Tag: weekend cooking


Weekend Cooking: Magical Truffle Salt

Posted 20 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Have you heard the good news? No, not Jesus. Truffle salt. 

Guys, I’m a salt lover by nature – I pretty much can be counted on to salt everything. I also love gourmet foods so a little truffle shavings on my gratin works just fine for me thank you very much.

You can get truffle salt at World Market and other high end grocery stores. Of course you can also get it through Amazon as well. A few weeks ago I made a very boring crockpot pork chop recipe, I added some truffle salt and holy poop on a stick, I could not stop eating those pork chops. 

What else? Popcorn, y’all. Instead of using Morton’s to salt your popcorn whip out that truffle salt and it turns popcorn into an amazing gourmet fancy treat. 

So far I’ve been using it willy-nilly on things that it seems like it might be good on, but pretty soon I’m going to check out some real recipes and report back. For now here are 15 Delicious Ways to Use Truffle Salt.

Hopefully I’ll remember to link this up to Weekend Cooking on Beth Fish Reads.

Do you have a favorite seasoning or spice, Reader? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Sous Chef

Posted 11 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Weekend Cooking: Sous ChefSous Chef by Michael Gibney
Published by Random House Publishing Group on March 25th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Cooking, Essays & Narratives, General, Personal Memoirs, Professional
Pages: 240
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.   In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare.

An interesting little memoir that’s told in a weird second person format. Overall, it’s pretty enjoyable. It’s especially enjoyable if you like to eat at expensive high end restaurants. Sous Chef gives an enlightening feel of what goes on behind the scenes at such places. This is the part of the book that I enjoyed the most. 

I reveled in the idea that celebrities aren’t getting any special attention from the kitchen, but even someone as ‘lowly’ as a staff writer for the New York Times receives VIP status. Who says journalism is dead? 

The second person style didn’t really work for me. It was arresting at first, but after a bit I found it to be a little irritating. The narrative is strongest during the sections before and during the actual service. The last portion of the book waxes a little philosophical for my taste – the meaning and importance of preparing good food for people and the such. I appreciate the sentiment but it did seem to meander on a bit too long.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to foodies. Especially foodies with expensive tastes in restaurants. I loved finding out exactly how things work behind the scenes.

Everyone else? Well, it’s probably a take it or leave it book for you. Especially if you can’t comprehend why anyone would pay $500 a plate for a single meal. 

I also enjoyed the review on Beth Fish Reads for this book.  

So, Reader does Sous Chef sound like it might be for you? What’s the most expensive meal you’ve had? Did you love it? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Foodish Friday: A Year of No Sugar

Posted 23 May, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Foodish Friday: A Year of No SugarYear of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub
Published by Sourcebooks, Inc. on April 8th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 320
Goodreads
two-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

It's dinnertime. Do you know where your sugar is coming from? Most likely everywhere. Sure, it's in ice cream and cookies, but what scared Eve O. Schaub was the secret world of sugar—hidden in bacon, crackers, salad dressing, pasta sauce, chicken broth, and baby food. With her eyes opened by the work of obesity expert Dr. Robert Lustig and others, Eve challenged her husband and two school-age daughters to join her on a quest to quit sugar for an entire year. Along the way, Eve uncovered the real costs of our sugar-heavy American diet—including diabetes, obesity, and increased incidences of health problems such as heart disease and cancer. The stories, tips, and recipes she shares throw fresh light on questionable nutritional advice we've been following for years and show that it is possible to eat at restaurants and go grocery shopping—with less and even no added sugar. Year of No Sugar is what the conversation about "kicking the sugar addiction" looks like for a real American family—a roller coaster of unexpected discoveries and challenges.

I don’t make a secret of the fact that I’m totally not into fad diets and aside from my simple rule of trying to eat the most real food as often as is convenient for me which, admittedly, is not much of a mission statement. As much as I enjoy fine foods, I’ve been known to kick back and drink a Coke and enjoy a Big Mac. I digress, already.

This is a blog turned book and it feels like it. (I’ve not read the blog.) I’ve said it a million times but I’ll say it again – the lazy writing techniques that one uses in a blog post do not translate into a book. Bloggers thinking about turning authors: edit, formalize your prose, and then edit again.

One of my big problems with this book is that it attempts to be science-y, while only citing two sources… in the whole book. I’m not sure if the science is sound or not, but Schaub’s whole ‘experiment’ is based off of one single YouTube video. (Sugar: The Bitter Truth) Past that she only references one other book. I know this isn’t a nutritional textbook, but I would have liked to see more cited evidence for the evils of sugar.

Yes, sugar is for sure weirdly pervasive in American society. Sugar in bread! Mayo! Chicken broth! I agree – it’s weird and often unnecessary. Anything in excess is bad (which to be fair, Schaub kind of comes around to in the end).

Other reviewers have been critical of the title as not being accurate. Schaub works a number of ‘exceptions’ to the no sugar rule. One family dessert made from added sugar each month, which I found to be an interesting checkpoint in how her tastebuds were evolving. It’s a memoir so I don’t take issue with a title that is designed to sell more books – you can read the flap and find out that it’s not exactly ‘no sugar’, who cares?

There’s also the issue of her baking with dextrose as a substitute for sugar (because it doesn’t contain fructose, which according to the ‘science’ is the root of all evil), I found this use of a manufactured chemical to be a bit weird – especially considering she also eschews artificial sweeteners. I fail to understand how dextrose is not an artificial sweetener. Especially considering the history of manufactured dextrose is short and who the hell knows what the long term effects are?

Basically, this is a typical but not very well executed ‘stunt’ memoir. Schaub tends to meander in and out of the evils of sugar to the goodness of meat and the very very very important issue of baking all your own bread. (Spoiler alert in my life: Not going to happen.)

This is not to say that it’s completely unreadable, it’s easy reading, and might be recommended to someone with an intense interest in this topic. (Though please do not use this as a guide to nutrition.)

Can I say something nice and constructive? 
Of course I can! This book has made me more interested in looking at ingredients labels. (Did you know there’s sugar in Sriacha, but not Kikomann Soy Sauce?) I probably won’t remain religious in doing so – but as sugar is so pervasive in our society – I will probably check more often than I used to and try to avoid products where sugar doesn’t seem to belong (but is used anyway)… where possible. (Read: convenient.)

What about you, Reader? Is sugar the root of all evil? Have you read any good ‘stunt’ memoirs lately? They ARE out there, I promise. I liked The Happiness Project.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Tasty Tuesday: The Dinner

Posted 15 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Tasty Tuesday: The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
Published by Crown/Archetype on February 12th 2013
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.     Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.     Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

I picked this book up because it was one of the slimmer volumes that was in the Tournament of Books for 2014. I didn’t know a whole lot about it, except it was originally in Dutch. 

I really liked it. I thought it was delightful how the book was broken down into sections such as Apertif, Main Course, etc. Since I’m a foodie going through the motions of an expensive meal is always thrilling in a book. 

But what was really interesting about this novel was how skillfully Koch unravelled his story and the characters behind them. Told in the first person by Paul Lohman, the reader not only gets a play by play of every minute detail of the dinner, we are treated to the innermost workings, desires, and fantasies of someone who seems (over the course of a single meal) to become increasingly unhinged. 

 I’m reading Lolita right now, so unreliable narrators are on my mind. I think Paul Lohman can definitely be categorized as an unreliable narrator.  This book is suspenseful but it’s very subtle about the suspense. The action is fairly limited so it could almost be described as a suspenseful character study – two genres that would seem to be at odds with one another. 

I’ve seen criticisms of this book being too pretentious, I didn’t get that feeling at all. True, none of the characters were overly warm or relatable, which may have hindered the impact that the author was going for – but despite that I was still interested in the characters and wanted to find out what was going to happen to them, and more importantly, who they really were. 

The Dinner was, in a word, delicious.

In my opinion this book was robbed during the Tournament of Books, it probably shouldn’t have won, but I don’t think it should have been eliminated in the first round! 

Have you read The Dinner, Reader? Has anyone read it in the original Dutch? Do you have an unreliable narrator that you love to hate? Or just feel confused about? 
 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: The DeKalb Farmers Market

Posted 29 March, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads! This week I have something that’s a little different. I ‘discovered’ the local ‘farmers market’. I’m using farmer’s market in the loosest possible sense. 

Your DeKalb County Farmer’s Market: A World Market has the feel of an old world (read: European) street market and a Costco. The Costco feel comes from the market being housed in a large warehouse-style building, the old world feel comes from the vast selection of items that can be purchased there. 



Let’s start with traditional fare of a farmer’s market – produce. 


Ten aisles (maybe more!) of all produce you can possibly imagine, there were at least four seperate types of yams, fresh lemongrass, sugar cane, all the normal stuff you would see in a grocery, and things that I couldn’t even identify. (Large signage was helpful with that). 

Next up! Seafood. I grew up in Florida, so I grew up with fresh off the boat gulf shrimp and fish. My husband who is totally clueless doesn’t understand, scoffs and swears that you can’t tell the difference between fresh and frozen shrimp. The nerve. Anyway the DeKalb Farmer’s Market solves those problems. LIVE CRAWFISH, the video is a little creepy crawly. I’ve probably eaten triple my body weight in poundages of crawfish over the years, but weirdly, I’ve never seen them live. Here’s the video I took for you!



Also like old world markets they had tanks of farm raised fish swimming around waiting for your execution order. I took a peek at the cod and the catfish, though there were other varieties available. They weren’t nearly as crowded as the fish that I saw when I was in Budapest (picture below). The cool thing here is that the employees at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market will clean the fish for you. Buyer’s choice! They’ll just clean it, and leave the head on, clean it and take the head off, or even filet it for you.  Talk about fresh. I think that there will be fish and chips in our future.


The selection of meat was also vast. There were fresh cuts of the usual suspects – beef, pork, chicken, lamb (to be cut to your specification by a butcher). But there was also goat (I don’t even have a recipe for goat!) rabbit, and bison. Also! Fresh sausages made on site!

Cheeses from all around the world, you know this made me happy. (Who knew Australia produced anything but Foster’s?) The bakery consisted of several aisles, everything from croissants, to naan, to breads I’d never considered. There was a whole room that just had chocolate in it. There was freshly ground flours of all types, rice, flaxseed, wheat. Fresh pasta, fresh pizza dough

But the coup de grâce was the pâté and the wine selection. It’s no secret that I love foie gras, the picture I snapped below was just a small selection of the different kinds of pâté available. The wine selection was completely international and there was a whole shelf of just sake (I hate sake). The beer was almost as impressive. I just hate that Georgia state law prohibits liquor sales in ‘grocery stores’ because I would love to see the liquor selection these people could bring in.


Final Thoughts
The prices were very reasonable. Since I know my (cheap) wine, I found some of the brands that I knew you could get at Wal-Mart and the prices were competitive. (Definitely cheaper than Publix) Everything else seemed very reasonable as well, but I know my wine price points best. 🙂 (Don’t ask me what a gallon of milk costs.) 

I also picked up all the ingredients that I need to make my grandmother’s seafood gumbo, so be watching for a post on that in the future!

To me, the most exceptional thing about the DeKalb County Farmer’s Market is it’s location. I never in a million years would have expected to find something so cool, so international in (near) Atlanta, Georgia. We’ve been here nearly three months and I’m beginning to think that I have misjudged this city. Even the suburb that we live in is surprisingly progressive in events that happen, people that are welcome, and diversity of ideas and shops. Maybe Atlanta is to Georgia what Austin is to Texas. We’ll see. Foodies coming to town, I’d highly recommend a stop by this ‘farmer’s market’. Foodies nearby, I’d recommend a day trip out here. 
 
Who’s coming to visit me, Readers?


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Panko Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Wasabi Tomato Sauce

Posted 22 March, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads! This week I did a little weeknight cooking. I bought chicken and then realized I had nothing planned for them, can you believe that I had all of these ingredients in my pantry? I’m working on decluttering it so I’m trying to make delicious food with what I have, it worked out this time! 

I took this recipe from the Food Network website, link below! Remember, my notes will be in this color within the recipe. Enjoy!



Panko Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Wasabi Tomato Sauce
Ingredients
For chicken:
Cooking spray
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, about 5 ounces each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour I used 1 cup
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup panko crumbs or unseasoned dry bread crumbs I used 1/2 cup
1 cup grated Parmesan I used 1/2 cup here as well


For spicy tomato sauce: I halved this entire portion
2 cups canned or jarred tomato sauce
2 teaspoons wasabi paste I used wasabi powder instead, as this is what I had on hand
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves, chopped


Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.


For the chicken:
Season both sides of chicken with salt and black pepper. 

Place flour in a shallow dish. 
Place eggs in a separate shallow dish. 
Combine panko crumbs and Parmesan in a third shallow dish. Three dishes! This killed me.
Dip chicken first in flour, then in the egg and then panko crumb mixture. Transfer chicken to the prepared baking sheet and spray the surface with cooking spray. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Remove from oven.

For the sauce:
While the chicken is cooking, in a small saucepan, combine tomato sauce, wasabi paste, sugar, chili powder, and cumin. Set pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and reserve 2/3 cup of the sauce. I’m not sure what all this reserving of the sauce was for, later in the recipe it talks about calzones, I just ignored it.

Serve 4 of the chicken breast halves with remaining tomato sauce spooned over top.

Final Thoughts
So, this dish was easy and delicious. The chicken alone was a little bland but the sauce was surprisingly flavorful considering I just used one of those little 8 oz cans of salt free tomato sauce. (Normally I can’t do anything to flavor those…) Next time I do this I’ll either quarter cherry tomatoes and throw them in or perhaps put in a can of crushed or diced tomatoes, I think this would have been better with a little texture in the sauce. I also like things spicy, so I would probably add more chili powder and more wasabi (maybe some Sriacha?). As it stood it was flavorful, but I could always use more zip.

You can see I served with rice and steamed zucchini, I’d recommend noodles instead, possibly spaghetti, angel hair, or fettuccine. Pick your poison.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew

Posted 8 March, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads! It’s easily one of my favorite weekly memes. I’m cooking again and I find myself smitten with Smitten Kitchen! I prepared a delicious, deceptively easy stew that was both flavorful and filling.

My notes will be in this color everything else has been lifted neatly from the Smitten Kitchen blog.

Let’s get to it!

Recipe – Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew

Adapted, barely, from Regina Schrambling via The NYT


A few notes: If you don’t eat pork, keep in mind that it’s used here a little bit as a background flavor but also as rendered fat to brown your meat in. Thus, if you’d like to skip it, just start with a tablespoon or two of butter or olive oil instead. The crisped bacon is never used in the dish (gasp!) but you’d better believe we sprinkled it over our salads. Do keep in mind that Dijon contains a fair amount of salt, as do cured pork products. The best way to keep the saltiness at bay is to use an unsalted beef stock and only lightly salt your meat before browning. If you don’t have Cognac, brandy is a good substitute. Schrambling calls for Pommery mustard in this dish, a extra-sharp mustard from Meaux, France based on an ancient recipe. I used a whole-grained Dijon instead, and recommend it if you, understandably, don’t live near a French grocery store. The recipe calls for 1/2 pound mushrooms but if you’re a mushroom fiend, as we are, I think you could easily use 3/4 pound or more. Finally, I entirely forgot to finish the dish with red wine and we didn’t miss what we didn’t know about. If you don’t have a bottle open, don’t fret it. This dish is good without it, too.

Serves 4 to 6; takes about 3 hours total

Ingredients

1/4 pound salt pork, pancetta or bacon, diced I used bacon.

1 large onion, finely diced
3 shallots, chopped 
4 tablespoons butter, as needed

2 pounds beef chuck, in 1-inch cubes I am lazy. I chose to use mysterious pre-cubed ‘stew meat’ from the beef section of the grocery store. Despite this questionable choice the meat was still fork-tender.

2 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Cognac (see Note)

2 cups unsalted beef stock I couldn’t find an unsalted beef stock – instead I didn’t salt the beef at all before cooking it.

1/2 cup smooth Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons coarse Dijon or Pommery mustard (see Note)
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into half-moon slices

1/2 pound mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned and quartered I used almost a full pound of pre-cut baby portabellas

1/4 cup red wine (see Note)

Place salt pork in a Dutch oven or a large heavy kettle over low heat, and cook until fat is rendered. Remove solid pieces with a slotted spoon, and save for another use, like your salad, vegetables or, uh, snacking. 

Raise heat to medium-low, and add onion and shallots. Cook until softened but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a large bowl.

If necessary, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan to augment fat. I almost missed this step – I did need more butter in the pan to augment the fat. 

Dust beef cubes with flour, and season lightly with salt and more generously with pepper. Shake off excess flour, and place half the cubes in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, almost crusty, on all sides, then transfer to a bowl with onions. Repeat with remaining beef.

Add Cognac to the empty pan, and cook, stirring, until the bottom is deglazed and any crusted-on bits come loose. Add stock, smooth Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon coarse or Pommery mustard. Naturally, I have to screw up something in each recipe. I accidentally added all four tablespoons of coarse mustard here. When I realized what I did before whisking I fished out as much as I could and added them back at the end. I think this caused my dish to have a little less ‘bite.’ 

Whisk to blend, then return meat and onion mixture to pan. Lower heat, cover pan partway, and simmer gently until meat is very tender, about 1 1/4 hours.

Add carrots, and continue simmering for 40 minutes, or until slices are tender. As they cook, heat 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté mushrooms until browned and tender. Stir mushrooms into stew along with remaining mustard and red wine. 

Simmer 5 minutes, then taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.

Final Thoughts
I served this over egg noodles as well. This stew, unlike my Bouef Bourguignonne,  was thick enough on it’s own. The flavor was excellent and pretty complex considering how few ‘flavoring’ ingredients are used. Throw away your crockpot recipes and make this instead. It wasn’t overly difficult or labor intensive. The cognac fumes that occur when deglazing the pan will make you almost instantly drunk, so keep kids out of the kitchen during this step. 😉 

I highly recommend this. Especially if you’re still suffering from winter. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: ‘High Flavor, Low Labor’

Posted 1 February, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads! This weekend I want to spread the good news about one of my all-time favorite cookbooks.

While it’s not a classic like The Joy of Cooking (which belongs in every kitchen), I have confidence that as more people ‘go foodie’ and eschew easy solutions like Hamburger Helper or that old standby the tuna casserole the more kitchens that this cookbook belongs in as well. Just because it’s a weekday doesn’t mean you have to eat slop! This cookbook shows you exactly how to avoid that.

I bought this cookbook after hearing an NPR piece on it a few years ago. Ever since then, it’s been dog-eared, bookmarked, spilled on, and written it. I keep coming back to it over and over again.

Why? Because unlike the series of Rachel Ray cookbooks promising 30-minute meals, (but that instead when you factor in prep work, take more like an hour and a half) this book actually delivers.

While I haven’t cooked every recipe in the book I haven’t encountered any that I absolutely will not cook again. In fact, this cookbook has several recipes that are on standby for me. Every recipe that I have cooked has taken no longer than about 30 minutes and cook and prep times are accurately represented.

Hirsch maintains a conversational tone throughout the book. In the first four chapters (which are short), his premise is easily understood:

There are recipes that hail from Asian, Hispanic, Indian, African, European, and American traditions. Despite this amazing variety most of the recipes use fairly common ingredients so you won’t have to travel to the ends of the earth to find that strange, essential ingredient.

Courses represented in High Flavor, Low Labor are the following:

  • First Up (Appetizers)
  • Tossed Around (Salads)
  • Souped Up
  • Mainly Speaking (Entrées)
  • Punched Up Pasta
  • Sandwiched
  • To the Side (Sides)
  • Sugar Rush (Desserts)
Here’s one of our favorites from the book.
Spicy Black Bean, Sausage, and Rice Burrito
Ingredients
4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 precooked chicken sausages, cut into rounds
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 (15oz) can of black beans, drained
1 cup jarred tomatillo salsa
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
4 burrito size flour tortillas
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon for two minutes, or until it lightly coats the pan with fat. Add the onion, garlic, sausages, and smoked paprika. Sauté for 3 minutes.
Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for another 30 seconds. Ad the broth and beans, stir well, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Mix in the salsa, then season with salt and pepper.
Microwave the tortillas for about 15 seconds to soften them. Divide the rice and beans mixture among the tortillas, then top each with chopped cilantro, cheddar cheese, and sour cream.
Enjoy!

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Chicken Pho

Posted 19 January, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads and for the second week in a row I’ve actually cooked something. Really, the problem is that Atlanta just can’t compare to Chicago on the food scene, though if anyone out there has any suggestions on good eatin’ in Atlanta, I’m begging you to put it in the comment section! 

So, I ran across a recipe for Chicken Pho on Smitten Kitchen and decided I didn’t have anything better to do this week. Smitten Kitchen is a site that’s notorious (in my small circles, at least) for having amazing recipes, but generally the recipes are incredibly involved and require at least one ingredient that you must hike the Himalayas to find. But like I said, we’re moving in and I was tired of unpacking so a Smitten Kitchen recipe seemed just the ticket. It came out extremely well. It also wasn’t as involved as I thought it would be.

Note, I’ve never had traditional Vietnamese pho, so making this was a first for me and eating it was a first. The comments on the site indicate that it’s a pretty traditional recipe. I can tell you mine was delicious.

Let’s get started! Remember my notes will be this color. Her pictures are beautiful, much better than mine, but I have to add my own for a little illustration. 

Recipe – Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

The broth here is fairly simple (wonderful for beginners) but you should feel free to add any of the extra spices that sound good to you. Star anise is considered especially fundamental pho. It’s typically served with a plate full of fixings including lime wedges, Thai basil, cilantro, slivers of jalapeño, mung bean sprouts, and crispy shallots. You will probably see some chili-garlic sauce, Sriracha, and hosin nearby. If this sounds overwhelming to procure, do not sweat it; just get what you can or what sounds good. The beauty of pho is that it’s all about the broth, and one as good as this will taste dreamy even without a single bean sprout on top. Besides, Phan himself advises that “The trick is to add a little bit of each item as you eat your way through the bowl, not to dump them in all at once. You want the herbs to maintain their fragrance, the bean sprouts to stay crunchy — it’s all about aroma and texture, and if you add too much too soon you’ll end up with black herbs and soft sprouts, which defeats the whole purpose.”

Serves 6.

Broth
2 unpeeled yellow onions, quartered
Three 1/2-inch-thick slices of unpeeled fresh ginger, smashed
4 quarts cold water

3 pounds chicken bones or chicken wings I used 2.5 lbs of chicken wings and a chicken carcass from a store bought roasted chicken we had consumed the night before.

One fresh 3 1/2-pound chicken, quartered Save yourself a ton of trouble and buy it already quartered.

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

Additional spices (optional): Cinnamon, star anise, black cardamoms, coriander seeds, fennel seeds or cloves

I used two sticks of cinnamon, five or six pieces of star anise, maybe a teaspoon of ground cardamoms, a tablespoon of whole coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and seven to ten cloves. I also added a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic.
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce I probably used closer to half a cup throughout the recipe, this is because I ignored my distaste of star anise and honestly was looking for anything to cut the smell back.
1 pound dried rice noodles, a linguine shape (bánh phở) if you can find them


Garnishes
1 large scallion, thinly sliced
1 pound mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup torn basil leaves, Thai basil if you can find it All I could find was regular basil and it was delicious.

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

2 limes, cut into wedges

2 jalapeños, thinly sliced

Asian chili-garlic sauce

Hoisin sauce

Crispy shallots, the recipe I used was slightly different, it is found here.
I also used Sriacha, wherewould we be without Sriacha?

Char onions and ginger: Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the onions and ginger on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned. [Alternate idea suggested in the comments: If you have a gas range, just char them a bit over a flame. It would save a lot of time.] 

I was a little put off by this, probably because I have issues in reading the entire recipe before cooking, it’s important to remember that the broth will be strained, so don’t be freaked out about not peeling the onions or ginger.




Cook the chicken: Fill a large stockpot with the water and bring to a boil. Add the roasted onions and ginger, and the chicken bones or wings, quartered chicken, salt, sugar and any of the optional spices and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to moderate and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken and finish the broth: Using tongs, transfer the quartered chicken to a plate and let cool slightly. Remove the meat from the bones and refrigerate. Return the skin and bones to the stockpot and simmer for 2 hours longer. Strain the chicken broth into a large soup pot and cook over high heat until reduced to 12 cups, about 15 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce; adjust to taste.

I didn’t put all of the skin and fat back into the broth (I know! That’s where the flavor is!). I also prepared the broth about 36 hours ahead of time. I hate deboning chicken, but for a great chicken soup it’s a necessary evil.



I strained this broth three times. The first with a normal colander to get out all of the big pieces, when I came back to it two days later I noticed there still seemed to be a lot of flotsam floating around so I got out my wire mesh strainer and strained it two more times. It helped to clarify the broth some, though I doubt my broth was clear enough to actually impress anyone.

*Prepare noodles: In a large bowl of warm water, soak the noodles until pliable, about 20 minutes. You can also prepare the noodles according to the package instructions, if they differ. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Drain the noodles, then add them to the saucepan and boil over high heat until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well. Divide the noodles between 6 large bowls and sprinkle with the scallion.

Finish and serve the soup: Add the reserved chicken to the broth and simmer until heated through. Ladle the broth and chicken over the noodles. Serve with the bean sprouts, basil, lime wedges, jalapeños, chili-garlic sauce, hoisin sauce and crispy shallots.

Note: Phan has you cook the noodles separately in water, so they can be drained and used as needed. I believe he’s concerned about them overcooking in the soup pot. Theoretically, you could of course save time by cooking the noodles in the broth pot while the chicken reheats, however, the noodles are likely to make the broth cloudy, when ideal pho usually has a pristinely clear broth. [Thanks to everyone who mentioned the clouding issue in the comments.]


Do ahead: The broth can be made ahead and refrigerated for two days, a great way to divide up this recipe.

Here’s the husband behaving properly, because he knows what’s good for him. That clutter in the back is because we’re moving. Don’t judge.


Final Thoughts
As I said before this soup came out very flavorful. Next time I won’t add as much star anise because the smell makes me just a little ill. I think the flavor blends well enough with the other parts of the broth so the taste isn’t offensive, it was just every time I opened the lid to the pot I was smacked in the face with the smell of the star anise (and now my entire spice cabinet reeks of it). 

Also, clearly I don’t have the proper serving bowls for this recipe. You need a deep bowl, not the European-style soup bowls that we’re using here. I still have leftovers (of course) and at first I couldn’t find the bánh phở type noodles, so I purchased a rice noodle that’s much thinner, it looks like it might have the consistency of ramen noodles. I think that I’m going to prepare those today and try it out that way as I found the bánh phở to be a little thick and heavy. I know that this soup isn’t supposed to be about the fixin’s, but I like the flavors of the fixin’s (I really liked the flavor of the broth too, don’t get me wrong), so less noodles and more fixin’s appeals to me. 

If you have a mandolin, this is a great time to use it, it allowed me to slice both my jalapeños and shallots almost paper thin, I never could do that with a knife, largely because I have no knife skills. I used kitchen shears to cut the shallots.

This recipe has inspired me to find a Vietnamese restaurant and check out the beef pho – the comments found on this recipe seem to suggest that it’s much more involved. 

I’d recommend this recipe, it’s probably possible to make smaller quantities of noodles and fixin’s and freeze the chicken and broth part for an easier weekday meal later. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Boeuf Bourguignonne

Posted 12 January, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads! Just to change things up, I’ve actually cooked something instead of my usual restaurant/foodie review. It’s a result of being reunited with all my kitchen gadgets, spices, cookbooks, and dishes after being separated for seven months. So let’s get to it! 

I went grocery shopping earlier this week with no list, no idea what I wanted to cook this week, I just bought a bunch of meat, a bunch of vegetables, and a bunch of household staples (like soy sauce).

I decided to whip out one of my favorite cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking (2006). I know there are some francophiles about so I settled on Bouef Bourguignonne which is simply a French Beef Stew. You’ll find my notes in this color within the recipe.

Recipe – Adapted from The Joy of Cooking (2006) p. 479
Cut into 2-inch cubes:
2 – 3 pounds of boneless beef stew meat, such as shoulder chuck 
I measured two inch cubes roughly using my fingers, I had a sneaking suspicion that they were going to be too large, but I’m trying an exotic new experiment of actually following the recipe.


Place the meat in a large bowl and add:

2 cups of dry red wine I used ‘Mercer Canyons, Red Blend, 2009’.
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 carrot, chopped I used baby-cut carrots and accidentally decimated them in my chopper. So I added 10 or 12 ‘whole’ baby carrots later in the recipe. 
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped parsley I used dried parsley.
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon of cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt



Stir to combine and coat the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours (I let mine marinate somewhere between 8 – 10 hours) turning the meat occasionally (typing this is the first time I noticed this particular instruction, I didn’t turn, but all the meat was covered). Drain the beef, reserving the marinade and reserve the liquid and vegetables separately. (Oops. I missed this too… so much for following the recipe.) Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Add and brown:

4 ounces of bacon, diced I failed to dice my bacon beforehand so I cut it up after it had been cooked.

Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan, you should have two tablespoons (I had more than that), if not add vegetable oil as needed. Return the pot to medium high heat. Add the beef in batches and brown on all sides, being careful not to over-crowd the pot. Remove with slotted spoon. Add the reserved vegetables and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in: 

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. (Just like making a roux for those familiar with making gumbo.) Stir in the marinade, then return the beef and bacon to the pot. (Since thoroughly decimated the vegetables using the Kitchen Aid chopper I didn’t separate them from the marinade so everything but the meat was returned to the pot with the marinade. This is where I added the extra whole baby carrots.) Add:



2 cups small boiling onions, peeled (OMG. This is the first time I’ve used boiling onions. What a pain.)

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until the meat is fork-tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Add:

2 cups of mushrooms, quartered (about 8 ounces)

Cover and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Skim off the fat from the surface. Add:

1/4 cup of chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper to taste

Fin.


Final Thoughts
This recipe was extraordinarily savory and delicious. Despite my usual missteps with the recipe it still came out well. In hindsight, I was correct in not wanting to cut the meat into the two inch cubes, next time I will probably try one or even half inch cubes. I wouldn’t want the meat to get too tough so I might be hesitant to go any smaller than that. Also, I think I would have enjoyed some potatoes in this stew, it would have made it heartier and a little more stew-like. Alternatively, I might cook up some egg noodles to serve it over as leftovers. 

The recipe itself was pretty easy and didn’t take a whole lot of time and effort, especially with the chopper. (Can you tell I love that thing?) If you’re tired of the old pot-roast this is an excellent alternative. 



April @ The Steadfast Reader

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