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Saturday, April 9, 2011

A few things...

Confession time:I am not a big fan of moving,not at all.
I am although a huge fan of our new house and will put my feelings side to move our stuff to that awesome new house.I must admit that this time around I have actually been way more motivated than in times past.
Stranger things have happened.
We have packed up about 80% of all of our stuff,taken about 5% of our stuff (that we have no use for anymore/or lets phrase it better...others might find a better use for...) to the Goodwill and the rest of that other   5 % is well....the stuff in my kitchen.
Yep, I have to pack my security blanket.
I know good and well I don't need 8 mixing bowls of various size to accomplish my culinary task the week before I move.I really don't have to have the cute little jar of pickling spice to pack that last box of cookbooks.(none to worry those were packed 2 weeks ago AND NO I haven't counted them at all. The jury is still out on whether I should actually count the mass quantity of books,...nah probably not gonna.I think the experts call this a soft addiction.I like to cook and I need the books to help me cook.So there.) And really who am I kidding,I haven't cooked much of anything in the last two weeks or so anyways.I had one big hurrah with the family and made this fantastic Beef Tortilla Casserole a week ago and the leftover dishes have since been washed and put away.
So before I finish this post and move on to packing I thought I'd share a few things that make my kitchen world spin around,a very top-of-the-surface list really since everything in my kitchen is a must-have.Moving along:
Penzey's and I have a fine realtionship,actually it's a fairly easy one for the both of us.They gather and make phenomenal spices and I hand them gobs of money for those amazing spices.See how tough was that.
They really do have great spices and these bay leaves are nothing to shake a stick at.The rich,woodsy,herby flavor in each dried leaf ties together a dish.They are huge leaves.And for the money you get a flavor that can't be found from bay leaves bought at any other store.
Again with Penzeys!!! No this is not an advertisement for a delightful spice store,but they have some good stuff.Good stuff to me is good extracts to use in warm,fresh baked goods.The vanilla and almond extract of so rich and who am I kidding pure flavor extracts ain't cheap in most retail grocery stores.The amount and quality of extract you get for the money at Penzey's is worth the trip to the store.
This is actually a new must-have in my kitchen: Cocoa Puffs. It all started with Costco and the chocolate Cheerios they carried,oh my heavens that is a great cereal choice! Well one weekend we stop by Costco and look! out! they don't have chocolate Cheerios anymore and I had my heart set on chocolate Cheerios,like a kid on one of those quarter vending machine toys.Well I said a dirty word,settled for Cocoa Puffs and went on with life.People what a chocie,it's a healthy choice and it's chocolate too! The box didn't last long and I'm not ashamed of it.
( I know you just saw this photo at the top of this blog post,just go with it.)
The last thing I have to share that is a kitchen must-have is well...a few things that go hand in hand.
The first is humility. The little glass piece hanging in the window there is a window charm of sorts that was left by my great aunt. She lived in this house before my husband I did. She was a great lady who passed away over 4 years ago and she had her quirky ways.She also had some great window decor and the pair of birds really is my favorite.The birds are glass,sitting on a slim piece of metal hanging from a metal chain.The blue bird is just perfect and the orange bird couldn't be any cuter,except for it's little tail is broken.The broken tail feathers on the orange bird is a lesson I learned early on and will take with me the rest of my days: nobody is perfect.
Dinner could be great,the best meal of your life....or it could totally stink,taste horrible.Either way you were fed and so were others.
The second lesson I have learned from those two little glass birds is it always helps to have someone else in the kitchen with you.I love to cook and will fuss my way through the dirty dishes left in the sink.My husband,well he willingly does 90% of all the dishes and makes doing dishes fun.
It's possible. Talk to ya'll in a few days,got to unpack all those cookbooks.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dad's Italian Biscotti

I love coffee and can't live without it. I'm not pretty without it and might not say kind things until my caffeine consumption has been sufficiently filled,period.
I'm not completely unpleasant or anything without it,but it sure does help.My parents have always enjoyed coffee so I guess you can say it's genetic,for now I'm going with that.
I have worked for two coffee shops in my time,both of which sold hot,fresh-brewed coffee goodness as it's main staple/spotlight menu item.And they both at one time or another sold biscotti,coffee's best mate.

I love biscotti a whole bunch and sadly always forget how much I love it until I come across a tasty,stale (it's supposed to be stale) vanilla-almond spiced biscuit.I have found a biscotti recipe that has won my heart and guess what! the most appealing quality about this biscotti is that it gets better with time.Like wine,but not alcoholic...or liquid or made from grapes...geez get with it woman,I need more caffeine.
The biscotti of my past has been just ok and served its purpose.It's been a little sustenance alongside my cup of coffee,fair enough.The biscotti I made two weeks back was more than ok,sweet,simple,and just enough crunch to make you ok with eating stale bread.
The Mom's Big Book of Baking is a great,extensive cookbook filled with all kinds of baking adventures to be had by one and all. I have made a few recipes from it so far and the biscotti is the stand-out! And whoever "mom" is, gave some props to "dad"'s his biscotti recipe.Well done man.
The dough is easy enough to make.It was a bit dry so I added a tablespoon or two of heavy cream just to make it come together a little better.
Toast some almonds,that crispy brown tasty coating will give these biscotti some depth.Yes, biscotti can have depth and these roasted,toasted almonds handle this for you.Now chop those nuts up and fold them into your dough.
Sling some flour on a large cutting board and unload the dough on the work surface. Flour is the key here,the dough could get a bit sticky.
Pat the dough onto the work surface and divide in half.Then shape the dough into 2 flats logs measuring about 12 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide.Keep slinging flour as you move the dough around it will help in transporting the logs onto the prepared baking sheets.
Bake those jokers on a prepared baking sheet at 350 degrees for 35 minutes and take them out to cool completely.Here's the convenient part...sort of: You have to bake them again after they cool completely,so I did the first half of the baking one night,let them cool overnight and then the next night finished up.The next step is preheating the oven to 325 degrees,slice the cooled/baked biscotti logs into 1-inch strips,lay them in rows on the same baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. They need to be crisp on the edges,but not burnt.
See the thing is the batch of biscotti was soft for a day or two,not the crunchy-edged coffee shop stuff I was used to,then a few days after that,BAM! take me bake to my coffee-slingin' days,the biscotti had arrived! The flavors in this recipe are just priceless and makes a cup of coffee for me just perfect. The biscotti is subtle,simple and a nice.Kinda like me after coffee... 
Dad's Italian Biscotti
adapted slightly from The Mom's Big of Baking
written by Lauren Chattman
page 133
1 cup whole almonds with skins
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract ( I used 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp almond extract)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds on a large baking sheet and toast them until fragrant;about 6-8 minutes. Set them aside to cool. When they have cooled,coarsely chop them.Line another baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Combine the flour,sugar,baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.(Now you can make this one by hand as the recipe continues on to say,the mixer is handy too for this recipe)Add 2 of the whole eggs,the egg yolks and vanilla and almond extracts.Mix together on a low speed until just combined.If the dough is not coming together well add 1-3 TBL of heavy cream,just enough to combine the ingredients. Fold in the almonds.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Shape each half into a flat log about 12 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide. Place the logs on the prepared baking sheet several inches apart.
4. Beat the remaining whole egg and brush it over the dough. Bake the logs until they are firm to the touch,about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow them to col completely.
5. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Transfer the logs to a cutting surface and cut them into 1-inch thick slices. Lay the slices cut side down on the baking sheet and return them to the oven. Bake them until they are crisp,about 10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let them cool completely. The biscotti will keep in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mid-Week Moment #25

"Endurance is patience concentrated." -Thomas Carlyle 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Slow-Cooker Beef Brisket w/ Onion Gravy

   Sunday dinner has become a must in our house.We try to make a bigger,heartier dinner on Sundays for two reasons: A. Leftovers.I have a tendency to cook a meal for a small army so we always have leftovers. Leftovers always come in handy on Tuesday night when I really don't feel like cooking dinner.It's been a long day,busy at work and to come home and rest is a must. And then the laundry is sitting there just waiting to be folded...I have recently posted a few recipes that taste even better the next day.
B. Sunday is meant to be a day of rest. Now whether you subscribe to that reasoning and what your definition of rest is varies and my idea of rest is the occasional nap,but really rest is a break from the everyday.The choice to be made of either doing laundry or cooking a big meal for your whole family or just the two of you is pretty much an easy one for me to make.
     When I was a kid,my dad and I (oh he is a saint) would go 'round and 'round about emptying the clean dishes in the dang dishwasher.I would take my time,get sidetracked and some point finish putting up the last clean dish.My schedule of finishing chores and his schedule of running his household didn't always let's say...jive.
    So inevitably I would hear the phrase that still rings true in my ear today: "In the time you have spent fussing about getting _______________ (insert assigned chore here) done, you could've been done by now."
If I heard it once I heard it a million times.
I wasn't the most helpful child,but I was cute so maybe that helped.
Probably not.
Moving along.
     On Sundays, I usually decide to get the chores done and over with in a timely manner and then its off to cook up some sort of meal to enjoy and then after my belly is full with some delicious had my dad as our dinner guest last Sunday night.It wasn't a fancy meal but nonetheless tasty.I decided to make a slow-cooker meal of beef brisket with onion gravy.We are moving a few weeks and I knew we still had a lot to do,soooo I could get dinner started in the morning and get to packing until it was ready to eat.
See there productive and efficient,ha.
The meal was just fine I tell ya and after all was said and done,the evening coming to a close the dishes were done and no fussing was heard,a restful evening indeed.
Oh this meal was good,almost too good. I've already told you about the Parmesan Potato Pancake that was a  side item to this heavenly meal. Talk about savory and oh the beef brisket with it's savory onion gravy.(A friend of mine,we'll call him Jon and I have this saying,it's a play on the phrase "It's so good it makes you wanna slap yo mama!" well... we took it just a bit further and say "Duck mama,duck."Aren't we clever.)
Let me tell you,you and yo mama about this beef brisket:
First I had to buy the meat,good gravy thats a large piece of beef. And Chris Kimball mentions that in the recipe notes for this recipe. The folks over at America's Test Kitchen know their stuff and knowing that I was prepared,I thought outside of the frying pan.
The heck with trying to fit that in a cast-iron skillet I just threw it in my massive roasting pan.I still got the browning action the recipe called for and it fit just perfectly.Oh you smarty-pants ATK folks ( I mean that in love,cause I love all the recipes that the Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen folks come up with,insert cheesy grin here.)
So after that meat has browned and maximum caramelly-brown goodness has been achieved,take out the meat and put it in your slow-cooker. Add in the onions,garlic,seasonings,red wine and let the magic happen. This smelled wonderful and the wine makes the gravy sing.
Remember those notes about the brisket coming up the sides of the pan, was a bit of a struggle to fit the whole brisket in the crock of the crock pot,but I managed and rest assured that as the brisket cooked down there would be no problem with all of that meat fitting in the crock of the crock pot.No problem at all.
After the onion/garlic/red wine magic mixture has done it's time in the roasting pan,pour it,the brown sugar,bay leaves and thyme in on top of the meat in the slow cooker,put the lid on and LEAVE IT ALONE. Don't pick up the lid in a few hours to smell the flavors,if you let the slow-cokoer do it's job the smells will waft from it and will  fill your house and you won't mess up the actual cooking of it's contents.(I have to tell myself that every time I make some dish in the slow-cooker.LEAVE IT ALONE.So I'm nosy and cute,but at least I can cook!)
When the meat is finished cooking take it out of the slow-cooker VERY CAREFULLY and put it in a 13x9 baking dish,cover it with foil and let it rest while you make the gravy. Last Sunday evening my husband and I coincidentally were both wearing white.He had a cream-colored polo shirt on and I had on a new red cardigan/white button down shirt combo on and well we took our time getting the meat out of the crock. The meat was falling apart,a challenge. Again VERY CAREFULLY.
The meal was amazing and the onion gravy was the some of he best gravy I have ever had. This is a recipe that will forever be on my Sunday Dinner list of recipes,heck I might get crazy and make it on a Saturday,who knows. Enjoy whatever day you make it!
Slow-Cooker Beef Brisket with Onion Gravy
( I adore this cookbook.I haven't been cooking that long and don't have a 
ton of "go-to" cookbooks. This is one of them and I will forever treasure it.
And you should too.)
Serves 6
Prep time: 45 minutes
Slow-Cooker time: 8-9 hours
1 (5 -5 1/2 lb) beef brisket,trimmed
Salt and pepper
4 tsp vegetable oil
6 onions,halved and sliced thin
6 garlic cloves,minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 TBL tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
1 3/4 cup beef broth
2 TBL brown sugar
4 bay leaves
1 TBL minced fresh thyme or
1 tsp dried
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
2 TBL cider vinegar
1. Dry the brisket with paper towels,season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 TBL of vegetable oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet (or large roasting pan set over two burners on the stove top). Brown the brisket on both sides,reducing the heat if the fat begins to smoke,about 10 minutes. Add the beef to the slow-cooker.
2. Add the remaining 2 TBL vegetable oil to the same pan you browned the meat in,heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and 1/4 tsp salt and cook until softened,5-10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 15 seconds. Stir in the wine and tomato paste,scraping the pan to get up any browned bits. Simmer and reduce the liquid by half,about 1 minute,then pour into the slow cooker.
3. Add the chicken broth,1 cup of the beef broth,brown sugar,bay leaves and thyme to the slow-cooker. Cover and cook on low until a dinner fork can be slid in and out of the meat with litle resistance,8-9 hours.( I thought this wasn't enough time for the amount of meat we had,but folks it was the perfect amount of time and the meat fell apart.)
4. When the meat is ready transfer it to a 13x9 baking dish,cover it with foil and lt it rest while you make the gravy. Discard the bay leaves. Whisk in the flour and remaining 3/4 cup of beef broth until smooth and stir it into the slow-cooker. Cover and and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened and no longer taste like flour,15-30 minutes longer. Stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Now the recipe then goes onto say transfer the meat ot a cutting board and slice on the bias,the meat I cooked fell apart.So we just sliced off the pieces and covered in gravy.I love this dish,hope you do too!.