Monday, May 2, 2011

Drinks for Breakfast?

Let's just come right to the point. When I sat dreaming of New Year's Resolutions and thought "Food! Blog! Food blog!" I didn't factor in the possibility of pregnancy. Yeah, we were thinking of having a kid already, but I wasn't applying that to every single thing I was thinking of doing. Also, I couldn't have imagined just how much being pregnant would impact how much time I spend in the kitchen, or how much I want to (don't want to) cook.

Don't panic, this isn't a white flag of surrender. This is just me saying that my idea of posting once a week is probably out the door. And, while I'm at it, the types of things I'm going to be making are going to change, too. There's going to be a lot more crock-potting and breakfast making going on, know what I mean?

Ok, so now that that's out of the way... guess what I did this week! Remember that thing I said I don't ever do cause I suck at it and you'd never see me do? Baking. BAKING! I baked. And, I didn't completely suck at it! Bonus.

I've been drawn to things lately that involve cooking with alcohol or which claim to taste like alcohol. I can't IMAGINE why this would be. So when I saw a recipe that claimed to make muffins that taste like Pina Coladas, I was sold.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
*1/2 cup coconut flakes
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspooon vanilla extract
*1 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained

*I starred these ingredients because I honestly felt like there could have been a lot more of both of them in the mix.


This is how I work. No, I don't remember what I was watching.

Pre-heat oven to 350
Combine the dry ingredients- flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, coconut in one bowl


Combine wet ingredients except for pineapple in another bowl

...oh my God, I said ANOTHER bowl!

Now look what you did.

Mix dry and wet ingredients together and then fold in pineapple

Spoon into lined cupcake pan and bake for about 25 minutes.

Done! Fluffy.

Do these taste like Pina Coladas? No. They taste like plain muffins with some pineapple and coconut mixed in. But they were tasty and they keep nicely. Mr. Panda has eaten 4 so far! If I were to make these again, I'd try more coconut/more pineapple as stated. Although, I'm not sure I'll make them again. How often am I going to be able to bake things without burning down the house or creating bricks instead of muffins? Just going off past experience, I'm going to say it's an experiment unlikely to be repeated with the same success.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What's better than potatoes and cheese (and a PSA)?

Friends, I want to start today's post with a little PSA. Last weekend Mr. Panda and I were fortunate enough to attend the Blue Jeans Ball here in DC. This is an annual charity event to sponsor the Capital Area Foodbank , dedicated to fighting hunger here in the DC Metro area. It was a great night of delicious food and fun times with friends, but it also was an important reminder that wherever we are, nearby are those who don't have enough to eat. I'm happy to do what I can to promote the Foodbank's cause and help where I can. So check them out through the link above. Even if you can't donate money, think about donating time or even just spreading the word about hunger. If you don't live here in DC, check out a foodbank in your area. There probably is one, and they need your help. Thanks.

And now, onto the food.  In a roundabout way.

Did you know that I grew up in New York? Well, I did. I grew up on bagels, black and white cookies, knish and latkes. Surprisingly, I have never made any attempt to make any of those myself. When I found a recipe for latkes I thought "Hey now. Let's make those."

To make things even more delicious? These latkes are stuffed with brie. Oh my God.

For those of you going "huh?" every time I say the word latke- they're potato cakes. Generally made of shredded potato and quickly pan fried. Latkes have an association with Hannukah as well, being a traditional food for the holiday. I have a lot of fond memories of being invited over for friends' Hannukah celebrations and having homemade latkes with apple sauce.

The original recipe was honestly one of the most annoying ones I've ever worked from. If I'd noticed when I first bookmarked it that it was measured in handfulls and dashes, I'd likely have just passed it by. I'm really glad I didn't though, because these turned out to be pretty easy (even if I did end up using measuring cups).

You need:
5 baking potatoes
2 eggs
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup Brie cheese, cut into cubes
1 tsp baking powder
Milk (skim ok) by the tablespoon for adding
Salt & pepper
Vegetable oil for pan frying
Applesauce (optional but highly recommended)

Having never made these before, I'm not sure if the original recipe's stance on parboiling the potatoes is really as vital as she indicates. It worked though, so if I make these again I'll do it again.

Parboiled is a fun word

Once the potatoes have been boiled for about ten minutes, let them cool. I actually refrigerated them overnight. You're going to need to shred them next, once they've been peeled. Think about how you're going to shred them before you take this project on. Shredding potatoes is not a task to take on unless you have all the patience in the world, or a tool that will make the job easier for you. I actually used a cheese grater. It was a success! But I wish I had a good Mandoline Slicer, that would have been even better.

This one time I was demonstrating a mandoline when I worked at Le Creuset and I nearly sliced off my finger. But that's a whole other story. The point is just, use the hand guard if you're going to use a mandoline. Another PSA!

Once the potatoes have been grated, grate the onion and garlic into the same bowl and then mix it all up. Break the eggs into the mix, add the baking powder and stir till it all makes a fun gloopy sound. Add the milk 1/2 tablespoon at a time, mixing between milk additions. The mix should be wet, but there shouldn't be any pooling in the bowl, so go slowly with the milk adding. You can also add a little more flour if it becomes over-saturated. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper to taste.

In a deep pan get about 1/2 inch of oil good and hot. Add a tablespoon of the grated potato mix to the pan and flatten out with your spatula. Quickly press one of the cubes of Brie into the center of the potato, then just as quickly spoon another tablespoon of potato mix on top. Flatten again. Cook about 3 minutes on each side, then remove to a paper towel to drain some of the oil.

Caution: keep an eye on your oil. If you're doing more than one batch it's possible your oil will dry up, so add some more and let it heat up again if needed. Oh, and how do you know if your oil is hot enough? I sprinkle a few breadcrumbs into it and see if they sizzle. If they do, it's hot enough.

The result is a crispy on the outside, cheesy gooey on the inside potato pancake of goodness. I reheated these for dinner tonight and topped them for old time's sake with applesauce. The first bite I got was fried potato, Brie and apple. I think my heart actually skipped a beat, it was that good. It was all of my Long Island memories, but even better!

The sandwich is Costo chicken salad, Hawaiian sweet bread and oven baked bacon. Also yum.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Since I can't drink it...

There really is very little in the food world that I love as much as meat that has been slow cooked in alcohol. The slow cooking process plus the enzymes in the alcohol can break down an otherwise tough piece of meat (like the chuck in this recipe) into something tender and full of flavor. You can stew it in wine, simmer it in beer, even serve it up after cooking it in cider. Right now, I can't drink any of those delicious beverages. (Cause, in case you didn't know, I'm currently incubating a small human.) And I miss them. Oh, how I miss them. The good news is, I can still cook with them! Hooray!

For this week, I made beef, mushroom and Guinness pies. The funny thing is, I actually don't drink beer, so it might seem sort of ironic that I'd seek out the flavor of one of the forbidden fruits I don't even enjoy. However, for cooking something as hearty as a beef stew (which is what this essentially is), that dark bready flavor is exactly right.

Stew Ingredients:
2 lbs chuck, cut into rough  cubes
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
14 oz button mushrooms, stems removed (which in my house means, "stems eaten while you're assembling the other ingredients")
2 fl oz beef stock
1 cup Guinness
2 teaspoons tomato paste (concentrated purée)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Stuff you will need (mood lighting optional).

Please note that the above ingredient list doesn't include anything for the topping. Because you have options here, people. The original recipe called for puff pastry, and I was fully prepared to do that. I had the pie crust all bought and thawed out in the fridge and everything. But once I tasted the stew, it screamed "POTATOES!" to me and I was forced to abandon the pie crust idea for a mashed potato topping. I should say that because I was unprepared to make homemade mashed potatoes, I ended up using instant (oh, the shame and horror... and deliciousness). So if you decide to make this recipe, I think you could go puff pastry top, mashed potato top, CHEESY potato top, whatever. Starch, I think though, is necessary. So sayeth the Panda.

Back to the filling though. Start off by heating about half of the oil in a deep, heavy pan. Have you noticed that a lot of my pictures show how much I use dutch ovens for cooking? That's because there is nothing so versatile in the kitchen as a good, solid dutch oven. The really good ones, like what you can find at Le Creuset, are a little pricey, sure. But if you get one, you will use the everloving crap out of it, I promise you. If you would consider it, I'd suggest a  5-1/2-Quart to start off. (I have a 5- 1/12 quart and a 7 quart, and I use the smaller one a lot more often.) Oh, and they're lifetime guaranteed. And cheaper if you can find an outlet store.

Yes, I used to work for Le Creuset, why do you ask?

Anyway, once the oil is heated (please watch out for spitting) add the cubed beef slowly and brown on all sides. Once the meat is browned evenly remove it from the pan and set aside, then add the rest of the oil and the onions. If there is some beef residue at the bottom of the pan this is a good thing. Leave it there. We call that flavor! The onions start to soften up and turn a little golden after about five minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes or so.

Slowly add the stock, Guinness, tomato paste, vinegar and beef back into to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low/medium-low, cover and simmer for 60 minutes or until beef is fork tender. Divide among four ramekins or ovenproof bowls and cool for 20 minutes. If you want to pre-make the filling, you can actually refrigerate it overnight at this point (I did).

Ready to make the final product? Ok, preheat an oven to 400 degrees. If you want to make homemade mashed potatoes, this is how I do it: take 4 medium to large potatoes, peeled, and boil them until soft. If you are making mashed potatoes just as a side you can leave the skins on, but I don't recommend it when you're putting it on top of a stew. Once the potatoes are soft enough to be pierced easily with a fork, take them out of the water and let them cool for about five minutes. Then blend with an electric hand mixer, slowly adding milk about 1/4 cup at a time until you reach the desired consistency. DO NOT OVER-BLEND or you end up with something that, while delicious, has the consistency of watery oatmeal. Things you can add to make mashed potatoes extra delicious: 1/2 cup ranch dressing; 1/2 cup shredded cheese; 1/4 cup chopped scallions; 3 tablespoons minced garlic. The options are almost endless.

Or you can use instant. Oh, they're not THAT bad. Or you can go with the original recipe and use pie crust, which you would do by cutting a piece of raw crust slightly larger than the top of your ramekin and draping it over the top.

Regardless of how you topped it off, you're going to stick the whole thing in the oven for about 20 minutes.

These little pies were so delicious they rendered Mr Panda temporarily speechless. The process of cooking beef over a long period while steeped in alcohol allows it to become just so tender it's hard to describe. (And yes, the "alcohol" part mostly cooks out, so no lectures, please.)

For full disclosure, the pies themselves would be best served with something on the side, like a salad or a bread. On their own they left us a little hungry and we ended up going to our local Chinese place for won ton soup. Why won ton soup? Because I'm pregnant and that's what I wanted. Still, I couldn't wait to eat the leftover pie the next day. They refrigerate nicely, but try to give the meat mixture a little stir before reheating.

Also, I'd like to make these again but I'm actually planning on substituting ketchup for the tomato paste. It's going to make the dish a little sweeter perhaps, but I bought the smallest can of tomato paste I could find and still ended up discarding most of it. If you happen to try these and use ketchup, please report back here and let me know how it goes. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pizza Panda Style

Let's just come right out and address the fact that there was no post last week. You know why? Because everything went totally and completely wrong in my kitchen, that's why. I broke the new photostudio thingum (Mr P fixed it), burned the chicken (which wasn't really thawed anyway) and just generally screwed everything up. And yeah, I could have written it up as a "don't do any of this" kind of post, but I've been so tired I couldn't be bothered. I hope you're not feeling too neglected.

This week, I'm still really tired, and I'm sick. Again. Rather than leave the dust gathering on this blog experiment though, I've got a guest cook this week! Mr. Panda made us some homemade pizza! In fact, he did such a good job y'all might want him permanently instead of me. Well. Too bad. But you get him this week! Enjoy!

:::Mr. Panda Enters Stage Left:::

Pizza.  What image does the word conjure in your mind?  Cardboard boxes that arrive at your door in 30 minutes or less?  Late night fuel for college study sessions?  The inevitable thin crust "soda and a slice" so beloved by New Yorkers?  Whatever it is, I'm willing to bet that it represents convenience and simplicity.  Today, Yours Truly, Mr. Panda, brings to you the anti-pizza.  Neither convenient nor simple.  But gosh-darned tasty.

When Mrs. P asked me to provide a pizza-based blog post, I knew I wanted to try something new.  I knew I needed to provide something that the thousands of readers of Not Just Bamboo would approve of.  As a man who worships at the altar of Mr. Alton Brown, I immediately hied me to my copy of Good Eats: The Early Years for suitable recipes (a present from the lovely Mrs. P and a cookbook I can't endorse enough, btw).  I found two to provide the foundation of the pizza adventure: Pizza Pizza dough and tomato sauce.

The pizza dough calls for an 18-24 hour rise time, so this is the perfect meal to prep everything the day before and then just pop it in the oven the day of.  In my case, I prepared the pizza dough and the tomato sauce ahead of time and did the pizza toppings the next day right before baking.  In retrospect, I would have done everything the night before.  Tip # 1: from me to you.

I'm going to present this process in the actual order I went through it: make the sauce, make the dough, make the toppings, bake the pizza.  A more talented and coordinated cook (such as you, Gentle Reader) could no doubt have done several of these tasks all at once.

Day 1, Step 1: The Sauce!

I've never made sauce from scratch before, so this was an experiment conducted entirely for your amusement.

First, gather the ingredients:

We, who are about to become tomato sauce, salute you!

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I omitted these for Mrs. P's sake)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk celery (I hate celery, so I also omitted these)
  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Strain the tomatoes over a large saucepan, setting the tomatoes aside to use later.  Add the vinegar, sugar and spices to the tomato juice and bring to a boil.  Once the surface starts to bubble, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until it loses about half its liquid content.

Liquid on the stove: ready, set, simmer!
While the liquid is cooking, dice the carrots and onions and put them in a roasting pan, along with the tomatoes, olive oil, capers and garlic (this is apparently known as a mirepoix in cooking circles).  Place the roasting pan on a rack in the middle of the oven under the broiler for 15-20 minutes (mine broiled for 20 minutes), stirring every 5 minutes, until the tomatoes have started to caramelize and brown on the outside.  Don't cheese out on the roasting!  I believe this process is what really gives the sauce its depth of flavor.

Roasted mirepoix goodness
 Be careful here - after coming out of the broiler, the pan is really freakin' hot.  Take the liquid off the heat and carefully add the mirepoix.  Stir in the wine and, voila, sauce!  Now, Alton claims that you can use this sauce at different consistencies for different foods.  I don't know about that, but I do know that if you blend it all the way down it becomes perfect for pizza.

Using a blender (I used Mrs. P's awesome Cuisinart hand blender), blend to an appropriate consistency for pizza sauce.  Let the sauce cool and place in the refrigerator for tomorrow's pizza extravaganza.  Note: this makes waaay more sauce than you need for pizza.  Alton says it freezes for up to a year.  We now have two freezer bags full of leftover sauce in our freezer.  Who knows?  It may show up back here on the blog as part of a future project.
Homemade pizza sauce is home made
Day 1, Step 2: The Dough 

This dough is, as they say in Boston, wicked easy.  First, gather the ingredients together:

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt*
  • 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups flour (Alton's original recipe called for 9.5 ounces by weight - wtf???)
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast

Place all ingredients in a stand mixer bowl.  Mix on low with the flat beater until it just becomes a ball.  Next, attach the dough hook and need on medium for 15 minutes.  Tear off a small piece of dough to test for proper consistency.  If it stretches to translucency prior to breaking, the dough is ready.  If not, knead for 5 - 10 more minutes.

Roll the dough into a ball and place in a bowl.  Pour two teaspoons of olive oil over the dough and spread it around to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or an eco-friendly lid if you happen to have one) and place in the refrigerator to rise for 18-24 hours.

One note of caution here: our refrigerator runs very cold at the top.  I put the dough on the top shelf and when I took it out on Day 2 it was near-freezing temperature and hadn't risen at all.  I recommend placing it somewhere in your refrigerator with a more moderate temperature to give the yeast a chance to be active.

Day 2, Step 3: The Toppings

Ahhh... the toppings.  While dough and sauce are the foundation of a pizza, the toppings are what really defines it.  For this pizza, we opted to do sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.  I really like the flavor of sweet Italian sausage and I think it lends itself exceptionally well to pizza.  You, of course, are welcome to try any toppings you think appropriate.  Since this is my blog post, though, you get to read about sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella.

Oh sweet Italian sausage, how I do love thee
To prepare the sausage, I used a technique I learned whilst living among the sausage-loving peoples of upstate New York.  I bought the best sweet sausage I could find and used a knife to split the casings.  The meat inside the casing can be put in a frying pan and browned like ground beef or loose ground sausage.  While browning the sausage, Mrs. P made a most brilliant suggestion and I put the sliced mushrooms in with the sausage to saute in the sausage grease.

Cook the combination, stirring to brown the sausage and keep it from burning.  Remove from heat when the sausage is brown (the mushrooms will bake on the pizza).  In retrospect, a larger pan is better, but the outcome in my case was still exceptionally tasty.
Sausage/mushroom saute
Three words on cheese: I love cheese.  A few more: get good mozzarella and shred a pile of it for use as a pizza topping.  That's really all there is to cheese on the pizza.  (Okay, full disclosure: I used pre-shredded cheese for this pizza.  It still tasted good, but I didn't respect myself in the morning.)

Day 2, Step 4: Putting it all together (or, a pile of stuff becomes a pizza)

To properly cook a pizza, it should be cooked in a brick oven at something like 800 degrees.  If you happen to have one of those I hate you (that's the jealousy talking) and you can skip to the end because you already know what you're doing.  If you're a mere mortal and making due with a regular oven, you'll have to improvise.  Alton has actual tiles he uses to line his oven to create a faux-brick oven.  I haven't reached his level of geek Nirvana yet so I use an ordinary Pampered Chef pizza stone (mine is old, though, so it doesn't have handles).  Put your stone in the oven and preheat it as high as it will go.  Mine goes to 550 degrees, so that's what I got.  Warning note: put the stone in the cold oven and then preheat to make sure you don't break your stone due to thermal shock.

While the oven is preheating, take the dough out, split it into two equal-sized balls and let it rest.  Actually, you should do this very first, since the dough needs to rest for about 30 minutes.  Take one of the dough balls and place it on a lightly floured pizza peel.  Press it into a disc, creating a lip on the edge.  The lip will become the outer crust of the pizza.

Now for the fun part: stretching the dough.  Rolling pizza dough is just unsat.  The dough won't taste right, the outer crust won't form, and it wouldn't be pizza.  Real pizza dough is stretched to reach the right proportions.  There are several methods to do this.  You can stretch it by hand on the pizza peel.  You can pick it up, run it through your fingers and rotate it to let gravity stretch it.  Or, you can use the magic of centrifugal force to stretch the dough by spinning it and throwing it in the air.  Clearly, that last is the way to go.  Come on, people - centrifugal force!

Okay, so... here is the point in the narrative where you would rightfully expect a beautiful picture or video of me twirling pizza dough in the air.  Sadly, this is not to be. We tried; we really did.  Instead of pizza twirling, we have a considerable library of pictures of our kitchen cabinets and open air conspicuously free of twirling pizza dough.  We aim to please here at Not Just Bamboo, though, so in lieu of pictures of the actual event, we scoured the internet and found this video, which is a pretty close reenactment of my pizza twirling performance:

Once you've stretched your pizza dough, now it's time to turn it into pizza.  Place the dough on your peel and apply the pizza sauce.  Use a ladle to place a cupful or so in the middle of the dough and then spread it around.  The goal is to get an even layer of sauce over all the crust.

Pizza sauce and ladle
Time for toppings!  Top the pizza with the sausage and mushrooms.  Take the shredded mozzarella and sprinkle it over the toppings.  There's no science to this.  Put as many toppings as seem right and top with as much cheese as you think you want.  Finally, brush a little olive oil over the edge of the crust.

Transfer the pizza from the pizza peel to the stone in the oven.  Alton had some suggestions on how to do this.  It was still a messy transaction for me.  Hopefully, your dough isn't stuck to your peel and you can put the edge of the peel against the back of the stone and just give it a couple jiggles and a quick snap back to put it on the stone.  I have faith in you - you're smarter than me and you'll figure this out.

Bake in the oven for 7 minutes or so.  You want the dough to be golden brown and cheese bubbly.  Keep an eye on the dough, it might bubble.  If it does, pop the bubbles with a fork.

Once the pizza is done, slide your peel under it and pull it out of the oven.  And that's it!  Perfect pizza.

Trust me - it's awesome
This recipe makes enough dough for two pizzas.  If you're hungry enough to eat both, then make them right away.  If not, I highly recommend keeping the second ball of dough in the refrigerator (it should keep for 6 days) and only baking it when you're ready.  The toppings, cheese, sauce, etc should all last just fine as long as the dough.  This pizza is really really good when it's fresh.  It's okay as a leftover, but if you have the luxury of making it fresh - why not?

Happy pizza-ing!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is it French Toast?

I'm not really sure where to start on the recipe I made this week. It was delicious, it was easy, and I'm glad I made it. But I set out to make some kind of French toast- in fact I used a recipe that called itself French toast - and while eating it realized, "Hey. You know what? This is bread pudding."

The Panda Sister came for a visit last weekend, which is why I chose to make something rather luscious and yummy. Let's get one thing straight, whether this is French toast or bread pudding, this recipe is not something you want to make for your Uncle Morty with the cholesterol problems. Eggs, cream, butter- all in abundance. I have some ideas for adding fruit, but that's not going to counter 8 eggs, ya know?

Let's leave figuring out exactly what this is for later. For now, here's how it went in the Panda Kitchen (ha! totally sounds like a Chinese food takeout, no?).

8 eggs (seriously)
2 cups milk
1 loaf French Bread or Challah
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup Irish Cream liquor
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Start off by spraying a baking pan with non-stick spray. Cut the bread into even cubes or pieces spread evenly through the pan.

Meanwhile mix together the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, liquor and vanilla. Make sure you really mix the sugar in, because in my experience it formed a bit of a stubborn sludge at the bottom of the bowl. Pour the egg mixture over the bread, cover, stick in the fridge. Best if you have a few hours or even overnight to let all the bread pieces absorb the custard.

Now get to work on the cinnamon topping, which let's not even lie, is what we're all here for.

1/2 flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 salt
1/2 cup butter

Mix all the dry ingredients together, then cut the butter a little bit at a time into the mix. The original recipe says use a fork for this, and that'll work, but if you have a pastry cutter even better. Hey, sometimes a specialist kitchen tool really does make all the difference. Keep mixing until you can't see any of the butter and the mix is the color of wet sand. You can also stick this in the fridge if you're not ready to make your French toast bread pudding (Frudding? Freading? Breadtoast?).

To bake, preheat the oven to 350. While it's heating up, spread the brown sugar mixture over the top of the bread and egg mixture using your hands. Stick in the oven and cook for about an hour. Your house will. Smell. Amazing.



In the end, I'm not sure it matters if this is breakfast or dessert. I mean, Mr. Panda has been known to make these cinnamon rolls which are just full of sugar and butter and are guaranteed to give you cavities while making you cry from delicious happiness at the same time. And those are breakfast. So why can't bread pudding be for breakfast?

Make this for dessert and take it to a party and everyone will love you. Make it for breakfast when you have guests and they will adore you. Maybe not Uncle Morty, but you know, generally. Next time- and there WILL BE a next time - I think I want to incorporate some apples or raisins or even currants.

One last thing, and totally not food related, but this is hopefully the last week of blurry, unfocused pictures with weird shadows. I ordered a little mini photo studio! Not only will this make for better blog pictures, but I can't wait to torture my cats with it.

"Say what now?"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I think everyone who follows this blog is a Facebook friend, but on the off chance I have lurkers (hello lurkers!) or you don’t pay attention to my FB updates, let me tell you that I have been sick. I had a fever and the aches last weekend and now I have a subsequent respiratory infection and I just do not feel at all good. To make matters worse, I normally do my homework over the weekends, but aforementioned sickness made me put that off until Monday. I also usually plan my bloggable meal over the weekend. Again, sickness made that plan go poof.
So come Monday I was scrambling to finish my homework (due at midnight) and didn’t turn my attention to bloggable foods until it was far too late to go grocery shopping. All of this, friends, made me wish I could just do something ultimately simple.
Enter the potato.
What is a potato but a blank canvas? It can be a side or the base of an entree. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can roast it, fry it, bake it, and now with modern technology- microwave it. And toppings! Don’t even get me started on toppings! Mostly because I’ll get to issues of toppings later and I don’t want to say it all twice!
Also, I’m a wee bit Irish. Just a tad. What with St. Paddy’s day coming up, I figured I’d practice my potatoing.
In case you’re keeping track, I have invented TWO new words so far in this post. Okay, maybe I’m not the first person to say “bloggable” but “potatoing”? Oh yeah, that’s all me.
Anyway, back to potatoing.
Even though I went for a simple recipe this week, I wanted something that looked elegant. Something that looks like way more effort than it really took. I keep seeing these recipes for Hasselback potatoes and they just completely fit the bill this week: simple, elegant, versatile. The original recipe I worked from can be found here . I both cut and altered the recipe.
2 roasting potatoes
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
garlic garlic garlic
Of course what makes Hasselback potatoes so distinctive is the style they are cut into. They are evenly cut almost all the way through every quarter inch or so. I should have known it was easier said than done, but it's not something that you can't perfect with a little practice.
Don't do that.
Go slowly and you will easier time avoiding the mistake I made with potato number one up there.
Melt the butter and the olive oil together and then add the garlic. I didn't specify the amount of garlic in the ingredients list because I think you should use as much as you want. I'm sort of a garlic fanatic, so I used a lot. Like, a lot. Take the garlic, oil, butter mixture and pour it over the potatoes in a baking pan.

The original recipe says to make sure you spread the garlic inside all of the cuts. I thought "yeah right, too much work". But um, if you do use a lot of garlic? Go ahead and at least push it into the slits because I ended up burning some garlic chunks that were on top.
Bake at 425 covered with tinfoil for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook another 45 minutes, or until the very center piece yields easily to a fork.
Now, toppings. Think about it! These potatoes are just perfect for toppings! I especially wanted to cover these with some broccoli cheese sauce, but you could do chili, and a whole bunch of other things! I just did basic sour cream and cheese.
One of these is not a potato.

I can't wait to make these for company, let me tell you. They taste like potatoes, honestly, but they look just plain fantastic.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chicken Saltimpanda

I was going to begin this post with "I've never had sage", but before I even got there I was informed that I have, in fact, had sage. Apparently the wonderful Mrs. Ballard, my almost-mom from South Carolina, puts sage in her Thanksgiving stuffing, which I've not only had but loved. I can safely say, however, that I've never cooked with sage before now. I was excited when I decided to make saltimbocca (original recipe here) to get the chance. 

I was not prepared for sage to be fuzzy. I mean, I knew it was going to change texture when it was cooked, but I found the fuzziness really off-putting. I also wasn't hugely excited about the aroma of it. 

Er... hmmm.

Then there was the lemon issue. I mean, if you look at the original recipe link, it does specify that it is "lemony", but I'm not sure I was prepared for quite that much lemon. Don't get me wrong- I love lemon. In fact, I love lemon so much I made a little song about how much I love things lemony. (Disclosure: I make up little songs about pretty much everything that makes me happy. Can't help it and no I won't sing any of them for you. Except maybe the cheeseburger song. But not right now.) Anyway, it was too much lemon, which really took away from the flavor of the ham. And it turns out I don't like the flavor of sage either (unless it's in Mrs. Ballard's amazing Thanksgiving stuffing). 

But I really liked the idea of the saltimbocca. Ham? Chicken? (Some) lemon? This all sounds fantastic! Surely I could find a way to make this work.

So I changed a few things around and decided to make Saltim-panda! I used tarragon instead of sage. Tarragon is one of my favorite herbs. It has a slight anise flavor, which is quite different from the tart sage flavor. I also cut the sauce with a sweet white moscato wine, which emphasized the lemons without letting them overpower the ham. To accommodate the extra liquid, I doubled the cornstarch (I had found the original sauce too runny anyway). I also added capers. Cause why not?

Chicken breasts
Salt & pepper for seasoning
3 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh tarragon 
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 white wine
1/2 chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Start off by pounding out your chicken so it's flat as possible. If you don't have a mallet, use anything solid and heavy. I used our sugar jar. Oh yeah, wax paper keeps things from getting messy. 

Layer the chicken breasts with fresh tarragon. 

Then wrap in pancetta. Place chicken breasts in a saute pan with olive oil that has gotten nice and hot. Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side. 

It's possible I got a little ham-happy.

While the chicken cooks, combine the wine, broth and lemon juice in a bowl with the cornstarch. Whisk together and then add a few shredded tarragon leaves and the capers. When the chicken is done, remove from the saute pan and set aside (preferably someplace warm, cause my chicken kept getting cold while I was making the sauce). Add the broth mixture to the saute pan and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute while continuing to stir. 

Let sauce stand for approximately one minute until it thickens, then pour over the chicken breasts and serve.

Was Saltim-panda better than the original saltimbocca in the end? I think this says it all....