French Onion Soup

I’ll post a picture of this next time I make it. ūüôā

For this, I relied heavily on Tyler Florence’s French Onion Soup recipe on Food Network. Like, I actually followed the recipe.

My first adaptation was to thaw steaks, slice them into thin strips about 1 inch long by half an inch wide. Just roughly. It doesn’t really matter, as long as they are small and thin. Sear them with a little butter and some garlic, then add enough red wine to cover completely and simmer ¬†for at least an hour. If the wine boils off, add more. I ended up using the whole half of the bottle left over from the onions. When you add the beef broth, dump this is as well.

My second adaptation, because I dislike most cheeses, was when I made the croutons; I used a combination of Gruyere and mozzarella for those who like cheese, but I used just mozzarella for mine. The second time I made it I didn’t have any Gruyere, and people were starving so I didn’t want to take time to make croutons, so I just popped a little shredded mozzarella in the bottom of the bowl, ladled the soup in over it, dropped a slice of bread in, and sprinkled a little more on top. No one said anything. I don’t know if they didn’t notice because the soup hid the change in cheese flavor, or if they just didn’t want to be sent to the store. ūüėČ

Notes: When you first cook the onions, ¬†before you put in the wine, cook them with the lid on. It doesn’t say that, but if you don’t it takes three times as long. After you put the wine in, cook uncovered or the wine won’t boil off. After you add the flour, cook with the lid off but stir constantly.

Butternut Squash and Chicken casserole

I wrote this all out once before, but somehow I overwrote it with the curried cauliflower post. Not quite sure how. It was a pain to figure out how to change the permalink, too, because the cauliflower had the casserole’s link still!

squash casserole

So, I don’t historically like squash. Like at all. I don’t even care for pumpkin pie, which is why I always make pecan pie for Thanksgiving. Because I know there will be pumpkin pie, and I don’t want to have to eat it. But some years ago, a friend grew and cooked buttercup squash, and I was surprised to find I liked it. Experimenting, I discovered I liked other types of kabocha squash as well. Recently, I found I liked Italian summer squash and yellow crookneck squash when marinated and grilled, and also when prepared in the broiler… but that is a subject of another post, because that recipe deserves a dedicated post. And pictures.

Anyway, back to squash. I don’t care for it, generally speaking. But I got a butternut squash in the CSA box, and I’m not going to let it go to waste. I figured chicken would go fine with it, and I had two largish cans of chicken breast. Not the little ones, but not the giant ones. 10 oz cans, maybe? But one squash and some chicken wasn’t going to be enough to make a meal. It would make an oddly textured soup, and I wasn’t going to make mashed squash and chicken salad, either. So I started thinking about casseroles. I was in a casserole mood anyway. I read on some website somewhere that rosemary was tasty with butternut squash, so I sent Saul to get some from my friend down the street, who grows a huge bush of it. And I noticed I had some celery that was wilting and would soon be too soggy to eat, and half a loaf of mostly stale french bread, so I decided on a layered casserole. Chicken and squash on the bottom, and crispy stuffing on top. With cheese. The internet said cheddar for butternut squash, so I sent poor Saul off again to get some shredded mild cheddar.

Bread and Celery Stuffing: <Рthe recipe I used as a guideline.

From 2 rosemary branches about 8″ long, pinch off the clusters of leaves. With kitchen shears, snip them into tiny pieces.

Cut the bread into cubes, about bite sized, and put in a biggish bowl. In a small pan, sautee the 3 stalks of diced celery in a tablespoon or two of oil, with some minced garlic, salt and pepper, dill, and snipped rosemary. Drizzle the celery mixture over the bread and toss to coat. Add a little more oil if necessary, but remember not to saturate the bread. I didn’t have chicken stock, so I used canned beef broth. I also didn’t use a whole cup; I used between 1/2 and 3/4 of a cup. Save the rest of the can of broth, you’ll use it later. Anyway, after drizzling on the broth, tossing the bread all the while, I put it all in the fridge to chill.

Chicken and Squash Casserole:

This is only loosely based on this meatless butternut squash casserole recipe. To make mine, use a potato peeler to remove the squash’s rind. Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds and string, then cut it in to chunks about an inch to an inch and a half thick. Put them in a pot with enough water to cover, and bring it to a boil. Boil for six or eight minutes, then drain.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

In a big bowl, dump the drained canned chicken. Add a half a cup or so of mayo, salt and pepper, the rest of the beef broth, another two branches of snipped rosemary leaves (prepared the same as for the stuffing), a little sesame or olive oil, and maybe some other seasonings. I made this four days ago, and no longer remember what exactly I put in. ¬†I think some parsley, basil, and oregano. Also 4 ounces of shredded mild cheddar, and a couple of cups of fresh spinach leaves. Mix that all up briskly to shred the chicken, add the drained squash and stir gently to avoid mashing the squash. Pour the whole bowlful into a 9×13″ glass casserole pan. Top with the stuffing mixture and place in the oven until the stuffing gets crispy and a little brown. I think it took 20 or 30 minutes. Take it out and turn on the broiler. Add another 4 ounces of cheese over the top, and place it under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and browning.

Then eat it.

This turned out really well. The squash was a little sweeter than I expected, but the rosemary offset this nicely. It was creamy, but the shredded chicken kept it from being mushy like baby food, and complex without the individual flavors getting lost in the jumble. You could taste the squash, the chicken, the rosemary, the spinach, and the cheddar, but they didn’t overwhelm each other. And it reheated nicely in the microwave.

Roasted Curried Cauliflower

Some time ago, I found a recipe to curry and roast a whole head of cauliflower. I have been dying to try it, even though Saul doesn’t like cauliflower, and this week a head of cauliflower came in the CSA box!

I forgot to take a picture entirely, but the final thing looked a lot like this:

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The picture is a link, btw, to the Paleo recipe I used as a guideline.

What happened was, when I found the recipe to curry and roast a whole head of cauliflower, I forgot to save it. So I spent quite a bit of time trying to find it. I gave up when I was reading a recipe in which the author pointed out that roasting the whole head made an amazing presentation, but breaking it up meant more surfaces got brown and crispy. That sounded like a good idea to me, so I went with it.

In a largish bowl I made a sauce, with about half a cup of mayo, some Dijon mustard, rather a lot of curry powder, a couple tablespoons of lime juice, a tablespoon or two of sesame oil, some salt and pepper, cumin, Mexican-style chili powder, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. I let it all soak together in the refrigerator for an hour or two. In the meantime, I peeled the leaves off the cauliflower, cut out the stem, and broke it apart into florets of more or less the same size. I was aiming for one bite per floret. The stems should be cut away as much as possible without causing the floret to fall apart.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Yes, quite hot.

I Poured the florets into the bowl with the sauce and stirred ’em around until they were as evenly coasted as you can manage. Then I dumped them in an 8×8 glass pan and roasted them, uncovered, until they were tender. I think it took about 20 or 30 minutes, but I don’t honestly remember exactly.

You could do this with the whole head if you wanted to have a more impressive presentation, or if this were the centerpiece of a vegetarian meal. Remove the leaves and as much of the center stem as possible, slather it with the sauce, and bake it until a paring knife slides in with little or no resistance. Don’t overcook, as it will fall apart!

I made curried beef and rice to go with this, but they were just okay. The cauliflower was the remarkable part, and the star of the show in my opinion.

TIP: Cauliflower has a bad rep for being stinky, and for making the house stink while it cooks. In fact, OLD cauliflower is stinky. Fresh cauliflower is perfectly creamy white, and the florets should be dense and so closely packed that they do not move or separate when you run your finger over them. It should have no signs of yellowing or browning. The leaves should be curled tightly over the head, and when you smell it, it should smell fresh. If it is at all stinky, put it down and choose another!

Cauliflower has a high nutritional density and vitamin C, but is low in fat and carbohydrates. It contains several compounds believed to combat cancer and improve DNA repair, which are reduced when the vegetable is boiled but are not affected by other cooking methods.

Wine-“braised” shortribs, glazed Japanese turnips and French radishes, and turnip greens salad

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The CSA box this week came with Japanese turnips and French radishes. Alone, neither were enough to be THE vegetable in a meal for three adults. But I found a recipe for Glazed Hakurei Turnips, which also said you could substitute radishes. And I thought, if this recipe will work for either, it will work for both at the same time. I used two tablespoons of sesame oil instead of 1/4 cup of butter, but other than that I followed it pretty closely. 

Note that Japanese turnips are milder, and more delicately flavored than purple turnips. You can get a similar flavor from purple turnips, however, by choosing ones that are small and smell sweet. 

French radishes are long and narrow, and also milder than the round radishes you usually find in grocery stores, which have a harsh sort of bite. I am not sure I would have liked regular radishes in this recipe; their biteyness might overwhelm the mild sweetness of the glaze. 

The recipe also tells how to wilt the turnip greens in the leftover glaze. It was a lot like steamed spinach, which I have always liked. I only wilted them for 2 minutes, because I liked them less soggy. If you want them really soft, wilt them for three minutes. 

I had three frozen shortrib steaks in the freezer, which I thawed in hot water in the sink. I sliced them very thinly, plunked them in a pot with some oil, and seared them. Then I added garlic and  and whatever other seasoning I felt like at the time. Salt and pepper, basil and oregano. Possibly some cumin? See, I need to write these down right away or I forget the details. Four days is apparently long enough for this to escape me. 

Almost certainly cumin. I like cumin. 

Anyway, I sauteed the meat and seasonings for a while, then added some red wine- just enough Edenbrook cabernet sauvignon to not quite cover the meat- covered the pot, and let them simmer a while. Well, a long time, actually. Probably about an hour. I kept checking, and when the liquid got a little low, I added more wine. I used about half a bottle. 

TIP: You can make any cut of meat tender if you cook it wet enough and for long enough. If you are cooking meat quickly or without liquid, then yo have to worry about whether or not the cut lends itself to that style of cooking. If you are making stew, however, get something cheap and simmer the heck out of it. 

Vocabulary: Braised. Braising means to cook something slowly, in fat and/or a little liquid. As such, I probably didn’t technically braise the short ribs. There was a larger amount of liquid in my pot, which I allowed to reduce into a sauce. Braising is usually done in the oven at a lower temperature, say, about 300 or 350 degrees, in a closed container to prevent the smaller amount of liquid from boiling off.¬†

 

First Post!

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There are a bunch of things in my life; work, family (including my amazing husband Saul, pictured with me above), friends, and a variety of hobbies. Most of them are self-sustaining; I don’t have to remind myself to incorporate them or make time for them. I just do. There are a few things, however, that I often allow to fall by the wayside, and at the beginning of each new year I regret that I didn’t make time last year, and promise myself I will remember to this year. It doesn’t usually happen.

One of those things is documenting the cooking I do. One of them is art. Hence, this Food and Fine Art blog!

          Cooking

I like to cook, and I do it fairly often. Moreso now that I have my own household and am responsible for keeping our food budget. Eating out or having fast food all the time is unhealthy and costly. Cooking is better for us and our pocketbooks… so that is what I do.

One food thing I really like to do is buy frozen meats in bulk. I know, I know; this summons up visions of freezer burn, right? But no! These are high quality meats, vacuum sealed in individual servings, some of it pre-marinated and some of it plain. The flavor and texture are guaranteed for twelve months. A ~$450 order will last us about six months; that is $75 a month for meat for three adults. And they are delivered to my door by a man driving a freezer truck, who shows me the contents of the boxes before he leaves. So I know I am getting what I asked for.

I frequently freeze other things, too; bacon, butter, etc. By in bulk, thaw as needed. When I buy canned or dry goods, I try to get more than I need. If I need two cans of coconut milk, I’ll get four or six; that way, next time I need coconut milk I don’t have to go to the store. I try to keep shelf-stable milk in the house for cooking purposes, too, so we only need fresh milk for drinking. I get the big bags of rice, oatmeal, flour, sugar, etc. They are less wasteful of packaging and more cost-effective.

I don’t yet have a handle on bulk purchasing the other staples I buy regularly. Cheese, for example. Eggs and fresh milk. I still need trips to the grocery store for these sorts of items. ¬†¬†I suppose I could freeze cheese- I haven’t tried- and I know I could freeze egg substitute and milk, but… well, six months’ worth meat kind of takes up all the space I have in my freezer. We plan to get a small chest freezer, but that won’t be for a while yet.¬†The upside is I only need a few things, and they are all around the edges of the store, so my trips are light and quick.

Another food thing I have wanted to do for a long time is to start getting a CSA box. What is better than weekly, fresh, local produce without having to go to a grocery store (less fresh, almost certainly not local) or a Farmer’s Market (time consuming)? I pick up my box at the local drop-off site, check off my name on the list, and walk away. Less than two minutes, just a few blocks from my house. And it costs about $90 a month for a weekly box.

Opening the box when I get home is like Christmas but with vegetables. I never know what will be in there, or how I am going to cook it. So far, there has always been something in there that made me say to myself “What is that?” and head for the laptop. My CSA’s website has a list of what is supposed to be in the box that week, and that helps. It also has a list of all their seasonal produce, with pictures, so you can match what you have in your hot little hands with the names of the things in the pictures.

So I end up dredging the reaches of the internet to figure out how to cook these unfamiliar things. I try to cook using the ingredients I have in the house, rather than stopping by the store for one or two things, so I often adapt the recipes I find. And weeks or moths later, when I want to make that thing again, I never remember what I did- and it turns out disappointingly different. So my plan is to keep a record of the original recipe- or recipes- and the changes I made. And maybe what I thought of it, so I can start trying to improve the ones that don’t come out so great.

    Art

I have a knack fro drawing and painting. And I really enjoy doing it, and I always wish I had time to do more of it- but I don’t. I often talk about setting up this or that corner of the house as a studio- but I don’t. I often sketch out pictures I get in my head that really ought to be made into full sized or full color pieces- but I don’t. And then people see some silly doodle on a napkin and say ‘Oh, you’re an artist! Wow, why don’t you do this for a living?

First of all, it bugs me when people are surprised I am artistic. It is such a fundamental part of who I am, how I approach the world, and how I think about myself that I can’t entirely figure out why other people aren’t aware of it when they look at me. I know, that isn’t fair to them, which s why I never say anything about it when it happens. But it always throws me and puts a damper on whatever mood I was in.

Second of all, who says having a talent means you have to make your living by it? I have other talents too, and I make my living by those. Am I supposed to have two careers?Suppose I had a talent not considered¬†salable? I mean, I don’t mind people asking me the question. What I do mind is when people argue with me about it. “But you’re wasting your talent!

No, I’m not. My talent provides me a hobby I enjoy, that other people like to see and hear about, and that enhances many aspects of my life. It isn’t wasted, I use it all the time… I just don’t use it the way those people thing I ought to.¬†Why would I want to make my living as a fine artist? I mean, props to people who do, because it is hard. You have to paint things people like enough to spend money on. You can’t count on a novelty idea or something, because fads pass. You know what seems to make the most money? Abstract art. I hate abstract art. It doesn’t look like anything, and there is no goal. You just have to hope the composition of colors and textures is a pleasing to someone else as it is to you. You can adjust and tweak to try to get just the right feel, but then you have to worry about crossing that line- the one you can never see coming that defines the difference between a detailed, interesting painting and a muddied, overworked one. I’ve done abstract pieces. I never like them as much as I like the pieces that are supposed to look like something else, so that -in my own mind at least- I can identify a job well done.

In addition, I’m my own toughest critic. I know that. But suppose I did something I really, really liked and was proud of, and some idiot art critic -who probably can’t draw a straight line- decided he or she didn’t like it? Me, I’ve got a temper. Art is so subjective, I can mostly let people have their own opinions. But someone dissing something I worked hard on, that turned out ‘right’ to my way of thinking… no, I don’t care to think about what I would do.

Plus art as a career is stressful. Can I find a gallery that will hang my art? Can I get my pieces into shows? Will they be well enough attended to sell my work? Am I pricing it right? Or am I pricing it too high? Is it not selling because I priced it too high, or because it isn’t good, or because I am showing it to the wrong audience? Will I get the piece done in time? What if the weather turns wet and the paint doesn’t dry fast enough? Will the client like it? Will I like it? What if the commission is to paint something I don’t want to paint? That would happen if I was using art to pay the bills; there would come a time when I needed money and a commission came along that I wasn’t enthused by. Paintings never turn out well when I feel unenthusiastic about the subject. So, I do a mediocre job and the client is unsatisfied, thus damaging my reputation. Or worse yet, I do what I consider a bad job, and the client is pleased and displays it in his or her home- with my name on it!

Besides, if I had to do it, would I still enjoy my art? Maybe. I am good at teaching kids, and doing it as a job doesn’t make me hate kids. But… with art, I think maybe not. It is the reason I so rarely offer custom art pieces as gifts; people so often ask for something that I don’t care to draw, or want it drawn in a way I think is¬†unattractive. And I go ahead and do the piece, because I promised, but I don’t enjoy it. And I think that shows in the final product. They might be technically fine, but I feel like they don’t glow the way they should.

But not wanting to do art professionally doesn’t mean I don’t want to cultivate the talent, develop my skill, and make it into a regular part of my life.

Goals

The fact is, I am busy. Part of the reason I don’t keep up with these things is that I don’t have a ton of free time for them. But I think aiming for one art post and one cooking post per week, both with pictures, is reasonable. Just that. I won’t commit to a particular day, or a minimum length, or anything else.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.

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