Thursday, August 29, 2013

FFwD Makeup: (Tuna) with Frilly Herb Salad

You gain one, you lose one. I fully intended to make this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe today. I mean, it's for Floating Islands. I've only eaten this dessert once, in Paris, but I lo-o-oved it. However, we're driving five hours south, to the town right next to Tropea, tomorrow, and I've run out of time and ingredients (didn't want to buy more eggs, milk, etc.) Mark my words, I will make this next week. Maybe mark my words in pencil. My track record with Dorie recipes these days is not great.

I did, however, catch up on a recently-missed recipe. I couldn't get my hands on swordfish, so I subbed it with tuna to make Tuna with Frilly Herb Salad. The marinade had a great flavor. I suspect that the caper juice is the ingredient that made the dish. I'd never think to use caper juice. Neat.
There's fish in there somewhere. I promise.
The supermarkets here sell Italian herbs. Period. Basil. Parsley. Sage. Rosemary. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen fresh oregano. Interesting. Anyway, my herb mixture was a lot less interesting than Dorie's. I stuck with Basil and Parsley, and laid the whole thing out on some arugula. I miss tarragon. I should plant some. Not that my efforts to grow herbs have gone so well. Cilantro and dill each grew one stalk, then died. Thyme died. Unsurprisingly, the only things thriving are basil, parsley, and mint. Maybe I should take that as a sign not to bother growing tarragon.

Anyway, this was a nice meal, and easy to throw together, since the fish needs to marinate for a while.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


One of the dishes that first caught my eye when I flipped through Meatless is an intriguing twist on a very familiar dish: Lentil and Cashew Hummus (pg 19). In this version, chickpeas are replaced with lentils, and tahini is replaced with cashew butter. Cashew butter is fricken delicious, if you've never tried it. Find it. Eat it. Send me presents to thank me. Apart from the two key elements, everything else is the same as normal hummus: lemon juice, garlic, a splash of hot sauce, salt, and olive oil.

Maybe I expected too much from the cashew butter. I thought this would be sweeter and a bit more luscious. Honestly, if no one told me that it wasn't normal hummus, I would assume it was just a bland rendition of the chickpeas and tahini classic. It's not bad, but it seems like a waste of good cashew butter.

That said, CHARLIE LIKES IT. Whaaaaaat?? Kid won't eat normal hummus. Guess he's down with bland, as long as it comes on a pita chip.

Conclusion: Liked it well enough, but I prefer normal hummus. I guess I'll call this one a "Just Okay," since I'll never make it again.

Dinner tonight was Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew (pg 121). I added ground beef, because I knew this wouldn't fill Matt up, as written. Unfortunately, I wasn't working with the greatest sweet potatoes. They're not a local product, so I had to buy mine at the Commissary, which has terrible produce. God knows how old these were. I could tell as soon as I sliced them, and they were ringed with pale bands, that they wouldn't be the tastiest sweet potatoes ever. Once the stew was finished, my suspicions were confirmed. The sweet potatoes had no sweet potato flavor. I assume that greatly detracted from this recipe.
The stew is a good starting point. The only spice is one bay leaf and 1.5 teaspoons of curry powder. It needs more...something. I don't know what. I would make this again and play with it. Preferably with fresher sweet potatoes. And LOTS more spice.

Conclusion: Like it, with reservations. I really think good sweet potatoes would make a huge difference.

Because I Feel Like It

September is right around the corner, bringing with it the promise of Fall and cool temps and exhausting holiday fun. I'll likely moan about cooking/baking overload by mid-December (though I won't be done until after my son's birthday party in January), but for the moment, I'm excited about the whole season. Charlie is almost 4 (!!!), and I think this will be the year he'll finally be involved in Halloween and Santa and helping me bake cookies, etc. Yeee!

Anyway. I've made no secret that I love Nigella. I'm adding a long-term project to my roster. Feast: Food to Celebrate Life provides recipes for official and unofficial holidays throughout the year, and for that reason, lends itself as a project for a longer period of time.
She makes me grin.
Nigella, I can't stay away.

I am SO making hot cross buns this Easter.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Jerusalem Addendum: Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad

Jerusalem didn't work for me as a book I wanted to cook out of all in one shot, so I don't feel that I necessarily gave it a fair shake. I figure that I may as well write a brief post about it when I sporadically make a dinner here and there, in the interest of giving my complete impression.

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad (pg 188) is unlike any other salad I've ever had. To start, you simmer a sectioned orange, skin on, with water, honey, white wine vinegar, and saffron for an hour, then puree it until it's a runny paste. Toss with chicken (I took a shortcut and just used a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket), fennel, basil, mint, and red chile. I also mixed in arugula, because it needed bulking up. It was supposed to include a bunch of cilantro, too, but I couldn't get my hands on any.

This salad tasted very orangey and sweet, with a nice soft heat from the red chile. The directions say to add lemon juice, if necessary. I think I should have added a bit, just to cut the sweetness. Next time, since there will be a next time.
Thank you for not sucking.
Conclusion: Liked it. Relatively easy, unique, and flavorful. I'm certain Matt will still be hungry after he eats it, though. It's not as bulky as one might like. The recipe says this would serve 6. I can't imagine how.

Sorry, Ricotta

Herbed Ricotta Souffle (pg 180 of Meatless) sounded like a suitably jazzy way to use up the remainder of my ricotta, but it didn't turn out as nicely as I'd hoped. The texture was weird. Kind of spongey, and it tasted way too salty. Matt said that if he were blindfolded, he'd have guessed that he was eating weisswurst (or however you spell that German white sausage.) That doesn't speak well for a souffle, does it? It didn't taste bad, but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy the ingredients to make this. If I had a heap of leftover ricotta, I'd make this again rather than allowing the cheese to go to waste. It needs more herbs and less salt, though.
My souffle dish was too big. Woops.

Conclusion: Just okay.

Last week, I also made Zucchini and Feta Chopped Salad (pg 319). It's impossible to come by fresh dill around here (and my efforts to grow it failed miserably), but I don't think that dill would have saved this recipe. It's basically just raw cubed zucchini mixed up with crumbled feta, some lemon, and olive oil. It tasted like raw zucchini and feta. Boring.
Conclusion: Just okay. Doubt I'd ever make it again. Something as a simple as grilling the zucchini would have made this more delicious.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

I compulsively bought fresh ricotta at the salumeria when I was in town this weekend, even though I had no real plan for it. The ricotta here is sweet and creamy and a totally different product from Polly-o or, God forbid, Sargento (why is it always sour, with the consistency of clay??), back in the states. I was so fed up with the state of available ricotta when we were stationed in Texas that I started making my own. It was better than Sargento, but nowhere near as good as what they sell here in Italy. The kind I made still turned out kind of gritty, and it smelled like the vinegar I used to separate the milk. It didn't taste like vinegar, but it did smell of it. Point is, I'm fully aware that these three years will be my Golden Age of Ricotta, and it will never be this good again. So now I'm trying to find recipes that will use my little block of splendor, because it would be a sin against all that is good in the world to allow this cheese to spoil in my fridge (it doesn't have a long shelf life.)

I threw together No-Bake Lasagna with Ricotta and Tomatoes (pg 289) for dinner last night. As an added bonus, this used up a box of no-boil lasagne noodles that's been in my cabinet since last Christmas. If you've ever wondered if you can boil no-boil lasagna noodles, the answer is yes. They would have stuck together if I hadn't immediately moved them from the water to the sauce, but otherwise they were fine.

Lasagne is sacred food in my house. We had it once a year, at Christmas, and my Dad would spend the whole day and evening on Christmas Eve stirring that pot of sauce, skimming sausage and meatball grease off the top, periodically bellowing, "Never again, Margaret! Never again!" Every year. Now that he's gone, lasagne has become my Christmas ritual.

I didn't expect this free-form version of lasagne to compete with the real deal, but I hadn't quite realized how firmly I believe that lasagne is more than its individual components. Lasagne is lasagne because of the layers, the denseness, and the merging of cheese with sauce with meat, not because you happen to use a noodle that defines itself as lasagne. I think of this more as a pasta dish, and not as lasagne. It's not lasagne. It is, however, delicious.
The sauce is quick and easy, and I'd happily eat a big bowl of pasta with just the sauce if I had no cheese. Brown thin-sliced garlic in oil. Throw in a heap of halved cherry tomatoes. After they're soft, add stock and simmer. I totally overlooked the fact that the tomatoes were supposed to go in in two separate batches, presumably so that some would mush and some would remain firm. I dumped all of mine in at once. No harm done. Add pasta and basil to the sauce, plate, dollop with ricotta and shaved Romano cheese. I also added mozzarella, because what's a lasagne without mozzarella? Lesser, that's what.

Conclusion: Liked it. The sauce was really sweet and delicious. If you have garlic and some tomatoes, you can make this. No real shock, but Charlie DID eat his noodles and the cheese after carefully picking off each and every bit of basil. No tomatoes, but that also was not a surprise. He did pluck a raw tomato out of my fruit basket and eat it, unprompted, the other day. He only ate the one, but he didn't spit it out (or if he did, I haven't found it yet) or lick my leg to scrape the skin off of his tongue, so that gives me hope for the future.

Furthering my quest to use my ricotta, I had Fresh Ricotta with Lemon, Basil, and Honey Bruschetta (pg 63) for breakfast today. This is as easy as it comes. Mix lemon zest with ricotta. Smear on toast. Top with basil and a honey drizzle. I used whole wheat bread, because I didn't have anything more bruschetta-ey, but that's okay.
Mmmm...maybe you'll be my lunch, too.
Basil and honey is a delicious flavor combo. Who knew? The ricotta and lemon provided a very subtle background flavor. All in all, this was tasty and satisfying. I can't imagine eating it as a "starter for a larger meal," as Martha indicates. It screamed, "Breakfast!" to me. Or, it could also pass as an afternoon snack.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

An Italian Plate of Joy

I tramped through my orchard, across a field, down a little road, and onto the main drag of my little town here to go buy some produce at my favorite fruit and vegetable guy, who unfortunately, is in a location with little parking (to this American. Italians pull right up onto the sidewalk and triple park in the road. I can't bring myself to do it.) If I want to shop from him, I need to hike it. He's my favorite because he always smiles when he sees me, and seems pleasantly amused by my butchery of his language. He also doesn't complain if I pay with a larger bill. I mean like a 20. I've had other fruit stands turn me away when I try to pay with a 20, or even a 10. He's never given me attitude. Also, when I say, "Come si dice.....?" and point, he tells me what things are called. Not to mention that his fruit is always delicious. I've never felt like he's trying to pull one over on me. It's worth the hike.

While I was at it, I stopped off at the salumeria and picked up prosciutto, fresh ricotta, and two balls of mozzarella di bufala. When I got back to my house, I found a pile of honey-sweet white figs that one of my neighbors (aka The Fruit Fairy) had left on my patio table for us.

I flipped through Meatless and saw that I'd be able to throw Zucchini "Pasta" with Tomatoes and Walnuts (pg 32) together without any trouble. Halve cherry tomatoes, and let them marinate for twenty minutes in olive oil, sliced garlic, chopped walnuts, and torn basil. (As a side note, Italians, and, apparently, Martha Stewart, are adamant that you must never take a knife to your basil, because you will bruise it. I'm unconvinced that it makes a difference, taste-wise, yet I find myself only tearing basil these days. If the Italians do it, that's a good enough reason for me).

After twenty minutes, mix in long skinny strips of zucchini. The picture in the book shows the zucchini looking like spaghetti. I must not have gone thin enough for that. Mine weren't bendy. Regardless, this salad was delicious. I was afraid the raw garlic would be too aggressive, but after it soaked with the rest of the ingredients, the flavor was evenly disbursed, and I never thought "Wow, that was a mouthful of raw garlic."
I should eat like this every day.
This lunch made me extremely happy. The only thing missing was a cold glass of Prosecco.

Conclusion: Loved it. The simple preparation made each ingredient taste even more like itself, if that makes sense.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


The Chilled Avocado Soup (pg 109) from Meatless suffers from the very description which initially interested me in the recipe: that it is "tangy with buttermilk." All you do to make this cold soup is whir avocado, walnuts, buttermilk, red onion, dill, vinegar, and salt in a blender. I just bought myself a new blender, so my desire to give it a go also attracted me to this soup.
Whatever else, I like the color.
It tastes like dip. If this was touted as a veggie dip, I might like it. As a soup, it's unbearable after a few spoonfuls. It has the thick texture and a buttermilk tang of ranch dip.

Conclusion: Dislike, as soup. I may dip some carrots in it with lunch tomorrow and see if that improves matters.

The other night I made Broiled Zucchini with Yogurt Sauce (pg 327) to go with the Indian Spiced Lamb Chops from Nigella Kitchen. I only mention its accompaniment because those lamb chops were awesome, and you should go make them. Anyway, this one was pretty straightforward. We often grill zucchini on the BBQ during the summer, and did so here instead of broiling. The yogurt sauce was spiced with coriander, ground mustard, and lemon juice, and it complemented the lamb nicely. It was a good little alteration on a standard recipe, and I can see myself making this one again.
Not a looker, but it tasted pretty good.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Friday, August 9, 2013


Perhaps I should have known better, but I didn't.

Last night I made two dishes from Meatless that seemed like they'd go together: Spiced Tofu with Wilted Spinach and Yogurt (aka Saag Paneer, pg 97) and Stewed Lentils (without yogurt and cucumbers) (aka daal, pg 114). Two of my absolute favorite thinks in the world are saag and daal.

Martha's version of saag includes tofu. I've never had any luck preparing tofu, and this dish was especially horrid. First of all, the tofu is not spiced, as the title would have you believe. Your fry it in a bit of oil, then sprinkle it with salt. I guess technically, salt is a spice, but not really. The tofu is added to the spinach and yogurt mixture, which is grossly underspiced. I ate my serving, but I didn't like it. Matt took one bite, spit it out, and reheated a 4 day old burger patty. That's how bad it was, even after I dumped extra spice in an attempt to rescue it.

Conclusion: Hated it.
Awful. So awful.
The daal was better, but not much. As written, this, too, was unbelievably bland. I added some ghee, because ghee makes everything better, and then dumped in a butt-load of extra spices. In the end, the daal turned out to be edible, and I'll probably work through the copious leftovers, but I will never make this recipe again.

Conclusion: Hated it (as written).

I'm sorry, Madhur Jaffrey. Next time I want Indian, I'll take the time to do it the right way. Your way.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gigante Enough For Me

I took a few liberties with Martha Stewart's recipe for Gigante Beans with Feta and Greens (pg 52 of Meatless). More than a few. As with Ottolenghi, I feel she would not approve. In fact, I'm fairly certain of it. My dad worked with her on occasion. There are celebrities that were surprisingly nice, and treat the "little people" like they're human. For the record, Dad was very impressed with Chris Rock, who went out of his way to talk to everyone working on his show. He was not impressed with Martha. I'll leave it at that, though the stories are fairly hilarious. Anyway, I've been partially programmed to find her ridiculous, so I'm impressed with myself for buying Meatless at all. What's my point? Oh yeah. I'm confident she wouldn't appreciate the shortcuts I took with her recipe.

My first problem was that it uses gigante beans. I know I've eaten them in Greek restaurants, but unless they're called something else and I don't know it, I've never noticed them in a store. Second problem is that she says to use dry beans. Uh uh. Not boiling beans for 45 minutes when it's 95 degrees out. Not happening. No way, no how. So I bought these...
Do Spaniards use gigante beans? These beans were pretty gigantic, whether or not they were the correct bean. They look exactly like the picture in the book. Beats me.

Reading the recipe, I instantly knew that I was not going to be blanching and peeling tomatoes. Especially because I had small tomatoes. Nope, nope, nope. Not doing it. I don't mind tomato peel in something like this. It's not like I'm making a silky-smooth puree. Sorry, Martha.

This may shock you, but my supermarket doesn't sell dandelion greens. Skinned rabbits, yes. Dandelion greens, no. I used spinach.

This is supposed to be topped with feta and dill. I haven't been able to find dill here (and my attempt to grow it myself failed miserably), and I omitted the feta for calorie purposes, because it tasted plenty delicious on its own. 

The beans themselves absorbed a lot of tomato and garlic flavor. I approve.

Conclusion: Liked it, even if it doesn't meet the expected standards.

Monday, August 5, 2013

FFwD: Tzatziki

I served Tzatziki from Around My French Table with pita bread as a side at this weekend's BBQ. I should have read through the recipe before getting started. I didn't have time to let the cucumbers sit in salt so I could squeeze the water out of it. I didn't have time to strain the yogurt. I bought yogurt that was labeled Greek yogurt, but it was much runnier than Fage. It seemed more like plain, non-Greek yogurt to me.

Needless to say, my tzatziki turned out a bit runnier than it was meant to. Still good, though. There were barely any leftovers.

I don't have anything interesting to say about this, either. It tasted like it was supposed to, which is just fine by me. Sorry for today's two lame posts.

A Million Recipes for the Same Thing

I don't know why I always seem to gravitate toward chickpea salads. They all turn out basically the same, and yet I continually test recipes for them, even though they aren't even one of my favorite things to eat. I think I make them because they use so many vegetables, and that makes me feel virtuous, even when served alongside a rack of ribs and assorted other not-good-for-you dishes, as it was this weekend at a BBQ we hosted.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad (pg 15 of Meatless) was essentially the same chickpea salad as any other. One slight difference is that the chickpeas are left to sit for an hour in a mixture of garlic paste, pepper, olive oil, vinegar, and oregano. I'm not sure that this step really contributed much to the overall flavor of the dish. After the hour, the chickpeas are tossed together with tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, carrots, scallions, parsley, and basil.
I have nothing fresh or exciting to report about it. It was fine.

There was one lone kidney bean in my can of chickpeas. Weird. 

Conclusion: Liked it, in the way I like all chickpea salads.