Friday, June 4, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (and the recipes!)

This week has had it's share if successes and failures in both the culinary and parenting department. Let's start with the bad stuff, as it is typically more fun... It was just not meant to be this week in the bread department (Monday's spectacular coconut waffles aside). Monday evening's dinner rolls, for instance, had me looking like Lucy Ricardo holding her 10 lb loaf. At some point I became distracted (I have no idea how) and let my dough balls over-rise, which then forged into one large mass, ruining the pull apart effect. They were also slightly lacking in flavor, so I am especially glad to have made my über-apple butter to perk them up. There was, however, simply no rescue for Wednesday morning's yeasted biscuits- they were horrible. This is coming from a woman who is known for her best-ever biscuits. The ones that I traditionally make do not require time to rise, and therefore can boast a 15 minute start to finish cook time-frame (and by 15 minutes, I mean from the time I decide to make some biscuits till the time the kitchen is all back in order and I'm serving them up on a plate). So it was a double affront then, that I woke up 45 minutes earlier than necessary, just to have biscuits that were not worth waking up for at all. The addition of yeast, I thought, would make my already superb biscuits just that much more, but some classics just can not be improved upon. They did not appear any more elevated than my usual light and fluffy fare, were more dense, and they tasted like sourdough. Not quite the buttery goodness I had in mind.

Both my butter lettuce salad with pecans, blue cheese, and pears, and my sweet potato pecan waffles went so far south they disappeared from the map (as in I didn't even bother making them), and for the same reason. Nuts. I forgot to pick up more pecans at the market, and all of my varieties got used up in the sesame orange granola (which was fabulous, but we'll get to that in a moment).

The biggest failure of the week was a personal one. Our much anticipated picnic and trip to the zoo was cancelled due to an ill timed temper tantrum, and it was mine. Somewhere during the 10 meter dash that was Thursday morning, Isabella somehow sneaked away with a few pieces breakable kitchenware (i.e., not stuff she's allowed to play with). I then, of course, heard the ensuing shatter when they fell to pieces in the hallway. I was so momentarily vexed that somehow, instead of being the bigger person, ahem, the parent, I grabbed the remaining bowl from her hand and threw it down onto the tile floor myself, for good measure. I am not proud of this. In fact I'm embarrassed by it. But, mothers are people too, and we make mistakes. Fortunately, this is not a habit of mine, and my children know this, which is why, after some shared tears, all was forgiven, and we made amends along with our thumbprint cookies.

Now the good stuff.
Being a "granola mom" is something I take quite literally... I love the stuff. Homemade granola is one of the best tasting, quickest, and healthiest things you can grab in the morning, which is less than I can say for it's store bought counterparts that have all the mouthfeel of sawdust. There have been improvements made in recent years, but the cost of procuring decent store bought granola is absurd- about the same cost as filet minion pound for pound. The good news is that is it a cinch to make and can easily be tailored to personal preference with different types of nuts, seeds, extracts, and dried fruits. The secret to truly addictive granola is shredded coconut (a must in any recipe). The batch I made Tuesday was a revelation- bursting citrus with crunchy maple coated nuts and chewy, sweet dates and dried apples.

Next up on the list was Wednesday evenings southern smothered chicken (pictured) which was comfort food at it's best, with juicy, falling off the bone chicken with creamy pan sauce and bits of spice.

Friday nights dinner was deserving of a star michelin rating in comparison with last Friday's most unsavory (and inedible) shrimp. While my plan had been to bake by gorgeous $28.00 a pound salmon and julienned carrots, zucchini, and leeks in parchment, that got amended when I discovered I had only 3 inches left on the roll! So instead I placed it all in a baking dish with some chopped shallots, garlic, parsley, and tomatoes, gave it a splash of olive oil, white table wine, and lemon juice, a sprinkle of S&P, put it in a 375 degree oven, and voila, 15 minutes later an elegant and remarkably healthy meal. The apple and raisin bread pudding was the crowning glory of the week in every respect. It was creamy and velvety inside, with a crisp and slightly chewy crust- everything bread pudding should be but rarely is. The orange butterscotch sauce was good, not great, due to the lack of Grand Marnier that apparently got polished off at some point without being replaced (thanks, honey). I instead used brandy and extra zest, which made for a descent stand in. To those of you who do not consider yourself fond of bread pudding, please try this recipe. I promise it will make you a hands down convert!

Here are the top recipes of the week... happy eating everyone!

Über-Apple Butter

3 lbs McIntosh apples
3 cups natural apple cider
1/4 cup honey (preferably orange blossom)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves

bring the apples and cider to a boil over med-high heat and reduce to med-low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes
stir in all other ingredients and cook until broken down into a very thick sauce, 45 minutes to an hour
cool slightly and puree in a food processor or blender
if the mixture it watery, return to heat and simmer until thickened
+can be kept in the fridge for about 2 months

Have It Your Way Granola

4 cups of old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut
2 cups of assorted unsalted nuts and/or seeds (sliced almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.)
flavorings such as cinnamon, vanilla extract, orange zest
1/3 cup of maple syrup
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup canola oil
scant 1 cup of dried fruits (raisins, apricots, cherries, cranberries, dates, pineapple, etc.)

mix it all up (except the dried fruits), put on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes
cool and toss with dried fruits
+can store in airtight container in the pantry for about a week or in the fridge for about 2 weeks

Southern Smothered Chicken and Rice

5 TBS canola or vegetable oil
one chicken, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed (2 bone in breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings)
S&P (salt and pepper)
1/2 cup flour
8 oz ground chicken or turkey (preferably ground thighs)
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and medium diced
1 tomato, seeded and medium diced
chopped parsley for garnish

season the chicken generously with S&P and and coat the chicken in flour (save remaining flour)
heat oil in a large skillet over med-high heat until very hot and cook the chicken in batches until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes and transfer to a plate
add the ground chicken/turkey to the pan and cook, beaking up into little pieces, until browned and transfe to plate with the chicken
add the onion, celery, and bell pepper to the pan and cook stirring often till soft and browned, about 8 minutes
sprinkle on the remaining flour and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly
whisk in broth, return the meats to the pan, and bring to a boil
reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes and then sprinkle the tomato on top
serve atop white rice* and sprinkle with parsley

*25 minutes before the dish is done, make the rice. Put 2 cups water, one cup rice, and 1 TBS of butter in a saucepan, bring to boil, stir, reduce heat to low and cover, cook for 20 minutes.

Apple and Raisin Bread Pudding with Orange Butterscotch Sauce

2 TBS unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup brown sugar (for divided use)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
8 cups (1 inch cubes) challah bread
1/2 cup golden raisins

heat the butter in a large saucepan over med-high heat and add apples, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown (about 5 minutes) gradually add 1/4 cup of brown sugar and stir until the apples are coated with the melted sugar (about 1 minute) set aside
whisk all the other ingredients (except the bread and raisins) in a large bowl, add the bread and raisins and stir to coat. let set for about 15 minutes
butter and 8x8 square pan, place half the bread mixture in the pan, then the apple mixture, then the remaining bread mixture (pour any remaining liquid on top as well)
bake at 350 for about an hour to and hour and 10 minutes (depending on how gooey you like it)
serve with orange butterscotch sauce

Orange Butterscotch Sauce

3 TBS unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 2 TBS packed brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 TBS Grand Marnier (orange flavored liqueur)
1/4 cup plus 2 TBS heavy cream
the zest and juice of one large orange

melt the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over med heat, stirring often
stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil
cook until sauce is thickened and reduced to about 1 cup

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