Cooking Notes – April 2012

You can view previous months’ cooking notes here. Most meals provide leftovers for a day or two.

BAKING/DESSERTS

  • Potato-Garlic Peasant Loaf - From Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. This is a nice variation on the basic boule loaf – adding in roasted garlic gave flavor, while a bit of mashed potato makes this loaf stay moist and soft. It was good, though I’m not sure we’ll be making it again.
  • Blueberry Streusel Muffins – Our favorite standby for holiday breakfasts, served on Easter. The combination of the streusel topping, a little bite from the lemon zest, and blueberries picked and frozen from our own bushes make these a favorite treat. Extras went to the neighbors as a thank you for hosting Easter dinner.
  • French Apple Almond Tart - Carl’s favorite treat on this Earth, made for Easter dessert. A basic Pâte Sucrée crust combines with flavorful homemade almond paste and a fruit topping. We love apples or raspberries.
  • Raspberry Streusel Bars – Carl’s good buddy/roommate from deployment visited our town this weekend, and came over for Sunday lunch with his lovely wife. Carl had a blast catching up with his friend, I enjoyed meeting them both for the first time, and we all enjoyed these tangy, buttery, delicious creations for dessert. And then we enjoyed some more for dinner after the guests left. And some more at breakfast this morning. There’s a good reason I only make these two or three times a year…something to do with avoiding clogged arteries.

MAIN DISHES/SIDES

  • Pasta Primavera-ish - The neighbors shared fresh asparagus from their garden. I wanted to try something new with it besides my normal standbys: steamed/broiled with some kind of topping, or soup. A friend suggested Pasta Primavera, which worked out really well with odds and ends from the fridge. For the two of us, we cooked half a pound of pasta (rotini, in this case). I heated olive oil in a saucepan, and added asparagus cut in one inch lengths, plus halved grape tomatoes, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I sauteed them for a couple of minutes, then threw in half a shallot and three large cloves of garlic, diced. I let those cook for about two minutes, then poured in a splash of white wine. In another minute or two, the wine was mostly cooked off. I added a large pat of butter, drained the pasta, then stirred the veggie-wine-butter goodness into the pasta in a large bowl. You want vegetables that are cooked but still crisp (asparagus) or holding their form (tomatoes). It’s good by itself or with a little parmesan grated on top, and could easily be mixed up with other vegetables depending on what’s in the fridge or in season. This was a hit. There were no leftovers.
  • Mexican Black Bean Soup - Adapted from Williams Sonoma’s Bride & Groom Cookbook, a wedding gift. Black beans (I used canned beans, well-rinsed), onions, carrots, celery, garlic, ham, cilantro, chili powder, and cumin are simmered together and blended to make a hearty, flavorful base. A dollop of sour cream and some salsa verde provide the perfect sharp, fresh contrast. Served with potato-garlic bread. I doubled the chili powder, slightly reduced the stock, used a bit of leftover ham from the freezer, and would significantly increase the cilantro and add it at the end rather than cooking a sprig with the soup. Cooked cilantro loses its flavor, and a small amount has little effect.
  • Marinated Goat Cheese with Fresh Bread and Tomatoes - Carl loved this marinated goat cheese, but the overall result was a little overwhelming for me. The marinated cheese idea (cheese + olive oil + thyme + red chili flakes, marinated for a couple days) came from the Bride & Groom Cookbook. I may try again with a less powerful cheese. Tomatoes were lightly seasoned  and drizzled with olive oil. Bread was potato-garlic bread.
  • Feta, Spinach, and Mushroom Pizza - an impromptu meal thrown together with odds and ends from the pantry and fridge. I made my tomato sauce with lots of dried basil from our garden and we both thought it turned out very well. Pizza is one area where I’ll use a mix – packets of pizza dough mix cost 80 or 90 cents at the grocery store, and only need to be stirred with warm water, kneaded a tad, and left to rise smeared with olive oil for 15 minutes. Very manageable when you want an easy dinner.
  • Slow Cooker French Dip - The first time I tried this recipe over the winter, I changed 8 hours on low to 3 hours on high in the slow cooker, and it was a disaster with tough, chewy meat. I gave it another shot this month with the proper time, and the result was absolutely delicious. Finally, I’ve found a slow cooker meat recipe I like. The sauce is quite salty, just like the French Dips/Italian Beefs we got for occasional treats growing up – not healthy, and it even uses a pre-made packet of onion soup powder (the shame!) but the tender beef was delicious tucked into buns and dipped in the sauce. In other words, this recipe perfectly recreates a favorite junk food :). I reduced the onion powder amount and substituted in some fresh chopped onions. The only thing I’d change next time would be to use homemade rolls baked with steam for extra crustiness. The drippings and moist meat make ordinary rolls soggy quickly. Served with cut up apples for a fresh contrast to the savories.
  • Julia Child’s Saute of Beef for Two - Can’t go wrong with this deliciously rich special-occasions dish. Beef, mushrooms (I used half regular, half baby bellas), shallots, herbs, mini-onions, and potatoes, prepared individually and simmered in a delicious wine and cream sauce.  I have the cookbook, but the recipe I’ve linked to looks correct. We always increase the proportion of mushrooms and onions. This is one recipe where it’s worth investing in a good cut of beef. I never seem to have fresh parsley, but sprinkle on a little dried parsley at the end for color.
  • Bacon, Mushroom, and Cheddar Quiche I came home from my business trip to a mostly empty fridge since Carl worked late hours over the weekend. Luckily, there was plenty of flour, butter, and salt in the house to whip up a pie crust, a few eggs close to expiration, milk, some leftover mushrooms, a stray shallot, bacon, and a few slabs of cheddar to put together. Served with a side salad of tomatoes and avocados stirred up with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and garlic powder and a little dab of mayonnaise.
  • Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pasta - Made by Carl in my absence, using canned pesto found in an Aldi sale. I love Aldi’s surprise imported treats.  Surely it must’ve cost $1.50 just to ship that from Italy?
  • Steak Tips au Poivre with potatoes and saladServed for Sunday lunch with guests.
  • Stroganoff – from Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Get Real Meals. A favorite dish, and always tasty. I substituted yogurt for part of the sour cream, and potatoes for noodles. Rather a lot of red meat this month as we use up food from the fridge…
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