Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On rotisserie chicken

Our new gas grill “Fred” (don’t ask) has a rotisserie attachment, which was the final selling point for me when we bought the damn thing (you may recall me ranting about the wonderfulness of charcoal a few months back, and then what do i do but cave in and buy a gas grill). I love rotisserie chicken, because it’s ridiculously tasty, and also because it reminds me of France. Roast chicken in any way shape or form is very comforting to me, and I feel at home when I see rotisserie boxes set up outside of shops and in the open air markets of Paris, full of slowly turning chickens. Not only that, but every oven we had in France had a rotisserie attachment. I don’t know if all French ovens are made this way or we just lucked out like crazy, but it is kind of a handy tool to have around. So this past Sunday, we decided it was time to finally break in the rotisserie attachment on our new grill.

Parallels with French cuisine end here, because the boy liberally doused it with some spice rub we had left over from a beer can chicken we had a couple of weeks ago (recipe is below). He made extra of it and keeps it handy in a shaker.

Installing the rotisserie parts onto the grill was actually quite simple. As long as you have an electrical outlet nearby, you’re pretty much good to go. The boy tied up the chicken bondage-style and secured it onto the rotisserie. And right about then, i thought of St Lawrence, one of the martyred deacons of Ancient Rome, who, they say, was killed by being grilled alive (therefore making him the patron saint of cooks – yeah, that’s supposed to be humorous. We Catholics are a weird lot and we drink too much. perhaps there's some sort of correlation here). He apparently cracked some joke while on the gridiron about how he was done on one side and to flip him over, which also makes him the patron saint of stand-up comedians. Actually, he’s the patron saint of a number of things (like most saints are) including librarians, poor people, and Sri Lanka.

Anyway, since neither of us were in the mood to make anything grandiose to go alongside Larry the Chicken, i opened up a can of corn, made a salad, and called it a day.

Larry was good and juicy.

Bobby Flay's Basic Barbecue Rub:

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon hickory salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Monday, July 30, 2007

Faux Thai Green Curry

Okay so – I love the Super H. and they just opened one much closer to home than the one in Duluth we’d been going to (it’s a mere 12-minute jaunt from the house instead of 25 minutes). So I schlepped over there yesterday, happy that for once my shopping experience wasn’t a pushy-shovey contest. I attribute this to the fact that the store is new and not too many people know about it yet. Anyway, I’m there and I’m happy standing in the middle of the produce area, which is literally a good half of the store. I spotted little red chillies, and start filling a small bag with them. One of the Super H stockists chuckled a bit and I looked over at him.

“That’s all you’re getting?” he said, and it dawned on me that he’s just called me a wuss.
“Well - it’s enough for the week, don’t you think? I’ll be back next weekend”.
He shrugged his shoulders and gave me that knowing look. I have a pretty high heat tolerance, but apparently it’s not high enough for this guy’s standard.
“Hey”, I ask, “Where are the kaffir lime leaves?”
“Lime leaves? Oh, we don’t have any”.

Okay so now I’m pissed because I’ve been jonesin’ for more Thai curry since I had some last week. But Thai curry without lime leaves? That’s like a quiche without cheese. Or quiche without bacon. It’s just not done.

So I grudgingly put away the lemongrass stalks and green peppers I picked up, because, what’s the point of even making curry?

Of course, when I got home, I regretted this decision. Because I could always make a faux thai curry, just not using the lime leaves, which is what I ended up doing today. The boy and I schlepped back over to the new Super H, a mere 12-minute drive. And I picked up some lemongrass and some green peppers.

So here’s a very fake version of Thai green curry, but it’s actually quite flavorful; and if you have never used kaffir lime leaves, then you don’t know what you’re missing anyway, right? But I do urge you, if you can, to try and hunt some down. I’ve only seen them sold in large quantities, and I’ve heard some people have great success freezing them.

An onion, cut into large pieces
A green pepper or two, cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon or so of minced ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, split open and whacked with the flat side of the knife, kind of like if you were smooshing garlic cloves. This will release the flavors like nobody’s business.
1 4-oz can of green curry. You can pick this up in Asian stores, or even some regular ol’ American groceries carry it now. The brand I use is Mae Ploy.
Zest of two limes, or a couple of kaffir lime leaves if you can find the damn things
1 ½ cans of coconut milk (I used Trader Joe’s brand light coconut milk). Do not use Coco Lopez. Absolutely not the same thing, and it’s sweetened and for mixed drinks only. You want unsweet.
¼ to ½ cups chicken stock. You know, eyeball it.
juice of 1 lime
1 pound or so of boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into pieces
Firm tofu, cut into cubes. I had some of this in the fridge that needed to be used up, so in it went, about a third of one of those big cubes you get at the store.
chopped basil
chopped cilantro

Heat your wok or large frying pan over medium high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the bottom (please don’t use olive oil for this, it’s kind of pointless really). Add the onion and green pepper and sauté for a couple of minutes until soft.

Add the ginger, lemongrass, about half to a whole can of the curry paste (depending on how spicy you like it), and lime zest (or leaves) to the pan, and sauté that for a bit.

Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, lime juice, and chicken pieces. Stir to combine and simmer for 12-ish minutes. Add the cubed tofu (if you’re using), the basil and cilantro, and simmer for a few more minutes. You’re pretty much done if the chicken is cooked through. Add some salt, carefully stir everything together so as not to mush up the tofu, and it’s done. Serve over rice.

This made so much that I’m set for lunch for the week. Although I have a wee bit of a problem – it’s very pungent smelling, but in a good way. When I moved back to Atlanta and started going into the office every day, I was on a floor surrounded by a lot of people who appreciated food (mostly guys and Patty). They always had positive comments about the smell of my lunches, especially if it was something leftover that the boy made, like beef short ribs or French onion soup. A few months ago, I was moved to a different floor, and the people around me are not big food people. They eat takeout from My Friend’s Place downstairs every day. Their taste buds suck. I know this because every time I heat something tasty up in the microwave and bring it back to my desk, someone inevitably makes remarks about the “strange food smells” coming from “somewhere”. They’re going to flip the hell out when I start microwaving up some green curry. It should be a fun week!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

not much to do with food, but everything to do with white trash

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the boy for saving me from an evening of bad television.

And when i say “bad television”, i mean really bad television.

I’ve talked about my tastes in bad tv before, although you people don’t know the half of it. i’m shamelessly (or shamefully) addicted to Big Brother... but i have a good darn reason for it! see, eons ago we started watching Big Brother 2 because we happened to know someone on the show. I use the words “happened to know” loosely, as we didn’t really know her well, but were oftentimes served drinks by her as she was one of the servers/bartenders at a local dive bar we used to go to every friggin' single day here in Atlanta, before we moved to Baltimore. And since then we’re completely hooked on that show. Other shows i watch include all those terrible, terrible british soap operas on BBC America. I started watching Footballers Wives and it’s such ridiculous trash! and Joan Collins is in it! But yet i find myself drawn to it. sigh. Someone please save me.

I got home from work yesterday and turned on the boob tube and got totally and completely hooked on this one show that is such a disastrous train wreck, but yet i couldn’t change the channel to save my life. It’s called Rock of Love and the premise is that Poor Little Bret Michaels, lead singer of the band Poison, wants a girlfriend.

Okay there are many things wrong with this show. Number 1: What the hell happened to Bret Michaels’ face? I remember him being fairly attractive back in the day (i may have been “into” hair rock back in oh, my youth, however i was never into Poison), but i don’t remember him being puffy and ugly. Has the man succumbed to too much work being done? Horrible. Number 2: he needs to face facts and come to terms with his balding. Balding is not as taboo as it used to be; in fact i’ve got a secret: chicks (reasonable, mature chicks) actually don't give a rats ass if a guy is losing his hair. Unless the guy is dating a stripper, which this show seems to be full of. I had an old boyfriend who had long blond hair, and for the entire time we dated (which was years), he wore a hat or bandana over his head every single day. He was so vain that he didn’t want anyone to know he was balding on top, so he figured he could trick everyone (and himself) by covering it up. whatever dude, game’s over, we were all in on it. Dear Mr. Michaels: it’s okay, really. You’re mid-40s now, right? Come to terms with it. let it go. Number 3: Where oh where did they find these girls? Because their intelligence level is at ground level, although i’m sure good ol’ Bret doesn’t care too much about that. He doesnt seem like he wants to have much conversation with them anyway, if you know what i mean huhuh. The show is the epitome of white trash.

Anyway, so i got all involved with this show yesterday, and i couldn't change the channel to save my life. I had my hand on the remote control, but i just couldnt' do it. And it was bad, folks. Really bad. You know it’s bad when you’re staring in horror at a bunch of women who not only look like drug-addicted strippers but who are actually fighting over Bret Michaels. I almost feel sorry for the guy. Almost.

And then the phone rang.

Boy: “What are you doing at 6 o’clock?”
Me: “I’m watching this terrible show and i can’t change the channel because it’s just that bad that i have to watch it omigod please save me...”
Boy: “We’re having a wine tasting, why don’t you come on down?”
Me: “Wine? i’m there”.

Sorry Bret.

So i called Mrs. B and off we went to sample some Chilean wines and eat some cheese, and we met a really bizarre older woman who was covered in sparkles and wore a big blue hat and befriended everyone there. The wines we had were from Viña Montes and Casa Lapostolle and were pretty good, except for one which was an acquired taste. During the tasting, the boy came out to say hi and said that he’d heard one of the wines tasted like either tobacco or leather, which is kind of intriguing, really. Tobacco and/or leather? Hmm. When we got to that particular wine, i recognized it straight away from the smell. Mrs B said that it was a very manly wine, in the same way a glass of scotch and a cigar are manly. it's actually a pretty accurate description of it. a manly wine.

and then, fueled by a good buzz, we went and had some pretty darn good Thai food from this place (who knew that Alpharetta had good Thai? I didnt!). Probably the best panang curry i’ve had in a really long time, and i’ve brought the leftovers in for today’s lunch.

Okay so for this week’s homework, i urge you people to watch an episode of Rock of Love. Because i can’t be involved in this trainwreck all by my lonesome.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

on phony people

people who know me know that i can't stand giada de laurentiis. i'm really deeply disturbed by her lack of passion. i'm also really deeply disturbed by these photos of her rolling around in what appears to be canned tomatoes.

blah!! do you know what this has done to me? from now on, when i open a can of tomatoes, i'm going to be THINKING OF HER.

i'm going to need therapy for this.

yuck. foul.

Monday, July 23, 2007

the boy's favorite cookie

I got the itch to bake this weekend when i made the mistake of biting into a ridiculously sub-par Name Brand store-bought cookie last week. i hardly ever make cookies anymore, but every once in a while the boy will moan about my Great Lack of Love for him (because if i truly loved him i’d make cookies all the time, he says). so i made his all time favorite cookie to both fulfill my baking itch and to get him to pipe down, for a little while at least.

These make a really big, flat, and chewy oatmeal raisin cookie. i stress “chewy” because most often you find oatmeal raisin cookies to be kind of crunchy and hard. Not so with these. I found the recipe online about 7 years ago, but God only knows from where. If you think you don’t like oatmeal raisin cookies, i urge you to try these. They are simply fantastic.

2 ¼ cups old fashioned oats. Absolutely do not use quick-cook oats.
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground allspice
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter at room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. I use two baking sheets and cook one at a time, only because when i first started making these years ago i had an oven which had uneven temperatures, and now i’ve developed the habit of baking one sheet at a time (old habits die hard). You could put two in there at a time if you’re feeling adventurous. this batch makes approximately 18 cookies, so you'll be using the cookie sheets more than once anyway.

Mix first 6 ingredients together in a big bowl. Using electric handheld mixer or stand-up mixer with paddle attachment, beat the room-temperature butter with both sugars until well blended. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until well blended. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients until JUST blended. Stir in raisins.

Put this mixture in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

Using an ice cream scoop or ¼ cup measuring cup, scoop batter onto parchment lined sheet (6 scoops per sheet, evenly spaced) and just barely smoosh the rounds down a bit with your index and middle finger. Bake for exactly 15 minutes, then remove sheet from oven and let stand for exactly 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack (they won’t look like they’re done, but trust me), and let cool completely.

I saved a couple of these for myself and sent the rest in with the boy to his workplace. Those people are getting spoiled, i tell ya. I better get all kinds of extra duck next time i wander in there.

Friday, July 20, 2007

on blueberries and vertigo. and a lot of other hooey.

Sorry for all the silence. My health took a nose dive. I think this is the worst i have felt without actually being in major physical pain. After many tests, doctor visits, visits to specialists, many ingestions of wrongly prescribed drugs to cure ailments i actually didn’t have, i was finally diagnosed with Benign Positional Vertigo. I know, that sounds like a lot of hoo-ha. I didn’t know this was a real illness (the french word, “Vertige”, means you are afraid of heights). I’ve been going to a physical therapist since Monday to help clear my inner ear canal, and lemme tell ya, it was hard not to simultaneously laugh out loud and throw up while having my head whipped around so that the PT could check how fast my eyeballs wobbled.

My self-cure for this is to watch more Headbanger’s Ball.

But seriously, that first week, i was in hell because the meds which were wrongly prescribed for me had a most negative effect. One of them acted like speed, and i did not sleep. At all. For days. I felt like i was on the worst acid trip ever, and there was no end to it. The walls bled orange rivers; i saw movement in my peripheral vision; I was convinced there were ghosts in my house. And through all this, i felt like i was ragingly seasick, felt as though if i didn’t hold on tightly to something that i was going to fall over to the left. I felt like i was on a boat in a hurricane. And yet, I couldn't keep still. I knit an entire sweater and a handbag. I cleaned the house from top to bottom. I did all of the boy’s laundry (and there was a mountain of it). I got on my hands and knees and scrubbed the floor, all this while trying not to fall over to the left. My mood was miserable.

Now that i’ve been properly diagnosed, i’m completely exhausted. I’m still seasick, and it comes in waves along with its good friend Nausea; but i’m trying to take life easy, take one thing at a time, because life has to go on, ya know? And i can’t miss any more work. I’m not supposed to be driving, but I will tell you that i am probably one of the most careful drivers out there right now because i’m so focused on driving well and keeping an eye out for the crazies, which are abundant especially on GA 400.

On Monday, while waiting for new prescriptions to be filled, i wandered around Publix and picked up a few things that make me feel good. French bread, paté, cheese, caponata spread, sushi. And then i wandered into the cookie aisle and picked up a box of Mrs Field’s chocolate chip cookies. I can’t even tell you when was the last time i bought a box of cookies, other than the occasional Fig Newton. When i want a cookie, i just make them, eat one, then give the rest away. So i went home, spread out my comfort foods, and had a cookie.

What a fucking letdown!

Those cookies were so bad that I could even taste whatever it is they use as a preservative. They’re just terrible. So i’ve decided that this weekend I’m going to make a proper cookie and i’m going to enjoy the hell out of it. and thank God that the boy bought me a camera tripod for my birthday because i’m going to need it, seeing as i've been shaking as though i’ve got Parkinson’s Disease.

In the meantime, i’ll tell you about the blueberry muffins i made while in a trance last week.

See, we had these blueberries that were just about to die in the fridge. i bought them a while back and never got around to doing anything with them. So sometime mid last week i decided to make blueberry muffins, because i was all jacked up and had to keep busy; and besides, i know for a fact that i make good muffins.

6 tablespoons butter, room temperature if possible.
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
2 cups blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Line muffin tins with paper muffin cups. I have two muffin tins, and this recipe usually makes anywhere from 12 to 18 muffins.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

In another bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium speed with handheld mixer or stand mixer until fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolks, and vanilla; mix until well combined. Reduce speed to low; alternate adding reserved flour mixture and milk to mixer, beginning and ending with flour. Remove bowl from mixer; gently fold in berries by hand. Divide batter among muffin tins; sprinkle each top generously with sugar*.

Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Remove from pan; transfer to wire rack face down, and let cool completely.

*I use vanilla sugar to top these; just fill a glass jar with sugar and put in a used vanilla pod; cover tightly and within about 2 weeks or so you’ll have wonderful vanilla scented sugar. I’ve had a container for years, which I just replenish with sugar and swap out the vanilla pod every so often when I’ve got a used one.

PS: Thank you to those of you who sent me a kind word. It means a lot.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

taking a few days off

i'm taking a few days off from normal blogging. there's not much to blog about anyway because i haven't really been cooking; instead i've been on a cocktail of meds to kick these sinus and inner ear infections. if only the vertigo would go away. i feel awful and nauseous and had a panic attack last night for the first time in my life. i don't like not being in control of my body.

hope everyone has a nice weekend. i'm going to become one with the couch and attempt to work from home today.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

on duck and smorgasbords

oh boy do i love me some duck!

Duck is one of those things that is so wonderful, but really ought to be eaten no more than once in a while. Not because i wouldn't eat it often, because i totally would stuff my face with it. It’s just that it’s kind of fattening and stuff.

My dad eats duck only once or twice a year, and it’s always from this restaurant, which i swear Parisians laugh at, but is such a great place. It’s called La Taverne du Sergent Recruteur, and it’s on the Ile St Louis in Paris. My mom scoffs at it, because frankly, it’s a smorgasbord. Having not been there in 8 years, i’m not sure if anything has changed about their menu, but it used to be prix fixe and you’d get either beer or wine à go-go all night, included in the price. They bring you big baskets of food: patés, breads, tons of charcuterie, fresh undressed veggies, and prepared salads, then your entrée and dessert. The duck confit there was fantastic, and probably still is if still on the menu. Be forewarned, though. You will be so insanely full when you leave, so uncomfortably full actually. Because seeing all that food all around, seeing the hoards of German and American tourists pigging out to their hearts content and getting drunk on ambiance and wine, you cant help but want to indulge a bit yourself. Afterwards, my dad and i had to walk around the island twice in order to feel okay enough to hop on the Métro home.

The next day, i went in to work (i was interning with an architect) and told my boss about where we’d gone. He got so excited to hear me talking of the place. He said that it is in fact true that most Parisians shun the place, and his own wife refuses to go; but he always looked forward to when his foreign friends would visit, because they always made a point of going there. Which makes me believe that he’s not the only Parisian who is secretly in love with the place (he was a very chic architect indeed, wore flowy silk shirts to work and had this manner of speaking which would put you in a daydream). I bet you Parisians would love to go, because the atmosphere and mood are terrific, but would never be caught dead there as it would ruin their reputation. My dad went once with a co-worker years ago, and since the place was packed they ended up sharing a table with a bevy of tall gorgeous Virgin Airlines flight attendants. Needless to say, it was an evening he was not soon to forget.

A few weeks ago, having not seen the boy in ages, i decided to put on my best boobalicious shirt, switched out my everyday handbag for a nighttime purse, and schlepped out to the boy’s work to dine in style in the hopes of stealing the boy away from the kitchen for a minute or two. He told me he had already planned out what i was to eat, so to sit back and not worry about the details.

I sat at the bar (i’m pretty friendly with the bartenders there, having spent more time with them than my own husband lately) and was treated to some pretty great food. First up was a spinach salad with warm brie, bacon, and sherry vinaigrette. Mrs B had told me about this salad before, about how great it was, but the idea of warm brie in my dressing seemed a bit strange. I know, this coming from the girl who will eat cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if given the opportunity. But it did not disappoint; it was really terrific. Next up was the duck with a cherry and port wine sauce. I was in heaven. Completely unable to finish the large portion while there, but i did snack on it afterwards while standing above the garbage can at home, gnawing away at the bones like it was the last supper or something. Even cold, it was good.

For dessert, they sent me out an enormous sampling of little things, truffles, lemon cheesecake bites, tiny beignets, etc.

All this accompanied by some good wines. I always start off an evening out with a glass of bubbly; then, taking suggestions from the bartenders, i had a glass of a red blend and then two (or was it three?) glasses of a white. And if i could find the little slip of paper with the names of the wines on it that i had them write up for me, then i’d be in good shape; but i think i left it in my other bag. If i find it, i’ll post the names. Oh well. All in all it was great.

Dear boy, i’m sorry it took me so long to write this post, after all i did promise you i’d write about the duck ages ago. But you know, things like my birthday and me sitting here with a freakin’ sinus and inner ear infection from hell didn’t help any.

French Tart

PS the picture above doesn't do the duck justice. but that's what happens when you try taking pics of food in mood-enhancing darkened bar.

Monday, July 9, 2007

whatever happened to Sunday lunch?

J was over this weekend, and said he’d make me dinner on Saturday. (he doesn’t get to do much home cooking anymore). On the menu: bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, garlic & parsley risotto, sautéed mushrooms.

The recipe for the pork can be found here , at least that’s the recipe i think J used. The mushrooms were sautéed in a lot of butter and white wine for a long time (i don’t know the recipe – it’s one of J’s standbys from working at a steakhouse eons ago).

while j was preoccupied with the pig, i started the risotto. It seems pretty stupid to be posting a recipe for risotto, right? I mean, once you’ve “gotten” your risotto technique down, it’s all good from there. but i’m writing this up because it’s possibly the best damn risotto recipe i’ve come across – not dry, yet not too cheesy (too much cheese makes it thicken up just a hair too much, and i’m not down with wallpaper paste texture. This isn’t poi). And it’s also fairly simple, at least as ingredients go.

Ha – i’m talking as if i’m a pro at making these things, where in fact my first attempt at risotto was not all that long ago.

The recipe comes from good ol’ Gordon Ramsay, from a book i had to special order off of amazon.uk because it hasn’t been released here in the US, and i don’t know if it ever will. I’m all about Sunday Lunch; after all it is very French too. but in the US, Sunday is for football and NASCAR and running errands. We have that luxury. Sundays in Europe are quiet and completely mellow – that is their luxury. All stores are closed, except for the occasional bakery open just for an hour after church service lets out, enough time for a queue of well-dressed folks to form outside. A typical Sunday in our house here in Georgia consists of sleeping in, then watching some form of athletic feat on TV; and the food early in the day is chicken wings. Dinner is usually a fend-for-yourself kind of thing (leftovers), and sometimes I get totally preoccupied with my dabblings in the oddity that the boy isn’t remotely interested in (namely: tofu).

But seriously, Ramsay has a point. I don't know anyone in the US who has a good old-fashioned Sunday lunch anymore. Maybe Americans need to slow down and start enjoying it?

Okay so – here’s the recipe from Ramsay, and my modifications are in italics. I’m kind of guessing here, because it’s still pretty early and my coffee hasn’t lifted the fog yet – please don’t ask me to do perfect mathematical conversions from metric yet. This was all one big guesstimate.

And by the way, WHY hasn’t the US switched over to metric yet? It makes total and complete sense. Any pea brain can figure it out, whereas i’m still struggling with how many yards are in a mile, how many feet are in a yard. Seriously, i have to look that up every time.

Wild Garlic & Parsley Risotto

(i’d never heard of wild garlic, so i just used regular garlic. I have an image in my head of garlic growing tall and wild along English country roads. How very romantic of me, but you know)

1.3 litres of chicken stock (i used about 6 cups of chicken stock)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
3 to 4 wild garlic cloves, sliced
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped (i used three, because they were so huge)
350 g of risotto rice (i used one cup arborio)
salt, pepper
few knobs of butter
100 g parmesan, freshly grated, plus shavings to serve (i used about a half cup grated. And please, people, NOT the shit in the green can. Go get yourself a block of parmesan and grate it yourself)
handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves chopped

Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep it at a simmer over low heat. (I added the parsley stalks to this, as Ramsay suggests in a note)

Heat the olive oil in a larger pan (medium heat) and add the garlic followed by shallots. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the shallots have softened. Stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes until the rice grains appear translucent, stirring frequently. (i added the garlic after the shallots, because i didn’t want them to burn and ruin the flavor of the dish as i’ve so often done before)

A ladleful at a time, add the hot stock to the rice and cook, stirring, until almost all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladleful. When you have added most of the stock (you may not need all of it), season and taste the rice. It should be al dente, cooked but with a bite in the centre. Take the pan off the heat. (This will take you anywhere between 30 and 40 minutes. this is one of those situations where you do not walk away. No chitchat on the phone. No potty or ciggy breaks. Stand there, sweating your ass off, and stir the damn thing until it’s cooked).

Stir the butter into the risotto, followed by the grated parmesan and chopped parsley. Ad a splash more stock to keep the rice moist and creamy if you like. Serve at once, scattered with parmesan shavings and topped with a drizzle of olive oil.

i swear this is the last post about my birthday until next year

my birthday was last sunday, so i know i ought to not drag it out, but i wanted to share my birthday booty with everyone. oh,please get your mind out of the sewer. for once, i’m actually not going there. Sheesh.

I got a set of uni-tasker tools from Mr. and Mrs. B, and these are formidable and fantastic. The ever-wonderful Mango Smooosher (there’s probably a more technical name for it, probably called the Mango Pitter, although i’m sure the fine folks at Crate & Barrel would appreciate my own terminology. From here on now, in this household, it’s the Mango Smooosher). A really great strawberry tweezer thing that removes the stems (again – who on God’s green earth knows what that’s called? But it is super great). And sugar cube tongs, because we use sugar cubes in our house. There’s a side story to the sugar cubes – and not to go off on a tangent here, but i will anyway. The boy went to Ireland for a month in 2004, and one of the things he brought back was a box of sugar cubes. In one of his most cute moments ever, he comes running up to me while he’s unpacking and says, “Look honey! I brought back some Irish sugar! They make it in cubes! Do they make sugar cubes in the US?”. I then had to let him down ever so gently by saying that Yes, we can indeed find sugar cubes in the US. Although having said that, our local Publix quit carrying them last month and we had to buy our last batch at Kroger. Having to shop at Kroger for just one thing is not high on my list of fun things to do (we do our regular grocery shopping at Publix). I might have to write Publix Corporate a bitchy-but-firm letter.

Other gifts: the boy got me the three things i asked for plus some. I also got the live DVD of nine inch nails’ last tour and a whole entire box set of Barefoot Contessa DVDs. Add to that the lovely "Young Man & The Sea" book that my sister in law sent. I made out like a bandit, yes i did.

The zigzag brownie pan from Patty and Zack, which i blogged about here.

From Charles, a very inexplicable yet very Charles box of stuff. A catapult so that i can, and i quote “toss the cherry tomatoes across the yard”. A box of notecards (him hinting that i should write more often). Several bags of Himalayan salt, one of which tastes just like sulphurish boiled eggs. Several cans of paté and a can of Spam, which means that he was trying to keep things even by sending me both American and French potted meats. He’s a nut. He says that Alaskans and Hawaiians eat more Spam than any one else in the US. I wonder why this is? I’ll have to research this and blog about it. because i’m absolutely positive that inquiring minds want to know.

Well at least, i do.

Friday, July 6, 2007

on birthday cake and me being a whiny bitch

so i made myself a birthday cake.

this is kind of a big deal to me, because i never get birthday cake, ever. except for two occasions: 1) my 33rd birthday, where my lovely and fantastic sister-in-law threw me a surprise party and made me a yummy chocolate and raspberry concoction; 2) the second time was this past weekend, when the boy surprised me by picking up an ice cream cake; i'm sure he was tired of me whining about not ever getting a birthday cake, and for that i apologize. i didn't mean to be whiny.

although, having said that, i'm going to get whiny here for a minute. every year for the past 25 years i tell people i'm going to make myself a birthday cake (and not to sound egotistical either, but it's a given that i make good cake). and every year, people always tell me, "You can't make your own birthday cake! it's your birthday, let someone else do it!". so i don't make one. and then my birthday comes around, and no cake. and i haven't had a birthday cake since i was 10 (except for those two aforementioned occasions).

so this year, i said Fuck It and decided to make my own cake regardless of what people say, and i bought all the makings for it; and then the boy surprised me by giving me an ice cream cake. he's good, my boy. didn't i stop whining? you're the greatest.

so we ate ice cream cake on sunday, and it was good. then on monday, after the festivities and gift opening of the weekend were over, i proceeded to make cake anyway because, why not? i already had the stuff for it.

the cake:

4 chocolate layers. each layer topped with ganache, then the whole thing covered in chocolate-cashew mousse. sides were coated with mini chocolate chips, the top lined with a ring of cashews.

the picture is fuzzy because i was well on my way to white wine stupor by the time i took it.

after we indulged in it, i insisted that the boy bring it to work with him yesterday because i don't need things like that lying around the house with their wee voices penetrating my inner ear, begging me to eat them. however, i really could have used a huge slice for dinner last night. i had some car troubles (took me a whole hour to start the car in the stupid parking lot at work sitting there sweating my ass off and getting eaten alive by mosquitos; you gotta love the South). by the time i got home, i wanted some instant gratification, and cake would have done the trick. it's probably for the best that it wasn't sitting there on the counter waiting for me to plunge head first into it. because i totally would have done that, you know, planted my whole face in it, only coming up for air every once in a while.

people at the boy's work destroyed it, of course.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

on focaccia

my love of bread is my downfall. some people list ice cream as their great weakness, some others chocolate. but for me, it was and always has been bread.

i usually don't eat bread, not that i'm depriving myself or anything, but i make a point of not having any around the house except for a few rare occasions that i make it or have it calling to me from the Publix bakery (like that one time last week... yeah).

see, this sucks because i love to make bread. it's very therapeutic. pizza dough falls into the same category; there is nothing more satisfying than kneading dough. but sometimes when i just dont have that energy in me, i plop the whole thing in the kitchen aid bitch and let it rip. tonight we've been invited by some friends of friends to spend the night at their friends' lake house (sorry - that was long-winded, but i felt compelled to explain), and we're bringing all kinds of things along, and also a batch of focaccia that i started yesterday. because, and i'm totally going to toot my own horn here, i make THE BEST focaccia in the whole friggin' world. seriously.

and the recipe comes from the bread baker's apprentice, which is an evil book only because everything i've ever made out of it has been stellar. my pizza dough recipe comes from that book (although i halve it because my kitchen bitch can't handle that much flour at once and dough just comes straight out of the top of the bowl).

like every good bread recipe, this is a two day process.

because i'm nice, and probably violating every copyright law out there, ah who cares, really. i'm not giving out secret squirrel maps of where buried treasure is that the government doesn't want us to know about, i'm just passing along the best recipe ever. so there.

i apologize for the ridiculously long post, but i haven't figured out how to hide part of my post behind links, like an lj cut or something. i typed out the following about 6 months ago for a friend who doesn't cook, so don't think i'm such a masochist that on my day off from work i'm actually spending all this time on the computer. hell no.


Days to make: 2
Day 1: 15 minutes mixing; 3 hours fermentation and panning)
Day 2: 3 hours fermentation; 20 to 30 minutes baking

Makes one 17 by 12-inch focaccia

5 cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups water
¼ to ½ cup Herb Oil*

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the oil and water and mix with a large metal spoon until all the ingredients form a wet, sticky ball (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment). If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 3 to 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to add additional flour to firm up the dough enough to clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be quite soft and sticky.

2. Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 6 inches square. Using a scraper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and dust liberally with flour, patting the dough into a rectangle. Wait 5 minutes for the dough to relax.

3. Coat your hands with flour and stretch the dough from each end to twice its size. Fold it, letter style, over itself to return it to a rectangular shape. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil, again dust with flour, and loosely cover with plastic wrap.

4. Let rest for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough again; mist with spray oil, dust with flour and cover. After 30 minutes, repeat this one more time.

5. Allow the covered dough to ferment on the counter for 1 hour. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.

6. Line a 17 by 12-inch sheet pan with baking parchment (you can find this in either the same aisle as baking items or tin foil). Drizzle ¼ cup of olive oil over the paper, and spread it with your hands or a brush to cover the surface. Lightly oil your hands and, using a plastic or metal pastry scraper, lift the dough off the counter and transfer it to the sheet pan, maintaining the rectangular shape as much as possible. Spoon half of the Herb Oil over the dough.

7. Use your fingertips to dimple the dough and spread it to fill the pan simultaneously. Do not use the flat of your hands – only the fingertips – to avoid tearing or ripping the dough. Try to keep the thickness as uniform as possible across the surface. Dimpling allows you to degas only part of the dough while preserving gas in the non dimpled sections. Don’t worry if you are unable to fill the pan 100%, especially the corners. AS the dough relaxes and proofs, it will spread out naturally. Use more Herb Oil as needed to ensure that the entire surface is coated with oil.

8. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap, or place the pan inside a food-grade plastic bag. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days).

9. Remove the pan from the refrigerator 3 hours before baking. Drizzle additional herb oil over the surface and dimple it in. You can use all of it if you want; the dough will absorb it even though it looks like a lot. This should allow you to fill the pan completely with the dough to a thickness of about ½ inch. Add any other pre-proof toppings if desired**. Again, cover the pan with plastic and proof the dough at room temperature for 3 hours or until the dough doubles in size.

10. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Gently place any pre-bake** toppings on the dough.

11. Place the pan in the oven. Lower the oven to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue baking for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to turn a light golden brown. If you are using any during-bake toppings**, sprinkle them on at this point and continue baking an additional 5 minutes or so. The cheese, if using, should melt but not burn.

12. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately transfer the focaccia out of the pan onto a cooling rack. If the parchment is stuck to the bottom, carefully remove it by lifting the corner of the focaccia and peeling it off the bottom with a gentle tug.

13. Allow the focaccia to cool at least 20 minutes before slicing or serving.

I highly recommend lining your oven bottom with tin foil before turning it on, as sometimes the oil spills over the top of the focaccia while cooking and hits the bottom of the oven. If you don’t line the bottom of the oven, it might smoke like hell.

* Herb Oil: You can use either dried or fresh herbs, or a combination. DO not heat the oil, just warm it, and then let the herbs steep in the warm oil, infusing it with their flavors.

Feel free to substitute your favorite herbs and spices. The olive oil you use does not have to be extra virgin because it will be cooked later, and the subtle flavor of extra virgin will be lost.

Warm 2 cups olive oil to about 100 degrees F. Add 1 cup chopped fresh herbs. The herbs may include basil, parsley, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, savory, and sage. I recommend lots of fresh basil. Substitute 1/3 cup dried herbs or a blend such as Herbes de Provence. Add 1 tablespoon coarse or kosher salt, 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, and 5 to 6 cloves of fresh chopped garlic. You may also add 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cayenne. Store leftover herb oil in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

**Pre-proof toppings:
Marinated sun-dried tomatoes; olives, roasted garlic; fresh herbs; walnuts, pine nuts; sautéed mushrooms, red or green peppers, or onions.

Pre-bake toppings:
High-moisture cheeses, such as blue cheese, fresh mozarella, and feta cheese.

During-bake toppings:
Dry or semi-hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, Romano, regular mozzarella, Jack, Cheddar, and Swiss.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

birthday gift

so i received a nice surprise in the mail this past week from my good friends patty and zack (hi patty and zack!)...

and it was this baking pan which has been all the rage on food blogs for a few months now. it's specially made for brownies, so that each and every piece that comes out has edges! because, as we all know, the best part about brownies is a piece with a crusty edge. heh.

i call them zigzag brownies.

i was so pleased that i immediately set to work and made the marbled cheesecake brownies from the accompanying recipe pamphlet. ate one, sent the rest in with the boy to his work, where the entire front of the house folks descended on them like it was the last supper. fiends, all of them.

the brownies didn't turn out as marbl-y as i would have liked them, but they were pretty good nonetheless.

in my champagne-induced stupor last night, i declared (to no one in particular) that i was going to attempt a lasagna in this pan, and i kind of got laughed at. imagine the work involved! but one day, when i'm feeling particularly anal retentive and am in the middle of making pasta, i will most definitely make a lasagna in this pan.