Monday, February 28, 2011

Ad Hoc: Roasted Chicken with Root Vegetables

Doesn't the title sound comforting and just what you need on a cold wintery day?

That's what I thought too, so I made it on like the only day in the last month that it actually rained.  I don't know if I was just in a crappy mood or what, but this disappointed a bit.  I mean, it was good... but it was just roast chicken.  And, since I made it with a ridiculous $4 a pound organic free range no-hormone hand-fed (ok, at this point I think i'm making things up) chicken, I expected more.

I will give it this though: it was pretty easy.  Easy enough to make on a weekday night.

First you chop up the vegetables - carrots, potatoes, leeks, turnips, rutabaga.  I admit: I had to ask the grovery store man for help finding a rutabaga.  I think those delightful but obscure root vegetables were my favorite part of the dish!

Second, I trussed the chicken.  Simple enough, even though I had serious issues with his wings staying put.

Toss the veg in a big pan (I used my massive cast iron one, since I thought it would be nice, but I think if I ever made this again I would use a bigger one); build a "nest" for the chicken; then in the oven it goes.   Oh, yeah, and put big chunks of butter for extra deliciousness (or trips to the gym: you chose which).

 At least the top part of the chicken looked pretty when it was done:

After the chickem "rested" for 20 minutes, I heated the veggies up and used the pan juices to glaze a bit.

The result: meh.  It was roasted chicken.

All in all, I don't know that I would do a chicken this way again.  Brandon thought it was too "thyme-y" (having him ask me how much thyme was in the dish/vegetables/chicken in four different ways because I thought he was asking how long things took was pretty funny) -- but I loved the thyme.  And the rutabagas, which were like sweeter potatoes.  That I picked out from the pan until all were gone.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ad Hoc: Asparagus Coins

Asparagus is one of those vegetables that I didn't encounter until I was an adult (to the extent you consider 'being in college' being an adult).  I don't know if it was because growing up we were too poor to afford the $15 you'd need to spend to have enough asparagus for a family of six, or if it was just because it's a lot more common now.

The first time my roomate made asparagus, I was like 'wtf are those... branches... that you are asking me to eat?!'  But, somewhere along the way, I learned that I love it.  I'm pretty sure it is now my favorite vegetable.  Mostly because its so easy and versitile - just blanch, toss a little lemon, oil, salt and pepper, or throw on the grill for a few minutes, or quickly sautee it - lots of ways to cook, they are all tasty.

So, where was I going this?  Oh, yeah, asparagus coins!

When I first read the recipe, I was perplexed.  Parsley water?  Honey?  This was all as foreign as the idea of asparagus when I first tried it.  But you know what?  Much like asparagus itself, the first bite was a little foreign, but it grew on me.

So, lets get down to business:

First, parsley water: heat some oil, melt some honey (still perplexed), and wilt some parsley.  Or in my case, italian parsley, which I think makes a more attractive substitute.

See the sad, sad resulting parsley water?  Its because the recipe said to use a Vitamix, but I only had my sad, broken blender.  Fortunately my birthday isn't too far out... hint hint to my loyal reader - yeah, there is only one :)

Next, cut the asparagus ends off.  Then run small bundles over a mandoline.  Ad Hoc suggested using a rubber band to bind the asparagus together before running it over the top of the mandoline.  I didn't have any, so I just held small bundles very carefully.  Once I got halfway through the first bundle, I was terrified that I was going to lose a finger (Aside: this stems from the amazon reviews of my mandoline where person after person recounted horror stories of rushing people to the emergency room because they had severed tendons.  I was like 'DUDE, USE THE SAFETY THING AND YOU'LL BE FINE'... but, here I was, with no safety so I was convinced my thumb was a goner).  Luckily, I still have all fingers intact, plus I had pretty little coins!

Cooking it was a cinch.  I tossed in some (questionable) chive oil that I had left from a dinner, sauteed the asparagus tips for a minute or two

tossed the rounds in and sauteed for a minute or two

then put some parsley water in.  In another minute or two, all done!

Taste-wise, it was interesting.  Usually "interesting" is code for "you screwed it up but are trying to be polite"... but here, it really means interesting.  The sweetness of the honey really came through.  I can't remember ever eating sweet-tasting asparagus, so I was a little thrown.  It tasted good though.  And, even with threatening a limb, it was really quick.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ad Hoc: Buttermilk Biscuits

In addition to the lamb I posted about, I made fresh buttermilk biscuits from Ad Hoc.  I was shocked to discover that it literally took 5 minutes longer than making bisquick biscuits, but tasted about ten times better (and i'm about a thousand times less likely to get angry throwing away yet another box of bisquick since the buggys got to it!)

Basically, I just dumped the dry ingredients into the food processor, and pulsed a couple of times to combine.

Then, I put in the butter (cut into pieces), and pulsed a few more times until it was incorporated.

Next, that whole mixture was dumped into a bowl.  I dug out a well, and threw in the buttermilk.

Finally, I mixed (mostly with my fingers, so I could tell when it was "just combined"), tossed on the mass onto the counter, and "patted" into something resembling a square.  Or maybe rectangle.

Biscuit cutter in action, then a little buttermilk on top, and into the oven they went!

17 minutes later, I had beautiful golden brown biscuits.

 The whole thing took 30 minutes from start to finish.  And more than half of that was cooking time!!!!  I'm making fresh homemade biscuits all the time now.  The end.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ad Hoc: Herb-Crusted Lamb with Honey Mustard Glaze

Finally, i've managed to dive into Ad Hoc!

I think i've said this before, but i'm going to say it again: i'm not a fan of meat in general.  I agreed to make lamb for my husband because (1) I had some extra time (a little slow at work) and I felt like cooking, and (2) he tolerates the fact that we eat chicken or frozen food an average of 6 days a week.

That being said... this was fairly easy and (much to my surprise) incredibly delicious!  And, after cooking so many French Laundry dishes as of late, it was a snap.

First: I made breadcrumbs.  I was supposed to tear the crust off of my bread... but lets face it, i'm lazy.  So I decided to just use my food processor instead.

After drying, it was back into the food processor.

Second: garlic confit.  Peeling the garlic took me for-ev-er, mostly because I was doing it the "slow way" (the way in which I do not bang the cloves with a knife), afraid of damaging the cloves.  Then I realized that I could puree them if I wanted, so why would it matter if the clove was a little crushed?  First head of garlic: 20 minutes.  Next 3: 15 minutes total.  Doing the whole 'whack your knife on the garlic' trick is so much more time efficient!

After I peeled FOUR heads of garlic, threw them in with some oil and simmered away.

Third: mince some rosemary and parsley.

Fourth: honey-mustard glaze.  Just mix honey and mustard.  That was easy.

Fifth: Combine softened butter and garlic cloves (I omitted the anchovies, because, as i've stated, i'm NEVER voluntarily deboning an anchovy again!), then mix with the herb and breadcrumbs.

Sixth: quickly sear the fat-side of the meat, then pat down with breadcrumb mixture and put into oven.

Seven: let rest, then chow down on yummy chops!

Seriously, like I said above, i'm not a fan of meat.  This is especially true of lamb, since I always feel like its a little gamey.  But this, this was fabulous.  Meat was a perfect medium-rare, tender, not too bloody.  The crust was buttery and buttery, and how do you go wrong with buttery?  The thin layer of fat was broken down by the sear, so no gristle or anything to chomp through.  And best of all: it took maybe two hours - one of which was really just spent cleaning up my kitchen while things cooked (unattended) - but looked elegant and fancy enough for a special dinner.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This Is Love

Check out my valentine's day gift.  Yep, my husband loves me.  

Enough to (apparently) want to stop me from burning the kitchen down.  Don't you wish you had that kind of love?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dinner #4 - Its going to happen someday...

The problem with this time of year is birthdays.  Birthdays, and birthday parties, it seems like every single weekend from now until... i'm not sure when (late April-ish - I guess summer lovin' is real).  Which makes it a lot harder to have a *few*,  as opposed to a ton, of people over for dinner.

So, expect a little delay in the next dinner party over here at project dinner party.  BUT I will be posting some things i've been making as weekday-when-I-have-lots-of-time/Sunday dinners from Ad Hoc.  I'll also be posting some essentials - veal stock is currently simmering away on my stove.

And, in case you're curious, next up for dinner:

Starter: Blini-fest!  In which I make all blini recipes at once
First: Chestnut Agnolotti
My first meat dish: Pot au Feu
Dessert: "Candied Apple"

A challenging menu, but large portions can be done ahead of time.  AND I have a slow period coming up at work (at least, that's how it seems), so i'll have time for tons of weeknight prep.  My prelim date for this insane menu is March 12th... hopefully I can squeeze it in between birthdays!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dinner #3: Chocolate Cakes with Red Beet Ice Cream and Toasted Walnut Sauce

So, you know how I almost set my kitchen on fire?  These made up for that.

Quick recap, since the recipe has been strewn about:

(1) Making beet juice in a Vitamix looks like I murdered someone

(2) Beet ice cream is pretty at all stages (and, might I add, a great Valentine's food, if you are going with a red theme)

(3) I love chocolate, especially when in comes in the form of flourless chocolate cake

(4) Beet chips are surprisingly delicious

(5) It takes forever to reduce poaching liquid to 2/3 a cup for toasted walnut sauce, but the resulting candied walnuts look yummy.

And, now that we have recapped:

I had finished all of the thirty-billion parts that go into this dessert.  All that was left to be done was un-molding the cakes.  I put a little warm water in the bottom of a pan (at least, I think this is what I did - i'm a lightweight, so i'm pretty toasty three glass of wine in).  I won't say they unmolded "easily," but they came out pretty well.

I (mostly) dropped each cake into a small circle of toasted walnut sauce.  Around the chocolate cake, I stacked a few beet chips, a scoop of beet ice cream, a couple of walnuts.  Then I sprinkled the tops of the beet chips with a little powdered sugar.

The result:

I would have taken more pictures, but the vultures were circling.  The verdict?  Unabashed love.  By male and female alike, even my chocolate-hating husband (ok, ok, he doesn't really hate chocolate, but he's not a fan).  I was practically shoved into the kitchen when I said that I had more cakes, ice cream, chips, and walnuts.  Rather than attempt to plate more, I just brought each of the dishes out and let people scoop out more.  I considered licking my plate.  The sauce, the bittersweet cake, the not-too-sweet beet ice cream, which was like gelato in texture, it all just came together so well.  I'm drooling thinking of it now.

I didn't even have to ask what the best dish of the night was.  Hands down, chocolate cake and beets are my new favorite weird-flavor combination.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Vanilla-Saffron Sauce

This is the dish that I dread talking about.  Honestly, even with little snafus and mis-reads, everything has gone really well.  Until this dish.  This was a disaster.  I mean, it tasted amazing.  But I almost BURNED THE HOUSE DOWN.  Yeah, I mean that literally.   And that always takes away from any success in how it tasted.

So, when I was piping the cheese, I also heated my reserved mussel stock, tossed in saffron threads and a vanilla pod, and began reducing.  It didn't take too long to get down to a glaze - maybe 30-45 minutes.  I whisked in a bunch of butter.  I COULD NOT get that damn sauce to emulsify correctly - I could tell the pan was too hot, but I had it on the very lowest setting, so I didn't know what was going on.  I later realized that the oven was on and blowing the hot air on the backside of the saucepan, making it BURNING hot, so that's probably why it wouldn't combine right.  Anyways, yeah, broken sauce.

Next up: spinach balls!

Basically I just heated up some zest, wilted the spinach, then separated into 6 portions.  I squeezed the little portions into balls using cheesecloth.  The only hard thing about the whole process was that Brandon was trying to make little man dinner at the same time, and kept running into me holding my burning-ass-hot cheesecloth-filled spinach that was waiting to be squeezed.  And I was in a hurry so that the spinach wouldn't overcook.  Suffice to say, my hands hurt a bit after these.  But the balls were pretty!

Next: parsnip puree

I've never had a parsnip before.  Pureed like this was simply... phenomenal.  I could have eaten this puree all night, especially with the little drizzle of the vanilla-saffron sauce.

First I cut everything into roughly even parts.  Then simmer in cream.  Can't go wrong with that!  Except, somehow I thought they were done before they really were, and scraping the parsnip pieces through the tamis wasn't working, so I had to put them back in the reserved cream to cook more, then back to trying to scrape through the tamis... not so great.  I finally go this done, even if I did end up needing to use the teensiest bit of butter/cream to reconstitute.  Oh, yeah, and did I mention how yummy it was?  Yum.  Yum.

Finally... The. Fish.

I should have known that, with all of the trouble from earlier, something was going to go wrong.  It did.  In so many ways.

First, I portioned out the pieces.  I know they aren't the same size, but they are all pretty close to the same weight.  Then I scraped, over and over and over, to get ALL moisture out of the skin.

When I was done, these things did not have a shred of moisture left.  I was going to successfully crisp the skin, I convinced myself.

I heated up the oil.  I even remembered to dust the skin with a little flour.  I put the first piece of fish in.

It stuck like a mo-fo.  

There was a lot of unhappy swearing.  I tried another.  It stuck too.  (my hand is starting to burn typing this)

So, the fish was cooked and "kissed" appropriately... except not a scrap of skin remained on any of the first three fillets.

I put them on a paper towel lined plate, which I left on the burner next to where I was desperately trying to figure out a way to get the skin to stay.

"Do I smell... burning... hmm???" was my next thought.  I looked over - the paper towel was burning up around my fish.  I grabbed the plate and tried to blow it out.  Yeah, that didn't work.  F*F*F*F*F*F*F!!!  I looked around the kitchen trying to figure out how to not set off the damned smoke alarms and wake angry toddler up.  Sink, water, carefully trying to pick up the fillets so they don't get wet, except they are still burning hot from oil.  I get the fire out, go to put the plate back on the counter, then its on fire again. WTF???  I get that out, realize my other fish is overcooking, grab the spatula and try to pry it up (because the fish skin is sticking again, of course), and manage to splash BURNING HOT OIL all over my left wrist.  More yelping, cold water, trying to get the fish out of the pan.  [sidenote: and a couple of them were real burns, even with ointment on them I still have 3-4 real angry spots that still hurt]

And the best part: after this is over, I look into our dining room... and everyone is still yapping away, completely oblivious to the fact that I just almost set the kitchen on fire.  Its amazing what a couple of glasses of wine can do. 

In my last batch I got ONE piece of fish that actually retained some skin.  So you bet your ass that's the one i'm showing a picture of!

Plated: Broken sauce, not-creamy parsnip puree, and mangled fish skin

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dinner #3: Parmesan Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse and Heirloom Tomato Tart with Nicoise Olive Tapenade and Mixed Field Greens

First, I have to comment... even though taking pictures while cooking is a giant pain, i'm so glad I do.  Because even though I made this dinner less than a week ago (I mean, I just ate the leftover piece of fish tonight for dinner, for crying out loud) -- I have already forgotten about how things went.  But, a picture really is worth a thousand words, at least for reminding me about the zillion things I screwed up here.

Beet Chips

First up for my "afternoon prep" (yeah, no real break again) were the beet chips.  The idea of a beet chip kind of scares me.  I mean, it sounds like someone is trying to really stretch my husband's theory that "anything tastes good deep fried" to the limits.  Except, they are delicious.

First, I sliced the beets as thinly as I could on my mandoline.

Then I tossed them in a little flour and threw them in the deep fryer in small batches.

When I took them out, I sprinkled with a little salt.  I need to say it again: delicious!  I ate about 5, then remembered they were supposed to be for dessert.  One thing I had a little bit of a hard time with was Keller's instruction that the chip would sink when all the moisture was gone.  I had one batch that seemed overcooked after I let them go that long.  After tasting one, I determined they were burnt (aside - I discovered this solely because my dog tried to yank the paper towel down to eat some, and after a chip had fallen on the floor, I determined it was ok to eat juuuustt one more.  Amazingly, Bandit managed to knock ALL of the burnt ones and NONE of the ok ones on the floor - the first time he's ever done me a favor by being a bad dog!)

Mussel Stock

By far the easiest thing in the book.  NO CHOPPING REQUIRED!  And it took like 5 minutes (well, except that debearding the mussel thing - another 'internet lookup' stop).

Basically I just threw all of the ingredients in a big pan... except, I realized I had put the WHOLE bottle of wine in the pot when I only needed a cup.  My thirty-millionth screw up of the day (except... still doesn't compare to what comes later!).  I don't think it was a big deal, because I had like 40 mussels rather than the 18 specified.

After the mussels opened, I checked all to make sure I had gotten all beards out (hadn't with a few, so I just chucked them).  Next I set aside a cup of 'winish-stock' for the vanilla sauce. and then stuck them in the fridge to serve later with the sauce gribiche.

Parmesan Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse

I made the crisps and the goat cheese mousse earlier... so all I had to do was pipe in the cheese.  So simple.  And they were tasty.  Not my favorite canape so far (honestly, probably my least favorite of the three), but at least they were easy to prep ahead of time.

Heirloom Tomato Tart with Nicoise Olive Tapenade, Mixed Field Green, and Basil Viniagrette

I had already made puff pastry rounds, roasted tomatoes, and the olive tapenade, so this was another 'toss things together' dish.

First, I sliced some tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme.. then realized the cold tomatoes weren't supposed to have thyme.  My bad, oh well.

Next I put the roasted tomatoes on the puff rounds, and stuck in the oven to bake for about 35 minutes:



Finally, I tossed some vinegar in with the basil puree I had quickly made early that am, and tossed with some mixed baby greens.

The finished dish:

When I set the plate down, one guest remarked that it looked just like a fancy mini-pizza, which was pretty funny since Keller says its his "more elegant" version of pizza.  Everyone said it was tasty; I have to take their word for it since I had one tiny bit with roasted tomatoes because of my allergy... then ate salad and puff pastry.  Which was still pretty yummy.