Friday, March 18, 2016

My Paris Kitchen: Belgian Beef Stew with Beer and Spice Bread

On the one hand, I was looking forward to a nice long day of slow cooking. On the other hand, I'm admittedly not a huge fan of stews. Especially stews that require you to make a separate recipe, for pain d'epices, a day or two ahead of time. However, some of Dorie's recipes in Around My French Table have opened me up to enjoying stew--sometimes--and the honey spice bread sounded delicious on its own. The idea of slathering slices of it with mustard and stirring it into the stew? Odd.

I'm not sure that my bread turned out the way it was supposed to. The photo in the book is domed and looks like it has an airy crumb. Mine came out of the oven already sunk in the center, and it was dense and kind of chewy. It tasted good, but I kept re-reading the recipe to see if I had missed a step or an ingredient. Nothing jumped out at me.
I started the stew right after I ate lunch. It smelled amazing while it was cooking. I wish I'd followed my gut and crisped up the bacon a bit before adding the onions. I know perfectly well that any time a recipe tells me to add bacon and onions together, the bacon stays flaccid and fatty. Yuck.

Maybe I didn't cut my chuck roast into small enough pieces. After five hours, it was still not fork-tender.

I cut the difference on adding the spice bread to the stew, and only used two slices. I'm glad I didn't use the full four slices, because I think it would have made the broth too sludgy.

I ate a little. I didn't really love it. If the meat had broken down more, I'd have been happier. The flavor was okay. The meat was way too tough for me. I didn't have more than five hours to let it simmer.

Conclusion: Liked the spice bread, especially slathered with plum jam. Didn't really like the stew.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bad and Good

The photo on the cover of The Food52 Cookbook is so well-shot, so accessible, so attractive, that it makes me want to eat Zucchini Pancakes (pg 77) immediately.

I made them for dinner last week. First of all, it broke my little adopted Neapolitan heart to pay $3.60 for 3 zucchini. That's $1.20 per zucchini! In Italy, I could get at least 2 kilo of zucchini for that price. At least. And their zucchini would be so fresh that they'd still have the flowers attached. I have produce problems in the US. (Operation: Learn to Garden goes into effect next week).

Much to my dismay, these pancakes were awful. Universally reviled. I hate when recipes instruct you to generously salt a vegetable to draw out the moisture, but then there is no mechanism by which to remove the salt. I have this same problem with eggplant recipes. I much prefer the Neapolitan method of drawing moisture from an eggplant (and it, presumably, would work for a zucchini, too), which is to put it out in the hot Italian sun for an hour. Or, another method they have is to soak it in salt water, and then squeeze all the water out. I can personally attest to the success of the water-soaking method. Anyway, I followed the instructions provided by the cookbook, and produced salt bombs. Apart from the salt, they were flavorless. We barely touched them. Bummer.

Conclusion: Hated it.

For a quick lunch, I made Yogurt and Spinach Dip "Borani Esfanaaj," In the Persian Manner (pg 304.) Delicious. I ate the whole thing. I gave a few bites to Matt, and when I was done with the rest of it, he licked the bowl clean. He actually licked the bowl. That counts as success.
Conclusion: Loved it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Food52: Soggy Quiche

I'm a quiche fan. Every time I have one, I say to myself, "Hey! Make more quiche!" The problem, as I've whined every time I ever have to use it, is that I hate making and using pie/quiche dough. I know it's worth the effort, I just really hate doing it. The Leek, Lemon, and Feta Quiche (pg 246 of The Food52 Cookbook) caught my eye, not because of the quiche filling, but because it circumvents the pie crust problem by using storebought puff pastry.

Right off the bat, I thought the ratio of 3 eggs to a full cup of half and half was weird. I also thought it strange to be instructed to just briefly cook the leeks until they're wilted, but before they give off any liquid. This sounds to me like a recipe for wet quiche. I would think you'd want to cook those leeks until all the liquid is out and they've had a chance to sweeten up and take on flavor from cooking. No? Apparently not.

Result? Wet quiche. The eggy part was very soft. It was an odd texture. I didn't like it at all. There was not a lot of flavor. The lemon zest came through, but, as Matt said, "Why do these eggs taste like lemon? Yuck." Basically, lemon was the only flavor that came through. It smelled delicious while it was baking, but that was an illusion.

Yuck, yuck, yuck. I ate one slice, Matt ate as much as we could, and we threw the rest out. This is the first quiche I've ever made that we didn't obliterate.
Looks good, smells good. Tastes bad.
That said, I loved the puff pastry trick. It was so easy, and cooked up really nicely.

Conclusion: Hated it. I'm keeping the puff pastry idea, but filling it with other quiche mixtures.

Friday, March 4, 2016

My Paris Kitchen: Dukkah-Roasted Cauliflower

I'll admit, I wasn't overly enthusiastic about cooking this week's Cook the Book Fridays selection so early in our time with My Paris Kitchen. I've only made a handful of recipes prior to the group starting, and this was one of them. Instead of making my own dukkah, or "Egyptian Spiced Nut Mix," I'd used a jar of Trader Joe's version. It was disgusting. I immediately threw out the jar.

I knew full well that the flaw last time around was with the jar of dukkah I used, not with any of Lebovitz's instructions, but still, my excitement was low. This time, I followed his recipe to make my own. Sort of. I thought I had some of the ingredients--sesame seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds--but I must have finished them before we moved from Italy, or they got lost somewhere between Naples and Virginia. I used ground cumin, and omitted the sesame and the fennel, though I can absolutely see this would be even better if I'd had them. I also followed his variation and used toasted almonds instead of hazelnut, because I have a big Costco-sized bag of them in my fridge.

Because I am a lazy mortar and pestler, there were some almost-whole chunks of almond left behind. These were delicious, fished right out of the mortar. I gave one to Charlie, and he said, "Wow, you're right. That IS tasty." This is of particular note, because he doesn't like nuts. I wished I'd been even lazier with my grinding, because I wanted more nut chunks to pick at.
Once the dukkah was made, it was an easy job of roasting the cauliflower and tossing the nut mix on halfway through.

Unfortunately, I over-salted my cauliflower. The pork chops I made were also too salty, so I liked this less, the more I ate. I'm aware this was my problem, and not the recipe's. I've made myself a  note to go easy on the salt next time.

I also sampled the dukkah by dipping some nice seedy bread in beautiful olive oil that I brought home from Puglia, then dipping it in the mix. Honestly, I preferred it straight up like this, rather than on the cauliflower, where the toasty flavors were lost in the salt (again, my fault).
Conclusion: For the Dukkah, liked it. I definitely want to try it again with all of the ingredients. I really think those sesame seeds would have contributed a lot. For the Dukkah-roasted Cauliflower, for now, I'd say Just Okay. Both times I've made this, the problem has been mine. Still, I'm not especially interested in making it again.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


I made Daddy's Carbonara (pg 36 of The Food52 Cookbook), primarily because I had all the ingredients--spaghetti, bacon, eggs, parmesan, and the unconventional choice of peas, and secondarily, because I knew Charlie would eat it.

This really wants a lot of bacon. A pound. Holy moly. I used half, and it still seemed like more than was necessary.
The peas were fine. I don't know that they really added much, regarding flavor or texture.

I ate way too much of this. I love carbonara. Lately, I've been eating whole wheat pasta. Carbonara is all about luxurious caloric excess, and demands normal pasta, even though one of the notes for this recipe suggests that you could use whole wheat. Nope. I protest. This is not a meal that should be approached with any intention of cutting calories.
I asked Charlie how it tasted. He said, "Good. Delicious, actually. Why has it been so long since we ate this?" Because Mom has no self-control, my dear.

Conclusion: Liked it. Charlie approved.

In an effort to replace my heartburn-inducing lemonade addiction, I figured I'd try Mint Limeade (pg 362). Lime juice, mixed with mint simple syrup and club soda sounded like it might fit the bill with a bit less acid.
Turns out, this is a very strange flavor combination. I had one glass, and no desire to drink more.

Conclusion: Disliked.