Archive for February, 2006

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Focaccia Triple-Play

Monday, February 27th, 2006

FocacciaI discovered a recipe for focaccia during this week’s meal planning. It was in the same Italian cookbook as the tasty meatballs that we have neglected to post.

Rather than follow the recipes exactly, I used the leftovers and miscellanea in the kitchen to flavour the bread. One third was sun dried tomato and pine nuts; one third was basil and parmesan; and one third was rosemary and sea salt.

I did my best to ruin the whole batch. The cookbook stated to set the oven to 220. I should know that 220 fahrenheit is good for warming plates, not for baking bread. 220 celsius, on the other hand, is quite effective.

I checked the cookbook after 20 minutes and realized my mistake. 20 minutes was suppose to be the entire cooking time. We removed the bread and heated the oven to the correct temperature. Janet did her best to calm me down.

The bread was perhaps a little drier than intended. If I gave it to someone, they probably wouldn’t notice. The herbs and tomatoes dried out more than the dough. Next week I’m going back to Bob’s Restaurant Bread. The flavored breads added variety to the week, but they don’t toast so well. The all purpose flour creates a slightly cakey texture. The chewy texture from bread flour does well in the toaster.

Hmm, I Detect a Pattern

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

Stuffed Pork ChopsAn alignment of planets resulted in stuffed meat two days in a row. Day two’s Stuffed Pork Chops were exceptionally good, though not quite in the same league as the stuffed lamb. America’s Test Kitchen often tries to make good on some terrible, classic American dishes. They came through on this one.

I’m not sure what made the chops so moist—the butcher, the stuffing or the cooking method. The butcher provided thick meaty rib chops. The stuffing tasted of garlic, and the cream gave it a smooth texture. Searing the meat in the pan followed by fifteen minutes in the oven kept the juices in.

Given more time we would have made some apple sauce or gravy to go with them. They were still satifying on their own. I particularly liked the pretty oval slices.

Every other time I’ve eaten pork chops a large pile of fat, gristle and bone was left on my plate. I had to point out to Janet that the large strip from around the edge was nearly all meat. Sammy pointed out to us that Janet’s pork chop bone also had a large quantity of meat remaining. This caused me to start gnawing on my own. Only a small rib bone and a few small scraps of fat were left.

The smashed potatoes were also expecially good for some reason. The green beans had seen better days.

Let It Snow

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

As the snow starts to fly, we shamelessly revert to comfort food. Though loving the food, I hadn’t really intended on making this “Carb Week”… hmm. Oh well, it was gratifying while it lasted.

LasagnaFirst, we made lasagna. This is my most favourite meal with which to experiment; add a little cinnamon to the browned ground beef; ditch the beef altogether and use grated eggplant instead; use full-fat ricotta minus the egg as binder; toss in a little bit of every cheese in the fridge (this week’s included Pecorino Romano); add random fresh herbs, more wine into the sauce, more wine into the chef…

Plus, when I make this, I’m always reminded of that scene in The Godfather where Clemenza is teaching Michael how to make spaghetti because “ya neva know when ya gonna hafta feed a buncha guys if we go to the mattresses”. He cooks the onions, adds the tomaytas, a little wine, some peppas and the secret ingredient- sugar. Then ya add ya meatballs, ya sausage, whateva ya got and cook it ‘til its hot. I don’t really know why this scene sticks in my mind- I don’t particularly love that movie. But I also like that scene where Michael makes his bones. McClusky really slams his head into that table as he’s going down, choking on a bite of steak with a bullet in his throat. Gruesome, but what they’re eating looks good.

risotto.jpgNext, it was Goat Cheese and Walnut Risotto. Decidedly bland, but not unpleasant. The original version of this recipe called for blue cheese and I remember that version being a lot tastier but blue cheese was decidedly not-on-sale and Marc doesn’t really like it that much. Plus, I overcooked the rice- who knew that could happen with risotto? Next time, I’ll go back to the cheater-method of adding most of the liquid first, before stirring in the rest by the half cup over forty minutes.

Peas and PancettaLastly, we made Fettuccine with Peas and Pancetta in a cream sauce. It seems so decadent to use real cream but it makes all the difference, eh. This, also, was fairly bland but hot and creamy and filling. And bacon-y. And cheese-y. There was a time when homemade fettuccine alfredo was my favourite meal, the one I requested at each birthday, along with Caesar salad and barbequed polish sausage. Now, it sounds like a rather odd collection of food for a meal but it was heavy on cheese and garlic and perfection to my 12 – 16 year old palate.

Speaking of bland, here’s something interesting: if flying with China Airlines, one can choose a variety of in-flight meal types. Not only are there the usual kosher and vegetarian, meals to choose from, there are also low-carb, low-cal, low-fat, lactose-free, chinese, hindu, bland, japanese, gluten-free, muslim.. the list goes on. Also, if flying first class or business class, one can view the in-flight menu in advance according to flight number. Example? On Flight 007, Los Angeles to Taipei, one can choose “Chinese cuisine: sea bass with tsu-zih sauce braised roast pork with tofu and mushroom buna shimeji, celery, carrot and wood ear steamed rice” [um, wood ear?] or “Kaiseki style meal: grilled sea bass yuan style and shrimp covered with herb mayonnaise”. The last time I ate airplane food it was cooked chicken breast with “sauce”, potatoes, beans, a tough, little roll, and some gelatinized-cake for dessert. I don’t think they had even invented sea bass yet.


Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

LambSeveral weeks ago I found a recipe for Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Greens and Feta. We’ve been putting it off for a special occasion despite boneless leg of lamb costing the same as the free range chicken breast we buy from our butcher. Monday wasn’t a special occasion exactly. I was celebrating Family Day, which I get off and Janet works. The original plan was to prep the meal before Janet arrived home. A huge lunch and an afternoon of computer games resulted in no preparation until well into the evening. Thankfully Janet was willing to help.

Adaptations to the recipe were required to accommodate half a boneless leg of lamb. I separated the two muscles, removed the silver skin, and butterflied the meat. This made a nice pocket for the stuffing. String held the mass together in a pretty bundle. After some review of the recipe it appeared that I could have prepped the meat on Sunday, but it was then too late for even a marinade. In the end, we didn’t miss it.

Wow, best lamb ever. One of the best meats I’ve ever had. The lamb wasn’t gamey in the least. The fennel mellowed out in the cooking process. The goat feta complimented the lamb perfectly, adding just the right amount of salt. The lamb was cooked to perfection, still pink but the stuffing cooked through.

The potatoes were another story. We didn’t print the recipe, so Jan just winged it. They didn’t quite cook enough. Lemon zest was a great idea, but burned a bit in the oven. A few tweaks to the recipe and it would be very good.

Our next dinner guests will be served this dish, so start sucking up.

Captain Shrimp-tastic

Monday, February 20th, 2006

Shrimp Noodle SaladIn the continuing adventures of shrimp salad we find our hero creating Rice-stick Noodle Salad with Vietnamese Shrimp for Princess Janet who is arriving home late. High expectations were created by the Warm Jasmine Rice Salad with Shrimp and Thai Herbs, which accompanied Pan-Seared Tuna With Ginger-Shiitake Cream Sauce on one of their first dates. Our hero seems not to realize that combining shrimp, fish sauce, cilantro, mint, and peanuts can only take one so far. Oh no, the rick stick noodles have been used up in the Pad Thai leaving only buckwheat soba noodles. This is deemed an adequate substitution with optimism for a happy accident.

Bright colors draw a warm greeting from Janet at the dinner table. Compliments are made and comparisons to past dishes are kept to a minimum. The best that can honestly be said: there are several lunches leftover for coming days.

Like, Totally Lame

Monday, February 20th, 2006

Beef StirfryVisits to Grocery Stores for Fish Sauce = 4

Fish Sauce Obtained = 0

God, this was boring. Not only could we not find fish sauce anywhere (sold out, not carried, etc.), we didn’t have white wine the recipe called for, I forgot to add the sesame oil and we completely forgot to buy fresh ginger. The price we paid for these errors was a bland, boring old stir fry which was kind of a waste of good beef and nice tomatoes.

Speaking of foolish, I find it amusing that Kim Jong-Nam, who was in line to be the successor to his father’s position in North Korea, used a fake passport to try to sneak into Japan. The reason why risked his future as leader of his nation? He wanted to go to Disneyland. Seems worth the risk, no?

On a completely unrelated note, I have to share my pleasure in a particular wine and am too lazy to write a separate post.

nntech-label-1999.jpgHolly arranged for us to try one of the 1999 Napanook that she had squirreled away at the restaurant. “The 1999 season amidst ‘La Niña’ saw a dry winter, cold spring and mild summer. The long growing season resulted in even ripening of the fruit, which achieved the quality, distinctive flavors and balanced desired. The small berry size decreased the yield, but increased the intensity. New oak was used sparingly to respect the fruity characteristics.” Loved it.

Ordinary to Counter the Extraordinary

Monday, February 20th, 2006

IMG_2324.jpgSome changes have occurred on our little blog. (The new picture in the title bar is my favourite change- and Marc’s favourite dessert.) Marc was the initiator of the changes and is way more knowledgeable regarding the improvements, but we did collaborate a little to compile the beginnings of the Favourite Recipes page. It was fun to go back through the posts from the past few months and remember what we ate and what was the best (and what was the worst). One of those past posts had me craving that marvelous Mushroom Risotto so we re-created the dish last week and added a sharp, little salad to the meal: endive with shaved asiago and shallot vinaigrette. As it was so cold outside last week, this delicious, if rather plain, comfort food was especially soul-warming when accompanied by a freshly opened bottle of red and eaten while watching good TV.  

I can’t recall exactly what we watched that evening because we hardly watch “live” TV anymore because of the DVR. However, we’re kind of running low on saved programs lately and thus, were forced to watch real TV – with all the commercials even! – on Saturday night. Apparently, we’ve been missing out on some of the stranger stuff on the airwaves these days, like The President’s Day Salute to Swimsuits Marathon; we just saw an ad for this because it doesn’t air until tonight but I find it amusing, nonetheless, that to celebrate great political leaders of the past, they broadcast many, many pictures of women in bikinis. Because they go together.  I know when I think of Abraham Lincoln, I am reminded of beachwear. 

Also, we saw a documentary on the local Access network called Millionaire Dogs. It profiled the lives a few extremely unlucky dogs in Manhattan, who are forced to live with wacko “parents” who insist that their “children” wear sweaters, go to swimming lessons, stay at pet hotels instead of regular kennels and regularly visit the psychic in order to communicate their wishes and needs. There is some serious coin being spent on these poor creatures; I’m not sure that gourmet dog food, a thrice-daily  walk from a professional dog-walker and a privately catered birthday party your spoiled dog-friends could make up for the humiliation involved in wearing a plaid golf cap, with matching booties and being carried in a baby carrier, hoping that none of your friends saw you. 

Our Valentine’s Day

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

Mushroom and Goat Cheese StrudelOur Valentine’s Day was Feb 13. My friend, Dave, was rolling through town on the next day to spend the night on our couch. He was driving from Vancouver to Halifax again.

Our Valentine’s meal was fantastic. We started with a Mushroom and Goat Cheese Strudel with Balsamic Syrup. We’ve made this a couple of times before. The sherry used to cook the mushrooms gives the dish a rich flavour. The goat cheese helps too, of course. The balsamic syrup was reduced too much, sticking the phyllo to the plate. I’ve done that before. Janet’s sharp plating made up for the extra work in scraping off the syrup and phyllo.

Cornish Hen with Port SauceThe port sauce on the hen required more work and time than any sauce we have ever made. The recipe was orginally for pan roasted quail, but we had to make some modifications after failing to find the quail and poultry bones. We started the sauce by roasting vegetables and chicken drumettes in the oven for an hour and a half. The roasted bones and browned juices gave the final sauce intense flavour, pleasantly complimenting the port and butter finish. This sauce was the best we have ever made, edging out the cranberry port sauce.

For sides, we made a Dried Apricot and Pine Nut Pilaf and Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Scallions. I keep saying I don’t like brussel sprouts, but I like them every time Janet makes them. Somehow they always taste mild. The lime juice gave this a slight tang and a pleasant brightness—quite good. The pilaf was also good. I had hoped for a bit more. The dried apricots made the rice slightly sweet. I’d make it again.

IMG_2342.jpgI did a marginal job on the Dark Chocolate Souffles. The chocolate base required some time on a double boiler after I forgot to chop the chocolate; the hot milk failed to melt the large chunks. I also didn’t know how to fold in egg whites. Janet made me try despite my protests and she didn’t complain about the result. It was ok, perhaps a bit more dense than intended.

We picked up a “special” bottle of wine, which wasn’t too special. It was under twenty dollars. The 2003 Burgundy, Hautes-Côtes de Beune, was satisfactory, though not in the same class as the 1999 Napanook cab Holly picked out for us at Wildwood. It was still a pleasant break from the unending drudgery that LoTengo and La Vieille Ferme have become.

Scarborough Fair Omelettes

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

IMG_2328.jpgThis is a horrible, grey picture of breakfast; it does the omelette no favours. The reason it’s a lousy picture is because it was taken just a few seconds before we ate at the breakfast table in the sunshine and therefore did not have the usual benefit of the bright glow of the fluorescents nor the dark background of the kitchen countertops. Though warm and fuzzy, sunshine does not cut the mustard for picture taking.

A few months ago, we stopped making omelettes for breakfast. We had really gotten carried away with making them every weekend for about two months before they finally got a little tired. They were delicious while they lasted (we were partial to herb omelettes with garlic, shallots and parmesan, and maple elk sausages on the side) but it had gone on long enough. Recently, we experienced a revival of the omelettes; both hungry on Sunday, with two pots of young, spindly herbs growing in the kitchen windowsill, I lapsed into omelette mode. From the fridge, I extracted a couple of handfuls of fresh herbs, eggs and a hunk of parmesan. As I was chopping the parsley and thyme, I couldn’t help but think of the Simon and Garfunkel song and then realized that we actually had the last two lyrics of the chorus in the windowsill. Ergo, Scarborough Fair Omelettes. How adorable.

Slowly, I am getting better and better at making these things. I once heard a local chef say that you could measure a cook’s skill by how well he/she makes a simple omelette. So, of course, this is something I took to heart and have been trying to perfect. Tri-folded, not browned, still a tiny bit runny in the middle, fluffy and flavourful: this is what I try to achieve with each one (except the ones I make for Marc because he doesn’t like any runniness when it comes to eggs). After making quite a few, I find the biggest challenges are a) not browning – sometimes the pan is slightly too hot which browns the butter and then the omelette – and, b) flipping them in the pan to cook the runniness away. Part B, I blame on our pan because the edges are too sharply angled to get a really good, mid-air, one-handed, flapjack-style flip out of it. Part A is just timing and stovetop fickleness and shall remain my challenge ever more.

Someday, I will win the omelette smackdown.

O Curry, Where Art Thou?

Sunday, February 12th, 2006

IMG_2322.jpgMy second interpretation of the master curry recipe from America’s Test Kitcken’s wasn’t nearly as good as the original. This one used the whole spice blend, yogurt instead of tomatoes, zucchini and peas instead of potatoes, and shrimp instead of lamb. There were too few shrimp and too much zucchini. It came out like a zucchini stew with mushy curry spinach sauce.

The leftover yogurt sauce and the basmati gave it a bit more depth. We spent a lot of time picking cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns out of the final meal. The recipe didn’t say anything about taking them out, and I couldn’t decide when would be a good time. They hid in the final dish and Jan got an unpleasant flavour burst of cardamom.