Wednesday, November 21, 2007

sauteed brussels sprouts

Well, it’s the night before Thanksgiving. I’m not sure what happened between October 31 and today, but whoo-boy did it go fast. I look back and all that I can clearly remember is working a lot, getting’ down at a couple of bar mitzvahs (I vaguely recall something about tequila shots) all this peppered with infrequent gym visits and some hours, not nearly enough to my liking, spent in the kitchen under the glowing artificial light. I’ve been talking to my lens a lot too – I’m trying to make it do things it’s simply not designed to, and alas, this awesome, great lens will someday be mine, but for its hefty price tag, not just yet. And a good flash would be a great thing too, but also in due time.

For a Russian expat, I took to Thanksgiving like a fish in water. Our first year in America, I made my mother have a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner. We cooked our turkey, but unfortunately, in our ignorance and poverty, we used only a pop-up timer cooking a free turkey that my Dad received from his employer. Needless to say, the turkey (being free and pumped with hormones and whatever, in addition to the timer that guarantees your turkey will be dry) tasted like pressed wood chips and we decided that Americans were silly for having to consume this crap year in and year out. And yet, we persisted in cooking the turkey each November, never quite getting the desired results until I found that magic recipe – that silver bullet. Oh, I’ll be writing up about that too.


For various reasons, the holiday has been a favorite of mine, not the least of which is because my favorite foods are served at the dinner table. But really, a holiday that has nothing to do with shopping, or presents, or the ever-growing consumerism – a holiday that focuses on togetherness and gratitude, what’s not to love? For years now, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinners for friends, first in college, and then later in New York. Each year the party would grow larger and larger until last year, when it all culminated with a thirty-one person feast! And this year? Well, work got the best of me. I’m sad to report, that I am one tired radish. And so I didn’t want to make plans, or commit, or host or do anything. I wanted to play it by ear and a few days ago KS and I decided to have a Thanksgiving for two. Just us, the turkey and a few other favorite dishes of ours. We’re very excited and we can’t wait to make all that delicious food. In fact, the cranberry sauce is already hanging out in the fridge, waiting to meet its turkey.

I hope you all have a wonderful, delicious and comforting holiday. I wish you all moist, juicy turkeys, flavorful stuffings, oozing, delicious pies. Below is one of my favorite recipes for Brussels sprouts, which I’ll be cooking up tomorrow, albeit in a different form, but this dish, which can be prepared minutes before you sit down to dinner, makes for a delicious side. Happy Thanksgiving!

Continue reading sauteed brussels sprouts.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

chocolate chip cookies – beating out tate’s

they were flat and crunchy on parchment paper

To be honest, this cookie making experience seems so far away, I have a hard time recalling the vividness of the excitement. I’ve been meaning to write about it for days now, or maybe over a week, but with work and a 4-day bar mitzvah event, I’ve been otherwise detained. I do know that when we first tasted the cookies, I did a little dance around our kitchen with a victorious “Take that, Tate’s!!” feeling pretty successful, particularly given my recent cooking flops.

Not only did I manage to produce a cookie that was delicious beyond words, it tasted far better than my favorite cookies made by Tate’s! And it wasn’t even their recipe, which by the way, is seriously flawed – as I came across a few blogs that bemoaned the fact that the cookies came out tasting like anything but Tate’s packaged ones you can get in the store. It also didn’t help that KS’s younger sister mentioned the very same problem she had with the recipe, proclaiming those cookies mushy and gross. Now, I may not want to partake in any Chips Ahoy, but let me tell you, a cookie has to be seriously disgusting for me to complain about it!

on silpat they were a bit thicker

So, back to the cookie that made it all better – thank you, Martha Stewart, yet again. Really, it was like a miracle, as if the skies parted, the clouds lifted and I heard angels sing and trumpets play. It was the first time I tried a cookie I made and thought to myself, “There’s a living that can be made in this!” Unfortunately for you, I got so carried away with making, baking and tasting the cookies, that the pictures for this recipe are seriously lacking. For which I am sorry. A bit.

Having said all this, there’s the expected regular disclaimer. I mean, how do you like your cookies? Do you prefer them to be chewy or crispy? On the thicker side, or thin and lacy like? My cookie tastes have shifted over the years and with chocolate chip cookies, I now strongly prefer a thin, lacy, buttery cookie to a thicker, chewier one. If you are also one of those people, this cookie is for you. If, however, you’re in the thicker, chewier cookie camp, do not despair, for there is a way for you to use the same recipe and get the cookie you prefer. Read on!

This discovery was made by pure accident, as most discoveries are. For one reason or another, and frankly I can’t remember why, I baked a portion of the cookies using a Silpat cookie sheet and a portion using parchment paper. The Silpat batch was thicker and chewier – tasty, but we preferred the parchment paper batch, which was the thin, lacy, buttery cookie that melted in our mouths. This is the cookie I was after, and KS proclaimed that these were my best cookies yet – a high praise from a guy who tells me straight if I’ve over-salted the soup yet again. Unfortunately, unlike the last time, he couldn’t come up with a sexy name for the cookie, and so it’ll remain the good ol’ chocolate chip cookie.

Continue reading chocolate chip cookies – beating out tate’s.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

butternut squash and caramelized onion galette

like watching a trainwreck

In grade school, we were quick to taught that if you add two numbers together, and then another two numbers together and add the sums of those two previous sums, you will get a third sum. You could, of course, just add the four numbers together and get the same thing. You don’t need that whole two and two thing. I caught onto that one real fast – and in first grade was the top math student in my grade, which in Russia, is really something. Thanks, Dad, for doing all those puzzles with me.

Unfortunately, the same laws do not apply to cooking. I’ve learned this one over and over and well, two nights ago, it was yet again manifested in my kitchen. I took ingredients I loved, put them together, and got something altogether different than what I had expected to come out. I should probably tell you right away, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I got a wee bit creative at the very last minute. And so it goes.

butternut looking all promising and happy

Deb of the Smitten Kitchen fame, posted a little while back about a galette filled with butternut squash (swoon), caramelized onions (double swoon) and fontina cheese (me faint with excitement). I clipped that recipe in my mind’s eye and was going to make it sooner or later. Well that sooner was two nights ago and I had that butternut squash sitting around on our kitchen counter, boldly challenging me to peel it and dice it – a task I feared more than making my own pâte brisée after the disaster this summer. (Deb swears it was the summer heat and humidity and not my own ineptitude that wrecked my pie dough – and I’ve been so traumatized by the experience, I’ve yet to repeat it.)

I peeled and cut the squash – all in all, it was not so bad. I already had the onions happily sautéing in the pan, turning to that seductive golden hue. I was on a roll. I decided to use the dill we had instead of sage (a deviation I actually don’t regret here, for a change). In short, it was a thing of beauty – KS popped into the kitchen three times to tell me just how good it smelled – people, he never gets that emphatic. It was all going so well.

so full of hope...

And then, then I got too bold. Too haughty and too clever. I thought to myself, “Hey self, you have some fillo dough sitting in the freezer – wouldn’t it be great to use that on the galette?” And this, dear reader, is where I went all kinds of horribly wrong. I should have just stuck with the recipe, but I didn’t. And that killed the dish flat out.

Something about the squash and the onions made the fillo gross and mushy and limp. It tasted raw despite having baked for over an hour. We picked the squash and the onions off of it and between the layers (oh yes, I just had to get creative with the layers too!) and KS consoled me that at least the flavors and the vegetables were good. The only silver lining here – KS actually likes butternut squash and can’t recall telling me he doesn’t. A success in some ways, though I wish the dish turned out fine in the end. I suppose you win some and you lose some. And maybe this loss is kitchen muse’s way of telling me that I should just go ahead and give that pie crust recipe another go – and maybe I just will.

Continue reading butternut squash and caramelized onion galette.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

spicy swiss chard

looks can be deceiving

Oh people, I tell you don’t mess with a good thing when you know you have one. It’s like this – you have this amazing, perfect food that is best at its simplest preparation, and you love making it and in fact you make it all the time, but always feel a bit of a cheat. I mean, take for instance Swiss chard – perhaps one of my and KS’s favorite vegetables. We eat it a few times a month and our method has most often been steaming it. With washing and trimming off the stems, the whole process takes a few minutes, no more. We sprinkle a bit of salt over our steamed chard and eat it plain as a side to our meals. It’s a “meaty” green and tastes best, to us anyway, this way.

But I always feel as if I’m cheating and being lazy. Anyone can steam chard – it’s not exactly cooking, nor is it particularly “sexy” blog material. No one will read about steamed chard and rush to the kitchen to make it – it’s as easy as it gets, a “duh” of the recipes – too embarrassingly simple to write about. But it seems to be that the “duh” is the hidden “aha” in this case.

so much promise... such pretty colors...

The trouble was that this dish was like a good thing gone bad. Or as KS put it, I took a good, clean, wholesome dish, and turned it into a cheap, street hussy. And that’s kind of how I felt about it too – Swiss chard went from noble to common.

This recipe here was all kinds of wrong – the sauce was overpowering, it took over chard’s natural taste and flavor and as a result, neither the sauce, nor the chard were all that noteworthy. A disaster it was not, but really, it was a disappointment all around. Food Network, (Bobby Flay, even though this wasn’t your recipe, I’m looking at you!) I was hoping for a better recipe. I suppose a lesson learned here is that sometimes the simplest is really the best. Tomorrow, I will tell you about what happens when you mess with a classic, tried-and-true recipe by getting that last minute “creativity” spark – nothing good to say the least, but for that, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow. I hope the cooking blunders will stop at that for awhile.

dear swiss chard, i'm sorry

Continue reading spicy swiss chard.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

chicken liver and onions

Among many things we quickly discovered about America when we first arrived is that you could buy chicken liver by the pound in plastic containers. In addition to its abundance, it was also shockingly cheap, which worked to our advantage because we were just as shockingly poor. In Russia, the only time you could get your hands on chicken livers would be by buying a chicken, which came with all of its entrails and a few feathers here and there, that you’d be responsible in plucking. This rarity, of course, made it sheer delicacy and would be preserved only for the children’s consumption. They would be the ones with the highest nutritional need, and chicken livers are a great source of iron and hemoglobin.

For me, however, chicken livers meant gagging and disgust – it was one of my most abhorred foods. My mother would fry up some onions, dust the chicken livers in flour and salt and fry that up as well. The resulting dish was then placed before me and my mother, standing akimbo in the kitchen over me, would oversee the torturous and seemingly interminable feeding process. I would, of course, eat the onions and then poke around at the liver. The meal would always end in tears, with my mother finally losing her patience and snapping; and me, scared and nauseous, wailing over my plate.

raw livers

I don’t mean to paint my mother a monster – she certainly was trying her best to make sure I had as much good, wholesome food as possible; and has taught me how to make some of my favorite dishes. I think that I was a very picky eater in my childhood and could pretty much drive the most patient of people crazy. Chicken liver, back then, was my arch-nemesis.

not the most appetizing shot, i know

I don’t know when my palate changed and learned to love chicken livers, but it does now. And I was excited to find out when KS and I started dating, that I found another chicken liver fan as well. I showed him how we made it in my family and he turned around and made the preparation even better. His secret, while the chicken livers are cooking, to periodically add a tiny bit of the flour mixture to places that have become “un-coated” with it. The result, a crispy outside, delicately textured, almost buttery taste. Nothing goes better with it than a plate of freshly fried onions, a tiny dash of good balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt.

Continue reading chicken liver and onions.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

red lentil soup with garam masala

I have to give credit where it’s due – this soup would not have been possible if it weren’t for KS who kindly and willingly entertains my flights of fancy in the kitchen. If, while I’m eating breakfast at my desk at work, I email him to, oh, soak the lentils for an hour prior to me coming home and making dinner because I think this garam masala spiced lentil soup sounds swell, he emails back agreeably and ha! because victory is mine, and time, dear time, since there’s so not enough of you in the day, I’ve just tricked you if only a little bit and saved myself and KS an hour before we can commence dinner. If that’s not pure genius on my part, I don’t know what is.

I’ve already confessed to you that I’m a total sissy when it comes to morning darkness, but also like to clean few pots and pans in the kitchen on weeknight. The cooking thing too, you know, I do love it, but sometimes it separates me from my meal and while I feel all European and chic dining at 10 pm, I think my body prefers and earlier time (I think my body likes me to be square and eat at 7pm – body, if you’re reading this, 7pm dinners are not happening on weeknights. Ever. Unless I quit work.)

Continue reading red lentil soup with garam masala.