Friday, August 31, 2007

since you've been gone

Matty's still lounging about in the Hamptons, so I thought it would be the perfect chance to try Bea from La Tartine Gourmande's Zucchini, Corn and Goat Cheese Clafouti that appeared in The Boston Globe.

My love does not like the zucchini. I can't understand why. He didn't say anything about the bit of zucchini that served as garnish on last week's Artichoke Parfaits, but I think he might have had a problem with a dish such as this one that actually highlighted the darling things.

I've been seeing all the fruit clafouti recipes, and I've been dying to try one, but just never got around to it. I had to do this one, though, because it would be a huge help in cleaning out the fridge. I really do love it when recipes just magically happen to work with what I have (too much of) in the fridge - I'm the kind of person who doesn't keep much in the house, and makes a trip to the store just about every time I need to try a new recipe. The fridge cleaners really make my day. :)

This all came together really quickly, another plus because it's hot as all get-out, and I just wanted to sit in front of a fan. It made enough for one 9-inch pie plate and two 4.5-inch tart pans.

After it baked, I made a couple crab cakes to go with it. Another fridge-cleaner: I had some catfish/crab mix from the filling for the Catfish and Crabsteak, so I mixed that up with an egg, and then added enough extra crab meat to make the mixture formable into patties. They weren't the prettiest things, but they were actually quite good.

I expected something a lot more quiche-y from the clafouti, but these little things turned out much lighter. Not that that's necessarily bad, except that it makes me feel like I can eat a lot more than I should. :P

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

she does everything

Ah, Tuesday. Probably the tamest of all weekdays. Good thing, too, because I decided to overdo it again in terms of feeding Matty. What can I say - I like the guy.

Today's occasion: Matty leaves tomorrow to play a gig in the Hamptons. I know, poor thing. :P I was initially only going to make David Burke's Catfish and Crabsteak and Never Bashful With Butter's Key Lime Meringue Pie, but before I went to bed last night, I chanced across the Buttermilk Pancakes from Amateur Gourmet. And I had buttermilk that was only going to be thrown out in the next couple of days, so I had to make them.

And my dear heavens if they weren't the best pancakes I've ever had. It was the first time I had made pancakes from scratch, and while not complicated, I was fairly pleased with myself. I used whole-wheat flour because I had run out of all-purpose (who does that?), and they were still the lightest things in creation. Great texture - sorta crispy on the outside, perfectly fluffy on the inside. Totally worth getting up early for work to make. :)

I also got started on the catfish and the pie in the morning, so there was only baking left to do when I got home.

The catfish was ridiculously good. Growing up, our seafood intake was almost exclusively catfish. I never understood why people consider it a second-class fish. Is it because it's ugly? Or cheap? In any case, it's a ridiculous notion.

It's supposed to look like a little filet mignon, but I guess my catfish wasn't long enough to go completely around the ramekin that it was molded in, but that's okay. The filling was a catfish puree mixed with crab meat.

I need to take a moment to gush about the crab meat I bought. It came in a can because frankly, if it doesn't, it's too expensive. I found it in the refrigerated section at TJ's, near their smoked salmon and prosciutto. It was a massive 1-lb. can, but a) they didn't have any other options, and b) I was too lazy to go to another grocery store to find smaller cans. And boy am I ever glad I bought it. I cracked it open expecting the usual - lots of liquid and a couple actual pieces of crab meat laid on top of what looks like the crab version of pulled pork. But no! This can had very little liquid, and was full of huge chunks of crab leg meat. I was completely dumbfounded. I wish I had made the entire recipe so that I could have used all of it, but as it were, I had cut the recipe down to a 1/3 so it would be just right for the two of us.

It was very, very good. Then again, I am very partial to catfish, so I could be biased. It was the perfect amount of food, and the little vegetable garnish (I actually made the full amount in the recipe so that it would be more of a side than a garnish) was a great complement. Time for dessert!

Mainly because I'm lame and secondarily because this pie was damn good, this was the only photo I got. Matty has a weakness for Key limes - he has family friends in the keys and went to school in Miami, so I think it just brings lots of cool taste memories back for him. I quartered the recipe to make just two individual pies in 4.5-inch tart pans. I think the next time I make it, I'll be doing the full recipe in a 9-inch pie pan. The proportions got a little hard to deal with - it's pretty rough trying to whip just one egg white into stiff peaks. :P

Saturday, August 25, 2007

take it to the top

We've got a really busy weekend, and breakfast today is going to be the only chance we have to breathe. I've been staring at this Crespeou from the LA Times (log-in required to see this specific article, but I'm sure a simple Google search will do ya), for a really long time, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to try it out.

File this one under Fast-But-Still-Impressive, and it'll probably be on the menu for the parental visit. It's essentially a fridge-cleaner, and if you like regular omelettes, I can't imagine that you wouldn't like this.

Basically, it's layers of one-item omelettes stacked as high as you want to go. This crespeou was just for the two of us, so I used 6 eggs (one per layer), and made them in an 8-inch skillet, which only really had about a 5.5-inch surface area to cook on. Layer one had spinach, layer two had crimini mushrooms, then black kalamata olives, the squash-zucchini-asparagus mixture from the other night's Artichoke Parfaits, sun-dried tomatoes and then pesto. I don't know that there's an exact science to certain layers being in a certain order, but this seemed to work okay.

It was all very fresh/primavera-tasting. I think I may try a cheese omelette layer next time, or maybe just sprinkle some shredded cheese between omelette layers, but that's probably just gilding the lily.

going to strawberry fields

These Strawberry Cream Cheese Breadlets were a minor disaster, but out of the 24 I ended up making, I was able to salvage 15 pretty ones.

Our friend Vicki is having her housewarming today, and I insisted on bringing something. She told me she was already making brownies, so something "strawberry shortcake-ish" would be great. I didn't really want to do strawberry shortcakes because that meant having to transport 3 different components, so I went through my daily-read blogs, and ended up narrowing it down to either mini pavlovas or the breadlets. I wasn't sure how meringues would travel, and the breadlets were more related to shortcakes, so they won out.

Everything started out innocently enough. I've made bread before, both pre-blogging and post-blogging, so I wasn't completely ignorant of the adventure. Followed the recipe, but after I threw in half the flour, I kind of had a dough soup - definitely not anything I could turn out and knead to incorporate into the final dough. I dumped in the rest of the flour, and it started coming together, so I poured it onto my cutting board. Huge mistake. It was still pretty liquid, so it kinda of just stuck to everything and expanded everywhere. Balls. Threw it back in the bowl, put in another cup of flour (whole-wheat now as I had just run out of all-purpose). All in all, between the bowl and the additional flour for kneading, I ended up needing 7 cups of flour as opposed to the 4 called for in the recipe. I wonder where it all went wrong.

So I left it to rise, and only ended up with enough patience to use half the dough to make 24 bread bases (2 batches on my very small cookie sheet). The first batch ended up huge, and I kind of tipped them over when I was moving the parchment paper off the cookie sheet to cool, so I only managed to salvage 3. Thankfully, I had learned my lesson for the second batch, so I made the bread bases smaller, and all 12 of those turned out beautifully.

I also didn't have strawberry jam like I thought, so I ended up using the blackberry preserves that I did have. The jam tasted great, but visually, it wasn't terribly appealing because it didn't match the fresh strawberries.

They're a little too mellow for my dessert preferences, but they actually make a pretty good breakfast - the fact that the base isn't sweet makes them perfectly legitimate brunch fare. Matty loved them, and had two of the "ugly" ones with his breakfast. We'll just have to get a verdict from Vicki later.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

you better get some sleep tonight

I woke up at 6:00a to make these. After having gotten about 3 hours of sleep after the show and post-show celebration.

Two college friends of mine are having a joint party/house concert with our very talented friend, Gabriel Mann. Kawika is turning 23 (his golden year!), and Kathryn is heading back to complete her last year at Harvard Law. I took requests from both of them for party goodies.

Kathryn, an H-Town native, requested something Mexican chocolate-y, something combining the flavors of cayenne and cinnamon with chocolate. Frankly, I was terrified of the idea of cayenne and chocolate even though it's so trendy now, but I was reassured after a quick Google search for "Mexican chocolate" yielded so many recipes I wanted to try.

She also mentioned that she's a simple girl at heart, and just really loves chocolate-chip cookies, so when I saw this recipe for Mexican Double Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies at La Mia Cucina, I had to go with it.

The only change I made was with the chocolate. I found a bar of Spicy Maya from Chuao Chocolatier at Gelson's. It's a 60% cacao chocolate infused with pasilla and cayenne. It looked appropriate so I bought the 2.something oz. bar and planned to use another 2 oz. of semisweet chocolate chips to melt for the dough.

The bar was quite sassy on its own, but mellowed out considerably with the addition of the semisweet chips. The final cookie was strongly cinnamon-scented, but the only effect of the chiles was a pleasant warm aftertaste - nothing extremely chile-specific. The next go-around, I think I'll use bars of the Spicy Maya. Either way, though, it's a great cookie recipe - lovely, chewy, chocolate-y, all things cookies should be. Imagine the possibilities with all the fun chocolate bar flavors there are out there.

On to project #2. When I texted Kawika to see what he wanted, he initially told me he would eat anything. I, however, need more direction than that, so I sent a text back insisting he narrow that down. It took him a couple hours, but he came back with red velvet.

Done. Red velvet I can do. What I can't do is remember to take a photo of them. I used this Magnolia Bakery Red Velvet Cake recipe - the same one I used for cupcakes I made for our housewarming party. I ran out of food coloring, so they were more like pink velvet, but they still tasted as great as I remembered. Last time, I had copped out and bought a cream cheese frosting from the grocery store, but this time, I whipped up a coconut cream cheese one from another random red velvet cupcake recipe I found.

Saved some of each for myself and Matty, boxed the rest up and took them to the partay. Kathryn loved her cookies. I'm not sure if Kawika had any cupcakes, but he was thrilled that there was coconut involved. :P Good enough for me. :)

but the inside is better

I like to turn the day after Matty gets home from a tour into a little celebration. (And the day before he leaves, too. I just like a good excuse to make fancy food). I was initially going to go with the Catfish and Crabsteak from Cooking With David Burke, but with all the baking I already had to do this morning, I didn't have time to start on that dish, and I had to prep it before going to work because it required two hours of refrigeration before anything can be done with it.

So we save that for another day. Probably next Tuesday before Matty leaves for another show over Labor Day weekend. No snub to Mr. Burke, though; the back-up recipe was for Artichoke Parfaits from the same book served with a Pesto and Tomato Salad from I Like To Cook. Not the best picture of the artichoke, but I liked the way the tomatoes looked. :P

My goodness. How much more simple-while-still-brilliant can you get? The artichoke bottoms lived in a can at Gelson's until I freed them into a balsamic vinaigrette. They were then layered with a delightful herbed goat cheese from TJ's and topped with some lightly sauteed yellow squash, zucchini and asparagus and surrounded by the pesto pasta.

I forget how much I like pesto. It made the perfect complement to the artichoke parfaits, and the whole thing was a wonderfully filling meal. I'm also amazed at how quickly everything came together, especially since I'm the queen of the 9:00p dinner. I just put the vinaigrette together, let the artichokes marinate while I got the pasta boiled and chopped/sauteed the veggies. I mixed up the goat cheese mixture while the veggies cooled in the fridge, drained the pasta and added the pesto right in that pot, and then scooped some pasta onto a plate and snuggled an artichoke in the middle.

I think I shall make this again when Matty's parents are in town. I can't even think about how I might improve on it because it's already so wonderful. Maybe new vegetables? Or maybe use portobello mushrooms instead of artichoke bottoms? Eh, I've got about a month to think about it.

when you come home to me

Matty's back! To welcome the boys home, I made this Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake in cupcake form. I about fell out of my chair when I saw that photo, and I've had it bookmarked for a special occasion for ages.

It was a real snap to put together. Just a little whisk, a little mix, and into the cupcake liners they went. Except I was a bit overzealous and completely overfilled the buggers. I checked the oven halfway through to rotate the pan, and there was chocolate mess all up on the pan. Crap. I think I slammed the oven door shut before I rotated. :P

I wasn't too worried about the mess - I was planning on doing them up like I did Matty's birthday cupcakes, so there was going to be cupcake surgery involved anyway. And this meant I got to sample the bits I was cutting away (which were delightful).

I boiled the condensed milk as the reviews suggested. Left it on the counter for a day (apparently, it'll explode if you try to open it while it's still hot), and then threw in the toasted coconut and pecans. *swoon* I ate quite a bit of it. All in the name of quality-control, right?

Instead of the glaze called for (because truly, 2 1/2 sticks of butter? That can't be good for you), I went with the glaze from the aforementioned birthday cupcakes. I adored it last time, and it was still perfect this time. I was a little bummed it didn't set up as much as my last batch did - this was definitely pourable, while my last batch was more spreadable. I'm sure the heat was a factor. Anyway, I halved it this go-around because I had a lot fewer cupcakes to frost, and it was just enough.

I received many a compliment for these from the band. Matty, unfortunately, did not get one before they disappeared, but luckily, I had had just enough batter to fill two additional ramekins, so we had little cakes waiting for us at home.

And they were divine. Wow - I really wanted to eat slowly so I could properly describe flavor, texture, etc., but I found myself just shamming cake in my mouth as fast as I could chew. It's really that good. So fascinating how boiled evaporated milk can turn into this dulce de leche thing. The cake was perfect and moist, the glaze was creamy and rich, and the entire thing was a wonderfully decadent way to say, "I've missed you. Glad you're home." :)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

summer breeze, makes me feel fine

Considering how easy this is, and how good it is for you, it's a wonder I don't make it more often.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Christina had a potluck pool party, and one of her friends brought some tabbouleh. Some of our other friends asked what was in it, and she simply said, "Some bulgur, some quinoa because I didn't have enough bulgur, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper."

Good enough. This was basically an eyeball - when it looked like there was a good enough ratio of quinoa to veggies, I stopped chopping veggies. :)

1 c. quinoa
2 c. water (or any kind of stock you like)
2 tomatoes
4-in. length of cucumber
half a bunch of parsley
2 glugs of olive oil
juice from half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Bring quinoa and water to boil. Remove from heat, and let stand for 15-20 minutes, or until all water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, dice tomatoes and cucumber, and chop parsley.

When quinoa is done, transfer to a large bowl. Add tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, olive oil, lemon. Stir. Add more veggies if you like. Salt and pepper to taste. Let chill in refrigerator for (I've read) 6 hours to let the flavors meld. Adjust seasoning to taste.

You can cut up another tomato into 8 or so slices and arrange them on top of the quinoa to impress your friends with how pretty it looks.

Mine ended up a little goopier than I had hoped. I mean, moist is good, but this was almost wet. I'm not sure what can be done to amend that, though - the tomatoes kind of have a mind of their own with regard to how much moisture they want to let out. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I only had quinoa, and not bulgur. In any case, it was still nice to reap the rewards of waiting for this to chill all day - nothing like a cool dinner when it's 104 degrees out (according to someone in the yoga class I just got out of).

I had this with some chicken taquitos, but only because I was cleaning out my freezer. I imagine it would be really great with regular chicken, or maybe even some pork.

Friday, August 17, 2007

hurt so good

I love and I hate caramelizing onions. And in weather like this, it almost seems masochistic to stand in front of a stove stirring for 35 minutes, especially if you've also got an oven below preheating at 400 degrees.

But such great things can be built with caramelized onions, like this Pissaladiere I made for dinner tonight.

It was a wonderfully light dinner, served alongside a little salad of tomatoes and cucumbers with a bit of blue cheese crumbled over. I halved the recipe to make 4 individual tarts, which is why I don't think it puffed as much as the original - I rolled the ever-loving crap out of half a sheet of puff pastry to make it fit the tart forms. One's already in my belly, two are going to Jeff and Marcela, and I left one unbaked in the fridge so as to not lose the crunch of the puff pastry. I was planning on saving it for Sunday's lunch, but I'm still not completely full, and there's a huge possibility I will tear into it before the night is out.

I've never had anchovies before this, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but everything turned out just fine. The saltiness of the anchovies with the sweetness of the onions and the, um, tartness(?) of the olives all worked together quite perfectly. I'd love to try this again with some herring or mackerel, or any of those other omega-3-rich fish, maybe even salmon.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

and you, and you, you're gonna love me

I've had a really long week - work's been trying, I've been getting up every morning at 6a to go to the gym, and Matty gets home next Wednesday. The last week of his tours always drags the longest. But I can't wait for him to get home so I can spring this one on him.

We are blessed to be friends with a wonderful couple, Jeff and Marcela. They are unbelievably kind, intelligent, hilarious, (insert other grand superlative here that would not even begin to describe them). Marcela already took me out to dinner last week and insisted on getting the check simply because Matty wasn't here. And they're total foodies. :)

I got an email from Jeff yesterday afternoon just as I was in the process of blowing off all my social responsibilities in order to spend a quiet evening at home to decompress. And by decompress, I mean watch "Dreamgirls" on Netflix. :P

He suggested a barbecue, and considering he is our resident king of barbecues, I couldn't turn it down. And I'm glad I didn't - we just sat by their pool on a beautiful summer night, indulged in entirely too much tri-tip with some lovely cold, poached artichokes and homemade guacamole, chatted about everything (including our 20-year plans) and made friends with their neighbors teacup Maltese, Daisy. :)

They had insisted I come straight from work, not even allowing me to stop by my house to bake up some of the leftover dough I had frozen from Project: Cookie. I hate coming to gatherings empty-handed, so it was a good thing I had seen this recipe for Strawberries and Coconut Cream at La Tartine Gourmande earlier today. Just went to the grocery store on my way there to pick up a couple ingredients, and I was set.

It was so easy and absolutely magnificent. I used a little more yogurt (Greek, in my case) than called for just to lighten it up a touch - we were going to be eating so much for dinner that I figured we didn't all the richness of this dessert. I used sweetened flaked coconut, so I didn't add the powdered sugar, and it didn't need it. I just furiously mixed everything together until the lighter white streaks of the yogurt disappeared, quartered some strawberries and then threw everything onto the plate. Or rather, made Jeff do it because my throwing everything onto a plate would not be nearly as artistic. And I would never have thought to dust it with cinnamon. And apparently, that's good for you. And darn tasty, too.

It was a huge hit. So simple, so fast, and so inexpensive (which is key these days). I didn't make the coulis because I didn't want to dirty up more of their utensils, but I can only imagine how it would make this dessert completely over the top. The coconut cream could go with any seasonal fruit. I can't wait to try it with some sauteed pears, and maybe a chocolate sauce instead of the coulis. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

"Dreamgirls" will just have to wait. And from what I've been hearing, that's probably for the best. :P

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

christmas present

One of our artists is releasing his Christmas CD soon, and for the occasion, my co-worker Dana asked me to bake some fun cut-out cookies. Me being the eternal perfectionist, I spent almost an entire day looking for sugar/shortbread/etc. cookies with which to experiment with. My first list ended up including 4 kinds, and after picking up some a set of vintage canape cutters at the Rose Bowl Flea Market to use as miniature cookie cutters, I got started:

1) Hearst Castle Shortbread Cookies from 101 Cookbooks (I totally just typed "Cookies" :P)
I loved these. They were so simple and elegant. Maybe I just felt fancy knowing they were from Hearst Castle, but these were truly very good. Nice and crumbly. I made them really small, and I kept sneaking the "imperfect" ones into my mouth. I'm sure a couple decent-looking ones made it in, too. :P

2) my friend Christina's mom's Deluxe Sugar Cookies
I'm not sure where the recipe came from, but when I asked her for a recipe, she took a photo of a page in a cookbook and emailed the JPEG to me. Gotta love technology. Since they were in a cookbook, I hesitate to reproduce the recipe here. They were a really light, crumbly cookie as well. Sweeter and less buttery than the shortbread cookies, but very similar in texture.

3) Chocolate Whole-Wheat Honey Cookies from Baking Bites
The most interesting of the bunch. Great chewy texture, gingerbread-ish but not in that overtly ginger-y way that I hate. I don't think I liked the coffee in it, and I normally love coffee. It gabe a weird aftertaste that I couldn't initially peg - it wasn't awful, but after I bit in and chewed, I thought to myself, "What IS that?" Maybe the coffee and the honey together didn't quite agree with my palate. I'd like to experiment with different proportions of coffee, though.

4) Lemon Buttermilk Cookies from Baking Bites
The best of the batch for our purposes. I hate zesting with a passion and try to avoid it whenever possible, but after tasting these, I think I'm going to be a lot more willing to throw some in when other recipes call for it. The cookies turned out super moist and chewy. Dana declared these to be his favorite.

I'm not exactly sure when I need to bake the actual batch, but I'd like to spend the weekend testing some more.

you're disturbing my flow (wait a minute)

This morning's breakfast was a lesson that I should always keep the house stocked with Larabars.

We usually have them, and they're the perfect pre-workout breakfast (which, of course, will be supplemented by a post-workout breakfast of a rice cracker with almond butter when I get to the office). However, I ate the last one Tuesday morning, so this morning, I had to be a little more creative.

I had seen this idea for Baked Eggs in Tomato on FitSugar last week, and I thought one would be the perfect way to start the day - virtually no prep, bake in 15 minutes.

I don't know what it is with me and oven timing these days, but this took closer to half an hour to cook. I did place the tomato in a ramekin, though - do you think that affected the cooking time? I didn't initially want to put it on a cookie sheet because I was afraid it might tip over, but after waiting for longer than I wanted to, I removed the tomato and uncooked egg from the ramekin and put it on the removable bottom of a tart pan (so I'd have to clean less).

It was really tasty - just didn't let me get out the door by the time I had hoped. Maybe I'll try again tomorrow without the ramekin and see what happens. Because, of course, I forgot to go get some more damn Larabars today.

Monday, August 13, 2007

in deep

These little cupcakes turned out to be a massive ordeal, but the raves from the birthday girl made them worthwhile.

My friend Sally and I (along with two other friends) had indulged in a massive dessert binge one night at Room5, featuring two orders of creme brulee, a piece of tiramisu and some chocolate mousse. With her birthday coming up, I thought creme brulee-y baked good would be the perfect thing.

These Vanilla Brown Butter and Almond Cake with Warm Vanilla Creme Brulee Custard Filling called to me. How could they not? There is creme brulee. Inside. Little Cakes.

I started making the custard on Sunday. Stuck it in the 250-degree oven for 50 minutes as directed. It came out as liquid-y as when I stuck it in. Just a little warmer. Hm. Not so much as directed. So I kept it in there for a little longer. And a little longer ended up being 2 hours. I went back to check the recipe. Okay, 250 degrees/50 minutes. My oven isn't that messed up. I happened to scroll down to Bea's French (which I don't read) instructions. Those said 160 degrees Celsius. Out came the calculator.

Balls! 160 Celsuis = 350 Fahrenheit. Ran back into the kitchen, upped the temp, and it was all set and delicious in about 20 minutes. Froze them.

Took up the batter making tonight. Butter had never, ever smelled so good. I almost wanted to drink it. Made the batter, refrigerated it for a second while I sliced up the frozen creme brulees (in wedges because I had made them in individual ramekins). Then I poured the batter into cupcake liners, stuck a wedge in, topped with more batter. Perfect for exactly 12 cupcakes.

But the damn creme brulee buggers floated. Wished really hard that they'd sink upon baking (like my cherries were swallowed in the Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes. However, no such luck. As you can see, they remained wedge-shaped lovelies on top of the cupcake. I contemplated putting a quick ganache over it to hide them, but time was running out so I skipped it.

Sally loved them. She came over to my table twice to tell me they were "the best cupcakes ever," and then later "the best baked good ever." She shared some with the bartender, who mid-song (we were listening to a round of music featuring Jay Nash, Kyler England and Joseph Tobin), came up to me and said, "I'm so sorry to interrupt, but you made those cupcakes? OMG. They are SO good!" Hehe. She later offered to be a guinea pig any time I needed to test a recipe. Be careful what you wish for, m'dear. :P

I still have two ramekins of creme brulee, and I can't wait until Matty gets home to thaw them out and dive in. I'll admit - the leftover bits in the ramekins I cut up for the "filling" were slurped up by the bakist. :P

Friday, August 10, 2007

back to basics

I've been jonesing for my kitchen all week. Yes, I was a little burned out after the Sunday family dinner extravaganza, but I had let a week go by without nary lifting a finger to feed myself, and I missed it. I don't really regret not having cooked all week - I had lots of wonderful conversations at impromptu dinners out (including a wonderful stop at the beautiful new Tasca).

Anyway, I was in a bit of a hurry tonight: grocery store stop after work + Gabriel Mann show at 9:00p does not equal a lot of time for cooking. Tonight's dinner was the Tuna in Mustard Seed Crust from Cooking With David Burke, and it was fabulous. I'm glad because I just about swore off of Mr. Burke after my cake disaster last week.

This recipe, however, left no room for screwing up. Since I'm watching my expenses, I went with an albacore tuna instead of ahi. Made a crust of egg whites, Dijon mustard, bread crumbs and mustard seeds, and seared the fish until golden. Searing tuna is one of my favorite dinners anyway, and this crust really added a new dimension of texture and taste. I omitted the mustard seeds mainly because I couldn't find them in the store, but I was also afraid the mustard flavor would be overwhelming. Not so at all - the mustard in the crust was not very noticeable unless I flaked off a piece of the crust and ate it alone. I'll have to look harder for the mustard seeds next time. And maybe even splurge on that ahi.

This go-around, I served it with some leftover soba noodles, kale and sea vegetables, cold from a Real Food Daily Basic 4 work lunch earlier this week. They were a really nice complement, but maybe next time (or the time after that), I'll serve it with some edamame. And substitute wasabi for the mustard perhaps? Ideas, ideas...

Monday, August 6, 2007

i'm blue (if i was green i would die) :P

I was completely ready to write this Macaroni and Blue Cheese recipe off as something to make because a) it was on my list, and b) it helped me get rid of food I had lying around. For some reason, I didn't expect to like it, even though it had all the components of a meal that I would like (pasta and cheese, and blue cheese at that). However, I devoured this dish in moments few, and what you see in the picture is the last three bites because I forgot to take a picture before I dug in.

I quartered the recipe because I was only feeding myself, and only had that much leftover pasta in the fridge. I didn't have any cream on hand, so I went with all milk. I had the perfect size chunk of sharp Provolone left, so I used that instead of Cheddar, and my blue was a Castellon.

I think some of my success came from the combination of the Provolone and the blue. Perhaps my initial concern was how the Cheddar and blue would work together. I'll definitely try this again with the Cheddar, though, because the sauce was an almost perfect consistency for what I'm aiming for in a mac and cheese dish. It was a little grainy, but I think that's because I may have added a little too much flour - I just eyeballed the quartered measurement, and I am the worst at eyeballing. :P

The quest for the perfect mac and cheese continues...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

we are family

Sometime last week, I convinced my sister that it would be a good idea for her to buy a bunch of groceries in exchange for me cooking them for us. Sweet - the broke sibling eats another day. :P

A 3-course meal was planned. We were to start with Dungeness Crab and Portobello Mushrooms, followed by a Caramelized Onion Quiche and close with a Puff Pastry Peach Tart.

Our mother called as we were heading to the grocery store, and wanted to stop by to drop some stuff of, so we invited her dear old Dad to join us for dinner. My sister goes, "Does that mean we need more food?" Sometimes, we are so related. :P We decided to add a French Onion Soup to the menu, and off to the grocery store we went.

In hindsight, the evening was a little onion-y what with the quiche and the soup, but it was all so good, and no one complained.

The French onion soup was everything I hoped a French onion soup would be. It was light, but hit the spot in the way warm soups always have the tendency to do. I kept it really simple - just caramelized those onions, simmered in some chicken broth (couldn't find beef broth at TJ's - I swear they used to have it, but I've been to two now and can't find it), and then salted and peppered.

It was also the only photogenic thing from the evening, and even then, it wasn't as photogenic as I had hoped because Mai didn't have any oven-proof bowls. Couldn't go the fun cover with bread, broil the whole thing route.

I altered the crab/portobello thing just a touch. First off, it was no Dungeness crab because that was not a justifiable expense - we just went with canned white crab. Mixed that up with my leftover creme fraiche and a touch of sour cream, diced up the avocadoes and mixed that in, and then stuffed the baked portobellos with the whole mixture. A lot less work than all that layering that the recipe suggested. It was quite good even with the canned crab, but I wasn't about to take a picture because frankly, it looked like someone had already eaten it. :| But whatever. It was good, and I can't wait to make it again with some better crabmeat - both for my belly and your eyes' sake. :)

The quiche was as good as ever. I cheated and used a prepared crust, and apparently the crust or the pie tin had some kind of hole(s) in it because it went everywhere. Good thing I put that cookie sheet under there, or I would have been scrubbing that oven.

And lastly, the peach tart. Found frozen puff pastry at TJ's, to my surprise, and was glad to have because the sister has no counter space on which to roll out dough, much less repeatedly as is required with making puff pastry from scratch. Also for that reason, I left the pastry sheet the size it came instead of rolling it out longer.

The diplomat cream would not cooperate, and only thickened to barely above sauce categorization. The peaches weren't my favorite, either - they were super mealy. Sad, because I had such high hopes for this tart. It still tasted fine in the end - I served it in bowls so that it could be messy, and just pretended that's the way it was supposed to come out.

All in all, another lesson on how I shouldn't bite off more than I can chew. I think things started getting a little overwhelming and frustrating, so towards the end, I was just half-assing steps. I think this is going to be a fairly quiet week of cooking, though, so I'm sure I'll be able to get back into it when I need to.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

shake like an earthquake

This cake was the biggest disaster of my life. I guess I got a little cocky after the Triple Layer White Cake turned out so well (I even managed to split it into four!), and this Whiskey Torte from Cooking With David Burke felt that it should put me back in my place.

I was planning on delivering this cake to my friend Lavinia, whose birthday is on Monday. Her fiance, Krister Axel has a show tonight, and I was going to give it to her there. I chose a whiskey cake because, well, we're whiskey folk. My drug of choice is always Maker's Mark on the rocks, Krister recently got into single-malt scotches, and Lavinia used to be a whiskey sour person until she explained that she drinks it on the rocks/neat now because she can't afford the calories of a mixer. Brilliant!

Anyway, so Whiskey Torte it was. Very pretty picture - three layers of cake brushed with a whiskey-flavored simple syrup, and layered with a ganache-y frosting.

Do you think my mess had anything to do with the fact that I lined my baking pan in foil and used an 8"-square pan instead of an 8"-round cake pan? First of all, the batter filled the pan quite full, and when I checked it after the allotted time, it was still jiggling like mad. I left it in for another 5, then another 5 minutes. Grabbed the foil to remove it from the pan, and a crack the size of the San Andreas fault appeared approximately down the middle, revealing a still jiggly cake. Terrified, I put it back in the pan and put it in the oven for another 10 minutes.

I may have overcooked it. It kind of had a top and bottom crust, which, while yummy, was surely not Mr. Burke's intention. Anyway. I let it cool. Splitting this into three layers was definitely not going to happen, so I split it into two. The top layer (which was to become the bottom layer, seemed to be cooperative. I lifted it up and inverted it back into my 8"-square pan, brushed it with the syrup (well, basted because I can't find my pastry brush), poured some ganache on it.

Then I tried to lift the bottom layer to invert on the ganache, and it flat-out refused. Remember the San Andreas fault? Yeah, well it developed little baby faults, and what I managed to smash on kind of ended up looking like this:

*sigh* I just dumped the rest of the ganache on top so it looks like it has a smooth surface, stuck it in the fridge and hoped for the best. I was hoping I could blame the mess on whoever's knife work ends up cutting the cake into individual servings. Otherwise, I was just going to call it a Drunk Cake, and tell everyone that the mess was part of recipe.

I checked the cake right before I left the house, and thank goodness I did because the frosting had decided to separate a bit, and left deposits of butter all along the edge of the pan. Eww! What did I do to deserve this? Scraped it off, smeared the frosting all around to disguise the potholes, and then sprinkled it with cocoa powder to hide the schmear marks. *sigh*

It turned out to be a huge hit, though. It was more brownie than cake, but hey - still a chocolate baked good, so no worries. I forgot to try to get a shot of an individual slice, but it was too dark at Room5 anyway. Best part: after we had served it to all of our friends in the room, Lavinia sat in front of the pan dipping her finger into the whiskey frosting.

If I ever recover from the emotional trauma this cake caused me and manage to make it again, I think I'll stick with the round cake pan and bake it in two or three cake pans so I don't have to worry about leveling. In fact, I should probably do that for all cakes from now on. :P

Friday, August 3, 2007

the fruit (or vegetable) of another

My dear friend Rebecca: "You cook. Here."

Me: "What the!"

So Rebecca had a physical therapy patient give her a bunch of veggies, including this gorgeous white thing (which she called a "Turkish hat squash") and a massive zucchini, and she gave me the pick of the bag. I was strangely drawn to her initial offering - I didn't know what it was, but hell if I wasn't going to find a way to eat it. On my way out, she offered helpfully, "The lady said it tastes like hazelnuts." Cool.

I Googled "Turkish hat squash" as soon as I got home. I didn't find much, but I did find a couple things about turban squashes. That's what I'm going to call it. Although now that I look at it, it could kind of be a pumpkin.

I actually let it sit on my counter for a couple weeks because other things/recipes got in the way, and I was quite surprised that it was still good when I cut into it for dinner tonight.

Inspired by a few stuffed zucchini recipes, I got to work.

I don't think it tasted like hazelnuts at all. I suppose it could potentially depend on how the patient normally cooked hers, but I thought it ended up tasting and being the same texture as the cooked onions that were in there. It wasn't the most awesome meal I've ever had, but it was nice, especially since I've been carbo-loading like it's my job. Next time I'm going to use a lot more blue cheese - I only tossed it in as an afterthought, but the kick really worked with the squash. I was going to throw in some pancetta, but the bit I had left in Tupperware almost bit my nose off when I went in for a whiff, so no-go.

Stuffed Turban Squash

1 turban squash
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 small onion, diced
1 packed tsp. chopped chives
salt to taste
as much spinach as you like (or in my case, have left)
enough pistachios to cover the bottom of an 8" skillet in one layer (about 1/4 c.?)
crumbled blue cheese, to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp. panko bread crumbs
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Approximately halve the squash. Save the prettier half for your "bowl," and reserve the other half for another use. Use an ice cream scoop to scoop out the flesh, leaving about a 1/2" shell.

Steam the shell for 10-15 minutes, depending on how big your squash is, and how much flesh you left on there. It should be tender, but obviously still hold its shape. When done, place shell in anything broiler-proof and reserve.

Dice the reserved flesh (that sounds gross to say). Heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet. Add onions and chives, and saute until onions are translucent. Add diced squash, and saute until tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil in smaller skillet. Add pistachios and stir for about 2 minutes.

Add spinach to onion-squash mixture, and saute until just wilted. Add pistachios, and stir to combine. Salt to taste. Transfer mixture to shell, crumble blue cheese over and stir lightly to combine.

Preheat broiler. Sprinkle panko and mozzarella over, then broil for about 3 minutes, or until topping is browned in spots.

Eat. Pat yourself on the back for turning an unidentifiable vegetable into dinner. :)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

left to my own devices

Not the prettiest picture, mostly because curried cauliflower is kind of the same color as couscous, but it was a quick, tasty and filling meal, so I thought I'd share.

All day, I was debating between couscous and quinoa, but in the end, it ended up being couscous because if there's one thing I hate, it's pre-rinsing quinoa. It's a real pain in the ass. And I was in a hurry to catch my friend Sally Jaye's record release show, and couscous cooked up faster.

Curried Couscous w/ Cualiflower and Celery

1 c. water
2 Tbsp. butter
1 packed tsp. chopped chives
1 c. couscous
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. curry powder
2 handfuls of cauliflower florets
2 stalks of celery, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Bring water and butter to boil. Take off heat. Add couscous. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. (Totally cheating because those are just the package instructions). :P

While couscous stands, heat olive oil, curry powder and chives until fragrant. (I've always wanted to give those instructions - "until fragrant." Sounds so fancy). Add cauliflower and stir to coat. When you're about 30 seconds away from how you like your cauliflower done, add celery and stir to coat. The goal here is to not really "cook" the celery. I wanted a little crunch and a lot more color, so I just sauteed it until it got really green.

The rest of the steps depend on how fancy your pants are that evening. I stirred everything together and then salted and peppered to taste. In hindsight, it might have been pretty to plate the celery on one-third of the bowl, the cauliflower in another third, and let one third of couscous peek out.

The package directions say that 1 c. of couscous serves 5. After I finished laughing (and more because this was my entire dinner as opposed to a side dish), it only ended up serving two - one for me now, one for me tomorrow at lunch.

Goes really good with a tall glass of orange juice. :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

sometimes i feel so uninspired

It's going to be a boring couple of weeks, folks. I'm broke as a joke (to the point where I'm leaving my credit cards at home so I'm forced to not spend money I don't have), so I'm going to see how long I can subsist on things already in my kitchen.

Tonight's dinner - pre-made lobster ravioli from TJ's with a little spinach, and a super-easy sauce of olive oil and cream. Hilarious thing? This dish already exists over at Kitchen Illiterate. Great minds, I'm thinking. :)