Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Soup's off

Took a couple days off work to relax and renew. Of course, about halfway through the first day, I was itching to cook something.

I've got a lot of odds and ends, ingredients-wise, but I'm low on meat, and I don't have all my pantry staples. So, there's a plethora of black beans, squash, brown rice, but not too much chicken, stock, onions, or cheese.

Add that to the fact that I have a ton of hot peppers lying around that I don't know what to do with, and my soups have turned out...interesting, to say the least.

I've had some revelations about my cooking skills & technique during the process.

* I tend to use dairy and fat to cover a multitude of culinary shortcomings.
* There's only so far I can improv. After a certain point, it comes out strange.
* I use a LOT of onions. They are the glue of many of my dishes.
* I try to add too many flavors and textures to a dish, thinking complexity will equal tastiness. It doesn't (I've had this problem for years, actually).
* I have no skill using chilies. I constantly under- or over-estimate how much to add for the spice level.
* I'm not all that resourceful in the kitchen when I don't have my go-to ingredients.

Nothing's been inedible, and, miraculously, the soups have gotten better after they've sat a day or two. To tell the truth, a sprinkle of cardboard Parmesan has helped too (umami: I haz it!)

I'll keep at my vegetarian cooking; It's going to be a long, but necessary road, to do more meatless dishes. I'm bringing out my two best veggie cookbooks for further study. But, for now, if I'm faced with an abundance of veggies and lack of onions or fat, I'm gonna go ahead and make a pasta instead of a soup.

The cookbooks
These are old, and will be hard to find. But I highly recommend both of them.

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites
Traditional flavors with a fresh twist. Easy recipes, and a fantastic lighter Mac & cheese.

The Vegetarian Hearth
Don't know what to do with your root veggies? You will after you read this. Lots of simple, tasty recipes which showcase winter's bounty. Bonus: A delightful section on hot alcoholic drinks, like mulled wine, and buttered rum, which are all wonderful and can be scaled up or down as needed.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Growing Garlic

Gorgeous fall day out today. My tomato plants are pretty much toast, so I decided to rip out the garden, and start again.

I'm growing garlic this time. It's in the dirt, covered with some convenient leaf mulch, each clove marked with a chopstick or piece of scrap wood.

I've got a ton of garlic from recent farmer's market trips, and I'm hoping that it will hold me over until my home-grown garlic is ready to harvest.

I'm not sure how well this will work out--our soil is very clay-heavy, and I've not grown garlic before. But if it does work out, I've got garlic scapes to look forward to in April.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Overheard at Morimoto

“I want to divorce you and marry this citrus crème freche.”
“Dude! A burst of chocolate just exploded on my tongue.” “You sound like a judge on Iron Chef.”
“The lobster claw was…like jell-o.”
“It’s soft, then crunchy, then the sweet of the mirin and soy, and then finishes up with the lingering aftertaste of tuna.”
“Just try the oyster. Trust me.
“Why am I even mixing wasabi for this nigiri? this real wasabi root??”
“Try this red paste…” “what the hell is that…miso mixed with…chipotle?”
“(giggles). It’s a baby beet…(giggles)
“This smells like something.”
“I’m sad because I know we’re getting to the end…”
“It’s so cute! It looks like it’s frolicking through the sea.”


Let me explain. No there is too much, let me sum up.
It was the best meal of my life.
If you ever dine at Morimoto, go with the omakase tasting menu and wine pairing.
If you can only afford one thing off of the menu, go with the whitefish ceviche.
If you can afford two things off the menu, go with that and the toro tartare
If you can afford three things off the menu, order a glass of sokol blosser Evolution with the whitefish ceviche.

I thought I liked sushi, that I appreciated sushi, but this experience opened my eyes. I never knew raw fish could be so…subtle.

Day 3:

I’m starting my fourth hour of dancing in less than two days. My feet should be aching but they're not. When the Philadelphia Funk Authority starts their final set of Musikfest, I am back on my feet, jockeying for position on the dance floor. I know from last night's gig that, if I don’t get up there now, there won’t be room for me.

George, usually the drummer, has come to the front of the stage for a song or two. Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” He’s a manic performer who knows how to work a crowd. The brass is bringing it. And we’re all singing it.

We’re so loud that—we find out later—the band can hear us up on stage. And they’re floored. It’s a perfect symbiosis of performer and audience. I turn away from the stage for a second. Even the thousand or so people in seats behind us, though not on their feet, are still bobbing their heads, swaying a little. It’s barely perceptible in some, but it’s there.


A big Thank You to Bruce Press for a. taking such awesome photos and b. for letting me use this one in my blog post. You rock, Icepick!

One of Us

East Coasters have a reputation for being inhospitable. I have no idea why.

Our waiter at Otto’s—clearly a local—treated us like we were his kid brother and sister. He gave us tons of info on brewpubs along our route, gave us an extra sample when he wasn’t 100% sure if our beer flight was right, and ran our brewer’s newsletter out to us in the parking lot after we left it on our table.

When we got into Bethlehem, wet and without our umbrellas, Donna didn't simply let us borrow hers. She walked us down the block, umbrella in hand, and escorted us back to her studio like we were VIPs. Then she let us have the umbrella for the entire weekend.

And don't get me started about the inhuman (but very humane) hospitality of George Hrab and his ilk. After George gave us the grand tour of his apartment, and we were ready to join the Musikfest fray, he says “please don’t use the port-a-johns. Come to my apartment if you need to use the bathroom. The door’s open.”

Then, right before the big concert, the icepicks (Bruce, Julie, Allie and Ben) show up with literally a car full of snacks for the after party.

Perhaps it’s because East Coasters are brusque, even blunt at times, and may be it's perceived as rudeness. But this isn’t the same as inhospitable. In fact, there’s something very genuine about the vibe. It’s “come on in, have a beer, join the party.” You’re just assumed to be one of the gang. These are true friends: People who will call you out on bullshit but also go to bat for you without a second thought.

Day 2: Blandfast & Lunchbeer

Pennsylvania is a freaking long state. Even though we crossed the border well before noon, we had another 6-plus hours to go.

It’s funny to see what the marketing department of each state comes up with as their slogan. We’ve got “Pure Michigan” and Tim Allen voiceovers. For Pennsylvania, it’s “Smile, You’re in Pennsylvania.”

We avoided fast food, but our approach to picking restaurants was haphazard. When hungry, we’d ask the locals for suggestions, and if we couldn’t find a place, we’d stop at the nearest pub or diner. This gave mixed results, as illustrated by our first choice, an all-you-can-eat buffet.

There are two things I expect from a buffet. One is variety. The second is speed. Variety they had. Speed, they did not.

There was plenty of food, but it was bland. Even the fresh-baked fruit pies were boring. The only two standouts were at the cold bar. There was some feta cheese in the potato salad, and the three-bean salad was a tasty balance of sour and sweet.

For a place where the food was hot and ready, which had maybe half a dozen customers, the service was glacial. We were invisible our first five minutes in the diner. In fact, we had to move tables before someone noticed us.

One last observation on the meal: The sausage and saukraut was disturbingly tender. If I applied any pressure with my fork tines, the sausage gave way. It was as if it was made for someone with no teeth.

Thankfully, getting some expert advice later in the day made for a much better meal.

Surfing the Web with my phone, I found a place near Penn State called Otto’s, which looked promising. Given our earlier meal, we wanted a second opinion. I tweeted a friend who’s a Penn State alumnus, and he seconded Otto’s. That cinched it. We took a 20-minute detour for beer and snacks.

We had fondue, crab dip, and two beer sampler trays. It was great pub fare: Not too fancy, but distinctive and delicious.

Otto’s brews their own beer on site—about a dozen varieties. The samplers were a great way for us to try many styles without getting sloshed.

The fondue was a beer-cheddar variety, served with chewy, crusty sourdough. I love this type of fondue anyways, but the added dill seed was unexpected and delicious.

Crab dip is so simple that it’s easy to mess up. This one was well-balanced: It started with a full block of cream cheese, plus a hefty portion of real crab, and a liberal amount of Old Bay. Spicy, creamy, crabby, and rich.

We left Otto’s, dreamily, our arteries leaden, the smell of hot mash drifting through our nostrils.

Day 1: MBC to Silent Hill, OH

The Mister picked me up from the office Wednesday evening. We did not pass go.We did not collect $200. We did visit Michigan Brewing Company, however.

MBC is the second largest beer distributor in Michigan, after Bells. MBC’s beer is better, too. Sure, it tacked an hour onto the trip, but since we were splitting the drive into two days, we had some time to enjoy the journey. It also gave me a chance to pick up gifts for the friends we were visiting and try a riff on the sea breeze called a Summer Breeze. It’s made with house-distilled Valentine Vodka, fresh squeezed citrus juice, and a bit of Badass Beer.

Yes, that's Kid Rock's beer. Although it's not bad, it's not quite Badass either. ("It's a canoe beer," says The Mister.)

Our hearts were warm, our bellies were full, and we were feeling fine as we entered the Ohio Turnpike.

“Do we have change?” I asked, fumbling around the center console.

“I’m sure they take credit,” The Mister slowed down and reached into his pocket for his wallet. Before he could grab it, the tollbooth light flashed green and the gate raised.

It turns out that our Illinois I-Pass, which we got for visiting my folks, works on other tollways too! I checked it out, and you can use the I-Pass/E-ZPass in 20 states in the Midwest and New England, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.

If you do any driving in that area, get an I-Pass. It saves you at least an hour from tollbooth slowdowns and you won’t have to scrounge for change.

It had rained most of the drive. The Mister doesn't love to drive at night, or in the rain, but he was a trooper and pulled the entire shift himself. It was about 11 PM when we reached the exit for our hotel just East of Cleveland. The rain had become a fine mist and fog had started to rise from the ground. We saw a nearly-deserted strip mall, windows sealed with plywood, one lone Dollar Store the last tenant. It was depressing, and more than a little creepy to see the same setup repeated just a few miles down the road, then a few miles after that. I started to second-guess our decision to listen to “Dead Beat” in the car.

We eventually found our hotel, which was clean, if not comfortable, and got on the road bright and early the next day. Thus ended our side trip to Silent Hill and the least interesting part of the trip.

It gets better from here kids, I promise.

Carrie P’s Excellent PA Adventure (Also Starring The Mister)

The Mister and I just got back from a trip to Philadelphia, PA on Monday. We wanted to blog the trip, but decided to wait until after the trip to write about it.

Strictly speaking, the trip is not 100% food-related. But we did make an effort to do the Road Food thing while driving, and a highlight of the trip was dining at a Very Good Restaurant. So, I think it fits for the most part.

I'll be posting every day or so, starting today. Entries will be mostly, but not exclusively, chronological.

For now, Be Excellent to Each Other, and Party On, Dudes!

Love, CarrieP and The Mister

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Chard

If you're ever looking for a good idea for a Hollywood Horror story, I humbly submit the following:

It's pre-dawn. A young woman walks into her backyard, tentatively. She goes to a small, fenced in area. She carefully steps over the knee-length chicken wire, and digs her hands into the dirt.

She grasps the head of a green, leafy thing, and pulls. The object emits a sickening crunch. she does this again, and again. But no matter how much she pulls, she cannot eliminate...

The Chard.

Greens are great, because they are easy to grow, hard to kill, and produce like the dickens. But greens can also be a nuisance because they are easy to grow, hard to kill, and produce like the dickens. They can end up much like weeds if a gardener plants too many of them, and harvests too infrequently.

The best defense against attack of the smothering greens--once you pick them--is to cook them down. A bushel of chard melts down to a fraction of its size once you toss it with some fat and heat in a pan.

To this end, I plucked some chard this week and made Swiss Chard pies. This recipe is adapted from a Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe, which can be found here.

I cooked the chard longer than the recipe stated--I prefer my chard nice and soft--and used the dough to make individual calzones instead of one big pie. I added a bit of wheat flour to the dough to add nutrition and give it a little more chew.

The original recipe called for assembling the pie, then freezing it dough, then baking it frozen. Since my calzones were smaller, I cooked them first, then froze them. In theory I should be able to warm them up in the microwave much like a Hot Pocket, but healthier and tastier.

For 1 1/2 pounds of chard, I made 8 pocket-sized calzones. I tried one right out of the oven, and it was pretty tasty. The dough was more like a pizza crust, rather than a flaky or tender crust, but it had a nice chew and a great flavor from the olive oil. The filling was spicy, savory, tender and filling.

Swiss Chard Calzones
Adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food Swiss Chard Pie

Follow the recipe for Swiss Chard Pie (Use the largest pan you have)with the following changes:

Cook the stems and the leaves separately until the volume has reduced significantly, then put them back together in the same pan and cook them for another 10 minutes, until the chard stems are pretty soft.

Make the following changes to the dough:
Replace half a cup of the flour with whole wheat flour.
When ready to roll, divide the dough into four quarters.
Shape each quarter into a flat disk, then roll out into a large, thin, circle. Cut the circle in half.
Lay out a 1/4 cup of filling in each half-circle. Press edges together, wetting seams with a finger dipped in water if needed.
Oil a large baking sheet. Brush calzones with egg yolk as directed in recipe.
Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes, checking after 20 minutes. Pull when crust turns golden brown.

Eat at once, or let cool and freeze on a flat baking sheet. To reheat, microwave 2-3 minutes, checking doneness after 2 minutes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Steak Anniversary

Is the sixth anniversary the steak annversary?

The Mister and I are planning our anniversary dinner. Last year, we vacationed in Chicago. I'm normally the one who picks restaurants, but that time, I completely bombed on picking our place to dine. Not only did the place not sell wine (BYO is popular in the city), I got food poisioning from my sea scallops. Considering we could have eaten at Alinea, one of the best restaurants in the US, it was an Epic Fail.

So, when a friend started gushing about Bourbon Steak, my ears perked up. Best steak he ever had, he said, and his wife was going on and on about the mac & cheese. The food is American Steakhouse, but very expensive, and apparently very delicious.

As in, their steaks average about $50, and everything else is a la carte. Their most expensive steak is $70.

I really want to do a good anniversary dinner this year, and this place seems to fit the bill. But I'm just not sure if I can bring myself to pay that much for a steak. There are other things we could spend our money on. On the other hand, I don't want to go someplace mediocre, again, for our anniversary.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It isn't easy eating greens

So, My summer CSA is in full force. I'm splitting the share with some foodie friends.

But I simply cannot keep up with all the greens they are throwing at me.

I know, I know, the early Summer is all greens. Nothing farm-fresh is ripe yet, locally, here in the Great Lakes region. But if they try to give me yet another variation of spinach, cabbage, and leaf lettuce, I'm going to scream!

To top it all off, I planted a dozen bunches of chard in my own garden. I have greens coming out the wazoo.

In a desparate attempt to get most off my greens off my plate (heh) before an upcoming 4th of July vacation, I pulled out all the stops last night. I made:

* Spinach & Garlic Scape Pesto
* Bok Choy and komatsuna (aka Japanese bitter spinach) stems sauteed in bacon fat and pesto.
* Roasted Kale chips (toss kale with oil to coat, splash of vinegar, salt. Roast at 250 for 10-20 minutes. Stir frequently, check every couple minutes after 10 to make sure they don't burn).
* Shrimp and coconut soup with bok choy and komatsuna leaves.

And in the morning:
* Chard braised in oil and wine, finished with Parmesan.

The kohlrabi will hold, but I'm not so sure about the baby beets and greens. The leaf lettuce may be a lost cause, but I'll toss it when I return.

If any thieves come while we're away, and steal some of my vegetable garden, I'll probably be grateful.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Food groove

Planned some party food for a coed (clothed) bachelor party shindig this weekend.

We also did a late dinner at a fantastic local joint, but I wanted to make sure there were snacks for before and after.

Other than making waay too much food, it was a terrific success. Used lots of local produce from my CSA share, prepped almost everything 2 days in advance, and got a sweet deal on some pork butt.

Here's a rundown of the party menu plus some shorthand recipes.

Strained yogurt dip
1 tub plain yogurt
2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
scant teaspoon lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients. Strain using cheesecloth and a colander (or, in a pinch, coffee filters and a colander) overnight. Unwrap, taste, adjust for seasoning, put in pretty bowl. Serve with assorted crackers and veggies.

Potted cheese

Spinach artichoke dip
fresh spinach
2 boxes cream cheese
2 jars artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
1 cup parmesan, shredded
1/2 cup mozzarella
1/2 cup mayo
1-2 cups leftover garlic scape pesto

Chop and boil the spinach briefly, drain and squeeze out water.
Microwave cream cheese for a minute or two until it's mixable.
Toss everything else in, mixing well. Pack it into a big oven-safe dish.
Refrigerate for a day or two, cook at 350 for a half hour until top is lightly browned and dip is rocket-hot.

Sweet Satan's Seed (aka sweet and spicy roasted nuts)

Pulled pork
6 pounds bone-in pork butt
assorted herbs, 1-2 Tablespoons, including fresh cillantro
1 Tablespoon grated orange peel
1 tablespoon crystalized tamarind
couple shakes of soy and worchestershire
1 tablespoon lemon juice
good handful of salt
2-3 crushed garlic cloves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed

mix into a paste. Rub all over pork. Let sit overnight if you have time.
Next day, toss the pork in a Crock-Pot and cover with
12 oz red wine
12 oz mountain dew
1 tomato, roughly chopped (or a can of tomatoes)
water or chicken broth as needed to bring liquid level 2/3 of the way up the roast.

Set on low for at least 8 hours, up to 12.
Drain liquid, let pork cool. Shred, mix with whatever BBQ sauce you like, or leave unsauced. Serve on good quality buns like yeast buns.

Chocolate Chipotle brownies
Box brownie mix plus ingredients to make the brownies (eggs and oil usually)
1 can raspberries in syrup
1-2 tablespoons dried chipotle powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips.

Drain raspberries, reserve liquid.
Make brownie mix to package directions, using raspberry juice in place of any water that the recipe calls for. Mix in chocolate chips. Pour into pan, spread drained rasperries on top, swirling into batter with a knife.

Line a baking pan with oiled parchment paper. Bake according to package directions. You may need to bake a bit longer because of the additional liquid from the rasperries. These will never get completely dry because of all the liquid, so it's OK if they stay a bit squidgy. Remove from oven and let cool. Slice with a pizza cutter.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I did it again!

Late Thursday night, while searching for a treat to make for my boss's birthday, I realized I had all the ingredients for this. So, in under 2 hours, and to the chagrin of all those chefs that swear by mise-en-place, I literally threw together a pineapple upside-down cornbread cake.

And it was awesome. A coarse, but sweet, crumb, and a sumptuous, sweet sugar glaze on top.

Maybe that's my calling, to show people how to throw together tasty meals with whatever's on hand. A cookbook of sorts. I'm not sure, though, can you write a cookbook if you have no formal training? Well, of course you can, but will anyone read it?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


These days, I do more cookbook reading than actual cooking, although I’m trying to get back into the habit of experimentation. However, it means, practically, that I’ve got dozens of recipes I’d like to try, floating around in my brain, at any given time.

There are certain recipes that will appeal to me, and it may take me weeks, if not months, to finally get to them. The catalyst for making it might be a paycheck, the weather, a social event, or simply availability.

For the truffles I made last week, it was partly viability, and partly a social thing. I needed to bring a dish to pass for Memorial Day, and I realized I had all the ingredients on hand to make them.

These truffles are adapted from Sally Schneider’s book “A New Way to Cook,” which is sort of a healthy eating cookbook. Her philosophy seems to be threefold: 1. use quality ingredients, 2. use processed foods sparingly, and 3. go ahead and use tasty fats, but use the minimum amount possible for the maximum punch.

Now, these truffles aren’t healthy, but they are healthier. If you can limit yourself to eating only a few, they are even healthier. Much like my friend The Brass Chef, I’m of the belief that if it doesn’t taste good, it’s not worth eating, even if it’s “healthy.” So something like low-fat pizza (shudder) is really anathema to me. Better to limit myself to one slice, or better yet, just eat pizza less often.

Her truffle recipe uses chestnut puree to thicken and bind the truffles, so you can get away with using less chocolate AND whole milk instead of heavy cream. If you have a food processor, and you can find pre-roasted pre-peeled chestnuts, this recipe is pretty easy to make, as far as truffles go.

You basically simmer the chestnuts in some milk, on very low heat, until the nuts are tender and the milk has reduced. You add your chocolate, and process the bejeezus out of the mixture until the nuts are completely smooth and incorporated into the mix. You add some flavorings or booze at the end, then refrigerate for a few hours to let everything firm up.

Then, you roll the truffles, and coat in cocoa powder. Which is somewhat messy, but fun.

Once I put these out at the party, they didn’t last long.

Schneider talks about how the chestnut puree has a texture similar to a starch like potato starch, and also thicken like a starch. So I’m tempted to rework the recipe to use some other starches such as dried powdered potato starch (found some at my local Asian mart).

I’ve got the rest of the ingredients, other than the chestnuts, still sitting at home, so it’d be a no-brainer. Further updates as events warrant.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pie Dreams (nightmares)

The Journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu

Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool. – Mark Twain

I’m gonna take this F-ing pie and throw it across the F-ing kitchen. – Carrie P

I am not a patient person. I prefer quick, improvisational recipes with simple steps and lots wiggle room.

As you might imagine, baking is not my thing. Quick breads and batter breads I can do, and I’ve spent the past few winters really getting a good handle on yeast breads and cookie making. But items that require an intense amount of precision and skill, and have little room for error, are still tough for me.

Like, say, pie crusts.

Pie filling is right up my alley. Take some nice fruit, toss it with spices, sugar, and a thickener, then bake it until it’s done. Easy as. But I’ve always had trouble with pie crusts, on several fronts.

First, I have trouble rolling out the dough. It sticks to the board, or is misshapen, or is too thick or too thin, or all of the above.

Second, I have trouble transferring the pie crust from the board to the pie pan.

Third, I’m not very good at blind-baking. The edges of the crust come out burnt, and the inside of the crust sticks to the foil lining and pulls away somewhat.

Fourth, the texture and flavor of my pie crusts are underwhelming. They are usually brittle and burnt-tasting, or tough and burnt-tasting.

So, I decided to practice pie crusts this year. Now that fruit is just starting to come into season, and my oven’s been mended it seemed to be the time to start. I picked up some strawberry, some rhubarb, and some tapioca starch.

My first crust of 2010 was a spectacular—but salvageable—failure.

I used a recipe based on Cook’s Illustrated’s “Foolproof pie dough.” I think it would have gone better had I had the whole recipe and accompanying text to go with it, but I had to make to with a shortened version.

The dough came together fine—it was particularly easy to make in the food processor—but the resulting dough, even after refrigerating, was extremely wet, sticky and soft. I used some, but clearly not enough, flour when rolling, for it stuck to my rolling surface in several places. I tried to use a fish spatula to release the dough, which worked somewhat well for the bottom crust.

I got the bottom crust together, and was able to press down to seal up the large number of holes, tears, and spots where it didn’t come all the way up the side of the pan.

When I blind-baked it, the parts that were draping over the edge of the pan started to burn.

The top crust I rolled out, then put in the fridge in hopes of getting it to firm up.

It was not to be.

To get the crust on the pie, I went with the band-aid method, and tried to move it from the plate to the pie as quickly as possible. In retrospect, I should have gone with the “Cake competition” method, and moved it very, very slowly.

The top crust fell onto my pie in a Jackson-Pollock pile.

It was at this point I uttered the quote above.

After I calmed down somewhat, I got the crust into something resembling a latticed funnel-cake style topping, which covered most of the top of the pie. No huge gaping wounds.

I tried to fashion a bit of foil to put around the edges of the crust so it wouldn’t burn, which, after more swearing (I’m my father’s child) eventually worked.

50 minutes later, I had pie.

It came out looking sort of like this, but with large spaces between the dough where the filling peeked through.

It was an ugly pie, but a delicious pie. The crust came out to be very tender, and flaky. It reminded me of a cross between sugar cookies and shortbread. The crust was almost too tender.

I think part of this was because I used a super-soft All Purpose flour. “They” say that using a soft (aka low-protein) flower helps tenderness because it’s the protein that causes gluten, and it’s the gluten that makes crusts tough. It’s also the gluten that gives them any stability at all, so using the flour may have made the dough softer than it should have been. The recipe I used almost certainly used a higher protein flour. Oops.

I will use this recipe again, with a higher-protein flour, but I will also seek out other recipes. Shirley Corriher has several pie crusts in her book Cookwise, and also a fair bit about the chemistry behind them. I will do some reading up over the next week and try another crust or two Memorial Day weekend.

My goal is not to learn how to make anyone’s specific pie crust recipe. What I want is to find a recipe that I can do (or learn how to do) fairly easy, with a crust that tastes pretty good. So part of it is practice, but part of it may be shopping around for a pie crust that “works” for the way I cook.

But most of it is practice.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fondue+Grilling = Raclette

This weekend I discovered Raclette. Raclette is a mild cheese from Switzerland, but it's also a style of dining, similar to fondue. In fondue, you either use oil broth as a cooking medium, or you melt cheese and wine together and dip fresh veggies and such into the mix.

For Raclette, you use a grill to get the meats and veggies toasty warm and golden,and a broiler to melt your cheese. You pour the unadulterated, melty cheese over everything, and drink wine with the meal.

It was love at first bite.

I think that nothing will quite replace fondue in my heart, but this method comes close. It has a few advantages over fondue, in fact. One, it's easier for a large number of people to cook their stuff. Just put it on the grill and turn it, no entangled fondue forks. Two, it's great for vegans or meat-eaters. The cheese is optional and you cook it yourself, so someone who doesn't eat cheese can still participate. Three, the meat (usually smoked sausage and hams) and veggies are all pre-cooked, so you're just warming it up, so there's much less of a concern about food safety. Four, you choose whatever wine you want to drink, and aren't forced into having a certain wine because that's the wine in the fondue.

Also, it's more summery than fondue, what with the grilling and all, and can be adapted to a variety of textures and flavors.

There are, of course, specialized Raclette grills and utensils and suchlike, but it wouldn't be too hard to adapt a barbecue grill for the same purpose.

For further research, check out Raclette grills at Amazon, and some traditional and non-traditional Raclette recipes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Improv recipe: Butter, Scotch and butterscotch

I was talking with a Facebook friend the other day, and he mentioned that butterscotch doesn't taste like butter or scotch. I disagreed. I thought it tasted a fair bit like butter.

Anyway, it got me thinking. So when the grocery store had butterscotch chips on sale today, I decided to pick up a bag and see if I could make a butterscotch sauce out of butter, scotch and butterscotch.

I only made about a half cup of sauce, and eyeballed the proportions, but, for the most part, it came out well. Well enough for The Mister and I to fight over the last of the sauce during dessert.

Just watch that you don't burn the butterscotch chips in the microwave. Also, make sure you add enough liquid to them. If you don't, it will get gritty and clumpy. If this happens it's an easy fix, just add a little more butter or scotch and stir until melted and smooth.

Butter and Scotch Butterscotch Sauce
Enough for 2 generous servings

1/4 cup butterscotch morsels
1-2 tablespoons butter
2-4 tablespoons scotch.

Let butter come to room temperature. Put butterscotch chips in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 20-30 seconds at a time, stirring, until butterscotch chips start to melt. Add 1 tablespoon of butter, and microwave for 10-15 seconds more, just until the butter is melted, stirring. Don't worry too much if it seems clumpy and grainy. Add 2 tablespoons of scotch and stir. If it's still grainy and isn't coming together, add a bit more butter and/or scotch until it gets smooth.

Serve over ice cream or pound cake.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My podcast (with recipes!)

I've started a podcast, "Carrie P's Cocktail Party," where I will talk about, among other things, food and cooking.

My first episode, which will be out later today, gives basic recipes for both saganaki and mint juleps.

So, I figured I'd cross-post the recipes for the podcast here as well.

For those who'd like to check out the podcast, the link is here.

Becky’s Mint Juleps
8 cups water
4 cups sugar
2 tsp mint extract
Good Quality Bourbon (such as Woodford Reserve)
Fresh mint

Combine water and sugar in large saucepan. Bring water to a boil, stirring occasionally. When water is fully boiling, remove from heat and let cool. Add mint extract and store in fridge or for up to a week. When making the drinks, mix 2-3 parts sugar mixture to 1 part bourbon over crushed ice. Garnish with fresh mint.

1 8 oz square Kasseri cheese or Yanni Grilling cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup flour
1/2 shot grand Marnier
1/2 shot "Something Strong" (ouzo, bourbon, etc)
1/2 lemon

Hardware - cast-iron or flameproof pan, heatproof spatula, stick lighter

Cut cheese in half lengthwise, so you have two long, flat, slices. As if you were going to make a kasseri cheese sandwich. Dredge in flour evenly.

Melt butter in skillet. Add cheese. Grill on one side until bottom is golden brown and edges start to melt. Flip over, grill the other side until brown and the center is gooey. (poke it with your spatula to check this).

Turn off heat, remove pan from heat source. Pour in booze. Make sure you're not near anything that can catch on fire. Use stick lighter to light booze on fire, while saying OPA!

Let burn until flames start to die down, then finish them off by squeezing lemon on. Serve in the pan, with good bread.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Oven, Part 2

I put some slightly higher rent food in the oven this week. Even so, My savory bread pudding is still pretty much peasant food.

I adapted it from a Cheese and Wine Bake in the “I Hate to Cook Book,” by Peg Bracken. It is a tongue-in-cheek relic from the 60’s and 70’s that is, as advertised, simple, filling recipes for a harried housewife.

I kept the basic recipe, changed up the cheese, removed the mustard, added some sautéed veggies and herbs.

This is literally a refrigerator Velcro recipe. You can change the type and amount of vegetables to your taste. It’s not elegant, but it is delicious.

Savory Bread Pudding

Several thick slices of bread, enough to cover the bottom of a 9 X 13 baking dish
½ stick butter, softened
2 cloves garlic
3 eggs
2 cups shredded cheese
1 cup of white wine
½ cup of broth
1 rounded cup vegetables (I used a half an onion and a package of button mushrooms. I’ve also added zucchini and red peppers)
1-2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Several grinds of fresh pepper
Salt to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Soften butter. Crush garlic cloves and mush into butter. Spread butter on bread. Put slices face down in baking dish.

Sautee vegetables in a little bit of oil and a pinch of salt, and any herbs you want. You want them to give up their liquid and then let that liquid evaporate off. (If you don’t do this, your end result will be waterlogged). Stir them every couple of minutes, over medium-high heat. Turn it down if it starts to burn.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs, then add broth, seasonings, and cheese. Stir to mix.
When veggies are done, spread them evenly over the bread. Top with wine-cheese mixture.

Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, until bread absorbs liquid, eggs set up, and cheese is nice and golden. Serve with a green salad and a small glass of wine.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My oven's fixed...

...and the first thing I cook is a frozen pizza.

I shall fix this problem soon, hopefully with a fruit pie and from-scratch crust.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ugly name, culinary magic

I got some great compliments for my potted cheese dip that I made for the Elite 8 game last Sunday. Both the flavor of the dip—kinda a winey, feta-heavy cold fondue flavor—and my improv culinary skills in making the dip were praised.

Thing is, this dip was one of the easiest things I’ve ever made. I took some leftover cheese, a bit of some type of onion, threw it in a food processor, and added wine until it was the consistency I wanted.

I felt a little bit guilty taking all the praise for a recipe that is specifically designed to be refrigerator Velcro. But hey, I’ll take the credit.

And now, so can you.

Potted cheese

1 pound of leftover cheese (I used half feta, and half milder, other cheeses)
¼ cup of something oniony (onion, shallot, garlic, chives, or a combination)
½ - 1 cup of wine (I used red, red wine)
Couple tablespoons of herbs (something strong like thyme or oregano)
Pinch of cayenne pepper (for luck)
Salt and pepper to taste

Shred/crumble cheese. Place all ingredients in food processor. Blend, then add red wine in a thin stream, a little at a time, until it comes together and gets smooth. Taste, add more salt and pepper as needed. Put into nice serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to 2 days, before serving.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A world without cheese

Although I called this blog "Garlic is love," if there's one food I couldn't live without, it would be cheese.

From feta to fontina, brie or baby swiss, its salty, tangy, rich mouthfeel is the ultimate comfort food.

Which of course, got me to thinking, what if I had to give it all up?

I don't think I'd want to have fake cheese substitutes. The quality's not the same, and it would only remind me what I was missing.

But there are other foods that have a similar mouthfeel, texture, or taste, that are enjoyable on their own. They don't try to be cheeese, but, if, God forbid, I could never have another piece of cheddar, I'd be eating these foods a lot more often to fill the gap.

1. Avocado.

The fatty, silky mouthfeel of avocado is delightful, and reminiscent of some soft cheeses. It's so smooth, in fact, that there are ice cream recipes that incorporate some avocado into them.

Like cheese, avocado can be eaten in slices, or cubes, and, like cheese, it can be turned into a spread. The flavor of avocado is subtle, so it's more like a cream cheese than a hard or aged cheese.

Recipe: Avocado Gelato(Gourmet magazine)

2. Olive oil

Olive oil, at least the very good ones, are complex like wines and cheeses. Like a thick, golden wine. I like a buttery olive oil as opposed to a grassy one, but both have their place. The nice thing about golden olive oil is that the color is similar to yellow cheese.

A simple snack of fresh bread drizzled with olive oil can help with a cheese fix.

ZeTune olive oil - amazing oil from a small family farm in Lebanon.

3. Hummus

Take the olive oil, add some chickpeas and perhaps some sesame paste, and you've got an extremely thick, creamy dip. Put in a little bit of lemon or garlic, and you could almost believe this was some kind of cheese dip.

Recipe: Carrie's Speedy hummus
1 can chickpeas
1/4 cup good-quality olive oil
juice and zest from one lemon
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
salt and pepper to taste.

Place all ingredients except for olive oil in blender. Pulse until chickpeas disappear, then add the olive oil in a thin stream, keep processing. Taste and adjust seasoning. Put into small, pretty bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve, covering with plastic wrap. Drizzle a touch more olive oil on the top just before serving.

4. Eggs

Dilbert once famously said, "eggs are like cheese from chickens." He's not far off. Both eggs and cheese can be used in similar ways, to thicken, to add body. And both can be nice and creamy.

Dairy-free Lemon curd (adapted from Sally Schneider's A New Way to Cook)
1/2 teaspoon gelatin
juice and zest from 2 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg white
a few tablespoons of coconut milk (optional)

Take about a tablespoon of the lemon juice and put it in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the small bit of lemon juice and let it absorb.

Fill a medium-sized saucepan halfway full of water. Find a stainless steel bowl that nests in the pan well, but doesn't touch the water. Nest the bowl in the pan.

Place everything except for the gelatin and coconut milk in the bowl, and whisk it all together. Turn the heat to high, and stir the mixture constantly for 5 to 10 minutes, until it starts to get quite thick.

Once it gets thick, add the gelatin in and stir until it's combined. Remove from the heat. Let cool for 5 minutes, then stir. Let cool another 5 minutes, then stir in a few tablespoons of coconut milk (optional).

Serve cold or at room temperature. Keeps for several days.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi(e) Day celebration

Because I'm a geek and a food geek, I made a pie in celebration of Pi day, March 14th, 3-14. (Get it?)

I was hoping to work on pie crusts, but as our oven is still broken, I needed to focus on no-bake recipes. So I went with a Jell-O Pie.

Sure, Jell-O Pie is a marriage of 1950's convenience foods and 1960's science. But, at its core, it's Fruit, juice, gelatin, and cream. Mostly. What's not to like?

The traditional flavor is strawberry, though any variation of fruit, fruit juice, and Jell-O can be used. To make it a little bit interesting (and for my sister-she knows why), I made a Mango Tango Lemon Pie.

Mango Tango Lemon Pie
Most of the mango items can be found in the international foods aisle of your grocery store. You could use 2 fresh mangoes here, too, but the canned tastes pretty good and works just fine.

1 graham cracker crust
8 oz (smaller container) Cool-Whip Lite
16 oz canned mangoes (International Foods aisle at grocery store)
Juice and Zest of one lemon
1 packet Lemon-flavored Jell-O
Mango-flavored soda
Canned mango puree or juice
Red and yellow food coloring

Juice and zest a lemon. Add enough mango-flavored soda to make 1/2 cup. Add a half cup of mango juice to the mixture. Heat briefly over low heat until it's just boiling, then turn off heat.

Meanwhile, drain canned mangoes, and chop into bite-size pieces.

Dump lemon Jell-O packet into medium bowl. Add fruit juice, stir well. Add Cool-Whip, stir until all the lumps are out and everything is smooth.

Add 2 drops of red, and 4 drops of yellow, food coloring to the mix (optional).

Fold in the mangoes.

Dump it all into a graham cracker pie crust and toss in the fridge for a couple hours, until it's set.

I've found good luck sticking it in the freezer for an hour, then into the fridge. It means you get to eat it sooner.

You may scoff at Jell-O pie, but I dare you not to lick the bowl clean.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Durian

If Garlic is Love, then durian is...durian.

Squatting in the snow in my backyard, durian laid out in front of me on a pizza box, I tried to gather the courage to eat this mysterious and misunderstood fruit.

I saw it, frozen, at my local Oriental Mart. I was stunned. I'd heard of it before--on exotic travel and food shows--but thought it was only available in its native Asia, not my middling Midwest town. I had some cash in my pocket, and figured, for a little more than 5 bucks, I had little to lose.

I noted the packaging. Clear hard plastic case, shrinkwrapped in more plastic. Inside, two fruits were bound up in clear plastic wrap, like fat, cream-colored sausages.

I picked it out of the freezer case, tucked it under my arm, and did a little more shopping. After a while, I noticed a strange smell that seemed to be following me. You know how sometimes, if you have a dog, and the dog is laying down across the room, and all of a sudden, your'e on the couch and you get a whiff of dog fart out of nowhere?

A little like that.

I sniffed my hands. Amazingly, the durian smell had transferred through all three layers of plastic. It was faint, but distinct. And seemed to be getting stronger the more I focused on the scent.

The cashier at the counter wrapped the durian box in another plastic baggie. I smiled at her, and thanked her. I could still smell it as I put it into the trunk of my car. Four layers of plastic.

I thought of my friend Donna, a fearless, brilliant woman, who just had a milestone birthday. She wouldn't be afraid of a fruit. Even if it did grow looking like a big, spiky football that could kill you if it fell on you. I thought of all the other odd foods I'd tried--garlic and honey ice-cream, duck's blood soup, chocolate cheese.

I nearly threw the durian in the trash, unopened.

Now that I had direct experience with how fragrant the durian actually was, as soon as I got home, the whole package went directly into the snowbank in my backyard. We'd just gotten a good foot of snow, and the temperatures weren't getting anywhere near freezing, so it was the safest place for it. I had to shoo the dog away from it a couple times until more snow the following week buried it completely.

Just this week, we got a thaw. I looked out my window and saw the box, the pale yellow sausages staring at me. Taunting me.

There was no way I was tossing the durian, I decided, but no way I'd be eating it in the house. I scrounged in the kitchen for a plate I wouldn't mind getting rid of, a fork and a knife. I put my snow boots on and went into the backyard.

I held my breath, opened the layers of packaging. One, then two, then three, now slicing the end off the tube. I squatted down, dug out a hunk of creamy fruit, and chewed.

The taste was not nearly as strong as I thought it would be, considering the smell. Perhaps this was because it was still pretty cold, and the flavor was somewhat muted. It tasted like a very chewy cantaloupe, mixed in with a very runny and stinky goat cheese, with a little bit of onion character thrown in, especially on the aftertaste.

Even so, I only had one bite. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not, and I had absolutely no viable storage options for the rest of the fruit now that I'd opened it and the weather was warming up. So, still undecided, I closed the pizza box lid, and walked the whole thing across the backyard, to the garage, to the trash.

It would have been nice to figure out something else to do with the fruit, but small steps. I was proud that I'd tried it. The risk taker in me (such as she is) wins out again. And, if for a very short second, it was no longer winter in Michigan, but summer in Malaysia.

Now if I can just find a place nearby that serves Fugu.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2009 culinary recap

I was so busy cooking in the last quarter of 2009, I had little time to blog. Here's a quick highlight of what I was up to between then and now:

* Hosted an epic Halloween party which included two types of punch (both with dry ice smoke), squid-ink pasta, roasted garlic with anchovy paste, and numerous other spooky bites.

* Wrote a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, using dining scenes for inspiration when I was stuck.

* Baked three different types of cookies, some chocolate chipotle brownies, cranberry sauces, green been casserole and saganaki (opa!).

* Got back on the scallops wagon six months after eating some bad ones while celebrating my 5th wedding anniversary.

* Improved my soup-fu (aka improv soup making).

* Made a halfway decent (and somewhat authentic) curry for the first time.

* Fell in love with saba nigiri (mackerel sushi).

* Re-created at home a roasted squash and bean hummus dip that I'd had at a fancy restaurant.

* Lost, then gained back, 4 pounds.

My food goals for 2010 are to:

* Consume wine or cheese older than I am

* Do another "Iron Chef" party with friends, but as a judge, not a competitor

* Master pastry crusts (I'm thinking just about the time that berries and peaches come into season).

* Eat more fish; get more creative with fish meals

* Have more fun with vegetarian food

* Find more fun and delicious local restaurants

* Enjoy food more; worry less

2010 should be a good food year.