Saturday, February 4, 2012

If You Are What You Eat, Perhaps I Should Reevaluate My Dietary Choices.

Hello foodies, food porn addicts, and generic blog stalkers! I’m sorry for the blog silence for the past… six months. I do have a legitimate reason for going blog-silent. But I’m going to refrain from excuses and instead say: I’m sorry. I’ve been cooking, but I haven’t been blogging. There have been some pictures of meal prep taken over the past few months, so I have several different blog posts already written in my head (including Fry Day Part II). We’ll see how I do at getting everything onto the web for you guys.

For right now, though, I have a pretty tasty update. I’m currently in Arizona taking care of my mom, so I’m sans a lot of my regular kitchen comforts. This isn’t a huge setback as my mom is more of a Williams Sonoma addict than I am. It’s just a different kitchen with different utensils for me to adjust to.

I knew I wanted to try this particular recipe before I left Los Angeles. So when I drove out to Arizona, I brought… my tart pan.

Yes, I brought a tart pan on a road trip. For any of you who thought you knew the extent of my kitchen geekiness – did you expect this level? (Should I mention that I also brought a cheesecake pan with me?)

Now that I set the geek bar a little higher, shall we get to the recipe?

My endeavor yesterday was to make a pear tart that was originally featured in Women’s Daily. (A coworker might have shared her magazine with me at work. The tart might have been deliciously featured on the cover.)

Woman's Day Seriously, doesn’t that just make you drool?!?

You can get the recipe for the tart here.

I have to say, this was a relatively easy recipe to make and it turned out delicious. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I started off making the dough in a stand mixture and it came together quite easily.

I will note though that where the recipe states you should use a small spatula to spread the dough? You should use a small spatula. I started off using my bowl scraper. (Call it laziness if you want, I’ll argue I was being “green” and preventing the washing of another kitchen utensil.) That worked … absolutely not at all. But once I grabbed a small spatula (we’re talking about a 6” overall length from tip of blade to end of handle, but a slightly larger spatula should still work as well), the spreading of the dough went smoothly. Of course, brilliant baker that I am, I spread an even layer across the bottom of the tart pan. This left me pressing dough all over the place to get it up the sides. but a little bit of flour and some patience and I more or less got the dough where it was supposed to go. So what if the base of the tart was no longer nicely smooth – I was going to cover it with pear slices anyway.

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I should warn you though: there was one other issue I encountered with the tart dough.

It’s delicious.

I made the mistake of trying some of the dough before spreading it. With the almond flavoring it’s pure, ecstatic, heaven in your mouth. In the picture above, do you see how the tart dough is looking a little thin around the 4 o’clock area ? Don’t try your tart dough until AFTER you’ve filled your tart pan. Otherwise, you might run out.


Next came the peeling and slicing of the pears. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I 1) always use a vegetable peeler instead of a knife to peel fruits and vegetables and 2) always manage to cut at least one knuckle while peeling. This time was no different.

Semi-peeled pears are really slippery – just a quick aside.

I attempted to hold on to the peeled half of a half-peeled pear while removing the rest of its skin. I’m not sure if my hand or the pear slipped, but I caught a knuckle. My first thought was, “Oh no, please don’t bleed on the pear. That means I’ll have to peel another one.” Thankfully, my knuckle, while sliced, agreed and didn’t bleed immediately. The other upside? I’ve apparently sliced my knuckles so much over the years that it really doesn’t hurt any more.

At least until lemon juice came in contact with it later.

Warning: the next few paragraphs contain a lot of fractions. I’d rewrite it but… it builds character.

I got the pears peeled and got ready to make slices to place in the tart. Historically when I cut pears I halve, then quarter, then cut into twelfths (each quarter is cut into thirds). On my first pear I halved, quartered, and started cutting my first quarter into thirds when I remembered that the pear slices were supposed to be 1-1/2” to 2” wide. My little twelfth of a pear was WAY too skinny. So it became a snack. The remaining uncut section of that quarter (equating to 1/6 of the pear) was thick enough as it was so I put that one straight into the outer ring of pear slices in the tart pan.

The next quarter I tried cutting in half. It worked, but it was a little on the thin side. For the pear I’d already cut, I continued using 1/8 of a pear wedges. When I moved on to the next pear though, I changed my cutting to 1/6 wedges. Once I had a half of a pear, two slices gave me three perfectly sized wedges for the tart. Trial and error and a couple of delicious mistakes.

The 1/6 wedges worked well for the outer ring, but the inner ring was problematic when they were that thick. I ended up going back to the 1/12 wedges for the inner circle and that helped them fill up the center without toppling over.

Remember how I mentioned earlier that peeled pears are slippery?

I lost at least three pear wedges to the floor (and then, sadly but logically, to the garbage disposal) while I was cutting and transferring. I recommend having back up pears in case this happens.

But my pears were arranged and my oven was preheated… it was time to place this bad boy in the oven!

Except about 10 minutes into baking I realized I forgot to sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar mix over the top. Thankfully, the tart was forgiving and I sprinkled the mixture on the tart with 55 minutes left on the baking clock.

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Right after I remembered the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Notice that the dough is already puffing up around the pear slices.

Then came the really simple part: wait for the tart to bake.

When the oven had 10 minutes left, I prepped the glaze on the stove. The apricot preserves I used had whole apricots in them so I didn’t get full dissolution of the jam in the lemon juice. To prevent lumps, I placed a wire mesh strainer over a bowl and ran the finished glaze through the strainer.

The tart came out of the oven looking and smelling lightly delectable.

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I used a basting/pastry brush to brush the strained glaze over the top of the tart.

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Then we had a little more waiting as we gave the tart an hour to cool. Finally it was time to remove it from its pan.

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You know, considering this was my first fruit tart ever? It turned out looking remarkably like the magazine cover.

I also LOVE this tart.

This time of year the pears available are more crisp and flavorless than the sweet, slightly mushy, and flavorful ones you find in the fall. You’d think that would be a detractor, but the firmness of the pears holds up through the baking so they still yield when you bite into them, but they have enough firmness that they contrast slightly with the tart dough. The subtleness of the flavor of the pears also allows the almond flavoring of the dough and the cinnamon in the topping to shine through. I’m definitely interested in trying this recipe again at the peak of pear season, but if you have to make a recipe using out-of-season fruit, goodness, this is the recipe to use.

I’ve already decided that this tart will be on the menu for 2012’s Thanksgiving dinner.

One other quick note – my mom and I paired the tart with Celestial Seasonings' Antioxidant Green Tea. The tea is a personal favorite that blends green and white teas for a light, floral taste (without reaching the strong level of Earl Grey floral) edit: citrus, it has a light citrus taste. This is what I get for writing blog posts in the middle of the night. The flavors of the tea perfectly complemented the almond, pear, apricot, and lemon notes of the tart for an experience that left my taste buds waltzing.

One of the reasons I tend to cook more than I bake is because I have a weakness for baked goods. I wanted to devour this entire tart in one sitting. I managed to restrain myself (slightly), but it would be very dangerous for my waistline if I made this on a weekly basis.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fry Day, Fry Day, Fry Day, Part I

It’s fair season. The end of summer brings to mind rickety rides, 4H barns, quilting competitions, and deep-fried food. My fried food preferences trend fairly tame: elephant ears and funnel cakes are my summer staples. Every once in a while, I’ll succumb to the siren’s call of a churro. A deep-fried Oreo seems appealing, but my curiosity’s never been strong enough to actually buy one. This year, reports are out that the Iowa fair is selling deep-fried butter... on a stick.

Nothing says “the last days of summer” like deep-fried food.

It seemed appropriate for me to embrace this tradition. I had an extra vacation day last week that allowed me to putter around in the kitchen. Putter… putter is far too passive of a term. I came in armed with a game plan. And our Hamilton Beach fryer was on the front lines.


A quick aside – if you like fried food and you do not have a deep fryer, invest in one. Ours was an anniversary present that I gave to my better half. He is the guru of hot wings and it’s always delicious when he takes the time to make them. The downside to all of his culinary greatness was that pan-frying, even with splatter guards, got oil all over the kitchen. It was aggravating. There would be oil on the stove, a film of oil on the cabinet fronts and the microwave. Because of the heat and the ability to aerosolize, oil would end up on the tops of the cabinets and settling on other surfaces throughout our home. It was gross. GROSS! But the food was so delicious.

To save my sanity while encouraging John to continue cooking wings, I invested in a deep fryer. I did my homework, shopped around, read reviews, and settled on the fryer I purchased. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty awesome. The best part? I don’t have oil vapors floating all over my home. Added to that, the controllable temperature is far more accurate than eyeballing a frying pan. The higher temperatures also lock in more flavor and make the foods crisp, not greasy. And it’s so contained that I can have it on the counter under a cabinet (fully supervised) and there’s no oil on the underside of the cabinet at the end of the frying.

Did I mention that the fryer contains the oil so it doesn’t get all over everything?


So I love our fryer. And last week I decided that we’d have a “fry day” where I tried out a couple of different recipes from in one go. The menu for the day started with Deep-Fried Brie. My mouth waters even typing that. The brie was followed by revisiting the bacon ravioli in an attempt to make the recipe more edible. After that we had some Spicy New Orleans Catfish Fries and I finished off the day with Super Easy and Spicy Fried Pickles.


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First order of business was prepping the brie. The recipe calls for a wedge, but why buy a wedge when you can buy a whole round at Costco for the same price?

The brie was cubed, the eggs beaten, and the bread crumbs prepared. I was ready to start my breading.

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Important key to breading: use one hand for the wet ingredients and one hand for the dry ingredients. If you take an eggy hand and move it to the breading bowl, you’re going to bread your hand as much (if not more so) as the food you’re trying to cook. By keeping one hand dedicated to the left and one hand dedicated to the right, you have efficiency with little mess.

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Now – it was time for the frying! The recipe calls to fry the brie for five minutes. The best I can figure is that the time is based on pan-frying. I put a batch into the fryer, set the timer for five minutes and wandered off. (Hot oil unattended, I know.) Four minutes later, I notice that there is a ridiculous amount of boiling going on in the fryer and I go over to take a look. The oil was foaming! (Yes, I should have gotten pictures of this. But I didn’t. You’re going to have to live.) I fished out the first batch of deep-fried brie.

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Not too shabby, right? Looks pretty delicious if a little on the darker brown side? There was one downside with these – they were hollow. The brie had melted out into the oil and that’s what caused the fryer to boil with such ferocity. Whoops.

The next batch I was kinder to. I dunked them in and fried them (with a close eye on their progress) for somewhere between 2-3 minutes.

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Success! Gooey, delicious, cheesy success! As you can see in the picture, the cheese was still leaking out, but the majority of the cheesy goodness had remained inside the breading with the shortened cooking time. We served them with a lingonberry jam that set the brie off perfectly. (Tiff and I both abhor canned cranberry sauce and cranberries aren’t in season yet so we couldn’t make our own.)

The biggest lesson taken from this (aside from watch what you’re frying) was that the breading adhered best where the brie still had its rind. If I could find mini, bite-sized brie wheels, I think we could potentially fry these little guys without drips of cheese escaping. I am now on a quest for tiny rounds of soft cheese with edible rinds.

But what about the rest of our culinary capers for the day? Stay tuned for Part II.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And Then There Was Naan

I fear I’m setting a poor precedent for this blog – I really want to tell you how much I love naan. I want to tell you how it’s one of my favorite breads and how the idea of going out for Indian food is always exciting because it means I’ll get naan.

But I’m also remembering that I’ve (very) recently proclaimed my love for bacon and lamb, and I worry that you’ll think I’m overly prone to hyperbole. I’m really not. I just love food. And part of the fun of the start of this blog is leaping into recipes that involve foods I love. I’m sure eventually I’ll be trying recipes more for curiosity’s sake than because I’m terribly thrilled about the ingredients. But for now we’re still fresh and new. And I have a slew of foods that bring me joy that are waiting for my undivided attention. This meal happened to focus on naan.

I got off of work Wednesday night and on the way to my car I got a text from Marisa:

“Hey, what’s up? Doing anything tonight?”

“Making naan and writing a blog post. What’s up?”

“I just took down my naan mix too! Nothing – just home kinda early and in the mood to hang out with people.”

Well hey, we’re apparently of a similar mindset and it’d been a couple of months since we last saw each other. I gave her a call and we agreed that she’d come over and bring the pumpkin curry she’d been making.

The pumpkin curry was amazing and I’ll have to weasel a recipe out of her to test out for myself. We ended up eating most of it without the naan. The downside of not getting home from work until 6:30: by the time you get your dough to rise properly, it’s close to 9 pm. But that really didn’t faze us. Mainly because of a convergence of deliciousness, some wine, and a whole evening of girl talk.

When I got home, I laid out my ingredients.

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I love making bread. I’ve made various breads since I was 13. There’s an element of science with getting the water to the right temperature to activate the yeast. There’s an element of art getting all of the ingredients in balance with each other. There’s an element of patience as you wait for the tiny gaseous reactions to proceed and give your dough the lightness it needs.

There’s also the wonderful element of mixing and kneading with your hands and getting “dirty.”

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The yeast and water, freshly added and not quite mixed, but already bubbling.

In some ways, making breads reminds me of ceramics. Both require use of hands, patience, vision, and a heat source to finish. In the bready rendition, however, you also get to devour your creation.

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There is also an upside to the amount of time required for risings; cleaning the kitchen seems almost instantaneous. Looking around and noticing everything’s clean, I found I still had an hour left of rising. Wine time!

Sitting and chatting, catching up with friends (Tiff joined us as well), I was reminded of my favorite part of cooking: the sharing. Part of it is the act of feeding people you care about. Another aspect is simply providing an impetus for people to gather. My favorite observation from past parties is the congregation of everyone in the kitchen. Even with ample seating and activities elsewhere in our condo, we tend to gather around the food. I’d look around and see friends recounting stories of travels, kids, work, and life in general. Old friends were reminiscing. New friends were bonding. And the food draws us all together.

The combination of the wine and conversation on naan night meant fewer photos of this project. But it was a wonderful experience.

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We were devouring each garlicky round as it slid out of the skillet. Burning out tongues and laughing as we tried to get the naan to cool faster so we could eat it, we caught up with the newest events in our lives. I love food. I love a multitude of ingredients. But the best part of all of this is the camaraderie and the experience with friends.

Friday, August 12, 2011

They Call Me Mellow Yellow

Brick was close, but a little off. I love lamb. Love, love, love, love, LOVE lamb. It may be sacrilegious to many of my friends, but in the meat kingdom, I hold lamb in higher esteem than bacon. SRSLY. Love lamb.

So in restarting this blog, I definitely wanted to try some new lamb dishes. I’ve made some delicious racks of lamb in my day and I have been known to turn the occasional Trader Joe's leg of lamb into some great gyro filling. My friend Susanna even submitted one of her favorite lamb recipes for me to try (and that recipe will debut at a slightly later date). But this – this was new.

I was on surfing around and they had a section of recipes dedicated to the start of Ramadan. In my past life as a retail slave, Middle Eastern Arabs would come and shop with us for the month leading up to Ramadan. I met some wonderful people during those visits and the concept of Ramadan was always interesting to me. I think the most notable aspect is that it involves not only fasting from food, but from anything passing the lips. As someone who drinks a couple of liters of water a day, the thought of abstaining from any beverage from sun up to sun down is rather impressive.

The best part of Ramadan though (at least, to a foodie like me), is the feasting that occurs after the sun goes down. The lunar month seems to be both deprivation and excess and I was incredibly excited that had a section completely devoted to Middle Eastern/Mediterranean/Arabic dishes in celebration.

I was browsing and found a couple of bread recipes that I set aside for future blogs. And then I found the lamb. Oh, lamb. I love you so very, very much. Your delicious flavor that some may find gamey tickles my taste buds and makes my heart dance. (I was a little on the  thrilled side to find this recipe.)

Added to the benefit of making a lamb dish solely for the sake of lamb, this dish had saffron.

My first encounter with saffron was my sophomore year of college. Before a dance that year, my date and I had dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s with several friends. One of the appetizers listed (and promptly ordered) was mussels in a saffron cream sauce. Had lightning struck me down at the end of the meal, I would have died incredibly happy. For those who haven’t tried saffron, I’m hard-pressed to describe it. The best attempt I can make is the effect of the taste: it makes my tongue want to complete celebratory cartwheels while my body as a whole wants to curl up and cuddle with anything that may be in the immediate vicinity.

You can imagine my squee when I found Tunisian Lamb with Saffron.

A fair warning: this is not a cheap meal. The leg of lamb I found (My grocer didn’t have cubed lamb stew meat, which would likely be cheaper. I’m going to have to start frequenting the Farmer’s Market.) ran $18. My little jar of saffron? $21. Ouch. But at the same time, the recipe makes enough to feed four and it’s delicious. So the overall cost is about $45 (with the other ingredients) – $11.25 per person is not too shabby, especially considering how much we spend per person when we eat out. And it’s lamb… with saffron.

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And all-in-all, it’s a really simple recipe to make. All of the required ingredients are pictured above. The first step for me (which I didn’t document) was the cubing of the lamb. Working around the bone in the leg was a little challenging, but I got 2-3 lbs of meat (ok, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly) that I could use for the meal. My cat was thrilled to have the remnants on the leg bone.

The first real order of business was browning the meat.

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My kitchen was already smelling amazing at this point.

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Getting there.

With the lamb browned, it was time to add the other ingredients – most specifically, the one that had been on my mind all week:

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I’m not being cheeky with the plastic bag – the jar of saffron comes with this tiny plastic bag of the saffron threads inside. I had just enough for this recipe (with about 1/4 of a teaspoon left over). I think one of the things that fascinates me about saffron, aside from its taste, is its color transformation. You start off with red threads, but it colors the food a vibrant yellow.

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And of course, at this point my mouth was watering and I was burning my tongue attempting to sample a chunk of lamb. Here the recipe instructs the addition of butter and specifies to simmer the meal until the sauce reached a desired consistency. I… took a few liberties at this point.

After I added the butter, my Paula Deen side came out. “That’s not enough butter!” And another tablespoon was added. Stirring the mixture for about five minutes, it wasn’t reaching the consistency I wanted (thick, so I could hang on to every drop of that saffron-y goodness). So I went the cream sauce route and added about 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream. (Yes, I keep heavy whipping cream in my fridge as a kitchen staple.)

The sauce was still taking a bit of time to reduce and I didn’t want to overcook the lamb, so I came up with the following solution:

Photo 8

Now I could boil the sauce to reduce it faster without making the lamb completely tough.

And all of a sudden – it was dinner.

I don’t usually follow the instructions for garnishing, but in this instance, I saved the 1/4 cup of onions and I had the parsley chopped and waiting. This is a good idea. This is a very good idea. Sprinkling both over the top of the finished dish set the tastes off beautifully.

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Even better though was remembering the lemon. This dish with a tiny bit of lemon juice squirted over it is superb. I will definitely, without hesitation or concern for cost, make this recipe again. It made my taste buds rhumba.

The only thing I’d change? I’d make sure to make a bread as well to go with it so I could sop up the wonderful sauce that’s left over. (I’m half British. We sop. It’s what we do.) It could also be really delicious over rice.

We inhaled this meal. There are only three of us (Tiff, John, and me) but we ate well and we ate gluttonously.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Boat camping was my first real experience with camping. Unlike camping in the woods, your campsite is incredibly portable. Unlike using an RV, there’s significantly less storage space and a lot more exposure to the elements. When I was 13, my dad took my sister and me on our first annual boat trip. The morning we left, we piled all of our camping gear into the Jeep as Dad hooked it up to our boat’s trailer. We left home as dawn was breaking to drive up I-5 from Portland to Seattle.

Arriving in Bellingham, we transferred our gear to the boat and my sister and I started finding stowage spots for everything as Dad backed the boat into the water. It was the start of a week of adventure where we took our little 21-foot power boat through the Puget Sound. Before we knew it, we were off - bouncing across the waves with salt spray causing our hair to stand out at weird angles. Sea birds spiraled overhead as we scanned the horizon for signs of orcas. As we cruised past smaller, uninhabited islands, we imagined living there and ruling over our own little domain. We boated for hours. Who knew what would await us at our first marina?

The one guarantee no matter where we docked was food. One of the best parts of boating is the food. A combination of fresh air and isometric activity consistently left us famished by the time we reached port. On that first day, Dad fired up the barbeque grilled shish-ka-bobs for dinner. Great big hunks of steak sandwiched between onions and green bell peppers filled our bellies that night. Later in the evening, as my sister and I converted the boat’s seats into our beds for the night, we reveled in our new experiences and the future promises of the trip. We fell asleep with dreams of what awaited us in the morning.

And what awaited us was bacon.

We woke up and broke out the camp stove. As Dad was heating up the stove, we rummaged through the 150-qt ice chest for that morning’s breakfast. Eggs and pancakes were par for the course, but the prize of the morning for my 13-year-old self was the brand new pack of bacon. I come by my love of bacon naturally - Dad picked up a pack just before we left to guarantee that we’d have bacon with our breakfast every morning.

Breakfast was over too quickly. We finished our food and my stomach still complained of emptiness. “I’m just going to make a few more slices of bacon,” I informed them as I went to restart the stove. This is the point in history where Dad learned several important lessons:

1) Never leave me alone with an open pack of bacon.

2) A teenager can eat an entire pack of bacon and not only not be sick to her stomach, but still be hungry.

3) One pack of bacon may suffice for a day, but it will never last a week.



As I’ve matured, I’ve gained a little more self control around bacon.  Sometimes I even remember to share. But I’m still a sucker to try any recipe that has “bacon” in the title.

I was browsing through new recipes at and I stumbled on Bacon-stuffed Ravioli. There was no way I’d pass up making this recipe.

First order of business was procuring the ingredients. My last recipe was sourced so easily I was a little disappointed. I didn’t want to have the same ordeal that I had finding coconut milk, but a little bit of adventure through the grocery store can be fun. And this recipe didn’t disappoint. I needed to find wonton wrappers. I’d brought my friend Tiff with me for company and so I could use the carpool lane on the freeway. We started off with the daunting 2’ wide section of “Asian foods” offered by our grocery store. It wasn’t there, but we weren’t exactly expecting wonton wrappers to be sitting with dried goods.

Next idea was the freezer section. I found bread dough. Aside from that, there wasn’t even a hint of phyllo pastry dough! Tiff was equally unsuccessful so we began the hunt for an employee. When we came across a guy in the dairy section we asked where we could find wonton wrappers and I was floored when he responded, “They’re on aisle one.”

We only had to ask one person! How… odd.

We made our way to aisle one (on the opposite side of the store from the Asian food display) and sitting right next to the tofu and the ricotta cheese were packages of potsticker/gyoza wrappers. I think I should have started doubting the recipe at this point.

We got home and it was time to get to work. Preheating the oven was simple. Completing step two provided a little more of a challenge.

Place a baking rack into a baking dish, and lay the bacon slices out flat onto the rack.

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My baking rack is not fitting inside my baking dish. Maybe…
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… No. How about…
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It was time to bake the bacon. Take a moment, and read that last sentence aloud. Bake the bacon. Did it make you smile? I find myself giggling every time. Anyway, bacon bakin’ time:
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I was really glad the recipe only called for eight slices – I don’t think there would have been an easy way for me to bake any more bacon. As the baking was supposed to take 25-30 minutes, I took that time to prepare everything else.

Ravioli involves lots of cheese.

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Everything was divvied up for the filling (the clear bowl) and the Alfredo sauce (the tomato bowls)
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I had everything by the stove ready and waiting. Waitin’ on the bakin’ bacon.

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At the 25 minute mark, I checked on the bacon and it still looked fairly raw. I was supposed to bake the bacon until golden brown. At this rate, I’d be better off using a solar oven. So I removed the glass dish that was holding the bacon flat and reset the timer for another 10 minutes. At the 35 minute mark we were making progress, but hadn’t reached golden brown. Five more minutes. Half of the bacon was golden brown and crispy. The other half was getting there, but taking a longer route.

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No amount of time delay will save you from your fate.
I removed the bacon that was done, drained the fat, and returned the undercooked bacon back to the oven.
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Eight slices of bacon will give you almost exactly a quarter cup of drippings.


The remaining bacon reached appropriate crispiness at the 50-minute mark. With that wait complete, it was time to start assembly of my little ravioli minions.


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In the lower right-hand corner of this picture, you’ll notice a bright white contraption with two handles. This is a ravioli/dumpling press. I have no idea where I got it. It’s been with my kitchen utensils for as long as I can remember. The press has traveled with me from Los Angeles to Oregon to Los Angeles to San Diego to Los Angeles once again. I have never used it. I don’t remember purchasing it. I’m fairly certain it spontaneously generated in my kitchen tools drawer one day. But it was here and I was making ravioli and it was amazingly useful:


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Perfectly formed ravioli!
It’s a shame that the bacon was an essential part of the filling of the raviolis – the time it took to cook would have been a perfect time to be assembling all of my little decadent dumplings. Still, although it’s time consuming, there’s something remarkably peaceful about creating rows and rows of ravioli.
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Dance my little minions!!!
I ended up making 40 ravioli and I set the remainder of the filling aside for an experiment later this week. It was time for the Alfredo sauce. I love a good cream sauce. Adding bacon drippings to a cream sauce? Sheer awesomeness. This was the first Alfredo recipe I’d found that called for cream cheese, but it worked well for the consistency of the sauce.
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I tend to be a little more a traditionalist (says the girl happily adding bacon drippings) so I think in the future I’d prefer to forgo the cream cheese and milk and use heavy whipping cream instead. This recipe also called for adding a third of a cup of pasta water to thin the sauce. I didn’t add it because I’m a fan of a thicker Alfredo sauce, but I think again going a more traditional route for its ingredients, pasta water is unnecessary.
The ravioli cooked up quickly and it was time to mix everything together. And here’s where I encountered the problem. Potstickers are aptly named. When they get cooked, the dough that encapsulates them gets sticky. Using potsticker wrappers for ravioli led to bacon and cheese dumplings that stuck together in to a large congealed lump. It left a little to be desired on the presentation front.

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I feel like I’m looking at a plate of schnitzel.
The other issue I had with the wrappers was the texture. When you’re in the mood for pasta and you’re making ravioli, you have an expectation of biting into a packet of deliciousness that’s held together by an al dente exterior. Not so much in this case.
Don’t get me wrong – the flavor of this was fantastic. I took a bite and I was rocketed back to childhood – not the boat trip in the San Juans, but the kitchen of our house in Arizona where we lived until I was eight. I knew this flavor. I couldn’t place it, but I knew it. So I texted my mom, “Did you ever make a meal for us when we were kids that involved bacon and cheese or a cream sauce? It would have been in the Arizona house.” She wrote back almost immediately, “Quiche Lorraine.” Ah ha. And that was it. This recipe tasted strangely like quiche. The texture wasn’t there, but the flavor was.
The final verdict on the recipe was that Tiff and John were fans. I was not. But I have a couple recipes planned for this week and Thursday will be the day of reckoning to determine if this recipe is salvageable as-is or if I really need to go on the search for pasta wrappers that I can use for future renditions.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Exploration with Orzo

It's been a while, but tonight's recipe excursion seems to lack any of the drama implicit in the entertaining experience that was my pumpkin coconut milk soup. Although I do seem to already be on a subtle alliteration roll...

Life has been interesting. Since I last attempted cooking and blogging in a desperate attempt to maintain my sanity I quit my job. Leaving did far more for my sanity that cooking and blogging could have ever achieved. An added bonus was I landed a new job that is perfectly tailored to my neuroses. I may be the only person at the office who's not stressed, but I actually enjoy my job! Instead of spending my day approaching strangers, attempting to get them to open their wallets (and I swear I was not a prostitute), I now sit in a cozy overly air-conditioned office, at a computer, and pore over perfecting points of minutiae on customer orders. Similar to the feeling of satisfaction I get from occasionally hand-scrubbing my floors, the persistent attention to detail makes my strange little brain happy. So I'm not cooking/blogging for stress relief this time - I'm cooking/blogging because I actually have the time and energy!

That said, I have a tendency to notice free time in my life and eliminate it fairly quickly. I have about five million projects around the condo that I need to start and/or finish. My high school reunion is in a little over a week (eep!) and I'm finalizing details from 900 miles away. This week has also included a whirlwind of doctors' appointments while I was coordinating future travel plans with a group of friends. And somewhere in all of this, I decided it was time to start blogging again.

To ease my way back into a shaky control of written word, I looked for a "cooking with your eyes closed" recipe. Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Orzo is the remarkably simple recipe that ended up gracing our table tonight. Prep time is about 5 minutes, orzo cooking time is about 9 minutes, and although I made the pesto before I boiled the orzo, you have more than enough time while the pasta's cooking to do all of your non-water-boiling prep.

I stopped by the grocery store on the way home tonight and purchased two containers of basil. With contents from both packages chopped, I just met the half-cut measurement for the recipe. Basil and I are old friends. We've known each other for years and work together frequently making pizzas and caprese salad.

With the sun-dried tomatoes, I had a whole new experience! Although I've eaten sun-dried tomatoes in recipes, I've never cooked with them. Even opening the jar was a joy as their scent bounded out to happily greet my nostrils. Pungent with a hint of sweetness, the tomatoes got my mouth watering long before there was a chance of food on the table. Cutting them up was a bit like dealing with over-sized, oily raisins, but the smell was glorious.

The basil and sun-dried tomatoes spent a very brief period in this bowl before they were transferred to the food processing attachment on my Cuisinart stick blender (this was the same tool I used to puree my pumpkin soup - it's seriously my favorite kitchen gadget). The recipe calls for processing the basil and tomatoes together and then tossing it with the cooked pasta, salt, pepper, and olive oil. I didn't want to follow the recipe that way and blended the basil, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and olive oil together. Personally, I think I got a more uniform blend and that it ensured that all of the seasoning was evenly distributed through the pasta when it was stirred in.

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention the pasta - if you're not familiar with orzo, it's the pasta that looks like rice but isn't. This is not to be confused with risotto which is a rice that cooks up to a pasta-like texture. Although the recipe calls for 2 cups of uncooked orzo, I found that the box I got from the grocery store contained 2-1/4 cups. Knowing that I was never going to cook 1/4 cup orzo, I made the entire box.

2-1/4 cups uncooked orzo

Nine minutes later, the orzo was cooked, drained, and ready to be mixed with the "pesto."

The basil/tomato mix distributed nicely throughout the pasta, but I found myself wishing that I had increased the pesto quantities slightly to match the extra quarter cup of pasta. Sprinkling the grated parmesan cheese on top, dinner was ready. We had bowls for John, Tiff, and me with enough left over to feed all three of us again.

Overall, a really quick recipe. This will be a permanent addition to my dinner repertoire, but I'll make some changes in the future.
Change 1: More sun-dried tomatoes. I went easy on them this time because they can be overwhelming if you use too many. There is a happy medium, but I haven't reached it yet. I'm just going to have to keep making and eating until I perfect that ratio.
Change 2: Garlic. Admittedly, I am a garlic fiend. This dish is delicious without garlic and adding a couple cloves would overwhelm the fresh taste of the basil and the tang of the tomatoes. I'd probably start with a half a clove minced just for really subtle flavor. If that wasn't noticeable enough, I might mince a whole clove for the dish, but I don't think I'd go beyond that point.
Change 3: More salt. The recipe called for a half teaspoon. I do love my salt almost as much as I love my garlic, but I like to try to follow recipe proportions the first time I'm making a recipe. This could use 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of salt instead of just a half.
Change 4: This change will increase prep and cooking time and is not necessary to make the meal delicious, but I think it adds a nice variation - sauteed vegetables. I think the vegetables need to be fairly light and have a "green" flavor to work with the other flavors in the recipe. As I was eating my dinner, I was thinking how well little sauteed cubes of zucchini would taste with the pasta. I think freshly sauteed or grilled asparagus spears would also be awesome. 

Okay, world. Post one of my return to food blogging is complete. I plan on updating at least weekly - possibly bi-weekly. If you have any recipes you think I should try, please feel free to send them my way!

Edit 8/5/11:
The recipe mentions that this dish can be served hot or cold. To experiment with that, I brought leftovers for lunch today.

It's a perfect summer pasta salad when chilled. It also helped me determine Change 5: add pancetta. Not big chunks, not pureed nothingness. But little 1/8" square pieces of pancetta would be an amazing addition of flavor and texture.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Once Again - a Blog Overhaul

I really need to get blogging again with some consistency. I enjoy cooking; I enjoy eating. Yet somehow my food-based blog gets terribly neglected. So we're going to try this again. As a restaurant critic, it takes a lot of effort for me to rein in my snark and I am trying to de-snark my life. To help with that, I'm going to flip-flop and take this blog back to being a cooking blog.

I recently subscribed to the daily recipe emails from My goal is to make (and blog about, natch) 1-2 recipes per week. I have the time to cook at least a meal or two a week and I have the need to continue writing. Now, it's all a matter of discipline.