Monday, February 23, 2009

"Over the Top" Cannelloni

Dinner in on Saturday night was supposed to be a cooking challenge of sorts - M. wanted something "over the top." Turns out he had, like, French rack of lamb in mind, but I convinced him to break out the *new* pasta maker (thanks, Dad!). The idea evolved from there. Something stuffed... with peas and proscuitto... in alfredo sauce!

Thanks to M. for the brilliant plating, although it doesn't quite come through in this photograph.

So now I understand why everyone raves about fresh pasta! Before I wasn't subject to the full glory, because I always had to roll it out by hand. So it was always thick and, well, uninspiring. I was like, ok, I'm obviously missing something here. But this thin, machine-rolled pasta was so light and delicious and not chewy at all.

I also was excited to try the fettucini and spaghetti cutter, as you can see, we ended up with a lot of fresh pasta. All that (and more) from 2 cups of semolina flour and 3 eggs.

This cannelloni dish was so decadent, and it comes highly recommended. I boiled the pasta first (for like 45 seconds) and then shocked it in an ice bath. M and I then carefully stuffed the pasta sheets with about 3 T. of the filling. We placed seam side down in a Pyrex dish, covered it with sauce, and baked for about 25 mins. at 350*F.

We didn't use a recipe, so everything we made, we just tinkered with until it was yummy. M. found out (the hard way) that if you use a salty cheese in the white sauce, with the salty prosciutto, you might end up with an unbearably salty sauce (yar). But we rescued it by diluting it with half-and-half and then thickening it with a cornstarch and water slurry.

And for dessert, stuffed strawberries! M was watching Paula Deen (at the gym- isn't that kinda masochistic?), and he watched her and her son stuff strawberries. So he added his own flair and some grated Icelandic milk chocolate, courtesy of Whole Foods.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Currylicious: Green Thai Curry with Chicken Thighs

I have been trying to make a good Thai curry for a while now. I love it so much, but have never really put the effort into researching how to make a good one at home. I've always just added curry paste to coconut milk, but it ends up lacking that certain je ne sais quois. I followed this recipe from 'Thai Cooking,' a great illustrated cookbook that I think I got in the cheapie bin at Border's.

I guess the secret is in all the ingredients added in addition to coconut milk and curry paste - and, well, duh. Most of these ingredients can be found at your regular grocer. As you can see from my ingredients pile above, I also added lemongrass (the little circles). I couldn't find any kaffir lime leaves, even at the Asian Market up on Congress St., but this dish turned out great (and spicy!) nonetheless. I can't wait to eat it again.

Green Chicken Curry

1 T. oil
1 onion, chopped
1-2 T. green curry paste (depending on your spice preference)
1 1/2 c. coconut milk
1/2 c. water
1 lb chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
3/4 c. green beans, cut into short pieces
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 T. fish sauce
1 T. lime juice
1 t. lime zest
2 t. brown sugar
3/4 c. cilantro or basil leaves

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan. Add curry paste and onion, and sautee for one minute. Stir in the coconut milk and water, and bring to a boil. Add chicken, beans, and lime leaves, and stir to combine. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until chicken is tender. Stir in fish sauce, lime juice, lime zest, and brown sugar. Stir to combine. Add cilantro or basil and serve over steamed rice.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Julie Would Be Proud

At the risk of being called a copycat, I was inspired by Julie Powell tonight. I made Aubergines Farcies Duxelles (Eggplant Stuffed with Mushrooms) from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. And I'm glad I did. It made me realize the truth behind the statement by the NY Times review of Powell's book that Child's cooking is straightforward but labor-intensive. And I got to witness firsthand why Powell regularly didn't get meals on the table until after 10 p.m.

To make this dish, I first had to make the stuffing, which required making another MtAoFC recipe, Duxelles. Typical Julia already. So for the Duxelles:

Mince some mushrooms (I used about 1/4 lb. for 2 halves of an eggplant, probably should have used more). Squeeze the mushrooms in a paper towel, handful by handful, until you've wrung all the moisture out of them. Sautee, over medium-high heat, the mushrooms, and a small, diced shallot in 2 T. of olive oil and 1 T. butter. When the mushrooms are browned (about 6 to 8 mins), season with S&P and then add 1/4 beef stock or bouillon and 1/4 cup Maderia wine. Reduce to nothing. Now, this last step, JC says, is optional, but why would you skip it?

Once you've got the Duxelles made, put them in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Slice a medium-sized eggplant (about 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter) lengthwise and cut the green top off. Cut through the flesh, down to within an 1/4" of the skin, but not through (good luck). Do this every inch along the face of the eggplant. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and place flesh side down on a kitchen towel for half an hour. Squeeze them gently with the towel to remove excess moisture. Drizzle the eggplant with olive oil and place in a shallow roasting pan. Fill the pan with water so the eggplants are submerged in 1/8" of water. Place under a broiler, about 4 to 5" away from the heat, and roast until the flesh is tender but not browned.

Scoop out the flesh (like a twice-baked potato!) and add to the bowl with the mushrooms. Sautee a diced small yellow onion or a diced large shallot in 1 T. olive oil. Add to the stuffing. (Are you getting tired yet? Cuz I was.) Mush up about 3 oz. of cream cheese and add to the stuffing. Whip it all together and add 1/4 t. thyme or 1/2 t. basil and 1 T. parsley. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Stuff eggplants with the filling and top with a mix of bread crumbs and shredded swiss cheese. Baste eggplants with melted butter. Place back in the roasting pan with 1/8" of water and bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 mins.

So, tada! My first Julia Child recipe. And it wasn't even that good. I mean, with all the raving in Powell's book, you'd think I'd end up with a culinary masterpiece. Ok, ok, I'll admit there were some adjustments on my part - like I don't have a top broiler, so I had to bake the eggplant instead of broiling it. The filling was good, but it wasn't like spectacular. Sigh. I even used amazing good (and stupid expensive, please keep me away from the specialty cheese shop) cheese! I feel blasphemous for even mentioning that I've had better preparations of eggplant. But on a positive note, the salad I made with mesclun mix, that amazing cheese, apples, and a mustard shallot vinaigrette was great.

I won't give up, though (don't worry, I'm not going to do anything crazy, like, say, attempt all the recipes in a year). Maybe Julia's forte is something involving meat, like seasoned with bacon or lard. I've still got my eye on that Coq au Vin recipe, so I'll be sure to give it another shot.

Meat Island

While shopping for the week, M and I wanted a crock pot meal. We spotted these pork ribs on sale and decided we'd have ribs and slaw one night (that and I never can remember what cuts of beef are good for slow-cooking while I'm actually in front of the butcher case).

This recipe was inspired by one I saw on Jamie Oliver's show Jamie's Kitchen, which involved a lot of citrus zest on a big rack of ribs that he roasted in the oven. M marinated these ribs with a bunch of stuff (I was blissfully uninvolved in this step) and then we zested a lemon, lime and orange into the crocker. The ribs were covered with water and orange juice and left to do their thing all day. When it was time to eat, M. scooped out the meat (since it was falling apart!), squirted them with some Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, and baked them on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, just to get them nice and hot.

And like I mentioned in the previous post, when I came up the stairs in our apartment, I thought, mm, someone is cooking something yummy smelling. And it was us! Yes! And sure enough, it was yummy. I made cornbread from scratch and I kicked myself for not adding a can of corn - I love corny cornbread! I used to make it when I was little from the BH&G Junior Cookbook. It might have even been my first recipe.

And let me take a minute to expound my feelings on mayonnaise-based salads (it's relevant, don't worry). Such salads, i.e., cole slaw, potato salad, and pasta salad, are usually terrible when purchased from your grocer's deli, where they were unceremoniously dumped from a wax-coated paperboard box from Sysco. But this doesn't have to be so; at the heart of these salads is a lot of potential. You just have to (wo)man up and make them yourself. That way you avoid all of the horribleness imparted by the industrial food supplier and add all of the yumminess that you in particular care for.

That's how it is with my cole slaw. I used to hate the stuff, until I had my friend Jesika's. I could swim in pools of Jesika's coleslaw! (OK, ew.) And she 'let me in on' her recipe: the dressing is simply made from mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. You just mix them together, taste it, and tweak it to your liking. Maybe add some S&P. The end result should be creamy and rich with some tang and lingering sweetness. None of that overly sweet mushy grossness, and certainly no HFCS here.

Now, I am sure to a lot of you, that this is no revelation. But I was so excited to learn to make good coleslaw. Because I love coleslaw, I just didn't like its previous incarnations. And I find this to be true for a lot of people. They think they don't like something, but really its because they've only ever had deli case or their Aunt Gladys' horrible recipe (sorry Gladys). It is freeing to be able to make food that you like, the way you like it, rather than choke down the status quo generated by the industrial food system, and for some reason, tolerated by so many of us for so long.

But in the end, maybe it's just coleslaw, after all.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Featured Reading

This is going to be quick cuz I am starving. It does not help that it smells like meat in here, delicious, slow-cooked, spice-rubbed, fat-melting-in-mouth meat in here. Not that I've been thinking about it.
The crockpot has been making my dinner all day (love you, crockpot!) and it smells like meat all through the apartment and down the hall to the elevator. So I'll keep it brief before I go forage for a snack (an appetite ruining snack, no doubt!)

I'm reading Julie & Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen by Julie Powell. Its Julie's attempt at cooking every recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. I checked them both out of the library, and Julie & Julia is proving to be very entertaining thus far. Julie's humor is self-deprecating and sarcastic, and previous to her year long experiment, she cooked but she didn't cook. So she started blogging about her experiment, which eventually turned into a book (conveniently solving her 'what do I do with my life, I'm almost 30' dilemma she was having).

I was hoping to regal you with stories of cooking Coq au Vin (p. 263 in MtAoFC) or Epinards a la Basquaise (p. 498, and gratin of Spinach and Sliced Potatoes with Anchovies, btw) in my own kitchen, but like I said, I'm hungry. Plus, I didn't actually make those things. But I will sometime and I'll be sure to tell you all about it. In the meantime, you'll just have to be on standby for my ravings about those slow-cooked ribs I smell.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Nice Scones, Lady

More baking!

Baking driven by boredom!

And I was 'Crazy Scone Lady' on these babies- slapping them around, forgot to add the cranberries until after I'd patted it out to its nice little shape...

But they turned out ok in the end! And I'm not going to tell you how to make them, not cuz I don't love you, but just cuz I think you need a break from long-winded, recipe-heavy food blog posts (it's not you, it's me).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Holy Late Growing Season, Batman!

As many of you Portland foodies know, the Community Supported Agriculture fair was today. It was held at the Unitarian Church on Congress, and so we, along with, like, everyone else in Portland, crammed into the church to see what local farms will have to offer for CSAs in 2009. We sampled some really good food there - like crostinis with beets, goat cheese and arugula; and lobster meat. I'm now really excited about the prospect of having a crapload of fresh fruits and veggies every week this summer.

So when I got home, I decided, naturally, to make a summer salad. I used the remainder of a container of multicolored cherry tomatoes that enticed me at Whole Foods last week, some fresh mozz, and basil to make a Caprese salad.

It may be February in Maine outside, but I am inside, dreaming of sun-ripened produce in summer.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Can You Use 'Croissant' As a Verb?

Guess what? I MADE CROISSANTS. Do you actually know anyone who's done that?!? I think what enticed me to make this recipe (besides eating a lot of croissants when I was finished, yum) was that the dough didn't require any kneading, since I'm not a fan. But then I ended up kneading it... so, there you go. I am doubly proud of myself. And without any further ado.

from the Joy of Cooking

3 sticks cold unsalted butter
3 T all-purpose flour

1 c warm (105 to 115) whole milk
1 package active dry yeast
1 T sugar
2 3/4 c all-purpose flour
2 T unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 t salt

Place 3 sticks of butter on work surface (chilled marble if you're fancy) and sprinkle with a little flour (from your 3 T). Use rolling pin to work sticks until they are smooth and combined. Add the rest of the 3 T flour and work with your hands until combined. Shape into a 9"x6" rectangle, wrap with plastic and put in the refrigerator while you make the dough.

Combine milk, yeast, and sugar and let stand until the yeast is dissolved. Place your flour, salt, and 2 T of butter on your work surface. Make a well in the middle and add the milk mixture. Use a fork or your fingers to stir the flour into the milk, eroding the sides of the well until you have a dough. Knead dough for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes.

Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is in a 18"x8" rectangle. The short end of the dough should be facing you. Place the butter rectangle on the dough rectangle, with the butter covering the top two thirds of the dough, leaving a 1" border of dough around the butter.

Now for the fun part! Fold the unbuttered bottom 1/3 of the dough up over the middle buttered third. Fold the top buttered 1/3 down over the middle 1/3, like a business letter. Seal the edges of the dough and roll your dough back into an 18"x8" rectangle. If at any point in this process the butter starts to ooze out or your dough becomes too soft and sticky, put the dough back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. So! Now for the 'turning' process, which helps to create the flaky layers. Mmmm.... So again, fold the bottom 1/3 up over the middle 1/3, and the top down over the middle. Turn the dough so the folded edge is to the left and the open edge is on the right. Roll into a 18"x8" square. Repeat the 'turn' two more times. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate half an hour.

Roll dough into a 24"x12" rectangle and let rest for 5 minutes. This relaxes the gluten so the dough will not shrink when it is cut. Cut dough down the middle so you have two 24"x6" rectangles.

This gets complicated to explain, so pay attention. Measure 2 1/4" from the end of the dough and make a little notch mark. Then make notches every 4 1/2" down the rest of the dough. On the other side of the dough, start making notches every 4 1/2". You'll have staggered marks on opposite sides of the dough. Cut diagonally from top to bottom and you'll have 9 triangles of dough. Tada!

Again, more fun. Stretch the triangles and start croissant-ing! Roll from the fat end to the skinny end, pinching the two ends together when you're done. Make sure the end of the triangle is tucked under your roll.

When you are finished rolling your rolls, you should have 18 3 1/2" croissants (unless you're working with men, who insist on having bigger 'man croissants.')

Croissants can, at this point, be refrigerated overnight. In the morning you can just take them out and let them rise for about an hour and a half. Or you can just let 'em rise and eat them right then! But I bet by now, you're tired, and you need a break. I was! After croissants have risen, brush them with a lightly beaten egg. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

And behold the croissant gallery...

Flake city!

And while I am very proud of myself for completing this undertaking, I say, for the effort, it's best to just buy your croissants from a good, local bakery. But it's fun to try once!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Comfort Food

Tada! Spinach and pilaf.

God knows where mom got the recipe, (maybe from the back of the Minute Rice box?) but I love it. We ate it all the time growing up. It's fine egg noodles and minute rice, sauteed in butter, then covered in chicken broth and cooked until tender. The spinach is just cream cheese (a lot of it) and butter. So easy and so comforting. But, I'll admit, kinda weird.

So what do you eat when no one's looking and you want to be reminded of home?

(And don't even get me started on red noodles!)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mulligatawny Soup Mix Gifts

Unlike every other food blog, I'm not going to write about the Super Bowl - after all, we made dip. And this dip wasn't the most photogenic (believe me, I tried). 'Especially cuz it was a second-half dip, so all the cheap beer had taken its toll, and I couldn't convince the masses to let me get a picture before the shoveling ensued. (Though I was one of the masses, so I didn't try very hard.) But yeah, it was an orange dip. Very good and spicy. You'll just have to take my word for it.

So I'm going to tell you about the soup mix I made for my sister! She suggested I make Mulligatawny for Christmas presents, and I'd never even heard of it before. Now that I've done a little research, it seems that there isn't a traditional version of this soup, since no one really knows where it came from. Mulligatawny means 'pepper water' and it's billed as an Anglo-Indian soup. Some recipes call for coconut milk, which I'll have to try since I looooove coconut milk.

As you can see, it makes a very pretty gift, in pint Ball Mason jars (if you use a bigger container the layers won't be as thick). Bear with me, this is kind of instruction-heavy.

Mulligatawny Soup Mix
from the Washington Post

2 T, 1 t chicken bouillon granules
3 T dried chopped chives or onions
1 T mild to med-hot curry powder
3/4 t ground cardamom
1/2 t dried thyme leaves
1/2 t dried minced garlic or garlic powder
1/4 t ground black pepper
and/or 1/4 t ground hot red pepper
1/3 c finely diced dried apples
1/2 c uncooked white basmati rice
1/3 c dried red lentils
1/4 c dried yellow split peas
1/4 c dried green split peas or lentils
1/3 c dried cranberries or golden raisins
1/2 c roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

Combine bouillon, chives (onions), curry powder, cardamom, thyme, garlic, and black and red pepper on a sheet of aluminum foil. Use the foil as a funnel to pour spice mix into a one-pint container. Add ingredients in the following order, tapping the jar to even out the layers: apples, rice, red lentils, split peas (green, then yellow), and cranberries. If you have room, add the peanuts (bagged separately) to the top of the jar. If not, attach with a ribbon and the directions to the jar.

Enclose the following instructions with the soup mix. Makes 2 1/2 quarts of soup, serves 10.

Mulligatawny Soup

1 pint soup mix
8 cups hot water
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 1/2 c chopped fresh or frozen vegetable medley (recommended celery, carrots, cauliflower, bell pepper and onion)
1/2 to 1 c diced cooked chicken or turkey
S&P to taste

Add soup mix (but not peanuts) to 10 cups of hot water over med-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 25 to 35 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, vegetables, and meat.

Cover and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes until vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with peanuts as a garnish.

Bit of a disclaimer: Like I said, I'd never heard of this soup before this Christmas, but I found it when I was in London. I ordered it as take-away on my last night in London (when I couldn't handle eating out AGAIN!). As far as I could tell, the only ingredients in that Mulligatawny soup were lentils and rice. And they'd cooked it with a lemon wedge, which was so good!

I've taken that to mean that you can make this soup however you damn well please. I made it without veggies or fruit and it was great. Add a lemon, make it vegetarian, add some ostrich for all I care. Just make it! (And obviously, if you're just making it for yourself, not as a gift, you can skip the soup mix part, even though it's very pretty.)

Wintertime Maple's Gelato Treat

Update: Maple's Gelato is no longer located on Middle St. in the Old Port. They have moved over to 14 Gary Maietta Parkway in South Portland, where you can visit them.

I went to Whole Foods yesterday for their pregame store-wide food sampling (which was a *tad* disappointing- is it me, or did Whole Foods used to have a lot more free samples? Another sign of the recession?), BUT I did have some good gelato at their gelateria. The raspberry sorbetto was great, with seeds and all, but the lavender honey gelato was kinda gross. Reminded me of a lavender creme brulee I had in Missouri... it was like chewing on one of those satchels from your underwear drawer. 

So while I was out walking around today in the 40 degree heat (!!) I decided to stop into Maple's Organic Desserts.

I had the blueberry lemon sorbetto and the sea salt caramel-almond gelato (a small, at $3.25). The scooper explained the blueberry-lemon doesn't stay in scoop form, and when I asked what sorbetto was exactly, she said it's vegan! ...but that was all she knew about it. The sea salt caramel was awesome (duh). Like a dulce de leche, but richer. And with crunchy almonds.

They use all organic ingredients at Maple's, and many local ones. Their website promises to tell you the sources of their ingredients (when it's completed). Right now it just tells you that they get their milk from a family farm in Turner, ME. Yay! Oh, and their desserts are made here in Portland, at their other location on Forest Ave.

The retail store is located at 151 Middle Street, in the complex with Bull Moose's Music, Videoport, and Casablanca Comics. It's a really cute little space that they've decorated nicely.

I've decided that all this wintertime gelato eating is very important, because I need to find the best gelateria before the crowds of goobs show up this summer. After all, I wouldn't want to spend all that time waiting in line, only to find out that it's subpar gelato. So on with the research!

Maples Organic Icecream & Good on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Happy Hour at Bull Feeney's

Bull Feeney's has a special place in my heart- it's the first bar I visited in Portland, and the bartenders are always so durn friendly. It's my happy hour spot, they have drink and food specials (I just learned that you can get any single-malt scotch 20% off during happy hours now, uh oh!!), and a pint of Guinness for $3.

Plus, the food is good! Standard Irish pub fare: fish 'n' chips, Shepherd's Pie, plus chicken wings, spin art dip, cheese fondue, mussels...

(I did give a little laugh though, as they are PEI mussels, billed as 'local.' 390 miles is a bit of a stretch.) These mussels were good, but where's my bread for dippin'!? We asked for some bread and got Irish soda bread with currants... which was tasty, but not what we wanted for soppin'. Small complaint, for how much I love this place.

Here you can see the wall of whiskey and Scotch. Yum...
Oh, and I love the Bloody Mary's here, as well as the big plate of fries- you can get regular, sweet potato, or a mix of the two with all kinds of dipping sauces. And the food may seem kind of expensive, like $8 for a burger? but by the time you go somewhere else in the Old Port, you'll end up paying just as much, and it won't be as good.

So when I get into the 'Wall of Whiskey' or the Happy Hour Scotch Special, I'll be sure to document the ensuing madness.

Bull Feeney's on Urbanspoon