Wednesday, December 17, 2008

46. Savory Pie Dough Topping

Date Cooked: December 16, 2008
Page: 352

Rating: B

This was made as a component to a Chicken Pot Pie I made. It was also my very first attempt at making pie dough of any kind. I’ve been intimidated by pastry for quite awhile since I always here horror stories about unworkable dough and using just the right amount of water and making sure butter is chilled, etc. But since I was behind on cooking from the book and I happened to have all the ingredients for this I figured I would dive in and see what the worst could be. If you’ve been following this blog you can imagine that the worst can be bad… this time it wasn’t too bad.

The flour and salt got a quick workout in the food processor to mix. I am beginning to hate my food processor for mixing dry ingredients. I have mentioned it before but everytime I pulsed a cloud of ingredients puffed out of it and it and covered everything. And cleaning up flour with a damp cloth really sucks and is somewhat gross. The cloth gets all covered in some sort of pseudo-dough. Nasty.

Anyway I cut in some lard (the recipe asked for vegetable shortening but I didn’t have any on hand) and then some chilled butter. I don’t think it was chilled enough because it sort of melted and would get clumpy. Anyway I dumped the mixture into a bowl and mixed in some ice water. This was where inexperience hurt me. I didn’t really know what the dough should look or feel like. I figured if I could form it into a ball and it just held together, then that was enough. I don’t know if that is right.
I wrapped the ball, flattened it a bit and left it in the fridge while I prepared the main dish.

When it was time for the dough I took it out and got ready to roll. This is the rolling “pin” I have to work with.

It’s a pampered chef contraption and my wife says lots of people love this thing. I’ve used it for smaller quantities of things needing to be rolled and it works pretty good, but it definitely doesn’t work well for firmer dough or large quantities. The dough was tough to roll and would constantly split around the edges. I managed to work it out into a shape large enough to cover the pot pie (13x9). I had to keep folding the edges over in order to get them to hold shape but in the end it worked out pretty well. I will definitely be investing in a heavier rolling pin. Any suggestions? The dough was definitely strong enough to move from the work surface to place on top of the filling.

Rating: B. It gets a B rating for a few reasons. The most critical one being taste. It tasted like flour. It wasn’t really bad but definitely detracted from the taste. The dough wasn’t super flaky either but it had a great texture nonetheless. Overall I was proud of it. I’m sure I will get better as I make pie dough more often and find the right technique for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

45. Stir-Fried Broccoli with Hot-and-Sour Sauce

Date Cooked: November 30, 2008
Page: 141
Rating: D-

Not every recipe can be a winner and when I am cooking the odds are stacked even higher against them. This sounded good and lately I have been looking for simpler recipes for cooking. I thought this would be good to use up some vegetables in the fridge. I doomed this one from the start.

The recipe calls for steamed broccoli to be stir-fried. I had some leftover plain steamed broccoli from the previous night and thought this would be a good use for it. Strike one. The recipe also called for jalapeno peppers and I didn’t have fresh so I used some from a jar. Strike two. Let’s step back a bit and talk about how this monstrosity came together.

The broccoli was tossed in a pan and fried briefly until tender. In this case it was just heated through. Then some garlic, ginger and jalapeno get added and fried up until fragrant before the whole dish gets tossed with a sauce to complete. It really did sound good to me. But all of these things together added up to… strike three. The problem to me was mostly the use of jalapenos from a jar and the use of three tablespoons of vinegar. This made the whole dish rather… well, vinegary.

I served this on pasta with pan-seared shrimp. I feel sorry for the delicious shrimp that had to be paired with this.

Rating: D- This recipe blew. I was trying to rationalize it to my wife but she told me never to make it again, and not to bother trying to fix it. She had two bites and gave up. I finished half a plate before I abandoned it. I didn’t fail it because I feel I contributed greatly to the disaster but it definitely will not be attempted again, I don’t need to know the exact causes of failure.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

44. Rustic Potato-Leek Soup

Date Cooked: November 28, 2008
Page: 52
Rating: B+

I’m going to start by saying I am not a huge fan of soups. I don’t dislike them. I just don’t really find myself craving them or feeling satisfied after eating them. I may really love the soup but rarely will I take a second helping. So this recipe was a bit odd for me. I really wanted to try it. It mostly had to do with leeks. I have never had leeks before (this could be a lie because it is possible they were in some dish I had eaten before that I didn’t know leeks were in) and I really wanted to try them. I figured this soup was a good choice for trying leeks and I am very behind in the soup chapter of the book.

The recipe was extremely easy. Pretty much simmer leeks and potatoes in chicken stock until ready. I have made much more difficult soups before (including gumbo and corn chowder from the book) so this was really simple, even for me. To begin though I had to wash and chop leeks. Since this was my first time handling leeks I wasn’t sure exactly the best method to do this. I chopped the leeks up to the recommended size and then threw the whole batch into a large bowl… and then moved them to a larger bowl once I realized that when they begin to separate they take up even more space. I rinsed them well and then carefully removed the leeks from the top leaving the sediment on the bottom of the bowl. I performed this twice to be sure they were clean.

The leeks then get sautéed to make them nice and tender and the recipe specifically states not to brown them. As much as I am learning I still struggle at times with simple timing and gauging of food cooking times. These leeks began to brown. I threw in some flour to coat the leeks before slowly stirring in the chicken stock. The potatoes and a bay leaf were added last and the whole pot was brought to a boil before being simmered for a few minutes. Once done it was left covered to stand before being served.

It’s hard to write about such a simple dish.

Rating: B+. As far as soups go it was very good. This was simple comfort food for a cold day. The leeks were nice and I can definitely say that I will use this vegetable again in future meals.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

43. Stir-Fried Asparagus with Soy Sauce, Maple Syrup, and Scallions

Date Cooked: November 26, 2008
Page: 132
Rating: A-

I was looking for a quick dinner to serve and also to use up some items in the fridge that were fast approaching an expiration date. I figured this would be a quick and simple use for asparagus and the less than firm scallions wilting away in the produce drawer.

The recipe is pretty straightforward. Cut up the asparagus into small pieces and then stir-fry in oil. Add the remaining ingredients towards the end and serve hot. This recipe didn’t involve much work but I must say it was definitely a winner!

Before I started this project I only ever ate asparagus steamed and served with minimal garnish. I have certainly begun to appreciate the many different ways to simply prepare vegetables and asparagus will become a more frequent addition to the dinner table.

Rating: A-. This deserved a higher rating but I didn’t have any pure maple syrup so I ended up using… (checking over my shoulder to see who is looking)… table syrup. Please don’t tell anyone, but I think it might have been a bit better with real maple syrup, or even other flavored syrups like blueberry or raspberry.

Monday, December 1, 2008

42. Blondie

Date Cooked: November 23, 2008
Page: 813
Rating: B-

I was craving sweets and figured I haven’t really made enough desserts from the book. I’m not sure why I chose blondies but I might have thought the recipe was easy, key word ‘thought’. So the recipe started out innocently enough.

I started by toasting chopped pecans in the oven for about 10 minutes. I am beginning to find that for many recipes my oven runs on the shorter end of recommended cooking times. Once the nuts were done I set them aside to cool. Then I started to get the rest of the ingredients measured and set aside.

I am embarrassed to say that the constant consumption of store-bought cookies and treats has left me blissfully unaware of the grotesque quantities of sugar and fat that actually go into them. The recipe makes 36 two inch squares which contained 1 ½ cups of sugar and 12 tablespoons of butter. That doesn’t count all the chocolate chips. I think if people made their own desserts more we would probably all be a little healthier since we would truly see what it is that we eat. But I digress and I am certainly not the person to be talking about healthy eating habits… seriously. On a side note I went to the One-of-a-Kind Craft Show this weekend and tried some ‘Better than Biscotti’ cookies that contain no butter. Ummm lack of butter doesn’t make anything better. If you like tasteless powdery treats then these are for you. For me, I’ll stick with the butter.

If you are like me then that last paragraph probably confuses you on my stance to healthy eating. But the best advice I was ever given about eating is this. Moderation, common sense and exercise.

Back to the blondies. Once the ingredients were folded together I spread the batter into a 9x9 baking pan and baked for 22 minutes. Then I baked for 5 minutes more… then a few minutes longer. Finally I took them out thinking they would be done since I had already baked several minutes longer than recommended. Does anyone remember my chocolate chip cookie experience? This felt eerily similar. The blondies turned out extremely soft and gooey. It took along time to cool them sufficiently to remove them from the pan and I ended up having to firm them up in the fridge for awhile so I could actually cut them. I reviewed the ingredient list and I didn’t make any mistakes there so I am baffled as to why these turned out so runny.

Rating: B-. These were good but they were extremely sweet. Sweet to the point of making my teeth ache. In addition the overall fluid nature of the finished product was a bit of a disappointment. But I will make these again, maybe scaling back the butter and sugar content and upping the flour.
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