Friday, October 23, 2009

Day 220 - Rice Pilaf and Grapefruit Granita

This episode of Jeff and Martha still finds me in Virginia Beach, for my second and last cooking efforts Chez Paladini.

Rice Pilaf (p. 414)

Tracy was making her famous salmon (baked with thyme and garlic), so I thought I'd try this rice dish.

Rice Pilaf is a nice and easy way to "dress up" what can be typically boring rice on the side. It just requires a little extra work: mincing some onion, melting some butter, sauteeing the rice a bit, and then sticking it in the oven.

Here's the thing, though. If you're using your oven for another dish and it's set at a different temperature than the 350° you need to cook this pilaf, you're screwed. Luckily, Tracy's salmon happens to be cooked at 350°, which only left the issue of shelf height. Tracy's oven is quite compact, and one dish had to be placed top rack and the other dish had to bottom rack. Tracy says that everything burns on the bottom rack, but the rice (on the bottom) was cooked perfectly, as was the salmon above. Tracy, what were you so concerned about?

I'm going to say it was a hit, for two reasons. A) Tracy has been talking about making it again, herself. And B) Samantha, who is famously anti-rice, actually ate some without gagging. (Benny, photographed at right with forkful of Rice Pilaf, clearly has no rice issues.)

I thought it tasted just fine. It didn't change my life, but it was fine. I should mention that I made it with water (the recipe calls for chicken stock or water), and I'm guessing this would be even tastier cooked with the homemade chicken stock option.

Tracy was girding herself for unwanted chunks of onion but was fascinated that the onions were ultimately invisible. (After minutes of being sauteed, then simmered, then baked in the oven, I wasn't surprised. Let's not forget, they were minced to begin with!)

This is a nice, easy way to do rice, nothing flashy about it. It's probably not appropriate for every meal, but with baked salmon, it was a perfect fit.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Grapefruit Granita (p. 486)

After my gigantic hit with Grapefruit Sorbet, I was excited to try this granita thing. I wasn't really sure how the ice shaving part was going to go, but I just trusted that Martha would guide me through it, which is exactly what she did.

Making the "potion" is easy. Squeeze and strain a bunch of grapefruit juice, add some syrup, and freeze.

There's are two ways to freeze this: one where you stir it every hour, and the other where you just stick it in the freezer and forget about it. Guess which one I picked?

If you take the latter option, which I did, you just have to take the frozen pan out of the freezer to allow it to sit for 1o minutes before you start the shaving.

This is what the frozen potion looked like. Pretty, right? It had a kind of snowflake, chemistry-like pattern happening in multi-layers.

Once I started shaving, it was so easy - it naturally crumbled to a perfect texture for serving.

The Paladinis, junior and senior, gave this a big thumbs up. I thought it was just OK, but I think that's because I'd experienced the sorbet, which had a much richer grapefruit flavor. I think the grapefruits I used for the granita were sweeter, less tart, and that made for a less interesting, less complicated, ultimate flavor. It was almost too sweet. Luckily, that's not an issue for the Paladinis.

I reiterate my theory about sorbets (and granitas): the more acid in the fruit base, the better the result. (I wonder how Cider Vinegar Sorbet would taste....)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 218 - Chicken Piccata

Here I am in beautiful Virginia Beach, with my bestie, Tracy P, her wonderful husband, Mark, and their two wunderkinder, Samantha (12) and Ben (9.8). For a change, I'm getting cooked for, which is a real treat! But for one night, I took over a portion of the kitchen to cook something from the book, something I've been looking forward to for months...

Chicken Piccata (p. 248)

This is one of those ubiquitous dishes, on every Italian and/or "Continental" menu. Simple, classic, timeless.

No new techniques involved. I've already experienced pounding cutlets, dredging things in flour, and making a pan sauce. What was new tonight was cooking on an electric stove! Unlevel surface, uneven heat, argh! I didn't realize how good I had it with my gas stove!

In the end, it all worked out fine. The cooking of the chicken, while uneven, was uneventful.

The sauce, however.... You know how I'm always saying that my sauces don't reduce quickly enough? Well, this was completely the opposite. To start the sauce, you put 3T of white wine in the pan, post cooking the chicken, and deglaze until it's reduced by half. My wine sizzled away in five seconds. So unlike every other sauce I've made where I've waited 15 minutes to see any reduction, here I had to actually add more liquid just to get myself to 1.5T.

The sauce was also the surprise of this dish. Typically, Chicken Piccata comes swimming in cups of heavy lemon butter sauce, but this was very light and quite thin, really just a whisper of sauce and flavor. I'm not complaining - it was a lovely amount of sauce and flavor. But I guess I was expecting the gloopy glop I'm used to with this kind of dish, and this was so completely different.

To be fair, I made about 25% more chicken than the portion in the recipe, and I didn't increase the sauce ingredients accordingly. That said, if I were making this again, I might make some extra sauce anyway. Better to have too much....

Incidentally, this was my first time using salt-packed versus brined capers. And Martha is right - they're less salty! Even though it seems counter-intuitive, if you soak and rinse salt-packed capers, they will give you full flavor with less salt than your average wet caper.

All in all, Mark and Tracy seemed to like it, and the kids even ate it (minus the capers).

Jeff: A- (should have made 25% more sauce)
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Day 215 - Braised Red Cabbage with Caramelized Apples

Marcy came over tonight for dinner, and as much as I wanted to take the night off, I pushed myself to cook, as I'm going to be in Virginia all next week and who knows how much I'll be cooking there. So I threw together this veggie dish that has intrigued me from the beginning....

Braised Red Cabbage with Caramelized Apples (p. 344)

I've been waiting for the fall to come to make this. It just screams "fall" to me. I've made something vaguely similar: a braised red cabbage dish with raisins, caraway seeds, and vinegar, German-influenced, I think.

This, on the other hand, is more American and comfort-y.

It starts out with a whole lot of butter and sugar, then apples and onion get caramelized, then red cabbage gets added and the whole thing is braised in vinegar and water. Really, what could be bad?

I will say, as usual (I'm like a broken record here), the sauce did not reduce nearly as quickly as Martha suggests it will, i.e. after five minutes of being partially covered. I had to crank up the temperature and take the lid completely off to get that sauce to reduce by a little, and even then it took more like ten minutes.

No matter - it was delicious, and the cabbage still had a little crunch to it. The proportions of this dish are balanced really well, flavor-wise. The sweet/sour/savory thing is really working, and it's pretty to look at, too.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Day 214 - Roasted Autumn Harvest Salad, Spiced Pepitas, How to Fillet a Flat Fish, Skinning a Fillet, Bouillabaisse, and Flan

After living in the same apartment on the Upper West Side for fifteen years, I moved to midtown last December, and I love my new place! Higher ceilings, generous-sized rooms, and a much upgraded kitchen. In fact, this cooking project would never have been possible in my old apartment.

If you've been following this blog, you might remember my across-the-hall neighbor, Michael, who, within days of meeting me, offered me his old electric mixer.

Tonight, I invited the entire seventh floor over for dinner. Yes, the entire seventh floor! OK, our building has only three apartments on each floor, so there were only five of us at dinner. But what a great group! Darcy and her 15 year old daughter, Taylor, brought a platter of
beautiful cheeses and toasts, and Michael and his partner, Terry, brought some incredible wines and champagne, all perfectly paired to my menu. (Michael has this cookbook, so he actually checked out the recipes in order to choose appropriate wines!)

Roasted Autumn Harvest Salad (p. 312)

This is one of those recipes that requires some significant prep (washing and drying arugula, scrubbing and/or peeling beets, parsnips, carrots, and shallots, making vinaigrette, making the spiced pepitas), but in the end, it comes together quickly and beautifully. There's nothing particularly challenging here, just straight-forward prepping and roasting.

The vinaigrette is the classic shallot vinaigrette (p. 356) with a twist: instead of sherry vinegar, you use apple cider vinegar. Very Autumn Harvest-y, right? It didn't really emulsify, so I wonder if there's something about the substitution that changes the emulsifability. (I made up that word.)

There are very specific measurements for how much vinaigrette to use when tossing each component, and I measured exactly. The numbers are perfect! Everything was delicately dressed, enough to enhance without overwhelming.

These vegetables work so well together, taste-wise, color-wise. They're all slightly sweet, with some extra depth from the roasting and the rosemary and a little kick from the spiced pepitas.

In my opinion, this was the highlight of the meal. It succeeds on all levels: tastes great, smells great, looks great.

By the way, it's an enormous salad! That plate that Darcy's holding is one of two identical platters! (That's Taylor on the right.)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Spiced Pepitas (p. 314)

So easy, so quick, so good! You add a bunch of interesting flavors (cumin, allspice, cayenne, chili powder, salt and sugar) to egg whites, coat raw pumpkin seeds with it, then bake it for 10-15 minutes. Genius! Martha says you can do the same things with pecans, walnuts, cashews or almonds. Yum! This would be a great bar snack or pre-meal nosh, something that tastes really special and isn't hard to execute.

These worked great with the salad. And I couldn't help noticing that even after people had finished their salad, they kept noshing on the pepitas.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

How to Fillet a Flat Fish (p. 120)

Since Martha indicated that the Bouillabaisse stock should be made with the same fish that would be in the soup, I figured I'd do all the filleting myself, and I'd have all the fish heads and bones at my disposal.

I'd already taken the lesson How to Fillet a Round Fish, so that experience came in handy with the red snapper, the striped bass, and the branzino.

But I needed the flat fish lesson for the fluke (the fourth and final fish in the Bouillabaisse). The lesson was simple and effective. As a matter of fact, I think it was almost easier to fillet this flat fish than it was to fillet the round fish.

Or maybe it was just that this was the fourth one I filleted, so I was really in the swing of it.

Again, it's great/empowering to realize that I can accomplish tasks that I'd normally leave to a fishmonger.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Skinning a Fillet (p. 199)

This lesson is pretty much self-evident, but I was happy for the specific guidance. I think it went very well. :-)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Bouillabaisse (p. 197)

For some reason, I've been dreading this dish. My only past experience of bouillabaisse was from a trip to the south of France with Tracy C. We were passing through Marseille, and every travel book insisted that we eat bouillabaisse there. Now Tracy is sauce-o-phobic, and anything with a soupy consistency is just a hiding place for unknown terrors and is out of the question for her. Meanwhile, bouillabaisse is a two-person minimum dish, so we had to sweet talk the waiter into serving me a single portion, which as far as I can remember was delicious. (This was eleven years ago.)

Reading the recipe in the book left me feeling like the dish was going to chew me up and swallow me whole. But making it was so much less drama than I expected.

Let me break it down for you:

You make a stock.
You toast some bread for croutons.
You make a spread (rouille) for said bread.
You bring stock to a boil, add saffron, potatoes, and fish until cooked through, and then serve.

No big whoop, right?

Here's the curious thing: the stock has many ingredients - fish heads and bones, pernod (an anise-flavored apéritif), leeks, celery, fennel, orange peel, canned tomatoes, wine, and a bay leaf, which you would think would make for a really complex, layered taste experience. In fact, it tasted like a very simple fish stock. All those interesting flavors... where did they go?

Making the rouille was a little stressful for me. I did it in the blender - Martha suggests using a food processor or a blender, but the last time I tried to emulsify mayo in the food processor, it was a failure, so I tried the blender this time. And it failed again!

It's tricky because when you try to do this kind of task in either machine, the base ingredients get stuck under the blade, and the oil doesn't get mixed in because the blades are just spinning on top of the garlic and yolk, etc. And you more oil to try to incorporate everything, and then you've added too much, and it never comes together.

So I threw it all out and started over, doing it by hand. I used a mortar and pestle to make the garlic paste, whisked in the soaked bread crumbs and yolk, and then emulsified by hand, and it worked perfectly. Give it up for old school! Incidentally, the rouille tastes amazing, SO garlicky. Martha says '3-5 garlic cloves, depending on taste preference," but I'm telling you, three is PLENTY!

As you read above, I filleted all the fish myself, and since I had to use four different kinds of fish, they were smallish. Accordingly, the fillets were smallish and thinnish and somewhat fragile and fell apart in the process of cooking and serving. This wasn't a problem, per se, but it didn't make for a particularly attractive soup. Speaking of the aesthetics of bouillabaisse, it's a somewhat monochromatic dish. Everything is in the white to amber family.

I like the addition of the fingerling potatoes, lending a slight sweetness and heft to the mix.

The croutons with the rouille were definitely the highlight of this course - crunchy and peppery and garlicky. I think we all took Martha's suggestion to mix some rouille into the broth itself, which amped up the flavor a bit.

In the end, this course left me cold. Much ado..., if you know what I mean. I love the idea of recreating a centuries-old traditional dish, but this is probably where bouillabaisse and I part ways....

FYI, that's Michael on the left and Terry on the right.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Flan (p. 473)

Here's yet another dessert that would never make my menu, were it not for the fact that I'm cooking everything in this book. I've never been one for custard, and this is custard times a thousand.

The interesting and challenging part of making flan is the caramel. You mix sugar and water together (and lemon juice, if you opt for it, which I did) and cook it until it becomes amber. There's a whole thing about brushing down the sides of the saucepan with water so crystals don't form. I'm not sure what would happen if they did form... maybe they would burn and give the caramel a charry flavor.

Next, you stick it in an ice bath for 3 seconds to stop the cooking and then pour it into the bottom of whatever serving dish(es) you're using, either ramekins or an 8 inch round cake pan. (I opted for the cake pan.) You have a tiny window in which to do this, because that caramel will harden in five seconds. In fact, it seemed like half of the caramel was left behind, hardened in the saucepan. I worried that there wouldn't be enough in the flan.

Then you make the custard, in this case with milk, sugar, whole eggs and egg yolks, and vanilla extract. (Conversely, the Crème Brûlée is made with heavy cream, yolks only, and a vanilla bean.) Pour the custard over the caramel, bake in a water bath, let cool, then cover and refrigerate.

FYI, there was so much custard that the cake pan was filled to the brim, and when I put it in the oven, there was some spillage into the water bath. Not an issue, but worth mentioning. Maybe a 9 inch cake pan would have been better....

When you're ready to serve the flan, you run a knife around the pan and invert it onto a serving dish, so the caramel layer is on top. I was not prepared for the buckets of caramel juice that went pouring all over the counter, the floor, and my shoes. (Thanks again, Darcy, for wiping it all up!) How could I have thought there wouldn't be enough caramel??

It's an attractive dish and a pleasant enough taste, but it's just not my thing. Darcy liked it because she thought it tasted light and not too sweet, and I agree that compared to the Crème Brûlée, it is definitely eons lighter and less sweet. I think that I may have overcooked the caramel, as there was a slight burnt taste to the syrup. Or perhaps it was the optional lemon juice, lending a bit of bitterness. If I were going to do this again (which I highly doubt I will), I would do it without the lemon juice.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Day 212 - Pan-Fried Chicken Cutlets with Indian Yogurt Marinade

Pan-Fried Chicken Cutlets with Indian Yogurt Marinade (p. 269)

This chicken variation on Weiner Shnitzel (veal) is a two day affair, as you know from yesterday's accounting of the making of the marinade. I gathered that the relatively complicated marinade would make for some nice flavors, but HOLY COW, this recipe is off the charts!!

But let me go back a few steps: While I was making the marinade, I was also preparing the chicken. This involved taking two sizable chicken breasts, slicing them in half the long way, and pounding them into 1/4 inch cutlets. Then they were ready for marinating.

After sitting in the marinade overnight, the cutlets look slightly cooked, sort of in the same way that ceviche has been somewhat "cooked" in citrus juice. Sadly, they get wiped dry to prepare for the breading process. (All that beautiful marinade, sent down the drain.) Next dredged in flour, dipped in an egg bath, and then covered in panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs), these cutlets look very "finished" as they await the frying pan. (The look recalls a classic coconut shrimp/chicken breading.)

Since the oil is only 1/4 inch deep in the pan, my candy thermometer wouldn't work. (The oil didn't reach the thermometer part.) I used a meat thermometer, which I think was relatively accurate, but something bad happened when I put in the first pair. While I think the oil had indeed reached 350°, it dropped precipitously after the chicken went it. Alas, the cutlets didn't brown up very quickly. When I finally figured out that the oil wasn't reheating quickly enough, I turned up the heat, but by then, the damage was done. The cutlets were fine, edible, but definitely overcooked and not crispy.

The second pair, on the other hand, were spectacular. The oil was the perfect temperature, and the cutlets cooked quickly and browned and crisped beautifully.

Served with the recommended accoutrements of fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and thinly sliced onion, this dish was OUT OF THIS WORLD! The flavor of the marinated chicken was supreme, salty and complex, flashes of Indian flavorings, but very clean and satisfying. The crispy breading, the juicy chicken, the brightness of the lime and cilantro, plus the raw onion (which I NEVER eat, but LOVED here) all conspire to deliver a truly magical food experience. Tracy C, who is very particular about what she eats, was just as rhapsodic. (Incidentally, that's roasted broccoli on the plate with the chicken.)

All in all, it's TOTALLY worth it. Worth the effort of the marinade, worth the mess of frying, worth dirtying a lot of spoons, measuring cups, cutting boards, pans, utensils, plates, blenders, food-processors, knives, etc.


Martha: A+
Jeff: A

Until we eat again....

Note: Somehow this recipe ended up being omitted from my Master Project Spread Sheet, so what was once a total of 356 recipes and lessons has now grown to 357.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 211 - Tomatillo Salsa and Indian Yogurt Marinade

Boy, that Seventh Tally lit a fire under my ass! I have become complacent! I have some cooking to do!

Tomatillo Salsa (p. 179)

This seemed like an interesting project for today. It pops up in the Meats, etc. chapter, following the grilling section, but I'm not grilling any meats today. Instead, I bought a bag of baked tortilla chips for the occasion.

I've never eaten or even touched a tomatillo. Until today, I had no idea what it was, or that it was in the tomato family at all (although the name might have been a giveaway). At Fairway, they're displayed with the chili peppers, and what with the husk covering, I couldn't see the tomato cousin that lives beneath. I imagined something very spicy, but in fact, it's a mild, slightly sour flavor.

Once the husks are removed, you're left with a sticky little tomato-shaped fruit, which you then char to death. Same with a jalapeño pepper. I took Martha's not-that-spicy option, removing the seeds from half the jalapeño, but I could have removed more. It was still pretty spicy, at least to wimpy ole me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Half the tomatillos go in the food processor (don't use a blender - I tried, but there's not enough liquid to get it going), along with a chopped onion, cilantro, the charred jalapeño, and salt. Once blended until smooth, you chop the remaining tomatillos and add them to the mix.

The texture is great, with smoothness and chunks. And the flavor seems very authentic to me - spicy, delicious, with a nice smokiness. I'm not sure what I would serve this with... Chicken? Steak? I'm fine just eating it with chips.

Who knew that making salsa was so easy?

Although next time I attempt salsa, I'll look for one that has a sweet component in it - that's my favorite.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Indian Yogurt Marinade (p. 173)

This is an exercise in delayed gratification. You toast and grind and zest and juice and chop and peel and blend to make this marinade, only to pour it over chicken and put it back in the refrigerator for a day.

I wanted to spoon this right into my mouth! There are some amazing flavors in here! To begin with, mustard, coriander and fennel seeds and cardamom pods are pure magic, first toasted, then ground. I'm officially obsessed with Indian spices.

Then, you puree that with lime juice and zest, chopped onion, garlic, and chili peppers, and yogurt.

It seems a shame to create this amazing sauce and then just marinate chicken in it. But I have a feeling that once I taste the chicken, I won't be sorry I put in the time and effort here.

I can't wait until tomorrow!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Day 210 - Seventh Tally

It was going so well for a while there. I was so ahead of the game. Now the gap narrows....

As of today, I've completed 229 recipes and lessons.

That leaves 156 days to complete 127 more recipes and lessons. Doable. Definitely doable. But getting tight.

Luckily, I'm hosting some dinner parties coming up. Those are always good for a recipe or three. I've invited my floor neighbors over this Friday. (Bouillabaisse!) And in a few weeks, I'm having some college friends over for homemade pasta Bolognese.

Also, while I'm in Virginia all next week, teaching a Musical Theatre Performance class at Regent University and staying with my best friend (Tracy P) and her husband and two kids, I should be able to whip up a few things, even though that might be weird doing it in someone else's kitchen.

I'm still learning a ton, still loving the food, and still have no definite info re: appearing on Martha's TV show.

Until we eat again....

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 205 - Winter Squash and Pear Soup

Winter Squash and Pear Soup (p. 70)

Yet another soup, but what a special guest I have to feed it to today!

The amazing Broadway star, Sutton Foster, came by to record one of my songs for an episode of my podcast, and while she was here, I coaxed her into staying for a bowl of my latest Martha soup, before she ran off to be Princess Fiona in Shrek.

This is another beautiful and simple soup, quite similar to the Carrot and Ginger Soup from earlier in the week. Very few ingredients, all healthful, simple but satisfying flavors, quick and easy prep.

There's a little bit of leeway here, in that you can pick from a variety of squash. I chose Kabocha, because I've never used it before. Mine had a dense, dry-ish flesh and a hint of sweetness, earthier than butternut, with a consistency closer to a russet potato than a sweet potato. I photographed it upside down so you could see the interesting (and typical) coloration on the bottom.

You can bake the squash first "to intensify the flavor," or you can use it raw. I opted for intense flavor.

Another element up for grabs is the liquid - Martha gives us the option of chicken or vegetable stock or water. Since water worked so well for the carrot soup, I thought it would probably do just as nicely here.

Finally, Martha mentions that we can finish it with a bit of buttermilk, if desired. I left it dairy-free, but when I tear into leftovers, I'm thinking I might reheat it with a little buttermilk just to see what happens....

Between the sweetness of the pear and the sweetness in the squash, this soup really craves some salt to balance out the flavor. Again, once the soup was properly seasoned, it was perfectly delicious.

Incidentally, I reserved a cup of liquid before pureeing, and once again, I ended up with a perfect consistency and didn't use any of the extra liquid to thin it. What an important tip! If I hadn't taken that cup out, I'd have ended up with overly thin soup!

Jeff: A
Martha: A
Sutton Foster: A+ (check her out on my podcast - she's dreamy!)

Until we eat again....

How adorable is she? That's watercress garnish on top, by the way.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Day 202 - Carrot and Ginger Soup and Pear Chutney

Adinah's over for dinner, and I'm prolonging my soup phase. This one came as a total surprise....

Carrot and Ginger Soup (p. 69)

This recipe may be one of the most basic ones in the book, and one of the "healthiest." There are very few ingredients, very little work to do, and very low calories.

With just butter, onion, garlic, ginger, carrots, salt, pepper, and water, this is an inexpensive and dazzling soup to pull out for most any occasion, from casual to formal.

I have to confess, I didn't see it coming. As I was julienning the ginger, I thought, "Is there enough of it in here to even make a difference?" (Answer: yes!) When I was adding only water, I thought, "Will this soup have any flavor, even though there's no stock in it? (Answer: yes!)

When I tasted the soup and the carrots separately before pureeing, I was pretty sure this was going to be a loser. There was no flavor to be found!

I reread the instructions for finishing these pureed soups and I realized that I've been skipping an important step: reserving a cup of liquid for thinning the soup later. I'd been using the whole pot of liquid each time. But tonight, I reserved, and I ended up barely using any of the reserved liquid. I loved the consistency without it.

Once the soup was blended, it completely transformed. First off, the color is unbelievable. (Perfect for October, by the way. Doesn't it look great in my white bowls?) And then the taste just knocks your socks off. The ginger packs a huge punch, and the hint of onion and garlic is an amazing backdrop for the silky, almost-sweetness of the carrots themselves. So simple, but so satisfying! And all this from some water and a bunch of veggies!

I garnished with watercress, just like Martha suggested, which was lovely.

Adinah, who later confessed that she has always disliked carrot ginger soup, was completely won over. That's how good it is!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Pear Chutney (p. 179)

I thought Pear Chutney would be a nice accompaniment to the Moroccan-Spiced Chicken I had planned. (If you haven't tried this quick and easy chicken recipe from Martha Stewart Living magazine, you must make it immediately! It's flawless!) I love a sweet, fruity accompaniment to a savory protein dish.

This works great! The flavors really come together nicely, so nicely, in fact, that I don't even mind that there's jalapeño pepper in there. (Pepper-hater that I am.)

The only thing I want to mention is: I used not-very-ripe pears, and instead of it taking 30-35 minutes to get a loose jamlike consistency, it took closer to 90 minutes. Those pears just would not break down.

Eventually they did, and the flavor is terrific, but I'm guessing that this will cook faster and taste even better when using ripe or even super-ripe pears.

Of all the chutneys, I think this is my favorite. The fig one is so port-y. And the tomato-peach one, while delicious, seems a little less versatile. I can imagine this pear chutney complementing any number of dishes.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 200 - Raspberry Sorbet

Raspberry Sorbet (p. 485)

I was beginning to think that the only truly great sorbets I'd make would be citrus flavors and pineapple, but this is definitely another winner.

I used four of those shallow 6 ounce containers worth of raspberries, which were supposed to yield two cups of puree total, but somehow I ended up with four cups. (?) I decided to add only the suggested amount of syrup, since the sweetness level seemed balanced. As the puree+syrup mixture was rather thick, I didn't bother applying the egg test. (See Mango Sorbet.)

I just froze it and prayed. And my prayers were answered! This may be my favorite flavor yet, although that grapefruit sorbet is pretty amazing. This has a ton of sharp/sweet flavor AND brilliant color. Great combo.

FYI, I'm now officially a sorbet-lover.

Until we eat again....

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day 199 - Pea and Spinach Soup

Pea and Spinach Soup (p. 70)

I told you I was in a soupy mood!

This one is perfect for Marcy - all veggies, very little naughtiness (2 tablespoons of butter). I didn't have enough homemade chicken stock to use only stock, so I used roughly half stock and half water. (Water is an option here. I wasn't cheating.) The only other ingredients are butter, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and a ton of peas and spinach.

Washing and trimming two bunches of spinach is time-consuming, as is shelling two pounds of peas. But it's worth it for that fresh, green taste. Other than that, this soup cooks up very quickly, making it a great choice when you need to whip up something snazzy in a jiffy. The overall effect is very clean yet very hearty, a surprisingly Spring-y taste in October.

I served it lightly salted, but interestingly, when we added more salt at the table, the soup really came alive.

That garnish on the plate is Frico. Yum!

Until we eat again....

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 197 - Mushroom Cream Soup

Fall is here! And I'm in a soupy mood, so here they come!

My guest today is my father, who stopped by for lunch en route to an appointment uptown.

Mushroom Cream Soup (p. 65)

This is a variation on the Broccoli Cream Soup, which was such a success a few weeks ago.

It's the same deal, but with cremini mushrooms instead of broccoli.

You dice and sauté onion in butter, then add the mushrooms until they start releasing liquid. This was interesting to experience - I've never monitored this process before. They're sautéeing for roughly five minutes, as dry as can be, and then all of a sudden, there's liquid everywhere! Accordingly to Martha, that's the sign that the mushrooms' flavor has been released.

Next up is adding some flour and then deglazing with sherry. (I can't say I had any brown bits on the bottom of the pan to stir up.) Then, you add the stock, bring it to a boil.

The next step is not well-described in the book, as it goes straight from "simmering mushrooms until tender, about 15 minutes" to "strain and finish." The very important words "puree" and/or "blender" are nowhere to be found. If you're a stickler like me, you will read the recipe over and over again, looking for some evidence that you are supposed to puree. I couldn't find any implications, but my common sense told me that I definitely need to: If I strain the mushrooms out of the soup, it will be too thin and it will have a barely evident mushroom taste. She HAS to want me to puree.

I pureed, and I think it was absolutely the right way to go. The soup was delicious. Earthy, clean, hearty. I enriched with some cream, which was barely noticeable. Again, the big leap in the flavoring of this soup is the jump from pre- to post-salt. It goes from nondescript to very flavorful in the time it takes to stir in the salt and pepper. Amazing....

Until we eat again....

Jeff: A
Martha: A

PS Also served: Prosciutto Bread (my third time - a sure-fire winner) and that amazing Grapefruit Sorbet. Maybe not the most balanced meal (no green vegetable!) but delicious!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Day 196 - Grapefruit Sorbet

It feels like ages since I've cooked! It's been a busy week, what with rehearsing and doing The Kid reading, and then spending three days over the weekend taking The Landmark Forum for the second time (amazing yet again!). Finally, I'm back in the kitchen!

Grapefruit Sorbet (p. 485)

You may remember my theory that the best fruits for sorbets are the ones that have a certain amount of acid and deliver a sweet/tart punch. Well, grapefruit certainly fits in that category, so I had high hopes for this sorbet.

I'm happy to report that this sorbet is FLAWLESS! In the all-time top three, easy. It features what's great about grapefruit, without any of the drawbacks (pulp, rind, over-tartness). Absolutely dazzling in its simplicity.

As the strained juice is very thin, the egg test is usable here, and after following the recipe to a "T," the sugar level came out perfectly.

And I don't know if this happened because it's not summer anymore, but this sorbet froze beautifully and completely in the ice cream machine.

The only thing I wish is that it had more color. Pale pink when liquid, this sorbet froze to off white.

Who cares, though, when it tastes THAT great. (It was so good that David actually ate it, and it wasn't even his cheat meal!)

Jeff: A
Martha: A