Monday, July 12, 2010

Curly Cue Cooks

Check it out:

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Hello, readers, if you are out there!

As you've probably noticed, I have been a little lax in my postings. This is a blog based on the idea of cooking with my husband and lately, I haven't been cooking with my husband. So it's started falling apart. Until my husband and I have a good schedule for cooking again, this blog might be quiet.

The good news: I am starting a more free-form food blog called Curly Cue Cooks at, where I will post weekly recipes, stories, pictures, etc. If you're interested in the literary arts, you can also read my (and my colleagues') posts at (I post on Sunday mornings).

Happy cooking!


Monday, June 7, 2010

Flatbread Pizza

Apparently, they sell low-calorie, high-fiber flatbread at the grocery store now. It's perfect for pizza. Crisp it up in a hot oven, top it (my first choice, eaten last night: caramelized onion and pepper jack cheese), pop it back in the oven to melt the cheese down, and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Odds and Ends

Every week, when I go grocery shopping, I pick up one or two items I don't really need. I don't have a plan for them, but they seem appetizing and so I grab them. Usually, they're fairly versatile. Sometimes it's a new kind of cheese. Sometimes turkey bacon. Tomatoes. Grapes. Sometimes, I hate to admit, they get thrown away, especially when I spend a good portion of my week out of town (my husband, seeing these items in the fridge, will not boil pasta, crisp turkey bacon, and toss them together with tomatoes and cheese--he will open a can of soup from the cupboard).

This week, it's one large jewel yam and some chipotle chorizo chicken sausage. That, and some leftover tomato paste (thankfully, not yet rancid--tomato paste leftovers tend to get shoved into the back corner of the fridge and not recovered until they're carpeted in mold). Salt and pepper. Sweet and spicy. Should be pretty good.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tootie Fruitie

At last, fruit season is upon us.

For breakfast today, I had half a cantaloupe and a handful of strawberries. The cantaloupe, while possibly a little overripe, was flavorful and juicy. The strawberries, sweet and tart.

It's so much easier to be healthy this time of year.

I like to blame my eating habits on the season. In the fall, the only fruits that are really kicking are apples and pears, most of which seem to end up in pies or tarts (my pear tartlets are to die for). The colder it gets, the less cold food one wants to eat. Why eat cold cereal when you can have oatmeal with brown sugar? Why have salad when you can have soup? Why have anything raw when you can have it browned, sauteed, or casseroled?

But now it's getting warmer. Now warm food puts us off. Now we don't like cooking too much because it heats up the house. In certain ways, it's great for us.

Of course, there's always ice cream and sugar soda and such to cool us down. There's always an excuse for unhealthy eating. But give me a fridge full of fruit and I'm good to go. Maybe some sorbet if it gets really hot out. Something light. Something refreshing. Who needs a stomach full of cheese and bread when it's hot outside? It just makes you feel heavier, hotter, more lethargic.

OK--I'm trying to convince myself of this as much as you. As you might have guessed by my lack of postings lately, I'm dieting again. And I haven't been cooking much at all--lots of yogurt and fresh fruit and veg. It's a great way to shed the pounds and it definitely makes me feel healthier, but I'm starting to miss cooking. Real cooking. The kind where you don't have to worry about how many calories are in each ingredient, measuring and weighing everything you eat.

So I'm trying to luxuriate in fruit. It would be, if we humans hadn't gotten all tricky about our food, one of life's greatest pleasures. Imagine if we hadn't refined sugar or figured out how to manipulate the cacao bean. A strawberry might be the ultimate gustatory pleasure. A slice of watermelon. A ripe, juicy pear.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sweet Onion and Jalapeno Jelly, Attempt #3

Yeah, I left out attempt #2. Sorry about that.

This time, I decided that my jelly-making skills just weren't up to snuff, and went for more of a chutney style. Two medium sweet onions, diced, and four jalapenos, diced, went into 2 tbsp olive oil on medium-low heat for about three hours. Plus a few tablespoons full of sugar to help the caramelization process along. It's sticky, sweet, and spicy. Amazing on crackers or crostini with cream cheese or goat cheese.

The best thing, I think, about today's attempt, is that I didn't burn myself with the jalapenos. In the past, no matter how hard I've tried, I've missed some trace of jalapeno juice on my hands, blown my nose (to relieve my runny nose and watery onion eyes), and ended up with some some part of my face burning and stinging for the rest of the day. It is relieved, I've found, by the application of heavy cream (the fat absorbs the acids) but it is so much better when the burning is prevented. This time, my husband made sure I had a rubber surgical glove to hold the jalapenos as I diced them, so no more burning.

Hurray for team work!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sweet Onion and Pepper Jelly: Attempt #1

Today I took a recipe from my Better Homes & Garden cookbook and tweaked it. It's in the canning section: pepper jelly. Only I made it into sweet onion and jalapeno jelly. And I replaced cranberry juice with apple juice (it's all I had) and used apple cider vinegar where the recipe just called for vinegar (I assumed the lack of description meant I could choose my own). Now, with the jelly cooling in the fridge (I realized only too late that I needed special canning equipment to make the stuff last unrefrigerated), I can the anticipation is heating up. There was a lot of vinegar in this particular recipe and the house smells vinegary (also of Pine Sol since I got sticky jelly on the floor) and I'm hoping the vinegar doesn't overpower the important flavors. I did run the whole mess through the blender before straining out the juices and adding the sugar and pectin, so I'm hoping the onion and jalapeno will shine through.

I hope.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My New Favorite Thing

This weekend, the hubby and I drove out to Pasco for a wedding reception. Now, between Pasco and Pullman (much closer to Pasco) there is this amazing farm stand/specialty food/gift shop where we stop whenever we make the trip (which I have to admit is rarely). Last trip, we discovered little puffs of corn that are a cross between corn pops and churros. This trip, we discovered sweet onion jalapeno jelly.

I have to learn how to make this stuff. It's kind of sweet, mostly savory, with a little bit of spice. We had it on sourdough bread (toasted up crostini style) with goat cheese. I ate so much I didn't end up wanting dinner (Julia Child-style chicken breasts that were wonderfully moist but tasted too much like chicken--a flavor I've been lately abhorring).

I'm imagining applications for this delightful green goo as fast as I can. On a bagel with cream cheese. Sandwiches of all sorts. On crackers, chips, pretzels. Baby carrots? Who knows. I have yet to try. I also have yet to try to make the stuff, but that will be remedied shortly. As soon as I'm back in my own kitchen. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fit or Fat?

I've been thinking a lot lately about food--mainly because I'm trying to cut back on it--and more importantly, the portioning of food, the times of day we eat food, the way we purchase and store food, and so forth. So I'm not just sitting around daydreaming about ice cream. Well, sometimes I am. But that's not the point.

I've often thought that meal planning would be the key to weight loss--for me, anyway. I've never really had a firm meal schedule and I tend to eat whenever the heck I want to. When on diets, I try to control my mealtimes, and usually I push breakfast as late as I can stand it, lunch well after noon, a small afternoon snack, and dinner around six. Granted, all of these meals, on a diet, are small. But the main strategy here is to eat as often as possible. To keep less time between my meals, however small they might be, so I don't have as much time between meals to sit around watching the clock. And I do watch the clock. I tell myself, you can have a granola bar at three. So I try to occupy myself. But every five to ten minutes, unless what I'm doing is incredibly engaging, my eye wanders to the clock. It's ridiculous. It's obsessive. But that's what dieting is.

I've never had a healthy relationship with food. We've been somewhat codependent, really. I don't just rely on food for nutrition and energy, but for pleasure--and while I do think that food should be enjoyed, I know that it should be enjoyed in small doses and only when needed. But it's hard to reconcile what I know with what I do. So I try to plan. I try to tell myself: breakfast at eight, lunch at one, dinner at six. I try to tell myself: eat like a king in the morning, a prince at noon, and a pauper at night. I try to tell myself: you can have x, y, and z food items and you can eat them whenever you like, but when you've finished them, that's it. I try to tell myself a lot of things.

Part of the reason I've been thinking about this is that I've gained a few pounds in the last couple of months. Pounds I only recently lost, unfortunately. And I don't want to be a yo-yo dieter. I want to learn healthy eating habits, and from that and exercise I assume weight loss will come. Yes, I would like to have the body of a supermodel, but I am not willing to starve. Nor am I willing to give into food and let my body do what it will. I'm between a rock and a hard place, people. And that hard place is probably a box of fudge.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I like me some garlic.

I've discovered an amazing new way to make mashed potatoes. I've also discovered I need to save it for the holidays.

Last night, Ian and I made the most beautiful pork chops I've ever seen, thanks to Julia Child. I'd only ever seen that kind of color on pork in the movies or on Food Network. It came with a lovely sauce (basically just vermouth, deglazing the pork pan--plus I added some heavy cream at the end because I'm super indulgent). Alongside that, we made garlic mashed potatoes, but not just any garlic mashed potatoes--puree de pommes de terre a l'ail (which is to say garlic mashed potatoes in French).

Now, I realize that garlic mash is fairly mundane. It comes with pretty much any steak you've ever ordered, maybe the pork chops too, and even chicken at some restaurants. It's one of those dishes that kitchens stock in giant metal containers, waiting under a heat lamp to be slopped onto the customer's plate. It's low maintenance. But that garlic mash isn't this garlic mash.

Julia's potatoes start interestingly enough--you separate the cloves of garlic from two whole heads, toss them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, and then peel them. This is the one process in the recipe I would change--I would try, next time, simply peeling them as I normally do (smash with knife, peel) and then move to the next step: saute in butter. You see, Julia says, "Two whole heads of garlic will seem like a horrifying amount if you have not made this type of recipe before. But if less is used, you will regret it, for the long cooking of the garlic removes all of its harsh strength, leaving just a pleasant flavor." Amen, Julia. But--boiling it might take out too much of the harsh strength for my taste. I like me some garlic.

Back to the process--after you saute the garlic cloves in butter until they are tender but not brown, you make a thin roux with some flour, salt, and pepper, then pour in a cup of boiling milk (I used nonfat and it still turned out deliciously--I can't imagine the delight of the full-fat result) and make a white sauce, which then goes into the blender (or you can painstakingly mash the garlic cloves with a sieve and a wooden spoon--I went with the blender). What comes out, and quickly too, is a delightful garlic white sauce that you then stir into the potatoes that have been boiled, run through the food mill, and thinned with some butter and heavy cream. It has the perfect, velvety texture that is so difficult to find in mashed potatoes and absolutely no lumps (thank you, food mill), plus the lovely garlicky taste (which I would be willing to ramp up even more). All in all, the best mashed potatoes ever. Incredibly fattening, but still, best ever. This might become a Christmas dish.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Warning: Do Not Substitute

Ian had a sweet tooth tonight and decided to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. He read through the recipe and thought we had all the ingredients, but when he double checked (after the butter and sugar were creamed, etc.) he discovered we were out of eggs. No problem, I said--for each egg, substitute one tablespoon of flax and three tablespoons of water. That was verified by the flax packaging. So he did.

The cookies were beautiful and smelled lovely, but they tasted distinctly of flax. Not a pleasant bite when you're expecting something sweet. I've substituted flax for eggs in many recipes, mostly muffins, and it's been fine. Until now.

When making cookies, do not substitute flax for eggs. Unless you're vegan and you're used to that kind of thing. Even so, I would up the vanilla and sugar to mask the flavor. Yuck.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chocolate Bavarian Cream: Take One

Once upon a time, I worked for a catering company. At the beginning of my employment there, I was asked to bake a batch of muffins, which turned out beautifully. I could bake! There was much rejoicing in the land. My boss was happy. I was happy. It was just how fairy tales start.

Then came the calamity. My boss--without training me at all or teaching me about the various ovens in her shop--left me alone in the kitchen with a laundry list of tasks and a general lack of knowledge about where everything was. I was tasked with making orange poppyseed biscuits. OK. Were there biscuit cutters? No. Which oven would work best? Who knew. I went to work, frantic to get everything done before my boss returned. I tried cutting the biscuits with a meat knife--incredibly efficient, but when I tried to remove the excess dough from the blade, I cut myself nearly to the bone. The boss had never shown me a first aid kit. I looked everywhere, and eventually fashioned a tourniquet out of paper towels and plastic wrap. Put on a glove, kept going. Baked the biscuits. Let them cool. Some had black bottoms--oh well. I had lost too much blood to care. Made the corn salad. Difficult with one hand. Threw together all the dishes on my list, refrigerated, let cool. Went home before the boss could come back.

Let's just say that this was the first of many bad days at that company, where it became abundantly clear that I do not cook well under pressure and that that particular boss was an absolute dragon when it came to guilt. Every time I did something less than perfectly, she left it out on the counter overnight, knowing that I would walk in with my mistake spread over the counter for all to see. The black-bottomed biscuits. The overcooked cookies. And, once, a crumbled up pile of wedding cake (I had insufficiently greased the pans). I was a dog and she was rubbing my face in my mess. When I had sufficiently ruined the wedding cake--twice--it was suggested I not work there anymore. And so I quit. And there was much rejoicing in the land.

You may be wondering at this point what this has to do with chocolate bavarian cream. You may also be wondering why I would tell you this, since you read my food blog and would hope I knew something about food. Well, I've learned quite a bit from my failures over the years, and I continue to do so. Enter the chocolate bavarian cream.

Yesterday, Ian and I tried to make this most delicious of desserts, pulling the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I read the recipe through a couple of times and got to work, assigning Ian the simpler tasks. Tasks I have taught him how to do. But he didn't remember them. So, while trying to put together the custard, I also had to teach him how to whip egg whites (he insisted that doing it with a machine must be different than doing it by hand--I assured him it was not, except it was faster). Things started to go quickly--the milk was simmering, the chocolate melted, Ian needed help, I couldn't remember the recipe--and so the custard was not properly cooked, the egg whites were over-whipped, and what we have in the fridge is more closely related to pudding--maybe a failed mousse.

So this is another situation I can learn from. With the wedding cake I learned that the bigger the pan is, the thicker the layer of butter it requires. With the cookies, I learned not to follow your boss's recipe if it doesn't appear to be working. With the biscuits I learned that one batch at a time might be slow, but it will give better results. With last night's dessert, I learned prepare, prepare, prepare. Read the recipe three times if you need to. Get every element done ahead of time that you can. The egg whites can sit there, whipped and ready to go. The eggs and sugar can be combined before the milk goes on the stove. There's no need to panic.

So next time, I'll know.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Sous Chef

Tonight, Ian and I made Bifteck Saute Bercy (pan-broiled steak with shallot and white wine sauce), Champignons Farcis (stuffed mushrooms), and a blue cheese iceberg wedge salad. Two out of three French dishes ain't bad.

I let Ian take a good amount of control on this one. He made the salads (with a homemade dressing, courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis) and the steaks (medium-rare, lovely). I made the shallot and white wine sauce (though to a certain extent I screwed it up) and the stuffed mushrooms. For once, Ian's batting average came out higher than mine. I don't know how to feel about that.

It isn't that the sauce I made wasn't delicious. It's just that I didn't quite follow instructions. I was in a bit of a hurry, and instead of creaming the flavor elements from the pan into softened butter, I melted the butter into the pan drippings. It was great; it just wasn't what Julia ordered (this was a recipe from my new favorite book: Mastering the Art of French Cooking). The stuffed mushrooms were amazing. I'd stuffed mushrooms before, but Julia's stuffing was more complicated than any I'd ever tried. And the salad (which we ate last, in an attempt to be French and also because the steaks and mushrooms were hot and ready to eat) was amazing--a salad course and a cheese course in one.

Now, I'm not saying that Ian is a master chef (and don't get me wrong--neither am I), but we are starting to find which dishes he can master and which should be given to me. He's the meat man--there's no doubt about that. I'm the baker. He can chop; I can fine dice. We're learning a balance. But it's taking a while.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Dad, if you're reading this, I have the recipe for your birthday cake. This time, it will work.

(Everybody else who's reading this--last year, I made my dad a pineapple upside down cake for his birthday, which turned out to be more of a pineapple upside down mush because it wouldn't come out of the pan. This made me wary of all sticky upside down applications--see previous post. So when I volunteered to make a cake for my friend's birthday party yesterday and she wanted pineapple upside down--inspired by the last post's plum cake--I needed a sure-fire way not to make pineapple upside down mush again.)

The recipe is partially mine, partially from Ina Garten's plum cake. OK, most of the credit can be given to Ina. I really only changed a couple things.

One: instead of boiling one cup granulated sugar with 1/3 cup water, boil 1 cup brown sugar with 1/3 cup pineapple juice (there will be enough in the can if you use canned pineapple slices). Don't boil it particularly long though--just until it's dissolved and then a couple minutes more.

Two: replace the plums with pineapples.

Three: don't dust with powdered sugar.

So Dad, follow the link above (or maybe I should be telling Mom--no one should have to make his own birthday cake) and use my substitutions. It will be great. I can't be there to make it for you, but I hope you know that this recipe has 20% more love than the next leading recipe.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sticky Situations

I have a confession to make: I recently cooked with another man.

Chastise me if you will. Call me a cheater. Slap me with a wooden spoon. I deserve it. Though, since my husband doesn't mind, I don't know if it's any of your business. Or that I should tell you at all. Who are you to judge me?

Okay--enough silliness. Let's get to the food.

A few days ago, a friend of mine needed help making a plum cake. Being the enthusiastic cook that I am, I was thrilled to help. It was a recipe I had never tried before but had long wanted to--a plum cake tatin from an episode of The Barefoot Contessa--and even though I'm not the biggest plum eater, this cake wasn't for me so I didn't feel wasteful in baking it. It was a somewhat challenging recipe, and yet we pulled it off. I wish I had taken a picture.

One of the most challenging parts of cakes like this--similar to pineapple upside-down cake in execution--is getting the cake to turn out, plums and all, without sticking to the pan. The last time I tried it was my dad's birthday pineapple-upside-down mush a couple years ago, when I misread the recipe and melted the sugar and butter together instead of buttering the pan first and adding the sugar second. It still tasted good, sure, but you eat with your eyes first--and if this cake hadn't been meant for my family, I'm not sure anyone would have eaten it.

The problem is the caramel in the bottom of the pan, which ends up on top--in the plum cake recipe, it was actually caramelized sugar that bubbled away on the stove while I put together the batter. This sugar did leave traces in the pan--a lovely hard candy that tasted of caramel and plum liquor--but most of it came out on the cake. I might have shrieked when it turned out. I get excited when things work in the kitchen, as my friend now knows. He probably thinks I'm a nutcase now. But he probably thought I was a nutcase before.

So--here's my tip for all upside-down cake makers: BUTTER! I used an incredibly heavy layer of butter on this cake, and it turned out perfectly. And you know what? Butter tastes good. Nothing is better than butter. So you can't have too much. You really, really can't.

Everything's better with butter.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dinner Party Gold

We live in the age of vegetarianism. There are ovo-vegetarians, pesca-vegetarians, people who eat chicken and call themselves vegetarians (white meat vegetarians?)--and don't forget the vegans. No meat, no eggs, no dairy, no Jell-O. No marshmallows. No fun at all. I'm sure they're incredibly healthy eating all that soy and beans and veggies. I'm sure they have incredible skin and amazing digestive tracts. Though, of course, there are still plenty of unhealthy options for them--soda and booze and sugary treats made with flax seed instead of eggs, soy milk, etc. But do vegans drink beer or wine? Yogurt? Live cultures or yeasts of any kind? I'd have to read up on that, and frankly, I don't really have the time.

So--vegetarians. Vegans. People with wheat allergies, gluten allergies, lactose intolerance, etc. They must have a terrible time finding good things to eat. And when they come to your dinner parties, you must have a terrible time find them good things to eat.

Two options I recently discovered:

1. Vegan lemon cake. Buy a box of lemon cake mix and in place of the wet ingredients, mix in a can of Sprite. Bake as directed. Totally delicious.

2. Mushroom (vegetarian) enchiladas. Now, these still have cheese in them (lots of cheese) and sour cream (lots of sour cream), but for people who just don't like food with a face, it's an incredible option.

The grocery list:
1 lb crimini mushrooms
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup shredded jack cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 small can sliced olives
1 small can diced green chilies
1/2 yellow onion, shredded
8 green onion tops, chopped
~12 flour tortillas

The instructions:
Clean, chop, and saute the mushrooms in the olive oil. Drain away extra liquid.
Mix mushrooms, sour cream, half the cheeses, mushroom soup, olives, chilies, and onions together in a large mixing bowl.
Fill tortillas and roll, enchilada style, in a 9x9 pan. Reserve some of the filling to spread on top of finished enchiladas. Top with remaining cheese.
Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until heated through and cheese is melted and bubbly.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Everything Tastes Better in Paris

I've been thinking about wine pairings lately--mainly because Julia Child dedicates several pages of her book to them--and I'm just not sure about them. Granted, I know that some things definitely do not jive (for example: last night's dinner was, as recommended by Julia, paired with a rose--but Julia did not recommend the rose to accompany the blue cheese appetizers). But I think sometimes--well, you might as well do what you want.

Last night's bottle of wine was a special one, if only for one reason: it came from France. It was one of Ian's and my souvenirs from our European trip last summer, and we finally found a good use for it. French dinner, French wine. It was a Bordeaux Rose--le Rose de Malartic. Before our journey to Paris, I'd never heard of such a thing, and I certainly never would have ordered a rose with dinner--or any other time, for that matter. But while dining out at a fancy restaurant near l'Opera, we thought we ordered a regular Bordeaux and got a rose instead. Domage. Well, actually, not domage--the wine wasn't half bad. In fact, to our surprise, we liked it. So we bought a similar bottle and brought it home.

I wish I could remember exactly what that wine tasted like. I wish I could compare. Because while last night's rose wasn't revolting, it wasn't as delightful as I remembered, either. It wasn't as hopelessly sweet as White Zin (thank goodness) but it wasn't particularly complex, either. Generally, I just felt that it was a little flat. Not offensively so. But still--flat.

This, of course, makes me wonder about other things. We ate pre-packaged Madeleines in Paris, from a sealed plastic bag--were those as amazing as we thought they were? We bought cheeses that made our tongues melt--were those as amazing as we thought they were? Were we in a food haze? Because we loved everything in Paris--with the exception of a very expensive, very disgusting meal, which I swear included Pace in my appetizer and Ragu in my entree--a revolting meal in any country.

Still, I have to wonder--was last night's wine really flat, or was it because it was drunk in an American apartment with improperly trussed chicken while Ace of Cakes played in the background? It could have been in a bistro, with violins and accordions in the background, and lovely people wearing fancy shoes that click on the cobblestones as they arrive. Maybe it was pouting. Or maybe everything tastes better in Paris.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

To Truss or Not to Truss

Tonight, I took the advice of my two favorite cookbook writers: Nigella Lawson (whom I've loved for years) and Julia Child (with whom I am rapidly becoming acquainted). I made amuse-gueule au roquefort (cold roquefort cheese balls, or in my case, cold regular blue cheese balls), poulet rotis (roast chicken) and double potato mash. A delightful meal, I must say, and as buttery as can be. The cheese balls were one of those antiquated on-a-toothpick type hors d'oeuvres that have gone out of style based on their pasty appearance, but are really one of the most decadent, tasty appetizers you will ever have. The double potato mash was based on Nigella's recipe, but simpler--just potatoes, sweet potato, salt, and butter. But the piece de resistance (French, French, and more French) was the bird. It was a revelation.

Chicken, French or American, is chicken. (That was the revelation.)

The main thing that seems to differentiate French chicken a la Julia Child from your standard Barefoot Contessa chicken is the fact that French chicken is a lot more work. There's basting and turning and basting again. There's trussing. Of course, American chickens are sometimes trussed, too, but with French chicken the trussing seems paramount. You see, if you're like me and you don't read the whole recipe before going to the grocery store and you buy a chicken but not a trussing needle or twine, you end up just tucking the wing tips under the bird and letting the legs splay out as they will. Which seems fine, if there's no stuffing, which in this case there wasn't.

The problem is, if you don't truss the bird, you can't turn it on its side, which Julia seems to think is important. And if you don't turn it on its side... well, I'm not really sure what happens. Because our chicken turned out beautifully (I say our chicken because Ian was the orchestrator in the birdie's preparation--he pulled out the innards and buttered the cavity, all the icky sticky work that I'm sometimes too squeamish to handle). It was brown and moist (almost 20 minutes before Julia's estimated cooking time--possibly because of the cast iron skillet I cooked it in rather than a roasting pan, possibly because tastes have changed regarding the tenderness of chicken). It was... chicken. With butter. Tasty, but nothing spectacular. I suspect "spectacular" will come when I try out the stuffings. Next time.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fire! And Eggs.

Today I made my first Julia Child-style French omelette and started my first kitchen fire. Don't worry--everyone and everything is fine. There's a little scorch mark on the lid that I used to suffocate the fire. Apparently, I need to clean the black catcher things under the heating elements more often. Superheat them, add spattering butter, and you've got yourself a fire. Thank goodness I'm having a calm, level-headed day.

Back to the omelette. I made l'omelette brouillee, or scrambled omelette, which sort of turned into l'omelette roulee, or rolled omelette, because I blanked out on the omelette process in the heat of the moment and had to improvise. I would call my result a brown-butter omelette, because the heat was so high my butter browned in seconds, and the outside of the omelette was more brown than yellow--perhaps a bit firmer than Julia would like, but with a custardy center, so I did something right. Either way, it was delicious. Seasoned with salt and pepper, with a few chives snipped in (I had them leftover from potage parmentier and I hate to let fresh herbs go to waste.)

Omelette-making is fast and furious. 20-30 seconds, and that sucker's done. High heat, which I'd never really used for eggs--I usually take mine scrambled, low and slow until they resemble a cream sauce, no extra fat necessary. But that isn't the French way, apparently, though the results taste very French to me. I see the point, though. The high heat creates a nice exterior to your omelette--much more aesthetically pleasing than a heap of scrambled eggs--while the center stays creamy. It's nothing like an omelette at Denny's. Nothing like anything I've eaten at a restaurant, ever. It doesn't require loads of ham and cheddar cheese and all the extras restaurants throw in. It's a more pure expression of the egg, which I'm learning is a much more delicious protein than I gave it credit for.

The incredible, edible egg--but not rubbery. Who woulda thunk it?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Potage Parmentier

Last night, I made the first recipe in the first chapter of Julia Child's cookbook: potage parmentier (leek and potato soup). I also made what she calls French dressing, which is not the thick orange stuff found in the grocery stores but rather a light red wine vinaigrette.

Julia says that potage parmentier is "simplicity itself to make" and you know what? She's right. If you have a food mill. Which I do. But those are the kind of sweeping statements that can make a body worry. "Simplicity" can often mean "nightmare"--depending on which chef you choose. So my confidence in Julia, at this point, is high. As long as I have the proper tools.

Our dinner last night was very simple, and as much as we could manage, very French. We walked down to the grocery store with our green bags to pick up most of the ingredients--we had potatoes and lettuce on hand, but not much else--and though it was a Safeway and not a lovely outdoor market, we perused the produce and bought our food fresh. Or as fresh as grocery stores allow. Our meal was simple (that's the word of the day): potage parmentier, a green salad, a pear, a green apple, and cheese. The cheese was, regrettably, not French. It was an amazing English cheddar (Ian's not too fond of Brie). The salad was a little much--the red onion was strong enough to burn the hair out of your nose--but next time, I'll soak the onion in water before serving, to leach away some of the acids. Generally speaking, very French and very yummy.

Not very elegant.

You see, this lovely meal was consumed on the couch, in front of the TV (while watching Julie and Julia followed by Ratatouille--we were in a very Frenchie gourmet mood). Too much cheese was consumed. There was burping involved. The wine was all wrong--syrah when we should have had a pinot grigio or something equally light, but we already had the syrah--and there were no napkins or fancy cutlery or anything like that. I'm sure Julia would have been appalled. Or maybe not. She did like Costco hot dogs. (That's not mentioned in Mastering the Art of French Cooking--you'll have to go to the Cooking with Amy blog archives for that).

All in all, an excellent introduction to French cooking. Next weekend, perhaps a roast chicken and a vegetable dish (un poulet rotis et des legumes--this book is good for my language skills, too).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

I finally bought a copy of Julia Child's (and Simone Beck's and Louisette Bertholle's) Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I was avoiding it, if only to avoid a cliche. I've read Julie Powell's Julie & Julia twice, most of The Julie/Julia Project online, and Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France. I've seen the film Julie & Julia at least eight times--it's sitting in my DVD case right now. I really really really wanted to grab this book off the shelves and commit the next year of my life to mastering the art of French cooking. I'm a copycat, I know. And for that very reason, I didn't purchase the book. Until today.

I did mention, earlier in this blog, that I have a lot in common with Julia Child. I am tall--not quite her Amazonian 6'2", but pushing 6'0". Today, however (without referring back to the old post), I don't know exactly what I have in common with her at all. Except the height. And curly hair, though hers was more a product of the salon than of genetics. And I look darn good in pearls. I think what I meant before was that I was searching for something to do with my life--something reliable, tangible, tactile--and I found it in some way through cooking. I think I meant that I was married to a lovely man and that my physical location in life was dictated by his job.

I admit these things do not make me just like Julia.

I, for one, don't live in Paris, France. I live in Pullman, Washington. No one will be writing romantic poems about Pullman. No one flocks here for anything more cultural than the Lentil Festival, early each fall. And they don't really flock for that either. We have no monuments, no individual culture--not much to recommend us. No one will write a book about the art of Pullmanite cooking.

I also don't exactly have nothing to do with my life. I am a writer, pursuing a higher degree in fiction. Granted, it's not something you can put your hands in, knead, mold, chop. But it's a greater influence in my life than cooking, to be sure. It's a greater occupier of my time. If I had to choose between cooking and writing, writing would win the day.

But--cooking is a lovely diversion. It is a great way to entertain, though I have not yet acquired the exact social graces I desire, and do not live in such a formal society as existed when Julia Child penned her masterpiece. I do not wish to gain twenty pounds by cramming 500+ butter-filled recipes into a year, but I do wish to learn to be a better cook and a better hostess. I've got my basic red-and-white checkered cookbook. I've got Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess. And now I have Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Tonight: Potage Parmentier. That's leek and potato soup, the first recipe in the book. I figure it's as good a place to start as any. And I'm taking Julia's advice right from the first line of chapter one: "An excellent lunch or light supper need be no more than a good soup, a salad, cheese and fruit." Add a glass of wine to that and it sounds like a lovely evening.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kitchen Malaise

I've lost the will to cook. I've been puttering around the kitchen, looking for the easiest thing. I've been making burgers. Plain rice. Canned soup. Blah blah blah.

Part of this is from dieting. When you're dieting, you're limited. When you're limited, you're bored. So I'm bored. And I'm tired. And I just don't feel like cooking.

But my husband makes me cook anyway.

Like yesterday. We made a middle eastern potato something. I didn't eat it. I had nachos instead. My excuse? Superbowl Sunday, though we didn't watch the Superbowl. I put it on the TV for about a minute, just for show. Then I watched the Ace of Cakes marathon. But I didn't get up and make a cake. I just watched other people do it.

Ian liked the potato thing though. It had saffron in it. Coriander. Turmeric. Onion, potatoes. That kind of thing. It was very yellow. So was my nacho cheese.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Full of Something...

In this case, roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese. Both delicious companions to the turkey burgers my hubby and I made tonight. These were stuffed turkey burgers. Delicious. But may I ask, Why? Why why why why why?

Why what? You may be asking yourself. The question is this. Why stuff a burger when you can top it? Why do the peppers and cheese have to be inside? Novelty? Challenge? Salmonella? It seems like an excellent opportunity for cross-contamination if you ask me. We cooked ours thoroughly, of course, and so far we don't feel sick, but what if the stuffing touches some bacteria and despite the temp of the meat, the stuffing doesn't reach its goal?

Maybe that's paranoid. But all food-borne illnesses aside, what is the point? I'm seriously asking. Can anybody tell me? Does it somehow impart more flavor? Do some people burnt cheese sticking to their grill pan? I can't figure it out. Ian and I are baffled. Our bellies are full, but we are baffled.

On a happier note, however, we had a lovely time cooking together. It was a simple meal: stuffed turkey burgers and sweet potato oven fries (another question for any readers: is it possible to make crispy sweet potato fries without deep frying them?). We ate at the table for once. With a candle (fancy!) and the romantic sounds of Iron Chef America in the background. Morimoto won. I'm not giving anything away because it was last week's episode on the DVR.

I'm hoping for some answers. Please. Help!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Bacon Explosion

This weekend, I witnessed a culinary [insert noun here]. Feat? Wonder? Atrocity? I'm not sure. It's called the bacon explosion and I had nothing to do with it. I was simply at my husband's college club's alumni ski trip, and two of the wackier alums (if you're reading this, I mean that as a good thing!) took it upon themselves to create the most awesome, heart-clogging mass of meat you've ever seen.

Here's how you do it:

Cook some bacon. Set it aside.
Take 10 pieces of raw bacon. Make a bacon basketweave.
Take two pounds of sausage. Layer it on top of the bacon.
Crumble the cooked bacon on top of that.
Roll it up.
Call 911.

Needless to say, this caused some strong reactions in the 15 people who had to share a ski cabin with the meat monstrosity. Some were salivating, others plugging their noses. Some, like me, were intrigued watching its assembly but nauseated by the end product (I didn't actually eat any--but the smell alone--woof!). Others (the majority, it seemed) had the opposite reaction. Lots of groaning and moaning as the meat log was assembled, but once it was cooked, it rapidly disappeared. Hmm.

Now, it's up to you if you decide to try this recipe or not. But I do have a few warnings.

1. Beware your cholesterol levels. The weak of heart should not attempt the bacon explosion.
2. Expect dirty jokes. Lots of dirty jokes. It'll be a regular sausage fest.
3. Prepare to smell like pork products for 3-6 days.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chili and Complications

First Sunday of 2010, supposed to have been spent in the kitchen with the hubby. We had the best intentions. We planned the menu--simple as it was--together. We were looking forward to hot food, since the new year's diet has had us eating salads for the past two days and walking all around town in the cold (we're wimps--but at least we admit it). We were going to make lentil chili. We've made it before, with various recipes, and doubtless we'll make it again.

But this time, we didn't make it. I did. Because Ian was a bit too busy for cooking--he was on the phone with our credit card company. Apparently someone in Michigan thought it would be nice to steal our card numbers (online Christmas shopping? We're not sure.) and buy something for $700 at Walmart, and when that purchase was declined (they thankfully had the wrong expiration date), try the counterfeit card again at Burger King. So he was on the phone--still is, actually, after a break to eat some chili--with the various companies that receive their payments automatically on that card. It could have been worse. If the transactions had gone through, the hassle would have quadrupled.

But enough about that--back to the chili. I sort of winged it as far as a recipe goes--went on the sweeter and tangier side to counter the earthy flavor of the lentils. I made it in my new dutch oven, my favorite Christmas present (in-laws, if you're reading this, thank you again!). It was a simple affair. I probably wouldn't have needed Ian's help even if he'd been available, though it is nice to have him chopping onions and manning the can opener. It made four generous servings, each of which contained only 350 calories--a dieter's dream! Here's the recipe I cooked up:

Laura's Lentil Chili

1 cup lentils, dry
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 medium green bell peppers, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp tomato paste
7 oz fire roasted green peppers, drained and chopped
14.5 oz can Italian stewed tomatoes
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

*Rinse and boil lentils according to directions on package. Set aside.
*In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add onions and bell peppers; cook until soft.
*Add chili powder, cumin, vinegar, and tomato paste; stir and cook for about a minute.
*Add fire roasted peppers, both cans of tomatoes, and cooked lentils; stir and cook for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

So this week we missed out on that together kitchen time, but we have had a good deal of time together lately, since both our schools are on winter break and we've had a long weekend for New Year's. My school starts back up tomorrow, and Ian goes back to his normal work schedule, with his class starting in a week. I suppose if we had to miss any weekend cooking together, this was a good time to do it. Once he gets off the phone (if he ever does) we'll snuggle up on the couch and watch our latest DVD purchase: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. We would watch Julie & Julia again, but I've watched it four or five times since I got it for Christmas and Ian is probably getting sick of it by now. He offered to watch it again tonight, but I can't do that to him. But who knows--he might be secretly addicted to it, too.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Happy New Year!

This year I resolve to learn as many healthy, delicious recipes as I can--and maybe create my own!

This year I resolve to cook with my husband once a week, to help him learn how to cook, and to be a kind and loving teacher.

This year I resolve to learn how to balance healthy eating habits with my love of food.