Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Every recipe I've ever tried for Moules Mariniere (pg 126 of How to Eat) has been pretty much the same: mussels in a broth of wine, butter, garlic, shallots, parsley. Nigella's is just the same. Why mess with perfection? Every time I make this, I kick myself for not doing it more often.
Conclusion: Loved it.

Obviously, I needed bread to sop up all that lovely broth. Jennifer Reese's recipe for Everyday Bread (pg 8 of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter) met my last-minute needs. No kneading necessary, this dough just gets stirred together and then left to proof in 2 loaf pans for two hours. After two hours, my dough had not risen much, so I turned on the oven for a minute, then put the pans in, and after a half hour, it had leveled with the pan. Huzzah!
This is a heartier loaf than I expected. Guess that's the wheat flour. Very dense, with a nice crust.

Conclusion: Liked it, and it's Charlie Approved.

I tried one more stewish Nigella recipe: Lamb and Bean Braise (pg 139 of How to Eat). I conclude that I do prefer lamb stews to beef. Matt thinks stew is a waste of lamb, and he thought there were too many beans. And he wanted to know what Nigella has against potatoes. (Nothing. The answer is nothing.) Oh well. I thought it was really tasty, and the beans absorbed much delicious broth (red wine and balsamic vinegar, with herbs and orange peel).
Conclusion: Liked it.

I count three chocolate puddings in How to Eat, so I simply had to make one. I went with the Gooey Chocolate Puddings (pg 169) recipe from the Fast Food section, as I am lazy, and I love the word "gooey."

This easy recipe produces a layer of cake on top of liquid chocolate goodness. Holy mother. Joy of joys, the recipe makes four ramekins, so we have two for dessert tomorrow. WORD!

Conclusion: Loved it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Charlie's birthday shenanigans have come and gone. A few good friends came. Cupcakes were eaten. Fun was had. I have mixed feelings on celebratory days. I resent the Navy for keeping us away from family, but I'm also so grateful for the friends that we make at each of our stations. The universal isolation forges surrogate families, and it makes me happy to see Charlie surrounded by people who love him, even if we're not related.

Earlier in the week, I made Kale with Chorizo and Poached Egg (pg 149 of How to Eat). This is a recipe that I wish I had on-hand back when Matt was out to sea for 7 months. When I'm by myself, I don't cook much. I hadn't discovered that I enjoyed cooking yet at that point, so I practically survived on cereal, eggs and toast, and english muffin pizzas. Lame. I like to think that if I had a recipe like this in my catalogue, I'd have eaten better. This took no effort, and was delicious.

Boil kale. Cook chorizo. Add kale to the cooked chorizo and mix it all up. Top with a poached egg.
Conclusion: Loved it. This is my new "Matt's out of town and I'm feeling lazy" dinner.

I baked Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake (pg 257 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking) for Charlie's birthday. Dorie says that this is a good choice, "whether you're celebrating your baby's first birthday or your great-grandfather's ninety-fifth." I disagree. This is an incredibly rich cake, which is not what I think of for a kid's birthday party. It was good, but every adult that tasted it took one bite, said, "Wow, that's good," and immediately followed it up with, "I need a drink." Charlie licked the icing off his fingers, and wanted nothing to do with the actual cake. Whattaya gonna do?
 Conclusion: Liked it, but it's not really a kid's cake.

I waste most buttermilk I buy. The cake needed a cup, so instead of buying yet another bottle, I used Jennifer Reese's recipe for homemade Buttermilk (pg 53 of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter). Couldn't be easier. Vinegar + milk = buttermilk. Jennifer stipulates that this method works fine for baked goods, but that you should use fresh buttermilk for "buttermilk soup or a Southern buttermilk pie--or anything that relies heavily on buttermilk's unique satiny-rich-sour personality." For my general purposes, souring a cup of milk at a time will work just fine.

Conclusion: Loved it because it will reduce my enormous buttermilk waste.

Baked ziti was the main dish at Charlie's birthday party. I planned to buy ricotta cheese because of it's convenience, but I just couldn't do it when I saw the little 2 cup containers were SIX DOLLARS each.  Reese's recipe for Ricotta Cheese (pg 198 of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter) involves a gallon of milk and some vinegar (two bucks and change), warmed on the stove, then left to sit for twenty minutes until curds form on top. Drain the curds for twenty minutes, and voila! Cheese.
 I was a little worried that it would be grainy, because the curds looked big to me, but it wasn't. I had a hard time refraining from eating the whole sweet batch with a spoon. It stayed creamy after being baked with the ziti, too.

I'm never buying ricotta again. We're all being defrauded by the dairy industry.

Conclusion: Loved it.

 Plus, the liquid left behind by the cheese is whey. Reese says to replace water with whey in bread and bagel recipes. I don't know what impact it has, but I'm going to find out. It keeps for ten days in the fridge, so I better get baking.
Eating my curds and whey.

Friday, January 27, 2012

FFwD: Broth-Braised Potatoes

I totally forgot to post for French Fridays with Dorie this week. I didn't forget to cook, just to blog about it. Things are nutso here. Charlie has had a respiratory and ear infection all week, it was his birthday on Wednesday, and we're having a party for him on Saturday, so between cleaning and cooking and coddling, I haven't thought much about blogging. It didn't help that I posted about Broth-Braised Potatoes (pg 358 of Around My French Table) last May.

The first time around, I loved these simple potatoes, boiled in broth and herbs. This time, I wasn't as wowed. They were fine, but not especially memorable. One difference, which might be the key, is that the first time, I bought baby (or maybe fingerling?) potatoes, as specified in the recipe. This time, I just used the red potatoes that I had in the house. They weren't nearly as velvety and soft as the potatoes of my memory. Note to self: respect the type of potato called for in a recipe.
Still, it's a lovely, easy potato recipe, and one which I should make more often.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Do Leeks Count as a Vegetable Serving?

 You may notice an uptick in pork-related cooking in the future. A few weeks back, Matt decided to do as the Texans do, and try hunting. He shot a feral hog, and apparently is now hooked. By hooked, I mean obsessed. It's super weird. I don't have a problem with the hunting itself, though it's not something he's ever expressed an interest in before. My conscience is more peaceful eating a hog that spent it's life wandering around, doing what hogs do, rather than cooped up shoulder-to-shoulder in a pen and being fed antibiotics. I read the book Eating Animals a few months ago, and it actually managed to change the way I look at meat, which I didn't expect. I've been buying as much as I can once a month when a grass-fed organic farm brings ice chests full of beef and chicken to the Farmers Market. What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Feral hogs.

The thing with the hogs is that, since they've spent their lives running instead of being fattened, the meat is tough. Really tough. And there's a lot of it. And Matt went hunting again today, even though we still have 3 hams and 3 loins in the freezer from last time. He promises not to go again until we eat what we have. Phew!

So I really need to find a way to cook this meat that makes it a little easier to swallow. Literally. It's dry. haha. Matt wants to get a meat grinder so we can make sausage. That may be the way to go.

I'm rambling about. Sorry. Anyway, today I cooked Nigella's Roast Loin of Pork (pg 286 of How to Eat). It's hard to actually call this a recipe, because she doesn't provide measurements. She suggests that you rub cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom into the meat before roasting it, and toss in a glass-full of cider or wine to help make a gravy, so that's what I did, eye-balling the spices. She said to cook it for 20 minutes a pound. This loin was a little less than a pound. Twenty minutes just seemed too short. I should have trusted her and checked it then, but I let it go for thirty, because that's how long my roasted leeks needed. I overcooked it. My bad. The seasoning was mighty delicious, though, and would have been great on a moist piece of meat. It smelled like chai when I rubbed it in, which was lovely.

Conclusion: Liked it. I don't hold the tough meat against the recipe.

Nigella recommends Roast Leeks (pg 286 of How to Eat) as an accompaniment to the pork. Oh my lord. These were delicious. I could have stuck my face in a whole bowlful. All you do is cut thick chunks of leek, toss them in oil, add salt, and roast. It doesn't get much easier than that. The outside of the leeks brown up and get that nice burned onion flavor, while the inside stays mushy and sweet. I'm going to be making these a lot. Nightly, perhaps. Matt's not home from the hunt yet (so, so weird), so if I eat his serving, he'll never even know they were here. Mwa ha haaa!

Conclusion: Loved it. LOVED it.

Hunting update: Matt and his friend shot a hog, but when they went to go get it, a herd of cattle tried to stampede them, chased them back to their car, then followed the car as they drove away. Huh?? I...I have no words. I couldn't make that up if I tried. On the upside, I still only have one tough hog to eat.

I took yummychunklet's suggestion and am linking this post up with the folks who participate in Forever Nigella. As far as I can tell from my forays into How to Eat, I love Nigella, so cooking something--anything!--from her book once a month is a challenge I'm more than happy to take on.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Not a Day for Cooking

Last night, I had a grand ol' time drinking mojitos and eating tacos at my friend's Girls Night. Today, I paid the price. Namely, Charlie gave Matt a really hard time going to bed last night (as in, screamed for me for two hours), and then woke up a lot during the night. This created a very cranky, very clingy little monkey who would not get off of me. I think his face is forever imprinted in the thigh of my pants, Shroud of Turin style.

Anyway, by dinner time, I'd had it. I was a frazzled mess, and apparently even a dish as easy as Lemon Linguine (pg 230 of How to Eat) was beyond my skill-set. The sauce, if you will, is made of raw egg yolk, parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice, and heavy cream. I threw in some leftover roast chicken, because it seemed like a good use for it.
Problem #1: The recipe calls for TWO POUNDS of linguine. My brain started to putter as I tried to do fractions to figure out proportions of sauce ingredients for only half a package of pasta. I took the easy way and made a whole pack of pasta, knowing full well we were never going to eat that much and the leftovers wouldn't reheat.
Problem #2: I forgot to halve the egg yolks, so to only use one instead of two. So then I was spooning out what looked like half of the broken yolks. It was dumb.
Problem #3: Right around when the pasta was ready and timing became a factor, Charlie needed more blueberries, more cheese, more blueberries again, more cheese again, etc. Totally forgot to add butter right after the pasta drained, so the noodles solidified. Nigella says that "butter is the best flavoring, best texture, best mood enhancer there is." I agree, but apparently I was beyond salvation.

I accept that if I'd been taking my time and my focus wasn't being pulled in four directions at once, I would have tasted it and tweaked the flavors before mixing it all together. It wasn't lemony or cheesy enough. I like the concept, but what I ate wasn't good enough to bother trying again, unless the only ingredients I had in the house were an egg, pasta, cream, and a lemon.

Conclusion: Just okay.

Next Thursday is book club. Now I know to plan to order a pizza on Friday. 

FFwD: Quatre-Quarts

I love Dorie's baking recipes. I do. It just makes me laugh that, no matter how basic the recipe appears, it still sets off a bomb in my kitchen. Quatre-quarts (pg 434 of Around My French Table, participating in French Fridays with Dorie) is no exception. Dorie says in her intro that, like a pound cake, this recipe is "based on equal measures of four ingredients: eggs, flour, sugar, and butter."

Four ingredients. That sounds easy enough to contain, dish-wise. Except that the butter needs to be melted first. The eggs need to be separated--whites whipped in the stand mixer, yolks mixed with sugar in another bowl. Flour, baking soda, and salt goes in another bowl. I do fully admit that I've broken a number of my Pyrex bowls in the past year, so when I say that the recipe uses every bowl in the house, that's not really THAT impressive of a feat. Still, for something that only uses four basic ingredients, dirtying up four bowls just strikes me as funny. I need to get out more.
What you get at the end of all the dish-washing is a fairly dry vanilla cake that serves as a vehicle for getting the topping of your choice to your mouth. I made a mixed berry compote and amaretto whipped cream, and it was good. I probably wouldn't have liked the cake much without the adornments. I brought it to a friend's for dinner last night, and couldn't help but notice that people--including myself--were taking seconds and thirds of the berries and cream, but not of the cake. It's okay as a basic recipe that I'm glad to have tucked away for the future when I'm wondering how to use up fruit sauce, but it's not something I'd ever want on its own.

Conclusion: Just okay.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Should Know Better By Now

I need to accept the fact that I don't like stew. I keep thinking that if I can just find the right recipe, I'll be converted. I give up.

Beef Braised in Beer (pg 397 of How to Eat) was different than any other stew I've tried, so I thought it was worth a shot. A lot of prunes soak in stout (I used Guinness, due to its awesomeness) for two hours. Cook some onions and carrots, brown some floured meat, and throw everything into a Dutch oven to cook at low temp for 3 hours.
This picture won't sell the recipe to anyone. Sorry.
If you like stew and prunes, you'll probably love this. The Guinness/prune combo created a rich, balanced broth. I just don't like stew meat. Period. No offense to the recipe. It's just my own thing.

Conclusion: Just okay. I bumped it up from dislike, because the broth was very good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fish and Tomaters

Apparently, Nigella has a problem with combining fish and tomatoes. Not sure why. I've never minded the flavor combo. Two nights in a row, I'm flouting her preference.

Last night's Exceptional Salmon (pg 127 of How to Eat) was, in fact, exceptional. Matt declared it his favorite salmon of all time. This is coming from a man who loves salmon. That's one hell of an impressive introduction to Nigella.
Behold: the world's greatest salmon!
The recipe is simple, which is why I didn't expect to be blown away. All you do is cook bacon in a touch of oil, then sear both sides of the salmon in the bacon grease, turn down the heat, and cook it through. Move the fish to a plate and squeeze a lemon into the bacon grease. Use this as the dressing for the lettuce, bacon, and scallion (and I added tomato) salad that is to be served with the fish. That's it. The salmon browned beautifully without danger of burning, and the onioney, lemony, baconey flavors all worked perfectly together.

Conclusion: Loved it. Pleased to meet you, Nigella.

Tonight, I made Crab and Saffron Tart (pg 227). We froze the leftover crab meat from a week or two ago, so this seemed like a good idea. Turns out, it was a great idea.

Canned tomato that has been cooked down with garlic and herbs until it's thick is layered in the bottom of the tart shell. Crab meat is folded into a custard of saffron-infused heavy cream and egg yolks, poured into the shell, and baked. Matt brought nice saffron back from Bahrain, so I'm always on the lookout for good ways to use it that will do it justice. Apart from the multi-step process that always accompanies a partially baked crust, this came together without much fuss. According to Nigella, she is willing to overlook her distaste for tomato and fish in this dish because "everything melds so harmoniously, seductively together." I'll agree with that.
Conclusion: Loved it. It was not nearly as heavy as I expected it to be. Matt thinks it needs a sprinkling of gruyere on top, because clearly, gruyere makes everything better. Now I just have to remember that if I want to make it again, I have to look up the meal idea titled "Lunch, Tentatively Outside, for 8." If I cross that out and write in, "Dinner, Definitely Inside, for 2," at least I'll have written all over the page and will be able to spot it without too much trouble. 

I didn't bake a bread this weekend, so I decided to mix up my norm and bake Apricot-Ginger Bread (pg 14 of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter). This is a no-knead recipe, but somehow it didn't work out right for me. The dough didn't rise, even after it sat overnight in the oven, which is where I usually let dough rest. I don't know what went wrong. The yeast was still active two weeks ago when I made brioche. Beats me. One thing I thought was weird was that she says to use cold water in the dough. I used warm, because I always thought that was necessary to get the yeast going. Maybe not following that one instruction bungled things up?

Regardless, I baked the bread anyway, even though it hadn't risen. I had to add some dates to mine, because I only had half as many apricots as I was supposed to.

When I checked on the bread at the low-end of the time frame provided, all of the apricots and dates that were poking out the top had burned.
 Those problems easily could be the result of flawed execution, rather than a flawed recipe. Still, I didn't really like the flavor. It was in a weird middle ground between being too gingery and not gingery enough, and the apricots and dates seemed mealy, where they weren't originally.

Conclusion: Dislike. Hopefully, everything looks up from here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wrapping Up and Up Next

This month flew by quite pleasantly, cooking-wise. There were some duds, but I'm happy with most of the recipes I've tried from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave. I wouldn't call it health food, but healthier food. She uses whole grains and lots of vegetables and puts the more caloric ingredients--cheese, nuts, etc--up front so that it's what your eye sees first. I've said before that this is one of my most-used cookbooks, and that statement stands. My old favorites (Macaroni with Four Cheeses, Roasted Pork Loin, Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach and Couscous) still hold up, and I've found some tasty new recipes to add into my rotation. I feel sufficiently detoxed from the holidays, and I think that the general greaselessness of Ellie's recipes helped.

I'm a little concerned that by not revisiting many of my perennial favorites, I may have provided a skewed impression of this cookbook's offerings. Over the years, I've tested many of the recipes that most enticed me, and haven't mentioned them here: Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream? Amazing. Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta? So good, and easy. Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo? Cozy perfection.

I strongly recommend this book. I feel good cooking from it because the food is healthy, but don't feel deprived, like I'm cooking diet food. Some of the meals err on the side of bland, but it's nothing that can't be fixed with a tweaking of the spices.

For me, it's a keeper.

I've also decided to call it quits on David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert, primarily because I need to stop thinking about dessert so much. With this book on my mind, it's very difficult not to bake constantly, because everything looks delicious. The recipes are pretty flawless. I loved 11, I liked 14, and only 3 were just okay. I hated 1. Those are amazing results. I want to try plenty of more recipes in this book, but I'm too preoccupied with their deliciousness and need to shelve it. There's an entire ice cream section that I couldn't test out, because I don't own an ice cream machine. They look gooood, though.

If you like to bake, you need this book. If you know someone who likes to bake, you need to buy them this book. Without doubt, a keeper.

So, moving on.

This month, I'll focus on Nigella Lawson's How to Eat.

I love Nigella's easy attitude and her philosophy that cooking and good eating shouldn't be stressful. This particular book--her first--is a very annoying format. There's no organization, and huge chunks of text. I like a bit of personality in my cookbooks, but I don't want to scour chunks of text to find the recipe I want. Real recipes are titled in pink, but there are other recipes within pages of chatty essays that are identified by gray headings out in the margin. This book is hard on my eyes. It doesn't make me want to cook.

This book features a lot of stews and roasts. Cold weather food, in other words. I kept putting this book off because it's so hot here, but I've decided to explore it now, because I'm pretty sure this is as cold as it's going to get this winter. It's going to be 78 degrees tomorrow. Oy.

Also, I'm replacing Ready for Dessert in my long term projects with Jennifer Reese's Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook From Scratch.

Jennifer writes the wonderful blog The Tipsy Baker. I love her, and I mentally refer to her as "Tipsy." I'll try to refrain from calling her that here. In her book, she set out to determine what foods are worth making instead of buying, in terms of cost and difficulty. I've made it a long term project, because most of the recipes are for components, rather than whole meals. So, it's food like breads and cheeses and cured meats (I'm not sure I'm that brave. We'll see.), etc. There are some full recipes, but not many. Her book is funny, with essays about her adventures trying to raise chickens and goats and ducks. As opposed to Nigella's book, I don't mind the essays here, because everything is clearly sectioned out and labeled.

I'm excited to start. Yahoo!

Another Fave

Today wraps up my month with The Food You Crave, and it felt wrong not to cook and mention one of my long-standing favorite dishes out of it: Macaroni and Four Cheeses (pg 168). The four cheeses in question are cheddar, Monterey Jack (which I usually replace with more cheddar), ricotta, and parmesan. The healthy thing I like about this mac and cheese is that it includes frozen pureed butternut squash that you can buy at the supermarket. This is the dish my cousin cooked once when she had me over for dinner, which was so good that it prompted me to go home and order the book for myself.
 If you're looking for a really creamy mac and cheese, this may not be the dish for you. I think it's plenty tasty and it definitely satisfies any mac and cheese craving that I have, but it is a bit dry and a bit gritty from the ricotta. The first time I served this, Matt didn't know there was squash in it. He's a pretty avid fan of this meal. Historically, I've had no trouble getting Charlie to eat it. This time around, he shoveled in a few bites, and then suddenly looked disgusted, spit his mouthful out, and wouldn't eat any more. Don't know what that was about.
"If you loved me you'd give me cheese. Please? Pretty please?" I couldn't resist that face. She got the cheese.
Conclusion: Love it. Especially the parmesan breadcrumb bits on top. Mmmm.

About two weeks ago, I made a mug of Vanilla Hot Cocoa (pg 305) and promptly forgot all about it. It was boring. If I'm going to bother with hot chocolate, I want it to be really chocolatey, and this was not.

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

Friday was one of those days where I just needed a cookie. Really, any cookie would have done just fine, but when I flipped through Dorie Greenspan's Baking, the title Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters (pg 73) sprang from the page. Resistance was futile.

I was surprised at how little peanut butter flavor came through. I was a little shy on my cup, but I don't think it was enough to make the difference. If I'm going to spend the calories on peanut butter, I want it to taste like peanut butter. Cinnamon was the dominant flavor. I love the three-cookies-in-one concept and the chewiness that held up, even a few days later, so next time I make them, I'll try adding more peanut butter.
I made an embarrassingly large dent in that plate, but I brought what was left to a friend's for lunch on Sunday. I left with a clean plate.

Conclusion: Liked it. Would like it more with more peanut butter or no peanut butter at all.

Friday, January 13, 2012

FFwD: M. Jacques' Armagnac Chicken

I've cooked this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe many times before, and I certainly don't need an excuse to cook M. Jacques' Armagnac Chicken (pg 204 of Around My French Table) again.  It's so easy and so delicious.

I've always roasted chicken with herbs, onions, carrots, and potatoes in the same pot. I never knew that simply pouring 1/2 cup of brandy in the pot, putting the lid on, and basically letting the whole shebang steam in the oven for an hour would produce such a moist bird with such delicious vegetables. I'm curious to see if any of the other Doristas managed to get a "beautifully browned chicken." It happened for me the very first time I made this, and hasn't since then. Since the bird is steaming, covered, it makes sense that the skin wouldn't crisp up. I just find it strange that Dorie goes out of her way to tell you to admire it's beauty. Oh well, nothing that a minute under the broiler can't solve.
I don't have the money to shell out for a bottle of Armagnac--especially since I'm certain we won't finish it before we move--so I've only made this recipe using cheap brandy, and it still tastes good. I know nothing about Armagnac, but I'm guessing it makes everything even better.

This time, I tried Dorie's Bonne Idee of adding some prunes in with the vegetables. The sweetness played well with the back-bite of the white pepper. I'm going to continue to use them, going forward.

Conclusion: Love it. The meat stays so tender, and the gravy left in the bottom of the pan is sooo good. I could eat it with a spoon. Charlie was revolted by every piece of it. At least he tasted the chicken, a carrot, and a potato, but you'd think I was feeding him maggots from the expression on his face. I had to scramble and cook some tortellini. I need to send the tortellini company flowers or something. They're one of my few foolproof Charlie foods. Oh well--more chicken for me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Old Faithful

Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach and Couscous (pg 205 of The Food You Crave) has been one of my fallback "crap, I don't have time for this" recipes for several years now. It's easy. So very, very easy. Especially for a three-part meal that does manage to come together as greater than its individual parts.

Make couscous: Zip! Pound chicken breasts, add salt and pepper, then cook them through in olive oil. Remove from pan. Zam! In the same pan, add more oil, garlic, then the spinach. Wilt. Remove from pan. Zoom! Throw crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, and balsamic vinegar in the same pan, and cook it down for a few minutes. Layer the components, pour some of the sauce on top. Kapow! Done. And all it took was one pot and one pan.
 Conclusion: Like it's flavor, love it's ease.

I asked for a mini muffin pan for Christmas, thinking that maybe Charlie would be more interested in muffin items if they were scaled down to size. To test this theory, and in hopes that I'd get some small amount of a vegetable into him, I baked Pumpkin Pie Muffins (pg 21) today.

May I just say, it pisses me off when a recipe--especially for something like a muffin, which could be made in any quantity--doesn't use a whole can of pumpkin. What exactly am I supposed to do with less than half a can of pumpkin? Scale the recipe up to use the whole thing, Ellie. Come on.
Mama Muffin gives her babies a goodbye hug. I told her I was sending them to live on a farm.
Wastefulness aside, these muffins are good. I could use more spice (and more pumpkin. Ahem), but they were good. Not as good as my friend Hilary's mom's Pumpkin Bread, but it also has less butter and sugar.

Conclusion: Liked it, and I think they're Charlie Approved. He nibbled one throughout the afternoon, but he didn't spit it out. I guess that counts.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Things that Make Me Go "Mmmmm."

Ellie has found seafood redemption. After last night's crabcake bomb, I was a little hesitant to waste more expensive local seafood on her recipes, but I took my chances on Shrimp Scampi with Artichokes (pg 237 of The Food You Crave), because I'd already bought the ingredients.

The most time-consuming part of this recipe is shelling the shrimp. All you do is soften shallots and garlic in oil for a few minutes, then add the shrimp, white wine, lemon juice, frozen or canned artichoke hearts. Right at the end, add salt, pepper, and parsley.
Come to me, my lovely shrimp.
Conclusion: Loved it. This was great. Not okay, not good, but great. Easy and flavorful. Just about perfect. And, Charlie ate two shrimp. Woop woop!

My friend missed Charlie (they adore each other), so she invited us over for a lunch of tasty Persian food on Saturday so she could spend time with him. I had spare apples from that pie I didn't make over the holidays, so I made a recipe from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert that caught my eye the very first time I flipped through the book: Buckwheat Cake with Cider-Poached Apples (pg. 44).

Pulverized almonds are mixed in with the buckwheat flour, so the nuttiness really complements the cozy flavor of the buckwheat flour. On its own, the cake was good. With the poached apples, this dessert was three-thousand times more delicious. 3,000 is the result of a scientific calculation. My only small qualm is that Lebovitz says to spoon the apples and syrup over the cake. The problem is that the "syrup" is more juicy than it is syrupy, so it made the cake soggy. I prefer the apples and a slight drizzle of juice on the side.
Conclusion: Loved it. Buckwheat + almonds + apples = hearty perfection. Plus, Charlie really seems to enjoy buckwheat. He ate a lot of this cake.

Wow, that's two recipes in one post that included the word "perfect." Good stuff.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Round 'Em Up

I haven't really fallen behind on blogging about Ellie, but I did cook a number of her recipes in a short period of time, this could get long. I'll try to contain it. Short isn't my strong suit.

First, Cherry Vanilla Oatmeal (pg 36 of The Food You Crave). Dried cherries are cooked in the oatmeal, and once it's off the heat, stir in some cherry jam and vanilla extract. I usually put vanilla in the water before I add the oats. I'll add it after from now on. It retained much more of its flavor.
 Conclusion: Loved it.  Charlie Approved. He ate his whole bowlful. 

Three recipes made it into last night's dinner. Stuffed Turkey Burgers (pg 218) turned out okay, but it needed a lot of help. The burgers were stuffed with roasted red pepper and mozzarella. Good start. However, the ground turkey goes unseasoned. I don't think so. I added a bit of Worcestershire Sauce and a bit of BBQ sauce. Matt thought BBQ sauce was not the best choice, and some Italian spices would've been better. Ah, well.

Conclusion: Just okay.
Remember those radishes I bought last week? Orange, Radish, and Mint Salad (pg 129) seemed like an obvious way to use a few. I have to say, these Red Rocket Radishes (hehehehe...still funny) defied my experience of radishes and are mild and pleasant. This salad was crispy and refreshing.

Conclusion: Loved it.

I'm holding off judgment on Zucchini Parmesan Crisps (pg 251). I need to make them again, without adding salt "to taste." Holy mother, these were salty. I didn't even think I'd added that much. I hate it when things you can't taste say to add salt to taste. I still think this is a promising concept, in which you dip sliced zucchini in olive oil, then in a bread crumb and parm mixture, then bake. On his first taste, Charlie smiled and went, "Mmmm." Then his whole face contorted as the salt hit him and he launched the crisp across the table. He tasted the next, and the cycle repeated itself. Reading you loud and clear, little dude. Too salty. We couldn't eat them, either. Must give it another go.

Matt bought a pound of beautiful lump crab meat at the farmer's market this weekend, and we made the mistake of using half of it on Ellie's Crab Cakes (pg 240). They just didn't taste right.
I want to turn back time and rescue that crab meat.
Conclusion: Just okay. Bummer.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

FFwD: Bubble-Top Brioches

I was very happy when the French Fridays with Dorie crew picked Dorie's Bubble-Top Brioches (pg 496 of Around My French Table) for this week, because I welcome any opportunity to bake bread. I love the smell of bread dough as it proofs, I love the physicality of kneading, I love the feeling of accomplishment as I pull it from the oven, and, of course, I love that first hot slice.

I haven't made a bread like brioche before. It's a sticky dough, with butter and eggs worked into it. To date, I've only baked crusty peasant loaves, so this was a little different. As I stared at the butter-streaked mess being mechanically kneaded by my KitchenAid mixer, I wasn't sure it was going to come together cohesively. I closed my eyes and decided to just go with it. As promised, ten minutes later, I had a nice, smooth ball of dough. Always trust in The Dorie.

The recipe wasn't hard, but it was inconvenient. It proofed for an hour and then needed to be refrigerated and de-poofed every half hour until the yeast slowed down. This took me about two and a half hours. It wasn't labor intensive, but the process did use up a giant chunk of the day. It's best left for a day when you have no plans to leave the house.

The dough sits in the fridge overnight. Three little balls of dough each go into 12 muffin tins, and then proof again. They get an egg wash, are baked, and come out of the oven beautifully browned and smelling buttery and rich. I immediately inhaled one. And then a second. And then a third.
In case you're wondering, three is too many. Two hours later, I still feel like I ate a boulder. I may pop yet. Consider yourself warned. Stop at two.

I will say, the finished texture didn't have "lovely spring and stretch," as Dorie said it would. A minor complaint about a tasty roll, but it tips me off that I probably didn't produce a perfect version.

I'm hoping that another Dorista made the loaf version of this recipe, because when I read it, I could not figure out how the logs of dough were meant to be placed in the loaf pan.

Conclusion: Liked it. Bread makes me happy. As with most bread-products, it's Charlie Approved.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

If I Were a Magician, I'd Name Myself "Adobo the Great."

Confetti Chili (pg 187) earns its title "because it is flecked with multicolored vegetables" that "add excitement and texture." I think someone may be getting a little overzealous about the fun to be had by adding a carrot, a red pepper, and some corn to your chili.

That said, this was a perfectly respectable version of a healthy chili. It's been years since I've made a normal, not-packed-with-veg chili, so I'd be hard-pressed to say how it would compare.
Cumin, oregano, and coriander are the only spices added, and most of the flavor comes from one minced canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce. Those things are amazing, if you've never cooked with one. Nice and smoky, with a good kick. The flavor was good, but I was surprised that this recipe doesn't call for any chili powder. I think it could have used some. Or more salt. Something was missing.

Conclusion: Liked it, though next time, I'd play around with the spicing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tonight, We Finished the Leftovers

Praise the Refrigerator Gods! Matt lunched on our last bit of lasagne today, and for dinner we had a lovely combo of cauliflower gratin and stuffed cabbage. I fear it may be a stinky night. TMI? Sorry.

Because Green Pea Soup (pg 84) is mostly frozen peas in chicken broth, I was afraid that it would taste like the baby food puree I used to make for Charlie. Who'd have known that sauteed onion, tarragon, and a spoonful of Greek yogurt would make such a difference. This soup was remarkably tasty, especially considering that it took all of ten minutes to make.
 Conclusion: Liked it. This is a perfect soup if you're sick, because odds are you've got the ingredients in the house, and it takes no effort.

I forgot how much I love homemade granola and how much better it is than store-bought. Commercial brands always seem to coat my tongue in coconut oil, and I don't like how sweet they are. Gross. Nutty Granola (pg 38) is exactly right. No oil involved, and lightly sweetened with maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon. Crunchy, lots of nuts, just enough raisins.
Conclusion: Loved it, and I have a bucket-full now. With a bowl of yogurt and Ellie's recommended serving size, it kept me full for a good long time.