Monday, March 26, 2012

Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip, Pecan Cookies

There's a lot of rude, selfish people out there that we unfortunately have to share this planet with.  That's probably not telling you anything you don't already know.  I'm familiar with the usual annoyances, such as people who don't understand the proper way to use a merge lane on the highway, which is to use the entire length of that lane to facilitate the flow of traffic.  One of the two instances last week in traffic where I was given the 'bird' was after I politely referred to a gentleman driver as 'assface' who would not let me merge into the southbound lane.  Warm weather and windows rolled down will bring that sort of thing.  Other standard people that piss me off include those that don't pick up their dog's excrement.  That's just lazy, not to mention gross.  Or how about the grocery store shoppers who leave their cart in the middle of the aisle while they wander off to find something.  These are the same people who are yapping away on the cell phone during check-out.  You don't need to delve into a deep philosophical convo with the check-out person, but have some respect.  They, and me behind them, don't need to hear about little Timmy's problems in math class or how your baby daddy gots some new floozy.  I could list a million reasons why people piss me off, but that would take a long time.  Just when I thought I'd experienced them all, a new one comes along- this lady cut right in front of me when I was filling up my drink cup at the self-serve soda machine at Culver's.  I got my ice no problem, but then out of nowhere this beeyatch swoops in and refills her root beer just as I was headed for that selection.  Here's the kicker- she apologized, but then said she hasn't gotten in her share of being rude that day, so blame it on that.  What? WTF is that, besides a poor excuse to be a beeyatch? I'm a firm believer in karma, and one day soon that lady is going to get hers.  When I feel as though my world is being overwhelmed by assfaces and beeyatches, I like to do nice things to compensate, like making cookies and sharing them with people who act normal.

The chocolate and orange combo is heavenly in this cookie recipe.  I thought the first batch was slightly undercooked as they didn't look set after 12 minutes or so, but baking them longer resulted in cookies that could have broken windows.  They were tasty, but a little too hard.  You can substitute any sort of nut for the pecans. If you don't jive on the chocolate/orange deal, feel free to leave out the zest, but you'll be missing something. 

Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip, Pecan Cookies
makes about 3 dozen cookies

8 TB unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 C sugar
1 C light brown sugar, firmly packed of course
1 ts salt
1 ts vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 C flour
1 ts baking soda
1/2 ts ground cinnamon
1/4 ts ground nutmeg
1 C quick-cooking oats
2 C chopped pecans
2 ts grated orange zest
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment or a Silpat (nonstick baking mat). Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla, and beat until well mixed, about three minutes. Stir in eggs, one at a time. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter with the mixer on low speed. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the second half. Stir in the oats, pecans, orange zest, and chocolate chips until just mixed. Drop the dough, by the tablespoon, onto the cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool the cookies on a rack. Store at room temperature in a cookie jar or other airtight container for up to a few days, but they won't last that long.  Especially if you're nice and you share.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cauliflower Gratin

Vegetables continue to be the new black.  Cauliflower has gotten a lot of well-earned attention lately.  From a simple soup I had here to this very popular app, cauliflower is fantastic and can be deliciously prepared by roasting or par-baking and then broiling.  

They haven't even dyed the Chicago River green yet for the St. Patty's Day parade, and it's been three days in a row of 80 degrees F.  The 5-day forecast has four or more days of the same!  I thought last year's weather was crazy,  and after almost no winter in 2011-2012, we've got record-breaking warmth.  It might, however, still snow in March, (or April or May) as Chicago has had days with 7" of snow after an eighty-degree high.  If that does happen I'll be plenty happy to make a chilly-weather dish, like this cauliflower gratin.  It's a veggie, just keep telling yourself that.  A veg dish that happens to also have cheese, butter, and bacon.

It isn't even halfway through March and the grill has already seen encased meats, shrimps, some loin chops and I got a tenderloin in a brine soaking as I type.  Can you get burned out on grilling too much, too early?? 

A loose recipe for this one.  It's not difficult if you've got the ingredients and some simple techniques down.  A very good chef, entertaining blogger and advocate for cooking without relying on reading recipes line by line is Michael Ruhlman, who decided techniques are so important to the home cook he penned a book on the subject.  You can use a different cheese, you don't have to add bacon, although it is one of the most delicious foods on earth.  Feel free to mix in another veggie, use chicken stock vs. milk to build your roux, hell use cream if you really want to blow it out.  Blanching veggies without turning them into mush and taking just a few ingredients and turning a roux into a bechemel are simple but valuable techniques for the chef du maison. 

Cauliflower Gratin
about four servings

So here is (roughly) how it goes- cut half a head of cauliflower into small  ~1" florets.  Cook quickly in boiling salted water, a couple tree minutes until softened but still firm.  Blanch in an ice bath to stop the cooking process, then drain once cool and set aside.

In a small skillet, fry 4 pieces of your favorite bacon crisp, remove and crumble, set aside.  Remove all but 1 TB of bacon fat, add 1 TB of butter and let melt.  To begin your roux, add 2 TB of flour and whisk constantly for about three or four minutes, until you develop a nice light golden medium roux.  If it looks too dry, add a touch of butter as needed.  Add in 1 C of warmed (steeped with 3 split garlic cloves optional) whole milk, whisk for a couple minutes, then stir occasionally until thickened, couple three or five minutes more.  Season with a pinch of S&P, remove from heat and add 1/2 C of shredded Gruyere while stirring to melt the cheese.   

You certainly don't need to have little individual cast-iron dishes or ramekins, you can use a shallow glass baking dish...but they are pretty sweet, I would tell Santa about it if I was you.

Add a bit of the roux to the bottom of your dish, then the cauliflower.  More of the roux is next, distributing evenly so the cauliflower is about 2/3 covered.  Sprinkle with a bit more shredded Gruyere, then the crumbled bacon and breadcrumbs.  Broil on high for 5-6 minutes, top with thinly sliced green onion.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Classic Bolognese Sauce

Friday evening.  My favorite time of the week.  Gots the whole weekend ahead of me.  Cocktail time Friday night.  Saturday is for chores and then a social gathering or a table for two.  The best part is bookending my weekend- a solid few hours carved out on Sunday for some much needed kitchen time.  If you love to cook, then naturally you want to do it as much as possible, and after a few days of not doing so I become clearly irritated and impatient with my state of being.  Kitchen time is a pain in the ass for some, it's healing for others like myself.  Some like to paint to soothe the self, others like to garden, certain individuals like to run, and a few like to chop onions.  There are not many greater pleasures in life than spending a few hours creating a delicious homemade meal.

The all-day cooking Sundays might be for making stocks, involve braising meats for hours, grill-smoking baby back ribs, roasting a brined chicken, or making a slowly cooked tomato sauce.  Last Sunday was spent building a classic bolognese.  The final result was amazing due to the long simmer of simple ingredients- ground meat from a few different animals, milk and wine, the acidic touch of tomato and simple seasoning with S&P.  These flavors meld beautifully during the cooking process creating an awesome sauce ready for a myriad of uses.  To enjoy immediately, make according to the directions below and add 1 lb cooked linguine and 1/2 C of the pasta cooking water, a couple TBs of butter to enhance the silky sauce, mix that all up and serve with freshly grated Parmesan.  Or, let cool and keep in ziplock bags, 2 days in the fridge or up to a few months in the freeze.   Want to do both? Double the recipe and increase the evaporation time for the milk and wine to about 25-30 minutes, and simmer the sauce for 4 hrs.

Besides linguine with this classic bolognese sauce, you could layer turn it into a delicious lasagna, as pictured below with some fresh baby spinach.  I'm pretty sure any other pasta would also love to be smothered in this yummy meat sauce.  It's so good you could also just eat it by the spoonful.

Classic Bolognese Sauce
4 servings

2 TB unsalted butter
1/2 medium onion, finely diced (bout 3 TB)
1 small carrot, finely diced (bout 2 TB)
1 small celery stalk, finely diced (bout 2 TB)
1/2 ts kosher
1/4 ts freshly cracked black pepper
4 oz ground beef, 80% lean
4 oz ground pork
4 oz ground veal
1 C whole milk
1 C dry white wine
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, chopped fine with juice reserved

Fire up your dutch oven (large ceramic pot) over medium heat and melt the butter and oil mixture.  Throw in the veg and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Season with S&P, then add the meat and brown while stirring and breaking up mixture, for 3-4 minutes until cooked through.

Stir in the milk, adjust heat to a simmer and cook until the milk liquid has evaporated and only fats remain, about 15 minutes.  Add the wine and again cook off the liquid, about 12 minutes.  Have the tomatoes and juice then join the party at low heat, keep to a gentle simmer with just a bubble or three breaking the surface.  Cook for 3 hours, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Season to taste with S&P. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Banana Pecan Muffins

It's springtime, if you think in the meteorological sense, as March is 1/3 of spring.  I listened to a Cubs spring game on the 720AM yesterday during the commute from work.  It was quite refreshing to hear the boys of summer getting loosened up and warm in delicious sunshine and eighties, even if they gave up a 6 run lead to lose 8-7.  That's the cactus league, much different than when they return to Wrigley in April, where temps might be half of what they are currently basking in.  I can honestly say one of the coldest places on earth is a seat at Wrigley up in the second deck, a night game within the first few weeks of the new season.  First pitch temp might not be too bad before sunset; gentle winds blowing out over the fence, pretty comfortable and friendly confines.  Then the wind turns off the lake, the sun goes down, and you just hope the Cubs have put enough runs on the board at that point while you turn into a popsicle.  They're not known for manufacturing runs, and without their wind-aided pop-ups that float into the bleachers, you might be in for a winless and chilly night.  My rule of thumb is if it's before July, bring a jacket, perhaps a hat, and at least one glove.  These days however, I only go when I don't have to buy a ticket.
I've been eating these muffins for months, and asking for the recipe for just as long.  These are really good banana nut muffins.  A quick batch is delicious for breakfast or as a mid-morning snack, warmed up and/or with a dab of butter is optional.  If you have a few naners that are headed south, let them go until nicely overripe and dark, you can stash them in the freezer at this point or mash them up with some pantry staples and bake into shapes easy for consumption.  Bananas are yummy.  Bananas with peanut butter are yummier.  I think these banana pecan muffins are yummiest.  I dislike eating in the car, but these are great on the run with a hot beverage. 

Banana Pecan Muffins
14-16 muffins

2 C AP flour
1.5 ts baking soda
3/4 ts kosher salt
4 very overripe bananas, peeled
1 C light brown sugar, packed of course
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 ts vanilla extract, homemade extra points
1/2 C finely chopped pecans, toasted quickly in a dry, hot skillet

Fire up the oven to three seven five on the Fahrenheit scale.

Roughly mash up the naners in a bowl with a fork, set aside.  In another bowl mix the dry goods- flour, salt, and baking powder, set aside.  In the bowl of your stand mixer, (or mixing bowl) add the sugar and mashed banana, beat with the whisk for a couple minutes on medium.  Add the melted butter, then one egg at a time, lastly the vanilla extract.  Scrape down the bowl with a spatula, then whisk again quick to get it all in there evenly.  Add in the dry goods until just incorporated- do not over mix.  Fold in the nuts with the spatula.

Spray a 12 muffin pan with oil or line with cups- I like the latter for easy transport.  Fill about halfway, baking time will be about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove and let cool on a rack for ten minutes or so.  Depending on how much you fill your tins, you might have some batter leftover for a second batch of 4-5 muffins. 

These will last for a few days at room temp in a container or wrap, enjoy warmed up or at room temp.