Friday, July 25, 2014

ChezCindy: Why Not Plum Pie?

Plum Pie

Once again I was seduced by the beauty and abundance of produce at my local market.  I bought too much and found myself with stone fruit that were ready to be eaten.  I had gorgeous plums that were calling out to me.  Pie, they were saying.  Make a pie.  But I had never seen a plum pie recipe before; of course peach and sometimes apricot, but never plum.  So I decided to figure this out.  Once I compared several basic peach and apricot pie recipes, I was ready to begin. 

I most always buy plums with the deep red flesh.  I just think they create a prettier dish whether used in desserts or with savory dishes - plums and pork are magical together, but that's another post.  If you don't have plums, of course use standard peaches.

Plum Pie Filling
2 pounds plums
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon orange juice

Crumb Topping
1 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1 egg yolk

Basic Sweet Pie Crust
 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
 2 sticks of cold unsalted butter
 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4-6 tablespoons ice water

For the crust:  In the bowl of your mixer, combine the flour, salt, and sugar.  Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch size cubes; add it to the mixer.  Mix until the butter is the size of small peas, and the mixture is crumbly.  With the mixer running, add the cold water one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms into moist clumps.  Remove the dough and gather into a ball.  Divide the dough in half.  Flatten each piece into a disk; wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  The disks can be frozen for future use.

For the plum filling:  Cut the plums into quarters; remove the pits, skin remains on.  Place the plums into a large bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Stir to combine. 

For the crumb topping:  Working with a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the flour, brown sugar and a pinch of kosher salt to the work bowl.  Pulse to combine.  Add in the toasted walnuts; pulse for 30 seconds.  Add the butter to the flour nut mixture.  Pulse until the mixture resembles small pebbles.  Add the egg yolk and pulse until crumbly. 

To assemble the pie:  Roll out one disk of pie dough into a circle large enough to fit a 9-inch pie pan.  Place the crust into the pie pan; crimp the edges.  Add the prepared plums spreading out evenly.  Spoon the crumb topping over the plums to cover, reaching out to the crimped edges. 

To bake:  Place the pie pan onto a baking sheet to catch any plum juices that may drip during baking.  Place the pie into a preheated oven set at 375 degrees.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  If the edges become too brown, cover with foil and continue baking until the crumb top is golden brown and the plum juices are bubbling and peaking through.  Cool before serving. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ChezCindy: Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Peach Kebabs

This simple kebab recipe brings a spectacular summer dish with just few ingredients.  Anytime you can pair pork with fruit, it is a great combination.  The kebab is brushed with a sweet-spicy glaze made by mixing apricot jam and a touch of cayenne pepper.  I used fresh peaches here, but fresh apricots or plums would also be delicious. 

Remember to soak the wooden skewers for at least an hour in water.  This will keep them from burning as you cook the kebab.  Or use metal skewers that can be used time and again. 

I made small skewers with just 3 pieces of pork per skewer to serve as an appetizer for a party.  Skewer 6-8 pieces for a dinner, perhaps served with couscous.  A dry Riesling wine pairs well. 

Grilled Pork and Peach Kebabs
1 pound pork tenderloin
4 large peaches
1 small red onion
1/2 cup apricot jam
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons white vinegar
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil

Soak the wooden skewers in water for about an hour.  Cut the pork tenderloin into 1-inch cubes.  Cut the red onion into 1-inch wedges, separating the pieces.  Pit the peaches and cut into quarters, then, cutting each quarter in half across the mid-section.  

To make the glaze, combine the apricot jam, cayenne pepper and white vinegar in a small saucepan.  Heat for a few minutes to melt the jam.  If the sauce seems too thick, add a tablespoon of water to thin out. 

Thread the pork, apricots and onion onto the skewers, alternating pieces, beginning and ending with a cube of pork.  Brush the kebabs with the canola oil; season with salt and pepper.  Grill the kebabs for about 10 minutes, turning to cook evenly.  The pork needs to cook to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  

Brush on the apricot glaze in the last few minutes, once the pork has begun to char, slathering generously.  Remove from the grill, and brush with the remaining glaze. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

ChezCindy: Seared Salmon Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing

I made the most delicious salad for dinner yesterday.  We have been on a dinner kick to eat protein served on a large bed of salad greens.  For my preference, that is a perfect meal.  My husband generally prefers something heartier.  But surprisingly enough, he is completely on board with this way of eating.    

If you follow my simple searing process for salmon, you are just about done with preparing this dinner salad.  Then make my basic vinaigrette with a quick addition of mayonnaise to make it creamy; toss over a large bunch of salad greens and dinner is served.  For a heartier meal, add roasted potatoes to the salad bowl, tossed with dressing.  Dinner in less than 15 minutes.  How nice.

Pan-Seared Salmon
Fresh Salmon - skin on, cut into portion size
Canola or Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

Place a large stainless steel pan over medium-high heat.  Allow the pan to become very hot.  Add oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, drizzle a small amount of oil over the salmon.  Carefully, lay the salmon flesh side down into the hot pan.  Don't move or flip the salmon for at about 5 minutes.  You will see the salmon changing color from the pan side moving up.  You want a dark colored sear on this side of the salmon.  When this side is fully seared, a spatula should easily slip under the salmon so that it can now be flipped onto the skin side.  Cook on the skin side for 3-4 minutes.  Turn off the heat.  Flip the salmon over again so that the skin side is now facing you.  Using tongs, remove the skin by pulling back at one corner, and pulling across the full piece of salmon.  It should remove easily.  Discard the skin.  Flip the salmon over one more time so that the skin side is now down in the pan.  Continue cooking the skin side for 1-2 minutes longer now that the skin is removed.  The residual heat in the pan is sufficient to cook for this remaining time.  Remove from the pan and place onto your serving plate. 

Creamy Herb Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped basil and chives, combined

In a small bowl, add the Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper; whisk to combine.  Add the vinegar; whisk to combine.  Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking vigorously while doing so.  Whisk in the mayonnaise.  Stir in the chopped herbs.

Put It Together:  Make the salad dressing.  Sear the salmon.  Place a large amount of salad greens in a bowl.  Add the roasted potatoes, if using.  Toss together with enough salad dressing to coat the greens.  Divide the tossed salad greens onto serving plates.  Top with the seared salmon.  Drizzle a bit more dressing on the salmon. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

ChezCindy: Summer Stone-fruit Tart

Get ready for gorgeous stone fruit to show up at the farm markets.  Perfect to eat as it is, but also delicious in a fresh baked tart.  I usually make this tart with plums, always choosing the red flesh plums for great color.  This week at the market were tiny plump apricots just calling my name.  They were so cute.  I brought them home with no real plan of how I would use them, but soon settled in with the thought to make this comfortable tart. 

Choose any of the ripe stone fruits as we move through summer - peaches, nectarines, plums or apricots.  Adjust the sugar in the recipe to the sweetness of the fruit.  The apricots needed a few additional tablespoons of sugar.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, fresh whipped cream or a dusting of powdered sugar. 

Stone Fruit Tart
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 cup light brown sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 pounds of stone fruit (plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Combine the flour, chopped walnuts and sugar in a large bowl.  Add the diced cold butter and egg yolk.  Mix together until crumbly. 
Working with a removable bottom pan, such as a springform or a fluted tart pan, press 2 cups of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan.  Slice the stone fruit in half, removing the pit.  Arrange the fruit in the pan, skin-side down working from the outside towards the center. 
Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture evenly over the fruit.  Bake in the oven for 35 - 40 minutes, until lightly browned and the juices are bubbling through.  Remove from the oven to cool.  Serve warm. 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

ChezCindy: Paella and Sangria - Perfect Pairing

I have made paella for the last several years, always as a "once each summer" event.  This weekend I was looking to breakout of my winter cooking habits with something different.  I decided to make paella.  But this time I made it on my stove top instead of on the outdoor grill.  We had a special treat with chicken, chorizo, shrimp and lobster tails.  A perfect launch into summer on a beautiful sunny day.  Well deserved after a long cold winter.  Happy. 

Perfect pairing with paella is a Spanish white wine, such as Albarino, or a white wine sangria.

White Wine Sangria

1 bottle white wine
3 ounces brandy
2 ounces triple sec
1 cup orange juice
1 cup pineapple juice
2 ounces simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water brought to boil; allow to cool)
3 ounces peach puree (puree frozen or fresh peaches in a blender with small bit of water)

Fresh peaches, nectarines, plums and/or green grapes

Place all ingredients into a large pitcher, stir to combine.  Refrigerate for several hours.  Serve over ice. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

ChezCindy: Spring Bistro Salad

This beautiful green salad is a refreshing welcome into Spring.  Fresh asparagus and Bibb lettuce are used here, but early spring spinach would also be very good in this salad.  

Spring Bistro Salad
4 cups Bibb lettuce
8-10 asparagus stalks
1 small avocado
2 hard boiled egg
chopped hazelnuts or almonds
Parmesan cheese to garnish

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of fresh ground black pepper

To make the dressing:  Place the Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper into a medium bowl; whisk to combine.  Add the vinegar, whisk vigorously to combine.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuously whisking to emulsify with the vinegar. 

Cut or tear the Bibb lettuce into bite-size pieces.  Using an indoor grill pan, sear the asparagus until lightly charred.  Set aside to cool; cut into large pieces.  Remove the outer peel and the large pit from the avocado; slice into pieces. 

Assemble:  Place the lettuce, asparagus, and avocado into a large mixing bowl.  Lightly dress with 4-5 tablespoons of dressing, tossing to coat well.  Transfer to a serving plate.  Garnish with hard boiled eggs cut into quarters, chopped hazelnuts and curls of Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

ChezCindy: Not Your Mama's Hash-Browns

Last night's left-over vegetables add freshness to breakfast the next morning.  Instead of tossing out the remnants of last night's dinner veggies, save them to create a new twist on hash browns for breakfast.  Consider adding chopped green beans, carrots or even cauliflower to your hash brown potatoes to create a full meal topped with a fresh egg.  It's not only frugal, but healthy and delicious.

Breakfast Hash Brown Potatoes
3-4 medium potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup fresh cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 cup left-over steamed vegetables, chopped
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
Goya Adobo all-purpose seasoning
turmeric or paprika (optional)
salt and pepper

Clean the potatoes under running water to remove any dirt.  Cut into 1/2-inch chunks, leaving the skin on.  Working with a large skillet, add the butter and oil, swirling to combine over medium high heat.  Add the potatoes so that they are in a single layer such that each piece has a flat side exposed to the bottom of the pan.  This will allow the potatoes to pick up good browned color.  Stir the potatoes to rotate the sides to evenly brown on all sides.  Remove the potatoes to a separate plate.

Add the chopped onions to the same pan, adding more oil if the pan has gotten too dry.  Stir, cooking until golden brown.  Add the halved cherry tomatoes; cook for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes have also picked up some brown color.  Add in the left-over chopped vegetables.  Stir to heat through.  Add the already cooked potatoes.  Stir to combine.  Sprinkle with the thyme leaves removed from the sprigs.  Season with the Goya Adobo seasoning, the turmeric or paprika, (adds great color and flavor), salt and pepper to taste.  Stir to distribute the seasonings.  Serve with eggs if desired. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

ChezCindy: Everyday Whole Wheat Bread: Baking Bread at Home

I have been cooking and baking since I was a very young child.  As a young cook, I never thought to set limitations on what I wanted to cook.  I simply found a recipe and jumped in.  Our local newspaper used to publish recipes and I found one that caught my interest - whole wheat onion dill bread.  I clipped the recipe from the paper and baked that wonderful aromatic bread for years.  After college and out on my own, I continued to make bread from scratch rarely buying bread from the grocery.  As life's priorities changed, I stopped baking bread moving on to new interests. 

Over the last few years, the thought of once again baking my own bread started nagging at my brain. This weekend, I finally got hooked and made this multi-grain bread.  It came out good, except I forgot to add salt.  Bread made without salt is not good.  But I was happy that it rose properly, and the texture was great. 

Making bread from scratch is much easier than yesteryear with the help of the KitchenAid stand mixer.  Every mixer includes a dough hook.  My guess is most home cooks leave that attachment somewhere in the back of the cupboard, as I had for years.  Using the dough hook eliminates most of the kneading by hand and takes less time than the tiresome kneading on the counter. 

Bread Tools

Making bread from scratch is not all that complicated, it just takes a commitment of time.  Plan on being in your house for 3 - 4 hours.  The active time is minimal, but each step takes roughly an hour before proceeding to the next - an hour to proof, an additional hour for the shaped bread to rise, and lastly about an hour to bake.  

Proofed Dough                                                                               Prepared Loaves for Rising
                                                                      Loaves Ready to Bake
 Basic Whole Wheat Bread

3 1/2 cups warm water, 110 degrees
3 tablespoons honey
2 packets of active dry yeast or 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat germ
2 tablespoons salt
canola oil
1 egg white
2 tablespoons rolled oats for topping the loaves
Combine the warm water, honey and the yeast in a large liquid measuring cup.  Stir until dissolved.  Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Working with a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, transfer the yeast mixture to the mixing bowl.  In a large separate bowl, combine 3 1/2 cups of bread flour, the whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and salt; whisk to combine.  With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the bowl with the yeast mixture.  Continue mixing until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and climbs up the dough hook, you may need to increase the speed of the mixer. 
Remove the dough from the hook and bowl, and place onto a lightly floured work surface.  Knead in the remaining half cup of bread flour a little at a time, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Lightly oil a large bowl with canola oil, place the kneaded dough into the bowl; cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap.  Place the bowl in a warm place, and let the dough rise until double in size.  This will take 1 to 1 1/2 hours.    
Turn the now risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces.  Working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough by rolling it out into a 7-by-5 inch rectangle.  Roll up the dough by the long-side, flatten each end and fold the flaps under the dough, seam side down.  Repeat with the second piece of dough.  Place each formed loaf into an oiled 9-by-5 inch loaf pan. Whisk the egg white with 1 teaspoon of water.  Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg white; sprinkle the rolled oats over the loaf tops.  Cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap and allow the loaves to rise again until doubled in size, about an hour. 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Once the loaves of dough have doubled in size, remove the plastic wrap and place in the oven.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  If you have an internal temperature probe, the temp should read as 205 degrees.  Transfer the pans to a rack to cool for about 5 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, invert the loaves onto the rack and to cool slightly before slicing.   

Sunday, March 9, 2014

ChezCindy: Cheese Souffle

With all my years of cooking experience, I had never made a soufflé.  Unusual for me.  As a teenager I made crepes, doughnuts, chicken Kiev, any recipe that seemed interesting to me, without fear of failure.  On a recent visit to the one of the local cookware stores, I found a soufflé dish on clearance, with an extra 50% off.  I paid $3 for a full size soufflé dish.  It was time to make a soufflé. 

As always, I did a little research of various recipes.  The process is not too difficult.  There are a few key tips to learn, but very simple ingredients.  I decided to make a classic cheese soufflé as my first experiment.  Simple ingredients, eggs, cheese, milk, butter and flour, with stunning results. 

A few tips to follow:
You will need to make a foil "collar" to assist with the soufflé rising far above the walls of the soufflé dish.  Pull out a sheet of foil that is 3 times longer than the diameter of the soufflé dish.  Fold it over lengthwise with the dull side folded on the inside.  Rub the shiny side of the foil with softened butter.  Wrap the foil, butter side in, around the soufflé dish pinching it together to stay in place. 

A cheese soufflé is made by folding beaten egg whites into a white bechamel sauce.  When you separate the egg whites from the yolks, it is important to have a clean separation.  The tiniest bit of fat, either in the bowl or the beaters, will prevent the egg whites from fluffing up. 

Bake the soufflé on the bottom rack in the oven so that the heat rises from below.  Preheat the oven, and then turn up the temperature 25 degrees higher once the soufflé goes in the oven.  This gives the soufflé an extra push of heat to get things started. 

Cheese Soufflé
For lining the dish and collar:
2 tablespoons softened butter
4 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano cheese

For the white béchamel sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper
very small pinch of nutmeg
5 large egg yolks

For the final steps:
8 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Using a large 6-8 cup soufflé dish, generously butter the inside.  Butter the inside of the foil collar, attaching the foil collar as described above.  Sprinkle the Parmigiano cheese in the dish and turn the dish around until the cheese and foil collar are covered with a layer of cheese.  Place the dish in the refrigerator until ready to fill.

Make the white béchamel sauce:  Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan; stir in the flour with a whisk until smooth.  Gradually stir in the milk while whisking; bring to a simmer over high heat while continuing to whisk.  Boil for 30 seconds, whisking until the mixture is smooth.  Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano cheese.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time.  Set aside.

Finals steps for folding in the egg whites:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the egg whites into the bowl for whisking.  Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites to stiff peaks starting at slow speed, gradually increasing the speed to high. 
Whisk about 1/4 of the egg whites into egg yolk béchamel, combining to lighten the sauce.  Pour the bechamel sauce down the side of the bowl containing the egg whites.  Fold the sauce and the egg whites with a rubber spatula, while sprinkling the Gruyere cheese over the mixture.  Be sure to reach down into the bottom of the bowl to combine the sauce that may have pooled at the bottom.  Being careful not to over mix the contents, leaving a few bits of egg whites is okay. 

Gently pour the egg/cheese mixture into the prepared soufflé pan.  Place the soufflé dish onto a sheet pan and place into the preheated oven.  Turn the oven temperature up to 375 degrees.  Set your timer for 40 minutes.  There should be no reason to check on the soufflé during this cooking time.  After 40 minutes, open the oven door.  The soufflé should have risen by half of the original size and the center should have minimal movement.  If the center has too much movement, continue cooking for another 10 minutes. 

To serve the soufflé:  Take the sheet pan out of the oven.  Remove the collar.  Scoop out portions, being sure to include some of the bottom "crust" and some of the creamy center.  Serve for breakfast, brunch or dinner. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

ChezCindy: Profiteroles with Vanilla Ice Cream & Chocolate Sauce

Profiteroles are a French pastry dessert which are filled with ice cream and served with warm chocolate sauce.  Kind of a grown-up ice cream sandwich.  The dough, called pate a choux or choux pastry, is easy to make even for beginners.  The pastry dough is formed into round mounds onto a baking sheet.  While baking, it puffs up creating big air bubbles, that form the inner space to be filled.  

Choux Pastry Dough
1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
pinch of kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Heat the milk, butter and pinch of salt over medium heat until the milk is scalded, and the butter is melted.  Add in the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes, until it comes together to form a dough.  The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan. 
Transfer the hot flour mixture to a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Pulse 2-3 times to disperse some of the heat.  Add the eggs and pulse until the eggs are incorporated into the dough and the mixture is thick and smooth. 

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Secure the parchment paper by placing a tiny bit of dough on each corner of the baking sheet, pressing the paper to stick to the dough.  This step will keep the paper in place and prevent it from sliding.  

Working with the 2 prepared baking sheets, pipe the dough into mounds, spacing about an inch apart, or you can use 2 spoons to scoop out the dough and shape into round mounds.  With a wet finger, lightly press out any tips or peaks to create a smooth surface top.  

Place each baking sheet into the preheated oven.  Bake for 18 minutes, rotating the pans, halfway through the baking time.  Turn off the oven, allow the puffs to remain in the oven for an additional 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Make a small slit in the side of each puff to allow the steam to escape. 

Chocolate Sauce
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cognac (optional)
Place the cream into a small saucepan.  Over medium-high heat, heat the cream until it just begins to boil.  Remove from the heat. 

Place the chopped chocolate into a heat-proof bowl.  Add the honey to the chocolate.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let the mixture sit for 30 seconds allowing the chocolate to begin to melt.  Whisk the mixture until smooth.  Add the teaspoon of cognac, if using, whisk to combine.  

To make the profiteroles:  Cut the profiterole puff in half across the middle to create a top and a bottom.  Fill the bottom half with a small scoop of ice cream.  Replace the top and drizzle with warm chocolate sauce. 


Sunday, February 9, 2014

ChezCindy: Beef Pot Roast...a Perfect Winter Meal

When the weather forecast calls for big snow, many of us scurry to stop at the grocery store to pick up bread, milk and other basic necessities.  Be sure to include a big chuck roast and plan on enjoying a perfect winter meal. 

The pot roast recipe I use is truly basic.  But, by following a few tips you will create a perfect pot roast dinner. 

Use a heavy bottomed oven pan with a tight-fitting lid.  My go to is Le Creuset.  Expensive, but worth it.  A solid cast iron oven pan with a lid that seals in the moisture is a must-have for any braising meal. 

Deeply brown the meat.  Take your time with this step as this always takes longer than you might think.  Browning provides the depth of flavor and makes great gravy.  Deeply brown on all sides.

Add a bit of acid once the meat is brown.  I use a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, plus a half cup of red wine.  This will deglaze the bits of brown goodness that have crusted on the bottom of the pan.  The acidity balances out the richness of the fatty meat. 

Add enough liquid to come up 2/3 of the way up the sides of the meat.  Never cover the meat completely.  You can use water, wine or stock.

Cover with the tight-fitting lid, and slow roast for 2-3 hours, turning the meat over a few times during the braising time.  Again, take your time with this step.  This is where the braising magic happens.

Perfect Pot Roast
1 3 to 4 pound boneless chuck roast
Salt & ground black pepper
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup of coarsely chopped onions
1 cup of coarsely chopped carrots
1 cup of coarsely chopped celery
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry red wine
4 cups beef stock
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pat the roast dry and season with salt and pepper.  Working with a heavy bottomed oven pan, heat the oil over medium high heat; add the seasoned roast to the pan.  Deeply brown on all sides, about 20 - 25 minutes.  Once completely browned, transfer the roast to a plate; set aside. 

Add the chopped onions, carrots and celery to the pan, cook until the vegetables begin to brown, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the sprigs of thyme and tomato paste, cooking about 2 minutes.  Add in the red wine vinegar and the dry red wine.  Cook until the wine is reduced in volume by half. 
Place the roast back into the pan, including any juices that have collected on the plate.  Add in enough beef stock to come up 2/3 of the way up the sides of the meat.  Cover with the pan lid; place in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 to  3 hours.  During the braising time, turn the roast over 2-3 times .  If the liquid reduces while cooking, add an additional 1/2 cup of broth or water to the pan. 

Remove from the oven, transfer the roast to a plate covering loosely with foil.  Strain the liquid from the pan into a large bowl.  Discard the vegetables as they have given up all of their goodness.  Pour the liquid back into the roasting pan.  Place over medium high heat, bringing to a boil.  In a small bowl, mix together the soft butter and the flour to form a paste.  Whisk about half of the butter paste into the boiling liquid, whisking vigorously until the paste is dissolved into the liquid.  Continue adding more of the butter paste until the liquid has thickened into a glossy gravy. 

Serve the pot roast with roasted vegetable, mashed potatoes and biscuits for a hearty winter meal.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

ChezCindy: Yummy Brussels Sprouts... really

I like brussels sprouts.  No one else in my house does.  But that's okay.  I make them quite often for myself.  Roasting them, or a quick sauté over high heat, brings out the best flavor.  The high heat gives them color, turning the outer leaves into crispy bites, making them delicious and not over-cooked.  

I have a small collection of recipes that I switch up depending on my mood.  Roasting the brussels with chopped pecans or sautéing them with crisp bacon and dried currents are two favorites.  I recently discovered a recipe using Asian sauces that was unique from my usual list of ingredients.  The results were quite yummy, served with brown rice made a light weekday meal.  But just for me. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Thai Chile Sauce

1 pound brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 teaspoon fish sauce or soy sauce
2 heaping tablespoons sweet chili sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut the larger brussels sprouts into halves or quarters, leaving the small ones whole.  Place them into a bowl, tossing them with the vegetable oil.  Transfer the sprouts to the foil lined sheet pan; reserve the bowl to make the sauce.  

Cook the brussels in the hot oven for about 7 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Set the oven to broil.  Meanwhile, combine the garlic, fish sauce and sweet chili sauce in the reserved bowl.  Place the partially cooked brussels back into the bowl with the sauce.  Toss to coat evenly.  Transfer the brussels back to the sheet pan, broil for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

ChezCindy: Chicken Dijonnaise a la Dale

Our favorite local French restaurant served a pheasant dish with a pommery mustard sauce that was so delicious, it was hard not to order it every time we dined there.  Sad to say, the chef retired and the pheasant is just a memory.  In one of my French recipe cookbooks, I discovered a chicken recipe that meets the memory of that wonderful pheasant meal.  Here is my tribute to Chef Dale; thanks for the delicious memories.

Chicken Dijonnaise

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt & pepper to season

2 shallots, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 heaping teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard, such as Maille
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of white pepper
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Season  the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Add the chicken breasts to the hot pan; sauté turning only once, until golden brown on each side - about 3-4 minutes per side.  Transfer to a plate; set aside.

Add the remaining butter and olive oil to the sauté pan, heat until foamy.  Add the chopped shallots, cook until softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the white wine, cooking for 3-4 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, garlic and bring to a boil.  Boil until the liquid is reduced by half - this should take about 3-5 minutes.  Lower the heat, whisk in the cream and the mustard, cooking until the sauce is slightly thickened.  Whisk in the tarragon, thyme, salt and white pepper. 

Return the chicken breasts, and any collected juice, to the pan.  Cook until the chicken is heated through, about 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken. 

To serve:  Arrange the chicken breast on a serving plate, spooning the sauce over the chicken.  Garnish with chopped parsley.  We serve this with creamy mashed potatoes and a vegetable. 

Wine pairing:  French red Burgundy or a light bodied Pinot Noir 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

ChezCindy: Veal Stew with Sauteed Vegetables

This veal stew recipe has been added to my list of "must make each winter season".  I make a big pan of it on the weekend and serve it throughout the week.  It is hearty, delicious and reheats well for a quick mid-week dinner.  Pictured above, it is served with gnocchi.  But we also like it with egg noodles or spooned over mashed potatoes.  Yum. 

My recipe is derived from a recipe for veal Marengo, a French veal stew said to be made for Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous French general.  The traditional basic ingredients for veal Marengo include veal, tomatoes, onion and white wine.  Modern day cooks expand on that list by adding additional vegetables to make a more complete stew.  I have added mushrooms, carrots and pearl onions (I use frozen pearl onions straight from the freezer).   If you are not a fan of veal, I am excited to make this same recipe using boneless chicken thighs.  I think that will be delicious too! 

Veal Stew with Sautéed Vegetables  
2 pounds boneless veal shoulder
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
bouquet of herbs*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For the sautéed vegetables
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup pearl onions
6-8 ounces mushrooms, cremini or white button
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
kosher salt
black pepper

chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, with rack in the center of the oven.  Use a large Dutch-oven pan, or a heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid.  Cut a parchment paper into a large circle to fit into the pan as a cover. 

Cut the veal shoulder into 2-inch cubes.  Season the veal cubes with salt and pepper.  Dredge the veal cubes with the flour to lightly cover all sides, shaking off the excess flour. 

Place the pan over medium-high heat.  Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.  When the oil and butter are hot, add about a third of the floured veal cubes to the pan.  It is important to not over crowd the pan, as the meat will not brown properly.  Brown the veal in 2- 3 batches, browning on all sides, removing each completed batch to rest on a plate.  This will create a good amount of brown bits in the bottom of the pan.  Taking your time on this step will yield great color and flavor to your stew. 

Once all of the veal has been browned, add in the chopped onion, cooking until lightly browned and wilted, about 3-5 minutes (if the pan looks to dry add a tablespoon of oil).  Stir in the tomato paste, cook for 2 minutes.  Carefully add the white wine, stir to bring up some of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan; cook for 5 minutes.  Add in the drained chopped tomatoes, chicken stock, salt, pepper, and the bouquet of herbs.  Add the veal back into the pan, including any juices that may have accumulated, stir to combine and bring to a gentle boil.  Turn off the burner heat.  Place the parchment paper circle onto of the stew - this will keep the liquids from evaporating - and cover with the lid.  Place the pan into the preheated oven.  Cook for 30 minutes. 

To make the sautéed vegetables: 
Working with a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the unsalted butter.  Once melted, add the pearl onions; stir to coat with the melted butter, cooking for about 5 minutes to lightly brown.  Chop the mushrooms into quarters or halves, add to the pan, stir to combine.  Allow the mushrooms to brown with minimal stirring at this point. 

Meanwhile, cut the carrots into thin diagonal slices. 

Once the mushrooms are nicely browned, add the thin sliced carrots.  Stirring occasionally, continue cooking on the stovetop until the carrots are tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside until the stew is ready to come out of the oven. 

After 30 minutes, remove the stew from the oven.  Carefully, remove the parchment paper cover and the bouquet of herbs, discarding both.  Add the sautéed vegetables to the stew, stirring to combine.  Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper as necessary.  Garnish with chopped parsley.  Serve warm and enjoy.  

 *Bouquet of herbs, known as a Bouquet Garni in French cooking, is a variety of herbs tied together wrapped in cheesecloth.  This allows your stew to have the flavor of the herbs without the stems and leaves released into the dish.  When the stew is done you simply remove the bundle of herbs and discard. I used 2 thyme sprigs, 2 parsley sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig, and 1 bay leaf.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

ChezCindy: Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

There are numerous squash soup recipes available, but this one has become our "house favorite". 
It is requested by family and friends from Thanksgiving to Easter.  The apples give the soup just a hint of sweetness.  Finishing the soup with a touch of half-and-half yields a delicate, silky texture.  I often serve this as a first course for dinner parties. 

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 butternut squash, roughly 2 pounds
2 Granny Smith apples
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup half-and-half
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
scant 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Working with a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add the chopped onions and shallots; cook until softened, but not brown, about 4 minutes. 

Peel the squash, remove the seeds; cut into 2-inch pieces.  Peel and core the apples; cut into 2-inch pieces.  Add the squash and apples to the pan.  Stir to combine with the onions.  Add the finely chopped rosemary and thyme; stir in the chicken stock.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes until the squash and apples are very soft. 
Remove from the heat and allow to slightly cool.  Using a hand-held blender or a standing blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Stir in the salt, pepper and half-and-half.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  If the soup seems to thick, stir in an additional  1/2 cup of chicken stock. 

Perfect Wine Pairing:  pictured with the soup - Gentil "Hugel" Aslace from France

Sunday, January 5, 2014

ChezCindy: Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Pie

Making pie crust from scratch can be tricky.  But once you find the perfect recipe that works for you, it tastes so much better than the "already made" crusts bought from the grocery store.  My sister is actually the better pie crust maker in the family.  She can make pie crust as easily as breathing.  Which is why she usually makes the pies for each holiday gathering.

I used to struggle with making crust from scratch.  At times the crust would come out too tough or it would fall apart when I rolled it out and tried to transfer it to the pie pan.  But now, I have found my go-to recipe for pie crust and it works every time.  I actually have 2 go-to recipes, one for dessert pies and one for savory pies like quiche or tomato tarts.  You will find the savory recipe with my quiche post.  savory quiche pie crust

When I made this Tollhouse Chocolate Chip pie yesterday, I felt it was time to capture my pie crust  recipe here on my blog.  Each time I make a pie, I search through my box of recipes.  Now that sounds like I have a neat organized box of recipes.  But not...  My box of recipes is full of photocopies, pages torn out of magazines, hand-written notes, all somewhat organized.  My fear of misplacing the recipe has prompted me to add it to the blog site.  My husband tells a story that his mother used to make the best pie crust.  But no one has the recipe.  In her last years, even she could not remember her recipe.  So here is my perfect dessert pie crust.   I hope it works well for you.  Practice will lead you to mastering this technique.

Dessert Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks of cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup ice water

makes 2 pie crusts

Working with a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle, add the flour, sugar and salt to the mixing bowl.  On low speed, blend to combine.  Cut the 2 sticks of butter into 1/4 inch cubes.  Add to the flour mixture; mix on low speed until the crumbly.  The butter will look only somewhat combined and still have visible clumps.  With the mixer running, slowly add the 1/4 cup of ice water.  Mix only until the dough comes together and clings to the paddle.  If the dough appears to be too dry, add 1-2 teaspoons more of ice water.  It is key is to not over-mix.  Gather the dough into 2 balls, forming each into flatten disks.  Wrap each disk plastic wrap; refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.  This is an important step as it allows the dough to rest, the water to be absorbed by the flour, and the bits of butter to become chilled again.  The chilled butter bits are what makes the crust flaky and tender.   

Working with one disk, roll out on a floured surface into a 12-inch circle.  Transfer to pie pan for use with your favorite pie recipe.

This recipe makes 2 12-inch crusts, which in turn can be used for 2 single crust pies or 1 double crust pie.  The disks of dough can be frozen and thawed for a future use.  Wrap each disk separately in plastic wrap; place the disks in a freezer bag. 

Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Pie
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
3/4 walnuts, toasted

1 disk of pie dough

Roll out the single disk of pie dough, fitting into a 9-inch pie pan; crimp the edges.  Place the pie pan in the freezer while you make the filling.  The pie dough will be used straight from the freezer.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugars and salt until combined.
Working with the stand mixer, whisk the 2 eggs and vanilla until foamy, about 3 minutes.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the eggs; mix for 2-3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides, add the softened butter.  Beat on high until well combined.  Fold in 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and walnuts.

Remove the pie pan from the freezer.  Transfer the pie filling to the frozen pie shell, spreading it out evenly.  Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup of chocolate chips over the top of the pie.

To bake:  Cover the crimped edges of the pie with aluminum foil to prevent the crust from browning too quickly.  Bake for 30 minutes with the edges covered.  Remove from the oven, carefully remove the foil, return the pie to the oven and bake for an additional 30-40 minutes.  Test the pie by sticking a knife into the center of the filling.  The knife should come out clean with no clumps of filling clinging to it.  If necessary, bake for an additional 5 minute and test again.  Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack before slicing.