Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weekend hits and misses

As I had a touch of insomnia the other night following the adrenaline fest at The Ballpark (go Rangers!), it seemed like a good idea to mellow out by reading a cookbook and drafting my shopping list for the week.  Knowing I would be traveling during the week, I had but two days to get my cook on.  The wealth of fall recipes from my various cooking magazines once again trumpeted their siren song, but I fought back and also picked up a cookbook off the shelf - Emeril's TV Dinners

I probably have had this cookbook 10 years (or more) by now since it was a Christmas gift from IceDaddy shortly after it was published.  You've heard me wax poetic on Emeril in prior blog posts.  This cookbook in particular is Emeril at his finest - before he had his ill-fated sitcom on NBC and wrote more cookbooks than Rachael Ray.  He had several published prior to this one that are considered better, but this is a good compilation.  No offense to his later work - I admire his goal to make "gourmet" accessible to everyone, but this one reflects his personality and gives dishes that span his childhood, New Orleans influence, and his food philsosophy overall.  He has better cookbooks (such as Lousiana Real and Rustic), but as that focuses more narrowly on Louisiana food, I prefer this for its variety. 

I decided to try a mushroom and prosciutto potato lasagna.  It sounded intriguing and, as potatoes are one of my and IceDaddy's favorite foods, how could we go wrong, right?  Also chosen for a weekend meal was a trio of Cooking Light recipes from their feature "Dinner In Paradise" from last month's issue.  The trio featured a sauteed, then baked chicken breast with a pinot noir sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, and a side of green beans and mushrooms.  To round out the weekend, I selected

Onward to the lasagna....  I started early in the afternoon, assembling all of the ingredients and cooking the mushroom ragu before the lasagna assembly and baking.  I love my mandoline (thanks sweetie for the Christmas gift!).  I made perfect 1/16th inch potato slices without any trouble.  The recipe suggests a variety of potatoes.  I chose to interpret this narrowly and selected russets and reds, both peeled, then sliced.  It suggested sweet potatoes, but as those are not to Ice's taste, I elected not to use them. 

$10 worth of mushrooms later (dried exotic mushroom mix that I rehydrated, shitakes, baby bellas, and cremini), I sauteed the mushroom melange with sliced prosciutto.  How can you go wrong with pork fat, right?  Three layers of potatoes, four of the sauce, and perhaps one of the best ricotta/paremesan/mozzarella mixtures I've tasted (I swear the heavy cream just elevated to perfection).  The lasagna smelled wonderful baking and I followed directions (except that I halved the recipe).  45 minutes of baking and... epic fail.  The potatoes did not cook through (and I promise, I could not slice these any thinner - they were transparent!).  I popped back into the oven for 30 more minutes and... still too firm.  As I now had a starving sweetie that was looking longingly at the Cheez-Its in the pantry, I elected to microwave it to try and finish it off.  That helped a little, but it still did not result in a successful dish.  I served with a side of sauteed broccoli that wasn't half bad, but I can tell you that we had no desire to salvage as leftovers.

On the opposite spectrum was the Halloween candy bark recipe from Bon Appetit magazine.  YUM!~  First of all, I recently discovered Ghiradelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips at my local Target.  I was making a brownie recipe and used them for that, but loved them so much I've keep them in the pantry as a snack.  Yeah, they're just that addictive to me.  Sorry, I need a moment.... Anyhoo, the bark called for a variety of chocolate bars and candies, plus peanuts chopped up and sprinkled over the melted bittersweet chocolate.  I did not follow the recipe exactly, but stuck with the general idea.  I combined chopped Butterfinger candy bars, chopped Heath bars, chopped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Reese's Pieces, and some melted white chocolate into a decadent treat.  This recipe is completely versatile - the bittersweet chocolate is an excellent foil for the salty taste of the peanut candies.  My only complaint is that the bittersweet chocolate does not stay very firm unless refrigerated.  I'll have to work on that... darn, more research!!

We wrapped up the weekend with a healthy meal (under 500 calories a serving) courtesy of Cooking Light.  For starters, a pretty unique way to prepare the boneless, skinless chicken breasts that made them ridiculously juicy without the skin.  I seasoned them with salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary, then lighlty floured.  Sauteed for about 4 minutes (2 per side) in a tiny bit (less than a Tbsp) of olive oil, then placed on a cooling rack in a sheet pan and baked at 425 until they reached a temperature of 160 degrees inside.  It took about 15 minutes to get them to temperature.  I let them rest prior to serving.

I seem to be in a groove of making wine reductions lately.  This weekend was no exception.  I created a pinot noir reduction (ok more like a syrup really) with shallot, the wine, and chicken stock.  It's finished by mounting with butter.  (Get your mind out of the gutter!)  All that means is that after the sauce is done, you add a little butter for sheen and flavor.  Like I said, it wasn't so much a gravy as a syrup and thus I dribbled it carefully over slices of the chicken breast.

I served these with a side of simply prepared fingerling potatoes that were tossed with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper and baked at the same time as the chicken.  The final side dish is one of sauteed mushrooms and green beans.  I borrowed a techique from Cook's Illustrated for cooking mushrooms, first starting at lower heat (medium) to get the liquid out and then raising the heat to high for browning.  I deglazed with a little butter, wine, and garlic for a quick side. Quick is relative since it takes 10 minutes to get the mushrooms properly browned. 

I was pleased with the success of the dish - we achieved a filling yet light meal with tons of flavor and all it took was paying attention to the ingredients and treating them carefully to extract as much flavor as possible.  If you try nothing else, attempt to cook mushrooms by concentrating their flavors - it's a revelation!

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