Thursday, May 29, 2014

FFwD: Piperade Stir-Fry

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe features assorted colors of pepper, stir fried together with an onion (supposed to be red, but I had white), garlic, olive oil, piment d'Espelette (I just used chili powder) and red wine vinegar. It was straightforward enough, and became a good topping for a burger. It didn't really wow me, though. We learned to make a similar recipe in an Italian cooking class that I'm taking here in Napoli, and that one has a lot more pizzazz--the peppers are roasted, then mixed with lots of garlic and parsley, oil, and white wine vinegar. I'd go that route in the future.
My biggest complaint is that the recipe uses five peppers, which is supposed to serve four people. I cut the recipe in half, and this still made a ton of peppers. 

This week, I also caught up on the recipe for Roasted Rhubarb. I saw some rhubarb at the Commissary for the first time ever, so I snagged it, ran home, and made this. Fortunately, the only other ingredients are sugar and lemon zest, because I didn't really know what the recipe entailed when I bought the rhubarb, I just knew I had a rhubarb recipe to do. I threw in some strawberries, too, because I was alarmed by how sulfuric the rhubarb smelled when I was cutting it up. Does it always smell like farts? I've never used it before. I thought strawberries could only help.
This was delicious, and I really enjoyed the texture of the roasted rhubarb. Yum.

I made Smoked Salmon Waffles for dinner tonight. I'm really not a huge smoked salmon fan, and this was a bit much for me. I put a poached egg on top of the waffle, because poached eggs improve everything they touch. Still, I couldn't finish the whole waffle. The fishiness just got to be too much.
This one gets a big thumbs down from me. I suspect, from the lack of enthusiasm in his voice, that Matt may be picking up a pizza for himself on the way home from work.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Calabria: Polenta con Fagioli e Salsiccia

I had to modify Costantino's recipe for Polenta with Beans and Sausage (Polenta con Fagioli e Salsiccia) a bit. By, "a bit," I really mean that I altered every single element.

First of all, I completely forgot to soak dried cranberry beans, and subbed a can of cannelini beans instead. I'm sure that the dried beans would have maintained more structural integrity than my canned ones did, but whatever. It was good enough with canned beans.

The recipe requires fine cornmeal, which it says is typical in Calabria, versus the coarse cornmeal found in other parts of Italy. I was only able to find coarse cornmeal, so that is what I used. Mine did not have a "smooth, soft, almost custard-like texture," but again--whatever. It was good enough with coarse.

Lastly, I used sweet Italian sausage, rather than hot. Charlie isn't fond of spicy food. There was no chance I'd use hot sausage, when I know he'll eat the sweet kind.

This recipe was surprisingly easy to make, and the crusty slices of browned sausage were a hit with all of us. The polenta is cooked in tomato puree and water, so I'm going to pretend that's a valid vegetable serving. Once the polenta is thick, the beans and cooked sausage are dumped back into the pot, cooked for a few more minutes, and voila! Dinner.
How do they make food looks so good in cookbooks?
Charlie did taste the polenta, but he said he didn't like it. That's all I ask. He did eat a heap of sausage, so it wasn't a total bust.

I thought this was very tasty right off of the stove. It's not as great after it cools and congeals. That holds for all polenta dishes, though. This was especially easy and quick because there was no chopping involved. I'd make this one again.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta

One element of Italian cooking that I absolutely love, and never knew about before moving to Napoli, is their affinity for carb on carb action. Beans with pasta? Bene! Potatoes with pasta? Even better. The beans/potato get all starchy and creamy and coat the pasta in the most satisfying (gut-busting) sort of way.

Pasta e Patate "Santo Janni" (pg 66 of My Calabria) turned out exactly how I hoped it would. Cook up some pancetta. Add potatoes to the pan and stir around to coat them in all that good fat. Add water and boil until the potatoes are mashable. Mash 'em, then add cooked spaghetti with some of the pasta water. Finish with some shredded ricotta salata (salty), and dig in. Easy and hearty. I loved it. Charlie loved it. High score, all around.  I mean, pancetta, potatoes, and pasta. How can it go wrong?

Conclusion: Loved it.

Scorze di Fagiolini con Ragu d'Agnello (pg 82) is unlike any sauce I've had before. It's supposed to use diced lamb, but I had ground, so that's what I went with. Cook the lamb for an hour in an onion/carrot/celery/garlic/rosemary-fortified tomato and white wine sauce. This took a while to cook, but that time was predominantly hands-off. It packed a lot of flavor for the amount of work put in, and was a new lovely way to eat lamb.
Matt thought it tasted like the Bolognese sauce we had in Bologna, which was very different from the Bolognese sauce we've had anywhere else (ahem, in the States). Did you know that Bolognese sauce is not tomato based? I didn't, until I had the real deal in Bologna. For that reason, I don't really see the Bolognese comparison, as it is a) not made with lamb and b) not made with tomato. Matt stands by it, though. Whatever it tasted like, it was good. Charlie picked the lamb off of his pasta. Shocker.

Conclusion: Liked it. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

FFwD: Food Revolution Day

This week, French Fridays with Dorie is participating in Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day. The goal is to "get kids excited about food" by cooking a meal together. For the Doristas, the challenge was to select a recipe from Around My French Table that every child should know how to make, then have a little chef help to cook it.

At first, I was tempted to have Charlie help me prepare one of his tried-and-true AMFT favorites: gougeres (aka "cheesy poofs"), Dressy Pasta Risotto, or Almond Flounder Meuniere. None of these are especially healthy options, though, and even though it wasn't specified in our challenge, healthy eating is part of Jamie's whole mission (right?). So, I decided to choose a healthier option, despite the fact that Charlie is the most stubborn eater I've ever met in my life, and has only recently been willing to even nibble a vegetable. Any vegetable. He wouldn't even eat them as an infant. Frustrating.

I love soup. Especially Dorie's soups. They're a delicious, effortless way to eat loads of veg. I believe in soup's potential to get vegetables into my 4-year-old, and I believe that Charlie would like it, if he would taste it. I never imagined so much of my parenting energy would be spent trying to get this child to eat something--anything. I've tried the soup trick many times, and have never succeeded, but I still believe that he will eat them. Eventually.

Our dinner rule is that he doesn't have to eat it, but he does have to taste everything on his plate. If he won't taste it, he'll go to bed hungry. Charlie goes to bed hungry a lot, though we've been having a bit more success in the past two weeks. Chipping away at his resolve, I guess.

Charlie's been excited to help me cook lately. At his school, they started having the kids prepare lunch on Wednesdays. Now he wants to chop things all the time. Unfortunately, this has not translated into an excitement for trying what he's made. I hoped that if he helped me cook Dorie's Celery-Celery Soup, he'd taste it. Just one bite. It's a simple recipe, mostly involving peeling and chopping of vegetables. Perfect for a four-year-old.

I was thwarted before I even started. In the car on the way home from his preschool, I told him we were going to do a cooking project and make some soup when we got home. He pitched a tantrum the entire 20 minute drive home because we were making soup instead of pasta. Maybe we've lived in Italy too long. Charlie is adopting the Italian "must eat pasta at dinner" rule. My brain has yet to wrap itself around the argument that pasta has so many preparations that one could never tire of it, but Charlie agrees fully (as long as I contain my preparations to pomodoro, pesto, or carbonara.)

He refused to help cook. He's helped me make dinner every day this week, but the day I specifically asked him to? Not interested. Sorry, Jamie. Four year olds. What can I say?

My dog ate the loaf of homemade bread that I planned to serve with the soup (she's lucky she's cute), so I heated up some of Dorie's Swiss Chard Pancakes that were in the freezer. Charlie helped me make those, even if it was a month ago, so he did, technically, eat something he helped prepare. Does that count?

We had a bit of a dinner stand-off. He gobbled one of his two swiss chard pancakes. I held the second hostage until he tasted his soup. Fortunately, he loves those pancakes. There was a lot of grumbling, nose-wrinkling, and exclamations of how he didn't like the soup (prior to tasting it), but he did bring spoon to mouth.
Look at him, bracing to be disgusted.
And then you know what happened? He thought about it for a minute.
hmmm...if I admit that I like you, Mom wins.
Then he took another bite. Uncoerced!
If I make a sour face while eating, she won't catch on.
Before I knew it, I could see the bottom of his bowl, and he was chattering away as if he hadn't been a giant nudge all afternoon.
At least he's an equal opportunity discriminator. It's not like he'll only eat junk food and sweets. He won't eat those either. It takes work to be in the "zeroeth percentile" for weight! (His doctor actually said "zeroeth" at his 4 year checkup.) Earlier this week, he was excited to help me bake the Caramel-Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake from Dorie's book, Baking, for my birthday.

I encouraged him to taste the caramel after it was ready, because, I mean: CARAMEL. I wanted to stick my face in the bowl. He wouldn't do it. Whose child is this??? He's so crazy. I gave him a piece of cake after dinner, but he didn't touch it. Oh well.
I don't get it.

I need to keep pureed soup in the rotation so he doesn't forget he likes it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Wrapping Up, and Up Next

You may or may not have guessed this, but I've run out of steam with Nigella. I like the concept of the book, and I've certainly found a few new favorites (keema and the Vodka-Marinated Steak spring to mind), but this book feels unreliable to me. There were an alarming number of misses. Cheesecakelets were a mess. Hot cross buns were disgusting. The Quadruple Chocolate Cake, while delicious, included a step that resulted in Saran Wrap melting into the entire exterior of the cake. The cut-out cookies held up well, but had no flavor. Didn't like the Chili Con Carne. Maple-Roast Parsnips were waaaaa-aaa-aaay too sweet.

I'm out.

I'm going to keep Feast, because there were a few recipes that I did really love, and there are others that still look enticing. It's just so unreliable, though. I wouldn't run out and buy it, if I were you. This is especially disappointing to me, after I had so much success with Nigella Kitchen, which continues to be one of my most-used books. Oh well.

Plus, the book is now falling apart. Awesome.

Anyway, I'm pretty excited to focus on my next book: My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy's Undiscovered South.
How beautiful is that cover? The whole book is gorgeous.
Calabria is the region to the south of where I live now (Campania). I'm pumped about this book because A) I'm trying hard to learn to cook Italian food so I can replicate the flavors that I love so much after I return to the States, and B) I can buy all the ingredients I need for these meals at my local supermarket. It will save me buckets of time each week if I don't need to make a trip to the Commissary (40 minutes from my house). I went there today and loaded up on peanut butter, English muffins, American cheese, black beans, and brown sugar, so I should be able to avoid going back for a little while. I hope.

Oh yeah. Easter.

I totally forgot to post about the two Nigella recipes I made at Easter. Woops.

I was supremely excited at the idea of baking Hot Cross Buns this year. Growing up, we always had supermarket hot cross buns around Easter (not necessarily on Good Friday, per the tradition). I loved them. Not that they tasted so great, but I loved them anyway. In general, I figure that anything that's okay store-bought is usually phenomenal when it's home made. Live and learn.

The spice mixture in Nigella's recipe piqued my interest immediately. Cardamom pods, clove, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger are a promising flavor base for just about anything. These are used to infuse melted butter. Sounds good. As I was cooking, I realized that the dough did not include sugar. At all. This alarmed me at the time, but I figured maybe the glaze would provide all necessary sweetness.

I was alarmed again when I saw that the dough is supposed to have a long, slow rise overnight in the fridge. I have never had luck with recipes that say the dough will rise cold. I've tried several, and they've never budged. However, calmed by Nigella's comment that you "need the patience to sit around while they rise and the faith to believe they will," I did not modify this as I've done my bagel recipe, by leaving the dough out for 2-3 hours, then putting it in the fridge overnight.

Suprise, surprise, the dough didn't move. Not one bit. The problem was not old yeast. I've baked bread with the same yeast since then, and it worked just fine.

I removed the bowl from the fridge in the morning and let it sit out all day, hoping it would spring into action once it warmed up. By 3 pm, it looked exactly the same as it did when I started.

Out of ideas, I proceeded with the recipe. I shouldn't have bothered.
I curse you, Buns.
These were hard, disgusting little hockey pucks. The dried fruit and bottoms of the buns burned when baked at the specified 425 degrees. Even if they'd risen perfectly and baked properly, the dough was nasty. It needed sugar. There was no spice flavor. Awful. Wrote "HORRID" with a big black X in my book. I tossed the entire batch in the trash.

After that disaster, I was nervous about bringing Easter Egg Nest Cake to my friend's house for Easter, as I'd never tested it. I'd already bought the ingredients, though, so decided to forge ahead. This cake is a flourless chocolate cake that is meant to crackle on the edges and sink in the middle. The sunken center is filled with chocolate whipped cream, then decorated with pastel candy eggs. SUPER CUTE.
Fortunately, this was delicious. Chocolate whipped cream might be my new favorite thing in the world. I could do without the candy eggs, but they do look cute. The cake vanished quickly. Charlie was angry that he didn't get a piece. (I offered. He didn't want any while it was available. As soon as we got home, he started asking for cake. GRRR.)

This one was a winner, and I'd definitely make it again.

Friday, May 9, 2014

FFWD: Leeks Vinaigrette with Mimosa (and a few others)

I wasn't particularly excited about this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe: Leeks Vinaigrette with Mimosa. Absolutely nothing about boiling leeks, tossing them with a mustard vinaigrette, and then shredding a boiled egg on top appeals to me.

No surprise here, but I hated this. In general, I'm not a huge mustard fan, and I've found that I strongly dislike all of Dorie's mustard-centric recipes that I've tried, with the exception of the batons and the chicken a la diable.
I took one bite, then scraped the remainder off my plate and back into the serving bowl, for fear that it touch the rest of my dinner.

Matt said it wasn't as terrible as I'd set him up for, but neither he nor my mom had anything good to say about it.

I have, however, been stepping up my make-up game.

With the leeks, I served Muenster Cheese Souffle. Okay, so I substituted muenster with emmenthaler, and doubled the amounts, because I only have a big souffle pan. When it comes down to it, I'm pretty sure that these substitutions mean that I actually made the basic cheese souffle again, but since I added cumin (per the MCS) instead of nutmeg (per the BCS), I'm calling it as a new recipe.
I've been disappointed by souffles in the past, but this time, it came out totally delicious. Score!

Mussels are locally farmed in the lake I see from my house. The lake is man-made, but the men who made it were ancient Romans, and they're the ones who started farming mussels there.
 Matt and I stopped and picked up 2 kilos of mussels the other day, came home, and made Dorie's recipe for Moules Mariniere. Technically, Matt made it, because by the time I finished helping him debeard and clean all those mussels, I was cranky and didn't want to do kitchen stuff anymore. Debearding mussels is awful. As such, I have no input regarding the preparation of this dish, but the outcome was excellent.

My friends had a get together last week. I brought Sable Breton Galette with Berries. I missed it last year, and have been waiting for strawberries to be in season so I could make it properly. Instead of lemon curd, I subbed a tangerine curd that I'd made during the winter. This was SO good, but the crust did get soft pretty quickly. Not sure if it was from the toppings or from the humid air.

Okay, I think that's all I've got for now.