Monday, April 30, 2012

Truffled Mushroom Ragout

The past week has been really strange for me. I'm done writing my thesis and another paper I had to write for my internship this semester, leaving me with only my research assistant duties and actually going to said internship at the Saint Louis Art Museum. So yesterday, Sunday, I had no papers to write, no pages to edit, no journals or articles to read, nothing.

Is this what Sundays are like for normal people?

I didn't know what to do with myself. I had this whole day, wide open — something that I haven't had in, well, forever. At least not in a way that looked like it might be a consistent occurence. My thesis has filled up every little nook and cranny of my life for the past year, and now it's done and I feel like an empty-nester.

I did some laundry,  half-heartedly dusted the floors, and stood around aimlessly. Darla suggested I play fetch with her, but after ten minutes of that, I still didn't have anything else to do.

So by the time the acceptable time rolled around to make dinner, I pounced on the chance. I really need to get another hobby now that there is more time in the day.

The day Justin and I got engaged, we were on our first trip outside of Rome while studying abroad in Italy. We were in Assisi, possible the most enchanting little village on Earth. It's a town wedged in a perilously steep hillside surrounded by Tuscan countryside. It's narrow cobblestoned streets hide tiny restaurants and shops that you practically need a map to find.

After getting engaged here —

— We ate dinner in one of those itty bitty restaurants. I got truffled mushroom pasta. I'm not sure if it was the high of getting engaged or if the pasta really was that good, but it was unbelievable. I've been trying to recreate it ever since, with no success.

So I was trying, for the millionth time, to make this pasta on this lazy Sunday. It still isn't the same thing, but it's still pretty tasty.

{Printable Recipe}
1 package button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 tsp chopped black truffles (available at Whole Foods in the gourmet cheese/olive section, or online at Amazon)
pinch red pepper flakes
1 sprig thyme
1/2 lb short pasta (we used Casarecce)
2 chicken thighs, shredded


Michael Pollan says that mushrooms are symbolism for decay and rebirth due to their nature of breaking down forests and plant life so that others can flourish. Pretty deep for a fungi.

Slice the mushrooms. Saute them in a tablespoon or so of butter along with the red pepper, some salt, and the thyme.

Cook until nicely browned.
Meanwhile, boil the noodles.

Add the chicken broth to the mushrooms and let it reduce for five minutes. Add the half-and-half, chicken, and truffles. Let it simmer while the pasta is finishing up; then add the noodles and cook for an additional five minutes so that the sauce gets nice and soaked up.

Top with Parmesan.

This brings back really good memories for me. Food can do that — especially when you share it with someone you love deeply. So try to remember what you ate on a really good day, and make it for yourself and your honey when you're feeling kind of lost.

You'll feel better. Promise.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hungry Hungry Hippie Muffins

I'm typically not a health food nut. I like to eat healthy, and I like to put twists on recipes to cut out a little fat or whatever, but I don't seek out "healthy" food.

So when Justin wants bran muffins (yeuch), I will make them but generally avoid them. Until today at the gym while watching Food Network on the elliptical, I saw Giada de Laurentiis make zucchini-carrot muffins.

Hmm I thought. Healthy food tasting good?

So immediately afterward, I ran to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients, still in my stanky gym clothes. I felt pretty good about it, too, considering my basket was full of vegetables and fruit.

I tweaked Giada's recipe to make these muffins even more ridiculously healthy, for some reason. They're fat free, full of fruit and vegetables, whole grain, and flaxseed. They're almost hippie-ish — inspiring the name. Justin was a total hippie in college, too, so it makes sense.

{Printable Recipe}
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (or almond flour or rice flour)
2 tbsp ground flax seed (optional)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup applesauce
1/3 cup honey
1 egg
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 medium zucchini, shredded
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with cupcake papers and coat with non-stick cooking spray. Or you can forget the cupcake liners — doesn't really matter.

Shred the carrot and zucchini. No need to peel.

Mix up the applesauce, honey, and egg. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined. I've mentioned before that I hate sifting and measuring into separate bowls, so I didn't bother. 
They turned out just fine.

Add the raisins, zucchini and carrot. Fold it in.

Spoon the mixture into the tin. These won't puff up too much, so you can fill them pretty much to the top if you like. Bake for 20 minutes or so until a toothpick comes out clean when you give them a pokey-poke. They'll look pretty browned, but it's because of the wheat flour.



These don't taste healthy at ALL. Promise.


DIY: Things to do with leftover wine corks

Justin and I drink a lot of wine. We like to get the cheapy bottles at Trader Joe's for $3-4. Sometimes when we're feeling snazzy we'll go for the $6 ones.

What we're left with, over time, is a LOT of wine corks.

I always get these ideas to be really crafty and clever with them, and there are so many things on Pinterest that I could do, and it makes me feel much more handy than I really am.

I'm really not that crafty. The most impressive thing I've ever done in that capacity is paint our nightstands.

not bad for an amateur, right?
So instead of making bathmats or wall murals, I jazzed up an old serving tray we had laying around.

Pretty neat, huh? All I did was hot-glue the corks onto the tray, then poured Modge Podge all over it. It took a few days to dry out, and it made the room smell pungently of glue, but still, it worked!

I feel so creative, like maybe all along there was a Martha Stewart hidden inside me. 
I mean, just look at my craft.

This might be the start of something, readers.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Chicken + Parmesan-Thyme Dumplings

I love taking classic Americana recipes and putting a twist on them. Chicken pot pie with a hash brown crust, french fries with truffled aioli, and for right now, chicken and dumplings (don't worry, the others will be featured here eventually).

Today was a particularly chilly day compared to the unseasonably warm spring we've been having here in Saint Louis. A perfect day for warm soup. Chicken and dumplings is a better way to eat chicken soup, and I put a twist on it by making it with broccoli stems and Parmesan-thyme dumplings.

Broccoli stems, you ask? Why? Because they are just as delicious as the florets, hold up well in the soup, and are a part of the vegetable that we often throw away when they are perfectly edible and tasty.

This recipe for chicken and dumplings is also, incidentally, much lighter than most, because I skip the roux and heavy cream at the end.

{Printable Recipe}

For the soup:
1 roasted chicken, shredded
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1 large head broccoli, florets removed, stem peeled and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper
1/4 cup whole milk

For the dumplings (Adapted from Tyler Florence's recipe):
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp vinegar)
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
4 sprigs thyme


Chop the onion and garlic. Saute in some olive oil or bacon fat until translucent. Add salt and pepper, then white wine. Reduce by half. Add stock, bay leaf, and chicken.

For the broccoli, remove the florets. Peel the stem and chop it into little discs. Add to the soup.

Meanwhile, make the dumplings: Combine the "buttermilk" and eggs, whisk together.

Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt.

This might be messy.

So much for saving on cleanup.

Mix it up until just combined.

Add Parmesan, thyme, and pepper.  

When the soup is simmering, add the whole milk, and then heaping tablespoons of the dumpling batter. Don't crowd the surface of the soup! Let them poach partially covered for 10-15 minutes or until firm.

They might get really puffy — try not to let the whole thing explode (mine almost did)


Sunday, April 22, 2012

English Bubble & Squeak with Pan-Roasted Chicken

On Friday Justin and I went to Soulard Market for some cheap and luscious vegetables. One of the veggies we bought was white radishes. The woman selling us the goods told us offhand that some people like to use the greens rather than the actual radish root itself, and the hubby and I were both intrigued.

Never one to waste, I decided the greens might be good in a hash. With … potatoes. And spices. And maybe some cheese to top it off. This is my actual thought process.

What does that sound like? Bubble and squeak of course — a classic English dish that is homey and yummy and really fun to say, especially in an English accent. Bubble and squeak. Bubble and squeak!

Ok, I'll stop.

Basically, bubble and squeak is a hash with leftover vegetables and potato. For such a simple idea, whoever thought of the name was a genius.

So to go along with our pan roasted chicken, this is how we made the side:

{Printable Recipe}
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
2 cups radish greens (or any green you like really — turnip, kale, mustard, etc.)
2 cups arugula
1 tsp olive oil
1 egg
1/2 tablespoon salt
pinch cayenne (optional)

Chop the potatoes roughly, throw into a pot with some water, boil until soft.

Drain. Mash them up with a fork.

Wash off the greens really well. We got ours at the farmer's market so they were a bit sandy. Chop them up until they're relatively small and manageable.

Blanch the greens, drain, and dry off really well.

Mix the greens in with the potatoes. Let this cool for a few minutes before adding the egg. 
Add egg. Mix it up, add the spices.

Heat up a pan with a healthy dose of olive oil on medium heat. Add all the mixture in at once.

Cook this on medium-high heat to get it crunchy on the edges. Flip occasionally.

It won't be a big cake, but more like a hash. Darla nibbled on a bit of bubble and squeak that fell between the stove and cabinets.

By the way, with the rest of our vegetables, Justin made a huge pot of stock {click here for the recipe}.
Look at this thing:

We used it in the gravy we made for the pan roasted chicken, and in some risotto with braised rabbit
Pan roasting a chicken is pretty simple. Brown the chicken on one side in a heavy-bottomed pan, flip, and then stick it in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes for the breasts and 20-25 for the legs and thighs.

This is what I saw while trying to roast the chicken. Darla is a chicken fan.

By the way, if you ever wanted to know how to make chicken "cracklin' s," you peel the skin off the chicken breasts and fry them in some oil. This is NOT for the faint-hearted or for those of you who might be halfway concerned about your health. But they are delicious. Just sayin'.

To make a gravy to go with the chicken and bubble and squeak, melt a tablespoon of butter with the chicken drippings. Add a tablespoon of flour and 2-3 cups of chicken stock. Squeeze half a lemon in there as well. Salt and pepper if necessary.

To serve, pile the bubble and squeak on a plate. Top with the chicken and gravy.

This was incredible. The radish greens had a little bite, and the arugula complemented it splendidly.
Of course, anything with gravy on it has to be a winner.


Braised Rabbit with Asparagus Risotto

This meal screams spring, with asparagus now being in season and rabbit being reminiscent of the warming atmosphere. If you've never tried rabbit, you can get it at Soulard Market like we did. It tastes kind of like chicken, but richer and just a touch gamey. I'm not into gamey flavor though, so don't be put off by it being a wild animal. 

If the thought of eating fluffy little bunnies bothers you, just know that at least they were wild and free before the hunter got them, unlike the caged conditions that many of our domesticated animals live in.

Plus, they're delicious. And very healthy, too!

{Printable Recipe}

Ingredients for Braised Rabbit
1 rabbit, cut into large pieces
Flour, cayenne, salt, pepper
1 egg, beaten
Dash soy sauce
Dash rice wine vinegar
3 cups chicken stock
Bunch fresh thyme

Ingredients for Risotto
1 cup arborio rice
2 tbsp bacon fat (or olive oil if you're being good)
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 lemon
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Handful thin asparagus, chopped
1 sprig thyme
red pepper flakes (pinch)
1.5 tbsp butter
2-3 tbsp Parmesan cheese


For the rabbit:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

You'll probably need to cut the rabbit into large sections. Cut the legs from the rest of the body, and cut the torso into reasonable sizes.

I know, it looks kind of like alien meat. But I promise, it will look better once it's cooked.

Combine the flour, cayenne, salt and pepper. You'll need enough flour to coat the rabbit, probably a cup or two. The spices are to taste, so start out light.

Whisk the egg with a dash of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.

Dunk the rabbit pieces into the egg and then dredge in the flour.

Sear the meat in some olive oil.  

Pour in the stock and thyme. Throw it in the oven to braise for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes in the oven

For the risotto:
Saute the onion and garlic in some bacon fat (yes, we keep it in the fridge). Season with salt and red pepper flakes. Add the rice and let it toast in the pan for 5 minutes. Add thyme.

Meanwhile, heat up the stock with the lemon half.
To cook the rice, add 2 ladles of stock to the rice and stir. Let this slowly evaporate. When it's almost completely gone, add 2 more ladles of stock. You cook risotto this way, very slowly and in batches of stock. This lets the starch leech out and make the rice very creamy.

This is what it looks like when it's ready for another ladle of stock
Continuously taste the rice to check for doneness. It'll take about 25 minutes and a good 5 or 6 additions of stock. When it's very close to being done and you only have one more addition of stock to go, add the asparagus.

When it's done, turn off the heat and add the butter and Parmesan to finish it off.

Spring on a plate.


Friday, April 20, 2012

A trip to Soulard Market

On this gloomy Friday afternoon, Justin and I had plans to go hiking at Castlewood Park. Of course, the first time we make plans to do something outdoorsy in weeks gets quashed by mother nature.

So instead, we had an outing to Soulard Market.

For those of you who aren't from Saint Louis, Missouri — Soulard Market is one of the oldest open-air market still in existence in the USA. It's pretty big for a farmer's market, and is probably the only place in Saint Louis you'll find fresh rabbit.

Taking a trip to Soulard is always an adventure. For those of you who are from the area, be sure to check it out — you can save yourself buckets of money and support your local farmers.

Here's what we got for just $35:

2 chickens
1 rabbit
1 bunch celery
6 small onions
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes
1 bunch white radishes
3 jumbo carrots
3 turnips
3 heads broccoli
2 sweet potatoes
1 carton strawberries
4 heads garlic

Justin is currently make gallons of stock with the veggies and chicken carcasses. 

Stay tuned for what we do with the rabbit!


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