Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Christmas Cooking Disasters

I had the best intentions of taking a lot of food to my mother's house for dinner on Christmas Day. Fudge, some vegetable gratin, rosemary walnuts, deviled eggs, and a batch of sugar cookie  dough for my brother's Christmas present.

I suppose the cookie dough was the least of the challenges and really, by now I should be able to make it blindfolded in my sleep and with an arm tied behind my back. And jumping up and down on a pogo stick. But even so, the dough was a bit dry. I forced to submit to my will however, and eventually got it into 2 pretty decent looking rolls.

Divinity is one of those candies that I usually associate with Christmas but no one in my family has made it for a long time. Hence my decision to make a batch, which went horribly, horribly awry.With the first batch I overbeat the egg whites and I decided to pitch it and start over, since all l lost was 2 egg whites. With attempt #2 the egg whites refused to be whipped but I continued anyway. It tasted good but looked awful and consequently it did not make it to Mom's house. I made a third attempt the next day and it was closer but still a bit soft. At least I was able to form individual candies instead of one big ugly sugar blob.

And the fudge...Velveeta Fudge is now my go to fudge recipe. No cooking and it always comes out right. I also love the unexpected dairy quality that Velveeta gives the fudge. Only problem there was that I had forgotten to get a new bag of powdered sugar. I also got Velveeta slices individually wrapped because I didn't need a 2 pound block.

The deviled eggs...argh. I had fallen victim to a plastic device intended to cook hard boiled eggs so that you don't have to peel them. Instead you just slide the eggs out of these cups. Except that mine stuck to the plastic cups. Plus the eggs were flat on the top end. And the texture was just odd. I gave up on the deviled egg idea and instead used those 6 eggs in a batch of potato salad.

The most successful dish of the day was the same one to which I had given the least amount of thought. I had gotten some pre-made pie crusts (never did pick up my grandmother's knack with pastry). I rolled the dough out to fit a 9 x 13 pan, then covered with chopped deli ham, grated Swiss cheese and some chopped Italian parsley. Baked at 375 until the cheese was melted and bubbly. The cut chunks pretty much disappeared from the plate.

The rosemary walnuts were from The Gourmet Cook Book and went together easily enough. I didn't get much feedback on them at Mom's house though because the container was covered by wrapping paper or something and no one noticed them. I had a couple of bites though and I thought they were good.

But my most wonderful food memory from this Christmas will be Daniele. He and I have a tacit understanding that we won't be getting each other presents until our financial situation is a little more steady. But we were at a Trader Joe's looking at cheese and I remembered Daniele saying that he hasn't had any real Gorgonzola since he's been in the US. So I got him a chunk. It was runny and stinky – in short, exactly what he had in mind. And as he enjoyed his stinky cheese smeared on crostini he said “this isn't just a gift. It's my childhood on slices of toast.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Spinach Turnovers

Spinach Turnovers

I'm constantly trying to get Daniele to eat more vegetables – with little success. My latest effort was these spinach turnovers. They started out purportedly for him to take to a Thanksgiving potluck at school. Then I discovered I didn't have the right kind of cheese. I also apparently cross-pollinated that idea with something from the Silver Palate 25th anniversary cookbook that called for rosemary, ricotta and prosciutto as a filling for filo dough. What eventually turned out was this:

A savory spinach with sauteed onions, garlic and shroom, planted neatly on a blob of ricotta and egg mixture, and baked to golden crispy perfection. Here's how I did it.

Heat a cast iron pan over medium high heat and add a tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. Saute the onion until soft and translucent. Add mushrooms and continue to saute until they are golden. Add garlic and stir in a thawed and drained 10 ounce package of spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup of ricotta and an egg. Cut 2 sheets of thawed puff pastry each into 4 squares. On each square of pastry, place a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture, and 1\8th of the spinach filling. Fold pastry over filling to form a triangle and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fun Sandwich Surprise

Note: as I review what I've typed here, I realize this is technically 3 separate recipes. Will edit in a bit...perhaps after I've made a panino. Dammit, after thinking about bread and cheese for the last half hour, I'm hungry. ;D

I've been on something of a bread-making frenzy lately and consequently, have tired of my basic white bread recipe. To tart things up a bit yesterday, I pawed through my cabinets. Fortunately, I stumbled over and seized upon the sun-dried tomatoes whose original intended purpose was long since forgotten. I chopped those up and together with a dash of oregano and some julienned basil,  they were kneaded into the dough before the second rise.

If I say so myself (and I do), the house was bathed in that blissful aroma known as Eau du Pizza Joint while the bread was rising and baking. I knew what to do with this loaf even before it came out of the oven. I dragged out the panini maker and heated it up. To a halved slice of my wonderful bread, I added slices of some fresh mozzarella from the local MegaLoMart, as well as a few slices of Roma tomatoes and a couple of fresh basil leaves. Then my off the cuff concoction went into the panini press for just a few minutes, until I heard the hiss of melted cheese hitting the hot grill.

Yes Virginia, it was as wonderful as it sounded. The bread was all toasty and crisp, with the gooey wonderfulness of the cheese. I made one for Daniele when he came home from from school and he declared it a perfectly gourmet combination of ingredients. Ha. He used to say that about everything I made, but when he realized he was losing credibility, he made it a point to dislike things occasionally.

I have decided to name my creation Panino Caprese.

For the bread:

1 cup water
2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS sugar
1tsp salt
1 1\2 TBS yeast
3 cups flour
1\2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
good pinch of dried oregano
scant TBS julienned fresh basil

My method for making bread with the KitchenAid is posted here. 

Remove dough when it isn't particularly sticky and knead of a floured surface until somewhat satiny. Back in the day they used to say until it feels "like a baby's butt," but I don't think that expression is quite PC anymore. Place in a greased bowl and allow to raise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, usually around 90 minutes. Punch down dough on the floured surface and knead a few minutes more.

Form into desired shape, ie, conventional loaf, baguette, road load, focaccia...whatever floats your boat and set to rise a second time -- around 30-45 minutes. Bake at 350-75 for around 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Loaf That Was Not to Be

A few years ago, my pal Margaret sent me a bread machine as a birthday present. After the initial gluten-based delirium subsided, we got over the bread-making frenzy and more or less ignored the machine until I met Daniele. He, too succumbed to the same delirium that had enveloped us, and rekindled my passion for the intoxicating perfume of fresh-baked bread wafting through the house.

I, however, had trouble getting loaves to come out consistently right. For whatever reason, Daniele managed to pull it off, so he became the primary creator of all things yeast-related. I had the best luck with the "dough" setting, shaping and baking the loaf outside the machine. Soon, I was making some pretty fantastic baguettes and focaccia on a more or less regular basis.

Today, I thought I would welcome Daniele home from school with focaccia. I started a batch of dough and checked on it after a couple of minutes. The stem thing that holds the paddle on was loose and the paddle hadn't combined the flour with the liquid. I removed the bucket and liquid dripped out of the bottom. I gave up on that batch and started another, making sure that everything was aligned correctly. It seemed to be going well, so I went about my business.

10 minutes or so later, I heard a crash in the kitchen. Since the cat has developed the bad habit lately of checking on things on the counter, I yelled at him, assuming he had knocked over dishes in the drainer. But no -- Fred was cozily ensconced in his chair in the living room, dreaming kitty dreams of catching the squirrels and blue jays in the yard. I continued to the kitchen. There I found the bread machine on the floor, the lid about 3 feet away and the bucket upside down. I had scrubbed the kitchen floor pretty recently but hadn't yet swept today and there was dirt stuck all over the dough. I decided that was enough for the day and threw away the second batch as well.

Oh, when Daniele and I went out to the car for me to take him to school, the battery was dead. Something pretty damn wonderful better happen to make up for my morning. Harumpf!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Marcus Samuelsson's White Bean Soup

It''s that time of year again, kiddies. Yup, up here in the beautiful (but wet) Pacific Northwest, our fleeting summer has fled. Up here, we don't tan, we rust and here is a little WD-40 for the body and soul. Stumbled over this on the web and thought it sounded simple, delicious, cheap and easy. Think I'll make it tomorrow night.

White Bean Soup

1 hr 35 mins total
10 mins prep


Serves: 4

2 cans Great Northern beans
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup canned stewed tomato, chopped
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
8 garlic cloves, chopped
3 bacon slices, chopped
4 cups (or more) chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
grated Parmesan to finish


Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, garlic and bacon and sauté until vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add beans, chicken stock, heavy cream, canned tomato, and rosemary. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until beans are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

Add more chicken stock by 1/4 cupfuls to thin soup, if desired. Garnish with grated Parmesan.

Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.

Read more:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Poor Neglected Blog

Sorry for not updating in a long time, but my kitchen has been in various states of unusability as a major overhaul occurred. Cabinets ripped out, floor tiled, new sink, faucets, light fixtures, tile backsplash begun. Paint to follow when all else is finished. Phew!

Today's Commentary

I heard at a certain online community that someone @ Food Network demoed a recipe for something called "Flat Pasta with Creamy Corn." Here's the original:

6 ears corn on the cob, husked
2 tablespoons EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 pound pancetta or lean, center-cut bacon, finely chopped
1 Fresno chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped or 1/2 small sweet red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped thyme
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup shelled fava beans (when available - remove from pod, parboil 5 minutes in shell) or defrosted shelled edamame or lima beans
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound egg tagliatelle, Del Verde brand or other wide-cut pasta
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, for topping
Yields: 4 servings

Into a large bowl, scrape corn off the cobs as well as the cobs themselves for their sweet, starchy juices. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Add EVOO to the hot skillet and add pancetta or bacon. Cook to render fat and crisp, 3-4 minutes. Add corn and juices, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and cook corn 3-4 minutes. Add peppers, onions and garlic; stir 5 minutes more. Add fava, edamame or lima beans and deglaze pan with wine or stock. Stir in butter and reduce heat to low. Salt boiling water and cook pasta to al dente. Add 1 cup starchy cooking water to the creamy corn succotash. Drain pasta, toss with corn and parsley, top with cheese.

First of all, doesn't this seem a tad...moribund? Corn AND beans AND pasta all together just sounds so heavy. I'm all for the fresh corn and beans and suspect that this combination may possibly blend the correct amino acids to create a complete protein -- although I'm not positive on that), but I'd more likely use canned black or chili beans.

Here is the Hakuna Fritatta Improved Version.

Warm Corn and Bean Salad with Ham

4 ears of corn, kernels scraped into a bowl
¼ pound sliced ham or Canadian bacon, julienned
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 Serrano chiles, seeded and finely chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of dried thyme leaves
1 14 ounce can of black or chili beans, rinsed and drained
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup dry white wine or chicken stock
5 Tbs butter, divided
olive oil
bag of baby spinach leaves or Romain-based salad mix
Parmesan cheese
handful of Italian parsley, chopped

Heat 1 Tbs olive oil and butter in a cast iron pan over medium heat. Add onions and saute for a minute or two and then stir in the garlic and chiles. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to saute until onions are transparent, about 5 minutes. Add ham and continue to saute mixture until the meat is heated through and begins to stick to the pan. Deglaze the pan with the wine or chicken stock, scraping up any stuck bits. Add the corn along with any collected juices and drained beans and butter. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until the liquids are reduced by half.

To serve, place salad mix on serving dishes and top with a ladle of corn mixture. Top with tomatoes, scallions and shaved cheese.

Variation for the carbohydrate-addicted:

Okay, if you hate the green, don't use it. Instead, cook 8 ounces of whole wheat penne rigate until al dente. Omit the beans but otherwise, simply stir the corn mixture into the pasta, adding some reserved pasta water in case it seems dry.

Not moribund enough, you say? Go ahead and put the beans back in and stir 4 ounces of goat cheese into the hot pasta.

Other possibilities:

Instead of just dumping in the scraped corn kernels, grill the whole husked cobs either on an outdoor grill or inside on a grill pan until nicely charred. Allow cobs to cool so that you can touch them, then scrape the kernels and continue as above.

You could add all sorts of substitutions and additions with this. For example, peas and caramelized mushrooms. Substitute shredded roasted chicken or browned Italian-style turkey sausage for the ham.


Did some checking and according to this page, a grain combined with a legume should form a complete protein.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Rachael Ray Ingredient Permutationizer© Successfully Reverse Engineered

Or, how to publish 100 cookbooks without actually creating anything new.

Lemmings and generally clueless people everywhere commonly express amazement at Rachael Ray's prolificness in publishing book after book. "How does she come up with all these ideas?" they muse.

Various theories have been suggested, such as:
She throws darts at a dartboard that has ingredients named in the various sections

She has a list of ingredients written on little slips of paper and randomly pulls them out of a hat

She extracts them from her nether orifice

I have come to the conclusion that the correct answer is none of the above. Nope, the correct answer is that she uses a tool I have dubbed the Ingredient Permutationizer©.

Here is the formula:
(C/2) * (C-1) * F1 * F2 * M * Ch = T

C = number of classic dishes from various cuisines

F1 = format of a dish (ie, soup, stoup, stew, burger, slider, mac n cheese, lasagna, salad, sammie, etc)

F2 = some ethnic cuisine as characterized by presence of an item supposedly representative of that dish (ie, curry powder = Indian, oregano = Italian, mint = Greek, soy sauce = “Asian,” smoked paprika = Hungarian, cumin or chipotle = Mexican, etc)

M = meat item (or mushrooms, for “vegetarian" dishes) strip steak, chicken breasts, ground beef, veal, pork, turkey, etc)

Ch = some kind of cheese

T = total number of dishes possible

Try it yourself, kids! You too can become a published "author."

Southwestern Monte Cristos, anyone?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Content vs. Pages

Now, don't get me wrong -- I loves me some Nigella. Everything she makes looks fantastic and accessible. I've tried several of her recipes and they all turn out well. Her Lemon Risotto is a particular fave.

I recently made a few from the copy of Nigella Bites that I checked out of my local library and I could not help noticing that the book seemed awfully heavy on pretty pix of Nigella Nigella Bites: From Family Meals to Elegant Dinners -- Easy, Delectable Recipes For Any Occasion aling= cooking and eating. Then I noticed the glossy paper (necessary for making the food appear sexy, I guess). Then I noticed that the percentage of these pages seemed awfully high.

Between the pages reserved for "notes" and the food porn shots, I calculated that 144 of the 244 pages in this book could have been left out. This would leave the reader with the same amount of useful content, but paying a lower price.

I had long ago noticed the same thing about Giada de Laurentiis' books. I had Everyday Italian and did a similar count. Since Food Network relies so heavily on Giada's alleged "sensuality," Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes(cough) I expected to unearth a similar discrepancy between the number of pages and hard content. Even though both books had nearly the same number of pages, Giada's book only had 100 pages of essentially useless content. I was rather surprised.

That said, even though I believe that the publishers are padding these titles for all they're worth, the recipes contained therein are still tasty, easily prepared. I just wish the puppet masters would realize that we aren't as dumb as they seem to think we are.

We noticed, Food Network.