Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Catching Up with Pioneer Woman

I haven't cooked from A Year of Holidays in a while, primarily because most of the recipes don't click with my post-holidays detox. However, I do have a few to catch up on.

One day before Christmas, I brought Eight-Layer Dip to a friend's house (pg 43, from the The Big Game section. I like that Ree counts the Super Bowl as a holiday. Ha!) The entire event provided me with a perfect example of my current refrain of "I'M OVER NAPLES!"

My friend lives on a main drag in Pozzuoli (birthplace of Sophia Loren). We foolishly scheduled a date at 1:00 on a Sunday. I can never find parking in Pozzuoli on Sundays, because all the Italians (and I mean ALL of them) go out to lunch, unless they're going to Mama's. I drove three rounds of the area, which took my 45 minutes because of car and pedestrian traffic, and found a spot in a lot just when I was about to give up. In the lot I normally park in, you don't have to pay on Sundays. I couldn't determine if I had to pay based upon the sign in this lot. It said it was free on "festivi and pre-festivi." So that's on holidays. And pre-holidays??? I don't know. I assume that means the day before a holiday? I pretty much decided that I did have to pay, even though no one else was. I carefully formed a question in my head and asked a man who was in the lot, and after quite a bit of me not knowing what he was saying, he did gesture to the ticket machine and say "bigliette", which means "ticket." I took that to mean that I did need a ticket.

I, of course, had no change, because in most lots, you don't have to pay on Sundays. I went to the restaurant next door and asked if they could break my 20. No. I went across the street and bought a bottle of water. The cashier gave me the look of death, exhaled disgustedly, and gave me my change. They're very territorial regarding their coins here, to the point where I've had people refuse to sell things to me if I try to pay with a bill. And yet, the ATMs distribute 50s. And around and around we go...

Back to the ticket machine. Balancing my 8 layer dip on my knee, I bought my ticket for a few hours. The man I'd spoken with earlier walked up to me. I finally figured out he was saying that he was going to watch my car and make sure it wasn't broken in to. That's a thing, here. You really have no choice in the matter. If you don't pay them a few euro, they'll break your windows next time they see your car. Yay, Italy! Standard procedure is that you pay them when you return to your car and see that it's safe and sound. This guy was demanding money from me up front. I was like, "Dude, I just used all my change to get my ticket," except I don't know how to say that, so I just kept saying, "Bigliette!" like an idiot. Also, like an idiot, I still had the 15 euro in bills that the cashier had given me clutched in my hand (which was also gripping my long, heavy Pyrex tray).
Dude plucked a 5 euro bill out of my hand and walked away. Simultaneously, I realize that my legs were wet. I looked down. The tomatoes had watered down the sour cream, and the entire front of my body was splattered with white water. Jacket, legs, and shoes were soaked. I stormed down Via Napoli, cursing Naples under my breath long after I reached my friend's house. It was two months ago, and I still get pissed off when I think about it.

For what it's worth, my car was unharmed when I returned to it.

The dip was tasty, but the memory of it will always be wrapped up in residual aggravation. We ate 3/4 of a tray while watching The Bourne Identity. That's a lot of refried beans for two girls.

Conclusion: Liked it, but I might need therapy before I can make it again. 

Friends invited us over for dinner shortly before Christmas. I made Spreads (pg 312 of the Christmas section) because they looked quick and easy, and don't involve nuts, which one of her sons is allergic to. It's a basic shortbread type cookie that is spread out on a baking sheet. Right before they're ready, sprinkle chocolate chips on top and bake for another minute. These are supposed to get melty, and then you spread them out so they ice the cookies.
These are the best looking ones, and they're not that great. Most were a wreck.
Yeah. Umm. This didn't work. At all. Maybe my chocolate chips were old or something, but they didn't become spreadable. They were grainy and solid. I kept leaving them in longer and longer, hoping that they'd start to melt. Didn't happen. All I accomplished was overcooking the cookie dough, which, frankly, wasn't particularly delicious.

They looked horrendous, and tasted pretty bad, too. I couldn't bring them to dinner. I had to make a quick cake (Nigella's olive oil chocolate cake) to replace them. The cake was delicious.

Conclusion: Hated them.

For dinner one night, I made Grilled Chicken Skewers (pg 358, the New Years Eve section). This is basically chicken satay. I forgot how much I love chicken satay. This sauce was sweeter than I prefer, but it definitely satisfied the satay craving. I'd cut back on the honey next time. I was sure Charlie would like this. Nope.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Not Quite FFwD

I am having such a hard time keeping up/catching up with French Fridays with Dorie. This week's recipe was supposed to be a spice crusted tuna dish. Sounds good. I just didn't get there.

I have, however, made up a few old ones, which I promptly forget to blog about. I'm so irritatingly redundant. I apologize. I can't promise it won't happen again.

By substituting frozen shrimp for mussels, I managed to make last week's Curried Mussels out of items I had in my poorly-stocked kitchen after being in Siena for our 4-day weekend (Thanks, Martin Luther King, Jr.!) This was easy and totally delicious. I loved it. And it was easy enough to please everyone by cooking a few shrimp in butter on the side for Charlie. Shrimp is one of the few animal proteins he'll reliably eat. I really should cook them more often. This recipe will definitely be a repeat.

Before the holidays, I spotted Jerusalem artichokes at the Italian supermarket. I thought, "Ooh, I need to make up the 2 Dorie recipes soon!", but dawdled too long, and when I tried to find them, they were gone. However, I spotted one lonely package of them at the market last week, so I grabbed them, even though I couldn't remember what else went into the recipe for Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes with Garlic. Turns out, it's mostly just garlic and olive oil. Score. I had rosemary on-hand, but did not have thyme. No big deal. Due to their name, I shouldn't have been surprised that these sunflower tubers taste exactly like artichokes, but I was. I hate preparing artichokes, but really enjoy eating them. I'm on a new mission to substitute Jerusalem artichokes for every Italian preparation of artichoke that I've learned since I've been here. Next month's Italian cooking class involves a dish of artichoke, potato, and cheese, baked together in the oven. Sounds to me like that recipe was built for a Jerusalem artichoke substitution!!

A while back, I made the Warm Scallop Salad with Corn, Nectarines, and Basil. I had to use frozen shrimp, frozen corn, and frozen peaches. It was pretty flavorless. I hold it against my ingredients, not the recipe. If you don't have fresh food for this recipe, don't bother. 

I'm certain that I uploaded my pics to my computer, but they're not showing up. No time to sort it out right now. Charlie's 5th birthday is on Sunday, and there is much to be done. (FIVE??? HOW IS HE FIVE????)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TwD: Granola Energy Bars

I have actually been baking along with Tuesdays with Dorie on time, but I keep getting distracted and not blogging about the recipes. This post will bring me up to date for Baking, Chez Moi.

I was not overly excited to make Granola Energy Bars for the very reason that they appealed to other people. I get the whole "overdid it in December, start fresh in January" thing, and I mostly agree, but a granola bar would still be the last thing I would pick when told to choose from a book of indulgences. And this is why I suck at diets.

That said, these granola bars were simple to make, and were exponentially better than store-bought. I've never tried to make granola bars before, and I loved being able to select my own add-ins. I used dried apricots, cherries, craisins, and dates, and also roasted some pecans, pine nuts, and cashews to round out my slivered almonds. I used light corn syrup instead of buying a jar of brown rice syrup, because I am officially in use-up-the-pantry mode. We'll move to our next duty station (Norfolk, VA) next summer, so we need to start eating through our stored food. Dorie says that brown rice syrup does the best job of binding the nuts and the oats, but the corn syrup worked just fine.
Breakfast is served. Don't mind the crumbs.
I brought these granola bars to my book club meeting. They couldn't really compete with the mountain of bacon, the quiche, or the brownies that other members provided. In a battle of bacon vs. a granola bar, the bacon is always going to win. I've been enjoying the granola bar leftovers all week.

My husband brought half the batch to a breakfast potluck at work. He didn't bring any home, and he did report that his boss, who recently had a baby and is watching what she eats, came to his office to say that it was the best granola bar she'd ever had. Yay!

My husband's input on the bars: "It may just be a granola bar, but it's a damn good granola bar." I think that basically sums it up.

Now, to catch up on the two recipes I failed to post about.

A few weeks ago, some Jewish friends invited us over for a Hanukkah party. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to make The Rugelach That Won Over France without having to eat the entire batch. I was a bit intimidated by all the steps, and by early reports from other participants indicating that they were having trouble cutting the dough. Armed with the knowledge that I didn't want the dough to get too stiff, I only chilled the completed logs for about a half an hour before I sliced and baked them. My biggest problem was that I didn't roll the logs tightly enough, so a lot of the filling fell out when I sliced them. They turned out okay, though. I didn't love the dried-fruit filling. I might try this again with a raspberry jam filling. They vanished quickly at the party, and my friends gave them their "Jewish stamp of approval." Ha!

We hosted Christmas dinner for a group of our dearest friends here in Napoli. The Gingerbread Buche de Noel was a most impressive way to end an excellent dinner. This was such a time-consuming project that I doubt I'll ever make it again, but I'm happy that I did it this one time. Everyone seemed to love it. For my part, I loved the cake itself and the marshmallow frosting. I think I made a mistake by using salted butter in the filling. No one but me thought so, but I thought the filling tasted salty. It balanced out when every component was on the fork, but when I only got cake and filling, I didn't like it. Again, I think the problem was that I used salted butter, so it's probably my own fault.

I was too busy celebrating to take a picture of the cake. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

FFwD: Beef and Dried Apricot Dutch Oven

Okay, so today's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is supposed to be Lamb and Dried Apricot Tagine. I knew I wasn't going to find the cut of lamb Dorie specifies, but I thought I could get my hands on some ground lamb, and use all the same ingredients, but treat it like Indian keema recipes that I've made. However, I couldn't find lamb. I grabbed ground beef, because I've made the aforementioned keema recipe with beef before, and it turned out fine. Not as good as lamb, but not bad. I had no idea if beef would work with the predominant flavors of this recipe--coriander and apricot. I'd planned to get back to the store this week to try and find some pork or veal to stew instead, but it didn't happen, so I returned to my ground beef plan.

It worked out fine. I'm 100% certain that it would be better as a lamb stew, per the recipe, but I really wanted to do something, to stick to the schedule. Once I fall behind, I stay behind.
I have no strong feelings about this recipe. Its biggest draw is that CHARLIE ATE IT. Well, he ate the meat and the rice. Good enough for me. I was shocked. After dinner, he found a stray coriander seed on my counter. He has a thing about seeds. He'll spit out an entire piece of fruit if he gets a seed in his mouth, and refuse to take another bite. I don't get it. He asked why I had a  seed on the counter. I told him it was in the meat--the meat that he liked. He said, "Oh, so you took this disgusting thing and made it yummy." Sure. I guess. Kid brains are weird. Ha!

My one gripe was that I could have broken up the coriander seeds more. I would prefer a rough grind, rather than "broken", in the future. I don't like chewing on the seeds. Maybe Charlie's on to something after all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pioneer Woman: Turkey Tetrazzini

I landed on Turkey Tetrazzini, one of Ree's suggestions for your Thanksgiving leftovers, because I had a little bit of turkey left. I bought a rotisserie chicken to supplement it. Good thing I did, because when I opened the bag of turkey, it didn't smell quite right. We'd been working on it for over a week, so I guess it hit its boundary. Tossed it and used the chicken. Crisis averted.

Butter and garlic and mushrooms and wine, cream cheese and olives and bacon and cheese, all mixed with pasta. While I cooked, I'd periodically hear Matt yell, "That smells SO good," from the living room, where he was watching Rudolph with Charlie. He was right. It did smell so good.

I tasted it before I popped it in the oven, and started to laugh. It tasted like my Grandma's "tuna slop", only with chicken instead of tuna, and with ingredients I can pronounce and identify. I don't say that as a criticism. I love Tuna Slop. I much prefer to make a version that doesn't involve Velveeta or a can of cream of mushroom soup, if I can help it, though. I also added finely chopped broccoli, just to give it a bit more veg.
This is worth making, whether you have leftover turkey or not. It was cozy and comforting and delicious. Even Charlie ate it! He picked all the peas out, but I expected that, as he has never in his life eaten a pea. He ate the chicken, mushrooms, and broccoli without seeming to notice them, though. Woohoo!

This makes a massive amount of food. Once again, I forgot that Ree says it serves 12. I probably could have cut the recipe in half. We'll finish up the leftovers for dinner tonight. I'm not sick of it yet, though Matt may be, because he's also been bringing portions to work for lunch. I'll give him a breather before I make it again. 

Conclusion: Liked it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

FFwD: Tartine de Viande des Grisons

Tartine de Viande des Grisons is a long and mysterious name for a simple tartine that the French Fridays with Dorie crew made this week. Bread? Check! Butter? Check! Bresaola? Check! Walnuts (or in my case, toasted almond slices)? Check! Olive oil? Check! That's it.

The deep red color of bresaola has often caught my attention at the supermarket here in Napoli, but I was never really tempted to buy it. I find the color off-putting. It's just SO red. I'm happy to have found this recipe, though, because it turns out to be delicious!

This is one of those recipes that tastes better than its individual parts seem to warrant. The butter, oil, and toasted nuts really pull the toast and meat together into one delicious bite of food.
Matt got home late from work the other day, so I put a tartine together for him while his soup re-heated. Instead of eating any soup, he turned the rest of the (sizeable) loaf of sourdough bread into tartines and devoured them all. Needless to say, we loved this. I thought it would be good, but I didn't anticipate how good!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving with Pioneer Woman

I've made a bunch of recipes from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. Most of them are from the Thanksgiving section, but not all of them are.

First up, Drop Biscuits (pg 346, the Christmas section). I brought these over to a friend's house a few week's ago. She made soup and mulled wine. I made biscuits and dessert. I've had a hit-or-miss relationship with biscuits in the past. I always blame my failures on my Yankee-dom. These Drop Biscuits are simple to make (put the ingredients in the food processor. Whir. Scoop spoonfuls on to a baking sheet. Bake.) and turned out to be delicious. I need to make biscuits more often.
Conclusion: Loved them.

Matt and I haven't been overly impressed with our Thanksgiving stuffing for the past few years, so we decided to mix it up this year and use Ree's Basic Thanksgiving Dressing (pg 258). This uses three types of bread: cornbread, Italian bread, and ciabatta, and a host of standard stuffing flavors: celery, onion, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and basil. She uses dried herbs. In the future, I'd like to try it with fresh herbs. I think this was a good starting point. I felt it needed a bit more flavor, but I'm not totally sure what to do to it. I liked that the cornbread practically turned to breadcrumbs and coated all the other breads. There was a lot of different texture.

Conclusion: Liked it, but it needs some fiddling. We didn't salt it enough this time. Needs more oomph.

For the dressing, I made Ree's recipe for Skillet Cornbread (pg 268). This was easy to make, and it worked fine in the dressing, but I don't like it on its own. The cornbread is VERY salty and gritty. This may be why Matt undersalted the dressing--I warned him that the cornbread was salty. I like sweet, wet cornbread. This was the opposite. Different strokes for different folks.
Conclusion: Disliked, but it worked fine for the dressing.

I almost forgot about the Giblet Gravy. Matt is the Bird-meister, so he made the gravy. I was uninvolved, so I have no input regarding the process. All I can say is that it was deeeeeeelicious. I can never be without it again.

Conclusion: Loved it. 

I'm roasting a chicken tonight to use up our leftover dressing. For a side, I decided to try Ree's Cranberry Sauce (pg 256). This was a last-minute decision, and so I don't have the orange zest and juice that I'm supposed to. I threw in a splash of mandarinetto instead. Figured it couldn't hurt. I normally make a basic cranberry sauce with sugar, orange zest, and juice. The difference here is that, instead of sugar, Ree uses a cup of maple syrup.

I'm torn about what to think. I love the smokey maple flavor that the syrup gives to the sauce, but it's too sweet. It's possible that the orange zest and juice might have cut the sweetness a bit. I'm not sure. I may continue to play with this, cutting back on the amount of syrup used until the balance tips over a bit in favor of cranberry tartness. It's cranberry sauce. I want to taste the cranberry!

Conclusion: Liked it, but it needs tweaking.