Friday, April 23, 2010
Savory and Sweet
So recently I have been inspired to try some new recipes. For years I feel I have been kind of cooking the same things over and over again. I think this mostly had to do with working full time and having two kids back-to-back. I lost the time and inclination to try something new - or at least to try something new, often. This is actually what led me to cancel my Cook's Illustrated subscription. I love Cook's Illustrated and I have never made one of their recipes that didn't turn out perfectly, but man the time commitment for most of them was insane. I remember my mom saying she stopped reading the magazine when she spent 6 hours one day making meatloaf.
However, recently I have been pulling a little from Cook's Illustrated online. I like the online version of the magazine much, much better. It's searchable so I can think of something I want to make and then search for it. I am also a passionate believer in their product recommendations. I have stopped buying any kitchen goods without first reading up on their opinion. After my pizza disaster I became the proud owner of this amazing pizza peel thanks to Cook's Illustrated.
But, anyway, back to the recipes. So, part of the reason for trying the new recipes has to do with the reclaiming, or perhaps better said, reorganizing of my cooking duties at home. Vilma and I had been struggling to come up with an acceptable cooking arrangement given the fact that (1) she clearly believes it is a tragedy to consume merely a sandwich or a salad for lunch and (2) she enjoys being in the kitchen as much as I do. It kept coming up that she would ask what I wanted her to cook for lunch and I would very frequently feel like, "I don't care." I honestly just wanted to make a sandwich and truth be told, the boys are fine to eat a sandwich for lunch as well. However, it is true that if she cooks us lunch, it's usually more substantial and more nutritionally balanced. I've talked about this before. Anyway, I was starting to feel frustrated and claustrophobic about having full-time help and then I realized that the solution was actually easy. All I needed to do was sit down with Vilma and figure something out. Last week, I finally said, "Okay. We need to come up with a better cooking arrangement." She immediately shook her head in agreement. I said, "How about you cook lunch and I'll cook dinner?" She said that sounded perfect and we appear to have found our stride.
This week I decided to plan out and shop for our meals like I used to back in the States. It was nice to get back to this. I planned out some old favorites and tried this fabulous Eggplant Parmesan from Cook's Illustrated. I didn't stick exactly to the recipe on the sauce - I used fresh tomatoes, red bell pepper, onion, garlic and fresh basil and then threw in a handful of the breadcrumb mixture that was left over from the eggplant along with a dash of red pepper flakes. The recipe was somewhat time-consuming, but not at all difficult. I have to say this was the best Eggplant Parmesan I have ever eaten! Even our four year-old, the pickiest of picky eaters loved it. He was helped along by Sam, our two year old, saying, "Mmmm, this is pizza!" Sam may have been confused, but it was enough to give Jasper the nerve to try it and he loved it. I overheard Jeremy trying to explain to him what eggplant was without using the dreaded word "vegetable." Evidently, eggplant is a very popular vegetable here. There is always a ton of it in the super market, but I am not sure what they use it for. I think I am going to try to search out some recipes. Vilma's opinion was that the Eggplant Parmesan was "Magnifico!" and that the eggplant (berenjena) that Dominicans make is not worth trying. Go figure. I am still curious though.
I also recently tried this recipe for Banana and Chocolate Chip Upside Down cake from David Lebovitz. I follow his blog because he writes about food (he's a chef and cookbook author) and he lives in Paris - so it has a great expat angle. This cake was so amazingly perfect and rich without being over the top. I am thinking next time I will try to give it a Pineapple Upside Down Cake twist (perhaps leaving out the chocolate) because the pineapple here is just incredible divine.
And, finally, in recipe land, I resorted tonight back to one of my all time staples in desert perfection. I went through a phase a couple of years ago where I was determined to find the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. I found some good ones, but not a single one that had the perfectly crisp edges and gooey center that I craved. I spent a great deal of time tweaking various recipes to try to get exactly what I wanted, but never quite got it perfect. Then, a friend of mine brought some oatmeal cookies to work one day and, except for the fact that they weren't chocolate chip cookies, the texture was perfect. The recipe was from The Silver Palate - a cookbook I have seen, but never read. She gave me a copy of the recipe and I set out to make my own new cookie recipe from it. This recipe is almost identical to the original, but I think it's better because I reduced the sugar by half and added dried cranberries and dark chocolate. When I make these, people close their eyes as they chew and let out a big "Mmmmmm." Enjoy!
The Yummiest Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
¼ c. granulated sugar
½ c. brown sugar (By the way, if you live in a country like we do where you can't get brown sugar - it's easy to make your own by just adding a tablespoon of molasses to a cup of regular white sugar)
2 tablespoons water
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
3 c. quick oats
1 c. dried cranberries
1 c. dark chocolate chips (I use the Ghirardelli 60% Cocoa chips)
Preheat the oven to 350 and grease two cookie sheets. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy then add egg and beat thoroughly. Mix in water and vanilla.
Mix together flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in separate bowl using a fork. Then, add it to the egg mixture and mix well. Add the oats, stir and then add the cranberries and chocolate chips.
Drop spoonfuls of the dough on the prepared baking sheets. Bake 10-15 minutes. They will still appear a little soft in the middle, but will become chewy once they cool. This makes about 2 dozen.