Comfort Foods and Indulgences
Biscuiterie familliale depuis 1905. St. Michel is a family owned bakery in Commercy France. In 1755 a young French girl named “Madeleine” created a recipe for a sumptuous little cake. These legendary cakes so inspired Marcel Proust that he dedicated pages to describe his experience of first biting into them in his novel, Remembrance Of Things Past. The little cakes became so popular that the recipe has been a closely guarded family secret to this day.
They are irresistible and addictive, redolent of citrus and sweet butter. Dunked in tea or coffee or vin santo. Dunked into honey. Or simply on their own.
Or as French Toast! I just thought it would be delicious, and it was! I used a serrated knife and carefully sliced each one lengthwise into three equal pieces, then soaked them for a couple of minutes in an egg bath, then gently sauteed them in sweet butter until they were golden brown. Then I plated them, drizzled all with Maple Syrup and a dusting of powdered sugar. The resulting warm miniature French Toasts had intensified their citrus taste during cooking, which was a surprise, and which tasted absolutely etherial with the toppings.
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.
We made these for a crowd and watched them vanish in five minutes…My husband and I do not need brownies; we’ve eaten enough of them already to meet our lifetime quota and to account for certain body changes that I will not describe here. But Tom is a hopeless chocoholic, so on the occasions when I make brownies to curry favor with my kids’ friends, I have to keep an eye on them.
For a long time, when brownies disappeared from the cooling rack and my husband seemed the obvious perpetrator, he would issue a denial and look meaningfully in the direction of Oliver, our dog. So I thought the golden retriever was both amazingly athletic (how did he reach the brownies I placed behind the kitchen sink?) and had a remarkable tolerance for chocolate, a substance that is notorious for making dogs ill.
But then, on a recent occasion, I left a hot brownie batch on the counter to cool and took Oliver for a walk. When I returned and noticed that the baking pan was half empty, I did a breathalizer test on napping Tom. Sure enough: chocolate breath. (And a messy crime scene: brown crumbs on the sofa.)
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!