Sunday, January 26, 2014

Wait, what?

What was I talking about back there? About the bitter cold, the hunkering down inside - about all of that extreme winter cold being a memory. What?


Because right now I'm looking outside at snownadoes, and the air feels like -20.

I guess I was disillusioned last Sunday with our one day of glorious sunshine. The warmth on my cheeks and puddles in parking lots tricked me into thinking we had come out the other side; that we had turned, even just slightly, toward spring. Who knew there would be a round two! And yet, here we are. The polar vortex thingy is back. Temperatures are peaking before sunrise and sinking the rest of the day. For tomorrow, we're looking at a high of -11. That's air temperature, people. Windchill is forecasted at -40.

And so we make chili.

This turkey chili makes a regular appearance on our stove in the winter, especially during bitter cold snaps. We made it most recently during that first wave of insane cold earlier this month. After getting home from work with fingers frozen and cheeks chapped by the polar wind, the only reasonable option for dinner was a heavy pot of chili.

And with nearly the same forecast this week, my hunch is that another pot will be bubbling on our stove by Tuesday.

OK, about this recipe. I wasn't sure if I wanted to share this recipe here, because it's not an award-winner, knock-your-wool-socks-off kind of recipe. But, it's good. It's easy. It's one of our true winter staple recipes. And so I thought you might like a good, easy, staple-kind of recipe for your repertoire. Those are some of my favorite types of recipes to collect, after all; the recipes that might not show up at a dinner party, but are kept handy and fill stomachs in your household again and again. Hopefully you feel the same.

Good luck out there!

Turkey Chili

Note: Don't be alarmed by the amount of garlic and chili powder in this; the turkey and beans need a heavy seasoning. Also, this chili is even better the next day, and freezes perfectly.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey thigh
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
3 cans of pinto or red kidney beans, drained (I use a mixture of the two)
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
Pinch of salt
Shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream, for serving

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion, red pepper and garlic; saute until onion has softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the ground turkey and cook while breaking up the turkey with a spoon; cook until turkey is no longer pink. Stir in the chili powder and cumin; cook for another minute. Add beans, tomatoes and their juices, and chicken broth. Stir well. Raise heat to bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili has thickened, about one hour.

Taste and add salt and additional chili powder as needed. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of cheddar cheese.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Call me old fashioned

Oh, it's a memory now - that bitter cold, that polar vortex. Thankfully. After mostly hunkering down and putzing about* through the coldest of days in early January, we are now finding some days here and there with sunshine; we are out skiing in thermal tops and getting some freckles on our cheeks. Sometimes we are ice skating, too, in the evenings in the dark with light snow falling (and then we come home to hot brothy soup). Yesterday we even fired up the grill on our little snowy patio long enough to torch some chicken wings. Winter isn't so bad like this.

But, it sure was damn cold for a while there.

*There was one exception to the hunkering down, though, and not on my part. On one of the windiest Sundays this month when the temperature was far below 0, Adam and his sisters were sitting in the bleachers at Lambeau Field watching the Packers play against the 49ers in the first week of the playoffs. Wackos. (Not to mention, they loved every second of it. Wackos.)

So I had that cold, bitter day to myself, and wanted to spend my time with cooking projects. I had been eying up a recipe for Hungarian cabbage rolls stuffed with browned meat, rice and sauerkraut, seasoned with paprika and topped with sour cream. Doesn't that sound right for a frigid day? However, Adam and his sisters were driving back from Lambeau Field that night, and he wouldn't be home until maybe 2 a.m. Call me old fashioned, but I decided not to have the apartment smell like sauerkraut when he finally walked through the door, tired and weary, and ready to crawl into our warm bed. They say romance is dead!

So, I went a different route to take advantage of my solo day. With Adam gone, I could cook a vegetarian dinner with no complaints. And that is what I did.

I made one of our classic standbys: an Indian-spiced tomato sauce baked with spinach, chickpeas and feta, served over basmati rice.

This must be the most comforting vegetarian meal in my repertoire. A curry tomato sauce with ginger and cilantro is spread into a baking dish, then topped with a layer of earthy spinach and then chickpeas, which become richly creamy and nutty after baking in the oven. The dish is topped with salty feta cheese, baked until piping hot and just starting to brown, and then served over basmati rice. It's light and packed with nutrients, but fills your belly on a frigid Minnesota day.

And your house will smell lovely when you're done.

Baked Chickpeas and Spinach with Tomato Sauce
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

Note: There is nothing difficult about this dish, but it does take a little time (largely unattended). First, you toss together the tomato sauce, and then let it bubble away on the stove until it has thickened. Second, when the tomato sauce is ready, you assemble the casserole, and bake it in the oven to meld the flavors and brown the tops of the feta cheese. If you can plan ahead, it would be great to make the sauce ahead of time. Or, make on a day when you have a little time before dinner needs to be ready.

Basmati rice, cooked (for serving)
1/2 tablespoon or so of butter (to grease a pan)
1 16 oz bag frozen spinach
1 batch of Curry Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese

If you haven't already made the tomato curry sauce, do that first and then proceed to the steps below.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with butter.

First, get the basmati rice started - rinse the rice and cook according to packaged directions.

Second, in a medium saucepan, boil 1/2 cup of water. Add the frozen spinach and cover. Boil for 4-5 minutes until spinach is cooked through. Drain thoroughly and, when it cools, squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

Spoon the entire batch of tomato sauce into the greased pan. Next, spread the spinach over the sauce, then add the drained chickpeas over the top. Finally, scatter the crumbled feta over the top of the casserole.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the feta cheese is beginning to brown in spots. Serve spooned over basmati rice.

Curry Tomato Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
One knob ginger (about 2 inches), peeled and minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, minced
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons sugar
About 4 cups canned diced tomatoes (28 ounce can + 14 ounce can)
1 14 oz can coconut milk, well shaken
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Pinch of salt

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeño; saute until onion is soft but not browned, 7-8 minutes. Stir in curry powder, chili powder and sugar; cook until spices are fragrant, just 1 minute or so. Stir in canned tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Stir in coconut milk and cilantro; bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened and tomatoes have broken down. You'll end up with a chunky, thick tomato sauce. Season with a pinch or two of salt to taste.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Oh, what magic!

Hello frozen world, and happy 2014. I mean it, really: happy 2014. I'm giddy at the thought of it. 2013 was my best year ever in life, and I can't believe I'm rolling into 2014 on the same note. Isn't that something! I hope you have some feelings of excitement and wonder at what lies ahead, too.

And if the way we ring the new year is any indication of how the next 12 months will play out, I'm happy to say my 2014 will include:
wonderfully elaborate dinners, and also Dominoes Pizza
wonderfully ridiculous friends
obnoxious dancing
a small napkin fire or two
Adam telling me I'm funny (people, this is the only time this has ever happened, and it was toward the end of the night, and he has since retracted it, but I will not forget it!)

I brought a pastry dessert to the New Year's dinner party, and I'm elated to reveal that New Years Resolution #1 for me is: more pastries, both making and eating.

I have long shied away from making my own pie crusts, tart shells, flakey turnovers, or anything that requires rolling and pressing and poking and prodding heavy slabs of dough. I've just never really done it! Whenever I'm asked to make a dessert for a get together, I mostly stick to one of my (pathetically few) tried and true dessert recipes, deciding to play it safe and not risk a new recipe failure when hungry people are counting on me. (Case in point: just three weeks ago, I tried a new recipe for almond cake to take to a dinner that night. It came out of the oven looking lovely, but slowly sank to a sorry puddle of uncooked batter as it cooled, which happened just an hour before we needed to leave. Luckily my berry cobbler takes not more than 45 minutes, start to finish, and I can make it in my sleep throw it together and bake it while I shower.)

Anyway, in an effort to expand my dessert repertoire, I've resolved to tackle any combination of butter and flour that tickles my fancy this year. Enter these profiteroles: a pastry filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce, served with whipped cream.

Oh my, we are off to a good start. These were perfect.

Not only are they perfect, sophisticated and delightful: they are also so fun to make. You basically heat some butter and water, then dump in some flour, and stir stir stir - then add a few eggs and stir some more. Then you have a heavy, sticky dough that you will pipe (with a pastry bag if you are fancy, or with a Ziploc bag with its corner snipped if you are me) into weird little blobs on a cookie sheet. At this point, your significant other may observe your progress and say, I don't really get what you're making. And to be honest, you might be thinking the same thing, because for now you just have heavy little dough blobs lined up on a cookie sheet.

But after 20 minutes in the oven, those heavy little dough balls balloon into beautiful, light pastry puffs.

And somehow, they are perfectly hollow inside - just waiting for you to slice them open and add a spoonful of ice cream. I couldn't believe this actually worked. Oh, what magic! 

We are in for a good year.

Pastry recipe from Anne Burrell; chocolate sauce adapted from Ina Garten

Note: The instructions below tell you to fill the dough puffs with ice cream just before serving. For New Year's, at the last minute, I decided to fill the puffs ahead of time and place the ice cream-filled puffs into the freezer until ready to serve. I was glad I did - it saved me a lot of time fussing around at the party when it was time to serve dessert. I also made the chocolate sauce ahead of time. Right before serving, I simply reheated the chocolate sauce gently over a pot of boiling water, plated the frozen profiteroles and spooned the chocolate sauce over (and added the whipped cream, of course!). This process worked beautifully.

1 cup water
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
Pinch of salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs
Pinch of cinnamon
Good quality vanilla ice cream (like Haagen-Dazs)
Chocolate sauce (recipe below)
Prepared real whipped cream, lightly sweetened

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter and pinch of salt to a boil over high heat. After it boils, reduce heat to medium and dump in the 1 cup of flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is combined and has formed a ball, about 2 minutes. It should have a sweaty shine to it. Remove from heat and transfer the dough to a mixing bowl; allow to cool for about 5 minutes (it doesn't have to be completely cool, you just want to make sure it isn't hot enough to cook the eggs you're about to add).

When dough has cooled a bit, add eggs one at a time. Stir with great enthusiasm after you add each egg, and don't add the next egg until it is fully combined. You'll know when it's combined - after each egg addition, the dough will slip and slide around the bowl. When you stir enough that it becomes fully combined, the dough will become very sticky and heavy and hard to stir.

After all 4 eggs have been added, add the pinch of cinnamon and stir to combine. Then scoop the dough into a pastry bag or a large Ziploc bag with one of the corners snipped. Pipe in small blobs onto one of the prepared cookie sheets, about 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch high. Leave at least an inch between each dough ball. When you are done piping, wet your fingers with a bit of water, and smooth the top of each ball where the pastry bag released the dough.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes (mine were done at 18 minutes). They should be golden brown, light, and sound hollow when tapped on the counter. Set on a wire rack to cool.

To serve: Slice dough puffs in half horizontally, and fill with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Replace the top half of the dough puff, and pour a spoonful of warm chocolate sauce over. Serve with whipped cream alongside.

Chocolate sauce:
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, or other good-quality dark chocolate
2 tablespoons brewed coffee

Place the cream and chocolate in a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of boiling water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Stir to combine as the chocolate melts. When just combined, remove the bowl from the heat, and stir in the brewed coffee.