Monday, September 25, 2006

I need a Toblerone I.V.!

I woke up shattered this morning. My eyelids felt they were scotch-taped to my face, my head was hazy, I was not in good shape. I shoulda known better. I partied and binged all weekend, and now I was paying for it. In a 24 hr period, I had consumed an entire 20 oz. bottle of Pepsi, about 9 cupcakes, almost an entire bar of Jacques Torres' dreamy milk chocolate.... Whenever I do this to myself, which isn't that often, I usually feel awful afterwards. The amount of sugar and caffeine is too much to handle, and then I get up the next day looking for my next fix. On the train this morning, all I could think about was diving into a huge swimming pool of melted milk chocolate. I wanted it baaaaaaad!

But I needed to resist, because it is a slippery slope from here. Tonight, I needed something sinful after dinner. I had tons of temptation all around me.

1 bar of toblerone
the rest of the Jacques Torres' milk chocolate bar
the rest of the cupcakes (about three or four)
about five bars of Green and Blacks chocolate, in different sinful flavors

I decided to be strong and made a dessert in a class all by itself...

Caribbean Breeze

I layered all the non-naughty things I loved; greek yogurt, juicy nectarine slices, Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, dried cranberries and honey. It was marvelous, and no, there's nothing Caribbean about it, especially not the Honey Bunches of Oats, but it kind of gave me that feeling like I was on some island, coming back from the beach all sunkissed, wearing terry-cloth clothing and feeling all 'toyt' (Austin Powers reference); why is it on vacation that we feel so much skinnier than we really are. Must be something in the water. Anyway, this little creation was just spectacular. And I'm not missing my chocolate..... much.

**Shameless Self-Plug - Hey, check out what I had for dinner here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

So I saw about some meat...

I figured we needed some variation and meat in our diet, and it gave me an opportunity to be inventive in the kitchen.

Pollo Casero con Pisto y Arroz

I first seared a couple of chicken breasts in some garlic olive oil. I put them to the side and added onions to the hot pan. Once the onions browned a bit, I added tinned plum tomatoes, a chopped small zucchini and salt. Once the sauce reduced a bit, I added the chicken pieces on top, and sauteéd them with the lid on.

I made some lovely saffron rice to go with it. It was delicious. I hadn't let on to Rafa that it was actually pisto that I made, because I wanted to see if he could recognize my efforts as the same dish he grew up with in Seville. He knew what I was all about, and he didn't give up that he was hot on my case until after he finished eating. He said the pisto tasted just like his mom's, and that is the best compliment a mama's boy could ever give! :) He got meat and a helping of some of mama's cooking.

The Vegetarian Soup in Disguise

I could happily live a vegetarian life. Don't get me wrong, there are times when only a big hunk of meat will do. Usually it is during barbecue season when all I could envision is my brother-in-law's beautifully spiced filet mignon, so rare it's still quivering. But, for the most part, I find myself eating vegetarian dishes; there just seems to be more variety there.

Rafa wouldn't happily live a vegetarian life - in fact, he'd view it as a malnourished one. Of course I'm not surprised, he growing up in the country of meat. For Christmas, they would have a huge side of a pig in their chicken, ready for carving for impromptu jamón tapas. It looked strange to me when first seeing it there, hanging out next to the pantry and fridge. It didn't really kick in that it was an animal until I saw its hoof. Hmmmn.

So you could see we come from very different foodie ideals. I thought a sort of compromise was needed, but of course, since I'm the cook, it always tends to lean in my favor. Muahahahaha.

120. Chickpea, Bacon and Mushroom soup - *Soup*
121. Chickpea, Bacon and Mushroom soup (soup pasta variation) - *Soup*

Number 121 was for Rafa for dinner when he got home from work, and 120 is for me for my lunch today. It is basically the same recipe with some pasta added to one of the bowls once the soup was done.

So the soup -- so easy and a pleasure to make, because I just love the idea of making a stock and healthy soup from scratch.

First, I sweated some some onions, carrots and garlic in a little bit of olive oil and salt. This was the 'base' of the stock. Smelled fabulous at this point.

The meaty part of the original recipe involved first cooking some bacon and then adding the veggies to that oil, but the compromise was no bacon, because I was eating this soup too! :) I didn't let on that there was supposed to be bacon in the soup, but instead decided to bulk it up for Rafa so he hopefully wouldn't notice there was no meat.

While the vegetables were sweating, I soaked some porcini mushrooms in warm water. After a bit, I drained and sliced them and reserved the dark liquid. (My friend, Jean, in Scotland, was kind enough to send me a huge bag of porcinis, so my porcini liquid cup runneth over. Can't wait to make some more risotto too -- Thanks, Jean!)

Once the vegetables got soft, I added tomato pureé, a can of chickpeas with its juice, the sliced mushrooms, two bay leaves,
and enough of the porcini liquid to top the vegetables. This simmered for about a half an hour. And that was the first soup done!

For the second soup, Tom said I could boil up some ditalini or macaroni. I had both so decided to include the two. It was about 50g in total for a serving of soup.

And that was Rafa's hearty dinner for when he came back home from a long day at work. He liked it and would swill around the mushrooms because he thought they were beef slices. I let him on to the secret that there was not actually any meat there -- he said what harm would there be in a couple of cubes of meat. I think that's his way of telling me he needs some meat. I'll see what I can do....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Il Bastardo

Last night I probably offended all of the Italians in the world by doing a complete bastardized version of a popular pasta dish. But, in true Cupboard Love fashion, I needed to use what I had, provided it wasn't too out of the box!

119. Tomato, Bacon and Onion Sauce (Amatriciana) - *Pasta*

In my Internet research post-dinner last night, I found that amatriciana sauce comes from the town of Amatrice in Italy; most of the time, it involves pancetta or bacon, tomatoes, and a punchy hit of a hot pepper. It is garnished with pecorino romano, and served on top bucatini, a thick strand of spaghetti that has the center hollowed out. Well turns out I wasn't the only one who bastardized this dish, as Tom uses this sauce for penne, ha!, and with parmesan and no pepper.

But, at any rate, I had to use what I had available. I don't like bacon, so I wanted to make this for Rafa, since he comes home late from work, and I figured it would be something nice to come home to. Our bacon in the fridge was not looking its best; I had to throw it away. I was looking around for something else that was kinda smoked and definitely in the pork-y realm. I found the chorizo. I knew Rafa wouldn't object to having a tomato sauce with loads of chorizo, but I wasn't sure how it would taste. I decided to give it a try.

So first I chopped up about 100 grams of chorizo. I added them to a hot pan with a little bit of olive oil, as the chorizo was quite oily already. Once the chorizo got crispy, I added a chopped onion and some sage leaves. I let this fry for a bit.

Then, I added a nice splash of red wine. I used pseudo-plonk, though, I have to admit. It was an old bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, hehehe. The sauce reduced a little bit, and then I added some squeezed out plum tomatoes (San Marzano, but of course) to the pan with a pinch of salt.

The penne was ready, and after draining it, I tossed it in some butter off the heat. I added the tomato sauce and some chopped parmesan. I kept the whole thing warm while Rafa was experiencing his idea of hell on Earth; the evening commute! He came home to a lovely warm bowl of pasta.

He really enjoyed the pasta. He loves chorizo, of course, but also appreciated the lovely smell of wine emanating from the bowl. Bless him. He can't detect plonk either!

While he was eating I came upon an epiphany. I could just cook the things he likes for those nights when he works late. My dinner is out of the way; and I have time to make his and I don't even have to eat it! Yippee! So I become a good and nurturing wife, and a successful blogger!

Monday, September 18, 2006

An article and three recipes...

For the cupboard-hoarders; you know who you are!

September 17, 2006
Food - New York Times
The Way We Eat: The Cookout

I know I had a very good reason for purchasing two pounds of lupini beans in the winter of 2005. But what was it?

I pulled out old cooking magazines, interrogated my husband and made a few desperate phone calls to Italy, where friends had no suggestions but did ask that I respect time-zone differences the next time I had a food inquiry.

But the beans had to go — as did the two cans of pumpkin, bags of lentils, a tin of wasabi powder, chicken stock, walnuts, pecans, garam masala, coconut milk and lots and lots of rice. I was moving from New York to California, and the entirety of my pantry could not come with me. So in between lunches with old friends, school picnics and crying jags precipitated by my inability to find the dry-cleaning receipt, I would boil, broil, baste and sauté these ingredients away.

Perhaps you are like Mrs. Virkus, the mother of my childhood friend Jill, who diligently recorded every family dinner, down to the last ground-beef “porcupine ball.” I’ll bet Mrs. Virkus always knew when she was out of paprika. Or perhaps your larder is more like mine, full of the detritus of good intentions, stemming from a combination of time-management issues, absent-mindedness and an inflated sense of your culinary skill and your family’s willingness to indulge you.

All cooks have things in the pantry they cannot live without. My list: dried pasta, sea salt, cocoa powder, curry and plenty of baking powder. Then there are those things we seem to get left with: cans of pumpkin (holiday baking), mustard seeds (for pickling) and five bags of lentils and rice, an inch in each bag.

In a subcategory of leftovers are those ingredients you buy for one recipe — like that wasabi — use a teaspoon of and then curse each time they clonk you on the head as you reach for a can of tomato paste. You don’t toss them, because you like to think of yourself as the sort of person who really ought to be cooking regularly with wasabi paste.

Then there are the vacation ingredients, meant to recapture a beloved meal made elsewhere, which, of course, is rarely successful. Old Bay seasoning, so enjoyed on those crabs I pummeled during a summer vacation in Delaware, has no rightful place in a New York pantry in December. Finally, there is the ingredient abuse of which I am most ashamed: comestible posing. You know the drill: you flip through a new cookbook or the latest issue of this magazine and say to yourself, “Hey, yes, I will make bobotie tonight.” You go to three different stores, ferret out each exotic ingredient, come home, pull out a few pans and order pizza. No judgment!

So, left with these categories of goods, I flipped through cookbooks, scanned recipe sites and bothered one friend relentlessly for ideas on how to cook down my pantry without having to buy more ingredients. A new favorite emerged, Goan coconut-milk pilaf, from the lovely cookbook “1,000 Indian Recipes,” by Neelam Batra, which had two important elements: speed and lots of ingredients. My supply of basmati rice, married with several spices and an onion, suddenly formed a fragrant side dish. The garam masala and that coconut milk gave it some zip. I had no cardamom pods, and had no intention of buying them, but the dried stuff was fine.

On to the lentils. My expectations were low when I took on a soup with pounded walnuts and cream, because the recipe called for only 10 ingredients, including water (though I chose to use chicken stock, and you should, too). I used the brown lentils I purchased in bulk months ago at an Indian grocery store but I am positive I would have thrown in a cup each of all the lentils in my pantry. The soup was simple and flavorful on its own, but when mixed with the mashed paste of my leftover walnuts and some crème fraîche (a process that takes less than five minutes), it was divine.

Lentils? Cooked. Wasabi powder? Coming with me. Pumpkin? To be fair, the failure of a panna cotta adapted from the book “Italian Two Easy” (my idea was to add the pumpkin) was largely my fault, as I did not properly calculate the gelatin-to-pumpkin-and-milk ratios. But the authors didn’t help any by suggesting that I remove the gelatin from the milk after soaking it, which is a little like suggesting you strain the sugar from your morning coffee after adding it. One panna cotta slid obediently from its ramekin, doing a little dessert shimmy on the plate. The other formed a gloppy puddle. But when rejiggered and prepared as it is here, it’s a fabulous alternative to the standard pumpkin pie. Sometimes leftover ingredients and ambition alone do not do the trick.

And that big bag of lupini beans? Pie weights. This Thanksgiving in Los Angeles.

Goan Coconut-Milk Pilaf
2 tablespoons grated fresh coconut or shredded unsweetened dried coconut

1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 1-inch stick cinnamon
5 whole cloves
6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed (or 1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups basmati rice, sorted and washed
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon Goan vindaloo powder or garam masala
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped.

1. Dry-roast the coconut in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, but just barely darker in color, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom pods and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onion (and ground cardamom, if using) and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Mix in rice, coconut milk, 1 ¾ cups water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, mix in the coconut, vindaloo powder (or garam masala) and cilantro. Serves 6.

Adapted from “1,000 Indian Recipes,” by Neelam Batra.

Lentil Soup With Pounded Walnuts and Cream

2 cups lentils
2 to 4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or water)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large garlic cloves
2/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 tablespoons minced parsley, optional.

1. Soak the lentils in water for 2 hours, then drain.
2. Melt the butter in a large pot over low heat. Add the onion and bay leaf. Sauté over medium-high heat until onion is translucent, 5 minutes. Add lentils, stock and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with a large pinch of salt. Add the walnuts and work until finely ground. Add 2 tablespoons crème fraîche, mixing it in a teaspoon at a time, to form a paste.
4. Add the remaining ½ cup crème fraîche to the finished soup. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a large spoonful of walnut cream, a bit of ground pepper and, if desired, a sprinkle of parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from “Vegetable Soups,” by Deborah Madison.

Pumpkin Panna Cotta
1 ½ tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 2 2 ½ -ounce packets)

2 ½ cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg.

1. In a bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1 cup milk and let sit for 10 minutes.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining milk, cream, sugar and salt to just before boiling. Whisk the gelatin mixture, pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg into the warmed cream. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, then strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Do not press on the solids. Pour into 5 ¾ -cup ramekins and chill for at least 3 hours.
3. To serve, dip the base of a ramekin in hot water until the panna cotta is loose. Lay a plate on top and invert it. You may need to shake the ramekin to release the panna cotta. Serves 5.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Brilliant! Brilliant!

My friend, Clarice, is visiting in NYC for a short while. She brought me a fantastic gift. Oh, how did she know??!! LOL.

This wonderful book covers the history of rice and risotto, and then gives a multitude of recipes for my favorite thing on this Earth!! ... it even has recipes for making different kinds of stock! I'm so excited, especially because I started another blog a little while ago that I haven't had a chance to contribute to yet because I wanted to give CL its deserved respect!!! But watch this space, or rather that space for my fabulous adventures in risotti-eating, risotti-making, and other culinary adventures too, because even I could never eat risotto every day. :)) It won't turn into a risotto-ized version of Supersize Me, LOL.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Says he: "I prefer the chicken"

I'm continuing on my cooking marathon and going back to the Indian chapter, which I haven't visited in a long time.

118. Aubergine Tikka - *Indian*

Last time I made tikka, it was a chicken tikka. At that time, I paired it with Tom's masala sauce. I remember how lovely it tasted, so I thought it'd be a good idea to pair the veggie version with the sauce as well.

I have to say at this point that Rafa was not too enthusiastic about eating a veggie curry. He has been craving curry, and so have I, but his cravings for anything usually include some sort of meat. He finally gave in, so I made this dish for two.

First, you 'marinate' the vegetables. The marinade is basically lemon juice, minced garlic and ginger, salt, cumin, coriander, light olive oil and smoked paprika. The veggies (aubergine, red pepper and red onion) are chopped and tossed in the marinade. Then, they are roasted for 40 minutes in a moderate oven.

I made the masala sauce and rice while the veggies were roasting. I didn't make any changes to the sauce, but did use red onions instead of white, to mirror the onions in the roast.

Once the vegetables were fully roasted...

I added them to the gorgeous and silky sauce. I then scooped them on top the rice and served dinner.

This was delicious!! Many of you know I don't like roasted vegetables, especially peppers, but they were nice and soft, and besides, this masala sauce is killer! I am thinking of making a couple of batches and bottling it for when Rafa is home alone, and he could make chicken tikka masala.

Speaking of which, I asked for Rafa's opinion of the veggie tikka masala.

Me: So, was your veggie tikka masala so bad?
He: I prefer the chicken.
Me: I know, but was it so bad?
He: It was OK, but I prefer the chicken.

Oh well, I tried. LOL.

The 'Opa' Sandwich

With all the lovely goodies I got in Astoria, I wanted to commemorate my trip there with a lovely meal.
I had halloumi! Which means, I could make the halloumi sandwich in CL!

117. Halloumi, Rocket and Tomato 'Club' - *Toast*

This is the only vegetarian club sandwich in CL, and not having any bacon in it, it was A-OK with me. I put the sandwich together quickly and satisfied my hungry belly.

First, I made a sort of dressing - lemon juice, smoked paprika, and olive oil.

I tossed this with some salad leaves. The sandwich is supposed to have only rocket, but I didn't have that, so used a mixture, though, rocket (arugula) was in there! I also sliced a tomato very thinly.

I sliced some halloumi too...

and assembled the sandwich. I used the 'greek' bread, as it was just calling me the whole subway ride home.

This was delicious! YUM! Soooo good! I love halloumi! It is salty and has a different texture, but it was really good. I loved it in this sandwich. I even made one for my lunch today. Mmmm, can't wait.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Magical Culinary Tour: Astoria

Here we go again, on another trip to an exotic destination. This time, it's Astoria, Queens. :))

Let's face it, these trips are just as much for me as they are for you. I have lived in New York since I was six years old, but have not even scratched the surface when it comes to seeing all that New York has to offer. Astoria is no different. It is known for its Greek neighborhoods, and of course, its Greek food.

I was in search of one thing: halloumi! Halloumi is not impossible to find in Manhattan, but all the small blocks I have seen have been around the $7 mark. It's almost an insult to this New Yorker to go with the first price I see and not search for something better. And after shelling out close to $7 for the crapgonzola the other day, I cannot spend so much on cheese I am not entirely sure I would even like. Halloumi is described as squeaky, salty, styrofoamy... Mmmm, ok. Well it's just cheese for pete's sake; so why am I getting panic attacks about it??? Speaking of cheese, I am really happy I'm not a cheese-o-phile. I do love my parmesan (and I'm not talking poorman'sgrana) but I could see if I was obsessed with it how it would become a very expensive thang to be hung up on.

So back to the tour. I had do some recon before heading out. Ah, the wonders of a T1 connection at work ('bout time!) and free paper and printer ink at my disposal.

Plus, all photojournalists, such as myself (wink, wink) have a trusty MTA map on their office walls as well.

We don't want to get lost in the land of souvlaki and tzatziki. Opa! (By the way, Russians say that too!)

Back to the matter at hand, shortly after finishing up work I headed north and then east to Astoria. According to my 'Astoria File', Steinway Street was supposed to be a good starting point as it is known as "The World's Longest Department Store". I wouldn't say it was a department store, as such, it just seemed to be a long, very long, stretch with horrible Eurotrashy boutiques, blech. I went to Astoria to do some Greek-spotting, but wasn't seeing any. I finally turned on 30th Avenue and things started changing. There were some hip restaurants on the corners, and greek grocery stores cropped up here and there.

My first stop was Elliniki Gona ("Greek Corner"). What bullcrap. It was just a typical grocery store, and the only thing 'Greek' about it were the packages of feta that were found in the refrigerated section -- packages of feta, mind you, that anyone can find in any grocery store here.

I didn't let that distract me from my goal: cheap halloumi! Then I happened to see Cyprus Deli. Well, halloumi is from Cyprus, score! The store was cute and did offer halloumi at the cheapest I have seen. A package roughly double of what I have seen in Manhattan only cost me $5.19. The price for a pound was $7.99. Excellent, so I bought it, of course. I even managed a pic of the store, though I looked like a complete weirdo for taking a picture of cheese! Ah, all for my readers.

Then, I stopped off at a bigger store, Mediterranean Foods, with a huge deli counter. There, the halloumi was $5.99 a pound! What??!! Well I'm not all for returning cheese, so I lowered my head and declared myself un-victorious. Next time, next time. But here are some pics, and I got some fab kalamata olives and Greek yogurt. Though, of course, in Astoria, they just call it yogurt. ;)

Mediterranean Foods had Greek flags everywhere and was chock-full of products imported from the Motherland. I was really impressed; this must be a Greek New Yorker's idea of heaven.

Now that I had my halloumi plus other things, I decided to walk around and in and out of shops to see what else Greek Astoria had to offer. I went into a bakery...

... and had an interesting conversation with the young woman who worked there.

Me: Do you have Greek bread?

She: (Showing me a rustic-looking loaf of white bread) Here is a loaf of white bread.

Me: OK, but do you have Greek bread, maybe something smaller.

She: Well this is smaller, it's just white bread.

Me: Erm, ok, but is it Greek?

She: It's white bread.

LOL. Well I guess we've removed any doubts at all that it was white bread. I bought the yummy looking loaf, still not knowing if it is Greek. Hmmmn, no matter.

I set my sights on walkng a bit further to the supposed Greek superstore, Titan. I passed a window with a wide selection of olive oil on the way... (Man, these Greeks really love their flags, don't they?)

and a couple of more places where the names of the stores made me chuckle.

I shortly reached the mecca of all things Greek, Titan!

Not many things take my breath away. But walking into Titan, I was impressed!

I think it had to do with the entire fridge of Greek yogurt. You don't know what a big deal that is to me. And it's the cheapest I have ever seen it, I think, but I need to consult with my sources on that.

There were huge deli counters and endless vats of olives. A fabulous bakery, where I got my bro-in-law his favorite kourampiedes. They are powdered little cookies. That's the best way I could describe them.

The whole time I was at Titan I kept thinking how I wish I had a shopping list so I could really make the most of my trip there. I was completely unprepared!! I need to go back, just so that I could stock up on yogurt and olives.

So, all in all, the trip up there was definitely worth it. I got lots of goodies (pic to come), and even found a cute Italian deli where La Bella San Marzano tomatoes were to be found at the cheapest I have seen, just $1 a can. Astoria is a foodie's dream, not to mention the chic restaurant scene. Yes, yes I must go back!

When I got back home, I made good use of some of the stuff I bought... Coming soon!

Look up 'slacker' in the dictionary....

... and my smiling face is there!

I work for a textbook publisher. We publish the same books I used when I went to high school. Today, the Science Director asked me to send some sample books to one of our authors, a Chemistry teacher. I had written back to said Science Director that Mr. Author was actually my Chemistry teacher. We had a good cyber-chuckle over it, and I had remembered how Mr. Author and another Chemistry teacher of mine were so cross at me senior year; I had prepared and prepared, I mean came to school on Saturdays!!!, for the Advanced Placement Chemistry test. I was a fab student; kicked Chemistry's ass. There was no formula or chemical equation I couldn't figure out. When it came time for the morning of the exam, I just didn't show up. I, instead, went to Algebra class, and in true Ilana fashion, pretended like I had nowhere else to be that morning. Mr. Author and other teacher looked for me all over school and finally found me innocently doing some Algebra problems in class. They took me out of class and begged me, I think I even saw tears, to please follow them so I could take the AP exam. I flatly refused. I was scared, I told them. They said I could get a '3' (the passing grade) in my sleep. But that wasn't good enough for me; if I didn't get a 5, I didn't even want to bother.

I was thinking about all of this now at work and it has dawned on me, like it has time and time again, that I haven't changed one bit. I am a slacker. But more than that, my slacker tendencies have a root. I'm intimidated, scared of something, and instead of facing problems head-on I just go on with the rest of my life like nothing's wrong. I have been at this job for 3 1/2 years. I told myself I'd quit after 1 1/2 years. Well, obviously, I'm stilll here. I told myself I'd quit any second but it's just that uncertainty. I'd love to portray this persona of a tough-as-nails New Yorker, but that just ain't me. When the going gets tough, Ilana hides under her desk and hopes no one will find her. Eeek, too much info. All I'm trying to say is I'm trying to improve my life, and while doing so, I don't know how much cooking and creating I can accomplish, but I am trying, honest. Having a blog doesn't give you the luxury of disappearing from the face of the Earth, which I tend to do very well.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Virtuous Soup

Although we were a bit cool here in NYC for a little while, the mercury was rising for a little bit and it's still not what you'd call soup weather! However, in my haste to get back into soup making, I had bought a couple of leeks over a week ago. The weather was just not cold enough to make soup but the leek was soon to go over into the 'other' world. To salvage it, I decided to make soup anyway, and a virtous one at that!

116. Leek and Potato Soup - *Soup*

Leek and potatoes seem to be a usual combination. Unsurprisingly, this combo was unknown to me but I don't have a problem with either so I figured this soup would be Ilana-friendly. I am still feeling a bit bruised after my gorgonzola debacle.

This soup is of the 'bulked up' variety that really is a meal in itself. That was good news for me since I was on my own and watching the final of the U.S. Open. I needed to keep my eye on every grunt and ace, so it was also great that this soup was not too labor-intensive.

First, I peeled and sliced a leek. I did the same with a garlic clove...

... and added them to a pan with a bit of 2% milk. When the leek and garlic became soft...

... I added salt, water, and a chopped potato. I let this simmer until the potato was very tender, and then I added a bit more milk and water and some rosemary (I didn't have tarragon, but that's OK because I don't like its licorice-ey taste). The soup was then done. I had it with some focaccia I made the other night that I had frozen for just this type of occasion.

I at first wasn't too sure how I would feel about a milky soup, but it was actually really nice and creamy and full of flavor. However, even though I successfully halved the recipe, I discovered that the soup was a bit too salty for my taste. I was thinking of how to improve the soup next time around with just about half the amount of salt, and then I realized I had actually forgotten to halve the amount of salt in the first place! Durr! So Tom's measurement of one teaspoon for 4-6 servings is spot on! I am sorry I doubted you, Master Tom!

I could really imagine eating this soup on cold winter nights. It is quick, easy, and most importantly, scrummy!

Rafa is due back from work in a little bit, and I have his portion on the hob. Since a lot of liquid is lost, I added more milk and water to his serving. Hopefully the salt component has gone down a bit! :)

Update: Rafa loved this soup! He was quite enthusiastic about it and actually asked if there was more! Capital! Well I guess I'll be making this soon. Next time I will watch the salt anyway and add more milk and water to give more soup. YUM!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Feel Bad Bleu

Pasta is comfort food - that's a given. In his Pasta chapter, Tom points out that one of the dishes just speaks a wet November. Well, we're in September, but are we wet!! Still pissing down here; hate this weather, just hate it.

Of course, that all changes when it comes to comfort food. Although the pasta includes a cheese I am not too sure I like too much, I decided to bite the bullet and get some of the cheese at the posh, fancy Manhattan grocery store after work. I was hoping that the dish would get me out of my cold-weather blues by introducing me to its own bleu.

115. Penne with Gorgonzola and Walnuts - *Pasta*

Gorgonzola, the final frontier. These are the eating adventures of the blogster Ilana. Her continuing mission: to explore strange new cheeses, to seek out new ingredients and new dishes, to boldly eat what most people have eaten before.

I chose the 'dolce' variety of gorgonzola because I wanted to take it a bit easy on myself. I have only really had gorgonzola in blue cheese dressing and on top of some salad a little while ago. It didn't appeal, but wasn't too bad, and it's not because it had blue veins, it was just, well, stinky. But I thought in a pasta and in a sauce it would mellow a bit.

The recipe couldn't be any easier. You first roast some walnuts in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes. Then, you boil up some penne, while you get on with the sauce. First, heat some heavy cream in a pan and add the walnuts and a few sage leaves.
Once it has simmered for about 3 minutes, you take the pan off the heat and add the gorgonzola, which has been cut into little cubes. The cheese is quite soft so melts in quite quickly, even though it is not on the heat.

Some butter is tossed through the cooked penne, and then the gorgonzola sauce is added. That's it.

Ok, the truth. I really didn't like it. :( Ok, even more truthful, I took three bites and threw out the entire thing. Waaaah. I don't even know why I feel so bad about it, but it's the same feeling I get when I admit that I hate wine.

See, I must have been asleep when everybody else around me learned to be cultural. All I know is after high school no one was drinking wine, and all of a sudden, in college, people would be having dinner parties and the thing to bring was wine. Everybody was drinking; I felt like the oddball, like what did they know that I didn't know. My disdain with most things people seem to like doesn't seem to be only in the alcohol realm. Tuna fish, smelly cheeses, dark chocolate, figs, etc. I just don't get it. Give me a chocolate cupcake over a chocolate mousse any day! Maybe I am the Petite Unsophisticate, but I really don't care anymore. I know what I like, and what I don't like. I don't like blue cheese, I DON'T LIKE BLUE CHEESE! LOL. But the one thing this blog has made me do is to at least try new things. At least I know for a fact that I don't like them.

So take your Murray's Cheese Shop and shove it. I'll meet you at the Magnolia Bakery instead. :)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Picky Eaters Club: Month 5

This is Tom N-D:

'Anyone, anyone???'

This is me:


So I've made FIVE recipes in August. Count 'em - one two three four five! Woohoo! I really should slow down or I may have nothing to cook in September, my last month of the project!!

Ok well obviously I won't finish the project on time, surprise suprise. So, I have decided to free myself mentally and otherwise and not have a deadline. That's right, no deadline. I will finish CL when I finish it. But I don't intend to drag it out at all, so keep reading. I will be cooking, I promise.

So let's look on the bright side; I have cooked 114 recipes out of a single book! I don't think I have ever cooked that much out of one book, so good for you, Ilana. I made some lovely dishes in August. Here's a summary:

110. Bacon Omelette - *Toast*

111. Pasta with Pesto - *Pasta*

112. Spaghetti with Ricotta and Herbs (variation) - *Pasta*

113. Mackerel and Ginger (but with salmon) - Stir Fries

114. Potato, cabbage and chorizo soup - *Soup*

Now that the weather is getting cooler, I can imagine cooking lots more soups and curries and stir-fries. I really do hope I get back on-track because I fear I'm not being a very good Tom N-D representative. Considering that out of 114 recipes I've loved about 50-75% of them, I think that is a good indication of a great cookbook. My inability to make my target date is not so much an un-love of Tom and cupboarding, but more an un-love with scheduling and plans. Gives a whole new meaning to the lazy days of summer! :)