Thursday, November 29, 2007

Culinary meme

Thank you for the tag to do this meme, Susan!

What were you cooking/baking ten years ago?

Whatever pre-packaged foods I could combine into something interesting (Mac ‘n’ Cheese + can of chili + Spanish rice = Chili Mac with ... umm .. Spanish rice?); cottage pie using cheap meat, boxed taters, and frozen veggies; slice ‘n’ bake cookies; soup kitchen food (not for me—for soup kitchens): vats of canned baked beans, chopped salads, boxed potatoes, shredded barbecue sandwiches, etc.


What were you cooking/baking one year ago?

A lot of stocks, stews, casseroles, and soups from scratch; meat, fish, and poultry—sauted, grilled, braised, or roasted; opera cakes, tarts, gingerbread houses, and pate a choux pastries from scratch ...

Five snacks you enjoy:

Fresh, local, organic fruit (dates, pears, apples, etc.)
Homemade cookies
Greek yogurt with honey
Any pastry made with fresh almond paste (frangipane!)
Ice cream

Five recipes you know by heart:

Couscous curry salad
Asparagus risotto
Coq au vin
Chicken stock
Lumpia (Filipino eggrolls)

Five culinary luxuries you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:

A culinary tour around the world, with emphasis on Europe and Asia
A condo with a slightly bigger kitchen, a huge pantry, and more entertainment space
A 6-burner gas stove and double ovens (and a gas line to fuel it)
An ice cream maker
A 5 1/2 quart red Dutch oven

Five foods you love to cook/bake:

Complicated pastries
Simple pastries
Big pots of chili or stew
Anything I can sear and finish in the oven
Marinara/sugo/any red sauces

Five things you cannot/will not eat:

Balut
Anything that is or contains bugs or worms
Doom (read: anything that will give me food poisoning)
Any food that is poison (poison sushi, rhubarb leaves, funky mushrooms, snake venom)
An entire raw Habanero pepper

Five favorite culinary toys:

Fire. Can I say “fire”? Or “heat”?
My KitchenAid mixer (thanks, Nikki and Al!)
My 10” chef’s knives (the Henckels on my wall or the Forschner in my knife kit)
My tapered French rolling pin
My kitchen scale ... or maybe my food processor. I love them both the same!

Five dishes on your “last meal” menu:

Chocolate-covered raspberries
Broccoli cheese soup or New England clam chowder
Rice and my dad’s turkey gravy (I think I’ve still got gravy on the brain from Thanksgiving)
Wine-braised lamb shank
Almond cream tarts (frangipane!)

Five happy food memories:

When my new in-law asked for cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving—we didn’t know how to serve it, so we just plopped it upright into a bowl, straight out of the can; it didn’t go well with rice
Building the gargantuan, four-layer, 20-lb cake in Classical Desserts class (with buttercream between layers (some people did cherries ... whole cherries), topped with jam, marzipan, buttercream, then fondant—it was insane, and some of the classmates could barely lift theirs without help!)
Going to the Renaissance Festival with friends and eating our way through it: broccoli cheese bread bowls, turkey legs, candied almonds, artichokes, something on a stick, then a pastry and/or chocolate for the long trip home
Successfully cooking my first (and last) ham for Easter in 2001 (it was also the first big dinner I ever made, feeding about 10 people)
Watching my mom pipe out her buttercream roses when I was really little

I am passing this on to Mike, Ken, Marvin, Mark B, Lewis, and Julius (let the men represent!) with the understanding that no one is under any obligation to participate; let it be only as your interest and time allow. For those tagged and anyone else who would like to play along, please help yourself and be at liberty to customize this meme to suit your taste. Read more!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Daring Bakers, November: Tender Potato Bread

At the beginning of every month, a group of blogging bakers of all ability levels called the Daring Bakers are issued a challenge by the month's host. At the end of the month, on the same day, all of the participating Daring Bakers post their results. This month, the marvelous Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups hosted the Tender Potato Bread challenge. This is my story ...

DBlogo2


We’ve got an exciting lineup for you today, folks!

Our challenger, coming in at 50 pounds lighter than she did a year ago thanks in great part to low-carb/healthy-carb eating habits, Julie "The Snacker" Elefante (no lie--that's my name--it's Spanish-influenced Filipino)!


Aaaaaand in this corner! Weighing in at 12 and 7/8 ounces! Spud "The Carb Bomb" Tater!
tender potato bread

And, ladies and gentlemen, she slices, she dices, she hooks and she jabs, Julie tears Tater to pieces and plunges him into boiling water to soften him up! Ding! Round to Julie!
tender potato bread

Now, Tater tries to resist, but Julie throws a right! A left! A right! A left! A ... ricer! Tater is simply shredded by Julie’s ricer!
tender potato bread

Uh oh! It isn’t Julie’s match yet! Tater ducks under Julie’s fork and ... what’s going on, folks? Emboldened by flour, yeast, and water, he’s showing great resilience! And he makes a comeback!
tender potato bread

And, ladies in gentlemen, Tater is definitely back in the game! Julie kneads it, but it seems to knead her back! And she suffers a stunning blow as Tater rips her bowl scraper out of her hand and eats it whole! She punches around frantically, trying to find it, and just barely manages to rescue it, but it was a close one! Retreat to your corners, combatants! To your corners!
tender potato bread

Ohhhh, boy, Julie sure got a rise out of Tater! Look at him—he’s just blowing up! What a reaction!
tender potato bread

Can Julie comes back? She wrestles him around on the bench, folds him, rolls him, and lays him into a deathlock, slamming him into the pan!
tender potato bread

But wait—what’s this! Tater has henchmen! No problem—Julie can take them, wrestling them into hasty, brutish knots!
tender potato bread

Can we get an instant replay?
tender potato bread

Yes, Julie has taken on all of Tater’s henchmen, and Tater himself! What will become of them? It looks like their goose is cooked!
tender potato bread

tender potato bread

tender potato bread

Twelve hours later ... all is peaceful in Julie’s little Burrow. Her One-Wall Kitchen, while still reeling from the aftermath of the Tater match, is coming together. And Tater?
tender potato bread

Tater’s in a better place now. With a special cameo from homemade whole wheat bread (the oval-shaped guy in the back left, then there's sliced cucumbers and lemon cucumbers, roasted red peppers, meats, cheeses, grapes, and other stuff).
tender potato bread

And that’s all that we, gentle viewers, need to know. (Holy crumb!--sorry, that was three-way punny)
tender potato bread

Commercial: Here at the One-Wall Kitche, Julie eats her sammiches with half an animal’s worth of meat. Mmmm ... gooey melted cheese ...
tender potato bread

And salad!
tender potato bread

Closing observations:
*I wish I'd weighed the potatoes at the farmers' market. Each weight between 10-14 ounces, and I brought four home thinking they weighed less. Since I don't eat many taters, I sent them home with my SAS guests.
*Yes, the dough was sticky. It was ridiculous sticky! But the more I worked it and added flour, the more it firmed up. I added somewhere under 2 additional cups of flour. My bowl scraper really was essential in maintaining order and sanity. Reading through Richard Bertinet's Dough was really inspiring in getting me through the worst of it because he talks about working with sticky dough and letting up firm up naturally as you knead it. The dough was still pretty sticky before its second rise, but after, it was firm enough to gently shape.
*This webpage shows how to make kaiser rolls/rosettes/bread knots almost exactly the way I made them. I just reversed my tucks to get an "innie" roll instead of an "outie."
*I baked the bread late Saturday night and was still good Monday night with the last sandwich. I kept it in my makeshift breadbox, a.k.a. my cake carrier. When my cake carrier's in use, I use my microwave (not in use, of course). And vice versa.
*This is a keeper. The bread was delicious, and I felt a huge sense of achievement after working with this wet dough. It's definitely not daunting anymore!

Visit my fellow Daring Bakers who are fighting the good fight--link to their blogs through our Blogroll!

Tender Potato Bread
from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf AND something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf
4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
[Tanna Note: For the beginner bread baker I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. The variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold, there are others.]
4 cups (950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp salt
2 tsp active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour
making the dough (directions for making by hand):
Put potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 tsp salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender. Drain potatoes, SAVE POTATO WATER, and mash potatoes well. Measure out 3 cups (750ml) of reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups. Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 – 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature. If using active dry yeast or fresh yeast, mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using instant dry yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tbsp salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly. Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.
forming the bread:
Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.
To shape the large loaf:
Butter a 9 x 5 x 2.5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.
To make a small loaf with the remainder:
Butter an 8x4X2 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.
To make rolls:
Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.
To make focaccia:
Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.
baking the bread:
Note about baking order: bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.
Note about baking temps from Tanna: I believe that 450°F(230°C) is going to prove to be too hot for the either the large or small loaf of bread for the entire 40/50 minutes. I am going to put the loaves in at 450°(230°C) for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 375°F (190 °C) for the remaining time.
Note about cooling times: Let all the breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.
For loaves and rolls:
Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven. Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes. Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes. Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes. Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
For focaccia:
Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a no edged baking/sheet (you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. If making focaccia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
Read more!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday travel and eating

In less than 6 hours, I'll be flying home to sunny California to visit my parents in my hometown. It'll probably be more like overcast, but eh ... there will be homecooking and seafood ... and homecooked seafood! I'll save the Thanksgiving food post for another day, though.

I really don't eat well when I travel. This is the time when health and fitness mags and webzines start issuing tips on how to avoid eating badly while you're traveling. When I fly somewhere in the morning, I find the airport's Burger King and get a croissanwich and hashed browns value meal with o.j. If I fly in the afternoon/evening, I get something creamy and frothy from Starbucks. I miss when they had almond toffee bars, although I've come close (close enough) to finding a doppleganger recipe. Still, I always find something in their pastry case to tempt my tummy.

This year, holiday travel eating started early with a breakfast burrito, and for lunch, a grilled Reuben, both from one of my favorite sandwich shops, Dagwood's. Oy! And after talking to my mom a few days back, I know there's more good food on the horizon. That said, I'm going to revisit something my doc told me last December before she prescribed the South Beach Diet (Phase 2). She said that all the holiday parties I'll be going to will have lots of food out, but 99% of it won't be worth eating. If I'm going to ruin myself, don't let it be on that junk. No cookie trays or commercial candies. No boxed taters or store-bought pies. If only I went to parties where my friends offered more junk. *sigh* Luckily, mom's food tends to be pretty clean and healthy!

A promise to myself: don't drop the workouts during my visit, even if it's just ambling along on my parents' treadmill for half an hour. Maybe I could get my fambly to ambly with me! Woot!

Happy Holidays, all! All I want for X-Mas is a working oven, and supposedly, the repairman will come on Monday with a new bake element, since I apparently burned out the last one. *blush* Read more!

Monday, November 19, 2007

simple salads

All was peaceful in the landscape--rolling hills of broccoli, restful crab, sweeps of dill ...
broccoli crab salad

Then, bombs away, yogurt mustard dressing!* Yay!
broccoli crab salad

*Dressing inspired by Phaidon Press' The Silver Spoon.

I don't need not stinkin' oven to eat! But thank goodness someone's coming out to look at it tomorrow! Read more!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Shrikhand

I recently ordered Ruta Kahate's 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, and one of many, many mouthwatering dishes included a recipe for shrikhand. I'm a novice when it comes to cooking Indian dishes, although I really enjoy using many of the cuisine's spices, and I've long loved eating it. This dish uses one of my most favorite of all spices--cardamom. It's the saffron that really comes through here, though. I'm not complaining! The shrikhand recipe is located here, and it's a cinch to make!

Plated and good to go! But ... it's missing something.
shrikhand

*sprinkle sprinkle*
shrikhand

Mmmm, Mount St. Saffron!
shrikhand

I've discovered my favorite way to eat saffron!
shrikhand

It's sweet, a little tart from the yogurt, and deliciously aromatic from the saffron. The nuts give a nice, occasional crunch. I didn't have pistachios on hand, so I used hazelnuts, instead. Read more!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hazelnut cake; Pear, red onion, and gorgonzola tarte tatin (Waiter, there's something in my ... ); and my oven is broken

I had high hopes.
hazelnut cake

I had big dreams. I ribboned my eggs.
hazelnut cake

Mixed in the ground nuts and flour. Tucked them into their pots.
hazelnut cake

And was totally confused when 10-minute bake time took more than 90. In the back of my mind, I was in denial that my oven did NOT feel like 375. I just swallowed the lump in my throat (not the cake ... not yet, anyway), and turned it out. It was ... rough.
hazelnut cake

But i had a green plate! And jam! The cake's flavor was nice and nutty--not too sweet, but the texture was wrong. The jam saved it from being inedibly dry.
hazelnut cake

And, like a fool, I ignored it, chalking it up to just my messing up the recipe, or some measure or something being off. *sigh* I guess I was too excited about my upcoming pear, red onion, and gorgonzola tarte tatin to let it register that I had a problem ...

I'm just glad the crust came out and the cheese melted. This was my first tarte tatin, but I know the filling didn't caramelize as much as it should have.
pear and onion tarte tatin

Luckily, I'd caramelized the pears and onions in the pan, so it wasn't too crazy. I'd been wanting to make this tart ever since I realized I had a One Windmill Farms red onion I wouldn't enjoy in the raw, and a couple of Yali pears from Maya's Farm that I wanted to use up before they turned.* I wanted to make a tarte tatin because I didn't want to fuss to much with the shell--no parbaking, pricking, rolling, fluting, especially since I have only 6" tart pans, and I didn't want a bunch of little tarts. I almost just mixed up a bake-up cobbler batter, but I didn't want the filling up at the top. I worried about making a tarte tatin because I figured the filling components should be somewhat chunky to account for the longer bake time. I didn't want big chunks of onions in my tart, though. I also wasn't sure about how to add the gorgonzola so that it wouldn't burn. My solution was to caramelize the big chunks of pear in the baking pot (it was a small tart, I had only two pears, so I just used my milk pot) and caramelize the finely sliced red onion in a skillet before tucking them into the spaces around the pears.
pear and onion tarte tatin

To protect the cheese from melting directly onto the pot bottom, I sprinkled the crumbled Gorgonzola on top of the onions and pears, then topped off with the dough.
pear and onion tarte tatin

All the while, I'm preheating my oven to 450. Or, I think I am. I notice that the preheat light was on for a long time, and when I peeked into the oven to feel how hot it was ... it was cold. COLD. COLD COLD COLD. Like my heart. Like my soul. Like my icy glares. I sighed and saw my breath. COLD. I looked at my tarte tatin and saw the dough starting to weeping with me. Desparately, I tried the broiler, and it worked. Oooookaaaaay ... so I broiled my tarte tatin, keeping it covered with foil for part of the time so it wouldn't get too brown. It actually worked. Well ... the crust baked up fine, and the cheese melted, but the filling didn't caramelize nearly as much as I would've liked. Still ...

Mmmm ...
pear and onion tarte tatin

A little tang from the cheese, and teeny bit more from the onions, which were mostly sweet and even smoky, then the sweet, slightly crispy pear, and a buttery, tender, flaky crust. It was really good, and I enjoyed it so much, but there's a part of me that's nagging me to know how it would've turned out if my oven hadn't gone kaput.

Luckily, I'll be at my parents' in California for Thanksgiving, but there's not telling when Frigidaire will send people out to repair my oven. I'd had plans to bake quite a bit this weekend, including the pie-baking crafternoon with a school friend. It was a bummer to cancel it because I was excited to bake a recipe I've long wanted to try. Christmas, then! Even if I have to buy an EZ-Bake Oven (tm)! On tap for the rest of the week before my trip: Skillet meals! ;D

Broiled Tarte Tatin Recipe
Make this tart crust recipe and let the dough rest in the fridge until the next night, when you panic about leaving the tart dough in the fridge for too long instead of just freezing it.

Preheat your broken oven to 450. Bring your tart dough out to warm up a wee bit. As it does, caramelize in butter, in a 1.5 quart milk pan (since you don't own a humorously small tarte tatin skillet):
Two sliced, cored Yali pears, with a sprinkling of sugar to taste, and some salt.

Caramelize in different butter:
One thinly sliced red onion and some basil chiffonade, seasoned with a little salt.

Stuff the red onion slices into the spaces around the pear wedges, which you can attempt to arrange artfully if you're the artful type. Sprinkle between 1/8 and 1/4 of a cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese on top of the onions and pears.

Roll your dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness. There will be some leftover. If your oven works, you can make a blackberry crostata! If not, stuff the leftover dough in the freezer for later use.

Tuck your dough round over your filling, trying, and maybe not succeeding, in really getting the crust to wrap around the sides of the filling. Oh well.

Glance at the oven and wonder why it's not preheated yet. Open the door and realized that it's cold. COLD COLD COLD. Panic and turn on the broiler. Set a rack to the center of the oven, and shove your tarte tatin. Break a rule and shut the oven door all the way while the broiler is on. Watch your crust brown too quickly in the first few minutes, panic, and cover it with foil. Let it alone for 15 minutes. For the last 3 or four minutes, remove the foil and let it brown a little more. Pull it out and leave to cool while you worry about how icky the tarte tatin might be. Flip it out onto a pretty plate and take a tentative taste. Enjoy. Or not, but pat yourself on the back for trying.

Hmmm. This month's "Waiter, there's something in my ... " is all about tarts. I think this works. Maybe. Or not, but pat yourself on the back for trying!

*I've been to eateries where I'd be turned off by what I saw as pretention by the inclusion of producers' names in the dish's title. Now, I see it as something to be proud of when it comes to supporting local producers. I'll admit--I wouldn't go to a restaurant and be very excited about ordering a Safeway Shipped-In Mixed Salad. Read more!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Public Market, November 17

I wasn't photo crazy at today's market, but as always, I was happy as a Manila clam (haha) to be there. So were all the many, many, many people! I love seeing who comes to the market. I've noticed that it seems to be a favorite for pregnant women. I fancy its their intuition demanding that they take the best care possible of their bodies, being attentive to every thing they put into their bodies. It's one of the primary reasons I go, anyway.

The crowd at One Windmill Farm
602 Chocolates, public market

Plus, the market just makes me happy! I'll readily tell you--I'm a lifer. I can't imagine not getting up to go unless I'm not in town (which will be the case this Saturday while I visit my parents in California). As I was leaving, I ran into the market's director, Cindy, and she pointed out people coming in who've been coming for awhile--some since the day it started, two years ago. I hope with all my heart that this market continues to grow and thrive. Sometimes I worry, though. In a recent e-mail exchange with a fellow foodie confidante and friend, he described the hustle and bustle of Quebec's Marché Jean-Talon. After I expressed how much I enjoyed being able to talk to the vendors and learn about their produce and wares, he said he could never do that at Jean-Talon--it's so busy, the vendors barely have time to take your money. I don't know if I'd go if it were that crazy. This weekend, my mom will take me to one of the local swapmeets/farmers' markets. I'm looking forward to see what it's like. When I first went to the Phoenix Downtown Public Market, I compared it to California markets, touting their sheer hugeness and great variety. Some things, judged better by most, aren't necessarily better for me, though.

But, back to my day at the market. I made the rounds, enjoyed it, caught up with my new friend who I met at the market, and took her around, pointing out my favorite points, introducing her to a few of the vendors, and talking about food. As usual, we noticed new booths. As I was appreciating the cheese at Rainbow Valley's booth, I turned and caught even more YUM out of the corner of my eye.

Yes. I love my spicy Wei of Chocolate, both to cook with and to munch on, but today, I got to enjoy a new addition to the market, returned now that the weather's cooler. So, what's in the pretty package?
602 Chocolate
What's in the pretty package?
602 Chocolates, public market

Let's look at the label.
602 Chocolates, public market

Mmmmarshmallow! Soft, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth vanilla marshamallows are nice, but it's the snap of the tempered-chocolate shell that makes these awesome.
602 Chocolates, public market

You can see the impressively thin, snappy shell. Oh, snap!
602 chocolates, public market Read more!

Torta and chicken golly

When people ask what my favorite comfort foods are, I often include my mom's cooking as one list item, although she cooked dozens and dozens of dishes that fall independently fall into this category.

One of my favorites of all the favorites are tortas. Mom just called them eggplant, and when we needed clarification, she'd extend: eggplant with egg. Her recipe was basically eggplant broiled to really soften it up and get the skin off, some browned ground beef, green onions, garlic, and beaten eggs. Call it an omelet, Spanish tortilla, frittata, or torta, as it's often called in the Philippines--it's all part of the same family. And just like with lumpia, every family, or even family member, has their own torta recipe. I often simplify mine to include just grated zucchini, since I love zucchini and often tend to have it on hand. It's a good dish for pantry cleaners, though, and this recipe included some basil I wanted to use up. It's quick and easy to make, and tasty hot or even at room temperature.

Torta with salad
torta with salad

Pour the batter
torta

Pack the edges in if the egg bleeds out
torta

Mom would cook tortas in her well-seasoned cast iron skillet. I once asked if she could just flip it, like on TV. Although she's small, she's also strong. She hefted the skillet, flicked her delicate wrist, and flipped it easily. We both yelled, we were so excited! I tried with the much-lighter nonstick. The first few didn't come out so well, but I finally got one to not fold up. Just shove it out, flip it into the air ...
torta

Aaaand ... WOOT!!! I flipped it! Scream with glee!
torta

And yeah, I eat them with ketchup. Very Filipino.
torta with salad

Then I pack the leftovers in tupperware. Um, I mean "American bento."
torta

Another family favorite wasn't a dish I necessarily grew up with. It showed up at the table one day when I was in my teens. I thought it was just a pot of red, red tomato sauce, but Mom fished out some chicken wings (as in "buffalo style"). As we ate all our meals, we ate it over rice, and it was so delicious. When I asked my parents what they called it, they said, "Chicken golly!" I always laughed when I'd ask that she make it for dinner. We'd all laugh. Now, I laugh even harder when I realize that she must've seen the dish on TV, recreated it in her own style, and forgotten that it was called chicken cacciatore.

My version is simple--just start up your favorite homemade tomato sauce (I used undrained canned tomatoes), add your wings, and stew it until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is a bit thicker. I used wings because ... I like them! But you can use any chicken bits you'd like. I served it over brown rice. Mmmmm, tasty, and it reheats really well!
chicken golly

Sometimes, I worry that I'm embarrassing my friends when I eat my chicken served bone-in, down to the bone. In my household, we didn't waste a single edible bit. What was edible? Everything that wasn't the bone. Okay, I'm much more low-key when I'm eating out, but at home, I don't like to waste a single bit if it's still edible. It's why I enjoy my pantry cleaner meals--it's a challenge to turn the leftover ingredients into a nice dish, and it prevents waste.
chicken bones Read more!

pomegranate on cream cheese and wheat bread

What to do when you have a pomegranate, one last slice of whole wheat bread, and leftover low-fat cream cheese:
pomegranate

Snack! Read more!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How to Cook Your Life

I know I mentioned it already, but I wanted to send another thanks to Lisa from Wei of Chocolate for the movie passto How to Cook Your Life--maybe it will come your way, too!

"Is food precious? Is food worth caring about? Are you precious? Are you worth caring about?"

It's well worth seeing ...

I won't really talk about the movie because I don't want to risk ruining it for those of you planning or inspired to see it. It did, of course, make me think about the spirituality of food and cooking. Food has helped me in so many ways. Among the best ways:

1. Food and cooking made me like my mom again.
2. Food and cooking made me feel valuable.
3. Food and cooking made me feel sexy.
4. Food and cooking challenge me, both creatively and intellectually.
5. Food and cooking nourish my body and spirit.
6. Food and cooking have started many awesome conversations.
7. Food and cooking have made me many new friends, and strengthened and spiced old friendships.
8. Food and cooking give my hands, head, and heart something to do.
9. Food and cooking have helped me "give back."
10. Food and cooking have embedded my ancestors' culture into my current culture.

I think so much about food because it's had such an impact on my life. It has an impact on everyones' lives, regardless of whether or not they want to put any thought into it. One of the main ideas the movie portrays is to make your motions with intention--apply the idea to everything from baking bread to walking to just living in the day. One baking/Zen practitioner mentioned that when people asked him how he was, he'd reply, "I'm baking." It made me think of the almost out-of-body, euphoric sensation I'd have when watching someone write or create art, or when I myself would write or create art, and these days, cook. I didn't realize until I saw that scene in the documentary that those moments could possibly be related to Zen. Read more!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sandwiches and Sweets party, featuring Opera Cake and Chocolate and Milk Caramel Tarts

Mmmm, sammiches!

Simple whole wheat bread for the November's SAS (Sandwiches and Sweets) party.
whole wheat bread, SAS November

I took a picture of the spread before we dug into it: Roasted red peppers, English and lemon cucumbers, dilled cream cheese, ham, turkey, chicken, grainy mustard, mayo, provolone and colby cheeses, and grapes. Not shown: mixed greens, baby spinach, and pears.
SAS November, sandwich spread

I also made (imitation) crab salad with mustard dressing.
crab salad, SAS November

And of course, the sandwich (for dinner later that night): turkey, chicken, provolone, colby, roasted red pepper, spinach, mayo, mustard, on whole wheat bread. Mmmm, I love toasty sammiches ... love them ... LOVE them.
SAS November, sammich on whole wheat

And the dessert table after the sammie fixins were cleared.
sweets, SAS November

Back Story of the Dessert Table

Opera Cake

I learned how to build Opera cakes in Classical Desserts class. Paris' Dollayau pastry shop named it after the Paris Opera. Forget that Louis Clichy created the dessert in 1903. Glichy gets no love. *sigh* Traditionally, the French dessert is made with dense, thin layers of cake (usually almond, called joconde) soaked in coffee syrup, layered with coffee buttercream and ganache. At school, my ever-ambitious chef-instructor had us include layers of fresh marzipan, and every layer of cake had a layer of everything else on it. Egads! Opera cakes are usually a lot less zealous with layering. The cake must've weight 20 pounds by the time we finished making them! It tasted amazing, though--luscious, rich, and decadent.

It's sort of smooshed from being wrapped in cling wrap for transport back to my house from school.

I've wanted to revisit the Opera Cake ever since. I wanted a twist (of orange), and fewer layers. It started with the leftover orange chiffon cake from the Daring Bakers Bostini challenge.
opera cake, SAS November

I'm not a huge American buttercream fan, so I made Swiss meringue buttercream, flavored with cardamom. My ganache was thick, so I spread it on, instead of just pouring it. It doesn't have the traditional smooth top, but it tasted just as well, and I like the handmade touch.
SAS November, Opera cake

The last step is to trim away the rough edges.
opera cake, SAS November

And serve it in thin slices. Or with just a fork and a good cup of chai tea.
opera cake, SAS November

I also served milk chocolate and caramel tarts, which the Daring Bakers made in August.
milk chocolate and caramel tart, SAS November

Hazelnut cocoa tart shells
milk chocolate and caramel tart, SAS November

Inset with creamy, buttery caramel
milk chocolate and caramel tart, SAS November

Topped with milk chocolate mousse, and garnished with toasted hazelnuts for crunch. It was supposed to be hard caramel bits, but I ran out of sugar. Yikes!
SAS November, milk chocolate and caramel tart Read more!