"BTE" is "Bow Tie Empire" a reference to Christopher Kimball's bow tie. Kimball was the founder and public face of Cook's Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country until their messy divorce in 2015. I use this tag for recipes from any of those sources, as well as Kimball's new venture, Milk Street.

St. Patrick’s Day Weekend

Sunday Brunch and Dinner – 18 March 2018

Green Flowers

Aunt Pat’s Lovely Bouquet

We had the folks and Aunt Pat over early this Sunday so we could work in a late breakfast as well as dinner. Claudia was up before 7 AM putting together her white chocolate and raspberry scones, which involved a very labor intensive process of grating frozen butter into the dry ingredients mixture. We tried using a food processor for this bit, but that didn’t work out, so she went back to the box grater, painstakingly dispensing two pounds of Irish butter. Once the dough was resting in the fridge, she headed out to Yoga while I started preparing a huge pot of veggies and corned beef.

We had Pandora’s St. Patrick’s Day station streaming as the family arrived, and Claudia baked the scones. I had some sausages and Potatoes O’Brien ready, and a fresh pot of coffee on. Claudia, Pat and Mom added a wee nip o’ Tullamore Dew to their mugs. Aunt Pat brought a lovely, festive bouquet.

Claudia had also made Shamrock Bark on Saturday evening as an additional treat.

After breakfast, the folks and Pat settled in for some games of cribbage while dinner continued to simmer. In past years, we had always cooked the corned beef in a crock pot, but this year I decided to try a recipe we’d seen in Sunset Magazine for Patrick’s Corned Beef and Cabbage. I honestly don’t know how we survived before we got a 12 quart stock pot, and toward the end of the cook, it was almost too small.

We used two point cut briskets, over seven pounds together, along with five medium onions, 2 pounds of carrots, 2 1/2 pounds of red potatoes and two full heads of cabbage. The addition of malt vinegar, Guinness and lots of whole spices to the pot added something special, but what was most notable about the recipe was that the cabbage was cooked perfectly. Instead of the limp, slimy mess that usually comes out of the crock, this still had a little firmness to it, since it was added late in the cooking.

I also tried a new soda bread recipe from BTE this year. The other recipe I’ve always used includes caraway seeds and raisins, and is a little sweeter, almost like a thick scone. This one turned out to be a much better compliment to the meal, with a dense, fluffy crumb and nice crunchy crust.

Claudia also served three varieties of Irish cheeses with the meal. The wine was a very nice Matt Iaconis Cabernet Sauvignon from 2015. Some Guinness Stout, Smithwick’s Red Ale and Tullamore Dew were also consumed, and after dinner one round of Grasshoppers with mint chocolate ice cream for dessert. :)

Sláinte Mhaith!


Sunday Dinner – 25 February 2018

paellaSanta brought me a paella pan for Christmas this year, and we’d been waiting for decent weather to give it a try. Although it’s still fairly cold here (in the mid 40s) the forecast for Sunday was clear so we figured it was as good a time as any. I seasoned the pan well on Saturday in anticipation.

I worked from another BTE recipe.

The broth started with a sauté of five cloves of pressed garlic in a little olive oil. After a minute or so, I added 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and a teaspoon and a half of paprika. Once that started to thicken and darken, in went a bottle of clam juice, 2/3 cup of sherry and 4 cups of chicken broth to boil for a bit.

Claudia had picked up some boneless and skinless chicken thighs from Aldi. They got seasoned with garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper, and then grilled for about 7 minutes, and reserved.

Next, I got the pan good and hot on the Weber Genesis (all three main burners on high) and sautéed a chopped onion in a little olive oil. Then came a jar of roasted red peppers. After five or ten minutes, it was time to add the rice. There was no Bomba or Arborrio to be found here, so I used a medium grain rice from the Hispanic foods aisle at Jewel, pouring three cups over the onions and peppers, then mixing things together well, coating the rice with oil, and spreading it out evenly over the pan. The chicken pieces went around the perimeter, and the juices from the plate, plus the broth, went on top. Dollops of chorizo went on as well, and this cooked, with the grill cover down and the burners on medium, for maybe 15 minutes.

We used shrimp that had already been cooked, so they were added late in the process, along with a bag of frozen peas. I’d coated the shrimp with olive oil and seasoned with paprika, garlic, pepper and salt. From this point on, it was really just a matter of rotating the pan a quarter turn every five minutes or so to make sure things cooked evenly. Toward the end, I scraped a spoonful or two from the edge to check for seasoning and doneness.

We covered the pan with foil to rest a bit at table while enjoying a nice tossed salad, some toasted baguette slices, thin slices of Manchego cheese, olives and some small grilled red and yellow peppers that had been tossed with sherry and olive oil.

Claudia’s parents and Aunt Pat joined us again this week. Pat had eaten paella once while traveling with her daughter in Spain, and hadn’t been impressed, but she loved this batch. I honestly think that it was beginner’s luck that it turned out at all. My guess is that the main trick is to not stir the rice once you’ve added the cooking liquid. All of the ingredients were done properly, and there was a good socarrat on the bottom of the pan, which, similar to Persian tadig, is a hallmark of the dish.

We enjoyed the last bottle of Cariñena Garnacha that was in the cellar, with Pandora’s Flamenco channel streaming all afternoon to help the mood.

Claudia tried her hand at flan for the very first time as well, and it was exceptional. She used this recipe from The Spruce adding chocolate dipped espresso beans for garnish.

This meal is definitely a keeper. The only things I might change would be to use more onion, maybe add some whole garlic cloves, and perhaps add some clams (and more chorizo) to the paella. I didn’t keep precise notes on timing, so I hope we’ll be able to replicate the dish this summer. It would easily serve a dozen or more, so a party may be in order.

Valentine’s Day 2018 – Penne Alla Vodka

Penne alla VodkaOur Valentine’s Day celebration came a day late this year, since Claudia was out of town for work on the 14th. I wanted to make something special to welcome her home.

I had prepared  Penne alla Vodka once before, and it had turned out badly, the typically clumsy boozy and hot mess that gave the dish a bad reputation. This time around, I used a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, and was determined to get it right.

Improvising a bit, instead of canned whole tomatoes, I used diced, blending up half of them to help form the clingy sauce. Otherwise I followed the recipe down to the last detail, and it yielded the promised results, sweet, tangy, spicy and creamy.

Since the BTE link above is behind a paywall, you can check out the recipe at Urban Drivel.

At first I was thinking about a simple green salad for the side dish, but did a little research and decided on Italian Peas with Mushrooms. I let this cook just a bit too long, but otherwise it was savory and delicious.

Claudia is the baker in our household. She’s an ace with cookies and confections of all sorts, and I rarely bake (other than simple boules and Irish Soda Bread). But I did try these 4 ingredient Red Velvet Cookies last year for Valentine’s Day and they turned out well, so I made them again this year. They will probably make an annual appearance just for novelty’s sake.

We drank our “house red” (Bota Nighthawk Black), which was a fine accompaniment, although a dry Chianti might have been even better.

We’ll definitely keep these dishes in our repertoire.