Archive for October, 2008

Abject Greed

October 31, 2008

 

Do I really need another cookbook?  I already have a shelf’s worth, many of which I don’t even touch.  But I can’t deny that crazy bargain hunter/hoarder in me – when the office next door is selling their cookbooks for $5 a pop, I can’t stop myself.  I like to think that the six cookbooks that I got are carefully considered, not just that I’m plain greedy.

 

-Into the Vietnamese Kitchen – I want to learn how to cook Vietnamese food.  A real pretty book that has the hit parade of Vietnamese food and the basics, it even has some charcuterie in it.  Although I don’t see myself making sausages, it satisfies my curiosity when I go to the Bahn Mi store and wonder what all the colorful stuff in plastic is.

-Healthy Thai Cooking – I want to learn how to cook Thai food.  Not as pretty and in depth as the Vietnamese Kitchen, it has appealing and easy recipes, including how to make curry paste (use up those herbs!).  I hesitated on this book since it looks like one of those closeout books on the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble, but the recipes won me over.

 

-Soups – Food porn!  The beautiful photography seals the deal on this easy soup book.  So much so that I didn’t notice that the recipes are in metric.

 

-Tom Valenti’s Soups, Stews and One-Pot Meals – More stew-y, soup-y recipes, I can’t get enough.  It had me at Baked Gnocchi Carbonara.

 

-The Gourmet Garage Cookbook – So many outstanding recipes (Hot Green Chile Grits!  Toasted Oats and Fresh Tomato Soup!), although I rarely go to the Gourmet Garage.  It also offers tips on using and shopping for ingredients.

 

-The Food Life – Fairway’s tell-all and cookbook, I love this store, so shouldn’t I buy the book?

 

It’s time to get cooking!

How About Those Nutella Rice Krispie Treats?

October 30, 2008

 

I finally found a recipe for Nutella rice krispie treats, and let me tell you, it’s divine.  Basically, it’s the standard RK treat recipe with 2 less tablespoons of butter and 2 more tablespoons of Nutella,  the nutty chocolateness adds an extra dimension to the sweet sweet marshmallows.

 

 

 

I haven’t made RK treats in a while, and I certainly haven’t made them in The Littlest Kitchen, so I was a bit rusty on my technique.  I made a trial batch from Rice Krispies and Froot Loops for a phantasmagoric color fest to bring for dinner the next night.  They tasted perfectly good, but they were malformed and ugly, like the junk floored bottom of the sea in Sponge Bob land.  What I learned on building a better RK treat:

-butter a dish, don’t use wax paper, it sticks

-cook the marshmallows over low so that the marshmallows don’t get brittle

-spread and press down the mixture in the molding pan with a silicone spatula, it doesn’t stick

-a little salt doesn’t hurt

 

Tasty, easy, and I don’t need an oven!

 

Making Nutella

October 29, 2008

 

For a co-workers baby shower, we were all assigned to make Nutella themed foods.  While searching for a recipe for Nutella rice krispie treats, I stumbled across a recipe for Nutella itself on Sugoodsweets.com.  Like marshmallows, Wonder bread, and Oreo cookies, I never would have thought to make Nutella, as it strikes me as something that requires industrial machines and even more industrial ingredients, not something that could or should be made at home.

 

Essentially roasted hazelnuts, powdered sugar, cocoa, oil and vanilla, it seemed so easy, more like peanut butter than machine made goo.  The hardest part was preparing the nuts.  Starting from raw hazelnuts, in my case, nuts still in the shell that were $1.99/pound at the middle eastern store, they had to be roasted, cracked open, and skins peeled.  Roasting was easy, cracking them was fun, but peeling the skins was a son of a bitch!  Next time, I’m investing in the pre-shelled, pre-skinned raw nuts.  I also didn’t know how dark that they should get.  The recipe calls for DARK, but if I’m peeling the skins because they’re bitter, wouldn’t near burned nuts be as well?  

 

I had to finish the Nutella at a friend’s who has a food processor, so it wasn’t completely made in The Littlest Kitchen.  We watched in fascination as the nuts turned into liquid, and were in rapture of the smell.  The results were fantastic, more toast-y nutty, more chocolate-y, and less chemically, like real food.  It feels more healthy than the store bought version, although we did add 2T butter for more oomph.  It puts the brand to shame.

Tip Top Ramen

October 28, 2008

 

 

There are some things that can’t be shaken from a childhood of junk food.  Most of them involve artificial cheese flavoring, but I also have a huge soft spot for Top Ramen.  Not the styrofoam Cup O’ Noodles, but the brick o’ noodles wrapped in cellophane with a flavor packet.  Now, I don’t just throw all the contents in boiling water and call it a day, I pimp it out.  The noodles get a long slow cooking on low well past al dente.  I fortify the “stock” with a loosely scrambled egg.  Peas and tofu are welcome additions for color, variety, and texture.  Upon serving, it gets a splash of sesame oil and a shake of that Japanese citrus-y pepper.  Last night, I was lucky enough to have some hiannese chicken for extra credit.  More of an evolution of taste than a throw back to the past, it feels like home.

Tapenade

October 27, 2008

It bums me out to buy a bunch of herbs only to see it go bad, so I’m always looking for ways to use up large quantities of herbs. The clearinghouse for herbs appears to be pesto. Fill-in-the-blank herb + oil + nuts + garlic = yummy pesto. It’s good with pasta, meats, and sandwiches. It lasts for days, or can be frozen for later use. The addition of olives transforms what would be a parsley pesto, into an olive tapenade. Trying out Louisa Shafia’s olive tapenade from the March 2007 issue of Domino, I swapped out green olives for black and pine nuts for walnuts, since that’s what had on hand. The tapenade had a full olive flavor, accentuated by the meatiness of the nuts, pungency of the garlic, and the freshness of the parsley. Cleaning out the fridge has never tasted so good.

Olive Tapenade

-coarsely chop 2 cups parsley
-mince 1 clove garlic
-in a blender or food processor, combine parsley, garlic, 1 cup pitted olives, 1/4 cup nuts, 2T olive oil, and 1T lemon juice, process until pureed, about 1 minute.

Egg-citing

October 24, 2008

Eggs are truly a wonder food for me. I love them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Any leftovers can be extended and improved with an egg. It is equally good sweet, as in a custard, and savory, as in a frittata. One of my favorite egg dishes that I’ve never tried to make is a savory steamed egg custard. There are Chinese, Japanese, and Korean versions of this silky, briny treat; having the Dok Suni cookbook, I tried the Korean version of egg and scallion custard for my first time. Simply egg, water, salt, scallions, sesame oil, ground sesame seeds, and a pinch of red pepper, the hardest thing was getting the steam time correct. The recipe asks to be made in one big bowl, but I lacked a pot and a bowl that was the right size, so I made single size ramekins. Not taking into account volume differentiation, I steamed one ramekin for the full 20 minutes, which overcooked the egg into a tight, dense knot. Quartering the time, because I had quartered the quantity, made a perfectly good custard, nutty from the sesame. This version is not as delicate as a Japanese chawan mushi, which will be next on the experiment table.

From Sad to Salsa

October 23, 2008

Having inherited two tomatoes from a friend’s move last week, they were a bit past their prime. A good excuse to make salsa. I love a fresh, simple salsa of tomato, garlic, jalapeno, lime and cilantro. How it becomes that thick ketchup-like gunk in a jar, I’ll never know.

Salsa

-core, seed, and chop two tomatoes
-mince 1 jalapeno and 1 clove garlic
-juice 1 lime
-chop 1/4 cup cilantro
-mix for chunky, or blend for smooth salsa

The Big Purchase

October 22, 2008

Physically big, not financially big. What was impeding my cooking was not having an oven, but not having a large mixing bowl. Last weekend, I finally made it over to Win Restaurant Supplies and shelled out $5 for a 12″ metal mixing bowl. In my travels, I’d seen a lot of cute nested mixing bowl sets in sweet round-ish shapes and bright colors, but I have to be practical – I’m a total klutz. Glass and ceramic will most certainly meet a fateful demise in my hands, especially the way that I stack dishes when I wash them. Plastic absorbs smells and stains. Metal is the way to go, I don’t think I can break it, only dent it.

To inaugurate my new bowl and use those new beans, I made the Adzuki Bean Loaf from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook. A combination of adzuki beans, boiled potatoes, mirepoix, pita bread, and fresh herbs, it claims to be a “meatless” meat loaf. It looked like meatloaf with the beans adding a nice reddish tinge, but tasted more like savory mashed potatoes. Still good, but different. I imagine that if it had something to make it more chewy like brown rice, it could be more meat-like. Using ramekins, I baked them in the toaster oven, which sometimes feels more akin to playing with a Betty Crocker EZ Bake Oven than cooking. A crust forms nicely on top, making me wonder how the would be as pan-fried veggie burgers. Probably like latkes.

Prefab Fab

October 21, 2008

When I dream of my fantasy house, I don’t think of sprawling mansions or country cottages, I often think of prefab. Practical and clever, I like to think that they are efficient in design, while elegant in installation. And I don’t mean double wides and trailers. The now passed Home Delivery show at MOMA offered a survey of prefabricated housing, past and present. Fulfilling the need for quick and easy housing, prefab homes have been driven by technical innovation and for the most part, good design. There are plans, models, short films and ads for the actual and unrealized, the most satisfying exhibit being a real (and slightly rusty) Lustron house, a wonder of enamel coated steel, like living in a vintage bread box.

Outside in the 54th Street lot, are modern renditions of the prefab archi-porn, more along the lines of my wee dream house. But not with these kitchens! The tiniest of all was the micro compact home , a bite-size abode more like a hitch-on trailer than a house. One couldn’t enter the diminutive house, let alone stand fully upright. The “kitchen” was barely a strip with an espresso machine and a two burner hot plate. There are a couple of cabinets, which is more than that of System 3. A bump up in size, maybe the size of a shipping container, the kitchen is a mix of surgery and sci-fi, whereas the bathroom embodies prison-chic. Clad in stainless steel the multipurpose peninsula is anchored by the sink from which extends the cooktop. Next to the sink are two Gaggeneau ovens stacked on top of an undercounter fridge. But no storage. I’ll stick to my tiny kitchen, but I’ll take their appliances.

Kitchen Distractions

October 20, 2008

I haven’t been able to spend much time in the kitchen for the past week and a half. The parade of friends visiting town, friends moving out of town, friends moving back into town, the debates, and my obsession with Mad Men, all have left little energy other than for the routine in the kitchen. But I’m re-invigorated with the change of season and…free bags of beans from work! Not a substitute for pay, but leftover props, I got azuki beans, kidney beans, soybeans, black beans, lima beans, and fava beans, things that I normally don’t buy, especially in dried form. A good time to experiment and warm up the kitchen.

My first endeavor takes me back to my childhood with one of my favorite Chinese desserts, red bean soup. Made from azuki beans, it’s surprisingly easy as I just winged it with water and sugar. I’m surprised that I never made it before. Sweet and fortifying, the soup has a filling starchy beaniness for a hearty dessert. I also like it with rice balls filled with sesame paste for additional texture.

Sweet Red Bean Soup
-soak 1/2 lb. azuki beans in twice volume water overnight
-in the same water, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes until soft
-add 1/4 cup sugar, heat for another 10 minutes until thickened and redder
-add rice balls, optional, heat through