Squeaky Peanut

"Dot takes on the Domestic Diva"

Pablo Neruda Pasta August 14, 2011

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 12:36 PM

The Husband and I used to laugh over one of Pablo Neruda’s poems, Sonnet XX, back when we were literate and cool, that starts off with My ugly love, you are a messy chestnut and eventually gets to our favorite line,

Ugly: Not even the sea contains things like your toenails

Now. Maybe Mr. Neruda had never seen a Trader Joe’s canned cherrystone clam before, because I CANNOT imagine anyone’s toenails could be uglier than these things. If you have evidence of the contrary, please do not send it to me or post a photo of it. I am still in a delicate condition, you see.

I need to eat more iron-rich foods, and had read that clams were high in iron, so I decided to make some sort of clam sauce. I didn’t have a chance to get to the Local Fresh Clammery, so I decided to try these new TJ canned cherrystone clams, which had gotten good reviews on line.  Geez Louise, these things were disgusting looking! Still, I soldiered on, as the can said one serving would give me 25% of my daily iron requirement.

I chose a recipe off Epicurious.com—Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Lemon and Clams, available here: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pasta-with-Cherry-Tomatoes-Basil-Lemon-and-Clams-104811  I used a parmesan/Romano/Asiago cheese blend that worked quite well.

The recipe was very easy to make, had a very good flavor, but the clams were so tough as to be inedible. I didn’t even cook them for the minute–I just tossed them in the pasta at the end as I was afraid this very thing would happen. The Husband didn’t find it as offensive as I, and started discussing whether the tough, stringy part was the foot that clams use to move (what?!) and it really made me feel quite queasy.

I don’t think you get any iron from the clams if you just chew them for a second and spit them out. I might make it again with chopped clams, or maybe just a touch of clam juice, for flavor.

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Vodka is the key July 24, 2011

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 11:13 AM
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Hello, cupcakes! It’s been a while and I have missed you. I checked my stats and, amazingly, I still get some hits, so I thought I would start posting again, a bit. Maybe.

I joked about being sick in my last post, which was just a cold, but then I ended up truly ill with another sort of thing. Can we blame Martha for it? Possibly, but we will never know, I suppose.  For real, though, I have some great friends who cooked meals for The Husband and me while we were unable to, and I will never forget their kindness and generosity! 

Now I am (slowly) on the mend, and have started cooking again; if it involves throwing stuff into a food processor, I am all over it! I haven’t made anything worth posting about until today.

Richmond, like most places, has been beastly hot this week and will be beastly hot next week, so I threw the chilling mechanism bowl from my ice cream maker into the freezer a couple of days ago,. I just used it to make Pink Grapefruit Sorbet. It is cold and tart and über refreshing.  The key is the bit of vodka, which helps prevent the sorbet from getting too icy in the freezer.

Pink Grapefruit Sorbet

3 c grapefruit juice

1/2 c sugar

1/3 c water

3 T vodka

Make a simple syrup by dissolving sugar in the water over a medium heat. Let cool. Combine juice, simple syrup and vodka in the ice cream maker and process per manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately, or place in freezer. May rub on body, if overheated.

 

Inedibles and Tofu Bowls February 19, 2011

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 10:22 AM
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This week I tried two recipes from Power Foods, a snack and a main dish. One was successful, and one was dangerous.

First, the snack, titled Crunchy Split Pea Bites. Oh, they were crunchy, all right. This involved soaking one and a half cups of green split peas in three cups of water for four hours. At that point you drain and dry them. Since I was not about to polish each pea individually, I just spread them out onto a paper towel to dry. Actually, two paper towels, because that is a ton of peas, in case you didn’t realize. They took forever to dry; by the next morning they were still damp, but I was already over the whole thing so I decided to finish them off so I could take them to work as a snack.

Half a batch of the peas were sautéed in a mixture of canola oil and sesame oil until they got browned and crispy, about 8 minutes. Then they were drained on paper towels and sprinkled with salt. They were ok–they didn’t have much flavor, so The Husband ground up some herbs de Provence on his, which he thought helped somewhat. The biggest problem was that some of the peas were still as hard as they were before soaking, and we were afraid we’d break a tooth on one. I threw out both the cooked half, and the uncooked half. Luckily, peas are inexpensive, so it’s not like we ruined an expensive duck breast (Martha!).

I was cautiously optimistic that the Brown Rice with Tofu, Dried Mushrooms and Baby Spinach would be good because it appeared to have a lot of seasoning,  and we liked most of the Asian-inspired foods in Dinner at Home.

The recipe was pretty easy–cook 1.5 cups of brown rice (the recipe called for short grain, but I used long and it was fine) in 2.75 cups of water with a half ounce of dried shiitake mushrooms, 1 T ginger, 4 minced garlic cloves, a crumbled dried red chile, and salt. When done (50 minutes), remove the pan from the heat and toss in a half package of drained and diced extra-firm, drained tofu, cover and let sit for 15 minutes. At the end of the fifteen minutes, you are supposed to be able to toss in 3 ounces of baby spinach and have them wilt in three minutes.  This didn’t happen, because the pan was no longer hot enough. I had to put it back on low heat and leave it until the spinach wilted, which also meant the rice started to stick.  After the spinach finally wilted, I mixed in several chopped scallions, cilantro (I used dried, since we didn’t have any fresh), 2 T + 1t of tamari soy sauce (low-sodium), 1.5 T of rice vinegar, and 1 t of sesame oil.

This had quite a nice flavor. The Husband added more garlic to his, but I thought it was super garlicky. In fact, later that night I could not get the garlic and scallion taste out of my mouth, even with vigorous teeth brushing. So, maybe this is not a good dish to take to your book club or on  a date, but it’s otherwise recommendable.

Scores:

Split Peas:  D  Both bland and too many inedible bits

Rice Bowl:   A-

 

 

Green Food Stuffs February 13, 2011

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 11:39 PM
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So! I think I may have found a cookbook under the Martha Stewart umbrella to work my way through.

The editors of her Whole Living magazine have just released a cookbook titled, Power Foods, featuring, natch, 38 “power foods” that are the healthiest things to stuff in your pie hole. I try to eat fairly healthily, but could also use help ingesting more vegetables and such. I like that there are only three red meat recipes in the entire cookbook, and very little dairy other than Greek yogurt and the occasional sprinkle of parmesan or goat cheese.

The book has a large section at the front describing the benefits of each of the 38 power foods, and tips on how to prepare them, which is great if you are reading about papaya, but not so helpful for eggs. Then the book is broken into sections on breakfast, snacks, sandwiches, soups, main dishes, side dishes, and desserts.

There is a foreward by Martha herself! I don’t pretend to believe that she wrote any of the recipes, but some are awfully similar to recipes in Dinner at Home, like the pears with chocolate and baked apples, both of which were terrible. Yay.

I think there will be lots to snark at, such as the concoction I am drinking as I type this. It is an avocado pear breakfast smoothie ( it is 9 pm in reality–I don’t do fruit or sugar in the morning) made with avocado, silken tofu, honey, pear nectar, vanilla and ice. Hmm. Well, it isn’t as terrible as you would think,  but the vanilla overpowers it and it has a very odd taste. I would certainly never drink one willingly again. It’s good for me, though, right?

With the other half of the avocado (you don’t think I would make a full batch of that nonsense, do you?) I tried another breakfast item, the avocado and boiled egg salad. Can you make a salad with two ingredients? The  recipe is to mix chopped avocado, boiled egg whites, olive oil, salt and pepper. I do not know why this is considered a “recipe” any more than pouring booze on fruit, but this time I actually liked how it tasted and would eat it again. The Husband refused to even try it.

The third thing I’ve tried so far is a soy wasabi dip I made for my book club. It involved pureeing endamame, silken tofu, wasabi paste, Chinese hot mustard and lemon juice. I made it the night before and it was very spicy, but by the next day it had mellowed enough that I had to add more wasabi and mustard. I couldn’t get it to be as spicy again, and so I gave up. Some people said they liked it, but they are all very polite. I thought it was ok–endamame are kind of bland to me so I think it needed something else to help it out. It was a good excuse to eat rice crackers, at least.

Smoothie:  D  for demented ingredient list

Avocado & Egg Salad:  B  It tasted good, but why not add some additional foods to it?

Soy Wasabi Dip:   B (edited grade. I had some leftovers and thought it was pretty ok).

 

Beef Stew, 1958 February 6, 2011

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 3:30 PM
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Hello, crumpets! My mom says she misses my posts, but honestly, I have not been inspired much, in a good or bad way, by anything I have cooked lately.

There’s also been this to deal with–behold Thing 2. For 25 days we were all held hostage by the Cone of Consternation. To get back at us he would scrape it along every surface of the house, including Miss Pooch, all night long.

I made something interesting today, but I can’t talk about it yet, as it was an audition for a baby shower dish that needs to be a surprise. One day, we will chat about it.

 I have made some Rachel Ray recipes from her Look & Cook book–a cod and Italian sausage one pot that was ok, but too fennelish as leftovers; a spinach and artichoke macaroni and cheese that had no flavor; and a cherry tomato and cheese ravioli soup, which was pretty good. Bo-ring.

But! I also got hold of a vintage edition of Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two, published in 1958.

(We have some of that china in pink!)

The best part is that it’s illustrated by Charley Harper, whom I love!  The drawing accompanying the Potatoes Anna recipe is somewhat terrifying, don’t you think?

The book contains complete meals, which are often handicapped by things that no longer exist, like Betty Crocker Cream Puff mix, which my mother says she doesn’t remember ever existing. There are lots of gelatin salads, and nearly everything calls for a variation of French dressing! Ick.

The first thing I made was the Beef Stew with Dumplings, from the “American Favorites” chapter. It called for an unusual seasoning mix–lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, and allspice, along with the usuals–carrots, potatoes, garlic, onion, etc.  Since it assumed you were cooking for two, it called for a mere 1 pound of beef. It was nice to have a bit of leftovers, but not quarts and quarts worth (I am talking to you, Rachel Ray).

It turned out quite yummy. The downfall was the dumplings. The book says to use Bisquick. I do no do Bisquick. I whipped up a biscuit/dumpling recipe I found online and the resulting dumpling was mealy. We just ate around them.

The thing that struck me about the recipe is how it assumed the cook was not an idiot and had basic cooking skills. For example, it didn’t say to peel the carrots and potatoes; it said to cook the dish for two hours, but didn’t say what heat setting to use. It said to add all ingredients “except vegetables,” and I was a bit unclear as to whether that included the onion and garlic. Yet, it all turned out fine, save the dumplings.

The rest of the menu for the meal was a lime and pineapple salad, which I couldn’t make because I am allergic to pineapples. (Yes, I know. Who is allergic to pineapples? Me, that’s who.) Plus, tapioca cream (ha ha ha! ) and ginger cookies, baked from the Betty Crocker gingerbread mix. I didn’t make those either, as we already had some ginger snaps on the premises.

I just paid attention to this, but the accompanying illustration shows a herd of cattle nibbling on some hay in a field. A farmer, in a plaid jacket,  natch, is standing atop a giant pile of hay within a fence, and forking it to the cows. Oh, Charley, were you a vegetarian? I can’t imagine another reason to depict my dinner enjoying its bucolic setting. 

Later in the week, I made Betty’s Butterscotch Brownies/Praline Squares. They involved a mixture of shortening (I used butter), brown sugar, an egg, flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla and pecans. They also turned out very mealy, and I ended up throwing away the pan. What a waste of some good pecans.

Maybe things just were always mealy in 1958, and that’s the way people liked it.

 

Avec Poulet January 14, 2011

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 11:15 AM
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Today’s post features a recipe by Eric Ripert. He’s the French chef who owns Le Bernardin, among other places. He frequently stars on Top Chef as a guest judge, making the contestants pee their pants every time they have to cook for him. He has pretty hair.

He also has a show on PBS, Avec Eric Ripert, where he travels around being fancy, meeting people and cooking up things. He also has a new cookbook by the same name. I don’t have this cookbook, but his recipe, Roasted Chicken with Za’atar Stuffing, is published on the show’s website.

As you know, if you have been following along, we love Middle Eastern food, and za’atar is a spice blend commonly used in this type of cooking. There’s a photo of it baked on pitas in my Ode to Detroit post.  Naturally, when I saw this recipe I had to try it although I was worried Monsieur Ripert was trying to kill me by suggesting I eat stuffing actually stuffed into a bird.

The stuffing consists of diced crusty bread, chopped parsley, lemon zest, minced garlic and za’atar, all mixed with olive oil. He suggests a quarter cup of oil for 1.5 cups of bread. I used less than half of that, and the stuffing turned out super oily and gross, although the flavor is nice. I would eat it baked in a pan with even less oil.

The methodology surrounding the cooking of the actual chicken was odd. He had me hack off the wings, and set the chicken on top of them. I don’t know why–a rack would have worked just as well, and the wings would have been crispy. I used a Polyface Farms broiler, and I hate that they do not cut off the neck. I had to use my kitchen shears, and the bone crunching is just sickening.

The stuffed chicken is oiled up, salted and peppered and roasted at 450 for 20 minutes, when the temperature is decreased to 350, and garlic cloves are tossed in the pan. The chicken was fine, if a bit bland.

I much prefer the Thomas Keller roast chicken recipe, where the chicken is roasted at 450 for 50-60 minutes, because the bird was more tender, and the skin was more crispy.  I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in Eric Ripert, and this may color how I view his judging on Top Chef. His hair is still pretty, though.

 

Finis! December 30, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 7:05 AM
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My last menu for the Dinner at Home project was an epic meal, cooked over two days. It involved things that were tasty, things that were terrible, and dangerous household calamities–a perfect ending to my year of cooking Martha.

Meal No. 52!  Green Salad with Apple Dressing; Bay Scallops with Lemon and Herbs;  Celery Root and Potato Puree; Jam-Glazed Mini Hazelnut Cakes

SALAD:

I said last week that the terrible salads were over, but I was mistaken.

Oh, beets. Do you wonder if I like them? I do not. Since beets are stereotypically an Old People Food, like Lorna Doones and prunes, of course The Husband likes them.

I had to roast the beets, which took nearly an hour, so I did it the night before I cooked everything else.  Actually, to say I roasted them would be incorrect. Miss Martha had me toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, then put them in a baking dish with 1/4 cup water, cover them with PARCHMENT PAPER AND FOIL, then bake them. So, they were braised, I guess. Weird. Note: I declined to use parchment paper even though we have some. Ha!

Beets are scary things, what with all the bleeding. I came home from work and thought one of the cats had coughed up blood in their bowl of Fancy Feast. I was in a panic until I examined it more closely and found out it was a piece of beet. I have no idea how they managed to get that in there. They have circuses while we’re at work, I’m sure.

So, the salad was a ‘dressing’ made with minced shallot, chopped Granny Smith apple, salt, pepper and olive oil. At first I liked the combination, but then it started tasting like a hard-boiled egg to me. What? I don’t even know. Then I had to add the beets to the baby greens along with the apple mixture. Hmm. Not a fan, really. Neither was Mr. SP. We went so far as to throw away the extra apple dressing. Goodbye, apple. Sorry your time on earth was a waste.

(I took a photo of the salad, but it didn’t show up on my memory card. Is it the vampire of the salad world?!)

CELERY ROOT & POTATO PUREE:

I think I told the story of how I first tried celery root puree on an Air France flight and became a fan. Even so, The Husband is in charge of preparing them, aside from the weird raw celery root and nut salad Martha had me make last winter. This was my first time cooking one; there were brown things that went below the skin. Should I cut them out? Who knew? Martha also had me add 1/2 lb of Yukon Gold potatoes, which she thought would be one medium potato. In reality, it was three medium ones, according to my scale. Good thing I checked, since I love potatoes.

The celery root and potato were boiled along with garlic cloves, then pureed, with hot milk and melted butter mixed in before serving. The celery root puree was delicious! Very good, Martha.

SCALLOPS:

The scallop recipe involves sautéing 8 oz of them in a non-olive oil for a couple of minutes, then removing them from the pan so a sauce can be made of butter and the juice of two lemons. It’s then served atop the puree, with added herbs.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, I got my frying pan SUPER DUPER hot, just like Martha said. Then I added oil, which was SUPER DEE DUPER hot. Then I added my scallops, which may not have been thoroughly dried and/or thawed. What ensued was first a cloud of steam so thick I couldn’t see the top of the stove, as the oil splattered everywhere, including on my open cookbook. Then the room quickly filled with smoke. VERY thick smoke. I summoned Mr. Peanut, who ran in and opened the windows in the kitchen and the dining room, and turned on all the ceiling fans in that half of the house while I tried to keep the scallops from burning. It took about 20 minutes for the smoke to clear.

Turns out that aside from the mess and smoke inhalation, the scallops were fine, and nicely browned. I thought they tasted good with the celery root puree and the lemon sauce, but The Husband found them superfluous. The portion size was exceedingly stingy– 8 oz was about enough for two, so if serving four, the guests would only get three little scallops a piece.

MINI CAKES:

 

Oh, aren’t they cute? We hate these little cakes.

They were quite precious to make. I had to grind blanched hazelnuts (which I couldn’t find, so I had to roast them and then peel the skins off, which is a total pain in the ass, if you couldn’t guess), then whisk them with flour, sugar and salt. That was blended with egg whites, and butter that I had to brown in a skillet, skim the foam off of, and cool. Then the mixture had to rest for 20 minutes. Who do you think you are, Jiffy Cornbread? I know Jiffy Cornbread, and, little miss, you are no Jiffy Cornbread!

I made a half bach of the batter, which should have made 9 cakes (WHICH, by the way, are actually muffins, as they are baked in mini MUFFIN tins, not CAKE tins), but only made 6. And thank goodness it did, because they were so not good. They were a bit dry, and the tops were sticky, and the flavor had a weird aftertaste. Have you ever seen a cat eat something it didn’t like? You know how it’ll keep sticking its tongue out and scowling? That was The Husband’s reaction.

Oh, and get this! I had to make a glaze out of raspberry jam and water, cooked on the stove, then cooled, to pour on top. First it was too thin, then too thick. It was easier just to spoon the jam on top, as you can see on the cake on the left, We had tart cherry jam so I just used that, but it didn’t do the cake any favors. No!

OVERALL:

The meal took more than three hours to prepare, due to the beet roasting, preparing the nuts, baking the cakes, etc. It was not worth that!  The best parts–the celery root puree and the scallops, could be accomplished in 45 minutes, though.

SALAD:  D+

CELERY ROOT:  A

SCALLOPS: B (A without all the drama)

CAKES: D

And with that, I am done with my project! I will be back in a few days to sum up my experience and talk about plans for next year. Happy New Year, everyone!