Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tuna-vegetable casserole (p. 97)

I was heading to Iowa for a few days and decided to whip something up for Josh to eat while I was gone. Something with tuna was the obvious choice since I hate it so much--I even hate the smell of it, so I thought Colorado to Iowa might be the perfect distance between tuna and I. Tuna-vegetable casserole (p. 97) seemed about perfect.

The recipe was simple. Saute mushrooms and onion in a half stick of butter (I love butter--and mushrooms, so maybe the recipe wouldn't be so bad...):

After the vegetables are tender, I mixed in some flour, and then whisked in some milk.

It occurred to me--I had just essentially made cream of mushroom soup! So when you make a quick casserole you must be able to skip all those steps. I wondered if it would matter.

A cup of cheddar and some pouch tuna were added to the milk mixture.

Cooked egg noodles, parsley, and a little salt and pepper were then added and cracker crumbs (and, full disclosure, crushed potato chips, Josh's favorite) were added to the top, with some butter, and into the oven it went:

(I don't have an after shot--just imagine this but darker)

How was it? (This was all second-hand, obviously) Josh said it was delicious but that (and I quote) it would be better with crushed Funyuns on top. He said it was much better than cream of mushroom soup casserole. And it was really easy. So if you don't want to go the Sandra Lee route, I really recommend this recipe.

That being said, re-read the title. Where exactly are the vegetables in this recipe? Do the mushrooms and onions really count? Don't you expect more vegetables when "vegetables" are in the title?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shortbread crust (p. 667), New York-style cheesecake (p. 744), Chocolate satin frosting (p. 796), and Fresh raspberry sauce (raspberry coulis)(p. 853)

I love cheesecake. Absolutely love it. I even remember my first experience with cheesecake--I was about five years old and visiting my aunt in New York. We went to a high-end restaurant in Manhattan and I ordered the cheesecake. The rest is history. I spent years selecting cheesecakes at every restaurant I went to (usually instead of a meal). I remember eating at The Cheesecake Factory when they were still cool and made their cheesecakes in-house, before they had a 100 page menu complete with ads. But I haven't made my own cheesecake for years (although I have three sizes of springform pans).

When I saw that the Shortbread crust (p. 667) was an option on the randomized list, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to make a New York-style cheesecake (p. 744). "New York" refers to the cooking method--extremely high heat followed by low heat.

Readers know that my main problem with baking recently has been the high altitude--I was hoping it wouldn't affect the cheesecake.

I made both recipes concurrently. The crust was easy. Flour, sugar, a little lemon zest, and a bit of salt were whisked together. A stick of butter was then mixed in. I used my pastry blender to mash it until it resembled coarse crumbs and then added an egg yolk.

The recipe asked for a nine inch pan. I only had a 8.5" and 9.5" pan. I decided that the smaller pan would be easier to fit in the refrigerator, so that's the one I used. I patted a third of the dough into the pan and then baked it.

The bottom crust came out beautifully!

The sides were then patted into the pan, making sure that the bottom crust was connected to the side crust. I realized as I was patting the crust that I didn't rebutter the pan--the recipe didn't call for it but I was really hoping that the sides wouldn't stick to the pan.

The cheesecake recipe was actually really easy. I took five packages of cream cheese (the expensive part of the recipe) and beat them until they are fluffy, then mixed in some sugar and flour (necessary if you want a denser texture, which I did). I then added in a little lemon zest (thank god for the microplane!) and vanilla, followed by five large eggs and two more yolks, one at a time. Finally, some heavy cream. Easy!

There are some important points to keep in mind--the ingredients should be room temperature because if they aren't you will probably end up overbeating the batter.

I poured the cheesecake into the crust. There was extra filling that I threw away, which is horrifying, but I didn't want to overfill the crust and didn't have a little pan.

The cake was baked for 15 minutes at FIVE HUNDRED DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. You might wonder why I capitalized that--it is such an enormously high temperature that you have to capitalize it. My stovetop was smoking. Then you lower the temperature to 200 degrees for an hour. Finally, the oven was turned off and the oven door was propped open (easy if you have an electric oven, more difficult if you have a gas oven) for another half hour.

The cake was capital letter BEAUTIFUL! It wasn't caved in the middle, it wasn't cracked, it was perfection.

I cooled it overnight in the refrigerator and popped the springform off--perfection! The crust looked beautiful! It didn't stick at all!

The inside--terrific.

I know you are impressed--as you should be :) The cheesecake was creamy and flavorful. The texture was perfect--creamy but not like a Jello cake, dry but not too dry. The crust was amazing and I usually cut the crust off--like a thin cookie on the bottom of the cake. I loved it. I would make this again but for a bigger crowd than the two of us (we are eating a LOT of cheesecake).

But what is a cheesecake without toppings?? I made two.

First, Chocolate satin frosting (p. 796). I only made a half batch of this because I knew I didn't need the full three cups. A half cup of heavy cream was boiled in a small saucepan. Three ounces of unsweetened chocolate were then added (but not stirred in) and the pot was left off heat for exactly ten minutes.

When it was done, I added the chocolate mixture to sugar, butter, and vanilla.

And then processed until it was smooth.

Parts of it were a little gritty (probably because of the sugar) but the flavor was really good. It wasn't bitter (I don't like dark chocolate) and was really smooth. When I melted it, it was pourable. When it cooled it was the consistency of frosting. TJOC recommends smearing it on graham crackers--that would be absolutely delicious, especially with a marshmallow or two.

I also decided to make a fruit topping, specifically Fresh raspberry sauce (raspberry coulis) (p. 853). There are four coulis recipes in TJOC, which is hilarious because they are all exactly the same. Add a pint of fruit, some sugar, and a little lemon juice, and blend:

Strain (if need--this step is in the raspberry and blueberry recipes but not the strawberry or mango).

And it's done! You can probably tell that I used a half pint blackberries and a half pint raspberries (because that's what was on hand).

Incredibly delicious! An intense berry flavor, no seeds, a perfect compliment to the cheesecake. I will definitely make this again because it was so easy. It would be really good on ice cream too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Contest Number 3!! Win an awesome recipe box!! Ends 6/30

I want to preface this by saying that I'm posting five more posts in the next day or two and they will be backdated behind this blog--be sure to check for them (especially the cheesecake entry!).

First things first--I PASSED MY PRELIMINARY EXAMS! And did quite well on them :) Exciting!

Second, I love the Flight of the Conchords. Absolutely adore them. Don't know FotC? Here are a couple examples:

Josh and I went to see them at Red Rocks a couple weeks ago. Red Rock Amphitheater is a pretty awesome outdoor theater just outside of Denver.

It was a TERRIFIC concert with new songs. Loved it!

In other miscellaneous news, I went to New Orleans (I adore NOLA). Crayfish is extremely common in NOLA and, yet, I can't figure out how to eat it. You will be sitting in a very expensive restaurant and get served this:

How do you eat it? I know the correct method involves twisting off the head but I can't do it correctly. It seems bizarre to eat with my hands in an expensive restaurant. ::sigh:: I think I'm going to choose against them from now on.

So on to the contest! To enter, comment on the blog and answer the following questions:

1. Favorite concert you've attended
2. Favorite city for food
3. Have you ever ran across food you've had no idea how to eat?

So what will you win? I commissioned this awesome recipe box on Etsy from GottaHaveitNow.

A perfect way to keep your recipes organized. The box is decoupaged with clippings from vintage cooking magazines.

The contest will end July 30th. Comment on this thread (answering the questions) for one entry and receive a second entry for posting a comment on another entry on this blog. Sorry international readers--unless you have a shipping address in the US.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Portuguese greens soup (caldo verde) (p. 139), Corn pudding (p. 271), and Stuffed cabbage rolls (p. 263)

All the recipes in this blog entry are held together by a common thread--they all include a strange ingredient, starting with the least strange and going to incredibly bizarre.

I work with a Portuguese-American guy who often talks about his grandmother's Caldo Verdo soup, which always sounded delicious. I wasn't confident that TJOC's Portuguese greens soup (caldo verde) (p. 139) was going to be the same (based on their track record of TJOC Italian recipes vs. my Italian grandmothers recipes).

It was any easy start--sautee onions and garlic in olive oil, add chicken stock, thinly sliced potatoes, salt, and pepper.

When the potatoes were soft, I mashed them a little. TJOC asks for linguisa, chorizo, or smoked sausage. My grocery store had neither linguisa or chorizo (well, the appropriate chorizo at least) so I had to buy smoked sausage (doesn't seem very authentic). There are two types of chorizo, a Mexican type that is a fresh sausage and a Spanish type that is smoked. I was assuming that the recipe required the Spanish style. I thought using plain smoked sausage (almost a kielbasa) was mildly strange, similar to throwing summer sausage into minestrone.

The smoked sausage was fried and then added to the pot. A cup of the soup was added back to the pan, the browned bits were scraped up, and the liquid was added back to the pot.

Eventually, four cups of shredded red chard was added. I think a more authentic version would use kale but chard was on sale at the store for $.99/bunch so that's what got used.

This soup was very tasty. I really enjoyed it and it heated up extremely well. The flavors mixed together perfectly, the potatoes added some creaminess, and the sausage gave a nice smoky tang. I will definitely make this recipe again.

Onto the next bizarre recipe--Corn pudding (p. 271). This is one of those recipes where you simply mix ingredients together, pour them into a pan, and bake--easy! Corn, milk, eggs, butter, flour, salt, and the mystery ingredient were mixed together.

What was the mystery ingredient? Vanilla. Yes, vanilla in a corn pudding.

It was poured into a buttered baking dish and baked for about 45 minutes.

It was very, very strange. Josh wondered why the corn pudding tasted like ice cream--I would imagine that it was due to the vanilla (and it did taste a bit like corn ice cream or something you would eat on Iron Chef). The corn was held together by what was almost a custard. I can't say I'll make this recipe again. There are better corn casseroles out there.

One of my good friends during my undergraduate degree, Al, would occasionally invite a bunch of us over to dinner and make a big meal. Sometimes she would make cabbage rolls--and her cabbage rolls were absolutely delicious. I've always wanted to try to make them and never actually done it. When I saw cabbage on sale at the grocery store for $.39/lb I decided I would see if TJOC's recipe--Stuffed cabbage rolls (p. 263)--was as tasty.

The filling was pretty simple--ground beef, an egg, some bread crumbs, some uncooked white rice, water, a grated carrot, an onion, a garlic clove, some salt and pepper were mixed (by hand--always fun).

Once that was done, I popped the cabbage into some boiling water so that it could be more easily peeled. The book says that you can also freeze the cabbage but we have such a tiny freezer that there was no way I could even fit the tiny cabbage in.

So a leaf of cabbage at a time was removed and filled with the stuffing.

They were wrapped up (like burritos) and tied with butcher twine. TJOC says the recipe makes 12 rolls. I made about 20 so I must not have been filling them full enough--or my cabbage had smaller leaves than it was supposed too. I don't think I could have fit more filling into them and still managed to get them closed!

Onto the sauce--a cups worth of the remaining cabbage leaves were chopped up and sauteed with some onion in a little vegetable oil.

Now you might be asking "None of those ingredients seem particularly strange. Why is this recipe in this particular blog entry?". The answer? Right here:

Gingersnaps. Eight crumbled ginger snaps (I put them in a Ziploc and pounded them with my meat mallet). Sounded really gross to me but what do I know? The gingersnaps got added to the cabbage and onion along with a big can of tomatoes, a cup of water, some brown sugar, a little lemon juice, and...what is that? Sour salt? What the heck is sour salt? I consulted Professor Wikipedia. Apparently, sour salt is calcium citrate, which is sour and salty (imagine that--sour salt is sour AND salty). I certainly didn't have it in my cupboard, so it had to be cut. Does anyone actually have sour salt in THEIR cupboard?

The cabbage rolls were added to the pot.

How was it? Good but strange. The cabbage rolls added a bizarre, almost smoky flavor that I seriously disliked. The cabbage was delicious, the filling was delicious, but the sauce--I don't know about the sauce. I think if I made these again I would contact Al for her recipe--it was much better. I will never add gingersnaps to a savory recipe again. Do you have any recipes that have strange ingredients?

Red mole (p. 549) and Turkey in red mole (p. 444)

I can't say that the recipe for Turkey in red mole (p. 444)--obviously utilizing Red mole (p. 549)--was burning a hole in my cookbook. I've never even had anything in mole sauce. I have absolutely no idea what it was supposed to taste like. In fact, the only things I know about mole are that it includes chocolate and that it is a Mexican sauce. So why make it? The obvious reason--it was on the randomized list.

This red mole sauce is one of the most complex recipes I have made. It has tons and tons and tons of ingredients and steps starting with dry roasting some garlic in a cast iron pan (much more garlic than this, I just staged this picture because I forgot until I was finished).

Ancho peppers are surprisingly difficult to locate in the stores around here. I remember another cook-through blogger having the same problem finding them. After I managed to find the peppers, I didn't buy enough ( 2 oz rather than 4 oz), so I was forced to halve the recipe. The peppers (after having the stems and seeds removed) were soaked in water for about a half hour. I put a plate on top of the to keep them down (otherwise they would have floated).

The peppers (which were briefly seared in the hot pan), garlic, poultry stock, oregano, black pepper, and cloves were all processed using my immersion blender (if anything is ever blended, you can usually assume I've utilized the immersion blender because it's so much easier than the tiny food processor or blender).

The mixture was then forced through a sieve, which is a step I usually dread. It always seems to take forever.

That mixture was then put aside.

In another pot, I cooked unblanched almonds until they were lightly toasted.

And removed them. Then onions were sauteed and removed. And then raisins were sauteed and removed. Finally all three ingredients were added together, with some toast, chicken stock, tomatoes, a little cocoa, and a pinch of cinnamon, and blended, going from this:

To this:

The pepper mixture was added to the pot and cooked until it darkened (I have no idea how dark it was supposed to get, I cooked it for about five minutes).

The almond mixture was added and cooked for another five minutes.

More chicken stock was then added and it was cooked for 45 minutes.

Difficult! There is a difference between recipes that take all day but have very little active time and this recipe which had a lot of steps that required a lot out of me. At this point, I figured that I would really have to love this sauce to bother making it again.

I decided that I had plenty of food for the night and I didn't have it in me to make one more dish, so into the refrigerator the mole sauce went.

The next day I made the turkey. The recipe actually calls for either a turkey breast or turkey thigh--both cuts were expensive so I went with turkey legs instead. I managed to fit all three of them in the pan to brown.

I poured the mole sauce into my pot--I realize it's not a skillet but I don't have a skillet, with a lid, that is ovenproof, so the Dutch oven was the best I could do.

I then tried to fit the turkey legs into the pots while still having them covered in sauce. It was not easy but I finally managed it.

The turkey took about 45 minutes to cook and was almost falling off the bone when it was done.

How was it? Really good. The sauce had a relatively mild flavor for having so many ingredients--but it was very very complex (layers of flavors on top of layers of flavors). Josh and I both really enjoyed the turkey, although it would be even better with some rice. What does mole sauce typically taste like? The turkey was extremely tender and falling off the bone, juicy and delicious.