Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Big Recipe of the Week

I'm continuing with my project of making large-volume foods to eat for a few days at a time. Rehearsals have barely begun, but it's a busy week regardless.

I decided to go Tex-Mex this week with my own little variation on tacos.

I think chipotle powder is the new sriracha. I'm obsessed with it.

If you're one of those people who think, "Cilantro tastes like soap," feel free to leave it out. I'd miss it in my tacos, but I wouldn't hate anyone who left it out because of not liking it.

This was the first time I made this (invented last night) so I'm sure the seasonings could be adjusted. Let your own tastes guide you.

I'm thinking it could also be done with just the beans (maybe mix in another can of a different type of bean?) for a vegetarian version.

Chipotle Chicken and Pinto Bean Tacos

1.5-2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (if you insist on using breasts because you're a wuss, use them, but I urge you to try thighs as they hold up to long cooking much better)
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can crushed tomoates
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chipotle powder
1 15-oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
Copious amounts of fresh chopped cilantro
Corn tortillas
Guacamole (see my post 2/29 "Doctoring the Burger" if you want a recipe)
Chopped or shredded lettuce
Shredded jack or cheddar or whatever other cheese (optional)

Put a little oil in the pan and cook that garlic up a bit. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add them to the pan. Brown them well on both sides. Drain the pan (this is crucial as I ended up with a bit of an oil slick on my sauce because I didn't do this last night). Put chicken and garlic in the pan with the tomatoes. Add the cumin and chipotle powder. Watch as the tomatoes turn a lovely, rich, rust color when you do this. Simmer the chicken for about another 10 minutes and remove. Let the sauce continue to reduce down a bit while you shred the chicken up. Add the pinto beans and the cilantro. Then add the chicken to the pan. Keep warm while you warm the tortillas in the microwave. I give them about 15 seconds per side.

Lay the tortilla on a plate. Spoon on some cheese (if using - dang those lactose-intolerant husbands). Put on the nice, warm chicken-bean mixture so the cheese gets nice and melty. Top with guacamole and lettuce and roll, baby roll. Raise those little bundles to your mouth and enjoy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Birthday TERP!

It's time to celebrate. The Essential Rhubarb Pie is now a year old. (And it seems I'm calling it TERP for the first time)

It's been an interesting year. I love blogging because I love talking about myself. I have my MySpace blog for that, but I really wanted to expand and talk more about my love of food and cooking. I didn't know how many people who read my other blog would really care about that sort of thing. I approached the idea with a little trepidation. After all, food blogs have sprung up everywhere these days. Why would I want to add to an oversaturated corner of the internet? In an age where, "Anyone with a kitchen and a laptop" has a food blog, I wondered if anyone would actually care about what I had to say. Still I forged ahead. I chose Blogger as my venue because it seemed more stable than MySpace. I chose the moniker of The Short (dis)Order Cook as a way of designating both my stature and my tendency to wing it in the kitchen.

It's been a lot of fun writing this blog. I can gush about my favorite restaurants, websites, and foods. I can talk about my dislike of particular foods. I can rant about the poor quality of cooking shows on the Food Network. Since I never expected anyone to read this blog, I'm always pleasantly surprised when people do.

I have also learned a bit about the right way to do a food blog over the months. As something of a freeform and experimental cook, I never liked writing out recipes. My "recipes" were always just streams of consciousness. I wrote my recipes as if they were stories. If I used someone else's recipes, I provided a link if one was available online. If I used a recipe from a cookbook, I always just said what cookbook it came from. I never wrote it out. That wasn't very nice of me.

Now I try to write out the recipe in proper form if I make one up. My thought is that even if measurements aren't exact, or if I make something in a way that I know I like, but don't know if anyone else will, I can be reassured that people can tweak my recipes. I tweak everyone else's. after all. I don't have to be a perfectionist. I also have learned to suck it up and copy out the recipe if I'm using something from a cookbook. It's a nice thing to do. The other thing I learned is that photos are appreciated. Okay. I'm working on that one. I hope to be acquiring my own camera soon so I don't waste my husband's memory cards on his camera taking pictures of food.

The greatest thing about starting this blog is how it connected me to some other great blogs. When I started this blog, through comments and recommendations, and just plain old nosing around, I discovered a few great blogs.

Through those blogs and the contacts I made there, I discovered even more great blogs.

Then through those blogs I found still more great blogs.

Every day I explore blogs through other blogs looking for more great food reads and more great cooking ideas.

So it is you, my fellow food bloggers, who keep me going here. You inspire me, teach me, and very often make me laugh my head off. Every one of you reading this is as much a part of The Essential Rhubarb Pie as I am.

I think it's time to break out the champagne and chocolate! (or the bacon and rhubarb)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

That's What Friends Are For

I usually assume that none of my IRL friends read this blog because very few of them are cooks. I'm not saying my friends are all incompetent in the kitchen, but most of them see cooking as something you do to avoid starving. They're not passionate about is as I am (although most of them are just as passionate about eating). However, I'm lucky enough to have one friend who is also passionate about cooking (actually I'm lucky to have Sian as a friend for many many reasons) and does, apparently, read this blog. Sian is my BFF from WAAAAAYYY back. We met in kindergarten. This means she and I were in the same second grade class. When she saw my blog yesterday (surprise), she did some work of her own.

You see, her mother never threw out her copy of Well Rooted Recipes ("Flippin fun from classes 2-11 and 2-12"). It seems her mother not only still had her copy, but had it readily accessible and ready to be researched. Within a day of my writing my last blog, my mother's Easter Pie recipe was emailed to me.

I'm so happy to have friends like this.

I'm also impressed that her mother saved the cookbook. My mother probably trashed the book when she moved from my childhood home in Harrison to a condo in Port Chester (just a few towns over for those of you not from this area). Her mother downsized from the family home to Harrison, to an apartment in faraway Baltimore (where Sian now lives sadly). Yet she still managed to hold onto the cookbook. Maybe being a pack rat isn't such a bad thing.

So here is the recipe, now preserved for posterity. It's certainly written like an Italian grandmother's recipe. I could have sworn there were more than two meats in the recipe, but I find it funny how I adjusted Julia Child's recipe and ended up using the same meats.

Italian Easter Pie

1 cup flour
2 eggs (3 if small)
Pepper – generous dash
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
Enough water to hold together

1 lb. ricotta cheese
3-4 eggs depending on size
1 small mozzarella, diced (about ½ lb.)
Parsley – chopped
Salt, if necessary, if ricotta is very mild
1 pepperoni sausage sliced
½ lb. diced boiled ham or prosciutto
Mix well.

Mix crust ingredients together and roll into bottom and top crusts. Line a shallow casserole with dough, add filling, and cover with top crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Family Recipes Forever Lost

It's almost Easter and everywhere I look, I see recipes for Easter Pie (or Pizza Rustica as contemporary food snobs like to call it). I'm not quite sure how this dish became an Easter standard for Italian Americans (from what I've read, Italians eat is as an everyday snack), but so many of us grew up with the rich, cheesy pie as an Easter treat.

When I was in second grade, the miniseries Roots was all the rage on TV. (I think I just dated myself.) My second grade teacher Mrs. Doody (Don't make fun of the name, she was one of my all-time favorite teachers) had a team teaching situation with another teacher, Mrs. Altamuro. Our combined class of 42 students did a "Roots" project of our own in honor of the TV series. We filled out our family trees. We interviewed our parents and grandparents.

The biggest project of all was a class cookbook. Each student had to obtain a classic family recipe recipe and they were put into a cookbook which we sold. We called the book Well Rooted Recipes. (My grandmother suggested the title and it won the "Title the Cookbook" contest.) We used the proceeds to buy a baby tree. We planted it on the school grounds so our class could put down visible roots of its own.

I asked my mother for a recipe and she went into her jumbled-up files and pulled out the recipe my great-grandmother had given her for Easter Pie. It was a messy, handwritten card, so once the recipe was typed up and put into the cookbook, everyone in the family purchased the cookbook. I don't think anyone ever made anything other than the Easter Pie from that cookbook. It was just far easier to read the recipe in the book than it was to read on the old card. Every Easter someone made it. Whether I spent Easter with my maternal or paternal grandparents, someone made it (usually either my mother or paternal grandmother).

Years went by. My grandmothers got old and decided they didn't want to host Easter anymore. Mom hosted Easter most of the time, and she didn't care to bake an Easter pie on top of everything else she had to do. There were plenty of delis and bakeries out there who would make you a "pizza rustica" (the name had changed along the way). The class cookbook was a flimsy thing made of sheets of regular paper stapled together (or they might have been hole-puched and clipped with those butterly thingies). They were easy to forget about, lose, or mistake for something uniimportant and tossed away.

The first time I hosted Easter I asked my mother if she would supply the Easter pie. She said she would buy one, but she no longer had the original recipe to make one. The class cookbook was gone and so was the recipe.

Nonni's Easter Pie was the basic ricotta filling and contained at least three kinds of meat. I think it had ham, pepperoni, and sausage. There might have been salami too. The crust was sturdy and it was usually baked in a casserole dish rather than a pie plate. I can remember that much. I don't remember anything else. I was too young when the family stopped making it to know exactly what went into it.

Over the years I have been making Julia Child's version when the occasion calls for it. Julia only used prosciutto in hers, but I always add pepperoni to it too, because it reminds me more of my childhood. Her crust is a pasta frollo, which is a nice sweet contrast to the salty filling. I like it, but I wish we still had the family recipe. Julia's recipe has no connection to anything or anyone.

My class did buy the tree. We planted it on the school grounds and 30+ years later it's still there. It's grown quite a bit. When I see it I wonder if I'm the only one from the class who can still spot it and remember planting it and know that it's our tree. Something lasted out of that project after all.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Antioxidant Lasagna (and a new challenge)

I have just been cast as a character and dance captain in the latest production by my theater group. That means a lot of late nights where I won't be home to cook. Rather than force everyone in the house to rely on takeout and convenience foods, my plan is to cook something big once a week so I can just stop home, throw something home-cooked in the microwave, and head out the door again.

I'm looking for good large-quantity recipes. I'll need soups, casseroles, etc. This week I started with lasagna.

I am currently devising a classic lasanga Bolognese recipe for future use. It's going to have a meaty ragu and layers of bechemel. However, if I serve it to my husband, he'll accuse me of trying to poison him, so I'll have to wait until I can serve it to other people. This week's version is a vegetable-filled version so I can feel virtuous about all of the cheese I'm consuming and it assumes me I'll get my veggies in easily. I call it Antioxidant Lasanga because it contains lots of green and lycopene-y tomto sauce. This is inspired by my love of white pizza with spinach and broccoli. My husband will still have to take Lactaid to get it down, but he needs to suck it up or else get his dinner elsewhere.

When I made this, I used wholewheat blend noodles and part skim cheeses. If you want to use full-fat cheeses and white pasta, feel free. As Emeril says, you won't hurt my feelings.

Antioxidant Lasagna
9 lasagna noodles
2 Tbp olive oil
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 onion finely diced
4 cloves minced garlic, divided
1 pound sliced mushrooms
2 15. oz Cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 pound ricotta
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Copious amounts of freshly-grated parmiggiano reggiano (I didn't measure. So what? Just grate in as much as you like.)
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
1 package frozen broccoli cuts, thawed.

In a large pot, heat olive oil with red pepper flakes. Add onion and cook till transparent. Add mushrooms and 2 cloves of the garlic. Cook until mushrooms brown up a bit. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and salt. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. You can make your filling and boil your noodles while you wait.

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix the cheeses with the vegetables and the remaining two cloves of minced garlic.

In a pan, put down three lasanga noodles. Spoon the tomato-mushroom sauce over the top and spread the cheese/vegetable mixture over that. Add another layer of noodles. Layer with more sauce and cheese mixture. Put the last three noodles and the remaining sauce on top. (You will likely have some sauce left over. Put it in the freezer for your spaghetti.) Sprinkle some more mozzarella and grated parmesan if you like.

Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until firm and bubbly.

Sadly, I won't be able to do much baking for the next few weeks. That's really disappointing since I have been seeing a plethora of great dessert recipes on the blogs lately (and the ones I linked to just barely scratched the surface of sweets I want to make).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mia Dona - A True Gift

For my stepmother's birthday last night, my father suggested we have dinner at Mia Dona, a restaurant that just opened in February in his neighborhood. When I saw the name of the restaurant, I wondered what it meant. Was it a misspelling of "donna" which means woman, or was the restaurant called My Gift? Doing some research on the place, I found out it means neither. One of the restaurant's co-owners is named Donatella. Still, I like to think the name means gift because eating there is a gift and the chef certainly has a gift.

Mia Dona was really hopping when we got there. It's amazing that a place that's so new could be so crowded. The space isn't large, but I never felt cramped and I was never rushed. Service was excellent, with one of the owners cruising by the tables to chat with diners. Decor was pleasantly understated. The bar area had painted walls with their weird decorative plates all over them, while the dining room had black-and-white floral wallpaper. Lighting was appropriately soft. Service was not the least bit rushed despite the crowds and was so incredibly friendly and helpful.

Cuisine is Italian - sort of. Dishes start with a lot of classic Italian ingredients, but ended up someplace entirely different. They were original and innovative.

I began my meal with gnudi in truffle and sage butter. The gnudi tasted like ravioli that had been transformed into happy little pillows. It was further flavored with pieces of speck (back to that pork fat thing again - yum) and some odd little mushrooms. Mushrooms do tend to scare me a bit because I only like a few varieties (I don't want to be seeing pretty colors on the wall after all), but these were mild. The pasta made me very eager for the next course.

My entree was a lovely pork chop topped with a fried egg. It was definitely weird, but very enjoyable. If you eat eggs with bacon, why not eggs with a pork chop? Lightly dressed frisee with bacon bits accompanied it. The pork came pre-sliced for me and was very tender and juicy.

Dad had a short rib and polenta while Kevin had pasta with mussels, shrimp, and calamari. Everyone enjoyed it.

For dessert I had a gianduia semifreddo. The base layer was an almost solid chocolate block and it was topped with a chocolate-hazelnut fluff and covered with praline. It was worth every single calories.

I would definitely recommend this place to anyone, but I suggest you get a reservation soon because if this place is so popular now, I can't imagine how hard it will be to get a reservation in a few months.

Friday, March 14, 2008

An Axis I Can Spin On

I'm back from my annual client visits in London (did you miss me? I did manage to get some blog reading in while I was gone), so it's time to talk about this year's culinary experiences. Despite the reputation, London cuisine still tends to underwhelm me. Am I the only one who notices that the British tend to oversalt everything? I think I have a good three pounds of water bloat hanging on me right now. On the good side, nothing was ever bad, and I did have some extraordinary food.

I had the privilege of dining at Axis at One Aldwych Place Hotel on Tuesday night. I love, love, love this restaurant. For one thing, it's amazingly cool. It's almost too cool. I hate it when restaurants try too hard to be hip and edgy, but I forgive Axis. I really do. If it's only fault is being too hip, well, bring on the hipness.

First, let's talk about the decor/experience. You enter the restaurant at street level. You see nothing but a vestibule filled with candles and little white lights and a circular staircase going down. Descend the staircase one level and you come to a landing where the hostess desk is. There is a bar area on this level as well. It's a bit rowdy, but fortunately you don't have to eat there. Go down one more next level to the main dining area. You'll enter a spacious dining room, simply furnished and softly lit. The dining area is separated from the kitchen area with a "wall" of these floor-to-ceiling poles that look like bronzed tree saplings. On the wall behind them is a weird mural. I might consider this place to be horrifically ugly if it weren't done so well. It's not over the top at all.

Service? Topnotch. I've never found Londoners to be terribly nice people. They are often brusque and dismissive in everyday interactions. As a lifelong New Yorker, I shouldn't be shocked by this kind of behavior, which I think speaks volumes about the behavior of Londoners. I don't know if that's the way these people are, or if it's just the American accent that stimulates disdain. (Would it help if I wore a t-shirt that says, "I didn't vote for Bush"?) I don't get this kind of treatment at Axis. Everyone serves you with a smile. I had dropped my menu on the floor at one point and the waiter picked it up for me. I apologized and he said, "Don't worry. It won't break." It's quick and attentive, but never rushed.

The most important part: The food. This food could cancel out in one night everything bad ever said about English food. When I was in London last May I had this incredible goat cheese and tomato soup at Axis that I am still remembering and dreaming about to this day. Sadly, it was no longer on the menu, but that's okay. I had plenty of other great choices. Although I'm not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination, I had a meatless dinner Tuesday night and I didn't miss a bite of meat. I started with a cheddar cheese souffle. It was a light and fluffy ball of Heaven, served with lightly dressed mixed greens and a spicy apple chutney. My main course was a garlic and leek ristotto. It was incredibly creamy. There must have been a pint of heavy cream in there. (What does heavy cream no improve upon?) Dessert was a simple lemon tart. The custard had a really nice tang to it, although I thought the crust could have had a little more firmness and sweetness to it.

There were a few other things of note about my London visit. For one thing, I am amazed at how good the tomatoes were. Is it the mild winters that keeps tomatoes growing all year long? Why did tomatoes taste so good in March? How is that possible?

Then there is the classic English breakfast. Although my hotel included breakfast with the room, my boss always preferred to have coffee and muffins at Starbucks in the morning. He left on Wednesday night, so I was on my own Thursday morning. I was too cash poor to buy breakfast, and I didn't see a reason to not eat the hotel breakfast anyway, so I gave it a shot. It was a superior breakfast to Starbucks with both hot and cold buffets. I went for the hot one. It had all of the classic trimmings: eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon (back bacon and "streaky"), and sausages. Can anyone do bacon better than the British. Oh that bacon! Oh that lovely bacon! Oh that lovely, greasy, salty, fatty, wonderful bacon! I could have stuffed that bacon in my face till my arteries screamed for mercy and shut down in self defense. Emeril, you are right. Pork fat does indeed rule. It rules so hard. It rules like a yardstick. Screw the saturated fat fears. Give me more English bacon!

While hanging out in my hotel room watching TV one night, I came across Kitchen Nightmares. Oddly enough, it was the American version, and the restaurant was one that's kinda-sorta in the area where I live. What I found interesting was how almost nothing was bleeped on out British TV. Every profanity from Gordon's mouth was clearly heard. What I found odd was that you heard every "fuck", but it was censored when someone said something about "sucking his BLEEP". So the British don't think copulation is bad, but the organs involved in the act of copulation are bad (or that oral sex is bad)?

Anyway, back to the grind. I look forward to writing my blogs again and reading everyone else's daily.

(Oh, and sorry about that bad pun in the title. I just can't help myself sometimes.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Did Some Housecleaning

I have been reorganizing my posts a bit so the categories are a little different.

I have renamed the "Cooking" blogs as Cooking/Recipes. This category excludes those dull/silly, "I made dinner last night" blogs and only contains the dull/silly "I made dinner last night and here is how I did it," or "Here is a link to the recipe," or "Here is the actual recipe," or "Here is a link to a recipe I would like to make in the future." Anything that doesn't inlude any form of instruction (no matter how free-form some of my "recipes" are) or links to said instruction has been moved to the General category.

You may now carry on with your normal lives.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Cake That's Better Than...Something

Most of us who enjoy cooking and eating passionately shun Cool Whip. But it's bound to show up in any number of easy dessert recipes that we are occasionally forced to eat and sometimes *gasp* actually enjoy.

Sue recently mentioned eating a dessert that mentions Robert Redford and sex and contained Cool Whip. I knew exactly what kind of cake she was talking about. It's called Better Than Sex Cake, which has a few variations called Better Than Robert Redford Cake and Better Than Tom Selleck Cake. The original Better Than Sex Cake consists of cake mix, Cool Whip, and instant pudding. The Robert Redford version has cream cheese. The Tom Selleck version also contains choclate pudding. There is also a version of Better Than Sex cake that uses chocolate cake mix, condensed milk, fudge sauce, and Heath bars.

I learned about all of these cakes from a wonderful cookbook (my all-time favorite dessert cookbook) called Gooey Desserts by Elaine Corn. It is a treasure trove of all things fattening and every recipe seems to drip butter, cream, and sugar. It contains many classic reciepes, but Corn does her best to improve on them and make them more homemade. It is my go-to book for banana cream pie and her variation on Better Than Sex Cake is always a hit at parties.

Corn provides the recipes in a sidebar for the classic variations on the recipe, but Corn's own version called Better Than Better Than Sex Cake (because how can anything really be better than sex? She's merely saying it's better than the original cake). It contains a homemade shortbread crust, homemade pudding, and fresh whipped cream. She does use jarred caramel sauce, although the book provides some good caramel sauce recipes as parts of other recipes. I usually don't bother.

Better Than Better Than Sex Cake

2 sticks butter
2 Tbl sugar
2 cups flour

Cream Cheese Layer
1 80z package softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup cream

Vanilla Pudding Layer
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbl butter

Whipped Cream Layer
1 1/2 cup cream
3 Tbl powdered sugar
1 Tbl vanilla extract

Pineapple Caramel Layer
1 8oz can crushed pineapple, drained
1 jar caramel sauce or chocolate sauce (optional)

Chocolate Glaze
2 oz semisweet chocolate
2 Tbl unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract.

Butter a 9x13" pan. Set rack in center of oven and preheat to 350.

Make crust: Beat butter and sugar until fluggy. Add flour, and with mixer on low, blend until mixture is pebbly and can be pressed together. Press mixture in bottom of pan and bake 20 minutes, or until golden.

Cream Cheese Layer: Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice just to blend. In a separate bowl, whip cream to medium-stiff peaks. Fold a scoop of whipped cream into cream cheese mixture and then fold in remaining cream.

Vanilla Pudding Layer: Beat yolks and set aside in a place convenient to the stove.

Whisk sugar, flour, and milk in a medium saucepan until free of lumps. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, just to a boil.

Remove from heat and whisk a little of the hot pudding into the yolks and pour the yolk mixture back into the main mixture, whisking well. Cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until thick.

Pour pudding into bowl. Add vanilla and butter. Strain out any lumps if necessary.

Chill with a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface until ready to use.

Whipped Cream: In a cold bowl with cold beaters , whip all ingredients together to stiff peaks.

Assembly: Spread crust with cream cheese mixture. Top with pineapple then the caramel or chocolate sauce. Spread pudding over the pineapple and spread the whipped cream over the pudding. Drizzlle with chocolate glaze.

Glaze: Melt chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring until smooth and completely melted. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Drizzle over dessert in zig zag patterns.