Monday, February 25, 2008

Bake it like a Polaroid picture, sugar

Julia, Julia, Julia.

Your recipe for French Bread managed to make even me look good!

As my first post for the Daring Bakers, I was scared to death when I learned the recipe. I would have to KNEAD? Twice? I would have to rely on humidity and warmth to make sure my bread rose? (My apartment is usually freezing).

Although it took an entire day to make the bread and I gained a new burn on my arm, the bread was delish. I might say that the frozen, reheated bread was even crispier on the outside and moist on the inside.

Boules were my choice, as those are my favorite at the local market. I had fun shaping the bread, and it was a lesson in patience to wit for the bread to rise and rise again. Watching the round ball shape into a neat, firm top and seeing the end result was a fun experiment.

My only complaint was that there were many extra things to buy (and as a grad student they weren't in my blog budget). I made a few exceptions that were adaptable--no quarry tiles or pizza stones for me (but Julia was all about ingenuity, right?). I took a cue from the no knead bread and used my cast iron as a preheated stone... it worked quite well. I didn't have a spritzer, (well, I did, but it has housed bleach). As a result, every once in a while I would open the door and flick water on the loaves with my hands. I tried slicing the top of the ready-to-bake bread with a knife as I didn't have a razor on hand, but it didn't work. Don't do that!

I added fresh herbs (rosemary & thyme) plus a little salt and pepper to one boule.

This is totally worth trying at least once, though I guarantee that I will be spending my time on no-knead from now on.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Leftovers Salad

Oh, internet.

Why, why did you ever introduce me to Fage yogurt? I am ruined. Ruined!


At any rate, I had some leftovers that needed to be used up relatively soon. I had acquired half an avocado, half a polmelo (by the way, those things are tricky to get out of the skin!) and 1/4 a cucumber. Chopped into bite-size pieces and topped with a dollop of yogurt, this made a wonderful side salad.

Instead of buying textbooks, I will now be buying fage + honey.

La la la la lemon

I really have a hard time cooking single meals for myself. By the time the pot of leftovers is halfway finished, I am usually sick of a dish. I've made a point lately to try and make individual meals, but it's hard! This one only ended up with one meal's worth of leftovers.

Quinoa is a grain that's slowly gaining popularity in the food world again. It cooks up perfectly in a rice cooker! I add lemon zest to mine and cook it with chicken broth. The quinoa puffs up easily to 3-4 times its original size (2:1 water:quinoa ratio) so make sure that you only make as much as you need! I'll be eating quinoa for a while.

Salmon and Lemony Quinoa

1/2 c quinoa
1 c water + boullion, or 1c chicken broth
Zest from one lemon

1 lb fresh salmon, skin still attached
1 tsp dry mustard
lemon leftover from zesting, quartered and juiced
1/2 tsp dill weed
1 tsp salt
a few turns of pepper

oil for cooking, vegetable or safflower (I used safflower)

Throw first three ingredients in rice cooker. Combine last six in bowl, let salmon marinate for 20 minutes while waiting for quinoa to cook.

Preheat a cast iron pan with 3 tsp oil. When oil is hot, set salmon skin-side down in pan. Run for cover, or add a splater screen. Four to five minutes later, turn salmon and let go 4-5 minutes longer (depends on salmon, I had two big pieces). If one side gets too brown, throw it back on the skin side: it can take more abuse. Let internal temperature come to 135 degrees.

Plate salmon on top of quinoa. Eat!

I also made a tartar sauce of leftover yogurt, dill relish and lime juice. It added a bright flavor to a somewhat heavier dish.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

funny face

On my trip to pseudo-gourmet grocery store the other night, I picked up a Cherimoya. I asked the produce stocker what it was and he returned with directions to let it soften, then 'eat it with a spoon like custard.'

Well, thanks to the omniscient Wikipedia, I now know that Mark Twain thought that the cherimoya rose above all other fruits and foods to sate his cravings.

I also learned that the cherimoya, when ripened, tastes 'like commercial bubblegum'.

I should have stopped there and then launched the cherimoya on any of my starving graduate student friends or perhaps fed it to one of the seventeen cats that lives next door. But, no. For you, my faithful readers, I tried the cherimoya.

I swear, I made a diligent effort. I got about five spoonfuls down and then the somewhat putrid smell of semi-sweet bubblegum combined with the texture of an overripe watermelon overwhelmed my senses and I fainted, but only temporarily. Sorry, Mr. Twain. I still like your novels.

By far the most delightful experience was the photography of this fine dish and the realization that I had sliced two expressive faces in to the two halves.

open wide!


burned alive

I found some fresh brussels sprouts in the store the other day, and they called out and asked me to roast them at 400 degrees for thirty minutes and to douse them liberally in salt and olive oil. I obliged, humbled that the wee sprouts had sacrificed their own well-being for my culinary pleasures.

Sooooo good. The more brown caramelized goodness there is, the better.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Guest Spot - Moussaka

At my friend J's dinner party the other night, she made moussaka.

It was stellar. I don't have the recipe, but it involved lamb and a bechamel sauce. She took some lovely pictures with her camera (and I was surprised with the quickness and quality of her pictures - not to mention her camera, drool).

Thanks for the pictures, J!

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Bigger Pucker

Friday nights are my grocery night. The store's always empty, and that gives me more time to look around at all the aisles. The typical Sunday-afternoon grocery trip here involves ninja tactics and some tackle football skills, so I try to avoid it if all possible. That way, I don't end up at home with random ingredients (like fat-free sweetened condensed milk--that's just wrong).

I ended up at a local pseudo-gourmet grocery store this last Friday. One of the best parts is the produce section. Unlike the pseudo-gourmet's younger brother, this store houses fresh, firm produce and some exotic offerings.

One of the things that I stumbled upon was the mandarinquat. Not quite a mandarin orange, not quite a kumquat, this thin-skinned beauty had a bright orange color reminiscent of a mandarin. After unsuccessfully trying to peel one, I bit in--and wow! Don't expect these babies to be sweet. Mandarinquats are really a palm-sized version of kumquats, which are generally sour. People who like them enjoy the crunch of the skin and the sour flavor they add to dishes.

The Food Lover's Companion doesn't have an entry, but they sure are helpful for most things.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Cheesy Valentine

I'm not one who loves Valentine's Day. Even though I have more than enough love in my life now, Valentine's Day hearkens back to the days of adolescence when I rarely--if ever--had a Valentine to celebrate with. Thankfully, I had my friends and my family that exchanged gifts or else I might have just--in the most pubescent, dramatic sense--died right there on my particle-board school desk. I have many fond memories of exchanging Cokes with friends, but nary did I receive a cool, frosty beverage care of my ultimate, truest crush-of-the-moment.

As a result, Mr. O and I celebrate Valentine's Day in an odd manner. Two weeks before the holiday rears its ugly head, we go to dinner and exchange gifts. Much less muss and fuss, and we get to gloat over having it done early while other people scramble for roses and truffles.

I always try to make something for dessert, though, because what better excuse to indulge in something sweet than a holiday centered almost exclusively around giving candy to those you love? This year, we noshed on some New York Style cheesecake.

Now, to say my kitchen is small is being humble. I have no drawers wider than 6 inches, and no cabinets wider than nine inches. When it came to do the bain marie for this dish, I was SOL. Honestly, a roasting pan wouldn't fit in my cabinets even if I had one. The cake was carefully inserted into the oven in without the water and came out a little bit soft, but still delicious.

New York Style Cheesecake

15 graham crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch springform pan.
In a medium bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs with melted butter. Press onto bottom of springform pan.

In a large bowl, mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Blend in milk, and then mix in the eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to incorporate. Mix in sour cream, vanilla and flour until smooth. Pour filling into prepared crust.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, and let cake cool in oven with the door closed for 5 to 6 hours; this prevents cracking. Chill in refrigerator until serving.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A sweet trip to the hardware store

One thing that is difficult about the transition between 'college' and 'real' life is the transference of furniture. Me, I prefer to buy my furniture when I know I'll end up somewhere relatively close. In the meantime, good ol'Craig is my savior. However, my lovely kitchenette has recently sprung a leak of sorts. Mr. O became very agitated over the last few months as his barstool became more and more rickety. He would wobble it back and forth, and then mention how it was wobbling. (The long of the short is, stop shaking your tush and it will stop wobbling. But I digress.)

A trip to the local hardware store fixed the problem right up. My new favorite hardware store not only fixes you up with hardware, they also have a full organic-themed garden area as well as a wedding registry. What more can a girl ask for? Chocolate, especially when there's a credit card minimum and just a little bite of something will do.

Yes, I can get a hex wrench and gourmet chocolate at the same place. Aren't you jealous?

Turns out the chocolates are supplied by a local company that provides many wonderful bonbons. I got a lavender and a ginger chocolate. Just look at how gorgeous they are!

Lavender... doesn't it remind you of your grandmother's brooch?

Ginger, with a seashell pattern

These aren't your normal Russel Stover's. My grandmother used to pinch the bottoms out of those. I don't think she would have done that to these.

The lavender was the best of the two. Recommended by the chocolatier, it had a really nice floral tone. The ginger was drowned out by the dark chocolate. It could have done with some more spice.

All in all, I don't think I could have asked for a tastier trip.

Rock the Books... cookbooks, that is

Now, you all, I'm sorry for the break. I tried to make a recipe a few days ago and broke not one, not two, but three of my kitchen tools in the process, so I had to do some breathing exercises and invest in a new hand mixer before retuning to the stage. Also, never try to fold cream-cheese frosting with a cheap spatula. But I'm back!

One of the fun things about going to library school is that you're surrounded by future librarians. And this new group of hipper shushers aren't your crazy cat ladies of yesteryear. No tote bags. No ill-fitting sweaters. And definitely no shushing. Now, you might think that I would be included in this future library pool, but no, folks. I'm in a library school and I'm not becoming a librarian. Instead, I'm getting my MS in a degree that will assist me in taking over the museum world by storm. Just you wait...

But anyway, one of the other fun things about library school is the wonderful people you get to meet. And they love to do things that you love to do! It's like two hundred new friends are just waiting to be met. A friend this past week became even more awesome during a dinner party at her lovely residence. She invited me over and we gushed over her red KitchenAid Pro mixer and her collection of vintage Le Creuset flamewear. Gush. She's in the school of the Contessa, though, and I have a slight smidge of a preference towards the good ol'AB.

Lavender! Coconut! Cake!

On a whim, for dessert I decided to make a recipe for Lavender Coconut Cakefrom Never Bashful with Butter that has proven a huge hit at many get-togethers since I discovered it last year. For this party, I turned the cupcakes into one giant cake and had my first frosting experience.

Now, the American South, especially the area where I'm from, is not known for having brisk winters. In fact, I had my windows open while making this light, spring-themed cake because it was 78 degrees outside (and much hotter in). Thankfully it's cooled down a bit since then, but still. I don't want to be reminded of the hundred-degree summer to come soon. It's not even mid-February!

Click over here for the recipe, but just squish those little cakes together to make one big cake. Or do it the easy way and make it in 9" round pans, your choice.