Saturday, December 3, 2011

Curry Snob

It's official: I've become a curry snob.

I looked at the ingredients for this slow cooker recipe and was a bit askance. Not only was the spice mixture not cooked separately, it used primarily curry powder. ... then I realized that I was wrinkling my nose and felt ashamed of myself. But this wasn't meant to be a superb authentic meal, just something quick I could dash down between a rehearsal and an open house / Christmas parade. (Which was a great deal of fun, by the way!)

Similarly, I didn't have time to prep rice from scratch, so I just used instant rice.

Final verdict (curried chicken): This is fine for what it is, but nothing exceptional Nothing worth keeping. The best part, far and away, was the smell that lingered in the house.

The bread was even simpler, though measuring tablespoons of dry spices is a bit tricky. It was also durable: it ended up being held outside through the entire parade before it got into a house and consumed. I'm beginning to love bread machine use, though I notice the proportion of some recipes is a bit small, resulting in a normal size two thirds of a loaf with a bizarre muffin-shaped protrusion at the bottom.

Final verdict (rosemary bread): Very good, savory, spicy-flavorful ... just on the verge of being overwhelming without going over. Was a bit heavy and a little wet in a few patches - I suspect architecture era. (In that breads require you to put it in all the liquids, then the flour, then other dry ingredients, and finally the yeast - which absolutely cannot get wet initially.)

Menu Plan: Weekend of 12/3

I can't believe it: here last week was one of the biggest cooking holidays of the year, and not a peep out of me. Too busy with family and the multitude of dishes for the big meal. Old stand-bys like proper mashed potatoes - coarse, chunky, skins-on, thank you very much - and sage sausage stuffing ... which frankly, I could eat a whole bowl of and not miss the rest of the meal. New experiments like a hearty corn pudding that was really half cornbread, but very tasty nonetheless. Adventures in bread-machining.

My father's birthday was also over this stretch, and I made Nigella Lawson's Torta Alla Gianduja, a decadent hazelnut cake. Because my mom isn't overly fond of bittersweet chocolate, I went half-and-half with semi-sweet ... which turned out to be just the right balance of rich and sweet. Addictive. Highly recommended. (Also if you make it here in the states, you end up with almost an entire container of Nutella, because it needs an ounce more than our packages contain ... so that is never bad.)

Speaking of adventures in bread-machining, this weekend:

Rosemary Bread - unknown recipe card
Slow-Cooker Curried Chicken With Ginger and Yogurt

Slow cooking occurs because I will once more be herding harpers this weekend.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fast-Slow Cookery

Even though I didn't have to be out this afternoon, I chose to go with a slow cooker recipe - though as it called for 6 - 8 hours on Low, I chose to do it on High with the time halved ... and I got in from errands such that I started it later than I had intended in the first place. So much hurry up and wait involved in the slow cooking.

First step, cook the chicken breasts in the dressing, which is then discarded. I was rather surprised to not consciously detect any trace of the Italian dressing in the finished product, but I suspect it adds subtler notes and layers. I was surprised how fast and easy shredding the chicken was ... guess boneless helps, ahem. Had to dig into the near-very-back of my spice cabinet to find the dried basil. What don't I use very often?

Only part of this I was a bit curious about is that you're supposed to mix the cream cheese in with the liquids - only it doesn't say anything about melting them so it actually does mix, rather than hover in glops. I chose to stir the contents in the slow cooker a bit to ensure they blended - but even at that, I found a few telltale pieces of cream cheese here and there.

While the final hour of slow cooking ensued, I started on the potatoes. I really ought to get a proper lid for my skillet - using the lid of the wok, which doesn't quite fit precisely, has been a good solution, but it is a bit messy. Triumph on the garlic front: I actually managed to properly smash the stuff for the first time ... ever. (Oh, the things I admit on the internet.)

The liquid got to boiling point, then sat covered (sorta ... see above) while the potatoes cooked. The timing between evaporating the liquid and adding the oil was very precise, and in the future, I'd err on not waiting for total evaporation - I had some of my potatoes stick to the bottom of the skillet. Other than that, though, the dish went off without a hitch.

That and my screwing up the lemon proportions a bit - but there's never enough lemon for me, so I just added more.

Final verdict (chicken): This is a rich, creamy chicken. Quite delicious, but it borders right on the edge of being too faux-creamy - one bite too many and it becomes a bit gross.

Final verdict (potatoes): Quick, easy and tasty. They have just enough of a tang to be interesting, and the crispiness on the white side adds (when executed right) a nice texture.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 10/22

I still have whoopie pies left from last week (no, really), plus the remaining Oreos from the stuffed cookies the previous week, and I'm trying to keep my weight down because I have guests the following week (first of Nov), so there will be no additional dessert prepared. However, dinner itself I'm looking forward to:

Easy and Delicious Chicken - Allrecipes Tried & True Slow Cooker & Casserole
Lemon Potatoes - Unknown Cook's Country 2009 - 2010

For a while, I had escaped my lemon habit. Now it has returned ...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Down Low! ... Too Slow

I misjudged the amount of time I needed to make both the dessert and get the chicken korma in the slow cooker and ended up running out the door in a flurry yesterday ... after cleaning up the kitchen so it only looked as if a small bomb had gone off.

Process began with the cookies, where I did everything right - until I forgot the salt, up to the point where I already had one batch in the oven and a second prepped. Rather than try and unscoop / rescoop (are those words?) the second batch, I ... stuck a little salt in them. Sadly, this is not the first time I've done this.

Backing up a bit, this makes a massive amount of batter, rich, thick and velvety. I chose to sift my ingredients into a bowl rather than onto parchment paper and thought this was a better idea, as I would have needed more parchment than I could have easily lifted. I predict the entire batch would have wafted across the kitchen. I placed the cream cheese and butter for the filling at the back of the oven and actually overwarmed it - the butter started to melt.

While the cookies were in the oven, I actually started working on the chicken korma, cutting the chicken and pan-frying the sliced almonds. I did not sufficiently mise en place and ended up scrambling a bit to get all the spices into the pan at the same time - not to mention forgetting that I couldn't use the spice grinder on the almonds and ending up with a small glop of paste - but it all came out in the end.

I had decided to run the slow cooker on low for four hours and high for one hour to get the three hours at high the recipe required. This seemed to come out perfectly ...

Not so much for the last batch of pie cookies / tops, where I had turned off the oven before I put the last batch in! I caught it when the timer went off and I wondered why they weren't quite cooked ... they came out crustier than the others, but not too bad. Then I set about filling them with the cream cheese mixture, a simple expedient of plopping with a spoon. Amazingly ... I actually had exactly the right amount of mixture. (Since I had less than the target number of cookies, I can only assume I went astray somewhere else, but it all balanced out.)

Into the refrigerator with the cookies ... using every covered plastic container I own because they were so immense ...

Final verdict (pies): Wow - these are rich and intense, and the cream cheese has a strong, sweet kick. The cookie crust that surrounds the filling isn't especially sweet, but I found it satisfying. It is, however, somewhat crumbly, so handle with care.

Got home, kicked the slow cooker up, and started rendering the potatoes for the fries. I think I could have made these smaller and thinner - I ended up with small wedges instead. Have I remarked before on the insane quantities of oil it takes to deep fry? Wow. These took far longer than advertised to cook, so either my temperatures or my portions were way off ... but even with that, and being more of a baked fry than a truly crispy fry, I got a satisfying texture in the end.

Meanwhile, off came the lid of the slow cooker and in went cream, garam masala and lemon juice / rind. I also fried the seeds and spices for the fries ... possibly over-fried, for they were right on the edge of burny without quite going over, but - when tossed with the fries, it was just perfect.

Not-Really-Final verdict (korma): My jury is still out on this. I decided not to make rice with it - but most of the flavor appears to be in the sauce. The chicken itself is somewhat bland. If rice improves it, I will make this dish again. If not, I will skip any "ethnic" dishes from this cookbook in the future.

Final verdict (fries): These are salty, pungent and - indeed! - a little sweet, and positively addictive. I could have eaten the whole batch; I forced myself to save some for today. My only criticism is that the spices don't stick to the potatoes all that well.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 10/15

This weekend, I will be herding cats - err, harpers - at a practice, so I needed a good slow cooker dish. I've done the math and figure if I take the three hours at high, make it five hours at low and additional half hour at high when I get home ... that should work about right. Or maybe *I* am high.

Chicken Korma -
Best-Ever Slow Cooker One-pot & Casserole Cookbook (Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood)
Gujarati Fries with Cashews -
Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Whoopie Pies

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mongo Cookies

If I don't subscribe to the "eat dessert first" philosophy, I do subscribe to this one: "Life is uncertain; make dessert first."

The chocolate chip batter is pretty much standard fare: cream the butter and sugar, gradually combine dry ingredients and the chips - barely mix. After that is where it gets interesting. I don't have a cookie scoop, so I took handfuls and eyeballed the amount for the top and bottom before smushing them together. It's not as easy as it sounds to seal the cookies: your hands get sticky fast. And I didn't use quite enough (or spread it around enough) on all of them, because after they baked, I had a few with gaps.

That said, I decided to put only eight or nine on the sheet just to be sure they didn't grow together. Though not as big as I expected, the cookies were positively massive ... and you can't check the bottom to see how done they are. I did 14 - 15 minutes in my oven, which turned out perfectly.

Final verdict (cookies):
These are so wrong, they just have to be right. I only ended up with 19, which means I either too much batter or made them too big or there's Oreo size variant in other parts of the country ... either way, believe me, that's more than enough. These are sweet on top of sweet. The Oreo essentially melts within.

Later, I discovered that even my biggest bowl was almost too small for the amount of ingredients that needed to be joyously mixed and mashed together for the casserole. But it was a quick, simple assembly - popped into the oven while I took a short break and then came back to tackle the chicken.

I made the honey mustard, but discovered that I didn't have chives on hand, so I used dried dill instead. Measured 1/3rd of a cup of the mustard instead of 1/2 and had to eyeball the amount that went into the egg mixture. And then I stopped, terrified, because there it was: I had to split my chicken breasts in half. I have yet to complete any step that involves even cutting of meat successfully.

This time, after light pounding, I managed to cut the thick piece in half - barely. With the smaller piece, I decided to just keep pounding and cut it vertically instead. This took up enough time that I had the casserole out before I was even able to get the meat in the pan - not my plan. So after a bit of thought, I turned the oven back on with intent to re-warm the casserole for two minutes as I got closer.

I don't think I had the pan hot enough initially, because the first side of the cutlets took significantly longer than the rest. However, these fried up quickly and easily (despite the dog running to hide upstairs again) and were ready in moments.

Final verdict (casserole): Rich and hearty - maybe a bit too heavy to have much, and might be (indeed) better as the breakfast it is billed, but a perfect balance of cheesy and creamy.

Final verdict (chicken): A subtle, flavorful breading - quite satisfying, and easy, too.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 10/7

This is some horrible carbo-loading, and yet it calls to me, siren-like.

Also, the cookies were mentioned to me by someone on a MUX and they sound insane:

Almond-Crusted Chicken - Cook's Country February / March 2010
Cheesy Ham and Hash Brown Casserole - Allrecipes Tried & True Slow Cooker & Casserole
Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Failure of Timing

I had a distinct failure of timing today: didn't get dinner in quite as early as I might have liked for slow-cookery, then in trying to compensate, ended up starting the rest of the courses too late, too. It was about 7 o'clock at night before I finally ate. Not a habit I enjoy!

I seem to have a slow learning curve: every time I've made something that needs to be stuffed, particularly a meat product, it goes disastrously wrong ... and while I would like to report otherwise, today is no exception. I just haven't developed the knack of cutting into a piece of meat to form a straight pocket. It sloshes around in one's grip, and all of sudden, I'm out the back. Moreover, there always seems to be far more filling than pocket. In this case, this might be said to be partly due to the fact that I had three chicken breasts, not four - but I could not have fit four in the slow cooker.

The recipe doesn't say to cut the apricots, which still seems odd to me despite the pretty picture with whole apricots. The mixture itself - couscous, toasted almonds, tarragon, bound with an egg - is very tasty, and it adheres to itself well.

After everything plops into the slow cooker, I go away for a while. A bit too long of a while.

Next step, corn pudding - a very easy preparation, my main pitfall being that I had to check about to be sure that I used the right sized baking dish. The ricotta was a bit hard to whisk in - the recipe says to do it slowly, and it means it. Of course, I completely forgot to grate the cheddar ahead of time, so I had to zing through that with a land speed record.

Final verdict (corn pudding): Subtly sweet and satisfying, with a nice, herbal tang from the basil. It was easy enough I'd make it again. Warning: makes lots.

While I waited for the corn pudding to come out, I started work on the muffins. This is another recipe where proportions were a bit questionable - don't think I had quite enough filling, both because I didn't have enough left over to top the muffins and because I didn't think they were quite sticky-gooey enough to be baklava muffins. Still, quite easy and, despite the admonishments of the recipe ("anything more than the gentlest handling makes for heavy muffins"), I found it was simple to reach the right batter consistency.

While the muffins cooked, I reduced the sauce from the slow cooker to pour over the chicken. A tasty addition, but not really a necessary one - and doesn't make enough, in my opinion.

Once the muffins came out ... oh, wait, I'd already sliced the meat and watched it fall apart, with maybe a third of it coming out in the tidy, apricot-stuffed slices advertised. Ah well - some is better than none. Let's eat!

Final verdict (muffins): Despite not being what I would call baklava, these are quite tasty. Their main problem is they stick to the paper - a lot. It makes it very difficult to get a clean bite. It's not because of the sticky filling, either - the main sticking point (ahem) is the bottom.

Final verdict (chicken): This may not have been artistic or properly stuffed, but it was thoroughly tasty. The combination of orange and apricot offers a strong but balanced flavor, and the couscous makes an excellent filling texture-wise.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 10/1

Uh ... so I actually have not just one, but two weeks of dessert leftover (only one or two cupcakes by now - but still!), so there will be no dessert this weekend, only sweet muffins. If I get severe cravings, there is an easy recipe that only makes eight cookies - and I have next weekend already figured out. The faint of heart may cower when they see it.

But for now:

Apricot and Almond Stuffed Chicken -
Best-Ever Slow Cooker One-pot & Casserole Cookbook (Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood)
Sagaponack Corn Pudding
Baklava Muffins - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

To Chocolate Or Not To Chocolate

Few more substitutions were made here: as predicted, I couldn't find canned tomatillos, so I went ahead and used fresh ones. (Probably made for a better product, overall.) Conversely, my grocery store was out of creme fraiche, and I know it's ridiculously expensive, so I went ahead and used sour cream instead.

None of this affects the dessert, however, which was my first step. It was very easy to throw together, though I find that when the recipe said to add the dry ingredients slowly, it meant it: the dry ingredients are very reluctant to mix, and immediately flee to the far sides of the bowl. As (almost) always, I wasn't able to get the logs as long as predicted, but they seemed to be the perfect length and just a bit wider - bigger biscotti, in the end.

It took much longer than advertised for them to cook, I think because of the size. I kept eating little bits in between the first and second bake stints, too. Couldn't help it. (What would I say I'm eating? Not biscotti, because that's twice-baked. Proto-biscotti?)

I spent some time debating whether I really wanted to mar them with chocolate: the sweet-and-salty of the cranberries and pistachios seemed enough. At length, I decided to go for it and was quite pleased with the results.

Final verdict (biscotti): These are very good - strong, distinct flavors, the sweet and the salty, the crunch of the biscotti with some softness in the center even without coffee ... definitely recommended.

I did some mise en place for the pie and the cornbread next, then started the latter. I used red pepper instead of the olives, figuring it would give a decent crunch. Unfortunately, I hadn't set out the buttermilk and eggs to warm up beforehand (are we sensing a pattern here?) so it took me longer to get going than I would have liked.

Final verdict (cornbread): This is a very good, hearty cornbread, dense without feeling heavy, subtly cheesy - you won't necessarily notice the cheese, but it's there as a backdrop. It is a bit crumbly, however.

Next step, in went the chorizo, to be mashed with spices, sherry and other goodness. I don't know if I overcooked the chorizo - it didn't taste that way - or if the proportions of the recipe were off, but when I tried to put it in my 7x11 baking dish, half the meat didn't even cover the bottom, so I swapped to an 8x8 ... which turned out to be almost too small for all the other ingredients. 12 corn tortillas is a lot of tortilla strips: I didn't end up using quite all of them. (And the dog ate a few, which surprised me.)

Once I got it in the oven, I started on the sauce. I had been worried that the fresh tomatillos wouldn't break down as readily as the canned, but my fears were misplaced ... and I was dangerously cavalier with the serrano peppers, but I was in a hurry. It's amazing the kind of wonderful sauce you get from tomatillos, serrano peppers, garlic, a little cilantro, water and sour cream. I am beginning to think that tomatillos are some of my favorite sauce ingredients ever.

Final verdict (tortilla pie): Despite the oddity of the proportions - I think I'd try using more chorizo and the 7x11 baking dish next time - this is very good, though a little goes a long way. The sauce is excellent and complements the pie perfectly.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 9/24

Take a good, close look at this weekend's menu, and you'll see one of these items is not like the other ... actually, you don't have to look very hard.

Tortilla Pie with Chorizo - unknown Mexican cookbook
Scallion and Mozarella Cornbread
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

One significant substitution: I don't like olives, so I'm going to try to substitute some red pepper.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Better Late Than Never

I had a painter over today and tried to wait until he was gone before finishing dinner. By the time I gave up, it was quite late ... and I had forgotten to take the chicken out so it would get to room temperature. Upshot: dinner ended up being consumed about 9pm this night, far later than I like to contemplate. So I will just focus on the deliciousness of it all.

This morning, the first thing I started was the marinade for the chicken. I made the mistake of using the blender, when a much smaller vessel would have done. I added a little water to the contents in an attempt to get more out of the blender, which did seem to work.

(On the bright side, the lateness of final consumption did mean that the chicken marinated for longer and soaked up more flavor.)

I also decided to attempt the Quick Tamarind Chutney from Anjum's book, only to discover that I had bought tamarind concentrate, not paste. So - improvisation, I made a sauce rather than a chutney, reducing it for longer into a sweet side for my corn cakes.

Final verdict (chutney):
Not what was written on the page, but a good mixture of flavors. Works very well with the corn cakes, despite not being designed for them. (I didn't, FYI, make the chutney or creme fraiche actually intended to accompany the cakes.) Would definitely try it properly.

Next, I started work on the cupcakes. They are much easier than the Difficult rating would suggest, though one valuable lesson learned: do not overfill the cups. It makes it hard to get them out intact, and a smooth, round cupcake top is important for full (and pretty) ganache coverage. There are a fair number of steps - prepping three different parts of the batter; alternating mixtures; separate hazelnut filling; ganache prep - but nothing requires much skill. Case in point: I did it.

The quantity seemed a bit off: I overfilled the liners (as previously mentioned) and still had enough for nine filling-less minis. And I suspect I used a bit too much filling per cupcake ...

Be careful when opening the oven with these. With well over a cup of hazelnut liquor involved, I opened the oven to swap the trays around halfway through - listened to my instincts this time! - I got hit with a wave of alcohol. Stronger and more pungent than onions cooking. Wow.

Final verdict (cupcakes): The cupcake itself is amazingly good, and the ganache is perfect with it, dark and intense. I'm not so sure about the filling - it's good, but to me it doesn't really blend with the cupcake.

I wandered through various stages of mise en place while waiting for the painter to depart, then finally started on the rice. First time using whole cardamom pods - and of course, I discovered I didn't have a whole half cup (is that an oxymoron?) of golden raisins, so I elected to use some regular raisins as well.

Re-verdict (pilau): Again, a simple, satisfying pilau that makes way too much rice. Maker beware.

I had boiled and mashed the potato some hours beforehand - no, really - so I was able to start the corn cake mixture right away ... and that's when I discovered that the chicken was still in the fridge and had to come to room temp first. I ended up blending the corn, making the mixture, even frying the gram powder - yes, I purchased and fried gram powder for the first time all in one recipe! also first time using chaat masala, for the trifecta - before my chicken finally got under the broiler and going. I didn't have a broiling rack per se (... I don't think), so all times were approximate but accurate.

As a further note, I did make a substitution in the salad - pineapple rather than tomatoes. Hey, they're both fruits, thank you very much.

The corn cakes didn't fry up as neatly as I expected - they stuck to the bottom of the pan a bit. Maybe more oil next time and/or even lower heat, though I did use it between 3-4.

The last ten minutes or so of this meal prep were zany, despite the amount I had previously prepared - even the dressing for the salad, which is positively nummy.

Final verdict (corn cakes): I thought that these didn't cook through properly, but the texture and flavors were delicious. Would try again, thinner, with more oil, more time and less heat.

Final verdict (salad): Mmm ... delicious and (I hope) nutritious. The marinade flavors the chicken beautifully and complements the dressing, which is surprisingly good even in small doses.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 9/17

This weekend, I am going to tackle a recipe officially labeled Difficult. Disaster may ensue.

Chicken Tikka Salad -
Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Mini Corn Cakes -
Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Fruity Pilau -
500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
Tall, Dark and Handsome Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

The Pilau is a remake - I looked at the yield of the first two recipes, decided I needed more, but didn't want to have to buy many ingredients. The pilau fit the bill: all I need is more basmati rice.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sweet - But Not Sweet Enough

Today, I realized that both my meals needed to cook on the stovetop for roughly the same amount of time - again. I always seem to be juggling a rampage of pots (is that the proper plural noun? Do kitchen implements get their own plural forms, such as gnus roaming in an implausibility?) on the stove. So ... it would seem that my home is on the range.

So I did my mise en place first, making sure that anything that needed to be chopped was chopped and anything that just needed to be measured was handy. My one complaint about the chicken recipe is it gives no clue as to the size of the chicken pieces ... so I ran back to the book to check the picture. It seems to show whole legs, so I decided to chop the chicken breasts into four or five pieces, depending on size. Then I started the water boiling for the rice and reached the whole spices ... and nearly toppled over. Wow, the smell of whole cardamom is much headier than I had anticipated. Amazing.

Whole spices fry briefly, then in goes the onion, then the garlic, curry leaves, whole chiles, slices of ginger ... I love this (apparently Indian?) habit of cooking everything, even / especially spice. The chicken went in ... and then all of a sudden, I had nothing to do as both recipes needed to cook away for just about the same amount of time. I did use some of this time in kitchen cleaning, to my credit.

Unfortunately, when I went to check the rice - not anywhere close to done. I believe I turned it down too far, but even with the temperature adjusted, I never did get it to absorb all the water, so it ended up somewhat mushy. In any event, this foiled my plans of having both dishes ready at the same time.

Once the lid came off the chicken, it was supposed to boil until "almost all" the water had evaporated. Now, I had added perhaps a bit too much water to start, so, "Never happen," thought I. I was surprised that it did, indeed, boil off, though some of it was helped by splash-attrition when I stirred and I did deliberately remove a bit of it. Final steps involve stir-frying again with the coconut. Plenty of garam masala in this one.

Final verdict (rice): My jury is out on this one, as I believe the mushiness was my mistake, not a flaw in the recipe. It is both sweet and slightly sour (in a good way) from the wine, and the raisins and nuts add nice texture.

Final verdict (chicken): I was surprised how much the coconut, ginger and onions caramelized, making them subtly sweet and in the case of the ginger, readily edible when you'd never pick up a chunk of ginger and gnaw on it. I really enjoyed the flavor, but the star isn't the chicken so much as the fixings.

And despite the sweet ... I still crave dessert ...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 9/9

I am still paying for the previous weekend, weightwise, so I've decided to compromise: make dinner and a side, but no dessert. Watch me break down and make box cookies before the weekend is out. (Or actually, bag cookies - but same principle.)

The roster:

Coconut Chicken Fry - Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Chardonnay Rice With Golden Raisins

I should note that it's actually not going to be chardonnay rice, perse, as that's not the variety of white I have ...

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Sequel

Tonight, I threw together my other weekend meal - even though I hadn't finished up the joes last night as I'd planned to due to being out and about. I discovered I could multi-task while cooking these, always a dangerous thing ...

First task, shredding the rotisserie chicken. This is actually an alternate option versus turkey, which I haven't yet had occasion to use - but I decided to substitute this second time because the joes were made with ground turkey.

Muffins next, where I belatedly realized that, if one needs 5oz of raspberries, it would probably be much easier to weigh one ounce (from a 6oz package) and use the rest rather than trying to measure 5oz. The first time I made these, I commented on the lack of lemon: this time I seem to have gotten an even smaller lemon, for I poured considerably more than a half cup of milk into the juice ... and the resulting flavor turned out to be even less lemony.

While they baked, I prepped the casserole. I decided to use onion this time, which I didn't last time around and had some trouble with the step that needed it, but only used about a third of an onion. Don't think I will be doing it again: I just don't care for that residual onion taste. Bizarrely, discovered that I didn't have any ground mustard seed ... I know I've seen it somewhere! Luckily, it's only a second in the spice grinder.

The muffins took even less time to bake this time - nineteen minutes versus the twenty-five notated in the recipe - and so I was juggling to remove them while finishing the roux for the casserole. As before, I was pleasantly surprised how the combo of bread crumbs, swiss cheese and melted butter tended into a crumbly, satisfying topping.

Re-verdict (muffins): Satisfying and fruity, but perhaps a little too dry - this might have been the smaller lemon. Also be forewarned that they stick to the paper.

Re-verdict (casserole): This is a simple, homey and hearty casserole. It makes lots, and I love it ... not so much with the onions, though.

Perfect Pairings

This post regards Saturday's cookery - a bit belated, but I was busy that evening, spent all of Sunday-day with an old friend and all of Sunday-night in the animal emergency clinic for a (minor) issue with my puppy.

The first thing I started with was the base for the honey ice cream. Now, in the past, I've noted that recipes from this site are invariably too strong, and I thought to cut it back ... but since I wouldn't be letting the milk steep overnight like last time, I decided against it. It took forever to bring the milk to a simmer - close to an hour. I then let it set for an hour and a half.

Next, I started the cookie dough. Ended up having to run the fennel seeds through the spice / coffee grinder twice - they don't grind easily. As always, I used a ruler to get an eight inch log, because I entirely lack the ability to eyeball these things. The dough was so soft - in fairness, I nearly melted the butter because I forgot to bring it to room temperature first, so I microwaved it a bit - that I had trouble getting it to hold up in a log long enough to get it into the refrigerator.

I started the ice cream after watching Giada win over my heart. The base cooked up easily in around ten minutes, then went into the ice bath for the addition of honey. I do recommend using an ice bath, because otherwise it takes forever to cool. And I lied above (shock, horror!) - I actually did cut the amount of honey I used just a little bit.

Re-verdict (ice cream): Still an excellent ice cream, sweet - this time, not too sweet - and flavorful with the faint tang of cloves. If I make again, I would steep overnight, though: just possibly use less of the spices. They weren't quite pervasive enough.

The pine nut cookie log firmed up nicely and cut just as easily - again using the rule to get accurate slices. I used more than a quarter cup of pine nuts, liking a generous portion on each cookie. (And I ended up with about two dozen rather than the three indicated on the recipe, so it really was generous.) Embarrassing moment of the day: I realized I had no parchment paper and had to zoom out for it. Discovered it was not with the baking supplies and had to wander, too.

Re-verdict (cookies): These are simply delicious - the fennel is sharp and surprisingly satisfying in a shortbread, and the pine nuts add an extra, sneak-up-on-you element of sweet. Highly recommended.

A little later, I did mise en place for both the pineapple and the sloppy joes, knowing they would both have to be on the stove for about the same amount of time. Happily distracted by a phone call, I forgot to reserve the pineapple juice for the pineapple dish, so I ended up using water - but this time, I was actually able to use black mustard seeds and a crushed dried red chile, the intended ingredients over my substitutes of last time. I hoped this would mitigate the crushing spiciness of last time.

The pineapple dish being a simple matter of frying the ingredients and then adding the pineapple, I started that first, and while it rested on the lefthand burner - I almost swung the skillet handle about to the back of the oven to give myself more room, then caught myself just in time - I started work on the sloppy joe sauce ... and noticed that one of the two cans the tomato sauce I had been planning on using had swelled.

Now, I had already remembered from the first time that this dish was too watery - it never really reduced enough - and in reading comments on the recipe, discovered it was transcriber error: the recipe says tomato sauce + water, but Aarti uses tomato paste + water. So I figured: tomato sauce + no water should do it. Now, however, I had to improvise, so I used half tomato sauce, half tomato paste (guessing that half a can would be sufficient) and half the recommended amount of water. That's way too many halves.

And it turned out to be perfect. As the sauce reduced, I prepped the raisins and pistachios - I'm always surprised how fast raisins plump up - and then begin cooking the turkey. I was concerned I wasn't able to cut the pieces down finely enough, but once the sauce was added, it seemed just about perfect.

Always garnish with cilantro. This is not an optional step.

Re-verdict (pineapple): This is still spicy, but came out milder - a pleasant heat rather than an overwhelming one. Good and easy.

Re-verdict (joes): These are so fun - a traditional sloppy joe with a lot of subtle flavors, nuance and satisfying crunch. Recommended, with the recipe modification above.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Menu Plan: (Long) Weekend of 9/3

This weekend, to commemorate the fact that, for an entire year, any weekend I have been in town and not on-diet (which makes the vast majority of them), I have made a different collection of dishes - I am going back and remaking some goldie oldies. (Stretching the definition of oldies here, but it's no worse than the channels playing 80s music and calling it oldies.)

For Saturday and Sunday:

Bombay Sloppy Joes - my very first meal attempt!
Sweet-&-sour Pineapple - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)

For Monday:

Cordon Bleu Casserole - I no longer remember, but it's one of those home-cook recipe compilations
Lemon-Raspberry Muffins - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)

For dessert:

Honey Ice Cream with Cinnamon and Cloves
Pine Nut Cookies - Everyday Italian (Giada de Laurentiis)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Frying Spices

Yesterday (and despite not having enough room in my fridge), I prepared dinner for the next two and a half days. The recipes were somewhat similar in structure: both were tomato-paste-inclusive (the first time I've risked using tomato paste in a while) and involved frying the spice mixture before adding other ingredients.

I did have some trouble with the potatoes: even after an hour and fifteen minutes and then warming them up today, they weren't wholly cooked to softness. So clearly, this book's idea of medium baking potatoes is different from my grocery store's ...

The rest could not have been easier. The sweet and sour chicken cooked up very similar to a Patak's mixture, minus making the sauce blend one's self. As a disclaimer, I did use regular yogurt rather than Greek yogurt and peanut oil rather than corn oil - I was lazy and it seemed appropriate, respectively.

Final verdict (chicken): An enjoyable, spicy chicken dish, easy to make - not particularly complex or nuanced, but good for a weekday meal.

Final verdict (potatoes): The cottage cheese stuffing is flavorful and jazzes up a simple potato. Again, ease is more of a factor in would-repeat than amazing taste, but they are tasty.

As a sidebar, I ventured into an Indian grocery on Sunday morning for curry leaves, and came out with some dried red chiles as well. Looking forward to trying them out - and so glad to have a potential source for other things I couldn't locate at my regular grocer, such as tamarind paste and paneer.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Leave the Gun ...

Started today's adventures by bewildering two young clerks at Whole Foods. I asked for curry leaves. They were stumped. So ... my plan is to try and get to an ethnic grocer tomorrow for this particular ingredient.

As usual, I started with dessert first - at least, as far as making it is concerned. I discovered that I needed to use the whisk attachment on my blender not once, not twice, but three times, which resulted in me washing the mixing bowl twice in between uses. Verdict: I need another stand mixer. (No, really.)

First, the vanilla cupcakes themselves, plopped neatly into twenty-four muffin cups arranged in a semblance of color pattern. I was a bit dubious that a recipe with so much oil in it would turn out. I also considered rotating the tins halfway through and should have listened to my instincts, for the batch did bake somewhat unevenly. Managed to get them in decent shape by some guessing and last minute twisting, though.

While they baked, I prepared the cannoli cream with whole milk ricotta and exactly one ounce of part skim ricotta (because for some reason, ricotta comes in 15oz containers - who decided that was a logical portion size?), along with mini semisweet morsels ... and whipped cream for the top.

Waiting for them to cool was a trial, for I was anxious to get on to the fun part: cutting out the tops so I could stuff them with the cream. I was surprised to discover just how easy this was, and how readily the tops went back on when done. However, a word of advice: don't be fooled by the seemingly massive amount of cannoli cream generated. There is not enough to eat a few spoonfuls of it while you're working. (No, I'm not admitting that I did this. However, if I were ...) Finally, the whipped cream on top covers up the bumps from the excavation process.

Final verdict (cupcakes): Wonderful cupcakes - creamy, sweet but not cloying, and with a bit of texture from the mini chips. However, be advised: if you put the whipped cream on top, these will need to be refrigerated. This is a nuance which escaped me ...

... so I put the cupcakes in the fridge and then frantically started rearranging things so I had room for dinner, after I was done. I may yet need to finish one plate of cupcakes before tomorrow's food can go into the fridge.

I did all the chopping and measuring for the corn dish first, then started on the prep for the sausage pie. I had chosen a sweet Italian sausage and soon given up on trying to cut the cream cheese into little pieces - instead, I pulled it apart with my fingers. I had expected it would melt in the frying pan, and was surprised when it didn't ... then I came to my senses and realized that it would inevitably melt in the oven.

This is rather disturbing concoction when it pours into the deep dish crust. I chose to use a small cookie tray under the pie tin because the liquid / mixture came right up to the edge, and I was concerned about sloshing. Looking at the morass of egg, cheese and milk with sausage, I had reservations about how it cooked ... but it did so beautifully.

Not so with the corn: it turned out that my non-stick skillet was a partial-stick skillet, which meant that the process of cooking the corn took longer than intended ... that plus not using the burner on its widest setting. I did eventually get enough of a sear on the corn to suit me and whisked it off the burner to pour in lime juice, salt and water.

Throughout this whole process, the dog sits as far away from me as she can get while still being in the kitchen and gives me a terrified look. I've only set the smoke alarm off twice, mutt, and it's been weeks!

Final verdict (sausage pie): This is definitely a rich, unrefined southern comfort dish - but it's a very good one, though best eaten with something else and in moderation. Recommended, would eat again ... but have to be in the mood for it.

Final verdict (corn):
Quite easy, and the way the jalapenos infuse everything makes for a tasty, spicy dish. Could go with a lot of meals. Recommended.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 8/27

This weekend, I'm making a meal for the weekend and then a meal to start the week off. It should give me two full dinners and an extra half dinner, which I verily will supplement with soup. Hoping it will reheat all right - while I've looked at the recipes and I could probably make them over the week, I don't want to roll dice that I won't get in at 7pm and then have no food on hand.

For tomorrow and Sunday:

Ron's Tybee Island Sausage Pie - The Lady and Sons, Too! (Paula Deen)
Seared Corn with Green Chile and Mexican Herbs -
Rick Bayless's' Mexican Kitchen (Rick Bayless, Deann Groen Bayless and Jeanmarie Brownson
Chocolate Chip Cannoli Cupcakes

For the week:

Sweet-&-Sour Balti Chicken - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
Potatoes Stuffed with Cottage Cheese - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Walking Tall

Today started with a trip to my chiropractor after yesterday found me limping around the house in severe pain, so I was a bit concerned about my ability to stay on my feet long enough to cook. Thankfully, all is well - or at least well enough that my neighbors didn't hear me bellowing.

Last night, I didn't have much selection for plantains, so I wasn't able to get them totally-black as the recipe recommended. I picked up a paper bag at the grocery store, stuffed them inside, and hoped, and they did darken a bit more overnight.

I started with the pie crust for the plantain pie. By now, I've become practiced, if not skilled, at mixing fats into flour for dough. The homemade pie crust came together easily, but I got exasperated rolling it out and ended up just pressing the remainder up the sides of the pie pan. I also realized that I hadn't gotten beans to weigh down the crust, so I used very old rice instead. I don't even want to begin to divine when that rice actually went into the pantry, but it was probably during an era when "legs" was a dirty word.

Backing up a bit, before I rolled out the pie crust, I prepared the chicken marinade / sauce, which included ricotta, orange juice, ginger ... so many good things packed into one bowl to meld.

The baking of the crust went off without a hitch. As a note, since it said to lightly oil the foil, I used peanut oil. While the crust cooled, I peeled the plantains, dropped them in the food processor, and hoped. Success! They were soft enough to puree. I added the other ingredients and realized I'd gotten some molasses and then cinnamon on the top of the blade fixture, which meant it wouldn't get into the pie itself. I added a splash extra of each, which was perfect for the molasses and ... too much for the cinnamon. (In the final analysis, the difference wasn't enough to alter flavor.)

I discovered my dark brown sugar was a single rock candy lump, but managed to get enough softened to pour into the processor, too. This involved eating a lot of it - a necessary culinary step, I'm sure you'll agree.

Getting this pie to bake correctly was a challenge. I finally took it out at about 42 minutes - just shy of the upper range of the 35 - 45 min recommended - even though a knife wasn't coming out clean, because the edges were moving in the direction of burnt. As it turned out, this would be perfectly cooked.

Final verdict (pie): As advertised, this is very much like a pumpkin pie, but deeper, richer and less cloying. The crust, though, is nothing special and even a little off-putting in its blandness - I wouldn't bother to make my own in the future unless I were going to jazz it up.

Next, I simmered up the raisins in the red wine vinegar and sugar - that is to say, the sugar was in the vinegar, not the raisins, which would be tricky, though raisins in of themselves have sugar. This happened faster than I had anticipated. It came off to cool while I chopped and prepped. A quick toss with the other ingredients ... done.

Final verdict (salad): This is nothing special, but it has a nice tang to it and is dead simple to make. It could go with just about any dish.

At this point, I chopped the chilli and onion for the chicken, and wondered once more who in thunderation eats that much onion, anyhow? Recipe called for a full onion, and again, I used maybe a third - I had a half onion left over from last week. I think if I bought a pound of onions, I'd be set until Christmas. Again, I used peanut oil, since it seemed to fit the flavor profile.

After the onions and bay leaf had fried up for a bit, in went the chicken and sauce. I was concerned it wouldn't cook, and was pleasantly surprised when the chicken started to turn white before the stir-fry period was over. I would be lost without my wok lid - it's the only cover I have large enough for my frying pan.

I was a bit dubious that just throwing in chillis and mint at the last minute would anything to the flavor, but surprise, it does - they meld even without being cooked in with everything else.

Final verdict (chicken): A rich, mildly creamy dish with enjoyable flavor - maybe just a hint of spice. The sauce is quite thin ... next time, I would go with my instincts and make it with rice to sop up the additional juices.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 8/20

Not much to say about this weekend except: never trust a skinny cook.

Chicken in Orange & Black Pepper Sauce -
500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
Chickpea and Raisin Salad
Spicy Plantain Pie - Rick Bayless's' Mexican Kitchen (Rick Bayless, Deann Groen Bayless and Jeanmarie Brownson)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Serve ... What?

I forgot to note yesterday one substitution, or rather an omission: the quinoa salad had cucumber, which I can do without, thank you very much. I also decided to halve the salsa, as nothing in the recipe seemed to require a certain quantity to cook properly ... so that's not really a substitution.

Scared a clerk at my grocery store today by asking for quinoa. Her: "I've ... never even heard of that." Yeah, that would make it difficult to find. I actually had to go to a second grocery store to spend twenty-one cents on serrano peppers. Mildly absurd.

(Sidebar: I am writing this in Firefox, which does not recognize either "quinoa" or "serrano" as valid words.)

Started on the dough for the fig cookies early...ish and had to restrain myself from devouring the dough as-was. Very tasty. Love that hint of lemon. Then I went to make the filling and ... well ... this was the point at which I realized that I had no idea where my corkscrew was. Normally, I'd just find another red, but they are all buried under the entirety of the laundry room after the latest lower-level flood. Some frantic ponderilization of McGuvyering or breaking the bottle later, I finally located the corkscrew and ... practically needed an elephant's strength to remove the cork from the bottle. Yoinks.

At this point, some wine for the cook. I usually don't drink, but I wanted to taste this swill I had fought for.

I managed to forget half the almonds until a few minutes into cooking, so had to re-process and add. I could have just eaten the filling by spoonfuls, too. As it turns out, I may get to: the filling and the glaze both produce significantly more than the cookies need.

Then on to forming the balls. I didn't have parchment paper, which probably would have helped with forming the cookies, but foil was perfectly fine for baking and removal purposes. Back into the fridge and ...

I take a break from sweet and head to savory. This is my first time attempting to grill peppers, garlic and tomatillos. I think Rick Bayless' time estimates are off or I'm simply not getting my oven hot enough, because I'd say his "five minutes a side" for the tomatillos was more like "nine - ten minutes a side" for me. But I was pleasantly surprised when the tomatillos did begin to blister ... it was almost like magic.

Next, the cookies went in, and I put together the salsa. Wow - spicy! It blended up like a dream. I next started on chopping and prepping the ingredients I needed for the soup and quinoa (dangit, Firefox) and ... discovered that I didn't have enough orange zest, despite having purchased two oranges and having a half orange in reserve. I over-zested one, knowing it might be a bit bitter, but willing to put up with that rather than having no orange at all.

Out cometh the cookies, on goeth the quinoa, and in the interim, I blend up the soup. This gives the (brand spanking new!) blender a bit more of a challenge, as the avocado isn't entirely soft. I pour it out, add the beef broth, then pour it back for a second puree.

While waiting on the quinoa, I glaze the cookies.

Final verdict (cookies): These are very good - rich but not overly so, a flaky, chewy cookie around a sweet and tangy filling. You can taste the burn of the wine, and the orange glaze is subtle but helps accentuate everything.

This is the point at which I notice that both recipes say to serve cool or (in the case of the quinoa) cold. This is a new one on me, so I try warming up a bit of the soup to see how it tastes warm. Nope - cool is definitely better. Also found out the hard way that I used the wrong type of parsley for the quinoa, as it's rather bitter ... but no way am I waiting for it to cool off before eating.

Final verdict (soup): So incredibly good. This is sneaky-hot - it doesn't seem like it would be, and then it sneaks up and attacks you from behind, while still being complex and more than just spice. I added sour cream, which cooled it up nicely - spicewise, but also physically, too.

Final verdict (quinoa): Also quite tasty, simple enough to put together, and a unique, hearty grain I enjoyed trying for the first time. ... I also realized just now that I neglected to add the olive oil. Ahem. Does not suffer for the lack. Does suffer from having the wrong type of parsley, but that was my fault.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 8/13

Saturday the 13th. Ooh ... cue the eerie music.

This weekend, the uniting motif is orange. Every recipe has either zest, juice or both in it - no whole pieces, as the orange is an accent, but I'm hoping that perhaps it will pay dividends in cohesion. So I have:

Avocado Soup with Orange and Tomatillo made with Essential Roasted Tomatillo-Serrano Salsa - Rick Bayless's' Mexican Kitchen (Rick Bayless, Deann Groen Bayless and Jeanmarie Brownson)
Golden Sunshine Quinoa Salad
Sicilian Fig Cookies

As a sidebar, this means chicken broth and beef broth, but no meat. Shame on me.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Peanut Butter With a Side of Peanut Butter

Based on my shopping, I had to make two significant substitutions. First of all, I couldn't find instant white rice (... no, really), so I went for brown rice instead. Second of all, the pie called for a chocolate cookie crust. Not only couldn't I find one, I couldn't even find anything other than standard pie dough. Rather than risk making my own, I decided to use a regular crust, since the filling is supposed to be the star. Be advised! I used a deep dish pie crust, and anything else would have turned into peanut butter overflow.

And the filling was where I started. It required whipping two separate sets of ingredients at speeds and for lengths of time which would have caused my arm to run off and join a rebellion, and I only have one stand mixer, so I ended up running it once, emptying it into another bowl, and then reusing it. One moment of duhism: I put the shaved chocolate on the top of the stove while the pie crust was baking, so I had to shave some additional to replace the stuff that melted and was spontaneously consumed.

After the peanut butter pie made its graceful exit into the fridge, I prepared the chicken for marinade. I realized at a closer inspection of this recipe that it may have been intended for a ceramic pot rather than a standard slow cooker, so take the rest of this with a few grains of seasoning ...

After that, chocolate sauce in a saucepan - thick, rich and obscenely good. It will be applied liberally to every piece of pie.

Final verdict (peanut pie): Wow ... so incredibly rich, sweet and good. The chocolate sauce is perfect. I hardly even missed having the chocolate crust. If anything, it might almost be gilding the lily. Highly recommended.

This is actually the first time I've chopped and cooked tomatoes. (Oh, stop laughing.) I was very pleased by how they ended up after the slow cooker. I boiled the chicken stock and it boiled over, so I added a bit more to the pot before mixing it in with the peanut butter.

As a sidebar, since this is Caribbean peanut chicken, I did spring for peanut oil. I also figured that it would be better in future Indian dishes than olive oil.

This is the first time I got to exercise my mandolin, and I loved it. A pound and a half worth of potatoes turned into thin, delectable slices of goodness. I squinted a bit at the amount of cheese prescribed for the recipe: not nearly enough, to my way of thinking. I used primarily sharp cheddar with some peccorino romano.

And then ... like that ... I was able to kick back, relax, and wait for everything to finish cooking.

Final verdict (chicken): This was good, but too watery and not flavorful enough for me. I wouldn't bother with it again - it takes a lot of time with a number of interim steps.

Final verdict (truffade): Another decent recipe, but not amazing. A bit crunchy, a bit gooey, but no flavors that popped and not enough cheese by a landslide. (I would have preferred a landslide - of cheese, that is.) I am holding out for higher standards with my potatoes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 8/6

My menu this weekend requires a lot of resting, slow cooking and long freezing, which is kind of nice as it breaks up the work I'm doing. Here's the roster:

Caribbean Peanut Chicken - Best-Ever Slow Cooker One-pot & Casserole Cookbook (Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood)
Truffade - Best-Ever Slow Cooker One-pot & Casserole Cookbook (Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood)
Peanut Butter Pie

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mmm ... cookies

Update: I couldn't find mixed spice on Friday, so I went ahead and made my own, figuring that I would find something else to do with the remaining mixture later. I was surprised at how readily the cookie dough formed in the food processor and how easy the dough was to work with ... as long as the surface is properly floured. My first few attempts, my cut-outs got distorted trying to pull them up. It is surprisingly hard to get a properly formed heart that way. (Yes, I know. Heart cutter = girly. Forgive me.)

Again, not sure what the desired size of these cookies was supposed to be - there's no "yield" notation on the recipe - but Nigella suggested about twenty minutes of bake time, and I had mine out after twelve. That's not even in the ballpark. I've noticed in general that her recipes tend to assume an oven that is much cooler than mine, so ... bake with care.

I used my leftover white chocolate icing to great effect here.

Final verdict (cookies):
These are not as flavorful as I expected, but they have a subtle tang to them that could become addictive. Would try again.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shattered Dreams

Or at least, shattered blenders. Read on.

So I started early today by preparing the vegetables for the carrot and coriander soup. This involved a lot of peeling, for which I wore my zesting protection glove. If I don't use it while zesting something soon, it will begin to have identity crises much like my roasting pan.

The mixture needed to go into the slow cooker with boiling vegetable stock. I attempted to boil it in the microwave, but it stubbornly hovered just below bubbling ... and then I realized that it was starting to evaporate, so I decided that extremely hot would have to be good enough. Then I wandered away to occupy myself with aspects of my life that are not relevant here, but involved a great deal of nothing worthwhile.

Next step was to get the pistachio poppy bread in the oven. Surprisingly, I didn't have enough poppy seeds, so spontaneously went light on this. No great loss - it popped plenty after it popped out, later on. When pasting this recipe into my blog yesterday, I had noticed some reviewers stated it was dry, but decided to make it as-is this first time around.

I find pistachio meal mesmerizing. Honestly, I could have just inhaled the entire bowl of ground pistachios, but then I would have a rather small, flavorless loaf of poppy bread.

However, the reviews did point me in one good direction: several noted that the bread baked for far less than an hour and ten minutes. If I may hazard a guess, it may be because these intrepid reviewers did not use a glass loaf pan ... but not having one, either, I decided to start 45 minutes. I had it out a little shy of that, perfectly cooked and maybe just beginning to edge towards brown at the ... edges.

Final verdict (bread): This is a very dense and slightly dry bread, but it's tasty, with that distinctive snap of pistachios. I will probably try it again with more liquid, as suggested.

Onwards to the Ladies' Thighs. Not sure whether it was the recipe or if it was me - though I followed what was printed verbatim - but after it was fried up, this mixture refused to stay in a single, cohesive ball (or rather, multiple, cohesive balls, singularly) long enough to apply the flour coating. I finally managed to mash them into submission, but it was a messy experience.

Speaking of messy experiences, I learned the hard way that you cannot pour liquid into the bowl of a food processor while it is detached. After sending a cascade of vegetable broth across my counter, I got the processor resituated ... and it was still leaking. I swapped hastily to the blender. (Remember I mentioned the blender above? Well ... wait for it.)

Anyhow, the soup pureed very easily for all that buildup. I tossed it in the pan with the celery tops and chopped coriander, then added the milk. I went to "gently heat" it to "piping hot," only to discover it was already in that state. So it sat with the burner at off while I wrassled with frying the Ladies' Thighs.

The dog, by the way, long ago saw me with frying pans and ran to hide.

I decided that the kitchen was so messy I had to clean up a bit before attempting to eat,so I delved into my sink. The blender was sitting upright in the sink. At a bump, it tipped over and ... a large triangle-shaped section broke away. Given the temperature of the soup mixture when I pureed it, I believe the glass got too hot. Alternate theories are the age of the blender or just the universe being obnoxious.

Finally decided that the rest of the cleaning would have to wait and dug in.
Final verdict (soup): A very hearty, flavorful soup with a thick texture - fun to eat and easy to make (pureeing adventures notwithstanding). Definitely would make again.
Final verdict (ladies' thighs): After all the effort ... not worth it. Virtually flavorless.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/30

This weekend, I still have dessert left over from last week. (Dessert: the best of leftovers.) However, I have a meeting with my harp mentor on Tuesday, and I intend to bribe with cookies, so the plan is to make them Monday evening or potentially Sunday daytime. I want them to be fresh, but I have a crazy week ahead of me ...

Here's the lineup:

Carrot and Coriander Soup - Best-Ever Slow Cooker One-pot & Casserole Cookbook (Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood)
Ladies' Thighs - Unknown Turkish / Mediterranean cookbook
Pistachio Poppy Bread
Christmas Decorations - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)

All right, they're technically Christmas cookies, but they're a nice, generic, mildly spicy cookie. Substitutions to note:

The soup and the ladies' thighs call for one onion each. I will be using an onion to divide between the two.

Ladies' Thighs: This calls for sunflower oil to fry. Regular vegetable oil will be used here. Says to serve with lemon wedges, which I will skip.

Pistachio Poppy Bread: One of the reviewers says that the pistachios on top make it difficult to cut, so I will skip the additional quantity.

Christmas Decorations: Not making the frosting - I have a quantity of white chocolate frosting that still seems (and tastes) very good. I won't be frosting all the cookies, maybe about half. I managed to find three small-to-medium cutters that weren't Christmassy: a heart, a star, a hegaxon (how geometrical) and a circle. I also have a set of Easter cutters (... I have no idea why), but those are no more appropriate.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Slow Cookery, Fast Cookery

As mentioned in the last post, I started cooking Friday evening - specifically, around 8:30pm, when I popped the condensed milk into simmering water, which was reputedly supposed to produce toffee. Now, I've had some issues with recipes from the ice cream recipe site before, and I had to spend a lot of time checking the water and turning the heat up or down to maintain a gentle simmer, so I honestly didn't expect this work. I figured I would end up with either a burnt mess or ... still have a can of condensed milk. Imagine my delight when, the next morning, I popped open the can and there was delicious, perfect toffee.

But that's getting a little ahead of myself. First, around midnight, I popped the chicken, seasonings and salsa in the slow cooker and set my alarm for 7am, at which point, I wobbled out of bed, disturbed my dog, and turned the cooker off. Back to bed!

I woke up to get on with the ice cream and discover aforesaid toffee. I made caster sugar as I usually do, pouring the appropriate amount of regular into the Oscar, running it, and then carefully opening it whilst sugar dust poofs ominuously in the air.

Interesting bit about this recipe - there's no instructions about where to add the cream, so I made a reasonable guess to add it into the eggs and sugar right before the hot milk. Results seem to suggest this was, if not the intended course of action, then an effective one. This ice cream together like a dream - I was actually shocked how fast the custard cooked. Once more to my ice bath in the roasting pan, which continues to be used as anything but a roasting pan, and then into the ice cream maker. Took longer than I expected to form up, close to half an hour. While it ground away, I started on the cake ... but that's the next story.

Final verdict (ice cream): This is an awesome ice cream, rich and addictive. My only complaint is it's a bit slimy, doubtless due to the toffee. Next time I make a recipe from this site, I am going to experiment with cutting back on the flavoring. (Did I say that last time and forget? Probably, but what was I going to do with extra toffee? Oh, right ... eat it.)

When I started on this cake, I had the unpleasant discovery that the maple syrup I had bought was not sufficient for this cake. I used as much as I could while still reserving some for the frosting and added a little bit more water, figuring that the additional liquid was necessary but knowing that maple syrup was more viscuous.

I must have been knocked off my stride by this: I forgot to butter and line the pans before pouring the mixture. I rescued it, cleaned the pans, buttered them ... and poured it back in again without lining. At this point, I just threw up my hands and went with it. Also note that I didn't have (or couldn't find) eight inch cake pans, so I had to use nine inch.

But luck was with me, for with a little knife application, out came the cakes, whole and perfect. The frosting, however, would have to wait until after my gig ...

Meanwhile, I tore apart the chicken with forks and stuck the slow cooker back on.

Off to the gig in a church without air conditioning. (This is not a good idea, brides to be - not if you want to get married in July.)

Once back, my first mission was to get the rest of the ingredients into the chicken and corn chili - namely the corn and the beans. Since I couldn't find Mexican canned corn, I used regular canned corn and added dried cilantro (no fresh on hand today) and adobo peppers. (As a note, I only had three chicken breasts, but it was probably about the same amount of chicken intended total. Everything's big in Ohio. Nope, it's not Texas that makes everything big, it's Ohio - at least when it comes to food.)

Next step was the cat head biscuits, which involved literally the last amount of flour I had - it was exactly the right amount, including the cornstarch added to make cake flour. Another butter-rub dough, this time with shortening as a double-threat, but with a vegetable-spray ... sprayed measuring cup, it worked perfectly.

Stay with me on this one now ... while the biscuits worked in the oven, I started on the maple frosting for the cake. Trying to find a handheld electric whisk produced this weak and wandering handmixer, which I decided to try because the larger handheld, I didn't think I could support in my hand for 5 - 7 minutes straight. Bad mistake: it got the icing only halfway there, whereupon I decided to just whip by hand. I still didn't get the icing completely to meringue, but I got it close enough to get a lovely texture.

And the frosting was definitely worth it: sweet, gooey, perfect texture. Not as mapley as I would have liked, but again - quantity issue.

When the biscuits came out, they had completely filled the cake pan. No need for alarm: the borders were still apparent, and careful application of a spatula caused them to sproing out fully formed.

Just like that: time to eat!

Final verdict (chicken chili):
My version, at least - I can't claim this was the recipe verbatim - was spicy but not too spicy, tender and just about perfect. My only issue is the beans were a bit undercooked - I would add them an hour earlier or so. Any longer, and I imagine they would liquefy.

Final verdict (biscuits):
Not too sure about these - that have that addictive, slightly sour bite that comes from buttermilk, and they're quite fluffy, but mine also came out a bit gooey, too. Might try them again and see if that's the recipe or just my doing.

Final verdict (cake):
This is a decent cake - and the icing / frosting is excellent, as noted above - but with the quantities I ended up using, it lacks maple flavor, and I just wasn't wild enough about the taste or the texture to want to try it again. If you are not as much of a cheapskate as I am and are willing to spend the money on the maple syrup, feel to try it, but I'm not confident the end result would be worth the expense. I have no problem shelling out for ingredients, but it had better be excellent.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/23

I put together a menu intended to work around my mid-afternoon gig, including shopping this evening and - gasp! - starting dinner. I still can't figure out how the timing on this recipe is supposed to work. It says 6 - 8 hours on Low in the slow cooker, shred the chicken, then 3 - 4 hours more. If you want to eat at 6pm, that entails starting as early as 6am. I don't even understand how that's a practical option for anyone of the human persuasion.

So I'm going to start it late tonight, set my alarm so I turn it off after 7 hours, potentially shred the chicken before I go back to bed (because come on, it's Saturday!) and let it sit until I'm ready to leave for my gig. I'm hoping it won't overcook. I'm also noticing that these thing has a ton of five-star reviews on its site, so ... great expectations, starting now.

Here's this weekend:

Chicken and Corn Chili
Cat Head Biscuits - Unknown Cook's Country 2009 - 2010
Autumnal Birthday Cake - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)
Toffee Ice Cream

I'm a bit nervous about the flours, since I need cake flour, self-rising cake flour, and regular flour. In all probability, what will happen is I'll just make cake flour out of regular and self-rising, respectively, since I have a reliable recipe for cake flour.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Making A Hash Of It

As usual, started with dessert today - cappuccino cupcakes from Nigella Lawson. I noticed this morning that the recipe specifies self-rising cake flour, so I followed a handy-dandy formula (from my mother, not the internet) to make some with self-rising flour. I figured if regular flour + formula = cake flour, then self-rising flour + formula = self-rising cake flour.

This appears to have been roughly accurate, though the cupcakes did bake with bizarre mushroom clouds on top. In any case, the batter was a breeze and incredibly delicious: I wanted to inhale it and never mind actually making the cupcakes. Resisting impulse, I continued - not quite enough batter for a dozen cupcakes, so I craftily made eleven. They cook very quickly: I did them for fifteen minutes, not twenty, and might in hindsight have cut an extra minute off.

I'm not usually a fan of white chocolate, but I decided to make this recipe verbatim, and the lightness of white is very appropriate here. However, the frosting recipe made a quantity far exceeding what was necessary for the number of cupcakes ... so, stumped, I decided to save it for some kind of nefarious use on a batch of cookies.

Final verdict (cupcakes):
Rich espresso taste, sweet frosting - almost cloying, but perfect in context with the bite in the cake ... this cupcake is tasty and not too heavy. Would definitely bake again.

After a break, I started on the enchilada casserole. To dice two cups of chicken without polluting my measuring cup, I stuck plastic wrap inside the cup. I was mildly surprised by the spice combination here: I always think of cumin and coriander as Indian. I was concerned when I opened the green chile peppers that they were bad, but a can with no expiration date determined me to make a leap of faith.

I didn't have a 11 x 7 baking dish - mine was actually 11 x 8.5 - but all cooking times seemed to work identically with the exception of the final time to crisp up the cheese, which went very fast.

While the casserole was in the oven, I worked on the potatoes. To me, diced is a very small cut, so I cut them quite finely ... apprently, more finely than the writers of the recipe wanted. When I poured them into the pan, application of the spatula caused the potatoes to disintegrate. I was hinging perilously on mashed territory.

Next step, chorizo. The directions for this recipe are deceptive. I just assumed it should be raw, since I've never seen pre-cooked chorizo, but step 3 refers enigmatically to "heated through," which implies to me they mean cooked. Since I'm familiar enough with the proper consistency and taste to know when chorizo is done, I decided to roll with it and kept the mixture in a few minutes longer to cook it through.

The final step of the recipe reads to mix in the cheese, "trying not to break up the cubes of potato." That ship had already sailed. I decided to roll with it and ended up with not quite mashed potatoes - more of a hash.

In previous posts, I've boasted about my uncanny ability to get everything ready at the same time, my miniature disasters canceling each other out. Apparently, I need to make a certain amount of mistakes to get my timing right, because it failed me this time. The potatoes took too long to come to a boil, which meant the casserole was out well before I was done with that dish. Still, thirty seconds in a microwave cures all ills. (Not recommended for medical conditions.)

Final verdict (casserole): Flavorful, filling and satisfying, though it feels like something is missing here; I couldn't quite identify what. Would make again.

Final verdict (potatoes): The flavor combinations are quite nice here - a well-rounded dish, though I'm not sure if it would meld quite the same way if the potatoes were cut properly. Would try again with larger pieces.

Finally, after my food had settled, I set about making the blackberry lassi. Could not be simpler: dump everything into the food processor, go to town, adjust honey to taste, and then strain out the seeds.

Final verdict (lassi):
I didn't get the expected creaminess or bite from this lassi, so it missed for me. Proportions were off somehow for my tastes. I'm going to keep searching, as I'm sure there are more recipes for this.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/16

It's been a busy, productive day: I even managed to finish my shopping before getting my menu up here, since there will be workmen invading the yard and making my dog crazy tomorrow. Maybe I can set off the smoke alarms again and traumatize her more. I seem to be using my stovetop a lot, though at least I'm not juggling three separate stovetop offering this weekend.

Instead, I'm going Mexican, indulging in some caffeination, and finishing off with a glug of India:

Layered Chicken and Black Bean Enchilada
Casserole - All Tried & True Slow Cooker & Casserole

Potatoes with Chorizo and Green Chillies - unknown

Cappuccino Cupcakes - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)

Blackberry Lassi

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Vim and Vinegar

I meant to check out the currants today, but I was so discombobulated with everything else going on in my life that I forgot and just bought raisins.

I decided to do the chutney first so it could cool. I was stunned to discover that a standard-sized packet of dried apricots contained only a bit more than a cup of diced apricots, so I was forced to slightly-more-than-halve the recipe on the fly. I'm not sure whether I overestimated the amount of malt vinegar, or whether the recipe doesn't cut down, but I think the inside of my nose was burned clear every time I leaned over the burner.

Once the chutney was on the heat, I prepared the cookie dough to go into the fridge. This is the third or fourth time I've mixed tiny bits of cold butter into a dough, and this time, I think I got closer to the mark - but I still find that the butter starts to melt even before I get into the dough. I'd say I have warm hands, but I know that's not the case. Trust me, I love circulation at the drop of a hat. This is, yes, a problem for a harp player.

Final verdict (Chutney): I liked the melding of flavors, but there was simply too much malt vinegar taste remaining for me. Would try it again and use half as much. It also took longer to reduce than advertised - closer to 45 minutes.

While dough was in the fridge chillin' out, I put together the wet masala blend for the beef vindaloo. Discovered when I went to fry up the spices that cinnamon bark is not the same thing as a cinnamon stick ... oops. So I didn't get as much cinnamony goodness as I would have liked. Also, food processor oozed orange. Bits of wet masala everywhere, I tell you.

Just as this is the third or fourth cold-butter dough I've worked for an English scone / cake / cookie, this is the third or fourth dough where it has been too sticky to use a cookie cutter, even after refrigeration. I tried rough-forming the dough with my hands, but the problems didn't stop there: it was nearly impossible to flip the cookies, even after they had pan-cooked fully on one side.

Too much butter? Not enough butter? Lots of variables, but less butter in the pan seemed to help. Smaller cookies, perhaps? Seems likely, given the amount left. Definitely discovered that three is the maximum number of cookies one can safely do at a time. Ah, the mysteries - a good half-dozen variables to juggle.

Final verdict (cookies): For all the hassle, these are the soft, "meaty" griddle cookies I remembered. So would definitely try these again, changing some of the steps in an attempt to get a better results.

Onwards with the beef vindaloo! Not much more to tell, except that I chose the perfect pan despite myself and being quite sure I had the wrong one. Once it was on the long cook, I started on the pilau and ... once again ... discovered quantity issues. Not quite enough basmati rice; mixed in some arborio to approximate the remainder, more or less because that was the closest rice to hand.

Sidebar: I really need to get myself some cardamom pods already.

Final verdict (beef vindaloo): I cooked this for ten minutes longer than advertised, but even though the mixture was boiling, not simmering (despite me turning it down a couple times), it still was tough when I took it out. Beyond that, I didn't think it had a great deal of flavor other than generalized heat. Would not bother repeating. Sorry, Aarti!

Final verdict (fruity pilau): As with the last pilau recipe (same book), a simple, flavorful rice. It comes out very fluffy and not at all mushy, with just enough taste to be interesting on its own.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/9

Where's the beef? This weekend, it's on the menu.

I don't cook with beef much because it's more expensive and I frequently find that - with all the specialty ingredients and produce I'm buying - my grocery list is pricy enough as it is. However, this recipe really appealed, so I succumbed. Last week was practically vegetarian (bacon doesn't count!), so let's go for it.

Here's the roster:

Goan Beef Curry with Vinear: Beef Vindaloo
Apricot Chutney - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
Fruity Pilau - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
Welsh Cookies

I am so excited about the Welsh cookies, you have no idea. It's somewhat ludicruous.

Substitution notes:

Pilau: Calls for cardamom pods. (I was actually going to break down and buy these, but Kroger's - surprisingly - doesn't have them. Anyone know where, short of mail order?) Will use appropriate amount of ground.
Cookies: Calls for currants. Going to use raisins, unless I can find currants. Which might be easy. Never really looked.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Today's lineup was complicated by the fact that I had some work to do, so I was back and forth a lot .. and plagued by inexplicable, silly errors due to distraction.
While preparing the coffee ice cream, I decided to use some of the K cups I had accumulated - so it wasn't just fresh coffee ice cream, it was fresh hazelnut cream coffee ice cream (say that three times fast). I filtered two or three times and still didn't get all the grounds out, though it was a minor enough amount not to matter.
What also didn't matter - luckily - was the fact that I managed to push the filtered coffee off one of my kitchen boards, causing some of it to spill on the stove. I tried to use a turkey baster to recollect it. No such luck. Having previous experience with the recipes from this site, I decided that it would be all right.
And it was, but I'm afraid that I undercooked the mixture. After forty minutes in the ice cream maker, the result was still liquid - so I dumped it into the freezer and hoped. What I ended up with was some kind of Italian ice mixture, definitely not ice cream.
Final verdict (ice cream): That said, the flavor was excellent, the texture still good, and I think the error was mine, so I will put this one in my file to try again.
Then I set about preparing the cookies, a process slightly complicated by the necessity of running out between the melting of the chocolate and the prepping of the batter. I was stunned when I saw the size of each cookie: a quarter cup of batter? 10 - 12 cookies total? (I had failed to notice this upon original inspection.) This mixture produces impressive, puffy uber-cookies.
I did have to make one substitution on the fly: the only semi-sweet chocolate chips I had were minis, which I figured would simply melt rather than remaining as a textural element, so I used milk chocolate instead.
Final verdict (cookies): Very good, very rich, and somewhat melty even after fully baking. The texture of the espresso bean is a trifle gritty, but not enough to take away from the result.
After another break, I started on the batter for the corn fritters. This was the first time I had ever tried to peel kernels off a corn-cob with a knife, and I realized it was harder to do than I had anticipated. My chosen chili was a jalapeno, and of course, with my usual sagacity, I licked my fingers after cutting it.
Next step, frying the bacon for the casserole. This was the first time I had ever chopped bacon, too - it was a landmark day of cookery! - so I was surprised how hard this was, as well. Really, I just need to start assuming things are nigh impossible and work backwards from there. It did not produce as much bacon fat as advertised, so I added an additional amount of oil to avoid smoking issues.
Slapstick of the evening: when I opened the top shelf to get my uber-grater for the cheese, the bottom panel flew down and struck me square in the middle of the forehead. More annoyed than injured, I commenced with simmering the pasta. This involved wine. This involved wine in a bottle that will not fit upright in my refrigerator. I have it laid flat. I pray it doesn't spill. I had to eyeball the amount of pepper, as I didn't have any pre-ground, just a grinder and a strong wrist.
Whilst the pasta simmered, I set about frying the corn fritters. When I put the second batch in, the oil started to sputter. By the time I got the third batch out, it was having a grand old time sending out random pings of oil. Then I had the brilliant idea to take it off the heat and put a little water in.
Some sixth sense had me retreat to the other side of the kitchen.
The oil exploded. It started popping, jumping and sizzling like an uncovered load of popcorn. My main concern was getting safely back to the stove for the pasta. My dog, on the other hand, went downstairs and hid by the fireplace.
Once the oil stopped spitting, I crept back to finish the casserole. I had to retrieve the dog, who was determined to stay where she was.
Final verdict (casserole): This is very good, rich, creamy and with a distinct bite from the Pecorino Romano. It's also quite easy (unless you have spitting oil nearby).
Final verdict (fritters): These are a perfect mix of crispy and soft with just enough spice (if you use one jalapeno with no veins or seeds - other combos, your mileage may vary). They're also almost entirely corn and chili - the flour and egg are unobtrusive binding agents.