Archive for March, 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure Leek and Potato Soup

So back to the farewell to winter stew.  Tonight is leek and potato soup.  Even though I fought those pesky little ninja flies in my underarmor and running tights it is spring in the kitchen.  I’ll just delete this morning’s 35 degree memory.  Boo-ya ninja flies.

Leek and Potato Soup

James Peterson’s Cooking

3 leeks

1 potato

3 cups broth or water



Cream or butter (optional)

Start by peeling the potato and chopping into ½ inch cubes.  Set aside.  Go find your leeks.  Cut off the leaves leaving about 1 inch of green.  Then cut off the hairy end.  Now split the leek in half by cutting down the center lengthwise.  Bring those suckers over to the sink and rinse them.  Be sure to rinse between all of the layers.  Between layers seems to be a particularly nice dirt hide-out.  The last thing you want is a skuzzy dirt broth because you didn’t rinse the layers.  After your thorough cleaning, chop the leeks (perpendicular to the layers) into small pieces.

In a pot on the stove top combine the broth, potato, and leeks.  Throw in some salt and pepper and simmer for 25 minutes or until the potatoes and leeks are soft.  Now comes the choose your own adventure finish.

Option 1

Serve it chunky and eat.  Maybe put a pat of butter on top.

Option 2

Pour the soup (in batches) into a blender.  Whir it up, strain it, and eat.

Option 2.5

Do the whole whiring and straining thing and return the strained soup to the pot.  Put it on the burner, add some heat, and cream to your taste.  Stir in the cream until it is incorporated and warm throughout the soup.  Eat it.


I Am Only Friendly With Tuscan Flies

Okay.  So I needed to move that awful beef stew picture from being the first impression of swim eat run.  It’s driving me crazy.  It’s just ugly.  There are no two ways about it.  Gah.  So here is a bit of Tuscany.  That should do.

Lets talk running.  This morning’s run was…meh.  I felt gassed within the first mile and a half.  Usually the Stat Man and I can chat a bit as we get into our run.  Not the case today.  I was sucking air.  Around mile 2 we hit the Huron river.  It’s nice.  There’s a path, and sometimes geese.  But, in following suit for the day, the path was terrible.  Why, you ask?  Swarms of flies, everywhere.  Tiny little flies hovering in the middle of the path waiting to sneak attack some innocent runner.  They might have been tiny ninjas, I don’t know.  But, I spit one out, probably swallowed a few, and swiped one out of my eye.  When I got home I discovered one drowned in my cheek sweat and left its carcass next to my dimple.  Cute.

The last time I put up with this sort of fly ambush was in Montepulciano, and I was handsomely rewarded with delicious wine and scenery.  Ann Arbor, well, she’s not coughing up the same offerings.  Sigh.

Once we exited the fly scene, it was straight into the University of Michigan Arboretum.  Sounds lovely eh?  It’s nice.  It’s nice except for running straight into a mile and a half of 3-5 percent grade.  Let’s call it an uphill that I huffed and puffed and hacked my way through to make it home in 46 minutes.  Meh.  If you’re interested in a fly studded route go ahead and click here.  Map my run is the bomb.

Last Chance Beef Stew

Today was my last real opportunity to make a meaningful beef stew.  Or so I’m deluding myself.  It’s the type of dish that demands cold weather and particularly compliments a crapping sky.  Lets just say I’m done with 35 degrees and cloudy-vomit-rain.  I’m prepared to accept nothing less than sun and 60’s.  So yes, this is my last chance to enjoy the comfort of beef stew.

Okay, about this beef stew.  I don’t like the final picture.  Quite honestly, I’m posting it, but with sincere doubt it holds any enticing power.  The liquid appears gritty.  Or maybe silty.  Either way, eew.  Therefore, I’m counting on word’s to sell this dish.  And since it’s me, your ever-charming guide/author/blogger who faces this task, well, let’s set an appropriately low bar.

Underneath this stew’s shabby appearance there is flavor.  Flavor and tender meat.  It is exactly what you expect from a long marinade and cooking period.  So I’m just going to skip the sales pitch and move on to the construction.  It’s a stew.  It tastes good.

Beef Stew

James Peterson Cooking

3 Lbs beef, cut into cubes

2 Carrots

1 Large Onion

½ Head of Garlic

2 Cups Red Wine

2 Cups Stock or Water

2 Tbsp Butter

3 Tbsp Oil (Olive or Canola)

¼ Cup Flour

1 Bouquet Garni

Garnitures (Mushrooms, Pearl Onions, etc.)

Start by cubing your meet and place it in a bowl.  Next, chop up the carrots, onion, and garlic and throw it all in the meat bowl.  Pour in enough red wine so that all of the little guys in the bowl get a taste.  Add the Bouquet Garni1.  Let it marinate for 1-12 hours.

Reacquaint yourself with the marinating bits and pieces.  Pull out all of the beef chunks and pat dry with a paper towel. Then salt and pepper the beef.

Put some flour on a plate or dish.  Lightly coat the chunks of beef in flour taking care to shake off the excess.

Put oil in the bottom of the stewing vessel you plan to use.  I don’t know, some heavy bottom pot you can chuck in the oven later.  In stages, brown the meat.  Be sure to give each piece enough surface area to gain a nice sear on each side.  Once seared on all sides remove the meat and do round two.  Then round three.  After all of the meat is seared set it aside.

Strain the vegetables from the wine marinade and keep both parts separately.  Also remove the bouquet garni.  In your meat searing pot toss in two tablespoons of butter and heat until it foams.  This will incorporate itself with juices and crud left over from the searing.  Add the vegetables and heat until softened.  Then add the seared meat.  Add the wine.  Add enough stock or water to cover all the bits.  Place the bouquet garni on top.  Finally, throw in salt and pepper to your taste.

Put a lid on it, and toss it in the oven at 375 degrees for 2 ½ hours, or until the meat is tender to the touch of a knife.  Remember to pull out the bouquet garni before eating.

When the stew will see no more heat, add any garnitures you would like.  We added mushrooms sauteed in olive oil.  Sauteed pearl onions are also popular.

1 If you haven’t made a bouquet garni before its quite easy.  “Bouquet garni” is French for “garnished bouquet.”  Generally it is a bundle of herbs tied together and boiled with ingredients in a stew or soup.  Tying all of the herbs together allows you to easily remove at the end of cooking.  No one wants a twig in her stew.  I use whatever fresh herbs I have on hand.  Generally some combination of thyme, rosemary, tarragon, sage, parsley…you get the picture!

Steaming Away Toe Cramps With White Bread

Wednesday’s are a swim day.  I pick up the Stat Man from class and we go lap it up.  With 13 years of competitive swimming in my pocket, and both high school and club coaching experience, the Stat Man leaves the workout design in my hands.  I think he trusts me.  Sigh.  However, his trust may be misguided.  My sets seem to induce toe cramps during his swims.  I admit it.  I am a foul, foul, girlfriend and he loves me anyway.  Awe shucks.

So here is something to make up for the toe cramps.  White bread.  Why white bread?  Well, because it’s basic, simple, and straightforward, the way comfort should be.  And comfort, being close enough to comfortable, absolves me of podiatric guilt.  (I’ve taken the LSAT.  That there is air-tight logic folks.).

Basic White Bread Loaf

From James Peterson’s “Baking”

4 Cups Flour

1 ½ tsp yeast

1 ½ Cups Water

1 tsp salt

Grab a big ‘ol bowl and toss 4 cups of flour in the bowl.  With your hands make a well in the middle of the flour large enough to hold the cup and a half of water.  Now dump the water in the well.  Next sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Start to mix the flour, water, and yeast, then add the salt.  Sometimes I use a wooden spoon to mix, other times I just dive in with my fingers and get dough stuck in my arm hair.  It’s gross two hours later.  Finish combining the ingredients until all of the flour is incorporated.  Set the dough in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Get out your muscles and knead the dough until it is smooth.  The dough is ready when you can pinch it and make a ½ cm tall Mohawk down it’s back.  It takes my dinky biceps about 15 minutes to slap it into shape.  I bet the Hulk is faster.  Find that warm place again, and let the dough rise for 2-4 hours.  Go drink a beer or watch a soap opera.

Reunite with your full grown dough, and punch it down.  I wish this was literal, however its best to use your fingers and gently deflate the mass to about one half of its bloated self.  Then shape it into a loaf, and put it in a pan.  Yet again, hide it in a warm place for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Once you have a good 400, place a baking sheet on the floor of the oven or bottom rack.  Pour water in the baking sheet until it reaches 1/3 up the side of the sheet.  Place the bread pan on a rack above the baking sheet and spray the walls of the oven with water.  Shut the oven.  Wait 30 seconds.  Open her up again and give the oven a few more spritzes.

A few words about this whole steaming routine.  Applying steam in the first few minutes (spritzing and spraying) keeps the outer dough flexible and moist, allowing the loaf to achieve its maximum volume.  After the skin sets, puberty is over and it will grow no more.  I will always be 5’2”.  The steam created from our baking sheet makes that crisp crust by gelatinizing the starch on the outside as the dough bakes.  In contrast, at the end of baking a dry oven is required (all of the water should evaporate from the pan by the end of baking).  The steam-less oven dries out the gelatinized layer and creates a crunchy crust.  If you want to know more, go here!

Bake until the bread’s internal temperature is about 425 degrees.  My oven likes to take about 40 minutes.

Eight Mile Pretty Woman

Monday is the long run day.  As if the start of a new week isn’t punishment enough we do at least 8 miles on Mondays.  Go figure.  Yesterday the Stat Man and I did our standard 8.3 mile loop.  His legs were sore and I needed to take a dump.  I remind you it was Monday.  That’s what Mondays do to you.

In exchange for 8.3 miles we made strawberry tartelette’s with lemon curd filling.  Yes this is a tribute to Pretty Woman, I’m taking you from Champagne to strawberries.  Go get the dental floss then start with basic pie and tart pastry dough.  This is how we do it[1]:

Basic Pie and Tart Pastry Dough (James Peterson, Baking)

2 Cups flour

½ tsp salt

¾ Cup butter

7 Tbsp water, or heavy cream, or 2 eggs lightly beaten

2 Tbsp extra liquid if dough is too dry or 1 egg white

Mix together flour and salt, then add butter (cut in ½ in cubes).  Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter (a fork works if you don’t have a cutter) until pieces of butter are no larger than hazelnuts but no smaller than peas.  Add your choice of liquid and cut until there is no flour left to incorporate.  The dough should resemble gravel—yum.  If the dough is too dry and looks like fresh grated Parmesan cheese, add the extra liquid.  Knead the dough just enough so it all comes together, and shape it into a log.  There you have your dough.

A quick aside about the choice of liquid.  Different liquid will give you different results.  My personal favorite is heavy cream.  Shocker.  Cream gives the dough a soft delicate consistency.  On the other hand, if you are looking for a crisp and flakier consistency go with water.  Finally, eggs make for a slightly more elastic crust, which the Stat Man thought held together the best once chomped into.

Next, brush tartelette pans with melted butter.  If the Stat Man didn’t buy you tartelette pans in Philly you can always use a muffin tin.  That is precisely what I did until the Stat Man and Italian market united in my tartelette-pan-favor.  Cut round disks (maybe ¾ of an inch thick) from the log.  Roll out the disks until each is large enough to cover a tartelette pan.  Press the dough into the pan along the sides and bottom, and cut the excess off of the top.  Line all of your doughed-up tartelette pans with either a pan of the same shape that is not being used, or a piece of parchment paper and handful of dried beans.  This will keep the pastry dough from rising out of place and maintain the inner shape of your crust.

Bake the crusts for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 15 minutes remove the parchment paper and beans, and bake for an additional 5 minutes to brown the inside of the tartelette crusts.

Lemon Curd (James Peterson, Baking)

2 eggs

½ Cup sugar

1 Tbsp grated lemon zest

1/3 Cup lemon juice

4 Tbsp butter (optional!)

Next is the lemon curd.  In a heat proof bowl, wisk together eggs, sugar, zest, and lemon juice until pale yellow.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and gently wisk.  If you are adding butter, wisk in the butter as the mix warms.  Continue to wisk the mix over heat until it thickens, taking care not to let it boil.  Once the mixture thickens remove it from the heat and voila, lemon curd.

A note about butter.  It is not necessary to add butter.  The mixture will thicken with or without butter.  Generally butter is used to soften the acidity of the curd.  It gives the curd a more custard like finish.

The final step is assembling the tartelette.  Once the crusts and curd have cooled, use a spoon or pastry bag to fill the crust with lemon curd.  Next top with your choice of fresh fruit.  Then put it in my belly, yo.

[1] “This is how we do it / All hands are in the air / and wave them from here to there / If you’re an O.G. mack or wanna-be player / You see the hood’s been good to me / Ever since I was a lower-case G…”

Veuve Clicquit Ponsardin

It only seems appropriate to get this rolling with a bottle of Champagne, and this bottle in particular.  It’s the Stat Man’s Mom’s favorite.  Although my mouth isn’t well versed in the subtleties of Champagne, I’d describe this bottle as slightly tart with a creamy texture.  I suppose that is also the description of grandma Maassen’s lemon meringue pie.  So much for being a writer.

You are looking at an empty bottle because I already done drunk it on Monday night.  No, I don’t need a 12 step program, and no, I’m not lying.  There is a story, but first here is a close up of the label.

Monday night was the last day of my last job.  (Last as in most recent job.  I do hope to be employed again in this lifetime.)  The conclusion of coaching a high school swim team is the banquet.  You know, that great event where the coach’s face  oscillates between red and purple while attempting to give personal speeches about each individual swimmer.  I’m not much into public speaking.

I walked through my back door around 9:00 pm on Monday night.  The Stat Man was fed and well into his evening studies when I arrived home.  Of course he greeted me with the obligatory questions about the banquet, and then pointed to my pillow.  “There’s an envelope for you.”  It was small.  A dead ringer for the seven previous school rejections USPS delivered that month.  My reaction was, of course, chalk it up as number eight.  The Stat man could tell I was disappointed and walked to the kitchen.

I opened the envelope and confusion ensued.  It said something about “welcome” and there was an exclamation point.  That’s when I followed the Stat Man toward the kitchen and murmured a few sentences about “I think I got in.”  Yes.  That was my thought.  I think I am accepted to graduate school.  As if the second sentence was terribly ambiguous by stating “I’m pleased to admit you for the fall of 2010 semester.”  Luckily the Stat Man stepped around the corner and clarified the acceptance with a bottle of Veuve Clicquit Ponsardin.  Believe it or not, we don’t keep the orange label on hand.

A different confusion ensued.  “Wait what?  How’d you know?”

Turns out 100 watt light bulbs facilitate x-ray vision.  Needless to say, we drank 2 bottles of the bubbles with our Ann Arbor homies.  I’m going to grad school, so cheers to that.