Monday, October 19, 2015

Kitchen playtime: Braising and Baking

Autumn is one of those seasons that can go either way here in the South. Some years it's shorts weather on Thanksgiving. Other years it gets cold early, and it feels like it's one of those. Our weekend nights were quite chilly, even down to 39 last night. Yes, I can hear my relatives in New Hampshire scoffing. Y'all come on down.

Chilly fall weather means boots, sweaters, and of course yummy fall food. One of my favorite cooking methods for this time of year is braising. There's just something so appealing about having broth to sop up with good bread and savory stew-like meals to pair nice red wines with. Plus braising recipes are easy - you just put things in a pot and either slow-cook them or stick them in the oven for a while.

Saturday evening we decided to do something a little bit different and made Coconut-Braised Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes from the October 2015 issue of Food & Wine magazine. Unfortunately Pine Street didn't have the bulk chorizo, so we used spicy Italian sausage instead. It turned out really yummy, although I can see how the flavor of the chorizo would have worked better. Check out the gremolata in the recipe - it has coffee in it for an earthy hint.

The recipe called for pairing it with a wine that has berry notes.The 2013 Le Sot de L'Ange Grolleau Sans Soufre went very well with the chicken. The name roughly translates to "the angel's idiot," indicating winemaker Quentin Bourse's decision to take the big risk of taking over a friend's domaine and leaving his previous life to be a French winemaker. It's a neat wine made mostly from the Grolleau grape with a little Gamay to balance it out. Grolleau is a black grape with thick skin you don't see very often. I thought the clear bottle for a red was also interesting. Warning - it definitely has sediment and needs to breathe, hence the decanter. I would definitely recommend this one with food and not on its own. Oh, and yay for wine toys!

Le Sot de l'Ange = "the angel's idiot"
One thing I love about cooking is that I get great ideas for whatever story I'm working on while my mind is mostly occupied with the food. Yes, it's probably a failure in Mindfulness, but that's okay, usually. Remember how when we were kids, some smartass would declare it to be "opposite day" and then try to catch you out when you said the wrong thing? I had my own "backwards morning" in the kitchen, which brings us to this week's episode of kitchen mistakes - lack of preparation, pantry management, and just plain thinking things through.

Hubby and I like to make a breakfast on Sunday mornings that includes protein so we can have leftovers during the week, at least through Wednesday. I made biscuits from the Joy of Cooking recipe and sausage from Pine Street. Yes, the only time I left the house yesterday was for beer and meat products. It was a good day.

I had some HUGE apples that needed to be used, and even if I munched on one of them all day, I wouldn't be able to finish it, so I decided to make an apple pie out of them.

Objects on screen may be larger than they appear. Or not. These apples were huge.
Alas,I had used all but about three quarters of a cup of flour in the canister on the counter for the biscuits, and when I went into the pantry to refill it, I found all manner of flour, but no all-purpose. I did have half a bag of self-rising, which if I had been smart, I would have used for the biscuits and saved the all-purpose for the pie.

What happened? Apparently at some point I decided I was going to limit myself in baking unhealthy things by not buying any more all-purpose flour. However, my sweet tooth will not be denied, and I really needed to use those apples. The solution? Apple cobbler with the filling based on the recipe for apple pandowdy (an old dessert) plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the topping the basic cobbler biscuit dough with self-rising rather than all purpose + baking powder + salt, all from the Joy of Cooking:

Smells like autumn!
Lunch was Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir from Or, as Hubby puts it, "random salmon recipe found on the internet." I'm not including a picture of it because it just doesn't look pretty, but it's quite tasty, and I'm very picky about fish.

Finally, dinner. Yes, fall weather means I can have the oven on for a while and not overheat the rest of the kitchen - or house - which means one of my most favorite things - lasagna! I typically do variations on this Cooking Light recipe because it doesn't require that you cook the noodles first. I had intended to do a turkey, eggplant, and mushroom lasagna, but Hubby got ground beef instead, so it ended up being a little less healthy than planned. I did drain the beef before putting it back in the sauce. The mushrooms were lion's mane, which have a meaty texture and pull apart into cute little wispy bits that integrated into the sauce nicely:

And the lasagna was delicious. We had it with the rest of the braising Pinot from lunch, which was from California and remarkable only for the name - Little Black Dress. Hubby got it because we call Pinot Noir the little black dress of wine because it goes with almost anything.

Stay tuned for more cooking projects from me and Hubby! If you'd like to see the food pictures as they go up and the ones that don't necessarily make it to the blog, follow me on Instagram. Want wine and sleep tips as well as info about my books? Please consider signing up for my newsletter. I typically send only one per month.

Happy autumn cooking and drinking!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Kitchen Playtime: Doin' it Southern style

I'm trying a new experiment this weekend. Rather than waiting until Sunday night to write this post, I'm doing it a little at a time as the weekend goes on. Hopefully that will make it easier to do them regularly. Or procrastinate on my fiction writing. Let's see..

My current fiction project, title TBD, is set in an alternate Tennessee in 1871, after the Civil War has been dragging on for ten years. Basically, Lee decided not to go into Pennsylvania after his major victories in Virginia, so Gettysburg never happened, and the war ended up in a stalemate. I'm writing Southern food into the story, of course, and it just so happens that our cooking this weekend has a Southern theme.

First stop - the low country. We did something unusual today, and that was cook lunch. Typically our midday Saturday meal is leftovers of some sort or sandwiches, but due to our other activities, we decided to play in the kitchen. That meant Hugh Acheson's Frogmore Stew from his New Turn in the South cookbook. I have to give Hubby credit for choosing the recipe and getting most of it started. I peeled and deveined the shrimp, though. Our vendors for the meal included:

Pine Street Market (andouille sausage)
Sawicki's Meat, Seafood, & More (shrimp)
Various farmstands from the Union County Farmers Market (Corn and potatoes - I have no idea which ones, will do better in the future), Decatur Farmers Market (tomatoes - Mountain Earth, arugula - not sure of the name, but he was at the back of the baseball field and gave me radishes, too), and Morningside Farmers Market (leek - Crystal Organics).

It tastes and smells even better than it looks!

Cooking wine! Great in and with the stew. And the cooks.
Oh, and regarding the wine, people sometimes ask me if we have "house wines," that is, wines we always keep on hand. We haven't recently because the wine clubs we belong to keep us well-supplied, but we always used to have a bottle of this one on hand. It's about $12, and it's a lovely sauvignon blanc, mostly citrus with a nice acid backbone that stands up well to food.

Yes, that is the recipe behind the bottle. No, we did not lay out our ingredients that prettily.

Saturday night was date night. We love our Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and enjoyed a program of Debussy, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. My favorite - the Debussy. Yeah, I'm a romantic. Afterward, we went to South City Kitchen for dinner. You know what that means - more Southern food! I love their fried chicken, served with collard greens, mashed potatoes, and honey-thyme jus:

Southern girl at heart

We ordered this lovely white, the 2013 Montinore Borealis, which paired really well with the slight heat to the fried chicken and that in Hubby's halibut. Plus, at $36 on a midtown wine list, it's practically a steal.

Wants a back porch
The morning after date night requires a nice brunch. This was a case of me having something in mind I wanted to do, but needing a recipe to start with for guidance. I turned to, put in apple and sausage, and came up with a recipe for Sausage, Apple, and Cheddar Bread Pudding. Okay. Here are the modifications I made:

1) Hubby got cornmeal-molasses bread, which was heavier than the sourdough bread called for, so I used 8 slices, which ended up being about 12 ounces, rather than a whole loaf for 8 ounces. I also cut the slices in half and made two layers with the sausage and apple filling in between.

2) Only 3/4 cup of cheese, and cheddar at that? Puh-leaze. I used about a cup and a half of shredded Gruyere.

3) I used regular mild Italian sausage from the aforementioned Pine Street Market rather than turkey Italian sausage.

Here's a picture of the final product:

Perfect pre-yard work brunch.
Tabitha (left) and Timothy Mouse (lying down) wanted to know where theirs was.

Cats just wanna have brunch.
Finally, dinner. When I looked earlier, this recipe wasn't online yet, probably because it's in the latest issue of Cooking Light. It's beer-braised beef with bacon, onions, rosemary, and garlic. Hubby sauteed some greens to go with it, and I made some baked sweet potato fries. The wine is a tasty red blend from Hug.

I know I promised the recipe for my Quick n Easy Mac n Cheesy in my last post, but I want to test it out in a kitchen that's not mine first. Any volunteers?

Oh, and look what came on Friday! Author copies of Blood's Shadow, which will be out in paper on November 3.

It just got a four-star review from Romantic Times (hard to come by). Other reviewers have called Gabriel the werewolf Sherlock Holmes.

Those were my Southern cooking adventures for the weekend. Stay tuned for more wine and food!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Travelogue - Blairsville

One of Hubby's and my favorite places to go is up to my parents' place in Blairsville. We call it "the cabin," but it's actually a three-story house stuck to the side of a mountain with a fabulous view, even on gloomy days:

Look closely for hints of fall color.

We've been up there quite a few times and have had the fun of exploring Blairsville itself. Granted, it's not a huge place, so it doesn't take very long. Here are some highlights:

Beautiful new space

The Wine Shoppe: They've just moved into their gorgeous new space on the square, and when we were there a couple of weeks ago, it was hopping with a tasting of the Bogle Phantom. It's a lovely dark fruity fall sipper. The shop has a nice selection for reasonable prices, and Bill and Jane are lovely.

Cabin Coffee: Yes, this is a chain coffee place, but it is not THAT chain coffee place. Love the outdoor patio and camouflage coffee mugs. No, I didn't get one. I'm not worried about the deer stealing my coffee. Yes, the coffee is good.


No more caffeinated critters

The inspirational quote outside the bathrooms.
Michalee's Italian Life Caffe: Right near the Wine Shoppe, so you can grab a bottle and bring it in. Hubby and I had a fabulous lunch there. Amazingly, I don't have pictures of it.

Bearding Bottle Shop: Right below the Wine Shoppe. Seriously, the square is getting to be one-stop shopping. They have growlers, beer tastings, and a nice selection of Belgian beers.

No, I don't know why all these places except the coffee shop only have Facebook pages, not real websites. I'm just excited for how far Blairsville has come since my parents bought up there before they realized it was a dry county (not anymore, thankfully). You still have to go elsewhere to buy hard liquor, but I'm happy with the beer and wine. Stay tuned for other culinary adventures in the mountains!