Saturday, December 30, 2006

Our Year in Review

As we close out 2006, we look back on the year we've had at Boston Chef. We have many things to be thankful for - and many things to look forward to in the next year.

We started this blog in January of this year after moving into our new house - with our new kitchen. Moving from a somewhat run-down, old-stoved, tiny-fridged, no-dishwasher-havin', little-counterspaced kitchen to our new, spacious, all-amenity kitchen has really let our cooking abilities improve and blossom. It's amazing how much more you're willing to do when you know you don't have to wash ALL the dishes and silverware by hand at the end of the day!

As usual, we learn alot from Food Network programs and various recipe sites - but we probably learned the most about cooking this year from all of the food blogs out there that we love and mine for ideas!

We camped more this year and caught and ate our first outdoor fish and did some cooking over an open fire - and plan on more camping in 2007. We bought our grill for our new back deck - adding another dimension to our cooking that we weren't able to do before (holy crap, the grill was so clean back then!).

We'll be kicking off 2007 with a BANG, as we're having a New Year's Party here at Casa del Cocinero de Boston - featuring a whole ham on the grill, ultimate veggie platter, peas with prosciutto, famous baked mac and cheese, crab stuffed mushrooms, beer, wine, and champagne, and much more!

We read through all of our posts from this past year and decided to put together a Top 5 list. Two Top 5 lists, actually... one from Stacey and one from Michael - with action photos!!!

Stacey's Top Five:

5. Beef and Vegetable Stew - great leftovers, too!
4. (Tie) Paella - an oldie but still a goodie!
4. (Tie) Peppermint Bark - love this easy holiday recipe, we put some in old cookie tins which made great gifts for Grandmas!
3. Sausage and Bean Soup - a pleasant surprise on the list, the dark horse in the race!
2. Stuffed Acorn Squash/Eggplant Parm (both using Our Meat Sauce) - any use of Our Meat Sauce is good!

And Stacey's #1 for 2006...

1. Brined Chicken! - a new technique which we now use when cooking any poultry, we applied it to grilled drumsticks, broiled chicken legs, more grilled chicken, roasted whole chicken... basically anything with wings!

Michael's Top Five:

5. Who We Are! - our introductory post, can't believe it was almost a year ago...
4. Pork Fried Rice - this came out really, really good!
3. Our Visitor - ok, one non-cooking post on the list... our visit from nephew Jack!
2. Our Meat Sauce - looks like we have a consensus at #2 in our Ragu.

And Michael's #1 for 2006...

1. Grilled Whole Trout! - maybe our most famous post, certainly our most commented on - and definitely delicious!

Happy New Year! See you in 2007!


The Boston Chef

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What We've Eaten II

We've been out of town, but we've still been cooking and eating! We had a great Christmas visit to the homeland - Northern Maine - where we cooked a 10-lb turkey on Christmas Day. Along with that, we had mashed potatoes, boiled turnips, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce... the works.

We brought home at least four pounds of that turkey so we are still reaping the benefits - we made a "Turkey Surprise Soup" last night which consisted of anything we had in the cupboard along with shredded turkey. Sauteed onion, carrot, and garlic; deglazed with a little red wine and vinegar; added chicken stock and some leftover herbs (oregano and thyme) and seasonings (see below!); added one can of kidney beans, one can of yellow wax beans, one can of tomato sauce, one can of button mushrooms, some frozen green-and-red pepper strips, and the shredded turkey. Cooked that for about 1/2 hour and ate it hungrily - it even seemed to help clear up some lingering colds that we're trying to shake!

Seasonings... One of the BEST Christmas presents we received was a collection of spices from Penzey's! French sea salt, tellicherry peppercorns, mexican oregano, cumin, smoked paprika. Also, some blends - Lemon Pepper Seasoning, Fox Point seasoning (very chive-and-shalloty - had some with scrambled eggs this morning, really good!) and Old World Seasoning which is a blend of just about everything... Plenty of the Old World Seasoning went in our "Turkey Surprise Soup" and really made it savory and delicious...

Before we left for Maine we cooked a quarter-ham, knowing that we were doing turkey instead of our traditional ham for Christmas in Maine this year. Glazed, smokey, and tender, it was delicious with some mashed sweet potatoes: Just peel and cut two sweet potatoes into 2-inch chunks and throw them into some salted boiling water for 10-14 minutes (Although Alton Brown says you should steam sweet potatoes instead of boiling prior to mashing). Drain them and return to the hot pan to burn off some of the residual water. Season with salt, pepper and whatever else tickles your fancy... sautéed garlic or a bit of Penzey’s Cajun Seasoning. Add a few pats of butter - or margarine/promise/whatever - and a couple tbsp of milk, half-n-half or cream depending on your dietary needs. We used promise and 2% milk and a splash of half-n-half.

We sliced the ham and enjoyed it with the mashed sweet po's with some green beans - along with a big dollop of dijon mustard.

We also had our famous Pasta Puttanesca earlier last week - but with twist.. we added fresh baby spinach to our normal recipe. Added some green and a little crunch, it was pretty good!

We'll be back with one more post to wrap up the year - our 5 favorite Boston Chef blog posts from the first year (over 50 to choose from!) - tell us your faves in comments if you like. Thanks for coming... and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Peppermint Bark

First of all: thanks, Just Braise! We used Just Braise Stacey's recipe as inspiration for our own version of Peppermint Bark because it was so simple and looked so delicious on her site.

Like Stacey, we also hear all about Williams-Sonoma's Peppermint Bark - from my brother singing it's praises to Williams-Sonoma catalogs and stores to it's mention in food blogs... blah, blah, blah! It's $25/pound! For that price, I better be eating some grass-fed, locally-grown, aged beef or a blood-red piece of tuna right off the boat! Even those things aren't $25/pound - and I can't make those at home...

All this recipe takes is a bag of Nestle Chocolatier's Dark Chocolate Chunks ($3.99/10oz), peppermint extract ($3 for a bottle that will last us for many Christmases to come), and a rack of candy canes ($1.99/10). That's it.

First, construct a double boiler out of a sauce pan and a mixing bowl - glass or metal - that just fits down into the sauce pan but is suspended from the bottom. Put an inch or two of hot water in the saucepan and turn the heat on medium-high so it get's simmering and steaming, which will produce the heat necessary to melt the chocolate in the mixing bowl:

Pour those chocolate chunks in and get to stirring! Add a little capful of peppermint extract as your chocolate is getting smooth and give a taste. Add more peppermint until you have a delicious dark chocolate and peppermint combination... flavor it to your taste. We ended up using maybe two little capfuls.

At the same time, drop half of those candy canes in a paper bag - we used five of 'em in the bark and hung the other five on our Christmas Tree, for now - then fold up that bag and head out on the deck with a hammer. Smash those candy canes up good on the deck railing (seemed like a good place to do it) until you have big chunks, little chunks, and even powder. The paper bag won't rip and possibly get some plastic mixed in like a ziplock or plastic shopping bag might.

When you've got nice, smooth chocolate flavored with peppermint to your taste, pour it out onto wax paper that is laid over a cookie sheet and smooth it out into a nice, thin layer - about 1/8" thick - with a spoon. Immediately start spreading around your crushed candy cane...

And that's it! Into the fridge for as long as you can stand... we were picking at the edges within a couple of hours. After about 5 hours in the fridge, we took it out and broke it up into large chunks and we were bringing some to our neighbors shortly after that. It came out better than we had even expected, it is crispy and chocolatey and delicious! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mexican Lasagna

Welcome to another addition of What Do We Have In The House??? We were out later than we thought doing some Christmas shopping and just wanted to get out of the crowds and get home without going to the grocery store. Once home, we scavanged through our fridge and cupboard and found: a package of ground turkey, a can of black beans, a can of corn, 1/2 package of wheat tortillas, a package of "taco" cheese, a small jar of pimento, a can of stewed tomatoes and a can of tomato sauce, and a big ol' zucchini. No problem, let's assemble some sort of Mexican Lasagna!

Browned the ground turkey and seasoned it at the end with cumin, chili powder, oregano, red pepper flake, and kosher salt... removed to a bowl when brown and already smelling good.

Cut up the zucchini twice lengthwise, then into little half-quarters and added it to the saute pan to start them softening. Seasoned the zucchini with the same mixture.

After four minutes, added the pimento which had been sliced up... then the can of black beans... then the corn... then the tomatoes and tomato sauce. Combined and tested the seasoning and started the oven on it's preheat to 400.

Added the turkey back in and made sure everything had a chance to come together and mingle. Got out a big, glass baking dish and started are Lasagna "layers" with a layer of torn wheat tortillas on the bottom, followed by some big scoops of the meat-and-veggie mixture, followed by a layer of the taco cheese. Repeated with a layer of tortillas, layer of good stuff, and a final layer of cheese at the top.

Into the 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes, until everything is bubblin' and the cheese is melted and brown on the top! Enjoy with a seat and a beer - a great, quick meal after a long day shopping... WITH leftovers!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Smoked Turkey, Cabbage and Black-Eyed Pea Soup

Every once in awhile, while watching either Emeril or Paula Dean, we hear them mention that you can use smoked turkey legs instead of ham hocks in soups or greens recipes. Count us in!

We are in full soup-season swing here in New England. As you can probably tell, we like nothing more than sitting in the kitchen on Sundays, watching our beloved Patriots, and constructing a soup all day that is ready for supper, leftovers, AND a freezerbag or two. This past Sunday was no exception (and the Pats won a close one!)...

They have smoked turkey at our local Stop and Shop - it's not fully cooked, but is "smoked"... We grabbed about 3 smoked turkey legs and a couple of smoked turkey wings and threw them in about 12 cups of chicken stock and water and low boiled them for about 15 minutes before adding some veggies that were cut into 1 inch cubes: 1 onion, 2 cups carrots, 2 cups celery and 4 cloves minced garlic.

For seasoning, we threw in some bay leaves, thyme and black pepper. After another 20 minutes, we took out the turkey, removed the skin, chopped it up and put it back in the pot. Our kitchen was smelling smokey-delicious at this point!

We skimmed off the fat, scum, froth, etc and then reseasoned a little - then threw in 2 cans of black-eyed peas and 2 cups of cubed butternut squash. After bringing the soup back up to a boil, we then added 1 head of Savoy cabbage which had been shredded.

Cooked for 30 more minutes, and ta-da a wonderfully smoky bean and cabbage soup!

We'd give this soup about an 8/10. It needed more seasoning to put it over-the-top, not sure what (more pepper!). And I probably would have thrown in rutabega or white potatoes in instead of the squash - which seemed too sweet for the dish. 'Til next time!