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Not As Good As Pork Cracklins

misadventures in cooking

Monday, October 31, 2005

Culinary Confessions

Food bloggers aka "floggers" (including Amy Sherman and David Lebovitz) are posting their culinary confessions and I've heard that confession is good for the soul, so...

I'm too full for dessert after dinner. I like dessert for breakfast. With coffee.

I never met a cheese I didn't like. And I think US laws regarding fresh milk cheeses are ridiculous.

I don't steel my knives every time I use them.

I wash mushrooms and they don't get water-logged.

I don't wash chicken. I firmly believe that it only spreads salmonella and other nasty bacteria. Cooking is the way to kill it.

I eat raw cookie dough and cake batter.

I don't eat naked eggs. They must be disguised with copious amounts of cheese, or even onions, peppers, mushrooms or other costumes. The yolk and the white must be mixed, as in omelets, souffles, etc. Jiggly whites are... gross.

I like to drink a glass of wine or two while I cook dinner.

I don't want to order my drink until I've decided what to order to eat.

I have a largely unfulfilled fetish for dinner plates and table linens.

I like brussel sprouts, rutabaga and other odoriferous vegetables.

I don't understand the fuss about pumpkin pie.

I like the edges and crispy parts. Ergo, they are cook's prerogative.

Gingerbread Skeletons

Last year I made the cutest Day of the Dead cookies. They were yummy too! I was tempted to make them again, until I saw these.

The dough is pretty easy to work with, and the cookies are mildly spiced for gingerbread. They're nice. I'm not an accomplished decorator, but they were a lot of fun to play with.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Salmon with Lentils & Root Vegetables

Jill and Raul came over for dinner tonight. We've been meaning to get together with them forever, but somehow September came and went, and October almost did too. Earlier in the week, Jill mentioned that they were going to have a rare free Sunday night, so they brought over Jill's famous deviled eggs, a stack of gruesome dvd's suitable for Halloween weekend, and a decadent, delicious chocolate peanut butter cake.

I've been wanting to make this salmon ever since Sheri made it for me when I was in California for Big Kahuna in 2003. It's such a nice autumn dinner. I always miss Mario when he's not at the fish counter at Central Market. The guy today cut pieces that were nearly 8 ounces each. That's half a pound! Way too big. No one could finish it, and that doesn't even take into account how substantial lentils are.

  • Deviled Eggs
  • Broiled Salmon with a Ragout of Lentils and Root Vegetables (Fine Cooking #57, p. 40)
  • Sourdough Bread with Sauteed Garlic Butter (Fine Cooking #43, pp. 48-49)
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (Bon Appetit)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Roasted Green Beans

I had a craving for comfort food. Earlier in the week, I was planning to make stroganoff, but by yesterday I had changed my mind to meatloaf. I can't remember the last time I had meatloaf. It's been years. When I was a teenager, I made it for Dad for dinner on a regular basis; it was one of his favorites. It's just the recipe from the Lipton Soup box, but I originally got it from my great aunt Edna.

I had angst over whether to make these garlic mashed potatoes. For only 2 pounds of potatoes, you need an entire stick of butter and a cup of half-and-half?? Yes, of course these are delicious. Why wouldn't they be? Very rich and the perfect amount of garlic.

These green beans are my new favorite. I made them earlier this week and couldn't resist making them again. They are so good that I can't imagine they wouldn't convert a green bean hater. But who knows? Actually, they were better Monday, because I let them brown more. I was a little rushed tonight.

Jiffy cake is just as easy, if not easier than the yogurt cake, and it's richer and more tender. Much better.

  • Lipton Souperior Meatloaf
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes (Cook's Illustrated, September & October 2000, p. 10-11)
  • Roasted Green Beans with Red Onion and Walnuts (Cook's Illustrated, November and December 2005, p. 10)
  • Jiffy Cake (recipe courtesy of Sara Moulton)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Yogurt Cake

Chocolate & Zucchini is a very popular food web log and one of the first I ever read. Clothilde recently posted about a simple cake that French children learn when they begin baking, called Gateau au Yaourt.

This cake couldn't be any easier. It's lovely but unpretentious. I like it for breakfast or for afternoon snack with coffee, tea or hot cocoa. If you wanted to dress it up, you could serve it with berries and whipped cream. I love that it's nice and small, not a ridiculously rich, large cake to have around the house for days on end when there are only two of us.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sweet Black Pepper Fish

I am such a copy cat. First Anna, now Sheri (again!). When I saw this on Pork Cracklins, it sounded exactly like a dinner I'd like to have. And it's really good! Gary and I both loved it.

  • Sweet Black Pepper Fish (Cooking Light, January 2004)
Sweet Black Pepper Fish
1/2 c. water, divided
3 T. sugar
2 1/2 T. Thai fish sauce
3 T. minced fresh lemongrass
1 T. minced fresh garlic
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. coarsely chopped green onions
4 (6 oz.) halibut fillets
1 T. chopped fresh cilantro

Combine 1/4 c. water, sugar and fish sauce in a large nonstick skillet; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add lemongrass, garlic and pepper. Cook 1 1/2 minutes or until slightly reduced. Add 1/4 c. water, onions and fish, and cook over medium-high heat 7 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, turning once. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Curried Coconut Pilaf

Gary is like Mikey; he eats everything. But somehow I've gotten the impression that I like curry more than he does and that I like coconut milk than he does. And rice, come to think of it. Maybe I'm wrong.

Anway, since I've been wanting to try this, I decided to make it for lunch. It's even better than I thought it would be. The combination of the currents, almonds and cilantro is excellent. I used 1/2 teaspoon of madras curry powder and it could have taken a little more. I'd like to make it again and serve a piece of fish on top.

  • Curried Coconut Rice Pilaf (Fine Cooking #57, p.48-51)

Pecan Chewy Chocolate Cookies

I have been wanting to make these cookies since seeing them on Cookie Madness. Seeing Central Market's version yesterday while I was shopping prompted me to think that it's time.

My first reaction when the dough came together was, let's call it what it is. This is not cookie dough, it's cookie batter. It freaked me out a little bit and I hoped it was right. My second reaction was that this batter is like royal icing; the egg whites start to dry surprisingly quickly.

I used a one-tablespoon scoop, but I figured out pretty quickly that I was getting more than 24 cookies out of this, more like 40. Which meant that mine must be smaller than Anna's which meant that I was probably over cooking them. I decided to cut down on the baking time, experimenting with 12 minutes and then 10.

These cookies are yummy! Shiny and crispy on the outside, chewy and gooey on the inside. I think Anna's right and they might have been even better with dutch-processed cocoa. Hard to complain though.

Pecan Chewy Chocolate Cookies
8 ounces chopped pecans
2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecans on a cookie sheet and toast them for about 8 minutes. Let cool completely.

Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Place sugar, cocoa, flour and salt in mixer bowl and stir together. Beat in egg whites, one at a time, scrapping bowl. Beat in vanilla and continue beating at high speed for 1 minute. Stir in cooled, toasted chopped pecans.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches between cookies for spreading. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 10-12 minutes, turning sheet halfway though baking time.

Yields about 40 cookies.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Lemon Tarragon Chicken

This roasted chicken was pretty good, but not out of this world. I adore tarragon, so it's a little bit of a shame that I didn't adore the dish overall. I drank Milton Peak Chardonnay with it, an inexpensive but nice Australian chardonnay that isn't particularly oaky. It was a good match.

Friday, October 14, 2005


This recipe got rave reviews on Fine Cooking's discussion forum, called Cooks Talk. The discussion is here. I was worried from the start because my dough didn't look wet or pourable at all.

Patience, my friend. The less frequently I looked at it, the more it grew. And the more it grew, the more airy and wet it looked. Still, I think that next time I will use a little less flour and weigh it so I know where to go from there.

It is so delicious and so ridiculously easy to make, I'll be surprised if I don't make it again so often that I get sick of it.

  • Focaccia (No Need to Knead, Suzanne Dunaway)
  • Steamed Shrimp
  • Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 cups lukewarm water (85-95 degrees F)
2 tsp. active dry yeast
4 cups unbleached bread flour
2-3 tsp. salt
2-3 tsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. kosher or sea salt

In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over the water. Stir until dissolved. Stir in 2 cups flour and the salt, until smooth. With a strong wooden spoon, stir in the rest of the flour until incorporated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, 30-40 minutes or overnight in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Oil one or two nonstick baking sheets and pour the dough onto the sheet, carefully scraping it from the sides of the bowl, being careful not to deflate it. Brush the dough with 2 tsp olive oil. Dip fingers into cold water or olive oil and insert them straight down into the dough. Make holes in the dough with your fingers as you gradually stretch it into a 1" thick oval. Brush with 1 tsp more olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary and salt.

Place the pan into the oven and reduce the temperature to 450. Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown all over with a few darker brown spots. Cool on a rack.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Salmon with Wasabi-Ginger Mayonnaise

YES! This is exactly what I wanted. Last night. Thank goodness it was delicious tonight, too.

  • Grilled Salmon with Wasabi-Ginger Mayonnaise (Fine Cooking #73, p.86c)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Seafood Risotto

I wanted a piece of fish for dinner. But I was too tired to go to Central Market. So I looked through my recipe box on epicurious and landed on this, which got very good reviews. And it was doable because I have IQF shrimp and IQF scallops in the deep freezer.

Unfortunately, Gary and I both thought it was disappointing. I should have stuck with my initial plan, that piece of fish I was craving. Or even a simple sautee of the shrimp and/or scallops. Oh well. At least the asparagus was especially good tonight. We would have eaten twice as much if I'd made that much.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce

Jay and Julia joined us for dinner tonight. Big training weekend, so I wanted a high carbohydrate dinner, and high carbohydrate is what I got! Actually, at the last minute I defrosted and marinated some chicken breasts to throw on the grill, so there was some protein.

I love this sauce! I could eat a whole bowlful, licking it from a spoon. It has just the right amount of heat from some crushed dried red pepper.

  • Penne with Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce (101 Quick & Delicious Recipes, The Best of Fine Cooking Fall 2003, p.38)

  • Sourdough Bread with Sauteed Garlic Butter (Fine Cooking #43, pp. 48-49)

  • Rosemary Grilled Chicken Breasts

  • Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Penne with Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce
serves two to three generously

Use your largest and heaviest skillet, so there won't be any hot spots and you'll have enough room for all the ingredients. Cook the pasta first, drain and rinse it, and set aside while you're making the sauce. Have everything ready before you begin.

2 T. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 t. chopped fresh thyme or oregano leaves (or 1/2 t. dried)
1/4 t. dried red chile flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c. vodka
1/3 c. homemade or low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 to 1/3 c. heavy cream
8 oz. dried penne, cooked, drained and rinsed under cold water
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 c. roughly chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until thoroughly softened.

Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, herb, chile flakes, salt, pepper, vodka and broth. Increase the heat to medium high, and cook, stirring, until the sauce is reduced by about half and is very thick; you should be able to see the bottom of the pan for a second as you scrape your spoon across it.

Add the cream, increase the heat to high, and cook to reduce the cream and thicken the sauce slightly. Add the penne, Parmesan, and parsley and cook stirring, to heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Pictures of My Kitchen

I was inspired by some other food bloggers (floggers) to take pictures of my kitchen. It's also a good opportunity for me to play with using the camera and formatting photos on this site.

I'm definitely not compulsive about it (heck, not even consistent), but I do have a certain organization for prepping, cooking and cleaning. Facing the sink, the right side is mostly for cutting and chopping. I keep a box there for peels, trimmings and other compostable matter. Dirty dishes, utensils and such go on the right. They get washed in the middle and then go on the left to drain or be put away. I also do a lot of measuring, weighing, and mixing on the left. The food processor and scale are there, the stand mixer comes out from the bottom cupboard, that sort of thing.

Facing the island, with the sink and counter behind me, I put prepped ingredients on the right. The cookbook stand is usually there too. I cook in the middle (love the indoor grill), with plates ready on the left for finished food. If the right side gets too crowded, sometimes I put garnishes and other last minute items on the left. Theoretically, the right side should be empty by the time the food is plated, because I will have turned around and tossed the empty prep bowls in the sink, but occasionally I completely miss an ingredient because I didn't clean up as I went. Like the fish sauce that was left out of my stir fry not long ago.

This old icebox has a lot of character. These days it holds dog treats, some corks from favorite bottles of wine and my grocery list. I love this red phone! Everyone asks, "Does it work?" Yes, it does and we use it. A neighbor child had no idea how to use a rotary dial. That was a little sad to me. The picture is my dear friend Sheri giving me a lesson in crab cakes. I like to say that I'm her sous-chef, but it makes her mad. We are excellent cooking partners. Now, if only we were neighbors...

If you want to take pictures of your kitchen, you can tag them here:

Spicy Chicken & Chipotle Vinaigrette

This is the second salad I've made from this article and it's delicious. I have some smoke-dried tomatoes from Boggy Creek Farm that I put in olive oil, and I used the both the tomatoes and the oil in the vinaigrette. The smokiness is perfect with the chipotle. I'm not crazy about raw onion, so next time I'd leave it off. And I think some grape tomatoes would be a nice addition.

  • Baby Romaine Salad with Spicy Chicken & Warm Chipotle Vinaigrette (Fine Cooking #74, p.55)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Chocolate Banana Swirl Cake

What to do with over-ripe bananas? Make banana bread, of course.

Or not.

At the last minute, I decided to make a coffee cake from one of Fine Cooking's baking issues. The banana batter is divided in half and melted chocolate is added to one of the bowls. Except I didn't do a very good job of estimating "half" and it seemed like I had way too much chocolate banana batter and not enough plain banana. Fortunately, in the exact place that I cut it for the picture, it's not as noticable.

The cake is super moist and yummy. And the article says it's even better the next day. Sweet!

  • Chocolate Banana Swirl Cake (Fine Cooking #54, p. 44)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Tilapia with Lemon & Capers

This is the second time I've used this method to sautee tilapia. The textures of both the crust and the fish are excellent! The article has several sauces to go over the fish and I like this one a lot. I'll probably try the orange-tarragon too.

I was intrigued by Heidi's experiment with potatoes, and since I've never met a potato I didn't like, I thought I should give it a try. They're good!

  • Sauteed Tilapia & White Wine Shallot Sauce with Lemon & Capers (Cook's Illustrated #73, p. 10-11)
  • Salt-crusted Baby Potatoes (101 Cookbooks)
  • Steamed Haricots Vert

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Cinnamon Buns

Last night I set up nearly everything to make cinnamon buns. So this morning it wasn't hard at all. Well, other than the fact that I can't multiply when I'm fully awake, much less when I'm half asleep. "Honey, if 1 tablespoon of butter is 14 grams, what's 6 times that?" Guess I could have measured that last night, too.

The recipe suggests a 9" round nonstick cake pan. I don't own a nonstick one, so I took the precaution of lining the bottom with parchment paper, and still had nightmares of the buns hopelessly glued to the pan by the filling. Thankfully that was just a bad dream, because they came right out, with no problem.

These are delicious. Absolutely delicious.

  • Quick and Easy Cinnamon Buns (Cook's Illustrated #56, p. 22-23)