28 December 2007

Cottage Pie

A short walk from Union Station here in DC is a fantastic Irish Pub, The Dubliner. That is where I got hooked on Shepherd's Pie, although theirs is technically a Cottage Pie, very much like mine. And while I certainly can't call mine authentic, I definitely call it yummy.

Cottage Pie

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 pounds beef, cut into 1-2 inch cubes
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup Irish whiskey
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cream
Mashed Potatoes

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add the meat and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the meat is lightly browned.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and add the whiskey. Carefully return to the heat and stir. Cook for about five minutes, until the alcohol fumes stop coming from the pan.
3. Make a slurry with the flour and about a 1/2 cup of the broth. Add to the pan, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
4. Stir the cream into the meat mixture and pour into an ungreased 13x9 pan.
Cover with the mashed potatoes and bake for 15 minutes.

- You could easily omit the whiskey if it's not your thing.
- Lamb can be substituted for the beef for a Shepherd's Pie.
- You can add carrots and peas (or really just about any vegetable) to the meat mix, just be careful not to overcook them.
- This is a wonderful way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. If you want to make them, this is how I do it: I boil peeled potatoes (about 7 medium Russets, for this recipe) cut into about 3-inch cubes until they're tender enough to be pierced by a fork easily. I then drain them very carefully (I splashed boiling water on my hand about a week ago, and trust me, it is no fun) and run them through my potato ricer, then mix them with a stick - yes, a whole stick - of butter and enough cream or milk to get them nice and creamy.

19 December 2007

Mexican Truffles

I am a complete and total chocolate junkie. I love it in just about any form, but one of my favorites is Mexican Hot Chocolate. These truffles have the same flavors, but they're a little spicier. I'm not saying that they're hot, but there's definitely a burn in the back of your throat.

Mexican Chocolate Truffles

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch salt

1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1. Measure the chocolate into a large mixing bowl.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, butter, sugar and spices. Bring just barely to a simmer.
3. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate, and let sit for about five minutes, covered with a plate.
4. Mix the cream and chocolate together to form a ganache. The color of mine was so beautiful, I couldn't resist taking a picture of it:

5. Cover the ganache and chill it for at least a few hours, and up to overnight.
6. Using a small cookie scoop or two teaspoons (the kind you eat with), scoop out the ganache. I like to put mine on a chilled cookie sheet. Re-chill, in the freezer, for a few minutes if necessary.
7. Mix the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and chili powder with a fork. Using your hands, roll the ganache into balls and roll these balls in the cocoa mix.
8. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve.

- You can certainly reduce the chili powder and/or eliminate the cayenne if you don't want the truffles spicy.

16 December 2007

Chicken and Dumplings that Don't Take All Day

With wind threatening to rip the Christmas lights off of my balcony and with exam week in full swing, the time has definitely come for serious comfort food. And to me, it doesn't get any more comforting than chicken and dumplings.

There is a long-standing point of contention between my parents as to whether the dumplings in the chicken and dumplings should be simply dropped into the stew, or rolled out like biscuits and then dropped into the stew. Personally, I like to drop mine in, so that's what I did - after all, comfort food should inherently have no rules.

Chicken and Dumplings
Very loosely adapted from The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 carrots, sliced thinly
3 celery stalks, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into slightly larger than bite-sized pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 cup milk

1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a very large saucepan or soup/stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook until softened.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add the paprika. Season the chicken on all sides and toss with the vegetables. Add the water and chicken stock. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. While the chicken is simmering, mix the flour, baking soda, salt and milk into a dough. It will be very thick.
4. After fifteen minutes, drop the dumplings into the stew with a teaspoon (the kind you eat with, not the kind you measure with) or with a small cookie scoop. Do not stir. Cover and simmer for fifteen more minutes.

- You could use any chicken parts that you like, I just prefer thighs.
- The dumplings are very dense. I happen to like them that way, but if you don't, cutting some shortening or butter (1-2 tablespoons) should make the texture a bit lighter.

In the midst of studying, I'm reading... Atonement: A Novel, by Ian McEwan.

13 December 2007

Spinach and Artichoke Mini Pies

It's that time of the year again - exam week. Which, as usual, means that I'm doing just about as much cooking and/or baking as I am studying, simply because it's so relaxing and without it, I might just go insane. So, logically, what better time a year to make my first pie dough from scratch?

Having heard, just as I'm sure all of you have, all of the horror stories about home-made pie crusts, I've always shied away from making my own. I am slightly (or maybe a little more than slightly) ashamed to admit that until yesterday, I always used the pie crusts that you get rolled-up in a box in the refrigerator section, along with the ready-to-bake cookies and such. I can now promise you that once the one left in my fridge has been used, I will never go back. This crust was so flaky and delicious, not to mention easy to make, that I couldn't believe it.

Mostly Butter Pie Crust
(Slightly adapted from Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006)

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks of cold salted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, slightly chilled
6 tablespoons ice water

1. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces or smaller, and use a pastry blender, a fork, or your fingertips to cut into the flour until you reach the texture of coarse cornmeal.
2. Add the shortening and continue to blend until the pieces are about the size of peas.
3. Drizzle the water over the mixture and mix lightly just until the dough comes together.
4. Divide in half, shape into discs, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.
5. Roll out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch. Using a biscuit or cookie cutter about an inch wider in diameter than the top of your cupcake molds, cut 12 rounds.
6. Place the rounds in your greased cupcake pan. Place either parchment paper rounds, muffin cups, or silicone cupcake molds in the center of each pie crust. Fill with beans or pie weights.
7. Bake at 350F for 12 minutes, then remove the beans or weights and muffin cups and poke with a fork, then bake for 5 minutes more.

Spinach and Artichoke Mini Pies

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can artichoke hearts, well rinsed and roughly chopped
2 cups frozen spinach
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1/2-1 cup parmesan cheese

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook until the onion begins to caramelize.
2. Add the garlic, artichoke hearts, frozen spinach and water. Cook until the spinach is fully thawed and the artichoke hearts are warmed through.
3. Add the butter and the parmesan, and cook just until the butter is melted, stirring.
4. Spoon the filling into the pie crusts. About a tablespoon and a half should fit in each crust.
5. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes, until the top of the filling begins to brown.

- You could absolutely make this as a full-sized pie, you would just have to up the baking times by about 5-10 minutes. The pie crust recipe gives enough crust for a double-crust pie.
- Don't thaw the spinach. You need the liquid that it will give off as it thaws. It will combine with the cheese to lightly bind the filling.

Join the Mini-Pie Revolution!

I just finished reading... Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

09 December 2007

Weekend Herb Blogging #112: Garlic

The host for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging is Simona from Briciole.

Personally speaking, it's rare that I cook anything savory without a least a touch of allium sativum, or cultivated garlic. Garlic is closely related to onions, shallots, and leeks, and so-called elephant garlic is, in fact, a leek. Although the origins of garlic are difficult to confirm, many botanists believe that it originated in Central Asia.

Garlic was eaten by the slaves constructing Khufu's pyramid in Egypt, and also by Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors and rural classes. A Christian myth states that when Satan left the Garden of Eden, garlic grew in his left footprint and onion in his right. In northeastern India, it is believed that a mixture of garlic and water spread around a home will prevent snakes from coming inside. In the United States in 1999, garlic consumption was more than three pounds per capita.

Now, I must warn you that this particular recipe is definitely not for the faint-of-heart where it comes to garlic. It may be the most garlicky thing I've ever eaten, but trust me, every single bite was delicious.

Triple Garlic Risotto

1 bulb garlic
olive oil
6-8 cups chicken stock
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cut the top (about 1/2 an inch) off of the bulb of garlic, and rub the excess papery skin off. Place in a piece of aluminum foil and cover pour olive oil into the spaces between the cloves. Wrap in the aluminum foil, place in an oven-safe dish, and roast at 375F for about 45 minutes, until you can smell the garlic. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
2. While the roasted garlic is cooling, place the sliced garlic and the chicken stock into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
3. Once the stock is simmering, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Reduce the heat to medium and add the minced garlic and the rice, and cook until the rice is translucent and fully coated with the oil.
4. While the rice is toasting, squeeze the roasted garlic out of its papery skin. Using the side of a knife, mash it into a paste. Add this to the rice and stir until blended.
5. Add the wine to the rice mixture and cook, stirring, until almost evaporated.
6. In batches of 1/2-1 cup, add the chicken stock to the rice, stirring frequently. Once one batch is creamy and thick, but not dry, add the next batch.
7. Continue stirring and adding stock until the rice is al dente, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the butter and parmesan.

- Vegetable stock can be substituted for the chicken stock.
- If you can't find Arborio rice, you can use short grain rice, or, in a pinch, medium-grain.

05 December 2007

Chicken with Basil-Riesling Cream Sauce

Yesterday, here in Maryland, the winds were blowing like I've rarely seen. It was definitely the day for food that warms you up and makes the house smell wonderful. I'm happy to say that this chicken absolutely fits the bill. I only wish that I had had the foresight to make extra so that we would have leftovers to eat tonight after the snow!

I served them alongside this potato pancake, which I am very sorry to say that I can't wholeheartedly recommend. Neither my boyfriend nor I were particularly impressed, though I must admit that we had very high expectations.

Chicken with Basil-Riesling Cream Sauce

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup Riesling, or other sweet white wine
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken on both sides until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. Add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring, until soft and the edges are beginning to brown. Add the butter and the garlic and reduce the heat to medium.
3. Once the butter is melted, deglaze the pan with the wine. Cook until reduced by about half, then stir in the flour thoroughly.
4. Add the chicken stock and the cream, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer and season to taste. Slide the chicken back into the pan and simmer until cooked through, 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat.

- As always, the wine can be substituted for anything that you have on hand. I chose the Riesling to give a sweet, fruity taste to the sauce.
- If you have boneless, skinless chicken breasts or even bone-in skin-on chicken pieces, you could absolutely use them here. The cooking time will probably need to be reduced in either case.
- You could substitute fresh basil for the dried, but use at least twice as much and add it when you add the chicken back to the sauce.
- If the sauce is too thick after the chicken is finished cooking, it can be thinned with chicken stock, water, or even milk.
- This would also be delicious with a bit of parmesan or asiago stirred into the sauce or on top of the chicken.

Today, I will finish reading.... The History of Love: A Novel, by Nicole Krauss.

03 December 2007

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts

My love affair with brussels sprouts started about six years or so ago, at Sunday Dinner with a friend's family. In retrospect, there wasn't anything all that special about those sprouts - near as I can tell, they were just boiled or steamed with salt, pepper, and a little bit of butter. Even so, I was hooked. In all honesty, there aren't many vegetables that I'm not fond of, but these are very close to the top of my favorites list.

This is my favorite way to prepare the sprouts - they get fantastically sweet and nutty and the flavor is so complex. It's perfect for a winter day. It does take a little bit of time, but it's very easy and well worth it.

Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 pound brussels sprouts, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. After rinsing the sprouts, cut off the bottom. Slice into about three slices, slicing through the sprout from the top to the bottom. Toss into a large non-stick skillet.
2. Pour the olive oil over the sprouts, and nestle the butter in the middle. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Cook over low to medium-low heat until the sprouts are cooked through and at least half of the cut sides are caramelized and golden brown, stirring occasionally. This will take anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on your stove. Just keep an eye on them.

- These are particularly delicious with any (or any combination of): balsamic vinegar, shredded parmesan, toasted pine nuts, minced garlic (added at the end of cooking), or just about anything else that you can think up.

I just finished reading.... Ignorance: A Novel, by Milan Kundera.