Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Burning Down the House

The fact that The Husband and I were able to sit down and actually eat this dish is made of a miracle.

That’s because the Jersey Girl decided to cook rice without the water. Or, the rice. It’s safe to say that heating up an empty pot could in fact trigger smoke. Then a fire. For all you cooking newbies, may I advise you to NOT DO THIS.

The funny thing is as the smoke detector was blaring its piercing annoying sound (just after we got Baby Evan to doze off for a bit. Irony, yes.), the Jersey Girl stood before the offending empty burning saucepan saying aloud to The Husband, “I wonder why the alarm is going off?!?!”

Because you’re an idiot, Captain Obvious.

You know, I could see how a person who uses the kitchen as a shoe closet, or orders takeout seven days a week or is mentally unstable could make this party foul. But, peeps, as I tell Baby Evan every day – the kitchen is my office.

Fortunately, the evening had a they-all-lived-happily-ever-after ending. And, Team Jersey Girl was able to enjoy din din with a glass of wine and without the house going down in flames. Yay!

The reason for my absentminded/idiotness was that I was preparing this meal the day before going back to work after a two-month maternity leave. And well, I was wiggin’ on the inside. And the outside. I don’t know why. I blame hormones. Because it’s not like I have a job that invokes dread, hardship or horror on my part. Actually, all I feel is love for my occupation of piano teacher. Sure, I hear a lot of wrong notes, but my work is all about music and inspiration and passion. How can you loathe those things?

I suppose my fear of the First Day of Work was brought on by the realization that my days and nights would no longer be spent solely staring at my little boy and watching trash TV. But a little less Camille Grammer and Snookie is really a good thing. And I definitely was worrying if the Jersey Girl could truly do it all – take care of a baby, teach piano, clean the house, cook, blog, organize, eat, breathe, sleep, shower.

The first week was a success, and a bit of a whirlwind. It also has prompted a newfound appreciation for mommas who are single or have a real job or have a commute that is more than five steps down a hallway or don’t live near grandmas and aunts who want to spend every waking moment with a newborn bambino.

Anyhoo, my last day as a Stay-At-Home Baby Momma went out with a bang and a yum yum dish by Giada called Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce. Saffron is known as the spice that costs the most dollas dollas in the whole entire land. So, I could understand if you don’t want to make this. But, all the other ingredients are el cheapo, so I encourage you, dear readers, to go for the splurge. I bought my saffron at Sur la Table.

The dish is very subtle and smooth. I think it would be nice to serve to picky eater people because the flavor is not overpowering at all.

I served the chicken with some basmati rice (previously mentioned) and a fabu salad.

Done and done.

Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound chicken cutlets (scallopine)
2 shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Season the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken until golden and cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to serving plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Turn the heat to medium, add the shallot and the garlic and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Using a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine is almost evaporated.

Add the chicken broth and saffron threads, bring to a simmer and reduce for 10 minutes. Add the cream, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and simmer for 1 minute to blend the flavors. Pour the sauce over the chicken.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash and Parsnips

I usually rock out butternut squash more frequently, but the whole popping-out-a-baby situation has hindered my butternut squash cooking frequency this fall/winter. I guess you could say butternut squash is one of those high-maintenance types of veg with its seeding and skin-peeling requirements.

Nonetheless, I came up with this dish in time for New Year’s Day. I threw in some parsnips for good measure in an effort to shake things up. Whoa. Getting wild and crazy there, Susan.

Parsnips resemble carrots but in a lighter hue. They’re very neutral looking, actually. You peel them just like carrots, too.

The ingredient that makes these veggies stand out is the fresh sage. You don’t need a ton of sage. In fact, I snipped in just five leaves upon taking my baking sheet out of the oven. Add the sage while the squash and parsnips are still hot because the heat mellows out the sage flavor, which can be strong.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Parsnips
Makes 4-6 servings

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into ¾-inch dice
3-4 parsnips, chopped
4-5 fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a large baking sheet, toss squash and parsnips with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread vegetables out on baking sheet in one layer. Roast in hot oven for 20 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven. Toss vegetables. Return baking sheet to oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Remove baking sheet from oven. Snip sage leaves on top of vegetables with kitchen shears. Toss and place in serving dish.

This dish may be made ahead and reheated before serving.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Here's to You, Mammom

This New Year’s Day was a bit different in the Jersey Girl household. For one thing, we had our Baby Evan – a holiday first. And, The Husband and I found ourselves both off from work. It truly was a day to celebrate!

For our many years together, usually one or both of us were hard/hungover at work on Jan. 1. That’s because we are news peoples (The Husband still is; I am fortunately retired.)

Back in the day, when we both toiled all in the name of news at a daily (a newspaper that comes out each and every morn), we usually got stuck working all but two holidays. And, or course, we always vied for Christmas off. Working Christmas is made of evil. Hell, working any holiday is made of evil. Holidays are meant to be with family, not in a newsroom with no windows. And being the lovas of the Shore that we are, we usually tried for Fourth of July.

Since retiring from the world of news, I always have New Year’s Day off, but The Husband usually had to go into the office. So, my New Year’s time was spent de-Christmasfying the homefront and recovering from the previous night’s festivities.

But, this year some clear-headed cookery ensued. And The Husband made a special request: “Do you think you can make spaetzle like my grandmother?”

Sure thing, Dear Husband.

I had previously read the recipe in my tattered Betty Crocker cookbook. (I read cookbooks like novels, you see.)

And the recipe was easy enough.

The catch was I wasn’t quite sure if they would turn out like Mammom’s. That’s The Husband’s grandmother. During her day, she would make spaetzle – a German dumpling of sorts – each and every New Year’s to accompany a pork roast.

The Husband had shared his stories of making the dish as Mammom’s trusty assistant, dropping the batter into boiling hot water while breaking it into strands with a fork.

The tragedy is that The Husband does not have a recipe written down. Like most grandmothers, Mammom cooked from her head and heart rather than paper.

I had the opportunity to enjoy Mammom’s spaetzle many years ago when The Husband and I were dating. But that was only once or twice. Mammom was starting to take it easy when I met her. The reality was dementia was beginning to wreak its ugly havoc on Mammom’s beautiful soul. So, I guess you can say, I never really got to know the Real Mammom. But, I love learning about her from the stories I hear from The Husband and his Mom, Nancy.

Mammom was the sweetest lady you ever met. And, she did anything and everything for her family. These traits were passed on to her daughter, Nancy, who is my rockin’ mother-in-law.

In 2010, Mammom passed away. So, it was only fitting to kick off 2011 in her honor. As my mother-in-law always says, “Mammom is looking down on us and smiling. And she is Baby Evan’s guardian angel.”

I was a bit nervy making the spaetzle, wondering if I was going to need to bust into a bag of potatoes to get some mash on as backup. But The Husband’s family proclaimed the spaetzle were on the money.

“They’re just like Mammom’s,” my mother-in-law declared.

“Outstanding,” said my father-in-law, when I asked if they tasted right. He explained that the purpose of spaetzle is to soak up the flavor of the gravy.

I’m providing for all y’all the recipe from “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.” But the colander method described in the book did not work for the Jersey Girl. Methinks the holes in my colander are too small, because the batter wanted no parts of fitting through the holes. I simply took a teaspoon and a fork and dripped and drabbed the batter into a pot of boiling water. That’s how Mammom did it, according to The Husband. But, it sounds like her batter was thinner than this batter. Nonetheless, the fork method worked for me.

I then fished the dumplings out of the bowling water with my trusty spider ladle:

The final product: Roast pork served with Spaetzle and Roasted Butternut Squash and Parsnips.
(I will share the squash recipe later this week. Possibly today, if my bambino takes a nap.)

If you have spaetzle tips, please share in the comments!
From “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook”
6 servings

2 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup milk or water
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
Dash of pepper
1 Tbsp. butter or stick margarine

Mix eggs, milk, flour, salt and pepper (Batter will be thick.)

Fill 4-quart Dutch oven half full with water; heat to boiling.

Press a few tablespoons of the batter at a time through colander (preferably one with large holes) into boiling water. Stir once or twice to prevent sticking.

Cook about 5 minutes or until spaetzle rise to surface and are tender; drain. Toss with butter.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Go On with Your Bad French Self

Confession: I made these dishes B.E. (Before Evan).

These days, everything I’ve been cooking up is tres simple. Or, I’ve already blogged about it. For instance, right now as we speak, there is a pot of Chicken and Dumplings brewing. But, I wrote about that already.

The thing that’s challenging my cookery is neither time nor screaming child. (Evan quite digs it in the kitchen, thank you very much.)

Rather, it’s my inability to get my bootie to the grocery store. I’ve been quite reluctant to take a person who is weeks old and about in the freezing cold. So, I revolve my grocery shopping excursions around those who can stay with the bambino. This wouldn’t be so tough if I had a husband who works a normal 9-5 job. But I don’t. I have a husband chained to a desk in a newsroom 24 hours a day.

So, my grocery trips require more strategery and planning than ever before. But, I promise I will have new and exciting recipes in 2011. For reals.

Today, we’re taking a look at my French Onion Soup and the Barefoot Contessa’s Goat Cheese Tart from her “Barefoot in Paris” cookbook.

First off, I loves me some French food. Truth be told, I love all different cuisines. I have to be super careful with the Asian sector of the world due to my whole food allergy thing, but I love trying out dishes from all over the place.

It’s not like either of these dishes are super fancy or unique. They’re quite standard French fare. Classic, if you will.

Sure, cutting a bazillion onions is a pain in the arse, but the effort is so worth it.

Regarding the tart: If you fear making pastry dough, please try to get over it. The more you do it, the better you become. (That’s the piano teacher in me lecturing you.)

I do recommend keeping the butter as cold as you possibly can for the tart, and be sure to fill up the tart with beans or pie weights all the way up to the top of the dish to prevent the crust from shrinking.

When rolling out dough, make sure your surface and rolling pin are well-floured. Also, turn your dough after six to eight rolls to prevent sticking and tearing.

For the Goat Cheese Tart recipe, click here. I will also list it below.

In addition, I’m sharing with you my recipe for French Onion Soup. This is the perfect time of year to rock out this soup, since the weather is all chilly willy, at least that’s how it is my neck of the woods.

Be sure your Gruyere is very cold. That makes shredding it way easier. And my tip for preventing teary eyes while cutting up a bazillion onions is to run the kitchen faucet and slice up those bad boys really really fast. Scientific, I know.

Make sure you have soup bowls that are a.o.k. for popping in the oven. If you need to purchase some, I recommend these from Sur la Table, where a major sale is under way right now.

I served these dishes with a salad.

Goat Cheese Tart
From “Barefoot in Paris”
By Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board

Kosher salt
13 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
3/4 cup chopped shallots (3 to 4 shallots)
10 1/2 ounces garlic-and-herb soft goat cheese (recommended: Montrachet}
1 cup heavy cream
3 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, put the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Cut 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) of the butter into large dice, add to the bowl, and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, add the ice water all at once and process until the dough becomes crumbly. Don't overprocess. Dump the dough out on a floured board, gather it loosely into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough on a well-floured board and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable sides, rolling the pin over the top to cut off the excess dough. Butter 1 side of a square of aluminum foil and fit it, butter side down, into the tart pan. Fill the foil with rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and foil from the tart shell, prick the bottom all over with a fork, and bake for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small pan and saute the shallots over low heat for 5 minutes, or until tender. Place the goat cheese in the bowl of the food processor and process until crumbly. Add the cream, eggs, basil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the pepper and process until blended.

Scatter the cooked shallots over the bottom of the tart shell. Pour the goat cheese mixture over the shallots to fill the shell (if the shell has shrunk, there may be leftover filling). Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tart is firm when shaken and the top is lightly browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve hot or at room temperature.

French Onion Soup
Makes 6 servings

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
5-6 large yellow onions, sliced
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. flour
4 cups beef broth
2 cups water
3/4 cup white wine
Baguette, sliced and lightly toasted
Gruyere cheese, shredded

Melt butter and oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Once the butter bubbles, add onions. Saute for about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper and thyme. Add sugar. Cook for about 20-25 minutes. Onions should be golden and soft.

Add flour. Stir, cooking for a minute or two.

Add broth, water and wine. Bring mixture to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

To serve:

Ladle soup into ovenproof ramekins or soup bowls placed on a rimmed baking sheet.

Place a toasted baguette slice on each bowl of soup. Sprinkle with shredded Gruyere. Place under a hot broiler until cheese is bubbly and browned.