Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hooray For Cassoulet!!

Or at least my version of it.

The weather is absolutely beautiful right now, especially last weekend - it was in the EIGHTIES! But a couple weeks ago it was cold, overcast and drippy, which always puts me in the mood for comfort food ... perfect weather for my knock off Cassoulet!

I love comfort food, anything that has to cook for a long time, that's savory and rich, or something starchy doused in gravy, like rice or potatoes, or just anything rich and savory. And Cassoulet is practically all these things! It's a type of bean stew, originating in the south of France, named after the earthenware dish it's supposed to be cooked in. There are a few different versions of it, one with duck confit (Cassoulet de canard), and the history of this dish is quite interesting, but I shan't go into it here. However, I will say that this dish is so revered that there's even some competition in the region as to which little town actually created it. Although I'm somewhat of a foodie, and at some point in life plan to experience each version, I could care less.... I just want to eat it! With some buttery soft and fluffy corn bread and a crisp glass of Semillon. Yes.

mmm... I digress. You can use different meats if you like, but it mainly consists of some type of sausages and pork knuckles like ham hocks, or even a bits of a pork shoulder/butt, chicken, and bacon along with rich and creamy beans. As for the meats, I've used all sorts of sausages - pork, chicken, turkey, even blood and merguez. As for the beans, I just LOVE cannelloni beans (or white kidney beans). They're creamy yet meaty and can really stand up to long cooking times. When I'm wanting to rush things, like this recipe, I use canned beans; my favorite for this are Bush's. Now, I've never had to write out my recipes until I started this blog, and I've only gotten through about a third of them so far. This means that this recipes measurements, prep time, or number of servings, won't be so exact. Please bear with me, I'm working on this and I will be better... I promise!

Meanwhile, my friend and dear brother-in-law Jim Chukalas (a great realtor with Weichert in the Newton/Freedon area of New Jersey) asked me for this back then and I completely forgot, til now! So here it is, give it a try and please let me know what you think!

  • large dutch oven, or my personal fav, an enameled cast iron pot/dutch oven
  • wooden and slotted spoons
  • sharp knife
  • cutting board
What you need:

  • 3 sausages: pork and/or chicken (I use both; 2 pork, 1 chicken), or any other you like; remove them from the casings
  • chicken: I prefer thighs because they hold up to long cook times better than breasts, plus... all that flava! I used 6 thighs for this recipe, skinless and deboned cut in to pieces; or 4 breasts, cut up. You can always use both white and dark meat, just add the breast towards the end
    I just can't keep her out of my pots!

  • garlic, 8 cloves finely chopped; you can use less if you like
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • celery, 1 stalk rinsed and finely chopped
  • carrots, 2 sticks peeled and finely chopped
  • bacon, 4-6 slices thick cut, or pancetta (I used pancetta this time round just to switch it up)
  • bay leaf, 2
  • olive oil, 2 tablespoons (tbsp)
  • chicken stock, 1 quart plus more if necessary
  • rosemary, 2 stems stripped and finely chopped
  • thyme, 5-7 stems stripped and finely chopped
  • herbs de provence, 3 pinches
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Bush's cannelloni (white kidney) beans, 4-5 cans rinsed and drained
* ham hock or small pork butt/shoulder optional (and yummy!), especially if you're using dry beans because they both need longer to cook. remember, this is the 'short cut'; I use pork butt/shoulder when I cook longer, and add the chicken and sausages when I only have about 30 minutes of cooking left. 

What To Do:
  • heat your heavy bottomed pot to medium
  • add olive oil, bacon/pancetta, onion, celery and carrots and sweat for about 10 minutes; add garlic, herbs and bay leaf once the vegetables soften
  • add uncased sausages, diced chicken thighs, and smoked ham hock; break up the sausage with back of wooden spoon, or as best you can
  •  add broth, then beans, then let simmer for 30 minutes until meat is cooked through; 
  • smash some of the beans to help thicken the dish if you like
  • adjust salt and pepper to your liking
  •  **** PORK BUTT OPTION ****
  • if using pork butt/shoulder, you'll want to add it AFTER the veggies and bacon, give it a little color then add the broth, but hold the beans if they're canned step, and let cook til tender, about an hour and have for a pound
  • I served this over rice, with Juan's fluffy buttery corn bread.
  • then add the sausage and chicken in the last 30 minutes or so of cooking.

Again, this is my own version, and somewhat of a short cut at that, but i love it! I serve over rice, or just in a bowl all by it's yummy self. It is bananas on the second and third days. I hope you enjoy and if you have any suggestions or make any changes, please share!!


Monday, February 24, 2014

Time For Some Comfort Food... FINALLY!

We’re finally gonna get some rain here in the San Francisco Bay Area and I can’t tell you how relieved I am. I love the rain for many reasons, one of which is because it’s cleansing. Also because it helps nourish my garden. But mainly ove it because it makes me want to build a fire, get comfy and cozy, and cook some comfort food   like a pot roast! So that’s just what I decided to do. 
a vision of loveliness!

get it good and seasoned!
For my pot roast I use a couple of techniques, one is braising that’s got to be one of the kitchens most best kept secrets! It makes even the most novice of home cooks look like flavor superheroes! This wonderfully simple technique is when you take tough cuts of meat like pork or lamb shanks, pork shoulder/butt, beef short ribs or chuck roast for example, and cook them low and slow in some kind of liquid like water, or my personal favorite - broth or stock, in a heavy bottom pan like a Dutch oven. Many people sear the meat first, for color and added flavor, but isn’t always necessary. 

look at that crust - make sure it's browned all over
Now back to my pot roast. I almost always use a nicely marbled chuck roast from my most favoritest butcher ‘Mo’ at Magnani's Poultry in Berkeley, where I get to see another favorite friend Maria. She’s always there to greet me with a smile and something warm and friendly to say. Once I get it home, I make sure it’s at room temperature, which is important for even cooking. Searing is my thing to do for my pot roast; I feel it gives such added flavor and the color is always amazing.
that's not yuckiness, that's FLAVUH! 
So without further delay, here’s my comfort food shenanigans. Please try it and let me know what you think!

Be well

Angela’s Pot Roast with Brown Gravy
What You Need:
let the flour cook and get brown 
·         3-5lb chuck roast (depending on how many you’re feeding)
·         1 32oz container of beef broth
·         2 tablespoons cooking oil
·         2 tablespoons flour (APF)
·         1 onion, roughly chopped
·         3-5 cloves of garlic, smashed
·         Garlic powder
·         Salt and pepper to taste
·         Heavy bottom Dutch oven or large pot with tight fighting lid
·         Large tongs; wooden spoon; whisk

What To Do:

·         Let chuck roast come to room temperature.
it may get ugly, but don't panic!
·         Heat oven to 325*.
·         Heat beef broth in a separate saucepan to Medium
·         Heat Dutch oven on stove top to Medium-High (pan should be pretty hot).
whisk as if your life depended on it!
·         Pat roast completely dry and season liberally with salt and pepper.
·         Pour 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in the pot, and once the oil starts shimmering or you see light wisps of smoke, put the roast in the pot and DO NOT TOUCH for at least 1 minute! Brown all sides of the roast then set aside.
·         Turn heat down to Medium-Low and add the last tablespoon of cooking oil if necessary. Sprinkle in the APF and stir with wooden spoon for 2-5 minutes, letting the flour get lightly brown and a light nutty smell.
cover tightly 
·         While the heat is low, add the heated beef broth starting with just 1 cup, whisking vigorously; it will get very thick, then thin out as you continue to add the broth; add enough liquid to your desired consistency.
·         Season to taste; add onion and garlic.
·         Put roast back in the Dutch oven, along with all those good juices that leaked out! Stir and place in the oven.

Cook for at least 3 hours, until you’ve reached your desired doneness/tenderness.
Serve with mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts; polenta and swiss chard…YUM!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mac N Cheese To Be Celebrated Year Long!

So the holidays are pretty much over, and one dish that's almost always on the menu is Macaroni and Cheese. It's definitely one of my most favorite-est dishes - the creaminess, the cheesiness, the savoriness.... uhhhh! Oops, I digress. Mac N Cheese is traditionally a simple casserole, originating as a simple French dish of just parmesan cheese, melted butter, and a rough that was brought to England in the 14th century. I had no idea it had been around that long, but as a Francophile, I should have known there’d be a French connection! 

It has evolved into something that's not just a side dish mind you, it’s something that you can actually turn into a full on meal too. You can add bacon and broccoli, or mushrooms, or truffles and lobster, or cauliflower and, well you get the picture. And you can also play around with the type of pasta noodle you use too; and please don’t forget the cheese! Cheddar of course, but what about fontina, Havarti, smoked mozzarella, or gruyere? There are so many ways to keep this most basic and humble of dishes interesting, fun, and unique!
And if you LOVE mac and cheese like I love mac and cheese, and think about all the different creative combinations you can come up with, then you must get yourself over to HOMEROOM in Oakland quick like a bunny. They have made this simple and amazing dish the focal point, and the creations they come up with seem to be boundless! Though no where close to Homeroom, my own mac and cheese is pretty darn good! I’ve worked on it for many years, working hard to perfect the balance of creaminess, cheesiness, and firm noodles. Try it out and let me know what you think (send pics too)!

Also, most of my recipes are in my head, and since I’ve started this blog, I’ve been feverishly learning how to write out recipes, making notes on measurements, tools, and techniques when I cook. So bear with me fellow foodies, newbies, and wannabes, as I get it all out. And try out and let me know what you think!
Be well

½ cup of all purpose flour (‘apf)
6 tablespoons of butter
2 ½ cups of milk
1 cup of heavy cream
½ cup of chicken or vegetable broth
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and white pepper to your taste
1 pound of elbow noodles (I like the ones with ridges!)
3 cups (or more!) of cheese; I use:
2 cups of sharp cheddar
½ cup of smoked mozzarella
½ of Monterey Jack
½ cup of parmesan *optional*
Panko or Italian bread crumbs

Small sized heavy bottom saucepan
Medium sized heavy bottom saucepan
Box grater if the cheese isn’t already grated
Casserole dish

·         Pre-heat your oven to 400*

·         Boil your noodles in salted water for 6-7 minutes if you plan on baking the dish in the oven; boil for 8-10 minutes (package directions) if you are not.

·         Get your milk, heavy cream, and stock all heated together in the small saucepan to just about simmering and set aside.

·         Heat the other saucepan to medium heat, melt the butter, then add the flour and whisk til it’s a very light brown, almost blonde. This should take about 2 minutes.

·         Reduce the heat to low, then add the heated milk, cream, and broth mixture slowly, a little bit at a time, while whisking vigorously until smooth - NO LUMPS!
·         *it will get very thick at first, but just keep whisking and slowly adding the liquid – it will be ok!*

·         Let the mixture thicken, then thin, and add more milk if you feel it needs to be thinned out even more. Add salt, white pepper, and nutmeg to taste, then add your cheese slowly and combine til smooth and cheesey!

·         Once you’ve got your cheese sauce done, combine with your noodles and pour in to a baking dish. Feel free to top with bread crumbs if you wish, then bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly on top (crumb top or not). 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Inaugural Post!

Angela Ross here and I’m so excited about this new venture of mine! It’s “The Amateur Dish” and it’s all about my love affair with almost all things food, in particular cooking and eating…. And cooking utensils and gadgets. I’ll be doing instructional videos, trying out various recipes (some re-dos of existing ones and some will be my own creations), and will also be visiting local fresh markets, sustainable butchers and fish mongers, as well as local restaurants and cafes to check out what makes them so special, then come back home and cook up my own version of their dishes and even cocktails. I’m so excited!

But first I'm going to give you a little background if you don't mind...

I've not always been interested in food, especially growing up. My father was a pretty decent cook, but my mother could barely boil water to save her life, so I grew up rather indifferent to food. But while attending college in Atlanta I truly began to realize what food could really be… tasty, something so beyond enjoyable and so completely fulfilling that it actually could rival sex (not that I actually knew what good sex was around that age, ha!). So that’s when I set out to actively discover the art of food, the art of cooking. 

Being born and raised here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I did actually grow up with an appreciation for good food, and the different cultures good food represents. Oakland’s Chinatown, San Francisco’s Japantown, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach…. I could go on and on, and these were my backyards. My dad would take me fishing on the Bay early in the morning to catch Perch, San Dabs, and Trout. We’d cross the Bay Bridge early in the morning to the smell of Folgers and Hill’s Brothers Coffee roasting (back then they still had roasting operations near the base of the bridge; sometimes I feel as though I can still smell it), on our way to get fresh crabs and fish almost right off the boats down at the Wharf. I do have some really amazing food memories while growing up here. Then I was off to the East Coast for college and career – Boston, New England, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, New York – need I say any more?

After getting married to an extremely picky eater with an even more extremely limited palate – “you don’t eat left overs?”; “you only eat overcooked chicken breast, tasteless mashed potatoes, and canned sweet corn??”; I had to make serious adjustments. Those were some difficult and dark years. Pause for a moment of silence…. Anyway, after I experienced severe difficulties during my pregnancy with our only child (11 year old daughter ‘Ladybug’), along with several ‘come to Jesus’ discussions with hubby (i.e. him giving in to my pregnancy histrionics around my cravings and for something other than dried out chicken breast and canned corn!), I began looking to food even more, as a way to heal and be healthy, but also for comfort. This is when I REALLY got into food, cooking and experimenting. 

I started taking cooking classes .… knife skills, sushi rolling, pasta making, spice blending – I drank, and ate it all up! I went out and got the gadgets, my main addiction, then dearest hubby came around and got every single high end pot and knife he thought my little heart desired and our pantry could handle (yes, he spoils me rotten!). I went bananas and got pretty damn good. So I began hosting the family holiday dinners and entertaining like crazy; any reason to cook. Then it became all about a form of expression. Expressing my love for those around me, those I love and care about, through food, cooking, and entertaining. 

About seven years ago I was diagnosed with severe, life threatening, life altering autoimmune diseases that, all together now, affects my lungs, heart, connective tissue/muscles, bones, and brain/CNS, and was given approximately 18-24 months to live. When it moved to my brain, I had a seizure and tumbled down the stairs. When I woke up I had lost my memory, and my ability to walk, talk and process information properly. I’ve endured chemotherapy, transplants and pharesis, transfusions, countless and long term hospitalizations. I use a cane, a walker, and a wheelchair because my balance sucks. I wish it were due to knocking back too many lavender pear martini’s! Once I began my recovery and rehabilitation, I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen because I didn’t have the motor skills and muscle strength to handle all my fancy and heavy tools. Well that pissed me off and just wasn’t going to work for me - you’ll come to find that I’m a bit stubborn. So getting back in my kitchen, along with becoming independent so I could take care of myself and my family, became my sole focus – and I did it.  Although I’m having a great year, I’m still neck deep in this fight, and food is one of only a few of my escapes. 

So come along on this escape, well, more like a journey, with me! We’ll check out various local spots in and around the San Francisco Bay Area - some well known while most may not be. I'll check out what makes them so special, maybe even learn a trick or two from the chef, then race home to make my own 'amateur' versions and ‘dish’ about what we’ve learned, in addition to showing you some of the basics of cooking and entertaining. You can expect 2-3 posts each week once I get started. Meanwhile, please email me with any recommendations within the Bay Area – I want to hear from you!

I’m so excited!