"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More best-of lists

I would talk about the Top Chef finale except that I only saw the last few minutes of judges' table last night and thus only know who won! I don't know anything about the challenge and I'd rather watch the whole episode before I talk about it. (Yes, I know I've been eagerly awaiting the finale for MONTHS, so it seems rather hypocritical of me to miss most of it, but I was at a friend's holiday party and Bravo will rerun the death out of this episode so I think I have a valid excuse. Also, I made my famous peanut butter molasses cookies for the party, scrumptious huzzahs!)

So instead of discussing it, I'll instead post yet another one of these year-end round-ups of food books. This link is actually a round-up of round-ups. A lot of people are making a big to-do about this Momofuku book, and one of the authors is actually going to be at the Harvard Bookstore tonight, so I'm wondering if I should go and see what all the fuss is about. We'll see how I feel tonight; right now I'm having some stomach issues (it's all rumbly and queasy) and am sipping peppermint tea hoping it will help me feel better. Of course, if I go, there will be some full reportage.

What are some of your favorite food books of the year? Even though I'm happily paired off, I adore Judith Jones's The Pleasures of Cooking for One, which I bought after seeing her and Lidia Bastianich speak together recently. It's a beautiful little book and I love the fact that it celebrates treating one's self to the fine pleasure of making a nice meal solo. Some of the recipes in the book seem like they'd yield leftovers or like they could be adapted for two, so I'm looking forward to trying some. It's full of helpful kitchen hints. The photography is lovely. And she's got great recipes like one that yields exactly 2 popovers. Until I get a better knack for baking, I can't figure out how to minimize recipes for a smaller yield, but I love that now I can make 2 popovers for me and Jeremy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Top Chef season 6, episode 13

Alas! Girlfriend has gone home and the predictable sausage party triumverate has made it to the Top Chef finale.

I was sad to see Jennifer go, but I wasn't surprised, because I almost felt like from the start this has been a game of bide your time and watch Kevin and the Voltaggio brothers go to the finale. I think I was saddest because she really seemed like she had come back to do the finale feeling pumped up and refreshed, ready to bring her A game and ready to kick some boy butt. But alas. She just didn't bring it quite enough. It was a bummer that she wasn't able to grill her duck like she'd wanted to, but geez, isn't a confit good enough for you people? What can possibly be bad about cooking a duck (or any other bit of meat) in its own fat? (BACON.) And kudos to her for realizing that she had a problem with the grill and instead of letting everything go to hell she improvised with a second just as tasty solution.

But did anyone else have a moment of anxiety when they saw my pick for Top Chef, Kevin, get called out during judges' table for having tough brisket? And did anyone else chuckle to herself when she heard him call the brisket "toothsome" to cover up the fact that it wasn't as tender as he would have liked? I admire his balls, and I also admire the fact that he's willing to stand by his food, even if it isn't precisely perfect. I thought the stuff he made looked delicious anyway, despite my hatred of beets. For Kevin, I would give beets a second chance. And Bryan's goat cheese ravioli? WANT. Nom nom. Fig glazed ribs? I love figs! Yum. I just got some fig preserves, so maybe I'll jazz up something for dinner with some figgy goodness.

And check out that baby bump on Padma! Way to go, lady. She got knocked up by one of the producers, apparently. I'm not sure how I feel about her bangs though. 

We're almost at the end. And I have to admit that I'm somewhat grateful because I really feel like Bravo dragged this season on interminably. Here's hoping they don't pull some other nonsense, like splitting up the finale YET AGAIN over two more weeks, or something ridiculous. Though at this point I wouldn't put it past them.

Girlfriend, I salute you.


CHEFTESTANT FAIL #14! (But you're still a winner to me!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

PW's Best Food Books of 2009

Probably everybody has Christmas on the brain now that Thanksgiving is over. I've just barely started thinking about Christmas shopping myself, but I do have a few foodie-related items on my wish list this year (among them a 5-quart oval Le Creuset, a Cuisinart food processor, a cookbook stand, and a few choice food books). And as someone who works in publishing, I can also say that it wouldn't be the end of the year without a seemingly endless array of "best of the year" book lists. They're infinite!

Here's a link to Publishers Weekly's selections of Best Food Books of 2009. One of my Christmas wishes, Ratio, is actually on there. Others I'm intrigued by are The New Portuguese Table (a shout-out to my neighbors on the Iberian peninsula!), and also Salt to Taste. I really like the idea of cookbooks that provide not just recipes, but also lessons that can become the basis for creating your own recipes. I like the idea of learning techniques and combinations and then using those as building blocks for one's own creativity. Don't get me wrong, I still love and adore using recipes and there is nothing like a beautiful cookbook of fail-proof recipes. But I am really getting into the DIY-recipe idea, so I think that Ratio and Salt to Taste would be valuable additions to any home library for someone who really wants to develop as a home cook.

Any food-related books on your holiday wish lists? Alternately, what were the best food-related books you read this year?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Good gravy! Gravy!

Yesterday I hinted at the fact that I needed to share a major life revelation. Here I am, about to do, boldly going where few Cubans have ever gone before.

I have finally eaten gravy. For the first time in my life.

Yes, gentle reader, lift up thine jaw from where it's surely fallen to the floor in shock—I speak the truth! In my 29 years of life, I'd never ONCE tasted turkey gravy, or any traditional brown gravy made and beloved by so many on their turkey and mashed potatoes. Not once!

You must understand that this stems back to the days of my youth. When I was just a wee one, with my soft, impressionable mind still highly prone to serious molding and sculpting, my father took it upon himself to impress upon me many of the foods that are on his seemingly unending list of evil foods that no one in their right mind should ever, under any circumstances, consume. Foods that because he does not like, he thinks no one else should like either. This list includes: mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and most other condiments, peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs cereal, all types of squash (my mother and I delight in hiding squash in things, making him eat them, asking if he liked it, and after he says yes, telling him that there was squash in what he just ate and liked—but he still goes on saying he hates squash), avocados, al dente pasta, any soft drink that isn't clear (he actually had me trained as a child to respond to his question, "What is Coca-Cola?" with an exuberant shout of, "Poison!"), any and all Mexican foods (including burritos, tacos, and tortillas), curry, stuffing, chewing gum, whipped cream, most kinds of frosting, and let's not forget, for the purpose of this blog entry—gravy.

I think it's the color and the consistency that my father's not happy with, or perhaps it's the fact that gravy (in the traditional American/Thanksgiving essence) is not part of the Spanish or Latino food pantheon, but my father passionately despises gravy and refuses to eat it. My mother also politely and less vocally turns up her nose at it, but she still turns it up. So while I had the good sense to ignore my father on most of his other warnings about the evils of the foods on his most-hated list (how could ANYONE hate whipped cream!), the gravy thing really stuck with me. I just never had an occasion to eat it growing up, so I never did.

But what about at Thanksgiving? you ask. Surely there was gravy for your turkey then! Ah, dear friends, we Cubans sassed up the turkey Latino style and instead dressed it with mójo (pronounced MOH-hoh), a Latino "gravy" made of hot oil, thin-sliced onions, garlic, and citrus juice. It's simple and delicious and is perfect with meat and potatoes—or in our case, lechón (roast pork) and yucca. Even when gravy was made available to the Gringo contingent of our family, there was also always mójo, so I never hesitated: I went with the sauce I knew.

For the last 4 years, I'd attended Thanksgiving dinner at Jeremy's parents' house. His mother is an excellent cook and makes a pretty traditional Thanksgiving dinner, including homemade gravy. My father had me thinking that this was made of no less than the tears of abandoned Asian infants thickened with essence of Adolf Hitler, so for the last 4 years, I absolutely would not eat gravy at the Trout family Thanksgiving dinner. I politely helped myself to everything else that was available, and when the pitcher of gravy came my way, I discreetly passed it along to the next person, dressing my turkey only with cranberry sauce or forkfuls of stuffing (one of the foods I was wise enough to ignore my father on, because it's scrumptious!). I just couldn't bring myself to ladle a spoonful of the thick brown stuff out on my plate.

But this year I had a serious pre-game pep talk with myself. All right, self, said I, this is it. You're 29 now, and you're into food more seriously now, and you're always trying new things, so how can you possibly hold your head high and call yourself a lover of food if you've never had the guts to try something as simple as gravy? For god's sake, it's just meat drippings mixed with roux! Get over yourself! Try it! How bad could it REALLY be?

I spent the pre-dinner hours helping in the kitchen and warily hovering near the gravy, checking it out. I watched Jeremy's mother concoct the gravy. I watched it turn brown. I watched it thicken. I even stirred it for a few brief minutes when she left the room to answer the phone. And when the time came and we sat down to dinner, I took the gravy pitcher with only the slightest tremble of unsteadiness in my hand and put one conservative spoonful into an indentation I'd specifically made for it on top of my mashed potatoes. I passed the pitcher. I took a deep breath, and then I took a forkful.

I didn't die! I didn't immediately grow horns and find myself indentured for all eternity to Satan! My insides didn't shrivel from this noxious substance! I ate the rest of the gravy-covered potatoes in relief.

Later, on the ride home, I confessed to Jeremy that during dinner I'd eaten my first serving of gravy ever.

"What did you think?" he asked.

"It tasted like turkey juice," I said. "Thickened turkey juice. It's not bad. It just tastes like turkey. But I think I prefer mójo." Here Jeremy made an appreciative noise, as he is a fan of my mother's cooking, including her mójo. (In fact, he's such a fan that every year he films her on his cell phone video camera making the mójo, which actually is quite a sight to see. Maybe we'll post the video on here this year.)

So there you have it: a Cubanita had her first gravy at the tender young age of 29. The spell is broken. The gravy was eaten. And I am still alive, and better for it, I think.


Checking out my edible adversary

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

San Gibbin: Overeating with a purpose

Ah, Thanksgiving. (Or, as we Latinos call it, San Gibbin.) I was in such a food coma, both from the big day and from enormous meals in subsequent days (including INDIAN BUFFET), that I lost my internets faculties. But now I've re-emerged into the world of getting back to business and staring at a screen all day, so I'm here to recap the goodness and share a recipe for the side dish that is becoming my claim to fame at the Trout family Thanksgiving dinner. I also have to share an exciting personal revelation, but that deserves its own post.

Thanksgiving dinner was fantastic. Jeremy's mom is an amazing cook. In addition to the typical spread, this year we had the usual escarole soup for starters (it's literally just escarole and broth, and it's delicious) along with marinated mushrooms, olives, and these little onions soaked in balsamic vinegar (DELICIOUS OMG). Jeremy's mom also made a tasty fig sauce, almost like a marmalade, to go with the turkey that was awesome. Need that recipe! The salad was oranges, red onions, and black olives with olive oil, which was simple and refreshing and which I'm going to steal for Christmas this year. She also put some leftover stuffing into muffin tins and baked it to make STUFFIN' MUFFINS! I love the idea. We also had wine, belatedly celebrated our joint birthday with pumpkin spice cake from the Amish market, and talked about Trotsky. Pretty typical Trout family Thanksgiving.

For the second year in a row, I made acorn squash filled with chorizo stuffing. I got this recipe from a Latina magazine and it's great! It's not as hard as the recipe might make it seem--just takes a few steps. But the good part is that while the rice cooks and the squash roast, you can prepare everything else and then be ready to go when the squash and rice are ready. There are only 4 of us at Jeremy's Thanksgiving dinner, so I halved the recipe. The trick to splitting an acorn squash is to use a large, very sharp knife and work very slowly, cutting carefully around the squash. Having your mother in the kitchen nervously supervising is optional.

* 2 cups wild rice
* 4 1/2 cups chicken broth
* 1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
* 4 small acorn squash
* Olive oil (for sauteeing onions and brushing the squash)
* 1 large onion, diced
* 12 oz Spanish chorizo, chopped (you can also use sweet or mild Italian sausage, the kind that doesn't have a casing)
* 2 tsp dried sage
* 1/4 cup chopped parsley
* 3/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
* 1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375. Rinse rice. In medium saucepan, bring rice, broth, and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil. Cover and simmer until rice is tender, with some grains split open, about 45 to 60 minutes. (I used the Archer Farms from Target wild rice and it was done in 45 minutes, but check the directions on your container for specifics!) Transfer rice to a large bowl.

Cut off squash ends if necessary to stand them upright, cut them in half lengthwise, and seed. (Use an ice cream scoop to easily remove the seeds and stringy pulp. I love the multi-functionality of ice cream scoops and think no kitchen should be without one, but I digress.) Line a baking sheet with foil. Brush the outsides and insides of each squash with oil and place cut side down on baking sheet. Bake until tender, 35 to 45 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325.

In saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion until soft. Add chorizo and sage and cook about 5 minutes. Add to bowl with rice.

Scoop out squash so edges are 1/4 inch thick and add pulp to bowl. Stir in parsley and cranberries and add salt to taste. Mound stuffing into squash halves and drizzle with maple syrup. Put them into a foil-lined baking dish. Bake until heated through, about 25 minutes. Makes 8 servings.


Apparently, Jeremy's father specially requested that my leftover stuffing be served as part of their day-after-Thanksgiving leftovers dinner, and I felt so loved. Hurrah! Do share your traditional and not-so-traditional meal ideas!


Here is a (slightly dark) picture of my stuffed acorn squash. Noms!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The lowly sprout, elevated to the greatest heights

Brussels sprouts! They're like tiny cabbages! They're like little gems of goodness! They are underappreciated and sometimes hated, often wrongfully so, because people cook the living bejeesus out of them and they end up tasting sulfurically of dirty socks!

I personally LOVE Brussels sprouts, and am fortunate to have a partner who also loves them, but I was woefully underfed them growing up, mostly because my nutty father likes to have everything cooked to within a mushy inch of its LIFE. (Either that, or he likes it raw. Raw or mushified--for him there's no in-between.) Anyway, I fully embrace sprouts and love to cook them. I've learned that the proper way to cook them is to take care not to OVER-cook them. As long as you keep an eye on them and remove them from whatever heat source you've got them over or in just after they become fork-tender with a nice bit of give, you won't have mushy, smelly, travesty-of-a-sprout sprouts.

A few years ago, my friend Frank made some sprouts with bacon (NUM) and apple cider vinegar. OMG HEAVEN. It was the perfect combo. So recently, when we had some sprouts, leftover bacon from a soup we'd made, and some spiced apple cider, I decided to try for my own version of Frank's magnificent dish.

Take about a pound of sprouts, clean them, remove the stems, and halve them if you wish. I like cutting them in half lengthwise because I feel like they cook faster and you can thus remove them from the heat more quickly. This also makes them easier to eat.

Put two or three thin-sliced strips of bacon in a pan and fry them up over medium heat until they're nice and crisp. Remove them from the pan and drain on a paper-toweled plate. Leave the lovely bacon fat in the pan and leave the heat on. Immediately dump in the sprouts and stir frequently, allowing them to quickly fry and heat up. Then add some apple cider to the pan and a few splashes of red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar and stir. The amount of cider you add is up to you, but I probably put in about 3/4 of a cup and just a splash of vinegar. Lower the heat and cover. Allow the sprouts to braise for a few minutes. I think I left mine in there for 7 or 8 minutes. Check the state of the sprouts with a fork and remove them when they're at your desired balance of tender and firm.

Remove the sprouts from the pan with a spoon--I stashed them in a small covered Corningware dish. Then add a bit more apple cider and another dash of vinegar to what's left in the pan and continue to cook on low, deglazing the pan. Scrape up all the lovely bits of fat that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. I cooked the liquid down until it was about half the amount it originally was, so it was slightly thickened, then I spooned it over the sprouts. I crumbled the bacon on top.

PERFECTION. DELICIOUSNESS. OMG-NESS. It was so good! The sweetness of the cider, the gentle tang of the vinegar cutting through the appleyness, the crisp bacon, the perfectly cooked sprouts. It was a good time. Of course, you can veg this one up by using butter or olive oil instead of bacon fat, but if you eat meat, trust me: Brussels sprouts and bacon are one of those deliciously satisfying combinations you don't want to miss.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A birthday cake fit for a queen

Saturday was my birthday! Not only my birthday, but my partner Jeremy's birthday as well. Yes, we share a birthday--November 21. I absolutely love the fact that we share the day together. To commemorate that fact, I decided that we deserved a cake. Not just any cake: Julia Child's Queen of Sheba cake (the first recipe I've made from MTAFC). It's made with semi-sweet chocolate melted with rum and also contains pulverized almonds. It's very rich and dense, and because you slightly underbake it, it maintains a soft moist quality that is a sheer delight. The whole thing is frosted with a delicious chocolate-rum-butter concoction. You can then press a pattern of blanched almonds into it, which I did with some of the blanched slivered almonds we used to get the pulverized quantity that goes into the cake. Here's what mine looked like:




We finally had some yesterday (Saturday night was devoted to going out to dinner and a bar with friends), and oh my goodness. This cake... this cake is amazing. AMAZING. It is so decadent, not overly sweet, chocolately scrumptious and just positively a delight in every way. The combination of ingredients that goes into it is perfect. I don't tend to like many French desserts because they are custardy or gelatinous, but this! This was perfection. This made me take back every evil thought I've ever happened to have in my head about the French. This, my friends, was probably the best cake I've had. And I'm not just saying that because I made it myself. I really do mean it.

I do believe I will be making this cake for Christmas Eve dinner, as it seems like the perfect seasonal dessert. And I do believe my family might pass out with joy when they eat it. And I will be happy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Just TEA-sing

[Note: this article is best read with the use of a monocle, a lacy hankie, a top hat, and a silly accent. Don't forget to stick out your pinkie.)

Oh tea... how I love thee. I have loved tea for a long time, ever since I was a kid and my mom and I would have it together in the afternoon, and I especially love having some on cold fall and winter afternoons and evenings. I love iced tea too. I'll drink any kind of tea (except rooibos, I find it too woody-tasting), especially green and white teas, and I also like nice herbal teas (these usually don't contain any actual tea leaves and are thus caffeine-free). Drinking chamomile has always helped when I have stomach aches, and hot lemon or licorice tea with honey is nice when you have a sore throat.

Although I usually find that loose-leaf teas are far superior in taste and quality (Adagio is my favorite loose-leaf tea company--they have a pina colada herbal that I adore and I got the cutest tea ware from them), there are some bagged teas that I really like and that are good quality as well. Stash, Tazo, and Trader Joe's all make nice bagged teas (Lipton is TERRIBLE), and Tetley and Bigelow are all right, but I've always loved Celestial Seasonings when it comes to fruity herbals. They have a scrumptious vanilla honey chamomile that I highly recommend. And their packaging is out of this world! I love the fun illustrations on their boxes and they usually print literary/inspirational quotes and fun facts on the boxes too. So imagine my delight when I read this interview with their blendmaster. How much fun would THAT job be, creating new blends of flavored teas? I'm intrigued by this Pelican Punch that is referenced throughout the article and comments section. I don't recall having it when I was a kid but how could something called that NOT be delicious? I also want to try some of this Candy Cane tea they're talking about. I like peppermint tea when it's not super minty, if that makes sense--I like a fresh, mild, almost sweet minty taste, not overpowering, clear-your-sinuses mint.

I'm sad because I currently don't have a tea kettle at home (my last two succumbed to rust, ugh), and you really can't get a good cup of tea without brewing water for it in a kettle, but I've asked for a new, rustproof model for my birthday so I should be enjoying tea again within a week. :) 

What kind of tea do people like most? How do you take your tea? I prefer not to add sugar to any of my tea--lemon or honey are it for me. What are some other recommended flavors? I also like the pomegranate white tea at Trader Joe's, and their Bedtime blend, which is almost identical to the Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea, is delicious too. I also like the CS Tension Tamer Tea.

Leggo-ing of your Eggo

Apparently there is an Eggo Waffle shortage.

Yes, there is a limited supply of Eggo Waffles and will be until the middle of next year.

The thing is: why do people care THAT much? Why does it matter that there is a shortage of a random breakfast food like Eggos? It's sort of funny to read some of the quotes by people in this article talking about rationing their supply or putting them on E-bay. What's wrong with you people? Get some oatmeal! Buy a different brand of frozen waffles! Or (gasp!) make your own waffles! It's NOT difficult, and basic waffle irons are affordable.

I just find it ridiculous that people are worked up over a food that's not an essential or a dietary staple, like milk, vegetables, or whole grain. It's not even that healthy for you! Maybe these people should switch to oatmeal, fruit, or eggs (not Eggos) for breakfast. Yes, I understand that it can be upsetting not to have a certain comfort food available, but frozen waffles, to me, seem like they should be treated more as a luxury than an essential.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How is Thanksgiving just around the corner? 101 recipes

He's done it again! My boyfriend Mark Bittman has done it again.

As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, The Minimalist extraordinaire whips up 101 Thanksgiving dishes. I must say that some of these look positively delicious! I love his idea of making a cranberry relish with pomegranate seeds. What a great idea! I recently made some cranberry-orange relish with some cranberries a colleague shared with us from Cape Cod, but the idea of putting in pomegranate just sounds fab. (Especially since Jeremy is allergic to oranges and can't really eat my succulent creation---it's really good on chicken!)

And as a bonus, here's a green beans amandine recipe by Mollie Katzen. I tried these at a talk she gave recently here at Harvard (more on that another time) and the leek chips are what makes this so lovely. 

This year for Thanksgiving, I'll be celebrating with my beau/sous chef Jeremy and his parents at their house. His mom is a great cook, and one of my favorite things about the meal is the escarole soup, which is literally broth with escarole. But it's so DELICIOUS. I'll be bringing the same dish I made last year, roasted acorn squash with sausage stuffing. It's insanely good, and it looks really impressive! I'll try to remember to take pictures of them this year to post on here.

What do y'all do for Thanksgiving? Any traditional and delicious foods that you simply cannot be without for the holidays?

Top Chef, season 6, episode 12

OUT THE D'OR!

I didn't make that up (and I'm not going to admit whether or not I wish I had). It was on the Bravo website this morning.

Oh Eli. Winner of the Quickfire. Loser of the elimination. I have to say, Bravo is clever, because they were really setting up that judges' table to make it seem like it was going to be Michael who went home (at least that's how it sounded to me), but really, overly fatty sausage IS an unforgiveable sin, in my book.

And yay for my BFF, chubby nerd Kevin! Although apparently the Voltaggio brothers don't think he deserves to be as showered with accolades as he is. ALTHOUGH I thought Bryan was far more diplomatic in expressing his feelings about Kevin than Michael. Bryan just seems like a calm, gentle soul, very thoughtful, solid, and deliberate. I felt bad that he ran out of time and was scrambling with his dish last night, because if not, he probably would have won. I'm getting tired of Michael, because he cops such a major attitude. There's something inherently haughty about him, and that bothers me, because the other cheftestants he's with right now are a pretty decent, modest bunch. I thought it was telling that Bryan pointed out that he wouldn't know if Michael would have given Kevin guidance on how to cook his lamb.

And yes, perhaps Kevin's meal was simpler than it should have been for such an intricate competition, but as the judges pointed out, it was the tastiest and most perfectly exceuted in terms of cooking, so good for Kevin.

I did like Eli, but I thought he was starting to be just slightly out of his element among the Voltaggios, Jennifer, and Kevin. Like he seemed a bit young and unformed still. Like he is getting close to blossoming to his full potential, but he's not completely there. Although the egg he made looked completely delicious and like something I'd LOVE to eat. Mmm. Eggs. Wrapped in bacon.

So here's to Eli, chubby nerd number 2: I hope you continue to do awesome things, I hope you never make a soup of apples and peanuts with popcorn crumbs again, I hope you and Robin don't cross paths again, because it won't be pretty, and I hope that you and I and your glorious Scotch egg can meet someday, because then my tummy would be very happy.


CHEFTESTANT FAIL #13

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 11

Like whoa. It was about time that Robin disappear from Top Chef. Seriously! She's been on the chopping block for quite some time and although I wasn't part of the cult of hating Robin, I just didn't think she deserved to be there and she was long overdue for a departure.

But I have to say that I wasn't surprised to see Eli in the bottom three. His dish was 5 kinds of nasty. Peanuts and apples? In a chunky soup? Topped with ground popcorn? And a weird raspberry sauce foam type thing? WTF! How does ANY of that sound good by itself? How does combining any of those things, let alone ALL of them, make sense? YUCK! It honestly sounded too disgusting for words.

So even though I think that Eli's dish was, by far, the most epic fail of the three bottom-tier contestants, I think they were just tired of Robin being there and they sent her home. Yes, her dish was technically not as horrendous as Eli's, but the judges did point out that she fucked up something as simple and basic as a panna cotta--and this IS the umpteenth time she's been in the bottom three.

I just have to pause and point out here that I wouldn't know a good--or bad--panna cotta if it punched me in the face. This is because I tend to avoid all types of gelatinous desserts. I can handle something with the soft and creamy consistency of a pudding or mousse. I can handle something with the harder yet still melty and solidly creamy consistency of hard ice cream. But everything in between--mostly the custard family and the Jell-O family--I just can't handle it. It's something about the texture... it just grosses me out. It's moist and slippery, and you sort of have to chew it just the slightest bit because even though it's soft, it's still sort of... solid. Yugh. And Jell-O is just too disgusting for words. It reminds me of being sick (I had a lot of problems with my stomach as a child, and was even hospitalized for horrible stomach aches and bouts of vomiting that NO ONE, not even the doctors, could figure out). I ate a LOT of Jell-O as a child, and it was gross. That globby, wobbly texture in my mouth; the filmy skin on top; the slightly gritty last spoonful at the bottom of the dish that was sometimes there when the powder didn't dissolve all the way---UGH. All of it brings back horrible memories. So can you blame me if I'm not into custards and such? Which I know means I should be thrown against a wall and pelted with over-ripe fruit, because what good Cubanita doesn't eat flan--but I just can't handle it!

So yes... Robin deserved to go home. Because she just wasn't on the same level as the other chefs, because she didn't know how to make a proper panna cotta, and because she made a panna cotta at all.




CHEFTESTANT FAIL #12!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"If you're born round, you never die square."

So I don't really understand why Bravo feels the need to toy with my heart so, but there was no new episode of Top Chef last week--instead there was a reunion of "fan favorite" cheftestants from past seasons (including my favorite, Carla--Hootie-Hoo!). They are really stretching this season out. And it annoys me.

Since I don't have any cheftestant fails to talk about now, I figured I'd instead briefly talk about Born Round, Frank Bruni's memoir that I recently read---and loved. Frank Bruni was, until recently, the restaurant critic for the New York Times, and I've always loved his reviews. They're so descriptive and funny. (You can check out an archive of his articles here.)

Fank's memoir was very funny, but also very honest--sometimes painfully so. He was a chubby kid who has struggled with his weight and his relationship with food all his life, from the time he was a two-year-old baby bulimic. (Really. You gotta read it to believe it.) The journey he went on to become a food critic (a position he seriously debated taking because of his food issues) is touching and I could really relate to a lot of the things he said. I've also had a lifelong struggle with food, a love-hate relationship from the time I was a child. I've done fad diets (I, like Frank, tried the Atkins diet), taken pills (sometimes with terrifying, wake-up-at-night-with-chest-pains results), gone on spurts of obsessive exercise only to get bored and give up two weeks later (and did I mention that during a lot of those obsessive exercise periods my appetite increased and I ate more?), and even did Weight Watchers, where I lost over 25 pounds, which I promptly regained when I moved to Boston and got too busy being a grad student to track how many points I was eating a day. I've dealt with years of emotional and mental abuse from a father who cannot tolerate the fact that I weight more than 130 pounds. (A weight that is actually underweight for my height, but this doesn't seem to fase the man.) I have been an emotional eater most of my life. Loneliness and boredom led to sneaking snacks, anxiety and stress led to binging, being reprimanded by my parents growing up to clean my plate created a compulsion for always being in the Clean Plate Club that I am still trying to break. I am still trying to figure out sane eating. I am still trying to figure out eating that doesn't leave me weak and bloated with remorse when I'm done. I am still trying to un-fuck myself up. 

So if you've ever had moments where you lose a staring match against a cookie, Bruni's memoir will make you laugh, perhaps tear up a little (he IS Italian, so there IS that crazy family element, complete with Italian grandma who proves her love for you by stuffing you with food like you're a turkey), and it will definitely give you something to chew on.

Jeremy's Italian grandmother apparently still to this day (she's 92) says, "You don't have to be hungry to eat," proof that food is truly the glue that binds people together in so many cultures. While I appreciate the loving element of that sentiment, it's definitely something I need to learn to make peace with. Reading about Bruni's take with the same problem made me feel a little less alone.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 10

Leeks as scallops? Really? You thought that was a good idea? On what planet does that seem like a good idea?

Oh, a vegetarian challenge! What a joy, what a delight to see the looks on everyone's faces when they realized that they were cooking a meal in a steakhouse and couldn't use any meat. It's about effing time y'all back away from the protein and get your veg on.

The TV dinner quickfire was sort of charming, mostly because I didn't grow up eating TV dinners, so to me they are a quaint, charming concept. Almost exotic. (I now think frozen meals are, as a generalization, evil, due to the inordinately terrifying amount of unpronounceable non-foodstuffs that go into them.) I think I just really like the idea of compartmentalized dishes. I have a couple of compartmentalized dishes at home from Target that I use to put snacks out for parties, and I just love them.

That Kevin. Is there a challenge he WON'T win? Are the other cheftestants sort of sick of him already? I would be, if it weren't for his thoughtful, pleasant nature and the fact that he doesn't seem to have a mean bone in that roly-poly body of his.

There was something about the Natalie Portman challenge that perplexed me though (I was recently talking about it with a friend of mine): were they ONLY allowed to use vegetables? I saw no pastas, rice, or meatless substitutes like tofu or seitan going out on dishes. Give that girl some buckwheat noodles to chaw on, for cod's sake! Maybe they just weren't readily availble in the restaurant, or maybe they weren't allowed to use them, but considering that Michael used polenta (ugh) in his dish, I don't suspect that there were any limitations on adding other non-veg elements to the dish.

(Sorry... I just can't stand polenta. It's the texture. It's grainy and creamy all at once. BLARGH. So sue me.)

Anyway. The leeks looked like a pretty bad idea to me. I'm not sure why Mike thought that he could take a leek and make it mimic a scallop, but whatever. I'm not sure why someone would WANT a leek to mimic a scallop. It got him sent home, and that's enough for me. I was NOT a Mike fan, by any stretch of the imagination (although really, maybe it was time to just get rid of Robin, because how many times has she been in the bottom now?). The weirdest part to me was when Jennifer hugged him after he was eliminated, because I sort of thought that they weren't fans of each other.

Speaking of Jennifer, my goodness, girlfriend needs to pull herself together! She is NOT doing well; the stress seems to be getting to her and it seems like she is falling apart at the seams. I hope she can pull it together, because I think she's talented and cooks good food. 

Also: as a special bonus to all the Carla lovers, HOOTIE HOO! She was, by far, my favorite cheftestant. LOVE HER.


CHEFTESTANT FAIL #11!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 9

Good grief, I go away on vacation and everything goes to hell! Well, not completely to hell, but I have been slacking on updating. In my defense my life was immensely busy when I got back to Boston from PA, and I have also been suffering from seriously congested sinuses that sapped me of my energy and will to do anything.  But a good stiff dose of Sudafed plus Afrin has helped my congestion and it's the start of the weekend, so I'm finally back in the blogging saddle.

First off, I'm behind on Top Chef! Blargh! I missed the episode that was on this Wednesday because I was out with some friends, but instead of the episode being available on the On Demand Bravo channel, it is nowhere to be found. And the episode doesn't appear to be re-running on Bravo anytime this weekend. WTF people? Isn't the point of On Demand that things appear after they air on TV so you can then watch them and get caught up? The latest episode isn't even available on Hulu or Fancast. OMG! I'm so annoyed! I won't even let myself go on the Bravo site because I don't want to ruin watching the next episode. (Which means there won't be a picture of Laurine on this post.)

So... RESTAURANT WARS! Quite possibly the best episode of Top Chef. I was excited for it last week. And when I saw Laurine, Kevin, Jennifer, and Mike on a team together, I thought, well this is going to be pretty good! I know the Voltaggio brothers are awesome, but Eli and Robin aren't necessarily the strongest, and so I really did think that the other team would do better. I was so sadly let down. The team just didn't do well. Some of their food was uninspiring (asparagus? REALLY?), and some of it just wasn't well prepared. Laurine just fell apart. She did a poor job running the front of the house. She didn't even bother to explain her team's dishes to the judges! FAIL.  And no dessert? DOUBLE FAIL.

Meanwhile, the other team had some rough spots (I understand why they named their restaurant REVOLT, after Robin, Eli, and Voltaggio brothers, but WHO wants to associate that word with food? NO ONE, that's who), but in the end, they did so well. Michael was a dick to Robin over the dessert she was preparing, but then it ended up being one of the best dishes served that night. So I thought they deserved the win for sure. And I really did think Laurine deserved to go home. She admitted in the episode that she wasn't excited about doing the front of the house, so why didn't she speak up and say she shouldn't do it? Mike Isabella, as much of a DB as he might be, would have been much better, because he can turn up the charm when he needs to. Laurine just did not do well as the one running the front of the house, and she took out pieces of lamb that were nearly raw. No good! And while she seems like a lovely person, she just wasn't a "wow" cheftestant to me.

The Quickfire challenge was pretty interesting, like playing whisper down the lane with food. I wonder if I'd be able to do something like that---might be sort of fun to do with friends! Trying to figure out what someone is thinking in terms of food. 

Now I have to wait and stalk On Demand and Bravo until they replay the next episode so I can write about that one, but in the meantime I'll try to keep everyone entertained. And tomorrow morning: Jose Andres's olive oil pancakes (WITH MAPLE CREAM) and bran muffins. Hurrah!


CHEFTESTANT FAIL #10!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 8

Oh, coming back from vacation is a hard and painful thing to do. Especially when you didn't have any cable over your vacation and you've only just caught up with your shows.

How delighted was I, lover of all things pork, to see that the latest episode of Top Chef featured a challenge at an event called PIGS AND PINOT. OMG! Pork! Wine! Perfection! Charlie Palmer might be my new food hero. (Don't worry Mark and Jose, I still hold you both closely to my little heart.) Can I just mention how MUCH I want to go to this event next year? (It's in March, time to get out the travel planner!)

I don't actually drink red wine, regrettably, because I get terrible headaches from it (as does my mother). I've had these terrible headaches anytime I've been given medicines with sulfates in them, and the sulfites in red wine are what does me in. It's a shame, because I'd really like to be able to enjoy red wine, but I just don't want to have to pay for it with a borderline migraine later. Alas!

I LOVE KEVIN. I love that he loves pork, I love that he has a pig tattoo, I love that he is so calm and level-headed, and I love that he is so thoughtful about everything he does. Oh, chubby nerd, I love you. (Don't worry, Jeremy, you're the only one for me at the end of the day!)

But it hurt my heart to see Ash do what he did to that tenderloin. Oh, Ash. I adore pork tenderloin. ADORE IT. My mother makes a pork tenderloin every year for Christmas Eve dinner, and I have to say that what she does to it is nothing short of a celebration of the pork. It's so simple: she marinates it in mojo, a Cuban gravy (this warrants its own future entry, trust me), which is olive oil, garlic, lemon, and citrus. So simple, so easy. SO scrumptious. It marinates overnight and roasts in a special roaster bag for hours and hours. It is a heavenly, soft, melty party in your mouth. But Ash's cold little slices of tenderloin just didn't look yummy. Don't be chillin' that shit! Serve it warm! Serve it with some scrumptious, light sauce and some fantastic side dishes (black beans and rice!) and let the fiesta start.

I was sad to see Ash go because he's a nice gent, but I wasn't surprised. He just hasn't been doing well at all. He's been in the bottom a lot, he second-guesses himself, and he also seems to defer to other chefs as being more talented than him. It's one thing to admit that you are among strong and talented competition, but you need a level of self-confidence and "I'm all that" to be on this show. For as much as I hate Mike Isabella, he has the right attitude toward this show: I'm awesome and I'm going to win. You need to have this attitude if you're really going to go far and win. That said, I REALLY hope he doesn't win.

And the next episode: RESTAURANT WARS! Sorry, I'm using too many capitals in this entry, but I'm really excited. This is the best episode of Top Chef!

Also... Toby Young compared wine to armpits. Only Toby Young compares wine to armpits.




CHEFTESTANT FAIL # 9!






Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cake Wrecks

Is it just me, or is the New York Times drastically behind on the news?

Okay... I don't think it is just me. Because they just ran an article on the popularity of the website Cake Wrecks.

I LOVE this website. I can spend a hearty half-hour taking a break from work guffawing as silently as possible at the edible monstrosities on this site. It's completely fabulous. I was alerted to the existence of this site last summer by a temp at my office who also thought it was hilarious. And I think that at that point, a year and a half ago, the website was already gaining a lot of popularity on the web. If you have not yet had the sheer, insanely hilarious joy of visiting this site, go there now. Please!

And yet it was just a couple of days ago that the Times just ran an article on the website. Now I'm not the most hip and with-it person around, especially when it comes to the internet, but I do at least have a pinky finger in the pool of popular culture. Unlike some prestigious news media. Thanks, New York Behind-the-Times.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The (edible) joys of Pennsylvania

Ah, vacation. I admit that I love it, but has definitely been a little weird not to be cooking all the time. I feel almost... uneasy not having my Bittman bible. I was tempted to try to wedge it into my suitcase, but you try cramming a 1,000-plus page cookbook into an already overflowing suitcase. I did just make some oatmeal-esque muffins (using a 5-grain blend), so that felt good.

But I haven't been neglecting food entirely; I have been eating it with gusto because Philly is a good place for (bad-for-you) food. First off, cheesesteaks. Duh. Of course. It had been a while since I'd had a scrumptious, greasy, Whiz-covered classic, so my friend Kris graciously accompanied me on a chilly evening to Pat's on 9th and Passyunk (points if you can pronounce that correctly) and we chowed down on steaks. Oh heaven on a roll. The trick to eating a cheesesteak covered in Cheez Whiz is to eat fast: as the hot, melty cheese product cools, it starts to congeal, and it makes the gobs of Whiz-coated thin-sliced meat harder to chew. And let's face it: it's so delicious, how could you NOT cram it down your throat post-haste? I must note here that should you ever travel to Philadelphia, DO NOT eat a cheesesteak at Geno's, which is across the street from Pat's. Just don't. Their steaks suck AND the owner is a bigot who (rightly) got a lot of flak for posting a sign a couple of years ago that said: "This is America. When ordering, speak English." Because the fact that his restaurant is located in an immigrant neighborhood AND the fact that you don't really speak English when ordering a cheeseteak (asking for "Whiz wit" barely constitutes the queen's English) sort of escaped him. Ignorant bastard.

Another joy of being in Pennsylvania is Tastykakes. Oh Tastykakes, how I love thee. Let me count the ways. 1: Butterscotch Krimpets. 2: Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. 3: Koffee Kake Cupcakes. 4: Well.... you get the idea. Peruse their website for a full list. But the real joy of Tastykakes on this visit, for me, is that among some of their limited-edition autumnal flavors (ginger spice cookie bars, spice cake Krimpets) I found the fabled PANCAKE KRIMPETS.

Pancake Krimpets! OMG! These are a true joy. A traditional Krimpet consists of a sponge cake with a cream filling and a lovely butterscotch frosting. These are sponge cakes filled with butter cream and topped with maple syrup frosting. They taste like a pancake, in Krimpet form. Oh, the joy! My friend Brie had told me about these a while ago, saying she had seen them in stores a couple of years ago, and ever since she told me about them, I've been (disappointingly) on the look-out for them. I had nearly given up hope of ever getting to try these glorious mythical concoctions when alas! There they were in my local Giant supermarket. Hurrah! They have not disappointed. If you're in PA, make haste to a supermarket and get your paws on them before they disappear. Or order them from the Tastykake website. I plan to stock up on them for the trip back to Boston.




Krimpets... I think---no, I know---I love you!




On Saturday, I'm going to a local Indian buffet with Brie for lunch. This place is excellent so I'm sure I'll have lots to say after we eat there. And of course, there's Wawa, which apparently has pumpkin spice cappucino that I just gotta try.

Also, my parents DON'T have cable, so I have to wait until (gasp) Sunday (!!!) to catch up on Top Chef. So shhh! Don't breathe a word of what happens!! Vacation does have its downsides, I suppose.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Zucchini lemon cookies + kitchen sink pasta with zucchini and white wine cream sauce

Hurrah for zucchini! I'm going out of town tomorrow (heading to PA for a week of vacation and going to a friend's wedding), so I wanted to use up the second zucchini from the farmers' market before leaving.

I found this recipe for zucchini lemon cookies that looked really simple--plus I had some lemons at home so I figured, why not? These cookies were pretty easy to put together; the only time-consuming tasks were grating the lemon zest and zucchini, but my microplane and mandolin made easy work of those.

I'd suggest doing the same parchment paper trick when you go to bake these cookies, and putting them in a 375 degree oven won't be a problem. I baked mine for about 13-14 minutes and they came out really well: light brown on the bottom with pale, puffed centers. These cookies are scrumptious... really like soft little tea cakes. They stay very soft and moist, thanks to the zucchini. And speaking of which, they do mostly taste of lemon (there's a lot of zest in there!), but they have a little hint of the zucchini here and there. And they just look beautiful, with the bits of yellow and green speckling the pale rounded surfaces. Highly recommended! I took some to work and they were gobbled up. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the flavor combo and the softness.

I used the other half of the zucchini with some pasta. We had leftover linguine from our grown-up hamburger helper, and while that cooked I steamed the zucchini (sliced into thin rounds). After the pasta cooked, I melted the bit of butter left over from the cookies and sauteed a clove of garlic with the zucchini. Then I added some dry white wine, a bit of heavy cream, and a grating of fresh parmesan cheese. I threw in a spoonful of flour to thicken the sauce, and added some salt.

Like whoa. For being a meal of leftovers ("kitchen sink" pasta, as Jeremy calls these dishes when we throw together a bunch of stuff with pasta), it was really quite delicious. Anything made with cream is always delicious. When white wine is added, even more so. I was pretty pleased that I found a way to use up a bunch of leftovers in a delicious, make-it-up-as-I-go kind of way.

So I'm off to PA tomorrow! I'm hoping to have lots of foodie adventures while I'm home, so I'll be sure to share as many as I can here. Bon voyage to myself!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 7

Okay, seriously? Seriously. WTF was Padma wearing last night?

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be discussing Top Chef and talking about the food and the cooking and not acting like this is an episode of Project Runway, but seriously. Indulge me for a minute and let me talk about this. Holy bicycling Christ, did she look horrendous. She was wearing this sort of billowy sleeveless green top, which was fine---but then her skintight pants were exactly the same color.


I ask you: WTF? How was this outfit okay? How did the producers of the show allow her to appear looking like this?

Although Padma has been having quite a few fashion fails lately; remember her dress at the Emmys? The one that looked like entrails were gushing out of one side of her torso?











Ugh! Anyway, I'm going on a tangent and I should stick to talking about the food, but it's just too irresistably fun to bash someone for their freakish sense of style. Not to mention there is something about Padma that seems... not quite right. Maybe it's because she speaks in a monotone and always has exactly the same facial expression? Is she heavily medicated? Is she really an alien?

So! My love, chubby nerd Kevin, won the Quickfire challenge and took the money, which I thought was a smart decision and which I certainly would have done as well. Can he do no wrong? Apparently, no. The fact that he and Jennifer won the Elimination Challenge made me happy as well, because I think they are my two favorites.  At last I'm warming up to Jennifer. Yes, she's a rather brash individual, and a tough cookie, but maybe that harsh exterior of "don't fuck with me because I will cut you" is endearing rather than off-putting to me. I think the final clincher was when I saw her get teary-eyed saying goodbye to Ashley. Then I was like, oh, you have a heart, you feel emotion, I like you.

And speaking of Ashley, I thought her dish (made with Eli) just looked utterly repulsive. There was not one thing about that dish that I wanted to have anything to do with. Probably because beets repulse me. They are the one food I simply cannot get into; they just gross me out. The beet cream, combined with the over-salted gnocchi and the undercooked prawns.... well, it was just a mess. I didn't get how any of it was supposed to work together, even if it had been perfectly executed. How do prawns, gnocchi, and beets in any way, shape, or form suggest being put together in that way?

And I hate Mike. I hate him and he just needs to go home. Granted, Robin is super annoying and has logorrhea, but that's no reason to be a dick to her, because despite her faults, she is nice. He was totally mean to her during the team challenge, taking over even though he had no Asian cooking experience and she had tons, he wouldn't let her do any tasks except menial ones, and he was completely condescending when Tom came around to check in and he treated it as if it were all his challenge, not one he was sharing with a partner. DICK. He needs to go home, pronto. Let's hope that happens soon. As in next episode.

Ah well, Ashley, we bid you adieu. Interesting, Jeremy knows someone who knows someone who looks just like Ashley. But this person is a he, and apparently he has lately been getting approached all the time and asked if he has ever watched the show Top Chef. Awesome! I salute you, gender-neutral contestant!


CHEFTESTANT FAIL #8!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The bran muffin, reinvented

Is there anything un-sexier than bran? Perhaps the effects of eating a lot of it, but I digress! Bran is an oft-disparaged food yet it's important to our diets. We could all use more fiber, but let's face it: it can be really freaking difficult to fill oneself with all that roughagey goodness.

And is there any muffin more un-thrilling than the bran muffin? I thought this, placing them in my head low down in the muffin pecking order below chocolate, blueberry, and corn. That's until I discovered the bran muffin recipe in Nicole Rees's absolutely fantastic Baking Unplugged (my new bible of all things baked). The woman makes them with bran cereal soaked in buttermilk. Wait. Read that line again. Buttermilk. YES. EVERYTHING is made better with buttermilk!

These muffins are delicious. They are filling, and yet they stay moist and fluffy, thanks to the buttermilk, and they also have a slightly sweet taste to them that isn't cloying or desserty. This ain't your typical dark brown, super dense, saw-dusty, jaw-workout bran muffin!

I made a batch on Sunday and tossed each muffin in a zipper-top sandwich baggie, keeping a few out for quick mid-morning snacks at work, and stowing the rest in the freezer. To serve, just pop the frozen muffin in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute. No need to thaw.

Hurrah! Don't delay; make these muffins today. Your digestive system will thank you.

Bran Cereal Muffins by Nicole Rees
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups All-Bran cereal
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional; I didn't use them)
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter and flour a 12-cup muffin pan. (I use the spray that's available now that's specifically for baking, that already has flour in it. It's good stuff.) In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, egg, and sugar until smooth. Stir in the cereal and soak for 15 minutes; cereal will swell and soften in the liquid.

2. In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Stir in raisins if desired.

3. Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet cereal mixture until just combined. The batter will thicken almost immediately as the baking soda reacts with the buttermilk. Do not stir after this point to avoid deflating the batter.

4. Get out your trusty ice cream scoop and dole the batter out into the muffin cups. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 2 to 3 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Bite into a warm muffin and revel in the goodness that is the bran muffin, reinvented.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Grown-up Hamburger Helper and zucchini fritters: perfect Sunday supper

Our Sunday night dinner was hearty and autumnal: zucchini fritters and a beef and pasta stove top casserole. Tasty and comforting.

We modified a recipe for the pasta casserole that I picked up at Shaw's; they have these displays of free recipe cards by the front door of the store. (The recipes are made in conjunction with America's Test Kitchen, so you know they have to be good.) It's sort of like a grown-up, homemade Hamburger Helper. We also had two decent-sized zucchini that I bought last week at the farmers' market, so we used one for the fritters, a recipe from my food bible. You just can't go wrong with Bitty.

Here's our slightly modified beef and spaghetti stove top casserole---the recipe said to use 12 oz ground beef and 4 oz sausage but we just used a pound of beef. We also omitted the step of covering the thing in cheese and broiling it but you can of course add this step in. We found it just fine without this step.

Beef and Spaghetti Casserole
  • 1 lb 90% lean ground beef
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • A sprinkle of red pepper flakes (use your discretion)
  • A sprinkle of dried oregano (again, as much as suits your fancy)
  • 1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes (we used ones with basil already mixed in and thus used less fresh basil)
  • 8 oz of uncooked spaghetti or linguine (we used linguine), broken into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 2 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 6 tbsp finely chopped basil (we used several generous squirts of the fesh ground herbs that come in a tube; you'll find them in the produce section)
  • 1 cup of cheddar cheese
1. If you want to broil the cheese into a crust on top, get your broiler fired up. Give a large oven-safe nonstick skillet a few sprays with olive oil cooking spray and when hot, cook the beef over medium heat, breaking up the meat into little bits until no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Drain meat on paper towel-lined plate and pour off fat from pan. Return meat to skillet and add garlic, pepper flakes, and oregano, and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).

2. Stir in tomatoes, spaghetti, water, and salt. Cover and cook, stirring often, until pasta begins to soften, about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, covered, until pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes.

3. Stir in cream, basil, and (if you're broiling) 1/3 cup of cheese. If you're not broiling, just stir in all the cheese. If you're broiling, sprinkle on the remaining cheese and broil about 3 minutes. We just sprinkled with more cheese before serving.

SO GOOD! :)

Here's Bitty's recipe for zucchini fritters (he calls them pancakes, but they were really more like fritters). We also used the thin julienne attachment on our mandolin to get tiny zucchini shreds.
  • about 2 pounds of zucchini, or one medium to large zucchini, finely grated (place the grated zucchini in a colander, salt it, and let it sit 20 minutes to help it dry out)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup minced onion (we just used a half an onion)
  • 1/4 flour or bread crumbs (we used bread crumbs), plus more if needed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly minced basil or parsley (optional, we didn't use it)
1.  Combine zucchini, egg, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper, and herbs (if using). Add more crumbs/flour if using to make the mixture hold its shape.

2. Form into balls, then flatten into patties, about the size of a small hamburger in diameter, but thinner. Place on a plate and refrigerate for about an hour, if you can, so they'll firm up. We formed 5 patties and by using extra bread crumbs they held their shape.

3. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Dredge patties in more crumbs or flour and place in the hot oil. Fry on each side until golden brown and crisp on each side. Heed Julia's advice and don't crowd the pan! :) Drain on paper towel-lined plate and serve. OMG DELICIOUS. Seriously. Try these. They take a bit of time in terms of prep work (although a food processor or mandoline will make quick work of the grating), but they are definitely worth it.

**UPDATE** I just found a mandolin online that is inexpensive and has all the same features as mine, if any of y'all are seriously looking at getting one (I'm just going by the comments I've gotten thus far!). Check it out on Amazon

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet magazine going out of print

Condé Nast is shutting down Gourmet magazine.

I have to say that I've always been far more fond of Bon Appetit than Gourmet (I don't subscribe to any food magazines, so I just know them from browsing at magazine stands), as I find Bon Appetit a little more approachable and visually easier on the eyes, but it is rather shocking that they are getting rid of Gourmet. It's been in publication since 1941 and that makes it feel a bit like an institution. And where will Ruth Reichl go? I'm glad they are keeping Bon Appetit though. The whole world isn't going to hell in a handbasket at least.

Lemon Blueberry Bread + Mexican hot chocolate

What can I say? It was a weekend of indulgence!

Saturday we slept late and then I decided to make a breakfasty treat using some of the pint of blueberries I bought last week at the Harvard farmers' market. I found this recipe for lemon blueberry bread with lemon glaze and it was amazing! (The recipe, according to the blogger, is from a 1991 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. An oldie but a goodie.) I love the combination of lemon and blueberry---I generally tend to love anything with citrus flavors---so I was particularly happy to find a blueberry bread recipe with lemon in it.

Granted, my bread ended up being like lemon AND blueberry bread because all my blueberries sank to the bottom of the loaf. I think next time I'll perhaps reserve some of the berries and add them to my batter at the end, after pouring it into the pan. Doesn't really affect the deliciousness of the end product though. And don't skimp on doing the glaze. It MAKES this bread! The glaze cooks pretty quickly, at least it did for me, so I'd suggest waiting until right before you take the bread out of the oven to make this.


To complement our bread, I also made some Mexican-style hot chocolate, using a Taza chocolate disc. Taza is a local company in Somerville that makes stone-ground chocolate. It's good stuff---not the sweet, soft stuff a lot of people are used to, but intense, dark, gritty chocolate. I got one disc of the vanilla Taza chocolate (there are two thin discs inside the package).

To prepare it the Mexican way (for two), heat 2 cups of milk (I used 2%) over medium low heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the milk is warm, add about 3 ounces of coarsely chopped chocolate (1 of the Taza packages  of 2 thin discs equals 3 ounces). Whisk it into the milk for a few minutes until it's completely melted and the milk is frothy, and immediately divide the drink into 2 mugs and sip. OMG. It is SO indulgent and scrumptious! Creamy, rich, and intense. The perfect sipping chocolate.

We did some more cooking over the weekend (deceptively delicious bran muffins, homemade hummus, a spaghetti skillet casserole, and zucchini fritters), but I'll add those recipes in separate posts.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mama Pidal's picadillo

Picadillo! Not peccadillo mind you--pee-kah-DEE-yoh! It's a dish made with ground meat and vegetables and it was a Cubano kitchen staple for me growing up. In addition to Mama Pidal's lentil soup, this was one of the first things I ever cooked for myself. In fact, I can remember cooking these two recipes together on the first weekend I ever ventured into cooking non-pasta/stir-fry food for myself.

There are variations on picadillo, of course, but this is my mother's spin on it, and I have to say that it's delicious just as it is, and VERY easy to make, so I highly recommend it! The word "picadillo" comes from the Spanish word "picar," which means to finely chop. I remember that sometimes my mother would have leftover picadillo, not quite enough to make a filling dinner for the three of us, that she would mix with cooked white rice in a casserole dish and top with slices of cheese. Then she'd bake it so the cheese would melt. YUM. Best of leftovers! This is also good as a burrito or taco filling.

Last night while waiting for Jeremy to come home, I decided to throw together a pan of picadillor for dinner. Jeremy had bought the ingredients a few days earlier, because he is a love, and had somehow managed to find quite possibly the largest green bell pepper I've ever seen. I seriously need to get a digital camera to document things like this because the thing was the size of my head. After cutting it in half and removing the seeds, I started to dice up half of it. I swear I just kept chopping and chopping, and there was still more pepper to chop. I finally ended up putting half of the thing away in the fridge and out of my sight.

I also diced one sweet onion and then minced 3 small cloves of garlic. (You can use less, but I love garlic, so I use a little extra.) I poured some olive oil into a large fry pan (use one with a lid), enough to just coat the bottom of the pan, and turned the heat up to medium high, then added my veggies when it was nice and hot. You let those cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions start to get transparent and you're about to drool because your house smells so delicious. Then you add a pound of ground lean turkey or ground lean beef. I tend to always use turkey because it's less fatty, and Jeremy bought me the natural, non-antibiotic/growth hormone Wild Harvest brand from Shaw's, which actually just LOOKED like better quality poultry than other brands of ground turkey I've used in the past. (Kudos to you, Jeremy.) Use the leanest meat you can find to prevent your dish from getting greasy---our turkey was only 7% fat. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and use a wooden spoon to break it up into little chunks (this is the "picar" element of the dish), stirring to allow the meat to cook on all sides. This will take a few minutes.

After you've cooked the meat nearly all the way, add some other seasonings, like garlic and onion salt or some adobo powder. Then add about a quarter cup of ketchup. Turns out we were nearly out of ketchup last night and the amount in the bottle just didn't look like enough. Lucky for the Tridal household, I frugally save the little single-serve ketchup packets that come with our take-out let's-eat-unhealthy-crap meals so the four we had sitting in the fridge were enough to tide us over---I knew they'd come in handy one day. (As a side note: some people use diced tomatoes, but I find that this can make the dish watery, and sometimes the taste of cooked tomatoes just doesn't do it for me, so I just stick with ketchup. If it's good enough for Mama Pidal, it's good enough for me.) Stir the ketchup in thoroughly, then add a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce (one of my favorite things about Worcestershire sauce is hearing my Cuban mother try to pronounce "Worcestershire" and just ending up saying "Worchesshersher") and two tablespoons of capers. Or, if you're not into capers, add a couple of tablespoons of chopped olives. Or, if you're REALLY adventurous, add both.

After you've stirred everything into a glorious melange and tasted to adjust your seasonings, lower the heat to very low, put the cover on the pan and let everything cook and simmer together for at least 10 minutes, no more than 20. Make sure to stir every couple of minutes so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan or burns, and discard any water that accumulates on the inside of the pan lid to prevent your dish from getting soggy. It's so good! The dish I made last night was particularly good because the turkey was just so good. I really think it makes a significant difference when you use the highest-quality meat. Jeremy has been eating this dish since we moved in together and even he agreed that this was the best pan of it I'd cooked up. Huzzah!

I just love this dish. It's easy, it's relatively hassle-free, it's delicious and filling, and if you use turkey, it's pretty healthy. It's also so versatile: you can eat it as it is, you can use it as a filling for stuffed peppers, you can mix it with rice into a casserole, you can use it to fill tacos or burritos or empanadas or meat pies. Eating it takes me back home; it was one of my favorite dinners, I never got tired of it, and I didn't mind eating the leftovers. And it makes your house smell so good! I can't recommend it enough. If you do decide to try this one, let me know what you think and if you love it as much as I do!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

News that isn't really news

For some reason, there was NO Top Chef on last night. Boo! I guess we'll have to wait in suspense another week. Blargh. 

A few mornings ago, while sleepily having coffee and oatmeal in front of CNN and trying to wake up enough to get myself on the bus to work, I caught a factoid that interested me (and also didn't surprise me). CNN had taken some poll where they asked Americans how they were faring with the rotten economy. Over half of the respondents had said that the one luxury they didn't want to give up on was going out to eat.

Like I mentioned, I find this interesting and also not surprising, because I feel the same way. I haven't felt the economic meltdown quite so badly, and I'm still getting by, but I do feel the pressure to remain careful about my finances (though this has been ingrained in me since I was a tot by my frugal parents). I'm trying not to make frivolous purchases: I haven't bought loads of new clothes with the changing of the seasons, I've kept personal product purchases (a weakness of mine) at a minimum, and instead of buying books, I go to the library (well, except for cookbooks). But the one thing I haven't really cut back on is food, both in terms of groceries and restaurants.

What is it about eating out and eating well that is so hard for people to give up? Is it the luxury of having one's food prepared? Trying new things? Is it laziness? Or is it the social aspect? Something leads me to believe that this last one might have a lot to do with it. Eating is such a social experience. Getting together with others to share a meal is one of life's finest pleasures, at least that's how it seems to me. I'd gladly give up going to the movies, getting new books and clothes, and taking luxurious trips if it meant being able to have that many more meals out with friends. I'm sure that many more people are now cooking at home too, because of the economy, but I think the fact that people continue going out to eat regularly proves that it's too important of a social experience for us to give up on entirely. Perhaps it stems from the fact that eating is one activity all people must do and that almost all people enjoy, so it's the one thing that each of us has in common with all of our friends.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Peanut Butter Blossoms recipe, for Melis

This is for Melis.


Peanut Butter Blossoms

This is one of my favorite cookie recipes and one that I used to make all the time as a kid. They are really good, with or without the kiss on top. It's also fun to make them around Valentine's Day using the Dove chocolate hearts. Delicious!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More soup + peanut butter cookies, two ways

A batch of muffins, a pot of soup, and two batches of cookies. Yeah, I spent the weekend in the kitchen.

For soup, I made a variation of Mama Pidal's lentil soup, except using the cleverly packaged Goya 16-bean soup mix. I love bean soups because they are filling and also freeze excellently for future meals. I added the usual mirepoix, plus spinach and two packets of Goya sazon, along with some onion and garlic salts and the requisite salt and pepper. It made a LOT of soup, which is living in a giant pot on my stove top. In my dream world, I would have a giant pot of soup simmering on my stove top every day. One of my favorite smells is the blend of aromatics as they hit the soup pot, before they start cooking. If I could bottle it and sell it, I would. I'd call it Essence of Soup Pot---you could just have the odor of fresh soup pervading your kitchen, whether you were cooking or not. Yum.

Jeremy was an absolute gem today and cleaned the house while I sat on my ass drinking pumpkin spice coffee watching Project Runway on On Demand. So as a reward, I made him not one but two batches of peanut butter cookies. Because why stop at just one peanut-buttery treat? He deserves double the fatty delicious love. I made a batch of peanut butter oatmeal cookies and another of peanut butter molasses. I've made the latter before and brought them to work to share, and they were literally such a hit that the pile of them disappeared in just a couple of hours. I saw that I was on to something really good here, so I think these might be my secret weapon cookie. I feel like I could win wars (and hearts) with these things. (I also feel this way about my red velvet cupcake recipe.) So unfortunately, I'm keeping that recipe to myself.

But fortunately for you, I'm not a total selfish brat, so I do want to share the peanut butter oatmeal recipe with you. These cookies are AMAZING! They are so dense and filling. The recipe author, Nicole Rees, suggests arming yourself with a glass of milk, and I agree. So, make haste! Get thee to the oven and make these cookies. They are scrumptious.

CHEWY PEANUT BUTTER OATMEAL COOKIES - by Nicole Rees
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins or chocolate chips (note: I skipped these and found the cookies perfect without them)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat oil, water, and sugars, until smooth. Beat in peanut butter until well combined. Stir in egg, vanilla and salt until smooth and creamy.

Stir in flour and baking soda until almost all combined. Stir in the oats and raisins or chips if you're using. At this point, it will be a workout for your biceps to get a spoon through the dough. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper.* Drop walnut-sized chunks of dough, about 2 tablespoons, onto baking sheets, spacing at least 1 1/2 inches apart. (I found it easiest to scoop up a glob of dough with a metal dining spoon and then gently shaping it into a ball with my fingers; don't overhandle or the dough will get melty.) These cookies don't spread very much, which is nice

Bake for 13 to 14 minutes, until golden at the edges and puffed in the centers but not quite set. Don't overbake! Allow to cool for 3 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

*Using parchment paper on cookie sheets? A revelation. No need to grease the sheets, which always leads to greasy clean-up later. No burnt bottoms. No cookies sticking to the sheet. All around a fabulous tip. I'll never grease cookie sheets again, and neither should you. Thank you, Nicole Rees.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 6

Oh no... deconstruction.

Playing with your food. Turning food into art. And all that. 

But is there anything more pretentious and snobby and sort of inherently ridiculous than deconstructing food?

I know this is a trend that people seem to cream their pants over, but I just don't see what's so great about it. Yes, it looks interesting, and it is a challenge to do it well, and sometimes it can be fun, but seriously? I'd rather just have a cohesive, traditional dish done well that is cook properly and tastes great. I guess that's because I'm not a crazy foodie or chef. Maybe what really bothered me about the challenge was some of the foods they chose to deconstruct. I mean, paella? How do you deconstruct a dish that sort of already IS deconstructed? Paella is rice with vegetables and proteins and while they are mixed together, they aren't really blended. They are already separate elements that are placed side by side. Trust me on this---I've eaten a LOT of paella dishes in my life! And fish and chips also boggled my mind because there are three elements to it: fish, batter, and potatoes. Yikes. How do you deconstruct that?

And backing up to the quickfire and Eli's comment about Robin---I don't want to make light of anyone's struggle with cancer, and I find the fact that Robin overcame cancer empowering. But I also wasn't quite sure why she had to bring it up in this challenge. It was about good versus evil, not about overcoming personal struggles or personal battles. You can read a Q&A blog with Eli here to learn about why he said what he did. All struggles with cancer aside, Robin's dish seemed a little lame and I'm not sure it should have won the challenge.

I did think it was sweet that all the chefs (except Robin) wore red scarves as neckerchiefs in honor of Matin. Apparently the Frenchie lives on! And judging by the Quickfire, looks like scallops are back. Are scallops the new ceviche?

Do I think Kevin should have won the Elimination Challenge? Well, based on the fact that I'm not into deconstruction, I certainly think he executed an incredibly complicated dish very well. Mole has dozens of ingredients and the recipes often vary by region, so the fact that he was able to lay out something so complex on such a simple plate that everyone seemed to enjoy made him pretty deserving, in my eyes. I was sad to see Ron go, because he was a jolly guy, but his paella really was atrocious. And seriously, fuck Toby Young. What authority does he have to judge food AND be such a dick about it? I think he's just bitter because his tenure at Vanity Fair was such a spectacular failure and that he's such a magnificent twat. I was SO thrilled when Michelle told him off for his obnoxious comment about why was everyone pronouncing it pa-EY-yah instead of pah-EL-lah. Good for her.


CHEFTESTANT FAIL #7!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just a thought

I really need (okay, maybe need is a strong word here, but definitely strongly want) a food processor.

Like say, oh I don't know, this one.

Some women lust after buff male movie stars, the latest pair of Manolos, or a multi-carat rock. I lust after kitchen appliances.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Positively autumnal

It's fall! Well, it's felt like fall for most of September, but today it's official: day one of fall, my favorite season.

Maybe it's because I don't like heat very much, maybe it's because I'm a nerd and I still mentally run on a student's calendar so to me a year begins in September, maybe it's just because I like the way the air feels and smells and the way the daylight looks brighter and more intense---whatever it is, I love fall more than any other season.

Or maybe it's the food.

Oh, autumnal delights! Spicy and rich and warm and comforting. Fall means pumpkin and spice, soup and stew, casseroles, potato-y goodness, butternut squash, apples and all things made with them. It means Halloween (candy!) and Thanksgiving (stuffing!) and my and Jeremy's birthday in between.

This fall, in addition to the usual stuff like pumpkin bread and apple crisp, I've decided to bake pies. I've never actually baked a traditional pie with a fruit filling. Once I made a coconut cream pie for my dad's birthday from an America's Test Kitchen recipe and it was amazing, but it had a graham cracker crust. I've never actually made a pie with a rolled crust. So I've decided it's about high time to do so, from homemade crust to filling.

The problem is that our small kitchen has zero counter space. Zip. Zero. So I'm not sure where I'd roll out a whole pie crust. To solve this problem, I've purchased a pocket pie mold from Williams-Sonoma.





Egads! Tiny, adorable pies in shapes!








I got the heart-shaped one. They also have apple and pumpkin ones for fall but I thought I could at least use the heart all year round. So we'll see how things turn out. I'm sure it will take a few tries to make the perfect mini pie, but at least it'll be a tasty experiment. Here's hoping I have a digital camera by the time I make these so I can take some pictures.

In other kitchen news, I went a little crazy with Jeremy this weekend at Target getting things for our kitchen. I got a new omelette-size pan (12") that has a copper bottom, which Jeremy used last night to make some sausages and which he gave a raving review of approval to. (Jeremy then diced up the sausages and mixed them with cut-up asparagus, two kinds of pasta, and some sauce with freshly grated parm into a scrumptious "kitchen-sink" pasta casserole, which is his specialty.) I also got a set of wooden spoons to replace my melty-looking (and frankly, scary-seeming as a result of the meltedness) plastic spoons; a medium-size metal bowl (to use as an improvised double-boiler for melting chocolate, as I feel there are brownies on my horizon); and a large fine-mesh strainer for straining sauces and soups. (Did I mention that last year I bought a book that has 400 soup recipes? I'll be going through that one this fall and winter rather ravenously.) Oh huzzah. Of course, I still need to get some cake pans as I am planning on making some cakes, but thanks to my old roommate and her excess of kitchen goods, I have a loaf pan for making pumpkin bread.

What's your favorite fall food? Or is there another season you prefer?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Olive oil pancakes and brown sugar bacon

I love pancakes, and nothing says "It's the weekend, sleep till 11 and stay in your jammies all day" more than a stack of pancakes with a cup of coffee. The fabulous Jose Andres has a recipe for olive oil pancakes in his book Made in Spain that are positively delicious.

I will admit that this Sunday was the second time I'd made them but the first time I'd made them properly. The first time I got halfway through the recipe before realizing that he calls for buttermilk, not milk, so I fudged and used soy milk. They were all right but nothing fabulous. But the buttermilk really makes a difference! Don't skimp: do it right!

These pancakes are soft, fluffy, and almost creamy-textured. The olive oil taste is light but lovely. Definitely give them a try. (Seriously, it's not that hard to put together a good basic pancake batter, so kick that box of pancake mix to the curb and DIY. SO tasty!) Jose recommends serving these pancakes with honey, which I did, and which was a great accompaniment.

Olive Oil Pancakes by Jose Andres
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons best-quality olive oil, preferably Spanish, plus more for frying
  • 1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate, preferably Spanish

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk in the egg, buttermilk and 2 tablespoons olive oil until the batter is smooth, then stir in the chocolate pieces.

2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat. Ladle one-fourth cup of the pancake batter into the pan and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip the pancake with a spatula and cook until golden brown on the second side, 1 to 2 more minutes. Place the pancakes in a warm oven until all are cooked and ready to serve. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more olive oil to the pan as needed.

Here is a video of Jose making the pancakes!

TIP: I know pancakes can be tricky--my first attempt at them resulted in a lot of burnt pancakes, some completely blackened, and a lot of smoke, and maybe 2 edible pancakes in the whole lot. The trick is to keep the heat very low, and to remember that the first pancakes you make will take longer to cook than the pancakes after them. This is because the pan or griddle will get progressively hotter, so always count on the first pancakes to take longer than subsequent pancakes, and don't use the cooking time of the first ones to gauge the cooking time of the rest of them. You may need to regrease your cooking surface at some point during your cooking process.

Flipping pancakes can also be a messy and agonizing process. An easy way to tell if they're ready to flip is to observe the edges of the pancake. If there are a few tiny bubbles forming along the edges and the edges seem to have taken on almost a filmy-looking quality (like it looks a little more solid than the liquidy center of the pancake), you are ready. I'm not describing this very well but you'll know it when you see it. Slide the spatula under the pancake (I wiggle it gently to get as much of the pancake on the spatula as possible) and flip quickly. The trick to not making a battery mess is to keep the pancake as close to the pan's surface as possible. Keeping your finished pancakes inside of a casserole dish with a cover will keep them warm until you serve them. Some people recommend keeping them stacked on a cooking sheet inside a low-heat oven, but I find my casserole dish improvisation works just as well. Pancakes cook quickly, so the time between cooking and serving them isn't huge.


PAIR YOUR PANCAKES WITH BACON!

I haven't tried this recipe personally yet, but a friend of mine just served this bacon recently at a bridal shower brunch and it was so good all of us had seconds. The baking method for the bacon is better than just frying it in a pan, or so I've heard. I'd line the baking sheet with foil before adding the wire rack, to make clean up that much easier. (Just lift out the greasy foil, voila!)


Gina's Brown Sugar Bacon 


  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, 8 slices

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix brown sugar, cayenne, and black pepper together in a medium bowl. Add bacon and toss.

Line a baking sheet with a wire rack and lay bacon on the rack. Pat any remanding spice mixture on the bacon. Put the baking sheet on the top rack of the oven and bake until crisp, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven to a serving dish and let cool slightly before serving.

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS! :)