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.