Wednesday, September 21, 2011


This is just a "hey, guess what!" post. I moved! I haven't had internet for a really long time! And I had packed my camera away, and had no way to cook! So I had no blog posts!

But I'm back. My kitchen these days is smaller than the one I had before, but so much cuter (built in 1949, how could it NOT be cute?!). We've been remodeling the kitchen for the past few weeks and it should be finished by mid-October (all we have left to finish are laying the tiles and putting in the trimwork, yay!).

Here's what you can expect in the upcoming blogs!
Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle
Pumpkin Pasties (modeled after "Harry Potter", in honor of Halloween)
Treacle Tart (see previous)
Homemade Pizza
Spinach & Artichoke Dip
...And a whole lot more!

Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Epic Fail #1 - Apple Torte with Breadcrumb Hazelnut Crust

The first epic fail in our series will be the Apple Torte with Breadcrumb Hazelnut Crust. This was in the October 2010 edition of Bon Apetit, which featured several Italian recipes by Lidia Bastianich. I tried several with wonderful success; the last one was the definition of failure.

I'm sure this was user error, because really, how can you fail with a recipe from Lidia? I managed it, with varying degrees of hilarity as my father-in-law and husband watched me get redder and redder in the face, finally letting out a string of mild profanity (I'm allowed - the kids were in bed). They were nearly in tears from laughter by the end of the night, which culminated in my taking the torte from the 375 degree oven, burning my arm slightly, and immediately dropping the entire thing on the floor. At this point, however, I was SO over the entire thing that I was relieved I didn't have to eat it - it didn't smell so great coming out of the oven.

I didn't even bother cleaning it up. As punishment for laughing at me, I sent Husband in to do my dirty work and served Eggnog Custard instead.

My problem started with toasting the hazelnuts to get the skins off: I burned the first batch and had to throw them out and start again. Since Husband and father-in-law looked lacking for something to do, I stuck the (second batch of) hazelnuts in front of them and told them their sole mission in life at this time was to make the hazelnuts skinless. They *may* have been a martini or three into the evening, so the hazelnuts came back to me looking pitiful, with small bits of skin still on them that refused to come off even with a stiff brush.

So I left the remnant-skins on. I know, I know...

The next problem. The recipe called for 8 cups of breadcrumbs in the ingredient list in the beginning, but then said to use 3. I had Husband AND Father-In-Law read this recipe after I looked at it twice and could not account for the extra 5 cups.

These breadcrumbs are supposed to be processed with said stubborn hazelnuts and then mixed into a dough. I followed this recipe to a T and after attempting to knead and "form into a disc to chill", I pretty much gave up and figured it must firm up in the fridge and would be more work-able once it was chilled (like sugar cookie dough, perhaps).

I was sooooo wrong. The dough came out of the fridge looking just as pathetic and ooze-y as when I put it in there. The instruction "press into bottom and sides of a tart pan with a removable bottom" just about caused me to lose my religion. I'm pretty sure I called an inanimate object all sorts of names, and thought of different ways I could throw the entire thing out the window/against a wall/at my laughing Husband.

But I pressed on; I managed to get something resembling a "dough" (and I use the term extremely loosely here) mostly on the bottom and sides of the pan. I poured my sliced, cooked apples into the pan. THEN came the big fun: trying to put the top layer of the "dough" over the apples. No one can say I didn't try: but this "dough" was mocking me, testing my every bit of patience, and seemed bent on breaking me. When I couldn't get the dough to "lay" on the top - not to be beaten by some breadcrumbs and a few nuts - I just decided to glob it on there like a cobbler topping and see what happened.

What I put in the oven was, without a doubt, one of the ugliest dishes I've ever seen. I wanted to apologize to Oven for offending it so, and this is not my favorite oven. (We've had some words about the temperature gauge that Oven seems to think is more of a "suggestion.") I hoped that baking would improve its appearance.

Apparently, there was no saving this. It came out of the oven smelling like a horrible, overcooked wheat roll. I then somehow managed to touch the side of the 375 degree tart pan with my forearm and dumped the entire thing on the floor.

I don't think I've seen Husband laugh that hard in a long time, and he didn't even stop when I shoved a roll of paper towels in his hands, blessed out my kitchen in general, and stalked away.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Perfect Meatballs

I'm lucky enough to have family and friends that are enablers of my love-to-cook addiction. One of the best is my mother-in-law, who always passes on the issues of Food & Wine, Food Network Magazine, Bon Apetit, Better Homes & Garden, etc. I even graduated to getting my very own subscription to Bon Apetit this past year!

I firmly believe there are certain recipes everyone should have in their back pocket: chocolate chip cookies, pancakes, beef stew (or vegetable, for all my vegetarian friends), spaghetti and meatballs, a basic yeast bread, biscuits, and a good drink.

For years, I had used a basic, easy meatball recipe, but I always felt it was lacking because the recipe called for first baking the meatballs, and then adding them to the sauce right before serving. This bothered me, because my however-slight-it-may-be Italian heritage kept nagging me that the proper way to cook meatballs is IN the sauce. It also called for a package of dry onion soup mix, which almost always has MSG in it, and which therefore usually gives me a migraine. We've also moved away from the packaged, supermarket foods and more towards local, as-close-to-the-way-nature-made-it foods, and this recipe no longer sat well with me.

The hunt was on, and it took nearly 2 years before I found what I was looking for when it happened to arrive in my mailbox.

Enter Bon Apetit, October 2010 and an article by Molly Wizenberg, "In search of the perfect meatball". With an opening like that, you can't help but have high hopes, and (if you're me), a bit of fear that it can never live up to what you've imagined in your head. I am happy to report that my hopes were not only exceeded, but pretty much reached a level of meatball-bliss I've never experienced before. The difference in this recipe comes from a few different sources, in my opinion: the combination of beef and pork (my previous recipe used only beef); the freshly shredded parmesan; and a technique in the article that is referred to as "The Claw".

Yes, I am this excited about spaghetti and meatballs.

The best part of this recipe? After the first time, it takes only a few minutes to put the ingredients together and have dinner on the table. It also reheats extremely well, which is a huge bonus for all the working parents out there. This is definitely a kid-friendly meal, but it's also a perfect meal to make when you're having friends over and would rather focus on the conversation and wine instead of the stove.


Perfect Meatballs
(Adapted from Bon Apetit, October 2010; original recipe appears to be from Jordi Viladas, one of the owners of Cafe Lago in Seattle. Article written by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette.)

1c. fresh breadcrumbs
1/3c. whole milk
8oz. ground beef (15% fat)
8oz. ground pork
1c. freshly ground Parmesan (the original recipe says not grated; I used the fine section on my basic cheese grater and they have turned out great)
1/3c. finely chopped Italian parsley
1tsp. salt
1/4tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound spaghetti (regular, angel hair, capellini - anything will work)

Combine breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl and stir until evenly moistened; set aside and let stand 10 minutes.

Place beef and pork into large bowl and break into small chunks, working the meat as little as possible. Add the parmesan, parsley, salt, and peper.

Whisk eggs together with garlic and add to meat mixture.

Using hands, squeeze excess milk from breadcrumbs, but reserve milk; add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Make a "claw" with your hand, as if you were trying to palm a basketball; quickly and gently mix until evenly combined - do NOT overmix. (If you handle the meat too much, it will become tough when you cook it.) Chill at least 15 minutes.

Bring a pot of approximately 60oz. of your favorite sauce to a simmer. Moisten hands with reserved milk (I skipped this part and had no problem) and form meat mixture into balls approximately the size of a golf or ping-pong ball. Arrange in a single layer in the pot (again - I had mine in more than one layer, and it was fine) and bring back to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until cooked through, 15-20 minutes.

Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (the side of the box will tell you how long, depending on the type of pasta).

Drain; serve up the amount that you want, top it with the number of meatballs you want, and welcome to Meatball Heaven.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Butter Braised Leeks

It's a well-known fact in my circle of friends and family that I love having people over. "Don't you want to come out for dinner?" I say, somewhat desperately. "Kel,  you live 40 minutes away." "So?!? It'll be GOOD!" And so on and so forth. I'm probably successful about 35% of the time in convincing someone.  Which is a complete mystery, because I live near some of the most picturesque scenery you can imagine:

One of those happy times was probably one of the best meals I've ever made. I feel like the recipe should appear on an infomercial somewhere, with a tag line: "Amaze your friends! Wow your boss! Stun your family! And with only MINUTES of your time!"

I have to give credit where credit is due, and in this case, credit is due to my first-ever high school "boyfriend". You know, the one where you pass notes in between class, hang out at lunch, and perhaps call on the phone in the evening? As I say this last bit, I realize my parents are probably angrily searching boxes of old phone bills in the attic to prove just how often this "perhaps" actually occurred, but I digress.

Somehow this very same goofy kid I knew in high school went on to become a great chef - who knew? So, when I had ambitiously purchased 2 leeks (on a whim - they looked so good in the produce section!), I found myself at home, with a cutting board, 2 now-very-huge-looking leeks, a knife, and absolutely zero recipes in which to put them.

Never fear - Facebook is here! I sent a pleading status message to the masses for recipe ideas and was met with a random post by previously mentioned Great Chef: "Butter Braised Leeks are what God made leeks for..." Anything that starts with "butter" followed by the word "braised" has to be good. So - he mentioned, I googled, and I convinced Dad to be my guinea pig guest.

The first thing I saw splattered all over the internet upon searching for "leek recipes" was the need to rinse them VERY well. I didn't use a recipe so much as a few guidelines from several different sources, and then made it my own. I did take the advice of a few people who said cutting them into "coins" was the easiest way to get the sandy-ness out of them.

After cutting them, I stirred them around with my knife once or twice; I let them sit while I chased a few kids around (both mine, and NOT with the knife). Melted a tablespoon or 3 of butter, drained the leeks, tossed them in the pan, and let them sit for about 5 minutes. Cover with barely any water, and let sit 10-20 minutes depending on how long you forget about them. Salt and pepper to taste and OHHH they are so good.

Normally, there would be a picture of the final product, but they were so good and eaten so quickly that... I forgot. So, I made them a second time; and again, they were gone in seconds. So, third time (hopefully?) will be the charm, and the next time I make them, I will update a final photo.

*A WORD OF CAUTION: Too much salt will completely destroy this dish. Yes, I speak from experience. This dish may also turn even the biggest onion-hater (such as myself) into something of a fan.

Butter Braised Leeks
(adapted loosely from the instructions of friends)

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, dark green leaves discarded
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Kosher salt (less than 1 tsp)
Fresh ground black pepper (less than 1/2 tsp)

Trim the dark green part of the leeks and discard or compost. Slice the remainder of the leeks on the diagonal into thin "coins". Place into a bowl of cold water, stir, and let sit to rinse the sediment from the leeks. (I cannot stress the importance of this step enough - this recipe will be a complete letdown if you bite into a mouthful of sand.) Let sit for 10-20 minutes. Drain, rinse under running water, and set aside.

Divide butter in half and reserve half. Place first half of butter into a saute pan (or similar) and melt but do not brown. Once melted, add the leeks and gently arrange into a single layer (if using a small pan or a larger number of leeks, you may have to do this in batches - they may not cook right if you put too many in at one time). Cook leeks in butter until just fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add just enough water to barely reach the top of the leeks (do not cover with water!), cover the pan, and let simmer for 10-20 minutes, until tender and translucent.

Remove cover and add remaining butter. Sprinkle sparingly with salt and pepper (you do not want to overpower the taste of the leeks, and too much salt will ruin this dish). Simmer with the lid off for 2-5 minutes more, or until the sauce is reduced/thickened.

Serve as a side dish, or as we did - on top of toasted homemade bread and a fabulous glass of white wine.

A New Blog! Aren't you glad?!?

People have been asking me - a lot - how I do what I do in the kitchen. So, like 8,432,689 other people (statistic totally made up), I have started a blog. Aren't you glad?

My method in the kitchen is simple: I take leave of my senses. I get overly ambitious and decide, usually with very little notice to Husband, that I am going to undertake some new, utterly insane, project in the kitchen. It is usually followed by the phrase, "I'm going to need you to entertain The Kids for a while..." and an expression like this:

I was inspired by the woman who runs Smitten Kitchen. I began reading her blog on a near-daily basis and have been determinedly tackling tasks in my kitchen with a can-do attitude (don't I sound optimistic??).

I was so tickled with my accomplishments that I unabashedly posted them in my facebook status updates.

Which leads us to here - the start of my blog. I fully intend to strong-arm my relatives into reading this just so that I have followers, but they will have to excuse me if I occasionally drop a word or two of which they might not particularly approve. I will not be the only blog on the planet with no followers!

So that is the story of why I started my own blog: because I'm unique. Just like everybody else.