Monday, January 31, 2011

Black bean tacos (p. 189)

I decided that Josh and I needed a taco night so I whipped up some TJOC taco meat (delicious and as easy as a spice packet [no exaggeration, super easy]). I thought it would be the perfect time to make Black bean tacos (p. 189) since I love TJOC's refried beans recipe.

I made the refried beans, spread them on a tortilla, sprinkled Monterey Jack cheese on the top, and was finished!:

Super, super easy. You could use canned refried beans if you wanted to speed things up but homemade beans are so, so, so much better. My favorite part of this recipe? I didn't use black beans and, yet, TJOC calls them black bean tacos--the refried beans recipe says pinto or black beans and I like pinto beans much better.

Not much to blog about--the recipe was good but not very excited.

Random facts:
  • Wikipedia says that the term "pinto bean"comes from the Spanish frijol pinto which is literally "painted bean". So that means pinto horses are painted horses. Neat!
  • Pinto beans are usually used for refried beans in American Tex-Mex food and Northern Mexican food, while black or red beans are common in other parts of Mexico (Wikipedia). Anyone have any experience with this?
  • The term "refried beans" is based on a mistranslation. It does not refer to being fried twice (Wikipedia)

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Panfried spice-crusted fish fillets (p. 408) and Spicy tartar sauce (p. 581)

Sometimes I have a grand plan for what recipes I'm going to make in a given month. Other times I randomly select recipes. Panfried spice-crusted fish fillets (p. 408) was from the latter category. I had fish, I needed a recipe that would use the fish, and thought that it sounded good.

I mixed flour, water, curry powder (you can use Garam Masala, chili powder, or whatever spice mixture you want, which would drastically change the end result), and salt and pepper:

I cut my fish in half, patted the pieces dry, and sprinkled them with lemon juice:

I dipped the fish in the batter, shook off the excess, and popped them in a pan full of heated canola oil (watch out for splatter!):

After a few minutes on each side, they were done:

It was really good! The curry flavor shone through brightly and it had just the right amount of breading--not so much that you can't taste anything but breading but not so little that there is no point to bothering with the extra steps. This is a perfect recipe for a creative chef because there are so many variations of spice flavoring that you could use. The fish was INCREDIBLY moist. In fact, I like my fish a little dry (I know, I'm strange) and the fish was a little too moist for me, although Josh loved it.

I can't eat fish without a sauce. I love sauces, I love condiments, I thought that Spicy tartar sauce (p. 581) would be a great choice for the fish.

I mixed mayonnaise, parsley, lime juice, pickle relish, Dijon mustard, garlic, hot pepper sauce, and a little salt and pepper:

It was sooooo good. Just amazingly good. It was considerably better than the basic tartar sauce (which was also good). The hot sauce gave it just enough kick (I used garlic Tabasco), the pickle relish gave a crisp sourness, and I love anything with Dijon mustard or garlic. If you like tartar sauce, make this one, you won't be disappointed. Plus, it's incredibly easy and you probably have everything to make it in your fridge.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mushroom souffle (p. 205)

I am afraid of making souffles. I am particularly scared of making souffles in Colorado with all the altitude issues. My father makes a terrific souffle and is located in Iowa making him the perfect person with which to make my integral souffle. We settled on Mushroom souffle (p. 205).

We beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. They got very fluffy:

Dad had the white sauce made and the mushrooms sauteed by the time I dragged myself out of bed (thanks, Dad!). That was a huge time saver. I added salt, ground red pepper, and white pepper to the white sauce when I got there:

I combined egg yolks and Gruyere in a bowl. Of course, this was only after I had grated the necessary Parmesan cheese for the spinach souffle recipe but that's what I get for not thoroughly reading the recipe. I was pleased that this recipe used both the yolk and the white. I hate when recipes only use one and I'm stuck with 12 egg yolks and no use for them.

I beat a half cup of the white sauce into the egg yolks, adding the rest of the white sauce when the small amount was fully incorporated:

The mushrooms were finally added:

It took forever to fold the egg whites in to the base mixture, which seems typical for folding in egg whites. The whole thing was poured in to a souffle dish that was dusted with dry bread crumbs:

The souffle was cooked for about forty minutes:

The inside:

It was a beautiful work of art. The souffle was light and fluffy, with a perfect cheesy mushroom flavor. I loved it. Souffles are very, very easy to like--if you like omelets, you probably like savory souffles. It was a big hit with everyone from my dad and stepmother to my 19 year old brother and his friends.

Random facts:
  • The word "souffle" is based on the French word "Souffler" which means to blow up or puff up.

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Beef stew with mustard, herbs, and white wine (beef daube)

Dad had a chunk of beef that was perect for stew meat. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your approach) I've managed to make most of the TJOC stew recipes already. One of the only ones I had left was Beef stew with mustard, herbs, and white wine (beef daube). TJOC says that "This is a refreshing change from the heavier flavors that we associate with beef stew". I wasn't particularly excited about this recipe because I LIKE the heavier flavors that we typically associate with beef stew.

I seasoned some flour (love the bowl--Michelangelo always was my favorite):

I cut the meat in to cubes, dredged the cubes in the seasoned flour, and then browned them in olive oil.

I added dry white wine to the pot:

The wine was brought to a boil and then simmered until it reduced by half. Dijon mustard was whisked into the wine (TJOC loves Dijon mustard, it's in about half of the recipes in the book). I then returned the beef to the pot, along with a can of tomatoes, sliced onions, garlic cloves, and bouquet garni:

We simmered the dish over low heat for a couple of hours. When the meat was tender, we removed the beef, onions, and tomatoes to a platter (a rather annoying step):

The stock was boiled again until it was reduced to a third and slightly thickened:

Everything was then added back to the pot:

The stew was good but not great. It was definitely lighter than typical stew. If you don't love onions, look at other stew recipes because this one isn't going to work well for you. It was jam packed with onions and oniony flavor. I personally don't feel this recipe was worth the effort, especially when the beef stew recipe is so amazingly delicious.

Random facts:
  • According to Wikipedia, a daube is a French stew with beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic, and herbes de provance, so this actually was relatively authentic.
  • In certain areas of France, bulls killed during bullfights are typically used for daube (Wikipedia). The picture on Wikipedia looks far more delicious than what I made.
  • Wikipedia also states that there is typically a day between each step in the daube, making the authentic recipe even more inconvenient than TJOC's version. No thanks.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Deep-fried sweet potatoes (p. 302) and Additions to green beans (p. 251)

As I've said before, my father is extremely supportive of TJOTJOC, so when I went to his house for the night, he wanted us to cook a TJOC-heavy dinner. We looked through his cabinet, paged through TJOC, and decided to utilize his home-canned green beans and homegrown sweet potatoes (that were probably nearing the end of their life span).

I have a fear of the deep fryer. I've actually had a deep fryer for about 7 years and only took it out of the box for the first time a few weeks ago. I still haven't used it yet. Knowing this, dad thought it would be a perfect time to make Deep-fried sweet potatoes (p. 302) because he could help. Reading through the recipe again, I see we missed the first line about boiling the sweet potatoes for ten minutes (whoops! Didn't do that).

Dad cut the sweet potatoes in to strips using a mandoline. Apparently, he's cut himself before on the appliance because he decided to use it while wearing oven mitts. I thought it was both smart and hilarious.

Some of the delicious looking strips:

One of the benefits of the mandoline is that all the strips are exactly the same width, so they should cook at about the same pace. Four large sweet potatoes made a LOT of strips:

They were popped in to a deep fryer and deep fried until golden brown:

These were amazing. I love fries, I love sweet potato fries, and these stood up to the best. They had the intrinsic sweetness of the sweet potato and were crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. I gorged myself on them since I suspected they wouldn't keep well. I also salted the heck out of them.

I honestly don't think that cooking them first is necessary, although On Food and Cooking by Andrew Smith says that the best fries are fried at two temperatures, so maybe the precooking is a way to get around that. Has anyone made this recipe as written? I would like to know the difference.

We were both attracted to Additions to green beans (p. 251) and decided to make two of the different styles. The first one we made combined wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and a drop of my father's super-hot-don't-eat-if-you-value-your-tongue pepper powder:

It didn't seem like enough for a pound of green beans, so we doubled the recipe.

We also mixed sauteed mushrooms, sour cream, and parsley:

And added each to a pound of green beans:

Well, for one thing, I will tell you the amount of vinegar mixture that TJOC actually calls for is undoubtedly correct. The green beans were so vinegary they were almost pickled (although Dad and I heartily enjoyed them anyway). The sour cream green beans were delicious and would be absolutely perfect for a potluck (I don't know why I always say that things would be perfect for potlucks, I never go to potlucks, so how would I know? More, it would be perfect for my vision of a potluck). Mushrooms, sour cream, and green beans is a delicious combination. These additions work well if you have a garden full of green beans and are getting really sick of them--try adding something new to them.

Random facts:
  • We eat the seeds of many legumes, the green seeds of a few (including lima beans, fava beans, soybeans), and the pods of only the green bean, the long bean, and the pea (On Food and Cooking, p. 335).
  • The breeding of green beans is probably fairly recent since they have to be eaten almost immediately and weren't as useful as dried beans (OFaC, p. 335)
  • The "string" in green beans was bred out in the late 19th century by Calvin Keeney, only heirloom varieties tend to have it today (OFaC, p. 336 and Wikipedia). I find this odd since I've had green beans with strings plenty of times in my life--were those all heirloom varieties?
  • True "yams" are rarely seen in the US. Most of what Americans call "yams" are really sweet potatoes (OFaC, p. 306).

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Gin cocktail (p. 56), Bronx (p. 56), Rusty nail (p. 60), Brandy Alexander (p. 62), and Planter's punch (p. 61)

**Warning to all readers--I'm writing these blog posts spectacularly out of order and I'm posting them as I write them, so if you aren't reading this in a blog reader (which will pick them up regardless of when I post them) and aren't a fan on Facebook (I will FB when I post), keep checking back**

Much like Rachel a couple of weeks ago, my father decided that it was his duty to help me knock as many TJOC-related cocktails off the list as he could. My dad had the opposite problem that Rachel had--he had a fully stocked bar but no juices, which causes a real problem with TJOC cocktails. We essentially had 7 cocktails we could make. And, since Dad has been on the Adkin's Diet for over ten years, he couldn't drink any of the cocktails anyway. So my poor stepmother had to step up to the plate. Fortunately for me, she was willing to drink gin! It seems nobody else I know is willing to do so.

(And, like the last all-alcohol post, I am going to include fun facts!)

The first drink was a Gin cocktail (p. 56).

Facts about gin (Wikipedia):
  • The predominant flavor of gin comes from juniper berries
  • Monks used a juniper-flavored alcohol similar to gin as a medication for the bubonic plague (it did not work)
  • Because gin is relatively easy to produce, it was a favorite during Prohibition
  • "Sloe gin" is infused with sloes, which are the fruit of the blackthorn
I shook gin, orange juice, lemon juice, and a dash of bitters together, and strained it over ice:

Vickie said it was good but a little too sour. I've noticed that gin drinks do tend towards sour rather than the fruity.

For some mysterious reason I was mixing the drinks in a Hidden Valley ranch shaker even though Dad has a fully stocked wet bar complete with real shakers. And I was totally sober. I must have been tired. I didn't take a picture of the next drink for some reason. The next drink I made her was a Bronx (p. 56).

Bronx factoids (Wikipedia):
  • A Bronx is a perfect martini with orange juice
  • The Bronx was a very popular cocktail during prohibition
  • Vermouth was originally used to cover up the flavors of cheap wine
I shook gin with a dash of sweet vermouth, a dash of dry vermouth, and orange juice. I strained it in to a cocktail glass. It was very gin-y. This is a cocktail to avoid if you don't love drinking gin. It's almost completely gin.

Dad was pretty excited about the recipe for the Rusty nail (p. 60).

Rusty nail facts (Wikipedia):
  • A rusty nail is commonly drank as both as a cocktail and as a martini
  • The Canadian version of the drink substitutes rye whiskey for the Scotch and is called a Donald Sutherland
  • Drambuie is a honey and herb flavored malt whiskey
Dad favors Scotch and really likes Drambuie--so a drink that is 3/4 Scotch and 1/4 Drambuie is perfection:

He loved it! The honeyed flavor of the Drambuie mixed perfectly with the Scotch. Dad said he'll remember this recipe for the future because he loved it that much. Drinks with only two ingredients are called "duos" and they are excellent if you really like both ingredients.

Vickie asked to if she could have something other than gin so I made her a Brandy Alexander (p. 62).

Brandy Alexander facts (Wikipedia):
  • The brandy alexander is based on the "Alexander" which is gin based
  • If the drink is made with light creme de cacao, it's considered a "Panama"
  • The "creme" in creme de cacao refers to the texture of the liqueur--there are no dairy products in it
I shook brandy, dark creme de cacao, and a dash of heavy cream together and then strained it in to a glass:

She liked it! I think sometimes Brandy Alexanders are ice cream drinks, which I would now love to have because I think it would be delicious. I really like chocolate based drinks so it was right up my alley.

I decided that maybe I should mix myself a drink and Planter's punch (p. 61) caught my eye.

I shook rum, orange juice, grenadine, lime juice, and a bit of sugar (Dad didn't have sugar syrup and I didn't want to make it) together and then strained the drink over ice:

Another drink that goes down way too easy. I liked it a lot. The rum was perfectly matched with the fruit flavors and it wasn't overly sour. Delicious! TJOC has a large punch recipe for planter's punch, too, and I was looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, I found out while drinking the planter's punch that I am allergic to rum, too (I imagine it has something to do with fruit flavors or extracts in the alcohol) so that stopped my love of the planter's punch. I'm really hating my fruit allergy and it really seems to be expanding.

Any favorite cocktails? Dad, you want to jump in with your thoughts?

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Milk bread (p. 597)

Rachel and I thought we would make coffee cake for breakfast. In the morning, while trying to force myself out of bed extremely early after a late night, I kept thinking "maybe we don't need bread" while simultaneously knowing that Rachel was likely being responsible and getting the yeast started (which she was). Thank goodness for responsible friends. Most of the coffee cakes start with the dough for Milk bread (p. 597).

Warm milk, butter, sugar, an egg, and a little salt were added to the yeast and it was mixed by hand for about one minute. Two cups of flour were stirred in and an additional two cups of flour were kneaded in until the dough was smooth and elastic:

We set it out to raise until doubled in size. At this point we looked at the coffee cake recipes--apparently you are supposed to use a heckava lot more sugar if you are making a coffee cake. Whoops! It was way too late to add more sugar so we decided to just finish making the milk bread and formed the dough in to a loaf. It sat until it doubled in size again:

And was popped in to the oven:

I thought this bread was awful. It was heavy (it's possible the house was too cold or we didn't let it raise enough) and it had an off flavor that I really disliked. I think it might have been all of the milk. I can't see myself ever making this bread again. Has anyone else made this recipe? Did it turn out the same way?

Thank you Rachel and Jon for all the support! That was a particularly fun couple days of TJOC cooking and it's just going to get more interesting since we've cooked all the obvious recipes!

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Iced coffee (p. 32), Iced coffee Viennese (p. 33), and Microwaved bacon (p. 509)

Rachel pointed out that it would be a good time to make some coffee drinks. I don't drink coffee. I truly think am the only person in the world who doesn't know how to make a decent cup of coffee. I would much rather have a nice can of Coke first thing in the morning or a nice unsweetened iced tea than coffee. I do have a coffee pot but it is 100% operated by People Who Like Coffee.

We started with Iced coffee (p. 32). Rachel made the coffee, which we sweetened with a little sugar syrup (I really recommend making sugar syrup and keeping it in the refrigerator--it mixes much, much easier into cold drinks than sugar). She added some cream and ice and there it was:

Good if you like cold coffee. Repulsive if you do not. We took one of the iced coffees and turned it in to Iced coffee Viennese (p. 33). Essentially we added some rum to the coffee and topped it with whipped cream:

Now there is a decent cup of coffee! That's very possibly my opinion because I don't actually like coffee, so I add a gallon of cream and a pound of sugar to it on the odd occasion I drink it--and the alcohol is definitely an improvement--so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Rachel does like coffee and she liked both drinks.

I seriously don't like microwaved bacon. In fact, I would rather not eat bacon than have microwaved bacon (well, that's not totally true, but I won't eat the volume I would normally eat of bacon cooked other methods). Regardless, I had to make TJOC's Microwaved bacon (p. 509)

We laid our bacon on a whole pile of napkins:

We covered it so it didn't splatter all over and microwaved the bacon:

Eventually it was done.

Microwaved bacon never gets acceptably crisp for me. I like crisp bacon. It's probably fine if you don't or if you are going to crumble it in other dishes, but I find that making it's bed of napkins and checking it constantly annoying. I would rather just pop it in the oven.

Random fun facts:
  • In the US, bacon refers to cured and smoked pork belly. This can vary in other parts of the world (personal knowledge)
  • Bacon has moved from a breakfast food to a condiment in the last fifteen years. The belly is now often the most valuable cut of a pig (personal knowledge)
  • The inventor of the decaffeination process, Ludwig Roselius, was convinced excessive caffeine intake killed his father (The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, p. 137)

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Eggs Florentine (p. 197), Creamed spinach II (p. 305).Mornay sauce (Cheese sauce) I (p. 551), and Au gratin I (p. 961)

Rachel and I thought that making a big breakfast before I headed home to mom's house would be a great idea. It was pointed out that making a well-thought out breakfast could knock out a lot of recipes.

Continuing down the synergy pathway, we decided to make Eggs Florentine (p. 197) which neither of us had ever eaten previously. We were entering blind with no expectations.

I wasn't very impressed with my previous stab at creamed spinach. I was hoping that Creamed spinach II (p. 305) would be tastier.

I boiled about a pound of baby spinach:

I cooked onion in butter until golden. I then added a bit of flour:

I stirred in hot cream and a little bit of sugar, finally adding the spinach. I covered the bottom of a baking dish with the creamed spinach:

I got Mornay sauce (Cheese sauce) I (p. 551) ready. It was simple, essentially just white sauce I with a fourth cup of grated cheese added:

Mornay sauce is the stuff dreams are made of. I don't think there is anyone out there who doesn't love a good cheese sauce (unless you hate cheese). This cheese sauce is simple, mild, and creamy. Truly delicious.

I poached my eggs:

One of the yolks broke but I thought 3/4 success was pretty good. It was stressful transferring them and trying not to break the fragile yolks! I think I'm getting better at poaching eggs, although they still aren't pretty.I layered the eggs on the spinach:

The Mornay sauce was poured over the eggs:

The poached eggs were covered with Au gratin I (p. 961) (essentially just breadcrumbs):

The whole thing was briefly baked:

And done! Delicious with toast and bacon:

This recipe is a perfect example of the whole being better than the individual parts. I don't particularly love poached eggs or creamed spinach alone but combined, and with delicious Mornay sauce, the dish was amazing. I thought it looked quite impressive too--I will totally make this again. It was SO good.

Random facts:
  • Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, loved spinach so much, she insisted it be served at every meal. The labeling of spinach dishes as "Florentine" is because of de Medici--her hometown was Florence, Italy (Wikipedia)
  • Spinach is very high in iron and calcium but most of it is not easily absorbed by the body (Wikipedia)
  • Spinach is a member of the beet family (On Food and Cooking, p. 324)
  • Usually Mornay sauces use Parmesan or Guyere cheeses (On Food and Cooking, p. 65)

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