Friday, January 2, 2009

i now present to you...

...the recipe for the best french toast you will ever make. you may never need to go out for brunch again.

1.5 cup half-and-half (or, literally, 2/3 cup milk and 2/3 cup cream)
4 eggs, beaten together
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
loaf of challah bread (or brioche or other thirsty bread), sliced thick and left out overnight if possible - about 8 one-inch slices
4 tablespoons butter

-first things first. preheat the oven to 375. set up a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet (lined with foil if possible, trust me) and keep it nearby.

-microwave the honey for 20 seconds so it will be really liquidy and then add it to the eggs, stirring well. add the half-and-half, vanilla, and salt and stir well again.

-putting the batter in a pie plate to soak the bread really helps, so do that if you have one. soak each slice for about 30 sec on each side, then move it to the cooling rack so it can drip off excess. let them sit for a minute or two then continue.

-melt a tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick pan on medium-low heat, and fry two slices until golden brown, 2-3 min per side. place back on rack. repeat with a new tablespoon of butter and another two slices until done.

-put the whole rack-and-baking-sheet contraption, with the slices on top, into the oven for five minutes. now the inside will be cooked too. eat immediately, with syrup if you want. i think slightly-sweetened creme fraiche would also have been delicious.

this may be a little shocking, but the recipe comes courtesy of the food network, plus a few little tweaks. most of that channel and its media associates make me drool out my brain cells, but alton brown is almost always the exception. i don't make french toast often enough to be good at it, but i knew i'd seen an alton brown episode on french toast so i went hunting for the recipe online; turns out everywhere it's posted it gets rave reviews, too. i had been extremely sick from new year's eve and was still a little wobbly, so melissa did a lot of the work: i soaked, she cooked. it seems like extra work to do the rack setup and the oven step, but like i said, this is the best french toast i have ever (sort of) made, and possibly the best french toast i have ever eaten. thanks melissa!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

i am lebanese

what does thanksgiving day look like in a lebanese-american household?

-cooking all day. mostly this means mom and dad on their feet most of the day -- she roasted the turkey and made the stuffing , he made the turkey soup and the hummos -- and the offspring lounging around the kitchen keeping them company, getting up to bake a dessert or fix themselves a snack. mom and dad were pretty good sports about it though.

-sitting down to eat much later than most other families -- like 7 or even 8pm.

-looking forward to a just-us meal, no company or extended family this year, so that we can come to the fancied-up dining table in our sweatshirts and sockfeet. my mom used to hate that but i think she's given up.

-a roast turkey of course, but it's first parboiled to make a turkey soup and then finished off in the oven. yes, the turkey soup is a day-of dish for us, not a leftovers thing. in the bottom of the soup dish you put turkey pieces and some stuffing.

-the stuffing: it's not made with bread -- it's basically an equal-parts mixture of rice and ground beef, with aromatic spices, and topped with toasted pine nuts and almonds and/or pistachios.

-there is hummos. and the bread is pita bread.

-one sister makes apple pie from scratch and gets some vanilla ice cream to eat alongside it. this year another sister also contributed for the first time, with a cranberry-spice crumb-cake sort of thing. it was half from a box, but i was still impressed. i think she was too.

we kept it pretty simply this year by not doing roasted potatoes or even worrying about a salad. vegetables can wait. but i did make some sweet-potato biscuits, which were new to everyone else, at the last minute. we had so much food already, we didn't really bother eating them. so now i have a bunch left over.

2 cups mashed sweet potato (conveniently, this was exactly how much i got out of a large can of yams after draining the syrup; but i hear it's also about 2 spuds' worth)
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup yogurt
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 cups flour
7 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar (more if you like)
1 teaspoon salt

preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

in a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.

in another bowl, combine the sweet potato, milk and butter, mixing well.

then gently mix the dry ingredients into the sweet potato mixture to form a soft dough. it helps to add about a quarter of the dry stuff at a time. don't over-mix.

drop the dough by large tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. i got about 30 biscuits i think! bake for ~15 minutes, or until they get little hints of browning on the peaks.

set the baking sheets on wire racks to cool for a few minutes, then remove the sheets and move the biscuits from the sheets onto the racks or into a serving basket. serve with salted butter, or honey butter, or honey mustard maybe, or... etc.

notes: i think mine turned out a little underbaked. it might be because i was substituting yogurt for half the milk, so they stayed moist longer than expected; or it might be because i opened the oven halfway through, which is always a no-no.

also: i think lining the pans with a silicone baking mat would have helped prevent the bottoms from turning a lot darker than the tops.

also also: for a snack today i pulled out a leftover biscuit and sliced it in half, toasted the halves, and sandwiched some leftover vanilla ice cream in between them. it was a really good idea!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

i had a good idea: early thanksgiving, part 2

Last week I had this great idea: host a pre-Thanksgiving -- sort of like the one a few weekends ago, except intentional. Nothing too fancy or big, but just, cook some fall-type dishes, and this time invite some people over too. well, we did that... basically, there were ten of us and a ton of food and i passed out afterward. but it was all really nice.

coworker A brought over brie and crackers, mmmm creamy cheese.
coworker B brought over her boyfriend, and also some boxed stuffing crumbs and we doctored it with sauteed celery and chopped dried apple and chicken broth and butter.
coworker C came over late and didn't bring anything. quel faux pas.
melissa brought over potatoes and made Melissa's Very Own Perfect Mashed Potatoes.
i made a whole turkey all by myself, its butt stuffed with herbes de provence and a lemon quarter and an onion quarter.
i also made turkey gravy for the mashed potatoes.
jake roasted a leg of lamb with plenty of rosemary and garlic, and roasted parsnips and carrots and fingerling potatoes, and blanched and sauteed beautiful heads of broccoli and cauliflower that sarah had gotten from a farm for free.
between sarah's nonstop squash-roasting and my coworkers' avid smashing-with-forks, we ended up with a creamy orange three-squash puree (butternut, acorn and kabocha). sarah also took jake up on his challenge and made a cranberry-sauce-type relish out of beets, using orange peels and cloves and nutmeg and allumetted beets (allumette is the french word for matchstick, or a fancy word for 'like julienne but smaller').
jake's best friend brought her new fiance and a tray of cookies shaped like states.
and i also made a pumpkin-pie ice cream using some leftover pie filling that sarah had made from scratch (starting from a pumpkin). i fixed this up to be ice-cream ready by slowly cooking it over the stove so the egg thickened, adding enough sugar to make it taste too sweet (because cold things don't taste as sweet, it's a tongue thing), and stirring in cream and milk until i thought it wouldn't come out too pudding-y.

afterward we played cranium. i was on a team with jake and the boy, the most intoxicated of our bunch, and i swear to god i was sure they were going to make us lose a round when we had to take turns spelling out the letters to "calculus" backwards... but we actually kicked ass.

Monday, November 3, 2008

i love early thanksgiving.

chicken roasted in a cast-iron skillet over whole carrots and halved fingerling potatoes (stuffed with sage, rosemary, thyme, a quarter-lemon and a quarter-onion)

led to cornbread stuffing (out of a package, dressed up with lots of chopped butter-sauteed celery and onions)

led to slow-cooked green beans (jake's mamaw's, cooked in a huge pot with onions and pork fatback and sugar and apple cider vinegar)

led to classic mashed potatoes (maybe my best ever, made with hot milk and just a couple tablespoons of butter and not even any salt after salting the water)

led to roast-chicken gravy (the magic of the iron skillet: pull it out of the oven, take out the chicken and vegetables, start gravying over the stove! was lazy and didn't skim the fat off, just whisked with some flour over the heat then added some stock. it had tiny lumps but was still tasty.)

and then we all sat down to a lovely pre-thanksgiving-ish meal. by the way, the handful of halved fingerling potatoes sitting in the skillet under the chicken? golden and amazing, tender yet fried in chicken fat. and the chicken itself was golden too, flavorful with a crisp skin on top. i got so full on all our food.

and then jake and i set up a stock with the chicken bones and vegetable trimmings and pork fat-back and some bay leaves. which jake then strained and chilled, which i then reheated and reduced, which is now flavorful and delicious. now it goes back into the fridge, for further soup-making or for freezing in handy portions.

also: i pulled off the fat chunks near the tail of the chicken, rendered them down into liquid chicken fat, saved the fat in a cup, browned large pieces of onion in the fat left on the pan, chopped up the bag of liver and gizzards and added those in, salted and peppered the whole thing, buttered some rye bread, and made a liver and onion sandwich. this while-cooking snack is one of the best parts of roasting a chicken.

i will post real recipes/methods soon, because knowing how to roast a chicken turns out to be very useful, as nigella lawson says. i owe all credit on chicken-roasting knowledge to melissa though.

i made a green and brown stir-fry

1) tossed cubes of firm tofu in nutritional yeast (to absorb some moisture) and then in sesame seeds, then pan-fried them in sesame oil and chili oil. set those aside in a large bowl.

2) chopped asparagus stalks into inch-long bits (the spear-tips had gone soft so i tossed those out). then another round of sauteeing with a little more oil and some kosher salt, just until tender-crisp. put those in the bowl.

3) cut up baby bok-choy into bite-size pieces, separating so that the soft green leaves went into one pile, and the white stalks into another. then into the sautee pan: first the white bok choy stalks, joined by the leafy parts at the end. then i added some minced ginger and ground szechuan pepper, and a small splash of soy sauce and oyster sauce. i was kind of guessing here. scooped all that into the bowl.

4) finally, chopped up an assortment of wild mushrooms from the stall at the farmers' market that always smells earthy and woody and brown: oyster mushrooms, chanterelles, beech (or clamshell) mushrooms, and hen-of-the-woods. i slowly sauteed them in just a little more oil, and the mushrooms gradually got rich-looking and very fragrant. when i was satisfied with their texture i sprinkled some arrowroot over them, stirred that around, and then splashed some chicken stock into the pan; as it simmered the arrowroot thickened it, and i had a very simple, mushroomy brown sauce.

to finish it all up i put the contents of the bowl back into my giant pan and gently tossed it to coat with the warm sauce. it was pretty good.

if i did this again...
i'd toss out the soy sauce and the premade oyster sauce, and just incorporate the minced ginger and szechuan pepper into the mushroom/chicken sauce.
i'd also maybe combine the two rounds of vegetable-sauteeing to reduce the total amount of oil used.
other ideas: instead of frying tofu maybe do just the vegetables, then plate them over some cooked ramen noodles, or over rice.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

i freaking love soup.

vegetable soup -- steps in order:

2 tbsp light olive oil
chopped onion and minced garlic

2 chopped celery ribs, lots of carrot chunks (i used about 5 carrots!)

3 slices crumbled stale bread (sounds weird, but this will dissolve as you simmer and stir the soup, thickening it slightly)
8 cups flavorful broth (when we don't have homemade, i like to use Kitchen Basics brand chicken stock, but you can use water, or several cubes of a vegetable bouillon you like)

half a package of broad egg noodles (or "dumpling" size) -- i think replacing this with small-diced yukon potatoes would have been delicious too
most of a large (20-oz?) can of chickpeas
4-5 handfuls chopped dinosaur kale, curly kale, and/or mustard greens (we used all three!), or as much/little as you like

to top: kosher salt, coarse-ground black pepper, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
also crystal hot sauce if you like

it took me just 45 minutes to make a big pot of this on tuesday, and it was all gone in one sitting. i liked it so much i told all my coworkers about it, and ended up inviting one of them over for a new pot of it for sunday lunch. k is from new orleans like me, and had fed me red beans and rice and collard greens the night before when my body was starved for some real food, so a return invite seemed only fair. plus she is good company. our sunday soup pot was even bigger than the first, and it disappeared even faster. i will be making this stuff until march.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

i spent eighty dollars on groceries

...and that was after $13 in savings with my store savings card!

except for the time we bought food for a cookout last month, this was my first grocery bill over $30 since may. so it's not that i think i spent too much money, per se. so why am i bringing it up?

it's more that this grocery trip was really a series of admissions: that the CSA i joined for this growing season is pretty much over, except for the last gleaning of the year; that i will always need to replenish my pantry at the grocery store eventually; worst of all, that i can't live off peaches and tomatoes forever because summer is over and soon nothing will grow from the ground on the eastern seabord.