Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Hanukkah Story (sort of)

Well, it's been a little over a year since my last post and boy, has my life changed! Luckily, all for the better. I'm back in Denver working on my Master's and my life couldn't get much better. I'm sure most of you who read this blog (if there are any of you left) know first-hand all of the craziness that was happening in my life up until about 4 or 5 months ago when I moved back to Denver, so there's no need to bore you will the details. Instead, I'd like to take this opportinity to rededicate myself to this blog by telling you about the ultimate bad-ass story of dedication: Hanukkah! I'm sure some of you are like, "well... that's nice and all but, isn't this blog supposed to be about food?" And yes, you're right, this is primarily a food blog BUT, anyone who knows anything about the Jews knows that our holidays have a tripartite theme: They tried to kill us, we survived, LET'S EAT! So really, in a round about way, this post will be about food. BOOM. On with the story.

So, there was this mensch, Judah Maccabee (who was a total badass, by the way). He was like the Hebrew Rambo. He hated King Antiochus who was a total royal schmuck because he took away Judah's temple and turned it into some goyim strip mall. (He couldn't have at least turned it into a Chinese restaurant?!) Judah led an untrained army (most of them were accountants, doctors, and lawyers - little known fact) to defeat the evil king.  They were armed with nothing but their faith... and probably a few rocks and sticks... oh, and their mothers. Anyway, Judah kicked butt and the temple belonged to the Jews again.
 After cleaning up the place and some tasteful redecorating by Judah's wife (she took an interior-decorating class at the local JCC) - the menorah was made ready for the temple's dedication. And the Hebrew word for dedication is? You guessed it! HANUKKAH!
But oy! There was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day! Someone really dropped the ball on that one. Then something wonderful happened. The lights of the menorah burned for eight days and eight nights! This was way b efore smart phones, so people were easily impressed. It was a miracle! Not as cool as "parting-of-the-sea" but still not bad.
And now we celebrate with grateful hearts every year by lighting a candle for each of the eight nights and spinning a small clay block (and eating our weight in latkes and sufganiyot)!

So, Happy Hanukkah, y'all! Or, to all my Hebrews and Shebrews - Chag Sameach!

Keep your eye peepers peeled for new blog posts and recipes soon! It's great to be back :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

Well, it's fall in Florida! The humidity is finally starting to level off and it's actually pleasant enough outside to take a nap in the grass. This past weekend was actually a bit chilly, though! A much welcomed surprise for me but, for the majority of the population of central Florida, a chance to dress like they're preparing for a nuclear winter.
Anyway, nothing says fall like some hearty soup! This is absolutely the epitome of hearty. This soup is gonna call to you from the bowl. It's gonna say, "Baby, I love you. Really, I do."
This soup has everything a baked potato should have... and more! First, we start with a bushel of potatoes! I used one whole bag of petite reds but, you can use regular baking potatoes. So, why baked potatoes? Why not just boiled potatoes? Well, my friends, let me explain: Baked potatoes have an intense earthy flavor that regular boiled potatoes cannot achieve. The intense earthy potato-y flavor is perfectly paired with the creamy onion topping, crisped bacon, fresh green onion, and sharp cheddar cheese. I dare you to try this soup and not like it. I triple dog dare you. I mean, just look at it!

I mean, REALLY. How could you possibly resist?!
Without further ado, the recipe!

1 pound of bacon (yes!)
6 Tbl. all-purpose flour
1 onion
6-8 large baked potatoes, cooled
4 cups milk
6 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste (I didn't add any salt... the bacon fat used to make the roux was salty enough!)
optional: up to 1 cup of instant mashed potato flakes to thicken the soup (I like my soup thick so, I used about 1/2 of a cup of flakes)

Creamy Onion Topping:
2 cups Greek yogurt
1 bunch green onions, cleaned, trimmed of roots and thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt 

Slice bacon into 1/4 - 1/2 inch strips. Place bacon in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until bacon just starts to crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. 
Mmmmmm. bacon. We'll deal with this deliciousness later. Don't eat it all just yet! It'll be a difficult task, believe me, I know. 

Stir Greek yogurt, green onions, and Kosher salt together in a bowl. 
Cover the bowl and refrigerate until time for use. Making this topping before the soup is made gives the flavors time to blend. 

Drain all but about 6 Tablespoons of bacon fat from the soup pot. If you've drained the pot right, you'll have lots of little crispy bacon morsels left. Don't you DARE wipe those little flavor nuggets out. They're nuggets of pure joy and ecstasy that will only add to the awesomeness of the soup. LEAVE THEM IN! Now, dice the onion and stir it into the bacon fat that remains in the pot and turn heat to low. Sweat those little onions until they're soft and translucent. 

While the onions are sweating, cut each baked potato into quarters and discard the skin. Put the potatoes in a bowl and get out your potato masher and go all Bruce Banner/ HULK on those taters! I find that actually saying, "HULK SMASH!" while mashing the potatoes makes the process that much more awesome and gratifying. The potatoes don't have to be smooth, in fact, I prefer my soup to have chunks of potato in it. It's totally up to you how you want to eviscerate your potatoes, though. 

Now, sprinkle the flour evenly over the translucent onions and whisk until smooth. 
Turn the heat back to medium. Although at first the fat will seem to seize up, it will loosen and become liquid again fairly quickly. 
Once it returns to a liquid state and begins bubbling, stir constantly and cook for one minute. This is your roux, or your thickener for the soup. Or, if you're the weird dude who used to work with my mom and who tried to convince her he was some high profile chef, it's your 'brew.' As in, Witch's. Yah, that guy was a joke. Anyway, I digress. Whisk all of the milk into the roux and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently until thickened. To check whether your base has thickened enough, dip a wooden spoon into it and remove it. 
If the sauce clings to your spoon like this, you're ready to go to the next step! Whisk the 6 cups of chicken broth into the milk base and then stir all of the smashed potato innards into the soup. With the pot over medium heat, stir frequently to prevent scorching. You don't need to boil the soup; you just want to get it steaming hot. When it is steaming, check the consistency. If it's not thick enough for you, add some instant potato flakes into the soup a small amount at a time until it's reached the desired thickness. Stir in the 2 cups of shredded cheese until it is completely melted. 

Remove the soup pot from the heat and serve immediately with the creamy onion topping, crisp bacon pieces, green onions, and additional shredded cheese.  Let the potato-y, cheesy, bacon-y lovefest ensue!! 

Girlfriend tested. Girlfriend approved. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Beef Tongue Tacos

These are delicious... I promise. I'm a huge fan of tongue - always have been. Stop snickering. I'd never had beef tongue tacos before I went to Atlanta a few weeks ago and as soon as I bit into that delicious, tender, and tasty muscle done Latin-style, I was hooked. So, I decided to try and replicate the tacos from Loca Luna in Atlanta and here are the results!

Patrick with the tongue.
  • 1 beef tongue
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 Roma tomatoes
  • 5 serrano peppers
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 (10 ounce) packages corn tortillas

  • Place the beef tongue in a slow cooker and cover with water. Add the onion slices, garlic, and bay leaf. Season with salt. Cover and cook on Low overnight or 8-12 hours. Remove the tongue and shred the meat into strands. (Don't be discouraged by the papilla. Once the tongue is tender you'll be able to cut through the tongue 'cover' and papilla to expose the meat. Discard the 'cover' and use the meat underneath.) 

  • Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the tomatoes and peppers in the hot oil until softened on all sides. Remove the tomatoes and peppers in a blender, keeping the oil on the heat; season with salt. Blend briefly until still slightly chunky. Cook the diced onion in the skillet until translucent; stir in the tomato mixture. Cook another 5 to 6 minutes. Build the tacos by placing shredded tongue meat into a tortilla and spooning salsa over the meat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Proust's Favorite Cookie: Petites Madeleines

Finally, AP French Literature becomes useful! I remember reading Proust in M. Camm's AP French class in high school and asking, "wait... did I just read an entire paragraph about this nut job's love affair with a cookie and tea? Seriously?!" Proust totally knew what he was talking about. These cookies are divine, buttery pillows of deliciousness and dunking them in tea is relaxing and... mmmm. There's no way that I could describe eating one of these madeleines as lyrically and thoughtfully as Proust, so I won't even try. Here's what he had to say:

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

Now, I don't want to toot my own horn here, but I'm fairly certain that my recipe for madeleines invokes the same feelings of joy about which Proust wrote. You should probably judge for yourselves, though.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon edible lavender  (optional... but amazing and you should really try it)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To flavor the butter with the lavender, melt the butter in a small saucepan (or in the microwave). Stir in the lavender and allow it to infuse for 15 minutes. Line a small sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth (yay!), then strain the butter into a small bowl; discard the lavender.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or in another large bowl and, using your fingertips, work the zest into the sugar until the mixture is fragrant. Beat the eggs, sugar and zest together until pale and thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the honey and vanilla and beat for 1 minute more. Switch to a rubber spatula and gently fold in the dry ingredients. When they are incorporated, fold in the butter. 

Spoon the batter into the buttered and flour-dusted madeleine molds, cover and chill (3 hours), then bake the cookies directly from the fridge.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the madeleines are golden and the tops spring back when touched. Remove the pan from the oven and release the madeleines from the mold by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter. Gently pry the cookies from the pan using a butter knife.

Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to just warm or room temperature... or pop them right in your mouth. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Note About Cheese... C sharp. Mmmm.

As you guys know, I made my own ricotta for the the ricotta and fig ice cream. I just want to reiterate how EASY it was to make this delicious and mild cheese. I've always had an unusually soft spot for cheese - as I'm sure many of you know. In fact, my first complete sentence was: "Mommy, I like cheese!" Cute, I know. I'll definitely be making more cheese in the future and I invite you all to do the same!

I was at the grocery store the other day buying some cheesecloth in order to make the ricotta. Now, I don't own a grocery store, but you all know I've worked in one, so I think I have a pretty good idea of where things should be placed in the stores. If I were in charge of groceries, I would put the cheesecloth in the baking aisle since most of its applications are in baking/cooking. This is not the case at Publix, though. Where do you think I found the cheesecloth? Take a wild guess... the aisle with cleaning supplies. WHAT?! I know, right?! I can't think of one instance where I would use cheesecloth to clean ANYTHING!

Anyway, cheesecloth in hand, I go to the express, or 10 items or less lane. Which, let me just point out, should be the 10 items or fewer lane. Grammar- learn it.  Ok, so I'm standing in line and the cashier looks at me and says, "what's that for?" To which I reply, "um... making cheese." The cashier looks at me for a minute, puzzled. Finally, he says: "I didn't know you could make cheese." I looked at him, totally dumbfounded. "Yeah. We've been making it for centuries!" I smiled politely, trying so hard not to reach across the conveyor belt and smack this kid in the head a la "shoulda-had-a-V8." Really? REALLY?! I didn't know you could make cheese? Where do people think cheese comes from - the cheese fairy?! Granted, a cheese fairy would be AMAZING, but highly unlikely. All I could picture this guy thinking about was that cow with wings and a tutu on the Kraft singles commercials granting cheese wishes and fortifying plastic orange squares with calcium and vitamin D.

Moral(s) of the story: Cheesecloth SHOULDN'T be in the cleaning aisle and people make cheese. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fresh ricotta and fig ice cream

One of my favorite gelato flavors beside Happy Hippo, is Alice. Alice (ah-lee-chey) is a mildly sweet, light and airy ricotta gelato that is refreshing and awesome. This is my take on the wonderful gelato. This recipe is delicious but be careful - I had trouble keeping myself from om-nom-noming it all up even BEFORE I put it in the ice cream maker. Seriously.

This recipe makes about one and a half quarts of ice cream.

2 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta (ricotta recipe to follow this)
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
zest of one lemon
pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon Strega liqueur or vanilla vodka, to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped, dried mission figs

Place fresh ricotta, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add cream and blend. Taste for the important balance of salt. Add Strega or vodka to taste. Refrigerate until completely chilled.
Freeze in an ice cream machine. Add the chopped  figs. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer container, top with a piece of plastic wrap pressed into the surface and freeze until firm.

** If you can find Strega, I highly recommend using it rather than another kind of alcohol. I brought a bottle back from Italy to use as a sipping liqueur and in recipes. I'm sure it's a bit pricey here in the states but believe me, it's absolutely worth it.**

** Putting a few tablespoons of alcohol into ice cream not only adds a hint of flavor (if the alcohol is flavored) but, it also keeps the ice cream from becoming rock solid in the freezer.**

Fresh Ricotta
2 quarts whole milk
1 C heavy cream
1/2 t salt
3 T fresh lemon juice


Line a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth and place it in your sink.

Over moderate heat in a large 6-quart pot, slowly bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. When it reaches a boil, add the lemon juice, then reduce heat to low. Stirring constantly, simmer until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.

Carefully and slowly pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined colander and let it drain for 1 hour. Discard the liquid. Cover and chill the ricotta. 

Eggplant Parmesan

If for some reason I were to ever become a vegetarian (highly unlikely), I could almost guarantee you that I would be eating eggplant like it was going out of style. This weird looking (reminiscent of Gonzo's nose, actually), difficult to properly cook/prepare, awesome-shade-for-an-accent-wall-colored vegetable is pretty delicious and not as nutritious as I once thought. Well, anything that's dredged in flour, egg, and bread crumbs and then fried automatically loses its nutritional value, but since it's a vegetable after all, it's gotta be the least bit healthy, right?! Of course right. Oh, I forgot to add smothered in cheese and sauce, too. Scratch that healthy part. Let's just call eggplant what it really is: a hearty meat-substitute that is often used as a vehicle for other tasty things like cheese.

Anyway, here is a delicious recipe that I got from the Food Network for Eggplant Parm! Boun Appetito!

2 medium eggplant (I used one), cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
Kosher salt, as needed
4 cups breadcrumbs (the recipe calls for fresh, but I found that the Italian-style Vigo brand bread crumbs are delicious, too)
Dried oregano
Dried thyme
Black pepper
Vegetable oil
All-purpose flour
6 large eggs, beaten (I used 4 eggs because that's all I had and I didn't feel like going back to the grocery)
5-6 cups marinara sauce (I would have used my homemade sauce but, I was lazy. I used Mama DiSalvo's instead!  You can use whatever your little heart desires.)
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (or more, if you're like me and you love cheese)
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Arrange the eggplant slices on several baking sheets and sprinkle generously all over with kosher salt. Set aside to let the bitter juices weep from the eggplant, about 1 hour.
Transfer the eggplant to a colander in the sink, and rinse well under cold running water. Transfer eggplant to a work surface and blot very dry with paper towels.
In a large bowl, whisk together the 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, breadcrumbs, oregano, thyme, and season with pepper.
Place the flour in a medium lipped plate or bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk the egg and milk together. Dredge an eggplant slice in the flour, then dip it in the egg, and finally dredge it in the breadcrumb mixture. Shake off any excess breading and transfer the eggplant to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.
In a large straight-sided skillet, pour the oil to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat the oil over medium heat.
Working in small batches, fry the eggplant slices, turning once, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per batch. Using tongs, transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and season with salt to taste. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly brush a 15 x 10- x 2-inch-baking dish with olive oil. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with 1/3 of the marinara sauce and arrange half of the eggplant over the sauce. Cover the eggplant with another 1/3 of the sauce. Scatter half of the Parmesan and half of the mozzarella over the sauced eggplant. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, sauce, Parmesan, and mozzarella. Bake until hot and just beginning to brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Not so beautiful, but extremely yummy.