Friday, September 14, 2012

The End

I'm closing up shop over here at Cookbook Immersion Project. You can keep up with me at my other blog, Mandatory Fun. See you there!

Friday, September 7, 2012

FFwD: Eggplant "Tartine" with Tomatoes, Olives, and Cucumbers

I'm back in business, baby! My family has officially moved to Naples, Italy. We're currently staying at the Navy Lodge, which is actually a lot more comfortable than I expected. Our room is basically a two bedroom apartment with full kitchen, living room, and a washer/dryer. I'm still equipmentally challenged, but I should be able to keep up with the group until we're able to move into our apartment. It's going to take a while. There are all sorts of contract loops to jump through, and the earliest appointment they could give us for the "pre-contract meeting" was September 25th. Oy. If I'm lucky, we'll move in by November. It'll be worth it, though...
View from the kitchen terrace. AHHHHHHH!
Anyway, Eggplant "Tartine" with Tomatoes, Olives, and Cucumber was within my capabilities for this week. Thank goodness the stove here came with a baking sheet, because the one I brought from home is way too big to fit. Woops.
I was disappointed that there was no bread involved in this tartine. I don't really see how this could be considered a tartine, by any definition. Unfortunately, I forgot to peel my eggplant. The skin was extremely tough, so we couldn't eat it, and the eggplant's flesh clung to it for dear life, so this turned out to be harder to eat than it should have been. That may be the reason why I felt like I preferred the tomato/cucumber/caper salad on its own, and that the eggplant didn't contribute. (I couldn't find a normal size jar of olives. Everything was enormous. My fridge is small. The olives didn't make the cut.)

This dish was unremarkable to me. Not bad, but unmemorable. Matt's not a huge eggplant fan to begin with, so he won't be asking for it again. He ate it, but I don't think it overwhelmed him with eggplant love.

Regardless, it feels good to be cooking with the group again, and I'm glad that this was a straightforward recipe that I could handle. Ciao!

Monday, July 30, 2012

TwD: Blueberry Nectarine Pie, minus the pie.

I wasn't sure that I was going to participate in this week's Tuesdays with Dorie. The recipe, Blueberry Nectarine Pie, sounded deeelicious, except for one very important thing. The nectarines and peaches in my mother's supermarket are awful. 100% inedible. Horrid. Especially after coming from Texas, where they sold small, just-picked, juice-running-to-your-elbow peaches at the farmer's market.

My mother bought a crate of peaches at Cosco for $9. Their insides were dry cotton. Disgusting. We thought they'd improve a little with time, but they only molded over.

Every time I went food shopping, I bought one nectarine. Finally, I found an edible batch. Not great--a little hard, not a lot of flavor, but at least there was some juice. I went back to the store and bought a few more. The recipe has you boil the berries, nectarines, sugar, and lemon zest for a bit on the stovetop, which helped improve the fruit. That's as much of the recipe as I followed.

See, my mom shops at Cosco regularly. She lives alone, so it takes her a long time to get through the food. She asked me if I knew of any recipes that use goat cheese. I looked in her refrigerator drawer. She had one long 10 oz bar of goat cheese, and several 5 ounce bars. It's a lot of goat cheese. My thoughts instantly turned to the Tourteau de Chevre in Dorie's Around My French Table, which calls for 9 ounces of goat cheese. Perfect! An extra ounce of goat cheese never hurt anything. I served the fruit from the pie recipe alongside the tourteau, and it was absolutely delicious. (What's the difference between a tourteau and a tart? Beats me. Tourteau sounds snootier.)

My only minor complaint is that the fruit was a tad too sweet for me. I'd cut back on the sugar next time. Loved the nectarine/blueberry combo, though. YUM.

The hosts for this week are Hilary of Manchego's Kitchen  and Liz of That Skinny Chick Can Bake. Check out their blogs for the full pie recipe.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

FFwD: Lemon Barley Pilaf

I know I'm one of many who made this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe last week, to complement the salmon. I had no idea what to expect out of Lemon Barley Pilaf. I don't remember ever having barley, except for the one time I tried my dad's beef and barley soup. My hatred for the soup stemmed from my hatred for stewed beef. I barely touched it, and the barley made no impression on me.

I was confused by this recipe, because I thought that pilaf had to involve rice. There is no rice in this dish. The dictionary I looked in defined pilaf as a rice dish that is cooked in broth (is that all??), so if the broth is the only difference, then yes, I guess this qualifies as barley pilaf.
This needs some greenery. Bring on a zucchini!
I boosted the amount of vegetables called for in this recipe. It's a pet peeve of mine when a recipe calls for a half of a red pepper. Why not a whole red pepper? Why do I have to wrap up the remainder and forget about it in my fridge? These days, I automatically use the whole thing, no matter how much the recipe calls for. I also added extra carrots to this.

The premise of this dish is promising. It easily could have hosted even more vegetables. I loved the chewy little nubbins of barley. I could kick myself for never trying it before. It doesn't taste like anything, and it's just a nice texture. The dish lacked flavor, though. I couldn't tell there was any lemon zest in there, and I used twice as much as called for. If lemon is part of the title, I want to taste the lemon! Fresh herbs would improve things, too. It was good, but it could have been better. I'll make this again, with much tweaking.

Friday, July 20, 2012

FFwD: Salmon with Basil Tapenade

For anyone who's keeping track, I'm still at my Mom's house in NY. Her hip has healed nicely, and the doc gave her the okay today to lose the cane and start driving again. Woohoo! Matt is still back in Texas, where, today, movers packed up all our belongings and sent them off on their trans-Atlantic voyage. What, besides Matt and the dog, have I missed over the past few weeks? My cookbooks. Only my cookbooks. I need to seriously rethink the amount of crap I keep laying around. I should just get rid of it all and make room for more cookbooks, since they appear to be what I love most.

Because I'm hell-bent on ingesting as many bagels, Italian cookies, and slices of pizza as I can before I leave for Naples, I've been bloated and lazy and haven't felt like cooking, so I waited until the last minute to make this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe: Salmon with Basil Tapenade. (I recognize that it's ridiculous to cling to Italian cookies and pizza as if I'll never have them again when I'm in the process of moving to Italy, but they won't be these cookies, and it won't be this pizza. You know--the ones that taste like home.)

It's a good thing that this recipe was simple. I was partially tempted to make Dorie's recipe for tapenade, because it's the freshest, most delicious tapenade I've ever eaten. But then I remembered that my mom has no food processor (she actually criticized me for requesting one on my bridal registry, saying that I'd never use it. WRONG! Score one point for Stubborn Daughter Syndrome). Given my lethargy, there was no chance I'd be chopping up all those olives by hand. I bought a jar of tapenade and never looked back.
The instructions say to make pockets in the salmon and smear some tapenade/basil/lemon zest and juice mixture in the pockets. Personally, I found this step to be unnecessary, because then you thin out the remaining mixture with olive oil and pour it on top of the salmon. The layer in the middle didn't contribute much. Most of it squished out, so the main hit of flavor came from the dressing on top. My lazy bones will ignore that step in the future. As a sauce, the tapenade mixture paired beautifully with the salmon. Following Dorie's instructions and timing, the fish cooked perfectly. My mom announced, "I love good food." Sounds like a ringing endorsement to me.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

FFwD: Blueberry Mascarpone Roulade

When I saw this month's French Fridays with Dorie recipes, I thought that Blueberry Mascarpone Roulade would make an excellent 4th of July cake, and from that moment on, my brain remembered the schedule as having this cake due this week instead of next. The recipe that was actually on the schedule for this friday is Ginger Pickled Cucumbers. Can you blame me for swapping? Where's the celebration in cucumber salad?

I'll make the cucumbers for next week. For now, roulade...
Hello, my Precious.
The cake took longer to make than I expected it to. Charlie kept interrupting me. I didn't have as much confectioner's sugar as I needed, and my mom had just used up the heavy cream, so cake construction was delayed by a trip to the store. Fortunately, the cake had to sit, rolled up in a towel, until it was room temp. Mine sat for several hours longer than that, and turned out just fine. I did not realize that, once assembled, the cake then has to sit for another two hours in the fridge. My bad.

I was worried at the outset, because the sponge cake does not include any flavoring. No vanilla, no lemon. Nothing. It turned out just right, though. It's the perfect texture and weight to stand up to the mascarpone/whipped cream/berry combo.

This cake was so, so delicious, and rich enough that one small slice was perfectly satisfying. I had no impulse to go back for seconds. After stubbornly refusing to taste it for a good fifteen minutes, Charlie snuck a bite, then inhaled the rest of his slice.

This cake has a fancy, dress-up occasion feel to it. I'm going to have to make it again in the future, because my husband, the berry fanatic, would have flipped over it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

TwD: Almond Biscotti

Technically, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was for Hazelnut Biscotti, but my mom had a big, heaping bag of almonds in the fridge, so I used those, and swapped Disarrono for the Frangelico.

This was a trouble-free recipe. I always worry when I'm cooking in someone else's kitchen that I won't have everything I need, but in this case, I was actually better off baking at Mom's than I would have been at home. The instructions say to bake the sliced biscotti on wire racks, rather than baking sheets. The only racks I have at home are coated in black--I guess they're nonstick??--and there's no chance I'd put them in the oven.

I've made other biscotti recipes before, and none of them ever seem to work quite right. This recipe, on the other hand, did exactly what it was supposed to. The dough sliced easily into nice, thin slabs, without everything falling apart. They baked up crispy, and looked perfect.

And then I tasted one.

I MUST have used the wrong measuring spoon for the baking soda. It was all that I could taste. My mom says she doesn't know what I'm talking about, and that the biscotti are delicious. It's possible that my taste buds are just oversensitive to baking soda flavor, but I don't know how she can not taste it, and I truly think I added too much. I remember thinking, "Wow, those puffed up a lot" when I pulled the loaves out of the oven. None of the biscotti recipes I've made previously seemed to rise much in the oven. Part of me is kind of hoping that one other Dorista had the same experience, so that I feel less crazy.

Additionally, I don't think the amaretto added enough almond flavor. Next time I try this--and I will try it again, because I am so befuddled about that baking soda--I'll add some extract.

The texture was right. The workability of the dough was right. The ease of throwing it together was right. The look was right. The only thing wrong was the damn baking soda. Bummer. Hey, at least Mom likes them.

For the full recipe, check out our hosts for this week: Jodi of Homemade and Wholesome and Katrina of Baking and Boys

Thursday, June 28, 2012

FFwD: Corn Pancakes

In a bout of forethought, in trying to complete FFwD recipes before being separated from all-things-kitchen, I made this week's recipe, Corn Pancakes (pg 337 of Around My French Table), two weeks ago. Unfortunately, my pre-planning did not extend to writing up my post about the pancakes at that time, so the memory is pretty fuzzy as I type this now. Also, the pics were uploaded onto my desktop, which is still with my husband in Texas. I am now at my mother's in Brooklyn, so no photos for you! Don't worry--you're not missing much. Just imagine yellow pancakes.

I thought that this sounded like a delightful recipe, and figured they'd be a great way to trick my son into eating corn. Not that he's missing a world of nutrition by not eating corn, but any time that I can get him to eat anything new, it makes me happy.

For some reason, I thought that the corn would be kept whole, and dot the pancakes. That is not correct. Canned corn is pureed with the other ingredients to make batter. Hot off the griddle, they tasted fine. Nothing special, but fine. I followed the instructions to move the pancakes to a warm oven as they were made.

I finished flipping my last pancake and retrieved its mates from the oven. The texture had completely changed. I can't remember exactly what was wrong, since I stopped after two bites, but I think they'd turned gummy and dense. I gave one to Charlie and he gagged on it. For about three minutes. He's very dramatic.

He and I ate french toast for dinner. Matt insisted upon eating the pancakes--ALL the pancakes--with spinach and over easy eggs, even though he didn't like them, because he didn't want to waste them. He's mental.

I had a hard time with most of June's recipes. July looks like it's shaping up to be exponentially more delicious. Whew!

Friday, June 22, 2012

FFwD: David's Seaweed Sables

Right off the bat, David's Seaweed Sables sounded awful to me. Seaweed does not seem like the type of flavor that lends itself to a sweet/salty mashup of deliciousness. However, this recipe comes to Dorie via David Lebovitz, who I love and adore, and whose book, Ready for Dessert, is the most reliably knock-my-socks-off book I've ever cooked from, so I decided to withhold judgment until I tasted one.

Yeah. Well. Apparently I'm not sophisticated enough to hang with Dorie and David. Wish David had given her a recipe for bacon sables, as mentioned in the intro. I'd be all over those.

I'm not 100% sure that I bought the right nori. The recipe calls for toasted nori. All I found was roasted nori. Same thing? Beats me. I think it's right.

Everything came together very easily in the food processor, so the recipe has that going for it. Once blitzed, and then while baking, they smelled like the South Street Seaport, circa 1989. Not good.
Thanks for the sea salt, Pauline!
My favorite thing about this recipe was he contrast of the pretty salmon colored Alaea Sea Salt that my friend sent me from Hawaii against the light olive-toned sables. Looking at them was all they were good for. Couldn't eat them. Fishy + sweet = unpleasant. I poured a glass of wine, which did nothing to enhance the flavor of the cookie, but did help to burn the terrible aftertaste out of my mouth. I hated them. Matt took one whiff and didn't bother tasting one.

I also made last week's Lime Honey Beet Salad. Another dud. My problem was with the dressing, not the beets. It tasted like detergent to me. I threw it out. June is not being good to me, as far as these recipes go.

I'm off for NY tomorrow, and, from there, on to Naples in August. I've decided to bring Around My French Table with me in my luggage, so I'll do my best to keep up with the recipes for the next few months, until I'm reunited with all of my belongings, which I anticipate to be around October. It'll all depend on whether or not I can make the recipe without a well-stocked pantry or special equipment. Anyway, so I may go missing for a while, but I'll still be reading everyone's posts on Fridays! Wish me luck, and have a great summer!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TwD: French Strawberry Cake

I was cautiously optimistic about the French Strawberry Cake that was selected this week for Tuesdays with Dorie. I love strawberry shortcake, but I hate--HATE--wedding cake. All wedding cake. I didn't even like my own. I just ordered the one that everyone else seemed to like best. The cake part itself usually seems to be a flavorless vehicle to get toppings to your mouth, and it's usually covered in some element that makes it wet. Pudding, fruit, whatever. I don't like it, texturally. My wedding cake fears sprang to the forefront when I read through the recipe for this strawberry cake and realized that the genoise (cake) is supposed to be sliced into thirds, layered with macerated strawberries and whipped cream, then left to set in the fridge for a while. Sounds wet to me.

First problem, right out of the gate, was in slicing the cake. This was not a thick, forgiving cake to cut. It might have been an inch thick. I can't even slice a bagel evenly. I decided to halve it. The conversation with my husband went a little something like this:

Me: I'm supposed to cut this into thirds.
Matt: That?
Me: Yeah.
Matt: Never gonna happen.
Me: I think I'll halve it.
Matt: You can try, but you won't be able to do it.
Me: What are you suggesting?
Matt: Just leave it whole and pile the strawberries and cream on top of it.
Me: I'm not going to do that.
Matt: (Snort.) Good luck.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, bud. I mean, he was right--I made a huge mess of it, but still. haha. Fortunately, whipped cream masks all manner of kitchen disasters.

If anyone out there was able to slice this into thirds, I'm very impressed by you. I want you to know that.
I should be a food stylist.
I didn't really enjoy this cake. I didn't hate it, but I found myself picking the strawberries and cream off and leaving the cake behind. The cake, itself, didn't contribute anything delicious to the whole. I served it at a going-away party for two friends who are moving to Japan, and for myself (On Saturday, I'll begin my trek East, spending a month with fam in NY and DE before moving to Italy in August). A house full of people ate less than half of this cake. I've seen this group of friends clear tables of feasts, so if it was a dessert that they really loved, believe me, it would have been gone in two seconds.

I will say that I LOVED the addition of sour cream to the whipped cream. It gave it a nice tang. I'll definitely use that idea in the future.

If you want to see what this cake looks like when people actually take pretty pictures of it, check out what Sophia and Allison, our hosts for this week, did with it. The full recipe can be found on their blogs.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

TwD: Oasis Naan

It doesn't take much to prompt me to cook Indian food these days, so from the moment that I read that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe from Baking With Julia was Oasis Naan, all I could think about was a big pot of saag to go along with it. The saag was delicious (thank you Madhur Jaffrey!), but my naan was not-so-great. I haven't decided yet whether I bungled the recipe, or if the outcome was not supposed to be similar to restaurant naan, and so my expectations ruined my experience of it.

As I hand-kneaded the dough, I thought to myself that I was being too generous with the instruction to "add more flour as necessary." The dough was extremely wet and sticky, had glued itself to my lightly floured countertop, and had gloved my hands. It took a lot of flour to get it to a consistency that I could knead. It's highly probable that this is the root of my problem. My finished product was a cross between pizza dough and pita. It baked into stiff, dense breads, with none of that lovely stretchy chewiness that I associate with naan. Oh well. I hope everyone else had a better experience! Now, who's ready for some French Strawberry Cake? I am! I am!

I can't find my camera cord anywhere. I'll upload a pic later, if/when it turns up. 

You can find the full recipe on either Maggie's blog, Always Add More Butter, or Phyl's blog, Of Cabbages and King Cakes.

Friday, May 25, 2012

FFwD: Lyonnaise Garlic and Herb Cheese

It was pretty much a no-brainer that I'd love this week's French Friday's with Dorie recipe: Lyonnaise Garlic and Herb Cheese (pg 20 of Around My French Table). Mix oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and herbs into ricotta cheese. Smear on bread. Smile.

Thank goodness it was such a simple recipe, because my brain went wonky while I was shopping for the ingredients. Who knows what would have become of a recipe that involved work? I have a glitch where, 7 times out of 10, I see that a recipe calls for shallots, and think, "Oh good, I have those in the fridge." However, I don't have shallots. I have scallions. I see the word shallot, and I visualize a scallion. I read the word shallot, and I buy a scallion. I do it all the time. I did it this time. I have no explanation.

I used up all my tarragon on a chicken earlier this week, so I took Dorie's recipe as a guideline, and used the herbs I had on hand: basil, chives, thyme, and parsley. And extra garlic, because garlic makes the world better. Stinkier, but better.

This is one of those tasty, satisfying, simple ideas that make me kick myself for needing a recipe for it at all. Why haven't I been doing this my whole life? It's such a logical food combination.

Conclusion: Loved it.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

FFwD: Double Chocolate Banana Tart

I stalled as long as I could before making Double Chocolate Banana Tart, not because I didn't want to eat it, but because I didn't want to make it. In my brain, a fully baked chocolate tart shell + caramelized bananas + chocolate ganache + sliced bananas + glaze = lots and lots of work. Fortunately, my brain was wrong.

The dough for the shell whirs together in no time in the food processor. Then it's pressed into the tart shell, which is waaaay easier than rolling one out and hoping it fits.

All you do to caramelize banana is to cook slices in sugar. Boom. Done.

Chocolate ganache? That's just boiling heavy cream mixed into chopped up chocolate, then stirred with butter.

Layer it, cool it in the fridge, and shortly before serving, slice some fresh banana on top and brush them with heated apricot jelly.
There may have been four layers, but this was the easiest tart I've ever thrown together. It tasted like all the best parts of a banana split.

I would make this again in a heartbeat, but only if I had company coming for dinner. It's pretty, for one, but more importantly, it's quite rich, and I don't think the top layer of bananas will last long enough for Matt and I to eat it on our own. We kept a slice each for tonight's dessert, and sent the remainder off to the USO. I may regret that decision tomorrow.

Conclusion: Loved it.

I made last week's Provencal Olive Fougasse on time, but, as is becoming my habit, I didn't blog about it. All I can say is OH MAH GOD. I'm addicted to it. One bread was the star of my favorite type of dinner--small plates of meats and cheese and veg to grab at and nibble on--and I brought the second to a friend's graduation part last Saturday, where it promptly vanished. One friend said, "I hate olives, but I LOVE this!" Dorie Greenspan: forcing people to reevaluate their tastes, one mouthful at a time. 

Conclusion: Loved it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

FFwD: Almond Flounder (ahem, Tilapia) Meuniere

Matt had to go to a conference in DC for the week, so, in the name of pantry-and-freezer-emptying, I seized the masochistic opportunity to eat a stockpile of Nutrisystem meals that have been sitting around for over a year. I look at those boxes and see dollar signs, and I just can't bring myself to throw them out. They're nasty, though. Really nasty.

I don't mean to come down too hard on Nutrisystem. For some reason--desperation? a less-refined palate?--I didn't gag on them in the past. NS served me well both times I used it, and helped me lose 20+ pounds pre-wedding, then post-baby. Also, it always slaps me in the face with how few fruits and vegetables I eat in a day, when left to my own devices. Maybe it's because I'm just eating the meals to eat them, rather than as a means to an end, but I'm having a really hard time swallowing them. They may start accidentally falling in the trash can. hehe. Anyway. What this all leads up to is that, after a few of these wretched meals, I was really, really looking forward to this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe: Almond Flounder Meuniere (pg 290 of Around My French Table.) I couldn't get my hands on flounder, so I used tilapia, for no reason other than that the cutlets were fairly flat, and I have it in my head, with no proof, that flounder is, too.

This fish couldn't be easier to prepare. Brush some egg yolk on one side of the fish, then dredge it in a mixture of ground almonds, flour, salt, pepper, and lemon zest. I had no lemons, so I took a chance and used orange zest. It was a delicious impulse. The fish is then cooked for a few minutes on each side in browned butter. YUM. I'm just sad that I haven't made this dish sooner. It's so easy and so tasty.

Conclusion: Loved it.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for a catch-up recipe that I made last week. My freezer-purge finally prompted me to cook Short Ribs in Red Wine and Port (pg 254). Months ago, I bought frozen short ribs from the grass-fed beef guy at my farmer's market. I came home, threw them in my freezer, and haven't touched them since.
Who wants a fat sandwich?
I won't get too involved with the preparation, since it's so far in the past for everyone else, but I hated the outcome. I must have skimmed six inches of grease off the surface of the broth, and there were still great globules of fat on the bones. My stomach lurched just looking at them, and then when they turned out to just taste like stew beef (my most loathed enemy), I gave up and ate a bowl of Cheerios for dinner instead. For the record, Matt liked it. I hope the memory stands by him, because he's never having it again. ha!

Conclusion: Hated it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TwD: Hungarian Shortbread

When I first tasted the Hungarian Shortbread (pg 237-238 of Baking with Julia) that we baked up this week for Tuesdays with Dorie, I thought it was okay, but nothing special. However, with each day that passed, it became more and more compulsively eatable. I only made half a batch, which was plenty.

This recipe employs a neat technique of freezing and then grating the dough directly into the pan. With the help of my trusty food processor, this was simple as could be. I couldn't find any rhubarb at the supermarket, so I couldn't make the recommended jam from it. I used a jar of tart lemon curd that I had in the fridge. It offset the sweet, buttery dough nicely. Too nicely. Nom nom nom!
Yep. Definitely glad I only baked half a batch.
I'm so glad that I read people's advice to bake the bottom layer for a while before adding the jam and top layer. I baked it for 15 minutes, and the end result still gave the effect of raw dough. I wish I left it in longer, because the best bits were the browned edges.

No one but me ate more than one piece of it, so this won't become one of my go-to recipes. In fact, I threw out what was left last night, because I didn't want to finish it all by my lonesome. I would have sent it to work with my husband, but he forgot to bring it on Monday, and today he flew off to a symposium in DC. Ah, well.

The hosts for this week's recipe are Lynette and Cher. You can find the full recipe on either of their blogs.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

FFwD: Navarin Printanier

April in Texas is not the time to cook a thick lamb stew, which is the best way to describe this week's French Fridays with Dorie selection: Navarin Printanier. It hit 88 degrees yesterday. After half a bowl, I broke a sweat. My husband reminded me that it's still chilly in other parts of the country, so this wasn't a totally unseasonable choice to be put on the schedule. I know he's right, but that didn't help me want to eat it.

I've said before that I just don't like stew. I would like to amend that statement. I don't like beef stew. I've been delighted with most lamb stews that I've tried, and this one is no exception. Between the turnips and the pearl onions, the smell reminded me of Thanksgiving. The tomato paste and the large amount of flour used to thicken the broth made it even more hearty than stews I've eaten before. This would be lovely if you were snowed in. I'll keep it in mind for next winter, when I live someplace that actually gets damp and cold.
Conclusion: Liked it. Not to mention that it used up the bag of pearl onions that's been in my freezer since Thanksgiving, as well as my bag of baby carrots. The great freezer purge continues!


Friday, April 20, 2012

FFwD: Coconut Friands

I have no specific problem with coconut, except that, given a list of flavors, it would likely be my last pick. I don't mind it as a background ingredient, but I don't like it when it coats the outside of a cake (in the same way that I don't like nuts in my ice cream. It interferes with the texture in a way that other add-ins do not), or when it's the primary flavor of something, because it usually is TOO coconutty for my taste.

That said, this week's French Fridays with Dorie pick of Coconut Friands (little cakes baked in mini muffin tins) was perfectly timed. I was having a lousy Wednesday (fourth anniversary since my dad died) and a little baking therapy was just what I needed. This recipe made me happy because I had all the ingredients already, it used up my coconut and four egg whites that I had in the freezer (trying to eat through the contents of my pantry before I move this summer), and it was easy as can be. I wasn't in a mind-space to do much besides stir ingredients together, so it was perfect.
All that was left by the time I remembered to snap a photo. Don't judge me. haha
I was delighted at how much I liked these little cakes. Especially when they were fresh from the oven, the edges and sides were a little crisp, almost like they'd caramelized. That effect was gone by the next day, but it was lovely while it lasted. They certainly tasted of coconut, but the flavor seemed mild because it was so well balanced by vanilla. I think that the use of unsweetened coconut was crucial to keeping the flavor in check. Hot, they tasted of whipped cream, somehow. I can't explain that.

Needless to say, therapy baking turned into therapy eating. Oh well, it was just for a day. Charlie liked these too, much to my surprise. Maybe I've just been baking the wrong flavored treats for his palate. He ate one and then ran to the kitchen and was stretching to reach another off the counter. Eat up, lad, eat up. Please, don't make me eat them all myself.

Conclusion: Loved them.

Also, consider this a public service announcement. I made the Basic White Loaf from Baking with Julia that was previously covered by Tuesdays with Dorie. The bread was easy and delicious, but the damn dough broke my Kitchenaid mixer. Online searches have revealed to me that you are not supposed to turn the Kitchenaid mixer on higher than level "2" when using the bread hook or it will burn out the motor, so when the recipe instructed me to raise the speed to medium, things went wrong. I had no idea, and I'm guessing some of you don't know either. I have to take her apart this weekend to check out her innards, because the interwebs tell me that the most common problem can be fixed with a $25 replacement part--some failsafe piece that it designed to break before the motor is actually damaged. Fingers crossed!
How can I stay mad at a face like that?
Let me just tell you, kneading butter into a stiff dough by hand is no fun. No fun at all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie: Lemon Loaf Cake

I held out against the siren song of Tuesdays with Dorie for as long as I could. I wanted to join them back when they were baking through Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking, but the group was closed to newcomers by the time I found out about them. They finished Baking a few months ago, and have moved on to a book that Dorie wrote with Julia Child, called Baking with Julia. I refrained, thinking that I didn't need baked goods around the house every week. I read posts of folks who participate in both TwD and FFwD, and everything they were making from Baking with Julia looked so, so good. And, contrary to my expectations, it wasn't all sweet. About a week ago, it clicked in my head that they weren't posting on a weekly basis. I ran to check Tuesdays with Dorie's website, and realized that yes, it's a bi-weekly group. Twice a month sounds much friendlier on my waistline than four times a month. Yeah, boyeeee! I ordered my book and skipped off to a vacation in New Orleans.

My enthusiasm to get started immediately upon my return from the trip contributed to the mediocrity of my Lemon Loaf Cake (pg 252, or recipe can be found on our hosts' posts, here or here.) I in no way blame the recipe, and I want to try it again, properly. See, my book hadn't arrived yet on Sunday when I went to the supermarket, so I bought ingredients that I thought could be in it, hoping the book would arrive on Monday so that I could bake it by Tuesday. I did not anticipate cake flour or heavy cream, and my loaf pan was the wrong size. I ran to CVS in a monsoon yesterday, certain that they would have heavy cream, but all I could find was half and half. My toddler and I were already drenched, so I grabbed the half and half and crossed my fingers that it would work.

The loaf came together easily and smelled wonderful while it was baking. It has a nice lemon flavor (though I think a lemon glaze icing on top would be perfect), but the texture was definitely wrong. No doubt about it, this tough, chewy crumb was not as it should be. Oh, well. Note to self: half and half is not a valid replacement for heavy cream. Ha! My husband took the cake to work (Navy), so he could put it out in the USO. Sailors always wander through there looking for treats, and I'm sure they'll appreciate it.

I'm super-excited to be part of the group and baking along with this remarkable, intimidating book. There are some complicated recipes in there! Holy moly. I'm especially excited about all the breads. I'm in bread mode these days. Should be fun!

Monday, April 16, 2012

FFwD: I'm here! I'm here!

I haven't forgotten Dorie. We took a trip to New Orleans (I'm now in love with NO), and though I completed both Asparagus and Bits of Bacon (pg 330 of Around My French Table) and the Sardine Rillettes (pg 25) before we left, I never managed to post about it. Whattaya gonna do?

As far as the asparagus goes, there were no surprises. It's a fairly familiar flavor combo, so I have no strong response or dramatic stories to tell regarding it. Will it replace my standard preference of just grilling the asparagus with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper? Nah, probably not. It's nice to have a recipe every now and then that is exactly what you expect and want it to be.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Now. I don't even know where to start with the sardine rillettes. I, like the few Doristas whose posts I've caught up on, bought the most expensive sardines in the store, just to give myself a fighting chance, not that they were really that pricey. Didn't realize I'd have to de-bone them. Honestly, I started out being okay with that idea. I thought it would be self-explanatory once I got in there, because Dorie didn't really provide much by way of instruction besides "lift away the bones" and cut the tail off. I thought the fish's spine (if that's what it was) was pretty cool, and I confess to studying the teeny tiny little vertebrae. While I had my face that close, I noticed almost-invisible slivers of bone in the meat. I attempted to remove those, too, and that's when everything started downhill. I destroyed the first sardine and came to the conclusion that the splintery bones were meant to stay in. I scraped the spine out of the next fish, and then started to get skeeved out that my hands were covered in sloughed-off scales and skin. I decided to scrape the skin off. Mistake. My stomach lurched on the second fish, and between the mess and the smell, I'd had enough after three fish. There wasn't a chance in hell that I was going to muck about with two entire tins of sardines. Nuh-uh. No way.

I mashed my three sardines up with my cream cheese, shallot, scallion, chive, and lemon mixture, then stuck it in the fridge for two hours.
Proof.
I've read that a few folks thought this tasted like tuna. I thought it tasted like tuna's aftertaste, which is a very different thing than tasting like tuna itself. Maybe if I'd used the whole tin, it would have tasted more tuna-ey, but I can't even imagine that adding more fish would have fixed it. One bite was enough for me. That cream cheese mixture, minus the sardines, would have been kick-ass on an Everything bagel, though. Matt thought he liked it after one bite, but by the third, he decided that he didn't like it. This one was a big old bust, and I'm glad it's out of the way so I never have to eat it again.

Conclusion: Hated it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

FFwD: Crab and Grapefruit Salad

Historically, grapefruit is one of my most reviled foods. I just don't like the flavor. It's too sour, and it leaves the raw acid taste in the back of my throat that I always associate with severe heartburn.

In the name of good sportsmanship, I resigned myself to this week's French Fridays with Dorie selection of Crab and Grapefruit Salad (page 134 of Around My French Table), despite the fact that I was sure--SURE--it would be a supreme waste of expensive crab meat. My attitude didn't improve when I told Matt, who likes grapefruit, what I was making, and his response was, "that doesn't sound like it'll work at all."

I was tempted to replace the crab with some much cheaper shrimp, but I remembered the disastrous consequences of meddling with Dorie's Salmon in a Jar recipe, heard Matt's voice pleading, "Next time, just trust Dorie!!", and stopped myself. I stalled on making this all week, and finally, feeling vitamin deficient and like I'm catching Charlie's cold, decided to suck it up and just do it for dinner last night.

I sliced the segments of grapefruit free of their casings, tasted one, and, miracle of miracles! I didn't hate it! In fact, I sort of liked it. I may just really need some extra vitamin C in my diet, but I'm craving another. It's so weird. I'm wondering if, in the past, I scooped bitter pith out with the fruit, and that ruined the fruit for me. I've never dismembered it as Dorie instructs before, so that seems to be the only variable. It's always possible that my tastebuds changed. I hated beer before I had my son, but craved it all during my pregnancy, and love it now. Strange things can happen. Back on point...

Once it was tossed together with the crab meat, orange pepper, jalapeno, cucumber, scallion, mint, and avocado, I could barely notice the grapefruit. Unlike my mother's fruit salad, this mixture didn't seem to be destroyed by its contact with my bitter enemy. This salad was light, refreshing, and so pretty.

I used crab meat that I'd frozen a few weeks ago. I wish I used straight-from-the-Gulf-fresh crab meat, because the meat was tougher this time around than it was when I used the other half a pound originally. In a dish like this, where it isn't being re-cooked, tenderness is key.

Conclusion: Much to my shock, I liked it. I need to go find myself another grapefruit. I have a lifetime of rejection to make up for.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

FFwD: Cocoa Sables

I've devised a scheme for myself to diet without dieting for a bit. This involves several common sense rules, such as eating fruits and/or vegetables at every meal, not buying crap at the supermarket, and, all importantly, not finishing Charlie's food just so it doesn't go to waste. The other biggy, for me, is to stop baking sweets unless they're leaving the house. As I've said many times before, the insane men in my house will eat entire loaves of fresh-baked bread in one sitting, but have little interest in cakes and cookies, so I end up eating the entirety of any sweet on my own. Not good.

I broke my baking rule this week. Dorie made me do it. A lifetime of baking gives you a really strong grip. You should have seen her twisting my arm.

Cocoa Sables (page 402 of Around My French Table) are shortbread cookies. Dorie aptly describes the texture as "sandy." I'm so sure that this is the correct description for these cookies because Charlie held one in his humid little fist for a good forty-five minutes, until it disintegrated all over my couch. It definitely felt like I was scrubbing sand off of the cushion. Buying a dark brown couch was the smartest move we ever made.

I resent cookies that don't go immediately from mixing to baking to eating. I don't like waiting for three hours for the dough to chill. It makes me surly. I became even more surly when every stinking slab of dough that I sliced off the roll crumbled apart. Sandy, indeed. I suspect that I didn't chop my optional chocolate chunks (is chocolate ever really optional? Come on, now.) finely enough, and that it bungled my slices.
I fitted the pieces back together and piled them up as best I could, hoping that they'd fuse in the oven. They did. Hooray! They looked a mess, but at least they weren't small nuggets.
In the end, I loved these cookies. They have a salty hit which is delicious with the chocolate, and are good enough that I could eat a couple and be satisfied, but not so addictive that I need to eat the entire batch in one sitting. I'm shocked to report that Matt, famous for eating one cookie, then asking me a week later where the rest are so he can have another (HA! They're in my belly, fool.), ate a whole plateful. Sweet!

The second roll of dough sits patiently in my freezer.  Must.....resist! For a little while.

Conclusion: Loved them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wrapping Up Indian Cooking, and an Announcement of Sorts

I love Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking. Love, love, love it. Her recipes are easy to follow and execute. Most of them use the same spices over and over, so it may appear daunting at the outset, when you need to load up on whole seed spices that you may not have on hand, but once you have them, they get a lot of use. I found that all the spices I needed were loads cheaper when I bought them from the bulk bin at the organic market instead of the commercially packed versions at the supermarket. By loads cheaper, I mean it would cost me thirty cents to buy enough to fill a normal sized spice jar. Can't beat that.

I was intimidated at the thought of cooking Indian food, but I shouldn't have been. Some of the recipes take a little time and forethought (soaking beans for a few hours, etc), but most of the main course dishes I tried were fairly hands-off. Get them going, then just let them simmer away in a pot for an hour. Believe me, if I can cook great Indian food, so can you.

This is a wonderful cookbook, and one which I'll refer to often. Without doubt, a keeper.

Now, with some amount of regret, I want to say that I'm taking a hiatus from this blog. When I started it last May, it was a fun distraction from my boredom, and a way for me to have fun cooking dinner every night. I did not enjoy cooking or feel confident in the kitchen at the time, and that has all changed through this project. Now that Indian food's under my belt, I can't think of anything that I'd be afraid to attempt. The attitude of "if I can't buy it, I'll make it myself," has been hugely rewarding. I like the method of concentrating on one cookbook for a chunk of time, and will probably continue to do so, but the actual blogging part has begun to feel like a chore, which defeats the whole purpose. I'm consumed with planning a trans-oceanic move, and I keep forgetting all about the blog until right before I go to bed. So, for the time being at least, I'm letting myself off the hook. The blog is going on the backburner.

I do still plan to participate in French Fridays with Dorie, and also with Andrea's monthly challenge at My Kitchen, My World, because I'd love to try recipes from less mainstream food cultures. March's challenge is Finland. They eat food in Finland?? Who knew? haha

If you want to keep tabs on my wheelings and dealings, I'll continue to post on my other blog, Mandatory Fun. Posts over there are much more sporadic, so I feel less pressure. I'll miss hearing from you guys so often. See you for French Friday!!

Friday, March 16, 2012

If Not For the Carrots

I have several dishes from Indian Cooking to report on, and with the exception of a carrot side dish, they were all winners.

My eternal quest for different ways to cook the lowest maintenance seafood in the world (assuming that you buy them debearded, and they don't poison anyone) made it a sure-fire bet that I'd make Goan-Style Mussels (pg 117). This broth is very different from any other mussel recipe I've cooked before, and I loved it. One qualm I have, and this isn't the first of Jaffrey's recipes that's given me this problem, is that she says to make a paste of ginger, garlic, and water in the food processor, which you then cook in oil with other spices, and it becomes the base of your broth. Sounds lovely, except for one thing...
The liquid I produced from using her measurements could not in any way be considered a paste.

This recipe calls for fresh coconut, but that is just not something I feel like dealing with, so I used dried, unsweetened coconut. I was surprised by how much coconut flavor seeped into the broth.
Conclusion: Loved it. The flavors--especially the coconut--worked perfectly with the mussels.

If you can make meatloaf, you can make Jaffrey's Turkey Kebabs (pg 104). Ground turkey, mixed with spices, is formed into hamburger-sized patties, dredged in breadcrumbs, then pan-fried. I would have preferred smaller patties, but the big ones cooked through perfectly according to her timing instructions.
Conclusion: Liked it.

With it, I served Red Kidney Beans (pg 169). Man, these were delicious, but with 2/3 cup of heavy cream and three tablespoons of ghee (clarified butter, which I scored at the organic market), they're a cardiologist's nightmare. Especially because you'd never guess all that fatty goodness was in there. Oh well, it was a delicious treat, which I won't be making often.
Mmmmm. Heart attackey.
Conclusion: Loved it.

And now I come to those carrots. Carrot and Onion Salad (pg 217) didn't sound exceptionally tasty, but I had the ingredients for it, so I gave it a shot. Matt said it tasted like carrots in vinegar, which is an accurate description, despite the absence of vinegar. The dressing is lemon juice, cayenne, salt, pepper, and grated ginger. Neither one of us ate it.
Curses!
Conclusion: Disliked.

A chai-loving friend came by one morning, so I brewed up Spiced Tea (pg 234). Six teaspoons of sugar for two cups of tea is excessive for my taste. Still good, but I'd use lots less sugar in the future. Scanning the recipe, my friend said, "Wait, you just so happen to have cardamom pods in your pantry? Not cardamom, but cardamom pods?" That made me laugh. It's weird to think that a year ago, I didn't even know cardamom pods existed.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

FFwD: Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Look at me, banging out my French Fridays with Dorie catch-up recipes. February and March's schedules were packed with recipes that I've already made on my own. The general reaction to the cheese souffle, which was this week's recipe, was that it tasted like an omelette. No one was impressed. If Dorie provided any variations on the basic recipe, I would have tried one of those. She didn't, so I made Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (pg 98 of Around My French Table) instead.

I don't know why I avoided this recipe for so long. I think the photo in the book makes it look complicated, with lots of components. In reality, this soup was super easy. All you really have to do is poach a chicken breast in broth, coconut milk, and an assortment of spices. Shred the chicken, add cooked rice noodles, then top with the garnishes of your choice. The only ingredients I had to buy were mint and a chicken breast. Everything else was in my pantry/vegetable bin.
It was a nice, unremarkable soup. Nothing that I'd crave, but a good recipe to have tucked away for some day when I need to use up ingredients. I found it a little difficult to eat because the noodles were so long. If I make it again, I'll know to break up the noodles before it goes in the pot. My one complaint is that Matt and I were both hungry again within an hour after dinner. He thought the soup should be an appetizer, not a full meal.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Biryani Bummer

Biryani is my second most beloved dish at Indian restaurants, so I was hell-bent on cooking it myself before my month with Indian Cooking was through. Jaffrey says that Lamb and Rice Casserole (Mughlai Lamb Biryani) (pg 204) is usually served at feasts, but I figured it being Saturday was a good enough excuse. It had to be on a Saturday, because it took allllll daaaaay looooong to make. I won't give you the blow by blow. Just know that it is a lengthy process. Not exceptionally labor intensive, but involving periodic measuring, seasoning, and browning, then leaving things to soak or simmer or bake for 1-3 hours, depending upon the step.
The eggs didn't jive with the rest of the flavors, in my opinion.
I'm certain that this did not come out as it was meant to. The rice was mushy. It's not supposed to be. I'm not sure what went wrong. I followed the nerve-wrackingly precise instructions to a T (soak for 3 hours, drain, rinse, boil rapidly for exactly six minutes, then quickly pile the rice on top of the lamb, drizzle a saffron/milk mixture and browned onions over the top, cover, and bake for an hour.) Maybe I wasn't quick enough. All I know is that the rice was fully cooked after it's 6 minutes of boiling, and baking it for an hour after that turned it into pudding. Jaffrey said to use long grain rice. I interpreted that as normal white long grain rice. I'm wondering if I was meant to use some heartier type that takes longer to cook?

If this dish came together in an hour, I may not have minded the result. This took four hours. For that type of time commitment, I expect it to work. The flavors were delicious, but the consistency of that rice really ruined things for me.

Conclusion: Just okay. I won't make this again. Biryani is restaurant food, not home food.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

FFwD: Gerard's Mustard Tart

This week's French Friday's with Dorie selection of onion biscuits was another duplicate recipe for me, and one that I thought were good hot out of the oven, but didn't eat much of once they were cold, so I opted to cook another catch-up recipe instead. Most of the catch ups that I have left to cook are dishes that I've been avoiding for one reason or another, so I really need to buckle down and just power through them. I may be surprised.

The universally loved Gerard's Mustard Tart (pg 150 of Around My French Table) seemed like a relatively safe choice. I don't dislike mustard, exactly, but given the choice, I make sandwiches without it. I'm always shocked when the cheeseburgers at McDonald's are topped with mustard. Who does that? In Brooklyn, your McDonald's burger comes with ketchup, onions, and a pickle, as it should be. Out of state, I never EVER remember to ask them not to put mustard on it, and am always disappointed to find it there. Anyway, my point is that the only time I deliberately use mustard is on a hot dog or other sausagey treats, or as a salad dressing component. In no way was I looking forward to adding four tablespoons of it to an egg mixture, then topping it with carrots and leeks.

As my tart baked, my naysayer tune began to change. It smelled wonderful.

Hours later, when we finally ate dinner, the expectations that I'd built up around that smell crashed back to reality. Normally, Matt and I take down entire quiches in one meal (not something I advocate, unless you're a fan of bellyaches). I ate one dainty slice of this tart, and really didn't want any more. It's too one-note mustardy. Matt suggested that next time I make it, I add bratwurst to the mixture, so that it would taste like the mustard was going with something. I told him that there wouldn't be a next time. If I'm going to spend my time putzing about with a crust, it's going to be for something I want to eat.

Conclusion: Dislike. It's pretty, though.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Red Food

Matt and I were in Germany a few years ago, and friends of his kindly offered us some post-dinner cherry schnapps. "It's sweet," they said. Cherry? Sweet? Count me in. Then I tasted it. Holy cleared sinuses, Batman! Sweet? Sweet? I thought it would burn a hole in my belly. I like to think I played it cool and drank it without flinching, but in reality, I'm no good with harsh liquor.

I had a similar reaction to Chicken in a Red Sweet Pepper Sauce (pg 101 of Indian Cooking). After the fact, I figure that the title indicates the use of a bell pepper instead of a hot chili pepper, but it led me to expect a sweeter, mellower dish. For this one, a red pepper, an onion, ginger, garlic, almonds, and spices are pureed into a paste, and that's what the chicken cooks in. All in all, spicier than I expected, but very tasty and lots of vegetables.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Delhi-Style Lamb Cooked with Potatoes (pg 73) is a tomato-based sauce. Potatoes are always welcome in this household, and they were much appreciated here. They absorbed so much flavor (garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne), I would have been perfectly happy eating a big bowl of just the potatoes. No lamb necessary. These potatoes were special.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Instead of plain old normal rice, I made Simple Buttery Rice with Onion (pg 194). Buttery. Oniony. Good.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

FFwD: Roasted Salmon and Lentils

It's official. This week converted me from a lentil hater to a lentil lover. I prepared and enjoyed lentils in two very different ways this week--first Madhur Jaffrey's Red Split Lentils with Cumin Seeds on Sunday, and now the French Fridays with Dorie pick: Roasted Salmon and Lentils (pg 300 of Around My French Table).

The salmon portion of this dish is as simple as is humanly possible (rub fish with oil, salt, pepper, then roast), and, in my opinion, fell very, very flat. The lentils hold all the appeal. Green lentils simmer away in broth (yummy homemade broth), with chunks of carrot, a bay leaf, and an onion with a clove stuck in it. Why not let the clove float free in the broth? I have no idea. Maybe it's easier to retrieve from the onion? Celery should be included, but I didn't have any. Once the lentils are tender and drained, almost a cup of them are pureed, then added back in. I wish I stopped there. Dorie says to add half cup of the broth back to the pan, but I preferred it when it was thicker. Still good, but I'll know better next time.
Believe me, I groaned when I saw this recipe chosen for this week, and never in a million years expected to be shoveling spoonfuls of lentils into my mouth, straight from the pan. I never would have tried this recipe if not for French Fridays with Dorie. Hooray! I try to live by the food philosophy of tasting things I don't like over and over again, because now and then, I'm deliciously surprised. We'll see if I'm singing the same tune at the end of March, for that Grapefruit and Crab Salad. Grapefruit is my nightmare.

Conclusion: Liked the lentils, though I'm sure the quality of the broth is important to the flavor. I wouldn't make the salmon this way again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

There's a Pancake Day?

Never in my life have I heard of Pancake Day. It was today, apparently, and I unwittingly participated. For lunch, I made Jennifer Reese's recipe for Buttermilk Pancakes (pg 52 of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter), because I needed to use up some buttermilk before it went bad.
Conclusion: Pancakes make me happy. All pancakes. These were good. Liked them.

When I think of Indian food, I never think of seafood. Maybe I'm too distracted trying to choose between saag or biryani when I read the menu that I don't notice it, or maybe the restaurants I've been to haven't served seafood. Regardless, I'm intrigued by the seafood section in Indian Cooking.

Dinner was Shrimp with Zucchinis (pg 118). The sauce was tomato based, which was a departure from other dishes I've made. Honestly, this one was unmemorable. I enjoyed it well enough while I was eating it, but an hour later, I can't remember much about it.

Conclusion: I'm going to call this one just okay. It did have a lot of veggies in it, so that was good, but it's not the most delicious thing ever.
We finished up our cucumbery yogurt, so I made a new yogurt accompaniment: Yogurt with Eggplant (pg 212). The eggplant offers no flavor, but a nice, softly chunky texture. This is seasoned with salt, pepper, scallions, mint, and a bit of cayenne. The flavor is mild. The effect is of a creamy side dish, vs. the sense of refreshment I got from the cucumber one.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

So Many Flavors

Is it a good or a bad thing that I've been too busy to blog, and now I have a whole list of recipes to report on? Good, in terms of life activity, methinks. Bad, in terms of having unwieldy posts. Sorry. Again.

Numero uno: Minced Meat with Peas (Kheema Matar) (pg 62 of Indian Cooking). On day one, I thought this was pretty bland. I fully admit that I'm veering toward the lower end of her spicing recommendations until I get my footing, but still, this was "eh." However, the next night, Matt made sandwiches out of it on pita, with cucumbers and the leftover cucumber mint yogurt stuff. Insert Homer Simpson drool face here. It was so good.
Conclusion: Because of the sandwich, after a day of mingling, liked it.

Last night, I tackled Lemony Chicken with Cilantro (pg 95). I chose this because I had all the ingredients. Cilantro is not something that I normally spring into action for, and the recipe only calls for two tablespoons of lemon juice, so i didn't have high hopes. Foolish me. Brown chicken, and then quickly cook a butt-load of cilantro (1.5 cups for half a batch of chicken) with a million spices. Add water to the spices, and let the chicken simmer away for a half hour. I don't think I've ever had cilantro that was cooked down so much and used as a real present component of a dish. The meat was perfectly tender, and the flavor was surprisingly lemony and complex. Matt continually muttered, "Oh my God. Oh my God" while eating. It was cute. It seems like everything I make out of this book, he says is the best Indian food ever.
Conclusion: Loved it.

I'm not a huge lentil fan, but I've liked them in Indian restaurants, so figured I'd give it a shot. Madhur keeps recommending Red Split Lentils with Cumin Seeds (pg 165) as an accompaniment to dishes, so it seemed like a good place to start. There was no picture, so I expected the lentils to retain their shape and identity. These turned out to be the consistency of refried beans, which, in my opinion, is a great thing, because I'm a fool for refried beans. They had a ton of flavor (I fear I'll be saying that a lot this month), and were the highlight of the meal for me.
Conclusion: Loved it.

I had the bright idea to use some rotting bananas to make Cocoa-Nana Bread (pg 46 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking). It's in her "Breakfast Sweets" section, and I thought, "Hey! I'll bet Charlie will eat that." Wrong-o. What is wrong with the men in my house? Charlie wouldn't touch it, and Matt nibbled one bite, then said that he doesn't do chocolate for breakfast. Grumble. It's becoming increasingly clear to me that I better focus on loaves of bread (not the sweet kind) if I want my family to appreciate my baking. Forget them.

The Cocoa-Nana bread was way more chocolatey than I expected it to be. It was really more of a cake, and I'll admit I wouldn't normally want that much chocolate for breakfast either. For a snack or dessert, it's moist and choco-licious, though. I didn't expect the bananas to be able to compete with all that chocolate, but they did. More than anything, it reminded me of a banana split.

Apparently my loaf pan was not the right size.
Woops.
Conclusion: Liked it, but I sent it to work with Matt. I don't need to eat a whole loaf single-handedly.

For book club, I made Dorie's Brrrrr-ownies (pg 103 of Baking). They're brownies with chopped up York Peppermint Patties in them. Not my favorite brownie mixture, but I do love the York Patties in the brownie. I may just add them to David Lebovitz's "Robert's Absolute Best Brownies" instead, though, because they're the absolute best.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

FFwD: Cheese-Topped Onion Soup

I was looking forward to cooking this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe: Cheese-Topped Onion Soup (pg 56 of Around My French Table), because I've made it before, and know it is delicious. Then my central air conditioning busted last week. I know that sounds like a ridiculous complaint to make in February, but the temperature started to creep upwards, until yesterday, when it hit 79 degrees outside, and hit 89 degrees in my house, according to the thermostat. Definitely not soup weather.

I'd already bought the ingredients, so I went ahead and cooked the soup anyway. Man, I wish those damn onions caramelized faster. Last time, they took me three hours. I cranked the heat up to a little less than medium heat, and it took me an hour and a half this time. Better than three hours, but still more than I have patience for on a regular basis. By the time lunch was ready, between the steam and the broiler action, I was a sweat-ball. Not good. Aren't you all glad I shared my soup experience with you this week?

Like so many foods, this soup really is worth all the time and slow preparation. It is so, so good. We're having it for dinner tonight. I didn't put nearly enough cheese on mine yesterday. Tonight, I'll know better. Prepare to be smothered in mountains of wonderful gruyere, soup!

This soup always gives me tureen-envy. Repeat after me: "I will not buy more dishware. I will not buy more dishware." 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saag-alicious

For my first foray into Indian cooking, I decided to make my favorite: Lamb with Spinach (Dilli Ka Saag Gosht) (pg 67 of Indian Cooking). I've never eaten most of the dishes in this book, so I figured I'd start with something I knew I'd like. Boy, did I like it. I ate waaay too much of this. Matt served himself first, and I thought he took half. I took the other half. Turns out, he did not take half. He thought he left enough for me, and for lunch tomorrow. Tee hee. I ate it all. Matt said that if every meal in the book is as good as this one, we never need to order out again.
 Conclusion: Loved it. 

Jaffrey says to make your own Garam Masala (pg 21), because the store-bought stuff uses cheap ingredients and has no flavor. I quadrupled her recipe, because I don't know how to quarter a nutmeg. Ground up cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds, cloves, black peppercorn, and nutmeg make a nice warm mixture. I tasted it, then tasted the commercial blend I had in my pantry, and promptly tossed the commercial blend in the trash. It tasted like sawdust. If I ever need garam masala, I will make it. No contest.

Conclusion: Loved it.

This wasn't a fiery dish, but Yogurt with Cucumber and Mint (pg 210) still provided such a lovely, cool contrast to the cozy heat of the saag.
Mmmm...palate cleanser.
Conclusion: Loved it. A clean sweep!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wrapping Up How to Eat, and Up Next

 Nigella Lawson's How to Eat perfectly demonstrates why I shouldn't allow the design of a cookbook to factor into my expectations of the book's quality. I do maintain that this book is not laid out in a user-friendly fashion, and there is way too much chit-chat for my taste. I don't mind intros to recipes, and I don't mind essay-type writing at the start of chapters, but this book has big chunks of chatter in between the recipes. It's distracting, and hard to find what you're looking for. There are recipes, like the Exceptional Salmon that we loved so much, that don't appear in the contents, since it's in with the chatter instead of broken apart as a separate recipe. In the paperback version, at least, there are no pictures.

HOWEVER, nearly every recipe I tried was good, if not great. I was worried that Nigella was just an English Rachael Ray, with her emphasis on quick cooking. She's not. Nigella's recipes never feel cluttered. She uses fine ingredients and cooks them simply, to maximize their flavor.

I'm not bored with this book after a month, and there are lots of recipes that I still want to try. There's a treacle tart with my name written all over it. Trying to cut back on the desserts, so I didn't get around to making it this month, but I will. Oh, I will.

My only other minor complaint is that there are a lot of recipes for game and wild fowl that I just don't have access to. If you don't have access to them either, this may not be the book to start with. I'm trying desperately to control the urge to order all of her books. Santa brought me Kitchen for Christmas, and I can't wait to jump into it. Later.

For now, I'm very excited to start my next book. I've bitched and moaned often enough here about Corpus Christi's nonexistent Indian food offerings, that I'm guessing you've figured out that I really like Indian food, but am intimidated to cook it. Well, it's time to conquer that mountain, because from what I understand, Naples doesn't have a whole lot to offer in terms of non-Italian food. If I want Indian food without having to drive a few hours to get it in the next few years, I'm going to have to make it myself. For the next month, I'll be cooking from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking. 
Doesn't she have kind eyes? I trust those eyes, and the recommendation of my friend Brigit, who steered me toward this book. I bought myself another coffee grinder for spices and a mini food processor, since a number of her recipes involve small amounts of onion puree. I stopped at the organic store yesterday and picked up whole spices and dry beans. I'm ready. Now can someone tell me how to quarter a nutmeg?? Blood shall be spilled this night! Nah, I'm better off quadrupling her garam masala recipe, even though she says to just make a little at a time.

Fingers crossed that I'm not totally sick of Indian food by the end of the month. The recipes look pretty diverse, so I think I'll be okay.

A Few Lovelies

I'm a few days late finishing up How to Eat. Woops. I lost track of the month. Oh well. I got two Charlie-Approved meat dishes out of it, so the extra few days were worth it.

The Chicken Patties (pg 439) from the "Feeding Babies and Small Children" section did not come out remotely how I expected them to, which is probably a good thing. I thought it would be a version of a cafeteria chicken patty, which, I'm ashamed to admit, I always loved. I'd probably think it was vile if I tasted one now, but in third grade, those things were awesome.
Gorgeous.
Nigella's starts with blitzing boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the food processor. She says you can substitute ground turkey, so I did, because it's easier, and I had a pound in the freezer from my handy local good-to-the-animals meat farm. Mix it up with pork sausage, nutmeg, bread crumbs, and parsley, make patties, and fry in a bit of oil. I used the whole package of ground breakfast sausage, because I wasn't sure how much the required two links would equate to. So, these tasted like breakfast sausage, which is to say that they were delicious. I made slider-sized patties, and Charlie gobbled his right up. Which reminds me, I have to throw the leftovers in the freezer so that I don't burn him out on them.

Conclusion: Liked it, and Charlie Approved.

One thing I've learned from this month with Nigella is that, under specific circumstances, Charlie will eat a drumstick. If I put the drumstick on his plate with the rest of his dinner, he won't touch it. However, if he climbs on Matt's lap--not mine, only Matt's--and Matt tries to take a bite of his own drumstick, Charlie will take and eat that one. Perhaps not the best etiquette, but we're just happy to see protein going into him. With this in mind, I made The Tenderest Chicken (pg 315). Chicken pieces marinate for 8+ hours in buttermilk, soy sauce, garlic, and mustard. When you're ready to cook, you wipe them down, then brush them with melted butter mixed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It just tastes like roast chicken, and it was, indeed, quite tender. I poured the leftover butter solution on fresh brussel sprouts and roasted them in the stove with the drumsticks. Best brussel sprouts ever.

Conclusion: Liked it, and Charlie Approved. I'm not the hugest drumstick fan, but I'll be making them regularly, since boy-o will eat them.

Twice this week, I re-tested the Yogurt (pg 46) from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, paying much closer attention to the temperature of the milk. I'm now certain that, the first time I tried this, I let my milk cool too much before stirring in the bit of live-culture yogurt. These two times, after an overnight rest in the oven, I opened the oven door in the morning, and voila! Yogurt. Warm yogurt, but yogurt nonetheless. I was reprimanded throughout childhood every time I left the milk carton on the counter, so I do psychologically grimace at the thought of letting it sit all night, but it's worth it. The flavor is nicer, without that sharp edge that can be in store-bought plain yogurt, plus, I'm no longer beholden to Fage. Even using organic milk, it's cheaper to make my own than buy Fage. I haven't actually strained the yogurt to make Greek-style yet, but I will.
Conclusion: Love it. It's simple, it's cheaper than store-bought, it tastes good, and I find myself eating more of it because I made it.

I ran out of peanut butter, so I made Reese's recipe. All you do is blitz peanuts and a bit of peanut oil in the food processor until you have the texture you want. Jennifer says to make it thinner than you think it needs to be, because it will firm up in the fridge. This was true. My one qualm is that she says homemade peanut butter is 80 percent the price of Jif. Maybe peanuts are just expensive in Texas, but my jar of peanuts cost nearly the same as the natural peanut butter I usually buy. A huge Costco-sized box of peanuts would be cheaper, I'd think, but the only container I could find was not.
Conclusion: Liked it, but I doubt I'll make it regularly. It costs the same here, so it's not worth the added step of pulsing it myself.

Lastly, Matt and I had date night last night, in which our friend took Charlie away for hours, and we cooked awesome filet mignon and mashed potatoes, drank wine, etc. Fun times. I planned to make creme brulee for dessert, but forgot to add the ingredients to Matt's grocery list, so I couldn't. Searching for a similar replacement that wouldn't require another trip to the store, I landed on Vanilla Cup Custard from Dorie Greenspan's Baking. All it needs is milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and some almond extract. Easy. Unfortunately, this tasted very eggy. Neither one of us was impressed, and Charlie only picked at his. We kept thinking up fruit sauces that would mask the egginess, which doesn't speak well of the custard's flavor.

Conclusion: Just okay.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

FFwD: Mussels and Chorizo

I feel like a lame-wad for this week's French Fridays with Dorie post, as I really don't have a whole lot to say about it. We ate this lovely meal of Mussels and Chorizo (pg 316 of Around My French Table) for dinner on Valentine's Day. Dorie provides the option of adding pasta, but I didn't, because it would use up space in my stomach better served by dessert. This chorizo and tomato based sauce is quite different from the white wine and garlic mussel recipes that usually attract my attention. Slightly spicy, it was a delightful complement to the mussels, and Matt sopped up his entire bowl of broth with crusty bread (and then moved on to my bowl, since I was finished).
Conclusion: Loved it. This one has definitely earned a spot in our regular dinner rotation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy Day After Valentine's Day

I had a chemistry teacher in high school who ended every class by saying, "If no one else tells you they love you today, I do." I always thought that was nice. She'd probably be arrested for saying that today. We live in sick times. I don't remember one single thing about chemistry, and I can't think of the teacher's name off the top of my head, but I remember that.

I have no point, besides that I had that in my head on Valentine's Day. Fortunately, I had someone who told me they loved me, but not who you'd expect...
I don't see us having a long-term relationship, Cake. You'll be gone by sundown.
Just kidding. Matt loves me, too. He should, after being served Nigella's Chocolate Raspberry Pudding Cake (pg 316 of How to Eat). I love chocolate and raspberries. It's my favorite fruit/chocolate combo, and I have no idea why I've never thought of baking raspberries into a cake or brownies, instead of just placing them on top or turning them into sauce. This is a dense, moist cake, and the raspberry flavor really shone through from the fruit, even though I replaced the framboise that's supposed to be mixed in to the batter with amaretto.

My only problem with this cake is that there is coffee in it. I used instant espresso, because I don't own instant coffee. I'm one of those people who can't drink caffeine after noon, or else I'll be up all night. At midnight, I was still wide awake and could feel my heartbeat. I blame the cake. I'm beat today, and Charlie is not cooperating with my idea that we should both spend a few hours napping. Must admit, I've dozed on the couch a few times. Not for long, though. Apparently my son thinks that when I close my eyes, I'm inviting him to tackle me.
Conclusion: Loved it, but I would omit the coffee in the future, even though I know people say that coffee amplifies chocolate flavor. I guess I could use decaf, but decaf is gross. Regardless, the leftovers are going to work with Matt tomorrow.

I bought more crab meat at the farmer's market, so the other night, I made Linguine with Crab (pg 393). Nigella says that this recipe borrows flavors from Thai and Korean crab cakes, so it's unlike any other crab sauce I've had. Garlic, a red chili pepper, lime, scallions, white wine, and cilantro.
Conclusion: Liked, but next time, I'll use shrimp. It wasn't delicious enough to warrant the cost of the crab, and I don't think that replacing crab with shrimp would hurt the recipe.

If no one else tells you they love you today, I do. :-)