Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rocket: A review

Hey, man- I could post restaurant reviews on here all day long and be happy. I love eating out in Portland. The food scene here is FANTASTIC. You can get any type of cuisine- super authentic Mexican food, Italian, Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, African, South American, Hawaiian, basically whatever your little heart desires. Portland loves to eat out. My husband and I are no exception, and though we are limited by time and budget constraints, (who isn't, with a toddler at home?) we try to get out on a fancy date at least once every few weeks or so. We usually default to well-known, established joints like Toro Bravo, Castagna, or Ken's Pizza, but of course, we love to try new places. We are lucky to have a leg up on the restaurant scene here, since my husband is a service tech for a large coffee company here in Portland- he installs a lot of the equipment in the places that serve his coffee. So tonight, when I suggested East Burn, he agreed, mentioning he'd put in their brewer.

East Burn is a new bar/restaurant on- you guessed it- (if you're a Portlander) East Burnside. We were on our way, sitting at the intersection of Sandy & Burnside, when a rooftop patio caught my eye. "Ooh, what's that?" I asked, and my husband said, "Oh, that's Rocket. I installed their brewer, too." We decided to skip East Burn and flipped a bitch so we could head over to Rocket.

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This place was super modern, sparse and chic, with a lovely muted blue and cream palette. This is the type of restaurant that appeals to my inner designer, but not necessarily to my soul. I was drawn in by the atmosphere, but not in a comforting way. We were shown to the patio by a cute young waitress (wearing a cream colored blouse and a baby blue apron) and I was blown away by the view of downtown and the surrounding neighborhood.

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The menu was dinky, and I completely ignored the entree menu. Look dudes, I don't have 30 bucks to drop on a plate of halibut, or steak, or whatever. I might be on a fancy date, but I'm strictly in the 15 dollar or less range for plates. My husband and I both agreed that the menu seemed kind of vague- but we settled on a handful of appetizers to share.

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Listen- I'd love to make fun of the overly-conceptual feel of this place, and crack jokes about how someone has been watching too much Iron Chef- but I watch Iron Chef every Sunday without fail. The only reason I recognize the goofiness of this place is that I'm coming from a very similar place, let's be honest.

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The first thing we ordered was a red leaf bread crumb salad with, as the menu described it- "goat cheese." It implied that it would be a goat cheese dressing, but didn't come right out and say it. I wasn't surprised by what I got, but I wasn't particularly impressed, either. i know it's a fancy restaurant presentation trick, to just use whole leaves of lettuce to build a salad appetizer- but I've always found it to be extremely annoying. Come on, dudes. Chop up my goddamn salad. Call me trashy, but I don't like to sit and eat a giant leaf of lettuce. Bite sized pieces, please. The bread crumbs were few and far between. A tasty goat cheese dressing, but a completely unexciting salad.

Can you see that blonde blob on the plate behind the salad? That was our order of onion rings. My husband walked past a table eating them and decided they looked delicious, so he ordered some. I hadn't seen them in advance, so I was expecting big, thick cuts of onion in a hearty batter with a nice browning on them, but what came to the table was a big pile of tempura-style onion rings. Tasty, but didn't hit my 'fried-food' spot very well at all.

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The highlight of the meal also happened to be the cheapest thing on the menu- a five-dollar lamb corndog. I've never been a huge fan of lamb. I think the flesh gets really tough, really fast, and the only time I've thoroughly enjoyed it was shredded in a tender lamb ragout. This lamb was ground, seasoned really well. I've had better cornbreading, but the dog itself was pretty darn good.

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Honestly, I'd recommend this restaurant based on the view and this corndog alone. It was definitely the standout portion of our meal.

And finally, without further ado, I present to you the dumbest thing I've eaten in a long time: The "Bunny Club." (yeah, SOUNDS LIKE IT'S GOING TO BE A SANDWICH, RIGHT?)

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Wrong. This "club" turned out to be an awkwardly-plated, super finicky, trying way too hard to compete with the latest food network trends- SALAD. Yeah, a salad. What?

It was listed as "Bunny Club" - toast with rabbit, bacon, tarragon mayonnaise, and cress salad. I guess I read it thinking that it was a sandwich on toast that came with a small salad or something, but WTF? It was like a 'deconstructed' club sandwich. While I always appreciate the IDEA of a 'deconstructed' meal, I feel like it's the sort of thing that only works on Iron Chef, and only irritates in the real world. To me, abstract food is just as snobbish and classist as most abstract art- made with a particular (read: educated) crowd in mind, this type of food is rarely as exciting as the menu would lead you to believe, and usually comes out looking like a self-congratulatory bit of wank on the chef's part. This meal was no exception. I was totally disappointed with this dish. I'd never had rabbit before and I was looking forward to trying it, but this salad was a total jumble and the rabbit was hardly identifiable. I didn't even taste any tarragon! In fact, I didn't even taste any DAMN BACON! What's going on here? I was disappointed and turned off, but I can't say I'm upset that I gave it a try.

Anyway, why did I bother to post this review that isn't in any way relevant to out of towners who aren't planning on visiting soon? Well, I think it's important to try new things, for one. I also think it's important to understand that things aren't going to be as exciting as they look or sound. On the way home, Hubby and I agreed that if we'd gone to East Burn like we'd originally intended, we probably would have gotten a 'safe' and 'adequate' meal. That sounds just as boring and unfun as an over-thought, badly cooked 'concept' from a place that is as slick as a baby's behind on the inside. Listen, I love Iron Chef as much as the next gal, but that doesn't mean you're going to catch me making "trios" of a certain ingredient, making inside-out sandwiches, or any of that other crap. If you have to put that much energy into distracting from what you're actually feeding people, you're not doing it right, in my opinion. And speaking of Iron Chef, don't even get me started on foam as a garnish. Good lord, do you really want it to look like you spit in someone's food? Uuuuugh.

In closing- new restaurants are fun. I don't expect this place to last very long, to be honest. Their menu isn't particularly creative, but it has an air of desperation that reads: please find me interesting! The descriptions of things are vague and kind of silly, with the word "roof" used as an adjective more than once. "Roof cress," "Roof blah blah," etc. I was starting to wonder if they were going to bring me a roofie-colada. I love eating at goofy, hoity toity restaurants because I have something fun to pick apart at the end of a meal. But I also love to see restaurants succeed, and I can't place any bets on this place winning a huge following. Sorry, guys! My advice, as an avid consumer of fancy foods: avoid vague menu descriptions (I shouldn't have to ask what each dish is), if you're going to serve 'exotic' foods like rabbit- cook that shit fresh, don't toss it pre-cooked in a mayo-and-greens salad and expect us to be able to taste it, and finally- relax a little. That's all.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Risotto

Tonight was probably not the best night for us to have risotto. My sister lives a couple miles away from us, and we've arranged to do some baby-trading on the weekends. Tonight we took her 2 kids, a first for us since she had her newest son 3 months ago. While I attempted to wrangle a chunky lump of newborn deliciousness and two cranky toddlers (who like to stake out territory), my husband managed to whip out this ABSOLUTELY TO DIE FOR risotto- a huge accomplishment, in my book.

Now, a disclaimer. I've never cooked risotto before! This is all second-hand, guys. (Although, now that my husband has shared with me his secrets, I feel ready to give it a go for next time.) That said, here's my husband's "recipe" (he won't admit to having a recipe for anything) for risotto:

risotto

You'll need:
4 cloves garlic
1 large shallot
2 big handfuls of chopped fresh tarragon & basil
1 bay leaf
White pepper
Saffron
1 cup grated parmesan

3 small portobello mushrooms (the bells were about palm-sized)
1 1/2 cups of arborio (risotto) rice (ding ding ding! my husband said he "guesses" this is how much he used. sorry. he's an eyeballer.)
1/2 cup white wine
1 quart organic free range low sodium blah blah chicken broth
a pat of butter

1 large chicken breast
2 cups balsamic vinegar



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Hey, this is not a set it and forget it type of dish, dudes. You'll be at the stove the whole time for this one.

First things first- grab a small saucepot and dump 2 cups of balsamic vinegar in. Keep it on medium-low heat while you're cooking, so it can reduce into a syrup you can use as a delicious saucy garnish. This crap will burn your eyes, just so you know- don't try to give it a big ol' sniff.

Secondly- start a large pot with your quart of broth and add the bay leaf, a pinch of saffron, a generous pinch of white pepper, and a tiny bit of salt if you want. Keep this just below a boil until you need it.

Now, get a deep saute pan going with a bit of olive oil, your mushrooms, garlic, and shallot. Sweat until the shallots get glassy, then add your rice. Saute until the rice starts to toast up a little, then add 1/4 cup of the white wine. Stir it until it gets absorbed, then grab a ladle and begin adding your broth, same deal. Stir after each ladle gets absorbed (this is a lot of stirring, sorry) and then when you get to the last bit, just dump it in with the rest of the white wine, stir the hell out of it, and add in your cheese and your big handfuls of herbs. Stir to combine, then turn off the heat and cover for 10 minutes.

While your risotto is resting, get your chicken going in a different pan. (or omit the chicken if you want to go vegetarian. Just do all of the above but with vegetable broth.) Keep an eye on your balsamic reduction, while you're at it.

Check on your risotto and give it a bite. The rice should be sticky and rich, but each grain should still have an individual texture. Throw in your chicken, give it all a toss, and spoon onto a plate. Finish with a sprinkle of fresh herbs, grated parmesan, and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction around the sides.

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Some of my favorite foods are traditional dishes that lend themselves to interpretation, and that's why I like risotto. There's a basic structure of how to prepare it, and within that structure you can do whatever you want. Seafood, vegetarian, lean meats, whatever.

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I wouldn't call this an "easy" recipe, per se- it definitely takes some commitment and energy, but it's not "hard" either. Next time we have it, we'll definitely make sure to have a less stressful environment. I'm sad I had to wolf it down as fast as I did. I could have savored it all night.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Beets

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Today was a dreary, drizzly spring day in Portland. The sky never brightened, the crisp air smelled like homey fireplaces, and I spent the whole day wishing I could curl up in a fuzzy blanket with a mug of hot cocoa. Alas, stuck in the house with a toddler, I had to spend my day entertaining him, but I wanted to make something satisfying and easy for dinner.

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My husband was in Seattle on business again, so I knew I'd be having dinner alone. Despite my foodie tendencies, I tend to opt for bachelor food when my husband is out of town- frozen pizza (the shame!), macaroni and cheese, anything easy. I just hate cooking for myself, and my son doesn't care WHAT we eat, as long as it's some kind of noodle, cheese, or chunky mess. Most of my enjoyment of food comes from sharing it with people I care about, so when I am stuck eating alone, I'm always uninspired. This morning, though- maybe it was the weather, maybe it was just knowing I hadn't blogged in awhile (haha) but I felt like doing something a little less lazy than usual. I roasted some beets first thing in the morning, planning to use them in a salad.

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I should always buy a huge amount of beets at once, because whenever I roast them, I end up wanting to eat the whole bowl at once, still warm from the oven. I showed some restraint today and only ate a handful. I think everyone has their own way of roasting beets, but if you've never done it before, it can sound kind of weird and intimidating. I never used to roast vegetables because it never crossed my mind that it was the EASIEST THING IN THE WORLD. I would always just steam or fry whatever veggies I wanted to eat. But I still remember the first time I tasted a roasted beet. I was 21 and my friends brought over a bunch of beets to snack on. I had no idea they were so earthy and complex- before that my only experience with beets had been the canned variety- yuck.

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The only thing I do with my beets when I roast them is wrap them up with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Today I realized after I checked on them that I'd forgotten to oil and season them, haha! I just tossed in a dollop of oil, some salt & pepper, and they came out fine. Roast peeled, sliced or rough-chopped beets at 350ºf for about an hour and a half, depending on the size and quantify. Today I wrapped mine in parchment paper because I was out of foil, and I'll probably do parchment from now on. Aluminum foil kinda weirds me out.

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My enormous restraint paid off. I made a simple salad using mixed greens that I bought in bulk from the market down the street, a little tomato, the beet slices, and crumbled some more of that AMAZING Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese that I picked up at the farmer's market awhile ago. I can't rave enough about this cheese. It's got that amazing blue cheese flavor and a hint of smoke that evens it out and makes it taste so smooth, you can just pop it in your mouth like any old snack cheese. So, so amazing with chilled beets.

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Even better, I found a friend to come have dinner with me! My good friend Meg, who also happens to be one of my favorite painters works down the street on Wednesdays, so it worked out perfectly. I gave her a call right as she was getting off work, she popped in, and we chowed down on some amazing beet salads. Served with the perfect comfort food: Spaghetti with Italian sausage, browned in the pan and then finished with red sauce.

Now can someone hook us up with some more summer weather? I love the rain, but shouldn't we be barbecuing by now?

vanilla cupcakes.



It is surprising to me that this blog has been up a month now and I have yet to blog cupcakes. As all my friends and family know, I have some sort of a cupcake obsession. It isn't even that I think they are an amazing tasting dessert, but there is just something so comforting and appealing about looking at them or having one in your hand. Plus, baking them is just about one of my favorite things to do. Really, what is it about the cupcake that is so very wonderful? Is it the small size? The swirls of sugary-sweet frosting piled on top? The adorable look of them? Whatever it is, we all love them.

On our way home from getting coffee, I realized it had been way too long since I last baked some (I used to do it on an almost daily basis!). So I went for some simple vanilla cupcakes with vanilla bean buttercream on top. This recipe hails from one of my favorite comedic minds, Miss Amy Sedaris. Because among being a hilarious female comedian, her cupcakes were voted the second best in New York City.





Vanilla Cupcakes: from Amy Sedaris's I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence

Ingredients:

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cup milk

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Put paper liners in your pan.
Put butter in an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until somewhat smooth. Pour in sugar and beat well. Add the eggs and mix well. Add in vanilla, baking powder, salt, flour, and milk. Beat until it looks like it's supposed to and pour into baking cups, until they are about 2/3 full.
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Frost when cool.



Soft Vanilla Bean Buttercream: from Cupcake Bakeshop

Ingredients:

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons milk

Directions:

Beat butter at medium-high speed until creamy. Sift powdered sugar into the mixer bowl (right on top of the beaten butter). Beat to combine.
Split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the frosting. Add the vanilla and the milk. Beat until combined.

Monday, May 26, 2008

flourless chocolate cake.



As I have mentioned before, I am a chocoholic. The funny thing about it is that throughout my life, besides the occasional Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, I really didn't like chocolate. It wasn't until 2004, when I was pregnant with my first child, that I truly discovered it. Hormones steered me to it and I haven't been the same since.

This morning I chose to make a flourless chocolate cake, and let me tell you, this is a cake for major chocolate lovers. It is gooey and decadent and so very chocolatey. Just like a chocolate cake should be.









Flourless Chocolate Cake:

Ingredients:

7 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate
5 large eggs, room temperature, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9" springform pan.
In a double boiler (or a metal bowl over simmering water), melt together butter and chocolate. Remove from heat.
Use an electric mixer to beat yolks, sugar, and vanilla together. Set aside.
Beat egg whites and salt together until stiff. Fold chocolate mixture into egg yolk mixture. Fold in the egg whites.
Pour into your pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until spongy. Remove from oven, remove springform, cool completely.

For glaze: Melt 1/2 a cup of semisweet chocolate with about 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Mix until smooth. Pour and spread over cake.

delicious veggies.

One of my favorite things about going to the farmer's market is purchasing food that I have never eaten or cooked with before. It is quite exciting to buy something random and then go home and find a way to use it.

This weekend I picked up a bunch of sorrel from Spring Valley Farm's booth. I had read about it previously in the Spring issue of Martha Stewart Living and it sounded interesting to me, so I thought I would give it a try. I found a delicious sounding recipe for Sorrel Potato Gratin, so I headed out to the store for some new potatoes and started my market-inspired meal. The sorrel was wonderful- it has an amazing lemony taste and soft texture when cooked. It is something I will probably end up buying again and again.

My husband had been mentioning his craving for roasted carrots, so I threw together some that were so very simple, but absolutely scrumptious. I prepared them the French way, tossing them with olive oil, coarse salt, pepper, and honey. We ate them along with the sorrel potatoes and some vegetarian chicken. All-in-all, a mouth-watering meal.

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Sorrel and Potato Gratin from Martha Stewart Living

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 medium shallots, very thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces sorrel, tough stems removed, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, preferably German Butterball or Yukon gold, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1 1/4 cups heavy cream (I used about a cup of soy creamer and it worked just fine)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Arrange shallots in an even layer over bottom of baking dish. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Arrange half of the sorrel over shallots, then layer with half of the potatoes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Repeat with remaining sorrel and potatoes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour cream over top, and dot with remaining tablespoon butter.
Cover with foil; bake 1 hour. Uncover; bake until potatoes are tender and cream is thick, about 20 minutes more. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Note: I shredded creamy Havarti cheese on mine and my husband topped his with grated Parmesan. Both were delicious.

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Roasted Carrots with Honey

All you really have to do for these is cut up some carrots on the diagonal. Toss them with olive oil, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper. Roast in a 450 degree F oven for about 35 minutes, tossing once. Remove from the oven and toss with a tablespoon or so of honey (depending on how many carrots you used). Enjoy!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

sugar cookies.



Oh, how I love my cookie press. I have to admit that I had it for quite some time without using it for shaping cookies- for some reason it intimidated me. I just used it as a fabulous frosting piping tool, at least until I saw an article in a holiday issue of the late Blueprint Magazine (which was one of my favorite publications) with a recipe and short tutorial for baking spritz sugar cookies. So I went for it and with a few mess ups, I made some darn pretty cookies.

I have made this recipe a couple times since then. It makes some nice classic sugar cookies with a thin glassy glaze. If you don't have a cookie press, you are more than welcome to roll it out and use cookie cutters, just make sure you chill your dough in the fridge for about thirty minutes before rolling it out and cutting your shapes.







Sugar Cookies: from Blueprint Magazine

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for rolling and cutting
Sanding sugar and other decorations (optional)

Directions:

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream butter with sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well to combine. Mix in vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour and mix just un-til incorporated (do not overmix).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Space cookies 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until just barely golden around the edges, 7 to 12 minutes (depending on size of cookies). Cool completely on baking sheets.
Decorate, if desired. Let dry. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

To make glaze: In a bowl, mix 1 cup confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Add more water as necessary to achieve an easy-to-pour consistency. Tint with food coloring as desired.

Melon Sherbet

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May I preface this by saying two things? Number one: I have lived my whole life saying SHERBERT. My auto spell check feature tells me that "sherbert" isn't even a word. You know what IS a word? Sherbet. I find this mind blowing. It's as if someone took me aside and said, "actually, Alice- they're called HANDburgers." Anyway, I've actually looked up the difference well before I ever made any, and I found it all very interesting. I guess it's just a regional thing. Check out the wikipedia page if you're bored enough. I still can't say "sherbet" out loud, I have to say it "sherbert" because it messes with my reality too much. Number two! Two whole days ago, Summer and I made some adorable little cookies, but since she's the baker and also has the recipe, she was supposed to blog about them. She's promised me that she'll do so tonight, and it's HURTING MY BRAIN to blog things out of the order in which they were made because I'm a wee bit OCD like that, but I think in the long run, we're all going to be okay.

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Last week it was hot. REALLY hot, like over 95 degrees hot. I started looking up ice cream and sorbet recipes with Summer to see what we could throw together to combat the heat wave, but all the recipes required like- ALL THIS EFFORT. Effort I was not willing to put forth on a 95+ day. To add insult to injury, my sister- the owner of the ice cream maker, told me that the frozen cylinder that cools the ice cream required 8 hours of freezing time. What, she doesn't just keep it in her freezer so she can make ice cream at the drop of a hat? That's CRAZY! The weather very quickly turned from sweltering to soggy in literally a day or two, and we've all spent the last week kind of confused about whether or not to wear a jacket. It's the end of May! It's cold and rainy but like, also kind of warm? WHAT GIVES, WEATHER GODS? Anyway, things always turn in our favor eventually. Summer found a dynamite Melon Sherbet recipe that was easy and tasty, and the weather finally cooperated by turning sunny and warm.

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As I mentioned, I don't have an ice cream maker. My sister does. Does everyone in the world need to own an ice cream maker? Hell no! First of all, if I had my own ice cream maker I'd probably be a good 30 pounds heavier. Secondly, why do I need one when I can borrow Renee's? Thanks, dude!

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I'm not sure how much it cost her, but it's just a little hand-crank number, and I'm pretty sure she got it used, so I doubt it set her back too much. So, as much as I love to adapt recipes to suit myself, I always like to pretty much follow them to a T on the first try, to make sure I'm doing things right. Here's the original recipe as it appears on 101cookbooks.com:


1 pound of juicy, extra-ripe, orange-fleshed melon
1/4 cup mild flavored honey (needs to be fluid, and you might use a bit less depending on the sweetness of the melon)
1/2 cup organic whole milk
generous pinch of salt

Cut the melon flesh from its rind into a medium bowl and puree with a hand blender. You will need 2 cups of puree.

Add the milk, and salt. Now you want to sweeten to taste. If your honey is in a solid or crystallized state you need to dunk the jar in a bowl of warm water until it is liquid again. This way it will mix easily with the rest of the ingredients. Start by blending in 2T. of the honey and taste. If you think the mixture needs to be sweeter, add more honey. Keep in mind you want the honey to bring out and complement the flavor of the melon, not overpower it.

Pour into an ice-cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Serves 4 to 6.

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That's it, holy crap! The easiest recipe ever. The only moment of trouble I had was trying to get the lid of the ice cream maker locked in right so the stupid cylinder wouldn't spin with the hand-crank. I had a pretty serious, "GAWD, I CAN'T DO ANYTHING RIGHT!" moment, but it was cleared up pretty much instantly. If you're looking for something rich and creamy and sinful, don't bother. This is the perfect end to a brain-meltingly hot day. It's refreshing, sweet, and crisp, not too filling, and completely guilt-free. (Uh, unless you're vegan. Then you can go ahead and start feeling guilty.)

On my second go-around, I might try a heavy cream instead of the whole milk for a little creamier consistency, and I'd love to try this with different fruit purees, including a different color of melon. Keep an eye out, I may be featuring this recipe again in different incarnations.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

orange juice & olive oil cakes.



I have been thinking about making an olive oil cake for awhile now. I had never tasted one and was intrigued by the idea of not using butter or a butter substitute for a cake (plus, I like cakes that aren't required to have frosting on top). So when I was out of butter today, Alice suggested that I bake one. I peeked into Apples for Jam (my recent go-to cookbook) at one I had been eyeing for awhile and was happy to see that I had all of the ingredients needed.

Since Alice adores miniature versions of baked goods, she wanted me to make tiny cakes. I used my mini loaf pan, which actually turned out quite nicely. Aren't they adorable?

The cakes themselves turned out to be quite yummy. Simple, not too sweet, a great orange taste, and so nice with the toasted pine nuts on the tops. Note: the recipe is made to make two 9" cakes, so feel free to half it.









Orange Juice and Olive Oil Cake with Pine Nuts: from Apples for Jam cookbook

Ingredients:

4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup olive oil (I recommend extra virgin)
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
Orange zest of 1 orange
1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (the juice of about 4 oranges)
1/2 cup pine nuts

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush two 8 1/2-inch springform pans (or pans of your choice- just be sure to alter the baking time) with olive oil and dust with flour. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until they are firm and snowy white. Set aside (if it's hot, put them in the fridge until needed). Whip the yolks with the vanilla until they bulk up and become foamy. Whisk in the superfine and brown sugars, then add the olive oil bit by bit, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour, baking powder, orange rind, and juice, and beat well until you have a smooth batter. Gently fold in the egg whites.
Scrape out half the batter into each pan or divide into muffin tins or whatever you are using. Sprinkle each cake with pine nuts. Bake for 20 to 35 minutes, depending on what pan you are using (just be sure to check often), or until the tops are golden and a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool before serving. This will keep well in a sealed container for 4 to 5 days.

Note: We discovered that this is delicious with drizzled honey! It would also be amazing with butter and berry jam.

a nice big dinner : a post by the two of us.



Alice's words and recipe...
Every summer, it seems like Portland goes through almost a month of muggy, grey days that are warm, but not sunny. Okay, I know- everyone tells me that I don't know what "muggy" is until I've experienced an East Coast summer. If it's as bad as everyone says it is, I don't think I want to find out. But on a gross day, all you want to eat is something chilled and tasty. Sometimes at my house, that means salad rolls or sushi, but I don't always find those to be particularly filling or satisfying.

Summer invited us over for dinner yesterday, and while we sat around trying to think of something to cook that would go with her homemade focaccia bread and white bean salad, I flipped through the new issue of Bon Appetit. It had a bunch of really amazing looking noodle dishes and I started thinking about pasta. Summer dug around her kitchen for a minute trying to locate necessary items and they just weren't there, so we left the boys with her husband and dashed over to Trader Joe's to pick up the handful of ingredients we'd need for a pesto.

I have to admit that I wasn't raised in a particularly adventurous culinary environment. I love my mom's cooking (who doesn't love their mom's cooking?) but raising four kids with distinctly different tastes, it wasn't like she had the option to try a lot of new things when we were young. We had our dinner staples, and I didn't even know pesto existed until I was a teenager. I started with the prepackaged stuff, and never realized how easy it was to make until I met my husband, the culinary school grad. We don't use a recipe, we just throw ingredients into the food processor until it looks right. But the ingredients list is almost always the same.







Fresh Pesto:

You'll need:

Fresh basil (I recommend heading to Trader Joes for these if you have one in your area. You can get a really good-sized box of basil for about 2 dollars and
it's always pretty fresh. You'll want a lot of basil.)
Raw Pinenuts (also cheapest at TJ's)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
A couple cloves of garlic
Salt & Pepper to taste
A small food processor or blender

Directions:

Start by toasting your pinenuts in a small pan. Just heat up a frying pan to medium-high heat and throw a good-sized handful of pinenuts in, let them toast until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
In a food processor or blender, add a clove or two (or three!) of peeled raw garlic, your pine nuts, a small handful of parmesan, and as many basil leaves as you can stuff in. Drizzle some olive oil in and pulse a few times to start breaking up the ingredients. Add more olive oil, basil leaves, and parmesan as needed, until you reach your desired consistency. Some people like it smoother, some like it chunkier. I like chunky, with lots of basil.
Toss with some freshly cooked noodles- or, like we did in this case, some chilled noodles for a cold pasta.

You can freeze pesto and save it for later, you can spread it on delicious crusty bread, dip things in it. You can even rub it all over your face if you want.



Summer's words and recipes...
I really love the first signs of summertime here in Portland. Yes, it can be cloudy and muggy, but being raised in California, I still find comfort in warm weather. Also, I am absolutely in love with summertime meals. Sure, I adore the hot soups and oven-baked comfort foods of the colder months, but few things can compare to sun tea, fresh market-purchased produce, and colorful summer foods.

Since Alice's husband was up in Seattle for work for the day, I invited her to our house for a nice dinner. I had already started a loaf of foccacia, so as stated above, we decided to go with a white bean salad and pasta with pesto to go along with it. The combination of the three foods ended up being one of my favorite kinds of meals: delicious pasta, warm bread with butter, and fresh salad, along with wine and cold drinks.

Another thing I love? Cooking with a good friend.





Olive Oil Foccacia: from Apples for Jam cookbook

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups warm (comfortable to your fingers) water
1 (1/4 oz.) package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup hot water

Directions:

Put the water, yeast, honey, half of the olive oil, and 3 fistfuls of the flour in a bowl. Mix with an electric beater until smooth. Cover and leave 20 to 30 minutes, until it all froths up and looks foamy on the top. Mix in the rest of the flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Now, using a dough hook, mix for 4 to 5 minutes so that it is well incorporated. If you don't have a dough hook, then mix it with your hands in the bowl, just slapping it from one side to the other, as it will be too soft to knead. Cover the bowl with a couple of cloths and leave it in a warm and draft-free place for about 1 1/2 hours, or until it has puffed up well.
Lightly grease an 11 by 15 by 1 1/2-inch baking pan. Punch down the dough to flatten it. Spread the dough out gently into the pan, right out to the edges. If it won't stretch easily, leave it to relax for another 5 minutes and then gently stretch it out, starting from the center. Make sure the dough doesn't break anywhere and that it is spread more or less evenly. Put in a warm, draft-free place. So the dough doesn't stick to the cloth, arrange four glasses around the pan and drape a couple of dish towels or a towel over them like a tent to completely cover the pan. Leave for about 45 minutes, until the dough puffs up.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a small bow, mix the remaining oil with 1/2 cup of hot water and 1 teaspoon of salt and stir until the salt dissolves. Make some dimples on top of the bread with your fingertips and then brush well with the saltwater mixture.
Put in the oven and bake for around 20 to 30 minutes, until the bread is golden, a bit crusty here and there, and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from oven and let cool a little before cutting into pieces. This is best warm but can also be served at room temperature or reheated.

Note: I also recommend adding fresh chopped herbs (rosemary or thyme) and parmesan and maybe some olives or sundried tomatoes to the top of the bread before baking.



White Bean Salad:

Ingredients: (may be altered to your own taste or what you have on hand)

A big bunch of fresh baby spinach, stems chopped off & rinsed
1 can of Great Northern (or Cannellini) beans, drained
About 2 small carrots
good-quality cheese (I used Creamy Havarti, purchased from a cheese farmer)
Balsalmic Vinegar
Olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper

Fill a serving bowl with your baby spinach. Pour white beans on top. Peel carrots directly into bowl. Crumble as much cheese as you'd like on top. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Toss and then enjoy!