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)