May 30, 2012

(Lemon) Thyme on my Hands...

Golden Lemon Thyme

Well, the rain finally ceased only to bring unseasonably hot weather for a few days.  Everyone looked like they were wilting, including the little pots of herbs I keep on the windowsill.  Herbs are one of my favorite things to add to nearly anything. 

In cooking their use is obvious, but most people don't utilize them in other ways where they can really bump up the flavor.  Tossing a handful of herbs in with salad greens,  fresh chopped herbs sprinkled over grilled or roasted vegetables, vinaigrettes,  drinks, even ice cream... adding them to both sweet and savory dishes can really make a difference in the flavor of the final dish.

With the sudden heat, I immediately wanted lemonade...  not being able to resist my ever-present need to put herbs into whatever I can, I started snipping.  The fact that I am almost never without lemons was a definite plus.

In my dream world,  there are little mason jars filled with delectable drinks lining the shelves of the refrigerator in my outdoor kitchen... each guest able to saunter over and choose which of the many options tickle their fancy. 

In reality, I have a kitchen that is so small I have seriously considered applying for "Worst Kitchens in America".   My tiny Brooklyn apartment won't be gracing the pages of Architectural Digest anytime soon, but I can still have my mason jars of lemonade lining a shelf in my fridge...  

Lemon Thyme Mint Lemonade
  • 3/4 cup sugar +a few tablespoons
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (don't even think about using bottled)
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 sprigs lemon thyme
  • handful of mint leaves
  • lemon slices
  • thyme sprigs & mint leaves for garnish

Combine 3/4 cup sugar, 8 sprigs of lemon thyme and 1 cup of water in a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer.  Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat & let cool completely. Strain & set aside.

A word on the lemons...  the lemons I had were the size of my fist.   Literally.  Three gave me a full cup of juice.  If you were to see these lemons at the gym, one would assume they were "juice-heads" (pun fully intended)...  that being said,  you'll need about 5 lemons of normal stature.

In a large pitcher, muddle the mint leaves with a few tablespoons of sugar, add the lemon juice, lemon thyme simple syrup (from above), water and a few slices of lemon.
Garnish with fresh mint leaves & a few sprigs of lemon thyme.

May 25, 2012

Hello Cupcake...

For weeks I've been craving cake... so, enough talk and a little more action.   I decided that since I had been to the farmer's market and had eaten a relatively healthy lunch that cupcakes were definitely in order.

If I'm going to make cupcakes, more often than not I would go all in.  Chocolate.  The darker & richer the better...  however since it is spring and this weekend marks the "un-official" start to summer I wanted to lighten it up a bit and do something a little different.

If you are anything like me, sometimes you forget all the little treasures you have stashed in your kitchen.  I buy things that interest me and then put them away for when the mood strikes, but the unfortunate truth is that occasionally they are forgotten until I stumble upon them (usually when I'm looking for something else).

Well, the latest treasure to be unearthed was candied ginger.  I thought it might make an interesting garnish for the cupcake and that was basically my jumping off point.
(well, that and my persistent sweet tooth...)

If you are attending (or hosting) a BBQ this weekend, these would make a great finale.  They are light and not overly sweet and another plus is that the cake can be made ahead and frozen for a few days, then thawed and frosted the day of. 

For ginger flavor, I would normally add ground ginger, however I've decided to infuse them with a ginger syrup in lieu of the adding the powder to the batter. I wanted a lighter ginger flavor and to avoid a "gingerbread" taste.  If you prefer to use ground ginger, 1/2 - 1 tsp will do the trick.

Ginger Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream
- cake recipe adapted from the kitchn
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 3 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Line muffin tins with cupcake papers,  you'll need approximately 22
  3. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and beat until thoroughly incorporated then beat in flour, salt and baking powder.
  4. Stir in milk and vanilla. Beat on low for 30 seconds, then on high for 3 minutes.
  5. Scoop batter into cupcake pan, I always use a cookie scoop to ensure uniformity.
  6. Bake for approximately 15 - 18 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  7. Cool slightly, then using a thin skewer pierce a few holes into the top of the cupcake and lightly brush with the ginger simple syrup.  Try not to be too heavy with the syrup, or you will end up with mushy cupcakes. 
  8. When completely cooled, frost with lemon buttercream and top with finely sliced candied ginger.

Ginger Simple Syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger,  sliced into coins
Combine everything in a small pot and bring a boil, stirring occasionally.  When sugar has completely dissolved, remove from heat and cool completely. 
Once the syrup is cooled, strain the ginger & discard.   Leftover syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
(I like to boil it down until it is very thick & syrupy and drizzle over vanilla bean ice cream or use it in cocktails!)

Lemon Buttercream
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat on low speed until combined, then on medium until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes)

May 22, 2012

If You're Afraid of Butter, Use Cream...

The above is one of my favorite quotes from Julia Child, one of the gutsiest broads to ever hoist a meat cleaver. (and I use that term lovingly)

On August 15th of this year, Julia would have turned 100 years old and I'd like to think would still be cooking.
In the 100 days leading up to Julia's birthday, the JC100 is celebrating this culinary powerhouse and her recipes.  Each week, a new recipe is featured and this weeks offering was Coq au Vin...  one of my all time favorites.

I remember watching Julia & Jacques and loved her candor and fearless approach to cooking.  She made it seem fun and most importantly, possible.  She had a way of walking her audience through a recipe that made complex dishes seem effortless and isn't that all we really want? To feel like anything is possible?

Her sing-song voice demonstrated her unmistakable excitement for what she was doing, especially when butter was involved.  She made no apologies for anything, especially her occasional mishaps in the kitchen.   For example, you dropped the chicken?  No big deal, pick it up & rinse it off!   I loved that.  It was like being told, it's ok if it all doesn't go perfectly as planned...  just keep cooking.

Her contributions to cooking and bringing knowledge of French cooking to the American public are unparalleled.  She was truly one of a kind. 

This is my all time favorite quote and precisely why I can relate to her... 

The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon app├ętit. ”
― Julia Child

Coq au Vin
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds frying-chicken parts (roughly 1 whole chicken, cut up)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups sliced onion
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 - 2 large cloves of garlic, pureed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes
  • 3 cups young red wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • beurre manie for the sauce: (1 1/2 tbsp each flour and softened butter blended to a paste)
  • chopped parsley
  • 3 cups fresh mushrooms, trimmed, quartered and sauteed
  • 1/2 cup bacon, cut into 1/4 inch strips (original recipe calls for bacon to be blanched, however I like the saltiness of the bacon so I omitted this step)

    1. In a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan, saute the bacon and remove to a side dish, leaving the fat in the pan.
    2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
    3. Brown the chicken in the pork fat, adding a little olive oil if necessary.  Remove and set aside.
    4. Add the onions into the pan and saute over moderate heat until fairly tender, then raise the heat slightly to brown lightly.  Drain to remove excess fat.
    5. Return chicken to the pan with the onions, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, tomato and mushrooms.
    6. Pour in the wine and enough stock to barely cover and simmer slowly for 20 minutes.
    7. Remove chicken from pan and spoon surface fat off the cooking juices.   
    8. Taste the mushroom/onion cooking juices, boil down if it needs strength, adding seasoning if necessary.  Off heat, whisk in beurre manie to make a lightly thickened sauce.  Bring briefly to a simmer- the sauce should be just thick enough to lightly coat a spoon.
    9. Return chicken to pan, basting with sauce, onions and mushrooms.

      * I always serve this over lightly buttered egg noodles, it goes perfectly with the sauce.  You could also serve it with rice or to avoid starch completely, serve with a green salad.

      Excerpted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child. Copyright © 1989 by Julia Child. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

      May 16, 2012

      Chicken Soup for My Soul...

      Last I checked April showers bring May flowers, right?  Well, someone missed the mark on that...  The weather here in New York has been unusual to say the least.  We had 80 degree days in March, freezing temps in April and it feels like it's been raining for weeks... 

      Chilly, gray days make me want a bowl of something good.  I had a quart container of "liquid gold" in the refrigerator that had been giving me the stink eye every time I opened the fridge...  It felt neglected, and rightfully so.  

      A few weeks back, I had braised some chicken, strained the liquid and set it aside for another use.  That is liquid gold.  It is intensely flavored, uber-chicken-y goodness and while looking around the kitchen I realized I had almost everything I needed for tortilla soup (otherwise known as Mexican penicillin).

      So, with a quick trip to get an avocado and a lime it was time to get cooking...

      Tortilla Soup
      Sopa de Tortilla
      • 2 1/2 quarts chicken stock
      • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
      • 1 medium onion, finely diced
      • 3 stalks celery, finely diced
      • 3 carrots, thinly sliced
      • 1 can diced tomato (15 oz)
      • 2 ancho chile peppers + 2 cups water
      • 3 tbsp canola oil
      • 1 bunch cilantro, washed & leaves picked
      • 4 corn tortillas
      • 1 avocado
      • 2 limes
      Ancho Chile Peppers

      Ancho Chile peppers are dried Poblano peppers, they can be found in any Latin American market or some grocery stores in the Ethnic food section. 

      1. Heat 2 cups water to near boiling and soak the ancho peppers for approximately 20 minutes.  When peppers are soft, blend to puree.
      2. In a medium stock pot, heat canola oil over medium heat.  Add onions, celery and carrots.  Saute for about 5 minutes to soften.
      3. Add chicken stock, diced tomatoes and ancho puree.  Bring to a simmer, not a boil. Turn down the heat if necessary.  Cook for 20 minutes.
      4. Add shredded chicken, stir and simmer an additional 10 minutes.
      5. Remove from heat, add half of the cilantro and stir to combine.  Reserve the rest of the cilantro for garnish.
      6. Garnish with sliced avocado, tortilla strips, a squeeze of lime juice and cilantro.

      Tortilla Strips

      Heat 2 quarts of oil in a deep pot, leaving at least 3 inches of space from the top of the pot.  While oil is heating, cut tortillas in half and stack on top of each other.   Cut into thin strips.

      When oil has reached 350- 360 degrees,  carefully place tortilla strips into oil.  Fry until golden brown and crispy (about 3- 4 mins). 

      Remove from oil and lay on paper towels to drain.
      Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

      May 10, 2012

      My first love...

      Look at that gorgeous kid...  and the baby isn't bad either!

      The first love of my life: my Mom.  As little girls, we often play "house" and pretend to be Mommies to our baby dolls and try to emulate our own mothers.  As teenagers, we are less inclined to compare ourselves to our Moms. As adults we come full circle, realizing that "Mom" is a person just like we are who had worries and struggles, peacefulness and triumphs .  Mine, like most, had to balance job and kids, errands, our activities, laundry, blah, blah, blah... and yet still found time to take us to movies or little excursions.   We didn't have much, but we didn't know it.  She made the most of what we did have and rarely did we feel like we had "gone without".

      One of my all-time favorite memories, which my Mom & I still giggle about to this day...  Ok, this is going to date me a little, but you regular readers already know I turned 40 recently,  so here we go:

      Do you remember that show from the '80's, "V"?!   It was about alien-lizards disguised as humans living on Earth.  We LOVED this show.   It sounds ridiculous, but it was the early '80's... 
      Well,  one night we were in our Chevrolet Chevette hatchback (yes, a Chevette hatchback...  named "Skeeter", btw) and there were radio and television towers with flashing red lights on the road.  They looked like they were so high up in the sky to me as a little kid...  like they could have been lights on an alien spacecraft!  

      All of a sudden, my Mom hunches down over the steering wheel and starts saying "Oh no, they're gonna get us!"  Well, you can imagine our reaction!  My brother & I started screeching & laughing like crazy and she just kept egging us on... 

      She pretended like she was racing down the road, although I highly doubt she ever broke the speed limit, and we just kept looking behind us as if the lights on those towers might actually be the "V" coming to get us!!!  
      I will freely admit that whenever I'm home and on Dustin Road, I think of this & laugh and if I have my Mom in the car...  you know what happens next.

      My Mom always wanted to be a mother.  Looking at family photos, you can see it in her face.  Having children truly did bring her joy...  I'm sure it also brought heartache, frustration, worry, stress, etc. but we rarely knew it.  However, it was crystal clear when I was a teenager... because I'll be completely honest,  I was a pain. 

      The wonderful thing that happens between mothers and their children (if you're lucky) when you become an adult is the transformation in the relationship to friendship. 
      I can call my mom and chat in the same way I can with friends and that is a rare gift. 
      She has become less of a parent and more of a confidant in my adult years.

      I am one of the lucky ones.  I was born to a woman who has always been my beacon of light calling me home to her safe shores.  Raised with love and laughter, music and dancing in the kitchen... I am one of the lucky ones and I am thankful.

      Happy Mother's Day!

      The recipe below is from my Momma,  another food memory from childhood...

      Dutch Puff Pancake
      • 1 cup milk
      • 2 large eggs
      • 2/3 cup flour
      • 3 tbsp sugar
      • 1/2 tsp salt
      • 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
      • 2 tbsp butter

      1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400F.  
      2. Put butter in pie plate and put pie plate in oven to heat while making batter. (could also use cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan)
      3. Put rest of ingredients into a blender.   Blend until well combined.
      4. Carefully pour the batter into hot pie plate.
      5. Bake for 25-35 minutes until puffy and deep golden brown.
      6. Dust with powdered sugar & serve immediately, pancake will collapse shortly after removing from the oven.

        May 04, 2012

        Viva Mexico

        The smell of the lightly singed corn tortilla & the memories instantly flood my mind.  I inhale deeply and let the smell fill my head.   

        I close my eyes and it's 1993...  I was leaving home for the first time to do a semester abroad.
        I was on my way to the state of Jalisco, Mexico to attend the Universidad Autonoma De Guadalajara. 

        I remember very distinctly the feeling of stepping off of the plane, walking alone through the airport and realizing that I was on my own in a foreign country...  and speaking Spanish was now a necessity.
        The realization that I was the minority in this country where its people were the minority in mine.

        Everything was so different; the sounds, the smells, the food...  nothing was familiar to me and as terrifying as that was, it was also the thing that was most exhilarating. 
        The most tedious of tasks at home had become an adventure in Mexico, some of them less amusing than others...

        I learned more about this country in the few months I lived there than I did in all the years I had been studying it.  Being immersed in a culture other than your own is something I think everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.  It opened my eyes to things that changed me for the better, giving me a greater appreciation for what I had.

        When I'm craving Mexican food, and quite honestly I don't know that I'm ever NOT, I instantly go to tacos. 
        It is street food in Mexico. 

        Everyone eats them; there are taquerias on every other corner, each one claiming to have the best of one type or another.  They are inexpensive, fairly simple to prepare and generally a crowd pleaser.
         (those of you with picky eaters, rejoice!)

        I made slightly more chicken than I needed so that I could use it in another recipe.  If you are like-minded and wish to cook one protein for multiple uses, stick to the quantities below.  If not, you can reduce the number of chicken thighs to suit your needs.

        Chicken Tacos
        makes 12 - 16 tacos
        • 8 skinless chicken thighs, bone-in
        • 2 large bay leaves
        • 1/2 bunch cilantro
        • 2 large carrots, cut in half
        • 2 stalks celery, cut in half
        • 1 medium onion, cut in half
        • 1 quart chicken stock/broth
        • 3 tbsp olive oil
        • kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
        • flour or corn tortillas
        • 1 lime, cut in wedges
        • Garnish: shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, caramelized onion & pickled radish (or, go the more traditional route with diced white onion, cilantro & chiles)

          1. Preheat oven to 325F.
          2. Heat a large, deep frying pan over medium - high heat.  Add olive oil.
          3. Salt & pepper chicken.  Add to pan, bone side facing up.   Sear, then flip over.
          4. Add chicken stock, bay leaves, carrot, onion, celery and cilantro
          5. Cover and place in oven for 45 minutes.
          6. Remove chicken, strain cooking liquid and reserve for another use.
          7. Shred chicken and set aside. 
          8. Warm tortillas, either on a flame or in a pan. (typically served doubled up, not a single tortilla)
          9. Garnish tacos with caramelized red onion, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cumin crema & pickled radishes.
           I put my tortillas directly over the flame. 
          Keep a close eye on them, as they will burn quickly!
          Traditionally, this is done on a comal...

          Pickled Radishes
          • 10 - 15 radishes
          • 1 cup sugar
          • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
          • 2 cups water
          • 1 tbsp pink peppercorns
          • 5 allspice berries
          • 1 bay leaf
          • 1 tbsp kosher salt

          1. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice radishes very thinly.
          2. Combine all ingredients in a small pot and bring to a simmer.
          3. Simmer for approximately 5 minutes, remove from heat and let cool.

          Cumin Crema
          • 8 oz Crema Mexicana or sour cream
          • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
          • 1/2 tsp salt
          • 1 tsp cumin
          • juice of 1 lime
          1. Combine all ingredients and mix until well incorporated.