Saturday, February 28, 2009

    February Food Porn

    Photos of and recipes for my recent culinary 'conquests.'

    Bad table manners during dinner at Cochon, which is owned by two of New Orleans' top chefs, Donald Link and Susan Spicer. On a double date, Jon and I feasted on roasted oysters that taste like liquid gold, cucumbers that had just the right amount of vinegar and mint, and a smorgasbord of pork delicacies.

    I'm often inspired by my food magazines that arrive each month. One recent night, I made pasta with homemade tomato sauce that includes Kalamatas and grilled chicken sausage. I was also compelled to try Five-Spice Beet Soup topped with sour cream and celery leaves. I didn’t know anything about Chinese 5-Spice Powder before this – it’s a beautiful, delicious and aromatic blend of spices that includes fennel, pepper, star anise, cinnamon, and clove. The soup was smooth and velvety, rich, fragrant, and complex from the spices.

    A bountiful counter, onion goggles and all!

    Above is my homemade vegetable stock for the Beet Soup. This New York Times article, which I've consulted many times since it was published, gave me the idea to make it. I didn’t have enough store-bought stock in the fridge, so per the article, I decided to supplement and make my own for the first time. The article said cook an onion, carrot and celery stalk for 10 min, but I used more vegetables and cooked them for at least 25 for good measure.

    For a special meal with my in-laws, I made grilled arctic char over red cabbage, inspired by this Gourmet recipe, and this Bon Appetit one. I seasoned the fish with salt, pepper, and a blend of 5-Spice Powder, cumin, and turmeric, inspired by both the Gourmet recipe, and the beet soup one.

    I also cooked scallops wrapped in grilled turkey bacon, using the same seasoning on the scallops.

    Lastly, I made a mashed potato-like cauliflower puree that is incredibly tasty. I don't usually like cauliflower very much, but I love this recipe.

    For dessert, I made rhubarb white chocolate chip muffins, as my father-in-law adores rhubarb. When I told Jon I was making them, he complained, "I don't like rhubarb." Guess who ate the most muffins and couldn't stop raving about them?

    The recipe for these Espresso Brownies made my mouth water to such a grand extent that I baked them the next week for a visiting friend. If you bake them, please note that the original recipe was not published correctly, but is corrected in the comment section online. The brownies turned out well, except I wish I had cooked them for 5 minutes less (as they cooled, they became much harder than I wanted). When I make them again, I'll add in extra espresso powder. Due to personal taste preference, I left out the nuts.

    My friend wrote afterwards, "Do you think you could FedEx me some of those coffee bars? Maybe about 50 of them. Tonight. I can practically taste them in my mouth, and it's driving me insane. I suppose I could make them myself this weekend, if I don't die of longing first."

    I made my favorite grilled shallot topped Mac n' Cheese for a friend, who requested it after reading my blog post about it. This time I added in sliced turkey bacon (97% fat-free!), which in hindsight I should've grilled separately before layering into the casserole (would've added more of a crunchy texture to the dish).

    I also served homemade carrot soup. I put the carrots, onion, and celery that I'd used to make the vegetable broth for the beet soup into the food processor and gave it a whirl. I was very happy to find a use for those vegetables -- I couldn't stand the idea of throwing them away. Next I mixed them with a can of creamed corn, and the leftover broth, plus salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Poof! I had homemade, healthy, carrot and corn soup. I was a little shocked at how easy it was.

    Funny story: I found out during dinner that my guest had never actually had carrot soup before, but had wanted to since she was 11 years old and read about it in a children’s book…something about the bunny feeds another animal carrot soup so that the other animal doesn’t eat the bunny? She (and hopefully the animal in the book) savored every drop.

    Finally, "Chocolate Sin" for breakfast at the extremely popular Pancake Pantry in Nashville, Tennessee. Cherry pie filling, chocolate ganache and fudge sauce, whipped cream, powdered sugar, and thin pancakes light as air -- no repenting necessary, it was worth the calories!

    Recipe: Spaghetti Spice Sauce

    Per my February Food Porn post, the link to Gourmet's Spaghetti Spice Sauce recipe is here.

    I like to slice (not dice) the Kalamata olives into threes so that there’s more to go around, and you can actually use any tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, or pre-made spaghetti sauce you like.

    I often add diced yellow onion to make it chunkier. I recently tried a new pasta, VitaSpelt Whole Grain Angel Hair, from Whole Foods, which turned out to be delicious. Note: the pasta only takes 5 minutes (the box says 2-3, but it wasn’t ready at 3).

    The one problem with this recipe is that there's no protein, so while the sauce is cooking, I add some in by grilling 3-4 store-bought sausages for about ten minutes, take them off the heat, and depending on my timing, either first let them cool some in the pan, or put them on a cutting board and use a paper towel to hold one hot end while slicing up the other (slice the "butts" extra thin for textural purposes).

    Like the olives, the more sausage pieces you cut, the more there appears to be in your dish. I add the sausage into the sauce after it's cooked for awhile, and let the sausage warm up again in it until it’s time to mix it with the pasta and eat. I usually use a low-fat chicken, feta, and spinach sausage, but any kind would work.

    If you don't like spice, leave out the red pepper flakes. If you do, add more!

    Recipe: Cauliflower Puree

    Oddly, this recipe comes from my Cuisanart manual's recipe section. As mentioned in my February Food Porn post, the pureed cauliflower truly tastes just as good as mashed potatoes and has less carbs. You could vary it using goat cheese instead of butter, and raw or sauteed shallots instead of garlic.

    Note: This recipe requires a food processor and makes approximately six servings.

    1 Large Cauliflower head
    3-6 cloves garlic, to taste
    1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
    1/4c reduced-fat sour cream
    3 tbls unsalted butter
    Salt and pepper, to taste

    -Cut cauliflower into florets.
    -Place in medium-size saucepan with garlic and onion.
    -Cover with water and bring to boil over high heat.
    -Reduce heat to low, cover loosely, and cook until cauliflower is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
    -Drain. Since you're going to put it into the food processor, you don't need to let cool much, just enough so that you can handle it.
    -Using metal processor blade in work bowl, add in vegetables.
    -Press the pulse button 5 times to chop the vegetables.
    -Add sour cream, butter, salt, and pepper, then process for about 2 minutes until smooth and creamy (I usually taste once or twice to see if I've got enough salt, pepper, and garlic in).
    -You'll likely need to microwave the puree in order to serve it hot.

    You can definitely prepare this a day or two ahead -- it still tastes just as good.

    Beet Soup, Just like the Picture!

    My beet soup looks just like the picture in Bon Appetit, oui?

    Sunday, February 01, 2009


    Over the weekend, Jon and I returned a Pottery Barn lamp I'd bought online with the last of our wedding-related credits (the blue lamp base was not the same in person as it was in the catalog, which is silly since it was a non-store product!). We decided to use the credit at Williams-Sonoma to buy some fun stuff instead.

    Note: My idea of fun stuff is different from what it used to be (a $50 meal out in NYC vs. $50 worth of kitchen gear, which will last much longer than one evening out!).

    Items purchased:
    -For salad dressing, I usually use olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper, and sometimes lemon juice, so I've started experimenting with different varities of olive oil. Now there are separate oils for cooking and for dressings in the kitchen cabinet. I asked for a recommendation and ended up buying a small bottle of extra virgin Lungarotti, which comes from Umbria, and is "characterized by a noteworthy balance between fruitiness, bitterness and spiciness." Haven't tried it yet. Will let you know.

    -"The peach-colored salt flakes from Australia have a rich yet delicate flavor," says the package of Finishing Salt. It's mild in flavor, heavy in saltiness, thick in texture, and doesn't have that girl holding an umbrella on it! I'll use it for fish, vegetables, and even steak. I really like to splurge on special ingredients as I'm more inclined to think of unique ways to use them when they're nicely packaged...or expensive.

    -New, matching oven mitts. The ones we had weren't thick enough to fully block out the oven's heat and, well, didn't match. In a bad not matching way, not a cute, funky one!

    -A high-fallutin' baking pan. I have two really old ones that are so stained, and this one is "commercial quality." It glistens, that's all I care about! How cool: "The extremely durable metal heats quickly and evenly to ensure uniform baking. With use, the pan darkens slightly, increasing its ability to absorb heat."

    -Tongs made of stainless steel with heat-resistant nylon tips that are okay to use in our non-stick Calphalon. We've had to buy a couple of new utensils like that since you can't use metal with our new pots and pans. For my next kitchen splurge, I want a nylon-tipped whisk. I also need a larger liquid measuring cup and new 12-piece cupcake tins. I'm sure I'll come up with some other items as well in the meantime!