Monday, January 26, 2009

on smashed iPods and nonstick pans

So I’m at work the other day when I got a phone call from the boy.

Boy: Sigh. I just ran over my iPod with my forklift.
Me: Sucks to be you, doesn’t it?

Not to be harsh or anything, but new iPods don’t grow on trees, and neither does money. I told him to suck it up.

Yesterday morning, while drinking coffee and not really dealing well with the less than 3 hours of sleep I got after my last conference call ended at 5:30 am, we talked about heading to Wal Mart to look at cheap mp3 players. The boy had a Wal Mart gift card, and had also won 20 bucks on a lotto scratch off earlier this week, so he pitched the idea of him getting an mp3 player, and I agreed that it was doable. While there, he was debating on which one to get, and I wandered over to the shiny new iPods on display. Then I pitched him my own idea: I would fork over to him my own U2 limited edition iPod and I would get one of those cheaper clip-on iPod shuffles, on the condition that I could go running. He eventually grudgingly agreed, but not because he would be getting a used (but perfectly good) iPod, but because he has this idea that I might get accosted while running in our neighborhood. And I know that’s all nice and I’m glad he is worried about me and all, but this is friggin’ Alpharetta, which is fortunately a rather safe place to live.

Anyhoo – (boy did this story get a little long winded to get around to the point), while we were shopping at Wal Mart, we picked up a new nonstick pan to replace the All Clad one we have that is totally destroyed and unusable. It pains me to write this, because I remember when I bought said All Clad pan; and it wasn’t cheap (somewhere around $150, I guess I must have been feeling rich at the time or something). And it was such a fantastic pan, but eventually over time the nonstick surface became quite the opposite, partially due to people using metal utensils in it when i wasn't looking. Don’t get me wrong, I adore All Clad cookware, and we’re fortunate to own a few pieces of it. But when it comes to a nonstick skillet, which you’ll probably use several times a week, I just don’t know if forking over that kind of cash is worth it.

I had done a little research on the Cook’s Illustrated site on what they recommend for inexpensive nonstick skillets, but none of their featured brands were sold at Wal Mart; so we went with gut feeling. This Farberware feels heavy, has deep sloped sides, can be shoved into a 400 degree oven without melting the handle, and above all, cost less than 35 bucks. And it’s red, which matches some of our stuff in the kitchen, but I won’t say that was a factor in our buying decision. However, it is a factor in what color I’ll paint my nails later tonight. After looking at that picture, I realize I’m in dire need of a manicure.

I know for a fact that this pan will not last more than a couple of years, but hell, neither did the All Clad.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

fish for one

Today it is 25 degrees F , and according to, it feels like 14. I know for a fact it feels like 14 because I wandered out into it in a short skirt (with tights, but still, short skirt? Yes, I know I am out of my mind). Later this week it’s supposed to be 60 degrees, and I’m currently sporting an ear infection. Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt anymore, but I can’t hear jack out of my right ear. I’ve been sitting here at work all morning with people yapping on and on and I am blissfully unaware of them. they sound not unlike adults sound in the Charlie Brown cartoons.

I ought to be writing about soup, shouldn’t i? it’s cold enough outside. But I’m not going to because I haven’t eaten any lately. I’ll write instead on something I’ve been eating a lot of for the past month. I, along with everyone else in the free world, feel like I overindulged a wee bit over the holidays; however my indulgence wasn’t food, but more the calorie content of several bottles of bubbly. I’m trying to make up for it by working out 5 days a week and eating lighter fare. I’m by no means depriving myself, because what’s the use of that? That would just make me miserable. But I am being slightly more conscious about what I’m forking (or splashing) into my mouth.

The boy and I are on a budget, so while rooting around in the deep freeze in the garage to forage for something for dinner one night, I found several bags of flash-frozen fish I’d bought a while ago and forgot about. I decided to revisit an Alton Brown recipe where he makes salmon en papillote in the microwave. If you never saw that episode of Good Eats, you’re probably wondering if I lost my marbles. Fish in the microwave? Well, yeah. It’s perfect if you’re just cooking for one, and it’s really good. Trust me on this.

The magnificent thing about this recipe is that it really isn’t a recipe. You can do whatever you want with it, add whatever flavors suit your fancy, and it’ll work. As long as you have a wee small amount of liquid in there to help steam the fish, you’re good to go. You can use any flaky white fish portion (4 to 6 oz for 3 minutes on high), or salmon (4 to 6 oz for 4 minutes on high, and i've only tried this with skinless salmon). For the liquid, you can use a splash of white wine, vermouth, Pernod, Chinese rice wine, even water. So here goes:

Use a large rectangular piece of parchment, and lay that on top of a paper plate or other microwaveable dish. In the middle of the parchment, set the foundation for your piece of fish to sit on. You can use something you’re going to eat (like green beans, julienned zucchini and squash) or something you’re not going to eat but would add flavor (orange, lemon, or lime slices). You can put some greens in there too, but realize that they will shrink down to almost nothing, so use a lot if you’re going to use any.

Salt and pepper your piece of fish on both sides. You can add whatever other spices you want at this time. I’m good with salt and pepper myself. Place fish on top of the bed of vedge, and add a mere splash of whatever liquid you’re using. Bring up the longer sides of the parchment together and start folding the edge down until it’s snug against the fish, then fold in each side the same way. Ensure that there are no leaks, as you want your fish to steam properly. Put in the microwave on high, 3 to 3 ½ minutes for white fish and 4 minutes for salmon.

Remove from microwave, carefully open the package (watch out for steam burns), and check if your fish is done (it should be but depending on your microwave, you never know). Slide package onto another plate that’s not piping hot. And eat. Or cover with sriracha first like I do on occasion, and eat.

Possible flavor combinations include: orange slices, julienned fennel, and a splash of Pernod; minced garlic, minced ginger, bok choy, splash of Chinese rice wine, splash of soy, sriracha; etc etc. let your imagination and stomach guide you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

pepper vodka, recycled bottle

every once in a while, i like a bloody mary. and every once in a while, the boy likes a bloody mary; but we always seem to be out of vodka for one reason or another. we figured the only way we'd not run out of vodka in a timely manner would be to buy pepper flavored vodka, but i've also been toying with the idea of making my own.

i found part of a bottle of Skyy vodka in my freezer, and foraged an empty Absolut Peppar bottle, so in went a couple of types of peppers (split jalapeno, serrano, and thai chili, deseeded) and a couple of garlic cloves. set this in a cool dry place (not too hard to make things cool lately since it's been about 20 degrees out and the house is somewhat chilly downstairs). i figured this might be ready in a couple of weeks.

i do like the way it looks, all the peppers floating in vodka goodness. i can't wait to see how hot this vodka gets, and maybe experiment a bit with different flavors.

Monday, January 12, 2009

RIP Gaston Lenotre

although this happened a few days ago, i'm just finding out about it now because i've been rather out of touch with reality (been working a lot and my dog is extremely ill, which is distressing and causing intense lack of sleep). but i just read that french pastry chef Gaston Lenotre passed away a few days ago, and even though he lived a good long life i can't help but feel sad. let me wax a little nostalgia on you.

my mom has most, if not all, of Lenotre's fantastic baking and entertaining books. she has always been a big entertainer, always having dinner parties or going to them. when i was a kid and she was busy getting ready for a dinner party, she would inevitably pull out one of his books for inspiration, and i would always help. i would flip through pages of what seemed like supremely decadent desserts with exotic names, things like Charlotte aux Poires and Pithiviers... well, they seemed exotic-sounding to me way back in the late 70s and early 80s. it was his recipe that i used for last Christmas' buche de noel.

there used to be a Lenotre store right around the corner from the Printemps department store in Paris (who knows if it's still there, you never know these days), and it was there one hot summer day while shopping with my french grandmother that i tried a cassis sorbet for the first time. since then, whenever i taste a kir royale made with creme de cassis i am instantly transported back to that very moment.

i almost feel like i should be giving Lenotre credit for being the major baking inspiration in my life. so the news of his death makes me sad, but also makes me want to go down to the kitchen and whip up some elaborate fancypants dessert complete with 5 foot tall caramel cage and two doves flying out of the top once revealed. but instead, i might just pour myself a glass of champagne and raise it to the heavens to show my appreciation to him. thank you Mr. Lenotre for all of my sweet memories.

Friday, January 2, 2009

not remotely food related

i'm just sitting here on the couch, still in my pajamas and minding my own business, suffering from a mindcrushing hangover if you will, when a friend came over. please, people. think of my suffering. do not leave your house drenched in stinky cologne, i beg you. a light hand at applying your Drakar Noir is much appreciated.

it took me 5 minutes to recover from the nausea after he left and not puke my guts up. i can still smell it lingering in the air. where is the Febreeze when i need it? and can someone volunteer to go get it for me and spray it around? my energy level is at rock bottom. thank you.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

on ravioli

Look what I got for Christmas!

Does that not seem exciting to you? It does to me. I was giddy as all get out when I pulled this out of my stocking on Christmas morning. Because don’t you see what this means? This means fresh pasta with squiggly edges!

So I got to work making fresh pasta dishes. I started with ravioli; these look infinitely better than the ones I made before, the Incredible Expando-Ravioli, although these were smaller and the filling was more firm.

I adapted a Jamie Oliver recipe from his Jamie’s Kitchen book. But before I get to that, I want to talk about the pasta itself.

I decided to use the fresh pasta dough recipe from the French Laundry book. I normally never use that many eggs or yokes, and am not used to working with a dough that is so supple and delicate – because it is more delicate to work with than the recipes I’ve used before. I had to be careful to not smoosh the dough too thinly; I did screw up the first bit I pushed through the pasta rollers, making the sheet too thin. It ripped and became too soft to work with. Having said that, the finished product was divine, so it was well worth all my fumbling around. and the fumbling around is what makes experimenting in the kitchen so much fun, isn't it?

And I learned a lesson. For a novice ravioli maker like me, patience is key. I can’t rush what I’m doing or I’ll screw up. Which basically means: don’t start making ravioli on an empty stomach. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, it took me three times as long to make as I thought it would, and there were a couple of times where I wanted to give up and just go make a sandwich instead. But I am no quitter. I persevered, and was rewarded with really delicious pasta.

A confession: I love frozen Mrs T’s potato pierogies. There is something about the taste of the potato and onion together which makes me happy, and I’ve no idea why because I didn’t grow up eating pierogies. I’m sure the Mrs T ones aren’t anything like the real eastern European deals especially since their pierogi dough is kind of tough. This particular recipe excited me because I found the flavor I so love and just made it better with the use of the really decadent pasta dough.

Ravioli of roasted red onions, thyme, pinenuts, and potato
Adapted from Jamie’s Kitchen by Jamie Oliver

The recipe says this serves four, but I only made enough ravioli for one – I still have a large Tupperware container in the fridge full of filling that I’ll need to make sometime this week. Since the filling is cooked, and it’s mostly potato, this can keep for several days in the fridge until you feel like filling your pasta.

For the dough and filling:
1 recipe pasta dough
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
1 small handful of fresh thyme leaves
12 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
14 oz of Yukon or russet potatoes (about 4 small ones)
3 tablespoons of butter
¼ cup grated parmesan
Salt and pepper

For the sauce (if you want to call it that):
¼ cup pinenuts (I buy in bulk and keep em in the freezer wrapped up really well)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Make pasta dough and let rest while you prepare the filling.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Put onions, thyme, and balsamic vinegar in a small roasting pan or dish, and toss together with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (no need to measure, just pour for a second or two). Cover with a piece of wax paper or parchment. Prick potatoes with a fork and put those on another pan. Place both pans in the oven and cook until you can run a fork through the potatoes easily (about 40 minutes or so). Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Pass warm potatoes through a ricer into a big bowl. Dice the onions and add those to the bowl of potatoes. Add any of their cooking liquid out of the roasting pan if it didn’t evaporate. Add the butter, the parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well. Set aside and get a large pot of water on to boil.

Roll the dough into marble-sized balls (they’ll seem smallish); you’ll need about a teaspoon or so of filling per ball. I made square-ish raviolis, but you can make circular ones if you’d like. For squarish ones, work with one pasta sheet at a time, which means roll out one piece of dough at a time or your dough will dry out; keep your other dough pieces under wrap. Lay a sheet of pasta on a well-floured surface and using a pastry brush, lightly brush the sheet with water. Starting from one end of the sheet, place a filling ball along the bottom edge (but not too close to the bottom). Repeat this process with other filling balls, keeping them about 1 ½ to 2 inches from each other. Fold the dough lengthwise over the filling, pressing the sides together over the dough. You want to firmly press around each filling ball, ridding each of all air. Since this filling isn’t delicate, like that egg yolk one I made the last time, you can be firm with the pressing. Using your fancy-edged pasta cutter (or a knife if you don’t have one of those doohickeys), cut each ravioli out into squares. Remove each very delicately from your work surface and put onto a floured baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel while you finish rolling out and making the rest of your raviolis.

When your water is boiling, add to it a good handful of kosher salt. When it comes back to the boil, start cooking your ravioli for only a couple of minutes. If you’re doing this in batches, remove the ravioli carefully from the water and set aside while you cook the rest. Meanwhile, get a hot sauté pan going with a tablespoon or so of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil. Toss in the pinenuts and KEEP AN EYE ON THEM or they will burn and taste like ass. Trust me on this. The minute the nuts turn goldeny, turn the heat down (or off if you want) and add a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Add the cooked ravioli to this, toss around gently, and serve with some parmesan grated on top.

Happy New Year to you all! If you are a resolutions- maker (which I’m not – I view them as an obligation I’ve made to the Devil, and I can never keep up my end of the bargain), I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors. See you all next year in the blogosphere.