Friday, May 31, 2013

This Burger Has No Integrity

In Jerusalem, the photo of Turkey & Zucchini Burgers with Green Onion & Cumin (recipe on 200) is gorgeous. Bright green shreds of zucchini contrast against the reddish browning on the patties. Irresistible.

They didn't turn out at all as I expected.  The outcome may have been different if there was a step in which you drained the shredded zucchini for a half hour, but there wasn't, so these burgers were wet. I don't mean that they were moist and delicious. I mean that they were wet. I found it unpleasant to eat, and they were hard to cook. Because they were so wet, the patties lacked integrity and were falling apart in the pan. Very difficult to flip. The zucchini released so much water that the oil was spitting all over my stovetop. It aggravated me, because it felt like a poorly written recipe. Something must have been missing, because I can't imagine they're meant to be so difficult to work with. I did not make the yogurt dressing for the burgers, because I'm not supposed to eat dairy on my diet. I'm sure the sauce would have jazzed it up a bit, but the burgers themselves weren't very flavorful, despite all the mint, cilantro, garlic, cumin, cayenne, and sumac (which wasn't technically part of the burger recipe, but it was part of the sauce, so I added it to my meat). If I had to describe these burgers in one word, I'd stick with "wet."
They looked much more fetching in the book.
Conclusion: Disliked. I didn't even keep the leftovers. Charlie did eat half a patty, but I disliked these enough that I will not be making them again.

I also made Spicy Carrot Salad (pg 65). I was excited to try out my new tube of harissa paste. Holy mother of God. A tablespoon of harissa is WAY TOO MUCH spice for 3 stinkin' carrots. I'm just glad I'd halved the recipe, because this salad was inedible. Even Matt, who enjoys much hotter food than I do, stopped at one carrot slice. These went right into the garbage.
Conclusion: Hated it.

I'm beginning to suspect that Ottolenghi and I have very different food preferences. Too many of these recipes are too much--too salty, too spicy--for my taste. However, the ones that are good are great, and there are lots more I want to try. It's unsettling to me that the recipes yield such unreliable results, though.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

FFWD: Pistachio Avocado

Good lord. Of all of the recipes in the world to have trouble with, this week's French Fridays with Dorie selection, Pistachio Avocado, is particularly ridiculous. The recipe, in it's entirety, is to halve an avocado, fill the divot left by the pit with pistachio oil, and eat. Pistachio oil is not the easiest item to come by, but many people posted recipes to make your own, so that wasn't where I had trouble. I mean, I didn't make my own - I was planning to just use some dreamy olive oil I picked up at an Umbrian agriturismo - but if I'd wanted to stick to the letter of the recipe, I could have.

The problem was my avocado. Avocados are not locally grown here, and those sold at the Italian supermarket are VERY expensive. The commissary usually has some, but their quality can vary dramatically. A few weeks ago, I bought some South African avocado from the commissary, and they were quite good. They tasted a little different, had a less-dense texture, and a smooth, lime-green skin, but once turned into guacamole, I couldn't tell the difference.

This week, they only had a version that looks like the kind I'm used to from home (you know, the dark, bumpy-skin kind.) They gave a little when I squeezed them, but they were difficult to halve, and turned out to be crispy - not hard, not unripe, but CRISPY - on the inside.
One way (the only way??) that living in Corpus Christi, TX beats living in Italy: quality of avocado. And tomatillos. I miss tomatillos.
I've been thwarted by ingredients at every turn this month. Ah, well. Here's to June!

Friday, May 24, 2013

FFwD: Asparagus Soup

Ugh! May is not being good to me, in terms of my Dorie recipes. My failure on this week's Asparagus Soup has  nothing to do with the recipe, and everything to do with the freshness--or lack thereof--of my asparagus. I've made this soup before, and liked it, so I know for a fact that the recipe is not the culprit.

I haven't seen asparagus in the local Italian supermarkets. I wonder if it grows here. If it does, the season for it probably already passed (it's an early spring veg, right? It's been pretty hot here--upper 70s/low 80s for the past 2 months). Anyway, I bought my asparagus up at the Commissary. It tasted okay grilled the other night, but this soup was completely flavorless. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Oh well.

I may need to take a pass on next week's recipe. I can't find pistachio oil, and it seemed mighty expensive to justify buying online. Argh!! I'm going to Budapest tomorrow. Maybe they'll have pistachio oil there. What's Hungarian for "pistachio"? ha!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Getting to the Good Stuff

I've mentioned my frustration about not being in the right place at the right time to find lamb around here, either at a butcher or at the local supermarket. Not that it's the freshest quality, but it turns out the Commissary has ground lamb and chops in their frozen meat section. I'm so hard-wired toward "fresh" that it never occurred to me to look there. Fortunately, my friend filled me in on the glories to be found in the frozen meat case. Jerusalem contains several ground lamb recipes, so I loaded up (to the extent that my teeny freezer would allow).

Kofta B'siniyah (pg 195) caught my eye, primarily because of the pretty picture in the book. These are lamb and veal meatballs (I may have a tough time finding lamb, but veal is all over these Italian supermarkets), mixed with onion, garlic, toasted pine nuts (which I totally forgot to add. I had them, but I didn't use them), parsley, red chili pepper, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt and pepper. The meatballs are sweetly spiced and lovely on their own, but then they sit in a little pool of tahini sauce. Yup. Yup. These were good. They want to be surrounded by gyro fixins and shoved into pita or something. Matt did just that with leftovers last night after deciding that the fajitas I made were not filling enough.

Conclusion: Liked it. These were no harder to make than any other meatball, and satisfy my "What can I cook that's not Italian food?" craving. If you didn't know, there is very little diversity here, restaurant-wise. Not that I'm complaining about Italian food. It's phenomenal. Sometimes a girl just wants a lamb meatball and some tahini sauce, though.

I made Balilah (pg 102) as a side dish. More chickpeas. This time, mixed together with a butt-load of parsley, green onions, olive oil, cumin, and a chopped up lemon. I ate plenty of it while trying to determine whether or not I liked it. In the end, I decided that I'd rather eat the spiced chickpeas from last week. These leftovers tasted alarming in my scrambled eggs. In case you were wondering, lemon does not improve eggs.

Conclusion: Just okay.

I get the feeling that Ottolenghi would be horrified if he knew that I was using canned chickpeas for his recipes. There are some cookbooks that seem to encourage you to play with or modify their recipes. This is not one of them. There is at least one instance where an intro quotes the person who gave him their recipe as forbidding any changes. I can't pinpoint why, but the book just seems to have a "do it exactly as I write it or don't do it at all" vibe. And he's probably right. Still, I'm using canned chickpeas. Don't tell.

Friday, May 17, 2013

FFwD: Lentil, Lemon and Tuna Salad

This week, the French Fridays with Dorie group is participating in Food Revolution Day, devised by Jamie Oliver to bring people together in the kitchen to share their knowledge and skills and stand up for good, home-cooked food. The Doristas were tasked with cooking any recipe in Around My French Table - an old favorite, a recipe they missed when the group covered it, or something they really wanted to make but the group hasn't gotten to yet - and sharing the dish with somebody.

That's what we were supposed to do. I failed on pretty much every level of this task, though I fully support the message and purpose of Food Revolution Day.

My intentions were pure at the beginning. A friend was coming over with her daughter earlier this week. I figured I could make Lentil, Lemon and Tuna Salad, a recipe I missed during my move to Italy. Frankly, the list of ingredients--canned tuna (chunk, no less! Ew!), preserved lemons, olive tapenade, grainy mustard--alarmed me, so it hadn't taken much to convince me to skip it the first time around. However, in my memory, most of the other Doristas liked it, so I figured I'd give it a shot. However, I ran out of time and didn't get a chance to make this for my friend. Thank God.

I knew, just looking at the ingredients, that Matt would want nothing to do with this recipe. One of his colleagues from Norfolk is in town for the week, so he said he was going to try to take him out tonight. Perfect. I could make the salad for myself and not hear any complaints. I'm aware that deliberately making this for 1 person defeats the purpose of the Food Revolution Day. Sorry.

I don't have de Puy lentils, but I figured red lentils would work. Wrong. They turned to mush in 15 minutes. My bad. I forged ahead with the recipe, even though I was sure that individual grains of lentil were the texture Dorie was going for. I mixed the tapenade, mustard, olive oil, and vinegar together and tasted it. It tasted weird. I added it to the lentils, hoping that it would all work in the end. I chopped up my preserved lemon, which is a product that both fascinates and somewhat horrifies me, and added it, with scallions, to the glop. I flaked in a can of solid tuna. I can't do chunk. It skeeves me out.

I mixed it all together, took a bite, and gagged. It's not often that I have to spit out a bite of food. This one had me running for the trash can. I mean, just look at it:
Ew, right? The flavors simply did not work together for me. It's supposed to sit and meld for a few hours, but I can't really bring myself to take another bite.

So, I missed on the sharing food with friends front, I missed on the preparation of good food front, and I missed on the home-cooking front, as we'll probably end up going for pizza tonight. Or eating eggs. Apologies, all around.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Change of Plan

There's nothing in the world worse than listening to someone babble on about their diet, so I'll be brief. Much the same as it did last time I tried WW, tracking points began to frustrate me. A lot. I've decided to follow a friend's lead and trying out the slow carb diet. It's like no carb, except for two crucial differences: beans are a staple, and you get 1 cheat day per week. I'm telling you this mostly so that you're  not like, "Why the hell is she eating so many beans?" or "I don't think ground lamb is WW friendly." It's only been a few days, but I'm already feeling better than I was on WW (or before starting any diet at all), and it hasn't been difficult yet. I think that this diet is much more realistic for someone who wants to cook real food. My books are full of meat and bean recipes that look good, just as they are. It's much harder to try and cram a non-diet recipe into a points system. So. That will be the last I mention of it.

I'm moving on from the WW book. I was starting to get bored. There are still a good bunch of recipes that I'd make and happily eat, regardless of diet status. I re-made their chili 2 days ago, and upped the beans and meat in it. It's good to have someplace to go for healthy recipes that are decent, so I'm keeping this one. For the most part, the recipes turned out a lot better than I expected.

Fortunately, this change in diet opens up a whole world of Jerusalem that would have been pretty difficult to fit into WW's parameters.

Last night, to accompany a roast chicken, I made Spiced Chickpeas & Fresh Vegetable Salad (pg 56). I wasn't impressed with the salad portion. It was similar to any other Middle Eastern salad I've ever had. Cukes, tomatoes, red pepper, red onion, radishes, and parsley are mixed up with a vinaigrette. Pleasant enough, but very familiar. I liked the crunchy addition of the radishes.
However, the spiced chickpeas were veeery tasty. And easy! I used canned chickpeas and had to alter the spices, but they came out great. All you do is roll the chickpeas around in a mix of cardamom, allspice, and cumin, then cook them in a tablespoon of oil for a few minutes. I used up what little allspice I had, then added nutmeg and garam masala to make up the difference. This one will be a regular.

Conclusion: Loved it. They were even good in my scrambled eggs this morning. Charlie ate 2 plates of chickpeas!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Getting My Freekeh On. Not Really. I Just Wanted to Type That.

I was planning to roast a chicken for dinner last night, but upon flipping through Jerusalem, I realized that I had almost all the ingredients for Poached Chicken with Sweet Spiced Freekeh (pg 182-3). I was missing parsley, which I'm sure would have been a good addition, and freekeh, which is described as "a wonderfully aromatic smoked green cracked wheat." The instructions say that bulgur is a good substitute, so I decided to forge ahead with the recipe.

A lot of the recipes in this book look dauntingly involved, but this one was pretty hands-off. Put a chicken in a pot. Add cinnamon sticks, carrots, bay leaves, salt, onion, and parsley. Cover with water. Boil. For the bulgur, semi-caramelize thin-sliced onion for 15 minutes, then add bulgur, allspice, coriander, salt, pepper, and some of the cinnamon-spiced chicken broth. Simmer for 5 minutes, then let it sit covered for 20. Piece of cake. Then you brown sliced almonds in a bit of butter and pour on top. I didn't think the butter was necessary, though the nuts gave a nice crunch.

Because of the cinnamon, the chicken smelled incredible while it was poaching. Unfortunately, I didn't pick up on any of that flavor seeping into the meat. The chicken was falling off the bone by the time I pulled it out of its broth, but it tasted like any other poached chicken. Not a bad thing, but nothing remarkable. I prefer a roasted bird.

However, Matt and I both LOVED the bulgur. I was a little worried that it wouldn't cook properly, because the recipe's instructions were so very different from the instructions on the box (boil for 20 minutes), but it came out chewy and perfect. By adding a touch of cinnamon to store-bought broth, this is going to be a new standby side dish for me, sans poached chicken.
17 points???
Unfortunately, I started cooking this before figuring out the WW points. Holy mother of God. Even when I think a recipe looks reasonably healthy, it's not, in the world of WW. Perhaps my problem is that I don't think olive oil is a bad thing. Because of the almonds, 2 tb olive oil, and 1 tb butter, and even when cutting the serving size of the bulgur in half, this recipe comes in at a whopping 17 points per serving. Whaaaaaaat? It's a poached fricken chicken, whole grains, and mostly-healthy fats. No fair. Oh well.

Conclusion: chicken was okay, loved the bulgur. I'm counting this as 2 recipes, even though it's 1 in the book.

Friday, May 3, 2013

FFwD: Creamy Mushrooms & Eggs

Every once in a while, I need to stop what I'm doing and cook something nice, just for me. I've been running errand after errand since we returned from Krakow on Monday night, my house is a disaster area, and we've probably overextended ourselves a little in terms of planned activities for this weekend. I'm not complaining about the activities (bagels at a friend's Saturday morning, friends coming to our house for a BBQ Saturday evening, and we're going to another friend's house Sunday morning for a full American brunch). I want to do every one of them. I wish I was one of those people who was a little neurotic about the state of her house, so that every single time we're having company, I wouldn't be rushing around trying to de-slobify, and could just focus on cooking some good food.

Oh well. I'm not that person.

So, my bagels are proofing, my Sunday brunch contribution of a Strawberry Loaf is baking as I type this, and it was nice to take a few quick minutes to pull together such a fast, delicious, and luxurious tasting lunch as Creamy Mushrooms and Eggs from Around My French Table.

It's probably best if we not tell the Weight Watcher overlords about this one. Diet? What diet?

Matt rails against any type of breakfast-for-dinner, and he hates mushrooms, so this was an easy choice as something to make for a solo meal. I'm glad it was a simple recipe.
Cook shallots and mushrooms. Add cream, rosemary, and chives. Dump on a piece of toast. Top with poached eggs.

So, so good.

I've read a lot of blog posts lately encouraging people to conquer their fear and poach an egg. I had no idea they were on the list of food items that rattled people. I've always had much more luck with them than trying to flip an egg. It's funny how each person has their own unique relationship to every single food out there.

Have a great weekend, Doristas! I'm off to bring a semblance of order to my living room.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


There were slim pickings in my fridge when we got home from Krakow, but I was able to pull together a dinner of chicken with Tandoori Yogurt Marinade (pg 25 of Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook.) If you had a hankering for Indian food, but no time to devote to it, this might satisfy your craving. All it did for me was make me want to spend a day this weekend cooking a non-WW friendly Indian feast. I should write an ode to ghee. Mmmm. Ghee. This recipe didn't involve ghee.
That is literally the best I could make it look. I'm hiding the really burned parts.
I don't know how to cook this without burning it. Maybe I cut my chicken too thick. The spiced yogurt marinade is extra thick with a puree of onion, garlic, and ginger, and it adhered/burned to my grill pan. The pan is still soaking.

Conclusion: Just okay.

I believe I've mentioned the pet peeve I have about mediocre recipes that include the word "best" in the title. WW's Best-Ever Black Bean Soup (pg 121) is a prime example. Why didn't they just call it Black Bean Soup? This couldn't possibly be the best, in anyone's estimation. I'm writing this immediately after not-filling-up on it for dinner, so excuse me if I'm a little surly. The soup was thin and unsatisfying. The flavor was fine (cumin and pepper), and the cilantro, scallion, and lime juice topping were nice, but none of that is any different from any other version. The only thing that was different between this recipe and any other version is that you can tell, 100%, that it's diet food. As soon as I washed the dishes, I found myself eating handfuls of pecans out of the fridge. It seemed like a better idea than chewing off hunks of a loaf of bread I bought, because carbs are my biggest nemesis, but then I remembered that nuts are approximately 467,982 points. Woops. There goes my daily allotment.
You owe me a few hundred thousand Points, soup.
Conclusion: Just okay. Food shouldn't make me angry. This did.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Well, hello there. Sorry it's been a while. Life got all busy on me for a bit, but it should smooth out now, and I'll try to post more.

Not only have I been an absent poster, I also haven't been cooking much from Jerusalem or The Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook. I do have a couple of recipes to report on, though. This will be quick, because, well, I made them a while ago. None of them left much of a mark in my memory.

First, from the WW book: Caribbean-Style Pork Tenderloin. I barely remember it. My note in the book says "Bland. Took 2x as long to cook as it said it would." So there you have it. Orange zest and juice, lime zest and juice, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne left no lasting impression.

Conclusion: Dislike. Won't make it again.

I served the pork with Cuban-Style Rice and Beans. This was good, in much the same way that the chilis from this book are good. Black beans and brown rice are bulked up by red pepper, onion, and tomatoes and seasoned with garlic, oregano, bay, and vinegar.

Conclusion: Just okay. Not bad, but not very interesting.

I have mixed feelings about my one Jerusalem offering: Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread. I made this spread for a vegetarian friend of mine who came to visit (then we went to Krakow, which was SO beautiful!). The dip was good, in a cinnamon-spiced pumpkin pie kind of way, but the garlic back-note annoyed me. It just didn't jive with the rest of the flavor. Also, I expected the tahini to nudge this dip closer to the savory side. It was a lot sweeter than I expected. I like sweet, but it tasted odd on salty pita chips and tomatoes. Maybe carrot sticks would have been a better choice.

Conclusion: Liked it, but not compulsively eatable in the way that I normally find dips to be.

It appears that I took no pictures of any of this food. Weep not.