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.