Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beef and Lager Stew

I used the piled up snow banks (and blustery wind) in the neighborhood as my excuse to make a stew the other night. Well, that and the fact that my husband loves hearty, flavorful food and hearty, flavorful beer! When I saw this recipe in Nightly Specials (Lomonaco), I knew I had to try it. While it calls for a "bouquet garni," I was excited to try out my new herb ball. Between the smell in the house and seeing what was my husband's packed-to-the-brim lunch tupperware practically licked clean the day after, I knew it was a hit.


  • 1/4 C vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs beef stew meat or bottom round, cut into 1" cubes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 - 12oz. bottle beer -- Note: the recipe calls for porter; I used stout since it's still a dark beer and full of flavor.
  • 2 C low-sodium store-bought beef broth -- Another Note: the recipe suggests diluting the broth with 2 cups of water. Depending on how thick you want your stew, you can alter this. 
  • Bouquet garni (or herb ball!) of 2 bay leaves, 4 thyme sprigs and 4 rosemary sprigs tied in a cheesecloth bundle with kitchen twine; the fresher the herbs, the better!
  • 1/2 C canned, crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 C carrots, peeled and small-diced
  • 1/2 C celery, diced
  • 1 C rutabaga (wax turnips), small-diced
  • 1 C parsnips, small-diced
  1. Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pot in a single, not-too-tightly-packed layer wand brown the beef well on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside.

  2. Add the onion to the casserole and cook until golden and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the onion with the flour and stir to combine well.
  3. Return the beef to the casserole, pour in the beer and broth, and add the bouquet garni, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper.

    (In true Irish style!)
    Add the carrots, celery, rutabaga and parsnips. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and let simmer for 1 hour.

  4. Pick out and discard the bouquet garni.
  5. The stew can be made up to 2 days ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated. Reheat gently before serving.
Et voila!

1st Coffee Table Book: Philippa Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl"

After seeing a trailer for the movie version of this years ago and then seeing it on a dear friend's bookshelf, I knew I had to read it. I love books with a healthy mix of intrigue and passion and this one definitely fits the bill - 761 juicy pages of it!

Philippa Gregory uses a very fact-based outline for this historical fiction novel. Based on the struggle between two sisters (Mary and Anne Boleyn) for the affection of King Henry VIII and, thus, the crown, The Other Boleyn Girl provides a rich taste of England's court life during the 16th Century.

With both hands tied, the sisters are driven by their family to vie for the King and his treasures, supplanting the family with wealth and good name. The relationship between Mary and Anne, as well as their relationship with trusted friend and brother George, is a mix of fox-hole faithfulness, friendship, fire and ice. (Ooooh!) But it's not just this family's dynamic to which we're privy. There's the one between King Henry and his wife (yep, that's right - his wife) and the intertwined politicians, Church leaders and a handful of syrupy-sly courtiers and ladies-in-waiting.

Conclusion: Good luck putting it down.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Banket (pronounced BAHN-ket)

I've been interested in heritage, peoples families and their traditions and genealogy since I was a kid. Being Irish, my momma used to prepare corned beef, cabbage and potatoes for our family every year on St. Patrick's Day. And, of course, you wouldn't catch me dead without green on.

When I got married this past May, I was excited to learn as much as I could about my husband's family's background. I'd be lying if I said I didn't make a few jokes along the way about my potential future children wearing wooden shoes, loving tulips and cheese or learning to be windmill engineers. In all honesty, though, I've enjoyed learning what I know so far about the Dutch.

For Christmas, my husband received a print-out of his immediate patriarchal line, complete with Dutch names and birthplaces. While we were discussing it, my husband brought up having tried Banket as a little boy. He could only describe it to me as "an almondy Dutch pastry." Now, being a fan of any sort of pastry, I knew I'd have to do more research on it (recipe found here) and, skills willing, try it for myself. I decided to make this as a Valentine's Day gift to dear hubby as an ode to my new family dynamic: Dutchness. I threw my hair up in a braid (though French, it was my best attempt) and tried to channel the Dutch housewife ghosts of yester-year.


  • 2 C all-purpose flour + more for dusting surfaces
  • 1 C cold butter
  • 1/2 C cold water
  • 1 1/2 C almond paste
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 C white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  1. In a large bowl, cut cold butter into flour until the mixture has a crumb-like texture. Make a well in the center, add cold water. Mix together until the mixture forms a ball. Do not over-mix. Chill the dough overnight.

  2. Preheat the oven to 425. Grease a cookie sheet.
  3. In a medium bowl, blend together almond paste, eggs, sugar, almond extract and salt. Heavily flour your work surface, hands and rolling pin. Trust me.

  4. Divide dough into four parts. Keep the dough you're not using in the fridge. 
  5. Roll out one part into a 15"x6" strip. Place filling along the center of the strip. Roll up, pinching the ends to seal. Use water to soften the dough and adhere better. Place on cookie sheet and repeat with the other three parts. (Thank goodness they got progressively more attractive.)

  6. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.
  7. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Or a little crispy. :)

Et voila!

Sweet-for-You Cheesecake Pops

Oh, Valentine's Day. I really ought to just leave it at that. There's so much to be said in defense of parties both for and against the holiday. I can certainly understand both platforms, but will have to take the side of Cupid this year. While I don't agree with commercial holidays centered around spending money, I do think that it's okay to have a day set aside to remind people to take time to do something nice - either for themselves or for others.

My momma used to turn on my bedroom lights to wake me up for school and act just as surprised as I was that there were balloons or chocolates or flowers or teddy bears or some phenomenal mixture thereof scattered across the top of my dresser. She'd always prop the card up somewhere right in the middle, my name penned gracefully in cursive across the front. I'll blame her for setting my standards for Valentine's Day.

Yesterday was my first married Valentine's, as well as the first one I've really made a point to celebrate with my husband. Our "dating" anniversary is a couple weeks from now so we always just wrapped the two into one. I'll save all the mushy-gushy details of how blissful the day was (though now I'm reconsidering ...), but I have to share an awfully fun gift idea that I put into action for hubby: Cheesecake Pops!

I saw them first on a blog I ran across about a month ago called Bakerella. If you've got the time and self-discipline, I highly recommend checking the site out. I can hardly get over the great food photography, much less the fun recipes. I used their recipe for cheesecake and while it served its purpose, it didn't turn out quite as yummy as my usual cheesecake recipe (courtesy of le Paula Deen). I've copied the instructions for making/decorating the (pre-made) cheesecake pops from the website and put them here. The only changes I'd make would be: 1) to try and find something between a melon baller and an ice cream scoop (our baller seemed too tiny), 2) to possibly (*gasp*) cheat and buy a ready-made cheesecake and 3) have more people to serve them to - husbands can only handle so much and the dog, well, it's just not right to tease him so.

You'll Need:
  • Plain cheesecake (though you could certainly try something new - chocolate or key lime sound divine!)
  • Mini ice cream scoop or melon baller
  • Chocolate candy melts (plan to use something that will complement your accoutrements)
  • Assortment of sprinkles
  • Lollipop sticks
  • Wax paper
  • Graham cracker crumbs 
  • Dipping bowl
  • Styrofoam rectangle
  • 12"x12" Scrapbook paper to decorate the styrofoam
  • Tape
  • Pencil
  • Fill a bowl with graham crack crumbs. You can start with about 1C; if you need more, add some later. Using the scoop or baller, scoop balls out of the cheesecake (without getting the crust in it). Drop and roll it a little neater into a ball in your hand. Then, drop the ball into the bowl of crumbs to help retain the shape.
  • Repeat this until you fill a baking sheet with cracker-covered balls. Pop the sheet into the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.
While They Chill:
  • Wrap the scrapbook paper around the styrofoam block and secure the bottom with multiple strips of tape. If you want to cover the sides of the block, you can cut some of the extra paper off and adhere it to the sides. I left my two small sides uncovered since, well, hubby didn't care and neither did I.
  • Use the tip of a pencil to poke holes in alternating rows. The photo below shows what the rows will look like. You can keep the sticks to the side until you're ready to use them.

  • Use a couple ramekins, small bowls or even baking cups to hold your sprinkles.
  • Heat up your dipping chocolate. Make sure you follow the instructions on the bag so you don't burn your chocolate or are waiting for it to melt. 
Back to Work!
  • Remove the sheet from the freezer. Dip one end of a lollipop stick in the melted chocolate and then pierce one of the cheesecake balls. Let it set for a few seconds (letting the chocolate cool with help the ball stay at the top of the stick instead of slowly sliding down it). Dunk in the melted chocolate and roll around a few times to let the excess fall off. Quickly pop the chocolate cheesecake goodness into your sprinkles then into the styrofoam block to dry.  A note on decorating: You can make the pops as random and messy or as planned and pretty as you'd like.
  • When you're finished, pop the block into the refrigerator until you're ready to devour, er, savor them.
Mostly Chocolate:

And for the fainter of heart, *sighs*
Less Chocolate (and a lustful puppy):

Et voila!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet Potato and Pineapple Stacks

When I was a kid, my step-sister lived with us for a short time while she was in high school. As an eleven year old, I looked up to her - how cool it must be to have a sporty red car, to have boyfriends and roses, to be in high school! It was her admiration of, believe it or not, cows that I inherited from her and lasted until the middle of my teens. The admiration (and collection) of cows became not only my hobby but also a way of life. I adopted a "pollotarian" (mostly vegetarian, but allows poultry) diet and firmly protested (to the dismay of my parents and very meat-loving little brother) any red meat and seafood.

Eventually I caved and while I don't remember the circumstances or exactly what I ate, I know I must have liked it or I wouldn't have continued my reintegration into a meat-eating world. My love for vegetables (and the occasional Boca Burgers) has only increased since then and I find myself trying to challenge our family to have at least one strictly vegetarian meal a week. Since it is so hard to fulfill all of the daily vegetable/fruit intake challenges, this is a good start.

As I mentioned before, this past Christmas delivered a bounty of wonderful new cookbooks into my home, one of them being "The Accidental Vegetarian: Delicious Food without Meat" by Simon Rimmer. The first recipe I tried from it was Sweet Potato and Pineapple Stacks. With the help of an old friend, we set out to making this Caribbean flavor-inspired dish and were delightfully surprised. The roasted sweet potatoes alone were divine - neither of us could keep from nibbling on them as we worked - and the the curry sauce would be a savory addition to a plethora of other dishes. 

  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs golden sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into largish bite-sized chunks -- (This can be doubled if you really love 'em.)
  • 2 small red chiles, chopped 
  • handful of fresh thyme
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 pineapple, peeled and cut into 8 slices (keep the juice) -- (A can of pineapple rings also works just fine)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 3 oz blanched okra
  • freshly chopped cilantro leaves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for the curry sauce:
  • 3 tbsp curry paste (mild or hot, whatever you've got)
  • 1 3/4 C coconut milk
  • 1/2 C stock
  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Heat the oil in a roasting pan, then add the sweet potato chunks. Season well, give them a good shake and add the chiles, thyme and garlic. Roast for about 30 minutes until the sweet potato is soft. Shake about halfway through the roasting time to ensure evenness.

  2. Brush each of the pineapple slices with oil and cook on a hot griddle pan for a couple of minutes each side until well striped. (We didn't have a roasting pan so into the pan it went!) When they've all been charred, put them in an ovenproof dish with their juice and put to one side.
  3. To make the sauce, cook the curry paste in a pan for a few minutes to release the flavor, then add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the stock and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Heat some more oil in a skillet, add the onion and cook until it starts to brown. Add the red pepper and then the sweet potatoes. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the potato starts to break down.

  5. Spoon in a little of the curry sauce to bind the mixture, then add the okra and cilantro. Stir it around for another couple minutes.
  6. Pop the pineapple slices in the oven for a few minutes to warm through. Put a slice of pineapple on each plate, then spoon some of the sweet potato mixtures on top (if you've got them, use small rings to make it neater). Sit another slice of pineapple on top and drizzle some of the curry sauce around the edge.
Et voila!

Shared here: 
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Curried Pea Soup

This past Christmas was, by far, the most travel-intensive one I've celebrated. Our travels included almost a full week in Tennessee with my in-laws and two different day-trips to visit my parents and siblings in the area. While I'm awfully thankful for all of my fabulous gifts, I'm still giddy about the massive stack of cookbooks and the empire red stand mixer I received.

The night I came home from my first date with Adam, my momma took one look at my (dare I say smitten) face and told me I better learn how to cook. Now, she isn't too terribly "old fashioned," but the woman is wise and I figured it might be in my best interest to heed her advice on this one. I spent my second date trying to cook my first meal that didn't come in a package, only to discover that I spent nearly three hours making a chicken and white wine sauce without a single side, appetizer or dessert. [Hangs head in shame.] Since that night, I've made it a mission to be a better, ideally good, cook.

I digress. By the time my husband and I returned home from the holidays, all I wanted was to sleep in my bed. And then cook myself silly. I started with "Nightly Specials: 125 Recipes for Spontaneous, Creative Cooking at Home" by Michael Lomonaco and Andrew Friedman. This has, in the two months I've had it, become my go-to cookbook for soups. My first soup from here was the Cuban-style Black Bean Soup and man-oh-man was it DE-LISH. I'll be certain to post this here for you to try. The second soup I tried was the Curried Pea Soup. This has got to be one of the easiest dishes to prepare. It made enough for four large bowls or six appetizer-sized ones. It was smooth, creamy and filling and is a tasty way to get your veggie count up.

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 tsp curry powder
2 quarts low-sodium vegetable broth
Herb sachet of 2 bay leaves and 4 thyme sprigs, tied in cheesecloth
3 cups peas
1 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream) + extra if you want to drizzle a design

1.  Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery and season with salt and pepper. Saute the veggies until they're soft ( ~ 5 minutes). Add the curry powder, stir, and cook for 2 more minutes.

2.  Add the stock and herb sachet to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the veggies are completely soft ( ~ 11 minutes). Add the peas and simmer for 10 minutes.

3.  Use tongs to remove and discard herb sachet.

4. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot. Side note: I never recommend using a standing blender for boiling hot soup. After seeing my brother-in-law's blender catastrophe burn [which I will refrain from describing], I'll keep to my Cuisinart Hand Stick Blender:

5.  Stir in the creme fraiche (or sour cream), making sure the soup doesn't boil.

6.  Divide the soup among individual bowls and serve at once. Drizzle with extra cream if you want to jazz it up.

Et voila!

A l'orgine ...

Here I am at the precipice of a new venture that I'm both excited and anxious to charge towards. I'm not terribly sure who my "intended audience" is at this point, though I'm fairly certain that even if I did know who that was, this blog's followers would still inevitably be comprised of a mix of friends / family / acquaintances / etc. (or at least I hope it would). This blog is my opportunity to encourage myself to write daily, to archive (with memories and photographs) the delicacies my husband leads me to believe I make, to try more new things that may possibly be of interest to friends (old and new) and to pay more attention to the little things around me and how they shape me: personally, spiritually, emotionally and so on. This world is huge; it moves so quickly and (seemingly) so detached that I'm promising myself to stop and smell the roses - and peonies - and hydrangea, even in the dead of winter.

A couple of notes: I don't speak a lick of French. As a matter of fact, I used to speak Spanish. After traveling to Paris for my honeymoon, I've found myself craving many things "French" - including the language. Thankfully my husband took a few years of it in school and indulges me when I ask him to pronounce words neither of us knows. I've also never taken a formal cooking class so my techniques are very much "home-grown" and still developing. The same goes for my photography. Finally, I plan on Ferris Bueller-ing my way through this blog: if I take myself too seriously, I'll never get out alive.

For your viewing pleasure, Cafe Groenhout - where the magic (and the mess) happens: