Saturday, December 31, 2011

Going Out With a Bang...

...and not the good kind. More like the gruesome, I just got someone's brains in my mouth kind. Okay, that may be a bit extreme. The meal I made for dinner tonight was bad. Really bad.

Once again, my kitchen has exploded. This time, the results were not worth it. Definitely. Not. Worth. It. Oh, Ellie, no one is going to believe me that there are good recipes in your book. This one was especially foul, despite it's delicious title: Beef Tenderloin with Rosemary and Chocolate (pg 180). I used eye round instead of tenderloin, because tenderloin was too expensive, post-Santa. I'm glad I swapped meats, because I would have been furious if I had a tenderloin and cooked it to 140, which was her recommendation for medium-rare. I removed this at 115, and it was medium. For a roast beef, I can accept that. For a tenderloin, I would have flipped out.
I didn't defile the meat with sauce. You'll have to use your imagination.
I'm straying from the point. The meat is only seasoned with salt and pepper, so the interest of this dish is in the sauce. The horrible, horrible sauce. Standard broth vegetables are cooked for a few minutes, then wine, beef broth, and tomato paste are added. It boils for 40 minutes, then is strained, at which point you stir in rosemary and cocoa powder. It tasted like dirt. Literally.

Conclusion: Hated it, obviously. 

To accompany this travesty, I made something I'd had my eye on that I didn't get around to from Perfect Vegetables: Sauteed Tender Greens with Caramelized Onions and Dried Apricots (pg 141). I picked up irresistably beautiful swiss chard at the farmer's market today, and instantly thought of this dish. I also picked up these radishes at the market, because my sense of humor is that of a 12 year old boy, and I could not stop laughing when I saw this...
In case you can't read the sticker, it says "Red Rocket Radishes." Hee. Heehee.
 Anyone know what to do with radishes? Ellie has a few salads with them, which I probably would never try if not for this impulse purchase. I don't even like radishes. What was I thinking? HA!

As far as the swiss chard goes, all I'm going to say is that dried apricots, garlic onion, and anchovy paste are not flavors that mesh. Hated it.

Fortunately, we ended the night with my not-quite-on-Christmas-Plum-Pudding. This was not all that different from my Mom's fruit cake, which is not a complaint. I love my Mom's fruit cake. Fruit cake gets a bad rap. If it's made with real dried fruit, as opposed to that citron crap, and it's brandy-soaked and moist, it's awesome. I like that the pudding is served warm, with boozy hard sauce melting all over it, but otherwise, I'm not sure it's worth the difference in effort between baking a fruit cake vs. steaming a plum pudding for four hours, and then steaming it again for 1.5 hours before serving.
I may not make this again, but I'm glad I made it once, especially because I had no clue what a plum pudding really was until now. The problem now is that there is SO much left.
A little of this stuff goes a long way. If anyone wants to hop a flight to Corpus Christi to try some, I can guarantee you it'll still be here when you arrive.

The other night, with Dorie's cauliflower, I made Ellie's Roasted Pork Loin (pg 198 of The Food You Crave). Full confession: I've made this recipe many, many times before. Make paste out of garlic and salt, then mix in olive oil, sage, rosemary, thyme, and pepper, then rub into the meat and cook. Easy and delicious. 
Conclusion: Love it, time and again.

I hope you all had a wonderful New Years, and that your 2012 is full of adventurous cooking and satisfying eating.

Friday, December 30, 2011

FFwD: Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin

I wanted to make Dorie's Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin (pg 362) over the holidays, but Matt asked for her potato gratin instead, even if it meant making both. That sounded ludicrous to me, so I spread them out.

This was a pretty simple recipe, but my kitchen looked like it had exploded by the end of it.

Bacon, gruyere, and cream. Really, there's not a lot to say besides yuuuuuuuuu-uuuuuuum. I like Dorie's suggestion to throw broccoli in there, too. I'll try that next time.
It tastes better than it looks.
Charlie squeezed his mouth and eyes shut every time I tried to get him to eat some. I explained to him that it tasted like bacon. He still wasn't interested. Weirdo.

Conclusion: Loved it. Too rich to eat regularly, but it's so good for a once-in-a-while treat.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pears, Pears Everywhere

I've baked two lovely treats from Dorie Greenspan's Baking to use up a bunch of fat, juicy pears that my bro-in-law sent us. I've done pretty well--I only have five left. Woot!

First up, Brown Sugar Bundt Cake (pg 179). I'm glad I looked pears up in the index, because they're buried in the ingredient list, so I wouldn't have noticed them otherwise. This is a moist, tender cake. It's lightly sweet, and the pears retain their flavor. My only complaint is the prunes. I like prunes, but they were aggressive here, because all the other flavors are subtle. Next time, I'll use apricots or dates instead of prunes. 

Conclusion: Liked it, and it's Charlie-Approved. I popped it in the freezer, and am happy that it's there.

As a safeguard against my potentially dreadful goose pie (which actually turned out to be pretty good. Huzzah!!), and because I had pie crust in the freezer, I made Fold-Over Pear Torte (pg 348). A pie crust is pressed into a spring form pan. The edges are supposed to be higher than I managed to get them. Woops. Diced pears, diced dried apricots, walnuts, and lemon zest/juice are mixed together, then piled in the crust. A very wet batter (custard??) is poured in, then the sides of the crust are crimped over.

All our rum was gone (egg nog), so I couldn't include it. It would have been a nice addition to the vanilla and almond extract in the batter.

I asked Matt why he was making weird faces. He said he was trying to decide if he liked it. He landed on yes, and had a second slice.

Conclusion: Liked it. I suspect it was supposed to bake a little longer. It was very wet. Or maybe that's just the nature of pears. Not sure.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bits and Pieces

Last week, before Christmas madness hit, Mom's Turkey Meatloaf (pg 216 of The Food You Crave) called to me as a potential way to get Charlie to eat meat. You know, same old story I always have. This loaf uses ground turkey, and the meat is flavored with bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup. Much to my surprise, this loaf didn't dry out. Giada de Laurentiis has a turkey meatloaf that I love, but she adds a whole butt-load of olive oil to prevent it from drying. I thought the oil was essential, but I guess it's not. I'm guessing that the first step of Ellie's recipe, where oats are soaked in milk, holds the key to the moisture retention. I may try Giada's recipe with this trick and see how it comes out.
The meatloaf was decent, but Giada's tastes better. Matt kept saying it could use feta and sundried tomatoes, which are the awesomest bits of Giada's recipe.

Conclusion: This was okay, and Charlie ate a decent portion. It was a little bland, but that could be why Charlie liked it.

We have loads of leftovers in the house, so it'll be a few days before I cook an Ellie dinner. I'm going to attempt to turn the goose remains into something like a shepherd's pie tomorrow. It's the best we can think of to do with it. Wish me luck.

I also have a million pears in the house. My brother-in-law very kindly sent us two cases of pears from Harry and David for Christmas. They're delicious and juicy, and all 14 are ripe at the same time. We finished one box, and I'm scouring my books for ways to bake and then freeze pear desserts, because I'd hate to waste any of them.

Spiced Red Wine-Poached Pears (pg 293) was an obvious choice for dessert tonight. I don't know how pears are normally poached, but it seems it would be a lot easier to dump enough wine in the pot to submerge the pears, instead of attempting to turn them every five minutes. Pears--especially cooked pears--are fragile little buggers. Mine looked pretty jacked up by the end of it. My biggest problem was that I over-reduced the wine sauce. It just about turned into jelly. It seemed okay when I took it off the heat, but by the time I gave Charlie his bottle and put him to bed, it had turned solid. It's a shame, because the sauce was necessary. Without it, the pears didn't seem to have a whole lot of flavor.

Conclusion: Liked it. The flavor of the sauce was good, and the pears poached to a perfect consistency, I just bungled the execution. I'd make it again.

I love me a toasted nut, and Spiced Mixed Nuts (pg 61) are no exception. The spices in question here are curry powder, cayenne, rosemary, and salt, with a bit of maple syrup to bind it all together.

Conclusion: Liked it. Still love Lebovitz's mix best of all, but this gets props for using less butter and sugar.

My Holiday in Food

Something went wrong with nearly everything we cooked over the holidays, to the point that I started to laugh, and then decided not to make the apple pie I'd been planning to bring to some friends in Austin, because surely, it would only end up being a waste of ingredients.

It was just us for Christmas Eve and Christmas, so as a way to make dinner special, I had the adorable idea that we (aka Matt) should cook a goose, and I'd make a plum pudding, and we'd be all English Christmasey. Matt remembers the Christmas goose that his close German friends made once as being one of the best meals of his life. He got their recipe. I don't know what went wrong. Maybe German geese are different than what we have here? The meat was dry and tough, and the skin never crisped up. Matt couldn't decide if he overcooked it or didn't cook it enough, like maybe he was supposed to cook it so long it fell off the bone. I have no clue. All I know was it was gross, and I was very grateful that we also had potato gratin.
The moment before our goosey dreams were smashed.
 As for the plum pudding, I knew it was supposed to sit in the fridge for a few weeks after it was steamed, but I didn't get around to it until mid-December. We decided to give it an extra week, and eat it for New Years, instead. I'll let you know how that goes.

My chocolate chip cookies flattened out. Anyone know why that would happen? Does the type of baking sheet make a difference? Temp of ingredients? These were Toll House, and they've never done this for my Mom. I notice this with a lot of my cookies lately. I suspect the baking sheets.
 I made bagels for breakfast. I think I've finally tweaked the recipe so that they would have come out perfectly, if Matt had set the timer like I asked him to. They were still edible, but were VERY dark. Still, I'm happy that I think I've finally merged several recipes together to form a bagel that I'm happy with.

Growing up, my Dad always made lasagne for Christmas. We call it his "Never again, Margaret" lasagne, because that's what he'd call out to the house, in general, and my mother, in particular, as he tired of dealing with sauce all day. He threw in a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and I try my best to duplicate his "recipe" every year by scrolling back through 25 years of memories.

I can tell you, though, that THIS never happened when he made the sauce...
 Even on the lowest possible setting on this stupid electric stove, the bottom burned, and I scraped it up into the sauce before I realized what was happening. I spent the rest of the day spooning black bits out. Never again.
 Okay, that was a lie. I'm sure I'll do it again next year. The sauce was good, despite the charred bits. I retrieved all of them of any size.

Then the aluminum foil ripped the cheese off of the top layer of lasagne. I forgot to stick toothpicks in to keep it raised. Woops. This is the point where I started to laugh, and gave up on any thought of baking a pie.
Food imperfections aside, we had a wonderful Christmas, and hope you did too! All I can say is, I'm glad we didn't have any company. It wouldn't have seemed so funny, then. I learned an important lesson for next year, in that I should pick simpler food that can be prepped in advance of Christmas (lasagne is good for that--I just didn't get around to doing it ahead of time this year). Who wants to spend the day in the kitchen? Not I. Good to know for next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

FFwD: Creme Brulee (Yeah, baby).

I was certain that this would be a tale of woe. All manner of things went awry in the preparation of Creme Brulee (pg 422 of Around My French Table).

I thought I'd timed this perfectly. The custard is supposed to bake at low temp for an hour. Charlie and I had to leave for a doctor's appointment at 12:30. I put the custard in the oven at 11, figuring it should be out by 12. Foolproof.

Except that it wasn't foolproof. I'm an overzealous ramekin filler, and so only made four brulees instead of six. I'm an idiot, and didn't consider how drastically this would impact the way the custard cooked. At 12, it was still liquid. Uh oh. I didn't have enough time to let it sit and do its thing for as long as it needed. My bright solution? Raise the temp to 300.

When I checked it 15 minutes later, the custard was boiling, the jelly Dorie says to smear in the bottom of the ramekin rose up around the edges, and great bubbles had formed on top. Double woops.
I pulled them out, muttered a series of curses, and headed out to our doctor's appointment.

Somehow, these turned out great. It's a Christmas miracle!! Using the broiler to melt the sugar didn't work so well. Some bits were crunchy, but not nearly enough. Still tasted good, though. Twist my arm, I think I need to give these another spin.
Charlie inhaled his little bowl-full like a ravenous beast. So this is the way to fatten him up: feed him custard. I should have tried this months ago.

Conclusion: Loved it.

Norman, Hellooooo

That's a reference to City Slickers, if you didn't get it. City Slickers is one of the finest movies of the past thirty years. I'm not embarrassed to admit that Matt and I have been known to watch it, bedecked in our cowboy hats. Okay, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that. Fortunately, Matt never reads this blog, so he won't know I told you. HA!  I made this reference because, unless I'm misunderstanding the role recipe titles have on reality, I'm pretty sure that the dinner I made qualifies me as a cowgirl.
Cowboy Steak with Coffee and Ancho Rub (pg 183) was fine, though surprisingly bland. With chili powder, ground espresso, brown sugar, dry mustard, coriander, salt and pepper rubbed into top sirloin (not a delicious cut of meat), I expected more flavor. I should have used better judgment and let the steaks sit with the rub for a few hours, even though the instructions don't indicate to wait. That may have helped matters. Oh well.

Conclusion: Just okay. Not bad, but unmemorable.

However, Matt and I both loaded up on Ranch Beans (pg 246). No two ways about it. These beans were mighty tasty. Sautee onion and green pepper until soft, add chili powder, pinto beans, a bit of broth, and cilantro, and cook until warmed through. Then you mash it all up a bit.

As he ate thirds, Matt correctly stated that they would be amazing in a breakfast taco (one of the few culinary masterpieces of Corpus Christi). I haven't stopped thinking about homemade breakfast tacos since eating these beans.

Conclusion: LOVED it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Mixed Bag

I have to get back on track to blog more regularly. These posts are unwieldy. 

Matt is the king of homemade pancakes. Before I met him, I didn't even know you could make pancakes from scratch. I can rock a Krusteaz box, but I usually leave the pancakes to him. Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes (pg 20 of The Food You Crave) nabbed my attention, because I still have a whole bag of buckwheat sitting around from when FFwD did buckwheat blini, and because I feel better about feeding some good flours to Charlie instead of delicious Krusteaz. Believe me, I love my Krusteaz, but they aren't especially nutritious.
With syrup, these pancakes were good. Without, they were a little buckwheat-bitter. Ellie only adds 1 tb of honey to the batter, and that's not really enough to sweeten it to the point where you'd want to eat it without syrup. I say the batter could also use a hit of vanilla.

Conclusion: Liked it, and Charlie Approved. The recipe made a lot of pancakes, so I happily now have a freezer full of them, for easy breakfasts.

For a nostalgic snack, I made a Chocolate Egg Cream (pg 307). I shouldn't have. Yuck. My favorite diner meal is a BLT-without-the-lettuce, fries, and a vanilla egg cream. I've never seen them outside of New York, and when I asked for one once in a "New York Style" diner in Rhode Island, the waitress made me repeat it 14 times, and then said she didn't know what I was asking for. Sigh. Before I blame Ellie for how bad this was, I may have used the wrong fizzy. I couldn't find any seltzer at the store. Weird, right? Ellie explicity says not to use club soda, so I settled on bubbly mineral water. Is that different than seltzer? This proportion of mineral tasted really harsh and was not nearly sweet enough. Boooo!
Conclusion: Dislike. If mineral water and seltzer are different, I blame me. If they're the same, I blame Ellie.

Between the anchovy paste, the capers, and the olives in Pasta Puttanesca (pg 158), there were many layers of briny flavor. When my Mom was visiting last weekend, she bought a bag of arugula at the Farmer's Market, which we didn't use for anything. Arugula isn't my favorite thing, and this fresh stuff was exceptionally peppery. I picked this recipe because you wilt arugula down into the sauce at the end, so it would use up some of my stash. The arugula actually worked well with the other flavors.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Finally, to accompany last night's roast chicken, I made Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Orange Essence (pg 267). With buttermilk, orange juice and zest, nutmeg, brown sugar, and a little butter, it looked good on paper. The outcome was unremarkable, though. I tripled the buttermilk, and it was still a dry mash. The buttermilk curdled a little when the orange juice hit it, so there were little flecks of white mixed into my potatoes. To top it all off, the orange flavor wasn't even especially pronounced.

Conclusion: Disliked.

Every year for the past few years, I've made marshmallows at the holidays, using Alton Brown's recipe, here. His marshmallows are off the hook delicious. Dense, chewy, vanilla-ey. They have an actual presence, and retain their shape in hot chocolate, so that by the end of the mug, you have chocolate-soaked creamy marshmallows that have managed to still retain their shape.

This year, instead of going tried and true, I figured I'd make Dorie's Marshmallows (pg 404 of Baking). I really need to stop turning to her for recipes that I already have perfectly wonderful recipes for. As with the chocolate chip cookies, these marshmallows were no match against the idea I already have in my head of the ideal.

The process was much different from Alton's. Dorie's involved egg whites; Alton's do not. Dorie's involved a scant 2 tb of corn syrup, Alton's uses a cup. Dorie makes up the difference with a ton of sugar. Alton says to coat them with a mix of corn starch and powdered sugar, which makes sense in terms of retaining sweetness. Dorie just coats hers in corn starch.
I love how they look, but they're no good.
I knew these would be different from Alton's, as soon as I dolloped spoonfuls out onto my pre-powdered cookie sheets (a presentation I learned from David Lebovitz's blog, as opposed to cutting the marshmallows into squares). The concoction was wet, instead of dense and sticky. Dorie's recipe produces light, melt-in-hot-chocolate types of marshmallows. Eaten plain, they have a weird under-taste that I can't identify. I'm not sure what to do with them. Matt ate one, wrinkled his nose, said, "It just tastes like sugar," and then asked me if I could still make my normal recipe, too. Yes, I sure can.

Later, I made a microwaved smore out of one, thinking that surely that would be a respectable use of them. This is going to sound weird, but after it's round in the microwave, the marshmallow reminded me of farts. Not good.

After a day, the marshmallows started to melt in their bag. I threw them out.

Conclusion: Hated them. What a bummer. Alton, I'm coming for you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Let's Begin, Shall We?

I skipped right over the Crispy Chicken Fingers with Honey Mustard Sauce (pg 200) recipe in The Food You Crave whenever I flipped through the book, for one very simple reason. It sounds nasty. There's not much to it: after soaking chicken strips in buttermilk (she calls for just 15 minutes, but I did it for a few hours), dredge them in crushed up Corn Chex. Yick.

This time around, they caught my eye as a possible way to get Charlie to eat chicken, since Corn Chex are his new favorite snack. This is a fast recipe. I'll give it that. Apart from the soaking and the dredging, these only have to cook for eight minutes. Easy.

And you know what? It worked! Charlie took a few bites of a strip last night (I count that as victory, as he's never eaten any chicken, prior), and spent the rest of the meal clutching the chicken in his little fist. I think he forgot it was there while he picked around for blueberries. Then, unless he fed it to the dog when I wasn't looking, he ate a whole strip with his lunch. WOOP!
That is some ugly chicken.
I would not recommend this recipe to someone who doesn't have to feed a toddler. It tastes like Corn Chex on chicken. Normal people do not eat that and say, "Ooooh, chicken fingers!" However, if you have a fussy toddler, give it a shot.

I usually hate honey mustard sauce. I tried Ellie's recipe, and it was actually pretty good. Much better than anything I've had before, and it did help mask the cereal nature of my chicken.

Conclusion: For an adult, the chicken was Just Okay. The fact that Charlie ate it goes a long way in my book, though, and I'll probably make it again, for that reason.

In an attempt to elevate the meal ever-so-slightly, I made a side of Chickpea and Spinach Salad with Cumin Dressing (pg 132). This was quite nice. Chickpeas, parsley, and red onion are mixed up with their own dressing (lemon juice and zest, cumin, cayenne, etc), placed on spinach, and then the whole is topped with a dressing of yogurt, orange juice/zest, and honey. has it never occured to me to orange-ify my yogurt before? I could eat a bowl of that "dressing."

Conclusion: Liked it. Easy and flavorful. Charlie wanted nothing to do with it. He tried one unseasoned chickpea, spit it out, and then fought off the seasoned one I tried to pop in his mouth. Oh well.

Lastly, today I made Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip (pg 70). This used skim mozzarella and reduced fat sour cream and cream cheese, but somehow or other, it came out tasting exactly as spinach artichoke dip should. My only gripe is that the whole mess is pureed before baking. Personally, I like some chunkiness in my dip. Not a big deal, though, because the flavor really was spot-on.
 Much to my amazement, Charlie liked this one, too! He poked at it at first when I gave it to him smeared on bread, but dug right in when I dolloped some on a plate and handed him a spoon.
Proof! Yes, it was that big of a deal. I needed to take a picture. 
Conclusion: Liked it, and Charlie-Approved. Victoryyyyy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wrapping Up Perfect Vegetables, and Up Next

December 15th snuck up on me. My failure to love America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated books in the past had me a bit wary of Perfect Vegetables at the start, but this month has passed quickly, with few outright failures, several wonderful successes, and a whole list of recipes that I still want to make.

Standouts were the Greek-Style Potatoes, Assertive Greens with Bacon and Onion, and the Wilted Spinach Salad with Feta, Olives, and Lemon Vinaigrette. I could eat a dinner of just those three things, and be a happy, happy girl.

Perfect Vegetables is a keeper. I wasn't wild about every single recipe, but the ones I loved, I loved more than I thought I would. I mean, we're talking about vegetables here. How great can vegetable recipes be? Turns out, very. Plus, this book brought much-needed diversity to my vegetable repertoire. I expect that this book will be open on my counter often. Braised Fennel with White Wine and Parmesan looms in my horizon. mmmmmm

Up Next is Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave. I know I hated So Easy, but I've actually cooked a good number of recipes from TFYC in the past, and liked most of what I had. I get the sense that Ellie put everything she had into that book, and had run out of good ideas by the time she hit So Easy. So, let us not judge poor Ellie, based upon So Easy.

Matt once teased me that cookbooks are my friends. As long as cookbooks aren't my only friends, I'm A-OK with that statement. ha! Following that analogy, though, Ellie is the sweet friend who nudges you to lose weight by asking you to join a gym with her, because she needs it. As I mentioned previously, I've turned into a treat-eating psycho with no off-switch this holiday season, so in the interest of cooking from a more health-minded book, my choice was between this or The Essential Eating Well Cookbook, which I dread getting around to.

A few of my go-to recipes come from The Food You Crave (Ellie makes a kick-ass pork tenderloin), but I'll focus mostly on recipes I haven't tried yet.

This is your second chance, Ellie. Don't let me down.

My Veg Heads to Asia

I know I've mentioned it once or twice (or a hundred times) before, but Corpus Christi's ethnic food is a sham. You're out of luck unless you want Mexican or Thai (funny--a really good thai restaurant opened since we've been here, and it turns out they moved here from DC, and their cousins run our favorite Thai place in Arlington. Small world.) I've heard there's a good Filipino place, but I haven't been there yet. There is not one single Indian restaurant, and the Chinese food here is naaaasty (though, to be fair, I never found Chinese food in DC or VA that I liked, either. I don't know what's different about NY Chinese food, but it's what I want.)

Promise, no more parenthesis. That last paragraph was ridiculous.

Anyway, I must be craving take-out, because the recipes that caught my eye this week tried to fill the gap. Successfully getting Matt to enjoy eggplant the other day emboldened me to try again. Stir-Fried Eggplant with Ground Pork and Peanut Sauce (pg 103 of Perfect Vegetables) sounded like it would be right up my alley. I added sugar snap peas and sliced red pepper to distract Matt from the eggplant.
Eggplant, wearing camo.
I don't think I'd have liked this as much if I had more access to real Chinese food. It had a flat taste to it, despite the fresh ginger and garlic. I did omit red pepper flakes, hoping that Charlie would eat some, so I'm sure that changed the flavor a bit. Surprise, surprise, my boy wouldn't even taste it. He ate rice and blueberries for dinner. Again. He better learn to like pizza by the time we move to Italy, or else he's going to be eating a whole lot of pasta with nothing on it.

Conclusion: Liked it. Matt didn't comment on the eggplant, so I'll take that as a good thing.

I've made good headway, but still have a ways to go on my 10 lb bag of potatoes. I expected/hoped that Twice-Baked Potatoes with Indian Spices and Peas (pg 220) would taste like the inside of a samosa. It didn't, and I think that effected my opinion of this potato. The tang of buttermilk competed with all the lovely spices: fresh ginger and garlic and cumin and coriander and cinnamon and turmeric and cloves. It was distracting. Next time, I'll go for the Twice Baked Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Thyme. Yum.
Conclusion: Just okay. If I were dying for some Indian flavors, maybe this would do the trick. Doubt it, though.

Not that anyone's keeping track, but I'm opting out of French Fridays with Dorie this week. In my traditional holiday fashion, I've flown off the rails with what I'm eating, and somehow a potato chip tortilla seems like just the thing to end me. Using this excuse not to participate this week will, in no way, keep me from making next week's creme brulee. Priorities, people! Priorities! I'll make the potato chip tortilla some day when I'm feeling slimmer and less likely to inhale the rest of the bag while the tortilla is cooking.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A New Favorite

Wilted Spinach Salad with Feta, Olives, and Lemon Vinaigrette from Perfect Vegetables is so good that I've made it twice in the past week. Matt requested it the second time, and my friend who was over for dinner exclaimed "This salad is amazing!" Pretty high praise, all around. Quick question, though: should it be called a vinaigrette if it has no vinegar? Hmmmm.

From the title, I expected this to be like any other Greek salad. The key is that you sautee a shallot, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar in oil until the shallot is softened, and then swirl in some lemon juice. Pour the oil on the spinach, add olives and feta, and presto! I expected the spinach to wilt more, but I'm glad it didn't. It wilts just enough to not feel like you're eating raw spinach, but not so much that it's soft or mushy in any way.
Deceptively simple.
Conclusion: Loved it. Twice.

With the spinach (the first time), I made Broiled Eggplant with Herbed Goat Cheese (pg 100). Matt, who doesn't like eggplant, thought this was great. I liked it, but I wish I'd just gotten normal goat cheese instead of a lemon one. Lemon seemed like it would work with the rest of the flavors (mint, basil, and garlic are mixed into the cheese), but something about it was too tangy for me. It's possible that I still wouldn't have loved it with normal goat cheese, anyway, but I choose to blame the lemon.

My mom visited this weekend, so I wanted to make something easy but special for dessert. Chocolate Pots de Creme (page 120 of Ready for Dessert) worked out perfectly. Mom said it "tasted like Easter," and after I took a bite, I knew exactly what she meant. Pure, dense, unadulterated chocolate. Personally, I prefer the texture and process of making a mousse more than these, so that's what I'll probably stick to in the future, but I'm glad I tried this. Matt and I split the leftover serving last night. It had thickened up considerably, so that I felt like I was eating a tub of icing.

Conclusion: Liked it. Very rich and filling, though.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FFwD: Chard-Stuffed Pork Roast

I wonder if something went wrong with my Chard-Stuffed Pork Roast (pg 276 of Around My French Table). I keep reading through the recipe, wondering if I accidentally omitted something, but nothing jumps out at me.

This roast showed all promise of glory. The pork is butterflied, filled with a pre-cooked mixture of onion, garlic, raisins, swiss chard, and red pepper flakes, then tied shut. The outside of the pork loin is rubbed with crushed black peppercorns and coriander seeds.

For whatever reason, this tasted flat. Bland, bland, bland. This surprised me, because even though my loin was half the size the recipe called for, I didn't halve the measurements for the seasonings. Beats me.
I still like the idea of raisins and onions and chard in my pork, and maybe I'll try this again some day. Not soon, though.

Conclusion: Just okay.

There's No Sauce in My Sauce

When I think of a sauce, I think of something that has a little body. Something in which the liquid, itself, has flavor. I do not think of some chopped up stuff mixed with oil and pasta water, which is exactly what Fusilli (penne, for me) with Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce (pg 188) turned out to be.

Perfect Vegetables' recipe for roasting peppers was more work than is necessary. Why core the pepper and slice it into flat pieces before placing under the broiler, when it works perfectly well to shove the whole pepper under the broiler and flip it a few times? I did it my way.

The one thing going for this recipe is how easy it is to prepare. Mix oil, chopped roasted red and yellow pepper, garlic, mint, capers (mine looked funky and had turned pink, so I used olives), and lemon juice in a bowl and let it sit for a half hour. Then stir it into the drained pasta, adding pasta water as necessary.

I stirred a mountain of parmesan cheese into this, just to make it taste like something, and it still wasn't enough. Matt added an additional mountain of cheese to his, beyond what was already in there.
Charlie, however, ate a plate of the pasta, carefully picking off each and every bit of non-pasta matter. I'm hoping some pepper juices hitched a ride on the penne, into his system.

Conclusion: Just okay. If not for the fact that Charlie ate it, I'd never make it again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

'Tis the Season for Angel Choirs..., cue them. I may have found my french fry substitute. Word! I apologize for all the potato posts, but I bought a ten pound bag the other day. It was the same price as the five pound bag. What's up with that? Clearly, it would have been foolish to spend the same money for half as many potatoes. Now I'm trying to eat through ten pounds of potatoes, though. I'm up to the challenge.

The Master Recipe for Greek-Style Potatoes is the best thing I've eaten in a while. Even after they were partially burned (guess who distracted me), and then left to sit and get cold for an hour while I waited for Matt to get home from work.

You'd think with all that time for them to sit around, I'd have thought to take a picture, but I didn't. Here's a picture of my dog, summoning her inner Jedi, instead.
I don't know about you, but it made my day to come home from the supermarket and find her like this.

Wedge the taters, then lay a single layer in a skillet with a bit of hot vegetable oil and butter. Let them brown, then flip them and do the same (this is where mine burned.) Reduce heat, cover, and cook for a few more minutes until tender. Meanwhile, mix garlic, oil, lemon juice and zest, and oregano. Once the potatoes are tender, dump the mixture on top and let it cook for a minute. I snagged one or two (or twelve) while they were hot, and they came out of the pan crispy, despite being tossed in liquid. An hour later, they'd sogged up, but Matt and I still both inhaled them. Charlie ate one, and wouldn't eat another. Not sure if that counts as Charlie-Approved or not. I'm kind of tempted to go make more of these now, while Charlie's napping. These ten pounds of potatoes have met their match.

Conclusion: Loved it. SO good, and closer to a french fry than any of their oven recipes.

Roasted Baby Carrots with Sage and Walnuts (pg 64) did not benefit from their hour-long rest. I ate a few while they were hot, and I didn't notice them being particularly salty. An hour later, they were shrunken and too salty. I guess they kept dehydrating as they sat, or something. The sage didn't contribute much flavor. It was sprinkled on while the carrots roasted, and I don't think much of it stuck. I toasted the walnuts, but forgot to top the carrots with them, because I was a ravenous spaz.

Conclusion: Just okay, though I'm aware these didn't get a fair shake. I may try one of their roasted carrot variations to give them a second chance.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Vegetables are Outrunning Me

I have quite a few recipes from Perfect Vegetables that I haven't posted about, so I'll jump right in.

I love fennel. Anything licorice-ey, really. Fennel and Tangerine Slaw (pg 125) caught my eye after I'd bought some tangerines at the farmer's market. This slaw had too much mustard in it for my taste. It overpowered every other flavor. If someone told me I was eating cabbage, I'd have believed them.

Conclusion: Disliked.
Slaw and sweet  potatoes.
Despite how horrible the baked oven fries were, I tried Master Recipe for Oven-Fried Sweet Potatoes (pg 290), because I would love to find a decent, un-fried french fry substitute. The method for cooking these was different. For the sweet potatoes, you just toss the sliced sweet potatoes with peanut oil, salt, and pepper, then bake. My ideal fry is crisp on the outside and moist/mushy on the inside. These just came out like roasted sweet potatoes, which, I guess is what they are. I need to stop looking for fries in my oven. I think it's a lost cause.

Conclusion: Liked them, if I think of them as roasted sweet potatoes. They're not a fry replacement, though.

Perfect Vegetables' recipe for Sauteed Zucchini (pg 315) says that if you salt the zucchini and let it sit for a half hour, it will brown when you sautee it. I don't think enough liquid came out of mine. They said 1/3rd of a cup would drain. After cooking the zucchini for ten minutes, as instructed, every last slice was mushy. It was brownish, but I expected a nice, flavorful, caramelized brown. I'd rather just lightly sautee it with garlic, like I usually do.

Conclusion: Hated it. I didn't eat mine.
The good and the bad.
On a much happier note, Mashed Rutabagas with Apples, Sage, and Bacon (pg 279) was great. It had me at "add the shallot and apple to the bacon drippings in the pan." Don't mind if I do. I made the recipe as written this time--cream, butter, bacon and all. I think that replacing the cream with milk and cutting back (or maybe omitting) the butter would still be good. Maybe not as good, but good enough. Matt said that this was the first time in his life he liked rutabaga.

Conclusion: Loved it. Yum yum.

All my life, I thought artichokes were some fancy-shmance food that people only ate on special occasions. Imagine my disappointment the first time I ate one. I built them up too much in my imagination. They don't taste like a whole lot. I've had them stuffed, I've had them dipped in butter. I've never been impressed. Figured I'd try Master Recipe for Steamed Artichokes (pg 4). I have to say, I don't understand why they call so many things that have no variations a "master recipe." They provide no other way to make a steamed artichoke, or season a steamed artichoke. Shouldn't it just be called "Steamed artichokes"? I digress.
Why bother?
These were easy enough to make. Clip the tips of the leaves, cut the top and the stem off, and then place the artichoke on an onion ring settled in water. Then you just boil it for a half hour. I melted some butter to dip the leaves in. Easy as they were, they still didn't impress me. Oh well. No harm done.

Conclusion: Just okay.

Okay, that's it for now.

Friday, December 2, 2011

FFwD: Matafan

I was not terribly excited about this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe. Matafan (pg 356) are "fluffy mashed potato pancakes." Sounds good. I like latkes. My grandmother makes a mean mashed potato pancake as a good way to use up leftovers.

My hesitation about this recipe came into play when I read the instructions. Dorie describes a step, in which you squish dried out baked potatoes through a mesh strainer, as "tedious." I appreciate her honesty, but I'm not interested in tedious when it comes to a fried bit of mashed potato. Grandma's recipe is easy. Unless these blow hers out of the water (and really, how could they? We're talking about Grandma here), who needs tedious?

Being a sport, I stood over my bowl, forcing gummy potato through mesh. Oh, for a food mill! At least I had warning. As promised, it was a pain in the ass, especially when you take into account the additional aggravation of cleaning the strainer afterward. Oy.
Insert the curse word of your choice here.
Was the result different enough from regular mashing to warrant the effort? It was looser and airier. I'll give it that. I'd be curious to try the batter with regularly mashed potatoes and see if it mattered once eggs and whipped whites and milk and flour all got mixed in. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it would lose its "fluffy" distinction.

Turns out, I needn't have pitted Dorie against Grandma in a potato pancake death match. Their pancakes bear no relation to each other. Grandma's pancakes are, without question, fried mashed potatoes. Dorie's are more like breakfast pancakes. If I didn't know there was potato in there, I never would have guessed. Her comment that her husband puts syrup on his made a lot more sense to me after I tried one.

I planned to serve these as a side to meatloaf, but a particular toddler kept dragging me by the finger from the kitchen to the couch to watch Beauty and the Beast with him, so I was lucky I even got the pancakes made.

On a whim, I bought two duck eggs at the farmer's market last week, just to see what they were like. Dinner became breakfast once I realized the meatloaf wasn't happening. Potato pancakes, fried duck eggs, herbed goat cheese, and slow-roasted tomatoes (I was planning to mix them into the meatloaf). OH BABY, it was sooooo good.
This turned into a great pile, post-picture.
The pancakes were good, but I didn't find them all that special, for the time and energy, compared to regular flour pancakes. However, they worked some miraculous psychological trick on Matt, who normally scoffs at the idea of breakfast for dinner. When he was underway for seven months, I ate a lot of eggs for dinner. Easty, tasty, fast. It's the perfect last-minute meal, in my book. Not so, in Matt's. Regardless, he said last night that having a savory version of pancakes and eggs made a great dinner. If I were on my own, I probably wouldn't bother making matafan again. However, since it's a way to make everyone happy with dinner pancakes, I'll bring out the potatoes next time I have a craving.

Conclusion: Like it, and Charlie Approved! He ate two pancakes. Wahoo!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cookie Caper

Matt's office had a "Cookie Caper" today, which isn't as exciting as it sounds. It's just lunch, and everyone brings cookies. Between that and book club tonight (I've become the unofficial dessert girl), I decided to bake two kinds of cookies yesterday, and send half of both batches to each event.

I admit, I stuck with safe choices from Ready for Dessert, since these were leaving the house, so there were no surprise flavor combinations or anything. My selections were based on the fact that I really wanted to try the cookies, and really didn't want to eat the entire batch, because the calorie count on each must be astronomical.

First, I made Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies (pg 187). Oh my lord. Lebovitz doesn't mess around when it comes to chocolate. Start with a pound of bittersweet chocolate, melt it with butter, mix it with eggs and a scant 1/2 cup of flour so that you're able to call this a cookie instead of a chocolate bar. Then, for good measure, add 2 cups of chocolate chips. The recipe also calls for pecans, but I omitted them to avoid potential nut allergy problems.

These are heavy cookies. They look like normal cookies, but are hefty in your hand. They're rich enough that I couldn't eat more than two of them. Even the next day, they seem melty.
What's cookin', good lookin'?
My only complaint was with the baking time. Lebovitz says to cook them for nine minutes, until slightly firm around the edges. I did, and the first round was very difficult to get off the cookie sheets. Too mushy in the middle. Charlie distracted me for the second round, so they got an extra two minutes of baking, and they were much easier to move. Minor complaint, and one I chalk up to my oven temp.
Melty goodness.
Conclusion: Liked it. Too rich and heavy to make and keep around the house, but a nice cookie to serve at a party or to bring to a pot luck.

Second, I made Peanut Butter Cookies (pg 194). I forgot how much I like a good peanut butter cookie. The dough was crumbly and hard to work with, but the cookies came out soft, with just the right amount of sweetness. I did skip the step of rolling them in sugar, because I know from experience that I prefer them not to be. These came out just right.
Have to admit, I'll be happy when the last of these are out of my house.
Conclusion: Liked it. I've eaten way too many of these since last night.