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