Friday, January 29, 2010

Being Brave and Posting a Flop

I'm usually too embarassed to post my flops, but I see other bloggers do it and I realize that food blogs mean taking the good with the bad. So I'll provide a story about last night's dinner and even a photo of it.

I have had a weird relationship with eggplant my entire life.

As a kid I hated it in any form. I found it distasteful and slimy. Then one day I deigned to try eggplant parmigiana. That was not so bad. Granted, old sneaker parmigiana syles would probably taste good too. Breaded and fried eggplant was good on pizza with sausage (the same held for calzones). Eggplant rollatini were also quite delicious.

I began to experiment a little. I found out about how salting the eggplant first can drain out the bitter juice and improve the flavor. I began doing this to my eggplants and adding them to pasta. I tried grilling them.

One day I ate a grilled veggie sandwich (one that I hadn't prepared) and I noticed an unpleasant tingle in my mouth. I noticed that subsequent times I would order sandwiches of grilled eggplant. It was the same tingle I get from walnuts. It seemed I was allergic to it. I assumed the people who made the sandwich hadn't salted it and perhaps salting was helping me tolerate them (sort of like boiling walnuts helps keep the tingle down - a trick I learned from We Are Never Full). Around this time I also learned that eggplant doesn't have much nutritional value. Did I really like eggplant enough to keep exeperimenting with it if it's not all that good for me in the first place? No. I don't. It's a vegetable that you have to work hard at making taste better. Perhaps it's better to leave alone.

Over the years I have found that there is one place where eggplant always tastes good and doesn't give me an allergic reaction. That is in Asian cuisines. My favorite local fusion places always seem to put eggplant in their curries and it always has this soft and buttery quality to it. The flavor is just right.

So often when I don't know what to make for dinner, I will just go into the store and browse around until I see something that inspires me. I saw these really pretty purple and white "graffitti" eggplants and suddenly I was dying for some Asian eggplant.

I cooked my eggplant in what I would consider something similar to a green conconut curry. I ran out of red curry paste and considered just buying more, but I find the red curry pastes in a jar are a little hotter than my husband likes to eat. I thought I could replicate a red curry, but had a harder time finding red curry ingredients. I used green chili peppers, cilantro, basil, lemongrass, coriander, garlic, and ginger. I added that to onion, bell pepper, coriander, fish sauce and coconut milk. My kitchen smelled so good while I was prepping this dish. It was hard to believe it couldn't be delicious.

Perhaps I should have found a recipe instead of just trying to make one up. Perhaps I simply don't have the skills of a chef in an Asian restaurant. Whatever the case, I ended up with a rather unappealing looking pan of eggplant. The purple skins lost their color and the coconut milk turned a rather unappealing shade of gray.

The taste wasn't much better. I guess I didn't use enough seasoning because the flavor I wanted didn't come through. My eggplants lacked that rich buttery quality they have in Chinese and Thai restaurants. They were even a little tough in spots.

I added little Asian-y meatballs on top. I had a craving for dumplings, but it was Friday night and I was not in the mood to make dumplings, so I sort of made dumpling filling and added it to my eggplant. They were turkey with scallions, ginger, and soy sauce. I will definitely use these again as they were great.

Lesson learned. Stay away from eggplant.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Transforming a Summer Recipe to a Winter Recipe

Last summer, when good tomatoes were plentiful and I wanted to incorporate them into as many recipes as possible, I made a delicious chilled tomato and red pepper soup. It was meant to be a variation on gazpacho, but with a whole new attitude.

I've been really into soup-making lately. I'm up to my neck in stock. I am forever roasting chickens, saving the carcasses in the freezer, boiling them down when I think I have enough, then freezing the stock for future use. Soup allows for lots of creativity. It can make all sorts of vegetables taste better (except for peas of course). It's the perfect pack-and-go lunch too.

While trying to come up with a soup for this week, I remembered my chilled tomato-pepper soup from last summer. It had been a good soup. I missed it. I wanted to make it again, but in a way that would make sense in the middle of winter when cold soup isn't very appealing and good fresh tomatoes are a distant memory.

I squeezed my brain until this idea came oozing out. I swapped the fresh tomatoes for canned ones and added chicken stock to the pot. I did not thicken the soup with almonds (or anything else), but kept it at a looser consistency. For extra protein I added sausage (I wanted chorizo, but couldn't find any, so I used chicken andouille). I flavored it the same way as the summer soup with paprika and sherry.

This soup was a nice winter warmer with all of the fresh vegetable tastes that I love. It both brings back memories of a happy summer evening, and promises to create new memories to make winter bearable.

This soup can totally be made vegetarian with a swap out of stocks and the elimination of the sausage. Perhaps the ground almonds from the summer recipe would be a nice addition to a vegetarian version of this soup.

Hot Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup


1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 half a head of garlic
4 red bell peppers
2 20 oz cans crushed or diced tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
2 Tbl sherry
5 link pre-cooked spicy sausage, sliced (optional)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Halve the peppers and remove ribs and seeds. Place on a cookie sheet with the garlic and cover lightly with olive oil. After 15 minutes, remove the garlic. Roast peppers another 5-10 minutes, or until the skins begin to char and wrinkle. Remove from oven. Peel skins off of the garlic and the peppers (if the peppers give you a hard time with the skins, you can seal them up in a plastic bag for a few minutes, but don't panic if the skin doesn't completely come off as it won't kill you). Chop the peppers into chunks.

Place stock in a pot. Add the chopped peppers,the garlic and the tomatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the sherry, salt, and paprika. At this point you can either blend the soup with a stick blender, or puree it in batches in a food proceesor or blender. In any case, blend till smooth.

Stir in sliced sausage and enjoy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chicagoland Culinary Adventures

Well, they weren't all that adventurous. I didn't spend much time getting to eat any Chicago classics such as Italian beef, or deep dish pizza*, or Ed Debevic's. Worst of all, I never made it to the Cupcake Gallery. I still had plenty of good food. What was most important was that I had some quality time with Kevin's brother and his family.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon. We had lunch at The Claim Company at the Northbrook Mall, a short drive from Kevin's brother's home in Deerfield. It's a fairly ordinary Tex-Mex place not really worthy of a full review.

That evening we headed into the city to watch a live taping of Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me. It's even better live than it is on the radio. What's great is the hosts are very obliging and do question-and-answer sessions at the end, as well as take time to sign autographs and pose for photos, as Peter Sagal did for us.

We had dinner after the show. Kevin's brother Bob chose The Italian Village, a restaurant close to the theater as it was quite late once the show was over. It wasn't a restaurant he loved as he said it was "touristy". I guess he knew what he was talking about since I had read about it in one of the tourist magazines in my hotel room! It contains 3 separate dining rooms, one one each floor. The one where we had the reservation, Vivere, closed early that night, so they switched our table to The Village upstairs.

The Village is pretty much standard red sauce joint. It's a bit kitschy. Here is the back wall.

Our booth was in this little open room.

My meal was a stuffed chicken breast. It was supposed to be stuffed with sausage, cheese, and prosciutto. On the good side, the chicken was beautifully tender. As for the stuffing, it was a bit bland. It tasted just like the chicken. The sauce was decent, but not inspiring. The fettuccine alfredo that came with it was almost flavorless.

For dessert Kevin and I split a piece of Italian rum cake. Once again, a bit uninspired. Not enough rum. Maybe it's just the hometown loyalty talking, but the red sauce joints in New York do this one way better.

The next afternoon we went to the Chicago Symphony and saw Pierre Boulet conducting pieces by Bartok and Stavinsky (FIREBIRD!) as well as one of his own compositions. We had a late "lunch" (4PM) at the RL Grill.

First clothes, then home decor, now food!

Speaking of kitsch, this place is just unbelievable. This goes into the dictionary under "Trying Too Hard."

Come on Ralph! Your name is really Ralph Lifshitz and you were born in the Bronx. I don't buy the Old Money Wasp thing.

But the important part is the food of course. I started with a lovely charcuterie plate. I shared this with Kevin's sister-in-law and they were kind enough to arrange it nicely on two plates.

We had two kinds of salami, coppa, two kinds of pate (chicken and mushroom) and a delicious homemade mustard.

My entree was a chicken hash topped with poached eggs.

This only had one problem with it. See the green? It didn't warn me on the menu, but this dish was loaded with PEAS! I had to de-pea the whole thing before I could eat it, which wasn't easy. It was quite tasty, although probably not worth the effort of de-pea-ing.

Some sides of dauphinaise potatoes were passed around. They were really good too.

This was dessert. Yes, it was as good as it looked.

The next morning we had breakfast with Kevin's sister-in-law and nephew at The Eggshell Cafe. I wish I had brought my camera. This place is breakfast heaven.

That afternoon we went back to the city for Girls Day Out and a performance of Mama Mia, but for our final night we were back in the suburbs. We went to the Stoney River Steakhouse in Deerfield. My brother-in-law chose this place because a waiter he knew from The Palm works there now. There used to be a Palm where The Claim Company is now. He misses it. He claims Stoney River has bad service, but keeps going back anyway.

We went with a large group of friends.

One of them offered up his lamb chop appetizer for a photo.

I had a delicious spanikopita, which came in a bed of tomato-chardonnay sauce (I don't know if it's sacrelige to serve spanikopita that way or not, but it was good). I also shared one of those lamb chops, as you can see on the side of the plate.

I opted for a small filet for my entree. Filet is something I need to have nice and bloody. (Sadly, my BIL believes in buying pieces of expensive filet and ordering it well done, which makes me alternately cringe and weep.) I told the waiter, "Take it off the heat when it stops mooing." I think they did a good job of following my instructions. The caramelized onion mashed potatoes that came with it were out of this world.

These potatoes au gratin made it around the table all evening. Very delicious.

Dessert was cappuccino creme brulee. I certainly ran the gamut of all sorts of desserts this weekend.

I had a fantastic time in Chicago and want to go back soon. Maybe I'll hit a few more food institutions.

*I'm not that hearbroken about the pizza thing. Chicago-style pizza isn't my thing. I'm a New Yorker. Pizza should be FLAT.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Week of Ruining Adapting Blogger Recipes

After my Sunday cooking adventures I think I got burnt out coming up with new stuff. Monday was back to turkey burgers!

Rather than try to dream up yet another new recipe, I opted to just see what other bloggers offered me.

Wednesday night dinner inspired by Proud Italian Cook.

The recipe was pistachio-crusted pork chops. That's not gonna fly in my house if I don't want to eat alone. I made pistachio-crusted chicken breasts using the same method. Delicious.

Then I had a party on Saturday night where I was instructed to bring the dessert.

I had a bag of chocolate chips in the house and was craving coconut. I decided to just google chocolate chips and coconut and see what I came up with.

What's really funny is that even when I randomly google, I end up in the same place. I found one of the top hits was Emily's Chocolate Chip and Coconut Bread Pudding. How I love bread pudding.

I had to adapt it for a bigger pan though as I was feeding a fairly large crowd. Emily's recipe is for an 8" square pan. I wanted to make it in a 9x13 inch pan.

I started with 2 loaves of challah. I increased the coconut milk and cream to a cup each. I just threw pretty much all of the coconut, chips, and white chips I had in there without measuring. I also coated the top with so much coconut that it looked like a major snowstorm had fallen on it prior to my putting it in the oven. I also doubled the number of eggs. That was my one mistake. I had meant to put 6, but just kind of fell into dreamland while making the pudding and used 8. I thought my bread pudding was just a little too tight. It hardly mattered. It was a huge hit all around (although I cringed when a party guest, a woman who works for Martha Stewart, kept saying it was "Yumm-O"). Emily gets kudos once again.

On to a new week. I'm only home for three days this week before I head off to Chicago for a visit with Kevin's family. We're also going to live taping of NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Hopefully I'll have some culinary adventures while I'm there.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lazy Sunday Cooking

Before I start the cooking part of this post, I will give everyone a reminder about the sausage photo controvery. A while back, I posted a recipe using a sausage I bought at the farmer's market. It was a beautiful and tasty Italian sausage made from free-range pork. I was so in love with the sausage, I took a photo of it.

Apparently, not everyone thinks photos of fresh, free-range sausages are beautiful. My husband was horrified. He wanted to give my blog URL to his foodie coworker, but he wouldn't do it until I posted a new entry so his coworker wouldn't have to look at the disgusting sausage picture. He said it looked like someone's science experiment. He said it looked like intestines. Well, they are intestines! A few readers shared his disgust, so I am a bit hesitant to post photos of sausage these days. At least the ones in my last post were cooked!

Anyway, I hate being stuck at home on weekends. Unfortunately, I have a mysterious injury in my knee. I walked into the gym Friday morning - I hadn't even worked out yet - I just walked in there - and a pain seized my knee and wouldn't let up. Riding was not possible in this kind of pain, and when it's 19 degrees outside, you don't want to head to the barn just to sit around. I miss my girls a whole bunch, but I'm not that crazy.

When you're home all day, you do manage to take advantage of what's on TV. There was a time when home all day meant the Food Network. For me it still could. I may live in NY, but I have FIOS, so I haven't lost the Food Network. I've found something way better.

Yesterday I turned on the TV and saw that a cooking show was on. The host was explaining very carefully and professionally how to cut the spine out of a chicken. I didn't recognize her. Then I realized I wasn't watching Food Network. I was watching PBS. It's not as if I didn't know PBS had great food shows. I do watch Lidia when I can. I guess I just so automatically turn to FN, no matter how much I complain about it, that I just don't always think of PBS. These are some superior cooking shows! I need to watch them more. They are actually about COOKING and not about the hosts' hair/breasts/sunshiny personalities.

Anyway, when I'm home I can cook more. Cooking on weekends is a rare thing for me. I'm usually at the barn all day and by the time I get home, cooking is the last thing on my mind. We either eat leftovers from weeknight meals or go out. I had a lazy Sunday to make both lunch and dinner.

However, as it's a lazy Sunday, the recipes are neither complex, nor are they going to be actual recipes.

My lunch was roasted cauliflower soup.

Begin by roasting some farmer's market. (Winter farmer's market opened this weekend. Yay!) Forty minutes at 400 degrees should do the trick. Time may depend on how small you cut your florets. I left mine big. Smaller ones need less time - Duh!

Next 2 small farmer's market onions are softened in 2 tablespoons of butter. After they are soft, in goes 4 cloves of minced garlic.

Cauliflower goes into the pot with a quart of homemade stock I defrosted. Simmer about 20 minutes or until cauliflower falls apart when you stir it.

Add in about a half a pound of cheddar cheese. I grated this one myself! So I am not always lazy. This was some good cheddar. Blend with stick blender till smooth. You could also whiz batches of it in the food processor.

Season with salt and pepper and a little paprika and serve.

For dinner we had individual frittate.

I mixed 8 eggs with salt, pepper, and some chopped tarragon. I know it's not traditional, but I also added a splash of cream milk.

Add special ingredients. Pour into greased muffin cups.

Shredded cheese and bacon for me.

Sir Pickypants got a treat. Peas!

Bake at 400 degrees until firm all the way through and brown on top, about 20 minutes.

Serve over mixed greens.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mushroom Ragout

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of dining at my most favoritefavoritefavorite restaurant in the world, The Iron Forge Inn. I didn't go in there with a camera and write a blog about it, as I have written three blogs about my dinners there already. I will tell you about a dish I had there though.

My appetizer that night was a white truffle custard sitting in a pool of tomato-mushroom ragout. It was undeniably tasty and gave a wonderful combination of flavor and texture.

I started thinking about a mushroom ragout of my own. It would be a fun thing to make on a cold winter's night. The question was what I would serve it with. Truffle custards are a little beyond my budget. I needed something a bit simpler.

The answer? Sausages! (The controversy about sausage photos goes on...)

I started by browning my sausages in the pot. Then I removed them and added my ragout ingredients. I used campari tomatoes, red wine, mushrooms (cremini in my case, although people who love mushrooms more than I do might want to have a variety) onion, garlic, thyme, and a bay leaf.

Note my new toy. The saute pan was a Christmas gift from the Hubster.

I can't even begin to tell you how good this smelled. It was magic, magic I tell you!

Pretty and hearty and comforting. The mushrooms, tomato and sausages worked well together. This dish was awesome. It exceeded my expectations for deliciousness. I almost think it was better than the Iron Forge Inn's. Almost.

As for Sir Pickypants, I made him some trout fillets. I put the fillets on a bed of herbs and rubbed them with some olive oil and cooked them in a foil pouch at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. He got the mushroom ragout sans sausages on the side. He even thought the mushroom ragout was awesome.

Sausages in Tomato-Mushroom Ragout

1 lb Italian sweet pork sausage
2 lb Campari tomates, halved
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups mushrooms of your choice, sliced
1 cup red wine
1 Tbl fresh thyme
2 Bay leaves
Olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

Heat a little olive oil in a pan and brown the sausages on the outside. Remove from pan.

Add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to the pan and add the onions. Cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft. Once they are soft, stir in the tomatoes, wine, thyme, and bay leaves. Gently place the sausages back into the pan.

Simmer for at least 30 minutes or until the liquid is well-reduced and the sausages are cooked through.

Taste at the end to see if you want to add any salt. I found this dish really didn't need it, but everyone's taste is different.

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Buffalo" Roasted Chicken

If you read this blog regularly, you know how much I love roast chicken. To me it's one of the best comfort foods out there. I have waxed poetic on the subject a few times. There are few things that make the house smell better than a chicken roasting.

While I was away this weekend, I came back to my B&B room from a day of riding to smell a chicken in the oven. The owners were cooking their dinner and it smelled goooooodddd. I've had a craving ever since then.

Do you know what my favorite party snack is? I think Buffalo wings defintely rank up there pretty high. They're a little greasy, a little salty, a little spicy, and a little meaty. They're messy fun to eat. So much goodness is packed into one little bony piece. If I didn't fear for my waistline and my cardiovascular system, I'd eat hot wings every day.

I wanted to satisfy my roasted chicken craving, but I also wanted a new recipe for 2010. I needed something new for the blog. How could I put a spin on roast chicken that I could share with TERP readers?

I remembered my love of Buffalo wings. Why not make an entire chicken "Buffalo" style?

Rather than douse an entire chicken in Tabasco, Frank's, or Sriracha, I decided to make things harder on myself, they way I always do. ;-) My recipe is a bit closer to a spicy, split-roasted chicken I made last year, Pollo Al Diavolo.

I started by letting some dried red peppers flavor some olive oil. I let the crushed peppers, seeds and all, sit in the olive oil all day.

When I was ready to roast, I mixed it with cider vinegar and a touch of parprika. The whole thing was brushed over a split chicken.

The results wasn't exactly Buffalo style, but had a nice bite to it. I served it with some cauliflower puree and cucumber slices (not shown). It's roasted chicken. Hard to go wrong with that. The next time I make this, I will probably steep the peppers in the olive oil longer. I put them into the olive oil in the morning before I left for work. I should have put them in the night before.

Spicy Roasted Chicken

1 Chicken (roughly 3 pounds)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 dried hot peppers, crushed
1 Tbl cider vinegar
1/2 tsp parprika

Place crushed peppers and olive oil into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Allow to sit at least 8 hours. Over night would be better.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut backbone out of chicken and press to flatten. Mix the chili oil with the vinegar and paprika. Rub this mixture all over the chicken (You can strain out the seeds if you like). Sprinkle with salt.

Roast for about an hour.