Tuesday, January 29, 2008
We were going to get together with Ebru and Fuzail on Sunday and Fuzail said he wanted Indian food. I realized that I had never cooked Indian for him and, him being Pakistani, raised on the stuff and a great cook in his own right, I wanted his input.
In reviewing posts over the past few days, I also noticed that I hadn't had a clean success with the Saag Panir yet and this would give me an opportunity to give it one more try. Likewise, I hadn't enjoyed a success with my own Aloo Paratha either and I wanted to try out my new griddle that I got for Christmas. So, I invited them to come over instead of going out.
The menu was:
Murgh Saag (Chicken with Spinach - Broccoli used here)
Bengali Red Lentil Dal
This menu hit a good balance. We had representation of meat, lentils, green vegetables and starch. Channing would eat the chicken and spinach dishes, so his tastes was covered. It would have been a full meal for a vegetarian as well, going with the spinach and the dal.
Ebru and Fuzail both seemed impressed. Ebru was happy to see the spinach and broccoli, as she hadn't had vegetables yet that day. Fuzail was pleased to see the dal.
But the capper for me was when he said that he thought the spinach was better than his mother's. Honestly? I thought it was my best effort with that recipe yet. I followed the regular recipe and used packaged frozen fried panir, rather than frying it myself (which seriously adds to the oil/fat content). Personally, it was a touch watery and bitter. Gift horses, right? I think I'm going to look for a new recipe, though.
The Paratha went pretty well. I think that I did over-knead the dough a bit, making it a bit tough (I noticed this when rolling). Also, I should have wrapped the dough directly when chilling it, instead of covering the bowl. The top of the dough ball dried out a bit and I had to mix that back into the dough to re-hydrate it. I also need a bit more practice regulating the temperature on the burners under the griddle. It's one of those large two-burner deals and, like most nice newer stoves, all of my burners have different BTU/heat outputs. So, getting an even heat across the surface will take some practice.
Friday, January 25, 2008
As I might have expected, this was very heavy on the fresh herbs. This reinforced my desire to plant a ton this summer. It also called for canned peeled tomatoes, an option in the Chopping Block recipe and, in fact, what we used in class. I was shocked to discover, when checking out, that even those have huge amounts of sodium in them. If you use those instead of fresh in your homemade sauce, it has just about as much as the jarred stuff, pretty much wiping away one of the main points I had.
I went ahead and made it, just to follow it literally the first time. My initial reaction was that it was definitely spicier, as one might expect when cayenne becomes an ingredient. Also, that hint of wine flavor was replaced by the sweetness of the herbs. It did come out a similar color to the other batches.
So, it's clearly different, but very tasty in its own right. I'll just have to switch to fresh tomatoes. I never thought that I would ever plant them myself, but it's starting to look like I'll need to if I really want a truly fresh taste (well, duh) without the sodium from processed foods.
I had the pleasure of having Linzie as my instructor for the Seafood 101 class right before I made this. As she was also my Sauces 101 instructor, I asked her about the orangeness of the first two attempts. One thought she had was that the immersion blender was adding air that would make it paler. I'm not convinced. Also, I think that I may have overstated the orangeness without having an example to show.
I've heard folks say they use tomato paste in their sauce, so that may be how they get that dark red color. I think I'd like to avoid that, though, because it feels a little like cheating but also, you get right back into that sodium trap.
(recipe to be scanned and posted soon)
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
There was no celery root at our tiny, sucky Jewel, but they did have parsnips, which I'd alway been curious about. I did have a sweet potato at home, so it became carrots, parsnips and sweet potato.
All went well. The carrots were still crunchy when the sweet potatoes were done, but 15 more minutes took care of that. I believe that thyme is now my new favorite herb. I was imagining the smell of it for days later.
Turns out that it is, in fact, very good with broccoli and can be lightning fast for prep and cooking. Especially if you buy the bagged, pre-cut broccoli (which I figured was just about as cheap as the whole, once you factor in the weight of the big, dense stem in the whole ones). Sorting through, rinsing and trimming took just about two minutes.
I used just a touch of grape seed oil and it was fine. I don't even think it's necessary at all.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Oh, okay. I really think that could have been a LOT clearer. I'm totally one for a clear, strong thesis statement. Granted, I was a hair late and might have missed a minute (and I mean, literally, 60 seconds of instruction), but I think that if could have stood some better explanation.
That being said, it was some good recipes and a good experience. I ended up buying the ScanPan saute pan that we used, having decided that my crappy Calphalon omelette pan just wasn't good enough, so maybe I did get at least part of the message subliminally.
The instruction was okay, but generally on the lower end of my Chopping Block experiences. I learned more about pie crust and the recipes than I did about techniques for the pan or anything. I think, in part, a lot of content is covered in the other classes I've taken (browning and deglazing, for example). But the recipes themselves are really, really tasty and I had a neat group to work with, so it was definitely worth the time.
In this class, we made:
- Caramelized Onion Crostada
- Sauteed Mushroom Bruschetta
- Chicken Piccata
- Seared Sea Scallops with Celery Root Hash
- I'm amazed at how much I like celery root. It has a slightly sweet taste and very smooth texture. I think I was expecting something more turnip-like from the look and texture when chopping. I've seen it occasionally at the local Jewel - it's totally one of those things in produce that you overlook until you know to look for it. Also, this really opened up my eyes to roasting all kinds of vegetables.
- I'm liking the free-form tart thing a lot. I've seen a lot of recipes for various types recently and this was my first try. This was quite good and I think I'll be doing others. Though the dough for the tart wasn't technically part of the topic, the instructor made the point that we should hold and roll the body of the rolling pin, not the handles. Also, to use plenty of flour to prevent sticking and to rotate the disk 1/4 turn after every stroke.
- When sauteeing the onions for the tart, we started at medium high to get the caramelization, then dropped to medium and then low for the softening part. I don't know if I would have done this by instinct or would have pulled them off then they were browned, but still too firm, for fear of burning.
- The best places to buy fish in the city, by a long shot, are apparently the Fish Guy (4423 N. Elston) and Dirk's (2070 N. Clyborn).
- When searing scallops, you have to be careful not to overcook them. However, if they don't release from the pan easily with tongs, they're not done yet.
So about a week or two before the event, we were on the couch and I decide to start an episode of America's Test Kitchen, the Cook's Illustrated show I raved about before. The episode was titled "Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake." Channing didn't bother to get up and ended up watching the whole thing with me. While not a cooking fan by any stretch, he was kind of interested in all of the segments, giving me his feedback on the host, etc. (we both agree, Christopher Kimball's not someone we'd like personally in real life, but he does a really good job with the show). When they presented the finished product, he said, "Okay, you can make me that cake." Even though it didn't have his beloved cream cheese frosting.
As best I remember, I have never, ever made a layer cake from scratch. I figured, okay, if this goes really badly, I can run across the street and get some chocolate cake mix. And if that goes badly, too, given my recent oven situations, then I can run back across the street and buy one. Since Channing has, more than once, expressed a fondness for Jewel's bakery cakes, this would be fine. Which was great to relieve the stress.
One interesting thing about the recipe is that it involves making a "chocolate pudding" from scratch, to add moistness. Overall, even with that step, it was pretty straightforward and easy. I did forget to swap out for the paddle attachment, but I don't think it made a huge difference.
The result was pretty darned good. I may have overcooked it just a bit, making it a little drier than they intended. It tested undone at 30 minutes and instead of adding 5, I may have added as much as 10 minutes, because I forgot to set the timer and got distracted. But all in all, it was fine. No emergency runs to Jewel needed. I was even able to remember the errors in frosting from the last cake and this turned out just right.
I did go ahead and make a traditional cream cheese frosting (i.e. no chocolate added). I've had issues before with it not being smooth enough, with some bits of cream cheese that didn't get mixed (which is easier to see when you make it chocolate - i.e. when it's not all ivory white colored). I made absolutely sure that the cream cheese was up to room temperature and soft before I started and it turned out great.
(Recipes to be scanned and posted soon. I promise).
Friday, January 18, 2008
- Halibut Puttanesca
- Macadamia Nut Crusted Trout
- Scallop, Shrimp and Mussel Curry
In the cases of the first two, the fish just didn't taste that good. They have good suppliers and everyone else just loved them, so I think that I just may not be the target audience. I also just don't like mussels or any kind of similar shellfish that much (i.e. mollusks - clam, oysters - but not scallops. Those are great.).
That being said, learning how to skin a halibut was pretty neat. No one else was willing to volunteer for it, so I got to wield the knife there. You're supposed to puncture the skin at the tail end of the fillet to get something to hang onto while you pull the knife through. It's surprisingly tough. Like really, really tough.
The techniques will be useful, but I'll have to modify them. The macadamia nut crust was really nice and would go well with salmon. The curry was actually amazing. I'll probably make it with just the scallops and shrimp sometime.
Here's something else I learned - printed recipes are apparently a relatively new thing at the Chopping Block. Used to be that you'd have to write them down long-hand. Are you kidding me? That would have sucked. The classes busy enough as it is. When would you have time?
By this time, you know where this is going, right?
Nope, of course they weren't good enough.
While I baked the cake for a longer time, the dried zest was awful. Little hard bits in the bake. While I may not have soaked them long enough before mixing in, I think they were just a bad direction to go in in the first place. I hate to waste anything, but I think I need to throw that bottle away.
The interior was still underdone. Not really to the extreme as the Tengerine version, but there was a noticable bit that was underbaked in the center. This is were the "continuity" of the entries gets a bit off. This was actually the point where I realized that the oven needed re-calibration.
Also, we found out that Dee-Dee, our cat, will eat anything. Including pound cake. Stupid cat.
I finally made a concerted effort to get this done. As I was getting really, really hungry, I skipped the sauce.
They came out really tasty, but more because they are essentially fried chicken. I couldn't taste the cilantro much (though the green looked really nice). The preparation was similar to the Poulet Saute' Chasseur, except there is a three step coating process (flour, egg, panko/cilantro) to prepping the chicken instead of just one. In that sense, it was like the Chicharrones De Pollo (which I totally need to make again) and the dredging wasn't nearly as messy.
While the results tasted good, I had the sense that I used too much oil. Next time, I'm going to try raising the heat so that the chicken cooks faster and less is absorbed into the crust. And I need to make the sauce.
As we had nothing sweet in the house, I decided to try making a pound cake, vaugely inpired that the DeLaurentis woman's show. Since I had some tangerines that needed to be used and no lemons, I took the Lemon Pound Cake recipe from the Gourmet Cookbook and swapped out the citrus.
One thing right off the bat - it takes a LOT longer to zest a tangerine than a lemon. I think because it's harder for the grater to get a grip on the smoother rind of the Clementine or something.
Everything was pretty straightforward, but thank God I turned it out of the pan and onto a plate instead of a rack. Because as soon as it hit the ceramic, it exploded. Like a chocolate lava cake, but yellow and more lava. 2" or so on each end were done, but everything in the middle was a thin wall of cake holding in (until hitting the place) hot batter.
Those end pieces tasted awfully good, though. It's a winner of a recipe.
So what happened? Well, obviously it didn't cook enough. The duration was fine (I did about the full 55 minutes), but I would guess that the oven temperature was too low. According to the manual, I can recalibrate it up to 35F in either direction. So time to buy a cheap oven thermometer and adjust this puppy. This also explains the issue with the lemon poppyseed cake from a while back.
But also, I have to re-think how I'm testing for doneness. I did test this with a toothpick and it came out clean. I've been going for no batter on the toothpick, but reading some other recipes, I think that what I really want is actual crumbs on the toothpick. The oil & fat content is high enough that I think there is an intermediate stage where the batter slips of the toothpick, but hasn't formed crumbs yet.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
- Raspberry Coulis - for the Panna Cotta. I made the custard the night before, but my raspberries were still frozen then.
- Turkey Keema Mater - Do-over - I made it right this time, with cumin seed instead of fennel. It's a lot, lot better.
- Spiced Rice - Yes, it was definitely a bad batch of rice before. This is the second batch I've made the basmati I bought in December and it came out perfect. I'm throwing out the rest of that first one.
- Broiled Chicken Breast - No challenge here, of course, but time was eaten by prepping and seasoning the breasts. I am liking how the breasts I bought at Costco require a little less trimming than Jewel's.
- Channing's Dinner - Okay, this barely counts. I threw cold pasta in a bowl with some of the homemade tomato sauce, nuked it for 1.5 minutes, tossed in a large-diced broiled chicken breast and sprinkled some parmesan. But while I was juggling the other stuff...
If you've never eaten or even seen it, Panna Cotta is very similar to Flan or Creme Caramel. Both are milk based, but the big difference is that Panna Cotta, the Italian version, is gelatin-based, while Flan is an egg custard. Panna Cotta is a little bit lighter, I think, and may be more flexible with flavorings.
It is pretty easy to make. I had some inconsistent results in unmolding the result, which I never have with flan. The desert "tore" a few times, where one section would hold to the cup a bit longer than the others. When I tried dipping the cup in boiling water as recommended, the desert melted some, giving a run-off of milk. In part, this is to be expected, as the recipe does call out making a few extra cups. It might also be the toughness of the gelatin.
In the article, this aspect seemed to be of most concern to the author. Gelatin can take up to 12 hours to fully set, apparently, though it's servable after four. So, the amount of gelatin you use for a same-afternoon serving is different (i.e. more) than if you are making it the day ahead (i.e. less), if you're trying to have consistent results. I made the day-ahead version.
This tasted great, but I've only had it that one time before, so, honestly, I'm not entirely sure if I got the texture right. I suppose the only way to find out is to taste test at Ante Prima and others…
I made the raspberry coulis the next night, as my frozen berries weren't thawed yet, it was getting late and even if I had made the 4-hour formulation, it wouldn't be ready yet.
The one thing I forgot was to puree the mixture before I strained it. I don't think that was too big a deal. However, the mixture started out really, really tart. That may have been an effect of using the frozen berries (and it was definitely them and not the lemon - I tasted a leftover from the bag to check). Regardless, I was able to cut it decently with a couple more spoons of sugar.
The flavor balance came out right, but the sauce was definitely too thin. Much more thickening was required than I could have expected in the refrigerator. I definitely should have drained the thawed berries - that didn't even occur to me until after I added the sugar. I think there was well over ½ cup of juice alone. No matter - I reduced it down by about 1/3 to get a good consistency.
What I don't get is how this is a "fast" dish for Top Chef. It's easy to put together, but how to you get it set within the narrow time frames (usually a total of 2 hours or less) they have to deal with? They must be pushing the gelatin content and/or practically freezing it.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Whenever I watch the Food Network, I get annoyed at the personalities, which really seem to get in the way of the interesting stuff. Alton Brown and that-cloying-Paula-woman-that-is-freaking-everywhere are the two most annoying right now. Rachel Ray comes close, but I've somehow managed to avoid her for the most part.
But I decided to give it more of a shot. I grabbed a few with interesting names from the TiVo on-line guide that I hadn't looked at before, just to check them out. I then added America's Test Kitchen, on PBS, when I noticed the mention on the cover of Cook's Illustrated (a magazine as good as everyone says it is, by the way).
So, while nursing a headache early last Sunday afternoon (weather change/sinus - NOT a hangover), I watched a few.
First up was Everyday Italian with some DeLaurentis. I assume that this Giana person is relative of the infamous Dino. Like with the others I've seen, her personality gets in the way. Too much gushing about how much they love a certain flavor or how easy something really is. I only lasted for 1/2 of the show. The Orange Pound Cake she made did look good, though. I can't find the recipe on-line, which is a shame.
I then caught two episodes of America's Test Kitchen. Wow, this is my new favorite show, particularly during the writer's strike. Informative, interesting and intellegent - this felt like going to a really good class. There's a lot of information packed in and they keep the pace moving. I quickly added this to my Season Pass.
Finally, I decided to give How to Boil Water a chance. In looking on-line, I think I'm the last person to find out about Tyler Florence. The guy has at least three shows, it seems.
The episode I saw was about Roasted Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables and Gravy. This was prety interesting. Enough that I think I'm going to give his method a shot. It's a little bit different from my Chopping Block experience and lighter on the butter (which they love over there), which should make the gravy easier to deal with.
I don't know if it's having a "beginner" on set with him or what, but he's not as "on" as the other Food Network hosts. Granted, he is also easy on the eyes, so I may be cutting him some slack he doesn't deserve. It's getting a Season Pass for a while.
I'm going through all of my old cooking magazines (95% Bon Appetit and Gourmet), tearing out the keepers and pitching the actual magazines. In the process, I had skimmed an article in a recent Cook's Illustrated (which is a new subscription and, being so content-heavy, will NOT be purged any time soon) on Roasted Green Beans.
I had about 2 pounds of beans in the fridge and we needed a vegetable for dinner on Sunday. I absolutely love wrinkled green beans from Chinese restaurants and this article mentioned that effect came from (or perhaps can come from) roasting. I didn't want to spend any time on this, so I skimmed the recipe and got this:
Put rinsed green beans on a baking sheet. Season with olive oil, baslamic vinegar, salt & pepper. Roast for 10-12 minutes @ 450F, toss and continue for another 10-12.
Well, they were basically underdone. fine. Perfectly edible, albeit crunchy. but I had a lot, so I put half back in for another 20 minutes (they seemed about 1/2 done) to see what would happen. Honestly, not a lot better.
I have to sit down and actually read the article. There must be something I missed in my fast read. These being something healthy that I really like, it's worth a bit of investment of time to figure this out.
I was a little unsure of how the gnocchi would turn out, this being the first time I've prepared the frozen from the homemade recipe before. I was a bit concerned about the centers not being cooked, or being too dense, or something. Turns out they cooked just as evenly as the fresh stuff, took just a few minutes longer.
The tomato sauce was a quadrupling of the same recipe from the Chopping Block, using a Pinot Noir instead of a white wine. It came out orangish again. Even Chris was surprised that this was not a cream sauce. Hmm. No matter. It was, again, very, very good. And I had 2 quarts left for later use. The wine flavor again wafts through lightly and was recognizable as a red.
I'm now confident enough with this that I'm going to start trying different recipes. I was leafing through my Inside the Eastside cookbook and saw a marinara that looks pretty good, so I'll give that a try next.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
I finished up the gnocchi at lunch today and wanted to make Keema Mutter again, using turkey for the lamb and, for the first time, adding plain yogurt to make a sauce to account for the relative dryness of the turkey.
For some insane reason, I apparently had put some fennel seed in an old cumin seed bottle and threw that in without checking. I didn't realize my mistake until I tasted it at the end. Jesus. I vaugely remember doing that with the bottle at Thanksgiving, but I'll be damned if I can remember why.
On the upside, the yogurt part worked really well. I also added about a cup total of chicken broth as well. This is also the first time that I made this recipe from Razzaq's Indian Lowfat Cooking without any other alterations - I've before taken spices from other recipes, but I wanted to see how this would work on its own.
Obviously, I still don't know. But the result is tolerable enough that I will eat it rather than throwing it out. But just barely.
I had just been thinking of those two times on Top Chef when guys had grabbed salt instead of sugar and vice versa, thinking to myself, "God, they were dumbasses."
Welcome to the club, Hal, welcome to the club.
Update: I just had some for lunch today and it's actually okay tasting - much better than I expected. Won't be doing this on purpose any time, but it's a step above "I'm going to have to choke this down so that I'm not wasting food."
On the sauce front, my general need to practice the tomato sauce from my Sauces 101 class was spurred on by the recent NPR story about the high sodium levels in processed food. Not that it should have been a shock, but the fact they cited that you often can't even taste the stuff gave me pause. If I'm going to eat something bad for me, I should at least get something out of it. Sure enough, my stand-by jarred marinara, Classico, is packed with the stuff.
The potatoes in question were Yukon Gold again, leftover from the holidays where I had planned to mash them. The recipe I used, from Becoming a Chef, called for Russet. I had my own reasons for not liking using the Yukon - when mixing yellow egg yolks with yellow-tinted potatoes, it's really hard to know when you're done. But at a Thanksgiving party, I learned from our friend and Trib Good Eats editor/writer, Joe Gray, that the real reason was that the Yukons are too waxy. Hmm. I never knew that there were qualities to potatoes varieties like that. Time for more reading. In regards to their suitability for gnocchi on that basis, I don't buy it. Aside from the prep issue, these batches again tasted great with almost perfect texture. I froze the second batch for later. I had tried refrigerating some uncooked ones last time and they almost immediately fell into a horrible, gloppy mess.
I also learned how to better roll the dumplings with a fork. When you chop up the rolled-out dough into pieces, the chunks are sort of squared off at the knife cuts. My trick is to grab one of the corners of the pieces with the back of the fork and roll the piece towards you, dipping the tines into the dough when they're on top. I do think that my pieces are about twice the size they should be, so next time, I’ll dial the chunks down, but they worked great. They were longer, rather than thicker, than they should be, so they cooked up just fine.
With the tomato sauce, I tried to go my usual route: the first time making anything, I try to follow the recipe verbatim. I make exceptions for doubling the quantities or beefing up a given dried spice if it's been on the shelf longer than it should. But 6 tb butter? Yikes. One of the points was to make a healthy alternative to jarred. That dairy was swapped for olive oil, but the volume stayed the same. Not only is olive oil generally better for you, it supposedly helps release the cancer-preventing components of the tomatoes.
I don't quite remember how it turned out in class, but I was pleased with the results this time. While cooking, the white wine gave a great, succulent aroma and taste to the reducing stock. Kind of like what I love about the veloute’ sauce. I used my still-new-enough-to-be-exciting immersion blender to puree it in the pot which worked great. The only “change” I made to the recipe was that I used about 1.5 tsp of dried oregano where they say to add spices at the end.
The resulting sauce was very tasty. I held off on adding salt (only about 1 tsp) or any more spices, as there was a fine delicate flavor that I didn’t want to mess with. The flavor of the wine came through in the finished product very subtly.
The pureed sauce also had sort of an orangey color with a hint of creaminess, more like a vodka sauce than a marinara. This makes a bit of sense since the red roma tomatoes were mixed into the beige wine and stock mixture, but seemed a bit “off” in a way. The tomatoes were definitely ripe, so I don’t think there was anything wrong with it. Next time, though, I may try using a red wine instead of the white (this was a pinot grigio) for the color and I will definitely extend the recipe even further (4x) so that I have more for use later.
Interestingly, the sauce didn’t have as much flavor when served with the gnocci and large diced broiled chicken breast. Both of those are bland enough that I was surprised, but the sauce by itself was a delicate flavor. However, I made the sauce on New Year’s Day and when I had the leftovers for lunch and used the last bit with angel hair tonight, the flavor had popped a bit, as you might expect.