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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Scallop Sauce with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Hot Pepper - Gutsy Cooks Club

My last July recipe--finished, in the nick of time, on July 31, but, alas, not posted until August 1.  Now I'm ready for the August recipes, which look intriguing.

I was so looking forward to this scallop sauce!  I love scallops, and seasoning them just with olive oil, garlic, hot peppers, and parsley, seemed like Italian genius.  Toss them with bread crumbs and spaghettini--genius squared.

But I didn't love the sauce.  Two reasons, one definitely my fault.  First, I was overly zealous with the hot peppers.  I used dried hot pepper flakes, and put in a good heaping teaspoon.  Well, I do love pasta sauces seasoned with hot pepper.  As with so many things, more is not better.  The pepper overwhelmed everything else, including the garlic that smelled so good when it was browning in olive oil.

The second flaw in the sauce was using bay scallops instead of sea scallops.  This happened because the man who volunteered to go to the fish store was on a mission to buy scallops, and didn't think about his choices.  (My fault for not telling him).  When the guy at the fish store asked him, "large or small?", Jim must have looked panicked.  The guy asked him what it was for, and Jim said it was a pasta sauce.  The guy told him confidently that he wanted small scallops.  Reasonable, except that it happens that I don't like bay scallops because it's almost impossible to cook them without turning them into tough white disks.  Even though they cooked for a mere 90 seconds, some of them were still tough, possibly because they stayed in the hot oil even after the heat was turned off.

Which, now that I think of it, leads me to reason #3 for the less than stellar sauce:  I started cooking the spaghetti and the sauce at about the same time, but I shouldn't have started the sauce until the spaghetti was done, or almost done.

It would be better a second time, but I don't have the heart to try it again.


Jim:  I'll give it a 7.  Not great, but pretty good.  It does have too much pepper in it.

Me:  You're giving it a C minus?  I thought you liked it.

Jim:  A 7 isn't a C-.

[Discussion ensued about what the 10-point system was all about, and if one or both of us has been misusing it for years, with Jim pointing out that we might as well have a 5-point rating system if 5 is the lowest grade we're going to give.]

Jim:  OK, then, I'll give it an 8.

Me:  I'll give it a 7.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Roast Chicken with Lemons - Gutsy Cooks Club

You would not want to get gutsy with this chicken recipe.  There are plenty of other recipes for roast chicken that allow you all the creativity in the world, but this one is so simple it's magic:  no basting, no herbs, no stuffing, no butter, no oil, no garlic, no onion.  You need a chicken, a lemon or two, and salt and pepper.  That's it.

This is the chicken all ready to go into the oven.  One lemon, cut in half, is in the cavity.  (The recipe calls for 2 "rather small" lemons, but all I had was rather large ones).  I stabbed each half 20 times with a trussing needle.  That was the most complicated part of the recipe.  You just plot it in an pan, without butter, oil, or even cooking spray.  "This bird is self-basting so you need not fear it will stick to the pan."  That is exactly what I feared, but, indeed, it didn't happen.

You turn it once and, after it's roasted for a while breast side up, you crank the oven up to 400 to let it brown.  Look how nice and brown it is!  Observe those juices in the bottom of the pan!  They make a wonderful little sauce--just pour them out and whisk.

I served with very simple sides:  mashed potatoes and sauteed zucchini and cherry tomatoes with basil and dill.  Anything would work because the chicken is the star:  simple, but perfectly moist and flavorful.  Really, this is a chicken recipe to treasure.

Here is the poor carcass after it's been picked over.  Happily, nearly half of it is left over.


Jim:  "I give it a 9.  Do you want to know why I didn't give it a 9 1/2?  Because I had to carve it at the table and it made a mess.  I wish I could have carved in the kitchen."
Me:  "Who said you had to carve it at the table?  I just said it's supposed to be served right away, no resting."
Sarah:  "Yeah, dad, I think you'd better give it back that half-point."
Me:  "OK, I'm going to give it 9 1/2 to make up for the half-point that Jim unfairly took away from it."
Sarah:  "I'm not going to get involved in this and I refuse to rate it.  Without rating it, I will have to say it's damn good chicken."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Risotto with Spring Vegetables - Gutsy Cooks Club

I've made risotto before, and it's not really hard--it just takes a lot of stirring.  This time, I followed the directions slavishly, even to the point of using a vegetable peeler to take the skin off the tomato.  It did turn out beautifully, although I'm not sure it was fantastically superior to other efforts that were more slapdash.  Even though we're supposed to be "gutsy," I was rule-following.

There--1/3 cup of carrots and celery; 1/2 cup of peas; one whole tomato; one whole zucchini.  All diced in rather uniform pieces instead of my usual careless chop.

Rule 1 for good risotto:  Use good rice, imported from Italy.  I once bought a big box of faux Arborio (just labeled "rice for risotto."  Penny wise and pound foolish.  It didn't absorb the liquid or become creamy.

Rule 2 for good risotto:  Make sure that every grain is covered with oil before you start adding the liquid.

Rule 3 for good risotto:  Add hot liquid about a half-cup at a time, stirring until the rice absorbs the liquid.

Rule 4 for good risotto.  Stir like a maniac.  Stir all the time.  Make sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

When rice is almost done, add butter and parmesan off-heat.  Stir some more.  Serve.  It's good stuff.  This version had zucchini, onions, carrots, celery, peas, tomato, and shredded basil.  It tasted healthy and fresh.  But you could add almost anything (and that's where the gutsiness would come in).


Jim:  9.  I like it a lot.  It's really good, but it doesn't have that element of surprise that would make me go even higher.  (Clearly, Jim wants the cook to be gutsier.)

Me:  9 1/2.  I love risotto, so I'm inclined to give it a high number anyway, and I thought this was perfectly made, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Panzanella Salad with Olive Oil Bread - Gutsy Cooks Club

Waverly Root speaks none too fondly of panzanella: "A poor man's lunch," he calls it, "salad dressing on bread, producing a sogginess which accounts for its name (litlle swamp)." Mr. Root and his palate notwithstanding, panzanella is one terrific lunch. Basically a Tuscan bread salad with oil and vinegar, what else it contains depends upon who is doing the cooking. Tuscans call panzanella a cold picnic dish, with the ingredients put together at the last minute, the bread soaked in water at home, the tomatoes and cucumbers simply picked from the vines as needed. But one Roman source describes it as a first course served in large families to fill everyone up before the more expensive second-course dishes are put on the table. Tony May, the owner of Sandro's, Pailio and La Camelia, three Italian restaurants in Manhattan, says the dish is also called pane molle, which means "soft bread."...Earthy and satisfying, panzanella is, at the same time, cool and refreshing. In "The Food of the Western World," Theodora FitzGibbon talks about the anchovies, chilies, basil, garlic and capers it contains by never mentions tomatoes, except as a garnish. Other recipes call for onion, cucumber and celery. On calls for spring onions rather than yellow of red onions. Mr. Fiorti uses both green and red peppers...The proportions vary from cook to cook. Some use vast quantities of olive oil--six ounces to a half pound of bread--while others use only two ounces for a pound of bread. In fact, panzanella is a salad designed to be made with leftover, stale bread and whatever of the other ingredients are available. Italia bread--purists insist it must be Tuscan bread--is also indispensible, though there have been recipes suggesting the substitution of whole-wheat bread or rye bread for those who are not fortunate enough to have easy access to the comactly textured Italian, or even French, country loaves.
---"Panzanella, a Salad Perfect for Summer," Marian Burros, De Gustibus column, The New York Times, June 21, 1986 (p. 52)
Marcella Hazan's version of panzanella is pretty classic, although her recipe soaks the bread in pureed tomatoes, not in water, and she flavors it with a paste of anchovies, capers, and garlic.  Unless you make your own bread (from her recipe, naturally), you have to broil the bread to give it substance.  Otherwise, it will turn to mush.  I did make her bread, so I didn't bother toasting it under the broiler.  It didn't get soggy, but I do wish I'd toasted it.  I think the salad--very good as it was--would have been even better if the bread had had some crunch.

There are some fussy steps to making this really pretty easy salad.  Of course, there's baking the bread, but that's not really essential.  Then there's the onion routine:  swish sliced onions in cold water, drain, repeat, drain, repeat.  But you know what?  These were the mildest onions I've ever tasted--with onion flavor, but no onion bite.

Then there's the step where you mash capers and garlic together.  The only hard part is finding the mortar and pestle.  (You're supposed to mash a few anchovies too, but I declined).

One of three tomatoes is supposed to go through a food mill.  I don't have a food mill, but my little immersion blender worked just fine.

Olive oil, red wine vinegar, the caper/garlic mixture, and chopped yellow bell pepper, at the bottom of the serving bowl, just waiting to receive the other ingredients:

And the bread cubes are mixed with the pureed tomato.  They are supposed to soak up the tomatoes for at least 15 minutes.  I worried that they'd be soggy, but they weren't.  Obviously, that would be a problem if you used kleenex bread.

They're so pink they almost look like shrimp.

All the ingredients, just waiting to be mixed.

And the final salad.  Delicious with lemon-and-herb grilled chicken.  A very simple concept and full of flavor.  If you really balk at the idea of baking your own bread, you can certainly buy some country-style bread, use it on the second day, and broil it a bit.  If you don't want to soak the onions, use some nice spring scallions.  But go ahead and try it.


Jim:  9.5.  I really liked it.  And it's a salad, which I'm not usually that crazy about.

Sarah:  Oh, I don't know.  It's very good, and I might give it a 10.  But you can't give everything a 10, can you?  So maybe I'll give it a 9.  No, a 9.5, like Dad.

Marie:  Very fresh-tasting, and I love the idea that it's just a poor person's dish made from some things that you grew and some stale bread.  I'll give it a 9 because I think I'd have liked it better if I'd toasted the bread first and it had been a little crunchy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Grilled Salmon with Sweet-and-Salty Rub and Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki - Gutsy Cooks Club

July is Stephanie from OrangeSpoken's turn to pick the Gutsy Cooks' menus.  I missed her first recipe--an heirloom Spanish crepe recipe--which sounded great, so I was determined not to miss the second.  

I was kind of the opposite of "gutsy" this week, though.  I didn't have a cedar plank, so I just grilled the salmon.  I thought I'd buy a plank if I ran into one, but I must have been moving in the wrong circles, since I never came even close.  As I started to write this, though, I thought, "I bet I could have ordered one on Amazon!"  Sure enough, has about a kazillion different cedar planks, and I could easily have ordered one.  But I didn't.  And at least I didn't burn my house down with a dry cedar plank in the grill.

Everything else, I made mostly according to Hoyle.

I had high hopes for the zucchini fritters--I liked all the ingredients; they looked easy to make; and isn't everything better fried?  But these fritters aren't really fried; they're sauteed in a tablespoon of butter (for which I substituted olive oil).  Aren't "fritters" by definition deep-fried?  But honestly, I wouldn't have bothered making them if I'd had to deep-fry them, so just as well.  I think they would have been good if they'd been served immediately.  But I put them in the oven while I grilled the salmon.  (In my defense, the recipe instructs you to keep them warm while you make the next batch, and the salmon took only about 6 minutes to grill.)  But the fritters had definitely lost their crisp pizzazz by the time I came inside with the salmon.  They were okay, but they no longer had their reason for being.

It was the salmon rub that I was really disappointed with.  It had an interesting combination of ingredients, but it turned out to be too sweet for my taste, and the celery seed tasted bitter, unpleasant, and weird.  I finally scraped off as much of the rub as I could to make the salmon edible.  Without the celery seed, I think it would have been pretty good, although still a little too sweet.

The fritters are served with a "tzatziki," although I thought tzatziki always had cucumbers in it.  And, according to Wikipedia, it does.  And I guess if I felt so strongly about it, I could have added cucumbers, but apparently I missed that when I was making out my grocery list.  Even without the cucumbers, the tzatziki was tangy and refreshing, with its fresh mint and onion--I added chives too.  But next time I'd put the cucumber back in tzatziki.


Jim:  "I give the white sauce [tzatziki] a 9, the salmon an 8 or 8 1/2, and the zucchini things a 7 1/2 or 8."  Apparently he wasn't bothered by the lack of cucumbers.  Or the celery seed.

Me:  "I'd give the whole meal a 4, mostly because the celery seeds made the salmon nearly inedible for me.  I think you could play around with the rub (or, easier, just buy a good one).  I'd like to try the fritters again, but I'd eat them immediately and not try to hold them.  I'd put cucumber in the tzatziki, although it definitely wasn't awful without it."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fruit-Stuffed Pork Loin - Gutsy Cooks Club

May 19, 2013

This recipe, another one from Raymond, would be great for a dinner party.  Made with a 4-pound boneless pork roast, it serves at least 8 people.  I made it with a 2-pounder, and got 6 servings, so I think you could get 12 servings.

The only tricky part--and it wouldn't be tricky if you paid attention to what you were doing--was cutting a slit in the middle of the roast in which to stuff the fruit (prunes and dried apricots).  I had a very sharp knife (good) which I used carelessly (bad).  Not only did I cut through to the bottom of the roast, instead of just the middle, but I also tried to slice off the tip of my finger.  That made me feel like a Top Chef contestant--they're always cutting their fingers, and there are a lot of snarky comments by the other contestants if they abandon their project and go get stitches.  I was not a wuss.  I just wrapped enough bandages around my finger to stop the bleeding and soldiered on.

With the string tied tightly enough, the fruit stayed in the pork, even though it wasn't in the middle, as it was supposed to be.  I love the taste you get when you tuck garlic slivers in the top layer of fat in a pork roast.  And I love the flavor that the layer of fat adds.  Pork has become leaner and leaner over the years, and now a pork loin requires the kind of care that chicken breasts take--overcook either one by a tad, and it becomes dry.  It didn't hurt in the fat department that the roast was supposed to be slathered with half a stick of butter.      
Since it already had that nice layer of fat, I cut back on the butter--by a tablespoon.

I thought I had some madeira in my liquor cabinet, but it turned out that I didn't, and it was Sunday (in Minnesota, that means you can't buy anything with alcohol in it).  I was going to use ruby port as a substitute, but I spied this bottle of Calvados, which I thought would pair nicely with the pork.  And isn't Monica always telling us to go gutsy?  I'm a born recipe-follower, so making this substitution made me feel downright daring.  I skipped the molasses, too, because I don't much like it.

The 2-pound roast was in the oven for less than an hour when it reached 145 degrees, the recommended roasting temperature.  For those of us who grew up hearing horror stories about trichinosis, and whose mothers cooked the bejeesus out of pork, this is still slightly audacious, if not completely gutsy.

After resting for about 15 minutes, the pork was tender and juicy, with fruity notes from the Calvados, prunes, and apricots.  It's stunning visually, and really good.  Also easier than it looks, especially if you don't stab yourself while you're doing it.  I paired it with butter-braised Yukon Gold potatoes and sauteed cherry tomatoes.  But it's not hard to think of other go-withs that would taste great.

All of Raymonds four May recipes looked delicious.  So far, this is the only one I've been home to make, and I'm going to Chicago next week, so the other three have to go in my catch-up file.


Jim:  "I like it.  I'll give it an 8."  I guess he was feeling especially laconic.

Marie:  "I'll give it a 9, and I don't think I've ever given anything a 10 because a 10 is perfect.  So a 9 is kind of like a 10."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Baked Chicken with Honey-Mustard Glaze - Gutsy Cooks Club

I guess that, after getting married, Monica was feeling like her life was no longer hectic enough, so she decided to re-invent the Gutsy Cooks Club.  This time the format is a little different--each cook will pick a cookbook of the month and pick a different recipe for each week.  Monica chose Lucinda Scala Quinn--new to me--who wrote Mad Hungry and Mad Hungry Cravings.

I served the chicken with couscous and haricots verts from Trader Joe's.

I have to say this was sort of a slapdash recipe.  One of the ingredients was "some fresh herbs (if you have them)," for example.  Well, even if I didn't have them, I could get them.  But if you've made this before, do you have any ideas about what might be especially apt?  I had basil, rosemary, and thyme, so I used them all, and they were fine, but I wouldn't have minded a hint.

More significantly, the recipe doesn't say what to do with the marinade.  My understanding is that the current thinking is that you shouldn't cook meat, especially, in the marinade.  But the last instruction in the recipe is to "save all those delicious, lemony, chicken juices that collected in the pan."  The only way that lemony juices are going to collect in the pan is if you pour the lemon marinade over the chicken while it's baking.  Well, I did it, and neither of us died (or even sickened), but still.

The other problem:  neither of us is a big fan of chicken thighs.  I didn't substitute breasts because 1) I wanted to try the recipe as is and 2) breasts would be more likely to dry out.

The honey-mustard-olive oil glaze gave the chicken pieces a nice brown crust.  Be very careful!  They went from barely browned to almost burned in a few seconds.  The glaze looked good.  But neither of us eats chicken skin, so it was pretty much wasted on us.


Jim:  I'll give it a 5.  It's okay, but not great.  I don't particularly want to eat it again.  I didn't pick up the honey-mustard flavor, which might have made them better, but I didn't want to eat the skin.

Marie:  I agree with what Jim said, but I'd translate that to a 7, not a 5, because I think a 5 means "complete failure," and 7 means B-/C+.  I did eat a bite of the skin, and that did add another flavor dimension.  I might try a version with skinless, boneless chicken breasts, but that would really be an entirely different recipe.