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Monday, December 29, 2008

The Light Simple Dinner That Wasn't

It has been a chaotic couple of weeks. There are parties and dinners and holidays and so much happening that it isn't easy to cook meals. When I do want to cook, I want things that are light, simple, and don't create tons of leftovers.

I had this idea that I should make an egg dish. Egg dishes are easy, quick, and can make for a very light supper.

Last night I kind of missed the mark on that idea.

I had this idea in my head of putting eggs on a square of polenta. I guess I have been watching too much Top Chef. I wanted something with a showy presentation. I was also inspired by that breakfast amuse bouche episode. Eggs benedict on polenta sounded like a good idea - but not if I wanted Sir Pickypants to eat it. I considered eggs florentine instead.

This dish had a few components in it, so it wasn't that quick. It also contained butter and cream and cheese, so it wasn't so light. I missed the mark, but it was a good meal.

It needs no recipe. I'll just give some illustrated tips.

Is it polenta, or is it grits? I like how these people settled the controversy.

Cook up a cup of polenta in three cups of water (this is for four servings). Just throw the polenta in boiling, salted water and keep stirring until it gets thick and holds together.

Once it's cooked, add in a half a stick of butter and a half cup of grated parmesan.


Next spread it in the bottom of an 8" x 8" pan. Stick it in your fridge and allow it to cool and become a nice, solid slab. Use the time to upload your photos from last night's dinner.

When it's cool, cut it into squares and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Lightly brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Cut a tomato into thick slices and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. This is a neat trick for improving the bland flavor of winter tomatoes.

Stick your polenta squares and tomatoes into the oven for about 10 minutes. You may want to put the polenta under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the top.

Keep warm and reduce the oven temp to 35o degrees. (Of course if you have two ovens you can do this next part at the same time.)

Now mix one package of baby spinach with about a half cup of cream, two finely minced cloves of garlic, a tablespoon or two of freshly grated parmesan, some salt and pepper and a few grates of nutmeg.


Place spinach mixture in a small baking dish or ramekin or any other small, oven-safe cooking vessel. Crack an egg on top.

Place in the oven until egg is set to your liking.

To serve place a couple of tomato slices on top of a polenta square and top with egg and spinach.


When my husband ate this, he said it was like having a 5-star restaurant in his own home.

Cheater's Ravioli

Before I make a post about my almost-homemade ravioli, I want to get one thing off my chest.

There is NO SUCH WORD as "raviolis". The word ravioli is ALREADY PLURAL. You do not need to add the letter s to the word ravioli to express the fact that you are eating more than one. Every time I see or hear the word "raviolis" I want to claw my eyeballs out.

Italian lesson of the day: the letter i in the Italian language serves the way the letter s does in English. It is a pluaralizing vowel. If you see a word ending in the letter i in Italian, you can safely assume it needs no further pluralization. The singular of ravioli is raviolo.

Other words that do not need any further pluralization:

Cannoli
Panini
Crostini
Macaroni/spaghetti
Manicotti (and it really gets me going if some Italian-American of Napoletano descent says manicotti the southern Italian way [as I learned to do myself] and then ruins it by saying "I ate 10 Mahn-i-gawtS").

Okay. I said it. I don't think anyone is going to pay attention to me, but I got it off my chest.

On to my own ravioli...

I've been wanting to make ravioli for a while now. I have an Imperia pasta roller/cutter and have made homemade pasta with it many times before, but good ravioli have eluded me. I can't seem to take the plunge and try them again. My ravioli craving was getting the better of me last night and I had this great idea for a mushroom-stuffed ravioli, so I cheated and used wonton skins.

The stuffing had to be minimal cheese, but still be satisfying. I came up with a nice, substantial mushroom filling.

I started with finely chopped cremini mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic.


I mixed that with breadcrumbs, parmesan, and oregano. It didn't look pretty, but it tasted pretty good.

Pile it up on the sheets.

Sealed up and ready to go.

After boiling them up, pour over some browned butter and fried sage leaves. Sprinkle some toasted chopped hazelnuts on top.

I'd say a pretty good meal for a cheater. The wonton skins don't have nearly as much flavor as regular pasta, but the flavors of the filling and the sage butter helped to make up for that. They would have been better if they were completely from scratch.

Mushroom Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter and Hazelnuts

1 package wonton skins
1 8oz package cremini mushrooms
2-4 cloves of garlic (depending on size and how much you like garlic), minced
2 Tbl olive oil
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (I love my new microplane! It grates cheese so finely.)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
Few grinds black pepper
1/2 stick butter
Fresh sage leaves
Toasted chopped hazelnuts

Clean mushrooms and pulse a few times in the food processor. You want them chopped up into lots of little pieces, but don't grind them to a paste. It's okay if you have some bigger chunks in there.

Heat olive oil in a large pan and add garlic. Gently heat. Add mushrooms and cook until they brown up a bit and release their juices. Allow to cool a few minutes.

Mix cooled mushrooms with breadcrumbs, oregano, salt and pepper.

On a sheet lay out your wonton skins. Place a spoonful of the mushroom mixture on top and wet the edges of each skin well. Place another skin on top and press together well to make sure the edges are very well sealed. You don't want 'shroom leakage.

Place ravioli in boiling salted water for about 3-4 minutes. They will all bubble up to the top when they're ready.

Meanwhile heat butter in a small pan. Add sage when the butter is warm and cook until the sage crisps up a bit. Add a little salt if desired.

When ravioli are cooked drain and gently toss with butter-sage mixture. Sprinkle with hazenuts and enjoy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Wrap Up (NPI)

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas full of great food, great gifts, and lots of family loves. I have really enjoyed reading everyone's Christmas blogs, particularly as so many of us out there are in mixed marriages and are navigating multiple holidays.

I did have a very nice day with my family yesterday. I ate some great food and took in some good loot. A paritcuarly clever gift was that my husband replaced my lost iPod, and made it difficult to lose again as he had it engraved with my name and words "Rhubarb Pie."

My only problem with Christmas dinner is that I suffer from Christmas Dinner Envy.

The best example of this came while I was watching Tyler's Ultimate a couple of weeks ago. He was making fun of people who become so stressed out at Christmas time that they go to the store two days before Christmas freaked out about what to make and end up with a spiral ham. He made this amazing looking crown roast of pork with stuffing.

Really, a spiral ham? What kind of Christmas dinner is a spiral ham? BOR-ing!

Oh wait. We almost always have spiral ham for Christmas in my family.

Don't get me wrong. I like spiral ham. I just sometimes feel a little tired of it when I see all of the other options out there. I suppose it's the Food Network's fault. It's probably the fault of all of the other food-related media as well. Sometimes I just long for a crown roast of pork, or a duck, or a goose, or a beef tenderloin, or a leg of lamb. Even if I hosted Christmas dinner myself, a lot of people in my family wouldn't want to eat these things anyway. My husband wouldn't touch it. My mother would politely pick at it. I did enjoy this type of dinner last year, but that's because we had dinner at the home of one of Kevin's family friends instead of with my own family.

Of course when all is said and done, the food I eat is always delicious when enjoyed with family. So what if it's the same food as last year and the year before that (and the year before that)? In the end it's all about family.

As I'm still waiting for the return of my camera, I'm short on food photos. I will have to just be descriptive once again.

Christmas was a brunch this year, as it often is. My mother made baked orange french toast. Alongside this, we feasted on many aspect of the noble pig. We had the ham, but we also had sausage and bacon. There were the inexplicably traditional cheese grits as well.

Desserts were mostly purchased ones except for one - the one I brought. I decided Christmas was the perfect time to make Emily's Kitchen Sink Bundt Cake (oooh....I made another scary Bundt cake). Kevin was kind enough to photograph it for me with his camera.


I made just a few tweaks in the recipe. Some were not intentional. For one thing, I was a doodyhead and neglected to put the toffee bits into the cake batter (I also had to use chocolate-covered toffee because that was the only toffee I could find). I couldn't find any peanut-butter-filled pretzels, so I used plain ones. I know I could have found the chocolate-peanut-butter ones at Trader Joe's, but I didnt' want to be fighting the crowds at multiple stores on Christmas Eve. I also didn't bother putting the Oreo bits on the outside. It seemed like overkill, particularly with the toffee on the outside.

The cake was a big hit. Everyone was so full from all of the brunch food that it was hard to squeeze dessert in. With this cake people certainly tried.

I got a new microplane set!

The Short (dis)Order Cook and Sir Pickypants wish all of our friends a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Second Review of Haiku

It was getting close to dinner time last night. We had no plans and we also had no food for dinner, so Kevin asked me if I wanted to have a nice traditional Jewish Christams Eve and have Chinese food. He wanted takeout, but I figured if we were going Asian, we should consider some of the new restaurants in the neighborhood.

(Sorry for the lack of photos. I left my camera at my father's place on Sunday and I'm waiting for him to mail it back to me.)

A new one just opened called Umamai, and I wanted to try that, but it was raining pretty hard outside last night and it's a bit far down the street. We decided to try Haiku again. I figure my last review wasn't much of one since I had ordered the food for delivery. I think I'll review the restaurant experience.

Haiku is a very attractive restaurant with a waterfall behind the sushi bar and mirrors along one wall. It's hard to believe it was once a neighborhood pizza and casual Italian place. The seating along the mirrored wall is one, long, continuous bench on one side of the tables. It puts you a little closer to your neighbors than I like to be. It wasn't such a big deal last night as I was sitting next to my literal neighbors. The people at the table to the left of us were folks that live on my floor.

Unlike Toyo Sushi, a Japanese place right down the block, it doesn't stink like fish. Toyo has the stinkiest sushi bar ever.

Haiku was into the festive holiday spirit last night with the waitstaff all in Santa hats with flashing lights on them. Staff was very friendly and efficient. Kevin's comment was, "They certainly try hard."

Kevin started his meal with shu mei, which he has often said is the standard food by which he judges Japanese restaurants. I had a Vietnamese salad. It was a delcious mix of shredded mango, and jicama tossed with roasted peanuts and crispy cellophane noodles that was tossed in a slightly spicy cilantro-infused dressing. It was a big improvement over the spring rolls from my last go round.

Kevin had grilled shrimp with vegetables, which he liked. I had a wonderful dish of chicken with spicy mango sauce. The sauce was like a thinner version of sweet and sour sauce - but with quite a kick. It was very tasty.

We were given refills on our wine. I don't know if that's a regular thing, or if it was just a Christmas thing, but I wasn't complaining. Prior to them obtaining the liquor license, they were giving it away.

I do hope to try Umami in the future (when the skies are clear), but I know I will be going back to Haiku again as well.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Thank Yous Part 2

You know what I hate the most about winter? The Bellvale Creamery closes from December to April. I have to go months without my weekly visits.
Fortunately...
...they sell by the quart and the gallon. Is this enough to carry me through to the new year?

(I know the bit about ice cream has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I just had to photograph all of that beautiful ice cream.)

I was stuck at home with the nastiest of nasty colds for a couple of days, which makes me want to eat more than I want to cook, but there had to be some baking on the agenda. Christmas is coming and my barn is throwing it's annual holiday party and gymkhana (for the laymen, the means mounted games). The barn has an extensive staff of trainers, grooms, feeders, muckers, and groundskeepers (many of whom do most of those jobs), so of course they get a tip.

Two members of the barn staff, Kenny and Leroy, are getting a special treat this year. Kenny and Leroy handle both groundskeeping and a lot of the barn maintenance chores. They are also real characters. If you were going to make a sitcom about a pair of goofy guys who work in a barn, it would be about Kenny and Leroy.

A few months ago I had some leftover cream cheese swirl brownies from a party and I brought them to the barn for the riders and staff to enjoy. Kenny and Leroy went nuts for them. Kenny kept telling me I had to come home with him (I don't know what his wife would think of that, but Kevin said he'd let me go for the right price). They loved those brownies so much, and I was just so darned flattered, that I knew that their Christmas tips had to include more than just cash in a card. Cookies were store for them.

I know I want to poach from blogs this season, but boy is it hard to choose. There are cookies featured on almost all of my favorite blogs. Just going to Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies event is overwhelming. Which one would I choose?

After much deliberation, I finally chose Mansi's Nutella cookies. Fun and Food is a great blog when I need a nice, easy dessert recipe. I chose these for one major reason.

Come to Mama!


I don't know how Kenny and Leroy feel about Nutella, but if they don't like the cookies, I will be happy to take them off their hands.

The recipe, although easy to make, was a little weird. It warned that the dough might be too wet, but I had the opposite problem. It was a little dry. The cookies were sort of like sables. The dough was so dry in fact that I added a little water to help the dough hold together to form the cookies.

I also did something really dumb. I bought the wrong chips. It wasn't until I was about to make the cookies that I realized that I had bought milk and not dark chocolate chips. As the snow which is burying much of the country was piling up outside, I was not about to go out and correct my mistake, particularly as I was sniffling and hacking all day. I decided to just experiment. I've been staunchly defending milk chocolate these days. I might as well go with it.

The cookies had a nice crumbly melt-in-your-mouth texture and good flavor. The only thing wrong with them was that the chocolate flavor was not as intense as it would have been if I had bought the correct chocolate. What's even dumber is that I had some semi-sweet baking squares in the cupboard and I didn't think to use them.

Yes, I saved a couple for Kevin and me.

I probably won't be making it to the Christmas party tomorrow because I don't think I can hang around in the cold all day and I certainly won't feel like riding, so I'll be home from the barn. Kevin will have to report on how much the recipients like them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Turkey Soup - Finally!

Everyone on the blogs has shamed me into dragging my turkey carcass out of the freezer and making the soup already. If you think it took too long this year, just remember, it took at least another month or so before I bothered to do it last year.

It could be worse. I had a good friend in college who said her mother always saved the turkey carcass in the freezer after Thanksgiving. She never bothered to make the soup and finally would chuck it six months later. I at least make the soup.

I also need to make sure my camera battery gets regular charges. Thanks to having to wait for a charge, there won't be as many pictures in this blog.

I started by sticking my frozen carcass and veggies in the fridge for the day so it thawed a bit. The evening I started the stock, I put it in water with carrots, celery, onion, garlic and some sprigs of fresh thyme I had hanging around the fridge. To add a little more flavor and also to make sure I had enough meat chunks, I bought some turkey legs and added them to the stock too.

I made sure there was nothing still hanging out in the cavity before putting the carcass in the pot.

I did have a few picks at the carcass. It was hard not to. May I say just how good my turkey was? On Thanksgiving Day I'm too preoccupied with cooking and prepping to really taste the food. While making this soup I had a whole, fresh look at my turkey. It was goooooood. No wonder so many people come to my Thanksgiving dinner.

After a couple of hours of serious simmering and foam-skimming, I had a lovely stock. I strained it and cut up all of the salvagable meat.

(All of this stuff should have been illustrated. I need to get more on the ball with the camera thing. Seriously. This is the second time this has happened.)

Back into the pot went the meat with some chopped carrots. For the noodle part I took a cue from Stacey and used orzo.

Finally a photo. This is a nice dish of comfort on a winter night. It's right up Sir Pickypants' alley.

When I sat down to finally eat this soup it was so good that I ended up being late for dance class because I had to have a second bowl.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday Thank Yous

I work for a research firm to the energy industry. We do things like put a value on the stocks of oil and gas companies and maintain a database of mergers and acquisitions across all energy sectors. My job is to guide clients through the use of our website, do searches for them, and do some administrative work for them like set up trials, add new users, and send out contract renewals. (I did say in my profile that my day job was boring. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

I know my company's website inside and out, but I don't always know the technical stuff. Sometimes a client will call with a complicated financial or geological question that I just can't answer. That's when I have to ask our analysts.

There are three chief analysts at this company who have made my job much easier during the year. They answer the mind-blowing questions clients throw at me. They hold clients' hands when they're totally confused and upset. They try to explain things to me in layman's terms when I'm just not getting what a particular report is talking about. I could not do my job without them.

I want to thank these analysts in a special way. In the past I have often bought them small boxes of chocolates. This year I decided to make it more personal and bake cookies instead. I know my coworkers always appreciate it when I bake cookies. How can they not appreciate a batch of cookies they can keep all to themselves.

Since I like to poach recipes from other people's blogs, I opted to make chocolate crackle cookies as recently shown in Colloquial Cookin'. Chocolate crackle cookies are always immensely popular because they look pretty and delicate on the outside, but pack a nice rich, deep, dark, gooey chocolately punch. The year I won the company bakeoff, it was a batch of chocolate crackle cookies that was my only serious competition (sadly, I haven't won the bake off since that year). I knew these would make my favorite analysts happy. I wanted to give them out today because one of the analysts doesn't work out of this office and he's in town this week for the company Christmas party (which I won't be attending because I'm taking my niece to the The Nutcracker tonight).

The best and worst thing about this recipe is that the dough has to be chilled overnight. It's great to be able to do the most work when you know you have time. Then all you have to do is pop them in the oven when you need to use them. It's a big time saver. It was a big advantage for me when I made the chocolate chip cookies with the aged dough for Kevin's birthday. The problem with having cookie dough in your fridge overnight is that it's SO FREAKING HARD not to eat all the dough before the cookies are baked.

I followed Claire's recipe pretty much by the book except I used vanilla and I used all semi-sweet chocolate (I had to shop in the crap supermarket that didnt' have bittersweet).


They certainly look lovely


All packaged up and ready to be distributed

It was not easy driving these to work this morning. I could smell the chocolate in the car. I kept them in the back seat so I couldn't reach over and eat them during the drive. I can't say I wasn't tempted to reach back.

They made it intact to the office and the analysts were quite pleased with their gifts. My favorite reaction came from one analyst who looked into the bag and said, "Yay. Breakfast!"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Something I Just Noticed

In the past few posts I have referenced Star Trek, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Alice's Restaurant, and Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Maybe I should change the name of the blog to The Geek Gourmet.

Sheesh what a geek!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Meeting the New Kid in Town and a Holiday Dessert

Despite the tough economic times, my neighborhood seems to be sprouting new restaurants all over the place, particularly Asian restaurants. In a neighborhood that already houses three Chinese takeout places, one full-service Chinese restaurant, and two Japanese restaurants, there are three more "Asian" places on on the strip. Two of them are on the brink of opening. The third, Haiku Asian Bistro opened a couple of months ago.

Haiku made a big sensation when it opened on this street. The owner has a couple of them scattered around the county and they seem to be very popular. The food is mostly sushi with several classic Japanese/Thai/Chinese restaurants among the hot entrees. The problem with restaurants like this is that often the food isn't a mix of cuisines, but is just too many types of food poorly. I knew this restaurant could be interesting, or it could be dull. I wasn't all that impressed with the menu on paper.

It was a Friday night and I was baking for a party the next night (more on that momentarily) and I wasn't in the mood to make any dinner. I decided it would be the perfect night to try Haiku as they deliver. Kevin told me he'd be home late, but to order him a California roll.

I made the call at 8PM and was told that it would take 45 minutes to an hour for delivery. I said that would be fine. The food would probably arrive at the same time as Kevin. No more than 20 minutes later, my doorbell rang. I said to the delivery guy, "That was fast. The guy on the phone said it would be at lesat 45 minutes." He said, "You live right down the street." Good point. Most of the takeout places in my neighborhood know my building as it's quite a prominent complex. I guess this restaurant is too new and not too many people have ordered delivery food from Haiku yet. Five minutes later Kevin called to tell me he had already eaten dinner with his coworkers. He wanted to save his California roll for lunch. I had to taste my dinner choice alone.

I started with Thai vegetarian spring rolls. They weren't anything special. The wrapping was a little chewy and a little greasy. The filling was quite tasty though. I liked the dipping sauce, but it wasn't really any different from the Thai chili sauce you can buy at the grocery store.

Don't ask me why the photo is flipped this way. For some reason Blogger keeps flipping it even though it isn't rotated in the folder.

Next I had chicken with Malaysian red curry. When I think of red curry, I usually think of the coconut curry you get in Thai restaurants. This was different. It was a much lighter sauce, although just as spicy. It wasn't too spicy though. It was just enough of a pleasant kick. The vegetables were a change from the ordinary as well. There was eggplant along with potatoes and green beans. What really surprised me was the pieces of egg. This dish was what convinced me that Haiku would be worth going back to. Brown rice is an option at Haiku, which I like because it makes me feel more virtuous about what I'm putting on top of it.

Kevin ate his California rolls the next day for lunch. The portion was so generous he couldn't eat them all in one shot. He liked them, but didn't seem to find them extraordinary. Still, I think he would go back there.

I wonder if any of the new places will open and if I will try them before I go back to Haiku. Sometimes an Indian meal at Rani Mahal hits the spot more than any other Asian restaurant.

*********************************************************************
And now for something completely different...

With the Christmas season upon us (or Holiday Season if you prefer), that means everyone is occupied with one very important thing: Holiday desserts! It's the time of year for cookies and cakes and candies. I have a party or two to attend and I like to give out homemade cookies as thank you gifts, so my oven is going to be pretty active in the next couple of weeks.

I have decided that this season I will do what I did over the summer and use recipes from other people's blogs. I find blogs are the best source of interesting new recipes and they bring a lot of good will to my online friends. I have seen more good cookie, cake, and quick bread recipes than I will likely be needing, so it's going to be hard to choose which ones I will use.

Last night the fun began when I attended a party at a friend's house. It was a traditional gathering of horse people where we all get together and talk about our horses and gossip about the people at our barns. Over the years I am usually the one designated to make the dessert for these gatherings. These parties are a great way to test new recipes.

For this party I used the Milky Way Tart recipe from Bunny's Warm Oven. I loved the classic flavor combinations here of milk chocolate and rich caramel.


I was about to make the crust when I realized I didn't have the right ingredients. I had no desire to go back to the supermarket I had just left, so I decided to try a variation on another chocolate tart recipe. It wasn't 100% successful. It fell a tad flat. The crust doesn't actually contain the filling. The filling sort of sits on top of the crust. But the important part is that it tasted great. Milk chocolate ganache isn't very common and I thought it was a nice mild change from the too-ubiquitious obsession people have with dark chocolate these days (particularly after Thanksgiving where I od'ed on dark chocolate pie and chocolate mousse). The caramel sauce was divine. It was rich, buttery and delicious. It's helping me get over my fear of working with sugar.

I think the best compliment I received on this tart was that the name of Milky Way Tart didn't do it justice because it was way better than a mere candy bar. Thanks for recipe, Bunny!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fun With Leftovers

I apologize for the naked post. I went to take pictures while I was cooking last night and discovered my camera battery is out of juice. It's recharging right now, so I will have photos for my next blog.

How to Have Fun with Leftovers

1. Sprinkle two pork chops with salt and pepper. Brown them in a skillet.
2. Generously coat them with leftover port-ginger cranberry sauce that has been thinned out a bit with some wine.
3. Put chops in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.
4. Serve with leftover pecan sweet potatoes and a vegetable that had nothing at all to do with Thanksgiving.

Bonus Fun

Cut up some of that leftover cheese from Cato Corner Farm and serve it with grapes and chopped up pears over mixed greens.

Man this post would have been better with photos!