Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Savory Side

It’s a little strange, buying a house, moving into a neighborhood, and knowing that you will be living next to these people for, most likely, the better part of a decade or more.  Of course, one of the best parts of moving into a real neighborhood is the neighbors (although I know some disagree).  We are fortunate with the neighbors we have.  Not only are they all friendly and helpful, but one of them is in the food business, and he gives us samples.  Lots of samples.  In fact, sometimes I am planning my weekly meals around the items he's dropped off for us.  Two weeks ago he gave us some frozen puff pastry squares, which I turned into dinner last night.

People naturally associate baking and pastry with sweet, but there is an entire savory side that gets forgotten.  It's surprising, because the dishes you can make are not so rare:  chicken pot pie, quiche, empanadas, beef wellington, etc.  I like to make my own pie crust for dishes that call for it, but puff pastry daunts me (all laminated doughs scare me. Still, I have them on my to-learn list).  Quality frozen puff pastry does the trick, and makes this an easy weeknight meal.  Depending on how inquisitive your kids are, it can be a great meal for children, since everything is hidden beneath buttery, flaky layers of pastry.

Turnovers with Leek, Mushroom, and Chevre Filling

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
4 oz. mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 oz. goat cheese crumbles
6 frozen puff-pastry turnover squares, thawed
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Heat 1 T of butter or olive oil in a large skillet.  Add your leeks and sauté for two or three minutes.  Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until mushrooms are dark in color and both mushrooms and leeks are very soft.  Allow to cool to close to room temperature. 

Spread each puff-pastry square with a spoonful or so of filling, slightly off center.  Be careful not to over fill.  Moisten the edges with water, and then fold the pastry in a diagonal, pressing the edges to seal.  In a small bowl, beat the egg with a teaspoon of water.  Using a pastry brush or a paper towel, brush the egg wash over the turnovers.  With a sharp knife, make two or three slices in the top for steam to vent.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.

You can use any type of filling you would like, pick a cuisine and get creative: ground lamb, feta, and mint; tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella; you get the idea.  Oh yes, and although I just made the case for savory pastries, don’t forget that any unused pastry squares could be dessert for the next night.  Just sprinkle a little chopped, dark chocolate in the middle, bake, and there you have it.  Butter and chocolate; who could ask for anything more?

Friday, January 20, 2012

In Preparation for Snow

Isn't it wonderful when literature insinuates itself in your everyday life.  A conversation I had on a walk in the woods with a friend brought this to mind.

We take daylight for granted.  But moonlight is another matter.  It is inconstant. The full moon wanes and returns again.  Clouds may obscure it to an extent to which they cannot obscure daylight.  Water is necessary to us, but a waterfall is not.  Where it is to be found it is something extra, a beautiful ornament.  We need daylight and to that extent it is utilitarian, but moonlight we do not need.  When it comes, it serves no necessity.  It transforms.  It falls upon the banks and the grass, separating one long blade from another; turning a drift of brown, frosted leaves for a single heap to innumerable flashing fragments; or glimmering lengthways along wet twigs as though light itself were ductile.  Its long beams fading as the recede into the powdery, misty distance of beech woods at night.  In moonlight, two acres of coarse bent grass, undulant and ankle deep, tumbled and rough as a horse’s mane, appear like a bay of waves, all shadowy troughs and hollows.  The growth is so thick and matted that even the wind does not move it, but it is the moonlight that seems to confer stillness upon it.  We do not take moonlight for granted.  It is like snow, or like the dew on a July morning.  It does not reveal but changes what it covers.  And its low intensity – so much lower than that of daylight- makes us conscious that it is something added to the down, to give it, for only a little time, a singular and marvelous quality that we should admire while we can, for soon it will be gone again.

--Richard Adams, Watership Down

TV and Brownies

I've been indulging lately in two unhealthy habits; TV and brownies.  Typically, I don't watch that much television.  Okay, I should correct that; I don't watch much "grown-up" TV.  I do have a strong familiarity with all things Nick Jr. and PBS Kids Go.  My husband and I only have a few shows we like to watch together, so in the evenings we may watch one or two episodes after the kids are tucked in, and then I will either read or head up to bed (I live an exciting life, can't you tell?).

Last week was just off, however.  We started the actual painting of the first floor.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, "how much harder is it to paint a room with two little ones underfoot?" the answer is "exponentially harder."  Sickness and the general running around we did to avoid working out of necessity, prolonged the project and it is still far from being complete.  Chaos had come for a visit, unpacked its suitcase, and was already leaving its dirty laundry on the floor and bossing me about in the kitchen.  The few hours I spent watching TV in the evenings were a welcome escape.

Why do I get so invested in television shows that were canceled after just one or two seasons?  Most recently it was Eli Stone, but Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies are on this same list.  I should know better, since I'm going into it aware that they were dropped.  Story lines do not get resolved, or are unsatisfactorily so.  Then after I've finished all there is of the series, I am left with a nagging, robbed feeling; and in this last case, a small crush on Jonny Lee Miller.

And the brownies, well, what can I say except, I love brownies.  This is another creation from Yvette Van Boven's Home Made.  I'm not going to lie, I exhibited some cultural prejudices and attempted this recipe with some hesitation.  Overseas, I had a lot of brownies from European bakeries.  They were light and wonderfully chocolaty, but they were more like cakes, not brownies.  I like chewy, fudgy squares that have crinkly tops and edges.  Van Boven has made me eat my words about European brownies.  Her recipe may even surpass Ina Garten's recipe and my go-to brownie.

Chewy Chocolate Raisin Brownies adapted from Home Made by Yvette Van Boven

I am not entirely sure my brownies came out as she intended.  I did not use self-rising flour, and I am sure my eggs and sugar were not whipped to "a light, airy foam."  Still, I have trouble imagining how the result could be improved upon.  They are moist and chewy with a delicious salty note.  Next time I am going to add hazelnuts and make my own "fruit and nut" brownie.

*Note: To make your own self-rising flour: add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt to one cup of flour.  You can make a bunch to have on hand and use in recipes as directed.

1 1/4 sticks of butter, cubed
8 oz semi sweet chocolate, in chunks (I used Ghiradelli semi-sweet morsels)
2 eggs
2/3 + 2 T sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup self-rising flour, sifted *see note above
pinch of salt
1 cup chocolate covered raisins

Preheat your oven to 340 degrees and grease or butter and flour a 8" x 8" baking pan

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave or in a double boiler.(I find using a double boiler easier and there is less potential for mess.) Remove it from the heat and leave to cool.  Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until the mixture is light in color and thick and foamy.  If you are doing this by hand it should take about 5 minutes with a wire whisk.  Gradually fold the chocolate into the the egg-sugar mixture.  Fold in your  self-rising flour, and add a generous pinch of salt.  Lastly, add the raisins.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the middle comes out clean.  Let cool completely and then cut into pieces.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A pot poured out

A pot poured out
Fulfills its spout
            by Samuel Menashe

This poem comes to mind often.  Why does it give me the comfort it does? 

Weekends = Bacon and Eggs

I love weekends: sleeping late, taking a long, hot shower, coming downstairs and reading in my favorite chair by a sunny window. Okay, so I’m projecting into the future a few years.  That’s what I’m hoping for once my kids grasp the concept of “the weekend;” once Sam stops waking up at 4:30, still needing to sleep, but kicking and punching me for the next two hours while he lays in our bed; once Max understands that just because the sun is awake, we don’t have to be (I was never so happy for Daylight Savings Time to end!).  Right now, weekend mornings pretty much blend into the weekday mornings, with one exception: breakfast.

We’ve been stuck in a breakfast rut.  I’m not going to lie, Monday through Thursday; my kids’ breakfast is typically something that we can put in the toaster, along with some fruit or yogurt.  This is mostly due to the fact that my boys wake up early, and want to eat breakfast the moment they reach the bottom stair. (This morning I rose to the sound of claves being struck together.  “I thought this would be a nice way to wake you, Mom.”  It wasn’t.)  I satisfy myself with a bowl of cold cereal, or oatmeal if the morning has been going well.   Most weekends, my husband takes the lead on breakfast, which often translates to bacon and eggs.  Pancakes or toast might be involved too, but most likely there will be some fried or scrambled eggs, and a plate of perfectly baked (yes, we bake our bacon) bacon on the table.

I have a love/hate relationship with these big breakfasts.  I love to eat them, I hate cleaning up after them.  Edward is gifted at getting everything on the table while it is still hot, but in the process uses about six more dishes than I would.  Once breakfast is over and the table and dishes cleaned, the morning has pretty much 
been spent.

Oeuf Cocotte adapted from Home Made by Yvette Van Boven

I have found my new favorite way to have bacon and eggs.  In fact, you don’t have to make these with bacon, but can use any “filling” you would like.  Sautéed mushrooms, onions, ham, any leftovers from the night before, anything that strikes your fancy.  One of the best things about this dish is that everything is contained within the ramekin (unless you do have to fry up some bacon), so clean up is a breeze. 

Salt and pepper
1 T heavy cream
1-2 T filling
1 egg
Chives, parsley, or other topping (I used some rosemary on mine)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Grease an ovenproof bowl or ramekin with butter and sprinkle it with salt and pepper

Add about one scant tablespoon of heavy cream to the bottom of the bowl. 

Add whatever filling you would like.  I used some bacon we had already cooked up
Crack an egg over the filling and add whatever spices, herbs, or topping you would like

Put the ramekins into a shallow baking dish.  Pour boiling water into the dish until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.   Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the white is solid and the yolk is as firm as you would like.  Since my kids were eating it as well, I baked mine closer to 20 minutes.

Garnish and serve.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Envy

Envy is the sin that I am most guilty of.  I just said that out loud, and my sister Tess, is questioning me.

"You think...let me go over these again...I don't know, gluttony is cutting it pretty close.  And don't forget about sloth."

I'll admit, sloth is probably up there on my list.  In fact, this blogging interlude is brought to you by the walls I am supposed to be sanding and prepping for paint.  I finished the seven foot hallway coming into my kitchen, and called it done.

Envy is my greatest character flaw though, I am certain.  The good thing is, I'm rarely jealous of people I know (siblings excluded).  Also, I covet objects in phases, so I am not brooding about something for too long.  Right now, I am plagued by two serious bouts of envy.  One is camera envy.  My pictures, especially my food pictures, are just not turning out, and it's driving me crazy.  The other is chimney envy.  We bought a house without a fireplace, and most days I think I'm okay with that.  Still, as I look out my window and see white smoke puffing from the chimney behind me on a cold afternoon (afternoon fires are the best, don't you agree?), the green-eyed monster comes out.  Sometimes I drive around the neighborhood, talking to my husband, "Look at the chimney on that house.  Man, I bet they have a fireplace in their living room, and their master bedroom."  Yes, chimney envy has got me bad; but on a day like today, can you blame me?

A few hours later

Thursday, January 5, 2012

While my son is napping

Wow, it's already January 5th, and this is my first post of the New Year.  You see, I didn't mention before that one of my secret resolutions is to blog more often.  I've said that time and time again, but this time I am serious.  How many times have I said that?  Still, I am serious.  Also, I think I need to bring my "more structure/organization" resolution into my blog, so I am planning some sort of overhaul to happen in the next few weeks.

Today though, nothing much is happening.  Sam, my youngest, has gone through three outfits by eleven o' clock.  I am in my second, after his upset stomach took vengeance on me for feeding him toast.  After showering the two of us and doing a load of laundry (this was supposed to be a laundry-free day), I am beat.  Pretty sad, since it's not even noon.  We will not be venturing out today, and there were so many things I need (ok...want) to purchase.  I have new cookbooks with recipes I must try!  Three were Christmas gifts, but I also purchased one for myself a few days after.  (I normally do not buy myself things I want so soon after Christmas, but I was starting to feel incomplete without Yvette Van Boven's Home Made.  It came yesterday, and just looking at the pictures makes my cup runneth over.)

Still, it's good to be forced to stay still and just enjoy what you already have around you.  I have several books to read, and right now I am really enjoying listening to my son, Max, direct his color pencils to "work together, good guys."

Oh yes, and I want to share that I had my first "order" for an apple pie this week.  I am more than happy about that.