kitchen wisdom

elegance absent and dessert (or breakfast)

I love to cook and be in the kitchen, but I have to admit… I am not an elegant cook or baker. (Ina Garten is my personal favorite.) (And yes, she probably has a supportive team behind the scenes helping to make sure everything looks just right for the camera.) You know the kind. So calm and camera ready, always with great stories of entertaining and lively connections with food. The ones who wear aprons and never get them full of flour or grease. The ones who have mise en place mastered, with everything ready and at the tip of their fingers. The ones who have a spotless kitchen, organized cupboards and countertops clear of clutter.

Nope, that’s not me! As much as I strive to be, my husband will be the first to admit that I am more chaos than elegance in the kitchen. But, I am ok with that. It’s how I roll. My iPhone gets full of flour as I’m searching for recipes, my batter sometimes flies across the room and often, I am pushing my piles of paper aside to make room for cooking. However, I do have support in the kitchen. My husband, who washes the countless dishes that I dirty in my cooking adventures. Or, who picks up the kitchen and countertops in the midst of my chaos. My kids, who love to taste and see. It’s all good!

A new year and new year’s resolutions for 2013.

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A simple list – Be healthy.  Be happy.  Be thankful.  And, a new dessert recipe for the family, which uh… incorporates all three resolutions. Be healthy (well, not so much with this recipe. Although, chocolate does have some healthy qualities.) Be happy – always…with family and chocolate. Be thankful – for good dessert, and seconds.  King Arthur Flour’s Fudge Waffles with Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce.  I’ve swapped the words in the recipe to call it Chocolate Waffles with Ice Cream and Chocolate Fudge, which fits better with the end product.  A chocolatey waffle dotted with semisweet chocolate chips, topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate fudge sauce.  Amazing.  My favorite part of the recipe is the fudge sauce.  Served warm, it’s runny and easy to drizzle –  more like Hershey’s chocolate syrup, but once on top of the ice cream, the sauce thickens to a fudge consistency.  So delicious! I could seriously eat it by the spoonfuls right out of the refrigerator.

The kids loved this dessert. Thank you King Arthur Flour!  What’s not to love?  Chocolate waffles?!  Breakfast for dessert?!  Chocolate and Fudge?!  Ice cream and waffles?!  We did have some leftovers, so we served up some chocolate waffles for breakfast the next morning.

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Chocolate Waffles with Ice Cream and Chocolate Fudge
adapted from King Arthur Flour’s recipe

2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk (I substituted with 1 cup of milk and 1 tbsp lemon juice.)
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, butter and vanilla, and beat until light, about 2 minutes. Blend in buttermilk, then flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Gently fold in chocolate chips.

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Bake waffles in a preheated well-greased waffle iron until done (following directions for your own waffle iron). Serve with the ice cream of your choice and chocolate sauce (recipe follows). Waffles can be served immediately, or wrapped in plastic wrap and served the next day. Warm them in a toaster oven if you wish.

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Chocolate Fudge Sauce

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup and milk or half-and-half. Stir to blend. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and add butter and vanilla, stirring until butter melts. Cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.
Makes about 1 cup.

Serve warm or at room temperature; this sauce reheats easily in a glass cup in your microwave.

Enjoy!

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deep-fried heaven

The minute I got my February issue of Bon Appetit, I knew I had to make the cover – skillet fried chicken. The kind I have maybe once or twice a year. The kind that’s “oh so bad for you”, but a must have indulgence on occasion. A personal, Iron Chef kind of challenge and a first stab at frying at home. A messy endeavor, a not so nice cleanup and the lingering aroma of peanut oil – but, so worth the deep-fried wonder.

The suggested overnight rub mixture is genius, and true to the chef’s word – resulting in flavorful meat seasoned to the bone. Dipped in a mixture of buttermilk, egg and water and coated in seasoned flour, then carefully bathed in hot oil.

We had drumsticks and breasts on hand, so we worked with what we had. However, next time, I will make sure to have more drumsticks – the declared favorite among the kids and me. The tender, juicy dark meat and crispy, brown skin are indulgence at its best. And, there’s just something barbaric about picking up a drummy with your bare hands, eating the meat off the bone. Love bending the table manners. Everything goes out the window here on no eating with your hands or don’t pick at your food… (My sister would love that one too, right K?) The chicken breasts were also very yummy. Yes, the chicken tastes great immediately after being fried, but cold fried chicken is just as good. Mmm.

OK, some essentials are key here. Did I say this was messy? Yes… and then some. I covered the kitchen floor with old towels (to catch most of the splattering grease, and make clean-up a little easier.) I also draped kitchen towels around the nearby surroundings – countertops, cabinets. Aprons are also encouraged. Other essentials: a set of metal tongs, a large cast iron skillet, a deep fat fry thermometer, an instant read thermometer, plenty of peanut oil, a wire baking rack set on top of a large cookie sheet. We set our oven temp at about 275 degrees to keep the chicken warm once it was fried, and to be sure the meat was cooked through, as we fried 3 separate batches. Amazing. You must try it yourself.

I’m still searching for remedies to rid the frying smell in the house, so let me know if you have any tried and true secrets… already tried boiling vinegar/water mixture – nada.

Skillet-fried Chicken
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
3–4-lb. chicken (not kosher), cut into 10 pieces, backbone and wing tips removed
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Peanut oil (for frying)

• Whisk 1 Tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl. Season chicken with spices. Place chicken in a medium bowl, cover, and chill overnight.

• Let chicken stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, remaining 1 Tbsp. salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp. pepper in a 9x13x2″ baking dish.

• Pour oil into a 10″–12″ cast-iron skillet or other heavy straight-sided skillet (not nonstick) to a depth of 3/4″. Prop deep-fry thermometer in oil so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°. Meanwhile, set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet.

• Working with 1 piece at a time (use 1 hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry ingredients), dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge in flour mixture; tap against bowl to shake off excess. Place 5 pieces of chicken in skillet. Fry chicken, turning with tongs every 1–2 minutes and adjusting heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300°–325°, until skin is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165°, about 10 minutes for wings and 12-15 minutes for thighs, legs, and breasts.

• Using tongs, remove chicken from skillet, allowing excess oil to drip back into skillet; transfer chicken to prepared rack.

• Repeat with remaining chicken pieces; let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Thanks Bon Appetit!

grandma irene’s krumkake

Check that one off my to-do list.  And, a first in 2012.  Teamwork at its best – Jeff and I in the kitchen making krumkake together.   Not bad for our first attempt.

Krumkake – a delicate, traditional Scandinavian waffle cookie, full of beautiful design and commonly made around Christmas time.  (Usually shaped in a cone or rolled.)  I remember eating these around Christmas as a kid.  I was fortunate to inherit my Grandma Irene’s krumkake iron set, a family heirloom that just shouts Norwegian.

Loved and handled with care and used many a Christmas, well before my time.  I can almost see my Grandma making them and I’m so proud to carry on the tradition with my own family.  I know this will be one of the favorites each holiday – I can’t wait to make them again.

It took some trial and error, but ultimately, we seem to have mastered the technique (at least in our eyes…)  In fact, once we got it down, we could barely make them fast enough to keep up with Brendan and Dane’s demand.  They LOVED the krumkake.  “It’s so good, Mom.  Can I have another one?”

The first couple of attempts ended in results like this:

Here’s how I so fondly remember them…

Krumkake

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup melted butter
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla

Beat eggs slightly. Add sugar to eggs and beat until light. Do not overbeat. Add vanilla. Blend in melted, cooled butter, cornstarch and flour.

Preheat iron on both sides. Iron is ready for baking when a few drops of water placed on the iron dance around. Drop about a tablespoon of dough on the center of the iron. Cover quickly and turn the iron. Bake until delicately browned. Remove from iron with a spatula or table knife. Roll quickly into cone shape (rolled diploma), using a krumkake roller or end of wooden spoon.  I actually used my hands. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.  Can also be pressed into cups to make shell forms.

*Note* – We found medium-low heat for about a minute on our gas stove worked perfectly.

Here’s my Grandma Irene’s krumkake recipe card, which was with the krumkake iron set.  (Similar to another recipe I received from my mother-in-law and other recipes online.)  Some recipes call for the addition of cardamom, but we used vanilla instead.  We may also try almond extract next time we make them.  Enjoy!

new years cooking resolutions

In 2012, I resolve to [fill in the blank from list below]:

1. Sharpen my knives more frequently.

2. Heat my cast iron pan properly before adding meats.

3. Wear an apron more regularly when cooking and baking with messy recipes.

4. Get better at mise en place once and for all.

5. Bake a white, layered coconut cake.

6. Visit Whole Foods Minnetonka (and, maybe just take an afternoon off so I can savor at my leisure.)

7. Cook more with my kids, teach and delegate tasks.

8. Make more homemade pizza.

9. Organize my kitchen cupboards and drawers.

10. Don’t add garlic to saute pan too soon.  (Nothing worse than burnt garlic.)

11. Read my new French cookbook and vow to make some amazing new dishes.

12. Use more cloth napkins.

Happy New Year!

seared scallops with beurre blanc (tarragon butter sauce)

I have a new favorite herb crush.  Tarragon.  The flavors in fresh tarragon are absolutely incredible – aromatic and intense, with hints of licorice, anise, basil and sweet mint.  It’s one of those ingredients that screams “guess what I am?”  as you take a bite and you immediately taste the unique flavors and know something special has been incorporated into the recipe.  It’s great in sauces served with poultry and fish, and in dressings, i.e. green goddess.

Here it is.  Beautiful French tarragon…

And a recipe…

Seared Scallops with Tarragon Butter Sauce
adapted from Gourmet
Makes 4 servings

1 1/4 pounds large sea scallops, tough ligament from side of each discarded and patted completely dry
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (be sure to chop very fine)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon (or more, depending on your liking)

Pat scallops dry and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper (total).

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sear scallops, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a platter.

Add shallot, wine, and vinegar to skillet and boil, scraping up brown bits, until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Add juices from platter and if necessary boil until liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Reduce heat to low and add 3 tablespoons butter, stirring until almost melted, then add remaining 3 tablespoons butter and swirl until incorporated and sauce has a creamy consistency. Stir in tarragon and salt to taste; pour sauce over scallops. 

Bon Appetit!

september 26…family day…time to start a family tradition

September 26.  A day to eat dinner with your family.  Genius.  Why not every day?

I’m a big advocate of eating dinner with your family as often and as much as you can.  I have memories of eating dinner with my own family, and what special memories those are.  As busy as we were, (all 6 of us), it didn’t matter.  Eating together was too important to miss.  Yes, I also remember being the last to sit at the table, gradually taking my time to finish those dreaded vegetables or last few bites of meat.  And, I remember having to split duties of setting the table, washing dishes and sweeping the floor.   And my sister, always spilling her glass of milk.  You know who you are…  But more importantly, I remember all of us coming together, talking about our day, laughing and connecting.

So important to me that today, I do the same thing with my own family.  Coincidently, we’re a family of six, and yes, we are busy.  However, I make it my duty each evening to make a meal for us to enjoy.  We share our highs and lows of the day, or as we call it – warm fuzzies and cold pricklies.  Sometimes, I choose the weekly menu.  Traditional favorites and sometimes new and exciting recipes I want to try out.  My family gets to be the judge of whether those new recipes are incorporated into future menus.  Other times, I have my kids pick a night of the week and they get to choose that night’s dinner.  As I’m cooking, we talk about the food, we smell the ingredients, watch how it’s prepared, discuss nutritional value, etc.  I try to answer as many questions as I can. I call Dane my “little chef” as he already seems to have a curious culinary mind.  And, he’s the first one at the table who voluntarily takes a bite of something new.

The website http://www.casafamilyday.org/ has all kinds of great information and fantastic research on how beneficial eating together as a family can be.  Besides the obvious nourishment of genuine and wholesome food, a family meal brings everyone to the table.  Connecting, showing interest, being informed, taking the time and sharing the love…all benefits in my opinion.

Direct from the Casa Family Day website…

The Power of Parenting

Whether you’re cooking a gourmet meal, ordering food from your favorite take-out place or eating on the go, rest assured that what your kids really want during dinnertime is YOU! Family meals are the perfect time to talk to your kids and to listen to what’s on their mind.  The more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.

A few more tips…

Start the pattern of family dinners when children are young.
Encourage your children to create menu ideas and participate in meal preparation.
Turn off the TV and let your answering machine answer calls during dinnertime.
Talk about what happened in everyone’s day: school, work, extracurricular activities or current events.
Establish a routine to start and end each meal.  Light candles or tell a story.
After dinner play a board game or serve dessert to encourage the family to continue the conversation.
Keep conversation positive and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.

Please pledge to have dinner with your family tonight, and perhaps every night.

i said i would… oh, and cakes and such

I did it.  I baked the cake for Jeff’s birthday.  A boxed cake, but that’s ok.  I frosted it and it’s ready to eat.  A day late, but I did it.  38.  Happy Birthday, again, Jeff!

Here it is.

I have to say that I’m really not proud of my baking and frosting abilities.  It’s a constant trial and error most of the time.  I’ve signed up for an introductory cake decorating class to hopefully hone my skills.  It’s a mission I have.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even try level 3, fondant (if I really like it.)

I envy the beautiful cakes I see on the reality shows and those my aunt Kimm made for me on some of my birthdays and those you see in the display windows at fancy bakeries.  It’s an art for sure.

Here are some of my past cakes… beware – some of them are a little “rough around the edges.”

2004 – Brendan’s 2nd Birthday (bless his heart.  he didn’t know the difference.  and, it actually tasted really good – just didn’t look so good.)

Oh, and here’s Clare’s 2nd birthday cake.  Chocolate, of course.  She LOVES chocolate.  Maybe a little improvement from a few years before?  Maybe not.

OMG!  I guess maybe not such an improvement – Brendan’s 4th birthday.  I did go out and buy an “edible image” Spiderman to put on his cake, but ugh… see what you think.  Spiderman was certainly the star in this creation.

And, Dane’s 2nd Birthday.  Sometimes, cupcakes are just easier.  And, look how excited he is.  Tongue out, bracing against his booster seat, sippy cup nearby.  He is ready.  Love this photo.

Here’s Dane’s 3rd Birthday cake.  Not too shabby.  Note the creativity on my pick of boulders and bricks.  Ok, well the kids loved it.

Now, for some of the professional cakes.  This is what I strive for someday…