Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Lessons in Flour, pt. 2

July 12, 2011


Feeling good about my rolling skills with my makeshift rolling pin, i.e. the empty wine bottle, I gave Maureen Evans’ Strudel Pastry a try.  In her 140 characters, a filling isn’t specified, but I had visions of Nutella and chopped hazelnuts in flaky pastry.  Starting with one cup of flour to 2 tablespoons of cut up butter, coarse crumbs are created, mashed together with a potato masher, which is what I assume she means by “mash tater”, not mashing a real potato into the mix.  The addition of 2 teaspoons of yeast dissolved into 2 tablespoons of water barely moistened the dough.  With gradual splashes of water, I could barely form it into a crumbly ball.  This hard ball, more suited to knocking down bowling pins, is supposed to rise?  Well, it didn’t, nor was I able to pull it into a 17″ x 25″ rectangle.  I did what I could rolling it out into a semblance of a crust, having faith that Nutella will make it better.  Alas, it did not.  The result was more like sheetrock than pastry.  Sad.

I suspect that my yeast was dead.  I suspect that given the dry dough, I should have moistened with cream, more butter, or oil, instead of water.  I suspect that adding a mashed potato would have been better than this.

Lessons in Flour, pt. 1

July 7, 2011


Following along with Maureen Evans’ tweeted recipes in the Times, I ventured onto her Kashgar Noodles.  I imagined that these are the same hand-pulled noodles that I see being stretched and banged around at the noodle restaurants in Chinatown, a fascinating piece of theater in the grubbiest joints.  Noodles, especially Asian noodles, are so cheaply omnipresent, that I would never think to make them.  It’s like milking my own cow.  But now, I can attempt the role of bad ass noodle maker on the stage of The Littlest Kitchen.

Of course, it didn’t play out as such.  I had no idea on how to make pasta, having never made it in my life.  When I tried to pinch and pull the noodles, they would fall apart instead of behave like trained elastic bands.  Further inexperience was rolling out the dough, not with a rolling pin (which I do not own), but with an empty wine bottle.
From a little bit of research, I learned that the thinner the dough the better (duh), and when she says “cut crosswise”, that means make them long (double duh).  With the first round of dough, I did neither ending up with something more akin to spaetzle.  Eventually, ingenuity won over ineptitude, to make something surprisingly good for something out of nothing – flour, water, egg, salt, and an empty wine bottle.


Beyond the basic noodle recipe in 140 characters, I’m left alone on what to cook with them.  The first try is as soup noodles using Nina Simonds’ Mushroom-Beef Udon Soup recipe from Asian Noodles, my thick-ish noodles being very similar to rope-y udon.  The soup is a dashi based broth (another something out of nothing) simmered with mushrooms and scallions, topped with marinated beef and spinach.  The noodles held up to the sturdy soup, and if they weren’t so ugly and deformed, they could go pro.

Since I was never going to make perfect noodles, I thought that it could take a rougher treatment in a stir fry.  Using the marinated beef from the soup, sauteed with garlic and ginger, these made a great lo-mein, with the addition of snow peas and tofu.  The wonkiness of the noodles went well with the fresh mess and freestyle that lo mein or chow fun  allows.  Wider surface area meant for more marinade absorption and the opportunity for crispy, browned effect.  I may not be ready to thwack the noodles at the Chinese restaurant, but I can certainly be their fry cook.

Not So Know It All

June 21, 2011


What is there to know about Saffron Asparagus Orzo?  The tweeted recipes in the New York Times has provided me the opportunity to learn more about what I’m cooking beyond the 140 characters provided, a bit of backstory to fill out the brief jottings.  In the case of this orzo, it seemed pretty self-explanatory and clear, no additional research would be needed.  Brown the orzo in butter and garlic; add saffron and stock; add asparagus; add parmesan.  I followed, I flailed, a little.  I browned the orzo a little too much.  There was too much stock to orzo, by the time it was cooked through, it was still too soup-y.   The asparagus became overcooked while I waited for the liquid to cook down.  While this endeavor seemed like a no-brainer, it became more of a lesson in attention to detail.  Not that the final results weren’t still good, it’s quite delicious.  Even with the gaffes, imagine how good it could be?


June 14, 2011


It started with a tweet.  Not the illicit near naked kind, but Maureen Evans’ tweeted biscotti recipe from the New York Times.  At 140 characters, this brief biscotti recipe seemed all too easy.  I had only made biscotti once before, a friend’s mother’s recipe, which was radically different, so I needed to study up a bit.  A consultation with Cook’s Illustrated, revealed a similar Lemon-Anise Biscotti recipe to the tweet, filled out with more details like mixing dry and wet ingredients separately, and decreasing the temperature on the second baking.  Fusing the two recipes, I boosted the flavor with CI’s addition of 1/2T lemon zest, 1/2T anise seed (instead of anise “flavr”) and 1/8t vanilla.  Incredibly easy, it satisfies my sweet tooth without being sinful and cloying.  I can see it being in my regular repertoire.


I was so filled with biscotti pride that I went on a biscotti binge for two work parties last week.  A batch of the easy lemon-anise biscotti for my non-nut co-workers, the crowd pleasing Mrs. D recipe, and as a challenge for me, Pistachio and Dried-Cherry Biscotti from the May 2011 Bon Appetit.  While cooking the BA recipe, I questioned the ratio of ingredients, the dough was incredibly dry, forming the log was like making a sand castle with the abundance of fruits and nuts falling off.  I prepared myself for disappointment.  Quite the opposite – they rocked!  Slightly chewy, and full of complex flavor from vanilla and almond extract, orange and lemon zest, and oats, I’m in love.  It’s more work than the tweet, but well worth it.

Tweet Tagine

June 7, 2011


I was intrigued by Maureen Evans’ tweeted recipes in the April 22, 2009 New York Times, both for what’s in them and how they are told.  The article extolled their compact and elegant virtues, but it wasn’t without a little homework.  For her Honeyed Tagine, essentially a lamb stew, I needed to consult Cook’s Illustrated, as I’ve never cooked lamb before.  First,  what kind of lamb?  Only one pound of lamb, or yam, is specified.  I learned that it’s the shoulder, which I got from the halal butcher, who then cut the slab into 1-inch pieces on his bandsaw.  The truncated technique of the tweet more or less matched the multi-pargraphed version in Cook’s Illustrated, the main difference being a longer cooking time at a lower temperature – 250 degrees for 2 hours instead of 400 degrees for an hour – which makes sense for a more tender, collagen enriched braise.  Otherwise, the proportion of spice, aromatics and sweet was very similar to CI’s Moroccan Lamb Stew.  A nice addition at the end is a cup of garbanzo beans baked in for the last 15 minutes.  Now that I have my technique down, I can see myself making it from shorthand in the future.

Another Chance

May 31, 2011


From the same clipping as the dreaded potato chip salmon, I reluctantly tried the Easy Mexican Meatloaf.  I should be skeptical of the now defunct For Me, but there’s an appeal to this meatloaf – salsa.  Proving that salsa makes everything better, no, make that chipotle salsa makes everything better, this meatloaf is boss.  Almost creamy in texture and full of flavor, it’s how you want meatloaf to be, but rarely is.  Easy enough to recall – 1 lb. ground beef, 1 cup of breadcrumbs, salsa, onion, 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1t hot sauce, and an egg – I was able to pass it on to a co-worker who then passed it on to her mother in California, confirming the success of the recipe.  Like the Couscous Salsa Chicken, salsa saves the day.

Swimming Upstream

May 24, 2011


From the files comes a recipe for Potato Chip-Crusted Salmon from an October 2005 For Me Magazine.  I like salmon, I like potato chips, maybe it’s like a no-fry fried chicken in baked salmon form.  Well, there’s a reason there’s no such thing as chicken fried salmon – so oily!  Salmon is baked in a covering of crushed kettle-cooked chips, lime zest, dill, and olive oil, looking alluring enough.  But it is unbearably greasy, leaving my mouth feeling chalky and coated.  For a fish that is practically half fat (but good fat!), adding an oily crust is too much.

Left with more than a pound of this dish that I didn’t like, the fish itself was not of particular quality on its own either.  Alone in a salad would have made me miserable.  I ventured on making the most of it.  First were the Corn and Salmon Pancakes from Judith Jones’ The Pleasures of Cooking for One.  Easy enough with all the ingredients in house – salmon, an egg, corn, flour, scallions, and dill – they were more like a thin pancake than a plump crab cake.  Nice, but only for one meal, as I was Cooking for One.  There was still a pound to go.

Enter Bon Appetit’s Salmon Sandwich on Ciabatta from the May 2010 issue.  Made with a Piment d’Espelette Mayonnaise – mayo, shallots, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, lime zest, and smoked paprika (a substitute for the more rarefied Piment d’Espelette) – it transformed my stink fish into the best fish salad.  Joined up with pepper-y arugula on a chewy ciabatta, I could have had sandwiches for days.  But I moved on…

I became intrigued with Panfried Salmon Potato Cakes in the cookbook from Vij’s, the incredible Indian restaurant in Vancouver.  Unlike Judith Jones’ salmon cakes, potato and sweet potato made these fluffy and light.  Coriander, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, and cumin completed them with fragrance and spice.  Absolutely fantastic – alone, with baby greens, with an egg on top, and in a sandwich.  From sad to success.

Chino Latino

May 17, 2011


From a February 13, 2008 New York Times comes Short Ribs with Coffee and Chilies.  One word – awesome.  Another word – easy.  It’s hard to believe that something this delicious requires so little work.  The biggest effort was in finding the dried pasilla and chipotle chilies at a Mexican grocery store.  Short ribs are browned in a dutch oven, then removed.  In the same pot, sautee onions, garlic and crushed chilis until soft.  Add a cup of coffee and red wine, then the ribs.  Braise for 3 hours, and those big bone yield tender, tasty meat while the onions melt away into a thickened sauce.  Heavenly and rich, spicy and sweet.


To cut the richness, as I don’t own a defibrilator at home, I paired it with a Cucumber Carrot Salad from a June 1994 Gourmet.  Also a random pull from the files, the cucumber salad which is based on green papaya salad, reminds me more of Korean pickles, seasoned with lime, garlic, and fish sauce.  With this recipe, I incorporate Cook’s Illustrated’s technique for cucumber salads which is to draw as much water out of the cucumbers so that it absorbs the dressing and retains some crunch.  This is achieved by salting the cucumber slices and letting it drain with a Ziploc bag of water on top of it over a colander for an hour.  I think it helps.

The short ribs and pickles complement each other perfectly in a sandwich on a brioche roll, another lush touch gilding the fattening lily.

A more reserved, but no less delicious, is paired in a taco.  Kogi truck, look out.

A Winner Indeed

May 10, 2011


I was skeptical when a friend gave me a recipe for Salsa Couscous Chicken, the million dollar Pillsbury Bake-Off Winner.  From 1998.  The clincher to the recipe is a jar of Old El Paso Salsa.  I’m sure that at the time it was culinary genius, a shortcut unheard of since Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup.  But in this day and age of Rachael Ray and Real Simple, this little trick is old hat.  Needless to say, these shortly stewed skinless, boneless chicken thighs (another recent innovation) with raisins and almonds were really good and really quick.  Reminiscent of a tagine that I like to make, I added 1/2 can of garbanzo beans to the Mexican mix made Morrocan by cinnamon and cumin.  In regards to the name brand salsa, the cheaper the better, as any subtlety of a fancy salsa will be lost when cooked down to a stew.  It won me over.

Sometimes you win, sometimes…

May 3, 2011


…you lose.  A page from a May 2001 Bon Appetit, had a winner and a loser, both of which came down to the wholeness of the food.  First, the winner was Baba Ghanouj.  The simplicity of roasted eggplant and garlic, good olive oil and freshly toasted cumin is all that is necessary for good baba ghanouj.  But it is slow.  An hour to roast, more than an hour (or in my case, overnight) to cool, toast the cumin, and then finally, puree.  Nothing complicated, just time consuming, the basis for good, honest food.


In the same story, Cooking For Health, there is a recipe for Vegetarian Cassoulet.  Okay, I know buyer beware of the recipe that substitutes veggie breakfast links and garden burgers for pork and duck, but I didn’t think that I would dislike it as much as I did.  All I could taste were chemicals amongst the tomato and beans.  In a slow cooked casserole, the meat substitutes seemed to breakdown into artificial, freezer burned bites.  It bummed me out.  Even reheated in ramekins, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and cheese, it failed to be redeemed.  No fake-o food for me in the future.