Monday, January 15, 2007

Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Soup

It was almost two years ago, actually, now that I think about it, that we purchased a stick blender. There was a minor saga associated with it: I had ordered it from Amazon and had it sent to my apartment, but by this time I was already spending more than half the week over at Boxcar Dewey's house. I tracked the package and saw that it was delivered, but didn't make it back to my apartment until the next day, by which point the package was gone. Nowhere to be found. I was cranky, but there was nothing to be done so we ordered a new one. We ended up spending $100 ($40 the first time, on sale, and $60 the second time) for this stick blender, but boy, has it made up for it.
Where was I? Oh yeah.
When I went through the weeks-long process of buying this stick blender, almost two years ago, I said "Now we can make butternut squash soup!"
And we got the blender, and we made tomato soup, and we made potato leek soup, and we used its other attachments to chop onions and cheese and to grind Caprial Spice (a story for another post) and to whip cream ... but we never made butternut squash soup.

Until now.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic (also roasted) Soup

We used this recipe from Epicurious, combined with another to roast the squash, but as always mostly just used them for the ingredient list and the process list, as follows:

Preheat oven to 350°. Slice two heads (not cloves!) of garlic horizontally in half or so. Brush each side with olive oil and put the tops back on. Wrap in foil.
I don't remember how I roasted the squash, but I think it was something like this: Cut two butternut squashes down the middle. Scoop out seeds and strings. Brush tops with olive oil. Line baking sheets or brownie pans with foil (for easier cleaning) and place squash in pan(s) cut side down.
Place garlic and squash in oven. Roast squashes until they are squishy when squeezed with tongs. Roast garlic for about 4o minutes, until tender.

Although I ignored the quantities listed in the recipe (3 cups onion, 3/4 cups carrots, 3/4 cups celery), by this time I hope I can figure out a relatively balanced mirepoix, which is what this recipe starts with, after everything is finished roasting.

Put the mirepoix in the pot you intend to use for the soup with a healthy drizzle of olive oil over med-low heat. Sauté.

When squash is cooled enough to handle, scoop it out with a spoon. Plop it straight into the pot with the mirepoix. Add broth and some sage if you like (I always use thyme in my mirepoix, because I love the way it smells with the onion, so I did not include sage).

Meanwhile, when garlic has cooled enough to handle, remove it from its foil packages. Squirt the half-cloves out of their paper jackets -- this part is super fun. If you are feeling charitable, save some garlics for your cooking partner to squirt out of their jackets.
Squirt all these garlics into a bowl, and mush them up loosely with a fork.

Add the garlic to the soup and stir.

Retrieve stick blender from cupboard and use it, finally, for its original purpose: purée the soup.

As the soup is puréeing, add cream. We used the whole half-pint of half-and-half (yum).

Stir stir stir until all cream is incorporated.

I had been thinking lately of a restaurant we like, Earth & Ocean, and also of the new restaurant by E&O's former chef, Tilth. At these restaurants, presumably at the direction of Maria Hines, soup is served in an empty bowl. The bowl arrives with its garnish placed in the center of the bowl, but nothing else; the server carries a stainless steel serving pot, and after placing the bowl pours the soup in to surround the garnish. This works particularly well with slightly melty garnishes, or else oily ones. I have had it to great success at E&O with a cheese soup where the garnish was sticks of cheddar with mustard oil drizzled on them. The oil floats around in the soup and surprises you when you catch a bite with it in, and the cheese got softened and melty into the soup around it.

Since I was planning to serve this soup with sour cream and chives on top, and since I had done all the cooking and Boxcar Dewey wasn't paying attention, I decided to do it fun like Maria Hines. I put the dollop of sour cream in the bowl, sprinkled it with chives, and ladled the soup into my teapot. B.D. was confused when I put down an empty bowl in front of him, but he laughed when he saw the soup coming out of the spout of the teapot. It worked out quite well, actually, with some chives floating and the sour cream melting around the edges and stirring into the soup quite well.

Um. Stop rambling.

The garlicky flavor of this soup really complemented the smooth texture of the squash combined with the cream. I liked it a lot and will definitely be making it again; I'm even thinking about growing butternut squashes so I can make several batches over the summer and freeze them. This recipe may even have been worth the two years' wait to get to eat it.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

A vodka experiment

... recipe posted for posterity, so I can tweak it later, because I'm sure I'll lose it if I write it down on paper.

Cucumber-infused vodka
1 blue triangle of vodka (750 mL of Taaka Platinum)
~1/2 of a large cucumber -- 2-3 inches worth of slices when put into an old mayonnaise jar
juice of half a lime, plus whatever pulp I could scrape out of the strainer
about 1 tablespoon of regular sugar.

Put the whole lot in the old mayonnaise jar (big-size Best Foods jar) and stir it up. Give it a couple of shakes to make sure it's all mixed.

I'm going to let it sit for a few days and then check on it. I don't know if the proportions are at all correct. I guess we'll find out.

Please post any cucumber vodka recipes you might have!

Friday, September 01, 2006

From the depths of Lauren's brain, part 1: Potato salad with green beans.

For some reason today I am having a hard time remembering not to spell it "green beens."

Veggie box this week was scheduled to contain a mess of cucumbers and other things of which we already have a surplus. I took them off the list and then to balance it back out I asked for two bags of fingerling potatoes and two bags of green beans, instead of just one of each. Then the box arrived and I realized I had no idea what to with those potatoes.
(We can easily dispose of the green beans, with garlic, olive oil, white wine, & finished with butter -- G. could subsist on that I think.)

So I was pondering the potatoes, and the hot weather, and the hiking trip with some vegans tomorrow, and somewhere from my subconscious arose:

Cold potato salad with green beans
Fingerling potatoes (2.5 lbs, according to veggie box receipt)
green beans (.5 lb, per receipt)
shallot (about half a large-ish one), finely diced

Olives. Kalamata is what I had on hand; niçoise would have been better, of course. I just used four because G. doesn't like them much.
And the only reason I used them at all, instead of just putting good-quality anchovies in the dressing, is that we are going hiking with vegans this weekend, and I was hoping to share. So I'm using olives in the salad to try to replicate the depth and that unnameable thing that gets better when you let it sit for a day. (You know, that thing that soups and chunky salads with dressing do?)

1 part white balsamic
1 part regular (dark? brown?) balsamic
2-3 parts 0live oil
(minced anchovy, if you aren't feeding it to vegans)

Clean and trim potatoes & beans.
Put potatoes in cold water and bring to a boil. Keep an eye on them (fingerlings are small!) and remove as soon as they are fork-tender. Put in cold water to stop the cooking.
Boil a smaller pot for the beans, which can go in when the water is boiling. Check them regularly as well, and remove as soon as they are tender but still crisp. Put them in ice water.
Chop olives into whatever size your eating partners prefer. I made mine small so that they would impart a lot of flavor but so that if G. ate one accidentally he might not even notice.
When potatoes are cool, slice into rounds. If you are using bigger potatoes, halve or quarter the rounds, or use chunks instead.

Mix it all up! Potato rounds, beans, olives, shallots. Add dressing and salt and pepper. Eat some now and save some for later, when it will taste much better.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Thirtieth Birthday is the Appliance Birthday

... such is the new tradition. Apparently.

G. turned 30 recently and he got lots of new appliances: a fridge from me, and a gas grill from his dad. The fridge was less of a frivolity and more of a requirement, assuming we wanted to stay sane.

We rent, and the fridge that came with the house (which we otherwise love) is VERY SMALL. Like 10 cubic feet. Like the same size as three tiny dorm fridges, or two under-bar wine fridges. Because it is so small, we often packed it with food just to go about our daily lives -- it can't hold a stock pot of leftover soup and a jug of milk, requiring us to always purchase the thing of milk that has a spout with a lid, instead of the kind that you open like the tiny cartons of milk from school, so that we could balance the milk on its side, on top of the stock pot, which occupied the whole top shelf.
Because we had to pack the fridge so full, and also because it is a crappy fridge to begin with, things were always freezing when they shouldn't. Our vegetables went bad within a few days: lettuce & herbs froze and thawed all nasty and black; carrots became limp and weird; meats & fish were kept in a weird limbo of frozen & non-, and suffered for it. Plus, the shelves were always so crowded that we would lose cheeses in the back for weeks, and not find them until they were fuzzy and smelling of ammonia.

We bitched and moaned about this fridge pretty much from the day we moved in. We asked the landlady if she'd like to replace it for us, and if she'd be more inclined if we offered to pay for half. She said no, the fridge was fine, its problem was that we filled it too full and it couldn't seal properly. We bitched and moaned some more and scoured Craig's List occasionally, only to find crappy fridges and really expensive ($2200? It's CRAIG'S LIST, people!) fridges, and not much in between. Plus you have to go get it when it's on CL, and that's just a pain ...

Finally, G.'s birthday rolled around, almost a whole year after we moved in and became fridge martyrs. I couldn't figure out what to get him. I'm not very smart. Then we were talking about how we'd lost about half of yet another bi-weekly box of veggies, and I finally figured it out.

I ordered the fridge from Sears' website for $400, plus $50 or so delivery. I told him about it, because I wanted to verify that it was OK, and because it has to live in the basement so we needed to collaborate on cleaning before it could arrive. He was ecstatic.

Now the fridge has been here for a month and it has made our lives infinitely better. We have room to buy beer! We have room to stock up on meats that are on sale and put them in the freezer for later! We have a chicken carcass that we just roasted, AND a chicken in the freezer waiting for future roasting! It has tonight allowed us to make a delicious roast beef on the grill (discussion to come), with spring onions (kept in the downstairs fridge for a week!) tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and grilled to deliciousness. Maybe I'll try to enlist G. to write about it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

G's 30th birthday dinner: Fancy Thai


We are not dead, nor have we stopped eating delicious things. We have gotten simultaneously busy and lazy, but I'm going to try to get my brain together and post more.

Yesterday was G's 30th birthday and he requested dinner at May, which is happily walking distance from our house. It's not a cheap restaurant -- $12 pad thai rather than the $6 you find near campus -- nor is it totally traditional, but it's great for a semi-nice evening out.

We'd stopped there once before to see what was up -- the building is amazing and one can't help but notice it while walking around on 45th -- and I had this amazing squid appetizer that launched me on a squid phase that I haven't yet left. One of my earliest food memories is my mother cooking squid for me when we lived at the tiny weird house when I was probably 5? Thinking back, I am overwhelmed by how lucky my mother was; at five years old, I loved squid and demanded it at least once, apparently, because I have this kind of surreal memory of the squid in the styrofoam-and-saran-wrap package like meat comes in, and we had to wash them out in the sink so they wouldn't be all inky. I don't remember how she cooked them, but I remember looking at them in the package and being very excited.
So now because of May and this bizarre childhood memory, I eat squid anywhere I can (except at Brasa a couple of weeks ago, when G. had the squid ink risotto and I had the duck breast risotto. Both options were equally acceptable, by which I mean fantastic) and I am so happy to have rediscovered it.
May's squid comes in a thin clear vinegary sauce that is the perfect level of spicy for me: not so much that I can't taste anything anymore, but rather a flavor unto itself that accentuates and doesn't compete with other flavors in the dish. AND, the squid is GRILLED, so some bits have the delicious char, and the meat is tender and not chewy and and has just the little bit of grilled flavor that is the point of grilling.

G. had his favorite, pork satay; I didn't have any but he sure seems to like it.

For entrées, G. had a beautiful duck breast in a red curry with pineapple, grapes, and coconut milk. When he ordered, the server said "Ooh, good choice!," which is always a good sign. I had a couple bites of the duck and it was cooked very nicely, with good crust, and the curry had permeated the pineapple chunks all the way to the middle, which surprised and pleased me. Made a mental note to investigate curry-infused pineapple.
I had the most expensive thing on the menu, a nice fillet of salmon grilled in a banana leaf with "traditional Thai salsa," which worried me a bit but turned out to be a great light, vinegary, slightly spicy sauce that went really well with the salmon. There was also a salad of wilted lettuce and grilled asparagus and cherry tomatoes, with the same salsa on it.

We each had two gin martinis with a twist of lemon, which we discovered last time to be a perfect complement to Thai or other slightly spicy cuisine -- a bit of citrus, very cold, both the opposite of and the same as the food, somehow.

We weren't sure about dessert but then the server told us about the sticky rice cooked with coconut milk and served with mango; I've always been curious about sticky rice desserts so we tried that as well as the coconut milk crème brulée. The latter came with three spoonsful of a yummy pineapple preserve sort of thing. The sticky rice was OMG AMAZING. Chewy and somehow meaty, not sweet but flavorful, excellent with the sliced fresh mango.

All in all: highly recommended. Get gin martini and the squid and the sticky rice, and the duck if you like that sort of thing, and the salmon if you don't. Or, you know, whatever strikes you; I feel pretty confident that very little on the menu will suck.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ode to a KitchenAid mixer (part 1 of many)

Who knew it only took fifteen minutes to make zucchini bread batter? People who have KitchenAids, that's who!
We've had a couple zucchini languishing for a while -- they come in the box of veggies and then they get forgotten in the bottom of the drawer. Fortunately they last a long time! This morning I am off work and I was thinking about how if I were at work, I would be wasting another dollar-fifty on a bagel that is neither very good nor very good for me. Every work day when I do that, I think "Next time I'll bake and bring something!" and then I forget by noon, and never bake.
But not today! And due to the recent addition to our family, who is yet to receive a more specific name than KitchenAid, it is super fast to make the batter, and then one can go on to do homework in the hour or so it takes to bake.

Spiced Zucchini (Walnut) Bread
From Epicurious

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (from about 2 medium)
1 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped (about 4 ounces)

Notes on the ingredients:
I used half whole wheat flour since I thought we were out of all-purpose. We weren't, but I think it'll be yummy anyway.
I added a bit of nutmeg, and didn't have any lemons lying around so put a couple of squirts of lemon juice instead. I know it won't be the same but oh well.
I put a bit less sugar (like 2.25 cups total) and a bit less oil (just a smidge) than it calls for.
I did not measure my zucchini -- I just grated them and stuck 'em in.
And I only used about half the amount of walnuts, since I only put them in one loaf.

Preheat oven to 325°F.
Butter and flour two 8x4x2 1/2-inch metal loaf pans.
Whisk flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg, and baking powder in medium bowl to blend.
Put sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, and lemon peel juice in large KitchenAid bowl and turn machine on to blend.
Whisk in Slowly add flour mixture while the machine is going. Remove bowl from machine.
Mix in zucchini and walnuts.
Pour batter into prepared pans.
Add walnuts to one pan.
Bake breads until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
Let stand 10 minutes.
Turn breads out onto rack and cool completely.
Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in foil and store at room temperature.

All comments on the original recipe, which I forgot to read before making it, have adjustments to the amounts of oil and sugar, but they are all bigger adjustments than mine. Stay tuned for updates after it comes out of the oven.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Things two people can make with a nine-point-four-pound turkey: a list.

  1. Thanksgiving dinner.

  2. Club sandwiches for two: bacon, turkey, cheese, lettuce. No tomato, unfortunately, as it is winter.

  3. Leftover turkey on a plate for one, as the other is doing homework.

  4. Leftover turkey on a plate for one, as the other is still doing homework.

  5. Thanksgiving lunch for three, including Katie: potatoes, turkey, stuffing, &c.

  6. White bean & kale soup for five bajillion:
    Non-quantitative white bean & kale soup
    Be sure to always have on hand: broth; good olive oil; spices (thyme, pepper, salt, bay leaves, etc.); garlic; shallots and/or onion.
    Subscribe to the vegetable box, which often includes kale in the winter.
    Purchase carrots and potatoes if you have recently depleted your standard stock of these as well. Buy approximately equal volumes of each. Tonight it was 4 carrots, as they are kind of skinny, and 3 medium-sized russet potatoes.
    Also purchase some white beans. I find that the small white beans are much tastier than the white kidney beans in this context. I do love kidney beans but this soup is not their place.
    Find the bag of leftover turkey somewhere in the back of your ridiculously small fridge.
    Pour yourself a glass of wine for drinking while you cook.

    Sauté onion and garlic in some olive oil until onion is tender.
    Throw in carrot, chopped small enough to cook in the amount of time you have, and sauté while you finish chopping potatoes after your cooking partner has cut his finger again.
    Throw in potatoes after carrots have sat for a bit, and add broth until all ingredients are covered. Then add some more. Add water if needed. Make sure there's enough liquid to cover the kale and beans that are not yet added.
    Boil potatoes for a while.
    Put in kale after some time. Maybe twenty minutes, or maybe thirty. Add finger-shredded turkey at this point as well. It's important to do it with your fingers because then you get to lick them. Add however much you have left, or less.
    Simmer/boil the whole deal for a bit, until the kale seems about 10 minutes from being done, and then thrown in the beans (rinsed, of course).
    Simmer until you're ready to eat.

    Salt & pepper to taste and be sure to dip good bread -- Grand Central is preferred.

    Serves five bajillion, depending on your measurements.

  7. Stock made of carcass, neck, and wings (because I can't bear to gnaw on the bones), which will in itself be many meals! Stay tuned for the second part of the list ...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Battle Turkey!

(Only we're making more than one dish, unlike stupid Bobby Flay, who can't make anything other than the same dish over and over again. Stupid Bobby Flay.)

8:30 am: G. awoke and immediately set the turkey to brine.
8:45 am: I awoke; we drank coffee and orange juice and read the internets (*waves to MetaFilter*)
10:30 am: I prepared the living room for Oliver's imminent arrival -- yarn looks like tennis balls and therefore must be removed.
11:25 am: I set about making pie crust.
Mark Bittman's Flaky Pie Crust

Mark writes more than a little bit about how to integrate the fat and the flour, but since we don't actually have a food processor, I did it by hand in the manner he describes, cutting the cold butter into bits and rubbing it between my fingers. I think this would have been easier if I weren't making three batches and trying to make them all at once.

1 1/8 c flour, plus some for dusting working surface
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
8 tbsp (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
about 3 tbsp ice water, plus more if necessary.

Combine flour, salt, and sugar; pulse food processor or stir with a fork or spoon a few times.
Add butter and turn on machine or manually combine until it is about the texture of cornmeal.
Put it in a bowl and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water over it. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until it forms a ball, adding water if the mixture seems dry. Form it into a ball with your hands, wrap it in plastic, flatten into a small disc, and freeze it for 10 minutes (or refrigerate for 30).
Roll the dough out to fit your pie pan, sprinkling both sides, as well as your work surface, with flour.
If it is sticky at the start, add flour liberally; if it becomes sticky after rolling for a few minutes, put it back in the fridge for 10 minutes.
Roll from the center out, turning and flipping the dough regularly.
Fold in half and then in quarters to transfer to the pie pan; press it firmly to the bottom, sides, and junction of bottom and sides of pan. Trim the excess to about 1/2 inch all around, then tuck it under itself. Prebake or bake as the pie recipe directs.

He talks a lot about prebaking the crust, but the mincemeat pie has a lattice top and the pumpkin pie didn't get made this evening, so neither was prebaked.

12:00 pm: As the pie crusts rested in the freezer, I made Mom's easy standard cranberry relish.
Mom's cranberry relish
Get a mess of cranberries. Pick out the bad ones.
Get an orange. Wash it, remove the stem and the sticker, and cut it up.
Put the whole lot in the food processor and grind it up. (In our case, this was in batches, as our food processor is actually an attachment on our immersion blender, and the bowl is very small.)
Sugar to taste.

12:30 pm: I dumped the mincemeat filling from last night into the pie crust, cut strips for the lattice, and wove them. That was fun. Brushed the top with egg and sprinkled sugar, per the Epicurious recipe. I put the pie in the oven. G. talked to his mom.

12:30 pm - 1:15 pm: G. prepared various goodies to go inside the turkey and under the turkey.
Inside a turkey
A bunch of garlics, whole, unpeeled, but crushed
An apple, cut into chunks
A lemon, cut into chunks
A few ribs of celery, chopped in big bits
Several sprigs of rosemary from the bush in the backyard
An onion, chopped up.

Inside a turkey's skin
Grind up fresh rosemary, fresh minced garlic, salt, pepper, and some olive oil.
Cut little holes in the skin of the breast, kind of above where the drumstick joins the body. Stick a finger in and wiggle it around to separate the skin from the muscle. Stick some of the rosemary-garlic paste in the hole and smear it around.

Underneath a turkey
Chop up several yellow and/or red potatoes, as well as several carrots. Add salt and pepper.

1:15 pm: We checked on the pie and it was all juicy and browned. Took it out.
1:30 pm: After final turkey preparations, it went in, stuffed but without the potatoes and carrots underneath, at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Don't forget to put some broth or water in the roasting pan, and keep checking on it to make sure it doesn't all evaporate.
2:00 pm: Potatoes and carrots were added to the roasting pan under the turkey, and the temperature was turned down to 350. Thereafter, we checked it every 45 minutes or so.
2:30 pm: STUFFING!!
Stuffing with things Lauren likes in it.
Several mushrooms, sliced somewhat thickly
Several ribs of celery, sliced somewhat thinly
2 large-ish shallots
Many cloves of garlic -- like 5 maybe?
However many pine nuts we had in the cupboard
A bunch of parsley, chopped
Some butter
1 bag of Grand Central Bakery stuffing
Some thyme

Toast pine nuts in a dry pan over low-medium heat until browned.
Sauté shallots and celery in some butter until soft.
Add mushrooms, herbs and pine nuts and cook until mushrooms look done-ish, stirring
Remove from heat
Add stuffing and 2 c broth, and stir well to get all bread crumbs
Dot with butter (I put skinny pats all over) and set aside to wait for the oven to be free. It will bake for 30 minutes at 350.

4:00 pm: The turkey came out of the oven; the stuffing went in. The turkey waited. The potatoes and carrots came out from the roasting pan so they didn't absorb the lovely juice as the turkey dripped.
4:15 pm: The turkey had finished sitting, so it went to another plate. The drippings were transferred to a pan to become gravy. Green beans went on to sauté with a bit of garlic and lemon juice and white wine. G. opened the can of store-bought delicious cranberry sauce, and I remembered the Mom's relish in the fridge.
4:30 pm: I took out the stuffing and promptly burned four fingers on my right hand trying to transfer it to a serving bowl. But I remembered to turn off the oven!
4:35 pm: We sat down to eat. Yum yum!
5:15 pm: It was all over, seconds and all. We set about cleaning up, which was remarkably easy.
5:40 pm: While breaking down the turkey for storage, we discovered the giblets were actually in the turkey, though we'd checked and checked.
6:00 pm: After surprisingly minimal fridge rearranging, the whole deal was put away
and we sat down to mincemeat pie with just-whipped whipped cream and a glass of wine.

It was a good day. I want to cook all day more often.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ah, Thanksgiving ...

... a holiday whose point I actually like: food.

Even though it's likely to be just us all weekend, with one other (host brother Simon) at most, we're (possibly unsurprisingly) going all out on the cooking. In fact, I already baked a very easy cranberry cake, and prepared the insides of a mincemeat pie.
Cranberry Cake
I don't remember where I got this recipe; I wanted to make it last Thanksgiving but Mom wouldn't let us cook at all. So I made it today.

2 tbsp butter
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c milk
2 c fresh cranberries

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl. (I just used a fork; didn't feel like getting out the mixer.)
Sift flour and with baking powder and salt into another bowl. (My mother always treated sifting as irrelevant and unnecessary, and I think she's right, but I have a sifter so I used it.)
Add vanilla to butter and sugar mixture.
Add flour mixture to butter and sugar mixture, alternating with milk.
Fold in cranberries.
Pour into greased loaf pan.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes, until a knife in the middle comes out clean, as usual.

I feel like cranberries must be lonely without oranges in some form or another, so I wanted to give them a friend; there was an orange laying around so I chopped up some peel and threw it in, and also added some small bits of orange segment. They lend a really nice flavor to the batter, and when you get orange and cranberry in the same bite, it's wonderful.
It seems to be a theme in my life that I never grease pans enough. I cut around the edges of the cake and then tried to invert it onto the rack to cool, and it turned itself inside out. I think I didn't grease the bottom enough. I had to stuff it all back inside and then mangle the first few pieces to get it out. Let this be a lesson to you: grease your pans properly.

It smelled wonderful, and tasted, as advertised, sweet, but not too sweet. Also, yummy.
Mincemeat pie, part 1

One of my new work pals just found out that her partner of ten years loves mincemeat. Subsequently, we had an extensive conversation about mincemeat, whether we like it or not, and particularly whether it should contain actual meat and/or suet. I personally had it when I was a kid and really liked it, but had no idea that it had ever actually contained meat or suet. I decided I would make a mincemeat pie with no meat, and set about finding a recipe. This one came from Epicurious and was recommended by New Work Pal Kim.

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and finely diced (Give this job to your boyfriend who loves to chop things, and who likes to call himself "The Human Mandoline.")
2/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup dark raisins
2/3 cup dried currants
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 oz shredded beef suet, or substitute 4 tbsp melted butter (this is what I did)
1/4 cup brandy
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Stir together all mincemeat ingredients. Chill in an airtight container at least 3 days.


Couldn't find currants. Used 1 c each of both kinds of raisins, instead.
And HELL NO suet. 4 tbsp of butter for us. "Suet is for the birds!" he says.
Our sugar was not dark brown.
Our lemon & orange were zested until it looked about like 2 tsp, and then chopped finely.
I only had 1/8 c of brandy -- turned out I drank the rest a while ago -- so I included 1/8 c Maker's Mark as well.
Nutmeg and allspice were not measured, just ground fresh (I heart Microplanes) directly into the mixture.
And who prepares enough in advance to let it sit for 3 days? Pffft. It will sit overnight and for most of the day, and will be baked in the early evening, I expect. Possibly after dinner.

I will have to wait until tomorrow to learn how the mincemeat tastes; expect further posts. It sure smells good and is full of delicious ingredients, though, so I have high hopes.

Also on our menu: garlic mashed potatoes; stuffing with mushrooms, pine nuts, and shallots; cranberry sauce; turkey with rosemary and garlic; green beans, probably also with garlic; pumpkin pie; dulce de leche ice cream (not homemade, unlike the rest of the list).

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Braised Baby Bok Choy and Tofu with Madeira Mirin Glaze

We have a really fun cookbook called The Elements of Taste (which I like because it reminds me of The Elements of Style). The chapters are called things like "Salty," "Sweet," "Bulby," "Garden," "Oceanic," and "Funky." We made scallops from it a while ago, and had leftovers of the madeira mirin glaze:
Madeira Mirin Glaze

1/2 cup Madeira
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely diced peeled ginger

Combine all of the ingredients except 1 tbsp of the ginger in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat then reduce, stirring occasionally, to a syrup, about five minutes. Refrigerate until needed and add the remaining teaspoon of ginger before serving.

Notes we scribbled in the margin:
We used red wine instead of Madeira because we didn't have any and didn't want to go get any. Even with that, it still seemed too sweet; I think we'd use less sugar or more vinegar next time.

I hadn't really made any plans for cooking anything but have recently noticed I don't get enough protein, so just bok choy and rice wasn't going to be enough food, so I got a block of tofu and cut it into cubes and put it in a ziploc bag to marinate with probably 1/4 cup of the mirin glaze, 1/2 cup of soy sauce, and 1/4 cup of rice vinegar, with a couple glugs of sesame oil because I love it. It marinated for probably a couple of hours while I watched the Simpsons and Buffy and we started brown rice risotto:
Brown Rice Risotto
We just made this up. I forgot that it was going to take more liquid and more time because of being brown rice, but it still turned out pretty good.
2 large cloves of garlic, diced finely
1 smallish shallot, also diced finely
enough butter/olive oil to saute those things in
3/4 cup brown rice
1 carton of broth + some water after you remember that brown rice takes more liquid.
Some wine, just for fun.

It took a long time for the rice to start softening, but once it did, it finished cooking pretty quickly.
The whole carton of broth resulted in the risotto being very rich and flavorful - it was very delicious, but combined with a bunch of other salty foods it was a little much. Next time, half water and half broth.
Also we didn't put any cheese, like one does with traditional risotto. That was OK.

So while that cooked (which took forever), I trimmed and washed (I love it when my vegetables come with dirt on them!) the baby bok choy for a recipe Robin sent me:
Braised Baby Bok Choy (serves 2)
1 cup broth
2 tbsp unsalted butter (there's never really a reason to buy salted butter, as far as I can tell)
3/4 lb baby bok choy, trimmed and cleaned, etc.
1/2 tsp sesame oil (yay!)

Bring broth and butter to a boil (alliteratively) in a large deep skillet. "Arrange bok choy evenly in skillet"* and simmer, covered, until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer bok choy to dish and cover to keep warm.
Boil broth until reduced to about 1/4 cup, then stir in sesame oil and pepper to taste. Pour mixture over bok choy.

* "arrange bok choy evenly in skillet" = dump it in.
We used the wider of the two stockpots because the big big skillet was full of risotto.
This was delicious. We made 1 pound (because that's how much there was in the baggie of baby bok choy we got in the International District that morning) and I still wanted more.

As soon as all the risotto and the bok choy were done and the broth was reducing, I heated up a nonstick skillet with a few shakes of sesame oil (did I mention I love this stuff?) and when it was hot, took the tofu cubes out of their bag with a slotted spoon and put them in the pan. They fried a little, though there were so many of them that it was impossible to get them all cooked on all sides. Still, every cube had at least one side of good yummy sear. Then risotto in a bowl, tofu on top, yum yum, and when the bowl was empty, bok choy with juice, delicious.
And I have leftover tofu for lunch. Life is good.