30 January, 2010

Chicken Braised in Beer

"Poulet a la biere" - Recipe #3 of 91
from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook
by Ruth Van Waerebeek

There's a whole lotta "yum" in this dish. A chicken is fried up good with onions, garlic, carrots and mushrooms, and then braised in Belgian beer and beef broth, and then topped off with cream, parsley, and freshly grated nutmeg (the mystery ingredient). I served the chicken with rosemary fried potatoes. In Belgium, it might also be served with boiled potatoes or braised endives.

I received one of best compliments of all time from my partner, Rick. While he was eating his dinner, he said "Ya know, I actually feel sorry for other people right now. They aren't here to experience this amazing food." It was one of those meals where we felt buzzed afterward. Can a beer sauce do that to you?! In any case, it was fantastic. Highly recommend this dish. It is also one of my favorite, and most used, cookbooks.

We rated this one a 10 out of 10.

I couldn't find Rodenbach (the recommended beer
for this dish) so I picked up a Belgian farmhouse ale.

  • 1 fryer chicken, cut into 8 pieces and skinned (I admit to only using chicken thighs this time because that's what we had)
  • 1 bottle (12 oz.) of Belgian beer, preferably Rodenbach
  • 15 pearl onions (whole), or 7 shallots (I used shallots and cut them in large chunks)
  • 12 large white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and quartered
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into carrot pennies
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup beef broth (preferably homemade)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 TB flour
  • 1 TB vegetable oil
  • 2 TB butter (preferably unsalted)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 TB finely minced fresh parsley
  • a hearty pinch of freshly grated nutmeg


Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. Heat the oil and half of the butter over medium heat in a large, deep pan (ideally, an enameled dutch oven). Add the chicken pieces and saute until brown on both sides (about 10 minutes). Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

Add the remaining butter to the pan, and then add the onions, carrots, and mushrooms, stirring frequently until they brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sprinkle with sugar, and cook for 1 - 2 more minutes.

Sprinkle the vegetables with flour and stir well to make sure the flour blends well with the butter and coats the vegetables.

Deglaze the pan by adding the beer and broth and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom. Add the chicken pieces, thyme, bay leaf, and half of the parsley. Cover the pan and simmer over medium-low heat for 45 minutes.

Discard the bay leaf, and remove the chicken and set aside. Add cream and nutmeg to the sauce and cook for 2 - 3 minutes until nicely thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed. Return the chicken to the pan and coat with the sauce, sprinkle with remaining parsley, and serve.

(Serves 4.)


Serve with beer and rosemary fried potatoes.

A definite keeper -- a delicious winter meal!

27 January, 2010

I Ate Haggis. On Purpose.

No, it wasn't a dare. I honestly purchased the haggis materials myself, while vacationing in Scotland. I sort of brought it back home to Rick as a joke, but was also half-serious about actually eating it. Haggis gets a bad rap because it's made of all kinds of offal. It is mixed with oatmeal and cased in stomach lining, which doesn't sound appetizing but the end result is pretty darned delicious.

Monday was Burns Night, which is the traditional Scottish celebration of the life and works of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. A traditional Burns Night Supper consists of haggis, neeps, and tatties, and according to some on the web, it can also contain Cock-a-Leekie Soup or Cullen Skink (a smoked haddock chowder) to start. Also, there is usually some sort of dessert, such as Clootie Dumping, Tipsy Laird (sherry trifle, one of my personal favorites!) or Cranachan. And it most definitely is all served with fine Scotch whiskey!

Since I had limited resources, I used what I had, which was a tin that I bought containing haggis ingredients, swede turnips ("neeps") and a packet of dried mashed potatoes ("tatties") which I actually added to with fresh taters.

In addition, I walked into town and picked up an honest-to-goodness finnan haddie (smoked haddock) and I think it was the first time anyone had ever purchased one because the fish market guy wanted to know all about it, what I was making with it, and to come back and tell him how it went. HAH!

Here are the results of our Burns Night Supper which ended up really delicious. I cannot complain! We both enjoyed every bite.


The raw ingredients for Cullen Skink.
Boiling the haggis and cooking the haddock in milk and cream.
Peeling the potatoes for the Cullen Skink was oddly therapeutic.

The finished Cullen Skink, at least according to two recipes
I consulted. It might have been a bit thin. I mashed the potatoes
instead of adding them as chunks. But we loved it!
The finished Burns Supper with a half of a haggis per plate
flanked by neeps on one side and tatties on the other.

22 January, 2010

Dutch Apple Pie

Recipe #2 of 91
from the book America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

A lot of recipes have made their way from the Old World to the new. This is one of them, with variations, of course. I honestly think this is more of a Pennsylvania Dutch version, than a Dutch-Dutch version. I've seen Dutch Apple Pie in cafes before, but never tasted it. I've also never made it myself, which is part of the criteria for choosing the recipes from each book during this project.

I must say that I am surprised just how different it is from standard American apple pie. First of all, the apples are cooked on the stove in butter first. Secondly, there is heavy cream in the apple filling, making it quite rich. It is also topped with a streusel topping, instead of a top pie (or lattice) crust, and then dusted with powdered sugar before serving. The finished product is out of this world! It was an enormous hit with the boys. Since James and I don't like raisins in desserts, I omitted them, but technically, they should be in there.

We rated this an 8 out of 10.

I took all my own photos for this (and all other blogs, unless otherwise noted).

Basic ingredients.
  • 1 single-crust pie dough
Streusel ingredients.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 TB cornmeal (optional)
  • 6 TB (3/4 stick) butter, melted
Filling ingredients.
  • 2 TB (1/4 stick) butter
  • 4 or 5 apples, cored, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream


Preheat the oven to 375 F.

For the streusel, in a medium bowl, mix together dry ingredients and then drizzle the butter over it a little bit at a time, using a fork or whisk until mixture is clumpy. Set aside.

For the filling, in a medium pot (or Dutch oven), melt the butter and cook the apples, sugar, cinnamon, and salt over medium-high heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have softened (about 6 or 7 minutes). Add raisins (if desired) and cooked another 7 minutes covered. Transfer cooked apple mixture to a bowl with a slotted spoon leaving the apple juice in the pan. Add cream, stirring frequently, and cook until reduced by half, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the cream to the apple mixture.

Bake the crust blind for 10 - 12 minutes, then remove crust from oven. Spread the apple filling evenly into the warm, partially baked pie crust. Sprinkle the top of the pie with the streusel mixture.

Bake the pie until the crust and streusel have lightly browned, about 25 - 28 minutes. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool to room temperature before serving.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

21 January, 2010

Passive? Or Aggressive?

Semantics is my bag, baby! I find arguing semantics strangely alluring and seductive. Words, and their various (and sometimes hidden) meanings, make language sexy.

As an editor, I notice, probably more than the average person, words that are used improperly. Recently, I seem to have noticed that a lot of folks have been improperly using the word "passive-aggressive" to explain pure, honest, unadulterated aggression.

"He is so passive-aggressive, he yelled at me and told me to shut up!" Now, I don't know about you, but that would be downright aggressive in my book. Ain't nuthin' passive about yelling, or telling someone to shut their pie hole (unless we're talking about some sort of kinky role-playing). One of my most enormous pet peeves is hearing someone tell someone else to shut up. (No really, YOU shut up. But I quickly digress.)

Aggression comes in all forms, some of it, yes, passively. And I will say, if I am feeling the need to be aggressive (and I try not to ever go that route, but it happens), I'll choose the more passive approach. Passive-aggression is when someone is sincerely trying to "hide" their jabs behind supposedly well-meaning prose. When it happens repeatedly, it is a form of veiled abuse. Because it's not overt, it's hard for the victim to defend themselves, or to even notice the abuse at times. I see this occasionally, and most often in the workplace.

Frankly, why can't we all get along?!

Well, for whatever reason, we can't. We are judgmental people by nature. I strive to be less and less judgmental, as I don't want to waste my time on that anymore, but I'm human. (It's a lame excuse, but it's honestly all I got.) Sometimes, I can't help but see the glaring flaws in others when they so elegantly and successfully stick it straight in front of my face. I'm learning techniques for looking the other way; what used to drive me crazy in the past rarely ruffles my feathers anymore. (An absolutely lovely part of aging!) Aggression, however, is often an in-your-face jab, and it's hard not to notice and respond on some level. But the passive stuff just doesn't stick anymore.

At the end of the day, we should recognize the difference between aggression and passive-aggression. It can be so subtle, you might think to yourself "Did I just take that the wrong way?" or "Did that just really happen?" If you are asking yourself these questions, then it is indeed passive. If you have no doubt whatsoever, that someone just dissed you? It ain't passive.

This public service announcement brought to you by your roving wordsmith.

20 January, 2010

Tarte chaude aux asperges

"Asparagus Quiche" (Recipe 1 of 91)
from the book A Taste of Alsace by Sue Style

This recipe turned out nicely, but I am wondering why it had a big dip in the finished product. I followed the baking instructions as close as possible, so I don't think it was too hot or baked too long, but the custard had a dome in it when I took it out of the oven (which later collapsed). Such is the nature of custard! I don't think it will affect the flavor. (Haven't tried it yet, but it smells divine!)

We rated this an 8 out of 10.

  • a basic shortcrust pie crust (I have a separate recipe for this, but you can buy them ready made if that's easier for you)
  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, and cooked until slightly tender
  • 1/2 cup chopped ham (optional)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a pie pan or quiche tin with pie crust, cover with foil, and then bake blind for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven.

Mix together cream, milk, eggs, and ham. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour custard filling into pie crust and arrange asparagus spears on top like the spokes on a wheel. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the custard is set and lightly browned.

15 January, 2010

91 Cookbooks

For cryin' out loud, I have a crap ton of books. And about a quarter of all books in my household are books related to cooking, food, or some facet of gastronomy. I counted the actual cookbooks tonight (books with actual recipes--not books on how to pair wine with food, or tips for cooks) and I counted 91. I used to own 250 such books, but have paired down over the years, in particular when I moved to (and then back from) Belgium. When moving overseas, downsizing is pretty much imperative.

Suffice to say that I'm fascinated with the science of ingredients, flavor, texture, aroma. People who can write about food, and make me long for a bite of something exquisite simply from their words, are geniuses in my mind. M.F.K. Fischer is one of those brilliant food writers. I could read and read and read her. But lately, I've read some amazing contemporary books on food, one of my recent favorites being "The School of Essential Ingredients" by Erica Bauermeister. I was immediately captivated by her culinary prose. I can't wait to read more by her.

I have used most of my cookbooks, but find that I have 4 or 5 favorites that seem to get all the attention. I've decided, rather than to allow the majority of my cookbooks to continue collecting dust on my shelves, that I need to take time to make at least one recipe from each cookbook.

91 recipes. This will be fun.

I have cookbooks on nearly everything, such as gluten-free baking, Bavarian cooking, a 1960s version of Good Housekeeping, candy-making books, crockpot classics, Croatian cuisine, vegetarian dishes, and gourmet raw food recipes. I'm looking forward to pouring through each book and picking "the recipe" from each one. I intend to make at least one new recipe (possibly two or three) from one of the books per week. I'll mark my progress here (and perhaps with photos of the finished product). I don't, however, really want this to turn into a food blog. I have so many more topics to write about. However, cooking is certainly a deep passion of mine and one that gets a lot of airplay with me, perhaps in an attempt to verbally cook out a market full of processed and preserved bits, not fit for consumption. Good, fresh food is not gourmet. It should be a human right.

I never get tired of reading about food, preparing it, and consuming it, preferably with loved ones.