Thursday, September 29, 2011

FFwD: Deconstructed BLT and Eggs

You don't need me to tell you that a "BLT, hold the lettuce" is one of the greatest sandwiches ever invented. I have no problem with lettuce in moderation, but most diners pack six inches of iceberg onto a BLT, using up precious real estate that would better be served by tomatoes or mayo or baaaaaacon. Since I have no need for lettuce in my life, you can imagine my concern when I saw that this week's French Friday's with Dorie selection from Around My French Table was Deconstructed BLT with Eggs (pg 133). Dorie took one of my favorite meals in the world (especially when paired with a vanilla egg cream. Ohhhh baby!) and turned it into a salad. No holding the lettuce this time, I guess.

I gave myself an extra step by making Dorie's slow-roasted tomatoes this morning instead of buying sun-dried tomatoes. I considered making mayo, per Dorie's suggestion, but when I looked at her recipe and realized that it would only keep for a day or two, I decided against it, since I'd only be using a smidgen. Someday when I have better plans for it, I'll try making my own mayo.

The most inspired piece of this recipe is to brown cubes of country bread in the bacon grease left over from crisping up the bacon. Well, if I must.

I made myself eat the entire bag of arugula. The remainder would rot in the fridge, just like every other bag of lettuce I've ever bought, if I didn't finish it in one sitting. There's a lot of lettuce in a bag. I was definitely sick of this salad by the time I reached the end.

This was tasty, as far as salads go. The vinaigrette was the perfect tart counterpoint to the sweet  tomatoes and the bacon. The hard-boiled egg provided a nice contrasting texture. Heavy on the lettuce and light on the bacon and mayo, this salad was the exact opposite of what I like in a BLT. 

Conclusion: Liked it, but if I'm going to bother with bacon and mayo and bread, I'll stick with a sandwich (no lettuce.) I'd eat it again if I were looking for a way to force myself to eat a bag o' arugula.

I also played catch-up on one of the previously-covered FFwD recipes. I intended to make David Lebovitz's Maple-Walnut Pear Cake from Ready for Dessert to bring to my book club tonight, but then I remembered that one girl is allergic to nuts. Argh. I still had Salted Butter Break-ups (pg 400 of Around My French Table) on the brain after reading Rose's post on it the other day, so I copied her and threw it together. Rose said that they didn't keep well for more than a day, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to dispose of the whole thing in one go.

This is one giant cookie that you break up into pieces. I really hope the book club ladies don't think that I brought them a kitchen accident, because these win no points for presentation. Flavor-wise, though, they are buttery deeeelicious, with a salty side-note. They remind me of Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies. Next time, I'll roll the dough thinner, because the crispy brown parts are the best. I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing (after all, it was only one cookie, right?).

Conclusion: Loved it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

365: No Repeats: Beef Fajita Burgers with Seared Peppers and Onions

Yay! I finally found a recipe that Matt--dare I say it?--liked! Beef Fajita Burgers with Seared Peppers and Onions (pg 25) was a nice twist on a standard burger. The burgers are seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, cumin, thyme, hot sauce, and grill seasoning, then topped with a sauteed mixture of red and green bell peppers, onions, jalapeno, and tomatillo salsa.
A tasty mess.
Matt's only complaint was that the burgers were somewhat overcooked. That was my bad. I cooked them as long as RR instructed, then decided to add cheddar. I cut it too thick to melt quickly. Oh well. My only complaint is that the pepper glop absolutely would not stay on the burger. Oh well again.

Conclusion: Liked it. Spicy, with lots of flavor and lots of veg. And it was easy, so I'm sure I'll be making it again and again. It's nice to have something to contribute, burger-wise. Matt is usually the burger-meister of the house.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

365: No Repeats: Oregon-Style Pork Chops, etc.

I have absolutely no interest in Twitter, and the extent of my knowledge of it is that each tweet can only be 140 characters. I would be unable to tweet the full name of the recipe I cooked for tonight's dinner. It's 16 characters too long. (Do spaces count? If space count, this comes to 181 characters). It is--ahem-- Oregon-Style Pork Chops with Pinot Noir and Cranberries; Oregon Hash with Wild Mushrooms, Greens, Beets, Hazelnuts, and Blue Cheese; Charred Whole-Grain Bread with Butter and Chives (pg 14). Good lord. Is it really necessary to list every ingredient in the title??
There was way too much going on here. All the flavors zeroed each other out. This really didn't taste like much. Odd. 

Conclusion: Just okay. I wouldn't bother making this one again, especially since I used every pan we own. Though it is an antioxidant powerhouse, between the beets and the kale.

Dessert was Creamy Rice Pudding (pg 138 of Ready for Dessert). You know how people had to stop throwing rice at weddings because pigeons would overeat the dry rice and then die when it expanded in their stomachs? I feel like one of those pigeons. It huuuuuuurts. 
Rum raisins, why have you betrayed me?
Hot out of the pan, this pudding was perfect. Hours later, it had hardened into a concrete block. It's made with arborio rice and slow cooked in milk, sugar, and a vanilla pod and bean. They always say you need to eat risotto as soon as it's done. Lebovitz should have said the same for this. Granted, he does advise to add more milk and warm it up again if it gets too thick. I didn't realize how dense it would be until after I was finished.

Conclusion: The vanilla flavor was lovely, and I liked how each piece of rice retained its own chewy identity. Compiled with the density, though, it was way too heavy. Matt said, "This is the best rice pudding gum I ever had." Sounds just about right. I'm going to have to give this a Just Okay.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ready for Dessert: Apple-Frangipane Galette

Saturday, some friends came over for a German feast. That's my favorite kind of feast, because it means Matt's doing the cooking. Ha! I was tempted to make my Mom's apple strudel recipe, but I didn't feel like putzing about with filo dough, so I picked the Apple-Frangipane Galette recipe from Ready For Dessert instead. It seemed like it shared strudel's spirit.

This was a three part recipe, but it was still easy to make. The galette dough only has to chill for a half hour, so by the time I was done preparing the frangipane (which is almond paste processed with an egg, almond extract, rum, butter, and a few other things until it's as creamy as possible) and peeling and slicing the apples, I could move right into rolling out the dough.

Roll the dough into a big circle, spread the frangipane on top, dump the apples on in an even layer, leaving a border of crust to fold up over the apples, then sprinkle the whole shebang with sugar. I must have had a crack in my crust somewhere, because a giant pool of precious frangipane leaked out. I'd assumed apple juices had overflowed, so I was aggravated to discover it was my delicious almond paste.

I order you to get back in your crust, frangipane!!
I'd hoped that there would be a stronger interplay between the almond and apple flavors. It's possible that it lost some oomph by leaking a puddle of paste onto the baking sheet, but the almond flavor was very subtle. In one way, it's a compliment, because it really allowed the flavor of the apples to shine through, with nothing to season them except sugar. Part of me missed the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, but I kept telling myself that this was not an apple pie, and I shouldn't compare the two. Still, given the choice, I think I'd rather eat a pie.

Also, the crust was kind of doughy. It didn't crisp up or turn flaky. Bummer.

Conclusion: Liked it.

It's a testament to the quality of Lebovitz's recipes that my standards have gotten so high that I'm complaining about this at all. This galette was not my favorite recipe in the book, but it was still pretty good. In the interest of clearing out the fridge, I had to finish the last slice just now. I twisted my own arm.

We're trying to eat our way through a mountain of leftovers, so I won't cook a new RR recipe until at least tomorrow. I forgot that her measurements create enough food to feed a battalion. I'll need to halve them from now on.

Friday, September 23, 2011

365: No Repeats: Mac-n-Cheddar with Broccoli, and Turkey Cutlet Parmigiano, etc.

I cooked Mac-n-Cheddar with Broccoli (pg 4) for dinner last night because I was certain that Charlie would eat it. I was wrong, but it seemed like a sure thing. He likes cheese. He likes pasta. He likes broccoli. He approached this meal with the same sneer that Matt did. It was odd to see on a 1.5 year old. With each lick of the pasta, Charlie looked a little happier, until finally, he seemed to actually be enjoying it. He only ate four pieces of pasta, though, so I don't think that counts.
I asked Matt how he liked it. He shrugged and said "It's mac and cheese." I said, "Yeah, but it's pretty good, right?" He said, "It's not like it's exactly hard to make mac and cheese taste good." Then he asked where the meat was. (He was teasing).

I'd like to note that he went back for seconds. For my part, I thought this was a fine version of mac and cheese. It was more of a cheesy sauce poured onto pasta than a baked type of dish, but it was good. Creamy, some mustard, chili powder, and paprika for kick. Tasted good to me.

This took 38 minutes to cook. Not too far off.

Conclusion: Liked it, even if no one else did. Best mac and cheese ever? No, but it's a perfectly respectable version.

Tonight, I made Turkey Cutlet Parmigiano with Warm, Fresh Grape Tomato Topping, Pesto, and Mozzarella (pg 51). The cutlet preparation was pretty standard: coat in flour, dip in egg, coat in a mixture of breadcrumbs, a load of parmigiano-reggiano (that's another thing I hate to hear her say on tv), and chopped parsley, then cook until it's all golden and crunchy in olive oil.

The thing that I thought made this better--a lot better--than my normal chicken parmesan is the tomato topping. Instead of just using sauce, like I usually do, this has you cook an onion, then add grape tomatoes and white wine and cook it down until the wine has reduced and the tomatoes pop.

There was a smear of pesto on there, too. She says to use store-bought, but I made some myself before I started the clock.
I didn't really notice the pesto, so I wouldn't go out of my way to include it in the future. I lo-o-oved that tomato topping, and using all that cheese in the breading, though. It beats a jar of sauce any day.

Matt thought the breading was missing something. Couldn't say what. I think he's full of it, because apart from adding more cheese than I usually do, and using turkey instead of chicken, this was exactly how I always make breadbrumbed chicken. This is going to be a tough month, in that I expect Matt to be unpleasable. Sigh.

This took me 48 minutes to cook.

Conclusion: I loved it. Again, I note that Matt ate seconds, despite dismissing it. Charlie wanted nothing to do with it. Nothing can compare with the new super-nutritious love of his life: Ritz crackers.

Up Next: Rachael Ray's 365: No Repeats

I have a dirty little secret to confess. I understand that I may lose all credibility and you may abandon me forever, and I won't blame you. Unless you're Matt, and then I will blame you. What I'm about to say is forbidden among all foodie-minded people, and Anthony Bourdain (who I adore) would string me up, no questions asked. Okay. Here goes nothing. Ahem.

I do not hate Rachael Ray. In fact, I kind of like her. And by "her," I don't really mean Rachael, the personality. She can be pretty annoying, and the cutesy-cutesy abbreviation stuff is more than I can bear. When I say I like "her," I mean her food.

I'll give you a moment to collect yourself.

I'm aware that a person can't churn out new recipes at breakneck pace without repeating herself or concocting strange things that don't taste good, but in my memory, most of the recipes I've tried have worked. Mind-blowing? No. But they're good, solid, different meals. Rachael is not afraid of spice, which is not always the case in the Food Network universe. I don't think I've ever called one of her recipes bland. They've had other problems, but bland wasn't one of them. I appreciate that she doesn't pretend to be a chef. I thought her handling of the whole hyped-up "feud" with Martha Stewart was pretty classy. She seems grateful for her success, and it's fun to see someone having fun, even if I have to control the urge to punch the tv when she says "Yum-o."

That said, this was the first cookbook I bought myself after college, and I haven't used it much since those first few years on my own. My tastes and abilities in the kitchen have improved a lot over the past ten years, so I'm curious to see if I still enjoy these recipes as much as I did before I had any clue what I was doing. 

Experimentation upon Matt over the years has shown that he likes her recipes when he doesn't know they're from Rachael Ray, and hates them when he does know where they came from. This should be interesting. He got home from work last night, saw the book laying on the table, and moaned, "Noooo, PLEASE don't tell me you're doing this next." Sorry, my love. I am. And you are too. hee hee.

I own two of Rachael Ray's cookbooks, so get used to the idea of seeing her again at some point in the future. I'll give it a while in between. This round, I'll explore 365: No Repeats.
Now, my complaints about this book:

The format is awful. It often provides a "master recipe", and then swaps/adds ingredients to give  a very different take on the same dish. I like the idea, but, the times I've tried to cook from the variations, it's been very difficult to follow along, because the whole recipe is not re-printed with new instructions. She just tells you what to add, swap, and omit, and includes additional instructions on the side. Trying to edit the master recipe as I'm cooking does not work for me, especially when the variation's instructions are on a different page from the master recipe. Who can keep track of that??

The book has no organization. At all. I guess the idea is that you could cook your way through it in order for 365 days and have 365 totally different meals on the table. The recipes also have long, "cute" titles that would make it extremely difficult to find a recipe that you wanted to cook again without going through the whole book page by page.

It's ludicrous that Rachael says she can't post nutritional info in her cookbooks because she doesn't measure when she cooks. Well, that's fine, but written recipes include measurements, so base it off that or just fess up to the truth, which I'm guessing is that she's afraid for people to know the nutritional breakdown of her meals. I've heard her claim to cook a healthy Mediterranean diet. She and I must have very different ideas of what that means. I always laugh on her show when she says to use 2 tablespoons of oil, and then coats the entire pan.

My only other comment is that I never EVER get food on the table in only thirty minutes. Maybe I'm a slow chopper. I consider these to be 45-60 minutes meals. Just for kicks, I'll time how long it takes me to get this food on the table, since that is Rachael's whole shtick.

Whew! That was a lot of complaining. Sorry--just felt all that stuff should be addressed. Now that that's out of my system, I do still believe that there is a place for Rachael's type of cooking in my life. She provides a big variety of tasty, quick meals at affordable prices, and for that, I applaud her.

I also have an ulterior motive, which is that I'm hoping that some of these homestyle type of cheesy, comfort-food meals will appeal to Charlie. I won't hold my breath.

Now, let's put her to the test...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

FFwD: Honey-Spiced Madeleines

Would a madeleine by any other shape taste as sweet?

A few weeks ago, I asked if we needed to buy a special pan to make madeleines, or if a cupcake tray would do. I kind of expected a cut and dry consensus one way or the other, but it turned out that people had pretty strong opinions on the matter, arguing for each side.

More curious than ever, I decided to buy a madeleine pan and stage my own experiment, baking some in the madeleine pan and some in a cupcake try, to see what the difference was.
The contenders enter the ring.
I hate to say this, because part of me really hoped that there would be some impressive difference between the two (if for no reason other than to justify the space the pan is now occupying in my too-cluttered cabinet), but there wasn't.

The texture of each was identical. At their thickest point, they were basically the same size. I'd read somewhere that the madeleine tray's purpose was to make the thinner ends crisp up a bit. That sounded like a reasonable justification for it to me, but it turned out that the sides of the cupcake-shaped ones were equally crisp. I thought maybe the ridges on the madeleine tray would crisp as well, but they didn't.

As far as I'm concerned, the difference is purely aesthetic, well-established tradition or not.
Playing with my food.
Now, on to the recipe itself. I feel like Honey-Spiced Madeleines (pg 408) is a misnomer for the end result. Maybe I zested a particularly pungent orange, but it overwhelmed any other flavor. Orange should have been in the title somewhere. I couldn't taste ginger, cinnamon, cloves, or honey. Unfortunately, though I like the fruit, orange is my least favorite flavor in baked goods. Because of the title, I expected it to be a back-note, but it wasn't. If I'd known that, I would have tried the recipe for Classic Madeleines that Dorie provides in the sidebar instead. I may yet.

Conclusion: Just okay. I tried them on their own and dunked in coffee, and did not enjoy the cloying orange flavor either way. Charlie likes them, though.

Hawai'i Cuisine: Wrapping Up

Quite unexpectedly, I find myself out of options in Hawai'i Cuisine. It's a fairly small book to begin with, containing only five or six recipes per chapter, and when I omit the recipes for raw fish (I don't trust what's available here), and the recipes that include ingredients that are not easily accessible (ti leaves, entire ducks, veal shank) I seem to have covered most of it. There is a beef stew recipe, but I can't bring myself to make it in this heat. I'm generally not wild about stews anyway, so I'm not itching to make this one. Looking back, I realize that none of the recipes in the book involve Spam. Bummer.

This book was fun, despite its technical problems. Many recipes had little (and sometimes big) glitches that make me think the book was not well tested. Despite the problems, most of the food was good, and the dishes that I loved, I REALLY loved. Standouts were the Sweet and Sour Pork, the Moloka'i Shrimp Spinach Salad, and the Oriental Lamb Chops. The only thing I couldn't eat was that crusted ono. If I were ever in Chef Choy's restaurant, I would order this, just to see what it's supposed to taste like. I have a hunch that the epic failure I served was the result of a poorly written recipe, not a bad concept.

I say this book is a keeper. I don't see it as a book I'll cook from frequently, but there are a few recipes that I'll happily make again when I'm tired of the same old flavors. The Chinese food is awful where I live, so that Sweet and Sour Pork alone earns Hawai'i Cuisine a permanent spot on my shelf. Huzzah!

Hawai'i Cuisine: Shrimp Curry with Coconut Milk and Sugar Snap Peas

Shrimp Curry with Coconut Milk and Sugar Snap Peas (pg 77) was rich. Too rich. As in, it made me feel sick once the food had a few minutes to settle in my belly. With lots of heavy cream, a bit of coconut milk, and a good amount of butter and oil, it wasn't really a surprise, but it was an unpleasant side effect.
I always think of curries as packing a lot of flavor. This one didn't, even though I doubled the curry powder. Maybe all that cream washed it out. The only spices are curry powder, fresh ginger, salt, pepper, and sugar. Chef Choy sure does like to use sugar in savory dishes. I've never cooked so many dinners that involved sugar before.

One problem in the instructions is that he has you make a roux. He says to stir the flour in the melted butter for five minutes. Unless I was supposed to turn the heat way down, which he did not say to do, I don't see how this is possible. After a minute and a half, mine was dark brown and started to smell burned. I suspect that the "stir for five minutes" instruction should have followed the next step, which was to add the fluids and stir constantly until smooth and thick. It was a lot of fluid, and it took about five minutes to cook down. 

Conclusion: Just okay. For me, this one was pretty unmemorable, apart from the discomfort. I can't decide whether to call it Charlie Approved or not. My strange little man enjoyed the sauce straight from the wooden spoon I'd used for stirring, but wanted nothing to do with it once I dared mix it into his rice, nor would he touch the shrimp or peas.
So picky! I guess I won't label it as Charlie Approved since he didn't really eat anything of substance. Grrr. What a noodge. At least he's a cute noodge.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Few Good Ones

I've been too busy jumping in circles at the news that I'm moving to Naples to stop and blog. My calves will look awesome by the time I calm down. I've managed to stand still long enough to cook a few things, so I'll play a quick catch-up now.

Sam Choy's Southpoint Chowder (pg 16 of Hawai'i Cuisine) was everything you'd want a seafood chowder to be: creamy, stuffed with critters (mussels, tilapia, shrimp, scallops, and bacon), and with the right amount of starch--in this case, white potato, sweet potato, and corn--to get just a bit with every bite of fish. This chowder perfectly balanced the sweet flavors with the fishy.
Conclusion: Loved it. Simple to make (since I used store-bought fish stock, instead of making my own), delicious, and filling. Oh, and it's Charlie-approved. For unknown reasons, he now refuses to eat shrimp, which he used to inhale, but through this dish, we discovered that he likes bay scallops. Score!

Sweet and Sour Pineapple Pork (pg 48) blew every Chinese take-out version of this clear out of the water. The difference is that, although it's sweet, it's not just sweet. I never taste a sour element when I order this. Homemade, it was sweet, sour, fruity, a touch spicy, and ginger and garlic lurked in background. Also, the pork was rolled in corn starch instead of being drowned in batter, which made it crisp and meaty, rather than doughy.
I used many dishes and it took a lot of prep work, but it was well worth the effort. I marinated, then deep fried the pork. While the pork marinated, I made sweet and sour sauce with a whole hodge-podge of ingredients. I knew vinegar and pineapple juice would be used, but there were several ingredients that surprised me, including ketchup, orange marmalade, and hot sauce. Wacky. Something tells me this is not a traditional Chinese dish, despite it's popularity in the States. Ha! I added the sauce and the pork to sauteed vegetables, and had found my new favorite way to cure a Chinese food craving.

Conclusion: Loved it. I'll never order sweet and sour pork again.

My friend and I made plans for Saturday to watch Jane Eyre and whine about how much we hate Corpus Christi (despite my exciting next home, I still have to suffer another year here, and my friend will be here even longer. Blah.) Cheesecake Brownies (pg 195 of Ready For Dessert) seemed like a perfectly self-indulgent, woe-is-me kind of treat. They're exactly what they sound like: brownies topped with cheesecake.
A little bit of this brownie goes a looong way.
At room temperature or slightly cool, I would prefer to either have a brownie or cheesecake. The flavors and textures didn't really seem to gel. However, yesterday I froze the remaining brownies for some future dessert, per Lebovitz's suggestion. That future dessert came a few hours later, when I ate one straight from the freezer. The brownie and the cheesecake had frozen to the same chewy consistency. Fresh, the cheesecake was kind of light and airy, and didn't really stand up to the dense brownie. Frozen, they were equals.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hawai'i Cuisine: Chicken Salad Chinese-Style with "Dabest" Sauce

I love those wacky Hawaiians and their "da"s. I also love Sam Choy and his salads. Now, I'm not a salad girl, but he makes salads just the way I like them, with everything he can think of thrown into one bowl. Chicken Salad Chinese-Style with "Dabest" Sauce (pg 22) was another winner.
The salad is a crunchy mix of lettuce, napa cabbage, cucumber, celery, green pepper, carrots, chicken, shrimp, and fried wonton strips. The sauce is made up of sugar (big surprise), rice vinegar, oil, ginger, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and green onions.

There is so much going on in this bowl that my mouth didn't get bored, which is always the danger I face when eating salads. My only complaint is that the shrimp would have been better if they were sauteed in garlic, instead of simply being boiled.

Conclusion: Liked it. Crunchy and sweet.

I was feeling a little celebratey, because, oh, we just found out we're MOVING TO ITALY next summer. YA-HA-HA-HOOOOOEEEY!! Thank you, US Navy!! Anyway, I wanted to make some dessert without running to the store. Peaches in Red Wine (pg 109) from Ready for Dessert sounded elegant and fun. Plus, it was simple. Dissolve sugar in red wine. Add peaches (or, in my case, nectarines). Chill for a few hours.
David Lebovitz owes me a bottle of red.
I really thought this would be good. It tasted like cough syrup. What a waste of decent wine and juicy nectarines. We couldn't eat it. It was that bad. Sugar in wine, left to sit, is a bad idea. Bad. Bad, bad, bad. That's okay, though, because moving to Italy is good, good, good. YEEEEE!!!

Conclusion: Hated it. It had to happen eventually.

FFwD: Cinnamon-Crunch Chicken

As I mentioned when I made speculoos earlier this week, the French Fridays with Dorie selection for this week is the mutant child of chicken, creme fraiche, and cookies. Assuming that you already have speculoos on hand, Cinnamon-Crunch Chicken (pg 220 of Around My French Table) is super easy to make.

Before I really read the recipe, I expected the chicken to be battered by the cookies, but that's not the case. You cook chicken strips, and when they're just about done, add a mixture of creme fraiche, two crumbled cookies, salt and pepper. Let it boil for a minute. That's it.

Dorie says that store-bought speculoos are preferable for this recipe, and I suspect that relates to the "crunch" element. After a few days in a tin, my homemade cookies had softened up and lost their crunch. I re-baked them for a few minutes before I started cooking to try to crisp them up, but it didn't really work. I burned the first set I tried this on, so I'm sure I took them out too soon the second time. There was nothing crunchy about my chicken. No big deal, though.
This chicken was insane and delicious and kind of difficult to describe. Happily, it it didn't taste like cookies. The tartness of the creme fraiche balanced the cookies so that the cinnamon and ginger flavors came through, but the sweetness didn't. Cinnamon-Crunch Chicken is like a lazy man's version of Chicken B'stilla. Same sort of flavors, 1/100th of the hassle.

Matt said, "It tastes Asian-ish, but the cream makes it French-ish." Vague as that statement is, it seemed pretty accurate to me.

Conclusion: Liked it. We both thought this chicken was really weird, but really good. I wouldn't go out of my way to bake speculoos just for this recipe, but if I happened to have some in the house, I'd definitely make this chicken again.

Per Dorie's suggestion, I paired the chicken Lemon-Steamed Spinach (pg 331). Mix oil, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and a bit of nutmeg with the raw spinach, then steam it. This was fine, but nothing special. I'll stick with my norm of sauteeing spinach with oil and garlic.

Conclusion: Just okay.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hawai'i Cuisine: Steamed Clams with Ginger Pesto Butter

Technically, Steamed Clams with Ginger Pesto Butter (pg 7) is supposed to be an appetizer. I decided to play with it and turn it into a full meal. That was a mistake. Don't get me wrong, this was still tasty. I'm certain it would be better without my meddling, though.

The original recipe has you make a "pesto" out of a load of ginger, a load of garlic, cilantro, green onion, butter and olive oil. This packs some kick. A spoonful will clear your sinuses right out. (Heeeere, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. I've got something for you.)

As for the clams, I'm not totally clear on what the finished product is supposed to be. The directions say:
"Place clams, onions, garlic, and chicken stock in a small pot. Steam for 1 minute."Just so I'm clear, clams in 3 cups of stock would be boiled, not steamed, right? Add shiitake mushrooms, mustard cabbage (I used napa, which I'm sure is nothing like whatever mustard cabbage is), onion, and green onion to the broth and cook for 3 more minutes. Then, "Divide clams into 4 serving bowls. Dollop each serving with 1 tablespoon of Ginger Pesto Butter." I took that to mean that all that vegetable matter was just a broth-flavoring agent and is left behind in the pot. Yes? No?

That seemed like a waste of a decent pile of produce to me. On the other hand, if you are supposed to eat the veg, there has to be a better way than to boil it.

My not-so-brilliant solution was to boil the clams, some onion and garlic in the stock for the full amount of time, without adding the veg. I stir-fried the cabbage, onions, and mushrooms in oil and a generous spoonful of the pesto butter. Once everything had cooked down, I threw some cooked pasta in and topped with the clams, some broth, and another small dollop of pesto.

In my head, that should have created a decent meal. In reality, all that bulk diluted the pesto too much. It lost its kick. My bad.

Conclusion: Liked it as (I think) it was supposed to be. Not so great with my tweaks.

This book suffers from a case of unclear instructions. Chef Choy would benefit from an editor and a test group to give his recipes a dry run before they're published.

Monday, September 12, 2011

FFwD Rewind: Speculoos

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is Cinnamon-Crunch Chicken, which appears to be some unholy union of speculoos (cinnamon cookies), creme fraiche, and chicken. I'll get to that later in the week. Since I couldn't find speculoos in the store, and it's a recipe from Around My French Table that the group baked last year, now seemed as good a time as any to catch up on the recipe (pg 406).

The dough came together in a snap. It's a standard case of mixing the dry (seasoned with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves) and wet ingredients separately, and then mixing the two together. Roll out the dough in two sheets and refrigerate for three hours. The most laborious part is trying to work quickly with the cursed cookie cutters. I hate making cut-out cookies. I don't move through the kitchen in smooth, steady, efficient movements, so my cut-outs end up misshapen, with many trips back and forth to re-cool in the fridge.

For me, these are not delicious enough to be worth the pain in the butt nature of handling cut-out cookies. I'd happily eat a plateful if someone else baked and served them to me with coffee, though.

Dorie proposes all sorts of ideas for these cookies. She says they work as sandwich cookies, filled with jelly or nutella or chocolate ganache. Oh, baby, those all sound good to me. I made a few with apricot jelly. Yum. They're better with the jelly than they are on their own.

Conclusion: Liked it, but not so much that I'd choose to make them over other cinnamon-ey treats.

I hope to return to Hawaii tomorrow. We all spent the weekend strewn about on couches, suffering colds in the petri dish known as my house. Blech. Fingers crossed that Charlie feels mostly better tomorrow, so a) I can go to the supermarket b) I don't have to watch Finding Nemo over and over and over and over again. I'm on the upswing (I was the first to get sick), but my fellas are still in sorry shape.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Choy Bomb

I would like to think that something went terribly, terribly wrong with the way I prepared last night's dinner of Crusted Ono as Featured at Sam Choy's Restaurants (pg 64)--yes, that is the full name--but I think it's just a poorly written recipe. This is one that I've had my eye on from the beginning, so I'm disappointed that it turned out to be inedible.

First, marinate ono (wahoo) fillets in olive oil, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper. It doesn't say for how long. I did it for about 30 minutes. So far, so good. Wahoo was not available (big surprise), so I used mahi mahi, which, I assume, is cut much thicker, as I had to double the specified time to cook it through. That wasn't what went wrong, though.

Mash together a butt-load of butter, Ritz cracker crumbs, chopped macadamia nuts, paprika, and fresh basil and thyme and pat it on top of the fish. Using the correct amounts of everything, this created a VERY thick layer of "crust." I put crust in quotation marks, because I think of crusts as crunchy. This was a soggy, salty, soft mess, and left the fish sitting in a pool of grease. The picture in the book shows a thin layer, as if the fish were lightly coated, which is not the effect that the instructions produced. We couldn't eat it.
How can such a delicious line-up of ingredients create such a monstrosity?
The little intro to the recipe says that it's one of Chef Choy's bestsellers, and "it has a kind of reputation, but it works." What reputation does it have? Beats me. I tried to google it, and came up empty. (Any local input, Pauline??) 

Conclusion: Hated it. The picture in the book looks really good, though.

This is served with a Papaya-Mango Salsa, which was actually very good. I was worried, because I always think I'm going to like papaya, but I never do. Mixed in with mango, red pepper, red onion, cilantro, chili flakes, vinegar, cumin, and sugar (I only used 1/3rd of the sugar), there was enough going on that I couldn't distinguish it.

I ate cereal and papaya-mango salsa for dinner. Booooo!

Conclusion: Liked it.

To use up some buttermilk that I had laying around, I made Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote (pg 135) from Ready for Dessert. I have to say, I did not love this. I've only had panna cotta once before at Salumeria Rossi in NYC (WONDERFUL charcuterie. Go there if you're ever in the city). I remember it being light and soft. This version was the solid consistency of jello. It had a nice flavor, as the half-and-half is steeped with lemon zest and cinnamon sticks, but I didn't enjoy the texture.
Conclusion: Just okay.

We planned to have friends over for brunch this morning, but I caught a cold and then gave it to Charlie, so we rescheduled. I'd already made Blackberry-Brown Butter Financiers (pg 108) to serve alongside the bagels I planned to make, so obviously we needed to eat them anyway, with or without company.
I've never had a financier before, but they are a not-so-sweet almond cake with blackberries in the top. Traditionally, they are baked in small rectangular pans to resemble gold bars, but Lebovitz adapted the recipe for cupcake pans. Once again, this made fewer servings than he says they will, but in this instance, I blame myself. I filled the pan like I would for cupcakes, so only got 9 instead of 12 cakes. Oh well. No harm done. I have four egg yolks to find a use for. What's that you say, David? Your flan needs four yolks? Well, if I must

Conclusion: Loved them. I would eat these instead of a muffin any day of the week. They're perfect with a cup of coffee.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

FFwD: Creamy, Cheesy, Garlicky Rice with Spinach

This week's French Fridays with Dorie selection was Creamy, Cheesy, Garlicky Rice with Spinach (pg 380), which I'd already cooked once on my own back in May. The first time, I was not impressed. What I wound up with was a dense carb-brick that tasted stale and flat. To be a sport, I wanted to try it again, and see if I could do better.

Right away, I knew I wanted to use gruyere. I believe I used Swiss last time. I was trying to cut back on my grocery bills, and Dorie included Swiss in her list of suggested cheeses, so I thought it would be fine. I suspect it was a major contributor to the stale flavor.

I used the max suggested broth to cook the rice, since last time it was too solid. To brighten up the flavor, I took myself up on my own suggestion to include lemon zest (cooked with extra garlic and onions), and I squeezed the lemon juice into the rice right before serving. I liked the idea in Dorie's sidebar to stuff red peppers with the rice, but didn't have the patience to cook the whole shebang for an additional 45 minutes. Instead, I roasted red peppers on their own in just a few minutes, and plopped the rice on top of them. Much easier.

haha that looks like cottage cheese.
I don't know which of the changes magically turned this dish around for me, but the sum of it all is that this time, it was great! Matt thinks it should be a side dish instead of a main dish (he has that whole fixation with needing meat to feel satisfied at dinner), but he liked it too. Charlie refused to try it. He spotted the spinach. Dammit! I'm 100% sure he'd like it if he tasted it.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hawaiian Cuisine: Chicken and Coconut Milk

I hesitated for the briefest of seconds when I read the recipe for Chicken and Coconut Milk (pg 54), because I couldn't imagine how the five ingredients listed--chicken breast, coconut milk, chicken broth, spinach, and salt--could possibly amount to much. Lured by the fact that I already had all the ingredients and wouldn't have to run to the store, I forged ahead with it anyway. After all, the teeny intro says "This is a quick Hawaiian favorite that can look as if you cooked all day." Yeah, right. Nice one, Chef Choy. You got me. I should have listened to my gut.
This wasn't awful, but it's nothing I would make again. It basically tastes like chicken soup. Bland chicken soup, with no carrots or onions. All you do is simmer chunked chicken breast in the broth and coconut milk, for about an hour, then add the spinach and some salt. I expected the liquid to simmer down to a thicker sauce, but it didn't.

Conclusion: Just okay. We ate our portions, but neither of us went back for seconds.

I have much higher hopes for the next few days, because I've got my eye on several seafood recipes, which, presumably, would be Hawaiian cooking's strong suit. We shall see!

Monday, September 5, 2011

FFwD Rewind: Pancetta Green Beans

I hate cooked green beans. They are my most despised vegetable. Raw, they're fine, but cooked, the way they squeak on my teeth skeeves me out. I want to say that outright, because my distaste for Pancetta Green Beans (pg 333) should really bear no weight.
This tastes like bacon on green beans. If you like those two things, dandy. Matt liked it. I don't have much else to say about it. I saw some green beans at the farmer's market, so figured I'd give it a shot, in the spirit of ticking off all the FFwD recipes I missed. Ah, well.

Conclusion: Disliked, but it would have taken a miracle for me to enjoy green beans.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Round-up

I've made a few things in the past two days.

For Friday's dinner, I made Hawaiian Pulehu Tri-Tip Steak (pg 46) and Black Goma Asparagus (pg 86). I think the steak is a big gimmick. It appeals to a tourist's notions of exotic cooking, but isn't actually a good way to make a steak.

First, you cake a tri-tip steak with a mixture of garlic, pepper, sugar, and sea salt. Like, A LOT of sea salt.
 Let it sit for half hour and go light up the BBQ. The thing that makes this steak unique is that you lay it directly on the coals and flip it every four minutes. Chef Choy says it will be "crusty on the outside and rare on the inside." What he means is it will be charred on the outside and raw on the inside, except for the ends, which will cook through and be dry as boards.

The biggest problem is that the recommended cut of beef is not the same width all the way through. This would work better with a london broil or something that is flat and even.

Because it was soooo rare, and I don't think tri-tip is a particularly tender cut to begin with (or at least this one wasn't), it was too chewy for me. I prefer to focus on the pleasures, rather than the mechanics, of eating, and that was very hard to do here.
The meat looks like it's cooked to a medium here, but trust me. It was still chilly in the middle.
On the plus side, I expected this to be a salt-bomb, and it wasn't. Maybe a lot of the salt burned off or was transferred to the coals?

Conclusion: Dislike. On a different cut of meat, cooked a more even, reliable way, the salt rub would have been good, but that wasn't the recipe. It takes a lot for me not to finish my steak, and I left most of it on my plate.

I wish I could say that the Black Goma Asparagus was better, but it's really just asparagus with soy sauce on it. Add a bit of ginger, a bit of sugar, and black sesame seeds (I used white), but all you taste is soy sauce. Plus, a certain toddler who shall remain nameless distracted me while I was cooking them, so they were mushy.

Conclusion: Just okay.

Now, on to brighter pastures!!

Last night, I made Moloka'i Shrimp Spinach Salad. It had many components, which started to annoy me as time passed and my kitchen sink filled to the brim with dishes, but it was worth it.

Marinate shrimp in a brown sugar/soy sauce/red pepper flake mixture with a bunch of spices thrown in.

Toss spinach with a sweet, warm balsamic vinaigrette, then top with the shrimp, sliced roasted red pepper, boiled eggs, and minced macadamia nuts. The vinaigrette was supposed to have 1/2 cup (!!!) of pine nuts in it, but I must have used up what I had last time I made pesto. I didn't miss them.
This salad was slightly too spicy for me. I think I have a sensitivity to red pepper flakes, as opposed to other pepper products. No matter how small of a pinch I use, they always seem too spicy to me, so the three teaspoons used here was more than I'm used to. The egg had the surprising effect of mediating the heat, though. This salad kept a beautiful balance between sweet (red pepper, sugar, balsamic), salty (soy sauce, macadamia nuts), and spicy (red pepper flakes, ginger, white pepper).

Conclusion: LOVED it. Matt said that he's never eaten a salad so fast in his life.

I asked Matt to pick out  a dessert from Ready For Dessert. He's not a big sweets guy, and my hope was that if he picked the treat, he'd eat more than a sliver of it. He chose Apricot Souffles (pg 131), which I never would have picked, because our universal disappointment with Dorie's cheese souffle turned me off to wasting my time on another.

I am so glad he picked this. It was amazing.

For a few minutes, you simmer dried apricot halves in white wine, with the contents and pod of a vanilla bean, then leave it to sit for about an hour (or, in my case, most of the afternoon). When you're ready to make the souffle, puree the mixture (sans vanilla pod), sugar, and an egg yolk. Then you assemble it like any other souffle, whipping up the egg whites, then gently folding them in. This recipe is for four smaller servings, instead of one giant souffle, so it only cooks for about nine minutes.
Hello, new friend.
I like knowing that souffles really aren't as difficult or as scary to make as their legend would suggest.
Lebovitz recommends serving this souffle with raspberry sauce. Perfection. The souffle tastes like pure apricot concentrate, and the tart raspberry sauce provides a masterful counterpoint. I was afraid, after my previous cheesy experience, that it would taste eggy, but it didn't.

Conclusion: Loved it! Light, melt-in-your-mouth, fruity goodness. Now I want to try Lebovitz's other sweet souffles.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

FFwD: Corn Soup

I was eager to try this week's French Friday's with Dorie pick of Corn Soup (pg 60). I've never actually had corn soup before, but I love corn and I love soup--especially Dorie's soups--so I was happy to get this one in before corn season is over.

I hate to admit it, because I wanted so badly to love this soup, but I was underwhelmed. Maybe the corn in my area is passed it's peak, though it tasted sweet when I ate raw kernels, or maybe my corn to onion ratio was off. I used four cobs-worth of corn instead of the recommended three, and it still looked skimpy, compared to that giant onion. I don't know what it was, but the soup just didn't turn out very corny. Milky, lightly sweet, and it had cheerful little specks of orange (carrot) and green (the rosemary, maybe?), but even with the bacon, corn kernel, and scallion topping, the best word I can come up with to describe it is "mellow." It was nice, but not what I'd imagined. I feel like corn soup should have chunks of corn in it, more than the scattering I added as a topping.
While I'm thinking about scallions, may I ask what people don't like about the green part? Recipes always say to just use the white and light green part. Why? Using the green part tastes good, looks pretty, and is less wasteful. I don't get it. I digress...

The soup tasted fine, and would be a nice thing to make if you came into an abundance of corn, but if it was up to me, I don't think I'd make it again. However, Charlie LOVED this soup. He ate two bowls of it! He's never eaten corn when I've given it to him, so my expectations were low, but his whole face lit up when he tried it. Yahoo! That's enough to make me make it again.

Conclusion: Just okay for me, but it's Charlie-approved!

On another tangent, I have a question, in preparation for the madeleine recipe we'll be baking later this month. Does anyone know if you NEED to buy a special pan to make these? Is the shape only decorative, or does it also change the way the madeleine cooks? If I can get away with baking them in a cupcake tray or something, I'd like to, because I don't need such a uni-purpose pan cluttering up my shelves.

Sorry if I sound cranky. Since I went to the dentist last week, I've periodically gotten unprovoked toothaches in the tooth he drilled (and drilled, and drilled). I'm mid-toothache as I write this, so I apologize if I'm surly.