Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Goyische Seder

I hosted a Seder dinner on Monday, the first night of passover.  Not *quite* kosher, but pretty darn close.  And only us goyim to celebrate.

Gefilte fish with horseradish, matzoh ball soup, roasted chicken, carrot & parsnip tzimmes, roasted rosemary potatoes, asparagus vinaigrette, pierogi, and homemade -- yes, homemade -- matzoh!

Some photos from the evening's meal:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Carnitas tacos

Had the gang over for dinner last night.

I made carnitas tacos.  Very good.  I seasoned hunks of pork shoulder, then roasted them at 325°F (covered, with a bit of water) for about an hour.  I drained off the accumulated juices and saved them, then uncovered the meat, raised the oven to 425°F, and continued to roast them for about 30 minutes more until they were browned.  After a bit of cooling, I chopped up the meat into big chunks to serve.  Served it with warm flour tortillas, and a bunch of fixin's: shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, fried onions, raw onions, cilantro, lime wedges, and hot (Sriracha) and mild (Valentina) chili sauces.  Damn good.

Also made some Spanish rice to serve alongside, and a green salad.

Spanish rice is simple -- saute some chopped onion, red bell pepper, garlic, and celery in ample olive oil.  Add three cups white rice, and stir to coat.  Add 8 cups stock (canned is fine here), enhanced with a 1/4 tsp saffron powder, and a cup chopped green olives.  Bring it all to a boil, lower the heat, give it a good stir, then cover, and let cook about 15 minutes until the rice is tender.

Also -- the first pitcher of iced tea for the season.  Spring's here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

French onion soup

"I read somewhere that it was bad form to say 'yum' while you're eating, but 'yum!'"
-- Julie Powell, Julie & Julia

That's pretty much how I felt when I tucked into the French onion soup I made yesterday and today and had for lunch.  Yum.

FO soup is one of those dishes that has degenerated into something really awful in most restaurants in which you find it – salty brown water masquerading as stock, filled with softened but not caramelized onions, and topped with stale bread, and a layer of vulcanized goo that has been (horror!) microwaved to melt. 

And it seems to be the kind of soup that few folks make at home.  Why, I can't imagine, as it's really, really easy to do.  It takes some time, but it's a cinch to get right. 

5 onions, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
4 oz butter
2 Tbp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped

Melt the butter with the oil over medium heat in a saucepan.  Add onions, thyme, garlic, and salt.  Stir well to coat, and cook the onions until softened.  Raise heat to medium-high, and continue to cook the onions until they are brown and caramelized.  This will take about 20-25 minutes.  Be patient. It's well worth the time invested.  See how the color develops in the following photos:

Add in 6 cups unsalted chicken stock (or beef stock), scrape all the bits from around the pot, and bring to a simmer.  Cook about 10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper as necessary.  (As you've used unsalted stock, the soup will likely require a few teaspoons of salt.)

A few slices of good bread, well toasted
8 oz shredded Swiss cheese (Emmenthaler, Gruyere, or Jarlsberg do very well).

Put the hot soup in an oven-proof casserole, just slightly larger than the volume of soup. Top with toasted bread, and cover with cheese.  Pop it under a broiler until the cheese has melted and begun to brown.  Switch the oven to 450°F, and bake the casserole 15 minutes until it is very hot and bubbly.  Serve immediately.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Questioning my abilities

I'm starting to question my abilities in the kitchen, in particular as it relates to baking.

Baking has never been one of my favorite activities in the kitchen (I think it's the flour that seems to go everywhere when I bake), but lately, it's been a disaster.

A couple days ago I made a batch of Irish soda bread from a recipe I found on Food Network.  Nice enough recipe, but the resulting 'dough' was overly moist, and could not be handled without more flour incorporated into it.  I did that, but it was still quite limp.  I ended up putting it in a loaf pan.  That worked fine.  As the 45 minute mark in the oven arrived, I started testing it for doneness.  My pick came out wet.  Another 5 minutes.  Still wet.  Another 5.  Seemed OK now.  Mind you, I did a batch of fruit cake around Christmas that was an utter disaster -- a mucky mess inside -- despite the fact that my testing pick came out clean.  So I've become a bit skittish about how valid a test the "toothpick" test is.

The resulting soda bread was tasty, but clearly overbaked.  And frankly not sweet enough for me.

I called Dad, who makes soda bread every year.  I got his recipe, which was nearly identical to the one I used with the exception that it had much more sugar (good), but also more buttermilk.  He always bakes his in a loaf pan, so no worries.

The batter for that batch was very runny, but heck, it was going into a loaf pan, so shouldn't be any issue.  OK, it was a bit full, but maybe, like muffins, it wouldn't rise too, too much. 

I was wrong.  I created The Soda Bread from the Black Lagoon. 

 No loss, however.  The squirrels will be happy with the scraps I'll throw to them, and the loaf itself came out fine, and tasted lovely.

 Final specimen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Banana cream meringue pie

7 oz plain wafer cookies, processed into crumbs
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbp sugar
8 T melted butter

Mix well, and press into pie plate.  Bake in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes until lightly browned.



Pastry cream
2 c milk
4 egg yolks
150 g sugar
30 g flour
20 g corn starch
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 overripe banana, mashed

Beat yolks with sugar until they form a ribbon.  Add flour, cornstarch, and mashed banana.  Mix well.  Scald milk.  Add 1/2 c hot milk to egg mixture.  Mix well.  Add that whole mixture back into the hot milk.  Cook over moderate heat until the cream thickens.  Cool well.

Arrange 1 sliced banana in the crust.  Pour pastry cream into crust.



4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/3 c sugar

Beat eggs until frothy.  Add cream of tartar.  Add sugar, and beat well until firm, glossy peaks are formed.

Pour the meringue over the pastry cream, and spread out to the edges with a metal spatula.


Bake in a 425°F oven about 5 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned.  Cool to room temperature.  Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated until ready to be eaten.