Monday, December 7, 2009

The Old-School Pot Roast

I got a Facebook message asking for my recipe for Crock Pot Pot Roast, which is rather odd because I don't own a crock pot and never have. I do make a killer pot roast, however, and I'm sure it could be adapted to the slow cooker.

Here's my message to the Facebook friend:

I don't see that cookbook anywhere--methinks it didn't make the trip with me. But here's what I did, and I don't have a crock pot:

Chop about two medium onions, a few carrots, a clove or two of garlic--and hold onto the potatoes (as many as you would like) for later. Season the roast (chuck), pat with flour, and brown on all sides in a hot dutch oven or cast iron fryingpan with about a tablespoon of oil in it. This is the pan I cooked the pot roast in. When roast is brown remove from the pan and soften the onions and carrots in it, adding the garlic for about one min at the end. Put the roast on top of this. (If using a crock pot, put onions and carrots in at this point and put the roast on top, leaving some of the onion mixture to put around and on top of the roast. Add a bay leaf and any other herb you like.)

Here is the trick: Now add one cup of tomato juice. You may add just a little more, but don't forget the meat will render a lot of its own liquid and you don't want too much. I cover the dutch oven with its lid and put in the oven at 275 or 300 for THREE HOURS. I would think the same thing would work with a crock pot.

The recipe can be made with red wine, which also tenderizes the meat and adds flavor--but it's different.

Easy to do and a wonderful winter treat.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cooking Basics: The Ultimate Custard

When I was a bride, back when the earth was still cooling, I took it upon myself to learn the basics of cooking. This was before Julia Child had her PBS series, so it was up to me to find books and magazines with instructions I could follow.

One of the first things I learned to make was superb egg custard, which can easily be the filling for an old-fashioned custard pie or the basis for a crême caramel. I have made many of both over my lifetime of cooking.

For a beginning cook the techniques used in making custard will get you through many more complicated dishes. Custard couldn't be easier or more satisfying, so let me walk you through the steps.

You'll bake the mixture in a water bath (called a bain marie in French and in serious cooking circles, but let's stick to American English here). What it is is a pan of hot water into which your baking dish is placed to keep the delicate eggy mixture from getting too much heat at once, causing it to curdle.

The basic recipe is 1 1/2 Cups whole milk, 1/2 C half and half. Scald the milk--that is, heat it until tiny bubbles form around the edge--but do not allow to boil. This may sound rich, but you will truly have an elegant custard if you use whole milk. You can skip the half-and-half if you have cholesterol issues, and just use two cups of milk, but the outcome will be better if you do use a little cream. If you use two cups of half-and-half you just may die of the ecstasy.

In the meantime combine 1 whole egg and two egg yolks--save the whites for adding to omelets--with 1/3 C sugar. Add about 1/2 tsp vanilla and a dash of salt. Cool the milk slightly and add a splash to the egg mixture to combine. Then slowly mix in the rest.

This goes into custard cups or into a small casserole like those ubiquitous Corningware things with a stylized blue flower on it that all of us 1950's housewives have lurking in our pantries. Put in the water-bath and bake at 325 for about 45 mins, testing by inserting a knife into the center. If the knife comes out clean, the custard is done.

Of course the most delicious thing to make with this recipe is creme caramel, which is also easy but requires one more step. The custard is the same, but caramel is made by slowly browning about one cup of sugar and pouring it into the chosen vessel(s) for the custard while still hot. If using individual custard cups, just pour about a tablespoon in the bottom and swirl it to cover the bottom. If you're using a big pan pour the caramel into the bottom of the pan. The custard will dissolve it somewhat and when you invert the pan(s) it forms a sauce coating the little custard. You really can't invert them until the custards are chilled a while. To get them out, gently run a knife around the edge of the cup first to loosen. You probably won't need to do this with caramel custards; you have a built-in sauce.

You have to pay close attention when you're browning sugar. It's exciting to make, but if you overcook it it burns and is useless. Just watch it go from tan to brown and then remove immediately from the heat.

You'll look like an expert cook, and you will have mastered some of the important techniques any cook should know. I can promise you'll be proud of the result. Please comment here if you have any problems--or especially if you have success!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cooking in Hoboken

October 1, 2009

If you check out this blog for specific posts you'll notice that I've blogged very little since moving to Hoboken almost two years ago. I love cooking, eating, and writing about food, but in Hoboken until two weeks ago, I didn't really have a place that inspired me to cook. That has changed.This is just a little corner of my new kitchen, and it seems I can think of nothing but cooking. There is a whiff of fall in the air and I'd love nothing more than to bake an apple pie.

You'll see I took a cue from the Home and Garden cable network by putting my cookbooks on top of my cabinets. This is going to require getting a nice little step stool to reach them, but I'm game for that. Until I get the step stool home, I have a ladder. And as a matter of fact, I can cook pretty well without the cookbooks.

It crossed my mind that I have no buddies in Hoboken who are avid cooks. They are all good cooks, but they don't get excited sharing recipes and techniques. I know such foodies are out there in Hoboken--because it's a food town if there ever was one--but there are such great restaurants that the enthusiastic home cooks are under the radar. Maybe this blog post will bring out a few and we can talk FOOD. I hope so.

I had lunch at Biggie's Clam House yesterday with a couple of Hoboken b 'n' r's, (that means, "born and raised in Hoboken" to you who are not in the know). We saw a nice older man--meaning older than us, which is indeed pretty old--eating something like greens out of a bowl. Carolyn's husband Rich said, "That man over there is eating something you'd love," to his wife. When Brother, the son of Biggie, and now the heir apparent to the title of "Biggie," came by our table, we asked what the man was eating. "Brocolli rabe," he said. "We make it with sausage."

I sighed that I had done the predictable thing and ordered fried clams. (I must say the others at the table had done the more Hoboken thing and ordered "Italian hot dogs," which are sausage sandwiches with onions and peppers and a sausage-and-pepper sandwich, which is just a little different.

Today I had a phone call from Connie, who was one who had ordered a hot dog yesterday. I told her I was going to try the brocolli rabe the next time. I have never been a fan of brocolli rabe--I find it bitter--and Connie said, "I always add fresh lemon juice. If you don't do that it will be bitter."

This triggered a long conversation about how Italians cook vegetables, the dependency on fresh lemon juice for vegetables (I have to have lemon juice on my spinach), and other food notes. She said she adds olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice to everything from cauliflower to escarole. I realized I had been missing this offhand swapping of recipes and kitchen ideas.

I'm looking to meet others who love to talk about food and cooking. If you live in Hoboken and have ideas on the subject, get in touch with me. I'll cook up a little something for us someday soon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Red, White and Blue Food

July 2, 2009

July 4th requires that we come up with something patriotic to eat. Obvious choices are watermelon and fresh corn on the cob, but last year I added a salad that just about made me burst into a few choruses of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

It's easy to make and very festive for any day of the year, but most appropriate for Independence Day.

Take your usual salad greens and my usual vinaigrette--about two parts olive oil to one part of white wine vinegar, stirred into a slap of Dijon mustard with just a dash of honey and salt to taste. (Actually, as I've directed here before, I put the mustard in the bowl first, cover it with Kosher salt, and then whip in the honey followed by the vinegar.) Some fresh lemon, lime, or orange juice can be added at this point, if desired. A slow drizzle of olive oil, whisking all the time, makes the dressing just as you like it.

Add the following ingredients to the greens: Blueberries, strawberries, and maybe a few Craisins. Toss with the vinaigrette and add a dash of Kosher salt over all.

The obvious place to go with red, white and blue food is to dessert. I like to mix a little low-calorie sweetener to yogurt (the one place it cannot be detected) and add a drop of vanilla and a drop of orange extract. This makes a delicious base for your blueberries and strawberries. Of course you can use raspberries and some dried cranberries as well. If you absolutely want something besides yogurt for the holiday, go ahead and use a premium vanilla ice cream (or make some yourself).

Have a safe and glorious 4th!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back To Baking: Oatmeal Quick Bread

March 15, 2009

Since living alone in a new location, I pretty much stopped my practice of baking. If you read much of this blog, you'll have noticed a recurring theme of dieting and worrying about my middle-age weight gain. Removed from family and old friends with whom I could always share baked goods, I refrain from baking on a whim for fear I'll eat it all myself and regret it later. I call the condition "eater's remorse," and it's a terrible feeling.

A few weeks ago, I noticed Irish Soda Bread at the local A & P. I just couldn't resist, and the product was tasty, so I boought another when the loaves were marked down to $1.99. I loved the bread, but was all too aware that they were made with white flour and more sugar than should be in the authentic version.

So I broke down and bought myself some buttermilk, whole wheat flour and unbleached white. I had some raisins, so I went to my own recipe on this blog, and made a batch of the genuine article. In two days the loaf was gone and I was yearning to bake something else, to use up some of the flour and buttermilk. The obvious course would be to make pancakes or biscuits, both of which would use the ingredients. Again, I could bake lots of fattening and delicious things, but to justify baking just for myself I decided to use some of the other leftovers in my pantry in something that would be nutritious as well as creative and tasty.

What I came up with, having about a cup of steel-cut oatmeal on the shelves, was an oatmeal quick bread. I also had a softening banana (and I don't like overripe bananas except in breads), so I put together my own recipe. I had to climb on a ladder to find my old loaf pan, which had been waiting patiently in a box of kitchen miscellanea I had stored away for the future. (The future has arrived!)

I checked The Joy of Cooking which advised that I pour boiling water over the oatmeal and let it steep for ten minutes. For quick-cooking oatmeal, you could skip this step.

Oatmeal Banana Quick Bread

1 Cup Steel-Cut Oats
1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 Cup Unbleached White Flour
2 teaspooons Baking Powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 banana, mashed
1/2 to 3/4 Cup Buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit (I used dried cranberries), if desired
1/2 cup chopped nuts if desired (I desired, but didn't have any on hand)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak the oats in 2 cups boiling water for ten minutes. Prepare the loaf pan by greasing and putting a greased and floured sheet of parchment paper on the bottom for easy removal.

Mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt together with a whisk. Drain the oats but keep wet; add to dry mixture. Add buttermilk to make a stiff batter. Mix in the mashed banana and any of the optional choices.

Bake for one hour. Let it cool slightly before removing from the pan. I just had my first slice, and it's excellent with a little butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. Of course, if you want to avoid eater's remorse, you could eat it plain.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


What a great name for a cookie--almost as much fun to say as it is to eat 'em.

A few months ago I sent this recipe to my friend Nan who has a blog describing her idyllic life on a farm in Vermont (luckily she loves cold weather!) I just heard from her that she tried the Snickerdoodles and loves them!

Here's how to do it:

1 stick butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs 1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk 3 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon mixed with 3 tablespoon sugar

Beat the butter with 1 1/2 cups of sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated. Add milk and stir. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, cream of tartar, salt and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar and stir thoroughly. Chill this dough for at least 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 350º. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into large, walnut-sized balls and dip tops into cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place galls about 3 inches apart on baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. Cookies will appear undercooked when removed form the oven; the centers will be very moist and light. As they cool, the cookies will firm up and be delicious.

I realized when I sent Nan the recipe that she might not have cream of tartar, and suggested that she just increas the baking soda to 2 teaspoons. (One of its principle ingredients is cream of tartar; this is an old recipe when the cook sometimes made her own baking powder, half baking soda, half cream of tartar. Actually I got the recipe from the wonderful Christopher Kimball's Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook.)

Have a cookie and a glass of milk!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Most Wicked Chocolate Dessert

January 6, 2008

I had a few friends in for dessert today after a lunch at a restaurant. I decided to make one of those molten-chocolate cakes, and it was superb.

Here's how I did it:

I melted one Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate bar (4 oz.) with one stick of unsalted butter. While it was melting I buttered and floured four ramekins (custard cups would do) and I separated two eggs and mixed the yolks with 2 whole eggs, beating well. I added 1/4 cup of sugar to the eggs. Then I let the melted chocolate mixture cool slightly and added a dollop into the beaten eggs, beating hard to temper the eggs. Then I slowly added the rest of the chocolate, beating all the while. I added a pinch of salt, two teaspoons of flour, and about a half teaspoon of vanilla, mixing well.

I divided the mixture equally among the ramekins.

I met my friends at the restaurant, leaving the ramekins to set on the the kitchen counter until we go there. I could have chilled the mixture and left it for some time, bringing it to room temperature before baking, or I could have baked it right then if they were there and ready to eat. Since we were going to be a couple of hours, I decided just to leave them out.

When we got in, I preheated the oven to 450° and baked the puddings for about 7 minutes. This is the only tricky part: Too long and they'll just be cakes, and not long enough and they'll just be soup. Ideally they should be cakes with a soupy middle. I let them cool about 3 minutes and turned them out into dessert bowls, topping with about a teaspoon of vanilla ice cream. They weren't quite cakey enough, but nobody complained. We ate the pudding-cakes with spoons and there wasn't any left. They were as divinely chocolate as we could have hoped for.