Sunday, May 31, 2009
Frozen scallops - who knew they were controversial? Was trying to find out how to thaw them, and discovered that apparently a guy got chucked off Top Chef last year for using them. Oh well, this is really the opposite of Top Chef here. (Bottom Chef? Um, actually, let's not go there...) So I'm not worrying about it.
What I did worry about was giving us food poisoning by thawing them incorrectly. Anyhoo, chowhound and others suggested putting them in a plastic bag under cold running water for approx. 15 mins. Then you don't rinse them, just pat them dry. Apparently if you rinse them all the flavor goes down the drain too. So that's what I did, with no ill effects so far.
The Recipe: Spicy Cioppino
From Eating Well.
We didn't have any hot paprika, just the regular kind, so followed a suggestion from the interwebs and used some red pepper flakes too. Now, the slightly annoying thing is that the recipe says to add the paprika "to taste," but you have to put it in before it's physically possible to taste it. Hmm.
Anyway, it turned out super paprika-y. And since both tilapia and scallops have gentle flavors, I felt this was a bit of a problem. But maybe I did something wrong. Haven't cooked with paprika before, in fact didn't think of it as having much of a flavor, so didn't know what to expect. Suggestions gratefully received.
But it was perfectly edible, we ate it with some nice bread to soak up the juices. And I did manage not to overcook the scallops.
Thawing the scallops:
It did look nice in the evening sun:
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The Recipe: Summertime Tagliarini
From Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook by Jamie Oliver
- 4 oz pinenuts
- juice and zest of 2 lemons
- large bunch of fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, leaves picked, half finely chopped and half left whole [actually, half left whole is a bit much, since it's just for sprinkling - I did about a third or a quarter]
- 1 cup minus 1 tbspn extra virgin olive oil [seems like a lot of olive oil - see Thoughts below]
- 5.5 oz Parmesan, freshly grated, plus extra for shaving
- 1.75 oz pecorino, freshly grated [presumably he means Romano, we didn't have any, so used all Parmesan]
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1lb 2 oz good-quality tagliarini or tagliatelle [an enormous amount, adjust as you see fit]
1. Blend half the pinenuts to a paste, then put into a big heatproof bowl with the rest of the whole pinenuts, the lemon juice and zest, the finely chopped parsley, and olive oil. Stir and add the Parmesan and pecorino. Season with some freshly ground black pepper. Taste, and adjust as needed.
Jamie says: What you should have now is a reasonably thick sauce, which you should think of more as a dressing, so taste it and think about how the different flavors are coming through. Balance the flavors so you end up with something quite zingy because, as the sauce heats up and the cheese melts, the lemon flavor will calm down a lot.
2. Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Sit the sauce bowl on top of the pan while the water is heating up - this will take the chill out of the sauce and warm it up slightly. When the water starts to boil, remove the bowl and add the pasta to the water. Cook according to package instructions, then drain, reserving a little of the cooking water.
3. Toss the pasta with the sauce and some of the reserved cooking water to loosen it up a bit. The heat from the pasta will melt the cheese, allowing the sauce to coat it. If you find the sauce is too thick add a little more water.
Jamie says: It's not supposed to be claggy, thick, and miserable, but incredibly silky, fresh, and fragrant.
4. Taste once more to balance then serve with a little extra Parmesan and a sprinkle of parsley leaves. Eat immediately.
Was very worried re the "claggy" scenario. Have had that experience before with pasta and cheese - a very early cooking attempt that resulted in something that ended up being called "A Pile of C**p With S**t On It." It is still fondly known as that, even though I've managed to make it since without turning it into a gluey lump. But this actually came out fine - the reserved pasta water is key.
The only thing is... I've recently started thinking about the taste of our (cheap) extra virgin olive oil, which seems very strong - not sure I like it. And there's a lot of oil in this recipe. It didn't come out oily, but the flavor of the oil seemed more obtrusive than maybe it should have been. Will try using less of it. Any EVOO recommendations gratefully received - I know nothing! Does the taste get stronger as the quality goes up? Or the opposite, like vodka?
PixWarming sauce (didn't have a heatproof bowl, so used this instead):
Looks like it would be "claggy," right?
Close-up - looks remarkably like the one in the book!
The Recipe: Seared Chicken with Apricot Sauce
From Eating Well.
We didn't have canola oil, so used olive oil instead. This was probably not good, as I think (correct me) that canola oil has a higher smoke point. And maybe my flame was too high. Anyhoo, by the time I'd done the second batch of chicken, there was some significant smokiness in our kitchen, and lots of black stuff in the pan. That really didn't look very tasty. So I switched to a different pan before the last lot of chicken was totally done, and managed to get a little bit of fond out of it. Not a total disaster.
Also, I dialed back the preserves a bit, thinking it might be too sweet. But those apricots were surprisingly tart! So would recommend sticking with what the recipe suggests.
There's fond... and there's soot...
Half-way through Step 3 (in fresh pan):
On plate (terrible pic, sorry!):
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
So here's a pea soup, a frozen pea soup, that tastes really fresh. Honestly, unless your garden is overflowing with the things, I can't imagine it would make sense to make soup with fresh peas anyway.
BTW, as well as her Virtual Bake Sale, which you can still support, I'll Eat You has some very sophisticated pea-fiteroles (such a cute name). Check them out!
The Recipe: Minted Pea Soup
From Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook: 200 Budget Meals, by Sunil Vijayakar
A book that my little sis gave me for Christmas - thanks J!
- 1 tbspn butter
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 potato, finely chopped
- 2.25 US pints (1 litre) vegetable stock
- 13 oz (400g) frozen peas
- 6 tbspn finely chopped mint leaves
- salt & freshly ground pepper
- creme fraiche (optional), to serve
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and potato, and cook for 5 mins. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 mins or until potato is tender.
2. Add the peas to the pan and cook for a further 3-4 mins. Season well with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, and stir in the mint. Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. Ladle into warmed bowls and top with a dollop of creme fraiche, if liked.
Thoughts/Tips/MistakesNothing comes to mind - this is just a lovely soup.
Adding the mint:
Like the splat on the side of the bowl? Sigh...
The Recipe: Seared Salmon with White Beans & Fennel
From Eating Well.
They said to remove the salmon from the heat for the second half of the cooking, but it really didn't seem to be getting done, so had to turn the heat back on. Maybe my pan wasn't hot enough or something. Apart from that it was easy enough.
Just to prove I did it, a bit gloomy.
End of step 1:
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Read a few recipes, but decided to go with Mr B., using some tips from a great post on Kitchen Wench.
The Recipe: Pizza
Based on How to Cook Everything (10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman (I can't recommend this book highly enough...)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tspns instant yeast [I used active dry, 2.25 tspns, which you need to activate first - the only tricky part]
- 2 tspns coarse kosher or sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbspns extra virgin olive oil
1. Combine flour, yeast (if using instant), and salt in large bowl. Add water (and activated active dry yeast, if using) and oil and stir to combine, until mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If dough is still dry, add another tbspn or two of water.
2. Turn dough onto floured working surface and knead for a few seconds to form a smooth round ball. [Mine wasn't expecially smooth, but it didn't seem to matter.] Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let rise until dough doubles in size, approx. 1-2 hrs. (You can cut the rising time short if you're in a hurry, or let it rise more slowly in the fridge, for up to 6 or 8 hrs.)
3. If you want, you can freeze the dough (or some of it) at this point. Just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or a freezer bag and freeze it for up to a month, then defrost to room temperature and continue with step 4.
4. When dough is ready, knead it lightly, form into a ball, and divide into 2 or more pieces, as needed [dough was very moist and floppy]. Roll each piece into a ball, and put onto a floured surface. Sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for about 30 mins while you heat the oven. [Tip from Kitchen Wench post: use cornmeal/polenta to flour the surface - this gave the finished pizza a really fabulous crunch.]
5. Put pizza stone on a lower rack if using [we don't have one], and heat oven to 500F or higher.
6. Roll or lightly press each dough ball into a flat round. Do this directly on your pizza peel (if using), or lightly oiled baking sheet(s). [Two personal-size pizzas fitted on our baking sheet.]
7. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and add any other toppings. [I did some caramelized onions, thinly sliced tomatoes, basil leaves, pine-nuts, and grated parmesan.]
8. Bake in oven for 6-12 mins, depending on oven heat, till nicely browned. If using a baking sheet, it should go in the middle of the oven.
Again, only made half the recipe, feeling sure it would be an abject failure. But another time would make the whole thing and freeze half.
Was cautious with the toppings, because everyone emphasizes how important it is not to overload the pizza. But could have used a tad more cheese, making sure it goes all the way out to the edges. Also would have tucked the basil leaves under the tomatoes, as they got a bit crispy.
But it was delicious! And the topping possibilities are endless, of course (Kitchen Wench's post has some great examples, and Mr B. gives a huge list).
About to go in oven:
View from the top:
No immunity here. First saw a recipe on Eating Well, but that had a lot of ingredients, some of which were scary (e.g. buttermilk). Then there was another on noobcook, which was nice and simple but used lots of sugar. Then found one on eggsonsunday that looked just right (to quote Baby Bear).
The Recipe: Strawberry-Orange Muffins
Didn't exactly follow her recipe. We'd just been eating a lot of cinnamon & sugar in the coffee cake, and I liked Eating Well's idea of strawberry & orange. So... left out the spices, used orange instead of lemon, and all-purpose flour and milk instead of wholewheat and buttermilk. They came out beautifully.
But the original version looks great, will definitely try it.
Only made half the recipe. Didn't have enough flour, and Jack said: What would we do with 12 muffins anyway? Um, eat them, that's what we'd do! Four disappeared within 5 mins. So another time would absolutely make the whole thing.
Could have cooked them a little longer too (maybe between 20-25 mins in our oven).
Meanwhile, the cats were playing with the box that the muffin pan came in. Peanut (orange tabby) had it, then his sister (Marmite) decided she wanted it, so got him in a headlock (she's half his size, btw):
In muffin pan:
About to be eaten...
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The writer begins in complete unconfidence ("Someone is telling you 'no.' It’s a little voice in your head. It has been there for so long it’s indistinguishable from your true voice. No, you can’t do it.") And by the end she's twirling tortillas with one hand and babies with the other. The starting point I can definitely relate to - the ending, not so much.
But it did inspire me to give tortillas a try. Jack was a bit puzzled. You're going to make the tortillas? (Subtext: You're a total lunatic?)
It turned out to be a truly spectacular meal. We had some shrimp in the freezer, and Jack had brought some chorizo back from MA, and I decided that mango salsa couldn't be too hard (it wasn't).
The Recipe: Homemade Flour Tortillas
From the Homesick Texan. So much nicer than store-bought: light and poofy, with a lovely simple fresh taste. And really fun to make. (Would be good to do with kids, if you have them, and the time/energy.)
The Recipe: Mango Salsa
Adapted from How to Cook Everything (10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman
- 2 cups firm but ripe mango [his was papaya], cut into 0.5-inch cubes
- 0.5 cup diced red onion
- 0.5 cup diced cucumber [he used red, yellow, or green bell pepper, or a combination]
- 2 tbspn minced fresh chile, or hot red pepper flakes, to taste [I forgot this part]
- 0.25 cup or more chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 tbspn olive oil
- 3 tbspn freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste [i.e. 1.5-2 limes]
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1) Put all the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Let sit for about 5 mins, then taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more chile, lime, or salt, as needed.
2) Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a couple of hours [we actually saved half for the next day, it was fine]. (Bring back to room temperature before serving.)
I was so sure that everything would go wrong that I actually got Jack to buy a packet of wraps from the store as a standby. But they weren't required.
Both the bloggers fell in love with their tortillas, and I know what they mean. You'll find your heart swelling with pride as the little things puff up in the pan.
We served them with sauteed shrimp and chorizo, some shredded lettuce, sliced avocado, sour cream, and the mango salsa of course.
We put the leftover tortillas in the fridge, wrapped tightly in plastic, and reheated next day as instructed, and they were almost as perfect.
PixDough resting for first time:
In the pan:
On the plate - pretty, right?
- Put the bacon on a triple layer of paper towels on a microwave-safe plate and cover with a double layer of towels.
- Microwave on High for 2 mins, then check; move the pieces around a little and continue to microwave for 1-min intervals until done.
- Total time will depend on the power of your microwave but will be less than 5 mins even in a small oven.
Jack did his for a total of 5 mins and they were fine. I like mine well done, so did one more minute and they looked good. But... they were chewy rather than crispy (actually a bit like a dog chew).
The conclusion: A good method if you fancy a quick hit of bacon without all the stinking and splatting that goes with frying. But not if you like your bacon crispy or want an authentic bacon experience.
Friday, May 8, 2009
The first is a big piece from Mr B. re freezing things - lots of ideas including non-obvious items like parmesan rinds, banana leaves, and wine. For me, sadly, this would require a complete personality transplant. Can just about imagine putting stuff in... but not remembering it was even there, let alone being clever enough to take it out and actually use it. Hmmm. But this blog is all about optimism and change, so who knows? (?)
The other one is a discussion of a book that there seems to be some buzz about: Michael Ruhlman's Ratio. The concept, apparently, is that by teaching you the ratios between ingredients in standard dishes you can learn how to make them without needing a recipe. A bit of brain overload for me at the moment, but some of you more ambitious types might be interested.
Anyway, it would be great to hear what you think...
Monday, May 4, 2009
Here's where to donate - it would be great if you could. (If you do, please could you mention my blog in the comments section on that page, so they'll know where you came from - thanks!)
(And thanks to Bob from Cooking Stuff for passing the bake sale info along.)
And now, the actual post:
The other day, with the oven still warm from the cheese souffle, a crazy thought popped into my mind: what the hell, let's try that coffee cake recipe too. My first cake.
And a bit of magic happened - this came out perfectly as well!
Light and fluffy, moist and sweet, with a wonderful smell that filled the whole apartment. Even the cats were trying to get at it.
The Recipe: Marian's Fantastic Sour Cream Coffee Cake
One of those rare things - a real family recipe, passed around the country and the world. Marian lived next door to my aunt's family in Canada, and my mum got it from them. She hasn't made it since we were children (many years ago...) but it was just as fabulous as I remembered it.
Halved the recipe below, because we only have one 8x8 inch pan, but we could easily have eaten the whole thing.
- 1.25 cups brown sugar
- 1.5 tbspn cinnamon
- 0.75 cup butter [i.e. 1.5 sticks, or 6 oz - thanks to Spoonful of Sugar's handy conversion table]
- 1.5 cups sugar [wasn't sure what they meant, so used granulated - or perhaps it was superfine]
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1.5 tspn vanilla extract
- 2.5 cups all purpose flour
- 3 tspn baking powder
- 0.75 tspn salt
- 10 fl oz sour cream & 1.5 tspn baking soda, mixed together
- 0.25-0.5 cup milk
2 8x8 inch pans, or 1 9x13 inch pan, greased and lined. [Mine was silicone, so didn't do anything to it.]
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Make the topping: in a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon. [Didn't have enough brown sugar, so used some raw sugar too - it actually worked really well, gave it a nice crunch.]
3. Make the batter: in a separate large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, beaten eggs, and vanilla extract. Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the sour cream and baking soda mixture. Add between 0.25 and 0.5 cup milk (the mixture should be fairly thick).
4. Put a layer of batter in the pan, and cover with about 3/4 of the topping [I did about 2/3]. Cover with remaining batter, then remaining topping. Swirl with a knife (like marble cake). [Never having made marble cake, wasn't quite sure what this meant, but just swirled away.]
5. Bake for about 45-50 mins. [Ours was ready at 40 mins.]Thoughts/Tips/Mistakes
Can't rave about this cake enough - it was really gorgeous. And it's obviously foolproof!
(Ooh, I tell you though, dividing everything in half made my head hurt.)
Out of the oven:
A side view:
From the front:
So, chicken again.
This is another simple dish with a truly delicious sauce. (It doesn't count as part of the resolution, as first made it sometime last year.)
The Recipe: Lemon Tarragon Chicken
From Dairy Diary Hearty & Healthy
- 4 x 4oz (110g) chicken breasts
- 1 lemon, grated zest and 2 tbspn juice
- 4 tspn olive oil
- 1 tbspn chopped fresh tarragon [or about 1.5 tspn dried]
- 3 fl oz (90ml) dry white wine
- 4 tbspn half-fat creme fraiche [we can only get full fat]
1. Remove any sinews from the chicken breasts, then cut them in half horizontally. In a non-metallic dish mix together the lemon juice, 2 tspns of the oil, and the tarragon. [I add the lemon zest here too - did this initially by mistake, but like it this way.] Add the chicken breasts, making sure they are coated in the marinade, and refrigerate for 20-30 mins.
2. Heat a large saute pan. Remove the chicken from the marinade and cook over a medium heat for about 5 mins. Turn, and cook for another 4 mins, or until done (don't overcook).
3. Remove cooked chicken from pan and keep warm on a plate. Pour the wine into the hot pan, reduce it by about half, and then, over a low heat, whisk in the creme fraiche.
4. Serve the chicken on hot plates, with potatoes & green beans. Spoon the sauce on top, and sprinkle with lemon zest and a few more chopped tarragon leaves.
Managed to overcook the chicken, in spite of warning, but apart from that it was great.
They suggest serving with new potatoes slightly crushed (rather than mashed) with chopped spring onions - sounds nice, but we didn't do it.
Just thinking about it now, the creme fraiche does make quite a contribution to the flavor of the sauce. Creme fraiche is one of those things that's completely commonplace in UK and a specialty item here, sorry. It would be worth trying to hunt it down for this, but it is a bit pricey. Or you could probably try regular cream instead, and let me know how it turns out [update: a friend actually did try it with cream and it curdled - so much for that idea! sorry!]. Or... you could even make it yourself, apparently!Pix
Another bad pic (the garnish is particularly sad-looking):
This one was from Eating Well. It sounded nice and, actually, it was.
Served it with mashed sweet potato (or was it a yam?), a recommended combination.
The Recipe: Chicken Saute with Apples & Leeks
From Eating Well
In the comments a couple of people complained it was bland. I didn't find that - actually, it was a bit tart. I'd bump up the sugar a little, and also saute the apples (as with the Pork Chop with Apple & Red Onion Chutney recipe), rather than adding them at the end.
The sauce is liquidy, as someone said, but we didn't really mind that. Not sure what to do about it anyway (suggestions gratefully received).
Step 3 (blurry):
Truly terrible pic of finished product plonked on plate - a visual disaster, sorry:
Friday, May 1, 2009
Now, most people would probably agree that souffle is a bit intimidating. But my sister and I were brought up on it; to my mum (and now my sister too) it's an easy-peasy weeknight dinner that you whip up in a few minutes. Ha.
Anyway, turns out it's sometimes best just to stare that monster right in its yellow cheesy eyes.
When we saw the souffle through the oven window, and it was puffing up and turning golden just like it was supposed to, I nearly cried.
The Recipe: Cheese Souffle
From How to Cook Everything (10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman
My mum gave me a lesson in souffle-making a couple of weeks ago when was in UK (see Microwave Mornay). But (being a dingbat) had lost the recipe, and it was too late to call, so used Mr. B's instead.
I made half this amount, and it was perfect for two. We even had a 1-quart souffle dish, bizarrely enough.
- 4 tbspn (0.5 stick) butter, plus butter for dish
- 0.25 cup all-purpose flour
- 1.5 cups milk, warmed until hot to the touch (about 1 min in average microwave)
- 6 eggs, separated
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Dash cayenne or 0.5 tspn dry mustard
- 0.5 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 0.5 cup grated or crumbled Cheddar, Jack, Roquefort, Emmental, and/or other cheese [we used mature Cheddar]
Serves 4-6 [I'd say 4 for a main course]
1. About an hour before you're ready to cook, heat the oven to 375F.
2. Use a bit of the butter to grease a 2-quart souffle or other deep baking dish, or 4-6 1.5-2 cup ramekins. (Hold off on this step if you're not going to bake the souffle until later.)
3. Put the remaining butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When the foam subsides, stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture darkens, about 3 mins.
4. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the milk, a bit at a time, until the mixture is thick. Let cool for a few mins, then beat in the egg yolks, sprinkle with salt & pepper, cayenne or mustard, and add the cheeses. (At this point, you may cover the mixture tightly and refrigerate for a couple of hours; bring back to room temperature before continuing.)
5. Use an electric or hand mixer or whisk to beat the egg whites until fairly stiff. Stir about a third into the sauce to lighten it, then gently - and not overly thoroughly - fold in the remaining whites, using a rubber spatula or your hand.
6. Transfer to the prepared dish and bake until the top is brown, the sides are firm, and the center is still quite moist, about 30 mins. [My mum uses a bain-marie, but this recipe doesn't call for one, which gave me a nervous moment.] Use a thin skewer to check the interior; if it is still quite wet, bake for another 5 mins. If it is just a bit moist, the souffle is done. Serve immediately.
Burned the roux twice, through sheer nerves, and had to start over. But apart from that, everything went fantastically. It was done to perfection at the 30 minute mark.
Due to very high stress level, only have pix of the final product:
Anyway, I rooted around and found this recipe. It was tasty, quick, easy, and used things we already had in the house - you really can't ask for more than that!
The Recipe: Roast Honey Mustard Salmon
From another Dairy Diary book: Clever Cooking for One or Two (a gift from my mum)
- 2 salmon fillets, approx. 11 oz (300g) total
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tspn wholegrain mustard
- 2 tspn balsamic vinegar
- 2 tspn clear honey
- New potatoes & steamed baby vegetables to serve [we had green beans]
1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
2. Wash and pat the salmon dry. Place on a small baking tray lined with parchment paper. Season with salt & pepper.
3. Mix together the remaining ingredients, and spread thickly over the salmon. Bake for 12-15 mins, depending on thickness, until cooked through.
4. Serve on bed of steamed veggies with new potatoes.
They suggest you can roast the new potatoes: Dice, put in roasting pan and add olive oil, then put in oven 10 mins before the fish; they'll be ready at the same time.
On the plate (forgot to put salmon on top of beans, but never mind):