Saturday, August 25, 2012


August is corn-on-the-cob season in Colorado, where Ben and I grew up.  We always loved the luscious sweet corn that the famers raised in our little Western Colorado town, but after we left for Texas, that area became famous for their sweet corn.  Marketed as "Olathe Sweet Corn" or "Mountain Fresh", this super sweet, tender-kerneled stuff is popular all over now-- even as far away as Texas.  What a sentimental surprise it was one hot August day when I saw "Olathe Sweet Corn" on display at our local grocery store!  Now, every year about this time, it comes in for just a very few days, and I make my purchase very smugly because well, I actually know what I'm buying :)  Of course, I can't help but smile at the teasing I would be getting "back home" if they knew I was paying about 33 cents per ear when, even in 2012, the going price at the height of the season is 10 ears for a dollar at roadside stands and not much more in the grocery stores.  Well, they have to truck it a long way!  So much for "going local", but I consider this a necessary exception!
Mostly, this corn, or any fresh corn on the cob, deserves to just be enjoyed "straight", ie, boiled or roasted and buttered.  But I'd been thinking of this idea for awhile and had to try it-- bacon wrapped corn, slow-roasted in the oven!  It sounded good in theory-- it's bacon and corn for gosh sakes!  Anyway, so I tried it with this year's corny treasure and it was good!!!  The bacon basted the corn in yumminess as it slowly crisped in the oven and the corn cooked up tender, sweet, and slightly smokey.  Plus, the recipe is super easy!  The only thing to know is that it takes a long time to cook.  You want to roast the corn slowly so that it cooks properly without becoming parched corn, and the bacon needs to get good and crisp.  Anyway, here's the "recipe" if you can call it that!  It was delicious with the fresh Colorado corn, but I think this method could be used successfully with any corn on the cob-- even frozen (thawed out a little)!  I guess bacon really does make everything better!


Fresh ears of corn on the cob
Two or three strips of bacon per ear of corn
butter, softened
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F.  You need a sheet pan and wire baking rack.
Husk the corn and remove the silky strings.  Rinse the corn and dry them well with paper towels.  Rub each cob lightly with some butter, then sprinkle with pepper lightly. 
Wrap bacon around the cobs, securing here and there with toothpicks.  Leave a little space between the wraps, but not too much.  As the bacon cooks and shrinks, more corn will be exposed.
Place on the baking rack.  Bake 45-60 minutes, turning the cobs over once in awhile with tongs.  The corn should be tender and the bacon crisp when they are done. 
Serve immediately-- Yay!
Note:  For us, the bacon and bit of butter added enough salt, but it can be added to taste, of course!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Last Minute Birthday Dinner!

I made some tea and sat in front of my computer Wednesday, logging on to take a leisurely look at any e-mails.  When the "Google" page came up, I saw it-- the charming cartoon drawing of Julia Child.  Oh, my gosh!  It was Julia Child's 100th birthday, and I was caught completely unprepared!  Every year, we have some family fun honoring this spirited lady that made good home cooking popular.  I usually make something from her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", either volumes 1 or 2.  But this was her 100th birthday!  Something special was in order and I hadn't even begun to think about it!
Well, certainly, this would not have intimidated Julia Child, so I knew I couldn't just "let it go this year".  I got the cookbooks out and went to work.
     There wasn't time for any long cooking, multi-stepped recipes like her famous "Boeuf a la Bourguignonne", plus, it was August in Texas, so that didn't seem quite right.  Julia was one of the first American advocates of eating seasonally and "going local"!  After some contemplation, I decided on "Tournedos Sautes aux Champignons", or steak with mushroom Madeira sauce (sounds more delicious in French though!).  Besides fitting the time crunch, Julia had added her menu suggestions for the accompanying dishes and the wine.  Yay!  I decided to completely "re-enact"  pg. 297 of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol.1".  Her menu:

Tournedos Sautes aux Champignons
Tomates Grillees au Four (Whole Baked Tomatoes)
Fonds D'Artichauts au Berre (Sauteed Artichoke Bottoms)
Pommes de Terre Parisiennes (Sauteed Potato Balls)
Peches Cardinal (Compote of Fresh Peaches with Raspberry Puree)

A red Bordeaux from the Medoc district

I added a baguette and some sable cookies (French butter cookies) from the local bakery and a super simple green salad with a quick vinaigrette of just olive oil, Dijon mustard, wine vinegar and salt and pepper. 
     In French, this menu sounds very fancy and complicated, but the actual execution wasn't hard at all!  Yes, tournedos (filet steaks) are expensive, but the good news is that because there is essentially no waste on these cuts, a small amount goes a long way, especially when paired with a tasty sauce.  The dessert was nothing more than some poached nectarines (peaches didn't look good at the store) in a puree of sweetened frozen raspberries.  I wasn't very happy with my own version of this dish because even after poaching, the nectarines weren't as luscious as I'd hoped.  Still, it was pretty, reasonably healthy and an excuse to eat the butter cookies!  The tomatoes literally took 10 minutes in the oven, and the artichokes were canned ones made delicious by a quick saute in butter and herbs.  The potato balls were scooped out with a melon baller and browned up in no time in a skillet.  Placed on a big platter, these all made a nice presentation for the table.  It all had a kind of fun "60's" vibe to it also-- like something people might have served in their homes right after her book became wildly popular.

So, all the recipes are in Julia's cookbook, but I'm including the steak recipe here.  You'll be surprised how quickly it all comes together and how yummy it is!  Take the time to make the sauteed bread.  The steaks are placed on them, and they become very delicious with the sauce and natural juices from the meat.
You may not be in the mood to make everything, but it seemed like Julia was a pragmatist when it came to cooking.  It's fun to make one small dish and serve it up with it's fancy French name, a sprinkling of parsley and flair!  Bon Anniversaire, Julia!

Tournedos Sautes aux Champignons
From "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. I"

6 crustless rounds of white bread
3-4 Tbl. clarified butter (I just used regular butter-- no time for clarifying!)

1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbl. butter
1Tbl. oil
2 Tbl. minced shallots
salt and pepper

6 small filet steaks, about 1-inch thick each
2 Tbl. butter
1 Tbl. oil
salt and pepper
heavy skillet

1/2 cup beef broth (even Julia mentions canned!)
1 Tbl. tomato paste
1/4 cup Madeira mixed with 1/2 Tbl. cornstarch
2 Tbl. minced parsley

Saute the bread rounds in the butter until they are browned on each side.  Remove to another container and wipe out the skillet. 

Saute the mushrooms with the shallots in the butter and oil until they are cooked through and any moisture is evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper and remove to another container.

Dry the steaks well with paper towels.  Add the 2 Tbl. butter and 1 Tbl. oil to the skillet and saute the steaks over medium high heat, about 3 minutes per side for medium rare.  They should feel the slightest resistance when pressed with your finger, or cook to 125-130F.  The steaks will keep cooking while you prepare the sauce, so don't overcook them.  Set them aside on a plate and cover loosely with foil while you prepare the sauce.  Pour out any accumulated fat from the skillet.

Add the beef broth and tomato paste to the skillet and stir over medium heat to bring up the browned bits.  Boil until the liquid is reduced to around 3 tablespoons.  Pour in the Madeira mixture, stirring until thickened.  Add the sauteed mushrooms and simmer for a minute or two.  Taste and correct the seasoning. 

Place the bread rounds on a serving platter.  Cover each one with a steak.  Pour the sauce over and sprinkle with minced parsley.

Bon appetit!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Better with Browned Butter!

You might have noticed by now that I really enjoy recipes that use simple, ordinary ingredients, but produce extra ordinary results.  There are practical reasons for this such as time:  no running to the grocery store for unusual items, and money:  no paying at the grocery store for unusual items!  Mostly though, I like these types of recipes because of their inherent creative factor.  The success of these types of recipes commonly hinges on a certain innovative procedure or a way of handling a key ingredient. 
This cookie recipe is another example of this type of cooking.  It uses ingredients that most of us always have around:  flour, brown sugar, eggs, etc.  BUT the delicious factor in these cookies is BROWNED BUTTER!!  Do you know about the magic of BROWNED BUTTER?  It's "just" butter that has been heated on the stove until the milk solids have become, well, BROWNED!  But if you've ever done this you know that this procedure transforms an already yummy substance into a complex flavored, fragrant thing of delicious-ness!  As an ingredient to baking, it provides a rich, kind of toffee-like, nutty flavor to frostings, cake batters, and cookies.  BROWNED BUTTER takes pecan pie to another level!  BROWNED BUTTER is not just for baking though.  Have you ever eaten Trout Almondine?  If you have, that lovely, rich, nutty flavor is not just due to the almonds; it's mostly the, you guessed it, BROWNED BUTTER! 
Well, anyway, you get the idea.  If you want to try BROWNED BUTTER in a baked product that doesn't already call for it, adding melted butter will change it a little.  Usually, it makes things moister and chewier, so take that into consideration if you decide to get creative with a conventional recipe.  There are lots of recipes designed to use BROWNED BUTTER though-- and I have yet to try one that isn't wonderful!  This cookie recipe is from "Cook's Illustrated", which is a magazine I really enjoy.  I changed the procedure just a bit, but I think you'll be singing the praises of BROWNED BUTTER with me if you try them!
1.75 sticks (14 Tbl.) unsalted butter
2 cups packed light or dark brown sugar (origianl recipe calls for dark brown-- but both are yummy!)
1/4 cup white sugar
2 cups + 2 Tbl. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbl. vanilla extract
Put 10 Tbl. of the butter in a small saucepan.  Allow it to melt, then stir over medium heat until the butter gets golden brown and fragrant.  This takes about 3 minutes, but don't get impatient and use high heat because the butter solids burn easily.  Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl and drop in the rest of the butter to melt.  Allow this to cool at least 15 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350F.  Mix the white sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a shallow bowl with a fork and set aside.  Line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper.
Add the remaining 1.75 cups brown sugar and the salt to the butter and mix well.  Add the eggs, and vanilla and mix well, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.  Mix until incorporated, but don't overmix.
Form the dough into about 1 inch balls (or scoop out with a dough scoop--1 Tbl. size) and roll in the brown/white sugar mixture.  Place them on the cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. 
Bake for 10-12 minutes.  If you press a cookie off-center and it doesn't feel super squishy, the cookies are done.  Let them cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely-- but definitely "sample" them warm :)
Makes about 3 dozen cookies. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tomato Cobbler-- More fun with Guest Posts!

Yay!  I have another guest post to share on the blog!  This time, my "niece" (I've known her since before she and her twin sister were born!), Olivia, is sharing her latest cooking adventure from Delaware, where she's completing an interesting marine biology internship.  Between her field work, data crunching and compiling, Olivia has discovered the wonderful New England Farmer's Markets available to her now.  You'll see from her post that they've inspired some tasty kitchen creativity!

Firstly, I’d like to thank my auntie for inviting me to write a guest post. She’s one of the best chefs I know, and I hope that my recipe can live up to the high standards I’m sure you’re accustomed to!

Secondly, I’d like to confess that I am in love. I know I don’t really even know you, but I feel it’s necessary to share that I am smitten…by summer tomatoes. They’re just so sweet and tasty, and what’s more, they come in a multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors. What’s not to adore? If you’re just as crazy about summertime tomatoes as I am, then you will find this recipe truly does them justice.  

And so, I present to you…(drumroll, please)…the tasty Tomato Cobbler! “What’s that?” you might ask, aghast at the prospects of your precious cherries and green zebras being turned into a dreadful dessert. Let me assure you, though, that this is not something out of your mushy casserole nightmares. The fluffy, crumbly biscuits are a perfect accompaniment to the sweetly roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions. If you’re still wavering, I’m sure you’ll be convinced when you see the cute little tomatoes happily bubbling away beneath the savory, biscuity topping. D’lish!

Tomato Cobbler
(adapted from the ingenious Lottie and Doof)            
Note:  The original recipe suggests using 2.5-3 lbs of cherry tomatoes and baking it in a 2-quart baking dish that’s 2 inches deep. Of course, as the tomato lover that I am, I ended up using something closer to 3.5 lbs of tomatoes, and I had to use a 3 Qt. baking dish (9” x 13”). I’ll let you decide how much to make, but either way, I don’t think you be disappointed. Serves 6 hungry colleges students when served with a big side salad.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3.5 lbs tomatoes (I liked mixing and matching different types for a bit of variety and color. If you use bigger ones, slice them thinly. Little ones can just go in whole.)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Biscuit topping:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (2 1/4 ounces), plus 1 Tbsp, for sprinkling
1.5 cups heavy cream, plus 1 Tbsp more for brushing

For the tomato filling: In a large pot or high-sided skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and rosemary, and cook until caramelized (around 25 min), stirring occasionally. While the onions are cooking away, you can start the dough, just see below! Then add the garlic to the pot o’ onions, and cook for around 3 minutes. Don’t let it burn! Let the mixture cool for a bit until you finish getting the biscuit topping ready. Gently toss the onion mixture, tomatoes, flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and some pepper. Preheat oven to 375°F. 

For the biscuit topping: Mix together flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Using your fingers, add the butter until small clumps form. (Alternatively, you can use a pastry cutter, but where’s the fun in that?) Stir in the cheese, then add the cream, mixing well until the dough forms. It’ll be sticky, so I suggest mixing with one hand and holding the bowl with the other. 

Transfer the tomato mixture to a 3-quart baking dish. Spoon 6 clumps of biscuit dough (about 1/2 cup each) on top, and brush the dough with the cream. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of cheese. Bake until tomatoes are bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown, about 50-60 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before devouring.


Saturday, August 4, 2012


We had a fun day in Austin!  Have you ever heard of "Frankenbike"?  Well, it's a kind of "flea market" for cyclists that is held all over the USA at different times of the month.  They sell all sorts of bike items and crazy bikes crafted of various parts-- hence the name "Frankenbike". Anyway, Ben's been looking for some kind of bicycle part, so we visited this gathering last week.  It's quite a mix of interesting people as you can imagine, but I'm always up for a trip to the Texas capital!  Actually, it was really fun, and I was the one that found something there:  some incredibly "cool" little black dice that are caps for the bike tires!  Ha! 
One thing I enjoyed while in Austin was finally visiting the Phoenicia Bakery and Deli on Lamar Street.  It's been there for MANY years, but for some reason, everytime I've been in the area, it's been on a Sunday and they've been closed.  I'd always heard they made the best pita bread, so I was excited to get to try some!  This small bakery is also a grocery store that has a lot of Middle Eastern specialty items.  I'm not familiar with this cuisine at all, so it was an education to look on the shelves at the exotic offerings.  I'm the most geographical illiterate there is, so I looked up Phoenicia and found out it was centered in what is now Lebanon.  Huh.
So, what to do with my package of pitas?  As I said, I don't know a lot about Middle Eastern cuisine, but I have had the Greek pitas, so I decided to try to make something SORT OF like that.  SORT OF is key here, because these pitas were a total invention!  I used small pork cutlets, which I think right there might be heresy! The traditional yogurt sauce has dill, but I don't have that in the garden, so I used basil.  It was a kind of crazy conglomeration of stuff, but, these "Franken-Pitas" were very tasty, and if you're ever in Austin, Phoenicia Bakery pita bread is delicious!

"Franken-Pitas" (makes 2)
2 small pork cutlets
salt and pepper
1 Tbl. olive oil
one tomato, sliced
a few slices of red onion
2 large pita breads
1 very small cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, and diced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin strips
1 clove garlic, minced very finely
salt and pepper
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

First make the sauce by combining all the ingredients together in a bowl.  Set aside for the flavors to blend while you cook the cutlets.

Salt and pepper the pork cutlets and coat them with a light dusting of flour.  In a non-stick pan, saute them in olive oil.  Turn once to brown each side.  They cook very quickly; it takes only a few minutes per side, but make sure they are cooked through.  Slice each cutlet into two or three strips.

Put the pita bread in a 200F oven,  just to warm them.  It takes about 3-4 minutes. 

Place the strips of pork on one side of the warm pita bread.  Add the tomato and red onion and a generous serving of the cucumber sauce.  Serve right away!