Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New Soup Recipe

With the cold weather coming, I have have been experimenting with lots of soup recipes. Soups are usually inexpensive to make, satisfying, and last a good long time. One pot of a hearty soup is lunch for a week. Sometimes I seek out other people's recipes and other times I try to come up with my own. This week, I made my own.

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

ACK! One month to go. T-day minus 30

The countdown to Thanksgiving has begun. I'm freaking out.

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

More Adventures in Sriracha (and more newfound recipes)

I will find any way to use that sriracha sauce. Two nights ago I decided to make a nice sriracha-infused sauce for chicken. I suppose it would be considered a barbecue sauce, but I live in an apartment and have no grill, so I'll just consider it a glaze.

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

My Favorite NYC Restaurant

Last night I went out for a belated anniversary dinner with my father and his wife. I told him that I really wanted to eat at Les Sans Culotte East. It is really one of my favorite restaurants in the world. Why? I will tell you in one word: SAUSAGE.

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 Don't Hate Giada's Accent

I am probably the only Food Network watcher who likes Giada's Italian pronounciation.

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

My Favorite Apple

I love honeycrisps.

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!