Thursday, June 30, 2011

FFwD: Chunky Beets and Icy Red Onions

Beets. Onions. Beets and onions. Of all the beautiful recipes in Around My French Table, French Fridays With Dorie wants me to eat beets and onions???

This was the refrain looping through my thoughts all week, especially as I trudged through the aisles at the supermarket and bought my beets (I couldn't buy one beet, per my minimalist plan; they were grouped in threes. Grrrr.), my onion, and my sherry vinegar. I wasn't going to bother with buying a special vinegar, and just use something else, but the row had a dollar-off coupon waiting for me, so it only cost a buck. Figured it was worth the dollar if it bore any chance of making beets taste good.Of course, once I poured it, I realized that I'd bought sherry cooking wine. It was in with the vinegars. Is that the same? Probably not. To adjust things, I added half the sherry cooking wine, and half red wine vinegar.

My history with beets is not a good one. My earliest exposure to them was straight from the can, at my grandmother's house. Yuck.

I gave them another chance a few years ago. I'd bought a subscription in a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture), where you buy a share of a farm's yield and pick up a bag of fresh-as-can-be fruits and veg every week. When they were in season, I wound up with some beets. I followed some recipe for them--I don't even remember what it was--and they seemed okay for about five minutes, while they were still warm. Once they cooled off, I couldn't swallow them. Matt wouldn't eat them, either. After that one try, the rest of my beet supply went to waste. I did love dying my hands and half the kitchen red, though. That was fun. (I'm not joking. I love a mischievous mess.)

Needless to say, the fact that Chunky Beets and Icy Red Onions (pg 123) is a recipe for cold beets made me even less enthusiastic about this week's selection.

I boiled my beets, crossing my fingers and spinning for good luck to keep my pot from permanently staining red. Boiled and peeled, I cut them into chunks and mixed them up in the vinaigrette of Dijon, honey, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. Then, into the fridge to get cold. Sigh.

The instructions say to thinly slice a red onion and swish it around in cold water to remove the bitterness. Drain, then refill the bowl with water and ice and stick it in the fridge until ready to serve. I don't know what this step was supposed to do. My onions were still QUITE potent.

I followed the Bonne Idee in the sidebar, because I felt like more ingredients could only improve things. So, I mixed halved cherry tomatoes and fresh oregano into the beets, then dumped them on arugula. I topped the beets with the drained onions and goat cheese.
Beets and onions aren't so bad, after all.
I'm woman enough to admit when I'm wrong, and I'm delighted to say that Dorie has changed my mind on beets. This salad was actually good! WHAT? Didn't see that coming. ha! The tangy goat cheese worked so nicely with the sweet beet. I thoroughly enjoyed eating this, except for the onions. I'd grill them next time. They were waaaay too strong. A friend invited me to join her book club, so tonight is the first meeting I'll attend. I'm pretty sure that I won't be making any friends with breath like this. Holy moly. I wouldn't talk to me.

Conclusion: Liked it. I ate three whole beets all by myself. I'm growing as a person.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Plain Old Grilled Cheese, Please.

For lunch today, I split a Mozzarella, Raspberry, and Brown Sugar Panini (pg 213) with Charlie. Neither one of us liked it much.

The recipe calls for "bakery-style white bread," but I just used regular old whole wheat bread. It instructs you to brush both sides of each slice of bread with olive oil. I only did the sides that would be hitting the panini press. I don't think these deviations caused the problems with this sandwich.

All you do is smear raspberry jelly on each slice of bread, sprinkle rosemary on, then sandwich mozzarella cheese in between the slices. Then, you sprinkle brown sugar on top of the bread, on the part that will hit the pan. I did the slightest sprinkling of sugar, because it seems excessive. Grill it in a panini press until it's golden, and voila!
I like the idea of this sandwich, but something was not right. The bread got soggy from the jelly, and I think the mozzarella released some water once it was hot. The flavors didn't seem to come together into one delicious bite. I think I'd prefer this with a different cheese. Mozzarella doesn't have a strong enough flavor to compete with raspberry jelly and rosemary. It became raspberry flavored chewiness. Jelly is amazing on salty cheeses like a fresh Romano. Romano wouldn't melt right for a grilled cheese type of sandwich, but something with that sort of salty/tangy profile would balance things out more. Adding my little bit of brown sugar didn't make one lick of difference, so perhaps that would have been better if I'd used the proper amount. I don't think adding more sweet on top of sweet is the answer, though.

Conclusion: Just okay. Not worth it. Charlie will eat any cheese I give him (especially stinky ones!), plain or in sandwich form, but he wouldn't eat this.

Dinner was Honey-Balsamic Lamb Chops (pg 125). As far as I'm concerned, lamb is the greatest of all the meats, so something would have to be very wrong with this recipe to make me disapprove. Fortunately, it was good.
Get in mah belly!
All you do is season the chops with salt, pepper, rosemary, and a drizzle of oil, then haul out the ol' grill pan, yet again, and cook them up. In the food processor, mix balsamic vinegar, garlic, and honey. Once it's combined, with the machine running, slowly add vegetable oil. This produces a surprisingly thick sauce, and lots of it. I was too impatient to do the math to quarter the recipe, so now I have a jar of sauce in the fridge. I'm overly excited about the mason jars I bought at the supermarket yesterday. They were on sale. Don't tell Matt. haha! Every time I clear out a little nook of space in the kitchen, I find something else to fill it with. Oh well.

If you need sauce with your lamb, this is a good one. I enjoyed it. However, I realized while eating it that I never put sauce on lamb. A little garlic and rosemary is all it needs. I prefer it that way. It's tough when you're trying out recipes that mess with your favorites.

Conclusion: A good, solid Liked It.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It Had to Happen Eventually

I didn't dislike my Open-Faced Tuna Sandwich with Arugula and Sweet-Pickle Mayonnaise (pg 66), but I didn't really like it, either. It is exactly what it sounds like.

A tuna steak is seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence, then grilled. Man, Giada's been giving my grill pan a workout. I hate cleaning that thing. Non-stick, my ass. I digress. In the last minute of grilling, top the tuna with a slice of cheddar. Toast an oiled slice of ciabatta bread on the grill pan, then smear it with a mixture of mayo and diced sweet pickles. Put the tuna on the bread, and top it with arugula and a drizzle of oil.

I'm not a fan of pickles in general, or sweet pickles in particular, so I was wary of this, but when eaten as a whole, it wasn't especially pickley. Honestly, the whole sandwich was pretty bland. I found myself wishing for more pickle flavor, just so something would liven it up. It is definitely not "out-of-this-world fantastic!" as promised in the intro.

My execution wasn't great, but I don't think I'd have liked it even if it came out exactly as Giada intended. A real ciabatta, instead of supermarket bread-fluff, would have helped. Also, I overcooked the tuna. The instruction to add the cheese in the last minute of cooking the fish threw everything off. I didn't think I'd sliced especially thick slabs, but it took at least two minutes, covered, for the cheese to melt. By then, the tuna was pretty well done.

Conclusion: Just okay. This is a non-repeater.

No photo today. Didn't realize my camera battery was dead until I went to snap the picture.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Breakfast Herbs

Are you ever completely surprised by the end-product of a recipe that sounded straight-forward and easily imagined? That happened to me this morning with the Sweet Basil Smoothie (pg 209) from Giada at Home.

My basil plant is waging war against my rosemary, so this smoothie seemed like a good way to trim it back a little. First, you make a lemon syrup--water, sugar, lemon zest. Let it cool, then add it to yogurt and basil. The recipe calls for ice, but my blender is crap, so I omitted the ice and added a little milk to loosen up my Greek yogurt. Call me crazy, but I assumed that this would taste like lemon and basil. I was wrong, in the best possible way. For all that zest, the lemon was just a background note that worked with the sugar to draw floral tones from the basil. It was like drinking flowers, fresh from a field (as opposed to in an overwhelming, funeral parlor type of way).
I thought this would be greener.
I guess I've never really had basil as the primary flavor of a sweet dish before. I had one of those "WOAH!" moments, where a whole new spectrum of dessert possibilities spanned out before my eyes. (Sidenote to Yummychunklet--the basil/lemon/sugar combo would make a killer ice cream for your nifty machine). I might start throwing basil in everything, just to see what happens.

To continue my herb theme, I also baked Strawberry and Rosemary Scones. I remember seeing Giada make these on tv, and they sounded good, but I couldn't read the faces of her husband's coworkers, who she delivered them to. Either these men were really uncomfortable on camera, or they didn't like the scones. Now that I've tasted these first-hand, I've decided that they must have been uncomfortable, because these scones are f-ing delicious.
With finely chopped rosemary in the batter, a blob of strawberry jelly in the center, and lemon glaze drizzled on top, there are a lot of different flavors here, and they all work together beautifully. It's balanced. It's not like BAM! ROSEMARY! In a blind taste test, it might take me a few seconds to identify that flavor. The scones are buttery, moist, and not-too-sweet. They did spread more than I expected them to, so several of mine fused together, but that's not a big deal. I'll just know to leave more room next time.

Both of these recipes produced refreshing, happy food that made me want to go outside and lay in a hammock.

Conclusion: Love, on both counts.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Steak & Eggs, With Flair

I've never had steak and eggs. I like steak. I like eggs. I'm not opposed to the idea of putting them together, but steak never seemed like the type of food that creamy, runny yolk would improve. Hoping for a pleasant surprise, I made Giada's Grilled Tuscan Steak with Fried Egg and Goat Cheese (pg 106).

I know I've mentioned this before, but cooking steak makes me uncomfortable. I usually just let Matt do it. I gave it a go myself this time. After seasoning with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence, I grilled two rib-eyes for five minutes per side. They turned out to be a decent medium-rare. I was hoping for rare, but oh well. The instructions say to grill the steaks for 6-8 minutes per side for medium rare, but  I have no doubt that these would have been well done if I'd waited that long.

I served the steak on top of fresh arugula, according to Giada's suggestion in the intro. A fried egg tops the steak (sunny-side-up, which the recipe gives you, skeeves me out), and crumbled goat cheese tops the egg. You're supposed to throw some parsley on top, but I didn't want to buy some just for this.

So, was steak and eggs all it's hyped up to be? Honestly, I don't really see what the big deal is. The egg annoyed me a little, because the steak was quite fatty and needed a good deal of trimming, and all that stuff on top of it made it hard to see where to cut. I think I'd prefer an egg on a leaner cut.
 For me, the goat cheese tied the egg and steak together. Without it, I don't know that I'd have liked this as much as I did. It contributed a creaminess that complemented the yolk, but with a tang that went great with the steak. The cheese also balanced out the arugula, and made it pleasantly peppery, instead of overwhelmingly bitter.

Conclusion: Liked it. Matt cleaned his plate and said it would be a perfect breakfast. False. Pancakes are the perfect breakfast. No contest. That said, I can see myself working this into our rotation of standard dinners. 

True to Its Name

With my in-laws tucked safely on a plane back to Delaware, we accepted a friend's invitation to come over for steaks last night. I've had my eye on Robert's Absolute Best Brownies (pg 196) from Ready For Dessert for months now. The title struck me as a taunt, daring me to try it, daring me to disagree.  Tasting for best brownie is just the kind of challenge I'm up for, but it seemed wiser to bake them and bring them elsewhere, should the recipe fulfill its promise. I've indulged a lot this week. I don't need to eat an entire tray of brownies.

If you prefer cake-type brownies, these won't impress you. There's barely any flour in here (1/4 cup), so these brownies more closely resemble a dense, rich, flourless cake. Mine stayed kind of wet and fudgy (not raw, but not quite solid) on the bottom, so I'm not sure if that's how it was supposed to turn out, or if I could have left it in the oven for a few more minutes. The instructions say to bake "until the center feels almost set, about 30 minutes. Don't overbake." I stuck a fork in it at 30 minutes, and it came out coated in chocolate, so I left it in for another five minutes, but I was afraid to leave it longer than that. The instructions also say not to remove them from the pan until they're completely cool, but I had to remove them sooner, because I ran out of time. I thought an hour would do. I was wrong. The fact that it was still warm may account for the fact that the bottom hadn't set yet when I cut them and transferred them to a plate.
I'm so glad I only kept two of these at home. I wouldn't have the self-control not to eat them all.
These were, in fact, the best brownies I've ever made. Rich and dense and bittersweet-chocolatey, with toasted pecans mixed in for texture and crunch, they put boxed mixes to shame. I experienced a creme brulee type of satisfaction when my teeth broke through the crispy, paper-thin crust.

I should have followed Lebovitz's suggestions for cutting perfect brownies, because I DESTROYED these, but I didn't have time to freeze them and then dip a serrated blade into hot water and wipe it down in between each slice. I win no points for presentation. Oh well.

Conclusion: Love at first bite. This is my new go-to brownie recipe. Lebovitz suggests a variation which involves dried cherries. YES, PLEASE!!

Now, I'm going to have to shelve this book for a bit. I can't eat this much dessert. Sniffle.

Friday, June 24, 2011

FFwD: Mozzarella, Tomato, and Strawberry Salad

I nearly flaked on participating in French Friday's With Dorie this week. My in-laws are in town for the week, and Mozzarella, Tomato, and Strawberry Salad (pg 118) didn't seem to fit into any of our meal plans. Also, and more importantly, the recipe didn't call out to me. I like a caprese salad as much as anyone, but the simple act of adding strawberries doesn't seem to warrant a whole new recipe.

I woke up this morning and realized that it was Friday and I hadn't made my dish yet. There's no reason in the world this salad can't be breakfast food, so I ran around to make it before my in-laws arrive from their hotel, because I didn't have enough strawberries on hand to share. Nice hostess, right? Oh well, what they don't know won't hurt 'em.
I wish I could say, after eating this, that my "enh" expectations were proven wrong. The success of this dish depends entirely upon the freshness of the ingredients. Since I moved to Texas a year ago, I haven't found a single "fresh" mozzarella that even resembled actual fresh mozzarella. The closest and best one I've found is on level with Polly-o. That's not saying much, but at least it has a bit of moisture and isn't sour. The tomatoes were from the farmer's market, the strawberries were sweet, and I picked the basil from my backyard, so I couldn't have done much better as far as the produce goes. The salty-strawberry sensation was new to me, but after the first two bites I stopped noticing it.

Conclusion: Indifferent. This was a fine salad and a nice way to start the day. It didn't wow me, though. Maybe the secret is in the pink peppercorns. I used black. I don't anticipate going out of my way to make this in the future, though I may if I have the ingredients at the ready.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

You Can Never Have Too Much Garlic

I purchased an irresistibly speckled eggplant from the farmer's market on Saturday, even though I had no end-product in mind. It's been staring me down from its shelf on the fridge ever since, so I figured I'd put it out of its misery and turn it into Roasted Eggplant and White Bean Crostini (pg 22). I had no baguette, so this was less of a crostini and more of a spread for crackers.

This seems to be becoming the norm with Giada at Home, but this recipe was super easy. Cube an eggplant, toss it with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast it until it's golden. Process it with cannellini beans, parsley, lemon juice, and garlic. Add olive oil until it's smooth. That's it.
Not the most photogenic dip, is it?
The recipe only actually calls for one garlic clove, but I used three. I was afraid I'd overdone it, but my in-laws loved it, as did Charlie, which SHOCKED me. He kept licking crackers clean and handing them back to me for re-schmearing. I mean, this was really garlicky. I would tone it back in the future, but the roasty eggplant flavor did still manage to fight its way through.

Conclusion: Liked it.

My father-in-law flipped through Ready For Dessert, and ooohed over a recipe for Peach-Amaretti Crisp (pg 102). That was pretty much all the instigation I needed to plan for it before they leave on Saturday. Unfortunately, the peaches I bought were bad. They smelled good when I bought them, and I thought that they'd soften up over a few days. They did not. They were nearly as crisp as an apple. My thumb got quite the workout trying to wrest eight peach pits from the flesh's greedy suction grip.

If I had good peaches, this would have been one hell of a dessert. Delicious almondy Amaretti cookies that are food-processed with toasted almonds, flour, sugar, butter, etc, make the topping really special. Did you know that the flavor of authentic amaretti cookies is from apricot kernels, not almonds? I didn't. Good to know, David Lebovitz. Good to know.
Conclusion: Everyone else at the table loved this and thought that the peaches were just fine, but this is my blog, and I get the last word. Mwa ha haaaa! I have to put this on the low end of the "liked" column, but I found the still-tough, not-so-sweet peaches to be very detrimental. With juicy, ripe peaches, this would be great.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Can't Resist a Sweet Italian Nonna

If Nonna Luna's Rice (pg 95) is the dish that best represents Giada's grandmother, I imagine her to be a plump, warm dumpling of a woman, always ready with a hug and a treat stashed in her pocket. Under no circumstances are you to attempt this meal if you're concerned with your weight. Honestly, you might want to stop reading now, lest you gain a pound through caloric osmosis.

Still with me? Okay. First, you toast rice for about six minutes in half a stick of butter. Don't worry, we'll use the other half before we're through. Giada says that taking the extra time to do this "gives the dish a nutty flavor that takes it from good to great." I don't think I'd go that far, but the rice did have a nutty flavor and a firmer consistency than I usually get. Once the grains are golden, you simmer the rice in chicken broth and a tablespoon of hot sauce until it's finished.

The shrimp component is equally simple. Melt the other half of your stick of butter and add some garlic. When fragrant, add the shrimp, lemon juice, and more hot sauce. Cook the shrimp through, then stir in a cup of cream. Serve the shrimp on the rice. Gain forty pounds.
I was worried that this would be really spicy, because two tablespoons of Tabasco seems like a lot to me, but it wasn't. It was so mild that Charlie ate it without any alteration. The Tabasco became a background flavor. I think the cream muted its hotness. This mostly tasted of butter and cream.

Conclusion: Liked it, though I don't expect to make this often. It's quite heavy. Excuse me while I squeeze into some fat-pants.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Last night's dinner/2 servings of dessert sat like a rock in my belly, so I thought tonight's meal should be a little more figure-friendly. I worried as I was cooking Vegetable Parmesan (pg 160) that I should have also cooked a protein, but then decided that if people were still hungry, they could fill up on leftover apricot marzipan tart.

Fortunately, it turned out not to be a problem, and yes, we finished off the tart anyway. Much to my delight, we ate most of this triple layer, 9x13 veggie bonanza.

The most time-consuming part was grilling all of the vegetables before assembling the layers. You'd need an industrial-size grill to accomplish this in anything under an hour. It annoyed me. You toss sliced eggplant, fennel, and a variety of red, yellow, and orange peppers in oil, salt, and pepper, and then grill them for three minutes per side, until soft. Easy enough, but the process is looooong and boooooring because I had to do so many batches. Once it's all grilled, you layer eggplant, sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, peppers, sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, fennel, sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, and top with a cup of breadcrumbs. Drizzle with oil, and into the oven it goes.
This is all that's left!
I did not expect to be satisfied with this as an entree, but I was. Matt didn't even complain that there was no meat, though that might just have been because his parents were there. He has some strange notion that he can't get full if he doesn't eat meat. It makes no sense to me. My father-in-law seemed to love it. He went back for thirds. Maybe he was just hungry and pining for meat. Even Charlie ate some pieces of pepper. Until now, he's always spit pepper right out. 

Conclusion: Liked it. This was another success. There's a cook's note at the end of the recipe that says that the vegetables can also be baked in the oven for 15-20 minutes instead of grilling them. I'd go that route in the future, and expect that once that change is factored in, this would be a snap to make. Grilling so many batches of vegetables was a pain in the arse.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Good Day For Eating

As a side dish for the steaks Matt grilled, I cooked Grilled Asparagus and Melon Salad (pg 144). I think the ratio of asparagus to toppings was a little off. The recipe calls for a quarter of a canteloupe (though I used a half--quarter didn't look like it would go very far for four people), cubes of fresh mozzarella, toasted pine nuts, and prosciutto that's been baked and then crumbled. You'd never know asparagus was hiding under this mountain of fixins, which was fine with me. I mean, I like asparagus, but I like melon and prosciutto better.
I can get behind Giada's definition of "salad."
This was excellent, though much of the glory belongs to the quality of this melon--perfectly ripe, incredibly sweet. I bought it on Saturday at the farmer's market, and it probably wouldn't have lasted until tomorrow without going soft. It literally spilled juice all over my counter when I cut it in half. Best melon ever, and eating it with crispy, bacon-ish prosciutto was a nice twist on the standard melon and prosciutto appetizer that you can get in restaurants. Not in the restaurants here in Corpus Christi, but those in more civilized places.

My only complaint about this is that the pine nuts didn't contribute anything. They were impossible to pick up with a fork and were too heavy to cling to the other components. Matt thought they might have more impact if they were broken up into pieces. I'll try that next time (or maybe "next time" will just be me, a melon, and a spoon.)

Conclusion: Liked it a lot, though it wouldn't have been AS impressive with a lesser melon. 

To top off our lovely steaks and melon--oh wait, I mean asparagus--I made an Apricot-Marzipan Tart (pg 98) from my neglected long-term project of David Lebovitz's Ready For Dessert. Oh. My. God. I don't have words to describe how delicious and unique this tart was.
I overcooked the crust a bit, but it didn't detract.
The crust is standard, with the addition of almonds that are powdered in the food processor. Sliced apricots are mixed with sugar and corn starch and poured into the crust, and that is topped with a crumbly food-processed mixture of flour, brown sugar, almond paste, almonds, and butter. The topping tastes like one of those Good Humor brand Toasted Almond ice cream bars from when we were kids. Those were always my favorite, so I could have eaten a bowl of this topping by itself. I drizzled some leftover raspberry sauce from the other night on top, and it was the perfect tart complement to the sweetness of the apricots. This and a glass of Disaronno made me a happy, happy girl.

Conclusion: Love it, love it, love it.

There's a lot of seasonal fruit used in Lebovitz's desserts, so I'm going to attempt to dip into this book a little more frequently during the summer, and hopefully I don't blow up like a balloon. I feel like a balloon tonight, but a well-satisfied one.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pasta Ponza

I chose to make Pasta Ponza (pg 85) for dinner primarily because its name is so much fun. It's as good a reason as any, right? Also, in the intro, Giada says that it may be her favorite recipe in the book. I hope it's not my favorite recipe in the book, or else it's going to be a disappointing month. I don't expect a problem, though.

Giada definitely has a winner with this dish. It's so easy to make that it would be a keeper recipe even if it tasted half as good. All you do is cut red and yellow cherry tomatoes in half and toss them with capers, olive oil, salt, pepper, and Italian-seasoned bread crumbs in a Pyrex dish. Bake it for a half hour, then mix it and grated Romano cheese with pasta. The breadcrumbs mixed with the tomato juices to make an unexpectedly rich sauce.
It doesn't look like much, but trust me, it's good.
Conclusion: Tangy, salty, and a little sweet. I loved it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Fresh Start

Look at Giada, sitting over there on her immaculate white couch, all perky and pretty and fearlessly brandishing a bowl of potential tomato stains. I partially hate her for how easily she pulls off what has to be a charade of perfection, but the other, bigger part of me wants to be friends with her, or barring that, wants to emulate her. Ha. Unlikely. I don't even buy white shirts, much less dare eat pasta in them.

Lots of Giada's recipes appeal to me when she's selling them on tv, but until this point, I've only cooked from this book twice. She puts on an excellent show of enjoying her own food, but I have very little idea of how good the end product is in real life. So, without further ado, let the immersion begin!

Matt went grocery shopping on his way home from work. I don't want to put shoes on Charlie until his feet are all healed up, so I couldn't go during the day. Tonight's dinner had to be quick and easy, and Roasted Halibut With Pea and Mint Salad (pg 134) seemed to fit the bill. I'm sure you're getting sick of hearing me say this, but I should have read the directions closer, because I didn't realize the fish had to marinate in oil, garlic, and lemon juice for 30 minutes.

I did not marinate the fish, and so this was quick and easy. I coated the fish in the marinade and popped it right in the oven. Marination would have improved things, but this was still pretty good. The store had no halibut, so I used cod, which doesn't taste like much on its own. The fish stayed nice and moist following the recipe's timing, and had a subtle taste of garlic. Had it marinated, I'm sure it would have had more flavor. Even so, it tasted fresh and light (and better than anything out of the Healthy Family Cookbook. I'm sorry. I'll get over it eventually.)
The pea component of this was really good. Matt said he's never enjoyed peas so much before. I have to agree. The recipe instructs you to cook a shallot and sliced red pepper in olive oil for a few minutes. Take it off the heat and add thawed frozen peas, lemon zest, fresh thyme, and a load of mint. I was afraid it would be too minty, but it was just right.

Conclusion: Liked it. I would definitely try this again, allowing the fish to marinate.

Much to my dismay, I can not participate in this week's French Friday's With Dorie. The recipe was to be Roasted Rhubarb, which you add to cake or ice cream as a dessert. Apparently the supermarket had no rhubarb. Matt even asked someone about it. They said that the shipment they received was so awful looking that they threw it out and ordered more. I am saddened. We have raspberries and blackberries in the fridge, so I think I'll make a sauce out of those for my rhubarb-ready vanilla ice cream, since I had my heart set on dessert tonight.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tapping Out Early...Again

I just can't get excited about cooking meals that will very likely be grossly underseasoned and overcomplicated, nor can I move past their dubious definition of healthy. Thumbing through, I realized that a whole bunch of the recipes in this book are less healthy than what I normally cook on my own. I've actually gained two pounds in the ten days I've been cooking from it. I think it's because I keep resorting to snacks and cookies and things that I wouldn't normally eat just to squeeze decent food out of the book.

I already know that I don't want to keep Healthy Family Cookbook. My in-laws are coming into town for a week on Friday, and there's not a recipe in this book that I'm comfortable serving to company (though it might be funny to watch them pretending to like it). It doesn't seem right to torment my family with food that's mediocre, at best, just for the sake of faithfulness to the blog's mission of one month's devotion, especially when my mind's already made up.

So, my next book, starting tomorrow, will be Giada At Home: Family Recipes From Italy and California. There are a whole bunch of summer-seasonal recipes in here, so I'm looking forward to it. I considered pairing it with Everyday Italian, because I'm afraid that book is too pasta-centric for me to include in this project, but that didn't seem fair to this book.

I feel guilty even bringing Healthy Family Cookbook to Good Will and pawning it off on some unsuspecting family. Especially since I wrote notes in it. Eek! Oh well, out with it. I banish thee, HFC.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Not-So-Quick Bread

Never in my life have I used so many bowls and appliances just to bake a Zucchini Bread (pg 428). I totally demolished my nice clean kitchen by the time the bread went in the oven. The end result was under-spiced, even though I doubled the cinnamon and the allspice, and there is a slight aftertaste of baking powder or soda (not sure which it is--the bread includes a whopping teaspoon of each. Just to keep it in perspective, it only calls for 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 1/4 tsp of allspice).
You made me very thirsty, Bread.
I really think the "healthy" aspect of this cookbook is quite misleading. I compared this recipe to the Zucchini Bread recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, because they also provide nutritional info. The only category in which this HFC recipe shows more nutrition is that it has two extra grams of protein and one extra gram of fiber. Otherwise, this "healthy" version has 53 extra calories, 14 extra carbs, and 197 extra mg sodium. Both recipes have 6 grams of fat, but they're broken down differently. BH&G has 1 gm saturated fat and 13 mg cholesterol, and HFC has 3.5 gm saturated fat and 50 mg cholesterol. These stats include nuts in the Better Homes and Gardens recipe, and not in the HFC recipe. Granted, I haven't baked both recipes, so I can't compare their tastes, but the Healthy Family Cookbook version doesn't seem all that much healthier. It's like whole wheat flour is their only requirement for making a healthy recipe.

Conclusion: Just okay. I'd never make this again. Charlie seems to like it, though.

 For dinner, I destroyed the last two pieces of fish that were frozen from Matt's fishing adventure. Fortunately, he has plans to go fishing again on Saturday, so we'll be restocked soon. The intro to Super-Crisp Oven-Fried Fish (pg 215) says "we discovered a couple of tricks to make our oven-fried fish taste remarkably similar to the deep-fried version." What planet are these people cooking on? Saying it doesn't make it so. This fish was inedible. I literally could not swallow my first bite. Don't worry, I didn't photograph the "after." Matt tried to truck through it, but he gave up after two bites. It was crispy, but it was also flavorless, and it somehow made the fish taste and smell extremely fishy, which is not something we've experienced cooking any of the other fillets. In no universe is this recipe even remotely similar to deep-fried fish.
Never again.
I'll give you the very brief synopsis, since it's not even worth talking about. Dredge the fish in flour, then an egg, horseradish, mayo, paprika, cayenne, and black pepper mixture, then in breadcrumbs. Place on a wire rack on a baking sheet, for all-around cooking, and stick it in the oven. Remove from oven and toss directly in the trash.

Conclusion: Obviously, hated it. Disgusting.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Back in the Game

Boy-o is improving. Turns out he did not have strep, but Hand, Mouth, Foot Disease, which is a gross virus. I'll leave it at that. Since he's feeling better, I was able to steal away and cook some recipes today. One was Caramelized Onion Dip (pg 41).

The America's Test Kitchen team devised a strategy for creating creamy dips, while cutting back on the fat and calories. They say that most dips rely on sour cream and/or mayo. Their solution is to blend lowfat cottage cheese with boiling water in a food processor to smooth it out, and then add a bit of lowfat sour cream.

I was skeptical as to how this would taste, and I'm still not sold on it. I made one fatal error that very much impacted the flavor of this dish. The scallions I expected to use had gone bad in the fridge, so I omitted them altogether. It turns out that one caramelized onion is no match for 1 cup of cottage cheese and 1 cup of sour cream (I used Greek yogurt, b/c I prefer it to sour cream.) The flavor of my lovely purple carrot overwhelmed the dip. It was an exceptionally flavorful carrot, but come on. What I wouldn't give for some scallions.
How often can you say that raw carrots are the tastiest food on your plate?
My biggest problem with this dip was the texture. On my finger, it was not creamy and velvety smooth, as promised, but quite gritty. However, when actually used as a dip, the texture was less noticeable. Matt dipped one pretzel into it, and immediately returned it to the fridge.

Conclusion: Just okay. I didn't enjoy what flavor was there enough to make it again with scallions. I'd consider re-examining this in a few years, when my wee one starts demanding snack foods.

Thai Red Curry with Chicken (343) came together easily enough. Poach chicken breasts in a mixture of red curry paste (I used panang, because I have it), coconut milk, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Shred the chicken, then cook red bell pepper, onions, and snap peas in the broth. Basil and lime juice top it off.
The flavor wasn't very complex or interesting. I asked Matt how he liked it, and he said, "I love Dorie's cookbook." Me too. I'm not very present in this cookbook. I find myself either wanting to return to Dorie or daydreaming about my next book, whatever it may be.

Conclusion: Just okay. Not very good, not very bad. This dish is like purgatory.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hubs: The Hero

Yesterday, my boy woke up with a 100.5 fever. El Doctor declares he has an ear infection, strep throat, and is teething (Still. Man, those are slow teeth.) I appear to have become a giant comfort cushion, so there has been no cooking.

Matt jumped in like a champ today by making our weekend bread and bagels, and he also made HFC's Whole Wheat Pizza Dough (pg. 381) for dinner.

It may have been a little too hot in my garage. I always let my pizza dough rise in there, but it's never done this before:
It's aliiiiiive!
This dough is awful. It's half whole wheat flour, half bread flour. The crust very much resembled drywall in color, texture, and flavor. Never again. We'll stick with Mark Bittman's recipe from How To Cook Everything instead. I don't need whole wheat so badly that I'd ruin a pizza for it.
Conclusion: Hated it. Absolutely hated it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I've Missed You, Dorie

I was very much looking forward to tonight's Cola and Jam Spareribs (pg 280) French Fridays With Dorie selection, though I was a little worried about selling Matt on them, because he's rightfully proud of his ribs. I don't know what's in his dry rub, but it's deliiiiicious.

I do know that Chinese Five Spice Powder is definitely not in Matt's dry rub. Dorie's recipe says to rub this spice and ginger powder into the ribs, and then rub an apricot jam and orange juice mixture on. Slow cook it, basting periodically. In the last half hour, pour Coke (or in my case, Pepsi, b/c I couldn't find a Coke in the store. What's up with that?) into the pan, and baste every five minutes.

The ribs looked gloriously browned and candied. They tasted good--the spices definitely stood up to the jam and Coke--but they looked better. It wasn't as sweet as I expected it to be. It reminded me of what you get when you order a ribs appetizer from a Chinese restaurant. I can't help but feel that something is lost when ribs are cooked in the oven instead of outside on the grill.
Conclusion: Liked it, but given the choice, I'd pick Matt's sweet/hot/savory dry rub over this recipe.

I Need to Open My Mind

I knew I'd be preparing Cola and Jam Spareribs for dinner tonight as part of French Fridays With Dorie, so I made HFC's Multigrain Pancakes With Blueberries (pg 32) for breakfast.

My pancake standards are exceptionally high. Matt makes the best pancakes ever, tweaking the recipe in How to Cook Everything. It was going to take a lot for these healthy pancakes to impress me.

The recipe sounded weird. The bulk of the flour is no-sugar-added muesli that's been buzzed for two minutes in the food processor. A bit of all purpose flour, a bit of whole wheat flour, and a bit of unprocessed muesli round it out. Because of all the grains, I expected these pancakes to be heavy and dense, but they weren't! They tasted nutty and slightly sweet (a little brown sugar in the batter), and they feel hearty and wholesome to eat. Two pancakes filled me up just enough, and they tasted so good on their own that I didn't even add syrup. WHAT??? That's never happened before. Charlie fought off my pancake-wielding hand until I actually got some in his mouth, and then his whole face lit up and he ate the entire pancake (and two eggs and four strawberries. Growth spurt??). I love watching him eat things that are so obviously good for him.
 Conclusion: Loved it. 

Pan-Roasted Broccoli (pg 127) accompanied the ribs. Again, I expected this to suck, and again, I was wrong. You brown broccoli florets in a teeny bit of oil, then add a few teaspoons of water, cover, and steam for two minutes. Off the heat, add more olive oil, lemon juice, chopped basil, salt and pepper. Sounds lame, but the singed brown bits were surprisingly tasty. Plus, this method is faster than boiling broccoli, which is my standard, so I'll probably do this often.
You are deceptively ordinary-looking, broccoli.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Molasses Spice Cookies and Skillet Tamale Pie

Gingerbread is on my short list of favorite things in the world to eat, so I decided to bake Molasses Spice Cookies (pg 437). My thought was that, even if they aren't the greatest molasses-centric cookies I've ever had, I'll probably still like them, since I'm perfectly happy eating molasses with a spoon, direct from the jar.

The size information in this recipe is wrong. The instructions say to roll 1 heaping tablespoon of dough at a time in the sugar. I rolled slightly mounded tablespoons-full. My yield was 10 cookies. I was supposed to get 18. I kept re-reading the instructions, thinking I'd confused a teaspoon with a tablespoon, but I didn't. Mine look enormous compared to the cookies pictured in the book. That's fine, but it would annoy me if I were counting calories, because my behemoths can't possibly be the same 100 calories as the dainty little cookies in their picture. 100 calories is a lot for one cookie, no?

Apart from the 1/3rd cup of whole wheat flour, I don't exactly see what the healthy elements are. And let's face it, 1/3rd cup of whole wheat flour is kind of negligible, nutritionally.

At first, I thought the sugar and fat seem to be smaller amounts than a standard cookie, until I realized that it only made ten cookies. It calls for 1/2 cup granulated, plus 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. For fat, it uses 6 tablespoons of butter and one egg yolk. Proportionally, my very unmathematical mind thinks it comes out to the same or more sugar and butter than any other cookie. This hypothesis is supported by a quick scan through my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, in which nearly every cookie recipe has significantly fewer calories than these do. Hmmm. Interesting.
Regardless of their health value, these cookies are delicious. They're crispy on the edges, chewy in the middle, are plenty spicy, and actually are a little sweeter than I personally need them to be. Next time I may not roll them in sugar at all.

Conclusion: Love them. I didn't expect to say that. ha!

Once I dropped my expectation that Skillet Tamale Pie (pg 290) should in any way resemble a tamale, dinner was actually decent. "Mild Chili With Cornbread" would be a more accurate name for this. I was a little disappointed, because I've recently become obsessed with tamales. The Navy moved us to Corpus Christi, TX, nearly a year ago. I would never choose to live here. It's close enough to Mexico that we can get some good tamales, though, and I'd really hoped that this dish would, in some way, evoke a tamale. It was not to be.

To make this, you throw chili powder, onion, red bell pepper, garlic, ground beef, black beans, and corn in an oven-safe skillet and cook them. Once they're done, you mix in some cheddar and cilantro (but I forgot to buy cilantro), then pour cornbread batter on top and bake it. Matt doused his in tabasco, but he ate it happily enough.
You can't fool me. You're not even in the tamale family.
Conclusion: I'm going to go so far as to say liked it. Shocker!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Easing In to HFC

Okay, so breakfast today was a freebie. I wasn't planning on using the Healthy Family Cookbook (hereafter referred to as HFC) to make breakfast, but figured I'd thumb through and see if I had the ingredients for anything on hand. I wound up making Classic Strawberry-Banana Smoothie (pg 38), which tastes exactly like any other strawberry banana smoothie you've ever had. I did end up adding some milk to loosen it up, because the recipe just calls for plain yogurt (I used greek, so that's probably why it was too thick), the fruit, a bit of sugar, and a pinch of salt.
I wish there was more to say about this smoothie.
Conclusion: Liked it. I mean, it is what it is. There are some other more interesting smoothie recipes in here that I'll try (Raspberry Lime Rickey, Creamsicle, etc), but I didn't have the ingredients today.

Dinner was Penne With Chicken, Asparagus, and Lemon (pg 185). This dish kept popping up in Amazon reviews, so I figured it was a good place to start. It was okay. I'm having a hard time deciding how to rate the dishes in this book. Do I rate them on a scale of how they compare to other diet food, or do I just rate them as food?? The book claims that it makes food healthy without losing anything in the process, so I'm inclined to just rate it as food. However, I expect that we're going to be seeing a lot of "Just okay"s.

Anyway, about the Penne. It was very lemony. Charlie's face squinched up when he tasted a piece of pasta. It was seasoned with fresh thyme, basil, leeks and garlic, and the sauce involved broth, white wine, flour to thicken it, lemon juice, lemon zest, and parmesan cheese. Nothing about it would ever make me say, "Hey, I'm really in the mood for that." Matt's very slow response, as he picked at it was, "It's...okaaay. I mean, it's fine. I guess. For health food."

I felt very unsatisfied after eating it and was immediately thinking about what I could have for dessert, which led me to realize that for the majority of the time that I was cooking from Around My French Table, I didn't crave dessert and didn't have it, except for the once in a while when I planned ahead of time to make something. I wonder why that is.

Blogger isn't letting me upload a picture of dinner, but I'm sure that whatever way you imagine a bowl of pasta, asparagus, and chicken to look will be pretty accurate.

I Bid Dorie Adieu, Sort of.

I've decided to cut my time with Around My French Table ten days short for a couple of reasons. One is budgetary. We're trying to cut back a bit, and whole pod spices and slabs of gruyere seem like a reasonable place to start. Another reason is that a bunch of the remaining recipes that I'm most interested in involve Fall-type seasonal produce (pumpkins, apples) or heavy beef stews. Besides that, though, I feel like I'm ready to move on. I know I love this cookbook. I've liked or loved 33 out of 47 of the recipes I've tried, which sound like pretty good stats to me. I will be cooking these recipes for the rest of my life. The purpose of this blog is to decide if the cookbooks I own are keepers or not, and this one is most definitely a keeper. I do still plan to participate in French Fridays With Dorie, so at least I know I'll have one Dorie meal a week, even as I cross my fingers and move on to...

The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook. God help me.

This book excited me when it came out. The Amazon reviews of it are phenomenal. From the way people talk, you'd think that the staff of ATK were culinary gods, churning out flawless masterpieces. I asked my brother for the book for Christmas, and spent the following afternoon reading through it on the couch. At the time, I was trying to lose my baby weight and thought it would be a good tool. I liked their claim that this is not a diet book, in the sense that it's low carb or low fat, etc, but that it makes beloved meals healthier, without compromising taste. Yeah, right.

The handful of meals that I cooked would have been totally and entirely flavorless if I hadn't quadrupled the amount of spices and improvised my own seasonings. Spices don't add calories. There is no reason that healthy food needs to taste like unseasoned ground turkey. In fairness, I was picking the lowest cal recipes I could find, which I won't be doing this time, so maybe that will make a difference. I sure hope so. I figured this was a good book to do next, because it's one that definitely has potential to be tossed.

As I change books, I've also decided to retool the amount of time I devote to each book. Two months turned out to be a strain, even with a book I enjoy. After my introductory run with Dorie, it's clear to me that one month is plenty of time to get a good handle on the value of a book, so one month it shall be from now on.

Wish me luck. I'm gonna need it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


I have a rocky history with quinoa. When I was about 13 years old, my mom put my entire family on the Atkins Diet. As a pain-in-the-ass teenager, I refused to eat pretty much anything she presented as "Atkins friendly." Quinoa was one of those things. Nearly 20 years later, I figured it was time for me to give quinoa a second chance.

Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Salad (pg 138) turns out to be good. A little nutty, a little crunchy. I thought the pumpkin seeds, almonds, dried cranberries, cherries, and raisins worked well with the grain, and the vinaigrette was just right as a background note.
I think I just like anything with dried fruit in it.
Conclusion: I liked it. Don't tell my mom. (In fairness, she simply boiled and served it, without any seasoning. If I were served that today, I probably still wouldn't like it.)

For dessert, I made Whole-Cherry Clafoutis (pg 452). I was alarmed when I read the instructions NOT to pit the cherries before baking them in an ambiguously puddingish/cake-ish batter. It sounded like it would be supremely annoying to have to chew around pits. Much to my surprise, it turned out not to be too great of an inconvenience, and it was a hell of a lot easier than having to pit all the cherries ahead of time. The cherries plump up as they bake and fall right off the pit in your mouth. It sort of tasted like a bread pudding with cherries in it. Yum!
I didn't expect the cherries to pop to the top like that. Neato.
Conclusion: Liked it a lot, and it was very easy to make. Score!

Chicken B'Stilla

Chicken B'Stilla (pg 222) is a lot of work, but that didn't bother me, because the instructions made it pretty clear that it would take hours. The sweet elements of this recipe intrigued me from the first time I scanned it, because I couldn't imagine how this lightly sweetened chicken would work. Usually, when chicken is sweet--bbq sauce, sweet and sour chicken, etc.--it's overwhelmingly sweet. This recipe seemed more subtle.

First, you marinate chicken thighs and onion with garlic, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, and saffron. The most time-consuming part of that was skinning the thighs. Then you just let the whole pot sit at room temp for an hour.

Add broth and boil it for an hour. No trouble there.

Once the chicken is falling off the bones, you shred it and make a sauce with the cooked-down broth by adding eggs and honey and whisking until it is thick. Mix the chicken and onions back into the sauce, and it's ready to go in the filo crust.

Ah, the filo crust. What a pain. I'm used to working with filo because I've made streudel with my mom since I was little, so I don't allow the inevitable tears and imperfection bother me. Still, I always feel like I'm holding my breath for the entire time that I'm handling the sheets. In a cake pan, you layer buttered sheets of filo to make a crust, add a layer of toasted almond, pour the chicken glop in, layer more almonds, and add a top filo crust. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Then you bake it for 40 minutes. So, even if you don't factor in the time it will take you to actually handle and prep the ingredients, this recipe takes a minimum of two hours, forty minutes.
Looking at it, you'd never guess that this took all day to make.
I enjoyed this dish. (Alleluia! There would have been a meltdown if I spent all day cooking it and it tasted like crap.) It wasn't too sweet, which was good. A heavy hand with the spices could have caused problems with this one,. The flavors were subtle, but present. Even Charlie ate some. He never eats chicken (or any meat, really). Matt shrugged and said it was just okay. I think part of the problem is that he got home from work late, so the filo was soggy instead of crispy by the time he ate it.

Conclusion: Liked it, though I'll probably never make it again, just because it's too much work not to result in mind-blowing deliciousness.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Losing Streak

Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans (pg 146) sound like they'd be right in my comfort zone. Pumpkin: gooood. Gorgonzola: goooood. Toasted nuts: goooood. Honey drizzle: goooood. I've read a couple of rave reviews of this recipe on other blogs, and I fully expected to love it. I figured it was a fool-proof pick-me-up after a week's worth of mediocre recipes. Much to my surprise, these flans fell flat.
The best I can figure, gorgonzola and the local honey I used are such strong flavors that complement each other so well that the pumpkin couldn't compete. Between the cream, three whole eggs, and two egg yolks, the pumpkin itself tasted too diluted. To see if Charlie would eat any, I cooked one ramekin with just the flan, omitting the cheese, nuts, and honey. Charlie didn't eat much of it, so I tried some. The pumpkin flavor was very weak, even without the accoutrement. It all but disappeared when paired with the cheese and honey. I don't know if all those eggs and cream are necessary to achieve the proper texture (which was nice), but I think I'd like this more if the pumpkin flavor were amped up a bit.

Conclusion: I hate to say it, but Dislike. Tonight's menu is Chicken B'stilla: marinated, shredded chicken cooked in a buttery, flaky filo crust. Can't go wrong...right?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I'd Never Make It As a Rabbit

Not one part of me was interested in cooking Warm Weather Vegetable Pot-au-feau (pg 378), and I never would have made it if it wasn't this week's French Friday's With Dorie selection. I was ever-so-slightly happier once I realized that what looked like a blob of yogurt or sour cream in the picture was actually a poached egg, but even that couldn't save the fact that it's sitting on a bowl of boiled onions, leeks, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, and spinach.

I tried to adjust my attitude as I was cooking it. Recipes have surprised me before, so I told myself that this one might only appear to be bland. Maybe that poached egg would transform this soup, like magic.

Not so. Part of the problem was that my egg yolks came out exactly how I hate them--neither runny nor hard, but in that confused semi-state. I set the stupid timer for three minutes, according to Dorie's instructions, but it never rang, so by the time I realized that three minutes must have passed, it was too late. Not only did I cringe at each bite of partly-solid yolk, but since it wasn't runny, it did not thicken the broth as I suppose it was meant to.

The conversation between Matt and myself went a little something like this:
Me: I don't like it. There are too many vegetables in this bowl.
Matt: That's sort of what I like about it.
Me: But it's bland.
Matt: It's okay. I wouldn't necessarily want it again, but it's okay.
Me: I'm still hungry. I need fourteen more eggs.

Conclusion: Indifferent. This left me grumpy and unsatisfied. It didn't taste bad, but it didn't taste particularly good. The eggy disappointment was my own fault, so I'm not factoring that in, because that would have tipped the scale into Dislike territory.