Cooking Basics: Homemade Chicken Stock

dark chicken stock
Homemade chicken stock-not as difficult as it sounds, although it takes some forethought.  Next time you roast a chicken or make chicken wings or anything like that, clean and bag up those bones and throw them in the freezer!  The more bones you have, the better and richer your stock will be.  I made today’s batch with just one bird – all bones including the neck.  It wasn’t perfectly clean (meaning there was still some skin/meat on the bones) but with just a little extra straining and skimming, it turned into amazing stock and made more than a gallon!

Step one: get a large stock pot, add vegetable oil to the bottom, get it smoking over medium high heat (like a 7 out of 10) and roast the bones for about 10-25 minutes until deep brown, stirring to ensure it doesn’t just burn:
brown and roast the bones
While the bones are roasting, chop carrots, celery and onion:
roughly chop the vegetables
After the bones are really good and roasted, add in the vegetables. You’ll notice I didn’t peel the carrots.  Keep it simple – you won’t be eating these vegetables – they’re just for flavor!  A rough chop should do it.  I threw in three garlic cloves, too, just for fun.
roast the vegetables and bones together
Let the vegetables roast with the bones until the carrots begin to soften.
create your herb packet
Make a bouquet garni (a little herb packet).  Don’t have cheesecloth?  Use a coffee filter!  I added thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns.  Tie it all up with string and throw it into the pot along with enough water to cover everything by about 4 inches:
tie up the packet in twine
Let it simmer for a long time.  Bring the whole pot to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer and let it sit there all day.  Four or five hours.  When it’s done, strain out all the vegetables and anything that escaped your herb packet.
strain and strain and strain again
Strain again.  And again.  And again.  I got crazy and strained through a coffee filter.  This took way too long…
strain
Be smart like my husband and chill the stock in the fridge and the fat will rise to the top and solidify and you can just scrape it off.  Genius.  That’s why I keep him around.
Homemade Chicken Stock
Voila – beautiful chicken stock!  And very very little sodium.  I didn’t salt this stock so all the salt you add to your soups can be YOUR doing and not hidden somewhere in the stock!  Like I said, this batch made over a gallon and I used it for soups, pan sauces, pasta dishes, risotto, etc.  You can freeze in large muffin tins that hold a cup each and take out a cup each time you need it!  Ours doesn’t last that long, but if you don’t cook with stock really frequently, you might want to freeze it, as most stocks will last about two weeks before getting funky.

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup and trying something new

Butternut Squash Soup
This is one of the best soups I’ve made all winter.  Previously, butternut squash soups were borderline too sweet for me – I could never finish an entire batch and would guiltily throw the leftovers down the sink.  I’ve made this version three times, now, and each time, we eat it all!  It doesn’t get boring – the flavors are so complex and balanced, thanks to that crazy looking celery root.  It’s perfect!  It’s also incredibly filling and very low fat, so I think it’s quite possibly the most wonderful food to have when you’re watching what you eat, but don’t want to feel deprived.  It’s also perfect as a baby food!  With just two simple vegetables, it’s a great way to introduce flavors to a little one just starting out on solids, or a toddler who might eat soup better than they would eat a new vegetable.  For toddlers, I think the best way to serve soup is in a small, handled cup.  Fill it half way and let them sip at their own pace.  They love feeling in control and YOU will feel better with limited soup-spills as would occur most certainly if you handed them a spoon 🙂  This soup is also a great way to introduce YOU to a new vegetable!  Who here has bought and prepared celery root?  (also called celeriac)  If you haven’t, you don’t have to be afraid – it tastes like celery with the consistency of a sweet potato!

I’m happy to announce a little cooking segment I’ll be doing this year on my friend, Paul’s PBS show, 24 Frames!  (this soup makes an appearance!)  It’s very exciting to be a part of something creative and I’m deeply flattered that he included me in his show. I love talking about food more than anything, so once I get over the mortal fear of seeing myself talk on camera, I’ll finally start to enjoy watching my own segment.  Please tune in to 24 Frames every Saturday night at 9 p.m. Central on PBS!  The show should be available online very soon for those who don’t live in this area, and when it is, I’ll post a link!

Thank you all for watching and for reading my blog.  It’s very humbling and I hope you can feel a little more confident in the kitchen with every new recipe you try!

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup
serves 6-8

 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 – 2lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1 celery root, peeled, rinsed and diced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock, hot
black pepper and cream for garnish
1. Peel and chop the onion, celery root and butternut squash.
2. Heat the oil in a large stock pot.
3. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir the squash, celery root and salt into the pot and cook for about 10 minutes until the squash begins to soften.
5. Add the rosemary and chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer over medium heat, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
6. Using a blender in batches, or an immersion blender, puree the soup until completely smooth.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and thin out with cream or extra stock as desired.  Ladle into bowls and add a swirl of cream and a few dashes of fresh cracked pepper and serve!

Basics – Roasted Garlic

garlic cloves in oil
There are few smells better than roasting garlic.  The top 5, according to me, of most heavenly, coma-inducing kitchen smells are:

1. Bread baking
2. Garlic roasting
3. Onions cooking in butter
4. Browning butter
5. Bacon sizzling in the pan

We have plenty of days where our house smells like baking bread, but I don’t have that smell of garlic roasting near enough.  Roasting garlic turns the garlic into an almost caramelized, savory paste that softens the intensity of raw garlic, mellows out the flavor and makes it perfect for dressings, soups, pasta dishes, breads, and that doesn’t even include the wonderful uses of the garlic oil that is produced from the roasting process.  Garlic oil=liquid gold.

So today, in the first of my series on cooking basics, I’ll show you my process for roasting a head of garlic and then below, a simple recipe for garlic aioli that can be used on sandwiches as an amazing spread alternative to mayo!

First, lop off the top of a head of garlic and place in a large piece of tin foil.  Put that little package in a small dish to catch leaking oil.  Generously salt and pepper the cut tops and drizzle with about four tablespoons of oil.
ready for roasting
Next, place both cut-side down, crimp the foil together to form a tent and place in a 400F oven for about 30 minutes.  Your garlic should look like this when it’s done:

roasted garlic
I checked mine about half-way through to make sure I wasn’t cooking it too fast.  Let the head of garlic cool to where you can handle it and then just pick it up and squeeze, popping out all the cloves.  You’ll end up with this:
roasted garlic cloves in oil
Place the cloves in a jar and fill up with oil to cover the cloves.  This allows your oil to become infused with garlic-goodness and it keeps the garlic cloves from drying out.  Store on the counter to use for anything you can think of!  We use the oil to make a quick aioli to spread on burgers, sandwiches, or as a dip for roasted potatoes – heaven!

garlic in oil

Garlic Aioli

1 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup garlic infused oil

Place the egg, lemon juice, salt and pepper in the bottom of a tall immersion cup.  Add the oil and submerge your immersion blender to the very bottom of the cup.  Turn the immersion blender on and slowly lift as you blend.  The oil will combine with the rest of the ingredients and by the time you get to the top, you should have a smooth consistency.  If you are using a basic blender or food processor, add the ingredients except for the oil.  Turn on the blender and then slowly stream the oil until all the oil is added.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.  But it probably won’t last that long!

Tilapia with Tomatoes, Butter Beans and Sweet Peppers

tilapia with tomato sauce and butter beans

This was dinner on Monday night.  Olive’s plate looked no different than ours, except I compartmentalized things so she could easily grab them.  She ate one piece of tomato, one bean and all her fish.  She tried and spit out one olive.  We also gave her a cracker and after she ate half, she declared herself “all done.”  That’s it!  We didn’t ask her to eat more, we didn’t get upset that she wouldn’t try any more beans, although I know she loves beans and would like them.  I wanted to but I didn’t.  It’s a hard resolution but we have vowed to stop messing with Olive during meal times.  I have resolved to respect her more and trust her to eat what she needs at the mealtimes provided.  She only has one snack a day, between lunch and dinner, as we usually don’t eat dinner until 7 or 7:30, and so for the most part, she is hungry at meals and will eat.  Lately, because she’s not growing as rapidly as she did around a year-18 months, she doesn’t have a big appetite.  She is fine after a few bites and will declare herself finished, sometimes way before I believe she’s had enough.  But what do I know?  And how exactly do I know how hungry she is when she is probably a tenth the size of me?  I have seen that when she knows she’s not going to be messed with, she acts more controlled, more independent, and she is more focused on her meal.  On the contrary, when she feels watched, observed (it’s hard not to look at a kid while they’re eating), she immediately starts acting out.  She drops things and bangs her spoon on the table and tries to get out of her chair, and if I’m honest, it’s probably because she doesn’t want to eat with someone who stares at her every move and intimidates her to take “one more bite.”  Would you want to eat with one person like that, much less two?!
So we’ve vowed to stop.  Before Matt and all Olive’s stuffed animals as witnesses, we both said we would simply present dinner, encourage her to try new things, and then back OFF.  I firmly believe that if we trust our children to eat well and make good decisions, they will, eventually.  It’s that eventually that I know so many of us parents struggle with.  We want our kids to eat like we do, right now.  And so we often fall back on what we know they’ll like (insert fried or bland food here). We don’t realize that good eating is a learned skill, just like anything else.  It takes time.  It takes a few meals of “I don’t like it” and a few times of eating two bites and declaring “all done.”  But we must stick to it and not abandon ship at the first sign of resistance.  Here are a few rules around eating that we adhere to, nearly every day:

1. Eat only at meal times and one snack a day (Olive is 22 months old, by the way, and I’ve been doing this since she she was about 15 months old.  I do let her have milk between meals, but about an hour before a meal, I cut her off and give her only water if she’s thirsty.)
2. Variety is offered, along with something she recognizes.
3. I serve the new thing to her first, and we all eat a little bit of it together as a “first course,” if you will, because what kid is going to eat Brussels sprouts when there’s chicken on the table?
4. After the new food is presented and at least tried (she doesn’t have to eat much of it, just a taste), then I bring out the rest of the food, I put a little bit of each thing on her plate, explain what everything is, and then back off.
5. No distractions during meals – no toys (well sometimes the stuffed animals eat with us, but they’re not used as a distraction from the food), no toys, a.k.a. iPhones for me and Matt, no answering texts or calls.  This helps.  It really does.  Because as soon as Olive spots a phone, she wants it, or suddenly becomes dissatisfied with her sitting-down-and-not-playing-instead situation.  We try to engage her in our conversation, as well as encourage her not to shout during ours 🙂 It’s a growing and a learning process and more often than not, it does NOT go perfectly, but I think it’s the consistency that is the key.
6. If there’s dessert, you don’t have to do anything special to get it.  Not even eat all your vegetables.  You simply have to wait for everyone to finish.  So, if Olive eats just a bit of dinner, but not much, and I have already planned on serving a dessert, I do NOT tell her she needs to eat more before she can have it.  She can have it if she stays at the table.  If she wants to get down, she can, but if she wants dessert, she must come back, sit down and be civilized to get it. Dessert must not be contingent on her being a “good girl” or eating her “bad broccoli.”  If I could banish one crippling habit in the world, it would be our habit of calling foods “good” or “bad” and rewarding or punishing ourselves accordingly.
7. We eat together.  She doesn’t start first just because she’s hungry.  She waits.  And then we all sit down together.  This teaches respect, patience, and a realization that she’s not the only one that needs consideration.

So before you declare yourself or your kids a failed attempt before even trying, let me remind you that Olive very often doesn’t like what I serve.  She very often will only eat one of four things presented. Sometimes she shocks me and eats EVERYTHING, including the stinky cheese.  But this is rare, and yet I let it be a glimpse and a proof that she likes food, she just doesn’t always want a lot of it.

This meal was from Jamie Oliver’s, Jamie Magazine Recipe Yearbook (on news stands now!).  It’s so full of great recipes and I can’t wait to try more.  We loved the flavors and it was a refreshing way to serve the same ol’ fish and beans 🙂

tilapia with tomatoes, olives and butter beans

Tilapia with Tomatoes, Butter Beans and Sweet Peppers*
serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 orange or red bell pepper, diced and seeded
2-4 sweet pickled red peppers (I got mine at the olive bar at our grocery store)
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup pitted olives
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1-15 oz. can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
4 white fish fillets (sole, tilapia, swai)

For the sauce, heat half the oil in a medium pan and fry the onion for 5 minutes, or until soft.  Add the peppers and fry for 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and olives and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
Add the beans and dill and heat for about a minute.  Set mixture aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat and cook the fish about 2-3 minutes per side, until a nice golden brown is on each side.  Season with salt and pepper and arrange fillets over the tomato/bean mixture and serve with extra dill and a side of bread – dinner is served!

*adapted from Jamie Magazine Recipe Yearbook

Palmer House Ragu

Palmer Ragu
Matt and I first read about homemade ragu in the book, Heat, by Bill Buford.  The section on ragu was about Mario Batali and his story of his own family’s obsession with their homemade bolognese sauce, or, ragu.  He said every Italian family had one, and each family was so fiercely defensive and prideful about their ragu recipe, that some men even seriously considered a woman as marriage material or not, based on the quality of her version.  Though the section was a bit humorous, I really felt that this was a dish with a history and a soul and an identity.  No two people can make the same ragu, and so each person should work on perfecting their own to their own liking!

Matt and I consulted an online recipe years ago when we made ragu the first few times.  This time, Matt said, “Let’s not consult anything.  We know how it goes; let’s do our own.”  So we did!  It was really fun to create our own concoction and add a little of this and a little of that till we thought it tasted “right.”  A pretty good description in Heat of the proper way to cook a ragu is simple:  “Take a liquid and a solid and cook it till it’s neither.”

So I’ll give you our now-official family ragu recipe.  I encourage you to come up with your own as you go!  Make a huge batch and freeze for later – you won’t be sorry. You can thaw it easily in a skillet with a little beef stock.  This stuff is great saucy or thick.  We like ours super chunky and less liquidy, so we let it verge on the dry side.  Matt made potato gnocchi to go with it, but we’ve done every noodle you can imagine, and my personal favorite is a nice, wide fettuccine noodle.  Garnish with shaved Parmesan and serve with a hearty glass of red and you’ll be so good you won’t know what to do with yourself.

potato gnocchi Palmer Ragu Night

Palmer House Ragu

3 tbs butter or olive oil
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced onion*
1 lb ground beef (85%/15%)
1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground sausage
1 cup white wine
1 cup whole milk
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp oregano
a few gratings of whole nutmeg
pasta of your choice

*it’s important to try to make all your vegetables the same size dice so that they all cook and break down at the same rate.  We keep everything at about a 1/4″ dice.

In a large stockpot (I adore my Lodge ceramic dutch oven.  Half the cost of Le Creuset and just as good), over medium heat, add the butter and cook until it starts bubbling.  Then, add in the carrots, celery and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften.  Add in the meats and stir well to incorporate with the vegetables.  Cook until most of the pink is gone, but not all.  Add in the wine and bring to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid is gone.  Do the same with the milk.  After the milk is cooked off, add in the diced tomatoes and stir well to incorporate.  Add about a teaspoon of kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper and let that sucker cook all afternoon.  We let ours bubble away for about 3 hours and as it cooks, I randomly come stir it, ladle off the fat that starts to separate so that the finished result won’t be too greasy.  Really, you can’t  cook this too long.  You can cook it too fast, but if it starts to dry out, simply add some water or beef stock and keep stirring.  When you like the look of it, add in the oregano and nutmeg and season again with salt to taste.  Let it cook another 30 min or so to let the flavors develop.  Serve over freshly boiled pasta (long noodles are the best) with shaves of Parmesan and a few shakes of crushed red pepper.  That’s how we roll, anyway.  Enjoy and mix it up however you like!  The secret is in the long cook time.  It’s amazing what a few ingredients will do together, over time!

Homemade Pizza with Duck, Sage and Dried Cherries

Duck Sage and Cherry Pizza

It’s Use Up the Leftovers Before the Christmas Road Trip Day!  This can be a fun little game and can even force you into being more creative than usual.  I love leaving an empty fridge before a big trip.  Helps to not have Ghosts of Dinners Past to greet you when you get back.  When the holidays are over, I want to move forward.  I don’t want to stare at a pan of bread pudding in the fridge.  I want to start fresh!

I had a bit of leftover duck terrine from Sunday (another wonderful recipe from Homemade Winter), a few sage leaves and dried cherries and thought that would be a great pizza combination.  It was, indeed!  We also made a pizza with leftover ground beef, goat cheese and sauteed leeks, and one with Matt’s favorite combo: Parmesan, pistachios and rosemary.  I made my trusty tomato soup and we dunked our pizza crusts in it, and had a wonderful “Pre-Christmas” lunch together before heading off tomorrow to spend a week going here and there and everywhere!

I’d recommend instead of the duck terrine, which I am 99.9% sure you don’t have in your fridge, that you just use any good quality ground sausage.  The combo of sausage and sage and cherries is classic and works no matter what.  For the sauce, just use a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle Parmesan cheese all over the crust before topping it.  I put the sage leaves on during the last few minutes of cooking so they wouldn’t burn, and I positioned some plain mozzarella over the cherries so they wouldn’t burn, and it worked out great.

For the recipe, I’ll include a link to Matt’s perfected pizza crust, which makes 3 medium sized pizzas, and I’ll let YOU raid your own fridge for the toppings you so desire!  Here are some fun combinations:

  • Corn, chorizo and potato
  • Ham, cheddar and scallion
  • Canned tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and sliced garlic
  • Leek, goat cheese and bacon
  • Broccoli, alfredo sauce, bacon and parmesan
  • Asparagus, red onion and manchego

The fun is in the leftovers you find.  Don’t limit yourself to “normal” toppings – you never know what great combinations you could create!

Sage, Duck and Cherry Pizza

Overnight Steel-Cut Oatmeal


Back when I was still a fairly new mom and my night’s sleep was a fun game of Russian Roulette, I started putting my breakfast on the stove the night before so that I wouldn’t have to use my brain in the morning. I bought these fancy steel cut oats and the side of the can said that they would take 40-60 minutes to cook, but THEN, at the very end of the directions, it said, “For quick-cooking method, let the oats soak in water overnight and then boil for 10 minutes.”  This was the answer to needing breakfast after a who-knows-how-much-sleep kinda night!  I would literally add everything to the pot the night before – the butter, the pinch of salt and even stuck my stirring spatula in there so that I would not have to use even one iota of brain cells to make breakfast.

I’ve been doing this a few times a week ever since!  On days that I run out of steel cut, I just use plain rolled oats, except I don’t soak them overnight.  I just like the steel cut – they are chewy and interesting and they don’t turn to glue and mush after they go cold, so they are perfect for making a big batch on Monday and then warming them up with a splash of milk the next day – it’s always a great texture!  Most commonly, I make chocolate oatmeal.  It’s Olive’s favorite and I love hearing her request it the first second she sees me in her room in the morning “Chock-ate oatMEEEEL?!”  I’ll add that recipe to the end of this one for those who saw it in my Week in the Life post!

For today I recreated my favorite dessert bread at our grocery store – Apricot White Chocolate!  I had a little of everything and so I went for it, and it was amazing!  What’s fun about oatmeal is the various toppings you can add – so if you have guests for the weekend, make a huge pot and set out an array of dried fruits, nuts, fresh fruits or syrups and let them add what they want!  Great for kids, for people watching their diet and for picky eaters!
apricot and white chocolate oatmeal

Overnight Oatmeal with
White Chocolate, Apricot and Toasted Walnuts

2 cups water
1/2 cup steel cut oats (or one cup of rolled oats and skip the night before step)
pinch of salt
1 tsp of vanilla extract
tablespoon of fat – I use butter, but it’s GREAT with coconut oil and it’s probably just fine without it)
splash of milk or cream
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, pecans, almonds – whatever you have on hand

Right after Top Chef is over, before you check Facebook for the 75th time, put a large saucepan on the stove and add the steel cut oats, water, butter, vanilla and salt.  Place a rubber spatula in the pot, too, so you won’t have to think at all in the morning.  Go to bed.
First thing in the morning, or 10 minutes after your toddler starts talking in her crib, turn on the burner to medium-high heat and bring oats to a boil.  Lower the heat to medium and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the liquid is absorbed.  Add a splash of milk or cream if it gets too thick and taste for texture.  If it’s to your liking, remove from heat, place a small portion in a bowl and stick it in the fridge to cool a bit for the toddler while you assemble yours.  Stir in the white chocolate chips till they melt and then top with the dried apricots and walnuts.  Take the kid’s portion out of the fridge, stir again, and then add a few chips so she can stir them around or pick them out herself and discard the rest.  That’s at least how it happened to me.

Chocolate OatMEEEEEEL version:

same as above, except add:

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tsp cinnamon
sliced banana or dried cranberries

I love banana and chocolate.  Near the end of the cooking time, I add the cinnamon to the pot and stir to incorporate.  I take the pot off the heat and stir in the chocolate chips until an adequate darkness is achieved.  This may call for more chocolate.  Because I use 70%, I have no guilt and no shame.  Top with sliced bananas and eat! Sometimes I shake it up and stir in dried cranberries.  The cranberry/chocolate or banana/chocolate combo is always a winner.  Do what you feel with the toppings, but more often than not, we just do plain chocolate oatmeal!  Olive is never disappointed.

Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Rolls

Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Rolls

RECIPE UPDATED!  I made some changes and they’re even better, now!  Go make these, QUICK!

For the South Plains Fair this year, I decided to enter the cinnamon roll category, if for no other reason than to de-throne my friend, Rod from his previous win in the category.  A little healthy rivalry makes everything more fun and I KNOW his are amazing.  But in the night, right before drifting off, I came up with what I figured would be a wonderful way to make the filling for the cinnamon rolls and the icing.  The dough, I figured, could be altered to fit in with the rest.  So I got kind of excited to embark on the process and after killing the yeast in my dough from boiling hot butter in the first round, I ended up with a good second batch of dough and proceeded with the plan!  I think the secret to anything truly delicious in a baked good is butter.  And I figure everyone knows, but in case you don’t, browned butter is the goodness of butter x 1,000,000.  So at every turn, I turned the butter into browned butter and I formed a paste with the filling instead of doing the traditional method of smearing on a lot of butter and then dumping sugar and cinnamon, which, when rolled up and cut, inevitably dumps out a little on your cutting board.

The paste. was. genius.  I’m not even going to act humble about this.  I browned the butter with two vanilla beans that were split (holy mother that was a great smell) and once browned, I combined the sugar and a little less cinnamon than the original recipe called for and formed this amazing smelling liquid that I let firm up in the fridge a bit so that it would harden up enough to be spread like jam instead of being liquid.  It made the filling so incredibly easy to get perfectly uniform so that each cinnamon roll had exactly the same amount of filling.

And then…The Icing.  I’m definitely not one of those people who says something is “too sweet” when it comes to desserts.  Desserts are supposed to be sweet.  However, the traditional powdered sugar and milk icings for cinnamon rolls can be just SUGAR and nothing else and I thought a cream cheese icing would be too strong a flavor for the delicate brown butter and vanilla beans.  So I used heavy cream, milk, powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste (so it would be pretty and flecked) and THEN I gradually added tiny pinches of kosher salt and stirred after each addition, until the edge of the sweetness was taken off and it was perfect.  I will henceforth salt all my icings.  Just a bit – it MATTERS!  I was amazed at how good these turned out and….

TA-DA!  Blue Ribbon!  I was quite giddy!

And then sad, because my husbands absolutely perfect bread didn’t place and my thoughts were that it was too sophisticated and the fair is a veritable sugar bomb.  I think it just depends on what you respect when it comes to traditional bread, and Matt is a purest.  4 or 5 ingredients at the most.  This guy is the most amazing baker I know!  Anyone can make a good bread if it’s slathered in sugar and butter, but only a true baker can make a bread SING with only 4 ingredients.
These were our submissions – Matt submitted his biscuits, baguette and traditional boule.  All perfect and the best I’ve tried, but sometimes in a sea of bundt cakes and chocolate sugar loaves, plain bread doesn’t get noticed. A shame, really.
Smorgasbord

Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Rolls with Vanilla Cream Icing
makes about 16 rolls, depending on how thick you slice them

For the Dough:

1 cup whole milk
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (bread machine yeast
1/4 cup sugar
4 TBS unsalted butter, browned and cooled
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 3/4 cups AP flour
3/4 tsp salt

For the Filling:
12 TBS unsalted butter, browned with two split vanilla beans
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 TBS cinnamon

For the Icing:
1 heaping cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2-3 TBS whole milk
a few pinches of kosher salt

Make your Filling first!  Brown the butter in a large, stainless steel skillet (non stick you can’t see the butter browning) with the split vanilla beans, mushing them around as they warm up to release their seeds.  Once browned, remove from heat and stir in your sugar until fully incorporated.  Then add in the cinnamon, stirring to combine.  You can do this a day in advance – you want this paste to be slightly firmed up so put it in the fridge and stir it once in a while until it’s the consistency of wet sand.

For the dough: brown your butter on the stove by swirling it around in the pan over medium heat until solids begin to form at the bottom and it’s giving off a nutty aroma.  Remove from heat and place in a medium bowl and let it cool for a few minutes.  Once cooled (about 5 minutes), add the milk, the egg yolks and vanilla paste.  Whisk to combine.  Then whisk in the yeast.
Whisk the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Make a well in the center and pour in the milk mixture.  Mix on low speed with a dough hook until thick and slightly sticky.  Knead on medium speed until the dough gathers around the hook, adding up to 2 more tablespoons of flour to get a nice, smooth texture.  Don’t beat it to death.

Remove the dough and shape into a ball.  Butter the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl, turning to coat in the butter.  Cover with a towel and put it in a warmish place (like on your dryer) for a couple hours until doubled in size.  This is a pretty slow-rising dough.  Don’t lose hope.

Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to a shape of about 10″ x 16″ (about 1/4″ thick all around).  Now comes the fun part!  Spread your filling all over the dough with an offset spatula until completely covered, leaving about 1/4″ all around clean for ease of rolling up the dough.  Starting on the long side, roll the dough up tight and then slice about 1.5″ slices and arrange them on a buttered, double lined rimmed baking sheet (if you don’t have one, you can always stack pans together to form a double wall) and cover with loose plastic wrap and set in that same warm place to rise about an hour until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 325 and bake about 30 minutes, until golden brown (mine were done in about 28 min).  Cool in the pan 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the icing by adding the cream to the sugar in a bowl and whisking till smooth.  Then add the vanilla and milk until a nice, smooth texture is achieved.  Then, little by little, tasting along the way, add pinches of salt till it tastes right.  I can’t really tell you how much I added.  Probably two and a half pinches!  Stir till fully incorporated and pour over the rolls!

Enjoy!

The Homegrown B.L.T. with a recipe for amazing mayo!

The perfect BLT

Every year we look forward to this.  An entirely home-grown (or made) BLT!  When we are fortunate enough to have a tomato crop, as we were this summer, the homemade BLT is the first thing in our minds to make.  So when the tomatoes started looking like this:
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…we knew it was time to assemble the ultimate sandwich.  Matt cures pork belly and then smokes it in our electric smoker, I made the mayo, Matt made the bread and we grew the tomatoes, but sadly had no lettuce this year.  So other than the lettuce, this was entirely from scratch!  And what a good feeling.  I think this is kind of like remembering how good the food was on vacation – most of the goodness came from the setting or the mood, or the fact that you didn’t have to cook.  Similarly with this sandwich, the ingredients are certainly wonderful, but part of the joy is knowing that we worked for each component (minus the lettuce).  We thoroughly enjoyed this sandwich and this moment and Olive deconstructed hers, discarded the impostor (lettuce) and ate the rest.  She’s adoring these tomatoes, and I absolutely get giddy knowing that she likes tomatoes and that her first taste of tomatoes (besides tomato sauces) was out of our yard!  She won’t remember, but I know we will.

For the recipes, I will post our mayo recipe and method, which is super easy and totally worth it for the huge flavor you get.  I’ve posted Matt’s bread before, which is the bread we used for this (plus an addition of rosemary) and for the tomatoes, well, you’re probably too late to grow them yourself, but if you know someone who has an abundance, beg one off them and grab some good, thick-cut bacon and have yourself a BLT party!

open faced BLT

Mayo (made with an immersion blender -might be my most used kitchen tool, next to my knife)

2 egg yolks
1.5 cups light oil like canola.  I used a blend of canola and olive oil
1 TBS lemon juice
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard (or even dry would work)
Salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne and paprika for me!

Place the egg yolks in the bottom of a tall, wide cup (immersion blenders come with their own).  Place all the other ingredients on top of the egg yolks and stick your immersion blender all the way down to the bottom.  Turn it on the lower setting and start graaaaaaaaadddddddduuuuualllllly pulling the immersion blender up toward the surface of the oil.  As you pull up, the oil will slowly become incorporated into the egg yolk/spice mixture and in about 45 seconds, you will have perfect mayo!  It will keep two weeks in the fridge and I recommend slathering both sides of your bread and searing it on a griddle before assembling your sandwich.  Hey, if you only eat a proper BLT once a year, make it a good one.

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Soft-Scrambled Eggs

Soft Scrambled Eggs

Everyone wants to be known for something.  We all strive to be important in some way and to matter to more than just ourselves.  Some of us get little snippets of fame from the jobs we do or the opinions we have or maybe from how cute our red-headed children happen to be.  Most of this attention is fleeting – it can last a day, an online minute or maybe as much as a year before the new wears off.  A good friend once put it so well, regarding our need for others’ acceptance: “You’re only as good as your last performance.”  This is a shockingly true statement that I would venture most of us, at one time or another in our lives, have felt.

Over the last year, I’ve worked through the book, The Divine Conspiracy.  It has flipped my world upside down.  Or maybe, finally, right-side up.  I’d recommend it to anyone searching for something they can’t quite put their finger on. One of the main points early on in the book is that we have this need to matter and to be unique and special because we were specifically designed to be that way.  We were designed by an infinitely unique and powerful creator who made us to be just like Him.  So, it’s not bad to strive to be noticed.  It’s just futile to strive for the approval of our peers – of anyone but the One who created us to be His unique treasures in the first place.  And as we all know, most of our days are spent in search of approval, recognition or acceptance from people online.  People we never see and from a strange sea of online crowds who are simply going about their day trying to be noticed, too.  It’s futile.  At times, I want to unplug from it all and just be important to my family and my very small circle of friends with whom I physically see on a regular basis.  It would be so much simpler to be special and to matter to just 20 people instead of trying to impress 200.

How on earth is this post going to be about scrambled eggs?!  Well, through my first year as a new mother, I really picked up the baton of cooking for my family.  I have embraced it with the foreknowledge that the recipes I cook now will be the stories and the comfort food Olive talks about when she’s in college, missing home cooked meals.  This is how I have come to matter (in my eyes) to my world.  I cook.  I provide food for Matt and Olive and occasionally friends and when I am lucky, family as well.  I usually cook new things, new recipes, Pinterest inspirations, but there are a few dishes that I can make whether I’m sleepy or not, paying attention to measurements or holding a kid on my hip.  Soft scrambled eggs is one of these recipes.  They are actually more of a skill than you might think.  But with a little extra effort and attention, these eggs will blow your mind.  We’ve all had the over-cooked rubbery eggs on breakfast buffets the world over.  These, by contrast, are super creamy, soft, flavorful (not sulfury) and are mind-blowing on top of a piece of buttered toast.  It’s the ultimate comfort breakfast food.  I have had people remark about these eggs like, “What on earth did you put in these?!  Cheese?  Cream?”  Nope.  Salt and Pepper!  And a tablespoon of butter.  That’s it.

I’ll be really detailed in the recipe so that you, too, can learn to do these right.  They just require a little more whisking and a little less heat than you’re probably used to. I hope they become part of your weekly recipe repertoire and I hope that you really enjoy at least one recipe you make on a regular basis.  It could be chocolate chip cookies or banana pancakes or even a simple roasted chicken.  But if you find something that you enjoy doing and you do it enough times to do it well, you will be an instant local-celebrity in the eyes of the people sitting around your table. And that, for me, is becoming more than enough. It’s good to matter to at least a few people in this life and I can think of no more worthwhile group of people than family.

Soft Scrambled Eggs with Pesto

Soft Scrambled Eggs
4 eggs serves two people

4 large eggs
about a teaspoon of kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
1 tbs of unsalted butter.  If you use a butter substitute, I can’t help you

First, get your butter in a medium saucepan (like a good pan for soup) and turn on the heat to 3 or 4.  Seems low, but this is one of the tricks.  My stove’s lucky number is 4.  Yours might be hotter so adjust as you see fit.

While the butter is melting, crack the eggs into a big measuring cup and season with the salt and pepper like this:
seasoned eggs

Then, whisk whisk whisk until they are forming bubbles.  Like this:
well beaten eggs

By this point, your butter should nearly be on its way to getting frothy in the hot pan.  Pour in your eggs and start whisking.  I use a flat whisk (you can kinda see it in the pic) and it’s so excellent for getting into the edges of the pan.  Whisk almost constantly, occasionally lifting the pan away from the heat and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, fully incorporating the eggs as they cook so that you maintain a very small curd, like cottage cheese sized bits of egg.  Continue doing this; on the heat, off the heat, on the heat, off the heat, until your eggs are nearly looking done, and more on the side of creamy, but no traces of whites remain.  Your eggs will look underdone to you if you’ve never done this method before.  But trust me, if the whites are all gone and you have a super creamy consistency, you are ready to eat.  Get the eggs out of the pan immediately into a bowl and serve at once.  This morning I put some leftover pesto, which became my own green eggs and ham and it was a breakfast fit for a king.  Or a toddler. 🙂

The pesto WILL be a future blog post.  It’s the best I’ve ever had and it came from an Italian grandmother so you know it has to be legit.

soft scrambled eggs and pesto in a homemade tortilla