Back on the Braisy Chain

November 9, 2007

A few weeks back, I tagged a few of my fellow bloggers and asked them to share their favorite braises. Some, in turn, tagged others and thus a Braisy Chain was born.

Here’s what’s simmering so far:

Wine Braised Duck with Chestnuts and Polenta

DuckAmanda, from Figs, Olives, Wine, concocted this gorgeous Wine Braised Duck with Chestnuts and Polenta. Could there be a dish more autumnal?



Braised Pork with Onions and Apples

Pork and applesKatie, from Thyme For Cooking, shared Braised Pork with Onions and Apples (along with a hilarious story about a bungled golf tournament victory).



Stracotto with Fennel Seeds and White Wine

StracottoKatie also tagged Ilva from Lucullian Delights, who posted a delectable looking Stracotto with Fennel Seeds and White Wine.

Thanks to Amanda, Katie and Ilva for playing!




Anyone else want to join the Braisy Chain?

My thought is that you can never have too many braises to choose from. So throughout the long, chilly nights of winter, I’ll be tracking who joins the Braisy Chain and doing a roundup here, on Swirling Notions, on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.

Here’s how to join:

1. Write a post with a recipe for your favorite braise (and a photo too, if you’re so inclined) and include Swirling Notions Braisy Chain somewhere in the text.

2. Link back to the person who tagged you, and a link back to this page on Swirling Notions.

3. Tag other bloggers to join the Braisy Chain.

I’m excited to see where this leads! Talk about keeping the home fires burning . . .






Pumpkins and Peanuts

November 1, 2007

Yet another self-indulgent post here . . . for three reasons:

1) My daughter is turning turned one (ONE!) on Tuesday and we had her party this past weekend, with loved ones mingling and toasting and sipping pink champagne. I swear, when we all broke out into Happy Birthday, Noe clapped her hands and got this look on her face that said, “oh wait a second, you mean you’re really all here for ME?” It was precious. 

2) I baked cupcakes. Pumpkin spice cupcakes with caramel cream cheese frosting to be exact (you may have skidded to a halt in shock after reading “I baked,” so let me just restate . . . I . . . baked . . . cupcakes)—and they turned out FABULOUS. 


3) We dressed Noe up as a peanut for Halloween and paraded her about our cozy little town with all the adorable kiddos trick-or-treating from shop to shop (naughty mommy and daddy even filched a Snickers bar) and she was so dang cute I had to share.


So consider this an “isn’t life grand?” post. Can’t get the smile off my face . . .

{ Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting }

I had the combo of pumpkin cake and caramel-cream cheese frosting in mind and scoured the internet for recipes, bound and determined as I was to actually follow a recipe. I even gave my friend Julie free reign to smack my hand if I so much as uttered a “but what if we . . .” In the end, I went with pumpkin spice cupcakes from Martha Stewart Living, and a caramel-cream cheese frosting from Cottage Living. (Nicole, as much as I wanted to make your double chocolate pumpkin cupcakes, we thought these might pair better with champagne . . . so I’ll just have to make yours for the next party and serve red wine!)

{ Cupcakes }

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.

Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

{ Frosting }

1/4 cup light brown sugar
10 tablespoons butter, divided
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar

Melt brown sugar and 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat. Whisk in cream; blend well. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl. Cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Place remaining 6 tablespoons butter and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer running, slowly pour in cooled brown sugar mixture; beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating well after each addition until completely smooth. Chill slightly for a firmer texture, stirring occasionally.

PS — I also made a mix of the spices used in the cupcakes, added a bit of salt and olive oil, and tossed it with almonds and pumpkin seeds (separately) and roasted them at 350 until they were nice and toasty and crisp. Then I cooled them and mixed them together and served them as a little nibbly before the cupcakes. It was kind of cool to have the spice theme play throughout the party.

Tags: , , , , ,

Romano Beans

October 23, 2007

I think I planted too many romano beans this year. I’ve already confessed to how terrible I am at thinning, and that definitely came into play with these guys. The seedlings kept sprouting up and looking so vigorous and healthy that, rather than tug every other one out, I’d just add another string and let it climb. All summer long, I’d harvest a good bowl-ful every day; my entire crisper drawer was constantly filled.


Yesterday, I picked the last bunch and felt a nostalgic pang for the bonanza that was no more. I was all excited about cooking the braised dish in the Zuni Cookbook (I love the idea of braising last-of-the-summer 150x150WHblogging_57veggies . . . it’s like summer and fall colliding) until I calculated the timing and realized I didn’t have three hours to do so.

So I improvised.

I sizzled some garlic over medium-high heat and gilded the beans with it, then added chopped tomato and a splash of wine, lowered the heat and simmered until they were melt in your mouth tender.


For those of you not familiar with romano beans, they’re meaty little beasts (actually, they’re quite BIG). The Zuni braise is my go-to recipe for romanos, but after asking many of you (thanks to my CLBB buddies!) what to do with my surfeit this summer, I found out that they also cook up tender quite quickly. So I expanded my horizons and used them successfully in a delicious curry, and even steamed them, sliced them, and mixed them up with a garlicky vinaigrette and some arugula. Yum.

I wish I could tell you more about these impressive pods but, alas, I’m at a loss. I’ve spent the better part of the summer (and much of today) searching for information and recipes and, aside from a little help from my friends, have found virtually nothing. So by all means, chime in if you have something to share!

This is yet another entry to Kalyn’s Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging (happy second year anniversary Kalyn!), hosted, once again, by Pille at Nami Nami.




Braise Days

October 11, 2007


I wish I could capture the feeling (and scent!) in my house right now. It’s 5:00, the sky is the color of a dove and the mist just solidified into rain. But there’s a warmth pervading the air that has nothing to do with the thermostat. 

I have the first braise of the season in the oven.

Why is it that as the days get grayer, the light inside seem to glow a tad warmer, and anything cooking over a slow, mellow heat in the oven seems to suffuse our very souls with comfort?

Right now, Noe is playing at my feet. She’s enamored with two plastic cups that, when pulled apart, make a whistling sound. I am enamored with the little giggle of wonder she emits each time she does it (and I think we’re at about 50th time right now). My husband will be walking through the door any minute into a house that—thanks to the braise and my daughter, and not necessarily in that order—exudes home tonight and I feel like my heart is smiling. It’s moments like these that I just want to bundle up and carry with me throughout the rest of my life.

And here, my friends, is what’s in the oven . . . the dish that inspired this cozy post. I originally developed it with lamb shanks for the September issue of Cooking Light. But I struck out twice at the market with lamb this week, and Christopher’s been craving beef. So it’s beef short ribs in the doufeu tonight in lieu of lamb. I’m serving it with cubes of sticky-savory roasted sweet potato and I think it’s gonna be gooood.

Before I turn over the recipe, though, I wanted to expand the circle of warmth by “tagging” a few fellow food bloggers and asking them to share their favorite braises.

Amanda (Figs, Olives, Wine) ; Molly (Orangette) ; Nicole (Pinch My Salt) ; Katie (Thyme for Cooking) ; Kalyn (Kalyn’s Kitchen) . . . would you share with us a recipe for your favorite braise? And heck, if you feel like it, tag five more of your favorite food blogs and we’ll see if we can get a “braise tag” going. (And . . . if I’m going about this tag thing the wrong way, please have mercy and send me an e-mail to set me straight)

{ Braised Beef Short Ribs with Orange and Olives }

While this dish takes more than three hours to complete, it can be left unattended much of the time. Nestle the ribs in the pan so they’re surrounded by cooking liquid. The long, slow braising process yields fork-tender, succulent meat.

1 tablespoon olive oil 
8 (12-ounce) beef short ribs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (about 2 oranges)
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
4 kalamata olives, pitted and quartered lengthwise

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish. Dredge ribs in flour, turning to coat; shake off excess flour. Brown ribs on all sides, in batches if necessary not to crowd, and remove to a plate.

Add garlic to pan; sauté for 1 minute. Add orange juice, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in wine; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes. Stir in beef broth, thyme, and tomato paste; return to a boil. Remove from heat.

Add ribs back to pan; cover and bake at 350° for 2 hours. Stir in rind and olives; bake an additional 30 minutes or until beef is very tender. Remove ribs and place on a platter; keep warm.

Place a large zip-top plastic bag inside a 4-cup glass measure. Pour cooking liquid into bag and refrigerate 10 minutes (fat will rise to the top). Seal bag; carefully snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain cooking liquid and olives into pan, stopping before fat layer reaches opening; discard fat. Bring cooking liquid to a boil over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 2 cups (about 20 minutes).

Reduce heat to low, nestle ribs back in pan and warm through.

Serves 6



My Patch of Padron Peppers

October 6, 2007

I haven’t done an entry for Kalyn’s Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging for a while, and seeing that I’m at a Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference at CIA Greystone, I thought veggies would be an apropos focus for the end of the week.

Specifically . . . my fabulous patch of Padron Peppers, which have been a bit scant all summer long but are suddenly producing enough to make a delightful little tapa a couple times a week.

Peppers and fett0004

I first came across Padron Peppers at Bar Cesar in Berkeley (in fact, if you check out their web page, you’ll see a photo strikingly similar to mine here). Their Pimientos de Padron were meaty little suckers, seared to blistering in hot olive oil and then dressed with nothing more than a pinch of coarse salt. I was smitten. I was driven to distraction trying to find them . . . at the store, at the farmers’ market. No luck. So I finally resorted to buying seeds (told you I was smitten).

Since then, and it’s been several years now, I’ve coaxed along a decent sized patch of Pimientos de Padron every summer and, as much as I consider myself an adventurous one in the kitchen, I’ve never swerved from preparing them exactly as Bar Cesar does. When you’ve got perfection with your Padron, why bother?

Check out this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging on Cook (Almost) Anything . . . At Least Once . . . Haalo has gorgeous photography, so I’m sure we’re in for a treat!





Congrats Calcaire!

October 2, 2007

I admit it. I never made it to that glass of Pinot Noir I had intended to sip after salmon. I never even made it to the salmon. On Saturday, I found out that Clos du Bois’ Calcaire Chardonnay won the coveted Best in Class sweeps at the Sonoma County Fair, and all weekend long I was dreaming up the perfect dish to pair with the winning wine.

When I talked to Erik, he and his team were all smiles. “We never thought it would happen, especially for a Chardonnay.” In fact, he and his wife had snuck out after winning golds on Calcaire and three other wines (including one of my favorites . . . Tempranillo!)—but before the announcement of the sweeps—to get home to the kids. “I got a call on my cell phone while we were still in the parking lot saying I’d better get my a** back inside to accept the award for Best White Wine!” Woops. I have to say, though, I’m not a bit surprised at the win.

What I know of Calcaire from a recent tasting is that it’s minerally on the nose, with a hint of ripe peach. On the palette it spreads out to several layers of flavors: clove, kumquat, honeydew. It’s silky and rich without being overly buttery, and it has a gloriously crisp, acidic finish that makes it fabulous with food—unusual for a California Chardonnay.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can take a couple of different routes when pairing wine and food, the two most well-trodden being complementing or contrasting. But I made it my mission this weekend to complement not just one of Calcaire’s traits, but as many of them as I could in one dish.

Maybe it was Orangette’s ephemeral gush about last-of-the-season corn. Maybe it’s because they’re the same color as a Chardonnay, but I couldn’t get the little kernels out of my mind. So I ended up making this:


And I’ll tell you what, it was GOOOOOD. The brininess of shrimp hits the slate-like element of the wine, the earthiness of pancetta and mushrooms harmonizes with the deeper spice-notes, and corn plays up the sunnier flavors of Calcaire’s palate while the caramelization keeps it rooted in richness.

So congrats to Erik and the team at Clos du Bois . . . and to everyone—enjoy!Mushroom-shrimp-corn-fett-l

{ Shrimp and Mushroom Fettuccine with Caramelized Shallots and Corn }

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound large shrimp, shelled, deveined and halved lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce pancetta, minced
4 cups wild mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
2 ears of corn, shucked and kernels removed from the cob and reserved
10 ounces dried fettuccine
1/2 cup dry white wine (preferably a Chardonnay)
3 tablespoons cream
a tiny dash of nutmeg
2 tablespoons chives, minced
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat and saute shrimp until just opaque. Lightly dust with salt and pepper and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Add olive oil to pan, raise heat to medium-high and add pancetta, mushrooms and thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until pancetta is crisp and mushrooms are well-browned, about 10–12 minutes. Add to shrimp.

Melt remaining tablespoon of butter in pan and add shallots and corn. Saute until shallots are well-bronzed and corn is tender and browned in places—about 10–12 minutes—while cooking the pasta to al dente. Add wine to pan and deglaze, cooking until liquid is almost evaporated.

Reduce heat to low and add cream and nutmeg to pan. Add shrimp and mushrooms and toss to coat. Transfer fettuccine back to pasta pot over low heat, pour the sauce over the top and toss to coat again, adding in the chives. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and serve in warmed pasta bowls.

Serves 4

{ PS . . . I’ve been wanting to participate in Presto Pasta Night at Once Upon a Feast for a while now, so here’s my chance! Stop by and check out the roundup. }

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I love my office. It’s a sunny little room just beyond the kitchen in the back of our house with built in bookshelves, French doors on one side and a window seat looking out to the garden on the other. The only trouble is, the view can be distracting. Take, for instance, this Kellogg’s Breakfast tomato I’ve been oggling for days.

Yellow tomato0011

It’s ENORMOUS—and my ‘big’ tomatoes have traditionally not worked out so well, so this is a big deal. It’s turning the most delightful shade of Dreamsickle orange. And it’s so enticing that when I’m supposed to be focused on other things, like, say writing a blog post or editing my novel, instead I’m fantasizing about what I’ll do with this beaut when I finally pluck it from its roost. Will I cut it into chunks for a panzanella? Or slice it up for a BLT with really good bacon, really good bread, real mayo, and arugula in lieu of lettuce? It’s too seductive on its own to be sullied with any sort of heat. Maybe I’ll go with my most recent favorite—discovered as the answer to a desperate “what should I eat?” at 2:00 pm—a piece of good bread toasted, rubbed with garlic, spread with avocado, layered with tomato slices, topped with crumbled feta and anointed with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of Malden sea salt. Sheer bliss, I tell you.

But those are all my safeties, my ‘been there-done that’s.’ I want to hear what you think I should do with this behemoth beauty . . . what’s your favorite way to enjoy the perfect tomato?