I love this little device. It makes apple pie baking that much more pleasant when you're not peeling and coring and slicing apple after apple.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
I love this little device. It makes apple pie baking that much more pleasant when you're not peeling and coring and slicing apple after apple.
Monday, February 23, 2009
I've bought a few new cookbooks in the past two or three years. I always buy them with high hopes. I fall for big names and glossy covers and beautiful locations (say the word "Italy" in a cookbook and I'm all over it). I buy the book, start looking at the recipes and whittle down the ones I can actually make. This one has bacon? Nope. This one has cheese? Nope. I can just forget the fish section most of the time. The meat section has to be ignored as well. Then I have to weed out which vegetable-based recipes will please both of us. By the time I've gone through the entire cookbook, I have maybe six recipes I can use if I'm lucky, with another six recipes I can make as compromise meals (where I make meat for myself and fish for Kevin).
Last night, I wanted to make dinner and I still had a lot of tortillas left over from my soup last week. I needed to figure out what to do with them. I didn't go to a cookbook. I went to a blog (in this case my own) and made Chipotle Chicken and Pinto Bean Tacos. I started this blog to archive and share my own recipes. It seems like I'm heading in a direction away from cookbooks.
My most recent purchases (purchased over the course of the last two or three years) have been Jamie's Italy, Giada's Family Dinners, and The Lady and Sons Dessert Cookbook. I was very excited to own Jamie's book, but I've barely touched it. I've coaxed a few recipes out of Giada. I suppose that one was the most useful because she has two recipes I was constantly downloading from the Food Network site that are in that book. I've made a handful of Paula's desserts as well. I just don't think I have any go-to cookbooks.
When I was in college and first learning to cook, I relied heavily on my paperback copies of The Frugal Gourmet and The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine, but unless I really want to remember a specific recipe, those books stay on the shelf.
I'm beginning to wonder if the internet is beginning to make cookbooks obsolete. When I want a recipe for a specific dish, the first place I go is to the Internet, rather than my cookbooks. I google ingredients if I want to figure out what to do with a particular vegetable. I have a pile of blogs I read regularly and pilfer recipes I like from them. I watch the Food Network and if I like a recipe I see, I go to their website. I do advanced searches on Recipezaar and Epicurious. Many times I don't even use recipes. I just look at recipes on TV or on the internet, take what I like from them, and create recipes of my own. I'm not a skilled enough baker to do that with desserts, but I'm slowly figuring that out. One of the Food Network chefs even said that cookbooks are a waste of money (including his) because the recipes are so readily available online (although I suppose, as with my Giada book, that if you're constantly downloading the same recipes, having them in cookbook form is useful). I can't remember the last time I used an actual book with pages for recipe.
I'm wondering if this is a trend. There is part of me that searches for the Holy Grail of cookbooks. Because I have no formal training, I still long for the book that's going to tell me the perfect technique so that I can properly cook the basics and then expand on them with my own style. I am not sure which one to get. I have Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cooking Techniques and Knife Skills Illustrated but I'm wondering if How to Cook Everything or Cooking for Dummies or some other book will suit me better. Sometimes I look at these technique books and think, "Screw it! I'm just going to find a recipe."
Obviously not everyone feels the way I do about cookbooks. There are entire blogs centered around using cookbook recipes. Some people still love their books. I still wonder if I'm not alone in finding I use cookbooks less and less. The Food Network, Internet recipe sites, blogs, and my own head seem to be my biggest recipes source right now. Is this a trend? Am I just lazy?
Even though I don't use them, I still have a hard time resisting cookbooks sometimes. There is no place like Bonnie Slotnick's to help me remember what a great world of cookbooks we have out there.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
I did one thing right on Monday. I used the remaining time to make chicken stock. I had a ton of leftover bones and veggies in my freezer. I boiled them all down. I was left with more stock than any one human ever needs. I made gallons of the stuff. All of those carcasses in my freezer have now been replaced with containers full of stock.
Despite this massive stock of stock, I was stuck. I was stuck for ideas. Then there is nothing else to do but go to other people's blogs and pilfer their recipes.
I made Theresa's Chicken Tortilla Soup. This was a big hit. My husband loved it. I'm glad he did, because we had an awful lot of it. After the second night of having it for dinner, I tweaked it a bit and added some chipotle powder to it before taking it to lunch the next day. (Is there anything chipotle powder doesn't taste good on?) This made it even better.
Then there I was stuck with a coworker's birthday coming up. I had to bake. This is someone I need to suck up to!
I have a great memory for recipes. If I see something I like on a blog that I know I want to make, I will keep it in my head until I finally make it. It will stay there for months, itching on my brain, reminding me that I have to bring forth that recipe in my own kitchen. Rita's Greenies is just one of the recipes. I love pistachios. Coworker is a nut for nuts. I'd kill two birds with one stone. I'd bake something for coworker and the recipe in my head would stop nagging me.
I tweaked this recipe a bit as well. I increased the nuts to about two cups, increased the white chocolate to seven ounces, increased the butter to one stick, and increased the flour to one and a quarter cups. Then I baked the whole thing in a 9" square pan.
Delicious. Coworker was very happy. She can't wait to take them home to her sweetie. Mission accomplished.
I don't know about Sir Pickypants, but as good as the soup was, eating it for lunch and dinner every day made me a little tired of it. I needed to make something else for dinner for once. What? I had more dance classes this week. I have an audition tonight (I may or may not actually audition for this play, but as a member of the B.O.D. I at least have to be there). I just can't think of a new recipe.
It's Fun and Food to the rescue. Always good for an easy meal suggestion, I chose Mansi's Spinach Fettuccini with Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce. It's uncommonly good with just enough variation in flavor to make your realize you're not eating an ordinary tomato sauce. That's a good thing because I was close to doing something crazy like serve sauce from a jar! It's also the only thing I made this week that I remembered to take a picture of.
I still have a freezer full of chicken stock. I am making a new list of soup recipes to pilfer...
Friday, February 13, 2009
I didn't just have a Valentine's Day. I had an awesome Valentine's Weekend. Oh what a tasty weekend it was.
Sir Pickypants and Lady Fussbudget (which I believe is what he would totally call me if he had a blog of his own and had to give his wife some kind of teasing nickname in it) celebrated Friday the 13th and the Chinese New Year (okay, a little late on that one) by having dinner At Sammy's Noodle House in New York City on 6th Ave and 11th street. We were joined by our good friends, who have made an appearance in this blog before as the Funnest People on Earth, Bryan and Jenny.
The menu is long and detailed and includes every kind of Chinese food you could want. I had a hard time deciding because every single section of the menu had stuff that looked good, and there were a lot of sections. You could have dim sum, or traditional appetizers, or noodle dishes, or rice dishes, or tradtional Chinese menu dishes, or soups or roasted meats. You name it, they have it.
Check out the size of this steamed bun. It was massive. The chicken and mushroom filling inside was delicious.
Dumplings are practically a required appetizer in aChinese restaurant. These were filled with chicken rather than the more traditional pork. The flavor of the chicken was sort of unexpected, but enjoyable once I got used to it.
Moving on to the entrees, we started with spare ribs, mostly for the benefit of Bryan and Jenny's somewhat picky son. This was one of the many offerings of roast meats. They ended up taking home some roast duck for one of their other sons as well. It was fun contrasting these with the ribs I ate at the Barnacle last week. These were way less meaty of course, but fun to eat with their sticky sauce and compact size. Come on. They're Chinese spare ribs. What's not to love?
You practically had to roll me out of there at the end of the evening but it was so worth it. Sammy's is like your favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant on steroids. Whatever you like on a Chinese menu, you will find it here. The addition of the good company made it even better. This was a great start to a happy weekend.
We started our meal with homemade soup. Kevin had cream of carrot and I had beef barley.
Next I had a delicious, artery-clogging fried chicken cutlet with country gravy and mashed potatoes.
Tired and disheveled, I happily dig in.
The only complaint is that the veggies were way overcooked and bit heavy on the garlic (even for a garlic lover like me). As I don't like brussels sprouts anyway, I didn't care. Besides, I don't go to Granny's to eat vegetables!
Much love to my sweet husband. Thanks for a wonderful weekend!
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or Framboise
Monday, February 9, 2009
As soon as I returned from my trip, it was time for my mother-in-law's birthday. That meant that as soon as I was unpacked, I had a dinner to plan. I needed something fun, tasty, easy to prepare in a shorter period of time, and would please just about everyone. I had some mixed results with the dishes I made, but they were all well-appreciated.
I started with a salad I often use from the Giada DeLaurentis cookbook, Giada's Family Dinners. It was her Grilled Lettuce Salad. I like this salad because it has a lot of flavor going on with warm greens that are slightly smoky from the char of the grill and a little bitter from the lettuces. It's always a big hit. Sorry I forgot to take a picture.
The main course was a revisited recipe from last fall. I made flattened chicken breasts with fruit sauce. When I made it the last time, the sauce was made with cider and cider vinegar with a lot of citrus in the background. This time I used cider and brandy and kept the citrus to a minimum. I also added sage. I liked it better this time. I also had to adjust the recipe, originally for four people, for eight people.
I borrowed a side dish from Constables Larder. I used Giff's version of a potato and fennel gratin. This was so rich it was almost a meal in itself. My mother, an aspiring vegetarian, said she would have been happy just having the gratin with the salad. I plan to do that with the leftovers for lunch for the next couple of days. :-) I thought it was a tad runny, although Mom thought that was one of the best things about it. I adjusted the recipe a bit by using Yukon Gold potatoes instead of russets (I just don't like russets).
Dessert was a milk chocolate and pretzel tart. The recipe was in last month's Food and Wine magazine. The issue had a great series of recipes that focused on the neglected confection known as milk chocolate. It seems that dark chocolate's white trash cousin is finally getting it's due. Although it was simple to make, I wasn't terribly pleased with the results. Unfortunately, my issues with runny food did not end at the gratin. My ganache never set up completely. It was more like a pudding. The crust was also a bit hard. Although the idea of brushing in the inside with melted chocolate seemed like a marvelous idea for keeping it from getting soggy, it did make for a crust that was quite difficult to cut. Guests were picking it up and eating it out of hand after a while.
Most importantly, my mother-in-law had a happy birthday surrounded by friends and loved ones (although the conversation ranged in a few political topics that became a bit heated at times).
On to my newly-adjusted recipe.
Flattened Chicken with Brandied Apple and Pear Sauce
8 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts (you may have to do some deboning)
1 Tbl butter
3 Tbl olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 Granny Smith apples, sliced
3 Red pears sliced
3 cups apple cider
2 cups brandy
2 bay leaves
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 Tbl chopped fresh sage
Heat butter and 1 Tbl oil in a saucepan over low and add onion. Cook until soft and brown. Add apples and pear slices and stir to coat a bit and let them soften slightly. Add brandy, cider, sage, orange zest, and bay leaves. Simmer for about 2 hours or until the liquid has totally reduced down and the fruit has reach a thick jam-like consistency.
Meanwhile heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add chicken breasts skin-side down. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil and place a heavy, cast-iron skillet on top. Cook for about 20 minutes or until skin is nice and brown. Flip over and cook 5 minutes more.
Serve chicken breasts topped with fruit sauce.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
I was there by myself, so how did my poor husband survive? What did he eat? Did I make him buy dinner every single night, or, Heaven forbid, COOK?
Trying to be a conscientious wife, I decided to make him something he could have for a few nights while I was gone. Pasta is always a good choice as this is a man who never met a starch he didn't like. The key was to make him pasta that would also get some vegetables in his body.
The blogs have been very inspiring lately. This is the time of year we all want to hole up with comfort food, including things like pasta. However, we all care about our health. Spring will be here eventually and we have to shed these layers of heavy clothes, so we don't want to shove too many calories down our gobs either. It's important that we balance comfort with things that are good for us and not too high calories.
I decided to answer this dilemma with a simple, but satisfying pasta dish. In the spring and summer, pasta primavera is a wonderful way to use fresh vegetables with pasta. All you have to do is lightly saute them to bring out their fresh flavor and add them to your pasta. In the winter, vegetables aren't so fresh and they need a little more intense cooking to really make them tasty, so I came up with my own Pasta Al'Inverno. In my recipe, you roast the vegetables so you get the full flavor and toss them with pasta and garlic infused oil.
This is one of those great no-recipe recipes. Roast some quartered mushrooms and cherry tomatoes that have been brushed with oil and sprinkled with salt at 400 degrees until soft.Along side of that, roast some asparagus and halved peppers until soft . Do the salt and oil thing to them first as well.
Heat some olive oil gently with a few garlic clove halves. You just want to make a nice infusion.
I got to eat this the night before I left, and Kevin had plenty of leftovers for the next few nights. I didn't have to worry about him going hungry, and I knew he was eating his vegetables.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
I got my answer with Barnacle Barbecue. It replaced the now-closed Jolly Trolley in the same building. It's definitely not Asian.
I was very curious when I heard about its opening. Would it really be barbecue? Would if just be food smothered in barbecue sauce? Although the latter can be good, I would love to see some slow-smoked food in my neighborhood. I was very happy to hear that this was going to be real barbecue.
It has been opened for 6 weeks now and I finally went there last night. The evening did not start out well. When we arrived, there was no host in the front. We had to wait a few minutes for someone to show up and seat us. After a hostess finally showed her face, she said she'd go look and disappeared. Then someone whom I assumed was the owner came and greeted us and asked how many were in our party. The hostess reappeared and we were seated. They seated us in the front by the bar area. I'm so glad all restaurants are non smoking in New York now because I always refused to sit near the bar in the past because of the smoke. My instincts told me not to like the seat at first, but then I realized I don't have a reason not to like the seat. We were near the window, which is always nice.
The restaurant has a nice cozy feel to it. Although it's called The Barnacle and tries to have a bit of a beach theme, it doesn't go overboard with kitsch. It's a lot of dark wood and has a nice warm feel to it. They plan to build an outdoor deck for the summer that will overlook the harbor, so I'm sure it's going to be even nicer in the future.
Tables were set with a rack of sauces and instead of napkins, we were given small towels.
My photos didn't come out too well. This was the best one.
Our waitress was very nice. She was much faster than the hostess with her attentiveness and had a very pleasant personality. I suspect she was easily distracted though because she forgot to tell us the specials. I only found out about them because I heard another server mention them. I also saw them after I had ordered on a chalkboard to my left side (menus were on chalkboards all over the place in addition to the menus at the tables).
They have a full bar and there are wine lists on the tables. None of the wine bottles were particularly expensive ones. I had a glass of pinot grigio and Kevin had a glass of white zinfandel. (Hey! Wine for Dummies says it's perfectly acceptable to drink White Zin at picnics and barbecues. It's the sweet/salty thing!) The drinks were delivered in a timely fashion. There was no bread served, but I was okay with that. I'm trying to cut down.
You can order a single item or a combination of items from their barbecued meats list. I chose dry rub ribs and brisket. Kevin chose a half a chicken.
Food is served on these metal trays lined with fake newspaper. (You can see the towel covering my lap underneath). The sides pictured here are sweet potato fries and something called creamed corn surprise. The latter is this weird pudding-like cornbread/creamed corn fusion served cold. It was very tasty. The fries were okay, but I've had better.
As for the barbecue, it was a mixed bag. I really liked the ribs. They were nice and meaty and flavorful. The brisket could have been better. They had told me it was chopped brisket, but as you can see here, it was in strips. It was a little bland and not as tender as I would have liked. I ended up using a fair bit of barbecue sauce on them.
They make their own.
I forgot to take a picture of Kevin's dinner. He had a half a chicken. When I say "half" I don't mean four pieces. I mean he had an entire slab of chicken. It was a lot for him to attack and he did a valiant job. Since he is the kind of person to refuse to ever pick up anything and eat it with his hands, I'm not sure he got his money's worth out of it. He had cole slaw and tater tots with his meal, which he didn't complain about (although he may have complained a bit about the Napoleon Dynamite jokes I made).
Dessert was okay. I had fried ice cream and he had pecan pie. We wanted the brownie ala mode, but they ran out of brownies. They ran out of a few other things that night. I think I got the last order of brisket. The specials menu on the wall said stuffed pork loin was available, but I never heard a server mention it, which made me think they ran out of that too. I don't know if this is because the place is already immensely popular, or they are still learning about what is most in demand and how to keep up with it.
All in all, it was a good meal, but it could have been better. The place has potential. I would definitely like to go back in a few months and see if they have made some progress in working out their kinks.