Tag Archives: Recipe testing

Ratatouille

Look at this gorgeous, seasonal produce

Not to make anyone jealous who doesn’t have access to the same, but how can one resist all these vibrant, beautiful colors. Obviously, I couldn’t, as I grabbed all of this from the Greenmarket. While I do have quite a few recipes for cooking the vegetables individually, I had other plans for these gems.

The two recipes I consulted before starting

I am also one of those people who definitely eats with her eyes first, and I am very drawn to colors. From the September issue of BBC Good Food magazine, I had pulled a ratatouille recipe to try. This must be irresistibly appealing, at least for me, because when I went into my recipe file to file it (I’m trying to be good about keeping everything organized.), I discovered that I’d pulled a similar recipe from last year’s September issue of the same magazine. There must be something that they put into their food photography to draw me in to the same recipe topic in two consecutive years.

Everything prepped and ready to go

Cooking and recipe-making can also be a bit of a research process, though, so having two descriptions of how to make the same dish isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Both of these had some helpful tips to avoid making a big pile of vegetable mush. One is to cut everything into more or less the same size. The second is to cook each component* – peppers, eggplant, zucchini – separately and then combine them at the end.

Each of the two recipes has variations on the seasoning, but I decided to stick to fresh basil, as the bunch I had was perfectly fragrant and kelly green. Putting them all together was a snap and the results were as lovely as the individual components had been.

These will definitely help satisfy my “5-A-Day”

*Kitchen Witch Tip

U.S. to UK: Eggplant = Aubergine / Zucchini = Courgette

When I first lived in London, many, many years ago, this mini-translation lesson was given to me by my American roommate within my initial few days of moving in. It is also one of the food tips I pass on to others who plan to live there, as it saves lots of trans-Atlantic linguistic confusion about something as simple as vegetables.

Marinated Flank Steak

This week in The New York Times, Frank Bruni re-reviews Peter Luger, the venerable steakhouse in New York City. This is a dining institution, revered in the hearts of many a carnivore and heralded as the standard-bearer of the genre, not least because of its imitators. It is held in the same esteem for some as a representative of the Big Apple along with The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, subway breakdowns, street fairs, and Central Park. While Mr. Bruni found much to like about this 120-year-old eatery, he did downgrade it by one star from the previous review, which had given it three.

I vividly remember my one and only trip there several years ago, which made my tastebuds dance again as I read the article. It was the most wonderful steak I have ever eaten, seriously. The experience was just as Mr. Bruni had described his best trip to be. We had a very cute Irish waiter who was a great server, even the gruffness of the more senior waiter who was supervising our section was part and parcel of the ritual. Tomato salad to start, one order of Porterhouse rare and one medium, creamed spinach, red wine. I think I was still digesting my dinner the next day but it was so worth it.

The atmosphere was very old-school. While waiting for our party to gather, we hung out in the bar area. Everything about the place was all bare-bones dark wood, emanating testosterone and deal-making. Our group increased the quotient of women in the entire restaurant by about 4-fold. Someone must have had a sense of humor though, because in order to make it to the ladies room, it was necessary to pass a table of 3 priests enjoying their dinners.

While even Eater agreed that a downgrade was worthy, it was interesting to read the review, nonetheless, and my mouth was watering at the descriptions of Mr. Bruni’s trips. Could I please have such a worthy job to do! I’ll even put my hand up to do a comparison of Luger’s versus other steakhouses in town. Does anyone want to come with me? Oh, I know there’s at least a few of you readers who do.

Buon appetito!

Baking No-knead Bread

The recipe for “No-Knead Bread” reverberated throughout the blog world last fall with many a bread baking novice trying it out with good results. I’ve always enjoyed making bread, but never really seem to get around to doing it very often, even though I took a course about it when I lived in London. There’s a certain satisfaction about pulling a hot, crusty loaf out of the oven and impatiently waiting to cut into its soft, chewy goodness.

So I pulled the recipe and filed it away to try later. I’m not sure why I let it sit until now, but reading on Jaden’s blog, Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen, about the success of her son in making this bread made me feel a bit guilty about not having gotten myself together to do it as well. Epicurious and Slashfood both mentioned her post this week, and with the drop in temperature to a more fall-like consistency this weekend, the timing seemed right for me to try it, too. By now, it was cool enough that running the oven wouldn’t also run me out of my apartment.

It’s definitely as easy as everyone says it is. One step that I took that varied from the recipe was to dissolve the yeast in the warm water before mixing it into the flour. I’m not sure if that made a difference or not. The other was to use half-whole wheat flour and half-white flour, which produced a loaf slightly darker on the inside than you’ll see in the other posts’ pictures.

The key to this recipe as the Times article and others point out is that time takes the place of kneading. For you readers who might not be able to be distracted for the time it takes to work the dough, this might be the perfect project. I started this the night before I wanted to bake it, and let it sit there on the counter while I ran errands the next morning. Time really did do all the work as the pictures below show.

I didn’t have a pan that was the correct size, and that and my lack of ability in making a very round shape for the dough before it rested prior to baking meant that my loaf was more elongated than it probably should have been. Still, when it came to biting into that first slice, slathered in good French butter and drizzled with some leftover Greek honey, I can tell you that that it didn’t matter a bit. The taste was just what it should have been. I am definitely keeping this recipe to try again.

Buon appetito!

After the dough has risen for a couple of hours

 

After rising overnight

 

Getting ready to take “a nap”
See what I mean? I need a smaller pan which will also help with the sizing.
Coming out of the oven
Trying the results!

Picnic Foods – Chocolate Crinkles & Curried Picnic Salad

I received an invitation to go to a cookout-style picnic on Labor Day, complete with hamburgers made on the grill. In these cases, my mind gets very suburban. I sort of go on autopilot and pull out of my brain the old childhood/family stand-bys to bring, dishes that I would normally never make. “Potato salad,” I offered. “I’ll make potato salad and… I’ll bring cookies.”

These aren’t my own recipes but, rather, long-time family favorites. In fact, both of them are older than I am. My mom helpfully dug up the potato salad recipe, which at some point I’d typed up on a recipe card. “Stain Dating” (related to carbon dating) indicates that this card has been around for a while, and the “barbecue” on the top leads me to believe that I think I must have typed this up for some Girl Scout project that had to do with putting together meals or something. [This was in the days before stress management was a badge topic.]

This is more correctly called “Curried Picnic Salad.” As my mom and I discovered when I’d asked her to see if she could track down the original. It comes from a Better Homes & Gardens barbecue cookbook. In researching this on the internet, I came across several copies of the recipe, none of which attribute it to BH&G, but it is the same one. Here it is from Cooks.com. I do omit the artichoke hearts, as a matter of personal taste. For the potatoes, I boiled them, let them cool a bit and then just lifted off their skins.

The recipe makes quite a bit

My sister is really at fault for giving me the idea of what cookies to make. Normally, I would have just whipped up a batch of brownies, as I’d done for the picnic that I went to earlier in the summer (see “Picnic in the Park” post from May 2007). A week or so ago, I’d packed up some cookie cutters that I didn’t need and sent them to her. When I called her to let her know that they were on their way, she asked if I’d, by any chance, also put some cookies in the box that I was sending. I told her not to press her luck on that one. She said that she just had to ask.

We then started to talk about sweet treats from our childhood. She reminded me that I went through a big phase when I was in high school of making “Chocolate Crinkles” from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book. I had completely overlooked them in my though process for what to bring to this gathering on Labor Day. These were my bake sale special. Brownies were suddenly (and to the dismay of my picnic host) out the window.


This book is the cookie bible. I spent hours reading this as a child, as has also been admitted by other folks to whom I told this story. I’ve made quite a few recipes out of this book, some with mixed results. Still, when my mom gave this to me as a present a few years ago, when they reissued the original 1963 edition, I was in heaven. This is a warm, wonderful piece of my childhood, and looking at the pictures has no calories.

Not so the cookies themselves, however, and I have to confess that I had quite a few “samples” when I made them for the picnic. It was interesting to bake something that I hadn’t in a while. I think that they came out looking pretty good for the first try making them in over 20 years. I will point out a few things I discovered: a. letting the batter sit in the fridge overnight gives the best results; b. it doesn’t make nearly as many as the recipe says it does, unless you make them very small; c. you have to be generous with the powdered sugar when you roll the cookies in it prior to baking them in order to get the right effect.


My culinary gifts were warmly received. The guests actually seemed a bit in awe of the vat homemade potato salad that I put out on the table for them to eat. I’d increased an already substantial recipe by one-half as I wasn’t sure how many folks would be at the party. For the 10-12 people who were there, this was plenty. I probably could have even just made one full recipe without increasing it at all.

The cookies were chocolaty and almost brownie-like. I’d also added pecans to them to make them a little more special. The leftovers were warmly received by my coworkers, a few of whom I’m convinced have “sweets radar.” I think that we can whisper the word “cookie” and one of my male colleagues will hear it three sets of cubes away. It took no time at all for them to be devoured, even by a senior manager who took a couple of trips out of his office to grab a few.

Those stand-by, family favorites have stood the test of time once again, and made me think that I should dig deeper into the recipe card file to see what else might be worth trying the next time I get an invitation that involves bringing something edible. I might even get around to making the cookies that my sister blatantly told me I should bake and send to her. Then again, I might not. She has her own copy of the cookbook.

Buon appetito!

Tomato Tart with Cheddar Crust

Tomatoes, or Pomodori (aka “Apples of Love” in Italian) are in peak season right now in the tri-state area here around New York, as well as in other parts of the country. The Greenmarket just seems to have exploded with them, their red, yellow, orange, and even purple colors jazzing up the greens of the zucchini, basil and corn husks, as well as the hues of the other summer bounty.

As with the apricot tart I’d made a few weeks ago, I’d been waiting, holding out, trying not to be tempted by the very first batch I’d seen, for the perfect moment to buy the small, pomodorini (little tomatoes) that I’d need to make a tomato tart recipe that I had pulled from an issue of BBC Good Food last summer. With the collection of tiny red, orange, and yellow gems that I brought home yesterday, the time seemed perfect to try it again.

The Tomato Tart with Cheddar Crust is just the perfect taste of summer, especially with the dog days of August lingering here. Crème fraîche, mustard (I use the grainy kind rather than regular Dijon), pastry with cheddar cheese (definitely get the sharp English variety), and perfectly-ripe, in-season little tomatoes – what else could one look for in a perfect summer lunch dish? As with many recipes I use again and again, this one does not have to be served piping hot. The appeal of this means that the timing doesn’t have to precisely sync with any other items you would put on the table.

Having it a room temperature, alongside a fresh green salad, would make an amazing, easy dinner as well. This means that it can be prepared in advance and set to the side until you are ready to serve it. It also means that you can cook it during the cooler time of day, as well, which is, in fact, what I did do.


Buon appetito!

Making Crêpes – I’m so not Julia

I was checking on on the folks at “Is My Blog Burning” and came across another group effort in which I thought it might be fun to participate. The blogger who hosts Champaign Taste asked for contributions in honor of Julia Child’s birthday on 15th August.

Remember a few months back when I said that I really should learn how to make Crêpes Suzette as I do love to eat them? This blog round-up seemed like the perfect opportunity to get me motivated to attempt this recipe. The timing seemed even better as I’d recently brought back to New York the two-volume set of Julia Child’s (and company’s) “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” from Virginia, where they’d been in storage at my parents’ house, along with my other cookbooks.

This also gave me an excuse to use the crêpe pan that my youngest sister had given me as a present many years ago – something else that came out of storage recently (not my sister, the pan). Even though I’d made crêpes several times before under the watchful eye of my mother, this time I didn’t feel as though I was really getting the hang of it, as tries #1 and #2 show.

Not the most beautiful things, but still edible
By attempt #4, things seemed to be working better (see below). One trick is to get enough, but not too much batter coating the surface of the pan. Much like making waffles (sorry if that sounds insulting to Ms. Child), one has to get just the right amount. Too much and they are gooey and undercooked, and too little and they are crunchy thin and overdone.


#4

#5
See what I mean about the waffle analogy?

The other trick is in the wrist. This was probably the harder part for me. I had to wait until just that point where I could guess how done the one side of the crêpe would be and then work quickly to get the spatula underneath it to flip it without having the sides curl underneath. I lost a few earlier attempts by messing up that part of the process. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” had a great tip – shake the crêpe to loosen it from the pan before trying to flip it. Once I got the hang of that, it went much more easily and with greater success.

Of course, once it did start to come easily, I was about three crêpes away from being done with the batter. Still, now that I know the tips and tricks, I think the next time I try it, it will go much better. To finish, I added the orange butter sauce and liqueur, lit a match to flambée it, and dessert was sûr la table. Despite the fact that these tasted fine and looked o.k. in the end, I realize, I have a long way to go before I can even come close to touching the art of French cooking, much less trying to master it.

Zesting the orange
Orange-butter-sugar sauce
Ready to plate and ready for me to eat!


Buon appetito!