Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Spicy Sausage Beer Cheese Soup

Growing up in Cleveland I loved beer cheese soup.  Rich broth laden with cheddar and spiked with just enough beer, the thick blended vegetables rounding it all out, a soup worth dreaming about. It was not until I moved to the West Coast and couldn't find it on a single menu that I discovered Beer cheese Soup is a midwestern specialty. At the time I lived with my midwestern exboyfriend, who would whip up monstrous batches of the soup, which we would then eat together, on our own, because all of our friends were vegetarians or vegans.

When I moved to New York, I looked for Beer Cheese Soup. I searched menus.com and delivery.com, I looked on yelp, I checked specialty soup places, but there was none to be found. Oh well, I thought, I'll have to learn to make it then.

Well, it's taken me about two years to learn to make a satisfactory beer cheese soup. My first attempts were too brothy, or too beery, never enough cheese. Later they were too cheesy, and it didn't fully incorporate into the broth. And always, always, these early prototypes were lacking in something.

That something, it turns out, was spicy meat grease.  I learned to balance the broth and cheese levels, deduced that some gouda really amps up the cheese flavor, but still something was lacking. So I decided to try adding meat. Cooking anything in meat drippings generally improves it's flavor, after all. 

The addition of the sausage really takes this soup to a new place, and it's one I want to go to often. It's incredibly rich and velvety in texture, and the flavor is heavy on the cheese, but the vegetables, beer, and spicy sausage all definitely contribute to the taste. I used three different cheeses- a standard Darigold cheddar, a three year aged cheddar from Quebec, and a lightly smoked, soft wedge of gouda. The mildness of the Darigold cheddar helped to balance the sharp aged cheddar, and the gouda added a nutty bite and a bit of smoky flavor. This soup was delightful, and would be fantastic on any cold autumn evening.

Spicy Sausage Beer Cheese Soup

2 tbsp butter
1 onion - chopped
1 large carrot - chopped 
2 small golden potatoes - chopped
3-4 cloves garlic - chopped
2 tbsp C flour
4 C Chix stock
1 bottle lager 11 oz
2 C cheddar
2 C gouda
2 spicy sausages about 1/3 lb

Cut sausages into 1/2 inch thick slices.
Add butter to the bottom of a soup pot, heat over medium-low until melted, then add the sausage slices and cook until browned and heated through (I used smoked sausage. If using uncooked sausage, fry until sausage is fully cooked). Remove sausage from pot, leaving as much grease in pot as possible, and set the sausage aside.

Next, add the garlic and onions to the pot with the sausage grease, and cook until onions caramelize, about 8-10 minutes. 

Once onions are caramelized and delicious, sprinkle the flour over top and mix well, when all the onions and garlic are well coated in flour, add the beer to the pot in three splashes, mixing well after each added splash, to deglaze the pan. Mix well and cook over low heat until the roux thickens some, about 2-3 minutes. 

Add the chopped carrots and potato and mix well, then add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low boil and cook for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are soft. 

While soup cooks, grate the cheese and set aside.

After the potatoes and carrots become soft, remove the soup from heat and either blend in batches (I blended just my solid bits, then mixed it back in with my broth so as to blend in one batch), or process with a immersion blender, or a food processor, until soup is smooth and thick. 

Return soup to pot, and heat over medium low until soup is hot again, then begin adding the  cheese. Stir in a random zig zag pattern while adding cheese, to avoid forming a cheese ball. Reserve some cheese to garnish with.
Serve in large bowls garnished with grated cheese and a small handful of spicy sausage slices. 
To reheat leftovers, heat over low on the stove and mix often to avoid cheese separation. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Apple and Blue Cheese Stuffed Acorn Squash

Last fall I made a roast chicken stuffed with apples and acorn squash, and while I was researching the acorn squash stuffing I kept coming across recipes for stuffed acorn squashes. While it wasn't what I was looking for, the idea of stuffed acorn squash appealed to me. I filed the idea away at the back of my brain.

The squash stuffed chicken turned out great, but I never got around to making the stuffed squashes last year, so on Friday, when S and I had a day off in between event shoots I decided to try my hand at stuffed squash. And I am so, so, so glad I did. Stuffed acorn squash is amazing!

The squash, apples, onions, and cranberries all compliment each other's lovely autumnal flavors, and the blue cheese rounds it out with a bit of creaminess and a bit of that blue cheese funk. I used Moody Blue by Wisconsin Based cheese maker Roth Kase, who also make my go-to blue cheese, Buttermilk Blue. The Moody Blue is lightly smoked, which added a lovely taste of woodsmoke to this dish, reminiscent of a campfire being smelled in the distance. It was great, but any blue cheese will certainly work for this recipe.

This is definitely an easy dinner. The hardest part is cutting the Acorn Squash in half, as they are a pretty firm gourd. I would recommend a large, sharp knife. 
S and I each ate half a squash as our entree on Friday night, and though I expected it to be tasty, I was amazed at just how delicious these were. 
These would be perfect at a fall themed dinner party, maybe even a Samhain gathering if you're so inclined, and of course they would be wonderful on Thanksgiving as well. However, they were also very delicious on a regular Friday night.

Apple and Blue Cheese Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves two. Could easily be doubled for four.

1 acorn squash cut in half
1 green apple
1 small yellow onion
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 C dried cranberries
1/2 C crumbled blue cheese - Moody Blue
Dash of black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut sqash in half lengthwise so you have two bowl shaped pieces. Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh. Place facedown in a baking dish and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Bake for 40 minutes.

While squash is baking chop the apple and the onion into small, about 1/4 inch, pieces. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the apples and onions and a bit of black pepper. Cook until onion is transparent and caramelized, about ten minutes on medium-low heat. 

Once the onions are caramelized, add the cranberries and brown sugar, and mix in, remove from heat.

Crumble the blue cheese and set aside.

When Squash is finished baking, remove from baking dish, discard water, and place squashes bowl side up  on the baking dish. Add a bit of blue cheese to each squash, then some apple and onion filling, then more blue cheese, then more filling, until each half squash is full. Top with more blue cheese. Place back in oven for 12-15 Minutes, until cheese is nice and melty.
Serve immediately and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dulce De Leche Dark Chocolate Pie

Sometimes I have an idea for a dish that is so grand, so beautiful, and so huge and unhealthy that I while I am possessed by the idea, consumed by it, absolutely dying to make the dish- I have to wait a while because it is too rich, too heavy, too unhealthy, and simply too large to make for just S and myself.
This pie is one of those dishes.

I had the idea to make it about two weeks ago. I was making dulce de leche just because I had the desire to make it and spread it all over fresh baked bread (a delicious use for any you may have leftover), when I started thinking about the rich, thick chocolate custard used in my Chocolate Caramel Custard with Candied Bacon, and how delicious it would taste with dulce de leche. Perhaps cooked a bit longer to further solidify the custard, and then poured into a pie crust? A dulce de leche and chocolate pie. Genius. 

I went to Whole Foods pretty much the same day I had the idea and bought a block of Callebaut unsweetened baking chocolate- my very favorite chocolate to cook with. It's a bit more work intensive than chips or easily broken bars, but so, so worth it. 

But I held off on actually making the pie. I was concerned we would have an incident like the time I made Pineapple Upside Down cake for this blog and then S and I ate pretty much all of it in one sitting then spent the night lying on the couch moaning in pain due to the amount of butter we had just ingested.
I had waited over a week and still not been presented with an opportunity to make and share this pie, so I took matters into my own hands and threw a dinner party.

I made the pie in the morning and slipped it into the fridge to cool, deciding to make my whipped cream after dinner, right before serving the pie. Then I baked a few loaves of bread, roasted a chicken and some beets, made a beans and bacon dish, and a kale salad. Our guests arrived, the wine and pumpkin beer began flowing, and by the time I made the whipped cream, topped the pie and took my final photos I was a bit tipsy.

The pie was a huge hit, and not just because we'd all had a few glasses of Bordeaux. The chocolate custard is thick and rich, it definitely holds together and stands on its own, the dulce de leche is a bit softer, but it doesn't get crushed by the chocolate, and lends a creamy, nutty sweetness to the not-too-sweet custard.

Chocolate Crust

8 oz net weight- about 2 cups bunny grahams chocolate
2 tbsp brown sugar
5 tbsp melted butter

Dulce De Leche 

1 Can (14oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk
Spray Oil (I use coconut), or a bit of vegetable oil 

Chocolate Custard

3/4 C milk
1/3 C  Sugar
3 egg yolks
9 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate- chopped
pinch of salt
6 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp of cinnamon

Whipped Cream

1 C Heavy Cream
2 Tbsp Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Dulce de Leche

Preheat the oven to 425 Degree Fahrenheit
Open the can of sweetened condensed milk and pour into a shallow pan and cover with foil. Place this pan inside of a larger pan, and fill the large pan with water until the water level is about 1/2 way up the pan with the sweetened condensed milk in it.
Cook for 1- 2 Hours, until the sweetened condensed milk turns a lovely golden brown and thickens. Remove from oven, take the pan full of dulce de leche out of the larger pan and whisk the dulce de leche well, until it's pretty smooth. Set aside to cool. 
You can make the dulce de leche up to a few days in advance, just store it in your refrigerator. Before adding to the pie crust, allow the dulce de leche to come to room temperature. 

Chocolate Crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit
Place graham crackers into food processor along with brown sugar, and pulse until all cookies are crushed. Add melted butter and pulse again until well combined. 
Butter a pie pan and pour in the graham mixture, press it to the bottom and sides of the pie pan until it forms a crust. 
Bake 10-12 minutes, until crumb mixture sets into a solid crust. 
Allow to cool before filling.

Once crust has cooled spoon in the room temperature dulce de leche, I spoon in big globs of it and place them in various places in the crust, so it starts out pretty spread out, making covering the whole crust easier. 

Take a spatula and spray it with a bit of oil, or wipe a bit on with a paper towel, and use it to spread out the dulce. If it starts to stick, flip the spatula over and use the other side. Put the pie in the refrigerator.  

Chocolate Custard

Place egg yolks in a bowl and whisk them well.

Combine milk and sugar in a double boiler and cook over low heat until milk is steaming and all the sugar has dissolved. 
Slowly add the milk mixture to the egg yolk bowl while continuously whisking. Once you've added about 1/3 the hot milk to the egg yolks replace the double boiler over low heat and add the egg/milk mixture slowly into the remaining milk in the double boiler, still whisking continuously. 
Cook over low heat, continuing to mix, until the egg/milk/sugar mixture has thickened some, about 2 minutes. 

Add the chocolate to the egg/milk/sugar mixture in the double boiler and stir well, until chocolate melts, continue cooking over low heat and stirring until the chocolate custard thickens well, about 5-7 minutes. 

Remove the custard from heat and stir in the butter, stir well, allow to cool (I stir while waiting to speedup the cooling) for about 3-4 minutes.Take your pie crust with the dulce in it out of the refrigerator, and give it the chocolate more good mix, then pour it into the pie crust, forming a layer on top of the dulce de leche. All of the my chocolate custard fit, but if you have any extra I recommend filling little custard cups with it and chilling them separately for a lovely extra dessert. Place pie in the refrigerator until it is time to serve it.

Whipped Cream

Immediately before serving add cream, powdered sugar, and extra to a the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high, or use an electric hand mixer. Beat until medium peaks from, about 2-3 minutes. 

Spoon over the top of the pie and smooth out, perhaps create a lovely meringue shape. Whatever you like. I shaved a bit of extra chocolate over mine. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Maple Spice Apple Crisp

Apple crisp and autumn go together like jack-o-lanterns and candles, a perfect crisp, hot from the oven and filling the room with the smell of cinnamon and apples, is an emblem of autumn to me.
In the fall and winter my mother always made a good deal of apple desserts. Typically there was apple brown betty, or apple crisp for dessert on the weekends, the soft baked apples swimming in their buttery, cinnamon-y juices, the crisp oatmeal topping sealing all that autumnal goodness inside. 

The last weekend in September was the first autumn edition of New Amsterdam Market, my all time favorite market. They lost their land this year to the Howard Hughes Corporation, who seem to be on a mission to destroy the whole waterfront scene in FiDi, one cool place at a time. However, the universe smiles on farmers markets, so New Amsterdam has managed to secure their spot for a few more weekends, and my beloved market returns four times this fall. 

This time my favorite fruitier, Maggie Nesciur of Flying Fox brought a plethora of heirloom apples. I bought about four pounds of them, in a wide range of types, from the tiny, crisp Ananas Reinette that tasted of pineapple, to a massive japanese type that I roasted on a stick while camping this weekend. 

She even had two varieties of edible crab apple, and she gave me a few handfuls to bring home. I tasted the crab apples at home and found that I loved the teeny-tiny Dolgo, which tasted and looked quite a bit like a raw cranberry, but I found the Hewes to be far too mealy and sweet, and thus all the Hewes found their way into this crisp where they baked up beautifully. 

I used a mix of apple types in this crisp, as I usually do when cooking with apples, but I'm sure a type-specific crisp, perhaps using Honeycrisp which are both sweet and tangy, could be delightful. 

In autumn I love all things spiced- mulled cider, spice cake, gingerbread, baked apples rolled in cinnamon and clove, pork tenderloins stuck full of cloves, spiced mulled wine, etc. So naturally when I set out to turn some of my Flying Fox apples into crisp, I wanted it to be a spiced crisp. 

However, while rounding up all the spices I would need, I couldn't seem to locate my ground cloves. I knew I had some, but no matter where I looked I could only find my jar of whole cloves. Finally I gave up and took out my pestle and mortar. Ten minutes and a sore grinding arm later I had ground cloves. 

I love using maple syrup as a sweetener in my baked goods, the richness of the maple works well with apples, cinnamon, pumpkin, really most autumnal recipes are better with a bit of maple. I highly recommend you use real maple for this recipe (and always!), the imitation stuff just doesn't have the same flavor, and I'm not sure how it will bake up. Give the real stuff a try, a little bit goes a surprisingly long way.

I think of crisp as the lazy bakers answer to pie. It has the soft, fruity, sweet filling and the carb based crispy top. It's perfect for me, as I am a very lazy baker most days, and never want to roll out a crust if I don't have to. Besides, crisp makes up for it's lack of crust by having a fantastic crumbly topping and a ton of gooey, delicious fruit beneath. 

Maple Spice Apple Crisp
Apple Filling
5-6 Apples
3/4 Tsp ground Cinnamon
3/4 Tsp ground Cloves
1/2 Tsp All Spice
1/2 Tsp ground Nutmeg
2 Tbsp Maple Syrup
Butter for greasing pan

Crisp Topping
1 C Oats
1 Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp Flower
1/2 Tsp Cinnamon
1/2 C Butter

Preheat your oven to 350 Degrees Fahrenheit. 

Cut the 1/2 C butter into small cubes, then place all topping ingredients in your food processor and pulse until well combined. Alternatively, if you don't have a food processor, or prefer oats that are still in tact, soften the butter cubes a bit then combine all topping ingredients in a bowl and work together with a pastry cutter, two forks, or your fingers. Work until well combined. 

Cut your apples into 1/4-1/3 inch thick slices, place in a large bowl, drizzle with maple syrup, and toss. Sprinkle cinnamon, cloves, all spice, and nutmeg over apples and toss again until well coated in spices. 

Grease a baking dish or pie pan with a bit of butter and add the apples, pour any maple syrup from the bottom of the apple bowl over the top. 
Crumble your topping and distribute it all over the top of the crisp. It doesn't need to be perfectly even, just sprinkle away until you've covered it all and used all the topping. 

Bake until topping is crispy and browned, about 25-30 minutes. With my heavy stoneware pans it sometimes takes up to 40 minutes.

Serve while warm and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mac and Cheese and Beer

Macaroni and Cheese is a beloved dish of mine, even though I'm lactose intolerant. I make many variations of it, most of them involving bacon and multiple cheese types. This beer laced mac was a new endeavor however, and a very successful one.

I was helping S make mac and cheese for dinner one night (ok, I took over, I'm a kitchen control freak), when S suggested that beer might be a nice addition to mac and cheese. 

Well, being from the Midwest, land of the beer cheese soup, I generally think beer and cheese should always be together. Hence my recent recipe for Beer Cheese Pretzels

I wanted to jump in and make the mac and cheese with beer the next day, but S didn't like the idea of making another dish of mac before we even finished eating the one we made that night, so I waited a almost a week.

It was worth the wait. This is a great mac and cheese, slightly more complex than your basic mac, the beer really complements the nutty gouda. I used a smoked gouda, but I know the smoked flavor is not for everyone, and any gouda would work well in this recipe.

If you prefer a baked mac, I provide broiling instructions, just long enough to get the cheese on top to melt though. However, if you prefer a saucy, unbaked mac and cheese, similar in consistency to boxed mac, simply don't bake it, just mix the bacon right in. But I really think you should try broiling it, the extra layer of melty cheese is delightful.

This mac will certainly be entering our regular repertoire, which in this autumnal time of year I find is frequently full of cheese sauces and baked casseroles. Also, a lot of squash. I wonder if I could find a way to put squash in mac and cheese? That recipe may be coming soon.

This mac is something special,  something heavenly. It's an absolutely perfect dish for an autumn night.

Mac and Cheese and Beer

1 lb macaroni
1 1/2 heaping cups cheddar, grated
1 1/2 C heaping cups gouda, grated
6 strips bacon 
1/2 C beer  room temperature I used a lager, but a porter would also work
3/4 C milk
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
A generous 1/2 tsp paprika
A dash of Cayenne
2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce

Boil Water and add macaroni, cook until not quite ready, it should be a bit firmer than al dente. Drain. While pasta cooks, cook bacon, and make sauce.

Fry the bacon over medium low heat (always add bacon to your pan prior to heating), until crispy. 

Melt butter in saucepan over low heat, once melted sprinkle in flour and whisking constantly cook about 2 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne, whisk again. 

Pour in milk and beer, still whisking constantly, and cook another 2 minutes (you can whisk less now). Once sauce is cohesively mixed and slightly thickened, whisk in the cheese. Reserve a bit of cheese, about 1/2 C to top the dish with later. Try to stir in a zig zag or random pattern to avoid creating a cheese ball. Once sauce is smooth and cheese is melted whisk in 2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce. 

Pour hot cheese sauce over macaroni and mix well. If you prefer a saucy mac, similar to boxed macaroni and cheese in consistency, simply stir in the bacon and serve. I like a baked mac, so I pour my mac and cheese into a baking pan, top it with more grated cheese and the bacon, and place under your broiler for 5-8 minutes, just until your cheesy top melts. Serve immediately and enjoy. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Secret of Spinach Juice

Most of the cooking I do for this blog is fueled by fruit and vegetable juices made before the cooking begins. My routine on days devoted to blogging is pretty much wake up, work on computer elements of blog, do dishes, make juice, wash juicer, drink juice while researching cooking idea, then finally cook + shoot. However, I had not been planning on sharing my juice recipes with y'all because there are just so many juice recipes out there. But that was before I learned the secret of spinach juice. 

I was always wary of leafy greens in my juices. I love cucumber, or beet, or carrot juice, but leafy green juice just did not sound like something I would like. After all, it's only been in recent years that I even began to eat leafy greens. And then one day I was making a apple-beet-carrot juice and I noticed a half eaten container of spinach in the fridge, so I decided to be brave and add just a little bit. Nervously, I added a small handful. A trickle of deep green flowed out of my juicer. I mixed it in. I tasted. 
The spinach didn't change the taste of the juice!

I tasted again, just in case. Nope. No spinach flavor at all. I turned my juicer back on and added another, largee handful. A bigger flow of deep green issued from my juice spout. I mixed again, tasted again. Still no spinach taste. 

I ended up adding the whole half container of spinach to my juice. And I couldn't taste it at all.
I was officially in spinach juice heaven.

This is about how much spinach I usually add. Two heaping, loosely packed, cups worth. And aside from turning lighter colored juices green, I can't tell a difference in flavor at all. I add this much spinach to all different kinds of juice now. 

Spinach juice is great, it's loaded with Vitamins A and K, B1, and B2, among other great health benefits. A big glass of this juice makes me feel way better than a cup of coffee does.

Also, it makes an awesome rainbow in your juicer prior to mixing. I recently read about using blenders to make juices, then straining them through a fine mesh sieve, and if you have a strong blender I think that could work for this juice, however in all the tutorials I have seen the person blending their juice has a blender worth more than my juicer, so I don't know how an average blender will hold up to raw beet.

Gingery Fruit and Veg Delight
One of my favorite juices to enjoy around mid morning. Makes two large servings. Sometimes I have the second one in the midafternoon as a pick-me-up, sometimes I give it to S, who isn't as convinced of the beauty of juicing as I am, but enjoys it if I make it for him.

1 Small or 1/2 Large Beet
2 Medium Carrots
1/2 Pineapple
3 Pears
2 Lemons
2-3 Inches Ginger Root
2 Heaping Cups Spinach

Jubilee your lemons by cutting off either end, then standing them up on a flat side and cutting away the rind. It is ok to leave behind some white flesh. 

Cut your pineapple into spears. I do this by cutting off the top and bottom of my pineapple, standing it up, and cutting away the spiny outside, much like jubileeing the lemon. 

Cut all other fruit to size for your juicer or blender. I cut my hard things like the beets and ginger fairly small, as I have a Dash Slow Juicer with a spinning compression rib, and I worry about its strength. 

Begin juicing, I like to alternate between hard and juicy fruits, to keep the liquid flowing through the juicer at a good rate. I add my spinach in the middle, and periodically taste my juice to make sure it's coming together well. For instance, originally I was only going to call for one lemon, but after tasting it, I added a second lemon. When adding spinach, I bunch mine together into a fairly compressed handful, I find this helps my juicer force optimal amounts of juice out of it, but you may not need to do this with all juicer types. 
Once everything is juiced give it a little mix, then if you want to be like me, pop the whole container of juice in the fridge or freezer while you wash the juicer components.