Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 163 - Lasagne

Last night, Tracy KP was a surprise guest, but tonight she was completely expected. In fact, tonight was a Paladini-centric dinner party, to celebrate their visit from Virginia Beach. The guests included my BFF Tracy, her husband, Mark, their beautiful children (my god-children) Samantha (almost 12) and Ben (9 1/2), Tracy's BFF Patty Ben (god-mother to the kids, ergo my god-wife), and Mark's ex-roommate and BFF, Craig.

The last time I cooked for Tracy and the kids, the kids picked off the breading from the fried chicken (the best part!?!), so I wanted to make sure that I'd be making something tonight that they would indubitably eat and like. When given the choice between Macaroni + Cheese and Lasagne, I'm told there was no contest.

Lasagne (p. 386)

Making this Lasagne recipe is a true labor of love, given that all the components are made from scratch. Fresh pasta, fresh Marinara, and freshly grated cheese (at least you don't have to milk the cows and separate the curds from the whey).

I'm not a stranger to making Spinach Pasta Dough, and it went so much better this second time. I had to include of picture of it because I think it's so pretty, with flecks of real spinach showing through the dough.

The recipe calls for 1 1/4 C all-purpose flour, but I substituted 1/4 C of 00 flour, which I had leftover from the last time I made pasta. I'm wondering if this little bit of 00 flour made a difference in this batch. The dough seemed drier, smoother, more elastic after kneading. And when I went to roll it out, it was a breeze! I couldn't believe how quickly and easily it went! If making pasta is this easy every time, I'm going to make it constantly. (And buy all new clothes, two sizes bigger.)

As for the Marinara Sauce, I'm now convinced that there is something VERY wrong going on in this recipe. It doesn't come out even close! This is the second time I've made it, the first time being equally unsuccessful. What am I doing wrong, Martha?? Last time I tried fresh tomatoes, this time I used canned. Still the same problem. I even went online to look at other Marinara recipes, but I still couldn't figure out why it doesn't work out.

Here's how it goes: Sautéing the garlic, no prob. Adding the tomatoes, fine. Then, 30 minutes later, the liquid should be slightly reduced, but it seems completely the same, so I let it go a little longer. Then, I put it through the food mill. I'm supposed to end up with four cups of sauce, but I actually end up with a little over two cups of liquid. Watery, tomato liquid. Nothing sauce-y about it. And short by a cup and a half, at least.

How did I fix it? Luckily I had another can of tomatoes on hand (35 oz worth, no less). I added it, at first just the tomatoes, but I ended up having to add the entire can's worth of liquid too! I cooked it for a while, then put it all through the food mill again, then put it back on the stove and cooked it for another couple of hours (!!) until it had the consistency of sauce. Now, I don't mean heavy, thick, been-cooking-for-ten-hours sauce. I'm saying it took another big can of tomatoes and two extra hours of cooking to get this sauce to the consistency of the lightest, thinnest store-bought sauce. Good thing I started cooking early....

That said, I ended up with four cups of great-tasting sauce. But the preparation bore no resemblance to the recipe in the book.

Assembling this is 1-2-3. The only thing that tripped me up was the spreading of the ricotta mixture. My cheese was still cold and wouldn't cooperate in the spreading department. And if I manhandled it, it disrupted the layer of pasta underneath. The technique I developed to handle this was putting little blobs of ricotta all over the layer so I basically just had to flatten them out, vs. doing a big spread job. Also, I should mention that I chose to add some sausage to the dish, an option Martha offers up before the recipe, but I only put sausage on 2/3 of it, because the kids aren't sausage lovers (and I didn't want them to have to pick anything out of this dish!).

In no time, the lasagne was ready to go in the oven, and mercifully I was done for the night! What a big difference from last night, when I was cooking before, during, and after every course!

How did it taste? Flawless. The pasta is so light, it's almost non-existent. The cheeses are so fresh and rich (all whole milk cheeses). The proportions are perfect. The saltiness level is just right (high, but good).

And the kids ate it!!!

The only thing I would have changed had to do with the sausage and was entirely my bad. I let the sausage get very brown (to the point of being crispy), which I generally like, but in this case, a nice, moist brown would have been better than a crunchy one.

All in all, a big hit! I wonder if this would taste OK with skim milk products....

Jeff: A- (for crunchy sausage)
Martha: A-
(not for the overall recipe, which gets an A+, but for that sketchy Marinara, which tripped me up and slowed me down again)

The whole gang, L to R: Benjamin, Tracy, Samantha, Mark, Craig, and Patty Ben.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 162 - Pan-Fried Soft Shell Crabs, Green Papaya Slaw, Stir-Fried Cubed Pork with Black Bean Sauce, Perfect White Rice, and Peach Pie

You may remember I bemoaned that I had missed soft shell crab season. Well, a reader ("kirbles") kindly offered up a link to a webstore that ships frozen soft shell crabs year-round. It never occurred to me to look for something like that! So I ordered some crabs and planned a dinner party around their delivery. I scheduled them to arrive on Thursday, the 27th, just in time for dinner and was shocked when they arrived a day early. This turned out to be a good thing, because I was expecting them to arrive somewhat defrosted, but they were packed so effectively with dry ice that they were still completely frozen. Ergo, I was able to defrost them the "good" way, i.e. in the refrigerator overnight, unlike the "bad" way, i.e. in cold water, which I'd read sometimes results in chronic leg amputations.

Meanwhile, in the midst of my travels in Chinatown yesterday to shop for this feast, what did I see for sale for a fraction of the price I'd paid? Yup, fresh soft shell crabs. How they have fresh soft shell crabs in late August, I don't know. But I do know now to check Chinatown before I give up on finding something. Also, I must mention the amazing Hong Kong Supermarket, which has everything Asian you could ever need or want. What a great resource!

In attendance tonight: Jeff-and-Martha Dinner regulars Marcy, Tracy C., David P., and first-timers, the super-talented, multi-hyphenate actor/composer/filmmaker David T., she whom I've dubbed "The Most Talented Person in the World" Vicki, and The Most Talented Person in the World's FNBF, Tom. And a super-special surprise guest from out-of-town: Tracy KP! It was a full house of stellar people, and I had my work cut out for me!

Pan-Fried Soft Shell Crabs (p. 272)

Even though the crabs were defrosted properly, they suffered several losses of limb. Four of the six stayed intact, the other two ended up as legless bodies. Be forewarned if you go down the frozen crab path, and overorder, if it's important to you to have perfect crabs.

This preparation is very straightforward. The most unusual element is probably the coconut milk, into which you dip the crabs before you dredge in the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper mixture. After that, it's your basic pan frying, with its attendant spattering, etc.

I was pretty happy with the way they turned out. Considering how few ingredients were involved, I thought they had a great flavor. I was especially surprised by the saltiness, which I loved. They were nice and crispy, without being too greasy. You know how much I don't like frying, but if I came across fresh soft shell crabs again, I'd consider an encore presentation of this.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Green Papaya Slaw (p. 274)

This was a recipe I'd been getting excited about since I first cracked the book. I've been eating Green Papaya salads for years at Vietnamese restaurants - my favorite is called Goi Du Du (I know, not the most appetizing name), which is basically this same salad with sliced beef on top. I was very anxious to see if the flavors here would rival those I'd experienced before.

The answer is a resounding yes! Even though it's not a perfect match, it's satisfyingly close. While the Goi Du Du dressing is extremely garlicky, this has no garlic, but I think I like this better! I had to do some serious searching in Chinatown for these ingredients. Thank God I found Hong Kong Supermarket.

The biggest concern was finding the papaya itself. You can buy a ripe papaya anywhere, but a green, unripe one? Tricky. For those of you who've never heard of using unripe papaya, it's julienned here, and seems almost like a cross between cabbage and cucumber. It has a very subtle flavor, but a lot of crunch and absorbability, i.e. it takes on a lot of the flavor of the sauce in which it's dressed. Check out the look of the inside - unlike a ripe papaya which is bright orange, with big black seeds, this is all white. The outside is bright green and should be super firm. If it's started to soften or yellow at all, you can't use it for this kind of salad.

The other exotic ingredients involved in this recipe: palm sugar, tiny dried shrimp, and fresh Thai chile.

There is one kitchen tool which you will want to have on hand when making this recipe: a julienne slicer. I have a little one like this, and it makes quick work out of julienning the papaya and carrot.

I tried to prepare as much as I could before people arrived, so I'd made the dressing, I'd julienned, and I'd washed and trimmed the cilantro and mint. Before I started cooking the crabs, I mixed the papaya and carrots in the dressing, and then I got so caught up in making the crabs that I completely forgot to finish the slaw with the cilantro, mint, and peanuts! Once I'd tasted it the dressed papaya for flavor balance, I was so pleased with it that I forgot to add those incredibly important ingredients. It didn't hit me until much later when I was looking in the refrigerator and found the herbs. Argh! Guess I'm just going to have to make this again! And again and again....

I loved the way this tasted with the crabs, I love it with beef, and I think I'd love pretty much any protein served on this. In fact, maybe now that I have all the ingredients on hand, I'll serve this to Marcy every week with a different piece of fish on top each time.

Jeff: C (for leaving out such crucial ingredients)
Martha: A

Here's David T. with the Crab and Slaw plate!

Stir-Fried Cubed Pork with Black Bean Sauce (p. 266)

I thought this would be a nice Asian-influenced dish to follow the Vietnamese one. The recipe in the book stars shrimp, and the pork is a suggested variation, but you know I do all the variations! In fact, there's both a cubed and sliced pork variation; tonight, I went with cubes.

Let me tell you something: it's tricky to cut pork tenderloin into perfect cubes. It's such a malleable meat, it will go in whatever direction you suggest and hold its shape. Until, that is, it relaxes. I thought I was cutting pretty even cubes, but then the pork relaxed, and I had mostly rectangles. No matter.

Again, there are some more exotic ingredients here: fermented black beans, shao-hsing wine (mine is actually spelled shao-xing), and again, the hot (Thai) chile.

I made the sauce ahead of time - I'm always looking for things I can do before my guests arrive. I don't cook with chile peppers a lot, and I've never used a Thai chile. The ones I had bought were quite small and green. I knew I didn't want it to be too spicy, so I set out to remove the seeds, the spiciest part of the chile. This is tricky because you're supposed to slice the pepper crosswise to be in rings. So I developed a little technique: I took the slices, and I threaded them onto a chopstick, rubbed them back and forth a few times, and the seeds were ejected.

Still, even with the seeds removed, it seemed like this was going to be waaaaay too spicy for me. Would any of my guests even be able to eat it?? Wait and see....

The biggest problem here was that I was using a skillet, not a wok. Not only that, I had tripled the recipe, so I had a lot of pork in the pan at the same time. It eventually browned, but I'm sure if I had a wok or a larger skillet, that would have gone better. Or maybe I should have worked in batches.

In the end, I'd say the dish was quite successful. The flavors seemed very authentic, and even though I found the dish to be quite oily, again, it seemed much in keeping with traditional Chinese cuisine.

As for the spice factor, it was perfect. A little heat, but definitely not overkill. Maybe I could have left a few of those seeds in....

Jeff: A- (for overcrowding the pork)
Martha: A

Perfect White Rice (p. 407)

Another "perfect" recipe pans out! Perfect White Rice is simply long grain white rice, Martha-style, which generally means a little less water than usually instructed, slightly shorter cooking time, and ten minutes to steam after the heat is off. This rice is just right, fluffy and tender, no sogginess, just the right amount of "stick." Perfect with the pork, and anything else, for that matter.

Martha does it again!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Peach Pie (p. 444)

Could it be that I'm finally getting the hang of pies? This is now my fifth pie, and with each pie experience, they get better and better. As I've mentioned before, the temperature in the room makes all the difference. I ran the A/C full blast for this one.

This crust was strangely easy to work with. I brushed it lightly with flour a few times as I was working, and it really helped! And it rolled out to size so quickly and easily, I couldn't believe it.

I'm still not great with the whole edge-crimping thing - maybe next time I'll try the fork approach. I think another obstacle is my pie dish, a glass Pyrex dish with extended rims on either side that act as handles. The shape of the rims is throwing off the shape of my crust, and I can't seem to figure out how to make the necessary adjustments to get the shape just right. Maybe I need a new pie dish, but I like this one in every other way.

I'm completely smitten with my heart-shaped decoration. As you can see, I keep using it on every pie I make. I cut 8 slits into the top crust, and I place 8 cut-out hearts on each piece of the pie. It makes slicing equal portions so easy (although most of my friends only want half pieces - heart "breakers"!). This pie also got a ninth heart in the middle. (That was David P.'s suggestion - thanks, David!)

The other big pie lesson I've learned has to do with the juices that accumulate while mixing the filling. Here's the thing: you mix your peach slices with the cornstarch and sugar, and so much juice collects that you think, "if I don't put all that juice in, the filling won't be sweet or hold together because all the sugar and cornstarch is in that liquid." But resist the urge to add the juice. I left 95% of it behind, and this pie was plenty sweet and held together perfectly. Any more liquid, and I think the pie would have been too oozy.

Incidentally, this was my first truly flaky crust. This pie cooked for longer than usual, and the crust never got too brown. I'd been baking pies with the convection feature on, but this time, I baked it without the convection, and I think I prefer these results.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Since I knew that my diners tonight were way too healthy to be able to feast solely on Pan-Fried this and Stir Fried that, I made a second entree from Martha's Everyday Food: Perfect Food Fast: Herb-Crusted Snapper, which was a big hit. (I didn't love it, because I'm not a huge dill fan, but the majority vote was A+.) There was also steamed broccoli, just so you don't think I didn't offer my guests a green vegetable. (Did everyone else's mother make them eat a green vegetable with every dinner?)

Until we eat again....

Here's Tom and Vicki during the entree portion of the evening. That's pork on Tom's plate and snapper on Vicki's.

Here's the whole gang, from L to R: Marcy, Tracy C., David T., Tracy KP, David P., Tom, and Vicki.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 158 - Grilled Eggplant and Grilled Scallions

I bought these veggies to grill for dinner with Marcy last night, but I ended up making a few other "extracurricular" vegetable sides, so I'm having them tonight for dinner.

Grilled Eggplant (p. 349)

I'm not a huge eggplant fan, I have to say. I like it when it's covered in tomato sauce, breading, and cheese, or miso paste, but out in the open, not so much. Which is why I was so surprised how much I enjoyed this simply grilled.

I think maybe the key is going easy on the olive oil. These absorb the oil so completely that seconds after being brushed, they looked so dry I was second-guessing whether I had brushed them at all. But I resisted the temptation to slather more on - most people probably don't resist, and that's why grilled eggplant often ends up so slimy and heavy. Mine was tender, without being oily. And with just a little added salt, it was truly satisfying.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Grilled Scallions (p. 350)

There's not much to grilling a scallion - it takes barely a few minutes. But they are a great flavor accompaniment. There's a wonderful smell that comes from the grill when these start heating up, and the taste of charred onion is always a welcome one. They really added to the eggplant. This would be a great extra, if you're grilling any kind of meat or chicken for a fork-and-knife meal.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

I love making the cross hatch on grilled foods!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day 157 - Perfect Beans and Short Grain Brown Rice

Perfect Beans (p. 398)

There she goes again, calling something "perfect." It's a ballsy claim, and yet, I have to hand it to her as usual. Martha always manages to achieve the consummate version of whatever she calls "perfect" or "the very best."

Here we have beans, nothing fancy or showy. Just a pot of beans. But there's a lot of subtle flavor layering going on here. First of all, she specifies borlotti beans, aka cranberry beans. I found some at Whole Foods, but not in a big 365 bag. You'll find this one in the fancy gourmet bean section. That little plastic bag holds exactly the 2 cups you'll need for this recipe.

I was introduced to cranberry beans in another recipe from the book, Kale and Shell Beans, but those were fresh beans, while these are dried. I didn't get a strong read from the fresh ones, mostly because it was such a novelty to be eating a bean that hadn't been dried.

Here, it's easier to appreciate the borlotti bean, because you can compare it to all the tried-and-true dried beans you've eaten. These plump up quite a bit after having been soaked. They're rounder than a kidney bean, but I'd say they're about as big, i.e. pretty big for a bean. They have a nice smooth consistency, and is that a hint of sweetness I taste? It's fun to have my bean world expanded a bit.

The beans are cooked pretty traditionally, in water with some flavor add-ins: crushed garlic, fresh sage, salt, and a nice big piece of pancetta. For a change, they cooked on the quicker side of Martha's timings. (She predicts 1:00 - 1:15, but I took these off before the hour was even up.)

Alert!! There's a very important direction here, and it's somewhat hidden in the book. Martha tells you to finish off the dish with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, but she doesn't put this in the directions or the ingredients list! She only mentions them in the paragraph leading up to the recipe. So if you don't read the book thoroughly, you will miss this very crucial instruction.

See, here's the thing. The beans taste just fine once they're done cooking. You could definitely serve them, and they'd be respectable, tasty beans. But if you add the lemon juice, olive oil, and S+P, it launches them into a whole other flavor galaxy. All of a sudden, they're working on multiple levels, giving you bright, salty, creamy, tangy, smoky, sweet, spicy, etc. I love multilevel taste sensations!

Clearly, that last step is not negotiable. You absolutely must remember to locate and execute the hidden finish.

Who knew simple beans could be so satisfying and, dare I say, "perfect?" Why, Martha, of course!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Short Grain Brown Rice (p. 412)

Underlining the perfect simplicity of the beans, this is a flawless recipe for one of my favorite kinds of rice. Short grain brown rice is the one you're most likely to get if you ask for brown rice in an Asian restaurant.

Normally, the Chinese restaurant brown rice is served somewhat dry, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But this rice, prepared exactly as specified in the book, comes out especially delicious: fluffy, and a little wet/sticky, but still with that classic nutty flavor. Texture-wise, I would describe it as having a heavy lightness to it.

I think this may be the best rice I've ever cooked.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Marcy was in veggie heaven.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day 153 - Oat Groats

Meager, I know. But I wanted to cook something from the book today, and what I had was oat groats. The real cooking excitement, though, was a recipe not from the book but from, which I'll write about after my thrilling oat groats installment.

Oat Groats (p. 413)

Yet another in the long line of semi-obscure grains in the book. We all know oats, but they're more popular in other forms: steel cut, rolled, instant. This grain in groat form more closely resembles spelt or farro or wheat berries than our beloved hot oat cereals. But you can taste a vague, familiar oaty flavor in there somewhere.

The boiling method is great because you pretty much can't mess it up. (I guess you could overcook them, but the worst thing that would happen is that they'd be a little mushy, unlike the tragedy of the crunchy bottom of a pot of overcooked rice.) Happily, my oat groats came out just right: tender, but a little chewy. And as with all chewy obscure grains, this one is surprisingly satisfying. That said, how often will I think to myself: "What this meal needs is a side of oat groats?" Probably not that often. Farro sounds sexier. Spelt sounds healthier. But as always, thanks, Martha, for the experience.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Now here's the real excitement of the day!

Months and months ago, I was poking around, looking for a nice bread recipe, and I came across this one for Prosciutto Bread. It wasn't right for the meal I was planning at the time, so I didn't make it, but it started boring a hole in my consciousness. It calls for a kooky, star-shaped Italian bread mold, a pandoro mold, usually used for sweet Christmas breads, but here it's used for a bread that involves chunks of prosciutto and fontina cheese.

Well, I finally got the mold and made the bread.




It's unbelievable.

Now, I know this blog isn't meant to feature non-book recipes, but you have to indulge me. I need to discuss this one at some length.

I don't know much about baking. There's nary a bread recipe in Martha Stewart's Cooking School. (This is probably a good call - once you open that can of worms, you can't close it for a couple hundred pages.) But I definitely need some coaching in this department! I know there are things that happen during my baking experiences, easily fixable disasters, and if I had more savvy/guidance, I could quickly improve the quality of my home-baked goods.

Take this bread, for instance. There are very few ingredients involved here: sugar, water, yeast, flour, salt, pepper, ham, cheese, egg wash (which I forgot, by the way). You combine the sugar, water and yeast, wait for the foaming action, add the salt, pepper, and flour, and mix for five minutes. Now, here's where I get a little flummoxed - it's supposed to turn into a ball, and it didn't, really. It was super wet. Now, what do you do? Do you add more flour? It says in the recipe: "dough will be slightly sticky." Define sticky, please. I mean, the dough held together, but a ball? No. It clung to my fingers - in fact, it created webbing between all my fingers.

But I pressed on. In the past, I've added flour to get dough drier, but I think I've overdone it, and I definitely didn't want to end up with a dry, flavorless bread. So, no extra flour.

I pressed the chunks of prosciutto and cheese into the dough, let it rise, punched it down (I love that part), folded it again - fyi, it was still crazy wet and sticky, yet I somehow blobbed it into that kooky star mold, which has a strangely small opening. It was supposed to rise to the top of the mold in 30 minutes, but it took closer to an hour to get there.

Cut to the eating part. A-MA-ZING. Salty and cheesy and moist and crunchy and peppery and everything great in a cheese/meat bread. I served it to my college buddy, Miriam, whose mother was from Italy, and she claimed that it tasted just like Italy! And she would know!!

I guess the lesson is, just deal with the stickiness. But if I had added some extra flour, or mixed it longer, would it have been even better??

In any case, I'm now completely obsessed with this bread and I recommend that you get obsessed with it too.

Until we eat again....

Check out that crazy shape! How is one supposed to slice this??

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 150 - Fig and Port Chutney and Fifth Tally

Fig and Port Chutney (p. 179)

Ever since the Caramelized Figs experience, I've been obsessed with figs. And that bottle of port I opened was just begging to be used while fresh, so this was a natural next step.

Meanwhile, has anyone noticed that cheap ruby port tastes exactly like Manischewitz wine?

This chutney is easy to put together, not too many ingredients (Mom). My only comment about the recipe as written is that it took somewhat longer for me to achieve that "loose jamlike consistency." Martha says 45-60 minutes. Mine went for over an hour and a half. Eventually I did away with the partial cover and just let it evaporate fully.

The end result, while delicious, is less than I expected. The flavorings added (cinnamon stick, lemon rind, and bay leaves) didn't deliver any magic, and all I can taste is figs and port. Which is not a bad thing. I was just expecting some magic. Also, I was expecting the figs to fall apart a little more. They basically kept their shape. Hmmm.

I was surprised to see that there's butter in here, but it makes sense, adding a little richness and texture. Now that it's cold, there's no evidence of it being buttery, but it has a nice smoothness, and I'm sure the butter helps.

I tried eating some of this with the Chicken Curry leftovers, but it was a taste mismatch (the port, I think). But it sure tasted great on my pork chops last night. :-)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

As for the tally, I'm 150 days in - almost halfway through the project, time-wise. And how many recipes/lessons have I completed?

200, even! That leaves 156 to complete in 215 days! I can do that!

Although I'm still bumming about the Soft Shell Crabs. Does anyone know where/how to get soft shell crabs off season? I'll feel incomplete if I do everything but the soft shell crabs....

Also, is there anyone out there who owns the Le Creuset Pate Terrine who might consider lending it to me for a few days? I need it to make Martha's Country Pate, but I really don't want to buy/own this expensive ($140) and arcane piece of cookware. Maybe Martha could lend me hers.

Until we eat again....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day 146 - Chicken Curry and Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

After my experience (or I should say three experiences, since that's how many times I've made it already) with the Indian-Spiced Split Pea Soup, I've been excited to give Martha's Chicken Curry recipe a go. It involves 8003 ingredients, though - not the kind of thing you just whip up on a whim. Today, I finally sucked it up, got my butt over to the Indian spice store (amazing), and bought me some fresh curry leaves, coriander seeds, and brown mustard seeds, and now I'm in business! I invited Adinah over for this meal, in honor of her impending birthday (on Saturday, she turns fxxty %x!e#), and I was crazily behind when she arrived. It was about an hour and half before we had anything to eat. Cooking Indian food from scratch is labor-intensive!

Chicken Curry (p. 201)

Literally. 8003 ingredients. My mother recently revealed that for her, choosing recipes depends entirely on how few ingredients are involved. This recipe would have been eliminated so quickly, it would take your breath away.

But I'm always excited to attempt to achieve some traditional, exotic, multi-culti dish, even if it does take 8003 ingredients. Or maybe it's even particularly because it takes 8003 ingredients.

The first thing that happens here is making garam masala, that popular Indian spice mixture. I doubled the ingredients for this, because I thought it would be nice to have some extra lying around. But after I ground it up, I was left with only 1/4 cup, which is what Martha said I should have for this recipe (using half the ingredient I'd used). Hmmm. Either the book is wrong and I should have had 1/8 cup, or the recipe measurements were off by 200%. What to do? Do I add the whole 1/4 cup to the dish or do I add only half of it? I ended up adding it all. I figure you can't have too much flavor. But still, I wonder, why was that measurement so far off?

I think the most fascinating thing about this recipe was the making of the onion paste. You puree onion, garlic, and ginger, and sauté it in oil with mustard and cumin seeds. (Why aren't my mustard seeds popping any more? You sauté them in oil, and they're supposed to pop. They popped the first time I made the split pea soup, but since then, there's been no popping. Is my oil not hot enough? Or too hot?) Martha says to cook the puree until it caramelizes, but how do you judge caramelization with a puree?

The fascinating part was the color this took on as it cooked. When it started (as raw onion, garlic, and ginger), it was just what you'd expect: off-white, maybe a tinge of yellow. But as it cooked, it got greener and greener. About 30 minutes in, it looked like the picture below. After 45 minutes, it was even darker green and drier. Then, once the turmeric, tomato paste, chicken stock and garam masala went it, it became that rich, brown, Indian food color.

It isn't until the last half hour that you add the chicken thighs and diced potato. I read this recipe three times wondering if I was supposed to cover the pot at this point, but there's no mention of covering. My recommendation? Cover the pot. I let those thighs cook uncovered for a half hour, but they were nowhere near done! Once I covered it, things moved along. This pot wants to be covered, I say!

Eeek, what bad form, making my guest wait so long for food!! Thank God it was Adinah! Look, she's smiling, even after I made her pose for a picture before letting her eat after starving her for an hour and half!

In the end, the dish was good. I wish I could say it was great, but it was just good. A couple of things I could have done better: I failed to salt the sauce when I should have, and I missed my opportunity. Once the chicken went in, it was too hard to stir and incorporate, so I salted it a little but not fully. And ultimately, it was very undersalted.

It was also not spicy enough, which is crazy coming from me, because I have spice-o-phobia. (My scalp sweats profusely when I eat spicy food. Not cute.) The recipe calls for three small ground-up dried chiles - I have small dried chiles, but they are super spicy, and I thought that would be the death of me. So I put in one big not-too-spicy dried chile. It was a lot of ground chile, but it didn't deliver much heat at all. I was surprised... If I were to do this again, I might try a combo of the two kinds of chiles.

If I weren't going full steam when the garam masala confusion happened, I might have done some internet compare and contrast to see how much one usually uses in a dish like this. I did a little poking around after the fact, and I think it would have been closer to the standard usage if I had used 1/8 cup. It's possible that the sauce was muddied with too much garam masala....

The accompaniments saved this dish, flavor-wise, along with some added salt. Served over basmati rice, with a generous sprinkling of salt, a squeeze of lime, some fresh cilantro, and plain yogurt, it began to taste like true Indian food. But when tasted alone in the pot, it fell short.

Hmmm. Can I bear to do this one over again?? I probably should, but I should do it soon, while I still have the fresh curry leaves! (FYI, they are optional in the recipe, but they have a really amazing scent that you should experience.)

Jeff: B+ (For missing the salting turn-off, under-spicing it, and keeping my guest waiting so long)
Martha: B (Some inaccurate/missing directions foiled an already complicated meal)

Stewed Okra and Tomatoes (p. 345)

The list of things I won't eat is pretty short (bell peppers and raw onions). And the list of things I don't care for is not that much longer. But okra would be pretty close to the top of it.

YUK! Slimy texture, little beebees floating around in it, that grassy taste. Pyuch.

But I needed another vegetable dish for this meal, and I knew I'd have to make this one sooner or later.

Turns out... not so bad! I actually almost enjoyed it! It's a very straightforward preparation: sweat some onions and garlic, add chopped tomatoes, then the sliced okra, partially cover for an hour, throw in some fresh herbs, and Scene. Very fresh tasting, pretty good! I think one of the keys is to not cook the okra to death. This okra was soft and cooked-through, but still on the greener side of khaki. Once it's brown, I ain't goin' anywhere near it.

But for okra to be at all appetizing to me is a pretty big feat. And for that I have to give Martha some props.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 144 - The Very Best Burgers and Caramelized Figs

My dear friend, Michael (actor/director extraordinaire) thought he was coming over just to see my apartment and maybe have a "nosh." Little did he know the calories that awaited him....

The Very Best Burgers (p. 277)

When Ms. S names something "The Very Best ___" or "Perfect ___" in this book, you can pretty much count on them being the very best or perfect versions of those things.

But, as with these burgers, sometimes there are mitigating circumstances.

Specifically, what I'm talking about is fat. Yes, these are the juiciest, tastiest very best burgers, but at what price? And I don't mean money. I mean heart disease and obesity. I must have shoved about a pound pure, chunked fat through that grinder, along with a tiny amount of beef. When I was done cooking those burgers, they were positively swimming in their own oil. And yes, they were the very best burgers we'd ever eaten, but they were also the most lethal burgers we had ever eaten. I think one of the benefits of grinding your own meat is that you can achieve a LEANER ground meat than is available at the butcher or supermarket. But Martha says that's not the way to the very best burger. And I'm sure she's right. But I'm glad I'm not having my blood drawn today - that's all I'm saying....

Something you should know before you try to make these is: there's a lot of freezing and refrigerating happening throughout. This isn't a quick 1-2-3 on the table in minutes burger. You have to put the grinder in the freezer for an hour before you start, so plan ahead. And once you've cubed the meat, that too goes in the freezer for 15 minutes. Then you grind it, put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, make patties, put them in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes. Get the idea? I guess everything REALLY needs to be cold, every step of the way.

For some reason, I couldn't find my finer grating plate (it comes with two, one coarse and one finer), so I couldn't do the two different kinds of grind that Martha recommends. What I did do was I put half of the meat through the grinder a second time, and it did change the consistency of the meat, but not as significantly as I'm sure the other plate would have.

It's very Play Doh to see the beef come through the holes. At one point, the holes got clogged with sinew, and the meat was oozing through the outside of the grinding plate. That was interesting.... I just had to clean out the plate, and then it was fine after that.

For accompaniments, I sautéed a nice big sweet onion for the occasion. We also had tomato slices and Gruyère on there for good measure. Michael chose an English muffin for his bread, I went with sourdough. And indeed, these were the very best burgers, amazing taste, juicy and greasy and delicious. But I fear we might have taken a week off our lives by eating it.

Jeff: A
Martha: A-
(I took a little off for health reasons...)

This episode was sponsored by my BFF Tracy Paladini (who just scored again as "Little Red" in Into the Woods at Sacramento Music Circus). For my birthday present this year, she consulted my Amazon wish list and gave me the much-coveted and needed KitchenAid Food Grinder Attachment! This is the first time I've used it, and I love it! It works great! Thanks Tray!

(I owe another shout-out to Shirley Shulimson, Adinah's mom, who was so kind to give me her Food Grinder Attachment from her original KitchenAid mixer. Unfortunately, there were some pieces missing, and I wasn't able to use it, but I really appreciated the thought!)

Caramelized Figs (p. 491)

O - M - G... This is my new favorite dessert. I didn't see this coming.

I've always loved figs - fresh figs, dried figs, Fig Newtons, those figbars in cellophane at the corner deli. But these cooked figs were absolutely crazy great. Plus, it takes no time at all. This is a dessert you can whip up on the spot to dazzle your dinner guests.

Cut figs, press into sugar/salt mixture, brown, hit with port, deglaze, swirl butter, splash of lemon juice. Roughly a 3 minute prep, and a 5 minute cooking time. Whizz bang - dessert!

And it is totally deluxe. The figs, which didn't look that great to begin with (not quite ripe enough), bloom in the cooking process. The sugar browns in that weird process of caramelization, and then once you add the port, it starts to get syrupy. The butter takes it to a new level of smoothness and richness, and the lemon juice... actually, I'm not sure what the lemon juice contributes, but it must do something because this dish comes out perfectly.

So delicious! Michael said it reminded him of something his French grandmother might have made. As I added the port, I thought of my grandmother's raisins and walnuts with some flaming Benedictine. This dish never goes on fire, but it does make for a dazzling end of a meal. I licked my plate (and the pan) clean.

FYI, I now weigh four million pounds.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Michael, about to finger paint with caramelized fig syrup

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Day 142 - Deep-Poached Fish Fillets

Deep-Poached Fish Fillets (p. 228)

It's sort of a cliché, isn't it? Fish on Fridays? But with my somewhat regular Friday night dates with Marcy, the fish lover, I'm passing for a Christian with this Friday fish ritual!

Today, the lesson is deep-poaching. For this installment, I went with halibut, which is one of my favorite firm-fleshed white-meat fish. (Did anyone watch Top Chef Masters, when Suzanne Tracht got eliminated for her grouper? I felt her grouper pain, remembering my own grouper debacle.)

I must confess, I made a hideous short cut in this recipe. The recipe calls for chicken stock, and while my freezer is filled with homemade brown (beef) stock, I'm all out of homemade chicken stock. So I used... store bought. :-0 I know, I know. I'm the first one to admit that there's no comparison, but I didn't have time to whip up a batch of chicken stock. Maybe I'll revisit this recipe with the Asian flavors option and use homemade stock that time.

This is a lovely way to prepare fish. And really easy. You might think, as I did, that it's impossible to overcook poached fish, but it's not true! These fillets didn't cook very quickly. I checked them at 4 minutes, and they were definitely not done. Then, again at about 8 minutes, still a little raw in the middle. They probably went for about 10-11 minutes, but here's the interesting part. At their thickest point, they were cooked perfectly, but at the thin end of the fillet, they were overdone. Hmmm. I guess the solution is to request fillets sliced to be of equal thickness throughout. I wonder if a fishmonger will do that for you....

The fish is served in its broth, which is a nice idea. (Yes, yes, of course it would have tasted better with homemade broth.) The flavor of the broth is overwhelmingly lemony, which Marcy liked. I was a little pucker-faced.

Over all, this is a very refined, no-nonsense meal. Simple piece of fish, well-cooked, in a bowl of lemony chicken broth. Purists will love it. Others may require a little more dazzle. Maybe if you're serving a tasting menu, this, with a small piece of fish, would make a nice course on the way to a meat course....

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Marcy with the halibut, appropriately served in my big blue fish bowls

Friday, August 7, 2009

Day 141 - Pot Roast and Chocolate-Rum Swiss Roll

This meal was the reinstatement of what used to be an annual memorial for my Aunt Betty, my father's sister, who died on August 6, 1996. The last scheduled dinner in honor of Betty was to have taken place on September 11, 2001, but obviously that didn't happen.

This year, my parents, Betty's best friend and neighbor Marilyn, and I celebrated Betty on the very anniversary of her death, with an entree inspired by her. The photo above is of (L to R) me, Betty, and my brother Mark on Mother's Day, 1996.

Pot Roast (p. 186)

When I invited my parents to come into the city for this dinner, I asked them "What food do you associate with Betty?" And they both, separately, answered "Pot roast." (Actually, my father said "brisket," but I think he might have meant "pot roast.") Evidently, this was Betty's signature dish. (Unless you talk to Marilyn, who remembers Betty cooking Cuban food, which also makes sense because her ex-husband was from Cuba.)

Lo and behold, Martha had a pot roast recipe just waiting for me, so that was a no-brainer. And even better, she describes a way to do it over two days. And thank goodness for that, because if I had had to cook this whole meal in one day, I would have plotzed.

Part one is browning the meat. Easy. Part two is sweating the aromatics. (I've got the lingo down!) Then, you add some flour (huh?) and vinegar (double huh??). I've never seen this before, and I'm not sure why you'd be thickening the liquid at this point, but who am I to question these things? Then the meat goes back in to braise for 2.5 to 3 hours at a simmer.

Amazingly, I had to move my pot three times to achieve a simmer. I was cooking in my Martha Stewart-for-Macy's 5.5 qt Dutch Oven, a beautiful enameled cast iron pot, which it seems conducts heat REALLY well. I had brought the aromatics to a boil over my largest burner and then when I put in the meat, I turned the level down to 3 expecting a simmer. But the next time I checked, it was positively boiling rapidly. So I turned it to 1. Still a rapil boil. Then I moved it to a smaller burner set on 1. More boiling. Then to an even smaller burner set on 1. A half hour later, that pot was still boiling!! I had to put this huge pot on my teensiest burner to keep the bubbling to a minimum! I wonder if cooking it at a higher temperature for that hour or so diminished the qualilty of the meat in some way. There were no obvious signs.... FYI, if you're making this, don't be discouraged that there's seemingly so little liquid in the pot. It works anyway.

Once the meat was tender (mine took 3 hours, fyi), I let it cool in the pot, and then put the whole thing in the fridge. That was Day One.

Day Two, i.e. just before serving, you take out the meat, slice it (she says it's easiest to slice when it's cold, and it's true, it was a breeze), and reheat the braising liquid. Then, strain the liquid and put it back in the pot with the garnish vegetables.

For garnish veggies, I chose new potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and turnips. If I had it to do over again, I would substitute parsnips for turnips. I think I'm done with turnips. Too bitter. Incidentally, when I was buying these vegetables, it seemed like there would never be enough. In fact, it was plenty. Although, let me remind you, I served this dish to four people, and Martha says it serves 8. There were some leftovers, but not a ton....

Once the vegetables are tender, you put the meat back in the pot to reheat. Once the meat is heated through, you take everything out of the pot, leaving the liquid behind, cover the meat and veggies to keep them warm, and then make the sauce. Since I didn't want to take the time to reduce it, I added some Wondra flour to thicken it. There was very little character to the sauce, but a bit of salt and a splash of vinegar brought the flavors out. I was surprised how pale it was, roughly the same color as turkey gravy, i.e. beige. I was expecting something darker brown.

I don't know what a good pot roast tastes like, but my father does and he claims that mine was very successful. If anything, I would say that it was a bit underseasoned. Perhaps I could have added more salt and pepper at the very beginning, before the browning. (I was concerned that I might have oversalted it at that point, but I definitely hadn't.) The meat was very tender, and the vegetables were well cooked. And I'm guessing that's the description of a good pot roast.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Chocolate-Rum Swiss Roll (p. 467)

Here is Martha's chocolate take on the Jelly Roll/génoise. I encountered all the same issues and frustrations with this that I had while making the Jelly Roll, and I was able to head some off at the pass, which was satisfying.

For instance, I did not get concerned when it took forever to fold the flour and butter into the eggs. I remembered that it took a while.

I also recalled that even though I had left some unfilled space around the perimeter as instructed, the filling still oozed out the sides as I rolled it up. To remedy that, I rolled this cake VERY loosely. Of course, by doing that, I sacrificed the perfect, tight spiral visual, but the cake didn't overflow and was jam-packed with delicious cream filling.

I was very sparing with the brushing on of the rum syrup, as I didn't want to end up with soggy cake. I now know I could have used more without messing up the texture, but I played it safe, and consequently you couldn't taste the rum at all. (Which is actually a good thing, because no one in my family even likes rum flavor.)

The cake itself has that weird sponge-like texture, more air than flavor. I didn't think there was much of a chocolate taste. Most of the chocolatey-ness came from the cocoa dusted on top.

I think the main attractions of this dessert are the whipped cream and the distinctiveness of the rolled shape. Nice, but probably not going to get a revival on this stage.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

For the record, I served three other recipes with this dinner, which I'll mention with mini-reviews:

Watermelon, Feta, and Basil Salad

Since I was making this wintry pot roast as our entree, I wanted some kind of nod to summer in our starter. My workout buddy Ken raved about this ingredient combo, so I found Martha's recipe take on it online. My thoughts: interesting, original, unusual. I neither loved it nor hated it. It's a unique flavor blend, not completely harmonious, but not offensive either. I served it on arugula, which I think worked well. And I used goat feta, which is actually a little milder than your average feta. Maybe I did the flavor combo a disservice by not using a stronger flavored cheese....

Gougères are cream puffs' savory cousins, aka those little, puffy cheese rolls that you get in churrascaria restaurants. I was expecting something doughier and heavier, but these were positively airy and popover-y. Delicious, with just a hint of cheese. And so easy to make!! It's a lot of dazzle without a lot of bother. This will be a major repeat attraction.

Coffee Ice Cream

I wanted to have another dessert in case the chocolate roll was a bust, and I knew this would pair well with it, as I had made this for my birthday dinner. This recipe is FABULOUS! The ice cream is so delicious, so unbelievably coffee-flavored. Now that I've learned to let the custard get nice and thick while it's cooking on the stove, my ice creams are turning out so much better in the texture department. This is a total winner - failsafe - run, don't walk, for the ingredients and make it today!

Until we eat again....

From L to R, Betty's BFF Marilyn, my mother Nancy, my father Harold, with the Pot Roast below.

Marilyn with the Swiss Roll. (FYI, Marilyn is an amazing attorney, specializing in everything from pre-nup to real estate purchases to divorce to real estate sales (i.e. a relationship from soup to nuts), she's fab and you can email her here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 137 - Steamed Artichokes with Smoked Salmon, Poached Eggs, and Hollandaise, and Buttermilk Shortcakes with Rhubarb and Berries

Two compound dishes in the same day?? What was I thinking? Well, I was able to stay focused all day on just the cooking... until game night, that is. :-)

Part one was a Marcy special. The whole reason I started hosting our weekly brunches was that we were going to the Fairway Cafe every week and both ordering Lox, Eggs, and Onion. Eventually I realized, "I can make this for us at home!" So I started serving brunch at my place. And then once I started the project, I've been cooking a different meal for Marcy every week. I knew she would love this one, because it has the eggs and salmon in it:

Steamed Artichokes with Smoked Salmon, Poached Eggs, and Hollandaise (p. 82)

There are a lot of balls to keep in the air with this dish, and I definitely dropped one of them, BIG TIME.

The easy part is steaming the artichokes. That takes care of itself. FYI, mine steamed in a quick 30. (Martha says 30-40 minutes.) And defuzzing a cooked artichoke is a HELLUVA lot easier than cleaning out a raw one.

The smoked salmon was store-bought and already sliced, so I didn't have to worry about that.

That leaves the poached eggs and the Hollandaise.

I've never been very good at poaching eggs. For some reason, I get egg drop soup. I think I'm following the directions pretty well, but maybe my water isn't simmering enough... Ah well. They came out passably, but I wish they had more white attached. Martha trims hers for a neater appearance, but I don't end up with enough white that I can afford to trim any away....

I'm saving the Hollandaise story for its own entry, see below.

The dish was adorable. I mean, c'mon, a poached egg with salmon in an artichoke flower? With Hollandaise? It's so twee!! And it's irresistible. Even though it's not a whole lot of food, it takes a while to eat it, with all the artichoke leaves and then the heart. If you serve this, though, you will want to serve some kind of hearty bread product with it. (FYI, I also served some steamed asparagus.)

Jeff: A- (points off for measly poached egg whites)
Martha: A

Hollandaise Sauce (p. 96)

This was my first attempt at Hollandaise, and it gave new meaning to the word fiasco.

It was going so well... part one with the shallot and wine and vinegar and pepper, reduced, then strained? Delicious, all good.

The next part was questionable, which was all my fault. I had frozen some unused egg yolks from when I made meringue, because Martha told me I could (p. 451), and I used them in this Hollandaise, which was probably ill-advised, as it's tricky enough to make this sauce under perfect conditions, you shouldn't tempt fate by using any sub-standard ingredients. So the egg yolk was behaving strangely. It started out grainy, and it looked like it might never recover. But then once I started adding the butter, I thought I might be out of the woods.

Now here's where the even bigger problem occurred. I added all the butter, and I had an outrageously thick sauce. Not even really a sauce anymore. More like... butter. Because that's exactly what it was: butter. Not hot, melty butter, but room temperature butter. Next, I added the lemon juice and salt and cayenne, but the consistency was still waaaaaay too thick. So I started adding water to thin it out, just as Martha suggests. No change. More water. No change. And pretty soon, I've added so much water to no avail, and I know something HAS to be wrong. This is just butter with water whisked into it!

So I put the bowl back on the bain-marie (you're going to have to get the book to learn what a bain-marie is), and the butter starts to melt. And you guessed it: I have watery Hollandaise. I'm not sure what happened, but the only thing I can think of is that the bowl should have stayed hot enough to melt the added butter, and it didn't.

So I put the bowl on the heat and ended up with CRAZILY watery Hollandaise. So I thought, I'm just going to whisk this over the heat until all the water evaporates. And that's exactly what happened. I whisked that thing for a solid 15 minutes, and eventually it found its way back to Hollandaise. Amazing! Of course it was an hour before Marcy was coming, but Martha told me how to store it for up to an hour.

So I covered it with plastic wrap (to avoid getting a skin on top) and left it sitting on the hot saucepan. And once it was time to assemble the dish, I lifted off the plastic wrap... and it was completely ruined. Curdled, separated, no resemblance to Hollandaise. Just a curdy, oily, disaster sauce.

Marcy was very gracious. She said, Who cares! So I put it on the eggs anyway. I even put some on my asparagus. Marcy thought the flavor was just right. But it was tragically clear that the texture was disgraceful.

I'm going to have to try this again. Next time, I won't try to make it in advance. And I won't use frozen egg yolks. And I won't add any water unless the butter is melted and it's still too thick.

Jeff: D- (I'm taking just a half a point for flavor)
Martha: A

Buttermilk Shortcakes (p. 433)

My air conditioning is working again. So why didn't I turn it on when I was making these?? It really does make a difference!!

I finally got to use my pastry cutter making these! Making biscuits (because that's really what these are...) is something else I've never done, so this was a day of adventure.

A couple of tips for the first timer. Turn on the air conditioning. (Oh wait, I already covered that.) Before you start working with the dough, set up the flour for flouring the biscuit cutter, because once your hands are covered with this buttery goo, you're not going to want to touch anything. I ended up skipping the flour, and it all worked out OK, but it would have been better if I had used it.

This yielded 12 biscuits for me - Martha said 10. I'm thinking I probably patted out the dough too thin, because my biscuits were a little slight. And they spread more than I expected, even though I put them in the fridge for the 20 minutes before baking. I think they could have been colder going into the oven. (Did I mention to turn on your air conditioning...?)

All in all, though, they were delicious. Crumbly and buttery, although I wish they had been flakier. I think my butter got too soft when I was folding/kneading/cutting the biscuits (with no AC). Ah well. Still wholly edible.

Jeff: B (points off for no AC and skinny biscuits)
Martha: A

Rhubarb Compote (p. 436)

Ever since my rhubarb pie, I'm feeling more confident about cooking with rhubarb. I love the way it tastes and the color it gives off when cooked, and it amazes me how little sugar it takes to sweeten it (in this case, a cup for 2.5 lbs of rhubarb).

I learned an important lesson making this compote, and it has to do with bargain shopping. I love a good bargain. And I thought I'd found one when I bought that ridiculously inexpensive straight-sided skillet from Macy's a few months ago. This was a nice-looking pan with a good lid, a great size for cooking larger amounts of food, and I needed something with some generous straight sides. And Macy's was practically giving it away! Jackpot!

Actually, it was a waste of money. This pan is thin and conducts heat really unevenly. I tried to cook the rhubarb in it, but the only rhubarb that was softening was the rhubarb in the center of the pan, over the flame itself. The rhubarb around the perimeter of the pan was uncooked. Arrrgh!

So I had to cook the rhubarb much longer than I should have, stirring every few minutes. In the end, it turned out fine. Actually, I loved it! It was sweet and tart and citrus-y and a perfect complement to the biscuit.

But I'm really mad at that pot now.

Jeff: A
Martha: A
Jeff's Straight Sided Skillet: F

Macerated Berries (p. 437)

It's amazing how a little sugar and lemon juice can change a berry! These strawberries went from fresh to syrupy in minutes! They become sort of like thawed frozen strawberries in syrup, but fresher. My only complaint is that a pint isn't enough for this recipe. You should make twice that.

Jeff: A
Martha: A-
(skimpy portion!)

Whipped Cream (p. 436)

I've never whipped cream by hand! It was exhausting!

I brought all the above ingredients over to my friend David's apartment, as he was throwing a game night. (FYI, we play Celebrity and Running Charades.)

But it was warm out, so I didn't want to whip the cream until it was time to serve it. For best whipping results, Martha wants everything to be cold (the bowl and the cream) and recommends whipping over an ice bath, but I knew that working that out at David's would be a longshot, so I brought a melamine bowl and I put it in the freezer, hoping it wouldn't crack. (It didn't.)

When it was time to serve, I whipped like there was no tomorrow. And eventually it became whipped cream! But it was a good 5+ minutes. The added sugar and vanilla was nice, but I could have done without it or with less. There was so much flavor in all the other ingredients, it might have been gilding the lily to flavor the cream too.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

All in all, these were two high-effort dishes with great payoffs. I'm not sure I'd do either one again, but as usual, I'm so glad to have done them this once.

Until we eat again....

Marcy with the Steamed Artichoke Breakfast Flower (and Buttermilk Shortcakes in the foreground)

Game night attendee John Pinto Jr. with the whole Buttermilk Shortcake concoction