Thursday, June 28, 2007

where da cheese at

Matty's out of town so it's time for Operation Clean-Out-The-Fridge / Try-Recipes-I-Don't-Think-He'd-Like. I had already started Part A yesterday by having a bunch of crackers and nearly a wedge of Cambozola for dinner. :P

Today's dinner inspiration came mostly from BHG's Vegetable Polenta Lasagna recipe, except I used a different polenta recipe, and different toppings.

I've made Epicurious' Truffled Polenta twice before. I love polenta - I've only had it soft, and I find it to be very comforting. I don't think Matty likes it - I think he only eats it to be polite. I figured I'd test this recipe out, and unless it was brilliant, I wouldn't subject him to it. This go-around, I used the basics of that recipe - 3 cups of chicken broth to 3/4 cup cornmeal, added shallots because I wanted to get rid of what I had, and left the mushrooms out because I was going to use it in the topping.

After I put the polenta in the fridge to firm up, I took a walk to TJ's to get a couple more veggies (yes, contrary to cleaning out the fridge, but I figured if I was going to use them all, it was going to work out fine). Turns out I didn't use everything I bought, but that's okay. Got home just as the hour was up for the polenta.

I didn't want to use marinara sauce as the BHG recipe called for, so I diced up 3 Roma tomatoes, put them in a saucepan with garlic and olive oil, let them sit for as long as it took me to slice up about 6 oz. of crimini mushrooms, threw those in, let it all sit for as long as it took me to cut 6 oz. of broccoli florets into smaller florets, threw those in, gave a quick stir, and then dumped it all on the chilled polenta.

I didn't have regular shredded mozzarella, but I had a tub of tiny fresh mozzarella pearls languishing in the back of our cheese shelf, so I drained those during the hour I was chilling the polenta/walking to the grocery store and back, and then sprinkled the little things all over the polenta "lasagna." Which is really more of a tall polenta pizza/bruschetta than lasagna, but whatever.

At the 30-minute mark in the oven, I pulled the foil off, and the poor pizza/bruschetta/lasagna was swimming in water. Don't know if it was because I used tomatoes instead of marinara or if the liquid was from the fresh mozz, but I hoped baking it for another 15 minutes would dry it up. No such luck.

It was still very good, though. The polenta base would probably not have been quite so soft had there not been all that extra liquid, but it still held onto a basic rectangular shape. I bailed the rest of the liquid out of the pan, so hopefully everything will be a little firmer and drier and more like the BHG photo when I tear into it for lunch tomorrow.

Monday, June 25, 2007

leftover salmon

Matty leaves tomorrow for a vacation/benefit concert (Rock for the River 4 to benefit Save The River in Clayton, NY), so tonight was a mini lockdown. He was only going to be gone for a week, so we had a nice dinner at home, and then went out to see our friend Gabriel Mann play at Room5. (As opposed to a longer trip where we would stay home all night and stare deeply into each others' eyes).

I was stressing all day about what to make - it had to be special, but not be time-consuming since we were planning on going out, and Matty still had to pack. I emailed him a couple options while I was at work, and he ended up choosing the Oven-Roasted Salmon with Asparagus and New Potatoes recipe from Simply Recipes.

The selling point: one-dish wonder! Our sink is really small, our drying rack is even smaller, and none of our dish towels are actually capable of drying anything, so I hate it when cooking ends up meaning I have to wash dishes in batches. There is truly nothing more annoying than doing dishes after dinner, racking them to dry, and then waking up in the morning to put the dry dishes away and finish the rest. I suppose I could look into thirsty towels, but then I couldn't bitch and moan about it.

Anyway. This dish could not be easier. I used my new obsession, purple potatoes, and then found a couple yellow and pink potatoes in the fridge (I think left over from fondue'ing with the sister), gave them a little roast, tossed the asparagus in (naked - I didn't dress them at all), and then scootched the veggies around to make room for a salmon steak on either side of the dish. Delightful. The recipe made a lot of potatoes, but there's nothing I like more than cold potatoes and asparagus, so we're all good here. And I'm already plotting lunch for tomorrow - the leftover salmon in the leftover Living Wrap from Real Food Daily, with a side of potatoes and asparagus. :)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

where you lead, i will follow

I didn't follow any recipes to make this meal! Unless you count the directions that come on the packaging. In which case, follow recipes I did. :P

a) The fish was a ready-made hazelnut-encrusted trout I got at TJ's. The package said pan-fry or broil, and I felt like de-virginizing my cast-iron skillet, so I pan-fried it in that.
b) The snap peas were sauteed in a little bit of butter, and then doused with a fair amount of lemon juice.
c) The bag of brown jasmine rice said to use 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. I thought making it coconut-y would be more complementary to the fish, so I used 1 cup of coconut milk and 3/4 cup of water to 1 cup of rice. At first, I was super disappointed in how little it tasted like coconut, but the addition of toasted coconut flakes on top solved that.

All in all, a perfect meal that took no time at all. I'm not even sure we were in any kind of hurry. It just happened to work out that I was able to do the fish and the snap peas in the time it took the rice to cook up. Convenient, no?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

sunshine-y day

All I want to do all summer is make fruit desserts. I've probably got more recipes than summer days from all the trolling about the Interweb that I do.

First up, the Lemon Pudding Cakes from Baking Bites. I had initially wanted to do lime because I like lime better, and Matty's got a thing for key limes having family friends in the Keys and having gone to UM, but I was too lazy to go to the store for key lime juice, and I had just enough lemon juice in the fridge.

So no, I didn't squeeze the juice myself. And because I didn't have actual lemons, I didn't use the zest either. I think both would have helped the egg-y undertaste of the dessert. Don't get me wrong - I'm not blaming the recipe. Rather, I'm blaming the dark-yolk eggs I got from TJ's. They're apparently better for you - plenty of Omega-3's, more folic acid, more this, more that. I only got them because, apparently, when you're at TJ's 20 minutes before it closes, they have already hidden away all the normal eggs. And I actually don't know if the dark yolks make them taste more egg-y, but I'm going to assume it does.

I'm definitely going to make these again. With the limes next time. And zest. And regular eggs. Because the cake part was heavenly. Airy, spongy, and really reminded me of some cookie-like thing I had often as a child. Maybe ladyfingers? Whatever it was, it's making me want to sneak a leftover one out of the fridge. :)

roll to me

From breakfast for dinner to breakfast for breakfast. What a novelty!

I nearly swooned when I saw this Skinny Omelette recipe at 101 Cookbooks. It looked so satisfying, yet light; easy, yet gourmet. I've always been terrified of crepe-making, and have always thought about attempting banh xeo, a savory Vietnamese crepe dish, but I always chickened out.

I thought I'd bite the bullet and give these a go. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, not because of any previously undiscovered innate crepe-making ability, but because I only had an 8" (I think) skillet, so there wasn't much room for the eggs to move about and thin out. Perhaps next time, I'll just use one egg instead of two in the smaller skillet, or use two in the 12" cast-iron skillet I just bought and can't wait to use.

Again, eggs = versatility, so I mixed a lot of leftovers in to these crepe-omelettes. Used mixed greens, chopped up hot salami and grated sharp Provolone, and didn't use pesto because I didn't have any on hand. I'd love to try Heidi's suggestion of using herbed ricotta as a spread. I bet they'd be really good with that garlic and chives goat cheese I used for the stuffed peppers as well.

I think these are going to be my go-to small brunch recipe. Quick and easy to serve to a load of folks, but they still look like class on a plate.

Monday, June 11, 2007

yolky in the middle

Breakfast is truly my favorite meal. Whether it be for nice, relaxing Sunday brunches, or part of my extensive hangover prevention program (omelettes at The 101, anyone?), its versatility and ability to always satisfy make it the most fun meal to prepare.

Breakfast for dinner was tap for tonight. After having seen Elise's recipe for Tuscan Scrambled Eggs and Epicurious' Portobello Mushrooms with Scrambled Eggs, I decided to combine the two and make an extremely simple and healthy dinner.

The Tuscan scrambled eggs were brilliant. I had a giant container of different-colored cherry tomatoes, so I halved and tossed those in instead of the plum tomatoes. I didn't use the peppers called for in the Epicurious recipe, and instead of layering the spinach, I just tossed those into the skillet just as the eggs were getting done.

Of course, what would any meal be without carbs, so I made the Andouille Sausage Cornbread recipe I found on Kitchen Illiterate. Hello! So what completed the meal. I used the Jiffy cornbread mix (which I also prefer to the Trader Joe's mix), threw in some hot Italian sausage (because a) both Gelson's and TJ's only had andouille-flavored chicken sausage - interesting but no thanks, and b) I refuse to get andouille from anywhere other than the European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen), threw the whole mess into a foil-lined 8x8 dish so I wouldn't have to clean, and voila! Dinner.

Yum, yum, yum! And can you imagine the endless possibilities for the eggs? Whee!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

hungry like the wolf

I love band meetings. They always promise two of my favorite things - boys and their appetites. I just love cooking for a bunch of guys. They're so appreciative, and they generally don't leave leftovers. And while leftovers are always enjoyable, they're the bane of my existence when I insist on cooking as often as possible, there's only two of us, and we all know that delightful meals never come in small portions.

Ray Don & The Backwash Band were over at our house for a meeting about their upcoming video shoot for "Ballad Of A Man," and I had offered to provide snacky foods to sustain them through the evening. All of which I had to be able to prepare between the hours of 7:00p (when I get home from work) and 8:00p (when the boys were scheduled to arrive). Shortcuts galore - used goat cheese with garlic and chives already in it so I wouldn't have to chop, used frozen pie crust (*shudder*), etc.

I didn't quite make it within the timelines, but it all worked well. We set out TJ's awesome salsa chips with spicy guacamole, and a tray of roasted garlic and rosemary WiseCrackers and Breton water crackers with a British blue cheese, a sharp Provolone (tastes like Gruyere, but cheaper :P) and a mild California cheddar to stall them for the real food.

BHG provided a recipe for Cheese and Herb Mini Sweet Peppers. Matty pushed really hard for these. He loves the peppers. I wasn't sure how I would like them since I would have to heat goat cheese, and I hate heated cream cheese, but I was pleasantly surprised. They were a real bitch to fill, though. Next time, I'm going to have to go the old snip-a-corner-off-a-Ziploc route instead of the curse-while-using-a-teaspoon route.

Next up was the pasta salad. I used pesto tortellini for the pasta, and every vegetable I had in the fridge - sugar snap peas, broccoli, carrots, sweet peppers, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. All dressed in a little olive oil and lemon juice. I'm never going back to pre-made ranch or Italian dressing again. The olive oil and lemon juice were all this baby needed. The boys seemed to agree, as the picture shows all that was left of when they were done with it. :)

Finally, the piece de resistance (and because quiche is totally a snack :P): the Caramelized Onion Quiche from Simply Recipes. I've made this quiche twice in the past - once as a surprise Valentine's Day breakfast for Matty to wake up to after I had left for work (he ate half of it before I got home), and once with Elise's mushroom quiche for our Easter brunch. I freaking love this quiche. Like it was my only child or something. I'm telling you, this love runs deep. I really wish I had time to make my own crust, but time was tight, and a frozen one had to do.

All in all, I think they were pretty happy. There was one tiny sliver of quiche left over for Matty's breakfast, that Tupper of pasta salad and maybe two peppers. I think band meetings are going to be at our house from now on. :)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

it's a family affair

My sister and I were never super close until I went away to college. Nothing bad about our relationship - we were just two years apart, and very competitive with each other. College gave us enough space to appreciate each other now that we weren't bickering every chance we got. We're both out of school now (her for 1, me for 3), have our own places with our sig-o's, and very rarely see each other except for the obligatory parental visit every couple of weeks.

With Matty being out of town, and me having just returned from a surprise bachelorette party with my best girls, I had a free evening to drive over to the sister's, and a need to eat something indulgent but simple.

Fondue! Glorious, glorious fondue! In a cute vintage pot from the flea market. Yes, prep takes a while - cutting up all the vegetables, blanching them, grating the cheese, melting it, etc. But it was great to be able to chat and catch up while I was doing that, and then we had a lot of fun trying not to lose the dippers in the cheese. I used the Three-Cheese Fondue with Champagne recipe, again courtesy of Epicurious, and we had a spread of broccoli, asparagus, new potatoes (including gorgeous purple ones that got me way more excited than I should have been), olive rosemary focaccia, pesto tortellini, artichoke hearts and Granny apple slices.

If it weren't such a goddamn bear to clean the pot out every time, I would do fondue every day. That and fat, I guess. But my sister brought up a really good point - "This is so healthy! We're eating a lot of vegetables!" That's my girl! :)