Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mussels Marinara

I had never cooked mussels before this meal. Clams, sure, but never mussels. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because of the scrubbing off of beards and such, tho you still need to wash clams before cooking them, and get them to expel their sand and grit, etc...
No clue.
But, this week I decided to make some simple mussels mariana. And no, Mike did not eat it, what with his refusal to eat shellfish.
More for me.
I started with the usual culprits of diced shallot in evoo, followed by a few cloves of minced garlic. I believe I used about three.
I then added about half a cup of white wine, along with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes. I let this simmer and reduce down to almost nothing.
I then added a large can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, some dried oregano and salt, and let the sauce simmer away.
After scrubbing and rinsing the mussels, I tossed them in the sauce pot and put on the lid. I'd say I cooked them for about 7 minutes, at which point all the shells had opened. I know I did not overcook them, because they were tender and tasty. I am guessing I did not undercook them, as I was not ill in the following hours or days.
After they were all opened, I removed the mussels to a bowl so the hubs would be able to eat some of the meal.
At the same time I'd been making the marinara, I was boiling water for the linguine. One minute before the pasta was done cooking, I added it to the sauce to finish cooking. Top with a chiffonade (or torn) basil, and recombine with your shellfish. 
(Unless you're serving it to my hubs, in which case you would plate his first, and then add the mussels only to your bowl, to avoid tainting his next meal in case of leftover pasta.)

Sorry I don't have a "finished dish" shot, but it was a rather haphazard cooking experiment, and I just didn't have a chance to take the picture. Plus, cold shellfish is not where it's at. At least not for me.

A note about mussels:
When you buy mussels, just like clams, some of them may be open. There are 3 ways I know of to make a mussel close, provided it is still alive.
1 - gentle pressure, and the shell should close
2 - a gentle tap against the counter top
3 - rinse in cold fresh water

If you mussel still won't close, throw it away. Same goes for after cooking. If you have a mussel or clam that did not open, or only opened a tiny bit, throw it away.
Bad shellfish is NOT something you want to play around with. Believe me.
Luckily this dish was delicious to both parties devouring it.

Monday, April 26, 2010


In response to a comment on my last recipe - an explanation on what I mean when I write "two inches of fresh ginger, grated" etc...
When you buy fresh ginger, it looks like the knobby alien structure above. Not exactly easy to work with.
So, when I get it home, I break the whole structure down into roughly 1inch square chunks, or the size of a very large clove of garlic. You don't want to make the pieces too small because remember you'll have to hold on to it while grating it later.
Clearly images are not of what I actually do, but a decent visual guide.
Some people will say you can peel ginger with a spoon, others a regular peeler, but I just use the knife I'm chopping it up with. Use whatever method you are comfortable with.
Finally, once I have a pile of peeled ginger nuggets, I double-Ziploc-bag them and store them in the freezer (label the bag!) so the ginger lasts for months and is even easier to grate when removed frozen.

Hope that helps!

Also, for those who like ginger tea or suffer from nausea, you can easily remove one of your frozen pieces, slice it into finer discs, and simply add them to hot water for a tummy-soothing (and sinus-clearing) brew. It is also said that fresh ginger can help ward off the worst of your pollen-allergies, tho I don't know if that is from the sharpness of scent or an internal, metabolic reaction.
Try it out!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Your Thighs Look Tasty

So I'd had about 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs in my fridge, and really wanted to do something delicious with them. This is another case of It Was On Sale, Now What Do I Do With It?
With a little internet searching and a lot of exasperation, I came up with the following fabulous feast.

Tangy Asian-Inspired Chicken Thighs over Quinoa, with Honey-Ginger Glazed Carrots
Did I mention how delicious this absurdly simple chicken recipe is?
Because it was supremely flavorful.

For the chicken thighs, the marinade/sauce is as follows:
3 TBSP honey
2 1/2 TBSP of soy sauce
3 grated/minced cloves of garlic
2 inches of fresh ginger, grated

No salt needed, due to the soy sauce. And do NOT substitute dried ginger for the fresh. It will not have anywhere near the same kick or flavor.

This created a rather thick sauce, so I rubbed it directly on the chicken thighs with my hands, to make sure it was evenly distributed. I covered the container with cling film and put it in the fridge to marinate for a few hours.

To cook, I placed the chicken thighs in a small amount of olive oil in a nonstick pan, cooking about 6 minutes on the first side, and maybe only 3 on the second. I was truly eye-balling this, and not watching the clock, so those numbers are estimations at best.
Once you have cooked all your chicken, pour/scrape the extra marinade into the frying pan and pick up all the brown bits from the pan and reduce until a pleasant color and consistency. Pour over chicken thighs.

For the carrots:
Four carrots, diced into equal sized sticks.
In a small sauce pan I put 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add to that 1 inch of freshly grated ginger, and about 4 tablespoons of honey. Melt together and stir.
Add 1/4 cup water, and then the carrots, and cook on medium-high for about 8 minutes, lid on, until carrots are tender. Then remove the lid and cook off liquids.
Carrots will come out supremely sweet and tender, with a gentle kick from the ginger.
Carrots at the boiling-off-the-liquid stage
For the Quinoa:
Follow package instructions. (2 cups water to 1 cup rinsed quinoa, bring to boil and them simmer 10-15 minutes.) I then add a pinch or two of salt and drizzle with olive oil. Maybe 2 tablespoons worth.
The quinoa was really just a healthy bed to place the chicken on.
Quinoa with all water absorbed and fluffed with a spoon.

Simple assembly on the plate, and I'm telling you, this chicken was ADDICTIVE. I'm so glad I made extra, because having it for lunch the next day was like reliving heaven.

Sure, I may have been burping tangy ginger breath the rest of the night (blamed on the bubbles from The Marquis, not the actual dish) but it was just so good!!!

Really, if you are reading this, you must try this soon. I will definitely be adding it to my regular dinner option routine.
(Note - this would also work beautifully on pork.)
I certainly did.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Daily Dose of Cuteness

Witness the cute that is the sleeping cat:
Do not click to enlarge... the cuteness is so strong it will go out of focus for your own safety...
Camouflaged by the giant pile of beige blanket, he feels secure.
Plus, he's got his teddy.
(Yes, the teddy's foot says Tempur-Pedic®. We got him for free when we bought our mattress a few years ago. And he's super soft and squishy too.)

As do most pet-owners, I have enough pictures to create a decade's worth of "Daily Dose of Cuteness" blog posts. But I will try to restrain myself.
This weekend: Tangy Asian Chicken!
You WILL like it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pizza Semi-Fail

I say semi-fail because in the end, it was still pizza, and we ate all of it.

Making pizza from scratch is one of those things you really don't need to do, but sometimes just get the urge to. So, this was one of my less perfect attempts.
Note: I bought frozen dough from Fresh Direct. That was probably my first mistake. And one I will have to repeat because I have four more balls of their "dough" in my freezer. Dang.

After defrosting in the refrigerator overnight, and letting the dough come to room temperature for an hour (and expand) I attempted to roll out the dough into a recognizable pizza shape.
Fail # 1. Apparently I can only roll dough into an oval, not a circle. But then, that's kind of how you buy pizza in Rome, so, it's not really a failure. I can just pretend I wanted an oval pizza on my round pizza disc.
After rolling out the dough, I drizzled it w/ olive oil, spread it around, and seasoned it all with garlic salt for a little pre-baking of the crust.
Can you say air bubbles? Holy crap. Note to self: use fork to prick dough next time. Also, watch out for thin spots, such as the dark brown spot top center. Grr.
On to toppings. I used a basic tomato sauce that I like, and dotted it with fresh mozzarella and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. If I'd had any fresh basil, I would have laid down a nice chiffonade to finish off the pizza. Instead, it just had to suffer with only the basil that was in the tomato sauce.
Apparently I should have checked the crust after 12 minutes, instead of 15, because I let the edges burn. However, the browned and melty cheese was perfect.
A little interesting slicing, and my oblong slightly burnt pizza was ready to serve. As usual, Mike did not care at all and devoured 75% of it. It tasted totally fine and like a normal tasty pizza. It just looked less than perfect.
I learned a few things along the way, so hopefully next time I can improve my dough-rolling skills and create a more uniform crust.
Practice Makes Better Pizza.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Potato Leek Deliciousness

On Saturday I had the last surviving portion of the fabulous French Onion Soup I made last weekend. I'm amazed I managed to make it last that long.
Being yet another chilly and slightly rainy weekend, I decided I needed to make another batch of soup. This time, as the Satur Farm leeks looked good and were on sale, I decided on potato leek soup, which I enjoy either hot or cold (when cold and served with a dash of cream, it's known as vichyssoise).
However, I went through 2 Julia Child cookbooks, 2 Silver Palate cookbooks, one Gordon Ramsay, and one Jamie Oliver, and could not find a recipe I was happy with. (I'm sorry Julia, but I just can't start my soup by boiling potatoes and leeks in water. I'm going to sauté those suckers first.)
So, as so often happens, I'm doing this one off the cuff. An amalgamation of the various recipes I read.
Unlike the mac and cheese, I will try to actually tell you how I did it.

2 leeks, white and pale green used
4 medium yukon gold potatoes
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 bay leaf
couple sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup half and half/cream
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
chives (for garnish)

Note on using leeks - because of the way they grow, there will be dirt trapped between all their layers. In order to clean them properly, you must first cut off the root end and the dark green tops, then slice the leek in half lengthwise. Next, dice the leek into half moons of whatever desired thickness. 
Keats watches me wash the leeks
Then place them in a bowl full of cold water and swish them around. The dirt particles should sink to the bottom of the bowl. I usually end up giving them two baths, depending on how much dirt appears.
That's a lot of dirt.
Don't forget to wipe down your work surface before continuing as well.

Step one, sauté your leeks in the melted butter and oil on medium-low. Season with a generous couple pinches of salt to help the leeks sweat out, and I left the lid on for about 10 minutes to speed the softening process. Removing the lid, I cooked the leeks for another 10 minutes.

Next, I added the 4 potatoes, which I had cut in fourths and then cubed, the bay leaf, fresh thyme springs, and the water and chicken stock. (I use a combination so the flavor of the chicken stock does not overwhelm the flavor of the vegetables.) Bringing the stock up to a boil, I then re-lowered the heat to medium-low and let the soup simmer, covered, until the potatoes were tender. About 15 minutes.
If you make your potato cubes larger, it will take longer for them to soften. Simmer accordingly.

REMOVE THE BAY LEAF and thyme sprigs.
Using an immersion blender, with the stove turned off, I puréed the soup until smooth. I then added about 1/2 - 3/4 of a cup of cream and checked the seasoning. Potatoes and cream will both suck up any salt or other seasonings you use in any dish. Add white pepper and salt.
The soup WILL need salt.

I chose to garnish this soup with chopped chives, but another delicious topping would be crisped prosciutto. (10 minutes in a 350º oven on a baking sheet) Because most things taste even better with prosciutto.
As proved, yet again, by the dinner I had at Motorino Brooklyn on Saturday. Swap out the sausage for fresh prosciutto on that pizza? No problem. The result? Deliciousness...

Alternate seasoning that really kicks it up would be Chorizo Salt, which I used sparingly when reheating this soup the next day, and Yum!

I hope this recipe works for any who endeavor to follow it. The final product is truly dependent on your method of seasoning, since what you are working with is basically just potato and the onion's fancy cousin that spent that semester in Europe, "studying".
But it is quite tasty in its simplicity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Star Wars Karaoke

Just don't confuse your microphone with your lightsaber.

Oof. I got home from Karaoke Birthday Celebrations just after 4AM this morning. Shockingly I am not hungover today. Merely sleep-deprived and confused at how fast today is going by (waking up in the early PM, what with going to bed at 4:30AM, with a few interruptions by the cats. They even tried to wake me by knocking over my mirror. All that accomplished was me stumbling to the bedroom door and locking them out. Ha!) 
And I get Good Wife Points for making the hubs's lunch at 4:15AM, so he would not be hungry today.

Being a long night of singing with good friends, as well as people I met during the first year after I moved to NYC but haven't seen in a few years, there was a lot of reminiscing. And a LOT of singing.

Trying to remember all the songs I sang last night... let's see:
Jet City Woman - Queensryche
What About Love - Heart (requested by birthday boy)
Hunger Strike - Temple of the Dog (the Chris Cornell half of the song)
Hot 'n Cold - Katy Perry
Bring Me To Life - Evanescence
Mother, Mother - Tracy Bonham
Man In The Box - Alice in Chains (just the chorus for a friend singing it)
Gloria - Laura Branigan 

And of all those songs, I have to say "Gloria" felt the best to sing. Surprisingly, at the end of the night my voice was not shot to hell from shouting and drinking, so the notes came out solid and powerful. And also by 3AM or so the crowd had thinned enough so I could hear myself while singing, which helps immensely. (The rest of the night I couldn't hear jack.)

Time for photos!
Lucas, the birthday boy. (Note his face is on his tee instead of Han Solo)

Complete with Chewbacca cake!!

Could I be any paler or less buff?
This photo is an annual thing that goes back to when Lucas and I first met. When I still had some semblance of abdominal muscles.
Also, this would be the previously referenced "icing on cake" with forced removal of shirt.

We don't have to force him very hard. 

"Storm Trooper" helmets full of candy!

They seemed a bit more BSG than Star Wars, but, who cares?
They were full of candy!
And there were 3D glasses for some reason as well.

Basically it was a really fun night, and it was good to let out my inner Rock Star. If she gets cooped up for too long, things get ugly.
Also, the adulation of complete strangers is good for one's ego every now and again. Because they don't have to tell you you're awesome. So it means more in an incredibly shallow way.
I promise the next few posts will be about the yummy food I made this weekend.
Mmm... food.
Go eat food now.
(Yoda told me to. And you don't argue with Yoda.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weekend Wrap-Up, Even Tho It's Still Going...

The Rock'n'Roll part of my title is in full effect this weekend. Gourmet, not to be outdone, includes dinners I've eaten while out.

Friday Night - drinks with one friend, with munchies like a crostini of chicken liver paté w/ caramelized onions, and a pizzetta with speck and manilla clams. Delish.  Dinner with another friend, in spite of the pouring rain, included bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, BBQ'd pork belly, and olive oil poached black cod.
And I did not take photos as I do not have the subtlety of an iPhone, or even a "smart" phone.

Saturday Night - Made a large pot of potato-leek soup (will post shortly) followed by Bachelorette Partying in Brooklyn with designer pizza and schmancy drinks.
Lots of schmancy drinks
Aaaand my husband crashed the party because the bride is one of his best friends. And it was an excuse for him to hang out at Barcade for a while. (He got yesterday's high score on Ms. Pac Man. At least as of 11PM. He was quite proud.)

Sunday Night - I plan on making some fabulous chicken thighs and roasted vegetables. I just haven't figured out the "fabulous" aspect just yet.
Later tonight, there will be a Karaoke Birthday party for my friend Lucas. His birthdays are usually pretty epic, and he's one of the nicest (and hottest) humans I know. The hot thing is secondary, like icing on the cake.
A rather hot cake that we make take off his shirt whenever he's singing.
If you're good, I'll post pics of that later too... ;)
When I wake up from the coma-nap I'm going to need to take on Monday.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Oh My Blog Award

I have been proudly displaying the "Oh My Blog Award" picture on the side of my blog, without actually having written the blog entry. It was passed along to me by my friend Una, and as it was just her 30th birthday, I thought I'd finally get around to fulfilling her kind gesture.

The options for executing this Blog Award are as follows:
1 - Take a photo of yourself first thing in the morning
2 - Blog while exceedingly drunk for 15 minutes
3 - Write about your most embarrassing moment. Or at least one of them
4 - Make a vlog a.k.a. a video blog
5 - Share the soundtrack of your childhood
1 - Not a chance, buck-o
2 - My mother reads this blog, so I'm trying to keep some dignity
3 - I'd have to be drunk, and also, dignity
4 - I think the awkwardness of attempting this would lead to an epic Fail
5 - works for me

However, Una, I have no idea what a cooking soundtrack would entail... songs about food? Music I listen to while cooking? Too random. I'll stick with convention and follow childhood.

On of my first memories when I think of music in my childhood involves my older brother. My 6'4", four years older than me brother. You can imagine that no games or physical sports were in any way fair when played between us. However, we used to play ping pong in our basement, and at the start of the game, he would put on a random tape of 80's hair band music, and being a good sport, offered me between 3 and 5 extra points if I could name the band before the singing started.
I never got my extra points.
Somehow as a child I could not tell the difference between Guns 'n' Roses and Aerosmith, or Cinderella and Quiet Riot. I just couldn't. Luckily, my "ear" has improved with age.
A veeeeeery early childhood memory (caught on film) is my love of the song "Gloria" by Laura Branigan. I could not get enough of it. My parents even filmed me once, dancing along (read, jumping up and down) to the entire song, in full pigtail regalia. Except for about 2 seconds in the middle wherein I stopped to breathe, and then started jumping again.
For nostalgia's sake, I still sing it at karaoke on occasion.

Another  memory was roller skating in the cellar (had a cement floor, so perfect) to a cassette of some top hits of the 1960's... I remember Leader of the Pack (actually hated that song), Runaway, Kansas City, and possibly other songs like Shoop Shoop Song, Chapel of Love, Pretty Woman, Baby Love, My Guy, etc... All I really remember of the tape was that it had a jukebox on the cover, with a black background.
Next, and this can count as part embarrassment, was my obsession with The Phantom of the Opera. I was madly in love with Michael Crawford (and refused to see the show again after he left the lead) and desperately wanted to be Christine Daae and walk through the mirror on the back of my bedroom door and be swept away by the hideously misshapen and misunderstood phantom. And for me, the sweeping music score was just so fantastic. In all seriousness, I wore out two different cassette tape sets of the soundtrack, I listened to it so often.
Me <---- Nerd.
Aside: I actually do not like 90% of musical theater. That whole move of suddenly facing the audience and singing instead of just speaking has always irked me, and possibly the fact that so many musicals are cheesy or campy has secured my dislike.
A story told through music is one thing. People randomly breaking into song is another.
I mean, "Phantom" takes place in an opera house. Of COURSE they're going to be singing! It made SENSE!
Moving on to the first CD I ever owned, circa 1991. Right as I was hitting my "tween years" as they are now called, I discovered Pearl Jam, and was instantly in love. With both the music and the lead singer of course. (Do you know how complicated it is to be in love with The Phantom AND Eddie Vedder at the same time? Seriously.) I still think this is an incredible album, and I'm surprised I didn't wear out the cd since it was the first I owned, and therefore was on repeat a lot. And it breaks my heart to see how Eddie Vedder aged. Boo-urns.
My very first Tori Amos album, and yes, it "changed my life" listening to her voice and her lyrics. I loved her avidly. And I still think she is a gorgeous and talented woman. Sadly I think she went a little too far into La La Land in the last decade. Right around "To Venus And Back" her lyrics started making zero sense to anyone but her. But, an undeniable talent. And beauty.
The CD that made my mother cringe in fear! Released in 1994, one year after my chemicals went kerfluey and my parents ceased to understand how to talk to me and I ceased to have a normal emotional life. (Definitely read chemicals here, not hormones. That came later.)
You could probably put this CD on now and I would know 99% of the lyrics still.
Which brings us to 1996, and Ani DiFranco. My brother actually got this CD for Christmas (he would be about a Junior at Wesleyan University at that time... and we all know Ani is REQUIRED listening, at some point or other, for all Liberal Arts College students.) and while he does not actually remember "giving me" the CD, it ended up in my possession. At which point, I was once again obsessed. (The way I remember it, he listened to it, thought it was so-so, and thought to pass it along to his 16-year-old sister full of teenage angst issues. Could there be a more perfect album in such a scenario? I think not.)
I then proceeded to buy every album I could, and still listen to her today.
Other than being an incredible musician, her outspokenness on politics and sexuality and basic human rights has always moved me... as well as when she giggles and just ends up being a girl.
Totally <3 heart <3 Ani DiFranco.

Since that does bring us into present day listening, I think I'll stop boring you right there. That's a pretty solid roundup of childhood music. Sure, I left out Madonna, but she's mainstream and ubiquitous, and while I have many, many, many excellent memories from the last 15 years involving the "Like a Prayer" song (Lin Manuel, if you're ever reading this, you're in at least two of them!) she was not as big of an influence on me as the others I mentioned.

Now, to pass this on to others who (hopefully) have not already received it a dozen times. Sassy only sent it on to 3 others, without explanations, so I shall do the same, hoping I am not leaving out any guidelines.
And I shall pass it along to people that I know actually read my blog from their frequent comments, thus not making this a moot post. (Corrie, get your blog going!)
Melissa at Think On It... you blogging outraged and drunk would be a hoot.
Candy at Warrior Candy since you are a rock star at heart, as well as in reality.
The chick at A Mainland Streel because OH MY GOD I just saw that you have a post about Beaker and I just shared a YouTube video of Beaker getting Rick Roll'd and I laughed out loud. So, obviously, you're cool and deserve an award.
Congratulations Winners! ;)
And enjoy your weekends.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Ok, I was damned close on my predictions of how I would survive my "day of healthy eating post two days of über fattening mac and cheese". I was only off by about 20 minutes. If that.
My day went as follows:
Breakfast - steamed broccoli w/ olive oil, garlic salt, and a poached egg on top. (Angelic or what?)
Lunch - leftover onion soup, sans cheese. Delicious.
Dinner (almost an hour early. I was HUNGRY!) - the now-famous Duck Breast recipe, complete w/ cherry sauce and roasted carrots. (Once you carve away the skin/fat, it's not an unhealthy dinner option.)

Post dinner snackage - complete w/ The Marquis, about 6 thin slices of "sandwich" pepperoni (I know this happened just after 9PM because I was on the phone w/ my mom, checking in, right before 9PM, to tell her about a Miss Marple starting on PBS at 9...) followed by about 8 diced chunks of fresh pineapple... followed by one of the greatest orzo dishes ever concocted.
And YES that means I had to actually cook the damned dish, not just snack on something readily available.
But at least I only ate a couple spoonfuls, packed with peas. The rest is in the fridge... for future snacking.
Plus, writing about it has guilted me into stopping eating.
Oh well.
At least I know myself.

Leftovers: Mac and Cheese

Ooooooooooookaaaaaaaaaaaay. I'll give you a bit more help on the Mac and Cheese front.

Assuming there actually was some mac and cheese leftover after you baked it, here is how I bring it back to life the next day, with the ease of the microwave.

Coming out of the fridge, that thing is so glued together you need a knife just to cut yourself a hunk of it. Sometimes I nuke the whole thing for about 20 seconds just so I can scoop my snacking portion into a bowl. (Note: this is a snack-sized portion, not a big honkin' bowl. Adjust accordingly. Maybe another 10-20 seconds per step.)
Once I have my little mound/brick of mac, I do the following:
Pour about 2 tablespoons of milk into the bowl I am reheating the mac in. Cover with cling film.
Microwave for about 20 seconds, or until you hear bubbling/sizzling.
Remove from microwave and stir. Then I add about a teaspoon of mascarpone* cheese to the mix, recover, and nuke another 12 seconds.
Remove, stir, and try not to burn your  mouth on the hot cheesy goodness.
Repeat photo. So? It looks GOOD!
I like my mac and cheese soft and warm and oozing with cheese, as you can tell from the way I reheat it. The breadcrumb crust on top is not my thing. I just do that for the hubs.  But if you REALLY want that as well with your leftovers - if you really really won't enjoy it without it, you can do the following:
Take a non-stick pan and melt a pat of butter in it. Then sprinkle in about a palmful of bread crumbs, and stir. Toast that combination on your stove top until it starts to become crispy, at which point you can spread it on top of your newly rejuvenated and extra creamy mac and cheese, and be a happy little camper.

I myself feel I must now fast on miso soup, steamed veg and quinoa for the next 3 days after eating quite so much of this for two days running.
Odds of that happening...? I predict complete dietary breakdown no later than 9PM.

*As with so many recipes, you can substitute with your reheating. Ricotta works in the place of mascarpone. If you have no soft fresh cheeses, try using cream instead of just milk. But even just a little milk will help bring your cheese sauce back together. The mascarpone is just for true decadence.
Which I have serious problems denying myself... :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mac and Cheese Fake Out

 The "fake out" part being that I'm not actually going to tell you how I made the mac and cheese.
At least not specifics.

Last night I made what was possibly the least figure-friendly mac and cheese of my life. My arteries will never be the same. 
That is just the cheddar cheese. Helpfully grated by the hubs.
I wasn't even following a recipe. I just threw together a roux, added milk, cream, cheese (cheddar, gruyere, and a dollop of ricotta, just cuz) pancetta, bread crumbs and elbow macaroni, and hoped for the best.
And Oh My God was that stuff good.

But I'm not blogging about that, because I was doing it all very slapdash, and I'm trying to post more polished recipes. You know, where you measure stuff?

The one hint I will pass along is that, if your cheese sauce of cream, cheddar, and gruyere is tasting a bit too heavy, salty, or bitter, add the zest of half a lemon.
Once again, the real live lemon that does not come in a plastic container comes to the rescue.

On to the important stuff! The eagerly awaited Aerogarden update... photo taken on Day 5 and the sprouts are juuuuuust starting to be visible inside their pod. 
Right on schedule.
Probably another week before I need to remove the dome.

The excitement is KILLING you! 

And now you want mac 'n cheese/cheese.
Resist the Kraft.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Onion Soup, Round 2

I have said it before, and now I will say it again:

The Barefoot Contessa's recipe is torn up and in the trash. I shall not stray again.

This weekend I followed Julia's recipe for French Onion Soup, and it was so good... dare I say it? I didn't even need to put the crouton of melted cheese on it!!!
And I have stated before my love of melted cheese. So you know I'm serious.

This is how it all went down.
Sauté in 3 tablespoons of butter, and one of olive oil, about 3 medium sized yellow onions, sliced. Cook with the lid on for 15 minutes. (Try not to cut off your thumb while slicing the onions. I have never been so happy for my flimsy excuse for fingernails as when I realized that without them, I would have just removed a large section of flesh. Instead, I only had to file down a split nail. Phew!)

Once the onions have softened, sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp sugar (to assist in caramelizing) and cook for another 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently, until you have uniformly browned onions.

At the same time the onions are caramelizing, heat up your 4 quarts of stock. 
I used 2 quarts veal stock from glacé, and 2 quarts beef stock from bullion cubes.
Now, I said "Never Question Julia" and I meant it. But adjusting is not the same as questioning. Julia did not call for any herbs or spices beyond salt and pepper, and I just find that... dubious. Maybe that is The Traditional French Way, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So when I was heating the stock before adding it to the (beautifully) caramelized onions, I threw in a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of thyme, to be removed later. And I'm glad I did it, because as previously mentioned, the soup is DELICIOUS!
And I rationalized that when Julia is making her stock for any dish, she probably puts one of those little bouquets of herbs in it anyway, so really I was just trying to improve my crappy beef-broth-from-a-bullion-cube so that it would be acceptable to her. See? Conflict averted.

After 35 minutes, my onions looked like this.
Too far away? OK.

How's that?
I know.
Ok enough patting myself on the back for not screwing up the onions.
Julia directs to remove the soup from the heat, and then add in the boiling stock, followed by half a cup of white wine. When I got to this point, I was down to maybe 1/4 cup of white wine. No, not because I had been sampling while cooking, but rather because while I was caramelizing the onions, the bottom of my pan was getting an alarming amount of little brown bits stuck to it. Now, these are the flavorful bits that you want to keep, but when they appear and you still have 15 minutes of cooking time before your onions are where they aught to be, there is worry over burning those tasty little bits.
So, while I was caramelizing the onions, any time I felt too many brown bits were accumulating in the bottom of the pan, I would add a tablespoon or two of the white wine, scrape the bits up, and continue to stir and cook my onions. It worked beautifully, and probably added even more flavor to the onions.
Following scientifically tested recipes (a.k.a. anything Julia Child published) and instructions is good, but understanding enough about cooking to adjust to your own cooking conditions can save a meal. 
Not to mention hours scrubbing a burnt pot.

Moving on, the soup is supposed to simmer another half hour, "partially covered" on your stovetop, and then get 3 tablespoons of dry sherry added in. At the end of this I fished out my sprigs of thyme and bay leaf, and checked the soup in case I needed to adjust any seasonings.
I did not.
It was marvelous.
And I dug right in.

Eventually I will get around to serving this with the covering of browned and bubbling cheese. For now, I am just enjoying my French Onion Soup.
Thanks again, Julia!