Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Of Words and Wine - Food and a Book Review

Did you all know I have a book club? Yep, sure do. It’s a lovely little group. Just three of us, actually. We originally intended it to be a bigger group, but we decided that we like it the way it is, so we’re not changing a thing! We have a list of books we are interested in reading and then we draw them from a hat to decide what we will read next. We meet monthly, and take turns meeting at each others’ houses, then on the fourth month, we meet somewhere else, like at a local eatery. We just had our fifth meeting last Friday, and it was my turn to host the club. One of the best parts for me is the fact that I get to cook for people who enjoy food, and we get to drink wine, and gossip, and rant if we need to (all after we get done talking about the book, of course!)

So, for this month’s meeting, I made a selection of little appetizers that were all recipes I got from my blog reader and had never tried, They all had great potential, but for one reason or another, they all ended up being just okay, in my opinion.

For starters, I made the Tandoori Chicken that I spied on The Food of Love. It looked tantalizing and easy to make. I added some additional seasonings of my own as well (a little turmeric, some garam masala) and, while the chicken did have fabulous flavor, it fell short. You want to know why? Two reasons; One, I should have grilled it instead of using my grill pan. It stuck something fierce (I need a new grill pan) and never really got the caramelization that I was hoping for. I will be trying that one again when I have time to fire up the grill.Second, I have had this Caramelized Chili Shrimp saved for eons (but I can't remember where I got it from!), and decided this was the night I would finally try it. Both the girls really liked it, and I agree that the flavors were spot-on, but there were two things I should have done differently. One, I wasn’t about to use precooked shrimp, and the only raw shrimp I could get my hands on were pretty small, so they didn’t get to cook long enough to get that nice crust going that I wanted. Two, I committed one of the all time worst culinary sins....I crowded the pan. Yep, I was too lazy to get a bigger pan out when I realized I was out of room on the pan I was using, so I crammed them all on there and they poached, rather than caramelizing. Again, a recipe worth trying another time, with more patience.Finally, I had been drooling over these Thai Meatballs with Peanut Dipping sauce from Krista's Kitchen. You know, the meatballs were really easy and quite tasty. When I read the ingredients for the sauce, however, I paused. It called for a half a cup of peanut butter (to a mere cup of coconut milk). Having had experience with peanut sauces in the past, I decided to edit this one ingredient. I whittled it down to about a quarter cup or less, but I should have stuck with a bare tablespoon, as we all thought the peanut flavor was just too overwhelming.One last thing. Normally I drink wine when we meet, but I also found a lovely looking cocktail over at The Italian Dish and was dying to try it. The drink calls for Aperol, which is an orange liqueur, not readily found in my area. However, it reminded me that I have an unopened bottle of Orangecello in my cabinet, so I broke that out along with a bottle of Zonin Prosecco, and in place of the club soda, I tossed in a dash of lemon lime soda. It was quite a refreshing choice for a night when we actually had weather lovely enough to open the house up and feel the spring air! Definitely one I'll make again...after all....I still have half a bottle of Orangecello to use!So, all in all, I liked each recipe, but I need to try them again, with a little more effort. Lesson learned? Always have at least one “old standby” on the list when serving friends instead of using all new recipes.

For the last part of this post, I decided to try something different. I’ve been meaning to start reviewing the books I’m reading, but I just never get around to it. That, and I’m not the greatest at putting my thoughts into words when I talk about books I have read. So, I have enlisted the help of my friend Whitney, who is also in the club, and she has written up a little review for you on the book we just read, The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant.

Introducing Whitney!

Hello, I’m Beth’s friend Whitney. Before I go into my review of my Red Tent, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my background. I’m a southern gal through and through, born and raised in Memphis, TN. Most people raise their eyebrows when they hear I’m from Memphis and that’s probably because it’s featured on A &E’s First 48 weekly. However, I didn’t grow up in that part of Memphis; I grew up in Germantown, the city’s utopia. As you know Tennessee is part of our great nation’s Bible belt and I’m a God fearing girl who knows her Bible backwards and forwards, my Bible Bowl trophy from ’96 proves it. So every time I hear about a book that tells a Biblical story from another perspective, I’m really wary. The God fearing part of me feels that I’ll get sent to hell for reading this blasphemy. (Just kidding) The Red Tent really did disprove my feelings on Biblical stories told from a different point of view though. The story of Dinah is found of Genesis 34:1-31, which is roughly 2 paragraphs. The story of Dinah is tragic and I remember thinking that she deserved more than two paragraphs. For those of you who do not know the story of Dinah, I will give you the Cliff Notes version. She is Jacob’s daughter; You know Jacob? He stole Esau’s blessing. Well Jacob’s family was traveling and Shechem, who happened to be a wealthy prince decided to have sex with Dinah. In the process he fell in love with Dinah and decides he wants to marry her. Shechem’s father comes to Jacob and offers him many gifts for Dinah’s hand, including daughters for Jacob’s sons to marry. But Jacob says, “No, you and all the men in your house must get circumcised.” (That’s not a direct quote by the way) Shechem “loved” Dinah so much he granted Jacob’s wish. Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi go to the palace later that night and kill Shechem and all the men in the palace because they claimed that no man could treat their sister that way! As an adolescent I thought, “Wow, that is so cool, they’re defending their sister’s honor.” After reading the Red Tent my perspective of this Biblical story changed. I began to see the Biblical heroes such as Joseph and Jacob, dare I say it, as evil men who were only looking out for themselves. This book celebrates women unlike the stories of the Bible you’re used to and at the end you’ll find yourself wondering what really happened to Dinah.

As a side note, all three of us loved this book. We were all raised in the church, and have a background in the history of the bible. After reading this book, we now all have a different view of the women of the bible and the lived they lead. I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say we give this book a strong thumbs up!
I hope you enjoyed the recipes and the review....stay tuned for April's club meeting. We'll be reading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Korean Fried Chicken

Traditionally, any time that Ginny and I get together, there is a fair amount of cooking involved. So, it goes without saying that even though we tried to make our recent visit a little less food-oriented than usual, it didn’t work. We had the cheese to make, of course, and the fried pickles....and then, right before Ty and I drove out, I made the mistake of catching up on my blog reading and found this recipe for Korean Fried Chicken.

Since I have a friend who is half Korean and long ago fell in love with her mother’s cooking, any time I see a recipe that hints at being remotely Korean, I have to try it. And man oh man, did this look scrumptious. Those boys over at The Bitten Word sure know how to make you drool. They have quite a penchant for cooking magazines, as do I, so I am frequently checking back to see what they have picked out of the latest editions.

Admittedly, Ginny and I had a tiny bit of difficulty locating the Korean sauce the recipe calls for, but fear not! The Aoeshe store in Iowa City took care of us and we trucked on back to her place to get the oil going.

The key to this recipe, without a doubt, is the double frying. With a simple batter coating, they were a snap to get together. The longest part of the process was just frying them in batches small enough that the oil temperature didn’t drop too dramatically.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, is the sauce. Spicy and tangy, with just an undertone of vinegar, these little gems were gone in the blink of an eye, with only the BBQ smears around our mouths as evidence.

This is a recipe you will be sorely tempted to make for your friends, but I will caution you against it....if you do that, you’ll have to share. Keep it to yourself, that way there will be more for you! Oh, and don’t even think about asking me how they handle being reheated. I wouldn’t know. They are lucky they made it to my plate, let alone the fridge.
Korean Fried Chicken
Canola oil, for frying
5 cloves garlic
1 1 1⁄2" piece peeled ginger
3 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tbsp. gojujang (Korean chile paste)
1 1⁄2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. Asian sesame oil
1 tbsp. honey
2⁄3 cup flour
1 tbsp. cornstarch
16 chicken wings (about 1 3⁄4 lbs.)

1. Pour oil into a 6-qt. pot to a depth of 2". Heat over medium-high heat until a thermometer reads 350˚. Chop garlic and ginger in a food processor. Add soy, gojujang, vinegar, sesame oil, and honey; purée. Put sauce into a bowl.

2. Whisk flour, cornstarch, and 2⁄3 cup water in another bowl. Add chicken; toss. Working in 3 batches, fry chicken until golden, 6–8 minutes.Drain on paper towels. Return oil to 350˚. Fry chicken until crisp, 6–8 minutes more. Drain again. Toss chicken in sauce. And then? Devour....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Say Cheese!

For as long as I have been an avid cook, I have always wanted to learn how to make cheese. Specifically, fresh mozzarella. I have long had a love affair with the luscious white cheese. From the moment the tomatoes begin to bloom in my garden, all I can think about is that first plate of caprese.

Well, enough is enough. I can now officially say that I have made cheese. Yeah, sure, I've made simple yogurt cheeses in the past, but this was the real deal (no, it isn't aged cheese, lets not go that far).

I did a little research, and managed to rustle up the ingredients. Add another cooking event to my recent Iowa visit! I found instructions that looked reasonably user-friendly, and while the blogger indicated that it was an approximately two hour process, it actually ended up taking us about four hours, total. On the other hand, they also say they usually get about 12 ounces of cheese out of the process, and although we didn't have a scale handy to weigh ours, I'd say we definitely got more than that.

And? As a bonus? My picky eater son actually liked it! Woo-hoo!

I am not going to copy all the directions in here, as they are quite lengthy, but I will give you some bullet points to go with the pictures.

First, you need to bring your gallon of milk up to 50 degrees. So, if you want to try this, start early! Getting it up to temperature took well over an hour!

The next steps involve adding citric acid to the milk and bringing the temperature up to about 89 degrees, followed by adding a crushed rennet tablet and letting the mixture sit until you get a clean break; meaning that you can pull the curds apart with your finger.

At this point, you cut the curds with a knife and let them set again, followed by heating the milk back up to 108 degrees.After the heating, comes the draining of the curds,and then a few quick trips through the microwave to turn the curds into one solid mass and give it the texture and consistency that can be handled and shaped into the ever-familiar white ball.And VOILA! Say, cheese!!Definitely a time consuming process, but well worth it in the end for the freshness of the cheese. I will be serving this up at my book club meeting Friday night!

In a Pickle

Recently, Ginny was in North Dakota for a meeting and had the opportunity to dine at The Toasted Frog. Among other things, she tried their version of fried pickles. Around here if you order fried pickles, you end up with a plate piled high with what amounts to dill pickle slices, breaded and deep fried. This is pretty common carnival food in the Midwest.

However, when she sent me this picture, I was intrigued: On my visit to Iowa last weekend, we did our best to emulate this little treat. She described the restaurant's version as "dill pickle spears and Havarti in an egg roll wrapper and fried. I decided to go for the bite sized version and got pickle slices (which we cut into bit size chunks) and won ton wrappers.We carefully centered a piece of pickle and a little slice of Havarti on a won ton wrapper, then rolled each one up like a mini egg roll and tossed them into the hot oil.These were really tasty little treats. We ate our fill of them before our next dish was finished (yes, we ate two fried dishes for breakfast Sunday because we were too exhausted Saturday night to get it accomplished!). Since we were snapping them up so greedily, we completely forgot to take a picture of the INSIDE of one of them, so you'll just have to trust me when I say they were delicious. The only thing we might change is that they needed more cheese. I was also debating the idea of dredging the rolls in a Cajun seasoned flour the next time I make them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

North American Salad - a la Nigella Lawson

When I saw this gorgeous salad on Stirring the Pot, I just knew I had to make it. I mean, aside from the fact that it is a Nigella Lawson recipe, well, just LOOK at it! Isn't it beautiful? The colors and textures combined perfectly to make my mouth water.

I promptly went in search of wild rice; which, in these parts, isn't easy. I did manage to find a bag of mixed wild rice at the local less-than-Super Walmart which held about 2 1/2 cups of rice. However, with the Little Man's birthday plans taking up most of my time over the last two weeks, I didn't manage to get it done. An entire hour to cook rice just wasn't in the time budget.

So, when I was packing all my gear to head out to Iowa for a weekend visit with Ginny last Thursday, I tossed all the ingredients into the bag and away we went! Arriving at Ginny's condo late Friday morning, the first thing we did was put the rice on to cook.

We discovered in the process of making the dish that the sauce looked like a tiny amount compared to the amount of rice (even though we had less rice than the recipe called for), so we doubled the sauce recipe. We also substituted poached chicken for turkey, since that's what we had handy.

I must say, this salad turned out to be absolutely delicious, and a very satisfying dish, as well. The rice is quite filling and the flavors blended very nicely. Some toasted pecans and a sprinkling of fresh parsley on top really finished it off nicely.
North American Salad
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson
Serves 6-8, recipe can be halved
3 cups wild rice
1/2 cup dried sliced cranberries
4 cups diced cold turkey
2 tablespoons cranberry sauce or jelly
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup halved pecans or pecan pieces
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Cook the rice according to the package instructions, rinse and leave to cool. Add the dried cranberries and turkey to the cold, cooked rice. Make a dressing with the cranberry jelly, lime juice and oil by whisking everything together in a bowl.Toss the dressing through the rice, cranberries and turkey. Snap the pecans in half (or if using pieces leave as they are) and add to the salad with most of the parsley, turn out on to a plate or serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining parsley.
NOTE: Reserve the pecans until ready to serve so that they remain crunchy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Flapjacks - its not what you're thinking....

One of the bittersweet moments in life here in small town America (and I imagine, anywhere else) is when your 16 year old niece comes to you with her magazine order form from school that will raise funds for her after prom party. How am I supposed to look into that smiling face and say no?

Yeah, well, you know I didn't say no. Besides, I was overdue for a change in my subscriptions. I was getting a bit tired of Rachael and Paula. The newest additions to my coffee table are La Cucina Italiana and Bon Appetit.

I took both of these issues along with me on the plane to Baltimore to keep me occupied while Ty hammered away at his Nintendo, and came up with a few new recipes that I've just got to try for myself. The first of which, was Flapjacks.

Did you know that Flapjacks means something entirely different in the U.K.? I didn't. But, I do now! What I discovered, however, is that although the picture in my magazine was deceptive, the truth of the matter is that these little babies are really nothing more than granola bars. Very tasty little granola bars, but granola nonetheless.

Uber easy to throw together (the one sticking point would be the availability of Golden Syrup in your area. I found mine at Meijer.) With only a handful of ingredients, this goes together in a flash and they keep well for several days afterward without getting overly hard to bite into. Great with coffee or milk, I had mine for breakfast, although I have a feeling my British friends might tell me that is a foodie faux pas.

British Flapjacks
Makes 16
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup golden syrup*
2 1/3 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant or old fashioned)
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350. Butter 8x8x2 inch metal baking pan. Combine first three ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until butter melts, sugar dissolves, and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Add oats and salt; stir until coated. Transfer mixture to prepared pan and spread out in even layer.
Bake until top is golden (edges will be darker), about 25 minutes.Cool in pan on rack 5 minutes. Cut into 4 squares; cut each square into 4 triangles (mixture will still be soft).Cool completely in pan before serving.*A type of syrup popular in Great Britain; availableat some supermarkets, specialty food stores, and British import shops.