Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day Delight

The kids have been helping us cook for years, although the amount of time they cook has recently decreased with school and sports.  So, for Mother's Day I was pleasantly surprised to hear they wanted to do a "Chopped"-like contest for Amy to judge.  We had to make some slight modifications (considering they are 10 and 12 as well as NOT chefs.)  In the actual show, the contestants got baskets of unusual ingredients and have to cook something which included each in each course.  We got baskets of Amy's favorite ingredients which had to be used for each course.  Salmon, cheese, berries, etc.  What they came up with was absolutely fabulous!

Let's go in order of age.  Alex made an arugula salad with toasted pine nuts, Manchego cheese and oranges (the key ingredients), but it was his mustard dressing which was the hit.  Not too tart or sweet and fairly complex.  His salmon was cooked in an onion & marsala wine reduction - perfectly tender.  The dessert was the show stopper though.  He made a Greek yogurt parfait with fresh mango, raspberries and chopped almonds topped with whipped cream that he made himself.  Solid food done well and cooked perfectly.  He will make some lady happy!

Abby on the other hand was wildly inventive with her dishes with one huge hit and a big miss - but worth the effort!  She made a Nuoc Cham-style sauce (substituting olive oil and orange juice for the fish sauce) and wrapped that in fresh basil leaves.  It was so wonderful, I really thought I was eating an appetizer from a master chef.  Her main course lacked some cooking technique - but the sauce of her salmon was unbelievably good.  Butter, capers, onions, curry and feta cheese - with the first four ingredients heated on the stove and the feta added late.  I could have eaten that on cardboard and been HAPPY!  Her dessert was an inventive remix on the smoothie - which Amy called the crunchie.  It was the same concept, but Abby added almonds to the mix then topped with candied fruit and gummie bears.  It didn't work, but a big A  for effort.

All in all, a great display of cooking on Mother's Day which made their mom very happy.  And their dad proud.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quick and easy comfort food

As I've gotten ready for a new assignment which will take me out of the house regularly, I won't have it so easy any more cooking dinner.  Thus, I've been shaking out some good and quick food options.

We buy the individually wrapped fish in the freezer section of the grocery store, so they are easy to defrost (i.e., stick them in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes or so) and have ready to eat within a half an hour.  Plus, fish takes well to seasoning right before cooking rather than a marinate for meat.

This dish is a herb-coated fish broiled in the oven over warm polenta and topped with a puttanesca.  The fish is coated with sage, thyme, salt and pepper, put on a baking sheet for broiling.  The polenta is 3 cups chicken broth to 1 cup corn meal (I added oregano, salt and pepper to add some flavor) cooked 10 minutes then added some extra sharp cheddar cheese.  The sauce is simply a chopped onion and garlic sauted in olive oil for a minute; then add a can of tomatoes, a bunch of chopped kalamata olives, capers and oregano and allow to cook on medium high for about 10 minutes.

Serve with some white wine and it is a lovely meal without too much fuss or time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Appetizer Party

We had the neighbors over to an appetizer party.  It's great for us, because we can cook beforehand then sit down with people and eat, drink and be merry for the party.  Otherwise, we're always in the kitchen working hard to get everything out.

Our menu?  The Deconstructured Easter Ham.  Each dish had pork or ham of some sort in it...

Onion Tart:  a butter-tart shell with a creme fraiche spread and topped with caramelized onions and bacon - thanks to for the recipe which was originally from Bon Appetite.

Thai-flavored spare ribs: pork ribs marinated in a ginger, garlic, cilantro concoction which was just heavenly.  Now, the recipe - again thanks to - just said to marinate in the sauce, but I poured the marinate on top of the ribs for cooking which gave it some great punch.

Ham BBQ on Polenta Squares: the concept here was to create a mini version of BBQ sandwiches complete with the coleslaw on fried polenta squares, but that became too much.  The BBQ was literally pulled ham with BBQ sauce.  The polenta squares were made by pouring fresh polenta on baking sheets on the thin side and then set up in the fridge.  I then cut them into squares, removed a couple of them, coated them in olive oil and baked them until they were golden brown on top.  Flipped them and continued to bake until golden brown.  I topped some with sauted mushrooms for the none meat eaters.  They were quite good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies (From Cook's County)

The daughter was in need of a sugary concoction recently and I didn't want to make the standard chocolate chip cookies.  Don't get me wrong, they are the gold standard for a reason!  But I wanted something different, so I went to the recipe holder and grabbed the Fairy Gingerbread Cookies recipe.  And, yes, you should have noted that I left Fairy out of the headline...didn't want anyone to get the wrong impression!  They are light, airy and so delicious that you shouldn't be persuaded to not make them because of the word.

Plus the recipe was so easy, the daughter could mix, pour and spread the cookies herself.

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
9 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray.  It asks you to cover with parchment paper, but we skipped that step.

2) Combine the flour, toasted ginger (the recipe asks you to toast the dry ginger in a pan for 1 minute - we thought that was overkill), baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

3) In a mixer, mix well the butter and brown sugar until "light and fluffy" - we did it for about 2 minutes.  Add fresh ginger and vanilla, mix well.  Turn mixer on low and slowly add the dry ingredients along with the milk.  Alternate the two, so it isn't too sticky or too dry at any time.

4) Evenly spread 3/4 cup of batter on baking sheet with an offset spatula (used for spreading frosting on me it is easier.)  It is going to be really thin and likely have open areas where you can see the sheet.  Don't worry, it will expand and fill the space.  Plus, they will be nice and thin and light...The daughter did one and I did the other.  Both came out great.

5) Bake until deep golden brown - about 16-20 minutes.  Switch and rotate the sheet half way through to cook evenly.  Once out of the oven, immediately score with a pizza roller or knife into graham cracker shapes.  Let cool completely, then break cookies along the score marks.

You won't be able to eat just one!