Monday, June 30, 2008

One Can't Live on Food Alone

I'm at work today and dreaming of when it will be time for me to clock out, hop in the T and meet up with my dearest love and our friend G for some dinner.

We'll be dining at a local Thai restaurant which is decent but nothing spectacular. I wish the noodles in the soup were homemade or that the pad thai was a little less sweet. The soup comes and it doesn't have quite the toothsome bite I want, but that's okay because I'll be eating with people who matter so much more than the food.

We all eat for various reasons...typically because our bodies have signaled that it's time for food. Sometimes we eat when we're sad or happy or bored. Sometimes we don't want to eat but know we need to and other times we can't get enough of something yummy to stuff in our pie traps. I tend to fall in the latter camp, especially when things are good. I tend to forget to eat during the course of the day but if I'm with friends, family or loved ones, my stomach signals eating time quite regularly.

I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but eating is such a communal activity for me. I do love my food and I can sometimes be a little piggie when it comes time to share but I really enjoy eating with others.

So tonight, it's not about the "quality" of the food as much as the company. I know I'll leave dinner feeling very well feed!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Creating a Creature From the Blue Lagoon...

Or this month's Daring Baker Challenge!

This month's challenge was a pretty tough one for me, but unlike last month's end results, I was terribly proud and pleased with the end product. Would I make it again? Perhaps, unlike the Opera Cake that I would say no to, this one I would consider - the bread is really rich and would make a wonderful holiday gift. Plus it's a great base for many filling options. This recipe makes a lot of dough! And I still have the other half of the dough in my freezer waiting for when I feel the need to have my apartment smell wonderfully buttery and yeasty. The only drawbacks to this bread are as follows:

1.) It's damn time consuming.

2.) My hand smelled like butter for two solid days in a row. I guess this might not be considered a drawback to some, but it's not a great motivational tool when I'm at the gym and trying to concentrate on the spinning instruction telling me to feel the burn.

3.) I suck at making dough wells! I'll get to this later in this post.

But overall, I was very proud of my work on this challenged and others who sampled it, enjoy it quite a bit as well.

Originally, I thought I'd do a savory braid but after emailing the host blogger (who was so sweet and prompt with her replies) I understood that I needed to stick with the more traditional fruit sort of filling. Hmmm....

Well, it turned out that blueberries were all 2 for 1 at the ghetto Shaws! Wooohoo, so I went ahead and stocked up. I love blueberries and have been known to go thru an entire pint as a snack in one evening. I considered just using the blueberries and glazing them with a bit of apricot jam but then remembered that I had also stocked up on lemons. I thought a nice combination would be lemon curd with fresh blueberries.

I remembered a recipe for lime curd in one of my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and also remembered that she wrote a sub of lemons was acceptable as well.

Okay, okay, I know I said that I was taking time off from my relationship with Ina but I had also seen her make this on the show and ever since had wanted a reason to make it too. It looked like it had just the right about of tart pucker and sweet.

So I mixed the ingredients all together and it looked like this:

It's hard to see in the picture but it resembled yellow curdled milk. It was lumpy and frothy and just gross. However, I wasn't worried. But I had watched her make it on TV and she notes that it will look like this and as it gets cooked, it will come together and thicken up. Now, if I were to just follow the cookbook, I would have been concerned with the state of my curd. No where in the Barefoot Contessa cookbook say anything about the curdle-y appearance of the curd.

And sure enough it came together after a good 10 mins on low heat. Glossy and heavenly smelling. As I waited for it to cool, I sampled a little bit. And sampled a little bit more. Holy bee-jezus! It was good stuff. Tart and yet just sweet enough. Rich and creamy and completely decadent because 2 sticks of butter went into the curd. It was delicious. So it looks like maybe Ina and I are back together, but it's only a temporary trial period for now. I'm still dating other people ;)

Since I'm not a hardcore baker and rarely make anything that calls for yeast (pizza dough being the only exception in my life), I felt that there were a few gaps in the instructions. It begins by telling me to mix the yeast with cold milk...

Alright, so I knew that I needed to activate the yeast but the only way I'd know that is because I have used yeast before. But had I not, I'd hate to think what my bread would have become with unactivated yeast and cold milk...matzo?

Anywhooo, I mixed the milk and yeast and other ingredients together and made my flour well. I made the mistake of dumping the liquid all into my little well. Um and this happened...
So the liquid broke through the flour barricade and I panicked and trying to add flour to the liquid thinking "well it will thicken up". Yeah, clearly a panic move that only made matters worse. So I cleaned up the mess and started over. But this time, I gradually added the liquid a little at a time. Again, not sure the recipe said anything about doing that but it certainly made the situation less traumatic and kept everything in my well.

The dough was left to rest and when it came time to "turn" it with butter the first time, I spread the butter quite thickly. The instructions never said how thick the butter layer should be and since I've never worked with butter in breads (again, remember what I said about pizza?) I didn't know that it would have been better to spread a much thinner layer down. As a result everytime I turned the dough it oozed butter on my kitchen counter and a LOT of it. It got to the point where I had to cheat and scrap the butter off the counter (don't worry it was clean) and add it back into the dough. It also means I sorta lost track of the way I was turning mid way through. Oh well. I hoped for the best for my oozing butter dough.

I let it sit in the fridge overnight and the next day was greeted by my little butterball. It already smelled divine! Mmm, butter and yeast! I rolled it out and even used a ruler to help me get the measurements perfect. I had a great looking little rectangle. But again, confusion arose over which ends I should be making my cuts. The long way or the short way? I took a gamble and did it the short end of the rectangle.

Although I don't think that was "right", it did allow me to put a lot of my filling down the middle. I piled on my homemade lemon curd and 2for1 blueberries. I folded down my ends and began "braiding". I got to the end and realized my braid looked more like an alien than anything else. This discovery was just reinforced by bread dough eye sockets and blueberries for eyes.

He kinda looked like R2D2. But I instantly loves him!! So after a good long proofing session and a little egg wash, into the oven he went.

I tend to think my oven sucks when it comes to baking but this recipe really allowed my oven to finally shine! Look at how evenly golden my creature got:

I was so pleased. Behold, my final Daring Baker creation:

I was pleasantly surprised that the blueberries and curd didn't all come leaking out. It looked awesome. And the taste? Really, really fantastic. Almost like a homemade breakfast strudel. It was rich and I couldn't eat more than one slice. So I gave it away to friends. They said it was really good too. Given my messy missteps, the bread really exceeded my expectations and then some. So yay!!

Thanks again, Daring Bakers!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wine Braised Mushrooms

Today is a rare day off for me. I got back from a mid morning crossfit workout that kinda kicked my butt. 21-15-9...Actually, I haven't been working out consistently enough not to get my ass kicked at crossfit. Ugh. Anyway, I was in the mood for some pasta! But I knew I didn't have much of anything in the fridge to coat my noodles with. I rummaged around a bit and found some roasted garlic in plenty of olive oil and lots of mushrooms. A little light bulb went off over my head.

I threw the mushroom slices in with the garlic and olive oil. And continued to rummage in my fridge. I kept checking on the 'rooms and they were looking great. I guess I could have just put the mushrooms the way they were over the pasta and called it a day but I still had some other bits and pieces in my fridge to use. I spotted old wine from one the various dinner parties E and I had given and thought it would be nice to put some in with the mushrooms. I added about a cup or so and watched it bubble away. I also spotted some left over parm cheese, an egg and some scallions.

Once the water (salted, of course) was boiling, I threw in my pasta and tasted the wine and 'rooms. The wine had cooked down quite a bit. I added a little bit of butter, salt and pepper and tasted. Wow, they were good! Once the pasta was cooked, I put it into my bowl, added the 'rooms and bit of wine that wasn't cooked off, cracked my egg on top, grated the parm on top and covered it with freshly ground pepper and scallions.

It was a fantastic pasta lunch. The egg helped the wine and cheese and scallions all adhere to the pasta. The butter added at the last minute gave it a really lovely sheen. Who knew that braising 'rooms in wine would make a fantastic sauce?

Try it sometime. I bet that even if you just braised your mushrooms in red wine and added that to a jarred basic marinara it would liven the sauce up 100%.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"This Posting Was Brought to You...

By the Glad family of products."

I promised a posting about Top Chef and here goes.

One of the things I find irritating about Top Chef is the blatant product placement. Uncle Ben's Rice, Glad products, GE stovetops....Come on already. Bravo has clearly and very cleverly put together a show that is addictive. I remember when it first debuted, lots of people, including me, predicted it would fall short as a reality show because you really couldn't taste or smell the food and thus how could you really be sure what was being judged? Clearly, I was wrong in my prediction. But Bravo has done a great job upping the celebrity chef quota and figuring out how to make all the drama override the need of viewers to really taste or smell what's cooking. So one would think, they'd figure out a way to be more subtle when it came to pushing glad tuperware on viewers. Apparently not.

The finale of Top Chef rubbed me the wrong way overall. The lesbian turned out to be the villain. Granted, I hated her just as much as everyone else. I kept screaming at the TV screen, "jesus christ, can't you represent the peeps (other gays) better!!!". Clearly she never listened to my recommendations because every single time she came out for judging, she always had her peevy face on. Throughout any criticism she looked like she was about to jump over the judges' table and cut people. She looked irked and irritated to be judged by people she didn't respect. And don't even get me started on her bad lesbian haircuts or her near obsession with Asian food (lucky for her there is no adopted Chinese baby chatter because that would have made any cliche very complete).

Then there is poor Richard. I had to admit, I thought he would take it and be the next Top Chef. But as he puts it, he did "choke". The under seasoning of his dishes seemed weird and out of place with the consistency of the dishes from before. And um, pork belly with pickled ginger???? Oh Richard. I guess I should have yelled at the TV screen and said, "As the straight white dude holding up the establishment, you need to represent". Yeah, I'll know for next time.

I was happy that Stephanie won but all the proclamations about being the "First Female Top Chef" I could have done without. Dude, there has only been four (at most) seasons of Top Chef. It doesn't even begin to compare with being President of the United States. So comparisons with Hillary and Stephanie really need to stop. Statements about this truly being the year of women because a chick won the Biggest Loser are annoyingly stupid.

And lastly, the entire "what is Padma wearing" part of the Top Chef webpage is seriously obnoxious. Don't get me wrong, I love fashion and perhaps love fashion more than the average person but there is something so patronizing about having a section on the TOP CHEF website about what Padma is wearing. Dude, I seriously don't care what she's wearing and the straight guys who drool over her and are dragged to watch the show, because of a girlfriend or wife, don't care either. They'd like to know when Padma takes off what she's wearing and can they watch.

But as much as I bitch and moan about Top Chef, it's true I do watch it. I find it intriguing and fun. Is it quality TV? No. And as such, it's probably the worst form of junk food I could feed my brain. It's like 20 happy meals in one sitting with five red bulls to wash it down. But that said, I'll continue to watch because I'm never one to say no to junk food.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Summer Comfort Food

Sometimes there is nothing more comforting to me than the change of the seasons. It's like clockwork. It's something that will happen no matter what in New England...not always on schedule, but eventually the seasons do change.

It's very much summer in Boston and as a result I have cravings for fresh fruit, veggies and herbs.

It's the time of year when I become a serious slacker in the kitchen (as if that's even possible for me). I want food that requires little to no cooking. I want simple and light.

I'm a big believer in salads in the summer. Produce is at it's peak and nothing is easier to make and enjoy. These really aren't recipes as much as outlines, meaning there is never any measuring and the quantity of fish sauce might increase if I feel especially into that salty quality it bring, the quantity might go down. I might increase the ginger or the basil. Perhaps that's the best part of salads, they allow you to really get creative.

One of my favorite cuisines is Vietnamese. I love the combination of mint and basil, sweet, sour and salty. So one of my favorite salads is one I created with a simple dressing of soy, good fish sauce, a bit of sugar, red wine vinegar, fresh ginger and a splash of canola oil. This dressing is not all that different from the sauce for Asian dumplings.

I chop up a cucumber, red pepper, scallions, a heart of romaine, shred carrot and soak bean threads. Once the bean threads are ready, I drain them and toss it all together. A bit of cilantro and salted roasted peanuts (smashed in a baggie with a wooden spoon -it also just happens a great way to take out any aggression you might have) garnish the salad and I'm ready!

I have a go-to homemade salad dressing that I use. I call it BZ's salad dressing because it was my friend BZ's favorite. The base goes like this, combine:

half a lemon squeezed
half a cup of balsamic vinegar
two tablespoons spicy brown mustard
five-ten shakes of Tabasco
salt and pepper
a splash of olive oil

You can add garlic if you want, a bit of honey to sweeten it, even ginger. You can increase the mustard or decrease the vinegar.

I used BZ's dressing and added a bit of sugar to dress a chickpea, argula, basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella salad I made today.

Oh man. It was good!!!

Later today I needed a snack. Remembering that I had fresh blueberries and plain yogurt leftover from my cucumber and buttermilk soup. I mixed the two items together. It was a bit too sour for my taste! So again, I winged it and added the zest of a lime and some of that ginger simple syrup leftover from my daring baker challenge. Omg, yogurt with ginger syrup, lime zest and blueberries rule!!! It made a refreshing and lovely summer dessert. Ahh, comfort in a bowl, yet so easy. Who knew?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Top Chef

I just finished watching the finale and I have some thoughts and will share them soon. But in the meantime I want to be sure and share what I thought might be the best quote from Tom Colicchio describing Lisa's food.

"Big and bold...And all about you!"

Um dude, really? That was the best you could come up with?

More soon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dear Ina,

Hey lady, what's up? I'm loving that I'm seeing new shows and that you are still loving life out in the Hamptons. I haven't heard you mention Chris and Joey lately, so I hope you haven't lost your cute little token lesbian couple on the show. And where the hell has that adorable Parker Hodges gone to? I loved that episode where you made him set up a BBQ fire grill for a "surprise". Poor Parker is probably thinking, "sweet, I'm going to have me some Barefoot Contessa grilled shrimp, lobster, steak!" What was the surprise? Grilled pizzas. Um yeah, Parker probably hasn't been over since he got duped into thinking he was getting a surprise only to get something he could recreate in his toaster oven.

But you're as cute as a button and how could anyone stay mad at you? Especially when you seem to always bear gifts of brownies, carrot cake and free form plum crostata. Everyone knows I adore you and then some (my offer to come live with you and have you feed me every day still stands) but I really do need to sit and have a heart to heart with you.

See, here's the thing. I love your show and your cookbooks make everything seem simple and yum. But lately all the recipes I've tried from any of your three cookbooks I own, well, they haven't gone so great.

It all started with the 40 clove of garlic recipe. Peeling blanched garlic cloves and 40 of them, hmm, well it was time consuming but I figured it was for you. I thought, "This is for my girl, Ina, and well if she said so, I'll do it". So I did and the chicken was nice but it wasn't amazing and certainly was a let down. My own crispy roasted chicken recipe could have kicked your average 40 clove chicken anyday. "Oh well", I thought, "I've had great success with your chicken and biscuits recipe and your pasta, pesto and peas is a magical creation". So I blindly continued to follow you.

My issues with your cookbooks continued into a tiramisu recipe. If the word for tiramisu comes from the Italian phrase, "pick me up", well your tiramisu was sure to knock someone out! It was boozy and so boozy that the minute I opened the fridge, my entire kitchen reeked of rum. It was completely inedible b/c of the booze and I ended up throwing it out. I almost cried over having to waste all that beautiful mascarpone cheese. I pondered how you, dear Ina, could have made such a recipe. Is being married to Jeffrey so hard that you have to numb your woes with boozy desserts? Why Ina, why? Eventually, I took the rum content down A LOT and suddenly the recipe was able to shine. It was simple and lovely. It's a keeper recipe but one that has red sharpie crossing out the rum content to a much lesser AAA membership level.

But this last issue comes over something I hold very near and dear to my heart...Pizza. See, I was having some friends over to try that summer buttermilk and radish soup I had made (it was good, the texture was weird though) and thought I'd finally get around to using my new pizza stone. I was so excited. But what pizza dough recipe to use? I've had this one recipe that I've used since I was 15 and well, don't laugh, it came from Seventeen Magazine. Hey, I told you not to laugh! It's a great recipe, easy to make and fantastic results. And well, I also had your Parties cookbook that I had been given for X-mas (I want to give her a copy too but can't seem to find it anywhere, sold out, or pulled off the shelves for faulty recipes, hmmm...) and I remembered a recipe for pizza dough.

So, who would win the dough contest? You, my dear Contessa, a royal of food network and the Hamptons or Seventeen magazine, a publication that taught me to hate my body and decide I wasn't white enough to ever be pretty? It was a tough contest, well, not really. So I flipped to the pizza dough recipe and followed your directions.

I noticed that the dough didn't rise too much and well, when it came time to roll it out into six rounds, it was no easy task. The dough was tough, tough, tough. And the final outcome? The pizzas were more like cracker crusts than doughy. It was as though I didn't even need to put the yeast into this one. Was my yeast old? Did I over mix the dough? Sigh. Your pizza dough left me disappointed and doubtful.

I have to admit, as much as I'm sure it was a user error (meaning me), I also think perhaps it might be something to do with the recipe. I'm kinda disappointed. I miss the days when I trusted you unequivocally. The days I'd dream of frolicking with you on the beach eating bbq chicken, pasta salad and other delights. Oh Ina, Ina, where did it all go wrong? And more importantly how do I get back to our former magic? I'm afraid to choose another recipe to try, for fear that it will just be another tangled mess of average, disappointment and rum.

I'm going to go back to Epicurious recipes for a while and nurse my wounds. I promise I'll try and come back to you soon, but for now, I need some space. I'm hurt, but I hope we can patch things up enough that we can stay friends. It's not you, it's just me.

Sincerely yours,

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Not Cooking Soup

I'd post a picture of my soup here but all you'd see is an empty bowl. Teehee!

The weather here in Boston turned hot and I mean really hot. It's in the 90's, hazy, hot and humid. Ugh.

Even though I get to bask in the glory that is condo central air conditioning, it still feels counter intuitive to cook anything in this sort of weather. So I rely on my favorite heat weather meal, chilled soup and it's so easy!

Tonight I decided that I'd do a cucumber one. I chopped half a peeled cuc into my soup bowl and top that off with 1 scallion also chopped. I had some cilantro and dill lying around so into my soup bowl they went too. I covered this entire mixture with buttermilk until it was half to 2/3 full and then add two big scoops of low fat yogurt. All of this is stirred until mixed and I then add salt and pepper to taste. I happened to some some lemon on hand and squeezed some right into my soup. And lastly (this is key!), I add two big teaspons worth of rice wine vinegar. The vinegar is the perfect kick for this cool and refreshing soup. Yum! I don't know where I got the idea for this soup. I use to use balsamic vinegar but it seemed too heavy and made my soup brown, which was a bit ugly.

Sometimes I throw in parsley instead of cilantro, carrots, radishes, mint, red onion all of this has gone in before too. As for spice, a bit of cumin is kinda fun and if you want a real kick, a little Tabasco adds some heat.

Recently, I saw recipe for buttermilk and radish chilled soup. It was on another food blogger's blog but came way of Gourmet recipe. It sounds yum and I love that it sorta follows my chilled soup ideals with vinegar in it as well!

Trust me, it sounds really weird to mix buttermilk, yogurt and vinegar together, but it's seriously a fantastic cold soup base.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My Summer Cooler

I'm a serious light weight when it comes to alcohol. A lot of drinks I'm not a fan of and sometimes it makes me really self conscious to become red (damn the Asian flush!). But I'm busy roasting chicken (mmm, sage and rosemary went into my usual marinate of paprika, cayenne, garlic, butter, lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano for dinner and for meals for the rest of the week and looking in my fridge.

I spotted the leftover over ginger syrup and apricot nectar in my fridge and thought it might be fun to mix those items with some St. Germain.

Yum! I call it my new homemade summer cooler. It's delish.

1 part apricot nectar
1/3 part St. Germain (you might want more but for me, i didn't see the need to turn anymore red than necessary)
2 splashes of the ginger syrup (equal amounts sugar/water boiled and a big chunk of fresh ginger chopped and thrown in, cool and store in the fridge)

into a shaker and into a glass, enjoy!