Friday, November 12, 2010

Cook Club: Bon Appetit, Y'all




HIGHEST SCORING DISHES: Amanda's Vidalia Onion Confit with Garlic Toasts and Jackie B's Green Beans

For September/October Cook Club, the lovely Amanda picked out Bon Appetit, Y'all by Virginia Willis. Here's a little bit about why Amanda picked this cookbook: "The book I chose for this month's cook club is Bon Appetit, Y'all by Virginia Willis. Virginia Willis is a native Southerner who was French trained as a chef, and all of her recipes have heavy influences of both cultures. I adore Southern culture and cooking, so this book seemed like an obvious choice! :) My parents introduced me to this cook book over a year ago, and they love it!" The list of dishes looked AMAZING to me -- it was so hard to pick out dishes to make. And I was very happy with my selections! Thanks Amanda for leading us this round!


Amanda's Vidalia Onion Confit with Garlic Toasts
Score: 5
This recipe was super easy to put together and very straightforward. I actually made it the night before to allow the flavors to develop,and was so glad I did! The only problem I ran into was the availability of vidalia onions...they were nowhere to be found! After a call to my mother, the gardening guru, I learned that vidalia onions are more of a "summer onion"(who knew?), so I had to settle for yellow onions. My mom swore that these were acceptable substitute, and she was right! The dish was flavorful, and was only enhanced by blue cheese--per the author's suggestion. I will definitely make this again, either as a starter, or as a condiment with pork or chicken.  (Anjali's thoughts: 4.75!  So yummy, loved the blue cheese with the onions.  Simple!).  

034Anjali's Mama's Sausage Pecan Balls
Score: 4.0

So this was actually Stephen's recipe, but Amanda accidentally sent it to me and I TOTALLY stole it. ;) Again, another simple appetizer recipe for all the fabulous parties I attend. (in my dreams) One tip for the recipe. I attempted to make the batter without the food processor and failed, but once I did put it in the food processor, it came together beautifully. Use your tools! Otherwise, it was simple and yummy!  I felt they were a little dry but the other guests did not feel that way.  You know me, I like hot sauce with everything. ;)

(Jackie's note: I was jealous that someone grabbed this before I could!  I definitely will want to make this too...)

Anjali's Heirloom Tomato and Olive Tartines
Score: 4.5

Thought this would be a good, easy appetizer recipe to have under my belt.  It was so simple! I was really surprised to see the addition of thyme and rosemary, but I LOVED them in the tapenade! They really cut the strong flavor of the olives, which I feel often scares people away from anything olive-related.  This had a really mild, rich flavor and was so simple to make.  Will definitely make this again!

Amanda's Thyme Toasted Pecans
Score: 3.5
Virginia Willlis was correct about this recipe...the fragrance is amazing when all of the ingredients are combined with the warm toasted pecans. Unfortunately, they were not very flavorful. I still love this recipe, and will make it again, just with more pepper, salt, and thyme!

035Lisa H.'s Pimento Cheese
Score: (by Anjali) 4.5 


Jackie's Coca-Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Score: 3.75
I've always wanted to make my own ribs and what is more perfect than a Southern cookbook to try out a ribs recipe?  This dish was actually a lot of fun to make... and the smell of the ribs was AMAZING while they were cooking.  The ribs were sweet (use lots of napkins!), but lacked depth in flavor.  Still tasty though.  I think next time I would maybe add a bit more salt or maybe hot sauce? 

Jackie's Country Captain Chicken
Score: 4.5

IMG_8140I hadn't realized how prevalent curry flavors were in the South until I did some research on Country Captain chicken!  And this does not disappoint.  I used boneless skinless chicken breasts here -- Ms. Willis suggests cooking the chicken for a shorter period of time if using boneless skinless breasts... which I tried, but the chicken was still not cooked enough.  I think next time I would cut the breasts down in a size so they are all the same size and would cook quicker!  The chicken is coated in flour with a bit of a paprika kick and the coating gets browned a bit at first to give the chicken a nice taste.  Then the chicken is piled into a pot with tomatoes, golden raisins, peppers... yum.  Mr. J LOVED this dish and happily ate it for dinner for days to come.  Definitely will make again!


Jackie's $20,000 Rice Pilaf
Score: 4.5

Amanda sent this recipe to me to go with my Country Captain Chicken and I am sure glad she did!  When I was growing up, I always loved when my parents made for me rice with "vegetable sauce"... or rice with some chicken broth that had vegetable cooked in it.  And this reminded me of that.  Unlike other rice recipes I've tried, this one was cooked in the oven.  After toasting the rice a bit on the stove, the pot goes into the oven for the rice to cook up in chicken broth.  Yesss, yummy chicken broth.  It takes no time at all, the rice was super fluffy and very flavorful.  I could have actually just eaten the rice by itself. 

Jackie B.'s Green Beans
Score: (by Anjali) 5

038Anjali's thoughts: this was possibly the biggest hit at the party. FIVE POINT OHHHHH :)


036Amanda's Cheddar Cornbread
Score: 4
In my opinion, cornbread is generally pretty amazing. Cornbread with cheese? Even better! The recipe was very easy to throw together, and had a great flavor. I liked that the recipe used buttermilk instead of milk, which makes the flavor a little richer. I usually make cornbread with shortening, and this recipe recommended butter, which was equally yummy! This definitely isn't a substitute for regular cornbread, but it will be nice to have something different every once in awhile.


041Lisa H.'s Pecan Brownies
Score: (by Anjali) 3.5

Thanks so much to Amanda for heading up this round!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cook Club: Lost Recipes: Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget

Highest Scoring Dishes: Sunday Sago and Salted Butter Cookies
Lowest Scoring Dish: Brown Sugar Fudge

Rachel headed up our July/August Cook Club and picked out the recipe-filled Lost Recipes: Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget.  In Rach's words:  "I think I found something that will be fun for everyone. The July/August cookbook is actually a hefty magazine from Cook's Country - Lost Recipes: Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget. I love to read old cookbooks - the older the better - but I rarely cook out of them because the recipes seem so weird or the ingredients are too hard to find in a modern store.  The promise of this collection of recipes is that they are original recipes that let you "taste our culinary past" without the risk - they have passed the Cook's Country test and each one should be worth making. You can find the ingredients without a time machine, and the techniques have been updated where necessary to fit the modern kitchen."

I was excited to try this cookbook (I quite heart Cook's Country and its sister company, America's Test Kitchen).  I decided to check out the cookbook for myself at my local Barnes & Noble, and as it turns out, this cookbook has expanded into not one, but two cookbooks: America's Best Lost Recipes: 121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget and Cook's Country Best Lost Suppers.  The recipes we sampled span these two cookbooks . . . and the cookbooks offer many more recipes (with loads of helpful tips and hints).  The first cookbook tends more towards desserts and baked goods, and the second cookbook, as its title implies, more entrees and savory dishes.

Thanks Rach for introducing us to this cookbook!

Lisa W's Brooklyn Cheese Puffs
Score: 4.0

I chose this recipe because I am always looking for fun appetizers for entertaining. Other cheese puffs/ball that I have made in the past have been fried. Needless to say, I was very excited when this recipe required baking of the puffs. This is a very simple and tasty recipe. My only suggestion is that if you make puffs that are ping pong ball size (as I did), I would bake them for 20 minutes , instead of 10 minutes. I will definitely make these again!

Amanda's Corn Oysters
Score: Corn Oysters Alone = 2, With Remoulade = 4.  Score = 3.0

I was both intimidated and excited to make this recipe. Intimidated, because it involved deep frying, and excited, because I like fried food. :) The corn was very fresh and sweet, which gave the "oysters" an interesting flavor. The recipe was fairly quick and easy to assemble, and I managed to live through my first deep frying experience without any major disasters. Once cooked, the oysters were kind of...bland. They needed salt, at a minimum, and lots of other spice intervention. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to make remoulade sauce in advance, which helped quite a bit! I think this recipe is great, but I will definitely add spices to the batter next time...or make remoulade again. :) (Anjali scored this dish as 3.25)


Anjali's International Date Line Chicken
Score: 4.25

I picked this dish because I feel like I always make the same old chicken dishes. The recipe was straightforward, as was the prep. It is the first time I have worked with bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, but I didn't find them to be difficult. The end result smelled so good and it tasted yummy. It is relatively healthy, too! (The recipe calls for removal of the skin after cooking) I will definitely keep this in my arsenal.

Jackie's Oh My God Chicken
Score: 4.4

I was in search of recipes that I could make and enjoy the leftovers for days to come...  I admit I was intrigued by the name of this dish and thought that I had vaguely heard of "Oh My God Chicken" before.  And really, how could "Oh My God Chicken" not be good?  Happy to say, it was delicious.  The mixture of slow cooked onions and peppers with the chicken broth and white wine made the chicken thighs deliciously flavorful (boned-in, skin-on ... how rarely I used chicken thighs these days, but didn't want the chicken to dry out!  So chicken thighs was the cut of choice!  Not til after I already bought the chicken thighs did I notice that the recipe also provided times for chicken breasts... note to self!).  Our house smelled amazing.  A note that I should have heeded better -- the recipe warns to be careful with your salt seasoning...and I should have followed this because I was a bit heavy handed on the salt, which was perhaps the only downside to this dish.  Definitely will make again!

Stephen's Sunday Sago
Score: 4.5

I tackled the Sunday Sago and the Salted Butter Cookies. Overall both were excellent, I'd give each a 4.5. A few modifications were made to the sago, sorry, but it was totally necessary. I grew up with a family who literally made this every Sunday. Old Italian tradition, and a damn good one! The original sauce had almost no flavor. So to help it out, I doubled the oregano, added an equal amount of thyme, and 2 bay leaves. That still wasn't enough so I then added 2 teapsoons vegetable base, a bottle of pinot noir, and let it simmer an extra 2 hours. That did the trick :) So I mighta went a little overboard, but I can't help it, this is one dish I have high standards for, and will always be the one that only mom could make.  (Anjali scored this dish as well with 4.25 and YUM!)

Amanda's Galveston Shrimp Creole
Score: 3.5

This recipe was fun to make...mostly because it involved making a roux, and I am always interested in learning new and different techniques to make one.(Before making this recipe, I wasn't aware that different techniques existed...thanks for the tip, Dad!) The recipe was fairly involved in the begininng, but was very easy towards the end (simmer for 2 hours, add shrimp, serve). Overall, I thought the finished product was lacking quite a bit in flavor-it needed more salt, and Tabasco! :)


Anjali's Maryland Caramel Tomatoes
Score: 3.5

I like Maryland, caramel, and tomatoes, so this seemed like a good option for me. Again, incredibly straightforward, which I always appreciate. Not that it wasn't disconcerting to put brown sugar on tomatoes! Nevertheless, they turned out well and all of us enjoyed them. An easy side dish.

Lisa W's Great-Grandma's Corn Fritters
Score: 3.0

Great-Grandma needs some spice in her life! These corn fritters were very simple to make, but the flavor was greatly enhanced by the addition of red chili pepper. I made two batches, one following granny’s recipe and one adding some spice. My husband definitely preferred the batch with the chili pepper. Since the batter required tartar sauce, I served them with the tartar sauce. The tartar sauce was a nice complement to the fritters.


Stephen's Salted Butter Cookies
Score: 4.5

As for the cookies, I was surprised. Didn't know what to expect, but I liked them a lot. I didn't change anything in the recipe. I was really nervous about the chocolate filling. I've never heard of mixing it in that fashion, but it worked for the most part. It would have been much better to use heavy cream. The cookies had a nice crunchy/chewy texture, the salt flavor stood out just a bit more than a usual cookie and I liked it. The leftover cookies were taken care of that night with a big glass of milk. This was followed by the next night where I demolished the rest of cookies from the leftover dough that I saved.  (Anjali scored this dish with a 4.5 and "I jokingly called these Pepperidge Farm Cookies - SO GOOD")

Jackie's Sugar Cookies
Score: 4.25

These cookies were pretty fantastic!  I originally picked these a dish I could make with my niece, but ended up baking these for my office instead...  These cookies don't actually contain much sugar -- just a 1/2 cup -- and they were just sweet enough.  Even better, they were wonderfully fluffy, soft, and cakey.  If you like crisp cookies, this isn't the recipe for you.  Lucky for me, my go-to cookies are soft...  I think that I rolled my dough out a bit too thick, but I didn't mind having thicker cookies!  The recipe was a multi-step process that included at least a 2 hour chilling period, so plan accordingly :)  I think next time I might try these as snickerdoodles with sugar AND cinnamon.  Yum.

Rachel's Brown Sugar Fudge
Score: 2

I don't like fudge, but I love brown sugar, and since I don't make candy very often I thought I'd give it a try. I don't have a candy thermometer, and I don't recommend trying to make this recipe without one. It never really lightened or got matte the way it was supposed to when I was stirring it after cooling, which probably means I did not cook it for long enough, or maybe didn't get it hot enough. After an hour in the pan, it thickened but never set up and it was clear I wasn't going to be able to cut it into pieces.

The flavor is very good - butter and molasses notes, mostly - but not very interesting at all. I think it would make a good frosting for a not-very-sweet spice cake, so I scraped it all into a tub and stuck it in the freezer to use sometime this fall. I'll just thaw it and thin with a bit of whole milk.

Not recommended. You can make normal brown sugar frosting with a lot less work (this recipe requires 10 minutes of vigorous beating by hand!).

Amanda's Peach Puzzle
Score: 3.0

I found this recipe to be a little frustrating. The directions were a bit unclear-it said to peel the peaches, but I wasn't sure what to do after (half, slice, leave whole), because the recipe didn't mention it. I finally decided to halve them, for the sake of time, which worked out pretty well. The crust completely confused me, simply because I don't have tons of experience with making my own crust (pillsbury makes great ones, just saying :)), but I pressed on, and ended up with a lumpy, cobblerlike crust. The flavor was fine, but it definitely did not match the description in the recipe! Ha. I would have added a little cinnamon to the sauce before drizzling it over the peaches, had it occurred to me to taste it beforehand. Inverting the dessert made for a nice presentation, but overall it was not one of my favorites. (Anjali scored this dish with 3.5 - "always love peach desserts!")


Jackie's Fluffies
Score: 3.3

I originally picked this recipe based on its name (I had no idea what "fluffies" would be) and it made perfect sense when I found out they were pancakes.  I made these small pancakes for my pancake-loving parents-in-law one weekend while we were at the beach.  Although I loved just how fluffy the pancakes were (the secret is in the whipped egg whites!), I wasn't as big of a fan of the sour cream flavor.  My parents-in-law were very kind, and said they enjoyed their "fresh" flavor (from the sour cream), but that flavor wasn't for me.  Still though, a good recipe, although I don't know if I'll be making these for myself again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cook Club: Jamie's Food Revolution

Cheat's Sponge Cake

May/June Cook Club: Jamie's Food Revolution
Final Score: 3.78
Most Favorite Dishes: Chicken Korma, Pork Kabobs, Evolution Tomato Salad
Least Favorite Dishes: Everyday Green Chopped Salad, Quick Steamed Microwave Pudding Cakes

I headed up May/June Cook Club and couldn't resist picking Jamie Oliver's new-ish cookbook -- Jamie's Food Revolution.  I received this cookbook for Christmas last year.  After trying a few recipes out of it, I knew I was in love, and wanted to share this love with our Cook Club and see how the recipes would turn out on a broader scale!  I even enjoyed just reading through the cookbook.  Well, perhaps I should back up a little bit.  I loved this cookbook not just because of Jamie Oliver (who admittedly is cute as a button), but because of his mission behind the book -- to get people to cook more, to show people that cooking doesn't have to be a struggle, and to show what a difference passing on a few recipes can make in people's lives.  There is even a pledge in the book where the owner of the book promises to pass on multiple recipes to people (ok, so technically Jamie's asking us to teach the recipes to others, but I think we are doing this in our own way!).  The cookbook is filled with stories of people that he met and "passed" recipes on to and, well, it definitely inspires me to avoid ordering delivery and, instead, cook up one of these dishes.  I hope that you enjoy them as well!

And some feedback from the Cook Club about the cookbook in general!

Amanda: Can I start by saying how much I LOVE Jamie Oliver. The way his recipes were written were so laid back and user-friendly, I would definitely recommend this cookbook to anyone, no matter what their level of cooking experience. I'm thinking about buying this book for myself!

Michelle: I love this cookbook! It's the first one that we've cooked from that I'm absolutely going to go out and buy because I found the recipes to be not only delicious, but easy to make! And I had two more "complicated" items to make! Also, as an aside, I was recently at Rancho La Puerta (a spa just across the border from San Diego) and the nutritionist recommended this cookbook for everyone! I was so excited that we were cooking out of it!

And on to the dishes...

Shrimp with Old-School Marie Rose SauceSilvia's Shrimp and Avocado with an Old-School Marie Rose Sauce
Score: 4.0

I love shrimp and am always looking for new ways to use them in dishes, so I was really excited when I saw this recipe in Jamie Oliver's cook club. The recipe was very easy to follow yet it was still creative with bringing different ingredients together. I really didn't know what to expect from the sauce before I made it--the recipe called for mayo, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and whiskey! But it turned out to be very unique and delicious. The shrimp smelled superb as it was cooking in the olive oil and garlic. I loved how flouring the shrimp gave it a bit of a crisp texture. The paprika added both a beautiful coloring and lots of flavor. The fresh avocado and sprouts made for a great addition to the shrimp + sauce. We first ate the avocado and sprouts as kind of a mini salad and then had the shrimp dipped in the sauce separately... but then we went all out and made little stacked combos of the shrimp plus the garnishes--it came together very nicely and was very yummy!

Bolognese SauceRachel's Bolognese Sauce
Score: 3.75 (Jen = 3.5, Rachel = 4)

Looking at the ingredient list, I expected this to be super-flavorful. Bacon, onions, garlic, herbs, cheese - sounds delicious! I was surprised to find it a bit dull as I tasted it through the cooking process though, and ended up adding more sea salt and a mix of dried Italian herbs. About halfway through the meal I realized how much I was enjoying it - it really is a great combination, after adjusting for taste. Very much looking forward to eating the leftovers!

I used lean ground beef, and unfortunately had to omit the fresh basil as my grocery store was out. This recipe isn't difficult at all, but it does require a lot of time since it has to simmer for an hour. I couldn't make it on a normal weeknight, when I typically work a bit late, hit the gym and walk the dog before making dinner. It would be great for a Saturday afternoon when you're puttering around the house doing other things, enjoying the yummy smells.

One tip: definitely do not add the amount of water recommended (28 oz!). I don't know a lot about authentic Bolognese, but halfway through the cooking process it was obvious that I was going to have soup, not sauce, if I didn't do something drastic. I took the lid off and turned the heat all the way up for the last half hour. I would say add a cup of water and just keep an eye on it - if it seems like things are getting too dry or sticking together, throw in a bit more as needed.

Rachel's Hardly-Any-Prep Shrimp Stir-Fry
Score: 4

I had to make some adjustments to this one since I didn't have five-spice powder, fresh red chile, or cornstarch. I subbed in cinnamon, allspice and extra garlic for the five-spice and just went without the chile and cornstarch. My review is simple: this is a great recipe! The flavors are wonderful - I typically just use soy sauce and seasoned rice wine vinegar when I make stir-fry, and this is much fuller and richer. I've also never used rice sticks before, and they were a great alternative to rice. We both give this a 4.

Mini Shells with Peas, Bacon, and Basil SauceJackie's Mini Shell Pasta with Creamy Bacon and Pea Sauce Score: 3.8

I had been eyeing this particular dish for weeks now and we had contemplated cooking it while visiting with our little nieces (who are 4 and 5) because Jamie commented on how he loves to make it for his girls (and that him and Jools eat it up as well).  We ended up making the bolognese that weekend instead (Rachel made the bolognese for our Cook Club, see her review above!  I definitely agreed with Rachel's thoughts that this recipe called for much too much water and I would suggest not using diced tomatoes, but perhaps a mix of diced tomatoes and crushed tomatoes.  Our 5 year old niece LOVED the bolognese -- she ate almost her entire bowl of pasta), but I cooked up this mini shell recipe last night for dinner.  It took a bit longer than the recipe called for (Jamie's 5.5 minutes compared to my approx 30 minutes) because the water took awhile to boil and then the pasta needed about 10-11 minutes to cook.  But the actual sauce was super simple and very quick.  I used turkey bacon instead of regular bacon and threw in four more slices (love bacon!).  Also, instead of mint, I used fresh basil.  The sauce didn't come out nearly as smooth or creamy as Jamie suggested it would in his recipe, but the pasta was still quite good and surprisingly light, so great for even a hot summer day (which we were most certainly having yesterday). 

Jamie Oliver's Chicken VindalooJackie's Chicken Vindaloo (with Cilantro/Lime Rice)
Score: 4.2

Much to my delight, Jamie offers a whole chapter of different curries (mostly Indian, but also a Thai green curry) in his cookbook.  J and I love Indian food, and J particularly loves the spicier curries so we decided to make the vindaloo.  The recipe calls for pork shoulder, but we had boneless skinless chicken breast in our freezer so we used that. (On an aside, I accidentally defrosted way too many chicken breasts, so I put in three rather sizeable chicken breasts in, more than the recipe called for -- as a result, I just topped it off with more water than was required, so that most of the mixture was covered). The recipe itself was straightforward -- in most of Jamie's curry recipes, he suggests using the Patak brand of jarred curry pastes and he also provides recipes for each of the different curry pastes if you want to make it yourself.  We went for the jarred curry paste to save time.  The rest of the recipe really called of just some chopping (which took no time at all with my new mini cleaver!) and then occasionally stirring the pot while the vindaloo is cooking up (the worst part of that is smelling the wonderful aroma and getting hungry!).  We piled the vindaloo on top of cilantro/lime rice (kind of based on Jamie's recipe) and then a dollop of plain yogurt.  Very tasty and not toooo spicy, just how I like it.  Will definitely make again (and will try other of the curry recipes). 

Lisa W's British Beef and Onion Pie
Score: 3.0

I chose this dish because I had never made a “British dish.”  Interestingly, I spoke to someone from England who laughed when I told her I made it.  She said that British pie is a “very old-fashioned dish that only people in poverty consumed.”  Very interesting prospective from a 60 year old native! Making this dish was quite the adventure as I used an unfamiliar ingredient – Marmite.  Marmite is made from yeast extract and according to my husband is not palatable when eaten alone! The dish took 3+ hours to create, which I believe is too long for the end result.  The day my husband and I made the dish, we rated it 2.5.  However, the next day, we rated the dish 3.0 as the flavors combined very well the next day!

Quick Salmon Tikka
Lisa W's Quick Salmon Tikka with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
Score: Lisa's husband = 3, Lisa = 4; Average = 3.5

If you want a simple, quick, tasty recipe (prepped, cooked, and eating in 20 minutes), this is it!   I did not have the tikka paste, so I combined the dry tikka spice with water to create my own paste.    The salmon was also a little too “fishy.”  Next time, I would drizzle lemon juice on it prior to cooking vs after cooking (as the recipe indicated).

Stephen's Salmon En Croute
Score: 4.0
I made the Salmon en Croute. I used fresh King Salmon. I did make a substitution. I used green olive tapenade instead of black. Overall, the dish was good. The puff pastry crust is what set it apart. Crusty outside with a meaty inside, mmm. Good saltiness from the tapenade. My only hesitation is the tomato. I've personally never been a fan of a wedge of tomato in a hot, savory dish. If it were up to me, I'd switch to leeks next time. Also, crab was on sale :) so I bought some and made one with salmon plus crab. The crab gave it a really rich seafoody flavor along with a little sweetness. That one was my fav. (Anjali scored this dish a 4.25)

Michelle's Chicken Korma
Score: 4.5

First, let me say, this is my FAVORITE curry. I've tried millions of different store bought korma curries, and they never live up to the flavors of what you get at a good indian restaurant. This came shockingly close! It absolutely satisfied my craving for korma and it smelled AMAZING in my apartment. That being said, it is a bit of work (especially if you make the curry paste out of scratch like I did), but it's completely worth it. The textures are great and the flavors blend amazingly. I would add slightly less water to the curry the next time I make it (because it tells you to add water as you go to keep it moist), but that's because I like my curry a little bit thicker. I also added some sliced red bell peppers to mine, because I think all korma should have bell pepper. I would saute them first next time, because I think that is where a good part of the water came from. I will definitely make this dish again and again.

Michelle's Sizzling Beef with Scallions and Black Bean Sauce
Score: 4.0

This was quite a tasty little treat! I definitely recommend the trick of using the chilled rice, don't use hot rice, because it won't work properly. I would use a little bit less soy sauce than I did, but I'm not sure if that's because I used more than the recipe calls for or not (because you're told to just keep adding "a little more" throughout the recipe). Everything is to taste, but with soy sauce, the liquid reduces and leaves behind a lot of salt, so be sure that you use a light touch with the soy sauce. It takes a lot of arm strength to make this dish, because you have to keep stirring to prevent anything from burning. I will make this again when I'm not too tired and when I'm looking for something with a little kick. The flavors were great and, for a beef dish, it felt very healthy.

Cherry Tomato PastaAmanda's Cherry Tomato Sauce with Cheat's Fresh Pasta
Score: 4.5

When I was a kid, the joke in my family was that I would eat anything that had tomato sauce on it, which still pretty much holds true today, hence my recipe choice. The sauce for this recipe was very easy (like all of the others) and had only a few ingredients, but big flavor. I loved the combination of balsamic, fresh tomatoes, and basil! I will add more tomatoes next time (or use less pasta), simply because I love tomato sauce. Needless to say, this dish will make another appearance in my kitchen soon. (Anjali's score = 3.0)

Broccoli Pesto PastaAmanda's Broccoli and Pesto Tagliatelle
Score: 3.5

No cook club session is complete in my apartment without some type of mishap or grocery store search. This recipe presented a small challenge of locating tagliatelle. My usual store didn't have it, nor did whole foods. So, I consulted Wikipedia (don't tell my students ;)) and Epicurious and learned that tagliatelle is closely related to fettuccine. (This is what I love about cook club, besides the yummy food...I generally learn something new every time! :)) Anyhow, after solving my pasta problem, I got cooking. Again the recipe was super easy to follow, and took relatively little time. I liked the combo of broccoli and pesto, and the broccoli gave the pasta a nice texture. Overall, I thought the pasta was a bit lacking in the flavor department, and needed more salt, pepper, and pesto (I added lots of extra) than the recipe called for. This recipe is still a keeper, and I'm glad I have a new pasta dish.

Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish with CouscousTracy's Moroccan Stewed Fish with Couscous
Score: 4.0

This was very tasty and not hard to make at all. I had to adjust the cooking time because I used frozen seafood instead of fresh. The flavors were well balanced and the fish was just toothsome enough to place itself squarely in the star position of the dish. Great as leftovers, which is rare for a seafood dish!

Pork KabobsBecca's Pork Kabobs
Score: 4.5

I made the pork kabobs and the mexican style corn. The kabobs were very easy to make and I appreciated that the seasoning was more of a rub than a marinade, so it's the kind of thing you could make any day of the week and still get good flavor. The cooking times were a bit unpredictable, but I think that's because I didn't cut the onions right so it was hard to get the kabobs down on my grill pan uniformly. If I ever figured out how to use my grill it would probably be much easier to get the cooking times down. I should have been more careful to avoid putting small pieces on the ends of the kabobs, those were harder to cook. Overall though I thought the kabobs were delicious and enjoyed them for dinner and for lunch the next day. The pork was very tender and it was fun to learn a good recipe for pork since I get a little burned out on chicken now and again. That said, I think the same recipe would work well for chicken as well.


IMG_7449Jackie's Evolution Tomato Salad
Score: 4.7

This salad was simply fantastic.  Perhaps it is because it is the perfect season for tomatoes, but I loved how all the elements of this salad came together.  I picked this recipe for a family barbecue we were having -- our barbecues are filled with grilled proteins (chicken wings, pork chops, hot dogs, etc), so I wanted something light to accompany everything.  This recipe was very simple to make and took no time at all.  The recipe called for a mix of tomatoes -- I used vine-ripened tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and grape tomatoes -- and basically a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, basil, sea salt, and black pepper (note: I did cut back a little bit on the olive oil because it seemed like a bit too much for the amount of tomatoes I had).  The olives added just a bit of saltiness and the cannelini beans gave a touch of creaminess and a different texture.  This recipe came from the cookbook's series of "evolution salads" -- basically, Jamie gives you the recipe for the basic salad (here, the tomato salad, but he also does a green salad, carrot salad, cucumber salad...) and then the salad "evolves" through three additional steps.  I incorporated all but the last step -- which was to add tuna in because we were certainly protein filled already!  I'm quite excited about all the leftover tomato salad I have (brought it for lunch today!) and definitely would make this salad again!  (Addendum: So, I slightly downgraded this recipe from a 5 to a 4.7... this salad really doesn't hold up as a leftover -- and I'm all about having leftovers to bring with me for lunch!  The tomatoes become mushy, the beans become too creamy, and all in all, it starts to not look very appetizing.  Still a fantastic recipe though for a fresh salad to be eaten THAT DAY.)

Everyday Green Chopped SaladRachel's Everyday Green Chopped Salad
Score: 2

Chopped salad is my favorite kind of salad - I just love all the flavors mixed together and all the nicely uniform pieces are so pretty. The veggie mix here - butter lettuce, scallions, sprouts, cucumber - is really nice. But once you add in everything else (oil! cheese! mustard! vinegar!), this seems like a salad for people who don't like vegetables. It's so creamy and over the top that all you can taste is the dressing, and that's even after I cut the dressing ingredients down from 2 avocados to 1, and from 6 tablespoons of oil to 1.5. This salad was a great reminder that butter lettuce and avocados should be getting in my cart a lot more often, but I can't say I will be making this one again.  I give this a 2 - great ingredients, but proportions are all wrong for me.

Mint PeasAnjali's Minted Peas
Score: 4.25

I really do love Cook Club, but some months just get too busy!  So this time I picked a side that looked simple and sounded yummy.  And it was!  I was taken aback by the addition of lettuce to the peas, but the end result was great.  The mint is the perfect complement to the buttery flavor of the peas.

Dressed AsparagusAmanda's Dressed Asparagus
Score: 4

I LOVE asparagus, so when I saw this recipe, I had to try it! The recipe was so very simple and easy; it took twenty minutes start to finish. The "dressed" portion of the recipe included balsamic and dijion mustard, both of which added a nice flavor to the asparagus, but wasn't too overpowering either. Overall I thought this was a fantastic recipe and will definitely use it again! Next time, I would like to try grilling the asparagus (my parents do this quite a bit and it's amazing), then drizzling the dressing over it-I think it would make the flavor a little different.  (Anjali's score = 3.75)

Becca's Mexican-Style Corn
Score: 4.0

The corn was also really yummy. I forgot to pick up fresh parmesan so I just used grated. It didn't look as pretty but it tasted good. The pepper bits added some nice heat which was a good contrast with the sweetness of the corn.

Quick Steamed Microwave Pudding CakesTracy's Quick Steamed Microwave Pudding Cakes
Score: 1.0

The texture of this cake was terribly heavy. The batter was gummy. The flavor was dull. All in all, a poor dish. I won’t be trying it again.Cheat's Sponge Cake

Silvia's Cheat’s Sponge Cake with Summer Berries and Cream
Score: 4.25

I am not the most skilled when it comes to making desserts. This recipe was the perfect answer to my quest to be a dessert diva! It could not have been easier. I got a plain cake and added delicious berries and cream to it, sprinkled some chocolate on top, and VOILA--a delicious dessert for me and my guy. I did have to improvise a bit, as I couldn't find panettone cakes at the store, which the recipe called for. But the lady at the bakery was very helpful--she suggested that I tried using a pound cake instead. It turned out wonderfully. Since Luke doesn't eat nuts, I skipped the sliced almonds and instead just used chocolate morsels. Before dinner, we had told ourselves we would only each have one slice, but the cake was so delicious we kept going back to the kitchen for more!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Jamie's Food Revolution Cook Club!!  Can't wait to see how everyone's dishes turn out for the next round...

And for those of you keeping track, here is the rankings for our cookbooks so far:

Barefoot Contessa Parties: 4.175
Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen: 3.975
Giada's Kitchen: 3.87
Jamie's Food Revolution: 3.78
Cooking Up a Storm: 3.717
Cooking the Austrian Way: 3.09

Monday, June 21, 2010

GREECE: Hot dogging in Crete

Despite the nationwide, planned strike in Greece, many of the government ran sites in Crete were up and running -- including the ancient Minoan palace, Knossos, our main destination that day.  We drove about 1.5 hours to the capital of Crete, Iraklio (also spelled: Heraklion), a sprawling metropolis and the largest city on Crete (and the fifth largest city in Greece) -- we were going to venture back to Iraklio later in the day, but had to drive through Iraklio to reach Knossos.  The ruins of Knossos, surrounded by green hills and dusty roads, was uncovered in 1900 by British archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans.  According to our tour guide, the excavators were stunned by what they found -- a sophisticated civilization from four thousand years ago that had running water (that they brought in from a mountain, miles away, through a complex piping system), flushing toilets, beautiful frescoes, and such. Unlike the other archaeological sites / palace ruins around Crete, Knossos was "reconstructed" in part to give visitors an idea of what the palace would have looked like when ruled by the Minoans.  The day we visited, the weather was brilliant... literally.  Not a cloud in the sky, the sun was beaming down on Knossos.  And it was quite warm.  I loved exploring Knossos and learning about the myths that interweave with the actual "history" of Knossos ... as the legend goes, King Minos hid the mythological beast, the Minotaur, down underneath Knossos in the Labyrinth.  Although it is unlikely that a Minotaur was actual hidden in a Labyrinth, our tour guide explained to us that some believe that the word "labyrinth" comes from the Minoans -- one of the symbols of the Minoans was the double axe.  The word for the double axe was "labrys"... leading to the word, labyrinth...  This was just one of many fun facts that we learned as part of our tour!  (On a sidenote, if you do visit Knossos, you can find a tour guide once you enter the palace area.  There is a booth where you can hire a guide -- either as part of a small group or for a higher fee, for a one-on-one tour ... often, the tour guides will approach you before you even get to the booth.)

After we visited Knossos, we were starving and drove into Iraklio for a later lunch.  We had a few spots in mind, some that overlooked the water... but after 45 minutes of navigating through the very narrow streets of downtown Iraklio and attempting to find parking, we decided to forego lunch and just go to the Archaeological Museum.  On our walk to the Archaeological Museum, we came across a hot dog/sandwich food stop... we were going to just purchase a water or two, but well, could not resist getting something to eat.  So we shared the "double hot dog" and also had the good fortune to meet some very nice locals, who we chatted with a bit to find out more about the layout of the city and the culture of the city.  Again, we were struck by the generosity and friendliness of the Greeks.  And we were very happy with our tasty grilled hot dog...(Oh and we did make it to the Archaeological Museum...covered in sweat...the original Arch Museum was undergoing renovations, so all the "highlights" of the Arch Museum had been moved to a rather small one story rectangular building.  They sure jammed quite a few artifacts into this small room.  It is wonderful to see after visiting Knossos, because many of the items at the Museum are from Knossos, and include several beautiful frescoes.  But I don't necessarily think this Museum is worth a side visit to Iraklio unless you are already there.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

GREECE: Dining in Old Town Chania

My family and I traveled to Greece a few weeks ago visiting Crete and Athens...  On our first full day in Greece, we bravely ventured out on the roads of Crete in our rental car that had in some previous life lost its hubcaps and must have become very close with a few walls.  No worries, after driving to the hotel from the airport the night before, we were ready for the roads.  We knew the rules now.  Straddle the line between the actual lane and the shoulder, blind turns mean nothing, a "two-lane" road is in fact a four-ish lane road, and keep your eyes on the road -- not on all the pretty scenery that surrounds us!  Once we hit the road, it was clear that my dad was instantly a pro as that he was very quickly zipping past cars, passing them with oncoming traffic, and shifting gears with ease. 

We made it to Chania in about an hour -- we vaguely knew our way to the old part of Chania after accidentally driving through town from the airport to the hotel.  Chania, the second largest city on Crete, is now a fairly sprawling city, but is also one of the prettiest cities on Crete.  That is the old part of Chania.  In Chania, you see the distinct influences of both the Venetian and Turkish empires, with remnants of the Venetian walls, a picturesque harbour, restored Venetian townhouses, and Ottoman-style timber buildings.  Before locating our lunch destination, we walked along the path to the lighthouse and by chance I think got the best view of the town.  From the lighthouse path, you can see all the colorful buildings lining the harbor as well as a well-preserved mosque and the Venetian fortress.  The day was absolutely gorgeous (as it was most of the days we were in Greece) -- blue skies, bright sun, no clouds, and a comfortable 70 - 75 degrees during the day.  The water is amazingly clear and blue, in sharp contrast to the bright white boats that sit in the Chania harbor. 

We were warned by many a travel guidebook to avoid most of the restaurants that line the Chania harbor.  They do all have lovely views of the harbor, but we were in search of good food.  My dad had one place in particular in mind (well, possibly two places), so we began the search down the narrow, winding roads.  There were tons of little shops to see along the way, perfect for peeking into while my dad and J attempted to decipher the street signs.  As it turns out, we happened to stumble across one of the restaurants my dad wanted to try -- Ela.  Ela is famous for being housed in a roofless 14-century Venetian building and serves a variety of Cretan specialties.  Sadly, the inside of the restaurant was fully booked by a group of local Cretans (although I suppose that was a good sign!), but they had a smattering of tables along the stone pathway.  Because it was so beautiful out, we decided why not (plus we were starving).  The waiter appeared with an umbrella for our table (much needed as it turned out under the sun!).

The meal turned out to be quite good.  We tried out some Greek beer -- Mythos -- which quickly became a favorite (I liked it better than one of the other Greek beers, Alfa).  Mythos is a light colored lager, perfect for the warm weather days.  Ela serves up a lot of different grilled meats - yum - I was tempted by the chicken souvlaki, but (perhaps mistakenly) opted for the grilled chicken.  The chicken was very tasty but a bit on the dry side.  The best dish to me was my dad's dish -- the pork souvlaki.  Succulent, moist, and flavorful, it was excellent.  J had the lamb chops and my mom had I think grilled livers.  Best yet, at the end came a panna cotta like dessert with blueberries on top.  We were happy with our choice of lunch spots -- and also happy about wandering into the store next door where they offered us free tastings of different kinds of raki.  Little shot glasses of a non-sweet, anise flavored liquor -- they had different "flavors" (so not just the plain raki), but lemon (like limoncello almost), orange, honey (supposed to be the perfect remedy for a cold), and cinnamon (or as they called it, the "Christmas" flavor).  My favorites were the orange and the cinnamon.

After wandering around a bit more as well as popping into the archeological museum (as it turned out, free on Sundays!) that had some lovely well preserved mosiacs, we journeyed back to our hotel, tummies full, but ready for a little beach time...