Friday, December 28, 2012

Grammie does know best, sometimes.

The original recipe.
I was craving something sweet a few weeks ago, which is rare and I was sick so I didn't want to leave the house to get ingredients. Sadly, I had no eggs and very little sugar so my options were limited. I was also missing my Grammie who lives in Jersey. I haven't seen her in over a year and she's not doing so well health-wise. So naturally, I opted to make her no-bake cookies. She used to send me a care package a couple times a year in college full of these, might I add a couple more care packages a year then my mother ever sent me. Jeanne always had time to send my friends strawberry bread, but I guess my packages were just lost in the mail. And Jeanne still sends my college friends strawberry bread, twelve years later. But I digress... cookies.

Step one. Cut a hole in the box. Oh wait. Wrong thing.
These are pretty straightforward. I made a few alterations because of the lack of ingredients in my kitchen, but they stilled turned out super-delicious. The picture shows Grammie's original recipe. Here's what I did differently: Subbed butter for margarine (homie doesn't do margarine), used a hodgepodge of sugar in the raw and brown sugar to make the 2 cups sugar (I don't recommend this, mine turned out a bit soft), subbed coconut milk for evaporated milk, changing the equivalent (I just googled the substitute and google (so smart!) told me how much to use).

So basically you measure into a medium-sized pot the cocoa, butter/margarine, sugar and milk of your choice and bring it to a boil for one minute. Add the remaining ingredients - crunchy peanut butter, oats and vanilla. Stir until it loses its shine and then drop onto wax paper by the tablespoon. Let 'em cool for at least ten minutes and dig in. Then go call your grandma and tell her you love her. Send her some cookies.

No bakes. A little runny, a lot delicious.
I remember my Grammie trying to teach me so much more in the kitchen when I was kid, but 12 year-old me was such a feminist that she wanted nothing to do with the kitchen. Although it was pretty cool that I learned how to kill lobsters. Such a thrill. I got to stand on a chair and drop them into the water (so maybe I wanted to be the next Julia Child before I even knew it) I was the oldest grandchild, and the only girl so she expected me to help. I made it a point to loudly disagree and spew my limited knowledge of gender equality whenever I had the opportunity.

It's quite the paradox I find myself in these days. 34 year-old Marisa wants to kick 12 year-old Marisa's ass for not listening more, or wanting to be in the kitchen more, while 12 year-old Marisa would totally kick 34 year-old Marisa's ass for wanting to spend so much time in the kitchen, and willingly doing so. I just wish my Grammie lived closer and was cognisant enough to be with me in the kitchen so she could teach me a few more things. I'm finally ready to listen. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

I say tomato. You say tomato. We all say soup.

Tomatoes. So delicious. So versatile. I planted nine tomato plants this summer with grand visions of canning. Mother nature had other plans. It totally wasn't my gardening skills. Two plants didn't bear any fruit at all, one only gave me tomatoes with bottom rot, and two only gave me two or three tomatoes. So, not enough to can. I'll just try again next year.

Recently, my roommate came home with huge bag of perfectly ripe, gorgeous tomatoes from her grandmother's garden and told me to do something with them. I had no idea what to do with them so I've been avoiding them. So fast forward to this past Friday morning. I was moving out of my house, she was helping me load the car and managed to sneak the tomatoes into the front seat. So now, fast forward to Friday night. Furniture is in, bed is put together and I'm trying to figure out what to make for dinner with whatever we've got in the house because I was absolutely, not on your life, going back into town to go to the grocery store. I suggested tomato soup, the mister suggested grilled cheese and boom, dinner.

Now, I have never made tomato soup from scratch. I've thought about it, but that's as far as I get. So I just free-styled it, which should surprise no one. I took the tomatoes (I had 14 or so of various size), quartered them, put 'em on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzled olive oil on them and added a bit of salt and pepper. Stuck them in the over at 375 for about 40 minutes until them were nice and roasty. I also stuck half a head of garlic in a foil packet in to roast. 

So after about thirty minutes, I headed back into the kitchen to start the soup. Chopped up half a large yellow onion, a shallot, half a red pepper, a rib of celery and sauteed them all in some olive oil and butter. After about five minutes, I added some fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano from the garden and let it cook for about another five minutes. Took the tomatoes out of the oven and let them rest for a few minutes while the other stuff cooked down. I then scraped the tomatoes and garlic off the baking sheets and added them to the soup pot, adding an extra 15 oz can of crushed tomatoes with basil for good measure. After that, I also poured in some chicken stock and because I ran short on that, a bit of beef stock. It was probably four cups total, but really I just poured it in until it covered all the yummy goodness in the pot. I then stirred it all together and left it to get even yummier for about twenty minutes.

Then it got tricky. This is where you must blend everything together. Ideally, an immersion blender is great, but really, how many of us have that in our kitchens? Not this girl. So instead, I got out the blender and a couple cups at a time, scooped out the chunks and blended them up, pouring them into another bowl until everything was out of the soup pot. Then it all got dumped back in together. It worked just fine, I just hate accumulating the extra two dishes to do in this process. I may be a bit OCD about trying to use as few dishes as possible when I cook. But I digress... Once the soup is back in the pot, add some sherry. I only had about 2 tbsp. left so that's all I added. I would have liked to put in about a third of a cup. This is also where I added some half and half to make it creamy. I added just about half a cup which gave it a little extra oomph, but didn't make it crazy creamy. While this cooked for about ten minutes, I got busy making the grilled cheese. 

While this soup is a bit time consuming, it's simple and delicious. It's also just what I needed after a long day of moving on a cold, snowy day. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dinner for one.

Recently, I had a rare night alone, the roommate and the mister were both at work. It was one of those stormy nights, where you really don't want to leave the house, but you really don't want to order pizza. Because, full-disclosure, I'd already had pizza two days in a row. What can I say, sometimes I like to pretend I'm still an undergrad.

On nights such as this, I really just like to turn the music up and cook, then curl up on the couch with the dogs and watch cheesy tv (thanks, CW!). So first I whipped out a batch of one of my favorite sweet treats, Dark Chocolate Bourbon Banana Bread.

During one of my many trips to the fridge, I left the door open longer than necessary, trying to come up with a comfort-food type solution to dinner. There was leftover penne noodles, cream, frozen peas, Redneck bacon (always!) and gorgonzola in the fridge. The universe was basically telling me to make a cream sauce. Even though I love cheese like it's going out of style, I'm not a big cream sauce kinda gal. I make a white sauce once every couple of years.

Did I use a recipe? Hell no. Did it still turn out delicious? Absolutely.

The base to any white sauce, or gravy for that matter, is a roux. Roux is basically a sauce base. It's equal parts flour and fat. Sometimes I use flour and bacon fat, most of the time I use flour and butter. It's easy, and what I usually have on hand. It's just a couple of tablespoons of each, for this recipe, I used 3 tbsp of each. You must, absolutely must, whisk your roux constantly so it doesn't burn. Whisk it for a few minutes, then slowly add half-and-half, heavy whipping cream, regular old milk, whatever you have on hand. Continue to whisk as you add your dairy. I probably used 3/4 of a cup for this. Once it's in, add chopped garlic (about 1 tbsp), salt and pepper to taste and continue to whisk. I also added about 1 tsp of crushed red pepper. You want to bring it to a slow boil so it reduces (thickens) to make a nice, creamy sauce. Once it had thickened (it took about five minutes), I add about a 1/2 cup of crumbled gorgonzola and continued to whisk until it was incorporated.

Allow me to backtrack for a moment, in the same pan I made the roux in, I cooked my bacon. I chopped it up into small pieces and sauteed it until brown, scooped it out and drained it on a paper towel. I added the butter and flour for the roux directly to the same pan (without washing it) for some added flavor.

So, once the sauce had thickened, I reheated the penne and frozen peas in the microwave for about a minute. I then dumped it all in with the sauce, and dumped the bacon back in as well. I mixed it all up with a nice, big wooden spoon and let it cook together for just a few minutes.

I then unceremoniously dumped it all onto a plate, added a few pieces of crusty Le Petite baguette to mop up the sauce, and inhaled every last bite.

Quite tasty, if I do say so myself. So the next time you have no idea what do make for dinner, just look in your fridge and something delicious, just might come to you.

Friday, July 20, 2012

I long to mix something.

I miss you, friends.
My things, my wonderful kitchen things have been boxed up and living in a friend's garage for the past two months. I've been living with my parents all summer until my renters move out of my house, and while my parents have a kick-ass kitchen (what up double oven!?), it's just not the same. I long to chop things. A list of things I miss...

  • my KitchenAid Mixer. This explains itself. 
  • ball jars.
  • stainless steel mixing bowls. 
  • cookbooks. How am I surviving the summer without Nigella?
  • my favorite coffee cup. 
  • my super-fly measuring cups from Anthropology that I sometimes eat out of.
  • bacon jam.
  • spices. all my dear, sweet, sexy spices.

There are more things I miss, mostly just cooking in general and having friends over to share a meal. I've been eating out more this summer than I ever have in my life. My gentleman friend is not a big cook and his kitchen reflects that. I tried making something at his place earlier this summer and there wasn't a bowl in the place. Or a wooden spoon. I had to mix the peanut noodle salad up in the noodle pot.

My dream kitchen and I will be reunited soon. I move back into my lovely little brick house in two weeks. My garden is flourishing, I'll be canning tomatoes and making pickles in a month or so. I'm sure my gas stove and garbage disposal have missed me too. It's been two years since I've been in my cozy little home and I am beyond excited to get back. In all reality, I'll stay up all night that very first night and unpack absolutely everything. I'll probably sit on the cold tile floor and caress a cookbook or two, and perhaps my favorite wooden spoon. It might get weird. 

Regardless of all the things I miss at the moment, I've also made some pretty rad things this summer just making do. Peanut butter bacon cookies anyone?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bananas. Bourbon. Bread. Oh, and chocolate.

When it comes to bananas, I can't eat them once they have brown spots. I don't know why, it's just a thing. So I try not to buy too many bananas at once to avoid a stockpile. When they do turn brown, I simply throw 'em in the freezer to use later. Usually for banana pancakes. This time, however, I switched it up. See, I just got this delightful, wonderful, stupendous cookbook last week and in it was this delightful, wonderful, stupendous recipe that I just had to try. What's this cookbook, you ask? It's Joy the Baker. My friend Aneta turned me on to her website a while back and since that day, it's the first place I check when I want to bake something. The website is here, and you can find her cookbook on Amazon. It will rock your socks off. And what is this recipe, you ask?

It's a Chocolate Bourbon-spiked Banana Bread. And it is rad.

Here's what you need

2 c all-purpose flour (I used whole-wheat)
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1 c sugar (I used sugar in the raw)
2 large eggs
3 mashed ripe bananas (about 1.5 c)
1 t lemon juice
3T bourbon (I used Pendleton b/c it's what I had)
1 c chopped walnuts (I omitted this b/c I didn't have any on hand)
1 c semisweet chocolate chips

Here's what you do

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8x4 or 9x5 loaf pan. Set aside out of reach of dog.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each. Stop mixer, scrape down sides and add the bananas, lemon juice and bourbon. Beat until all mixed together.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat until almost incorporated. Stop mixer, remove paddle, and remove bowl from stand. Add the walnuts and chocolate, fold in with a spatula.

Spoon mixture into loaf pan. Bake for 45 min to one hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow loaf to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve with more bourbon or coffee. Or eat it standing up at the counter.

Who said I was dignified?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Last Monday night. (Take that, Katy Perry!)

My week started off poorly and I don't even know why. It just did. So I called my mom during my lunch, because that's what I do when I'm having a bad day. I confessed to eating a fun size Snickers bar at lunch. Her response, "Oh it must be bad, you don't even like chocolate." Yup, mom, it was that bad. So I skipped my Monday night meeting at work and came home early so I could blast some Ray LaMontagne, dance with the dogs, drink some wine and cook. I cook when I'm stressed. It stems from one summer when I worked on a train and was on duty seven days a week. Full disclosure, I worked for the train for something like ten summers and was their marketing director by the time I was 23. I met some of the most amazing people working for the train and still am close with a few of them. I also still have some awesome recipes from our train chefs over the years.

I lived with the CEO of my company in the summers in Sandpoint, Idaho, whom I refer to as my Fake Mom. In a previous life, she ran a catering company. And before that, lived on a ranch and fed about a million people on a daily basis. My love of cooking, in part, comes from her. We would have this terribly long day at work, come home, crack a bottle of wine, get to cooking, and just talk. Some of our best ideas for the business happened while we were grilling steaks, browning mushrooms or making hash browns. She taught me how to cut an avocado, how to grill a steak, how to caramelize onions and how not to take shit from anybody. In the kitchen or in the boardroom. It was eye-opening. And life changing. So after a long day, I like to get down in the kitchen. And so I did.

I also ended up breaking into a house that night. In a dress. In 40 mph winds. But I'll get to that part in a minute.

So I get home. Let the dogs out. Light some candles because my house smells like wet dog and I just can't stand it. Open a bottle of Elk Cove Pinot Noir, which is my favorite wine ever. Seriously, try in now. It's from the Willamette Valley and that alone makes me swoon. I decided to make a pasta dish based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. I've made this recipe so many times it's taken on a life of its' own. Basically, it's a spicy bread crumb thing that impresses every time.

The Naked Chef's Spicy Pasta


big old handful whole wheat pasta
half a baguette, food processed up into bread crumbs
fresh thyme
garlic - lots and lots, to taste
olive oil
red chili pepper flakes
one container anchovies


Basically, rip the bread up, toss it in the food processor. Pulse it until it's in crumbles. Add some olive oil in, the thyme and some of the garlic. Once it's all blitzed together. Warm about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, when it's hot, dump the bread crumb mixture in and sort of fry it until it's nice and crispy. When it's cooked, drain it on a paper towel.

Now start the pasta water - salt it, bring it to a boil, throw in the pasta and let it go for about 7-8 minutes. While this is happening, throw a bit more olive oil in the big pan you just took the bread mix out of. Add some more garlic, wait 30 seconds and dump the container of anchovies in and the red chili pepper flakes. Stir 'em around and let them dissolve. This takes a few minutes, then add the bread mix back in.

Drain the pasta, add that in the sauce pan as well. I find that using tongs really helps mixing this concoction up and serving it. Serve in shallow bowls with your favorite wine.

Now, if you are hesitant to use anchovies, don't be. They dissolve completely when you cook them in this recipe so that you are just left with the essence of the sea. That sultry, salty taste that is just so good. This is why you shouldn't salt anything in this recipe aside from the pasta water.

Still curious about the breaking and entering? I thought you might be. My friend Jackie managed to lock herself out, so of course she calls me to help her break in. Should I be upset or flattered? I think flattered. So my roommate and I grab a toolbox and a step-ladder and head over. Amanda almost gets in the front door with a credit card - I was shocked that this was a real thing. We hem and haw over how to get in, try some stuff and fail. So I call my wind farm friends in town to ask for a certain type of screwdriver to get the storm window off. I go down to the bar to grab keys/screwdriver and instead they send me back to the house with a wind farmer. He brought his beer. He too, was unsuccessful with the breaking in. So he called another guy. Who showed up with the right tools and got us in right quick. And then we went to the bar and had a beer. Because after standing in the cold for almost an hour in a wrap dress with a fierce wind, I was ready for a beer. So we had a beer, and then we came home and finished dinner, shocked that the dogs had not helped themselves to the food on the counter. It was a Leap Year miracle.

So the morale of this story? If you're stressed about something, make some cookies or some soup. You will absolutely feel better when you see a meal come together. Or eat a bit of cookie dough batter.

Bountiful Baskets.

Those of you I speak with on a regular basis know that I have serious issues with the grocery store in my town. And yes, there is only one. It's M.O. is to charge people about twice what we'd pay anywhere else. Back in September, a four-pack of Tillamook butter was six dollars. For reals. Redneck bacon is around $14 and sweet potatoes have even been near $2/pound. It is out of hand. Also, they have no sparkling water which just pisses me right off. I have to import from Costco. I can't be the only person up here who digs San Pellegrino. I was told by somebody up here last year that he only ever saw me in produce section and it's true. Everything else I buy in Whitefish or Missoula when I visit.

However, it was only true until a few weeks ago when Bountiful Baskets decided to have a site in Cut Bank. I'll explain what BB is in a few minutes, but just know that every week, the program has sold out in about 15 minutes. That's how starved this town is for fresh, affordable produce. Now I've done CSA shares before, where you get produce delivered every week and it was always amazing. The people I had the share with had this incredible cookbook all about vegetables and we would reference it every week in order to figure out how to cook some of the produce we got. So when I heard about the BB program up here, I knew I had to jump on board.

The BB program is unique in that there is no required time commitment. There are a limited number of shares each week and when they are gone, they're gone. I like that if I know I'm going to be out of town, I don't have to send someone to pick up my share or worry about produce going to waste, I can just not buy a share that week.

There's a basic basket that you get for $15 ($10 more if you prefer organic). There are also a variety of add-ons you can do every week. This week the options were honey, 9-grain bread, a citrus box, and an Asian vegetable pack. I opted for the regular basket and added the Asian pack. Why? Because the only bean sprouts I can find on the Hi-Line come in a can. That is all.

Basically, the bottom line is that you should all check out this program if you live somewhere that you might not have access to the best produce year round. The above picture is my haul from just this week. My roommate and I have so many veggies we don't know how we are going to eat them all. We got mangoes, apples, oranges, a whole pineapple, bananas (14 of them!), celery, carrots, kale, onions, garlic, cukes, lettuce, bok choy, ginger, green onions, napa cabbage, water chestnuts, snap peas, anaheim chilies, mini peppers, and who knows what else. My mind seriously went into overload with all the different things I was thinking about making.

So check out Bountiful Baskets. You can thank me later. You know, with some produce. Or bacon. I'll always accept bacon in place of cash or veggies.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Is there anything better than homemade guacamole? I think not. The only thing that could have upped the ante on this night would have been those handmade tortilla chips from Pattee Creek Market in Missoula. Those things are my crack. It's good I no longer live a few blocks away from that hypnotic place. Anywho, back to the guac.

One night a few weeks ago, my roommate and I were feeling super lazy and decided to have appetizers for dinner. We have a couple of avocados sitting around so I decided to whip up some guac to eat for dinner. Honestly I would have been happy with just that. But we threw in some hot wings and celery so we could have a "balanced" meal.

Guacamole is so easy to make, and i don't think people realize that. My roommate had never had it made from anything but the packaged seasoning, which broke my heart. And after that night, I don't think she'll make it any other way than from scratch. It's that delicious.


couple of avocados

How do you tell if they avocados are ripe, you ask? Well, gently press the outside of the avocado and if it gives just a bit, it's ready. If you buy them before they are ripe and want to use them quickly, just toss 'em in a paper bag and close it up for a day or two so they can ripen. Cut in half, cross hatch it with a knife and scoop it out with a spoon. On the half with the seed, sort of slam your knife blade into it, make sure it's secure, twist and the seed will pop out.

garlic, minced - lots and lots if you're me. just do it to taste kids.
lime or lemon juice - and if you happen to have it around, some zest
red chili pepper flakes - again, to taste
red onion - maybe a 1/4 cup, minced
cilantro, chopped - to taste, I love cilantro so I usually chop up somewhere close to a loosely-packed cup
tomato - small, deseeded, chopped

So into a large bowl toss the avocados, red onion, garlic, tomato and citrus. Using a pestal, mash it all up.

Sprinkle the red chili flakes over the top and mash it up so more, yo'. Last, but certainly not least, add the cilantro and gently mash one more time. Treat it like a lady this time, with a little finesse.

See, guacamole is easy, peesy, lemon, squeezey. It's a great item to take to a party, or when you're curled up in your jams watching tv on a Saturday night because you live in the smallest town ever and there's not much to do and the wind is blowing at 50 mph and you just don't want to leave the house. Hypothetically speaking, of course. So every once in a while, I think it's okay to just have chips and guac for dinner. Because if you have chips and guac every week, it just doesn't taste as good.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Black Bean Soup.

You may have noticed I haven't posted a recipe in a bit. I just didn't think I could top bacon jam. I considered pulling a Costanza and going out while I was on top, but I just couldn't do it. So tonight I thought I'd share with you one of my favorite soups. It comes courtesy of my college roommate Maggie and goes well with homemade cornbread. Now Maggie was (and still is, I bet) a stickler for following a recipe. I was (and no surprise, still am not) a stickler for that sort of thing. But in her honor, I will actually write explicit directions for this soup. A word to the wise, make it in the winter. I've made it only once in the summer, the summer after college to be exact. I was living with my dear friend Anne in Milwaukee, it was over 100 degrees and we didn't have AC. I don't know what I was thinking, making soup in that kind of weather. I mean, my glasses fogged up every time I stepped out of the air-conditioned bliss of my Subaru and into the muggy, humid hell that was Milwaukee. This particular time I added way too many chili flakes and I think Annie and I killed a sixer of Leinie's Red just getting through one bowl of soup each. So here is the original recipe...

Magstar's Black Bean Soup

1 link chorizo (beef or pork, both are good)
1 medium yellow onion
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (honestly, I use 6-7)
1 green pepper, chopped (I use 2)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (this girl uses 1-2 tsp)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (again 1-2, but really I just shake that shit in there until I think it looks good)
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
3 c chicken broth (I have never measured this, just pour it in until it looks good...are you sensing a theme here? Maggie must have hated cooking with me.)
2 16oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

Cook first seven ingredients for 10 minutes. Add broth and beans and cook for another 20-30 minutes on low heat. Mash beans to thicken soup if you wish. Serve it up, garnish with cilantro, sour cream/yogurt, or cheese if you wish.

So I did write the original, but added my alterations as parenthetical asides, mostly so I could use the word parenthetical. I like big words. And good food. And leaving only one space between sentences, as old copywriting habits are hard to break. I just also think it looks good. Just like I think food should usually look as good as it taste. So make it pretty when you eat. Add a cloth napkin, or a garnish, just something that makes you appreciate what you're about to eat just a little bit more. It will taste even better. Promise.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bacon Jam. For Reals.

Does it sound weird? Yes. But it tastes delicious. Trust me on this. I would never steer you wrong when it comes to bacon. Before I get into the bacon jam, please allow me to wax philosophical about bacon. It will only take a moment. It's the gateway meat. Seriously. Ask any person who used to be a vegetarian, and most likely it was bacon that lead him/her back to the dark side. For me it was a Portillo's Maxwell Street Polish Dog, but it could have been bacon. I am such a fan of bacon that my brother got me an "I heart bacon" sticker a few years ago for Christmas. It's on the ski box on my car and yes, I do feel a bit superior riding around town with it. Don't be jealous. I can get you one too. I know a guy.

But I digress... Bacon jam was not something I ever intended to make. My friend Jamie suggested I try some on a previous post, so I went and looked it up.

Instead of buying it from the place she suggested, I decided to make my own.

So I googled some recipes and picked one, ad-libbing it just a bit. It's super easy, basically you cook the bacon, carmaelize a bunch of onions, add some spices, toss it all in the slow-cooker and three hours later, dump it out and blitz it in the food processor, can it and chill it.

So easy and so delicious. And yes, I was drinking martinis while I made the bacon jam. They were delicious too. Thanks for asking.

Now, as for the jam, the original recipe I used is here. I added a few more onions and didn't really measure the brown sugar or garlic. I let it cool before I tried it...the night after I made it, I just added a dollop to some roasted sweet potatoes and I thought it was just divine. It had a bit of kick to it, thanks to the hot sauce in the recipe. But I didn't quite trust my own judgement, and knew I needed to have some other people sample it.

Luckily, I went to a G.N.A.R. party Saturday night, where the average party attendee was male and in his 30' target audience.

Sidenote, if you love skiing, you must watch G.N.A.R. now. Seriously, stop reading and go find it. It's a bad-ass ski movie. Also, I'm the best skier on the mountain. Just keep that in mind. End sidenote.

So naturally, I brought some bacon jam and had them all try it. We even put some in dough and deep-fried it. (I really love it when a bunch of people get together and just start frying shit. It's pretty rad.) This photo is pre-deep fry. And yes, we also deep-friend Kit-Kats. And M & M's. And tomato and cheese balls. Also, beer goes really well with all these things.

The jam got rave reviews all around. Not too shabby for my first batch. My roommate and I had some more on a baguette tonight, you know, just to make sure it was still okay.

It so was.

The bottom line is, make it if you like bacon. It's easy and delicious. Have it on hand to take to a party, or eat it with a spoon right out of the jar. I know I'm not the only one out there who loves bacon.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake.

Cranberries. A versatile fruit and a sexy one. They can rock savory or sweet, dried or fresh. I'll be honest, I've kind of been obsessed lately. I've always included dried cranberries in the stuffing I make at Thanksgiving, but most other times I try to use cranberries, I have failed epically. For the past few years, my mom and I have attempted to make our own cranberry sauce and every year, it's too runny and it just pisses me right off. But maybe next year will be different - so Mom, start looking for a recipe because it's your year to pick!

Now let's talk cake. I'm more of a team pie girl myself, but I love this cake because it's not too much. It's light - tasting that is - please, it's got almost two sticks of butter in it. I also like that it's not chocolate. The first time I made this, right before Christmas to take to a friend's house for dinner, it was much easier than I expected it to be. I've since made it a couple more times and it just gets easier. Reasons I love this dish: It can be done in one pan and I get to use cast iron which just makes me happy. Also, it's just plain good eats. Some days I really think I would have been a pretty bad-ass pioneer woman, cooking with the cast iron and all.

You know who else is bad-ass? Nigella Lawson, that's who. I usually just have one of her cookbooks sitting on my coffee table just to page through. My favorite Nigella cookbook for winter time is How to Be a Domestic Goddess. It has all manner of delicious recipes in it for browsing and cooking on a chilly Sunday afternoon. I make notes on the pages based on what I did differently each time, if the cooking time is off for high altitudes or if I added something that was really excellent. My pancake recipe is in the book, as is my go-to cupcake recipe. Today's recipe comes from the Christmas section, but is great all winter long.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

What You'll Need

scant 3/4 c unsalted butter (that means just barely)
1 c sugar (I like to use sugar in the raw for a bit of crunch, as it won't dissolve all the way)
heaping 3/4 c cranberries
3/4 c self-rising cake flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 large eggs
1-1 1/2 tbsp whole milk (seriously, whatever you have in the fridge)
8-inch cast-iron pan

What You'll Do

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Put the cast-iron pan on the burner and melt 1/4 c of the butter. Add 1/2 c of sugar, stir, then empty the cranberries and turn to coat in the syrupy liquid. I like to leave it on the burner for a few minutes, with the sugar in the raw it takes a wee bit longer for the sugar to get syrupy. While it's cooking down, it's time to whip out the cake.

Get your food processor out (or do it by hand if you're old school). Put the flour, salt, cinnamon, remaining sugar, 1/2 c butter and the eggs in the processor and blitz to combine. Pulse while you add enough milk down the funnel to make a batter of soft, drippy consistency. Pour it on top of the berries in the pan and put it immediately in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes or until the cake is bouncy, gold and risen and beginning to shrink back from the edges.

I like to time it so it comes out of the oven as we are sitting down for dinner so that it has a bit of time to cool and then is ready to eat just as dinner is done. After the cake has cooled a bit, put a plate on top of the pan, flip it, and lift the pan off. Sometimes it helps to run a knife around the edges of the pan before you flip.

Serve warm with ice cream. I was so excited to eat the finished cake after I flipped it that I completely failed to take a picture of it. Whoops.

Serves 6-8.

Eat it standing over the counter or eat it for breakfast. Put some nuts in with the cranberries, or don't. Do whatever makes you and your tummy happy. And get ready for next week because it's gonna be big.

Next week, we make bacon jam. That's right, bacon jam.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

One martini, two martini, floor.

Martinis. Sometimes I dream about them, the dirtier, the better. And sometimes when I order them in Missoula, in order to pinpoint the exact amount of dirtiness I'm looking for, I'll ask for it Iron Horse dirty, not quite Stockman's dirty. For those of you non-Missoulians, that's like asking for something a little more popped-collar college frat boy and a little less dark and skeezy. And don't get me wrong, dark and skeezy has its place, it's just not in my martini.

But I digress. I had a busy, terrible, no good, very bad week. School is particularly stressful at the moment, as are some other decisions that I'm trying to make. I also work three nights a week at a local pizza joint and we are so busy these days and short-staffed that I am plum run off my feet some days. So when Thursday night came around, I was in no mood to cook, nor was I in any mood to go to the grocery store or get take-out. Take-out in these parts involves driving 25 minutes (each way!) for Chinese or getting pizza at the place I work. And really, I smell like pizza enough that I don't want to go there on my night off. So I was left to create something delicious out of what was already in my kitchen. I failed, sort-of.

Allow me to explain, I was tired and willing to put zero effort into dinner so I ended up standing over the counter, dunking cooked chicken and lettuce into blue cheese dressing. Please don't think less of me. It was a dark moment. But it was pretty tasty. And here's the thing, I have a thing for blue cheese dressing. I tend to not buy it much because I like it so much, it turns out blue cheese dressing isn't so healthy. But I figure I eat darn healthy 90% of the time, so I can buy a jar of my favorite Lighthouse blue cheese dressing every once in a while. And let's be honest, it doesn't last very long on the occasion that I do buy it. While I was eating this delicious, pre-cooked tandoori seasoned (thanks, JJ and Megan!) chicken, I was also drinking martinis. It was that kind of night. I may have had one too many. I hadn't had a martini in a while and had forgotten how potent they could be. Whoops.

My point is, I cook all the time and so I think it's completely okay to not cook, at all, every once in a while. Do I still prefer a hearty, homemade dinner? You bet. But sometimes I prefer a dirty martini and a good laugh while watching Bridesmaids. And that's okay.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stock this, yo.

Stock. I usually make my own when it comes to poultry, but when it comes to meat, I leave it to the professionals. The problem is, I never need massive quantities of stock, so what to do with the rest of the box?

Freeze it! I have four ice cube trays and only one of them is being used for ice. The others are being used for turkey, chicken and beef stock. Here's the deal, if you have some leftover stock/broth after you make a recipe and you know you're not going to use it for at least a week you need to freeze that shit. Stat. Pour it in an ice cube tray and then you can use the cubes as you see fit for the foreseeable future. Mix and match, do stock shooters, just don't let it go to waste! Stock is cooking gold! Just trust me on this one. It will enhance flavors and enhance your life.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A savory treat.

What better to do on an unexpected day off than catch up on my hulu and have a delicious treat? Perhaps a nap, but I'm not really a napper. Now, hear me out on this before you wrinkle your nose. Take some vanilla bean ice cream, Tillimook is my prefered brand, unless I am in Missoula and can get my hands on some Big Dipper. Add a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Savory and sweet and will blow your skirt right up.

Today no water, tomorrow predicted 90 mph winds, and hopefully a solar light show...what else does this Hi-Line hold for us mere mortals this week?

Perhaps some more delicious treats for all of us.

It's a salad!

When I say that, I say in the voice of the Greek aunt on My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding when she presents the bunt cake and says, "It's a cake!" And then I think (every time, I swear!), "Man, I can't wait until my friend Aneta gets married someday" because it will be exactly like the movie, only in Serbian. She assures me the movie line is not far off from her real life and that makes me inexplicably happy, mostly for the amount of insanely amazing Serbian food I plan on eating. But I digress...

Where was I? Oh yes, salad. Delicious winter salads. Where did I get this wonderful idea, you ask? Sunset magazine, of course. I'll be honest, it's kind of like my version of porn. I fold certain pages over, and look at them again and again until they are unreadable. Sadly, I let my subscription expire and so now I'm just forced to read back issues. However, while I was home at Christmas break, I was sick almost the entire time and I moped around my parents house reading trashy novels and drinking tea and whiskey, and of course, their Sunset magazines. I would rip pages out here and there, mostly of recipes... and if you know my mother, you know she doesn't like vegetables so I knew she'd be none the wiser to my pilfering of her Sunset pages of hearty winter salads. I've made half of them so far and every single one has been amazing.

The one I'm most in love with so far is the Farro, green olive and feta salad. It makes me swoon. I've altered it a bit, based on what's available on the range - the day I find a Meyer lemon up here I will truly be shocked. And maybe awed. So I used regular lemons. No big deal. I'll be honest, some of the best things I ever make come from having to substitute from what's on hand. I usually add a can of tuna to this recipe for some protein - just drain and add it in at the end. Also, I'm a bit obsessed with garlic-stuffed olives, so I use those from the Good Food Store and I am a bit heavy-handed with them. Just saying.

Farro, green olive and feta salad.
Serves 4-6 as a side, or 3ish as a main dish.

What you'll need

  • 1 cup farro wheat (soak in water overnight, or during the day while at work for extra-tender farro)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped Meyer lemon zest (from about 4 lemons) (I used the zest of one lemon and it was plenty)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2/3 cup crumbled sheep's-milk or other creamy feta cheese
  • 2/3 cup mild green olives
  • Preparation
  • 1. Bring 4 cups salted water to a boil and stir in farro. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook farro until just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet to cool and dry a bit, about 5 minutes.
  • 2. Whisk oil, lemon juice and zest, pepper, and parsley together in a medium bowl. Stir in feta, olives, and cooked farro.

  • This goes spectacularly well with a nice, crisp white wine. I had it with a King Estate Pinot Gris (Oregon) the other night and it was delightful. Or champagne. Everything goes with champagne.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Poached eggs and holliandaise. Otherwise known as things that scare me in the kitchen.

So today I made them both. And guess what? They were both super easy. I made the hollandaise in the blender, and if that's okay with Julia Child and Pioneer Woman, it's okay with me. Egg yolks go in the blender with a bit of salt and pepper, melt the butter on the stove and then drip it into the blender while it's blending, add a bit of lemon juice and cayenne pepper and done. Delicious. I used a bit too much lemon and cayenne the first time around and it separated a bit after I put it on the plate, but now I know for next time.

As for the poached eggs, I dug out these fantastic vintage egg cups of my mom's from the seventies. I sprayed 'em with olive oil, cracked the eggs in, put them in a saucepan of boiling water, covered it with a lid, and in about four minutes, I had perfectly poached eggs.

I poured the sauce over roasted potatoes, bacon and brussels sprouts and then topped it all with the eggs. So good.

Here is the recipe from the Pioneer Woman's website for the hollandaise. It will blow your mind.

Not your mom's meatloaf. Unless you're Brian Joos.

It's been below zero for a week and too cold in the house to type. So now that it's "warm" I have a few recipes to catch up on. First up, meatloaf. I find meatloaf can be an incredible comfort food if made correctly. Now I grew up in a house where my dad made the meatloaf, and I love you Dave, but the meatloaf was part of the reason I chose not to eat red meat for about seven years (it mostly had to do with pot roast). It was pretty basic, ground beef, egg, oatmeal, ketchup, salt and pepper. It's exactly how his mother still makes it too.

But then I was in Pittsburgh visiting my friends Brian and Mariah for something. Who knows, I was there so much I finally just moved there. So we go over to Brian's parents for dinner and I find out we are having meatloaf. I decided I'll just be really good at pushing my food around on the plate. And then I take my first bite. And then I decide that Irene Joos has changed my life with her meatloaf. I ask for the recipe. She tells it to me in exchange for a napkin folding lesson. Back-off, I have a book on it. You have weird hobbies too. And so my meatloaf is a version of Irene's, it varies every time I make, considering what I have on hand. The key is to use three different meats. Seriously. It can be bison, emu, pork, veal, beef, turkey, you name it - just mix it up. Oh, and bacon, the gateway meat. I always add it for no reason other than it's bacon.

Keep in mind, I don't really measure when I cook (baking is a different story). I try to use what I already have in the fridge so it varies a bit every time.

Irene's Meatloaf

3 lbs (ish) of ground bison, pork and veal.
2 eggs
1 handful oatmeal
2 slices (or equivalent) breadcrumbs /bread
1/2 c chopped parsley
handful fresh herbs
1/4 c ketchup (just for you, Dave!)
2 oz bacon, chopped (Redneck Bits and Pieces are rad)
handful grated parm
2 tbsp ground mustard
salt and pepper
Worcestershire sauce
red wine

An hour or two before you start, tear up your bread slices and toss them in a shallow pan, cover them with milk and let them sit. I used the end of a baguette I had in the freezer and two slices of wheat bread and covered them with half-and-half.

When you're ready to start cooking for reals, pre-heat your oven to 350/375, depending on where you live. In a large bowl dump all three of your meats in, and add the rest of the ingredients, minus the wine. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Just a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce will do, in this case, that's all I had left in the bottle.

If your wine bottle isn't already open do it now. Pour yourself a glass, wash and dry your hands, and then plunge them into the meat mix. If this grosses you out, you can use a spoon. I however, really enjoy mixing raw meat with my hands, it's quite relaxing. Try to break up the meat so it's evenly disbursed. If it's a bit dry, add a couple of gluggs of the wine, or if you don't like wine, a glugg or two of stock or broth. Once it's all good and mixed, dump the whole mess into a pan and mold it a bit so it looks pretty on top. Use a loaf pan like my dad, or whatever square/rectangular pan you have on hand. Don't put ketchup on top, that's like putting ketchup on a hot dog. Just wrong. You can lay slices of bacon over the top, I'll allow anything that involves bacon.

I have one rack in my oven, so I just put a large piece of foil under my pan to catch any leaks. You can do this or stick the pan on a baking sheet, or place a baking sheet on the rack underneath. Or you can live on the edge and not try to catch any drips. Put the pan in the oven, set the timer for 45 minutes. Check it, put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes or so. When it's ready, let it rest for a few minutes.

While the meatloaf is in the oven, prepare whatever else you are having. I made mashed root vegetable with goat cheese and some sauteed swiss chard with garlic. For the mashed root veg, take some sweet potatoes, yukon golds and some turnips, chop 'em up and put 'em in a big pot of salted water. Bring to a boil, cook until tender, drain. Put them back in the same pot, add a stick of butter, some minced garlic, and a log of goat cheese. Mash together. For the swiss chard, trim and cut the veg, warm up some olive oil in a pan, add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic for 30 seconds, add the swiss chard, cook for just a few minutes and at the very end, put a couple of shakes of balsamic vinegar over the top. So good.

I also made mushroom Guinness gravy to go with the mashed veg and meat. If you've ever eaten at Sean Kelly's in Missoula, you know the gravy I'm talking about. It's gravy I want to take a bath in. Or drink by itself. It's that good. And lucky for me, I have a friend who is a chef there and he hooked me up with the recipe. So easy it's silly. Take a packet of brown gravy mix, prepare according to directions, except substitute 1/2 c Guinness for 1/2 c of the water, add some chopped fresh rosemary (dried will do in a pinch) and some pepper. Pour over the meatloaf and enjoy.

Everything comes together at the end, and really it's just a great combination of flavors. The numbers I've given make enough food for 6-8. I had three people over for dinner Sunday night and still had leftovers for a few days.

So the next time it's -30 where you live, this is a great meal to make. It fills you up and the leftovers are delicious. And why cook for just yourself when you can cook for a crowd?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Five degrees is a heat-wave.

It's five degrees outside. That's as warm as it will get for the next four days. So I'll be doing some cooking. Lots and lots of cooking. And having good friends over to share it with. I make them bring wine. It's the only way to stay warm in my neck of the woods some days. On tonight's menu: Meatloaf, Mashed Root Vegetables with Goat Cheese, Sautaed Swiss Chard, and a Cranberry Upside Down Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream for dessert.

I'll post recipes and pictures of what I make, most things are totally from scratch, some are recipes I get out of books (mostly Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson), but often times I just make stuff up in my head and see how it goes. Measuring is not my strong point, but I'll do my best to set you straight.

This blog has been a long-time coming, after many, many requests from friends and family and what I cook, how I do it and what life is like up here on the hi-line. Try one recipe, try them all... or try to imagine living life on the hi-line. I dare you.