Sunday, February 14, 2016

John Besh's Brown Butter and Vanilla Waffles

What's left of brown butter and vanilla waffles

That's it.  That's all that's left of them.  Four waffles piled in the most golden, glorious, butter-soaked stack you ever did see. They smelled so mouth-wateringly good coming off the waffle iron, I couldn't resist diving in for a few bites before the photo shoot.  And then—I just couldn't stop.

So, this is it, dear reader.  This is the photo you are going to get of John Besh's Brown Butter and Vanilla Waffles.


The recipe comes from his second cookbook, My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking.  Like his first book, My New Orleans, this cookbook is delightfully readable, full of anecdotes and personality and conversation, beginning with a plea that, when I read it the first time, made me say out loud, "THIS is why I write my blog!" 

Besh understands that cooking, at the heart, is a way to express love for one another.  It is not a form of entertainment.  It is not a competition. And the reality is is that our entertainment industry has become overrun with food shows—food shows that intimidate many budding home cooks, not inspire them.  Besh aims, in My Family Table, to take on that intimidation and turn it into confidence by showing you how he cooks at home for his family.  For his friends.  For real. 

This is why I love this man (remember our Besh-obsessed honeymoon in NOLA?).  He can out-chef the best chefs out there, but at the heart, he is a family man who loves people and loves food; his cookbooks are a testimony to that. When I cook with him, I feel like he gets me, unlike the many, many other celebrity chefs out there who seem to be more into themselves than anything else.

So.  If you don't own a Besh cookbook, yet, I would highly recommend going and ordering My Family Table on Amazon.  When you get your book, after you read his inspiring introduction, open it up to page 110, and make yourself the Brown Butter and Vanilla Waffles.  

You will not—NOT—regret your decision.  Either one of them.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Valentine Treat: Baked Alaska

When I go home for Christmas, I become a bit of a kitchen hog—as in, I totally take over.  Thank God my siblings and parents get my obsession.  You know how when you really love something you want to share it with everyone? (Hello, DUH, write a FOOD BLOG.)

Well, I think I've rubbed off a bit on my brother, Arthur.  He is quickly becoming the King of Desserts in our family. Want to know how to make a gourmet s'more? Macarons? Lemon meringue pie? Ask him. He'll try anything if he's got the tools.  I personally think he should go to a baking school and open up the best damn bakery in Berkeley... While we were home together, he made the best lava cake I have ever eaten in my entire life.  I tried to replicate it when I got home and failed.  I think I cut the recipe in half and forgot to do something in relation to that.  Anyway.  His lava cakes? OMG.

chocolate lava cake

One dessert he had recently made with his friend, Luna, was Baked Alaska, and he was dying to make it for us.  Nobody was about to say 'no,' so one night he whipped together a batch and recruited me to help. I had never even eaten it before, so I was pretty excited to see what this famous dessert was all about. And, wow, was I shocked at how simple it was! It is made with just three things: pound or sponge cake and ice cream (both of which we bought) and meringue (egg whites beaten with sugar and a wee bit of cream of tartar).

Here are some photos to show a bit of the process.  I think it is simple enough that some of you might want to try it for your sweetums (or your own awesome self!) for Valentine's Day.

First, the pound cake is cut into rounds using a biscuit cutter (or a water glass, if you don't have a cutter) and laid out onto a sheet pan:

Baked Alaska cake rounds

Next, the ice cream is packed into a standard muffin tin lined with foil and refrozen.  (I think you could probably pack the tin without the foil and just flip the ice cream mounds out onto a cookie sheet after laying a hot towel across the bottom to loosen them.) When the ice cream was hardened, he removed the ice cream discs, placed them on top of the pound cake rounds, then topped each mound of ice cream with another piece of pound cake:

The foundation of Baked Alaska

These stacks then got stuck in the freezer again.  While they were freezing, he made the meringue (I believe it was an Italian meringue, which comes out more marshmallow-y and yummy than the kind of meringue you make for a lemon meringue pie.  Sarah over at CraftyBaking shares some good info about meringue here):

Making the meringue for Baked Alaska

Adding the meringue to Baked Alaska

(Please forgive my mother's horrid mixer.  I almost took my KitchenAid with me and then didn't because it weighs a ton.  I then got mad at myself that I didn't... No offense, Mom. ;)  I think the meringue would have come out stiffer if we had had my KA.  A tip from me to you, dear reader: a KitchenAid mixer is SO WORTH EVERY PENNY.  There is nothing like it, I promise you.  I just have the basic Artisan model. I don't know what I ever did without it. Check out's post on how KitchenAid stands up to other mixers, as well as their post on how the different KitchenAid models stand up to each other. I think you will find the information incredibly detailed and useful.)

Anyway.  After the meringue was finished, Arthur and I had fun (clearly) coating the frozen cake and ice cream stacks with big, swoopy plops.  

If I remember correctly, Arthur froze these again until after dinner.  He then broiled the whole sheet on high for a couple minutes to toast the meringue.  Here's what they looked like as he was plating them:

Serving up Baked Alaska!

A gorgeous mess, yes? Again, I think they would have held their shape better if we had used a better mixer and gotten that meringue a little bit stiffer.  But you should have tasted them.  Holy cow! We even froze the leftovers and ate them the next night, and they still were delish!

So—THAT is Baked Alaska! It's pretty damn easy! I had no idea. And impressive.  It takes some time, but nothing is difficult.  

I'm sorry I don't have a recipe, but if I come across a good one, I'll come back and post it here.  Unless Arthur shoots me his... 

And if you make some, post some pics in the comments below! I would love to see what you did!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Cooking and Eating of Vegetables: The Simple Truth

When I was growing up, my mother was a huge proponent of "Eat your veggies."  Like, HUGE.  Not in a disturbing "Here's a cupcake (i.e. bran muffin)!" kind of way but an I-will-serve-salad-with-dinner- EVERY-night-alongside-another-vegetable-on-the-plate kind of way.  I cannot remember sitting down for dinner once without there being vegetables in a variety of forms on the table.

By the time I had entered this world, frozen vegetables had kicked canned veggies out of the kitchen for good (thank GOD), so, yes, my veggies tended to be "zapped" in that monstrous new-fangled machine that took up almost the entire counter in our kitchen called a "microwave."  But no matter—we were getting our veggies.  My mother even figured out how to microwave frozen vegetables to be "California-style."

Needless to say, because of my childhood home dining experiences, as an adult, eating dinner without two vegetables on my plate seems like half-assed meal planning and flat-out vaguely scary.  Like, "Now I may not be able to poop tomorrow" scary.  And "Maybe I should go take that multi-vitamin..." So I buy and cook a lot of veggies.  A LOT.  To the point I get comments at the checkout in the grocery store. The other day the teenage bagger was trying to guess what I was going to use each vegetable for. Then he picked up this one (pardon the stock photo): 

fennel bulbs

This is the vegetable that always gets a lot of questions, the most common one being, "What IS this?"

This delightful root vegetable can be found under two different names in the produce section: fennel or anise.  It can be eaten raw or cooked, and it has become one of my all-time favorite veggies.  It's seeds are what give Italian sausage that distinctive peppery, pungent, almost licorice-y flavor and are what most people think of when you say "fennel."

I use the seeds in my pasta sauce and in my meatballs, but I have mostly learned that I love the fennel bulb the most.  I love it straight up, unadulterated, sliced and then roasted.

You heard me, people.  ROASTED.  The prime way, and easiest way, may I add, to cook vegetables.  Roast them in your oven or toaster oven, or even pan-roast them in a skillet.   I don't care which way.  But roasting vegetables does two things that I just absolutely love: 1) it changes the flavor of the vegetable completely because it essentially is slowly caramelizing all the sugar in the veggie.  The flavors become deeper, more mellow.  And 2) because your veggie is slowly being cooked in a single layer by hot air or a hot surface, you have more control of how cooked it gets.  You can fork several pieces every 10 minutes or so and see how "done" they are.  Some veggies I like with a bit of bite left, like zucchini or carrots or cauliflower.  Others I like until they are just soft enough to bit straight through, like potatoes or the hard squashes or this fennel, here.  There is just not a simpler, more delicious way to cook vegetables.  Not to mention the prep time is, like, two minutes. Look how gorgeous...:

roasted fennel

 On the far, far opposite side of my Favorite Ways to Cook Vegetables spectrum is cooking vegetables in water.  In any kind of water. If you come across a recipe that tells you to boil a vegetable, RUN—hard and fast.  Boiling is a technique that leaches the vitamins out of your veggies so fast and reduces their deliciousness to a murky-tasting pile of mush.

Don't even let the French talk you into it.  They may call it something fancy: braising.  It sounds nice, doesn't it? So nice that I tried it the other night.  Julia talked me into it.  So I took these gorgeous leeks:

trimmed leeks

and put them in a pot of water.  I stupidly thought the butter would make a difference...  She told me to simmer them for some God-awful amount of time, which I convinced myself was because they were leeks and that somehow would make them better.

braised leeks

And then when MOST of the water had simmered off, I put it all (including the water that was left) into a roasting pan and roasted them for another quarter of an hour.  Here's what ended up on my plate:

I know.  I know.  I mean, LOOK AT THEM.  They scream "overcooked," "mushy," "slimy," and "I-won't-need-teeth-to-eat-this" right from the plate! But, being the experimenter that I am, I tried them, anyway, with a very timid bite...

I almost titled this post, "Mastering the Gag of French Cooking," but I decided to come at it from a more positive angle.  And to not offend the devoutest of Julia Child's fans.  

So.  Learn from me.  Roast your veggies.  Roast them.  It's the easiest.  The yummiest.  The best.

Here's how:

  • your veggie or veggies of choice, cut up however you want; just try to make the pieces all the same size
    •  (NOTE: if using multiple types of veggies, roast similar "hardnesses" together so that they can be done in the same amount of cooking time OR add veggies that are softer/will cook faster to the pan a bit later after the longer-cooking ones)
  • olive oil or your favorite type of oil (I like the flavor of olive oil best)
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Equipment needed:
  • a medium bowl
  • a sheet pan or a casserole dish or skillet to lay your veggies out in a single layer 
    • (NOTE: the more wiggle room the veggies have where they aren't doing a whole lot of touching, the better the browning will be.  Too much contact makes them steam more than brown). 
  • aluminum foil or parchment paper to line the pan (easier clean up; skip if you don't have any)
  • a flat metal or plastic flipping spatula

  • Preheat your oven to 425°.  If using a toaster oven, do 375° to 400°, depending if it is tiny or big.  If you are using a skillet on the stove top, heat it over medium heat.
  • Line your pan with foil or parchment for easy clean up.  If using a skillet, just leave it alone.
  • Place your veggies in the bowl.
  • Drizzle the veggies with olive oil.  Toss the veggies with the oil really well with your hands.  If the veggies don't all look coated, drizzle with more oil and keep tossing.  You want the veggies coated well but not swimming in oil.  
  • Sprinkle the veggies with salt and pepper and give them one last good toss to coat.
  • Dump the veggies in the pan and spread them out in a single layer. If you are using a skillet, use a spoon or spatula to spread them out; you don't want to burn your fingertips on the hot skillet...
  • Place the pan in the hot oven and roast for 10 minutes.  Take the pan out of the oven, toss the veggies to recoat and flip, then put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes.  If you are using a skillet, toss them a bit more frequently.  You want browning, but the smaller surface area can make them cook faster.
  • After the second 10 minutes, you are going to be making a judgement call on how well done you want your veggies.  Spear a couple pieces with a fork to test how crunchy they are. When they feel good to you, remove them from the oven and dump them in a serving dish.  Garnish however you want.
  • Eat with abandon.

Bonus Tip!  If I feel like jazzing my veggies up a bit, I'll toss them with a little something extra when I add the salt and pepper.  Something like:
  • lemon zest from the peel of one lemon
  • a few smashed garlic cloves (don't even peel them!)
  • a couple shallots quartered lengthwise right through the root
  • a sprinkle of a favorite spice or spice blend
  • a few good shakes of my Regan's orange bitters
Get creative! I bet you it will taste delish.  And if it doesn't? Well, you don't know until you try, right?

So go get roasting! Comment below and share what you've tried! And if you have any questions, please ask below.  I am happy to help!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Put Some Blueberries On It!: Learning to Make Green Salads with Fruit

I have always been a fan of blueberries, ever since I was a kid.  Even after I threw up blueberry pancakes in the back of our Volkswagon Beetle when I was four years old, my love for those little suckers didn't fade.  When we moved to Pennsylvania and settled into a home right smack in some woods full of blueberry bushes, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  It might have taken an hour to fill a measly cup with those tiny berries, but I didn't care.  I had blueberries in my backyard.

As an adult, they are still my go-to berry. I use the dried wild ones in my scones. Frozen blueberries  get tossed into my random smoothie.  And I buy a package every week to top off my plain Greek yogurt.

But you want to know what I've gotten really into lately?

Blueberries go great on salad!

You got it! Salads. SO yummy.  Their little bursts of sweet, and sometimes tart, flavor add such wonderful contrast to the pungent flavors of shallots or red onion and a sprinkle of gorgonzola or feta cheese.  And the juice they release blends wonderfully with a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing.  Simply drizzle your salad with olive oil first and toss the greens to coat them, then sprinkle on a bit of good balsamic vinegar, a pinch of kosher salt, and a few grinds of fresh cracked black pepper.  Toss again, and you've got an absolutely delicious salad that is super healthy, thanks to blueberry's super antioxidant powers.  

Give it a shot and let me know what you think! Have another weird salad topping of choice? Send us a comment and let us all know!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Defrosting Your Fridge: Ideas for What to Do with That Food!

Happy belated New Year, all! I can't believe we are well into 2016 already. Where does the time go?
I haven't written a word to you all for over a month! It appears that the holidays were busy and then some! It feels good to be back.  In between all the traveling and company, I've been slowly hashing out my New Year's resolution to create a daily routine (as routine as a pilot's wife can get). Getting back to you all will be part of my writing goal (but I've got some other projects in the works, so I'm going to need you to share).

One of my other New Year's goals is to get better at experimenting in the kitchen.  There are so many foods that I buy at the store that I can make at home (yogurt, ricotta, kombucha, etc.  Notice the fermentation theme, here).  I've just been lazy and haven't taken the time to read up on it and to try it. 

Well, Fate decided to lend a hand and throw us a broken fridge to help me get that ball rolling...

A few weeks ago, Chef Reiton and I noticed that we were getting random pools of water appearing from beneath our fridge.  After a bit of inspection and research, we learned that the little hose in the back of the fridge that allows the defrost water to drain can get clogged, causing the water to leak out onto the floor and into the bottom of the freezer drawer (we wondered where that huge sheet of ice was coming from...). Thanks to Google and those who share their knowledge on home refrigerator repair, we discovered how to solve the problem ourselves instead of having to call our friendly but expensive Whirlpool repairman.  

The down side? We had to defrost the fridge.  


Thankfully, 1) the winter storm that hit Boston on Friday was bigger than was expected, so the 7 inches of snow piled on our back deck could serve nicely as a natural cooler.  2) We tend to shop twice a week for food, so we didn't shop for the second half; the dinners just became compilations of random scavenged foods as we tried to use up what was in the fridge and freezer, just in case repairs didn't go as quickly or smoothly as we wanted.

Well, despite our interesting meal combos, we were still left with:
  • a bunch of cheese (we have a good-cheese fetish, admittedly)
  • lots of pickled items in jars
  • butter
  • half-n-half
  • a frozen leg of lamb
  • a few random vegetables
  • some chicken wings and a carcass
The cheese, jars, and lamb leg got stuck out in the snow in a plastic storage tub.  But those veggies and the chicken?

Well, my New Year's resolution of experimenting started halloo-ing from the back of my brain, and so I pulled out a wonderful little book, The Essential Book of Fermentation by Jeff Cox, given to me for my birthday by our dear friends, Joe (now my boss—I'm officially a copy editor!) and Marie.  

What was I going to ferment? That gorgeous purple cabbage that had been sitting all lonely and forlorn in my fridge, that's what.  In five minutes flat, that baby was slivered into shreds and sprinkled with sea salt and caraway seeds:

the start of sauerkraut

All I had to do was completely man-handle that pile of shreds for 10 minutes, scrunching and crushing and squeezing and mixing, until I got it to be a juicy, purple, tender mess:

I covered the surface with some plastic wrap, put a plate facedown on top so that all the cabbage was covered up, then I pressed the plate down hard, pushing all the shreds down underneath their own purple juices.  Now the cabbage was ready to ferment, slowly developing into that amazingly health food: sauerkraut.  If you've never had it homemade, you are missing out.  It is entirely different from the sweet, vinegary kind you get at the store.  And homemade fermented sauerkraut contains bacteria GALORE that will make your gut incredibly happy.  Like, really insanely happy.  In fact, a lot of nutritionists say that eating sauerkraut every day does wonders for your body.  Some food for thought...

As for the other vegetables and chicken parts that sat on the counter—you regular readers guessed it...


making chicken stock

Chicken wings and a carcass and a bit of leftover roasted chicken got dumped in the Crock-Pot and covered with a quartered onion, old celery, leftover herbs, a hunk of carrot, sliced up shrivel-y ginger root and turmeric root, a wrinkled serrano chile pepper, and the frozen scraps left from making spiralized zucchini noodles.  I filled the pot with water, put it on high until it all came to a boil, then turned it down to low.  That was yesterday afternoon, and she's still going strong.  I topped it off with a bit more water this morning, and I'll probably let it go until tomorrow afternoon.  The more nutrients I can suck out of those bones, the better. And if you could just smell my house right now... Man.

I'm happy to say that the fridge fixing went ridiculously smoothly.  It took me longer to take advantage of the empty fridge and give it a good scrub down than it did for the repair.  Here she stands, all clean and shiny, ready and waiting for that homemade sauerkraut and chicken stock.

defrosting fridge

The only question is, what do I experiment on making next???

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