Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Feelings about Truffles.

The fungus-y kind, not the generally-poorly-executed chocolate kind.

For dinner, I had leftovers from lunch. Lunch being pasta with truffle oil, portabella mushrooms, parm, breadcrumbs, and a slightly skimpy layer of "Wisconsin cheese sauce".

It looked much prettier at lunch. I was stuck in office park suburbia, and Noodles & Company was one of the better options. Yay Colorado entrepreneurs!

Colorado entrepreneurs are classy. They do things like make truffled mac n' cheese. I have a sense of humor, and like truffles, so I proceeded to bewilder the counter staff by actually ordering it. He was at first confused, and tried to sign me up for their bacon mac, but I persisted.

The embarrassing punch line is that it was actually pretty delicious.

I've never understood the weird fussiness that surrounds truffledom. Truffles absolutely stink. Supply, demand, blah blah blah, that's why they're pricey. But, in a culinary culture that reveres subtlety and minimalism as a sign of craft and refinement and maturity, that truffles are the quintessential food snob food is really odd. Truffles basically taste like umami and metal, with an acrid, mouth-filling burnt cheese note that's weirdly, impossibly nostalgic.

So, I think it's really awesome that Noodles has democratized truffle flavors. Truffles are so pungent, we should really think of it like garlic, not some fancy, inaccessible crap. Noodles' dish is at least as good as the (admittedly kind of sketchy) white truffle pasta I ate in Florence, for $20 less. I'll be eating it again sometime. Hopefully with a straight face.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Curd at Home

For breakfast, I had toast with butter & fruit curd, with some jasmine green tea to drink.

Breakfast (which is fundamentally different from brunch, should you wonder) is my least favorite meal of the day. I hate breakfast cereal, and can only handle oatmeal, yogurt, or other quaint "breakfasty" things on occasion. I usually either skip it, have some coffee or tea, forget about food completely, and wonder why I'm feeling faint at 2pm, or I suck it up and nosh a few pieces of toast. Today was the latter. And you know, homemade fruit curd made breakfast relatively tolerable.

I made it a few days back, the impetus being most of a bag of Meyer lemons left hanging around the house after a roast chicken dinner. I used Ina Garten's lemon curd recipe, but added a few strawberries, pureed and sieved, to the mix. The result was a candied Orange Julius-flavored curd that did not quite set. I'm not sure if it's due to the lower acid Meyers, or to the strawberries. Because of my storied history of egg-related mishaps, I actually did measure the temperature with a lab thermometer as I cooked, so I know that wasn't the issue.

At least it's not runny.

Regardless, it tastes unique and pretty fabulous. The remainder might end up in tarts, empanadas, or some sort of layered panna cotta goodness...I haven't decided yet.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Impressive Cooking Project: Figs

So, I have a pretty picture of chocolate-covered figs, and not a ton to talk about. Hence "impressive cooking projects". I always feel like there are certain cooking things that are extremely easy, but freak out a lot of people. Maybe I'll start a series about this?

Pretty figs:

It was sort of an outgrowth of that Valentine's Day chocolate-covered strawberry nonsense. And I always see ridiculously pricey chocolate-covered figs at Whole Foods, so I was curious to make my own.

How easy is this?

1. You melt chocolate. Well, first find chocolate. I happened to use Whole Foods' house brand of semi-sweet chocolate chips, but fancier chocolate, or milk chocolate, or whatever, works fine. Please don't use that weird "chocolate candy coating" crap. That is not chocolate. Melt it in a double boiler, if you're being proper, but going slowly and stirring a lot works fine in the microwave, too.

2. Take it off the heat, if you're not microwaving. Dip figs (or strawberries, or whatever) into the chocolate by hand, or using a fondue fork. Whatever is practical. Melt it a little more if it starts to solidify.

3. Place the dipped fruit on a sheet of waxed paper to cool at room temperature. If you're feeling a bit pretentious, melt a contrasting shade of chocolate and drizzle it over the top. Or add sea salt, chopped nuts, caramel, or whatever. Have fun.

If it's fresh fruit, ideally eat it the same day. Strawberries can start to weep. I think dried fruit will keep for a few days or longer, but they didn't last long enough for me to truly attest to that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Burmese Love

For dinner, I had Burmese food!

I went into it knowing nothing of Burmese food. Their menu turned out to be what you'd expect if you looked at a map, and are familiar with Chinese, Indian, and Thai food...sort of an assortment of those styles, with some interesting curve balls thrown in.

For example, I ended up with the above, vegetarian plate #6. "Yellow beans"? Sort of a curve ball. The textures were really interesting. It contained those flat, chewy, lightly doughy noodles often found in Thai drunken noodles (one of my own great carby weaknesses), crisp, lightly sauteed romaine hearts, crunchy bean sprouts, meaty tofu, and the aforementioned yellow beans. They were sort of garbanzo-like, if garbanzos were creamy and delicate. It appears they're a yellow pea variety, but there's not a lot of intel out there in English. Topped with a peanutty, vinegary sauce, the dish was extremely delicious.

Our appetizer, fritters made with gram (aka lentil) flour, garlic, and spices, was also pretty great. It came with a spicy chile sauce, possibly accented with fish sauce, on the side.

Dessert was a sticky rice, brown sugar, and coconut cake of sorts. The texture, cohesive and gummy, was novel, but I prefer the more intense flavors of Thai-style sticky rice with mango.

They had a ton of awesome-looking vegetarian options, and the prices are quite reasonable. Definitely our new favorite close-to-home ethnic restaurant.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kale Malfatti at Home

For dinner, I had some homemade malfatti, with a glass of primitivo.

They weren't quite as much of a pain to make as I expected. Malfatti are basically delicious little cheese blobs, often more palatably described as "ravioli without the pasta". These are from a recipe adapted from Al di La in Park Slope. I traded the chard for kale, just for fun, and idiotically forgot to buy sage. So I made a butter/shallot sauce instead. And then this happened...

Er, yeah. They are kind of spineless. I gave up and mixed it into a kale-y, cheese-y mush. Nice flavors- the nutmeg is really key- though the texture reminded me disconcertingly of salmon patties or crab cakes.

The wine was a standout, in the world of Trader-Joe's-under-$5 that I inhabit so often. Make no mistake, it's head-explodingly tannic, and quite rough around the edges. But I feel like I've been in an incredibly boring rut of malbecs lately, so it was a wonderful and jolting change.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Apple Tart at Home

For breakfast (and lunch...), I noshed on a homemade apple tart, with some jasmine green tea to drink.

I baked it yesterday, just for fun. The recipe's super-easy, even though I'd never made pâte brisée before. I like that the tart doesn't contain anything else (looking at you, cinnamon) to distract from the simple apple flavor and rich, not-too-sweet crust.

The recipe calls for individual "tartelettes", and peeled apples, which I modified for prettiness. Also, remember all that lard? Perfect for adding a little extra depth to the apples. I replaced a bit of the butter with lard in cooking the apples; if you know it's there, you'll taste it, but it didn't scream PORK!

Finally, an equipment suggestion: I do not own a pizza peel, and always mourn this fact. But I don't have the space for an adequately-sized one, and it's sort of a ridiculous purchase, unless you have a wood-fired oven or something. If I'm making pizza, I heat up the pizza stone in the oven, then pull it out and build the pizza on the warm stone. With fragile tarts, I can't do that, and transferring them can be fraught with disaster. I solved this by sprinkling a wooden cutting board with cornmeal, building the tart there, and slipping it onto the pizza stone as if it were a peel.