two promising but ultimately bland new recipes

item 1 (red cooked chicken legs) would be yet another disappointment from my book “spices.” i’m sure the recipe had a lot of promise and somehow i made it bland...maybe with my dried spices or my lack of pretty food styling (the picture in the book, which used whole star anise instead of dried anise seeds, for example, was quite tempting). i mean, i simmered the red sauce, let it infuse, and then poached the chicken for a while and all i got was...vaguely spiced chicken. truly, i don’t know why i should have been so upset. this was just a quickie dinner anyway, meant to use some of the chicken and the last of the rice and maybe play with some of the spices.

item 2, however, is more easily fixable, i should think. nigella’s ‘crepes cannelloni’ recipe suggests meat sauce and a tomato puree. i didn’t feel like making meat sauce, and i sure as hell didn’t feel like pureeing anything, so i spiced up some diced canned tomatoes and threw in a few portobello slices for each crepe and topped it with more tomato chunks and a fresh hunk of mozzarella from blue ridge. the promise was there, i could taste it, especially the way the melted cheese blended with the tomato blended with the crepes, but it definitely needs 1) more spice and 2) a meat sauce. at least i got in a meatless meal for the week!

was so overwhelmed by all of the tomato i needed to seriously cleanse my palate for dessert, so i just had a few spoonfuls of my new improved blood orange sorbet (which had more sugar, zero lime juice and, for some reason, a beaten egg white).

am feverishly looking forward to the weekend and what might lie ahead. for tomorrow, bangers and mash (from kitchen diaries). friday my tub of ricotta meets its destiny. saturday will be fresh bread, soup (since i finally have milk, cream, white mushrooms AND porcini mushrooms) and a new risotto for dinner; and sunday will be one of the vegetarian stews i’ve been pondering.

next week: lamb-filled flatbreads? one of the tempeh or seitan sautees? i love the new butcher counter at the tenleytown whole foods. everything looks so trim and delicious, it fills my head with ideas. twice now, i’ve been drawn to the lamb--and i don’t even like lamb--with a notion of trying either a tagine-style stew or one of nigel slater’s recipes. he seems to have no issues whatsoever with lamb.


becoming a domestic goddess

piles of cupcakes!!

used up the seriously overripe bananas in this cupcake recipe pulled from nigella’s “how to be a domestic goddess.” since i don’t have a proper muffin pan, and i like them on the tiny side anyway, i made mini-cupcakes (although they really have the consistency of a muffin, especially with the bananas). but they were very tasty and made a great dessert after my tragically overcooked pizza.

tonight was a great night for cooking with what was on hand. made the mini-muffins, then i made the pizza, which took care of the tomato sauce left from the ragu, the mozzarella ball i got at whole foods, and some of the sliced portobello mushrooms i had in there.

i’m having a serious cupcake fetish these days. spent the entire afternoon--again--browsing cupcake blogs and pulling recipes. i figure i’ll try to halve most of them and make mini-muffins like these little goddess-worthy ones. they’ll make excellent breakfast treats with a bowl of special K and some milk!

as for the pizza...it was looking so beautiful and perfect, and i didn’t want it to burn, so i pulled it out early. not 100% sure if i just got overeager or if it really wasn’t cooked through, but it started falling apart so i put it back in the oven. and then didn’t hear the timer.

fortunately the result was still completely edible...just not as pretty and all over with the cheese as the original.


weekend cooking roundup

hit up whole foods friday night for some basic necessities to go with what i already had in the fridge to make a weekend wonderland of meals. started off friday night with a butterflied stuffed pork loin. usually i like to do it with curried apples and cherries, but i forgot to get the apples (i mean, i realized as i was leaving, but didn’t have the heart to go back through the line), so i made it with cranberries sauteed in curry powder and a dash of fresh-squeezed orange. i fear i overcooked it a bit, but my modified couscous salad recipe was an excellent side dish.

i wanted to use up the navel oranges that have been sitting in the crisper bin of my fridge, so in addition to using them to sprinkle over the cranberries and couscous, i made the orange marmalade cake out of my new kitchen diaries book. the marmalade was excellent, but i detest the candied peels that are hidden in the jell, and i think the cake is a touch too sweet. but it was a lovely dessert with some chocolate madelines (enhanced by zest from one of the oranges)

the madelines were perfect. much better than the last batch i made, where i used the splenda and accidentally used twice as much as necessary. they were hard and sweet and foul. but not these. these were lovely. and i ate at the table like a civilized person. the cake and the madelines finished baking just as i finished my pork. rounded out the night with the end of pride and prejudice. perfect.

saturday i took it easy all day, even though i had some baking i had originally planned to do. i did whip up some pizza dough, and had wanted to make a chocolate cherry bread (so that i could do a bread pudding for dessert tonight, sunday), but that was before i realized that i’d need to cool the candied cherries for 8 hours. so i worked most of the afternoon and then started off with some of the dessert--juicing blood oranges for a second go at the sorbet, and starting to simmer the ragu for the risotto. it smelled (and tasted) so devine--and the risotto was much easier to cook this way, although i had serious doubts at first (even in spite of the devine-ness of the smell of the simmering ragu). very gradually, the risotto began to absorb the stock and ragu until it was cooked to perfection. i regret to say that i didn’t quite get to enjoy dinner the way i had planned--i got painfully, violently ill just as i finished the risotto. my only thought is that maybe the cheese? it was a bit old, and i imagine that it may have smelled off. or perhaps the chicken i used for the ragu...i had a lot leftover, and i think this type of risotto might actually reheat well, but i am afraid.

i used the last egg, and a few drops of milk leftover from lunch (macaroni and cheese, but it was too liquid-y and had too much cayenne, which even then didn’t stop me from eating every bite over the course of the afternoon), and some of the cream to make a single chocolate pot de creme. it was basically a heated chocolate pudding. i added some extra chocolate, which was a mistake because the chocolate was too strong. and i think i should have added a dash of vanilla. but after the sick, it was basically all i had for dinner!


eggs for dinner

all day today i supposed that i would cook for dinner but could not settle on a dish. nothing called me from my ‘wish’ list, or my quick list, or even from the ingredients in the refrigerator except the presence of eggs, milk, fresh cheese, cremini mushrooms and proscuitto all teamed up with the epiphany that i had half a loaf of bread in the fridge to make an egg sandwich.

i had planned to have some of the sweet potato fries from the stash in the freezer, but they burned in the oven.

so i just had my sandwich: mozz, turkey and mushrooms scrambled with eggs eaten as an open-faced sandwich, and i lined the bread with proscuitto for a bit of extra punch.

thirst was cured by a glass of apple juice.


cookbook reviews: kitchen diaries, the breath of a wok, and my total love for nigella lawson

the breath of a wok: the recipes are lovely, but the prose leaves quite a bit wanting. i got the impression from kim o’donnell that it was part cookbook, part homage to chinese cookery, and indeed it is. the problem is that the homage is dreadfully written--trite, repetitive, and not enough detail. i’m sure that the intricacies of her family’s history with the wok and chinese cooking are delightful, but her difficulty in putting them to paper is too much for this reader, at least, to overcome. but, as i said, the recipes are quite nice and i look forward to adding a few of them to my cooking program.

the kitchen diaries:
earlier this week, i finally finished my much-anticipated read of nigel slater's "kitchen diaries," a year-long account of what happened in his kitchen and garden in london. i had hoped it would provide me with some inspiration, especially for writing about my food, and as an added bonus might have a few pictures or a pleasant recipe.

oh, how it was everything i hoped for and more. the writing was like food poetry. or porn, if one must be more graphic about it. every word conveyed this complete delight in food, even on those days where he was lazy or tired and just pulled a hunk of cheese and a slice of bread out of his refrigerator. i can only hope that with more concerted practice, i can express myself so eloquently about how much fun i have in my kitchen.

and then there were the recipes. they were all of them simple, elegant, and making the most of whatever fruit or veg might be in season (although he did demonstrate a love for fish and fennel that i could never get on board with). one of the reasons it took me so long to read this book was because i didn't want to read it away from my computer, where i would forget about all the gems i was unearthing. i wanted my recipe collection right in front of me, so that i could add each morsel as it came. i've already played with one of the recipes--a marmalade cake--and even though it wasn't perfect, it was still exactly what i wanted from 'diaries'--simple, relatively fast, with easy ingredients. i must have pulled between 30-50 recipes from the book, and the only thing that stopped me from pulling more was the fish factor. i even started pulling his two-line paragraphs about his formula for miso soup, or frittatas, or a ham and mushroom sandwich, just because the prose was so lovely it seemed to express more inspiration for such simple fare than i could ever muster.

and so, with this, i hope to step up my efforts to document my kitchen adventures, and my projects in general. i definitely need to work harder on my food photography (not just vis a vis slater, but after spending much of the week thus far browsing food blogs i am ashamed of my own efforts). and i hope to embrace the simplicity that nigel brought to his cooking. each day, he'd hunt for ingredients. he rarely planned ahead (although i don't fancy giving that up any time soon, as i get so much pleasure out of anticipating what i might cook) and took his time with everything. each day was a new challenge, even when he was just considering a salad for his own lunch. it was truly...delicious.


a perfect night for bulgogi

why is it a perfect night? one might ask, and i say this: it’s cold outside, it’s dark, it’s january, and i stuffed myself with bad cafeteria pizza and a non-diet soda for lunch. the ginger/garlic/soy sauce will be light and spiced; the meat is tender, and best of all, the asian pears will clean my palate and fill me up as i scarf it down with a pile of sushi rice...


veal stew

finally had some good stew weather today--chilly, indoors, and snow outside. there was a delightful hiss most of the day as a light snow fell outside. even stuck a little bit! i feel like a little kid looking out the window hoping for a snow day!

so i didn’t quite have all of the proper ingredients. didn’t have any marsala wine, for instance, and didn’t have any “stew meat” at whole foods when i was there yesterday for a massive shopping spree. but i DID snag some serious quality bacon, and the fresh green beans, and some mushrooms, and some osso bucco shanks. i figured that since one has to stew osso bucco for several hours, it should be suitable in my own little stew. i was worried about how long they should stew, since osso bucco usually goes for 2 or 3 hours and my recipe was only for one, but my fears were totally unfounded. the veal positively melted into its sauce (mostly consisting of mushrooms and broth, with a splash of red cooking wine just to deglaze the pan).

as is my usual custom, i served it on a bed of brown rice with some steamed green beans, and a glass of water.


tuffled egg risotto

so, as beautiful as it looks and as delicious as it sounds, i was not a fan of the truffled egg risotto. the texture with the eggs was definitely interesting and i was fascinated by the idea of making a little paste with the egg yolk and the truffle oil (i used the good stuff from fauchon, and i totally noticed a difference in taste from the chemical stuff i got from whole foods), but it was still too rich, and it left a bizarre taste in my mouth.

i should mention that i made the risotto in the rice cooker, but i really think that didn’t affect what was going on here...the texture is NOT as authentic and al dente as a proper pot of risotto is, but the convenience was lovely and it was still more-or-less edible...the problem was definitely the truffles and the eggs. i think it’s quite possible that i don’t like truffle oil! i hated it when i made the macaroni with it; i could barely eat the macaroni. and despite the considerably higher quality of tonight’s ingredients (i used not only the fauchon truffle oil but the italian olive oil that mikey brought back) and a nicely flavored mushroom stock instead of chicken, i could still barely eat it. i ended up throwing the majority of it away, cringing with every movement. i HATE throwing food away.

other things that got thrown out today--the blood orange sorbet i made a few weeks ago. it was too bitter, for starters, and i got too eager with the lime juice. i didn’t put enough sugar in, and i’m convinced that the texture was off because the incredible sorbet i got at etc etc for ron’s birthday was in the italian style--that is, with some milk or cream, almost like a sherbet. i’m tempted to try it again, this time adapting a sherbet recipe instead of the sorbet recipe. i got a fresh lot of oranges today and i still have others in the fridge. i think i’ll be glad i did, what with the deep freeze in california and all that.

made chocolate grapes for dessert. incredible. but next time i want to use red grapes.

tried another loaf of bread today--it was a bread kind of day--the proscuitto-stuffed bread. i had, again, really good ingredients (including the italian olive oil), but i think i didn’t put in enough proscuitto. the bread has a nice crumb, and brie spread over it like butter, and i love the idea of making a creamy mushroom soup for lunch tomorrow and dipping this bread into it. i just wish i could taste the proscuitto!

finally made a log of cookie dough today. KA chocolate chip, which is definitely my standard as far as chocolate chip recipes go. tomorrow i might do some brownie bites.


cooking resolution update -- week #1

well, for my first week i made a pretty solid start on my cooking resolutions. so far as quick meals went, i did chicken/apple curry, grilled cheese, two braises, some meatballs and spaghetti, stovetop macaroni and cheese from the ATK best recipe, and managed to make lunches out of the leftovers for most of the week. off the 'to-try' list, i nailed at least 1--riz l'indienne to go with the chicken curry. i also tried some stir-fried rice to go with hamburgers i modified from some food network recipes i found last year--i mixed teriyaki sauce and minced ginger in with th meat. yum!

as far as baking goes, i did a recipe of scones from ATK--which were incredible, and better, i think, than any other recipe i've tried--and made a fresh loaf of bread. was going to make honey whole wheat, but saturday morning i didn't have any milk, so i used some defrosted buttermilk leftover from a baking experiment months ago and made regular whole wheat bread. the second the bread was done, i sliced it and made grilled cheese (with fresh cheddar) and cream of tomato soup. again, from ATK. i don't even LIKE tomato soup and this stuff hit the spot. i could have kept dunking my sandwich for hours.

(today, in fact, i used some of the soup as yet another dunk--for a meatball and mozzarella sandwich)

was perusing chocolate, chocolate last night with (at first) the idea of maybe selling or donating it, since i don't enjoy any of her cookie recipes and have already purloined the scones, and then i stumbled on the chapter of chocolate breads. that, and the mouthwatering pictures, brought me back to the fold. i came up with a new idea for a brownie -- wafer cookie bottom layer, blondie middle layer, topped with kit kats. this is because i've finally given up the idea of re-tooling the peanut butter cookie bar recipe into something i'd willingly eat, although i have determined to give the nougat cookie bar recipe another try. (this time, lessening the cooking time and perhaps freezing the candy pieces to prevent the utter carmalzied mess that emerged)

this week's task will be to find a good dessert to make for dinner on sunday night. right now, i'm tentatively scheduled to have dinner in NJ with the family and alicia. i'm hoping this pans out, as it gives me another go at the darkroom and my van dyke series. (note to self: get some stonehenge paper to bring home with me)

two stews and a weekend out of ATK. this particular shot is of the un-beLIEVEable tomato soup i made. and i don’t even like tomato soup. i hate it, in fact. but i had a craving for a fresh loaf of bread and some grilled cheese (with fresh cheddar), and taking my inspiration from mikey’s new year’s eve menu, i couldn’t resist.


new year's eve menu and notes - final draft and photos

Dim Sum – Appetizers

Spiced Tofu Katsu
Marinated Beef Skewers with Egg Noodles
Duck and Green Apple Spring Rolls
Bok Choi Rolls with Chicken

Ginger, Blood Orange and Pomegranate Martinis

Soup and Salad

Japanese Fresh Corn Soup
Trimbaugh Riesling 2002

Indonesian Gado-Gado with Spicy Peanut Dressing
Domaine Zind Humbrecht Gewurztramainer 1999, Clos Windsbuhl


Main Course

Asian-Style Short Ribs with Laquered Baby Carrots
Served with steamed Thai Jasmine Rice
E. Guigal Cote-Rotie 1995, Chateau d’Ampuie


Warm Chocolate Cakes with Lemon Mousse and Citrus Compote
Mueller-Catoir Riesling 1999, Eiswein