Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wine Week! Wine book review: The Wine Trials 2011

Welcome to Wine Week here at Broke Foodie! This week, I'll be reviewing a bunch of wine books, so that you can decide which ones are best for your library and your tastes. Next week, some actual wines.

Next up: The Wine Trials 2011.

This book highlights the 175 wines under $15 that beat $50+ bottles in a rigorous brown-bag blind tasting. Apparently a $12 sparkling French blend, J.P. Chenet, beat out a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon. Each wine gets its own page (in alphabetical order), giving you simple taste descriptions and a price. It's written in a very straightforward, conversational style, making it very accessible for average, I-just-want-something-that-tastes-decent-and-will-give-me-a-good-after-work-buzz wine drinkers.

I liked this book better than yesterday's, Good Better Best, because these wines were selected primarily for their taste, rather than their price. These are all award-winners, and I like the page-long descriptions for each one.

Tomorrow: An even better wine book!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wine Week! Wine book review: Good, Better, Best: A No-Nonsense Guide to Popular Wines

Welcome to Wine Week here at Broke Foodie! This week, I'll be reviewing a bunch of wine books, so that you can decide which ones are best for your library and your tastes. Next week, some actual wines.

First up: Good, Better, Best: A No-Nonsense Guide to Popular Wines by Carolyn Evans Hammond.

Wine books tend to assume a certain elevation of taste/income in their readers. I love reading about rare French wines, but how do I reconcile that knowledge with the big bottle of Yellow Tail on my table? Especially when I can only afford the Yellow Tail.

Not so with Good, Better, Best. This book ranks the...shall we say, most affordable end of the wine spectrum. All the $7.99 stuff you see in the supermarket--Turning Leaf, Little Penguin, Jacob's Creek, Woodbridge, and yes, Yellow Tail. Bottles you can find anywhere. Even Franzia and Gallo make an appearance. Nothing over $15.

If you're just starting (or wanting) to learn about wine, or your budget won't stretch beyond jug wine, or you just really like Franzia, this is a great book to have. It breaks out each type of wine (merlot, chardonnay, etc.) by price point and then ranks them by Good, Better, Best. So if you're looking for a $5 - $8 bottle of sauvignon blanc, for example, Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve is Good; Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oak is Better; and Rosemount Diamond Label is Best.

Tomorrow: the world's bestselling guide to inexpensive wines!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bacon and bourbon pecan pie

I had a Pie Fail yesterday.

I know, you're thinking, "Aren't you like the cooking expert or whatever?" Yet, even I mess up recipes from time to time. It happens to the best of us.

I was originally going to make this Bacon and Bourbon Pecan Pie. But I was out of bourbon, and the only bacon in the house was primo wild boar bacon, which I didn't want to waste on a pie. So I made regular pecan pie instead.

Only, turns out it's a bad idea to put both blackstrap molasses and dark corn syrup in the same pecan pie. It was so molasses-y that it was pretty much inedible.

Fortunately the dessert wine I was going to drink with it was pretty good all by itself.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Beef and butternut squash stew

1 chopped onion
a few minced cloves of garlic
olive oil/bacon fat
1-2 lbs stew beef
a handful of chopped sundried tomatoes
1 roasted butternut squash
rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper
1 cup port
beef or chicken broth

Heat the few tablespoons olive oil or bacon fat, and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the rosemary and thyme. Add the beef, and cook until browned on the edges (maybe five minutes). Deglaze with the port. (Red wine would work well, too.) Add the already-roasted butternut squash, diced into big pieces, and the sundried tomatoes. Add enough broth to float the whole thing. Cook down, covered, for about an hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This is a great winter stew. Last time I made it, the butternut squash essentially fell apart after roasting. I threw all the mush into the stew pot, and instead of chunks of beef and squash, I got chunks of beef. The squash virtually disappeared into the sauce, but it gave the whole thing a really divine sweetness.

Also, check out these other butternut squash recipes on Foodista!

Butternut Squash on FoodistaButternut Squash

Friday, November 26, 2010

Acorn squash stuffed with bread, cheese and bacon

Happy Black Friday, everyone!

My husband and I spent Thanksgiving dinner with some of his co-workers, who were graciously hosting an "Orphans' Thanksgiving," for people who had nowhere else to celebrate. Today we'll skip the retail madness, and I'll fix our own little Thanksgiving dinner here at home. Here's the menu:

Roast chicken
Acorn squash stuffed with bread, cheese and bacon, recipe courtesy of The Kitchn
Green beans with proscuitto and balsamic vinegar
Sweet potato fries
Some sort of pie (I'll share that recipe tomorrow)
And of course, a bottle of good wine

And we'll eat it in front of a blazing fire. We'll have to, since we don't have a dining room table yet.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

And the winner is...

mathmahna! (I love Ree Drummond, too!) Send an email to brokefoodie@hotmail.com with your name and address and I'll get your copy of America the Edible to you just in time for the holidays!

Oyster stew

My grandmother served this at the beginning of every Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

1 cup milk
1 cup half and half
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon grated onion
salt and pepper to taste
1 pint drained oysters (save the juice)

Scald the first five ingredients, and keep warm. Frizzle the oysters in a little more butter in another pan, just until the edges start to curl in, and add that to the milk mix. Add the oyster juice, and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice OR 2-3 tablespoons dry white wine. Add paprika to taste and serve.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cookbook review: America the Edible by Adam Richman

Full disclosure: I’ve slept with this book’s author.

Not recently: not even in this decade. This was at least…13 (?) years ago, long before he had his own TV show and book deal. We were both poor interns, I was carrying on a miserable and scorching-hot affair with someone else, that’s pretty much the whole story. We dated (ahem, “dated”) for a grand total of about two weeks. That was that, and I don't think I ever thought of him again until I turned on the TV one day and had an epic “WTF?” moment.

(He is now the host of the Travel Channel’s “Man Vs. Food.”)

“I know that guy,” I thought. “Where do I know him fro—oh. OH."

And then:

"WAIT. How the hell does HE have a TV show and I don’t?”

Then I told all my friends I’d had carnal knowledge of a celebrity. And that’s my Adam Richman story.

So of course I had a vested interest in reading this book. Because we all get a vicarious thrill in checking up on our exes, don’t we? I confess, I’ve watched his show and it’s not for me. He travels to various BBQ joints, dives, etc., and eats their epic food challenges—72-oz steaks, 8-lb burgers, pizzas the size of Subarus, that sort of thing. It’s less a show about travel, or food, and more a paean to gluttony. Why eat any size burger, I think, if you’re shoving it down your throat too fast to actually taste it?

Fortunately, the book is not about how to eat 72 ounces of steak in under an hour without hurling. Actually, it's not really about his show at all. (I was surprised by that.) His book is more a collection of loose travel essays about nine different food cities: LA, Brooklyn, Honolulu, St. Louis, Cleveland, Austin, San Fran, Savannah, and Portland, ME. What he ate in those cities, why, which restaurants he'd recommend.

At least a quarter of the book is dedicated to the many nameless women accompanying him on his adventures, and at times he sounds like he's writing a bad romance novel. ("I braced for the arrival of this switchblade-sexy rockabilly baby who couldn't have weighed more than 105 pounds yet flattened me like a 17-ton tidal wave...Her sudden, summer-storm flashes of passion or petulance captivated me completely...She made me a lion, and for sport would slaughter me like a lamb.")

However, purple prose aside, the book is actually pretty good. I love reading about other people's food adventures, especially in cities I know/have visited/would visit, and Adam Richman is nothing if not well-traveled. It's also peppered throughout with recipes (including one from his mom), random bits of information, and lists like "Great Food Songs" and "Top Ten Eating Streets in the US."

So, the real question: would I recommend this book? Yes, of course. I would have enjoyed it, even without the salacious backdrop. But I knew him a realllllly long time ago, during a particularly sad and fucked-up time in my life, so I can't really think of Adam/watch his show/read his book without remembering how sad and fucked up I was once. I like to think I've improved a bit in my old age.

So, in the interest of good-ex-karma, I'm giving away my copy to one lucky reader! Leave a comment about your favorite food celebrity by midnight tonight (Wednesday), and I'll choose one at random!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Official Thanksgiving cocktail: Mulled apple cider with Calvados

I picked up a jug of apple cider last week, in preparation for Thanksgiving. (Alas, it isn't fresh. Also, it's pasteurized, which means it has basically no apple taste and a faint chemical afterburn. Boo.) So this weekend, I decided to do a little experimenting with it, to find the perfect Thanksgiving cocktail.

I tried dark rum, gin, lime juice, a number of different combinations. The clear winner was this one: mulled, hot, with Calvados.

Calvados, for those of you that don't know, is a fancy French version of applejack. Kind of like apple brandy, only not brandy. Apple booze + apple cider = apple goodness!

3 cups apple cider
A few whole cloves and whole allspice berries (or a pinch each of the ground versions)
A little fresh nutmeg
A couple of cinnamon sticks, broken apart
2 tablespoons brown sugar (I used a bourbon-vanilla infused sugar)

Simmer all that down for about 10 minutes, or until hot. Add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup Calvados and heat through. Serve with Granny Smith apple slices as a garnish.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving side dishes

Here's a collection of recipes I've published on this blog, that would be great for Thanksgiving side dishes! Don't let me catch any of you with a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup anywhere near your holiday kitchens. Ditto marshmallow topping.

Butternut squash and chard risotto
Butternut squash stuffed with sausage and apples
Onion tart
Bourbon corn pudding
Corn fritters
Corn maque choux
Cranberry sauce
Parmesan brussel sprouts
Green beans with Rocquefort and walnuts
Green beans with balsamic vinegar
Acorn squash soup
Glazed carrots
Beet risotto
Champagne risotto
Mushroom risotto
Israeli couscous with apples and cranberries
Lima bean, corn and bacon succotash

Also, try making home fries instead of mashed potatoes this year. Slice potatoes (unpeeled) into wedges, put in a big bowl with olive oil, and mix them around until they're coated in oil. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet, coat liberally with dry rub, and roast at 400 degrees until a fork goes all the way through.

Ditto sweet potatoes, for sweet potato fries, but leave off the dry rub. You can make a kick-ass "aioli" for sweet potato fries by mixing together Sriracha and mayo. Yummmmm.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving ice creams

Oh yes. Ice creams. Why be predictable and serve pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving this year, when you could serve one of these? Plus, you can make it ahead!

Rum Butternut Squash Ice Cream
Sweet Potato Ice Cream
Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream with Pecan Praline
Cranberry Sorbet
Maple Pecan Ice Cream

and the pièce de résistance... wait for it...

Butterscotch and Bourbon Ice Cream with Bacon and Butter Toffee Chips

I think that last one is worth buying an ice cream maker for, if you don't have one already. I'm totally hauling mine out this weekend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

BBQ pork quesadillas

I made a pork loin last week, and still had lots of pork left over. First I put it on salads; then I started adding it to soups; and I plan on using the last of it this weekend in a batch of minestrone. But I still had a whole lot of pork that needed to be dealt with. Yesterday I had a flash of genius: BBQ pork quesadillas!

I shredded most of the rest of the pork and mixed it with the last of my barbecue sauce. (Maybe 3-4 cups of shredded pork to 1 cup sauce.) I mixed that all up together and added it to whole wheat tortillas, along with about 1/4 cup each of shredded habanero cheddar. I topped each with another tortilla, and toasted each one in a big skillet. Because there was more pork than cheese, the finished quesadillas didn't hold together very well, but they were still pretty darned good. I served with a fresh salsa.

So if you have tortillas around, consider that an excellent way to use up leftovers.

I could have also thrown the barbecue pork-sauce mixture onto a tortilla, along with some fresh spinach or greenery, rolled it up, and called it a wrap. Or mixed it with eggs and called it a breakfast burrito.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cookbook review: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

If you don't know the name Alice Waters, you should. She's the famed food activist behind Chez Panisse, the Berkeley restaurant that effectively started the slow food/organic movement; probably the most important American restaurant of the last 40 years. Her philosophy is simple: buy local, high quality ingredients, and cook them simply. Good ingredients don't need a lot of fuss to make them taste good. In fact, too much fuss will usually make them taste worse.

This cookbook expounds on that principle beautifully. Many of the recipes are less recipe and more essay; there are two pages on how to properly cook a pork chop, when the ingredients are pork chop, oil, salt and pepper. It's very practical, very simple and very user-friendly for the novice cook.

People always want the "secret" to good cooking. I think it's a largely American trait, one that makes us obsess over the shortcut. We want to win the lottery, know the right people, drive cars that parallel-park themselves, anything that has spark and glamour. No one is interested in plain old boring hard work. We want a cookbook of thirty-minute recipes with secret tips for success, not a three-page essay on why it's better to cook polenta on low heat for an hour, not when we could be eating 30-second toaster waffles instead.

But it really is better to spend time on some things. Your soul isn't satisfied with quickie sex; why then should  you expect to be satisfied with quickie meals? This cookbook, as part of the vanguard of the slow food movement, really spells out why it's important to take the time once in a while, and why the food will taste so much better as a result.
I also like it because it gives appropriate variations in the recipes. I'm a big fan of variations, so I appreciate it when other cooks point out that you can use other greens like collards in the chard frittata. This has become one of the core reference books in my cookbook library.

(Bonus: excellent ice cream recipe.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oysters Bienville

Mmmm, oysters. I really see no point in cooking them at all; to me, if an oyster is good enough to be eaten raw, there's no sense in ruining it with heat. And if it's not good enough to eat raw, why are you eating it?

I didn't always feel that way. I'll be the first to admit that raw oysters can be a hurdle for a lot of people--after all, their consistency is remarkably similar to snot. I remember when I was a kid, watching my uncles eat raw Chesapeake Bay oysters by the quart and being totally grossed out. (It didn't help that sometimes they dispensed with manners entirely and just drank them out of the quart jar, like some form of particularly chunky moonshine.) So for the longest time I only ate oysters fried. And let's be honest, you could fry cardboard and it would taste good.

Then one day I ate a raw oyster and it realized that, consistency aside, it was actually pretty damned good.

So I picked up a pint of oysters the other day and decided to actually do something with them, rather than just sit down with a fork and a lemon wedge. I adapted this recipe from Cooking Up A Storm. Adaptations noted.

1/2 cup butter
1/4 lb mushrooms, chopped--I left these out, didn't have any
2 dozen oysters, with juice
rock salt--left this part out, too
1/4 cup chopped green onions--I used leeks instead
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
6 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup parsley
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb Parmesan
6 tablespoons bread crumbs
lemon wedges

Saute mushrooms in 2 T butter. [SEE ABOVE ABOUT NO MUSHROOMS.] Place the oysters in ramekins, 3 at a time, or individually on their half-shells, and place those on a bed of rock salt in a large dish. [I PLACED MINE IN RAMEKINS AND SET THOSE DIRECTLY IN A PYREX DISH.] Saute onions and garlic in remaining butter, [I USED ALL 6 TABLESPOONS HERE] add flour and stir. (Essentially you're making a white sauce.) Beat egg yolks with parsley and cream, stir into onion and flour mixture, blend well. Add 1 cup oyster juice (or milk, or chicken broth) [I USED A LITTLE OYSTER JUICE AND THE REST CHICKEN BROTH] and cook over low heat, stirring, until the sauce turns creamy. Add mushrooms and cheese, stir until melted and well blended. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over oysters, add breadcrumbs, 450 15 minutes until browned. Serve with lemon wedges.

The finished product was very rich. And cute, in their little ramekins. And good, I guess, my husband ate it right down, but I still think oysters are best raw.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Help me plan a Thanksgiving dinner for two!

The cross-country move wreaked havoc with our holiday plans. Originally I planned to visit my sister on the Gulf Coast. But a move, two new jobs, and limited time off put the kibosh on that. Then I thought about visiting either my parents or my husband's cousin, who's getting married the Saturday after Thanksgiving--but either option involves a 12-hour drive (each way), and DH recently threw out his back. So I think long car drives are out in the near future.

So it looks like we'll be sticking close to home this Thanksgiving, for the first time...possibly ever. I don't feel the need to cook an entire turkey for two people--indeed, any turkey at all--but I also think I should acknowledge the holiday somehow, with something special.

What do you recommend? How best to celebrate Thanksgiving, with no family or close friends nearby, and no interest whatsoever in watching football? Have you ever cooked a full-out Thanksgiving dinner for two people?

Monday, November 15, 2010

French onion soup!

Believe it or not, this was my first time making French onion soup. Several years ago, I had an intense bout of IBS--thanks to Accutane--which lasted about five years. During that time, I couldn't eat onions or beans. Then one day, all the digestive weirdness disappeared, and I discovered I could eat onion and beans again. As you know--half the recipes on this blog feature those items. But since then, I've avoided French onion soup. I can't say why.

So the other day, when I had a craving for some really deep, complex taste, my brain pulled French onion soup out of nowhere. "And look at that," I told myself, "I have a 10-lb bag of onions just waiting!" Cost: $5.48. So away I went.

I adapted Anthony Bourdain's recipe from the Les Halles cookbook. Here it is, in adapted form:

1 stick of butter
6 really big onions, halved and sliced very very thin
a big splash each (2-3 tablespoons) port and balsamic vinegar
2 quarts homemade stock

Get a really big pot and melt the butter slowly, over medium heat, while you chop the onions. Cry. Add the onions, still over medium heat, and let them cook down until they are approximately the color of a penny. This will take at least half an hour. Don't stand over them stirring constantly, either. You want some of them to burn a little and stick to the bottom. Just let them do their thing.

After they've cooked down sufficiently, all soft and dark brown, deglaze with the port and vinegar, scraping up all the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock (any kind is fine; chicken, veggie, whatever, but the darker and more intense the stock is, the better the soup will be). I also added a bouquet garni--technically, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, and a couple other things tied up in a little cheesecloth packet, but I tied up a bay leaf and a bunch of loose dried herbs because I didn't have any fresh.

Let that cook down for about an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Find some ovenproof bowls and get the broiler going. Toast some bread, or find some stale bread. Ladle in the soup, and add enough bread to cover the top. Add a handful of really good grated Gruyere. Broil that for a minute, just long enough to blister the top of the cheese, and serve immediately. And carefully.

The Gruyere aside, this soup costs practically nothing. Bought in bulk, all those onions cost maybe $2. I made the stock myself, and if you don't have any port on hand, use a splash of red wine instead. Let's say another $1 for the stick of butter. That's a shade over $3 for an entire pot of French onion soup, at least six full-meal adult servings. Now, granted, I spent $10 on a really good hunk of cheese and used most of it. But even so, that's maybe $10 total for the whole shebang. That's less than $2 a serving, for a soup that requires very little maintenance and no prep, aside from onion chopping. Use veggie stock and leave off the cheese, and you've got a great vegan dish.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cookbook review: Wine Lovers' Desserts

Dessert wine, for me, is tricky. It's usually far too sweet and cloying for my tastes. On the other hand, my sister will drink it with her entree.

This is the fourth (and final?) book in the Wine Lovers series. This one features dessert recipes paired with dessert wines, such as Peach Tarte Tatin with an ice wine. (Note: ice wine is not wine with ice in it.) If you're a dessert wine fan, this book will take you a long way. Even if you're not, though (like me), it'll provide a good jumping-off point.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cookbook review: Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America's Best Chefs, Farmers and Artisans

Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America's Best Chefs, Farmers and Artisans is one of those cookbooks that's almost more photography than recipes. Food porn all the way.

It highlights the symbiotic relationships between chefs and their suppliers. Until fairly recently, the supplier was probably Sysco, shipping in boxes of frozen meat and questionable produce every week, right along with the plastic take-out containers and packets of Equal. Thankfully, many chefs have started to reexamine the origins of their food, so that it's no longer unusual to find a menu that highlights local farms.

Harvest to Heat pairs celebrity chefs (Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert) with the men and women who grow, herd, ranch and create the artisanal foods that supply those chefs. And with recipes like Crab-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers with Black Truffles, or Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Caramelized Figs, how could you not want to sit down with this cookbook and a nice glass of wine and plenty of Post-Its for bookmarks?

Granted, some of these may not be the most frugal of recipes. But sometimes you gotta splurge.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cookbook review: The Wine Lover Cooks Italian

Yet another in the Wine Lovers series, which I love (because I'm a wine lover). This particular one may be a bit hard to find, as I think it only went through the one printing. If you find it, snag it.

It breaks down the regions of Italy (Piedmont, Veneto, Tuscany), with signature recipes from each region, paired with that region's wines. Italian wine, like French wine, can be a bit impenetrable for the newbie American wino; the labeling is wacky, much different than what we're used to, so it can be hard to figure out what it is you're actually drinking. But, as evidenced by my state of near-constant inebriation when I visited Rome, it's a topic well worth a little research. Books like this make it a little easier to figure out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

White and black bean chili

I call this Michael Jackson chili…because it’s black AND white. Ha!

Anyway. I made this vegetarian-style, but a little meat certainly wouldn’t hurt. I’d recommend Italian sausage or ground pork.

1 diced onion
a few diced cloves of garlic
2 cups each white and black beans (pre-cooked or canned)
2 cans tomatoes
Chicken or veggie broth
Seasonings: chili powder, paprika, dried red chili flakes, cumin, salt
Optional: pepper jack or habanero cheddar cheese, on top

If you’re adding meat, sauté that first in some olive oil. Otherwise, skip ahead. Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft (or add to the browned meat). Add the beans and tomatoes, and enough broth to float the whole thing. Let cook down for about 10 minutes, add seasonings to taste, and let cook another 10 minutes or so. Serve with some kind of hot pepper cheese on top, shredded. (Leave that off for a vegan version.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Did you know you can make your own baking powder?

Check THIS out!

1/4 cup cream of tartar
2 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Mix with fork, store in small jar. Use within two months or so.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sweet potato risotto

This is much the same as my butternut squash risotto. Simply roast 3-4 big (or 5-6 small) sweet potatoes, slip the skins off, and roughly chop. Then follow the standard risotto template:

Saute one diced onion in a little olive oil until soft. Add 1 cup arborio rice to that and let it toast for a minute. Deglaze with white wine. Add chicken or veggie broth, a little at a time, stirring, until the rice absorbs it. Then add more. Continue until the rice is done and most of the remaining liquid is gone. About halfway through that process, add the sweet potatoes. Finish by adding a couple handfuls of grated parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Black bean and sweet potato enchiladas

I used whole-wheat tortillas and felt very virtuous.

2 cups black beans, cooked
5-6 small sweet potatoes, roasted, then skinned and mashed
Pepper jack cheese

That's all you need. Mix the beans and sweet potato mash with a little salsa. Smear some mixture inside each tortilla and wrap. Put some more salsa in the bottom of a big casserole dish and line up the enchiladas. Cover with more salsa and shredded pepper jack cheese (or leave that off, for a vegan version). Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cookbook review: The Wine Lover Cooks with Wine

I know the title seems redundant, but it's not, really. This is another cookbook in the Wine Lover's series; this one features the same lush recipes, the same thoughtful wine pairings with each recipe, but each recipe also involves cooking WITH the wine in addition to drinking it. For example, pork tenderloin topped with a zinfandel-based roasted-plum jam, and then a wine pairing.

See yesterday's post for my thoughts on the original of this series. Yum.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cookbook review: The Wine Lover's Cookbook

The Wine Lover's Cookbook is actually part of a series, which I'll be covering in upcoming posts.

I love this book. And the series. The recipes are lush, with varied flavors and depths of flavor, and each has a appropriate wine pairing (with a backup option, just in case). But it's really a book about the marriage of flavors between food and wine; meaning this is more than just a collection of recipes, and more than a bunch of wine pairing suggestions. It's a great book to get started with, if you're just learning your way around wine. But honestly, I'd recommend it even to wine aficionados.

Side story: I learned about this cookbook from my dear friend Jenn, who'd just gotten a copy of it. I perused it while I was visiting her, and decided I had to have it. I got my very own copy, and making those recipes got me through a very difficult transitional period. (Drinking all that wine didn't hurt, either.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cookbook review: Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen

OK, not really a cookbook. But a fairly indispensable tome for your kitchen, nonetheless. Especially if you're just getting started with cooking and aren't quite sure what you need.

Alton Brown (yes, that Alton Brown) takes you through all the various categories of kitchen stuff, and tells you which are the best to have. The expensive pro stuff is NOT always the best to have, you'll be pleased to know. He also lets you know what's insignificant. You can't have a well-stocked kitchen without at least one really good knife, but you don't need a breadmaker. (Alton is a kitchen minimalist, like me. I have very few single-use items in my kitchen--ice cream maker, deep fat fryer. Most everything is multi-use, and I recommend that heartily. You don't need egg slicers or apple corers or pancake molds or panini presses or the like. It's a waste of money and counter space.)

Note: this book won't tell you which brands of appliances to buy. But it gives you explanations of the most common kitchen stuff, how they work, what they do, and how you can pick what's best for your needs. The section on Pots and Pans alone is worth the price, as this is where most people either try to skimp or don't really know what's best--ending up with cheap crappy pans, and then they wonder why everything burns.

This is also a great book for young adults just starting out. I was once a broke college kid myself, trying to figure out how to cook/outfit a kitchen, with only one hand-me-down wooden spoon and a Salvation Army knife that was too dull to cut through anything. This book would have been invaluable to me. Still is, actually.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The $20 Dinner Party

Between the new job and the new house, I haven’t had much time (or inclination) to cook lately. I threw together two big vats of soup this past Sunday; that plus an econo-sized tub of salad greens will get the two of us through the week, easily, meaning I don’t have to worry about cooking when I get home this week. Which is good, because now that I live in the ‘burbs and have to ride the commuter rail, and then walk from there, it’s usually 7 pm before I get home.

Anyway. That does leave me with a problem vis-à-vis this blog, as I don’t have any new and exciting recipes to throw out right now. Mostly I’m just making the old standbys, with what’s in the pantry. (I haven’t gone grocery shopping since we moved in.)

So I’m throwing out this concept to see what you guys think: The $20 Dinner Party.

In which I put together a dinner party for 8 people, total food costs under $20. Total, not per person. (Obviously that will not include booze, just food; the booze budget could easily run two or even three times that, depending on whether I had wine pairings with each course.)

Plus, I’d cook it in front of everyone; a dinner party and cooking class in one. You could see how to maximize a budget like that, and take the recipes home with you. We’re not talking vats of soup, either; a multi-course full dinner, with fresh seasonal ingredients.

What do you think? Would you come to something like that? Would you be willing to pay some nominal amount (say, $5 plus alcohol) per person? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A real kitchen!

I’ve recently started a new job (at a very prestigious university) and moved into my new house! We’re just renting, but this marks the first time I’ve lived in a house of my very own since I moved out of my parents’. It’s a bit of a mess—poorly designed, terribly decorated (it looks like 1973 crawled inside and died), and clearly has never been fully cleaned. So I’ve been busy cleaning, unpacking, decorating on a budget (VERY budget, since we’re minus several key pieces of furniture and winter wardrobes), acquiring said key pieces of furniture and winter wardrobes, oh, and starting my new job. Whew.

But I am excited to have a REAL kitchen to cook in—real, as opposed to an apartment-sized closet, or a refrigerator and stove stuck onto one wall. I don’t have nearly the counter space I’d like (and the kitchen cabinets were never finished—they’re still bare plywood on the inside), but I’ve gotten all the kitchen stuff unpacked and put away. I’ll finally have room again to hang my pot rack, and I’m in the market for a used stainless steel prep table (like they have in restaurants) to rectify the counter space situation.

(So if anyone knows of a good restaurant-supply shop in Massachusetts, let me know!)

And soon, I hope to be in possession of my grandmother’s mahogany dining room table, which will seat 10 people with all leaves in. I can finally have a dinner party for lots of people, on real chairs, with real china and glassware and music and wine and a fire and free parking for everyone.

You’re all invited.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lentil and andouille stew

This is a variation on the lentil and sausage stew recipe I posted last February. I used andouille sausage, and left out the swiss chard. I also added a bell pepper, deglazed with white wine, and used chicken broth instead of water. Also I threw in a handful of Italian seasoning. Good stuff.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Beef and barley stew

Yep, it's that time of year here in Massachusetts. Had to wear my hat and gloves this morning!

Get some olive oil in a Dutch oven going, and sear 1 lb of beef stew meat (not cooked all the way through, just browned on both sides). Remove that, add some more olive oil, and add to that:

1 small onion, chopped
2-3 chopped carrots, and stalks of celery
1-2 chopped bell peppers
a few cloves of garlic, minced

When the veggies are soft, deglaze with a little red wine. Add two cups of pearled barley (I didn't have that much, so I threw in a handful of quinoa as well), two cans of tomatoes, and enough beef broth to float the whole thing. Add the beef back in. Season with:

cumin, cayenne, paprika, chili powder, dried chili flakes,

Let that all cook down on medium-low until the barley is done. Salt and pepper to taste.

You can substitute in other grains (like quinoa) or potatoes. Or sweet potatoes. Or other root vegetables (parsnips, etc.).