Thursday, May 29, 2003

Foolproof Rice

(This is from memory, but I'm 95% sure the proportions are right.)

1 1/2 tsp butter or olive oil
1 cup rice
2 cups boiling water
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400. Heat the butter or oil over moderate heat in an ovenproof pan. Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated and fragrant. Add the water and salt, and cover. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Serves 4.

Last night I moved an overnight bag, my knives, and my Calphalon over to Jeff's. A bit of a head start. We stopped by the Farmer's Market, where the nice man at the key shop sharpened my chef's knife for a dollar. (I had called Sur La Table, who wanted to charge me 50 cents an inch. We're both unemployed and have to be as frugal as we can.) For dinner we made cashew chicken a la an old recipe from Mark Bittman's Minimalist column. I used to make this chicken so much that it was taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet in my very first apartment.

Trader Joe's, as Trader Joe's is unfortunately wont to do, no longer makes their hoisin sauce. We used Thai peanut sauce instead (perhaps rendering the cashews irrelevant, but in my world, cashews are never irrlevant) and it was very tasty. How I lived without Sally Schneider's oven baked rice method, I do not know.

Jeff has taken a new attitude towards my Calphalon- he has put it with my knives in the category of "things I am too sensitive over for him to wash." Pretty sneaky. But the Calphalon, despite not being non-stick (non-stick is, in my mind, like food processor mayonnaise- something for pansies) cleans up easily, even with baked on rice.

After dinner we sat on the sofa and watched tv before switching to reading. It was cozy and warm and nice.

Tomorrow I start work, too. A pattern of living is falling back into place.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

You'd think, after my guilt ridden salmon last week, I'd spend this last week of alone-living eating Rice-a-Roni. You'd be wrong.

Though I did make a dinner using only ingredients I had on hand yesterday- if on hand counts the leftover wine I picked up from Jeff's. A sauteed pork chop with a balsamic rosemary pan sauce, from this month's Cook's Illustrated. I love Cook's Illustrated, particularly the illustrated part. And the glazed carrots from The Cook and The Gardener. The carrots were just sweet enough and deliciously buttery, and the pork was perfect. The sauce was rich and delicious.

Of course, though, when I was pouring the juices that had seeped out of the resting chop back into the pan sauce, the pork chop slid off the plate and into the pan, splashing sauce everywhere. Note to self- next time, hold the chop down.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Sweet Potato Fries with Garlicky Mayonnaise

For the Fries:
Two sweet potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 half tablespoon canola oil
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 450. Cut the sweet potatoes into thin fry shapes (I cut off each side, leaving a rectangle and then slice the cube into 1/4 inch slices.) Place on a roasting pan. Toss with the oil and salt, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until crispy, tossing occasionally.

1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1 tsp white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup olive oil

Heat the vegetable oil until very hot. Add the garlic and remove from heat. Let steep for at least 10 minutes, then remove the garlic and let cool.

Whisk together the lemon juice, salt, mustard, egg yolk, vinegar and pepper. Combine the two oils, then add the oil drop by drop, whisking continuously. Once the mayonnaise starts to emulsify, add the oil more rapidly.

Sunday I tried to recreate my graduation dinner- steaks and sweet potato fries. I prepared the steaks in a sauce pan, as Alain Ducasse recommended in the NYT a while back. You render the fat by cooking them on their side, first, and then saute them in that fat and an ungodly amount of butter. They came out overdone and not too overwhelming. Jeff felt they would be perfect for steak sandwiches, however. I left him with my leftover to make quesadillas tonight.

The sweet potato fries came out fine, though. I cooked them in the oven and served them with a garlicky homemade mayonnaise. (Not technically an aioli, since I didn't leave the garlic in it.) I whisked the mayonnaise by hand- I know you're supposed to use a blender or a food processor, but I've never found it that hard to do by hand. I think people who use a food processor are kind of wussy, to be honest. The mayonnaise was, hands down, the high point of the meal. I always like anything I can serve in a ramekin, too. I have a bit of a ramekin obsession.

Vanilla Lemon Drop Martinis

3 parts Stoli Vanil
1 part lemon juice
A few tablespoons simple syrup per drink

Shake and serve, in sugar rimmed glasses if you're feeling fancy.

This weekend we finally went to Father's Office out in Santa Monica. Everyone I know who lives in Santa Monica raves about the burgers there. We expected a dive, and I was disappointed immediately by all the blond wood and streamlined fixtures. The fries served in little shopping baskets. It seemed more like a brewpub in Columbus or Des Moines.

The burgers, though. Dry aged beef, served with Gruyere and Maytag blue cheese, a caramelized onion and bacon compote, and arugula (I scraped the arugula off). It may have been the best burger I ever had in my life. And perfect matchstick fries with thick Mediterranean sea salt and an aioli. Yum.

Afterwards we came home and watched The Thin Man, which Jeff had never seen. I made vanilla lemon drop martinis and was thrilled that Jeff loved the movie as much as I do. Now, I suppose, I'll have to watch some Charles Bronson movies with him.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Last night I went over and cooked for Jeff, to make up for my guilty all alone salmon. I made the pea soup with the mushroom custard that was in the NYT Sunday Magazine a few weeks ago. Mainly because I wanted to fix something (pea soup) that Jeff loves, and also because I wanted to finally use my blender.

The custards came out very, very stinky. So we tossed them. The soup, however, was delicious, and I don't really even like pea soup that much. (I also realized last night that I like mushrooms more in theory than in practice. In practice I only like them sauteed in lots of butter with garlic, but I like just about anything if you sautee it in enough butter with enough garlic.)

I love the puree-ing power of my blender more than is healthy, I suspect.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Yesterday (and today, and tomorrow, and until I start my real job) I had the day off. I spent most of it running errands- it's amazing how many things pile up when you're working 9-7. But I had some time at home to pack and work on fixing a few things in my thesis. I felt guilty, since Jeff is out of work and I could have gone over there, but I know if I had, I wouldn't have gotten anything done. In order to enjoy the weekend, I have to get everything done before then.

Mainly I feel guilty because when I'm home alone I eat well, and when Jeff is home alone, he eats frozen pizza. When I was single I felt it was important to cook for myself, if only to live like a civilized person. Now it feels unfair.

Regardless, I had another egg white omelet with some of the leftover feta and some apple-honey ham for lunch, and for dinner I made the single girl salmon from Cooking for Mr. Latte . I skipped the lentils, and added some garlic to the shallots, which I caramelized more than the recipe called for. Next time I'll either skip the garlic, or add it much later since it browns so much more quickly than the shallots. The salmon skin didn't come off in one swift movement, but the recipe did say it takes practice. It was delicious, regardless. I had it with a salad with a balsamic vinaigrette- I used walnut oil for the vinaigrette. It was delicious, but a guilty pleasure. Next time I'll make it for Jeff, too.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Sunday morning I made omelets. I've finally gotten the hang of them- it takes practice, and the discipline to not give up and make scrambled eggs. A willingness to have a not so pretty omelet also helps. They came out well- I added chopped up roma tomatoes and Tasmanian goat feta. They can call it feta, even if it's from Australia, I guess.

Jeff and I did some shopping. More ogling than shopping- we went to the Grove and the Farmer's Market. I bought a cruet and Jeff bought a scrubbing dish soap dispenser. Then we went over to Organized Living and continued our trash can ogling. Jeff had a hideous, horrible lidded rubber thing that grossed me out every time I touched it. The lid didn't stay up, so I was constantly washing my hands. He got rid of the lid, but then the kitchen smelled too quickly. After coveting fancy step models, we found a nearly identical step can at Kmart for $60 less. Very exciting.

That night I attempted my first recipes from The Cook and the Gardener by Amanda Hesser. Jeff picked out the pea and potato salad and I made the thyme/shallot vinaigrette to go with a green salad as well. We shelled the peas together while watching Six Feet Under, very domestic. The vinaigrette was delicious- every time I make my own vinaigrette, I'm astonished by how simple it is and wonder why I ever buy ready made salad dressing. And then I go and do it anyway.

Saturday Jeff and I skipped breakfast entirely. I did have an ice blended, I guess that counts. We met up with some of his oldest friends for a late lunch at the Airstream Diner in Beverly Hills. It was quite good (my pressed cuban sandwich was, as the waiter warned, greasy, but also delicious) though next time I think we'll go to Fred 62 and avoid the Beverly Hills traffic/parking nightmare.

That night, we made chicken chimichangas. I used to use canned chicken, and then got in the habit of using leftover roast chicken, and now will roast my own chicken breasts if there are no leftovers handy. I just don't trust chicken I haven't seen and handled raw. I like to rub the olive oil in with my bare hands, a fact that would, I'm sure, apall my friend Christina. She made me use a produce bag to pick up a packaged container of chicken breasts at Ralph's the other day, and gave me plastic gloves to carry the chicken out to the grill. As I said, I like to live dangerously.

I also learned that while freezing Monterey Jack cheese to make it easier to grate may seem like a good idea, it actually isn't. You can't grate frozen cheese. You can, however, microwave it for 10 seconds, and then it'll be just right.

Chicken Chimichangas

1 can cooked chicken or 2 chicken breasts, flaked with a fork
1 1/2 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
1/2- 3/4 of a can of Ro-Tel. Original.
1/2 cup chopped green onion
Sour cream and or/guacamole

Preheat the oven to 415. Combine the first four ingredients in a big bowl. Spray a tortilla on each side with Pam, then put 1/4 cup of the chicken and cheese mixture in the center. Fold in on the sides and then top to bottom and place folded side down on a baking sheet. Repeat (this will make about 8 chimichangas- you can also save the mixture for a day or two). Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown- you may want to flip them and bake for another minute or two. Serve with quacamole or sour cream.

Lemon Pepper Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Lemon Pepper seasoning
melted butter (optional)

Soak the chicken breasts in buttermilk for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 375. Pour a cup or so of flour into a ziploc baggie, add 1 tbsp lemon pepper seasoning, shake well. Put the first breast into the bag, seal and shake to coat. Put it on a baking sheet and repeat with the second breast. Drizzle some melted butter over the top if desired. Cook for 35-40 minutes. Serves 2.

Friday I picked up Jeff and took him to meet my parents for breakfast at John O'Groats. We were not the only graduating student family breakfast there, either- I saw 2 of my classmates and one more was rumored to be on the way. Jeff's cilantro potato cakes were deep fried mashed potatoes- delicious. The biscuits were perfect as always, and, being Friday, it was $4.95 coffee/hash browns/ 1/2 Eggs Benedict day, so y'all know what I had. With a side of bacon. I don't know why I look for the perfect Eggs Benedict- this is it. Lemony fresh hollandaise, precisely poached egg, thick griddled ham. I'm hungry thinking about it.

Afterwards we tried to go to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, but it didn't open til noon. We met up with Jeff's parents and all headed down to the Shrine, where I graduated. It was long and tedious. All the parents napped, I think, except Jeff's dad who left for the lobby due to the noise. Jeff says when they called my name, my dad screamed and then yelled "That's my baby!"

For dinner we went to the Hillmont, a hipster steak place over in Los Feliz. We had sweet potato fries for dinner- and I was thinking of how to make them at home, in the oven, like I do parsnip fries. My dad asked the waitress about the preparation- they slice them with a mandoline, then fry them in a canola-olive oil blend. I'm going to try the oven version. Jeff had scallops and prawn and had a bit of buyers' remorse, after everyone else got steaks. My mother and I both had the special, steak with gorgonzola. She pointed out the asparagus was prepared oddly. It looked roasted to me, but then I realized the spears had been cut in half, which did seem odd. It tasted good, though I have gotten so used to my roasted asparagus with browned butter I forget asparagus can be done any other way. My dad's side dish, spinach with apples, was delicious and a combination I wouldn't have thought of.

Jeff's parents brought up the last few times I cooked for them, praising it. This was sweet, since the last time I cooked for them, I roasted a chicken- but since I still haven't figured out the temperature in Jeff's oven, it took an extra hour to roast all the way. I served the potatoes early and his dad declared it Very Important Chicken, so it wasn't, I suppose, a total disaster. My dad mentioned my lemon pepper chicken, the only dish I think he's ever seen me cook. It was my favorite growing up, and the first thing I asked my mother how to cook when I left home. I've since tinkered with it and improved it, soaking the breasts in buttermilk first to get a better crust. It's still one of my favorite simple comfort foods.

My parents came to town for graduation this weekend. I was a little apprehensive- we don't have the greatest history in the world, to put it delicately. But they wanted to come and I certainly could not have gone to graduate school without their help, so what can you do?

Sometimes when you fear the worst, it ensures (insures?) that it doesn't happen. I felt confident before they came- I have a job lined up (pending background check, I always hasten to add) and a savings account and a lot ahead of me. There's still some things up in the air- Jeff's job (or lack thereof) and our wedding plans, but I think those things will be worked out soon. I'm going on the longest stretch of contentment I can remember in a long time, despite being insanely busy. Perhaps because of it.

Anyway. We went out to dinner Thursday night, the three of us. My mom met me at the production company I'm filling in at and we drove down to the 3rd Street Promenade and loitered at the Barnes and Noble til my dad met us- he'd been working in Bakersfield all day. We were going to go to the
Border Grill
but it was too noisy so we dashed across the street to Serenata de Garibaldi, which my dad assumed was Italian until we got in. I didn't tell my parents til the next day what the "B" in the window meant- I like to live dangerously. The best part of the meal was the pea soup, which our waitress said was lima bean. Next weekend I think I'll make the pea soup with mushroom custard from the other weekend's NYT magazine.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Addiction cured- not nearly enough caffeine in the Ice Blended. I wonder if they could add a shot of espresso.

I hate iced coffee drinks- I had a horrible, sickly sweet Frappuccino on a hot day at Starbucks and have never tried one since. Never until this weekend, that is. That bitch, The Coffee Bean, somehow tempted me with their Vanilla Ice Blended. Which is more like a milkshake and I'm sure horrible for you. But I can't stop drinking them. I may have to pretend it's Lent so I can give them up.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Sunday night was the 90210 High School Reunion. It had been so long since I'd had anything 90210 related to look forward to, and it was terribly exciting. I got together with some girlfriends and made pizza and fruity drinks. The caramelized onion, prosciutto, and lemon pepper cream sauce is one of my favorite things in the world- I adapted it from a pizza they make at Bertucci's back in Boston, and when I make it, I occasionally miss Boston a little bit less.

Pizza With Caramelized Onions, Prosciutto, and Lemon Pepper Cream Sauce

- Dough:
I use the dough from Sally Schneider's

A New Way to Cook
, a book I cannot recommend enough. You can always buy premade dough, too, but I find the kneading comforting. (Or so I tell myself when I am 7 minutes into it and wishing I had a Kitchenaid.

- 1 cup lukewarm water
- pinch of sugar
- One 1/4 oz package of yeast
- 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 2 and 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
plus extra flour and oil

Start by making a sponge. Put the yeast, 1/2 cup of the water, the sugar, and 1/4 cup of the flour into a medium sized bowl. Stir and cover. Let it sit for an hour or so- it'll get all foamy and double in size.

After that, in a large mixing bowl, pour in the remaining 2 and 3/4 cups of flour and the salt and stir in the sponge, the olive oil, and the other 1/2 cup of water. Stir together until the flour is all blended in. Then you turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead for at least 10 minutes (I usually peter out around 12). The dough should be smooth and when you push on it, it should spring right back.

Shape the bowl into a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl. Brush some oil over the top of it, and then cover with a damp tea towel. You can let this rise in a warm place (I left it in the back of my car while playing croquet in Santa Monica yesterday, for instance) for 2 or 3 hours, or a less warm place (I remember my mother used to leave hers in the laundry room) for 4 or 5 hours, or in the refrigerator for 24 hours. After that (it should almost double in size) I punch it down and let it rise again for another hour, but that's optional. This will make enough dough for 4 thin crust individual pizzas, or 3 thick crust individual pizzas. If you have more than you need, just divide it and freeze the extra.

Caramelized Onions

I start these around the same time I turn on the oven- you'll need to preheat it at 450 for at least 30 minutes, with the pizza stone or cookie sheet or whatever you cook your pizzas on in the oven also heating. This is also my by memory fudged version of Sally Schneider's "fried" onions.

- one large yellow onion
- one tablespoon butter
- one teaspoon sugar

Slice the onion into slivers. Melt the butter on low, then add the sliced onion. Cover and let it cook on low for 10 minutes or longer, until the onions have released a ton of liquid. Then take the lid off and sprinkle on some salt. Cook on medium-low for another ten minutes or so. Once all the liquid is gone, increase the heat even more, add the sugar, and stir until they get brown and crispy and delicious. Remove from heat.

(Note: I usually shape the pizza dough right after uncovering the onions. I roll it out (for a thin crust) or pull and shape by hand (for a thicker crust). Then I put it on a floured surface (those plastic flexible cutting boards are great for this, the pizza slides right off) and brush with olive oil again and prick it with a fork. You can cover it with saran wrap or just leave it there to rise even a little bit more.)

Lemon pepper cream sauce

This I do at the last minute, right before putting the pizza in the oven.

- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- heavy cream
- juice of one lemon
- freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter on low heat. Slowly whisk in the flour to make a roux. Once the roux browns a little bit, add some cream bit by bit. Add it slowly and continue to whisk until you have the right consistency (and then, if you're me, you'll keep whisking and it'll thicken too much and you'll have to add a bit more.) Then add lemon juice to taste and pepper also to taste. It should be just thicker than runny, if that makes sense.


- dough
- lemon pepper cream sauce
- caramelized onions
- prosciutto
- shredded mozzarella.

Spread the lemon pepper cream sauce over the dough. Sprinkle with cheese. Add the onions and prosciutto on top and cook at 450 for 9-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

This pizza is also delicious cold, so you may want to make two.

Saturday we went out to breakfast- I woke up thinking we shouldn't try Lulu's, a place down on Beverly that always looks busy, but return to Fred 62, where we hadn't been in a while. The urge to get out and walk won, though, since it was a nice day, and we had a perfectly mediocre meal. I'm perpetually trying to find the perfect Eggs Benedict, and this wasn't it. For some reason the hollandaise had been browned on top, and it was perfectly tasteless. If I'm going to ingest that much egg yolk, I want it creamy and lemon fresh. The side of bacon was tasty, though- perfectly crisp, not greasy, but not charred.

I did so much running around doing errands during the day that I totally forgot lunch. Jeff forgot, too. I had some writing to do and library books to pick up and things to pick up from classmates, and grocery shopping. I planned on making another meal from Cooking for Mr. Latte- the chicken with curryish sauce, watercress and pea puree, and couscous with celery and red wine vinegar. I stopped by the Farmer's Market on 3rd and Fairfax for the chicken and the vegetables. There's one stand there which I really like, because they don't laugh at me for not knowing watercress by sight. I'm still working on parsley vs. cilantro, though I've got that mostly down- sometimes I have to smell it, too. I also love that the pharmacy there still carries 90210 cologne, but that's another thing entirely. I also poked in Sur La Table and got an apron and a springform pan. The pan had an Easter bunny top and stencils to make Easter cakes, I suppose, but the pan itself was usable without the top and was all of $4.99.

The worst part about cooking at Jeff's is all the preparation. I have to remember to pack up and bring knives, for instance- he has nothing that isn't made of alumninum- and other things, like a salad spinner, or spices I have in stock at home and half the time wind up buying second bottles of for his place. I'm moving there June 1, so I've taken to leaving things I know I can get by without during the week, like the crock pot, over there. I'm really picky about my knives, though- one of my older knives was in a horrible garbage disposal accident and the nickmarks didn't add much to what wasn't a great knife to start out with. So I had already snapped at Jeff in the morning, because he left my chef's knife just sticking up out of the dish drainer all akimbo. I told him about the disposal incident and thought all would be understood- but then, while he was washing and I was cooking that night, he just left my knife sticking up in the sink. I of course overreacted and we were both in foul moods for dinner.

The other problem was the peas- I was expecting my new blender, a graduation present from my sister, to arrive, but UPS wasn't going to try to redeliver it until Monday. And I'd already bought the watercress and peas. I'd spent ten minutes trying to figure out what was the watercress on my own before asking, even at the non-humiliating produce stand, so I felt I had to commit to the peas. So I borrowed my roommate's hand mixer and hoped for the best. The best, with a hand mixer, is not going to be anything like a puree. It's going to be peas and watercress stirred up. So between the fight over the knife and the pea non-puree, I was a little less than enthusiastic. The peas tasted fine, but they weren't what I'd hoped for, and annoyance or anger always drains my ability to taste or enjoy. Jeff loved the chicken, though (it was good, and simple) even though it took 25 minutes at 450, not 15, though that is more the fault of Jeff's oven, I suspect, than the recipe. I loved the couscous, and I don't normally like couscous. I packed the leftovers for lunch today, even.

Later that night, we were out for a friend's birthday, and someone commented about what a great couple we were. (We are! It's gross!) I tried to point out that we weren't perfect, mentioning the knife debacle. "You're telling me you fight about a knife? That's your big problem?" It is pretty silly.

This weekend was it such a relief, after an incredibly hectic week, to have some down time with my fiance and eat some actual meals, instead of fruits and veggies and soynuts shoved into ziploc baggies in a fog at 5:30 in the morning.

Friday Jeff had gone out to a big lunch, so I wanted to prepare something light for dinner. (The lunch made me a little sore, actually- I had assumed he was going out to a deli in the Valley for his corned beef sandwich, and instead they went to Langer's. I've been wanting to go to Langer's since I moved to LA, and never went, even when I lived 5 blocks south in the heart of the ghetto. I've been asking Jeff when we can go to Langer's ever since he started eating red meat again. The New York Times cannot print the word pastrami without mentioning Langer's, and Jeff off and went without me. Not that I'm bitter.)

So I pulled out Amanda Hesser's other book, her newer one,
Cooking for Mr. Latte
.A lot of this book was familiar from her column in the NYT Sunday magazine, so mainly I got it to have it all in hardbound format. Her mac and cheese alone is worth it, and the recipes are less daunting then some of
The Cook and the Gardener
appear. So I made, from her "What to have when you've eaten to much" chapter, a light salad with dill and arugula and romaine. Jeff crumbled up his pumpernickel into the salad, but I liked it fine on its own.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Welcome to my cooking blog. What I've been wanting to do is learn more- technique, recipes, etc. My method for doing this is going to be taking a cookbook and working my way through it. I wanted to start with Julia, but I am a bit intimidated by her still. So I'm starting with
The Cook and the Gardener
by Amanda Hesser. Since this book is broken down by season, I'll start with Summer in June.

In the meantime, and in between, there will be other food, cooking, and kitchen related things posted here.

Any of my own recipes and recipe adaptations I will share, but any recipes straight from the book- well, you'll have to check those out yourself.