Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Merry and all that jazz...

A belated Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to everyone! Oh the time to be at home with the family. Joyous, right?

Hah, yeah, if that's the kind of masochism you're into.

I have approximately 10 more hours here in North Carolina (not that I'm counting or anything), with an insane 5:45 am flight out of Raleigh. And I'm dealing with a horrible head cold, the only benefit of this being that, with a quiet Monday around here, being sick reduces the motherly criticism to a dull roar. Oh yes, this time home has been a great joy. Mothers obviously have basic training learning how to ruin an otherwise perfect day by a few comments at the end of the night. (Or, that's just my mom's style...)

So, while Christmas was enjoyable, I'm ready to be back in NYC. And, you know, preferably gainfully employed. (My unofficial-official deadline is the end of March, when our current lease ends.) I hope your holidays were just as passive-aggressive and lovely as mine.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cookie Takedown 2009 Verdict: Madness!

Pure and simply, that is what last night was… Or, more appropriately, that is what this weekend was. 1 small Brooklyn kitchen, 1 woman, 300 cookies.

And the verdict? Well, guess who FINALLY won! I tied for FIRST PLACE for the People’s Choice! Dude… excitement is totally an understatement. I’ll be honest, these food competitions are straight up fun for me. Stressful as all hell at times, but thoroughly enjoyable. Matt TimmsTakedowns are practically comical because the dude is just that. He’s goofy, funny and he likes having a good time, eating damn good food and embracing the amateurs. (Same for Cathy Erway and the Food Obstructions!)

But, now that I’ve won, well, hah, I get why it’s important and so damn fun to win. I still would have loved to win straight up, no splitting of the money, but, alas, the cookie gods did not allow for such to happen. Still, no shame in $50 and a fancy bottle of rum. (Yay!)

Funniest part about it was that the other winners not only had similar named cookies as mine but I knew one. Lee and I volunteered together at Twestival and he and his buddy were standing in for the cookie maker, their friend and fellow nacho fan. So, he was representing Nacho Mama’s Cookies, cute little nacho-esque butter cookies with orange buttercream. To be honest, I thought they looked more like grilled cheese halves, but still, adorable. Totally melt in your mouth like meringue. A bit of an unexpected win, to me, but I think the room was full of fellow nacho lovers.

And, guess what I just happened to name my cookies? Not Yo Mama’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yeah, how about that. And we were 3 spots away from each other. Our cookies were vastly different, which made life easier. My name came about out of the urge to name it something besides “Salted Brown Butter Pecan Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies” Which is what they were. I stand by my name, because dammit, these are Not Yo Mama’s Chocolate Chip Cookies!

I mean, look at that deliciousness. (Picture thanks to Metromix New York)

I know the only reason you’re here is for the recipe, so here we go.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seriously Good Quiche

Quiche, really? The doubtful audience could easily question how ho-hum quiche sounds. And hell, I'm right there with you. I grew up with my mom's quiche lorraine. As classic a recipe as a Southern girl could make it, it was fine, but simply the same recipe. Over and over and over again.

But, when brunch plans started falling into place for this afternoon, at another awesome Emily's home just a few blocks away, quiche just sort of happened. Ok, well, what really happened were seriously good boozy cupcakes. (Honestly, make these now. They work for all occasions, from brunch to birthday to the holidays. Who doesn't need liquor during the holidays?) I made it in cake form for Katie's birthday back in early October and the recipe has been on the brain since. I offered to make them again, and voila brunch plans with the three of us, plus a few more.

So, you know, we needed some real food before the cupcakery. And, with a random Pillsbury pie dough sitting in the freezer from Thanksgiving, along with the general affordability of eggs, quiche it was. On a Smitten Kitchen kick (seriously, I love this lady), I perused her site and discovered a few quiches. The richness of the one I picked, though, just seemed to be a winner.

This quiche sort of knocked my socks off... It was incredibly custardy, rich and delicious. I loved the flavor tweaks I made (acorn squash and bacon, yum!) and it was quite easily my favorite quiche ever. I have a feeling the richness and slight looseness of the quiche was from the squash puree. Also, I did not par bake my crust, but I recommend doing so unless you're going to make the homemade crust from the original recipe.

Seriously Good Quiche
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 cups diced leeks, white and light green only (from about 3 large leeks)
1/2 cup diced onion
3 slices meaty bacon
1 tbsp rendered bacon fat (or olive oil)
3 eggs
1/2 cup squash puree - any sort of winter squash.
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch pepper
1-2 stems fresh thyme
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Dice the bacon into, um, pinky wide pieces? (Just make em squares somehow, it's fine!) and render in a large sauté pan (non-nonstick prefered) on low heat. Cook until a bit crisp but not well done, medium in color. Drain the pieces on a paper towel lined plate, reserving a tablespoon of fat, enough to coat the pan. In same pan, on low heat, sauté the leeks and onions in the olive oil 30 to 40 minutes until caramelized, occasionally stirring. Remove from heat and cool.

While that mixture is cooking, roll your prepared pie dough out into a greased and floured pie pan. I let it chill 30 minutes in the fridge. But, if I make this quiche again with crust that's not the recipe Smitten gave, I would parbake as directed in another SK quiche recipe.

For the filling, I roasted a small acorn squash in the oven, and then pureed it with a small amount of milk. I pushed the puree through a sieve to catch anything my blender couldn't handle. Then, add the puree back to your still dirty blender, add the sour cream, heavy cream, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg and thyme. Blend until incorporated.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the leek and onion mixture evenly over the base, add the bacon and then the cheese. Pour in the batter and place the quiche in the oven. The original recipe said it would take 25-30 minutes, but I probably ended up baking it for an hour - I originally underbaked it last night - the center was still soft. When I arrived to Emily's place, I put it in the oven for another 15 minutes at 350, 15 at 375. My crust never got too golden, thus why I think parbaking is necessary unless you're making the original recipe's homemade crust.

Notes: I can easily see this working with low fat greek yogurt instead of sour cream (sour cream that's been sitting in my fridge for a bit too long to admit) and also crustless if desired. I'd definitely consider it more of a "savory custard" if crustless. Also, this could be made incredibly easy by using the canned butternut squash or pumpkin puree, if desired!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Part II: The creation - How it all falls into place

So, technically, part ii should be recipe testing. That's probably where I would have realized how to degrease the potstickers OR where i would have realized how quickly the things cool down. But, you know, this is an amateur speaking. For someone that's not working, I surprisingly don't have time to test. Or maybe I'm lazy and just refuse to spend  the money to do so, haha. I mean, who needs to test a recipe, anyway? I've made potstickers before, I've roasted veggies before, I've pureed stuff before.

So in order to stretch a buck, include a Brooklyn product and make a very tasty filling, I created the merguez mix. I was inspired mostly by a random charcuterie blog I found upon Googling, which was quite helpful. So, inspired by Charcuterista and my general knowledge of Moroccan flavors, here's my homemade merguez mix.

Homemade Merguez
1/2 lb merguez sausage - 2 links of tasty stuff
1 lb 'meatball mix' - 1/3 beef, 1/3 pork, 1/3 veal
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoon harissa (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2-1 tablespoon spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ras el hanout (or to taste)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
2-4 turkish dried apricots, fine diced
2 medjool dates, fine diced
1/8 cup dry red wine, chilled

Remove the merguez meat from the sausage casing, and mix with the other meats. Add everything except for the wine and work together thoroughly. You want the fruits, garlic, spices and meats to combine together as best as possible. Add the wine  and finish combining. Let the mix marinate together for 12 hours minimal.
If you worry about erring on the side of too spicy, you can go light on the ras el hanout and harissa. Once the meat has marinated, I recommend taking a bite of the raw meat and cook it. At that point, you can up the spices and heat. I didn't take it light when originally seasoning, because I feel like more flavor is better. I ended up adding more harissa and the tomato paste, so tweak as need be. Don't be afraid!
This merguez is really damn tasty and can be used any way you could imagine!

Warning: this sauce is highly addictive. I recommend making it today, as it could really be used on, well, anything. really freakin tasty. This recipe is giant scale - feel free to scale down to use only like half of a squash.

Butternut Squash Saffron Sauce
1 giant butternut squash and 1/2  of a small squash, peeled and cubed
2 onions, chunked up
a handful of carrots (as much or as little as you want, really) (small cut)
olive oil, salt, pepper, stems of rosemary, thyme
1 cup + 2 tbsp heavy cream
pinch of saffron threads

Preheat oven to, um, 400?

Spread the vegetables on one or two cookie sheets and toss with the olive oil salt and pepper. Add the stems of herb and stick in oven. stir every 10-15, cook until fork tender.

Put your tiniest pot on the stovetop on as low as possible. Add 2 tbsp of heavy cream (basically just enough to cover the bottom of the pot). You don't really want to boil/cook the cream, that's not tasty, you just want it to warm up. once warm, take it off the eye and throw the saffron threads in. What I did was let it infuse for 15 minutes or so at room temp in a ramekin and then put it in the fridge.

Once the veggies are done, get out an immersion blender/food processor/blender. Depending on the size and power of your machine, put a little bit of liquid in (additional cream or high quality broth or water) and blend until as smooth as possible.

Push the blended veggies through a fine mesh strainer/sieve. This helps catch the herb stems, any onion skins and any chunks that didn't get pureed. (For me, the carrots weren't as tender as the squash so they had more trouble pureeing in my baby magic bullet.)

Depending on how much liquid you put in the puree, I  highly recommend throwing it back into a low temperature pot on the stove and cooking it lightly for five minutes.

Ok, so here's the thing - I whipped the saffron infused cream with the rest of the heavy cream until soft peaks, just to barely get it whipped up. but, once i added it to the hot squash, it collapsed. but i then used the hand mixer to whip the entire sauce lightly. A cup of cream with the puree makes it quite a loose yet thick sauce. So, really, whipping the cream may not be necessary, but I did it. It took just a minute. Whatever.

The saffron paired with the sweet yet savory butternut squash is so tasty. Seriously. it's tasty on a soft boiled egg. it's tasty as a cream replacement in mashed sweet potatoes. I bet it's tasty with the homemade butternut squash gnocchi sitting in my freezer.

Mo-Rockin Merguez Dumplings

Take 1/2 tsp merguez filling and place it in one wonton wrapper. wet the edges of the wonton with water and fold over to make a triangle. Keep both the wonton wrappers and the made dumplings covered with a damp cloth.

To cook: Heat a pan to medium, and I highly recommend using spray oil OR a pastry brush with veg oil. You do not want a lot of oil! Spray/brush bottom of pan, add a comfortable amount of dumplings to your pan (if it's a large pan, you can probably fit 6-8 easily). Cook for 1-2 minutes without touching, until brown. Turn down to low, add 1/3 cup water or broth and cover with a lid and let steam for 1-2 minutes.

To compose as an appetizer: place dumpling on a tray, squirt a dollop of butternut squash sauce on top of the dumpling, and top with a pinch of grated kohlrabi and apple, and a few toasted pinenuts.

Part I: Ideation - Where the heck does it all come from?

When time comes to serve the food to the crowd of hungry people, it always seems my food is far more complex than I ever expected. As you can see from the name, I had lots of flavors and stuff happening. With it being cold out, my brain gets stuck on roasted vegetables. root vegetables, winter squash, high heat, caramelization and deliciousness. Between last Food Obstructions and this one, I tried that amazing simple recipe that is butternut squash soup. I would have just as happily made butternut squash soup for FOII, but, uh, one of the winners last time had a thai butternut squash soup. So, yeah, I dunno, I knew if I was going to come in with soup, it had to be different...

Ok, so no thai curry, not really feeling indian curry, what's another tasty spicy region of the world? Well, of course there is the Middle East. and then, voila, merguez! Delicious Moroccan lamb sausage! So, yeah, at first, I was thinking of rendering merguez down in small bits to create sort of bacon bit style merguez bits, and adding a fresh little raw topping too, to add to the crunch and help with the richness of the soup. But, my brain can't keep simple enough alone. Soup and a little topping seemed ho-hum still. Brain started tinkering with a crouton, crostini, cigar, something... Something to expand upon the merguez part. Except, well, one of the obstructions this round is no butter. My brain kept focusing on phyllo, but without butter, phyllo is useless. Tinker, tinker, tinker, ooh, what about pie dough? But, that requires lard and rolling and, ugh, No. Oooh, the glory of dumpling wrappers. Maybe butternut squash soup with a merguez dumpling?

Once I finally started playing with the squash, and seeing how rich a simple squash puree is, I thought that if I do a flat, triangular merguez potsticker, it would be a great serving plate for the puree and, again, a fresh topping.

The same time I'm trying to come up with an idea, the obstructions keep my brain bouncing around. the obstructions were:
 1.Must contain an ingredient beginning with the letter “K”
2. Must not contain butter
3. Must contain an ingredient grown or produced in Brooklyn
4. Must contain rosemary
5. Must contain an ingredient with seeds

The "K" ingredient was going to be kohlrabi - because I had it from my CSA sitting in my fridge. An ingredient I've never eaten before but knew it could be roasted and thrown in the soup or eaten fresh. Obviously, the butter played a big part in the carbohydrate choice. The Brooklyn produced food was a bit more difficult for my wallet, but that's the merguez - made at Brooklyn Fare. Delicioso! The rosemary was just a flavor I wasn't going to play up madly, but would include. And the seeds, well duh, squash. That's one thing I enjoy about Food Obstructions - the guidelines are little walls for the atoms of my brain to bounce around in!

Diary of a Food Competition

As not to overwhelm with one gigantic post (where's the fun of that?), I am splitting up the process of ideation and creation for my most recent competition, Food Obstructions II, which was last Sunday.

My final product, which was no winner but it's damn solid eatin', was the "Mo-Rockin Merguez Dumpling", with butternut squash saffron sauce and kohlrabi and apple slaw. what i realized is my technique wasn't strong - the dumplings, which were really pot stickers, got far too greasy while cooking and got far too cold too quickly. Simply not transportable food, ya know?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My week

Well, to put it lightly, this week has had its share of interesting, writable moments. And yet, nothing has come from it yet. Hopefully soon, my sparse audience, we shall see. There are tidbits to share, I am just deciding what to share and when this writing will happen.

I hope yours has been just as interesting, hopefully far less scary than mine. Dinner party later tonight, lots of good food and booze, I'm sure, and Food Obstructions II happening tomorrow night. (Please come out if you live in the area!) Otherwise, I simply want to stay in my bed, as it's grossly cold and slushy here in New York.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

blogging on the go...

if by "on the go" means laying in my bed, far too distracted by my new toy. (no, not THAT kind of toy... but that's a gift I would rarely turn down.)

almost a week after taking the plunge and ordering it, new phone arrived. considering what it cost, i'm putting insurance on it and hoping and praying it will be a worthy long-term investment.

(i was far too spoiled and used to having a smartphone... in new york, once you get adjusted to that, it's difficult to go back to a "regular" phone. at least that's what i've. convinced myself of!)

so, for the readers that know me, please text/email me your number so i can attempt to rebuild my contacts. stupid old dead phone, you suck! everyone else, please do convince me i'm not batshit insane to spend so much (er, of not my own moola) on a piece of technology. plz?