If you read this blog thoroughly, including the comments section, you may have noticed the very sweet comment under yesterday's entry posted by William Van Roden, the designer of not only Martha Stewart's Cooking School but also the equally amazing Everyday Food: Great Food Fast.
You have to understand: these two books have whipped me into a frenzy about cooking. And while they are undeniably loaded with great content, I honestly believe that what puts them over the edge is the outrageously beautiful design. The typefaces, the photography, the colors, the layouts, everything is immaculate and clear and aesthetically impeccable. (There's that word again.) So the fact that WVR, the man responsible for these WORKS OF ART, has found this blog rocks my world! And that he posted something so nice?
WVR, you and your partner are definitely welcome to come for any recipe you choose, even one of those five-page, crazy-over-the-top, so-hard-you-shouldn't-try-it-at-home recipes. But not until my apartment is all snazzed up (summer or after). Flip through the book, pick a recipe, and email me your choice, and we''ll set it up. (How cool is this!!!)
Now, on to today's attempts:
I have a weekly date with my friend, Marcy. We met nine years ago in a class at Landmark Education, hit it off famously, and ever since, it's a rare week that goes by without our sharing a meal. We used to eat out whenever we met, but then I started getting interested in cooking, and lately we've been eating in. (Well, actually, I cook for us three times, and Marcy takes us out the fourth. She doesn't have the cooking gene.)
Last night, as I was planning what I'd cook for her tonight, the Braised Spring Vegetables seemed like a bull's-eye. After all, it is the first day of spring. However, I awoke this morning to full-on SNOW, so I reconceptualized, as you can see from the name of this entry.
I think it's worth mentioning that the ingredients for this entire meal, purchased at Fairway today, came to a paltry $20, and that included two new jars of spices (mustard and cumin seeds), so if I had already had these in my spice cabinet, it would've cost only $14. So, this project is very well timed, economically. Of course, when I'm buying hundreds of dollars worth of meat and fish (and a food mill?) further on down the line, I may be less chipper.
Indian-Spiced Split Pea Soup (p. 401)
Do you know how some recipes seem to almost make themselves? They happen so effortlessly and the results are so spectacular, and you're not really sure how you did it, but you know you did? This is one of those recipes. The effort/payoff ratio is AMAZING! Yes, there's a bit of mincing in the beginning (and mincing is never cute), but then there's this big stretch where you get to walk away for 45 minutes or so. And then, when you return, you just add a couple of finishing touches, and voilà! Food magic!
This is a truly delicious layering of flavor that was entirely unpredictable. I thought it was going to be just another split pea soup, but instead it was salty, limey, cilantro-y, Indian goodness, with those fried seeds (fried seeds!) giving you occasional crunchy bursts of flavor. Other worldly! This will definitely go on the permanent list.
Roasted Fennel (p. 313)
I've decided to tackle all the variations on the multiple-recipe pages, so in the case of page 313, titled "Perfect Roasted Vegetables," I'll be making my way through all fifteen of them. This will be easy, since my mother drummed it into my head that no meal is complete without a vegetable (preferably a green one, right, Mom?) And tonight, it was fennel's turn. I love fennel raw, and I've enjoyed fennel braised, but I have to confess that my roasted fennel tonight was just okay. A little too browned for my taste, actually. I cooked it for the recommended 40 minutes, but I think it may have been a little too long, at least in my oven. (I just learned that the regulations around consumer oven temperatures are pretty loose, i.e. an oven is deemed effective, even if the variation from accurate temperature is something ridiculous like 50 degrees.)
Don't get me wrong. The fennel was edible. Marcy even thought it was good and took home the leftovers. But I thought it was just okay. Next time, I'll cook it less and toss it with extra oil, I think.
Marcy had requested vegetables and fruit for dinner (health nut), but I don't think this is what she had in mind (i.e. all that sugar and butter). And as it turns out, she doesn't even like pineapple.
However, she really enjoyed this dish!
I, on the other hand, feel like I blew it. I cooked it in this weird, extra stovetop oven-thing I have, which has these terrible baking sheets that warp in the heat, and I made the mistake of covering them with foil, and all the liquid went under the foil and burned, and the pineapple wasn't that great to begin with, blah, blah, blaaaaaaah.
The fact of the matter is, this recipe is clearly a winner, with a great effort/payoff ratio. I could tell that if I hadn't blown it, it would've been a home run. Maybe even one for the permanent file, like Mr. Indian-Spiced Split Pea Soup up there. Roasting it with sugar and butter gives the fruit a pineapple-upside-down-cake richness, without the cake, and the rosemary gives it that extra Martha twist that I love. I'm going to declare this a redo. Stay tuned for Roasted Pineapple, Take Two.
Oh, a little tip for those of you who core pineapples. Martha says to "remove 'eyes' with the tip of the knife," however I used the tip of a potato peeler, and it made quick work of it.
FYI, you'll be happy to know, my plastic bubble is gone!! Not sure if it's coming back on Monday, but for the weekend, I am free!!
Until we eat again...
Here's Marcy with the soup and fennel.