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Archive for the ‘comfort food’ Category

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It’s become sort of a habit of ours to take a Sunday morning drive from Saratoga Springs to Cambridge, NY to pick up a box of freshly made King’s Donuts. The King’s are second generation bakers who have been selling their homemade donuts from a cart in front of their house since 1997. They start selling their donuts around 8am and by 11am, they are usually sold out.

We have, on more than one occasion, excitedly hopped out of the car only to be disappointed that they were sold out of our favorite donut, the Bismark. I usually pick out other donuts but I am a creature of habit and there’s nothing sadder than looking forward to a special treat and not being able to get it. (OK, there are a lot sadder things than running out of my favorite donuts but this is a food blog so let’s focus)

Luckily, if you call ahead, the King’s will kindly set aside the donuts you want, so you never have to face the heartbreaking devastation of a missing donut. Last Sunday, though we called ahead, they must have been really busy because no one answered the phone. Deciding to try anyway, we drove to Cambridge and pulled up just as the empty cart was being unloaded at the back if the house.
The boyfriend, sensing that there might be some sullen grumpiness (I never claimed to be a paragon of maturity) decided to call anyway and this time they picked up the phone when they saw it was us. I wasn’t expecting much but then the BF started smiling and put the phone on speaker so I could hear them say that they felt so bad that they ran out of our favorite donut and not wanting to see anyone disappointed they improvised a new kind of donut just for us!

They took six of their jelly donuts, scraped out the jelly and squirted Bismark cream inside. They called them special Jellymarks and said we could be their taste testers. I shoved money at the BF and pushed him out of the car and waited while he went to the back of the house. The BF came back to the car, money still in hand and said they wanted us to have the donuts for free since they were an experiment.

Well, I hate to be too jaded but 28 years of growing up in Brooklyn gave me some thick skin and little belief in the kindness of my fellow humans, but that morning, my two sizes too small Grinch like heart truly did grow three sizes larger.

And the donuts? Though I remain a Bismark Purist, they were fantastic!

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I don’t know about you but for me, the best way to show me you love me is to cook for me. I love being cooked for but since I also love to cook and I am home, it falls that I am usually the one doing the cooking. Which is fine. Although, I do like to remember back when A. was a-courting me…he quickly figured out the way to my heart was through my taste buds and there were many meals where I got to sit and read a book or a magazine while he rushed around the kitchen trying to impress me. And sometimes he did. The first time I recall being really impressed with something he made was when he made lasagna. It was a fennel and mushroom lasagna from Epicurious and to this day, it’s his go to meal when he has to cook.

Around Christmas time we were planning on bringing food to his parent’s house for dinner and we decided that A. would make his lasagna and I would make a white lasagna. Lasagna in Bianco. I did some research and found a good recipe to use as a template but last night when I made it again I veered from my first attempt and decided to wing it. As so often happens, I had things in the fridge I wanted to use up so I made it work. And I’m so glad I did because it turned out perfectly.

Now lasagna takes a little bit of work but nothing that can’t be handled by breaking it down into steps. Steps make everything easier. Baby steps. As in life. As in lasagna.

Step One. What are you going to put in your lasagna? I had some broccolini that was starting to look a little worse for the wear, some carrots I had just picked up from the farmer’s market and a basket of mushrooms that needed to be eaten soon. I got to work prepping my veggies. First I sauteed 4 to 6 thinly sliced carrots in a bit of butter and olive oil. I popped a lid on them for a few minutes to let them steam and then I finished them off just until they started to get some brown spots. Set them in a bowl and pop the pan back on the heat, swirl in a bit more olive oil and then I tossed in my chopped broccolini which I had parboiled for a minute or two. I seasoned the broccolini (3 bunches) with minced garlic (6 cloves) and salt and red pepper flakes. I just sauteed the broccolini until it picked up the flavors of the garlic and red pepper flakes. Set the broccolini aside in another bowl and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Throw in a small chunk of butter and then add the sliced mushrooms. Sautee the mushrooms until golden and set them aside with the other vegetables.

Step two. Make your bechamel. This is your white sauce. Now this is the sauce that is going to flavor your lasagna noodles so you want to infuse some flavor into it. There is nothing worse than a bland and pasty bechamel. Start by measuring out 3-4 cups of whole milk or a combination of heavy cream and skim milk, half and half and 2% whatever you have on hand, short of straight skim milk should work. Nothing leaner than 2% though. Put the milk in a saucepan (I used one cup heavy cream and 3 cups skim milk because that’s what I had in the house.) Bonus points if your cream is from here.

Battenkill Valley Creamery. I live down the hill from them…well, down the hill and over the mountain but really, right around the corner.

Put your cream into a saucepan and warm it up. I like to add some flattened cloves of garlic. Flatten with the side of a knife so the flavor is exuded into the milk and they’re easy to fish out later. I also added a Parmesan rind to mine. Always save your Parmesan rinds they add fantastic flavor and umami to all sorts of things. If you don’t save them, don’t tell me- it will break my heart.

I like to give my milk a while to simmer to get the most flavor out of my garlic and Parmesan rind. I usually let it simmer for a half an hour or so. Just be careful milk has a tendency to boil over and make a huge mess. Low heat, low heat.

Once I feel that I have enough flavor infused into my milk, I start the bechamel. In another saucepan I melt a half stick of butter. When it starts to foam, toss in 1/4 cup of white flour and whisk like mad. This is not the time to check your email. You whisk, whisk, whisk until the raw flour smell starts to fade and the flour starts to color. As soon as that happens, start adding your milk. I like to add mine a little at a time and just whisk like crazy because I find the final product is smoother. Once all your milk is incorporated, taste it. Add salt. Taste it again. If you really want to round out the flavors and add a little something special, grate some fresh nutmeg on top. I don’t know why, but most white sauces and cheese sauces benefit from a grating of nutmeg. Try it.

Step three. Make your ricotta filling. Not much to this. I used 3 cups of ricotta and two large eggs. Whisk until smooth.

Step four. Assemble your lasagna. In the bottom of a 9×13 pan, add a ladle full of bechamel, three lasagna noodles (I’m partial to Barilla No Cook Noodles), spoon on some ricotta and sprinkle with your vegetables. I did broccolini topped with carrots and then mushrooms. Drizzle the veggies with more bechamel and then add more noodles, more ricotta, more veggies, more bechamel…

and so on until you reach as many layers as you’d like. I had 4 layers. Spoon the rest of the bechamel over the top and cover with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. And the most important step of all? Let your lasagna rest. Do not even think about cutting into it until it’s rested at least 15 but preferably 20 minutes. I’m so impatient that I had to take a shower while mine was resting because I didn’t trust myself.

Do you enjoy having someone make a meal for you?

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There’s something about the snow falling and the kids being home from school that makes me feel like I should slap on an apron and get baking…or roasting or braising or simmering or whatever has the oven going good and hot and causes scrumptious smells to waft through the house. It’s just what I do. A compulsion if you will.

And nothing says yes, it’s cold outside but we are warm and snuggly inside more than pot roast. Pot roast, a quintessentially all American meal. I grew up eating it. My grandfather used to save the ends of the meat for me because they were my favorite. And of course, being the cook, I now claim them for myself. I’m selfish like that. And caramelized bits of meat have long been my downfall. Well, those and gluttonous amounts of pasta.

And nothing is as easy to make and makes the people you love feel loved than a large piece of braised beef. At least in my world that’s how I show them I love them. Kind of twisted if you think about it.

~Coffee Braised Pot Roast

1 3-4 pound beef chuck roast, generously salted and peppered on all sides
2 TBS olive oil
2-3 large onions, thinly sliced

1 pkg baby portabella mushrooms, sliced thinly
6 cloves chopped garlic
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 cup coffee, leftover from the morning is fine
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
2 TBS cornstarch mixed with 2 TBS cold water

Heat oven to 300 degrees

In a dutch oven or medium soup pot (I used a 7qt Le Creuset) heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the beef and brown on all sides. Don’t be afraid to get it good and caramelized, if your meat is sticking when you try to turn it, let it cook a couple more minutes.

When the meat is browned on all sides, remove it to a platter.

Add the onions to the pan and keeping the heat on med-high, use tongs to toss them around. When they get light golden, add the garlic and thyme and cook a 2-3 more minutes.

Add the coffee and vinegar and scrape up the browned bits for a minute or so.

Add the beef to the pot and top with the thinly sliced mushrooms.

Cover and transfer the pot to the oven.

Braise the beef for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, checking it half way through. At the half way point I flip the meat and spoon some of the liquid over it.

The meat is ready when it’s fork tender, transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest while you move the pot back to the stove top. Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil and add the cornstarch and water mixture. Whisk rapidly to avoid lumps.

Slice the meat and you can add it back to the top or serve it topped with the gravy. We eat ours with buttered egg noodles, it’s also delicious over mashed potatoes, polenta or rice.

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