Saturday, July 18, 2015

Dig the Pig

Smokey Pork Bolognese with Creamy Polenta
This recipe defies the expectation of easy summer cooking. It's mid-July and hot around here . . . so why on earth would I want a hearty bowl of slow-cooked bolognese? My easy-breezy summer has become hectic and packed with meetings, obligations, and rehearsal for Midsummer Night's Dream. My long days make way for long evenings making it difficult to dedicate a lot of time in the kitchen (or the grill for that matter). Enter large-batch make-it-and-forget-it recipes. A couple of weeks ago I bought a 10 pound pork shoulder and made a huge batch of Kaluah Pig, divided it into four generous portions, made one batch into a honey-ginger-soy version, and froze the other three. When time is a precious commodity, having a delicious recipe building-block on hand makes a home-cooked dinner possible. I must also confess, with little time to get to the grocery store at the moment, I came up with the recipe to use up stuff I already had in my pantry and fridge. Fridays we get the evening off of rehearsal, so that morning I took out one pork packet to defrost, went to work for the day, and got this deeply-flavored bolognese sauce finished in half the time it usually takes. Dinner was done shortly after my handsome-hubby got home from work and Friday night became a relaxing and cozy evening at home. I served the bolognese over a creamy polenta, but feel free to use the sauce with pasta, potatoes, or rice! Your call! This is your dinner!

- 2-3 c. shredded Kaluah Pig
- 4 slices of bacon or 4 oz. pancetta, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 celery ribs, trimmed and diced
- 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/4 c. tomato paste
- 3-4 c. red wine
- 1/4 c. heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- chopped fresh oregano and thyme
- 1 c. uncooked polenta
- 1/4 c. creme fraiche
- 1 c. shredded Parmesan (plus extra for serving)
- 4. chicken broth
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp. minced chives
- 1/2 c. chopped Italian parsley, divided

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high, add chopped bacon or pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp. Remove cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Add onion, garlic, celery, carrot, red pepper flakes, and chopped thyme and oregano to the Dutch oven (using any of the remaining bacon grease to cook). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until softened and glossy, about 5-7 minutes. Add tomato paste to vegetable mixture and cook together for 1-2 minutes. Slowly pour wine into mixture and add cooked bacon and Kahlua pig. Mix ingredients together. If mixture seems dry, add water or chicken broth by the half-cup. Cook to a boil and then reduce heat to low and cook, partially covered for 1-2 hours. Check occasionally and stir ingredients together. After an hour or so, the bolognese should be very thick and the vegetables should be very soft. Slowly pour cream into sauce, stir, and season with salt and pepper. Allow sauce to simmer over a low heat for another 20-30 minutes while preparing the polenta (or whatever starch you plan to serve).

Heat chicken broth to a boil over high heat in a large, heavy pot, add 1 tsp. of salt, and garlic clove and cook for 1-2 minutes. Reduce to a simmer and slowly pour dry polenta into the broth, stirring slowly with a whisk to prevent any lumps. Once the polenta in mixed into the both, stir gently while simmering for 8-10 minutes. Make sure ans scrape the bottom with wooden spoon to keep polenta from burning and sticking. After about 10 minutes, the polenta should be cooked, soft, and the mixture thick. If it is too thin, allow to cook for another minute or so. Remove from heat and stir in creme fraiche, Parmesan, chopped chives, and half the Italian parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide polenta into bowls and ladle cooked, warm bolognese over. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese and remaining Italian parsley. Yum!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Viva La France!

Fabulous French Onion Soup
Mmmmmmm! So cheesy! So tasty!

Typical Oregon Spring . . . it's 70˚ outside - tank tops and flip flops for all! Just kidding, it's suddenly back down into the 30s, with damp foggy air! After flirting with the idea of bare legs and light summery dresses, I'm back to tights and sweaters. I'm also wanting something to warm me from the inside out. I LOVE French onion soup! It seems so elegant and sophisticated, but it's actually really easy to make and people love it. The only necessary special equipment are oven-proof crocks. I picked up two at the local thrift store for a few dollars last week so I can finally satisfy my craving for this hearty, cheesy soup. I did this batch vegetarian since I'm still in the midst of my Lenten meatlessness. Traditionally, the soup is made with beef broth, so if you're going meat-free bolster up that veggie stock with a little extra sherry for a deeper flavor! One of the other tricks I used, was rather than using a couple of slices of baguette for the topping, I made a batch of garlic croutons so that the melted cheese had more crevices to stick to. Croutons are such a great way to add heft to any soup and make use of stale bread. I included the "recipe" for the croutons, but really, it's just about toasting bread cubes in the oven with some olive oil. This soup recipe makes enough soup for two . . . if you have more mouths to feed, it's easy to double!

- 1 qt. vegetable stock
- 2 large sweet onions, peeled, halved and cut into thin slices
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. dry sherry
-  1 c. garlic croutons
- 1/2 c. grated cheese (I made a blend of gruyere, sharp cheddar, and Parmesan)
- 1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
- salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚F and line a heavy baking sheet with foil. Arrange 4-6 cups bread cubes on the foil in an even layer. In a small bowl mash together 4 cloves garlic with 4 Tbsp. olive oil, whisk in 1 tsp. salt. Drizzle olive oil mixture over the bread cubes and toss together to coat evenly. Toast in oven for about 20-30 minutes until bread begins to dry out and turn golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
While the croutons are toasting, start caramelizing the onions. Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I used my round Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add sliced onions and stir to cover with melted butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and chopped thyme. Once the onions have softened and just begun to brown, lower the heat and allow the onions to caramelize. Stir the onions occasionally as they cook down for 30 minutes or so. They should be very tender, brown, and sweet. Increase the heat to medium high and stir the onions. When the pan is hot add the sherry and deglaze the pan, scraping in brown bits of caramelized onion from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Decrease heat to medium-low and allow soup to simmer for 20-30 minutes until the broth has cooked down and the soup has thickened slightly. Remove pot from heat and turn on the broiler. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle hot soup into oven-proof crocks then top soup with croutons. Sprinkle cheese blend and parsley on top of croutons. Set crocks on a baking sheet and place under broiler for the cheese to melt. (This will happen very quickly, so keep and eye on your oven so that you don't get a bunch of burned cheese.) When the cheese is hot and bubbly, remove crocks from oven and serve! Enjoy being warm and satisfied! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spicing Up Life

Peace in 1944 Vegan Spice Cake
It's certainly been a while since I've posted, but that doesn't mean I have abandoned cooking! This winter term has been dominated by directing a production of The Diary of Anne Frank for Oregon State University. This beautiful production took a great deal of focus, dedication, time, and energy (as all productions do). I was fortunate enough to be working with an extremely passionate and hard working group of students and, I really believe this is a show we can all be proud of. That all being said, one of my tasks through the rehearsal and performance process was baking "Miep's Spice Cake" that is eaten on stage every night. While purchasing a cake is usually the option, we were faced with the dietary challenge of a vegan in the cast. Rather than bother hunting down a suitable (and cost effective) ready-made vegan cake in the store, I developed this recipe. I probably baked this cake twenty times in the past few weeks. Moist and delicious, the cast ate it over and over again. They started asking for the recipe . . . so here it is. I named it "Peace in 1944" cake because that is what the icing was supposed to say. Feel free to omit the icing completely, it's delicious either way. One of the tricks to a vegan cake is finding the right substitution for eggs which act as a binder and a leavening agent. I found this vinegar and baking soda substitution to work very well for this recipe, plus the vinegar adds a slight tang to the recipe.

- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. vegetable oil
- 1/3 c. canned pumpkin
- 3/4 c. flour
- 2 Tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. baking powder, divided
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. all spice
- 1 tsp. ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease an 8" round cake pan with vegetable shortening, dust with flour and tap out the excess. Set aside. In small prep bowl dissolve vinegar with two tablespoons of water. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, sugar, and oil until smooth. Add flour, spices,  salt, baking soda, and 1/2 tsp. of baking powder and whisk together until well combined. Working quickly add the remaining two Tbsp. of baking powder to the water and vinegar mixture. It will bubble. Pour into batter and quickly whisk. The batter should become lighter and fluffier. Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until cake is cooked through. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before decorating and/or eating.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Going NUTS

Sneaky Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
My theory about vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free (or whatever other dietary restriction) cooking is that attempting to force an alternative food to taste "just like the real thing" is ultimately a fool's errand. The best vegan recipes I have found are not the "corn dogs" or "hamburgers" that parade themselves as "healthy" alternatives to scarf down at a barbecue. Instead, it's recipes that make the most of fresh vegan-friendly ingredients for what they are - quinoa-stuffed squash, falafel, spicy hummus, and the like are all satisfying meals that don't need a bunch of overly-processed incarnations of soy and they taste better for it. My challenge here was to develop simply a good cookie . . . that happened to be vegan. Finding a fat-replacement is the easy part here, the trick was finding a suitable non-egg binder that would allow the cookies to remain moist and chewy (as chocolate chip cookies should be). I found there are a variety of easy alternatives, but for this recipe, the best choice was using cornstarch and water. Yep. It was already in my pantry. I did these as plain old fashioned chocolate chip cookies. The coconut taste, I find, is very subtle. As a basic drop-cookie dough recipe this works great! Feel free to substitute the chips for nuts or dried fruit, or for a more coconutty taste add a teaspoon of coconut extract and 1/2 c. of shredded coconut. Enjoy these cookies for what they are . . . you don't even have to tell people they are vegan (unless they ask). They won't know the difference.

- 1 c. plus 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1/2 c. coconut oil
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 4 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 4 Tbsp. of warm water
- 1 1/2 c. vegan chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. In a small bowl, whisk together flour with salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer beat together coconut oil, brown sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch/water mixture until smooth and creamy. Beat in flour mixture in two additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between. Mix in chocolate chips and make sure that they are well incorporated into the dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange tablespoon-sized cookie dough balls to bake. Bake in batches 8-9 minutes. Allow baked cookies to rest on baking sheet for 1-2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Recipe should yield around 24 cookies. Yum!