Monday, January 18, 2010

tomato soup

creamy tomato soup with a cheerful sprig of parsley

Generally, I am not that crazy about tomato soup. I don't dislike it, but it isn't something that I really get all that excited about most of the time. However, even though I didn't really grow up eating a lot of tomato soup, it still has those homey comforting connotations that are particularly attractive in wintertime. So, when I stumbled upon this America's Test Kitchen recipe for grilled cheese and tomato soup on the Smitten Kitchen blog, which I've been all about this week, it suddenly became the perfect thing to make for dinner.

I would definitely recommend this recipe. It had a really deep smokey flavor, a product of de-seeding and oven roasting the canned canned tomatoes with a little salt, pepper and olive oil until all the liquid evaporates. The recipe called for sprinkling them with brown sugar, but I decided not to because I've always been kind of grossed out by adding sugar to tomato sauce, and I'm not the only one.

Other than that, I pretty much followed the recipe as it was written: chopped up shallots or onions, an cooked them for a bit in butter with tomato paste. Added a spoonful or two of flour, cooked that off, and then gradually added ice cubes of my frozen stock, and then the tomatoes and the extra juices, which I strained to remove the seeds. After that cooked for awhile, Nathan blended it all up with the immersion blender, and then I added the cream, the brandy, some salt, cayenne and cracked black pepper. This could easily be gluten free if you just used the right flour!

While this was going on I made up the buttered grilled cheese sandwiches in the cast iron skillet. Normally, I "grill" my cheese sandwiches in the toaster oven, without butter, but if I was doing the classic soup and sandwich combo, I was going to do it right. Also, Nathan would have pitched a fit. As it was he was skeptical of my choice of Italian bread, and kept asking charming lovely little questions like, "have you ever MADE grilled cheese before?" Shut up Nathan.

Despite his hating, I fried up those babies just fine, and let me tell you, they were delicious dipped in that tomato soup. We served them with some vinegary tomato pasty cabbage, but Nathan took the lead on that one so I'll let him write that one up later.

Here's a shot of our soup on my kitchen table to close with.

kitchen table in the bronx

Monday, January 11, 2010

french toast success

oven baked amaretto pannetone french toast

Despite my doing a totally half assed job, this boozy baked french toast recipe came out pretty awesome. No measurements, just milk, beaten organic food co-op eggs, some cheap ass amaretto, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract and a dash of salt mixed together and poured over buttered slices of pattetone. I was deathly afraid it would be too dry/too boozy, but instead got the slam dunk breakfast I had hoped for.

I love when a yummy french toasty is all crispy on the outside and runny on the inside. Unfortunately it was taking a longer to cook than the prescribed half hour (I kept underestimating how hot to set the oven) so I popped it under the broiler to finish off and the edges on one side started to burn a little. Minor damage, but still a shame. I normally would have been more patient, but Laura needed to leave for work so I tried a short cut. Unless your bread is at very even levels in your pan, I don't recommend the broiler for this one.

That being said, the broiler is a new-found love of mine. My mom doesn't have a broiler in her stove at home, because there is a drawer for storing pots and pans under the oven. I'd broiled things in the toaster oven, so I knew that broiling meant that the heat was coming only from above, but I only recently discovered/realized that the drawer under my oven is meant to serve as its broiler.

My stove is an ancient gas range which I have to light manually by lighting the pilot and then opening the bottom drawer and lighting the burner there, which is prone to ignite in a rather explosive manner if the gas is left running for more than a few seconds. I never would have thought to cook anything in that bottom drawer had it not been for witnessing my Aunt Cathy utilizing her similarly designed broiler to cook our beloved garlic sweet potatoes, from Mark Bittman's first Thanksgiving column in the New York Times, dating all the way back to 1997. My broiler can crisp things up pretty fast, so you've got to keep an eye on it, but it is pretty darn useful! I'm a little embarrassed it took me so long to discover it, but I'm sure glad that I have!

fruit studded french toast

cooking 2010

Nathan and Jess both independently have suggested I keep note of everything that I cook, so I figured it could be somewhat of a project for the new year.

I didn't cook anything the week after Christmas, but I think I quite made up for it this week.

Nathan recently got me this great book, The Flavor Bible, and I happened to flip open to the monkfish page on Monday. For every ingredient, they have complied a list of other ingredients that accomplished chefs consider to be complementary, as well as brief descriptions of their go-to dishes for that ingredient. Serendipitously, monkfish was described as a great match with cabbage, garlic and potatoes, (all of which I had recently gotten from my CSA food co-op), and bacon, (which I pretty much always have on hand). Since I wasn't sure of what to do from there, I typed in those ingredients into google, and came up with this recipe, which included a couple of other things I had lying around: shallots, red wine, fresh thyme, bay leaves, orange juice, and chicken stock, which I had made and froze myself. All I had to buy was the parsley and monkfish, which cost $10 a pound.

I quartered the shallot and also a small onion and I think a couple of smashed garlic cloves, and sauteed them with the bay leaves, parsley and thyme in some butter and olive oil. I added a cup of wine, some stock, the juice of two small oranges, some salt and pepper and cooked the cabbage in the mixture for 40 minutes. There was a lot of liquid involved, but in the end it all cooked off, leaving a deliciously flavored vegetable behind. I think that the homemade stock really gave it an added richness and depth of flavor, but even without it this cabbage would have been a winner.

Meanwhile, I had marinaded the fish in olive oil with salt and pepper for about a half an hour. Before we started cooking it Nathan had to bone the thing, because I was not paying attention and didn't ask the fish guy to do it for me. My boyfriend is incredible, so he did this perfectly. So impressive. By the way, if you don't know, monkfish is incredibly hideous. We quickly pan seared it in the cast iron skillet, and then wrapped it in two slices of bacon and threw it in the oven for about 15 minutes. I stuck it under the broiler in the end so that the bacon would get nice and crisp. Amazingly, the fish was moist and delicious, but not undercooked. A triumph.

My recipe suggested preparing mashed potatoes, but I wanted something a little more toothsome. The potatoes I sliced thinly and pan fried with garlic in a little bacon fat, (sorry mom and dad). There were way too many of them in the pan, but I kept shifting them around to get as many as possible crispy. I finished them off in the oven with the lid on, and they were great. The crispy ones were great, but even the ones that weren't got cooked through nicely, and there were tasty garlic nuggets every so often.

Together, this made for an amazing meal. The Flavor Bible wasn't playing around when it suggested combining all these different things. Separately, each component of the meal was delicious, but together, the ingredients really sang. Wow. A symphony of taste!

Wednesday night we went a more traditional route and fried up some crispy onions with a couple of small blue seared shoulder round steaks from Whole Foods. These were pretty much raw in the middle, which was really rich and meaty tasting, but probably not a way I'd chose to eat my steak in the future, especially if it was a normal supermarket steak. As our side dishes, we made up some rice, a roasted red pepper, and creamed spinach with a poached egg. We used frozen spinach upon Nathan's insistence, but I'll grudgingly concede that it wasn't even half bad. The other ingredients were pretty basic, just half and half, flour, onions, garlic, butter and nutmeg. It was easy and delicious. Do not fear egg poaching-- just heat a couple of inches of water until bubbles are forming on the sides and then crack in your eggs for four minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon, (Nathan managed to break my yolk, which was so sad and left me way less runny goodness) and this WILL be perfect.

Thursday I was home alone and made one of my standard issue dinners: panfried pork chops, orrechiette with sauteed mushrooms in a homemade tomato sauce with fresh rosemary, parsley and basil, and some steamed broccoli rabe with garlic and oil which I kind of burned because I am bad at cooking alone. I also overcooked the pork, which was a thinner cut than I am used to having. This dinner was not all that well executed, I'm sorry to say. I think I was missing my boy in the kitchen! However, I will say that the pasta was great with some grated Romano cheese. Still have some of that in the fridge to look forward to!

Saturday, Nathan and I had Bart over for dinner and made lamb chops with a radish salad and a potato leek gratin. We boiled the potatoes in the left over half and half from the creamed spinach, and sauted the leeks with butter and a little bit of bouillon because I didn't have a chance to bring my stock over to his house. We actually forgot to cream the leeks, and just poured the extra half and half over the whole thing, which ended up having an extra layer of potatoes on the bottom. This wound up being a little watery, but delicious.

Thinly sliced radishes with plenty of olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper are tasty enough on their own, but try tossing in some leek tops and the crunchy, slightly bitter leaves. Drizzle on the balsamic, and you have an amazing salad.

The third component of the meal offers this cautionary tale: Never cook with jerk seasoning on the stove top unless you have a super effective fume hood, (I suspect the oven would be better, but not a perfect solution). Nathan and Bart made this crucial mistake with their lamb, and we all paid the price. Our lovely chops had been on the griddle for only a few minutes when the jerk spices started burning, and the fumes became unbearable. It was like pepper spray, and Bart and I beat a quick retreat back to Pete's room to take refuge from the smoke. I could barely breathe and could not stop coughing. Nathan somehow managed to continue manning the stove, although he was forced to undercook the lamb a bit to stop the meat from releasing toxins into the air. That stuff is lethally hot, as my lamb managed to take on a considerable amount of heat just from being cooked in close proximity to their stupid jerk sauce. My lips were on fire. Despite that major hiccup, it was a tasty meal, with plenty of good wine courtesy of Bartosz.

All of these meals were great, (or would have been without hellish jerk seasoning), and were actually gluten free, save for the pasta and creamed spinach, which easily could be if you used the right flour and gluten free nutmeg. And that's my week in the kitchen in review, for posterity's sake!