Saturday, March 05, 2011

Food!

Time for the twice-yearly "I'm going to try to blog more" empty promise! I've been getting some nice encouragement on both my writing and my photography from some lovely friends (and have been inspired by the work of those same friends), and I had fun writing that Social Network post. So I'm digging up a couple of posts I started but never finished, and I'm going to work on my follow-through! I want to branch out on topics a bit too, so here's a food post:

For Christmas and Chanukah I received seven new cookbooks. Eight if you count the slow-cooker book I bought myself because I also received a slow-cooker. (Back to seven if you count the one I put on my Amazon wish list in 2003 and forgot about which turned out to suck.) When I asked my mother if she was angling for a dinner invitation or trying to fatten me up for slaughter, she pointed out that everything in front of me (including the slow-cooker) was from my wish list. Fair enough! If I had more time (and more inclination to spend 90 minutes in the kitchen after getting home from work at 7 pm) I'd consider doing a Julie and Julia thing (oh yeah, mom also gave me her old, well-worn copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, so nine if we count that!), simply because there's no way to make all of the recipes in my house right now (which include magazine clippings and web printouts) unless I do one a day maybe until I die. That's not a bad position to be in, really, though it might make my attempts to lose weight an even bigger challenge than they already are!

I had the luxury of being off from work from December 24 to January 2, so I used some of that time (and the excuse of holiday gluttony) to make a dent in a couple of the books. I started ambitiously, with the latest Top Chef book. I love these books. They're part cookbook, part coffee-table-book about the show. So as a fan of both food and reality TV, they really hit my sweet spot. They're also gorgeously designed. So even though I'll probably never even attempt half the recipes (I mean, it's Top Chef, shit gets serious) they're a great read. I got the first two (this one is #3) last Chrismukah, and they actually inspired me to go back and watch the first two seasons of the show, which I'd never seen.

The new book has less on the show (though there's still some good behind-the-scenes insight) and more lessons on technique, which I find super useful since I'm generally more concerned with how things taste than how they look and my knife skills are pretty awful. (Digression and exception: One recipe from the first TC book actually had very specific plating instructions, so I followed them to a T and was damned proud of myself:
March 27: Top Chef
I was shocked when I actually got around to watching the episode this came from and discovered it was by dumbass Michael! As I recall, Tom was shocked too.)

Anyway, another nice thing about the new book is that it includes recipes from Top Chef Masters, so there are some serious heavy-weight chefs in there, and that's how I started, with Hubert Keller's macaroni and cheese. Viewers of the show will remember this from the dorm room challenge, and I assume the recipe was modified for the book to make sense in a real kitchen – no shower or microwave involved! There is, however, a whole lot of cholesterol involved! Clearly no one expects mac and cheese to be light and healthy, but honestly, this was a bit much by any standard: It has macaroni (duh), swiss cheese, onion, mushrooms, carrots, two cups of cream, and some half-and-half. Then, you take another cup of cream, whip it, mix in six egg yolks and some parsley (vegetable!) and pour that over the top before baking it. Oh and there's only a cup and a half of cheese. So there's over twice as much cream as cheese, plus all that egg. The end result looked gorgeous, and was certainly tasty, but I wouldn't really call it mac and cheese. It's like mac in cream sauce…with egg? It tasted really eggy. The shrimp is sort of delightful, and neat visually since it's so close in shape and color to the macaroni – it's a nice surprise. The carrot is just weird. I'm a fan of Chef Keller and was super-excited for this recipe (eight new cookbooks and it's the first thing I made!) and Boy and I were both pretty disappointed by it. Looked pretty though (these are not my best photos, sadly):
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There was a ton left over (I should've halved the recipe), and when I had some a couple of days later, I added more cheese and crumbled in about a slice and a half of bacon. It was almost perfect! The salty crunchy bacon balanced the sweet soft carrot nicely, and more cheese is always a good thing. Far be it for me to claim to have improved on Chef Keller, but my revision was more to my taste. I polished off the (revised) leftovers but I doubt I'll make this one again.

Next up, also from Top Chef, was Stefan's duck with pretzel dumplings. I hated Stefan on the show, but he had me at duck and further had me at pretzel dumplings. Cabbage is a major component of this dish, and I'm not usually a fan, but I was super-interested in the duck and the dumplings, and I wanted to try the whole recipe as written first. Fortunately the cabbage includes two cups of wine, along with apple, cinnamon, cloves, and more, so it smelled more like mulled cider on the stove than cabbage. The cabbage sits under the duck and the liquid serves as a sauce. It cooks for two hours, and one thing I dislike about the Top Chef books is they don't give you any sort of instructions on how to use your time. If I'd just gone through the whole recipe as written, nothing would have been ready at the right time. Especially annoying in this case since that's so often a big part of the challenges on the show, and we see the chefs making things the day before. Fortunately I figured out that I could start the cabbage, then make and boil the dumplings. In the last 20 minutes or so of cabbage simmering, I started the duck, then fried the dumplings while that roasted and rested.

The dumplings didn't really come together properly, which might have been due to sloppy halving of the recipe on my part (when something calls for 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, and you're only making half, you kind of have to wing it). They were very tasty, they just didn't photograph well, and there were some texture issues. Not really what I think of as a dumpling, but yummy anyway. The duck breast was clearly larger than the recipe intended, and I should have rendered the fat for a lot longer (which is clear in the photos!). But where I executed the mac and cheese perfectly but didn't love it, this relative mess of a plate was extremely delicious! It won't replace my favorite duck recipe, but I'll definitely make it again (and try to get those dumplings right!).
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The slow-cooker was up next. Before I got the book I went online and found the wonderfully named Chicken With 40 Cloves of Garlic. There's not much to say about it, really. It wasn't all that exciting but it was as great as everyone says it is to just throw everything in the crock pot and walk away while the apartment starts smelling amazing. The chicken falls right off the bone and while the garlic cloves stay whole, they get so soft that you can spread them on bread like butter (and we did!).
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The book I bought myself was Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook. It is extensive! I haven't made much from it yet, but I wanted to try chili, for which there are a dozen or so recipes. I went for the one with the least amount of work involved, which had a Sandra Lee "Semi Home Made" quality that I normally hate (jarred salsa was involved) but it turned out pretty great. I served it with some cilantro-lime sour cream (also from the book, which has non-crock pot recipes for sides and things too) and baked potato. I'm really only mentioning it because I want to post this photo:
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I'll bring this long post to a close with dessert, which makes sense. Nothing to do with the new books, but also made during Christmas week, and presented with minimal commentary: Apples With Candied Bacon à la Mode:
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It's super-easy to make, and such a nice winter treat. I used homemade bourbon ice cream instead of vanilla, which I wholeheartedly recommend if you have access to such things. I imagine chocolate would be great too.

1 comment:

Jess said...

Wow, now I'm hungry! It all looks so good!