Squeaky Peanut

"Dot takes on the Domestic Diva"

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.

 

Shakshuka & Lepinja January 9, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — squeakypeanut @ 5:19 PM
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Hello, again!

Can I just tell you have relieved I am not to have some Martha menu hanging over my head this weekend? I am very relieved.

I haven’t found a cookbook to work my way through yet; I pick them up and feel too constrained, so for this week I made one of the recipes I have bookmarked in my Favorites folder.

This is a Saveur recipe they call ‘Eggs  Poached in Tomato Sauce” but I have it on good authority (according to the interwebz) that it’s a dish called Shakshuka, and is frequently eaten for breakfast in Israel. It was brought over by Jews from Libya. Whatever you call it, it sounded good and easy.

To accompany it I decided to try making a Serbian flatbread called lepinja that we had last week at the new Balkan restaurant in town, named, cleverly, Balkan Restaurant. This bread was so far beyond an ordinary pita–it was light and fluffy and spongy in all the right places. I LOVED it.  According to numerous forum postings there is no way to make good lepinja outside of Eastern Europe because the flour isn’t the same. I would not be deterred, however. I found a recipe on allrecipes.com, which doesn’t exactly have the best pedigree, but three people gave it 5 stars so I thought I’d give it a go.

Well, of course, I immediately screwed it up, despite the simple directions: heat 2 T milk, sprinkle on yeast, mix with a cup of water and some sugar, then combine with flour and a bit of salt. I thought the dough seemed wetter than it should be, and then I realized that I had mixed two cups of water into the yeast. So, I fixed up some more yeast, added more flour and planned what to do with lepinja for 24. The dough rises three times, but the last two are just 30 minutes so it wasn’t too onerous of a process.

(That same day I also accidentally used the men’s restroom at Borders! In my own defense, there were no urinals, just stalls…. I blame all this on the fact that I was at the gym by 7:30 am that morning. Delirious.)

The bread didn’t turn out as well as what we had at the restaurant, and there was no pocket inside, but it was still tasty bread.  I certainly didn’t mind eating it!

The shakshuka involves browning onion and jalapeno, then adding cumin, smoked paprika and garlic, followed by some whole tomatoes that you crush in your bare hands like a beast. The sauce cooks until slightly thickened, then the eggs are cracked on top to poach, covered. After the five-minute recipe-alloted time the whites were still clear, so I turned the heat up. That resulted in overcooked yolks, but it was fine. The dish is topped with chopped parsley and feta cheese before serving.

I liked this dish well enough, and would be thrilled if this were a regular breakfast item in our culture. It’s much better than soggy French toast, for example. That said, I think the sauce could use more flavor. The jalapeno didn’t add much heat, so next time I would add more or try a different pepper. I will admit it isn’t much to look at.

Hot mess

Bread: B+

Shakshuka: B

 

To review January 2, 2011

Filed under: Other — squeakypeanut @ 10:04 AM

Here it is, Sunday, and I have no Martha meal hanging over my head. I can cook whatever I want! I can go to the store in my neighborhood and see what looks good or what is on sale and cook that. I am FREEEEEE!

Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me throughout the project, and read my cranky posts. Your encouragement helped me keep going when it would have been easier to quit. I immensely enjoyed the project, even though I didn’t enjoy a lot of the food. I hadn’t written anything for pleasure in a very long time, so that part was fun. I did not enjoy all the time, money and food we wasted, however, running all over town hunting down speciality ingredients, only to end up with leftovers uneaten in the frig. 

Both the book and I have suffered many indignities...

Standouts in Spring were the: lemon mousse; currant scones; catfish po’boys; bananas with caramel sauce;  arugula and avocado salad; fontina flatbread; spoonbread; pasta with mint pesto; pan-roasted chicken pieces.

Summer:  tomato/basil/white bean salad; Mexican corn cakes and refried beans; spicy shrimp and noodles in coconut broth; blackberry shortbread squares; tuna in tomato-basil sauce; chicken kabobs.

Fall: roasted pork with sage and garlic; spiced lamb chops; sautéed okra and tomatoes; apple-cranberry crumble; quail with figs and pine nuts; roasted parsnip and chorizo bites; celery root puree.

Winter: crispy ham sandwiches; tart apple bistro salad; citrus-soy sweet potatoes; sesame-spinach rolls; artichokes on toast; hoisin chicken; spicy cucumber scallion pickles; citrus-cashew salad; cauliflower gratin; chicken in tarragon sauce; curried vegetable pot pies; rosemary yorkshire puddings; Italian sausages with red onion gravy.

That may look like plenty, but when you consider that the cookbook has more than 200 recipes, that is actually about 16%.  When you take into account that some things were spectacularly bad, like the oily Swedish meal, the caramel pudding, the soapy kiwi in jasmine syrup, haricot vert with tapenade, the horribly bitter salads and the shaved asparagus tart, I just can’t recommend the cookbook overall, as there are much better ones out there.  

Things learned, not to be confused with ‘life lessons’:

1. I like kumquats

2. Cooking clams and mussels need not be intimidating.

3. I don’t want dessert most of the time, especially the ones in this cookbook

4. I kind of miss the old people creamy desserts. Or, rather, writing about them.

5. Martha needs Seasonal Produce Identification lessons

So, what is next? At this point, I can’t commit, for mental health reasons, to cooking my way through another book. For now, I plan to pick from my stack of recipes I have been waiting to try, or my other cookbooks. I promise to make some things that may be a challenge or terrible. 

I hope you continue to read, and if there is anything you would like to see me cook and review, let me know!

 

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!

 

 

Haiku About Those Pears December 29, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 7:46 AM
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Pears glazed with honey

Too sweet after that chicken,

No one is surprised.

Pears glazed with honey, lemon juice, and juniper berries.
 

‘Adversity is the first path to truth’ December 27, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 9:43 PM
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says Lord Byron. 

Meal No 51: Bacon and Swiss Chard Dip; Braised Chicken Marsala; Sage Polenta; PearsPearsPears (from Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home)

Dip:

Golly, this seems like a heavy meal, especially coming off a holiday week. So, I substituted turkey bacon for the pork bacon. I am not fond of things masquerading as other things, like soy cheese or tofurkey, and thought it was creepy how much the turbacon looked like a slice of budget lunch meat ham. Nevertheless, it was browned, along with some onion. Then I made a roux with milk, flour and heavy cream. All was going swimmingly until I had to add the Swiss chard to the pan to wilt it. If you don’t know, Swiss chard is a tough little beast, and by the time the shreds had wilted the cream sauce and bacon had stuck to the bottom of the pan. This created quite a mess, and also resulted in losing a good deal of the dip ingredients. Using spinach would have been more prudent. It also created a problem because I unwittingly used our last sponge to try to clean the skillet. Now we can’t wash any other dishes.

I baked the chard and the little bit of creamy bacon stuff, topped with Pecorino Romano, which I substituted for Parmesan. 

The flavor was good, but even with less creamy stuff added it was pretty oily and had a vaguely slimy texture once it cooled to room temperature. The Husband thinks the leftovers might be good over eggs for breakfast. Hmm.

Braised Chicken Marsala:

Even though I swore off chicken legs after the poached-legs-in-coconut broth incident, I bought some to use in this dish, along with some chicken thighs. Has anyone else noticed that thighs with skin are becoming impossible to find? What is up with that? The unsanctioned skinless thighs and legs (with skin) were browned, sort of, and removed from the pan while two plum tomatoes and red onions were browned along with some thyme sprigs. I then added some Marsala wine and reduced it. The chicken was added back to the pan along with some chicken broth and it baked for 35 minutes.

Polenta:

Cooking polenta is just like cooking grits. Is there any difference, really? I cooked the polenta, then added chopped sage in the last five minutes, plus some butter. Martha said to add 2 teaspoons of coarse salt to the cooking water; I added less and it was too salty. She is a total salt fiend.

Together, the dish achieves a complexity of flavor that is lacking in most of the recipes in this cookbook. It is really quite good, but I prefer the Rachel Ray recipe with the chicken stew and manchego-enhanced polenta I wrote about last week, as Martha’s is a bit too sweet for me, despite having bought the driest Marsala wine I could find. The Husband was just not into the onions at all; he thought they were too sweet, which is odd considering that they were red.

Pears:

Martha opines that the heaviness of the meal demands a light dessert, but honestly, can’t we just skip it? The wine was kind of sweet, so let’s leave it at that, shall we?

There was a delay in making the sautéed pears. If you know me in person you will not be surprised to learn that I burned my fingers pulling the skillet out of the oven. I then didn’t feel like wielding my fingers to make some stupid honey and pear thing. Didn’t we already make this dessert?

I will probably post about it later in the week.

Dip:  B

Chicken:  B

Polenta:    A

Pears:   TBD

ONE MORE MEAL, and I will have fulfilled my New Year’s Resolution. I can’t decide whether to hope it’s tasty, or horrible.

 

Meat atrocities: fine if you like that sort of thing… December 19, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 10:19 PM
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Meal NUMBER 50!

Pork Chops with Sautéed Apples and Onion; Shaved Fennel-Celery Salad; Mustard Mashed Potatoes; Maple Custards

Pork Chops:

The recipe involved bone-in pork chops, onions, Fuji apples, Armagnac, chicken stock, and butter. 

I am not going to give you the measurements for these ingredients, and I am not going to discuss its cooking method. I am taking a stand: it’s time to put an end to the whole Fruit with Pork thing. Now.  If you want to put pork with some garlic, or herbs, or BBQ sauce I will support your right to do so. But I just cannot allow this fruity meat thing to continue.

I wish I had a video of The Husband’s reaction to this part of the meal. There are many variations one can do of, “Oh, my god. This is soooo disgusting.” One can shake one’s head, and just repeat over and over again, “Oh, no.” Or say”Nuh uh,” several times over, then follow it with an “Ohhhhhhh, this is reallllllllly disgusting,” then an, “Oh my god! It’s gross! It’s really soooo gross” Then one can burst out laughing at how much one hates it.

THEN, one can admit that the flavors on the plate, while hideous, do complement one another, if one were into such things…

SALAD:

The fennel was not shaved, fyi. It was sliced, as was the celery. Kohlrabi is too fancy to be found at the several stores I tried, so we had to do without. The dressing was apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard (oh, how I have missed you), honey, and oil. I was supposed to use walnut oil, but didn’t for allergy-avoidance purposes.

I didn’t hate it as much as I expected to. It was pretty quiet in flavor. I liked that it was crunchy. Most importantly, this is the last of the year of terrible salads!

MASHED POTATOES:

These were Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled with their skins on for a rustic effect. They were mashed with whole-grain mustard, chicken broth and olive oil. These were the best thing on the plate, which I suppose isn’t saying much, but they were tasty. I like mustard and think this is a fun idea for a side dish, if you were making kielbasi or something along those lines.

MAPLE CUSTARDS:

We both normally hate maple, but we got some maple syrup from Trader Joe’s that is remarkably un-mapley in flavor. Otherwise I would have skipped this dessert.

I whisked together egg yolks, maple syrup and vanilla, then slowly mixed in heated milk and cream. The mixture was baked in ramekins in a water bath, then chilled. I poured a little bit of maple syrup on top before serving.

This was much better than I expected! The Husband took a bite and said, “OH, MY! I love this texture!!!!” It was silky smooth. Yum.

 OVERALL:

As I said above, the flavors all went together, but that is not necessarily a good thing, in my opinion. The sweet pork was not cute, the salad was just ok, but the potatoes and dessert were good. I could see people who like sweet meat and fennel really digging this meal.

Pork:  F, for our palates, but if you like fruit and pork you would probably give it a B

Fennel salad:  B

Mashed potatoes:  A

Maple custard: A+