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Take a Leek

So its been awhile.  A real long while.  An inexcusably long while.  But don’t worry, I have excuses–lots of excuses.  I’ll start from the beginning.  Three weeks ago the Stat man and I spent a good 3 days packing up our Ann Arbor life, toting it too and fro, and driving to our efficiency in DC.

Somewhere in there we ran a ten-mile race in Philadelphia.  A short digression:  Tips in running a 10-miler?  Well, sunscreen.  Yah, you’re not going to outrun the sun.  At least I couldn’t.  Oh, and sleeves are good.  At eighty degree mile eight a fire hydrant shower is extremely pleasant, except when sweat runs into your eyes.  It burns and a tank top is useless in reconciling the situation.  Other than that?  Run with someone who will keep you from over-eagerly passing everyone in your corral—you want to be able to finish the race.  The Stat Man was on leash duty.

But, running 10 miles isn’t excuse enough for my 3 week drought.  Let’s talk DC.  We are back in DC.  A new neighborhood, new “jobs”, but it’s the same old home.  Lets just say it feels good.  Our efficiency, while pint sized, has all we need—a bed in the kitchen isn’t a bad deal.  For reals.  And, now that our gas stove problem and garbage-to-shower umbilical cord (think eruptions of shredded dinner from the shower drain…) are on the mend, real cooking might be on its way.  But until then, here’s a taste from the reserves.

Leek Gratin
James Peterson Cooking

Leeks–however many you have, I used 3, Peterson suggests 6
Cream–Enough to cover the leeks

Peterson–my cookbook crush–kicks off this recipe with a warning.  “Don’t tell your guests how you make this–it requires a horrifying amount of heavy cream.  It’s so good that they will no doubt ask for the recipe.”  Those two sentences compelled us to make this dish.  Ummm, no brainer.  If outrageous amounts of cream don’t flag your interest (weirdo), perhaps the amazingly easy prep will be.  My invisible hamster could make this dish.

Heat up the oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare the the leeks by cutting off the greens, leaving about 1 inch of green attached to the white.  Cut off the hairy end.  Whittle off the outer green from the end of the white leek.  Yes, whittle, like your grandpa does on his porch.  Whittle.  Cut the leek in half lengthwise, and rinse the leek.  Make sure to rinse between all of the membranes–dirt likes to hide up in there.

Arrange the leeks in a compact single layer of a dish and pour enough cream over them to come 3/4 of the way up the leeks.  When you press on the leeks they should be barely covered in cream.  Season with salt and pepper and cover loosely with foil.  Bake until the cream begins to thicken–about 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for 5 or 10 more minutes, until the cream is very thick and lightly browned.


Evil Nut Sister

Since January I have not been on good terms with frangipane.  Early this year we attempted to make puff pastry.  Not only did the pastry forget to “puff” but our hazelnut frangipane filled galette was arid. Gobi des(s)ert arid.  My guess is the puff pastry, much like the Tetraodontidae, only inflates as a defense mechanism.  Conclusion:  the hazelnut frangipane was not worth protecting.

Luckily, the ever amazing pasta making “G” and his nicest-girlfriend-in-the-world served up some delicious homemade linguine in a red sauce so our dinner party dessert bomb was eclipsed.  Thank god.

About a month later, with hazelnuts still in the pantry and blueberries on sale at Kroger, I decided to give frangipane another try.  It seemed our traditional flank steak and “Closer” Valentines Day tribute would be nicely augmented with a blueberry frangipane tart.  Wrong.  Guess what?  The frangipane was dry.  I might as well have made it with dirt.  Or maybe pebbles.

After the Valentines Day belly-flop, frangipane was back burnered.  I didn’t have time for its persnickety moisture issues.  That is until I needed to use up some ground almonds.  So finally, I gave almond frangipane a go.  If only I had know almonds would solve my frangi-pain the delicious filling wouldn’t have received two months of Cinderella treatment.  It was all Hazelnuts fault.  Blame it on the nutella.

Almond Frangipane

James Peterson’s Baking

Okay.  To make almond frangipane we need to combine 1 part pastry cream with 2 parts almond cream.  So we’ll start by making both components.

Pastry Cream:

2 C milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ C plus 1 Tbsp sugar

1 egg

3 egg yolks

¼ C cornstarch

Bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan and add the vanilla.

In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg, egg yolks and cornstarch until smooth.  Take ½ of the simmering milk and stir it into the egg mixture.  Try not to knock the entire mixture on the floor.  It makes a big sticky mess.  Return the remaining milk to medium heat.  Pour the egg mixture into the remaining milk and stir mixture until it comes to a boil and thickens.  Transfer it to a bowl and the pastry cream cool.  While it cools make the almond cream.

Almond Cream:

1 ½ C almond flour or almonds

½ C butter

½ C plus 2 Tbsp sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

If, like me, you tend to have shelled almonds on hand.  To remove the seedcoat you need to blanch the almonds.  This is fairly easy.  Bring water to a boil and throw in your almonds.  Leave the almonds in the hot water for no longer than 1 minute, strain, and rinse in cold water.

The seedcoat will now be easy to remove.  Find a comfortable spot, I don’t know—on the porch with a beer?—and slip the white center (embryo) out of the seedcoat.

Toast the blanched almonds in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, and grind for 2 minutes in a food processor.

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth.  Then, one by one beat in the egg and egg yolks.  Finally, mix in the almond flour or ground almonds.  Done.

Combine 1 part pastry cream with 2 parts almond cream and almond frangipane will appear before your eyes.

Strawberry Frangipane Tartlets

Adapted from James Peterson’s Baking

1 recipe basic pie and tart dough (see 8 mile pretty woman)

2 Cups Frangipane

½ pint of berries

1 Tbsp butter

The great thing about a berry frangipane tart(let) is any berry can be used, and this can be made into one large tart, or several small tartlets.  Anything goes.  I’m going strawberry frangipane tartlet style.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Brush your tartlet pans with melted butter.  Roll your dough into a cylinder, lop off a piece about an inch thick, roll it out, and line the tartlet pan with dough.  Do the same for as many tartlets as you’d like to make.  I always keep pie dough in the freezer so I can roll out a few whenever I have a tartlet hanker.

Take 2-4 tablespoons (depending on the size of your tartlet) of frangipane and line the bottom of the tartlet.

Press a handful of berries into the frangipane, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.


Hi there.  Today I don’t really have any particularly interesting anecdotes.  Unless, of course, you have an interest in collecting empty sausage boxes from Morgan and York, stepping in a poopie on our run this morning (quite possibly my own—no I don’t care to explain) or the pint of mediocre (however, better than expected) sangria on the porch at Dominick’s with the Stat Man.  I mean, I do.  But I’m not banking on me being normal.

Really, the boxes just mean the Stat Man and I are preparing to move out to DC again, and weekday sangria indicates the Stat Man is done with the final exam period, minus a paper to finish.  He’s almost a half master.  Yee-haw.  And well, poop?  That is simple.  Frank and the Gang proved poop is funny!

Which naturally leads to Challah.


James Peterson’s Baking

5 C flour

¼ C sugar

½ C milk, barely warm

5 eggs

2 egg yolks

1 tsp yeast (proofed in 1 Tbsp water and 1 tsp flour)

1 tsp salt

Egg wash

Take a cup of flour, the sugar, milk, eggs, egg yolks, and yeast, and whisk together in not-your-biggest bowl.  We’re saving the big guy for later.  It won’t take much to make these suckers smooth.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it all ferment for about an hour.  Easy eh?

When you come back to your mixture you should notice small bubbles on the surface.  Bubbles are good.  Combine the remaining 4 C of flour with the salt in your big mixing bowl.  Then dump the fermented egg mixture into your big pappy.  Mix until all the flour gets a taste of eggs.  Then let it sit for 20 minutes.

If you are lucky enough to have a stand mixer you can kneed the dough for 7 minutes on medium speed until its smooth.  If you are like me, and are only equipped with biceps, then kneed your dough for about 10 minutes—you know the drill—or until its smooth.  Cover your dough and let it rise for two hours, or more importantly, until its doubled in volume.

Now you can punch down your dough (gently deflate it with your finger tips and remove from the bowl).  Split the dough into 3 even pieces.  Roll each ball into a rope about 24 inches long.  If its being fussy, you might have to do this a bit at a time.  Stretch the dough, let it sit 10 minutes.  Stretch the dough, let it sit.  Once you’ve teased out 3 ropes, grease your sheet pan.  Place your three strands on the pan and braid them.  For those of you who never played with my little ponies here is a braiding guide.  Let the braid rise for 2 more hours, or until doubles in volume.

Bush the loaf with an egg wash, and its oven ready.  Place a baking sheet in the bottom of a 400 degree oven (either on the bottom rack, or oven floor).  Fill it with water.  Put your braid in the oven on a rack above the water tray.  Spray water on the oven walls three times, 30 seconds apart.  Turn the oven down to 375 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is a dark brown.  Let it cool, then make French toast, or a poached egg sammy, and eat it.  Yah.  Oooo la la.

Focacta Focaccia

On Tuesday I jumped on a train to Chicago.  There were three very important things awaiting my arrival.  Food, a Brewers-Cubs day game at Wrigley, and my mom.  Of course it was a fantastic mid-week “weekend”; nothing much could have been better.

Well, nothing other than LaTroy Hawkins 8th inning pitching.  He was a solid gold lights out pitcher before Wednesday at noon.  Maybe it was simply post traumatic Wrigley stress.  In 2003 Hawkins pitched for the other side.  The dark side.  The Cubs.  That year, Cubs fans made a habit of booing him after he blew two saves in late September costing the team the wild card.  Poor guy.  Regardless, his eighth inning implosion was the type of pitching that made my Brewer loving gut hurt.  The one thing I don’t like about Wrigley field is the Cubs.

So this brings us to my Friday morning swim.  Perhaps it can be dubbed “fail number two” (LaTroy can take the first one).  Friday morning my swim was riddled with flip turn nausea.  By that time I was back in Michigan and over my baseball sympathy pains.  This nausea was a simple implosion of my own stupidity.  However, this all goes back to Wednesday’s Brewers loss which, in my case, ended with my mom, Chinatown, and me.  A delicious combination.  So delicious in fact, I decided that pork dumplings, crispy eggplant and beef would be fine to take home.  Well, in case you didn’t know, MSG does not preserve food.  Surprise.  It simply suppresses the flavor of rot.  One night and a train ride later, I of course wanted to eat the never-seen-a-refrigerator spoil factory.  Needless to say, upon digestion my intestines were not much pleased, and flip turns were a bit of a struggle.

So, this brings us to my Focaccia, a failure gone right.  Apparently failed focaccia results in a much different outcome than failed MSG judgment and a Brewers loss.  No stomach aches, just flatbread.

Focaccia Gone Flatbread

“Adapted” from James Peterson’s Baking

3 C flour

1 C barely warm water

½ tsp yeast proofed in 1 Tbsp warm water

¾ tsp salt

¼ C plus 3 Tbsp olive oil

2 medium red onions

1 cup dark olives (I used kalamata)

Parmesan cheese for grating

Prepare yourself for delicious failure.  Start the process by mixing 1 cup flour, ½ cup water and the proofed yeast in a bowl.  Add ¼ tsp of salt and mix it in.  Peterson’s Focaccia directions say to let the mixture rest until it triples in volume.  Well if you’re an antsy little bugger like myself, let the mix grow to 1 and ½ its size and move on.  Patience is overrated.

Put the 2 remaining cups of flour, ½ cup water and ½ tsp salt in a large bowl.  Add ¼ cup of olive oil, and your slightly risen blob of dough to the flour/water/salt, and mix it all together.  Let it sit for about 20 minutes.  (Again, I was being an impatient little fartso last night, so lets call it 12).  Knead the dough until it is smooth and you can make a mohawk down its back.  It took me about 10 minutes to get a good smooth consistency.  Let it rise for about 2 hours, or until it doubles in volume.  This is another place impatience prevailed.  I let it rise for 2 hours, however it was not double the volume.  I’m a little shit.

Brush a 13 by 17 inch sheet pan with olive oil and grab your dough.  Depending how sticky the dough is, either roll or press the dough into the shape of the pan.  Let the shaped dough rise for about an hour or until it is at least twice as thick.  Mine rested for an hour, but did not rise to double the thickness.  That is why I ended up eating flat bread.

While you are waiting for your darn flat bread to not rise, slice the onions and sautee them in olive oil until they start to caramelize.  Put them in a bowl and set them aside.  Next, pit your olives.  I have neat little pitter.  It pops the pits right out of the suckers.  If you don’t have a neat little pitter, don’t worry.  A knife is handy too.

Grab your “risen” dough, and distribute the onions evenly over the top, and place your pitted olives over the onions.  We coarsely grated parmesan cheese over the top, drizzled olive oil over everything, and baked the thing at 450 for about 20 minutes.  Really, just bake it till the edges are golden brown, and you will have a delicious little failure for dinner.  Ta-dah.


Ratatouille.  I have thoughts on that.  If you’ve ever lived with the Stat Man and I you probably have thoughts on it too.  Probably thoughts of “ratatouille again, seriously?”  It shows up nearly every week in our house.  I dunno, we just like it.

Now, this week’s ratatouille was particularly plebian thanks to none other than your virtual chef here.  Not until after prepping the vegetables did I realize we had no red wine on hand.  Huh.  What to do.  The pissing rain didn’t encourage a run to the corner market for a bottle of three-buck-chuck.  Instead I dug deeper.  Much deeper.  Not Carlo-Rossi-boon’s-farm deep, but something with a few more edges and corners.  Franzia.  I went down to our car, grabbed a box of Franzia from the back seat, and hoped the world didn’t see me carry it up to our kitchen.

So, this is the point where I need to stop and explain why we’ve been driving around with a box of Franzia in the back of our car for three months.  Well that all stems from a bunch of bozos (my favorite bozos) spending a weekend with us in January.  Their visit also explains the 30 rack of PBR on our kitchen table.  That’s all I’ve got on that one.  The whole in our back seat part?  We had every intention of “re-gifting” the Franzia when home to see our bozo friends.  However, the box never left the back seat.


1 eggplant

1 green zucchini

1 yellow zucchini

2 large cans of pureed or diced tomato

4 cloves of garlic

½ an onion, coarsely chopped

1 ½ Tbsp olive oil

2 C red wine (more or less to taste)

Start by cutting your eggplant and zucchini into thin slices.  Take your eggplant, salt it and set it aside in a bowl.  Salting the eggplant will help to draw out the bitter liquid.  Set aside the zucchini.

Grab a heavy bottom dish that can be used on the stovetop and later tossed in the oven.  We use our le creuset dutch oven.  On the stove top heat the oil.  Add the garlic and onion, and sautee until soft.  Add your Franzia.  Or if you are a real person add wine.

A Franzia Disclaimer:  If you are not familiar with the particulars of opening boxed wine, don’t be caught off guard.  I found Franzia to have this neat little spout thingy once I punched in the side of the box and dug around in the corner.  If you turn the spout, Surprise!  Wine pours out on the floor.  I learned this the “someone get a sponge” way.

After 5-10 minutes of simmering the onion in so-called wine, add the tomatoes and continue to heat.  I added more wine at this point as well.  I like a deep red sauce.  Cook down the sauce for, oh, I don’t know, 10-20 minutes.  This is just to thicken the sauce. Cook it down to a consistency you like.

Find your eggplant and zucchini.  Dry the eggplant with a paper towel.  If you’re trying to impress (which of course my franzia-self was) layer your slices on top of the tomato sauce, and throw in some salt and pepper.  If you’re in a hurry, just toss all the crap in and put a lid on it.

Find a spot in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, or until the vegetables are tender.  Serve over cous-cous, or noodles, or bread, and with a big glass of franzia.  That shit lasts forever.

Wimpy Gets a Flank Steak

My dad has a hero.  His name is J. Wellington Wimpy.  You might have heard of him.  He’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.  Especially if you are Popeye.  Which brings me to my next point.  My dad is a hamburger man.  A raw-onion-hamburger-man.  In other words, cooked vegetables freak him out.  He fought green beans as a child—threw them on the floor, spit them in the toilet, and spent many miserable hours a kitchen table captive (he was subject to strict clean plate rules).

And now, being a good father, he’s subject to reading blog posts about cauliflower curry, and leek soup.  The vegetable nightmares continue.  So I have something for my dad.  Something that will put all that vegetable slurry to sleep.  Something that is not quite a hamburger, but I think it’ll do.

Someone bring out the flank steak.

Grilled Flank Steak

James Peterson Cooking

1 flank steak

red wine


Flank steak is simple.  The Stat Man and I usually take the big ‘ol slab of meat and let it marinate in wine and garlic for a few hours.  Literally throw the steak in a dish, cover it with wine, and toss in garlic.  1-12 hours later re-visit your meat.

Prepare the grill, or preheat a grill pan over high heat.  Brown the flank steak on the first side for 4 minutes.  (If you want some fancy cross-hatching action, turn the steak 90 degrees after 2 minutes.)  Then flip it over.  Brown the other side.  Done.

Well, almost done.  Take the steak off the heat and let it rest for five minutes.  Resting the meat allows it to better retain its juices.  During the heating process muscle cells in the meat contract forcing the liquid out of the spaces, generally toward the center of the meat.  When the meat cools, the bundles relax and reabsorb the liquid.

After the little meat nap, thinly slice the flank steak against the grain.  Flank steak is a cut from the hard working abdominal muscles of the cow.  Not only does exercise give this muscle flavor, but if you look closely you will be able to see long bundles of muscle fibers lying parallel to one another. You want to cut perpendicular to these fibers because the fibers themselves are tough.  You have to be tough when you are responsible for moving an entire cow.  So, give your teeth a bit of tenderness and let your knife saw the fibers.


West Virginia lost on Saturday.  They lost to Duke.  Phooey.  I have no particular bond with West Virginia, except that those mountaineers could have won me 80 bones.  Okay so that, plus “Country Roads” (the song that landed me my first real job), and a former boss from the WV.  But nothing terribly compelling.  Regardless, I chose them to win, to go all the way, to beat Duke.  So tonight, the job is all Butler’s.

But, back to Saturday night.  Five of Five of us were on the West Virginia side.  Two money grubbers, a boyfriend of a money grubber, a Tar Heel, and an overall reasonable human being.  We all know there is nothing charming about a Blue Devil from the research triangle.  At least when it comes to basketball.

So what is the best way to deal with sports related tragedy (ie. A loss)?  Well we turned to two coping mechanisms.  Red Dawn and Pear Cardamom Cake.  First, and foremost, if you haven’t experienced Red Dawn, there is undeniable evidence that you should.  High school students Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and Jennifer Grey, save the United States from a joint Soviet Union-Central-American Occupancy.  I’m just sayin…nobody puts Baby in a corner.

Pear Cardamom Cake

Adapted from Tartelette

2-3 pears, peeled and thinly sliced

¼ C water

1 C honey

1 tsp vanilla

3 eggs

1 ½ stick butter, melted and cooled

¾ C flour

½ tsp ground cardamom

Get the oven warming at 350 degrees, and prep an 8-inch (or two 4-inch) spring form pan by lining it with parchment paper.

We’re going to start the good stuff: caramel.  Mmmmmm, melted sugar.  Place ½ C of honey, ¼ C water and 1 tsp of vanilla in a saucepan, and bring those guys to a boil over high heat.  Reduce to medium heat and let the syrup simmer until it thickens.  My flame transformed it all into caramel in roughly 12 minutes.  Just be sure not to burn your sugar.  When you do reach a thicker consistency, dump the caramel into the your parchment lined pan(s).

Take your pear slices and lay them flat on the bottom of the pan—on top of the caramel—in as many layers as you like.

In a bowl, beat the remaining ½ C honey and 3 eggs.  I was told by a professional to crack eggs on a flat surface.  Apparently this makes a cleaner break and thus fewer shell fragments to pick out of your batter.  I believe this.  I believe this unless you are a busy multi-tasker trying to make caramel and crack eggs all at once.  Oh, and throw in some brute strength—like me of course.  Then, this method might just cause you to smash an egg on your counter top.  A word of wisdom, try not to let your strength get away from you.  I ended up with an egg on my counter.

After you beat the eggs and honey, slowly add the melted butter.  Finally mix in the flour and cardamom until fully incorporated.  You have your batter.  Dump the batter on top of your pears, and, you know, spread it around so it looks like a cake should.  Pop it in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until it’s golden brown.  Then take it out.

Let it cool until its room temperature.  Remove your spring-form siding.  Over a plate, flip your cake and unmold the parchment paper.  This is the unveiling of your cake.