Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lyonnais Salad

For Christmas, my family got a Honeybaked Ham. I mentioned to my mom I'd be near one and she Lost. Her. Mind. They are goddamn delicious, but I'm not really big into eating just, like, slabs of meat. So I took a big chunk home with me and am trying to come up with things to do with it.

Salad Lyonnais is supposed to have lardons, little fatty bits of pork. Versions of it that I've had in American French-Bistro restaurants often have something like pancetta. I thought the ham worked well, although it didn't taste very French

I cut the ham in strips, and cooked it to crisp it and render some of the fat. I deglazed the pan with some wine and then added a little more olive oil and some mustard to make a vinaigrette. I tossed that with chopped lettuce, the ham, and topped it with a poached egg.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies

I may be the only person who likes gingerbread cookies. They're always the last to go on the cookie plate, but I think they’re cute as shit, and I love the flavor and texture. I also think the dough is a bit easier to work with than sugar cookies; the molasses makes it a little pliable when cold. I love the way white icing pops against the rich brown. I feel that unless you’re only doing cutout cookies, you should stick to one shape, or two. Unless you’re decorating cookies with kids, but in that case nothing I have to say is going to help you, really… your cookies are going to look amateurish. At best. (granted, if my mom was half as much of an asshole as I am, she would not have been able to stand making cookies with a 5 year old, and then where would I be?)

I’ve been using this Fine Cooking recipe since it came out in 2005 and I’ve always really liked the results. But this year, their stupid site kept pushing this new recipe- basically the same, but with 1/3 the amount of butter! And after seeing that so many times I started questioning… So, I split the difference this year- the dough came together and rolled out easily, but I thought the cookies weren’t nearly as chewy and soft as previous years. Why didn’t I just stick with the old recipe? More butter is always a good choice!

It is SO IMPORTANT to flour the hell out of the surface you roll out on. As long as you don’t actually incorporate all that flour into it, it won’t mess up the cookie. The temperature of the dough when you roll it out is also really important, too cold and it will crack, too warm and it will stick to everything, and when you go to move your cutout to the sheet, you’ll stretch and bend it and it will look like an 8 year old made it.

Roll out relatively small amounts so that you can learn from each try how much time to let it sit at room temperature, how quickly you need to work to not lose the structural integrity of the dough. It is also totally acceptable to roll out dough on waxed paper or a pastry cloth. This has a few advantages but the primary on is that once you’ve got your perfectly even smooth sheet of dough, you can stick that whole thing in the fridge to get the temperature (and by extension, the elasticity/flow) that you want. As long as it’s totally flat, and you have enough room in your fridge for things like this. (I think the recipe says to roll out to 1/8 inch, but I think closer to ¼ inch is nicer.)

Speaking of that, once you’ve got your perfectly smooth, sharp-edged cutouts spaced on your parchment lined baking sheet (it has to be parchment and it has to be a cookie appropriate sheet- no rimmed sides, not a jelly roll pan. Never a jelly roll pan.), the next step is one that hardly anyone does, but it is SO IMPORTANT YOU GUYS. Put that whole sheet of gorgeous cookies in the fridge for like 15 minutes. This really sets the shape of the cookie so they don’t spread. The butter in the cookie goes back the cold, hard, right-out-of-the-fridge unyielding butter. Don’t try to fuck with them or move them around at this point because you will break them. You’re going to want to… I mean, they look so perfect, except for that one little guy with the arm bent the wrong way, and maybe I could just move it… Oh my god, you broke it, it’s ruined. What did I just say? There’s nothing more you can do from this point on. Put those fuckers in the oven.

Now, if you’re a crazy person, and if you’re still reading this you might be, you could put a little scrap of dough from your cutouts, one that’s the same thickness as your cookies, on the sheet to be the test piece. If you think there is a possibility they might be done, grab that piece with a spatula, let it cool like 30 seconds and play with it a bit. It should be soft, but when you break it apart it should have some grain to it… it will look wet, but not like dough. Take the cookies out right now and slide them off their sheets. (If you were to poke one of the cookies now, it would leave an indentation and stay there, so you’re not going to do that, are you? If they feel cookie-like in consistency immediately out of the oven, they’re overcooked. They will make an unpleasant crunching noise when your friends and family try to bite into them, and that noise will haunt your dreams) You can put them on a rack if you want, but I would do so by sliding the whole piece of parchment onto it- I would rather not move them until they’re somewhat cool. And the parchment is not going to prevent them from cooling, it’s not much of an insulator.

Don’t try to decorate them with icing until they’re totally cool, obviously. I also think you should wait until all the baking is done, maybe save that for another day. You are not at your best right now. Maybe you should have a glass of wine first. Icing a cookie is such a different skill set than baking and it’s not something you can multitask on, or you’ll forget about the next round of cookies in the oven and that would be heartbreaking. I’m not going to get into icing techniques because I’m actually really bad at it, but I would just ask that you exercise restraint. Brightly colored icing and glittery add-ons are a cheap trick to distract from shoddy cookie technique, and you’re better than that.

We need to talk about cookies.

I really love making cookies. I am not, generally, super into desserts, and even with cookies it’s more about making them then eating them (I can’t remember the last time I bought a cookie). I think it’s because that’s one of the first things you learn to make, when you’re like 7 or 8. It’s an easy thing for a kid to make themselves because with a minor amount of supervision, you really can’t fuck it up. My brother, who just learned how to make scrambled eggs now that he’s 19, could make beautiful, perfectly chewy and soft chocolate chip cookies when he was 10. (He also made wonderful pancakes…) But the point is, I’ve been involved in cookie making for nearly 20 years (oh my god, really?!) so I feel that I’ve developed some mastery.

In high school I used to give packages of cookies to teachers as Christmas presents… they’re still a good gift for someone where you’re like, should I give this person a present? Cause it’s just food, and they know you didn’t make 4 each of 8 different kinds of cookies just for them so it’s not weird or creepy, not like “Here’s a cake, I made it just for youuuu!!” In my case, it’s more like, “I made 8 different kinds of cookies last weekend. I bought butter in bulk. It’s a sickness, really. Please, take them away; I’m so ashamed.”

A proper cookie platter should have a nice balance of colors, shapes and textures, so, something chocolate, something nutty, something with fruit, something spiced, etc.

Here’s what we’re working with this year:

Gingerbread Cookies
Hazelnut Almond Crescents
Chocolate Spirals
Raspberry Thumbprints
Oatmeal Cookies

It’s a nice selection, if a little uninspired… Oatmeal cookies hardly seem festive, but oh my god I love them. And snickerdoodles are equally unimpressive, but they’re so popular, and embarrassingly easy. I'm failing to take my own advice here- 4 out of 6 cookies are round. This is not ideal but I think it will be ok (I do think it's more important that they all be the same size, kind of like how in regular cooking you want to cut all your veggies to be the same size.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chicken Tacos

When I make a roast chicken, I usually get 4-5 meals out of it. Chicken tacos are great- I usually have a bell pepper and an onion laying around, and sometimes an avocado...

I slice a bell pepper and an onion and sautee them in a very hot cast iron skillet, to get that little bit of char like they were grilled. It also makes that fun sizzling, like those fajita platters at chain restaurants (Fun fact! fajita means skirt steak, sooo no such thing as chicken fajitas). Then I add some shredded leftover chicken, and lots of cumin, chili powder and maybe cayenne. I mashed up an avocado with some lime juice, spread that on corn tortillas, topped it with some cilantro, and piled the chicken- pepper- onion stuff on top. And then I took a picture, because it looked great.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Red Lentil Tomato Soup

I make this soups about 5 times a year. It's from Fine Cooking, and I actually follow the recipe when I make this. It's awesome because you can usually make it without going to the store. At least, if you usually have lentils, canned tomatoes, chicken broth, carrots and celery at home, which I do. It's just enough cooking to make you feel like you did something but it's one of the easiest soups ever, just dice up some onion, carrot and celery, and a little ginger... then spices, lentils, tomatoes and broth. I like to load it up with as much curry as possible, but since it's such a good lunch-soup, I'm trying to hold back a little. My coworkers have made it clear they don't appreciate the lunchroom smelling like curry.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I have this salad I make all the time that reminds me of the Chop't salads in DC. It's so tasty and so healthy and it's gorgeous.

Dressing- equal parts lime juice and olive oil, mnced garlic, cumin, and salt

1 cup to 1 1/2 cups diced tomoto, or halved cherry tomatoes

1/2 can black beans, rinsed

1/2 cup corn

orange bell pepper, grilled or broiled, roughly diced

half an avocado, diced

all of the cilantro

half a head of romaine, chopped

It doesn't need much dressing at all, with the avocado in there. It's so pretty, with the black beans, yellow corn, bright red tomato, orange bell pepper. It can't be a red or yellow pepper- you already have red tomatoes and yellow corn. IT HAS TO BE ORANGE, OK. Also, throw some salt and maybe some hot sauce in when you toss it all together. I always seem to foget this part. This is one of those dinners to eat when you're really hungry... because it's so big and filling and delightful but you feel so good after you eat it, because it's nutritionally perfect.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lima Bean Hummus

This one time, I made an edamame hummus, I thought it would be really cool with crudites as an hors doeuvre for an Asian dinner. And it was pretty bad. It had tofu.... it looked pretty at least.

Lima bean hummus, on the other hand, turned out great. I just did garlic, cooked lima beans, olive oil and lemon and cumin with mint. It was so creamy and bright tasting, and it was gorgeous.


Ooh these are good. I mean, they're fried, but still. There's so much zucchini right now, and I really can't get on board with zucchini bread and shit like that. I've always wanted to try these but they sounded like a lot of work... grate the zucchini, salt and press out the water, make patties and fry 'em up. But it was really easy, not all that greasy. Totally making these again. Topped with a quick version of tzatziki, Greek yogurt and mint.

So, a pound and a half of zucchini, grated and salted with the water pressed out, diced onion, 1 tsp baking powder and enough flour to pull it together. Make little flat patties, fried in not even that much olive oil (like, less than a 1/4 cup). Making these again soon!

Corn Chowder

Wow. This made my weekend. I usually have a pretty strict No Soup in the Summer policy, so I haven't made a lot of soups with summer veggies. But it's all rainy out, and I didn't feel like making another saute or succotash.

This was crazy easy- I cut the corn off 3 years of corn (bi color, so pretty!), I diced up some prosciutto (the little nubs they sell for cheap, perfect for this), and sauteed that with scallions whites in a little olive oil. Added in the corn, one cob, and little thyme and a can of chicken broth. Simmered for a while (I honestly don't know how long, I'm not good at times and measurements and stuff) and pureed it for a bit with an immersion blender. I went to taste it, thinking, hm I wonder if this will be any good, and I was Blown. Away.

I love how so many veggies can make things creamy- corn, eggplant, lima beans. I want to make this for other people so I can say "No really! There's no cream in it!" The tastiness:effort ratio on this stuff is off the charts.

Pineapple-Poblano Salsa

Whenever possible, I will work into conversation how much I love mango salsa. Mangos in general, really. I always do the same mango, jalapeno, bell pepper, red onion, cilantro and lime juice.

So I had this pineapple sitting around, looking awesome, but it really needed to be dealt with. I also had these poblanos... This guy at work brought them in from his garden, and insisted they were Anaheims. They were clearly not.

Those are poblanos. They tasted like poblanos, too. Poblanos are great grilled/ roasted, like you would do with a bell pepper. My mom makes this quesadilla with roasted poblanos and mozzarella and Serano ham. To clarify, she's never made this for me, she just makes it for herself and then calls me and tells me about it, like once a week.

So I've had roasted poblanos on my mind, and I had that very nearly overripe pineapple. I grilled the peppers on this neat little stovetop grill I just got, diced them up with the pineapple, some cilantro, scallion, and lime juice. I might need to make this more often, it's a nice switch from mango. The almost caramel-y sweetness of the pineapple works with the smokey poblano. I made some chili-rubbed chicken to go with it. (Yeah, I made a protein to go with the topping, not the other way around.)