Friday, September 27, 2013

Wrapping Up and Up Next

My favorite recipe that I cooked from Meatless is the first recipe that I cooked from Meatless: Maltagliatti with Marinated Heirloom Tomatoes. Looking back, most of the recipes that I liked best were Italian-inspired--either pasta, or simple preparations of standard Italian vegetables (primarily zucchini and tomatoes). Recipes that wandered into any other ethnic realm fell flat from lack of spice. Call me crazy, but if I'm eating Indian food, I want it to taste like Indian food, not like dirt.

I don't feel a ton of excitement when thinking back upon the food I cooked from this book. Stats are only slightly in favor of the Liked it/Loved it camp (8/2) over the Hated It/Disliked/Just Okay camp (3/1/4). A nearly 50% disappointment rate is substantial, however, I'm going to consider Meatless to be a keeper, because I'm always on the prowl for different ways to prepare vegetables. It's definitely not a must-buy, though.

It's occurred to me that I haven't actually gotten rid of a book in quite a while (though I'm tempted to ditch Rachael Ray's Big Orange Book without actually testing it. That seems wrong, though, and so it sits on my shelf, because I can't bear the thought of devoting to it.) It's high time that I cover a book that may well suck, so I've chosen a book that I bought over a decade ago, and have never cooked from: Rome, by Williams Sonoma.
Another reason I want to cook from Rome is because I have more Italian cookbooks than any other ethnicity, and I wouldn't mind thinning them out to make room for other stuff. The problem is, Italian food is just so damn good, unless the recipes veer wildly off course, I can't imagine I won't like them.

A large chunk of Rome is text and photos talking about the city and the food/style of eating, so it's a pretty small, manageable set of recipes to cook from. Let's see how they hold up...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Salt Can Be Good or Bad

I was so intrigued by the weirdness of Vodka-Marinated Steak (pg 212 of Feast), that I had to make it. The fact that it's a simple recipe didn't hurt. I used a london broil, which cooked nicely in the timeline Nigella specifies. The steak is supposed to marinate for a few days in vodka, salt, peppercorns, parsley, thyme, garlic, and oil. I only did it for a few hours. Sear both sides, then cook on low heat, covered, for 3 minutes per side. Let it sit in foil for 15 minutes. My 15 minutes turned into 45, because I was waiting for Matt to get home from work, so it was on the cool side by the time we ate it. Still good. While the steak rests, use the marinade and some beef stock to deglaze the pan. Add steak drippings that have collected, whisk in some butter, and serve.

The steak turned out to be nicely salted. There wasn't a lot of other flavor, but that's  not really a complaint. It was the exact right amount of saltiness to make the beef delicious. It was tender and pinker than I expected it to be after such a long sit.

Conclusion: Liked it. Easiest cooking, for the biggest reward, that I've done in a while. I'd like to allow this to marinate for the recommended three days and see what impact that has, because Nigella says it "makes a really big difference."
I think my breadcrumb to tomato ratio is off.
I realized, pretty late in the game yesterday, that I had no vegetable planned for dinner, and no vegetables in the house, apart from our last crop of tomatoes of the season. I flipped to Meatless' index, and landed on Tomatoes Provencal (pg 328), because it was easy, with basic ingredients. All you do is slice tomatoes, overlap them in a baking vessel, then sprinkle a breadcrumb/parmigiano reggiano/thyme/salt/oil mixture on top, then bake.

This smelled unbelievable while it was in the oven. It tasted good, but I'd added too much salt. I hate when recipes don't specify an amount of salt. I always add more than I should.

Conclusion: Liked it. It's a good "ack! I forgot a veggie!" dish to keep in mind. If you have tomatoes, you probably have everything else you need, too.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Meatless: White-Cheddar Corn Chowder

Were I left to my own devices, White-Cheddar Corn Chowder (pg 117 of Meatless) would have been fairly easy and quick to make. I think. Can't be certain, though, because my son interrupted me so many times that the process dragged into eternity. It was one of those situations that makes you feel like a jerk for being aggravated, because he was being creative and really just wanted me to play with him. Over the course of my cooking, he discovered a piece of soft cardboard that was destined for trash, and decided to build a barnyard (I think he meant a pen). He was getting frustrated that the ends wouldn't stay put (like a circular fence). Taping, re-taping, re-re-taping, helping find his animal toys, marveling at the glory he had built, were just a few of the distractions that turned this chowder into a two hour process. Not the chowder's fault that it took so long, but I was hoping it would have more flavor. It's spiced with coriander, cumin, and cayenne, but you'd never know they were in there.
Other than those spices, the rest of the soup is pretty standard. Celery, onion, potatoes, milk, wine, corn. Two cups of the nearly-finished soup are blended, then poured back in. Cheese is added to the individual bowls.

I felt indifferent to this soup. It wasn't bad, but it didn't have a lot of flavor. The more cheese I loaded on top, the better it became. All that tells you is that I like cheese.

Conclusion: Just okay.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Never Had A Potato I Didn't Like

Grilled Potatoes with Garlic-Herb Oil (pg 313) were simple to prepare (despite the two-part cooking process) and mighty tasty. First, parboil the potatoes, then grill them for two minutes per side, until charred. If you're already planning to grill some meat for dinner, this hardly counts as an extra step. Once cooked, toss them with oil, garlic, and, according to Martha, parsley. According to me, rosemary, because that's what I had.

Conclusion: Liked it. Smokey, charred, grilled flavor makes everything better, right?
Sorry about the ghastly photo.
Unfortunately, I paired this with Mashed Carrots with Honey and Chili Powder (pg 355). Nasty. I couldn't get the carrots to mash into a nice smooth texture, despite the fact that they'd been cut up small and steamed for 25 minutes. They were watery, in flavor and mouth-feel, and the honey and chili powder only enhanced how flavorless the carrots were. No me gusta.

Conclusion: Hated it. The tiny glob you see in the picture was portioned as such because I'd already tasted it. I couldn't even make myself eat that little bit. Yick.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

FFwD: Fresh Tuna, Mozzarella, and Basil Pizza

Oh my word, I can't believe it! Not only am I posting on time for this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe, but I've made up a few recipes, too. Wonders never cease.

I have nothing against raw tuna, in general, but I DO have a problem with raw tuna when the fish in question is purchased from my supermarket's freezer section and defrosted. If I'm eating it raw, it better be fresh. Or, at least, I don't want to know it's not fresh. So, tuna was out as a topping on my Fresh Tuna, Mozzarella, and Basil Pizza (pg 166-167 of Around My French Table). I swapped it for coppa stagionata (a salami type of thing), and never looked back.

Perhaps rounds of fresh mozzarella look nicer when layered with raw tuna, but I think it's more practical to tear it up. Fresh mozzarella doesn't melt easily. When baked for only two minutes, it barely even warmed up, so the whole slice was falling off the puffed pastry crust with each bite.

I really hoped Charlie would like this concept of the puff pastry crust, because that would make a simple last minute/no ingredient supper in the future, but he took one bite of a normal sauce and cheese version, brushed the crumbs off his lips, glared at me, and refused to touch it again. He asked me when he was getting his "real pizza." Napoli is turning him into a pizza snob. This does not bode well for his future acceptance of pizza stateside.
I have to say, the puff pastry crust was too greasy for me. It was fine for the first half of the meal, but by the end, my stomach wasn't feeling so well. I think these make a better small appetizer serving, rather than being the entire meal.

Conclusion: Just okay. I'm sure the tuna provides more pizzazz than cured meat does, but wouldn't make up for the icky feeling I got from eating that much puff pastry.

Last night, I riffed off of Dorie's Wheat Berry and Tuna Salad to use what I had in the house. So, I made Barley and Chicken Salad. Personally, I think I prefer the chicken to the tuna.
Nom nom nom
Every time I cook barley, I wonder why I don't make it all the time. I love that chewy texture. Between the barley, the dijon mustard, the peppers, the apple, the avocado, and the tomatoes, this dish is a perfect blend of sweet and salty and chewy and crispy. I want to curl up on the couch with a book and a giant bowl and go to town on it. It's a combination of foods that I would never throw together, but they just seem right. Next time I'll add the boiled eggs. I skipped them this time, because I was already fed up from spending my afternoon making...

Floating Islands (pg 427). Sigh. Reading other Dorista's posts, consensus seemed to be that this was lots easier to make than you'd expect. That was not my experience. I felt like this took all day, I wasn't certain the results would turn out right, and somehow I coated my entire kitchen floor in sugary wetness that dried and turned black and I was sticking to by the time I was done. Nothing I like better than having to mop the floor before I cook dinner.

The meringue itself was easy to make, but then I ran into trouble with the baking part. First of all, my oven doesn't go down to 250 degrees. I went as low as I could. I triple-wrapped my springform pan with aluminum foil and put it in the water bath. Water got in. Lots of it. I had to bake this longer than specified for it to set, and about a half hour after it was out of the oven and cooling, I realized that my island was, indeed, floating. My tin foil did a much better job of keeping water in than out. I popped the springform pan, drained it (I suspect this was the step that coated my kitchen floor, though I wasn't aware of it at the time), and slid the meringue out onto a plate. Fortunately, I don't think the water had any ill effect on the outcome.

For the creme anglaise, I could have used some indication of how long the custard would take to get up to the correct temp. By the time I checked it, it was already well past Dorie's maximum temperature. My bad. There was some scrambled egg action going on, but fortunately the strainer took care of that. The creme was delicious. Best part of the whole dessert. I ate more than I'd like to admit with a spoon while it was cooling. You know, to make sure it was okay.

By then I was fed up and  not in the mood to make caramel. I'd bought a jar at Trader Joe's while I was home in July. I used that, and it was good enough for me.

I'm relegating Iles Flottantes to the realm of "restaurant food." It was too much of a hassle for me, and my kitchen had exploded at the end of it. It also made way too much dessert for Matt and I to eat, and I know meringue is not something that keeps more than a day or two before it starts breaking down. Don't worry, we'll finish it off tonight.

Hmmm. Computer's having trouble loading my photo. Oh well. I made it. I loved it. It was a pain in the butt. I'm never making it again. 

On a different note, I have a question from my many Francophile Doristas (and anyone else, too). We're taking a dream trip to Normandy, Brittany, and Paris later this month. The woman we're renting an apartment from in Paris has offered to babysit for us one night (YES!). If you had to pick ONE Parisian restaurant to have a blessedly childless dinner at, where would you go? We're staying in the St. Germain des Pres area (two minutes from Pierre Hermes. DOUBLE YES!), so preferably someplace that's not on the opposite side of town from there.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Feast: Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies

One very important lesson I've learned by traveling Europe with my three year old is that it is always a good idea to bake something easily transportable and fairly substantial for the road. Hungry, and there's nowhere to stop the car? Have an oatmeal cookie (perennial favorite). It's 8 pm, and you just got off a plane and checked into your apartment rental? I just happen to have a loaf of banana bread handy. Eat it and go to bed, child. Toddler needs breakfast before you're showered and ready? Refer back to the banana bread.

We drove to the Italian beach town of Tropea for Labor Day. (You can read about the trip here). Even though I don't think you can do better than the Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies recipe off of the Quaker Oats box, I baked Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies (pg 82 of Feast) instead. I expected them to taste like cinnamon, with an oatey texture, because that's what I'm used to with oatmeal cookies. Then I noticed that cinnamon wasn't an ingredient. I did not anticipate that swapping craisins for raisins, and adding white chocolate chips and pecans would totally change this cookie.

The oat ratio must be different from the Quaker Oats recipe, because I probably would not have guessed they were in there. They didn't attract attention, but did make the cookies filling and satisfying.

I'm guessing the white chocolate is to thank for this, but the bottoms of the cookies almost seem caramelized.

Another unexpected difference is that, no matter how lightly I baked them, they crisped up as they cooled. In a good way. Yum.

Conclusion: Loved them. I love every cookie, so that's not too remarkable, but I will, without a doubt, make these again. We planned to share with our friends, who were staying at the same place as us, but we kind of ate them all ourselves. They were gone before I ever thought to take a pic. Woops.