Friday, October 28, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Match-up

We were invited to a chili cook-off block party tonight. I've made chili in the past, but I haven't found a recipe yet that's knocked my socks off, so instead of chili, I baked cookies. Specifically, My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (pg 68) from Dorie Greenspan's Baking. I, for one, would rather have cookies than fourteen pots of chili, and I can't imagine anyone will mind.
In the intro, Dorie says that these cookies are "kin to Toll House" chocolate chip cookies, but that she's tweaked a few things that, in her opinion, improve them. I hate to argue over something that's pretty delicious any way you can get it, but I prefer Toll House. I compared the two recipes, and there are only a few changes. Dorie uses less flour, less baking soda, more vanilla, and a different ratio of white and brown sugars. Her cookies spread more than Toll House ever has for me, and they were thinner and less substantial. And they're fragile. I chose to bake chocolate chip cookies because they're reliable crowd-pleasers, travel well, produce a large yield, and generally don't disintegrate between your fingers. I'm afraid to stack these ones on top of each other, for fear that they'll break.

Plus, Dorie has fussier baking instructions. She says to only bake one tray at a time, and you have to spin it midway through baking. I know that's all in the interest of even baking, but it's an added step that I wouldn't appreciate if I was making these while Charlie was up and running around. Fortunately, he's napping. 

I should be happy that I'm not compulsively eating one cookie off each tray as it comes out of the oven (for quality-control purposes, of course), but I'm not. 

Conclusion: I love Toll House. I like these. Toll House reigns supreme.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Risotto, or not risotto?

Neither Catalan-Style Turkey (pg 134 of The Family Meal) nor Saffron Risotto (pg 132)  met my expectations.
I planned to have spinach, but it went horribly wrong when I decided to keep it warm in the oven. Don't judge my veggie-less-ness.
Raisins and prunes are soaked in sherry all day. Technically, they're meant to be soaked in a Catalan wine called vino rancio, but it says sherry will work as a replacement. All this sweetness is the primary flavor of this dish, and it's primary problem, in my opinion. The sweetness was one-dimensional and cloying. I tend to like fruit in my savory dishes, but this one had no savory.

Conclusion: Just okay.

We have a canister of beautiful saffron that Matt brought back from Bahrain, so Saffron Risotto was an obvious choice. My understanding of risotto preparation is that you stir for the majority of the cooking time, and you slowly, slowly add bits of fluid until you have a wonderful, creamy bowl of rice. In this version, you add a ladle of broth once, and once that's absorbed, add the rest of the stock in one shot, stirring frequently. The creaminess comes from parmesan cheese, not from softly nurturing the rice. I believe in the magic of risotto. All due respect, Mr. Adria, but this recipe did not respect that magic.

Conclusion: Just okay. This sat heavy in my stomach.

FFwD: Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

When I told Matt we were having Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good (pg 364 of Around My French Table) for dinner, the semi-annoyed look on his face revealed his suspicions that I was not-so-smoothly masking a recipe that fills pumpkin with liver and maggots.

"Everything good? Like what?" he asked slowly. For a split second, I was tempted to list all his most loathed foods. "Oh, don't worry, honey, I just threw beets, mushrooms, cottage cheese, crappy chocolate, and mango into a pumpkin and let her bake." Instead I told him the truth: bread and cheese and bacon, lots of garlic and scallions and cream. "Oh," he said. "That is all good."

Boy, was it ever! It's the comfiest of comfort foods.
 Dorie suggest several methods of serving this. I went with the option to scrape the pumpkin flesh into its lovely molten filling, mix it all up, and scoop it into bowls. It didn't look pretty by the time I was done with it, but it tasted amazing. I'm sad that it took me 31 years to find this recipe. I'm already thinking of variations I want to try next time. For one thing, I think I'd prefer sweet sausage instead of bacon, because bacon is best when it's crispy, and this was pretty flacid after its two-hour bath in cream and pumpkin juice. Toasted pecans would be awesome, as would dried cranberries and apples and corn bread and corn, and the list goes on and on.

Matt wants to serve this with Thanksgiving dinner. If I had two ovens, I'd agree. I don't see any workable way to cook this and a turkey and have them both be finished at the same time. I'll definitely be serving this during Thanksgiving week, though. In fact, I may be serving this once every week while pumpkins are in season.

Dorie says it's better to eat this fresh than to have leftovers. Perhaps that's true, but the leftovers are still pretty damn good.

Conclusion: LOVE IT.

For book club last night, I baked Lime-Marshmallow Pie (pg 77 of Ready for Dessert). It was good, but there were a number of things I would change about it. For one thing, three tablespoons of melted butter was not enough to moisten 1.5 cups of graham cracker crumbs. It looked dry to me, but I thought maybe when I pre-baked the crust, the butter would melt and fuse the crumbs together, so I didn't add more. In the finished product, there was a thick layer of loose graham cracker crumbs under the pie.
It looked so pretty before I cut it.
The ratio of crust to filling seemed off. The lime custard did not go very far. I would prefer more lime custard and less graham cracker.

The marshmallow topping tasted good (homemade marshmallows always do, though, don't they?), but it was extraordinarily difficult to slice. Between the un-crusty crust, the invisible custard, and the way the marshmallow stuck to the knife, these slices win no awards for presentation.
Conclusion: Don't get me wrong, this did taste good. There was only one slice left by the end of the night. However, I would be very surprised if the crust was supposed to come out as it did, and the custard was completely dwarfed by the graham and the marshmallow. When I eat a pie, I think that most of my bites should include filling. More often than not, I found myself rolling marshmallow in the crumbs, without any custard to be found. I'm going to label this one Just Okay.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cod, Schmod.

Cod may the most flavorless food in the world. I should know by now not to bother with it, as I'm never happy with how it turns out. I'm going to learn my lesson this time. Really.

Cod and Green Pepper Sandwich (pg 292 of The Family Meal) lured me in because it looked so quick and easy.
First, you fry "long, sweet green peppers" in oil until the skins brown. At the supermarket, my choice was between bell peppers and an assortment of hot peppers. I went with the bell. Turns out that, due to their roundness, bell peppers are exceedingly difficult to keep flat in hot, spitting oil. I'm a scaredy-cat when it comes to spitting oil, so Matt cut up the peppers and tended to them while I prepped the fish. The fish is salted, floured, and dipped in egg, then right in the oil.

The sandwich is simply the peppers, fish, and mayo. Boring.

Conclusion: Just okay. I won't be making this again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Happy Potato Dance

My love for potatoes is long-standing and deep-rooted. I've never met a potato I didn't like. Powdered instant mashed potatoes don't count. Those are gross.

We invited a friend for dinner for her birthday on Saturday. Matt cooked lamb chops, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch up on the Potato Gratin recipe (pg 360 from Around My French Table) that French Fridays with Dorie cooked last winter. I'm really glad that I recently purchased a mandoline, because there is no chance I'd have sliced potatoes consistently and thin. The mandoline earned its keep this weekend.

Everyone loved this gratin. Garlic-steeped in heavy cream and a gruyere topping gave it a rich, subtle flavor that perfectly accompanied the lamb. I forgot to take a picture until after dinner was over. This is all that was left of the entire pie plate of potatoes...
Matt asked if we could have this for dinner every night. We'd all die of a heart attack if I did that, but this will definitely become a go-to potato treat.

Conclusion: Loved it. Wow--I just realized that this is the 70th recipe I've cooked from AMFT. That's a lot.

Delicious as dinner was on Saturday, I feel like I'm still digesting it. I need veg, so I decided to make the Caesar Salad (pg 72) from The Family Meal. I'd reserved a bit of anchovy from the pissaladiere with the dressing in mind. I probably could have used more of it. Matt commented that the dressing was good, and "tasted like caesar salad," but that he thought it needed more anchovy. I was afraid to be too heavy-handed, after my pissaladiere's results.

One problem I'm having with this book is that I haven't found a good way to blend the things that need blending. I'm cooking the recipes according to the "for 2" guidelines, and the outcome is spot-on with a reasonable portion size, but they use such a small quantity of ingredients that the blades on my immersion blender (which is what the book instructs you to use) don't reach what needs to be blended. My food processor is way too big. Because of this, I had a really hard time making this dressing. There's no way to "very gradually pour in the sunflower oil while blending" when the blender won't reach the oil. I don't think this came out as well as it could have. It never reached the mayonnaise consistency that I was supposed to be looking for, but it was still good.
Yep. That's a bowl of lettuce.
Conclusion: Liked it. It's a salad. Nothing special.

I needed to use up some leeks that I had, so I made Vichyssoise (pg 92) to go with our salad. Very tasty, but I think something went wrong. The book's photos show that the soup should be loose. By the time it sat in the fridge for a few hours, it had solidified into mashed potatoes. Delicious mashed potatoes, but I don't think that's what I was going for. Matt asked why anyone would want cold soup, and after tasting it both hot and cold, I had to agree, so I heated it up and thinned it out with some water. It still was thick, though. Matt said that if I thickened it with another potato instead of thinning it with water, they would have been the best mashed potatoes ever. Good enough for me, soup or not.
Adria serves it with a soft-boiled egg, but I opted out of that. If we were just having soup, I would have tried the egg. It seemed like too much for dinner, when combined with the salad. 

Conclusion: Liked it. Easy and tasty. It looks nothing like the pics in the book, though.

Friday, October 21, 2011

FFwD: Pissaladiere

I in no way hold the unfortunate outcome of my Pissaladiere (pg 45 of Around My French Table) against the recipe, or against pissaladieres around the world. In case you're wondering what the hell a pissaladiere is, it's a thin-crusted dough smeared with caramelized onions, anchovies, and olives. In Nice, I'd give one a try without thinking twice. In my kitchen, everything that could go wrong, did.

I first suspected something was up when I opened the tin of anchovies. It looked like cat food. In the photo in the book, there are long, solid lengths of anchovy laced across the onions. I looked back at my tin, and found it impossible to separate a single fish from its friends. It was one mushy mass. I figured that would save me the step of chopping the anchovies, and dumped them in with my onions. As promised, they dissolved into the onion. It smelled awfully fishy, though, and when I tried an onion, it left a very unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth.
Yum. Please ignore the weird stains on my windowsill. I just noticed that.
My aunt, via facebook, saved the day, as much as the day could be saved. A fan of pissaladiere, she said:
A) She hoped I didn't use the little sardine type tins of anchovy, but the better kind that come in jars. Woops. I bought the tin that cost 20 cents more than the one next to it, figuring they were better. Ha!
B) If the onions tasted too fishy, rinse them off, dry them well, and sautee them again with lemon juice and brown sugar. I did, and the onions were muuuuuch better. Phew! Disaster averted. Right? Wrong.

My dough didn't rise. I don't know why. I baked a bread using this yeast last weekend, and it was fine, so I don't think bad yeast was the problem. I put the dough in the garage, which is warmer than the house. Maybe it wasn't warm enough. It cooled down to the mid-70s here this week. I thought that would be warm enough. Beats me. All I know is my dough was pretty much the same exact size two hours later.

Then, Charlie started having a clingy fit about ten minutes before the buzzer was set to ring. Matt said he'd do what needed doing. I told him that when the buzzer rang, throw the olives on top, then bake it for five more minutes. At the end of those five minutes, the onions had burned and the dough had turned into a too-dark cracker. Matt told me after the fact that it looked done to him before he put the olives on, but I told him to bake it another five minutes, so he did. Urge to kill RISING.
Anyway, we ate a few bites. Matt heated up leftover pad thai. I finished my glass of wine and called it a night.

I would try this one again if I could find the right kind of anchovy. I don't hold anything against the concept. This Dorie disaster was my own doing. Onward!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

FFwD delay

I planned to make this week's French Fridays with Dorie selection--pissaladiere--for dinner tonight. However, Charlie appears to be having some allergy issues (it finally cooled down to the 70s here, so I'm blaming Nature for releasing something wacky with the weather change). All last night and today he's been a miserable, sleepless, snotty mess, who wants only to sit on my lap and watch Finding Nemo over and over and over again. Help. Me. Anyway, there was no way I'd manage to correctly time the proofing of my dough or caramelize onions for 45 minutes without burning them, so I'll make this tomorrow or Saturday, when my time is more manageable.

At least he doesn't have a fever. It's 7 pm and I could fall asleep. Wish us luck that we all get more rest tonight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Holy Mole

One time, in college, I was feeling down in the dumps. A good friend instructed me to come over for dinner. He would make me mole. Did I know what mole was? Definitely not. Even after dinner was over, I wasn't really sure what I'd eaten. He defined it as a chocolate sauce. That may be true, but it's very misleading, in terms of establishing expectations. Chicken-in-chocolate-sauce sounds gross, but it was, of course, delicious, and unlike anything else I'd ever had. To this day, I still don't really know how to describe it. Savory, certainly. Spicy. Bitter. Sort of creamy. I don't remember why I was blue, but I do remember being very happy by the end of the meal. I don't know if mole is one of Eric's comfort foods, but since that day, it's become one of mine. Unfortunately, it's one that I don't know how to make myself, and it honestly never occurred to me to try, until I saw Mexican-style Chicken with Rice (pg 242-243 of The Family Meal)

Part of me feels kind of disingenuous calling this a recipe. It uses store-bought mole. That's kind of huge, in terms of originality, no? The primary difference between the instructions in the book and on the bottle of mole paste is that the book says to poach chicken and cilantro in water before adding the mole sauce and baking. Toasted sesame seeds are supposed to be sprinkled at the end, but I totally flaked on that. I have sesame seeds. I forgot all about them until right now. Oh well.

I could be wrong, but I believe that homemade mole is one of those "stir a pot for a full day" type of sauces, so I'll forgive the shortcut, because I probably wouldn't have bothered if I needed to hunt down difficult ingredients and cook all day. Whatever the source of the mole, the finished product was just how I remember, and I couldn't be happier, because it was really easy. Next time, I'd remove the skin before adding the sauce, though. Chicken skin is only good when it's crispy, and this was not.
Conclusion: Loved it. It prompted Matt to proclaim his approval of this book.

I'm more excited about one of the techniques of Mexican Rice (pg 244) than I am about the finished product. A puree of onion and cilantro is fried in oil with the rice for a minute before adding the broth. This gave the rice a sweet and herbal base flavor that was lovely. I felt like it needed more flavor, though. Next time, I'll include garlic and salt. Looking at the recipe now, I realize I forgot the penultimate step of adding butter to make the rice creamy. What is wrong with me tonight? Tasted good anyway.

Conclusion: Liked it.

I have sweets on the brain, and Matt has guilted me away from the Halloween candy with comments about how I'm stealing candy from children (When's the last time any of those kids ever gave ME any candy, huh??), I baked Santiago Cake (pg 76 of The Family Meal). This flourless cake is primarily made of ground almonds, eggs, and sugar. I admit I added more than a pinch of cinnamon, and zested an entire lemon, instead of half. I hate wasting zest.
This is the result of my efforts to pry the cake from the pan.
The cake is thin and crumbly, and appears to be soldered to my pan. The recipe says to put parchment paper in the bottom of the pan. I put my silpada mat down, because usually recipes says to use one or the other. I guess they're not interchangeable. This cake is STUCK to that mat. I tried to remove the cake, but as it broke up into smaller and smaller crumbs, I decided to just leave it in the pan and eat it by the spoonful. Charlie decided to eat it by the fistful...
I turned my back for two seconds.
Conclusion: Liked it, and definitely Charlie-Approved. This makes me happy, since nuts are so good for his little brain.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Family Meal: Pasta Bolognese

My only complaint about the Pasta Bolognese (pg 82-83) is that it took a lot longer to make than I expected. I am not a fast chopper, and 1.5-2 cups each of celery, carrots, and onions took a lifetime.

Ground beef and sausage browns in a heap of butter (like, A LOT of butter). The veg cooks in oil for a bit, until good and soft. The two are mixed together with canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and a pinch of sugar. Then, the pot simmers away for about two hours.
I'm guessing that I've never had an authentic bolognese sauce. I thought it was a heavy red sauce with some meat in it, but this was more meat than sauce. I have no clue how it would stack up against a perfect bolognese, but I do know it was delicious. It would be even better if I could get my hands on a decent Italian sausage. I went to two butchers, and couldn't find any sausage. I had to buy the supermarket brand. Yuck. I know fennel seed is supposed to be in Italian sausage, and it was visibly missing from this generic stuff, so I added some. I think it was a good call.

This sauce took a long time to make, but it was worth it. Charlie ate a whole plate! Meat, vegetables, everything. He didn't spit any of it back out. Scoooore!

Conclusion: Liked it, and it's Charlie Approved. It was very rich. I couldn't finish the portion I served myself. It freezes for six months, so we have plenty to store.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Family Meal: Pork Loin with Roasted Peppers and Polenta and Parmesan Gratin

My first dinner from The Family Meal was quick and easy, and the flavors were very pure and unmuddied (ah, what a refreshing change!). There were a few steps that I thought were odd in the preparation of the Pork Loin with Roasted Peppers (pg 124-125).

The peppers roast easily enough with a bit of oil for 40 minutes. Once skinned and sliced, the peppers and their juices are moved to a pan and simmer away for a few minutes. Maybe that concentrates their flavor? No salt, no pepper, nothing. Perfect.

The pork loin cutlets (thin cut) are similarly straightforward, cooked briefly in olive oil, then sprinkled with salt and pepper after they're done. A parsley garlic oil is drizzled on top. A strange step with the oil was that I had to blanch garlic in boiling water, then ice water, three times. Maybe it takes the sting out of the garlic?

Conclusion: Liked it. Especially the peppers. Mmmm.
My polenta looks like scrambled eggs.
I've never had polenta before. Now that I've tried Polenta & Parmesan Gratin (pg 112-113), there's no turning back. I'm in love. This recipe mixes parmesan cheese into the polenta, and then more parmesan is sprinkled on top, and the whole shebang is broiled until brown. This was creamy, nutty (from the browned cheese), and rich.

Conclusion: Love it. Plus, it's Charlie-approved. This was so easy to make, with such great reward, that I know I'll make it over and over again.

We're off to a good start.

Also, I made Raisin Swirl Bread from Baking. I love cinnamon raisin bread, and have been thinking for a while that homemade, it's probably crazy-delicious. I was right. It's a wonderful thing to have control over the cinnamon mixture and the raisins. As far as I'm concerned, a good cinnamon raisin bread can't have too much of either of those things. Mmm. The dough has a nice hint of orange zest. I know I've said I don't like orange flavored baked goods, but this is so slightly orangey that it hardly counts. Dorie suggests an optional pinch of nutmeg. I could have used a bigger pinch. 
Conclusion: Liked it. I'm looking forward to making french toast out of it. This is also Charlie-approved. Hooray!

Wrapping Up 365: No Repeats, and Up Next

My days of mediocre meals are over. Of the dishes from 365: No Repeats that I made, the only stand-outs were Everything-Crusted Chicken Rolls Stuffed with Scallion Cream Cheese and Turkey Cutlet Parmigiano with Warm, Fresh Grape Tomato Topping, Pesto, and Mozzarella. I've been trying to pick meals that sound interesting and flavorful (and that don't include mushrooms, because Matt hates them. There are a shocking number of mushroom-related recipes in this book), and still, most of what I made is unmemorable and easily shrugged off.

Piling layers of food on top of each other does not make the meal taste better, nor does using every ingredient you can grab in thirty minutes.

I'm feeling some sentimental attachment to this book. I think because it's been part of my kitchen's landscape for ten years. Still, the fact that I'm not interested in making any other recipes is a louder argument for tossing it than sentimentality is an argument for keeping it. (Technically, I wanted to make some Aussie Meat Pies, but I'll be damned if I can find the recipe again. My memory knows it's in there, but I can't find it in the index or in scanning the book. Too much work.)

 Sorry, Rachael, but I'm going to have to toss this.

Moving on...

To calm my inner-Bourdain, my next book will be the newly released The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria. This is a book of recipes that the chefs at elBulli restaurant in Spain (largely regarded as one of the world's great restaurants) would prepare for the staff (aka, family) meal before their shift. It makes me very sad that elBulli recently shut down. Interwoven into my daydreams of moving to Europe was the idea that I'd find a way to have a meal at elBulli while I was there. Oh well.
The Family Meal is a gorgeous book. Every recipe has step-by-step photos. Each recipe provides ingredient quantities to make enough for 2, 6, 20, or 75 people. While I doubt I'll ever cook for 75, I very much appreciate that it's broken down for two people. These are meant to be recipes that can be easily made at home. It makes me giggle that, to Adria, "home recipes" include foams. As I do not have a foamer, I will not be making those. ha! Some of the recipes include meat parts (lamb neck? Really?) or fish that I don't have easy access to. Still, most of the dishes do look accessible and fairly uncomplicated.

I'm excited about this one.

Oh, and I've decided that Baking, by Dorie Greenspan, is officially one of my long-term projects.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

FFwD: Buckwheat Blini with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche

In the land of French Fridays with Dorie, I have a hunch that this is going to be one of those weeks where I feel like I ate a totally different dish from everyone else. I expect that most people will love Buckwheat Blini with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche (pg 172 of Around My French Table). I hated it. HAAAATED it.

I mixed up my buckwheat batter last night, to allow it to sit for as long as possible, because Dorie says that the longer it sits, the more flavor it will have. I don't have much experience with buckwheat flour, so I had no idea of what this was supposed to taste like, but more flavor is usually better.

I was warily curious about this recipe. I have an unfounded aversion to cold fish that is not sushi or sashimi. It makes no sense. I know this. My nonsensical aversion has kept me away from smoked salmon. I had no idea what it would taste like, and I kept an open mind about it.

Once the pancakes are made, I just smeared a bit of creme fraiche on each and put a bit of salmon on top. Behold their glory, while I sit here and await an invitation to become food stylist to the stars...
Who wouldn't want to eat that?
I wanted to like this. I did. Really. I can't even put my finger on precisely what my problem was. I didn't hate the salmon, but it was kind of overwhelming here. I plan to make bagels this weekend, and suspect that I'll much prefer the salmon sandwiched between bread and slathered in chive cream cheese. The buckwheat pancakes on their own weren't bad. People rave about creme fraiche, which makes me think that the only kind available in my supermarket is not a good version. I haven't been impressed by it a single time Dorie has had us use it. After three bites, I just couldn't continue.

I poured maple syrup on the remaining pancakes and had those for dinner. Much better.

Conclusion: Hated it. Matt said he'd eat it, to be polite, if he were a guest in someone's house and they served it to him, but otherwise, no.

365: No Repeats: Grilled Turkey Cutlets with Warm Cranberry Salsa and Sauteed Sweet Potatoes

Grilled Turkey Cutlets with Warm Cranberry Salsa and Sauteed Sweet Potatoes (pg 81) appealed to me, in that it brings the flavors of Thanksgiving together in a manageable timeframe. Once again, the results are underwhelming. Oh, Rachael, you've made such a fool of me all these years.

The sweet potatoes were the only element of this dish that I would make again. Slice 'em thin and cook them in oil until they're browned and cooked through, then stir a bit of butter and parsley in. Delightful.

The turkey cutlets are seasoned with salt and pepper, and a splash of lime juice at the end. Snoozefest.

The "salsa" was weird and unpleasant. In case you ever wondered, cilantro and dried cranberries are not complementary flavors.

To make matters even worse, when eaten all together, this was too salty. That's my fault (or hers, for not providing measurements. Yeah, lets blame her. Mwa ha haa!).
At least the salsa looks pretty.
Conclusion: Just okay. I'm quickly losing interest in this book (much to Matt's eternal relief). The recipes seem to be reliably unimpressive.

I'm also considering adding Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking, to my long-term projects. I find myself flipping through it at least once a week, and then shelving it again out of loyalty to cooking through Ready for Dessert, which I am still very much interested in. As it is a dessert book, Ready for Dessert does not include breakfast-type recipes, which leaves a big gap in my baking needs--a gap that Dorie can easily fill. I'm a little worried that my sidebar will begin to look unwieldy if I add another title to the long-term projects, but I'm guessing no one is studying my conclusion tally with any real gusto, so it probably won't bother anyone but me. Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

365: No Repeats: Lime-and-Honey Glazed Salmon with Warm Black Bean and Corn Salad

We've returned from our Hill Country adventure. Sadly, Nature foiled our pumpkin patch plan. It poured all night on Saturday, so for some reason that I don't understand, the patch was closed "due to weather" on Sunday. Guess pumpkins don't like mud. We had fun in the mud, though, which is something we couldn't have done in dry old Corpus Christi. Pumpkins or not, we managed to find Fall.
I'm trying to scour this cookbook for veggie-laden meals. This is no easy task. Lime-and-Honey Glazed Salmon with Warm Black Bean and Corn Salad (pg. 253) was healthy (spinach, red onion, and red bell pepper are in there too), but it lacked oomph. The subtle flavor of the salmon, marinated for a bit in honey, lime juice, and chili powder, was quite nice. The salad was under-seasoned, though.

Conclusion: Just okay. This wasn't bad, but there was nothing interesting about it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

365: No Repeats: Lamb Patties with Garlic and Mint Over Mediterranean Chopped Salad

The salad portion of Lamb Patties with Garlic and Mint Over Mediterranean Chopped Salad (pg 80) is like any other Greek salad. I assumed that there was lettuce involved, but it turns out there wasn't. I added it anyway, because I'd already bought it.

The patties were ground lamb, parsley, too much cumin and too much steak seasoning. This is a lamb dish for people who don't like lamb. It could have been burger meat, and I'd never know the difference. I like lamb to taste like lamb. This tasted like cumin. Granted, I did forget to buy the mint that was supposed to be mixed in with the meat, and that may have cut the cumin a little, but I doubt it would be enough.
I could only eat one of those patties. Heavy stuff.
Conclusion: Just okay. Not bad, but I don't think that lamb needs a lot of seasoning.

The closest pumpkin patch is 4 hours away, so we're heading out of town for the long weekend, in search of Fall. Be back on Tuesday!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

FFwD: Olive-Olive Cornish Hens

I've never had a cornish hen. I don't know why. It's just not something that's ever crossed my path prior to this week's French Friday's with Dorie selection. Olive-Olive Cornish Hens (pg 225 of Around My French Table) is a cute name for a wee chicken that has olive tapenade rubbed under the skin, and then olive oil rubbed into the skin. Easy, right?


Except for the part where you rip out the little birdy's spine and then crush it's breastbone so it lays flat. On principle, I don't really have a problem with this. The huli-huli chicken I cooked from Hawai'i Cuisine a month back prepared me for the spinal dismemberment. My problem was that the hens I bought were partially frozen, which I didn't realize at the time. Two days in the fridge was apparently not enough to thaw them out. I took them out to bring them to room temperature, and heard them clunk against the counter. Woops. It was a little difficult to cut through the spine while the entire cavity was full of frozen "juice." Bloody chunks of ice wound up all over my counter. Gross. Me. Out. I will say that it was much easier to cut through the ribs with kitchen shears than it was to saw through them with a not-so-sharp knife, like I did a month ago, so I'll thank Dorie for that tip. I put so much weight behind my breaking of poor birdy's breastbone that I smashed my head on the cabinet. Twice. I'm a slow learner.
I assumed that cornish hens would just taste like chicken. Correct on that count. However, Dorie says that the tapenade, "when heated, goes a long way," so I expected more bang for my buck, in terms of potent olive flavor.

Because the tapenade at my supermarket is awful, I made Dorie's recipe from page 487. Straight off the spoon, this is the best tapenade I've ever had. It was light and lemony and herbal, and I want to bake a bread tomorrow so I have something to smear it on.

Cooked on the hens, the tapenade lost most of its flavor.

My hen cooked perfectly in thirty minutes. Matt's was bloody. They were beside each other in a pan. I don't understand how their experiences in-oven could have yielded such different results.

Conclusion: Love the tapenade, alone. As for the hens, they were just okay. The tapenade didn't hold up to cooking.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

365: No Repeats: Everything-Crusted Chicken Rolls Stuffed with Scallion Cream Cheese

Everything-Crusted Chicken Rolls Stuffed with Scallion Cream Cheese (pg 245) is a take-off on an everything bagel. The idea appealed to my obsession with all things bagel, and it seemed kind of whimsical, so I gave it a go. Chicken coated in poppy, sesame, onion flakes, and kosher salt? How could it be bad? (Actually, the recipe didn't call for the kosher salt. I added it anyway. Anyone who knows anything about an everything bagel knows that big flakes of salt are key. Consider yourself schooled, Rachael.)

The bagel accoutrements are mixed with breadcrumbs (I used panko). Smear scallion cream cheese on the chicken, roll it up, flour it, egg it, breadcrumb it, fry it.

I worried that this wouldn't cook through, since they were thick when rolled up. I filled the pan halfway with oil, and they cooked nicely on the inside by the time they were golden and crispy on the outside.

Conclusion: Matt and I both liked this a lot. It's a tasty, fun take on breadcrumb chicken. Yum.

I think I'm trying to conjure Fall by baking. Weather-wise, it's not working, but it sure is making my mouth happy. I'd bought fresh pecans at the farmer's market a few weeks back, and have been daydreaming about Lebovitz's Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread cookies (pg 198 of Ready for Dessert) ever since.
Cookies in photo are smaller than they appear.
Matt thinks they taste like Christmas cookies (as if that's a reason to dismiss them), but that's only because both our mothers make pecan sandies/snowballs for the holidays. My mom calls hers "slugs" and gives them antennae. Ha! These shortbread cookies do not have antennae, but I have to say I like them better than either of our mother's cookies (don't tell!). The texture is more of a solid biscuit than a crumbly cookie. Toasting the pecans amp up their flavor, and the whole thing is buttery and rich. It's a good thing I froze half of the batter, because I could single-handedly eat the whole batch.

Lebovitz suggests dipping the cookies in bittersweet chocolate. You won't hear me say this about many desserts, but I don't think chocolate has any place on these cookies. They're perfect, just as they are.

Conclusion: Love. True love.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Unrest in the Realm of Ray

Things are not going well at all. If these end-results continue in this vein, it will be proof-positive that tastes change over the years. Remember when I commended RR for not being afraid of spice? Nix that. It's hard to muster the interest to blog about lousy recipes, much as I'm sure it's hard to muster the interest to read about them, so I won't linger long on any one disaster.

Oh, and this book's format is driving me INSANE. I jot down the page # of the recipes I plan to cook on my grocery list so I can go back and find them when I'm ready to cook, but the list inevitably finds its way into the trash after the first or second meal, and then I have to scan the index to find the recipe I planned to make. Super annoying. Moving on...

The least offensive dish of the lot, Ricotta Pasta with Zucchini, Garlic, and Mint (pg 171 of 365: No Repeats) tasted even blander than you would expect from the title. I picked this because I had half a container of ricotta that needed a meal to call home. I used the whole pack of mint, but the flavor was still very light. I barely tasted garlic, even though I used extra. Snooze-fest.
Conclusion: Just okay. I'd only make this again if I had all of the ingredients wasting away in my fridge.

Now, welcome to the danger zone.

Creamy Broccoli Soup with Cheddar and Chive Toast (pg 149) was inedible. I think the liquid-to-solid ratio was off, because blend as I might, this never coalesced into a lovely, soupy puree. It was a solid pile of mush with some puddles. This was frozen chopped broccoli. It shouldn't be hard to puree. Ignoring the texture, it didn't even taste good. To finish the soup, you're instructed to add lemon zest and juice to the creamed soup. This gave it an unpleasant sour flavor. Bad. Just bad. All I ate was the toast, which had chives, bacon, and cheddar melted on top.
Conclusion: Yuck. Hated it.

Dinner last night was no better. Involtini all'Enotec'Antica with Gnocchi (pg 166) sounded interesting. Meatball-stuffed radicchio leaves simmer in a thick tomato/wine/beef stock sauce until the meat is cooked through. Polish stuffed cabbage is delicious, so I thought this would be similar, and worth trying. Wrong.

The meatballs tasted like any other meatball you've ever had. Cooking them this way didn't impact the flavor.

Radicchio, in my opinion, needs to be used in small doses, and balanced with a sweeter flavor to counter its bitterness. It's too harsh to be eaten in big chunks at a time.

Matt asked what in the world I'd done to the sauce, because it tasted like Chef Boyardee. He was 100% right.

Conclusion: Hated it. I'm also giving up on gnocchi until I find myself in a restaurant that specializes in it. I've never liked it. Every time I've ordered it, or, in this case, boiled up the store-bought version, I get dense dough-bombs. On Top Chef and assorted other food-related programming, I've heard gnocchi described as light and pillowy. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt that it CAN be good, but I'm not wasting my time on it until I find a version with a reputation of excellence.

To pull myself out of my food doldrums last night, I threw together Very Spicy Baked Pears with Caramel (pg 107) from Ready for Dessert. It was exactly what I needed: easy to make, complex flavors, and all the ingredients were things I had on-hand. All you do is mix melted butter, brown sugar, rum, and a smashed medley of cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and black peppercorns, and bake. This smelled sooooo good when it was baking. Once the pears are cooked, remove them. Pour the spices and drippings into a skillet, add cream, and cook until you have caramel. I've never made caramel before, and I think I could have left it on to thicken up a little more, but I was afraid I'd ruin it. Next time, I'll wait longer.
 I have no problem with the standard Fall spice mix of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, but I was pleased that the omission of nutmeg and the addition of star anise, pepper, and rum changed the flavor enough to make it both familiar and surprising at the same time.

Conclusion: Liked it. It cries out for a scoop of vanilla ice cream, though.