Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 270 - Spinach Cream Soup, Prosciutto Crisps, Lamb Tagine, Basmati Rice Pilaf with Pomegranate Seeds, and Ninth Tally!

It's my nine month anniversary with Martha! But before I announce my current stats, I have to tell you about tonight's meal!

Dawn and Kevin are back for more, so I guess the rabbit meal didn't scare them away. The new face is Jackie, not just my friend and wonderful actress, but also my real estate agent who helped me find my new apartment and sell my old one.

Tonight, the food is much more familiar to me than it was on rabbit night. In fact, Lamb Tagine is one of the few recipes I had already cooked from the book before having started this project. It's like being reunited with an old friend.

But first, some soup....

Spinach Cream Soup (p. 65)

It seems like I just did this soup a few days ago, but in fact that was Creamed Spinach and this is Spinach Cream Soup.

Several things are different here. First of all, the spinach at Fairway today was the heartier kind, so the cleaning went much more quickly.

Also, the way the spinach gets cooked is different.

This spinach is blanched, i.e. boil some water, push all the spinach into it, leave it alone for 30 seconds, then move all the spinach to an ice bath.

In the creamed spinach recipe, the spinach is wilted, i.e. you put the still-wet leaves in a pot over heat, then stir them around until all the leaves wilt and turn bright green.

Both techniques are equally successful and require roughly the same amount of work, although wilting requires one less bowl (for the ice bath).

Remembering my last dinner party and how much I left my guests waiting for food while I prepared everything à la minute, I did as much in advance as possible. I made the velouté (soup base) and blanched the spinach in the afternoon, and right before they arrived, I blended the cooled velouté with the spinach and started it on low heat. By the time we were ready for soup, it was perfectly hot.

Again, spinach and cream together make a great combo. There's a brightness to dishes prepared with fresh spinach, and this is no exception. The soup, for all its creaminess, tastes fresh and light and clean.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Prosciutto Crisps (p. 75)

Here's a soup garnish I can really get behind! What's better than cured pork? Crunchy cured pork!

This is so easy: lay prosciutto strips on a baking sheet and cook until crispy. Simple and effective.

Not sure if this is the best soup pairing for this garnish, but that didn't stop everyone from gobbling these up. Definitely a popular, can't-miss garnish.

Jeff: A

Martha: A

Lamb Tagine (p. 207)

The first time I made this dish, it blew me away. The smells coming from my oven transported me to another world, on the other side of the globe. I couldn't believe that by simply combining those familiar ingredients, I had created something so other-worldly. And the taste was as magical as the smells indicated it might be.

Since that first try, the magic has definitely faded. Maybe I'm getting jaded. Or just experienced. I've definitely tasted a lot of world flavors since starting this project, and there have been some amazing smells coming from my oven over the past nine months. That's not to say this recipe isn't solid. It is. I guess that first time is just special....

Martha says you can use bone-in or boneless lamb stew meat for this recipe, and I thought I was doing something nice by using some of each. The bone-in meat looked kind of meager, so I wanted to pump it up with some solid meat. But in the end, the bone-in pieces were much more delicious and tender than the boneless chunks. My recommendation would be to use all bone-in meat, but to buy extra, because much of the weight is bone, and you won't have enough meat to satisfy.

One of my gripes about this recipe is the instruction to spoon off some of the fat in the middle of the cooking process. I think if I were being really conscientious, I would have taken the pot out of the oven, lifted one side and properly spooned it off. Instead, I was trying to do it while it was in the oven, and of course it was unwieldy and awkward, and I gave up after a few tries. Plus, it's hard to tell what's fat and what's liquid. It's all the same color.

Maybe if I had spooned off more fat, my final product would have been thicker and not so liquidy. I took the lid off the pot as Martha suggested to speed up the thickening process, but even so, I ended up with a pretty loose stew. Nice taste, but not great consistency and concentration of flavor. And as I mentioned before, some nice tender meat, but also some tougher boneless chunks.

Also, the apricots had lost a lot of their sweetness in this batch. I missed it on the plate. Next time, maybe I'll add some prunes....

Jeff: B (should have skipped the boneless meat and spooned off more fat)
Martha: A

Basmati Rice Pilaf with Pomegranates (p. 415)

Here's the last of the pilaf recipes, basmati rice instead of white, with some added saffron and pomegranate seeds on top.

The rice itself was cooked perfectly. The saffron gives it a nice yellow cast, although I wished it had more flavor. The pomegranate seeds are a nice touch, though.

I've never understood pomegranates. I remember some kids used to bring them to school for lunch, and I'd be jealous, but now I can't imagine how anyone could ever eat one in the school cafeteria. They're so messy and staining, and what a terrible effort/payoff ratio!

Still, they provide some amazing color. I started with a very modest sprinkling on top, but my guests grabbed the dish of seeds and covered their rice in them. I think pomegranates are an "event" food, and people love to celebrate them.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

That's Jackie, with the soup and the prosciutto crisps.

And that's Kevin and Dawn, with the lamb, the rice, these carrots, and the garnishes for the lamb: toasted almonds, parsley, and harissa. Yum!

Ninth Tally

Nine months in, and 274 recipes and lessons have been completed. Wow. That's a lot!

Clearly, I've lost my lead, but I'm not daunted. I can keep up the one a day average until March.

Even with a ten-day vacation coming up.


Until we eat again....


  1. jeff == just found your blog! i just finished the much easier version of your project -- cooking all of the recipes in martha's GREAT FOOD FAST. i'm psyched to be done (well, have ONE MORE to go!) but will be sad to leave my mentor M behind! anyway, i think she should have us on our show . . . julie + julia, MARTHA STYLE.

    anyway just wanted to say love what you are doing and it's cool to see that there are others as project-happy as i am!

  2. Jeff,
    I've tried fancy skimmers and the like, and I can't get them to work either with a hot pot, so I just have some extra French bread standing by. I tear off a piece and use the jagged edges to sop up grease off the surface. It works pretty well. Sounds like an amazing meal.
    Happy Holidays!

  3. Hey Sarah-

    Congratulations! Wow, you did that while doing a pediatrics residency AND training for a marathon? You win the Martha Stewart Award for Overachiever of the Year! :-)

    I thought about doing GREAT FOOD FAST because I love it so much, but I opted for COOKING SCHOOL because I love it a little more.

    Your followthrough will inspire me as I enter my final stretch. Thanks for writing!


    You have the best suggestions. Thanks for writing.

    And Happy Holidays to you too!