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.
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.