Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weekend Cookbook Challenge 26 Roundup and Theme for 27

Jill of Veggie Queen Adventures made this beautiful Orange Scented Beet Salad for WCC 26.

Good morning! The round up for March's Weekend Cookbook Challenge is up. Please visit the WCC site to read all about it.

Thank you to Lis from La Mia Cucina for hosting this month.


Carla from Chocolate Moosey is our WCC hostess for April. Her theme is Vintage Cookbooks. Please click here to get all the details.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chinese New Year Dinner, the Final Post

Wow I've got the memory of a tick. I totally forgot to fill you in on the last three dishes of our big Chinese New Years Dinner we had last month.

I've already told you about the Snow Peas with Garlic, and we all drooled over the Deep Fried Tofu. Next up, the Spring Rolls.

This is the one non-Kylie recipe that graced our table for the dinner: Spring Rolls from Epicurious.

It's been a long long time since I made spring rolls from scratch, but since we got that deep fryer we figured why not? We've shallow fried spring rolls in the past, but I think that they need to be deep fried to be really good.

Here's the recipe.

We made the filling in the morning, then put it outside to cool down and drain. About an hour before we wanted to have them for our appetizer we rolled them up.

Because it was around 0'C outside, once the rolls were rolled we put them back outside.

We fried them up in the new fryer and drained them on paper towel. We served them with sweet chile sauce.

These turned out pretty good, but I wish they had some garlic or ginger - or both in the filling. If I make them again, I would do that for sure.

My second favorite dish after the tofu was the Dry Fried Sichuan Beef. Thinly sliced beef was briefly fried in the wok, and then removed. Chile peppers, ginger and garlic are quickly cooked, then the beef goes back in, along with hoisin sauce, green onions and some of your roasted salt and pepper. The beef is moved to your serving plate and is sprinkled with shredded lettuce. It was so good. I love hoisin on anything, and the crisp lettuce with the hot beef (dirty!) was a nice combo. I cut back on the amount of oil used to fry the beef and aromatics, and upped the hoisin. Dee-lish.

To make our evening easy we did almost all of the prep in the morning. We chopped, sliced and diced all the ingredients, put them in containers and grouped them together in the fridge. Then when it was cooking time, we just had to grab our totem pole of plastic.

Last was the fried rice. We made this right before my parents showed up, and dumped it into a heavy dish, covered it well and left it in a warm oven. It didn't suffer at all and made the cooking of the dinner go that much smoother.

That was not the first time I'd made Fried Rice, but it was my first time making fried rice with eggs and sherry. I cut back on the number of eggs I used (the recipe calls for 4, I used 2) and added more Sherry (whooooooo!) and it was probably the nicest fried rice I've ever made. Nicer apparently, than the fried rice I made last week, as evidenced by Scott's comment - "did you lose that other fried rice recipe? that one was good" while we were eating. Guess I've learned my lesson about experimenting with fried rice.

I'm not in the mood to type out the last two recipes. If anyone wants them, email me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Plantation Biscuits and some culture.

Good Lord.....for years and years I could not have made a half decent loaf of bread if my life depended on it. Since last year and with the help of Mary and The Daring Bakers and the new BBB group I've made successful bread again and again. And now, now I'm the sort of girl who goes to the library and takes out books on bread, and then reads them on my lunch breaks! Gotta say, I never saw that coming.

I borrowed Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Small Breads from the library and have enjoyed reading it. Last Saturday morning I came across a recipe for Plantation Biscuits, a recipe from a plantation on the big island of Hawaii. You could make them in a mixer or by hand. Biscuits in my mixer? I couldn't not make them! They're a snap to put together, and all the ingredients are standard to most kitchens. They were a delicious breakfast with a little peach jam (my current favorite).

Plantation Biscuits
from Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Small Breads

3/4 cup milk
1 tb vinegar
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 tb butter

Half an hour before making the dough, mix the milk with the vinegar and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425' and place rack in the top third.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. With the flat beater blade, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture has a fine crumb consistency. Stir the floured milk and pour into the flour. Mix only until the dough is lightly blended.

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and pat into an 8" circle. Cut into 8 wedges and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes.


Not food related -

Found at Fussy, here's scenes from Casablanca, Singin' in the Rain, and The Godfather, as voiced by the cast of Spongebob Squarepants:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Weekend Cookbook Challenge 26 - Crock Pots, Dutch Ovens and Pressure Cookers.

I felt the need to make another dish for this months Weekend Cookbook Challenge. I received two Ina Garten books for Christmas and I haven't cooked out of either yet. While flipping through Barefoot in Paris (my favorite Ina book) I found a recipe to cook baby potatos in a DO (I read somewhere last night that DO is the slang that cooks use for their Dutch Ovens. And then I don't have to type out Dutch Oven over and over again.) that sounded really nice.

You melt a crap load of butter in your DO, then toss in whole baby potatos that have been scrubbed clean. They cook, tightly covered, over low heat for 20 or 30 minutes, then you toss them with herbs and gobble them down. I got them started and then was immediately filled with anxiety. I have trouble controlling the heat on the stove in our new house. It is beyond temperamental. Set it at medium high, it takes forever to heat up. But turn up the heat just a bare millimeter, and everything burns to a crisp in two seconds. I was really really worried that because Ina instructs you not to remove the lid during cooking, only to shake the DO from time to time, that everything was going to burn into a black mess and then there would be no potatos to eat. The horror!

It all turned out just fine in the end. I didn't have too much trouble with the temperature, although the potatos took about 45 minutes to cook. I'll admit that I peeked more than once just to make sure everyone was ok. And they were!

These were very delicious, although a bit too salty. Next time I'll cut the salt back by at least half. Yay - a successful Ina recipe to negate the lemon cake I wasn't crazy about.

Lis is accepting entries for this months Weekend Cookbook Challenge until March 26. So send them in to her! Here's how.

Herbed New Potatos
from Barefoot in Paris
by Ina Garten

serves 6

4 Tb unsalted butter
2 1/2 lbs small white or yukon gold potatos scrubbed but not peeled
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
5 Tb chopped mixed fresh green herbs, such as parsley, chives and dill

Melt the butter in a DO over large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the whole potatos, salt and pepper and toss well. Cover the pot tightly and cook over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until the potatos are just tender when tested with a small knife. From time to time shake the pot without removing the lid to prevent the bottom potatos from burning. Turn off the heat and allow the potatos to steam for another 5 minutes. Don't overcook! Toss with the herbs and serve hot.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shrimp and Beer in Foil

I go through cycles with recipes, where I'll make something over and over and over again, and then I'll forget about it for ages, years sometimes, until something clicks in my head and reminds me of the dish.

I used to make this dish - chicken and vegetables cooked in parchment paper - before I started to date Scott, which tells you how long ago that was. (A really, really long time ago.) Anyway, I used to make it quite often, thinly sliced chicken breast sitting on some sliced leek and carrot, sprinkled with white wine, and cooked in the oven. It was good, it was quick. I'm not sure why it totally left my radar until I saw a commercial for the new Presidents Choice en papillote entrees, and in a flash I was in the kitchen to see if we had all the ingredients to make my version. We didn't, but I think I came up with something even better - Shrimp cooked with Beer in Foil!

The thing about cooking in parchment paper - or foil - is that the food is sealed in with the liquid and steam. You cut the meat thin so the packet cooks quickly, and with the added liquid (water, broth, wine, beer, juice) you don't need to add any oil, which is great. You can make one big packet or small packs for each person, whatever you want.

Here's how to make Scott's current favorite dish:

Preheat your oven to 400'. Tear off a large square of foil (which is easiest) or parchment paper. Thinly slice some vegetables (I used thinly sliced zucchini and carrot strips peeled with the veggie peeler) and lay them on the foil. Top with raw shrimp that have been peeled and deveined. Pour a few tablespoons of beer (or water, wine, juice...) over top, and season with salt and pepper, or whatever seasoning you want. We used our salad spice grinder seasoning, which goes with pretty much anything.

Then turn in the sides and wrap it up snugly, with no openings for the liquid or steam to escape, but leave some room for the steam to move around in. Toss in the oven for about 8 minutes or so, until the shrimp are cooked and the veggies are crisp-tender.

Remove the packets from the over and CAREFULLY open them - remember there's going to be hot steam and liquid in there.

Remove the shrimp and veggies to a dish with a slotted spoon, or just do what I do and dump the food and liquid into a bowl. That way you can mop up the juices with a piece of bread.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bread Baking Babes - Crocodile Bread

The Babes are back! This month our group which consists of
A Fridge Full of Food (Glenna), Bake My Day (Karen), Cookie Baker Lynn (Lynn),Grain Doe (Görel), I Like to Cook (Sara), Living on Bread and Water (Monique), Lucullian Delights (Ilva), My Kitchen in Half Cups (Tanna), Notitie van Lien (Lien), The Sour Dough (Mary aka Breadchick), Thyme of Cooking (Katie), and What Did You Eat (Sher)
tackled another Wet Dough. I type it like that - Wet Dough - because these doughs scare me a little, and demand respect. I am learning that there is a fine line between a Wet Dough and a dough that just doesn't have enough flour added.

This months Wet Dough is:

The Coccodrillo.

AKA The Crocodile Bread. This recipe comes from The Italian Baker by Carol Field, and is names Coccodrillo because of its shape, which resembles, well, just guess.

This dough is different from other breads I have made in that it has two starters. The day before you are going to make the bread, you mix your yeast and water with flour and durum flour in the morning, and let it sit all day. Then in the evening you add more yeast, water, durum and flour. Mix again, and let it stand until the morning. The you add the last of the flour and mix the dough - it is too Wet to knead - for 30 minutes. Thirty minutes! Then it has two risings, you bake it and eat it.

Something unbelievable has happened to me in the past two months. You know that in addition to this group I am also part of The Daring Bakers, and I read lots of blogs. I will read posts, or emails from people who will make the same recipe 4 or 5 or 6 times before posting about it - changing size, shape, ingredients, adding, deleting. It always amazes me, and it's something that I've never thought about doing, or even wanted to do. But then last month? I made The French Bread twice. And this month I made this Croc bread twice. What have I become???????????

Well see here's what happened. Mary and I were supposed to meet up online to bake the bread together. But I was under the weather that day so Mary had to go it alone. We set up a new day to bake together, but in the meantime, I was seeing all these delicious pictures of Croc bread on our super-secret BBB blog. And I just couldn't wait until the appointed baking day, I had to give it a try. It was so great and I had no troubles at all. But I also wanted to bake with Mary - she is so helpful and smart, and gosh darn it, I just like chatting with her. So I made the bread again, with modifications to the flour. I'm scaring myself now.

First I'll show you the recipe, then if you haven't fallen asleep, you can see how my two batches of bread turned out.

The Italian Baker by Carol Field

This bread, named for its shape, was dreamed up about thirty years ago by Gianfranco Anelli, a baker in Rome. It is his favorite bread and, judging from the numbers of people who come from all over the city to buy it, it may be his most popular as well. At the bakery it takes two days to make; I suggest that you start it in the morning, work at it again for ten minutes in the evening, and finish the next day. I actually prefer to stretch the process over three days because the flavor is even better. Three days may seem formidable, but the working time of the first two days is only 5 to 10 minutes.
This is one dough that you will find difficult to make without an electric mixer, for it requires thirty minutes of continuous stirring for the final dough-of course you could enlist help. The result is an extremely light bread with a crunchy dark-speckled crust and a very chewy interior. The bread stays fresh for an amazing number of days.

Makes 2 large loaves
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast or 1/6 small cake (3 grams) fresh yeast 1 cup warm water
1/4 cup (35 grams) durum flour
3/4 cup (90 grams) unbleached stone-ground flour
The morning of the first day, stir the yeast into the water; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flours and stir with a wooden spoon about 50 strokes or with the paddle of an electric mixer about 30 seconds. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 12 to 24 hours. The starter should be bubbly.

1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or 1/2 small cake (9 grams) fresh yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
1/2 cup (70 grams) durum flour
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) unbleached stone-ground flour

The evening of the same day or the next morning, stir the yeast into the warm water; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the water, flours and dissolved yeast to the first starter and stir, using a spatula or wooden spoon or the paddle of the electric mixer until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 12 to 24 hours.

1/4 cup (35 grams) durum flour
1 to 1 1/4 cups (120 to 140 grams) unbleached stone-ground flour
1 1/2 tablespoons (25 grams) salt

The next day, add the durum flour and 1 cup unbleached flour to the starter in a mixer bowl; mix with the paddle on the lowest speed for 17 minutes. Add the salt and mix 3 minutes longer, adding the remaining flour if needed for the dough to come together. You may need to turn the mixer off once or twice to keep it from overheating.

If you decide to make this dough by hand, place the starter, durum flour, and 1 cup unbleached flour in a wide mouthed bowl. Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon for 25 to 30 minutes; then add the salt and remaining flour if needed and stir 5 minutes longer. The dough is very wet and will not be kneaded.

First Rise. Pour the dough into a Hammarplast bowl or a wide mouthed large bowl placed on an open trivet on legs or on a wok ring so that air can circulate all around it. Loosely drape a towel over the top and let rise at about 70° F, turning the dough over in the bowl every hour, until just about tripled, 4 or 5 hours.

Shaping and Second Rise. Pour the wet dough onto a generously floured surface. Have a mound of flour nearby to flour your hands, the top of the oozy dough, and the work surface itself. This will all work fine-appearances to the contrary-but be prepared for an unusually wet dough. Make a big round shape of it by just folding and tucking the edges under a bit. Please don't try to shape it precisely; it's a hopeless task and quite unnecessary. Place the dough on well, floured parchment or brown paper placed on a baking sheet or peel. Cover with a dampened towel and let rise until very blistered and full of
air bubbles, about 45 minutes.

Baking. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven with a baking stone in it to 475° F. Just before baking, cut the dough in half down the center with a dough scraper; a knife would tear the dough. Gently slide the 2 pieces apart and turn so that the cut surfaces face upward. Sprinkle the stone with cornmeal. If you feel brave, slide the paper with the dough on it onto the stone, but the dough can also be baked directly on the baking sheet. When the dough has set, slide the paper out. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Are you still there? Ok, so here's my first batch. When the BBB's were talking flour before we started it was recommended to me that I buy some Wheat Gluten to add to my regular all purpose flour. I bought some, but chickened out in using it for this batch. This bread was made with AP flour and Durum Semolina. I made the first starter, then 12 hours later added the second. Due to poor planning the starter then sat for 24 hours on my table. Not that that is bad for the dough, but it was bad for me - I was up until after 1 AM making this bread. On a work night!

Obviously I chose to use my mixer for this rather than stirring by hand for half an hour. Here's the dough slowly sliding off the paddle after its 20 minutes of mixing.

And here it is after completing its first rise.

Yup, it's a sticky dough. This is where I made my only error, and I use that word loosely. I put too much flour on the counter, so when I was folding and tucking the edges, I scooped some flour into the dough on one side. When the bread cooked it had a little line of unmixed flour along one side of a loaf. Not a big deal, we just cut it off.

The blob after the second rise.

Cut into two and ready for the oven.


Look at that! Perfect. This was a mighty damn tasty bread. Crispy crust, great texture, a bit salty. Very good and really not difficult. I would make this bread again in a heartbeat.

And then just a few days later, I did! This time I added the gluten - 1/2 tsp per cup of flour.

Dough after the mixing.

Slightly less sticky, but still a soft dough.

Two pretty loaves ready for the oven.

Look at the bread! Looks professional, don't it.

And pretty on the inside too. In the end I don't think there was a lot of difference between the two batches. I thought the flavor was a little milder in this batch. The crust seemed softer and less crisp. Scott preferred this batch to the first, but I felt the opposite. But the end result were 4 loaves of fantastic bread.

Please check out the other babes blogs today to read about their experiences. Thanks to Lien for choosing this recipe. It is definitely going to be made again and again in my house.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Weekend Cookbook Challenge 26 - Crock Pots, Dutch Ovens and Pressure Cookers.

FINALLY, I managed to convince Lis from La Mia Cucina to host a round of Weekend Cookbook Challenge, after two years! She's chosen for her theme Crock Pots, Dutch Ovens and Pressure Cookers. I had to go with a recipe using a Dutch Oven, as I got my first one just last month. It's red, it's heavy, it was on sale for $35 bucks. What more could I ask for? My new pots first trip into the oven was a bit of a bust. I tried the No Knead Bread that everyone in the world has made. It didn't work out so well. But anyway.

A couple of weeks before Lis announced her theme I was cleaning up my cookbook bookcase and was looking at my Bouchon cookbook by Thomas Keller. Scott gave me this for Christmas way back in 2004. Just over 3 years later and I've yet to make one thing out of it! I told myself that I'd have to be sure to use it in one of the upcoming WCC's. When the theme was announced I quickly found the perfect recipe - Provencal Vegetables. In Thomas Kellers own words "A refined interpretation of ratatouille."

Onions (I used red), Peppers (I used red, yellow and orange), zucchini, eggplant and tomatos baked slowly in the oven for 3 hours. Yes please! The Bouchon recipe calls for yellow squash as well, but I could not find any. I just doubled up on the beautiful small zucchinis I found at the market. The recipe also suggests cooking the dish the day before you want to eat it, to let the flavors develop. We did this and it was fantastic.

Provencal Vegetables
From Bouchon

1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sliced onions
1 red bell pepper cored, seeded and cut into a 1/4 inch wide julienne
1 yellow bell pepper cored, seeded and cut into a 1/4 inch wide julienne
1 green bell pepper cored, seeded and cut into a 1/4 inch wide julienne (I used orange)
sachet (thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 1/2 tsp peppercorns)
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced zucchini
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced japanese eggplant
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced yellow squash
12 oz (6 small) tomatos, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp chopped garlic
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp minced thyme

Preheat the oven to 275'.
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers and sachet, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are softened by not browned. Remove the sachet and spread the mixture in an even layer in a 12" ovenproof skillet or baking dish. OR DUTCH OVEN!
Arrange the sliced vegetables over the onions and peppers, beginning at the outside of the skillet and working toward the center, alternating and overlapping the slices. Mix the garlic, oil, thyme and salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle over the vegetables.
Cover the skillet with aluminum foil, and then with a tight fitting lid, and bake for 2 1/2 hours.Remove the lid and foil and return to the oven uncovered, for another 30 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender.
The vegetables can be served immediatly or cooled to room temperature and then refrigerated for a day or two. Reheat in a 350' oven until warmed through.

For all the deets on how to take part in this months WCC challenge, please check out Lis' WCC post.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Presto Pasta - 3, 3, 3 posts in one!

Geeze! I seem to be in a bit of a blogging the blog the dumps, in a funk, in a slump. I've been neglecting my blog and all of yours too lately. I haven't taken part in many food events, and it has been ages and ages since I send a post to Ruth for her very popular Presto Pasta Nights.

I have tried to take part. In January I made this Beef Stroganoff

But I took too long in posting about it, and didn't write down the recipe. It's gone forever from my head now. Which is really too bad, it was very nice.

Then last month I worked on a post about portion sizes

But it just stalled out in my head and I couldn't get 'er done.

Last week I had dinner downtown at Peter's Pasta. It's a small place run by Peter and his family. They make their own pasta and sauces, and it's all very very good. One of my dining companions had the half order of Spaghetti with Mushroom Sauce. It was so good I'd wished I had ordered a full order of it for myself.

The next night I was checking out the contents of the fridge for dinner and came across some mushrooms. So we made our own Mushroom Pasta!

Mushroom Pasta

We cleaned and thinly sliced the mushrooms - I'm guessing we had 10 to 12 ounces. We fried them up in a touch of olive oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper. Set them aside.

I decided to use the cream sauce from January's Creamed Spinach as the base for our mushroom pasta sauce. Because Scott likes to eat and wanted leftovers, I tripled the amount of sauce. So I used:
3 tb butter
2 tb cornstarch
3 tsp vegetable bouillon
2 1/4 cup non fat milk

Melt the butter in a large pan. Whisk in the cornstarch and vegetable bouillon and cook for one minute. Add the milk and whisk to blend all the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes until thick and bubbly.

Then toss in the mushrooms and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted and the mushrooms are hot. Stir in some chopped parsley and pepper. Taste it before you add salt - the mushrooms have been salted and Parmesan is salty too.

We cooked up some pasta we'd bought from the Italian deli downtown - Fratelli Deli. The package is all in Italian, but I think the pasta is called Gramigna Emiliana. It's like slightly longer thinner macaroni. I tossed together just enough pasta and sauce for two servings, and the rest went in the fridge.

I am so pleased at how this came out. Creamy, cheesy, mushroomy. Exactly what I was looking for!

Happy Saturday!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

WCC 25 Roundup and Theme for 26

Buon Giorno!
Multiple WCC hostess Ani of Foodie Chickie has posted the round up for WCC 25.

Please go here for her delicous round up of all things Nigella.

Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake from All Things Mimi.

Also, the theme for numero 26 is up here.

Happy Monday!