Monday, February 29, 2016

Muffin Me

This'll be a quick one. On Saturday morning, Charlie and I baked Mom's Blueberry-Coconut Muffins (pg 32 of The Food52 Cookbook). I'd bought a big ol' container of blueberries at Trader Joe's earlier in the week. They weren't particularly good. When faced with questionable fruit, it doesn't take much to convince me to bake it. Charlie loves blueberries, and has always raved about anything I've baked that involves coconut, so these muffins were an obvious choice, even though coconut is not my favorite flavor.

Maybe everyone knows this trick, but I didn't. The recipe has you toss the blueberries with some flour, to keep them all from sinking to the bottom. Turns out, this actually works. I'm going to lock that away for all future blueberry recipes. 
There were no surprises here. We all went back for more.

Conclusion: Liked it, and Charlie-approved.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Acid Soup

This morning, when I was trying to figure out something cheap to cook for dinner, Smoky Minestrone with Tortellini and Parsley or Basil Pesto (pg 387 of The Food52 Cookbook) sounded really good. Bacon? Good. Leeks? Good. San Marzano tomatoes? Good. Tortellini? Good. Veg and pesto? Good and good. Only need to buy a zucchini and some chicken broth? Great.

However, by the time I started cooking, my daily heartburn had kicked in, and those same ingredients--the bacon, the onions, the tomatoes--looked like a boiling vat of acid.

What's that you say? Eileen, you know this baby is crowding your stomach and giving you heartburn every day. Why in the world would you have two glasses of lemonade with lunch? Yeah, that's fair. You're right. I have no excuse, except that I can't get enough lemonade or olives (not together) this pregnancy. Would I have avoided this evening's reflux, if not for that lemonade? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. Don't you judge me!

I carried on and cooked the soup, mostly as written. I omitted the leek, because the Giant near me only stocks organic ones for $3.99 each. No. Not paying that. The first time I couldn't find generic leeks there, I thought it was a fluke. Apparently not. Isn't that weird? Other supermarkets around have leeks, but going to a second store smacked of effort. Oh well. I also cheated, and used a dollop of pesto from my Costco jar. I love fresh pesto, but the jar was just sitting there in my fridge, already made.

I ate a very small bowl, and it was pretty delicious. I've never had tortellini in minestrone soup before, and it's a very satisfying addition. I look forward to having a bigger bowl for lunch tomorrow. I'll try to refrain from the lemonade. No promises.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Food52: Steak for an Alexandria Kitchen Grill Pan

Whereas I found the name of "salad dressing" charmingly simple the other day, Steak for a Brooklyn Backyard Barbecue (pg 65 of The Food52 Cookbook) made me roll my eyes, just as all the snobby, posing, transplanted hipsters who act like they own the borough I was born and raised in do. I mean, man-buns? Who are these people? Okay, so the recipe didn't fill me with the same level of rage as the people do, but I feel fairly confident that the author of this recipe (since the recipes in the book were all taken from those submitted by people on the website) is a non-Brooklynite who thinks she's obtained a higher sphere of cool by moving to Brooklyn. These transplants loooooove making it known that they live in Brooklyn. Do they think it makes them tough? There's nothing gritty about Park Slope or Williamsburgh anymore. Oh, they annoy me. Primarily because they give so many dirty looks to those of us who are actually from the area, who dare to go out for breakfast without a fully planned and coiffed "outfit." Anyway, identifying the author as a transplant is the only way I can account for Brooklyn's presence in the title, since the location of one's barbecue has no impact on the outcome of the meat. It's not like this spice rub is a regional specialty. So weird. I digress...

Anyway, the meat is rubbed down with chopped mint, salt, paprika, garlic, and oil. Ideally, it is then thrown on the barbecue. I don't know how to light a barbecue. Don't tell anyone. If Matt's not home to do it, the barbecue isn't going to be used. So, I opted for our grill pan.
I understood as soon as I applied the rub that I was going to lose a lot of flavor. There was no way all that glorious garlic and mint would stay on my meat instead of adhering to the grill pan. I was right.
What did make it to our plates was delicious. Matt grunted, "Good meat." Charlie ate his, though he said, "It tastes strong." Because of the garlic? I don't know. He didn't argue about it--simply commented, so I didn't press him for details. I definitely want to try this again when Matt can give it the proper treatment on the bbq.

Conclusion: Liked it, despite the annoying title. Charlie approved.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Food52: Green and Pink

To accompany Lebovitz's steak on Saturday, I also made a simple salad, dressed with Food52's Salad Dressing (pg 39). I find it charming that the title is so simple. It's just salad dressing, but it's a damn good one. The dressing is a familiar blend of vinegar, oil, garlic, and dijon mustard. In addition to balsamic vinegar, it calls for white balsamic vinegar, which I didn't even know existed, but found easily at the supermarket. In the opening, they consider Worcestershire sauce to be one of the recipe's nice surprises. Personally, 1/4 teaspoon hardly seems like enough to impact the flavor. I certainly couldn't tell it was in there.
This came together easily, and I like that you just shake it up in a jar to emulsify it. It was tasty and balanced, and got me to eat two big portions of salad. Also have salad on the menu for tonight, because the recipe made a lot of dressing for someone who only likes the barest coating on her lettuce.

Conclusion: Liked it. 

On Sunday, I made Risotto Rosso (pg 347). As long as I add no green components to risotto, it's one of the few meals that I can consistently get Charlie to eat and enjoy without a fight. I've had good luck with mushroom, leek, chestnut, and saffron risottos, so I crossed my fingers and hoped that I could add Food52's version to the list of acceptable foods. Unlike the others, this one stains the rice pinkish with red wine before fattening the grains up with a mixture of beef and chicken broth. Additional delicious ingredients include pancetta (always a good start), shallots, mushrooms, and parmesan.

I was amused to find that the recipe gives preference to Carnaroli rice over arborio. This is the first risotto recipe I've seen that specifically asks for Carnaroli. While living in Italy, I mentioned to an Italian friend that I'd made risotto earlier that week. He asked what kind of rice I used (because these things matter to Italians. They have a lot of food rules.) I said arborio. His jaw dropped, and he quickly set me straight--that around Naples, risotto is ONLY made with Carnaroli rice. I had never heard of Carnaroli, but went straight to the supermarket and bought some. Is it different from arborio? I don't really know. It seems the same to me. Mauro says that arborio gets mushy faster, while Carnaroli maintains its integrity. I choose to believe him, and am now afraid to make risotto with anything else. I brought three boxes back to the US with me, and am carefully rationing them out. I opened my second box for this recipe. Time to start worrying about where I'll get more.

Anyway, back to the meal. Charlie was skeptical at first, because of the color. He asked what the "orange" things were, but once I convinced him it was bacon (which I used in place of pancetta), he cleaned his bowl. For the record, the bacon was not orange. I don't know what he was talking about. My only complaint is that we all wanted seconds, and there was none left.

We ate it before I remembered to take a picture. Oops. 

Conclusion: loved it.Charlie approved.

My Paris Kitchen: Steak with Mustard Butter and French Fries

I'm a few days late with my post for Cook the Book Fridays, but I needed a day or two after returning from our vacation in San Diego (so lovely!) to get into cooking mode.

On weeknights, Charlie and I eat before Matt gets home from work, so I planned to make Steak with Mustard Butter and French fries for Saturday, because nobody wants cold french fries and reheated beef. I was grateful that this recipe was so easy to scale up at the last minute, because Matt decided to go out and buy a piece of furniture for our basement at around 3, then realized after he got home that I, being six months pregnant, should probably not help him carry it into the house. We lured a friend over with promises of steak frites, ran out to buy a third ribeye, rubbed it down with salt, chili powder, and parsley, let it sit in the fridge for an hour, then proceeded as planned.

My steaks must have been thinner than Lebovitz's. I cooked them according to his timing, and they lost all blush of pink. They were still juicy, but not my ideal cook. He'd specified that he likes his steaks to be thinner so that there's more surface area, but mine must have been too thin. Ah well. Much to my surprise, because I'm not a huge mustard fan, I lo-oved the mustard butter with the steak. I see a lot of mustardy steaks in my future.
No pic of the steak, because I felt dumb photographing it in front of company.
The french fries were good, too. I mean--french fries. Unless they're cold and dry, they're always going to be pretty good. Even if they're oven fries.

That mustard butter stole the show.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Food52: Blueberry Almond Breakfast Polenta

The recipe for Blueberry Almond Breakfast Polenta (pg 140) caught my eye nearly every time I've flipped through The Food52 Cookbook. One reason for this is that the picture accompanying the recipe is pretty and cozy and makes me want to eat it. The other reason is that I have two bags of polenta in my pantry that I never use, and I've been trying to do a better job of working through my grains. I have too many.

Bulked up with almond meal, flavored with cardamom, and sweetened with honey and blueberries, this is my kind of food. It almost had the satisfying appeal of rice pudding, but to a much less sweet degree. I loved it. It was a good thing that I halved the recipe, because I ate the entire pot (2 servings) over the course of the day, and would easily have eaten the entire 4 servings, if that was what was in front of me.
Hmmm...this bears a striking resemblance to the mushroom soup from the other day. I promise I'll stop cooking gray food.
My photo doesn't look nearly as delicious as the one in the book, but trust me. This is good stuff.

Conclusion: Loved it.

And now, I'm off to San Diego, to visit friends for a week. Until then!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Food52: Celery Root and Loads of Mushrooms

Whenever Matt travels for work, I take the opportunity to cook things for myself that he wouldn't want to eat. Primarily, this means mushroom recipes. He's learned to like some mushroom dishes, but not those that are too in-your-face with the flavor and texture. He flew out today, so I spent the afternoon making Creamy Mushroom Soup (pg 119-120).

With a pound of cremini mushrooms, and an additional pound of mixed mushrooms (I used portabello, oyster, and shiitake), I knew as soon as I saw it that this recipe would exceed Matt's mushroom threshold. The tone of the directions annoyed me once I got started. It actually says to "beautifully and precisely chop the mushroom caps..." I don't beautifully and precisely chop everything. Especially two pounds of mushrooms. Do you know how many mushrooms there are in two pounds? A billion, give or take a few. I did read the recipe through before I started, but I must have been so distracted by that irritating instruction that I glossed over the following sentence, which said to add them to the pan as they were chopped (presumably to avoid crowding). I chopped all my mushrooms in one go. Oh well.

The finished product is a hair shy of being overwhelmingly mushroomy. It was nearly too much for me. Matt would have hated it. A sprig of rosemary is cooked in the pan with the mushrooms, and later removed. It didn't impart much flavor. Thyme sprigs should have been given the same treatment, but I couldn't find any at the supermarket, so I sprinkled some ground thyme in as the mushrooms cooked. I also couldn't get chives, which should have been added in at the end. I wish I had them. I think they would have added a nice additional flavor and cut the earthiness a bit.

All in all, a nice soup. It was brothy, despite the cream and loads of mushrooms, but not especially filling. Two hours later, I'm hungry again. This might be better as an appetizer than a main course.

Conclusion: Liked it.

The other day, I made Autumn Celeriac (Celery Root) Puree (pg 133.) I don't have a lot to say about it. It was pretty bland. I always thought that one of the appealing things about making celery root puree instead of mashed potatoes was that it was a little healthier. This recipe adds heavy cream, which undermines any calories saved by using a celery root, and frankly, mashed potatoes are way more delicious. I didn't take a picture, but it just looked like white puree. 

Conclusion: Just okay.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Get In or Get Out

Now that we've moved from Italy, and are settled in our home and our routine in the US, I've been thinking about returning to this blog, in its original format, in which I spend one month cooking as much as I can out of one cookbook in my arsenal, to decide whether the book is a keeper, or should be tossed (aka, donated). Part of my motivation is that I find myself returning to the same books over and over--Curtis Stone's What's for Dinner?, Hugh Whittingstall's River Cottage Veg and River Cottage Every Day, and, of course, Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. All of these books are rock-solid, but I have quite a collection that I've barely used. I do dip around a bit, but I know there are plenty of recipes that I'm not trying, simply because I'm not pushing myself to. While in Italy, I compulsively collected vegetarian and vegan books (I've been more and more drawn to a more veg-centric diet. I'll never go all the way there, but I feel happier when I'm eating more vegetables and whole grains), and oh-so-many books on Italian cooking. And a few Indian books. And, basically, at least one ethnic book for nearly every country we visited while living in Europe. Many untapped resources.

As much as I love Dorie, I just haven't been able to commit myself to baking through Baking, Chez Moi. I still keep an eye on which recipes Tuesdays with Dorie is baking every week, but it's just not good for me to make so much dessert. Matt and Charlie aren't big eaters of sweets, which means that I end up taking down the bulk of it. I'll still cook along with that group sporadically, but I'm releasing myself from the expectation that I'm going to.

I do, however, hope to cook along with a new group that just started today, called Cook the Book Fridays, which will cook it's way through David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. This group is stemming from the same group that worked through Around My French Table. Same group of home cooks (though anyone is welcome to join), still exploring French food, but with a different author.

That said, I have to skip the first week's recipe, because it's for Winter Salad, which revolves around Rocquefort cheese. I'm pregnant (just about six months!), so am supposed to avoid soft, moldy cheeses. Sounds good, though. I'm pretty excited about Week 2's steak and frites. GET IN MY BELLY!

To start, I'll dive into The Food52 Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs. The book is lovely to flip through, and has lots of tasty-sounding recipes, but I am perpetually put off by books that are organized according to season instead of meal. I find it hard to wrap my brain around what's inside when the meals are scattered all over the book. It's not a dealbreaker for me, but it is certainly one of the reasons that I've barely touched this book in the time that I've owned it.

I'm going to be out of town for a week this month, so I'm tacking an extra week on to this book's month.

Hopefully, I'm not biting off more than I can chew. If I can't keep up with it or start to get bothered by cooking primarily from one book, I'll probably say, "Oh forget it" and give myself permission to psychologically abandon the blog. Fingers crossed it doesn't come to that.