Saturday, October 30, 2010

Attack of the Jumbo Croutons


Ok, so let’s take a step back and talk about a non-cooking disaster. Butternut Squash Soup! Seriously, butternut squash is the hippest, coolest vegetable out there. Anyone you would ask would say they LOVE butternut squash, not even just LIKE it. It’s the iPod of vegetables. Cool to eat, cool to cook. Just cool!

It’s getting chillier here – and thank god after our horrid hot summer from hell! The leaves are changing colors, we’re all sleeping with warmer blankets that our spouses continue to claim that we steal at night. It’s a cyclical thing. I wanted butternut squash soup as soon as I saw the gourd staring right me at the store. And the thing about butternut squash --- I wanted to make it myself. It’s probably the one vegetable that intimidates the least people, because anyway you do it, it will turn out delicious.

So taking a cue from the Barefoot Mountessa, I roasted the squash with some olive oil, salt and pepper in the oven. And then I added it to a pot with chicken stock and pureed it. It was a bit watery because I didn’t anticipate having so little squash after roasting it – shrinkage, you see – so I thickened the soup a bit with some cream and also a touch of flour added to some set aside soup and then plonked back into the pot.

I also wanted to make some croutons to go with. I sautéed some bread cubes in a lovely garlic and herb olive oil. I admit I may have cut big cubes – maybe to compensate for my little itty bitty squash cubes post-roasting – but it was still delicious, so who cares. Oh, and how could I forget, for added flavor I added ground nutmeg to the soup. Goes together like peas and carrots, you see.

Don't tell your Italian grandmother about this pizza.


In one of the first few pages of Kitchen, Nigella had me at crustless pizza. Pizza anything and I will try it. The fact that it was a quick recipe, that it looked so amazing, that I didn’t have to make a dough that’s soft but not too sticky. And cheese. My second favorite food group. I was surprised that Nigella had cheddar cheese for this ‘pizza’ but she did describe it as a crustless grilled cheese sandwich. So it made complete sense to me to top it with fresh tomato, since tomato soup is a usual partner to the grilled cheese.

The ‘dough’ is more like a pancake batter – and even more interesting, you don’t pour it into a frying pan – you actually bake it.

When I looked at it just before I added the 2nd helping of cheddar cheese and the tomato, it reminded me kind of like a cheesy Yorkshire pudding. It bubbled up in places and looked so inviting.

And although the final result was very good, I was not too sure about its consistency. The batter never seemed cooked enough, but it could have been just that it was melted cheese in the dough, not uncooked batter. Plus, you can’t eat this like a Brooklyn pizza. You can’t slice it up, cup it in your hand and go to town. It’s more of a proper knife and fork type of thing, which is ok I guess, but I suppose I was just in the mood for an easy pizza, not a cheesy dough pancake. So not sure if it is a recipe I’ll try again… And this is when I really started questioning myself, and worse, questioning Nigella. I mean, I’ve been waiting for years for this book – she even told us about it in its infancy (and by the way, used a cool verb to describe what she was doing with it, but mommy brain/sieve can’t remember). A homebaked crustless cheese pizza to the person that can!

Everyday Disasters



So the brownies kinda start a slippery slope it seems. It didn’t really START with them, but it was the first time I started noticing that maybe I was out of practice. I mean I had a big excuse, well two, to be exact. First, a few years ago I took a very demanding job that had me home late and too tired to cook. Still at that job, so it explains why the only time I have to draft this blog post is on a plane to Los Angeles. Then, I got pregnant, and my eating just wasn’t the same. If I wasn’t grossed out by things like grilled chicken, I was on my OBGYN’s crazy no-protein-left-behind diet, which sadly, omitted a lot of the carbs I so desperately need in my life. Now my little nugget of no-sleep happiness doesn’t give me much time to cook, except in the rare instance when I still have energy after putting him down for the night.


The buzz currently around my Nigellaphites is Nigella Lawson’s new book, Kitchen. In America it’s called Nigella Kitchen, which is pretty redundant, considering Nigella wrote it, but no one at Hyperion asked me, so…. whatevs. The book is massive, and I’m so excited to cook from it. I made the no-fuss fruit tart, which didn’t turn out well, as I blogged, because I got the base all messed up. That was entirely my fault, not Nigella’s or the book, so I persevered.

I went on to make the brownies, which spoke to me – no, seriously, chocolate really does talk to me – that they needed to be made. It is made with just cocoa, no dark chocolate, so it saves a lot of money and time not having to chop up lots of expensive chocolate. You do have the option of adding chopped up milk chocolate at the end of this recipe, but that is much easier, and since I love milk chocolate, I’ll forgive it for taking away precious moments from my life.

I made these the first time my baby turned 6 months. I had a mini-half birthday for him, and the brownies were definitely overcooked. I took them out about 20 minutes after they went into the oven, which is the minimum time in the book, but they were still overdone. Hey, chocolate is chocolate, so we still ate them (read, I still ate them) and they were good, but they missed the crispy top/fudgy bottom we all know and love. So I had to make them again – and they were a success! Rich and fudgy. Even after 15 minutes they were almost cooked through, so next time I will dare to do 12 minutes and let it continue baking outside the oven in its own heat. I also seriously do not recommend using foil. It just sticks to the bottom of the brownies. I just buttered the bottom of the brownie pan and added parchment paper to it so it stuck, and that was the perfect vehicle for these brown beauties.

The Love Bowl


My mom taught me how to make her chicken soup a while back, and good thing I blogged about it (with pictures!), because my mind is such a sieve lately, there is no way I would have recreated it.



You get a nice leg quarter or thighs or drumsticks – whatever. Get organic, because since chicken is the leading actor in this play, you want it to be Oscar-caliber. You add water to the chicken till it covers it and put on a high flame so it starts boiling. Then you have to skim for a bit – that’s what the schmaltz is – and you are instantly Jewish, by the way, by saying schmaltz. Once you are done skimming, you add the veggies. Carrots, parsnips, an onion cut into quarters but not all the way through. Read the original blog entry to see a picture of what I mean. You add a tablespoon or to taste of vegetable bouillon powder or cubes or concentrate, whatever you got going, put it to simmer with a lid and let it cook for a good hour. Then you taste the darn thing. Add the dill or parsley or both at the end and let that cook another 15 minutes. And that’s it!! Jewish penicillin. When I made this last, I added dried chickpeas (which I soaked overnight, thank you very much) about halfway through. I was inspired by my m-i-l, that served us chicken soup with chickpeas on our last trip to Spain. Very good and good for you!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pie Between Friends


Shepherd’s Pie is an oldie but goodie back when I had an entire blog devoted for the most part to Tom Norrington-Davies’ Cupboard Love. The pie wasn’t in the book, but I had to get his other one, What Mother Used to Make, because I was truly a fan of his. His recipes were so good and smart, not to mention he is/was so nice too… My claim to fame is that we exchanged some emails back when I was writing the blog and his friend and my forum friend/Nigellaphite told him about him. He couldn’t be nicer about the project and was super encouraging… I sometimes think about finishing up that project. I made it to something like 100+ recipes, but I guess I just lost steam. Anyway, if you’re interesting to read how I cooked my way through – well mostly through – Cupboard Love, go to http://www.when-ilana-met-pantry.blogspot.com/.



I feel like life is a series of digressions, so here I am coming back from yet another one. Shepherd’s Pie. Pretty simple. Ground lamb cooked with carrots and other lovely things. It’s inauthentic to add tomato paste but Tom does. And he’s a Brit, so I am fine with doing it too. You kind of get a Bolognese type of sauce which goes in the bottom of the pie dish. Then, you top it with one of my favorite carbs, mashed potatoes! Gotta love the Brits for thinking this up. One of those rib-sticking meals on cold nights. Very comforting and very good, and Tom’s recipe really does hit the spot. Some people make the mash with parsnips or add cheese. I like the part of his recipe where he adds little hits of butter. I added it to the ridges that I made with a fork and it made the mash nice and crispy there. Fabulous recipe!

Tajine


My Nigella friends will know that I am not a big fan of the Barefoot Contessa – more like Snot-tessa. It’s just the way she presents herself – ugh. Or her voice. She sounds so friggin’ uppity, I just can’t like her no matter how I try. One of her sayings that makes me just boil over is when she says, “how easy is that?” And now, to my horror, but not really shock, I saw she just published a book with said blood-curdling title. I guess it’s not as bad as Rachael Ray funking up the English language with Yum-O and EVOO. But in the rare moments I get to watch the Food Network on weekend mornings, I do tune into the BC’s show, because she does make some awesome dishes, and for the most part when I’ve made them, they’ve been pretty successful. And that is saying a lot. In the next blog posts, you’ll catch on to what I mean.


So back to Ina. She had a friend over for one of her shows, and they make a chicken tagine with olives. I just love anything stew-like – meat or vegetables cooking for hours on a low flame – and I just love olives too. I had to make this. I made some minor changes, for instance, for the life of me I couldn’t find a necessary ingredient to Moroccan cooking – preserved lemons. Ok, so I didn’t make the best effort, I admit, by going to the Russian monstrosity also known as Net Cost Market in Brooklyn. They have an entire aisle of preserves and jams. An entire aisle! I know that preserved lemons aren’t really meant to be put on bread, but I took a shot. One that failed! Anyhoo, I made it without the preserved lemons.


The dish was taaaasty! Chicken thighs work so well in this recipe. They really pick up so much flavor, and I did it the easy way by marinating out of the fridge for just a couple of hours. I also went boneless and skinless to make it easier to eat. I hate fiddly food.

Moroccan Chicken Tajine

Ingredients



6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large Spanish onion, grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons canola, grapeseed or olive oil (not a heavy olive oil)
1 to 2 preserved lemons, depending on size
8 chicken thighs, with bone and skin
Stems from the parsley and cilantro, tied with twine
1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron or 1/4 teaspoon powdered turmeric and 4 strands saffron
1 cup pitted green Moroccan or Greek olives
1/2 bunch Italian parsley, about 1/4 cup chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, about 1/4 cup chopped


Directions


In a large bowl, mix the garlic, cumin, ginger, paprika, salt and pepper, 1/2 cup grated onion, and the oil.
Rinse the preserved lemons, and remove the pulp. RESERVE the lemon peel for later use.
Add the lemon pulp to the mixing bowl. Add the chicken. Mix everything together and place in a large plastic bag to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. (Twenty-four hours really gives the chicken the best flavor.)
In a large Dutch oven or casserole, place the chicken and marinade; add the stems of the parsley and cilantro, the rest of the grated onion, the powdered saffron and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, turn down to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
Remove the cover, stir the chicken and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is tender.
Remove the chicken to a serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm. Keep sauce on stove and begin to reduce.
Slice the preserved lemon peel into thin slices and add to the sauce along with the olives, parsley and cilantro. Reduce until the sauce is just a little thick. This shouldn't take more than 5 minutes at most.
Uncover the chicken and remove the skin from the chicken. (It doesn't look pretty and who needs the extra fat.) Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Little fuss, but no biggie!


Nigella Lawson has come out with a new book!!! But I don't have it yet. Thank god for the Daily Mail -- will I go to hell for that comment?? -- that did a serialization of some sample recipes from Kitchen. This recipe looked easy enough, as its name would suggest, and I do love me some tarts, meant in the least pervy way.

I made this for Rosh Hashanah Eve's dinner, even though there is nothing traditional about it, apart from the honey graham biscuits in the base.

Trust me to mess up a no-fuss recipe. I totally read the instructions wrong in addition to completely ignoring the size of the tart pan. The funny thing is that I used too much butter for the tart pan I had, but even with not realizing I didn't use all the grahams I should have, the base still couldn't come together completely. I am buying bases from now on because I am just stoopid!!! when it comes to these things, apart from my cheesecakes, inexplicably. But I digress. The lemon curd was homemade, because my Russian supermarket (actually it's huge) has ten varieties of cherry preserves but not one friggin' jar of lemon curd. I also used Nigella's expertise for the curd, from the awesome How to Eat. Last time I made it, I think I stood about an hour, no joke, at the stove, waiting for the curd to thicken. This time, with a nagging husband and crying baby, not sure which is worse, I upped the heat and the curd was done in no time, no curdling to be found! The mixture of cream cheese and lemon curd is HEAVEN, and I will use it in the future to ice cakes.

Since the base was a joke and kept falling apart, I really only got to enjoy the cream and the strawberries. My sister made an off-hand comment about this being Wimbledon. Pah! Strawberries and cream got nothing on this.

So looking forward to getting the book in a fortnight or so, and hopefully the next recipe I won't mess up so spectacularly... or maybe I should!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to boil water...and make banana bread!


I'd love to say that fruit in my house make a constant appearance. They don't. I know full well that needs to change, especially as in the years to come I will have to be a good example to my offspring. But when life gives you mushy bananas, time for banana chocolate chip bread.


I got the recipe for the above from a book of mine called How to Boil Water. It was published by the Food Network, and has loads of recipes for first-time cooks and for seasoned (pardon the pun) chefs. I actually bought the book for my sister a few years ago, but never got around to giving it to her, and with the amount of food stains in it now, probably won't. Sorry, sis. :)


This cake is definitely the best chocolate chip banana bread I've ever tasted... It is seriously moist; just make sure your bananas are really really mushy. Plus, it was a great way to use up some of the chocolate chips I have at home. A 10 lb bag to be exact. Impulsive BJs purchase. Anyone want chocolate chip cookies??

Monday, August 09, 2010

Finally organized!


Lately I have been a bit of an off-the-cuff type of cook, which means, I rarely cook at all, and if I do, it'll be the most random crap you could imagine. When I was a foodie -- I fully admit I am not so much one now, you can't be a foodie if you don't cook -- I would sometimes make arancini (mozzarella filled risotto balls) with leftover risotto. They would usually turn out ok, or better than ok, but they weren't exactly pretty, and the kitchen would be a complete mess because I wouldn't really think the whole thing through.


But, the other day, my sister was having a BBQ, and I had thought to make arancini for the event. So, for the first time, I actually made risotto for the sole purpose of making arancini.


I decided to make an intensely flavored risotto, so put in lots of mushrooms and some marsala wine. I added loads of parmesan at the end, to make the risotto more compact, for easier forming later on. You see, thinking ahead!!!


Once I had chilled the risotto for a couple of hours in the fridge, I added some shredded mozzarella to the batch, and then I formed mini 'cakes' using a round cookie cutter. I placed the cutter down on some parchment paper, and added the chilled risotto to the make-shift mold spoon by spoon, smushing it down to compact it even more. When I was happy with the amount, I moved on to the next one. Then, I put the cakes, still on the paper, in the freezer for about 20 minutes or so. I wanted to get them hard enough so that I could easily dunk them in egg and then breadcrumbs. The experiment worked! They were so easy to get ready for frying, I was so pleased I was so organized in my cooking for once!


After frying them on both sides in a generous amount of olive oil (the breadcrumbs, by the way, were a combination of italian seasoned crumbs and parmesan cheese -- and panko would be great too!), the risotto cakes were ready. And delicious they were too!


Who knew?!


You know when you have one of those days when you just gotta have something? A few days ago, I REALLY wanted chocolate cake. Something stemming from having a birthday recently (don't ask, I'm too old!) and not having anyone bake a cake for me. I ended up having a delicious chocolate cake at my birthday dinner at a nice restaurant, but it was made by an anonymous chef, not someone who cares about me. So I wanted cake, and since no one was going to make me one, I made it myself.


I have a thing about chocolate cake. I love it, but I never ever had one that I thought was the ultimate delicious perfect chocolate cake. There is something inherently wonderful about chocolate -- it has a lot to live up to, so anything not perfect is almost like a waste of chocolate. Well, almost! I decided to give baking a chocolate cake a go knowing full well that my craving would not be completely satisfied. I am my worst critic. Boy, was I ever wrong?!


I used a recipe I had for a long time but never used -- Nigella's Ghoul Graveyard Cake from Feast. I guess I never bothered because it was never really presented fully as a chocolate cake. It is in the Halloween chapter and its schtick is that it is covered in black icing and ghoul jelly lolly pops. As far as I know, nobody had made it of my friends, so I had no idea how perfect it was. And when I say it was perfect, believe me! My favorite chocolate cake of all time has been discovered!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Demon Baker of Fleet Street




Whatever Rosa wants, Rosa gets.

I made my friend, Rosa, ‘mad’ a few months ago because I had mentioned off-handedly that I would make red velvet cake for her birthday… and I never followed through. There was something about the stories of needing three bottles of food coloring per cake. I am very Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to food. Sometimes I’m a purist that just needs to use organic sugar, and other times I’m trashy and all I want to eat is fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

But since Rosa went on vacation to Italy for two weeks, I thought I’d follow through on my promise by making red velvet cupcakes for her return.

I have to admit – I haven’t had this much fun baking in a long, long time. The amount of red food coloring WAS scary, truthfully – a tablespoon for the batter, and that is halving the recipe. But it turned the batter a shockingly blood-red color… It was truly mesmerizing.

Since I followed a cake recipe, I guessed at amounts and time for baking cupcakes. Half of the cake batter recipe comes to about 10 cupcakes, and 20 minutes is just enough time to bake all the way through but still be beautifully soft within.


The cream cheese icing didn’t go as planned, but I blame our heat wave on that. I used Nigella’s cream cheese recipe from her Guinness cake, which I have made countless times – the cake and the icing – but for some reason it would just not thicken. I finally gave up and decided to go for a hobo-chic look to the cupcakes. Trying hard to look like you’re not trying at all…

I think they turned out beautifully, and most importantly, the belated birthday girl was both surprised by them and thought them to be absolutely delicious. I tasted one; it was good… f***ing good! Definitely a recipe to make and make again.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Deep


My coworker, Christy, mentioned she made deep dish pizza the other day, and that got me thinking, why don't I have a go at making it? As a kid I didn't really like deep dish or Chicago-style pizza, growing up on thin crust Brooklyn pizza. But tastes change, and if I could make a pizza with the ingredients that I know and like, why not?

The dough is homemade, and so is the sauce. The chicken is baked in my own oven with the 'pizza' spices I have come to use for everything (thanks, Maria!). It was as simple as putting the dough in a springform pan, adding sauce, then chicken and finally cheese, and then repeating it. Very much like lasagna. As I hoped, the dough rose beautifully in the oven, creating a golden crust to encase the toppings.
The spices made an appearance in the dough, the sauce, and the chicken. The ingredients in the spices are in Norwegian, so I couldn't tell you exactly what makes them so good, but I think there must be oregano in there and also red pepper flakes. I tried to make the sauce a bit chunky, to give more height to the pizza, so I added red pepper and onions to the crushed tomatoes.

Everything worked out well -- exactly how I wanted it. That is saying a lot, because a lot of dishes on paper come out different in reality for me. I'm glad this deep dish was everthing I expected and more!

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