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