Archive for February, 2012

Paris is one of my favorite cities, not really for one specific reason but mostly because it’s a beautiful place to wander. The best way to wander and experience the casual elegance of that great city is to have a warm pain au chocolat (better known here in the US as a chocolate croissant) firmly tucked in your hand. I recommend them for breakfast and then again for an afternoon pick-me-up.

The best pain au chocolat are a perfect combination of flaky and chewy. I love there to be a thousand flaky, buttery layers that fall everywhere at the beginning of a bite, and then decadent chewy gooey chocolate goodness once your teeth hit the middle. This is difficult to find here in the US – usually croissants fall either on the flaky OR chewy side but not both.

A friend recommended the frozen pain au chocolat from Trader Joe’s to me, so I tried them to see if they would indeed be a passable substitute for the real thing – and one you could make at home no less. And they were actually pretty good! Even better than I’d expected! They nail the buttery flaky property, though they aren’t quite as chewy in the middle as I’d like. But the chocolate is really good, and you can’t beat a croissant coming out of your oven nice and hot. These are perfect to keep on hand for company, since they require no actual cooking but make people very happy.

The box contains four frozen uncooked croissants. You simply take them out before you go to bed and place them on a cookie sheet (I did find they needed about 5 min to thaw slightly so I could separate them without breaking them) and then let them rise (‘proof’) overnight. Then bake and eat! All in all, they are a pretty good made-at-home substitute for my favorite Parisian treat!


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Upon the recommendation of a friend, I tried this recipe from Pioneer Woman (see her site for recipe and lots of great pics). I think it may have been the first I’ve tried of hers, though lots of my friends really love her. It was a VERY simple yet very hearty and delicious and wintery meal that I would recommend.

I did take the extra step of caramelizing the onions, because I do absolutely adore the deep flavor of those sweet onions, but if you didn’t, this would be a very quick recipe. You simply throw the pork butt into a braising pot with apples, onions, some apple juice and beef stock and let it cook away. Once finished, you reduce the cooking liquid to a syrupy sauce that is poured over all. I served this with plain rice but her wild rice recipe looks great, and it would probably be great with some polenta on the side too.

I am such a soup fanatic that I rarely have good meat-based winter dishes that feed a group, so this will stay in my file for such occasions. Bon Appetit!

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Split Pea Soup

This is one of my mom’s recipes, which I can remember eating often as a kid. She says it was a good way to get vegetables down us. I remember wishing there was always more bacon. I recently got the recipe from her and have made it a half dozen times already this fall/winter. It’s incredibly hearty, tastes quite flavorful and rich thanks to the bacon fat, and is CHEAP! I was surprised to see that it doesn’t even use chicken stock, just water and a few bouillon cubes. Normally I’d be tempted to sub out the water for my precious chicken stock which I think makes everything taste better, but this soup really is so flavorful already that it doesn’t need it.

The soup is a snap to make, though it’s significantly easier with the immersion blender (seriously people, just go get one!), so I’d recommend making a pot on a Sunday or Saturday afternoon for a really easy, cozy, wintery dinner in on a cold night. It’s really delicious with a crusty bread, real butter, and nice cold beer.

Pea Soup

16 oz dried peas

1 Tbs olive oil

8 oz bacon, diced

2 large or 3 medium celery ribs, diced

1 large onion, diced

2 yellow potatoes, cubed

8 cups water

2 tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

3 beef bouillon cubes

1 bay leaf

1 cup half and half

  1. Boil 4 cups of water. Pour over dried peas in a medium bowl; set aside.
  2. Drizzle olive oil into a heavy-bottomed soup pot and head to medium. Add bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and crispy. Remove bacon to drain on a plate; set aside.
  3. Add the celery and onions to the hot oil and cook until they are beginning to brown.
  4. Add the potatoes and sauté for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients except the half-and-half. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer for about an hour.
  6. Once the potatoes are softened, puree the soup by either using an immersion blender in the pot or using a blender or food processor in small batches (be careful: the hot soup will expand so you can only fill the blender or food processor about halfway full.)
  7. Once soup is pureed in the pot, add the half-and-half and taste for seasonings. Serve with bacon crumbles on top.

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I have a rather unusual eater in my one-and-a-half year old – she is all about the fruits and veggies and not much into carbs. In general this is fine, but her body does need at least SOME carbs, plus the fat that often accompanies them, so I am in the unique position of ‘pushing’ carbs loaded with good fat. One of my most successful dishes so far is what Molly calls ‘pat-a’ – or, mac and cheese. She does like the mac and cheese from a box, for example the Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies and similar things. But I don’t like that I have such a huge pot of leftovers that don’t reheat very well, and it really bothers me, personally, that it’s just not that CHEESY. I mean, isn’t that the point of mac and cheese, for crying out loud?!

So I’ve developed a quick and easy method for making REAL mac and cheese in individual portions. I cook a large amount of whole wheat noodles (something in a fun shape that holds sauce well, she especially likes the spirals). I keep the plain pasta in the fridge. To make one portion of mac and cheese, I put a small handful of shredded cheese in a bowl and top with whole milk, a couple dashes of salt and a pat of butter (a teaspoon or so).

Microwave the whole mess for about 20 seconds. Stir, add the noodles and toss, microwave another 20 seconds or so. Check for consistency and add more cheese or anything else as needed. It should be drippy/stringy with cheese. And PRESTO – real, cheesy, stringy, yummy mac and cheese! No messy pots. No mysterious ‘powdered cheese’. Happy baby, happy mommy.

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Shrimp and Peanut Salad

This was a leftover night recipe – we had shrimp in the freezer, some romaine lettuce and peanut dressing. What we ate was a tasty Asian-inspired salad that included the shrimp (thawed, peeled, dried, sprinkled w/ paprika and curry powder, coated in flour and flash-fried), roasted brocoli, small diced red onions and toasted peanuts, all over romaine, tossed in a Spicy Peanut Dressing (courtesy Trader Joe’s). Michael totally doubted the brocoli, but ended up liking it, as it added a bit more heft and went right along w/ the flavors. I wish I’d had green onions instead of the red onions, as they are a bit more appropriate for this flavor group, but it was still good. So next time you have salad and shrimp to use up, you can try this to put them to good use!

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I think it was first on one of the Barefoot Contessa shows that I saw her use the ice cream scoop – the one with the release handle – to fill muffin cups. This struck me as quite genius as I had a bad habit of making a mess out of the process of filling a muffin tin, inevitably ending up with burned batter over most of the pan. I now like to chill the batter just slightly, so that it is a bit firmer, and use the scoop to fill each muffin cup to exactly the same size. It is so nice to not have the leftover batter to divy up, or have some giant muffins overflowing and other small ones overcooking.

I’ve also started using the scoop for making cookies. Ditto to all the above on saving time and reducing mess and making all sizes equal. Since I tend to make pretty large sized cookies anyways, this works great for me.

Last week I found yet another use, and this may be the best yet – I used the scoop to create perfectly round, even meatballs with significantly less meaty mess than usual! The meatball mixture chills in the refrigerator for a while (mine was in there overnight) and then I simply scooped out each one to the perfect size without ending up with disgusting hands. And the process was so much faster!

This is probably an obvious short cut to lots of folks but since I’m relatively new to the idea and have been loving it so much, I thought I’d pass it on to any who haven’t yet discovered this shortcut!

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