Monday, April 29, 2013

Beef Stew

It’s a foregone conclusion that texting while driving is dangerous. Cooking and driving though, is perfectly fine. Let me explain. So we’re heading to Falling water, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, and by the way, stop reading for a second, click a new screen, and book your trip for that place. It is beyond incredible. Secondly, get the best GPS app on the market, one that not only talks to you, but also grabs the wheel when you make a wrong turn.

“Should we bring the map?” my mother asks just before we depart on this adventure.

“Of course not, mom, I have this.” I say, this being my Ipad. I wasn’t five minutes into Southwestern Pennsylvania (which I will now refer to as Penny) before I was lost and staring at this.

Penny calls this her way of telling you where you are, and 3G is spotty at best in this part of Penny. So between my two teenagers moaning in the back and my mother suggesting we stop and ASK for directions ( Can you imagine, me, a grown man, asking for directions?  I mean, what was she thinking? This of course is the same person who suggested we bring a map) I point the car N/NW ( at least the car compass works ) and press on, stopping on top of every hill to reload the GPS on my Ipad.  And Penny, do you have some hills?  Who needs Hershey Park when you can simply drive that part of Penny for an adrenaline rush.

All the while I am still cooking, and thinking about Morels. I spent the previous day at my mother’s house in West Virginia foraging ( I mean looking) for them.  It was April, it was W Va, and her house is next to an old orchard. Perfect storm, right? Wrong. I don’t know what my deal is I just can’t find them.  I once went with a friend and he was finding them next to my shoes as I haplessly stared at the ground.  I press on, walking the woods, head down swaying back and forth, looking to find Morels and avoid Richard’s booby traps.  He is a helper around the house, who likes to set up such things.  I really didn’t want to step inside some noose suddenly to find myself hanging 16 feet in the air upside down staring at my Iphone which fell out of my pocket.  It’s not like my kids will come looking for me, not at least until they get hungry. 

So we arrive at the Duncan House, another Wright design, where we are staying for the night. It’s also the reason I’ve been cooking during this 2 hour drive that took me 3 ½. You see, they don’t allow anyone to use the kitchen ( a jail sentence as far as I’m concerned) they do have a microwave and a toaster oven, which means they have an outlet, and I, a crock pot sitting in the back seat plugged into the lighter socket, full of beef stew. 

It was either I cook and drive, or we eat at a place down the road sporting 1 ½ yelp stars and a tacky website boasting their 48th year in business, translation, the grandkids are running this joint into the ground. No thanks.

As much as I urge you to visit Falling water, I do recommend a stay at the Duncan house so you will need to mimic my version of  byobs (bring your own beef stew).  Another trick, duct tape the lid to the pot because Penny has rough roads.  It’s as if she hasn’t paid the last two bills to the paving company.

Or, you can simply make it for one of these last cools nights we have before summer.

Here goes. First of all, you can do this two ways, either in a crock pot or regular pot with a tight fitting lid.  It depends.  If you have 6 or so hours to let this guy cook, then crock pot it.  If you want to eat within 2 hours, go with the latter.

2 pound piece of beef chuck (shoulder)

 Warning:  failure to use chuck, charley is you will, may result in a beef stew that, “how do you say in English?” Blows. In fact, if I find out you used any other cut of beef for this recipe, you will find yourself on my axis of evil. Repeat, don’t send hubby out and let him bring back “oh it’s all the same” cut of beef.

2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into logs
4 stalks of celery, slice them, don’t cut your fingers, but don’t hunk it either
6 cloves garlic, pasted of course
½ inch piece of ginger
1 cup white wine
1 can crushed tomato
5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cut into large dice
6 sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 bay leaves

4 oz button mushrooms, or if it’s a really good day, morels

Cut your chuck into chunks (I’ve been waiting to type that).

Season well with salt and pepper. Line a large sauté pan with oil and get it hot.  Brown the beef thoroughly, no skimping here. Once the beef is brown, transfer the meat to the cooking vessel of choice.

Now, turn you flame off. Turn it off.  Seriously turn it off unless you want to see a three foot flame in your kitchen. Good. Now add the wine to the pan you browned the beef in.
It should bubble and sizzle and you should be using a spoon to scrap those lovely brown bits about while thanking me for still having eye brows. Add some water if you need to. Now add this liquid to your beef.

Take note, don’t go adding extra water to the stew.  There is plenty of liquid from the canned tomatoes and wine, plus everything in the pot is going to release its water during the coming hours.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except mushrooms), cover, turn heat to low (conventional) or high (crock pot).  It should take up to six hours in the crockpot, and around 1 ½ to 2 in a regular pot, on low, with a tight fitting lid. 

Now, about those mushrooms.  I don’t add them in the beginning because I don’t like overcooked mushrooms.  Just before serving, brown the mushrooms well, just like you did the beef in the beginning.  This will allow them to bring a little texture to the stew  And if you are lucky enough to have Morels, then god bless you, you are in for a treat. Cook them as you would the regular mushrooms.

In either 2 or 6 hours, you should have something that looks like this.  See all that liquid?  Ladle this goodness into bowls, warm some crusty bread and enjoy.

Hmmm, it just stopped raining, maybe I should go look for Morels.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blackberry Cobbler

I have an outdoor shower and you probably don’t

I’m not rubbing it in, it’s just a fact. In fact, it wasn’t even my idea. The previous owners installed it (in an act of shear and utter brilliance).  It’s not typical home renovation speak like kitchen counter, walk in closet, jetted tub, garage or a yoga room. 

I’ve been using the outdoor shower a lot lately because it’s warm and I’ve been working in the garden a lot.  When I work in the garden, well, imagine your dog rolling in a thick mud puddle, and well that’s me at the back door, and Sharon handing me a towel and wash cloth, one hand on her hip the other pointing to said outdoor shower (head shaking left to right)

(What’s up with that?)

I love it though.  Open air showering with four bumble bees.  They like the sugar magnolia.  They must have also liked me because the five of us were definitely showering together and I didn’t mind.  It’s not like I was showering with wasps or hornets.  You have to really mess up to get stung by a bumble bee, kind of like picking a fight with Mr. Rogers. If ole Fred cold cocks you in the nose you probably have it coming to you.

All this showering is a result of a lot of gardening. Well, let’s say digging, tilling and mulching because I honestly can’t garden my way out of a wet paper bag.  I’m trying. In fact, I’m really trying hard because blackberries and raspberries are kind of on my bucket list.

That which I carry in my murse (man purse). Yeah I have one. I have to.  How else am I to tote around my laptop, ipad, two iphones, and tic tacs?  We live in a different world now.

What’s not different that in so many years of planting berries is that I have not a half a pint to show for it.  That is about to change, because this week, I did this.

Impressive.  I got the idea off the internet, which means it probably won’t work. Those are blackberries, and my life goal at the moment is that this turns into a high yielding berry producing shrub that is the envy of the neighborhood.  That or it produces more than a half a pint.

Oh well. What I can’t do in the garden I can more than make up for in the kitchen. I am going to share with you a recipe from the My (and Vincent’s) Metropolitain. There seem to be more versions of cobbler than barbecue, though significantly less tension as to which is best. Seriously, if we ever have second civil war, look to barbecue as the reason North Carolina attacks Virginia.  Let’s stay focused here.  This version is what I would call an elegant cobbler, meaning it will impress your guest at a dinner party.

Here’s the lineup and it so easy. One half  pound each of the following:


Why is everyone shaking their heads?  Oh yeah, weight. We Americans can’t seem to handle it be it in a recipe or on our asses.  

Here’s the measured version.

2 sticks butter ( a pound) room temp
1 ¾ cup almond ground ]( find a food processor or blender, grind them to flour like)
4 eggs
1c sugar
2c flour

Use your kitchen aid or hand held blender, cream the butter and sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time, let them incorporate (not like a business, more like an emulsion)

Add the ground almonds, mix thoroughly, then the flour. Don’t over-mix the flour, just incorporate it( again, not like a, nevermind)

You should have a buttery, sweet paste which I will now refer to as goop .  Now, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread this goop onto the papered baking sheet.

STOP! Here’s a tip before you start pulling your hair out trying to spread this. Take a spoonful of goop, put in each corner under the paper. Do it for all four corners. It should act like glue.  Now proceed with spreading the goop evenly across the pan. They’ll be some wrinkling of the paper here along with some cussing, but relax, we’re baking here, not landing the Mars Rover.

Bake at 375 for twenty minutes.  Let cool at room temperature for about an hour.They should look like this.

Now for the berries. 

1 ½ cups sugar
¼ c water
4 cups blackberries ( Fresh, frozen thawed)

  For the berries, add the sugar and water in a saucepan.  Have a cooking thermometer handy.  Cook the sugar until it reaches around 240 degrees. Throw the blackberries in and turn off the heat.  Give them a quick stir. Done.

Now, let assemble our little beauty.  Use a cookie cutter to cut the biscuits.

Spoon some of the blackberry mix onto the plate, top with a biscuit, and then either ice cream or whipped cream.  Serve.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Vegetarian Chili

The power went out the other night.

I wasn’t home. The girls were.

 I’m not talking about the Armageddon we went through last month, no this was a “scheduled outage” meaning I suppose the power company was doing some work which required them to shut down half a county.  Oh, by the way, Mr. PC ( power company), next time you are doing this “scheduled outage”, can you throw this brother a bone or a text message or something because I didn’t need that 30 minutes in my life.  I’m referring of course to my drive home in which the panic streaming through my blue tooth would have been less if my neighbor showed up at the side door wearing a hockey mask and holding an ice ax.

While I’m talking about PO’s (power outages), here are some helpful tips for all you men of the house in case you experience an extended PO.

Step 1:  Call your power company and report the outage. If you have any juice on your phone of Ipad, you might do this online.  If this is just a “scheduled outage”, then go for a 30 minute run, regardless of the time of day.  If this is not a “scheduled outage”, then proceed to step 2.

Step 2: Pack every female residing in the house over the age of 16 in the car, hand them your credit card, and send them to the swankiest hotel outside a sixty mile radius.  Set them up with the works, facials, mani-pedi’s, rock treatment, cucumber masks, whatever.  Don’t even fret about the tab, trust me, it’s WORTH it!

This makes me think of our 5 day always dark brouhaha last month.  I, ladies and gentlemen, failed to adhere to step 2 listed above, and I, ladies and gentlemen, paid dearly for it. And since this blog seems to feature lists, the following are my top ten questions I will not have to here next time we have an extended PO.

10    When is the power coming on?
9      When do you think the power is coming on?
8      What do you mean you don't know when the power is coming on?
7      Did you call the power company?
6      What did they say?
5      Can't you just get the tree off the line?
4      Why not (meaning, at this point, I don't care if you get electrocuted) ?
3      Why don't we have a wood stove
2      Why don't we have a generator?
1      Why on earth did I marry a fool who has no wood stove or generator?

Nope, because I will be alone.  And when you are alone and the temperature in the house dips below 40, it’s time to make some Vegetarian Chili. Why vegetarian? Because 1)the meat in the fridge is rotten, and 2) (more list) I’ve developed this recipe over the past couple of years seeing how there always seems to be at least one vegetarian under my roof.

2 red bell peppers
2 Anaheim Pepper
2 Green Peppers
1 large sweet onion
1 T garlic, pasted
4T cumin
3T Chili powder
2 cans Diced Tomatoes
2 cans Black Beans
1 can Chick peas
1 dark beer
1 habanero
½ cup chopped cilantro
3 T cocoa

First, chop your onion and paste the garlic. Then turn on all you burners.  Why? Because 1) it’s cold, and 2) you will need them for this tricky cooking technique I’m about share.  We are roasting all the peppers and charring the Sweet potatoes.   The scene on your stove top should look like this.

For God’s sake, do not char the habanero, or you, too, will soon be vacating the house.  Seriously, whenever I handle those things I picture myself in the image of Jeremy Renner in the Hurt Locker.  I don’t know which is scarier, a couple tons of TNT in the back of 87 Tercel or a handful of Habaneros.  

Continue turning the peppers until the outside is nice and black, and char the sweet potatoes on both sides. It should look like this. Perfect.

Now, put the peppers in a bowl and cover.

This helps loosen the skin.  Dice the charred sweet potatoes.  Scrape the roasted skin away from the pepper pulp. Do this for all of them.  Dice the peppers.

We’re all set.  Sweat the onions and garlic until they are soft.  Cut the habanero in half, then slowly back away (like Jeremy would). Add the peppers and beer, allow the liquid to reduce some.  Then add the rest of the ingredients except the cilantro and cocoa.  Simmer for 30 minutes.

Just before serving, add a little of the chili to the cocoa. This allows the cocoa to mix better. Then add that back to the batch of chili.  Chop the cilantro and add to the chile.
It should look like this.

Serve with rice, chips, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, you name it.  And remember, don't forget Step 2.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kale Frittata

I’ve been told I’m not a morning person.  Waking is not the problem. It’s the whole getting out of bed thing that I struggle with.  I don’t have much choice, seeing how there is Leonard (dog) to be fed, lunches to pack, breakfast, dishes to be unloaded.  So I do so, while singing merrily about like Julie Andrews, spreading countless joy to those around me.


I’m as surly as a caged tiger with a mouth full of abscesses.  It’s not that I don’t LIKE mornings, I just think mornings are not on my terms.  If I had my way, I awaken sometime around 7:45 ish, in kind of a fluttering style, you know, like five minutes of coming to.  Like a process.  I certainly would not wake to a God awful alarm clock. Yuck. I don’t care how pretty Steve Jobs (RIP , bro) made the ringtones, that nonsense is simply not in our DNA.  Do you think our ancestors had to decide between Marimba and Bell Tower? No. Things were just fine for thousands and thousands of years until Levi Hutchins comes around in 1787 invents the alarm clock.  If I could go back in time I would be doing time because I would stab that man in the ear.

Back to my flutter-fest. My five minute awakening (sounds like a life changing moment) would be followed by some hugs and kisses from my misses, afterward that lovely slice of heaven brings me coffee in my thermos( another blog to come)(the thermos, that is)(which I dropped the other night, separating the cap into 3 pieces, a harrowing 45 seconds ensued until I got Humpty back together again).

With coffee in hand, I can commence with my Thomas Jefferson impression of reading for two hours.  Whereas TJ was devouring ancient history, literature, and philosophy, my hands are 9 and 3ing my Ipad while I browse classics such as facebook, cnnsi, and Zite.

Sometime this side of 10 am, I stagger into the kitchen with an empty stomach and a ragging caffeine buzz.  It’s time to bring this perfect morning to an end with the perfect breakfast, a frittata.  Here’s my version.

This will feed 3 people, more of less.  First, turn on you broiler. Second, don’t forget to turn on your broiler, it’s kind of important if you haven’t figured that out yet.  

6 eggs ( pony up for the best you can find, it’s worth it)
1/3 cup sliced leeks (white part) you can sub shallots or scallions
2 cloves garlic, pasted
1 cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup diced tomato (fresh!)
2 cup chopped kale
¼ cup grated parmesan
Salt pepper
Olive oil

Turn a burner on to high and an your olive oil.  Allow it to heat, then toss in you onions and garlic to soften.  Then add your mushrooms and allow to brown slightly.  

 Then add the tomatoes and let them release their juices, lastly the Kale. 

 Allow the kale to wilt.  Meanwhile whisk the eggs, then pour them into the pan. Sprinkle with parmesan, salt and pepper to taste.

 Place it under the broiler and let it cook for a minute or so, just watch it closely, no going off to check your twitter account, stay with the frittata.  It’s done which you shake the pan and it is firm. 

 Loosen the ends to release it from the pan.  It should slide right out. 

Is it too early for Prosecco?