Sunday, October 21, 2012

Musings on Motherhood, Moo Shu and the Crock Pot

Becoming a mommy has become super-hip. Hot, young celebrities do it. They're falling all over themselves to have babies. Adopted celebrity babies are even hotter! Babies are chic accessories; like living dolls, you can dress them up and take them places they have no business being and papparazzi will fall at your feet. It's very glam.

Who are we kidding? Even if you can overlook the whole childbirth or adoption process, both mind-blowingly arduous in their own impossible way, without a staff of nannies and night nurses, it's hard to spot the glamour. And then kids! Don't get me started! Kids are decidedly less glamorous than babies. They develop independent interests and bizarre fashion senses and let's not even discuss their dining preferences. Playdates with wine for mommies (remember those!? Oh, those were the BEST!) and homemade pureed organics for babies give way to being berated over the contents of their lunchboxes while driving carpool, forced to listen to pop music that makes you feel a little dirty and afraid for the future while you try to manipulate the time/space continuum, mentally juggling the next five things on your to-do list to create a window big enough for a shower. Glamour has left the building.

Maybe I thought having a baby would be an adjunct to my life, as in "I am smart and successful. I am a writer and a good cook. I enjoy live music, wine, fine food, fashion, travel and books. And I have a baby." No. It goes like this: "I HAVE A BABY (or, BABIES, KIDS, WILD ANIMALS ROAMING MY HOUSE, etc.). I work myself to the bone, at home and/or otherwise. I used to do other stuff and I hope to again someday if only I could remember what it was." This, in my mind, is the world of the soccer mom. A world where your own needs have been subjugated by theirs to the point that you rise early every morning, to feed them and clothe them and ferry them about, leaving little time for yourself which is sort of alright because who has the energy? I always wanted to be a mom; I never wanted to be a soccer mom.

Nothing makes me feel more like a soccer mom than my crock pot. I don't care how trendy they've become, crock pots (slow cookers to some) are not very cool. They are not hip or sytlish, they are not edgy. I do not labor under the delusion that in the back of my favorite restaurant kitchen there sits a tidy row of crock pots chugging away. But, denying the greatness of a good crock pot recipe is akin to denying that I am, in fact, a soccer mom. Why fight it? I became a soccer mom so easily and effortlessly...I slipped right into it. My eldest girl tripped out of toddlerhood and into Kindergarten then - whoops! - right into soccer practice we all fell. Easy! Easy like a crock pot. And denying the excellent results of a good crock pot recipe would be just as silly as denying the excellent results of all the mommy-ing. Not easy, but good. Good kids. And happy. One good giggle from any of my three makes me happier than all of that stuff I can't remember was making me.

So, I'm going to stop whispering when I say "crock pot". For starts, I'm going to shout this one from the rooftops. My whole family likes Chinese food and this ridiculous crock-pot-tacular version made them all very happy. And by "all" I mean the 1-year old, the 3-year old, the 6-year old (especially that one) and the 35-year old (but he eats almost anything). The recipe is adapted from Southern Living but I've messed with it. Southern Living also suggested serving the chicken you're about to read about in tortillas as opposed to traditional Chinese pancakes but that's crazy so I ignored them and boosted the nutritional value way up by making these into lettuce wraps with lots of healthy things for garnish. Think vaguely-Asian tacos, if you will. If it's called a taco, my kids will eat it. It was very successful. Being a mom is all about the small victories. Maybe the glamour will come later.

This makes a big batch because why not? Cut it down if you like.

Moo Shu Chicken from the CROCK POT

  • 3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
  • 1 T. olive or canola oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 medium white or yellow onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
  • 1/2 c. Hoisin Sauce (Chinese food aisle)
  • 1 T. Honey
  • 3 T. Soy Sauce
  • 3 T. Rice wine vinegar
  • 1 T. fresh ginger (I buy it minced in a need to struggle with the root for this recipe)
For serving:
  • 1 head bibb or flat leaf lettuce, like romaine
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced into matchsticks
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 3 green or spring onions (scallions), sliced into 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • Fried Wonton Strips (found them in my grocery store near produce with other salad toppings)
  • Siracha, if desired, for grown ups

Get your hands on a crock pot. Plug it in.

Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Sear chicken thighs for about 2 minutes per side. While chicken sears, combine Hoisin sauce and the next 4 ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Place chopped onions and garlic in the crock pot. Place seared chicken thighs on top. Pour sauce over the top and give it a stir. Place the lid on the crock pot and set it to medium high (6 hours). Ignore it.

After about 6 hours, shred the chicken with two forks right there in the crock pot. It should be falling apart. Serve shredded chicken "taco-style" as lettuce wraps with veggies, etc. to garnish as you wish.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

That lady in the tub is right...this soup really IS going to be awesome

Once again, it's been a while since I've posted anything here on ye olde food blog, but don't worry...I've figured out why. A pattern has emerged. It would seem that whenever I have a baby, it takes me about a year to wrap my head around it and get back into the groove. Problem was, I failed to leave much more than a year between the second baby and the third pregnancy. Good times. Anyway, don't more babies are scheduled so I should be good to go here on The Butter Dish. I was thinking about you all the time, though, and I've saved up some good recipes for you. Plus, babies are awesome and I'm sorry if you've been hungry - and I totally appreciate the handful of you who have actually told me that you've missed the recipe posts - but the tiny babies really are worth all the trouble. Until they turn 3, at least. And sometimes, they bring unexpected rewards. Like soup.

Soup, you say? Babies don't bring soup! How so? Well, when you have babies, sometimes friends bring you food to save your husband and other children from starving while you struggle between feeding the baby, fits of sobbing and bouts of narcolepsy. But, if you're smart and lucky like I am, you've surrounded yourself with people who like food as much as you do and bring you really good food. When my sweet baby boy was born last fall, the friends did not disappoint. My Jen brought me awesome chicken burritos that her excellent husband, Greg, made for us; Courtney came all the way from Reston with her world-famous Shepherd's Pie because she is amazing; and then Erin showed up from right down the street with a batch of this life-affirming soup I'm about to tell you all about. It's soooo good. I loved it right away. I asked Erin for the recipe when I called to thank her, but it's pretty straightforward so I decided to take a crack at it before I even got my hands on the directions. I didn't get it quite right according to the recipe, but I really liked my result so I'm still using it and when I say "using", I really, really mean it because now that the weather is cool, it's all I can do not to make it every few days. Fortunately, no one is complaining.

It's a version of the traditional Tuscan soup known as Ribollita and, like a lot of amazing Tuscan food, it started out as a peasant dish meant to stretch a small amount of meat and make use of affordable and readily available staples like simple vegetables and day-old bread. It's hearty and wonderful and really good for you...not just healthy, but sort of soul-warming. Because I can never just do what a recipe says and I first attempted it without a recipe in front of me, my version skips the very traditional pancetta that gets things started in the Tuscan version in favor of the wicked umami saltiness of anchovy paste - which makes it even healthier, really - but mine is also bulked up by the addition of Italian turkey sausage, as was Erin's. So, I've skipped the pancetta and added sausage and tonight in Tuscany, somebody's Nonna winces like she's been kicked. Still, the soup's core ingredients of white beans, carrots, onions and leafy greens remain. Frankly, I think you can mess with this and make it your own and it would be very hard to screw up. Try it. I'd go through childbirth again for it, but, I'm a giver so you don't have to. Consider this your post-partum meal from your friend Kristin even if the hardest part of your day was mundane in comparison, because, honestly, I have three little kids now and the odds of me showing up on your doorstep with actual food anytime soon are pretty slim. Take what you can get.

Sorta Ribollita

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 celery hearts, chopped
  • 1 lb. Italian-style turkey sausage, casings removed
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled & smashed
  • 1 1/2 T anchovy paste
  • 2 T good, concentrated tomato paste (from a tube, not a can. Try Amore brand)
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6 c. good chicken stock
  • 1 15 oz. can Canellini beans
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 2" Parmigiano Reggiano rind (if you have it. It's traditional, but in this recipe, the anchovy paste does a lot of the work here)
  • 4 c. kale, coarsely chopped, heavy spines removed
  • 5 ciabatta rolls, split and toasted or any crusty, chewy Italian bread, torn or sliced and toasted
  • Grated Parmigiano (garnish)

In a large soup pot or dutch oven,heat the olive oil and sweat the onion, carrots & celery. Don't brown them. When onion is translucent, add the sausage and cook through, crumbling as you go. When turkey is close to done, add the garlic and continue to stir & crumble. Add the anchovy & tomato pastes and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Add chicken stock and next 4 ingredients. Stir, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Don't let it boil hard. Uncover soup and add chopped kale. Redule heat and stir. Cook uncovered for about 5 more minutes. While soup simmers, toast bread and rub with a garlic clove if desired. Remove bay leaves and cheese rind from soup. Place bread in bowls and ladle soup over bread. Serve immediately with grated parmigiano. Enjoy your suddenly improved quality of mean, soup.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Momofuku Compost Cookies with Cheddar Bunnies and Matchbox cars?

The ingredients for Compost cookies reads like a list of my 3 year old son's favorite things: chocolate chips, potato chips, pretzels and graham crackers. The only thing missing are Cheddar bunnies and match box cars. If you are feeling skeptical about these ingredients, don't be, these cookies are amazing. I can confirm that as I have thoroughly taste tasted them. Since last Friday I have made 3 batches.

Adapted from recipe on Cooking Channel

16 tablespoons (butter, softened)
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup crumbled graham crackers
2 cups potato chips
1 cup mini pretzels
1/3 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon of ground coffee

Combine butter and sugars in in a stand mixer (with paddle attached), and mix until combined. Then add in vanilla and egg.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add in 3 batches to stand mixer combining at medium speed.

Now, the fun part. In any order, add chocolate chips, oats, potato chips, butterscotch chips, mini pretzels, pirates bootie, graham crackers and coffee.

Hopefully, you are a careful reader and noticed I that added an ingredient that's not like the others.  Reminds me of a Friends episode where Rachel gets the ingredients of English trifle confused with shepherd's pie, and added a layers ground meat.

Use an ice-cream scoop (1/3 cup) to portion the cookie dough.  Pat down a bit so the cookies are not so round, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or 24 hours. 

Cook in a preheated oven (375) on parchment lined cookie sheet for 15-18 minutes. Rotate mid-cook to ensure even cooking.

Let cool on a wire wrack.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Camp, Munchkins and Monkey Bread

Many of you may not be familiar with "Monkey Bread." My first encounter was at summer camp when I was eight. Part of the camp's daily routine was a cooking class (explains a few things, doesn't it?). We made black and white cookies, pretzels, pizza and Monkey Bread. If you've never have had it, it's bit hard to explain. My best description is that it's a cake made of Munchkins, or donut holes, if you didn't grow up on Dunkin' Donuts. You make it in a Bundt pan, and serve whenever, although I think it's best-suited for brunch. At my camp we used a store-bought dough (Pillsbury biscuits), to make the sweet rounds of bread that fill the pan. It was delicious, but guess what's even more delicious? Making your own dough from scratch.

Of course, this recipe came from Cook's Illustrated, my bible. And of course it has many steps, but I wouldn't be sharing it with you if I didn't think it was worth it. I served it recently during a brunch with my good friends (and family) Katie and Eric. Weeks later we still can't stop talking about it when we get together.

Note: One essential piece of equipment here - a stand mixer

The dough
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus another 2 tablespoons butter melted
1 cup warm whole milk
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package rapid-rise yeast (or instant)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons salt

Put the oven rack in the second to lowest position, and turn oven on to 200 degrees. When oven hits 200 turn it off

In bowl of stand mixer mix flour and salt. In a large measuring cup combine the milk, water, butter and yeast. Turn mixer on medium speed and add the liquid. Once combined allow mixer to go for 6-7 minutes until dough is nice and shiny. Coat large bowl with non stick cooking spray and pour dough in, cover with plastic wrap and place in warm oven for 60 minutes.

As the dough rises you'll need to prep the brown sugar coating.

Mix together 1 cup dark brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon. In another bowl melt 1 stick of unsalted butter.

Butter Bundt pan with the 2 tablespoons of softened butter.

When the dough comes out of warm oven, pour out onto floured surface. You will need to cut the dough into 64 pieces. It's really quite easy. Form the dough into a smooth round, and cut in half, then take each half and cut into quarters, then take each quarter and cut them into quarters. Once the dough is divided, roll it gently in your hands until it forms a smooth ball, then dunk in butter then roll in the sugar. Line the dough balls in the Bundt pan until you create a few even layers.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again for another 60 minutes in oven. Remove from oven, and heat oven up to 350 degrees. Place the bread in and cook for 30-35 minutes. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, not longer. Turn cake unto a flat serving dish. Let cool for 20 minutes.

Optional: While bread cools, whisk together 1 cup confectionery sugar with 2 tablespoons milk. Drizzle glaze over top. Not necessary, but totally delicious.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Axis and Allies," Phil McConkey and Steak Sandwiches

Lots of families have memories of playing board games like "Shoots and Ladders" and "Candyland" and watching Disney movies like "The Swiss Family Robinson." Our house was a little different. We played "Axis and Allies" and "Conquest of the Empire" and watched "Escape from Alcatraz" and "Bridge Over the River Kwai." We rarely missed a Giants game, and when necessary we listened to the game on the car radio. On rainy Saturday afternoons we watched a taped version of SuperBowl XXI when the Giants defeated the Broncos, always stopping to watch Phil McConkey catch Mark Bavaro's tipped ball for a touchdown in a tense fourth quarter a few extra times. Post-game we would re-enact the play in the living room with my Dad as Phil Simms and my brothers and I taking turns playing Bavaro and McConkey.

My Dad ran a tight ship. Whining was a great way not to get what you wanted. He rarely raised his voice to us. He didn't need to. A quick glare from Dad, and we would cease and desist. My Dad's dark hair is a striking contrast to his green eyes, and are more fitting of an Irish or Scottish red-head. I never met my Grandmother, but she was Scottish and fair skinned and I am guessing the eye color came from her. His eyes are his "tell," and they communicated a lot. Each look had its own message, some merely commands (be quiet, eat your dinner, listen to your mother, time for bed, etc.) and others a bit more complicated. Growing up my brothers and I learned the meaning behind each one.

There was the look he gave at church that signaled to put our coats on before Communion. After Communion we'd bless ourselves on our way to the car, and be home for opening kick-off. My Dad would do a quick prayer as we drove home. Not sure if it was an epilogue to the Mass or prelude for a Giant win, probably both.

There was the look he gave when we were acting up in the car on our way out to my Aunt and Uncle's place in Long Island. We could see his glare in the rear view mirror telling us that he planned to let us all out on the Throgs Neck Bridge if we didn't quit it.

There was the look he gave me when I pitched my first Little League game. I struck out the entire lineup. I'd like to think it was my pure talent, but I'm guessing that the boys, upon seeing a girl pitcher, swung as hard as they could at whatever junk I was throwing. Nevertheless, I remember the way my Dad looked when I glanced at him from the pitcher's mound.

There was also the look he gave his dinner if the contents appeared unfamiliar. It was a curious look with one eyebrow slightly raised. I wouldn't say he is a picky eater but I you could say he is a suspicious eater. You won't be catching him eating Pad Thai or Crunchy Spider Rolls. My Dad likes steaks and roasts, rye bread, hot dogs and sauerkraut, string beans, Le Sueur peas, ripe beef steak tomatoes, split pea soup, ham and cheese, bacon and eggs, and Steak-umms.

I can be pretty sure he's not eating Steak-umms any more, but when my brothers and I were kids I remember him making Steak-umms for lunch on weekends. We loved them. We ate them on rye bread from Wall's Bake Shop (Hewlett, LI). The bread was awfully nice for slabs of greasy steak, but growing up we ate everything on this rye bread..

When I was older and living on my own, I ran across Steak-umms in the freezer section at my grocery store. I was so excited. I bought them and went home and promptly made them. I didn't have the Wall's rye bread, but I made do. I wish I could say they were awesome, like I remembered, but they fell short. They also made my studio apartment smell pretty bad for a few days.

In an effort to relive this childhood memory, I am going to reinvent the steak sandwich so that it has more in common with real steak than with Steak-umms.

There are three simple elements to my steak sandwich; steak, cheese sauce and sauted onions. Use any bread you please. I like using a baguette, but use whatever makes sense to you.

Cheese Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup of milk
1 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese
salt/pepper to taste

Melt butter in sauce pan, then add flour and wisk until smooth. Add milk and continue to whisk and then add cheese. If it's too thick for you, just add more milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sauted Onions
1 teaspoon of vegetable
1 large onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper

Heat up large skillet with vegetable oil. Add onions and keep at medium to high. After a few minutes add salt and pepper. Let cook until golden brown and soft, and then remove from pan.

1 - 1 1/2 lbs of eye of round steak (place in freezer 30 minutes before dinner, then slice meat as thin as possible, almost shaving off pieces. Freezing the meat will make it easier to slice)
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
salt/pepper to taste

Use the same skillet you used for the onions. Add vegetable oil, and heat on medium high. Before adding meat sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. You will probably do this in two batches. The meat will only take a couple minutes on each side.

Once meat is done, arrange sandwich. I like to start with onions, then steak, then cheese sauce.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Broccoli and Cheese Soup

When I was 6 or 7, I remember my mother taking my brothers and me to the Galleria in White Plains. J.C. Penney was our spot at the mall, and we would get new pairs of jeans and our pictures taken at Penney's photo studio. Pictures and shopping were followed by a visit to the food court. I loved the food court. My brothers always went for a slice of pizza at Sbarro, but my mom and I went to the vendor who served up fluffy baked potatoes smothered in broccoli and cheese. It was an absurd amount of food for a child but I ate the whole thing. My mom did too. My brothers looked on with a bit of disgust. I'm sure they thought we were out of minds to pass on a slice of pizza for a meal that involved broccoli. Not sure what happened to the potato vendor at the mall. Guess it disappeared along with Orange Julius. Sadly, Sbarro is still kicking around.

Broccoli and cheese are a wonderful pairing. Not sophisticated per se, but it's homey and feels uniquely American, in that we love to throw cheese on our food whether it's hamburgers, french fries or apple pie. And broccoli can be off-putting, but cooked right and smothered in cheese, well, it's outrageous.

I came to writing this post via a recipe I found in the latest edition of Cook's Illustrated. I'm not even sure if I'd ever had a truly great version of broccoli and cheese soup before, but this version is definitely special. It's very rich and just perfect for a cold winter night.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 lbs of broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets (buy about 3 lbs at grocery story, by the time you cut them down and remove their woody stems you'll be left with 2 lbs)
1 medium onion roughly chopped
2 teaspoons dry mustard
a pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups chicken stock (homemade is always best)
2 cups fresh spinach
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

In a large soup pot melt butter, then add onions, broccoli, salt, dry mustard and cayenne. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Then add 1 cup of water, and the baking soda. Cook covered for 20 minutes on medium. Stir once at the 10 minute mark.

Add chicken stock plus 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then add spinach. Cook for a few more minutes then turn off stove. Puree the soup in small batches in your blender, adding some of each cheese to each batch before you puree. Pour pureed soup into large bowl. Let cool for at least an hour before refrigerating. If you you plan to serve right away, simply bring soup back up to a simmer in the same pot you've been using.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sad News and Two Fabulous Soups

I have sad news to share with you all. You are not going to believe it. Make sure you are seated before you continue reading. Ready? Seated? Good. Here it goes. I made an Ina Garten recipe and it flopped. Moment of silence please.

Every Ina Garten recipe I've made resulted in tremendous success. She's always lists the right ingredients, measurements and cooking times. I should write her to tell her what happened. Anyone got her address in the Hamptons? Send along if you do. I promise not to visit her even though that would be awesome. I love her house. (It's featured on her FoodNetwork show.)

Now, you are probably wondering what Ina recipe to avoid. Steer clear of her lemon bars, unless you have a solution to getting them out of the 9 x 13 pan you bake them in. They refused to come out and it got messy. Chunks of lemon bar flew about the kitchen. The shortbread crust had a cement-like quality that fused with the baking dish making a tight, nearly water-proof seal. I almost had to toss the baking dish. Tragic.

So rather then sharing the lemon bar recipe as I had planned, I'm going to share two wonderful recipes for soup. Probably better for everyone's waistlines anyway. The recipes come from "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Dinner." It's a fabulous cookbook, and I've referenced it on my blog before. I highly recommend making your own stock if possible. It makes a big difference.

Curry Cauliflower Soup
(This is an an odd-ball soup, but if you like curry you will love this. It's creamy with no cream, and filling enough to serve for dinner)
1 large onion, small dice
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 large head of cauliflower, broken down into chunks (1 inch pieces)
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (1 inch pieces)
4 cups of chicken stock

a few lemon wedges
plain yogurt (whole or low fat)

In a soup pot drizzle olive oil (1 tablespoon), and heat on medium-high. Saute onions and garlic. After a few minutes, add curry powder and salt. Cook for another minute or two and then add cauliflower, potatoes and stock. Bring to boil, and then on medium heat proceed to cook for 20-30 minutes until potatoes and cauliflower are fork tender.

You can puree soup with blender or hand held emulsion blender. If you are doing it in your blender like I did, let soup cool a little and do it in small batches so that the blender doesn't explode soup everywhere.

Serve with a squirt of lemon and a dollop of yogurt.

French-Style Tomato Soup
(This is a fairly traditional, but the dry vermouth, fennel seeds and cinnamon make it different and special)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cups tomato paste
1/3 cup dry vermouth
3 medium onions, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
4 cups of chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine dried herbs and crush them with your finger tips to make them fragrant. In a soup pot drizzle olive oil (1 tablespoon), and heat up on medium-high. Saute onions and garlic. After a few minutes add salt, pepper and dried herb mixture. Cook for another moment or two and then add tomato paste. Stir with wooden spoon until ingredients are fully combined. Then add vermouth and the can of tomatoes. Let boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Then add broth, and bring back to boil. Lower to medium and let cook for 20 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, and it's ready to serve.