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Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Week in Review

A view of the castle and Parliament, Budapest
I didn't post my Week in Review yesterday like I normally do because I am on vacation.  And not just any vacation, but in Europe!  We spent a few days in Budapest and took a train to Vienna yesterday.  So my Week in Review will not focus on what I've read (because I've been too busy to spend much time on the internet), but on my time in Budapest.

A night view of the castle from the Chain Bridge, Budapest
A night view of Matthias Church, Budapest
Central Market, Budapest

I don't know if you've been to Budapest, but it's a lovely city.  There is a great Central Market that sells all sorts of meats, cheeses, produce and spices.  It's also a great place to buy souvenirs.  I've been to quite a few indoor markets, and I usually feel a little claustrophobic, but this market is light and airy.  As you can see in the picture above, there's plenty of room to walk...even when the tour groups enter!

Central Market, Budapest
Peppers at the Central Market, Budapest
Sausages at the Central Market, Budapest
We had lunch at an eclectic Hungarian/Jewish restaurant, Kőleves, on our last day there.  It's located near the largest Synagogue in Europe, and it was the perfect stopping point that day for a rest. I ordered the cold cucumber soup, which has been the highlight of the culinary part of my travels.  I asked what the ingredients were, and the waitress said, "Cucumbers, pickles, an herb--I don't know the name, and yogurt."  The herb was definitely dill, but when I asked if they watered down the yogurt, she shrugged and said, "I don't know.  I'm not the cook."  :-)  I'll be testing this out at home soon, though!

Cold Cucumber Soup at Kőleves, Budapest
Dalfina at Kőleves, Budapest

Grilled Trout at Kőleves, Budapest
Our main meals consisted of a lamb stew with pearl onions, quail eggs, a variety of nuts and cilantro yogurt, called "Dalfina," over bulghur (me) and grilled trout (my husband).  Both of us really enjoyed our dishes.  I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone traveling to Budapest!

I'll try to post some next week, but I'm not sure I can come up with any recipes.  I have eaten some great things here in Vienna, though, so I'll try to post about my adventures here, at least!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to Clean a Leek

You may be asking yourself right about now: 1) "What is a leek, anyway?" and 2) "Don't you just clean them like any other vegetable?"  I am here to answer both questions!

A leek is part of the Amaryllidaceae family and Allioideae subfamily (if you want to get all biological about it), but the simple explanation is that it's a vegetable related to garlic, onion, shallots and scallions.  It has a mild onion flavor, but tastes a little fresher, more like a scallion.  It's often used in cooking stocks and soups (like my Potage Crécy), but can be used in quiches and salads as well.  If you haven't tried a leek, take a test run next time you need an onion!

Leeks, however, can be very dirty and sandy between its layers because of the way it's grown, so you have to do a special cleaning.  Below is how I clean a leek.  It's quick and easy and is guaranteed to get all of that dirt off of your vegetable!

First, you'll want to trim away the root end and the dark green layers, leaving only the whites and the light green parts.  (Many people say that the dark green layers are bitter, but I save and use them for making chicken and beef stock and haven't really noticed.)

Next, you'll want to cut the leek in half lengthwise.  You could leave the leek whole at this point if you wanted perfect rings, but it's definitely easier to cut if you halve it.

Slice your leek.  I usually slice them into about 1/4" pieces, but feel free to slice them as thick as you'd like, depending on your recipe.

And finally, place them in a large bowl of cold water.  Swish them around a bit with your fingers to loosen up the soil.  Let them sit for a few minutes.  Carefully remove them to a paper towel to drain.  All of that dirt and soil should be left behind in the bottom of the bowl!

And now your leeks are clean and ready to go!  What is your favorite recipe with leeks?

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Monday, June 20, 2011

German Potato Salad

My sister in law (Hi, Heather!) sometimes asks me what I serve alongside some of the main dishes I make.  Normally, I don't have a specific side, but with the Wisconsin-Style Grilled Brats, I almost always make German potato salad.  This is definitely not a low-fat meal, but hey, why not splurge every once in a while?! 

This potato salad is another non-mayo salad, just like my Tarragon Potato Salad, which is great for picnics.  It's best served warm, so make if you're making it ahead of time, let it come to room temperature on your countertop before serving. I've easily doubled or tripled the recipe in the past--just make sure that you make it in a huge bowl if doing so!

German Potato Salad

9 potatoes (You can peel them if you'd like, but I like the skins on.)
6 slices bacon, cut into matchsticks
1 small onion, chopped
2 Tbl all-purpose flour
2 Tbl white sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup white vinegar

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 30 minutes.  Drain, cool, slice thin, and place into a large bowl.

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet.  Cook over med-high heat until evenly brown.  Drain, crumble and set aside, reserving drippings.

Saute onions in bacon drippings until they are golden brown.  In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, celery seed, and pepper.  Add to the sauteed onions and cook and stir until bubbly, then remove from heat.  Stir in water and vinegar, then return to the stove and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir for one minute. 

Crumble the bacon on top of the potatoes and pour the vinegar mixture on top of the potatoes.  Stir gently until well combined.  Serve warm. 

Austrian-style Warm Potato Salad

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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Week in Review

I have a confession to make: I just haven't had time to read many blogs this week.  Why is that?  Because I've been preparing for a trip to Budapest and Vienna!  I leave tomorrow and will be back after the 4th of July weekend.  Yahoo!  I'll try to post my adventures from abroad, but we'll see how the internet connections are.  :-)

So today, I'd like to leave this as an open thread.  I will have a few hours here and there in airports, so please leave links to posts you think I should have read this week--either your own or someone else's. 

I'll see you in a couple of weeks!

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

CSA Week #5

The variety in our CSA is starting to become more diverse as the season progresses.  This week we received:
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots (Not shown because I used them in Potage Crécy before I had a chance to take a picture!)
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumber
  • Baby Beets
  • Snow or Shell Peas (I chose shell peas.)
  • Parsley
I'll be heading to Europe for two weeks this weekend, so 1) I'll be freezing or storing most of the veggies above until we get back and 2) I won't be posting my CSA shares for the next two weeks.  I will, however, try to post some pictures of our travels if I have consistent access to the internet.  :-)

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    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    How to Freeze Greens (Spinach, Kale, Chard, Collards, etc.)

    Last year I went a little crazy with my CSA.  Besides getting my normal pickup, I would also buy extras of everything at the farmer's market from the same farmer.  Carl knows my weakness for vegetables, so would often offer me deals that he knew I couldn't resist.  Once I came home with 10 pounds of haricots verts!  Obviously, my small family of four (one of which was an infant) couldn't eat 10 pounds worth of green beans before they went bad.  So I started freezing them to use in the winter.  (My mom often says that I remind her of Laura Ingalls Wilder!  But she lives in California where she can buy whatever fruit or veggie in season at all times of the year.  We don't have that luxury here in Kentucky.)

    The point of the story is that I found that you can freeze almost anything!  I'll post tutorials on other veggies as we go along, but today I'm going to focus on greens.  We get a lot of kale, Swiss chard, spinach and other greens in our CSA, and although I love greens, I don't always have the time to make something with them before they start going bad.  Also, I love to put spinach in my lasagna, but I only make that in the winter when it's not too hot to turn on the oven.  This is a great way to have great local spinach (or other greens) on hand when it's not in season.  When you want to use it, just defrost and add it to whatever dish you're making!

    The trick is to blanch them first.  What is blanch, you ask?  We'll get to that in a minute, but first you need to prepare your greens.  Wash them in cold water.  At this point, I usually chop my greens roughly since most of my recipes call for sliced or chopped greens.  You don't have to do this, but I find it makes it easier for me later on.

    Once you've prepared the greens, it's on to blanching.  Blanching means that you cook the greens in boiling water just for a couple of minutes to stop the bacteria and enzymes from breaking down your veggies in the freezer.  (You can find the specific blanching times below.)  Start the timer as soon as you place the greens in the water and cover the pot.  You can use the blanching water up to five times before having to replace it with clean water.

    When the timer goes off, you will need to shock the greens in ice-cold water to stop the cooking.  I use my big pasta pot with the strainer.  Then all I have to do is pull the strainer out and move the greens to the ice bath in a large bowl.  You keep the greens in the ice bath for the same amount of time that you cooked them for. 

    Once they've cooled, take them out, squeeze as much water out as you can and let it drain a little.  I like to make one-cup-sized balls (so I know how much each packet is in the freezer) and set them on a clean kitchen towel to drain a little more.  Once they're drained to your satisfaction, put them in freezer bags, remove all of the air (Ziploc Vacuum Bags work great here), and then layer them in the freezer.  Make sure you label them with what is inside and the date!  You can store them for about 9 months in a regular freezer or up to a year in a deep freeze.

    Blanching Times:

    Beet Greens 2 minutes
    Chard 2 minutes
    Collard Greens 2 minutes
    Kale 3 minutes
    Spinach 2 minutes
    Turnip Greens 2 minutes

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    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Wisconsin-Style Grilled Brats

    Before I met my husband, I probably had had a brat or two.  The truth is, though, I just can't remember eating one.  Why is that?  It's because his brats have wiped out all memory of any previous brat experience.  He grew up in Wisconsin, and as we all know, they take their sausage seriously there! 

    He had to train me to make these just right, but he trained me well.  You'd think grilling brats was straight forward, but his method is not.  It does create a flavorful and juicy grilled sausage, though.  Trust me...you've never had a brat until you've tried this not-so-low-fat method!  (But if you're eating brats, you're probably not worried about fat intake, right???)  ;-)

    Wisconsin-Style Grilled Brats

    1 package of uncooked brats (When we can't get fresh brats from our local meats producer, my husband prefers Johnsonville sausages.)
    1/2 onion, cut in half
    1/2 bottle of beer (Cheap is okay; pilsener or another hoppy beer is best; don't use anything darker than an amber.)
    1 Tbl butter

    To serve:
    Hot dog or hoagie buns
    Chopped onions
    A variety of mustards

    Heat your grill to medium-high heat.  (My husband is a charcoal griller and says to use a little less charcoal than normal.) 

    When your grill is almost ready, place the brats in cold water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove the brats to a plate.  Don't toss the water yet!

    Grill your brats until they are brown and crispy, turning often and moving the brats around over the heat to evenly cook all of them (if grilling over charcoal).  You know when a side is done when it is dark brown and/or the brat starts to spurt fat.  If they start spurting fat, make sure to cover the grill to protect yourself.

    While the brats are grilling, add the onion, beer and butter to the pot you used to simmer the brats in.  Cover and keep on a low simmer.

    When the brats are done, place them back in the pot of water and simmer for at least 10 minutes.  When ready to serve, place the brats on a plate.  You can also keep extra brats warm in the water until you need them.

    Serve with buns, sauerkraut, chopped onions, a variety of mustards and ketchup.
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    Friday, June 10, 2011

    The Week in Review

    This week I ran across lots of great new recipes that I'd love to try.  Go check them out!

    • Shannon Marie over at Forks, Knives & Spades is a fellow Kentucky food blogger.  She posted a recipe for the most delectable Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostini this week.  As soon as cherry tomatoes are in season, this will be on my menu...although I'm not sure I'll share with my neighbors like she did!  ;-)
    • The Parsley Thief's post on her Edamame and Fennel Salad prompted me to write to her and ask if I could share with my fellow CSAers.  I've been working with the farm I receive my CSA veggies from on bulking up their recipe section on their website, and this was a perfect addition.  Thanks, Katie!
    Main Dishes:
    • I love to make lasagna (and have a pretty good recipe for it, too!), but I never make it in the summer because I hate to turn the oven on in 90+-degree weather.  Sharizat over at 1000+1 has solved this problem by making lasagna roll ups on the grill!  My husband is skeptical, but I'm totally trying this method.
    • My family is a big fan of couscous, so when I saw Chef Fresco's Moroccan Skirt Steak with Roasted Pepper Couscous, I thought it could be a hit in our house.  As soon as I get a chance, I'll be trying this out!
    • Have I ever told you that I absolutely love, love, love banana pudding?  I don't know what it is about the mixture of pudding, bananas and vanilla wafers that does it for me, but I can't resist ordering it whenever possible.  I've been meaning to try my hand at it for a while, and now I've found my first recipe I'll try: Ezra Pound Cake's Banana Pudding for Grown-Ups.  Now I just have to find some banana liqueur!
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    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    CSA Week #4

    You may have noticed that my CSA posts have skipped from Week #2 to Week #4--I was on vacation last week and didn't have the pleasure of picking up my share.  We did have a great time at the beach in Emerald Isle, NC, though!  :-)

    This week I was lucky enough to get a full share.  (I usually get a half share, but because a friend of mine was going to be out of town, she was nice enough to let me have hers...thanks, Lois!)  The picture above shows my typical half share, so I really got double of what you see!  Holy vegetables, Batman!

    This week, we received the following:
    • Salad Greens (We've been told that this will be the last week of these for a while because of the hot weather.)
    • Rainbow or Sweet Mokum Carrots (I got one of each since my batch was doubled.)--I'll be making some Potage Crécy with these!
    • Red Leaf Lettuce
    • Red Butterhead Letttuce
    • A Jade Cucumber
    • Hakaurai Salad Turnips--I'll be braising these.
    • Oregano
    • Snow Peas or Shell Peas (I got one of each since my batch was doubled.)
    I've already used up some of this--we're having salad every night this week since we received four heads of lettuce and two bags of spring greens!  Our salad last night used up some of the colorful carrots, cucumber, snow peas and oregano.

    What did you get in your CSA or at the Farmer's Market this week? Do you have any great suggestions on how to use all of my lettuce in a creative way???

    After you let me know, go by and check out a new Facebook page devoted to all things Farmer's Market and CSA called Farmers Market First.  A fellow Kentucky food blogger, Joyce at Friends Drift Inn Kitchen, has started what she's calling a "community to showcase seasonal produce and recipes from local Farmers Market."

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    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    How to Roast a Red Pepper

    I am going to move away from the French theme from the past few days and would like to try something new.  I don't do very many "how tos" on this blog, but often find myself telling friends and family how I did something for part of a recipe or how I use local summery ingredients in the wintertime...so why not share here too?  Over the summer, I'd like to talk a little about how I store my extra veggies I get from my CSA, but we'll get to that as we get further into the summer.

    Today, though, I'd like to talk about how to roast a red pepper.  Roasting a red pepper is easier than you think...and much cheaper than buying them jarred.  Start with several red peppers.  Feel free to roast as many as you'd like here since you can easily store them for future use.  Place them directly on your gas burners, or if you have an electric stovetop, place them on a cookie sheet under your broiler.  Turn them every so often with tongs.  You want all sides to be almost completely black.  This should take about 10 minutes or so.

    When all sides are blackened, remove the peppers to a large paper or ziplock bag and close tightly.  You could also place them in a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Leave them there for about 20 minutes or so until they've cooled.  You should be able to peel them easily at this point.

    Once you've peeled them, rinse them, cut them in half and remove the stem and seeds.  Cut them into strips.  And voilà, you have roasted red peppers!  I used the ones below in some veggie wraps, but you can use them for any recipe that calls for them.  If you'll be using them in the next week or so, cover them with olive oil in a sealed container and store in the refrigerator.  You can also freeze them in single layers on wax paper and then seal them in an airtight freezer bag.  They should last for a few months this way--just defrost and use!  You may lose some of the texture this way, so frozen roasted peppers are best used in recipes where the texture doesn't matter as much (such as quiches).

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    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Mille-feuilles de Crêpes Cake

    When I was in France, I made my first cake from scratch and a dirt cake for my daughter's third birthday. This year, she wanted me to make her another cake and requested one made out of crêpes.  She asked that strawberries and Nutella be included, and as I started to conceptualize this strange request, I finally settled on a milles-feuilles de crêpes cake.  Oh, and did I mention that this year my daughter turned five?  I'm a little scared to see what she'll request for her Sweet Sixteen.

    This was challenging for me because I don't often work without a recipe, and because I didn't have any time to make any practice versions, the first attempt was her actual birthday cake.  It was time consuming, but it's easily done in stages.  First I made the crêpes--I made mine the night before and just stuck them in the fridge covered in plastic wrap.  Then when I was ready to assemble the cake, it just took a little time and patience.  I found that it was important to keep the filling layers thin because the crêpes have a tendency to slide around.  I only wish I had had a very sharp knife.  We were renting a house at the beach with dull knives, and the result was a messy cake.  Regardless, it was delicious!  Any filling would do--whipped cream, pastry cream, Nutella, preserves, fresh fruit (if smashed a little to keep the layer even) or another filling of your choice.

    I covered mine in whipped cream because it looked slightly ugly without something on top, but I've seen pictures of very beautiful mille-feuilles de crêpes cakes just dusted with powdered sugar.  Go with your instincts on this one.  :-)  It turns into a crêpe heaven with oozing, gooey layers that can be eaten with a fork, but I recommend eating like a five year old...with your hands.

    We hope you enjoy this as much as we did!

    Mille-feuilles de Crêpes Cake

    2 cups flour
    2 pinches salt
    4 eggs
    2 1/2 cups milk (I used whole, but you can use whatever you'd like.)
    2 Tbl butter, melted and cooled
    2 tsp vanilla
    4 Tbl sugar

    1 small jar of Nutella
    1 jar Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves

    1 cup heavy whipping cream
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 Tbl sugar
    1 bar of dark chocolate
    Strawberries, sliced

    To make the crêpes: Place all of the ingredients in a blender (liquids first) and blend until smooth.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to a day. 

    When the batter is ready, heat a small frying pan (I use an 8-inch omelet pan.) over medium-high heat.  If your pan is not completely non-stick, place a tiny bit of butter in the pan.  Once it's melted, pick up the pan and quickly pour in 1/4 cup of batter, swirling the pan with your wrist to spread the batter evenly.  If you have a whole or two, dot them with a little more batter.  Place back on the burner and cook for about 30-90 seconds.  Using a small spatula, release the edges of the crêpe from the pan while it's cooking.  Once the bottom is starting to brown slightly, use your fingers (or as I prefer, one tiny and one larger spatula) to lift the crêpe gently and flip.  Plan on using the first couple of crêpes as test crêpes--my first one never turns out right! 

    Once the second side starts to brown slightly, remove from the pan to a plate covered in wax paper.  Repeat the steps above until the batter is gone.  You can layer the crêpes without anything between them.  Once cooled, you can cover them with plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator for up to two days or place in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a month.

    To make topping: Pour very cold cream into a deep bowl.  Add the vanilla and sugar and beat with a hand-mixer until medium-stiff peaks form.

    To make the cake:  Place a crêpe on your serving platter.  Spread a light layer of Nutella over the crêpe.  Add another crêpe and spread a light layer of strawberry preserves.  Continue until your desired height or until you run out of crêpes.  I used about 20.  If you are planning on serving right away, frost the cake with the whipped cream, shave chocolate over it and top with strawberries.  If you will be serving the cake later, cover and place in the refrigerator.  If using preserves, some of the "juices" will leak out.  When you're ready to serve, just wipe up the plate with paper towels and then decorate the cake.

    Cut with a very large, sharp knife.  Enjoy!
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    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Crockpot French Onion Soup

    As I mentioned in my last post, all of my posts this week will be French--today is French Onion Soup!  I love French Onion Soup, but as a busy mom with a full-time job, I just don't have the time to stand over a pot caramelizing onions for hours.  So what do I turn to?  My trusty crockpot, of course!  I use my crockpot a lot in the winter because, obviously, it makes great soups and stews.  It's also great in the summer when you don't want to turn on the oven and heat the house even more.  French Onion Soup is great in the winter or the summer--in the winter, I pair it with a grilled cheese, but in the summer a nice light salad does the trick.

    I like to make cheese crisps to place on top of the soup instead of melting the cheese on the bowl under a broiler.  All you have to do is slice some French bread, top it with a pile of finely shredded gruyere or other Swiss cheese, and place it under the broiler until the cheese is all melty and starting to brown.  Ladle the soup into the bowls and top with the cheese crisps.  Voilà--a simple and very French meal!

    Crockpot French Onion Soup
    Adapted from Not My Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes

    6 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced thinly
    3 Tbl olive oil
    1 Tbl bouquet garni, wrapped in cheesecloth
    1 14-oz can chicken broth (or equivalent of homemade stock)
    2-3 14-oz cans beef broth (or equivalent of homemade stock)
    2 Tbl marsala

    Sliced french bread
    Gruyere cheese, finely grated

    Turn your crockpot on to high.  Place the onions in the crockpot and toss them with the olive oil.  Lay the bouquet garni under some of the onions.  Cover and cook for about 8-10 hours or until the onions are caramelized, but not burnt.

    Add the broths and marsala and cook for another 20 minutes or until the soup is hot.  In the meantime, pile some of the cheese on each piece of bread and place them on a baking sheet.  Place the baking sheet under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to turn brown.  Remove from the broiler and set aside.

    Ladle the soup into bowls and top with cheese crisps.

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