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.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

FFwD: 2 Make-Ups

The recipe that the French Fridays with Dorie gang is cooking this week is Curried Chicken, Peppers, and Peas en Papillote. I've made this dish several times. Each time, I amp up the measurements and the variety of the spices I use, and each time, it turns out bland. For me, it's a cozy kind of blandness that I don't mind. Matt, however, grumbles and moans and says it doesn't taste like anything. It may be bland, but it's so, so easy, and one of these days, I'm going to figure out a good way to make the spices stand up to the amount of water that leaks out of the vegetables.

Because I mistakenly thought that I'd already done a post about this dish back in the day when I first made it, I decided to skip it this week and catch up on two recipes that I missed.

First, I made Potato Chip Tortilla. Yuck. I like potato chips. I like Spanish tortillas. I'd skipped this recipe originally, because dumping half a bag of potato chips into my eggs didn't exactly align with my dietary ambitions at the time. I shouldn't have worried about it. I ate three bites and threw the rest out. I would think that food cooked with half a bag of potato chips would be salty, but it wasn't. It was remarkably underseasoned, and the texture was weird, to the point of being gross. I'm pleased to say that I hated this one. I could have been in trouble if I thought it was delicious.
Last night, I served one of my old Dorie favorites: Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream. To go alongside, I made Socca from Vieux Nice, which is a simple batter made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt, and chopped rosemary. A thin layer of this goes into a cake pan, where it's baked for a few minutes, then broiled to brown and (ideally) burn the top.

I didn't cook mine properly. I baked it for the specified amount of time, but hit a snag with my broiling. My oven is gas, but the broiler is electric, and takes a looooong time to get going. I switched over from baking to broiling, and let it sit there for quite a while, but I don't think the broiler was even warm yet when I finally took the socca out of the oven. I made the executive decision to remove it, even though there were no brown or burnt patches, because it looked like it was drying out.
Not a looker.
For such simple ingredients, the flavor was surprising and delicious! Chickpea flour. Who knew? The best bits were the crunchy edges, so I imagine this would have been even better when cooked properly. Dorie isn't joking when she says it should be eaten immediately. When Matt got home from work, his portion was gummy and dense. He ate it anyway, but after tasting both, I can confidently say it was much better hot out of the oven.

Despite the fact that easyjet flies cheaply from Naples to Nice, I haven't really been interested in going, because it's so expensive to stay there. Now I kind of want to go, just to try "real" socca. We'll see.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wrapping Up, and Up Next

In my heart, I'm not really done with My Calabria. Not even remotely. I've loved six recipes, liked five, and hated one. There was only one in-between take-it-or-leave-it recipe. Pretty strong statistics. There are many more intriguing recipes in this book, but I'm trying to limit my carbs right now, which doesn't really jive well with Italian food. There are plenty of fish and meat recipes left in this book, but I can't crack it open without trancing out, staring at a picture of mussel risotto, or daydreaming about her special doughnuts, made at Christmas, or her family's everyday loaf of bread, or, of course, the pasta.

 No doubt about it, My Calabria is a keeper. It's beautiful to read, and the food knocked it out of the park most of the time. I mentioned in specific posts that I was impressed with the precision with which these recipes correctly claimed that x amount of stuff would produce y number of finished product (meatballs, etc). I trust this book. 

Frankly, focusing attention on any one book isn't really working for me right now. I need diversity in order to keep myself interested in my food plan.

I have non-food-related reasons for hitting the pause button, too. Charlie's home from school, and keeping me busy. Plus, I've enrolled in a photography course, and want to focus more of my free time on that (not that I've been especially consistent at spending my free time on this blog, but that's besides the point. Leave me to my delusions of all the time I'll save!)

So, I'll declare a new book once my head is in the right space for it.

I do, however, want to name another Long Term Project: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. I enjoy The Pioneer Woman as a character. Her children's book, Charlie the Ranch Dog, is a long-running favorite with my Charlie (and with me, too.) Her food always looks delicious and cozy, and her photos are beautiful. I like that she lets us in to see her life at the ranch, and that she's so unabashedly herself, quirks, flaws, and all. I own two of her cookbooks.

I've cooked a grand total of one recipe so far.

Why yes, I would like another biscuit. Thanks, Ree!
See, the thing is, Ree cooks for cowboys. Hard-working, horse-riding, manual labor type of cowboys. They can eat whatever they want and stay rail-thin. If I cooked from her book semi-regularly, I'd puff up like a Thanksgiving Day balloon. There is no moderation in these recipes. Not that that's a bad thing. Butter and sugar make food taste good.

My conscience would never allow me to focus on one of her books, as I do not burn calories like a cowboy.

With its purpose being cooking for holidays throughout the year, A Year of Holidays makes sense as a long-term project. I hope Ree's food tastes as good as it looks. I sure wish I made her hot cross buns last Easter, instead of Nigella's. They're on the agenda for this spring.

Ticking Them Off...FFwD

I don't have this week's recipe for French Fridays with Dorie prepared yet, but I do have a butt-load of recent make-ups to report on.

First, Provencal Vegetable Soup. Lots of veg. I liked the pesto mixed into the broth. Very tasty. I added chicken to make it more filling.
Conclusion: Liked it. Don't know that I'd go out of my way to make it again, but it was fine.

I actually made the Gateau Basque on time, but didn't post about it last week. I really wanted to enjoy this more than I did, primarily because the cherry preserves that I'd bought in April during a trip to Alberobello turned out to be DELICIOUS. I feel like I wasted the preserves, because I really wasn't impressed by the cake. I thought it was dry, and the cake itself didn't have a lot of flavor.
Conclusion: Just okay.

Lastly, the Coddled Eggs with (Pork Pate, not Foie Gras). Ugh. I don't even know what to say. The pate was gross, on its own, so I don't know why I thought it would taste ok in the end product. I cooked this according to Dorie's instructions. The egg appeared to be cooked right, but when I cut into it, the whites were still raw.
Ew. Then, I tried to just make poached eggs with all the same components--pate, tartufo spread, eggs. Again, I undercooked the eggs. I tried to eat it anyway. That pate made me want to puke.
After wasting 3 eggs and 2 spoonfuls of tartufo spread, I called it quits and made bacon and eggs. Classic. Perfect. Ha!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pasta and Zucchini and Booze-ahol

A bout of poor dinner planning paid off when I realized that I was in possession of the three ingredients necessary to make Rigatoni alla Pastora (Shepherd's Style Rigatoni with Ricotta and Sausage) from My Calabria. An added bonus was that all three ingredients (pasta, ricotta, sausage) are things that Charlie will eat.

This recipe was easy. Cook chunks of un-cased sausages. Add cooked pasta to the greasy sausage pan. Mix some of the pasta water into ricotta until it loosens up and becomes saucy. Add the pasta and sausage to the ricotta. Season to taste. Boom. Done.
Not a pretty plate of food.
This was heavier than I would prefer, and it made enough to feed an army. Matt and Charlie both loved it, though, and it was simple.

Conclusion: Liked it.

I served Parmigiana di Zucchine with last week's Dorie recipe. If you have a million pounds of zucchini in your garden, this will use it up. If you're going out of your way to procure zucchini, just go the eggplant route instead. The zucchini is lightly fried in olive oil before being layered with cheese and sauce, but it doesn't take on that same luxurious silkiness that eggplant does. I was aware that what I was eating was inferior to eggplant parm for the duration of the meal. It didn't help that Costantino suggests you serve this at room temp, which is a huge mistake, because the mozzarella is tough at room temp. No bene.
Conclusion: Just okay. A heap of it is still sitting in my fridge.

When the relevant fruits (mandarin oranges, which my landlord has a grove of, and strawberries) were in season this year, I used Costantino's recipe to make Liquore al Mandarino, as well as the Fragolino Variation. Italians, including Costantino, use grain alcohol for their liquore. Too many of my friends have produced undrinkable limoncello with grain alcohol, so I learned last year, using a different "mandarinetto" recipe that using a mid-grade vodka produces a muuuuuuch smoother and more delicious drink. I substituted vodka into Costantino's recipe, too, but used her proportions of fruit, alcohol, and sugar-water/syrup. Both flavors are deeeelicious. Love them.

Friday, July 11, 2014

FFwD: (Cheese) Filled Zucchini Blossoms

Fried zucchini blossoms are near and dear to my heart. Growing up, my Italian-American next-door neighbor fried batches of flowers from her garden all summer long to lure me and her daughter out of their pool. Now, whenever I visit my mom during the summer, Ann makes a point of frying zucchini blossoms for me, because she knows how much I love them. (During winter visits, she inevitably brings over cookies. She's a good neighbor to have.)

Years ago, I asked Ann for her recipe. She gave me a list of ingredients and told me to mix them together until the batter looked right. This will come as no surprise, but my first run at frying my own zucchini flowers was an epic failure. Matt will eat just about anything that's fried, and even he found them inedible. I haven't really tried again since then, so I was very excited to give Dorie's zucchini blossom recipe a try.

Technically, Dorie's recipe is for Shrimp-Filled Zucchini Blossoms. I'm sure that's delicious, but here in Naples, I've only seen zucchini blossoms come with one filling: cheese. In my ongoing effort to learn to duplicate things I love from my time here, I decided to follow Dorie's cheese-filled variation instead of the shrimp one.

Finding zucchini blossoms was easy. Italians are crazy for these things (with good reason). They actually sell fresh packs of them at the supermarket. Or so I thought. I didn't realize until I got home, that I'd actually bought fiore di zucca. Pumpkin. Not zucchini. Oh well, no big deal. I couldn't tell the difference.
I don't know what army I thought I would feed with this many flowers. We wasted quite a few.

Is club soda the same as sparkling water? I don't think so. I used sparkling water, because that is what the lady in my Italian cooking class uses. If it's good enough for Vera, it's good enough for me.

This batter fried up perfectly. These flowers were crispy and delicious. I'll always love Ann's zucchini flowers best, because they're made out of love, but this is now my go-to recipe when I need to fry flowers--or any other vegetable, for that matter--myself. The cheese filling was, frankly, better than a lot of what I've eaten at restaurants around here. Well done, Dorie.
After much prodding, Charlie tasted, then devoured an un-stuffed flower, while skeptically reciting Green Eggs and Ham ("You may like them, you will see..."). Score.

Matt said this was one of his favorite dinners in ages. All hail my beloved zucchini flowers!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Calabria: Ciambotta

Oh boy, do I have a work-horse recipe for you! I flipped through My Calabria last Wednesday and realized that the recipe for Ciambotta (Southern Italy's Summer Vegetable Stew) would use up the ridiculous amount of vegetables that I had in my kitchen. I say ridiculous because we were leaving town for three days, and my bushel of produce would surely be rotten by the time I returned.
Between all the chopping and the individual frying of each component, it took longer than I normally prefer on a weeknight to complete this recipe. However, since it is meant to be served as a room-temperature accompaniment to grilled meats, you could prepare it earlier in the day.

I'm not sure that mine came out exactly as it was meant to. The recipe calls for 1.5 pounds of tomatoes. I didn't have that many, so I supplemented with canned tomatoes. I suspect mine was a bit more "tomato saucey" than it should have been. Oh well. Basically, the peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and potatoes are independently fried, then returned to the pan with onion, garlic, tomato, and basil, and left to simmer in the tomato juices for a few minutes. Then, you let it rest. So, it's uncomplicated, but does take a while.

The first night, I served the glop over pasta.
We had a kitchen at the place we'd rented for the July 4th weekend in Umbria, so I brought the leftovers along as a side dish for steak. I ate the leftover leftovers for breakfast, as a bed for an over-easy egg. YUM.

Conclusion: Liked it, with bonus points because it's the perfect "too-many-vegetables-in-the-garden" dish.