Thursday, October 30, 2014

FFwD: Osso Buco a la Arman

Finally! A French Fridays with Dorie recipe that gives me a sourcing edge over people who don't have access to an Italian supermarket. Ipercoop may not have duck or brown sugar or affordable avocado, but veal? They're up to their eyeballs in veal (which is kind of weird, because the adult beef offerings are poor.) Odds are good that veal is available in the already-cut meat section, any way you want it cut. As soon as I read Dorie's description of the veal shanks ("cut crosswise from a veal shank, thick slices of osso buco are round, with meaty nuggets surrounding a central hole, which is filled with marrow"), I thought, "Yep, I've definitely seen that at Ipercoop." Score: 1 for Italy. Or should I say, "GOOOOOOOAL!"
One of three. 3 euro a piece. Not too shabby.
On a side note, I'd like to mention how very, very grateful I am that I didn't have to walk up to a butcher with my google translation of "veal shank." I can never be sure that the words coming out of my mouth are appropriate. For example, when we first arrived here, I looked up the word "pecorino," because I love cheese and wanted to know what the word meant. Google informed me that it meant "doggy style." In disbelief, I contacted my Italian friend and interrogated her. Apparently, pecorinA means doggy style. PecorinO means cheese from a goat. Google has since corrected its mistake. I'm certain that it also makes errors when translating from English to Italian, so who knows what I'm actually saying to people. Always an adventure. I digress.

Armed with my shanks, at the last minute, I decided to invite some friends over for dinner. It felt like a meal that needed to be shared. Much to my delight, two of our favorite families came on short notice, and we had a wonderful, relaxed evening. "Sunday dinner" with the extended family (closest friends, in the military) is one of the many ways that Italy has steeped into my blood. It's one of my favorite customs, and one that I hope to bring home with me.

This was a perfect recipe to cook for company because all the cooking is done ahead of time. There aren't any last-minute steps. Take it out of the oven, break the meat apart so it looks like a stew, and bring it to the table. Dorie said to skim fat off the top, but mine somehow didn't look greasy enough to bother. The meat was so tender. I didn't even care when I had a mouthful of fat, because it literally dissolved. Dorie's Orange Rice Pilaf paired perfectly with the stew. Three shanks fed six adults. The only problem was that there were no leftovers. At all.

Last night, I caught up on Rice Pudding and Caramel Apples. I love rice pudding. It's one of those desserts that takes me right back to my Mom's kitchen. She always put raisins and a bit of cinnamon in hers, and I have to say, I missed them in this.

I compulsively made the pudding, because it struck me as a decent way to keep myself busy, and hopefully distract myself from stressing about the fact that everyone else we know who is Matt's rank and scheduled to move next summer heard from the detailer last week, receiving their next assignment. We haven't heard a peep. We're exhausted from the stress of waiting. So, rice pudding.

As I stirred, the phrase, "The solace of stirring," popped into my head. For a few seconds, I marveled at how perfect that phrase felt right at that moment, and that clearly I'd missed my calling as a poet. Then I remembered that that is a section title in Nigella Kitchen. My bad. Nigella, you were spot-on with that description. There is much solace to be found in stirring.
Due to my anxiety level, I had zero interest in making caramel and cooked apples. At first, I planned to put a layer of applesauce on my pudding, and then drizzle with caramel I bought in Brittany. I forgot about the applesauce, and just went with the caramel. It was good, but I didn't drizzle any on my second bowl of pudding, and missed the raisins and cinnamon the whole time I ate it. Sometimes, you just want Mom's recipe. This was delicious, and it was exactly the type of nursery food that I needed yesterday. Unfortunately, I ate so much of it yesterday that there's only a little bit left to see me through today's stressful wait. GRRR!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Year of Holidays: Petrifying Pumpkin Pancakes

I find the Halloween section in The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays to be especially adorable. First recipe up on my mental agenda was Petrifying Pumpkin Pancakes (pg 223). There was just one hitch. The Commissary had no canned pumpkin. At all. For weeks. American women are crazy for Autumn pumpkin products, and they cleaned the shelves in a frenzy that the re-stock couldn't keep up with, I guess. The hoarding is contagious. When I finally found pallets of pumpkin stacked in the produce section, I grabbed eight cans. EIGHT CANS. I am not going to use eight cans of pumpkin this Autumn. Better start baking pie. Mmmm...piiiiie.

Once I snagged my pumpkin puree, these pancakes jumped to the top of the dinner menu, much to Matt's horror. He scoffs at the thought of "breakfast food" for dinner. He refused to eat these pancakes, and opted for leftovers instead. More for me.

The thing that makes these pancakes so cute is that a bit of the batter is pulled out, then flavored with molasses and dyed brown with food dye. Ree says to use a spoon or a plastic squirt bottle to make faces/words/anything you can think of with the brown batter, let the design set on the hot griddle for a few seconds, then pour a normal pancake on top.

I'm here to tell you, don't use a spoon unless you want to scream at your griddle in frustration. It's possible this fun holiday treat was accompanied by a good bit of not-so-restrained cursing.
Methinks my griddle was too hot--just one of a number of problems.
Once I remembered that I had a medicine syringe thing laying around somewhere, and I got the griddle temperature down from molten hot, the experience improved dramatically.
SO CUTE, and Charlie loved them.

My one complaint is that, because of the sugar in the molasses, the brown parts tasted kind of burnt and unpleasant. Pour enough syrup on anything and it'll taste good, but next time, I'd omit the molasses and just use food dye. The design is there to look fun, not to add a layer of flavor.

Conclusion: Liked them. Charlie is so delighted with his Halloween pancakes that I expect to make them next year, too. And so tradition is born. I now house a gallon bag full of them in the freezer. I need to remember in the future that Pioneer Woman is trying to feed an army. I also did some with letters and hearts and other designs, so they don't have to be Halloween themed. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reasons to Celebrate with Dorie

October marks several Dorie-related occasions--it's Dorie's birthday, it's French Fridays with Dorie's 4th anniversary, and Dorie's new baking book (Baking Chez Moi) comes out. Woohoo! To celebrate, the Doristas were given three recipes from the new book and told to pick one.

I went with Palets des Dames, Lilles Style, which is a fancy name for a simple and delicious cookie that I've never heard of. Charlie helped me bake the cookies, and it turns out to be a perfect recipe for kid participation because there are only a few basic steps, no expensive ingredients, and includes an icing that begs to be dyed colors and/or coated in sprinkles. These cookies bake up with a little bit of a dome, and have a texture that's closer to cake than cookies, so they're nice and sturdy. Not one fell apart after being handled by my overzealous 4-year-old.
 I thought I measured the batter properly, but I only got 24 cookies, instead of 40. I also needed to make two batches of icing to coat all the cookies. Minor complaint. With a touch of vanilla in the batter and a touch of lemon juice in the icing, these are the perfect match for a cup of tea.
Charlie and I had a lot of fun baking these together. Halfway through decorating them, he threw his arms around my neck and exclaimed that he was "so happy!" He kills me with how sweet he is sometimes. He may have been a difficult infant, but he's becoing a pretty incredible kid. Thanks for the memory, Dorie. I'm sure it's the first of many I'll associate with Baking Chez Moi.

Check out the links of the other participants, and the other recipes we had to choose from. I could sure go for some Brown Butter Peach Tourte right about now.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

FFwD: Celery-Celery Soup

I so wanted to rave about this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe: Celery-Celery Soup. I mean, I cooked this for dinner on Friday, so provided that I managed to blog about it by Saturday, I'd almost be participating in real time! Fancy that!

Unfortunately, I did not love this soup, which primarily consists of celery, celery root, and apples. After scanning through Dorie's soup section, I've come to a realization about my own tastes. I've adored the majority of her savory soups. I haven't enjoyed a single one that involve fruit. I just don't dig sweet soup. See that? I've learned something about myself.
Hideous.
Matt ate one bowl and said he didn't want another. Charlie actually ate most of a bowl, but it was only because I was dangling dessert over his head. All's fair in feeding kids.

I hate to say it, but we threw out the leftovers. We all knew they'd mold over in the fridge before any of us went back for seconds. Oh well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dorie, Dorie, Everywhere.

Are you tired of me saying that I'm behind on my Dorie posts yet? I don't blame you. I'm tired of it, too. The whole cooking-along-with-the-group thing is a lot less fun when you're not actually cooking along with the group. On the plus side, I've busted out quite a few make-ups and feel like I'm beginning to close in on my list. Sort of. I have a butt-load of dessert to catch up on. I better get a move on, since baking through Dorie's new baking book begins in November. I thought I had more time before tackling Baking: Chez Moi. If I don't bust these tarts out before the new dessert book begins, I'm not certain I'll get it done. The countdown begins.

Since it was a more recent recipe, I'll start this off with French Lentils: a Basic Recipe. I didn't have du Puy lentils, but the normal Italian ones I bought maintained their structure and worked just fine. There was a time when I hated lentils. I'm glad those days are gone. This was easy to throw together since there wasn't much chopping involved, and it made for a very tasty lunch.
Everything looks better in Polish pottery.
I originally skipped Twenty-minute Honey-glazed Duck Breasts because I can't find duck here in Napoli. I even asked my Italian friend if he knew where I could get some. He looked baffled, then said, "No. We don't eat that here." Okay, then. I'm certain that this recipe would be more delicious with duck. In the interest of finishing all my recipes, I grilled some chicken cutlets and then drizzled them with the sauce. I expected a thicker, more honey-centric sauce. The balsamic vinegar was what monopolized the flavor. That's not a complaint. I like balsamic. I just think it should have earned a spot in the title over honey. It's entirely possible that I did not reduce the sauce enough, and if I had, it would have become more honey-ish. Regardless, delicious, easy, and barely used any ingredients.
For dinner one night, I made Dieter's Tartine. I rubbed my toasted sourdough bread with a garlic clove, because Italy has taught me that doing so makes all versions of bruschetta exponentially more delicious. Then I smeared it with ricotta (rather than cottage cheese) and topped it with Dorie's tomato and cucumber mixture. It was fine. Unremarkable.

At the same time, I made Roasted Peppers. This was a pretty basic roasted pepper recipe, so I don't have much to say about it, except that I love roasted peppers, and would take the tartine I made them into over the Dieter's Tartine any day of the week.
I know I've bemoaned the state of avocado at the commissary on many, many occasions. It is the reason that I skipped Pistachio Avocado, which, it could be argued, is the easiest recipe in the book. All you're supposed to do is halve an avocado and fill the pit-hole with pistachio oil. Okay, the second reason I didn't make this is because I don't own and have never seen pistachio oil. The third reason is that eating a hole full of oil doesn't appeal to me.

I got my hands on a decent avocado, and knew I needed to do something to tick this recipe off. I smashed it on some German rye bread, drizzled lovely olive oil on top, and sprinkled it with sea salt. It bears little resemblance to the original, but it's the best I'm going to do before the group finishes the book in the spring, so I say it counts.

Last, and maybe least, I brought Crispy Crackly Apple Almond Tart to a JAG wive's lunch thing hosted by a higher-up. I liked that I had everything in my house that I needed to bake this recipe, and that it came together easily.
I expected to love this, but I didn't. I blame my apples, not the recipe. They had no flavor, and the almond mixture wasn't impressive enough to carry the absence of apple deliciousness. The dish I carried it on got a lot of compliments, though.

Okay. Phew. That covers what I've cooked lately. Now I have to get my hands on a celery root by Friday, so I can participate in real time. They sell them at the Italian supermarket, but I hate having to make a special trip there for one item. We'll see if I get there.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beef Fajitas and Homemade Tortillas

I've gone fajita crazy. I cooked The Pioneer Woman's Beef Fajitas and Homemade Tortillas (pg 141 and 143 of A Year of Holidays) last week, and have been craving them again ever since. The ingredients are already on my grocery list to make again for dinner this week.

The meat sits in an easy-to-throw-together marinade of Worcestershire, garlic, lime juice, sugar, olive oil, and spices for several hours, then gets grilled. The veg (multi-colored peppers, onions, and mushrooms) are simply cooked in olive oil and butter. I was originally skeptical that there was no seasoning for the vegetables, but it turned out that the meat marinade provided plenty of flavor.

I didn't get as many tortillas out of my "walnut-sized" balls of dough as I was supposed to, and the tortillas, which I flattened in my tortilla press, were too small to wrap the food up like a fajita, but they tasted delicious and were a nice, soft, bendy texture. Next time, I'll know not to halve the recipe. The tortillas, used like tacos, disintegrated under the weight and wetness of the food, but as long as you're not a neat-freak, the deliciousness will compensate for the mess. If you have a problem with messes, you probably shouldn't be eating fajitas in the first place.

I inhaled these so fast that I didn't even think to snap a picture. Whoops.

Conclusion: Loved both recipes. I want more, right now. I may experiment with the ratio of corn to white flour in the tortillas, because I do prefer a cornier flavor, but that's just a matter of taste.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Let's Get This "Long Term" Ball Rolling

I recently asked Charlie to pick a recipe out of C is for Cooking. He went with Ernie's Fruity Frozen Fun Pops. I like the idea of these a lot more than either one of us enjoyed the outcome.

Blitz banana, canned crushed pineapple, plain yogurt, and a little sugar in the blender. Fill an ice cube tray with the mixture. Put them in the freezer, and when they're half frozen, stab them with straws.
These were annoying to eat, because the second they get a little melty, they fall off the straw and make slow-eating 4 year olds scream. Also, the straws that I used weren't sturdy enough to support the weight of the cube, so they bent. Refer back to the screaming 4 year old.

My biggest problem with this, though, was that the texture of the cube was unpleasant to eat. There weren't fruit chunks, but there was a lot of fiber from the pineapple, so you almost had to chew it. Not ideal.

Charlie barely ate his first one, and never wanted another. I felt the same way.

Conclusion: Dislike.

My first two forays into Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays have been delightful.

First up: Sticky Cherry Cake, from her Valentine's Day section. This cake uses canned cherries in the batter, and then the syrup from the can is cooked down with sugar and butter, and poured on top of the cooked cake.
Holy moly. This thing was rich, sweet, and delicious. The chewy, caramelized edges were the best part. For me, a little went a long way, and my family didn't eat much of it on the day I made it. However, our friends and their kids came for dinner the next day. We demolished the rest of the cake. One of the kids may have licked the pan clean.

Conclusion: Loved it. Sometimes you need something this decadently sweet.

The Chipotle Chicken Chili from the section for "The Big Game" is, hands-down, the best chicken chili I've had. I think that the element that sets it apart from other recipes I've tried is that, in the last few minutes, you add a mixture of beer and masa harina. This provides that nice, earthy, corn flavor, and also thickens the chili beautifully. I'm also a huge fan of the flavor that chipotle peppers in adobo give to any recipe, so this wins points for using them.
I realize this looks like a pile of cheese, with no chili.
Conclusion: I loved it. Matt loved it. Charlie ate an English Muffin.