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Not As Good As Pork Cracklins

misadventures in cooking

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Braised Root Vegetables

We had our friends Dave & Beth over for Open That Bottle Night. The idea is to make a nice dinner and open a bottle of wine that you've been saving for a special occasion.

While I finished cooking dinner, we opened a bottle of 2001 Spelletich Cellars Zinfandel (Alviso Vineyard, Amador County) that Dave & Beth brought over. We had it with some Manchego Artequesano and some Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Black Olives that I picked up from Central Market. The wine and the cheese and the olives were all super yummy.

I've been wanting to make this particular vegetarian dinner ever since Sheri first made it and she's made it twice now! But I also wanted to make it for guests who would appreciate it, and I thought Dave & Beth might enjoy it.

Rutabagas are a root vegetable, similar to a turnip, but larger. They have a waxy coating on the outside that you peel off. I grew up eating them mashed with salt and pepper. If you didn't, or if you don't care for strong-ish vegetables, then this puree is a good way to try it because the potatoes are bland and make the combination more mild. Everyone seemed to like them.

The braised vegetables were overcooked, but Julia Child taught to never admit a mistake in the kitchen. However something turned out is just how you meant for it to be. So I didn't say a word and everyone ate it right up.

I had no idea what we would open with dinner. Gary and I had planned to go through the wine pantry earlier in the week, but never got a chance. He ended up pulling out several things to choose from and we picked a 1993 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon. Neither one of us has any idea when or where we got it or why we have it. It was soft and elegant.

After dinner, Dave & Beth surprised me. They had brought over the last bottle of their very own July 1993 Raspberry Mead. The only mead Dave ever made. Beth didn't particularly care for it back then and we had no idea what we'd get when we opened it now. Now this was truly in the spirit of Open That Bottle Night!

Dave opened and poured it carefully and there was just enough for each of us to have a small glass. The first aromas were delicate honey and raspberry. It had a soft yellow color, which surprised Beth because it used to be pink. It also used to be over-the-top carbonated, prickly on the tongue. But now it had just a slight fizz on the bottom of the glasses. We each took a sip. It was just lovely. Unlike anything I'd ever had before.

  • Braised Root Vegetables with French Green Lentils and Red Wine Sauce (Local Flavors, Deborah Madison, p. 223)
  • Rutabaga and Potato Puree (Local Flavors, Deborah Madison, p. 216)
  • Sourdough Bread with Sauteed Garlic Butter (Fine Cooking #43, p. 49)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Chicken Marsala

You have to trust me when I say that most of the meals that I don't post about are slightly more healthy than many of the ones I do post about.

I made this back in November. We loved it then and we loved it tonight. And I love the fact that I have everything I need in the house. Yes, I keep a half pint of cream in the refrigerator. Sometimes it goes bad before I use it, but not often. Heavy cream is usually ultra-pastuerized and stays fresh for weeks if you check the date when you buy it. It only costs about a dollar. Definitely worth having around. A bottle of Marsala lasts forever on the refrigerator door and it's good in pasta sauce too. And I always have a bag of IQF (individually quick frozen) boneless, skinless chicken breasts in freezer.
  • Chicken Marsala (Fine Cooking #42, p. 90)
  • Sourdough Bread with Sauteed Garlic Butter (Fine Cooking #43, p. 49)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Chocolate & Grand Marnier Heart Cake

Our friends Ginny and Jack had a stealth wedding last weekend. What I really wanted was to throw a small party for them, but I haven't felt good all week, so an easy quiet dinner seemed like the best idea.

Yes, I made another Zuni-method roasted chicken, this time with all rosemary.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Chocolate Truffle Tart

This was good, no question, but I obviously don't have an appreciation for sweets like Gary does. My topping was not as pretty as the photo in the magazine and it didn't cut as cleanly, but it tasted good.
  • Chocolate Truffle Tart with Whipped Vanilla Mascarpone Topping (Fine Cooking #68, p. 54)

Valentine Dinner

This pasta is a heart-attack in a bowl, so I made a half recipe, which is two appetizer portions. It's exactly the right amount. We loved it. It's delicious. The only thing I wonder is why the recipe doesn't say to make a chiffonade of the sage. That's what I'd do.

The salad is excellent! A crisp, clean, refreshing foil for the rich pasta. And pretty! I will definitely be making this again.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Valentine Cookies

Bridge is at our house tonight. I don't play, but I usually "help" Gary make dinner and snacks. He almost always suggests brownies. I thought Valentine Cookies would be more fun.

I'm not a baker, but this dough seemed fairly easy to roll. Didn't give me any trouble.

This is a nice healthy soup with butternut squash and kale. I used tiny pasta shells instead of potato. Unfortunately, it was the most bland thing I have ever tasted. I kept trying to "fix" it. I added a can of stewed tomatoes, and that helped, but not enough. Then I added some homemade chicken stock that I had in the freezer. That helped a lot, but this still isn't a recipe I'd ever make again.
  • Autumn Minestrone (Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special)
  • Sourdough Bread with Sauteed Garlic Butter (Fine Cooking #43, p. 49)
  • Mixed Greens with Honey Balsamic Viniagrette
  • Cutout Cookies (Fine Cooking #68, p. 8)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Savory Polenta

I grew up in the South, and I love grits. I'll eat plain grits (the kind you get in a diner, cooked in water, with a pool of melted butter on top), but I prefer them dressed up. When I was a teenager, my stepmother used to make a baked casserole of garlic cheese grits for brunch, and I loved that.

I didn't have "polenta" until I was a grown-up (or reasonable facsimile thereof), but there's not much difference. Strictly speaking, grits are from corn that has been treated with lye to make hominy, which is then ground. Polenta is just ground corn. Whatever.

I've been craving polenta ever since Sheri and I had lunch at Asti, and my choice was a toss-up between the risotto and the polenta. They have excellent polenta bowls, but since I'd had that on another visit, I went with the risotto. Can't go wrong either way, even if Frommer's does call the risotto "unexciting". What do they know?

Anyway, on a recent episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown demonstrated a method for making polenta that is excellent because it cooks in the oven. No standing over the stove, stirring bubbling polenta that is spitting at you. Hey, was that an All-Clad 3 qt. covered saute pan he used? That's what I used and it worked beautifully.

I ate one bowl. Mmm, comfort food! I spread the rest into a sheet pan to firm up. I'll cut it into triangles and grill it for some other meal.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


I don't really like sausage. But Gary does. At least if I'm going to have sausage, it can be good sausage from Central Market.

Turns out I love this! The combination of flavors, the crushed red pepper, rosemary, excellent cheese, spicy Italian sausage, it's just awesome! I love that there's no tomato sauce on it. I'll do this again and again and again. mmmm, pizza...
  • Sausage, Red Onion and Wild Mushroom Pizza (Bon Appetit, March 2005)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Tilapia & Stir-Fried Veggies

Did I cook before there was a Central Market?
  • Tilapia with CM Spicy Asian Marinade & Stir-Fried Veggies

Ham & Split Pea Soup

Gary probably wouldn't eat this, and I suspect a lot of other people I know wouldn't either. Guess what? I'm entitled to cook for myself every now and then. Mmm, lunches.
  • Ham & Split Pea Soup (Good Housekeeping, February 2005)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Chicken Under a Brick

I had this recipe marked to try, but that was before I decided that the Zuni method is ideal. I decided I should go ahead and make it, just so that I could rule it out objectively.

First thing I noted: it seems a little ridiculous to marinate a chicken in a cup of extra virgin olive oil. But afterall, it is a vehicle for the rosemary, thyme and 6 cloves of smashed garlic. And I do try to follow a recipe the first time I make it. So, a cup it is.

Then there's the hassle factor of partially deboning the raw chicken. I say hassle factor, but the truth is that I'm finding butchering kind of fun. (Amy, put down the knife!) I could definitely use a cleaver, as Cheryl mentioned. However, in the meantime, my poultry shears and chef's knife work just fine. Cut off the wing tips, cut out the backbone, remove the keel bone and ribs, and suddenly you have 2 halves of a chicken that lay flat.

After marinating, the chicken hits a hot cast iron skillet and immediately gets a foil-wrapped brick on top of it, so that the skin stays in contact with the pan. Ha. I happen to already have a foil wrapped brick, because I use it instead of a fancy-schmancy pannini maker. Yikes! It pops and spatters ruthlessly! My cooktop is a mess.

The chicken finishes in the oven. Perfect time to make some truly decadent mashed potatoes. If I'm honest, and I am, I'd have to say I'd like the potatoes just as much without the goat cheese. Milk, butter and sage would have been sufficient.

But what about the chicken? Alas, I can not rule out this method. This is by far the crispiest, tastiest skin ever. And I don't even eat chicken skin!! Ok, scratch that. I never used to eat chicken skin. Now I see what all the fuss is about. What a horrible, horrible habit to develop at this point in life!!!

Gary is still in there raving about it. In fact, when I told him that it was a shame that leftover chicken won't have that crisp skin, he went straight into the kitchen, peeled the skin off the other half of the chicken, and ate it. Don't tell him that I told on him.

Open That Bottle Night

I love the Wall Street Journal's wine column, written by Dorothy (Dottie) J. Gaiter and John Brecher. They have a very comfortable and comforting style, not pretentious at all.

In 1999, they started a tradition called Open That Bottle Night. The idea behind it is that many people, whether they are regular wine drinkers or not, have a special bottle that they've been saving. And saving and saving. And the longer they save it, the harder it is to find an occasion special enough to merit opening the bottle.

If you haven't seen the movie "Sideways", I recommend it. It's got something for everyone, not a chick flick, but not a bang 'em up shoot 'em up either. There's a scene in it that describes OTBN perfectly. Miles (a wine afficianado) is telling Maya that he has this really old bottle of... I forget what... that he is saving for a special occasion. She tells him that the day he opens a 1961 bottle of whatever-it-is, that's the special occasion.

This year's OTBN will be Saturday, February 26. For one reason or another, Gary and I have never done it. I think we will this year. Just letting you know, in case anyone else wants to do it too.