Tuesday, April 27, 2010

i give you my heart

It's been an incredibly difficult day, and all I wanted all day was to be able to set a warm plate of food down in front of Matty when he walked through the door. I wanted to be ready with love and comfort. This tart had all of that - caramelized onions, roasted cauliflower, more cheese than eggs, all the love in my heart - tidily wrapped up in a crust almost too gorgeous to be as unfussy as it was.

It's hands-down the richest thing I've ever put into a pie crust. And I left off the Parmesan cheese on top. It had the most engaging set of flavors and textures from the bottom up - a nice crisp crust, the slight bite of spicy brown mustard, the tenderness of sweetly caramelized onion, the alternately smooth and crispy bites of roasted cauliflower (leave them as florets for more texture contrast as anything thinner may just melt into the custard). And that custard - oh my. So thick, rich, velvety it might as well be cheesecake - those 2 eggs had no chance against the 8 oz. mascarpone and full cup of shredded smoked Gruyere. I may never eat unsmoked cheese again. There's just a complexity, a depth, a swoon-factor that just sticks with you all the way through the meal.

And this crust was perfect. I just whizzed everything in the food processor until it was more or less a solid piece of dough, and then pressed it right into the tart pan - no need for a rolling pin. By the time it had chilled, the onions and cauliflower were done, and all that was left to do was layer and bake.

I do hope I helped warm his heart (even though it looks like I may have clogged his arteries).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

put the lime in the coconut

I was going for an Asian-inspired Beef Stroganoff with this Coconut Braised Beef, but I don't think the egg noodles were the appropriate carb for all the magnificent sauce. It was tragic to see so much of it left on our plates - Matty even had to go for a slice of toast to sop up the remainder.

I changed a couple of the aromatics around - one diced jalapeno instead of the dried red chilies (which I'm sure cut down on the spice factor), no ginger (allergy), and definitely used the lime rather than the vinegar. While the toasting spices smelled pungent enough, there was hardly a trace left in the sauce save a little hint of lime. Fascinating, too, was that all the jalapeno bits completely disappeared in the final sauce. I'm sure that all of it did go into giving the sauce it's complexity, but other than the lime, none of the individual flavors stuck out, so if you're looking for something spicy, add more.

I also used 3 cups (2 cans) of coconut milk since I had a little over 1 3/4 lbs. of chuck roast and added 8 oz. of whole white mushrooms. Cooked covered for an hour and reduced for another half hour, I'm still not sure if I got the thickness I was supposed to, but it was starting to smell too good to not start eating. However, that cooking time was more than sufficient in getting the beef to mouth-meltingly delicious. I was actually quite surprised at wonderful the meat got - I tasted it about 45 minutes in, and it was edible, but that additional 45 minutes made a huge difference.

Rice would have been a better accompaniment - maybe even roasted or mashed potatoes. I thought about polenta, but didn't know if it would work with the coconut flavor. (Although mind you, it's not like it makes the dish tropical or anything - it's definitely all savory and creamy).

The snow peas were just microwave-steamed in the bag they came in and tossed with equal parts of sesame oil and fish sauce and finished off with a big dusting of black pepper. Nothing too exciting - just good enough.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

better luck next time

It's a good thing I've already run and gone to two yoga classes today. The way we tore into this Skillet Mac + Cheese, and Kale Salad with Avocado Basil Dressing was unprecedented.

That's not to say, though, that this meal was perfect. I have plenty of adjustments to make the next time, but I can pretty confidently that when I do make those changes, this will be Last Supper-worthy.

The mac and cheese had an amazing consistency. Creamy but not too rich pasta with shards of Parmesan-flavored crust. It's one downfall - just a little lack of really great cheese flavor. I know Velveeta makes for some great mac, but I still really try to keep things authentically cheesy. The culprit this time was my laziness - I just used some pre-shredded cheddar when I knew I should have just bought a block and grated it myself. Some quality sharp cheddar (and maybe another 1/2 tsp. of salt) next time will make for the ultimate mac and cheese, I'm sure of it.

And the only thing that can ever go with a main course this decadent is of course a nice upstanding green vegetable like lacinato kale. I tossed raw ribbons of the stuff with this most amazing-sounding of dressings. I mean. Avocado. Basil. Olive Oil. What else could one possibly need? For my personal taste, the 2 T. of honey was a bit too much - next time I'll start with one and see where it takes me. I think reducing the honey will also help me get more of the creamy avocado flavor I was craving.

I'm definitely anxious to get back in there and play around. Just don't know when I can fit another calorie bomb in my dietary schedule.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

all by myself

Things I do when Matty's out of town:
- shop like it's my job (H&M loves my retail therapy)
- sleep on his side of the bed
- fall asleep with the lights on
- watch "Glee" until 1:00a three nights in a row, sobbing for my youth
- eat pan-roasted baby broccoli with my fingers
- slap anchovies and some smoked fresh mozzarella on a French demi baguette and call it dinner

I would have been perfectly content with the entire baguette and ball of mozzarella to make double the recipe for these Little Toasts with Smoked Mozzarella + Anchovies, but I could not justify a thousand-calorie dinner with maid-of-honor madness less than 100 days away, so I had to fill the other half of my plate with something green.

I was going to pair it with a cold zucchini salad, but that needed to marinate for an hour, and I really couldn't be bothered even if it would've been a chance to rid the fridge of Matty's most hated vegetable. I just wanted to fill my plate, park it on the couch and get my "Glee" on. Pan-roasted broccoli was the fastest thing I could think of, and it was the perfect complement to the toasts. I would have thought that something really light (and even cold) would have balanced the robust (to say the least) flavor better, but because it was so strong, it needed an earthier counterpoint, which the broccoli provided.

Now I just need my earthier counterpoint back before I get too inspired by "Glee" and go see if my old show choir costume still fits.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

i wish i could share all the love that's in my heart

I've been pining for this Ginger Fried Rice from the moments I laid eyes on the recipe, but because of Matty's ginger allergy, I've not had a chance to make it. Left to fend for myself for dinner tonight, however, I dug into my bookmarks and pulled out the recipe.

First on the plate went some garlicky collard greens, then the rice/leek mixture (made with leftover Saffron Rice), one perfect sunny-side up egg, and finally, the garlic and ginger crisps. I mean, just a gorgeous presentation.

And then, the dance. I had a little rice with some collards. For something with "ginger" right in the title, I expected something a little more aggressively ginger-flavored. Then a little bit of egg white with some more rice - ooh, a ginger crisp. Lovely. But while it was nice to bite down on a little ginger crisp, I think I would use twice as much ginger next time, tossing some in with the rice while it's heating up.

Finally, after having eaten all the way around the egg, there was just that glorious yolk and a pile of delicious rice. Comfort food at its best. And since I had a smattering of crisps left, these last bites were the best - crunchy and creamy at the same time, indulgently rich, and as flavorful as the recipe promised and everyone who's managed to make it before me has raved about. So good, I wish I could share it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

she wore lemon

I know I've already waxed poetic about what a fragrance by Ngoc might smell like, but it didn't take me long for me to reconsider my favorite scent. What about lemongrass? It should be given a shot, I think. Not as aggressive as actual citrus, slightly herbal, all delightful.

And what made me reconsider? The marinade for this Crisp Lemongrass Salmon. A slow day at the office (thanks, Coachella) meant I had a little extra time and didn't have to save this dish for the weekend. While I still didn't have two hours, I felt one got the point across. The only bummer is my broiler sucks, so it didn't get as crisp as I would have liked, but the recommended cooking time got my salmon (two fillets totaling 3/4 lb.) cooked just to my liking.

Sides were just thrown together:

Garlicky Kale
Nothing sounded better than a tangle of dark green slicked with olive oil and punched with garlic, so I sliced a bunch of lacinato kale into ribbons and gave them a quick saute in olive oil with about 10 cloves of garlic. I only wish I had bought another bunch of kale - that stuff shrinks down quickly when you cook it!

Cilantro Carbonara
A great way to use up the egg yolks left over from my Almond Rhubarb Cake. The cilantro was a perfect counterpoint to the lemongrass, but if you hate it, I'm sure your favorite fresh herb will do. And my goodness, how I love fat pasta!

8 oz. pappardelle
5 egg yolks
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 T. Kerrygold butter
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks and cilantro.

When pasta is done, drain and immediately add to the cilantro mixture. Toss furiously to coat. If you're wondering what little thing it needs, it's a tab of fine-quality butter. Go ahead - toss it in there and stir a bit until it melts. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Serves 2 - maybe 3, if you're being polite.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

mellow yellow

If I were to ever create a fragrance, I think it would heavily feature star anise. Probably some cinnamon, too. Basically, I'd like to wear a bowl of pho. Or this Chicken, Garlic + Soy Stew.

It smells like absolute heaven while simmering on the stove. Toss in some saffron rice that I heard about on my friend Michaela's Facebook wall, and some truffle-salted mushrooms and haricot verts roasting in the oven, and you have sensory overload in the best way possible.

I subbed out sake for the white wine because I didn't have any wine in the fridge, and didn't include the ginger because Matty's eyes have a weird reaction to cooking fresh ginger. Another thing I would change on the next go-around would be to cut the sugar out entirely. It was only 1/4 cup of sugar, but I felt like it made the chicken mouth-numbingly sweet. Thankfully, the flavor of all the other spices redeemed the dish, but I thought that sweetness bordered on off-putting. Thank goodness there was plenty of rice to balance everything out.

Baked Saffron Rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups raw basmati rice
2 cups boiling water

Soak 1/2 teaspoon saffron in 1 cup cold water for about 2 hours. (I forgot about this and ended up soaking for 30 min).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In heavy oven-safe casserole or pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft. Add 2 cups raw basmati rice and stir until rice is well-coated.

Add the saffron water and bring to a boil. Cover tightly and bake for 10 minutes.

Add 2 cups boiling water and stir to mix thoroughly. Cover and continue to bake for and additional 15 minutes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

it takes a little time sometimes

Pardon all the terrible photographs. Between the traffic on the way back from the office and carrying everything to dinner at 8p, I forgot my camera. But I did try to jazz things up for you with my ShakeIt app. Couldn't do anything about putting a flash on my iPhone, though.

Dinner with our friends Angela and Svend was a collaborative affair - they hosted and made the main and a grain side. I was too busy shoveling the Israeli couscous (looked like it had caramelized onions and golden raisins in it) in my face to look up to take a photo, but I did snag one of the Peanut Shrimp. It was also great to watch Svend cook - Angela and I concur that we're lost without our recipes, but Svend very naturally threw things together, and smartly tested flavor combinations in just a corner of the pan, so if it was necessary, he could just throw out the little bit to the side, and not the whole pan. Let me tell you, though, there was no need to throw anything out - it was just perfect. With apologies to the chef, here's an approximation of the recipe from what I observed:

Peanut Shrimp
2 T. olive oil
1 t. curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 red onion, half of it diced, the other half sliced
approx. 2 lbs. already-cooked shrimp
4 T. peanut butter

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add curry powder, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Once slightly toasted, add onions and saute until translucent. Add shrimp and peanut butter and stir to coat and heat through. If the sauce seems too thick, add a tablespoonful of water at a time until it thins to the desired consistency. Correct seasoning and serve.

I brought a vegetable - Pistou-Crumbed Creamed Spinach. I halved the recipe, and it made enough for 4 generous servings and leftovers. I would be careful to salt the spinach/cream mixture appropriately - I'd say mine was a little light on salt because I was afraid of oversalting, but it's a lot of spinach. Be a little heavier-handed than you think you need to be. I'd say that the top half of the spinach was adequately seasoned because the pistou crust helped things along, but once I got to the just-spinach bites, I could have used more salt.

And I don't know if it was the basil, or that the ratio of spinach to cream was higher than I'm used to, but this dish was practically diet food. So lovely and light - you can actually taste more spinach than cream. When's the last time you heard that to describe creamed spinach? I can't wait to make this again.

I also made a little dessert - baked when we got to the house because while this Almond Rhubarb Cake was mostly unfussy, it does require chilling in the fridge for an hour.

It was well worth the wait, though. The cake was very meringue-like, most likely due to all the egg whites involved. The browned butter gave it this yummy, caramel-y flavor that made me swoon with every bite. I didn't bother straining the butter - unless you majorly scorched your butter, those brown bits add flavor! I didn't bother measuring out the 6 oz. either - once you've gotten that far with the butter, just pour it all in. It won't kill you. Yet.

I was a little wary of the un-macerated rhubarb - I was concerned that it would be too tart, but it was actually the perfect complement to the very rich cake. It wasn't any more tart than anything featuring whole raspberries, for example.

I chose to make it in a 9-inch springform cake pan because I didn't want to deal with my muffin tin. However, I think a cakelet would lend itself to more even cooking - while it wasn't anywhere near bad, the full-size cake was near crispy around the edges and meltingly soft in the middle. Both a perfect foil for vanilla ice cream, but if you prefer a more consistent texture throughout, make smaller cakes. Devour either way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

just go with the flow

I had a lot of big plans for today, and they almost all fell through, but the end result was so much greater than I could have hoped for.

It's Rose Bowl Flea Market Sunday, and even though it was lovely browsing weather, Matty had to work, so I skipped it. Instead, I caught my favorite yoga class, and traipsed around a few farmers markets hoping to find zucchini blossoms for a pasta lunch. It must still be too early, so no luck, but I did make a killing at a Thai town grocery store (if anyone needs star anise, just call me). However, I had hoped to find dried bamboo shoots so that I could spend the rest of the day slow cooking a gorgeous soup, but could only find the fresh stuff. Bought it anyway, even though I knew it wouldn't be the same, and then my tiny, weak, female self couldn't get the jar open without her man home, so there went that idea.

I was starved by the time I dragged the last grocery bag in, and since there was no zucchini blossom pasta to be had, I made myself that mountain of a sandwich - my version of a B(acon) L(obster) (Fried Green) T(omato) on the last of the leftover Easter scones. The bacon is fried crisp, the lobster is boiled, sliced and tossed in spinach dip (don't knock it 'til you've tried it), and the green tomatoes are dipped in flour, then buttermilk, then panko crumbs, and fried in the bacon grease.

To be honest, this all sounds good in theory, but there are so many competing flavors, and that scone is so devastatingly delicious, that it's hard to focus on each individual element. I think the filling in a nice fluffy bolillo or some plain old white sandwich bread would be magnificent.

And lurking behind my Leaning Tower of Bacon is a soup inspired by the checkout lady at the grocery store who looked at my bundle of leeks and assumed I was going to be making soup. I actually have no idea what I put leeks on my list for, but they were there, so I didn't want to second-guess myself. And when Chatty Cathy got my mind on soup-making (and I wasn't going to be able to make my bamboo soup), I couldn't let it go.

The first thing I thought of that was leek-related was obviously potato-leek soup. I had the ingredients, but couldn't bring myself to think of of dragging the blender out (I really need to get an immersion blender). And even though it was chilly, I didn't want anything quite so creamy. I went into my bookmarks and found this recipe for Leek Soup with Peas + Sauerkraut, originally bookmarked because the sauerkraut addition sounded both terrifying and fascinating. Unfortunately, I may never know what the sauerkraut version tastes like because I loved my variation so much - subbed regular cabbage for the sauerkraut, added potatoes for heft, used about 1 1/2 cups veggie broth (because that's all I had) + 4 1/2 cups water all to create a beautiful soup that was gloriously sweet from all the veggies. I particularly liked the golden droplets of olive oil that danced on the surface of the broth.

Potato, Leek + Cabbage Soup
2 cups sliced leeks
2 T. olive oil
1 small head of baby cabbage, sliced
1 lb. potatoes, sliced into half moons
6 cups liquid - water, stock or any combination thereof
1 lb. frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive in a large saucepan and saute leeks for about 5 minutes. Stir in cabbage and potatoes. Add liquid and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are done. Stir in frozen peas, return to a boil, correct seasoning and serve.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

but the flavor is tart

I thought I had come to terms with our dear friends Jay and Rebecca moving across the country from us, but turns out...not so much. It hit me in a wave of selfish sadness as I sat with Dorie Greenspan's Lemon Cream Tart bouncing on my lap on the way to their goodbye party.

But I guess when life gives you lemons (or in this case, you get to grab lemons from your friends' tree), you just have to make lemon cream tart, put your best face forward, and pretend you're happy for them. ;) I know this move is going to be so great for them, but like I said - selfish.

Although not nearly as selfish as the thought running through my head of keeping the tart to myself since I had already made a Country Rhubarb Cake as well.

This being only my second experience with rhubarb, I didn't know any better than to follow the recipe for this to the letter. I hesitated to decrease the amount of sugar in the recipe because I didn't want to render the cake inedible, but recalling that I thought the last recipe was too sweet, I went with a scant cup of sugar, and it seemed to work out right.

I had no idea so many people had a soft spot for rhubarb - it was a huge hit. I thought the thick cake-y crust was a perfect complement to the the juiciness of the fruit (vegetable? It's a vegetable, isn't it?). I'd love to try this again with perhaps half strawberries and half rhubarb for an even sweeter treat.

But back to the lemon tart. Lord have mercy. This cream is the stuff dreams are made of. Between it being so tasty, and my Rice Flour Crust coming out like this:

...I had every intention of keeping the tart to myself. So weird about the crust - I've made it once to perfect results, and while I thought it was a little thin once pressed into the pan (and actually thought of doubling the recipe for reinforcement), I never thought it would splinter so much.

Turns out, though, no one can tell if you plop lemon cream all over it. :) And that's what I did, begrudgingly wrapping it up for the trip. Don't worry, though - I saved myself a big old spoonful to lick clean before leaving. Definitely not beneath that.

Friday, April 9, 2010

green light

Over the last couple days, it's felt like Los Angeles had skipped spring and gone straight to summer. However, the marine layer pulled in on the drive home today, and the chilly evening reminded us that, however slight, we do have seasons, and summer is still months away.

Such a chilly evening should only be accompanied by risotto, and as Hannah intended when she created this recipe, this Green Risotto Primavera perfectly bridged tonight's seasonal gap.

I was most fascinated with the bean-avocado puree that gets folded into the risotto at the end. I used raw garlic cloves, so the puree had a very sharp flavor, but by the time it was folded in to the rice with all that asparagus and about 12 oz. of frost-bitten peas, it all mellowed out, and while you couldn't taste the individual elements - the avocado, the white beans, the nutritional yeast, you knew there was a lot of goodness in there. The risotto was creamy enough as it is, but the puree was a boost of nutrients and added a depth of savory richness that, to be honest, kind of beat a lot of nonvegan risotto I've had in the past. That's right, friends - this is vegan! Tell your friends AFTER they've devoured it (like I did) - it's kind of fun. :)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

bright sunshiny day

I can't decide whether I like Easter brunch of Thanksgiving dinner more. Easter has breakfast food; Thanskgiving has Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Turkey. Brunch means boozing it up early in the morning; well, I guess so does Thanksgiving. Cadbury eggs vs. pumpkin pie. There's just no choosing.

Today's brunch made it even harder to choose. Fueled by:

- Collard Squares
- Caramel Apple Sticky Buns
- Bacon-Cheddar Scones
- omelettes by Greg
- hash browns by Brandon
- exotic tropical fruits courtesy Chris + Brooke
- mimosas and bloody Marys/Caesars by Jeff

...this epic meal stretched into what some might call dinner time. It didn't matter to us - after all this food, there was not going to be anything resembling dinner happening tonight.

My spread was meant to be nibbles while we each waited for what I considered the main attraction - Greg's made-to-order omelettes. As such, we didn't pull out the dining table - it was just a loose buffet-style hang with the 9 of us scattered in the living room. Such perfection.

The day started out pretty early since I had to leave time for the sticky buns to rise twice. They were really the most nerve-wracking things to deal with - I don't like baking with yeast, and stressing out about whether or not the dough was going to rise made everything just a little more difficult.

Thankfully (and by design), I wasn't too worried about the other two items I was making. The collard squares had been a hit at another brunch, and I've been successful at scone-making on several other occasions. The inclusion of bacon and cheese (jalapeno jack instead of cheddar) basically guaranteed their popularity. I was going to do no wrong with those. I will definitely have to try them with the Kerrygold butter in the batter - Jeff brought a block over just to spread, and I couldn't believe how much more amazing the scones were with them.

But back to those sticky buns. They were actually a joy to make after the drama of the rising was through. There was something gloriously wrong and yet gleefully satisfying about pouring on all that melted butter, followed by all that cinnamon, and then all that sugar. And by the way, if you think you're not going to make a mess rolling everything up, you're going to need to get over yourself. It's going to get everywhere. But it doesn't matter! Just scrape any runaway goo right on top of the rolls - it's going to end up being the bottom of your presentation anyway! I actually wish I had taken a photo of the baked rolls still in the cake pans because while all that caramel apple goodness tasted amazing, it hid the sexy cinnamon swirls.

I popped out of the brunch mid-afternoon to run over some Raspberry Cupcakes over to my girl Katy's Easter barbecue. I am shockingly inept at decorating - dunks in chocolate candy melts and smears of melted white chocolate were all I could manage, but I hope the cake makes up for it. I was initially skeptical of the Jell-O addition (my first foray into pink cake goes into further detail), but it does lend that wonderfully familiar raspberry flavor to the cake. Matty called it "sorbet in a cake" - almost refreshing, a weird adjective for baked goods, I know. I would definitely like to try to make a completely naturally version by combining the two recipes, but for today, I needed something to guarantee that pinkness, and Jell-O certainly did the trick.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

i start to complain that there's no rain

When I first saw this Scallop Gumbo, I bookmarked it as perfect rainy-day fare. When I heard that this week's forecast called for rain Wednesday and Thursday, I slapped the ingredients on my weekend shopping list, and the dish on Wednesday's menu. Well, Wednesday came and went with about 10 seconds total sprinkling when I left for the gym in the morning, and when not another drop had fallen out of the sky by the time I got home that day, I got pissed and we went out to dinner instead. The rest of the week still managed to be fairly chilly, though, and the call of a nice spicy bowl of comfort and carbs had to be heeded.

Now I'm not generally a mise en place kind of girl, preferring instead to chop as I go, but because the roux demands so much of your attention, it's actually quite helpful to have everything chopped and at the ready when the roux is done. From there, the only thing you have to be mindful of is seasoning. The recipe is a pretty blank canvas in terms of seasoning - I needed a few dashes of hot sauce and plenty of salt and pepper before I felt the flavor was round enough.

We ate this over rice tonight, but the leftovers will make a nice complex pasta sauce, I think. And I definitely won't be waiting for the next rainstorm.