Shepherd’s Pie

Posted: February 18, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 5 Comments »

I’ve mentioned before that I never ate meatloaf as a kid. There are actually many things that I don’t remember experiencing as a kid that I now love. Spinach, meatloaf, Brussels sprouts (which research has told me you should basically avoid until you’re 18), and strangely, homemade Shepherd’s pie. I’m pretty relieved about most of these things, since they give me an open mind now – I don’t have any ingrained memories of my sainted mother’s so-and-so, so I don’t have any rules to follow besides “make it taste good”.

This is especially true with Shepherd’s pie, which I can only vaguely remember ever eating. The memories I do have are of eating frozen versions of Shepherd’s pie occasionally, but that could be just a hallucination. Basically anytime I saw Shepherd’s pie at school or college, it had peas out of a can in it. And corn. Which is just all wrong. So I avoided it.
I’ve been thinking about Shepherd’s pie since Adele mentioned making one back over the summer. I cursed her then for making one during a heatwave in Brooklyn, as it was too hot for such meaty, mashed-potatoey tomfoolery. That was back in August.
It’s February now, and as some of you have noticed, it’s been freezing freaking cold lately. The freaking cold has had varying effects, including causing me to want to make warm things, things with cumin flavor, things that are warming and rich and is it any wonder I ended back at Shepherd’s Pie?

Warm, Comforting Shepherd’s Pie with Curried Sweet Potato Topping
This recipe uses some of my favorite spices. Get ready to bust out your curry powder, but if you don’t have curry powder, you can totally use a combination of cumin, tumeric, chili powder, corriander, and black pepper. Or, y’know, anything else that makes you feel warm inside.

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel 1 medium sweet potato per person eating. Chop into about 1/2-inch cubes, and put in a pot full of cold, liberally salted water, and boil.  When they are soft enough to be squished between kitchen tongs, drain the potatoes and return them to the hot pan for 30 seconds to a minute, so they dry out a little. Mash with 2 tablespoons of butter, a hearty splash of milk or half & half, salt, and a tablespoon of ricotta. Now is the time to start adding spices. Start with 1 teaspoon of curry powder, or 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and 1/4 teaspoon each of tumeric and cayenne pepper. If this tastes warm and savory to you, stop there. If not, keep adding in these proportions until it tastes perfect to you.
2. While the potatoes are boiling, brown 1 pound of ground beef, breaking it up as it cooks.
3. When the ground beef is cooking, dice one onion. Slice one leek in half lengthwise, then cut into small slices and clean. Slice 2 small carrots in half, and cut into small slices. Slice and chop 7-8 crimini mushrooms.
4. If the ground beef has let off some fat, add in the vegetables with no additional oil. I was using sirloin, so there wasn’t a lot of fat. I added a tiny drizzle of olive oil when I added my veg. Saute for 5-7 minutes, until all the vegetables are softened, and the mushrooms have picked up some color. Add a pinch of salt, and roughly 2 teaspoons of curry powder (or the mix mentioned above, in the above proportions). Stir.

5.  Add roughly 1 teaspoon of tomato paste, and 3-4 shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Stir everything around until the tomato paste and Worcestershire have melted in with the vegetables and meat. It should smell pretty fabulous at this point, but it is about to get better. Sprinkle on 2-3 spoonfuls of flour, and stir everything again.
6. Pour in roughly 1 cup of beef broth, and stir. Let it come to a simmer; the flour will thicken the sauce and all the flavors will meld, and you will probably have to season again. Go easy on the salt, but focus on the curry powder/cumin/corriander.
7. When the sauce has thickened up,  turn off the heat and throw in a couple handfuls of chopped green beans, and toss one more time. Pour the pie base into a casserole dish, and top with the mashed curried sweet potato. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, and let sit 5-10 minutes before serving, to allow the dish time to pull itself together.

Serve, and enjoy. It’s warm, comforting, and rich. It’s perfect weekend food. Enjoy it this weekend. :)


Posted: February 15, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 6 Comments »

Sometimes, you do something a little special for your sweetie. And it doesn’t matter if it’s because it’s Valentine’s day weekend, or because you suspect he’s been spending hours slaving away over something for you that you can’t have until it’s perfect, or because he writes you tiny love letters or just because he’s got a dimple that makes you smush in a certain way. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you get a little fancy.

So I did some thinking, and I made some plans, and in the end, we had a bit of a fancy frenchie picnic on Friday night, to kick off Valentine’s weekend. I made some tapenade, and we had some french bread, and a beautiful smushy soft wedge of  Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert from the Old Chatham Shepherds. And the piece around which all these items were centered was the salad you see above. A salad that looks pretty simple, and tastes pretty fantastic, and takes just enough effort that your sweetie, or your self, will feel special, loved, and very very happy.

Frisee Salad in the Frenchy Fashion
1 head Frisee lettuce
1 jumbo egg for each portion
1-2 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into about 1/4 inch strips
juice of 1 lemon
1 glob of mustard
Olive oil, salt, pepper, white vinegar

1. To make this salad, the first thing you do is cook some bacon. This can be turkey bacon, if that’s how you roll. We used Black Forest Bacon. Lay the strips of bacon out the long way on your cutting board, and cut 1/4″-1/2″ thick slices perpendicular to the direction the bacon is currently lying, so that you have several little crosswise cuts of bacon. Put them in a pan, over low heat, and cook slowly, rendering the fat but NOT crisping too much. You want the bacon to still have a little chew to it, as opposed to being crispy or “well done”.  Drain the bacon pieces and reserve.
2. You also have to poach an egg. You could totally fry an egg in olive oil and have it be ok, and if you’re not up to poaching eggs, I will not fault you. BUT, if you’d like to poach an egg, here’s the deal. Bring a skillet of water to JUST before the boil, and add 2-3 tablespoons of white vinegar. You won’t taste the vinegar on the egg, it’s just going to make your egg not spread out as much. So, add the vinegar, and crack your egg into a little cup or container. I used a little flexible silicon prep bowl. Get the container as close to the surface of the pan as possible, and slip the egg into the water. Immediately begin swirling the whites around the egg, so that they kind of wrap the yolk up in all their wonderfulness. Repeat with any additional eggs. Poach for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. You want the yolk really really runny so that it combines with the vinaigrette on the salad and coats everything in its unctuous deliciousness.  When the eggs are done, remove them, and pat them dry with a paper towel.
3. You have to make a vinaigrette. This is the easiest bit. First, taste a bit of your frisee to see if it’s at all bitter. If not, go ahead and squeeze 1 whole lemon into your salad bowl. Fish out the seeds. Then, squirt a small blob of dijon mustard in, and add a good pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk all that together, then stream in some olive oil while whisking until it resembles one cohesive dressing, instead of lemon-mustard stuff with olive oil floating around in it. Once it has emulsified, taste it, and if it tastes good to you, add your cut up frisee. Do this while the eggs are poaching, because it should only take you about 60 seconds total.
4. You now can assemble. Put your frisee lettuce on a plate, along with some of your lardons (bacon pieces) and toss. Then, top with your egg, either poached or fried. Break the yolk, and you will have a wondrous moment of beauty.

It’s not super fancy, but it takes an effort, and sometimes that’s all that matters to your sweetie. Or yourself. Or y’know…. at all.


Posted: February 8, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 9 Comments »

I am doing things to better myself this year. Things that I’m actually, for once, following through on. For example, today, after I type up this post, I am going to take off my chipping red nail polish. I only painted my nails on Saturday night, and 2009 Johanna would have left the chipped nail polish on for at least a week, but because I read an article in a magazine about how pulled-together women never have chipped polish, dammit, I will take it off. Nevermind the fact that when one has fine motor skills like I do, painting one’s nails takes a good 15 minutes, nevermind the fact that truly, I am still hell and gone from “pulled together”. It’s a start, right?

Another thing that put-together women do is see their friends regularly. They have lunch dates. They have schedules. They see their friends, their hairdressers, their manicurists and doctors and moms and whoever regularly. And so along with removing my nail polish when I start resembling a hot mess, I have made a concerted effort this year to try and find a way to see my friends more regularly. The 3 New York Area Pretty girls got together on Sunday after I ran really fast in a race. I provided homemade bagels, to much better results than the last time I did so. And Rita brought homemade gravalax, which made me weak in the knees, and Bakezilla provided the mimosa makings, and we had a fantastic time getting ridiculous, spilling some orange juice, eating a ton of food, and hanging out. I like seeing my friends more.

And that includes you, out there. I apologize for slacking off for the past week. I’ve had a somewhat difficult week, a strange gap between grocery orders and meal plans, where dinner isn’t so much dinner as it is luck. But there have been some bright points.

I’m making better use of leftovers these days. I’m throwing NOTHING away. That pork shoulder was cooked in the slow cooker with a dry rub, some of it was turned into pulled pork bbq sandwiches, some of it was turned into pork tacos, and the rest was cooked with tomatoes and cracked garlic cloves, simmered for ages, to get a beautiful, wonderful rich smushy sauce that was top notch over cheesy polenta. And now, we’re back on track, and I will not leave you behind again.

Y’see, I’m getting pulled together. It’s a goal. But it’ll still be improvised, and in the end, my nail polish will still chip sometimes. But I will be pulled together enough to see my friends (including you guys) a lot more often.

That’s the goal.

And next month, we’ll have the Triple Threat around for our next installment of Pretty Girls Get Ridiculous!!

In on it

Posted: February 2, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 6 Comments »

Right now, it’s about 9:00 eastern time. The rest of the Johnson-Bowline household (as well as the rest of the people I know, judging by my dire buddylist/Twitter feed situations) is watching the Season 6 premiere of LOST.

I don’t watch Lost. Mostly because I’m terrified of a television show so all-encompassing that people I know are legitimately upset that this season began, because this season begins the end of the series. But also, I’m mildly uncomfortable with the idea of a television series that prompts people to not only make appointments to view it, but go so far as to turn off their computers/cell phones/ house phones in order to experience it fully. I mean…. I’m sequestered in the bedroom, for heaven’s sake.
This is not to say that I don’t have my own favorite shows. And that they’re not in any way appointment viewing. Because screw you if you try to interrupt me while I’m watching Bones, and I will cut you if you make me forget to DVR Chuck. But c’mon. David Boreanaz?? This guy?? You see my point. But Jesse watches these with me. I don’t kick him out.

So while the rest of the world is watching some silly TV show about an island that travels through space and time or some such nonsense (spoiler alert: the title is not purely ironic), we few, we lucky few who are not in on the magic can get in on something else entirely.
Chocolate. Gravy.

That’s right. I am not joking. And here’s the thing – the formidable Lisa of Homesick Texan, a wellspring of knowledge on regional Texan delicacies, wasn’t even in on this, until a friend mentioned it to her. So just think, my lovelies!! YOU who are mostly not Texans are in on the ground floor of this thing that even a hard-core (albiet displaced)TEXAN didn’t know about!!!

Chocolate Gravy, via Homesick Texan

Step 1: Make biscuits. I am not a snob, and am therefore ok with you opening a can of refrigerated dough. But if you want to be like me, get out your buttermilk and your kitchen scale, and follow along:
Measure 9.25 ounces of flour into a bowl. Add 4 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoons of salt.
Smush in 1 ounce of butter and 2 tablespoons of shortening with your fingertips until the whole bowl looks like crumbs. Then add 1 cup of cold buttermilk and stir.
Turn the biscuit dough mess out onto a floured board, knead 3 times, and pat into a circle ish thing. Cut biscuits, place close together on a baking sheet, and bake at 450 for 18 minutes. You can brush them with butter at 11 minutes left if you want.

Step 2. Make chocolate gravy.
Combine 3/4 cup of sugar (I used 1/4 brown sugar and 1/2 cup sugar in the raw), 1/4 cup of flour, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, a heaping 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and a pinch or two of cayenne in a pot. Stir until everything is combined.
Add 2 cups of milk and put on the heat. Stir until everything thickens up and makes you want to faint from the aroma.

Step 3. Devour.
If you want to, you can add a teaspoon of butter at the end right before your serve, or just butter your split biscuits. Either way, break a biscuit in half, spoon the chocolate deliciousness over, and enjoy.
I saved the remainder of my chocolate gravy in a clean glass pint jar in the fridge. I’m not sure what to do with it, besides make totally bitchin’ chocolate milk or hey, more biscuits…. but I’ll figure something out.
Consider yourselves ….. In On It.

Gourmet, Unbound: February

Posted: January 30, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Gourmet Unbound, Johanna | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

My friends, I am back with another recipe for Gourmet, Unbound. IN case you can’t remember, a few food bloggers started a project where bloggers from around the world would cook and write about a recipe from Gourmet’s illustrious back catalogue, once per month. I missed out on the January submissions because hey, the holidays happened, and my life went crazy for 2 weeks. But I’m back with a February Submission that screamed out “COOK ME” as soon as I came across it on Epicurious.

Roast Chicken with Mashed Potato Stuffing and Roasted VegetablesGourmet February 1994.

When this issue of Gourmet ran, I was 9 years old. I was working my way through the 4th grade, and I was blissfully unaware of what would someday become my passion. Well, sort of. My favorite passages in the Little House on the Prairie books were the ones where Laura Ingalls Wilder described the food they would cook and serve. I would grudgingly endure back-to-back episodes of This Old House and New Yankee Workshop in order to get to The Frugal Gourmet on PBS on Sunday evenings. I knew there was something about food that was enthralling to me, but I had no idea that its actual creation would one day have so much meaning and importance to me. The most I did at 9 in the kitchen was set the table, and occasionally flip the French Toast. I was just reaching the “terrifyingly clumsy” stage of my life, where letting me crack an egg was bound to be a mess, I bruised my hip on every doorknob in the house, and I knocked over everything in my path.* So cooking, and reading Gourmet, were not on my radar, so much.

A few notes about this recipe:
#1 – I believe that the supreme being of the universe created potatoes SOLELY so they could be turned into mashed potatoes. I would rather eat a potato mashed than any other way there is, including in latke form and  in soup. There is one supreme mashed potato in my life, and that is my mom’s mashed potatoes. All the rest are a distant second best, and I just need to take one more chance to shout out how great they are, and thank her for making them for me when I’m home. I love you Mom, AND your tatoes.
#2 – I love roast chicken and very rarely follow a “recipe” when I make it. I’m more of a “method” kind of gal. But whenever you are stuffing the cavity of a bird with something you intend to eat, it is very very important to follow all guidelines for cooking times and temperatures, and also to make sure that your bird is fully defrosted before you stuff it.
#3 – My grocery store doesn’t carry parsnips, or celery root. So I roasted my chicken on top of my 12 shallots, and 2 heads of garlic, along with 4 cut up carrots, 3 or 4 cut up celery stalks, and some turnips. And it was great. I’m going to use the leftovers to enrich some stock that I’m making later today. I also didn’t have a shallow roasting pan with a rack. So I just sat the chicken in the pan for the first 30 minutes, breast down. Then I sat the chicken on top of the veggies for the rest of the cooking time, and it all went fine.
#4 – This is not your go-to weeknight roast chicken. That chicken is the one you rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, stuff some butter and herbs under the skin, shove a lemon and half an onion and some rosemary into the cavity, and roast breast down in a hot pan for 20 minutes, breast up in a hot pan for 20 minutes, breast down again for 10, and then until it reaches temperature breast up.
This chicken takes time. You have to make garlic mashed potatoes by boiling garlic and potatoes together and then smashing them with milk and butter and herbs and yum. And then you have to stuff them into the chicken’s cavity, and roast the chicken breast down in a cold pan, and then add some root veggies and sit the chicken on top of them  and roast until the thigh makes your probe thermometer beep at 180.

And then, you get to eat the chicken, and the chickeny garlicky mashed potatoes. And the veggies. And everything else. And it. is. goood.

*Somewhere along the line over the last 16 years, I grew up and mostly out of the clumsy stage. And I would love the chance to head back to where my clumsy dropsy skinny 9-year-old self sat, and tell  her not to worry, sweetheart. You’ll figure it all out. And you’ll find something you love, that truly fulfills you. Just hang on. And don’t worry about the bruised hipbones. That stops too.

Yankee Galette

Posted: January 28, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I’m going to come right out and say that if you are a vegetarian, you might want to just skip this entry. If you’re observant Jewish, you should probably test this with turkey bacon, to see if the taste is similar. In fact, maybe I’ll test it out with turkey bacon, and tell you how it goes.

Recently, I went to a Pie Party at the home of my friend Erin’s lovely cousin Emily. The basic jist was that everyone was to bring a pie – sweet, savory, family recipe, just wingin’it…. whatever. There was a judging, and a prize for the best sweet and best savory recipe. It was really fun, and it was excellent to meet and talk to new people, while gorging on pie (or, as Erin says it, “paaah”).
Since our invite was very last minute – as in, Erin and I were in the middle of a 6-mile run, when she suggested I throw something together and attend – I had to make do mostly with what was in my refrigerator. I had half a bag of cranberries left from some jam making, and decided to go with an apple cranberry galette.
While perusing the internets, I came across a few great recipes for such a galette, as well as a recipe that legitimately made me whimper when I read the title: Maple Bacon Apple Galette. In the end, I couldn’t decide, so I combined them.

Yankee Galette
1. Make a single recipe of your favorite pastry. My favorite is the recipe of another friend named Erin’s mother: 1 cup of flour, 1/3 cup shortening or butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 3-5 tablespoons of ice water. Chill the pastry in the fridge while you do the rest.
2. Chop or cut 4-5 slices of thick-cut smoked bacon into 1/4-1/2″ pieces, and brown the pieces. You’re not looking for totally crispy, because you’re going to bake the cooked bacon. But cook it till it’s brown and has rendered some of its fat.
3. While the bacon is browning, peel, core, and slice 3-4 medium sized apples. I used the amazing apple peeler/corer/slicer that I received as a Christmas gift last year, which sped up the process greatly. Toss with roughly 3/4 cup of fresh cranberries and 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon each cardamom and nutmeg.
4. Remove the bacon from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and drain. Then, put the drained bacon pieces in a non-stick pan with 2-3 tablespoons of
real maple syrup
(NOT Aunt Jemimah or Mrs. Butterworth or whatever else.) and turn the heat on to medium. The syrup will simmer, and this is exactly what you want. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, which should be just enough time to pick yourself up off the floor after you faint from the gorgeous smells coming from that non-stick pan. After 3-5 minutes, scrape the bacon/syrup concoction into the bowl of apples, cranberries, and spices.
5. Take your pie crust out of the fridge, and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface. You want to roll it out into a BIG, uneven roundish shape. No worries about making a perfect circle or making it even, since this is supposed to be a rustic, peasant style dish. Transfer the pastry crust to a baking sheet, and pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
If you want, trace a circle onto your pie crust lightly with a sharp knife, so that you know how big your finished galette will be. I used an upside-down plate. Pile your apple-cranberry-maple-bacon mixture on the crust, and begin folding and crimping the sides up and over the fruit. You don’t need to stress about making it beautiful – when it comes out of the oven all golden and baked up, it will BE beautiful.
6. Brush the folded-up edges of the galette with either melted butter, an egg wash, or (if you’re me) bacon grease. Sprinkle turbinado or sanding sugar along the crust edge if you’re feeling fancy, and bake for 35-40 minutes.

I love this galette, and combining apple pie with cranberries, bacon, and maple syrup reminds me of New England, of all the things that make me think of home, of Thanksgiving and my heritage foods.
Plus, it’s delish. I didn’t win the contest, but I got some good encouragements, and I ate some delicious pie, and in the end, that makes everybody there winners. :)


Posted: January 25, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

One of my major concerns when I started training for my upcoming half-marathon was nutrition. I didn’t want to sacrifice delicious food for concerns about calorie counts, grams of fiber, and all the other things that runners worry about. I also didn’t want to make food that would be healthy for someone burning a ton of calories, but not so healthy for say, Jesse, who isn’t experience a sudden upswing in number of calories burned.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been just trying to cook like normal, adding in breakfast every day and making darn sure that I pack my lunch if at all possible; but in the back of my mind has been the concern that I’m going to have to start thinking about this shit soon. And that, my darlings, is where this soup comes in:

This is a runner’s minestrone. And it’s equally delicious if you think running is crap. Or if thinking about running makes you tired. Vegetarian? Check! Protein? Chock-full-of beans – Check! Carbohydrates? Tiny pasta pearls – Check! And the bonus? It’s just darn delicious.

Runner’s Minestrone
1. Put a large soup pot on the stove, over medium heat. Throw in a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Meanwhile, dice an onion, chop 2 or 3 celery stalks, and 2 or so carrots (mine were no-joke-jumbo carrots). Basically you want equal volumes and sizes for onion, celery and carrot, although if the carrot pieces are bigger, there is no problem.
Put the mirepoix in with the butter and oil, add a sprinkling of salt, and let the veggies start to get coated in the fat and release all their delicious juices.
2. Open and sorta-drain a can of beans. I had ecuadorean beans on hand, which are basically just small red beans. But cannelini beans, black beans, kidney beans, or heck, even chickpeas, would be great here. Add the beans to the veggies once they’re starting to soften, along with a good pinch of red pepper flake, and some oregano if you’re fancy. Stir, and let the starchy bean liquid bind together everything already in the pot.
3. Pour in a can of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, and stir. Then, add 4 cups of vegetable stock, and 2 cups of water. Bring the pot to a simmer, and let the flavors become friendly.

4. This is where you can get creative. I had curly kale, zucchini, and green beans on hand, as well as acini di pepe, which are the little teeny pasta pearls. Acini Di Pepe means peppercorns, basically, in Italian. You could use ditalini, or pastina (the little stars) or even some other shape, as long as they’re SMALL. You want the veggies to be the stars here. Chop up basically any veggies you like and have on hand. Put them in the pot, and once the soup has regained its simmer, throw in a few handfuls of pasta. I probably used between a quarter and half a cup of acini di pepe, which are super tiny.
5. Let things simmer away until the pasta is cooked. Serve with a solid grating of some parmesan cheese, and you have a beautiful, beautiful thing.
This soup kept me full and full of energy and ready to go through my whole Saturday long run. It was delicious. And I foresee a LOT of this in my future.
I’m going to be adding a new tag called “Run Fuel”, full of my finds and foibles in a search for good running fuel that is also delicious and healthy to feed to Jesse. It’ll be an adventure. :)

The Best Part

Posted: January 22, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I love lasagna. Something about the excuse to eat bechamel, AND sausage, AND tons of cheese, AND pasta all at the same time really gets to me.
See this lasagna?

This lasagna was delicious.
I made a red sauce, by browning a pound of hot Italian sausage along with half a minced onion, and a can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes. It simmered down for a good long time, until the liquid had reduced by 1/3. But the marinara wasn’t the best part.
There was also a parmesan bechamel,  which I made in the usual way, stirring milk and chicken stock into a roux, adding lots and lots of black pepper and a good quarter-cup of grated parmesan cheese. Honestly though, the bechamel wasn’t the best part either.
I grated about half a pound of mozzarella, because this was going to be really really decadent, and made sure that there was plenty of cheese on each layer of the lasanga. Dry noodles, white sauce, red sauce, cheese. Dry noodles, white sauce, red sauce, cheese, until it was all gone. But even the cheese wasn’t the best part.

The best part was that after I assembled it on Sunday, I covered it in foil, froze it solid, and let it wait until Wednesday. Then, Jesse baked it for me, while I was at the gym running my little legs off. I would recommend baking it for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, and another 15 minutes at 425. Covered or uncovered, whatever you feel like, for the first 45. Uncovered for the last 15, absolutely, to crisp the cheese up. Don’t worry about cooking the noodles, since they’ll cook when you bake the lasagna, and the moisture that’s released when the ice crystals melt will keep everything from getting too dry.
Not having to make dinner on Wednesday, because you made it on Sunday and froze it?
That is the best part.

Fancy-Fried Chicken

Posted: January 18, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Chicken, Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

I have made fried chicken many, many times. I always shallow-fry, because the idea of dunking a raw piece of chicken into a pot of boiling oil and hoping that you can cook the chicken without burning the outside and without turning the whole thing into an oil slick freaks me out. It’s too much anxiety.
However, I’ve been feeling slightly bummed out by my last few fried chicken events. I mean, they’ve tasted good, but they weren’t great. So I was in need of some inspiration, and maybe some change to the technique.

While reading Food 52 one day, I saw that there was a new recipe up from the hubby of one of my favored bloggers (Jen from Last Night’s Dinner). Her husband, Mike, posted an ingenious-looking recipe for Buttermilk Fried Chicken.
The beauty behind this recipe is that you first brine the chicken in buttermilk, Old Bay, salt and pepper for several hours. Then, you par-boil it IN the brine and some water, until it’s basically cooked through. Then, you coat it in flour and deep fry it, to get that crispy, delicious outside.

I love this technique. I’ll tell you right now, it is 100%, 150%, 200% worth it.  Brining the chicken makes it super juicy and very flavorful. The par-boiling means that there’s no risk of drying out your chicken. Shaking it up in the bag of flour is where it gets all the crispiness and yum. And then of course, there’s the 2 minutes of deep-frying per piece, which makes it TASTE ridiculous and bad for you, but keeps it from really BEING ridiculous and bad for you.
The one modification that I might make to the method is in the next-to-last step. I found that not enough of a crunch came through from just a pure  coating in flour. It might be that I let the chicken cool too long (the recipe didn’t specify) and it got too dry on the surface for much flour to stick.
But in general, I would probably dip each piece of chicken in one more buttermilk bath before a shake in the flour, just in an effort to bring a TEENY it more crunch to the party. But the method, otherwise, is phenomenal. Please do not skip the last step of the recipe, which is to sprinkle it with crunchy or flaky salt after frying. It makes a HUGE impact.

Oh. Ahem. One last tip. Buy enough oil. I bought a too-small bottle of oil, and ended up having to use my tiniest saucepot, and deep fry one piece of chicken at a time.

It didn’t impact the taste of the chicken in any way. It was just really darn annoying.

Quicky Pickles

Posted: January 12, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I love fennel. It’s one of those vegetables that I only came across during the summer, when I was making tilapia en papillote for the first time. We had tilapia en papillote again this past week, and for some fortuitous reason, Fresh Direct sent me two bulbs of Fennel instead of one!!

While wondering what to do with my extra fennel, I contemplated braising, and adding it to a slow-cooked pork shoulder, and in the end, none of them seemed quite right for my extra fennel bulb. And then, last night, I had an epiphany.
One always has some sort of pickled something when eating barbeque. It’s like, a rule. So, while trying to figure out exactly how I’d convert the huge hunk of pig still sitting in my fridge into a variety of dinners and backup items, I figured it out. Quick-pickled fennel!!!

A cursory internet search brought me to a recipe I proceeded to destroy and turn into my own. Based on what was in the cabinets and the fridge, I created my own sweet-spicy Fennel Fridge Pickles!!

1 bulb of fennel, cored and cut into thin rounds or matchsticks, fronds reserved.
1 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon corriander seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all the ingredients except the fennel in a pot, and stir to dissolve the salt and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Put your fennel pieces, and the fronds, into a pie plate or a heatproof bowl.
Pour the pickling liquid over the fennel and fronds, and let sit for 3 hours, minimum.
I transferred mine to a clean pint jar, in the fridge, so that it could both stay cool and continue to get the flavors all happy. Remember, these jars aren’t being processed, so they MUST be refrigerated, and vinegar or no, this shit WILL start to go bad eventually. So eat them within a week or two, I’d say.

If they last that long!!

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.