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.

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