paella, tofu, and mofongo!

last weekend was a bit...out of control.
firstly, i determined that the weekend menu would be paella on friday, tofu steak with rice on saturday, and mofongo (fried mashed plantains) on sunday. so that was already ambitious.

secondly, i acquired a new book of chocolate cookie recipes and decided to take the weekend and explore all of the ones i felt worth trying--mostly the “healthy” ones, to see what i could see, but also a few experiments.

then, on a whim, i decided that since i had the entire weekend, and a full pantry, to finally have another go at my holy grail of baking: martha stewart’s danish dough recipe. and on a second whim, i decided to finally try the bittersweet chocolate chunk bread from chocolate, chocolate.

i was exhausted at the end of it--but pleased. best of all, it only required--out of the entire weekend--a brief stop at whole foods on friday night for a few specialty ingredients. i did eat a late dinner all three nights, i admit, but i was overall very proud of my attempts for the weekend.

to begin with: paella. it took much longer to simmer than i thought it would, but the effort of inaugurating my new paella pan was well worth it. i took the recipe from my tapas book, and halved it. i accidentally used too much tomato sauce, but other than that, it was quite tasty and overall very simple to make. what took so long was allowing the stock/sauce mixture to simmer with the rice.

saturday morning i started off with a loaf of bread (note to self: always use wheat gluten with bread machine recipes--there was a marked difference in the strength of the bread and the texture). then i dove into the cookie book and tackled:

tofu chocolate chip cookies
“banana split” cookies (banana cookies with chocolate chips and bits of strawberry)
white chocolate chocolate chip cookies
“nearly nonfat” chocolate cookies (with chips)

the tofu cookies, although it was odd to work with the tofu, are surprisingly tasty. the nearly nonfats are pretty good, but also a bit crunchy. i liked the flavor of the white CC cookies, but the chocolate caused them to spread just all over the place into these huge, flat, crispy discs. i liked the crunch, but not the spread. the banana split cookies are fun, but i am not sure how much of a fan i am of the addition of rolled oats that the banana cookie recipe called for.

the danish dough: as expected, when i approached the recipe with the proper tools (like the stand mixer) and the proper time (the entire weekend out in front of me), the challenges were considerably less than i had imagined. yes, it took the entire day. yes, the butter was messy. but once i did the original kneading, i could see how it would come together: the dough has to absorb the butter (hence the long periods of refrigeration) and you have to create the layers. i’m still unclear as to whether or not i executed the layer creation properly. i tested a danish on sunday morning, though, and found nothing to complain about: it was fresh, buttery, and not all loaded down with icings and sugars like a commercial product would be. next time, i want to use butter in the inital dough but margerine or some other alternative in the later stage, and also substitute some whole wheat flour for the regular flour. if there is a next time...but now, at last, i can try all of those little danish dough variations in the MS baking book, like the sugar buns and the chocolate danish.

flatbread: took FOREVER, and i’m not sure if the result was entirely worthwhile. also, to my surprise, the dough never really ‘rose’ the way i’ve come to expect dough to rise. it almost looked like really thick cookie dough all the way until i pulled it out of the oven and got bread instead. it is yummy, but nothing especially outstanding, and i don’t know if i consider the time expenditure to be worth it. especially since the dough is not easily frozen.

what really consumed my sunday and made me feel more tired was yet another trip to the farmers market, where i totally overstocked on cherries, blueberries and raspberries. mostly because they looked just so good, i couldn’t stand the thought of not having them later. so i bought them anyway and spent the entire afternoon prepping and cooking them so as to still have them available later this summer, when i don’t have the chance to hit the market every week. with most of the cherries i made compote for the danishes, although i froze at least a quart of them for later snacking; i froze a lot of the berries and plan to make a frozen yogurt with them, and also threw a lot of them into a fruit salad. i got ricotta and mascarpone cheese and made cannoli cream, which tastes like a whipped cream. it’s incredible. i just can’t decide if it’s better or just different from the more icing-like variety i’ve gotten at vacarro’s in the past.

so, the tofu--i wanted to try something just with tofu to see if it could really be edible and the verdict is...not really. it was good, but i think as an addition to some meat instead of as a substituion. the rice i made was awful. simultaneously too sweet and too spicy and just...gross. i used the jeweled golden rice recipe from the cherries section of the eating well magazine i picked up last week and i was very disappointed. in fact, the only really satisfying recipe to come from that section has been the compote recipe from the cherry slump. the BBQ chicken was...interesting, but not great, and the pannacotta compote uses dried cherries, which totally changes the taste and texture of the mixture.

and the mofongo, i was shocked, but it was actually really good. i threw some ground turkey into the mushroom sauce, and poured that over the plantains, and the result was surprisingly sweet with a really interesting texture. i couldn’t eat it every day, or even in particularly large quantities, but i did like the adventure of the entire thing.


quinoa experiments again

so tonight i finally made my quinoa casserole with peruvian potatoes and cheese. except that i couldn’t steam the potatoes and i just threw them in, and i got cute with the cheese and used jack and gouda instead of just plain cheddar. (and i forgot to add the garlic) the result was interesting--definitely had potential. the potatoes, however, absolutely need to be pre-cooked in some way (steamed, for example) before being thrown in the casserole, and i think the garlic would have been welcome.

it was like macaroni and cheese, but with a totally different texture. it was infinitely more edible than my last quinoa experiment, which was just bland quinoa cooked in stock with osso bucco. i’d be interested to give this another go. i also think that apples would taste delicious baked in a recipe like this--especially a mild one like a gala or a fuji or a pink lady.

had another good food weekend--my wagamama explosion for neena, et al, went really well and produced some yummy food. shockingly, the three mushroom soup was the weakest of the lot; the tofu, teriyaki salad and cha han were the best. i used real tofu, pressed and everything, instead of my usual boxed tofu, and i was very pleasantly surprised by how nicely it fried. next time i’ll leave out the chili powder so that it tastes yummy with a sweet and sour sauce. i also want to try cooking with it more, like maybe some of the ‘grub’ recipes.

sunday morning i got my cherries, strawberries, and found some blueberries. the cherries were excellent and i even found some sour ones and made a slump (yum). i threw the blueberries in a salad, but the peaches i got from whole foods werent quite ripe enough and sort of throw my salad flavor totally off-base. plus, i thinik i figured out why the recipe calls for lemon juice--to keep the fruit from browning. i’ve been eating it in bits--first with some sweetened yogurt cheese and also plain. the yellow cherries, unfortunately, totally browned out in the salad and are all bruised because i had to pit them first. very sad.

i made a cherry compote with some of the cherries and used that to flavor some plain yogurt and i really enjoyed the result. what other fruits can i try that with?


fresh from the farmers market

wow, so this weekend saw a lot of seriously interesting cooking. after the tama rice on friday, i dedicated saturday to lasagna and cannoli ice cream. instead of using ricotta cheese in the lasagna, i wanted to try an idea i found on the stonyfield yogurt website after researching some uses for yogurt in cooking. so i took some low-fat yogurt, strained it, and made yogurt cheese, which i then subbed for the ricotta. i mostly used giada de laurentis’ recipe, with the bechamel sauce, but i took a page from my CIA cookbook and rolled some mixed mushrooms into it. then i rolled the noodles up and baked them like that. very tasty. the yogurt cheese--i think i liked it better than ricotta, because it was smoother, and didn’t combine with the egg to turn into a frittata, which is what happened the last time i tried lasagna. the mushrooms were just enough. i was quite pleased.

less pleasing was the ice cream. i feel pretty good about the custard part of it--i know i did that as best i could. the problem came while mixing. i hadn’t been careful enough attaching the mixing bowl, so i stopped the mix halfway through to re-lock the bowl. unforunately, this froze some of the mix in awkward places along the bowl, so the dasher wouldn’t churn. i had to empty the bowl, wash it, and start again. the results--honestly, i don’t know how much that may or may not have affected it. i know it didn’t change the taste, which was my major problem with the recipe. it called for anise, which i don’t like--it tasted like licorice-flavored ricotta cheese. the cheese was a bit overpowering, as well, although the bits that had a nice bit of chocolate in them were agreeable enough. so on top of everything else, i didn’t add enough chocolate chunks. it also froze VERY hard. next time, i need to take the container out a while before i plan on eating it so that it softens nicely.

today i hit up the farmers market. twice. i scoured and scoured and found one guy with fresh cherries, which were INCREDIBLE. i got a ton of strawberries, freezing most of them for smoothies this week. i got an extra pint to make ice cream with and also a pint for eating. i tried some sugar snap peas with dinner (more on that in a bit), and a quart of fresh yogurt (smoothies). i found a dairy and got some milk, chocolate milk, and cream. yum. it came in glass bottles. the sweet potatoes were all gone, so i took a detour to whole foods for sweet potatoes, bananas, and turkey meat. at the meat vendor, i got two chicken breasts and some ground beef. i also found a stand with a pack of burger patties, so i picked up some of those as well.

so, onto the meals--used up the last of my bread making a sandwich, which was tasty, and spent the afternoon making ice cream. first i hulled and cut 2 quarts of strawberries. then i pitted a pint of cherries. the cream was fresh, and incredible. i started with the strawberry ice cream, being careful to lock it this time. it was a little messy, but overall a success. i tried a totally different recipe from my williams-sonoma book, because the “ultimate” recipes were a little too complicated and used too many ingredients for my personal taste this afternoon. so it was just cream, milk, sugar, and strawberries. not even any eggs. simple and yummy. i’m going to try to finish the cherry ice cream late tonight. i want to give the bowl a chance to re-freeze, but i don’t want to wait until tomorrow because i think the cherries will be bad by then.

so, for dinner i took two of the patties, mixed in some ground dried shiitake, and marinated it in teriyaki sauce for an asian burger (topped with a slice of mozzarella, on a whole-wheat bun). it was great--so much flavor, so much moisture, no ketchup needed. really a treat. the snap peas were tasty, but not noticeably different from snow peas except that they were stringier and a little harder to eat. i made a grilled sweet potato salad with mangoes and onions. i didn’t actually eat the mangoes, but broiling it all together did give the potatoes an extra bit of tang. i think next time i should spice it a little bit more. topped it all off with a smirnoff ice. when else is that a great drink to enjoy than on a late sunday afternoon with a freshly grilled burger?

for snacks this week i want to do fresh fruit--especially to finish off the nectarines--with the yogurt cheese. i hope to do a smoothie every morning for breakfast, along with a slice of banana bread.

so far, i’ve been tryng to cook mostly off my ‘summer’ list and my ‘to-try’ list, so that i can really explore all of the new recipes i’ve collected recently. if neena and louis come this weekend, i want to do a wagamama menu (maybe the three mushroom soup? i did hit up the mushroom man today) and really enjoy some of the stuff from there. lunch this week is mostly going to be salad sandwiches and leftovers, since i am out of bread, and have no lunch meats (so it’s not really worth it to make another loaf).


wagamama nostalgia

so, tonight it started--i did my first recipe from the wagamama book. obviously it was chicken toma rice. the recipe was easy and elegant. i did a nice mise en place and ALMOST had it under control until i realized that i forgot about my mushrooms. again. (i had also meant to put them in my rainbow rice last night, and forgot. note to self: don’t leave tofu in the rice cooker for 2 hours. it gets soggy. and don’t EVER use sushi rice for the rainbow rice recipe again. it also gets soggy.)

the sauce was nice; it had a tang, it had some cling and some body (presumably because of the cornstarch). i think i might have let the egg cook too long, since i recalled the sauce being more transparent than gray, but overall it was a nice flavor. next time, i need to slice the mushrooms instead of throwing them in whole, and i need to add the sesame seed oil at the end instead of at the beginning. with the egg. i want to see if that changes the result i got with the sauce.

i decided on an ice cream flavor for tomorrow: cannoli. i was originally going to go straight into the low-fat variations, but i found hand-dipped ricotta at whole foods tonight and couldn’t get the image of how creamy and flavourful it would be in the ice cream. so, should i come across some good fruit on sunday at the farmers market, i will try the low-fat techniques on that. either that or do a sorbet.

tomorrow night, lasagna. i think i’ll try that with yogurt cheese instead of ricotta. i want to see what kind of flavor that is, and i really do want to do low-fat alternatives wherever possible. i did fall off my little food wagon this week, with my brie calzone and the fries at lunch on thursday and all of the sandwiches. and i was out of fruit for almost the entire week. on the other hand, i was also good with my running and yoga. it’s all about finding the balance, and i’m still working on it.

bonus note: i tried out the breadmaker this week and it worked like a charm. made a really nice honey wheat loaf that tasted delightful with the PBJ sandwiches i made as well as with the nutella. i’ll either do french toast for breakfast with the last few slices or use it instead of a hamburger bun with my teriyaki burger on sunday night.

last night i did japanese salt-grilled chicken in an apple-soy glaze. the results were...mixed. on a few bites, i could taste a nice hint of apple, but mostly the chicken (i had broiled it) was dry.


best recipe and best light recipe

i'm so stoked about my new recipes from Food Network; i found a ton of salads, sandwiches, and burgers that should keep me going brilliantly through the summer. i tried the tagine-style chicken last night, and it was good, but the chicken got a bit dried out. the raisins provided a surprisingly welcome bit of sweetness, but the sauce didn't thicken quite the way i would have expected it to. i made some couscous using chicken stock as an accompaniment, and i'm picturing a leftover sandwich wrap or pita. yum.

note to self: the proscuitto-parm cream sauce pasta is NOT MEANT FOR REHEATING. ew. it was slimy, gross, and turning green. vomit.

i set up a google calendar to help me keep track of my appointments, menus, and goals. i feel good about its potential to help me stay organized and focused.

i got two new cookbooks yesterday, the best recipe book and the best light recipe book. they're both solid; the former is very basic, but offers some excellent suggestions. the later basically takes the former and lightens it, which i think i will find more helpful in the long run. my current plan is to compare the recipes in the book with the ones in my database, and add notes accordingly.

eagerly awaiting the arrival of my wagamama cookbooks, and hoping that UPS was persuaded by my note this morning to leave my packages for me.

i'm out of fruit and this leave me very sad. i really want to make some bread tonight; i would kill for a PBJ right now. i've got a ton of snacks right here, but they're mostly chocolate and cookies and after my super-cream-laden lunch (steak/brie wrap and some of the prosc.parm. pasta), not to mention my plan for the apple-brie calzone as dinner, i was hoping to stay light. maybe some yogurt or a smoothie as dessert, and a glass of juice with dinner, will help me repent.

did a tranquil space yoga class last night after walking/running home from work (which i don't recommend while in flat sandals, but could be a good idea for later). my sun salute is definitely getting stronger, although i'm still having trouble properly angling my back for my down dog. my balance was COMPLETELY out of whack, and i was so dehydrated that i almost blacked out during a camel. my bridge was good. i've decided that i'd like to try and do a review for myself of each class, finding one or two things that i really felt good about and thinking about ways to i improve the other ones. i'm also hoping that my fitness calendar will help me supplement my yoga classes with more running, which i've slacked off on recently, and incorporate some weight training and cindy crawford workout-esque movements into my overall system.


getting ready for summer

so, i’m gearing up. i ordered my ice cream maker from amazon. i made a shopping list of smoothie ingredients. i’m scouring the web for chicken, pasta, and potato salads. i’m prepping to go crazy with the breadmaker. i’m stoking up on fruit.

bring it on. :-)

i’ve added an absolute slew of recipes to my macgourmet, mostly sandwiches and other similar things.
i think i should make more lists, organizing food by seasons...hmmm. something to consider.

my buttermilk chocolate cake came out as perfection last weekend. michael suggested that i should make a fruit salad and top it with the leftover pastry cream. yum. and i finally got a chance to try the pasta with proscuitto-parm cream sauce and it was TO DIE FOR. i reconstituted some dried porcini mushrooms and added those to the mix...divine.

today i had a major find--wagamama publishes cookbooks! i ordered both of them, in hopes of tracking down my beloved chicken tama rice, but i had to order them from the UK and even though the website said that it would dispatch within 24 hours, my email confirmation says it won’t ship until the end of the month.

boo. but it’s still better than only getting my chicken tama rice on the rare occasions i get to visit england.