More chocolate!

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Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Sure, you can blame Facebook.  I know I do. But I finally submitted the entire manuscript of the chocolate candy book, including what seems like 50 million recipes. Having come through this chocolate marathon, I can say that my favorite at the beginning was my favorite at the end. Well, it’s actually my favorite flavor combination: dark chocolate and orange. To me, that’s candy perfection. And there are so many variations: truffles, bark, lollypops, fudge, and more. And the orange can come from freshly squeezed oranges, zest, liqueurs, candied orange peel extract, and probably one or two more sources that elude me for the moment.

But it’s not like I did all of that research and writing just to end up where I started.  Actually, while I have been playing with chocolate for years, it was quite a fun adventure, including: mastering the three types of truffles, ruining a quick and easy fudge, simmering and reducing a portion of a $25 bottle of port (gasp!), chopping a zillion pounds of chocolate by hand, intentionally causing some very lovely chocolate to seize, and much, much more.

By now, you’re probably wondering when and where you can buy this epic tome. Hopefully, it’ll be available in November. Once I have a publishing date, I’ll let you know.

And yes, there were some surprises along the way. The biggest? Well, I’ve only gained eight pounds. At least, that’s the number I’m telling myself. And yes, that is me in this photo. If you can’t get messy with chocolate, then with what can you get messy?

Barking about Chocolate

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I’m in the middle (although I’m suppose to be closer to the end) of my book on making chocolate candies. It’s been enjoyable, but also kinda/sorta stressful.  Why is it that the words swirling around in my barely-awake brain in the middle of the night can’t seem to find their way onto a piece of paper the next day? After all, this is just about chocolate, right?

Which leads, of course, to my chocolate-obsessed mother. I won’t tell you how old she is except to mention that Herbert Hoover was halfway through his less-than-successful presidency when she was born in that small town of Brooklyn, NY. It’s been said that Hoover’s presidency would have been more successful had he eaten more chocolate.

So, my mother was out of the room yesterday as I was explaining to my cousin Susan about my latest batch of chocolate bark. I’d made the chocolate layer too thick, and there was too much chocolate in each bite. I wanted more of a balance. I explained this to Susan, and said that when I repeat this again to my mother, she’ll say, “That’s ridiculous. It’s not possible to have too much chocolate.” Sure enough, when my mom came back into the room, I told her about the batch of bark. She didn’t miss a beat.  She said, verbatim, “That’s ridiculous. It’s not possible to have too much chocolate!”

Yup, that’s my mom and chocolate. It’s nice to know that some things don’t, and shouldn’t, ever change.

Thanksgiving!

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Thanksgiving is just hours away.  I’m sure you’re completely ready.  And what could possible go wrong?  When you combine lots of food, family, perhaps a little travel, and the weight of culinary expectations, it always works out well, doesn’t it  Of course it does!

Well, on the outside chance that you’re stressed, here are a few video things that can help you.  Yesterday, on Mass Appeal, we covered the Thanksgiving basics: making cranberry sauce, stuffing, and gravy from the pan drippings, plus a quick turkey carving 101. And just because there’s a box of Stove Top stuffing there doesn’t mean I used it. Nooooooo! It was a prop to show that homemade stuffing is sooo easy to make.  And tastes better, too! And yes, all of the recipes are on the videos.  How easy is that?

But I also have a longer, 7 ½ minute carving video. This is a new version of my classic how-to-avoid-carving-mishaps video of a few years ago.  After you watch it, you’ll be able to carve with confidence.  My big advice is to not give in to temptation by carving your turkey at the table.  Do it in the kitchen. You’ll have more room for carving there. And you won’t risk getting your tablecloth a wee bit messy with turkey juices. Plus, everyone will be soooo impressed when you bring your beautifully cared turkey to the table!

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope your holidays, and beyond, are everything you want them to be!

 

 

 

 

I’m baaaaaaack….

You might have noticed that I haven’t blogged in a while.  You haven’t?  Ouch.  But I have a very good reason. A few days ago, I submitted the manuscript to my publisher, Storey Publishing, for the first of the three books that I’m writing for them. Yes, the first one is the knife book. I was such a smartass. I thought since I knew so much about kitchen knives that this would be the easiest of the three books to write. I’m now figuring that if that was the easiest, then I’m doomed on the other two.

Okay, I’m not doomed. But I am ready. The reason the knife book was harder to do than I thought is because it was really very complex: explaining how to hold knives, what to do with your guide (think non-knife) hand, how to still have your fingers when you’re done using a mandoline, how not to grate your knuckles when grating food, etc.  There’s a lot to it. And, might I add, it was a blast to write all these things I’ve been thinking and talking about for years.

And why are knives so importation? Because almost ever day, someone tells me how uncomfortable they are with their knife skills. This is true with new, as well as experienced cooks. I really am excited at the idea of my helping people becoming more confident about their cooking skills.

But alas, there’s no rest for the slothful. I’m now underway with my next book, on vinegars.  In the meantime, try this recipe for potato salad without mayo. Yes, it has vinegar. And yes, it’s really good. In addition to the recipe, you can also watch me make this, and an orzo salad, on Mass Appeal, on our local NBC affiliate, WWLP.

See you on TV!

Paperback Writer!!!!!!

I haven’t been toiling over a hot stove today.  No, I’ve been toiling over a cold keyboard.  Between you and me, the keyboard is harder.

This is my simple way of saying (drum roll please) that I have signed a book contract with Storey Publishing.  Well, that’s not true either.  I’ve signed three book contracts with Storey. In their infinite wisdom, they want me to write three cookbooks for them.  These will be the first three books in their new Kitchen Basics series.  120 pages of how to do stuff in your kitchen.  The first two books will be available next Spring. One will be about knives.  The other for next Spring is about vinegars and infused oils.  And the third, just in time for the ’14 holidays, will be on chocolate candies.

So, what’s it like to be a first-time cookbook author?  Well, after the euphoria leaves, there’s 10 minutes of grateful reflection.  Which has now been replaced, with no reprieve, by non-stop panic. The knife book, as of today, is one third written.  And I’m in the midst of planning a homemade vinegar assembly line, located between my desk and a dog bed, for the second book.  But the words and ideas that so glibly roll into my brain when there’s no keyboard nearby are mocking me, just beyond the reach of my fingertips.

Oh, the questions: Prepare a roasted chicken on tv in two short segments?  Easy. Plan a dinner for eight people near Tanglewood for this weekend?  Piece of cake.  Fulfill my life’s dream of being a cookbook author?  Ruh roh.

Stay tuned!

“Roasted” Whole Lemon Chicken in a Slow Cooker

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1 4-5 pound chicken

3-4 carrots, peeled and cut in 4 pieces, length-wise

2-3 celery stalks, cut in 4 pieces, length-wise

approximately 1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

paprika

1 onion, peeled and quartered

1 lemon, cut in half

  1. Remove the neck and giblets from the chicken.  Rinse the chicken, and dry it with paper towel to remove any excess water.
  2. Spread the carrot and celery pieces in the slow cooker.
  3. Spread olive oil over the chicken, and sprinkle throughout with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  4. Place the cut onion into the cavity of the chicken, and place the chicken into the slow cooker.
  5. Squeeze the lemon over the chicken, and place the squeezed lemon halves into the slow cooker.
  6. Cover the slow cooker, and cook the chicken on low, for approximately 6 hours.

NOTES:

  • The timing of the cooking will vary based on your slow cooker and the size of the chicken.  It may be a bit more, or less, than 6 hours.
  • If you’d like crispy skin on the chicken after it’s cooked, put the chicken in an oven-proof pan, and place it under your oven’s broiler for 5 minutes.  Do not put it on the highest rack-level in the oven, or it might burn the chicken. Place the pan in the lower half of the oven.

 

Yield: 4-6 servings

 

Corned Beef. Just in time for the holidays!

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Corned beef.  Or, as my people like to say, a third method to cook brisket. But then, some might say it’s the second method, if you’re not one to swoon over a nice smoked brisket with a zippy barbecue sauce.  But I digress already.

If you’re like most people, you’re both looking forward to, and dreading, making your own corned beef.  For years, you’ve probably followed a family recipe of buying a corned beef that’s already been brined, and then boiling it in water until all of the flavor is gone, then serving it with cabbage.  You start out with the thrill of anticipation, and end up with the agony of de meat.  I can help you.

The first thing you want to do is to buy a corned beef from a butcher who you like and trust.  That’s because he (or she!) will have either pickled the beef themselves, or had it done for them using their own recipe. The next thing you want to do is to throw out any flavor packets that might come with the brisket.  These packets are filled with sometimes-questionable seasonings that are supposed to give the beef flavor.  Instead, make up your own seasoning.  Or better yet, use this recipe, which was dropped on my doorstep a zillion years ago.  This will give you amazing flavor, and make all of your guests happy.  And make sure you make extra.  The sandwiches and corned beef hash that will come from the leftovers will make you happy for days.

One thought about the color of the cooked corned beef: if you’re from Boston, or other parts of New England, you probably grew up on grey corned beef.  If you’re from everywhere else on the planet, you only know the nice red corned beef.  If you accidentally get the one you’re not used to, don’t think the meat has gone bad.  Just cook it, and enjoy it.  The flavor will still be great.

If you think you’ll be gone all day when you want to cook it, you can also prepare it in a slow cooker.  It’ll take at least 6 hours, on low, for 3 (or so) pounds.  It might be 8 hours for 4-5 pounds, which you’ll have to cut into two pieces to fit into the slow cooker.

If you want some more pointers, check out my recent appearance on Mass Appeal, on channel 22 in Springfield, MA.  Trust me.  The little bit of extra effort you put into this corned beef will be hugely worth your effort.

Thanksgiving Gravy and Carving!

 

It’s panic time. Your turkey is out of the oven.  All of the side dishes are sardined into the oven in a masterful attempt to heat white and sweet potatoes, green beans and Brussels sprouts, Aunt Edna’s peanut butter and spam in puff pastry treats, and more.  Now, you think, your work really begins.  You have to make the gravy and carve the turkey before you hear, and not for the first time, “you said dinner was at 2:00, and now it’s midnight.”

What to do? Breathe deeply, think of a place that has palm trees, warm water, sand, and no people.  And dive in.  No, not into the water.  Into the last part of your meal prep.

Let me make this easier for you.  Hopefully, you’ve kept the rest of your planning and cooking simple.  No fois gras. No baking pies when the turkey is in the oven.  And fewer than 17 side dishes.  At this point, your turkey is out of the oven, and resting after it’s time in the oven.  All you have to do is make the gravy and carve the turkey.  Yes, in that order.

Here’s how I’ve helped to make this easier for you.  One is a recipe for turkey gravy.  This is a simple recipe, which can also be easily made gluten-free by using corn starch instead of flour.  But I also tell you how to make turkey stock and how to get the pan drippings from the pan into your gravy.

Another way to reduce your stress is to carve your turkey slowly, methodically, and in your kitchen, not at the table.  Let me re-phrase this: DO NOT CARVE YOUR TURKEY AT THE TABLE!!!  Carving at the table is like going to a demolition derby.  People are there for the crashes, mayhem, and accidents.  Carving at the table is no different.  The dining room has a crowded, often unstable table.  No, I don’t mean your family. You need a solid, stable surface, your kitchen counter, to carve the bird. Trust me. Bad things happen when people watch carving.  It’s not just an old tale.  It’s the law.

So, here are my two turkey carving videos.  One is from Mass Appeal last year.  And the other is my slightly older YouTube video. Take 15 minutes (total!) for these two videos to make your Thanksgiving a wee bit easier and less stressful.  Not only will you be glad you did, but your family and friends will love the less-stressed you.

Happy Thanksgiving, and bon appetit!

Cast Iron, Part 1

Roasted Chicken al la Cast Iron

There’s something about the mystique of a cast iron skillet.  It conjures up the idea of home cooking.  And campfires. And comfort food.  Even another time altogether.  But for those people who don’t actually own cast iron pans, it conjures up two more feelings:  panic and confusion.  All from a frying pan. Oops.  Sorry. We now call these skillets.

So why all of this panic and confusion?  In an increasingly not-so-rare coincidence, I was asked this same question three times this week: how do you season and maintain cast iron cookware?  The answer is shockingly simple.  But more on the beauty of cast iron first.

Just about everyone wants really cool, nifty cookware. I have a set of All-Clad that I love, and have been using for years. They heat evenly, clean easily, and look great.  Which also describes cast iron.  I have four cast iron skillets, and I use one of them as often as I use my All-Clad. So why not use cast iron all the time?  Well, for one thing, the All-Clad weighs much less, which makes it easier to swing around the kitchen.  And the cast iron needs a wee bit of maintenance.  And it’s the fear of this mysterious maintenance that scares away so many people.

What is this maintenance?  It starts with seasoning the new pan.  You only do this with cast iron.  Your new All-Clad, Calphalon, Viking, etc. doesn’t need it.  Yet the steps for cast iron are simple and amazingly easy.  All you need to do is wash and completely dry your new cast iron pan.  Then generously spread (also known as “schmearing”) canola oil over the whole pan, including the outside, except the very bottom. Place it in a 200°F oven for three hours. Remove it, and let it cool completely.  Wipe off the excess oil with paper towel, and you’re ready to cook. To maintain this seasoning, wash the pan after cooking with soap and water, and no scrubby pads. And make sure the pan is completely dry before you put it way.  That’s it.  Over time, you’ll get a nice sheen to the pan, which will also help give it a virtual non-stick surface.

There are so many benefits to cast iron, starting with it’s price.  You can get an 8” skillet for under $10. But the real beauty is that it will also be around longer than you will (sorry about that). My favorite skillet is from a former co-worker, Sally, from a cool chocolate company (Harbor Sweets!) where I worked for five years. She got it from her mother. Sally was a mere 73 years old when she gave it to me over ten years ago. Yes, my favorite frying pan might be 100 years old.  And it works like a charm.

Another benefit is that it goes from stovetop to oven easily, without concern for damaging the handle, rivets, etc. You just have to remember to use an oven mitt when it’s hot.  And you can’t put a regular non-stick pan in a hot oven.  The non-stick surfaces tend to degrade in ovens over 400°.

The benefits of cast iron far outweigh it’s simple maintenance. So run out and add a cast iron skillet or two.  Or three.  You’ll be thrilled with it.

Coming up next time: some cooking tips and recipes with cast iron.

 

Julia et moi (she’ll always have top billing)

There are some days when I wake up and can’t believe I do this for a living.  Saturday was one of those days.  I showed up at Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine to teach one of my frequent cooking classes there.  But this wasn’t just one of my regular classes there.  This was Julia Child Week!  Stonewall has been doing this for years, and not just to jump on the Julia bandwagon to honor her 100th birthday.  Chefs come in and prepare Julia’s recipes.  So I put together the menu: her shrimp with lemon zest and garlic, swordfish Provençal, a potato gratin, and pots de crème.  It was a blast!

But the one dish on the menu that thrilled me the most is the potato gratin.  I saw Julia and Jacques Pepin do this on tv years ago. As we all know, Jacques Pepin is arguably one of, if not THE, best chefs on the planet.  Not only does he know just about everything, he modestly shows it in such a gracious way.  After Julia, there’s Jacques.  And then everyone else.

Jacques’ potato gratin is one of many from his mother’s kitchen. When most people think of a gratin, they think of cream, butter, cheese, and/or breadcrumbs.  This gratin has none of those.  This interpretation of the gratin is that the crust on top is formed naturally from the heat in the oven.  Not only is this a great potato dish, it’s lighter and more flavorful than most.  Plus, it’s gluten-free.  How great is that?

When you do make it, here’s a hint: while the recipe calls for slicing the potatoes ¼“ thick, you don’t have to get out a mandoline or a tape measure to make them exactly that size.  If they’re a bit thicker, or thinner, just adjust the cooking time.  And to make slicing easier, carefully cut the potato in half length-wise.  That’ll make slicing easier with the flat surface of the potato on the cutting board.

As you-know-who would say, “Bon Apétit!”