Thursday, January 31, 2008

love and marriage

We just had a most successful dinner with our newly-engaged friends, Rob and Cat. We've known Rob casually for a while, but it's only been recently that we've hung out as a foursome. The only thing I regret about the evening is the even-lower-than-normal quality of pictures. We ate in our living room, and while it's vibe-y, photographically speaking, the lighting is wretched. I also hurried through taking the photos because I was plating by myself in the kitchen before serving in the other room.

We started out with a roasted beet and fresh mozzarella salad in an orange vinaigrette dressing. It was inspired by a marvelous appetizer at the now-closed Morton's on Melrose. Their dish revolved around a massive, gooey chunk of burrata, but for wallet and time's sake, I just went with the log of fresh mozz from TJ's.

It was pretty good, and I liked the orange vinaigrette fine, but it overwhelmed the delicate mozzarella. Next time, no vinaigrette - just some salted/peppered/olive oiled beets.

Our entree was James Beard's Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. From the name alone, there is no way it could turn out badly. I forgot to cover the pot with foil before I lidded it, but it didn't seem to have affected anything. I served the chicken over some Gorgonzola polenta (1 c. cornmeal whisked into 4 c. boiling hot vegetable stock, finished off with a drizzle of cream and 4 oz. of Gorgonzola) and some spinach sauteed in olive oil.

Wow. The chicken just melts in your mouth. The garlic had mellowed out in the hour and a half it was in the oven, and was perfect swirled into the polenta.

MAJOR faux pas on the dessert, though. I forgot that they don't drink, so I made Port- and Spice-Poached Pears With Granita. Brilliant. They were sweet, and ate it. I couldn't taste it past my guilt. I also didn't have time to make the granita part, but I saved some of the liquid, and it's hanging out in the freezer now for scraping when I get home from work tomorrow. Speaking of time, I don't think there's any need to steep the pears for the 2-3 hours called for in the recipe. I just stuck them in the fridge to chill while we had dinner, and pulled them out when we were done.

I thought it'd be cute to serve them in wine glasses, but they turned out to be a nightmare to eat from. Most of the problem was that my appetizer plates and my dessert plates are one and the same, and I'd already used them for the salad. And I didn't have the granita, so I served them in the sauce they poached in. Yum. Simple, fairly good for you, and yet still so decadent.

Closed the night out with talk of UFO's and Scientology. And the requisite squealing over Cat's engagement ring. *giggle*

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

i keep mine hidden

So you know how I mentioned that is my new crush? Yeah, that's over. My newest crush is Well Fed. I stumbled across it while looking for the recipe for Suzanne Goin's Devil's Chicken. I ended up deciding not to make it, but I did find this Salmon in Couscous Crust that I made for dinner tonight.

Seems an innocuous little casserole, doesn't it? But no, hiding underneath are two perfectly cooked salmon fillets. This may be my new perfect meal. It's the most fool-proof recipe ever, it takes about 10 minutes of active time, and then you can, say, crochet, while you wait for it to bake itself into the happiness of a balanced meal. The couscous crust could be varied in a myriad of ways, and I imagine the type of fish is interchangeable as well. For example, I substituted sliced baby carrots for the golden raisins because I abhor cooked raisins. I was going to toss in a couple cauliflower florets in an attempt to save them from certain doom in the crisper, but it seems I was too late. I would even like to try this once with some curry powder thrown in for kicks.

Oh, and the fish comes out moist and melt-in-your-mouth. Matty and I ended up blowing through three-quarters of the dish (I baked it in an 8x8 glass pan), and I fear it will never taste as good as it does right out of the oven, but I'm willing to risk trying tomorrow.

Monday, January 28, 2008

i dream of spring

It's still pretty cold here, even though it appears the rain has decided to cut us a break for the rest of the week. It's not cold enough to continue the soup marathon, but it is definitely still cold enough for hearty, filling and yummy. Which was everything this meal was. And the reason why this photo is a little out of focus - I was in a big hurry to get started on eating. :)

Pasta with Red Bean Sauce from Cream Puffs in Venice: my Italianized version of red beans and rice since I used a brown rice fusilli. I didn't expect to be overwhelmed by this recipe - I mean, I expected to like it for what it was: a lovely, simple pasta dish. I ended up kind of falling in love with it. The brown rice pasta had a really nice chewy texture, and the beans sat pretty heavy, so I didn't have to overeat. The red kidney beans weren't my favorite, so I think I'll try the the white Coco beans I used in the cassoulet next time.

The best part of making pasta fagioli? Hearing Matty doing his Christopher Walken impression from this SNL sketch with Cheri Oteri as "Mrs. DelVecchio." (I was planning on linking to the video via YouTube, but apparently, it doesn't exist on YouTube. Search for it. It's worth it).

On the side: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberry Brown Butter from Food & Wine. I'm still fairly new to the world of brussels sprouts lovin', so this was my first go at roasting them. I had always heard that this is the most popular way to convert haters, but I never gave it a try because the one that converted me is so much easier - less time-consuming, less messy. However, there is something to be said for the extra warmth a 400-degree oven gives to one's kitchen, so a go was had.

OMG. This is truly The Way. I popped one in my mouth straight out of the oven to make sure they weren't gross. They kinda looked gross - all shriveled and brown, but they certainly didn't taste gross. In fact, they kind of tasted like little bites of potatoes. I had to stop myself from "testing" them so that I would have enough to plate.

Unfortunately, I didn't really like the addition of cranberries. They were too overwhelmingly tart, and too different to make a cohesive dish. I actually ended up picking around them. The maple syrup all but disappeared, too. I think the only part of this recipe I'd keep is the browned butter, but the solo sprouts were so good, I'll definitely be experimenting with more roasted recipes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

in a place called vertigo

I woke up in the foulest mood today, and that was a shame because I love me some Sundays. Then I got on the computer and started checking emails, and I developed an even fouler mood. Blech. I should instigate email-free Sunday. One of the happiest days of my life was when Matty and I took a one-day vacation to Solana Beach, and I wasn't allowed to bring my computer. One day.

Anyway, thank goodness we had already decided last night to make Peanut Butter and Banana Stuffed French Toast for breakfast (funny enough from a San Diego episode of Bobby Flay's Food Nation - I think SD is trying to tell me something about my quality of life if I moved there). It's not fancy, but it definitely does the trick. Nothing takes me back to simpler times quite as quickly as the combination of peanut butter and banana.

One full sandwich (2 pieces of bread) is more than enough per person. The only thing I did differently from the recipe was halve each piece of bread before assembling and frying the sandwiches. It just seemed too messy to halve them after they were fried.

They were a perfect way to turn the day around. I should be ecstatic by the end of the day - going to see U2 3D tonight. Hola!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

i'll wait for the sun

I don't remember it ever having rained this hard in LA. Then again, I never do. Just about every time it rains in LA is the hardest it has ever rained in LA. But this was serious. We took our trash out Wednesday night, and by the time we came back from the Kingsize show, our trash cans had been swept about a car-length down the block. Crazy.

Add to that Matty's wicked flu which I'm Oscillococcinum'ing away from myself, and it's enough to make you want to curl up in a ball and stay there all week. Or at least be at home to make sure he doesn't need anything. Seriously. I've never seen him this sick. Completely burning up but so cold from the chills that he twitches with each shiver. Poor baby.

He managed to drag himself to rehearsal, so I thought the least I could do when I got home was make him some soup for dinner. Two kinds of soup, actually. This month hasn't had the soupiness I had planned to celebrate National Soup Month, but I'm definitely going to close the month out with a bang.

The first, more advanced and more unplanned, one was Pumpkin and Shrimp Bisque from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. I had planned to make it for dinner next week when our friends Rob and Cat are coming over, but when I read the menu to Matty a couple days ago, he wrinkled his nose and mustered a, "Well that's an...interesting combination." Fine. I scratched it off the menu.

Walking through Gelson's earlier, I saw some shell-on but already deveined shrimp (brilliant!), and just out of sheer desire to prove him wrong, I bought a pound to make the bisque. It wasn't until I got home that I realized I didn't have celery for the stock, but I had everything else, so I decided to go ahead with it. Oh, and I didn't have pumpkin either, but I had plenty of sweet potatoes to get rid of, so I just nuked three of them and mashed them up.

Toasting shrimp shells gives off one of the most divine smells in the history of food. And the resulting stock is so good, even if I didn't really end up with that much because I left the heat on a bit too high. The sauteed shrimp and sage were delicious on their own, and were magical in the soup base.

Soup #2 was the Cream of Chicken and Saffron from Susannah Blake's 500 Soups. I figured there was no way Matty could hate that even if he ended up hating the bisque.

I had never cooked with saffron before, mainly because the most I'd heard of it was its price. I was at Albertson's a couple months back, and saw what looked like a stunningly low price tag on some saffron, so I bit the bullet, but never had the chance to try it until now.

The soup was very good, and oh-so-easy. Just saute an onion, pour in stock and chicken, simmer, remove from heat and add cream. Ridiculously simple. I added some pasta in the simmer process to make it more of a meal in a bowl, and then left it on the stove-top until Matty came home. By then, the pasta had absorbed a lot of the broth and was super-mushy, but it was still so good. It went down like velvet. Or a NAP blanket for your tummy.

Sadly, I'll never know what Matty thinks of them (well, at least until tomorrow at the earliest). By the time he got home, he had no appetite and crashed on the couch while I ate soup by myself. *sigh*

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

have a cuppa tea

No, I didn't actually serve this soup in the tea cup. I just thought I'd be artsy and put it in a tea cup since the broth was made from green tea.

Yep, you heard right. This was the Green Tea Broth with Udon Noodles from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. Sounds weird, but trust me, it was delicious. It was the exact thing I needed on a cold/semi-rainy day that had me leave work early because I couldn't shake some lingering nausea. TMI? Maybe.

It was a complete snap to pull together, too. Also very helpful since I briefly considered going straight to bed without eating anything at all. Once I got to tasting this soup, though, I ended up downing two massive bowls.

You just basically make a vat of tea and cook udon noodles in it. Add anything at all to it (in my case, some leftover wakame which probably overpowered the tea taste with its ocean-ness, and some diced silken tofu). Eat when done. Perhaps with a little extra soy sauce and sriracha.

I really should've used decaf green tea bags, though. I should be in bed, but now I'm completely wired. :(

EDIT: Check it out. The recipe's been posted on Leite's Culinaria.

Monday, January 21, 2008

sweet southern comfort

My 100th post! Thank goodness it's a good one. It comes to you from a well-deserved food coma.

It took a little longer than I had planned for, but so did everything else today. I had a lunch meeting run an extra hour, had to go way across town to pick up a prescription I had forgotten about last week, and then, when I tried to make a triumphant return to the gym, it kicked my ass. I am so out of shape. *sigh*

What better way to make yourself feel better about that than Alabama Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Brown Butter Creamed Winter Greens and Pear Creme Caramel? Whoo. In terms of my goals for my body this year, this was not a good idea. But in terms of my tastebuds, it was brilliant.

I wanted to do the pulled pork sandwiches because Matty and I have been trying to find a second to go to some killer BBQ place he found downtown-ish, but we still haven't been able to. Why not bring the BBQ here, then? The pork didn't really look like it was very much, but just about exactly half of it is sitting in our fridge to be resurrected tomorrow. I halved the biscuit recipe, and sort of free-formed them as opposed to rolling/cutting them. Mainly because I'm lazy.

The pork turned out really well. I was a little skeptical of the recipe because by the end of the 1-hour simmer, most of the pan juices had disappeared, and some of it had caramelized itself to my saucepan. No bueno. I was also very skeptical of the mayo-based sauce. I prefaced the introduction of the sauce to the table with a disclaimer that it was made of mayo, and Matty made a face, but he ended up liking it quite a bit. It was a nice cool contrast to the slightly spicy meat.

And those greens. Yum, yum, yum. They were everything that Martha Stewart Creamed Spinach was not. It was a heck of a lot more interesting because it had a bunch of different greens in it. I used two bags of mixed Southern Greens from Trader Joe's, which included turnip greens, mustard greens, collards and spinach. It didn't feel particularly heavy, and I think replacing the milk/cream with lower fat milk would not make a noticeable difference. The recipe yields a lot so be prepared to want some more the day after. Or be smarter than I was and wait to make it when you have more than two people at your dinner table. :P

And what words are there even left for this pear creme caramel? Flan/creme caramel has always been a comfort food for me. I don't know why. I don't have it that often. However, I do remember making it with my mom when I was a kid. Although I believe a big plate of it was put into our steamer as opposed to baking it in a water bath. Hmm...I'll have to check with my mom about that.

Anyway. I had a little trouble with the cooking time - for some reason, they baked very unevenly even though I rotated the pan. And funny enough, the fullest ramekin baked first. Weird. They were still good, though. I could drink that pear caramel all night. I didn't use nutmeg but I did dust a little cinnamon heart on top of Matty's creme caramel. Mostly because it slid out before I could invert it properly so it was very boring looking. Now it's extra-schmoopy.

Friday, January 18, 2008

heaven, i'm in heaven

Oh my goodness. I have just made the best dish I've ever had in my life. Possibly prepared in the fastest time I have ever prepared anything because we had about 45 minutes for dinner before going out to see some music.

The menu:
- Pasta Carbonara that The Paupered Chef's Blake adapted from Cucina Rustica, which I must immediately purchase if this recipe is any indication of the quality of the rest of the recipes
- Chocolate Chile Bread Pudding from my new crush,

In chronological order:
1. Put a pot of water to boil for the pasta and preheat the oven for the bread pudding.
2. Melt chocolate with cream, etc. and let cool for just a bit.
3. While it's cooling, dice onion (shallots in my case) and bacon (I like to use kitchen shears to cut the slices) and chuck into a frying pan; separate eggs for the carbonara.
4. While it's cooking, cut up slices of bread (I used Albertson's white bread that's been in the fridge for *cough*3 months*cough* - not highly recommended, but will do when you don't have time to go to the store between work and home), mix into the chocolate custard, fill ramekins and bake.
5. Dump the pasta in the water.
6. Mince parsley, grate Parmesan and make the egg paste. After the bacon/shallot mixture cools a bit, add that to the eggs.
7. Drain pasta and add to eggs.
8. By this time, the bread puddings should also be done - remove from oven to cool.

And voila - dinner made (and subsequently gobbled) in 45 minutes.

The bread pudding was just okay. Matty had never had bread pudding, but was fairly convinced dessert didn't need to include bread. I've had it once, and didn't really remember it very well. This was pretty good - nothing I really need to make again, but not an unsuccessful experiment.

The carbonara, however, was seriously a higher power's gift to our bellies. We both love carbonara, but we were completely swept off our feet by how good this was.

I used Trader Joe's pesto tortellini, my favorite pasta for everything from pasta salad, to a warm side (dressed with a little more pesto), to fondue-dipping. I will definitely try this again with unfilled pasta to get the most impact from the sauce, but then again, why mess with a good thing - the pesto tortellini just added another dimension of flavor to this rich, decadent dish.

I didn't add the white wine to the bacon/shallots - again, no time to stop by the store, and we don't normally have white wine on hand.

Matty's eyes just about rolled into the back of his head with his first bite. And maybe, just maybe, it was a bad idea to follow something so rich with that bread pudding, but it was worth every calorie.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

funky chicken

It's incredibly lovely when you have time to prepare your mise en place before you actually being cooking. I rarely do it. It's just not in my nature - I prefer to deal with things as they come up, whether it be life or a recipe. Planning ahead takes too much time, and dirties too many bowls.

However, I was sort of forced into preparation because I managed to get out of the office on time, and Matty was still fighting traffic home from the valley. I had already decided on a menu of Port and Paprika Chicken Bites from Great Bar Food at Home via Leite's Culinaria served over whole-wheat couscous with a side of Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Onions and Lemon Zest from Sassy Radish. I didn't want the food to get cold while I waited for Matty to come home, so I just prepped everything and let it hang out until he got home - cut up the chicken, stuck it in the fridge to marinate, diced some onions, minced some parsley (because the store was out of cilantro) zested and juiced a lemon.

By the time he got home, the chicken had only had about 40 minutes to marinate, but it was still perfect. The port marinade made it so sweet - almost candy-like. It wasn't as beautifully browned as the photo accompanying the recipe, but it tasted grand. I suppose I should try to brown it more in the future, though - the redness of the port marinade kind of makes it look unappetizingly raw even when it's fully cooked. I'm going to make sure I get cilantro next time, though - the parsley was overwhelmingly grassy-tasting.

The Brussels were really good, too. I always make the same recipe for them, but I thought I'd branch out this time. They were quite good with the lemon, but the best part were the leaves that loosened themselves free and were cooked just a touch more. I know I saw a recipe somewhere for a saute of Brussels sprouts leaves, so I'll have to hunt for it again. Sounds like a lot of work, but if they taste like what I just had, it'll be worth it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

when i was young

The most advanced cooking I've done this year, and even then, it wasn't very difficult at all. Perfect for a week that's been absolutely slammed with work.

Dinner plans with a friend fell through (we can never catch him!), so I stopped by Gelson's to pick up some shrimp because I knew I had to make Coconut Shrimp just as soon as I saw it on Love and Olive Oil.

I don't even remember the last time I had shrimp. When I was a kid, fried shrimp was a staple at every "fancy" family meal we had. That tapered off slowly, what with the whole "cholesterol" thing. And especially since we used to dip that in straight mayo. I don't know - it was good at the time.

Peanut sauce seemed a much better alternative, and I needed to use up the shredded coconut that has been hanging in the cupboard for ages. Seeing as it was my first time frying shrimp, I think it was fairly successful. The cornstarch-egg white-coconut method made a particularly delightful crust. I think I may have overcooked the shrimp a bit - I don't think my oil was hot enough, so I kept it in there for a while so it would brown. It was still really, really good. Even though I forgot to make the peanut sauce.

Speaking of my childhood, I was instantly brought there when I saw the Poached Eggs Over Rice recipe at 101 Cookbooks. My favorite meal when I was younger was an over easy egg over a bowl of rice. (Well, it was probably a poached egg dropped into a bowl of pho, but that happened less frequently, so let's just go with the rice for the story's sake). We usually ate white, but fried rice was a nice treat we got every now and then. Just the wonderful filling warmth of a gooey egg yolk mixed up with some rice was perfect comfort food. And much easier than poaching an egg, which frankly, terrifies me even though I've been fairly successful at it when I've tried it.

I wasn't quite as good as Heidi was - I took the same concept of mixing in some greens (a bunch of kale in my case), but I just used some arborio rice to make the risotto recipe that came on the box. I added the chopped kale after having incorporated about 2 cups of broth (about halfway through). And I didn't put an egg on top of it, but I mention the recipe anyway because it was the initial inspiration.

And there you have it - minimal effort, maximum heft. Like I said, perfect.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

uh oh, SpaghettiO's

I had bought 6 lovely red bell peppers a couple days ago to help me celebrate National Soup Month with a bell pepper mascarpone soup from 500 Soups, a Christmas present from my BFF Christina, but since I neglected to read the recipe beyond the ingredients list, I didn't realize I had to roast the peppers first. In my oven. You know, the one that I destroyed.

What to do now with 6 bell peppers. Well, 2 of them went into an amazing Creamy Red Pepper Sauce that I happened across from the all-powerful Google. It was extremely easy - about 20 minutes to reduce the sauce the first time, and then an additional 20 minutes to reduce after adding the cream. A quick whirl in the blender, and voila - sauce! I didn't have any white wine in the house, so I just substituted vegetable broth. Actually, I used veggie broth instead of chicken broth, so this is another accidentally-vegetarian dish!

As you can see in the photo, I poured the sauce all over some anelletti. And by anelletti, I mean grown-up SpaghettiO's. I actually didn't even think of SpaghettiO's when I initially picked them up from TJ's at Matty's insistence. I don't think I was ever allowed pasta in a can (not that pasta in a can is bad - I survived on Chef Boyardee ravioli when I was a freelance publicist :P). It just didn't jar any childhood memories for me. It was just funny-shaped pasta that neither of us had (thought) we had before.

I quartered up a package of crimini mushrooms and caramelized them one thinly sliced onion, and added them to the sauce when I reheated it after it was all blended. It was amazing. It gave a little heft to the meal without de-vegetarianizing it. I'll be making this again and again.

Monday, January 7, 2008

love will lead you back

Back! Finally!

Trust me, I've been trying to get back into the kitchen, but the general laziness that accompanies bad weather and vacation time as well as the fact that we had massive amounts of leftovers (cassoulet and the tofu/peas curry that we froze before we left town for Christmas) meant my stove got no love. Oh, and the oven is still broken. You can't order the part online - you have to MAIL an order form and a check to them, and THEN they'll send you the part. Ah well.

I've wanted to make this Pan-Seared Salmon with Avocado Remoulade from the moment I laid eyes on it in Elise's blog, but those damn leftovers kept getting in the way. We were planning on going out to dinner with a friend tonight, but Matty ended up working late, so a stay-at-home meal it was.

Score! This was a great way to ease back into the kitchen, too. Nothing too fancy - rough chopping of avocado, some lemon squeezing, shallot dicing and there was the remoulade. Ten minutes later, the salmon was done, and we were feasting.

I could not have been happier. I made the full recipe of remoulade to only two fillets, and I'm so glad I did because now I have leftover remoulade. It's going right into a wrap I'm making for lunch tomorrow. It's an awesome veggie dip, too. And I'm just now reading some comments left on Elise's post, and I'm drooling over the thought of using it as a dip for shrimp cocktail.