Year in Review

I started this blog as my New Year’s Resolution in 2010.  One recipe a week from the book Around the World in 450 Recipes.  Well… I didn’t quite keep up with that goal!  I started strong, but as the weeks wore on….  Anyway, today is January 1, 2011, so I wanted to write a few words in summary.  This experiment was definitely an eye-opener.  I prepared lots of things that I never would have otherwise!  Oxtails, legs of lamb, ceviche, and Red-Flannel Corned Beef and Hash come to mind.  Some things I did not care for, some things tasted better than I imagined they would, and some things were flat delicious!  I think one of my favorites was the Pineapple Fried Rice which I made first.  The wonderful presentation was awesome too!  The Tagliatelle with Bolognese was also amazing!    I seemed to enjoy the cuisines of Asia and Italy the most.  Great herbs and spices with the Asian dishes.  The Italy featured delish desserts.   The absolute worst was the ceviche, I think.  I really like Mexican foods, but the dishes I chose just didn’t cut it.  I think that doing this blog really expanded my repertoire as far as what I am comfortable cooking.  It also totally got me out of my comfort zone.

Asian Fusion: Hot & Sour Prawn Soup with Bacon-Pork Lemongrass Pops

This past Sunday night was Asian Fusion night at my house.  I chose to prepare a Hot and Sour Prawn Soup with Lemongrass from the Thai chapter of the book.  With that dish I paired Bacon-Pork Pops on Lemongrass Sticks.  This recipe I got out of Food Network Magazine.  The back page always features the winner of a recipe contest on a specific ingredient. This bite was the top choice in a bacon themed contest. According to my guide, the soup, also called Tom Yam Goong, is the most popular soup of Thailand.  The soup combined many flavors including (of course) lemongrass, spring onion, chilis, cilantro, lime, and fish sauce.  The broth was pre-made chicken stock.  The recipe called for straw mushroom.  I am not familiar with them and neglected to google them prior to my visit to the market.  I did not see anything labeled “straw” and so I bought something else… Some mushrooms that did kind of look like straws… or perhaps jellyfish… once floating in the broth.  They were called Enoki mushrooms.  Actually really weird suckers…. lots of thin stemmed mushrooms joined on a large base.  About.com compares them to bean spouts…. they would be good on a sandwich…  The recipe also called for kaffir lime leaves.   I remembered from a Thai class that I assisted that these are difficult to get ahold of; our chef had a personal frozen stash.   I could not find them at the market, so just used extra lime juice.  I am sure it’s not the same.   My sweetie thought that the soup had a “radical” flavor.  Kudos to him - like a gentleman, he  handled the shrimp cleaning detail.  I think he had fun with it.  On to the meat popsicles…. These were interesting…  Minced bacon, ground pork, garlic, fresh grated ginger, cilantro, sugar, and soy sauce  combined and formed into oblong balls  then impaled on lemongrass skewers and broiled.  The flavor of these pops was spot on.  Really super-tasty.  I served them with sweet chili sauce which was a tasty touch.  The flip side – I really hate having to judge when meat is done.  Especially ground meat.  It is almost as bad as trying to decide between green and blue on the pH strip.  I would have used my meat thermometer had I not left it at the grandparents’ house at Thanksgiving.  I cooked the pops way longer than directed.  Then I ended up slitting them up and nuking them.   Also, pork is a fatty friend… Accordingly, this dish was quite greasy.  I can’t help but wonder how these would have turned out on the grill.  Much better I think.  I really like the concept of meat on a stick… but either the recipe or my execution of it needs some tweaking.  Overall, I really like the flavor combinations of this meal.  I will definitely be purchasing these ingredients again soon.

Tuscan Bean Soup

Autumn is a great time to try out new soup recipes. A heart-warming bowl of soup is just the thing after a day of chilly air and crunchy leaves. I have assisted with several soup and stew focused classes at Cook’s Warehouse this season. At the last one, the chef made a delicious white bean soup, so when I saw this recipe, I knew it was the one I wanted to tackle next. Italian Tuscan Bean Soup. (FYI: White beans = white kidney beans = cannellini beans.) To make this soup, my first step was to saute white onions, green onions (the recipe called for shallots, but the market had none), garlic, and potatoes. Next I added chicken broth (in lieu of veggie because I had an open container in the fridge) and the reserved liquid from the can of beans. Yes! The recipe did actually call for canned beans! I let this mixture simmer for a spell then I added shredded cabbage, herbs, and the beans. This was my first time using savoy cabbage. I usually just use the generic grocery variety. This was also my first time making (and I think eating) cabbage in soup. Shredding the cabbage in the food processor gave it a nice consistency that added to the texture of the soup, but was not intrusive. The herbs that I used are oregano and parsley. These lent a really fresh flavor to the soup and made me want to use fresh herbs more often in my cooking. I’m not sure why I don’t use them more. They are such a great way to add healthy flavor to a dish. I shall make a point to use them more often. Too bad I am so inept at growing them. Seriously. The touch of my hand causes cilantro to bolt. But I digress… I let the concoction simmer a bit longer then I placed about a third of the soup in the food processor. I pureed it until smooth then added it back to the soup. I had never done this before, but the chef demonstrated it in class the other day. He actually just set an immersion blender in the pot for a minute or two. However you go about it, pureeing a portion of the soup is a great idea! It really helps to give the soup a viscosity that I think is important in making soup feel like a “meal”. After just a few more minutes of simmering, I served the soup with a sprinkling of parmesan and more herbs. Yum. I was quite fond of this bowl of soup. Pleasant flavor. Appealing texture. Healthy and light. Not too difficult or time-consuming. I think this is the best soup that I have made to date. I might just go and eat the leftovers right now…

Picadillo

Picadillo is a meaty mix that, as the book says, is perfect to use for stuffed peppers. This Mexican recipe calls for ground beef, but since I had ground turkey in the fridge, I used that. Besides the poultry, this picadillo contained spices (cinnamon and cumin), raisins, apples, onion, garlic, tomatoes, almonds, and jalapeno. Once I browned the turkey and let the mixture simmer, I stuffed it into hollowed green peppers (Publix had a sole shriveled red bell) and roasted them for a spell. I really enjoy stuffed peppers. Heck, Stouffer’s freezer ones are pretty tasty. I think that this dish would have been much better had I used the ground beef as suggested. That would have given this dish a richer taste. Though I like to substitute ground turkey in dishes for health reasons, I am usually disappointed with the flavor trade-off. Simple dish – and all ingredients I already had lying around the kitchen. Also quite versatile. Would be great with beans and rice or as a filler for a plethora of things beyond peppers. Tacos, burritos, enchiladas. Though I probably won’t pull out this actual recipe again, I can see myself using the concept again – and adding whatever ingredients were handy at the time. Apples, raisins, and cinnamon have a great fall vibe, though. That combination just says Autumn to me.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi followed by Tiramisu

Recently I spent the weekend in Augusta with my old college roommate, Tierney.  The weekend was filled with both fun and amazing food!  For dinner we cooked up a batch of Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi.   This dish consisted of wilting spinach and mixing it with lots of herbs, ricotta,  and garlic and then egg yolk, parmesan, and flour.   We rolled the bits of the mixture into small dumplings.   The dumplings were boiled and then sautéed in sage butter and sprinkled with  more parmesan.   Tierney, who spend a semester studying abroad in Cortona,  said that these were faux gnocchi because they weren’t made with potato.  According to Wikipedia, though, the use of potato in gnocchi is a relative recent invention (like 16th century).   The dumplings can be made with a variety of ingredients including flour, potato, and bread crumbs.  Gnocchi actually means “lumps.”   Nevertheless, this dish turned out to be pretty tasty.  Pretty filling as well.  The herbs, spinach, and cheeses blended nicely and created a great entrée. Serving suggestion – I think that these little dumplings would be excellent served with nice pesto.  Before putting dinner together we made up a tiramisu.  The recipe called for a “sachet of vanilla.”  You might be able to find it at the farmers market, but Publix had no such thing.  We just mixed up some white sugar and vanilla extract.   I , for the first time, beat eggs into stiff peaks and Tierney taught me proper egg folding technique.  (The same day I taught her the proper fitted sheet folding technique, but that is all-together a different story.)   We went through a pound of marscapone  – surprisingly less pricey than the parmesan we used in the gnocchi.   The ladyfingers soaked up too much liquid, so we had to double our amount of coffee and Kahlua.  Probably not the best idea.  Super strong.  So strong, in fact, that Tierney said, mid-bite, “This is hard to drink.”   It probably didn’t help that we ate it after only a few hours, instead of letting it chill overnight as suggested.  The next afternoon, after spending the day lakeside, Tierney ran into the bathroom as I showered.  I poked my head through the curtain and she spooned some tiramisu into my mouth as she said, “This is too good; I had to bring you a bite.”  As the dessert fermented in the fridge all night and day, it actually got less alcoholic tasting and more delicious.  By the next night, it was absolutely divine.  Definitely as good as any other tiramisu I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.  Preparing these dishes with my good friend and enjoying them with her made for quite a pleasant evening.  Nothing beats cooking with friends.  Except eating delicious food with friends.  By the way, the beautiful pottery that these dishes were served in was made by Tierney; she is an extremely talented ceramicist.    And  gnocchi and tiramisu, what a delectable little Italian dinner.  When in, er, Augusta…. eat like you are in Rome!

Pecan Pie

My love affair with Pecan Pie only began last Autumn, despite the fact that I was born and bred in the south.  Growing up, I was never really that keen on pie, but that all changed a year ago.  I tasted my first bite of this sugary bit of heaven and was hooked.  I ate it every chance I got until spring came and my new love, sweet pecan pie, disappeared with the frost.  Well, friends, school is back in session and pecan pie is back in town.  This season I decided I would take my enjoyment of it into my own hands and  learn how to make it.  And how.  I have already made it twice this month.  My first pecan pie was the effort of a newbie.  I used a frozen pie crust and followed the directions on the back of the nut bag.  The result?  A delicious pie, though overly sweet as a result of an entire cup (!) of karo syrup.  Last night, however, I pulled out all the stops.  I had my honey and a couple of friends (seriously, two of the nicest people I have ever met) over for dinner and decided that for dessert I would make the pecan pie from the recipe out of Around the World.  I commenced by making my very first pie crust.  It was a short list of ingredients -  simply made of flour, butter (which I actually learned how to make today, but that is another story… I will tell you, all you need is heavy cream)  and water.  Now, I have mentioned how sometimes this book leaves me wondering about the directions… this recipe was no different… The recipe said that you are going to add iced water to the flour/butter mixture a little at a time and that you should “be mean with the water.”  Okay…. I could only assume that that meant to frugally add water to the mix.  After I mixed and chilled the dough, I rolled/pressed/did whatever necessary to make it into the shape of a pie crust in the pan.  While I like to bake, I’m not so adept at molding dough.  But I shaped it and then “baked it blind” for a bit.  For those unfamiliar with this technique, it is when you place foil over the crust and then add rice or something similar and bake it partway before filling.  The rice keeps the empty crust from puffing up.  The filling was composed of the same ingredients as my last pie, but used them in different quantities.  This recipe only called for four tablespoons of karo syrup instead of a cup.  Other ingredients, besides the namesake nut, included vanilla, brown sugar, eggs, and more butter.  I baked the concoction, added more pecans on the top, and  then baked it some more.  I served the warm pie with vanilla bean ice cream.  You know how I feel about the pairing of warm and cold sweets – the only way to go!  This pie turned out to have a more subdued flavor than the other.  Also, the texture was less jelly.  That seems weird to say, but not sure of another way to put it.  I preferred this pie to the “off the package” version.  Honey, on the other hand, preferred that pie.  He said that it had a more “dynamic” flavor.  He was quick to say, however, that both were excellent.  He knows what’s good for him.   The friends only tasted this one and they thought it was awesome.  I used a cool new little kitchen tool  when baking the pie.  My sweet friend, Tracy, gave me a little metal “first slice” that you place under your crust before baking; it enables you to cut the perfect first slice, crust and all!  Great invention!  While I loved this pie, I am going to try to hold out until Thanksgiving to make another one.  Pecans are just so expensive!  I really do not understand why, as I live in GEORGIA.  Don’t pecans flourish here?  Makes no sense whatsoever.  You’d think that an overabundance would make them dirt cheap.  Maybe I’ll plant my own tree and take out the middle man…

Margarita Pizza

 

In honor of both my father’s and his mother’s birthdays, we recently had a family pizza party at my grandmother’s house.  We made several pizzas, one of which was a margarita pizza.  (Other delicious pizzas created that day were Hawaiian, BBQ chicken, and a delectable vanilla/chocolate/banana dessert pizza.)  Now, I did take some liberties with the recipe… no worries. The only difference was the tomato usage.  The book’s recipe crushed roma tomatoes and spread them on the crust. Seemed like a less saucy pizza.   I must admit, horror of horrors, I  used some bottled pizza sauce on the pies.  The ONLY reason that I did this is that I actually had a couple of jars in the pantry from last year’s less-inspired pizza party…  I did, however,  add sliced home-grown toms to the pie.   The pizza crust was made from scratch,  using a recipe I acquired while assisting a pizza cooking class at Cook’s Warehouse with the owner’s of Blue Moon Pizza.  Pizza Making Tips:  use a high gluten bread flour (not all-purpose), start adding toppings around the edge of the crust and work your way in,  and  also, speed up rising time by setting dough outside on a hot summer day.  Hey, it works.   Confession: I am completely awful at making a semblance of a pizza crust out of a ball of dough.  Luckily, it turns out that my dad is excellent at it!  He credits this to a pizza parlor stint in his teens.   Margarita pizzas are pretty basic, aside from tomatoes and sauce,  I just sprinkled the pie with mozzarella and dried basil.   It was quite yummy.  I really like homemade pizzas.  Once you get the ball rolling (i.e. make the crust and let it rise), making them is a snap.  The downside is, though, that supposedly the dough has to rise for two hours, so you really have to have some time on your hands and some snacks in your hands  to take on home pizzeria night.