Sunday, October 28, 2007

Glazed turnips

Turnips are an underappreciated vegetable. You’d think people would be naturally drawn to them—they’re so pretty, all white and purple. And they’re very sweet and flavorful, especially if you buy them organic and from a farm stand (as I did with these particular specimens) and they are on the smallish side. They will keep a long time in the fridge crisper if you wrap them up in a bag.

Peeled 4 smallish turnips and cut them into small cubes. They peel really easily, which is a nice change from some other stubborn root vegetables that I could mention here. Put them in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Stir them around occasionally until they begin to get soft. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the top along with salt and a lot of fresh ground black pepper, stir well, then leave them alone over the heat (but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn!) and allow them to become golden brown in places—about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup of chicken stock and turn up the heat to reduce the liquid down into a glaze. When most of the liquid is gone, add a couple tablespoons of sherry or white wine and cook for a few more minutes. The turnips should be soft and golden brown with a shiny glaze. You can add fresh minced parsley or any other herb you have handy if you like. Chives would be good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Happy birthday

You may have noticed a few changes here. That's because today is the one year anniversary of Il Piatto Blu and I thought the old girl deserved a facelift, maybe a little Botox around the eyes. They say you can't start too young.

This blog started mostly because I realized one day that I was forgetting everything I had cooked. I would make something one day then be unable to duplicate it on another because I had no record of what on earth I had done to begin with. I guess I could just have typed it up and saved it or written onto little index notecards and saved them in my recipe file...but I'm sure I would never have maintained that as a habit. There's something about knowing that people might be reading that makes you keep up your behavior. So, in addition to the original intent of this blog as culinary memory aid, it has turned out to be a great way to let those who I love and miss, those who I don't get to see as much as I'd like to, know what's going on around here. My mother, bless her shit-starting little heart, told me that I only seem happy when I'm talking about fashion or cooking. To which I say "well, yeah."

So happy one year old to me and to us. Good for me for sticking with something. Good for you for reading. Let's keep in touch.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pumpkin soup

On Saturday we had our annual Little 5 Points parade viewing and pumpkin carving festivities. In case you are unfamiliar, Little 5 Points is a wacky little neighborhood that is right by where we live now--actually, it was where we first lived in Atlanta--and every year they hold a really excellent parade to celebrate Halloween. All the local businesses make insane floats and there are some fantastic costumes on display. You really have to see it for yourself-there's not a good way to do it justice in words. Anyway, over the years it has become traditional for friends to meet up and walk to the parade with beers, sit in the exact same place to watch it (I like my traditions VERY traditional, thank you), drink more beers, then walk back to our place to carve pumpkins and drink even MORE beers. It's pretty great. There were some particularly good pumpkins this year. Dana made one that was supposed to say "Boo!" but it might have ended up saying "Roo!" or possibly "Doo!" Byron's pumpkin had another, smaller pumpkin in its mouth, sort of like a pumpkin cannibal. And Emma etched a crying elephant stuck in a spider web onto hers. It was neat. Katie made these really, truly amazing deviled eggs that are based on a recipe from an Atlanta chef that we both admire--Scott Peacock from Watershed restaurant. And I made a pumpkin soup that was sort of based on about a million different things, but it ended up coming together pretty well in the end. You could also make this with any type of winter squash, if you like.

I got about 2-3 pounds total of small sweet pie pumpkin. These are VERY DIFFERENT from the pumpkins that we carve up for jack o'lanterns. They look like tiny versions of the big ones but are sweet and suited for cooking. So be sure to grab that kind, not the decorative kind for your doorstep. I cut them in half and pulled out the seeds, then chopped up the flesh off the rind. I wanted to roast the pumpkin for a deeper flavor but it got late and I ran out of time. If you aren't in a hurry to get to a Halloween parade with all your friends, you should roast the pumpkin or squash or whatever before proceeding--it will be much more tasty. Just cut it in half and stick it in the oven at 350 for about an hour. Then it will pop right out of the rind and that's much easier than slicing the flesh off, as I had to do. Anyway, get your pumpkin out of its natural state in some way or another and toss it into 3 tablespoons of butter mixed with 1 tablespoon of olive oil that is heated up over medium high heat in a big pot or dutch oven on the stovetop. Add 4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped, 2 small onions, coarsely chopped up and 2 apples, peeled and coarsely chopped. Stir everything around and add more butter if it seems dry. Allow this all to get soft and tasty and lightly browned, and then add in 2 teaspoons nutmeg, 3-4 tablespoons of minced, fresh tarragon, lots of salt and black pepper. Let cook for another 5 minutes, and then pour in chicken (or vegetable) stock. I am so sorry that I didn't measure it better. I used one and a half of one of those organic, shelf-stable packages. They are 32 ounces, so I guess that means I used 48 ounces all together. I don't know what that is in cups though, sorry. So mix up your chicken stock and all the vegetables, then cover and let it cook up for about 30 minutes. Then get somebody like Jeremy to put down his dang drink for a second and pour it through a food mill for you. Food mills are very useful and incredibly low-tech. You just crank your soup into a clean container through this gadget to get a smooth puree. I always use it for making gnocchi and things that need to be all smoothed out. I guess you could use a blender or a food processor instead, if you don't have a food mill. Return your pureed soup to the cleaned out pot that it cooked in originally and put it over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of minced chives, 1/2 cup of medium-dry sherry and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Cook another 10 minutes (do not allow it to boil), then taste and correct for salt.

While the soup is cooking, cut up half a loaf of dark pumpernickel bread into small 1" chunks and toss in a baking dish with lots of salt, pepper, a few red pepper flakes and about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put this in the oven at 400 degrees, tossing often until crunchy--about 10 minutes. Also cut up a round of Camembert cheese (rind and all) and set this out along with more minced chives and the pumpernickel croutons. Your guests put a couple chunks of cheese and croutons into their bowls and then ladle soup over the top and add more chives if they like. It is delicious.

I almost carved out a pumpkin to serve this in but Jeremy pointed out that it would be a little bit over the top so I didn't do that in the end. Also I ran out of time! There was a parade to get to! Beers to drink! You know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Macaroni and cheese

Macaroni and cheese is a good thing to know how to make from scratch. It always seems to make people happy and it is really easy yet lightly impressive for some reason--maybe because it involves making a cheese sauce which sounds cool but is not at all difficult. Ho-made macaroni and cheese is especially delicious when consumed with red wine and America's Next Top Model, which is totally not at all what Melanie and I might have done the other night.

First off, you need to make a roux, which will be the base for a simple white sauce to which you will simply add shredded cheese, thereby magically elevating it into a cheese sauce. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When it is hot, sprinkle in a couple tablespoons of flour. The amounts do not matter too much, just keep the proportions about 1:1 and you'll be OK. Stir around your flour in the hot butter until it is all thickened up and browned lightly--about 2 minutes. There is your roux. Add in about 3/4 cup of milk, slowly in a drizzly kind of way. Stir it in and keep stirring until it is a thick, smooth sauce. If it is thick like paste, it is too thick and you should keep adding milk until it is the consistency of thin yogurt. Now you have made a white sauce--aren't you smart! Add 1 teaspoon of cayenne and dump in a whole lot of shredded cheese. I used about 1/2 cup of white cheddar and also mozzarella and provolone to make somewhat less than 1 cup total. It was tragic, actually--I had gone out on purpose over my lunch break to find special cheeses and pasta to make this for dinner then went and left everything in my fridge at work. So it was lame and I scrambled to make it work with the odds and ends of cheese at my house already. Turned out that I didn't really need to go out and buy any cheese to make mac and cheese--I had plenty lying around. Same with the pasta--I just ended up combining the leftovers from two different packages of pasta shapes. So the moral of the story is actually how ho-made mac and cheese can be very easy, spontaneous, economical, and a good use for leftovers! But I’m still lame for forgetting my ingredients at work. Anyway, I digress. Stir the cheeses into your white sauce until it is melty; you may actually wish to add some more milk if it thickens up too much. When the sauce is done, add salt and pepper, stir it up again and then add into the cheese sauce a little less than a pound of cooked up pasta. I boiled my odds and ends of pasta until they were not quite al dente--they will be cooking further in the oven so it is important not to over boil them at this point. You can use whatever shape you like. Elbows are traditional, I guess, but shells or other fancier shapes are fun too. Mix up your cooked pasta into the cheese sauce, and then pour the whole lot into a baking dish. You could, of course, just stop right here and you'd have pretty good mac and cheese but I think it is the baking step that really elevates it. Take about a cup of breadcrumbs and toast them in 2 tablespoons of butter until they are browned (I used panko because I was making this with leftover packages of things from my pantry and it worked really well, but you can use breadcrumbs made from scratch or from the store or from the depths of hell or wherever, it doesn't matter one bit). Mix the breadcrumbs with a few tablespoons of finely grated sharp, hard cheese--I used more provolone--then cover the cheesy pasta in the baking dish with a nice layer of the toasty, cheesy breadcrumbs. You could even sandwich another layer of cheese of your liking in between the pasta and the breadcrumbs if you really really really like cheese, as I know some of you do. Then put the baking dish into the oven at about 350 for around 25 minutes or so--you want it bubbly, browned and completely irresistible.

Obviously, this is a great dish for additional improvisation. Adding a tablespoon of mustard to the cheese sauce will give a more piquant flavor. Add hot sauce in for a similarly kicky effect. Cut grape tomatoes in half and stir them in with the pasta before pouring into the baking dish. Try mixing in some teeny green peas. You get the idea.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Smoked turkey lentil soup

I was trying to think of a more catchy name for this post. Like "french lentil soup" or something. Because, while the preparation itself was not so french, the lentils I used were of the small, green lentil du pays variety. You can use any kind of lentil you want, I just like those best. But I guess what makes it most interesting is that I went and got a smoked turkey leg to make the stock with, then shredded the meat to add into the soup. If you don't have a source for smoked turkey legs, just use a chicken carcass after you roast a chicken...or just skip the stock making step all together and use a good packaged chicken stock. It won't be exactly the same thing but it will still be a tasty soup. Or you can make it vegetarian by using vegetable stock. You may need to adjust the seasonings somewhat but you'll still end up with lentil soup.

Covered one smoked turkey leg with water to fill up my dutch oven pot and brought to a boil. While it was heating up I sloppily chopped up one very small onion, 2 cloves garlic, 2 celery stalks and 3 carrots and added those in to join the turkey leg, along with 2 bay leaves. Brought it all up to a boil together, covered and let simmer for at least 45 minutes, possibly even one full hour. You just need to make sure you keep it more or less covered so you don't boil off all the liquid. Removed the turkey leg and set aside to cool off slightly. Poured the rest of the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container and set aside. When the turkey leg was cool enough to handle, pulled off the skin and shredded all the usable meat off the bone and set it aside to add back into the soup later. In the now-empty dutch oven, sauteed 1 small minced onion in 2 tablespoons butter. When they were softened, added 3 diced celery stalks and 2 diced carrots and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. When all the vegetables were very soft but not browned, added back in the stock and 2 cups of lentils. Stirred everything well, added a bouillon cube and a pinch of thyme and brought it to a simmer/light boil until the lentils were just beginning to get soft-about 10 minutes. Added back in the shredded smoked turkey. Covered the pot at this point and turned it down to a simmer. Once the lentils were very soft (about 30-40 more minutes, depending on your lentil type) added 2-3 tablespoons of tomato paste and 1/4 cup red wine. When the soup had thickened to a consistency that pleased me (you may want to add more water or wine if you want it thinner or perhaps let it boil a little bit harder with the cover off to reduce it if you want it thicker) and the lentils were soft and delicious, stirred in 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, let it cook for 2 more minutes, then removed from heat to serve. If you have fresh herbs such as parsley or anything else you like, feel free to stir them in at the end.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Kielbasa and red cabbage with apples

Something about the advent of October makes me want to cook hearty Germanic things like sausages. It doesn't really feel like fall in Georgia yet but last night we did have windows open and were able to enjoy a cool evening. Melanie said it was a fantastic weekend, weather-wise. I wouldn't know as I was busy working on my thesis--beautiful weather and I squandered it in front of the computer. But we had a seasonally appropriate dinner last night, so that kind of made up for things:

I bought 4 kielbasa sausages from the DeKalb market and put them into a dry saucepan over medium-high heat. I let them sear until browned, then flipped them over to do the same on the other side. Each side probably took about 2 minutes to develop a nice browning. Then I covered the sausages with almost an entire bottle of Sweetwater Happy Ending Imperial Stout. I used it because the one lone bottle had been lingering in our fridge for ages and nobody seemed likely to drink it anytime soon. You can use any kind of stout that you like, otherwise any darker beer would be fine too. The stout adds an interesting malty sweetness though. I also added 1 chopped/smashed garlic clove and 2 heaping tablespoons of tomato paste and mixed them into the stout over the sausages. Let the kielbasa cook in this liquid for about 10 minutes, or until done through. The liquid will cook down into a thick sort of sauce. Serve the kielbasa one per person with some of the sauce.

We also made mashed potatoes (you know how, cut up Yukon Gold potatoes, boil them until soft, make Jeremy mash them up with lots of butter, some milk and tons of salt and pepper). The stout-tomato sauce from cooking the kielbasa is really tasty drizzled over the mashed potatoes like gravy on the side as well.

I appropriated the red cabbage and apples recipe from something in Gourmet magazine. Melanie sliced up 1 small head of red cabbage into thin strips. I sauteed lightly 2 chopped cloves of garlic in 1-2 tablespoon of butter until soft. Then dumped in all the red cabbage sliced up by Melanie, tossed it around in the butter over medium-high heat. We chunked up 1 apple into 1" pieces and added that to the cabbage along with about 1/4 cup of apple cider. Mixed everything up well, added a teeny pinch of allspice, salt and pepper, then turned the heat down to medium and covered the pot. Checked on it about 7 minutes later, stirred it up and uncovered to cook down some of the liquid. It cooked for another 10 minnutes or so. It turns this brilliant, pretty purple-red color and the apples get very soft. At that point, turn off the heat and add 1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and more salt and pepper to taste.

We also had another variation on arugula salad. This time first toasted pine nuts in butter and salt and pepper until they were lightly browned--no more than 1 or so minutes stirring them over high heat should do it. Tossed the arugula with one chopped yellow tomato, half the pine nuts, a ton of grated parmesan and a dressing (made with juice of 1 lemon, 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, all shook up together in a jar, as usual). When it was all tossed up, topped it with the rest of the toasted pine nuts and small chunks of parmesan.

Dessert was sort of exciting--I never make dessert but the tomato tarts from earlier in September had me thinking about a sweet(ish) version. Took a sheet of puff pastry and trimmed it into an oval shape. Spread the center with about 1/2 cup of marscapone cheese. Drizzled the cheese with honey. Thinly sliced 2 black plums in half and then the halves in half--to make lots of little half moon shapes. Placed the plum slices in an overlapping concentric circle pattern over the honey and marscapone. Drizzled with some more honey and tucked almond slices in all around. Pulled up the sides of the puff pastry to form an open faced tart around the plum slices. Baked it at 350 degrees, until the pastry was poofed up and seemed to be fairly set--about 25 minutes. Delicious and fall-appropriate.