Monday, September 28, 2009

Lentil & Brown Rice Soup

Am I allowed to say that I served it with Bisquick biscuits?

With all this delicious chicken stock on hand, I thought it only made sense to make a soup out of it. So, I went through all my recipes and picked one of my mom's that she labeled "EASY AND DELICIOUS AND GOOD FOR YOU".  I figured, this couldn't be bad. The only catch was selling it to Brandon, who tends to be wary of exotic sounding legumes and grains, and who also favors the carnivorous side of dining. But, I thought, tough for him, he'll have to try something new.  Plus, the soup only uses pantry staples, so I didn't have to buy a single thing to make it. Thus, the recipe:

Lentil & Brown Rice Soup

3 1/2 cups chicken stock 
3/4 cup picked over, rinsed lentils
1/2 cup brown rice
1 16 oz can chopped tomatoes with juice
1 1/2 carrots, diced
1/2 chopped onion
1/2 stalk chopped celery
1 1/2 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1 small bay leaf
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

In a heavy pot, combine broth, 1.5 cups water, and all remaining ingredients except parsley and vinegar.  Bring to a boil.  Simmer, covered stirring occasionally, 45-55 minutes, or until lentils and rice are tender.  Stir in parsley, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.  Thin, if desired, with additional hot chicken broth or water.
Mmm, soup 

And that's it.  Easy, easy, easy. Brandon loved it, and kept saying how meaty tasting it was.  I told him the only meat was chicken stock, and that *gasp* it was actually healthy. Thanks, Mom :)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chicken Stock

Ta da!

So, I've been freezing chicken bones for a few months now with the thought of taking on my first batch of chicken stock.  I've seen my mom make stock probably 50 times in my life, so I wasn't too intimidated.  I called her to make sure I knew exactly how she did it, and double-checked with a recipe from The Joy of Cooking before I got started. 

Here are the ingredients I used:

Several chicken carcasses (I used about 5 or 6)
   *From what I've read, you should try not to mix raw and cooked bones.*
2 carrots, cut into large pieces
2 celery stalks, cut into large pieces
2 small turnips, cut into large pieces
1 large white onion with skin, coarsley chopped
10 black peppercorns
small handful fresh thyme 
several bay leaves

Place chicken bones in large stock pot (it's okay if they're still frozen).  Fill with just enough cold water to cover the bones. Slowly bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients.

Immediately after adding the veggies and spices

Simmer for several hours, periodically skimming fat and scum off the top. I let mine cook for 3 hours - until it tasted nice and flavorful. 

  Three hours later...

Carefully remove stock from heat and strain.  I removed the big pieces first, to make this process easier.  I don't have a chinoise, so I placed a pasta strainer on top of a fine mesh sieve and it worked just fine. 

Brandon, the lovely assistant, strains the hot stock

 Let the stock cool down a bit with the lid off the container, then cover and let chill completely in the refrigerator.  Skim off any fat that accumulates on top.  

The final product, cooling down

Once cooled, either use within a week, or freeze in individual containers, like I did. 


Monday, September 21, 2009

Fuji Apple Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I found this recipe in the October '09 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  The picture really appealed to me, which is mostly why I decided to make it.  The magazine chefs didn't frost the sides of the cakes, just the layers, and I thought it achieved a very intriguing visual effect.  Overall, the recipe wasn't too difficult; my frosting, however, just would not become the proper consistency.  It tasted great, but was pretty gooey (overworked, perhaps?), so alas, I gave up and frosted the sides.  The applesauce kept the cake nice and moist, and the apples and walnuts (which I substitued- cheaper than pecans) added a fun texture. 

So, without further ado, the recipe:

Fuji Apple Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

3 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice 
1/4 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking soda 
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon, apple brandy, or rum (optional)(I used American Honey bourbon)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 medium Fuji or Gala apples, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (or walnuts!)(about 6 oz.)

1 8-ounce package cream chees, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3 cups powdered sugar (measured, then sifted)
coarsely chopped toasted pecans (or walnuts)(for garnish)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides.  Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper round.  Whisk first seven ingredients in medium bowl.  Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in large bowl until fluffy.  Add both sugars and beat until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla, then bourbon, if desired (mixture may look curdled).  Add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions alternately with applesauce in 2 additions, beating until blended after each addition.  Stir in apples and pecans.  Divide batter between cake pans; smooth tops. 

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 40 mintues.  Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 15 minutes.  Cut around pan sides to loosen cakes.  Invert cakes onto racks; peel off parchment paper.  Place another rack atop 1 cake and invert again so that cake is rounded side up.  Repeat with second cake.  Cool completely. Can be made 1 day ahead.  Wrap each cake in plastic and store at room temperature. 

Using electric mixter, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth.  Beat in vanilla extract and pinch of salt.  Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.  

Using long serrated knife, trim off rounded tops of cakes to make level; brush off any loose crumbs.  Transfer 1 cake to platter, trimmed side up.  Drop half of frosting (about 1 1/2 cups) by spoonfuls atop cake.  Spread frosting evenly to edges of cake.  Top with second cake, trimmed side down.  Drop remaining frosting by spoonfuls onto top of cake, leaving  sides of cake plain.  Spread frosting to top edges of cake, swirling and creating peaks, if desired.  Sprinkle with nuts.  Let cake stand at room temperature 1 hour to allow frosting to set slightly.

A cross-section
The cake was still delicious and attractive.  I would like to make it again sometime with hopes of really conquering the frosting.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chapel Hill: Margaret's 21st Birthday!

 The birthday girl and me

I thought it would be appropriate to make my first post about my recent trip to Chapel Hill for my sister's 21st birthday. Every time I visit the Triangle area I'm impressed by their food scene. We enjoyed several great meals while I was in town.


We went to Bonne Soirée for Margaret's big birthday celebration dinner. It is a really traditional French restaurant in downtown Chapel Hill- no web site, no Open Table, and a handwritten menu that changes daily. It's a tiny little place, run by a husband and wife team, with the wife, Tina Vaughn, keeping up the front of house and the husband, Chip Smith, as executive chef in the back. Ms. Vaughn was extremely knowledgeable about wine, so we were happy to let her assign wine pairings for each course. Sean, who took care of us, assumed a maître d’ role- he was the only server, with a couple of server assistants to back him up.

After much debate, we decided what we wanted to order. First, we shared the Chef's Featured Terrine and the evening's Fresh Pasta selection. We thought the terrine, a traditional-style Country Pâté, was lovely. The mustards that were served with it were nicely spicy and made a great accompaniment. It was paired with a German Riesling, which offset the spiciness of the mustard and richness of the pork in a great way. The pasta was amazing. It was a little nest of angel hair pasta, with a sunny side up local egg lovingly snuggled inside, topped with a sprinkling of black truffle shavings. Oh God, it was good. I wish we could have taken pictures of the food, but we (rather gingerly) respected the restaurant's no photography rule so as not to disturb the other guests. I can't remember exactly which Italian white was paired with the pasta, but it was dry and crisp. Cut nicely through that rich yolk.

Okay, second course. Probably my favorite course of the evening. It was this gorgeous local goat cheese soufflé. I'm always curious to see different restaurants' presentations of savory soufflés. This was heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Makes me happy to think about it now. It was paired with a nice little Vouvray, which happens to be one of my favorite whites.

For entrées, Margaret chose the scallops, which were served with a summer vegetable sauté, proscuitto, and a garlic cream. I swear, the scallops took a back seat to those vegetables. There were sugar snap peas, pearl onions, and mushrooms, and they were all so perfectly crisp-tender I was in awe. Her dish was paired with a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which I thought was a really fun little wine. I think it was mostly Roussanne, which always kind of reminds me of a full-bodied Chardonnay, and it worked really well with the cream sauce. I had the lamb special, which was a duo of preparations. There was a breaded chop and some pulled, braised, shoulder, served with a fried polenta cake. I didn't really think the chop needed to be breaded, but it was still delicious and flavorful. The pairing was some sort of Grenache and Syrah blend, maybe a Côtes du Rhône.

Finally, we shared a light, creative little play on peach Jell-o for dessert. The chef suspended a half of a (poached?) peach in a peach gelatin. It was so pretty, again, I wish I had a picture I could display. It was just right after such a great meal- I don't think I could have mustered up the energy for a heavy chocolate dessert. It was paired with a sparkling dessert wine, which cut through the gelatin texture perfectly. Overall, one of the most amazing dinners I have ever had.

After an amazing birthday dinner at Bonne Soiree


After dinner, we had a cocktail at Lantern, which was the runner-up of dinner choices. I had their Hibiscus Petal, which was a concoction of Hibiscus-infused vodka, lime juice, and Thai basil. I love anything with basil in it, so I enjoyed it. Margaret had the Late Blossom, which combined Luksosowa vodka, Lillet Blanc, lychee juice, and orange flower water. She didn't really love the lychee flavor, which she had never tried before. Overall though, I really liked the bar atmosphere, which was dimly lit, with crimson walls and black bar furniture. Next time I'm in town, I'm going there for dinner.

Hibiscus Petal and Late Blossom cocktails at Lantern

Right before I left, we grabbed lunch at Allen & Son barbecue, which I have been wanting to do the last couple times I visited the area. It was kind of in the middle of nowhere, and there was a line out the door at 1:30 pm. Good sign.
Allen & Son Barbecue 
It was not the mustard-based BBQ I've grown used to here in SC, but rather, a vinegar-based sauce, which was spicy, tart, and delicious. The portions were huge and the food was cheap. The slaw was great, too- I don't like too much mayonnaise, and it was just the right amount. For dessert, the peanut butter pie was to-die-for. I will definitely go back.
Loaded BBQ plate with slaw and hushpuppies at Allen & Son
So, that about sums up the foodie highlights of my trip. I had so much fun! Happy birthday Margaret!