Sunday, December 30, 2007

07-Year of the Ironstef

This was my year, ya'll. 133 posts on this mo-fo this year. And with that many posts, there's bound to be a few good ones...At least ten, right? Nupur from One Hot Stove invited fellow food bloggers to indulge themselves and pick their favorite 10 posts they made in 2007. Seriously, I am pretty happy with this year in Ironstef...not to toot my own horn...but it was a little tough to pick only ten. Here specific order...

1. The meatloaf cupcakes. How much fun were these? I was pretty tickled with them. Then they ended up on's blog, and, of course, the meatcake gallery. But it's not the attention these got that made them a favorite of's that they are just so darn cute and fun...and really yummy! And talk about cute, how about when I made miniature versions?

2. Memorial day in the country. This one makes my favorites list because of the wonderful memories. A weekend in the country with my family and my sweetheart. Fresh fish, fresh garden produce, beer, sunshine, swimming, fried stuff, kite-flying, puppies,'s life at it's best and it means a lot to me.

3. Summer reading list for Foodies. I got in a lot of reading this summer...mostly food related. It's one of my favorite "activities." Learning, relaxing, enjoying. There are some really really great books out there...tons...too many for me to go through...all about food. My well read well fed tag chronicles what I've gotten to so far.

4. Zucchini Baby. A runaway hit! I was flattered to make it to one of my favorite all-time blogs- boing boing with this photo.

5. Visiting some St. Louis classics was a really fun part of my summer. Carl's and Crown Candy Kitchen opened my eyes to some of the food history and just plain history of the city I have lived in all my life. I'm really bad about exploring St. Louis. I tend to stick to the counties (I'm not knocking the counties...there's some awesome places out here, and I'm not too keen on city traffic/parking), but i recognize that every city has these hidden gems and I should seek them out like a tourist.

6. Beet Gnocchi. Not only was this the first gnocchi I'd ever made from scratch, it was one of the prettiest and brightest things I've ever made. Bright pink! I loved it. Serious Eats must've, too, as it was one of their photo of the day's!

7. Learning to make a proper omelet. Jack taught me to make omelets, and it was wonderful. Wonderful to spend a night with him learning and cooking and having fun. Wonderful to learn a classic technique. Wonderful to eat!

8. Bentos! Thanks to a gift from a friend, I jumped on the Bento Box bandwagon. I used the heck out of that bento box this year, and plan on using it for years to come to make healthy, pretty, delicious lunches for myself.

9. Oh. Em. Gee. I got to meet Ruhlman. He came to town promoting his book The Elements of Cooking, and I went to see him do a cooking demo at the local Viking store. What a pleasure! I learned a lot, was inspired to learn proper techniques, and...I mean geez...he's one of my favorite writers. What a thrill!

10. BAAAACOOOON! I made bacon! Like, made it...from a raw pork belly! And it was easy! And I'm hooked. I've made two batches so far and plan to make more. This is one of the things that reading Ruhlman's books inspired me to go for. Not only is it rewarding to know you've made your own bacon, it's fun to figure out new ways to use it.

Well, there we have it. The end of a year. I hope you all enjoyed reading my silly lil blog this year, and I hope you'll come back. Have a very very happy new year!!!

Here is Nupur's post of all the bloggers who participated in this best of 07 roundup. Check them out!

coq au vin-breaking in the le creuset

The first dish I cooked in my Le Creuset had to be special. It sounds silly, but this is one of those kitchen pieces I have been wanting for so long. I needed a worthy initiation. What could be better to break in my classic French vessel than a classic French recipe? Coq au vin it was.

Now, there are a plethora of coq au vin recipes out there, from the simple, to the less simple, to the nostalgic classic. I, however, went straight for my copy of Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook. This is not a quick and simple recipe. It requires overnight marinating, 3 different pots/pans and several steps. But it's really not hard if you prepare and stay organized throughout the process. Plus, the recipe calls for 1 bottle plus 1 cup of red you have that remaining bottle to drink while you enjoy making classic, heart-warming cuisine!

It started with a chicken in a bath of red wine (every girl's dream, no?)...

the next day everything was the prettiest purple color.

well...not everything was purple. Here are the brown components, awaiting their fate. (Yes, those are lardons from our second batch of home-made bacon. I'm hooked! Must get more pork bellies to make more! I even gave some away as Christmas presents!)

the le creuset doin' it's thang:

Served up with some buttered egg noodles (admittedly I wimped out and used frozen...they were good, though!):

TOTALLY worth the effort. The flavors were so good together...the acid and fruity depth of the red wine, the salty bacon, the earthy mushrooms and the juicy chicken...there's a reason why this is a classic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

guess I was nice...

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I took a little Christmas break, I guess. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! I sure did. Oh, and check out my new toy!

I am so excited.

Monday, December 17, 2007

gingersnaps as tiny plates

I never thought of gingersnaps as anything other than cookies until I saw this recipe for a caramel brie with the suggestion of dipping the spicy crisp rounds into it. Brilliant! When I came across a cranberry cheddar cheese last week, I thought I'd give gingersnaps a shot as cheese-vessel rather than the usual crackers or toast. Oh man! So good. Like a really good cheesecake, but crunchier and more intense.

This begs the question...what else can I put on my gingersnaps?!?!

In other news...UPDATE ALERT! I updated my last onion butter post with photos of the process...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

jack takes on onion butter

Remember my attempt at onion butter? It ended up okay, but it bothered Jack to the point of obsession. He found the recipe I used (put cut up onions in a vessel, add heat, and ignore until they are a sticky dark mess...that's it) to be lazy and incomplete. There were lots of burnt onions and bitterness. So he took on the challenge of making better onion butter. And he succeeded. Big time. I asked him to write down the recipe and process he used to make the glorious sweet spread...

4-4.5 pounds yellow onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tsp kosher salt

I divided the onion between two baking dishes, tossed them with the olive oil and salt, and put them in a 350° oven for 45-60 minutes, taking care not to over-brown (burn) the onions on the edges of the pan.

On the stove over high/medium-high heat, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. After the butter stopped foaming and just before browning, I transferred the onions from the baking dishes to the pan and cooked on medium high, stirring occasionally. Once the onions began to brown, I turned the heat to medium and continued to cook (stirring occasionally) until the onions turned to a rich, dark brown (1 1/2 to 2 hours).

Here's the part I'm unsure of it's necessity...

I tested the onions at this point and found that, while sweet, I could still
feel the onion slices between my teeth so I added between 2-3 tablespoons of
water and stirred the mixture. After 15-20 minutes of cooking, I tested again and repeated the procedure. Once the mixture thickened, I turned off the heat and allowed the now caramelized onions to cool to room temperature.

I put batches of the onion in a small, hand-held food processor and processed the batch, resulting in a smooth, dark brown, sweet/savory paste.

soooo good on sliced bread with a sharp cheese.

Or without cheese...

Or as a spread on a pot roast and provolone sandwich...

Yup. He done it right. It's simple and delicious. An onion masterpiece.

UPDATE on Dec. 17, 2007: Over the weekend Jack made a he-yooge batch of this, and I was able to get photos of the process...

roughly 12 pounds of onions. He got all squatty (technical term!) shaped ones, because he heard from several people that they are sweeter...anyone heard this theory?

12 lbs. of onions chopped up and occupying every baking dish we own:

After hours of cooking in the oven (with occasional stirring to avoid burnt bitter bits), he was able to move everything to just one large baking dish:

At about that stage of brown-ness you see above, the onions were moved to a large soup pot on the stovetop and cooked, stirring often, until a nice dark brown like this:

Then they were blended to a spread in the food processor:

and that, folks is how you make 12 pounds of onions fit into a 48 oz. container (with room to spare!).

Monday, December 10, 2007

choux addict

Last night I made my very first Pate a Choux AND my first custard. Two small steps for Ironstef one huge leap for Ironstef's hips! That's right, cream puffs. A classic. And quite easy at that! Who knew?

I made the custard filling first, so It could get cool for filling the puffs. Here is the recipe I used:

custard filling:
1/2 cup sugar
5 Tbsp. flour
dash salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla

In top of double boiler combine sugar, flour & salt. Add milk and mix well. Add egg yolks and blend. Place over hot water over medium-low heat & cook until smooth & thick, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes. Cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Add vanilla.

This tasted awesome, but I could have cooked it a little longer to get a little thicker. I wasn't sure how much it would thicken once it hardly changed at all, it turns out.

For the puff's themselves, I used Ruhlman's recipe and tips from The Elements of Cooking, which you can also find on his Elements blog along with some good discussion in the comments.

Here is what my dough looked like before I added the eggs:

Here it is after all the eggs were incorporated (nice little arm workout!) and I started putting it in a piping bag:

All piped out and ready to bake!

Yay! They turned out puffy and hollow and golden delicious! On my very first try!

I ended up piping the filling into the bottoms of the puffs, since all of them seemed to have a ready-made hole there because of how I piped them. Next time I think I'll poke a hole in the tops so they are prettier.

The frosting part was the easiest. Here is the recipe:

1 1/2 cup sugar
6 Tbsp. butter
6 Tbsp. milk
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Boil sugar, butter & milk for 1 minute. Add chips and stir until dissolved. Frost immediately, as this sets up quickly.

I simply dipped the little choux puffs' heads in the frosting. Overall, I think they turned out great. I'll just need to make sure to get the custard thicker next time...not that I mind drippy gooey messes:

Saturday, December 08, 2007

battle shrimp

Thursday I picked up some baby bok choy and Chinese eggplant while I was out and about. I new I wanted yo make a stir fry of some sort. Then I found some shrimp on sale! Perfect. This was a fairly simple dinner. As the raw, peeled shrimp marinated in some fresh chopped garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil and red chili flakes, I sauteed 2 sliced onions in garlic, oil, and hot chili oil. Once the onions started to get soft I added the bite-size sliced eggplant, some sesame oil, powdered ginger, white pepper sand soy sauce. I cooked those until everything was softened, then added the bok choy and shrimp with marinade. Then I just cooked everything until the shrimp was pink and opaque. I served it over brown rice. Healthy, easy and yummy.

After eating mine, Jack decided he wanted to make a shrimp dish, too, so Friday night he took over the kitchen and went a more Italian route with the shrimp. He made a cream sauce by adding a puree of roasted garlic and heavy cream to a roux (butter and flour cooked together), then adding fat free half & half and salt and pepper. Once the cream sauce was nice and thick, he set that aside and cooked the shrimp in lots of butter and garlic with chopped parsley added at the end. The sauce was tossed with whole wheat cavetelli pasta and some toasted pine nuts, then the shrimp and it's butter sauce was spooned on top and it was garnished with more fresh chopped parsley.

I don't know if there was a clear winner. the styles were so different and they were both yummy. It's a shrimp draw!

Friday, December 07, 2007

almost awesome split pea

The weather has turned into a constant cold (rather than the fluctuating from mild to cold and back all through November), so something warming was called for.

I made a batch of pea soup last year that totally rocked. Best pea soup EVAR. Somehow, I was so awed by my abilities that I failed to record anything I did. So this time I kind of winged it...found a good basic recipe online and added what touches I could remember from that rockin' batch.

I crisped up some tiny diced bacon, which I set aside to top the finished soup. I cooked 1 white onion, two carrots and 2 stalks of celery, all finely diced, in the bacon fat and some olive oil until they were very soft. Then I put a 1 lb. bag of dried split peas (that I had rinsed and sorted through), a big hunk of my bacon and water to cover everything by a couple inches. I covered that and just let it cook away at a slight simmer for a couple hours.

By then it was bedtime and we'd already eaten something else, so I dropped in a bundle of fresh herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary wrapped in cheese cloth) while the soup was hot, let the soup cool and put it in the fridge overnight. The next night I simply took it out of the fridge, fished out my herb bundle and bacon, pureed the soup with my stick blender and heated it up. It wasn't as awesome as last time. I think I added too much water, and I also think a chunk of pork with bone in it would have added more body. Still a good winter meal though, with some beer and warm bread.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

throwed rolls and hog jowls

Over the weekend a group of us trekked to Sikeston, MO in a rented van to eat at Lambert's Cafe. If you are not familiar, Lambert's is the "Home of the Throwed Rolls," meaning you better watch your head, and was named as The Number 1 place to pig out on the travel channel.

I had never been, but Jack has, and some other friends, so I knew the jist of it. Country food, flying fresh rolls and people walking around serving up a variety of sides. I was excited. In fact the Thursday before, Jack had stopped there while out of town for work and brought me home what was left of his chicken fried steak dinner (which was a lot). Yum!

Once seated, we all held our hands up ASAP to get some of those fresh hot rolls tossed to us. I waited patiently, sniffing my roll (OMG I could have that scent in my face all day...soooo good), for the sorghum guy to come around. I gave up, ate my delicious roll, had them throw me another one, and finally got sorghum on that roll. Sorghum is awesome. Like a molasses and honey hybrid. Sweet and rich.

Being the silly person I am, I decided to order something "weird" from the menu. So I chose "Hog Jowls." and item for which there was no description accept that they were sliced. Everyone thought I was crazy, until my plate showed up. It was pretty much a giant plate of BACON! Well, better than bacon...thick sliced and less salty. I got it with white beans (eh) and a baked sweet potato (which was good, but I only managed to take 2 or 3 bites of).

While we waited for our food, the Okra gal came around. Since we didn't have plates yet, we tore off a paper towel from the handy dandy built-in paper towel holder on our table, and she put a big hot pile of the crunchy morsels straight on that.

While i was still staring in awe at my plate of jowls and everyone Else's food, the fried potatoes and onions came around. Even though I really had no room on my plate, I had him slap some in the middle of my plate. Thank goodness I did because they were one of my favorite things of the night! Later, I also got black-eyed peas, which were also good...better than the white beans.

I felt like I ate and ate and ate. We were all so stuffed when we left, and we had leftovers! Even after sharing my jowls and eating as much as I could, I had 2 handfuls left! I also ordered Jack some fried chicken livers to go, since he couldn't make it that night. Holy cow! When you order something to go, they give you your order and the two side dishes, PLUS a container of all the pass-arounds and like 3 rolls! So a $9 chicken liver ended up being a feast for a family of 4. What a deal! And, yes I snuck a few of the livers and they are heaven.

What a fun little road trip! Totally worth it. The food was good, the atmosphere was tons of fun, and the place itself was very interesting. It's touristy, but it a fun laid-back way. My friend kept describing it as "Crackerbarrel on Crack," which is perfect! There are video games and the extremely addicting falling quarters game (you know the drop in a quarter which in turn pushes other quarters over a do they not fall?!?!), and great photo opps with all kinds of crazy antiques and signs and statues and such. Some of the decor is decidedly creepy, just don't look up too much:

I'd totally make the drive again (about 2 - 2 1/2 hours from st. louis) for a good time and an over-stuffed belly.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

christmas in the Lou...some gift ideas

A bunch of us STL food bloggers are putting together local gift lists. Here's mine. Check out links to the others' lists at the end.

Actual Factual Food
-Most of these will be available at your local grocery store. Christmas shopping while grocery shopping? SWEET!

-An assortment of Volpi meats would be nice. You'll find the best selection at Volpi or a grocery store on the Hill, such as Viviano's, but I know that Schnucks carries a bunch, too.

-Candy from Crown Candy Kitchen. May I recommend the Heavenly Hash, the chocolate covered espresso beans and....okay anything chocolate. Their chocolate is scrumptious. As far as I know you can only get the candy at Crown Candy Kitchen, so make sure to enjoy a yummy lunch while you're there!

-The Hill is known for it's Italian fare, and some of that can be recreated with jarred sauces that are available at your local grocery store. Sauces such as A Taste of the Hill line, and Rigazzi's restaurant's sauce.

-Fitz's Root Beer is made here, and you could make a fun little gift by getting an assortment of flavors...they have cream soda, orange, cola...or just the classic root beer!

-St. Louis Beers! No, not AB (sorry loyalists...I just don't like any of it). Schlafly beers are some of my favorites, and are available all over, in many varieties which depend on the season. There are variety 12 packs, which are great. All you need to do is slap a bow onnit! O'Fallon Brewery, a little further out of St. Louis, but still quite local, makes some good stuff too.

St. Louis crafters!

-My good pal mamaphunk sells these adorable tiny pies at her etsy store.

-Destroyed by design has chocolate chip cookie necklaces and some other food pendants.

-STL style makes some hilarious only-a-local-will-get-it tees. This "the Hill" shirt with a toasted ravioli and one of the famous red white and green fire hydrants holding hands is hilarious! They also make gooey butter underwear, which I find hysterical, although most people I've mentioned it too think it's disgusting. Well, whatever tickles your gift-giving pickle.

-This St. Louis crafter makes really cute potholders and sells them on etsy.

St. Louis Food Books

-St. Louis food writers and fellow bloggers Joe and Anne Pollack have written several books on St. Louis food, including Beyond Toasted Ravioli and Beyond Gooey Butter Cake.

-St. Louis Flavors: the Loop will tell you about the history of the loop and has recipes from a bunch of the restaurants located there.

-the Midwest Corn fusion book would be fun for any corn lovers in your life.

-For the Food History buffs on your list, there are several neat options; The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark: Recipes for an Expedition, a book about what those famous adventurers ate while traveling westward. Pull Carts & Stalls: The Soulard Market History Cookbook, a good idea for those who love farmers markets, and Sweetness Preserved: The Story of the Crown Candy Kitchen, to go along with those candies!


-Treat someone to classes at places such as the Wine and Cheese Place or The Wine Merchant. You can find a good list of upcoming wine classes/events here.

-Tickets to the St. Louis Food & Wine show at the Chase. It benefits the St. Louis Repertory Theatre and is a blast! I've been for the past few years. It gets bigger and bigger every year, with tons of vendors sampling wines and food. There are also demos and speakers.

Here are links to the other St. Louis food bloggers who are participating in this list-making blogging event. Check them out for other great STL gift ideas:
Bill Burge -
Anne Cori - Kitchen Conservatory
Ann Lemons - St. Louis Food & Drink
Alanna Kellogg - A Veggie Venture
Stefani - Cupcake Project
Also, STLHops has a list of gifts for St. Louis Beer lovers.