Sunday with simple pleasures. . .

Not doing much at all today–just enjoying the October weather, fall and the color that’s starting to show.

I’ve been out to the hive to see what’s happening–so relaxing to sit there watching, with the bees buzzing by (and around me).  They are carrying in pollen and nectar at a great rate–they’ve not taken much of the sugar syrup from the feeder.  They know where the good stuff is. IMG_7250

Made a comfort food lunch: grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.  But–not the American processed cheese and Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup.  I still like the combination, but I’ve kicked it up a notch.  Today the grilled cheese was Vermont extra sharp cheddar and pumpernickel bread.  The soup?  No, I didn’t make it myself. My local Harris Teeter had a BOGO on their “chef’s recipe” soups so I indulged.  Their tomato basil is a favorite: it’s not overwhelmed with basil, it’s not too salty, and it has chunks of tomato in it. (It’s not cheap, but reasonable at BOGO, and it can be frozen! It’s good, and easy.  Sometimes easy is necessary–but can’t give up good for easy!

Nice comfort lunch, lazy day…the cat approves!

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Fårikål (Norwegian lamb and cabbage stew)

Cold, rather dreary day so I’m making some warm, cuddly, comfort food from my most recent cookbook, The Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad.

I made the lamb and cabbage stew–well, sort of–I had goat meat in the freezer so I substituted that for lamb.  As I’m writing, I’m smelling it cooking–and practically drooling on my keyboard.

The stew is in the oven in my “small” Dutch oven (did not make the whole recipe). It smells SO good. I’ve been reading posts from a friend on Facebook singing the praises of this stew–reheats well–which means I can make a batch and freeze some.

The seasoning of this stew is bay leaves and black peppercorns–a lot of black peppercorns, cooked with the meat and cabbage.  This surprised me when I read the recipe because I’ve seen sources saying that black peppercorns will be bitter with long cooking, so it’s not usually added until late in cooking, though this is not dry heat, so that may make a big difference. This recipe calls for 1 to 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns.  (From tasting so far, I think I’m going to want to add more black peppercorns.)

Product.DisplayNameReally good, fresh-ground black pepper is one of my favorite spices.  I’ve gotten hooked on the India Special Extra Bold Tellicherry  and that’s what I’m using in this recipe.  Regular Tellicherry or Malabar pepper should also work.

Fårikål (Norwegian lamb and cabbage stew)

This recipe is adapted  from The Kitchen of Light (Andreas Viestad)–It’s easily adapted for single-serving cooking, but also suitable for making the full recipe and reheating/freezing.

Ingredients

  • 6 pounds of bone-in lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces.
  • 4 pounds of green cabbage, shredded
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups cold water
  • fine sea salt (to taste)

Preparation

  • Layer the meat and cabbage in a large pot
  • Add black peppercorns, bay leaves, butter, and sprinkle in flour
  • Add water
  • Bring to a simmer, covered,
  • Cook about 2 hours over medium-high heat about 2 hours
  • To increase spiciness, add 1 more tablespoon peppercorns and cook an additional 15 minutes
  • Season to taste with salt
plated lamb and cabbage stew

Lamb and cabbage stew (from Wikipedia)

My first adaptation was the use of goat meat since that’s what I had in the freezer–as well as goat brown stock.

The goat meat was excellent, but in the future  I’ll use bone-in lamb shoulder chops, cut into appropriate-sized chunks.  My other adaptation of this recipe was to put it in the oven to cook at 300°F until the meat was very tender. It’s unlikely that I’ll want to make full quantity  of this recipe–more likely half, which will still give more than one meal, and  some to freeze.

This is NOT a pretty dish.  By the time the meat is really tender, the cabbage is NOT going to be pretty and bright green.  There’s more discussion of this dish on My Little Norway.  I like more peppercorns than that recipe uses–I actually added a lot more–and finished my serving with carefully roasted black peppercorns, coarsely crushed.

This has me looking for other recipes using cabbage–which I think is an under-appreciated winter vegetable. Too often I think it’s thought of as “slaw”.  After reading Viestad’s cookbook and North: The New Nordic Cooking of Iceland  by Gunnar Karl Gislason and Jody Eddy,  I want to explore more Scandinavian cooking.  I found lots more recipes on New Scandinavian Cooking, too–and the manifesto of the “New Nordic Cuisine”.

For a beverage with this dish? Well, a porter would be excellent. If I were doing wine, I think I’d look for something really robust–something that has at least some alicante bouchet in it, or maybe a Minervois–I think this calls for some research!

A son goût!

 

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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Macaroni & beef with tomatoes

The sudden arrival of a day that is about 30 degrees cooler that what we’ve been having has sent me scurrying into the kitchen to make a serious, hearty ham and bean soup, maybe some chili, and something quick, warm and cozy for today while the rest of the weekend cooking is in progress.

I love the multiple flavors and textures of a 15-been soup, but one of the frustrations is how differently the various beans cook.  This sent me to Cook’s Illustrated for information on how best to soak my beans.

They recommended a brine for the soak:  3 tablespoons of table salt per gallon per 1 pound of dried beans.  (If you’re using kosher salt see Conversions page for equivalents).  So the beans are soaking!  I’m doing the full pound so that I can stock the freezer with bean soup for the winter since it’s a favorite meal.

Since I did not plan ahead I have wait for the beans to soak, I’ll have to cook something else for today’s cool weather food– mac ‘n’ beef sounds like good cool weather food.

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I found a recipe that looked easy and quick in Cook’s Country–a skillet version.  Only drawback was that I needed to be out running errands and wanted food when I got back.  Since I’d discovered that I can make a decent macaroni and cheese in my rice cooker, I decided to try making it in that.  The other thing I like with my macaroni and beef is chunks of tomatoes, not just some tomato sauce so I did a little modification of the recipe, and enjoyed my comfort food on a chilly day.

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces of elbow macaroni (or any small tubular pasta)
  • 3/4 pound of lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 14.5-ounce can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained reserving liquid
  • 1 10-ounce can of diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained reserving liquid
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 6 medium cloves of garlic, put through press
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of Hungarian half-sweet paprika or smoked Spanish paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  •  2-1/2 cups of liquid (juice of tomatoes brought up to this volume with water)

Assembly

  • Cook onion in the olive oil until just starting to brown in a skillet on the stove-top.
  • Add ground beef and break up, and brown.
  • Add garlic, paprika and oregano, and continue to cook until fragrant.
  • Transfer to bowl of rice cooker and add drained tomatoes and the liquid.
  • Add macaroni and mix well.
  • Set on the rice cooking cycle; it switches to warm/hold when done.
I got back from running errands and there was my mac ‘n’ beef ready to eat.  I have several more servings…a couple are destined to go into the freezer for future use.   Some will get reheated in the oven in the next few days (topped with some cheddar cheese and put under the broiler until it’s nice and brown).

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I don’t have a lot of specialty appliances in my kitchen, but one that has earned a permanent spot on my counter is my Krups rice cooker which also functions as a steamer and a slow cooker–and you can steam and cook rice at the same time.  You can also use it to cook pasta.

One of the things I discovered in the recipe book that came with it was a recipe for macaroni and cheese cooked using the rice cooking mode.  I was pleased with the results with a bit of modification in the ingredients.  The pasta does not overcook–just like rice does not overcook so I was inspired to try the macaroni and beef in it and it  worked well.

Risotto–even for one

Risotto is a favorite food–sometimes it’s comfort food and sometimes it’s a treat for a special occasion.  I am addicted to that luscious, sensual, creamy texture.  Depending on the additions it’s an all-season dish–veggies or shellfish in warm weather, or sausage and meat for cold-weather, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food.

There was a time when risotto was a special-occasion, dinner-with-friends dish for me. I’d invite friends for a meal and make risotto.   One day while making spinach risotto to go with pan-seared tuna, supervised by the cat, stirring and adding liquid, stirring…and thinking…I decided that there must be a way to have risotto in single-serving quantities.  Thinking of restaurants, I was sure that there was some “trick” that would allow finishing off one serving at a time;  I needed to figure out what that was.

I’ve tried the recipe given by Barbara Kafka in Microwave Gourmet (p.  114)  and that’s good for quick risotto but, to me, not quite as luxurious as the long slow kind.  The advantage there is that she does give quantities for serving one or two.  I kept going back to restaurant line cooking, and wondering how I would do risotto in that situation–I certainly would not be making it totally “to order”–I’d be finishing it off as ordered.  As much as I like risotto, it seemed worthwhile to try to find a way to have it more often.

I was using one of the recipes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 242-245) as usual–still stirring, thinking, and stirring….   Maybe I could take some of the risotto out while slightly undercooked, before adding the cheese and butter and any final ingredients and freeze it for later use. (Can you see the light bulb appear above my head with this though?)

Judging that there was  more than enough for two of us in the batch that I was working on, I grabbed a small container and took out a single serving (fairly large single-serving), sealed it carefully so that there was no air space, and put it in the freezer.

A couple of weeks later, I pulled it out of the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator.  Now to see if I had something edible.  I’d taken it out of the original batch when I though I had about ten minutes of cooking time left.  Now, back into a pan, add some broth, and more stirring.  It took a bit of effort to get it mixed with the liquid as it was stiff, but after that it seemed to be a good consistency.   As soon as the rice had that bit of “bite” –tender outside, but still firm at the center, I added the parmigiano-reggiano, and a bit of butter and it was ready to eat.

I have not done a side-by-side tasting with this method and the microwave risotto or with risotto freshly made with the classic technique, but I felt that this was a bit creamier than the microwave method, and it took about the same amount of time.

Rice for risotto needs to do two things:  to have soluble starch to dissolve in the liquid to give the creamy texture of risotto, and to have enough insoluble starch to have that “tooth” or “bite” at the center of the grain that makes risotto such a sensual (and sensuous) delight.  I’ve most often used Arborio rice for risotto, and that’s what I used for this, and for the microwave trial, and from the same batch of rice.   Two other varieties of rice used for risotto are Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli.   These three varieties offer a bit of difference in the consistency of the risotto due to differences in the kinds of starch that predominate.   The Vialone Nano has enough e “bite” while having enough soluble starch to have the creamy texture of risotto, albeit looser, and maybe a bit less creamy.  The Carnaroli  has an even firmer “bite” with the creaminess, with the Arborio being sort of in between, and the most readily available (and the least expensive) of the three.  I have not tried this technique with either the Vialone Nano or with the Carnaroli–maybe that’s a future experiment, but with the Arborio I was pleased with the result.

There are so many variations that make risotto a meal in itself:  you can add meat, vegetables, fish, or shellfish easily as you finish the thawed risotto and vary the seasoning easily.   Quick-cooking vegetables could be added as you start the finishing step; harder vegetables can be sautéed  or partially cooked before you add the risotto to finish it.

One surprisingly good addition to risotto (from Marcella Hazan’s recipes) is celery!  I’m always looking for things to do with the celery that’s left after I use the one or two ribs called for in recipes; when I saw her recipe for “Risotto with Celery” I just had to try that variation on risotto. Her recipe (p. 249 in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) calls for 2 cups finely diced celery for six serving of risotto.  It’s added in two different stages (if you’re making risotto in the classic way):  half at the beginning  when the rice is added, and the remainder  when the rice is about half-cooked  so there is some texture variation.  This is a great side for grilled meat or fish.  I really liked it to accompany a grilled lamb shoulder chop.   (I’m starting to feel that celery may be an under-appreciated vegetable and not just an aromatic seasoning.)

For finishing liquid, if the original batch of risotto was made using broth, you could finish it with water, though I find I usually have some broth in the refrigerator.   I’ll concede that you may not have the melding of flavors that you would have were the veggies or meats cooked with the risotto for the entire cooking time, but the result is good enough when you consider the shorter time, and the fact that you can have this in single-serving quantities.

Another lovely “comfort” food with Arborio rice that is a favorite of mine is “Boiled Rice with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Basil” (again from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 258-259).  Here is a summary of the recipe:

Boiled Rice with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Basil

Servings: 4, but halving the recipe works well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons or butter
  • 6 ounces of mozzarella (fresh)
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves (shredded)
  • salt

Preparation:

  1. Cut room-temperature butter into small pieces and cut the mozzarella in  small pieces (grate on the largest holes of a box grater if it’s not too soft–mine usually is too soft). You want small pieces so that the heat of the rice will melt it.
  2. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, and bring back to a boil.
  3. Add rice, stir immediately for a few seconds so that it doesn’t stick together. Cover the pan. Keep at a constant, but moderate boil, until the rice is tender but still has the central “bite”.  Stir occasionally while cooking, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. When tender but al dente, drain the rice and add the mozzarella, then the Parmesan cheese, then the butter; stir well after each is added.  Finally, add the shredded basil leaves and stir in and serve immediately.

It’s not risotto, but then you don’t have the constant stirring that goes with classic risotto,  while you do get a great texture given the soluble starch of the Arborio and the cheese melted into the hot rice.

I’ve yet to try the Cook’s Illustrated baked risotto, but that looks like another possible alternative and perhaps adaptable to smaller quantities.  As well as I like rice and risotto, I have a lot of exploring to do to find out what works best for single-serving cooking.

A son goût!

Evolution of comfort food.

A few days ago it was gray, rainy, chilly and no matter what there thermostat said, I could not feel warm.   Peering into the refrigerator, I could not find anything that I wanted to eat and I did not want to cook.  Comfort food was in order, something basic: grilled cheese and tomato soup.

That got me thinking about why grilled cheese and tomato soup was so appealing.  I realized that it was likely because that was comfort food when I was a child–home from school with a cold, or sometimes, just a treat.

I did fix myself a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, and it was wonderful–just what I needed.  Munching away, I started considering, even though this was grilled cheese and tomato soup (our of a can), how different it was from what I had as a child.

Growing up on a farm in the country we were pretty self-sufficient: raised and butchered our own meat, curing our own ham and bacon, canning vegetables, raising chickens for our own eggs, and milking cows so that we had our own butter, milk and cream.  I grew up with home-made bread, cakes, pies as a routine thing.   From that vantage point, “store-boughten” was a treat.

One of those treats was a grilled cheese sandwich made with American cheese and something like Wonder bread–so it all squished down flat under the bacon press.  Heaven was to have that accompanied by a can of Campbell’s cream of tomato soup–yes, the condensed stuff.

Given the home-cured country ham, bacon, and good meats (beef, pork, and maybe even lamb, with some rabbit and maybe venison) a treat was a bologna sandwich!  Extra special if fried.  Probably almost anything that came out of a tin can that required a can opener, and did not come out of a Ball/Mason jar would have been considered a real treat.

The things that came out of the Ball/Mason jars were luscious halves of peaches, whole tomatoes,  pears, apple butter…and I did not appreciate them then–they were just food, nothing special.  Well, how things do change.

Now, even though I admit to really liking mortadella, and having just had a grilled cheese sandwich with cream of tomato soup for comfort food–my idea of quality of comfort food has changed a lot.

My grilled cheese sandwich was made with excellent imported, firm, nutty Swiss cheese, with bread sliced from a whole loaf of Italian bread.   That bread was lightly brushed with extra-virgin olive oil, almost like was done in my childhood, put onto a cast iron griddle and carefully browned on both sides.  Lovely, crunchy on the outside, melted cheese oozing with every bit, and delicious.

My tomato soup, admittedly, did come from a can but what a difference from condensed soup.  It was Progresso chunky tomato with basil, not cream of tomato, but really pretty good for soup out of a can.  I did, however, want cream of tomato soup.  I put half the soup into the refrigerator to be used another time, and after heating the other half in the microwave, I added two teaspoons of heavy cream, and some fresh (frozen) basil to it.

I was quite happy with my comfort food–but I did have to reflect on how my taste has evolved.  The original American-cheese, Wonder-bread sandwich never even occurred to me; no did Campbell’s condensed cream of tomato soup–yet my choice was cream of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, but such a difference now.

This made me think of other differences then and now.  When I first left the farm and went to the city, I was amazed at “city” or deli ham…thought I liked  that better than “country ham”.  Living alone and cooking for one, I even used mac ‘n’ cheese from a box–very different from what I had grown up with.  I was so thankful to be away from the farm, to not have to milk cows, churn butter, and make cheese.  Now, I seem to  have come back to where I started–I want to grow things, buy from the farmers’ market, and will search out those things that I took so much for granted as a child.