Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saying goodbye to the Barefoot Bloggers

Well, it appears that this will be my last post with the Barefoot Bloggers. I was taken off the member list because I didn't participate for two months over the summer, and I respect the decision of the group's mods (though I won't say I'm happy about it). I did make both of September's recipes though, and I think they came out pretty well, so I still wanted to post about them.

Both of the September recipes were cake recipes - apparently a coincidence but sort of a difficult situation given the fact that there's only two of us and we'd never eat that much cake (nor should we!) Luckily, though, I had an out - my office has a dessert party every month to celebrate all of the employee birthdays during that month, so I just offered to provide the cake this time. Everybody won in that situation - I had an appropriate way to offload a metric buttload of cake, and our office administrative staff didn't need to go to spend the money on a store-bought cake and go to the trouble of picking it up.

Please ignore the horrible photos - the lighting in the conference room at work is less than optimal.

The first cake was a white sheet cake with chocolate ganache frosting, and was a particular challenge because A)I don't own a sheet pan of the right size and shape to make it as directed, and B)the recipe was given fairly bad reviews on, claiming the cake was dry and too sweet, Luckily, my best friend Cristen happens to be an amazing baker (check out her mail order bakery on Etsy!), so I showed her the recipe and asked her advice on how to fix it. She recommended omitting the cornstarch to fix the dryness issue, and cutting the sugar back to 2 cups. I also followed the recommendations made in the FN reviews to reduce the baking soda by a 1/4 tsp, as the indicated amount is apparently too much for the flour called for, and added lime zest in addition to the requisite lemon because I had a flavor combination of raspberry and citrus in mind for the finished product. These all seemed to be good alterations, because the cake came out reasonably moist and with just the right amount of sweetness and a complex citrus flavor (the extra cup of sugar called for in the recipe definitely would have been too much) though it seemed unusually dense to me and had a weird swiss-cheese-like crumb with big air holes.

Lacking the proper pan, I also opted to make this a layer cake instead of a sheet cake and baked it in two batches in a 9" square cake pan.

For the ganache frosting, I opted for white chocolate instead of semisweet. I don't have a real double boiler and have had awful luck with the standard rig of a bowl over a pan of hot water, so I opted to make the frosting by heating the heavy cream in a pan with the vanilla, corn syrup, butter, and more lemon and lime zest, then poured the hot cream over the white chocolate chips in a bowl and let it sit until the chips were melted and could be stirred evenly into the cream. After a stint in the fridge the frosting thickened to the perfect spreadable consistency.

For filling and additional topping I made a raspberry mousse of sorts by folding seedless raspberry jam into some stiffly whipped cream (plus a drop or two of red food coloring, because the all-natural jam I bought didn't have the lovely red hue of normal jams).

To assemble, I leveled off both cakes and spread the top of the first layer with store-bought lemon curd, then spooned on a generous amount of the mousse and spread it edge to edge. Then I added the second layer of cake and spread it with more lemon curd, then covered the entire cake with the ganache. On the day I served it, I poured the remaining mousse over the top of the cake and spread it so that it would spill over the sides a bit. In retrospect, I wish I'd either put the mousse into a piping bag and piped it neatly around the edge of the cake, or used just plain raspberry jam thinned with a bit of water and drizzled it over the top - the way I did it, I think it was kinda ugly. Ah well, lessons learned.

The second cake was Beatty's Chocolate Cake, a deep chocolate cake with mocha buttercream. The secret ingredient in this cake is brewed coffee, which isn't recognizable as an individual flavor in the finished cake but which enhances the flavor of the chocolate. Aside from turning this cake into a layer cake as well, I pretty much followed the recipe as written, and as far as I'm concerned it was perfect. The cake was exactly what I think of when I think of chocolate cake - soft and moist with a fluffy crumb and a deep, dark chocolate flavor that wasn't too sweet.

The buttercream recipe was perfect too, smooth and rich with an ideal balance of chocolate and coffee. I was actually really proud of my buttercream, because this was the first time I'd ever made one from scratch and I was absolutely convinced that it was going to break on me when I added the melted chocolate. The key, I found, was simply going slowly and not overmixing the frosting - I added the chocolate one large spoonful at a time and mixed it slowly with my handbeater on its lowest setting, and only beat it until the chocolate was evenly worked into the butter and sugar base. It was so much easier than I would have expected, and so much tastier than any store bought or bakery buttercream that I've had. I'll never be afraid to make real frosting again!

With all the coffee and chocolate, my immediate thought was to turn this into a sort of tiramisu, which I did by making a filling of sweetened mascarpone blended with powdered espresso, and lining the sides of the cake with ladyfingers. After creating and filling the cake layers (same technique as witht he first cake, minus the crumb-coat layer of lemon curd - this cake was so moist it didn't need it) and spreading the whole thing with that beautiful buttercream, an extra sprinkle of chocolate chips finished the job. If the first cake was a bit of an ugly duckling, I think this one was much closer to the beautiful swan I envisioned.

Though both cakes were tasty - extremely so, as a matter of fact - and my coworkers seemed to prefer the white cake option, the mocha tiramisu cake was the hands-down winner in my eyes. The cake and frosting were simply superior to the sheet cake recipe, and although I love raspberries and citrus together I am generally hard-pressed to come up with a better dessert flavor combination than coffee and chocolate. The only thing that might have made it better would have been a bit of spice, either a warming sweet spice like cinnamon or a tingly heat from some kind of chili. Perhaps next time.

So with this I wave farewell to the Barefoot Bloggers - its been fun and I've learned a lot, but I suppose its time to move on and seek out other opportunities. I'll be looking for new groups to join, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 14, 2009

September Daring Cooks: Lookit me, I'm cooking vegan!

J and I are completely devoted and unabashed carnivores - we love our meat (haha) in a wide variety of types and preparations, and at least 4 our of our 7 meals every week include it in some form. But we also love our vegetables and eat what I believe is an unusually high percentage and variety of fresh produce. I like to think that we have a very well-balanced diet and get a lot more vital nutrients just through our food that the majority of Americans do, simply because we eat so many veggies.

Despite our love of all that greenery and the relatively common appearance of vegetarian meals in our repertoire, we've never made any real attempt to cook anything that's vegan. And since its really pretty easy to do so, and since vegan meals are naturally quite healthy, I think that's quite a shame. So imagine my delight when I learned that the September challenge for the Daring Cooks was a vegan dish, not to mention something that I've never tried before. Its a double-whammy of brand-new experiences here at the Table for Two, and I'm really quite happy about it.

So, the challenge. Debyi of The Healthy Vegan Kitchen chose this recipe from Fresh Restaurants, a vegan chain in Canada, for Indian Dosas with Curried Chickpea filling and Curry Coconut sauce for September, and the one major stipulation of the challenge was that it must be made with absolutely no animal products. So, that means no dairy, eggs, or animal fat in addition to the omission of any sort of meat. A challenge indeed for someone who regularly includes dairy and eggs in her diet even when there's no meat to be seen.

Dosas are sort of an Indian crepe, which are apparently traditionally made from a mix of rice and lentils. The recipe provided for this challenge, however, called for spelt flour in place of these two ingredients. Primarily due to the lack of a Whole Foods in my immediate vicinity, spelt flour is not something easily come by around here, and rather than spend an exorbitant amount of money mail-ordering some on the internet I opted to replace it with more readily-attainable buckwheat flour in my version. The recipe also called for almond milk, yet another difficult ingredient that I swapped for soy milk, and curry powder which I replaced with ground cumin and coriander. I love the flavor of curry powder, and J even makes his own blend which is extremely tasty, but I seem to have a mild allergy to tumeric which makes eating it a bit unpleasant so I try to replace it with other spice blends when I can. I knew I wanted to keep it in the curry sauce, so I thought leaving it out of the dosas themselves would be a safe bet.

Making the dosas couldn't be easier, especially if you have some experience making crepes (which I do). The batter (which calls for water and a bit of baking soda in addition to the ingredients above) came out thicker than a normal crepe batter, but with a perfectly smooth consistency that allowed for an easy portioning and even pan coverage during the cooking process.

To cook, you just give a shallow skillet a light coating of cooking spray, then ladle in enough batter to make a thin coating (somewhere around 1/8" seems to be ideal) and let it cook for a minute or two until you start to see bubbles on the exposed side, much like making pancakes. Then you carefully flip the dosa with a thin spatula and let it cook for another minute or two. Since I was making these one at a time I just turned them out onto a sheet of aluminum foil and stashed them in a warm oven until they were all done and I was ready to serve.

The day before I'd made my sauce and fillings. The sauce was made pretty much exactly to the recipe specifications, aside from making the same ingredient swap of buckwheat flour for spelt flour. Yielding a fragrant sauce with a savory and just slightly sweet flavor, this mixture of onions, garlic, tomatoes, vegetable stock and coconut milk seasoned with J's hand-blended curry powder cooked up thick and velvety and delicious. I'd only made 1/3 of the original recipe, not wanting to have ridiculous amounts leftover, but afterward I wished I'd made a full batch because I could see myself using this sauce in a lot of ways, as a topping for plain basmati rice or a dipping sauce for freshly made naan or a glaze for grilled chicken.

I really went off the map with the fillings, however. I'd initially intended to make the curried chickpea filling as written because, well, I adore chickpeas and thought the recommended recipe sounded essentially like a cooked and spiced hummus with vegetables. However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I might want more of a variety of textures and flavors in this meal. I considered a lot of options, not the least of which being a batch of my favorite chana masala to keep the chickpeas dominant, but in the end I decided on a dry-spiced cauliflower stir fry with peas, tomatoes, and whole spices, and something that I'm calling palak chana, which was was a riff on the classic dish palak paneer (Indian farmer's cheese in a spiced spinach sauce) with chickpeas substituted for the paneer.

Both fillings started out with a tarka, which is essentially deeply caramelized onions mixed with toasted spices. I caramelized an entire thinly sliced white onion with a few cloves of minced garlic thrown in for good measure, then divided it into two portions to make each dish.

The tarka for the dry-spiced cauliflower went back into the sautee pan with whole cumin, fennel, and mustard seeds and about a tablespoon of garam masala. When the spices were toasty and fragrant I dumped in half a head of cauliflower cut into small florets and stirred it around to coat it in onions and spices, then clapped a lid on the pan and let it cook for a few minutes until the cauliflower was beginning to soften. Then I threw in an entire diced tomato (seeded) and a splash of lime juice and cooked for another minute or two until the cauliflower was just tender. I tasted it for seasoning and added some salt and freshly ground black pepper, then threw in a generous handful of frozen green peas. Filling one, finito.

For the palak chana, I added some ground coriander, cumin, ginger, and white pepper to the caramelized onions to make the tarka, then added an entire bunch of fresh baby spinach that I'd washed and coarsely chopped to the pan. Once the spinach had wilted down significantly, I dumped in a can of drained chickpeas and about half a cup of soy milk. Once again, I covered the pan and let it cook slowly over low heat until most of the liquid in the pan had boiled away and the spinach had pretty much abandoned its structural integrity to create a nearly smooth and thick sauce around the now softly tender chickpeas. Tasted for seasoning and added a bit of salt, and filling number two was ready to go.

On the day we ate this, once all the dosas were cooked and were being kept warm in the oven, I reheated the fillings and brightened them up with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and warmed the curry coconut sauce in the microwave. Each of us got a two dosas, one each with each filling, with a generous pour of the sauce and a sprinkling of fresh parsley over the top. I skipped the suggested cucumber garnish because I just don't like them much, but I did accompany my own with a helping of basmati rice cooked in chicken broth (I know, this was supposed to be a meat-free meal, but the rice wasn't really part of the challenge anyway and I ran out of veggie stock) with parsley and lemon.

Both J and I really enjoyed this meal. The dosas, being something neither of us has tried before, were definitely a hit, and since they're so easy to make I suspect they'll be showing up quite a bit in future Indian meals as a quick alternative to naan or parathas, our usual choice of flatbread. I don't know what they would have been like with the spelt flour, but the buckwheat imparted a subtle nuttiness and hearty texture that I appreciated, and the slightly crisp edges contrasted nicely with the soft and tender insides. I could see wrapping up all manner of curries in these things, and dipping them in all types of chutneys, sauces, and relishes.

The sauce, as I already mentioned, was delicious and definitely a winner.

And of the two fillings I made the hands down winner was definitely the palak chana. The texture and flavor were perfect, simultaneously smooth and creamy and hearty, retaining just enough of the spinach's natural earthiness underneath the warmly savory spices and in contrast to the tender, starchy, equally earthy chickpeas.

Though I'll readily admit that I think this meal would've been just a tiny bit more satisfying with some shredded chicken in one of the fillings, even without it was filling and delicious, deeply flavorful and complex. And aside from the extra cost of the soymilk and buckwheat flour, I noticed no significant loss or change from making it without any animal products. Makes me wonder what other vegetarian meals we could remake as vegan meals with no obvious loss. And I suppose that's the point of these challenges, right? To make us rethink and reevaluate our cooking habits and get us to try new things.

Between my newfound inspiration and the incredibly tasty results, I would call this challenge a resounding success.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer, foodified

So, its come to this. I'm making up words now. My college writing professor would either be ashamed or delighted, depending on her mood. But if anything is worth butchering the English language for, its this meal.

Jamie Oliver has wormed his adorably-mop-headed British way into my heart as a chef who really knows his way around good, simple, honest food. J bought me "Jamie at Home", the companion book to his show of the same name, for Christmas last year, and although we've only tried a few of the recipes they've all been winners. (The "Hot and Sour Rhubarb and Crispy Pork with Noodles" on page 58 is a particular hit, but that's a post for another day.) But so far, my absolute favorite recipe from the book is his "Incredible Smashed Peas and Fava Beans on Toast" from page 156, and it was the star of this supremely summer meal.

There's very few things quite as delicious as a bowl of homemade soup and some crusty bread, and our hot-weather take on this common pairing consisted of smooth and creamy vichyssoise and Jamie's fava and pea crostini. Cool, fresh, light, and beautifully green, this meal was both satisfying and refreshing on a muggy August evening.

I made the vichyssoise based on this recipe from Epicurious, and made it the day before we intended to eat it so that it could chill and the flavors blend thoroughly. I made some changes to make it a bit healthier, and to account for the fact that I'd only bought one leek (oops!). I sauteed the white and light green parts of the leek as per the recipe, but reserved the tough dark green tops to infuse the broth later and inject more leeky flavor into the soup. I also added an equal amount of white onion to ramp up the oniony sharpness and better balance the starchy weight of the potatoes. I used a good amount of white pepper instead of black for an earthier kick, and used non-fat Greek yogurt in place of the milk and cream which gave the soup a delicious, though probably non-traditional, tang. I also had to skip the chives because I didn't have any, but I don't think that the soup suffered much for it.

The finished soup was cool, creamy, smooth and savory, with just a bit of heat tingling on the tip of the tongue. It could have used more leek, obviously, but its hard to imagine a better soup on a hot day. Except, perhaps, a simple cold tomato soup, but we've been over that already.

But really, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the soup, as good as it was, paled in comparison to these simple, vibrant green toasts.

The base of the toasts were homemade English muffins (I'll need to make these again so I can blog about them too - they're shockingly easy and perfectly delicious!), split and toasted and brushed with extra virgin olive oil. Thick slices of fresh, lightly salted mozzarella topped the bread, followed by a tumble of fresh, peppery arugula dressed simply with EVOO, kosher salt and coarse cracked black pepper. Then the whole thing got topped off with a big spoonful of the fava and pea mash, made with the aforementioned beans (this really needs to be made with fresh peas and favas - their bright sweetness just sings here - but since I had neither and frankly didn't feel like buying and then shelling enough of them to make this meal, I made do with frozen. It was still excellent.) coarsely pureed with lemon juice, EVOO, salt, black pepper, fresh mint, and a bit of parmesan.

Biting into one of these babies is a little taste of heaven. Sweet, verdant, peppery, and lightly creamy; the smooth mozzarella, tender but lightly textured mash, crisp greens and crunchy bread... I could eat this every day. Its got a little bit of everything, the perfect blending of flavors and textures. And despite its lightness, its surprisingly satisfying. A few of these would make a wonderful lunch all on their own. But paired with a bowl of vichyssoise and a glass of chilled, dry white wine, it was an excellent summer dinner, one I hope to repeat in the very near future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - White Pizza with Arugula

I've been out of the loop with the Barefoot Bloggers for far too long, and I think its time I get back on the horse. I'm not sure if I'll get through both recipes this month, but if I was going to choose only one I knew that this had to be the one: Ina's White Pizza with Arugula, chosen by Angela of Nummy Kitchen.

I've been wanting to try a salad-topped pizza like this for some time, and this was just the excuse I needed to do it. There's just something about the juxtaposition of warm, crisp, cheesy pizza topped with fresh, peppery greens and tart dressing that appeals to me on a very base level - I guess its just the unique satisfaction that only comes from that perfect balance of tastes and textures.

The most involved part of this recipe is the pizza dough itself, and although I thought I had already found my go-to pizza dough recipe I decided to give this one a shot. I'm not sure if it was actually the recipe or the way I went about making it, but it came out head and shoulders above my old recipe. I tried to be patient with this one, adding the flour gradually to be sure I'd get the right consistency to the dough (soft and silky and pliable, unlike the rather dense dough the other recipe gives me) and I let it rise three times over the course of nearly 8 hours so that it could really develop some nice flavor and chewy gluten. I also used a 1-4 ratio of semolina/durham pasta flour to AP flour for a little extra complexity. The finished dough was extremely stretchy but delicate, admittedly difficult to shape and move, but with a light and airy quality that I've never achieved before.

I opted to grill my pizza rather than bake it, partly because it was hellishly hot and humid the day I made this and the thought of turning on the oven was not even close to attractive, and partially because I still think that grilling is the ideal way to get that puffy but crispy crust which I've never quite accomplished indoors. It was a good decision, and the finished crust was as close to perfect as I think I will ever get making pizza at home.

I brushed the crust with the garlic/thyme/crushed red pepper-infused oil and put it oiled-side-down on on the heated grill grate. The crust cooked until the bottom was just getting golden brown, then I brushed the top side with more of the oil and flipped it. Immediately the cooked side got another coat of the oil, some scattered slices of fresh mozzarella, Italian fontina, and low-fat feta (the original recipe called for goat cheese but I wasn't really interested in that) and a sprinkle of diced red bell pepper. By putting the cover on the grill it was transformed into an oven, allowing the cheese to melt and the dough to cook through. About 5 minutes later, the pizza was perfectly browned and crispy on the bottom and gooey-melty on top.

Bringing the pizza back inside, I tossed some fresh young arugula in a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper, and a smidge each of sugar and spicy brown mustard for flavor balance and body. The dressed greens got piled on top of the hot pizza where they began to wilt just a bit, but before they had a chance to get too limp I sliced it in quarters and served it up.

Man, was this tasty. The combination of cheeses, the perfect (seriously, I mean it, it was perfect) crispy crust, the peppery tangy greens, the occasional sweet pop of the red bell pepper - just delicious. Surprisingly light but totally satisfying, it was an ideal summer dinner.

I would make this again in a heartbeat. As a matter of fact, I think I'd consider making this in personal pizza form at a bbq - a bit non-traditional maybe, but I think it'd be a hit.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A low-fat dieter's dream

I've just got a quickie (harhar) for you today, because this particular recipe is certainly nothing challenging or complicated, but it is one of the most surprisingly awesome things I've made in a very long time. I never expected this recipe to work as well as it did, but now that I've tried it I'm kicking myself for not doing so sooner, and I can pretty much guarantee that this will be going into my regular rotation. Its easy, relatively fast, and pretty much guilt-free - but believe me, you'd never know it once you taste them.

So what is this miracle recipe?

Microwave Potato Chips.

Yes, you read that right. Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? I figured this was doomed to fail, or to work well enough but turn out a palid replacement for the sinful oil-fried chips we all love, whether we admit it or not and whether we allow ourselves to indulge in them or not. But I couldn't have been more wrong - despite the bizarre cooking method and the almost total absence of oil, these chips came out crisp and savory and the spitting-image of full-fat chips. They're a low-fat dieter's dream.

Some of you may have already tried these before, and if so all I can say is "Why didn't you tell me?!?". But for those of you who haven't, I implore you to do so. With one potato, some water and salt, cooking spray and a microwave, you'll have a bowl of shatteringly crispy, salty snacks in less than an hour.

I made mine based on this recipe at I used a mandoline to slice the potato super thin (Have I mentioned how much I love that tool? Perfectly uniform paper-thin slices in seconds.) and found that for the size of my slices, I got golder brown crispy chips in 3-4 minutes. With bigger slices (surface area, not thickness - you want them as thin as you can get them) it may take anywhere up to the 5.5 minutes recommended by the recipe. Just keep an eye on the first batch and see how long it takes to get your chips to the doneness you want, then use that to set up later batches.

Try it. Seriously. These just might change your snacking life.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I'm back! And now I'm a Daring Cook!

It's been awhile hasn't it? Far too long, frankly. Life just got crazy for awhile, as it tends to do, and although cooking never became any less of a passion during all that craziness, the blogging part of it sort of fell by the wayside. I even missed my one year blogiversary, which is just sad.

But, well, I'm back, and with a new challenge to keep me occupied - I've joined the Daring Cooks, the newest offshoot of the ever-popular and wildly active Daring Bakers. This is my first challenge with the group, and I think its a fitting re-entry for me into the blogging world.

The August 2009 challenge for the Daring Cooks was chosen by Olga of Las Cosas de Olga and Olga’s Recipes: Rice with Mushrooms, Cuttlefish and Artichokes. Mine used squid in place of cuttlefish, but close enough :)

This was actually a three-part challenge. The rice was only the last piece; to make and serve the rice dish required that you also make a sofregit (a slow-cooked tomato-based sauce with garlic, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms) and an allioli (a condiment made from fresh garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice).

I made the sofregit first, since it was the easiest part. I started by chopping up a couple of plum tomatoes, garlic, white onion, green bell pepper and a handful of cremini mushrooms, then just tossed everything into a skillet with some olive oil and a heavy pinch of both cumin and oregano and cooked it on low heat until everything was soft and moderately well combined. It smelled wonderful as it cooked, savory and fragrant, and the finished product was deep and rich tasting and totally delicious - I'd love to just eat it on some grilled ciabatta, perhaps with some cilantro.

The second component, the allioli, was more of a challenge. Two recipe options were provided, a traditional recipe and a "modern" recipe which was significantly more complicated and involved making something like a curd using egg yolks. I wanted to try something new so I went with the traditional method, though it required a mortar and pestle which I don't have (though its on my list of kitchen implements to buy). So, I improvised by making a paste of garlic and salt by smashing it against a cutting board with the flat of my santoku, then used an immersion blender to mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, and an egg yolk (recommended to cut the garlic flavor a bit). The allioli was more of a thin sauce than the thick paste after blending, but as it sat it thickened up and eventually reached a rather nice consistency. Not quite right based on the recipe and reference photos, but it worked well enough for the final dish.

Finally, it was time to make the rice. The dish called for artichoke hearts (I used canned because frozen are very hard to find in my area and fresh are honestly just too much work for me), mushrooms (I used creminis), and cuttlefish cut into strips (I used frozen raw squid, pre-cleaned because I've cleaned whole squid once before and I think it may have traumatized me - NOT pleasant).

The dish started with the squid sauteed in olive oil, followed by the mushrooms and artichokes (I only put in about 2.3 of the artichokes to start, because I knew the canned ones wouldn't hold the shape in the long cooking time and I wanted some actual pieces of artichoke in the finished dish) and a bay leaf. These were sauteed until the mushrooms were starting to soften and shrink and the artichokes took on some color. Then a few heavy spoonfuls of the sofregit were added to the pan and stirred around until everything was uniformly combined.

Then I added some lemon juice and red wine vinegar as a replacement for the white wine called for in the recipe (forgot to buy it - oops!) to deglaze all the yummy browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Once that liquid had mostly boiled off, I added three cups of chicken stock, a cup of arborio rice, and a heavy pinch of saffron.

Let that boil for 5 minutes, then stirred in the reserved artichokes and turned the heat to low and let it simmer until the liquid had been absorbed and the rice was tender, just a hair past al dente. I stirred in a handful of frozen sweet peas for a pop of green color and flavor, a bit of freshly cracked black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, then removed the pan from the heat and let it sit for a few minutes so everything could settle and the last bit of liquid in the pan could be absorbed gently.

To plate, I started with a smear of the allioli on the plate and topped it with a mountain of rice on one side and a little mound of sofregit on the other. J suggested that a few spears of asparagus might have added some welcome color variance and fresh flavor to the plate, and in retrospect I think he was right. next time I do something like this I'll know to include some sort of vibrant green vegetable in the final plating.

Even without it though, this dish was delicious. The rice was surprisingly subtle in flavor, pleasantly savory with an interesting mix of textures (slightly chewy rice, meaty squid thanks to the long cooking time, tender artichokes and mushrooms, and a slight pop from the peas) and flavors (sweet, tangy, savory). The allioli was a perfect condiment, a sharp and pungent foil to the delicate rice, and the sofregit brought everything together with its rich red color and flavor. A bite of rice with a little of each condiment was damn-near perfect.

My only gripe about this dish was actually the squid, as I'm not sure I really enjoyed its texture when cooked this way. It provided an appropriate foil for the other textures of the dish, but I think I prefer my squid to be cooked very briefly so that it stays meltingly tender. If I were to make this again, I'd add the squid closer to the end so that it would retain that texture.

I'd also initially intended to make this outside on the grill (after an entirely successful experiment last week making jambalaya in this way) but was unable to due to an evening thunderstorm, and I think I'd like to try that cooking method next time. I think the slight smoky flavor imparted by cooking over charcoal would be a welcome and appropriate addition to this meal.

All things considered, though, I'd consider this meal a success, and it's been a pleasant way to get back into this blogging hobby. I'm hoping for more of a challenge next month!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just for fun

So, while I work on getting some new stuff up for you folks, here's something a little fun and funny to fill a few idle moments. Should the desire strike you, feel free to make one of these lists yourself and pass it on!

Embarrassing Foodie Confessions

1. I don't like runny egg yolks. In fact, I just don't like runny eggs. So all those popular-with-foodie recipes that call for poached or soft-boiled eggs on top of salads or pasta or pizza or in soups? Yeah, not for me. That's one food trend I'll probably never get behind.

2. I actually prefer the cheap parmesan to real parmigiano reggiano in most cases - the real stuff tends to be just a bit too strong for me most of the time.

3. One of my favorite things to eat in the world (something I've been making ever since I was in middle school and started making my own after-school snacks before my mom got home from work) is pasta of any shape, cooked and flavored with chicken or beef bouillion and some combination of any or all of the following ingredients: soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, powdered garlic, powdered onion, teriyaki sauce, sweet chili sauce, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, caned diced tomatoes. This also applies to ramen noodles. This is my go-to indulgence meal nowadays, particularly when I am home alone at mealtime.

4. I have never baked a chocolate cake. Not even from a box. I just don't like chocolate cake all that much.

5. Actually, I don't really like chocolate all that much, period. I like a square of REALLY dark chocolate with a good glass of red wine, and I like things like truffles and barks that are flavored with other things, but only in very small amounts. I'm certainly no chocoholic, feminine stereotypes be damned.

6. I love pickled, brined, and/or marinated vegetables and could probably eat them everyday of my life, particularly if they are of the Italian suitable-for-antipasto-variety.

7. Vegans, particularly raw vegans, make me crazy. Don't get me wrong, I respect other people's diet decisions, and I have no problem with someone deciding to cut out animal products from their diet if it makes them happy. But everytime I see a vegan blog post about "chicken teriyaki" that's actually tempeh, or "fettucine alfredo" that's actually zucchini cut into ribbons and a sauce made out of ground up walnuts and soy protein, or a "cheesecake" that is made of tofu and doesn't have a speck of actual cheese in it, I kind of want to scream. Just call the damn food what it is, would you? If you don't want to eat meat or dairy, why would you name things to try to pretend that you are? Just accept that you're eating nothing but produce and grain, for goodness sake. (And really, a lot of this stuff may be tasty, but this just irks the hell out of me.)

8. I want desperately to grow my own produce in my own garden, but I have a seemingly incurable black thumb and kill every plant I touch. So Alice Waters, got any advice for me?

9. That being said, the Slow Food movement also annoys the hell out of me, but I'll save that rant for another day.

10. I have never been able to make breakfast quite right and am convinced that early morning cookery is a particularly masculine talent - every guy I have ever known could make a killer plate of eggs and bacon or perfect pancakes, even if they couldn't do anything else in the kitchen.

11. I don't think I will ever try tripe or huitlacoche, simply because their appearance grosses me out.

12. However, I think that I would eat insects, and would probably try the meat of almost anything that walks on land if it was available and edible. Except for dogs and cats. I don't care how common it is in Asia, I'm not eating Fluffy.

13. In all honesty, I don't really know why I write this blog. I doubt anyone reads it except for J, and half the time I don't even feel like writing, but I guess I just like talking about food.

14. I don't really like sushi. I feel like I must be the only foodie in the world who doesn't.

15. I like Paula Dean. No really, I do. She's true to herself and doesn't care if the food she cooks is going to kill her someday - if people don't want to suffer the same fate, they won't make her recipes, and that's that, but she just keeps doing exactly what she wants to be doing, and I love that. Plus, I think she's absolutely adorable, and kinda want her to be my jolly, welcoming, always-has-something-cookin' aunt. Ill-advised endorsement deals aside, I actually really respect her and would love to meet her. (I feel the same way about Guy Fieri, though I think his crimes are rather less heinous in most people's eyes. C'mon, Triple-D is a good show!)