Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dinner Parties/Parmiggiano Popovers

Parmiggiano popovers, braised short ribs, homemade tagliatelle, sauteed broccolini, balsamic glazed cippolini onions and finally, chocolate-croissant bread pudding. If you're mouth isn't watering yet, you should know that this is a very real menu and one which I made this past Friday for a group of 10 friends. If I may humbly stroke my own ego, dinner was awesome. I could not have been happier and I am pretty sure that my guests left as well fed and satisfied as I could have hoped. The only problem with this dinner is that I have no pictures to show for it. Well no pictures except for the ones of these popovers, which I have deemed the best part of the meal (only because I get to showcase them here). Do not despair; I will be remaking a lot of the dishes so that I can post recipes and pictures, so consider the 'menu' a tease of what's to come on TBD. In the meantime, let's get back to the popovers.

These popovers do really deserve a whole post's worth of attention, actually I would say that they might even deserve two posts worth of attention, but I don't want to be boring. I planned, unplanned and replanned Friday's dinner about 25 million times before I finally settled on a menu and these popovers were a very last minute decision. Not usually an impulsive person, I sure am glad that I decided to make these fluffy little guys on a whim, because they are officially my obsession of the week. And I am not just saying that because I actually have pictures of them. To me, popovers have always been that special treat that restaurants serve in their breadbaskets instead of boring old bread, but I knew that a homemade version could only be better, fresher and more satisfying. I was right.

I have always had plain popovers, but I couldn't resist adding some cheese to these and I have absolutely no regrets about that (shocker!). These bulbous, muffin-looking things 'pop' because of all the steam created on the inside, hence the name.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

NYC/Soft Pretzels

Although it has been a few years since I have lived here full time, New York City is my home and each time I set foot in this great place, I can't help but remember why I love it here. The buzz, the energy, rude people and nice people alike make New York different than any other city and all of these contribute to its character. More than the energy and people, it is the smells of New York that always remind me that I really am home; in this way even the smell of the subway is somehow pleasing to me. What I love the most, however, is the smoky smell of pretzel carts that wafts through the bustling streets catching me off guard and forcing me to pause, take a whiff and appreciate how fantastic this place truly is.

Although the times I have actually eaten those pretzels are few and far between, to me just there smell is enough to make them a New York City classic, a food with a history and soul that adds character to what sometimes feels like a cold and heartless place. For this reason, I believe that it is a classic to be recreated in the home kitchen. Although making these at home by no means imparts the same smell as the carts, the flavor and texture of the pretzels themselves is infinitesimally better.

You should know that making these is a bit of an undertaking, but the time spent making them is well worth it. So if you're looking for a cooking project, this is a great choice. Your results will be fantastically chewy and fluffy. If you're looking for less chew and more fluff, I suggest making full size ones, if you're looking for chewier ones then make minis; I made a mix of both and in my opinion the larger ones are far superior.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Heaven on Earth/Crack Pie

This recipe was published in the LA Times on February 11th and I made it on February 12th. I am surprised I even managed to hold out that long, but somehow I waited patiently until I had enough time to devote to what was nothing short of a ritual experience. The Momofuku restaurants in New York have been my favorites for the past few years; in other words, since I discovered them. Every meal I have had there has been superlative and although I would give you a rundown of every delicious bite, that's not what this post is about. You see, first there were the restaurants, but then came the Milk Bar. At first I was intrigued by their signature cereal milk, but when I finally managed to get down there I learned that this bakery was so much more than a Milk Bar. As a living person, it seemed more or less like heaven on earth.

Corn cookies (now retired, but I still miss them deeply), Banana Cake with hazelnut crunch, cinnamon bun pie; all of these have graced the Milk Bar's menu. I assure you that anything that leaves the ovens of this bakery is sure to be outstanding. Excessive? Yes. Startling sweet? Yes. Buttery and rich? Yes and Yes. For this reason, going there is not a day-to-day occurrence but an occasion and a treat. And a treat it is, every single time I go. Every visitor I have had in New York gets to taste their delicacies and I am pretty sure everyone I know has heard me rave about it at least once. And finally, on February 12th I had the chance to recreate some of the exquisite deliciousness that exemplifies the Momofuku Milk Bar. Crack pie is one of their signature dishes, yet one of the few things I have never tasted en place. Well, from 300 miles north it tasted pretty unbelievable and I have a whole group of friends who still have the sugar high to prove it.

So why 'crack pie'? Because it's addictive and so good, like crack. The "cracki-ness" comes from the slightly salty toasted oatmeal cookie crust. It also comes from the luscious, buttery and sugary center and from the way part of the crust absorbs the filling creating a chewy marriage of flavors and textures that is more or less indescribable.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Daring Cooks/Mezze

As you probably all know by now I am a member of the Daring Cook's Club, a fantastic online group dedicated to helping people like me challenge themselves in the kitchen and try new things. In general I love being a member, especially when the challenge excites me. This month's challenge was definitely one that I was excited about from the get-go. 'Mezze' are traditional Middle Eastern dishes that are usually served together tapas-style. What's so fun about this is the amount of flexibility that comes along with making this type of meal, with all the mixing and matching the possibilities are endless. Also, Middle Eastern food might just be one of my favorites, so I can never pass up a chance to make it for myself (although it's my belief that when it comes to Middle Eastern food homemade can never compare to the real deal.)

The 2010 February Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Guilty/Healthy Carrot Muffins

I have been feeling a little bit guilty these days, not because I did anything wrong, but because things have been so good. In this case good means cheesy, rich, and decadent, but so not New Year's resolution-y. If I have singlehandedly ruined your hopes of trimmer waistlines and physical perfection in time for bathing suit season, I apologize. I will take full responsibility for any disappointment you may feel in the coming months. My guilt is clearly so overbearing, that in the hopes of mending my wrongs I decided to try and make a healthy treat.
After making two batches of these I feel guilty yet again because even though the second batch was far superior and worth sharing the recipe for, at the end of the day these are still health muffins (read: a bit of a let down). As it turns out health muffins can never be great, they can be fine and make a decent breakfast, but delicious, fantastic or exquisite are not adjectives that will ever be applied to health muffins. The truth is that most of the time health muffins aren't actually healthy at all. They can often be worse for you than regular muffins because of the amounts of sugar and fat added to make them palatable. Anyhow, that point aside, I still feel a little bad that this recipe may not live up to the standards of TBD.
I am being a little bit hard on myself, these (unlike most commercial versions) actually are healthy and in that context they really are enjoyable.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Classics/Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup

I have been itching to make grilled cheese and tomato soup for a while now, especially as winter progresses and food needs to be increasingly comforting to ease those winter blues. For the same reason, I also feel that this meal should be a communal experience; it's good when you're alone, but better when you're surrounded by friends. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to dinner, dipped the crispy point of my grilled cheese into my soup and my friend looked at me and said "hmm, that seems like a good idea!" I was shocked, apparently in Canada grilled cheese and tomato soup is not a classic combination. The two are well loved but as separate, albeit delicious, entities. Well all I have to say about that is that my Canadian friends have been missing out one of the best classic comfort foods I know.

At the very moment my friend said that I was slightly appalled and saddened by the cultural divide. That being said, I was glad that I got a chance to share some American culinary classics with our friends up north. The truth is, however, that for me these grilled cheese sandwiches have a much more convoluted cultural history.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Weaknesses/Cheesy Beer Bread

So after doing a little bit of math/seeing on Blogger that this is my 60th post, I feel like it's time for me to confess something. You see, as it turns out I am not perfect. Now, I am not going to get into the personal nitty gritty of my flaws and weaknesses. I do want to tell you, however, that you should never leave me alone with a plate of sweet potato fries or a wheel of cheese (should you choose to break this rule, any good cheese will do). The latter are definitely some of my favorites, but my absolute greatest weakness is savory baked goods. Don’t get me wrong I always love cookies, cakes and the likes, but that love pales in comparison the way I feel about these savory treats.
Quiches, focaccia (or good bread of any kind for that matter), cheese croissants, you name it and chances are it makes me weak in the knees. You may be asking yourself why I haven't posted many such recipes here at TBD and the answer is simple, I lack the self-control. I hate to admit it, but I am scared to have these around my house because in their presence I am no longer myself. It's like love, put me next to one of these treats and everything I ever thought I knew about myself goes straight out the window. Elegant, petite bites become chomps; finger sucking takes the place of napkins; and a 'portion' means the whole thing, no matter how big it is.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Faux Summer/Broccoli Slaw

One of my favorite things about cooking is that no matter how cold it is outside, inside I can always pretend it's summer. No, I don't have juicy peaches, ultra sweet heirloom tomatoes or melt-in-your-mouth zucchini, but aside from a few missing ingredients it's pretty easy to recreate summery thoughts of tank tops, sunset barbecues, and toes in the sand. My desire to emulate summer vibes is the official reason I made this broccoli slaw yesterday. The unofficial reason is that yesterday was January 31st, aka the end of the month, which means one thing: the only food I'm eating is what I have in the fridge and pantry. As a food blogger, this can be a little bit tricky, but I was impressed with my resourcefulness vis-a-vis available ingredients.
I am surprised I ever made this slaw, because when I first saw this recipe the only thing I could think was "ew, raw broccoli."Then came January 31st and I had the broccoli and the other ingredients in my fridge and suddenly making this summery slaw seemed beyond perfect.