Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saffron Rice

For about the past year I have started putting food items on my Christmas list. They are usually things that I can't find or that I want but wouldn't spend my own money on. For my birthday last year, Brett's mom was kind enough to indulge my eccentric wish list by getting me some saffron. This is one of the most expensive spices out there (more expensive than silver by weight!) so I definitely was not going to buy it myself. And I wasn't going to use it frivolously either.

I saw Giada making saffron rice on TV a while back and actually wrote down the entire recipe while I watched the show. I stumbled across the recipe as we were straightening up around the apartment recently, and decided that it would be a great way to use saffron for the first time.

I cooked some bacon (the recipe called for pancetta but I already had bacon on hand) and then poured the drippings into a pot along with 1/2 a T of butter. That's what Giada did on TV even though the online recipe says to discard the drippings. I sauteed a chopped Spanish onion until it was soft and translucent.

I had never used basmati rice but the package said "aromatic" so of course the first thing I did when I opened the package was smell it. Unfortunately my first thought was "dog food." But I decided that I would use it anyway and poured it in with the onions and stirred it around until the grains started to brown just a tiny bit.

I poured in a box of chicken stock, less salt than the recipe called for, and a precious pinch of saffron. I put the lid on and let it simmer away. The recipe said to let it cook for 20 minutes, but I'm so thankful that I'm a hovering cook because I checked on it in five minute intervals. I was surprised that all the liquid was absorbed and the rice was cooked after only 10 minutes!

I was so excited to try it that I forgot to put the bacon crumbles on top! It was delicious! About half way through my meal I remembered my bacon, but I actually preferred it without. The bacon taste is so strong that it overpowers the rice. Brett liked it too, which is a good thing because we ended up with a TON of leftovers. Next time I will half the recipe and use an olive oil/butter combo instead of messing with bacon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dinner Rolls

It has been a while since I have been 100% happy with a new recipe, but I've got to toot my own horn on this one. I have discovered the most perfect dinner rolls ever! Of course this recipe came from Taste of Home's Baking Book, which is where most of our bread recipes come from. The recipe will make 24 rolls, so I halved it. I even wrote out all the ingredients already halved on a sticky note and placed it over the the ingredient list in the book so I wouldn't accidently look at the wrong list.

2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
1/2 tsp sugar and 1/6 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
5/8 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees)
1/4 cup melted and cooled butter
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour

How could I possibly mess something up? Well, I swapped the milk and the water. So instead of 1/4 cup of water it ended up being 5/8 cup of water. I was worried from the beginning that I had messed up, but it turned out not to be a big deal. I dissolved the yeast and 1/2 tsp of sugar in the water and then added the milk, butter, salt, the rest of the sugar, the egg, and half the flour. I mixed that with a fork until it was pretty smooth and then I added the rest of the flour. Then I got to kneading. Usually I knead until all the flour is thoroughly absorbed. This time I kneaded for the full six minutes that the recipe called for. Maybe this is what made the difference. I can't say for sure, but I know in the future that I will knead for however long the recipe tells me to.

Our method for rising is simple. The dough goes in a greased bowl covered in foil. We put the dough in the off oven with a pan of hot water underneath for about an hour. It works really well.

When the dough had doubled in size I punched it down and tried to divide it equally into twelve pieces. These pieces were formed into balls by pulling the dough down into a little nub at the bottom. It's kind of like a balloon: smooth and round on top, with a little nub on the bottom. The balls went nub side down into a greased 9x13 pan.

I let them rise again and then uncovered and baked them for 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven and they came out PERFECT! So incredibly perfect. I went on and on about them all through dinner. And I'm not crazy because Brett loved them too and he even gave me a, "Good job," which is high praise from him.

We will definitely see these again, but maybe next time I won't mix up the water and milk. Or maybe I will. Don't mess with a good thing, right?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Potato and Leek Pizza

My parents gave me The Pioneer Woman's cookbook for Christmas and I've just now gotten around to trying one of the recipes. I first went through the cookbook when I was super hungry and EVERYTHING looked good, but later when I went through on a more discerning stomach I was surprised that the Potato and Leek Pizza is what jumped out at me the most. I guess I shouldn't be that surprised. Like an elementary school student, my favorite food is pizza.

Brett, of course, was wary. He wasn't sure if he liked leeks, and he definitely wasn't sure that potatoes belonged on pizza. I think bacon, and the fact that I had already purchased the ingredients, swayed him to agree.

We joked about what Brett's dad, who is a very traditional "Meat Lovers" pizza guy, would say. Since he can't even fathom pineapples on a pizza, this one would surely leave him flabbergasted.

Brett and I split duties. This is my favorite way to cook. There's less work and someone to keep you company. And it goes so much faster!

He was in charge of the bacon (I don't like the splattering.)

And as much as I love our mandoline, Brett is better at getting it to cooperate. He's figured out that if you don't attach the sliding hand grip to the mandoline that it works a lot better. He sliced the red potatoes as thin as the mandoline would allow.

I wanted to see if I could see through them. I could not.

I was in charge of the leeks, which needed chopping and washing. I sloshed the chopped leeks around in a bowl of water to get rid of all the dirt that gets trapped between the leaves. Brett was not the only one who got to use a fun kitchen gadget. I got to dry the leeks in the salad spinner!

I also mixed up a batch of our favorite pizza dough and sauteed the leeks in some of the bacon grease.

I was so excited to get started on constructing the pizza that I forgot two pretty important steps. I didn't poke the pizza crust with a fork so that it doesn't rise in the center and I didn't put the pizza peel under the dough before adding the toppings. But of course I didn't realize either of these at the time.

We drizzled olive oil, put a single layer of potato slices, and then sprinkled some salt all over the pizza.

Next came the mozzarella cheese, leeks, crumbled bacon, and fresh ground black pepper. Pioneer Woman also adds goat cheese and parmesan cheese, but we decided to leave those off. It looked so pretty!

Then we realized that we had forgotten the pizza peel and tried to shimmy it underneath without disturbing the toppings too much. One side of the pizza did end up a little balder than the other.

When it came out of the oven I realized that I had forgotten to poke holes in the dough. The center had risen up and spilled some cheese off onto the baking stone.

The final verdict was that we liked it. The texture of the potatoes was kind of weird at first, but not at all bad. Brett said the leeks were fine. I thought they were wonderful. And of course the bacon and cheese were the best parts. I did notice that this kind of pizza is more filling than a traditional pizza. I could only eat two pieces instead of my usual three. Overall it was a success!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jalpeno-Potato Chowder

The second recipe I tried out of my new vegetarian cookbook was Jalapeno-Potato Chowder.

I chopped up 1/2 a cup of onion and green bell pepper and cooked that in 3 T of butter for about 5 minutes.

I also chopped up 3 cups of potatoes and put those on to boil. I don't remember for how long, but I know that I tasted a crunchy one and let it go for a few minutes longer.

Now for the "chowder" part I added 3 T of flour to the onions and bell peppers and let that cook for about a minute and then gradually added in 2 and 1/2 cups of milk. I kind of lagged a little on the "stirring constantly" so the milk scalded a little on the bottom. Then I added corn, the drained potatoes, half of a minced jalapeno, some dried thyme, and some salt. After the parmesan cheese disaster with the risotto I was very careful about adding salt. Add a little, taste a little.

The chowder was ok on that first night. It was a little bland, so we kept adding salt until it was pretty good. What really surprised me was that it was very good for lunch the following day. It was thicker and had more flavor after sitting in the fridge overnight. So this one may be seen again, but it may be one of those make ahead meals.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Creamy Corn and Garlic Risotto

Last week was a doozy. Car problems. Computer problems. Recipe problems. I'll assume that you are only interested in the recipe problems.

I got a couple of new cookbooks for Christmas, including a vegetarian cookbook that has been on my list for two years now. The first recipe I chose out of this new cookbook sounded delicious. How can I go wrong with corn, garlic, and risotto?

I chopped a lot of garlic, measured out my arborio rice, and got out the frozen corn. I brought a tiny bit of vegetable stock up to a boil and added the garlic, then the rice and then the corn. I added the rest of the broth a little bit at a time, until the rice was cooked through.

So far so good. I tasted it and thought, "Eh, not bad but it needs a little something. Probably salt. The parmesan cheese will add salt." Then I came to the last step: "Stir in cheeses and parsley." Well, lets just say that I made the mistake of using the stuff in the green canister. Jeffrey Steingarten would be appauled. I dumped in the entire 1/2 cup that the recipe called for. Not a little bit and then taste. The whole amount. It made the risotto way too salty. Almost inedible. I hate it when I know better, but I do what the recipe says anyway.

And I was so distracted about ruining dinner that I entirely forgot about the fresh chopped parsely I had waiting on the cutting board. Brett suggested that I could add it in tomorrow when I eat the leftover risotto for lunch. Like I'm eating that for lunch! Yuck!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

French Onion Soup

I have been wanting to make French Onion Soup for a very long time and now I have finally done it. I mostly used Pioneer Woman's recipe, but with one key change- I cooked the onions completely on the stovetop because I don't have an oven proof pot big enough for all those onions.

I sliced six yellow onions. I normally love chopping up an onion (as long as I'm using my trusty sharp knife.) But six? At first I was thinking that maybe this was a bad idea. The very first onion made my eyes start to water. As Zack Morris would say, "It was peeling onion day in Home-Ec."

But after I took a break, wiped my eyes, and blew my nose, I was good to go. I powered through all six onions while an entire stick of butter melted in my big pot.

I was a little worried when all those onions completely filled my pot, but with some careful stirring and lots of time they cooked down beautifully. I've put together a slideshow so you can watch the onions cook down.

The onions took about 45 minutes to start browning nicely. That's when I added the wine. It is pretty common knowledge that Brett and I don't drink. It's a personal choice that we think is healthy and cheap. We sometimes joke about all the money we've saved by not buying six dollar drinks. Anyways, we occasionally do get a bottle of wine as a gift and I always say that we'll cook with it sometime. Well this is the first time I have ever cooked with wine. This bottle of wine was particularly funny because, unbeknownst to the giver, this was the same wine that was served at our wedding, and from the same year too! I had to dig through a storage bin to find a corkscrew, but I got it open.

I added a cup and backed off. The smell that many wine drinkers probably love just smells like alcohol to me. I had a fleeting thought that I had just ruined dinner. After that cooked down for about five minutes I braved a taste of an onion and I actually liked it.

I added beef and chicken stock, two cloves of minced garlic, and a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce. This simmered for forty five minutes.

While that was simmering along I toasted some thin slices of bread under the broiler.

I had every intention of buying Gruyere cheese but couldn't believe that in the entire fancy cheese section of my store, there was not a single piece of Gruyere. None! So I went with Provolone.

I did add some salt to the finished soup. It just tasted like it needed something... and usually that means salt. The soup was much better than the blurry picture I've taken. It was very oniony- which for me is a good thing. However it was a little winey- which for me is a bad thing. Next time I will put less wine... or none at all. I haven't decided yet.

Leftovers were a disaster. I took the container out of the fridge to find a layer of butter congealed across the top. Soooooo unappetizing. Next time I will either make less so that I don't have to deal with leftovers or use significantly less butter. Or both.