Monday, January 25, 2021

Quarantine Kitchen: Cottage Pie


That old Mamas and the Papas tune It Never Rains In Southern California wasn't true today.  We are in for about a week of rain and weather here, and this morning, I woke up to this spectacular double rainbow.  Unfortunately, the pot of gold has remained elusive.  
Last night after two days of prep, I served a cottage pie for dinner.  Cottage pie is a beef stew,  made with ground meat, but I prefer chunks of beef.  The entire dish is covered with mashed potatoes---it's hearty and savory, and delicious.  Now, this isn't a difficult meal to make, it's just that I think it's better when you let the flavors in the stew sit overnight before you serve it, that gives you time to make everything ahead of time, then you just pop this delicious creation into the oven and wait for the accolades.  This dish is the one our future daughter-in-law requested for her birthday dinner.  Shepherd's pie is made with lamb, which is also delicious, so you can decide which one you prefer.  I've also made chicken pot pie and covered that with mashed potatoes---it's just as delicious as you can imagine! 
A few things before I get started, I use Better than Bouillon beef base for this dish, and I don't follow their directions for reconstituting it, giving the stew a richer flavor.  I use Yukon Gold potatoes, but you can use any low starch potato, like a white creamer, or red bliss, I find that Russett baking potatoes give you a softer mashed potato that can sink into the stew.  I don't put green vegetables into the stew, after a long simmer, they become a very unattractive khaki green, rather have them brilliant and green on the side.  I also like to make the stew in the slow cooker since I don't have to tend it all day long, but it's easy enough to make in a Dutch oven.  

Cottage Pie 
Serves 6 to 8

For the Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
heavy cream or milk or sour cream

Put the potatoes into water to cover, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes, or until tender.  
Drain thoroughly, and mash with 4 tablespoons of butter, season with salt and pepper.  You want a really stiff mash here, if your potatoes are really stiff add a few tablespoons of heavy cream, milk or sour cream to the mash.  

Spread the mash about 1/2-inch thick onto a Silpat on a baking sheet.  Cool, cover, and refrigerate to firm up the potatoes.  

For the Stew
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
3 pounds beef stew meat, fat trimmed
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 medium carrots, scraped and cut into large dice
3 ribs celery, cut into large dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup Better Than Bouillon Beef base
3 cups water
3 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, either cut from the cob or frozen and defrosted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter mixed with 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small bits

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil, liberally season the beef with salt and pepper, and brown the meat on all sides.  
Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and sage, and saute until the onion is softened 
Add the tomato paste, and beef base, and simmer for 2 minutes.
Add the water, Worcestershire and bay leaf, and stir to blend. 
Cover and simmer for 3 hours, or until the beef is tender.  Add the corn, and bring the sauce to a simmer, 
Whisk in the butter and flour mixture, bringing the sauce to a boil, until thickened.  

Season the sauce with salt and pepper if needed.  At this point, the stew can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.  
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with silicone or aluminum foil.  
Pour the stew into an ovenproof 13-by-9-inch baking dish.  

Using the Silpat, transfer the potatoes to the top of the stew.  Dot the top of the potatoes with the remaining butter, and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown.  

Allow the cottage pie to rest for 10 minutes before serving.  As I said in the intro, I serve peas or green beans on the side.  This is also delicious with a nice vinegary salad.  
Slow-Cooker Savvy: To make the stew in the slow cooker, saute all the ingredients before adding the tomato paste.  Transfer to the slow cooker, and add the remaining ingredients.  Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours.  To thicken, add the butter/flour mixture, and cook another hour on high.  
Variations:  If you would like to make this with lamb, it's delicious with ground lamb, as well as lamb shoulder.  I sometimes add grated sharp cheddar cheese to the potatoes, but the potatoes I made for our dinner were so good when I mashed them, I decided against it.  There have been times when I haven't had any tomato paste, and just gone ahead and made the dish without it.  It does add another depth of flavor, though, and I keep a tube of tomato paste in the fridge for times when I just need a bit.  On a separate note, one of my friends in the UK suggested adding a can of Heinz baked beans to the stew---this must be a secret ingredient that I haven't found in any recipes for cottage pie, but it would certainly be a surprise!

Today the wind off the ocean has gusted at up to 75mph, and it is downright cold for San Diego at 51 degrees.  As I write this I am thinking about what I can make to ward off the cold, and so far no great ideas, but hopefully, by dinnertime, I'll have it sorted.  We've been enduring this pandemic for so long, I pray each and every one of you is safe, well, and warm.  Dr. C. and I have both gotten our vaccinations; he's had his second shot, I'm due for mine in February.  Grateful for all the healthcare professionals who are helping to stem the tide of this pandemic.  Ciao for now.  

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Quarantine Baking: Marble Chocolate and Tres Leches Cake


There is so much sugar, flour, and butter flying around my kitchen it's hard to keep track of what I'm making at any given time.  So far I've made about 5 trays of toffee, and lots of cookies, I've got a panettone biga rising, and dried fruit stewing in Amaretto, and then I stumbled upon a recipe that I thought would be delicious, a chocolate, dulce de leche, vanilla loaf cake. The recipe came from a respected baker who has written award-winning cookbooks, and I followed the recipe, and it was a waste of the ingredients --- the cake was dry and had no flavor at all, and it was a loaf---who wants to eat a loaf?  Give me a bundt or layer cake anytime.  So I set about transforming this recipe, I wanted a  flavorful cake that was moist, and I got it.  It really doesn't need frosting, a dusting of powdered sugar will work, but a little more dulce de leche can't hurt.   

Chocolate Marble Dulce de Leche Cake

Makes one 9-inch bundt

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla paste or extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dulce de leche

Melt the chocolates in the microwave at 50% power, or on the stovetop over medium-low heat, and allow to cool.  
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and coat the inside of a bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, until they are combined.  Add the sour cream and vanilla, beating to combine.  (the mixture will look curdled)
Add the flour, baking soda, powder, and salt, and beat until smooth.  
Divide the mixture in half, and beat the chocolate into one half and the dulce de leche into the other.  
Spread the chocolate into the pan, top with the dulce de leche, and using an off-set spatula, draw the spatula through the batters to create a marble effect.  
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake, comes out clean.  
Let cool on a rack for exactly 10 minutes, then turn onto the rack to cool completely.   

A few notes:  
  • The Bundt pan I used is gorgeous when the cake is turned out, but difficult to cut into attractive slices.  
  • There is no vanilla marble component in this cake like the original because really, who needs vanilla when you've got chocolate and dulce de leche?  You could divide the batter into 3 equal parts, and then have chocolate, vanilla and dulce de leche.  
  • The basis for this cake came from a cake in the book Baking for Friends which is a terrific cookbook.  
  • Remember when you spread the first layer into the pan, that will be the layer that you will see when you turn out the cake---you can reverse the chocolate and dulce de leche if you would like.  
  • This cake will freeze beautifully for about 6 weeks.  

Chocolate layer going in---I have to be honest, I just eyeballed the amount

                                                                     Dulce de leche

You can just see the marbling down the center

As I said at the beginning, this really doesn't need a frosting, but a drizzle of dulce de leche over the bundt would give it a lovely look.  I hope that you are all enjoying some holiday cheer (read that strong cocktails) as we wait out this virus and its devastation.  We are just grateful to be safe and well, and wish you a holiday season filled with comfort, joy, and good health.  Buon Natale!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Autumn in San Diego, Time for Pork Braised with Apples and Cider

 70 degrees feels like fall here in San Diego after the very hot, humid weather we have been experiencing into October.  I never thought I'd get tired of wearing sandals and tank tops, but I've been jealous of my friends on the East Coast in their new sweaters, and boots.  One of my favorite dishes in cool weather is one we had in Normandy, France, pork braised with apples and cider.  I usually serve this over buttered noodles, but you could serve it over mashed potatoes, or polenta.  It's a great slow cooker recipe, but you can also make it on the stovetop in a Dutch oven.  

Pork Braised with Apples and Cider
Serves 6

1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Six one-inch-thick loin pork chops (bone-in or boneless---the bones fall off in cooking)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 Honey Crisp apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2 beef bouillon cubes, or 2 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon beef base
1/3 cup heavy cream (this is optional, but really rounds out the flavor)
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
salt and pepper
1 pound wide egg noodles, cooked al dente for serving

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the mustard and sugar.  Spread it onto the pork chops, this is a messy business, but it works. 
  2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven, and brown the pork chops on both sides.  Remove the pork chops to a plate, and add the onion, thyme and apples to the pot.  Saute until the onions are translucent.
  3. Add the apple cider and bouillon cubes.  
  4. Return the pork to the pan, cover, and cook over medium-low heat (at a simmer) for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the pork is tender.  
  5. Add the cream and the cornstarch mixture.  Bring to a boil, and taste for seasoning.  
  6. Serve the pork over buttered noodles, mashed potatoes or polenta.  
Slow-Cooker Savvy: 
Saute through step 3, then transfer to the slow cooker insert.  Cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 8 hours.  Add the cream and cornstarch, cook on high for 30 minutes, on low for 1 hour, till thickened.  

Brown the pork chops

Saute onions

Saute apples and thyme
Add the cider, bouillon, and pork to the pot

Add the cream and cornstarch

I served this with sauteed spinach

So I still have no idea what day it is, but I do know that crisp fall days are a welcome relief after hot and humid weeks.  I'm wearing a sweater today, which feels cozy, and the daytime temperature will probably be 70, but it feels like fall!  

I've finally gotten out into the garden to whack away some of the milkweed which feeds the monarch butterflies.  We are hoping they are on their way to Mexico, and we'll see them back here in the spring. 
The wildfire season has been devastating combined with the pandemic, right now we are praying for our friends in Orange County evacuating from the fires that exploded yesterday. 
Stay safe and stay well.  

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Cornmeal Biscotti, Quarantine Kitchen

 So, I still don't know what day it is, but I do know that I went to Trader Joes' the other day and picked up a small packet of cornmeal biscotti.  Now, I know, I should make these myself, but I really wanted to see what they tasted like and whether I would even like them.  They were your standard hard-as-a-rock biscotti, with a little bit of a sandy cornmeal texture, and not many identifiable nuts.  But, it got me thinking that for what I paid for these 12 biscotti I could be manufacturing 100's of them them in my own kitchen.  
Today was another hot day here in San Diego, so weird for October.  
Normally we see the ocean and the freeway here, but tonight we are fogged in

I'd made a batch of Marcella Hazan's broccoli potato soup for dinner but really wanted to try to make some biscotti, my way.  I trolled the internet for some ideas, and this recipe is a winner, thanks to David Leibovich and his wonderful blog.  I did adapt it a bit since I like a more buttery taste, and I used my favorite nuts, pistachios.  I think these would be great with an addition of dried cherries, or cranberries for the holidays, and pecans would be a nice sub for the pistachios.  

Quarantine Cornmeal Biscotti
Makes about 40

5 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon paste (or 1 teaspoon lemon extract) 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped salted pistachios

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with silicone or parchment paper. 
In a bowl, combine the butter, sugar salt, and eggs, until combined. Add the extract and lemon paste.  
Add the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and pistachios.  
Shape the dough into two logs about 13-inches long.  (they will expand in the oven)

They don't look like much, but they expand in the oven
Bake for 20 minutes until set.  
Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees, and allow the logs to rest for 20 minutes.  

Cut the logs into 1/2-inch cookies, and arrange on the baking sheet --- I like to follow my friend Lora Brody's way of doing this and standing them upright.  Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.  
The biscotti will keep in an airtight container for 2 weeks, or you can freeze them for up to 2 months.  

So, a few notes here, if you wish to add dried fruit, about 1/2 cup will work well.  A drizzle of bittersweet chocolate would also be spectacular on these once they are cooled.  I've been using salted butter for cookies lately, and the difference is really interesting---deeper flavor for chocolate chip cookies, and vanilla cookies.  These also benefitted from the salted butter.  If you only have unsalted butter, use 1/2 teaspoon salt, rather than the 1/4 teaspoon.  
What is Lemon Paste, you ask?  

Neilson and Massey who make my favorite vanilla paste, have come out with a lemon paste, a combo of zest and extract---use it as you would extract, you'll get a nice punch of flavor.  I have used this in cakes, and these cookies, and am sold!  
So, we are into October, and Dr. C. and I have canceled our trip to Maui at Thanksgiving---I'm not whining, we are just sad for our country and the number of people who are sick and have died. Please wear your mask, stay safe, stay well and VOTE.   

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Quarantine Wonton Soup, Still Don't Know What Day It Is


Several weeks ago, the website Eater wrote about a company delivering freshly made Chinese dumplings to your door.  It didn't take me long to order a variety of gyoza, and wontons.  
The pork gyoza were delicious, we ate them too fast for me to photograph---let me stop here and say, I salute all the bloggers out there, who can style their dishes, and take the perfect photo before digging into the dish they've been craving all day---I'm not there.  Half the time, the dish is 1/2 eaten, and we try to mash it back together again.
Anyway, when looking into the refrigerator last night I saw I had some forgotten baby bok choy, and the remains of a Costco chicken, so I decided to make wonton soup for lunch, using the Hong Kong-style shrimp and pork wontons that we had ordered. The result was awesome, so I thought I'd share it. Above are the frozen Hong Kong wontons---Hong Kong-style are made with an egg noodle, a little richer than the plain wontons made with flour and water.

Quarantine Wonton Soup

Serves 6
6 wontons per person---this is a guesstimate
1 tablespoon sesame oil--plus more for garnish if desired
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 baby bok choy, thinly sliced
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked shredded or chopped chicken (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil, and keep on a simmer. 
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat, add the garlic, ginger, and bok choy and saute till the bok choy is wilted.  

Add the chicken broth, chicken (if using), and soy sauce.  

Simmer for 15 minutes.  
Cook the (frozen) wontons in the salted water for 4 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, arrange 6 wontons in each soup bowl, and ladle in the soup.  Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil if desired.   

So the verdict: a winner!  I will order these little guys again---we still have a couple of bags (they come with about 30 in each bag) and the flavors are fresh and delicious.  If you are in LA or San Diego in their delivery zone, this is a great option.  
I usually don't cook Asian or Mexican because there are so many great Asian and Mexican options here, but since we aren't eating out yet, I can certainly fill in with these guys delivering to my front door.  
Stay safe, stay well, and wear a mask.