Thursday, January 30, 2014

Beef Stew Bourguignon

When I hear 'beef bourguignon', all I hear is Meryl Streep as Julia Child saying it with a crazy accent and voice. I'm not really sure how Julia Child actually spoke but I'm sure Meryl did her research for Julie & Julia, the movie that kicked my blog into gear (not because I want to be Julie but because I love food and now cooking). I don't think this recipe is a traditional bourguignon, but baby steps.

I found this recipe while perusing Food52, a site I came across when looking at America's Test Kitchen. There's been a lot of food following and research in my life of late, resulting in a lot of reading and salivating over the vast quantity of recipes I have now unearthed. Food52 had a tweet about their upcoming competition for the best one pot recipe. I of course, being a smass (smart-ass), responded "challenge accepted". They favorited it and I felt the gauntlet had been thrown.

The tweet that started it all
So I quickly looked into this contest and realized I had two days to make this recipe, judge it and submit my review for potential publication. 15 minutes of fame!! Since I've been on a soup kick, I wanted something that was still warming but not straight up soup. This recipe sounded like the perfect combination of stew and soup and Julia Child moments so I agreed to test it.

Beef- it's what's for dinner
Cue roommate buying my groceries while I was at work and eating dinner at 9pm on a Tuesday so I could submit comments for Wednesday night. This worked out really well since it was a one pot recipe and I'm all about not doing dishes and letting food simmer for awhile. It took a little longer than I anticipated, mostly because I'm a slow chopper and this required onions (read it, multiple), carrots, celery, chard and beef. The beef came first and I've come to accept that although they sell stew beef in cubes, the cubes are actually way too large so must be cut smaller (as most recipes recommend). I also took the liberty of cutting off some of the fattier portions of the stew beef. Much like when I'm walking through the produce section, I had this fantasy of one day walking to an old-school butchers shop and getting some quality stew beef. No offense to local grocers but this beef did not look too great. I'm no expert but it made me cringe a little bit (spoiler alert: it turned out fine but still, let's fantasize about being fancy and going to butcher shops and arguing for the best hunk of beef).

Pour half a cup of wine into the pot, pour half a cup of wine into your glass
While the beef was browning, I frantically chopped vegetables in preparation for the next phase. In my haste, I cut my thumbnail  not once but twice and avoided disaster by only cutting my nail and not my actual finger. I also took this as a sign to cut my fingernails since I could cut one twice without drawing blood.

The recipe says to reserve two tablespoons of the beef fat to cook the vegetables but since I had trimmed the fat, this was most of the juice I had at my disposal. Now comes the fun part: cooking with wine! I've never cooked with wine before and I was excited to be classy. The recipe only calls for a quarter cup of wine which left the rest of the bottle for enjoyment. One day I want to make sauces with white wine but that's probably better for the summer.

The last step! Adding some greenery to the beef bourguignon stew
Slowly but surely, the vegetables cook in the wine and additional ingredients such as fire roasted tomatoes, broth and spices are added. Since this was for a competition, I followed the ingredients to the letter. The beef is added back to the pot to finish cooking and absorb the flavors from the other ingredients. In the last twenty minutes or so, pieces of chard are added to the stew.

Chard is not something I was familiar with. It sounds more like a place in the Narnia books (because Charn is a thing in The Magician's Nephew) or Pokemon than a vegetable. So yes, I Googled what chard was and found we've passed each other many times in the grocery store. It doesn't have much flavor but I saved some for a potential salad later. Plus, the stalks are a beautiful array of fire colors (I wonder if that's why it's called chard, like charred).

The flavors bubbling together
An hour and a half later and we had Beef Stew Bourguignon, or as I dubbed it, Blizzard-Be-Gone Bourguignon. I was trying to be catchy and may have overdone it on the descriptors and alliteration in my review. But here is what I submitted:

Blizzard-Be-Gone Bourguignon

This dish is perfect for keeping warm on these frigid winter nights. With a hint of tomato soup, this hearty bourguignon combines winter vegetables and traditional beef stew to make a zesty combination that thaws the body and soul. Sauteing the vegetables in the beef fat adds extra flavor, not to mention the red wine reduction. Chopped chard is added in the final stages of cooking, providing light greenery to this traditionally heavy dish. Lastly, the Worcestershire and Tobasco sauce adds heat to this already warming dish.

And although the recipe didn't win the one pot recipe contest, it is now a community pick on and my review was published!!!! I published a review on delicious food and I'm so excited by my teeny tiny moment of fame!!

Humble brag!!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Simple Banana Bread

You know the holidays have come and gone when your pantry contains three bags of powdered sugar in various volumes and no chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are a staple in my kitchen, chocolate is like its own food group and one that has a high serving size recommendation. Growing up, my mom kept a jar of chocolate chips on the counter (and still does) because her grandmotherly neighbor in Hawaii also kept a jar of chocolate chips on the counter. And so, I have a jar containing my bags of chocolate chips in my pantry (I'm working up to the jar). Somehow, through all the baked goodies and snacking, I completely exhausted my stores of chocolate chips--because yes, there were several bags of varying types of chocolate. This made banana bread making a little boring and also a little more challenging.

There are bananas afoot!

Bananas are okay but banana bread is amazing. I think I subconsciously get tired of bananas just so I can let them go soft to force myself to make banana bread. Normally I make Joy the Baker's bourbon banana bread but I had no chocolate chips and was looking for a non-bourbon version. So I looked through some cookbooks and some websites and came across a very simple recipe for banana bread from Smitten Kitchen. I almost made them into muffins so I could more easily share with coworkers but alas, I ate all of the banana bread myself. Over the course of a week but nonetheless, all mine.

What I love about this recipe is it calls for melted butter so I don't have to try and pretend that my butter was room temperature by over-zapping it in the microwave. Melt away, my slippery friend, melt away. Also the spices used here (clove, nutmeg and cinnamon) are a favorite combination. I add these spice to just about anything fluffy and doughy like breads and pancakes for a subtle flavor enhancement. They're also very seasonally appropriate to me.

Ban and Ana

My dad has had this photograph of Ban and Ana for quite a long time and I always thought it was hilarious. Two bananas named Ban and Ana shedding their skins to spoon in bed? Hilarious. And I'm happy that it now hangs in my kitchen, I have many a Pinterest idea for what other food-related art could decorate the walls of my future dream kitchen. In this kitchen, there is also a bedazzled Kitchen Aid mixer and lots of storage space. This is my heaven.

As some of you  may know, I have a small obsession with all things British. Harry Potter, the Royals, Downton Abbey, they're all utterly fantastic to me! I justified the banana bread by making it with the express purpose of watching Downton again. I also justified buying new dessert plates by saying they were on sale and were all cities I'd visited before. I'm getting so fancy with my entertaining-ware, I have a ridiculous quantity of glasses right now.

Downton Abbey parody that I read in about 30 seconds

At any rate, when you run out of chocolate chips, quickly remedy the situation. And if that doesn't work, add some nutella. Nutella makes everything better, namely banana bread and life.

Om nom banana bread

Monday, January 20, 2014

Coconut Carrot Soup

The arctic freeze has left the building, leaving me with the desire to go see Frozen and never watch The Day After Tomorrow ever again (too real, too real). But if there's one  thing I've learned, winter isn't done for at least another two months. As such, the theme of warm foods will continue! Or at least for this post with Shutterbean's coconut carrot soup.

Fun fact: my pantry is huge, it's a walk-in closet with built in shelves and drawers. Absolutely fabulous for all the random things like food and vacuum cleaners that must live there with the microwave, coffee maker and miscellaneous cleaning supplies. My pantry was also attacked by pantry moths last year (and the year before that) and despite having just about everything in plastic boxes, little moths still managed to survive in places like cupcake wrappers (don't worry, those were thrown out). The other neat thing about my pantry is it has no heat. My house has radiator heat so no radiator, no warmth and according to my recent energy evaluation, no insulation. Which means it gets very cold in the pantry during an arctic freeze, hopefully cold enough to blast those little pantry moths away.

This grows in my landlady's garden. Yet to be identified but appears very resilient

The point is, lots of things freeze in sub-freezing temperatures such as olive oil and coconut milk. What, your olive oil didn't turn into a slushy mess? That's fortunate, clearly you are warm. At this point, broth and coconut milk are kept well-stocked in my pantry and I was intrigued to find the coconut milk partially frozen. The coconut milk separates into the liquid and cream parts and the cream part turned into a dense chalky mess. Fortunately, one of the many benefits to soup is everything gets thrown together so it didn't really matter that they were separated like that. If we were making fish curry, then I may have been concerned (but probably  not).

I made this soup last month (and apparently forgot to blog about it...) and thought it had a nice spice to it but I wanted more so for this round, I doubled the spicy sauce stuff. Boy does that pack a punch! I also used regular carrots instead of baby carrots. Usually I keep baby carrots around for hummus purposes but they really are a pain to chop for soups and stews because they're already so tiny. And then I started wondering what they do to carrots to make them baby and I decided the snowman nose carrots were a better choice moving forward.

Lots of baby carrots. Definitely easier with regular carrots

One of my favorite things about making soup is I don't have to chop the onion into oblivion. I really would like to chop onions better for stews because I just end up with chunks of onion or onion skins. However, with soup, they're all going to the same blended place so it doesn't matter! I also got a little carried away with the blending this time around so the soup came out a little frothy and light. Perhaps that was the frozen coconut milk talking, who knows!

The spice may have been a bit much so if you like spicy, I would recommend adding less than double the amount of spice but more than the recipe originally calls for. I added cilantro to my soup as a way to cool it down or at least provide my mouth a crisp break from the soup.

Now that's what I call spice

Get pumped because after soups comes stews and then chili season! The Super Bowl is almost here and that means Souper Bowl contests (yes, plural). Get pumped. And get pumped for all the guacamole and buffalo chicken dip you are going to consume. If you don't have a party together, find a bar. There is no reason to miss out on dips and chili!

The final product, in all its glory
Oh and I've gone on a spree of subscribing to food newsletters. This one provided soup recipes because I'm clearly unoriginal. Check them out!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Soup, Soup, Soup!

Baby, it's cold outside! And that's an understatement. If you live in the United States, chances are you just met the force of Hercules and the chilly temperatures that came with the first winter storm of 2014. Personally, I'm okay with snow and the fact that I got to work from home for two extra days, woooo!! But it's frigid and icy and I already learned the hard way that icy pavement is very slippery and very hard when you fall on it.
A very snuggly Kitty

Luckily, I have a home and heat and a space heater and blankets and a cat and fuzzy socks and lots of soup. So many things to keep me warm! I've become a little obsessed with soup since I received an immersion blender last year for Christmas. It made my favorite butternut squash soup go so much smoother--literally. And while butternut squash is right up there in the fall, I'm more of a grilled cheese and tomato soup kinda gal in the winter. Nothing warms my heart and soul faster than a big mug of tomato soup. Because using a spoon is right out, tomato soup is made to be slurped.

A couple weeks ago, I met the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. I had been to the restaurant in New York City before but the actor was in town as part of the American Wellness program to encourage people to stay healthy in the winter months and seek doctor's help as needed. The program originated in New York City as a way for people to contact a doctor without getting an in-person visit. I certainly don't have time to get sick or to go to a doctor randomly so I think it's a great idea! Plus, they were handing out free soup and it was quite tasty.
No soup for you!

I was a little skeptical of this recipe I found because it was in metric units and I didn't feel like converting it so I guesstimated the number of tomatoes. I waited a little long to use these tomatoes so I ended up throwing some away but the rest were sliced and spread on a cookie sheet with onion pieces and garlic. This tray of goodness was roasted in the oven at 400 (an estimate) until they appeared roasted (I waited until the tomatoes looked soft and slightly blistered).
Nice ripe tomatoes

All of the vegetables are added to the pot with vegetable broth (you could also use chicken broth) and seasonings. I opted not to add mozzarella to the soup but to make it creamier, a good hunk of cheese will add a nice thickness to the soup. But if you do opt for cheese, save some to put on top!

It's tricky to me to judge when soup is cooked enough to be pureed. With things like carrot and squash soups, the vegetables need to be soft before being blended but tomatoes are already soft, especially after roasting, so it's more of a gut feeling when everything is done. You definitely want to allow enough time for the broth to heat and the flavors to meld together. I left the soup cooking for about a half hour and let it cool a bit before blending.
Roasted vegetables, so colorful!

The soup came out a little chunkier than store-bought soup but blending for a longer amount of time would thin it out. The next time I make it, I may add some spice to it, just for a little kick. Perhaps some seracha or chili powder. In the meantime, the next soup is going to be this unique coconut carrot soup from Shutterbean. I made it once before but haven't yet added my own spin to it.
This is actually carrot soup but it should still make you hungry

I would recommend eating this soup after frolicking in the winter beauty. A quick walk, some sledding, building a snow man, freezing bubbles. All great activities that would end with a welcome dose of hot soup!

  • 4-6 ripe tomatoes (use fewer tomatoes if they are larger but you want to fill a cookie sheet)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 3 cups of vegetable broth (or chicken broth if desired)
  • One ball of mozzarella (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Cut up the tomatoes into eighths and spread on the parchment paper.
  3. Chop the onion into sections and sprinkle amongst the tomatoes.
  4. Lastly, slice the garlic cloves and sprinkle over tomatoes and onions.
  5. Gently drizzle olive oil over vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetable platter for 30 minutes or until vegetables appear soft.
  6. Combine the vegetables, broth and seasonings in a large pot. Allow mixture to stew for 30-40 minutes.
  7. If you are adding the mozzarella, thinly slice pieces and add to the soup mixture.
  8. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or in batches with a regular blender until smooth.
  9. Garnish as desired and enjoy!