Sunday, December 2, 2012

Invention

Note to self:  I am not allowed to cook without a recipe.

The past two nights, I had no real plan with what I was going to make:  I just had a meat and a starch, and I knew I wanted to combine it into something edible.  I ended up starting both components and then pondering what would taste good with it, throwing things in at random, and finally - somehow - ended up with dinner.

Friday night, I had hot Italian sausage and Ditalini.  I decided to try and make a cream sauce, so I threw some half-and-half in with the sausage.  Needed some seasoning, so rosemary, oregano and cinnamon went in - because everything needs cinnamon.  I also added a generous plop of sundried tomato pesto.  At this point, I tasted it and realized it needed some acid.  I went for apple cider vinegar, but I couldn't get the bottle open (no, really - blame the carpal tunnel surgery), so ended up with malt vinegar.  Too much.  Countered with honey.

Surprisingly, the result was quite good.  I wouldn't necessarily serve it to anyone, but it worked.

Saturday night, I had taco meat and arborio rice and decided to make a casserole.  I looked up a generic rice and hamburger casserole to get some ideas on cooking times, then proceeded to ignore it, adding cranberries, peas, almonds and yogurt - the latter so it would have some moisture and not dry up completely.  I picked yogurt for the tartness to complement the cranberries; the cranberries also got a bit of sugar in an attempt to sweet the deal (and them).  Also cinnamon (yes, there's always cinnamon), cumin and chili powder.

I think I'd go with dried cherries next time, but this is actually worth attempting again, with some modifications.

Still - goodness only knows what will end up in the pot next time.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Our Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is quite a production in my house, and we've already begun with:

Buttermilk Cupcakes with Chocolate Icing

However, not since I really was craving a particular kind of buttercream, they were frosted with this:

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Excellent on both counts.  The cupcakes are moist without being soggy, and the addition of milk / cream (in this case, used half and half) makes a huge difference in the buttercream.

This is the full menu plan for Thanksgiving:

Honeybaked Ham Turkey (none of us are huge turkey fans, so this delicious purchased option is fine)
Hines Gravy (ditto)
Cranberry Fruit Conserve
Campbell's Green Bean Casserole
Sweet Potatoes With Blue Cheese and Walnuts
Perfect Golden Mashers
Sage, Sausage and Apple Dressing
Maggie Mahoney's Turnips
Ginger Carrots
Maple Pecan Bread
Cranberry Harvest Muffins
Pumpkin Pie (purchased, because only my Mom really likes it)
Cinnamon Ice Cream
Cinnamon-Cornbread Blueberry Cobbler

The last two recipes have already featured on this blog at some point ... and it's me, aaaall me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Butter butter butter butter ...

So first of all:

A pound of butter.  Diced.

I knew from previous experience that if I tried to dice that much butter at once, it would melt before I finished.  So I cut the butter into slices, then put all but the group I was working with into the freezer.  Once finished, the diced bits went into the freezer.  This worked perfectly.  Having the butter in the freezer for those few moments made it infinitely easier to work with without having it turn into a glacial slab.

It took longer for the butter to incorporate than I had expected, but I wasn't sure whether this was due to the quantity or the fact that the diced pieces had been in the fridge.  As usual, I went a bit generous with the vanilla.  I ended up with a lot more dough than I had expected, but found that I didn't need a rolling pin:  it was much easier to smooth the dough out with my (floured) hands.

On the other hand, I had to flour the cutter I used multiple times, wiping it down and then sprinkling it fresh.  I tried to fit eleven on the bar pan and managed such, but they expanded during cooking to the point that they almost (but not quite) formed one amorphous mass of scone-iness.  I then managed another six - so I might suggest eight or nine per batch for integrity purposes.

The perfect cook-through seemed to be until significant golden-brown shows up on the higher points of the scone.  I waited eight minutes before applying the glaze, so it was slighter thicker than suggested.

Final verdict (scones):  These are excellent, hearty and filling with a perfect scone texture.  My only complaint is (despite the half cup in the batter) you don't taste the maple in the scone itself; it only comes out in the glaze.  Might as well have not wasted that half cup.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Breakfast Treats

Family coming in for Thanksgiving, so I decided to make treats for Sunday morning:  maple scones.  Now, I printed this recipe without even the title, so I can't swear to where it came from, but if anyone is really interested, I'll be happy to pass it along.  Once I confirm they're any good, that is.  They use a pound of butter.  I am vaguely terrified.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Flour

I love a good crockpot meal - throw it together and forget about it.  The chicken enchilada soup recipe truly could not have been simpler.  The ingredient list may look extensive, but it's all quite common and there's very little chopping or prep involved.  I will note that when combined the ingredients, I used an extra teaspoon of chipotle chili and a generous scoop of cumin, which - when directed to season to taste at the end - increased significantly.

Verdict (soup):  Spicy (though keep in mind my adjusted proportions) and satisfying, a soup rather than a stew without being watery or overpowering on the tomato front.  Recommended.

I admit:  I don't hold with buying all these specialty flours when you can make them.  The muffin recipe calls for self rising cake flour; well, you can make self rising flour and cake flour, so I just combined the proportions of extra ingredients for each.  Presto!

"I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" does not live up to its name.  I could immediately tell it wasn't butter.

I also overdosed on the vanilla.  Big surprise.  Moving on. 

Nine tablespoons of mini-morsels is a looot of mini-morsels, folks.  Don't be surprised when mixing them in.

The only small snag I ran into was the cooking time.  It says 15-16 minutes - it took a bit longer than that for me.  The tops will brown slightly before they're done.  A toothpick will not come out clean due to the prevalence of chocolate, but you can tell they're done because it will come out with nothing else but chocolate on it.

Verdict (muffins):  Moist, just sweet enough to satisfy, but not so sweet that they aren't appropriate for dinner or breakfastVery good!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Menu Plan: Week of 11/10

Howdy, all!

Well, since I was at the WFC for a week (see my other blog for more details than you could ever possibly want), I'm in desperate need of shedding a few more pounds, so back to Skinnytaste for just a couple recipes this time:

Crock Pot Chicken Enchilada Soup
Ricotta Cheese Chocolate Chip Muffins

I have a rehearsal tomorrow, so the goal is to get the soup going before I leave.

And hey, blogger spellchecker - as far as I'm concerned, crockpot is one word.

Monday, October 22, 2012

To The Cloud!

I really was going to make the scones last night, but it was past 10pm by the time I got home from the zombie walk (yes, you did read that correctly), so I did these in the morning instead ... eventually.  It's not that they were difficult, it's just that it took me a while to wobble into motion.  In fact, this recipe is very straightforward.  Again, I found using the food processor to cut in the butter was the easiest method.  Since there's a lot less butter, it takes less time than it would for regular scones.  Probably the hardest part was cutting all the way through the scones.  They appear to fuse back up during baking, but still break apart easily.

Point of order:  I used (sort of by accident) semi-sweet chocolate chips here.  I like my chocolate a little darker, so I was quite satisfied.  Your mileage may vary.

Final verdict (scones):  These, to me, were not quite as scone-like as the previous batch, perhaps the whole wheat flour.  However, they're still very satisfying with a lot of chocolate chip for the portion.

Next, I started on the biscuits.  As an aside, I was unable to find Heart Smart Bisquick at the story, so I used Heart Healthy Krusteaz Buttermilk instead.  I had to eyeball the amount of parmesan because the battery in my scale is out.  The recipe warns not to overmix the milk; by contrast, I would offer the warning to make sure that the ingredients are fully wet / combined.  Heaping tablespoons produces exactly the right number of biscuits, and there is a perfect amount of the topping to go along with it.

Final verdict (biscuits):  And, just to top it off - they're good!  Cheesy without being overwhelming and with the wonderful tang of rosemary.  I used unsalted butter and noticed no problem with the taste on the topping; I think it was only written that way to confirm that you can use the sort of butter most normal people have on hand.  (Do I need to elaborate?)

Next up, I did mise en place for the pasta fagioli and the stuffed peppers.  By now, my wary relationship with onions is known fact, so it should come as no surprise that I cut down on the amount in both recipes.  All told, there should have been an onion and a half; I chopped a single onion and ended up throwing a small part of it away.  This is actually less onion reduce than usual, because I didn't want to mess with the intended bulk too much.

The pasta fagioli does not specify whether the parsley is supposed to be dried or fresh, but given the quantity, the position in the ingredient list - alongside basil and oregano, both of which are definitely dried - and the fact that I'd used cilantro for the other recipe, I decided to go with dried.  This is a lot of dried herbs.  In fact, it ends up in a thick film on the top of the pot, which I found rather alarming, but it all worked out in the cooking.  Again, I had to eyeball the ditalini.

The peppers truly could not be easier, though I found that the liquid didn't reduce significantly, even after ten full minutes of simmering-near-to-boil.  Still, the mixture was reduced enough to fill the peppers.  1/3rd of a cup is very close to the amount one needs for each pepper half - I chose red.  However, I found that five peppers didn't fit in a 13x9 baking dish, so I ended up having to use two pans to bake.

Final verdict (fagioli):  I thought this would be too watery, but it turned out just right - very flavorful, with a bit of texture from the dried herbs without being unpleasant.  There's just enough mouth-feel with this to be filling.

Final verdict (stuffed peppers): I loved these, thought the filling was tasty and the peppers a good vessel - but I wished the peppers had perhaps cooked a trifle more, and I could have used more cheese.  Also, the liquid of the mixture made for messy eating.

After Once Upon A Time and The Walking Dead (now we know what I do with my Sunday evening), I started on the chocolate chip clouds.  I found measuring tablespoons of egg whites to be nigh impossible:  the whites clumped together, and every time I scooped, they'd slide out of the tablespoon.  I can only assume I got about the right about, as all the quantities seemed to turn out, though I ended up with 21 cookies instead of 30 while attempting to do a tablespoon size.  I think I had "heaping tablespoons."  These were done for at about 30 mins - might have been slightly underdone, but I decided I'd rather have them a bit under than a bit over.

(Recipe note - equal parts milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips used.)

Final verdict (clouds):  These are crazy-good - light, chocolatey and addictive.  I haven't had a cooled one yet because I couldn't stop eating the blasted things when they were still warm, but I'm pretty sure of them.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Menu Plan: 10/20 - 10/26

This will be my last full week on diet menus, still courtesy of Skinnytaste.  I've enjoyed most of the dishes I've made from here - easy, flavorful and satisfying.  So that's my plug for now ... on to this week, in anticipated order of prep.

Breakfast:

Skinny Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Scones

Is it wrong that I like the smell of buttermilk?

Dessert:

Chocolate Chip Clouds

Dinner:

Easy Rosemary Garlic Parmesan Biscuits 
Chicken and White Bean Stuffed Peppers
Pasta Fagioli

I haven't quite figured how I'm going to work the dinner portions around each other, but this should make four meals, all told.  Possibly bake off the biscuits first and then move on to everything else ...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Indian Breakfast Update

My Indian variant on the quinoa tasted fine, but it was a bit odd for breakfast - mental disconnect.  Probably won't make it this way again.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Watched Pot

Made the black bean brownies first today, in my grand tradition of making dessert first.  Really not much to tell:  it's about as simple as making brownies from a mix.  The only thing I have to say is, don't use a small Oskar to puree the beans.  It is not big enough.  The liquid will leak.  This may have been why I ended up with thinner brownies than I would have liked.  It's also a bit difficult to tell when they're done.

Final verdict (brownies):  These are about as satisfying as the mix with butter and oil, with an added touch of darkness.  Why not?

Does anyone know how to boil milk?  As I started the chicken pot pie soup, I found it was impossible to get the pot to boil at a "low" temperature - and when I finally cleaned up, there was an unpleasant crust of (apparently) burnt milk on the bottom.  Besides that, the soup cooked up in a very seamless fashion.  The potatoes took a little longer than stated, but I also used larger pieces.  As a note, substituted a leek for the mushrooms and used an extra two ounces of frozen vegetables - assumed the calorie count would come out about the same.

Final verdict (soup):  This is a hearty chicken soup, almost a stew for the thickness.  It doesn't necessarily bring chicken pot pie to mind for me, but I found it filling and a good "bargain" for the quantity.

At the same time, I prepped the baked mozarella sticks.  Warning:  either I didn't coat my sticks nearly enough, or the mixture as advertised leaves a lot more waste than you would think.

Also - do not use a stoneware cookie sheet.  My theory is that the longer cooking time on the insulated sheet melted the cheese sticks instead of "frying" the outside as intended.  After turning them, I had to take them out when I felt the coating was slightly underdone, because they had started to ooze.  Further tip:  immediately remove the aluminum foil from the cookie sheet, or they'll keep melting.

Final verdict (mozzarella sticks):  These are decent, though I don't feel they transform the string cheese enough - I thought of string cheese when eating them.  Still, they're so easy that I'd like to try them again.

Meanwhile, I'm finishing up my Indian-flavored quinoa.  Update tomorrow ...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Menu Plan: 10/14 - 10/19

I'm continuing my plan of cooking meals from SkinnyTaste for during the week, while breaking my diet only a single day.  In this case, I have a wedding Saturday that renders me unable to cook.  So here's the plan:

Dessert:

Black Bean Brownies

Snacks:

Skinny Mozzarella Sticks
 

Dinner:

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

For breakfast, I'm going to try making breakfast quinoa again, but I'm going to substitute ginger and garam masala for some of the cinnamon, omit apples and try pistachios.  This Indian twist on the whole thing will either be excellent or terrible.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chili Chili Bang Bang

Made Skinnytaste's 3 Bean Turkey Chili today, a slow cooker meal that I started before my morning student arrived.  Discovered I had whole canned chiles rather than chopped ones, but it was the work of a moment to fix that issue.  I used my ten-inch skillet to brown the meat and onions, but wished I had used the twelve-inch - more room to move everything around.  This recipe uses a lot - a LOT - of chili powder.  I was stunned at the quantity.

I cooked the chili for about three hours on Low, then switched it to High for the remaining time.  Since the red onion and cilantro are a garnish, I chopped only as much as I needed for one portion.

Verdict (chili):  This had far more tomatoes in it than I expected, but it turned out flavorful and hearty.  To be honest, the turkey wasn't much to speak of - I could have done without it - but the assortment of beans was very satisfying.  Would make again.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quick Verdict

Breakfast quinoa?  Very good.  It's a bit like oatmeal, but less mushy, and the apples and pecans are the perfect quantity to provide mouth-feel and crunch.  So - thumbs up on that.  It's a very recent recipe, if you're checking the front of Skinnytaste ...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

New Plan - Engaged!

Today I made four of my five recipes and tried all but one.  (Well, two, if you count the one I haven't made yet.  Time traveling cookery!)  The remaining won't be consumed until Monday morning, so I can provide no intel on it as of yet.

I started with the lemon cranberry scones.  This is a very easy recipe, but I was honestly a bit dubious seeing how little butter there was in it.  I used a food processor to cut in the butter, as other scone recipes have indicated.  My one gaffe was not flouring my hands ahead of time - I had to peel it off my palms to get it on the cookie sheet.

It's deceptive how much glaze three tablespoons makes - it absolutely saturates the top of the scone round and, in fact, makes it a trifle difficult to tell when the scones are fully cooked because the top remains a bit gooey.

Final verdict (scones):  These are quite good, and they taste exactly like regular, full-fat scones.  There's just enough lemon to add interest.  Recommended.

Next, I started on the pumpkin hazelnut flaugnarde.  Again, a very simple recipe:  the nuts go in the bottom of the pie plate and float up as soon as the blended mixture is added.  I chose to use additional vanilla extract rather than a vanilla bean here, as vanilla beans are rather precious.

I did find it baked a bit faster than advertised, and the mixture is right up to the brim of the pie plate - exercise caution when sliding into the oven.  How I didn't end up with some on the floor of the oven, I still don't know.

Final verdict (flaugnarde):  This has a nice, subtly sweet flavor and a good pudding texture to it, but I'm not tremendously impressed.  I think it may just be that I'm not in the mood for pumpkin, after all, but there's too many good recipes to keep this one.

Next, dinner prep for the southwestern medley, which primarily involved a lot of chopping and measuring.  The dry / whole ingredients went in one bowl, the wet ingredients / spices whisked in another and then poured on top.  The major hurdle I ran into is that it's almost impossible to prepare a one cup cooked serving of quinoa.  I needed a much smaller saucepan - and I was using my small one.  It ended up burning a bit and not properly plumping up.  So not quite sure what to suggest here - get a really tiny saucepan?  Prepare quinoa for something else at the same time?

Even with that withstanding, however ...

Final verdict (medley):  This is amazingly good for something so simple - dashes of acid, a hint of sweet from the mango, and some spicy kick.  Honestly, a bit too much spice ... I'd wonder about the jalapeno, but if I'd used a smaller one, the individual bits would have just been more spicy.  (They do get hotter the smaller they are.)

After dinner, I prepared the breakfast quinoa, which came out looking a lot like oatmeal.  I felt the urge to stir, because there was a lot of cinnamon in it, and it chose to creep up the sides of the saucepan.  I added the raisins and applesauce, but kept the pecans and apples in reserve to add with each individual serving.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Menu Plan: 10/6 - 10/11

So this week/end, I've decided to try something a little different.  I need to stay on-diet, but I'm craving cookery, so I delved into this site:

Gina's Skinny Recipes 

My goal was to find one meal I could make for tomorrow, a slow cooker that would provide multiple portions during the week, a dessert, and a breakfast that didn't involve store-bought pastries.  I found an embarrassment of riches, and finally decided to make two breakfasts, with the idea of substituting some for lunch.

Dinners:

Southwestern Black Bean, Quinoa and Mango Medley
Crockpot 3 Bean Turkey Chili

Breakfast / Lunch:

Apple and Cinnamon Breakfast Quinoa
Lemon Cranberry Scones

Dessert:

Pumpkin Hazelnut Flaugnarde

All recipes available on the above website.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Where Have You Been All My Life?

As usual, I went about my cooking all backwards:  dessert first.  My conversion of ingredients from the English cookbook would have been easier, except my scale decided to die, so I had to rely on the internet.

By now, the process of cooking an ice cream base is second nature to me - to the point where I get weirded out by ice cream recipes that don't require it.  There were no surprises with this one - except for the fact that I needed to save four of the egg whites for the marshmallows, and that has nothing to do with the ice cream.  I had been imagining the Dime / Skor bar ice cream as being a flavorless / vanilla ice cream with pieces of candy in it.  What I discovered when I introduced the blitzed mixture was the fine particles became completely infused in the ice cream.

Verdict (ice cream):  Hello, where have you been all my life?  This was wonderful, and it really did taste just like a Skor bar - caramel, chocolate and goodness all over.  The bits did sink a bit in the freezer, creating a sediment, so I think I erred in that the base needed to be thoroughly chilled before being added to the ice cream maker ... but having strips of concentrated Skor in the finished product isn't necessarily a bad thing, either.

Next, I started on the marshmallows:  parchment paper into a 13 x 9 pan, then dusted with cornstarch, put the gelatin into a bowl of water, then added sugar, corn syrup and water into a pan with ... drumroll, please ... my new digital candy thermometer. 

This worked like an absolute dream.  It started to beep about 3 degrees below desired temperature and then reliably got me to fully cooked.  I was stunned when I added the mixture to the whipped egg whites at just how much sheer volume I ended up with:  it completely filled the mixer.  I ended up adding, I'd say, about two and a half teaspoons of chambord, which might have been a smidge too much.

The recipe says to sieve cornstarch on the top and then - after cutting - the sides, but I decided against it because I didn't like the slight texture change the cornstarch produced.  I decided to simply dust the bottom of my storage containers so the marshmallows would come back off and was careful to place them so they didn't touch.

Verdict (marshmallows):  You don't know what a marshmallow is supposed to taste like until you've made your own.  These are excellent - mine were a trifle dense, but very good.  The egg white method is much easier as it requires virtually no stirring.

I made the carrot salad next, as it was quick and intended to be served at room temperature.  I discovered the hard way that the problem with grating carrots is tiny orange flecks end up everywhere.  I do mean everywhere.

Verdict (carrot salad):  This is quite good, if a trifle acidic for my tastes.  It's simple, maybe too simple - feels like it needs something else.  I will probably try it again, but add another component.

Next, I prepped the patties and discovered that - gee, huzzah! - my spice grinder is pretty much permanently out of commission.  Word of advice for any of you who own one:  do not, under any circumstances, run almonds through it.  You will end up with paste, which will lodge itself inside the grinder, and at least with mine, there is no perceptible way to remove it.  I was relieved to find that I did not have the visceral headache reaction to the mint that I did the last time I cooked with it.

The mixture tends to ball up in the food processor, requiring the judicious use of spatula shifting.  Once out of the processor and into a bowl of its own, a quarter cup of chickpea flour turned out to be a surprising amount - just enough to bind it together.

Next, sauted the leek with the ginger, then added the bulk of the ingredients and fried it until the chicken cooked.  I remembered from last time that if you don't let the mixture cool sufficiently, it will cause problems in the blender; ended up using the food processor anyhow, but I was still cautious with it.

While the soup was coming to its final boil, I fried the pea-lafels.  They fried up what I thought was too quickly, but in hindsight, I may not have let them cook appropriately - the outsides were dark and crisp, but the insides were a trifle mushier than I wanted.  Next time, I'm going to try smaller balls, maybe go for 14 - 15 instead of the eleven I got.

Verdict (soup):  This is really a tasty and nuanced soup, with the almond prominent and the chicken noticeable even though it's only a flavoring.  I'll be happy to provide the recipe for anyone who might be interested.  My only objection is that it's so smooth that it's a bit boring to eat, as far as mouth-feel.

Verdict (pea-lafels):  Slightly underdone / too large or not, these are wonderful.  They taste a lot like their namesakes, but with the distinct sweetness of pea and just a hint of mint.  Love 'em.  Wish I had a double batch.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 9/29

This weekend, I'm delving into a trio of dishes, ice cream made with some of the best candy in the world, and - because I bought a digital candy thermometer and I've been bound and determined to do this for days, darnit - homemade marshmallows.  Flavored with liquor.  Alcohol.  Booze, yo.

The soup I've made before; all else is new.

Chicken & Almond Soup - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
The Rainbow Room's Carrot and Peanut Salad - Forever Summer (Nigella Lawson)
Fried Pea and Mint Patty Sandwiches:  Pea-lafels
Dime Bar Ice Cream - Forever Summer (Nigella Lawson)
Marshmallows - Lisa Cooper-Holmes

The marshmallow recipe was acquired from a cooking class I took recently.  I'm intending to flavor them with chambord.  According to the instructor, this recipe is easier than other variants, so I'm pretty confident.

I am also ridiculously excited about the fact that I need both egg yolks and egg whites, so that means I get to use the leavings from the ice cream, for a change.

Variants and substitutions:

According to the almighty Google, Dime / Daim bars are most closely approximated to Skor bars, which if you haven't encountered, are really wonderful things.  Single cream is not available in my store, so I've gone for regular cream.  Also could not acquire coriander seeds, so will be using ground.

By choice, I omitted the pitas and additional vegetables - I didn't want sandwiches, just patties to go as a side dish.

(As an aside:  I have been cooking since my last set of posts, just way too worn out / busy to write here.  Plus, it was beginning to feel like a chore ... and if I'm not doing it for fun, why am I doing it?  But I'm back, and we'll see how it goes.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Organized!

Excuse me while I wax OCD ...

My habit for cooking has been, whenever I browse a book or see a recipe on a show that interests me, or obsessively trawl the internet for cupcakes or ice cream, or have a random encounter with a harp student with a slow cooker ... or am visited by telepathic cooking gnomes ...

No, scratch that.

I print off or photocopy the recipe and stick it in a file - Meal, Side / Snack, Bread or Dessert.  Once I actually make something and decide it's worth keeping, it goes into another file with the same labels.  All of this, stored in a basket, held up by a bookend, tucked away in my office.  But the folders were splitting, their sheer quantity made it hard to find specific recipes, and the papers were beginning to get bent out of shape like neglected toddlers ... it was time for a change.

Commence an extensive process of digging up spiral folders, purchasing an insane number of writeable dividers with tabs, and then even more dividers ... and then after shuffling, sorting and labeling, I ended up with eight notebooks with labeled segments.

I tried to avoid being too granular; I also focused on categories that catered to the way I look for what I want to make. Which is why "Cookies and Bars" are the same division, but "Italian" is divided into "Pasta" and "Other."  I was, on the other hand, extremely amused that I had enough Sides that fell into "Cheese."

I guess I'm just that cheesy.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sinfully Good

Yesterday was an easy day in the kitchen - the menu was straightforward with only a few hitches.  I started with the ice cream, since it had multiple sit-and-rest portions ... and after all, life is uncertain:  make dessert first.

The strawberries macerate (what a great word!) in kirsch or, in my case, chambord, and sugar for about an hour.  (Interesting:  Firefox spellchecker does not recognize chambord, but does have kirsch.)  Then, blending with sour cream, heavy cream and a bit of lemon juice before into the fridge.

Before, I stated that I had forgotten to increase the quantity.  That turned out to be unnecessary here; however, the recipe did state that it made an extra quarter quart, so my jury is still out about the quantitative accuracy of The Perfect Scoop.

Final verdict (ice cream):  This is crazy, sinfully good - sweet and tart in the perfect proportions, not overwhelming on the fruit.  The texture is excellent, too - often, I find homemade ice creams tend to overfreeze, but not this one.

Next step, baked and chopped the sweet potatoes for the chicken bake ... then realized I had no bananas.  I rushed out and managed to get back in due enough time to finish the whole meal.  It's real quite simple:  apart from the bananas, the sweet potatoes and almonds, nothing else needed to be chopped.  I did manage to spray crushed pineapple all over myself, however.

I don't think I browned the chicken enough before the oven step, because it came out underdone and I ended up putting it back in, but that was a minor point.

Final verdict (chicken):  This is nothing special, but it's tasty, dead easy, and the cooked fruit "salad" that it's baked in is also enjoyable.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 5/26

I did cook last weekend, but I was just too wiped out in general to try writing a post.  I spent most of the previous week sick as a dog, which was much helped by the fact that I had baked a comforting gingerbread cake from Claire MacDonald's Seasonal Cooking.  Everything I've made from this book has been simple and excellent.  The gingerbread recipe had to recommend it the use of golden raisins and preserved ginger - which as I have noted previously, I am (more than slightly) obsessed with.

To sum up last weekend, I made a pair of Hawaiian (I believe) recipes from Cook's Country, Captain's Chicken and a Hawaiian Pasta Salad, both of which were excellent - subtle differences from more mainstream recipes.  The chicken in particular was very good:  I scarfed up the topping / vegetable medley, and I usually tolerate that stuff at best.  I also made pistachio macaroons courtesy of Nigella Lawson, which was a major quantity and texture fail - but also produced an insane pistachio buttercream.  I'm tempted to make more of the stuff now and just eat it by the spoonful.


For this week, I still have leftover pasta salad, so I sought a recipe that would go well with it.


Tropical Chicken Bake - Taste of Home's Casserole Cookbook
Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream - The Perfect Scoop (David Lebovitz)


Unfortunately, I forgot until after I shopped that I had decided to increase the quantity from this book, so we'll just have to see how much I end up with.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Perfect Scoop

I recently purchased an ice cream book called The Perfect Scoop (Lebovitz, Hata), a fantastic tome largely containing a large selection, primarily of unusual and unique flavors, such as apricot and pistachio, black pepper, pear and pecorino ... along with some basic staples.  So far, I've made two batches from this book:  a blueberry frozen yogurt and ginger ice cream.

The blueberry frozen yogurt was excellent, great depth of flavor - but more icy and less yogurt-y than I would have expected.  The ginger ice cream was too subtle for my tastes - I would either steep it longer or use more ginger.  Both batches, however, were a bit stingy for my ice cream maker, so I would increase the quantity of my next attempt from this book.


More later ...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Scottish Cooking

I didn't take a break between dessert and dinner last night because I had a gig in the evening and wanted to make sure I was finished and had eaten before I needed to leave.  Afterwards, went out with a small group, grabbed dessert, chattered - was tired, but had a lot of fun.

Back to the cooking, I started with the pavlova.  Now, we don't got no caster sugar here in the States (that I know of), so I do what I usually do:  use the Oskar (mini food processor) to process the sugar, but not as far as powdered sugar.  I used my electric whisk to beat the eggs, which made the process much faster but nearly got egg all over the kitchen.  Why does the whisk only have one speed, which is "hyper-acceleration?"  The mysteries of kitchen appliances ...

I folded in the cinnamon and cornflour, then mounded the pavlova on a silpat.  You're supposed to hollow it out - I did the best I could.  Despite following the directions to the letter, however, it "crisped" too much for the hollow to sink when I inverted it, so I will definitely be looking into hints, tips and other pavlova recipes.


I let this sit while I started on the next part ...


Mise en place - chopping, cutting, making sure that I had ingredients at hand.  Again, I could tell I had an Idaho potato because half of Idaho was on it.  The prep for the soup and the cheese tart were totally co-mingled - I had it planned so the tart wouldn't go into the oven until the soup was well underway.  It was perfectly timed - triumph!


The cheese tart really was as easy as advertised:  whizzing up ingredients in the food processor and then dumping them into the partially cooked tart shell.  Probably the worst part was getting the white off the brie.  Amusingly, both recipes required a sprinkle of parsley to finish ... but the parsley isn't really necessary and serves as garnish and color.  So I suppose I could have used my cilantro ...


I did make one fairly major substitute with the soup:  I managed to miss that it wanted coriander seeds (whole), not ground coriander, and I didn't have the former on hand.  So I didn't need to strain the end result, merely blend it.  It was just a bit too much soup for one pass through the blender, so I ended up having to run it in two batches.


Meanwhile!  Whipped up the cream ... spun it all over the kitchen again ... this whisk, why does it not have a slow speed?  Added sugar, raspberries, and plopped gleefully all over the pavlova.  Done.  Bliss.

Final verdict (pavlova):  Despite issues of physical construct, this was wonderful - crisp, light but intense, sweet fruit ... simple but worth it.

Final verdict (soup):  A very good, flavorful soup.  Simple enough I would make again.

Final verdict (cheese tart):  This was advertised as very rich, and it certainly trends to the heavy, but I didn't find it overwhelming, and it has some subtle kick to it.  Quite enjoyable.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 4/14

All of the recipes for this weekend are from Seasonal Cooking by Claire MacDonald of MacDonald.  I went through it while I was feeling under the weather the past few days.  Not even my cookbook, actually, though I purchased it:  it was a gift for my mother that ended up staying here, instead.  Of course, she is welcome to have it back ...

Carrot & Coriander Soup
Mixed Cheese Tart
Cinnamon Pavlova with Raspberries & Cream

Yes, I am going to attempt a pavlova.  Clearly, I am inviting disaster.  Disaster need not RSVP.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Spice Must Flow

How big of a geek does it make me that this was the first title that occurred to me when I decided I needed to reference the spiciness of my meal somehow?

I started with the Smore Pizza.  I used two Pillsbury pizza crusts, which come in the thin tubes - and of course, with both, I was so ginger unraveling it that I had to pop the seam with the spoon.  I am so paranoid about these things blowing up in my hand.  This turned out to be the perfect amount of dough, though it's square rather than round.  If I made this recipe again, I wouldn't attempt to round it off (which I did here) - though it did make a convenient rim to hold all the ingredients on the pizza.

The cornmeal isn't necessary, or at least I didn't use it:  it's just an element to aid getting the pizza on the stone.  There seems to be a tremendous amount of graham in proportion to the melted butter, but when tossed into the pan, it seems to be just right.  Don't let the pan sit on the stove - it starts to burn almost immediately if not stirred through the three minute coking time.

I used a Ghiradelli chocolate bar and expected it to be too bitter, considering there's no other intrinsic sweetness added, but it seemed to be just right.  Broke it up into pieces over each pizza before slotting it into the oven.

The main difficulty with this recipe was getting the cooked pizza off the stone so I could prepare the second one ...

Final verdict (pizza):  This is amazingly good:  sweet, satisfying, and distinctly spicy with the cayenne and chili powder.  My only complaint is the graham topping rips up the roof of your mouth something terrible.  I recommend this as a group / party dish, as it's not quite as good warmed up.

Next, and a couple hours later, I started the mise en place for the two Indian dishes.  This involved a lot of peeling, chopping and boiling potatoes.  Had some trouble with the potatoes:  I boiled them, and they still didn't soften them all way!  Unfortunately, the skins came off when I handled them, and I was afraid they'd just disintegrate if I put them back in water, so I microwaved them for a bit.  Success! ... mostly.

The bean curry required asafoetida, which after it completely stunk up my pantry, I had wrapped in multiple plastic bags, in a plastic bottle, in the freezer.  This meant getting to it was an exercise in itself.  I was sort of terrified of the stuff.  When I was done, it went right back into the freezer.

(As an aside - used green cardamom rather than brown, seeing as I didn't want to spend eight bucks to get more spices to somehow find a place to keep ... and the grammar in that sentence needs to be taken out and shot.)

I did make one mistake in preparing the shepherd's pie:  I missed the line about when to add the spices, and they got in late, so they might not have melded quite as much.  Also, I found that the mixture didn't boil off as much as I had anticipated, and I wished I had used a slightly larger dish (9x9 glass was what I chose).  It ended up somewhat soupy and nearly over the edge.

While the pie baked, I entered the bean curry preparation in earnest.  I used the same pan and burner, which meant the mustard seeds had a blast bouncing all over the place while I frantically introduced the curry leaves.  (Curry leaves, this is mustard seeds.  Mustard seeds, this is curry leaves.  You all have fun now.)  Curry leaves really are interesting little critters.  They have a smoky smell I still haven't figured out how it can originate from an organic plant.

The curry simmers with the coconut milk and then with the beans and tomatoes.  I possibly should have mashed more of the beans to make a thicker curry, but I was quite satisfied with the results, regardless.  I got a bit over-enthusiastic with the tamarind paste, but the tartness is really to my taste.  I wouldn't mind more recipes using it.  Great stuff.

For once, everything went precisely as timed and was ready at exactly the same time.  Perfect planning.

Final verdict (shepherd's pie):  Thick, hearty - maybe a bit too soupy, but definitely worth trying again.  It's spicy enough, though not as deep as I had anticipated ... but I suspect that might have something to do with my introducing the spices a bit too late.

Final verdict (bean curry):  Absolutely addictive - subtly sweet, rich, subtle, the tang of coconut ... I wish I had made twice as much.  I could live on this.  Truly good.  I even enjoyed the tomatoes, and I'm not a tomato person.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 4/7

No gigs this weekend, much less a long evening, so I can cook again!  This week is Indian plus ... hey, I have a pizza stone:

Indian Shepherd's Pie - Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Cannellini Bean Curry - Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Smore Pizza

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sweet Treat for 3/31

I didn't have time to cook this weekend, but I did make a batch of ice cream which I thoroughly enjoyed and is highly recommended:  


Eyeballing the quantities, I decided to cut it down by a third - making this Six Twos Ice Cream, I suppose.  This turned out to be just a little too much for my ice cream maker, leaving a little splash left over.

The only comment I would have is to mash the bananas very thoroughly:  mine stayed a little chunky, which was exacerbated by the freezing process.  This is not unpleasant, but it does change the consistency of the ice cream.

This is a very good ice cream, nebulously citrus in taste without being overwhelmingly acidic.  The bananas add additional creaminess.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ice Ice Baby

So when you're up until 4:30am and you have not just one, not two, but three portions of your meal that require extensive time in specialty cooking devices ... you awake rather frantically and hope to begin cooking in time.

Luckily, nothing really required extensive prep-work, so I was able to jump in quickly. I ran into my first puzzlement with the parsnips for the soup: were they supposed to be peeled? Deciding that it looked visually like a carrot and after a quick search on Google, I decided to go with yes. I also realized the chicken stock needed to boil, so I started on that before chopping the ingredients.

Everything went into the slow cooker for the first hour while I turned to the bread machine. By now, I was starting to wonder if I was going to run out of counter space for the gadgets. Since the machine directions don't specify, I figured the non-water liquid - extracts, vegetable oil and yellow food coloring - went in with the water. This turned out well enough, so I must have made the right choice.

Final verdict (bread): This is a very good, serviceable poppy seed bread. Perfect amount of seeds and other flavor. Want the recipe, poke me.

Next, I started on the sorbet, which meant boiling and then simmering a mixture of the non-juice elements on the stove. At this point, I noticed that the mixture didn't go directly into the ice cream maker, but had to chill for three hours first. Well, at least, thinks I - more counter space! I discovered that a single lemon was not enough for a third of a cup of juice (I was surprised, because the lemon, it was massive), but luckily, I had a squeeze bottle at hand. Then in hand. Either/or.

Final verdict (sorbet): This freezes up fast after hitting the ice cream maker, and it is unbelievably good. I don't credit the reviewer who said it was too sweet - the lime and ginger balance it out with an addictive tartness.

After an hour, one is supposed to skim the scum off the soup. I opened the slow cooker and stared suspiciously. No scum. I poked around anyway, gave up, then returned the soup to its resting place for the next three hours. Chop the chicken, stir in the herbs and ... start on the matzoh balls.

This step was far easier than I had expected. The meal is simple, mixes easily, and chills fast. Once introduced to boiling water (hi, boiling water: meet knaidlach) and reduced to a simmer, it's merely a matter of wandering away for fifteen to twenty minutes, then removing them to the soup bowl. Voila.

Final verdict (chicken soup): I haven't been too impressed with recipes from this book, but this one was a pleasant surprise. The soup is simple but hearty with just the right herby tang. The knaidlach / matzoh balls are springy, filling and just avoid being gooey - though I'm sure they could be improved. Recommended.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 3/24

It's summer! (No, really, it is. Never mind the calendar.) So I intend to spend the next several months making an awful lot of ice cream, sorbet and possibly sherbet.

True story here: this set of recipes marks the first time I've ever bought a parsnip. I had to ask the clerk where they were. At least this is tamer than some of the questions I've asked.

Here's what I'm making:

Chicken Soup with Knaidlach -
Best-Ever Slow Cooker One-pot & Casserole Cookbook (Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood)
Poppy Seed Bread - unknown (little yellow card)
Orange, Mango and Ginger Sorbet

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Menu Plan and Execution: Weekend of 3/10

I didn't get my menu posted ahead of time, so decided to simply incorporate it in the results post. The lineup was:

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
Raspberry & Cottage Cheese Muffins - The Cupcake Calendar
Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

When I got back from my performance Saturday, I slowly wandered around to the ice cream - and was startled by two facts: one, that the base doesn't cook; and two, that you don't freeze the entire portion in the ice cream maker before introducing it to the freezer. (Freezer, meet ice cream. Ice cream, meet freezer. You two play nice.) So all the preparation work is in combining ingredients: cooking the blueberries, baking the graham crust, and finally mixing the copious base.

A 9x13 pan proved to be just barely big enough to contain all the ingredients. The instructions say to layer, but this is deceptive: there isn't enough of each component to create a full layer. The takeaway is that you end up dolloping it in batches on top of itself, then finally swirl together. Into the freezer ...

Final verdict (ice cream): I was worried this would freeze solid, but it maintains a nice, chunky consistency - maybe a bit more icy than standard ice cream, but broken up by the generous portions of blueberry and graham cracker. It is rich, creamy and addictive. Recommended.

Next, I started on the muffins. This is a very simple mix: wet ingredients beat with a mix, then dry added until not quite mixed, and finally raspberries folded in. This is the second time I've tried a raspberry-related recipe from this calendar and the first one was mediocre, so I was a bit gun-shy. This time, the quantity was better, but I still had a little left over after filling the pan almost to the brim.

One final mishap of note: I turned this muffin pan and smacked the back of it to get the muffins to come out. Having air-holes in them from the raspberries, they semi-collapsed, so I ended up with a batch of very lopsided muffins.

Final verdict (muffins): Cosmetic issues notwithstanding, the cottage cheese made these very moist, and there's just enough sugar to be sweet without reaching into cloying. Definitely will put this recipe aside to make again.

While the muffins baked, I started on the carbonara. I wasn't able to find pancetta, so I settled for - of all things - applewood smoked bacon. It cooked up swiftly, regardless, and it took me only a moment to shred the leftover pecorino cheese. At this point, I have so much cheese in my cheese-keeper, I swear I should start picking recipes with the express purpose of using it up. Anyhow ...

I had chosen to use my medium pasta pot, which turned out to be less than wise, as it was almost too small for the spaghetti. Regardless, it boiled up nicely as I whisked the eggs and cheese. I put a ton of black pepper in - but apparently not enough, to judge by the final product ...

I will admit that when I transferred the egg mixture to the skillet with the pasta, I underestimated how quickly it would start to cook. I stirred frantically, never quite ending up with a cream sauce, but getting close enough that I called it a meal.

Final verdict (carbonara): Even allowing for the foul-up with the eggs, I wasn't too wild about this. It's too mild and not particularly flavorful. I am interested in trying this sort of meal again, but not this particular recipe.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Two Hours?

This week was another involved menu, with several steps, and this time a conflict of oven usage - which I solved by finishing up the bread first and then moving on to the main course. Other unanticipated problems reared their obnoxious heads, however ...

First, however, the brownies. (Life is, as ever, uncertain: make dessert first.) It's a straightforward recipe: prepare filling and batter separately, then pour half of the latter into the waiting pan. As usual, I have trouble detecting half, so I would say I ended up with two thirds. Then the cream cheese filling goes on top and jam is dolloped, then swirled in with a knife. Deceptively simple and straightforward, but produces nice layering.

My only mishap here was overestimating the timing, and I blame that on the recipe, which stated that they were done when a few "dry crumbs" stuck to a toothpick. At no point did I have dry crumbs, and from the bottom, I could tell I had burnt these. Take the bottom off before eating and no harm, no foul, however.

Final verdict (brownies): The recipe description says these are rich and truffle-like. I wouldn't go that far, but they are definitely chewy, creamy and delicious. Would make again, possibly with a different kind of jam, just to experiment. Blueberry leaps to mind, for some reason.

Next, I started the pot with the beans, which said they needed to simmer for two hours before being mashed. I foolishly decided to trust in this ...

Onwards to the cornbread, wherein I ended up with a new, entertaining mishap. I cracked four eggs into a ramekin, only to discover that four eggs do not, in fact, quite fit in your average one cup ramekin. Having sloshed some whites onto the floor, I cracked a fifth egg to roughly compensate for it - no yolk, of course. (No joke, either.)

This makes a very thick batter, which pours atop the onion and broccoli mixture and then bakes in the oven. However ...

Final verdict (cornbread): The cornbread and cheddar part of this was wonderful; the broccoli, not so much. It just stuck to the bottom of the skillet and burned - and burned fast enough, while the top was perfectly done, that I know it wasn't a cooking error. I would remake either without the vegetables or mixed in, rather than simply batter poured on top.

Last step, the enchiladas - where I had decided, as the sidebar recommended, to use ground beef rather than pinto beans (since the fried beans were pinto). I'm still a bit put off by tomato sauce, but there's a lean portion here - in fact, arguably not enough for the number of enchiladas that result. I also increased the mealy portion of cheese. The filling is dead simple but hearty: meat / beans, ricotta, bell pepper, cumin and a little cilantro.

That said, these enchiladas are definitely not finger food. They're too limp and precarious to risk picking up in the hand, unless you're resigned to getting messy.

Final verdict (enchiladas): Though simple, this is a surprisingly good and light take on traditional enchiladas. They're not fatty or heavy, and they satisfy.

So about those beans - while the enchiladas waited to go in the oven, I checked on my beans at an hour and fifty minutes ... and they weren't even close to cooked. I cranked the heat up on the pot and gave them another vaguely agitated twenty-some minutes before finally, I had the texture I thought I wanted. I mashed them with a potato masher while the chorizo finished frying up in the pan. Out comes the meat, in goes the dried chili ... and then finally, everything returns to the pan to be fried up with handfuls of cheese stirred in. As it happens, I saved exactly the right amount of bean liquid to get a good consistency.

Final verdict (beans): I wasn't wholly pleased with these - there was an acrid aftertaste - but I think it was my mishap rather than the recipe, and it was ultimately very straightforward. Would try again, possibly with a different kind of chili powder ...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 3/3

This week, Mexican! ... and raspberries. (Again.) I'm hoping they will be better than last week's raspberries. I am vaguely tempted to try it with blueberries instead, but it's a brand new recipe, so - next time. But speaking of not-raspberries:

South-of-the-Border Enchiladas - ? unknown Betty Crocker cookbook
Sonoran Fried Beans with Chorizo and Cheese - Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen (Rick Bayless)
Broccoli Cheddar Cornbread
Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies - Cook's Country, August / September 2009

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lack of Range

I knew I had a lot of things to get up and get going, and that they needed to be done at particular times so I'd have dinner. I started - of course - with dessert. Life is uncertain: make it first. In this case, because it was ice cream that needed to freeze.

I was a bit dubious about this recipe, as it was the first ice cream I'd encountered in a while where you simply mix the ingredient upfront, rather than warming the dairy, tempering the eggs, and then mixing them in. I decided to go with it as written on the possibility that the use of cake batter might change the consistency rules. Still not sure whether that was the right choice or not, as I did get a few pieces of cooked egg - which didn't affect the product in the slightest.

Final verdict (ice cream): Reviewers who said this really does rival Coldstone Creamery's take aren't kidding. For something so simple, this is amazingly good - and unlike other ice creams I've made, the ingredient proportions were perfect. Highly recommended.

Next, started on the muffins - which, ironically, is the first recipe I'm making from my cupcake calendar. I had high hopes for this, with lots of buttermilk, coffee, and pine nuts ... what could go wrong? This recipe starts with a quick preparation of a tiny bit of coffee with milk, which is added to beaten eggs and buttermilk and ... guess what? The recipe gives no clue as to where the butter is supposed to go. So I took my best stab that it would probably go in with these ingredients.

Failure of quantity: the recipe claimed a dozen muffins, but by the time I had filled my waiting pan (I had chosen to use cupcake liners rather than grease the pan), I still had a good third of the mixture left. Dug out a second cupcake pan, had no more liners, and decided to go for greasing these. Interestingly, while the taste was identical, the ones done in the greased pan were a good half inch shorter. I know my liners weren't that thick.

Final verdict (muffins): These were just so-so. They are moist and mild flavored, but they just didn't grab me. Toasting the pine nuts might have improved it, but not that much.

Dual mise en place for the bow ties and minestrone - a small amount of chopping, grating and gathering of ingredients so I didn't have to go flying about the kitchen. Unfortunately, I missed one crucial step: I forgot to count the number of burners needed. When you need a dutch oven, a pasta pot, and a large skillet at the time ... something's got to give. In this case, what "gave" is that I finished the pasta entire and did the skillet step - which was really fairly fast - on the same burner ... but before that, I had to squeeze a smaller skillet onto the burner behind the pasta pot. Dangerous actions.

Set myself behind schedule-wise because I turned on the wrong burner for the dutch oven, but once I got it going, it cooked up quite fast. I found that, with the exception of the vegetables (for obvious reasons), the other steps went faster than advertised. I flipped the burner down to low and left the soup for a bit longer.

The pasta could not have been simpler, either: aforementioned mini-skillet for the shallots and thyme, and then the large skillet to heat the milk, melt the cheese, and meld it all together.

Final verdict (soup): Rich, hearty, not overpowering on the tomato, with just enough broth to be soupy and enough flavor to satisfy. I can still count on one hand the number of Giada's recipes that have left me wanting, honestly!

Final verdict (bow ties): Sharp and tangy, this is a great recipe for a side dish. For a main dish, I would want a protein. Recommended - chicken.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 2/25

My menu this weekend is rather extensive, so I am going to have to space my timing out just so. I haven't made ice cream in an eon, and though - ironically - it snowed today, I want to get back to my favorite past-time. (Actually, the last time was not recorded, cinnamon ice cream over Christmas. Amazing stuff.) As to the whole menu:

Bow Ties with Warm Blue Cheese Sauce - Quick Fix Meals (Robin Miller)
Beef and Cannellini Bean Minestrone
Raspberry & Coffee Muffins - The Cupcake Calendar
Cake Batter Ice Cream

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Say Cheese!

As is more typical with my cookery, I started with dessert - the sour cream chocolate cake. Seeing as the last time I made a two-layer cake like this, I forgot to grease-and-paper the pans not once, but twice, that was my very first step. After blending the dry ingredients together, I discovered how difficult it was to whisk cocoa powder, egg, vanilla and sour cream without spraying the former all over the kitchen. The goopy mixture that resulted, however, poured easily into the dry mixture. I was dubious I had enough batter - it called for eight inch rounds, and I only own nines - but even though the batter barely seemed to fill the bottoms of the pans, it swelled up nicely in cooking.

Next, started on the frosting - the first time I've used sour cream in such. As usual, my tactic with measuring vanilla extract is to pour the suggested amount and then casually splash over a bit more. You can never have too much. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what the "form a square outline with four strips of parchment paper and place cake over it" was supposed to do (hint: so you can remove them after the frosting has dried and not have a splattered plate), but once I worked it out, all was golden. Or chocolatey.

Final verdict (chocolate cake): This is a very moist, rich cake, with a distinct tang of sour cream. It's not my favorite thing I've made, but definitely worth another try.

The rest of my meal contained blissfully little mise en place, mostly grating some cheese. In fact, there was an awful lot of cheese involved: fontina, mozzarella, and parmigiano reggiano. Knowing I had to have both dishes ready to go right away - one required frying in hot oil, while the other consisted of multiple, relatively brief steps on the self-same stovetop - I formed the croquettes first, placed them on a baking sheet, then rolled up the scallopine.

I had bought a four pack of miniature wine bottles to use in the pan for the scallopine. After I removed the chicken from the pan and added the wine, I was left with a bit ... so I followed good ol' Italian advice: now would be a good time for the cook to have some wine. It was only a swallow, but hey. It proved rather hard to rotate the chicken to brown on all sides with the toothpicks in it, maybe because the ends stuck out.

The directions for the croquettes said to use extra virgin olive oil to fry in. Excuse me? How expensive is that a bottle? I don't think so. I compromised, used part EVOO, part canola oil. This might have been dimwitted. And ... I started the oil too early, had to turn it down and back up - because at 350 degrees, the croquettes fried up almost instantly. I made three too far ahead of time and set them aside as my Sunday warm-up portion, then finished the rest during the 5 - 7 minutes of final cook time on the chicken.

Warm, the scallopine didn't slice well, but I managed to fix myself up a portion without making too much of a hash of it. Well, not a hash at all, as potatoes were only involved in the other dish and they were not fused together, except in my stomach.

Final verdict (chicken): I should learn not to make stuffed / wrapped recipes; they don't come out too well, and this one was, alas, no exception. I thought it was kind of bland, without enough cheese and the sage showing up only in part of the portions.

Final verdict (croquettes): Wow - a perfect blend of crunchy exterior, then creamy potato, then melty cheese. So simple, but really good and definitely worth it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 2/18

This is the first weekend in a while I haven't been well under budget for food. I blame the chicken cutlets ... and the fontina ... and the wine ... all right, this was pretty much doomed to be a pricy week. And I forgot the sour cream - so back out later. Good grief.

In any case, a break from the cupcakes:

Chicken Scallopine with Sage and Fontina Cheese
Potato Croquette
Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Sour Cream Icing - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)

(Maybe the cupcakes were my secret to managing expenses? Food for thought.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Watched Butter Never Solidifies

Saturday morning ... ominous chord!

Got up and started the mise en place for the chicken vindaloo. It occurred to me that some of this might have been performed the night before - a thought for the future. I made sure to measure all the spices for the almighty spice fry portion of the preparation and had everything else close to hand. I used peanut oil rather than canola oil and decided to use a lot more cayenne. (To which I have only to say: don't.)

And yes, you heard that right: spice fry. This is a more authentic recipe than some quick-and-dirty variants I've tried, because you do cook the spices separately before they go into the slow cooker. I estimated on the bouillon, because I only had a jar of base, but I think it came out all right. Also realized that I had breasts rather than thighs or legs, I made a mental note to shred the meat just a little bit before it was due to come out.

Then I put the bread together, another easy process of eight ingredients in the right order. Unfortunately, bread machine fail: this card must have been referring to a different machine, because even though I added the raisins "at the beep," all but a few rotated to the outer edge and, of course, cooked to a crisp there, while leaving the interior virtually raisin-free.

Final verdict (bread): This bread was subtly sweet and a good match for the curry, but too dense, and there's too many possible breads out there to waste time with one that needs tweaking. Will not be attempting again.

Final verdict (vindaloo): This is a hearty, simple and spicy dish with some authentic flair to it, without being too complex. Will definitely keep in my back pocket for future slow cooker needs - though given better timing, I'd rather make a "real" Indian dish.

After returning from my gig, I got started on the burnt-butter brown-sugar cupcakes. I discovered it wasn't too hard to burn the butter - though I may have underdone the first batch - and both that the taste was amazing and it was very difficult to strain out the sediment. Nigella's notes say that it "shouldn't take long" for the butter to resolidify - this is highly misleading. I had initially figured it would take me an hour for the whole recipe; after realizing that the butter was taking its time, I prepped the other dry ingredients in the food processor and got about the second batch of burnt butter.

The second batch, I managed to burn more fully (no, that's a good thing, really) and finally ended up putting the first batch in the fridge for a bit. This finally did the trick and ... I had batter in a flash. I only got nine cupcakes out of it, however, which meant that when I tackled the frosting, I improvised. I ended up using less than the suggested quantity of powdered sugar and still ended up with something gooey and perfect.

Final verdict (cupcake): So crazy, madly, addictively good. I loved these - the smokiness of the burnt butter is wonderful. I will definitely be making these again. In fact, I still have enough butter, so I'm almost tempted to ... no, Lindsey, bad!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Menu Plan: Weekend of 2/11

I approach this with some trepidation, as I'm not sure of my timing before I leave for an afternoon gig ... but I can only cross my fingers and hope I manage in time and don't show up with curry all over my shirt:

Not-Too-Spicy Chicken Vindaloo - unknown magazine (First For Women, maybe?)
Sweet Raisin Bread
Burnt-Butter Brown-Sugar Cupcakes - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Quantity Overkill

Cooked again this weekend with the following menu:

Slow Cooker Creamy Potato Soup - Allrecipes Tried & True Slow Cooker & Casserole
Apple Chunk Bread

(I also had cupcakes pulled from the fabulous Nigella Lawson's baking book, but came to my senses when I saw how much I had left over from last week. Also, I had a sickcrash after I got back from rehearsal, so baking would have been out of the question anyway.)

I underestimated how long it would take me to peel and dice five potatoes. Five? Really? Watching the number of potatoes build up, I began to have ... qualms. Soldiering onwards, I did my best to cut the bacon into the appropriate sized pieces. Are there special bacon knives? I can never seem to get it to cut properly.

As a sidebar, I did decide to use regular black pepper rather than white and - of course, a habit picked up from my mother - chicken stock rather than broth. When I poured the original amount in, I was stunned at how full the slow cooker turned out to be. It wasn't until later that I considered I would have to add more and worried about how that was going to work ... but luckily, the level of liquid had soaked into the potatoes by then.

Not much to impart about the bread, except I managed to cut the apple before I peeled it (again). My recipe is a file card with corrections penned in, and I can't tell which are supposed to be corrections and which additions, so mileage may have varied on this one. I had to hang around a little bit more before taking off for rehearsal because I forgot I'd have to add apple during the first kneading cycle and at the beep!

Final verdict (bread): Not bad, but nothing exceptional. It's a little dense, without being too much so. The apples don't really stand out. Won't repeat.

I came back from my rehearsal, fell asleep for a bit, then wobbled back downstairs to finish the soup. The final step is to add flour whisked with half and half, then evaporated milk (why do they call it evaporated? It looks plenty liquid to me; must look that up), which results in a nigh-overflowing slow cooker. So by the time I was ready to eat, it was a little past 7pm.

Final verdict (soup): This is a decent, hearty soup that makes hardcore quantities (minus what I ate, I had to put it in *two* storage containers), but it isn't particularly flavorful or exceptional.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Back in the Saddle

There was a lot of cooking (and baking!) over Christmas, but I just didn't have the time or energy to post about it. Suffice to say, it was an enjoyable time - with a lot of old favorites and new triumphs. I particularly recommend Alex Guarnaschelli's gingerbread cookies. The citrus adds a subtle but really addictive note.

After a few weeks of dieting, I decided to cook again this weekend. Was too harried and busy Friday to post my meal plan, so here it is:

Chicken and Potato Stew - Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Honey Wheat Bread - unknown (little pink postcard. No, really)
Espresso Dark Brownie Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Fudge Frosting

Also had no time to get to the Indian grocer, so I wasn't able to get the authentic thin green chilis. Used jalapenos instead - knew serranos would be way too hot - so I was prepared for the overall stew coming out spicier than intended. I highly recommend Anjum's book, by the way: I haven't had a dud yet, and even though the more exotic ingredients need a specialty store to find, it's definitely been worth it. These are not burn-your-mouth Indian dishes; they're deep and flavorful.

In any case, the bread was a machine affair, so not much to relate, except the fact that of course, I messed up putting the egg in and sort of ended up pushing it down into the corner. This turned out to be a massive loaf; I was concerned it was going to bust out of the machine and take over Manhattan.

Final verdict (bread): Quantity leaves a teeny bit of the top unbaked, but not enough to ruin it. This is a hearty but fluffy bread. The raisins and shredded carrot add a lot of depth. Recipe available upon request.

Made the brownies next. I was concerned about the use of unsweetened chocolate, but the vast amounts of brown sugar provided the perfect balance. Simple prep, though the chocolate took a long time to cool, and I wasn't able to discern when the cupcakes reached golden, so I had to guess - and I think I guessed a little over. Also note that I didn't have Dutch-process cocoa powder, so ended up using traditional Hershey's.

The peanut butter frosting whipped up simply into a thick, nearly-unspreadable mixture that had to be manhandled onto the cupcakes. It's rich - I could easily see halving the amount for the same number of cupcakes.

Final verdict (cupcakes): These are very dense and chewy - definitely brownies in a cupcake form. Though rich and intense, borderline overwhelming, they are also very good. Recommended.

Alas that I missed that the stew required bone-in chicken, but I decided to follow the backup advice by using stock in its stead. First step was to fry the cinnamon stick, then add onions and chili ... followed follow by ginger-garlic paste. By now, I've become something of an old hand at this method of frying the spice / sauce either first or separately. I also had the sense - for a change - to measure out the other spices while the chicken browned a bit.

However, I realized as I inserted the potato chunks and then eyed the sheer quantity in the pan ... the recipe had called for a saucepan. So filling the pan with water nearly caused mad overflow. This was when I was glad of a nifty Christmas gift: a universal lid. (It is a sad, sad commentary that I was excited by this.) And with that lid on, the recipe cooked up perfectly, though I had some trouble mixing in the final ingredients.

To my tongue, you can't taste the tamarind paste, so this could possibly be made without ... but perhaps it's just that I don't know what the taste is to look for it, and-or that it didn't get wholly incorporated.

Final verdict (stew): Hearty, but not heavy, tender and spicy, this is a wonderful cold winter soup. No cornstarch needed - a piece of the potatoes, mashed, serves for thickener. Excellent when mopped up with bread, too.