Monday, March 30, 2009

Mushrooms in Creme Fraiche

Continuing the easy and very tasty meals with crème fraiche theme I present these very simple and sinful mushrooms. I refuse to spend $5 for a couple ounces of gourmet mushrooms so I used everyday ordinary white button mushrooms and this was delicious but with a crème sauce what mushroom wouldn't be? And they were nice with lean cuts of beef smothered with spicy peppers. A pleasantly simple meal.

Mushrooms in Crème Fraiche

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound of fresh chanterelle mushrooms, cut in half (I used button mushrooms)

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1/ 2 cup crème fraiche

In a frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. When the butter foam, add mushrooms and season with salt. Turn the mushrooms a couple times to brown on all sides and cover with oil then cover pan and cook until mushrooms have released their juices and browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.

Add garlic, parsley, and season with pepper. Cook uncovered, until mushrooms have rendered more of their juices, about 2 minutes longer. Add the crème fraiche, raise heat to medium high and cook while stirring until the cream thickens and blends with the juices, about 2 minutes longer.

Original recipe from Savoring France by Georgeanne Brennan.

Salmon in Wine and Cream Sauce

This salmon is proof that everything is better with crème fraiche. Everything, I tell you.

The sauce is the only tricky part of the recipe. It takes a lot of time to reduce the liquid and get the shallots soft. Then there is the fun of forcing the juices out of the tomatoes through a mesh sieve. Which made me wonder about the things the French do in the name of sauces. There was very little to show for all the work but once the crème fraiche is added it's worth the effort seeing as the end result is a thick creamy sauce with a nice sharp tang to it from the tomatoes and white wine.

I didn't have any Muscadet just laying around so I used the driest wine I had in the wine rack. The Santa Julia Organica Torrontes is a nice balance of tart citrus and minerality that worked well in adding to the sauce. For drinking with dinner it was rather complex, neither the fella nor I could could figure out quite what was going on this wine. It had good depth for a $10 organic white to the point that we just say there saying “this reminds me of something” never able to put our taste buds on what was so familiar about it. I do know that the tartness of the wine went really well with the lemon zest on the Sesame Green Beans we made once again to go with dinner.

Salmon in Wine and Cream Sauce

4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups Muscadet or dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper

3 tablespoons butter
6 center cut salmon fillets, skin removed

2/3 cup crème fraiche
1 teaspoon minced fresh chervil (I used dried parsley)
1 teaspoon minced fresh chives (I skipped these)
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon (I used dried)

In a saucepan over medium high heat, combine tomatoes, shallots, wine, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until reduced by a third, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper to taste. In frying pan over medium high heat, melt the butter. When it foams, add salmon fillets. Sear until golden on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes each side.

While salmon cooks, strain the tomato mixture through a fine mesh sieve placed over a bowl, pressing against the pulp to extract all the juice. )This will yield surprisingly little juice so don't be worried, if you're not picky you could just put this all in a food processor and get a chunkier stronger sauce.) Stir in the crème fraiche, seasoning to taste. Return to the saucepan over medium heat and cook until sauce thickens a bit, about 3 minutes.

Pour sauce over the salmon and sprinkle with chervil, chives, and tarragon. Serves 6 (I halved it when I made this.)

Original recipe from Savoring France by Georgeanne Brennan.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Crockpot Ratatouille

Some books are begging to be judged by their covers, cliché or no. Seriously with a title like How to Make Love and Dinner at the Same Time how can you open the glossy little textual vixen without preconceived notions?

The fella and I found this little treat on our last cookbook hunting mission at the library. We just go to the closest library on that particular day we're running errands, swoop in and grab an arm load of cookbooks each, then go home and play the lets make a menu for the week game. I grab a pile of French cookbooks and the fella finds a couple on Asian cuisine and whatever else is tickling his Scorpio-ian fancy right about then. This time that happened to be cookpot books.

Surprisingly the recipes in the book are pretty decent and hit upon all the major cuisines without bastardizing them too badly. Rebecca Field Jager should probably stick to the recipes however. On every page there is also a little Sex in the City-esque tip about sex and being a sassy hot lady. It isn't cute and it distracts from the actual point of the book. Crockpotting to have more time to get your grove on is a nice idea, I'll take advice on the former but I can handle the latter thank you very much. And should I ever need any pointers I can't imagine trusting advice about sex found in the cooking section.

Criticism aside her ratatouille was really good. After chopping up the veggies you have nothing else to do. Turn on the crockpot, go to work, come home, eat dinner. A traditional French meal that cooked while I wasn't in the kitchen, it was a nice change of pace. This went perfectly with the Broccoli and Red Pepper Penne though it was missing a little complexity of flavor. I couldn't quite tell what it was missing but after looking at some other ratatouille recipes it could be thyme and rosemary, I'll have to make it again to tweak it but that would be my guess for now.

The Vinedos de la Posada Malbec I opened with the meal rounded out an already amazing experience. I'm on a real Malbec kick as of late. This one especially wins points for being organic, fair trade and made with no added sulfites. It has the South American spicy bite and big dark fruit of a New World Malbec but has the light drinkability of Malbecs from Cahors without being boring and flabby. It's the Malbec I go for when I want to treat myself a little, though I don't have to considering how many out of this world Argentinian Malbecs there are for under $10.

The Conquista Malbec is about $7, drinks like a $30 or more bottle, and sells out every time the day we get a couple cases in the wine store. I've been carrying on a sordid love affair with it for years. And with a new book full of crockpot recipes I have even more time to spend looking longingly into its plum colored depths.

Crockpot Ratatouille

1 eggplant, sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
1 red pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
(the original recipe is missing these last two spices which are in traditional ratatouille and would add to the flavor profile greatly)

To remove bitter juices, sprinkle eggplant with salt and let sit in colander to drain for about 20 minutes. Rinse then pat dry.

Cut up all the vegetables and add them with the spices to the crock pot. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Original recipe from How to Make Dinner and Love at the Same Time.

Broccoli and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

Finding high protein meals for this diet has been simple. Those meals allow fat and any fruits and vegetables with a GI of 35 or lower. The only big restriction is keeping the meal carb and root vegetable free. We have fun cooking these nights and they usually allow us to dabble in the Indian food and spice we miss so much.

The high fiber/low fat meal however have started to get tedious. These meals are heavily restrictive as to what is allowed and have to be eaten for dinner 3 to 4 times a week. They require a whole wheat pasta, brown rice or low GI bean as a base and are complimented with low GI veggies and can only have enough fat added as is required for cooking. It's getting old finding new and interesting things. We can only have lentil stew, stir fry or pasta with tomato paste and grilled vegetables so many times before going nutty.

Thankfully the fella stumbled on a new source of low fat whole food cooking. Meals Matter is like the healthy cooking version of Epicurious from what I can tell in that it has user submitted recipes that are reviewed and easily searchable. It has nutritional information for the recipes too so that helped us make up a more exciting menu this week full of high fiber food without repeating our three go to dishes once again.

This combo of crispy broccoli and tangy roasted red pepper was delicious. I am confused about the amount of pasta the original recipe calls for however as the sauce was just barely enough to make two servings and now we have a ton of extra pasta awaiting usage in the fridge. So if you're a sauce whore like I am you might want to double the delicious pureed red pepper sauce. Next time I would also up the spices especially the red pepper flakes to give it more of a kick. Even on the bland side I loved it. Not to mention it practically cooks itself.

Broccoli and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

2 roasted red peppers (you can make them yourself, I use canned)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups broccoli florets
8 oz whole wheat penne (original recipe called for 16 oz but there isn't enough sauce to cover all that pasta)
1 tablespoon oil
1 clove garlic, finely diced
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 teaspoon dried basil
4 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Slice open peppers and wash out seeds. Place the peppers in a food processor with balsamic vinegar, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add broccoli florets and cook for 1 minute. Scoop out the broccoli with a slotted spoon and set aside. Bring the water back to a boil.

Cook pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile place a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the oil. Cook garlic, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and increase the heat to medium. When the tomatoes begin to simmer, stir in pepper puree and broccoli; cook for 2 minutes. Stir in basil and remove from the heat.

Drain the pasta and add to the skillet, stirring to coat. Spoon into shallow bowls and garnish each with grated Parmesan.

Original recipe from Meals Matter site.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blueberry Pork Chops

No I didn't burn dinner. That is actually a very poor quality picture of delicious food that was taken very hastily because I couldn't wait to eat it. I kind have an obsession with all things purple so I was a little more excited than usual to eat dinner. The savory and sweet combo also added to the drool factor.

So far the fella and I have loved everything that has come out of the Silver Spoon Cookbook and this was no exception. It was easy and low maintenance, what's not to love? The problem we have found is that most of the recipes in this book do seem to need a little tweaking so I shouldn't have been so surprised when this one gave me a bit of trouble as well.

I think the problem started with using frozen blueberries. There was no other choice seeing as I don't have a sugar daddy and blue berries are $4 a pint at the moment. Things ultimately worked out on the very tasty side but if you use frozen berries I would suggest extra time to reduce the liquid before and after putting the pork chops in the oven.

Other than spending a lot of time boiling off extra moisture before we could eat, this was amazing. The pork was fall apart tender and the berries gave it a nice sweetness. And of course eating the deep purple meat was a real treat. It went really nicely when a spinach salad topped with tart blue cheese from a local dairy.

Blueberry Pork Chops

4 spare-rib pork chops (I used whatever cut was on sale at Whole Foods)
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons oil (I left this out as the butter and pork fat created enough grease)
3/4 cup red wine (1/2 cup if using frozen berries)
2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup honey (I used a bit less than 1/4 cup agave nectar which was almost too sweet)

Preheat oven to 400.

Heat butter and oil in small flameproof casserole dish or oven safe pan. Add the pork chops and cook until browned on all sides. Pour in the wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half. Season with salt to taste.

Put the blueberries through the food processor until well chopped then stir in the honey (or agave nectar). Spread this mixture over the pork chops. Put a lid on the casserole dish and place in oven for 15 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes then serve.

My sauce never thickened so at this point I set aside the pork and put the sauce on a medium simmer uncovered until it thickened to a gravy consistency and spooned it onto the meat.

Original Recipe from The Silver Spoon Cookbook.

Light Weight

I'm kind of oblivious when it comes to my body. Up until recently that was a bit of a good thing because it meant I didn't obsess about my weight or even know what bra size I wear. This helps me be comfortable in my skin but it probably was less than healthy as I never knew how much I weighed unless I found myself on the horrifying scale in the doctor's office.

This obliviousness however is not the sanest thing in the world when one is dieting and blogging about it for the world to see. After 20 something years of not weighing myself I haven't been able to convince myself to start doing it regularly now. So it took until the other day for me to notice the pants I bought a month ago were falling off me, my shirts were baggy, and regular wine shop customers kept going on about how thin I looked. Clueless me still thought I had only lost about 12 pounds. I stepped on the scale and almost fell off it when I discovered I've now lost exactly 20 pounds. No wonder none of my clothes fit. Finally all the deprivation almost seems worth it.

I really didn't expect the results to be so obvious and so fast. Now I'm down a pants size and oh so glad I've kept my wardrobe from when I was lighter so I have something to wear. Can't figure out whether I'm thrilled or freaked out that I've lost weight so quickly.

Mostly I'm thrilled because those 20 pounds are the evil nasty ones that I've gained since going on thyroid medications that have caused havoc on my metabolism. The doctor warned me about weight gain but I wasn't prepared for gaining that much while eating less and exercising more so until the fella and I decided on this diet I had given up on ever being thin again. It should be interesting to see how difficult it is to get rid of the weight I've been hanging on to a little longer.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Indian Butter Chicken in the Crockpot

Not too long ago I finished Jay Mcinerney's A Hedonist in the Cellar which is a wild ride through the best of his articles for House and Garden. He spends a lot of time talking about wine no ordinary person is going to have the opportunity to get within 1000 feet of. The rest of the time he obsesses about wine and food pairings. As a lover of Indian cooking I was especially intrigued by his going on at great length about the perfection that is pairing a great spicy curry dish with Alsatian Gewürztraminer Seemed just crazy enough to give a try.

Unfortunately an Alsatian Gewürztraminer is about as affordable as a sports car and I wasn't about to spend that much on a bottle of wine I knew nothing about. So I left the comfort of the semi-upscale wine store I work in to go to a local warehouse wine store and browse the random Gewurztraminers of the world. Oddly enough they didn't have any German Gewürztraminers in the entire store but had two at a reasonable price from South Africa of all places. I don't remember the name of the wine we bought that night because it was utterly unremarkable and didn't do anything for the curry we made that night.

So I gave up in the Gewürztraminer/curry pairing that I was so excited about until the most recent meeting of Wasted, the wine tasting group I'm involved in. The theme was women wine makers and earlier in the week I happened to be at work shelving a Gewürztraminer from Oregon made by Joy Anderson, it was organic and $11 so I was sold. It was awesome, sweet but not cloyingly so with nice undertones of cinnamon and cloves that really opened up the palate. It got a lot of ohs and ahs which is always rewarding. Since then the fella and I have been obsessed. We've bought the Snoqualme Naked Gewürztraminer no less than three times and it never gets old.

Then today the stars aligned. In our house Tuesday is crockpot day since neither one of us are home to cook, we let the crockpot do the work. The fella threw together Indian butter chicken this morning and by the time I got home between jobs this afternoon the house smelled divine. Curry powder and chicken and all sorts of yum were lingering in the air.

Even without rice, this chicken might be the best thing we've made in the crockpot. The chicken thighs fell apart under my fork, super tender and juicy. The sauce was creamy and rich with butter, coconut milk and spices. Then I opened the refrigerator and was surprised to see an open bottle of the Naked Gewürztraminer from the other night that I had totally forgotten about. It was time to test the Gewürztraminer/curry pairing again.

This time it worked, both the chicken and the wine are outstanding alone but together they literally made me drool. The curry matched perfectly with the herbal notes of the wine and they both opened up on the palate to do wonderful things that even I don't have the wine vocabulary to describe. You'll just have to try it yourself.

Now I know what Mcinerney was talking about. It just took the right curry and the right wine to make it happen. I don't think the Naked Gewürztraminer would pair with every curry but with this thick saucy chicken it was magic that made me even more obsessed with this wine. And the chicken curry is super easy, all the ingredients get tossed in and you walk away. The most difficult part is making a satchel for the cardamom pods which is way simpler than the original recipe which wanted you to sew them together. That wins for craziest set of cooking instructions ever, sewing does not belong in the kitchen. Nonetheless I still adore the A Year of Crockpotting blog, insanity and all.

Indian Butter Chicken in the Crockpot

15 cardamom pods wrapped in cheese cloth or a tea bag
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tsp garam masala
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 can light coconut milk
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt

Use a 5 quart or larger crockpot.

Tie cardamom pods in a cheese cloth bundle. Put chicken in crockpot, and add onion, garlic, and all of the dry spices. Plop in the butter and tomato paste. Add lemon juice and coconut milk. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4. The chicken should shred easily with 2 forks when fully cooked.

Stir in plain yogurt 15 minutes before serving. Discard cardamom pods. Salt to taste if needed.

Original recipe from A Year of Crockpotting.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Mysteries of Celery Revealed

I finally figured out what Boulud is going on about when he keeps saying things like "1 stalk celery, peeled." Until now I thought he was just being overly picky but while making the delicious Angel Hair Pasta And Vegetable Ribbons, it became clear to me what was going on. This was the first French recipe I made for this blog and certainly the first recipe that ever called for celery peeling. The first time I made it I was so confused by the directions that I didn't put it together.

Doing it a second time was much simpler and still just as tasty. But this time I wasn't thrown off by the vegetable ribbons, I'm actually quite obsessed with them now and ribbon vegetables whenever possible much to the fella's amusement. The mystery of the peeled celery came to me when I had the celery round side down on the cutting board and was shaving the ribbons off the side facing up. As the perfect long thin ribbons came off all that was left was the tough stringy darker green part on the cutting board that refused to be ribboned. The ribbons were tasty and crunchy but the left over bit was tough and tasteless. It totally makes sense to keep that part out of the final product.

All this time I had no idea the hidden depths of celery. This discovery isn't going to change my life or anything but it was pretty nifty to figure out. It made me understand Boulud and French cooking better, all the picky instructions aren't there to make life difficult for the average cook but they are all little ways to make the dish turn out more perfect. Getting rid of the tough celery "peel" did make the veggies ribbons that much better.

Hopefully with this revelation I can stop having really urgent dreams about the need to make the perfect veal stock to keep the world from ending. It's been four nights in a row now and its starting to get creepy. Cooking, it's taking over my brain.

Tapenade Salad

This salad is summer in a bowl. The only way it could be better is in the middle of the actual summer, eating outside and drinking it with a light semi chilled red or a sweet Vouvray. On a bright spring day after a long afternoon chasing the dog around the park it was perfect. I know already that I will be making this again and again. And I usually have a thing against large amounts of raw vegetables piled in one place.

It was somewhat labor intensive but thankfully I have a wonderful sous chef who took over the pain staking job of pitting olives for a half hour. After that the tapenade came together nicely. I didn't put in nearly as many basil leaves at the recipe called for and liked it better that way and I totally omitted the garlic clove as I wasn't feeling up to raw garlic that day. The end resent was a creamy salty delicious tapenade. The recipe makes a much bigger portion than is necessary for the salad so half it or be prepared to have a bunch of very tasty tapenade left over. If I could eat bread I'd be slathering it over a baguette right about now. I'll never buy tapenade again.

The salad itself takes a lot of chopping with the typical fussy Boulud twist on each vegetable. It's gotten to the point that I find his details instructions comforting, I don't have to decide how to cut something up, Boulud has already given it more thought that I ever would. The very thinly sliced fennel really makes the salad, the rest of the veggies combine with it well. I would have put slightly less lemon juice on the salad however, as it was a bit tart and it made the vegetables give off their juices making the bottom portion of the salad soggy and unable to hold on to the tapenade.

Put together and topped with some toasted pine nuts, the raw veggie salad and tapenade was a treat. This recipe made dealing with Boulud's anal retentive cooking style worth it. Sadly it's time to take him back to the library and move on to Julia Child.

Tapenade Salad

1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
1/2 cup oil
20 basil leaves (used 5 huge leaves and even that was a bit much)
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and dried
1/2 clove garlic, peeled and germ removed (I left this out)
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

In a small pan over medium-high heat toast the pine nuts until browned on all sides. (If you're doing the salad too, this would be a good time to toast 2 additional tablespoons pine nuts to top salad.)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and whir, scraping down the sides as needed until the olives are pureed and ingredients are blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste, with the capers and olives it probably won't need to be salted.

Will last a week in the refrigerator up to a week when tightly sealed.

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and fronds removed
8 res radishes, trimmed, dried and thinly sliced
1 roasted red pepper, cut into 8 pieces
1 roasted yellow pepper, cut into 8 pieces (I used 2 canned red peppers to save time)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut thin in 2-inch lengths
1 scallion, white part only, thinly sliced on bias (I left this out)
1 bunch arugula, stems removed, dried (I used 2 handfuls baby spinach)
1 stalk celery, trimmed and thinly sliced on bias
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juiced

Cut the fennel in quarters and using mandoline shave it into thin slices. Toss fennel in large mixing bowl with all the other vegetables. Season salad with lemon zest, juice, pepper and sea salt.

shaved Parmesan cheese (I thought this was a bit much with the rich tapenade)
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Arrange the salad on chilled plates, top with the cheese and pine nuts. Dot the plates with the tapenade and spoon the rest in a bowl to place at the table in case more is needed to flavor salads.

Original recipe from Cafe Boulud Cookbook.

Pistachio Crusted Chicken or Pork

Since coming down with the plague early on last week and still having not fully shaken it, the fella and I have been falling back on a lot of old favorites for cooking. That means a lot of African, Indian, and Chinese food modified to fit the diet. This usually works out pretty well but requires the fella to take on the cooking since I don't have the stamina for food that requires constant attention or the brain power to understand the multi step directions. And he has actually been thrilled to be off dish washing duty and back to cooking up a storm.

Our other fall back recipes are simple but interesting meat dishes from Ms. love her or hate her Rachel Ray. This pistachio crust is out of this world and requires the level of cooking skills I'm up to in my weakened state. The hardest part is shelling a million pistachios without eating all of them, I just can't bring myself to pay $3 more for pre-shelled nuts so it's a necessary evil. The fella and I actually had fun with this chore on this particular day, he shelled nuts and pitted olives while I did the intricate vegetable chopping for the side dish and we had a nice assembly line going on. Both dishes got finished at the same time and we had a nice relaxing Sunday dinner.

We've done this yummy pistachio thing with both chicken and pork and both are equally yummy. Even if you're not on a crazy French diet I would suggest leaving out the breadcrumbs in the original recipe however. The pistachio crust by itself is subtle and well rounded, giving the meat a crunch and a nice flavor. With the breadcrumbs the garlic and lemon disappears and it tastes like homemade Shake 'n' Bake. No thanks. If that's your thing feel free to bread crumb it up.

This goes surprisingly well with Boulud's fussy Tapenade Salad. I can only imagine what would happen with overly perky Rachel Ray and snobby Daniel Boulud actually at the same table. It's a rather amusing mental image but I'm not sure which one would walk away alive in the end. Hmm. Their food together however made the best meal I've had in a while.

Pistachio Crusted Chicken or Pork

1/2 cup pistachios, shelled
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
(original recipe also calls for 1/4 cup breadcrumbs which help nuts stick to meat but dulls the flavor of the dish and adds an odd texture when baked)

4 chicken breasts or boneless pork chop, 1-inch thick
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup oil (I only use enough to keep meat from sticking to pan)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

Using a food processor, finely grind the nuts, garlic, lemon peel and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer to a shallow bowl (whisk in breadcrumbs if you're going to use them.)

Season the chicken or pork with salt and pepper. Dip each piece of meat into the egg, then coat with the nut mixture.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the meat and cook until golden, about 2 minutes on each side then place on the baking sheet. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 140° for pork or 170° for chicken, about 20 minutes.

Original recipe from Everyday With Rachel Ray.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chickpea "Blondies"

Finding diet safe desserts to ease the void left from losing chocolate, ice cream, pastries, cakes, and all the other yummy things I used to bake to treat myself to on the weekends has been difficult. But I'm determined. I also have enough friends with food allergies that I've become skilled at finding crazy substitutes for desserts that wont harm my loved ones.

Black bean brownies taste almost exactly like the real thing but have no flour so they they make celiacs really happy. I've found ways to alter cookie and cake recipes, removing all traces of gluten and had the gluten free desserts taste much better than the real thing, to the point that even kids at the party refused to eat the desserts that contained wheat because they weren't as tasty. So now I think of altering desserts as a fun challenge.

I do celiac friendly desserts at all my get togethers because when person who is used to going places knowing they won't be able to eat anything because it might be contaminated finds out there is bakery that is safe their face lights up with the biggest smile. It only takes a few minutes research and buying some brown rice or spelt flour to bake gluten free, it's worth that to see someone happy and I get to play with baking something new. Treating a certain celiac friend Q (whom I see to seldom now that she moved) to safe baked goods is especially enjoyable because there is dancing and cooing and clapping involved. I love rewarding people who love food with food I know they'll like.

The interesting part this time around for this weekend's movie party was doing celiac safe and French diet friendly. No wheat, no added fat, and no sugar. That doesn't leave much. Thankfully I have experience cooking without flour because all my dessert have to be flour free from now on. And hank goodness for vegans. Especially the insanely delicious things at a blog I just stumbled on called Have Cake, Will Travel which is a very cute site with bunches of vegan treats.

On the very first page there was a recipe for faux blondies which I knew I had to make since I'd already had great results with the faux brownies recently. Making these was quite interesting and taxed my poor food processor as it required it to puree garbanzo beans and peanut butter together into a nice even paste. This was more difficult than one might imagine. And getting the super sticky batter into the pan almost taxed my patience. It wasn't pleasant to work with and it wasn't pretty.

Once in the oven however they smelled heavenly. They had a nice constancy that made them feel like biting into a real blondie. Of course they were no where near as sinful as the real thing but they were nicely reminiscent of blondies. It's like eating soy yogurt, you have to be ready for something new and not think about what you're missing because neither soy yogurt nor these “blondies” taste like what they're named after but they fill a void.

People stuck mostly to the hummus and vegetable platter at the party, deeming the “blondies” to have a nice texture but tasting mostly like chewy peanut butter. That's okay with me, that means more left over ones for me to eat. And these taste even better after a couple days in the fridge as they get all gooey in the middle. I'll be eating another one tomorrow and thinking about the silly noises Q would make if she was here to share them with me because only certain people understand the importance of dessert.

Chickpea "Blondies"

1 15-ounce can, garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup raw sugar (I used 5 tablespoons fructose)
1/2 cup strawberry all-fruit jam
1/4 cup crunchy natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flax meal
2 tablespoons brown rice flour (I just added this much more flax meal)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (I used 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until perfectly smooth, scraping sides often.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 26 minutes.

Best enjoyed after being in the fridge for a bit.

Original recipe from the Have Cake, Will Travel blog.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sushi Bowls

Since I've had the money to develop a taste for it sushi has been both my comfort food and the meal I'm most likely to splurge on for a special occasion. It was definitely the food I was most worried about losing to the French diet, necessitating a pricey sushi binge the day before the diet began. Fortunately we've been making so many meals that have either been so delicious or so odd I haven't had much time to lust after sushi. Much.

This next best thing for next time the overwhelming urge for sushi appears and made totally diet friendly by substituting brown rice for the traditional sticky white and using only good low carb fats and veggies It's also good for sushi when you're feeling lazy and cheap because the ingredients are readily available and there is no rolling or Japanese food artistry necessary.

I'm not a big fan of the texture of tofu however so we substituted a nice firm tasty tempah for tofu which made preparing this even easier. And the fella dislikes avocado with a passion so he used cucumber on his portion. Overall he just wasn't that into this faux sushi experience, the real thing isn't his favorite but it's a sign of his niftyness that he acquiesced to a meal he would never eat on his own just for my love of sushi. It was glorious, I may eat nothing but this when the fella goes out of town in May.

Sushi Bowls

2 cups short-grain brown rice
3 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
2 (4-inch) square sheets nori seaweed
6 ounces extra-firm tofu

grated zest and juice of one orange
grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons fructose
2 tablespoons shoyu sauce (or soy sauce)
2 tablespoons (brown) rice vinegar

4 green onions, chopped
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Rinse and drain the rice two or three times. Combine the rice, water, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, cover, and simmer gently until the water is absorbed, about 45 minutes.

Toast the nori in a preheated 300F degree oven or a medium-hot skillet for a few minutes. Crumble or chop coarsely.

Drain the tofu and pat it dry. Cut the block of tofu lengthwise through the middle to make four 1/4-to 1/2-inch thick sheets of tofu. Two at a time, cook in a dry skillet or well-seasoned skillet over medium-high for a few minutes until browned on one side. Flip gently, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy. Let cool, enough to handle, then cut crosswise into matchsticks. Repeat with the remaining sheets.

To make the dressing, combine the orange juice, lemon juice, and fructose in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 1 or 2 minute, the add the shoyu and vinegar. Return to a gentle boil and cook another 1 or 2 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the zests.

When the rice is done, stir in 1/3 cup of the dressing and add more to taste. Scoop the rice into individual bowls and top with the toasted nori, green onions, tofu, avocado slices, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Original recipe from 101 Cookbooks Blog.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Frosted Green Beans with Sesame Seeds

Unfortunately I have no picture of these delicious beans to show you due to the fact that I was hiding under a blanket on the couch and cursing the world while they were being prepared. I have a nasty feeling that I've managed to catch the plague of ickiness that is going around town especially the call center I work in 40 hours a week. Therefore cooking duties were passed on to the fella this evening. He gets major boyfriend brownie points because not only did he take care of me, he dealt with me saying none of our planned recipes sounded good and then managed to make a really great meal that stuck to the insane parameters of what I thought I could handle eating.

He marinaded some salmon fillets in equal parts soy sauce and sesame oil, then pan fried them, it was simple but amazing. This is what is known in our house as “butt fish”, as in a really great secret discovery that was created and will be used again by using ingredients one of us has pulled randomly out of our bum. I eat a lot of different varieties of “butt chicken” when I cook for myself. Let me tell you our lingo gets confusing when other people are around, there is a lot of slang and secret codes used.

Following the sesame seed theme he also whipped up some Sesame Green Beans which were a breeze to make and were shockingly good. It worked even though green beans are way out of season at the moment, I can only imagine making these again in a few months with less anemic beans. Yum. I'm always so pleased when a simple recipe turns out to be a keeper, something that takes so little effort that it can be enjoyed often.

So here's to the fella for making the best comfort food butt dinner a sniffly girl could ask for.

Frosted Green Beans with Sesame Seeds

4 cups green beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons butter
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
oil for drizzling

Cook the beans in salted boiling water for about 10 minutes, drain and set aside. While waiting for beans to boil put sesame seeds in a pan over medium high heat and toast, agitate them regularly so they don't burn then set aside in a small bowl.

In the same frying pan melt butter then add scallions and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the lemon juice and zest then add beans to pan, season with salt and pepper and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer beans to a serving dish and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and drizzle with a small amount of oil. Mix thoroughly and enjoy.

Original recipe from The Silver spoon Cookbook.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Portobello “Steaks”

These last few warm days with the tease of the toasty summer to come has me itching to get out the grill. And by get out the grill I mean make sweet puppy dog eyes until the fella drags the grill out of the garage and does his manly imperative above the open flame. The grill is his territory and I'm happy to let him keep it.

It's been a crazy week and our cooking schedule has been thrown into a tizzy so I settled for the next best thing to the grill on such a tight schedule. We got out the grill pan and tossed some marinated portobellos on it and reveled in the meaty herby smells filling the kitchen. These couldn't be easier and I always do at least a double batch because they taste so good I can guarantee each of us will want to eat more than one. And until the nice weather is here to stay that grill pan is going to be getting a lot of use.

Portobello “Steaks”

2 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dry red drinking wine
1/4 cup oil
1-1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. Montreal or Chicago-style steak spice
salt and pepper, to taste

The day or morning before you plan on serving these, mix together all ingredients but the mushrooms in a large glass or ceramic casserole dish with a lid. Lightly score the tops of the mushrooms in a criss-cross pattern. Place the mushrooms top-up on the marinade and swish around so the liquid fills some of the spaces in the underside, then flip over and lay them down with the tops in the marinade. Cover and let marinate until evening, or at least 4 hours, flipping the “steaks” over occasionally.

Preheat a cast-iron frypan or griddle; spray lightly with oil spray. Sear the mushrooms on each side quickly, then pour the marinade over mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes so that the marinade cooks and the steaks absorb the flavors, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove to serving dishes and spoon more marinade over top.

Original recipe from Diet Desserts and Dogs Blog.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I can't believe how guilty I feel at the moment. Had a hard day at the dentist in which 25 minutes of dental work became 2 hours. I came home with a paralyzed face and had no energy to make anything let alone something diet friendly.

So I found the only whole fruit pre-made smoothie drink thing in the store that didn't have forbidden fruits in it and tried not to beat myself up over the fact that juice is not allowed while drooling all over myself. When I thought I could chew well enough to not eat my own face I then ate whole wheat pasta with the only sauce in the house which had, horror of all horrors, potato starch in it.

No recipe tonight, unless you want a play by play of how ridiculous it is to eat pasta while only having control of half your. With any luck this won't somehow cause me to gain my 12 pounds back.

Oxtail Rioja

The original goal in this diet was to cook French all the time, really dive in and learn French cooking while losing weight. It took about a week before we started missing variety, spices and Indian food so we had to edit our weekly menus to include more things we already love. This has made us both much happier, after all it was our love of very very spicy food that was one the the things that brought the fella and I together in the first place. On our first date he made a chickpea vindaloo and on our second I made a Thai coconut shrimp dish that was so spicy we were crying but refused to stop eating it.

His passion for food (and life in general) made me fall in love with him so I wasn't about to ruin that by tossing our culinary love affair into disarray on a regimen of food seasoned only in heavy cream and garlic. We settled on a nice middle ground of doing serious French cooking just 2 or 3 times a week and for special occasions so we don't burn out or die from lack of curry.

Last night was a French cooking evening and though we're almost a month in to this project it's the first time I actually felt like we had an authentic French experience. We made Oxtail Rioja which had all the important aspects of French cooking; extremely long cooking time, lots of wine, and odd cuts of meat. Aside from a couple organ meats I might try with a great recipe and lots of people to help me eat it, oxtails are about as weird as my meat eating habits extend. Sweetbreads will not make an appearance in my cooking.

This all starts at 5PM when went shopping for wine. I've tried all the affordable riojas at the store I work in so we were at the local warehouse grocery store and their equally large liquor department. There were too many choices so I pointed at four $11 to $15 bottles I've never had before and told the fella to choose. I'm proud of his rapidly developing love of wine so I trust him to chose a good one. He picked the Marqueas de Caceres 2005 Crianza Rioja which is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Graciano grapes. And I grabbed a bottle of El Coto Rioja (which we love and call the reindeer wine) because it was cheap and I knew it was good. We ended up needing both bottles so I was glad we had the forethought to get both.

5:30 I start following Boulod's intensive instructions for chopping all the vegetables and begin looking side long at the very ugly oxtails, wondering if this was my best idea. Then I start pan frying the meat, the smell is heavenly, I regain my confidence. However it is now 6:30 and we're still cooking veggies and just barely getting the wine reduced. Eating at 8 is now looking like 9:30 given the 3 hours cooking time.

We eat a spinach salad while surrounded by the amazing smell of oxtails soaked in red wine and homemade chicken broth. Then we eat some cheese and turkey while starting in on the wine, we're starving. The El Coto went into the broth as it turned out to be the lighter bodied less sweet wine we bought. I would most simply describe it as a spicy Pinot Noir. It's one of my favorite wines I keep going back to time and again, the gloriously ridiculous deer on the bottle doesn't hurt either. We decanted the Marqueas de Caceres as it was a super tight kick in the back of the throat right out of the bottle. With some rest it was a powerhouse of fruit, with the perfect mix of spice and tannins. In the midst of a great hunger and wine induced fugue state it began to taste exactly like a ripe plum rolled in cloves. In a word...yummy.

During the 3 hours of cooking I spent my time writing and sitting near the stew, periodically skimming the increasingly disgusting layer of grease that was forming at the top of the pot. By the end I had to dump the bowl of yuck three times and the stew was still very greasy. This was not my favorite thing I've ever done.

At 10 the fella and I swooped into the kitchen and looked at the ugly pot of meat and wine we had been anxiously sipping wine and waiting for seemingly forever. It was an experience. It is not something you want to eat in front of someone unless you've been living together for two years as it is a massive cartilage nibbling mess. It was very French.

The meat itself was very good and extremely tender but I wish I would have trimmed the fat and gristle off before cooking because this really was very greasy stew. However the vegetables were odd and overly soft. I think using cubanelle peppers was a mistake, the flavor wasn't right and they never quite agree with my stomach, however I had no idea how else to translate “green frying peppers” from the maddening recipe into reality. The fella really loved this recipe regardless of how late we ate, then again he is a much bigger red meat fan than I am. It just means more left overs for him.

We have plans to try to make a crock pot version of this, learning from our mistakes and refusing to spend that much time cooking stew again. That is after a good amount of time has gone by because at the moment I've had it with the word oxtail and still recovering from an entire evening devoted to cooking.

I'm having a chicken breast and an orange for lunch.

Oxtail Rioja

4 pounds oxtails, cut into 2 inch-thick pieces (I used 2 pounds and felt it was too much meat)
1 tablespoon paprika
salt, pepper and flour for dredging (I cut out flour)
1/4 cup oil

¼ pound Serrano ham, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 head garlic, cut crosswise in half
1 large onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2 inch dice (I used 2 stalks of celery)
1 pound green frying peppers, cored, deveined and diced (I used cubanelles)

1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound tomatoes, cored and each cut into 8 pieces

1 bay leaf
2 sprigs Italian parsley (I just used some dried parsley)
1 sprig thyme
cheese cloth or paper tea bag for loose leaf tea

4 cups rioja/tempranillo wine (a full bottle and 1 cup of a second bottle)
4 cups chicken stock

1/ 2 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted (I was so hungry I forgot this part)

Season the oxtails on all sides with paprika, salt and pepper then dredge in flour (I didn't use flour and they turned out just fine.) Pour oil into large saute pan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add the oxtails (you might have to do them in batches) and cook, turning to brown all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the oxtails to a plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from pan.

Switch to a large flat bottomed soup pot still over medium high heat and warm the reserved 2 tablespoons of oxtail fat. Add ham, garlic, onion, carrot (or celery), and green peppers to the pan and cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are soft but not colored, about 15 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and tomatoes. Create the herb sachet by placing the bay leaf, parsley and thyme in cheese cloth or a tea bag, then toss in the pot.

Return oxtails to the pot along with the wine. Bring wine to a boil, skimming the foam off that rises to the surface and cook until the wine is reduced by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil once again, then adjust heat so that the liquid is barely simmering. Cover the pan and cook at a simmer for 2 ½ hours. During thus time you must periodically skim off the foam and grease solids that bubble to the top of the broth.

Remove the cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened. This is also your last chance to remove the remaining grease before serving. The sauce won't be very thick but it should coat the oxtails.

Discard the garlic and herb sachet. Serve oxtails in bowls with generous serving of the vegetables ans sauce to cover them. Sprinkle with almonds just before eating.

Original recipe from Cafe Boulud Cookbook.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sara's Braised Leeks

I love that so many of my friends are interested in food, some of them are even full blown foodies at this point. This has always meant dinners out at great restaurants, amazing cheese plates or decadent desserts at parties, and there is always someone to share a good bottle of wine with. I feel blessed to have never heard the phrase “let's go get a Big Mac” when taking suggestions for the evenings festivities. More recently this has also translated into getting some outstanding recipes e-mailed to me from my fellow food lovers which I fully support and thrills me greatly.

So when I was looking for a side to go with my new improved purple version of Rachel Ray's rosemary chicken it seemed fitting to use a recipe sent to me by the only other person I know that condones the use of Rachel Ray recipes. Sara and I have been exchanging favorite Rachel Ray recipes for awhile so I was pretty sure I could trust the leek recipe she sent my way to be good. And it was.

As the fella started saying recently, “Everything is better with leeks.” It is our French cooking mantra. So a recipe involving nothing but leeks cooked to perfection is not surprisingly really great. The only difficult part is getting the darn things clean, leeks are sneaky gritty buggers. Thankfully the recipe includes in depth instructions to battle the dirt.

It looks like a lot of work but it really isn't that difficult once you get things going. Though I did get impatient waiting for the wine to reduce and ended up with a soupy sauce that was still tasty. Though it didn't really cling to the leeks. Fittingly enough this recipe finally gave me a reason to open the bottle of Four Buck Chuck Sara's fella, the infamous German left here after my last party. It was a truly undrinkable bottle of wine that got put to good use so it can stop taunting me from the back of the refrigerator.

Thanks for the recipe idea Sara.

Sara's Braised Leeks

6 large leeks
3/4 cup oil (approximately)
1 cup shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove any bruised outer layers from the leeks. Trim leaving the root end intact, then trim the tops of the leeks on the diagonal, leaving 2 inches of the green part attached. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and submerge in a large bowl of cold water to clean them. Shake the leeks well to dislodge the dirt stuck inside. Let them sit a few minutes, to allow any grit inside the layers to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Repeat the process until the water is clean. Place the leeks, cut side down, on a towel and pat dry completely.

Turn the leeks over so their cut sides are facing up, and season with 2 teaspoons salt and a few grindings of black pepper.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil, and wait 1 minute for it to heat. Place the leeks in the pan, cut side down, being careful not to crowd them. (you will probably need to saute them in batches. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed, for each batch.) Sear them 4 to 5 minutes, until they are golden brown. Season the backs of the leeks with salt and pepper, and turn them over to cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer them to a large gratin dish, lining them up, cut sides facing up. (Choose a baking dish or gratin dish that can go from oven to table and that will accommodate all the leeks.)

Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into a pan and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until the shallots are just beginning to color. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add 1 1/2 cups stock, and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the liquid over the leeks. The stock should not quite cover them; add more stock if necessary.

Braise in the oven 30 minutes, or until the leeks are tender when pierced.

Berry and Rosemary Chicken Thighs

Back when I was living in a crappy studio apartment, working three jobs to barely get by but wanted to start cooking I made meals almost exclusively from Rachel Ray cookbooks. There was variety, it was easy, had cheap ingredients, and most importantly I could make an entire meal during the very brief times I wasn't at work. It was also a nice way to experiment in baby steps with ethnic cooking and buying a couple uncommon ingredients to build the palate up for the really crazy stuff I love now.

This was of course before her soul was removed, she developed the voice of a transsexual without the benefit of hormones, and decided to take over the world. Basically when she was still somewhat novel and much less annoying. I totally understand the notion most people have of her as less appealing than nails on a chalkboard while being force fed lima beans. Once she developed a dog food line even I knew she had outstayed her welcome.

However I remember the good ole days and continue to cook from her better recipes while thinking of the pre-plastic surgery evil diva Rachel Ray, once upon a time when she was cute and cooking decent food and I had a huge girl crush on her. Times change but I don't feel guilty putting her on the bookshelf next to Boloud, she had some good quick ideas that I still use. It's just a matter of taking what I like and leaving the ridiculous crap (using the abbreviation EVOO for extra virgin olive oil for example.)

This fabulous purple chicken is as good as it looks and comes from one of her recipes that is actually an all around winner. Orange-Balsamic Chicken Thighs with Pecans and Sage Butter Pasta is fabulous (though overly wordy) but there is no such thing as sugar free marmalade and pasta is taboo on high protein nights so I improvised and was happy with the results. I would suggest the original recipe if you ever have the inclination that simple saged pasta is to drool for.

My version of the recipe takes 10 minutes and you get to eat tender purple chicken. How is that possibly a bad thing?

Berry and Rosemary Chicken Thighs

2 tablespoons oil
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, quartered
2 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sugar-free black berry jam
3 cups arugula or baby spinach

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Sprinkle the rosemary on top and cook the chicken until crispy and brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Whisk the balsamic vinegar and jam together in a small bowl and add to the skillet, making sure to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 minute or until thickened. Return the chicken to the pan just long enough to coat with the sauce and warm. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the arugula, tossing it thoroughly in the sauce as well.

Original recipe from Everyday with Rachel Ray Magazine.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Fella's Vegetable Stock

In honor of the fella who I am missing at the moment as he has been kidnapped for the evening into a sleep study, I'm going to share the one thing I will never attempt, it's totally his thing. He has the patience and the practice to make it come out yummy everytime.

I'm talking about stock; chicken, or veggie it doesn't matter, he is the master of making broth. We share cooking duties and neither of us are slouches in the meal department but I'm leaving this and bacon exclusively in his very capable hands. I'm happy with obsessive chopping and measuring being my forte.

He's going to be making a lot of stock during this diet seeing as Madison has not one sugarless broth to be had in any of the various grocery stores. That's okay, his broth tastes better and it means once a week I come home to a roasted chicken. Then later in the week I come home to delicious smelling broth and the dog laying in the kitchen with puddles of drool under her.

Here she is dreaming of a world where tennis balls are chicken stock flavored.

The Fella's Vegetable Stock

Save the stems and inedible bits of all the vegetables you cook with that week and put them on a big bag in the freezer. The green bits of leeks and scallions, wilting spinach and celery, the stems of broccoli and mushrooms, that half an onion that's sitting in the fridge. Chop the vegetable bits to they will fit in the biggest pot you have and toss it all in.

Then find any fresh herbs you have lying around and toss some of those in. If you don't have any fresh use dried rosemary, thyme, and parsley to add some flavor. The only flavors that seem to be musts for a successful broth are onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Everything else is left up to what you like and have around.

Now pour enough water to cover all the vegetables and herbs. This will probably be about a gallon of liquid to start with and as it evaporates and boils off you will have to keep adding more to keep the vegetables moist.

Bring the stock to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. You want to keep heating things through and leaching the flavors out of the vegetables but you don't want to burn or scorch things so keep an eye on it. Now let it simmer for about 6 hours, adding water when needed. It doesn't need close baby sitting as long as you poke at it every so often.

When the broth has a nice brown hue and the vegetables are all limp it's time to start cooling it off. Taste the stock to see if it needs more salt or pepper and add it until you're happy with the flavor. When it is about room temperature you may want to send it through a couple layers of cheese cloth to remove the herbs and such that gather at the bottom of homemade broth. Next portion it out in containers the size you will need for cooking, we do 1 and 2 cup containers so we can thaw small bits as we need them.

To make chicken stock just add a chicken carcass at the beginning and spend a lot of time skimming fat off the top of the cooling broth, that's the only difference. The fella doesn't get all scientific about things, he just does what he knows we'll like but if you want more technical directions check out Alton Brown's episode of Good Eats on the subject and be very very amused. Or use that crock pot you have sitting around to make an even lower maintenance stock.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Zucchini-Ricotta Layers with Pesto

Okay, he won me over again. Boulud and I are back on speaking terms.

I think I finally figured out how to do this French cooking thing while retaining what little sanity I have and eating before 9PM. It's simple really, I stopped making every picky little thing the recipe called for, concentrating instead on the main bit of the meal. I never thought I'd be celebrating the use of pre-packaged ingredients but it saved the meal tonight and we ate at 7:30 which left us time to watch the new show with Nathan Fillion in it. This is always a good thing.

The only semi complicated thing I involved myself in was making tuiles which was exciting and afforded me the opportunity to say the word tuiles oh about three dozen times in a single evening. As soon as the fella walked in the door I couldn't help but scream, “Come to the kitchen, my tuiles let me show you them.” At which point two of them fell on the floor, a sacrifice to our canine vacuum cleaner.

However I did not get involved in the pesto making which included blanching zucchini and doing other multi stepped complicated things to it. I just bought a decent jar of pesto I know I will use for other recipes. I also did not let myself get pulled into the two page recipe for tomato confit, it sounds delicious but sundried tomatoes worked just as well.

The zucchini and ricotta bits were a snap and while the zucchini was roasting I had time to make rosemary lemon chicken. It all got done at the same time, wonder of wonders. And it was all delicious, I didn't even mind the esoteric plating ritual to create the layers the recipe called for. I will make this again and if I have the time I might even give the pesto making a go.

It's so pretty it's making me hungry all over again.

Zucchini-Ricotta Layers with Zucchini Pesto

1/2 cup fined grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 300 and center a rack in the middle of the oven.

On a non stick baking sheet make eight circles, each about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, sprinkling cheese in an even layer until you can't see the pan through the cheese. Bake for about 2 minutes (it took about 5 minutes in my oven) or until cheese melts and just begins to brown. Very carefully use a plastic scraper to ease the rounds off the pan. If you want them flat let them cool on the pan after loosing them. For curved tuiles drape them over a rolling pin quickly before they cool and become fragile.

Set aside to top zucchini layers with.

3 tablespoons oil
2 medium zucchini
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 sprig thyme, leaves removed

3/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon parsley
1 egg yolk (optional-I skipped it)
1 tablespoon oil

12 pieces sun dried tomato
black olives and pine nuts for garnish

Raise heat of oven to 375. Line large baking sheet with foil and use about 1 tablespoon of oil to grease foil.

Cut the zucchini on the bias into slices that are about 3 inches long and ¼ inch thick. Arrange the slices in single layers on the baking sheet, brush the tops with the remaining oil then season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle garlic and thyme leaves over zucchini. Bake about 12 minutes or until just tender.

Meanwhile make ricotta mix by whisking together all the ricotta ingredients in a small bowl, then salt and pepper to taste.

To serve construct on a small dinner plate. Spoon some pesto into the center of the plate and top with 3 zucchini slices, then a spoonful of ricotta, and 2 pieces of tomato to make first layer. Then 3 more zucchini slices, another spoonful of ricotta, and another piece of tomato. Circle plate with more pesto and top it all with olive halves, pine nuts and cheese tuiles.

Original recipe from Cafe Boulud Cookbook.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chicken Satay Salad

Anything involving peanut butter is a winner in my book and this did not disappoint. Added bonus was that it was insanely easy. We made it even easier still seeing as the fella roasted a whole chicken the day before, stuffing it with garlic, parsley, onion, sage, rosemary, and lemon grass to create the best extremely juicy bird in recent memory. We used the carcass to make stock and the left over meat for this recipe, totally skipping the chicken skewer preparation.

Tada dinner in 5 minutes.

This was a welcome change from recent overly complicated meals which I will be returning to tomorrow. Until then I've had quite the evening of rude yuppies at the wine store and then the cork broke in my bottle or Carmenere so I believe the world it not so gently telling me to go to bed.

Chicken Satay Salad

2 chicken breasts
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, diced
1 tablespoon, canola oil
wooden skewers, soaked in water

8 ounces of arugula or baby spinach
1 cup bean sprouts
2 carrots, ribboned
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons oil

Soak about a dozen wooden skewers in water for around 20 minutes so they won't scorch under broiler. Slice chicken into long strips. Toss chicken pieces in ginger, garlic, and oil then season with black pepper. Heat the broiler. Twist chicken strips in half and thread on the skewers. Broil for about 10 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time.

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Combine arugula, bean sprouts, carrots and cilantro, divide evening among salad bowls. Top with chicken skewers and drizzle with dressing to serve.

Original recipe from The Big GL Plus Diet Planner.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Truffled Eggs

Reading Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr Latte as well as her column Eat, Memory in the New York Times Magazine has convinced me to try ingredients I would have never considered before. She's one of those food writers who I would read a novel length narrative about nothing but advice on boiling water. Her voice is just that riveting though often a tad more vapid than I would like at times. She borders the literary and the chick lit rather heavily, but everyone needs simple guilty pleasures. A person needs something to rest her brain on between bouts of Nabokov and Kafka.

After learning the vast difference between brown and French lentils for her Single Girl Salmon I trusted her taste enough to try some other things. This recipe combines two of them; truffle oil and crème fraiche.

Crème fraiche is a thick tart step above plain yogurt and adds a fabulous creaminess to whatever it's included in without adding a heavy flavor. In a lemon risotto the crème fraiche gives the simple crisp rice a sinful tongue coating cream that made me under stand the often tossed about phrase “better than sex” for the first time. It was the best risotto of my life and the first day I can have carbs again I'll be making that risotto while waiting for the artichoke Glass Nickel pizza I'll also be ordering.

Once while having extra crème fraiche around the fella insisted we treat ourselves to a $14 bottle of truffle oil to make the other recipe Hesser kept going on about that called for both. I was dubious about it. Surely it was just scrambled eggs with a weird oil I would never use for anything else slathered on it. Wrong. It is so much more, Hesser knows her stuff. These eggs are heaven in a skillet and oil only brings things to another level.

I treated myself to this super easy egg concoction this morning along with a left over chicken breast and it set a wonderful tone for the day. Still don't know what else to put the truffle oil on but it really made my day. It's so decadent that while I'm eating it I don't feel like I'm sitting in a chilly duplex in the Midwest while wearing sweat pants on my only day off.

Truffled Egg Toast

1 teaspoon of butter
3 eggs
2 teaspoons crème fraiche (1 tablespoon plain yogurt works in a pinch)
truffle oil for drizzling

Melt butter in tiny skillet over very low heat. In bowl whisk together eggs and crème fraiche. Season with salt. Pour into skillet and use whisk to stir making sure to cover entire bottom surface of pan with heating.

When eggs form soft curds and are loose but not raw (about 10 minutes) spoon out onto plate. Drizzle with oil. Let set a minute or so before eating.

The original recipes calls for eating this on a thick toasted slice of country bread which I highly recommend.

Original recipe from Amanda Hesser's Cooking For Mr Latte.

Vanilla Panna Cotta Soup with Marinated Strawberries

I have to admit the major inspiration behind blogging this crazy diet experience, failures, insanity, crying jags, and all was reading Julie and Julia. A secretary in New York decides to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking in a year, a huge and difficult undertaking. If you haven't read it you're missing out. There were so many times I was reading it that I broke down in helpless piles of laughter that took me minutes to recover from. The lady can really write.

Julie Powell's book also prepared me for the difficulties that come with pannacotta making. The recipe is deceptively simple and yet oh so easy to ruin. Gelatin is a cruel mistress that requires all of your undivided attention and devotion. And even then the damn pannacotta will only turn out with a lot of luck.

With this is mind I warned all of the people coming to dinner to not be too surprised if the pannacotta was a failure and to try not to laugh too hard at my pannacotta soup. It was still a blow to my fragile fledgling French cooking self esteem when I reached in the fridge for the custards and got pannacotta soup. I took the advice from my friendly peanut gallery and put it in the freezer to ice up during dinner, because anything with that much cream, sweetness, and strawberries would be great regardless of consistency.

That was good thinking.

The balsamic vinegar really gave the strawberries a rich tart edge. I'm going to start keeping a container of vinegared berries around for putting on my yogurt and oatmeal in the mornings. On the soupy half frozen pannacotta the berries were divine. They were a perfect ending for my first dinner, with one really great dish, one demi-failure and one recipe that didn't turn out but ended up perhaps tastier in its new form.

With bellies full and two bottles of wine under our collective belts we retired to the living room to be hypnotized by a warm fire and play silly card games until way past my bed time. It was an evening well worth missing sleep over.

Also included in this menu:
Chicken in Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Eggplant Pizza

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Marinated Strawberries

1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 1/4 cups 2% milk
1 3/4 cups half and half
2 tablespoons fructose
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, soak the gelatin in 1/4 cup of the milk until soft, about five minutes. While waiting for gelatin to soften warm the remaining milk, half and half, and fructose in small pot until fructose dissolves, about five minutes. Leave the milk mixture to cool until barely warm and then add the gelatin mixture to pot, stirring well until gelatin dissolves completely.

Pour the mixture into four 2/3 cup ramekins, cover and chill at least over night.

To unmold pannacotta, fill bowl with boiling water and dip bottom of each mold into water for a couple seconds. Place a plate on top of the mold and flip it over. Carefully lift off the mold. If your pannacotta doesn't set, place ramekins in freezer until the liquid is half frozen and enjoy it as an odd ice creamy dessert.

1 pound of strawberries, halved
1 teaspoon fructose
1 1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Prepare this at least an hour before you plan to serve the pannacotta. Sprinkle strawberries with fructose and vinegar. Toss to combine in a bowl and chill until ready to serve. Sprinkle a fourth of the strawberries over each pannacotta or serving of failed pannacotta ice cream.

Original recipe from The Big GL Plus Diet Planner.