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February 19, 2010

My $50 pepper grinder

My $50 pepper grinder
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I’d like to preface this by telling you that I am one of those people who HATES paying high prices for things that I can get for less money. Especially cooking supplies. I order most of my kitchen items from restaurant supply stores because a) they’re durable and b) they’re cheap! Christmas is one of the hardest times for me because people know that I love to cook, so they buy me things related to my hobbies. The problem with that is, if it’s a kitchen item, I already have a nicer version of what you were going to buy me, or I have very little use for it. Which is why gift cards come in handy. But then the gift cards are to places like Williams Sonoma, which sells some very nice stuff, but at very high prices. I received a $50 Williams Sonoma gift card for christmas this year (I can totally talk about this because the person who gave it to me doesn’t read my blog). It was a WONDERFUL, and thoughtful gift, but totally wrong due to my obsession about getting the best price. I spent 4 days finding the best deal on aluminum half size sheet pans. ($5 each, shipped).

Already knowing about what I was going to find, I went to http://www.williams-sonoma.com/ to see what the hell I’d be able to find that I had any interest in owning and wouldn’t bring tears to my eyes to buy, even with someone else’s money. I couldn’t find anything. After Craig got frustrated at my hour of guffaws, he told me just to go into the store and look around. And I did. I spent 30 minutes wandering through the store trying to find something that I justify spending that kind of money on. I eventually found a pepper grinder. Yes, a pepper grinder for $46. Inorite!?!?!?!? I would have normally passed this up, but just days before had read a post on smitten kitchen about nice kitchen things that everyone should have (nice chef’s knife, great cookware, big cutting board, and…. a nice pepper grinder). Anywhoodle, after spending about 10 minutes fondling them, I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy the damn thing, thinking about how angry I’d feel every time I used it because of how much it cost.

Well I got it home, tried it for a few days, and totally fell head over heels for it. It has 6 separate grind size settings, is built by Peugeot (the French car company), is made of walnut, and has a 20 year warranty. I mean- it better for $50, but it was worth every penny that I didn’t have to spend. I’d like to show you all about the separate grind settings.

This is I. Use it for things that you don’t want a notable pepper presence in, but you want the flavor. I used this for a risotto.

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This is II. Use this for something like topping a soup or stew.

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This is III. Use this for peppering eggs. It’s a good all purpose grind.

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This is IIII. Use this for pasta topped with some parmesan and pasta water, or a caesar salad.

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This is IIIII. Use this for seasoning steaks before you sear them.

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This is IIIIII. Use it for whatever you’d normally use pan crushed peppercorns for. It makes huge chunks and way less mess than using a heavy skillet. I used it for my bacon dry cure.

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Here are all of the grinds compared to one another on a sheet of parchment(clockwise from bottom left, small to large). This alone was reason enough to buy the pepper grinder. I honestly never thought I’d make use of all 6 settings, but I do. Like, every few days. It’s one of those things you never knew you were missing until after you had it.

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Posted in: Cooking, Kitchen
February 19, 2010

Caramelized Apples over Ice Cream

Caramelized Apples over Ice Cream
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Ok, this is one of my favorite winter desserts, when nothing is in season but apples. Plus it’s easy. And it impresses people because the thought of making any rendition of caramel strikes fear in most people’s hearts. Play on that, use it to your advantage, and people will eat out of your hand (and kitchen) for the rest of your life.

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Start with a couple of granny smith apples. Use these because tarter apples hold up better to cooking and don’t break down quite as easily as something like an apple that’s great to eat normally, such as Gala or Honeycrisp. Granny Smith apples are usually cheap too! Anyway, you’ll want to peel them. I used my paring knife because I’m so lazy that I couldn’t be bothered to hand wash the vegetable peeler that I used the previous night to make the same thing. Oh the woes of entertaining.

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Ok, now you’re ready to start preparing your pan. Get a heavy bottomed skillet or dutch oven. There’s nothing that I like to use more than antique cast iron. It helps keep the peaky nature of my flat top electric range in check. Plus it’s easy to clean, oh, and I feel better than everyone else when I’m using a pan that’s older than almost everyone I know.

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You’ll want to melt some butter in the pan. 1/3 stick or so. I’m terrible at measuring. To your melted butter, add some(maybe 1/2 cup?) brown sugar (this gives you some wiggle room in regards to whether you’re actually caramelizing anything or just melting the sugar. Put simply, it makes your cooking window bigger so you don’t burn shit. To the brown sugar, add cinnamon, ground cloves, ground ginger, freshly grated nutmeg, whatever flavorings you like on apples or in apple pie.

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Under no circumstances do you want to leave the kitchen and go hang out in the gun room with your sweetheart and his friends at this stage. You’ll probably end up with a house full of sugar smoke and a big mess on your hands. Ask me how I know. Instead, stay in the kitchen, and cut the apples into 8 or 12 slices each. Stir around the butter sugar mixture and add a few tablespoons of a tasty liquor of your choice. Things that come to mind are brandy, rum, & whiskey. Whatever you have on hand. Add your apple slices and let them sit for a few minutes.

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Using a fork, or tongs or whatever you feel comfortable with, flip the apples over when they’ve softened up on the bottom and begun to cook. Let them simmer for a few minutes to reduce some of the liquid in the pan. You can pull tiny bits of the syrup out and cool it (thoroughly!) and taste it/check the texture every now and again until you begin to feel comfortable with caramelization and temperatures. If you’re super nervous, you can use a candy thermometer and cook it til below soft ball stage.

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Now scoop some vanilla ice cream into a few bowls (we had 3 this time, 4 would have worked too) then scoop the apples into each bowl and pour some sauce on top. Then enjoy. 🙂

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Posted in: Candy, Cooking
February 19, 2010

Boeuf Bourguinon

Boeuf Bourguinon
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I know, it’s like the most commonly prepared thing now that Julie & Julia came out. Guess what? I had never even thought of cooking Boeuf Bourguinon until I saw the movie too. But since then, it’s been a great comfort food in our house. The first time, I followed the recipe to the T, well with the exception of a ton of pearl onions. Those puppies are hard to find! Anyway. Then I began to think about how I could make it easier.

You see, boeuf bourguinon is just a fancy beef stew. And not even that fancy. There are 2 things that differentiates it from “classic” beef stews- bacon, and red wine. I couldn’t think of better additions myself. Really, I tried. Anyway. The bacon makes it taste… well… magical. The red wine helps to cut the fat and overwhelming richness of the (or at least my) homemade beef broth. The onions and carrots are.. well, there. And mushrooms are added towards the end of the cooking. These small tweaks from normal beef stew really make so much better. I had trouble getting Craig to eat beef stew before, but he happily eats this, which is saying a lot. He’s spoiled and complains about pretty much everything.

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In the real recipe, everything is seared in the pan, then it’s deglazed with red wine, beef broth is added, and it’s sent to the oven for 4 hours or so. Being one who feels squirmy when faced with the possibility of being away from the house when the oven is on, this method is only really a great option if you are home all afternoon, like during the weekends. My adaptation is to sear everything in the morning, put it into my crock pot, deglaze the pan with red wine to get all the good burned on bits up, then pour the wine and beef stock over the meat/veggies in the crock pot, then let it go on low all day. It turns out pretty good. The beef should be fall-apart tender and everything should be beautiful.

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I serve this over rice. In the photo below, you can see a beautiful chunk of glistening, homemade bacon. It’s amazing.

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Posted in: Cooking
February 1, 2010

Crispy Delicious Cheese Straws

Crispy Delicious Cheese Straws
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I stole this recipe from Deb over at smitten kitchen. The only changes that I made were to use cayenne pepper because I’m out of pepper flakes, and to make mine ugly. So she wouldn’t feel so bad about what a great idea the cayenne was.

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They’re a very simple dough. Cheese, butter, flour, a little salt, cayenne pepper, and a splash of cream.

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Combine all but cream and process in food processor until it’s fairly homogenous. Then add in cream and process until it forms something close to a ball. Dump out onto floured countertop or silicone mat. Roll out, cut into strips with knife, bench scraper or pizza cutter.

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Put onto silicone mat or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400ºish for 14 minutes (in my oven), let cool slightly on pan then transfer to wire rack to cool. They taste like cheez-its wish they could be when they grow up. Really. The flavor is out of this world. If you like the crispy edge parts of lasagna or live for the parts of your grilled cheese sandwich where the cheddar pooled out of it from a hole in the bread and got crispy and fried, you won’t be able to get enough of these.

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These look fancy served in a glass, but I thought my San Marzano tomato can was a little more rustic/festive. Plus it shows that I’m rich enough to buy expensive imported canned tomatoes. Or that I’m crazy enough to save the cans from them.

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I saved leftover ones in a ziploc bag in my pantry overnight and they were still delicious but not pleasant and crisp the next day. Dumping them onto a baking sheet and popping them into a 350º oven for a few minutes seemed to fix this, and they were even crispier than before.

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Posted in: Baking, Cooking