Saturday, June 25, 2011

Burning Chocolate

I put together the dough for the coffee snowflakes last night and promptly ran into trouble: mysteriously, when I put the butter in the microwave to soften it, it liquefied in no time flat. I ended up pouring it off the turn-table from the microwave. I knew I had lost some, so I guesstimated at a tablespoon.
I put a single tablespoon of butter in the microwave. For the same amount of time as two entire sticks. By the end of that, it was barely softened. What?
Anyhow, I refrigerated it overnight ... then had to take it out. Warning, this dough goes from firm to rock hard very easily. I went shopping for the rest of my ingredients, came back, then had to put the dough back in the fridge for a short while because it had gotten too soft. It's very easy to roll, though I either used too large of a cookie cutter or I made them too thick. Four dozen? Try thirty-something.
I started the other portions of my meal while these were in the oven and didn't finish them until after dinner. However, more mysterious microwaving malarky ensued: instead of melting as advertised, the chocolate went from melt-ish to blackened and burnt, burning me in the process. Not sure whether I just didn't happen to have the right size bowl or if the difference between half a cup and 3/4ths of a cup (I used 3/4ths of a cup of semi-sweet instead of 1/2 white, 1/2 semi) was enough to completely invalidate the meltability ... but I had to toss it, burning myself in the process.
I melted a second batch, but didn't get it to the drizzle stage. At this point, I was paranoid about wasting more chocolate, so I decided to spread it on the cookies instead.
Final verdict (cookies): Aaaaaah ... so incredibly good. They're buttery, shortbready, pleasantly bitter, sweet ... it took an act of willpower not to eat the whole batch tonight.
I started the soup while the cookies baked. As usual, I turned totally lazy when it came to the onion: I gave it an (extremely) rough chop and threw it into the Oscar to break it down. I had some concerns that the dutch oven I had chosen was too large, but seeing as it was the only one I owned, I went with it. I was very surprised how thick the stew was, so I added an extra half cup of water.
The cornbread mix looked as if it didn't hold together, spreading into an amorphous sea of orangey-yellow goo, but after I took the stew out of the oven, I discovered that it had baked into distinct, biscuit-esque masses.
While it was baking, I fried the plantain chips. I think these are meant to be cut a bit more finely, as they didn't crisp and there wasn't quite enough oil to fully cover them. Not much to say here, as it was a swift process: cut, drop into the pan, remove, wait for them to dry, and then sprinkle with the chili sugar, which was surprisingly tasty for such an easy step.
Final verdict (stew): I really enjoyed this - it's flavorful, chewy and easy as pie. And it really is more of a pie - all right, a casserole - than a stew: hardly any liquid. I ate it with a fork. I might try adding more water next time, or perhaps vegetable stock ... or even a low-fat mexican soup. (As it is a low-fat recipe.)
Final verdict (plantain chips): I just like the taste of plantains, so these were good for me. Again, I want to try them thinner for the future, but this turned out to be a good recipe for a basic process, and (as previously mentioned) the chili sugar definitely adds tastiness.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 6/25

I have an evening wedding this weekend, so my cooking is curtailed. Luckily, I have everything on hand for the dessert, so my plan is to make the dough tonight, somehow manage not to eat any of it, and bake it off tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I don't have access to one of the books, and the other is physically inaccessible (long story involving other dimensions and other-stuffed shelves), so I only have one source for ... wait! I actually found one of the recipes online. Make that two:

Southwestern Stew with Corn Dumplings
Spiced Plantain Chips - unknown Mexican cookbook
Sparkling Coffee Snowflakes - Cook's Country December / January 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Testing The Smoke Alarm

After my adventure in measurements (see below), I got home and put together the ice cream - whereupon I discovered that it said 7-8 sprigs of mint, not 7-8 leaves. Luckily, with cutting it down two-thirds, I figured I had about enough. I was slightly dubious about the no-cook process, but I decided to go with it.

Final verdict (mint ice cream): I don't know if I didn't get the egg whites whipped sufficiently or if I let the ice cream machine run too long ... but the texture of this was just off. It didn't taste blended (so I doubt "run too long") and I felt more as if I was eating frozen creme fraiche rather than ice cream. The mint flavor was nice, but I'm not willing to experiment with this one again.

For the butterscotch bars, the bottom crust had to bake and then cool, so I started on that right away. The amount of ingredients going into the batter surprised me: it fills the food processor (or at least, it filled mine; it may not fill the platonic ideal of a food processor). I had trouble with the butter melting as I was cutting it. The mixture demonstrated the existence of centrifugal force, and while trying to redistribute it with my hands, I managed to cut my finger on the blade. I bled faithfully for some time. I did not bleed into the mixture (there's no call for added protein here).

Either the mixture was off or the crust "set" way earlier than advertised and started to melt again, because I know I overbaked it, and when I finally took it out, it still wasn't what I would consider set. Instead, it was gooey to the touch. So ... I would go by the time or color here, not whether or not it has set - though with brown sugar and butterscotch chips being a principle component of the mixture, it's hard to tell when it's reached golden, too.

While the crust cooled, I peeled and grated the potatoes for the pancake, using my trusty zesting glove to assist me in recklessly shaving aforesaid potatoes down to nubbins.

The filling and topping of the butterscotch bars could not have been easier, and after some cooling and chilling - they finally came out right after dinner. Perfect timing.

Final verdict (butterscotch bars): Okay ... I overdid the bottom crust and mine came out of kinda burnt. However, even at that, the middle layer and the top are exceedingly tasty enough such that I know I want to try it again. The filling is tangy; the lemon definitely points up the flavor - or maybe, again, it's my mutant lemons.

Next step, I made the apple salsa and realized two things: one, I had used all my mint in the ice cream, so decided to go with basil and dill instead, and two, I had misread "a stalk of celery" as "a rib of celery." I decided to use four ribs to get a ratio I liked. So by this point, I was really just riffing off the recipes.

I had intended to try and cut my pork loins in half thinwise (is that a word)? to get eight, then realized this was just about impossible. Instead, I sliced them in half the other direction and pounded them out. This unduly perturbed my dog, but you ain't seen nothing yet.

The breading process was a breeze. A step that Mooking showed when demonstrating the recipe that was omitted: he seasoned each cutlet with salt and pepper individually, rather than adding it into the dry stations (which lack seasoning). If you miss this - and again, it's not in the recipe - you could end up with some blandness in the final product.

I will confess to making a pan choice error: I started with a too-small pan (10") for the pancake and a too-large pan (12") for the schnitzel ... but I don't think that fully explains why the panko breadcrumbs never really turned golden, going from pale to brown quite quickly - and why the pan started smoking.

At this point, the smoke alarm went off.

I was heartened by the fact that my dog knew enough to be frightened of the smoke alarm. I was less encouraged by the fact that her decision was to go upstairs. After I retrieved her the second time, she went to the downstairs window I had opened and climbed onto the sill. I felt so bad for her.

I was so scared about flipping the pancake. I didn't want to burn myself, but I could so easily see it splorching all over the place. Luckily, I managed to hold onto the plate ninety percent of the flip and then ease it down for the rest. If the bottom is properly cooked, this step really is a breeze.

Final verdict (schnitzel): I thought the schnitzel were going to be bland, but they were actually quite juicy and - dare I say it - crunchy. As for the salsa, I shall not turn into one of those Foodnetwork reviewers who gives 5 stars to a recipe they have changed and substituted beyond all recognition, but I will say that my variation was very tasty and complimented both the schnitzel and the pancake. I did overcook a few of the schnitzel.

Final verdict (pancake): Arrrr ... I overcooked this, too. This was just not my day. Apart from that unintended crunch, I thought this was quite tasty, though I didn't really pick up either basil or parmesan from the pancake.

A Matter of Scale

So today I needed to buy creme fraiche ... and it wasn't until I got to the store that I realized the measurements on the recipe didn't line up with the measurements on the packaging.

I decided to ask at customer service on the off-chance they had a conversion tool. This seemed like a possibility ... and instead turned into a three person, one cellphone, one notebook borrowed from school supplies job as we surfed apps and could not find conversions from ounces into milliliters anywhere. I felt so bad, but it just spiralled out of hand. I left the store without an answer.

Turns out 8oz of creme fraiche is the same as liquid measurement, though - 1 cup. So I didn't have quite enough. Such is life, but I so much appreciate the valiant efforts of my fellow grocery store adventures.

Anyhow, cut the ice cream recipe to 2/3rds - so 1 cup creme fraiche, 2 eggs, a little bit less than the proscribed amount of mint (but as previously mentioned, all recipes from this sight are very intensely flavored as-is).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 6/18

This weekend, I'm drawn by a few tastes I usually wouldn't gravitate to: apples, oatmeal and mint. (Not in the same dish ... though that sounds like it would be tasty, now that I think of it. It also sounds like a very easy Chopped basket.)

Here's how it looks:

Panko Schnitzel With Apple Salsa
Parmesan Potato Pancake
Oatmeal Cream Cheese Butterscotch Bars
Fresh Mint Ice Cream

This is the first time in a while all my chosen recipes are available online, so check them out!

Two thoughts about the schnitzel. First off, I cooked pork for the first time a couple weeks ago as a weekday meal. I had picked up a spice rub in Maryland and wanted to try it out. So I had pork on the brain (figuratively, not literally - that would be unsanitary) when I saw Roger Mooking's show on the Cooking Channel. Second off, Mooking pounded his cutlets, a step which is omitted in the recipe, so I'm not sure which way to jump.

Substitutions:

Schnitzel: When making the salsa, Mooking indicated you could use whatever herbs you preferred, so I will probably go with dill rather than tarragon, seeing as I already have dill on hand.

Ice Cream: Depending on the availability / price of creme fraiche, I may use sour cream instead. It should still work.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Burner Deficit

This weekend's adventure brought to you by my poor learning curve. Once again, I neglected to read the recipes thoroughly enough to notice a few crucial steps ... like, oh, say, soaking the rice for 20 - 30 minutes before putting it in the skillet.

To my credit, however, I realized - last night, after shopping - that I had three dishes that needed large oven burners and only two burners of sufficient size such that I could arrange pans on them. I decided to do the chicken first and reheat after getting the other two off, as Nigella was quite specific about how easy it was to make the dish the day before. First, however - dessert!

I went to get the appropriate pans for the bread pudding and stopped dead. A loaf pan? Who makes bread pudding in a loaf pan? Already irrationally dubious of this recipe, I forged onwards and got it into the pan pronto. I have an awful lot of French bread left - about half a loaf.

Then I discovered that my poor roasting pan was going to have an identity crisis again, for this was another water bath recipe. However, either my bananas were too big (entirely possible, for local produce seems to be mutant) or I overdid the bread a bit, for the mixture was right up to the brim of the loaf pan. I thought some of it would escape in cooking, and I was correct.

There needs to be another doneness indicator for this recipe: it's extremely hard to get a knife to come out "clean" with anything containing chocolate chips. I finally worked it, out though.

Final verdict (bread pudding): This was ... okay. It's easy, so I might check it out if you like this combination of flavors, but it's not particularly sweet or exceptional in any way. I, personally, am not going to keep the recipe.

Next up, the mughlai chicken. I decided not to use flaked almonds and found I didn't have quite enough Greek yogurt, so substituted regular yogurt for the rest of the full cup - be advised. Ran into my first problem here when I discovered the chicken thighs I had bought were bone-in. I managed to butcher them with some fumbling, but a confidence that would have left me gibbering mere months ago. It was a good thing, however, that I ended up with a net of over 3.5lbs, since I needed more meat to make up for the stealth bones.

I can't tell if there's a typo in this recipe or not: it says to "seal" the chicken, which as far as I can tell isn't a cooking term, and I could swear Nigella said sear - but if you interpret seal to mean until it forms a smooth surface, that seemed to work perfectly for me. I thought this would need more pan than it did: I could have used a much smaller one, but then I wouldn't have had the entertainment of using my wok lid as a makeshift cover.

As aforementioned, this came off the heat for about forty-five minutes once cooked through, then went back on for about five minutes, and was perfectly warm at that.

Final verdict (chicken): Oh ... so good. Delightfully creamy and tangy, an Indian dish with zest, but not enough spice to burn even a timid diner's mouth. Probably would be even better with cardamom pods rather than dried. By the recipe, you just leave the whole spices in, and I didn't have any trouble with them.

I knew the carrot rolls would take a bit to make and that they would need to go into the pan right after the rice did to keep things flowing smoothly, so I decided to make the rolls up through the frying. I made the brilliant discovery that I could use my French bread for the day old bread rather than sacrificing my sandwich bread, and also that dang, three tablespoons is really a lot of pine nuts.

Couldn't find a red chili at my store, so substituted a poblano. (Which stumped the poor girl who was helping me find produce codes at the U-Scan.) Though that would be better than a jalapeno, which would be distinctly spicy, and I don't have any experience with anaheims ... and I didn't have any other choices, really.

Another roadblock in this recipe: it does not specific how much "a bunch" of fresh dill, basil or mint is supposed to be, and since the only way I can get these fresh herbs is in the chintzy little packages, not bunches, I just guessed at how much looked good to me. Your mileage may vary.

The carrot and apricot rolls were idiot-proof, by which I mean I had no trouble with them, and they fried up more smoothly than anything I've fried before. It suggests wetting your hands if the dough sticks, and unlike so many other quick-fix-for-sticking suggestions I've seen in recipes, this actually worked.

However, I did manage to drop one roll, pick it up as soon as it hit the floor, and then drop it again on my foot. I nearly burnt myself.

Final verdict (carrot rolls): Mmm ... tasty. They're sweet without being overpowering (part of that is the pine nuts - they really are a sweet nut), tangy ... though I think they're missing something, which the accompanying mint yogurt largely provides.

After prepping the rolls, but before frying them - we're time traveling now! - I put together the nut pilau. Got to use my uber-grater to add the carrot into this one, and - oh, right! Another subtitution: regular mustard seeds for black mustard seeds. First up, frying the onion, garlic and carrot, then on the rices and spices.

This is the first time I've seen a rice recipe that requires you to take it off the heat and let it set for five minutes before checking to see if it's done. This seemed all sorts of backwards to me, so I hovered nervously before checking it, but sure enough: steam holes on the surface of the rice.

Another moment of absurdity here: I'm left-handed, so the pan handle was on the left side, of course, but I had made the mistake of using the left side burner, which meant the handle was trapped behind my knives. Lifting it just enough to clear the knives, while not spilling rice all over the stovetop, was an interesting exercise.

This is the point I realize that a) I didn't defrost my nuts and b) I don't want a full 3/4ths cup, even if this is a nut pilau. They warmed up well enough in the mixture. Realized I forgot fresh cilantro, but considering I had bought half the produce section already ...

Final verdict (pilau): This is a decent rice - I get a generalized sense of heat more than specific spices. It's worth doing again just because it's simple, and I do like the nuts. It also works wonderfully with the mughlai chicken; the rice and the sauce together is fantastic. So ... I'd recommend this for the combination, if nothing else.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Substitutions

Entirely forgot to post my substitutions list, so in all fairness ...

Mughlai Chicken: with everything else I have to buy this week, I am not springing for cardamom pods, so I will be using dried ... maybe. (I keep running into recipes that call for whole pods in my Indian menus, so I am seriously pondering it might be a good investment.)

Carrot and Apricot Rolls: I am not doing lemon ledges to serve, and I am using plain vegetable oil for frying.

Nut Pilau: Also contains cardamom pods; will use ground. (Maybe.)

Menu Plan: Weekend of 6/11

I've been on hiatus for a while: first dieting in preparation for a vacation, then dieting after I returned from the vacation. But I am back in the saddle now, with a brand-new menu - which will not be cooked from a horse's back, though it may look as if that's what I did by the time I get done.

The battleplan is:

Mughlai Chicken
Carrot and Apricot Rolls with Mint Yogurt
Nut Pilau - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding - Allrecipes Tried & True Slow Cooker and Casserole (a compilation from allrecipes.com)

The rolls were copied from a book of my mother's on Turkish cooking and I ... regretfully do not have the title on hand. But it exists, I promise!