the dough to the greased baking sheet and bring the two ends together to form a circle. Pinch the two ends together to attach. With a knife, make 2 inch slits every 3/4 inch all the way around the circle. At each one, open the slit gently with your knife.

Let rise in a warm draft free place until double in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Or cover and place in the refrigerator over night. Remove from the fridge in the morning, allow to rise until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top with egg wash and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden.

Let's do this together, no reason to avoid bread. It is not hard at all and it doesn't need to look bakery perfect: it needs to look made by you:

Into the bowl of your stand mixer goes the yeast, warm water, and 1 tbls. granulated sugar. Whisk or mix to help the yeast dissolve. Now walk away from it for 10 minutes.
When you come back, if all is well, it is foamy and fluffy with bubbles. If it is not, you have to pitch the whole thing and begin again because your yeast is no longer active or your water is hot, and not warm - warm is key, 110-115 degrees.

Add the softened butter, warm milk, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and salt. Now mix to combine.

Add the flour one up at a time, scraping down bowl after each addition.

Continue to mix with the paddle attachment until the dough rides the paddle. Now change to the dough hook.

Knead on medium-low with the dough hook for 10 minutes.

Transfer to your big greased rising bowl. I like to spray the top of the dough lightly with canola spray also to prevent it from sticking to the plastic wrap cover. Also, I allow the oven to heat to 170 degrees, then shut the oven off and wait 10 minutes. Now you can use it for rising, be sure the door remains shut to prevent drafts. Allow it to rise until it is doubled in bulk.

So, it was doubled.

Punch it down with your fist to take the air out (theoretically). Dust your hands with a little flour and transfer the dough to a lightly floured board.

Knead it by hand for a couple of passes to get it into a neat ball. Now roll it out into a bog rectangle. You will want it to be about 18 inches on the long side.

Now brush the dough with the melted butter. Scatter the light brown sugar over pretty evenly. Repeat with the chopped pistachios and golden raisins.

Now roll it up from the long side, tucking it in carefully. When finished, be sure the seam is on the underside.

Transfer the dough to your greased sheet an bring the two ends together. Doesn't have to look like a professional did it, let it have some character.

Cut slits in you bread, even larger than these would be fine too and open the slits gently on both sides with your knife to show the filling. Yum. Now cover and either let it rise again until doubled in bulk and bake at 375 degrees until golden. Or place it in the frig overnight. When you get up, take the sheet from the fridge and let it sit on the counter while the oven heats and cools from 170 degrees. Once the rising oven is set again, place the sheet inside and allow it to rise until doubled, about 1.5 hours. Remove the dough from the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, brush the top of the dough with the egg wash. Place in the oven and bake until golden, 30 or 35 minutes.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To Vienna with Love

This three-layer rice pudding, fruit, and French Meringue number may look like just another old-school European dessert but I am here to tell you that it is a thousand things but it is not old hat. I promise you, once you prepare this dessert you will remember what the great ones are like: Surprising, bouncy, complex, a little sweet, a spot tart, altogether something big and multi-chaptered that never lets you down. It is a lot like life should be, this Austrian Rice Pudding.

When I read this recipe, I exhaled. Finally. Something other than pumpkin and pecan pie for this season of color and depth. It had all the right elements: Creamy pudding, ripe juicy apples and cinnamon to make the scent of the house rise with the fall evening, and meringue to add a light, whimsical flair and a little height never hurt. I have the book Le Cordon Bleu at Home to thank tonight.

Someone once wrote that a cookbook which yielded one great recipe to use for a lifetime was worth the cost of ownership. I scoffed a little at the time I came across that gem of logic. I feel they should yield many. Should they not? In this life where these scores of heavy, textbook-like volumes will be moved from one of our homes to another, should they not be worth their weight and then some?

As I look over the shelves of books here, the stacks by the bed and in the living room and kitchen, I feel frustrated with some and still thrilled by others. I am pleased to still be finding new recipes which will be precious for the remainder of my lifetime in some of the original books my Mom gave me when I was a teenager. Some of the smallest, most unsuspecting volumes have had the most beloved ideas. Some of the most hailed chef's books failed to translate into anything but green mush in my kitchens over the years.

Last week, at the book sale, I bought Le Cordon Bleu at home for $3, I think. If nothing else, it was a beautiful book which would be as useful on a coffee table as employed in a kitchen if it failed in its initial task. And it does fail. A little. Not in overt ways. But it makes the mistake of assumption which in recipes invariably leads to the sin of omission. And the sin of not tempering eggs (Blushing Rule #10: Unless you have a culinary degree, always temper your egg yolks before adding them to a boiling pot.). The people who wrote this text are cream of the crop, no pun intended. They probably trust that I can prevent those yolks from becoming "grainy", or in my simple terms "cooked" to egg lumps in the rice pudding. I don't trust that. I removed their assumptions about me, accepted their complement, and went on to complete the Austrian Rice Pudding. Which I will adore forever. Maybe you can now, too.

Austrian Rice Pudding
Serves 6
Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home

2 1/4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup short grain rice (arborio, sushi, etc.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large apples (Granny Smith or Golden Delicious), peeled, cored, and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
Unsalted butter, softened, for greasing baking dish

Grease the baking dish with the softened butter.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and vanilla extract and bring to a boil. Add the rice and return the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer to prevent boiling over. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the milk is absorbed by rice and the mixture is quite thick, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the apple puree: In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter until melted. Add the apples, cinnamon, and 1/3 cup granulated sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have darkened and softened through, about 20 minutes (if a piece mashes without resistance under a fork, they are done). Allow to cool five minutes. Place in a food processor and puree to the consistency you prefer. I like my mine very close to smooth.

Stir the remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar into the milk/rice mixture and simmer another 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat. Temper the egg yolks: Stir a spoonful of the hot rice mixture into the egg yolks and whisk vigorously. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the hot milk/ rice mixture and mix vigorously until combined. Spread the mixture over the gratin dish and let cool one hour in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the gratin dish from the fridge and cover the rice pudding with the apple puree.

Make the French meringue: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitter with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites just until stiff peaks form. Gradually beat in the confectioners sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form once again and the meringue is glossy and smooth.

With a big spatula, cover the gratin dish layers with all the meringue, spreading out gently.

Place in the oven and bake until the meringue top is golden brown, about 15 minutes, checking after ten and rotating to ensure even browning.

Once the milk and vanilla has boiled, add the rice.

Bring to a boil once more and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Peel the apples.

Chop the apples, smaller is better.

Place the apples in the pan with the melted butter, add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and the cinnamon.

Cook until golden and completely softened when pierced with a fork.

Transfer the apples to the food processor and pulse to your desired smoothness.

Place the rice mixture in the buttered gratin dish and refrigerate until cool.
Then, cover with the apple puree:

Beat the egg whites until stiff.

Add the confectioners sugar and beat again until stiff peaks return. Now, using a large spatula, transfer all of the meringue to the top of the layers in the gratin dish. Place in a 450 degree oven and bake until golden brown, checking after ten minutes and rotating as needed.