Thursday, October 23, 2008

Green Pyramid Quiche with Dijon Hollandaise: A Day with Charlie

My friend Charlie and I had plans to hang out today, but I had a few errands: a stop at Target for prescriptions and hair rollers, then a stop at the grocery store to, you know, get food. I invited Charlie to tag along and he easily agreed since we'd get to spend that time together, even if were doing chores.

There were a few recipes I was thinking of that I wanted to try out. One idea hinged on making pyramid shaped crusts. I asked Charlie for a really brilliant idea of what to put in a pyramid with a crust. He quickly answered, "Breakfast. I like breakfast-dinner."

Thus was born the pyramid quiche. After a quick consultation with the Internet and my mother on the nature of quiche, we decided on crab and swiss. While we were shopping, we realized that we didn't know anything about crab and the best way to purchase it... and I remembered that I don't really like swiss cheese. So, in aisle four, we changed the recipe to include salmon (we just bought a pouch of salmon) and mozzerella (which I already had a lot of at home). And we like salmon, damn it.

While I was sauteéing the green onions, salmon and red peppers, Charlie mixed three eggs, a tablespoon of flour, an unmeasured amount of mozzerella and one cup of half & half in the blender. I added a double handful of spinach, and Charlie seasoned with salt, pepper, basil and nutmeg. He felt like a ninja using the microzester, a.k.a. "that crazy ninja blade."

Next we perfected the pyramid stabilizer system by using a third pyramid to hold up the other two. In Charlie's words, I have "really great spatial relations... for a chick." Which I do. Charlie buttered the pyramids ("Yeah, I greased 'em right up.") while I chopped more red peppers for future usage. Charlie also ate nearly all the Earl's brand Minnesota cheesy poofs. They're so damn good.

It was time to construct. We put more mozzerella and the sauteéd mix of yumminess in the pyramids and then poured on the green egg elixir. Charlie gently mixed it all together with the aid of a plastic fork.

Then we put it in the oven. 350 for... a long time. Maybe forty minutes? We weren't timing because the pyramids were such an odd, deep shape that we figured it best to just keep an eye on them. We had a lot of fun sitting in front of the oven staring like cavemen.

Just before the quiche was done, we starting thinking about plating. I wished I had a drizzle, for shizzle! "What could we drizzle, Charlie, my nizzle?" Like a bolt of lightning had struck him, Charlie blurted, "Hollandaise." But I don't know how to make hollandaise sauce. But! Long ago I had purchased one of those sauce mixer packets of hollandaise in the I-don't-know-how-to-season-my-food aisle. We mixed that with four tablespoons of butter, half a cup of water and two or three tablespoons of dijon mustard. Charlie's bright idea was to season with lemon pepper. Voila! A drizzle, my nizzle. ... For shizzle.

When the quiche came out, we marveled at its golden brown edges and lovely green specklediness. With the red peppers, it looked like Christmas and St. Patrick's Day rolled into one. "It really was pretty," Charlie reflected, but the anticipation of actually taking them out of the molds was excruciating! We were very anxious to see if they would hold their shape. They sort of did. Charlie was a little to hasty about coaxing his out of its shell, and it broke off a piece. Mine fared a little better, but the quiche is so heavy that it was still lopsided and droopy.

Anxious and starving, we drizzled (more like blobbed because the sauce thickened) and snapped a few photos before digging in.

We brainstormed how to make it better next time. A pie crust would be great, but Charlie suggested faking it with flaky crescent rolls in a tube. Of course, this is another recipe where you can change all the ingredients to your liking. Crab and swiss! Bacon and cheddar! Ham and cheese! Tomatoes, artichoke, peppers, sausage... anything breakfasty would do. I like the fancy options like crab and salmon because it dresses up the simple recipe so nicely. It does well in any shape, and maybe the pyramids were a little ambitious.

But don't you worry; I have very deviously delicious plans for the pyramids yet... chocolate volcano, anyone?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Breakfast Crescent Rolls!

My best friend Amanda came to visit from Chicago a few weeks ago with Dannielle (who has an up-to-the-minute photo blog). The morning after the Hanson concert -- yeah, I said Hanson -- I fixed these super easy deliciousnesses.

Basically, you just scramble some eggs (usually 3), put some stuff in it and then roll it all up in a tube of crescent rolls. I like the big 'n' flaky ones best. I like this so much I generally keep a tube in the fridge. Otherwise, I'd never fix eggs for breakfast -- though the pyramids might change that. Stay tuned.

This particular Friday morning after Hanson rocked First Ave and I had blisters on my feet from walking downtown, I took inventory of my fridge and my leftovers. I put spinach, shredded cheddar, diced seasoned potatoes I had in some tupperware and just a little bacon that I Foremanned real quick. It ain't breakfast without bacon, right?

Again, this is the kind of meal where to take what you got and stick it in. I've also made this with sliced green onions, tomatoes, brie cheese... whatever you put in your omelet(te) will good. Peppers, mushrooms, salsa... I don't know, what do you put in your omelet(te)?

Then you roll it up real nice into little pockets. I make sure that it's sealed all the way around so there's no spillage because I hate cleaning my oven.

Follow the directions for baking, I guess. I don't use a timer in the kitchen anymore; I just watch and wait 'til they're pretty and toasty brown -- like this!

Bon apebreakfast.

Haha. Ape breakfast. I called you an ape.

... Which I guess, technically, you are.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cereal cookies, Trial (and error) 1

I love recycling food. It all started one day when I was cutting up some broccoli and realized that I always just throw away the stalks. I saved them and experimented. Next time I have fresh broccoli, I'll share my pickled broccoli medallion recipe.

I always buy cheap bagged cereal -- frosted shredded wheat, to be exact. There is always tons of crumbly bits at the bottom, but I really think frosted shredded wheat is the worst when it comes to leftovers. I decided I would find a way to recycle it all.

I scoured the Internet looking at cookie recipes, and I actually did find a cereal cookie recipe, so I'm not quite a pioneer on this one (though I thought I was going to be when I thought of it). I started with about 1 1/2 cups of frosted shredded wheat shreds, butter (1/2 cup), one egg, baking powder (1 tsp) and some flour (1-1 1/4 cup). It needed moisture, but I didn't have any orange juice, which is what most healthy, natural, trendy cookie recipes are using lately for moisture and sweetener -- so I used some mango peach V8 Splash (maybe 3-4 tblsp). I didn't put any sugar in the recipe since the shredded wheat is frosted in it.

I made one batch of cookies like this before adding a bunch of sliced almonds. Yes, I'm baking cookies on a broiler pan; my (really nice!) cookie sheets are too big for my tiny tiny oven.

I've got to say, I consider this trial kind of a bomb. They were edible, but were a lot more like scones than cookies. They were incredibly dry. I ate them with Earl Grey and a dollop of jam -- raspberry on some, blackberry on others.

I ran out of time while baking because they ended up taking longer in the oven than I thought they would. I don't actually remember how long they took... maybe 15-20 minutes at 350? But I had some leftover 'dough,' so I rolled it up in some wax paper and stuck it in the fridge for later baking. Phydeaux was impressed.

I've got some more leftover cereal now, so expect another trial soon.

Cous-cous masterpieces v.2

My sister just moved out of Minneapolis -- real quick too. She asked if I could go to her apartment and clean out the rest of the stuff there. I thought it would be quick and painless, but there was actually a bunch of junk there, some Haley's, some the bitchy roommate's, some old roommates'. It was an exhausting but good day of organizing and recycling and giving things away to neighbors in Uptown. One old lady was so happy to get Haley's ironing board, and some dude got a really nice desk chair.

I got a few consolation prizes: a small crockpot, a crappy blender, a metal bowl that's now Phydeaux's water dish, a maybe-working electric blanket and my black corduroy jacket that I thought had been lost forever. Maybe my favorite find was a fun kitchen toy: STACKS - the pyramid kit. If you look close, you can see that Haley bought it for $1.69, my guess is at Arc's Value Village thrift store. And I got it for free! Sucka.

The first thing I thought upon finding the box was cous-cous. They're basically metal molds in the shape of a pyramid. They also come in triangle, square, round and heart shapes -- though I've heard that surrounding yourself in pyramids helps the energy flow in your life or something. This even extends to eating your food in the shape of pyramid. Plus it looks awesome. You can read some cool stuff about the feng shui of pyramids here; note the angry tone when the author says that the awareness of the impact of geometrical shapes on human energy is disappearing thanks to modern feng shuists. I blame the fat guy on Trading Spaces.

Now the tricky part about the pyramid shape is that you have to find some way to balance them while you fill them. The tiny booklet in the box suggested bowls, but I didn't have any that were deep enough. I ended up using the steamer top of the big pot I usually cook chili in. Two of the pyramids happened to fit side-by-side, and the point of the pyramid fit perfectly into one of the holes, so they didn't slip around. Much. I won't lie and say it was perfect, but it worked.

There were a few recipes in the box, but they were gross and complicated and stupid. Apparently the "creator" of the Stacks system has a whole series of cookbooks you can buy. She posits, "Why cook a meal when you can create a sensation?" Why indeed. I say, "Why use someone else's recipe when you can use your own?"

The idea that really makes the Stacks system beautiful is that of layers. It'd still be cool to eat your cous-cous in a pyramid shape, as a quick plating gimmick, but the layers are totally where it's at. I had a few things in the fridge I wanted to use up, leftovers from a giant chili party we had for Nate's birthday. So that's where I started, but of course this meal is completely versatile, depending on what you've got on hand. Easily vegetarian, easily themed. No cous-cous? Use rice, like on the box.

I left the cous-cous (~1 cup) grossly underseasoned by my usually standards so that it could stand alone as its own flavor. The main centerpiece of these pyramids was the yellow onion (~1/2), yellow squash (~1/2) and zucchini (~1/2) medley that I sautéed with a little butter and olive oil, never forgetting my trusted Tony's.

I also had one extra chicken breast that I seasoned and cooked up on a skillet real quick. While it was sizzling, I chopped up one tomato and a bunch of walnuts into tiny little pieces. I julienned some spinach as well. Then chopped the chicken real small too.

Then all I did was stuff the pyramids. I started and ended with cous-cous, thinking that it'd definitely keep its shape best. Next layer was walnuts, then a thick squash and zucchini layer. Under that was the chicken, then the spinach and the end layer of cous-cous. Firm but gentle pressure is the key to making it stick. My honeybee spatula was just right for firm, flat, even pressure. I put the plate on top of the pyramid, flipped them together and gently removed the pyramid form. (Also, the recipes always recommend spraying the inside of the pyramid with vegetable spray or something. If I were baking, I'd do this, but I skipped this step and they came out just perfect.)

I had a little cous-cous and squash & zucchini left, so I used some tiny condiment thingies for some contrastive shapes. I made a dessert cous-cous mound with walnuts, cranberries and cous-cous. Delicious.

Here are some amazingly beautiful photos of this amazingly beautiful meal.

I thought that the once you stuck your fork in the thing, it would all be ruined, but actually, they kept their shape pretty well. It was like cous-cous pyramid Jenga. Always play with your food.

I'm most looking forward to baking with theses puppies. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I love cous-cous

Seriously. I love it.

It's sort of a 'signature dish' in our house. My fiancé Nate and I have been playing with and perfecting our cous-cous for nearly three years now, and we're still not sick of it. (Nate and I noodle around in the kitchen together a lot. I'll always give him credit here if we teamwork an awesome meal together. :) Here's me stirring a big pot of cous-cous while Amanda threatens my drooling dog, Phydeaux.

The reason we can eat cous-cous for three years and not get sick of it is that it's so darn versatile. You can put whatever you want into it! It's a great vegetarian dish, and it works well as the main dish or on the side. Nate and I have come up with a pretty standard preparation that'll feed the two of us and leave leftovers:

I set the cous-cous (~2 cups uncooked) a-cooking according to the directions: 1 cup water to 1 cup cous-cous. I add butter and olive oil (~1 tblsp each for each cup of cous-cous). I buy it in a plastic container thing because we use it so much, but if you're just cooking for one, the boxes of seasoned cous-cous work well (but is only about 1 cup of cous-cous). I love the one with the little bits of dried broccoli in it.

I season my cous-cous with Tony's, which is, like, the most important thing in my kitchen. You can put in on anything and everything. I never use salt. I always use Tony's. I always keep a back-up. Get used to it!

I also am in charge of fresh herbs. Julienned basil rocks in cous-cous; when I don't have it, dried basil suffices. Fresh garlic is good, but I often forego it and cut corners by seasoned the cous-cous with garlic powder. Then I open, drain and rinse a can of kidney beans, usually dark red - or whatever's in the pantry. No need to cook them.

Nate chops the purple onion (~1/2-1), tomato (~2-3) and cucumber (~2). Nate prefers the cucumber skin on, but I prefer it off since it's sometimes too bitter, so I peel them and scrape out the seeds with a spoon - otherwise things get too soggy.

While Nate is finishing chopping, I fluff the cous-cous and start folding in the goodness. Lastly, lemon juice (~1/2 a lemon) is squeezed on it all and mixed in.

So that's the basics. But - the thing that will make your cous-cous taste the awesomest is bacon (~3 strips), cooked and crumbled into tiny tiny bits. You don't need much. It's not about the bacon; it's about the subtle taste of the bacon in your cous-cous.

Cous-cous itself has a very delicious flavor, but a simple one. I try not to junk up the cous-cous too much, preferring to add ingredients that complement the cous-cous instead of using it as a backdrop.

Other favorite ingredients include: nuts (walnuts or pine nuts especially, in small pieces), spinach (julienned), chicken (seasoned, cooked and diced), dressing (ranch and italian both work, but use sparingly). If you don't like basil, I've also used rosemary and oregano on separate occasions (but I like basil best).

For advanced adventurers:

An extended use of cous-cous is one of my favorites: cous-cous stuffed chicken breasts. Simple, too.

I've found that there are two keys to stuffing chicken breasts with anything. Firstly, pound them out so that they're big and flat, so you have enough to work with. I try to only use free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken breasts, which tend to be larger and thicker than other yuckier, meaner chicken breasts.

Secondly, use a whole bunch of toothpicks. I take an end, make a little pouch and toothpick the crap out of it. Then you can stuff it really full -- go on, cram it in there. When your end pouch is full, I stitch the chicken into a tube with more toothpicks, then stuff some more. Just make sure you can close it off.

These are easy and great because I just put 'em right on the Foreman grill. Season the outside, pop them on for a few minutes and you're good to go. Delicious.

Here's Nate enjoying. =]

Be prepared for more awesome cous-cous posts. Seriously -- awesome.

Hello, World.

I blame my dad. He's always been very adventurous in the kitchen. A Sunday afternoon standard: a concoction named Dad Soup. It's where he'd take whatever was leftover in the pantry and fridge and somehow make something delicious out of it -- at least most of the time. When it didn't turn out right, we still ate it, appreciating the good parts and calculating where it went wrong.

Dad's exploits in the kitchen are in contrast to my mom's more standard approach of sticking with the classics as they are. She never followed a recipe but the ones in her head. Louisiana okra gumbo, homemade chicken noodle soup, roundsteak and rice and gravy... These were the everyday feasts I grew up on and that I make my mom make every time I visit.

I've been cooking a lot lately. It's probably because I finally have a kitchen instead of just, like, a fridge and a microwave. More than one person can stand in it! (And dogs.)

I'm not just a recipe-follower; I am the world's best recipe-adulterator. I flip through cookbooks and surf the Internet looking for them, but I never follow them exactly. Usually, I pick a few that sound promising and combine the parts I like. A recent success (white chili, mm) was an amalgamation of three or four recipes I found online plus my own experiences and preferences for chili.

Of course, sometimes things bomb. My now-famous chocolate and organic peanut butter icing took four or five tries until I finally decided that I had a "recipe" -- though I'm sure next time I make it, it'll change yet again. ... I'm still working on my bottom-of-the-bag frosted shredded wheat cookie recipe. (I'll post some pictures from that trial {and error!} soon.)

I also blame my dad for this blog. He's a writer and a good one to boot, so I'd like to think that I, too, have something interesting to say that someone would want to read out there in cyberspace.

When consuming this blog, I only ask one thing: don't follow my recipes. I'll share my adventures in experimental cookery and give you my "recipes" -- but I hope that you take what you like, leave what you don't and make meals that you enjoy every part of.