Cooking Notes – May 2012

In this month’s cooking, I’m thinking about two goals: experimenting with more international food options after settling into a bit of a rut in last month’s busyness, and experimenting with more vegetarian or meat-as-a-seasoning dishes (per this discussion). As usual, recipes that don’t mention a side still have at least one kind of vegetable, salad, or fruit served with them. You can view notes from previous months here.

BAKING AND DESSERTS

Raspberry Streusel Bars – Regular favorites, for a farewell party for a lovely family from our church that’s PCSing to the Pentagon.

French Raspberry Almond Tart - For a church potluck.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie - Yum. recipe for filling from my mother, use 1/8 cup more corn starch next time. Recipe for crust the basic flaky pastry crust fromJoy of Cooking made with all butter (vs. half shortening) and mixed in the food processor.

MAIN DISHES AND SIDES

Pasta with Mushrooms - I used the recipe for Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms from Lidia’s Italian Table, a used Italian cookbook I bought off the library sale table for $2. Despite making it with neither tagliatelle nor porcinis, it was delicious. The sauce is simple but perfect: garlic and lots of mushrooms (I used two varieties) sautéed in olive oil, then simmered with chicken stock and a bit of butter until slightly reduced and thickened, seasoned with pepper, and tossed with cooked pasta and some parmesan. This will be made many times in the future, and is a perfect base sauce to mix up with other vegetables. Italian. Vegetarian except for the chicken stock.

Stir-fried Broccoli with Beef - The best and most authentic beef and broccoli I’ve ever made at home. The recipe came from a cookbook called Yan-Kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook, given by my grandparents about five years ago. At the time, I was intimidated by the new-to-me techniques and ingredients (“…cloud ears” ?). As a more experienced cook it’s accessable and very good. Broccoli, scallions, garlic, ginger, beef, sesame oil, tamari soy sauce, pepper, sherry, oyster sauce, a little cornstarch and just a tiny pinch of brown sugar (this dish is not sweet at all) make a perfect dish served over rice. Don’t be skeptical of the cornstarch – I learned from Carl’s step-mother (a talented cook whose mother owned a restaurant in San Fransisco’s Chinatown) that it’s very standard in “real” Chinese cooking to toss the meat with a little cornstarch before marinating and cooking; it helps develop the meat texture and flavors unique to stir-frys. Chinese. Not remotely vegetarian, though I supposed the real amount of beef in a serving is pretty low given all the veggies and rice thinning out the dish.

Eggs Benedict - Served with fresh spring asparagus. I love Eggs Benedict, but have a love-hate relationship with hollandaise. It’s so prone to misbehaving on the stovetop. This time I gave The Pioneer Woman’s blender hollandaise recipe a shot. Good flavor, but the sauce was thin and runny – not sure what went wrong. Incidentally, I learned from irate comments on the PWs recipe that Canadian bacon is called peameal or back bacon in Canada. My ex-Canadian husband was too busy going “mmm…MMMM….yummmmm” around a mouthful of it to comment on naming conventions. One of the rare dishes that supposedly originated in America – so much for international cooking. More of a meat-as-a-seasoning dish since each serving only has a thin slice of bacon to it.

Pasta with Asparagus and Tomatoes - Tossed together with ingredients from the fridge for a quick weekend lunch – halved grape tomatoes and spring asparagus sautéed with a bit of olive oil and garlic, simmered with a splash of white wine, and stirred with a final tablespoon of butter before tossing with cooked pasta and parmesan. Can’t go wrong with that. Italian. Vegetarian.

Deviled Eggs - A nice simple meal. Served with….I can’t remember. Biscuits, maybe? Salad of some sort? Vegetarian.

Colombian Chicken, Potato, and Corn StewA very tasty new-to-us stew from Splendid Soups by James Peterson. I thought we had chicken in the freezer, but it turned out all we had were two lonely chicken breasts. Good thing a little can stretch a long way in a flavorful giant pot of soup. Colombian. Meat as seasoning.

Spicy Pasta - Carl has had an imagined vision of “the perfect pasta” in his head for years – something that’s tomatoey yet creamy, flavorful but spicy, rich but not too heavy. Lots of trial and error and I finally hit it – olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, sun-dried tomatoes, chicken bouillion, a basic tomato sauce, and cream, marched through various steps of sauteeing and simmering, then tossed with chopped up chicken sauteed with salt, pepper, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. A little more experimenting and tweaking is in order on this one but we’re finally getting there. Italian. Meat as a seasoning.

Fried Rice - Comfort food, and perfect for using up odds and ends of veggies from the fridge, plus that one stray piece of chicken. Chinese. Meat as a seasoning.

Steak with Cauliflower Gratin and Vegetables - The generic “vegetables” statement is because I really can’t remember. The steak was delicious. The cauliflower gratin from Joy of Cooking was only mediocre – still on the hunt for “my” cauliflower recipe. Most emphatically not vegetarian.

Variations on Tacos – We’ve eaten several versions this month: black beans with tomatoes (vegetarian), refried beans with cheese (vegetarian), spinach quesadillas (vegetarian), and chorizo, egg, and potato tortillas (meat as a seasoning) with salad. Most of these were items from the pantry or freezer – tortillas are perfect fast “backup” meals. Mexican.

Spinach Puff Pastry with seasoned tomatoes and carrots - The first vegetarian meal I’ve cooked that was actually for a vegetarian. When it’s a visiting senior officer from your husband’s work that you need to feed well, this one is reliable: garlic, walnuts, spinach, onions, eggs, ricotta, feta, and parmesan in a golden-brown crust. Like spanikopita, but my own twist. Greek-ish. Vegetarian.

Pesto Pasta - Pesto made with fresh basil from the garden. Carrots as a side. Italian. Vegetarian.

Bruschetta - Garlic, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil from the garden, prosciutto, olive oil, a splash of prosciutto, and a bit of salt and pepper marinated together. Tried a new trick this time and microwaved cream cheese, stirred it with a bit of garlic powder (herbs would work well too), spread it on the bread, and toasted it just til golden brown under the broiler. Adds a nice protein-rich base for something that’s normally light and snacky. Italian. Meat as a seasoning.

Tagine - A North African stew from James Peterson’s Splendid Soups. This one was a huge hit, both with us and with guests. Chicken, broth, lots of flavorful middle eastern seasonings, apricots, raisins, toasted almonds, garlic, onions, etc., served over rice (I didn’t have couscous). I didn’t make harissa for a topping since I couldn’t find all the ingredients, but will try it next time. Moroccan.

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