Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bon Appetit Night

I went for a meal inspired by Bon Appetit magazine. I find that a lot of BA recipes have at least one ingredient that is a bit hard to find. This is in contrast to Gourmet (RIP) magazine recipes which always seemed to have at least one ingredient that was impossible to find. Well, maybe not impossible, just improbable unless you lived in LA or NY or somewhere with a large and diverse ethnic population so that you could go to a Persian market then an Ethiopian one, and perhaps a Morroccan, all in one day. We have a good mix of ethnicities in the greater Seattle area, but I'm not driving out to the 'burbs for one $20 an oz. ingredient.

When I first started reading BA, I read and ripped out recipes mostly for fun, not because I intended to make anything. Once I became familiar with the kitchen and that glorious notion of subsitution, I was able to dive into actually cooking from my subscription. I had a friend who was once beside herself because she couldn't find a species of apple called for in a salad. The grocer insisted that it was a variety found on the East Coast and she would never find it here. Well, she needed it for a recipe, or the recipe would not be made. I too was dumbfounded. Substi-what?

So, in the above salad, I substitued radish sprouts for pea shoots. I thought maybe they meant pea tendrils, but the treatment was to eat them raw and tendrils really need a little time over heat (I think). I didn't even look pea shoots up. I realize that this was the odd ingredient that would be expensive, so I subbed. Sprouts are so fun to buy. These came growing on a paper towel sponge, basically. I cut away the sprouts and tossed them in the salad. So fun. And so spicy for eensy-weensy greens.

Then I made a leek and bacon risotto with a poached egg on top. From this angle you can't tell how truly messed up the egg is. I do the whole vinegar thing in the water, but I am not convinced it does anything to ease poaching. I thought I would just fry the darn thing and avoid the inevitable screaming and gnashing of teeth that happen with a poaching attempt in my kitchen, but in the end I went for fun and nuance. This risotto is so good. I have tried a few risotto recipes and this one is a keeper, along with my mushroom risotto. All the rest aren't worth the effort. And now that I have tried so many, I have the method down pat. It's gratifying to know how to make something so seemingly complex.

I almost forgot! The salad was the debut of a couple things. First, it was my first time buying real English peas in the pod. Second, it was my first time shelling real English peas from the pod. Man, are they good. They are, shockingly, so different from frozen peas. Now I understand what the fuss is.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

From a box

Funny the things we make from boxes. Brownies, cakes, cupcakes - these are all box staples, and decent ones. I have yet to make a truly good cupcake from scratch, actually. And I haven't tried a cake ... I made a chiffon cake once. All of my box cupcakes are marvelous. Somehow, when I get compliments, I just don't feel right taking credit for them. I used to get tons of compliments on my brownies too. What was my secret, I was asked. The secret? Choosing the cheapest box of brownies on the shelf. Refuse to pay over $2 for a box of brownie mix and you will not go wrong!
There was a bon voyage party for a Spaniard at work and I wanted to take two things: one very Spanish and one very American. I was going to make tortilla espanola, but ran out of time, so only made the brownies. I thought these were pretty darn American. And pretty darn good.

And from scratch!

It was the first time I made brownies from scratch. Well, the second time. I am ashamed to say that the first time, I wrote the directions down incorrectly and added 1.5 cups of oil instead of 1/2 a cup. The result was interesting. The brownies almost tasted normal, but you could wring the oil out and they didn't hold together at all. Kitchen errors like this anger me. So the second time around I was very careful. It's a Test Kitchen recipe, and they like to weigh as opposed to measure when they bake things, so that's what I did. The brownies were the best I've had. I felt very accomplished making them from scratch and not using something with preservatives and corn products in it.

I think I am converted to weighing for baking too. I made the brownies a third time to take across the street for a BBQ. They were delicious again, but a little different, and I think it was because I measured instead of weighed.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Please follow the directions

I was feeling down on my tart cookbook. I made a lemon-almond tart that I was not fond of. No photo, in fact, because it was ugly as well as not tasty. I had planned to bring half of it to my neighbor's house, but it was unworthy. I was leafing through another cookbook after this debacle and found another lemon-almond tart that I previously made and was successful with. That's when I realized that I am to the point where I have travelled into the cookbook collector category. I have so many I can't remember what I have made and where recipes are. I do have a list of insanely time-consuming projects, and on this list is to make a gigantic index of all the recipes I have made with page numbers, cross-referenced ingredients ... the works. Until that is under way and complete, I continue to leaf.
The tart cookbook will not go in the garage sale pile just yet, however. I made these beauties accompanied by very astringent salads and was wowed. The above is the flamiche, which I have made before, and below is a sausage-sundried tomato-mascarpone-softened onion masterpiece. The key to balancing them both (on different days, mind you) was the aforementioned salad with vinegary dressing that cuts through the unctuousness that each tart brought to the table.

The first time I made the flamiche I did not follow directions because they say to cook the leeks for 30 minutes on low heat with added water and the lid on. No caramelization! I thought that sounded ludicrous, so I hit them with medium-high heat to start a color, then turned the heat down and allowed them to soften and caramelize further. The second time around, for some reason, I decided to follow those weird, French directions, and the result was something divine. I did substitute half and half for cream, but I got better results in the custard arena. I generally believe in following recipe directions, but sometimes you hit upon a recipe where you wonder Did they actually make this thing? I do know that some recipes are not tested. There is a dark underbelly of cookbook authors who throw in a couple untested recipes because they think they can get away with it. That's what I think that awful lemon tart was.
Anyway, the flamiche required 30 minutes of leek sweating, and the sausage-sundried tomato tart required 1 hour (!) of onion sweating - 3 onions sweating. Totally worth it! I even made my own crust for the second tart. I generally have bad luck with shrinkage, such that I shrink from attempting crusts and go for frozen puff pastry more often than not. I manage the temperature just fine; I think I overwork the dough because it never looks like I have enough moisture for it to come together after resting in the fridge. But this time (okay, it was because I was out of frozen puff pastry) I dove in and got just a tiny bit of shrinking. I chose this second tart to make solely because I had mascarpone that I wanted to use. It has no eggs! You just pile in potatoes, sausage, tomato puree, sundried tomatoes, mascarpone, the onions, and flavor with herbs de provence. A salad and a nice glass of white wine round out the meal.

I love tarts.