Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Last night I chopped up a salad- jicama, oranges, radish, and avocado on top of some spinach. Squeezed a little lime over it and sprinkled some cumin and salt over it and voila. Fancy, fancy salad. Also, if you are looking for something really easy and satisfying to chop, jicama is your new best friend. It was very calming.

I served the salad with some pan seared shrimp with garlic-lemon butter. (Also from this month's Cook's Illustrated and also delicious.) We had just had shrimp, I know, but when TJ's has frozen shell still on shrimp, I stock up. $5.99/lb can't be beat.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Friday night I used leftover roast chicken to make the walnut and chicken pilaf from the current Cooking Light. Yum. It was so very good. And easy. And good.

Saturday we had a bit of a car fiasco, so we wound up picking up some shrimp and having barbequed shrimp. It was all I could handle, and hit the spot. (T, can you give me your method again? I meant to try it last time you mentioned it, and forgot.)

Sunday we had planned on having and old fashioned, Sunday supper type meal of fried chicken with tomato gravy and biscuits for Jeff's parents, who had been dying to have my homemade fried chicken. (As everyone should be. It's delicious.) They were expected at 4, and since frying up a whole batch of chicken takes a couple of hours, I'd started at two. Actually, I'd started the evening before, when I cut up and brined a whole chicken MY OWNSELF, and then again at 8 when I got up and put the brined chicken in buttermilk for another soak.)

So at 4:15, they aren't there. I keep cooking and put the (homemade) biscuits in the oven and start on the tomato gravy, when they call to say they are just then leaving the house. (They live pretty far away.) I lose it, to put it mildly. Expletives that should not be uttered about one's future in-laws were uttered. Loudly. At 4:30, when the biscuits and gravy were ready, I insisted Jeff and I eat.

When Jeff's parents arrived at 5:15, they were amazed that we'd already eaten. I said, well, we expected you at 4. They said, yes, and then we thought we'd talk for a bit, then eat at 4:30. And I said yes, and we did. I let Jeff reheat food for them and bit my tongue when his dad asked for ketchup (which we don't have. We have HOMEMADE TOMATO GRAVY.) and margarine, which we also don't have.

I don't think I'll be going to too much effort for them in the near future, in-laws or no. We'll have them to dinner, and if they don't make it ontime, they can have a doggy bag.

I choose to focus on the fact that I successfully hacked up a chicken. Myself!

I forgot to say, Thursday, that I served Julia's pea and watercress puree with the chicken.

I had asked Jeff to pick up a bunch of watercress at Whole Foods on his lunch break- and he came home with a whole bagful. Several bundles of watercress- what, in his mind, was a bunch.

I'm marrying Amelia Bedelia.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Last night I tried a roast lemon chicken recipe from a back issue of Cook's Illustrated. The pan sauce turned out to be lots of burnt drippings and a total nightmare for poor Jeff, the dishwasher. I didn't even try to make a sauce out of it- it would've tasted of char.

The chicken, however, which was brined, rubbed with melted butter, and cooked at 375 for 40 minutes breast down, then at 425 for 35 minutes breast up, was beautifully delicious. I've added roasting a chicken to the list of things I can do incredibly well.

Speaking of Cook's Illustrated, I have found myself with a spare copy of the current issue. (The one that features the world's Greatest Spinach Lasagne.) Email hmeehan(AT) if you have never seen an issue of Cook's Illustrated, and want to know what it's all about. I warn you, you may get hooked.

Speaking of hooked on Cook's Illustrated, I was commenting this morning on how, if I had $200 to spare, I'd get the 11 year set of bound issues.

Then Jeff sang, "If I had two hundred dollars/
and you were my lady/
I'd buy you 11 years/
worth of Cook's Illustrated."

I don't think anything funnier can happen today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Last night I tried the spinach lasagne from the current Cook's Illustrated. The tagline read: "We dump the mozzarella, add cottage cheese, and soak no-boil noodles in hot tap water. Is this any way to treat a northern Italian classic?" which gave me pause. But T liked it, and, you know, she's never steered me wrong.

I'd had a no good, very bad, terrible day, and I started with the spinach and put Jeff to work grating parmesan while I chopped shallots for the bechamel. Then, I realized that I'd left the Barilla no-boil lasagne noodles in my car. In my car that was not near home, but at work. Far, far, away. Jeff reluctantly agreed to go to Target for some lasagne noodles. No one wants to leave the house to run errands at 7 PM, especially not someone who, like Jeff, hates Target.

But he did, and I said nothing when he returned with regular noodles. Would those be called boil noodles? Anyway, I didn't want to bring that up with him, so I just soaked them longer than five minutes in really hot water and prayed for the best.

Then, when I stirred the spinach ball into the bechamel, I realized I was supposed to have chopped the spinach first. I did not panic, but instead remembered one of the Dorky Yankees' quick tips for chopping tomatoes in a can. I grabbed my kitchen shears and cut the spinach in the pot of bechamel. It worked perfectly.

And then there was just the layering and the baking- the noodles came out fine, and the lasagne was amazing. A bit labor intensive, but AMAZING.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Friday I experimented with pizza dough- after reading Cook's Illustrated's report on the crust for pissaladiere, T had reported good results with making her dough with 1/2 bread flour, 1/2 all purpose flour. I tried this and it would not come together at all. I reduced the ratio to 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, 3/4 cups bread flour, and that worked. The pizza crust had much more of a chew than usual, as well. I churned out 4 of my usual pizzas- lemon pepper cream sauce, prosciutto and caramelized onions- for a crowd, and they went quick. Yum. (The use of onion confit sped the process up immensely.) I wonder if it was the mixer that was the problem- perhaps if I used the food processor the bread flour wouldn't have been such an issue. Regardless, the ratio worked nicely.

I used the leftover onion confit to make pissaladiere last night. I used the Dorky Yankees' all bread flour, in the food processor, crust method. It was some sticky dough, but it turned out beautifully. Jeff liked it more than any onion tart yet. My heart is still with the cream and bacon of the Alsatian onion tart, but pissaladiere is a refreshing change of pace. I had to use caramelized onions for one of the tarts, because I ran out of confit. The Dorky Yankees recommend a high heat, then medium heat method of caramelization, a method that runs counter to my low, low, low, then medium technique. I tried it their way, dubiously, but they came out super sweet and tender and light. The confit was much, much richer in flavor (almost, oddly, beefy), but the caramelized onions worked better in harmony with the olives and the anchovies.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Last night, again Cooking Light- sauteed cod with basil sauce. I had my worries about the sauce- basil, chicken stock, parmesan and garlic? But it was an excuse to use the minichopping bowl of my food processor. And it was worth it. The sauce was incredibly tasty, and practically fat free.

And, I can saute the hell out of a piece of fish, if I do say so myself.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Last night, the week of Cooking Light carried on with cornflake crusted halibut served with lime-cilantro "aioli." Cornflake crusted anything sounds a bit too Planet Hollywood for me, but Jeff loves any variation on fish and chips. So cornflake crusted halibut with potato spears was right up his alley.

As it turns out, it was right up my alley, too. I think I would have liked it just as much had it been panko instead of cornflakes, but regardless. A thirty minute meal in which you spend half of that time just roasting potatoes in the oven and reading the paper is great for a Wednesday night. Naturally, I used my own homemade mayonnaise to make the aioli, and pretended not to see where they suggested picking up precut potato wedges to save time.

Again, I have to say, Cooking Light done brought it this month.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Last night I made the chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes from this month's Cooking Light, and I served it with the always a favorite browned butter orzo "risotto" from A New Way To Cook. (Y'all, this recipe alone is worth a large part of the price of a book. It's one of my favorite side dishes in the world.)

The chicken, while it sounded complicated, merely required some intense mise en place. After that it was a snap (well, except for the fact that the honking giant organic chicken breasts you get at Bristol Farms ain't gonna cook all the way through, especially if it's stuffed, on the stove top. I browned them and then stuck them in the oven.). My one problem was that it was posited as a "Here's what you can do with a paring knife" type article, and I think the kind of people who have the skills to easily make this dish- who are hardcore with their mise en place and who know their way around a pan sauce- aren't going to need a pictorial for "Here is how you hold a paring knife." And the people who don't know their way around a paring knife (I know, I was once one of those people) will be very, very scared by this recipe.

Nonetheless- it was delicious. The goat cheese with browned shallots and garlic and chives and sundried tomatoes inside, the crisp chicken outside, and the delicious pan sauce killed me, they were so good. The sauce spilled onto the orzo, making a perfect side dish Even Better. Yum.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Also, I made bread. Christopher Kimball's Cook's Bible whole wheat sandwich bread. It was an incredibly dry dough- not shaggy or sticky at all- and I had my doubts about it. But it was the most traditional sandwich bread-y bread I've ever made, and it was delicious. Sandwiches all week!

And my order arrived. I spend an afternoon hunkered down in a chair with my new books. Molly, where should I begin with The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen.? It all looks good and I don't know where to start.

Bistro Cooking At Home is just as great looking as it has been every time I've picked it up in a bookstore. I can't wait to dig in to that one. And I am loving Glorious French Food. I spent thirty minutes driving Jeff crazy, reading the pronunciation guide. America's Best Chefs Cook With Jeremiah Tower looks good, too. I'm definitely going to try the mac and cheese and the chocolate bourbon pecan pie, as well as the chicken saltimbocca. It's very Jeremiah Tower centric- it will be a recipe from one of "America's Best Chefs", followed by a JT recipe. Considering there are 8 or 9 ABCs, this makes for a lot of JT.

I just got a copy of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, Volume II, in Like New condition, for $4.25. Love the I also got a copy of The Way To Cook for a little more than $4.25- but considering it's a $65 book, the $18 I paid seems pretty good. Thus my collection of the Major Works of Julia Child is complete, unless you consider In Julia's Kitchen With Master Chefs a major work. I kind of do, you may not.

This week I'm cooking mainly out of this month's Cooking Light, and cooking light in general. I turned to A New Way To Cook as I so often do for Friday night's dinner, an old standby of curry crusted scallops with ginger curry rice. And then savory French toast for breakfast Saturday, followed by a not so light but oh so good bacon cheddar hot dog and fries from Skooby's. If you are going to eat hot dogs and fries, though, they should be spectacular. Skooby's brings it. Jeff's garlic lover's dog had freshly minced garlic pressed right into the bun.

Sunday morning we tried the souffleed omelet from last week's NYT Magazine. They puffed up beautifully, but- I like my souffles to be one thing, and expect quite another from an omelet. It was too airy to feel like breakfast, or even brunch. However, it did give me the confidence to know I can take on a souffle.

Last night we had sole with lemon peppercorn sauce from Cooking Light. I was a little dubious about the availability of green peppercorns packed in brine, but I should have known Bristol Farms would come through. The sauce- just chicken stock, lemon juice, peppercorns and a little butter at the end- was phenomenal. It was from an article with recipes on Pam Anderson (author of The Best Recipe and former Dorky Yankee). Last month's chef was Mark Bittman. I love how they get really, really great the second I cancel my subscription.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Y'all know how I love, love, love caramelized onions, right? To the point of ridiculous, I love them.

Know what I love more? Onion confit. Imagine the best caramelized onions you've ever had, and then imagine the flavor is 92 times richer.

Jeff hates onion confit, because cleaning the crockpot was a disaster. But for me, it made caramelized onion-prosciutto-lemon pepper cream sauce pizza making much easier. And now I have leftover onion confit, so we can have onion confit omelets this weekend. (Perhaps the souffled omelets from last Sunday's NYT- I wonder if the confit would collapse them?) And pissaladiere next week.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

I'm making onion confit in my crockpot, all inspired by an eGullet conversation on onion confit.

I chopped up six onions in record time (god love you, super electric food processor) and tossed them in the crockpot with some butter and olive oil. I bought my crockpot at a time in my life where I had no need or room for a crockpot (in fact, I didn't actually use it until a year and a half later, long after moving to California) but I'm glad I did it then, because I wouldn't have, otherwise. I'm also glad I got the bigger crockpot- at the time, it seemed crazy, but T told me then I'd be happy in the long run, and I am. Six chopped onions filled my food processor and took up most of the room in the crockpot.

This morning, they'd reduced by half. I'm still cooking them, on the Keep Warm level. (My crockpot has no Low setting, but I know from the dorky Yankees that there isn't much difference between Low and Keep Warm.

Tonight I'm going to use them on my signature pizza. Then later I'm finally going to make pissaladiere with them. (I love onions. I love olives. Why have I never made pissaladiere?? I have no idea.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Friday night Jeff and I had our two year anniversary dinner at home- steaks with ginger butter, steam-sauteed asparagus, and molten chocolate cakes. Molten chocolate cakes baked in heart shaped Le Creuset ramekins, with creme fraiche. That was the high point of the meal, though it was all delicious. The cakes were so easy, though. I love Nigella.

Also, on Sunday, I took the serving suggestions in A New Way to Cook literally and we had an impromptu brunch with savory french toast ("perfect for an impromptu brunch," the book says, and they were. "Oh, you want to come over? Sure. Can you pick up some challah?" and then $3 plus some kitchen staples later you have brunch for five.) and lots of bacon.

But the oddest thing this weekend was having someone's granny's pickled onions. Served over cheese, on a cracker, they were incredible. I must have more. I could eat them all day. My oldest Houston Junior League cookbook has three potential recipes- does anyone have any onion pickling experience?

Friday, March 05, 2004

So remember that chicken that I rubbed up with spices and salt on Tuesday? And then left on a rack, over a plate, uncovered? Two days later, the skin seemed hard and oddly colored. I was a little nervous about it.

Okay, I was a LOT nervous about it. But I hoped the New York Times and the Zuni Cafe would not give me salmonella and I roasted it breast side down for 15 minutes at 500, then breast side up for 15 minutes at 450, and then I basted and turned the temperature down to 425 for another 40 minutes.

It came out mahogany, with a little char at the foot of the drumsticks. The skin was not the worlds crispest, but it was sweet and spicy and flavorful. And the meat! This was the most tender chicken I think one can possibly make. Brining, schmining. The breast meat was unbelievable. It was like maybe if you injected the inside of a chicken breast with butter. The wings, even. When have you ever been moved by the meat in a chicken wing? I have now.

And, so far, no sign of salmonella.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Last night I made stuffed shells from Crazy for Casseroles. I cooked up some shells, and then stuffed them with a ricotta- mozzarella- egg- spinach- herb blend, and then put them in a casserole with marinara sauce above and below them. And a healthy layer of mozzarrella on top. I didn't use nearly as much as James Villas recommended, and it was still extra cheesy. And delicious. If you even vaguely like casseroles, you have to get this book. Even if you don't really like casseroles due to the canned soup issue- he makes a lot of them with a veloute or other homemade and sodium and preservative free sauce. If, like me, you are crazy for casseroles, well- this book is made for you.

I also started prep on tomorrow night's chicken. It's the Winter Roast Chicken from last week's NYT, adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Pretty liberally adapted, since their roast chicken has none of these crazy spices, but the salt early philosophy remains the same. This winter roast chicken also needs to sit- uncovered- on the top shelf of our fridge for 48 hours. Jeff is concerned about the safety of this, but I have faith that the NYT won't kill us. At least, I hope they won't.

I got this yesterday, from the BOMC. This is actually a step forward in stanching my cookbook addiction, since I can now close my BOMC membership. And I shan't return- one book club for me at a time, please. The book is mostly reprints of Minimalist columns- columns I've clipped, recipes I've cooked, many over and over- but it is nice to have them all bound prettily. And a lot of those I missed seem delicious. The carbonara with zucchini was one of the first things I ever cooked after college graduation. The recipe for stirfry with chicken and nuts was taped to the inside of a kitchen cupboard in my very first apartment. I tore out the egg drop/straciatella column and have thought about making it for the past 5 years. Perhaps now I finally will.

The Minimalist was one of my first formal cooking teachers, and I still look forward to his column each week. Mark Bittman, I salute you.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Molly emailed to recommend The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen.

Having recently canceled my membership, I took this as a sign it was time to rejoin (and take advantage of their 4 cookbooks for $1 offer). I ordered The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, Bistro Cooking At Home, Glorious French Food, and America's Best Chefs Cook With Jeremiah Tower. For $16, including shipping and handling! I saved $160.

I also may have a slight- a very, very slight- cookbook addiction.

That casserole? So good. A layer of buttery, garlicky spinach, topped with tender mushrooms and roasted tomatoes? With shrimp and browned feta cheese on top of that?? Does it get any better?

Saturday I did most of my Oscar party prep. Marinated the olives, marinated the chicken wings, made the bean dip. I attempted to roll up slices of pumpernickel bread spread with boursin and layered with cream cheese to make salmon spirals, but the pumpernickel would not roll without breaking. I sprinkled a little water on it, per the instructions, and it broke. I tried more water, which was worse. Eventually I gave up and made sandwiches, which I cut into squares. Darn you, Adelaide Bennett (Mrs. John D). I'm not sure that's her exact name, but her pumpernickel rolling is an impossibility.

I also did a little shopping- I got two Le Creuset oval dishes, after debating over them versus the pyrex. the LC was a buy one get one free deal, and it was prettier. It was still way more expensive, but it's an investment, I told myself. I used my Valentine's Day gift certificate to pick up a copy of San Francisco Encore. I will have to comb it for casserole recipes to justify the LC.

Sunday afternoon I made the chive french toast from A New Way To Cook, with leftover challah. If you own this cookbook, go home NOW and try this. With lime sour cream. You won't regret it. If you do not own this cookbook, go buy it, then go home and try this recipe. I also made the cookies (called Whatstis) for the Oscar Party. The fine woman of the Charleston Junior League who contributed the recipe noted that her great grandmother had written in that they were "grand for parties." Then her aunt Little Nell had underlined "Very Grand."

They were good. Very, very good. It was all good. I served the above mentioned food, plus Southern Comfort Punch ("My mother reports that her bridge club loves it," was the comment on that one) and a block of cream cheese with Pickapeppa. I spent a lot of time explaining Pickapeppa.

I will give you all the (simple!) recipe for Whatsits. They are, in fact, Very Grand. But you have to promise me if you like them, you'll buy the book. You won't regret it.


- 2 egg whites
- 1 cup light brown sugar, sifted*
- 2 cups chopped pecans
- 1 tbsp flour

Preheat the oven to 250.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually stir in the brown sugar.

Place the nuts on a piece of waxed paper. Shake the flour over it and mix to coat. Fold the nuts into the egg-sugar mixture.

Drop the mixture by the teaspoonful on to buttered cookie sheets**. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

*I have no sifter. I just unclumped the sugar best I could. It worked.

**I used my Silpat, and a piece of parchment paper. For once, the parchment outperformed the Silpat. But you can butter the sheets if you want.

Makes 3 dozen.

The cookies are chewy and meringue-y and delicious. They remind me of these chocolate meringues my family makes, from a recipe we got from a newspaper. (The Houston Chronicle, I believe. I remember they came from someone who had moved away to be an Actress in New York City.) Those, in turn, were our poor substitute for the chocolate chewies they used to sell at Randall's. That was the biggest disappointment of mine last time I was in Houston, learning Randall's no longer sells those cookies.