Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ladies' Night

Every lady needs a ladies' night now and then to keep her sanity. Usually this involves meeting at a restaurant and chatting over a bottle (or three) of wine, but this time around, my friend Danielle suggested the more economical approach--cooking at home. Hence the Weehawken kitchen moved to Danielle's apartment in, well, Weehawken.

The dish of choice? Mac and cheese. And what's a stick-to-your-ribs hearty dairy bonanza if it doesn't come from the countess of cream herself, one Barefoot Contessa.

Listed as a "kids' recipe" in her Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook (who are you trying to kid here, Barefoot), this is the most indulgent whole-milk-and-cheese-explosion version of mac and cheese you'll ever need. For those who dare, here's the recipe.

To balance the meal, first we made a salad, and Danielle made some delicious eggplant croquettes (note them sitting on the stove adjacent to the QUART of whole milk warming up for the mac and cheese). Check out the recipe here.

Then we began the heavy eating, er, cooking. Katie started grating mountains of cheddar and gruyere as Emily drooled.

The hardest part of making this dish is at every step, you want to stop and taste the velvety smooth cheese love. It calls out as it's cooking, like a Siren. Here's Danielle sneaking one before we poured it into the baking dish.

Once I fended away the fellow females, I got the dish ready for the oven and "made" some (frozen) cheesy garlic bread. (I know, I know, but you can never have too much cheese).

By the time the buzzer went off, to say we were ready was an understatement.

Now as if the night could not get any better...

Over dinner, Danielle asked my opinion on Cablevision's (Weehawken's SOLE cable provider) decision to yank the Food Network. My inarticulate grumbly growl was the only response I could muster. At that moment (I kid not), Danielle got a text that Scripps and Cablevision had made up.

This called for a celebratory dance around the television.

Oh, Food Network, how I had missed you!!! I'll never again underestimate the joy in an all-day marathon Food Network cake challenge on a cold and lazy weekend.

Sidebar: Danielle and I share a love for our Weehawken kitchens. In her spare time, Danielle crafts the cutest refrigerator magnets, with everything from cuts of meat to fruits and veggies. Check out her Etsy store here and pretty up your kitchen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

40 Cloves of Garlic and Couscous--Not Your Mother's Fried Chicken

Jeff's parents came to visit this past weekend, and I love nothing more than cooking for the family. But cooking for those who have been cooking since before you were born (and someone who cooked for 3 boys!) is a daunting task. What did Jeff's dad want? Fried chicken. And Jeff's mom makes killer fried chicken. Where does this leave me? Good question.

Enter my hero (drumroll please), the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. In her Barefoot In Paris book, Ms. Garten gives a French alternative to the batter-fried American chicken (although there is NOTHING wrong with that)...make a creamy delicious sauce with cognac and an absurd amount of garlic. Need I say more? Check out the recipe here. (PS--to those of you planning to make this--the grocery store sells whole chickens that are already cut up--who knew?)

Here's my chicken frying, and Jeff's mom peeling the garlic (yes, all 40 cloves. She is a patient woman.)

One for me and...

Now, what to make with French chicken? Glad you asked. According to the Barefoot, Moroccan Couscous. Sounds pretty exotic, right? The combo of saffron threads and cumin filled the kitchen with an irresistible aroma, and the taste perfectly balanced the 40 cloves of garlic. Check out the veggie variety prior to roasting:

Here we are sitting down to dinner after the Saints victory against the Cardinals.

Geaux Saints!!! (Sidenote--the Weehawken Kitchen will be all New Orleans food all the time on Superbowl Sunday if the Saints win next weekend! Who dat!)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cold Weather Chili

My husband claims I have an aversion to chili. I don't really--it's just that his definition of chili is taking everything going bad in the refrigerator and putting it in a crock pot. Not so appealing, eh?

While Jeff complained to one of our friends (who is an amazing cook in her own right), she insisted on sending me a recipe to try out. I agreed to try it last weekend at my husband's urgings. It was delicious. Adding the fresh cilantro and basil at the end especially lightens and brightens the rich chili flavor.

Here's the recipe. It's an adaptation from the "Pinto Bean Chili" recipe in Great Good Food by Julee Rosso (Crown Publishers, 1993).

Olive Oil
2 Diced Onions
6 Garlic Cloves, Minced
2 Pounds Lean Ground Beef
2 Teaspoons Paprika
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
2 Tablespoons Minced Fresh Oregano
2 Tablespoons Chili Power
2 Cans Plum Tomatoes, Corarsely Chopped w/Their Juice
1 Chopped Red Bell Pepper
1 Chopped Yellow Bell Pepper
1 Chopped Orange Bell Pepper
3 Cups Beef Broth
3 Cans Pinto Beans (drained & rinsed) - NOTE: I only use canned b/c it's easier for me - you can use dried beans if you have the time to soak them overnight. In that case you're looking at 3 cups of beans
1/2 Cup Minced Fresh Basil
1/2 Cup Minced Fresh Cilantro

1. In a large stockpot, heat the oil over low heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until browned. Sprinkle with the paprika, cumin, oregano, and chili powder, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the tomatoes, peppers, broth, and beans. Bring to a boil, partially cover, and simmer 2 1/2 hours.

2. Taste and adjust for seasoning; stir in the basil and cilantro.

I also add salt, pepper, extra chili powder and a little cayenne during the 2 1/2 hours simmering.

Now Jeff swears that where he's from (the Midwest), people eat peanut butter sandwiches with chili and dip them into the chili bowl. I think that sounds gross, but he insisted I put a picture of it in here.

He is one happy husband.

New Year's Eve with Kim and Chris

This year's New Year's Eve, rather than hosting a dinner here, we were invited over to our friends Chris and Kim's place.

My contribution--a raspberry cheesecake (recipe by guess who--Barefoot Contessa.)

Check it out, crust to raspberry topping.

A Very Merry (and filling) Christmas

After some party poppers (an old English tradition where we got our crowns), it was time for dessert.

Below is my mom's chocolate cake, Ms. Thea's apple pie, and my (or, rather, the Barefoot Contessa's) croissant bread pudding. Now I add a little touch to Ms. Ina Garten's near masterpiece--a whiskey sauce, in true New Orleans style. It's pretty easy--just throw butter, dark brown sugar, and whiskey in a pot and keep adding what each until the taste and consistency is right.

A Merry Christmas it was. Cheers to that.

The Sides and a Full Kitchen

Here's the spread...

Barefoot Contessa's Parmesan Smashed Potatoes (recipe here)

Barefoot Contessa's Spinach Gratin (recipe here)

Ms. Thea's cornbread stuffing (I can't do everything! This was super-yummy. I'll try to get the recipe.)

Barefoot Contessa's Cranberry Conserve (recipe here, although I took out the raisins--not a fan.)

Naturally, it took a team of champions to get all this done. Here's Megan stirring...

And her sister Paige on the gravy train (every year she bails me out of gravy prison.)

Things got a little crowded.

To Brine or Not To Brine

The Marathon of Cooking continued into Christmas Day.
Last year, one of my coworkers was singing the praises of brining--oh how moist and flavorful his turkey was. So when I found a recipe for a brined turkey, I was all about it. All you had to do was soak the turkey overnight in a refrigerator with a brine that had a bunch of seasonings and salt. Easy, right? Ok, think about this for a minute--soak an 18 pound turkey overnight completely submerged in a liquid in a refrigerator. Right.

Thus began my fervent internet searches. What in the world will hold an 18 pound turkey and enough brine to completely submerge it that will also fit in the refrigerator? Then I found a recommendation that sounded reasonable--buy a styrofoam cooler that will fit in the refrigerator. Well, that worked fine...until the side broke off the styrofoam cooler and brine soaked the refrigerator floor and garage. Check it out.

Eventually I settled on brining the turkey breast side down in the roaster. Not completely submerged, but I couldn't take it anymore.

I'll tell you this, though. Not thinking, I left the turkey breast side down when I put it in the oven the next morning. Everyone was laughing when I took it out of the oven. Yet when we cut into it, it was the most moist turkey I've ever cooked. Brining or cooking it upside down? I can't tell you why it was so good, but I might just try both again!

Here's Jeff doing the carving honors!

The Meal and...Tres Leches!

I guess my savory palmiers weren't that bad, as you can see my aunt caught in the act of snacking on them here. (Sidenote: the present on my lap from my cousin, Darren, here? John Besh's cookbook. Expect to see those recipes on here soon!)

Finally we sat down to dinner. Here's a snapshot. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

However, we definitely saved the best for last. Tres leches is far and away one of my favorite desserts of all time. Heck, my wedding cake was a tres leches cake. Yet I have always been afraid to try it myself. I have had dry tres leches cake before, and it is nothing nice. The first rule of tres leches is it has to be dense, soaked and full of rich dairy love. So I found this recipe in a recent Food & Wine, and despite my doubts, it was quite possibly one of the best desserts I've ever made.

Mmmm....what is not to love cake soaking in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream topped off with rum?