Monday, September 26, 2011

Scalloped Potatoes

The arrival of fall always sparks my cravings for comfort food, and one of the foods I think of when I think "comfort" are potatoes- mashed, twice-baked, roasted, scalloped... you name it.  Scalloped potatoes are something I have never made myself- I've only made the boxed version... and while I do love them from a box (I guess I'd count that as one of my guilty pleasures), I decided it was about time to try making a homemade version.  I decided to go with Julia Child's classic recipe for Gratin Dauphinois.  Honestly I was a bit skeptical of the recipe because I wasn't sure whether all the potatoes would cook through and be tender, and there was such little sauce that it differed greatly from the boxed mix that I am so fond of, but I should have known better than to doubt the master.  This dish was wonderful- the potatoes were tender, but not mushy, the sauce was minimal, but the flavor of the cheese was infused throughout.  Definitely recommended!

Scalloped Potatoes
Gratin Dauphinois
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

2 lbs. boiling potatoes ( I used Yukon golds)
1/2 clove unpeeled garlic
4 tbsp butter, divided 
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) Swiss cheese, grated
1 cup boiling milk

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Peel the potatoes, slice them 1/8-inch thick, and place them in a large bowl of cold water until ready to use.
3. Rub the garlic on an oven-proof baking dish (10-inches in diameter, and 2-inches deep), and then butter the inside of the dish with 1 tbsp of the butter.
4. Drain the potatoes, and dry them thoroughly in a towel.  
5. Cut the remaining 3 tbsp of butter into small pieces.
6. Spread half of the potatoes in the baking dish.  Top evenly with half the salt, pepper, cheese, and butter.  Spread the remaining half of the potatoes on top, and top evenly with the remaining salt, pepper, cheese, and butter.
7. Pour the boiling milk over the potatoes.
8. Place the potatoes in the oven, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the top is browned.

  • I made this in a 10-inch pie dish, about 2 inches deep as the recipe specifies, but because my boyfriend and I thought the best part of the dish was the browned and cheesy top, I may make this in a larger baking dish next time so that there is more surface area.
  • I was going to buy regular Swiss cheese for the potatoes when a smoked baby Swiss caught my eye instead, and I just had to buy it.  It was fabulous!  Pretty much any good melting cheese would work in this recipe I assume- Swiss, cheddar, Gouda, smoked Gouda! .... whatever your heart desires, and whatever cheese calls out to you from the cheese case!
  • Julia Child calls for the baking dish to be placed over heat on the stove after you've poured the boiling milk over the potatoes, and heat until simmering, but I skipped this step, and don't feel it's necessary.  My potatoes cooked perfectly just with cooking them in the oven.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Snickerdoodle Blondies

Anything with the name "snickerdoodle" in it automatically gets bookmarked when I'm browsing through recipes.  They are one of my favorite cookies, they are super simple to make, and I usually have all the ingredients to whip up a batch whenever a craving strikes.  I've made snickerdoodle cupcakes in the past (awesome), and recently came upon this Snickerdoodle Blondie recipe that I just had to try.  It was incredibly easy, made my apartment smell divine as it baked, and they came out delicious!  I took most of these to work to share, as I would have eaten them ALL myself if left to my own devices, and they were a big hit with my coworkers!  .... next up in my Snickerdoodle bookmarks is for a layer cake.... all I need is an occasion for which to make it!

Snickerdoodle Blondies
from Brown Eyed Baker, originally adapted from My Baking Addiction
Makes 24 Blondies

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups packed brown sugar (I used light brown)
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract

For topping:
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 13x9 inch baking pan.
2. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg to a medium bowl, and whisk to combine.
3. In your stand mixer (if you have one), or with a handheld mixer, beat together the brown sugar and flour for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating each in until well combined.  Add the vanilla extract, and beat until combined.  Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times while the mixture is combining.  
4. With your mixer speed on low, gradually add the flour mixture.  Mix until just combined. Stir the dough one last time with a wooden spoon to make sure all the flour has been incorporated.
5. Spread the dough evenly into your prepared baking pan, using an offset spatula to level the blondies. 
6. Combine the cinnamon and sugar for the topping in a small bowl.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the blondies.
7. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the surface springs back when gently pressed.  Allow to cool completely before cutting.

  • These came out just perfect, and there is really nothing at this point I'd change about the recipe!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Beef and Mushroom Stew

It is finally starting to feel like fall here in Connecticut and I couldn't be more excited!!  Fall and spring are my favorite seasons.... and in the past few years fall has really been gaining an edge over spring!  Yesterday it was chilly enough to wear a cardigan (yay!), and sleep cozily under my comforter!  With fall comes some of my favorite things- Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks, Chrysanthemums, pumpkin carving, Halloween!, scary movies (my favorite kind!), cool sweater weather, and all kinds of soups and stews!  I don't make soup and stew as often as I'd like for dinners as my boyfriend is not the biggest fan, but I try to sneak them in occasionally.  I do make them often to bring to work for lunch though, so hopefully I'll be posting some good ones this season!  Recently I was perusing Pioneer Woman's website and I came upon her recipe for beef and mushroom stew- it seemed to me like a simplified recipe for beef bourguignon focusing just on the beef and mushroom aspect of it, and I just had to try it, so I added it to my menu for last week!  It was definitely a wonderful fall meal!

Beef and Mushroom Stew

2 pounds beef stew meat
4 tbsp flour, divided
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 whole shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, cremini or white button, halved
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 can beef consomme (about 5.25 ounces)
5 ounces water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Pasta or rice for serving, or crusty bread (I used egg noodles)

1. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of the flour over the meat, and toss to coat.
2. Place a heavy pot (preferably a dutch oven) over medium-high heat and add the butter and olive oil.  When melted, sear the meat in batches. Turning to brown all sides. Once brown, remove to a plate, and continue browning meat until all is seared.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the shallots and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the wine, consomme and water.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir together.  Bring the stew to a boil, and then add the meat back in.  
4. Reduce the heat to low.  Add the thyme to the stew. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
5. Mix the remaining 2 tbsp flour with a little bit of water, and add to the stew.  Cook the stew another 10 minutes to allow it to thicken a bit.
6. Turn off the heat, and allow the the stew to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
7. While the stew is resting, cook your pasta or rice (if using).

  • PW's recipe calls for beef stew meat which is what I bought for my stew and it was okay, but a little tough.  She actually says that most stew meat is usually sirloin, but mine was not, so I'd suggest seeking out sirloin and cutting it into chunks yourself if your local store doesn't carry sirloin stew meat.
  • In PW's recipe she left the mushrooms whole, but I decided to cut them in half so that there would be more mushrooms per bite!  Cremini mushrooms, since they are meatier, would be best for this recipe, but I used white button mushrooms as they were on sale, and they were delicious as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tomato and Almond Gazpacho

One of my favorite dishes that I cooked (well, I use the term "cook" loosely here!) on vacation was this tomato and almond gazpacho!  It is so summery and refreshing, and has such great texture from the addition of the almonds.  They also make this soup feel so much more substantial and satisfying than gazpachos I've had in the past (although I like those too).  Even my brother who is not the biggest fan of soup enjoyed this recipe (well, at least that's what he told me and I don't think he was just being polite... hopefully).  This is the first gazpacho I've ever made, and it definitely makes me want to experiment more!  Since summer has unofficially ended though, the experimentation is probably going to have to wait until Memorial Day.  In fact, I had a beef and mushroom stew simmering on the stove just yesterday... perfect for fall!  

Speaking of fall, it rivals spring for my favorite season, and includes one of my favorite holidays, Halloween(!!), so hopefully I'll be getting back to being a good blogger, and making some delicious seasonal recipes, I do love the flavors of fall dearly- I'm ready for pumpkin, apples, squash, and lots of soups and stews!

Tomato and Almond Gazpacho
from Martha Stewart Living, August 2011
Serves 4

2 pounds tomatoes (about 4), cored and coarsely chopped
1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1 small garlic clove
2 ounces almonds (scant 1/2 cup), toasted (blanching the almonds prior is optional)
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Place the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic, almonds, water, vinegar, oil, and 2 1/4 tsp of salt in a blender, and puree until smooth.  Then season with pepper.
2. Refrigerate the gazpacho for at least 45 minutes. 
3. To serve, season with salt and pepper to taste right before serving, ladle into bowl, and drizzle with olive oil.

  • I did not take the time to blanch the almonds when making this gazpacho, but it was delicious regardless, and the texture was great, so I'd say that's entirely optional.
  • As I was working with limited cooking implements and ingredients as one is apt to do on vacation, I substituted cider vinegar and non-extra virgin olive oil in my gazpacho.  The original calls for extra-virgin olive oil, and sherry vinegar.  Either way you go it'll still be wonderful, so if you don't have sherry vinegar in your pantry, feel free to make a substitution.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New England Clam Chowder

One of my main goals during my vacation was to eat as much seafood as possible.  I love it, but I don't buy it very often due to it's price.  Even though I live in Connecticut, where you'd assume seafood would be abundant, it's still often outside my limited price range.  I could certainly buy it more often, but then I'd be making ramen noodle soup more often as well.  In Chincoteague, as it's right on the water, there is much more locally caught seafood to buy and eat, and the prices were generally much better!  I absolutely achieved my goal, and one of the ways I did that was to make the chowder twice, buying mounds of clams from Gary Howard seafood.  This is a very clammy clam chowder so if you like clams, you'll like this!  It's a thin, not creamy chowder, so if you are looking for something with a creamy consistency, this is not the recipe I'd personally choose for that (although I would like to try pureeing some of the potatoes in this chowder to see what it does for the thickness), but it's super-delicious.  It's great in larger servings for a main course, or as a first course to a meal, especially one loaded with more seafood.

New England Clam Chowder
Serves 4

36 hard-shelled clams (less than 2 inches wide), such as littlenecks, scrubbed well
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 medium boiling potatoes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 bacon slices, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup half-and-half
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. Put the clams, and the cold water in a large pot, and place over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil.  When it starts to boil, cover with the lid, and steam for 5 to 8 minutes until the clams open.  Check after 5 minutes, and begin removing any that have opening.  If any are still closed, allow them to steam longer.  Discard any that haven't opened after 8 minutes.  Strain and reserve the cooking liquid (there will be some fine grit, so use a fine-mesh sieve, or line a sieve with cheesecloth to strain out the grit).
2. When the clams can be handled, remove them from their shells, and roughly chop.
3. Peel the potatoes, and dice them into 1/4-inch pieces.
4. Place a large saucepan over medium heat, and add the butter. 
5. When the butter is melted, add the bacon, and cook until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes.
6. Add the onion, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often.
7. Add the potatoes, and reserved cooking liquid, and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender, 5-10 minutes.
8. Add the clams, half-and-half, and pepper to taste, and cook about 1 minute until heated through.  Do not let the chowder boil.  
9. Add the parsley.

  • As I mentioned earlier, I'd love to puree some of the potatoes once they're cooked as it should give the finished soup a thicker consistency. 
  • If you'd like, you can use salt pork instead of bacon, but the bacon lends a nice smokiness to the chowder.
  • It is very easy at the end for the half-and-half to separate a bit.  Mine did in fact, but it will not affect the taste or consistency if this happens a little bit, it's more a visual thing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chincoteague Island, Virginia

It's been a couple weeks since I've been back from my wonderful vacation but for some reason it's taken me a little while to settle in as I jumped right back into work, and then we were hit by hurricane Irene.  Thankfully it only left me in the dark for less than 24 hours with no other damage done, but it's still taken a little while for things to get back to normal.  I actually have yet to do a real shopping, as with the hurricane coming up we tried to use as much randomness in the fridge as possible, and then we had to go shopping afterwards to replace things that had spoiled in the fridge during the outage.  So it's been a lot of basic cooking during the past couple weeks- I did make a great pesto though with basil from my garden which I will share shortly.

I wanted to post some pics of my vacation as I jump back into blogging, a lot of which are pictures of things I ate on vacation, because of course that was one of my main enjoyments.  Unfortunately I didn't get pics of a lot of things, such as an awesome soft-shell crab BLT I devoured, or any of the delectable sandwiches I enjoyed from Woody's Beach BBQ (definitely a highlight of the trip- that and a small seafood store called Gary Howard's, were rivals in the places-I-ate-at-most tournament).

Oh by the way, my vacation was in Chincoteague Island, Virginia- a very relaxing and wonderful small town famous for it's wild horses- some of which I did see, including some pretty close up grazing in a field while kayaking.

Morning reading on my dream porch.

Assateague Light

Full Moon

A new friend

An incoming storm

Our neighbor

Our dock

The beach
Great Blue
Baja Shrimp Taco from Woody's Beach BBQ
Shucking Corn

Roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, and flounder with chile lime butter

Loot from the Farmer's Market

Steamed clams

New England Clam Chowder

Great Gazpacho

Fresh crabs caught off our dock

Bloody Marys

Pasta with tomato, basil, and Parmesan and Homemade Crab Cakes

Root Beer Floats

Awesome Crab Frittata,  Asparagus Beans, and Fried Eggplant