We got our second allotment of produce this week, as you can see in the pic. More chard, yummy oranges, some salad, heirloom tomatoes, and some really green celery plus other stuff was what we got this week. One thing about this, it means I sure am eating my greens :)
Tonight Kyle and myself and a bunch of friends are going out for Mexican food and to see the new movie Serenity! Yay!!! Finally get to see the Joss Whedon movie we've been waiting so long for. For those who don't know, I am a huge HUGE Joss Whedon fan, and I LOVE his shows, especially Buffy and Firefly. In fact, I'm just a tad obsessed at times.
Whew! It has been a busy week so far, at least cooking-wise. On Monday I made sort of a stir-fry with the mizuna, some purple bunching onions, somen noodles, ginger, and soy sauce. It was quite good, nice and light especially since Monday was pretty hot here in San Diego. The mizuna had a light taste, slightly spicy like mustard, but mostly it just smelled really fragrant. And the purple onions added a nice flavor, a little more like a cross between green onions and shallots than like a red onion, which is what I was expecting.
I also made a chicken liver pate on Tuesday night, which turned out pretty well. Again, reading Julie Powell's blog and also Julia Child cookbooks inspired me to give it a shot. I think it turned out pretty well, and people seemed to like it at our dinner party tonight. Speaking of our weekly food/America's Next Top Model/Lost night, this week it was our turn to host. I made minestrone soup in the Crockpot, which was super easy, and I also made panna cotta. I have been wanting to try panna cotta for so long, but everytime Kyle and I try and order it at an italian restaurant, they're out. It turned out really well, nice and creamy with a texture similar to flan. I also made insalata caprese, a tomato, basil, mozzarella starter that went so well with the last of the heirloom tomatoes I got from BeWise Ranch.
All told, it was a great night, filled with lots of friends, wine, and wonderful Lost, which of course didn't really reveal anything else about everyone and the island. Grr! Well, the mystery is part of why I like the show so much
Thursday was the first week of our CSA produce pick-up. CSA (community supported agriculture) is a great program where the people in the community can pay a small amount each quarter and get fresh produce weekely straight from the farm. We got a lot of stuff, some of which I'm not sure what to do with. We got yummy heirloom tomatoes, mini tomatoes, limes, lemons, red chard, red cabbage, some purple bunching onions, and something called mizuna. Mizuna is apparently a mustard flavored green that's usually placed in salads. Not sure what I'm gonna do with it, maybe a stir-fry of some sort? Also have no idea what to do with a whole head of red cabbage. One of the nice things about the CSA deal is that I can try new, strange types of produce, and try more thrown-together dinners
I just got done reading a wonderful memoir of sorts by Ruth Reichl, the former New York Times restaurant critic, and now editor of Gourmet. She has such an enchanting style of writing, and her descriptions of food make your mouth water. But more than that it's the simple, straightforward manner in which she writes, such that the reader always feels welcome and part of her world. Half of the book excites me to try fancier, gourmet food, but sadly only as a restaurant critic or VIP. It seems as if in general normal people are treated with disdain at many fancy restaurants, which is very sad to me. I want to think its just a New York thing, but probably not.
In other sad news, Kyle and I finally finished off the lovely bottle of Solera Cream Sherry we have been savoring these past months. We grabbed a bottle at the Mount Palomar winery when we went wine tasting in Temecula with R&A, and it is some of the most fabulous fortified wine I have ever tasted. Sipping it really makes me feel like a genteel lady in English drawing rooms at the turn of the century, so luxurious. But Kyle and I have been discussing another, more prolonged trip to Temecula as a getaway this fall, so hopefully we'll be able to grab another bottle.
Otherwise, as the lazy sod I am, I never got around to baking bread this weekend, but I did finally roast the chicken that's been in the fridge all week. It's amazing how simple and delicious roast chicken with potatoes can be. Alas, another long week of work and getting up early awaits. I sincerely miss sleeping in.
Two nights ago I went to what was supposed to be the first week of my Breadmaking class. The lady who teaches is quite nice, if a little too mild-mannered and soft-spoken for my tastes. She went over, in great detail, the basics of a white bread recipe, explaining about proofing yeast, measuring flour, etc. Sadly, the class in future will no longer be held, as there weren't enough people who showed up the first time. Apparently, 15 people need to show up to the first class, and we only had 10. Which really sucks, as this was the only cooking class I could take due to it being at night. Every other class takes place in the middle of the day, which I obviously can't do as I work. But she did have some good tips, so it wasn't all a waste. I think this weekend I'll try my hand at breadbaking, without using the KitchenAid! I fully expect disaster, but it might be okay to hand knead the bread. At least my arms will get stronger :)
Tonight I tried my hand at crepes, with the batter recipe taken from the dear Julia Child. Basically just a mix of flour, milk, water, eggs and a bit of butter whirled together and placed in fridge for about 30 min to allow the gluten to rest before cooking. Then you get a small nonstick skillet fairly hot, so "water dances on surface", which is such a perfect description of what it looks like. One of the reasons I love Julia Child is her beautiful descriptions, but also that she lets cooks know why to do what she tells them instead of just following the recipe. So anyway, after you pour the batter in, and swirl a bit and let the bottom cook, you flip it on the other side. Which finally (yay!) I was able to do just by sliding the pan out and back, doing the flip that looks so cool and efficient on TV. Got pretty good at it too, and even Kyle got into trying it. Then I just filled most of the crepes with a cream cheese/sour cream mix, some green onions, and smoked salmon. Very tasty, especially once you put just a bit of jam inside the crepe. Next time I'll have to make more just so I'll have crepes left for dessert.
I've decided that I need a bit of structure and purpose to my cooking/baking, so I've decided to be more systematic, as inspired by Julie Powell. I want to master the basic types of sauces, which I should have already done, but there hasn't been much call for thickened sauces when I usually cook. In fact, I was trying to make a sauce from the left over juice in the pan of the pot roast, and it was totally hopeless. I realized that I really have no clue how to thicken sauces, make sauces, add depth to sauces, etc. So next it's all about tackling sauces. Speaking of, here's a pic of my lovely new Dutch oven.
So I'm not sure what else to tackle besides sauces, so if anyone even reads this, a few suggestions would be nice. There are definitely a few recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking that I want to try, mainly due to the descriptions given in Julie's blog.
Plus, every Tuesday I'll be going to a Breadmaking class given by the local continuing education center. Tomorrow's my first class, hopefully enough people will register so the class can be continued and not cancelled. I think another bit of a project, mainly because of the class, will also be breadbaking and possible basic pastry/baking techniques, like making pasta or souffles.
So lately I have been more than a little obsessed with reading all the past blog entries (and yes, most of the comments) on the Julie/Julia Project blog, over at Salon.com where the brilliant Julie Powell has chronicled her feat of cooking through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" all in one year, taking many stops to discuss Spicy Thursdays (her break from French food which her husband cooks), the joy of Buffy, many vodka tonic drinks, subway rages, and just life in general. This woman has fully inspired me to take a deeper look at French cooking and not be so intimidated by foreign words, pate, or liver. In fact, I always liked liver, but have not had it in ages. Yum! Of course, I have a very definite feeling my husband would not be partaking, as I still can't get him to eat anything pickled, or olives or corned beef. Sigh. Well, at least now he loves mushrooms and is even eating fresh tomatoes with more acceptance. Soon, soon I will have him eating pickles! Of course, thanks so much to my mom, who brought the Julie/Julia project to my attention in the first place, without which I never would have discovered the joys of Better Than Bouillon or started to search for truffle flour for the day sometime in the future when I attempt some of the actual French recipes.
With an update, the pie dough was excellent, which means I finally have a pie dough winner from all my many recipe cards! Especially as I tend to get the craving to make pie when it's hot out (silly me!) and also overwork the dough just a tad, and this pie dough was nice and flaky, but tasted yummy and didn't fall completely apart. Otherwise, I tried to make the mini quiches by placing dough in the mini tart pans for the initial baking, but as the pans aren't very deep, I don't think they'll hold quiche filling very well. Instead, I made a large quiche in my 9.5 inch pie plate, a yummy onion-bacon-Gruyere quiche that turned out just right, if a tad too eggy. Next time, instead of 6 eggs I'll just use 3-4, and I think that will help.
And with the rest of the dough, I finally made an apple pie. Very yummy, even if the apples weren't as crisp as I'd like, so they kinda fell apart inside of the pie. But the dark rum caramel I made for sweetening the apples turned out well at least. And for dinner, Kyle made Portuguese Pork with Clams, which was quite yummy. On a side note, it took me trips to 5 stores before I finally found clams. Sad, as I live fairly near a beach of active clamming, or so Google informs me. So the solution...clam digging! Yes, apparently you can go clam digging, mussel hunting, and lobster diving all for free and in Southern California, as long as you obey standard rules to protect the species (ie not too tiny, not too much, etc). So once clamming season begins in November, I'm hauling myself, Kyle, and a picnic lunch up to a suitable beach for clam digging. It may be a day wasted in vain, but after paying a buck a clam for this recipe, I figure an afternoon of fun at the beach and free clams and mussels will be well worth my time.
And finally, in response to Kathleen. Yes, I do know who you are, as I believe you and myself are the only chemists my mom knows who also share an interest in food :) And as you mention it, I just returned Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" to the library, and it was a great read. More and more I am reading book about food, be it fiction, science, critiques, or cookbooks. I'm not sure why this fascination has risen so much over the past year or so, but I find that I do a great deal of cooking and baking. For example, last night I made a tasty red lentil soup, and roasted and peeled some chile peppers R had given us for later use so they wouldn't spoil, and grated zucchini for 4 loaves. Turns out I grated enough for 10 loaves, but at least I can freeze it. This morning, quite soon after getting up, I proceeded to make zucchini bread, which was worth it, and a bit later started my pot roast for dinner. Which actually, I was able to bake in my fancy new Dutch oven which I got from a genius potter named Dan McMullin who sells pieces and teaches classes at the UCSD Crafts Center. If it were not currently dirty, I would post a pic. Well, time for that later.
I must say, I like everything about cooking. Well, not everything. Not dishes, that's for sure, and not the mess I make when I'm done, which of course needs to be cleaned up for me to cook something else the next night. And everyone always says "But you have a dishwasher! It should be easy!" And to that I say, yes, it is, for the plates and glasses which are so not the problem but the pans! My God all the pans and ladles and pots and assorted items that need to be handwashed and invariably have some such thing stuck to them. I am convinced that anyone who thinks having a dishwasher should make doing the dishes painless obviously does not cook much, or else they would also face a sinkful of pots and pans and moan pitifully just like I do.