Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strawberry shortcake (p. 733) and Cream biscuits or shortcakes (p. 639)

I had strawberries and desperately wanted strawberry shortcake. I love strawberry shortcake. In fact, I think strawberry shortcake is probably in my top four favorite desserts (the others being s'mores, ice cream cake, and chocolate lava cake). Unfortunately, I didn't have the little sponge bottoms or pound cake. I decided not to let that stop me and looked up Strawberry shortcake (p. 733)

TJOC gives a lot of choices for the "shortcake" part of the recipe. I chose to make Cream biscuits or shortcakes (p. 639).

The recipe was very simple. I whisked together flour, baking powder, and salt:

I added heavy cream (all at once):

I blended until the dry ingredients were just moistened. I kneaded it a few times:

And cut it in to squares (easier than rounds):

And baked:

Super easy. I think it took less than five minutes to make these biscuits (well, without the baking time).

Once my biscuits were done, the rest of the recipe was simple. I hulled my strawberries, mashed a quarter of them with a potato masher, and sliced the rest. I added sugar to the strawberries:

I whipped some cream. I cut the biscuits down the middle, filled the biscuits with strawberries, and plopped whipped cream over the top:

This is the first time I had ever eaten a biscuit based strawberry shortcake and I was pleasantly surprised. The biscuits were tender and flaky and surprisingly sweet for not having any added sugar. Josh adored them and ate them for days (he insisted they heated up well). I was really glad to start my biscuit making this way because they were so simple I'm actually looking forward to the others.

What's your favorite base for strawberry shortcake? Biscuits, sponge cake, pound cake, or something else?

Sadly, although I thought these were good and happily ate my fill, I like my strawberry shortcake with those little sponge cakes from the grocery store and Cool Whip just as well.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pan-roasted pork tenderloin (p. 503) and Herb pan sauce (p. 547)

Josh and I couldn't find a ham on sale for Easter (our preferred holiday dish) so we bought what I thought at the time was a pork tenderloin. And (this is extremely embarrassing as someone in the meat industry like myself) it was not a pork tenderloin, it was just cut to resemble one. I should have payed more attention (although, in my defense, Josh actually is the one who picked up and put it in the cart).

I decided to make Pan-roasted pork tenderloin (p. 503) and I made sure to make it in a non-nonstick pan so I would have pan drippings. I seasoned my pork "tenderloin", adding it to a skillet with butter and olive oil. I seared it on all sides and then lowered the heat to cook it.

I realized at this point (while the outside was overcooking and the inside was still raw) that because my pork "tenderloin" was not actually a tenderloin, it wasn't the correct size so I split it for more even cooking:

An easy method for tenderloin preparation, it would undoubtedly have been better with a real tenderloin.

The best part was that the tenderloin gave me terrific drippings for Herb pan sauce (p. 547). I added shallots to the pot and cooked them until softened. At that point I added chicken stock and stirred and scraped to get the browned bits up:

I added Dijon mustard, Cognac, and bay leaves and kept stirring until the gravy was slightly thickened. I added heavy cream and cooked until the gravy was reduced by half:

Stirred in parsley:

And was done!

I love gravy. I love all sauces. I always forget about delicious gravy. This gravy was shallot-y, and pork-y, and all things great. It was incredibly easy, too, and you could leave out the heavy cream if you didn't want those extra, super tasty calories. Until recently I've been afraid to make my own gravy because it seemed difficult (you always hear stories about lumpy gravy) but it really isn't. Try it if you haven't!

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Sea scallop gratin (Coquilles St. Jacques au gratin) (p. 378)

My favorite restaurant in Des Moines is the French restaurant Django. The last time I ate there I had an amazing Scallops St. Jacques. I was excited when I noticed Sea scallop gratin (Coquilles St. Jacques au gratin) (p. 378) in TJOC, hoping that it would be similar. For some reason I thought it would be a good addition to our (rather non-traditional) Easter meal.

I sauteed shallots and garlic in butter:

I added quartered mushrooms (I like quartered mushrooms, I need to remember that) and salt:

When the mushrooms were softened, I added white wine and cooked until the wine was almost evaporated. I then added heavy cream:

I brought the concoction to a boil and cooked it until thickened:

I mixed in my scallops:

Sure, the title says "sea scallops" but sea scallops are super expensive in Colorado, so I used bay scallops.

When the scallops were no longer translucent I removed them from the heat and mixed in a little lemon juice.

In another bowl I mixed melted butter, fresh bread crumbs, Parmesan, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper:

The gratin should be served in either the individual gratin dishes, which I don't have. I could only find two of my ramekins, too, which didn't help matters. So I decided two of the dishes would be served accurately and the rest would go in to a big dish. I layered the scallop mixture first and sprinkled the gratin on top:

And popped it in the oven:

So delicious. This is one of those dishes that tastes expensive, difficult, and decadent, but was incredibly simple. It's going into the imaginary folder labeled "Impressive Dishes for Company". And, if I served it on mashed potatoes, and made it with sea scallops instead of bay scallops, I think it would be in the vicinity of the delicious gratin at Django. Believe it or not, it even heated up well the next day (although it was more like soup at that point). This is an absolutely terrific recipe and is definitely joining the ranks of my TJOC favorites.

Random facts:
  • The shell behind Venus in the famous statue "The birth of Venus" is a scallop shell (Wikipedia)
  • People who pilgrimaged to the shrine of St. John (St. Jacques) in Spain ate scallops as a penance and fastened the shells to their hats (TJOC, p. 377)
  • "Scalloped" originally meant seafood creamed, heated, and served in the shell (TJOC, p. 377) although now it refers to casseroles that don't include seafood (scalloped potatoes, for example)
  • Scallops escape predators by swimming (On Food and Cooking, p. 224). I totally did not know they could swim.

I'm going to end this post with an adorable picture of my puppy in a Iowa State Cyclones jersey:


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Root vegetable braise (p. 246) and Beer, cheese, and scallion bread (p. 629)

I think a lot of people probably pass right by Root vegetable braise (p. 246) because of...well...because of the root vegetables. They aren't your normal, everyday root veggies, like potatoes or carrots.

These root vegetables: Turnips, rutabaga, and celery root:

are just not as popular as potatoes and carrots. I decided to post a before and after shot because I figure not everyone even knows what they look like. Turnips and rutabaga can easily be peeled with a normal veggie peeler. Celery root is more of a pain. I just chop at it with a knife. The naked veggies:

I heated olive oil, butter, a bay leaf, and thyme in a stock pot (I was supposed to use a sprig of thyme but I didn't have any):

I added diced onions and cooked until they started to brown. I then added four large mushrooms (creminis, if you are interested) and some garlic:

It was all cooked for a few minutes and I added wine. After the wine had boiled down to a syrup, I added turnips, rutabaga, celery root, a little flour, and some salt, along with some chicken stock:

I simmered it all until tender:

I added a little Dijon mustard and heavy cream (TJOC's two favorite ingredients):

This is a great introduction to underutilized root vegetables. It was delicious and flavorful, although I would add a little more flour in the future, because I think it needed to be thicker. I think the braise would be great on couscous. It's mentioned that you could also add sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), artichoke hearts, fennel, or salsify, so it's a great use for that stuff in your CSA box that you have no idea how to use.

On a whim, I decided to make Beer, cheese, and scallion bread (p. 629).

I mixed together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, rolled oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt:

I added in light beer (Miller High Life, if you were wondering, the Champagne of beers):

I stirred in finely diced Monterey Jack, sliced scallions, and caraway seeds and poured it in to a loaf pan:

It was popped in the oven:

I'll admit, I was doomed to not like this recipe. I don't like whole grain bread so those oats were going to be a problem. I particularly don't like whole wheat. And this bread was plenty whole-grainy, so for those of you who like that, this bread will probably be a winner. It also had a heavy, heavy, heavy beer taste that I didn't particularly love either. On top of all that, it seemed sort of salty to me.

Random facts:
  • Beer bread is based on the idea that both beer and bread have a common element in yeast (Wikipedia)
  • Miller High Life is considered the "Champagne of beers" because of the high carbonation level (like champagne!) (Wikipedia)
  • Miller High Life has been around since 1903
  • Celery root is also called Celeriac (On Food and Cooking, p. 309)
  • The rutabaga results from a cross between turnips and cabbage (OFaC, p. 316)

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Madeleines (p. 739)

Without having a specific motivation, I'm not sure when I would have bothered to make Madeleines (p. 739). They were one of the three recipes that were voted for me to make by readers (Madeleines, vanilla coconut shrimp, which I haven't made yet, and chicken pot pie).

Madeleines are strange. First off, they look like cookies but are actually tiny cakes. Secondly, they require a special pan that I'm guessing very few people own. Third, they are always sold in coffee shops, but, because I don't drink coffee, I'd never bought one before. I assumed they were hard like biscotti.

I swore these cakes were cursed. I misread the recipe, following an order that I thought was logical, but wasn't actually what the recipe said, so I had to throw out the first batch of batter. Then, as I was pushing the mixer blades in to the mixer, I somehow managed to turn it on. It sucked my hand in, badly bruising it. In fact, I couldn't get my hand out of the mixer for a few minutes, it was that thoroughly caught. But I persevered and started again.

I beat butter with a spatula until it was about the consistency of mayonnaise (something I thought was a strange direction):

In another bowl, I beat eggs, an extra egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla until the batter was light yellow. In yet another bowl, I sifted together sifted cake flour, baking powder, and salt, and returned it to the sifter. I sifted the flour mixture into the egg mixture and folded them together. I then folded a dollop of the egg mixture into the butte, eventually scraping that back in to the egg mixture (got that? It was very confusing, which is why the first batch got thrown out).

I buttered my molds well (they aren't kidding--butter the heck out of the molds) and poured the batter in so the molds were about three-quarters full:

They were baked:

My pretty Madeleines:

These were extremely good. Again, they aren't cookies, which I think can throw people off, but are little buttery unfrosted cakes. Personally, I think they look expensive. When I own a coffee shop/restaurant/something food related, I will sell them for 2/$3 or something because they look difficult to make. And frankly, although they are fairly simple, they do require buying a special pan, which is more than most people are willing to do. But if you have a Madeleine pan sitting around, gathering dust, or you see one at a garage sale, buy it! They were popular with everyone I gave them to.

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Tapioca custard (p. 820)

I'll come right out and say it--I hate tapioca. I've always hated tapioca. It reminds me of fish eyes (I don't know why, it's not like people are trying to sneak fish eyes in to my food on a regular--or even irregular-- basis).

Josh has taken to bubble tea like a fish to water. I hate bubble tea. I learned how much I hate it while I was in Taiwan, where it seems to be the national drink of choice. Sucking up those boba is horrifying to me. So, it turns out I hate tapioca in all of it's forms. But when I realized that Josh liked bubble tea it dawned on me that he must like tapioca and a metaphorical light bulb went off. I could pawn Tapioca custard (p. 820), something I would never eat, off on him!

Obviously, I am not the only person who hates tapioca. The tapioca was on the very bottom shelf at the grocery store.

I whisked milk, sugar, quick-cooking tapioca, and salt in a saucepan, let it sit for ten minutes, and then slowly brought it to a simmer:

After about two minutes, I whisked in a beaten egg. I stirred it over low heat until it started to thicken:

I stirred a bit of vanilla in and voila! Tapioca custard!

It was everything I expected it to be but Josh liked it and it was certainly easy. The one bite I forced myself to eat did have a nice flavor but I couldn't get over the texture. I've decided my feelings are best described in haiku form:

Fish eyes or bubbles?
Is it really a dessert?
Ick! Tapioca

Random facts:
  • Tapioca comes from the cassava plant. There are two types of cassava: bitter and sweet. Bitter is preferred by farmers because it naturally deters pests and animals due to compounds that convert to hydrogen cyanide. Eating untreated or mistreated cassava can (and has) killed lots and lots of people over the years. Cooking is enough to eliminate the hydrogen cyanide in sweet cassava but bitter cassava has to be more thoroughly processed before it's safe to eat. Apparently the cyanide gets carried out in the water ( On Food and Cooking, p. 305 and Wikipedia). One would think this would cause major environmental impact.
  • Even so, cassava is the third most eaten carbohydrate in the world. It's particularly important in the tropics because it can grow in poor soil with low rainfall (Wikipedia).
  • Cassava is a gluten-free starch (Wikipedia), so it would be good for Celiacs and people with gluten-intolerance.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fish steaks poached in white wine (p. 400)

I bought a package of frozen tuna steaks on sale at the grocery store. I had never bought fish steaks in freezer bags--it was much cheaper than buying them in the seafood section, so I'm definitely going to do that again. I decided to make Fish steaks poached in white wine (p. 400) because it sounded easy and tasty.

I combined white wine, water, white wine vinegar, salt, whole peppercorns, coriander seeds, cloves, a bay leaf, a garlic clove, and dried herbs in a skillet and boiled it all over high heat:

I added the tuna steaks:

And cooked until they were done. Or actually overdone--tuna cooks really fast:

Even overdone it was really good. The poaching broth kept the fish totally tender and juicy and it was highly flavored from all the aromatics in the broth. The recipe was incredibly easy, which is always a big plus.

Random facts:
  • Tuna are large predator fish that swim in the open ocean and can reach speeds of 40 miles/70 kilometers an hour (On Food and Cooking, p. 201). What?? That's amazing.
  • Bluefin and bigeye tuna live in deep, cold water so they accumulate far more fat, making them more prized in many cultures (On Food and Cooking, p. 201).
  • Tuna schools often swim next dolphins. It's thought this is to guard against tuna-lovin' sharks (Wikipedia)
  • Canned tuna was first produced in 1903 (Wikipedia)

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