Thursday, December 13, 2012

What did we eat this week? It's been cold, seasonably cold, so the wood is stacked and ready to go in the stove, and the oven has been doing its thing. Although I didn't make the gingerbread house below (it was from my son's preschool class--each kid got their own house to decorate!), I did suddenly decide to make fruitcake after decanting some boozy cherries. Usually I forget about my fruit in booze, sitting and steeping in the basement, which is just fine for the booze, but the fruit suffers. After about two or three months, the fruit will go from boozy delight to shriveled and desiccated, depending on the fruit. I caught these cherries in time, and once the brandy was free --gorgeously red and full of cherry and almond flavors--I pitted the soaked cherries and thought: fruitcake. I also used some local, and home-dried apricots and prunes. At the moment the cake is being basted with cherry pit liqueur. I can't wait 'til Christmas!

Home dried prunes. 
I used the first recipe I saw, this Free Range Fruitcake from Alton Brown. Yeah, yeah, I know Food Network whatever, but it was a very honest and easy recipe. Speaking of bashing things, people are over their weirdness about fruitcake, right? Because fruitcake is really very special. Especially with brandy soaked cherries. And all local fruit. If I don't say so myself. But it's still special even if it's not all local fruit, for goodness sakes! Make some fruitcake! I liked using a round spring form pan for mine, instead of a loaf. Someone made a suggestion that I eat it for breakfast with mascarpone on it. That sounded like a good idea to me.
The fruitcake.

The other night we had braised short ribs followed by apple pie for desert. The short ribs were gifted to me from a friend--do my people know me or what? Grass-fed local beef, big huge blocks of meaty short ribs. My quandary: no red wine in the house (gasp!), which if you do a search on short ribs you will see that few recipes don't ask for at least a bit of red wine. The two just go together. No worries though, I'm not big on requirements. The ribs came together nicely with red wine vinegar and red wine syrup--two homemade things in my pantry. I also added tomato paste and very reduced pork stock, both of which were frozen in cubes, handy in the freezer. The ribs cooked, after browning in cast iron over a flame, in a slow cooker for about six hours on high. They were perfect when I came home, and we had them on mashed potatoes. (It looks like I'm not the only one with these kinds of ideas: Michael's beef stew sounds perfect, though I think I'd really like to make his rouladen recipe.)

Apple pie with leaf lard crust.
We had this apple pie for dessert, and it was made with leaf lard using this recipe. I have decided that the best leaf lard pie has four ounces of leaf lard in it. Any more, as in this case there were equal parts butter and lard, the finished product in my case was crumby, fell apart easily, much like a soft shortbread. Still we ate it all up!

Bananas with chopped cashew-date-cocoa truffles.
Yes, lots of baking this week. This is the beginnings of the banana bread recipe from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. It's an incredible recipe, especially if you happen to have four very ripe bananas hanging around. You can see the recipe here (pretty much exact same ingredients). I chose to put mine in a cake tin (and nested it in another cake tin, as Laurel suggests to keep it from burning at the edges). I also added chopped up cashew-date-cocoa truffles instead of nuts. This took it to a really stellar level, I might add. Plus a thick layer of crunchy sugar on top, that I'm pretty sure took this quite away from the healthy bread that Laurel intended. But I'm okay with that.

Laurel's Bread Book Banana Bread

Friday, December 7, 2012

Soup Season

A rich broth with udon and pork.

Eat more soup! When the cold weather comes around my house, soup season begins. It's, in most cases, the quickest, cheapest, and healthiest thing for breakfast, lunch or and/or dinner.

The soup above came about from some extreme frugality. A bag of bones came with my half-pig order. Because the freezer was so full, I immediately made some stock from the meaty bones. I roasted the bones until browned, picked the meat off them, and then made the stock with the bones. With two large quart containers of wiggly stock in the fridge and a pint of picked roasted meat, I was armored against the new war on winter. One night, craving a pho-ish kind of dish, I poured one of the quarts into my soup pot, and added a good pour of tamari, and some fish sauce. No spices, instead, once boiling I threw in some sliced scallions and dried udon noodles. While this was happening, the shredded leftover meat sizzled in a hot cast iron pan, making it crispy and chewy. A bowl, some broth and noodles, topped with that sticky meat: and it was just what was needed for dinner. Taking all of fifteen minutes. Soup!!

Roasted butternut and celery root soup, with savory bread pudding.
Then, there's this one: a soup that turned into a meal, and then the meal turned back into the soup. A full circle, if you will. Roasted celeriac and butternut squash, pureed and married to turkey stock (I'm pretty sure there wasn't even an onion in this) turned into a velvety soup topped with rosemary olive oil. (Here's my plug for a Vitamix: I love immersion blenders, to be sure, but it really has nothing on the velvet-making power of the Vitamix.)

The next day, I had a leftover baguette (which always makes me happy--I buy more than I need because the benefits of day old bread are many) that I wanted to make into a savory bread pudding. I used the leftover soup, buttermilk, some cheese and eggs--the standard bread pudding mixture--and within less than an hour (that's mostly baking time) I had a main course to be served aside a salad. Seemingly healthy, but I made a warm bacon dressing for the salad. Oops.

Fish chowder.
And fish chowder. May a winter never go by without fish chowder. And to think that dark thought is not so far-fetched! Sad, but true. Aside from the fish, this is a "pantry essential dish," like many other soups. That is, you can make it with what you have in the house. An onion, bay leaf, a potato, butter and some milk. This is a traditional New England-style chowder. (Say it! Chowdah!) to be sure. There are a million variations. And we will get to them. It's only December. We have plenty of time.

p.s. I feel compelled to apologize for the shoddy pictures; when I am about to eat my concentration goes out the window!