Archive for November, 2006

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Cookies soft like a cloud… crème fraîche clouds

November 19, 2006

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Mmmm….. Cookies.

I’m all about a cookie’s taste. I don’t care for those fussy, frosting-laden creations, even if the resultant cookie is beautiful enough to merit hanging on our bathroom’s walls. Give me a humble, tasty cookie any day.

Well, these cookies fill the bill. They’re humble… little dollops of drop cookie that take abstract shape depending on the shape of your spoon and the tilt of your oven rack. Their only attempt to fit in at a fancy-dress party is an optional sprinkling of colored sugar over their uneven, pillowy tops. And they’re tasty; they have a wonderful, springy, cake-like texture and subdued sweetness that is complemented by a breath of nutmeg. They’re beautiful, moist and slightly spicy cookies that can be devoured by the fistful.

My mom always made these sour cream sugar cookies around Christmas time (they were then sprinkled with the obligatory red and green colored sugar), using a recipe drawn from a much dog-earred and crumbling, hand-written local cookbook. Once my husband tasted these cookies, he became a huge fan and would demand that I make them whenever we had sour cream, sugar, eggs, flour and nutmeg on hand. Which is not an infrequent occurrence.

Now my husband has found a way to expand that ingredient list to include crème fraîche, meaning that cookies can be in his future on an even more frequent basis. Bonus: He’s learned to make them himself. Not that I’m complaining… I may like these cookies even more than he does. You will, too, if you try them! Read the rest of this entry ?

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Look away, Daffy: Asian-Inspired Roasted Duck

November 17, 2006

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My husband and I have pretty similar taste buds, and we usually agree on what is good food. But there are exceptions, of course — and duck is one of them.

Duck is… not my favorite. Badly prepared duck is — let’s face it — gross. Well-prepared duck is pretty good (I will down my share of Peking-style duck at fine Chinese establishments), but not something I’d drive out of my way to get.

My husband, on the other hand, is duck happy. He’d probably drive to the ends of the earth if he thought there was a superior roasted duck at his destination. If we’re feeding bread crumbs to innocent Donalds and Daffys on an area pond, I’m exclaiming over their coloring, and he’s picking out the one he’d eat for dinner. He loves ’em.

Hence, when my dear hubby decided to prepare duck at home, I had mixed feelings. As he mentions in his backgrounder, my similarly duck-obsessed father had tried to make roast Peking duck at home with diastrous results. Despite using tools as diverse as a hair dryer and coat hanger and devoting hours to the project, the end result was an incredibly smelly house and a greasy, inedible (in my view) duck. So I greeted my husband’s efforts skeptically, to say the least.

And yet, he found success. I firmly believed that no home cook — no matter their skill level — could produce a duck that I might deign to eat. They’re too fatty, finicky and fishy, I thought. But my husband — to his delight, no doubt — has proved me wrong. His duck was not too fatty. The house didn’t smell. And the bird itself was succulent and flavorful.

He wins. But has he converted me to duck with his culinary coup d’etat? Not quite.

Donald, you’re still safe from me. But watch out for that maniac husband of mine. He’s got that glint in his eye again.

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Top Chef Week Five: Fancy animal parts, more leftovers, and two heads roll

November 16, 2006

topchef_desktop_thumb1.jpgSynopsis
Boy, do we have a surprising ending for you guys. Or not that surprising. It is a reality show after all.

The theme for this week’s show was leftovers. But not the leftovers sitting in your fridge or ours. (In our fridge: Leftover chili, raw doughnut dough and misshapen slices of Papa John’s pizza. Let’s see them make a six course tasting menu for 60 with that.) But first, there was the QuickFire challenge. The chefs were presented with the leftovers of your typical four-star restaurant’s walk-in meat refrigerator: ox tails, sweetbreads, chicken feet, pig’s blood, veal tongues. You know, animal parts.

The contestants put on another impressive display; offerings ranged from sweetbread schnitzel (by Marcel — who also used blood in their somewhere. Eew.) to sweetbread with Chinese spices and doughnut-style side (Sam), to fish heads and beef cheeks with fettuccini (Betty). The top finishers were the same folks who keep rising to the top each week: Sam, Cliff and Ilan. Sam won for his creative “flavor profile,” as the like to say. Go hot diabetic, go.

images.jpegThe Elimination Challenge clicked the star power up a notch, as the chefs were tasked to cook a six-course tasting menu for Jennifer Coolidge (known to you and Michael as “Stifler’s mom”) and 60 of her closest friends. The chefs had to divide up into pairs, and rather than have them draw knives (death match style), the contestants just paired off awkwardly like middle schoolers at a high school dance. (Marcel, being a few short years out of middle school, made exactly that reference, evidently having been burned before.)

The “leftovers” the chefs had to cope with didn’t seem to be leftover from anything at all. Instead they seemed to be the contents of your typical, upscale Whole Foods. Rather than coordinating a coherent tasting menu, everyone just did their own thing… with typical results. The good chefs cooked good food and the bad chefs, well, you know.

The top two courses were easy to call as were the chefs who made them: Sam and Cliff for their fois gras and scallops, and Ilan and — hold it! — Michael, for their seafood paella. Yes, Michael was on the winning team, despite their evidently heavy-handed use of saffron. But Ilan “won.” (Can you blame guest judge Michelle Bernstein for picking him over Michael?)

The best part of the episode: Two heads rolled on the chopping block. Marisa and Josie‘s three random and untouched by flame “intermezzo” or “awakening something” course was a miss with the judges, who remarked that their juice looked like pepto bismol, and presumably tasted as bad without the heart-burn allaying benefits.

The end.

How does Michael stick around?
Husband: I have no idea. I promise this week I won’t pick him to lose… I think my wife was right last week about there being some rip in the space-time continuum that causes him to advance when I predict his demise.
Wife: Obviously he’s onto something with that hat. It’s his thinking cap. And he thought to himself: “I should definitely partner with Ilan.” And his thinking cap was right. (For those of you who didn’t see it, it looked like an awkwardly rendered doo-rag.)

Most awkward couple? Most likely to marry?
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H: Josie and Marisa were the most awkward. I can’t think of two women who could be more opposite from each other and still be in the same profession. Sam and Cliff seem most likely to marry. It was a love fest between the two of them.
W: Ilan and Michael were the most awkward. It looked like Chef Boyardee (Michael) and, I dunno, some guy with glasses. I concur that sparks flew between Cliff and Sam. And they’d have such good-looking little sous chefs.
P.S. Did you guys know that Padma Lakshmi (the hot pants hostess) is married to Salman Rushdie? Talk about awkward couples.

Jennifer Coolidge’s appearance raises the question: Will you go see For Your Consideration or Casino Royale this weekend?
H: I’m a man.
W: I’ll interpret: We’re going to see Casino Royale. Blonde Bond? Yes, please.

Winners and losers….
H: I’m not going to pick Michael to lose. Take that, universe. Instead, I’m going to pick Mia. I think she is consistently on the lower side, and is on the verge of slipping up and losing. I’ll go with Cliff to win. He consistently shows up in the top group: QuickFire, Elimination, doesn’t matter. He seems a winner.
W: Now that my nemesis Marisa is off, I’m going for Elia. Why am I rooting against women? I dunno. Don’t read too much into it. To win, I’m returning to my initial first pick: Ilan. It’s the glasses, maybe.

Your thoughts? Who’s the next off? Who’s the winner? Has Betty’s charm worn off? Are you going to the movies this weekend? And do you think she’s with him because of the fatwa or because he’s “a really good writer”?

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On golden pond of butternut squash soup

November 14, 2006

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I’m a big fan of soup. And I get especially excited for those thick, creamy blended soups that you see at fancy restaurants. The kind where a lot of cream and a hand blender have been involved. That’s precisely the kind my husband recently made.

His butternut squash soup was just the sort of thing that I’d order in a restaurant… but better. Why? I’d venture to say it was tastier, fresher and let’s face it: free of charge. The soup was thick and rich, with that beautiful golden hue from roasted butternut squash. Of course, that couldn’t be the end of its appeal; pureed vegetables make baby food, not restaurant fare. So he added a dollop of creme fresh, a splash of truffle oil and a sprinkling of fresh chopped chives. As Ace Ventura might say: B-E-A-utiful.

Yes, it’s getting pretty gourmet in here, folks. I just hope my husband doesn’t institute a dress code. I’m fond of dining in my pajamas.

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The wife cooks (gasp!) Beef Noodle Casserole

November 10, 2006

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Today’s recipe is striking a blow for feminism! Despite popular culture’s insistence that women don’t belong anywhere near the stove or oven, women can cook! They are more than capable in the kitchen. Of course, I am being facetious. But today’s recipe is a flip of our usual things here at MHC. I, the husband, will be introducing one of my wife’s recipes, well not hers per se, but one that I don’t even attempt because she is its master—Paul Prudomme’s Beef Noodle Casserole.

For those of you who don’t know our story, my wife was the one who got me into cooking in the first place. When we started dating, we were both teenagers and seniors in high school. She is the oldest of three, and her parents, both very successful science types, had let their daughter take over the task of cooking dinner every night for her family. It was by helping her to peel vegetables and chop things, and sitting down to dinner several nights a week with them for a meal (to my own mother’s consternation) that I learned the value of food as a bonding experience.

Flash ahead 12 years today, and the roles are now reversed, but that doesn’t mean my wife can’t hold her own in the kitchen. The girl can really make things happen in there. So I hope you enjoy our culinary version of a Sadie Hawkins dance. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Top Chef Week Four: Amused via vending machine, Sugargate, and yet no one goes home

November 9, 2006

topchef_desktop_thumb1.jpgSynopsis….
Drah-ma. Again. But this time, no heads would roll. That’s right. We hope you’re learning all their names, because they’ll ALL be baaack next week. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, there was the QuickFire Challenge. Contestants had to come up with an amuse bouche to serve to a judge, Suzanne Goin, who looked like she had too much sense to really be on this program. But there she was. The twist was they had to “shop” at the vending machines in the Top Chef hallway: There was your run-of-the-mill chips-and-gum machine, one of the fancier rotating auto-mat style refrigerator thingys, and a soda machine (all conveniently stripped of most brand names). They all took their $10 roll of quarters and, without much irony, chose things that they ultimately turned into really impressive amuse bouche(s?). All that is, except Michael, who declared the game was “stupid,” bought Cheetos and a Snickers bar and made what looked like an orange worm emerging from a clod of chocolate dirt. Eew. (To paraphrase the sensible judge.) But, alas, he would not go home for that.

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Who “am I?” What was that? Oh, sui mai… mmm sui mai

November 8, 2006

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Dim sum good.

Lately I’ve been having extraordinary cravings for dim sum, and we’ve been hitting the “China Garden” in town an embarassing number of times. Luckily that place is always packed (they actually drop off tour buses full of Asian tourists there and it seats about 300 or more), so we’ve remained fairly incognito. (I’d hate to be called out by the hostess… “You again?”)

The real highlight of any dim sum venture is when that steam cart comes rollin’ on up. You gotta hit that thing… hard. Sui mai, haw gao, sharkfin, char sui bao and all that other good stuff. We put a hurt on that cart. If I’m really hungry, I’ll start pulling my grandpa’s favorite move — which is to refrain from all conversation and continously follow the steam cart with my eyes as it wends its way around the dining room — not unlike an eagle tracking its prey.

At these moments, I may fantasize: Wouldn’t it be great if that steam cart just rolled up to my mouth and dropped some dumplings off?

Well, folks, it has.

My husband has actually figured out how to make two of the best dim sum offerings — char sui bao and sui mai — right here in our own kitchen. Char sui bao is the subject of another post, however, so I’ll take this moment to wax poetic about his sui mai…. It’s perfect. It has that delicious mix of pork and shrimp, with just a hint of earthiness from the shitake mushrooms and a tiny whiff of ginger. Steamed to perfection, the dumplings have a really delicate, elegant air that belies their meaty goodness. The only thing missing is that strange red dot they put on top of the dumplings in restaurants. Contented sigh. What can I say? He’s pretty good, that husband of mine.

So, now I can eat dim sum on demand — and maybe I’ll only need to hit China Garden every other weekend.

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