Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Playing Catch Up

I still haven't mentioned the food I made the week before Thanksgiving. Unpardonable! I was definitely cooking up a storm in the weeks before, probably in anticipation of the big day. Some hits, some misses. Check them out below.

Let's go ahead and do this in order. I'll start with the dish I liked most and work my way down to liked least. That way I get the gratification of sharing sooner, and I'm all about gratification.
  • Kale and sweet potato gratin, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Deb's recipe actually calls for swiss chard, but for some reason my grocery stores just don't carry it. It sucks! But let me tell you. This is good. This is sinfully good. The sweet potatoes are sweet, the kale is nutty with an ever so slight bite to it. And the cheese...the bechamel... Sorry, I needed a moment. And thinking about it, it wasn't actually that bad for me. Wait, wait! Hear me out! The recipe called for heavy cream or whole milk. I had 1% and heavy cream. Since I wasn't about to use all heavy cream (ugh, emphasis would be on the heavy!), I mixed them! I forget what exactly my ratio was. maybe 50/50? Maybe I was daring and did 75% milk and 25% cream? Let's say I did. Because really, this recipe doesn't need to cream to be good. The cheese does a great job of adding creaminess, and the kale and sweet potatoes are so flavorful! Man oh man this was good! Make this one. Seriously.
  • Mini meatloaves, courtesy of Food Network. I've mentioned these before. They are so delicious. I doubled the recipe this time, so they would last the week with Husband on the mini meatloaf eating rampage he tends to get on when these babies are around. He was very good about leaving enough for me to have one everyday in my lunch. Really, they're more like meatballs. I still need to try making these a bit smaller and making a meatball sandwich with them. Yum!
I had the hardest time actually getting the meat at the meat counter! I told the guy I wanted a pound of ground sirloin, a pound of ground pork, and a pound of ground turkey. The guy was an idiot (he's the same idiot that pulls some idiot move every single weekend I'm there, ugh.). He ended up giving me some meat that was neither of the 3 I mentioned. And every time (every time) I ask for sirloin, he starts for the ground chuck and says "this one?" I always have to tell him no, I want the one labeled "sirloin" (and I have to hold in the "which is why I asked for sirloin!"). I try not to be a smart ass b*tch, but sometimes it's so hard. Thankfully Husband knows me too well, and was there to keep me in check.
  • Butternut squash soup, a mash-up of Shutterbean's...and some one else's, which I can't for the life of me find! Remember when I said I just wasn't big on squash soups? Yeah, I'm standing by that. I was in a soup mood, had some butternut squash, so thought, why not? But unfortunately, it was not all that. I ended up using more vegetables than just the squash, such as onion, celery, and carrots. And I added in some of the fresh sage I had left over from the polenta (see below). Even with the herbs, and curry powder, and other additives, I still thought it was a bit bland. And hot sauce didn't lend itself to the flavors, much to Husband's chagrin. Also, the sage was a bit overwhelming, so I would probably leave it out next time. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.
  • Quinoa stuffed squash, courtesy of The Kitchn. This one was a miss, which bums me out because I was so excited to make it! It sounded fantastic. Quinoa with dates and pistachios? Yum! I'll admit that this recipe originally drew me in because I had a big tub of dates from Costco and nothing to do with them, but it also just sounded tasty. First, I'll admit that I messed up a couple of times. I used acorn squash rather than the dumpling squash called for. And in my frazzled state (I usually get a bit frazzled towards the end of the day on Sunday when I realize it's getting late and I still have a lot to make) I totally forgot to add the cinnamon and lemon zest. But I really don't think that was the problem. The problem was the squash. Either I'm not a fan of the stuffed squash delivery method (much as I wasn't much of a fan of those stuffed peppers a few weeks ago), or it was just my mistake using acorn squash. Either way I thought the filling was quite tasty, but it didn't wow me. I don't know that I would make it again, even if I could decide on a better way to eat it.
  • Mushrooms and leeks with pumpkin polenta, courtesy of The Chef and The Photographer. I hate to say it, but I wasn't really a fan. Which bums me out because looking at the ingredients, I should be a fan. A huge fan! I love mushrooms and leeks, and cooked in butter and sherry with some fresh sage. Hello yum! And pumpkin! My fav! But something about this one just didn't come together for me. And I'm sure it was just my own cooking being off. First, I had textural issues. Polenta is mushy, mushrooms are mushy. It was a big mush party going on in my mouth. I know, my grandmother is turning over in her grave right now hearing me complain about food being mushy, seeing as how she always accused me of being too lazy to chew (thus why I didn't like meat growing up, supposedly). I used creminis. Perhaps another type of mushroom would yield tastier results. Or maybe some nuts thrown in for some crunch? Also, I went overboard on the sage. I hadn't used fresh sage before, so I didn't realize is was so...potent. And potent it is! And believe it or not, I also had issues with the polenta. I actually didn't much like the pumpkin with it. I didn't think the flavor meshed well with the rest of the dish. It just kind of I would take a bite and think, this would be good without the pumpkin. Maybe it's because I used canned pumpkin puree instead of fresh. Maybe canned pumpkin puree is perfectly acceptable in baked goods, but in cooking the difference really shows. That's probably it. But when I'm doing something as easy as polenta, I don't want to roast a pumpkin first. Husband really wasn't a fan. I've tried feeding him polenta a few times now, and each time he's tried it without complaint, but he just doesn't like it, which is too bad because I think it's pretty tasty and easy. It's pictured on the right side of my lunch container in the picture at the top.
Well there you have it. I don't think I've ever had so many mehs in one week! Thankfully the gratin and meatballs were fantastic enough to keep me excited the whole week. Unfortunately, I haven't been so great with taking pictures of my food stuffs since Thanksgiving. Bare with me people, it's been a busy few weeks! I'll have pictures galore when I show you the cookie tins I'll be sending out to people next week. Stay tuned!

PS: Did you notice I got a new keyboard? Woohoo! No more zzzzzzz issues! As you might have been able to tell from the plethora of zzzzzzs in this post. Though probably not because you don't realize how many times zzzzzz comes up until you're made to do without it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pumpkin Bread, Sans Cans!

I've posted about pumpkin bread before, but nothing I've made beats Alton Brown's pumpkin bread recipe that uses shredded fresh pumpkin rather than the canned stuff. It's moist. It's pumpkin-y. It's just fantastic. The first time I made it, I was too lazy...

Ok, quick aside: the "z" key on my keyboard doesn't work. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to have to comb the interwebs looking for the letter to copy and paste, or figure out what letter I can type to trick blogger's spell check into realizing z is actually what I want? Thank goodness it's not a popular letter, but even just this short missive has several! Oiy!)

Anyway, I was too lazy to confirm how to toast the pumpkin seeds, and I forgot to toast them until the batter was basically all put together and ready to go into the oven, so i don't think I toasted them for long enough. Yeah, they turned out chewy. Chewy seeds is definitely not a texture that is appealing while eating pumpkin bread. I didn't mind it so much, and I liked the flavor they added, but Husband hated them and picked them out, like raisins out of a scone. For future reference, Self, to properly toast pumpkin seeds, bake at 375 for about 7 minutes (and maybe drizzle (Ack! Two of them!) some olive oil on them first). I basically did that, but it's worth another try with some patience on the side this time.

I used my Cuisinart with the shredding blade to make quick work of the pumpkin. If you don't have one of these, or some other mechanical means to shred...perhaps this recipe isn't for you... Or perhaps you have a friend who will let you sneak over to their house for 5 minutes to shred and run. One medium pumpkin yielded enough meat for 2 loaves.

It doesn't look like traditional pumpkin bread because rather than orange in color, it's more of a brown with wisps of orange throughout, but it sure tastes like it! You can't get any fresher than, well, fresh! This bread cooks low and slow to really let the bits of pumpkin cook and become soft and delicious. I was dubious about the recipe at first because there aren't a lot of spices, just cinnamon, I think. I was worried it would be bland, and when it comes to holiday baking I tend to fall over backwards for anything with lots of holiday spices (i.e. cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, etc.), but this bread was definitely not bland. The pumpkin is the star, and the cinnamon helps to give it a boost without overpowering it. Again, another reason it's important and fantastic that the recipes uses fresh pumpkin. Canned pumpkin, I think, would have been a bit bland indeed.

I've made it twice already (the second time without the pumpkin seeds), and it was delicious both times. In fact, I'm making it again tonight for my office holiday party tomorrow (along with a Snuggie for the gift exchange, how perfect is that?!). I'm going to try toasting the seeds again, but if that doesn't go over well, I'll try adding walnuts. I never get to add nuts to my baked goods because Husband whines that it ruins it. Ugh. Well Husband is out of town this week, so I can ruin all the pumpkin bread I want! Ha!

I have a feeling I'll be breaking this recipe out every time I see sugar pumpkins at the store. Sadly, that time of year seems to have come and gone already. Good thing I stocked up!

Hey, remember when I talked about making chicken stock? Well Lindsay and Taylor over at Love and Olive Oil just posted about making their own chicken stock, in a way quite different than the method I originally tried. They sweat the veggies in oil first, and simmer for about twice as long as I did. And they added way more herbs and spices, which is definitely something I was lacking. I have another carcass in the freezer (grrr!), so I might just have to give this one a go and report back. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Best Bundt Cake I Ever Made

For some reason within the last few months a bunch of my friends on Facebook decided it was high time Husband and I reproduce. Every Facebook status was twisted and corrupted into signs that I was pregnant. All in good fun and completely ridiculous, of course. Well a few weeks ago I posted the following status update: "[julo] has her very first bundt in the oven!" A few minutes later one of my friends politely scolded me for egging people on. Ha! Something about adding fuel to the fire. But I really did have my first bundt in the oven! I speak purely of edible delights, surely.

That's right I can't believe it either. I'd never made a bundt cake before a few weeks ago. The primary reason being that until a few weeks ago I also never owned a bundt pan. (Apparently my mom isn't into bundt cakes, as I can't remember ever seeing one in the kitchen growing up.) I mean, a bundt cake is just a cake in a giant donut shape, but without the pan, it's just not a bundt. But after a year of food blog reading, I was ready for the next step in my kitchen career.

Of course, new kitchen purchases are a sticky situation with the old ball and chain. Losing 65 pounds over the course of a year meant I was pretty much constantly buy new clothes (just to stay descent!), and all my kitchen adventures resulted in lots of equipment purchases (just to stay descent! There's nothing worse than an under-dressed pantry). Husband makes sure I don't go overboard (a job I happily give him!), but really it just means I have to get creative when I want something. Remember when I wanted a Dutch oven and I showed him the Dutch oven episode of Good Eats? Woohoo! Dutch oven for me! Well when I decided I was ready for a bundt pan, I showed him this:

Ohhhh yeah! Tell me more, Baby!

Ok, actually, I didn't show him this specific picture, since that's the one I made, and that would have been kinda hard, since I didn't have a bundt pan at that point, and I haven't yet perfected my time machine. But I showed him the link I'm about to share with you, and when you click the link and look at the picture, you'll understand why I am now in the possession of a shiny new bundt pan. Let's see if you can even resist the name of this treasure.

That would be an apple praline coffee cake, courtesy of Honey and Jam.

Click the link. You know you want to. You might want to have a bucket ready. To catch all the drool of course. Comparing her picture to mine, I really should have let the glaze thicken more to that chunky consistency she got. Next time!

This cake was fantastic! It was light and fluffy with a fresh flavor from the apples and cinnamon. The glaze was a little on the sweet side by itself, but since it was just a drizzle, it was a good amount in combination with the cake. And the pecans were awesome too. I highly recommend this cake. It was easy and very very delicious! A cake pan well spent!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Homemade Makes The Difference

Oh blog, I've been remiss! I've neglected you so! I blame a hectic work schedule and traveling for the holidays, and Farmville, but I know excuses are meaningless to you. You've been on the edge of your microchip wondering what deliciousness came out of my kitchen the last few weeks. Well I plan to catch you up this week on everything you missed. Which was quite a bit, actually. Nothing but success from Chez Lo, lately. Starting with my own homemade chicken stock!
All the tv chefs always say, again and again, there is no comparison for homemade stocks. Since my mom never did homemade stocks, I could never agree or disagree. Well with my trusty Martha Tome in hand, I decided to give my own a try.

I had a couple of chicken carcasses in my freezer, since I've been cooking so many whole chickens lately. And in an effort to keep my freezer fuller for greater energy efficiency, and also in anticipation of my own stock making efforts, I had also kept a freezer bag full of carrot and celery tops that I had been saving for a few weeks. So I pretty much had everything I needed!

I threw the chicken carcass in a big pot of water, added the carrots and celery bits, added 2 onions, quartered, and let it gently boil for about an hour and a half. I tried Martha's fat-skimming technique, which was to boil it very gently and skim the fat periodically during cooking, but there was never any to skim, so I guess I just got a less fatty carcass. But here's the real trick. Something I never would have thought of on my own. It's not earth shattering. You might think of it. But if you did, you're smarter than me. Here's the thing. After the stock is all cooked up and delicious, after you strain out all the cooked bits of food particles, you let the stock sit. Let it sit and cool. And then. You skim it! In my ever-impatient state, I would throw that baby in the freezer as soon as it was strained, and then complain when my stock turned out heavy and fatty tasting. But if you're patient and let it cool at room temperature first, then throw it in the fridge overnight, all the fat will rise to the top and congeal and you can skim it off so it's gone! Voila! Fatty bits-less stock!

Of course, after I made the stock, I realized I had no way to freeze it. Or rather, no containers to hold 5 quarts of stock for a long period of time. I've since bought some more of those plastic freezer jam containers and ice cube trays to hold most of it. I've learned that freezing stock in too large a quantity makes it a pain to use later when you have to defrost it. Again, not an actual problem with a little forethought. But I barely have present-thought, let alone fore. So yeah, smaller is better for me.

I used the last of the stock last night, and I think I can safely stock is dang good! Sure my stock was good, but if anything, I think the chicken flavor in my stock was a bit too strong. And it's so much easier to just pop open a carton, use what I need, and throw the rest in the fridge for later use. I can't speak to the cheap stuff, but that free-range organic chicken stock they sell at most grocery stores is pretty darn good and really not that expensive. I'll definitely try a second attempt at making my own (if only because I still have a carcass in the freezer), and I'll try throwing in some other veggies like leeks and broccoli stems, and I'll try cooking the veggies a bit longer, but removing the carcass so it doesn't get too chicken-y tasting, but I'm definitely not recommending you run out and make your own if you're not feeling up to it. I didn't find it made all that big of a difference, personally. And I'm usually all about making as much in-house as you can.

That's my 2 cents! Have you made your own chicken stock before? What did you think? How did your cooking technique differ from mine?