Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Andrew!

Monkey cake!

I did not end up making my husband (then fiancé) a birthday cake last year, so I made up for it this year with a two-layer banana cake with chocolate butter cream, decorated like a monkey (featured on Smitten Kitchen). I don't think I've made and decorated a layer cake since my second year of college, when I made a Ms. Pacman cake for a friend.

The monkey cake was a success, served at the birthday party alongside those wonderful enchiladas sencillas and cabbage slaw that I've made before--the two pans of enchiladas disappeared in an instant. We're still working our way through the cake.

Monkey cake!
There is much less than this much cake left.

The party happened after Andrew's actually birthday. On the day itself I made lasagna, with San Marzano tomatoes, Harley Farms goat ricotta, mild Italian sausage, and half a package of frozen spinach that's been hanging around for awhile. The recipe is from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook, and I remember my mom making it when I was a kid; the original recipe was vegetarian (my favorite part is the dash of nutmeg in the ricotta-spinach filling), but I was pleased with this compromise: the spinach I wanted and the meat the birthday boy wanted.


For dessert a surprise: rice pudding! To make it extra surprising, I added shaved dark chocolate and some garam masala. The flavors were perfect, but the chocolate made the pudding a little thick, and it basically solidified in the fridge. Next time, I'll use cocoa instead of chocolate.

Chocolate-garam masala rice pudding

Happy birthday, Andrew! I hope it was a good one.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I love brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts, bacon, beans, and balsamic

They're a fairly notorious vegetable. As a child, I knew that my father liked them but that I wasn't supposed to; I don't remember eating them often and I don't remember how I felt about eating them when I did.

It wasn't until much later, after I had already decided to question any food aversion I'd previously had and just try everything, that I came to love brussels sprouts.

While I did try pan roasted them, to good effect, during college, the love affair didn't really blossom until a couple years ago, my first Thanksgiving in Texas and first Thanksgiving when I would be cooking the entire meal myself (if only for four people). I was looking for a good green side dish and found the perfect one: hashed brussels sprouts with white wine, lemon, and poppy seeds:

Hashed brussels sprouts

I had never heard of, never thought to slice up brussels sprouts, but slice them up I did. After briefly sauteeing some garlic in olive oil, the sprouts are added to the pan along with lemon juice and white wine. Cook only long enough to soften the sprouts and turn them bright green, then remove from the heat and stir in a generous amount of poppy seeds. Season with salt and serve.

(This dish is doubly good for Thanksgiving because it cooks so quickly!)

I love the bright green color of the sprouts, the bright, fresh flavor of the lemon juice, the fact that the sprouts stay a little crunchy, and the added texture of the poppy seeds.

Since that dish, sauteeing or stir-frying brussels sprouts has been my favorite way to prepare them--it's fast and delicious and allows to incorporate a variety of flavors, depending on what you're feeling like.

Tonight's dinner (see the photo at the top of the post) is an excellent example, inspired by the brussels sprouts with lentils and prosciutto from The Stone Soup. I started by chopping up a bunch of bacon and frying it up in my Le Creuset french oven. Once it was mostly cooked, I added 8 or 9 brussels sprouts, ends chopped off, cut in half, then sliced into thirds. I allowed these to brown with the bacon, stirring occasionally, until they were tender but not too soft. Then I added a drained can of cannellini beans and stirred everything around until the beans were warmed through. I turned off the heat and added about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. After plating, I topped the dish off with some crumbled feta cheese that we bought yesterday on our tour of Harley Farms Goat Dairy (goats! cheese! awesomeness!).

These ladies have nothing to do with brussels sprouts.

If you think you don't like brussels sprouts, I urge you to give one of these recipes a try, and see if my favorite mini cabbages can't rock your world.

Some recipes I am looking forward to trying:

Monday, October 11, 2010

What I cooked this week, Episode 17

I've had a couple realizations recently.

The first is that I should really give these posts more interesting names. It's been cool to track the number of week that I've been meeting my goal of doing a lot of cooking and cooking new things, but "Episode 17" is not especially compelling as a title.

The second realization is that I'm probably going to start having a lot of repeat dishes. Looking back on this series, I'm pretty proud of myself for the variety I've had, a mixture of old favorites of mine (but new to the blog) and new things I've tried for the first time. And while I intend to keep trying new things, items from the past few months are going to cycle back in, and while I might have something new to say, I also might not.

So, going forward I think I will limit myself to posting about things that are new, either to me or the blog, or that are at least new experiences (including new experiences with old dishes). Maybe this will inspire me to actually write more tutorials, rather than just listing what I've done. However it goes, my third realization was that I've done a good job of showing myself that I can in fact fit a good deal of cooking into my regular routine, and it's a solid part of my routine now, which was the ultimate point.

All that said:

Episode 17, October 4-October 10

Beet risotto
Beet risotto

An old favorite. I remember asking my then-fiancé, "Do you like beets?" And he didn't know, so I made risotto with beets and it was declared a success. While it is certainly tasty, the best part about this dish is probably that the beets dye the rice a brilliant magenta. It's fun with spinach or beet greens tossed in as well.

Chicken-apple-fontina puff pastry
Chicken apple tart

This was a dinner-for-one, using up a bunch of leftovers: leftover puff pastry and apples from last week's tarts; leftover shredded chicken from the tikka masala; leftover fontina cheese from mac n cheese a couple weeks ago. I added some grated nutmeg for a little zest. This was tasty, but would have been better if the apples were sweeter and juicier.

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Chicken braised with garlic

Actually 20-25 cloves of garlic in this case, since I made a halfish batch. Another favorite of mine, this recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen. You brown skin-on, bone-in chicken, then add whole garlic cloves, wine, and chicken stock (I used my homemade stock) and braise the chicken and garlic until the chicken is cooked through. Unfortunately, this attempt at this dish did not turn out as well as previous attempts; as you can see the garlic got a little burned, as opposed to caramelized. Still, it results in really juicy chicken.

Curried chicken salad
Curried chicken salad

Another meal to use up leftovers: the rest of the shredded chicken, plus almonds and dried cranberries that were just lying around, and some diced apple went into this salad. The dressing is mayonnaise + plain yogurt + curry powder. Unfortunately, I ran out of curry powder before I had added as much as I would have liked.

Four-ingredient flourless chocolate cake
Four-ingredient flourless chocolate cake

The Stone Soup is to thank for this recipe, an amazingly simple dessert that takes relatively little work. The little bit of work you need to do is whip an egg white, and if you're willing to get your mixer dirty (I wasn't at the time) then even that isn't really a chore. My cakes did not turn out as prettily as Jules', but they were very tasty, especially thanks to the 82% cacao chocolate bar I used.

Corn chowder with chilies
Corn chowder with chilies

Fresh corn is still showing up at the farmers' market, and it's getting cheaper and cheaper, so I was excited to try this Pioneer Woman recipe for corn chowder. The special ingredient is canned chilies, a combination of hatch green and chilpotle in adobo. A word of warning: the chilpotles are pretty potent; I only put in two and that was plenty of spice for my slightly-spice-averse husband (luckily he enjoyed the chowder enough to work through the heat!). The other awesome ingredient: bacon. I made a full batch of this chowder and look forward to working my way through the leftovers.

Orange Julius
Orange Julius

Partly to counter the heat in the chowder, and partly because I couldn't get it out of my head after seeing the recipe, I decided to make orange julius to go with dinner (also, the colors coordinate so well!). I actually would have liked it to have a little stronger orange flavor, but even so it was delicious.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What I cooked this week, Episode 16

I was sick all week. Sick as a dog, you might say. Plus I was getting up at 6 most mornings for work. Consequently? Not much cooking. However, I did my best to make up for it on Sunday and prepare something that really counted.

Episode 16, September 27-October 3

Chicken Tikka Masala and cabbage stir-fried with cumin, fennel, and sesame seeds
Chicken tikka masala and green cabbage stir-fried with cumin, fennel, and sesame seeds

I have a couple voluminous Indian cookbooks in my collection, and up until last Sunday I had made just a single recipe from either of them (paneer, from 660 Curries). I had browsed through both it and Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking but allowed myself to be intimidated by the long lists of spices. For shame.

I've built up my spice collection since then, and when I was looking for something to accompany Jeters' recipe for Chicken Tikka Malasa (perhaps my husband's favorite dish ever), I decided up this recipe for stir-fried cabbage. It gets cooked up with onions that caramelize, some garam masala, cayenne, and lemon, and whole cumin, fennel, and sesame seeds. I really liked the texture the whole seeds added to the final dish, and the surprise bursts of fennel.

The tikka masala was quite nice. I used ground fenugreek seed instead of dried leaves, and I'd be interested in acquiring some to see what the difference is; I also added some salt and black pepper. We'll definitely make it again!

Puff pastry apple tart
Apple tart

Man, is store-bought puff pastry the cheater-iest thing in the world, or what? Even more so than last week's pot pie, this apple tart is a cinch to throw together. Following directions from the Pioneer Woman, I sliced up a teeny gala apple from the farmers' market, tossed the slices with brown sugar and lemon juice, and layered them on top of two squares of puff pastry. Into the oven for a bit and voila! I've made this with peaches before, too. I'm sure a homemade flaky pastry crust would be twice as delicious, but this is a nice, rather elegant-looking dessert that requires basically no effort at all.