Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Soup for the French, and the Gods

What to do with a bag of red onions? Why, those onions are just crying to become French onion soup! You would think it would be hard to make this bowl of rich and juicy onions topped in crusty gruyere. Not so. If I can do it while watching Benjamin Button, you can too. Just gather the ingredients and this dish--made possible by the Food Network's Tyler Florence, whose recipe I've duplicated below--is all yours for just a few bucks. And I must say, the flavor brings back to flashing images of Paris and my mom's beefy, juicy, brisket. Not a bad combination....



1/2 cup unsalted butter ($1)
4 onions, sliced ($2.69)
2 garlic cloves, chopped ($1)
2 bay leaves ($1.49)
2 fresh thyme sprigs (not sure how much this would cost you because I got mine from the garden)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine, about 1/2 bottle ($1.99)
3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour ($2.99)
2 quarts beef broth (I use pareve beef buillon, $3.49)
1 baguette, sliced ($1)
1/2 pound grated Gruyere ($2.49)

The Grand Total: $18.14 for about 4 servings, or $4.54 per serving

Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper and cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes.

Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir. Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn't burn, and cook for 10 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste.

Now add the beef broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

When you're ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the Gruyere and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Ladle the soup in bowls and float several of the Gruyere croutons on top.

Alternative method: Ladle the soup into bowls, top each with 2 slices of bread and top with cheese. Put the bowls into the oven to toast the bread and melt the cheese.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Flatbread with an Attitude

It's been a while since I last wrote, but good things have been in the works in my kitchen. One notable night featured a surprise visit from a couple old friends, a bottle of wine, and a survey of the ingredients available in my refrigerator. Juggling a granny smith apple, a bag of arugula, a handle of vodka--yes, a handle of vodka--and my wine glass, I served up a flatbread that was crunchy, creamy, warm, sweet and tart all at once. Thanks to this great flatbread recipe from The Meaning of Pie and a bit of creativity, dinner was served.



For the crust:
2 teaspoons vodka ($2.99)
Half an egg (scramble it and eye-ball it) ($0.12)
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour, sifted ($2.99)
1/8 teaspoon baking powder ($1.39)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened ($1)
2 Tablespoons olive oil (for batter)
2 Tablespoons olive oil (for the skillet)
½ cup water
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the topping:
About 1-2 cups of gruyere cheese ($2.49)
1 granny smith apple ($0.49)
A couple handfuls of arugula ($1.99)
Balsamic vinegar ($1.99)
Optional: shaved parmesan or asiago cheese

The Grand Total: $15.45


Grate the cheese and slice the apple. Grab a baking pan or a cast iron skillet that is about 12 inches in diameter. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with the pan inside.

Meanwhile, combine the water, vodka, olive oil, and half an egg. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk them together.

Carefully remove the HOT pan from the oven. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet and spread it around with a paper towel or a spatula. Immediately pour in the batter and spread it to the edges of the pan to the extent possible using a wooden or rubber spatula. It will be cooking as you spread so just do the best you can and then let it be. Dot the batter with butter…and by that I mean put 8 or 10 little spots of butter around the pan.

Carefully return the pan to the oven for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Check it at 15 minutes to make sure it isn’t getting too browned and sprinkle the cheese on top. Assemble the granny smith apple slices on top of the cheese.

While you're waiting for the flatbread to cook, pour about 3 cups of balsamic into another sautee pan, and cook it over medium heat until it condenses to the consistency of a glaze -- about 5-10 minutes. Grate the cheese and slice the apples.

Carefully remove the pan back to the stove-top (just because it is the most heat-safe spot). With a large spatula, remove the bread to a cutting board. Place the arugula on top and drizzle with balsamic glaze. Cut into pieces and serve.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bites of (Chocolate) Heaven

For my office holiday party, we caved in to tradition and held a white elephant gift exchange. You know, the kind of gift exchange where you take turns, and each person has the option of picking a new gift from the stash, or stealing a gift from someone else... I wanted to bring something that wouldn't break my budget, while still being one of the most coveted of the bunch. I succeeded in both goals by making these delicious Frangelico dark chocolate truffles. Not only did they get stolen more than any other gift, but the recipe also made enough so that I could save the leftovers for myself. Now that's what I call success!

This recipe is originally from Baker's Royale, and I highly recommend it for all your chocolate and holiday gift needs.



1 cup heavy cream ($0.99)
1 vanilla bean, split, I used 1 teaspoon vanilla extract instead ($4.79 for a large bottle - could be free if you have it)
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped ($1.50)
1/4 cup of Frangelico liqueur ($5.99)
1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting ($1.59)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, I left this out

The Grand Total: $14.86 for about 25-30 truffles


Place heavy cream in a saucepan. Cut and split vanilla beans vertically and then scrape vanilla bean seeds into cream and then place emptied vanilla seeds in as well (or, pour in vanilla extract). Bring vanilla cream mixture to a boil. Remove sauceepan from heat and pour cream through a strainer over chopped chocolate. Remove vanilla seed and let stand for 10 seconds. Add salt (and espresso powder, if using) to mixture and gently stir until combined.  
Pour Frangelico in and stir until combined. Then cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.   

If you have a 1 inch melon baller, use it to scoop out chocolate rounds and place on parchment lined bake sheet. Make sure to clean the melon baller with warm water as you go for easy formation. If you don't have a melon baller, scoop out about a tablespoon of the chocolate and roll it between the palms of your hands to shape it into a sphere. Make sure you hands are clean between rolling for easy formation. Finsh by rolling in cocoa powder, or crushed nuts or coconut.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Do You Say Betty Homemaker in Russian?

For the past 6 months, my Russian roommate has been telling me about her mom's homemade cottage cheese. So when milk was on sale at the market, we finally got our act together and tested it out. 
As I experimented with buttermilk, cheescloth, and the creepy looking curd, I felt like some sort of mix between a scientist and an old fashioned babushka. When we were finally done curd-ing and cheescloth-ing, and I mixed my homemade cottage cheese with non-homemade jam from Trader Joe's, I had a feeling that back in the "old country" my ancestors were smiling at me. Creepy and charming all at once, I know.
Anyways, test out this recipe for homemade cottage cheese when you've got time to kill. It's an adventure in itself, and it makes something healthy and delicious the way it was made in the olden days. 

1 gallon milk, I used 1% ($3.10)
1 quart buttermilk ($1.29)
Cheesecloth ($3.79) 

The Grand Total: $8.18  for about 6 servings, or $1.36 per serving

In a crockpot, stir 1 quart of buttermilk into 1 gallon of milk. Let stand at room temperature 12 to 18 hours until set (clabbered). Cook the clabber at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes, until the whey separates from curds.

Wrap cheesecloth tightly over the top of a small bowl. Pour as much whey (liquid) as possible out of the crockpot and discard the whey. Then, place pieces of the clabber on the cheesecloth and gently push them down so that more of the liquid drains out into the bowl. Place the strained portions in a bowl and refrigerate. If you like it sweeter, add a little cream of jam.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Doughn't Mind If I Do

Pastry dough. Ain't nothin like it.... it's buttery, it's flaky, it's crunchy, it melts in your mouth. And have you ever thought of how versatile it is? It can be either savory or sweet, highly convenient if you're like me and need to have a little bit of both.

At my Thanksgiving dinner, an investment in 2 sheets of pastry dough resulted in my serving my guests 2 cups full of sea salt clad mustard batons, as well as some sweet, carmelized four-spice palmiers (delicious crunchy French cookies). I based the batons on this recipe from "Savoring Time in the Kitchen", and the palmier on this one from "Food Lover Odyssey." The leftovers--what little there were--made me a very happy snacker the following day.

Follow my lead.




For mustard batons:
1 pastry sheet ($4.89)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard ($1.79)
1 large egg ($0.20)
Sea salt and pepper
All purpose flour, for rolling out puff pastry
Parchment paper

For palmiers:
1 sheet of pastry dough (see above)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon ($1.99)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger ($1.99)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg ($1.99)
1/8 teaspoon allspice ($1.99)
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus an extra 3 tablespoons
Parchment paper

The Grand Total: $4.36 for the mustard batons, $10.41for the palmiers

For the mustard batons (from Savoring Time in the Kitchen):

Place the racks inside the oven so that the oven is divided into thirds (or, use a toaster oven). Preheat oven to 400F. Place a silicone baking mat or parchment paper on two large baking sheets.

Take one pastry sheet out of the package and keep the other refrigerated until ready to use. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it measures 12 x 16 inches, approximately, with the shortest end facing you. Find the middle and mark it lightly. On the lowest half, spread about ¼ cup of mustard, stopping about 1/8 inch from the side and bottom edges. Fold the top of the dough over the bottom. 

Mark the pastry every ¾ inch or so, then cut into strips using a pizza/pastry cutter or sharp knife.
Carefully, transfer the strips to one of the lined baking sheets (keeping about 2 inches between them since they will puff up) and chill or freeze while you work on the second sheet of puff pastry. At this point, you can freeze them on the sheets and then wrap air-tight until ready to use for up to 2 months.

 When ready to bake, beat the egg with a little cold water and brush the tops of the strips. Sprinkle them with coarsely ground pepper and sea salt. You could also use poppy or sesame seeds.
Bake for 8 minutes, rotate and transfer the sheets, then bake for another 7 to 8 minutes until golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.

For the palmiers (from Food Lover Odyssey): 
Mix together the 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.  Sprinkle a generous portion (about 3 tablespoons) of the mixture onto the sheet of puff pastry.  Starting at the outer edges, fold over 2 1/2 inches of the puff towards the center of  the sheet.  Do this on both sides.  Sprinkle the newly folded over portions with the spiced sugar mixture.
From both outer edges, fold another 2 1/2 inches over towards the center.  Do this on both sides.  At this point, the folds will meet in the center.  Sprinkle the newly folded over portions with the spiced sugar mixture. Fold the two parts together.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 410ºF and place parchment paper on two baking sheets.

Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator and slice into even slices, 3/8-1/2 inch in thickness.  Place on the baking sheet, leaving a 3-inch space between each palmier.  Sprinkle the tops of each sliced palmier, first with the spiced-sugar mixture, then again with the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Bake for 15-17 minutes until lightly golden. Cool slightly. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

We Got the Beet

Ever since my boss had to leave work in the middle of the day because she realized she left her beets roasting in the over (this happened 2-3 weeks ago), I have had an uncontrollable craving for beets. (Don't worry, her house and her beets survived this traumatic experience thanks to her babysitter's savvy.)

Naturally, when I saw a bunch of beets eyeing me from across the table at Sunday's farmer's market, I knew what I had to do. Soon enough, the beets were bumbing along in my backpack, then back resting in my vegetable drawer.

I didn't know what to do with them. I went on automatic. I roasted them. With a little olive oil and a little rosemary, the results made me a very happy customer. And when I sliced the final product and tossed them into a spinach salad with gorgonzola and candied walnuts (not pictured here, because my appetite has made it extinct), I was even happier.



Roasted Beets: 
Bunch of beets ($2)
About 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
Optional: about 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (free, from my mom's garden)

The Grand Total: $2

If you want to add spinach, gorgonzola, and candied walnuts to your list of ingredients too, be my guest!


Preheat the over to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut of the beet greens if they're attached to the beets. You can use them for another recipe, or even substitute them in a recipe that calls for chard.

Wash the beets, dry them, and put them on an oven safe pan or a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle the beets with oil: you can use as much or as little as you like. Fold the foil over the pan and crimp the sides closed. Roast them for 25-45 minutes, depending on the size of the beets.

Let them cool until you can handle them, then use your fingers or a paring knife to gently slide the skin off the beets.

Serve peeled roasted beets with a sprinkle of salt or slice and put them in a salad with creamy cheese like gorgonzola or goat cheese.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Oh My. Berry Pie (I Mean Crisp).

What is better than a hot steaming berry crisp a la mode? Well, that's what I was trying to figure out when it occurred to me: nothing. Except maybe something nutty, something streusely... something that could absolutely be combined with my berry crisp to rock my sweet toothed world. 

To be perfectly honest, when I embarked on my inspired journey to the berry promised land, I had little direction and lots of hunger. I must say, however, that with my sense of adventure (and this recipe from as my guide, I think I may have found it.

The warm flavors of tart berry, smooth and nutty macadamia nuts, buttery streusel melting with creamy vanilla ice cream on my tongue made me forget all my worries, as well as all the turkey I'd eaten just minutes earlier.... and that is a success if I've ever had one.


Serves about 10


For the topping:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour ($1.99)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar ($1.39)
1/4 cup granulated sugar ($1.99)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ($1.99)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg ($1.39)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut in 1/2″ cubes (4 sticks $2.99)
1/2 cup toasted, skinned and chopped macadamia nuts, can sub hazelnuts too ($6.99)
Optional: a pinch of ground ginger and/or allspice

For the filling:
1/4 cup granulated sugar (see above)

2 lbs fresh mixed berries e.g. Trader Joe's berry medley, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries ($7.98)
About 6 oz. fresh cranberries ($1.99)

The Grand Total: $28.70 - kind of expensive if you have to buy everything, but hopefully you have some of the ingredients already. If you want to make it even cheaper, sub a different nut for the macadamias, or leave them out altogether.


First, make the topping. You can make it up to one day in advance and refridgerate it until you're ready to make the crisp. Toast the nuts for a few minutes (I did 4 minutes in the toaster oven) at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep an eye on them; they burn quickly! While the nuts are cooling, mix the flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together in a medium bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingers until topping resembles coarse meal. Mix in the nuts.

Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.)

For the filling, slice the strawberries, but leave all the other berries whole. In a bowl, mix them all with 1/4 cup of sugar, then dump them into a glass dish -- either a round pie dish or a square/rectangular casserole dish work. Cover the filling evenly with the topping.

Bake until bubbly and golden brown on top, about 50 minutes. Remove and serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.