Squeaky Peanut

"Dot takes on the Domestic Diva"

ZZzzz October 19, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 5:08 PM
Tags: ,

 

Meal No. 41: Eggplant, Tomato and Mozzarella Stacks: Whole-Wheat Pasta with Pole Beans; Plums….

 

 

  This will be quick because, honestly, I made this meal nearly a week ago and it barely made an impression then, let alone now, after a SUPERFUN weekend that I will post about shortly.

Stacks:

I am confounded as to why this dish is in the Fall section, rather than the Summer chapter. All you do is grill some eggplant slices, then layer them with heirloom tomato slices, mozarella slices, and basil. The stack is drizzled with a dressing made with olive oil and red chile pepper.

They were good, mainly because it’s hard to mess up anything that involves grilled eggplant. The tomato, since it’s fall, wasn’t that great, of course. I substituted goat cheese for the mozarella, while The Husband used feta.

Pasta:

This recipe involved tossing cooked whole-wheat pasta with jarred barlotti beans, romano beans, olive oil, sauteed red onions, rosemary and garlic.  I don’t think there is such a thing as jarred barlotti beans in this town, but I did find them in a can at Whole Foods. They taste similar to pinto beans. I couldn’t find romano beans, either, so I substituted green beans per Martha’s suggestion.

This was pretty boring. The Husband was aghast at how ‘starchy” it was. I thought it seemed like something you’d cook on a Tuesday night when you need to use up a bunch of stuff left in the refrigerator, so you toss everything you can find together. I couldn’t imagine making this on purpose.  I made a half batch and what we didn’t eat has been languishing in the refrigerator ever since.

Plums:

We were supposed to glaze prune-plums in balsamic vinegar, then serve them with mascarpone cheese. We made something very similar last winter, so I opted out. I decided to instead make knedle sa sljivama, which is a Serbian plum dumpling. I have Serbian folks in my extended family and they go on about how delicious these are so I decided to try them, using a recipe I found in the Washington Post (since I don’t have a family recipe. Ahem).

They were a disaster! I don’t think I used enough flour in the potato dough, so they exploded in the pot whilst simmering. The cooked plums were good with the sugar/butter/bread crumb topping, but what a disappointment.

 ETA: I have consulted the family recipe, which calls for three cups of flour, whereas the WP recipe said to use three tablespoons!!!! No wonder!
 
 

 

Ka-BOOM!

OVERALL:

Stacks:  B  I think these would have been much better when tomatoes were actually in season

Pasta:      C-    It wasn’t horrid, but it was SO BORING that The Husband wanted to give it an F.

 

Well, Butter My Butt & Call Me A Biscuit March 10, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 9:36 AM
Tags: ,

We actually liked everything we made this time! Take a moment to let that sink in.

I wasn’t expecting to like 3/4 of it, and very nearly skipped making the salad, but it’s true, this one is a winner, and it’s Martha’s simplest, least expensive meal (it helped that we had some of the ingredients already). Of course, some of it doesn’t go together very well, but that is but a small trifle. At least it all tasted good. Hallelujah.

Meal No. 12:  Italian Sausage with Red-Onion Gravy; Rosemary Yorkshire Puddings; Shredded Tuscan Kale Salad; Spiced Prunes in Red Wine

Schedule: Make pudding batter and let rest; cook prunes, shred kale and mix dressing; bake puddings, cook sausages and make gravy; add dressing and cheese to kale.

Entree:

It should not surprise you that I am not that fond of Italian sausage due to the fennel seeds. I used turkey Italian sausage, made in a factory, because the local farms only seem to make pork Italian sausage. Speaking of local meat (and other food delights), I highly recommend joining this farm coop

Here is the recipe, adapted from M. Stewart’s Dinner at Home:

1 T extra virgin olive oil (I used a bit more, since I was using turkey sausage)

8 sweet Italian sausages (2 lbs total)

1 lb red onions, sliced 1/2″ thick

1 T flour

1 1/4 c chicken stock (low-sodium)

2 T red wine vinegar

Heat oil in a large skillet over med-high heat. Add sausages in a single layer and brown on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn sausages, then add onions, nestling them between the sausages.  Cook until browned, then reduce heat to med-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until sausages are cooked through and onions are tender (8-10 minutes).  Transfer sausages to a plate.

Raise heat to med-high, add flour to pan and cook, stirring, for one minute. Whisk in stock and bring to a simmer, then stir in vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

This was quite tasty, and I had expected to hate it. The gravy helped disguise the what-I-consider-overwhelming fennel taste. The Husband said it reminded him of something he’d enjoy eating in a pub, with an ale.

Speaking of ale, we went to an English beer and cheese tasting class at Ellwood Thompson’s last night. I think the Samuel Smith organic ale or Oatmeal Stout would be amazing with this.

(No photo–the one I took with my camera phone looked really gross. It looked like sausage with onions on it. Sexy!)

Yorkshire Puddings:

I have never had Yorkshire pudding before, but these were quite easy to bake. I overcooked them a tad, I think. The rosemary flavor went quite well with the sausages and gravy, which we sopped up with the pudding. Again, pub food=yes! I could have fainted.

Since you have to make these to eat with the snausages, here is the recipe:

3/4 c all-purpose flour

Coarse salt

1.5 t finely chopped rosemary

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2/3 c milk

1 T olive or safflower oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together flour, 1/2 t salt, and rosemary in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center, and add eggs and half the milk. Use a fork to gradually combine ingredients, working from the middle out; continue until the flour is incorporated and batter is smooth and stiff. (Note, mine never became stiff). Stir in remaining milk, cover with plastic wrap, and lest rest 20 minutes.

Divide oil among 4 8-oz ramekins or custard cups, swirling to coat and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Heat in the oven until very hot, @ 5 minutes.  Divide batter among ramekins and bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until batter is puffed and golden brown, 25-30 minutes. To unmold, run knife along the edges and underneath. Serve immediately.

Kale Salad:

The recipe called for Tuscan kale, but that didn’t look appealing at the store, so I got curly kale. I was reticent to make another bitter salad, and at first I was going to skip the salad after tasting a bit of the kale raw. But, when I went to put the cleaned kale away after we finished dessert, I decided to give the salad a go after all. The dressing involved mixing up 2 T of olive oil, a minced clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the juice of one lemon. The dressing sat for a while to blend, then I poured it over the kale; Parmesan cheese was then grated on top.

Wow! The lemon and the cheese totally transformed the kale, and it was refreshing and lemony, with a hint of bite from the garlic. We both ate a big plateful, even though we had already had the dessert. I had some of the left over dressed kale for lunch the next day, and it hadn’t gotten soggy. Well, done!  I don’t know that it necessarily goes, flavor-wise, with the sausage and gravy (would be great with fish), however. At this point I was just so glad it wasn’t bitter that I didn’t even care.

Dessert:

Martha must not have gotten the memo that prunes don’t exist any more; they’ve been replaced by “dried plums.” Check out the dried fruit aisle–it’s true!

Of course this dessert involved floating some fruit in alcohol. Good Lord, woman, what won’t you drink for dessert?

This time we simmered prunes in a pan with some red wine (we had a tasty Cabernet Franc, from Loire, open so we used that, although she suggested a merlot or pinot noir), a cinnamon stick, cloves, and peppercorns. I don’t mind prunes, but I don’t go out of my way to eat them, ever, although The Husband buys giant bags at Costco. He is not 85, I swear. It just sounds like it most of the time.

They turned out quite nice! The prunes were soft and the liquid (which she warned not to reduce to a syrup) was very flavorful, like a mulled wine you might serve at the holidays. Too bad it was 65 and sunny when we ate it. Also, since the main course seemed like it would go really well with beer, I don’t think a wine-y dessert works well with it.

OVERALL

This was the most successful overall meal, even though the sausage wasn’t my favorite dish so far. For example, I liked the Hoisin chicken and ham sandwiches better, but those meals were handicapped by the desserts. Don’t get me wrong, I would make it again, especially on a week night. If you are a fan of Italian sausage you will really appreciate this dish, I think.

It took about an hour to cook, with minimal prep work.

Sausage and gravy: A

Rosemary Yorkshire Pudding: A

Kale Salad: A

Prunes: B+

 

Spectral Beasts March 6, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 11:31 PM
Tags:

Recipes should never begin with, “……stringy membranes removed with a small knife”

Menu No. 11: Chicken Liver Mousse with Toast Points; Beef Broth with Leeks, Lemon and Thyme; Mushroom Dumplings; Blood Oranges and Pomegranates

Say what now? Would you ever put those things together if you were sober?

Prep Schedule: Make mousse and chill, toast bread and cut into triangles; cook dumpling filling and cool, make pomegranate juice; serve mousse while bringing a pot of water to boil; simmer broth and fill dumplings; assemble dessert just before serving.

Chicken Liver Mousse:

Believe it or not, this is not my first visit to the chicken liver mousse rodeo, having been bamboozled into making it for an office Christmas party our first year in Richmond. Although the older board members (and the director) loved it, I was so skeeved out by the process that I vowed to never make it again.  Needless to say I didn’t eat it. I used a Julia Child recipe then, so at least we can see how they compare. The Husband loves him some organ meats, so he was in charge of eating and rating it. I should have had him make it, too.

I got my livers from a local poultry farm (free-range, y’all).  The livers were shockingly large. I don’t want to start any rumors, but I think these chickens were fed on some corn and grain that had gone a bit sour, if you catch my drift.

Martha’s recipe is quite simple: rinse, dry and then sauté 1/2 lb chicken livers in two tablespoons neutral oil until outsides are brown but middles are pink. I think I overcooked ours a tad, but the thought of medium rare livers does not appeal. The livers were removed from the pan, and a shallot was sautéed with three sprigs of thyme until the shallots softened. The shallots, liver, 4 tablespoons of butter, 1 teaspoon of dry sherry (or Madeira, port or Marsala) and a teaspoon of salt were mixed up in a food processor until smooth. Then it chilled for 30 minutes.

Note that I am still real camera-less:

Results: The Husband said it was good, but very salty; salty enough to prevent him from eating much of it.  It was more like a pate than a mousse. We don’t have currant jelly, so he tried it with blackberry and fig jellies, and the fig was a hit with the way the chicken liver was seasoned. Note that we didn’t do toast points, but toasted baguette slices. We have no need for sandwich bread in these parts.

Martha’s mousse wasn’t as good as Julia’s chicken liver pate recipe, which calls for sautéing the livers in butter,  a lot more booze (cognac), and heavy cream. In fact, Mr. Squeaky Peanut had to add some pepper and a bit of cream to make Martha’s batch more flavorful. But he was impressed that she got him to like a sweet jelly with the chicken liver flavor, as previously he had resisted all attempts to pair a sweet with a liver.  All I cared about is that it seemed less traumatic this time, although trimming the stringy membranes was not as pleasant as you might think.

“Beef”  Broth and Mushroom “Dumplings”:

The recipes are a bit misleading, since you have to make the “dumplings” to put in the beef stock, so the two recipes make one dish.

The broth consisted of beef stock, water, celery, leeks, carrots, fresh thyme and lemon peel, simmered just until the carrots were tender, about ten minutes.

The dumpling filling involved sautéing 6 oz of cremini mushrooms and onions in butter. (Why 6 oz, Martha, when the mushrooms come in 8 oz packages? What good is 2 oz of leftover mushrooms?) The mushrooms were then mixed with a bit of cream cheese, fresh thyme, chives and pepper. At the last minute I added some garlic powder to give it more flavor. Then the mixture was stuffed inside wonton wrappers. Martha said the recipe would use exactly 16 wrappers, but I got 20 “dumplings” out of it, which is fine because I still have a millionty wrappers left over. It was a bit tedious to assemble them, and I found myself wishing I was making up some empanadas instead. Sigh.

Behold the dumpling assembly line :

By the way, I have a real problem with her calling these things dumplings. Dumplings, to me, are singular units consisting of flour or potato dough, not something in a skin. She should have called them pockets. Or pillows. Or pouches. Or puffs.

The mushroom pillows were boiled for three minutes, until the wrapper cooked, then were to be served immediately, in the broth.

The results:

ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh, I’m sorry.  But just thinking about this meal put me to sleep.  The broth was so bland and weak that The Husband didn’t even think it had any meat broth in it, which was funny because I tasted the stock before I mixed everything together and it was plenty beefy. It’s as if the vegetables sucked out the beefiness. It tasted like some water that someone waved some meat over.

Look how pale it is!

I was supposed to remove the lemon peel and garlic cloves before serving the soup. I guess I did a hell of a julienne job on the lemon peel because it was nowhere to be found in the broth! Could it have melted? It would have made more sense to put it in a little cheese cloth bundle or a tea ball. But at least Martha’s way you could turn it into a game with your guests: whoever finds the most lemon peel wins the centerpiece!

The dumplings were also problematic, because once I put them in the hot soup, they continued cooking. By the time the soup was cool enough to eat, the mushroom pillows had turned into an amorphous mush. The Husband labeled them as “gross.”

Every soup I’ve ever made has been better than this one.

Since Martha says that the mushroom pouches can be served by themselves as an appetizer or entree, we tried some without the broth. They were better that way, but that’s a relative term. They still needed some more seasoning, and a super sauce to make them at all interesting.  They were very simple.

The dessert:

Fruit + booze.

The End.

Ok, here’s the deal: blood oranges and pomegranate seeds, with a sauce of a bit of Grand Marnier and pomegranate juice poured over top.

Yawn.

Truth be told, I went to two stores and couldn’t find a pomegranate. Good-bye winter fruits! So, I just got the blood oranges and some Pom juice, and left out the seeds. (FYI, Trader Joe’s sells a pretty big bag of frozen pomegranate seeds, but I didn’t want to buy that when I only needed 2 tablespoons). It tasted like a blood orange with a bit of juice splashed on it. I don’t think the pomegranate seeds would have added enough to make it special. I just don’t get the point of these types of desserts. Why not eat the orange and be done with it?

OVERALL:

This menu is near the end of the Winter meal chapter and is the perfect embodiment of late winter ennui: Grey days, dirty snow, weak broth and mushy mushroom pillows…

Bright side:  This would be a great menu to serve if you have to entertain a group of simpletons.

Chicken Liver Mousse:  A- If it had been less salty, it would have scored higher, but he gave it props for the whole new world of jelly + mousse it opened up to him.

Beef broth: D-

Dumplings: By themselves= C. In the soup=D

Dessert: C

 

Menu No. 10: Hooray for poulet! February 28, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 2:43 PM
Tags: ,

Finally, a freakin’ chicken recipe! We’ve done clams, beef, pork, DUCK, Cornish hens, and now, finally, the humble chicken breast. Ahhh. And the menu is French. We are total Francophiles, especially The Husband, so let’s get to it.

Menu: Roast Chicken Breasts in Creamy Tarragon Sauce; Warm Lentils with Spinach; Caramelized Endive; Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

The plan:  Poach pears and make chocolate sauce (ruh roh); rub butter on chicken and roast, cook lentils; cook endive and make cream sauce; finish pears.

Chicken: The recipe calls for 4 12 oz chicken breasts; the ones I got were ENORMOUS, even though they supposedly weren’t factory chickens. Four of them ended up being 4 lbs, so I put one in the freezer. Left over chicken is fine, but that seemed like a ridiculous amount, and it wouldn’t all fit in the roasting pan, anyway.

*Random story diversion: When we lived in NYC, I was walking around our neighborhood when a little Dominican boy on a bike yelled at me, “You have big joombas (hoombas?)!” I went home and told The Husband and we laughed. Later in the week we went to the Dominican rotisserie place down the street, and he was trying to order a chicken breast from the cashier, who didn’t speak English. He couldn’t come up with the Spanish word for ‘breast,’ so he grabbed his chest and said, “Joombas?!” The clerk looked horrified and confused all at the same time.  I don’t know how we figured it out, but we got the chicken and then took a short break from the place…

I mixed up a butter paste with chives, tarragon, salt and pepper and rubbed it in and under skin. Ick. I hate touching raw meat. Even washing it and drying it is gross.  So I got that out of the way as quickly as possible, and then popped them in the oven to roast at 450 for 25 minutes.

Joombas!

After 25 minutes the skin wasn’t even brown, so, I kept them in for a bit longer. Once the temp reached 160 I scooped out the fat and liquid from the roasting pan, and threw in a half cup of cream mixed with a quarter cup of stock and tarragon leaves (10 were prescribed), basted the chicken, then put it back in the oven until the sauce thickened slightly and boiled, about 5 minutes.

The results: Oh Em Gee, this was terrific! The chicken was nice and tender, and the skin finally browned after it was basted with the cream sauce. The tarragon and chives held onto the chicken in clumps and was very flavorful. Tarragon is hit or miss with me, as sometimes it tastes too licorice-y. But this worked quite well! The Husband LOVED the sauce. LOVED. IT. He said, “This is almost as good as Julia Child’s,” which is about as high praise as any he will give. He suggested we get a tub of the sauce. He likes pretty much any combination of crème and l’Estragon, so it was no surprise he liked it. But he LOVED it.

Here is where I admit that I used dried, not fresh herbs, in this. Imagine how much better it would have been? Is that even possible?

Endive: First off, do you pronounce endive as EN-dive, or as ohn-DEEV? We’ve been doing it the second way, but then we giggle, so maybe we aren’t as fancy as we think.  (Hey, Nancy:  “I dropped the ohn-DEEV in the FOY-yay!”)

I shopped at Fresh Market this week, because I was in the neighborhood and knew they’d have an assortment of pears and the lentils I needed.  I didn’t see any endive at first, which surprised me, but then I spotted a box on the shelf, and inside was some endive wrapped in paper. I wasn’t sure if they were throwing it out or putting in on display, because it was pretty anemic looking. Well, even more anemic than usual, I should say. The recipe called for four, but they were $2 each, and I thought it seemed insane to spend $8 on endive for two people, when I didn’t even know if it would be good as  left overs. So, I bought the most decent one and that’s that. The recipe does say you can substitute shallots or fennel. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, yes?

Results: I misread the directions and put these in the oven too late. The chicken was done, but these, and the lentils, still had a long time to cook. I forgot to get sherry vinegar, so I used balsamic. It was horrendously bitter. AGAIN.  I really don’t want to waste any more time or analogies on her bitter winter green recipes.

Lentils and Spinach : This is one of our favorite combinations, so I was eager to try Martha’s version. If you haven’t discovered French green lentils (or lentils du Puy) you must buy some immediately. They hold up to cooking much better than ordinary brown lentils, and have a meatier taste.  J’adore!

They can be found in the bulk aisle at places like Ellwood Thompsons or Whole Foods, and some supermarkets carry them bagged. The ones I bought this time are labeled as French Green Lentils/Lentejas Verdes Francesas. I thought that was a little odd, since usually they are labeled with their French aka. This wasn’t the brand I had purchased at Fresh Market in the past.

The recipe calls for boiling/simmering a cup of lentils with two celery stalks, two shallots, and two cloves of garlic, all chopped fine, until the lentils are tender.  Then the lentils are drained,dressed with two tablespoons of olive oil, added to baby spinach to wilt it, and then topped with salt and pepper.

The results: The lentils must have been old, because they took quite a long time to turn tender. They also lacked the smokiness that this type of lentils usually has.  Next time I am getting the bulk lentils at Whole Foods, as those are the best I’ve tried.

In all, this dish was very bland and quite disappointing. It seemed to enrage The Husband a bit; he went off on how Martha shouldn’t have published a recipe without sufficient seasoning. Yes, the chicken should be the star of the show, but this was just blah. I wonder if sautéing the garlic and shallots first would have helped.  Now we have a giant bowl of bland left over lentils to deal with. I am thinking of adding some capers and some other stuff to pump it up. Or maybe some curry powder and caramelized onion.

Poached pears: More booze! The recipe calls for four Forelle pears. Seriously? I have never seen this breed. Breed isn’t right, is it? Variety! Whatever. They had the back-up Comice pears but they were hard as rocks, so I got two giant red pears instead. They might not work right, but let’s be honest; I was merely planning to Hoover up the Riesling and nibble on the pear enough to review it.

To make the pears, I had to peel them then core them from the bottom, which wasn’t as easy as you might think since the seeds were pretty far up.  They were boiled with a mixture of water, Riesling, light brown sugar, and a vanilla bean whose seeds had been scraped into the pan, then simmered with a circle of parchment paper resting atop the pears in the pan. Unspeakably precious.

After the pears are tender, they, and the vanilla beans, are removed. The liquid is supposed to reduce and turn into a light syrup after 10 minutes of boiling, but after nearly 30 it was reduced by more than half and  it wasn’t anything close to what I could call a syrup, so I gave up. I mixed in some bittersweet chocolate to make a sauce, and then kept it warm on the stove, per Martha’s instructions, and it got grainy.

The Husband hates “quitting,” so later on he attempted to fix the sauce. We had more than half of the poaching liquid left, so he added some vanilla sugar, and boiled it until it finally turned a tad syrupy. It was reduced down about 90%, then he added the chocolate. It was lovely–the chocolate tasted like it had been infused with pear, and had a nice round, not overly sweet, taste.

I can’t eat chocolate without getting a migraine lately,  so I only ate the tiniest bite of this with sauce.  Neither one of us is a huge chocolate and fruit fan, but this was really quite good.  The Husband said if he got it in a restaurant he would be very happy.

Not pretty. (ETA: I have been informed it looks like a turd, but isn’t the plate cute? )We would serve it to company if we could plate it better :

Also, a note on the delicious Riesling we bought to use in the recipe and have with our lunch. (Yes, we just ate this for Sunday brunch, and I am not sorry!) We are big Riesling fans, and this one, Bex, is from Pfalz, Germany and was very dry and quite lovely. We’ll be getting it again.

It’s more photogenic than the pear, too:

OVERALL:

The chicken was so good that I am left feeling happy after the meal, even though 1/2 of it totally underwhelmed us.

It took about an hour and forty minutes to complete, not counting the pear reduction.

Chicken: A+

Endive: The Husband says, “Since we didn’t use the required vinegar, I can’t grade this, but I can put some tarragon cream sauce on it!”

Spinach and Lentils:  F/C The Husband has given Martha an F for her lack of efforts to season this dish, but the actual taste gets a C. Nothing special. But it’s also helped by tarragon cream sauce.

Poached Pear: Cooked per Martha’s recipe: The Husband said it would be a D if a coworker had given us the recipe, but “since she’s a professional, who gets all that money for publishing cookbooks, it’s a big fat F- -, for imprecision and bad advice

The final version, as completed by The Husband, earns this an A

Next week is the most random of random menus she has ever put together. There are chicken livers in the freezer, waiting.

Hold me

 

Meal No. 9: Anything but ducky. February 21, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 5:46 PM
Tags: ,

You know things are bad when the cabbage is the star of the plate.

Menu: Duck in Fig Sauce; Braised Cabbage; Grated Potato Cake; Hazelnut Brittle over Ice Cream (from Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home)

I had been looking forward to this week’s Martha Menu, which was to have been roasted chicken, but I have bronchitis and a lot of congestion, and therefore don’t have much of an appetite and can’t really taste anything. So, I decided to skip ahead to the next recipe, which I didn’t anticipate liking, but thought it sounded right up The Husband’s alley. The path to culinary hell is paved with good intentions, you know.

(If you read last week, you saw that my camera broke. It’s still broken, so I had to use my phone to take the photos, so they will be crappier than ever. Sorry.)

Duck with Fig Sauce: The Husband adores duck. In fact, we have a vanity license plate with a duck pun on it. I don’t care much for it, having only liked it once, when The Husband made a fantastic Guatemalan duck curry.

The recipe calls for two duck breasts, each one pound, for a total of two pounds. At the store, the package of duck breast weighed just one pound, so I got two packages. When I opened the first package, there were two breasts inside, each quite sizable, but they were only a half pound each. Even so, that was a lot of meat.  Could she have really meant two 1 lb duck breasts? Where is she finding these Dolly Parton ducks with such big breasts? We decided to just cook one package, and keep the other for a rainy day. Or until he finds that curry recipe.

The cooking of the duck was straightforward: score fat, season with salt and pepper, and let sit for 20 minutes. Then brown, fat side down, for five minutes in a cast iron skillet, and flip and move to the oven to cook at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, when it should read 130 on the meat thermometer. I took them out two minutes early, and they were already at 140.  Then they rested while the other dishes were finished, oozing blood all over the cutting board.

Meanwhile, I made the fig sauce, which involved cooking a shallot in some of the duck fat, then adding sherry, fig jam, chicken broth, butter, and lemon juice. The sauce was a very unappealing pea green, and to be honest, it looked like a snotty mess. I didn’t really give the color of the fig jam any thought when I was buying it; I just wanted something affordable that didn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. I ended up with St. Dalfour, which is a lovely light green color. It tasted quite nice on some toast the other day. But! Martha’s photos show that her fig sauce was more of a brown-pink color, so I guess she picked a Mission fig jam that they do not stock in the two stores I visited, looking for a naturally-sweetened option.

Regardless of the sauce’s color, it was entirely too sweet to eat with the duck. We are not fans of mixing sweet and savories together to begin with, and this was entirely too much. The Husband added extra lemon to his sauce, and although that decreased the sweetness, it also lost a lot of the fig taste.  We each had one bite, then ate the duck plain.

The duck by itself was just duck. Nothing special. He thought the outer edges, which were a bit overdone, tasted like liver! That’s a neat hat trick, huh? We have the second breast leftover, and I told him I could maybe see eating it covered with BBQ sauce and pretending it was pork. He shook his head at me, slowly and sadly…

Potato Cake: I love potatoes, so imagine my chagrin when I took out my bags of Yukon Gold potatoes and found one had gone all mushy and ick on me.  This meant I had to make a half portion of potato cake. So sad.  Trader Joe’s has the worst produce. When will I learn?!

The non-rotten potatoes were peeled and grated and then squeezed in cheesecloth to remove the excess liquid. Look how much of it there was! And it’s orange! Good-bye, nutrients……

The potatoes are then salted and peppered in a bowl. I had a juniper berry crisis at this point, and the potatoes sat too long and took on an unappealing grey color from the pepper.

Forging ahead, I patted the potatoes into an even layer in a cast iron skillet, after heating some olive oil, and took it on faith that the bottom would be brown in the 18 minutes Martha said it needed, as there was no way to check until it was flipped over. It worked! I slid the cake out, turned it over, cooked in on the stove for another ten minutes, and then it went in the oven for ten minutes to finish cooking.

The texture of the cake was nice and crispy, without being too oily, but even The Husband, who can breathe and taste normally, thought it was lacking flavor. It definitely didn’t have as much flavor as the shoe string fries we messed up several weeks ago, even though both recipes called for potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. I would try this again with farmer’s market potatoes, and some onion grated into it, since the texture worked well.  And hopefully it won’t be grey next time, because that was not appealing, especially not next to the snotty fig sauce.

Braised cabbage: I like cabbage well enough, but The Husband thinks it hardly ever has any flavor, so this was a pleasant surprise.

The recipe involved softening a sliced red onion in hot olive oil, then adding a sliced head of red cabbage, chicken broth, red wine vinegar, and 15 (not 13 and not 17!!!) crushed juniper berries,  simmering it all until the cabbage was tender, which took about 30 minutes.

I liked the flavor of this; I thought it could have used even more vinegar, but The Husband assured me that it was tangy enough as is. He enjoyed the juniper berry flavor. He had a giant second helping of this, and as I said before, he rarely likes cabbage dishes. Thank heavens there was one thing we ate that was good!

Dessert: This will show you how delirious I have been the last few days. I put blanched hazelnuts on my grocery list, and bought some. But after I got home I somehow got it into my head that I needed macadamia nuts, and had bought the wrong thing. The Husband had to go to the store for some other things, so he looked for macadamia nuts and didn’t find any.  We eventually got some at Trader Joe’s, although they are roasted, not blanched. It wasn’t until I started typing up this review that I noticed that I was supposed to have used hazelnuts. I didn’t even notice when I was reading the recipe as I cooked the brittle! It is a wonder I didn’t burn the house down.

Oh, well. Now we have macadamia nut brittle.   This couldn’t have been easier, and thankfully Martha employed the traditional method of making a caramel sauce, rather than the ill-fated method she required for the hideous crème caramel dish. This time, I just had to dissolve 1/2 cup sugar with 2 T water, then use the swirling/brushing sides of pan with a pastry brush method (which wasn’t really necessary) until the mixture turned golden. Then a cup of  nuts, vanilla, and French sea salt were stirred in quickly, then it was poured out onto parchment paper to set. They may look like chickpeas in this photo, but they taste like heaven.

I substituted unsalted roasted nuts, since she wanted them to be toasted before brittled.  She suggests adding the brittle to vanilla ice cream (Breyer’s makes a lactose-free vanilla, hallelujah!) along with optional bittersweet chocolate chunks. The candy is fine and sweet on its own, but we went ahead and tried it with the ice cream. I don’t think the ice cream adds anything to the brittle, and preferred it on its own so the flavor can really stand out.

The Results:

I was quite irritated that I wasted the little energy I had today making this mess. I needed a nap afterward, and then I woke up hungry. I am deferring to The Husband’s ratings, since he can taste better than I.

The duck and fig sauce: The fig sauce alone was an F, and the dish as a whole got a D.

Potato cake: C+

Cabbage:  A

Brittle:  A+

 

Love, Nordic style…. February 15, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 5:48 PM
Tags: , ,

Meal No. 8 was our Valentine’s Day Dinner. I offered to skip ahead to more traditional fare, like the filet mignon, or at least the roast chicken in tarragon sauce recipe, but The Husband was having none of it.

Menu: Apples and Smoked Trout on Rye Crisps, Cauliflower Gratin, Radicchio and Chestnut Salad, Coffee with Cognac and Cardamom (from Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home)

Suggested order: make cardamom syrup; bake gratin, assemble and serve appetizers; whip cream and refrigerate; toss salad and serve with gratin; make and serve coffee drink.  Martha writes, “Inspired by Nordic flavors, this relaxed meal evokes fireside dining.” She served hers on “campsite-style dishes,” which in the photo appear to be white plates with red trim, and some West Elm-looking mod bowls, and wood-handled flatware.  Indeed.

The appetizer:

Friends were asking what was on the menu this week, and I complained frequently about this dish, which involves making a sauce out of equal parts crème fraiche and Dijon mustard, and spreading it on a Wasa-type rye cracker, along with smoked trout, slices of Granny Smith apple, and pepper.

As we previously established, I do not care for rye, so rye crisps were never in my equation. I got some of these multi-grain crackers, which resemble snacks you’d serve prisoners on death row. Since that isn’t a very humane idea, let’s just say that it looks like the underside of an Ikea dresser drawer.

The sauce was a delight–super tangy and mustardy. I also loved the smoked trout, which I hadn’t had before. The apple added a bit of tartness and sweetness, but was kind of superfluous. I couldn’t decide what I thought of this combo. I don’t know that I would serve it for company, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t scarf down several of them, but then again, I hadn’t eaten much that day and was very hungry.  I tried it on a Vinta cracker, since the particle board crisp was so flavorless, but that wasn’t quite right. I concede that the rye would probably balance all of it out quite nicely, if you could bring yourself to eat it.

Martha suggests serving it with the Scandinavian spirit Aquavit, which is flavored with caraway and herbs.

The radicchio and chestnut salad:

Martha, I am many things, but I am not a fool.

No way in hell was I making another radicchio salad after the salad of despair from last week. I suppose it would have made a proper penance theme dinner with the aforementioned crackers. This week’s version was to have chestnuts and dried cranberries in it. Last time I had chestnuts I thought they were mealy and unpleasant.  So, no, thank you, Martha.  Good day!

What I did do was wilt some beet greens with garlic and red pepper flakes that I sautéed in olive oil, then dressed them with some lemon juice. It was delicious and perfect with the cauliflower. So there!

Cauliflower gratin:

This one involved sautéing two shallots in butter, then adding 1/4 c flour and 1 c milk, a tad of nutmeg, and salt to make a roux, then a sauce. After it thickened, I added a cup of Gruyere along with 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard. Meanwhile, a head of cauliflower florets was boiled until just tender, then combined in a casserole. (I used just one pot, an enameled cast iron one, for both the sauce and the baking for easier clean-up). More cheese, some panko crumbs and a bit of butter were put on top, then it baked for 35 minutes.

Tower of ‘flower!

Not quite the 1.75 lbs needed. Thanks for not having scales, Trader Joe's!

Maybe Martha should stick the vegetarian entrees, because this was so good! The Husband said it was much better than he expected for a creamy cauliflower dish. He got some extra trout out to have alongside the gratin, and it went well together.  It was creamy, but had a bit of bite from the mustard, which I loved. I used a touch less than the 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg called for, as I am always complaining about Middle Eastern food that has too much in it; it just ruins the savoriness for me. But I couldn’t taste it in this, so I was happy.

See the super cute plate it’s on? The Husband got me a set of these plates, which are early 20th century flow blue  transfer ware that I had eyed at an antique store, for Valentine’s Day! Thanks, Boo!


Dessert:

This is Martha’s kooky take on an Irish coffee. First I made a cardamom syrup by dissolving equal parts sugar and water and then steeping some cardamom pods  in it. The bottle of cardamom pods has a sprinkle-type lid.  How, exactly, is that supposed to work? Those chubby things are going nowhere, people!

The syrup was then added to a cup of coffee along with some Bas-Armagnac (the recipe called for brandy).  This was also quite delicious! I am not a coffee drinker, preferring coffee-flavored things over actual coffee, so I made my coffee weak, but even with some stronger coffee thrown in for a test, it was tasty. It was sweet and smooth, and the flavors went quite nicely together. Please note that this is the second in a series of booze desserts. I’d take boozy ones over creamy old people dishes any day of the week.

At this point in the evening, my camera decided to crap out. The lens is stuck half in and out, and replacing the battery doesn’t help. So, there is no photo of the coffee.

But here is a gratuitous photo of my dog, showing what she was doing while I was busy cooking; obviously she was worrying about the possible reappearance of a radicchio salad.

OVERALL:

With the exception of the salad, which I am sure would have been atrocious, I was wrong about this meal. I really thought the combinations would be too odd to work, but I am glad I was wrong, otherwise Valentine’s Day would have been RUINED!

In all, it took about 1 hour and 45 minutes to make it, but I didn’t start the cauliflower water soon enough and it took FORever to boil, so that was part of the problem.

Smoked trout appetizer:  B     This could use some tweaking, but I am all about the sauce and the trout

Salad: As if!                                          But my beet green concoction was an A+

Cauliflower gratin: A                  Suitable for feeding non-relatives!

Coffee:    A                                            It’s much better than Irish coffee, in my opinion. Let’s not talk about the fact that I managed to overwhip the cream for the topping and almost had butter, ok?

 

Meal #7 Heroism, asceticism, existentialism February 7, 2010

Filed under: Recipe Review — squeakypeanut @ 11:40 AM
Tags: , ,

Every week I check to see if the recipes are posted on Martha Stewart’s web site, so I can post a link here. This is the first time one shows up, and it’s the entire menu, originally published in the February 2002 issue of MS Living. I demand a refund of 1/52 of the cost of this book, since this is a reprint, including the photos. I am surprised this is considered a Valentine’s Day recipe. Fish kisses, anyone?

You can see the recipes, and prep schedule here

Menu: Spaghetti with Clams: Artichokes on Toast; Wilted Chicory and Radicchio Salad; Grapefruit in Moscoto

I have made spaghetti with clam sauce before, but with minced, canned clams and this recipe calls for clams in the shell. I was worried about finding little neck clams in a “snow storm” (we got out of work at 1 pm Friday because of the storm, which dropped a whopping 1 1/2″ of snow by 5 pm, when it turned to rain).  We found them at the Yellow Umbrella on Patterson, a local seafood shop. I hadn’t been there in a while, and they carry more prepared foods than I remember, like crab cakes, tomato aspic, and escargot, ready to be cooked however one does.

The store is located on a corner, and the side street has a slight incline. As we were walking into the store, two of the employees sprinted out into the street to help a (young, cute) woman whose car was stopped halfway up the “hill.” She rolled down her window and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with my car!” They had her back up a tad, and then pushed her car over the crest of the hill.

Your car was stuck, honey, that’s what was wrong with it. Girlfriend needs some new tires, because we had made it up just fine two minutes before. But, big ups to the guys for helping her out!

Artichokes on Toast:

Aka bruschetta.  Sliced rustic bread is toasted in the oven, then rubbed with a piece of garlic on both sides, while a jar of drained, marinated artichokes sautés  with sliced garlic until golden. The recipe calls for spreading ricotta on the toast, but since that’s the worst cheese for our lactose issues, we used a goat cheese. The cheese is  topped with salt and pepper, the artichoke heart mixture, and a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

OMG. This was excellent!!!! When I had my first bite, I thought it was pretty good but needed something. Then I noticed that I had forgotten to rub the garlic on the toast. I promptly rubbed the bottoms (since the tops were topped) with the garlic, and it was like the heavens had opened and a beam of lightning struck my mouth!

Seriously, this is our favorite thing from this cookbook thus far. I was sad that I had bought a smaller jar of artichoke hearts for the two of us. We may be braving the snowy streets to get some more this afternoon. I need shampoo, too.

The salad:

The hateful, hateful salad. The star of the Year of Terrible Salads.

The recipe calls for sautéing two anchovies, which are optional, in olive oil, then wilting a head each of radicchio and chicory. Then the salad is drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

I’ve never noticed chicory at the stores here, and wasn’t about to go running all over town to look for it in the snow.  I thought of using something else, but as far as I know, it’s bitter like the radicchio so why add another bitter element, like spinach? I have no problems with anchovies dissolved in a salad dressing, so we used them. Thank goodness we did because I imagine it would have been worse without, if that is even possible.

WORDS CANNOT DESCRIBE HOW AWFUL THIS WAS. I NEED TO USE CAPS TO CONVEY ITS HORRID NATURE. Think of the most bitter, horrible thing you have ever eaten, then multiple that by 100.

The Husband said, “This is the hair shirt of the salad world. You would serve this salad to people who need to do penance.”

Salad of Bitterness, Consternation, and Despair:

(Note how the demonic salad blurs the camera)

The Spaghetti and Clam Sauce:

I will admit, cleaning and cooking the clams intimidated me. We aren’t big shell-type-food cookers, as The Husband is allergic to shell fish, and I don’t like most bivalves, as previously discussed.  I love shrimp but don’t cook it at home because the smell of if makes him gag. I can’t wait for shrimp recipe night!

I was researching little neck clams on the web, and discovered that I was supposed to have put them in the refrigerator in a bowl with a damp towel covering them. I had no idea, so I just threw the paper bag they came in into the refrigerator and left it at that overnight. Gee, I would hate to kill my clams before I really needed to kill them! Supposedly you can tell if they’re alive by tapping on their shells, to see if they close, but they were already tightly closed so that told me nothing. So, I put them in a bowl, covered with a towel. The cookbook has a helpful hints section in the back that explained how to clean the clams, and it was pretty easy: scrub with a brush, soak in cold water with some corn meal, then rinse.

First, I cooked the pasta for two minutes less than the package instructions, and then drained it, reserving some pasta water. Meanwhile, I browned some garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, then added the clams and some vermouth (we didn’t have a dry white handy), and cooked them covered for 2-3 minutes. Voila! They all opened. I hadn’t killed them prematurely after all.

The clams were removed from the pan, and some lemon juice and the pasta water were simmered until slightly reduced, then butter was whisked in off the heat. The clams and pasta were added back into the pan, and then cooked until the pasta was al dente. Salt, pepper and parsley finished the dish.

The results:


The dish was fine. The clams had the most flavor, but the noodles were a bit oily (and I didn’t use the full 3 T of butter, since Martha tried to kill us last time we made noodles). If I made this again I would use less butter, and more garlic, lemon and red pepper flakes.  I actually don’t know if I would make this again, only because I like minced clam sauce better, as the clam taste is more pervasive.  It’s good to know that clams are easy to cook and clean, though, in case I ever have to do it again. (Note, this does not count as a life lesson.)

The Grapefruit in Moscato d’Asti:

Moscato d’Asti is a sweet, Italian sparkler. The recipe says you can substitute an off-dry sparkler or Champagne, but we are never ones to turn down an opportunity to try new booze, so we went with the Moscato. On its own, it’s like a not-very-good sparkling ice wine. We didn’t get a high end version, though, so that may be part of it.

This is one of her recipes that more resembles assembly instructions: Peel a grapefruit, place sections in a glass with a sugar cube, and fill the glass with Moscato. A two year old could make this. She recommends turbinado or demerara sugar cubes, but she’s lucky we happened to have sugar in cube form at all, even if it’s white.

This one left us scratching our heads. It was unclear how to approach it. Do you eat the grapefruit first, which results in the wine dripping back into the glass inelegantly, or do you drink the Moscato, then eat the grapefruit after? The cube resulted in some initial fizziness, but never dissolved.  I don’t think having the slightly bitter grapefruit after the Hell Salad was a good idea. In the end, we just ate the rest of the grapefruit plain, and tried mixing various juices in with the remaining Moscato–cherry, cranberry, etc. None were a winner.

The sidebar says you can consider this an “invigorating” dessert or an after-dinner cocktail. This could lead to some existential dilemmas. What is the meaning of this dish, Martha?????

OVERALL:

It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times…..

By the way, this meal (with the exception of peeling the grapefruit and opening the wine) took exactly 60 minutes to prepare, including cleaning the clams!  :::faints:::

Artichokes on Toast: A+ (unanimous) I heartily recommend using the goat cheese, as I don’t think it would be as flavorful with the ricotta.

Salad Of Doom: F (also unanimous) If there was a grade lower than an F, it would get it.

Spaghetti w/Clams: B+

Grapefruit: I (and this grapefruit) may not exist, so what does it matter?