May 09, 2010

Week 11: Fava Fritters and Lamb Kofta

Our week 11 meal was middle eastern themed. Two of the dishes on our todo list, from Jamie Oliver's book Jamie at Home, looked like they'd pair well together, so we decided to do both. The first dish was fava bean fritters, which were similar to falafel but made from fava beans. The second was lamb kofta kebabs, a wrap of spiced, grilled lamb.

For the fritters, I picked up the fava beans at the Thursday farmer's market near work. The recipe came together relatively easily. Peeling fava beans can be labor intensive, but with Emily's help it went quickly. Emily also put together the yogurt sauce and formed the quenelles. They fried up nicely. The outside was nice and crisp, but they were softer and creamier inside than is typical of falafel. I don't know if this was intended, but the contrast in textures was nice.

The second course was the lamb kofta. Ground lamb is mixed with thyme, cayenne, cumin, and sumac, formed onto skewers and grilled. I was looking forward to this dish because I'd never worked with sumac before, although I've had it in dishes at Loló, a local mexican-turkish restaurant. I only made a couple of minor tweaks to the recipe: I substituted almonds for the pistachios (due to allergies), and I used the lemon/mint yogurt from the fava recipe rather than straight yogurt. The resulting dish was quite good. We want to make it again soon but haven't made time yet.

Week 10: Empanada

Our tenth weekly dish was a little bit of a failure. I made the Empanada from Batali's book Spain - On the Road Again. The recipe called for 25-30 minutes of cooking at 450º. After about 15 minutes, I turned on the oven light and peered through the door to check progress. (I didn't want to let the heat out.) It looked like the empanada hadn't browned at all, which concerned me a little. I checked again at the 30 min mark and saw at it still hadn't browned, so I added another 15 minutes. This time it looked slightly colored, so I opened the door and found that it was deeply browned. The tinted glass in the door had completely masked it. By this time it was way overcooked, but still edible.

Aside from being overdone, the dish was good. The filling was quite hearty—just chorizo, pancetta, onion, and red bell pepper. The crust, of course, was a bit dry. We will give it another try someday, but it may be a while until we get around to it.

April 24, 2010

Week 9: Linguine with Calamari

For week 9, we had linguine with calamari, red peppers, and fennel. I used a recipe from Jamie's Italy with a couple of minor tweaks. The original recipe called for thinly sliced red chilis—Jamie Oliver likes to use them a lot, but I don't often see them in the stores. I still wanted the splash of red color, so I decided to use red bell peppers instead. They gave the dish a Spanish flavor but worked really well. We liked the dish enough to add it to our regular rotation.

The recipe is fairly simple: Cook down some thin slices of fennel with a little garlic. Add white wine, squid, and thin slices of red bell peppers or chilis. Simmer to reduce the wine a little, then start the pasta. Gently simmer the squid while the pasta is cooking. When the pasta is done, toss it with the squid and garnish with some fennel fronds and lemon zest.

April 20, 2010

Week 8: Cauliflower Risotto

For week 8 of the project I made a cauliflower dish. Cauliflower is a very polarizing vegetable—some people love it and others hate it. I was a very picky eater growing up, so I ate it rarely and reluctantly. I would eat small florets raw, usually with dip, but I was never a fan of cooked cauliflower. Eventually, I learned that cauliflower can be very tasty when cooked well.

My favorite cauliflower preparation is the gratin in the Bouchon Cookbook. Keller cooks and purées the inner stems of the plant with some cream. He then seasons the purée with a pinch of curry and horseradish powder, adds the florets, and tops off the dish with some Comté and panko. We also loved the cauliflower velouté that Emily had at Café Boulud in New York.

So when I came across a cauliflower risotto in Jamie's Italy, I decided to give it a try. Like the Keller gratin, the recipe uses both the inner stems and the florets of the cauliflower. The stems are minced and cooked with the onions at the beginning, and the florets are simmered in the stock for the first half of the cooking process. Then they are gradually added to the risotto with the stock. The risotto was finished with some Parmesan and topped with a spicy pangrattato and some parsley.

The risotto turned out well, but it was missing something. We'll probably give it another go with more cheese someday, but there are a lot of other things we want to try making first.

April 08, 2010

Week 7: Easter Dinner

For Easter weekend we decided to make a spring menu from the book Platter of Figs that included an asparagus salad, roast shoulder of spring lamb with beans, and rum baba with cardamom. I had been looking for a lamb dish, figuring that it would be appropriate for Easter, and Emily had been wanting to try baba al rum. So I decided to do the entire menu, just swapping out the first dish for a Mario Batali dish that I saw online—grilled asparagus wrapped with pancetta. Everything is better with pork wrapped around it.

I went to the Ferry Building farmers market for the lamb on Saturday morning. Marin Sun Farms had some nice lamb shoulder, but I accidentally bought boneless lamb leg which was in the same bin. While I was there, I picked up flageolet beans from Rancho Gordo and pancetta from Boccalone.

The beans were simmered with some onion and garlic and finished with a little thyme, salt, and pepper. Although they were cooked very simply, they tasted really good. I will have to make them again sometime.

I mostly followed the recipe for the roast, substituting leg for shoulder, of course. The only change I made was to add a rub of rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. The recipe called for roasting it with a little bit of white wine until the center hit 130°F. I also made the suggested olive relish to serve on top of the lamb. The roast turned out well, but I would have preferred it a little rarer. Pulling it out at 125°F would probably yield better results.

The rum baba was just so-so, and it was most likely my fault. The recipe for the cakes looked like an eggy brioche with multiple long rises, including an overnight one, but I neglected to read the recipe in detail before Sunday. (I had originally planned on making it on Saturday, but I didn't get around to it. I was too busy with the arrival of my iPad, kitchen shelf installation, and graffiti cleanup.) I had to rush the rises a little to get it done in time, and the cold, rainy weather didn’t help. The cake turned out too tough, but the rum syrup with cardamom and candied citrus was really good. I might make the dish again, but I want to give it a try at a restaurant first to see how it’s supposed to turn out. Emily didn’t bother with taking pictures of it this time, so that would be a good excuse for a second attempt.

Although I would make the lamb again, I learned the hard way that I shouldn't microwave the leftovers. The result was so bad that I considered tossing it and going out for lunch, but I couldn't bear to throw out the beans. I’ll either eat it cold or make sandwiches next time.

March 30, 2010

Week 6: Broccolini Pizza, Contigo style

For our new dish this week, I made a pizza inspired by a coca that we had at Contigo. The ingredients on their flatbreads vary from day to day, but they usually have caramelized onions (or another allium) and seasonal vegetables on them. I had remembered a broccolini and manchego one that we particularly liked, but after reviewing their menus I discovered that it actually had broccoli rabe on it.

Broccolini is kind of like broccoli, but with long, thin stalks and small florets. We first had it on a tomato-sauced pizza at Beretta. It was nicely caramelized and complemented the rest of the pizza well.

For the onion compote, I sliced two onions along the grain and very slowly cooked them with a little salt, butter, and a pinch of sugar. After 1–2 hours when they were nicely caramelized, I deglazed with a little vermouth (I didn't have a white wine open) and set it aside.

For the pizza, I used my standard pizza dough, a scaled down Jamie Oliver recipe. I topped it with the compote, some slices of manchego cheese, and some broccolini that I had blanched in salted water.

The result was really good, particularly the parts with thinner crust. I made it again the next weekend, rolling out the pizza thinner, to give it a nice crispy crust, and putting slightly less color on the onions.

March 27, 2010

Week 5: Sheep's Milk Ravioli with Brown Butter and Almonds

This week I made ravioli stuffed with sheep ricotta, parmesan, and orange zest, served with brown butter, almonds, orange juice, and parsley. I mostly followed the recipe from Michael Symon's new book Live to Cook. This recipe is particularly notable because it is a vegetarian recipe from a pork-etarian chef. (There are also some good-looking salads in that book.)

It's been far too long since I've made my own pasta. I think the last time was two years ago when I made butternut squash agnolotti. I've been meaning to give it another go; I even picked up some semolina flour a few months ago. Although I used some of the flour in polenta (per Michael Chiarello), I never got around to making pasta with it.

So this time I made the pasta dough with straight semolina flour and egg yolks. I whizzed it in the food processor to combine and then took it out to knead by hand. Immediately, I discovered that the dough was extremely hard to knead. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be that way or not, so I just carried on. I managed to slowly knead it to a decent texture, but I had to throw my entire weight into it. The next day, my abs were sore. (Perhaps I should make pasta more often.)

I wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to rest – a step that was left out of Symon's book. I figured I had enough time to start over with AP flour if it didn't work out, but the pasta turned out fine. I rolled it down to setting five (I may give six a try next time), added the filling, folded it over, and cut it with one of the nested circle cutters that I got for my birthday.

The brown butter sauce turned out well, and the almonds added a nice crunch to the dish. I'm glad we found out that Emily can eat them. We'll definitely give this another try, maybe with meyer lemon instead of orange. I don't know if it will be the next pasta I make, as I also want to try my hand at Keller's sweet potato agnolotti.