Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sour cream onion dip

Just in time for the Super Bowl. Or for any potato-chips-and-raw-veggies-with-dip kind of party. This is a very easy (and delicious) classic dip.

(Not my most appetizing photo. The dip should have been beautifully staged on a platter of colorful crudites. Today's schedule only allowed for quick snaps of the unadorned bowl. Like the cheese, today, the dip stands alone.)

What about an artsier angle? Hmmm...

Sour cream onion dip
Adapted from various sources

1 large sweet onion, diced fine
pinch salt
pinch sugar
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon beef broth concentrate or bouillon (optional)
vegetable oil

Drizzle oil into a pan. Heat to medium temp. Add onion and a pinch each of salt and sugar.
Cook the onion in the oil, shaking the pan occasionally rather than stirring, until the onion is dark brown and caramelized (10 minutes or so).

If using the beef broth concentrate or bouillon, add a half cup of water to the pan. Add concentrate or bouillon. Cook until almost all the liquid is gone.

Drain the onion mixture. Add the onion mixture to two cups of sour cream. Mix well. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight before serving. Serve with potato chips and/or raw vegetables.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beer-battered fried fish tacos with chipotle-lime dressing

Serendipity. I've said it before. It's my favorite word. A couple of weeks ago, Chasing Some Blue Sky, a wonderful food and life blog, featured pink grapefruit margaritas and grilled fish tacos with chipotle sauce. You'd better believe that caught my attention. Margaritas. Yum! Fish tacos with chipotle sauce. Double yum!

Unfortunately, my grill is currently buried under an ever-growing pile of snow. However, when Whole Foods featured fresh, wild-caught pollock fillets on sale, it was serendipity. We were going to have fish tacos. Fried in beer batter. I needed those extra calories after all that snow shoveling I've been doing lately. (Not really, but it was a good excuse.)

Beer-battered fried fish tacos with chipotle-lime dressing
Adapted from various sources

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup beer

1 (8 ounce) container light sour cream
1/2 cup adobo sauce from chipotle peppers
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons lime zest
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay™
salt and pepper to taste

Pico de gallo:
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced fine
1/4 medium onion, diced fine
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and deveined, diced fine
1/2 lime
salt to taste

1 1/2 lb pollock, cod, or similar fish cut into small pieces
1 package of corn tortillas
1 small head cabbage, cored and shredded OR 1 package cole slaw mix
1 avocado, cut into thin slices
2 limes, cut in wedges
vegetable oil

Dressing: Combine the sour cream and adobo sauce in a bowl. Stir in the lime juice, lime zest, cumin, chili powder, seafood seasoning. Add salt, and pepper in desired amounts. Cover, and refrigerate until needed.

Pico de gallo: Combine tomatoes, onion, and jalapeno in a bowl. Squeeze lime into bowl and mix well. Add salt to taste and mix well again.

Beer batter: In a large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Blend egg and beer, then quickly stir into the flour mixture (don't worry about a few lumps).

Heat about 1/4" vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Dip fish into beer batter, and fry in batches until crisp and golden brown, turning after a few minutes. Drain on paper towels. Add oil as needed.

Steam corn tortillas by wrapping them in a damp towel and heating in the microwave for 1 minute on high.

Assemble taco by placing fried fish on a tortilla. Add avocado slices and shredded cabbage. Drizzle with dressing and top with pico de gallo. Serve tacos with lime slices.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Odds and ends from the deep freeze

It's me, reporting from the deep freeze. Today was the coldest it has been since my move here. The coldest temperature I think I've ever experienced. In other words, it was wicked cold today.

A perfect day for a little housekeeping.

First, I want to share with you my new project, The Year of Living Mindfully. Maybe I'm being idealistic. Or stubborn. Maybe I'm overreacting. Regardless, I'd like to see if I can discover my authentic self in suburbia...amongst the laundry and the playdates and the chauffeuring. I'm focusing on living more mindfully this year and seeing just how and where this journey takes me. Mine won't be a journey of miles, but I think...hope anyway...that it will be an interesting and enlightening one. So I've created The Year of Living Mindfully blog. It's still in its infancy and will be evolving over time, but I'm very excited about the possibilities. I invite you to join me. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Maybe this will be your year to live mindfully as well.

My Bluebonnet in Beantown blog will continue to focus on design, cooking, photography, and travels. And other random bits that float through my life.

On a design-related note, here's the photo for those of you who wanted to see just how big a breadbox is (and how much it holds).

This breadbox measures 19” w x 5.5” h x 10” d, and holds two loaves of bread plus other bits and bobs. Later, I also managed to add two packages of tortillas. The breadbox is definitely large enough for my carb-loving family of five.

Keep warm, my friends!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Living life while paying attention

Recently, I've started reading a new book, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball. Her story is Eat, Pray, Love meets The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's what happens when a Harvard-educated New York City urbanite falls in love with a draft horse driving, electricity-eschewing farmer. He woos her by cooking meals of such authenticity that dirt is literally clinging to the vegetables and the meat is practically warm from slaughter. She moves from the city to a farm that they create together, trading in her 4 a.m. lattes for 4 a.m. farm chores.

The book is engaging, and Ms. Kimball writes well. Her evocations of fragrant, fresh, succulent meals mingle with the narration of their romance.

I skidded through her words. A few chapters in, I noticed that I was tickled by a niggling feeling.

Was that annoyance?

Which made me pause for thought. (Note: this pause for thought is rare for me, but as it was Sunday, I had the luxury of a little time.)

What was bothering me about her narrative? Was it envy? After more than twenty years of marriage, did I begrudge her rhapsody over her farmer's "long, chiseled torso, the size of his callused hand over [her] breast"?

Then it struck me. Can authenticity not be found in the suburbs? Memoirs such as this one or Eat, Pray, Love seem to be founded on a fundamental premise that one must leave in order to find one's authentic self. A person must go to Italy (or India or somewhere equally far-flung) or drastically change lifestyles (from urbanite to farmer's wife).

Why can't I find myself amongst the laundry and afterschool activities?

My response came from an unlikely source: Facebook. I'd posed this question as my status, and it had generated an interesting discussion among my friends. One had surmised that it was easier to change one's pattern of thought after making a drastic change, and that it was far more difficult to find time for self-reflection in between one's daily activities.

What if you didn't pause for thought between your activities? What would happen if instead, you just paid attention to your activities? After all, isn't that what a huge change does? It forces you to pay attention. To focus on gaining mastery of a new skill. To focus on how to navigate an unfamiliar landscape. To notice little details because you haven't grown used to them.

We call it "multitasking" or "using our time more efficiently." I'm a habitual offender, routinely browsing the web while catching up on a Tivo'd show. I'm constantly juggling. When I'm folding laundry, I'm thinking about dinner. When I'm cooking dinner, I'm thinking about this blog and checking my email and making sure my son practices guitar. Etc. etc. What's coming up in the next few minutes, the next hour, the next day, this week?

I remembered an article I'd read in the New York Times last fall. "When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays" focuses on research that showed that people "tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else." In fact, As Dr. Daniel Gilbert, one of the Harvard psychologists conducting the study, stated, "The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet."

So my feet don't need to be in an ashram or on a well-tended wheat field. They can be firmly planted in suburbia, as long as my head and heart are there as well.

So, how do I go about paying attention? My first impulse was to do something big. I'd take a photo of some detail of my life every day and publish it on my blog. But that would become another dreaded "must do" on my ever-expanding "to do" list. Not exactly the road to self-awareness, joy, and my most authentic self.

My delayed new year's resolution. I'm not going to dash to Indonesia (or even Maine), and I'm not going to forge a vastly different life from the one I already live. What I am going to do is to live my life while paying attention. Which sounds simple. But I'll bet it's not. And I'll write about it. Or maybe not. We'll see how it plays out. Maybe in the process, I'll discover that you can indeed find your most authentic self in the suburbs, amidst the laundry and the extracurriculars.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chocolate granola

What a disgusting New England winter day.

Now, I love New England. I even love New England winters. But today, my postal carrier said it best as he trudged uphill past me. "This is as annoying as it gets." Yessiree, ain't that the truth. Especially when I found myself up past my knees in a snowdrift, batting snowflake clumps the size of tumbleweeds off my lashes. At that moment, I was trying to herd four little girls on a hazard-littered jaunt over unshoveled sidewalks and unploughed roads from school to car.

Today was a perfect day for granola.

I've been on a bit of a granola trip lately. Winter always makes me want to bake. There's nothing cozier than a hot oven wafting the aroma of something warm and sweet through the house. At least granola is healthier than cookies, and this granola, in particular, is quite low in fat. Only one tablespoon of butter in the entire recipe. Why, I plonk a slab bigger than that on a baguette slice. And the almonds and dark chocolate? Good for you. Really.

By the way, go look at La Tartine Gourmande's original publication of this chocolate granola recipe. How can granola-related photos look so pure, ethereal, stylish? Merveilleuse. Vraiment.

Chocolate granola
Originally published on La Tartine Gourmande
(Makes 4.5 cups)

3 cups (300 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup (10 g) millet puffs
1/2 cup (10 g) rice puffs
1/2 cup (75 g) pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup (65 g) slivered almonds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (80 g) chopped dark chocolate (70 % or 64 % cocoa contents)

Preheat the oven to 300ºF and have a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper ready.
In a small pot, combine the water, honey, sugar, butter (or use a vegetable oil if you prefer), salt and vanilla. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the sugar is dissolved.

In a large bowl, combine the other ingredients minus the chopped dark chocolate. Stir in the liquid to the dry ingredients.

Transfer the granola mixture to the baking sheet and cook for 45 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon a few times to make sure that the granola cooks evenly. Let cool completely.

Transfer to an air-tight container and add the chocolate. Enjoy with plain yogurt or any type of milk of your choice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spicy Mexican soup with shrimp

Tortilla soup meets wild-caught Maine shrimp. An improbable, but perfect marriage of Tex-Mex and New England. Just the right food after a cold day of sledding and snow fort building, this spicy, flavorful soup will warm you up. Warning: your littles may not appreciate it. My most adventurous eater gobbled it up (but asked for milk to kill the capsaicin burn). The two others didn't eat it at all.

Spicy Mexican soup with shrimp
Adapted from a recipe originally published in Bon Appétit, November 2000

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 roasted poblano pepper, finely chopped (you could skip roasting this, and sauté with the rest of the vegetables)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
8 cups chicken broth
1 28-ounce can golden hominy, drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes with liquid
2 teaspoons canned chipotle chiles, seeds removed and finely chopped

1 pound uncooked small shrimp, peeled and deveined
blue tortilla chips
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
lime wedges (optional)
avocado (optional)

Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion, chopped carrot, minced garlic, dried oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Sauté until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, golden hominy, roasted poblano, crushed tomatoes, frozen corn, and chipotle chiles. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes uncovered. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add shrimp. Raise heat to high, and cook until opaque in center, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Serve soup over crumbled blue tortilla chips. Top with chopped avocado and/or cilantro. Serve soup, passing lime wedges separately.

A deliciously colorful soup

Friday, January 14, 2011

Roast chicken with cumin, honey, and orange juice

More simple food, this is one of Mark Bittman's variations on his Simplest Whole Roast Chicken. Serve (as I did) with tortillas, avocado, and refried beans. Or it would marry beautifully with couscous...maybe with dates? It really cooks swiftly (my chicken took 45 minutes) so keep an eye out toward the end. My attempt ended up more blackened than browned. The flavor is fabulous, and the chicken turns out moist, tender, and perfectly cooked. Best of all, it's very easy.

Afterwards, take the chicken carcass and put it in a pot with 6 cups of water, one medium onion (peeled and quartered), two stalks celery (cut into sticks), and two carrots (cut into sticks). Bring to a boil, then simmer for two hours. Strain out the solids and you have a fantastic homemade chicken stock. I'm planning to use it as a base for tortilla soup.

Roast chicken with cumin, honey, and orange juice
From How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 450°F. Five minutes after turning on the oven, put a cast-iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet on a rack set low in the oven. Rub the chicken with the olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

When both oven and pan are hot, 10 or 15 minutes later, carefully put the chicken, breast side up, in the hot skillet. Roast, undisturbed, for 20 to 30 minutes.

If at any point during the cooking the pan juices begin to smoke, just add a little water or wine (white or red, your choice) to the pan. This will reduce browning, however, so don't do it unless you must.

Mix orange juice, garlic, cumin, and honey together. Spoon or brush the mixture over the chicken. Roast, undisturbed, for another 20 to 30 minutes until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh registers 155–165°F.

Tip the pan to let the juices from the bird's cavity flow into the pan (if they are red, cook for another 5 minutes). Transfer the bird to a platter and let it rest.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vintage + Etsy = love

From tentpitcher design at Etsy:

A vintage enamel-covered metal breadbox. Isn't she a beauty? With a bit of rust and a slightly imperfect finish (I refer to this as "patina"). Exactly as described by Lise at tentpitcher. Large enough for multiple loaves of bread. I love having the bread on the countertop, close at hand.

These vintage enamel-covered bread boxes appear from time to time on eBay and Etsy. They also sometimes show up at antique shows or vintage shops. Modern bread boxes with retro styling are still in production as well.

Polder makes this white toolbox-style bread box. It's also available in black.

And for those craving a bit more color, Wesco makes a line of bread boxes (or bread bins as they're called in the UK) in a spectrum of saturated, playful colors. Based on the original 1940s Wesco design, these bins are made in Germany.

The Breadboy from Wesco offers a slight variant on the toolbox shape. Absolutely beautiful.

My green beauty will definitely not be showing up on regretsy. If you've decided that a vintage (or modern) enamel-coated bread box is in your kitchen's future, happy hunting! It may take a little while, but I know you'll find just the right one.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cranberry pumpkin granola

Delicious. Easy. Hearty. Full of classic cold-weather flavors like maple syrup, cranberries, and pumpkin. Did I mention delicious? I kept grabbing handfuls of it while it was cooling on the trays.

My family loves granola so this recipe has been on my "to cook" list for a couple of months. And who doesn't like granola? One of the few foods to become an adjective. (Are there others? Cheesy maybe, but not "cheese" itself. Hmmm...sorry...Brain is off on a tangent.)

Cranberry pumpkin granola (makes about 6 cups)
Adapted very slightly from We Are Not Martha

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup maple syrup
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut
two pinches (a heaping 1/8 teaspoon) ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Melt the butter, pumpkin, and maple syrup in a saucepan. Cook on medium for about 5 minutes.

While that’s cooking, combine oats, sunflower seeds, cranberries, nuts, and coconut in a large bowl. Mix it all together. Pour the pumpkin syrup over the oat mixture. Add the spices and salt. Stir everything together.

Butter 2 baking sheets. Divide granola on the two sheets, spreading into one layer.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until lightly browned. For best results, make sure you stir the granola every 15 minutes or so, and rotate the pans if needed. Cool. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A simple spoon roast

At the start of every new year, I feel a need to simplify. Maybe it's a reaction to the excesses of the holidays. Or maybe it's just a practical way to begin another year. Less extraneous things and activities and distractions. Pared down.

So in keeping with my theme, this spoon roast* is prepared quite simply. Roasted dry in the oven for hours, it comes out pink and meltingly tender. I chose to rub it with olive oil and various seasonings. You could choose an even simpler kosher salt rub or salt, pepper, and oil. Whatever you'd like. Just season the roast the day before. Wrap it in cellophane and refrigerate.

I really was unsure about this. I'd never cooked a roast in the oven without any liquid. Maybe it would turn out to be a dried-up hunk o' meat.

Vegetarian friends, look away.

The meat was unbelievably tender and an even shade of dark pink all the way through. I was a bit nervous about feeding my littles such rare beef so I pan-seared their slices in a cast iron skillet with a bit of olive oil. Their more well-done slices were just as tender. A carnivore's delight.

A simple spoon roast
Gathered from many sources with special nods to and Mark Bittman

Spoon roast (mine was a bit under 4 lbs)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper

Salt and pepper roast to taste. Mix olive oil, vinegar, thyme, garlic, and bay leaf together. Slather generously over the entire roast. Wrap in cellophane and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Place roast on rack in dutch oven or roasting pan. Layer onion slices over the top of the roast. Cook in oven for 5-6 minutes per pound. Turn down oven to 150ºF. Cook for 6 to 8 hours.

Now, I don't have a separate oven thermometer so I'm not sure how Agatha's oven behaves at 150ºF. However, after 6+ hours, the meat was only at 140º. Too low for us. So I cranked up the oven to 300ºF for another 20 minutes. Next time I do this recipe, I'll probably up the low roasting temperature to 175ºF.

The leftovers will make perfect sandwiches with a dollop of horseradish. Yum!

* "What is a spoon roast?" you may ask. My first answer is a cut of meat that was on sale at Whole Foods. After some research, my second, more informative answer is that a spoon roast is a marketing term for top sirloin (or top butt, top sirloin butt, or center-cut roast). Do the grocers interchange all of these names just to be confusing? I need a cow anatomy/terminology diagram, mapped out like a sixth-grade European geography lesson.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Agatha the Aga meets holiday cooking

Before I turn the page on the 2010 holidays, I wanted to review how Agatha handled the holiday cooking frenzy. A couple of emails have asked me about her oven size. Because the Aga Legacy's ovens are much smaller than a standard 30" range's, it's a sensible concern. In my small kitchen, it's wonderful having two ovens (plus separate broiler) without sacrificing much-needed counter space. The ovens can definitely handle everyday cooking. But, the big question remained. Could it accommodate the Thanksgiving turkey?

The moment of truth: Agatha meets 21-pound turkey.

Cooked perfectly. Incredibly moist and tender (although brining probably contributed to this).

It was wonderful to be able to do a couple of side dishes in one oven while the turkey cooked in the other. With the six burners spread over 44", there was plenty of space for the mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Plus room for the turkey to rest and rolls to sit.

Agatha even handled my last-minute cookie baking frenzy with aplomb. Although her ovens are small, I was able to bake multiple trays of cookies at once. Because the ovens are convection, each tray came out evenly baked.

Well done, Agatha.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ringing in the new (IKEA Ramsjö butler's pantry)

We said goodbye to 2010 quietly. The past two days were not soaked in auld lang syne and champagne. Instead, bleary-eyed after an intense two days of IKEA cabinet building, we paused for a quick prosecco toast, surrounded by stray screws and a massive cardboard mountain.

This morning, we awoke to 2011 and our new butler's pantry.

Like the kitchen proper, the butler's pantry needs more finish work, but for now, it functions. You can see a peek of the Farrow & Ball Farrow's Cream (the wall color for both pantry and kitchen). Below is the pull-out pantry. Fantastic for organizing pantry staples and canned goods.

Can I confess something?

I'm tired of making design decisions. Between refreshing our old house for sale and renovating this one, I'm on my third straight year of renovations. I'm crispy. Many of you have been renovating your older homes for years. I don't know how you do it. Many, many kudos to you.

So. I just wanted the butler's pantry done. No angsting over details. I did have a few requirements. 1. I wanted wood. My butler's pantry is at a junction between kitchen, dining room, mudroom, and back hall. It's high traffic, and I thought wood would hold up better (and be easier to paint or redo if dinged). 2. I wanted to complement the already existing finishes in the house. 3. I needed for it to be done relatively inexpensively.

The black-brown Ramsjö is more transitional than my eclectic, vintage-looking kitchen. The color echoes the black Aga, the dark soapstone, my black dining and breakfast room chairs, and the black painted paneling in the powder room. It's also a beautiful kitchen cabinet door and finish. To boost the vintage factor, I'll add a Vermont Danby marble counter (we're using a butcher block remnant for now). I'm also on the hunt for an antique mirror to use as a backsplash, and maybe...if I'm feeling ambitious, I'll wallpaper the interior back.

Of course...I put mixed pulls on the cabinetry.

The pull toward the rear is the polished nickel Bistro from Restoration Hardware. The knobs are all from Anthropologie (from left to right, the Ceramic Melon Knob in linen,  the Chronograph Knob, and Mercury Glass Melon Knob). Whew! I love having fun with hardware.

I hope that you all had a wonderful 2010. Here's to many adventures (and only a few misadventures) in 2011!