Thursday, December 22, 2011

Food: Melt-in-Your-Mouth Almond Brittle

Yes, Thanksgiving has come and gone and Christmas is now upon us. We’ve done the decorating and cookie baking and gift shopping and now it seems all that is left is to finish wrapping all the presents (unless you're one of those "day before Christmas" shoppers). But seeing how delinquent I've been in writing a blog entry recently (and the fact I'm still in disbelief Christmas will be here this weekend), right now I’ve decided to take some time out from gifts and wrapping paper and circle back to revisit Thanksgiving.  I know, I know...why circle back to the last holiday when the big one is upon us?  Because in this case, my Thanksgiving this year actually involved a perfect little sweet something for Christmas and a recipe I think you’ll all enjoy.

First I'd like to give you some context behind good-ol' "turkey day" in my family.  Like most of you, Thanksgiving for us involves a rather large meal with tons of homemade food (I think one year we had enough desserts for each person to have an entire maybe that doesn't make us normal).  But one thing that might make our Thanksgivings different is for years our meals were spent with a relatively small crowd (our family of four and a couple of close family friends).  Since it was the same group year after year and we spent the entire day eating and socializing together, we started creating annual activities to go along with the food and friendship...a tradition I like to call "holiday craft corner."  The craft making after meals was a good memory maker over the years and included such things as decorating novelty Christmas trees to making ornaments to designing jewelry.  The past couple of years this tradition has faded some (our family friends have moved away and my sister and I have gotten married and introduced a couple new faces to the table).  So this year, instead of the usual crafts, my Dad started a new tradition and taught my sister and I how to make his "famous" almond brittle.

My Dad's brittle is something that seems to instantly vaporize at parties.  If we give boxes of it away for gifts, the recipients usually end up fighting with their spouses or kids about who gets to eat the last piece (I've even known one person to hide the candy from the rest of their family members).  My Dad even made some of this candy for the cookie table at my sister's wedding and a couple of people were upset when they didn't also discover it at my wedding.  Yes, this candy causes hoarding-like behavior because it’s really, really, really good. If you could imagine the perfect sweet, this would qualify: it’s crunchy, buttery, sweet, and salty all in one. Not to mention melt-in-your-mouth. It’s decadent with some melted chocolate on the top but just as wonderful without.

Just to note, my Dad does claim a few tips that help lend to his candy making success.  And since he's being making it for years, don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t quite turn out the first time have to develop an eye and a knack for knowing when the perfect color has been reached (even if it falls outside the timing guidelines in the recipe).  And you'll learn if you burn the batch it will taste bitter and if you undercook it, the mixture won’t harden the way you want it to.  But enough about that...I want to give you some things you can use as solid directions to go along with the "practice makes perfect" caveat:
  • Tip # 1:  Use a good quality butter to avoid sub-par results (my Dad also swears by using pre-salted butter)
  • Tip #2:  Use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet to cook the candy (benefits of using cast iron for making candy are even and consistent heating and being virtually stick resistant)
  • Tip #3:  A flat-bottomed wooden spoon works best to stir the boiling candy and scrape it off the bottom of the pan
  • Tip #4:  If making multiple batches, clean the cast iron pan between batches

J.L.’s Famous Almond Brittle
(This is a family recipe that was passed down to us from my Mom’s Aunt Catherine)

  • ½ lb real butter
  • 1 c sugar
  • 3 t water
  • 1 c sliced almonds
  • Pinch of salt

  • In a well seasoned cast iron skillet, add the butter, sugar, salt and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly
  • Keep the mixture at a boil while continuing to stir and scrape down the edges of the pan until the color changes to a light golden brown (Usually occurs ~7 min); Continue cooking the mixture about a minute longer until it becomes toaster brown (be careful not to overcook or it will burn and become bitter)
  • Remove from heat, quickly stir in the sliced almonds
  • Spread on buttered cookie sheet with a buttered spatula and cool completely
  • Coat with chocolate if desired and break into serving pieces
Special Note: If you want to top the brittle with chocolate coating, here are the instructions...
  • In a double boiler, melt a 50/50 ratio of almond bark and semi-sweet chocolate chips, stirring to blend
  • When mixture is completely melted, spread with a buttered spatula over the almond brittle and allow to cool before breaking into bite-size pieces

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Food: Gingerbread Pancakes

Here in Michigan Fall is revealing herself in stages. Leaves are starting to change on trees and shrubs with the maple behind our house showing hints of blazing scarlet at the tips (I'm looking forward to the show it will give us from our living room window right around my birthday at the end of the month). Bags of freshly picked apples and stacks of heirloom pumpkins are appearing at the local market.  Mums are in full bloom.  And in true Fall fashion, the weather has become indecisive as a weekend of cold is followed by a weekend of sunny, 78-degree warmth. 

Last week we started out the month of October with the warning of the passing of Summer. We were given cool and rainy days paired with overnight temperatures in the 40's (not to mention a Saturday night low in the 30's). A risk of a frost sent me scrambling to put sheets over the tomato plants that haven't yet stopped producing and move my tropical deck plants into the basement.  I didn't much enjoy the bitter wind this sudden coolness brought, or being forced to move the switch on the thermostat from A/C to heat, or bundling up to take Riley on an afternoon jog.  And removing some of the signs of Summer, like some of my huge, beautiful annuals that had suddenly become stressed and wilted in the cold, was somewhat bittersweet.  But the smell of crispness brought back memories of colorful leaf piles and hot apple cider and pumpkins.  So it finaly inspired me to get out my Fall decorations, and start to welcome the changing of the season. 

All this reluctant welcoming of change also made me crave warm food - especially dishes that contained a little more spice than usual.  So Saturday afternoon, I began leafing through old cookbooks and discover a book that I had used extensively as a college student.  Flipping through it, I found a forgotten favorite recipe which you may be I'm surprised I had lost touch with over the years.  Especially since I have such a love for/bordering obsession with ginger.  I was perfectly happy to bring this one back into circulation as what I had rediscovered was a recipe for gently spiced, gingerbread pancakes.  

It's amazing what a mixture of tangy buttermilk, satisfying whole wheat flour, zingy chopped candied ginger, and warm cinnamon can create.  What you get from this combination is an amazingly thick, dense pancake with a touch of spice and a slight chewiness.  Versus the typical buttermilk version, these are unusual because they're fantastic even without anything on top other than a touch of butter and their flavor is only enhanced by a piping hot cup of coffee.  Though, I will admit I did rather enjoy one with a dollop of apricot jam.   What a perfect way to celebrate a beautiful Fall morning.

Gingerbread Pancakes
Adapted from a recipe by Terry Blonder Golson (1,000 Lowfat Recipes)

  • 1 1/2 c unbleached, all-purpose white flour
  • 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 c buttermilk
  • 2 T chopped, uncrystallized candied ginger (MM Tip:  You can find this at your local Trader Joe's)
  • Beat together the eggs, buttermilk, molasses, and oil.  
  • In a separate bowl, blend together dry ingredients.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until the batter is moist but still slightly lumpy.  Add the candied ginger pieces to the mixture and stir to combine.
  • Preheat a skillet or griddle and spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour each cake (1/4 c of batter) into the pan, and cook until bubbles start to burst on the surface.  Turn and cook until golden.
  • Note:  This recipe does make a relatively thick batter.  You can use the back of a spoon to spread out the pancake when you first put it in the pan.  You may also decide to add a little more buttermilk to thin out the mix if they are too thick for your liking.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Books: How "The Omnivore's Dilemma" is Changing My Life

A much younger Motown Maiden helping her Grandpa Doak feed the cows
(In Loving Memory of Lloyd and Geneva Doak)
Very rarely have I read a book that has motivated me to change.  What I'm writing in today's entry I consider to be a big deal as over the past couple of months, I have been driven to modify my behavior and become better aware of my consumer habits.  Yes, it's all because of a book.  And this is quite a good thing. 

Over our summer beach vacation I finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  I had actually purchased it over a year ago where it sat unassumingly on my bookshelf, just waiting for me to garner up the motivation and free time to read it.  I'm a little sad it took me that long to do so, but as if to make up for lost time, once I picked the book up I did not put it down.  During the several days of reading, I'm sure Jonathan was getting tired of me sharing quotes out of the book.  But I truly found the entire work completely fascinating (as well as a little embarassing since I discovered just how uneducated I am about where the food I consume comes from...I should have known more given my family history).   
My Mom and Dad were raised on sprawling farms in in Northwest Missouri about an hour north of Kansas City.  Their parents produced enough to make an honest living, growing vegetables to feed their families and raising cattle that they sold for a primary source of income.  As a child I remember visiting my grandparents' farms, riding on the John Deere to deliver hay to the cattle, watching the pigs squeal with delight while rolling around in mud puddles, fishing for catfish in the ponds on their property, and eating eggs that were laid by chickens in the building behind the house.  Little did I know these things I experienced are such a rareity by today's standards; that so few people get to experience where the food they eat was grown and/or raised.  

Growing up in a family with farming heritage, one of our annual treats was a gift from my father's parents.  Every Christmas we received a sizeable portion of a cow that had been processed, packages and packages of rectangular parcels wrapped in white butcher paper and labeled with red stamps indicating the different cuts of beef.  It was guaranteed that over the Holiday you'd hear my Dad on the phone calling around to find a local place that sold dry ice since we had to transport our precious gift all the way back to Ohio.  This was a gift that stocked our deep freeze with high quality, superbly cared for beef.  A gift that truly kept on giving throughout the year, providing nourishment to my family and our friends.  People who ate hamburgers at our house always thought they had such an amazing flavor.  I never realized why that was until I read this book.  Then it all made sense.   

I suppose, witnessing cattle on my grandparents' farms as a child, I've blindly always thought all livestock was raised roaming wide open, green pastures.  But in reality this is very different than how it works on industrial farms.  I had no idea how many hamburgers or slices of ham or chicken breasts I likely consumed that came from animals who were "raised" in extremely crowded and poor conditions, often sick and pumped with antibiotics to keep them "healthy."   Or that many industrially raised animals are fed things that we wouldn't consider to be a normal diet - no grass, large quantities of dry corn (something they would have never selected in nature) and even scraps from their fellow sibling's bodies.  All to fatten them up to process them much sooner than what we would think to be a mature state. Raising animals the right way is a labor of love and it's really hard work.  And unfortunately as Americans many of us have forgotten why that way was the better way to do things.  We just see the dollar signs.  Why is it we are so focused on buying the cheapest thing when it's something we put into our bodies to nourish ourselves?  Isn't it amazing that we often go along our daily lives and if something's always been that way, we never ask why it was that way to begin with?  (BTW, as I was writing this entry I noticed a timely article in the Wall Street Journal about antibiotics in pork drawing more scrutiny from inspectors.) 

In learning how heavily processed foods can be harmful to our bodies and our environments and how industrial agriculture has lessened the quality of meat that we consume and how the meat in our grocery stores was likely treated when it was once a live animal, you could see how some people would just make the snap decision to become a vegetarian.  But as an omnivore and someone who has farming in her family history, I don't want to cut it out of my diet.  So what I can do is take a little more effort to make sure I make smart purchases and do things that are not only better for my body but for those around me as well.    

I found a conversation with Michael Pollan discussing the book and thought this quote to be of particular interest.  Pollan states: "The majority of us, though, can afford to spend more for honestly price food. Americans spend less than 10 percent of their disposable income on food—less than any people on earth (the French spend 20 percent; the Chinese 50 percent), less in fact than any people in history. Why is it we understand “quality” when it comes to a car or television set but not when it comes to something as important as what we eat?"  It is puzzling for sure because I know most of us seek out quality and freshness in the produce we purchase.  For example, we wouldn't purchase a shriveled up vegetable or one that had mold on it.  But we always take the word that things in packages are just as fresh and pure.  They say not to judge a book by its cover but why do we judge boxes of food that way?

Over the past month I've been researching ways to better source my food and noting what I'm buying with more scrutiny (are the ingredients in my food really "natural?").  Some things I had already begun doing on my own without realizing why it was good, just that I enjoyed doing it.  For example, growing my own tomatoes and peppers, buying free range brown eggs from cage free chickens, and growing my own wild yeast with my sourdough starter in the fridge.  I'm discovering local farms who deliver meat to my area, and catering groups who create prepared meals from only local ingredients, and a company called Grass Point Farms who supplies certified pasture milk to several of my local grocery stores.      

So if you're reading this blog post, I encourage you to find out more about the food you are consuming on a regular basis.  You might be surprised what you learn.   In my case, I've discovered an entirely new world of healthfulness.  And I can't think of a better way to place my vote for my food suppliers than to change my spending and sourcing habits.  I know that some of it may seem to be a hassle in the initial phases until I build up a better pantry/freezer stash and learn about better local sources for shopping.  But I see the process as a great experience that will benefit myself and my family in the long run.  Besides it'll be a great lesson to teach my children some day and one that would do my grandparents proud.   
Socializing with the ponies at
Grandma Joy and Grandpa John's farm in Missouri

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Food: Slow Roasted Tomatoes

We had some unusual early-September weather this past weekend.  First it stood its ground like a provoked mid-July, presenting us with a scorching day, followed by windy, wet, and unpredictable storms (this was a bizzare way to kick-off college football season...with multiple game delays at multiple venues).  Then Mother Nature went for the "shocking the system factor," dropping the temps by 50 degrees (yes, I said 50) and giving us a day filled with dreary, cold, and gray cloud cover.  It was definitely not Labor Day picnicking weather in either case.  So like any sane person would do, on Saturday, when it was almost 100 degrees out, I decided I absolutely had to heat the house up by running the oven for hours upon end...just so I could make this sandwich.  Reasonable, right?  You'll understand once you try it.    

I had a ton of large green tomatoes when we left for a week in the Carolinas mid-last month, hoping they wouldn't turn bright red and rot on the vine while we were away.  But when we came back home, to my surprise, nothing was ripe yet!  So here I am, a week later, with a major stash of German beefsteaks, Cherokee purples, and Hillbillies.  I started digging through my recipe files and decided some of them should be roasted immediately; freezing for sauce and fresh tomato soup were to be saved for another day. 

When I made these slow roasted tomatoes, Jonathan said the house smelled like summer.  It was truly heavenly.  I liken the scent to an Italian grandmother's homey kitchen with a hint of garlic and olive oil and oregano mixed together with the sweet and juicy potency of a red ripe tomato.  If only it could smell like this everyday!

After what seemed like an eternity (we'd only been smelling them for half of a very hot day), when they were finally out of the oven, I served the tomatoes on toasted peasant bread with a touch of crumbled goat cheese.  And upon first bite you'll truly see, to quote my husband, that "these tomatoes are unreal."  I ate them three days in a row (one of those days for breakfast).  And if I ever had a restaurant, they would most definitely be on the menu (not surprisingly, the original source for this recipe is a restaurant).  So if you're looking for the perfect way to enjoy a ripe summer tomato, it is warmed by an oven with flavor condensed by hours of roasting.  Sometimes perfection is as simple as this.  

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Adam Roberts and Orangette

  • 1 T Sugar
  • 1/2 T Kosher Salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Garlic Infused Olive Oil (if desired)
  • 2 T Dried Oregano
  • ~ 1 Dozen, Medium-sized Tomatoes, washed and towel dried
  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees
  • If you're using smaller tomatoes, plum for example, slice them in half; Otherwise slice your tomatoes into thick slices (I used cherokee purple tomatoes cut into thirds)
  • On two baking sheets, drizzle enough EVOO to coat the bottom of the pan
  • Place your sliced tomatoes in one layer on top of the oil and then drizzle a little more oil on top (I found a touch of garlic infused oil on the top is a nice flavor enhancement)
  • Next, sprinkle sugar, salt and dried oregano over the tomatoes
  • Place the pans in oven and cook for 1 hour
  • After one hour, turn the tomatoes over, and cook for another hour
  • Turn the tomatoes a second time and cook for 1 final hour
  • Transfer to a pretty serving dish and serve alongside toasted crostinis (toasting is key so the bread doesn't get soggy)
  • These tomatoes go great with a little goat cheese, but you really don't need the extra flavor to enjoy them - they hold up just fine on their own 
  • Regarding storage, roasted tomatoes will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, but I highly doubt they'll last that long :) You can freeze extras too but will probably want to pop them back in the oven a little bit once you defrost them this winter.  I also like to drain off the oil the pan and store it in a jar in the fridge - it's great to add a flavorful drizzle to eggs or a soup, etc.  You get the picture.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Food: Swiss Chard Pizza with Whole Grain Crust

Earlier this year Jonathan and I installed a raised garden bed next to our deck so I could grow a little more than the usual patio tomato and banana pepper plants.  As in any home project, this met with some failures in the beginning.  Like how we (me) had a difficult time deciding where to place the darn thing (and after I had unboxed and assembled it and dragged it around the yard, I decided I hated it and thus needed to return it).  But we finally decided on a spot and fastened it down and filled it with bags and bags of dirt.  Then came the fun task of deciding on plants and planting them. 

I've learned a lot this year as an amateur gardener.  For example, radishes apparently don't fare well with a cool wet spring followed by a zap of blazing hot weather before they're fully developed.  And tomatoes can develop a disease called blossom rot that can sometimes be corrected by a boost of calcium fertilizer.  I also decided next year I need to plant the tomatoes in the middle - not on the outer edges - of the bed because now that they're all grown up, they're shading the other plants.  But with all of this "learning," I've also had a bunch of plant successes.  We've had pickled Hungarian wax peppers, hand chopped basil pesto, tomatoes galore, fresh lettuce, and perky parsley.  So you can imagine I was pretty excited to see one of my final my trial veggies this year - Swiss chard - was full size and ready to be harvested when I got back from our annual family beach vacation.

I know I've mentioned my parents' garden about a million times on this blog. But if it weren't for this garden and my mother's culinary skills, I likely never would have experienced the savory treat that is a fresh Swiss chard pizza.  The pizza is the prime reason I picked the leafy green to be one of my garden babies this year.  And although over time, I've developed my own crust, the recipe is mostly my Mom's...a savory mixture of chard, onions, garlic, and parmesan cheese with a touch of bacon for a smoky and savory finish.  It reminds me of home and so much more.

If you're not that familiar with chard and have a difficult time finding it in your grocery store, no's very easily grown in your garden or a pot on your patio (and not to mention pretty if you select the colored stem versions).   You must add it to your list for next year (hint, hint to my sister Meghan).

So on to the educational part.  If you have heard of Swiss chard, you may not have known that it is part of the beet family and is a great source of fiber and vitamins A, C, and K. According to various nutrition sites, it's also rich in anti-oxidants and omega-3's, contains a boatload of minerals, and could help prevent osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases if consumed on a regular basis. But despite all of these benefits, I am a fan of chard because, well, when cooked this way, it really does taste good.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Swiss Chard Pizza
MM & Glenda D. (MM's Mom)

Whole Grain Crust

  • 2 c Whole Wheat Pastry Flour*
  • 1 c Spelt Flour*
  • 1 1/2 T Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 t Kosher Salt
  • 1 c very warm water (~120-130 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 T Honey
  • 1 1/2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    *If you can't locate spelt flour (sold at health food stores and some specialty grocers), you can substitute 1 c of regular flour. Also, if you don't have whole wheat pastry flour (I used Bob's Red Mill brand) but do have regular whole wheat, you can substitute with 1 c white flour and 1 c whole wheat flour...using straight whole wheat will make the crust too dense.
The Savory Toppings
  • 1 large bunch fresh swiss chard, washed, stems removed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 slices center cut bacon (plenty of flavor but slightly lower in fat)
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Shredded parmesan cheese
  • Fresh ground pepper

Prepare the Crust:
  • Turn your oven on to "warm" (or the lowest heat setting)
  • Mix the flour, salt, and yeast together in a medium-sized mixing bowl
  • Combine the warm water, olive oil, and honey in a separate dish (a liquid measuring cup works well) then stir into the flour mixture to combine
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured counter or work surface and knead it together with your hands, adding more flour in small increments if needed. You'll want to knead the dough well - around 10 minutes for best results
  • Turn the oven off and then wash and dry your mixing bowl; Oil the interior surface of the bowl by pouring some olive oil on a paper towel and wiping down the sides
  • Place the dough back into the bowl, turning once to expose the oiled side and cover with a lint free towel
  • Move the bowl to your prewarmed oven (now turned off) for a warm, draft-free rise
  • Rise time will be around 45 minutes or until the dough is around double in size
Prepare the Toppings:
  • In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp; place on paper towels to drain but leave the drippings in the pan (this is where the chard will get an extra special flavor boost)
  • Add your chopped onion to the drippings and cook until just barely translucent; add the garlic and cook a few minutes more
  • Roughly tear the swiss chard and add to the skillet; cook until wilted, usually a few minutes
  • Season your skillet mixture with a little bit of freshly cracked pepper
Assemble Your Super Tasty Pizza:
  • Remove the dough from the oven and then pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees (Note: I used a pizza stone that was preheated in the oven, so if you're using a stone, feel free to add it to the oven at the time)
  • Turn out dough out on a floured surface and using a rolling pin (or a drinking glass), roll the dough out to your desired size/shape depending on your baking pan/stone; For a crisper crust keep the dough thin, for a more dense crust, allow the dough to be a little thicker
  • Sprinkle some extra whole wheat flour (or cornmeal) on the bottom of your baking dish and place your rolled dough over it (this helps prevent sticking -and- gives your pizza a fancy, gourmet finish)
  • Spread the Swiss chard mixture over the dough, then crumble the bacon pieces over top
  • Top with shredded and shaved parmesan cheese (having two textures to the cheeses works great with this pie) and place in the oven to bake
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the crust is slightly golden
  • Remove from the oven, cut and serve!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Food: Fresh Corn Pesto

Since I grew up and am still living in the Midwest, late-July in more rural areas means driving down roads surrounded by miles and miles of tall, reed-like corn. Now granted, many of these fields contain feeder corn (i.e. not the version you or I would find appealing to eat), but nontheless, I've always viewed corn stalks as the signal of the summer harvest...Farm stands and local farmers markets are now open for business and I can finally purchase one of my summer favorites - locally grown sweet corn.

There's something about the look and taste of corn that just screams summer. First, the plant reminds me of the tropics, with thick, green, grassy stalks reaching towards the sky.
Then there's the golden sheen of the ear's kernels and the juicy sweetness of its crunch. It's just one of those warm weather pleasures that can't be outdone by anything else.

As tends to be a common theme with most of my postings, the ingredients and preparation of the dish below are super simple. And the concept is almost like combining corn chowder with pasta - where the pasta becomes the starch instead of potatoes and the corn becomes the creamy, rich pasta sauce. It's quite ingenious really, seeing as corn in a food processor gets quite creamy and you don't miss the rich and fatty cream whatsoever. Or at least I don't miss it anyway.

I've had cravings for this dish other times of the year when fresh corn isn't necessarily available. So using canned or frozen corn is an acceptable substitute (although canned will have a little better texture to it than the frozen). If you do happen to have fresh corn already (which should be in grocery stores or in your garden right now or the farmer's stand down the road) you should really make it with fresh.

By the way, we discovered this dish is fantastic with some of Zingerman's Chernuska Rye bread. I'm lucky enough to live close to their Ann Arbor bakehouse, but you could also order some of your own here if you wanted to further indulge your tastebuds.

Fresh Corn Pesto

Adapted from Epicurious

- 3 slices of bacon
- 4 c fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 large ears)
(MM Tip: You can also use canned or frozen corn if you make this in the off-season)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt & Pepper to Taste
- 1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
- 1/3 c walnuts, toasted
- 1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 package of fettuccine

- Cook bacon in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from skillet.

- Add corn, garlic, salt, and pepper to the drippings in the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until corn is tender but not brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer 1 1/2 c corn kernels to small bowl and reserve.
- Scrape remaining corn mixture into processor. Add 1/2 c Parmesan and walnuts. With machine running, add olive oil through feed tube and blend until pesto is almost smooth. Set pesto aside.
- Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 c pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot. Add corn pesto and reserved corn kernels. Toss pasta mixture over medium heat until warmed through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid in 1/4 c increments to thin to desired consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve pasta topped with additional parmesan, reserved bacon, and freshly chopped basil or parsley if desired. It's also pretty great with some thinly sliced green onions.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Food: Cabernet Braised Short Ribs with Yogurt & Parmesan Polenta

We've all had our moments of failure in the kitchen and, as most of us are aware, these melt-down occurances generally don't occur at the most opportune times. Prime example: One of my biggest cooking disappointments occurred when I was having 20 people over for a Christmas party dinner - obviously never the best time to poorly execute a meal (if there ever is a good time to do this anyway).

This past winter I decided I'd try this recipe on my guests. It was something that was supposed to be simple and delicious - a Wolfgang Puck, wine-braised brisket that sounded quite wonderful in the before with online reviewers offering up numerous accolades. But my execution (or following of directions, perhaps) must have been quite poor. I mean how else could you end up with a completely dried out brisket, floating in an oily mess of wine and discolored veggies? It was embarassing and disgusting to look at and I probably shouldn't have served it. But knowing the only other item I had was some homemade macaroni and cheese (that WAS pretty tasty and perfectly cooked I might add), I really didn't have any other options. Somehow people made their way through the meal (there were even some takers on seconds). But I was mortified and could just hear people thinking to themselves. "We always thought she was a good cook - what happened?" "Should we stop for pizza on the way home?"

After this incident, I could have just given up on braising meat forever. Ignored its existence as a cooking technique and stuck with my old standbys. I mean grilling a bunch of steaks would have been so much easier and more satisfying (both in flavor and presentation). But I'm not one to give up - albeit I took a six month leave from braising before feeling comfortable to give it a whirl again. OK, I'll be honest. All it took was a glimpse of boneless short ribs at my local Costco, which then gave me a craving for braised short ribs over polenta - a comforting dish I've ordered multiple times at restaurants. I loaded the package into my cart and couldn't wait to get home to dig up a recipe. I surely would be successful this time! I consulted a couple of sources online and finally found a short ribs recipe that not only had rave reviews but sounded simple enough I couldn't mess it up too much. And readers, I am happy to report I had success!

First of all, I must share that my simple, accompaning side dish turned out to be the best polenta I've made to-date…it's creamy and cheesy and slightly briney. Who knew adding a cup of yogurt to it could lend such creamy and tangy results. So if you don't have three hours to cook up the short ribs this time around, at least take 30 minutes to make the polenta.

But if you do have the time, these are some darn amazing short ribs! They're tender and flavorful with a wonderful, tomatoey wine sauce. In fact, the dish could be compared to a Bolognese-style dish and I think Jonathan and I could have served the sauce up over pasta and it would have been heavenly (I'm noting this for the next time I make the dish). One thing I appreciate about this recipe is instead of having veggies and meat floating in a liquid, you actually blend the veggies into a paste and give them a little bit of toasting in the pan prior to adding the wine. The result is quite gorgeous - a thick, bubbly wonder of a paste - and it creates something perfectly textured and flavorful.

I know a dish like this might sound wintery and be more suited to Fall weather. But I was quite satisfied to dig into a plate of warm and satisfying short rib after a long day of working in the yard in the middle of summer. And the polenta could be wonderful with fish or chicken or even refrigerated, cut-out in rounds, and pan fried - serving it as a simple starter topped with a touch of tapanade or bruschetta. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Cabernet Braised Short Ribs
Adapted from a recipe by
Anne Burrell (via the Food Network)


  • 2.5 lbs boneless short ribs (MM Tip: If you're a member, your local Costco should have a nice quality package at a great price)

  • Kosher salt

  • EVOO

  • 1 large onion, diced

  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

  • Handful of baby carrots

  • 4 cloves of garlic smashed

  • 2, 6 oz cans tomato paste

  • 3+ c of bold red wine (MM Note: Preferably a Cabernet - even if it's a cheapie)

  • 2 c water

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 T dried thyme


  • Preheat oven to 375

  • Season short ribs with salt and pepper; Coat a large pot (one that can accommodate all of the ingredients) with olive oil and bring to medium high heat. Brown short ribs ~2-3 minutes per side, cooking in batches if necessary (crowding will cause the ribs to steam rather than sear). Place on a plate and set aside.

  • Puree all vegetables and garlic in the food processor to form a coarse paste. Transfer paste into the pan you cooked the short ribs in and season with salt.

  • Cook on medium to medium-high until the mixture is dark and a crud has formed on the bottom of the pan - around 7 minutes. Scrape the crud and let it reform. Then scrape again and add the tomato paste. Brown for another 5 minutes, add the wine, and scrape the bottom of the pan. Use a lower heat setting if things begin to burn and cook to reduce the mixture by half.

  • Return the short ribs to the pan and add enough water that it just covers the meat. Add the bay leaves and thyme and cover the pan. Place it in a preheated oven for 2-2.5 hours (check mid-way though since boneless ribs can cook more quickly). You can remove the lid for the last 15 minutes to allow the liquid to cook down more and to brown the meat if desired. Serve ribs with the braising liquid.


Yogurt & Parmesan Polenta


  • 6 c water

  • 1 T salt, plus extra for seasoning (MM Flavor Boost: Use Truffle Salt for some added Wow!)

  • 2 c course yellow cornmeal (or polenta)

  • 1 c freshly grated parmesan

  • 1 c plain greek yogurt

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1/2 inch pieces


  • In a large pot, bring water to boil. Add the salt and gradually whisk in the cornmeal.

  • Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, about 15-20 minutes. The mixture should be thick and the cornmeal tender.

  • Remove from heat and stir in the yogurt, butter, and parmesan cheese.
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