Friday, February 10, 2012

spanikopita, not veronica's finest work

Years ago, my last roommate and I threw a small holiday party where we prepared ethnic dishes from our motherlands. Dan is Greek and one of his delicious contributions was spanikopita. I remembered that they were incredible, but seemed like an awful lot of work. You had to squeeze spinach! And apparently phyllo is a very delicate ingredient, vulnerable to the drying properties of air. Jeez. Anyway, it's taken me many years to psych myself up to the challenge. But here I am.

Aside from the phyllo situation, spanikopita is refreshingly straightforward to prepare. Wilt spinach with some onions! Squeeze it!! Add crumbled feta and some other stuff! Piece of cake. The mixture that remains seems like it would be delicious as is. But since it had a raw egg in it I didn't test this theory.

The next step, of course, was to bring out this week's daunting compulsory ingredient: phyllo. As Jamie mentioned, phyllo (sometimes spelled filo - weird) is frozen. A stack comes rolled up in a plastic pack to protect it from the drying air. Once you open the pouch, you have to keep the stack covered with a damp tea towel.

The recipe calls for two sheets to be stacked, each brushed with melted butter. And I don't want to discourage anyone, but if you do this for 8 servings you end up going through an entire stick of butter. That really blew me away. Anyway, once your buttered filos are ready, you glob some of the filling onto the bottom center of the rectangle and fold the sides in. Voila! A filo tube ready to be flag-folded up and - eek! - buttered at every turn. The finished products are cool-looking, shiny triangles that take to freezing well, so I placed them straight onto a cookie sheet in the freezer.

I kept the last two out (the very last one was mini) and popped them into the oven. It was not until they came out that I realized something had gone awry: spanikopitas aren't puffy! WTF. And even though I bet I could've used even more spinach, the flavor was pretty solid.

If I had to guess what went wrong, I'd say maybe each triangle needed only one sheet of phyllo. I mean, you fold it into itself so many times you get plenty of layers. I think the additional sheet provided more space for air to get in and puff it up. This is just a guess, though. I'm no scientist.

Anyway, try cooking some spanikopitas! They keep well and are not nearly as scary to make as you think.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Phyllo Pizza

Another first for me! I had never worked with phyllo dough before (and honestly, it took me a while to realize it’s in the freezer section in the supermarket). After poking around online looking for recipes (specifically ones that weren’t too hors d’ouerve-y or dessert-y), I decided to try a pizza. I had some fingerling potatoes that needed to be used, so I found some other ingredients that would go well with those. The toppings ended up being:

  • fingerling potatoes
  • asparagus
  • goat cheese
  • garlic
  • Parmesan cheese
  • rosemary
I boiled the potatoes, let those cool before slicing them up into little slivers (being careful not to sliver my own fingerlings, yuk yuk), tossed that in olive oil. Then I chopped up some asparagus and rosemary and garlic, and tossed those in olive oil. I’m not sure all that oil was necessary, as the pizza was rather oily in the end but I was afraid of burning everything in the oven.

When the phyllo was unfrozen, I worked quickly to get five layers onto the baking sheet, brushing olive oil and sprinkling some of the Parmesan on top of each sheet. The instructions on the box of phyllo seemed to imply that it dries out at the drop of a hat, so I was doing all this a bit more frantically than I usually cook. Then, added the toppings and the rest of the Parm, and into the oven! It cooked at 375 for about 18 minutes and came out smelling and looking delicious. Generally, my least favorite part of pizza is the dough (too doughy!), so the crispiness of phyllo was a perfect balance to the oozy goat cheese, just-roasted asparagus, and potatoes. I had the other half for lunch today, but the phyllo was a little soggy (though popping it in an oven may have restored its crisp).
lunch time pizza

[guidance for phyllo pizza making here; inspiration for toppings here]

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

another farro & cabbage casserole!

Who knew there were so many (at least two) farro & cabbage casserole recipes?  For mine, I turned to and it suggested these farro-stuffed, prosciutto-wrapped cabbage rolls.  Although the recipe was kind of vague in parts and there is absolutely no way that the end product could look like their photo (um, you put tomato sauce and mozzerella on top), it was delicious.  And due to my inferior cabbage rolling skills, much more casserole-y than I had originally envisioned.

I started out by trying to make Thomas Keller proud with a super-organized mise-en-place.
Basically, this recipe involves a lot of chopping and waiting.  Once things were prepped, I got the farro going in one pot while blanching the cabbage leaves to make them "easy" to work with in another.  And this is where I had my biggest problem with the recipe.  The author claims to prefer working with the outer cabbage leaves for their color.  After deciding to use inner leaves as well (I really did not want to buy four cabbages), I quickly learned that they are difficult to peel off and get wonky and cook much quicker than the outer leaves.  So when it came time to roll them, they were kind of a mess.  If I make this again (and I think I will--tasty!), I think that I'll turn to another source to better learn the fine art of cabbage rolling.
outer leaf - piece of cake!
After stuffing and rolling and topping, the casserole went in the oven for 35 minutes and came out delicious.  And the recipe provided enough food for K & I to get 4 meals out of it (without suffering farro casserole fatigue).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

the best meal veronica probably won't make again

For this week's farro challenge I wanted to make something I saw a Top Cheftestant cook many seasons ago: farrotto. I think that is a stupid word, but since I'm a fan of both risotto and farro, I decided to try it anyway.

After taking an inventory of my foods and scouring the internet, I chose to prepare farro risotto with kale and roasted acorn squash.

Even though the dish was very delicious I doubt I'll ever make it again. It took SO long to cook, I thought I would pass out from hunger! Basically, you have to a) peel/chop/roast an acorn squash, b) boil water and blanch some kale, c) season and roast farro, d) chop aromatics, and, finally - ha! - e) cook the farro in a risotto-like fashion. I'd say it took me about an hour and a half to get to step (e) and then about an hour to stand around like a chump, ladling broth into the cooking farro.

Once the farro(tto) was cooked, I added all the other prepped components and tossed around with some nice parmesan and butter. Boom, finally. And for all my wah-wah-ing, it really was very delicious.

I think it's a bit of a stretch to call it farro risotto, though. Risotto calls to mind that beautiful starchy-creamy business that make great risottos great. Farro doesn't really bleed much of its starchiness, so in the end this dish relies on butter and cheese to mimic that texture. And while it was tasty, it was definitely not risotto. Two days later, though, I would come to appreciate this.

Risotto doesn't keep well. That starchy-creamy whatever just gets all gelatinous and nasty. This is apparently not an issue with farrotto. For brunch a couple of days later I heated up the little I had left over and dropped a poached egg on top. I am a genius!

Getting two excellent meals out of this dish almost makes up for all the time spent making it. Almost.

Farro, finally

The first time our assignment was to cook with farro, I had a terribly unsuccessful time of actually finding it, although turns out Whole Foods has been carrying it this whole time! Farro’s not as imposing as i thought - it just needs some soaking. I was worried a little, though I think I was mostly having a Thomas Keller-induced flashback of having to have so many ingredients and to complete so many steps. This recipe was pretty straightforward, so I kind of feel like it doesn’t count! I didn’t even have to make a sachet!!

I had somewhat unbeknownst to me, picked the day of that Patriots-whoever they beat play off game to make the farro. The football watchers at my apartment that day do not cook at all, so my flimsy excuse to not watch the game with them went over well. [“Sorry guys- can't watch the Pats, I'm COOKING!” “ooohhhhh, man, Jamie, we’ll leave you alone!” phew!] Even though most of the time I was futzing around online while the farro soaked in water.

Anyway, three quarters of a football game later, the results we immensely satisfying. I am an official Farro Believer, now, and will cook with it more (as long as I can plan ahead to have enough time to let it soak). Even though the recipe was pretty summer-y, it worked on that kind of dreary football-y day.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Raku: Farro Casserole

I found a recipe for a nice-sounding cabbage casserole.

Yes, it included heavy cream, most of a stick of butter, and half a pound of cheese, but soooo healthy aside from that... Still my conscience was pricking me, so I decided to make some substitutions - a lot less butter  in exchange for a little olive oil, milk mixed in with the heavy cream. I let the cheese stand, since a lady's got to have standards. While I was being so wonderfully inventive, I replaced the rice in the recipe with farro. Why not?

This was a mistake. The resulting dish looked kind of cute while in the pyrex, but it was a (hot) mess out of it. Way too much liquid! The rice that should have soaked it all up had been replaced (by some fool) for farro. All in the name of laziness (couldn't go to the store to buy rice) and health (this will be the death of me). Oh well. The flavor wasn't bad, so I'll probably try it again. But next time I'll go true-to-recipe or go home.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Jamie: Last Meal of 2010

so pretty
A note: while we haven’t blogged about it yet, and Jo and I made the white bean and escarole soup (and oh the hijinks that ensued). We also were going to attempt the (perhaps too) ambitious recipes for Christmas lunch but only ended making the smashed potatoes from the cook book.

I started writing this post a few days ago, but in the intervening time I realized that the recipe I used for the braised artichokes was not, in fact, the same recipe from Ad Hoc At Home (I had looked it up online. I'll never trust the internet again)! As it turns out, the recipe I used had about a third fewer ingredients and steps that Keller’s. Whoops. And because we couldn’t get halibut at the fish market, we used haddock instead, so my cooking for this week is more Hydrox than Oreo. 

And, I made perhaps illegal use of my boyfriend as sous chef, and he took care of the fish so I can’t talk about that too much (although, don’t cut haddock into pieces and expect to be able to flip them over easily. Almost all of the haddock ended up a little shredded and torn up). 

The artichokes. I hadn’t dealt with a whole artichoke before, so I was looking forward to getting to know what they were all about. I read in my most trust-worthy cookbooks (except for Ad Hoc at Home... if I had actually looked in that book I would have used the right recipe!) to see how it was done, and later consulted some videos on YouTube to see how to trim artichokes. It was helpful. Not helpful was the insanely dull knives I had to work with (we were in someone else’s kitchen) so getting the choke out was a little difficult. 

I braised them in oil, white wine, and what sounded like a Thomas Keller approved sachet (minus the cheese cloth). We also made a version of his smashed potatoes (sans smashing). 

Boyfriend-sous chef plated everything and I would say he did a fabulous job:
note ghetto paper towels as napkins
Now that I have fairly successfully trimmed some artichokes, I’m looking forward to make the real braised artichoke recipe...