Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I'm still recovering from this bug, so I didn't have much energy for Christmas, but I got through it pretty well. I spent all of Monday baking. I made my Triple Chocolate Pudding Pie to take to my brother's and then made a Heath Bar Pound Cake for the party last night. It was a Bundt cake. I managed to get it to fit the pan. I'm learning.
I was already exhausted by the time I got to my brother's place in the afternoon. I didn't have energy to do much more than eat. He served a very nice cheese tray first and then added a plate of smoked fish to the appetizer table. A little while later I looked to the kitchen and noticed at least two one-pound containers of sorpresata. I ran into the kitchen screaming, "You've been holding out on me!" and proceeded to grab several slices. He told me if I had just been patient he would have put out the tray with the roasted peppers and sorpresata. I don't know what took him so long. He had the fish out forever.
He made linguini with clams and shrimp for an entree along with a yummy sprial ham. Side dishes were cheese grits (for a northern family, we eat a lot of cheese grits on holidays) and some roasted root veggies that my mother made (carrots, parsnips, new potatoes, and fennel). My sister in law made a beautiful pear tart, but I was too full to try it.
Kevin and my mother and I went riding during the day on Christmas (horse people are a little nuts) and in the evening we were invited for dinner at the home of one of my mother in law's good friends. I brought the Heath Bar cake to that (recipe can be found in Lisa Yokelson's book Chocolate Chocolate). Our hostess made a huge roast beef and cornish hens with a wild rice pilaf. We also had sweet poatoes and garlicky broccoli and cauliflower. When our hostess brought out the roast, one of the guests said something like, "Wow. It looks like Rachael Ray." AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! Why are there people on this planet who would consider a comparison to Rachael Ray's cooking to be a compliment? If someone said something like that about my cooking, they would probably be thrown out of the house. The recipe turned out to be one from Tyler Florence. Well, I have always said that he's Old Reliable when you need a good basic recipe. A few people brought desserts, but mine was the only one that was homemade. I get bragging rights!
Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas filled with wonderful food!
Friday, December 21, 2007
It's tough to grow up in an Italian family and have to deal with Christmas Eve when you just can't stomach seafood.
Is there any seafood I can tolerate? Sure. I can eat tunafish out of a can if it's very cold and covered in condiments. I can handle fried clams (you can fry your shoe and it will taste good). I have tried (and the emphasis is on tried) to handle foods with anchovies mixed in. Just because I can tolerate it doesn't mean that I enjoy it.
Growing up my maternal grandmother was the worst. She wasn't much of a cook to begin with. (The cooking, including the Italian cooking, was done by my Irish grandfather believe it or not. It was he, and not my grandmother who gleaned the wisdom of my Italian great-grandmother's old-school cooking.) Despite her lack of skill in this department, she would often commandeer the menu on Christmas Eve. She had it in her head that it HAD TO BE ALL FISH. She took it almost as religion. My brother tells me when my great-grandmother was still alive that she would often make other meatless dishes like homemade manicotti. My grandmother felt that since 7 fishes weren't practical for her to cook or for my family to eat in one night, whatever was on the table had to be fishy. She would make pasta, but it would be her mother's version of spaghetti aglia e olio. (My grandmother was born in the US and learned to speak Italian through her native-born parents and grandparents, who were uneducated Napoletani. Grandma always called it something like, "A-ya OI") It didn't just contain garlic and oil though. It contained anchovies. Grandma made me eat it because I could manage to choke it down. She also made tuna salad just for me -cold and covered in mayo, onions, and relish. Since she made it just for me, I was required to eat it.
Grandma was definitely weird about the fish. I can still remember how during Lent she felt that no meat on Friday meant I had to have fish on Friday. She would feed me a tuna sandwich. I don't know why I couldn't just have some meatless pasta.
After many years of spending Christmas with my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandmother began complaining that I never spent Christmas with her. (Dad tended to oraganize the holidays for his side of the family and they tended to be post-Christmas celebrations.) I said, "Let's start a new tradition. We'll have Christmas Eve with you and Christmas day with Grandma Callahan." She loved the idea.
Grandma Tess is a Italian and she's a traditionalist, but she was never one to believe she would go to Hell for breaking tradition. She is also one who HATES to see me not eat. That woman would swallow Drano before she served me a meal of things I could barely tolerate a few bites of. She loves seeing people eat lots and lots and lots of food. Christmas Eve at her house did indeed consist of fish, fish, fish, fish, and fish, but there was also pasta and even CHICKEN.
Grandma Carol has passed away and Grandma Tess is over 90 and living in a nursing home in quite poor health, so Christmas at Grandma's is a thing of the past. The grandchildren have been taking on more of the holiday responsibility these days. My brother is doing Christmas Eve this year (and the entire family is coming just like they did at my place on Thanksgiving) with everyone taking Christmas off. (Have no fear, Kevin and I were invited for dinner at the home of some close friends of his family.)
My brother has assured me that he will not make me eat fish on Christmas Eve. I'm curious to see what he will serve. My brother is a good cook (and quite the grillmaster) and shares my sense of adventure in the kitchen. My sister-in-law is even better. She's an aspiring pastry chef (she has her eye on the French Culinary Institute, which she hopes to attend once both the kids are in school) and her Colombian roots means she makes some pretty fantastic Latin specialites. Her empanadas are to die for. I know dessert will be my domain though. I've already been requested to make another one of those chocolate cream pies I made for Thanksgiving.
Hmmmm...I wonder if she'll make empanadas for Christmas Eve.
I hope they're not fish empanadas.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I had been hoping they would have challah bread or some of their crumb-topped sweet rolls, but they were out by the time I got there. I spotted something interesting on a back shelf though and asked what it was. I was told it was a coffee ring. They had a cinnamon raisin one and a cinnamon almond one. I also got a few strange looks for not knowing what it was. Cut me some slack. My brain is foggy!
I took home the almond one and tore into it. I cut myself a very large chunk. After a few bites that I was unable to taste, my desire for more of it diminished. I'd had enough.
Now I was stuck with a big portion of leftover coffee ring. What to do with it?
Have I mentioned lately how much I love remaking leftovers?
I mixed 2 cups of milk with two eggs, a half cup of sugar, a few shakes of cinnamon, and a half cup of amaretto. I tore up the remaining 80% of that coffee ring and soaked it in the egg and milk mixture. I poured it into a buttered baking dish and baked it at 350 for 45 minutes.
I brought my Amaretto Bread Pudding to work yesterday. It was quite popular with my coworkers. I was glad I bought that coffee ring in the end. I may have been tired of it eating it as it was, but it made over beautifully.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I have been laid low by the worst bug I've had in a long time. I've suffered from everything from a bad cough, to a headache, to a high fever, to an unrelenting leaky-faucet nose (I went through 3 boxes of tissues in 2 days) in this past week. Food means very little to me because I can't taste a thing.
I do find myself wanting to eat though. My appetite and hunger are both diminished. While they do rear their heads from time to time, my cravings are so different from what they might be when I'm healthy. I have wanted things like macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti with garlic butter and parmesan, lo mein noodles (good thing Kevin and I ordered Chinese over the weekend), and warm challah bread with butter. I'm not craving anything super sweet and I'm not craving meats the way I normally do.
This got me thinking about the nature of comfort foods. I have always had trouble defining "comfort food" for myself. I always thought of roast chicken as a great comfort food because parts of it are pleasingly high in fat, and it appeals to my base instinct of ripping into flesh. I love tearing into a whole chicken. Since I have had this bug, chicken doesn't appeal to me. I want starch and I want creaminess and fat. Comfort food is as much about texture as it is about taste . I can't taste a thing these days, but I want my food to feel a certain way.
I started to think about what foods I eat for comfort when I'm healthy, but mentally distressed. It's times like those when I go for the sweet ice cream, the fried chicken, and the stuffed pork chops. When my nose isn't stuffed, I want more flavor and am likely to crave spicy Chinese food or Thai or a nice zesty Italian marinara sauce on my pasta.
I want to pay more attention to this sort of thing in the future. It's quite interesting to note the things I won't most depending on my state of physical and mental health.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
I don't know what we would do with a menorah. Kevin never went to Hebrew school, so he wouldn't know the blessing for the candles. We would have to just light a candle every night just to say we lit one.
I can't do a formal celebration, but I can at least do the traditional foods, so last night I attempted something of a traditional feast.
I made a roast chicken with an apricot glaze. I mixed apricot preserves with some red wine vinegar and grated fresh ginger and glazed the chicken with that after I stuffed butter under the skin that was seasoned with allspice and cinnamon. My meat thermometer actually worked when I cooked it this time. The chicken was cooked in time.
For a vegetable I went with my Jewish Holiday Standby of spinach sauteed in butter with dried cranberries and grated nutmeg. That was the easy dish.
The challenge is always the latkes. I am just not a good latke maker. I've tried a number of recipes and followed them to the letter, but I haven't had much success. My latkes are never as crispy as I would like them to be, and always heavier than I want them to be. This time around I tried this recipe. These looked intriguing because they had other flavors than just the potato going on. Kevin doesn't like applesauce or sour cream, so I really have to pack flavor into the latke itself. The recipe was very pancake-like, but I wasn't really thinking about how I'm not great at making traditional breakfast pancakes from scratch either. The pancakes still had somewhat of a heavy and doughy consistency, but Kevin thought they were utterly delicious. The man loves his potatoes no matter how you make them I guess (I am not a fan of poatoes myself). If he likes them, I'll make that recipe again. Flavor-wise I thought they were the best I've made, even they weren't so great not consistency-wise.
I made a special treat this year of doughnuts. Deep frying is another skill I have yet to fully develop, so this was really a challenge. I found this recipe, which is more like zeppole than doughnuts. It's been a long time since I worked with yeast (I have enjoyed making bread in the past, but I just don't have the time to devote to dough risings these days), so it was fun giving it a try again. My biggest problem with making the doughnuts was forming them. I had a hard time getting "rounded tablespoons" full. Many of my doughnuts were far larger than they should have been. The recipe was supposed to make 32 and I made 22. I was pleased that they came out crispy and light. Some of them were a little tough though. I'm not sure what I needed to do to prevent that. They were wonderful with the honey syrup on top.
I'm hoping to attempt matza balls in the spring for passover. I'm saving the schmaltz from whenever I make chicken for that purpose. That will be another culinary adventure.
Anyone have a Bubbe to lend me for help with Jewish Holiday cooking?
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
It's been all over the food blog world that Emeril Live is being cancelled. It feels like the end of an era.
Emeril was never my favorite FN chef. I felt the live show was a bit over the top and I found the recipes on it hard to follow (although they often looked delicious). The show crammed too many recipes in too little time. Even when I retrieved them from the website, I found them hard to make.
Something still drew me into the show though. Emeril's personality was a bit over-the-top and annoying, but it always seemed genuine to me. Unlike other FN personalities, Emeril really seemed to be having fun and was passionate about his food. He never came across as phony to me. He was also a much better showman than many of his FN peers. He could have been on TV without cooking if he wanted a career change. He comes alive on camera.
Of course the main reason why I mourn the loss of one of his shows is that another real chef is biting the dust. First Sara Moulton was gone. Then it was Mario Batali. Now it's Emeril - the man responsible for making the Food Network what is today. The Food Network is no longer about skilled people showing their craft. It's about personalities who happen to cook - and much of that cooking is bad, and quite frankly so are many of the personalities.
Whom are we left with? Bobby Flay? I don't hate him the way some people do, but his show is useless to me since I don't grill (apartment dweller). Paula Deen? She used to be fun and her fattening food looked good, but she has become a parody of herself with both her cooking and her schtick. Giada DeLaurentis? I like her recipes better than most of the other chefs, but she's not that great on camera and while her on-camera skills have improved, her recipes have gone downhill. She's more of a pretty face to attract male viewers (and I suspect with a baby coming she'll be shooting fewer shows anyway). Ina Garten? My anti-Hamptons prejudice aside, she's a good cook and presents her recipes well, although she's kind of dull on camera. I doubt she'll last much longer though. She's too old and too heavy. Guy Fieri? I want to like him since he does seem to have some cooking chops, but his recipes are Superbowl party fare raised to a slightly higher level and his personality is grating as all get out. Apparently he also appeals to the young male demographic. Tyler Florence? Good recipes, still looks good, so he stands a chance of staying, but then again you don't see as much of him anymore, so I wonder if he'll still stick around. Rachael Ray? Don't even get me started! She might as well own the network. Then no matter how much people complain, they still retain Sandra Lee!
At least they are keeping the Essence show. I find many of those recipes to be very doable and Emeril actually teaches you things on it because he's not trying to entertain a live audience. There is still a chef or two on the network for now.
Someone needs to start a new Food Network that's actually about food. If you want to make a network that teaches assembly-line recipes for these busy, white, unadventurous Middle-American moms and frat boys who love fattening foods and boobs, then make a network just for that. Let's have a network for those of us who really want to improve our cooking skills.
I wonder what they will do with Emeril's studio kitchen. That thing must have cost millions of dollars to build. What a waste!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
By Sunday I still had about two pounds of pecan sweet potatoes, a couple of cups of gravy, and a couple of cups of cranberry sauce sitting in my fridge. What was I supposed to do with it all? I wracked my brains to come up with some ways to put this stuff to use. The answers eventually came to me.
I bought two pork tenderloins, seasoned them and browned them. I brushed them liberally with leftover cranberry sauce and finished them in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. I deglazed the pan with wine and more cranberry sauce and poured this over tenderloin slices. This is going to be my lunch for the week with sweet potatoes on the side.
There isn't much I can do with the sweet potatoes other than eat them as is until I'm sick of them. I thought about adding eggs and turning them into pie, but they have salt and cayenne in them. That's not really dessert material. If I don't finish them by the end of the week, I'll just have to chuck them.
After I made the tenderloin I worked on the rest of the leftovers. I had several slices of Italian bread going stale, so I soaked them in milk and gave them a whirl in the food processor. I took some leftover shallots from the freezer and cooked them till soft and added them to the bread mixture. I mixed ground turkey in with that (Yes, more turkey) and added some salt, pepper, and allspice. I rolled it up into meatballs and browned them in butter (because I always brown my meatballs first). When the meatballs were browned I added some sliced mushrooms to the pan. Once they had softened, I deglazed the pan with white wine and added the gloppy leftover gravy. I added more wine and lots of chicken broth until it had degloppified. I added allspice and nutmeg to the mixture and some heavy cream. The meatballs went back in to simmer. When it was all cooked through, they went on top of buttered noodles - et voila, I have bastardized Swedish meatballs yet again!
Well, that was fun! This Thanksgiving thing isn't so hard after all.
Of course I'm a little miffed that I didn't have more leftover turkey. If they had sent me the right size turkey to begin with, I might have made hot open turkey sandwiches with all that bread and gravy.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The turkey fiasco didn't end with my late delivery. As I mentioned in my last blog, I had to take an hour out of my pre-Thanksgiving prep day to go pick it up. When I got it home, I saw that they had sent me a smaller bird than what I had ordered. I ordered a 16-18 pound bird and I received a 14 pound bird. I prepared my brine (from Diana Morgan's book The Thanksgiving Table) with cider, allspice berries ginger, peppercorns, and of course salt. The problem is my brining bags were meant for bigger turkeys, so I really couldn't submerge my turkey that well. I turned it frequently, but eventually I had to go to bed, so it was just going to have to be 80%submerged overnight.
The fun didn't stop there. The probe thermometer I bought wasn't working. I roasted the turkey according to the directions provided by The Pioneer Woman (thanks to Colleen for the recommendation). As I wrapped the bird in foil I seemed to hear the voice of Sue saying, "You're steaming it." Then I heard the voice of Colleen saying, "Do this and it will come out perfectly." After the three hours I removed the foil and the turkey looked sort of anemic and the drippings were pathetic. I basted that sucker with as much butter as I could and put it back in the oven uncovered with a probe thermometer in the thigh. That's when I discovered the thermometer wasn't working well. After 90 minutes and two bastings, the termperature of the turkey hadn't budged. Kevin started fidding with the thermometer and the batteries and got it working again. The overcook alarm began beeping. Let me point out that I was planning to cook the turkey to 170 degrees and the alarm doesn't go off until you get past 190 degrees. In the mean time, my skin was getting a bit darker than I was comfortable with. At least I was smart enought to cover the breast with foil after the second basting.
Once I had it out of the oven I flipped the turkey over just as Sue told me to do (I would never have gotten through this Thanksgiving without her advice). I splattered turkey juice all over the kitchen, but I think it was a sacrifice for the greater good. I'm sure it helped make up for the other fiascos. Oddly enough my father told me that the turkey "tasted brined." Fortunately, he considered this a good thing. I told him, "Well it was brined." Dad's repayment for my delicious turkey: I think he gave me a cold.
I got a couple of dishes out of the way the day before. The first was my Corn Pudding. This recipe is one I did many times before in the past and knew it to be creamy and delicious, so I had little to worry about. I admit I used frozen corn for it. I know the recipe is meant to showcase fresh corn in the summer. That made me wonder if frozen corn would make it lackluster and wondered if I should add some pancetta or cheese or something. With all of the richness of the rest of the dishes, the relative blandness wasn't a problem. The other dish I made was Pecan Sweet Potatoes. This is a recipe of my own invention inspired by a pumpkin-pecan pie I made years ago. I mashed 8 sweet potatoes (way more than I needed) with about a cup of ground pecans, a half cup of rum, a stick of butter, a few grates of nutmegs, a few pinches of cinnamon and cayenne and a couple of pinches of salt.
I made my Green Bean Casserole while the turkey roasted. I was able to do the components a little at a time. Rather than make onion rings I sliced shallots and fried them in oil until they were brown and crispy. I blanched the green beans ahead of time too. I bought pre-sliced mushrooms. All I had to do was throw it all together at the last minute.
I made up my own Stuffing recipe. I used two small loaves of cornbread and one loaf of heat-and-serve "artisinal" bread. I cut it all up the day before so it would get nice and dried out. I cooked up a pound of turkey sausage (I had to remove Italian sausage from its casings because the store had no bulk turkey sausage). I added a large onion and four celery ribs. When they started to soften I added two Granny Smith apples and about two tablespoons of chopped fresh sage. When it was all soft I mixed it with the bread and moistened it with chicken broth. I popped it in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes covered with foil and then removed the foil and left it in there another 15 minutes.
I wasn't totally happy with the amount of drippings my turkey produced, but there were some and there was enough fat for the roux, so I deglazed the pan with some wine, made a roux with the fat I skimmed off, and hoped for the best. I had about a quart of neck/giblet stock and added some chicken broth as well. I ended up with more gravy than I needed. My family didn't use it all. I guess they're not all as gravy-crazy as I am.
I had the good fortune to already have my Cranberry Sauce ready thanks to Sue and her freezable recipe. Since I miss Mom's version, I added some candied ginger to the recipe. It was really good, but I don't think I needed to double the recipe.
We ended with my Triple Chocolate Pudding Pie and a giant apple crisp that my sister in law brought. I use cinnamon graham crackers with the recipe instead of chocolate. I like the way they taste contrasts with the
Do I think the meal was good? I can't judge it. By the time I sat down to eat I wasn't hungry from all of the picking and licking and tasting. Being surrounded by the food for two days didn't do much for my appetite or my ability to really taste it. Everyone kept saying it was delicious, so I'm trying to believe them.
I have burned myself multiple times. It seems any time I could get burned, I did. I look at my hands and arms and I'm not even sure where half of these burns came from.
Kevin and I disagreed about what we should do with the floor prior to dinner. I said we should roll up the rug and put it away because we don't want to spill food on it. He didn't want people trampling all over the hardwood floors we put in just a year and a half ago. I won out. I'm glad I did. My two-year-old nephew felt it was his duty to decorate the floor. The area surrounding the table where I had the appetizers (nuts, Terra chips, and a shrimp ring and some ciabatta and artisinal cheese my uncle provided) was covered with bits of bread, nuts, and bits of chips. The kids decided they didn't like the chips after they had started eating them, so they just abandoned the chips wherever they felt like it.Charles also took the runner in my entryway and threw it in the master bathroom and pulled the key out of my coffe table trunk and threw it in the bedroom closet (where it landed I still haven't figured out). The most destructive forces on earth: Hurricans, tornados, and Charles.
My timeline was unexpected as well. Getting everything ready by the appointed time of 2PM wasn't necessary. Just about everyone showed up late due to bad traffic. My mother lives close by, so she showed up on time. My mother-in-law showed up on time because Kevin came and picked her up in Queens well ahead of time. Everyone else was held up by either kids or traffic. Once my uncle showed up we all began feasting on the appetizers he brought. We also began drinking the wine in earnest. Getting everyone to the table to start the Poached Pear and Arugula Salad with Toasted Walnuts wasn't easy. To my pleasant surprise, having the food waiting in the warming oven for so long didn't ruin it. I'm not sure it that's because it's the type of food y ou can't ruin that easily or because everyone expects Thanksgiving food to be a little overcooked.
I admit to being frazzled and ungracious when people began arriving. Everyone had questions. "Where do I put my coat?" (Do you not see the coats on the bed?) "Here is the wine I brought." (Do you not see the bottles on the table by the wall? Must you make me unwrap them and put them out?) I tried to shove everyone towards the nuts and chips and got my husband to serve the drinks. People want to linger in the kitchen though. It's human nature.
Cleanup was a huge pain. My dishwasher is quite small and only held about half of the dishes used that day, so I was washing dishes for a good hour when everyone left. I had to really vaccuum hard to get all of that stuff off the floor and then skated around the apartment with a pair of multi-surface floor wipes on my feet. Goddess only knows how much bacteria still lurks on my kitchen counters. I used an entire can of granite wipes during the day, but I really need to give them a good rub down with a rag and some antibacterial granite cleaner. I still haven't moved all of the stuff I shoved in the spare room to make space back into the living room - including the rug.
Still, I do believe it was all a success. I'm even thinking of doing it next year. Now that I've worked out a plan, followed it (mostly anyway, at some point I trashed the book), and made a dinner everyone seemed to like, I actually believe I might do it again next year.
Anyone out there who would like some pecan sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce? I have a ton.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I am awaiting the delivery of my turkey. I'm hoping it arrives. It makes me nervous that it might not. Can you imagine what that would be like?
I have taken everything I might need and everything I might need to do and put it into a book. Yes, I made myself a Thanksgiving Manual. I have a page that lists who is coming and what I'm serving. There is a page with my shopping list. Subsequent pages show the recipes for everything so they're all in one place. The final page is a timeline of everything I think I need to do and approximately when to do them.
I know I probably won't be following that timeline exactly. I'm just way too prepared. It makes it all seem to easy. Things will go wrong. They always do. I always forget something or spill something or run out of something or burn something. It's a given. I'm just hoping that nothing happens that will slow me down or mess me up too much and I can just keep cooking.
Everyone in the family is bringing a bottle of wine. This is one advantage of having Thanksgiving in my home. I can drink as much as I want because I'm not driving. If the meal is bad, I'll just pour another glass.
Everyone have a very very happy Thanksgiving!!!!
EDIT: MY TURKEY ISN'T COMING TODAY!!!!!
I had them ship the turkey to my office since they said it would be delivered the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I wouldn't be home to receive it today, but I was planning to just get it at the office, take it home, and take tomorrow off.
I just got a call from Williams Sonoma telling me they aren't shipping my turkey to me today after all. I have to wait for tomorrow. I'm going to have to make a special trip to the office to come pick up my turkey. They won't change the shipping address. I'm going to have to take an hour out of my preparation day to shlep to Connecticut to get my turkey from my office.
I'm never ordering a turkey from Williams Sonoma again. That much is certain.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The massage was going well. The therapist worked on her head and spine and worked her way to the back end. The last thing she had to do was adjust Baby's hips. She grabbed one of Baby's back legs and sort of pushed it upwards.
Mom was holidng the lead rope as the therapist was doing this. The adjustment caused a muscle spasm. Baby's reaction to the pain was swift. She kicked up and turned around and bit Mom's hand. Actually, bite is too mild a word. She clamped down on Mom's hand with enormous force. She immediately let go (especially since once the spasm passed, she felt quite good), but the damage had been done. She drew blood in 6 places. It's impossible to think that non-carniverous teeth could draw so much blood. Mom ended up having to go to the emergency room for a tetnaus shot and stitches.
"So what's your point, Rachel? This is your FOOD blog. Why are you blathering on about your horses here?"
(Other than my fear that Baby is going to develop a taste for human flesh of course, and that takes food to a whole new level.)
Mom's right hand (dominant hand) is splinted and heavily bandaged. Last night it was swelled to the size of a baseball. That hand is useless for the next two weeks.
I had really been counting on Mom to make her wonderful orange-ginger cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.
I have asked Mom to the recipe. Then I added making cranberry sauce to my ever-expanding game plan for Thanksgiving and the preceding days. I really ought to be concerned about Mom's hand (and Baby's expanding appetites), but all I can do is selfishly wonder about making the cranberry sauce.
I could buy it of course, and that's the other part of the equation. I have really come to love the taste of homemade cranberry sauce, particularly my mother's. I don't like the canned stuff very much anymore. I liked it as a kid because it was sweeter than homemade and like most kids, I liked jelly. As an adult, I'm just not into it. I find it too sweet, and very often there is a weird chemical taste to it. The problem is I'm the only one who feels this way. In the past few years my mother has purchased the canned stuff in addition to serving the homemade, because there are people who prefer it. I think if the orange-ginger sauce were gone from the table, I would be the only one who missed it.
Do I give myself a tiny bit more stress just so I can make myself happy, or do I ditch the homemade sauce altogether and get the kind of sauce I can slice?
Anyone out there have a good recommendation for a canned sauce if I go that route?
Friday, November 9, 2007
Anyway, I'm one of those people who is always bookmarking and saving recipes and acquiring cookbooks with the intent that "someday" I will make this recipe. My entry in the food blog world has made me even crazier because food bloggers have so many unique ideas and heirloom recipes and interesting spins on recipes that are already published.
While browsing Fun and Food, one of my favorite food blogs I found this cake recipe. I had some semolina left over from my ravioli experiment a while back and I was pretty sure I had some rose extract left over from the time I made pistaschio-rose ice cream with lemon cake. I had the same reaction I have to many of the recipes I see on this and other food blogs which is, "I have to make this sometime."
I took a long hard look at the recipe and said, "Screw that. Someday may never come. I'm going to make it *tonight*. I don't care if it's a weeknight and it's laundry night and I have no forthcoming occasions that require a cake. I'm going to make a cake just to have a nice piece of cake."
The cake was quite simple to make, although for me it was not without mishaps. I had purchased my semolina in bulk and wasn't sure exactly how much I had left. It turned out I had slightly less than two cups. I made up the difference with all-purpose flour. I don't think I sacrificed taste and texture too much. Then it came time to make the syrup. I searched high and low and could not find the rose extract. I could have sworn I kept the bottle around just in case I needed it, but I must have decided I hadn't used it in a while and thrown it out. (What was I thinking? The stuff isn't cheap.)
I ended up adding extra lemon to the syrup and even steeped some of the lemon peel in there. The cake was delighfully sweet and sticky and rich, but did lack a depth of flavor. Looking back I realize I should have added some cardamom or a shot of amaretto to the syrup instead of just the lemon.
Nonetheless, it's still a great cake. It's delightfully sweet and sticky. It's very easy to make for a weeknight snack. I'm glad I made myself bake it last night.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
The problem is that I am so food obsessed that I will watch most things food related. I kid you not, I love watching those Magic Bullet infomercials just because I love watching them make the nachos and salsa and quesadillas and muffins and omelets, and everything else they make. There are other cooking shows on TV, but I'm not home much, so it's rare that there is a cooking show on PBS or Fine Living (I'm not even sure my cable company even carries Fine Living) when I'm home to watch it. I can turn on the Food Network and I'm guaranteed to see something about food. Occasionally I can still learn something from it, so I keep watching.
Anyway, hope my latest rant didn't bore/annoy you too much.
I'm relaxing a little more about Thanksgiving, although I feel terrible saying it's mainly because the guest list has shrunk a bit. When I decided to do this last year, I had a guest list of 16 planned: Kevin, me, Mom, Dad, Beth (stepmother), Claire (Beth's mother), Grandma, Great-Great Aunt Jo, Uncle John, his wife Angie, bro Erik, SIL Janeth, niece and nephew Penelope and Charles and baby cousin Casey.
(To be fair, this is really more like 13 when you consider that Penelope and Charles won't eat more than turkey, bread, and dessert and 11-month-old babies can't really eat much Thanksgiving dinner)
In the past year Aunt Jo has passed away and Grandma's health won't allow her to leave the nursing home for extended outings (Dad said even if they let her out, she wouldn't want to stay more than an hour). I was down to 14.
A couple of weeks ago Dad called and said Claire, whose health is not great, really can't go out without her aide, so I'd have to invite the aide if I wanted to invite Claire. No problem. They also mentioned that Beth's brother's stepdaughter (follow that - I guess you could say my step-grandmother's other step-grandaughter) who rents the basement apartment in Claire's home has no one to spend Thanksgiving with. Can she come too? We were back to 16 people. 13 adults and 3 children.
I just found out that Angie unfortunately plans to go visit her family in the Phillippines (well, fortunately for her if not for the family here) for the next few weeks and needs to leave before Thanksgiving, taking my cousin with her. So we're minus two.
Total count: 12 adults and 2 children. Those who can't make it will be missed, but it does relax me a bit. I've made dinner for 12 before.
The one thing I'm still uncertain about is how I'll do my green beans. I liked the homemade green bean casserole that Alton Brown made last night (recipe not available yet), but I don't have the oven space to bake yet another dish. I think I might use the one from Michael Chiarello. I can cook the beans ahead of time and fry up some onions (but I'm not going to deep-fry onion rings). Closer to serving time I can make up the sauce and throw the beans back in.
Exactly two weeks to go. *cue ominous music*
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Fans of the Food Network are just as critical of the critics. Dislike of the Food Network is rooted in elitism and snobbery and only "foodies" have a problem with the programming. FN critics clearly don't know about how Middle America cooks and don't know how hard it is for busy moms to get food on the table for their families. These wealthy critics don't know how to cook on a budget. Don't those food snobs understand that they want to learn to cook from real people, and not some fancy-schmancy chefs? (Are all professional chefs robots? I never got the whole "real person" thing.)
Does the Food Network truly believe that it's viewers are, or at least shoud be this bland, white-bread, unschooled cook who is threatened by anyone with skill? Do they believe everyone is afraid of any cuisine that isn't based in American or Western European cuisine? Is so, then it's just as insulting to the audience.
Do I know how Middle America cooks? Of course I don't. The US has a pretty big population. I couldn't tell you how my next-door-neighbors cook, let alone folks living 1000 miles away from me. One's job, ethnic background, family history, health, and willingness to cook a meal is going to change from person to person. Why would I assume everyone who doesn't live on the coasts cooks and eats the same way? How do I know there isn't some woman in Iowa or Nebraska out there mourning the loss of Sara Moulton and Wolfgang Puck on the Food Network and my next-door-neighbor isn't a die-hard Sandra Lee fan? Why make assumptions like this?
Who is making these assumptions? In the world of the Food Network, everyone is white, married, has kids, has no free time, and is inimidated by both expertise and cuisines that venture out of the European comfort zone. Why shouldn't I be critical of these insults against Food Network viewers? I don't think it's elitism at all to be critical of the Food Network's blatant stereotyping.
I know I grew up somewhat advantaged food-wise. My mother is something of a health nut and my father is an unapologetic foodie. I have lived most of my life in an area sandwiched between NYC and the bountiful farms upstate. I just don't think that anyone who wasn't raised in such an environment is incapable of learning to appreciate a wider variety of food, or be willing to learn how to cook more than meat and potatoes.
The diversity of America is completely ignored by the Food Network. I don't think it's me who doesn't understand the Food Network audience (or its potential audience). Am I the only person who notices that almost every personalilty on the Food Network is white? Other than Everyday Italian (which is very Americanized Italian), the cuisines presented are generic. Few chefs have a real specialty. Mario Batali's more authentic regional Italian cuisine is now gone. Ming Tsai was gone a long time ago. I guess you could consider Paula Deen and Bobby Flay's shows specialized, but their cuisine consists of standard American favorites. Emeril has a specialty, but he has strayed pretty far away from the Creole roots over the years. The most ethnic show we have is the pathetic Simply Delicioso. That arrived on the scene after Latin chefs were booted from the last two seasons of The Next Food Network Star. Ingrid Hoffman's Latin cuisine is completely watered down. Wouldn't it be nice to see a Carribean chef, or a soul food chef, or an Eastern European chef? Wouldn't anyone like to see Asian cuisine that's authentic and not just Rachael Ray preparing "Chinese Take Out At Home"? I'm not asking this out of snobbery. I'm asking this because not all potential viewers of the Food Network are white people interested in American and Western European food.
"But you don't understand the life of busy moms," protest the Food Network executives and the FN viewers. That's true. I'm not a mother. I am, however a full-time-employed wife. I often don't see the inside of my home for more than a few waking hours each day. I have a lot of hobbies and interests. I have horses that I keep 90 minutes away in NJ. I study dance. I belong to the board of directors for a community theater group and also perform in their productions from time to time. Despite this, I manage to throw together meals two or three times a week. I like to avoid takeout and convenience foods and always make enough for leftovers when I cook a meal.
It's the "busy moms" who are supposed to be the target audience of the likes of Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee. It's not just that these women cook simply, it's that they're non-threatening. They promise a meal with ease and simplicity with simple ingredients. This approach is nothing new really. There are plenty of chefs who present simple, straightforward, and easy-to-follow recipes on the Food Network. Some of the shows that did this are now gone like Sara's Secrets and How to Boil Water. I don't think there is anything terribly complex or difficult about the recipe presenations of Tyler Florence, Ina Garten, or Giada DeLaurentis. The only thing these chefs lack is a gimmick. None of these chefs promise a meal in 30 minutes. I find it poor reasoning because even die-hard Rachael Ray fans say that in real life you can't reproduce her meals in 30 minutes. She has the advantage of someone organizing her studio kitchen before the show and cleaning things during commercial breaks. Most of us don't have that luxury.
I can put together a much better meal in less than an hour and I'm not an expert. I would bet even Rachael Ray has better skills in many areas than I do. The point is that I'd rather look to someone who is truly an expert if I want to expand my skills. That doesn't make me an elitist. I think it just makes me a good cook. I don't judge my instructors on their likeability or how much like me they are. I don't want my instructors to be like me. I want them to be much better.
The next protest is that I don't understand about what it's like to cook on a budget. I'm not a wealthy person and I have the added disadvantaged that my lack of wealth is housed in one of the most expensive regions of the country. I don't have an enormous food budget. In fact, I pay so much attention to my budget and how things cost that I know that many popular chefs on the Food Network are not cooking on a budget. Pre-chopped vegetables and bagged salads cost far more than buying things whole and cutting them up yourself. Sandra Lee's love of Cool Whip is a pricey habit compared to the cost of a pint of heavy cream that you can easily whip in a few minutes (and the real cream tastes better too). Do I need to mention Rachael Ray's love of lamb, veal, and pancetta or her heavy use of manchego and parmiggiano-reggiano cheeses. (There is decent domestic parmesan out there. They don't all come pre-grated with a shaker top.) Not only is she fond of beef tenderloin, but she uses it in recipes where a cheaper cut would wokr much better. Sandra Lee and Robin Miller both require you to go out and buy a Crock Pot, which is really dumb because many foods take far less time and effort if you make them in the oven (like bread pudding). Let's not forget that the obscene amounts of oil, cheese, and bacon in so many of these recipes make for some rather unhealthful meals.
If I really thought the Food Network were making an honest effort to provide nutritious, inexpensive, and easy-to-prepare meals (Wait! Dave Lieberman did that. Now he's gone too.) I would not be writing this. If I hated it only because the chefs were untrained and the food wasn't fancy, then I would indeed be an elitist. What I criticize is that the The Food Network is now all about image, false hope, and mistruths. Think of the image that they are selling to the public. Do you really see yourself in it? I don't see myself in it, but then again, I'm an elitist, right?
Sunday afternoon Mom and I were at the barn and took a break from the horses to pay a visit to Rogowski Farm. Once upon a time they were a very small operation that ran a roadside vegetable stand on the weekends where you bought your produce on the honor system, dropping your money in a box. They have expanded their operation and are now a full-time market selling their own stuff as well as stuff from other local farms.
It's hard to believe you can still get such great stuff locally in November, especially since many of the local farmer's markets have shut down for the winter. Rogowski continues to delight. When we walked in we were invited to taste their spiced cider made with their own brand of spice mix. It tasted like warm apple pie in a glass. Mom snapped up their little seckel pears, while I bought some anjou and bosc pears along with some of the best concord grapes ever. For more savory fare I bought a big bag of fresh mixed greens and some bok choy. They also had a refrigerator filled with local goat cheese and fresh eggs. I couldn't resist buying some of that as well.
Last night for dinner I wanted a nice simple meal, so I went for my Classic Glazed Chicken. I just roast some bone-in chicken breasts glazed with a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, and apricot jam. This time I added a twist. I put a few dashes of sriracha in the mixture (I just can't resist using that stuff). I roasted the breasts for abotu 40 minutes at 350. For a side dish I sliced my bok choy in half and cooked them on the grill pan. When it was soft, I dressed the halves with a mixtures of soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil.
Today's lunch continues the Rogowski Farm theme. I sliced one of the pears and some of the goat cheese and laid them out with some slivered almonds over the greens. The dressing is raspberry balsamic vinegar and olive oil with just a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. Very yummy.
I just love farm market cooking!
15 days to go!!!!
My family has been very cooperative so far. My mother has agreed to make her yummy cranberry-ginger sauce and bring two chairs and a bottle of wine. My brother and his wife are bringing two desserts, bread, wine and four chairs. My uncle and his wife said they would bring wine and at least one chair. They said they would bring a shrimp ring too, which I appreciate (even though I won't eat it), but is slightly problematic since I'm not sure where I'll put it! Space and configuration will continue to be one of our biggest challenges. I'll figure something out. My family loves the shrimp (I must be adopted).
Kevin and I received $150 worth of Crate and Barrel gift certificates for our anniversary last month, so I'll be investing in some festive new table linens soon. I might pick up some new serving pieces too. One of my main serving bowls is a piece I did at a paint your own pottery store years ago that's beginnign to crack all the way across. It's not bad looking, but it does look like it was painted by an amateur.
Monday, November 5, 2007
What really makes me a wine bumpkin is that I never am able to taste those notes of this that or the other thing that I am told I will taste. They say the wine is supposed to taste like licorice or chocolate or plums or berries or old leather. I freely admit I just don't detect these things. I can certainly taste differences in wine. I know that I could line up a hundred different cabernets and taste a hundred different "flavors" so to speak, but I wouldn't be able to tell which one tastes like strawberries and which one tastes like cinnamon.
Maybe asking this will isolate me from the wine experts for the rest of my life, but as I look at the dizzying array of wine descriptions and the fruits they are said to taste like, I find myself asking, "Why doesn't anyone think the wine tastes like grapes?"
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
My soup was a black bean soup. It was a fairly unique soup. Most black beans soups I have had have been sort of like chili. This was more like a minestrone in consitstency. It didn't end up tasting the way I thought it would, but I liked the taste.
I started by chopping up 8 slices of bacon and frying them until nice and crispy (bacon is always a good start, don't you think?) and removed them from the pot.
Next I drained off the excess fat, but left a little in the pot and used it to cook up one finely chopped onion. (I didn't say the soup was healthful.) When the onion was nice and soft, I added about 4 cloves of chopped garlic and cooked it until I had a lovely bacony-oniony-garlicky-smelling mass.
Then I added two 15oz. cans of rinsed and drained black beans, 2 cups of chicken broth, and a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes. I let the whole thing simmer for a while.
While my soup simmered, I made up a spice mixture of about 2 teaspoons cocoa powder and about a quarter teaspoon each of cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and ground coriander with a pinch or two of salt.
I made a mistake here. I added back the bacon with the spice mixture. I really shouldn't have done that as the bacon became soggy and flavorless. I should have just sprinkled it on top prior to serving. I suppose it was better that I didn't. If I hadn't thrown those bacon bits back into the soup, there is no way they would have survived for subsequent servings during the week. I would have eaten them all last night.
After a good 30 minutes or so, I served it up. I'm not sure what I expected it to taste like, but it still didn't taste as expected. I enjoyed it though. It was new and different. I will definitely make it again.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Considering there is some life experience crossover here, I'm not sure if I should post this in food blog or MySpace blog, so I think I'll post in both. I don't think both blogs have the same readership, and if anyone out there actually reads both blogs, well, suck it up. You're not required to read either, let alone both.
I've never hosted Thanksgiving before. This is my first shot at it. For most of my life, I've had Thanksgiving at my mother's place or at the home of my maternal grandparents when they were still alive. In recent years Dad began complaining that he doesn't get to spend holidays with my brother and me. Well, I think that's partially his fault as he rarely ever actually asked us to spend holidays with him, but if he wanted a holiday, we would give it to him. The problems is that the end result has been a logistical nightmare. Which holiday? Which day? Wait. You want to go on vacation for Thanksgiving after all? Christmas Eve is taken. How about New Year's Eve? It's been this crazy for the past couple of years now.
Last year after dealing with everyone's schedules for Thanksgiving and Christmas my brother and I began discussing how we're going to deal with this in the futre. "Mom and Dad need to get over themselves and just both be at the same holiday celebrations," was his declaration. Now it's time for the next generation to take over. If my brother and I host holidays at our respective homes, we can invite both parents and no one parent can complain that we're not spending holidays without him or her. I volunteered Thanksgiving. Bro is doing Christmas Eve. Although he also needs to spend time with his wife's family, Kevin and I get some relief since he's Jewish and doesn't have a lot of local family anyway. His mother just comes to our place for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Although I have hosted big family dinners before, I have never done one of this size, because I've never hosted both sides of the family. There will be 14 people in all. (At one point there were 16, but since last year my grandmother's heath isn't the greatest and my Aunt Jo died, we're down two.) I'm going to need a lot of extra seating for my apartment. I'll have to head to *shudder* Wal Mart to get another folding table because it's the only place I have ever been able to find one. I'll have to borrow as many folding chairs from my office as my car will hold and have to have family members bring their own chairs too. I hope everyone fits. I'll have to use two completely mismatched sets of dishes.
I'm not cooking anything seriously complex, but I have never made a turkey before and that makes me nervous. Turkeys present the eternal challenge of making sure the dark meat is cooked without drying out the breast meat. I am thinking of using Alton Brown's method. I know I definitely want to brine the turkey first. My mother brined her turkey two years ago and the flavor was aweseome. I bought some brining bags for that purpose (I don't have space to brine a turkey in a 5-gallon bucket as Alton recommends). I also bought a voice alert probe thermometer so I can time the cooking for cooking to a certain temperature rather than cook it by time only to find it's not fully cooked yet. My problem with Alton's method is that it requires you to cook the turkey at a very high temperature in the beginning. Whenever I heat my oven to a temperature over 400 degrees, I have to turn on the vent fans, throw a towel over the smoek detectors, and open the balcony door (tough to do in November) to avoid having the smoke alarms go off. A 500-degree oven will make things interesting.
The other thing that makes me nervous is just logistics. When do a make the other dishes? How much should I do in advance and reheat? (I'm so glad I have my rangetop microwave/convection oven because it's good to know I can have two ovens going at once.) I know what I'm making for side dishes (I'll do a separate post on that as I want the menu to be a little bit of surprise for the family), but I worry about when I'll make them in relation to turkey roasting and how they will turn out. Will everything get to the table in time? There is just so much to worry about.
I am not going it totally alone of course. I am going to make my traditional chocolate cream pie but my my sister-in-law said she will bring an additional dessert. (I never make pumpkin pie because I hate pumpkin pie. Kevin and I are chocolate people - plain and simple. I'm tired of this idea that one should not serve chocolate desserts on Thanksgiving.) I have asked my mother to make her wonderful cranberry sauce with candied ginger. It's the best cranberry sauce out there. Hopefully things like wine and bread will be well supplied by everyone else. I can't carve anything very well, so SIL volunteered my brother for the job. Let's hope he doesn't protest too badly. I'll let him have the pope's nose if he lets me have the wing. (As the hostess, am I required to relinquish the wing if someone else wants it? I think my niece likes turkey wings.)
I bought my turkey from Williams Sonoma. It's a free-range turkey. I'm a fan of supporting local agriculture and wanted to order my turkey from one of the more local farms, but when I checked out some of these places online, I saw just how expensive these turkeys are. They are well over $100 (the WS one seems like a bargain at $85 plus shipping). The sites don't seem to indicate delivery either, which would mean an hour's drive upstate to pick it up (local is relative after all). My politically correct turkey still comes from California, which sort of negates the good that comes of ordering a free-range turkey. Oh well.
Still, I'm getting so nervous I feel like foisting this whole thing off on just about anyone who would even consider hosting for just a moment - as some of my unfortunately family members are learning. Can I do this? Can I really do this?
Must...take...deep...breath. 30 days to go...
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I was inspired by a fellow sriracha fan I found on Chowhound to create this.
I mixed about a half cup of molasses with two tablespoons rice vinegar, a quarter cup of tomato paste, and three tablespoons sriracha. I split a whole chicken (I hate cutting out backbones, but split-roasting a chicken makes it so much easier to carve. BTW, take that Rachael Ray - people do still roast whole chickens and I put the backbone in the freezer for future use for stock) and covered it generously with the sauce and let it sit for half hour or so before roasting it in a 400-degree oven. It was yummy. Even my husband thought so saying, "The sauce is really good." (He doesn't always take note of that sort of thing.) I will definitely do it again, although I will cut the proportions of the recipe a bit. It was more than I needed for just one chicken.
The most recent issues of Eating Well is really inspiring me all over the place. Every page seems to have great ideas.
All week long I have been eating White Bean, Broccoli, and Cheddar Soup for lunch. This beats Robin Miller's nasty broccoli soup to a pulp (see my most recent Food Network blog). I tweaked the recipe a bit. I sauteed some onions and then added some chopped garlic before I added the liquids and the broccoli. The beans really do keep the cheese from clumping. As I'm trying to make sure I get my 25 grams of fiber daily, this soup really hits the spot.
Last night I made the Pork Tenderloin with Apple and Fennel. I love roasted fennel. I love apples and pork. This one was a no-brainer. I forgot to buy an onion though, so I had to do without. The dish was still very tasty without the onion. The apples got a bit burnt though. The next time I make this the pork will go in first, or go on the bottom rack while the apples and fennel will go on top later.
October has been a very chaotic month for me and I have been eating out way too often. I'm glad this week I had time to make some homemade food.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Les Sans Culotte is a classic French restaurant. The menu has the kind of dishes pulled straight from a classical French cookbook. There is boeuf bourguignon, chicken cordon bleu, escargot, steak frites, and duck with fruit sauce. The true standout here is the appetizer.
The meal is prixe fixe with everyone sharing the same appetizer (unless you pay extra). What an appetizer it is! The waiter brings the table a giant rack of sausage. Two kinds of long ropy sausages wind their way through the rack, while shorter dry sausage hang off the tiers. You just take your knife and hack off whatever you like and eat until you smile with joy. Repeat as necessary. Alongside the sausage are fresh bread rolls, mustard vinaigrette, homemade pate, spicy cornichons, and a crudite basket. This is no ordinary crudite basket. This is not a platter of chopped carrots and celery. In this basket is a bounty of fresh veggies and fruits. There are melon slices, plenty of whole plum tomatoes, an apple, a cucumber cut in half, a chunk of orange cauliflower, and yes, a stalk or two of celery and a peeled whole carrot. Having some of this on your plate definitely makes you feel more virtuous about what you're eating!
I was able to find a photo online of this luscious bounty.
My entree of beef bourguignon was tasty and traditional. For dessert I had a classic chocolate mousse. The prixe fixe menu has two dessert options of the mousse or creme caramel. Kevin, Dad, and Beth all chose the extra fee options of profiteroles and crepes. I was happy with my choice because although they all enjoyed their desserts, the desserts were HUGE. The mousse was a perfect portion. After all of that food at dinner, a huge dessert is a lot to deal with.
Service is pretty good. You don't have to wait too long for anything. The first time I came here was on Christmas and I have to say that I'd never seen people working on Christmas Day be so polite and kind. The owner had no problem with the fact that we closed down the place.
The cost of the dinner is $23 per person. The extra appetizers, entrees, or desserts will add another $7 to your bill for most of the special items featured. It is probably one of the best deals you can get in NYC. If you're in the city and want a really fun, tasty, classic and completely unpretentious meal, I would definitely recommend this place.
(Disclaimer: I took this photo from a blog called Eatinnyc. If you are the owner of the blog, I apologize for stealing your photo. If you would like me to remove it, please let me know.)
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I studied Italian pretty seriously in high school. The Italian language was my passion. My teacher for the first two years was a woman named Mrs. Miscella. She was born in Italy and still had a little bit of an accent. She taught my class the rigors of enunciation in the Italian language. Each consonant is pronounced distinctly. Every vowel is pure with no dipthongs. Any dipthongs are spelled out with more vowels. That is the proper way to speak Italian and it didn't matter to my teacher that I was American. I had to say the words correctly.
I also learned in class just how much Italians are amused at American accents. They think Americans who speak Italian with lazy consonants and vowels with diphthongs where no diphthongs exist are the funniest thing. I remember watching an Italian movie in class where two of the characters were American tourists who spoke Italian. Even I was laughing at how ridiculous their American accents sounded. Imagine how funny it must have sounded to an Italian.
Giada DeLaurentis was born in Italy. She grew up bilingual speaking Italian with native speakers. Since she came to the US as a child, she speaks with no Italian accent, but she speaks Italian as a native speaker would. There is nothing incorrect about her Italian. She speaks it the way I learned to speak it in school. Her consonants are crisp and her vowels are pure. She should not have to apologize for that or give herself an American accent just to please the audience. Every time someone complains about Giada's accent I want to just scream, "Yo, Ignoraumus, THAT'S ITALIAN."
I have come to the conclusion that Giada really is my favorite FN cook. It's not her accent or lack of it that makes me like her. I don't even care about her on-camera presence (she doesn't have much really). The size of her head and the low-cut tops don't bug me that much. I get the impression that she's not a nice person in real life. She's always so mean on The Next Food Network Star. I like her for one simple reason. I like her food.
The opinion on Giada's cooking skills seem divided. Some say she knows what she's doing. Others say she really knows very little. I've never been to the Cordon Bleu, so I really have little background to judge her on how well she uses a knife or if her techniques are correct. I know that she can bake and she is willing to make dishes that take time and effort. She doesn't use shortcuts when a dish requires time to be good.
So I like her Italian, but I don't like her on-camera presence or her off-camera attitude. There is one reason and one reason only why I watch her show. I like her food. She makes things that I would make and I would eat. Giada's Family Dinners is currently one of my favorite cookbooks. My recipe file at the Food Network website is filled with Giada recipes. Her Farmer's Pasta is a standby for potlucks. Her Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Roast is a must for special dinners and holidays. As a roast chicken addict, I love her Garlic and Citrus version. (Take that Rachael Ray. People do still cook whole birds.) She has lots of great inspiration for sides, salads and pastas. If her technique isn't perfect, well neither is mine. I watch Everyday Italian and know that I can do what she does and eat what she cooks.
Everyone needs to lay off of Giada about the Italian accent thing. If you like to eat her food, then shut up. (Of course if you don't like her food, complain away about her food.)
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I had one for the first time a couple of years ago at Och's Orchard in Warwick, NY. I didn't see them around that much after that.
Lately more stores are carrying them. I have almost abandoned my loyalty to Galas. I buy my honeycrisps almost exclusively now. They're a dollar more per pound, but they are so worth it.
I just had one with some almonds as a snack. They are just pure apple heaven. They are nice and crisp and not too sweet, but they don't suck all of the saliva out of your mouth like granny smiths.
I know this is a stupid idea for a blog, but I just had to say it. Honeycrisps rock!
Saturday, September 29, 2007
30 Minute Meals: I just caught the tail end. Rachael Ray was standing in her ugly orange kitchen making mac 'n' cheese. At least she can make it homemade. She was making it "Lorraine" style. Great Rache. Bastardize yet another dish. Quiche Lorraine isn't that hard to make. Really, it isn't. I would even forgive you if you used a store-bought pie crust. Please stop doing crap like this.
Healthy Appetite: This is one of those shows that makes me go, "Meh." Ellie Krieger has decent food knowledge and she makes simple, healthful, and easy-to-follow recipes. On that topic, she's a better influence than Rachael Ray by a mile.
For this episode she made fish tacos, "refried" beans, chipotle cream. I like how each component was very simply flavored. She knows enough not to cram 16 unrelated spices in a dish. The fish had lime, the mashed pinto beans had cilantro and ancho chili powder (I saw Sara Moulton do something similar a couple of years ago), and the cream just had the chipotles.
Next she made teriyaki chicken thighs that looked decent for a weeknight meal. I've done similar things with chicken. Her teriyaki sauce wasn't premade. She made her own with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sugar. That's a good idea. Bottled teriyaki has a lot of crap in it. Then she made soba noodle salad. I don't get why she boiled the noodles first before she prepared the dressing and veggies for the salad. I would have prepared that all first and then cooked the noodles.
She discusses the nutritional content of the food. That's another good idea. People need to know why they should eat something.
She measures things! With real measuring instruments!
In summation, Krieger doesn't really surprise me with anything. She makes a lot of the kinds of stuff I make, but I've been known to sneak in a pat of butter or a jigger of real cream here and there.
What is up with her voice? She always sounds like she's stuffed up. Did I read somewhere that she used to be a model. Maybe she lived the glamorous partying model lifestyle and spent some time with the spoon up her nose.
Quick Fix Meals: *snore* I just can't get into this show. I don't hate it the way some people do. This show just doesn't inspire me. She makes nothing I would want to make or haven't made before. Today's show was a rerun though and it did feature the one recipe I ever did make from this show - cream of broccoli soup. It was gross.
She's another one who doesn't measure. She'll tell you the measurement, but doesn't actually use a measuring spoon or cup.
Her idea of having a "freezer library" of frozen chopped vegetables isn't a bad idea. It's more economical to chop your own veggies and freeze them than it is to buy small amounts of pre-chopped stuff. It seems like a lot of trouble though.
What's with the music on that show. I HATE HATE HATE the theme song. But the music during the show is constantly changing. It's jazzy at one point and almost new-agey at another.
Semi-Homemade: This is the show that makes Rachael Ray look like a 5-star chef. I like how some folks call this food SLop, because slop is what it looks like.
The theme was "Heirloom Recipes" because there were recipes that were handed down in her family. They were of course bastardized to the point of being unrecognizable.
First she made a repulsive looking crab rangoon dip. She made chips by deep-frying wonton wrappers. Deep frying is a pain. Why will she do that but not cook with more homemade ingredients?
Next came an orzo salad. I like orzo. She made a dressing with BOTTLED oil and vinegar dressing. She pointed out that it had all sorts of herbs and spices in it. Then she added herbed feta cheese. So we now have the herbs and spices in the bottle of dressing plus the herbs in the cheese? Then she added fresh mint to the whole thing. I think some mint, orzo, oregano, salt, and pepper would have been just fine with just plain olive oil and red wine vinegar and plain feta as a dressing. I'll bet there were a gazillion milligrams of sodium in that salad.
The dish that followed was a chicken scallopine dish with spring vegetables. She mixed leek soup mix with wine and then threw that sloppy sauce into the crock pot with the vegetables. The resulting veggies were overcooked, limp, and gloppy. The chicken was dredged with more leek soup and sauteed. It is that much harder to sautee some onion and shallot and put some flour-dredged chicken broth in a pan and maybe add some white wine? How about steaming those veggies and tossing them with a little olive oil and garlic?
She made a carrot cake in the slow cooker. It was another variation on Grandma's recipe. Grandma must be spinning in her grave by this time.
Her cocktail took three hours to make in the slow cooker. What's the point of a cocktail you can't drink right away?
It was really annoyed at how she said, "Lllllllllllllllllllllllllemon juice."
Paula's Home Cooking: I never complain too much about Paula. The theme was breakfast in bed. Her husband said he wanted to bring her breakfast in bed, but she would have to make it. How nice!
She made a cake first that used cake mix and instant pudding. Oh Paula! You're so much better than that.
Her savory dish was spinach and mushroom pinwheels. She kept saying that it's unusual to have vegetables for breakfast, even those. Hello! Spinach quiche anyone? How about a mushroom omlet?
She finished with a Dutch apple pancake. Yummy. No comment on that one.
This show, overall wasn't too bad. I still love Paula.
30 Minute Meals AGAIN!: Todays theme was comfort food. She's done that one 100 times. This time the comfort food was pasta fagioli. Oh great. How will she bastardize this one? Personally, I don't think of pasta fagioli as comfort food. What's so comforting about beans? I don't think beans make things very comfortable for the people around you.
She said she got the idea for this recipe in Italy. Her weird method was apparently legitimate. Okay. I won't get angry with her for making some bizarre pasta fagioli recipe. But I still don't get this whole, "Girl next door," thing. Yeah. She's ALWAYS talking about her travels in Italy. How exactly is an ordinary girl like me supposed to relate to that? Yet I keep hearing about how "relatable" she is. Ordinary people go to Italy on a regular basis all the time.
She commented on the necessity of canned chicken stock because in her world, no one makes stock anymore. Why do they not make stock? Apparently it's because no one cooks whole birds anymore. Everyone just uses boneless, skinless breasts. I wanted to sit her down and force her to read my roast chicken blog. I love to roast a whole chicken. That to me is real comfort food. I don't make my own stock regularly, but when I roast a chicken, I always stick the carcass in the freezer and when I have time, I boil them up for stock.
Simply Delicioso: Sue warned me that Ingrid Hoffman is very different on her show when her mother isn't in the kitchen with her. How right she was. Ingrid is so manic. To her credit, she seems to enjoy herself, and she seemed less scatterbrained on this show than she was on the last one I saw. I really think she enjoys giving a performance. I just wish she would put more of that energy into her cooking. I can't get into her food.
She did that stupid finger-snapping framing device. Whatever. Then you see her dancing over the opening credits. Girlfriend can't mambo worth a hill of beans. I want to drag her to my dance class.
She started with the turkey tamal pie. It looked so underwhelming. Ground turkey breast? BOR-ing.
Please, for the love of all that is good and holy in the world, STOP WITH THE SALT THING. That goes for you too, Rachael Ray.
On that note, STOP SHOVING FOOD IN THE CAMERA. We can't smell it, and we never will.
She's another one who "eyeballs" the measurements. Don't you realize beginner cooks can't always eyeball amounts? If you're aiming a show at beginner cooks, teach them to measure for god's sake.
I could definitely start a drinking game with this show. Drink whenever she says, "baby".
Nothing makes me happier when I ask what's for dessert and I hear, "Jell-O" - NOT! If you don't like to bake (LAME!) and have to bring a dessert somewhere, pick up some nice cookies or a cake from the bakery or something. Jell-O shots are what you use to get drunk quickly. They are not dessert.
The beer drinks looked totally gross. I'd rather just have Jell-O shots (with those bakery cookies).
Well, I've had enough. These cooks are just lame. I'm afraid I will have to skip Giada, Tyler, Ina, and whoever else is on today. I've watched so many bad cooks that I can't even watch the good ones. I just can't stomach anymore. (No pun intended - okay, maybe I intended a little pun.) This network is just getting too lame to handle.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Last week I discovered my new favorite Thai ingredient, srirachi. Last week I made Spaghetti Squash and Pork Stir Fry from the latest issue of Eating Well magazine. One of the ingredients was sriracha chili sauce. I had never bought it before, but I did find a bottle of it at Wild Oats. I'm sure it's been used in many dishes without my being able to identify it, but I had never tasted it by itself. I took my first taste and fell in love. It's perfectly spicy and pungent. It's everything a hot sauce should be. I was inspired to use it more.
This week I decided to make some Thai-inspried meals for myself. It's a big risk. My attempts to replicate Thai food at home, much like my attempts to replicate Chinese food, have never been all that successful, but I was determined. I wanted my sriracha dishes.
I started by cooking up a chicken. I simply boiled a whole chicken using a method outlined in The Frugal Gourmet. Once it was cooked, I shredded it up.
The first dish was one of my own invention. I mixed the breast meat with the sriracha, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, honey, ginger, garlic, scallions, and sesame oil. I wrapped it up in lettuce leaves. It may not have been strictly Thai, but it was really tasty. I'm afraid this was one of my seat-of-the-pants dishes where I just added things to the bowl without really measuring and just experimented with what tasted good. Anyone reading this who wants to replicate it at home will just have to trust his or her instincts and adjust the recipe according to taste. It was a successful experiment. I am excited that I still haven't used up all of my srirachi so I can make this again. Maybe next time I'll think to measure and actually write the recipe down.
The next dish was my own attempt to replicate my favorite soup in the whole world, Tom Kha Gai. I love coconut soup. I love it, love it, love it. Believe it or not, I had never tried to make it before. I have always been afraid of not doing it well. I guess there is something about sriracha that makes me bold.
I was fortunate enough to have some homemade chicken stock in the freezer, so that was my base. I added a can of lite coconut milk, the juice of four limes, a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce (we're back to that seat-of-the-pants thing again), a thai chile, several stalks of lemon grass, some sliced buttom mushrooms (I'm not fond of straw mushrooms) and the thigh meat from the chicken. I threw in a handful of cilantro at the end. The resulting soup was decent, but had it's flaws. The first flaw was the overuse of the limes. The soup was a bit too tart. The second flaw was the lemongrass. I bought a stalk at the grocery store, but it must have fallen out of the bag on teh way home, because it was gone when I went to make dinner that evening. All I had was a very old jar of dried lemongrass. I must have had to thow in the entire jar to get any flavor from them at all. The third was the lack of kaffir lime leaves. What is it about kaffir lime leaves? I know they exist somewhere because Thai restaurants use them, but there is no store I know of that carries them. I can't find them anywhere. I don't know how big of a difference it would have made if I had had them, but I would have liked to have known.
As Thai experiments go though, this was one of my more successful ones. I'm glad I tried it. One day I'll venture a coconut curry.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Tyler Florence is no showman. Many FN personalities are indeed performers. Alton Brown, Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, and to a lesser extent, Mario Batali are all showmen. They know how to work the cameras and put themselves out there. They could probably succeed on TV without the food. TV cooks don't have to be performers of course. The lamented Sara Moulton and Ina Garten aren't performers and they don't have to be. They are also wise enough to stick to their own sphere of the kitchen. Giada DeLaurentis and Rachael Ray aren't so wise. Giada is fine in the kitchen, but she needs to stop doing travel shows or other documentary-style shows. As for Rachael Ray, she's horrible on camera, but compensates by being annoying and obnoxious. She's bad enough on her cooking show, but her talk show is a train wreck. She yells, waves her arms, and talks over her guests. She's so focused on herself that I swear she suffers from Narcissictic Personality Disorder. Ingrid Hoffman seems to have good performance chops, but she can't combine them with her cooking. I don't really care if the cooks on TV are showmen or not. The problem is that a bad showman (like Rachael Ray) can make me tear my hair out, and the bland ones don't always get my attention. That was the problem with Tyler Florence. He never really got my attention.
Tyler's other flaw, as I saw it, was a lack of focus. I would watch his shows and think, "What is his specialty?" Giada is Italian-American cuisine. Mario is regional Italian cuisine. Emeril is Creole. Paula Deen is Southeast. Bobby Flay is Southwest. What exactly is Tyler? I kept asking, "Does he have something in particular that he does well? What can he do that other chefs can't?" There wasn't a whole lot to distinguish him from the likes of Sara Moulton or Ina Garten.
I kept watching his shows though. He may not have always had my attention, but he never annoyed me either. He seemed most at home giving one-on-one instruction. If he had any schtick at all, it was that he was like a "cooking coach". I kind of preferred the snooty French guy in How to Boil Water (I just liked the idea of two very different personalities working together in the kitchen), but Tyler handled it well enough. I thought it was a good show because it taught basic cooking skills without talking down to the audience and without making real cooking seem too difficult. I always thought the approach was far better for beginner cooks than the 30 Minute Meals approach of dumbing down every recipe into burger form. He applied the same coach technique to his Food 911 show. It was during Food 911 that I really began to apprciated him. He was faced with so many different types of cuisines on that show. For a jack-of-all-trades chef, he competently handled all of them.
One day on Food 911 the requested recipe was jerk chicken . I love spicy Carribean food. I had to hang around and watch this one. The recipe he provided was Jerk Chicken with Roasted Mango and Habaneros. As I watched him go through the steps of preparing it, I knew I had to try it. The recipe was unique and filled with complex flavors. I made it for my mother's birthday dinner a couple of weeks later. The dish was every bit as delicious as it looked on TV and was a huge hit. It's a bit expensive to make, but it's worth every penny. Once I tasted this recipe I realized that Tyler Florence is an excellent chef.
I made it again last night. Unfortunately I was unable to marinate the chicken as long as I wanted to. I put the chicken and marinade in a plastic bag and had it in the refrigerator for about an hour and fiften minutes. The flavor didn't suffer too much. When my husband came home from work he said he could smell it all the way down the hall. I served it alongside Island Red Beans, a recipe I found in the latest issue of Eating Well and a nice cooling salad of oranges and avocados tossed with a lime-orange vinaigrette.
It doesn't look like they currently have new shows running for Tyler Florence other than the current incarnation of Tyler's Ultimate. I have an appreciation for that show now. The show is very well edited. Rather than make the show about Tyler and his personality, it is really shot to make the food stand out. I understand what Tyler does now. He just wants to make sure that people have the basic skills to make the classic version of anything. Maybe he isn't going to delve in obscure dishes in regional cuisines, but he has good solid foundations that can make just about any popular dish in a given cuisine. When I needed a shrimp scampi recipe for a dinner party, I went to Tyler. When I needed a better chicken marsala recipe, I went to Tyler. Look at his online recipe collection and you'll see he has everything from chicken cordon blue, to gazpacho, to fish and chips. I would bet most of those recipes are great. He's a chef you can rely on to help you understand how to make something and make it well. If you don't totally love the recipe, he gives a foundation to help you make your own version.
I have now officially converted. I love Tyler Florence.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The restaurant featured last night was Peter's, an Italian place in Babylon, L.I. I swear they chose this place because of the character of the owners. The family that owned this place looked and acted like they came straight out of some mafia movie. It was every NY/Long Island Italian stereotype come to life. The brother and the sister were the co-owners. The sister tended bar and tried desperately to keep things in line. The brother, Peter, was a huge egomaniac who was willing to spend money on a new watch, a new suit, and a new Mercedes, but put no money into the restaurant. He never seemed to do any work either. He just walked around the restaurant and schmoozed. He would demand drinks and cappuccinos from his sister all night. He had that whole, "You talkin' to me?" attitude as if it were pulled straight off the Hollywood gangster movie assembly line. His sister was powerless against him. Their parents were involved in the restaurant, but they didn't seem to do much. The restaurant was in debt and a couple of times the "bill collector" came around. Mr. Bill Collector was a well-connected loan shark, or at least tried to come off as one. Peter was always trying to pick a fistfight with him. Again, it was more movie-style drama.
The kitchen was gross. Most of the stoves didn't work. The walk-in cooler was a mess. The chef and sous chef were incredibly frustrated with the fact that they weren't being given the equipment to do their jobs properly (I was amazed they continued to work for these people). The waitstaff were also frustrated because the kitchen staff couldn't get food out in a timely fashion with such limited equipment and the waitstaff had to bear the brunt of customer complaints. They were bleeding money because Peter had to keep comping wine and dinners to keep the angry customers happy. At one point a table began to complain and Peter began picking on a waitress in front of the customers. Even the people at the table commented on how hard he was on her. She was the only person who let him have it and broke down crying in the kitchen.
Ramsey provided new stoves, new plates, and a new refrigerator and had the walk-in cooler cleaned up and repaired. He then revamped the menu. In order to distinguish Peter's from the other 10 Italian restaurants in Babylon, he designed a family style menu. The chefs were pretty cool with that. I got the impression that the chefs were pretty good and could adapt well to whatever kind of menu they were presented with. Their problems seemed to stem more from lack of funds for decent ingredients and lack of decent equipment. They had their opening night with the new menu.
Opening night had its own set of problems. Peter still refused to pull his weight. At one point I saw him go to the bar and demand a cranberry juice from his sister. I thought he was ordering a drink for a customer, but then he said he wanted pineapple juice instead. The restaurant was bustling and this guy was lollygagging and ordering drinks for himself . Then he decided he was really hungry, so he walked into the kitchen and grabbed a plate of baked clams and began eating them. This did not go over well with the table who had ordered the clams. More wine had to be compled for this. Despite this, the first night was a success.
At the end of the evening, Ramsey gathered the family together to give his assessment of the future of the business. He really began ripping into Peter. He talked about how rude it was that he would let tables full of customers go hungry while walking around eating. He criticized Peter's selfishness. He concluded his speech by saying the restaurant would run much better without him. You could see that just about everyone in the room was thinking, "I've been wanting to say this to him for years." The chef in particular was smiling during the whole speech.
Oddly enough, Peter didn't take too much offense to Ramsey's critique. He actually took it to heart and came to his senses. He practically got down on his knees and kissed Ramsey's feet for showing him the way. I was really surprised he didn't become seriously defensive. Peter immediately began mending his ways and getting involved in the operation of the restaurant. There were clips of him actually carrying food to the tables.
Was the show edited to make Peter look like more of a pig? It probably was. I think it was edited to make things look like they happened in a different time frame. The scene with the crying waitress happened in the middle of the show. The end of the show had Peter hugging her and apologizing. To me the scene looked like the same scene from the middle of the show. I think they kissed and made up shortly after her tantrum, but they opted not to show him apologzing until the end of the show after he reformed. Had he apologized right away, it would have ruined the jerky image they were trying to maintain throughout the show. That's the problem with reality TV. The "reality" is recreated by the producers to alter the audience's perception of the situation.
The show ended with Ramsey bringing in a priest to bless the restaurant. Now if that's not trying to play up some Italian stereotypes, what is?
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
If I were to put together a list of the most overrated foods and food establishments on earth, Krispy Kreme would definitely be on the list. Why does everyone think they're so great?
I was so excited to try my first one a couple of years ago. I am a huge fan of boston cream doughnuts, so that was the one I tried. The filling tasted off and the doughnut itself was just so small. Krispy Kreme fans said I ordered the wrong doughnut. It's the original glazed that's so incredibly delicious. Well, I have yet to see what's so delicious about them. Time after time I have tasted a glazed Krsipy Kreme and every time I've been disappointed. Today someone brought three boxes of original glazed into the office. I took the chance and ate one. It was still nothing special. Several coworkers made comments that Krispy Kreme is "lighter" than Dunkin Donuts. They weigh you down. I think it's the substance of Dunkin Donuts that makes me like them. I like the way biting into a Dunkin Donut makes me really feel like I have something nice and rich in my mouth.
The thing that's supposed to make Krispy Kreme so special is that you can get them hot. I will admit I've never had the pleasure of ordering them hot. However, if you have to heat a doughnut to make it tasty, I don't think it could have been that good to begin with.
I know there are better doughnuts out there than Dunkin Donuts. I have had some indepenent bakery doughnuts that are outstanding (St. Moritz in Greenwich makes doughnuts that taste like pure butter). I just don't think Krispy Kreme is one of those better doughnuts.