Comfort Foods and Indulgences
It was a two-line email—the kind that makes you sit up and think—because it addressed an issue faced daily by millions of grill masters around Planet Barbecue:
“Sometimes we buy cheap beef because we are on a budget,” wrote Diane Q. “These steaks are often tough. We have tried salt, meat tenderizer, and marinades. Could you please tell me the best way to tenderize the steaks?”
I immediately thought of my last trip to Southeast Asia, and in particular, to steaks I ate hot off the grill in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Both were explosively flavorful thanks to complex marinades and polymorphic condiment spreads. And both were tough as proverbial shoe leather.
We North Americans and Europeans are spoiled when it comes to steak. Our notion of a “fork-tender” filet mignon or a “silver butter knife” sirloin (the signature steak at Murray’s in Minneapolis—so named because it’s so tender, the steak knife glides through the meat as though it were butter) are the stuff of dreams on much of Planet Barbecue.
It rains constantly here in the winter so comfort food is always something we crave. What is it about dreary weather that makes you want to eat? And not just eat anything, it has to be goood. And warm. And full of flavor. Cheesy and buttery helps too.
I also crave easy to make dinners. Lately I’ve found myself saying “this is my busy time of year”. But I’m finding I’m saying that all year round. The wheel basically never stops turning. Part of me thinks I’d like to jump off, but then what would I do?
So now I have my busy times (which is always) and my busier times, (which is 25% of the time). Help! I know everyone is busy, I just don’t ever remember so much craziness. We are all living the over-scheduled life. Anyway, just like you, I always have to find a way to make dinner easier, faster and better. And everyone in my family seems to have an opinion on how I could do that. They are so helpful:).
This pasta dish is one of my go to recipes. It starts with having extra cooked chicken breasts around. I always cook more than I need when I’m making a chicken meal. I leave the extra breasts plain, stick them in the fridge and cube them up the next day for a dish like this. You could also cook up the chicken especially for this meal, it just takes more time (but it’s doable). Leftover rotissere chicken is also an option.
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.
Quick and easy is what this stew is all about. It does not require a four-hour simmer, so it’s perfect for a last minute craving. With preparation time, it took me about 50 minutes to get this on the table. The best part is that it is absolutely delicious.
Using pork tenderloin is ideal for this meal since it’s already tender and doesn’t require hours of braising time to make it that way. Since the base of the stew uses apple cider, there is a slight sweetness to it. When served over the apple-potato mash, it becomes this over-the-top meal.
Don’t leave out the Granny Smith garnish as it really adds a nice touch to the dish.
With rain today in the Pacific Northwest, this meal is the perfect accompaniment to cold weather.
“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.