Thursday, May 28, 2009

Memorial Day Dinner

Tomorrow I leave for the summer, so I decided to make Montana a nice dinner as both her birthday and the anniversary of our first date take place in the next few weeks. The dinner menu is pasted to the right.

The first course was underwhelming, and the story of the ins and outs of why I did what I did and what I should have done instead are far too tedious to bother posting here. The dessert course is described in a previous post, and was delicious (I made the macaroons the night before - 4 courses by oneself is a lot in one day, though I have done 8 on my own...)

The third course was taken from Richard Olney's excellent Simple French Cooking. It's basically chopped fine mushrooms with any fresh herbs (tarragon and parsley for me), lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil. I won't write a full description here, but the chicken turned out wonderfully. The mashed potatoes and carrots were an unbelievably great treat, so much so that I just made another batch. It's exactly what it sounds like - use half and half carrots and potatoes, and proceed as you normally would for mashed potatoes. The carrots provide a depth and sweetness that is lacking in typical bland mashed potatoes (and a greater complement of vitamins).

The second course, though, is where I shined. Here's a full recipe (my own creation, borrowed from experience), and a photo:

6-8 large deep sea scallops
1 vidalia or other sweet onion
1 red bell pepper (preferably roasted)
1 cup frozen peas
2 T yogurt
1 clove minced garlic
fresh herbs (I used parsley and tarragon)
olive oil
white balsamic vinegar (I used Trader Joe's)

To make the red pepper coulis:
Roast the red pepper (please do this - it's easy, and really adds flavor). Chop the roasted pepper, and then add to a food processor with a few drops of the vinegar. Add salt and pepper and fresh herbs to taste (yes, it's that easy). You can also add good olive oil to it, though I prefer the lighter version without any oil. Can be made the night before.

Slice the onion into thick slices, ~1/2 inch thick. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides and then grill. I broiled mine (flipping once the first side began to brown), as I don't have a grill.

Puree the peas in a food processor, add garlic, yogurt, herbs if you like, and salt to taste. Very colorful, very bright flavor, and will make you rethink your thinking about frozen peas.

Now prep the scallops. Here is my tried and true routine. Rinse the scallops, salt and pepper both sides. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a metal pan, then add an equal amount of butter. The butter solids will begin to brown immediately. Place your scallops in the pan far enough away from each other that their own steam does not steam the scallop (otherwise you get soggy, not seared scallops). Do not touch the scallops, they will release from the pan on their own. After 3-4 minutes flip them over (if they stick to the pan, they are probably not ready - they should have a nice golden brown crust). Cook 3 minutes on the other side.

In order to eat the first course with Montana, at this point I placed the pan in the oven on the oven's lowest setting, which allowed the scallops to finish cooking. You can check them for doneness and eat immediately if you prefer. Simply spoon pea puree onto a plate, place the grilled sweet onion slice on top, arrange 3-4 scallops on the onion, top with the coulis, and sprinkle with herbs for presentation. Delicious.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What to do with fondue

I recently made chocolate fondue, and was struck by the lack of info on what to do with the leftover fondue. A google search revealed little, except for a rather disturbing mention by a caterer that chocolate fountains in which guests have dipped food can be reused at other events (while they did mention that this is somewhat unethical, they did not mention that it's completely disgusting).

A quick look at Joy of Cooking found that their chocolate covered banana recipe can be made using fondue - so I did.

But I still had plenty of fondue left, and no idea what to do with it. So I started looking around the kitchen while dipping bananas. I had some almonds - now they are dipped. Tonight I decided to make macaroons using the recipe from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. Options to the recipe include adding bittersweet cocoa powder, or semi-sweet chocolate chips. I decided I could slightly cut back on the sugar in the recipe, and use my fondue in the recipe (the added liquid was also offset by the handful of slivered almonds I added). Here's the modified version of my recipe, and a picture of the final creation, topped with one of those chocolate-dipped almonds.

Chocolate Almond Macaroons
2 jumbo eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 t almond extract
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup slivered almonds
3 T chocolate fondue

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and almond extract. Mix in the coconut (a cup at a time). Mix in almonds and chocolate fondue. Dollop spoonfuls of macaroon mix onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 20 minutes.

The Joy of Cooking

There is one cookbook that absolutely belongs in the kitchen of everyone, no matter their culinary expertise: The Joy of Cooking. After years of using it, this book remains indispensable to me. Find a recipe that sounds good, but is unclear about technique? Joy will help. Need a good starting point to build your own meal? Joy will help. Want to know how to clean a chicken, where cognac comes from, or how to understand the differences among cuts of meat? Joy will help.

I won't give you a full description of the book - the history is easily found. But suffice it to say that even when I find a recipe from a trusted source, I always look it up in Joy - just in case. I can't describe the many errors this has saved me, or the ways I've been able to improve my own technique. Before you spring for that shiny coffee table book by celebrity chef X, buy Joy.

In the Beginning

Why start a food blog? I'm a busy grad student and I already have too many hobbies, and too much work that I put off. The simple answer is that I'm going to spend the time on food anyway. I always write up and save my recipes, stuff notes into cookbooks, and file away food ideas and experiences that end up lost to the recesses of my memories. It's time I put them in one place: here.

I will one day reveal more about myself, my background, why I feel qualified for this pursuit, and hopefully demonstrate that it's not only narcissism that drives me. I hope to be honest and direct here. When researching, I often census many recipes of a style for the dish I want to create. I take the good parts, what I know will work, and put together something of my own. Sometimes the recipes I find are better that I'm capable of creating, and in that situation, I won't simply post the recipe here as my own. I cannot believe the amount of this sort of plagiarism in the internet food community. Of course, all cooks borrow - that is not the point. But as a service to you, it helps if I reveal where my ideas come from, especially since like ever foodie I have a stack of books and magazines at hand whenever I plan a meal.

As for the blog title, well, I'll reveal that one day.