Tuesday, March 29, 2011

And flights of angels...

Good night, sweet Portia, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

March 18, 2008 - March 29, 2011

I'll see you at Rainbow Bridge.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A spicy Guinness mustard, part two

"Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!"

I feel like Alice's White Rabbit lately (though sans waistcoat or pocketwatch...or whiskers, thankfully). Rushing about, muttering to myself. Maybe I've fallen through my own personal rabbit hole because the Red Queen's comment feels very apropos. "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" Which sums up my past few weeks perfectly.

So...here's my much delayed part two of the spicy Guinness mustard.

First, I had to use a blender and not a food processor to grind up the mustard seeds. It was magical how everything thickened from a soupy mess into...mustard.

Second, the recipe makes a lot of mustard. Repeat. An enormous quantity of mustard. A quart of mustard. Unless you run a deli out of your home or have a mustard fetish (that I don't want to hear about), you will not be able to consume this amount of mustard in six months. We gave some mustard to friends. Yes, I give mustard to my friends. And sometimes granola. Or scones. Or cookies. The downside of writing a food blog is that somebody has to eat all this food that I cook. And now that my metabolism is well into its 40s, that someone had best not be me.

Finally, after blending, refrigerate the mustard for a few days and let it mellow before eating. At first, it's quite prickly and pungent. After a few days, all of the disparate flavors blend into a nice balance. Delicious.

Really, making mustard is unbelievably easy, and the raw ingredients are quite cheap (especially compared to the cost of the specialty mustards in the stores). I think I'm inspired to make another mustard soonish.

(Spicy Guinness mustard, part one, the recipe)

Monday, March 21, 2011

In springtime

In springtime,
The only pretty ring time,
Birds sing, "Hey ding...a-ding a-ding."
Sweet lovers love...the spring.

~ Willy Wonka

Happy first day of spring!

To celebrate, I had ideas. Plans, even. Plans and ideas. All of which centered around photographing signs of spring. A green blade thrusting through the dirt. Fat bursting buds. Maybe even a flower.

But I live in New England, home of tempermental weather. For most of the day, it snowed. And slurried. And spit icy rain. All in all, a most unspringlike beginning to spring.

The mail saved the day.

There's something about the phrase "Royal Mail" that evokes romance. "United States Postal Service" just doesn't have the same ring. "Royal Mail" conjures up images of a gleaming carriage à la Cinderella. And a footman with powdered peruke bowing, "Your package, Madame."

Inside the package? Buttons! English buttons!

I greedily poured them through my fingers. They felt smooth, lovely. If I were a miser, I'd cackle happily. Instead (because...you know...I'm not), I poured them into a jar.

Don't these colors remind you of springtime?

So much prettier than the slushy gray outside. I absolutely love the gentle greens and pale lemons and muted ocher. The colors remind me of my Cooking Apple Green kitchen.

So what am I planning to do with a jar of buttons? "Stay tuned," say I mysteriously.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A St. Patrick's Day spicy Guinness mustard

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I wanted to make spicy Guinness mustard. I'd first seen the recipe months ago on a great food/photography blog, Chasing Some Blue Sky. As it was during my Summer of Living Kitchenlessly, I made a mental note and stashed it away in my cluttered brain.

Fast forward to last night when I finally sat down to make a grocery list. (I'd meant to make the  mustard earlier this week, but somehow, volunteering at the kids' schools devoured my schedule. Like a 50s horror flick..The PTO of Terror! (In 3D!). Don't get me wrong. I love working at the schools. I love getting to know the kids and chatting with parents. But sometimes, I really need to exercise my "saying no" skills.) Anyway, last night I discovered that...oops...the ingredients are supposed to sit for 1-2 days. And I don't have 1 1/2 cups of brown mustard seeds at hand. Soooo...

Here's the mustard-to-be, steeping away. I'll let you know how it tastes in a couple of days. (I'm planning to have it with Irish bangers...and maybe more Guinness.)

Spicy Guinness Mustard
From Saveur Issue 117

1 12-oz. bottle Guinness Extra Stout
1 1⁄2 cups brown mustard seeds (10 oz.)*
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp. ground cloves
1⁄4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice

Combine ingredients in a nonreactive mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 1–2 days so that the mustard seeds soften and the flavors meld.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor and process, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until the seeds are coarsely ground and the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a jar and cover.

Refrigerate overnight and use immediately or refrigerate for up to 6 months. (The flavor of the mustard will mellow as the condiment ages.)

*I found brown mustard seeds in the Indian food section of the grocery store. Just a suggestion if it's not stocked with spices.

Note: Here's the followup to my spicy Guinness mustard.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kitchen shelf love

This may be a classic case of a picture is worth a thousand words.

I love open shelves in kitchens. Whether they're elegantly decorative or eclectic and functional, open shelves have a certain warm, inviting charm. So you can imagine my happy dance when Will put up my wall shelves. It's the perfect place to stash the girls' art supplies.

And a place to showcase my favorite Mason Cash bowl. I smile every time I walk into my kitchen.

The new display space inspired me to research white ironstone. Did you know that white ironstone is trendy? I had no idea. Is there some odd Jungian collective kitchen decorating unconscious at work here? I've been spending many happy hours puttering around etsy looking at white ironstone.

You can really see the wall color here...Farrow & Ball Farrow's Cream. A gently sunny color...perfect for our many gray New England days. Only a few more items to finish before my kitchen is 100% done. (Or maybe it will always be a work lovingly in progress...)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Local littleneck clams with linguini

If you love clams (and live in the Boston area), run to your local Whole Foods for their weekly special: local live mahogany littleneck clams for 99 cents per pound. You heard me. 99 cents. Locally sourced. You can have an Italian feast for well under $10. Their special is good through Tuesday, depending upon availability.

Don't laugh. I felt a bit squeamish about...well...clam death. Clam death in olive oil sounded particularly medieval. But I've happily eaten scallops and clams at restaurants, and thought it would be hypocritical to resist being the one to actually deliver the coup de grâce. And what a delicious coup de grâce it was.

Local littleneck clams with linguini
From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 pounds littleneck or other tiny hard-shell clams or cockles, scrubbed
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon red hot pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
1 pound linguine or other long pasta
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley leaves

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put half the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over high heat. When hot, add the clams and cook, gently shaking the skillet or stirring the clams occasionally, until the first few of them open, after about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and, if you're using them, the hot red pepper flakes and cover for a minute. Uncover, then continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the clams are open (any that are not open at this point may be opened at the table with an ordinary butter knife), about 3 more minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the clams covered.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling water, stirring occasionally, until it is just becoming tender but is still underdone; drain it, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Sprinkle the clams with salt and pepper and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Turn the heat to medium; add the pasta to the clams and cook, stirring, until the pasta is tender, just a minute or so, adding the reserved cooking water if the mixture seems dry. Stir in the parsley, taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oatmeal Pecan Maple Thins (and Throwdown with Bobby Flay)

Maple sugaring season is in full flow. Warming temperatures have started the sap flowing through area maples. As I learned last February, the collected sap is boiled multiple times until it reaches the amber sweetness we love. (If you want to learn more about maple sugaring in the Boston area, Mass Audubon is offering several maple sugaring programs at various sites in the next couple of weeks. Check their website for more details.) 

A perfect time to bake a maple syrup treat, and what better treat than this buttery, crisp cookie from local bakery, Bread and Chocolate. I'm particularly excited to try this recipe because tonight on the Food Network, Bread and Chocolate owner Eunice Feller goes head to head...or pie to pie...with Bobby Flay. Boston cream pie versus Boston cream pie. An epic throwdown of Massachusetts' official dessert. Tune in, my friends. The episode airs today, March 9, at 8:30 ET/PT. Check your local listings for details. If you're in the area, stop by either of Bread and Chocolate's two locations in Newtonville and the Newton Highlands. My particular favorites are the twice baked brioche and almond croissants. Yum!

Oatmeal Pecan Maple Thins
From Bread and Chocolate
Servings: 24 cookies

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 baking soda
1 and 1/2 cup quick oats
1 cup pecans, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Mix maple syrup, sugar, and egg with an electric mixer on medium until well blended. Add melted butter. Beat at medium speed until all the wet ingredients are well incorporated into a nice emulsion. Add flour, salt, baking soda, and quick oats. Mix. Fold chopped pecans into the batter by hand. No worries. This dough will be a little wet.

Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop dough onto lined cookie sheets. Leave plenty of room around the cookies because they will spread during baking. Bake at 350ºF for 15-20 minutes. Rotate sheets and change shelves halfway through the baking time. Watch the cookies after 15 minutes. You want them to be browning and crisp, but not burned. Remove from oven. Cool on the cookie sheets, and then transfer to wire racks.

Eunice Feller suggests that these cookies are great for ice cream sandwiches or as a base for cheesecake. For a fantastic plated dessert, place one cookie on a plate. Add a scoop of ice cream. Drizzle maple syrup over everything, and top with some more chopped pecans. Easy and elegant.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chicken and smoked sausage gumbo

Happy Mardi Gras!

And in the spirit of that joyous day of carousing and parading and beads, here's a wonderful chicken and smoked sausage gumbo recipe. Warning: a nice dark roux will take at least 20-25 minutes of stirring. It's like a risotto in terms of being labor-intensive. Think of it as culinary strength conditioning. Don't be scared off. Making the roux is the most demanding part. Afterwards, the gumbo simmers happily like a stew.

Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo with White Rice
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse from The Essence of Emeril

Serves: 6 to 7 cups, 6 to 8 servings

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick pieces
4 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed (I used 1.75 pounds of boneless, skinless thighs)
1 tablespoon Essence or Creole seasoning, recipe follows
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell peppers
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 bay leaves
9 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon filé powder*
White long grain rice
Hot sauce

In a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven or large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until well browned, about 8 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Season the chicken with the Essence and add in batches to the fat remaining in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan, let cool, and then refrigerate until ready to use.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup oil and the flour in the same Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, to make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate.

Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and cook, stirring, until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the reserved sausage, salt, cayenne, and bay leaves, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring, slowly add the chicken stock, and cook, stirring, until well combined. Slowly adding the stock is key, allowing the stock to be completely incorporated into the roux. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.

Remove the pot from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken thighs from the gumbo and place on a cutting board to cool slightly. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Shred, discarding the bones and skin. Return the meat to the gumbo and stir in the green onions, parsley, and file powder.

Spoon rice into the bottom of deep bowls or large cups and ladle the gumbo on top. Serve, passing hot sauce on the side.

*A mainstay of spicy Cajun and Creole cooking, filé powder is a traditional thickener for gumbos. Characterized by a woodsy flavor reminiscent of root beer, the olive-green powder is made from the dried, pulverized leaves of the sassafras tree, which is native to Louisiana bayou country. (from the Williams-Sonoma website)

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast)
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse
Yield: 2/3 cup 

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Congratulations to our CSN giveaway winner

Our congratulations go to comment #33: shala_darkstone!

You've won the $20 CSN Stores gift certificate. Happy shopping!

Many thanks to everyone who entered and to CSN Stores for sponsoring this giveaway!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

This Tuesday comes Mardi Gras or literally Fat Tuesday, the big bacchanalia before the penitence and self-denial of Lent. At chez Bluebonnet, we celebrated Mardi Gras tonight.

Our king cake from Manny Randazzo arrived on our portico straight from Metairie. Friends came over for gumbo and french bread and Hurricanes. The Hurricane's sweet/sour fruity taste took me straight back to my youth and Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter. Now with this cocktail, you can enjoy the spirit of the Quarter and Mardi Gras. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Hurricane (a New Orleans cocktail)
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse's recipe

Serves 5-6

6 ounces light rum
6 ounces dark rum
2 ounces grenadine
3 ounces passion fruit juice
5 ounces fresh orange juice
5 ounces fresh lime juice
1.5 tablespoons superfine sugar, or more to taste*
1 large orange, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

Mix all the ingredients in a tall pitcher and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add ice cubes and garnish with orange slices. Serve in tall glasses over ice with a straw.

* I created my own superfine sugar by simply running sugar through my blender.