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Posts from the ‘Learn something new…’ Category

Why, Thank You…!


Just the other day, upon opening my inbox, there was one email I opened right away…something about ‘comment…inspiring…lovely’.

Sara of SaraInCucina nominated me for The Very Inspiring Blogger  AND the One Lovely Blog awards.  She is writing for us all the way from Italy!  I could not be more flattered!  So first, I must give a big thank you to Sara.  It’s always nice to know someone out there is reading, and it is icing on the proverbial blogging cake to get comments and be nominated for an award (or two)!

Now there are some responsibilities that come along with these *prestigious* awards.  :)

1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their site. (check)

2.  Share seven things about yourself.

3.  Link to 7 blogs who inspire you and link to another 7 blogs that you consider quite lovely.  (sometimes these awards are combined)

4.  Leave a comment on each of the blogs nominated letting them know!

So here goes…

  • There have been years where I spent more nights in a sleeping bag in the wilderness than on a mattress with a roof over my head.  That’s just how I roll.  And sometimes I even cook out there.  (you are correct – that is squeeze butter – an invaluable tool in certain situations!)

  • I completed a triathlon this year.  Okay…it was not an Ironman (’cause that sh#@&’s c-r-a-z-y) more of a spring distance…but that does not make me any less proud!
  • My first name (Gentry) is a typical last name…it was my great great grandmother’s maiden name and causes frequent confusion…thanks Mom and Dad.
  • I love to cook eggs (fried, poached, over-easy) but I’m not a big fan of eating them in these forms.  
  • I am slowly becoming a less-reluctant-Southern-Californian.  I don’t think anyone I know would have predicted that I would end up settling down in the LA basin…but I’m full of surprises.  Also…people tend to tune out when you complain about how hard it is to wear flip-flops every day and how you’re getting tired of 70º and sunny.  Call me crazy, but I like some “weather” now and again.  Don’t worry…it’s growing on me.
  • Sometimes…I don’t use the right tools for the job…even though I might own the right tools.  I attribute this to pure and momentary laziness.
  • Let’s just put it out there…I might be slightly addicted to shows like Monsterquest…which have a) no basis in reality; b) are somehow on the History Channel (how can it be history if there is no proof…?); c) some producers somewhere and a whole bunch of other people get paid to work on making shows about possibly real/more likely imaginary creatures; and d) don’t tell my husband…he’s a scientist!

It’s hard not to be inspired when you see what these bloggers are doing…click on over…take a peek and maybe even leave ‘em a note.  It’s just the nice thing to do!

  1. Garlic, My Soul – what’s not to love, really?
  2. Nothing But Bonfires – truly inspiring and hilarious!
  3. Semi-Rad – ’cause we’re all semi-rad.
  4. Hunter Angler Gardner Cook – reminding us that it doesn’t have to come from the grocery store.
  5. Foodie House – keepin’ it real!
  6. Tales From My Second City - perfect for a quick read and some laughs every now and then.
  7. Burnt Carrots – I promise…not everything is burnt :)

And let’s not forget about all of those lovely blogs out there that are making the interwebs a better place…and keeping it pretty too!

  1. Bun Boy Meets LA - love me some hometown info on local eating establishments!
  2. Triangle Honeymoon - you might learn a few things…
  3. Life Begins at Thirty, Right? - just lovely.
  4. Our Humble A{bowe}d – bringing you DIY loveliness from Montana
  5. Rosemarried – some awesomeness!
  6. Pearl and Pine - great photography and stories!
  7. ClookBook – a whole lot of greatness and some fabulous food photography tips!

So keep the blog-love going…and, of course, always thank those who read and click and share and write!

THANK YOU!

Panna Cotta – Under Construction! {a little help over here…please!}


Okay readers.  Clearly, I am in need of your help, your collective knowledge and wisdom, your trial and error experience with the seemingly simple (any-idiot-should-be-able-to-make-it) Italian dessert – panna cotta.

Don’t get excited…I did not make this one…

{via}

I made this one.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a perfect panna cotta is not supposed to look like this…

Seriously…I’ve searched and searched for clues as to why it separated…and I can find none.  I repeat…NONE!  I followed the recipe exactly.

Okay not e-x-a-c-t-l-y…but very close.  Instead of using vanilla, I used Meyer lemons as the flavoring, the juice and some of the zest.  I bloomed the gelatin and heated the milk, stirred it altogether to make sure it was good and mixed…I poured it into little ramekins and let it cool a bit and then put them in the fridge.

(and what’s worse…I served them to my in-laws who were visiting…who were more than polite and delved right in as if eating gelatinized milk with a weird-looking yellowish layer on top was nothing other than sheer delight – luckily they are good-humored individuals!)

It tasted fine as well…but the bi-level layering and the yellowish top layer was a bit hard to get past.

So what happened, huh?

Attempt number two is happening this afternoon…but, if that one doesn’t turn out.  I may have to throw in the panna cotta towel.

{I’m counting on you, readers, to pull me out of panna cotta hell and tell me what went wrong!  Puh-lease!}

oh…and Happy Mother’s Day!

—– UPDATE—–

I made a second batch yesterday afternoon using a Mark Bittman recipe for Vanilla Buttermilk Panna Cotta.  The process varied quite a bit, and I was sure it would work out this time.  Many have thought that my issue may have been caused by the acid in the lemon juice – but yesterday’s recipe contained no lemon at all!  I was feeling very confident and pulled one out of the fridge after dinner and dug my spoon in…only to find that once again…full separation.

At this point, panna cotta and I are in a fight…a big one, and currently, I’m holding a big grudge.  We’ll have to talk it over at some point but I think right now I need some space!  GEEZ!

So I now request your help once again…or I’m going to start email-stalking Bittman himself until he discovers the error of my ways!

Help!

So Good Soba & Tempura Greatness


A little late I know…but better late than never… (and it is, technically, still February!)

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com.

Having never made soba noodles before, I was unsure of what to expect.  In fact, although there are many steps in making cold soba and tempura…it is actually quite a simple dish.  You start by boiling the soba noodles.  I followed the directions on the package and let them cook up for 4 minutes, drained them and then plunged them into cold water to stop the cooking.

Next up was the broth for the soba…

Mentsuyu – Traditional dipping sauce:

Ingredients
2 cups basic vegetable stock
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)

Heat the mirin gently and then add in the soy sauce and vegetable stock.  The Mentsuyu is typically made with Kombu Dashi, which I did not get my hands on soon enough, so I substituted vegetable stock and added just a bit of powdered miso soup broth for a little more flavor.

Vegetables, a beautiful thing!  All the fresh ingredients for the tempura on the right and all the toppings for the cold soba in the upper right.  Clockwise, starting at the tofu:  tofu, edamame, nori, julienne of cucumber, green onions, sweet potatoes, broccoli, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and green beans!  Time to make the tempura batter…

Tempura batter works best when it is very cold.  Although it’s a bit hard to tell…pictured above is a clear mixing bowl set atop some ice water in a metal mixing bowl.

Ingredients
1 egg yolk from a large egg
1 cup (240 ml) iced water (or
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dredging
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) cornflour (also called cornstarch)
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (2½ gm) (0.09 oz) baking powder
oil, for deep-frying preferably vegetable
ice water bath, for the tempura batter (a larger bowl than what will be used for the tempura should be used. Fill the large bowl with ice and some water, set aside)

Directions:

Place the iced water into a mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring (preferably with chopsticks) and blending well.

Add flours and baking powder all at once, stroke a few times with chopsticks until the ingredients are loosely combined. The batter should be runny and lumpy. Place the bowl of batter in an ice water bath to keep it cold while you are frying the tempura. The batter as well as the vegetables and seafood have to be very cold. The temperature shock between the hot oil and the cold veggies help create a crispy tempura.

Heat the oil in a large pan or a wok. For vegetables, the oil should be between 320° and 345°F. You can test the oil by dropping a piece of batter into the hot oil. If it sinks a little bit and then immediately rises to the top, the oil is ready.  I used an electric fondue pot, which has a variable temperature dial.  I checked to make sure the oil was hot enough with a thermometer.

Start with the vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, which won’t leave a strong odor in the oil.   Dip them in a shallow bowl of flour to lightly coat them and then dip them into the batter. Slide them into the hot oil, deep-frying only a couple of pieces at a time so that the temperature of the oil does not drop.

Place finished tempura pieces on a wire rack so that excess oil can drip off. Continue frying the other items, frequently scooping out any bits of batter to keep the oil clean and prevent the oil (and the remaining tempura) from getting a burned flavor.

Serve immediately for the best flavor, but they can also be eaten cold.

A quick dipping sauce can be made with garlic paste, soy sauce and ponzu, and if you like it spicy, add a small dollop of Sriracha!  We enjoyed the tempura with a crisp white wine with some acidity to it, which is always great with fried food.

We made sure to gobble all the tempura while it was still hot and crispy, so we saved the soba for our second course.

Besides the broth, there is an additional dipping sauce for the soba.

Ingredients
¾ cup green onions finely sliced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon  granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 tablespoon grape-seed oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste – roughly 1/3 a teaspoon of each

Shake all the ingredients together in a covered container. Once the salt has dissolved, add and shake in 2 tablespoons of water and season again if needed.

All the ingredients should be chilled or room temperature.  To build your dish, pile noodles into a bowl.  Spoon 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of the broth over the noodles, and then begin adding toppings per your tastes.  I used julienned cucumber, nori strips, edamame, green onions and a dot of Sriracha.  Serve with the dipping sauce on the side, grab noodles with chopsticks, dip into sauce, and then slurp it all up.

Kanpai!

Almond Chicken Makhani


Almond butter…the reason for this recipe…so simple and so good…and really…why not make your own.  It takes hardly any time, and you can control the salt and what kind of oil and how much to add!  If you haven’t done this before…do it.  It is an interesting exercise to see what flavor you get…and how much salt is necessary for your tastes…and there are hundreds of recipes that involve some kind of nut butter.

Start with almonds, throw them into the food processor and grind away.   It will be very loud!  You might have to yell to hear yourself think!

Continue to grind, and it will begin to look mealy.  If you like your nut butter chunky…you have a couple of options.  You could grind a completely smooth batch, and then add some roughly chopped almonds, or you can grind a portion of the nuts to the consistency you want and then add whole nuts for a few more pulses of the blade.

You will need to add oil at some point, otherwise, you will have more of a nut paste.  Remember also, that the type of oil you use will have an impact on the flavor as well…so I would stay away from very strongly flavored oils, unless your goal is to make a garlic almond butter to use in savory dishes…just don’t plan on making any nut butter and jelly sandwiches.  And, salt really helps bring out the flavor of any nut butter and is overly present in many commercial varieties.

On to the task at hand.  Chicken Makhani!

If I had known that this was this easy to make…I would have saved many a take-out night when we lived in Boston.  Makhani was one of the first Indian dishes that I explored…and turns out…I loved it.  And who wouldn’t…the description on almost any Indian restaurant’s menu of ‘butter chicken‘ is pretty irresistible.  I recognize, that this is not a completely authentic makhani recipe…but the basic flavor profile is there.  I swapped out typically used cashews for almonds and yogurt for milk.  Perhaps I’ve misnamed…but it is what my mouth thought of!

Almond Chicken Makhani
recipe adapted from www.morepleasebymargie.blogspot.com

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
4 (6 oz / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper to taste

Spice Blend:
1.5 tablespoons  garam masala seasoning
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Sauce:
4 tablespoons  butter
1 large onion, cut in half pole to pole
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
⅓ cup almond butter
⅓ cup  milk
½ to ¾ cup  chicken broth or water, more as needed
1 cup frozen peas

Cook the chicken.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. If needed, cook the chicken in two batches to avoid crowding the pan.  Set aside on clean plate and keep warm.

Prepare spice blend. Stir garam masala, ginger, cinnamon, and pepper together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Melt the butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion (I sliced half the onion in strips and left the other half whole) and cook gently for several minutes to infuse the butter with onion flavor. Keep the heat low to avoid burning the butter; a little color is fine.

Add the spice blend and garlic and cook for 1 minute or till fragrant, stirring constantly.

Add the tomato sauce, stir well, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer.

Whisk in almond butter and milk until thoroughly combined with tomato sauce. The almond butter is thick so it takes a while to make a smooth sauce. Return to simmer.

Add broth or water (I used water) to sauce to reach desired consistency; return to simmer. Add more broth (or water) as needed to thin sauce as desired.

Remove onion (the half or both halves if you followed the recipe exactly) from sauce and discard. Stir frozen peas into sauce. Transfer chicken to sauce. Simmer gently for a few minutes until peas and chicken are heated through.

Serve chicken and sauce over rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a few sliced almonds.

This was great on the table that night…and even better as leftovers the next few days.  I would make one change when making this again…as the flavors were a little heavy on the cinnamon.  Woody remarked that our kitchen smelled like a CinnaBon stand when I reheated it the following night.  It is a definite keeper,  as a recipe and a method!

English Muffins


Every time I see a recipe for english muffins…I immediately want to drop everything, run home, and bake up a storm.  Baking probably isn’t even the right word to use…since no oven is needed.  Finally the planets aligned, I read a recipe here and had an unscheduled Saturday morning…and all of the ingredients in the pantry.  Even better, was a mention in the article that you can make the dough the night before and leave it to rise in the fridge overnight, significantly reducing the time commitment on a morning when coffee and NPR are all one can manage for the first half hour of consciousness.

English Muffins
Makes 8-12 (or more)

4 cups (1 pound, 2 ounces/500g) white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons (0.18 ounce/5g) instant yeast
2 teaspoons (0.35 ounce/10g) fine salt
1 1/3 cups warm water
A drizzle of sunflower oil, plus extra for coating
A handful of semolina flour, for coating.

1. To knead by hand: Mix together the flour, yeast, salt and water in a bowl to form a sticky dough. Add the oil, mix it in, then turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Knead until smooth and silky. Or, to use a stand mixer: Fit the dough hook and add the flour, yeast, salt and water to the mixer bowl. Mix on low speed until combined, then add the oil and mix for about 10 minutes, until smooth and silky.

2. Shape the dough into a round, coat with a little extra oil, and place in a clean bowl. Let rise, covered with a plastic bag, until doubled in size.  (Like I mentioned, I made the dough before going to bed, and let is rise overnight in the fridge…and woke up to a beautifully bubbly bowl of dough!)

3. Tip the dough out onto the work surface and press all over to deflate. Divide into nine pieces, shape each into a round, and flatten to 3/8 to 3/4 inch. (Dust them all over with semolina flour; this gives a lovely texture to the crust. – I forgot this step…it would have added that last bit of authenticity to the end product – oops!) Let proof on a linen cloth or wooden board, covered with a plastic bag, until doubled in size.

4. Heat a couple of large, heavy-bottomed frying pans over medium heat. Lay the muffins in the pans and cook for a minute or so, then turn them over gently. Cook slowly for a further 10 minutes, turning every now and then. You may need to adjust the heat if they seem to be coloring too fast, or not fast enough.  Let cook on a wire rack.

*From “The River Cottage Bread Handbook,” by Daniel Stevens.*

I was not able to wait until a few were done before I tried them…so…I can attest, that they are really good straight out of the pan…just plain as can be and toasty warm.  Their scrumptiousness was only increased with the addition of butter and raspberry preserves.

Again, the whole love of cooking eggs thing came up…and I decided Woody would enjoy a breakfast sandwich that included a fried egg, melty cheese, fresh tomatoes and a few well-placed dots of sriracha for some heat.

These were incredibly simple to make, require very little attention once they are in the skillet, are obviously versatile, don’t heat up your kitchen ’cause you don’t need your oven, keep well for a couple of days, and the taste is hardly even in the same time zone as those that come from the stores of your local chain grocery store.

Take 10 minutes before you head to bed this next weekend, make the dough…and wake up to fresh, warm, toasty and soft homemade english muffins!

Speaking of Onions…


There is a fascinating article on the chemistry of onions and garlic in the New York Times here.  I highly recommend it.  It reinforces my love of onions (and chocolate – different story for another time) as the basis of cooking and developing flavor profiles.  Did you know that if you left garlic on the skin, it can cause chemical burns…and yet we eat it almost daily.

(photo courtesy of New York Times)

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