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

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.

  • 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.


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.


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.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Souper Saturday: Mama Pidal's lentil soup

I seem to be coming down with some sort of weird cold-type thing, so it was a good thing I was prepared with a big pot of Mama Pida's lentil soup. It's hearty, tasty, and really easy to make. This recipe is my mother's and it is one of the first things I ever attempted to cook when I decided to branch out from the pasta/stir fry rut. I love making it in the fall and winter. The best part of this soup is that you can season it and add things to it to your heart's content. That and the fact that lentils don't require any soaking, so you don't have to prepare in advance with this soup the way you have to with other bean soups. I use a minimum of broth and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated and been absorbed, so that it's more like a stew. I'll call it a potage (a thick stew-like soup). Sounds fancier.

Rinse 1 cup of uncooked lentils in a strainer and drain. (Pick out any pebbles or nasty-looking lentils.) Toss them in a pot with two cups of water and two cups of vegetable or meat broth or stock. (You can add another cup or two of either if you want.) Add 1 diced onion, 1 cup each of chopped carrots and celery, and 2 cups of firmly packed baby spinach leaves. Throw in 2 cloves of minced garlic and some salt and pepper and turn on the heat until it starts boiling. Cover, and stir occasionally, until the spinach has wilted. At this point you can throw in a diced ham steak or a couple of chopped cooked sausages (but these are entirely optional). Stir a few more times and allow to boil another few minutes. I also like to add some other seasonings, like a bay leaf or two (which you must remove later), some garlic and/or onion salt, or some adobo powder, which is a typical Latin meat and vegetable seasoning.

Adobo: seasoning of campeones!

Lower the heat until the soup is just simmering and then just let it simmer away, stirring every now and again. This is a very low-maintenance soup. I allow it to simmer until all the vegetables have taken on a nice brown color and nearly all the liquid has disappeared, so it's like a stew. Delicious! If you're more into soupy lentils, you can add a cup or two of water or broth to the pot while it's simmering and remove it from the heat before all the liquid disappears.

This soup keeps well in the fridge, and it will thicken the longer it sits in there. To reheat, you can add some water or broth before microwaving. I just like to eat it like a stew, with some nice buttered toast. It's simple, filling, hearty, and comforting. I love soup, and this is one of my favorites. I remember eating it all while I was growing up and every time I eat it now, I feel home. Thanks, Mama!

Top Chef, season 6, episode 5

Ceviche is the new scallop.

Seriously. What is WITH all the chefs this season obsessing over ceviche? How many ceviches have we seen already this season? We're only on episode 5, and I feel like I've already seen about 89 ceviches. Some of them mispronounced. I almost yearn to see an over-abundance of scallops a la season 5 instead.

Making a trio of ceviches at an outdoor ranch for a bunch of cowboys just doesn't seem like a good idea, no matter what country you're from, so I have no idea why Matin thought it would be a good idea to make ceviche outdoors on a hundred-degree day in a dusty place with outdoor firepits for people who are used to eating slabs of meat. Really? Raw fish in citrus is a good idea in this scenario? No. Just no. Take advantage of those grills and make some steak, hoss!

I loved Eli's reaction to the knowledge that they had to camp overnight at the ranch. I feel EXACTLY the way he does--we've got electricity for a reason! No one should want to sleep in a tent on th ground when they can sleep in a comfy bed. I know people will disagree with me and say oh, camping, the joys of nature, appreciation of the great outdoors, hiking, blah blah, to which I say: I can appreciate all that stuff and then go home at the end of the day and go to sleep in a BED!

And cactus. I have to say I have never eaten cactus, although it's an element of Mexican (and maybe some other Latino) cooking. Many times while perusing the Goya/Latino aisle of the supermarket, I see jars of nopalitos cactus but I never buy them. I have no idea what I'd eat them with or what they taste like. Maybe I should find a recipe and try it out? Or maybe I should just wait to go to a restaurant and have them there. I don't particularly like things with a slimy texture, in terms of eating or preparing, so I'm not so sure how I'd feel about cooking or consuming these things. We'll see. Maybe if I feel adventurous one of these days. (On a ridiculous side note: I had a bunny rabbit named Sassy when I was 13 and my father once gave her a chunk of cactus that had fallen off one of his plants. He trimmed off the spines and put the thing in her cage--it was as big as she was. She didn't seem particularly interested. I remember her grabbing it in her teeth and trying to fling the thing across her cage. Poor bunny. My father treated her like an eating experiment: what will the bunny eat next? Maybe her not being into the cactus was a sign that I should avoid it too. I digress!)

So yes. Matin went home for his raw ceviche, and I definitely thought he deserved to (though Robin's nasty prawns were a pretty strong contender for horrific meal of the deal). He already did rather poorly last week with his overly bacony sauce, which was an embarassment because it was a French cooking challenge and he's French. And he hadn't been doing so well throughout the whole thing--he was never a standout chef, he just sort of coasted through--so while I'll miss his charming accent and natty red neckerchief, I think he'll fade from memory pretty quickly. Not like Hector... I miss that guy!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

50 best things to eat: a list

I love lists. Maybe it's my obsessive nature or just the satisfaction I get from seeing a numbered/organized collection of facts, but I love lists of all kinds.

The Guardian recently published a list of the 50 best things to eat in the world, and where to get them. I'm proud to see that Spain makes the list several times. Woot!

Have you ever eaten at one of these places? I have to say that I want to try this bacon cheeseburger at Little Owl in NYC. I also am ashamed that I've never eaten a massive pastrami sandwich at Katz's Deli. (I could mail-order a salami to myself from there though.) I'll have to put these places on my must-visit list next time I venture south. And I must get myself to Gramercy Tavern to eat pork belly. Viva the pig!

But I have to say that I don't think this list is in any way comprehensive. It leaves off a lot of cuisines and seems to take sort of a scattershot approach to food. And of course, since it's a British publication, it seems to have somewhat of a British slant. What foods do you think are must-haves/must-eats that were left off this list? (CHEESESTEAKS!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another kitchen bible?

Because I love both books and food (and also because I work in publishing), I subscribe to a Publishers Weekly email newsletter called "Cooking the Books," which is all about food and cookbook publishing. There was an interesting article in my latest email about The Flavor Bible, a book I've heard about as it has been out for a year but which I've never really gotten around to perusing.

I have to say that this sounds like a fabulous book to have in the kitchen, because it teaches you which foods go well together. I have to date had a relatively good instinct for pairing/combining foods that I am familiar with (see my recent success with the sprouts/sausage/white wine and vinegar combo), but I think this book would be invaluable in suggesting more nuanced but equally delightful flavor combinations. I just like that it helps people create their own food combinations and recipes. I might have to invest in this one. I definitely like to experiment in the kitchen and I'd like to start developing my own recipes. This book seems like a valuable tool towards doing more of that.

What do you think? Are you more of a recipe-follower or a recipe-builder, and why do you work the way you do? Have you read this book, and if so, what do you think?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yield: dozens of cookies ahead

So when you decide to make cookies, before you do anything else, read the yield.

As in the part of the recipe that tells you how many cookies the batter you make will produce. Because last night I decided to make some cookies (oatmeal with pomegranate jelly) and was halfway through the batter before I noticed this all-important number.

You'd think that after preparing and beginning to make a batter that calls for two sticks of butter and three cups of flour that I'd realize there would be a serious amount of cookies resulting, but no. I thought it was a little odd, but not extraordinary. But then I looked at the yield, after creaming said two sticks of butter into two kinds of sugar: 4 1/2 to 5 dozen cookies.


In for a penny, in for a pound (of butter, it felt like). So I soldiered on. And the cookies actually turned out really well. Yes, I was in the kitchen for like two hours, but once things turned into an assembly line sort of system, it really wasn't so bad.

Here's something I discovered. I only own two cookie sheets, and for this particular recipe, I could fit 12 cookies on a sheet. So I baked one sheet at a time, and after removing the cookies, I put the hot, empty sheet in the fridge for a few minutes while the second sheet baked. This cooled the sheet to room temperature so that I could add more dough to the sheet. (You should never put raw dough on a hot cookie sheet, because it'll melt the fats in your dough and mess it up.) After refrigerating, I was also able to scrub off any jelly spills with a wet paper towel. This made the baking process go much faster because I didn't have to wait for each sheet to cool for who knows how long before proceeding.

Here's the recipe. It originally called for raspberry preserves, but I had a jar of pomegranate jelly in my kitchen that just wasn't getting used up (it's not terribly compatible with peanut butter), so I used that instead. And please note that it really does make like 60 cookies or so. They are small cookies, and yummy, so that shouldn't be a bad thing.

Oatmeal and Jelly Cookies
4 1/2 to 5 dozen

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup butter (two sticks), softened
1/2 cup water
1 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose/unbleached flour
2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
fruit preserves, jam, or jelly (I really think any flavor will work!)

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, beat brown sugar, sugar, and butter until light and fluffy.

Add water, almond extract, and eggs and blend well. The mixture will look curdled and watery.

Stir in the flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and mix well. The mixture will thicken and look lumpy

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. With a spoon, make an imprint in the center of each cookie and fill the imprint with 1/2 teaspoon of preserves. Drop a bit of dough over the preserves on each cookie.

Bake for 6 to 9 minutes until the cookies are a light golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheets and allow to cool on a rack.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Make this now

Seriously... don't delay. Make this today: Mark Bittman's macaroni and cheese.

I make the first version of this, though I am intrigued by the variations and might try some of them soon. Jeremy and I just made some of this over the weekend and it's fab. It's very grown-up, savory mac and cheese--no gloopy, overly sweet cheesy goop. The bay leaves in the milk give it its special taste.

This time I added peas and ham. Cook one cup of frozen peas according to package directions; drain and set aside. Slice one ham steak into small cubes and set aside. Stir the peas and ham into the pasta after adding the sauce before baking. Yum!

We paired this dish with Brussels sprouts and sausage with just a touch of white wine and vinegar. Steam the sprouts, cut them in half vertically, and set aside. Throw some butter in a large pan and add the sausage, preferably split in half longways. Cook the sausage till it's about half done, add some more butter to the pan and throw in the sprouts. Once the sausage is nicely browned and the sprouts and done (still firm but easy to put a fork through), remove the sausage and sprouts, but leave the heat on the pan. Add a little dry white wine to the pan and stir it up, scraping up any bits left in the pan. Heat for a few minutes, cut up the sausage into small bits, then turn off the heat on the pan, stir in a splash of white vinegar, and drizzle over the sprouts and sausage. Tangy and delicious!

I made this one up on the fly because I had sprouts and sausage in the freezer and a bottle of dry white wine that I really didn't like as a drink in the fridge, but I wanted to try and find a use for it rather than just pouring it down the drain. I remember having some sprouts that a friend of mine made years ago with bacon and apple cider vinegar, so I put my own little twist on them. They turned out really tasty!

I went to an Italian street festival in my neighborhood, and in addition to a meatball sandwich that I purchased for a dollar (priced to sell!), I also had some really good lemonade and my very first deep-fried Oreo. The Oreo was delicious--kind of like an old-fashioned donut with an Oreo in the middle. Yum. I definitely giggled when I bit into it--a sure sign that I am really surprised by and am enjoying a food. I love street fair food.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Top Chef, Season 6, episode 4

TWO cheftestants gone in ONE episode? Mon dieu! Figures that they were two folks I actually liked. Mind you, I didn't think either one of them would make it to the finals (my money's on Kevin--go, chubby nerds!), but I was still sad to see them go, especially Hector. I liked seeing SOMEONE out there representing mi gente, ju know?

The episode was all about French food, a cuisine I actually don't know very much about, other than it includes lots of delicious butter. And wine of all kinds. Num. Any cuisine that likes that much butter and wine is okay by me. I thought that the challenge of pairing a sauce-making contestant with an entree-making contestant was a clever way to pair off the chefs.

But let's back up a second: eliminating someone after a quickfire challenge? Craaa-zy! They haven't done that before, and I'm not sure how I feel about the tactic. Although I guess if you can't make a stellar dish in such a brief period of time, maybe you shouldn't be there. And Jesse had been on the bottom of nearly every challenge since the series began, so maybe it was time for her to go. She seemed like her heart wasn't really into it. I did like her, though, especially because she seemed to like using eggs, even though every time Jeremy saw her he said, "Take that fucking shit out of your face!"

And let's talk about the fact that THE FRENCHMAN was in the bottom! Oh my lordy, you are FRENCH. You grew up eating and making this stuff. And you fucked up a challenge cooking FRENCH FOOD. Because of too much BACON! Now I am usually of the opinion that there is no such thing as too much bacon, but clearly the pros disagreed with me. But then again, I don't really know very much about French food, regrettably, other than the butter and wine thing. And also eating creatures like frogs and snails. (Although I think things in shells are generally pretty yummy.)

But Matin was spared, and instead Hector went home, for his poorly cooked meat. Poor boricua couldn't get a break. First the judges harshed on his realm because they had no idea that Latinos fry everything, including steaks. And now they're like, boo, you can't cook a steak. Alas. I do admire the fact that he's representing by wearing a guayabera in his exit photo. But seriously---Top Chef needs some more diversity. Now it's just a bunch of white folks, who all slightly resemble each other, and one large, jovial Haitian man. Why aren't there more Latinos? Why are there hardly ever Asians on this show? WTF?

And seriously, WTF are ramps? Ramps? Why was everyone making food with ramps? Aren't those the things that people use to roll wheeled things up and down into buildings and buses? What do ramps have to do with food? Ramps are, apparently, a wild onion, like a stronger-flavored leek.  Thank you, Top Chef, for teaching me new things! (Or at least for forcing me to go on the interwebs to learn new things.)

Hector, I salute you! Never doubt yourself in the future when you deep-fry a steak! Never!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Incredible and edible and scrambled

Eggs! Some people love them, some people hate them. Me, I fall into the former camp. (Jeremy sadly falls into the latter camp, but alas! I guess you love the one you love, faults and all, and yes, not loving eggs is a fault in my book, but one that I can learn to overlook.) But it is only in the past couple of years that I have really begun to learn all the ways one can really do well by an egg.

Folks of Spanish descent love eggs. One of the most widespread and beloved dishes in Spain is tortilla. I'm not talking about flat dough rounds made of flour or corn, I'm talking about the one-inch-thick disk of egg/potato (oftentimes onion) goodness that is cut into wedges and eaten hot or cold (more often cold). Think of a really thick omelet. A pillow of luxurious egg goodness. When I was visiting with family in Spain, my aunts would pack tortillas for us to snack on while on outings at the rocky coastal beaches of Asturias. They were thick, packed with protein and carbs, just a touch oily, and true perfection. People who go to the beach without a tortilla are missing out. This is probably the best article I've found on how fabulous a Spanish tortilla is and just how to make one. My mother happens to have the very plate they speak of that is made especially for flipping tortillas. It's a big ceramic platter with a knob in the center. It's fabulous. I need to get a large enough frying pan so that I can start making Spanish tortillas (and French omelets too, now that I think of it).

So thanks to genetics, I've got egg yolks coursing through my veins, but for years I was subjecting eggs to sheer abuse under the guise of cooking them. One of my favorite egg dishes (and one of the simplest and most satisfying, I think) is scrambled eggs. I was full of myself. I thought there was nothing easier than cooking a scrambled eggs. I never bothered to read just how to properly cook a scrambled egg, and as a result, it is only recently that I've begun to really properly cook and appreciate them.

When I first made scrambled eggs, I'd overwhip the egg into a frothy frenzy, dump cheese into the mixture, then I'd turn the burner all the way to high, heat up far too much oil, and dump the egg mixture in. The result was a nearly instantaneous cooking of the eggs into a slightly browned, solid rubbery maw with unmelted chunks of cheese. I didn't know any better, so I ate them. Oh, how much I was missing out on! How little I knew!

Now I know, thanks to Mark Bittman and Julia Child, that you can't rush a good thing---especially a scrambled egg. I just made a pair of scrambled eggs this morning and they were glorious. The key to a good scrambled egg is time. You must cook it over very low heat. For 2 scrambled eggs, I add a small pat of butter to a small frying pan and turn the heat on as low as it goes. As the butter slowly melts, I crack two eggs into a bowl and combine them with a fork until they are just blended---no frenzy of whipping anymore. Then I add a dash of milk and a bit of salt and pepper, and then gently combine it all with the fork. Once the butter is melted, I pour the mix into the pan, which does not radiate nuclear-level heat like my cooking method of days of yore, but which is just hovering between warm and the first whispers of being hot.

At first, nothing happens. The egg mixture just sits there in its liquid glory and you stare back at it like, how will this yellow mess ever become something worth eating? Stir it once or twice with a spoon. Nothing. Liquid. Wait a few ticks. Stir it again. Wait. Stir. And again. And then you will see that tiny curds are starting to form in the midst of the mess. Stir it again. More curds. Continue to stir rather frequently, slowly and gently, keeping the egg mix moving, scraping any egg that sloshes onto the sides of the pan into the center. As the curds start to form, but while there is still some liquidy egg left in the pan, add some shredded or crumbled cheese to the mix if desired. I've found that this is a good time to add the cheese so that it will melt and integrate with the eggs. Then you just keep stirring and stirring, which will keep the eggs moving and cooking evenly so you don't get any areas of burny, rubbery horror. I like my scrambled eggs to be on the very soft, slightly moist side, so once all the egg mixture has become solid and piles up into a soft mound, I'm done. But you keep stirring till they're at just the point you want them to be at.

Yes, this process takes much longer than my original flash in a pan cooking, but it's so much more luxurious. It honors the humble little egg. The wait is worth it. The eggs are creamy and rich and so eggy---a far cry from the sad, dry, rubbery mess from my early bachelorette days. If I had to pick a favorite food, first I'd cry. Then I'd ask if I could pick a few favorite foods. Then I'd make sure eggs were on that list.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top Chef, Season 6, episode 3

Pasta salad?


Pasta salad.

You're in a cooking competition called TOP CHEF and you make PASTA SALAD??

"Hello, my name is pasta salad, and I'm completely uninspired, and uninspiring, and usually made by mere mortals with more dexterity and grace than the one executed on last night's show."


So the challenge yesterday was to make a meal to feed 300 people using the rather paltry pantry and minimal equipment at a military base hangar thingy kitchen. And the fact that Preeti and Laurine thought they could just throw together a pasta salad of disparate elements is just odd. Odd! I know they didn't have that much to work with, and I know they wanted to make a vegetarian dish, but honestly, pasta salad? How much more mediocre-recipe-out-of-Ladies Home Journal could you get? Maybe Preeti being eliminated was the universe's way of getting back at her for blanching her asparagus in Ashley's boiling gnocchi water. At least Laurine had the good sense to admit that she knew it wasn't a good dish and that it sucked. I thought it was lame that Preeti tried to bring up the fact that it was inappropriate to serve clam chowder on a hot summer day. Maybe so, lady, but at least the chowder was GOOD. Your dish was BAD.

I like that the two top dishes going against each other were pork-based though. And I thought Hector and Robin's dish of chili looked delicious! (God, I love me some beans.) I hope Hector goes far. I think he is charming and I love that there's a Latin element cooked by (gasp!) a real Latino. I also love Kevin and Eli, the two chubby nerds. I love me some nerds!

At least Jennifer didn't have an occasion to mispronounce the word "ceviche" on this episode. That was a pleasant element. Everything else about her is not pleasant. Except her attitide to kick Mike's misogynistic ass. That I like.

(Trow your hands in the air, wave 'em like you don't care... or have a clue.)

Never apologize... even for garlic

So I recently made a batch of arugula pesto. (Using my handy-dandy, just-taken-out-of-the-box Magic Bullet of course.) I had some wilting arugula in the fridge and I didn't want it to go to waste, so I threw it together with pine nuts, lemon juice, parm cheese, garlic, and olive oil in the Magic Bullet and processed away.

Well. I was a little short on the arugula. Like probably a cup short. And I wasn't thinking and just threw the 3 cloves into the mix. And the end product was really rather garlicky. I tossed in some extra salt and stirred in some extra olive oil, which helped cut back on the garlic, but it was like taking a cup of water out of the ocean. It helped, but not much.

But whatever! It's all good. Jeremy and I happen to love garlic, so despite leaving us with garlic breath for hours and hours, we enjoyed it. We just found that we didn't have to put quite so much on our linguine as if it were less garlicky pesto.

And by the way, if you melt a little butter and drizzle it over the linguine before stirring in the pesto.... mmmm. Magnificent! Really, what isn't made better with butter?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cooking as life saver

I went to see Julie and Julia with my dear friend Emily on Sunday (it was the perfect date!) and it was really a charming movie. I read the book, which I thought was decent, but the movie was really lovely and brought things to life. Meryl Strep did such a great job. I think seeing it on the big screen made it easier to get the parallel stories of the two women's lives. And it made me hungry. But I think the thing I liked best about it was watching these two women find meaning and peace in their lives through food. Things weren't always easy or pleasant for them, and things didn't always go their way. They had obstacles and challenges. But through it all, they knew that they could just go into the kitchen, whip some ingredients together, and get pleasing results, and that constancy was a comfort for them, just as it's a comfort for me.

Lately my life has seemed rather volatile and unsettled, and like maybe it's not moving in the right direction, and like maybe it's not quite right. And during this time I've discovered what a sanctuary my kitchen can provide. Working in there, usually with Jeremy by my side, I find peace and truly do feel content. I feel like I am doing something right. I find it fulfilling to know that I can coax something delicious and nourishing out of ingredients that started out as one thing and ended up as another. And that if you fuck something up, it's okay, you can either fix it or start over and it's not hard and it's not the end of the world. The physical transformations that happen when you cook also transform something in you while you do it. Cooking and baking bring me calm and give me perspective.

I know this sounds new age-y, but I genuinely do mean it. Cooking lately has been of utmost importance to me, and I have nothing but love and respect for others who feel the same way. Thank you, Julia, thank you, Jose Andres, thank you, Mark Bittman--you've taught me to love it through your love. Can't think of anything better to love!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I like tomatoes! (and gazpacho)

I busted out the Magic Bullet for the first time in 3 years last night for... gazpacho.

Yes, I've owned a Magic Bullet for 3 years (got one right before moving to Boston) and for 3 years I never even took it out of the box. Now I feel like I should be on an infomercial because I find myself wondering how I ever got by without it. Yes, I had to make the gazpacho in batches, because admittedly the Bullet doesn't have a high capacity. But it works so fast, and made such quick work out of things that it was worth it to blend the soup in small batches.

We decided to make gazpacho from Jose Andres's cookbook, which calls for a particular brand of sherry that I hunted for and found at the Liquor World near my office---a particular brand of sherry that happened to set me back $25. Dios mio! At least the recipe calls for a scant quarter-cup of the stuff, so we'll be making batches of gazpacho with this stuff for a while.

But oh! What a difference a sherry makes! This gazpacho was amazing stuff. Jose calls for straining it, but I actually like the chunks in my soup, so it was perfection. It was tangy from the vinegar (we used red wine vinegar), and the sherry added a luxurious taste to it. And of course, this being a recipe by Jose Andres, it was full of olive oil, which just made it all the tastier. And you really do have to add the little cut-up tomatoes and thin-sliced cucumbers (which I sliced paper-thin, thanks to the mandolin slicer I bought this weekend on a whim), and the cubes of bread toasted in olive oil. We used a roasted garlic artisan loaf from Shaw's that's pretty tasty. (Shaw's has a surprisingly good bakery.) Our soup turned out more orange than pink because the market was out of green bell peppers and we used an orange one. Still delicious though. Very refreshing, and surprisingly filling. I definitely recommend trying this one out. It's simple and satisfying. To know that such a fine soup hails from my homeland makes me proud to be a Spaniard!

Top Chef, season 6, episode 2

Gosh, I'm so behind on this thing! A lot has been going on lately (not all of it good)---and a lot of cooking, which has been good.

First off: Top Chef. Squeaking in here barely under the wire. So the second episode--it wasn't too hard to predict that stupid Eve would get kicked off. She barely survived the first cut as it was. Honestly, that woman was just so incredibly bland that I'm glad she was the second to go. I don't think she had anything interesting to say or do. Sometimes I wonder how these people get on the show, because this season has a really strong cast. Do they purposely pick one or two morons or unextraordinary people just so they have an easy time of it during the first couple of cuts?

(And PS, Eve's restaurant is called.... Eve. Seriously?) 

I was sad to see Jesse do so poorly again because I really like her, but right now I am just doubting that she'll last pretty long.

Also, it REALLY irritates the shit out of me that Jennifer pronounces the word ceviche as "say-VEECH." Bitch, it's "say-VEE-chay"! Say it right or stop making it!

And I just have to say that while I am sympathetic with Ashley's points about gay marriage (let gays get married, I say!), I thought it was odd that she kept bringing up the fact that she was angry that the challenge was to cook for a heterosexual couple's bachelor/bachelorette party. I think she needed to just remove the theme of the event from the forefront of her mind and just focus on the food. Honestly, there's no reason to get pissed for Top Chef choosing something traditional as a challenge theme. How many chefs and caterers will have customers and clients in that very same situation, and will these customers/clients be refused service because of their situation? That's unprofessional. I just think that political and personal beliefs should have been kept out of the challenge (and this show as a whole--it's focused on food, not life issues). There's a time and place for them, and it's not on Top Chef.

CHEFTESTANT FAIL #2! (and holy shit, that's a LOT of make-up she has on! Compare her face to her neck! And arms!)