Monday, June 29, 2009

Cooking, Baking, Restauranting...Pretty much just eating anything I can get my hands on - 6/29/09

What a week! I managed to do a lot of cooking and eating this week and I'm not sure where it all came from. Let's start with what I made first.

Chili con Carne

Lunch this week, as a continuation of my soup series, is chili con carne. The recipe was from Cooks' Illustrated. After browning chunks of beef, you cook some onions and bell pepper (or jalapeno). Then, you stir in some cumin, oregano and garlic, then water, beef, diced tomato, and minced chipotles in adobo sauce, simmering it for 1 hour covered, 30 minutes uncovered. At the very end, you whisk in some cornmeal into 1 cup of the chili, then whisk this mixture back into the soup, simmering it until it thickens up. I was very surprised by the consistency of this soup. Most chilis I've had contained beans, but this one omits them in favor of thickening the soup using the cornmeal. The chipotles in adobo are a very easy way to bring some heat and a nice smokey flavor without resorting to liquid smoke. The beef stayed tender and everything else seemed to melt together into the background flavor. This chili was both surprising and outstandingly delicious for something homemade.

Citrus Chicken Fricassee

Dinner this week is a chicken fricassee with some citrus flavors. Briefly, the chicken is seared, then some root veggies and citrus are cooked in the same pot. Tomato paste is added, then flour, then some chicken stock, orange and lemon juices, white wine, and honey. The chicken is added back in to finish cooking. On the side, you cook some potatoes and blanch some veggies (I chose yellow squash and Mediterranean zucchini). Oddly, you remove the original veggies and citrus, then thicken the sauce using an egg yolk and milk. All of this is combined again to yield the final produce. Everything tastes good, but the citrus disappears into the background. I think adding in some citrus zest in at some point could help make the flavors more bold. But this makes for a fine dinner. The citrus lightens the heavier chicken with its skin on. Plus, lemon and orange are the perfect flavors for the summer.

CSA - 062909

A great deal of the ingredients used in the foods above came from this week's CSA assortment: corn, blueberries, potatoes, onions, zucchini, squash, cucumber, tomato, and three kinds of melon.

Rose Water-Apricot Cake
Rose Water-Apricot Cake Slice

For cake decorating this week, we learned more piping techniques, including some specific to birthday cakes. Since my lab did not have any birthdays this week, I went for an "I <3 Cake" cake. The cake was supposed to be flavored by rose water, but that flavor did not come out. Instead, the major players were the apricot jam filling and vanilla icing. Cake writing is a little difficult, by the way, if you don't have the right size tip for one, but also because you have one shot to do it right (sizing, spacing, shaping). And always, always, ALWAYS remember to spell everything correctly. Here are some examples of what can go wrong with cakes: Cake Wrecks.

Fruity Hazelnut Pork Enchiladas

The SO (significant other) did some cooking this week too that was quite astounding. It started with some pork that was combined with pureed pears and plums. To this was added some cream cheese, cilantro and hazelnuts, among other ingredients. Wrap it in a tortilla, stick it in a pan with cheese and more hazelnuts, and bake it in the oven. The flavors for this dish were definitely out of left field, but they all combined together for quite a sumptuous dinner. Add a side of fresh cucumbers and raspberries and a cup of dilled sweet potato soup, and you've got one killer dinner.

Pepper's Pizza

As for eating out this week, I remembered my camera for most of our meals. First up is Pepper's Pizza on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. This was the second time I ate at this restaurant, and I've enjoyed it both times. The pizza pictured is one we made ourselves. They have some great ingredients and pre-formulated options, but we were in a creative mood. Half of the pizza was Italian sausage with fresh garlic (fantastically garlicky without being overbearing...but then again I don't know if you can have too much garlic), and the other half was a NC-style Hawaiian using pulled pork and pineapple (a great variation on true Hawaiian with ham and pineapple). Plus, they have great music while you eat. While we were there, they were playing Michael Jackson's album Thriller to honor his untimely passing. If you want some non-traditional options for pizza and you're in the area, give Peppers a shot.

Flying Biscuit Cafe

While in Raleigh, we hit up the Flying Biscuit. This restaurant serves delicious, truly Southern food (breakfast all day to boot). I ordered my first chicken-fried steak and what an awesome dish it was! The crisp outside juxtaposed against a moist and delicious cubed steak, paired with a wonderful gravy made me want to wrap myself in the steak and never leave. The green beans were a good side, though a little oily. The homefries were seasoned with a house ("moondust," I believe) seasoning that made these tubers really pop. In the midground (between foreground and background), you can see their biscuits, served with strawberry jam. True to their name, these biscuits are light, airy, but totally indulgent with some good saltiness to them. Lastly, in the background, you can spy their sweet tea, which is one of the sweetest you can find without any sugar at the bottom. The South has risen again at this wonderful restaurant. Word to the wise: if there is a wait for a table, the bar seats in a first-come-first-serve fashion, so feel free to grab a stool and enjoy your food while others are still waiting outside.

Queen of Sheba

In the Chapel Hill Timberlyne plaza is a rare find: an Ethiopian restaurant by the name of Queen of Sheba. If you've never had Ethiopian, try to find a restaurant and give it a shot. This one was very good with great service. To start off, we had an Ethiopian soda (flavored with spices and honey) as well as a sweet tea that was also given some depth by some warm spices. We had the vegetarian sampler, which had yellow lentils, a pea flour sauce, tomatoes, green lentils, and potatoes in a horseradish sauce, all atop and with a side of injera, the sourdough-ish spongy flat bread. Everything was fantastic. I love having lots of options when I eat, and this was the best way to get that. All of the flavors melded with each other but could still stand alone. They have many meat options too for compulsive carnivores. To finish, I had a cup of Ethiopian coffee, supposedly made with some butter, sugar, and more spices. The coffee was positively black with a rich and bold flavor that lacked that bitter aftertaste of many coffees. Overall, it was a marvelous experience that could not be beat.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cake Decorating Win - 6/22/2009

Good news! I'm not totally inept at making cakes!

Chocolate-Macaroon Cake

After last week's cake-wreck, I was glad to find out that I have some skills with the baked goods after all. They key is not taking shortcuts with the cake or frosting. The cake itself is vanilla-cherry with some cherries mixed in. The frosting is dark chocolate with almond extract. In between the layers, in addition to buttercream, is crumbled coconut macaroons. To top it off, I sprinkled on some toasted coconut. This cake was for the birthday of someone in my lab who likes coconut, and it was a big hit. My next goal is to make cakes with more intricate and involved decorations now that I have a handle on the more understated techniques.

Basil-Eggplant Rolls

I did do a good deal of cooking this week myself, but I will not claim these delightful hors d'oeuvrs as my own. These are the wonderful creation of my new beau. From what he told me, they are eggplant slices wrapped around tomato paste and fresh basil, then breaded and baked. Quite wonderful.

Baked Tea Salmon

The main course to follow the above eggplant rolls was this baked salmon. It was seasoned with dried tea leaves (sadly I cannot remember which type of tea) and seafood seasoning. It was grilled in the foil packet that you can see above. It came out very moist and well flavored. Who would have thought tea could be so versatile?

I will mention some of the other food I made this week, even if I ate it so fast I forgot to take pictures: fresh local berries with balsamic syrup, roasted green beans with cashews, cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, garlic bread, and grilled corn with orange-hoisin butter. I also got a start on this week's cake, but I won't ruin the surprise.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Large Update - 6/11/2009

I have done a great deal of cooking in the last couple of weeks, so without wasting time, let's just start in with it.

Pineapple-Vanilla Jam

I did some apartment-sitting for a classmate while she got to vacation in Tahiti with her husband. She was very thankful and presented me with this gift upon her return. For those that don't speak French, it is pineapple-vanilla jam. The pineapple provides the stable base for the jam and the vanilla gives it a delightfully heady plume of aromatic flavor. It is very delectable on toast and just something different from your run-of-the-mill strawberry jam or orange marmalade.


My community supported agriculture has been fairly similar over the past weeks. The main features are strawberries, blueberries (not pictured), and lots of squashes: zucchini, Mediterranean zucchini and yellow squash. I accumulated so much zucchini that I had to do this:

Blueberry-Zucchini Bread

Paula Deen makes a mean zucchini bread. I had so much zucchini that I made two batches, which is supposed to make 2 loaves per batch, hence the high productivity. Instead of chocolate chips, I substituted one pint of blueberries in each batch. I also doubled up the spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) in the first batch and added some cardamom and ginger powder in the second batch. All in all, I made one large loaf, 4 mini-loaves, 4 large muffins and 6 regular muffins, all of which were delicious. On a random note, the blueberries turned the bread slightly blue-green instead of purple.

Brownie-Filled Chocolate Chip Cookies

On the subject of Southern cooking, Southern Living had on the inside cover of their latest issue something I could not resist making. They may look like normal chocolate chip cookies, but trust me, they're huge. Each has half a cup of dough in it. Plus, the real surprise is in the center: the cookie contains a brownie. That's right, Southern Living managed to stuff a baked good inside of another baked good. These treats are a tremendous endeavor to eat, but well worth it, even if you feel like you have to take a nap or hit the gym right afterward.

Polenta French Toast

Mom came into town for a visit and her birthday, so I/we did quite a bit of cooking and baking. For breakfast, I managed to find this wonderful gluten-free recipe care of Martha Stewart. You prepare one batch of polenta (with an hour of frequent stirring), adding in some milk, maple syrup, orange zest, cinnamon, and raisins. You then pour the polenta into baking dishes and let it set overnight. In the morning, you slice up the set polenta and pan-fry it until golden brown. Top it with maple syrup and some fresh North Carolina blueberries (or whatever state you happen to be in). For those who cannot eat toast, and even for those who want something out of the ordinary for breakfast, this is the perfect recipe. Just be warned that this is one of the more involved breakfast setups, but it can be well worth it.

Chocolate Pavlova

Mom brought a recipe with her to make a chocolate pavlova, also care of Martha. Pavlova is pretty much like a giant meringue cookie. This one was in the shape of a bird nest, filled with a chocolate mousse, then topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. This dessert had it all: chewy, creamy, crunchy, chocolate. This is a great way to end a meal with a cup of coffee on the side.

Flourless Chocolate Beet Cake

For Mom's birthday, I made this interesting flourless chocolate beet cake. You shred some beets, cook them in agave nectar until tender, then stir in some cocoa powder and some other additives, bake it for twice as long as the directions say, et voila! a cake. We topped it with some whipped cream and served it. It looks like we tried to make a red velvet cake but only got halfway there. The cake itself is a deep red-brown with a dense, moist, chocolate flavor and a subtle hint of beets, but definitely in a good way.

Funfetti Cake

Lastly, I've started a cake decorating class at Durham Technical Community College. Yesterday was our first chance to work on a cake. Above you can see the Funfetti cake I made for the class.

Decorated Cake

Two problems arose while decorating the cake. First, I did not want to make a full cake just for this class, so I used a box cake, meaning an overly moist work surface. Second, I did not own 6" cake pans, so I just cut down my cakes from 8", all without using a guide or measuring tool of any kind. End result: the whimsical cake.

Disaster Cake

I was slightly embarrassed by the cake at first, but I still wanted to bring it into my lab for everyone to eat. But my buttercream was not quite up to snuff. I probably needed another cup or so of confectioner's sugar in it (it already had 10 cups in it), so it slowly oozed down the sides of the cake. The end result: the top layer slipped off the bottom layer in a giant mess. So next week, I will stop cutting corners and shoot for the moon.