June 28, 2011

Neither A Meatloaf Song, Nor Meat Loaf Himself

Kitchen Life: Real Food For Real Families -- Even Yours!This week I'm exploring recipes from Kitchen Life: Real Food for Real Families - Even Yours!Kitchen Life: Real Food For Real Families -- Even Yours! by Art Smith. The Roasted Asparagus and Roasted Beets with Walnuts really impressed me, so I looked forward to trying other recipes.

The Salmon on Cabbage and Dill on page 208 is a keeper for me.  It went from fridge to table in about 30 minutes and was really easy to prepare - so easy, in fact, that I didn't take pictures of the preparation or cooking. You simply saute a small package of coleslaw mix and 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped dill in a little butter until wilted. Season with salt and pepper, and remove to a platter and cover. Add chicken broth to the same pan, boil, add salmon and more dill; cover and cook 7-8 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through then transfer to the platter with the cabbage. Whisk some sour cream and cornstarch into the remaining broth and heat until thickened; pour over the salmon and cabbage and serve. I particularly liked the fresh dill that really shined in this recipe.

Salmon on Cabbage and Dill

Another night I tried out the Quick Vegetable Chili Tostada on page 244 and was truly disappointed. It almost worked...until the sour cream was added to the sauteed vegetables. And I did have my hopes up that the freshly squeezed lime juice would rescue the whole endeavor, but alas, my wishing was in vain. The tostada part was not crunchy (undercooked?) and the chili part was missing (not enough spices or heat? Me? Never!) Regardless, this recipe didn't work for me and I sure won't be making it again.

Quick Vegetable Chili Tostada
I have a thing for bar cookies so the Butterscotch Blondies on page 301 piqued my curiousity. I was particularly wondering how the butterscotch bits sprinkled on top, melted, and spread over the bar would taste. I mixed the ingredients up in no time on a very hot Saturday morning and threw them into the oven.

The buzzer sounded, I removed the Blondies from the oven and sprinkled the butterscotch bits around. Then I walked away for, maybe 15 minutes? Anyone who's ever melted chocolate knows that is far too long. The chips refused to spread and were completely beyond their ability to spread. Not a problem for me. I got some vanilla ice cream, a little dab or ten of Smucker's Butterscotch sauce, and dug in for a delicious Butterscotch Blondie Sundae!

There you have it, three recipes with three different results. Two out of three ain't bad, so I believe I may dip into this cookbook again sometime. I'm sure Meat Loaf would agree.

June 25, 2011

Roasted Veggies, Part Two

Kitchen Life: Real Food For Real Families -- Even Yours!I recently explored Kitchen Life: Real Food for Real Families - Even Yours by James Beard Award winning chef Art Smith. I choose several recipes that included roasted vegetables, which I wrote about here.

The cookbook begins with a quiz that suggests recipes that suit your cooking style. I definitely fit the profile of the "seasoned and careful cook." I love fresh vegetables, enjoy reading and trying new recipes, and don't shy away from most any challenge in the kitchen (hello Alinea cookbook, I'm talking to you.) The Chopped Grilled Vegetable Salad on page 120 was suggested under the soup and salads category for the seasoned cook.

I'm not sure why it's a "seasoned cook" kind of recipe. I think just about anybody could whip this up. Then again, I've been known to make my own chicken broth and gnocchi, so I suppose not everybody could roast some veggies. Don't be intimidated by this salad; it's certainly not rocket science.

Following the directions for roasting vegetables I gave earlier, you could also grill these with no problem. For this group of vegetables, use a favorite bottled (or hand made) salad dressing. I choose Girard's robust Champagne salad dressing and lavishly tossed the chopped red bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and asparagus, then settled the vegetables into the pan for roasting. If you use eggplant, be sure to chop, salt and let sit for an hour in a colander; drain with cold water before use. After roasting or grilling, allow the vegetables to cool thoroughly.

Vegetables Before Roasting

Choose and prepare your salad greens, then toss with more of the same salad dressing you used to coat the vegetables. The recipe suggests barbecued tofu, but I used rotisserie chicken breast.  Scatter on some cheddar cheese and almonds, and there's dinner.

Grilled, err, Roasted Vegetable Salad

What's that funny smell?

If you leave the salad in the bag too long, it smells and tastes funny. It's a nice picture, but I didn't eat the salad that way. Instead, I trashed the lettuce - it was just too far along the trail towards compost for me to eat. I piled the salad onto a smaller plate, added slices of chicken, and used salad dressing as dipping sauce. Not as pretty, but still delicious!

June 22, 2011

Roastin' Outside? Roast Veggies!

Kitchen Life: Real Food For Real Families -- Even Yours!I picked up a paperback copy of Kitchen Life: Real Food for Real Families - Even Yours! by Art Smith on a bargain table for $7.97. A bright yellow sticker on the cover proclaimed "Fast & Easy Meals Everyone Will Love!" I had no idea who Art Smith was at the time, and really didn't know much more until I opened the cookbook recently.

Smith is a James Beard Award winner and was Oprah's personal chef for 10 years; he still works closely with O magazine and has several restaurants scattered across the country.

The book starts with a quiz designed to determine your cooking style. Before taking the quiz I would have roughly summed up my cooking style by saying "I need something to eat now; I think I have a recipe; and whatever it is, it had better be very good." I don't have a problem throwing out stuff that tastes horrible. Well, I do have a problem with wasting the dollars, but that's another issue altogether.

This "what's your cooking style" quiz isn't numbered. Fortunately, there are only five questions:

  • What kind of a shopper are you?
  • What are your time challenges?
  • What kind of cook are you?
  • Are you eating right?
  • What are your taste preferences?

The problem is that each of these questions is broken down into three or four additional sections. The question "What are your time challenges" breaks into four sections of four potential answers: A, B, C, D - one answer per section. A numbering system could have been very helpful.

Based on your answers, Smith explains what kind of a cook you are and what recipes you should try. The quiz results said I was a seasonal and confident cook, but didn't catch the "What should I make for dinner tonight" part of my repetoire where I call Little Caesar's and walk the block to pick up a small pizza. With the quiz results, Smith also recommends recipes in the cookbook to suit your cooking style.

Here's where I fell off of the cooking style wagon, and plunged into personal preference territory. I tracked through the cookbook and compile a list of things I was interested in trying. A couple of the recipes required that vegetables be roasted - one of my favorite way to prepare veggies. And especially when it's hot outside, there's nothing like having some roasted veggies waiting to be turned into a delicious antipasto-style meal.

So one night not long ago, I roasted asparagus, beets, eggplant, zucchini, and red bell pepper. They were used to create three different recipes, but the preparation method was the same. You might even try these on the grill.

Half of the asparagus was tossed with lemon juice and zest. The beets were diced and coated olive oil, then combined with toasted walnuts and balsamic vinegar. Both were spectacular served cold. The remaining vegetables went into a grilled vegetable salad along with the remaining half of asparagus.

Beets and Asparagus Roasting
Cold Dinner for a Hot Night

  1. Chop various vegetables into small, yet chunky pieces. 
  2. Coat with olive oil, salt, pepper.
  3. Add some other flavors: fresh herbs, bottled dressing from the fridge. Marinate for a bit if you'd like.
  4. Turn into a large pan. Try to keep the veggies in one layer.
  5. Heat oven to 400.
  6. Set pan in the oven.
  7. Stir occasionally.
  8. Remove when veggies look roasted.

Roasting time varies greatly. Asparagus takes no time and all, and the tips become slightly blackened. That's a good thing. Beets and potatoes take longer  (perhaps 30-45 minutes) and can begin to caramelize during the cooking process; that's a really good thing.

Roasted vegetables are fabulous in an impromptu salad, and can't be beat for little nibbles during the day.

June 18, 2011

Watermelon and Chocolate

So I was reading Rick Tramonto's Amuse-Bouche the other night and bemoaning the fact that I would probably never own a sous vide machine. After that I bemoaned the fact that the ice cream machine I tried was a dud, and that I probably should have picked up the Zoku popsicle maker in the store the other day. Custom popsicles anytime! Sign me up!

Reading through the book also brought me back to earlier in the weekend, sitting on a friend's porch in sweltering weather, eating some of the first watermelon of the season, liquid dripping to the ground with every bite. Unadorned, watermelon at it's best.

The amuse on page 34 of Tramonto's book caught my attention: watermelon with balsamic vinegar. And like a dream, the memory of the dark chocolate balsamic I'd received for Christmas floated right to me. I was scared to try it over vanilla ice cream. I've seen recipes for a pork tenderloin marinade, a salad dressing, and truffles. But watermelon? With Balsamic vinegar? This is definitely worth hunting down a good bottle of balsamic.

Get brave. It's summer, and definitely time time to challenge your taste buds in miraculous ways. Go to your kitchen and try this unsual combination. Tramonto gussies it all up by suggesting you get a melon baller and scoop out a smallish divet in precisely cut 1 1/2 inch cubes of watermelon. His recipe even says something like juice some watermelon and mix it up with the balsamic. I say, "It's summer, Rick, it's too hot to be fussy."

Sure for the first couple of pieces, I was cautious. I used a knife. I dug a little divet into the chunk of watermelon. And dripped out a teeny puddle of a drizzle of the Dark Chocolate Balsamic. Then I popped the first one in my mouth and moaned with pleasure.

Dear me - must have more. Now. As in, I know I just had a spectacular dark chocolate truffle, but I must have more NOW. Eventually I got impatient with the fussiness and just dipped. Either way, this is totally satisfying, ultra-summery. Yahoo! Bring on the sweet corn, tomatoes, and poolside dining!

June 15, 2011

Muffins For Breakfast

This week, I'm exploring recipes from Food Editor's Favorites: Treasured Recipes. I really wanted to make something this week that would help me not go through a drive-thru for breakfast before work. The Ice Box English Tea Muffins on page 126 sounded perfect.

Most muffin recipes are virtually foolproof. This was no exception, although the topping might have tripped up a beginning baker. With the oven preheating to 350, I gathered my ingredients and made the topping of brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped pecans and set aside.

I mixed the remaining ingredients: sugar, butter, an egg, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and flour. The recipe suggested using a cup of milk; I didn't have any, however, I did have leftover heavy whipping cream. I also substituted a combination of golden raisins and dried blueberries for the 3/4 cup raisins.

Dried Blueberries, Golden Raisins, Creamy Batter
I used a large soup spoon to drop batter into the muffin pan...

and generously covered with topping.

The muffins went into the oven for 20 minutes or so. And came out of the oven nothing but yummy.

These are great muffins to add into your baking repertoire. Fresh out of the oven, these were so utterly moist and crumbly I couldn't stop from eating a couple. The addition of whipping cream and the brown sugary topping reminded me of crème brûlée and mom's coffee cake. I definitely had these several mornings, and am sure they'd work well for an afternoon coffee break, too. 

Ice Box English Tea Muffins
from Treasured Recipes: Food Editor's Favorites, page 126
Submitted by Donna Morgan of the Salt Lake Tribune in Salt Lake City, UT

Morgan wrote, "This is an old family recipe we treasure." (Make them and you'll see why!)

3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
3/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Cream sugar and butter. Add beaten egg; blend well. Combine salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and flour and add alternately with milk to creamed mixture. Stir in raisins.Topping: Thoroughly combine sugar, cinnamon and nuts.Spoon batter into greased muffin cups and sprinkle on topping. Bake 20 minutes, or until done.Note: If not using batter immediately, cover tightly and store in refrigerator until needed. Batter will keep 3-4 weeks. Makes 1 dozen muffins.

June 11, 2011

Satay Sashay

Food Editor's Favorites Treasured Recipes

I'm exploring some recipes from Food Editor's Favorites: Treasured Recipes. When selecting recipes from a cookbook for the blog, I'm looking for a mix that shows off the best of the cookbook (or recipe book as my mom says.) I'm also looking for what will feed me. The Pork Satay on page 81 fit the bill nicely.

I thawed pork overnight in the fridge, then snipped into bite-size chunks. I find that a good pair of kitchen scissors makes chopping meats into small pieces for stir-frys and such much easier than using a knife. It's not as precise, certainly, but also not something I'm worried about for this recipe. No perfection necessary.

For the marinade I combined peanut butter, cayenne, garlic, onion, brown sugar, lemon juice, and soy sauce. I didn't have any ground coriander or fresh cilantro in the house because I'd forgotten to buy it. People either love or hate cilantro; add my name to the list of those who love it. It's light and fresh, and adds a spark of spring to any dish it's added to. The difference between coriander and cilantro is explained well at What's Cooking America.

Marinade Ingredients
So, lacking in any fresh cilantro or dried coriander, I opted to use the remaining parsley from the boring mushroom dish. Parsley isn't a particularly great substitute for cilantro; it doesn't have anywhere near the flavor, but it's OK in a pinch.  I chopped the parsley up and added to the marinade, then stirred to combine.

Completed Marinade
I poured the marinade into a plastic bag added the chopped pork, and squished the bag around. Then I let it sit in the fridge overnight.

Pork Marinade
The  next day, I removed the bag from the fridge and placed the pork on a baking rack and broiled. As suggested in the recipe, I basted with a combination of olive oil and butter.

Pork Satay with Broccoli

Even though I kept my eye on these, I cooked them too long. The first bites of pork were moist and peanuty, but the leftovers the next day and the next were dried out. I can really see this recipe shining as an addition to the ubiquitous backyard barbecue this summer. It's easy to fix, fast to cook, and would work very well on skewers.

June 8, 2011

Blah-Blah-Blah Helen Gurley Brown Blah-Blah-Blah

Food Editor's Favorites Treasured RecipesThe title tells you what you really want to know. This hot mushroom sandwich from Food Editors' Favorites: Treasured Recipes was an unquestionable fail in my book of food.

First, it's not really a two-fisted sandwich, it's party food. It's an appetizer masquerading as dinner. Second, it's boring...really boring; I would prefer an appetizer to head more in the direction of an amuse-bouche, but this sandwich didn't even have a sense of humor.

It did, however, have an intriguing 1970's pedigree. The recipe is said to have been a favorite of Cosmopolitan founder Helen Gurley Brown; for all young ladies out there who don't know who she is, go read Wikipedia for a fast overview, and thank your lucky, free-wheeling stars that she wrote Sex and the Single Girl many years ago.

The recipe came from celebrated caterer Donald Bruce White who said it was one of Mrs. Brown's favorites. White is worth talking about all on his own, let along thinking about this particularly snooze-inducing appetizer. An article in New York Magazine about 1983's new, hot caterers had this to say about White:
"Donald Bruce White's loyal clients love using his Coalport dinner plates; their Park Avenue drawing rooms are grand enough to accomodate his sterling-silver rolling carving board with it shuge dome-shaped top. White's soirees - deb parties, benefits, late suppers- have a comfortable gentility, an old-money propriety, an enormous sense of style. What would he serve for a buffet supper? Lump crabmeat made with a fine julienne of orange, served with Smithfield ham and corn sticks, spinach in Maderia, and crunchy coleslaw. No hors d'oeuvre with this supper. For dessert, an orange souffle and tuiles, the crispy curved almond cookies. This supper would cost $40 per person. For a first course at a seated dinner, he suggests small mousselines of smoked salmon and heavy cramy formed into tiny eggs and arranged aorund slices of brioche, garnished with caviar." 
Regardless, the sandwich isn't too hard to fix, and I suppose wouldn't be bad for one appetizer among several others for a cocktail party if you do that kind of thing. I don't.

I minced up the mushrooms and placed them in a pan with butter and minced scallion. I cooked until all liquid had disappeared.

Minced Mushrooms

Cooked Mushrooms with Scallions and Butter
Simultaneously, I placed more butter into a pan, added all-purpose flour, and made a lovely roux in no time. I added homemade chicken stock, heavy cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne. That really should have been enough to make it tasty. Yeah right. It was also not enough to make it particularly photogenic.

Then the creamy mixture was combined with the mushrooms. Getting sleepy yet?

At that point I pulled out a square loaf of sourdough bread and trimmed the crust off all the way around...

and cut into slices. Thick slices. The recipe says thin, but I didn't read closely so without a doubt, these were too thick. 

Then I spread the mushroom cream sauce on the bread, another slice stacked on top, more mushroom sauce, and another slice of bread.

Even the pictures of this make me start to yawn. The sandwich went into the oven at 400 for 10 minutes and came out semi-toasty.

I really wanted to like this sandwich. I also really wanted to add roasted red pepper and arugula and something -almost anything- into the mix for zest. Even the cayenne pepper didn't intimidate my taste buds like it so often does, and I couldn't even taste the nutmeg. I can maybe see the appeal of this appetizer with thinner sliced bread; the mushroom sauce was beginning to soak the bread - think both crunchy and soft simultaneously. That was a waste of good sourdough bread; instead of make additional sandwiches, I saved the bread and used it for very tasty French Toast.