Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jamie: Thanksgiving Bread Pudding

When cooking something for the very first time, especially for an audience, I tend to get really stressed out and Gordan Ramsey-ish (minus the cursing: Stop touching my mise en place! No, there is nothing you can do to help! Get out of my kitchen!). So in cooking the leek bread pudding for Thanksgiving, I pleasantly surprised myself when my friend from college arrived two hours early and I had only started getting my ingredients out, and I was not a complete wreck. We chatted, gossiped, I explained what I was doing while I cooked (which: a cooking show/talk show would be really fun. I think Martha* already kind of does that, but there should be a show dedicated to gossiping and cooking. Call me, Food Network!)

1 3/4 cups o' cheese
I started off by grating cheese. For some reason, I had got it into my head that the recipe called for two cups, so I was slightly disappointed when I was just shy of that amount after grating all the Comte. Only later, when I was putting the pudding together did I realize that I needed one cup. I used a cup and a half, anyway, because mmm, cheese.

I haven’t been able to find loaves of brioche since I’ve moved back to the states from Spain (#WhitePeopleProblems), so I got some challah after a co-worker suggested that would be a good substitute. There was no way I was going to cut the crust off of that; I don’t think it made a difference in the end. (Some salt and olive oil is really good on a toasted slice of brioche, by the way.)

crumb catcher
This is Tok** on the left, trying to wedge himself between me and the cutting board. He hovered, greedily, hungrily whenever I was working with the challah. His moment came when I transferred the leeks and bread into the baking dish and some spilled onto the floor.

The finished product! This may have been the first time I had bread pudding, and I think it was a good introduction (and was very straightforward to make). The leeks were nice and fragrant while cooking, and a little sweet after being cooked in all that butter. Especially with the nutmeg, I can see how this version could go for dinner or dessert, but it managed to more than hold its own at the table. It was a big hit among everyone there (including people who knew about our cooking  project and those that didn’t). I have a good amount of leftovers to nibble on, though I'm regretting not bringing some in for lunch today...

Happy Thanksgiving!

* We’re on a first name basis, obvs.
** pronounced “toke”, named after a town in Alaska, not after one half of a Ke$ha song.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jamie: omg

there's more than one crouton for every
asparagus spear 
I was very excited to make this week's recipe: I love asparagus, I love poached eggs (I've been poaching 'em like a fiend lately), I love most forms of cured meats... and croutons are good, too. I thought of making this for brunch Saturday morning, but settled on having it for dinner instead (out of laziness, basically).

I haven't made croutons before, and I was a little cautious having read Veronica and Jo's accounts. But it's only some, oil and garlic, and I'm of the Julia Child school when it comes to butter, so there couldn't be anything to be afraid of, right? The bread did soak up all of the oil and butter pretty quickly.... so I was hoping that the longer I let it fry the less oily it would be. 

The instruction to put parchment paper down in a sheet pan before coating the asparagus spears in oil was a good one - no mess! I used plain old olive oil and some lemon-infused oil to jazz up the asparagus a little, and the usual salt and pepper. Once the asparagus was on the stove, I got to poaching the eggs. I'm getting pretty good at it again. A few years ago I researched the best way to do it and kept practicing (oh living in a foreign country with no money)... but until recently I had forgotten how to poach eggs, though I've yet to master poaching two eggs at a time. I'm also not that finicky about how they look at the end: I'm not about trim off excess bits of yolk. Egg number one poached well (and when flipped over, looked pretty good). Egg number two somehow broke while in the pot.

I can't believe I ate the whole thing.
I think next time I make this, I'll skip the croutons. It could be that I made too many for one meal, or used too much oil or butter, but right now I feel so full and ... ugh. I mean, I probably ate two servings' worth of everything, so that may be the problem,  but I'm going to ignore that for now and blame the croutons. Before I made this, I was considering grating parmesan over everything, and I must say I'm glad I didn't. It would have been too much. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Johanna: I Love Fried Bread

After last week's fiasco re: duck legs, it was an absolute joy to be able to find everything for this recipe so easily.  Asparagus, check!  Country loaf, check!  Prosciutto, check (I mean, srsly, my local grocery shop is called Romeo & Cesare's)!  And I even got my hands on some of those beautiful blue eggs with the brilliantly yellow yolks that I love so very much.  Everything fell into place so nicely this week.  No more classed-up Sandra Lee from me.

The trick about the asparagus, as Veronica mentioned in her post, really is quite fantastic.  I always just grab my paring knife and chop off what looks like it might be unpalatable.  This bending and snapping thing is a much more reliable (and easy!) method.

The asparagus grilled up nicely (though the lack of hood above our oven always causes the kitchen to get uber-smoky when we break out the grill/griddle) while I looked on in glee as the bread got nice and fried.  (We've made croutons before, but just with olive oil...so this was a little disconcerting / delicious).

My poached eggs were tasty, but ghosty.  I'm really hoping that I'll get better at it.  It's just so gross seeing threads of egg white floating around in a pot of vinegared water.

Final verdict: YUM!  Kamran and I didn't even bother to take our own portions off of the serving dish.  We just dove right in.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veronica : Adventures in Poaching

Menu: Grilled asparagus with poached eggs, prosciutto, and torn garlic croutons

I thought that the Grilled Asparagus would be an nice weeknight recipe. Convenient, too, as I happened to have a handsome bunch of asparagus in my refrigerator. I tried really hard this time to get my mise-en-place, but I just couldn't. I have only enough counter space in my kitchen to accommodate my smallish cutting board and one, maybe two, receptacles for recently chopped items. I have no place to put tiny bowls, etc. Apologies to the team.

ANYWAY, skinny asparagus is one of my favorite veges and Mr. Keller mentions a helpful kitchen tip that I've lived by for awhile: slowly bend an asparagus stalk and where it snaps is where you should trim. All stalks will be tender and not at all woody that way. Brills! Next I oiled the little stalks and seasoned with coarse black pepper and kosher salt.

I left them to hang out on the parchment for a bit while I saw to the torn croutons. It all started very promising. I had a nice roll that I tore into
bite sized chunks. I slowly sauteed several garlic cloves to impart their tastiness into some oil. But then. Then I tossed the bread in the oil, ADDED BUTTER, and watched the bread soak it up. Every. Single. Drop. As the croutons slowly browned and eventually crisped, my horror morphed into exhilaration. They looked (and smelled) really good.

The last couple of steps in the process were pretty simple. The asparagus just needed to be grilled for a couple of minutes on each side, which was the perfect amount of time for me to also poach the eggs. When I dropped my first egg into the pot, I was immediately reminded of how I hate poaching eggs. I'm not good at it: They always end up so ugly, the whites all shredded up and ghostly.

all together now

your brain in a measuring cup

With all the parts now prepared, I was able to compose my plate. A little prosciutto here. A couple of piles of asparagus there. Strategically-placed eggs. Croutons everywhere! I ground up a little bit of extra black pepper on top because it always looks nice and I love black pepper. I was supposed to drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top of everything, but the dish did not need the oil and I don't really love balsamic. Also, I forgot. It did feel pretty fatty overall, so maybe some acid would have helped. If I make it again, I'll try not to forget the vinegar.

zero points for plating

All in all, there were a lot of components, but each of them reasonably simple to put together. Tasty, but very (too?) rich. I expect I'll make it again, but probably in a smaller portion as a starter (at a dinner party) or something. It was a little too decadent to have as an entree.

Unrelated Item:
Stars, they're just like Bearded Ladies
While in line at the deli counter to get prosciutto, I was behind SNL alum Rachel Dratch and her new baby. She ordered pancetta. Italian cured meats for all!

Johanna: Semihomemade Confit

I spent yesterday morning calling every butcher in the area and absolutely no one carried duck legs.  Who knew that they were so hard to find?  I would up at the grocery shop that carries all sorts of fancypants products and they only had duck breast, duck fat, and pre-confited duck legs.  (I mean, really, you carry venison but not duck legs?)  Boohoo.  So I grab a pre-confited leg and decided to at least make the salad.

The salad was pretty tasty!  Crisping the skin to make delicious fatty bits to sprinkle on top was a revelation -- I've never crisped skin myself and always appreciate it at restaurants.  It's so easy!  As for the rest of the recipe, I don't really have that much to report (um, it's a salad), but it came out nicely.  And I opted to top the whole thing with a poached egg (which I overdid a little).
See the crispy skin bits?

Anyway, this was kind of a bummer.  I don't even LOVE duck, but I'm really into the whole winter pickling, preserving, etc. thing lately and it would have been fun to move on from vegetables to meat.  If I do come across duck legs, I'll buy them and confit and report back here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tatiana: lentils > sweet potatoes

Lentil & Sweet Potato Soup

It's a truth universally acknowledged (er, by me and most people who know me) that I love lentils. I eat them all the time, sometimes in strange, weird combinations. I could subsist pretty happily for weeks on lentils and cheerios. And don’t pretend like you cringed at that combo. Delicious!

On the other hand, I’m sort of meh about sweet potatoes, except in fry form. I realize people write odes to them, but I’m just not a big potato person in general. Gorgeous color, antioxidants blah blah blah – sure. I could take them or leave them, and was in fact tempted to leave them off this recipe altogether. But I wanted to make the soup as Keller intended, so in went 1 1/2 lbs of potatoes

This recipe is pretty substantial. As I chopped the vegetables, I wondered whether I would have soup to last me all Fall (signs point to yes - behold my giant stockpot):

I’d been forewarned after other Bearded Ladies had trouble with the sweet potato chop. Raku's analogy

sweet potatoes : chop


the savage detectives : enjoy

made me laugh and laugh because seriously, how much did that book suck? Answer: SO MUCH.

Anyway, this is why I was especially psyched to come across these:

Does this count as semi-homemade?

Recipe notes:

  • Both sachets and parchment lids are pretty inspired ideas! Thomas Keller really knows his stuff. I’ll definitely use both again. Going into this, I didn’t even know to look for cheesecloth in the baking supplies aisle. Here’s Larry modeling my first (practice) parchment lid:

  • Bacon is awesome. I actually substituted non-slab bacon, which as it's less thick needed much less time on the stove (it got crispy way before the allotted time)
  • I substituted low sodium chicken broth for the chicken stock. This was mostly because I didn’t feel like making stock and because I came across the broth first at the store. It worked well, but I ended up adding extra salt, ha. I also used about a cup more broth than the recipe called for, because I wanted the soup to be more liquidy than stewy.
  • Spanish pardina lentils were harder to find and more expensive than my regular green lentils, but were a nice change of pace. They're tinier, don't get mushy at all, and taste kind of nutty. I loved them.
  • Cooking the bacon first (so that you can use the rendered fat for the soup base) is necessary but dangerous – it’s the perfect ready snack while the soup simmers endlessly. Even though I slightly overcrisped it, I had to stop myself midsnack multiple times so that there’d be some left for the soup.

The finished product (I completely forgot to buy cilantro for garnish):

This soup and some fresh crusty bread made really satisfying cold-day meal. I will definitely make it again, though (you guessed it) I'll leave out the potatoes next time.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Johanna: on the joys of bacon

I made this soup for Halloween and, oh my goodness, our apartment smelled like bacon until Tuesday.  How wonderful!  The smell of rendering pork is absolutely magnificent.  LOVE.
mmmm....pork fat

But, I get ahead of myself.  I couldn't find anything other than just regular old green lentils at Bishop's Orchards, the lovely grocery / apple orchard / pumpkin patch not too far from our house (all though we did buy two 24-pound pumpkins at Kamran's insistence), and I'm not sure how much that purchasing the correct lentils would have changed things.  I never knew that lentils could be so fancy!  But I think that everything turned out nicely despite this pedestrian substitution.

I agree with Raku: sweet potatoes are an absolute pain to chop up.  Despite having brand-new fancy knives that I am generally terrified of, I really struggled to handle the potatoes with any level of deftness.  My pieces weren't uniform and all I could think about was that if I was on Top Chef, my lack of skills could definitely land me on the bad side of judge's table.

Even though the potato pieces weren't even, they seemed to cook up nicely and were just the right texture in the soup.  I had to cook the lentils a bit longer than the recipe indicated, so maybe I should have added a bit more broth?  (I did when heating up the last batch of leftovers on Tuesday.) 

This soup is definitely something that I will make again.  We had some guests over for Halloween lunch and it was a big hit!  Even the two-year-old seemed to like it.  I totally forgot the cilantro, though (even though I bought some).  Ah well, next time.

P.S. The parchment lid was fun to make, too.

Jamie: Election Night soup

This time ‘round, I went to only three grocery stores (on purpose! and one is more of a convenience store that also sells lentils, beans, and spices...). I was thinking of going to Whole Foods for the bacon, but then decided to stop by Savenor’s instead, since it’s closer to my house-- and I am so glad that I did! I asked the butcher (MY butcher now) if I could get just half a pound of their bacon... and oh, could he slice it up for me, too? He obliged, and while he was doing that I perused their meat selection in the case next to me... Among the sausage, burger patties and steaks, they were also selling rattle snake (!) and turtle meat (boneless, of course).

At home, I got out my equipment and ingredients and set about chopping and slicing the veg and rinsing out the lentils and leeks. I felt like that stupid dog from the Bac’n Bits Beggin' Strips ads while I cut up the bacon into lardons (BACON!!!!!!) - it smelled so good (and our kitchen still smelled of it the morning after). 

I ended up buying a different kind of lentils from those in the recipe, which may have affected how much liquid they needed and how long to cook them. I added about another cup of water, and let them go for a little longer than the 40 minutes, and I think they were still a little undercooked. After I added the sweet potatoes and vinegar to taste, I mashed everything up a bit to make it a little smoother (which does not add to its aesthetic appeal!).

The soup - which in my case, isn't quite a soup since the lentils drank up almost all of the liquid - was (is!) quite delish. Unfortunately, I charred the bacon in the final steps, but even without that as a garnish, the soup has a nice smokey, bacon-y flavor. I think next time, I would be a little more adventurous with the vinegar. But all in all, I loved the recipe and I have enough leftovers to last all week!

A hearty fall meal: Lentil & S.Potato soup with some hard cider