Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cook Club: Giada's Kitchen

Top Scoring Dishes: Asparagus Lasagna & Roasted Eggplant Salad
Lowest Scoring Dishes: Linguine & Proscuitto Frittatas & Whole Wheat Linguine with Ricotta, Green Beans, and Lemon

For our first Cook Club cookbook, I picked out Giada DeLaurentiis's "Giada's Kitchen." I ADORE Giada, got the chance to meet her at the SOBE Food and Wine Festival a few years back, saw her this past year in DC, just love love love her. Plus, I feel like she offers a good variety of dishes, something for everyone to make. I picked her newest cookbook, Giada's Kitchen, which focuses on her love for fresh flavors.

Below are all the dishes that we tried with our comments, thoughts, and various musings. Each dish is given a score by the chef -- the scores on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the best. These scores were tabulated to come up with the final cookbook score!

Enjoy all the dishes -- and let us know if you've also tried dishes from Giada's Kitchen in the comments :)

Jazzie's Pick: Mini Calzones
Score: 3.4 (average of her score -- 2.7, and her husband's score -- 4)

Jasmine's Thoughts: I made Giada's recipe for mini calzones, however when I completed this dish, it was more like 2 large jumbo calzones. I didn't do the best job managing the dough so instead of the 8 mini rectangles that the recipe calls for, I got frustrated and ended up making 2 giant rectangles and thus, 2 jumbo calzones (my husband didn't mind this, but I could only eat one half of a calzone).I love spinach (what can I say, I was a big Popeye fan when I was younger) so I substituted the arugala that Giada uses for the calzones with spinach. I also added a layer of marinara inside of the calzone prior to adding the filling (only because I didn't read the recipe all the way through and just assumed that the marineria went inside, lol). I also added a layer of fresh mozarella cheese on top of the filling inside the calzone.I like the way the mozarella cheese melted inside and stretched all out when I opened the calzone after it was cooked. It looked really tasty. I wasn't really a fan of the cream cheese filling and in the future, I will only use mozarella and parmasean (I think that will just taste more fresh and authentic). All in all, the calzones were good.

Lisa's Crostata with Pancetta and Mushrooms
Score: 3.5

Lisa cooked up two of Giada's recipes this month. The first, the crostata with pancetta and mushrooms. Her thoughts:
The crust was rather dry compared to other crust recipes I have used previously. The topping, which consisted of thyme, garlic, shallots, mushroom, and pancetta was delicious.

Lisa's Linguine and Prosciutto Frittatas
Score: 3

Lisa's thoughts on the linguine and prosciutto frittatas:
The texture of the frittatas was dry and the linguine was hard. Smoked mozzarella was the dominant flavor in this dish.

Michelle's Curried Chicken Sandwich
Score: 3.5
Michelle enjoyed the flavors but found that the sandwich was just too dry. Next time, she would definitely add more moisture with either some mustard or soy mayo.

Anjali and Amanda's Creations :) (Anj and Amanda threw a party together filled with Giada food. Below are their reviews)

Watermelon, Tomato, Basil Skewers with Balsamic Reduction

Score: 4.5

Anjali: So I picked this recipe when it was a bit more summer-ish, then realized it might be difficult to find good watermelon. And I was correct. Nevertheless, I have been curious about savory watermelon dishes, so I marched on. The recipe was straightforward, as was the preparation: a lot of chopping. The balsamic reduction takes time, and though it says to cool it down, I was in a rush and it wasn't exactly cool when I poured it on the skewers. We waited about 20-30 minutes until we actually ate; this may have been why the reduction was sticking to the top of my mouth. Odd feeling, but otherwise a great dish. Definitely simple, light, and fresh, and would be even better in the peak of summer. Discovering a way to keep the balsamic reduction from being too gooey would be nice. :)

Amanda: Nice pairing with the halibut and eggplant. The balsamic syrup sat just a little too long before being served, so it was a bit sticky. Giada should have a included a time frame for cooling the syrup. To be fair to my co-chef, we had a dinner guest who was running late; the stickiness resulted from that, not from her inattentiveness. Overall, we loved the classic combination of tomato and basil, with the fun twist of watermelon.

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Score: 4.75 (averaged between 4.5 and 5)

Anjali: Again, this was a very straightforward recipe with simple preparation. I must be honest, I just used regular eggplants instead of Japanese, based on availability. I don't think it changed the end result too much. The hardest part was grilling the eggplant, since I only have George Foreman grill (no grill pan to speak of). My guests and I really enjoyed the dish! Again, light and fresh. You cannot go wrong with goat cheese, pine nuts, and basil. Perfect for anytime of year.

Amanda: Awesome! Very flavorful, such a great combination. No complaints, except as my co-chef mentioned the ridiculous amount of chopping required... I think this dish is worth it though.

Roasted Halibut with Fennel and Grapefruit Salsa
Score: 4.0

Anjali: So I picked this dish because I have never had halibut and...I dislike fennel. However, as a foodie, I don't think it's realistic to dislike a food that is used so much, so I knew I had to get over my fear. I first discovered that 1) halibut is hard to find and 2) when found, it is expensive. Oh well, on we go. Again, the recipe seemed straightforward. Once I started the prep work, however, I realized it would not be pain free. The grapefruit work is tedious and was the most time-intensive part of the dish. I also felt like the recipe asked for too much juice (one cup), as my grapefruit itself was also juicy. However, I might have created too much juice due to lack of precision when cutting my fruit. So, depending on your skill, either cut the fruit/juice down or getting a highly skilled grapefruit carver. :) The rest of the dish was easy and came together nicely. The finished product was pretty and...delicious! It was light, the right amount of savory, sweet, and sour, and I managed to put together three ingredients I am not a fan of (fennel, olives, and grapefruit) and come out with a tasty dish! Success!

Amanda: Very flavorful, with nice contrasts. The salsa went well with the halibut; I think it would also be fantastic with salmon. The dish was very “juicy”. I think I would reduce or eliminate the grapefruit juice next time around.

Whole-Wheat Linguine with Ricotta, Green Beans, and Lemon
Score: 3

Amanda: This dish did not transfer well…it sounded fantastic, but was a bit bland. It needed more salt to bring out the lemon, and pepper. We were also curious…what motivated the choice of whole wheat linguine? I think this dish would be much improved if Giada had chosen regular linguine instead. Wheat pasta is a great base, but cannot handle such delicate ingredients. I will try it again soon and substitute the pasta.

Anjali: The pasta was bland, but when salt was added, the flavor of the lemon came out. Why did Giada decide to be a health freak with the whole wheat pasta, which notoriously does not absorb flavors well?

Amaretto Sour with Prosecco
Score: 4

Amanda: Confession…I did not make my own sour mix. Given that the dinner party was thrown on a weekday, and that most busy, working women would prefer drinking a cocktail to creating a sour mix, I thought Giada was a little idealistic with the recipe. Despite this fact, I give my interpretation of it a 4. As the dinner guests said, “anything with prosecco is fantastic!”

Hazelnut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate Score: 4
Amanda: Despite the heavy title, the cake was light. The mascarpone was a fluffy contrast to the chocolate cake, and the orange zest only added to the flavor. We would have liked more crunch, which probably means my caramelized sugar technique needs work. I would have liked the recipe more if Giada would have included how to toast and shell hazelnuts. This was not a huge deal, a little googling answered my question, but it would be nice if the information was included with the recipe. Overall, the cake was great, and fun to make.

Elaine's Smoked Mozzarella with Fig and Honey
The recipe called for smoked mozzarella which the local supermarket near me didn't carry and the specialty cheese shop had run out as well. So the cheeseman suggested that I go with a brie or camembert (I went with brie) to acheive creaminess and instead of the smokey element he suggested I grate some truffled cheese over the brie as the shop sells a truffled honey that sells well and should acheive the same effect since this recipe also uses honey. When making the parcels, they seemed thin so for some I used 2 sheets of filo but this wasn't necessary as 2 sheets made them way too thick. One thing I might do different next time is try to bake them in the oven instead of frying them in oil. I though this was a very heavy starter but good for a winter night.

Asparagus Lasagna (2)
Elaine's Asparagus Lasagna
Score: 5

This lasagna was absolutely fabulous, everyone enjoyed it and was surprised at how well the asparagus remained quite firm. As I didn't have a food processor handy I didn't make the sundried tomato pesto according to the recipe. Instead I used a ready made one by Sacla which I tried out beforehand to make sure it wasn't too salty. This worked really well and complimented the other ingredients perfectly. One confusing thing about this recipe was that you are asked to brown pancetta and remove before cooking the onion, garlic, and asparagus but the pancetta isn't used in the rest of the recipe so I don't think you actually need to bother with that step since it doesn't seem to contribute much. This was a very easy lasagna to make and I will definitely make it again.

Jackie's Orzo-Stuffed Peppers
Score: 4.5

I went back and forth about which recipes to try from this cookbook -- too many to choose from! -- and narrowed it to a few and had Mr. J pick. He picked these orzo-stuffed peppers. I was pretty excited because I've never made stuffed peppers before and they presented so well in the cookbook. I must say, I was very pleased with how they turned out. The recipe was simple to follow (although included quite a bit of chopping as in Anjali and Amanda's recipes). I had read reviews that the recipe was too bland, but I didn't find that to be the case (even though I was sick was a stuffy nose, I could still taste all the rich flavors). I added in some ground turkey for protein and was quite generous with the cheese (how could I not be, I love cheese). I thought that the fresh mint was an interesting twist -- very flavorful, but I grew tired of the mint after eating several leftover stuffed peppers. Would probably use basil or another fresh herb in its place next time. In any case, would definitely make this again!

Jackie's Tuna Sandwiches
Score: 4

We're a big football watching house, so I wanted something perfect for game watching... and this recipe contained some of my most favorite sandwich ingredients -- tuna, artichokes, olives, a "hummus-like" spread, and arugula. The most time consuming part of this recipe was making the hummus, but believe you me, I had leftover hummus that I used on other sandwiches for the rest of the week! I enjoyed all the flavors -- they blended so nicely together. And be sure to get the right type of bread -- we got baguette rolls that were ideal with these sandwiches. Regular bread would have become instantly soggy. I would make this again!

So there you have it folks, Giada's Kitchen. That was a fun one to start with... tune in next month for another tasty round of Cook Club: Cook the Books. Cheers!


The Duo Dishes said...

Cooking is really fun in groups like this. It's interesting to test recipes with other people. You're going to have lots more fun with this.

The Food Hunter said...

This is such a great idea. I can't wait until next month.

lindsaymeyer said...

This looks like a blast! Must host one of these soon!

PS. Everyday Italian = my fave tv show ever!