Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Make lemonade

Often in cooking I find that I have to make do with what I have in the house (flat) because I don't have time (or am too lazy) to walk the 5 minutes to the grocery store, or so that the things I have don't rot before I use them. I know that's not the real meaning of the phrase 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade' but just work with me people.

Yesterday I looked at my stash and found potatoes, mushrooms, scallions, eggs and sweet potatoes. My first thought was some sort of
Tortilla Espanola/omelette or quiche, but I only had 3 eggs, so figured that wasn't going to cut it. The mushrooms and potatoes were definitely headed south the fastest, so I focused on those.

I did a search for 'mushroom and potato' on the Food Network
site and found this recipe, and then on Epicurious and found this one. I have to say both looked pretty tasty, and potato salad seemed like a good thing to have on a warm summer day. My mushrooms were just standard white mushrooms, so I didn't think they'd grill very well, and I wasn't keen on firing up the oven to 425 F given the fact noted above that it was a 'warm summer day'. Furthermore, the warm composed salad didn't seem like such a bright idea given the baby in the house. I decided to work with what I had and make up my own potato and mushroom salad. It came out pretty well (if I do say so myself). The only thing possibly lacking is some nice crispy bacon. Potato and mushroom salad

About 2 lb potatoes

1/2 T olive oil

1/4 lb white mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely or minced
3 large or 4 small green onions (whites and tops), chopped


1 T wholegrain mustard

2 T red wine vinegar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the potatoes if you wish. An interesting aside about potatoes is that, according to the Washington State Potato Commission at (and who am I to argue with them), it is a
myth that most of the nutrients in a potato are contained in the skin. The skin is, however, a good source of fiber, I think it looks nice in a dish like this, and again, I am lazy, so I really tend not to peel my potatoes. Anyway, cut your potatoes into same-sized chunks and boil them until tender (for a guide, my chunks shown below next to my knife with a 5.5 inch blade took 12 minutes). Drain and rinse with cold water.
While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the mustard and vinegar, and then slowly add in 1/4 c olive oil while continuing to whisk.

Heat 1/2 T olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and sautée for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking 1 minute more.

Put the warm potatoes in a large bowl and pour the vinaigrette over them.

Mix in the mushrooms and green onions and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
I let mine sit for a couple of hours and served it at room temperature, but it tasted pretty good warm, and I'm sure it would cold as well. (I've just tried some of the leftovers out of the fridge - it is fine cold!)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Retro yumminess

No procrastination on those homemade Oreos (a la Smitten Kitchen) that I mentioned in my last post. I could not get these things out of my head, so I decided to make a batch! I even remembered to take pictures for your viewing pleasure this time (although Smitten's are much better than mine...) I even learned something about cocoa powder in the process, and so there will even be a science-y tip for you.
Are Oreos really retro? I certainly think of them that way because I used to gobble them down when I was a kid but haven't really eaten them in years (except for when they are in cookies and cream ice cream). Do kids still eat Oreos? Judging from the paranoia over giving kids processed foods, I wouldn't be surprised if Oreos up and became extinct (unless Nabisco can find a way to make them organic with added wholegrain and no trans-fats), but then again I wouldn't be that surprised if I saw a 7-year-old eating sushi either.

On to the goodies. I followed the recipe more or less exactly as written, so I won't plagiarize it here. My notes/tips are below. Oh, and to answer the burning question, yes, they really do taste like Oreos (but better)!

(1) The recipe calls for 'Dutch Process' cocoa powde
r. In the US I would likely have just grabbed my can of Hershey's cocoa powder and not thought about it again. However, here in the UK I'm always triple-checking ingredients because, well, things are often just different here in ways you never would have expected. I had a can of Green and Black's cocoa powder but it was almost empty, so I headed to the store and found only the generic brand. When I compared the two cans at home, I discovered that Green and Black's is 100% cocoa powder, while the store-brand is 93% cocoa powder and an acidity regulator (calcium carbonate). Based on my reading of the Joy of Baking's page on this, the store-brand was a neutralized (or at least less acidic) cocoa, and therefore most like Dutch Process. If you read the comments on the Smitten Kitchen post, you'll see that several people noted their cookies were too puffy. I suspect it has to do with the use of non-Dutch Process cocoa, which, along with the baking powder, would also be able to react with the baking soda and create additional rising. In any case, I didn't realize there were important differences in cocoa powders until today.
(2) With just the butter added to the dry ingredients it seemed like the batter would never come together (see note 3 below), but add the egg and Bob's your uncle. (I LOVE this phrase. You should have seen the look on my face when someone said this in my office during my first week in London. I had not a clue what he meant, and everyone thought it was hilarious.)
(3) I think a food processor would have been the smart choice rather than a hand mixer over an open bowl. Our kitchen is coated in a fine layer of cocoa/flour/sugar. Good thing we've got someone coming to clean on Monday!

(4) I went with Smitten's suggestion to cut the sugar to 1 c rather than 1.5 c in the cookie dough and am glad I did. With the filling as cloyingly sweet as it is, I think it would have been way too much if the cookies were any sweeter (and I like cloyingly sweet).
(5) The filling smooshes out of the cookies, making them a bit messy (but delicious) to eat. Also, if you aren't planning to eat all of the cookies within about 24 hours, I would suggest filling them as you eat them (store the filling in the fridge and then warm to room temp), otherwise the cookies get a bit soggy (but they're still good that way too).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Shouldn't you be doing something else?

Procrastination. What's not to like about it? (Except for the feeling that you got nothing done despite the fact that you pulled an all-nighter.)

How did I ever procrastinate before the ubiquitous internet?? Come to think of it, how did I procrastinate before blogs and social networks? Let's see... In college I used to procrastinate by checking email using Pine in the computer lab (only 1 of the 6 roommates had a computer with an ethernet connection in our room), or by watching The X Files and The Simpsons recorded on a worn VHS tape. Dare I think back to my pre-email days? I really don't have a clue how I procrastinated then. I suppose it was just watching whatever was on TV and talking to friends on the phone (a landline phone with a cord plugged into the wall of course). Ah, the good old days.

My new procrastination tool is the subject of this post. Food blogs! The one in particular that I'm in love with now is Smitten Kitchen. Her writing is funny and interesting, the pictures are beautiful, and the recipes look fabulous. My mouth was watering and my stomach growling for these in particular. Another recipe on the 'must try ASAP' list. Her latest is that she made a wedding cake for some friends' wedding this weekend. I am waiting with bated breath for the final installment! I found the site somewhat randomly last week. Daily Candy sent me to this food blog for a white sangria recipe (also on the 'must try ASAP' list), and Smitten was on his blog roll.

Enjoy blog hopping around my links on the right. And don't blame me if you spend 3 hours reading them when you're supposed to be working...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Baby food

No, this is not about actual food for babies, although I've started to have fun with that now that the O-man is on solids. However, this post is about food that works for adults when there's a baby in the house. That's not to say you can't make it if there isn't a baby in your house (which is probably the case for 95% of my readers). It's just that about 2 months after the O-man was born, I realized that baby-friendly dinner is not the same as working-until-8pm friendly.

Let me explain. Now I actually want things that take an hour or more to bake in the oven or simmer on the stovetop so that we can concentrate on feeding and bathing the baby and getting him to sleep just before we eat rather than cooking something that's fast, but takes a lot of prep time at the end and/or is best eaten as soon as it's ready (eg, sitr fries). I've also learned that prepping as much as possible ahead of time when the baby is napping is key, but more on that in another post I think.

Today we're going to concentrate on things that cook slowly in the oven. Lasagna is one of my favorites of these, but again, I have planned that for another post about making over your leftovers. I'm thinking about this yummy cross between mac and cheese and tuna casserole that I made a few weeks ago.

First, a slight digression about tuna casseroles. My parents are from the Midwest. I grew up eating my Grandma's 'Friday Tuna Casserole' (she wasn't Catholic so I suspect the recipe wasn't actually hers), which included a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and a large quantity of crushed potato chips both inside the casserole and sprinkled on top for crunch. When I lived in the US, I am almost ashamed to say that a regular staple in our dinner rotation was a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese (you know, the one with the powdered, radioactive orange cheese) with tuna-in-a-can and a handful of frozen peas thrown in. This is inspired by that, but is slightly less processed and definitely more homemade!

The recipe is a blend of two from the Food Network, one from Ina Garten (again) and one from Dave Lieberman. Those recipes are here and here. I couldn't quite fathom the amount of butter and cheese in Ina's recipe, but I liked the idea of the tomatoes on top.

Cheesy pasta with tuna, peas and tomatoes
1/2 lb pasta (I suppose macaroni is ideal, but I only had farfalle so used that)
1 1/4 c milk (I used skim because I had it and it tasted fine, but I'm sure it would be creamier with whole milk)
2 1/2 T unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 T flour
1 3/4 c shredded cheese (I used 1 c mature cheddar, 1/2 c mozzarella and 1/4 c Parmesan)
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
Yellow mustard (or mustard powder)
1 can tuna fish, drained
1 c frozen peas
Tomatoes (I used halved cherry tomatoes but slices of big tomatoes would be fine)
1 c fresh breadcrumbs (I used wheat sandwich bread because it was all I had, but I think day-old baguette or something similar would probably be best). If you've never made homemade breadcrumbs before, it's really easy-just cut the bread into chunks and process in a food processor for about a minute. If you don't have a food processor, a blender might work.

Cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions (see TIP below). You want it to be a bit under-cooked since it will get softer in the oven.

Melt 1.5 T butter in a pot and whisk in flour. Cook for 2 minutes (stir frequently if not constantly). Add milk, whisking to prevent any lumps, and cook for 1-2 minutes until thick and smooth. Take off the heat and stir in the cheeses and pepper. Add in the red pepper flakes and a squirt of mustard.

Mix the cheese sauce with the pasta and add the tuna and peas. Put in a baking dish (I used a 10x7 inch oval gratin dish, so an 8 inch square would be similar). Top with the tomatoes (cut side up for cherry tomatoes) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix the bread crumbs with 1 T melted butter and some pepper and then sprinkle these on top of the tomatoes.

Bake at 375 F (190 C) for 30-35 minutes.

NOTE: The leftovers weren't as great as I was hoping, so it's good if you can use it all up the same day. This makes 2 REALLY generous servings, but probably more like 3-4.

TIP: Always add salt to your pasta water (I don't think oil is necessary). Apparently if you have pots with stainless interiors, salt will mark and pit your pot, so you should add it just before adding the pasta. I was always under the impression that it makes sense to wait until the water's boiled to add salt since the salt will raise the boiling point of the water, and therefore make it take longer for your water to boil. However, the change is apparently insignificant, and interestingly the same volume of 20% salt water boils faster than pure water owing to heat capacity. Ah, chemistry...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I sort of forgot I had this blog. The nearly-mobile O-man has me busy when he's awake, and when he's asleep I'm always cooking and pureeing new foods for him to try.

I actually have a post I started 3 weeks ago that is 95% finished; hopefully I'll find time for the other 5% soon!