January 24, 2010

Mediterranean Diet

No, I'm not starting the Mediterranean diet, but the dinner I served tonight is probably the closest I'll ever come to following it. This meal was also simple to prepare, which is something else I usually shun.

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

First, I made a Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup recipe from Cook's Illustrated. (It looks like that recipe is now behind a pay wall. Email me if you want the recipe.) The formerly secret ingredient in this soup recipe is white bread. You add three slices of white bread, torn into pieces, to the tomatoes and seasonings, then puree all of it. I used my immersion blender, which is so much more wonderful than going through the steps of partitioning batches of boiling hot liquid, pouring them into a blender, blending, pouring that into another bowl, and then repeating the steps with subsequent batches. The white bread gives the soup thickness and a creamy texture, so you don't have to add cream. I drizzled white truffle oil and sprinkled chopped chives on top of each serving. White truffles are among the most expensive foods in the world, so I got a bargain on truffle oil that I didn't have to take out a loan for, right? How disappointed was I to find out that my truffle oil was only synthetically flavored olive oil. It tastes great, but still!

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

Alongside the soup, we had green salad, and baked brie with orange flower honey and roasted pecans.

Baked Brie with Honey and Pecans

And for dessert, lemon madeleines, a traditional French sponge cake, baked in small, shell-shaped molds. I distinctly remember Auntie telling me the correct way to pronounce madeleine in French; I'm just not certain of what that correct pronunciation was. I think it is mad-uh-LANE, not mad-uh-LEN. Auntie, help? I tried to find the correct pronunciation online and only found conflicting answers as in this video of Martha Stewart and Gale Gand making chocolate madeleines. Martha says mad-uh-LEN; Gale says mad-uh-LANE. I tend to trust Gale, because Martha is too, too smarmy, and you know, Gale validated my instincts.


I don't understand why madeleines have a reputation for being difficult to make. The method isn't that strange or elaborate, and as long as you butter the pans sufficiently, the cookies slide right out of the shell-shaped molds. I made dozens of these cookies over the weekend and they turned out beautifully. I used the America's Test Kitchen recipe for Citrus Madeleines. There are lots of possible variations: almond madeleines, Gale's chocolate madeleines, David Lebovitz's Lemon Glazed, mini-madeleines, etc. I used a miniature mold pan and a lemon glaze. I served the madeleines with fresh fruit which made for a tasty, light dessert.

Madeleine Pan

January 20, 2010

Bring Home the Bacon

I got home after 10 o'clock tonight and decided I should fix myself a meal more substantive than my last, which was a breakfast consisting of grazing on leftover Indian food. (Al Gore randomly appeared in my dreams last night, and I attribute that to eating super spicy Indian food close to bed time.) I'm never one for conventional meals. I'm proud of myself for maintaining my resolve to keep the fridge clean and uncluttered, though sometimes that leaves reduced options for foodage.

Tonight I opted for a bacon and egg sandwich starring Cooper's BBQ bacon. I ordered their Hickory Smoked Peppered Bacon along with the brisket last week. Two slices of bacon fried up quickly, then I fried an egg and toasted the bread in the bacon drippings, and with some greens and apple slices on the side, it was quite a good meal.

Bacon and Egg Sandwich

I've ordered three varieties of bacon over the past few weeks, all in the name of foodie tourism. It's my own version of the bacon of the month club - food delivered to my mouth. So since December, we've tried Mt. Petit Jean Hickory Smoked Peppered Bacon, Cooper's Hickory Smoked Peppered Bacon, and Allan Benton's Hickory Smoked Country Bacon. I preferred them in that order, with the Mt. Petit Jean peppered bacon a runaway favorite.

Next up, ice cream taste testing. If you have a recommendation, let's hear about it.

January 19, 2010

Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake

Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake

Why not assuage those post-holiday blues with chocolate? It's cheaper than compulsive shopping. Christopher Kimball's America's Test Kitchen Blog has a recipe for Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake.

Chocoholics have a friend in me.

Update 4/10/10: We hate dead links around here, so I must inform you that the blackguard Christopher Kimball removed the recipe from his blog. He doesn't like it when you get things for free. But I still love you, CK. Please email me if you want the recipe.

January 12, 2010

G'Bye, Brother

Funny how the lighting at Sheridan's makes Scott look a little angelic Today my brother Scott leaves to do missionary work in Australia for two years. We won't visit each other during that time, and we'll only talk to him on the phone on Mother's Day and Christmas. It's a darn sight different from having him be a text message away. With Wendy getting engaged and married in the spring, a new baby's arrival, and now Scott leaving, it seems like everything is different all at once in my family.

I'm happy to provide one constant: having everyone over to my house for family dinners. For Scott's send-off, I ordered a barbecue beef brisket from Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano, TX. Once Scott arrives in Sydney, Australia, I'm pretty sure Llano, TX and tasty Texas barbecue will seem like they are a world away.

This brisket is one of the best things I've ever tasted.

Cooper's site says "Our barbecue brisket is cooked cowboy style: Directly over simmering mesquite coals for over 5 hours." The brisket was shipped shrink-wrapped with a bottle of bbq sauce, and when I cut open the packaging, a tantalizing aroma of smoky red meat wonderfulness escaped. The brisket's exterior was black with crusted pepper, and I was self-appointed to slice the meat for serving. That's one of the best jobs in the world. The meat juices and pepper coat your fingers, and you simply Must lick it off, and eat scraps as you carve. Cooper's barbecue sauce isn't your expected thick, sugary, ketchup-like sauce. It's closer to what I think of as Southeastern US barbecue sauce: vinegar-based, very thin, and not too sweet.

Scott isn't necessarily one I would term an adventurous eater. He's downright picky about a lot of vegetables, doesn't like mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and won't even try a lot of ethnic foods. But he will try some over the top meat and dessert concoctions with me, like fluffernutters, his S'morito creation, or my Bacon Ice Cream. I seriously thought of making something akin to this double coronary burger for him. It's a burger topped with bacon, cheese, fried eggs, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and onion between two grilled cheese sandwiches. I'll save that for when he returns - don't want to kill him before he leaves. This meat and potatoes brisket menu was the perfect thing for him.

Scott's Christmas present to me was a card saying he would take me out for "no less than five dinners." The kid knows that I think food is more fun than most gifts, but I think this was more designed to be hang out with Scott quality time.

So we went to Raising Cane's, Buffalo Wild Wings, Cancun, West Crust Pizza, and Chili Dog Cafe. I highly recommend anything at the Chili Dog Cafe with their chili on it, including the Frito Pie Burger. Shut up, it's winter, and it's cold outside, and I don't feel bad about it.

Kraut Dog and New Mexico Dog. Shut up, it's winter, and it's cold outside, so I don't feel bad about it.

I'm anxious to hear what fun foods Scott finds down under in Australia. The only iconic Australian food I can think of is Vegemite, but from everything I've read, Australia is a melting pot much like the United States, and so I'm sure he'll find a little bit of everything, including some racist KFC?

G'bye, brother!

January 6, 2010

Make Mine Chocolate

White Christmas I couldn't remember having a cold and snowy December like we just had since I was a kid. Turns out that December 2009 was indeed one of the coldest on record in Lubbock. If you ask me, cold weather is terribly unwelcome any time after December. When you don't have the holidays to cheer you, winter makes me miserable.

Look at that ugliness. A fresh batch of cold air from the North Pole. I don't want anything from the North Pole except Santa Claus.

I left work tonight just before 6 and happily discovered sunshine, calm air, and balmy temps in the 50°s. I ran an errand and exited just before 7 to find apocalyptic winds and and arctic chill outside. I hate it. January and February are the most depressing months of the year because it's so cold and gets dark so early.

World Market Salted Caramel Cocoa MixTonight I'm coping by drinking Salted Caramel hot chocolate from World Market and eating fresh strawberries. Salted caramels and salted chocolates have been trendy for years, and it's a craze I fully support, although detractors still exist. I went to a Christmas party for singles last month, and one of the available beverages was salted caramel hot chocolate. Actually, there was a squeeze bottle of caramel, which we were supposed to pour in our styrofoam cups, salt, and then ladle hot chocolate over, so, kind of..... But it wasn't something those kids could handle. Conversations consisted of me telling them it was good and they'd screw up their faces and respond, "Eww. Salted caramel! What?!?" And I'd sneer. I was on the other end of the snob spectrum, thinking, "Squeeze caramel! What?!? Caramel doesn't come from a bottle." Not nice.

Perhaps my food snobbery is a pose, as I had never even heard of the exquisite NōKA Chocolate before Matt gave me some for Christmas.

Noka Chocolate Noka Chocolate

With their four flavors named Vivienté™, Carmeñago™, Bambarra™, and Tamborina™, and the tasting guide with six stated instructions beginning with "Be Present - Smile and breathe deeply," it's definitely good and snobby and very delicious. Half of two truffles was a perfect indulgence tonight.

Noka Chocolate

January 4, 2010

National Spaghetti Day

I'm not one for New Years resolutions, but one thing I'm going to be better about is keeping my fridge and pantry clean and organized. I hate to throw something out if there's even a possibility I can still use it, and it's all too easy for me to push foods to the back of the fridge week after week. "I'll use those tomatoes and herbs later. Okay, that blue cheese is now black. Yikes!" Definitely a case of sunk cost fallacy, because I'll end up throwing the stuff away in a couple of weeks anyway. After my recent weeding of the refrigerator and pantry, and playing a game of 'What's the oldest expiration date I can find?,' I'm not anxious to repeat the task.

Who knew that January 4 is National Spaghetti Day? I celebrated by improvising a Spaghetti Alla Carbonara recipe based on available ingredients. Way to clean out the fridge! It's nice to cook something without going to the store first, and this recipe is open to a lot of variations. It's also a great weeknight meal, as it comes together in less than 30 minutes.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
Serves 2-4ish - Boy ate 2 servings. Girl ate 1 and had 1 left for another meal.


2 eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 shallot, minced
2 T. olive oil
4-6 slices bacon, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1 pound spaghetti
kosher or sea salt


1. Heat oven to 200°F and set large heatproof serving bowl on oven rack. Bring stockpot of water to a boil for pasta. Add a tablespoon of salt to the water.

2. In a small bowl (I used a 2-cup capacity glass measuring cup), beat eggs, cheese, and shallots together with fork.

3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-low heat and add bacon. Cook until crisp. Add wine and simmer for several minutes.

4. When water comes to boil, add pasta and cook until al dente; drain, leaving pasta slightly wet.

5. Transfer drained pasta to warm serving bowl from oven. Immediately pour egg mixture over hot pasta, and toss to combine. Pour bacon mixture over pasta, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve immediately.

Abracadra Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

I find that cooking dinner allows me a lot more creativity than baking, because I don't have to be exact in the ingredients I choose or the amounts I add. This recipe is a classic example. If you don't mess with the method of adding the egg and cheese mixture to the hot pasta and serving bowl, you should be fine. Adding the egg and bacon mixtures to the hot pasta and warmed bowl is what cooks the egg and melts the cheese. The eggs haven't ever scrambled on me; they always thicken to a nice consistency.

Possible variations for this recipe: Don't like bacon? (Blasphemy!) Use prosciutto, but reduce the cooking time, so it doesn't burn. I used some super sexy Mt. Petit Jean Peppered Bacon (ordered from Zingerman's - hope that link works) and it was amazing! If I had some on hand, I would have added fresh herbs. You need something green to distract from the eggs, bacon, and cheese. You could also add tomatoes, peas, mushrooms, or other veggies. Cook them with the bacon if they need to be cooked through, and if not, add them at the end when you toss the pasta. You could use a combination of parmesan and other cheeses. When I've made this recipe before, I used a couple of cloves of minced garlic instead of shallot. However, I only had shallots available this time, and I actually thought they were better than garlic. You can substitute a different wide, flat pasta for the spaghetti, e.g., fettuccine or linguine. Add peppers or red pepper flakes to spice things up. After it's plated, grate additional parmesan over the pasta for extra presentation points.