Tuesday, January 27, 2009


It's been horribly, bitterly cold here in Indiana. And with so much ice! I have never before actually fallen on my ass trying to walk to class, but this winter it has happened no less than four times. All of those times, there were people watching.
So, how to survive? Since hibernation isn't an option (I wish), the only alternative seems to be to make warm food and drink alcohol. Drinking warm alcohol is also a plus.
I did just that last night. I had been eyeing a recipe on Bread and Honey for chicken and dumplings. I kept putting it off, because I didn't want to buy a carton of heavy cream and then waste half of it, but since I had to get the cream for the vodka cream sauce, I decided to go ahead and make it.
My friend Victoria was feeling sick. That was another good reason to make it.

Chicken and Dumplings, via Bread and Honey:
6 or so cups of broth (we made our own chicken broth last night.)
2 large carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery (oh my god, try not to freak out about how LONG IT TAKES TO CHOP IT), diced
1 med-large yellow onion, diced
handful of minced garlic
2 chicken breasts, chopped into bite sized pieces
Oil, butter, flour
about 1/3 cup (or like, a glug) of heavy cream

Saute vegetables in a good sized hunk of butter and a drizzle of olive oil (starting with onions & garlic) for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Throw in a handful of flour and stir in quickly to make a roux. Toast for a moment, then add stock. Stir rapidly until liquid begins to boil, then drop to a simmer. Add the chicken breast, and a glug of heavy cream. Toss in a bay leaf, and let simmer for a few minutes.

In a mixing bowl, prep your dumplings:

2 cups of flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
generous dash of salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
fresh thyme leaves
lemon zest

Mix together dry ingredients, then add cream until "desired consistency" is reached. Jason didn't tell me what the 'desired' consistency is, but I'm guessing something thick enough to spoon into the hot soup that will keep its shape. Cook's Illustrated describes is as "very thick and shaggy." I like describing dough as "shaggy."

Spoon dumplings into the soup pot, covering the entire surface of the soup. Put a lid on the pot and let simmer for 20-30 minutes until dumplings puff up.


Well, I didn't use celery. But not because I thought it would take too long to chop it, I just didn't have any and didn't want to make my boyfriend buy it at the store, although I did send him to get broth. I didn't make my own broth either.
When I started making the dumplings, the dough was way too thick, so I ended up adding milk, which did the trick. I didn't have enough cream left from the vodka sauce to make it entirely out of cream and flour, but I think that's perfectly all right, because my GOD they were rich. I finished my bowl, but didn't go back for seconds. Now, I am craving the leftovers like none other. I decided to try to brave saving the leftovers, because they were so good I didn't have the heart to throw it out.
As far as the drinks, there was a bottle of red wine, a six pack of Heineken dark lager (which I think tastes a little like soy sauce), a Bailey's and milk on the rocks, a good portion of limoncello and a good portion of Chartreuse. A post on Chartreuse is yet to come, because it really deserves its own.
I highly recommend that you make dumplings. I had never had real homemade dumplings before, only the canned kind or the kind you get at Cracker Barrel, or the kind in Campbell's soup. This completely blew them out of the water. But I might suggest using a little bit less cream, at least in the broth. Because it was incredibly rich.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pasta a la Vodka

I read a recipe a long time ago on Smitten Kitchen for vodka cream sauce. I'm such a sucker for a good vodka cream sauce. I will order it anytime.
However, this recipe was purportedly magical. It was originally from Rachel Ray (EVOO? Come on), but still sounded intriguing. Although, I take issue with the title. It is called "You won't be single for long" vodka cream sauce.
That was absolutely not my objective in making it. Just to set the record straight.
So, the recipe (via Smitten Kitchen):

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)
Coarse salt and pepper
16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
1/2 cup heavy cream
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.
Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.


I was lucky enough to have some actual Italian pasta on hand that my boyfriend brought back from Rome, which was a stop on his flight back from France in early January. It was the best pasta I've ever had, but as I told him, I'm sure it's nothing compared to the pasta in some rural Italian village where the Italian mamas make it in their own kitchens. He said that was true. What a showoff.

I didn't use the fresh basil, because I'm cheap. And is heavy cream the same thing as heavy whipping cream? I don't know, but I used the heavy whipping cream and it tasted just fine.

I would have liked it a little more on the spicy side, but this is me we're talking about, and I would like everything a little more on the spicy side. If there were tabasco-flavored ice cream, I'm sure I'd go for it. My boyfriend added salt. He was right.

It's not magical. But it's good.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Throw stuff in a pan and fry it.

Last night was a very impromptu night, all around. I just happened to run into a friend I hadn't seen in months, although she lives across the street. She just so happened to come to my office when I just so happened to come back to work when I wasn't supposed to in order to drop something off. I invited her over for some booze, as we have soooo much of it. (Must. Stop. Buying. Liquor.)
Anyway, she was going to bring over a frozen Lean Cuisine meal. Naturally, I couldn't let her do that. I was supposed to make stir-fry anyway for myself and my boyfriend, so I knew there would be enough for three.
So, I started taking things out and throwing them in the pan. Onions, red pepper, diced, thrown in the pan. Of course, then I browned the onions in beer, because that's what I do.
Browning onions in beer might be the most useful thing I ever learned from my dad.
Anyway. Then I grilled three large chicken breasts on the world's smallest George Foreman grill, diced them, put them in the pan. Then I threw in some water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, which admittedly I did buy in anticipation of having stir fry.
I boiled some vermicelli, not having any kind of actual asian noodles. Then I threw in some soy sauce and some olive oil and some really great sesame chili oil (thanks Jenna) to both dishes and fried them some more.
That's all. It was really really good. The only thing I regret doing was throwing in an egg. It made it look like something was a little wrong with the dish and it didn't add anything.
So, here's to completely impromptu decisions.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Calzone FAIL.

So, calzones. I like them when someone else makes them, but apparently not the healthy kind.
I got a box of Jiffy pizza crust and some ricotta and some chicken and some spinach. I found a healthy recipe, and thought, how hard could it be?
I don't know what went wrong, but they were completely tasteless. I added probably 2 tablespoons of garlic, I grilled the chicken, and I even added tomato sauce to make sure they weren't just icky and cheesy. Not to say that cheesy is icky, but I don't like things that have the consistency of a quiche, as I found out. Which is logical, since I don't really like eggs.
Anyway, it wasn't good. My boyfriend even got the idea to form the filling into balls and fry them, and they still weren't good. You would think that frying anything would at least make it a little more tasty. Nope.
I was discouraged by the time I couldn't make the pizza dough do what I wanted it to. And this was after I almost burned down the kitchen with exploding olive oil in a frying pan.
So, calzone FAIL.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Toxic gas fajitas

The holidays have come and gone, without too much baking from me. I suppose later I will recap the saga of the pie making, but I shall save that for a time when I actually make a pie.
Christmas break was long and excruciating, and now that I am back, I feel much better. Of course now, I have to figure out how to make healthy food. It's more my boyfriend's decision than mine, but it's definitely part of my crusade to make sure we don't go out to eat five times a week anymore.
So last night was my first venture into the world of healthy food cooking. And I started with fajitas.
I found, on the Mayo Clinic website, a ton of healthy recipes that sound absolutely delicious. That's an accomplishment for them, because I don't really like healthy food. I don't like cooked vegetables, except for potatoes and canned green beans and the occasional onion. I despise cooked carrots. I don't care if they will save my eyesight, I've been reading in the dark my whole life and I'm doing just fine, thank you.
So, these fajitas. The recipe called for steak fajitas, but I don't like steak either, so I bought a ton of frozen chicken breasts and tried to do chicken as well.
First, I need to figure out exactly how to use the defrost function on the microwave as precisely as possible. My chicken ended up half-cooked by the time I pulled it out. Luckily I was able to save enough of it to have a decent sized dinner. And after trimming the steak I bought, I lost about half of what I thought would be viable meat due to high fat content. I refuse to chew meat that has a bunch of fat and I figure it you're trying to lose weight, you probably better go for the meat with as little fat as possible. Maybe I'm just bad at trimming meat, but I really lost a lot of that sirloin.
Anyway, you make fajitas exactly like you think you'd make fajitas - throw them in the pan with some onions and green peppers. But first I dragged the meat through a mixture of chili powder, cayenne pepper, cilantro, seasoned salt and minced garlic.
Now for the toxic gas part. When I was cooking the meat and the vegetables together, I thought the onions might need a little bit of help becoming successfully caramelized. So, having just tapped the mini-keg of Heineken I got for Jean for Christmas, I decided to pour some beer in it. Beer + frying onions has always worked well for me in the past, but for some reason this time, once I poured it into the pan, the beer evaporated into some kind of noxious gas that sure as hell wasn't breathable. Maybe it was the Heineken - I've never used that before, or maybe it reacted with the meat in an odd way, or maybe it was some of the spices I used. Either way, I don't recommend it. I think water would be a safer choice, with some olive oil.
The fajitas were good. There was a lot of food. There are now a lot of leftovers. Plus I used two of my new mixing bowls yesterday, and one of them is now holding the leftovers.
Normally, I wouldn't recommend toxic gas fajitas followed by rum-laced (7.5% rum laced) chocolates and then a hearty amount of limoncello and then Cointreau, but that's about what happened next. It made for a great night, but we really didn't stick with the Mexican them, did we?