Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why, Fox? Why?

I love Amazon. Somehow, it always knows exactly what impulse-purchase item to show me that I just have to buy. Case in point: the Kitchen Confidential DVD set.

Kitchen Confidential, based on the Anthony Bourdain book of the same name, aired on Fox in 2005. Now me and Fox, we have a bad track record. They go and air great shows, then cut them down before any has even had a chance to realize they're on TV. Good job, Fox!

So before this becomes a rant about television programming in general, I just want to urge everyone to watch Kitchen Confidential on DVD. If you've read the book, you'll recognize a lot of the points that Bourdain talks about - a chef's ability to tolerate pain, the crazy baker that no one understands, the front of the house/back of the house split, just how far a restaurant will go to get the best ingredients, etc. If you haven't read it, the show will still be hilarious.

The cast, including Bradley Cooper, Nicholas Brendon, Owain Yeoman, Jaime King, Bonnie Somerville, and John Cho, work so well together, I had no problem seeing them as a real working staff. They rib on each other, especially on the newbie Jim, in a way that makes them tighter.

The Dance of Cooking

"Oh no, Jim's having a fake seizure!"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Not bad for my first try

I'd never made a layer cake before this weekend. I know, as much as I love baking and cooking, I'd managed to go 25 years without ever having to use two pans for a cake - crazy! But my friend Mel's birthday was this week, and I couldn't let her have a supermarket cake...

(And I only used that hideous fall leaves plate because it was plastic, and I was bringing this to a bar... I didn't want to carry something nice with me.)

So I don't mean to toot my own horn ("I'm not a tooter"), but this was a fantastic cake. The recipe was easy to follow, and the ingredients weren't expensive (especially when you know that the Pound Plus chocolate bars at Trader Joe's are really Callebaut brand). The cake stayed moist, and the frosting was to die for. This recipe's definitely a keeper...

It's that Easy?!?

Needing to use the rest of my mozzarella curd, I decided to try my hand at Armenian string cheese. For some reason, I've always enjoyed making the most labor-intensive Armenian dishes (manti is my favorite), so of course I'm crazy enough to want to make my own string cheese. But after actually doing it, I can't believe how easy it is... why have I never done this before?!? (Oh right, finding the curd has been a bitch...)

If anyone else decides to try this, I thought I'd provide a more pictoral recipe - I didn't think I could describe the process well enough without examples...

Armenian String Cheese

1 pound mozzarella curd
nigella seeds

Fill a bowl with cold water and salt it heavily; set aside.

Chop curd into small pieces and put into a microwaveable bowl or measuring cup. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, until the lumps are melted, but before the curd becomes soupy. Drain off whey and add a large pinch of mahleb and a large pinch of nigella seeds. Kneed the cheese to incorporate mahleb and seeds; pour off any more whey that may have separated. In your hands, form cheese into a ball. Poke a hole in the middle, forming a donut, and begin to stretch.

Double the cheese over and stretch some more.

Keep stretching and pulling, doubling it back up when it gets too long.

The more you stretch and twist the cheese, the more stringy the final product will be.

As the cheese begins to cool, twist the cheese like a rope as you pull, then let it twist up upon itself.

Keep twisting and pulling. When the cheese seems like it has cooled too much to stretch without breaking, tuck one end over the other, forming a braided ball. Place the cheese in the salted water for 2-3 hours. It can be eaten immediately or frozen, wrapped in plastic.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pumpkin Custard

So it's gotten warm again here, despite the chill last week. However, I did all my shopping when it was cold, so my foods for the week reflected that. The weather was putting me in the mood for pumpkin - in fact, I had a pumpkin soup lined up that I didn't get around to.

Anyhow, I've been eating this ridiculously easy custard for breakfast all week, and it's been a real treat. It's healthy, but it tastes decadent (and a lot like pumpkin pie). I especially like the kick the cayenne pepper gives without standing out too much.

Pumpkin Custard adapted from a Weight Watchers recipe

1 cup fat-free evaporated milk
3/4 cup Egg Beaters
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup orange juice
16 oz can of pumpkin
1/2 cup unpacked brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Stir together sugar, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in pumpkin, milk, orange juice and eggs. Divide among 6 ramikins.

Set ramikins in a high-walled pan. Pour in an inch of boiling water. Bake until firm around the edges and slightly puffed, about 40 minutes. Remove from water bath, cool completely and refrigerate.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Caprese My Way

This has been years in the making.

Mozzarella curd is not easy to find. I've looked online, but the minimum amounts and shipping prices have been crazy. I've called just about every cheese shop in Boston looking for it. In the best cases, I got a "Well, we could order 10 pounds, but you'd need to buy it all." In most cases, I got a "No way." That is until I asked, out of habit more than actually expecting an answer, at my local Whole Foods.

"We don't have any here, but give me your phone number, and I'll see what I can do."

Roughly 24 hours later, I got a call that the cheese guy at the Fresh Pond Whole Foods was holding 2 pounds of curd for me. Hallelujah!!

So I've wanted to try this recipe for a long time, and when I saw this posting for Blog Party 26 - "It's What's Inside," I longed to be able to make it. The stars aligned, though, with that call from Whole Foods, and I raced over to the store as soon as I could.

I've never worked with mozzarella before, and I think that shows in the final presentation. I mean, they taste great, but they lack the polished quality of fresh mozzarella you buy in the store. Now that I have a source, I can practice as much as I want!

Those look like your typical mozzarella balls, seasoned with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I wanted them to be a little different, though. Just pop one in your mouth and you'll see what's inside...

Each ball is stuffed with a cherry tomato and a piece of basil. It's like a portable Caprese salad! Just serve with some prosecco, and you have a lovely appetizer... or top a salad with them, and you have something more like a meal.

Caprese My Way
1/2 pound mozzarella curd
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes (the smaller the better)
handful of basil leaves
1 Tablespoon salt

Fill a large bowl with cold water; add salt and stir to dissolve before setting this aside.

Cut mozzarella into small chunks and put in a two-cup microwavable bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted together. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir contents until they become shiny. Pour out the liquid, carefully holding back the cheese. Working quickly, wrap a tomato in a basil leaf, then wrap that in a section of cheese. The more you work the cheese, the tougher it will get, so if you want very soft cheese, don't mess with it too much. As you finish each ball, drop it in the salted water.

To serve, drizzle on olive oil or pesto and toss. To store in the fridge, place the balls in a sealed container, making sure they are covered with the salt water.

Note: Yep, still tasty the next day over a romaine and basil salad.

It's Soup Season!

So Labor Day came and went here in Boston, and the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees. I tried to brave the chill by sitting outside at Starbucks (the only seats available, and now I know why!) to do my homework. I managed to get some done, but by the time I left, all I could think about was soup.

That's it. Soup Season is here. That can only mean that the next step is apples and pumpkin pie and red leaves on the trees.

This soup is very tasty, and super nutritious... seeing as it's all veggies, I can understand why.

Cauliflower-Carrot Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4-6 cups water
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 large carrot, cubed
1/3 cup milk or cream
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds, then stir in nutmeg, pepper and salt and cook 30 seconds more. Pour in the water (start with 4 cups, you can always add more) and add the cauliflower and carrot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes, until veggies are tender.

Puree soup in a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender (thanks Liney!). Add milk/cream and additional water to reach desired consistancy.

To serve, garnish with green onion and parsley.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why am I being so quiet? Plus, a call for help

So I realized that 2 posts in 2 weeks was a little lame. Yes, I had fun with my pomegranate in my home Glamor Shots studio, but I still feel like I've been neglecting my blogging duties. I started grad school last week, on top of already being employed fulltime, and have found myself thrown back into the world of homework and workshops and waiting in God-awful lines in the bookstore. While shopping for supplies, I saw something very close to a Trapper Keeper and was tempted to buy it... and then I realized that I am no longer 10 years old.

Anyway, time to cook is now at a minimum. So I need your help (do you think Stephen King will mind if I call you Constant Readers here?). Point me towards recipes that can keep all week - for example, this week, I made million-veggie lasagna (ok, there were only actually 6 veggies, but that's still a lot!) and this terrific quinoa salad. I need things I can make on Sundays (or very quickly on Monday or Tuesday nights) and can sit in the fridge until Friday. It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold - hot things I'll eat for lunch at work, cold things I'll eat on campus for dinner. Oh, and bonus points for really healthy!!

Monday, September 10, 2007

First Among Fruits

I was wandering through the produce section at one of the local markets this weekend when I was stopped in my tracks. Half way across the area, a basket rested on the exotic fruit table, filled with pomegranates. True, they weren't especially large or red, but they were there! Two whole months before I expected to see one! I exercised great restraint by only buying two instead of the whole basket.

The pomegranate is my favorite fruit, not only because it's delicious, but also because of the mythology surrounding it. In Greek myth, Persephone was tricked into staying in the Underworld when she ate six pomegranate seeds. In Jewish tradition, there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate, corresponding to the 613 commandments of the Torah. In Christian iconography, Christ is often holding a pomegranate in Virgin and Child scenes.

The pomegranate (or nur) is also one of the symbols of Armenia, representing marriage, fertility and abundance. Throughout the Middle East, pomegranates are used in wedding rituals; the more seeds in the fruit, the more fruitful the marriage will be.

The health benefits of pomegranates are tremendous, as well, as the recent surge of pomegranate-related products supports. The antioxidants in the fruit are especially beneficial for the heart... but if you want all the details, a quick web search will provide what you're looking for.

Despite the millions of pomegranate products, I'll be sticking with the real thing when I can find it. There's something so zen about peeling the arils, or seeds, out from the leathery skin, sampling a tart seed now and again.

Note: The title for this post comes from the poem "Garden Song," translated by Ezra Pound and Noel Stark, second-hand from Egyptian hieroglypics, about the pomegranate.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Massachusetts Pizza Kitchen

Labor Day means grilling with friends, and this year I managed to commandeer the menu with something I've wanted to try for a long time - grilled pizza.

I don't have my own grill, and it's rare that I have the wherewithal to cart a whole slew of ingredients over to someone else's house, but being that it was a holiday, I went all out. Assuming that the grilling of the dough would work, I prepared 6 different sets of toppings - because I'm crazy. There was a lot of prep work to this, but only because there were 6 different kinds - if there had only been 1 or 2, it would have been a cinch.

My roommate did all the actual grilling as I hovered and directed. We used Trader Joe's packaged pizza dough for ease - 1 bag of wheat dough and 2 of herb & garlic. Each dough was halved and then shaped to form the 6 pies. Each dough was brushed with olive oil, then placed oil side down on the grill for about 5 minutes. He also brushed the grill itself with plenty of olive oil to prevent sticking, and he says this was vitally important.

Once they were half-cooked and off the grill, I topped the cooked side with the toppings before the pizza was transfered back to the grill. Luckily, with the two upper grill racks, there was room enough for all 6 pizzas to be on at once. We rotated the pizzas around to make sure they all got evenly cooked, and the top was closed for a few minutes to allow the heat to really bake the pizzas.

I was so happy with how these turned out, and they were surprisingly easy to put together. I know this will show up again next summer, and I'll be spreading the love of grilled pizza to whatever barbeques I go to.

Thai pizza with homemade peanut sauce, shrimp, carrots, scallions and mozzarella on wheat dough.

Pizza with caramelized red onions and grilled green pepper with mozzarella on garlic & herb dough.

Mexican pizza with salsa, black beans, shredded chicken, and Mexican-blend cheese on wheat dough.

Margherita pizza with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella on garlic & herb dough.

Greek pizza with tomatoes, feta and olives on garlic & herb dough.

Pizza with brie, green apple and honey on garlic & herb dough.