Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'll Have a Bowl of Corn Chowder.

This is just about my most favorite soup ever, well, it's not a soup, it's chowder! Those that read my ramblings on Food I Eat know that there will never be a fish that makes it all the way past my lips with the exception of heavily spiced or sauced shrimp, preferably grilled. So, don't even begin to talk to me about how corn has no place in the real New England Chowder. You people that eat clams need to come round to the real chowder - corn chowder.

If you are into calories and nutrition facts, click here.

my chowder as a side dish
New England Corn Chowder

Ingredients with variations on the theme and options for your enjoyment no matter how you eat:

6 strips of the meatiest bacon you can find. If you can get applewood smoked bacon do it, because it is the best ever. Trim off any ends that are particularly fatty...yes a bit wasteful, but it's better. Trust me. If you are a serious bacon eater add more...or cook up some to sprinkle on when it is served.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I make these biscuits a lot. They are simple, there's just a few ingredients, and they can be varied a lot. We have them with soup, stew, roasts, and any time there is a good reason to bake up a good biscuit. You could just buy the frozen ones, but why do that when these are so easy to do? Besides, it's fun to mess with the flour, it's fun to decide how to make them, these rise a whole lot better and it's fun to watch that, and they taste better. How mindful is that! I did the nutrition facts for you too in case you are one of my calorie counting friends.

these got a little too brown, but you get the idea!
Baking Powder Biscuits

Ingredients and later on some options to make these even more super yummy:

2 cups all purpose flour, measure this by very lightly spooning the flour into the cup. do not pack at all.
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup shortening (or butter)
2/3-3/4 cup milk

Options for making these absolutely even better:

if you change the baking powder to 2 t and add a bit of baking soda - about 1/4 t, you can swap out the milk with buttermilk and these biscuits bake up incredibly moist.

Most of the time, I add about 1/2 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar for fabulous cheese biscuits!

Add some diced jalapenos with the cheese for fantastic jalapeno cheese biscuits.

Directions and where the messy fun begins:

Preheat the oven to 450F - now if you oven runs hot, lower it a bit, you don't want these to brown before they are done on the inside.

For a lot of breads and stuff like that you usually start by mixing together the dry stuff and that's what you do here. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then use a fork and "cut" in the shortening - yup, use a cutting motion and keep on incorporating the shortening into the flour. This is the only real important part of making biscuits. You need to keep on cutting the shortening in until you have all these nice teeny tiny coarse meal balls.

Add the milk - use the smaller amount and stir, add more if you have to only just until the dough is soft and forms. Wait, I guess there is a second most important part. Don't over stir the dough...ok, third most important part is not to make them soggy with too much milk. The biscuits aren't as tender if you do either - this is not hard, just takes practice and practice is delicious.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead very gently about 10-12 times only just until it is no longer sticky. Then pat it out pressing with your fingers until it is reasonably even and 1/2 inch thick. Use a drinking glass or cookie cutter to cut the biscuits - cut as close as possible. At the end you will likely have enough bits and pieces to gently press together into a sort of kind of biscuit shape and that is the special biscuit that the cooker gets to eat "just to make sure" they are good enough for everyone else.

Don't grease the baking sheet, just put the biscuits on it about 1/2 inch apart and bake about 8 minutes or until they are a pretty light brown. Do not let them get as brown as I did in the picture. They were still tasty as could be but I don't like them that brown. In other words, remember they only take like 8 minutes to bake so don't go off and check you email or start watching music videos that your friends post at FB. :(

Enjoy these mindfully and quickly!

ps - I'm going to try weighing the ingredients next time and using the ratio method of cooking so I can experiment with using different fats to replace the partially hydrogenated fat. In case you want to try it, here's the ratio for biscuits: 

for each 9 oz of flour, use 3 oz of fat, and 6 oz of liquid. 

Your choice as to what each main ingredient is – your fave flour, your fave fat, and your fave liquid – all weighed in the proper ratio. I'll report in after I've tried this out with different fats.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beef Bourguignon

Julia Child's version is the most famous of all the Beef Bourguignons. There are also about 500 million variations on her classic recipe offered by an equal number of chefs. Why so many? If you asked that, you have never had a good Beef Bourguignon and I think it's way past time for you to stew up a nice pot this weekend. I was asked for the calories in this dish, so here's a link to the nutrition facts for one fairly good sized bowl.

Beef Bourguignon

Ingredients with some options based upon what I prefer, but indicating that you may prefer something else, or noting that our preferences simply may not be available in your area so you may need some entirely different ingredient:

2 1/2 pounds of lean stewing meat, trimmed and cut into cubes of about 1 inch - here you can use the classic beef chuck, a flatiron steak, a round steak, a good sirloin (my fave), or any other cut of beef that you love and think has the most flavor

to taste fresh cracked black pepper (most recipes call for salt, but I am used to meals without salt and don't use it or if I do I use only a very tiny bit - add salt here if you use it)
2 T all purpose flour

1/2 pound of the best lean bacon you can find cut into nice sized chunks - preferably Applewood Smoked Bacon. Trim this of some of the worst of the fatty parts, but leave some fat. If you prefer, you can use that pre-cooked bacon, but you'll need to add more olive oil (see below) and it won't be as tasty.

1 T pure olive oil - do not use extra virgin because you will be browning the meat in it and extra virgin will burn and smoke on you

1 large onion, chopped, now how big an onion is totally up to you. All depends on just how much you like onion. You may like sweet onions or yellow or white, use the one you like.

a no carrot variation!
4 nice big organic carrots cut into chunks, non-organic is ok, but your stew will only be as good as your ingredients.

1 celery stalk cut into chunks - don't forget to add some of the pretty and wonderfully flavorful leaves!

3 garlic cloves, sliced thin

1 bottle of a good Burgundy wine - do not get cheap wine, get good drinkable wine but not the high end wine that costs the Earth. Never ever cook with wine that you wouldn't drink.

beef stock - optional amount determined by need, you don't want the stew to be too liquidy so only add it when specified and ONLY if it needs it because you added a huge amount of veggies or beef.

2-3 tomatoes - depends on the size, squish these by hand or chop. You could use a can of tomatoes, but I think I'd drain it first.

2 Bay Leaves - if you bay leaves are old, please buy fresh ones.

1 t thyme - or more if fresh

2 T fresh parsley, chopped - fresh please.

2 T butter - salted or unsalted as you prefer.

8 oz frozen pearl onions - more if you love them

10 oz button or cremini mushrooms, quartered...or any mushroom you like. Portabellos work very well indeed, but the more dainty thin structured mushroom may not unless you only add it at the very end and don't caramelize it.


Preheat the oven to 350 F

Mix the salt and pepper with the flour and then toss with the chunks of beef.

 Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, add the bacon and cook til crisp, remove from the pan to a bowl or plate. You want to have a couple tablespoons of fat in the pot. If there's more, drain a bit out.

Return the pot to medium high heat and brown the beef. Do not crowd the meet in the pan because what will happen is that the meat will steam and not brown. It's the brown that makes the stew extra delicious so brown your meat in batches, removing the pieces as they brown to a bowl.

Add the veggies to the pot, lower the heat to medium, and saute until they are softened - about 10 minutes or so. Stir so they don't burn. Add the garlic and saute another minute or two. Deglaze the pan with a small splash of beef stock.

Put the beef and bacon back in the pot with the entire bottle of wine and the chopped tomatoes - you may need to add some beef stock here. The liquid needs to only just barely cover the beef. Remember, the beef will exude some juices and add it to the pot. Add the bay leaves thyme and parsley. Bring to a simmer. Cover and place in the preheated oven for about 1 1/2 hours. The meat should be tender and the liquid reduced a bit.

Saute the mushrooms over medium low heat until well caramelized and drop dead gorgeously brown (about 20-30 minutes) and add them with the pearl onions to the stew, return to the oven for another 1/2 hour.

Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Do Not Ever Salt the Eggplant Parmigiana

Sometimes we do a thing the way we've always done it just because, well, that's the way we've always done it. That doesn't make it right, it just makes it a habit. Lots of us have the habit of salting eggplant to draw out the moisture and then rinsing the salt before prepping it for Eggplant Parmigiana. Today, I discovered that the practice of salting the eggplant (actually called degorging....doesn't that sound unpleasant) is not the traditional and proper way to work with eggplant, it's just a modern habit. Also discovered that I was slicing the eggplant all wrong! So, with those two lessons (plus one other) from Benny the Chef, using the recipe from his wonderful new cookery book as a starting point, adding a few of my own preferences and inserting one convenient item that would appall Benny, I made the following fabulous sweet not bitter at all Parmigiana.

Do Not Ever Salt the Eggplant Parmigiana

(a rather Americanized version of the Roman classic. If you want to see how Benny made it, Like him on Facebook and you can see a series of pictures where he makes this in the totally Roman way!)

Serves 6-10 depending upon if it is the main dish or a side veggie or what you consider a serving. Here's the nutrition facts on the recipe based on 8 side servings which are very interestingly good given the fact that I allowed for a full 1/4 cup of oil to be absorbed and that there is a ton of cheese! But then, the eggplant itself only adds 49 calories to each serving. What a Mindful Win!

My Ingredients and my apologies to great chefs like Benny along with an accompanying warning:

3 young eggplants with firm skin and a beautiful green stem
2 cloves of garlic skin on
Grape seed oil for frying
16 oz fresh mozzarella
*****1 (24 oz jar) of Newman's Own Roasted Tomato and Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce (I'm sorry, Benny, really I usually would make fresh sauce, but this time I was in such a hurry... and I have to admit, mine would be a little different from yours anyway, oh dear, I'm in big trouble now...)
2 eggs
3 cloves of garlic minced (or pressed if you have one of those presses and don't have arthritic hands which makes it dratted difficult to do) and added to the sauce because I LOVE garlic
a T of brown sugar because I had never used this brand of sauce before and it was a tad acidic
a big handful of fresh picked basil from my garden - both purple and green
4 oz Parmigiano Reggiano
2 oz grated Pecorino Romano
fresh cracked black pepper to taste

*****warning, because I ran out of time and tomatoes and did not make my homemade sauce, I consider this recipe unfinished but adequate, although I do know that even if I put my sauce in here many of you would use a jar anyway so I'll post some of my sauce recipes separately.

Three Things I Have Learned and Directions noting some things I did Benny's way and some things I did my way because I'm stubborn.

The first thing I learned was how much oil to use. Benny uses 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil to bathe them in deep oil. He has far better fry pans than I, and is more skilled, knowing just when it's hot enough to cook the eggplant and not burn the oil. Besides (yes, I always have excuses) I had a mental block with using excess oil so instead I experimented. In one batch I hot bathed the eggplant in 2 cups of oil seasoned by adding the two skin on garlic cloves. I found that those slices were a just a tiny tad greasy and had to press them repeatedly with paper towels. I really think it was not all my fault, it's because I need to get one of those 2.5mm copper fry pans and besides, my stove is having even heat distribution issues (see? many many excuses!). For the second batch of slices, I used enough oil to coat the pan well, seasoned it by adding two more garlic cloves skin on, and quick fried the eggplant slices in batches to a beautiful golden brown. Still had to press between paper towels, but only briefly. Both ways of frying worked. One just used more paper towels and more oil. So, until I get a better fry pan and a new stove, I learned that I must use less oil.

The second thing I learned is that one should never cut the eggplant into slices while laying it on its side. Cut off the ends and stand it up to make the slices. The reason for this is that it changes the way the flesh presents and makes it less inclined to soak up all the oil when it fries. Slice off one slice of skin and discard. Then make 1/2 inch slices without peeling so that all your slices have a bit of skin around the edges.

The third thing I learned was that you MUST fry the slices right away after they are cut to a point of being golden brown and that this will help make them not bitter and soggy. After frying, remove them to a paper towel and blot well. I sliced one eggplant at a time and fried.

What to do to get it all ready for the pan:

Vertically slice and then fry the eggplant in just a tad of oil to which has been added a couple skin on garlic cloves. Do not slice all the eggplant ahead of time. Slice and fry, slice and fry.

After the frying, slice the mozzarella and put it on a handy dandy plate, rinse some fresh picked basil leaves, and dry them off. If you don't grow basil, do give it a try. It is such a simple forgiving plant to grow and nothing is better than heading out to the garden for fresh basil.

Next, mix the eggs with the the Pecorino Romano and 3 oz of the Parmigiano Romano (reserve one oz for topping). Warm the sauce in a medium sized pot.

Stir the egg/cheese mixture in to the warmed tomato sauce. Stir quickly to incorporate the eggs before they curdle.

Now you should have assembled the following on plates, a pot, and few bowls:

golden brown eggplant, thick sauce, basil leaves, and pepper....I did not use additional salt. I rarely add salt, but if you are used to it you may have to use it here as you layer ingredients. I will avert my eyes as you do so.

ready for the oven
Layering the thing:

In a large baking dish spread some of the tomato sauce on the bottom (no, I did not treat the pan w/Pam or anything else), top with a layer of eggplant (add salt if you must use it), grate some pepper over it, add a few whole basil leaves, and top with chunks of mozzarella. Then, repeat until you run out of everything but the sauce and spread that on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano Reggiano. In this large 8 x 11 pan, I had three layers. I also like my Parmigiana rather saucy. In Benny's recipe the delectable sweet eggplant is quite obviously the star of the dish!

Bake at 400 F for 40 minutes, raise the temp to 500 F and bake until the Parmigiana is browned. While waiting, make salads. If you are making pasta, start the water a little before the Parmigiana is done so that the pasta can cook while the eggplant sits a bit.

Let the beautiful Parmigiana rest for 10 minutes, it is hard work to change from a purple skinned plant to a layered work of art. Enjoy it mindfully with a small side of whole wheat pasta seasoned only with your best extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh cracked black pepper, and well browned mushroom slices. A beautiful salad of mixed greens with carrot bits rounds the meal out perfectly.