11 December 2009

Spinach Parmesan Polenta with Mushroom Ragu

Hearty but not heavy, a breeze to make, especially if you have a slow cooker. Recipe up tomorrow.

10 December 2009

It's Complicated

Just got back from a screening of It's Complicated, the new Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin movie. I am dead tired and starving (why oh why did I think and English muffin with cream cheese and a banana was a sufficient dinner?). Before I miss today's posting deadline foraging around my kitchen trying to scrounge up something edible and slightly less weird than what I had for dinner, I thought I'd put up a quick post about the movie.

I was worried that this post wouldn't be food related, but it is, as Jane, Meryl Streep's character in the movie, owns a bakery. It's one of those gorgeous only in the movies kind of bakeries where everything is just so and all the customers look like movie stars. Jane cooks throughout the movie and it one great scene shows her making chocolate croissants with the help of a nifty machine to roll out the dough. Anyway- the movie was absolutely hilarious, the kind of entire theater laughing out loud and can't stop hilarious that too few movies I've seen recently are. I completely recommend it and now I'm going to eat. Be back with a recipe tomorrow.

09 December 2009

On Recipes

I was listening to The Splendid Table, Lynn Rosetto Casper's NPR radio show on food this weekend, when one of her guests started talking about the unreliability of recipes on the internet- specifically in the blogosphere. My ears perked up immediately, as the internet is my main cookbook and I write a food blog with recipes. Her guest made some valid points but his main bone of contention against blogs is that the recipes are not tested multiple times, as would a recipe from the late and great Gourment magazine. I will be the first to agree that having an army of professional cooks test a recipe again and again times to tweak it and make it perfect is a great way to make sure the recipe will work every time; however, I have made recipes from such august publications that have been bland or even downright unpalatable. Even though an army of chefs and cooks labored over it for weeks it just wasn't any good. I have also made many recipes that I have found on blogs by home cooks writing about what they made for dinner that have been fantastic. That's not to say there aren't a lot of bad recipes floating around the internet, but to dismiss food blogs out of hand, as the guest (if only I could remember his name) seemed to do, is too harsh for my taste. So much of a recipe is about trust- you are trusting that the author of the recipes has given you a set of instructions to allow you to recreate his or her dish. You invest your time and money into this and you want it to pay off with a delicious tasty product.

It's been a few days since The Splendid Table broadcast and I've continued to think about the idea of recipes. There are certain cookbook authors/chefs that I trust implicitly. Take Marcella Hazan, author of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Her recipes are detailed and precise without becoming burdensome. Her tips enlighten and, most importantly, I have never made anything from The Essentials, that wasn't absolutely delicious. I've expanded my palate to new things, because I knew I could trust her recipes. She is the kind of cookbook author you want on your shelf.

While I don't think many food writers in the world could compare to Marcella, there are a few blogs that I cook from with the same confidence. Chocolate and Zucchini, the very first blog I ever read, is one. Clotilde explains things so clearly I never fear that I've gone astray and she cooks the kind of food I want to eat. Another blog I know I could make anything from is Tartellete. Granted, Helene is a professional pastry chef, which helps, but I know every recipe on her blog would work.

All this brings my back to my blog. I have made every recipe I post her at least once, sometimes twice, and in a fewspecial cases, six or seven times. I endeavor to make sure that my recipes are clear, concise and functional but I don't really know if they are. I like to hope so, and there have been many times when I have turned to the archives to make a recipe again and they seem to work.

This week Kat at A Good Appetiteposted about her intention to make my
Chicken Saagwala and I got nervous, really nervous. Had I written the recipe correctly? Did I forget a key ingredient? Did I defrost the spinach before adding it or not? I'm not sure about the answers to any of these questions but I do hope I got things right and that Kat and Matt enjoy the dish as much as I did.

I'll end this post with a request and a question. If you have to make one of my recipes, or your own version perhaps inspired by what I have done here, please let me know how it's turned out. It if works great- if it's a failure even better. Let me know where I could have been more clear and what went wrong and I will try to fix it. I'm not sure I can offer realtime assistance, but if you're cooking and things aren't looking so great, send me and email and I'll try to help. Thank you in advance.

I've told you a bit about what I think about recipes-- any thoughts you'd like to share? Are the any cooks/books that you trust implicitly? any that you think are terrible?

08 December 2009

Sushi Kaiten

Check out this kaiten sushi restaurant in the middle of a shopping mall- neat, huh? I first had the pleasure of eating at a sushi kaiten restaurant when I was visiting a friend in Japan a few years ago and seeing the parade of perfectly placed nigri and rolls, along with other treats, just doesn't get old. I could, and usually do, spend an inordinate amount of time watching the dishes wiz by before I choose anything. It's easy to divide up the tab with sushi kaiten too- just count your colored plates and figure out how much you ate and owe.

This restaurant is a branch
Wasabi, which I have been to before. If you get a chance to stop by, I recommend the fusion dishes on the menu- a bit passe I know, but the chef if Peruvian Japanese and the chicken anticucho, tender bites of fiery chicken perched on a tower of steaming rice and lashed with bright orange sauce, is delicious.

07 December 2009

Moo Shu

Moo Shu is one of my favorite take-out Chinese dishes. The crunchy cabbage, hoisin sauce and rice wrapper always seem to hit the spot. This is an easy homemade version, one where you can easily control the salt and fat and leave out the MSG altogether. Don't worry about getting the ingredient amounts exactly right- a bit more or less or any of the veggies won't hurt. This recipes cooks in about 10 minutes so it's very helpful to have all your ingredients lined up and ready to go, mise en place style- this way you won't be frantically searching for the ginger root while attempting to stir a skillet full of shredded cabbage. This recipe includes chicken but it would be just as tasty if you left it out.

I served the Moo Shu with store-bought hoisin sauce (is it even possible to make hoisin sauce at home?) and corn tortillas, since I couldn't find rice pancakes. It satisfied my Chinese craving and was cheaper and healthier than ordering in. Recipe after the jump.

Moo Shu with Chicken
Adapted from the Weight Watchers Cookbook
Serves 6

4 T low-sodium soy sauce (2T for vegetarian)
4 cloves garlic, minced (2 cloves for vegetarian)
1 T minced ginger root
1/2 lb (250g) chicken breast or tenders, cut into bite sized pieces (optional)
1 small head of green cabbage
1 T neutral flavored oil such as canola
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 C straw mushrooms
1/2 C bamboo shoots, drained and chopped
chili paste to taste
hoisin sauce and tortillas to serve

- If you are using chicken. Make a quick marinade for the chicken: combine 2T soy sauce, half of the minced garlic and the chicken in a dish or resealable plastic bag. If you have the time, let it marinate in the fridge for an hour, if you don't, let it sit on the counter while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Combine the remaining 2 T soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a small bowl.

- Remove the out leaves of the cabbage and wash. Carefully cut the cabbage in half then remove the stem by making two cuts at a 45 degree angle on either side of it, aiming and inch or two into the cabbage, depending on how big the stem looks. Cut each cabbage half in half again, then slice lengthwise, creating long, thin cabbage strips. Set aside.

- Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a very large skillet (I used a 12in). Drain the marinade from the chicken. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken and stir-fry until chicken is cooked, 2-3 minutes. Remove chicken.

- Add all the vegetables to the skillet and stir to coat with oil. Cook, stirring often, until cabbage just starts to wilt, about 4-5 minutes, then add the chicken, the soy sauce mix and the chili oil. Stir to combine .

- Serve the Moo Shu with hot tortillas or pancakes. Let your guests make their own wrapper by spreading on a bit of hoisin sauce and more chili paste if they dare, then topping it with the Moo Shu mix.

06 December 2009

Wedding Cake Continued

Heading back to the subject of wedding cakes, I thought I would tell you a bit about my experience baking one. J- asked me a few months ago if I would be able to make the cake for her wedding. Of course I agreed, I mean, if she was willing to trust me to bake for her wedding, who was I to say no. I promptly put the subject out of my head for a few weeks only to begin researching- the more I learned, the more a feeling of dread started to creep into my stomach.

I quickly realized, after spending some quality time on the
Wilton website, that there was no way I could bake a single cake that would serve 160 people, the anticipated number of guests. I put the idea to J- of a smaller two tier cake (her original request) along with a sheet cake or two. She agreed and I got to work. We talked flavors and she and P-, her then fiance now husband, decided on two- a lemon raspberry I based on Dorie's Perfect Party Cake and I carrot cake using Ina Garten's recipe.

I used the Wilton
charts to figure out how much batter I needed for each cake pan and made Excel charts with formulas to determine how much I needed of each ingredient. I shopped, and then I began baking and kept baking and baking for two days. One of those days I ate nothing but frosting. For some reason I thought it was a good idea, and cream cheese frosting has some calcium in it, right? I also called Zach in a panic about 5 times when I though that the carrot cake had failed. His co-workers probably thought I was nuts, although I had buttered them up with many samples of the prototypes.

In the end, the cake and I both survived. J- had little photos made of her and P- and we used them to decorate the cake, I thought the black and white looked great against the cream cheese frosting. Now that's it's a few weeks after the wedding and I can actually think of frosting again without my stomach turning over, I'm looking forward to my next baking challenge.

05 December 2009

Spinach Pie with Yeast Crust

One of my first uses of the yeasted pastry crust was this spinach pie. I like to think of it as a cross between a spinach pie, where the majority ingredient is spinach and is only bound together with a bit of egg, and a quiche, that deliciously silky dish of eggs and cream, sometimes flavored with a bit of spinach. This pie is light, almost fluffy, green with spinach and kept from boring with a bit of herbs de provence, nutmeg and cheddar cheese. If you have a crust ready to defrost from the freezer it comes together in just a few minutes. I've served it with salad, although that is a bit unnecessary with all the spinach. A light soup might be nice or, you could do what I did, and wrap up a leftover slice and take it to the airport with you- the crust will hold it together - then, when everyone else is buying $9 sandwiches that taste like cardboard, you can unwrap it and enjoy. Recipe after the jump.

Spinach Pie
Serves 6, 8 as an appetizer
Adapted from the Weight Watchers Cookbook

1/2 recipe
yeasted pastry crust OR 1 recipe better for you pie crust OR a 9-10 in pie crust of your choice
16 oz (450g) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
1/3 C low-fat cottage cheese
2 eggs
3 egg whites
1, 12oz (300ml) can fat-free evaporated milk
1/2 t salt
a few grinds fresh pepper
a grate or two of fresh nutmeg
1 t herbs de provance
2 oz. (56g) cheddar cheese, shredded

- Preheat oven to 375. Grease a pie plate or ovenproof skillet. Roll out the dough and inch or two bigger than the baking vessel (just pop the pan on top of your rolled out dough to see if you need to roll it bigger). Gently roll the dough about half with up the rolling pin, starting at the far end and picking up the dough with your finger and letting it roll under the pin as you roll it back. Lift the pin with the dough straight up, drape the loose bit over one end of the pan and roll it across. Press the crust down into the pan and trim the edges so they don't hang overboard. Use the trimmings to patch up any holes that may have occurred.

- Sprinkle the spinach evenly over the crust.

- Place remaining ingredients through the herbs in a blender or blending beaker and wizz the heck out of them, until the mixture is perfectly smooth. [if you don't have a blender just wisk it well by hand, the cottage cheese will remain a bit lumpy but it'll taste fine]. Pour the egg mixture over the spinach in the crust and then sprinkle the cheese on top.

- Carefully place the pie in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed and very nearly set in the center (test by jiggling the pan slightly- be sure to use and oven mitt). Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

04 December 2009

Wedding Cake

Jeez- it's only the fourth day of NaBloPoMo and already I'm writing this up after 11pm... so much for avoiding the procrastination bit. A few weeks ago I made a wedding cake (well several wedding cakes) for a friend. The experience was both useful and utterly exhausting, which is why I haven't posted about it before now.

Lesson 1: It is entirely possible to make cake for 160 in a home kitchen.

Lesson 2: Eating nothing but frosting all day inadvisable.

More, and more useful, lessons from my wedding cake experience to come. And here is the rest of it.

03 December 2009

Yeasted Pastry Crust

The friend who introduced me to Dessert Grec also introduced me to the New York Times Health Section recipes. Like so many in the DC area, I get the Washington Post, and don't read the Times. Even if I did, I wouldn't look to the Health Section for something to eat, but that is where Martha Rose Schulman posts a new recipe every week, one purporting to have certain healthful components. I found the setup a bit cumbersome, a recipe index would be handier than an un-alphabetized list of themes/ingredients, but C- likes it and while I was visiting last month, we made a few of the recipes. Some were better than others (cauliflower topped with nearly straight up tahini was a miss) but I was intrigued by a whole pastry dough made with yeast and resolved to give it another go when I got home.

When I got home a few weeks ago, I made a batch of the dough in about 5 minutes, using my KitchenAid. So far so good. The dough rose exactly as expected and I rolled a little less than half of it out to use as a crust for a spinach pie. As Schulman notes, it is easier to work with than a traditional pie crust- the gluten you develop with a light kneading makes the dough stronger and less prone to holes and breaking. Another plus- it's made with half whole wheat flour and perhaps the biggest plus of all, just a quarter of a cup of olive oil, making it much lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories than a traditional crust. It does have a pronounced whole wheat flavor, which I liked in the spinach pie, but which has the potential to overpower more delicate ingredients. I found it a tad salty as well; next time I'll reduce the salt a bit and see if that helps.

Even with the slight problems, this is my new go-to crust for savory applications, especially in pie form. For sweet things and if when I want a flakier crust, say for free form apple pie, I'll still use my
Better for You Pie Crust . One last note- with the dough scraps from tonight's dinner, I made simple plain and cinnamon sugar crackers, the best homemade crackers I've ever made. It's worth making a batch or half batch of the dough, rolling it thin, and then baking it up for a crispy snack.

For Martha Rose Schulman's Whole Wheat Yeasted Olive Oil Pastry click

02 December 2009

Dessert Grec

This recipe came to me by way of an American friend living in France who found it in a French cookbook so I'm not sure if it's really Greek, but I do know that it's really tasty. From what I understand, many French people end a meal with a cheese course or yogurt. While the idea of eating cheese after dinner is a bit strange to me, having a cup of yogurt seems like a natural way to end a meal on a light note. You aren't tempted to have seconds of the main course, as you know something else is coming, but the yogurt provides a sweet finish without adding too many calories. Plus, it aids digestion and is a good source of calcium.

This Greek yogurt dessert includes dried peaches or apricots and a bit of honey to sweeten it up though you can play around with your favorite flavorings
to customize it. Zach likes his yogurt with sweetened dried coconut mixed in, though that's not the healthiest option.

Dessert Grec
Serves 2

1 C low-fat yogurt, Greek style is most delicious but regular works too
2 dried peaches or 4 dried apricots
2 t. honey

- Roughly chop the dried fruit and divide between two pretty dessert bowls. Top each with half the yogurt and half the honey. Pop in the fridge while you prepare dinner and enjoy for dessert.

01 December 2009

Chicken Saagwala and a Challenge

Was it really a month ago that I was promising new posts and recipes with regular frequency? Alas, my innate laziness has manifested itself in the blogosphere was a severe lack of postings. As I need a swift kick to get the posting started again, I have joined the NaBloPoMo- the National Blog Posting Month Challenge. The official big month of daily blog posting was in November, but NaBloMaPo goes on every month and I'm looking forward to the challenge so check back every day (gasp) for a new food related posting.

And now, for my first November posting, what could be better than this Chicken Saagwala? After all the Thanksgiving turkey and cranberrry sauce, and with all the holiday parties with cookies, hams and the rest of it, this light chicken and spinach dish is full of flavor but easy on the waistline. Did I mention you can make it in about 30 minutes?

This recipe is based off one I found in the Weight Watcher Cookbook. Before you write it off as 'diet' food and therefore tasteless and me as having abandoned good food altogether, hear me out. We all, from time to time, need to focus more on healthy eating. For me, that time is now, and I have to think that some of you out there would like some lighter options to make at home during a month when there are tempting holiday treats at seemingly every turn. I'll never post anything on the blog just because it's healthy- it also has to be delicious and something that I would be happy to serve to guests in my home.

I made this recipe last night fully expecting it to be a mediocre homemade Indian dish but Zach and I were blown away wth how tasty it was. The spices really pop thanks to a quick toasting in oil and since it cooks quickly, the spinach and tomatoes retain their color and the chicken breast doesn't dry out. I added some yogurt at the end to round out the flavors and add a hint of creaminess dish and served it with some (leftover) white rice. This really is one of the tastiest dishes I've made in a long time and I'm excited to have another winning Indian dish in my repertoire. Also a plus- it's gluten-free and could easily be made vegetarian with the substitution of tofu instead of the chicken. Don't have yogurt on hand? Stir in a little cream for a richer flavor or leave it out all together if you're lactose intolerant.

Note: this flavor of this dish depends on the quality of your spices. If you curry powder has been hanging out in the spice rack since the last administration it's probably time to get a new one. I used McCormick brand curry powder (the one in the glass jar with the green lid) and would recommend it.

Chicken Saagwala
Adapted from the Weight Watchers Cookbook
Serves 4

1 T plus 2t vegetable oil
2 T minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T + 1 t curry powder
1 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
12oz/350g chicken breast or tenders or tofu, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
12 oz/300g frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/3C/75g low-fat plain yogurt
hot white or brown rice, naan, or pita bread (optional to complete your meal)

- Put the oil, ginger, garlic and spices in a non-stick skillet (that has a lid) and turn the heat to medium. Once the mix starts sizzling and bubbling, stir and toast for 2-3 minutes until very fragrant.

- Add the chicken and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Add the tomatoes, mix again and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, still on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

- Add the spinach, stir, re-cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

- Add the yogurt, stir and and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with your accompaniments.