Friday, January 28, 2011

Easy Beef & Vegetable Oven Dinner--Perfect on a Cold Winter's Night

Right now it’s snowing, and blowing, and bitter cold outside, but I’m inside making no-knead bread and baking a hearty beef and vegetable one-pot for supper. Except when I have to let my poor poodle out, I can almost forget the thick white blanket building up and bowing the tree branches and the treacherous ice creating chaos on the roads. Here in my house it’s warm, calm, and cozy.

I can’t think of a better meal than warm bread and steaming stew for riding out a snowstorm--or for any chilly night for that matter! I posted about the astonishing aroma and flavor of homemade no-knead bread just last week. Now it’s time to focus on one of its best menu companions, beef and vegetable stew.

The recipe here is slightly adapted from one from Jean Anderson’s book, Falling Off the Bone, published by Wiley last fall. I was very excited when my editor at Wiley sent me a review copy, partly because it’s handsome and well-designed, and partly because I’ve admired Jean’s recipes and writing for years. In fact, I’ve often used samples of her work to inspire students when I teach food and cookbook writing classes. Yes, she’s that good!
One reason I think so is that her recipes always work! As a rule, I’d never risk making a recipe from a brand new cookbook for company, but I just know hers will come out tasty and attractive. She also takes care to keep all these slow and low-cooked entrees as simple and fuss-free as possible—no extra steps or unnecessary ingredients to waste readers’ time or money.
Jean is also a fine writer. I’m a hard grader when it comes to recipe introductions (my own post on how to write them is here). I want the author to give me a sense of what the dish is like, how it can best fit into a menu, and to alert me of any tips for success. I also look for interesting bits of culinary history or lore, or information on what’s special about the recipe. Jean delivers, not only in her recipe intros but in her general details on meat cuts and cooking techniques, with an easy grace.
Finally, like most talented and successful cookbook authors, Jean has a refined palate. She just knows what tastes good and what readers are going to be pleased to serve. Her collection includes everything from a zippy Moravian Sauerbraten and Tuscan Veal Pot Roast, to Curried Lamb Shanks, to Corned Beef and Cabbage. I’m betting you’ll enjoy every dish you try.
Easy One-Pot Beef and Vegetable Oven Dinner
Believe it—this recipe is remarkably fuss-free! You start simply by baking some of the ingredients uncovered. Then, additional items and braising liquid are added and the dinner is gently cooked, covered, until the beef is tender-succulent and the veggies are done.The stew is also excellent made ahead and reheated. (For a classic French beef and red wine dish instead, see my take off on Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon.)
2 pounds boneless beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large (softball-size) onions, halved lengthwise, then halves sliced lengthwise 14-inch thick
2 large, peeled garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
2 large whole bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves) plus more for garnish, if desired
1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
1/2 cup condensed beef consommé or strong beef broth
1/2 cup dry white wine (or if preferred, 1/4 cup tomato sauce and 1/4 cup additional consommé)
12 to 15 golf-ball size red bliss or other boiling potatoes, well scrubbed
2 1/2 to 3 cups baby carrots
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Stir together the beef and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 4 to 5 quart Dutch oven until the beef is coated. Remove it from the pot and reserve. Stir together the remaining 1 tablespoon oil with the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper in the pot. Lay the beef over the top. Bake, middle rack, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beef is browned.
Thoroughly stir in the comsomme and wine. Cover and braise for 1 hour. Arrange the potatoes and carrots over the top. Re-cover, and cook until the beef and vegetables are tender when tested with a fork, about 1 1/2 hours longer. Discard the bay leaves. Taste and add more salt and pepper as desired. Serve in large soup plates, with the broth spooned over top, and garnished with a little fresh thyme, if desired.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
For some quicker warmer-uppers, see my Pesto Pasta Soup or Minestrone.
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Valentine's Chocolates--When the Eye Candy Box Matters More than the Candy

How do you feel about getting (or giving) those fancy, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for Valentine's Day? You know, the ones decorated with lots of ribbon and fabric rose "eye-candy" that sort of overshadows the actual candy. I have to admit I'm ambivalent.

On the one hand, I'm well aware that the manufacturers of some mass-market brands probably pay more attention to their packaging and containers than to creating fine quality chocolates to put inside. Plus, I'm always watching my diet, and a tempting box of chocolates would certainly challenge, maybe even sabotage, my resolve. And finally, the sweetie pie in my life, my hubby, knows very well that I can turn out my own confections that would taste better than most store bought (such as a fine chocolate rocky road fudge) so he wisely opts for beautiful flowers, instead, ( I often make a sweet treat for him, such as brownies, or hot fudge  sauce to drizzle over ice cream or chocolate pots de creme .)

On the other hand, I'm a bit of a sucker for romance, and the idea of receiving a pretty Valentine's box of bonbons does tug a bit on my heartstrings. Actually, I only recall receiving traditional Valentine's chocolates once--from a fellow I was dating when I was in college.

We weren't serious (or at least I didn't think so!), so I was bowled over when he showed up with a gigantic lace-trimmed, red fabric box  like the vintage one at left.

Besides feeling unexpectedly pampered and flattered, I clearly remember how impressed my girlfriends were with the gesture. In my circle, receiving such a present clearly elevated one's status, so I made a great show of sharing the bonbons with my dorm mates.

Interestingly, I have no recollection of whether the chocolates were tasty, but I kept the empty box for a number of years. And just as the Whitman's tagline , "A woman never forgets the man who remembers," says (see the bottom of the old ad below), I recall that boyfriend's name to this day.

So, how about you? Is it about the gesture or the actual confections? Do you vividly remember giving or receiving a traditional heart-shaped box of candy? Are you yearning for such a gift this year? Do you consider this sort of token appealing, or silly, or out of date, or some of all of these?  I'd really like to know.

If this has put you in a Valentine's mood, you may want to check out the cute Valentine's Day gingerbread house my granddaughter decorated last year. And check back soon, because I'm going to post some eye-catching Valentine's Day cookie decorating ideas for you.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Try No-Knead Bread & Stop Missing Out!

If you are one of the ten
people left on the planet who hasn’t tried your hand—or more accurately your spoon--at no-knead bread making, you’re really missing out. You could be enjoying fresh, fragrant, wholesome, and, yes, economical bread from your own oven whenever you like.

This is possible even if you’re a newbie baker or yeast phobic. All of these snapshots are of Kneadlessly Simple breads just as they came out during testing in my kitchen. If you can read and measure, you can make—and have the pleasure of eating—breads just like these.

I’ve posted three different recipes from Kneadlessly Simple to get you started. I've also included helpful hotlinks to Q & A’s, here including advice on the most common question, what kind of pot works best for no-knead breads here. Choose from my very popular Crusty White Peasant Pot Bread, (pictured below right, plus the olive variation is at the very top) all-purpose Easy Oat Bread, or hearty Seeded Pale Ale Pot Boule. (To be sure you don't miss any of my info sign up for my free newsletter and recipes here. )

In case you’re still resistant to jumping on the no-knead bandwagon, check out this great review of Kneadlessly Simple by award winning journalist and former Washington Post food staffer, Jane Black. Or read these top reasons I hear for NOT doing so and why those reasons just aren’t valid.

1. I’m sure if I skip the kneading, the bread quality just won’t be very good.

In my no-knead method the kneading isn’t skipped—the dough just stands there and kneads itself. Really! When a slightly soft, slightly moist yeast dough sits and slowly rises over many hours, the natural release of gas bubbles due to yeast fermentation continuously bounces and shifts dough particles around. Given time, this bubbling, or “micro-kneading” action develops gluten just as effectively as traditional kneading, even though the activity may seem insignificant. (See how the bubbles have moved the dough in the pic on the right.) Actually, micro-kneading may develop the gluten even more thoroughly than human hands because they sometimes get tired and quit too soon!

Besides allowing time for micro-kneading, the long, slow (12 to 20 hour) rise has another benefit: It provides the yeast plenty of opportunity to give the bread full-bodied taste and rich aroma. And while this happens, you can go off to work, or play, or to sleep and come back to find the “heavy lifting” done!

2. I can’t bake with yeast—I always get the temperature wrong & kill it.

Kneadlessly Simple recipes are specifically designed so you can’t overheat the water and kill the yeast. In fact, the recipes always call for mixing doughs with ice water. Yes, that’s right—you stir fast-rising yeast into the dry ingredients; then form a dough using ice cold water. As long as you use a rapid-rising or bread machine yeast, it will not be harmed no matter how cold the water is.

Another big advantage of using cold water is that it retards the yeast and causes the dough to rise very slowly. Professional artisan bakers and bread chemists say a long, slow rise delivers the best bread flavor and color, and I’ve definitely found this to be true.

3. I'm a traditionalist; I don’t find new-fangled methods ever as good as tried-and-true.

If you’re a real traditionalist, you should go “kneadless!” Letting the dough just sit and slowly ferment for a day or so was the completely natural way people first made bread thousands of years ago. Kneading was a technological innovation bakers introduced when they discovered that by pulling, beating, stretching, stirring, or otherwise “kneading” wheat doughs they could speed gluten development and get their job done faster! Kneading is, in essence, a clever trick for trimming some of the waiting time. But bakers have been kneading for so long, we now mistakenly consider this shortcut “traditional.”

BTW, setting the dough aside and just letting yeast chemistry take its course turns out to very convenient for today’s lifestyles, when many of us are gone from the house for long hours. I’ve built in flex-bake steps so rising times can be lengthened or shortened to fit when you’re around and awake, instead of having to hang around waiting till it’s ready for you.

  1. I like kneading and hand-shaping yeast dough, so no-knead doesn’t seem like a big advantage to me.

I’ve always loved kneading dough, too, but not the associated muss and fuss. Plus, like many folks, I’m often just too busy for it. With Kneadlessly Simple recipes, the dough gets mixed with a spoon in a big bowl (which literally takes under 10 minutes), then allowed to rise in the same bowl. After the first rise, the dough is simply stirred down in the bowl, then raised again—which leaves no annoying shower of flour or dough clumps on the counter to wipe up. Usually, shaping is automatically done by the baking container, further minimizing effort.

Bottom line: No-knead can make it possible to squeeze in bread making when it otherwise won’t fit a busy schedule. I keep saying I’m going to go back to the old way, but so far, I haven’t found the time! And I'm not alone--Fleischmann's Yeast did a survey of folks who had used Kneadlessly Simple and they not only liked the recipes, but over 60 percent said they made it possible to bake more often.

PS: For a hearty, easy soup to serve with your bread, try my easy Minestrone.

PPS: For a survey on how home bakers rated the no-knead method, click here.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ms Grammar Lady's Writing Rules for Punching Up Your Prose

Scratch the surface of many writers and inside you’ll find a language geek. Lurking within me is Ms Grammar Lady, a closet English teacher yearning to leap out and correct your dangling modifier or conjugate your misused verb.

For example, she'd tell you, straight-faced and without any acknowledgment of the double entendre, that lay, laid, laid is the verb to use only when you're placing something somewhere. As in "Lay the mats on the table," or, "She laid the mats on the table." ( I've even heard a published writer order the dog to “Lay down," so don't feel too bad if you've said it, too.)

Just like Dave Barry’s “Mr. Language Person,” only, unfortunately, less hilarious, Ms Grammar Lady loves devising and dispensing humorous writer rules. Here are some knee-slappers she’s come up with or adapted from a host of anonymous sources.

I and some of my writer friends consider these rules not only worth guffawing over, but useful reminders on practicing our craft. I’m hoping they’ll help guide and amuse you, too. Humor me! ( For other tips specifically aimed at food writers, check out How to Make Those Recipe Intros Tasty, and Dos & Don'ts for Cookbook Authors.)

BTW, Ms Grammar Lady is always looking to expand her list, so if you've got any handy rules to add, please share them in a comment and I'll post them here, too.

Never use big words when diminutive ones suffice.

The active voice is preferred. The passive voice is to be avoided.

Eschew obfuscation.

You should vary sentence type. You should vary sentence length. You should avoid repetitious constructions.

Use that imperative. And you won’t forget to throw in the interrogative, will you?

Avoid clichés like the plague. This is as easy as one, two, three.

Consider employing hyperbole; it’s absolutely, positively the best literary device ever.

Don't be redundant or repeat yourself; it's highly superfluous.

Overusing particular qualifiers sometimes makes certain sentences seem wishy-washy.

It behooves one to avoid archaic language.

Watch those participles when dangling.

Wow, the exclamatory can really add punch to prose!

Poofread carefully to see if you made mistakes or anything out.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Recipe Testing and the Oops Factor--Plus a Good Gluten-Free Bumbleberry Crisp

Most recipe developers will tell you that coming up with new recipes has a built-in oops factor. Experimenting always involves exploring uncharted territory, so snafus are inevitable. First guesses at soup can look and taste like wallpaper paste, cookies like pathetic pancakes, puddings like lumpy goo.

I used to hope for the time I'd know enough about food chemistry to avoid unpleasant surprises. But it still hasn't happened--I learn things the hard way almost every day!

Often, trouble results because the ingredient proportions are off. This occurred recently with my holiday peppermint marshmallows. The first version had too much gelatin and too little water, resulting in "treats" as chewy-tough as gummy bears. If they'd been round, they'd have made good rubber balls.

Sometimes, plain old carelessness is the problem. Once I was rushing through what I thought would be the final test of a stir fry that didn't thicken right. In fact, it was runny.

So, I grabbed the yellow box of cornstarch a second time, made a quick slurry of more cornstarch and water, and tried again. Still runny! One taste revealed why: I'd grabbed the yellow confectioners sugar box, not the cornstarch! Oops!

I created the gluten-free crisp here so my gluten-sensitive daughter-in-law could enjoy it along with the rest of the family. (For some other tempting gluten-free sweets, check out the brownies and thumbprint cookies.) The first version was just not quite as flavorful or as nubby-crispy on top as I wanted. So I changed the amount of butter and subbed some imported bottled cherries from Trader Joe's for some bland canned tart pie cherries.

I would have been happy with the result except: The tasty gourmet Morello cherries had not been pitted, so they lent a certain unpleasant crunchiness I hadn't planned for at all! Oops again!

Bumbleberry Crisp

Assuming you use good pitted cherries, you'll be really happy with this crisp. And
nobody will suspect it's gluten-free. (For some other good home-style fruit desserts see my mixed berry-streusel cobbler or favorite apple crisp.)

Remember that for a gluten-free crisp, you must use certified gluten-free oats. These and the rice flours called for are usually stocked in stores with the other gluten-free baking ingredients.

I make this recipe all year round. Frozen berries are always available, and, occasionally, frozen rhubarb is, too. But since it's availability is iffy, when it is in season, I buy extra, cube it and freeze it in plastic bags for later use. By the way, bumbleberry is just the fanciful name for the very enticing and popular fruit, mixed berry and rhubarb combination called for here. (I didn't make it up; I've heard Canadians coined it.)


2 cups granulated sugar, or a little more if desired

1/3 cup cornstarch

5 cups mixed berries (fresh or frozen thawed blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries)

2 1/2 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples

2 1/2 cups diced (1/2-inch pieces) rhubarb

2 cups pitted fresh, canned, bottled, or frozen sour cherries in light syrup or water, well drained


2 3/4 cups gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats, divided

1/2 cup white rice flour

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup almond flour or almond meal

1/3 cup cornstarch

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

Scant 1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a large, flat (9- by 13-inch or similar) baking dish, or coat with butter or oil (or use individual dishes, if desired). Place the large dish or individual ones on a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a large non-reactive bowl, thoroughly stir together the granulated sugar and cornstarch. Gently stir in all the fruits until evenly incorporated. Evenly spread the mixture in the baking dish. Bake (middle rack) for 15 minutes.

For the topping: Meanwhile, in a food processor, thoroughly process together 3/4 cup oats, the rice flours, almond flour and cornstarch until very smooth. Add the brown sugar, salt and cinnamon; process until evenly blended. Drizzle over the butter, then pulse until evenly incorporated and the mixture forms small clumps. Stir the crumb mixture together with the remaining 2 cup rolled oats. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit mixture.(The large dish will be quite full.)

Bake in the middle third of the oven for 20 to 35 minutes longer, until the top is well browned and the filling is bubbly; individual servings will be done sooner than the large dish so start checking after 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to barely warm or room temperature before serving. Top with scoops of ice cream or dollops of whipped cream, if desired.

Makes about 10 serving.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Recapping Your Kitchenlane 2010 Faves: A Big Surprise to Me

Maybe I’ll eventually get better at guessing which of my stories and recipes are gonna grab you, but I’d never have predicted your favorites from 2010. The traditional food blogger wisdom is that chocolate recipes are the biggest draws, but not so much here at Kitchenlane. (True, the chocolate-peppermint brownies did generate considerable holiday interest, but some other recipes ranked a lot higher.)

Two of the recipes you clicked on most frequently the past year were big surprises to me—my strawberry-rhubarb freezer jam and microwave “baked” apples.

I’ve heard that making jam and jelly at home is hot, so maybe that explains the first one—the recipe is delicious and pretty, btw. I can only assume that the microwave baked apples were a hit because you enjoy baked apples, but like me, often can’t wait the usual hour to get them done and on the table.

Another post that received many look-sees was the one featuring my icing-painted leaf-shaped sugar cookies. Apparently, the idea of decorating cut-out cookies to mimic autumn leaves just struck your fancy. This makes me very happy because it’s a crafty sort of food project that I find a lot of fun.

Finally, my little commentary (okay, rant) called “If You Only Need a Meatloaf Recipe Will Any Old Cookbook Do?” provoked much more response than I expected. I assumed that since my passion, not to mention business, is cookbooks, I would be much more disturbed by that stance than most folks. But you apparently objected to the original reviewer’s dismissive attitude, too. Which was quite heartwarming!

One post that I adored, my salted caramel & apple combo didn't generate much excitement at all. I still love the recipe and pic, and am still wondering why you didn't love them, too. (Pause for head scratch!)

Anyway, I’m starting the year with a promise to keep on tossing out posts for you and will likely keep on being surprised at what hits home. Please note that I’d love more feedback on what works (or doesn’t) for you, so don’t just come and lurk. Jump in and comment now and then. In fact, you can start by telling me which of the posts mentioned here most appeals to you.

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