Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Homemade croutons

So, a few friends have an fondue party. They tell people to bring something to dip in cheese fondue. Everyone (absolutely everyone) brings a baguette. Some people bring two. Almost none of them get eaten. What do we do now?

Make croutons, of course.

You can put them on salads.

Or put creamed peas all over them (I did this and got about a week's worth of vegetables and butter in one meal: it was incredible).

Or top soup or chili with them. Or make a caponata, bread salad sort of thing. Or just eat them straight by the handful, which is how about 2/3 a baguette of ours went. Speaking of which, there are a few more left, and I'm hungry. Be right back.

Alright, I'm back, and I'm seriously just snacking on a bowl full of these right now. There's seriously just something really good about the crispy outside, with just the right amount of fresh little "give" to the insides, the golden crunch, the gentle herby essence. The best things is, you can kind of just make these with whatever flavorings you want. So open the pantry, and go to town.

Homemade croutons


  • 1 baguette (I used a sourdough one and a French one, and it was a nice combo)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • herbs (I used ground sage and rosemary, but you can throw in just about whatever you want--maybe a little garlic or Parmesan cheese, even)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the baguette into 1-inch cubes. Place in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle just a little olive oil over the top, and stir to mix. Drizzle a little more, and stir. Repeat the drizzle & stir thing until the bread is lightly and evenly coated (I did it three times). Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and herbs over the bread a little at a time, stirring in between to coat evenly.

Place the bread in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place in the oven for about 4 minutes (checking frequently) until the underside is golden. Flip the cubes, and bake for another 4 minutes or so. If needed, flip one more time (or just shake the pan to jumble them up) and bake for a few minutes more. You want the outsides to be crunchy, but the insides to still be just a little soft.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Frozen Chocolate Banana Pops

Credit to my brother for this one, which is kind of fun, and really good. Just don't tell mom about the coconut oil (it's just a little smidge, really). The coconut oil allows the chocolate to melt all smooth like, but then solidify quickly and evenly on the frozen banana.

There really is something kind of magical about freezing something on a stick. Seriously, you should try it. You inner sense of childlike wonder will be amazed.

Have you ever frozen anything awesome on a stick to snack on? Tell us about it.

Frozen Chocolate Banana Pops

  • 6 bananas, cut in half
  • 12 skewers (you can probably cut the long ones in half, just fine)
  • 1 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil.
  • optional: chopped nuts, for coating
Put each peeled banana half on a skewer, and quickly insert in the freezer on a wax-paper lined tray. Freeze overnight.

When ready to serve, melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a double-boiler over simmering water. Whisk until smooth, and then pour into a tall, narrow glass.

Take the bananas out of the freezer. Remove any visible ice buildup on the outside. Gently dip the bananas into the chocolate, twisting them gently as you remove them. If adding nuts, pour the nuts on immediately after removing from the chocolate (it hardens very quickly). Let them cool right-side up (we jabbed the skewers into a styrofoam block, and that worked well).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pumpkin Chili

Bad news, kids. I had a reputation to maintain, but I just couldn't pull through for you this time. The church chili cook-off championship slipped from my fingers this time. It didn't stray too far, though, as it ended up with my brother (who incidentally, was a runner up to mine from last year). I'm not going to say I'm bitter, but just for an explanation, the judging panel was very different this year than last year. There were a lot more good ole' boys this year, and my artsy pumpkin version didn't really have the "man chili" persona the judges were looking for. Nonetheless, it is good. The pumpkin gives a real earthy body to the chili. Most people probably wouldn't be able to tell that it was pumpkin, but there definitely is something to it.

Pumpkin Chili

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 small vidalia onion
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder blend, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 can packed, pureed pumpkin
  • 1 pound beef steak
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Chop the shallot, onion, and green pepper to a fine dice. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the shallot, onion, cumin, chili powder, and garlic. Stir until caramelized and very fragrant. Add the pepper, and stir just a little longer, until soft.

Add the tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, beef stock, and pumpkin. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce heat and let simmer (in total, you'll want it to simmer about two hours).

Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron skillet to medium high. Coat with a little olive oil. Salt and pepper the steak on both sides, and sear on the skillet, about 4 minutes a side. It doesn't need to cook through, just get a beautiful crust on both sides. Cut it into 1/4 inch cubes, and add to the chili.

Carefully to taste, add the oregano, paprika, honey, salt, and pepper. Stir frequently, and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Parmesan pork chops with lemon gravy

I have been trying to come up with something clever or witty or something to insert here, and it just isn't happening, people. I'm sorry. This is just good. It only takes a few minutes because the pork chops are thin (I figure 2 per person). It pairs well with a lot of different things. It's nice enough for company. Just go make it sometime. The basic breading technique can be used for chicken or fish, also just as well.

Parmesan Pork Chops with Lemon Gravy

  • 8 thin-cut pork loin chops
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons flour
With paper towels, pat dry the pork chops. Place the flour in a deep-sided plate with some salt and pepper. In another plate, place the beaten egg. Put the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and parsley in a third plate. Take each pork chop and coat in the flour, removing any excess. Then dredge through the beaten egg. Finally, coat well in the breadcrumbs.

In a large, flat-bottomed sautee or frying pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add half the pork chops and cook until golden brown on one side, about 4-5 minutes. Flip and cook a few minutes longer on the opposite side. Move to a plate and keep warm while you cook the other half. Add more butter and oil in between if necessary.

Once the second bath is cooked, move the porkchops off the pan, and add the broth to deglaze the pan. Dissolve browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce to a simmer, and add the lemon juice and zest. Simmer until reduced slightly. In a small, sealable container, combine 2 tablespoons flour and 1/4 cup water. Shake vigorously to incorporate, then add to the stock. Stir well and simmer until thickened. Repeat with some more flour, if necessary.

Serve the pork chops with the gravy, and top with additional Parmesan cheese.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Potato lakes, two ways

There are many ways to fry a potato. Seriously, just think about it for a while. French fries. Tater tots. Steak fries. Hash browns. Home fries.

That really wasn't as many as I thought. Hmm. Nevermind. Point retracted.

Here we made latkes using two different methods, neither one of which is the way you're supposed to do it: oven baking and deep-frying. So, I decided to make latkes for a church potluck, and the pan frying was taking longer than I expected. So, my brother who happened to be making hush puppies at that exact second in his deep fryer suggested we try a change of plan. In all honesty, I liked his better, but they were both great.

Potato Latkes, oven-fried and deep-fried

  • 1 pound Yukon potatoes, washed and dried but not peeled
  • 1 medium, sweet yellow onion
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 sprigs, fresh thyme
  • peanut oil for deep-frying
  • extra virgin olive oil for baking
  • applesauce and sour cream for serving
Shred the potatoes length-wise in a food processor with the shredding disk. Chop the onion to a quarter-inch dice. Put the potatoes and onion in a small-holed sieve and press against them with several layers of paper towels to drain and absorb excess moisture. You want it to be as dry as possible.

In a large bowl, mix the potatoes, onion, and egg. Mix the flour and baking powder separately, then add add to the mix, along with the thyme, salt, and pepper.

if oven baking
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. On a well-greased baking sheet, drop the potato mixture in 1/4 cup scoopfuls. Flatten to about 1/4 inch thick pancakes. Place in the oven for about 15 minutes, then flip the latkes and bake an additional 10 minutes.

if deep frying
Heat the oil to 375 degrees. Take 1/4 cup scoopfuls of the potato mixture, and form into balls in your hand. Flatten the balls somewhat, and place in the bottom of the fryer basket of a deep fryer. Gently place the basket in the oil, without submerging the potatoes completely. Fry a few minutes until golden brown.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I will never catch up

I am sorry I have neglected you for so long. It's not like I've forgotten you or wanted to neglect you. It's not like I've stopped cooking.

What has been stopping me from posting is this: the list. Every time I make something and get really excited about it, I say to myself, "Self, let's post this right away so everyone can make it at their homes and their lives can be better." And then I take pictures and I get excited, and then I look at the list.

It's the list of all the other things that I've made and taken pictures of but still haven't posted yet. In some cases, I have wanted to give them one more whirl to tweak some final proportion. In others, I just don't remember the recipe that well. In some, I barely even remember the event. In most, I just haven't written a witty introduction yet.

So with the New Year and all (sure, my resolution is a month late, but that just proves my overall point even more, doesn't it?), I have decided to just skip the list. Maybe someday I'll dig them out and give them to you, or if anyone really wants one of them, let me know, but I'm just moving forward now: not back.

So here are the ones that y'all missed. Some were pretty good. Some were only going to be filler anyway.

Cashew baklava. Non-traditional. Good.

NY strip steak will shallot apple cider reduction. This one has actually been mentioned a time or two on this blog, but it just hasn't been written down yet.

Shrimp and asparagus pasta with lemon garlic sauce (we needed something to do with the leftover shrimp)

Goat cheese with cranberry and roasted garlic. This is actually a guest post that I've just never gotten to. Sorry.

Honey hoisin blackened pork loin with Thai salad. Seriously good. Seriously a lot of work.

Almond-crusted chicken breast with lemon-ginger sauce.

Spinach-stuffed shells. Pretty good, but nothing to write home about.

Edamame with mint, lemon, and Parmesan. Really, that's all there is to it. Let's do the recipe right now. Take some edamame, add mint leaves, Parmesan cheese curls, drizzle with a little olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper. Done. Glad I got that one off my chest.

Braised shortribs on buttery grits with horseradish cream.

Bean and summer vegetable salad.

Grilled vegetables with pineapple, coconut, lemongrass sauce.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese Soup

Have you ever been haunted by food? I had a butternut squash, rosemary, blue cheese, caramelized shallots, and bacon pizza a few years ago that has nagged at my soul since then. I have tried a few times to recreate this flavor combination in a way that works, but I usually failed (like here).

I promised you this recipe last winter (promise), when I was playing with it, but hadn't quite perfected it yet. However, one can only make so much squash soup before going into vitamin A overload in one season. So, sorry you had to wait until this year. It might be worth it.

Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese Soup

  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash (about 2.5 pounds)
  • 2 medium shallots
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 ounce blue cheese
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Note: blue cheese can vary in flavor. When adding the cheese, start with about half, and slowly work up, tasting frequently. You don't want the flavor or the mustiness to overpower the rest of the soup.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, and cut into approximately 1-inch cubes. Peel and trim the shallots, and cut in half. Coat the squash and shallot with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until soft and a slightly browned (20 - 30 minutes, check frequently).

When the squash is almost done, bring the chicken broth to boil on the stove in a large pan. Add the squash and shallots, along with the rosemary. Lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until the squash is very soft. With an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Stir in the cream and cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted and distributed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Optional Crispy Shallot topping:
Cut 1 shallot in half lengthwise, and slice the shallot into thin strips. Heat a little olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Add the shallots, and quickly stir for a few minutes. The shallots will become golden and crispy.