Monday, August 31, 2009

This week in the kitchen

Whew! Back from vacation and having a hard time getting back in the kitchen groove.

Friday, we returned with a sackful of chard, fresh from Hennie & Jefff's garden. For dinner, I sautéed that with lots of garlic and pepper flakes and served it over linguine, along with a big salad. Not great, but quite passable on a tired night.

Saturday I did a risotto with spinach and shrimp (from Cooking Light mag perhaps), OK but nothing special. Now I have a sack of frozen spinach to use up. Served this with a salad. Made the Riz au Lait au Chocolat (now MC) again. It was much better than the previous time when I misread the milk measurement. Still it seemed to need to cook longer than the recipe stated, or else I like my rice puddings with mushier rice than the French. ???

It got late on Sunday, so I didn't have time to roast the chickie as planned. Instead I made Lilian's Beijing-Style Sweet&Sour Fish (p65, HotWok) with panga. This is a really yummy, easy fish dish. I haven't been using this book much since we moved; need to get back to it since it has some really tasty recipes. Served the fish with rice and Broccoli in Fragrant Wine Sauce (p156, HotWok). More rice pudding after.

Monday we had a Zucchini-Tuna Tagliatelle (MC) and salad. Finished off the rice pudding.

Tuesday I roasted the chickie, more or less following Hazan's instructions in ClassicItal, only somewhat successful -- tasty, but it didn't seem to get done after a long time cooking. Ate about half and picked the rest of the meat from the bones.

Wednesday lunch, I made a little soup from broccoli stalks that I cooked in chick stock, puréed, and froze a while ago. (Need to do this again with current accumulation of stalks.) Added some broccoli florets and small pasta. Not half bad for something made of leftover bits. For dinner there was Curried Rice with Shrimp (from the web, now MC).

Found an herb bonanza when we shopped at Leclerc -- we now have two boxes of cilantro, one of basil (purple and green), and one of dill to use soon. Froze the dill as before. Looked for my cilantro pesto recipe, and couldn't find it. Google will turn up something I suppose. (Also noticed a sack of basil at the market on Thursday, but it was late and very busy -- all the last-minute shoppers, including me -- and only one of them there to serve. Will ask about this another day.)

Thursday, started chicken stock. No time for chicken enchiladas. Instead we had Salmon with Spicy Cilantro Pepper Sauce (MC) with polenta. (Starting on the first box of cilantro.)

Friday morning, I dealt with the lamb shoulder I got at Leclerc. Cut of the strips of the Cooking Italy lamb for Saturday's dinner. Cut the rest into for than enough cubes for MJ's lamb vindaloo (unless I find another recipe that looks more interesting) and froze it. Finished off the chick stock and froze 2x 2cups. Freezer is very full.

In the evening, I used the rest of the meat from the roast chick to make chicken enchiladas with our last dozen corn tortillas from the freezer: stuffing of cream cheese, chopped chilies, minced onion; topped with a can of salsa verde mixed with some crème fraîche and some grated tomme de chevre mixed with strange cheddar I found at Leclerc. Mama's Spanish rice. No good avocados at Leclerc on Wed, and I forgot to look at the market on Thursday, so no guacamole. :-( Maybe with the leftovers if we find a good avocado in the next days.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fried Zucchini Sauce with Garlic and Basil

Cooking Italy Assignment
Fried Zucchini Sauce with Garlic and Basil, p167
Homemade Fettucine, p134


It's the season, so there's lot of zucchini in the markets now. I bought a net of four yesterday at the grocery and more again this morning at the market, where it looked very fresh. (We're going to be eating a lot of zucchini in the next days!) I used a goodly part of my Parmesan chunk with another meal this week and forgot to get more yesterday. Since I made only a half recipe there was just enough. Finding the basil was another trick altogether. Not at the grocery. Not at the garden center across the street. Not at the greengrocer. Not at another garden shop. Il n'y en a plus, everywhere I asked. On to another town. Not at the garden center there. Finally -- bingo -- at the grocery. (Plus the milk and salmon for last night's dinner that we'd missed at our regular grocery.) Now we're ready.


The zucchini is a plan-ahead recipe, easy to do, but with a long waiting period. Soaking the zucchini was strange, since I've never experienced any zucchini, homegrown or otherwise, that needed more than a good wash. But soak it did. And then sat, salted and draining liquid.

I love the instruction to rinse and dry the colander, after drying the zucchini, since you'll be needing it again. What a thoughtful remark. (Actually, we are extremely well-endowed with colanders here, since I had two at home in Amstelveen and one here. One of these days I really have to clean out all the duplicates and triplicates that resulted from combining two working kitchens.) Of course, you'll need to seriously clean the colander again to drain the pasta once it cooks.

After at least two hours (I'm sure mine waited longer), you dry the zucchini sticks -- some clean dish towels work just as well as paper towels -- then toss them with flour and fry. Of course, be sure to let the oil get really hot before adding the zucchini. I always hurry this and I'm sure the first batch was a bit greasier than it needed to be. In my 10" skillet, I did three batches for a half recipe. If I did a whole recipe, it would be better to use a bigger skillet to speed things up.

After you've drained the pasta (I blathered on about making pasta in a separate post), you toss it with some melted butter and then add the fried zucchini, fresh basil, and Parmesan. Yum!

We enjoyed this as part of a typical-at-our-house dinner of Pasta Somehow followed by salad. It would be a nice company dish, because all the real preparation can be done well ahead, so that you have only to cook the pasta and toss with the rest just before serving.

Making pasta

I haven't made pasta since we moved, so this Cooking Italty assignment is a treat. Don't know why I'd never really read the pasta-making instructions in this Hazan book before; it's quite a good discussion.

Hazan calls the little square strands cut by my basic cutter tonnarelli. It's nice to have a name for this. The box for the pasta maker (Atlas) says this cutter makes spaghetti, but the result is square in profile, so clearly not spaghetti as I know it. (The other cutters I bought myself also have strange names, but are essentially one for fettucine and one for tagliatelle.)

The flour discussion was interesting. She recommends not using semolina flour. I tried using it for a while, but gave it up. Pasta made with regular patent bloem (Dutch unbleached white flour) seemed to be just as tasty and the dough was much easier to handle. In France, I haven't yet discovered the equivalent of unbleached white flour. The flours here are numbered, and I'm using #45, which seems to work like all-purpose flour, but I doubt if it's unbleached. Hazan recommends Italian flour #00, doppio zero, which I'm sure I've seen in The Netherlands. I'll look for this when we visit.

I loved Hazan's description of rolling out pasta by hand, but doubt if I'll ever try that. This time I gathered up my courage and tried the volcano-on-the-counter method for mixing the dough, rather than using the food processor, but I can't say it was a success. Hazan's basic recipe is 1 cup flour with 2 large eggs, rather than the 1 cup flour, 1 large egg, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and water as needed that I've generally used before. One cup of flour does not make a well big enough to hold two eggs, so the mess did not remain very well contained. Also it seemed to want quite a bit of extra flour to make a dough that was not terrible sticky. I might do this again, but use my largest stainless steel bowl rather than the countertop, to contain the mess and make cleanup easier.

Hazan then has you divide the lump of dough into sixths (i.e., twice the number of pieces as there are eggs :-). She runs each piece through on a single setting and lays it out on a towel. Then each piece on the next setting. And so on, all the way through the settings. Not. One piece goes through all through all the settings, then off to hang on my nifty pasta rack (birthday gift, thank you, Tosca!) before cutting.

Although Hazan doesn't mention this, when running through the thicknesses, you can easily skip one of the early numbers. I usually skip 3 or 4. Also, after I've finished 1, I dip dredge the pasta sheet in a bit of flour, then proceed through the numbers. Just before or after the last thickness, I do this again. It seems to help the cut strands to stay separate if the sheet is a bit floury. This doesn't seem to affect the taste, since the extra flour boils off when the pasta is cooked.

Contrary to most instructions I've read, Hazan has you roll your pasta all the way through setting 7. Most books recommend stopping after 6. I went all the way this time ;-), and am ambivalent about the results. Because the pieces were rather long by the time, it was difficult to catch the start of the sheet coming through. As a result, where it folded upon itself, especially at the beginning of the sheet, the dough was often stuck together. Flouring before rolling at 7 helped this, but it was still an issue. Following 7, the pieces were really long and I cut them in half to make them easier to handle.

When the 7-rolled pasta was cooked there was a lot more pasta than when I stop at 6. This is why she says 1 cup of flour yields three standard portions. Stopping at 6, we serve only two people. Of course, it's the same amount in total, but the volume on the plate is much larger at 7. Two of us ate it all tonight anyway. I haven't had the nerve to serve fresh pasta to anyone else yet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Poached shrimp with olive oil and lemon juice

Cooking Italy Assignment
Poached Shrimp with Olive Oil and Lemon Juice, p65

Ah yes, Ed said, if all the meals are going to be this good, you have to stay with this Cooking Italy group!

I'd planned to make this for dinner on Friday, but with a never-ending cough, I haven't felt like more than a minimal dinner in the last days. So Sunday, it was. Not that this shrimp is all that hard to make, but it does involve a bit of standing for preparation.

I had a 400g package of frozen wild shrimp from Madagascar, largish ones -- there were 15, which is more or less half of the amount asked in the recipe. I used the whole amount of water for boiling, though, and the pot was quite full of shrimp when the time came. After adding frozen shrimp* directly to the water, it took quite a while to come back to a boil, certainly longer than the 2-3 minutes suggested in the recipe. I guessed when they were done, drained them, and got busy deheading, peeling, deveining, and halving lengthwise. None of this is too hard, but it is a bit time-consuming. I know I'm fairly clunky at these things, but I worked fairly quickly and I'm puzzled how you can do this fast enough for the shrimp to still be luke-warm by the time you're through. Mine were pretty well cool/room-temp by the time I was done, and I was only doing a half recipe.

* I thought I read on the package that the shrimpers should be cooked frozen. However, a similar package of shrimp still in the freezer says they should be thawed first. (My reading of the French is verified by a hysterical English translation of the instructions.)

Here's what the shrimp looked like marinating:

(This is Ed's first experience photographing food with our flakey camera. Next time, better lighting, no doubt.)

Although this recipe is in the Appetizers section, I served them as a main with fettucine. Had an idea to make the fettucine fresh myself, but didn't have the oomph, so used some store-bought fresh stuff, not too bad really. Here they are served:

A half recipe was a generous dinner for two, so would probably be a starter for four, making the full recipe a starter for eight, rather than six as the recipe states. Did anyone else find this disparity? It would make a very nice starter for company, since the work is done well ahead of time and the shrimp sits to marinate for an hour. Also it tastes good.

For a starter, I'd planned to do the Roasted Eggplant with Peppers and Cucumber (p55) and the Marinated Carrot Sticks (p56) from the same chapter on appetizers. In the morning, I roasted the eggplant and left it draining in a strainer. Following lunch, Ed, bless his heart, took it upon himself to leap in and wash the dishes. And threw away the eggplant! Hmm ... replan ... instead I made the lemon juice variation of the Boiled Zucchini Salad (p562) and served this with the carrot sticks. The carrots were a keeper; the zucchini kind of ho-hum. The time for boiling them was much too long, and I think it would have been better if the zucchini had been steamed instead. Oh well.

Here's the starter on the table:

Still have to make the eggplant another time; it looks promising.

The shrimp was really a hit, and I'm sure it will be on the menu at a dinner for company before too long. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to next week's fried zucchini and fettucine. I haven't made pasta since we moved here, so this is a good excuse to get back in the groove.