Comfort Foods and Indulgences
A bit of a cold spell finally hit the Pacific Northwest this past week. The rain was so nice, except it rained while we were harvesting our vineyard, not cool mother nature, not cool. We have had such an unusually hot summer so the rain was a nice change for the most part.
During the rainstorm, all I could think about was making soup. As soon as I had a free moment, I did just that.
Have you ever had creamy chicken noodle as opposed to the clear, broth kind? It's so good. The consistency is not thick like potato soup, but the creamy part adds mouthfeel. With homemade bread, it's amazing. In fact the whole family asked for seconds.
I think if you are not going to make your own stock/broth, creamy is the way to go when it comes to chicken soup. This recipe is really something you can throw together on a weeknight. In fact, the chicken can go into the broth totally frozen. And is fully cooked within 15 minutes. That is the beauty of using tenderloins. Who can beat that for a mid-week dinner?
You might be looking at this pot of soup and wondering where are the carrots? While I love carrots, the creamy version of chicken noodle tastes so much better with parsnips. They are just as sweet, if not sweeter and my family loves them.
It is a cool and rainy Sunday afternoon in Maine and my sister and I have had an empty stomach for months or in other words, too many lunch-free days in a row. We are in need of something steamy and soulful. With a guilt filled summer of cooking way too many lobsters for the myriad of lobster rolls we make, I confess that I threw out every one of those gorgeous, flavor filled shells. Yes, they are composting somewhere but the shells were underutilized by me. I am guilty of being too busy. I had no extra minutes for one more thing to do, though I wished somehow I could have made stock- just once. So, today is the day...
I have a stockpot filled with picked lobster bodies, empty claw and knuckle shells which I have covered with water, along with a cup or two of white wine, a chopped leek to give it a sweet kiss from the South of France, a tablespoon of dried tarragon, several (I used 4, maybe 5) whole cloves of peeled garlic, a touch of sea salt and a chopped large tomato. That’s it! Let it simmer - for an hour at least but no more than two. There is just so much flavor that can be extracted or pulled from the shells and two hours is more than ample.
“So I’ve been eating butter.” I said this to some friends in Alexandria, Virginia the other weekend and they stared and laughed at me when I revealed this fact. Yes, I’ve been eating butter. I’ve sampled it plain, cold, room temp, melted, salted and unsalted, cooked and clarified. I have also scheduled an EKG, stat!
Growing up enthralled with all things pertaining to food, I have instinctively and educationally been instilled with the how’s, when’s, and why’s concerning butter. True, it IS a Southern staple, but every region and culture has a form of this delectable condiment and ingredient. The Brits, the French, the Danes and Italians all boast their own better butter and in my lovely corner of the world, I wanted to very well understand and comprehend why I like the butters I use.
I have watched Mimi, Mrs. Mary, and Mama throw in butter here and there, melt it down, dice and cube it for pie crust, garnish biscuits with pats of it, and even top off filets with a dab just before removing them from the iron skillet or grill. I have listened to Granddaddy’s stories from his childhood on milking the cows and churning said milk into butter. Butter “back in the good ol’ days” was moreover a country family’s chore or farming family’s answer to “what to do with all this fresh milk?” Cows had to be milked and nothing was wasted…butter could be consumed and stored for a bit. City and townsfolk had to buy their butter –those living in bucolical settings made it!
Did you grow up with lots of muffins in your household? I didn’t. In fact, I don’t remember having them around at all. Cakes? Yes. Pies? Yes. Cupcakes? Yes. Muffins…no. Maybe that’s why I love them. I’m making up for lost time.
Now, my favorite muffin is hands down the Peanut Butter-Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffin I make often. It’s more labor intensive and fits the bill when I have ripe bananas available and want some chocolate in my breakfast. It’s really fantastic.
I do have one criteria for breakfast muffins. I don’t want them over the top sweet. These Streuseled Honey-Butter Breakfast Muffins fit that bill perfectly. And the streusel makes the perfect crunchy-crunch. Just look at it. This is so good with my black coffee, it’s “off the chain”…as someone said to me on Facebook the other day. I love that Triple-D saying.
Anyway, these are also one of those exceptional looking muffins. They pop up and rise into a perfect dome shape, don’t brown too much and stay moist. They are keepers forever, I hope you try them soon.
I do my marketing on Friday’s. Sunday’s I load up on fruits and veggies at a local farmers market. By the time Saturday roles around, whatever is left in my vegetable bin isn’t so pretty. Inevitably, these items end up in a soup or a salsa or something random.
Cleaning out the vegetable bin (to make room for the newest and the freshest) left me with a few string beans, broccoli, left over roasted cauliflower, sauteed leeks (I keep sauteed leeks on hand to put in weekday morning eggs), about 1/2 cup of cooked lentils (leftovers from a previous meal), a carrot, a few stocks of celery, and a minced shallot.
A pot of soup was whipped up in less than 45 minutes and it was the perfect Saturday afternoon lunch. It is always so gratifying when I can create a healthy, whole meal without a plan or a recipe.
Soup, unlike baking, does not have to be exact. It’s not a science. Check your provisions, be creative, chop away, and make a double batch!
One of my favorite memories growing up was going to the Dodger games. For most people, they looked forward to a Dodger dog, a bag of peanuts (from the peanut guy who still, to this day, throws peanuts to everyone), and a frozen malt. Dodger games were a high priority, but eating at the stadium was not on our family’s agenda. Our tradition was either dinner at Little Joe’s or a French Dip sandwich from Philippe's, with a side of pickles, and a bag of chips. Yup…so good.
Sadly, Little Joe’s is no longer around. When I was pregnant with Eli(17 years ago), I CRAVED their salad and their raviolis w/bolognese. As I write this, I can still taste their signature recipe on my tongue. Oh, how I miss that place; the tacky red booths, sawdust on the floor, the bread, and the “take out” deli where my dad and I would buy boxes and boxes of raviolis to freeze for future meals.
Little Joe’s may be a part of my past, but Philippes is still a huge part of our present. We have broken tradition a bit. Philippes is not simply a pre-game meal. It’s where we go when they have a day off from school(sometimes taking the metro directly to Union Station) or a late night snack. NO ONE makes a French Dip sandwich quite like Philippes. It’s that good. So when I bought my slow cooker a few months back, French Dips were high on the list.
I love this cake. I think of it as a dessert for a minor event, like when a couple of girlfriends come over for dinner or I’m celebrating an insignificant birthday, say, turning forty-three. (Okay, fine, so that happened a while ago.)
This recipe is easy and vey forgiving. I am a crabby cook, which is to say that after preparing a couple of courses I am often in a high state of irritability when faced with creating a third, as in dessert.
Once, when making this cake in a fit of impatience, I threw all the wet ingredients in a food processor, even the milk, which actually requires a more gentle, gradual entry. After I hurled in the flour mixture, the batter looked like something you use to make sidewalks but it all turned out beautifully.
I made this one with plums (which I bought way too many of at the Farmer’s Market) but you can use other fruit—peaches, pears, whatever. And if you have any patience left (I didn’t), make some whipped cream to go with it.
Brownies are the perfect picnic food. I wanted chocolate, I wanted a brownie, but I wanted something a little different. I thought a cream cheese brownie would be great but didn’t have cream cheese. However, what I did have was some goat cheese. I thought, what the heck…I am going to experiment.
I used the brownie base for David Lebovitz’s (Ready for Dessert) cheesecake brownies, but swapped the cream cheese for goat cheese and added a touch more sugar (to compensate for the tartness in the goat cheese).
I also omitted the chocolate chips from the actual brownie base and instead took a skinny bar of Valrhona and did a rough chop. After swirling in the cheese mixture, I dotted the top of the brownies with the chocolate chunks.
It is the time of year when the spring fiddlehead foragers return to our store to sell us chanterelle mushrooms packed into rounded over Tupperware containers. It is an exceptional year for chanterelle mushrooms because it has rained a lot in Maine this summer and that make them grow large, luscious and most abundant.
We eat mushrooms regularly at our house usually sautéed in a combination of butter and olive oil with a touch of minced garlic at the end but once in a while I make “the dish”. The ultimate chanterelle preparation is combining the mushrooms with lobster meat, cream and cognac. I know what you are thinking; how rich… Yes, but spoon a small portion on a beautiful plate and eat slowly as you ponder how anything could taste this wonderful..
I use 1 pound of chanterelle mushrooms and I pick out the largest ones. Wipe them clean, trim the bottom of the stem off and I like to pull the mushrooms apart by hand keeping the pieces fairly large. The reason I prefer the mushroom pulled into large pieces is because it’s the star of the dish. You’ll see.
A couple years back i reported about a prize-winning, record-setting burger that weighed in at over 210 pounds. Well, apparently that record has been obliterated, shattered, knuckle-dropped, air-popped, heel-stomped and other synonyms for royally busted. A burger in Minnesota weighed in at just north of one ton. (It’s 2014 pounds.) Not just your basic lazy cook’s plain burger, this one featured 60 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds each of pickles and cheese and 50 pounds of lettuce.
I, or one, would never make such a burger. First of all, they needed a crane to flip it, and my kitchen will not accommodate a vehicle larger than a bicycle. Also, I would be much to irritable to fry all that bacon. And as much as I would love to eat this monster, I’m not sure there is enough Pepto-Bismol in the world to calm the post-prandial abdominal pushback. I will therefore stick to cooking that burger’s diminutive cousin, the slider.
This little guy weighs in at only a few ounces, but I’m guessing that, flavor-wise, it is David to the Ton One’s Goliath. Only a couple of inches in diameter (vs. gonzo-burger’s ten feet), it packs a killer punch with it’s dab of chipotle mayonnaise.
by Alex Rader
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