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.


‘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)


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.


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.


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.


An Insomniac and a Quail Walk into a Bar…. December 8, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review,Uncategorized — squeakypeanut @ 8:59 PM
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Meal No. 48! Gratineed Baked Squash Halves; Quail with Figs and Pine Nuts; Classic Rice Pilaf; Frozen Grapes with Sauternes Granita

First off, I want to give kudos to Relay Foods (www.relayfoods.com). I ordered most of the ingredients for this meal from them, and they ran all over town, higgledy piggledy, picking up my quail, squash, Gruyère, wine, etc. And then I just popped over to the creepy, dark lot at the Science Museum to pick up my goodies, lovingly packed by a local hipster. This was my first time ordering from them and it won’t be my last. Faboo!

Secondly, I would like it to be known that I cooked most of this meal at 5 am on a Tuesday.  That’s right– 5 am! What happened was, I planned to cook the meal Sunday, but I got caught up cooking some stuff for an office thing and ran out of steam. On Monday night I had a bunch of errands and it was too late (at 8 pm) to start cooking. So instead I cooked it at 5 am. Ok, I see now how that doesn’t make much sense.

But, Thing One woke me up with some vomiting at 4:30 am (yes, I know, speaking of vomiting on a cooking blog is not polite, but it’s the truth). Why must my cats always puke in the middle of the night? Why not at 6 pm? If someone could invent a puke-less cat I bet it would be a very popular model.

The diabolical puker (this time) is on the left.

 I woke up at 4:30 am and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to cook my quail. I cut out their backbones, and chopped off their scrawny little necks while wearing my polka-dotted PJs–quite the surreal moment. If you’re the type to wish you starred in a reality show, this would be the thing you’d hope they’d get on film.  While that was happening I figured I could just go ahead and roast the figs, and what the hell, why not make the rice pilaf, too? I drew the line at roasting the squash, though. I have my limits. Plus, as soon as the sun came up I had to walk Miss Pooch.


The recipe called for de-boned quail, which I didn’t even bother to look for. I just ordered the package off Relay, which got it from the Mediterranean market on Quioccasin. After they were butchered it was a matter of salting and peppering them, and brushing them with oil. I was supposed to cook them in a grill pan, which I don’t have because I just use my grill, but not at 5 am when it’s 20 degrees out. I flattened them with a cast iron skillet, per the instructions. They got a nice crispy brown crust.

The sauce involved roasting Brown Turkey figs (the recipe called for Mission, but I couldn’t get those), capers and pine nuts, then tossing them with balsamic vinegar. The sauce was great! It really helped out the quail in the taste department.


Super simple–never buy Rice-a-Roni again, people! Melt butter, sauté broken pieces of angel hair pasta, then a chopped onion, then throw in the rice and coat with butter. Add water and simmer until done.  This was simple, but I really liked it with the quail and fig sauce.

So far, everything is excellent, and this is perhaps the fanciest breakfast I have ever had! When the husband woke up I told him I made breakfast. “Bacon and eggs?” “NO! Quail with fig sauce and rice pilaf!”


I made the squash later in the day, after I got home from work. It involved baking halved squash filled with cream, in which some fresh sage and sliced garlic were simmered briefly. Then the Gruyere was added and it was cooked until brown.

This was kind of meh for me. I think my squash was too small, and the cream filled the entire cavity. The ones in the photo in the cookbook don’t have much cream in them at all. So, it mainly just tasted cream-y and bland. The Husband really resented it, as he felt the flavor detracted from the quail.


This recipe is in the running for most stupid dessert of the year: Halve red grapes, put in dish, toss with a bit of Sauternes, sugar, and water, then freeze. Stir with fork and serve.

Ok, Martha. WHY are we eating ice in a fall menu?!?!  It was 20 degrees when I made this (the night before the quail incident). Why not a cranberry orange bread? Or anything, really, as long as it wasn’t icy.  It actually wasn’t even all that icy, like the cherry ice recipe. It was mainly just odd tasting frozen grapes. I didn’t like the taste of the Sauternes, and it ruined my precious organic grapes. This would be refreshing in the summer if it didn’t taste terrible.


We really liked this meal when it was just quail, fig sauce, and rice pilaf. But the squash was disappointing, and the dessert pissed me off. Way to ruin things, Martha.



SQUASH:    D  ( I give it a C, but The Husband gives it an F+ for ruining the flavor of the quail)

GRAPES:  F for seasonality. D- for execution


Nutty Meats & Boring Sides, Squared November 21, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 8:27 PM
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Because we need things to eat, and I feel like I am running behind in getting this project completed by the end of the year, I decided to make TWO Martha recipes today. Two! One for lunch and one for dinner. The entrees are rather similar–sautéed protein covered with a nut sauce, so let’s compare, shall we?

Meal No. 45: Lettuce Hearts with Fried Croutons and Tomatoes; Trout with Almonds and Orange; Porcini and Parsley Farro; Sugared Grape Phyllo Tart


Meal No. 46: Chickpea-Olive Crostini; Chicken Paillards with Walnut Sauce; Arugula and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad; Goat Cheese-Stuffed Dates

Let me just say that you can watch Martha cook the chicken dish on the Today show, here. It is worth watching because Meredith puts the smack down on Martha when she tries to make her eat a date. Ha! 

The video also reveals Martha to be the biggest, fattest, lyingly liar around. (If this is my last post you know that she has sued me and I am locked in jail somewhere). She says that all of the meals in her Dinner at Home can be cooked in an hour or less! ALL OF THEM! Do you know how many have actually been cooked in that amount of time? Two, I think! Definitely fewer than five! Liar liar pants on fire!!!!



Right off the bat we are unable to provide scientifical analysis of the two salads because I only made one, the roasted sweet potato and arugula salad.  My Whole Foods didn’t have Serrano ham, and I didn’t feel like going anywhere else, unless they sold shoes. Making a salad with just Boston lettuce, cherry tomatoes, croutons, oil and sherry vinegar sounds rather boring. I think we can all imagine what that tastes like, yes? Also, why put ham into a pescetarian meal?

The sweet potato salad was actually quite good, and the best part of that meal. Maybe both meals! I roasted slices of sweet potatoes and leeks in olive oil, with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, until tender, then added them to a mixture of romaine lettuce. The recipe called for arugula, and I bet that would have been even better, but there was a greens snafu so we used what we had. The dressing was a mixture of Dijon mustard, olive oil and sherry vinegar. Yes, I finally got some, and no, it hasn’t changed my life into an amazing super duper fantastic life. Yet.


The trout was salted and peppered and sautéed in olive oil, then removed from the pan when done. Then I toasted some chopped almonds, and mixed them with some orange zest and fresh-squeezed orange juice. I don’t know what was up with that orange, as it was extremely acidic. I had a sip of the juice and it burned my throat like battery acid. I had to scrape the topping off the fish and eat it plain. (If you are a  reading this and are a doctor, and think this may mean I have a vitamin deficiency or scurvy, please let me know).  Lucky for me, I enjoyed it better without the sauce, as it was simultaneously acidic and too sweet. The Husband enjoyed the fish with and without the sauce. He would like it known that he enjoyed the fish so much that he ate the skin.

The chicken was flattened, and also salted, peppered and sautéed in olive oil, then removed. This time, I added toasted walnuts, chicken stock and sherry vinegar to make the sauce. I have no idea how this tasted as I am allergic to walnuts so I ate my chicken plain. The Husband asked, “So, what’s this walnut sauce about? I don’t get it.” He thought the walnuts were superfluous, but did say the sauce had some flavor that he appreciated.


The fish dish called for a side of farro and porcini stuff. Farro is very hard to find here, and expensive, so I substituted pearl barley, per Martha’s suggestion. I forgot that it takes 45 minutes to cook. I also substituted dried shiitake mushrooms for porcini. After the barley and mushrooms cooked, they were tossed with flat leaf parsley and olive oil. We tried a bit Martha’s way, and oh, was it bland. It tasted like water. Then we tried mixing in some black truffle olive oil we happened to get yesterday, and the dish was much improved. I still didn’t think it was all that great, but The Husband thought it was tasty.

The appetizer for the chicken meal involved topping crostini with a cooked/mashed up mixture of chickpeas, red onion, red pepper flakes, cumin, and a paltry six oil-cured black olives plus parsley.  (On the Today show segment, the bread was magically toasted, and the topping was pre-prepared. All she did was saute the chicken and stuff a date). You would think that this would be flavorful, but you would be wrong! So, so bland and dry. The bites with olives had a better flavor, and that is saying a lot from someone who doesn’t even like black olives!

Both were very disappointing.


And I do use that term loosely! I wasn’t too worried about making two desserts because I knew we could make one of each and neither one of us would like them much. This is good because my birthday and Thanksgiving occur within 48 hours this week, and I have a feeling I will be having plenty of treats soon enough, and maybe not all of them will be of a sparkling, liquid variety.

The fish meal dessert was to be phyllo dough swabbed with melted butter, sugar, and crushed toasted fennel seeds, topped with red grapes and baked. We all know how I feel about fennel at this point. Even The Husband, who likes fennel, thought it sounded odd. So, I wasn’t keen on making it, but since I already wasn’t making the salad I felt compelled to try something.  Back when we made the phyllo and squash tart I didn’t like how half a package of phyllo dough went to waste, so this time I just bought a little package of the phyllo cups. I put a couple grapes in each, topped them with melted butter and sugar and baked them for about 8 minutes. The Husband thought they were a total waste, but I didn’t hate them. I would never make them again, but they weren’t terrible. There just wasn’t anything to recommend them.

The second “dessert” was Medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese mixed with cream and sprinkled with sea salt. We are not date fans; I have had this type of thing before and while I didn’t hate them, I didn’t really think that much of them. But these were surprisingly tasty. The filling tasted like cream cheese, but the sourness helped tone down the sweetness of the date, and the salt really helped, too. Still, we each only ate one and that was that. Does anyone want some dates? 


Fish:    A   vs.   Chicken:  B

Pretend Salad:  N/A  vs.  Sweet Potato Salad:   A

Chickpea crostini:   C-       vs.    Farro Salad:   C-

Phyllo Dough:  C    vs.   Dates:    B+

I guess it’s a toss up.  By cooking two Martha meals in one day I ensured that I wouldn’t be crazy about any of the food I ate today…


Chicken in Tuna Sauce=Why? September 29, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 9:53 PM
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What sounds less appealing than boiled chicken in tuna sauce? Veal in tuna sauce! That’s the dish that inspired this week’s menu. Oh, Lord.  (more…)


Shock and Awe September 10, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 8:59 PM
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Meal No. 35: Cantaloupe Wedges with Feta Cheese; Honey-Glazed Chicken Skewers; Summer Squash and Olive Phyllo Tart; Espresso Cream Crunch  (All recipes online here).

I have been dreading this one all summer.

Cantaloupe and Feta:

This seemed like an odd combination. Martha says she chose this combo as a variant of melon wrapped in prosciutto. Prosciutto and feta are not exactly interchangeable, but ok.

I like watermelon better with feta, it turns out. I thought the cantaloupe and the feta cancelled each other out and the black pepper took over. Mr. Squeaky Peanut, who is not a melon fan, liked how the feta “hid the grossness of the cantaloupe.” 


I thought this would be horrible; my abhorrence of sweet + savory is well documented.

The recipe called for marinating chicken thighs and red onion chunks in a mixture of red wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt, pepper, and garlic. Martha wanted me to put the meat and onions on skewers and then bake them. I actually started to soak the skewers but quickly gained hold of my senses. Why should I bother, when I could just throw the chicken and onion chunks in the pan and roast them? So that is what I did. 

By the way, this meal is supposed to be Greek. I suppose the skewer makes it so.

Right out of the oven, while hot, I didn’t care for this. The vinegar and honey flavors just didn’t meld at all. But by the time I served it at about room temperature, it tasted a lot better. The Husband particularly enjoyed it with the onion. Surprise!


As much as I was dreading the chicken, I dreaded this even more, recalling the spring’s puff pastry asparagus tart fiasco.  I bought the phyllo dough, decided I wasn’t going to make it, fearing it would be an oily disgusting mess, then changed my mind at the last second. Luckily, it doesn’t take anywhere near 4 hours to thaw at room temperature contrary to what the package said.

I won’t lie; dealing with phyllo is a bit of a pain in the arse, with having to keep it covered with a damp towel, and the ripping, etc. The recipe called for six layers of phyllo, each brushed with butter.  I made a half batch in anticipation of gruesomeness. Yellow squash and zucchini were mixed with olive oil, thyme, oregano and parsley and strewn on top of the phyllo. ACtually, Martha tossed her squashes on top all higgledy-piggledy, but as you can see, I alternated the layers to make a pretty tart. It is not often that one gets to out-Martha Martha! 

By golly, by gum, it was fantastic!!! The Husband couldn’t stop exclaiming about how much he loved it, and was doing his best Bill Murray from “What About Bob?” imitation, with the MMMMMing, and MMM MM MMMing. The crust was nice and crispy without being oily (I tried not to use much butter) but the squash was a nice touch of moisture, and we liked the warm kalamata olives on top. One note–it cooked much more quickly than the recipe called for.

Espresso Cream Crunch:

I also wasn’t planning to make this, what with the dairy and all, but since I had all the ingredients and time to kill while the chicken and tarts baked, I made it. I whipped some heavy cream, instant espresso powder and a bit of sugar to soft peaks, then stuck it in the freezer until we were ready to eat it. We were supposed to toss in some crushed espresso beans but we didn’t have any. The Husband added some coffee beans to his for crunch.

 This turned out ok. It kind of reminded me of a part fluffy/part frozen (it had an uneven texture) jamocha shake, but with less mocha flavor. I think it could use more espresso powder.


 This was actually a good meal, considering what a disaster we thought it would be.

 MELON:  Should we grade this? It’s hardly a recipe. I suppose it’s average, so a C.


 TART:   A++   Completely exceeded all of our expectations



Blackberry Almond Shortbread Squares August 11, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review,Uncategorized — squeakypeanut @ 12:13 PM
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It seems like it’s been forever since I made one of the Martha Meals. We were out of town again last weekend so I didn’t get to cook anything. I can’t say that I missed it! 

(I got a new camera in the interim, but was having some technical issues, so there are no photos of some of the dishes.) 

Menu No. 31: Herbed Turkey Burgers; Tomato Salad; Creamed Corn; Blackberry Almond Shortbread Squares (from Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home) 

Turkey Burgers

More burgers! These involved ground turkey combined with shallots, Dijon mustard (did you honestly think it wouldn’t?!), minced mint and parsley. We were uncharacteristically out of shallots, and the grocery store didn’t have them, so I tried to reconstitute a clump of shallot salt to substitute. It didn’t really work. How surprising!. 

Aside from all that, the burgers were fine. They were mintier than I prefer, and steamed in the skillet rather than browned so I wish I had gone with my instinct to grill them. They were fine for a quick weeknight dinner, but there are better burger recipes out there. I did lurve my little Pepperidge Farm slider-size buns, though. 

Tomato Salad

A beefsteak tomato was combined with cherry tomatoes and black olives, with a dressing of balsamic vinegar and garlic sautéed in oil, plus oregano. At first I liked this, but then it quickly overpowered the rest of the meal. I don’t like olives so that was part of the problem. The Husband liked it with the minty burger. He is silly. 


Creamed Corn: 

I have very limited experience with creamed corn, having only had the disgusting canned variety many years ago. It was sweet and viscous and BLECH. 

This doesn’t involve any added sugar (or high-fructose corn syrup, for that matter), thankfully. I had to sauté a minced jalapeño in olive oil, then added the de-cobbed corn kernels. She said to sauté the corn for 5-7 minutes, but mine were tender in 3, so I stopped lest they get overcooked. I took out some of the corn and pureed it with some milk and cream, then it was added back to the pan with the corn and reduced. 

The corn was good, but I wish my jalapeno had been more flavorful, as we really couldn’t taste it. The Husband had some issues with the consistency of the sauce, but I thought it was fine. 


YUM!!! Here is where I admit that I had been salivating over the photo of these in the cookbook all winter, so as soon as the blackberries were in season I made them. This was the best dessert we’ve made from this book so far! 

You make a simple almond shortbread dough; some goes on the bottom as crust, and some goes on top as a crumble, and in between are blackberries. I am a big fan of shortbread so this really floated my boat. 

Look at the size of that berry!


The only problem, and of course there is one, is that there wasn’t enough of the dough. I made a half batch and the bottom crust was very thin. I gave the recipe to a friend, who made the full batch, and she said there was barely enough of the crust to cover the bottom of the pan. So, maybe the trick would be to use the full crust recipe but to bake it in an 8’x8’ pan, rather than a 9” x 13” one.  But you should totally make them! 




This meal was fine, although I don’t plan to eat any of the leftover tomatoes, so what does that tell you? The real star was the dessert. How unusual! 

Turkey Burger: B 

Tomato Salad: B 

Creamed Corn: B+ 

Dessert: A