Monday, January 31, 2005

Sunday night at the improv: Barley Casserole

For some reason this weekend I had little voices telling me to "make a casserole" and "make something with barley", so I fused them into this casserole. It turned out well, but I'll use a lower proportion of barley next time I try something like this.

6 stalks celery, 2 carrots, 1 red onion, finely diced
8 oz brown mushrooms, medium dice
1 large turnip, medium dice
1 large parsnip, medium dice
1.5 lb boneless chicken thighs, large dice
2 1/2 cups pearled barley (this is tooo much!)
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock
1-2 cups fresh basil leaves
juice of one lemon
6 cloves garlic
salt, pepper, cayenne
butter and olive oil

In a big sautee pan, cook the mirepoix in some olive oil and butter until it starts to soften, add the mushrooms and cook until they give up some liquid. Add the turnip and parsnip and a bit of stock. Sautee for 5-10 minutes, until things start to soften a bit.
Meanwhile, season the chicken with salt, pepper and cayenne and brown in butter in another pan.
Add the barley, bay leaf, and remaining chicken stock to the veggies and stir well. Add the chicken pieces, as well as whatever liquid came off the chicken and return everything to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the barley is tender, 45-60 minutes. Stir it every 5 minutes or so and add water if things start to dry out (they will).
Make the pistou: Toss the garlic in a food processor and chop it, then add the basil, a big pinch of salt, and lemon juice. Pulse until the basil is finely chopped, adding however much olive oil is required to make that happen. Set this aside to mellow a bit.
When the barley is tender, stir in the pistou and cook for another minute or two. Adjust seasoning.
You could eat this as a very enriched porridge at this point, but I wanted casserole, so I threw it in a big baking dish, topped with buttered breadcrumbs and tossed it in a 400 degree oven for a bit to brown the breadcrumbs.

For dessert I scratched the mandarine creme brulee itch. Quite successfully too. :-)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Quick Lentil Deliciousness

Since Andrea is out of town this weekend, I didn't want to do anything particularly involved last night, so I just threw together a quick lentil thing that ended up being really, really good. Here's what I did:

1/2 red pepper, minced
2 smallish ribs celery, minced
1 carrot, finely diced
1/2 red onion, minced
1/2 cup lentils
chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 pickled garlic cloves, minced (these are Sherry Pickled Garlic from Quick Pickles)
1 Tbs each olive oil and butter

Throw the olive oil and butter into a hot pan and let cook over medium-high heat until the butter stops foaming. Toss in the pepper, celery, carrot, and onion and a pinch of salt and let cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften and start to brown a bit (~5 minutes). Add the lentils and stir around for a minute or so. Add enough stock to cover the lentils, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to get a simmer. Add the bay leaf, a good grind of black pepper, and the garlic, cover and let simmer for ~30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Give it a stir every 5 minutes and add more stock if things start to look dry. Take the lid off and cook for another couple minutes if it's soupy.

Serve topped with a bit of good, fruity olive oil.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Thursday night stirfy

Stirfry ingredients: broccoli, carrots, savoy cabbage (shredded), red onion, tofu cubes, shrimp (frozen from TJs).
~1/4 cup ketchup
1 heaping Tbs Thai chilli paste
a good squirt of fish sauce
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 inch ginger, minced
juice of one lime
1-2 Tbs dried Thai chilli pepper (to taste)
ground coriander (to taste)
chicken stock

Caramelize the ketchup a bit in the wok, then add the chilli paste, fish sauce, half of the ginger and garlic, and a splash of chicken stock. Stir to get everything blended. Taste and add the coriander and dried chilli pepper. Simmer for a bit, adding chicken stock to get the thickness you want.
Shortly before adding the vegetables/meat to the sauce, add the lime juice and remaining ginger and garlic.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

La Cheminee: Microreview

Last night we did the prix fixe thing at La Cheminee. Overall I was not as impressed as last time we went. Andrea's theory is that we've had a lot more French food since then (including our trip to Provence) so our standards are higher. That's a pretty good theory.

More detail: the apps were pretty good, Andrea's warm spinach and red cabbage salad was really nice and my lobster bisque was good, if not great (it didn't have the sweetness you get from good lobster).
Andrea's main course, called "Pot au Feu" was braised beef rib with vegetables. The beef was *good*, but I was disappointed by the sauce (a bit bland) and the fact that they didn't serve the broth or braising liquid with the dish. My monkfish quenelles en croute were a nice excuse to consume their sauce, which was delicious. :-)
Dessert for both of us was creme brulee, which hadn't been carefully enough caramelized, but was otherwise good (maybe a bit overcooked for my tastes). But then we're both spoiled by having mandarine-infused creme brulee. (Which I need to make again!)

Monday, January 24, 2005

Later Sunday: Pear salad

We had the choux croute early, so we needed to eat something later but didn't want anything heavy. So we made salad with:
Romaine lettuce
carrot strips (shaved with the peeler)
sliced pear
sliced avocado
dried cranberries
toasted walnuts
and dressed it with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

I actually didn't add the avocado until we were halfway done and I realized that it would fit well.

Sunday Night: Choux croute garni

I finally got around to making choux croute this weekend. The recipe is from Bourdain, and I didn't do too much monkeying around with it. I got all the meats at Dittmers and used:
- Fresh pork belly (buried in salt for a couple of hours)
- Kasseler rippchen
- Weisswurst (I haven't gotten these at Dittmers before, they are *good*)
- Polish sausage
My only real alteration to the recipe was to splash a small amount of wine over the sauerkraut before serving.

The result was really, really good. I think maybe next time I won't choose the Polish sausage, but that's a minor complaint.

One potential variation: the whole time I was eating the sauerkraut, a little voice was calling out that it would be even better with a small amount of caraway added. Convincing Andrea of this may prove difficult. :-)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Saturday Night Mexican

One of the groups of recipes in FStoS that I've been wanting to do is the "chicken cooked in foil" group. There are a couple of things in there that just sound great and we now have the aluminum foil to do it (a previous attempt, using normal foil instead of the heavy duty kind, was not particularly successful). However, in the interests of using up half a jar of canned tomatoes that was in the 'fridge, I used the technique from the book but winged it on the contents. We served the Mexican influenced chicken with pintos (thawed beans and meat from last week), sliced avocado, lettuce and corn tortillas and the results were excellent. It would have been even better with sour cream, but there was none of that in the house.

Here's what I did:
2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 a large red onion, thinly sliced
2 chipotle peppers, chopped with some of the adobo
4 cloves garlic, chopped
juice of one lime
~1tsp each ground cumin, ground coriander, and pasilla chile powder
4 canned tomatoes plus some juice
1 cup corn
manteca de color

Mix the chipotles, garlic, lime, spices, and tomato juice.
Spread about a Tbs of the manteca on the foil and make a bed out of the onions.
Salt and pepper the chicken breasts, then lay them on the onions.
Pour the sauce over the chicken, top with the tomatoes and corn, seal and follow the normal cooking directions.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Friday Night Laziness: Broccolli with Cheese Sauce

I've been planning to do this for a few days, so I had a nice piece of Swiss raclette cheese on hand. My goal with the sauce was to have something flavorful, but not overly rich... I think I got there:

2 Tbs butter
1 1/2 Tbs flour
1/2 c. whole milk
1 c. chicken stock
1 Tbs brandy
1 Tbs dry white wine that has some acid (sauvignon blanc good, chardonnay bad)
1/2 c. grated or cubed cheese
salt and black pepper to taste

Cook the butter over medium heat in a saucepan until the foaming settles down. Turn the heat down to medium-low and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking pretty much constantly, until the flour is light brown (about 5 minutes).
Mix the milk and chicken stock together and add it in small portions to the roux, whisking well after each addition. When you're happy with the consistency (you probably won't need to add all the liquid), add the brandy and wine and a couple grinds of black pepper.
Toss in the cheese and whisk until it's all melted.
Adjust the seasonings and serve.
This is particularly good when topped with a bit of ground pimenton.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Random food ideas

Some random ideas that have been kicking around in my brain for a bit:

1) 1940's supper party: prepare one of the menus out of the back of my grandmother's Joy of Cooking. This will optionally involve aspic.

2) Ersatz dinner party: serve a menu consisting only of foods masquerading as other foods. Ideas here include: Mock Apple Pie, something made with TVP, custard or cheescake made with tofu, a dish based around surimi.

3) Food Pyramid days: try following the new nutritional guidelines for a few days (maybe a week), just to see what's really entailed. This will take some planning.

Thursday night stir fry

Last night we did a stir fry with carrots, broccolli, green pepper, onions, shitakes (dried), garlic, and a bit of beef. I wanted to do something different for a sauce, and we still have a bunch of miso in the fridge, so the sauce was:

1 inch ginger, minced
8 thai chilies, thinly sliced
2 star anise
1-2 Tbs white miso
juice of one lime
1-2 Tbs soy sauce

Fry the ginger and chilies briefly for 30 seconds, then add miso and enough water to make a thick sauce and stir well to integrate. Add the anise and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the lime juice and soy sauce to taste. The sauce should be "overly" strong, because the liquid that's in with the other ingredients will dilute it some.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Microreview: Nola

Andrea and I have been talking for a while about trying Nola. On Mondays in January, a lot of downtown Palo Alto restaurants have special prix fixe menus, so we decided to give it a try last night.

Nanoreview/general impression: eh.
Microreview: nice decor and atmosphere; decent (though too hurried, as always in CA) service; our cocktails were good. The problems were in the food, which was careless and bland. The gumbo had no appreciable spice (and Andrea's had a definite burnt taste to it, like they stirred up the bottom of a pot of burnt soup). My jambalaya was pretty boring (also: who the hell puts salmon and "ahi tuna" in jambalaya?); Andrea's fried chicken was nice, but the accompanying sauce was cloyingly sweet. The desserts were pretty standard and, judging from the state of the ice cream, had been sitting for too long before coming to the table. The edges of the bread pudding were burnt. I don't think we'll be going back again, except maybe to sit outside and have cocktails once the weather gets better.

On the way to Nola we checked out the menus for some of the other restaurants, to plan for next week; I requested that we not look at the menu at La Cheminee, because if it was tempting I'd make trouble about going to Nola. On the way home we checked out the La Cheminee menu... of course they had Pot au Feu last night. Damn!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Sunday Cooking Extravaganza. :-)

Since yesterday was one of those "watch football for most of the day" days (ah, the playoffs!), I did a couple of long-cooking things that made entirely too much food. Good thing there was still a plenty of space left in the freezer.

Item 1: Pinto beans with bacon and sausage (using the "red beans with meat" recipe in Bittman.). These would have made an perfectly wonderful meal on their own... they are delicious.

Item 2: Lamb stew with coconut milk (recipe from The South American Table). This Colombian dish was cool because it used standard stew ingredients in slightly different ways (e.g. adding the herbs at the sauteeing phase). The addition of sugar to the stew (and not using any acid in the stock) was also a deviation from my normal practice. The result is different and very, very good. I definitely can no longer say that I don't like lamb. :-)

Item 3: Dessert was ice cream with peaches (frozen) and a quick chocolate sauce (~ 1/2 c. heavy cream, 1 Tbs butter, 2 Tbs each of unsweetened and sweetened chocolate).

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Saturday Dinner: Mushroom Soup and Sauteed Fish

The soup was Bourdain's Mushroom Soup. I used a mixture of white and cremini mushrooms (8oz each) and tossed in some dried porcinis. Boy is that stuff good.

The main course was sea bass with a spice-nut crust (almonds, hazlenuts, coriander and sesame seeds, black pepper) taken from FStoS. For once I actually got a nut crust on fish to (a) stick and (b) actually be crunchy. Yay! :-) I was really impressed with the quality of the sea bass, which we got frozen at Trader Joe's. I'm definitely going to have to remember the TJ's frozen fish section.

One other note: we mixed some of the remaining walnut-miso sauce (from Thursday) with a bit of water to make a very nice salad dressing.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Wednesday: A Vegetarian Fest

I was already planning to make Bittman's tofu with caramel and onions, then I saw yesterday's Minimalist column, which includes four different, Japanese-influenced, vegetarian things. Somehow things got totally out of control.

I did make the tofu, as well as roasted chickpeas (from How to Cook Everything), and then the sesame-soy custard and green beans with walnut-miso sauce from yesterday's column.


  1. The tofu was, as always, dreamy.
  2. I sprinkled the chickpeas with some "B. and v.G. Spice Rub" (the meat rub from FStoS) after pulling them from the oven. The flavor combination there is really good.
  3. The green beans were, as Bittman promised, fantastic. And we've got loads of the sauce leftover for other stuff. After making these, I need to do a hand blender++: the little chopper bowl thing was perfect for this sauce.
  4. The custard was... interesting. It's intriguing enough that I'd like to try again, but I need to resolve a couple of problems with it:
    1. We could only find agar agar flakes at WF and the recipe calls for powder. I think that a lot of the agar agar ended up getting strained out. Next time I'll try pulverizing it a spice grinder first.
    2. My 8" square glass baking dish was way too big for the quantity the recipe makes. The pieces pictured in the article are maybe an inch thick and I ended up with maybe 1/4" thick pieces. This helped contribute to the screwy texture (too much surface skin). This is easily resolved next time.
    3. Next time I'm think I'm going to toast sesame seeds myself and grind them instead of using tahini. There was something out of balance in the flavor combination of tahini and wasabi.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tuesday Night Leftovers

We finished off the last two pieces of broiled chicken from last week, served with oven roasted potatoes spiced up with East Coast Grill Masala and a salad. That potato preparation really kicks butt. :-)

Monday, January 10, 2005

Sunday Dessert: Stewed Fruit variation 2

This time I combined the dried fruit: sliced prunes, cranberries, raisins, Rainier cherries, and mixed berries (from Trader Joes: blueberries, strawberries, and cherries) with the juice of one Meyer lemon, enough OJ to cover, cinnamon stick and some dried cloves. I let this mess sit all day, then simmered it for ~30 minutes before serving with a Meyer lemon wedge over ice cream

One cool part is that the pectin from the cranberries helps thicken the remaining liquid so that you end up with a nice sauce.

For variation 3, whenever that happens, I think I'll use the OJ/lemon juice from this iteration and add the fresh ginger from last time...

Sunday Dinner: Braised Short Ribs

I used the "Braised Short Ribs with Pearl Onions, Mushrooms, and Bacon" quantities from FStoS and modified the prep a bit since it was Sunday and I've been reading too much McGee.

After browning the meat and vegetables, I added only 3/4 of the wine and made up the rest of the volume with water. I threw the pot in a cold oven, without bringing it to a boil first, set the oven to 225-250 and partially covered the pot. After a couple hours of that (turning the meat every 30 minutes or so) I removed the lid, set the oven to 250-275 and let things cook until finished (continuing to turn the meat every 30 minutes).

When the ribs were done (~3.5 hours total cooking time), I pulled the pot out and let them cool in the braising liquid for an hour. I then pulled out the ribs, cooled the liquid down in an ice bath and refrigerated it for an hour or so to separate the fat. Then I skimmed it and strained it; this was a mistake, I should have strained the sauce before refrigerating it, oh well.

Before serving, I reduced the sauce a bit and then added the remaining 1/4 bottle of wine and all the other ingredients.

The result, served with hard polenta, was really really good.

Friday, January 07, 2005

New book

I got a copy of On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee for Christmas (thanks Kristen!).

How exactly is it that I managed to make it this long without having a copy of this book? I knew it was great, but somehow never got around to buying a copy.

Thursday Dinner: Broiled Chicken with Fig Sauce

This was from this week's Bittman column and it turned out really well. Some notes:

  1. I used a South African viogner (Yalumba) for the wine
  2. I strained the sauce and finished it with a Tbs of butter, then served the figs (so full of goodness) like a relish on the side.
  3. Using Meyer lemon added a great flavor, but probably not enough acidity.
  4. Boy oh boy do we need to get a broiler pan... I had to pull the battery out of the smoke alarm and the house still smells like broiling chicken.
We ate the chicken with boiled potatoes and quick-fried chard. When boiling the potatoes, I tried a suggestion from McGee: I added them to cold water (without salt), then slowly brought them to the boil (more than 30 minutes to get there). This is supposed to fix the starch throughout the potato and prevent the outer layers from sloughing off. It sure is time consuming, but the potatoes ended up with a really nice texture, so I think I'll be doing this again.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Tuesday Dinner: Sloppy Josés

This was a random idea to use up some of the pseudo-molé from a few weeks ago. It ended up being quick and very good:

1.5 lbs ground pork
1/2 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
chicken stock
red wine
3-4 Tbs molé
bread crumbs
salt and black pepper

Brown the pork well and pour off any liquid/fat. In a separate pan, over high heat, heat the oil and toss in the garlic and onions. Cook until beginning to soften. Add the pork and the other ingredients except the breadcrumbs and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add breadcrumbs until you're happy with the consistency. Simmer another couple minutes, adjust seasonings.
Serve with rice, crumbled feta cheese, a lime wedge, and corn tortillas.

There's No Way I'm Catching Up...

It's going to be impossible for me to catch up from the holidays, so I won't even really try. Some highlights though:

  1. I made braised beef with horseradish-dill sauce and potato dumplings on christmas day, that was great
  2. Andrea and I had a fantastic Turkish meal in Vienna at Nizams
  3. Dinner at The Wharf in Alexandria was, as always, fabulous. The oysters were the best I've had in quite some time (though I think I prefer the French garnish of shallots in vinegar to cocktail sauce), and it's been forever and a day since I had cioppino (no rockfish special on the menu forcing me to order it, so cioppino it was)... mmmm was that good. Too bad I had no room for bread pudding.
  4. I'm very proud of myself and Kristen for managing to get lunch on the table for 25 people on New Years Day after a very late night.