Archive for December, 2008

A Not So Little Kitchen

December 24, 2008

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For my last entry of the year, I would like to pay tribute to Mark Bittman’s “little” kitchen.  A modest, normal kitchen at 6′ x 7′,  one would think that he would have a state of the art galley, being the esteemed cookbook author that he is.  Although I could only dream of having a kitchen like his, at twice the size of my own, with full-size appliances and a dishwasher, I am heartened to hear that he has a simple, no nonsense kitchen.   The lesson being that good cooks, not grand kitchens, make good food. This is my aspiration for The Littlest Kitchen.  Similarly, it is this lack of fussiness that draws me to the Minimalist’s recipes, basic with only the most key details.   I like that he works out of a plebeian kitchen.  Mark, he’s just like us.

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Another Road to Sesame Noodles

December 23, 2008

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Even though I love Martha Stewart’s Cold Sesame Noodles, I thought that I would try a different path with Ken Hom’s Tan Tan Noodles.  It was like having a map to get to Chicago, and then deciding to go to San Francisco because that’s what I wanted anyway.  Similar ingredients are cooked, with more chili and less peanut butter, the sauce is soup-y and less paste-y.  In blatant disregard, I had changed two vital parts of the recipe – I did not use the Sichuan preserved vegetables, described as “essential”; and I substituted fat udon noodles for thin egg noodles.  A disappointingly different dish altogether of fat noodles in a thin red stock, no wonder I changed it a third time with a scoop of peanut butter.  I guess I like what I like, and what I like are Cold Sesame Noodles.

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Shocking!

December 22, 2008

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Christmas shopping outside of Santa’s workshop led me to Starbuck’s this week.  I haven’t been to Starbuck’s in quite some time, certainly not since they’ve had to list calories on the menu, and it was shocking.  My jaw almost dropped to the ground when I saw that Marshmallow Squares had 440 calories – almost a third of my supposed caloric intake for the day.  I knew that Cinnabons were calorie bombs due to all the shortening and icing, but those light and airy Marshmallow Squares?  I guess I shouldn’t be so naive, having made them recently with twice as much butter.  

Posting the caloric content certainly had its intended effect on me – it made me think twice.  But in Jim Dwyer’s column in the Times on Saturday about the menu disclosures, this information is irrelevant to many.  Some people mistake the range of calories listed in a value meal as a phone number.  Some people don’t know how many  calories that they should consume.  Some people don’t know what calories are.  Again shocking, and sad.  For those of us who do know, it’s a bridge between denial and reality.  Hard numbers work.

Santa’s Workshop, pt. 2

December 19, 2008

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With the holiday office party, I finally had an excuse to make the New York Times’ Caramelized Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats from about a year ago.  I could only imagine how good it could possibly be with the depth of brown butter and rich caramel tones.  Kind of, sort of, not really.  It’s definitely buttery, twice as much butter in relation to the marshmallows, but not to the rice krispies.  So it has the mouth watering flavor of butter, but it’s surprisingly dry and crumbly, showering oneself in a messy shatter of krispie dust with every bite.

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Since I’ve never tried to brown butter before, I was particularly neurotic about this part of the process.  Melted butter, understood.  Foaming butter, I guess it’s when it looks like its boiling, hard to tell since it looks like butter soup.  Clear, aha!  But is the brown part supposed to look like separated balsamic dressing with little brown pieces?  I was wondering if this separation was “breaking” like mayonnaise.  But it was correct, as indicated by the photos on Chow.com.  A particularly ugly step, was mixing it in with the snow white marshmallows.

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The end product is much more attractive with the brown butter nicely tanning the rice krispies and flecked with the black flecks of browned milk solids.  It might be worth trying again with less rice krispies, but I’ll have to wait until my cholesterol count has a chance to recover.

Anniversary

December 18, 2008

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It’s been a year since The Littlest Kitchen opened.  And what an exciting year it’s been.  The kitchen’s been renovated, although not finished.  I got a dose of reality and put myself on a budget.  I’ve had many a good meal, and a few failures too.

In the upcoming year, I’m hoping to finish the kitchen while remaining within budget, crack into the growing collection of cookbooks, and maybe learn a thing or two.  I’m looking forward to it.

Santa’s Vial of Crack

December 17, 2008

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Along with the infused vodka, I’m thinking of adding something else to my work gifts.  Sweet and spicy nuts?  Too much work for too little yield.  Bourbon Balls for a double booze delight?  A good option for having no oven.  Chex Party Mix?  I need a trial run.

I’ve never made Chex Party Mix before.   It struck me to make Chex Party Mix because Chex was on sale at Pathmark for buy 1 get 2 free, talk about the power of persuasion.  The recipe makes enough for an army, so I pared it down to a third for my trial.  The recipes on the box essentially involved cooking in the microwave and adding powdered salad dressing.  Not interested.  The original on Chex.com had its share of powdered flavorings, but it also had butter and Worcestershire sauce.  An irresistible combination that wrapped me up in its spell, I felt like I had discovered nuclear fission and crack cocaine together.  Hence, I couldn’t stop eating it, hoovering away with all the enthusiasm of a competitive eater.  It was gone in minutes.  Nobody gets Chex Party Mix.  And if I made the full recipe for gifts, nobody would get that either,  as I would undoubtedly eat it all.  

Chex Party Mix (adapted from Chex.com)

-preheat oven 250 degrees

-in a large bowl, mix 3 cups Corn Chex, 3 cups Rice Chex, 3 cups Wheat Chex, 1 cup mixed nuts, and 1 cup small pretzels

-melt 6T butter, add 2T Worcestershire sauce, toss with cereal mix, transfer to a baking sheet

-bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes, allow to cool.

Middle Eastern Huevos Rancheros

December 16, 2008

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Slowly making my way through monster booty, I finished off the tomatoes with a variation of Shakshuka from The Hummus Place.  Not unlike the way that I make Huevos Rancheros, it’s basically a chunky tomato and aromatic sauce with an egg cooked on top.

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Making the sauce from the start, as opposed to using pre-made salsa or even leftover ratatouille, proves to be a fridge cleaner and a test of ingenuity.  No jalapeno?  I have pickled jalapenos.  No bell peppers?  Celery will provide sufficient body and sweetness.  No vegetable stock?  Chicken stock will do.  No canned tomatoes?  Oh well.  I know the body of the sauce,  I had the spices correct, and I’m familiar with the end product.  It ended up being perfect for a Sunday morning breakfast.

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Shakshuka (based on The Hummus Place)

-chop 1/2 onion and 1 celery

-mince 1 garlic clove and 1 pickled jalapeno

-chop and seed 2 tomatoes

-heat 3T olive oil over medium heat, add onions, cook until soft, about 5 minutes

-add garlic, jalapeno, and celery, saute 2 more minutes

-add tomatoes, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes

-add 1/2t cayenne, 1t paprika, 1/2t tumeric, 1/2T salt, 1/2t black pepper, and 1/2t sugar, stir to coat

-add 1/2 cup chicken stock, bring to boil, the reduce to low, simmer uncovered until thick, about 20 minutes

-crack 2 eggs into the pan, simmer until whites are solid and the yolks are still runny, about 2 minutes

-serve the egg on top of the sauce with pita

Monster Booty

December 15, 2008

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I’m the lucky recipient of another bundle of joy – a giant bag of groceries.  Between a dinner party and a vacation, a friend found himself in excess of food, so instead of letting it go bad, he gave them to me to make good.  The take:

-3 tangerines

-3/4 cucumber

-ginger

-8 Meyer lemons

-celery

-romaine lettuce

-1 pear

-4 tomatoes

-1 box of cherry tomatoes

-arugula

-dinner rolls

-mini rye bread

-7 kinds of cheese

-some yummy cooked fish thing

Whoa.  The fish and arugula were quickly finished for lunch.  I brought the cheese and rye bread to work for a sorority cheese party.  Some of the lemons were used for the infused vodka.  Now what?

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Rationalizing that the tomatoes would be the first to go, I decided to try the Toasted Oats and Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil and Orange Zest fro The Gourmet Garage Cookbook.  Except that I didn’t have any basil (it’s December and I ran out of money for the rest of the week.  Such is the budget.)  What starts out as a basic tomato soup becomes unconventional with the addition of oatmeal and orange.  Apprehensive at first, it’s quite good.  The oatmeal is almost nutty like barley from the toasting, having the texture of exploded rice but creamier.  The oranges emphasize and carry the sweetness of the tomatoes.  Strange bedfellows, yet effective.

Toasted Oats and Fresh Tomato Soup with Orange Zest (adapted from The Gourmet Garage Cookbook)

-blanch 2 big tomatoes until skin cracks, about 2 minutes

-remove from water, let cool

-chop 1 small onion

-mince 1 garlic clove

-peel, seed and chop tomatoes

-toast 1/2 cup rolled oats in a small skillet until the darken slightly, about 5-8 minutes

-melt 2T butter in a stockpot over medium

-add onion and garlic, cook until soft, about 5 minutes

-add tomatoes, cook 2 minutes

-add 2 1/2 cups chicken stock and 1t orange zest, bring to boil

-reduce heat to low, add oats, cover and cook 8 minutes

I really like the soup the way it is, but the original recipe asks for 1/3 cup basil for double the quantities to serve six.  I halved it so I wouldn’t get sick of it over the span of a week.

Santa’s Workshop, pt. 1

December 12, 2008

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Infused vodkas would seem to be an easy, fairly inexpensive, gift that everyone in my work sorority would love.  What’s not to love – made with love and care, nice to look at, hopefully tasty, and a re-usable bottle.  On my end, it wasn’t as cheap or easy as I thought.  The bottles are about $5 each.  For six, it hits a critical mass of $30.  The vodka was $20 for 1.75 liters.  The lemons were a serendipitous freebie.  Okay, so it’s less than $10 a bottle, which is not so bad for an office gift.  But what about my hourly wage?

It all sounded so simple – add a lemon peel to a bottle of vodka, wait a week, and voila!  Lemon-infused vodka.  I got the recipe from The Container Store, of all places, where I got the bottles and a funnel.  I had the choice of Meyer lemons or regular lemons in my fridge.  The Meyers were delicately perfume-y, where as the regular lemons smelled like Lemon Pledge.  I’ll go with the Meyer lemons.  The recipe calls for peeling a long strip of the lemon peel, careful not to get the pith, which makes the vodka bitter.  Since the lemons weren’t super taut, it was already difficult to get the peel off with a paring knife, let alone without the pith.  I had to go back over each peel and scrape the pith off.  It took almost two hours for five lemons.  Once it was done, and I threw it in the vodka-filled flask, it was so satisfying to see the peel floating in the clear bottle.  A pretty gift indeed.

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I also tried a ginger version from Chow.com for an extra gift to have.  Not as pretty, without the graphic yellow ribbon of peel.  It only needs to sit for a day, for a really quick, albeit homely, gift.

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Better Juice

December 11, 2008

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Part I:  According to the Gourmet Magazine test kitchen, you can get more juice from a lemon or a lime if you halve the lemon pole to pole, rather than through its diameter.  It seems so counterintuitive since the notches on the juicer correspond to the segments of the fruit, a design intended to get into the nooks and crannies.  I don’t know what it is, but when I tried it, there was twice as much juice this new and improved way.

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Part II:  With a hand held squeezer which functions like a clamp, which way do you place the bisected lemon half?  Face up so that the dome bears down on the soft fruit?  Or face down, so that the dome turns the half inside out to get out all the juice.  When I tried both, it was pretty much a tie, the inside out way is just a little more fun.