Monday, November 23, 2009

Pho in St. Louis

For dinner, I had pho and spring rolls.

We went to Pho Long, having heard they make better pho than Pho Grand (they have a website, but it's annoying flash). I need to try them both again to be certain, but I think Grand might be better than Long.

The spring rolls were tasty, but the wrappers were a little dried out. No big deal, but not perfect. The pho was likewise decent. For me, the most important pho component is the broth- it should have very deep flavor, and a clear, non-oily appearance. I prefer a ton of star anise, along with complex, warming spices. Theirs was not as deeply-flavored as Grand's, although their noodles and meat were equally delicious.

In other news, I am excited for Thanksgiving. I'm pretty casual and non-OCD about it, so I just figured out what I'll be making today. Actually, I figured out the sides and dessert. I still have no idea what kind of turkey product I'll be preparing. Jon suggested turducken, and Schnuck's even sells them, but the price tag is not cool- $75. If anyone has a great idea, let me know (also, if anyone in St. Louis wants to come over, please do...we are lonely). Right now, I'm leaning toward a roulade or some kind of modified DIY turducken configuration. Or maybe I'll spatchcock it. Tomorrow, I'll go check out the posh grocery stores and make a decision, then go wine shopping.

The sides? Sweet potato leek gratin with candied bacon topping, assorted cooked greens with bacon, sausage/apple/sage/dried cherry stuffing, and pumpkin gooey butter cake for dessert. The dessert alone requires two sticks of butter. Like I said, exciting.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tapas en St. Louis

For dinner, we had tapas and sparkling wine.

The impetus was the boquerones (left over from a few months ago) languishing in the fridge, ready to expire in a few weeks.

I paired them with some roasted red peppers from TJ's (at $1.99/jar, they're cheaper than buying and roasting my own), some goat cheese, olives, a sliced baguette, and some homemade garlic alioli.

I hadn't made alioli, or indeed any mayo derivative, in years. Mayo doesn't like me. Usually I use my mini food processor to make it, but I'd forgotten in the intervening years that food processors don't like me, either. My egg yolks lacked volume, to the degree that the food processor's blades couldn't even reach them. I added dijon and copious quantities of lemon juice and garlic, hoping it would help. It didn't. I ended up tilting the food processor precipitously to blend the ingredients, then giving up after adding perhaps three tablespoons of oil. Yes, I know you're supposed to add a ton more, but my heart wasn't in it.

It worked out surprisingly well. My theory is that the excessive quantities of lemon juice I added denatured the egg proteins, causing it to thicken. Although I quit while it was still very runny, it coagulated to a nice consistency relatively quickly.

The sparkling wine was Albero sparkling wine ($4.99) from Trader Joe's. It was a nice complement to the tapas, dry and refreshing but not terribly remarkable. I never drink sparkling wine, but it reminded me of a vinho verde. Maybe I'll have more to say about it once the alioli wear off- I can't taste much after all that garlicky deliciousness.

Edit: also, note that boquerones are not appropriate snacks for pets.

This is Adria, my sweet rescue dog. I let her lick the extra fish oil off the package of boquerones, and she immediately had some respiratory problems. She started wheezing and hacking, and I worried she had a heretofore unknown fish allergy. She mostly recovered, but is still hacking off and on, hours later. We think it was the vinegar. So, don't feed boquerones to your dog.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Revenge of Super-Pancake

*No, I did not get a new camera. I had to get a photo of this, so enlisted my trusty cell phone camera.

For brunch, I had ricotta pancakes and coffee.

I saw the recipe for pancakes earlier this week, but I really hate pancakes, so promptly forgot all about them. Then this morning, I was overcome with a french toast craving, but we'd run out of bread yesterday. Enter the pancake.

I remembered seeing the recipe, and had been wondering what the hell to do with the dozen eggs I bought yesterday anyway (I got them to make kasha, but not even I can eat that much kasha), so it was perfect. I replaced the flour with white whole wheat flour, and the ricotta (which smelled weird) with Greek yogurt.

The recipe was not as time-consuming as I'd feared, but does use an absurd number of kitchen things (three bowls, two kinds of eggbeater wisks, sundry spoons, knives, and spatulas). The painful part was cooking the damn things- between the LOW heat and trying to flip something that fluffy and sticky, I gave up after completing a single one. I spooned the rest of the batter into a parchment-paper-lined cake pan, and baked it for thirty minutes at 350.

I actually haven't tried Super-Pancake, having eaten my experimental stove top-cooked one instead. It was incredibly fluffy and delicious, not at all sour from the yogurt. I'm hoping Super-Pancake tastes as awesome as it looks. If it does, I'd make it again as a great quick-cake sort of recipe, with some maple syrup frosting.

The coffee was also tasty- it was Trader Joe's dark French Roast blend. I'm slowly working my way through all TJ's coffees, which seem to be uniformly good, if not very remarkable.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Salmon Burgers at Home

For dinner, I had a salmon burger with a baked potato and a beer. I also roasted some red peppers, but forgot about them until I was done eating. Maybe breakfast?

The salmon burger came from Dierberg's. Dierberg's is quickly becoming my favorite non-posh grocery store, only because they tend to be pretty average. We live right between several nice neighborhoods and several very, very bad ones (not to glorify crime, but the local paper just came out with this really cool murder map), so most of the local grocery stores vary hugely based on the socio-economic neighborhood they're in. Going to the grocery store has become a sociology dissertation in itself, so sometimes it's nice to just go somewhere and not have to get angry that the one in the "bad" neighborhood has crappy food and the one in the "good" neighborhood has an entire aisle of organic produce.

In any case, my salmon burger was surprisingly tasty. Between copious use of breadcrumbs as filler and its error-riddled instructions (I pity the inexperienced cook out there who believes its "precooked- no cooking required, just re-heat" instruction label), I expected something bready and excessively fishy, but no, it was good.

The potatoes were less successful. One unfortunate side-effect of having a Trader Joe's in town is that I never want to buy any produce items TJ's sells anywhere else, because they're always cheapest at TJ's. I bypassed the cute little dutch creamers for this reason, and ended up with some funky-looking russets instead. Despite my heretofore foolproof methodology (wash, dry, coat with oil and salt, roast on pizza stone for close to an hour), the potatoes smushed into little, oddly sticky chunks when I tried to split them. I added some grated garlic and butter, which made them passable.

In other news, there are no pictures, still. Not (for once) because I'm lazy, but because my camera (a very sad 3.1 megapixel relic from five or six years ago) has finally died. No photos til I get a new one. If anyone has any camera recs, or if you just want to send me the DSLR of my dreams because you love me so much, let me know.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Experimental Ravioli at Home

For dinner, I had some butternut squash ravioli, with a side of (surprise!) butternut squash, and a saison beer to drink.

Mid-afternoon, I decided today was a crazy cooking adventure kind of day. And then I remembered seeing this recipe, except I had a butternut squash to get rid of, not a pumpkin. I've made homemade pasta before, but never ravioli, despite having a mysterious, bulky contraption lying around the house for YEARS that appears to be a ravioli mold. So, I went for it.

I made homemade pasta with semolina flour, three eggs, and a little warm water. It's probably my inability to find 00 flour (I was actually sort of offended that the Whole Foods here doesn't sell bulk semolina flour, instead forcing me to buy an overpriced bag of it courtesy of Bob's Red Mill, but that's another story), but my pasta is always pretty dry and finicky. Despite this, I was able to get it stretched through my pasta machine, then press it into the weird ravioli mold, filled, dried out a bit, and into the water. They turned out deliciously, although the recipe's 3-4 minute cooking time is wildly optimistic. Lucky I like my pasta very, very chewy.

Jon was less thrilled. He dislikes squash, and is miserable every fall when I torture him with the seasonal bounty of new, undiscovered squash varieties. He was especially not thrilled when I decided to serve the remaining squash filling as a side dish. Said filling consisted of roasted, mashed squash, mixed with a little ricotta, brown butter, shallots, nutmeg, and bere bere powder (because one of my cardinal cooking rules is that anything is improved by adding more bere bere); I rationalized that nothing in it made it inappropriate as a side. No slimy raw eggs, for example.

The beer was ok, but not amazing. I am still mourning the loss of New Belgium's Saison (bastards), so I was excited to see that Schlafly, the local large-ish brewery, has released a seasonal saison. It's nicely balanced and appropriately fall-ish, but a little syrupy. More bitter, less molasses please.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Marsala Madness in St. Louis

For dinner, I had chicken marsala, with snow peas and a glass of viognier.

The chicken marsala came from Trader Joe's prepared foods area. Considering our complete apathy toward cooking lately, this was a godsend. And it wasn't bad, exactly. It was just sort of sub-par.

Chicken marsala is not very hard to make. I actually make a mean chicken marsala, and my father-in-law makes an equally delicious, albeit completely different, chicken marsala. Maybe that's the problem; I have an image of chicken marsala in my head: basic, immutable elements of chicken marsala, regardless of specific ingredients, and TJ's just didn't meet it. In my world, it involves Maillard. Theirs reminded me of a very soupy schnitzel, especially the egg-heavy batter that separated from the meat. Jon thought the chicken breasts still had skin on them, the crust was so bizarre and thick. It was edible, but not anything I'd call marsala. I'm surprised they don't at least try to get a little caramelization on their chicken, or reduce their sauce further and compartmentalize it separately from the chicken. They also sell a balsamic-glazed chicken prepared meal, and it somehow manages to have a little sear and a good, not-soupy texture. Maybe TJ's likes soupy chicken marsala. Next time, I'll make my own.