Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two Batches from Baked!

Mom: I have a confession to make. A long time ago you bought butterscotch chips that you put in the kitchen pantry. When you looked for them to make what you had planned, they were nowhere to be found. I confess: I had found them earlier, ate a few handfuls, and then hid the bag so that you wouldn't see what I had done. I just couldn't resist.

So.... is it any surprise that the first thing i made from the Baked cookbook Peanut got me for Valentines was the Baked Bar, when the primary ingredients are butterscotch, white chocolate, and semisweet chocolate chips?

And when these ingredients are baked in a graham cracker crust mixed with toasted coconut?

That pleased the masses at both the Oscar party we went to Sunday night and Anabelle's welcome back office party?

So, Mom: I apologize. And Peanut: Thank you. And to everyone else:
Just wait till you see what's in store!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Working Dinner

Attendees: Larry, Peanut, Guy, and Miguel
Eggplant, mint, and yogurt dip with flatbread

Main Course:

Frisee salad with onion and dates

Ice wine

Creme a la Coeur

It's no secret that Peanut's got mad skills, and our friends Guy and Larry definitely took note. When the three of them had to get together for a meeting, Peanut suggested that they come over to our place and that I would make dinner. While I've made dinner for these boys before, it's quite daunting- you see, Guy is a pretty fantastic cook. Since he was coming directly from his hockey game, I was inspired to make this fellow Canuck a main course from his homeland: a tourtiere! To our delight, they brought along our friend Miguel, who was in town from Mexico!

But to start- I was inspired by a recipe by Nigella Lawson that required roasting an eggplant that was then cooked with onions and garlic, mixed with some Greek yogurt and saffron, and topped with mint and toasted pine nuts (served with flatbread).

A tourtiere is a peasant dish from Quebec- a meat pie filled with a mixture of ground pork and beef and seasoned with onions, sage, and ground cloves. I even made my own pastry!

A coworker brought me some dates from her travels in the Middle East that I wanted to incorporate into a salad. I served frisee with a dressing made of a bit of bacon grease, some honey and red wine vinegar, tossed with onions and chopped dates and topped with crumbled goat cheese, walnuts, and bacon bits.

And for dessert- well, it was Valentine's Day on Saturday, so I decided to move the spirit forward a day with a simple, and decadent, Creme a la Coeur, which we served with some Canadian Ice Wine as an appertif.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Battle Berry

Violet's Friend talks a good talk- she was eager to challenge the winner of BATTLE: CINDY to her own tinfoil chef. Since Rick beat me, I (with Cindy's help) got to choose the secret ingredient. At 11 o'clock AM, Rick and Violet's Friend got a text from me with one word: BERRY. They had 8 hours to shop and make 3 courses.

Rick's signature to a meal is to start things off with a cocktail- for this challenge, he chose a gin blossom martini (passion fruit liquor added to classic gin, distilled from roots, berries, and licorice).

His first course was a wheatberry salad with currant (double berry!), while Violet's friend made a delicious prosciutto & mozzarella bruschetta, topped with a dried cranberry (that I somehow forgot to 'document')!

Next, was Violet's Friends crispy duck breast served with a raspberry glaze on a bed of wilted kale (that was SO good)!

For his main course, Rick made a loin top steak in juniper berry cream sauce and hash browns.

Violet's friend then surprised us with her own cocktail: Raspberry Stoli with a Rose floater (shown here with Jack).

And here's a close-up of that dessert: Violet's Friend made chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting and a raspberry compote.

Rick, however, brought down the house with his blueberry and orange layer cake with cream cheese frosting.

Final Verdict: Rick- 150 points, Violet's Friend- 145! Rick won... AGAIN! And then HE RETIRED FROM TINFOIL CHEF!!! Here's Violet's Friend re-enacting Giada's face when Rachel Ray beat her in Iron Chef:

Then I decided to start playing with my camera and took these artistic shots:

Who's up next?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Birthdays in the workplace

It was two of my colleagues' birthdays last week, so I brought in cupcakes to help celebrate! I knew that chocolate raspberry was the way to go, but since I couldn't find a recipe, I had to make one up! The frosting was especially tangy... and delicious!

I also gave the Birthday Girls a few cupcakes to take home, which one shared with her cute daughter!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Finally: A RECIPE!!!

Attendees: James, Planter, Cliff, Peanut, and George
Cocktail: French martini

Hors D'oeuvre: Gougeres (cheese puffs)

Main Course: Boeuf Bourguignon

Side: Escarole salad with pickled onions

Dessert: Meringues Chantilly

Peanut and I spent a fantastic holiday with LL and Pit in San Miguel, Mexico. Our friends James & Planter frequently go there, and they helped us prepare for the trip. So we had them, and Cliff and George, over for dinner. And though I had initially thought I would take advantage of the $1 avocados at Whole Foods and prepare a Mexican fiesta, it's SO COLD in DC-all I could think of was how badly I wanted some Boeuf Bourguignon!

I think that every family has a staple dish- something that, generally, the entire family enjoys and even finds comfort in. Chili, mac and cheese, gnocchi- these are some possibilities. But growing up with a Canadian mother in cold Buffalo, NY, our family staple was my mother's
Boeuf Bourguignon. It's a bit time-consuming to prepare, but totally worth it: and I have decided to heed your requests and give you all our family recipe (see end of post)!

But, let's start at the beginning: french martini. As a lover of most French foods, it was only a matter of time before I had to get the good stuff. Peanut looked at what I had been previously substituting for Chambord (Cassis) and asked: "really?" The cocktail is made with 1-part Chambord, 3-parts vodka, and 4-parts pineapple juice.

I LOVE gougeres, but I have messed these up so bad in the past that I am somewhat afraid to make them. Yesterday, however, was a success!

Deb over at
Smitten Kitchen promised me that the escarole salad with pickled red onions was worth it, and it was. Peanut and I pickled the red onions overnight, and the result was very fresh and tasty- a perfect complement to the main course.

Ahhh.... the main course: Boeuf Bourguignon!

And to round out the meal: I woke up early Saturday morning to make meringues nests:

Which I served on a puddle of raspberry sauce, filled with fresh whipped cream, and topped with a raspberry. Really- how could you go wrong?

Always a good sign at the end of a meal:
empty plates (and empty wine glasses, too)!

And now I present to you: our family recipe for...
Boeuf Bourguignon!
(Adapted from Time Life'sCookings of Provincial France, (C) 1973!)
Step 1: Prepare the onions.
1/2 lb bacon

1 T butter
18-24 pearl onions

1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Place the onions in boiling water for two minutes, then remove to an ice bath. This makes peeling them easier: cut of the root, then push the onion out (see video depcition
3. Dice the bacon as soon as it comes out of the fridge. In a heavy 8-10 inch skillet, melt the butter and fry the bacon pieces until crispy. Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel to drain.

4. Lightly brown the onions in the skillet with the bacon grease over moderate high heat- shake the pan to color the onions as evenly as possible. With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a shallow baking dish that will hold them in a single layer, sprinkle with 3 T of the bacon grease, and place in oven for 30 minutes, until barely tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Set aside.

Step 2: Prepare the mushrooms.

3 T butter

3/4 lb mushrooms

1. Rub the mushrooms to clean them with a damp paper towel. Cut into quarters (if large), halves (if medium), or keep whole (if small; I used organic, Pennsylvania-grown cremini mushrooms, which varied in size).

2. In a separate stainless still skillet, melt the butter. When the foam subsides, add the mushrooms, tossing frequently for 2-3 minutes, until slightly soft. Add to the cooked onions and set aside.

Step 3: Prepare the meat.
3 lb lean boneless chuck or rump, cut into 2-inch chunks

bouquet garni (4 parsley sprigs and 1 bay leaf, tied together)
2 T chopped shallots

3/4 cup carrots, peeled and sliced thin

3 T flour

1 cup beef stock

2 cups red burgundy

1 T tomato paste
1 t chopped garlic

1 t dried thyme

1 t salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 french baguette

2 T chopped fresh parsley

1. Do yourself a HUGE favor and chop and measure everything out in advance. To save prep bowls, combine shallots and carrots in one bowl; garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper in another bowl.

2. Pour the bacon grease in a bowl, leaving for a thin layer in the pan. Heat over moderately-high heat, until the grease is almost smoking. Carefully begin browning the beef chunks on all sides in the grease (4-5 chunks at a time so as not to crowd the pan, adding more grease as needed). When all sides are browned, remove with tongues to a heavy, flame and oven-proof 4-6 quart casserole. Continue with all the meat, and hide the bouquet garni within the browned beef.

3. Start heating the beef stock in a separate pot
4. After all the beef is browned, reduce heat to low and add the shallots and carrots to the pan, stirring frequently until they are colored.

5. Add the flour to the carrots & shallots, and stir continuously until the flour browned, but not burned!

6. Take off heat, cool for a moment, add hot/warmed beef stock, blending vigorously with a whisk.

7. Return to heat- blend in wine and tomato paste, continuing to blend continuously with the whisk until the mixture boils (it should thicken when you're doing this)

8. Add garlic, thyme, sauteed bacon bits, salt and pepper

9. Pour entire mixture over beef- it should almost (but not quite) cover the beef- add more beef stock/wine if needed. Bring to a boil.
10. Cover tightly and transfer to the 350-degree oven for 2-3 hours, until beef is tender when pierced (yesterday, 2-hours was all it took)!

11. When done, add mushroom and onion mixture to the beef, mix gently with a large spoon, and return to oven for 15-minutes.

12. Prepare your bowls by placing a slice of french baguette in each:

13. Remove from oven, take out bouquet garni, and ladle into bowls... and enjoy!