Sunday, December 19, 2010

Buttermilk Pie with...Duck Fat and Vodka Pie Crust?!?!

Last month, around my birthday, my sister Kim called from Seattle to let me know a package would be arriving. Kim is an amazing pastry chef, and said it was being overnighted, so I knew it was going to be something delicious. We had a bunch of friends in town for the Built to Spill show at the Wilma, and they were here when the box arrived.

"Ooooh looky here everybody!" I called. "My sister sent me a birthday package, and I bet it's something we can eat."

Everyone gathered around the big brown box while I slit the tape and opened it up. The air prickled with anticipation. I reached in between the layers of packing material, and pulled out a jar.

"Homemade cornichons!" I exclaimed.

Murmurs circulated around the room..."What the heck is a cornichon? I dunno? Me neither...Some kind of pickle I guess..."

I reached deeper into the box and found a frigid cold plastic bucket. I grasped the handle and hoisted it up, reading the label aloud for all.

"Rendered duck fat," I said. "It's an eight pound bucket of duck fat!"

Many pairs of eyes gazed at me in confusion. The room went silent.

"I get it!" I laughed, "You bring the duck fat, I'll bring the cornichons!"

More silence. More confused eyeballs.

See, Kim's girlfriend Angie and I had this inside joke going on Facebook. She's the chef at this super swanky hotel, and we're always talking shop. Angie and I had decided that she and Kim needed to come to Montana for a visit, so we could chef it up together. "I'll bring the duck fat!" she said, to which I replied, "I'll bring the cornichons." And then we both LOL'd.

Chef humor.

I ROTFL'd, before stashing my bucket of white gold in the freezer. Nobody got it but me and Kim and Ang, but that's okay. I just explained to my pals that sometimes when you're a food person, you get birthday gifts like 8 lb. buckets of duck fat in the mail. Funny thing is, the next day I got a box of hand-crafted Michigan cheeses from my Mom, and a box of Montgomery Inn's pulled pork and baby back ribs, and Graeter's Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip ice cream from my bro. I made out like a bandit.

Duck fat delights: Smashed potatoes with sea salt.

I Facebooked Angie to let her know the fat had arrived and we exchanged ideas about all the things I could do with it. Duck Confit, Duck Rillettes, Duck Fat Smashed Potatoes, Duck Fat Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Duck Fat Fries, and ...Duck Fat pie crust?

Yes. Duck fat pie crust. Kim had judged some pie contests this past summer, and told me that hands down, the best crusts are made with a combo of butter and animal fat, like lard. So I thought, why not duck fat? A hasty search revealed that yes, people certainly do use duck fat for pie crusts, both sweet and savory. It has quite a bit of rich, animal flavor, so you want to use a low ratio of duck fat to butter, but apparently It makes a mean crust. 

I also came across the idea of using vodka in the crust. What?!? Yes. Vodka in pie crust.

Replacing about half the water typically used in a pie crust, with vodka, apparently has two benefits. It adds enough moisture for the crumbly pie dough to stick together and roll out nicely. It also evaporates during baking, so the resulting crust is light and flaky, leaving almost no alcohol flavor. If you didn't tell anyone you used it, they'd never know it was in there. My curiosity was piqued.

It just so happened that it was Thanksgiving time and I wanted to bake a couple of pie's for the weekends festivities, one of which was this Southern Buttermilk Pie. 

A college roommate had introduced me to Buttermilk Pie many years ago. I had never so much as heard of it, but one bite, and I never forgot.Think of it as a custard pie, somewhere between Creme Brulee and Flan. You can gussy it up with a fresh berry sauce, but it really doesn't need it.  

Buttermilk Pie is a crowd pleaser, even among lukewarm pie eaters. If you haven't had it, you're missing out. I always wanted to make one, and was reminded of it when I heard Natalie Y. Moore talk about it on NPR's "Kitchen Window." I printed her recipe and it's been floating around in my stack of recipes to try for the last couple of years.

The recipe Moore used is identical to many of the classic Buttermilk Pie recipes available online. There are variations, but Southern reviewers almost unanimously claim that this is the one they remember from their childhoods.

I stuck to the recipe, pouring the custard into my duck fat and vodka pie crust. The consensus? Well, people pretty much freaked out. I'll admit here that I am a lukewarm pie eater myself, so the appeal of a bomber pie crust is somewhat lost on me, but all at the table, especially my friend Mona, a bona-fide pie crust queen, said it was the best she'd ever had. Noah agreed, and he doesn't make those claims lightly. As for the filling, everyone at the table loved it, and couldn't believe that Buttermilk Pie wasn't more well-known. 

Making a dent in the duck fat
 I promised Mona the recipe, so here it is, for all to see. I think it would make a lovely addition to your holiday table, be it Southern, Northern, Eastern, or Western, but Buttermilk Pie is great any time of year.

Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie
(from Natalie Y. Moore, for NPR's "Kitchen Window")

This recipe is easy as... well, you get it.

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 325. In a medium mixing bowl combine eggs, sugar, and flour and stir to combine. Add melted butter and mix well. Add buttermilk and vanilla and stir to combine.

Dust the unbaked shell lightly with flour. Pour filling into shell, and use a fine wire mesh strainer to evenly dust top of filling with a bit more flour.

Place pie on middle-rack of preheated oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack just below the one the pie is on, to catch any drips. Bake until top is golden and custard is set, about 1 hour. Pie may be served warm, room temperature, or chilled. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Duck Fat and Vodka Pie Crust
(makes 2 single 9-inch pie crusts)

I'm going to buck pie-crust tradition here and tell you that I don't chill the butter. If that's how you make your crust, that's fine, but I'm a lazy baker, and I think it's much less cumbersome to cut the fat into the flour when it's a bit more pliable than the super cold butter most recipes prescribe. When it's a bit soft (but not mushy room temp), you can even use your finger tips to work it in. It still maintains the little bits of fat that make pie crust light, flaky, and tender, and after being chilled for an hour, it rolls out easily, especially when you use the plastic wrap method outlined below.

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cool but not chilled
1/4 cup rendered duck fat (you can substitute lard)
1/4 cup ice cold water
1/4 cup vodka

Combine flour salt and sugar in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Slice butter into pats and add to flour along with duck fat. Cut the fat into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender, a food processor, or your finger tips. Continue working the fat in until the mixture resembles very coarse meal.

Add cold water and vodka and stir just until ingredients are moistened. Divide the dough into two balls. Place each ball on a large square of plastic wrap, and flatten into circular discs, about 1-inch thick. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling. If pressed for time, you can speed the chilling process by placing in the freezer.

When ready to roll, unwrap the plastic, and place the dough disk in the center of the sheet. Place another large sheet of plastic wrap atop the disk and use a rolling pin to roll out the crust to about 11 or 12 inches in diameter. The plastic omits the need to flour your work surface or rolling pin. Peel one sheet of plastic from the dough, and use the remaining sheet, sticking to the dough, to lay the shell into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the edges and then crimp by pinching with your fingertips, or pressing lightly with the tines of a fork.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ultimate Smoked Salmon Spread

Last week, I was zipping around town in a holiday frenzy, looking for supplies for an article I was writing on edible homemade gifts. You can read that article, including 6 simple spice mixes, and a recipe for Dark Molasses Cranberry Granola, on Nourish Network. I zoomed to the spice store and the craft store and the fabric store. Then out to the hills to take Pablo for a walk. I zipped back into town to grab something to eat with Noah, while we discussed all the items we needed to put up a tree and hang some lights. Seeing that this is our first tree in our first home in our first hometown, we pretty much needed everything, from tree stand to ornament hooks. More zipping, zigging, zagging, and zooming. A blur of traffic lights, parking lots, and check out lines. We squeezed in a few of the never-ending errands that have come with our first year at the Ranchito-- look at snowblowers, go to the furniture store for the 15th time, pick up some ice melter from the hardware store. Sometime in the late afternoon, as the light was just beginning to fade, I looked at my phone. I had forgotten the ringer was off and I had missed 2 calls.

"#@*&!#@%!!! I missed my massage!!!"

My in-laws had bought me a massage for my b-day (thank you very much), and I had been looking forward to it all week. That morning, I scanned my calendar and thought, "Yay, massage today, 3pm." By the time I realized what had happened, it was 4:30.

I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach, you know, the sinking kind that comes from knowing that not only did you miss something, you screwed up someone else's day. Time and money were surely lost for the massage therapist. I called the spa.

"Hi, I had an appointment today, and I . . . well I don't know what happened. I think I got caught in a holiday time warp."

The receptionist laughed and said, "Yeah, I think that's been happening to people. We've had a lot of spaced appointments this week."

It was kind of a relief to know I'm not the only one. I was reminded again of the holiday mind melt reading my friend Kate's blog, A Life Like This One, where she likened her holiday state of mind to a, "Category 5 hurricane." And she reminded me that this is a time of year for togetherness, celebration, family, friends, and peace. Somehow, we have to hold that sacred, and make choices that create space for what's important.

In the whoosh of December, it's easy to miss the important things. My lesson this year is that as I enter the month of December, it's best to check my ambitions at the door. For example, while on deadline for that article, I needed to come up with a dish to pass for a Christmas party. I told Noah I was going to make salmon dip, then roll it in cream cheese and build a snowman, complete with a little path of grass clippings fashioned out of dill, a scarf made of shaved carrot ribbon-- complete with fringe, peppercorn eyes, and thyme stems for arms. Oh the edible wonderland I was going to create!!

"And when are you going to write this article?" Noah asked in reply, bringing me back to Earth.

"On second thought, maybe I'll just mix it up and put it in a bowl, " I said, "...with a dill sprig."

So that's what I did. And it was easy, and it was good, and ya know, it was enough. I made a lot of progress on my article that day, and felt relaxed going to the party, ready to bring some holiday cheer versus holiday stress. Oh that tightrope...she's a thin one. I wish you luck in walking your own this holiday season, in finding time to sit and admire the lights, to watch the snow fall, to remember the magic we knew as children, when it was our parents who were working their butts off to create happy holiday memories (Thanks Mom).

I had that massage, finally. After offering my heartfelt apologies for spacing out last week, the massage therapist generously gave me a most healing hour. She took me back home, back to center, where I am here, and only here. No zipping, no zooming, no doing, just being; aware of the truth that the important thing is not to impress people with salmon dip dioramas, but to show up.
So when it's your turn to bring a dish to pass, and you want to make something that comes together quick, but is still special enough for the season, try this salmon spread. Just remember not to spread it, or yourself, too thin ; ) 

Smoked Salmon Spread (makes 2 cups) 

This recipe was originally published in my Local Flavor column for The Juneau Empire. You can view the article here.

There are many ways to make salmon spread but, at least in my mind, this is the ultimate. Addicting, easy, and luxurious. Popular go-withs for salmon spread are buttery crackers (I like Late July Organic’s Classic Rich Crackers because they’re light yet sturdy), pumpernickel cocktail bread, bagel chips, or Lavosh-style flatbread.

8 ounces smoked wild Alaskan salmon (use hot smoked, aka "kippered" salmon, not lox)
4 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce
2 tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts (optional, but they add some nice texture)
2 teaspoons cream horseradish
2 teaspoons finely chopped dill, plus extra for garnish (or fresh chives)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Break the salmon into small pieces, discarding skin and bones. Set aside.
2. Place the cream cheese in a medium, microwave-safe mixing bowl. Microwave on high, 30 seconds or until softened.
3. Add all remaining ingredients (except salmon) to the cream cheese and stir to combine. Add flaked salmon and using a rubber spatula, fold into mixture until thoroughly coated.
4. Place in a serving dish, and garnish with extra dill. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. May be made 1 day in advance.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thai Beef Salad

Happy Holidays Food-G readers! We are one full week into the season of eating-- pun intended! Are you ready for something lighter yet?

Ahh the holidays... So good for the soul. So bad for the pants button. It's amazing how quickly it happens too. Over the course of a long Thanksgiving weekend I think I ate my own body weight in turkey, stuffing, gravy, pie, chex mix, prime rib, baked potatoes, and more pie . This morning, in the mild fog of a friend's super-fun Christmas Bash, I am reflecting on last night's hors d'oeuvre dinner: shrimp dip, salmon dip, spinach dip, queso dip, cured meats, cheeses, asparagus rolls, grilled beef skewers, and a couple of lil' smokies thrown in for good measure.

Don't get me wrong, I love the season's eatings (sorry, couldn't help it). Holiday food is so good, especially when consumed with family, friends, and a glass or two of holiday cheer. But in between feast days, it feels good to restore balance.

Noah and I fell in love with Thai Beef Salad in the little Australian surf haven of Byron Bay. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but theirs became the hallmark for what would become our quest to recreate the ultimate. It's been eleven years since that trip to Oz, and we've had plenty of time to nail down a version we love. So without further adieu...

Thai Beef Salad (serves 4)

Topped with slices of marinated tri tip, still warm from the grill, this is a salad that will satisfy every part of you. One of the best parts is the Nam Jim dressing: salty, sour, spicy, sweet, and totally oil free.

There are a lot of components here, but this meal lends itself to some superb piggy-back cooking. Marinate a little extra beef and use the leftovers to make this Vietnamese Steak Sandwich. Add a little of the Nam Jim dressing to rice noodles, throw in some pickled carrot (from the steak sandwich), along with chopped cucumber, bell pepper, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro, and crispy shallot and you've got a light and zippy noodle bowl to take to work.

1 or 2 heads bibb lettuce (depending on size), washed, dried, and torn into pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 carrot, coarsely grated
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into matchsticks
Thai Marinated Beef (recipe below)
Chopped green onion
Fresh cilantro leaves
Dry roasted peanuts, chopped
Crispy Shallot (recipe below)
Nam Jim Dressing (recipe below)

On dinner plates, arrange lettuce and top with chopped pepper, carrot and cucumber. Add slices of marinated and grilled beef, and garnish with green onion, cilantro, peanuts, and crispy shallot. Drizzle lightly with Nam Jim dressing and serve.

Thai Marinated Beef
The pineapple juice in this marinade helps tenderize otherwise tough cuts of beef like flank steak. If using a large piece of tri-tip, cut into smaller hunks for more even cooking. Lightly score flank steak in a cross-hatch pattern before grilling to prevent the meat from "curling". Let rest 5 to 10 minutes after removing from grill, and always slice across the grain when serving.

2 to 3 pounds flank steak or tri tip (tri tip is fattier and more tender)
6 ounces pineapple juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 lime, zest and juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

Combine all ingredients, pour into a large plastic Ziploc bag, and add meat. Marinate 4 to 6 hours before grilling over medium-high heat, 4 to 6 minutes per side, or until desired degree of doneness has been reached.

Crispy Shallot

1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced shallot
pinch salt

Heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add oil, and when shimmery add sliced shallots and salt. Cook, stirring 7 - 10 minutes or until dark toasty brown. Watch closely. They can burn quickly at such high temps if neglected.

Nam Jim Dressing

2 med. garlic cloves
pinch salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3-4 bird's eye chilies, seeds removed for less spicy version (or sub. a pinch of chili flakes)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons palm sugar (best), raw turbinado sugar (better), or light brown sugar (good)
2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot

Combine the garlic, salt and chilies in a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. Add cilantro and continue to pulverize. Combine with sugar, lime juice and shallot and stir until sugar has dissolved. Alternately, combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blitz until well-blended.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkeytini: A Thanksgiving Cosmo

Thanksgiving, year by year, is rising in the ranks as my #1 favorite holiday. There are a number of reasons for this:
  • Aside from some serious grocery shopping, the spirit of Thanksgiving hasn't been diluted with consumerist hype they way some other holidays have. 
  • It's a holiday with no dividing lines, at least within the U.S., it's a holiday everyone can celebrate. 
  • It's all about food. On Thanksgiving, we unite around the table to do two things: give thanks for our bounty, and EAT! We fill our bellies together, and appreciate the blessing of fullness.
  • It's simple, it's beautiful, it's delicious, and it's all about the most transformative force in the Universe: Gratitude. We each have things to be thankful for, and somehow, reflecting on them inspires generosity. Gratitude, I've found, works like that every single day of the year.
  • And of course there's my newest reason, which I'll present to you in just a moment.
Last Thanksgiving I shared a story with you called, "Spirit of the Raisin," about bringing deep presence to the ritual of eating. It's one of my all time favorite posts, but this Thanksgiving, I offer you a different flavor of holiday spirit: 


The Turkeytini
(Makes 2 cocktails)

This Thanksgiving-inspired cosmo is a festive, rosy-hued cocktail. Some very good friends gave us a beautiful bottle of Yazi Ginger Flavored Vodka from Hood River Distillers, which I highly recommend if you can find it. If not, use plain vodka, and toss a few coins of freshly sliced ginger root into your cocktail shaker. Hubs and I really enjoyed the uh, "recipe testing" for this one. ; ) 

In a cocktail shaker combine:

4 ounces Ginger Flavored Vodka (or substitute plain and toss in a few slices of fresh ginger root)
2 ounces cranberry juice
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed grapefruit
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lime

Add plenty of ice, shake well, and pour into martini glasses. Garnish with one of the following:

A twist of grapefruit peel
A slice of lime
A thin slice of fresh ginger

Enjoy! But please, not if you are driving. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving dear Food-G readers. I will be counting you on my gratitude list in a very big way tomorrow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tuscan Style Pot Roast : A Ski Bum's Dinner

Fall has ended here in Western Montana. Boom. Done. Kaput. Finito!!!

Last Wednesday a cold wind blew the last of the leaves away and fleece jackets were traded for down ones. Stylish sportster caps were traded for knit woollies with ear flaps. Anklets and running shoes were traded for thick Smartwools and winter boots. The snow began to fall in white waves, dusting, melting, dusting again, and now, staying put. Big flakes are flying this very moment, and the view from my office looks like a freshly shaken snow globe. The heat of summer is so fresh on my skin, it's hard to believe our highs this week are in the single digit range.

The ski areas are set to open right on schedule, and that makes me a very happy girl. Skiing is what brought me to this state 15 years ago. Oh, that and college ; )  It's also what overlapped my path and Noah's. I met him on a weekend trip to Big Sky. He was a lift operator there, and a snowboarder. He had long hair like The Black Stallion, and it was love at first sight.

As soon as we started dating, Noah got me into snowboarding, and I haven't really been skiing since. Maybe once a season, but I fell as madly in love with the sensation of surfing through deep, cold smoke powder, as I did with Noah.

That's me after doing some backcountry riding in Rogers Pass, B.C., New Years Day 2008

 I've been a knuckle dragging shred betty for the 14 years we've been together. Now, in keeping with what has become our, "Life Under Renovation," all that is about to change. Noah and I are switching to skis.

Non-skier/snowboarder types might miss the significance of this transition, but to us, and to our clan of Montana snow bums, this is BIG. By no means am I abandoning my beloved snow stick, but all I can say is that I haven't been this excited to hit the slopes, well, since the heli ski industry stole my favorite riding buddy 5 years ago. See, Noah had this dream to be a heli ski pilot in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska. These were the mountains we watched in ski movies, back when he was bumping chairs in Big Sky. It was a good dream, and he did it for about 4 ski seasons in a row, collecting some of the most spectacular memories a person can claim.

Noah flying the A-Star in Alaska's Chugach Range.
Note**: In case you have no idea what heli skiing is, he dropped skiers off on the tops of those mountains, and picked them up after they had skied to the bottom.

The only problem-- nay, 2 problems: 1) We had to endure 3 solid months  and most of the ski season apart, and 2) The pilot doesn't get to ski!!!!!

Okay, maybe he got to ski a little. There's Noah in the yellow circle, coming down the backside of the Mendenhall Towers. Juneau, AK.

That's Noah, and that's why I love him, but I am very glad he's back now. We have remodeled our set-up for our new life, and some new two-plank adventures.

Any night now, I will have the first of the season's snow dreams. The kind where I can do anything, huck any cliff, rip any chute, thread my way trough perfectly spaced trees, the snow falling in glittery clouds as I pass. Flying, floating, on bottomless powder with a face full of snow, headphones blasting Beastie Boys. I'm giddy just thinking about it. I wonder though, will my first snow dream of the season find me on one plank, or two?

Mmmmm.... On to winter food. Ski food. Warming-up-after-a-day-in-the-snow food. This pot roast uses lots of flavor and slow braising to turn a cheaper cut of beef into a luxurious supper.

Tuscan Style Pot Roast
(4 to 6 servings)
Adapted from a recipe for Italian Pot Roast or "Stracotto" in The Joy of Cooking. I used their technique of piercing holes in the roast and stuffing with a fresh herb paste to infuse the meat with flavor. I also added complexity with some aromatic spices in the tomato-based braising liquid. Many Italian Pot Roast recipes mention that it is almost always served with polenta, but I couldn't resist the tender bite of some long linguine pasta paired with the meaty-rich tomato sauce. For an ultra-nutritious and lower-carb option, try serving over roasted spaghetti squash.

P.S.- The leftovers make great oven-toasted sandwiches. Split open a soft hoagie or kaiser roll, top one half with some of the sliced roast, and a bit of the tomato sauce. Top the other half with sliced mozzarella or provolone. Place open-faced on a baking sheet, on middle rack of oven, under the broiler until heated through and cheese is bubbling. Toss in a handful of chopped fresh arugula or spinach if you like. 
2 1/2 to 3 pound chuck roast
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup water
A dash or two of ground cinnamon
A dash or two of ground clove
A dash or two of ground allspice
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 - 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes

Using the garlic, and fresh herbs, either make a paste using a mortar and pestle, or very finely mince. Using a small paring knife, make about a dozen deep slits in the roast, and stuff with  about half of the herb mixture, setting the rest aside for later use. If necessary, wipe excess herbs from surface of roast with a paper towel, so they don't scorch when you brown the roast. Sprinkle the roast on all sides with 1 tsp. kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Heat a medium (5-quart), non-reactive dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan, and once heated, add the roast. Sear the roast until well-browned on all sides, monitoring the heat so that a nice brown crust (i.e. fond) forms in the pan without scorching. This may take up to 20 minutes.
See that nice brown crust both on the roast, and in the pot?
I'm rather fond of "fond."

Once browned, remove roast from pan, and set aside. Immediately add chopped onion, carrot, celery, and water. If you have some, sliced mushrooms would also make a nice addition. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape any browned bits from bottom of pan. Saute until vegetables are very soft, 7 to 10 minutes.

Add ground spices, red wine, and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer and let bubble until liquid is reduced by half. Add crushed tomatoes and remaining fresh herb paste, and stir to combine. Nestle the roast into the sauce, spooning some of the liquid on top of roast. Bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to lowest setting possible while still maintaining a low and slow simmer.

For a small roast like this, it's best to flip the meat about every 20 to 25 minutes. I used to think pot roast was done when the meat shredded easily with a fork, but by that point, the meat is not only stringy, but dry. The meat will be tender and more juicy if it is not cooked to the "shred" stage. A roast this size may be done in as little as 1 1/2 hours, but may take up to 2 1/2, so give yourself some leeway with dinnertime. The Joy of Cooking recommends testing for doneness by slicing 2 small pieces from end of roast. If the inner slice is firm-tender and a bit moist, the roast is done. There may even be some pink in the center of the roast.

If necessary, skim fat from top of cooking liquid once the roast is done. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the roast from the liquid, slice across the grain, 1/4-inch thick, and serve with polenta, potatoes, or pasta, and generous scoops of the sauce. A simple green salad and the rest of the red wine make lovely accompaniments to this soul-warming meal.

Here's us at the beach, on a little island outside of Cordova, on one of my visits to heli ski "man camp".

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Food-G Followers, Meet Nourish Network

Sometimes, embedded in the ocean of people that surrounds us, there are special people, stand-out people, visionaries who devote their life's work to being part of the solution. Using my blog to share uplifting information with you, and to support those hardworking visionaries in their efforts, is one of the most meaningful things I can use my voice for.  
Food-G readers, there's someone I want to introduce to you...

In case you don't already know her, meet my friend and mentor, Lia Huber. Lia is doing amazing work from the launchpad of her vibrant online community, Nourish Network. Her mission: "Nourishing body, soul, and planet with every bite."

I rarely use my blog to promote products or people, but this is important, and not only because I've recently written a couple of articles for her.

If you want to skip straight to my story on the importance of cooking with the whole animal, including a recipe for Cremini and Short Ribs Ragu, go right ahead.

Or if you'd like to read my Thanksgiving tips, including a recipe for Wild Rice Salad with Pistachios and Golden Raisin Vinaigrette, be my guest.

While you're there, tootle around Nourish Network and you're sure to find inspiration to help you enjoy good food.

Lia knows that it's not just what we eat, but HOW we eat that sustains us. Nourish Network is about good food, not "diet" food. It's about loving our bodies enough to put good things inside. And it's about how doing that impacts the world around us, like the ripples from a rain drop.

Through a steady stream of engaging food articles, videos, and group or individual counseling, Lia helps people improve their relationship with food, by shining a light on new pathways, helping us learn to love eating in a healthier way-- a less self-destructive way. Lightbulb moment, anyone? 

Having walked her own harrowing path of disease and near-death diagnoses, Lia walks her talk. Just knowing her has made me feel more vibrant, alive, and committed to making the best choices I can, both in my life at the table, and away from it. So check it out! Join the community! Enjoy! Learn! Glean! Be inspired!

That is all dear Food-G readers. I know you will be as glad to have crossed paths with Lia, as I am.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Caper Pan Sauce

Dear Noah was home from work yesterday with a pinched nerve in his neck. He tried sitting, laying, moving around. Nothing was comfortable. Sometime in the late afternoon, he finally fell into the deep sleep of someone who has been in pain all day.

He slept and slept and I didn't want to wake him from what would hopefully be a healing rest. It was getting close to dinner time and  I needed to get cooking. The problem was that I was making Chicken Piccata for dinner.

Chicken (or Veal) Piccata consists of thin cutlets of meat, pounded with a mallet, lightly floured, browned in butter, and served with lemon. Sometimes a pan sauce is made with capers, butter, mushrooms, shallot, and more lemon. Considering our bedroom's proximity to the kitchen, going to town on some chicken with a meat mallet would be like, totally uncool. Plus, it was getting late. It had been a long, chaotic day of catching up from my trip to San Francisco, and I didn't really feel like taking the time to deal with cutting and pounding eight or ten pieces of sliced chicken breast.

But could I make whole, pan-seared, Piccata-style chicken breasts that were worth eating? Would they be dry and boring and lacking flavor? Would the floured exterior burn before the breasts were fully cooked?

Turns out the answers are yes, no, and no, in that order.

This is a mallet-free, weeknight version of Piccata-style chicken. Faster, easier, and still delicious enough to serve to company on a Sunday night. You might call it, "Lazy Man's Piccata", or "Piccata for People with Sleeping Spouses." Whatever you call it, just be sure and do one thing: make this dish.

Noah woke up just as I was snapping the last of the photos and getting ready to fill a couple glasses with the leftover white wine. Seeing, smelling, and tasting good food put a smile on his otherwise pained face, and that made the whole meal taste that much better.

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Caper Pan Sauce
(Serves 3 to 4)
Adapted from "The Best Recipe," published by Cook's Illustrated

3 tablespoons of oil and butter might sound like a lot to saute the chicken, but don't be tempted to skimp. The fat, in combination with high heat, is key to a chicken breast with a lightly crisped exterior, and juicy interior. You won't be adding additional fat to make the pan sauce, so this turns out to be a relatively light version of this dish. I served this with some simple roasted squash, but angel hair pasta tossed with a little olive oil, Parmesan, and garlic salt would make a simple and lovely accompaniment.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
few grinds black pepper
1 large clove garlic, pressed or very finely minced
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
6 ounces (2 cups) sliced mushrooms, button or cremini
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
few grinds black pepper
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 teaspoon flour
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley
Lemon slices, for garnish

In a medium mixing bowl combine first 5 ingredients, and stir to combine. Add Chicken breasts and toss to coat. Let sit while you slice the mushrooms.

Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate and dredge chicken breasts in flour, coating all sides.

Set oven to 200 degrees. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil in a large nonreactive skillet** (see note) over medium-high heat. Butter will foam and then subside. When it begins to turn light golden brown, with a faint nutty aroma, it's time to add the chicken breasts to the pan. Cook breasts 4 to 5 minutes per side. Use tongs to flip as necessary, and lower heat as needed, to prevent scorching.

When chicken feels firm to the touch, remove to an oven-proof plate or serving platter, and place in warm oven. Immediately add white wine or chicken stock to the pan. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce liquid by half. Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, a few grinds black pepper, and 1 tablespoon capers. Continue cooking over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until mushrooms have released their liquid and the pan is nearly dry.


Add 1 teaspoon flour to mushrooms, stirring to combine. Add 1/2 cup water, bring liquid to a simmer, and reduce by half, or until a light sauce-like consistency is reached. Add chopped parsley and stir to combine.

Taste and adjust seasonings. If you used chicken broth in place of white wine, you may wish to increase the acidity with a spritz of fresh lemon juice.

Spoon mushroom mixture over chicken breasts, garnish with sliced lemon, and serve.

** A Note on Pan Choice: Best choices for creating this kind of pan sauce are stainless steel or enameled cast iron, because they get a nice brown crust, or "fond" on the cooking surface, and are non-reactive. When liquid is added and the fond is scraped up, these brown bits add tons of rich flavor. Nonstick will do just fine if that's all you have, but won't produce much fond, or the same rich, brown flavor. Also, since this dish uses acidic ingredients like lemon juice and white wine, cast iron or aluminum pans are not recommended. These metals will react with the acid, giving the sauce an aluminum taste.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Foodbuzz Blogger Fest 2010: Tips, Tricks, and Pics

San Francisco! It's been such a long time. The last time I walked these streets I was in chef's whites and hounds tooth pants, lugging my knife bag and tool box to and from the California Culinary Academy. This time, I was lugging my laptop, camera, and business cards, around the 2nd Annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival. How is it that I always end up roaming these streets with a pack of unabashed food-worshippers? What can I say? This is my tribe and I love 'em.

One of the highlights of the weekend was getting to meet superstar Chef, Mary Sue Milliken, of Border Grill.
She was here with the folks from Alaska Seafood to announce The 1st Ever Wild Alaska Fish Taco Recipe Contest. Anyone can enter, and the winner gets an all expenses paid trip to LA to serve their winning taco from the Border Grill Truck with the Too Hot Tamales (Chef's Milliken and Feniger). You also get $500 bucks, a snazzy camera, and a bunch more stuff. I don't know about you, but my taco wheels are a turnin'.

I learned a new tortilla trick from Chef Mary Sue:

Pro Tip for reheating corn tortillas: dip them in water before giving them a quick one-two-flip in a hot skillet, for moist and pliable taco wrappers that won't break when you bend them.

I also got to meet one of my all time favorite food bloggers: Marc from No Recipes.

His food photos make my tummy growl. When I see his pics, I wonder, "How did he do that?!" He shared some of his photo expertise in a Breakout Session called:

Marc taught us a surprising trick for creating bright, Martha Stewart-like food photographs:

Pro Tip for food photography: Use back lighting to create bright and glowy food images with a feeling of suspense and mystery. 

I couldn't spend a weekend in San Francisco without running into someone from my culinary alma mater. Chef John taught computer skills at CCA, and is now blogging full time at Food Wishes , which features video recipes, prepared by Chef John, and requested by his readers-- hence, their "Food Wishes". His site is the web's LEADING video recipe blog! Go Chef John! He explained how he has filmed most of his 500+ online cooking videos:

Pro Tip for video recipe blogging: Skip the hair and makeup session by filiming in a style called "hands-in-pans". No need to show your mug when the camera is strictly pointed at the food.

Aside from the standard elbow rubbing, connection building, and shop talk typical of such events, what made my first Foodbuzz conference stand out was, well, the FOOD. And the beer. And the wine. It was like a 48-hour cocktail party with the most outstanding hors d'oeuvres, and no one was complaining about that. Last night's Gala Dinner was hands down the best plated dinner I've ever had at a 350+ event.
Much as I enjoy food and wine pairing, the bona fide German bier frau in me enjoyed many a glass of barley pop throughout the weekend, all from members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild-- an apparently robust and flourishing organization. One of the most memorable flavors of the weekend for me was this Watermelon Wheat Beer from 21st Amendment, served at Saturday afternoon's Tasting Pavilion.

Even at the end of it's summer season, this refreshing brew managed to feel both light and substantial, quenching my thirst with a juicy hit of watermelon, without being sweet. Sweet beer has it's place, but it's rare that I sample a beer made with fruit that I want to keep around a 6-pack of. This was an exception, and I put in a request that they start distributing to Montana, asap.

There is so much I'll be taking with me back to Montana. Like new and rekindled friendships with: 

My Luscious Temple
You Can't Eat What?
Living My Whole Life
A Foodie Stays Fit
The Enchanted Cook
The Nutty Fig
Ash and Lew Plus 2
Nibbles of Tidbits
And too many more to mention!

I'll also be taking home a heap of swag, a mild hangover, and a few extra pounds. It was worth it! Every delicious, organic, aromatic calorie. Foodbuzz, you know how to have fun. Thanks for making this weekend as dreamy as this spectacular city.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Alton Brown's Tres Leches Cake and El Dia de los Muertos

Yesterday marked the Mexican holiday, El Dia de los Muertos: The Day of the Dead. Here in Missoula, Montana we celebrated with our own version, based on the traditional Mexican ritual of celebrating the souls of our departed. In Mexico, graves are adorned with flowers, candles, and treats for departed loved ones. Sugar skulls and marigolds are common ornaments.

It is a day of remembrance and of summoning spirits, more celebratory than solemn. Death wears a vibrant mask on El Dia de los Muertos: colorful, flowered, and candied. It's a refreshing departure from some of the more despairing views of this inevitable part of life, and I think many Americans are intrigued by the holiday because it gives us a way to bring back the souls of our departed, and to dance with them. 

Here in Missoula, that's what happens every November 2nd. The Day of the Dead Parade, like a high-spirited and costumed funeral procession, toddles down Higgins Avenue, to Caras Park. As the sun retreats, candles are lit, fire dancers appear, hand drums start beating, and the dancing begins.

Missoula loves and celebrates our version of this ritual. In the cool shadow of Halloween, artwork, costumes, and dancing, all interpret and pay homage to the dead in some way.

What would Missoula's Day of the Dead Parade be without a couple of dead tubers?

After the parade we headed back to our pal's house for a Latin American treat: Tres Leches Cake, or Three Milks Cake. Tres Leches is just that: a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half and half. After sitting overnight and soaking up all that sweet milky goodness, the cake is topped with a whipped cream frosting. Served chilled, this cake is sweet, cool, creamy and beyond moist, like a dense marriage of flan and souffle. If you've never had Tres Leches cake, you're in for a treat. There's nothing else like it. 

I think my buddy Logan liked it, even if she did only eat the frosting : )

Click here for Alton Brown's recipe for Tres Leches Cake. I've made it twice and both times it has been wonderful. Two tips though:

1. I think that 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream would make plenty of frosting. 2 cups seems like too much.
2. Be sure you let the cake soak overnight, or 24 hours. It takes a while for the cake to absorb so much moisture.

I try to remember the light spirit of death we felt yesterday, which turned out to be a day that took one of the greatest surfers who ever lived. Andy Irons was far too young and full of promise to be taken from his friends, fans, and family so soon. I dedicate this post to him. Rest in peace, Andy Irons. May you be dancing down that great blue wave in the sky.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Browned Butter and Sage

If I weren't so concerned with SEO (search engine optimization), I would have called this post, "Life Under Renovation," or "Before and After." That is the current overriding theme of my existence, and I'm finally getting a glimpse of the energizing, celebratory phase of reaching the "After" point.

In the spirit of "Before and After," I bring you these 2 before and after recipes. The other night, we roasted butternut squash, the same way it was served long ago at my mother's table: Roasted in the oven with brown sugar, butter, and spices. It was tender and sweet and simple and good. But there was a bit leftover, so I renovated it, giving it a metaphorical sand, stain, and varnish job.

This past year has been one of the most transformative of our lives. So many dreams have come true, and all at once. We found a home town and solid ground beneath our feet. We took the wheels off our gypsy wagon and parked it, moving straight into the 30-year-old Ranchito: our money pit dream home. I love it, but sometimes it makes me want to go sit in my car, where nothing is broken or needs fixing, and just breathe.

We went from being long-time renters ("Uh, hey there's squirrels in the wall. Call the landlord.") to do-it-yourselfers ("Uh, hey there's woodpeckers drilling holes in the potting shed. What are we gonna do?"). We're building new friendships and rebuilding old ones, and enjoying all that comes with staying put. We found our first dog-- something we've wanted for such a long time-- whose furry little face has increased the smiles in this household by at least 50%.

We're also cleaning up old messes, winnowing through our stuff, and feeling the need to set good habits for every aspect of our new long-term life: health, community, career, family, marriage.

It's so wonderful, and tiring, and exciting, and stressful all at the same time. A giant paradigm life shift. There is no more running away to some tropical surf locale at the end of the AK heli season. Now we're year-round people. There is a lot of responsibility that comes along with that. If there's something we don't like, we have to face it head on, and change it. It's a lot of work. Instead of going hiking or fishing on our days off, we go to our second job: renovating our new house. As Noah put it, "R & R has taken on a new meaning in my life. Free time isn't about rest and relaxation anymore, it's about repairs and renovations."

Sometimes I have to remind myself-- like when we're digging a 6-foot deep hole around the chimney (for repairs)-- that these are good problems to have. We asked for this. For the last decade or so, and especially the last 5 years, we bounced around the West coast in a Space Pod, which was a tremendous and fun adventure, but had it's own set of challenges. There was no Mother Ship to go home to. A few years ago I began to wish very hard for a place to hang my hat, and now there it hangs! Right next to the work gloves, shovel, pooper scooper, and rake.

I think these life changes are always sprinkled with a hefty dose of yin and yang, be it finding a home, picking up and moving, starting a family, changing careers, or accomplishing goals. The duality of realizing one's dreams is equal parts joy and hard work, but it seems that the duality itself is what makes these things rewarding.

We've recently renovated my home office. Here's the before:

Scuffed up poo-beige walls, with a wallpaper border of (what else?) puppies in baseball hats!!

Here's the after:

After testing (and scrapping) half a dozen different yellow paint samples, from highlighter yellow to grey poupon, I decided to do a faux technique called color washing. I liked the earthy, vintage feel it created, and it didn't require sunglasses to be in the room once it was painted.

Noah invested in a mitre saw and router (since we're becoming construction workers) and we sanded some knotty pine to update the cheesy 1970's trim. We replaced the beat-up old accordion closet doors with new ones.

He and his brother Caleb did most of the wood work. Thanks Caleb! I took advantage of some fall sales to get some new office furniture, and lighting on the cheap. Someday soon, I'm going to put a little leather club chair and ottoman in this corner, so I have a cozy place to sit and read.

We thought this project would take a week. It took almost 2 months. That's pretty much par for the course. Things I guessed would take a couple months, will take a year. Renovations I thought would begin next year, are already shifting to 3 to 5 year goals. But completing my office has put such a spring in my step. To walk in there and know that we did it ourselves, and to feel like, "Yeah, this is my very own creative space,"... is huge.

Something in me that was all tense and unorganized, just unravelled and relaxed. All the scattered frustration of living out of storage units, and moving every 6 months is over. All my important things are here, and by putting the work into obtaining this dream, I can see now that big things are going to happen in my little yellow room. This is the place where I will make my contribution to the world. I have given myself the tools to succeed. WOW. That's cool. [happy dance : ) : ) : ) ]

Along with our house, I'm renovating my career. Food-G readers, this site is about to become something so much bigger and better than this little blog. It will be the same in all the right ways, but much improved. I'm taking the puppies-in-baseball-hats wallpaper down from Food-G, and putting up a new coat of paint. The ball has been rolling all summer, with business plans, and diagrams, and logo designs, and all kinds of ideas about how I'm going to turn this into something so wonderful, and useful, and inspiring...and it's all for YOU. If you have any thoughts, fears, desires, or requests regarding what you want to see on here, please drop me a comment. I appreciate your feedback!

Like everything, my blog renovation is taking 5 times longer than I thought it would, but I'm going to quote Noah, my Bodhisattva, again, who says that, "If something is taking longer than you think it should, it probably means you're doing it right."

I hate that saying, but he's right.

Without being able to tell you too much about my new blog, I give you these "Before and After," recipes. Great cheers were heard around the table when I recently brought this Butternut Mac and Cheese to a hunter's potluck. One of my most long-time friends shared with us the tenderloins from his freshly killed antelope and deer. Lucky us! They were amazing, marinated in ginger, sesame, and lemon, and grilled rare. Both of the recipes below are well-suited accompaniments for wild game. 'Tis hunting season after all.

BEFORE: Roasted Butternut Squash with Butter and Brown Sugar

Slice a medium butternut squash in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds.  Pierce the flesh several times with a fork. Place cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with:

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon clove
a few small pats of butter

Roast in a 350 degree oven until very tender when pierced with a knife, at least 1 hour. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the squash to make the Mac and Cheese.

AFTER: Winter Squash Mac and Cheese with Browned Butter and Sage (serves 6 to 8)

This isn't diet food, but it's what you bring to the potluck when you want to be the most popular person there. It also makes a satisfying meatless supper, and pairs nicely with Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale. The interplay of sweet and savory flavors is what makes this dish so unique and satisfying. 

1 1/2 cups roasted winter squash (butternut is best), mashed
2 pinches cinnamon
1 pinch clove
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
(OMIT the above 4 ingredients if you've already roasted the squash using the "Before" recipe)

4 tablespoons salted butter
10-12 sage leaves, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided

2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
2/3 cup Panko bread crumbs

12 oz. dried pasta shells, elbows, or penne

Grease a 3-quart baking dish, and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  If you prepared the "Before" recipe, simply mash 1 1/2 cups of the leftover squash. Otherwise, combine 1 1/2 cups roasted squash with brown sugar and spices.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook pasta to al dente, according to package instructions.

In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Let it sizzle and foam until it begins to turn golden brown. Add half of the chopped sage, stir and immediately add onions. Saute 5 minutes or until onions are soft.

Add flour to onions and stir to combine. Add squash and stir to combine. Slowly pour in milk a little at a time, stirring to prevent lumps. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until sauce has thickened. Add 2 1/2 cups of the cheese and stir until melted and incorporated into sauce. Remove from heat.

When pasta has reached al dente, drain and add to cheese sauce, stirring to combine. It will look like a lot of sauce, but don't worry; Much of the moisture will be absorbed or evaporate during baking. Pour into prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl combine melted butter, Panko crumbs, remaining sage, and remaining cheese. Stir to combine and sprinkle evenly atop mac and cheese.

Place in preheated oven and bake uncovered, 45 to 50 minutes or until bubbly and golden. If topping doesn't look brown enough at this point, broil 1 to 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

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