Chilli and Nutmeg Dark Chocolate Bark

I have to try this–I’ve had dark chocolate with nutmeg and love it…and dark chocolate and chili and love that (but then I’m a serious chocoholic anyway).

FrugalFeeding

chilli dark chocolate bark

When one really takes time to delve into all things festive it quickly becomes clear that it is unlikely that there will ever be an end to Christmastime culinary possibility. In fact, it turns out that it’s dreadfully difficult to keep one’s blog up-to-date with all that is being produced. The weather is the entity most at fault here, but what can one do? It’s difficult to castigate the weather – it makes a mockery of us all.

Following on from my recent monologue regarding presents and the meaning of Christmas, a little gifting advice may be necessary. For those of you that weren’t aware, chocolate is always a safe bet – is there anyone who doesn’t covet one form of chocolate or another? It is in this spirit that I bring you my recipe for chilli and nutmeg dark chocolate bark; it is both frugal and spectacularly delicious. Perhaps…

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Umami in the slow cooker…

flats of plants on tailgate of truck to be loaded for the farmers' market.

for market

Obviously I’ve not been giving a lot of thought to cooking  things lately–it’s been end-of-term grading, indexing and proofreading, or getting  ready for the farmers’ market, or actually being at the farmers’ market, with more energy going to planting things, both for later harvest and for selling at the market than into cooking.

One of the down sides of working the farmers’ market is that I’m one of those people who wake up like a compact fluorescent bulb–pretty dim at first–so getting to the farmers’ market on time on Saturdays involves getting up before the birds just to give me time to be awake and functional. Even Fridays demand early rising, especially as the weather gets hotter–flowers to cut early in the morning and produce to be harvested before the heat of the day sets in and thing wilt…and just to avoid being out in the worst of the heat.

wagon of flowers in buckets

cutting flowers

I’m getting into the swing of that now but it still takes time for my lights to come on, though less painful now.  That early rising on Friday and Saturday makes me into a really lazy slob on Sunday.  Now that the Spring term is over, I’m not meeting classes during the week so I’m enjoying the summer hiatus from lecturing, but still working at freelance indexing so the absolute laziness has to be confined to Sundays and Mondays through Thursdays are still busy.

All this means that for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday cooking is likely to be focused on one-dish meals, and dishes that are good (or even better) when reheated.  Sometimes Saturday meal is not even something reheated–it’s my treat-yourself day–OnlyBurger for after-market meal before I devote the rest of the day to quality time with the cat!  (This past Saturday the treat was a Texan (burger with braised brisket on it) and a peach ice cream sandwich (handmade at OnlyBurger) after the market.  The evening meal was Carolina Moon cheese and strawberries–both from the farmers’ market.)

packaged cross-cut beef shank

beef shank

This weekend schedule means that I try to do some planning and cooking on Thursday to have reheatable food on Friday and Sunday.

This weekend’s meals are going to feature an absolutely lovely cross-cut beef shank from Meadow Lane Farms (also from the Durham farmers’ market)  in an easy dish that can cook mostly unattended: osso bucco, but with beef shank rather than veal shank. (The osso bucco really just means “bone with a hole” or marrow bone.)

It’s a dish that’s easily adapted for one person–there’s nothing fussy about it–no need to be exact or tedious in measuring ingredients, and to make even more “unattended”, it will go into the slow cooker (also serving as rice cooker and steamer) while I’m out working on the farm.

Krups rice cooker/slow cooker and steamer

Krups rice cooker

I have to admit that I’ve not been a fan of the slow cooker until recently, at least for anything much more than cooking dried beans, or poaching a beef tongue. The flavors and textures just aren’t the same as when the slow cooking was done in the oven where some evaporation, browning and concentration takes place even in a covered dutch oven.

My attitude about slow cookers has changed since I found the Cook’s Illustrated Slow Cooker Revolution (See Bibliography) and learned some techniques for making food out of the slow cooker more flavorful.  I’m not ready to quit slow-cooking in the oven despite that, but in hot weather I’ll certainly use the slow cooker more often with some of the “tricks” I learned from that cookbook.

What I missed most in slow-cooker dishes was that savoriness that comes from browning (Maillard reaction)  when you slow-cook in a traditional oven or brown/sear on the stove-top.  In the slow  cooker, you can make this absence less noticeable by adding ingredients that contribute “umami“.

Some of the most useful things I learned from that Slow Cooker Revolution are ways to use the microwave oven to facilitate the slow cooker, and using some “unusual” ingredients  in recipes–not esoteric ingredients, just pantry staples that boost  the umami flavor:

  • precooking aromatics like onions in the microwave so that they don’t stay crispy-crunchy in the slow cooker,
  • using tomato paste (for umami) by browning it with the aromatics either in a skillet or in the microwave before adding it to the slow cooker,
  • using dried mushrooms to boost flavor (again, umami),
  • using foil packets in the slow cooker to keep some ingredients from over cooking.
  • using soy sauce or fish sauce to add more of that umami that many slow-cooker dishes don’t get without the evaporation and browning as in the traditional oven.
  • using the microwave to precook some ingredients to get rid of excess moisture that would otherwise dilute the dish in the slow cooker.

These are all easy to do–they really don’t add significant extra prep time or effort, and do really make a difference in the flavor.  I expect an easy, flavorful meal (or two) from the braised beef shank that is going to emerge from my slow cooker on Friday evening, thanks to some added umami!

Braise-roasted sausages, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts

Another dreary, rainy, winter day…not particularly cold, but as usual on a day like this I’m in need of comfort food.  In trying to keep one of my New Year’s resolutions to be sure and use what’s in my freezer, I was rummaging through the freezer to see what was there.  Interesting package of four plump sausages.  Only problem, I don’t know what they are–except that they are labeled “hot”.   But I’m sure they are due to be used–probably a sample that I got at one of the farmers’ markets this summer.  So we’re going to cook those this evening.  (I usually try to be careful to label things that get put into the freezer–I suspect that these were frozen when I brought them home, so I just tossed them into the freezer and…now I don’t know for sure what I’ve got.  But–they look like the should turn into a luscious meal once cooked.

Looking through the vegetable drawer in the fridge I found Brussels sprouts, potatoes (yes, I do keep my potatoes in the fridge because they aren’t in there long enough to change taste or texture.)

Onions, garlic, chili peppers, potatoes, sausages…and sprouts.  I’m being lazy today so I want easy food, but flavorful and satisfying.  Since there are four sausages I think that I should just do about 4 serving of this dish: one for another day this week, and maybe one for the “ready-to-eat” part of the freezer, along with the soup and the chilli.

I took four medium size Yukon Gold potatoes scrubbed but not peeled, cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks, mixed with about 6 or 8 garlic cloves, one medium onion chopped into 1-inch chunks, about 15 trimmed Brussels sprouts, all sprinkled with a three-finger pinch of salt.  On top of that go the four sausages, skins pierced so that they won’t explode, and some herbs. (Being in truly lazy mode, I used herbs de Provence since that’s got a variety of herbs so likely something will connect with the sausage seasoning.

I added about 1/4 cup of water, covered the baking dish tightly, and popped it into a 350 ° F oven.  I’ll check it in about 45 minutes.  When the potatoes are close to being done,  the cover comes off and  it finish cooking uncovered.  Add one green salad, or maybe just the sprouts, and there’s comfort food, and lazy comfort food at that!

Comfort food: baked potatoes

It’s another chilly day here, but at least the rain has stopped and the sun is out off and on now, but the thermometer is still reading only 51 ° F .  Despite the chill, a neighbor and I ventured out to go to the wine tasting at the Wine Authorities.  as well as the usual great wines, there was cheese from the Reliable Cheese Company (with samples).  The Tomme de Savoie was very tempting, but when I saw the raclette, I passed on the Tomme since it’s only for me (and the cat). I got the raclette instead so that I could  make one of my favorite special comfort foods:  baked potato with raclette cheese melted over it.

Just plain baked potatoes are one of my favorite comfort foods!  I don’t mean anything fancy like “twice-baked” potatoes  (love those too)—just a really good baked potato that has seen neither the inside of a microwave oven, nor the inside of a foil package.

Russet (baking potato)

a baking potato

When you select your potato for baking, you want one that is as evenly shaped as possible, in addition to being a good potato in general.  (See potatoes.)

Here are three basic recipes for baked potatoes (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated).  Easy…and worth the time.  Cheaper than eating out too–you’d have to go to a really expensive restaurant to get as good a baked potato as any of these recipes will give you.

Basic oven-baked potato

This method will give you a baked potato with a really great  skin to munch on along with that lovely interior.

  • Preheat oven to 350 ° F
  • Scrub a russet potato thoroughly and dry well.
  • Place potato in the middle rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  • Remove and open immediately (to let steam escape) and serve.

Salt-baked potato

This method can give the potato a flavor boost, especially if you include herbs and/or garlic in the covered dish while the potato is baking.  It will give you the fluffiest inside and a tender but lightly crisped skin on the top.

  • Preheat oven to 450 ° F
  • Scrub a russet potato thoroughly and dry well.
  • In a small baking dish, place a layer of kosher salt about 1/2-inch thick (about 1 cup for this particular dish).
  • Place the potato on the salt, broad side down.
  • Cover with foil or place in a covered baking dish and bake in the middle position of oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Remove foil, brush the potato with 1 teaspoon olive oil and return to the oven until tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife.
  • Remove, brush off excess salt, open immediately, and serve.

Oven-baked sweet potato

This is for the orange-fleshed, wetter varieties.  If you have a white sweet potato (yum) it has much drier flesh, and I typically treat it as a russet potato.

  •  Scrub thoroughly. Prick lightly with a fork in three places, or multiple times with the tip of a paring knife.
  • Preheat oven to 400 ° F
  • Rub the potato with olive oil and place on a foil-covered pan, on the middle rack of the oven.
  • Bake 40 to 50 minutes until it’s tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.
  • Open immediately, season to taste, and serve.
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Wedge of raclette cheese

Raclette cheese

When you want to be a little extra special with even the most comfy of foods–just add more comfort food.  One of my favorite extra comfy foods is baked potato with cheese; and my all time favorite for baked potato with cheese is baked potato with raclette.  Never mind the butter, sour cream and all that stuff (admittedly wonderful), but in this case it’s totally unnecessary.

Raclette is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that is mellow, nutty and earthy.  A dish by that name is typically served with the cheese melted over potatoes (usually

black cat looking at potato

Is it mine?

boiled) and gherkins (pickles made from specially grown small cucumbers). While what I’m having here is not traditional raclette, it is a real treat.  (All cooking and recipes are tested and approved (or not) by Keiko, the cat.)

I made a salt-baked potato and finished it as directed in the recipe, and after opening it, laid slices of raclette over the top, and put it back into the oven to let the cheese melt (not under the broiler).

baked potato topped with raclette cheese

Comfort food for supper

The  main course was just that big baked potato and cheese, with a glass of champagne (no cornichons though)!  I had really intended to have a first course of roasted baby carrots and baby zucchini with vinaigrette dressing….but that was not just BIG potato–it was a HUGE potato, so it was my evening to have just that–I had fruits and veggies for breakfast and lunch anyway.)

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Chilli con carne

I love weather where I can get up want to put on clothes and  warm food like oatmeal for breakfast!  This morning I turned on the space heater in the office for a bit.  This means it’s time to cook things that will give me quick comfort food during the colder weather.

One of my favorites  for winter is chilli con carne–a version that I learned from a cook who spoke no English,  by watching it being made.  I’ve only made one modification to that original “recipe”–and that has been to add some sun-dried tomatoes; otherwise, it’s as I saw it made originally.

This is not a recipe that has fixed amounts–you’re going to have to taste and season it to suit yourself.  It’s a bit time consuming, but since it’s a large quantity and freezes well, it’s well worth the time and effort.

You can manipulate the “heat” by leaving in some seeds from the chile peppers, or by adding cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes to achieve the desired hotness.  I usually leave the seeds in about half the chile peppers–I’d consider it mild to moderate in heat, depending on the particular batch of chile peppers.

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices bacon or fatback minced, browned and reserved
  • 6 to 8 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 3 pounds beef, diced or coarsely ground
  • 3 pounds pork, diced or coarsely ground (shoulder preferred to loin)
  • 4-5 chipotle peppers in adobo (1 small can)
  • 2-3 dried ancho chilli peppers, toasted and crumbled (seeds removed)
  • 2-3 dried guajillo or pasilla  negro chilli peppers, toasted and crumbled (seeds removed)
  • 1/2 cup minced garlic
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup masa harina, toasted; cornmeal can be substituted if you don’t have masa harina)
  • 32 ounces of beef broth/stock
  • kosher salt to taste (approximately 3 teaspoons)

Assembling the chili:

  1. In a large dutch oven, sauté bacon until brown and crisp; remove and reserve.
  2. Remove all but about 2 tablespoons of fat, reserving excess, and add the chopped onions; cooking slowly until caramelized.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the dried chilli peppers by holding in the flame of a burner until aromatic.  Remove seeds and crumble.
  4. Toast the masa harina in a small skillet and set aside.
  5. Add cumin and coriander to the onions and sauté until aromatic.
  6. Add garlic and sauté for about 1 minute.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.
  7. Add additional bacon fat if needed, and brown meats in small batches, transferring to the bowl with other ingredients.
  8. Remove excess fat from dutch oven, and deglaze by adding beef stock.
  9. Transfer meats and other ingredients from the bowl to dutch oven, add chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, and salt.  Stir in the toasted masa harina.
  10. Cover tightly and place the dutch oven in a very low (275 ° to 295 ° F) oven and allow to cook for approximately 4-6 hours, tasting and adjusting seasoning as needed.  Add water or more stock if it becomes too dry, but I prefer this to be a thick chili.

I’ve tried this once in a crock-pot or slow cooker, and just not been happy with the final result.  I think that the oven cooking allows just enough evaporation and concentration to do good things with the flavor that just cannot be gotten with a crock-pot.  It was certainly edible when done in the crock-pot, but just lacked a little something.  Were I doing this in hot weather, I’d certainly use the crock-pot, but since the weather is cooler now, the oven heat is not a problem, and I get to savor the aroma as it cooks.