March 31, 2011
Easy Breezy Pasta Caprese
Thursday nights Doolia plays quartets with friends, so Dooley and Doolia try to make some of the quickie recipes from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook. This week, Dooley was busy with a project elsewhere and got home at 6pm. He was tired, so Doolia volunteered to make the Pasta Caprese alone.
The dish calls for hot pasta, fresh diced tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzerella cheese, and a simple sauce of olive oil, shallots, and lemon juice. The prep is exceptionally simple, and within 30 minutes, we were enjoying our delicately flavored dinner. And by 7:10, Doolia was on her way to play string quartets.
Dooley asserts that this is one of his top three favorite dishes from the cookbook. And he says that next time, he'll prepare it without my help. I'm looking forward this next step in our cooking journey.
March 29, 2011
Kitchen jockies again
Dooley and Doolia took a weeklong break from our cooking project because Doolia had a back injury. Luckily it was just a bad sprain and nothing more serious.
So we were back in the saddle again, cooking up a fabulous dinner tonight. We had gotten two Chuck Eye Roasts for the price of one a couple weeks ago, so we pulled the remaining one out of the freezer a few days ago, and cooked it up as a pot roast tonight.
We modified the The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook Pot Roast recipe just a tad, because we felt that there weren't enough stewed vegetables in the recipe as printed. I think that the recipe is expecting you'll discard the vegetables after cooking the roast, but after making this the first time, we found that we wanted to eat the stewed veggies along with the meat. So we used five carrots, two onions, one celery rib, and then added quartered redskin potatoes to the dutch oven in the last 1/2 hour of cooking.
Making this dish after work means that we're not eating dinner until 9pm or so, but it is worth it!!!
While the meat was braising in the oven, we also made Créme Caramel for dessert. This dish is really not that complicated to make. We needed ramikins (little fluted 4 oz. custard cups that are oven/microwave safe) for this recipe but couldn't find them at Meijer, Kroger, or Target. Williams Sonoma had them at $18 apiece(!) so when we found them at Macy's at $6 apiece, we bought them there. The custard is silky smooth, and the caramel is golden and sweet. A delectable finish to our night.
March 21, 2011
Success! Manly Manicotti
The Dooley and Doolia family motto 'together forever in every endeavor,' sounds loud and clear once again.
Undaunted by yesterday's flop, we gallantly returned to the kitchen tonight to try out the recipe for Manicotti from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook.
We had everything on hand for the recipe except the right kind of canned tomatoes. The recipe called for 2 28 oz. cans of diced tomatoes, but we had crushed tomatoes instead. So we eliminated the step of processing the diced tomatoes. It probably meant that we had less liquid in our sauce than the Test Kitchen intended. But I would say the finished product was even prettier than the photo in the cookbook. The picture of their plated manicotti looked squashed flat; ours were plump and round.
The prep was surprisingly simple, and with the two of us working together, surprisingly fast. The recipe has a clever twist from typical manicotti recipes--and that is to use no-boil lasagne noodles that you have softened in water, spread the filling on, and rolled up. The filling is very traditional three cheese filling with eggs and herbs.
When it came out of the oven all toasty brown and bubbly, we could hardly wait the 15 minutes they say to wait before serving. When we finally sank our teeth into these lucious filled noodles, we were in heaven. We couldn't help laughing with delight. Dinner of the gods!
March 20, 2011
Lemon Cake -- a real lemon
Dooley and Doolia proved today that not every recipe in The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook is foolproof. We ambitiously decided to make the Lemon Cake today. Having gained some understanding of the time involved in some of these recipes, we started the process at noon. We made the lemon curd first, which came out perfectly. But it needs to cool for 4 hours before you spread it between the cake layers. So we had some time to relax and do laundry before we started the cake.
The ingredients for the cake are supposed to be at room temperature, so it's lucky Doolia read ahead and set those ingredients out on the counter while the curd chilled in the refrigerator.
After an hour, we started to put the cake together. Dooley did all the measuring, and, being a beginner at all this, he didn't measure out enough cake flour. Since neither of us knew what the cake batter was supposed to look like, I didn't catch the error, and the springform pans went into the preheated oven full of a too-loose batter.
About 10 minutes into the baking time, I went to rotate the pans and found that batter was leaking all over the bottom of my freshly cleaned oven. And the cakes hadn't risen at all. I left them in for the remaining time, pulled them out, cooled them, then turned them out onto the cooling rack. They were a mess. We had a choice to give up or start the cakes over again. So Doolia pulled out another set of ingredients to come to room temperature, cleaned everything up and we started over. This time the right amount of everything went in, and when the cakes came out of the oven, they were about twice as high as the first ones. But still not the fluffy cakes we expected. I think perhaps our baking powder is past its prime. I'll buy some new next time I go marketing.
When the cakes had cooled, we cut them into two layers each, and layered the cold lemon curd between, and returned the whole thing to the fridge to chill again.
This time, Dooley cleaned the pans and bowls while Doolia started the frosting. Following the directions precisely, I heated the eggs, sugar, water, and lemon juice over a pan of simmering water, stirring constantly. It took almost 1/2 hour for it to come up to to 160 degrees farenheit. Then I put the bowl under the mixer with the wire whisk attachment and set it to run at high for 5 minutes. By the end of that time, it should have been forming soft peaks, but it wasn't. I ran it for another 5 minutes, and still no peaks. Another 10 minutes, and the mixer was heating up so I decided that it was good enough. It was 9pm, after all, so I poured the white stuff over the top of the cake and it drizzled down the sides.
Then we ate. It had taken us all day to make this cake, and honestly, it wasn't that good. I told the family that they shouldn't expect a cake like this for their birthdays. A time-consuming disappointment. But that's cooking for you, sometimes it's fantastic, and sometimes not so much. Fortunately, just about every other recipe we've made from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
has been a delight to make and eat. So undaunted, we continue our quest.
March 19, 2011
Ham and Split Pea Soup
Saturday morning, Doolia once again made multi-grain bread while everyone else slept in. I once again substituted 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal for 2 tablespoons of the hot cereal. And used the roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) again. A couple slices of this bread makes a filling breakfast. While the bread was proofing (rising) I did a thorough cleaning of the stove and oven.
When Dooley woke up, we decided to use the left-over ham to make Ham and Split Pea Soup. Alice, a friend at work had brought split pea soup to a pot luck and that inspired me to try this recipe.
It says to poach a smoked picnic ham, but we used the leftover from our roast ham earlier in the week. Even though it was already fully cooked, we put it in the dutch oven with water and bay leaves and let it poach for 2 hours. We chopped the vegetables and had some time to relax while the ham finished poaching.
The ham was literally falling apart by the end of 2 hours and was a little hard to remove from the pan--it kept coming apart and splashing back down into the water. Made a mess of my freshly scrubbed stove. Oh well. It didn't take much to clean it up again.
Doolia shredded the ham with two forks while Dooley browned the chopped onions, carrots, and celery in a little olive oil. A pinch of sugar facilitated the browning process. When everything was well carmelized, we added it all to the dutch oven with the split dried peas, and the shredded ham. Then in went some diced redskin potatoes, and some more time covered on the stovetop, and before long, we had a hearty stew to enjoy. It was filling and flavorful.
We're discovering that you really need to start early for some of these recipes. But for this one, we had dinner ready by 4 pm.
March 17, 2011
Are you strong enough for Stroganoff?
Tonight Dooley and Doolia cooked Beef Stroganoff. We used a $9.00 top sirloin steak rather than beef tips because neither Meijer or Kroger tells you what cut of meat is in their beef stew meat. We suspect that it's all sorts of different cuts, and not sirloin. The recipe in The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
calls for top sirloin beef tips so we bought a cut of meat that was for sure top sirloin.
After pounding the meat to the specified thickness, Dooley cut it up into the specified size strips. They looked too big, so he cut them into even smaller pieces--just bite-sized. Then he cooked them up while I cut up the onion and mushrooms.
When it was time to put in the sour cream at the end, I discovered that we only had about 1 tablespoonful left. That was not nearly enough to lend the sauce that creamy look, texture, and taste. After rummaging around in the refrigerator, I came up with an alternative. Not a perfect alternative, but it was pretty good. Cream Cheese.
I cut about 3 oz of the cream cheese into 1/2 inch chunks and added it to the sauce, and whisked it around for a few minutes on low heat. It broke up into tiny bits but never did incorporate the way sour cream does. Still, it tasted marvelous. I wouldn't serve it this way to guests because it looks like it's curdled. But one of my daughters said at first taste, "this is orgasmic!" We missed the tanginess of the sour cream, but perhaps more than made up for it with the rich flavor of the cream cheese.
March 15, 2011
Chicken Francese (pronounced Fran-CHAY-zay)
We stretched our skills today making Chicken Francese. This Italian dish is not as popular now as it once was. I can see how American cooks who prefer cooking food out of a box would be daunted by this recipe from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook. But it's worth the effort, and it doesn't really take that long to make. Especially with two people in the kitchen.
This dish is basically lightly breaded chicken cutlets in lemon sauce. Dooley and Doolia had never made a cutlet from a fresh chicken breast before. Frozen prepared cutlets, yes, but not ever from raw chicken meat. It was interesting cutting and pounding the meat into 1/4" thick slabs. The dredging process was messy and our fingers got completely encased in the eggs and flour, but the results were remarkable.
The lemon sauce was tangy and just the right consistency. We ate our Chicken Francese with mashed potatoes (we prefer to leave the skins on) and Green Bean Almondine. And lemonade to drink. Perfect combination for a tangy, refreshing dinner.
March 12, 2011
Roast Ham with Cider & Brown Sugar glaze
Dooley is still struggling because of his med change. The tremor had been subsiding but it's back again, full force. The new med isn't at a therapeutic level yet, so he's not doing so great on that measure either. But he did get out of bed to start dinner. Then he pooped out and went back to bed leaving me to finish up the roasting and glazing. The preparation is the most complicated part of this dinner, and the roasting and glazing just takes a few minutes every 45 minutes. It turned out a little drier than we expected, but was still delicious. And we have left-overs to enjoy.
March 11, 2011
Dooley and Doolia love Mexican food, so tonight we cooked Enchiladas Verdes. We had never worked with whole Poblano Chiles or Tomatillos, so it was a new experience for both of us. Tomatillos are those little green tomatoes that have what looks like Chinese paper lantern pods encasing them. After removing these paper wrappers, the fruit is sticky. I spritzed them with a little "FIT" fruit and vegetable spray and washed them thoroughly under running water.
The recipe from ATK said to roast these vegetables under the broiler, and it worked beautifully. Then we processed them in a food processor to make the verdes sauce.
According to the recipe in The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, we poached two gigantic chicken breast halves in a mixture of broth, garlic, with lots of sauteed onions, then shredded them and wrapped them in warmed corn tortillas along with Monterrey Jack cheese. The sauce went under and over the enchiladas, and everything went into the oven.
They were delicious. The chicken and cheese filling had formed a molten, tender enchilada. The chili sauce was just tart enough, with the smoky overtones from the broiled tomatillos and chilis. Mmmmm!
March 10, 2011
Another med change, cooking on hold
It's been a tough week. The new med Dooley has been taking was not working after all, so his doc switched him to yet another. The process of ramping down on one med and ramping up on another takes time, and in the meanwhile there's no equilibrium--things are very unsettled. I'm hoping that we can cook tonight to bring our new routine back into play.
March 06, 2011
Really? Green beans this good?
We threw our plans for the weekend's cooking adventures out the window. Because we received a last-minute invitation to a dear friend's milestone birthday party in Lansing, we didn't cook Saturday's dinner as planned. Instead we headed north in freezing rain. We left early so that we could eat at the only Lansing restaurant worth a 90 minute drive, El Azteco. If you're ever there, you must stop for a bite. Ignore the split upholstery on the booths and focus on the food. Great authentic Mexican.
We had a nice time visiting with our friends and their friends, then drove home thru heavy snowfall. What normally takes an hour and a half to drive took us two and a quarter hours. We saw five spun-out cars along the way. We got home safely, though.
Then Sunday, Doolia had a concert with the Dexter Community Orchestra. We played a piece called "The Watershed" by a local composer, Evan Chambers. And before the concert, we enjoyed some winning short films from the Millers Creek Film Festival, about the Huron River. And then Gershwin's Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, and finally, Mozart's Symphony No. 29 in A major. The concert ended about 40 minutes later than usual, and with the reception afterward and breaking down the stage, we didn't get home until after 8 pm.
So we made Spagetti ala carbonara (again), and green beans almondine, both recipes from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, as usual. While Dooley made the Spagetti ala carbonara, Doolia made the green beans almondine. This recipe for green beans was TO DIE FOR! I actually liked it better than the pasta dish. It uses only slivered almonds, butter, fresh green beans, a little water, salt, and lemon juice. It was phenominally delicious, quick to make, and looked so elegant with the pasta. We ate by candlelight and had a delicious, romantic dinner together.
March 03, 2011
Hot soup for a cold day
Although the weathermen forecast a balmy day, it never did warm up today. So when I got home from work (first day of the year riding my bike to work), I was glad that tonight was "Hearty Potato Leek Soup" night.
Dooley finished his intensive outpatient therapy today and is 'graduating' to a once-a-week therapy for the next few months. I had hoped he would be more enthusiastic about it. Hopefully he's just in a short-term down and not moving again in the downward spiral that we worked so hard to get him out of.
Anyway, we got cooking right away. Dooley pulled out the pot, the leeks, and the butter; I pulled out the potatoes and started peeling. It didn't take very long at all to put everything together, and only about 45 minutes of stove time all together. The recipe from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook said to cook the leeks in butter until they're soft but not browned or mushy, about 20 minutes. Well, we used a timer and after 20 minutes, they were not browned, but they were mushy. Still, the flavor was fantastic. No left-overs tonight. Every drop got eaten.
Tomorrow we're making shrimp scampi again--woohoo!
March 01, 2011
Bowtie pasta with mushrooms
Despite the fact that we couldn't find the Cremini mushrooms or enough Shitake mushrooms at the supermarket, we substituted white mushrooms and made this recipe anyway. And it was incredible!! Both daughters said tonight's dinner was better than a similar dish at Macaroni Grill. And the four of us ate our fill for about seven dollars worth of ingredients, with leftovers to boot. Not too shabby!! It's good, real good. It only took about an hour to prepare too!
To check the spelling of "cremini" mushrooms, I just looked them up online and learned that they are also called "baby portobella" or "baby bella," which WERE at the supermarket. So next time I'll make this with the right kind of mushrooms. Could it be better than what we ate tonight? Hmmmm...