Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holiday Extravaganza

Sorry guys (i.e., readership of 3), I've been suffering from blogblock.

Last Saturday, Mark and I had the best party we've ever hosted. Our friends are a lovely and diverse group that came together beautifully...many dressed to the nines:

The spread was fantastic:

I must say I was impressed by our efforts, if it wasn't just a wee little bit over the top. During the planning phase, I had to stop myself and say, "wait a minute, these people are my friends, they're just going to be glad to be with us." For a bit, I was thinking of it in a professional sense and that's a little silly as I work in education, not culinary arts...but I'm glad I aimed high, because we proved successful.

The menu was as follows:
Garlic Chutney Hummus (my usual hummus from VCon with garlic chutney from the Indian grocery)
Spinach Dip

Olive Tapenade

Smoked salmon dip

herbed ricotta

fresh mozzarella
drunken goat cheese
Fontina D'Aosta

Curried Pumpkin Soup
Vegetarian Chili

Various soup toppings:
Shredded cheddar
Sour cream

various dippers:

the usual suspects: Baguette, crackers, Parm spirals ,

Manchego crackers--these guys were my favorite

Small Bites

Prosciutto Cups with Pear

Spiced nuts
Acorn Squash & Black Bean Empanadas with Cilantro Soured Cream from Veganomicon--as it turns out, vegan sour cream=quite tasty

Pistachio Rose-water Cookies
brie w. fig/apricot jam
Bourbon pecan truffles

Crunchy chocolate treats

As daunting as that list might lead you to believe, it felt like the most effortless party we've ever given...most everything was made the night before, which was fun. Mark and I stayed up to 2 a.m. and got to catch up on our This American Life podcasts. David Sedaris does the best Billie Holiday. I wish he was pocket-sized.

Needless to say, it was a lovely night. Old friends
(Yay! Wal-Mart portrait hands)
mingled with new friends

and no one got too drunk...
not even our newly appointed alarm clock.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Naan, Pie Crust

Hey Folks - (Mark post)

I have made the jump to one of my favorite breads, Naan. You've probably had naan before at an Indian restaurant. I just found some random recipe online, but I realized while I was making it that it's a lot like pizza dough: flour, yeast dissolved in lukewarm water, a little salt in the flour and sugar in the water, but the major difference is the addition of a few healthy tablespoons worth of yogurt and some ghee. I used some organic greek yogurt from Whole Foods, and I made a ghee-like substance by cooking plugra on low heat and pouring off the separated oils.

I let my dough rest in the fridge overnight so that the yeast can rise slowly, and then for the next few days I simply cut off a small chunk to cook when I wanted to. It's important to roll it out super thin, and to get the good pillowy texture I try to work the dough mostly with my hands and not a roller, creating that baker's window pane which results in a lot of air pockets. I cooked the naan on a pizza stone with the oven on broil. It only takes about 2 minutes and it's as close to a tandoor oven experience as I can achieve, haha.

puffy goodness, with garlic, brushed with ghee

Pie crust, I've been told, is hard to make, but I've recently had a few good experiences, all of them successes.

My first try was with the pot pies a few weeks ago.

Then, on Thanksgiving, I made pie crusts for Wendy to make pumpkin and coconut pies.

It helped a lot to have a food processor to make the crusts come together. Also, I gleaned a lot of good tips from Smitten Kitchen.


Did you know that if you're lucky enough to have a pressure cooker, you can cook dried beans, not pre-soaked mind you, in 17 minutes?! I did not believe the booklet that came with my pressure cooker.

I have a fear of the pressure cooker. Everyone's mom has some story about one blowing up and I've believed those stories. My grandma Peg had a real loud one that rattled as it cooked. They're scary vessels, but I must start using this resource for all it's worth. I bought it back when I was knee-deep in my obsession with macrobiotics and have used it to cook brown rice exactly twice before last night. I'm so ashamed.

Well, it's gonna pay for itself now. No more canned beans in this house.

Also, this last week, I procured some Gimme Lean sausage and made some quick spaghetti with it. I sauteed some onion, green pepper, and garlic, then I added in the soysage (I've often made spaghetti using Jimmy Dean sage sausage), let it cook for a few minutes, added some spices (chili powder, oregano, dried basil, s & p), then poured in a jar of my new favorite canned sauce. I stirred in some cooked whole wheat angel hair pasta (Barilla, I think). At the very end, I added some part-skim mozz (hey, we make an effort to be healthy every once in a while). I would have baked it if I felt like I could wait a little, but...

It was pretty good. The Gimme Lean is really nice in flavor, but unfortunately it doesn't break up well (I tried really hard), so there were big clumps which was kinda off-putting. Overall, it was pretty good.

Pumpkin Ravs

These came from Lazzaroli's. They're filled with pumpkin, mascarpone, ricotta, and parmigiano reggiano. Quite amazing. Mark made a sauce of butter, garlic, (more) parm, and I grated in some fresh nutmeg and added a touch of cream at the very end. I sauteed some kale in olive oil and a little white wine with some thinly sliced onions and garlic. OMG. It was the best. The kale was an heirloom variety called Lacinato. It's also known as dinosaur kale. The texture is great, very cabbage-like. But then again, I've never met a green I didn't like.

Self-indulgent pictures of the new cat in inopportune (but cute) places:

the bread basket!

the laundry basket!

I have no shame.

I hope y'all had a good Thanksgiving.
I made this version of mac & cheese except I left out the ham and topped it with bacon. The horror! If I'm cooking for my family, I know it has to be cheesy pasta. They aren't big fans of any of our other food endeavors (wait...what other food endeavors? we only cook cheesy pasta). The mac was awesome, but not very photogenic, so I'll keep the picture to myself.

Just a reminder:
Mark & I are hosting our annual holiday party this next Saturday, December 6th. Don't forget to show up. Here's a small preview:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pistachio-Rosewater Cookies

I auditioned these cookies at Mark's big show last night. They were a big hit. The recipe comes from a cookbook I've been obsessed with for a fact, I mock threatened Mark that I was going to break up with him if he didn't get it for me last Christmas. As I remember, I got it for myself a little early because I couldn't wait.

I ran into some rosewater during one of my Indian grocery store visits and I knew just what to do with it. Here's the recipe lifted straight from Veganomicon:

1¼ cups sugar
½ cup canola oil
3 Tbsp. rice or soy milk
1 Tbsp. rosewater
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. finely grated lime zest
¼ cup cornstarch
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
½ cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets with vegan shortening or margarine.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, rice or soy milk, rosewater, vanilla, lime juice, and zest. Add the cornstarch and whisk until dissolved. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom. Mix well.
3. Roll the dough into balls about 2 teaspoons in size (a bit smaller than a walnut) and dip the tops into the chopped pistachios. Press down with two fingers; the dough will flatten a bit and the pistachios will collect on the bottom.
4. Place the cookies, nut side up, about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. You should be able to fit 16 on a standard baking sheet. Bake for 13 minutes; they will be soft but will firm up as they cool.
5. Remove from the oven and let cool on the cookie sheets for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving.

My experience when making these was quite comical. I returned home from two different grocery stores to discover that I was out of sugar. After a quick trip to Kroger, I was faced with difficult machines and bottles that refused to open even with one of those rubber opener deals. I just wanted to quit....but these were good. Not too perfumey as some adaptations have turned out.

Ironically, there was another gal at the show serving vegan chili and cornbread. I let her know quickly that I enjoyed a bloody steak, but I am sensitive to her endeavor.

That's My Potpie, Kitty

I know that's the first line of the Smitten Kitchen post that inspired this endeavor, but I must repeat it because we really did have a newly-adopted beggar kitty pursuing our potpies.

A few more obligatory shots because I'm shameless and you know you want it:

reaching out to win over our friends:

adapting to her new home:

getting acquainted to her new roommate:

that's too much, i know. more can be found on my new blog devoted to miscellany and self-indulgent narrative.

let's shift gears to the real topic at hand, my friends. Mark's bread obsession has led him to pie crust...and pie crust he can do. i know, i'm a little baffled. this man's outdone me already.

we got our inspiration here, and it turned out like this:

The only thing I did differently than Deb & Ina (good company to keep if you ask me) was I boiled the chicken breasts in my cast iron dutch oven with some herbs, peppercorns, bay leaf, onion, carrot, celery, and the greens from the top of a bunch of carrots (they needed a use) which resulted in some lovely homemade chicken broth.

This was last Sunday's work and I was a powerhouse that day. I elected to spend the entire day in the kitchen. That cast iron dutch oven paid for itself that day. I also used it to make veggie broth. For a month or so I've been saving onion skin (as long as it's organic), mushroom stems, chard spines, things that would otherwise be composted in a ziplock in the freezer. I dumped the contents into the pot, added fresh onion, carrot, and celery along with the other items mentioned in the previous paragraph and simmered it for about an hour and a half. I strained it and then added salt. It was very tasty.

I froze two quarts and used the rest to make a curry ginger carrot bisque recipe I found on Tastespotting.

It was just okay...needed texture. Next time I'll add black beans.

So, to recap, last Sunday, I made:
chicken stock
pot pie filling
veggie stock
carrot soup

oh yeah, and I also made maybe my best batch ever of chili powder. Take that last week's bloody chicken debacle.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

South of France Tomato Soup with Young Chèvre

To tell you the truth, I wasn't a fan, but Mark loved it. The combination of the cinnamon with the salty, pungent goat cheese was pretty magical, but it was just too much for me. I know, I'm a baby. This was, however, the most interesting tomato soup I've ever had. Try it for yourself. Here's the recipe:

Generous ½ teaspoon dried basil
Generous ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
Generous ½ teaspoon dried oregano
Generous ½ teaspoon dried thyme
Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Generous ¼ cup tomato paste
1/3 cup dry vermouth
2 pounds good-tasting fresh tomatoes (do not use Romas), peeled, seeded and chopped; or one can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes with their liquid, crushed (I used canned fire-roasted because that's all I had)
2 cans (14 ounces each) chicken or vegetable broth and 2/3 cup water
Generous ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

1. Combine dried herbs in a small cup. Crush them lightly until they become fragrant. Set aside.

2. Film the bottom of a 6-quart pot with olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Stir in onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until onions are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Add reserved herbs and garlic. Continue cooking until their aromas open up, about 30 seconds.

3. Blend in tomato paste until there are no lumps; then add vermouth and tomatoes. Boil for 2 minutes. Pour in broth, stir, adjust heat to a light bubble, and cover pot tightly. Cook 20 minutes. Then blend in cinnamon, taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

4. Ladle soup into bowls, and top each serving with crumbles of goat cheese.

From, you guessed it, How to Eat Supper

Monday, November 17, 2008

Total Waste of Time

Well, not totally wasted. I could have been watching The Hills On Demand as I've shamefully succumbed to in the last week. I swear, I stayed so far away from that show for so long knowing I'd get hooked and enable myself to watch under the guise that I'm a culture-watcher. B.S. I'm in on it, sure, but I just can't get enough of Heidi's carebear voice. She's such a total loser and I'm not, right? Many mornings Mark is awoken to my rendition of "Feel the Rain on Your Skin." I've revealed too much.

Last Saturday, we tried to cook a 5 lb. frozen chicken that we got from our co-op...a $20 chicken, mind you. That's a lot to me given I could have gone down to the Kroger and paid about $6 for one that was already rotisseried and pumped full o' facsimiled spices. Well, this one was treated humanely and supposedly you can taste all that good treatment.

I handed the chicken, literally and figuratively, over to Mark as the last time I cooked an entire bird, I was home alone and nearly vomited and became a vegetarian for life. I had to transfer it to a bigger pan and when I picked it up, it's joints moved and it felt just like Xena. My experience only got worse as I stuffed its "cavity" with lemons and heads of garlic. I'll never forget how I ate mine so gingerly while Mark tore into the legs slurping up the skin. That's an image I'll keep for a lifetime.

Well this time, Ina made it look so easy.

Garlic Roast Chicken
1 (5 to 6-pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 heads garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
1 lemon, halved
1 large onion, cut into fourths
4 carrots cut diagonally into 2-inch chunks
2 large Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 6 pieces
4 tablespoons butter, melted

As soon as you get the chicken home, salt it inside and out, wrap it and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

When you are ready to cook the chicken, first preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Pat the outside of the chicken dry with paper towels. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken and stuff the cavity with the all the garlic and lemon. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place it in a roasting pan just large enough to hold it and the vegetables. Scatter the onion slices, carrots and potatoes around the chicken. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil. Place the vegetables back in the oven and continue cooking for an additional 15 minutes.

When the vegetables are cooked, carve the chicken and place the slices on the platter surrounded by the vegetables. Drizzle some pan juices over the chicken and vegetables.

I added a few red turnips to the vegetable mix because I had them on hand and I would never turn down a roasted turnip. But Mark failed us a little, I'll admit. He got overly excited with the salt and the turnips seemed to absorb it all. They were almost inedible.

In fact, nearly everything we touched that night turned into a fowl-smelling expletive. Mark accidentally cooked the chicken upside down, so when we took its temp an hour and a half in, it seemed done. We took it out, tented it with foil, and proceeded with the rest of the meal.

I'd planned to try my hand at homemade cornbread for stuffing. The cornbread was beautiful, fluffy and tasty all on its own, but I wanted to attempt stuffing to accompany our big bird.

The stuffing was dry and also too salty (I used salted pecans from the beer isle--LRC told me to--I didn't add much salt knowing I was working with pre-salted pecans).

Well, it was ready to be sprung from the oven 45 minutes after the chicken. When the stuffing was sufficiently dried out, we cut into the bird...yeah, blood went everywhere. I was over it at this point. I fixed a vegetarian plate and handed the operation over to Mark and Randy.

I was in such a bad mood by the end of the night. I only wanted to sulk and read by myself. Poor Randy. I had to try to convince him I wasn't a meanie. But I know he gets it. I haven't had any luck at all in the kitchen lately.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Last Week in October

We haven't been cooking so much lately. I've been focusing instead on school work.

Luckily, my little slave cat works real hard at rubbing my feet each night:

Last Monday, we had a lot of co-op veggies that needed using up, so I tried to come up with something that encompassed all of them. Inspired by a post over at Last Night's Dinner , I sauteed some onions, garlic, red pepper, and sweet potatoes while some Rancho Gordo Christmas Limas simmered on a separate stove eye.

I added in some chicken stock and Lacinato kale and swiss chard (more of the "bright lights" variety) and sauteed it until it was wilted, then I added some softened bulgar and spices. It was really quite good and different from what we usually cook up.

I roasted some squashes and a few tomatoes in tamarind chutney and we had those on the side.

On Wednesday, we used the kale sautee to stuff some colorful peppers...the green one is the last from our garden:

I surrounded the peppers with a tomato sauce I made quickly in the food processor:
1 28 oz. can of Muir Glen Fire-Roasted tomatoes
1 jalepeno
1 onion
homemade chili powder
salt and pepper

It's based on my favorite recipe for stuffed peppers which can be found here.

My friend Christin had a Halloween party on Thursday in which we were instructed to dress as our respective bosses. It was very cute, indeed.

I brought spinach dip which was a nod to my love of Mark and Christin. Everytime we go out, they have to order it even though I don't eat it. I let them, because they are sweet babies and I'd hate to see them with faces any different than these:

However, this spin dip was mayo.

Bonus pic: Our friend Moe dressed as Flavor Flav:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Los Rosales

In America, most Mexican cuisine has been reduced to order-by-number restaurants, cheese-smothered everything (nothing wrong with that by the way), 4th Meals, or as my friend Olaf used to say - "The Same Seven Ingredients ANY WAY YOU WANT IT!"

Mexican food has been the last thing Wendy wants with one exception: Taco Bell soft tacos, no cheese, add tomatoes (usually from home), with Valentina or Mild Taco Bell Sauce. Though she's no longer the dairy-phobic eater she once was, the limited varieties of most Mexican restaurants offer nothing exciting enough to make them our dining destination. Despite this, I've guilt-tripped Wendy into trying out local spots along Nolensville road - a converted pizza hut (still in "hut" shape) now called Las Chivas and a place in Brentwood called Las Palmas. Both were disappointments that ended with Wendy swearing off future experiments.

Wendy here, I'm taking over the post. I can't say I like the fact that Mark outed me on my Taco Bell indulgences...Hey, we live right beside the Taco Bell. & besides, Speidi likes it.

Inwardly chanting, "We are not worthless, we are not worthless."

When we pulled into the parking lot of Los Rosales, I told Mark that this may well be the very last time I agree to eating at a Mexican restaurant. I was encouraged by a great review over at Lesley Eats. I was not disappointed. In fact, I was so excited that I wanted to call up Amanda Yarbro-Dill and tell her that I finally am able to eat Mexican food that's not prepared in my own kitchen. We didn't take pictures that first visit, but I wish I had. I ordered a steak and pinto bean dish that had these lovely pearl onions in it. Mark got a shrimp dish with avocado sauce. When attempting to cut the shrimp, he accidentally slung it on his shirt. Luckily, he had an extra shirt in his car, so he went out and changed. When he returned to our table, his shirt was unbuttoned three buttons. It was very cute.

The next visit, we got the queso fundido.

Now I'm not one to eat cheese dip, but this stuff is superb. Sometimes we get it without the chirizo and it's just as good. Their tortillas and tortilla chips are housemade and can't be beat.

Everything we've ordered there is really spectacular and the service is always top-notch, which is something I've never experienced in the Mexican restaurants we've visited in the past. The owner, Carlos Moncayo, is always present and is really sweet.

He once sent us a flaming mango for dessert. It was something he was trying out and wanted to get our opinion.
Our favorite dish so far has been the Filets Montes:

Not so photogenic, but really, really good. Usually Mark and I split it.

However, this last visit may have been our most successful. I got spinach enchiladas:

Mark ordered the Great Melee, or that's what he thinks it was called. It was absolutely stellar...

scallops, clams, octopus, shrimp and this wonderful tilapia - all of it grilled. It came with a really subtle, darkly-sweet sauce with a rich seafood stock base which Carlos explained was made with 8 types of seafood, including calamari. The sauce was great because it didn't overpower the seafood, but instead accented it.

Other highlights:

Veggie Fajitas

Cactus Soup

Also, Carlos is the owner of Ibiza Night Club on Old Hickory in Nashville.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Indian Food, Part II

Bombay Palace

I feel as if I've committed an infidelity...

Bombay Palace is the new kid in town and it certainly gives Sitar a run for its money. First of all, the service is about a million times better. Ron (his Americanized name), the owner, went above and beyond what was expected to make us feel welcome telling us, “this back door is open for you anytime.”

I’d heard great things, but I was still reluctant to pass up a Saturday at Sitar to try this place out. We were not disappointed. Ron immediately introduced himself and brought us some pillowy fresh naan. Then there was an incredibly creamy and complex cauliflower dish, Mark thinks it was called Galoo Jobni...whatever it was, the translation was incredible cauliflower. Among other delights was a delicious cinnamon and curry dal, pakora fritters, chiken tiki masala (also amazing), and tandoori chicken which was unfortunately a bit cold, but still quite nice. Unlike Sitar, they have a separate area for salads, fruit, dessert, and chutneys. Mark really liked their raita, the yogurt hound he is and I, of course, doused all my food in the tamarind sauce. We Americans, the majority of us, like our food covered and smothered in sauce. Tamarind is my ranch dressing, kiddies.

Ron came and introduced himself to thank us for stopping by almost immediately. He made a point of asking for our names and came over a few more times during the meal to get our opinion about it all (not annoying or intrusive in any way...he could tell we were really enthusiastic about finding the place. Lord knows, we like to eat). On our way out, as we came in the back door, we passed through the kitchen and he introduced us to the "chef" Sam. He looked young and sweet-faced. I could insinuate something...but we don't talk like that about Indian cooks who make us like cauliflower regardless of our past hatred of it.

After the lovely first impression we talked some friends into revisiting on the Friday night of the David Sedaris show. Ron, sweetheart that he is, remembered our names.

We all started with soup except for Mark. Logan got this incredibly rich chicken soup, Christin got coconut milk with saffron, and I opted for tomato. I got tastes of all and they were just dandy. As with all the dishes at Bombay, the flavors are really vibrant...Sitar's fare seems, in retrospect, much blander and less fresh tasting. Ron, I guess thinking Mark felt left out, brought him some vegetable fritters.

For entrees:
Christin ordered Lamb Korma. Logan got Sag Paneer (spinach and cheese) with lamb in it. Mark was trying to find that same cauliflower dish from the other day, but settled on another one. I got the chana masala.

As mentioned earlier, the flavors are much more vibrant and multi-dimensional. Also, the presentation was quite nice.

Bombay is near Centennial Park in a strip mall that's proven toxic to lots of restaurants who've made a go of it there. Let's hope Bombay doesn't succumb to that curse. We'd like to continue to be spoiled by having two wonderful Indian eateries to choose from.