Friday, February 29, 2008

Ultimate Recipe Showdown of Ultimate Destiny

OK, Food Network. You’re being awfully sadistic these days. You know it’s been a pipe dream of mine to get on the Food Network, ever since the first season of The Next Food Network Star. But, you made it pretty clear that you didn’t want my kind—self taught home cooks. No, you wanted flamboyant food personalities for whom cooking was already their day job. Bam! Indeed.

Now you dangle another carrot in front of my nose—your new show Ultimate Recipe Showdown. You say this show is all about self-taught home cooks showing off their best recipes for fabulous prizes, of up to $50,000.

I could care less about the money. I just want to get on the show. And meet the Double Dare Guy. You know, Marc Summers? You hired him to do Unwrapped, and now, with Guy Fieri, he’s the co-host of the Ultimate Recipe Showdown.

According to your Web Site, you’re accepting recipe submissions for Season 2 of the show until March 31st. You say that I can enter as many recipes as you want.

Ah, but there’s the rub. I’m a good cook, but you know recipe creation is not my specialty. Ever since that strained yogurt-garlic sauce in the 6th grade that made my eyes water, I’ve tried to get better at creating recipes. And sure, I won First place at a college during a spring break recipe challenge with my Sunset Soup. And I was victorious in the Iron Chef Birthday Battle back in June of 2007. But I only have, maybe, a half a dozen original recipes. And maybe a quarter of them are Ultimate Recipe quality.

You’re not just getting my hopes up, are you, Food Network? Do I have enough original recipes to have a chance? Do I have enough time over the next month to do some serious experimenting? Are you going to break my heart yet again?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Garlic lovers' recipes - Garlic Honey Ice Cream

I love garlic, as is clear from my blog's moniker, but I was a little scared of the recipe for Garlic Honey Ice cream in
The Garlic Book.

However, that didn't stop me from trying it a couple summers ago.

This is a good recipe because it's well-flavored with garlic, but the garlic is not overpowering. Most recipes call for poaching the cloves in the cream, then pureeing the mixture. But, in this recipe, you steep the cloves in honey, then remove them before you make the ice cream. So there's a distinctive, yet mild, garlic flavor.

The other cool thing about this recipe is its texture. Using the honey rather than the sugar to sweeten the ice cream makes it super-smooth. There's no grittiness from undissolved or recrystallized sugar granules.

The family members I was able to persuade into trying it couldn't identify the odd flavor of the ice cream as garlic right away. And my mother, God bless her, liked it well enough that she went back for seconds the next day.

I can't post the actual recipe here, because it's copyrighted, but you can buy a copy of The Garlic Book on You could also try to make up your own recipe from the basic method I've outlined above, if that's your cup of tea, or, er, clove of garlic.

The book seems to be out of print, so you may need to check a used bookstore to get a copy, but it's worth buying for its other garlic recipes. There's a great garlic bread, a garlic and bread sauce, and chocolate-covered garlic. The cloves are poached in red wine and sugar to make them sweeter before they are enrobed in chocolate.

If you do try the recipe, I'd love to hear what you and your friends think of it. If you can convince your friends to try some. (It's not that strong a garlic flavor. Really. The coldness of the ice cream also mutes the flavors somewhat.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Forget Chicken Soup for the Soul. I need chicken soup for me!

I've been down for nearly a week with the flu. Remember: the flu shot is your friend. If I hadn't gotten one, I'd still be very, very, sick.

I'm finally back up, and back to blogging. Now that I'm back, I wanted to highlight some good chicken soup recipes.

Ma Cobb's Chicken Soup-Featured in Big Damn Chefs and on The Signal Podcast, this great chicken soup recipe has lots of curry, cayenne, and garlic.

The Barefoot Contessa has a great chicken stock recipe. I like this one because it tells you how much salt to put in the stock. Most recipes don't. For a novice cook, the hardest thing about making stock, is making sure it's got enough salt in it. But, don't discard the chicken like it says to. Pick the chicken out, dice up some carrots and celery, and use it for the soup.

Katie's lazy chicken soup-This recipe was invented by my younger sister. Still twice as good as what you'd get in a can, but so easy you can whip it together in a half hour, with very little chopping, even if you have the flu. Serves 2

1 carton chicken stock
1 small bag baby carrots
celery, roughly chopped (optional)
Box of seasoned pre-cooked chicken breast strips, Italian or Southwest seasoning.
1-2 cups egg noodles
1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning or Poultry Seasoning (optional)
2 cloves crushed garlic (optional)

Heat up chicken broth. Add carrots, garlic, and other vegetables if using. Simmer 10 minutes. Add egg noodles and chicken strips, and simmer another 10-15 minutes until veggies get as tender as you want them and chicken strips are heated through. Taste soup and add extra seasoning if needed, but the seasoning on the strips should be enough.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cuddle up this Valentine's Day

I think most people who use food to woo and wow their sweethearts on Valentine's Day either 1. Go for chocolate or 2. Go out for a fancy dinner. Maybe both.

But I'm going to suggest that you stay home for Valentine's Day, and avoid all the crowds. Instead, make a meal at home for your beloved, set the mood with candles and music, start a fire going, and have a much more enjoyable time.

Maybe it's my Italian Grandmother gene getting the best of me again, but there's nothing like a home-made meal to make people feel loved. If you're the one who does the cooking in the house, you already know this. Also, the quality tends to be better when you make it at home--better food for the same, or less money.

Now, normally I'm all about uber fancy meals and setups and plannings. But not for Valentine's Day. You want to do something tasty, but simple, so you have more time for, you know, canoodling.

So, if you are cooking the Valentine's Day meal this year, first think of your beloved, and what he or she would like. If you think crab legs are sexy but your spouse hates seafood, then crab legs with clarified butter 'aint the way to go. If they really love chocolate, then a creme brulee isn't going to impress them (unless it's a CHOCOLATE creme brulee!)

I've put together a list of amorous menu options for those who need ideas. I've included some basic instructions for some of the suggestions--not really recipes, but something to show you how easy it really is and to get you started.

Oysters - if you really like them. I don't. Otherwise, go for something like smoked salmon or shrimp.
Sliced french bread, topped with something tasty and savory - sauteed onions, roasted garlic, or goat cheese, or cream cheese. Even something pre-made out of a jar becomes special when it's spread on a toasted baguette slice.

Main Courses
Steamed crab legs with clarified butter - to clarify butter: melt a stick of butter in a saucepan over low heat until it's completely melted. Use the smallest saucepan you have. Either a. spoon out the white solids, or b. pour the clarified butter into a bowl, leaving the solids in the pan. If some solids sneak by, don't fret.
Steak - season with salt and pepper. Put over flaming hot grill for a few minutes per side. enjoy
Chicken in foil packets - add some diced veggies, some wine or chicken broth, bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Side dishes
Baked/roasted potatoes
steamed vegetables
dinner rolls

White wine, red wine - The gold standard. But what if your honey likes mead? or Beer? Go with it. There's nothing wrong with an IPA with a Valentine's Day meal.

Creme brulee - seriously, this is really super easy to make. The gourmets will say "use a vanilla bean," but you can ignore them and just use real vanilla extract.
Cheater's chocolate lava cakes - make a batch of from-the-box brownies, but bake the batter in muffin tins instead of a brownie pan. Make sure to grease the tins, but do not line them. Check them about 10 minutes before the minimum cooking time on the box. You want them a little bit undercooked. Serve as-is or with a sauce.
Dessert wines - Wines like sweet, flavorful ice wine or strong, smooth port can be desserts in and of themselves.
Chocolate-covered strawberries - Melt chocolate in microwave. Stir every 20 seconds or so. Dip strawberries. Put on waxed paper in fridge for at least an hour. Heaven.

I'd love to hear from readers what they're doing for Valentine's Day, and what their favorite Valentine's Day menus are--fancy or simple.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! As Kaylee from Firefly would say "Have good sex!"

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mad (food) Scientist, Part 2

It's alive, er, edible!!!!

The curried coconut-scented lentil-brown rice-black beans and tomatoes thing turned out really well! (I have got to get a better name for it...). The flavors all played well with others, and the result was a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, colorful pot of beans with good flavor and texture.

As I went to make the recipe, I realized one major error. I was going to use evaporated skimmed milk plus a little bit of coconut extract instead of coconut milk. I thought I had some in the pantry, but it turned out I had sweetened condensed milk. They are not interchangable. Not at all. However, it worked out pretty well. It gave a subtle sweetness to the rice, which would have been better had I used more curry powder.

And, I found another good use for the faux cream of coconut. It made a pretty good substitute for Coco Lopez, in the lovely drink called the Painkiller.

I still think that evaporated skimmed milk plus coconut extract would be a good, not-sweet, low-fat, substitute for cocunut milk, but I shall have to wait another day to actually do the experiment. Curses. Foiled again.

Tropical curried rice and beans
1 cup split lentils
1 cup instant brown rice
1 16 oz can black beans
3 cups chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coconut extract
2-4 Teaspoons curry powder, to taste

Put rice and lentils in a pot with a tight-fitting lid.
Mix together sweetened condensed milk and coconut extract. Stir to combine. Add coconut milk to rice and lentils. Add the black beans, including the liquid in the can. Add 2 cups of the stock to the pot. Heat to boiling, uncovered, sirring often. Once the mixture reaches a boil, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add a little bit of chicken stock if mixture starts to get too dry.

Uncover pot, add tomatoes and liquid. Cook for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more salt or curry powder if needed.

Turn off heat and let rice and beans sit for 10 minutes. Uncover, stir and eat! Serve with Painkillers.

Mad (food) Scientist

When crafting culinary creations, there's a fine line between improv recipe and insane (and inedible) food combination. I'm always fighting the impulse to combine too many flavors into one dish, which turns a potentially edibile meal into a Food Frankenstein's Monster.

Like anytime I go to Mongolian Barbecue. I always hate to go there, because I can never decide what sauce to have. So I usually mix them all up. And then my meal doesn't taste very good, either because the flavors don't blend together well, or there are so many competing flavors that it doesn't really taste like anything.

So, last night, when we went out to Mongolian Barbecue, I kept it simple. I went with duck for the meat, got a bunch of veggies, made curry powder the main seasoning, and and then did only a couple different sauces to round out the plate. It was very good, spicy, sweet, and well-balanced.

Tonight, I'm tempting fate. I'm making an odd dish at home, and I'm not sure if it will come out well. I'm trying to go vegetarian, and use up some pantry staples that I rarely use--like a bag of split red lentils that I've had for two years. I wanted to use coconut milk, but decided instead to use a substitute--sweetened condensed milk with coconut extract added. I'm not sure whether to also add some black beans or crushed tomatoes. Curry powder will be involved.

I'm a little worried that this will turn into a nightmare, but it could taste pretty good, especially for those who like those types of flavors. I'll keep everyone posted on how it turns out.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Improv recipe - brie puff bites

I love brie and puff pastry, but sometimes, a big wedge of brie shrouded in pastry is just too dense and overwhelming, especially for informal parties.

So, I decided to see what happened if I used those exact same ingredients, but made them bite-sized.

I used a pizza cutter to slice some pre-made puff pastry into even squares, then used them to wrap little squares of brie. Then I baked them in a 350 degree oven on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes, until they puffed up.

I didn't think that the bites would stay open, and they didn't, but the brie stayed mostly in the puff pastry, and didn't leak out too much. After a couple minutes to cool down, they were ready to go.

This is a great, easy appetizer, and one that I would do again. The bites are a bit more work than just wrapping the entire brie in pastry, but they're more versatile, too.

I also found out that, before cooking, these freeze extremely well. So you can make a bunch, put them on a cookie sheet, toss them in the freezer, then put them in a plastic bag. So, if you have unexpected guests, you can just let them thaw while the oven is warming.