I have never set myself the task of making a real King Cake, as I figure there are enough people who do that already. My brother used to send me delicious King Cakes from a bakery in New Orleans when I was in college. Those cakes were moist and tender with a cream cheese filling, with a brightly colored, but simple frosting.
The cake was packaged with beads and doubloons and made for a fun party all around. I was always very popular during Mardi Gras season. That is really my idea of what a King Cake should be, though I know there are many different versions. Those were the first, and still the best, King Cakes I have ever had. But now, I often find the bakeries in my local grocery stores offer wildly decorated King Cakes leading up to Mardi Gras. I have bought them, but they are generally dry and tasteless and a real disappointment (and often stale). I once ordered a fancy, artfully decorated King Cake from a New Orleans bakery at great expense, but even it was dry.
These bars meet all my King Cake flavor requirements, but are simpler to make and to serve. They make a great dessert for a Mardi Gras party, and would pack up beautifully to carry to a parade-viewing spot. I sprinkle colored sanding sugar in the traditional purple, green and gold color scheme over the top for a sparkly Mardi Gras feel, but you could easily tint the glaze, use sprinkles or the fancier luster dust.
IN PICTURES: It's Mardi Gras time all over the world!
And a word about the baby. Traditionally, King Cake has a small plastic baby figure backed inside. The person whose piece of cake contains the baby is then responsible for hosting the next King Cake party. Many bakeries now include the baby in the box, but don’t bake it into the cake. I assume this is for liability reasons, as a small plastic baby is a choking hazard. If you do happen to have a plastic baby, feel free to bake it into the King Cake Bars, though it is likely to show through the filling and be less of a surprise.
King Cake Bars
Makes about 15 bars
For the Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons milk
For the Filling:
2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
For the Glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoon milk
Colored sanding sugar or sprinkles (purple, green and gold)
For the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9- x 13-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flour and sugar. Drop in the butter cubes and beat on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and looks a bit like wet sand. Add the milk and beat until it starts to stick together. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared baking dish and press it in to form an even layer, making sure there are no holes or gaps.
For the Filling:
Wipe out the mixer bowl and rinse and dry the paddle. Beat the filling ingredients together until completely smooth. Spread the filling evenly over the prepared crust. Bake the bars for 20 – 25 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set.
For the Glaze:
While the bars are cooking, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and milk until completely smooth. As soon as you remove the bars from the oven, spread the glaze in an even layer across the top. Immediately decorate with sanding sugar. Leave the bars to cool completely, then slice.
Related post: Mardi Gras Crawfish Spread
IN PICTURES: It's Mardi Gras time all over the world!
Every Sunday I usually like to make a big pot of beans or soup for us to have for lunches during at least the first half of the week. It makes meals infinitely easier, and allows me to not have to think about what I’m going to eat while I’m in the middle of work. Because I do this fairly consistently, I do like to try new recipes and mix things up a bit.
When I found this recipe for stew, I knew I had to try it. For one thing, I don’t make stews very often, but I do really enjoy them. Another reason was because I still had a lot of my hubbard squash leftover, and I needed to use it. The final thing that drew me in? Chipotle. I love chipotle, mostly for its smoky flavor, but for its extraordinary heat as well. I was excited to try this combo of flavors.
This was such a hearty stew, and perfect to eat throughout the week. The only thing that I might add next time is some textured vegetable protein (TVP) or some Tofurky Kielbasa or Tofurky Italian Sausage to bulk it up more. Otherwise, it’s a great stew and perfect to serve to your favorite omnivores.
Winter Squash and Bean Stew
This recipe is taken from the Hubbard Squash and Pinto Bean Stew found on MyRecipes.com
Note: One nice thing about this recipe is that it does not require the use of a slow-cooker if you do not have one, although I am sure this would also cook nicely in one.
3 cups dried pinto beans
4 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-sized onions, chopped
4 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled hubbard squash or fresh pumpkin
1 cup peeled and sliced carrot, about two medium-sized carrots
1 tablespoon chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped (for a gluten-free recipe, you can substitute about 1 teaspoon chipotle pepper powder)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, undrained
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pumpkin-seed kernels, toasted (optional)
Sort and wash pinto beans. Check out my post on how to cook dry beans to learn how to sort and wash beans, although you do not need to follow the remaining steps for this stew recipe.
Place the beans in a large pot, and cover with water to about two inches above the beans. Boil them for two minutes, turn off the heat and then allow them to sit for about two hours.
Drain and rinse the pinto beans, then combine them and four cups of water in a large pan, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Cover and simmer an additional 30 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, prep your squash, carrots and onions. Take care while chopping your squash – refer to my post on hubbard squash risotto to see how I recommend cutting open the squash as well as chopping the actual squash meat.
Cut up about two chipotle peppers from your can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
Important: If you are following a gluten-free diet, I discovered that this can of chipotle peppers is not gluten-free. It contains flour, likely to thicken the sauce. I do not know if there is a gluten-free version of this product out on the market, but I imagine that you can use chipotle pepper powder as a substitute.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, squash, carrot, and chipotle peppers. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add to bean mixture, then stir in sage, thyme, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until squash is tender. Stir in salt.
Ladle the stew into individual bowls, then sprinkle with pumpkinseed kernels (if using) – and serve.
Related post: Vegan Squah Gratin
Here are a couple recipes for a really tasty meal – tender, slow-cooked pork carnitas in a sauce of sweet potatoes and spicy chiles. On the side, a simple variation on my favorite roasted Brussels sprouts, cooked with spicy chorizo to coat the sprouts in utter deliciousness.
The pork has a long cook time, but reheats beautifully. So, either prepare the pork a day ahead of time or plan it for a day you’ll be around to babysit the oven.
Carnitas with Chile and Sweet Potatoes
1 6-7 lb. pork shoulder, trimmed of most excess exterior fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1 serrano pepper, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1 large sweet potato (yam), cooked until tender, skin removed, lightly mashed*
4 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 tablespoons honey
Ground cayenne pepper
*To prepare the sweet potato: Prick the exterior several times with a fork, then bake in a 375 degrees F. oven for about 60-75 minutes, until quite tender. Cut the potato in half and scoop out the tender interior. Use a fork to lightly mash the potato.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Generously season the pork with salt. Heat olive oil over medium/medium-high heat in a large dutch oven pan or oven-safe pot. Place the pork shoulder in the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Remove the roast from the pan and set aside. Add the onion and peppers to the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the sweet potato, chicken broth, and honey. Return the pork shoulder to the pan, the cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on the middle oven rack for about 3.5 – 4 hours.
After 3.5 – 4 hours, remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature. Once the pork is cool enough to handle, remove it from the pan and use a fork or your fingers to pull apart the meat, which should be incredibly tender. (I prefer the use my fingers, since it’s easier to remove and discard any bits of fat.)
Allow the sauce to rest while you’re pulling the meat. As it rests, the excess fat should rise to the surface. Use a spoon to skim and discard the excess fat. Then, using a blender, food processor, or immersion blend, purée the sauce until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes over medium heat, until about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of nicely thickened sauce remains.Stir frequently to prevent burning. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and cayenne pepper, if desired.
Toss the meat with the sauce.
To reheat the meat and develop some nice caramelized bits, heat the sauced meat under a hot broiler for a few minutes until the top begins to turn a golden brown.
Serve in warm tortillas.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo
4 cups brussels sprouts, halved or quartered
4 ounces spicy Spanish chorizo, quartered and sliced
1/4 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine all ingredients in a baking dish. Cook for 40-45 minutes, tossing every 10-15 minutes to coat the Brussels sprouts with the delicious oil, which will render from the chorizo. Season with salt, to taste.
Related post: Sweet and Spicy Pork Over Mashed Sweet Potatoes
If you are making dinner for your sweetie on Valentine's Day, this is an elegant yet easy-to-prepare meal. The pine nuts add a lovely buttery flavor and the feta cheese melts in a wonderful way.
When selecting your salmon fillet, do try to find Alaskan wild salmon for reasons explained here.
Roasted Salmon Roll
2 boneless salmon fillets
Salt and pepper
2 cups raw spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup feta cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.
Remove skin from salmon fillets, wash and pat dry. Rub olive oil onto both sides of fillet, season with salt and pepper.
In a skillet, heat olive oil, about 1 tablespoon. Add spinach, garlic, pine nuts and sauté a few minutes until the spinach is wilted. In a separate bowl, combine the contents of the skillet with the feta cheese. Mix until well combined.
Carefully spread the spinach mixture on the fillet and roll into a tube (any pieces of fish that break off, you can just add to the spinach mixture). You may need to use toothpicks to secure the rolls. Carefully lift into pan and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Check the salmon once in awhile and test for tenderness, do not overbake or it will dry out.
Remove from oven and let rest for about 5 minutes.
Serve with a side of brown rice garnished with a sprig of fresh watercress.
Related post: Molten Lava Cake
Yesterday my friend Steph sent a link for this Avocado Pasta Sauce. At first my brain was confused. Isn’t this just pasta tossed in guacamole? But then my stomach took over: avocado on or in anything is sumptuous. This will definitely work.
I wanted to make the dish a little heartier and kick up the flavorful, so I added the broccoli rabe and pine nuts for color, texture, and substance. I knew it would be good, but it’s so much better than I ever imagined. This sauce is creamy and rich – like a pesto. And it’s vegan too!
This is just the start of avocado as a pasta sauce for me. I’m already thinking of what else I could do. Sub in bite-sized pasta, and it would make a great side dish. Depending on the season change the vegetables. Enough! This is not the last time you’ll see avocado sauce on Three Many Cooks!
Linguini with Creamy Avocado Sauce and Broccoli Rabe
Toast pine nuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking pan frequently, until light golden brown.
12 ounces linguini
1 bunch broccoli rabe (about 1 pound), trimmed and coarsely chopped
3 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup juice from a large lemon
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 avocados halved and pitted
1/2 packed cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Bring 2 quarts water and a tablespoon of salt to a boil in Dutch oven or soup kettle. Add pasta and, using back-of-the-box times as a guide, cook partially covered and stirring frequently at first, to prevent sticking, until just tender. Add broccoli rabe to the boiling pasta the last 5 or so minutes of cooking. Drain and return to pot, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
Meanwhile, make sauce by mincing garlic cloves in a food processor. Add lemon juice and olive oil, process until smooth. Add avocado, basil, and a generous sprinkling of salt; process until smooth.
Add sauce, and half of pine nuts to the pasta, along with enough pasta cooking liquid to create a light creamy sauce. Serve, sprinkling with remaining pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Related post: Dad's Linguine with Clam Sauce
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Did you know February is National Pie Month? Just thought I'd mention it so you don't think February is just about the Super Bowl and Valentine's Day. The pie deserves some love too. Many people love pies and I'm no exception. Except for me, the only pie in the world is apple pie. Sure, there's pecan pie and chocolate pie (which I'll never eat again after watching "The Help"), coconut custard pie, etc., and those are well and good, too.
But for fruit pies, only apple does it for me. With ice cream. Not whipped cream but ice cream. I don't like whipped cream. To me, whipped cream is flavored air with calories. Plus, if something is going to look like ice cream, it should be ice cream. And with apple pie, it can only be vanilla ice cream.
My sister and her boyfriend went to the Pie Festival in Pie Town, New Mexico, last year and brought me back the cookbook that all the pie festival participants contributed to, sharing their prize-winning recipes. You can tell they're probably a bunch of pie experts as, on some of the recipes, the directions are alarmingly vague: "mix ingredients together as you would any pie crust."
Uh, what if you don't normally make pies or have never made pie crust before? If so, clearly, you're not entering any contests in Pie Town, New Mexico, anytime soon. But of course I have to make something from the pie festival cookbook for National Pie Month. So I compromised – I used the Flaky Pie Crust recipe from Nick Malgieri's Perfect Pastry cookbook and the apple pie filling recipe from one of the apple pie recipes in the Pie Town cookbook.
Bear in mind I'm not a piemaker by any means. I know just enough to be dangerous but I don't make pies anywhere near as much as I make brownies, cookies, cakes, and the like. However, I was fairly pleased with how this turned out. The pie crust uses all butter so it was appropriately flaky-to-die-for, not to mention deliciously buttery. The filling was also good, not too tart or too sweet, although my niece, who I made this with, and I probably cut into the still-warm pie a little too soon because the juices all ran out after I took out the first piece. But it did solidify enough later after it had cooled without being too gelatinous.
Oh, and if you don't want to waste perfectly good pie dough scraps, do what weI did: Gather all the scraps and make into a round "cookie," sprinkle with vanilla sugar and bake along with the pie. We ended up with a buttery, sugary crust-cookie that was really good. I would've taken a picture of it so you can see what I mean but I'm afraid we ate it too fast for the camera to capture.
Blue Ribbon Apple Pie
Flaky Pastry Dough
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, about 10 ounces
1/4 cup cake flour, about 1 ounce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, 8 ounces, cool
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
Combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, salt and baking powder; cut up and add the butter, and gently toss to coat.
Rub in the butter until the mixture looks sandy. Sprinkle over 3 tablespoons of ice water; toss with a fork. Add another tablespoon of water if necessary. Press the dough together. Wrap and chill.
5-7 tart apples (I used Granny Smith)
3/4 - 1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons flour
Dash of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 recipe plain pastry (I used the pie crust recipe above but you can substitute your own)
2 tablespoons butter
Prepare apples and slice thin. Mix sugar, flour, spices – add to apples.
Fill 9-inch pastry-lined pan. Adjust top crust. Crimp edges and cut slits in top crust to let steam escape. Dot with butter (note: it's a little unclear whether she means to dot the butter on top of the crust or underneath it. I went with underneath the top crust and egg washed the top crust itself before putting it in the oven). Place pie pan on a cookie sheet to catch any drips.
Bake in hot oven (400 degrees F.) for 50 minutes. If crust is browning too quickly, lower temperature to 375 degrees F. If apples are not tart, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or grated lemon peel, if desired.
Related post: Apple Crumble with Oatmeal Crunch Topping
Here’s a new favorite soup for you. It’s a creamy mushroom soup, kicked up with a punch of bacon flavor. (And bacon makes everything better, right?)
Puréeing a bit of the broth and mushrooms helps spread delicious mushroom flavor throughout the soup. It’s seriously yummy. Even my mushroom adverse husband enjoyed this one!
Creamy Mushroom Bacon Soup
8 slices bacon, chopped
2 shallots, finely diced
4-5 cups button mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken broth
Splash of Marsala wine (optional)
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan or dutch oven pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced shallots to the bacon grease and cook for about 3 minutes, until tender. Add the mushrooms, rosemary and garlic to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and golden. Return the cooked bacon to the pan.
Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and bacon and stir to coat. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Pour the chicken broth into the pan. If desired, add a splash of marsala wine. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently. It should begin to thicken as it simmers. Simmer for a few minutes, then reduce heat and add the half and half.
Remove about a cup of the soup. (Make sure to get lots of mushrooms in there.) When cool enough to safely handle, blend the cup of soup until smooth. Return the blended mixture to the pan with the rest of the soup.
Season with the salt and pepper.
Serve topped with croutons and/or bacon crumbles.
Related post: Spicy Beef and Bean Soup
Armed with Najmieh Batmanglij’s gorgeous cookbook, “Food of Life,” I marched into the supermarket to find pomegranate molasses, saffron, and barberries.
Alas, I was in Vermont. In the winter. Nary a pomegranate seed to be found. I did find saffron – in the Mexican aisle. The featherweight package cost almost as much as an upscale lunch in Boston.
Barberries? I didn’t even know what those were. (It wasn’t until later that I discovered the helpful appendices Batmanglij provides, which include a glossary and a list of Persian grocery suppliers around the US and Canada. There you can read that barberries are a small, tart red fruit.)
With some creativity, and the lenience of my family and our guests – “It’s not like you’re cooking for the shah,” my husband reminded me – we pulled off a respectable version of Jeweled Rice and Pomegranate Khoresh with Chicken, a braised meat dish (see photo).
At a time when the US media seem to have forgotten that there are actual people living in Iran – people throwing snowballs, falling in love, nourishing their friends and families – it could be worthwhile for Americans to get a taste of daily life there.
That has been a key objective for Ms. Batmanglij. The author of five Persian cookbooks, she is from Tehran but has lived in exile since the 1979 Iranian revolution ushered in a theocratic regime. She retains a clear affection for her country, however.
As she says in her preface, her objective with “Food of Life” was “not just to compile a collection of recipes, however delicious they might be, but to share my view of the best of Persian culture. I believe that the same qualities that govern the Persian arts – a particular feeling for the ‘delicate touch,’ letafat – govern the art of Persian cuisine.”
She elaborated on that in a recent phone conversation with me from her kitchen in America’s capital, where many congressmen and think tank analysts are pushing for increasingly harsh measures against the Iranian regime.
“Above all, I wanted Iran associated with good things – pomegranates, saffron, pistachios,” she said. “I wanted to show the best of Iran.”
She does that through gorgeous full-page photographs that include not only beautiful meals but everything from Persian pottery to Persian poetry, revered for centuries – not least of all as a way to express one’s feelings at times of political repression.
“Traditionally people couldn’t express themselves directly so they would use poetry to speak in metaphor,” says Batmanglij, adding that it is so engrained in Iranian society that her mother would even scold her with poetry.
“As soon as Iranians get together they cook, tell jokes, laugh, dance, tell poetry,” she says – and that is what she hopes the owners of her cookbook will do.
The book started out as a love letter to her two sons when they were just babies and the family was living in exile. Now young men, one a filmmaker and the other a member of the indie rock band Vampire Weekend, they encouraged her to update it for their generation.
“Mom, welcome to the 21st century. Your book is old,” she recalls them saying. They helped her restructure and redesign it, adding instructional photographs for some of the more complicated steps.
For those new to Persian cooking, she suggests Fresh Herb Kuku, a frittata, and an adapted 16th -century recipe for pistachio meatballs. She takes the opportunity to exult in the size and color of green California pistachios. “I was so impressed,” she says, noting that the seeds of California’s “Kerman” pistachios came from Iran. (Proof here in this UC Davis study.) When you put it on the table, you can say, “nush-e jan” – which means “food of life,” and is roughly equivalent to “bon appétit.”
If you want to try the real thing – and meet some real Iranians – consult the appendix on Persian restaurants in North America. (At Persian Lala Rokh restaurant in Boston, we were treated not only to sumptuous food but a 15-minute oral tour of the Azerbaijan region of Iran, beginning at the Caspian Sea where fresh fish is caught every afternoon and moving through rice fields, luscious citrus groves, and tea plantations.)
The pickings for Persian restaurants are fairly slim, however. Why is that? Who could resist slightly sweet saffron rice bejeweled with thinly sliced pistachios and slivers of carrot and orange rind?
A key reason is that Iran doesn’t share the same restaurant tradition as the US. Persian food is eaten at home, while restaurants carry foreign foods like pizza and hamburgers.
But it’s also political. After the revolution in 1979, during which Iran kept 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, it was “politically incorrect” to open an Iranian restaurant in the US, says Batmanglij, who says some outlets brand themselves simply as “Middle Eastern” even if their cuisine is purely Iranian.
“Hopefully things will change little by little,” says Batmanglij.
Yes, barberry by barberry.
– Christa Case Bryant is the Monitor's Middle East editor.
My introduction to this French country dish was, oddly, in London. And the first time I had it, I had never heard of it. Since my graduate school days, I have made an annual pilgrimage to London, extending the trip each year, to spend enough time to settle in and not feel rushed or overwhelmed. Sure, I go to museums and historical sights and see friends, but my main focus, as is always the case, is food.
The first thing I do when I arrive is hit the various markets in town to stock up on whatever is fresh and in season. I rent a flat for my stay so I have access to a kitchen. Several years ago, in my neighborhood, a new street market began. And it is fabulous. Not big like Borough Market, but a perfect gem of a Saturday stop. The vendors offer mostly prepared foods in such a diverse array it’s like vacation with in a vacation. Oysters driven up from the South coast that morning, two Syrian brothers who sell sticky, sweet pastries. An Indonesian family making unbelievable rice flour fritters with curry and shrimp. A young English woman who sells the most meltingly delicious handmade fudge. Homemade Portugese jams, freshly baked breads, an array of cheeses from all over England, and another booth specializing in French cheese. When I plan my schedule, I make sure to be in London on as many Saturdays as possible to visit this jewel-box market.
A few years ago, as I was wandering and planning my meals for the next day, I came across a charming table decorated with flowers and a French flag, stacked with lovely little casserole-filled terracotta dishes. I of course stopped to chat with the vendor, a charming young British woman selling petite dishes of classic French casseroles. The earthenware dishes were filled with escargots in garlic butter, cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, and coq au vin, all ready to pop in the oven and enjoy.
I was a bit dazzled by the choice and asked the vendor (the traiteur, really) which dish to take home for supper, and she told me the hachis parmentier was her favorite. In fact, she confided, she liked it much better than traditional British cottage pie or Shepard’s pie (the former being made with beef, the latter with lamb). With that endorsement, I went home with my hachis for Sunday dinner.
The little dish was enough for two meals, but I devoured the greater part of it in one sitting. The remains, I dissected and made notes on, trying to tease out all the flavors so I could recreate it at home. I made notes, and jotted down a few questions for my traiteur the next week. There was a £1 deposit on the terracotta dish, so you could return it the next week and choose another casserole. I dutifully carried my dish in my bag to Saturday’s market, but the vendor was not there. And I have never seen her since, at that or any other London market. But she left me with a lasting favorite meal, and a lovely little dish (though I never make hachis for one, it’s just too good).
Hachis Parmentier (French Cottage Pie)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
7 slices (about 6 ounces) bacon, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 celery stalks, finely diced (about 1 cup)
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
2-1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
1 750 ml bottle of red wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine or 3 cups of beef broth]
1-1/4 cup reduced sodium beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
7-8 generous sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
4 large russet potatoes (about 3 lbs.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, diced
1/2 cup dry vermouth [editor's note: this can be omitted but you'll need to add the same amount of another liquid, such as broth or water]
1/2 cup milk (possibly a bit more)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. First, prep all your vegetables and the bacon. Now you’re really French-cooking with your mise-en-place.
Pour the oil into a large (5 quart) Dutch oven, then add the finely diced onions. Sauté over medium high heat until the onions start to turn golden and begin to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of water about halfway through to speed up the process. When nicely golden, add the diced bacon and sauté for five minutes until it begins to cook.
Add the carrots, then the celery and continue to sauté until the vegetables start to soften and brown. Stir in the garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add the ground beef and stir, breaking the meat up into small pieces, until browned and no longer pink. Carefully drain off any accumulated fat, then return the pot to the heat.
Add the red wine, beef broth, tomato paste, sugar and cloves and stir well to combine. Drop in all the thyme sprigs (count how many you add so you can remove the stalks later) and the bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, prick the potatoes all over with a sharp knife and place on the rack in the oven to bake. Cook until the potatoes are soft when squeezed, about 1-1/2 hours. When the potatoes are done, remove from the oven and carefully, wearing oven mitts or using a folded towel, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a large bowl. Add the butter, vermouth and milk and mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth. Salt to taste (remember that the meat will be flavorful).
When the liquid with the meat is almost completely reduced, with just a little sauce clinging to the meat, remove from the heat. Remove the thyme stalks (the leaves will stay behind) and the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Scoop the meat filling into an 11-by-7-inch baking dish and spread out to make a smooth top. Dollop the mashed potatoes over the filling, then spread out to cover the meat. Using slightly damp fingers is a good way to do this. Try not to let the meat or sauce poke through the potato topping. Use a fork to scrape light lines across the smooth top of the potatoes. This will give a lovely browned crispy effect. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top.
The hachis parmentier can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to two days at this point. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and cook until heated through, golden with some bubbling around the sides, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Related post: Almost-Too-French Onion Soup
Making homemade spaetzle is not particularly difficult and well worth a small investment of time. The irregular little dumplings are also called "little sparrows," as they are shaped somewhat like a little bird, with a pointy end resembling a beak, from where the dough drops into boiling water to cook. They are excellent served simply with browned butter, salt and pepper, but also serve as an ideal stand in for rice or pasta as a base for a sauce.
I’ve had a spaetzle maker languishing in my pantry for months, after I bought it online in a burst of enthusiasm, then got distracted by other projects. I normally resist kitchen gadgets – particularly the single use variety – but the spaetzle maker was only about $10, and well worth every penny.
With the new year, my interest in spaetzle was renewed, partly by a visit to a new German restaurant in town.
There are a lot of spaetzle recipes out there, all generally a combination of eggs, flour, and liquid. The best recipe is probably the one your grandmother used, should you be lucky enough to have a grandmother who made spaetzle. If not, this recipe makes consistently lightly chewy "little sparrows" that are good enough to eat straight out of the bowl with your fingers.
The key thing is to get the thickness of the batter right, which means adjusting the amount of water you use judiciously, as flour can vary quite a bit in moisture content. After resting in the refrigerator, it should be shiny smooth and thicker than pancake batter but thinner than frosting, a little stretchy but still fluid enough to plop off a spoon.
If you happen to have a colander with unusually large holes (about 1/4 inch) you can use it to make the spaetzle, forcing the batter through the holes with a rubber scraper into boiling water. But the spaetzle maker is ridiculously easy to use. It even has a lip that holds it securely on top of a stockpot full of boiling water while you fill the little hopper on top with a big glop of the batter and slide it back and forth on top of the perforated base. Little dollops of batter will drop into the boiling water, magically right-sized.
Once browned in butter, the spaetzle becomes something spectacular, with a bit more chewiness and delightfully crispy little edges here and there. We served ours with this rich and delicious mushroom stroganoff on top.
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Makes about 2.5 cups
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
8-10 tablespoons lukewarm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a large bowl, stir together flour, salt, and nutmeg. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl; beat lightly with a fork. Pour the eggs over the flour and stir with the fork just until the eggs are absorbed, about 10 strokes. Don’t worry that most of the flour is still dry and loose. Stir in 6 tablespoons of the water, to make a heavy, lumpy batter. Trickle in the remaining water, stopping once the batter is soft and no longer holds a peak as you mix it.
Lift the fork clad with some of the batter; it should hang for a second before dropping. As it rests, the batter will smooth out and begin to look like warm taffy. Cover and let batter rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, several hours or overnight is okay too.
Fill a stockpot with water, salt liberally, add the oil. Bring water to a boil.
Spoon about half of the batter into the spaetzle maker (or a colander with 1/4-inch wide holes), and set it over the boiling water, resting it on the edge of the pan. Press the batter through the holes. They will initially sink, but they will swell and float within 30 seconds as they fill with steam. Stop adding batter once the surface of the water becomes crowded.
Let the spaetzle cook for about 1 minute after they float. Lift them out with a skimmer or strainer, shake gently to drain, and tip them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
Only use as much batter as you can press through in 15 seconds or less, and never add more batter than the surface of the water can safely harbor.
At this point the spaetzle can be drained and refrigerated for up to a few days. When ready to use, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet, and cook spaetzle, turning occasionally, until golden brown and a little crispy in places. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
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