Sunday, October 31, 2010

Raku: Halloween Soup

Menu: Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup (+ Mizuna Salad + Bread, Cheese, & Dried Sausage)

On Sunday morning I went to the farmer's market. I was immediately attracted to these awkward-looking carrots that looked like hotdogs. They seemed auspicious.

Also at the market, we picked up some mizuna (my green-of-choice these days), onions, sweet potatoes, bread (horrifyingly, $8/boule), and some wine (a Long Island merlot inaptly named Borghese - the taste was closer to the Sopranos than Italian nobility). Then it was on to Esposito's Pork Store for thick-cut bacon and sausage, and finally the supermarket for the rest of the ingredients.

Back home, I was forced to dwell for long minutes on the beauty of bacon. Is there anything more gorgeous?

Thankfully, I was only making one dish this time, so the recipe seemed blissfully straightforward to me. Oh, except for the sweet potatoes. They were an experience. Here is an analogy pair that describes my interaction with them:

sweet potatoes : chop
the savage detectives : enjoy

I almost broke my wrist once and chopped off a thumb and an index finger. Why do they look like regular potatoes on the outside but feel like titanium on the inside? I finally coaxed (ravaged, crushed) them into cubed submission and was able to get on with my life.

I think there are few things more satisfying to make than soup. Throwing meat, vegetable, and spice into a pot and mixing them around fulfills some ideal of cooking that I (and probably many others) have from when I was young, triggering a warm, "this is what cooking is" reaction. This particular soup was very Halloween-y with its festive curry spice and orange potatoes. Maybe it would have been even more so if I had lost a finger.

The soup tasted really good, and, as with many soups and stews, the flavor deepened overnight. I would like to cook it again. And I will need to because one lesson I learned is that it is very, very important to wash your lentils before adding them to, well, anything. Shamefully, I did not do this. We ate the first batch without incident, but the next day, there were some crunchy, sandy bites, probably from the bottom of the pot, that were decidedly disconcerting. Rookie move? Maybe. But as long as I don't mess up next time, I think I can probably say: Fool me once, lentil and sweet potato soup, shame on you...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Veronica: My Friend Farro

I'm still basking in the buttery afterglow of my meal, but I'll try to tough out my exhaustion and document for posterity's sake. Plus after all that richness, I may not last until morning.

Pretend my necklace isn't in the frame

- caramelized sea scallops
- buttered farro
- watercress and herb salad, lemon citronette

Note that I went off book a bit and tossed together a quick salad because (a) I wanted a little green for my plate and (b) I thought the peppery watercress and bright lemon would balance the richness of the other two dishes. I think it was a good call.

Watercress is an underrated green

My fun-sized kitchen was a disaster when I got home from the market and I had to clean up quite a bit before I could get started with the cooking. I'm afraid my organization suffered as a result. I eventually did get it together, though, with help from the zen activity of creating a sachet. Making a sachet is like crafting and cooking at the same time. It's wonderful.

Sachet! Shante!

When I started reading the farro recipe with an eye to actually preparing it, I thought maybe this was too much work for a grain. Happily, I stuck with it and followed every butter-drenched step. I was skeptical about how perceivable the impact of the sachet would be (it's in cloth, after all), but really the flavors were just lovely: nutty, herby, fragrant, buttery, delicious! I could eat this farro every day. Which is a good thing because I have like 20 pounds left over.

I have a death wish & used all the prescribed butter

While the farro was peacefully simmering, I got things rolling for the scallops. As I tend to like things undersalted, the brine made me nervous; I found the amount of salt required unsettling. I followed the directions to the letter, though, and while I think that the brine added depth to the scallops' flavor, I do think I'll fish them out sooner next time. They were just a tiny bit too salty for me.

Here's an embarrassing fact: All my cookware is non-stick. I came this close to buying a new shiny new pan, but thought better of it. I had to just make do with what I had, even knowing that Mr. Keller would not approve.

My apartment still smells like brown butter

As you can see, I was unable to achieve optimal caramelization. However, in the end I think the sear was still very nice and the scallops were tasty. Overall, it was a delicious meal that I'll definitely make again. As soon as I get a new pan.

Week 1 recipes = a big success!

Jamie: A Tale of Four Grocery Stores

Menu (thanks to Jo for sending me the recipes for the first two! My book is still MIA):
  • Caramelized SeaScallops
  • Buttered Farro
  • Asparagus Coins
Due to a mixture of lack of research (farro is also known as spelt!) and being hell-bent on not spending $3 on a bunch of herbs, I ended up going to four (count ‘em, four!) grocery stores yesterday evening. The first grocery store had spelt (but at the time I didn’t know that that was farro), and I decided at the second to go with orzo instead. The third had thyme, but not chives so I had to head to the slightly smelly Foodmaster (vendor of fine wines like Mommy’s Time Out) for that. 
At home I dove right in and gathered my ingredients, tools, bowls, and computer to look up the recipes. It was around this time that I realized (thanks, WIkipedia!) that the orzo of today is not really a grain, but a pasta. Despite that, I thought I could cook it more or less the way the recipe called for, making some adjustments for cooking time. 

With my mise en place in, well, place, I made my sachet:

sachet, walk away
Once the orzo was cooking, I started on the asparagus coins. I made the parsley water and chive oil, although, oops, the latter is supposed to sit overnight in the fridge. This is why you thoroughly read a recipe before starting to cook!

asparagus coins mise en place
The timing worked out well here, although while the orzo and asparagus were finishing up, I should have started the brine for the scallops. At any rate, they were easy enough to cook (I didn’t clarify the butter either- I decided when I began cooking that I didn’t have time), and smelled delicious. I used TONGS to flip the scallops and transfer them to a plate.

My roommates really enjoyed the meal-- Danielle said the scallops were the best she had had (!) and Jen said “Oh my god, it’s so good” a few times. And this is when I realized I only kind of like scallops (I think when someone else cooks them I enjoy them more. I’m leery of undercooking them). But! The orzo was good and herb-y (someday I will try it with an actual grain) and the asparagus was delish, too (I would not mind making this as an official Bearded Ladies recipe sometime in the future). 
Hopefully my cookbook will be here for next week’s cooking adventure!

(I can't tell if it's just this computer or not, but I apologize if spacing is wonky.)

Johanna: My First Scallop Brine

Menu: Caramelized sea scallops + buttered farro

Thank you, Veronica, for choosing such a delicious meal!  I really enjoyed both the farro and the scallops and was super-relieved that everything turned out more than just ok.  The husband pronounced it a major success.  (He is really into this whole cookbook club (aka I cook, he eats) thing.

I tried to pay attention to Tomas Keller's edict to "be organized,"  so I got everything prepped and ready beforehand so I didn't have to scramble hither and thither while I was cooking. 

My mise-en-place, with wine

I also cheated and made use of an excellent sous chef. 
Arthur really wasn't all that helpful.

After the farro was toasted and was gently simmering, I got to brining the scallops.  Um, brining scallops?  Who knew?  Delicious!  Will definitely do it again.  And I loved that the scallop recipe was basically like "do not touch the scallops for 3 to 3.5 minutes."  I always want to peek, and things are then never are as caramelized as I would like.


I was worried about the timing of everything, but it worked out perfectly.  (And deliciously!)  No cold food.  Hurrah!

Unlike Raku, I am not ambitious and did not attempt a third dish.  Like Raku, I didn't clarify my scallop butter and I reduced the amount of butter added to the farro.

Psst...sorry for the poor quality photos.  From my phone.  Couldn't find my camera charger.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Raku: My First Sachet

Menu: Caramelized sea scallops + buttered farro + melted leeks

First things first: I love sachets. They are pretty, satisfying to construct, and so useful for keeping large bits of herbs out of your mouth. Who knew? I only wish I had discovered them sooner than while making farro today.

Second: Farro = delicious. I admit when I first saw the recipe, I feared the worst, that farro would be like my new STARCH-NEMESIS: QUINOA. But no, it's nothing like that. Not only is it easy to cook with, but it tastes like a chewier, nuttier, more interesting relative of brown rice. Love it love it.

So, the cooking. I think next time I won't attempt to make three new things at the same time. It was a bit overwhelming, and I got really sweaty. Thankfully the recipes were simple in ingredients and process or my head might have exploded. As it was, I kept racing back and forth between the living room, where ad hoc was sitting (god forbid I should get food on such a beautiful book), and the kitchen, where all the food stuff was happening. That gave me a pretty good workout, but I think I need a better system in the future - maybe one involving a pulley and a suspended cookbook holder.

All in all, the food was delicious, which is a credit to the recipes, not me. The combination of scallops, farro, and leeks was pleasing, both flavor-wise and texture-wise. I was told by someone (not naming names) that my "plating could use some work" (not that that stopped him from eating every last bite, the jerk), so maybe I'll work on that next time. Anyway, below you can see the fruits of my labor, imperfect plating and all.

Mods to the recipes:
1. I halved the butter amounts for both the buttered farro and the melted leeks because I don't want to die of heart disease tomorrow. Both were still plenty buttery, and, in fact, I think they would both have tasted just as delicious with even less butter. For both, I added slightly more chicken stock than required to balance the moisture.

2. The farmer's market was out of thyme - and so was I haha - so I didn't add any to the sachet for the quinoa.

3. Out of laziness, and because I got a little sick of working with butter, I did not clarify the butter for the scallops. I don't regret it.

4. I didn't add any salt to the quinoa or the leeks. Depending on taste, the leeks could have used some salt, but I think the quinoa was plenty salty from the chicken stock (unless you're using low sodium broth).

Friday, October 22, 2010

First Recipes!

We'll begin our challenge the week of 10/24 with the recipes for Caramelized Sea Scallops (p.88) and Buttered Farro (p.219).  Thanks to Veronica for suggesting this pairing!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our First Cookbook

We're going to kick things off with Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home, winner of the 2010 James Beard Award for "General Cooking."

Recipes TBD.

The Challenge

Every month, a schedule of recipes (one recipe a week) from the cookbook that we're working our way through will be posted.  Blog members must commit to making at least two of these.

After finishing your recipe, write a blog post (include pictures!) chronicling your experience in the kitchen.  Don't include the recipe itself in your write-up.

Bon appetit!