Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Birthday Guest Blog!

Today is the 1 year anniversary of my sister's lovely blog. If you aren't familiar with Le Culinary Creusette then you kind of need to check it out asap. Not only is she my little sis, she's a fabulous home chef living with her equally fabulous sous chef. Together they cook, hit up totally enviable restaurants (Volt!), and have really cool parties... and Mr. sous chefs' homemade chex mix is to. die. for. AND she totally won a huge Le Creuset for this awesome recipe of mine that she did her own little tweaks on (must run in the family I guess).

So Happy Birthday Le Culinary Creusette! Here's to many more years as an amazing blog and my blogging inspiration!


Yup. Le Culinary Creusette is a year old today. What started as a fun idea over a grill with my friends has turned into a much larger project that has had over 980 unique visitors and 116 posts in one year.

Thanks so much to all my friends and family who have continued to follow my ramblings over the course of a year, as well as all of you who have found me through an accidental misspelling on the web.

In honor of the past year, I've culled together a few of my most popular posts of the year:

The Long and the Short of Dinners: I made Honey Mustard Chicken (short prep) and my Short Rib recipe (3+ hours) in the same week. Both were amazing.
Honey Mustard Chicken

Monday, May 30, 2011

Something New

Memorial Weekend is over and summer is officially here. The weekend has somehow flown by, but in the best way possible. I went to Masa one night and had a couch date with pizza and beer the next (though with the same person both nights of course). I laid out in my beautiful park a few days and finally hit up Governor's Island for the very first time- and it's so easy to get to!- so I'm ending the weekend a tad sunburnt, which is kind of a prerequisite for Memorial weekend anyways. I just finished an excellent book I could barely put down for the past week- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks- so if you're looking for a good, compelling and educational read this summer then definitely give it a shot. I also just started The Help, which is a great before or after read with TILOHL and I can barely put it down. And I finally got a beautiful new apron to cook in.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Lemon Curd Cream Cheese Frosting

I'm normally not a frosting gal, but I just adore cream cheese frosting. It just doesn't have that overly sugary, too much-ness that some frosting's can have but it's still smooth and creamy. I think it pairs especially well with fruit and with the Strawberry Buttermilk Cake, there's was something very La Madeline strawberries romanoff about the combination. Plus, unlike buttercream, it takes maybe 10 minutes to make. A snap. And with the right tips you can definitely frost it a little nicer than I did here.
Oh and this is a recipe I just made up. That's right. Didn't reference one single other recipe (besides my basic cream cheese recipe). So this just goes to show, if you think something will work, give it a shot! And with icing if you aren't sure, put half in a separate bowl, one to experiment on and the other as the just in case it doesn't work control. You never know what deliciousness you'll come up with, and if it doesn't work, you still have half a batch left.

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

If you haven't noticed, I love taking something and making it "mini." Mini rhubarb pies, bread puddings, mini chicken pot pies, etc. It's not really because it's cute, it's more because I live alone and 75% of the meals I cook at home are just for me. I don't want a whole pie or cake sitting around for me to just pick at. My body, the way I want it to be, can't afford that so when I "mini" a recipe it's usually to have something that I can easily set aside, freeze back or easily cart around to my taste testers.

I also love buttermilk. Buttermilk pie is my absolute favorite pie, but also lemon buttermilk sorbet, buttermilk pancakes, soaking chicken in buttermilk before roasting... it's so wonderful and delicious and I'll reach for buttermilk much more often when I'm at the market over regular old (yucky) milk because I love doing so much more with it. And it goes so naturally with lemon that it's great for when the weather gets warm.

Comfort is... Chicken Pot Pie

2 years can easily be a very long or very short amount of time. It can go by in a instant or it can creep slowly along. A lot of heartbreak, a lot of soul searching and a lot of happiness can happen in 730 days. The way a person can grow and change and become who they've always wanted to be can be accomplished. Realizing dreams, letting go of the things that hold you back or hold you down, being your absolute best self can all come. I know. I'm the proof.

So Friday was my 2 year anniversary of being laid off. It was a very personal, sometimes painful journey but one I was bound and determined to not let get me down. I tried as best I could to continue with my life as much as it had been before but also really looked deep at the choices I was making and who I wanted to be and how I could alter my life to become that person. And I'm so happy to say, I'm getting there. I have a wonderful job that doesn't ask me to compromise myself and is a place I actually enjoy going to 5 days out of the week. I have a lovely home that I work hard to maintain. The fact that it is everything I could want at this moment in my life makes me so proud, every day. I'm becoming a better daughter, sister, friend and one day I will be an amazing wife and mother. I'm growing every day into a better home cook, a better blogger, an embracer of life, a more self-sufficient self and while I am pursuing new talents, I'm never forgetting the ones I already have. And I don't know if I could have consciously realized these things without losing the ground beneath my feet.
My rustic little individual pot pies

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend Breakfast

This morning when I woke up, in addition to my daily cup of coffee I decided it was tea time. I had recently been fortunate enough to find my absolute favorite tea, Lapsang Souchong, by chance and of course snatched it up. I have a deep reverent love for anything that smells smokey, like a wonderful fire without actually having a fire, and this tea is the epitome of that.
 My favorite candle scent is firewood, specifically Henri Bendels' and will seek them out in any season. Next to peonies and lavender it may be my favorite smell ever. Lapsang Souchong is just that scent too, the smokey firewood-y smell in a cup of tea. The story behind the tea is that in the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty in China, the passage of armies would delay the drying of the tea leaves. In order to dry the leaves faster to satisfy demand, tea producers would dry the leaves over fires made from pine, resulting in a lovely, woody smell to the black tea.

One Rotisserie Chicken Please: Part 4 Stocks and Soups and Such

There's a list (of course) in my head of the meals I make exceptionally well. My turkey chili, my short ribs... and my chicken pot pie. It's so, well for lack of a better word... country, but so luxurious. It's decedent but yet all the vegetables say "I'm kind of healthy." It's a little sweet, but mostly savory, the creamy sauce soaked up into the flaky pastry in the most delicious way. But you can't have chicken pot pie without chicken stock and what better way to use up every single bit of that rotisserie chicken then turning it into chicken stock?
Stock was one of the first things we learned to make in my I.C.E. cooking class and were impressed upon exactly how important stock was, the instructor even sharing tales of how people were hired at certain nameless New York restaurants just to make the stock and god forbid they messed up, it would spell the end of their career at unsaid restaurant(s). So below is straight from my class book. Of course you can adjust with different herbs and spices but you can just as easily do that with whatever you're using the stock for later without polluting the whole stock. I like to keep it simple, as I never know exactly what I'll be using it for later.

Thoughts on Summer

With Memorial Day just a few days away I figured I would officially call it for Springtime. Heat and humidity wise (when it's not raining that is) it basically feels like Summer and this weekend marks the commencement of Beach Season which everyone equates with Summer around here anyways.

Speaking in terms of my blog but also in terms of my life, as this little online journey has reflected very closely with my very real and actual world, Winter was the time for me to get back on my feet. It was cold and dark and I placated my Debbie Downer attitude with warm food and lots of memories and getting over it the only way I knew how. I started this little blog, I got out, I made new friends and became closer with old ones. Then Winter more or less just kind of shifted into Spring and with the change in weather also came a time for challenging myself and embracing the renewal of life.  And I loved and conquered every minute of it. Now here is Summer knocking at the door and with it lots of other new and exciting happenings in my life and I thought I would reflect a moment on everything I want to get out of this new season.
Hello Summer

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Whole Lot of Simple... Is a Vinaigrette

I love simple. A night in watching a quirky comedy with a glass of wine. A light dinner with a friend. A date night at the movies, followed by a meal of bites that becomes a starry eyed evening. A guy turning to you out of the blue to tell you how happy he is just to be with you. A work night escaped early to learn how to preserve and can... and yes, I said that correctly. I'm chasing my dream of ultimate self-sufficiency, and in a way getting back to "simple" basics. And you get the idea anyways. I'm a girl of simple pleasures.
All tools necessary. Oil, vinegar, a whisk, a bowl and salt to taste
Thinking about canning, as well as getting ready for my 4th installment of my little Rotisserie Chicken Series *drum roll please* Chicken Stock... has made me get out and dust off my Institute of Culinary Education Fine Cooking 101 class binder. It's been basically my bible, not so much for the recipes but for the techniques. Roasting, poaching, braising, deglazing. Compound butters, stocks, clafouti. The class taught me all the things I thought I knew how to do (roasting a chicken) and all the things I wanted to know how to make every time I read a dinner menu. If you have the time and the means... take this class. It will change your life in the kitchen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

One Rotisserie Chicken Please: Part 3 Chicken Salad

Ok, so this is a bit of a cop out/completely food related post. My personal life has been going really well though and I feel I don't want to jinx anything at this point and for once I'm really liking having my own little thing that's separate from here. So when I'm ready, I'll discuss but until then... let's focus on rotisserie chicken. Chicken salad is really one of the best ways to make use of leftover chicken and there really truly are endless combinations, and several to mostly all of the ingredients are either fairly popular condiments or shelf items. To to be technical, this is really more like a formula and you can prepare however you like, but I'll give you 2 good recipe take-aways anyways, because that's what I do.
Maple Mustard Chicken Salad with pecans and golden raisins over arugula and toast
The Formula
Meat: Typically chicken but also good with leftover turkey. I also love seafood salads, but this is about rotisserie chickens here... so different post.

Dressing: I like a mayo based dressing, but done with low fat mayo. Also yogurt, sour cream and could even be a vinaigrette, or even simply olive oil.

Flavoring: Pesto, mustard, ketchup, pickles, relish, ranch seasoning, curry powder, rosemary, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, horseradish, citrus, soy sauce, etc.

Crunch: Chopped celery, apples, carrots, shallots, edamame, onions, pecans, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, etc.

Sweet: Dried fruits like cherries, cranberries, raisins, currents, dates, grapes, apricots, honey, maple syrup, candied ginger, etc.

Tip: Don't overpower the salad by adding too much. Typically pick one from each group and go with it. Also, combine the dry ingredients separately from the dressing, then add the dressing a bit at a time and taste as you go to get the desired level dressing. It's easier to add it in then to take out when there's too much.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vanilla Ice Cream

Besides whipped cream, the perfect warm brownie accompaniment is a scoop of vanilla ice cream. One perfect scoop, melting leisurely over a gooey chocolate brownie. Before going into his own recipe, which I made my own slight adjustments to, David Lebovitz says "everyone should have should have a great recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream in their repertoire." And his is a great jumping off point for this very excellent chilled treat.
Seeing this picture really makes me want to buy a new camera. Or eat ice cream during daylight hours.
Among the trinity of ice cream flavors (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry), my go to was always chocolate as a child. Vanilla was such a bland mess and frankly resembled my culinary nemesis milk a little too much. It wasn't until I was much older and a combination of my palate becoming more advanced as well as actually having tasted vanilla ice cream made with exceptional ingredients, farm fresh eggs, organic (and local) milk and cream, and of course high quality vanilla, that I became a devout follower.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

One Rotisserie Chicken Please: Part 2 Enchiladas Verde

I'm just going to dive right in here. This is not only a Tex-Mex favorite but a staple to any good Texas housewife. I'm not quite sure if it's more Texas or Mexico, but all the same I grew up eating it and it was always a favorite weeknight dinner... namely because it's pretty easy and usually just involves leftovers, a few fridge items and canned goods.
But the beauty of this recipe is that you can make it complex or simple and also as healthy or as decadent as you'd like. I debated using cheese, and in the end decided not to use it in the filling, just shred over the top right before I baked. I also used fat free sour cream in the filling, which I think is perfectly fine as it should have that sour cream taste, but the difference between fat free and regular really can't be detected amongst all the other stronger flavors. I also chopped up and sauteed some mushrooms and some broccolini, because well why not. It helped to "health" it up and also allowed me to stretch out my chicken supply a little more.

One Rotisserie Chicken Please: Part 1 Hominy Casserole

My sister posted on this a while ago when she was doing her budgeting month and it was actually a little trick I guided her to. I've mentioned this before but I was laid off for 8 months nearly 2 years ago, so in that time I was able to gather all sorts of fun ways to still eat well while on a budget. This was one of my favorite because it allowed me to feel a little like I was splurging and yes, I know a rotisserie chicken doesn't sound all that exciting but being able to buy something that someone else made is a huge luxury when you're watching where even nickle and dime is going.

For 1 person, or even 2... a whole chicken can translate into 5-6 different meals. And it's easy. Don't feel like making enchiladas, or chicken pot pie, or aji de gallina, and I can assure you, there were plenty of nights where the thought of cooking, the act of using up supplies and thus by default further dwindling my bank account was too depressing to get me into my "cooking mode." So simply chop up some of the chicken, mix with a little mayo and mustard, add in a nut or crunchy veg and some raisins and voila, chicken salad.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chocolate Chili Brownies

There's something about baking right before bed, the wonderful smells that fill my apartment, having something warm and sweet to taste test, a one final (and delicious) accomplishment of the day before calling it a night. This week has been filled with all sorts of other unexpected accomplishments and after completing a few it's kind of hard to stop. So I came home and decided to bake some brownies, and while I was following a formula for all the baking elements, I was also kind of winging it, and it worked. And so I share.
During my usual weekly downtime blog perusal I came across a great recipe from the Homesick Texan for Lavender Brownies, a treat that sounded so decadent that I couldn't pass them up. But I couldn't find lavender, or possibly just didn't have the time to look hard enough, and the chocolate I already had at home was chili spiced, the kind I typically keep around for my wonderful chili recipe. So I thought, what the hey, I should just give that a shot. After all, the Texan in me loves everything with that little kick of spice. But if you've ever had chili spiced chocolate you will know it's not spicy, just with a warm kick. And chocolate and chili go hand in hand, which is why amazing combinations like mole exist. So here goes: decedent and delicious, the chocolaty gooey perfection of chili spiced brownies.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Unloved Appliances and Cold Soup

I started looking into some recipes for chilled soups, a personal summertime favorite when the days are sweltering, just to be prepared ya know, and chatting with a few friends about nothing in particular while listening to some good ol' GT... and bam. That strange spring melancholy just melted away. Food and friends and good music... the combination never fails as a perfect pick-me-up. 
The perfect accompaniment to soup is an excellent immersion blender. This I do not have...
So I begin making lists (call me crazy but I just adore making lists) of all the soups I want to make again, or soups I want to test out. Just like pesto there seem to be endless combinations of chilled soups I can't wait to try once the weather takes a turn for the worst in terms of scorching heat. And then I added a little post script to my list: buy a new immersion blender.

Pesto: A Green Diversion

For whatever reason I've lost my energy and inspiration lately. I couldn't quite go into it with out peeling back layers of multiple other things... my Mom always said getting information out of me was like peeling back an onion and that applies to me with myself as well. I have absolutely no reason to be upset about anything (well... maybe one thing but the aftermath of that one thing not happening has led to a lot of other really good things). Maybe it's the weather, these unanticipated dreary days of May that should be filled only with sun. Maybe it's the ennui that's set in after vacations, after parties, the settling down I've so wanted in my life that's finally here and I don't quite know what to make of it. I'm feeling anxious and I'm not sure why, though no matter what it is that's eating me it needs to stop, by whatever means necessary.
Come back sun! This is what my perfect little neighborhood is supposed to be like in May
So I'm willing this listlessness to end and employing all my usual methods. Listening to Girl Talk because it's both physically and mentally impossible to remain in a lethargic state while doing so. Going to the gym, because nothing perks up energy levels like a few hours a week of hard core spinning, and can be done rain or shine. Planning for the big, bad birthday I have coming up in a few months which I also think is the underlying culprit for my languid attitude. And cooking, but cooking for summer, meaning I'm laying off the heavy meats, cutting back on my carbs. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and nuts will abound in my kitchen. I have a long summer of shorts and sundresses and beach house invites to attend to and whipping myself into shape will only help me to feel better.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Spring Monday

And also my only night home this week. I've got to make it count but it's still a Monday. So I head to the fancy market after work, with no idea in my head other than I want lots of veggies, want to stay away from meats, want something light but also something filling. And so it begins. I spy fiddlehead ferns, a spring delicacy I thought my little sojourn in Texas had deprived me of this year, then some pretty little golden and forest colored patty pan squash and finally, giant blooms of hen of the woods, my favorite mushroom.

I would just saute it all and then toss with some spaghetti, right? But somehow not special enough, too Monday and not enough May. So I pass the pasta section and end up in dairy, where I pick up some of my favorite ricotta, locally made Salvatore. And then there it is. My Monday dinner amped up. Pre-made crepinis from The Crepe Team, something I wander past every time I'm in my fancy little market but always discard as a silly little indulgence. But perfect for tonight.
Voila. The month of May on a plate

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Last Nights

No matter how long I'm in Texas for a visit it's never long enough. So when time has flown by and all of a sudden it's the last night, we usually do it up and go out in style. This past trip was no exception. As everyone else in my family (including my sister's boyfriend) had been to Andrew Weissman's latest creation but me and all I had ever heard were the most rave reviews (and also still feeling a lingering sadness over the now-shuttered Le Reve) that was my pick: Il Sogno.
Now I try not to give you too many restaurant reviews because it's frustrating if you're not in the area, and maybe just to me but posting pictures has always seemed like the easy way out. Not being a professional reviewer as well, not even a professional writer, photographer, or blogger, I've been hesitant to take on the role of influencer, especially with the chef-driven out cry against amateur reviews that may be the deciding factor of whether a reader even comes to their restaurant or not. I understand and respect when a chef asks diners not to take pictures and just because I'm a pretty happy, laid back, and optimistic person, don't really want my little blog cluttered with bad reviews anyways when I have that occasional bad meal.

But when the meal is exceptional, the town is wonderful and the restaurant is a bit off the beaten path I will break my little rules, but keep it short and sweet. Even with the recent departure of the executive chef Luca Della Casa and Weissman back on the line, even with a large party the open kitchen looked almost relaxed, well practiced in their art. Everything was excellent, the atmosphere superb, and service was top notch. That's all you really need to know outside of a little food porn, right? So if you are in San Antonio in the near future, or live there but just haven't been, this is still along the Riverwalk, but not in the expected places- in fact it's down a mostly new stretch of peace and quiet that would make for a nice pre/post dinner stroll.


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