January 29, 2012

For the Love of Pork...

It may not be 100% authentic Alsatian, but how can you go wrong with three kinds of pork, sauerkraut, apples and a bottle of beer poured over the whole mess?!

Traditionally, Choucroute Garni is made with white wine.  However, being the good Midwestern girl that I am, beer seemed the natural way to go.  These flavors are more familiar to me...  cooking with beer is not exactly a foreign concept.  The smell of bratwurst & onions simmering in beer is something that greeted me as I came in the kitchen door of my parents house after school on many afternoons.

This is the kind of meal that you gear up for, like Thanksgiving dinner.  I'm in no way suggesting that you make this every week.  Like Thanksgiving,  this is reserved for once in a while when you need a good stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal.

The sharpness of the sauerkraut cuts the fattiness of the pork and it is complemented beautifully by the sweetness of the apples. This is French comfort food at its best.

  • 3 lb pork roast
  • 2 - 3 lbs assorted sausages (bratwurst, knock wurst, kielbasa...  whatever you like)
  • 1 bottle beer (an Amber beer is perfect)
  • 5 strips of bacon
  • 3 medium apples, cored & quartered  (I like honeycrisp or gala)
  • 2 lb. sauerkraut, drained
  • 3 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 large onions, peeled & quartered
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 6 juniper berries
  • mustards for sausages (grainy, hot, sweet, dijon...)

photo: Food & Wine magazine

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a small piece of cheesecloth, tie the juniper berries, peppercorns & bay leaves into a sachet.  If you don't have cheesecloth, add them to the pot and remove before serving.
  3. Line the bottom of a Dutch oven (or large, enameled cast iron pot) with the onions and half of the sauerkraut.
  4. Place the pork roast on top of the onions and place the carrots, potatoes, apples and sausages around the sides.
  5. Place the spice sachet in the pot.
  6. Layer the remaining sauerkraut on top of everything, lay the strips of bacon over the sauerkraut and pour the beer over everything.
  7. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake for 3 hours. 
  8. Serve with assorted mustards and a good beer.

    January 23, 2012

    Doing My Part to Prevent Scurvy...

    Every now and then I buy random things and hope I can make something good with the various items that have found their way into my cart.   Once in a while I'll stumble upon something magnificent, on (thankfully rare) occasions it's been a disaster, in which case the pizzeria is on speed dial and more often than not it's pretty good, although I'm in no way getting sassy about it...
    One of the ingredients that found their way home with me were finger limes.

    They are rather interesting... inside the lime are little pearls that resemble caviar.   It's a great garnish for fish, drinks, hors d'oeuvres or even desserts.

    A beautiful piece of wild grouper had also found its way home with me in my ever-present quest for eating healthier, so this was my jumping off point.  A couple of years ago, on a trip to Punta Cana in the  Dominican Republic I had grouper grilled on the beach and that is where my love for this fish was born. 

    Grouper is a mild whitefish, similar in flavor to snapper or orange roughy.  For those who don't care for "fishy" tasting fish, this is a great option. 

    Soy-Glazed Grouper with Crispy Skin
    • 2-  6oz pieces grouper
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy)
    • 1 tbsp sriracha (or other hot sauce)
    • juice and zest of 1 lime
    • 1 tbsp canola oil
    • kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 finger lime
    • sauteed spinach

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Make the marinade: combine soy sauce, kecap, sriracha, lime zest & juice in a bowl.
    3. Place the fish in the marinade for 10 minutes, remove and pat dry. Season with salt & pepper.
    4. Heat an oven safe saute pan over med-high heat.   Add canola oil.
    5. When oil is hot, place grouper in pan skin side down.  Cook undisturbed for 2 - 3 minutes.
    6. Turn fish over and slide into the oven for 5 - 6 minutes.  Remove from oven and let fish rest for a few minutes before serving.
    7. Serve over sauteed spinach and garnish with finger lime.

    January 18, 2012

    Mason Jar Dressings

    A very good childhood friend of mine sent me some salted caramels over the holidays and I have been rationing them out on a daily basis.   Needless to say, when I see commercials for all of the various weight-loss companies it makes me cringe a bit knowing I'm a few bites away from needing an intervention.
    Therefore, I've taken it upon myself to get back into the swing of things.  Like everyone else, I get a bit out of control during the holidays and then, when all of the over-eating makes me feel like Jabba the Hutt, the pendulum swings back the other way and I get myself back in line.

    As you well know from previous posts, I have no shortage of mason jars in various shapes & sizes cluttering my cabinets and there is a reason for this,  besides canning.   They are useful for many different things,  quick salad dressing being one of them.

    It honestly couldn't be easier...  pour everything in & shake it up.   The best part of making your own salad dressing aside from it being much less expensive, is that you know exactly what's in it.   There are no dyes, no high-fructose corn syrup, no ingredients that require a Ph.D. in Chemistry to pronounce.

    The basic ratio for a vinaigrette is 3:1 or 4:1 (oil:vinegar) depending on how acidic you like it.  I love vinegar so I tend to go a bit on the acidic side with my dressings, which consequently means less oil and that is usually a good thing.

    Orange Ginger Dressing
    • a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled & grated
    • zest & juice of 3 oranges
    • 1/3 - 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
    • kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
    Add all ingredients to a jam jar & shake.
    I use grapeseed oil because of its neutral flavor.   The orange and ginger should be the stars here, not the oil.   Olive oil, although it is delicious isn't what I want to taste in this particular dressing. 

     Lemon-Fennel Vinaigrette
    • juice of 3 Meyer lemons
    • 3 tbsp finely chopped fennel fronds
    • 1 tbsp honey
    • 1/3 - 1/2 cup olive oil
    • kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

    I purchased fennel for the "roasted roots" and I only roast the bulb, so I had the frilly tops just sitting on my counter and didn't want them to go to waste.
    I decided to use them in place of other herbs for a salad dressing.  This is generally my mind set about throwing things in the garbage... in a professional kitchen, very little goes to waste.
    The first time I made this dressing I put it in the blender.  It came out a shocking flourescent yellow-green color, so if you chose to do this...  don't be disturbed. 
    I often still put it in the blender, but if you are running short on time or energy the jam jar works just fine.

    January 14, 2012

    Catching Snowflakes On My Tongue...

    As I write this,  I'm looking through my living room window watching the snowflakes swirl about in the gray sky. 
    Normally, this would elicit a groan from me but I feel I cannot begrudge Mother Nature a few flakes...  it IS January after all and we've had more than our fair share of unseasonably warm temperatures.

    Catching snowflakes on your tongue is something we all did as kids,  but THIS kind of snowflake is much tastier.

    A few years ago, I was trying to come up with an idea for a drink that tasted more like dessert than a cocktail.   I did, and it was dubbed "The Snowflake" but then...  marshmallow vodka came on the scene and I became obsessed with somehow incorporating this into the drink.  So, I've slightly modified it from it's original version and made it more of a cocktail.

    So... with the mercury falling and colder temperatures setting in, it seems a fitting time to break out the shaker and start making a few drinks.

      makes 1
    • 1 shot (Smirnoff) marshmallow vodka
    • 1 shot vanilla vodka
    • 1/3 shot Kahlua
    • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
    • cinnamon sugar (for rim)
    • crushed ice
    1. Wet the rim of the glass and dip in cinnamon sugar.
    2. Combine all other ingredients in shaker and shake vigorously.
    3. Pour & imbibe.

    Be forewarned, this drink is high octane...  if you would like to mellow it out a touch, I suggest a splash of cream to give it more body and take the edge off a bit.
    * if you are not a fan of Kahlua, Bailey's also works but will obviously change the taste of the drink.

      January 08, 2012

      Nourishing My Soul...

      This one is for my Momma.  It isn't anything terribly exciting, just damn good.  This is the only meal that my Mom actually asks me to cook for her when I'm home and I am more than happy to oblige.  For me, there is no meal more soul-satisfying than roast chicken.
      It is without a doubt, my favorite meal.  I could have it every week and never tire of it.

      The way the house smells when it is in the oven, the sound of the skin sizzling (which is exactly what I'm listening to as I write this...) makes my mouth water knowing that in a few moments when it is on my plate, I will sink my teeth eagerly into the perfect bite.

      The crunch of the super crispy skin, the fat oozing out  and coating my tongue. This is sublime satisfaction... the look of complete and utter joy on my face.
      THIS is the meal you serve to the ones you love.

      Perfect Roast Chicken & Roasted Roots
      • 1 whole chicken (about 4 lbs)
      • 1 head fennel, thinly sliced
      • 3 shallots or 1 large red onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
      • 3 red peppers, cut into 1 inch pieces
      • 2 lbs baby yukon potatoes, washed
      • 1 large sweet potato, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
      • 2 lbs carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
      • 1 lemon (or 1 quartered onion)
      • kosher salt
      • fresh black pepper
      • 1/2 tsp dried lavender
      • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
      • canola oil

      1. At least 30 minutes (but no more than 1 hour) before you plan to start cooking the chicken, take it out of the refrigerator and let it come up to room temperature.
      2. Truss the bird.  This will help the chicken cook more evenly.  If you are not planning on doing this, you'll need to place a lemon or a quartered onion in the cavity.  This keeps the air from circulating too much inside the empty cavity and drying out your bird.
      3. Preheat the oven to 450F. 
      4. Season the chicken with plenty of salt, pepper and the dried herbs.   Crush the dried herbs in the palm of your hand to break them up a bit before sprinkling them over the chicken. 
      5. Place the chicken in an oven-proof saute pan (frying pan) and put it in the oven.
      6. Turn the temperature down to 425F and roast the chicken for 1 hour.  Check that the juices run clear, if not put the chicken back in the oven for another 5 minutes and check it again after that.  If you have a meat thermometer, it should register 165F.
      7. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 10 - 15 minutes before carving it.

      generously seasoned & ready for the oven

      Perfect Roast Chicken

      Roasted Roots
      1. Toss the fennel, shallots or onion, carrots, red pepper and potatoes with a few tablespoons of canola oil, a generous sprinkling of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder.
      2. Spread them out on a baking pan and roast in a 425F oven for 35- 45 minutes.  This can be done while the chicken is in the oven.

      Happy Sunday Supper!

        January 02, 2012

        A dessert that won't end up on your "coulis"...

        It is that time of year again when we all resolve to do better, eat better & live better.   Life is about balance and although we may be a bit more stringent about our eating habits, every now and then one needs dessert. 

        Giving in to something a little less detrimental can keep us from going through a midnight fridge raid, faces smeared with chocolate sauce as if it were war paint...  and in that crazed state it would be a war in which we had clearly been defeated.

        We are all familiar with the pangs of deprivation and quite honestly, I'm not a fan.  In lieu of depriving myself from culinary pleasures, I'll temper them with a better choice.

        Pavlovas are the lighter side of sweet.  They are a meringue, made from egg whites and a bit of sugar.   Granted, there is a billowy layer of whipped cream (and fruit!) piled on top,  but if you are being extra good, you can omit the whipped cream... although that will change the dessert entirely.

        While pavlovas are not cloyingly sweet, they pair well with fruit that is slightly tart.  If you happen to live in a region where fresh passion fruit is available, that is a delicious option.  I like pairing this with raspberries as well because they are not overly sweet and their crimson hue looks strikingly beautiful against the stark white of the cream.

        This recipe yields a very tender bellied pavlova.  It is melt in your mouth, soft marshmallow in the middle, while the top and sides stay slightly crisp. 
        This plays nicely against the airy whipped cream, giving the dessert a touch of crunchy texture.


        Pavlova with Raspberry Coulis
        • 4 large egg whites, room temperature
        • pinch of fine salt
        • 1 tsp. white wine vinegar
        • 2 tsp. cornstarch
        • 1 1/4 cup sugar
        • 1 tsp. vanilla
        • 1 vanilla bean, split

        1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and trace a 8-9 inch circle on the paper.  Then turn the paper over so the ink is underneath.
        2. Beat the egg whites with the salt until shiny and stiff peaks form.
        3. Beat in the sugar, about a third or so at a time, until meringue is stiff and glossy.
        4. Add in vanilla, seeds from 1 vanilla bean, vinegar and cornstarch.  Fold in gently so you do not lose any air from the meringue.
        5. Use a dot of the meringue under all 4 corners of the parchment paper to secure it to the baking sheet.  This will prevent the paper from flying up and touching the sides of the pavlova once it is in the oven.
        6. Mound the meringue in the outline of your circle and smooth the sides and top.
        7. Place in oven and immediately turn down to 300F.  Bake for 1 hour.  The pavlova will turn slightly off white and will more than likely crack a bit on the surface.
        8. Turn off the oven and allow it to cool completely in the oven.
        9. Turn the pavlova upside down and cover with whipped cream and fruit.

        Whipped Cream

        • 2 cups heavy cream
        • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
        • 1 tbsp vanilla
        1. Combine all ingredients and beat on highest speed until soft peaks form


        Raspberry Coulis
        • 1/2 cup sugar
        • 1/2 cup water
        • 2 cups fresh raspberries
        • zest of 1 lemon
        • juice of 1/2 lemon

        1. Combine sugar and water in a small pot and bring to a simmer.
        2. Add raspberries and cook for 5 - 8 minutes until raspberries are cooked down by 3/4.
        3. Remove from heat and add lemon zest and juice.
        4. Transfer to a blender and puree.
        5. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds, pressing down with a rubber spatula to get as much juice as possible.
        6. Chill.  Coulis will keep for 2 - 3 days in refrigerator.