Friday, February 27, 2009

you make it easy

When did life get so non-stop? I've barely even looked at the kitchen all week - Monday we got late-night haircuts and I shipped my ponytail off to Locks of Love, Tuesday Matty had rehearsal so I ate leftovers before going to a late show to check out a band, Wednesday I had choir rehearsal, and Thursday we were finally able to catch up over dinner with our dear friends Jeff and Marcela.

But finally it was Friday. And I really wanted to cook. Especially since I'm sending Matty off to The Keys tomorrow morning to surprise his father for his 60th birthday.

Only problem was I had no idea what I wanted to make. I wanted it to be somewhat special since I wasn't going to be able to cook for him for a week, but I was also exhausted from a long week of work and extra-curriculars and just wanted to have a nice quiet dinner with minimal fuss.

And then I stumbled across Shells with Creamy Basil Tarragon Pistou, Crab and Sweet Peas. Bingo.

You don't even understand how happy just finding this recipe made me. This meal was going to be done in about the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta (farfalle for me). The pistou is easy-peasy (I didn't want to go to another store to look for tarragon so it was all basil for me, and I forgot the lemon, but it was fine), and the most difficult part of the whole recipe was opening my canned crab meat. I added an extra half-cup of peas, mostly to make ourselves feel better about carbo-loading, and everything was just perfect. Paired it white a nice cold glass of white wine, and it was the absolute best way to ease into the weekend.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

can't get you out of my head

Today was cold, cloudy and dreary. A serious comfort food day. A day for Beef Stroganoff.

Last week, Matty and I stopped in at Bistro du Soleil for a late lunch. It was kind of a last resort because nothing else in the area was open, but it looked cute, ad we were starving, so it had to do. I took one look at the menu and had to have the stroganoff. It wasn't even particularly mind-blowing (although the couple next to us loudly proclaimed that was the only thing they came for), but I couldn't get it off my mind the entire week, and had to make it for myself.

I found a couple recipes online, but ended up using the version on Serious Eats. It seemed the most straightforward. I think next time, I would like to thicken the sauce up a bit with the addition of flour (which some of my search results called for), but it was all in all, pretty good. I'm not really sure you can go wrong with beef in a creamy sauce served over complex carbs (leftover mashed potatoes in this case). In an effort to redeem ourselves, I roasted some asparagus as a side. A little bit of green = balanced meal, right?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

love lifts us up where we belong

I was just so cranky tonight. For no particular reason, really. Could be that my 6-mile drive from work to home took me about an hour. And there was nothing good on the radio. There wasn't even anything bad that I could sing along to.

I got home, crept into my fluffy pink robe and called our new favorite pizza place. Then I realized how pathetic I was being and decided to suck it up and get into the kitchen for some baking therapy.

Vanilla Bourbon Bread. Please and thank you. It was so cathartic just getting my hands in there to make the crumble (subbing hazelnuts for the walnuts). So cathartic that I didn't even take a nip of the bourbon I had to put in the cake (although next time, I'd put more bourbon in the cake). Next time, I would also pulverize the hazelnuts to distribute them more evenly.

Even with all the sugars, the cake itself wasn't very sweet. It's really the crumble topping that makes it. I might even double the crumble amount next time. Hazelnuts, cinnamon and coffee. Add the bourbon, and it's all my vices in a baked good. And for tonight, it was culinary Prozac.

I suppose I should make actual dinner as well. I had about 4 lbs. of potatoes left (from the bag I bought for the Beet Gnocchi Disaster of 2009), so I set to dicing and boiling them. When done, they were mashed with my remaining block of sharp cheddar and tucked into wonton wrappers for some potato pierogi, inspiration and alternate cooking method courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I mean, mashed potatoes in pasta. How would it be possible to be more comfort food-y? (OMG. That should be my new blog name: The Comfort Foodie. Hm).

It was so soothing to commit to the time spent in filling and folding the pierogi. I would say my mashed potatoes would easily make 60 pierogi, but I only had about 30 wonton wrappers left. Sounds like I'll be Googling "leftover mashed potatoes recipe" sometime this weekend.

Matty was still on his way home, so I called him to stop by the store for his choice of vegetable to go along with this. And what he said really lifted me clear out of the doldrums:

"If I get broccoli, will you make it that crispy way?"

Roasted. He likes the roasted broccoli. I think I do pretty good with the meals I make for him, but for the most part, I kind of force what I want to make on him. To have him actually ask for something felt lovely. I don't know why it made me so happy. It was just nice. I wish I could blame PMS for the emotional rollercoaster of the last 2 hours, but I just can't. Maybe I am going crazy. I'm probably over-sharing. Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

close enough

Matty and I have been scratching our heads lately about where to find great Indian food. Granted, we still have a list of recommendations to go through, but Matty mentioned the other day that he had a craving, and we had no idea where to go.

This Chicken Biriyani may have not been the most authentic recipe, and it may not have immediately quelled the craving, but it definitely hit the spot when we dug in for a late dinner tonight.

I'm not extremely familiar with what cardamon does in a dish, but the only thing I really tasted was the saffron (not a bad thing, by any means). It felt warm, rich and buttery without being all that bad for you - I cut the butter out and started with about 2 T. of olive oil, and didn't add the butter at the very end, and didn't miss it at all.

You're not supposed to lift the lid too often, but I'm a little compulsive, and just had to check on its progress. Even with all my peeking, I'd say all the liquid was absorbed/evaporated in about 40 minutes, and the in that time, the rice and chicken was done to perfection.

As a side, I roasted about 6 large carrots sliced on the diagonal. I tossed the carrots in enough olive oil to coat, salted and peppered them, and roasted them at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until they just started to blacken at the edges.

They were a revelation. I don't really like carrots cooked - I prefer them raw. However, I may be roasting more often now. They taste a little like a cross between sweet potatoes and plaintains, both favorites of mine. Next time, I may even slice them a little thinner so they have more of a chance to caramelize.

I hope I remember to pack myself leftovers for tomorrow's lunch because I know that's all I'll be thinking about.

Monday, February 16, 2009

save it 'til the morning after

This amazing breakfast was meant to be a decadent and lazy start to the morning after Valentine's Day, but since the weather held up yesterday, we were up at the crack of dawn to get ready for the Long Beach Flea Market. Unfortunately, it was kind of a disappointment, and it kind of took up the whole day, so I was very grateful to have an extra day off today.

I stole the eggs and bacon right from Orangette, and the scones, I'd made before here. It's kind of a fussy breakfast (taking nearly an hour and a half to prepare), but it was well worth the time. I can't even think of the next time I'll be able to have this much time to prepare (Easter? no - that's Rose Bowl Flea Market day...Matty's birthday? maybe). :)

I started on the bacon first and made the dough for the scones during its first baking. (I added chocolate chips since I didn't have very much cranberry left. It's a good thing I did because I totally forgot to add sugar to the dough). I gave the scones some baking time while I sprinkled the sugar mixture on the bacon and then baked the two together. While they were baking, I started on the eggs, subbing Gruyere for the Cantal because I couldn't find Cantal at the store.

I divided the eggs among ramekins and popped them in the oven, but pretty soon, the oven started smoking. Damn it. Cheese was dripping onto the oven floor. I threw open the doors to prevent the smoke alarm from going off, and put the ramekins into a 9x13 pan. Note to self: do that from the beginning next time.

The eggs came out perfectly, though. The Gruyere was a wonderful flavor complement, and even though the yolks looked as runny as the moment they were dropped into the whipped whites, they were cooked pretty solidly. One egg is very filling (especially served with bacon and scones), so we still have 2 left over. We'll see how they are reheated - I'm even thinking of popping one onto a piece of sourdough to make a luxurious sandwich for lunch. :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

you're gonna love me like nobody's loved me, come rain or come shine

Things went rapidly downhill after this gorgeous breakfast burrito Matty made to kick off Valentine's Day.

We went to get hot stone massages (my gift to both of us). It was fine, but I felt a little more sore than normal under my shoulder, and when I walked by a mirror, noticed that I had a stone-shaped burn on my back. I've since talked to the spa, and they insist that everyone's different/it's not really a burn/etc. I don't buy it, but they said to call back if it's still there in a couple days.

Dinner was to be a feast prepared by moi, but just about everything went wrong, and the end result wasn't the best I've done. I'm starting to think it's from the lack of cooking this week - I'm out of practice.

Disaster #1: I was planning on making beet gnocchi. You know, because it'd turn out red/pink. I was also going to cut them into little heart shapes with a canape cutter. Well, the dough was a little too wet for that, so I resigned myself to just rolling/cutting as with normal gnocchi.

I put them on a plate as I was done shaping them, but by the time I was ready to start boiling them, they had somehow all dissolved back into themselves. Trying not to cry, I decided I'd just make beet spaetzle and call it a day.

After all the pasta was done and cooled slightly, I popped one into my mouth. And it tasted like ass. Don't get me wrong - I actually like beets. But for some reason, this was causing mutiny among my tastebuds. Straight into the trash they went, and straight into a pot of boiling water went some penne to be dressed later with brown butter. Because brown butter makes everything better.

Disaster #2: Kind of burned the brussels sprouts that I've made for ages.

Disaster #3: My Broiled Lobster with Cajun Butter (made with two tails instead of 4 live lobsters - because I eat meat, but I cannot plunge a live lobster into a pot of boiling water) took about 30 minutes to cook through when I had budgeted about 5. Not that we were in much of a hurry, but all the sides were already done and were rapidly getting cold in our poorly insulated home.

I will say, though, that the lobster turned out lovely. The spices were just right, and Matty's asked for the recipe to pass along to his parents (Christmas dinner is traditionally lobster tails).

However, I could barely take a photo of it all.

Probably because I still had tears in my eyes from this stupid "Love" cake. I first saw the pan on Baking Bites and had to have it because I'm a nerd like that (hi, pink gnocchi?). It's really freaking cute. Anyway, I had plans to fill it with a Chocolate Bourbon Cake, and everything was going smoothly until it came time to take the cake out of the pan.

Disaster #4: The "e" split right in half. I fucking lost it. I started sobbing in the kitchen. I don't know for how long. But the penne was pretty much done by the time I pulled it back together.

Silver lining: this is my new favorite chocolate cake. (And the ganache I covered it was the proverbial gilding of the lily. It is unbelievable. It makes a thick, dense, moist, serious chocolate cake. Yes, you put quite a bit of bourbon in it; yes, your house smells like a bourbon factory while it's baking; but it's actually not at all present in the cake itself. You don't taste the coffee either. Both just combine to make the most intensely perfect chocolate cake on this sweet planet.

So, all's well that ends well, I suppose. I'm lucky to have a man who'll hold me when I cry about broken cake and then perform surgery on it with toothpicks just so I can take a photo of it for my little food blog. Things could be much, much worse.

Friday, February 6, 2009

kiss the rain

Another rainy day in LA. I rather like it. I mean, it is winter after all.

Weather likes this calls for soup. And maybe tomato soup, even if it is wretchedly out of season - it reminds you summer is coming along. I scoured the Internet for a recipe that used fresh tomatoes, and landed on Heidi's Roasted Tomato Soup.

Then, my friend Daisy Facebooked me a link to the idea of adding vanilla to tomato soup. Well I'll be damned. Why the heck not.

I took some a couple liberties with Heidi's recipe - only one red onion to the pound of grape tomatoes I had in the fridge, and then all whirred in the blender with about one cup of chicken broth, which yielded about 3 cups of soup. About half a teaspoon of vanilla and some salt later, I thought I had something workable.

The vanilla is very interesting. I think if I try it again, I would use it in a soup that also called for cream. I felt like the vanilla just hung in the air between the tomato bits, whereas I feel if there was cream involved, it would have swooped all that vanilla flavor up and distributed it better. I don't feel like I'm explaining myself very well right now, but maybe my next experiment with vanilla soup will move me to greater eloquence.

The soup is very tomato-y. Like, hyper tomato-y. Maybe it did need all those two extra onions. Maybe it did need the bell pepper to mellow it out and sweeten it up. Maybe this is a lesson in not eating out of season. By no means was it bad - we just didn't love it. We liked it just fine, but we didn't love it.

It was really lovely to just chat about our day between bites of grilled cheese swirled in soup, though. Everything a rainy Friday night should be.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

here comes the rain again

Today was a real bear of a day. Work is just so busy, and on top of that, traffic home was absolutely miserable. LA people get really freaked out when it rains.

By the time I made it home, I was in no mood to cook. Thankfully, Matty was sweet enough to recognize that and suggested we run to Pho Cafe. However, I absolutely could not resist celebrating World Nutella Day (I swear I'm not making that up), so I did some baking when we got home from dinner.

I was first drawn to this pound cake recipe when Joy compared it to Sara Lee pound cake. Now I grew up on that stuff, and nothing made me happier than undoing the foil crimping and peeling back that cardboard cover to reveal that golden deliciousness. Now if we're going to continue with the pillow analogy that Joy runs with it, Sara Lee pound cake was definitely the memory foam of pound cake. Totally tight crumb, super moist, with probably a week's worth of saturated fat.

This pound cake doesn't exactly recall that childhood memory for me, but it's damn good. I halved the recipe, took out all the lemon flavoring and subbed buttermilk for the cream because that's all I had. After pouring half the batter into a loaf pan, I added about 1/3 c. Nutella, and then topped it with the remaining batter. Swirled the batter a bit with a chopstick, and into the oven it went.

In hindsight, maybe I should have made the full recipe because Matty and I just ate half the loaf in one sitting while watching "The Office." (If anyone's curious, one loaf bakes up in about 2 episodes, cools in another 2, and you can have slices of cake while watching the deleted scenes. It's like science).

I would almost say that armed with this cake, I can take on any challenge, work- or weather-related, but I already know what a crazed day it will be tomorrow. I should probably grab another slice.

Monday, February 2, 2009

another day, another way

I'm so stoked that this meal was composed entirely of things I already had in the house. It almost makes me feel like dinner was free - an especially good thing when my checking account is at an all-time low. I bastardized a couple cultural staples, pasta carbonara and greens with bacon, and came up with a very delectable dinner.

Brown Rice Carbonara
Serves 2 with leftovers

2 c. water
1 c. brown rice
3 eggs
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
5 large basil leaves, chiffonaded
soy sauce to taste

Bring 2 c. water salted water to a boil. Add 1 c. rice. Return to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 40 minutes.

Beat 3 eggs with 1/4 c. Parmesan and basil ribbons. When rice is done, combine with egg mixture and toss to coat. Add soy sauce to taste. Serve with...

Bok Choy with Bacon
Serves 2 with no leftovers

3 c. bok choy leaves, sliced crosswise into 1-inch strips
1/3 package of bacon, sliced into matchsticks
pepper to taste

Heat a skillet until very hot. Add bacon and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add bok choy and saute for another 5 minutes or done to your liking. Toss with pepper and serve.

The rice was good, but kind of boring. The bok choy was amazing. I took the ugly leaves that didn't make it into Daisy's spread on Saturday and combined them with the bits of bacon leftover from yesterday's jalapeno appetizer, and voila - sweet crisp greens improved by bacon as only bacon can improve a dish. I generally hate the thick, gummy sauce that usually comes coating bok choy in most Asian preparations, so I'm really glad to have discovered that such a simple saute comes out so good.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

i am a superhero these days

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapenos won't win any beauty contests (especially when I don't secure the bacon with toothpicks), but they are mighty tasty. Matty knew from the very beginning - when I turned my computer screen to him to get his opinion, he immediately said, "Make that."

What better occasion for bacon-wrapped, cream cheese-stuffed anything than the Super Bowl? And what a super Bowl it was - I was silently rooting for the Steelers in a room of underdog supporters (my team didn't even make the playoffs), and it was a game for the ages. We went over to a friend's house, where the potluck spread included wings from our favorite wing place, an amazing chili whose recipe I hope to procure, recreate and share with you all soon, and plenty of veggies to use as an excuse to get dip into our mouths.

The only thing I would change next time would be to slice the bacon into halves rather than thirds. A) You can never have too much bacon, and b) the thirds didn't wrap very well without the toothpick anchor, and I would have preferred to be able to go around the jalapeno more than once. They were still delicious as is, though. I don't even like jalapenos (I'm a spice wimp), but there I was at the table, hogging my own creation.