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Orange Chocolate Cake Monstrosity

photo 2 (3) photo 1 (2)

Made for my sister’s birthday – super chocolatey cake (moist but lightweight; I wouldn’t use fondant with this) with orange frosting filling and orange chocolate ganache.  This is a pretty rich cake, so I think a 6-inch round was a good size for a small at-home birthday party.  The lumpiness was not on purpose.  This is a mashup of a few internet recipes.

Cake: 

The original cake recipe is here.  Ina Garten also has a pretty much identical version with more fancy-sounding ingredients, but I thought that the one without kosher salt (gasp) came out fine.  It is sized for two 9-inch rounds or a 9×13, but I did two 6-inch rounds and 10 cupcakes.

Ingredients:

  • Butter to grease pans
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour + extra to flour pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder (unsweetened, non-dutch)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I used a short americano for some more condensed espresso flavor)

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter and flour the pans (this is super important; this cake falls apart easily.  Actually, I might try lining them with greased/floured parchment next time).  Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and then add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed for two minutes (the batter will be thin).  Pour into prepared pans – pans should not be more than 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick comes out clean.

Bake times:

  • 2 9-in or 2 8-in pans: 30 to 40 minutes
  • 2 6-in pans: 25 to 35 minutes
  • Cupcakes: ~20 minutes

Cool for 10 minutes, invert onto parchmented wire rack and finish cooling.

Orange Buttercream Frosting Filling: 

Original recipe here.  Ingredients:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel (can increase for more orangey-ness)
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons (closer to 3) orange juice (fresh-squeezed is best – a couple navel oranges will do the trick)

Cream butter until fluffy.  Beat in the sugar, orange peel and vanilla (this is hard; it will mostly be powdery).  Add enough orange juice to get to a frosting consistency.   Makes about 1 cup; this is enough to fill between 2 6-in rounds but if you’re wanting any more than that, I would make multiples of this recipe.

Chocolate Orange Ganache: 

Basic ganache recipe is here.  I doubled it and added flavoring.  This is a solid chocolate ganache for pouring or whipping, with or without added flavorings.

Ingredients:

  • 18 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)

Bring cream to boiling (watch it carefully; it will boil over).  Put the chocolate into a medium-sized bowl.  Pour heated cream over the chocolate, whisk until smooth.  Whisk in liqueur.   For pouring, allow the ganache to cool for a few minutes.  For whipping, let it cool until thick (30 or 40 minutes) and then whip with a hand mixer or whisk until fluffy.

Decorating: 

This cake is super moist and crumbly, so my attempt came out a little lumpy because it fell apart as I was taking it out of the pan.  To remedy, I used the buttercream to fill the layers it and then had to use the leftovers to crumb coat the sides.

I poured unwhipped ganache over the crumb-coated cake, and then whipped the remainder to use in frosting the cupcakes.  I added some bordering to cover the crappy-looking bottom edges.  There was a lot of leftover ganache, so someone more industrious could probably have gone farther with that.  I garnished the cake with more orange zest and some chocolate orange Pirouline-type cookies from World Market.   I garnished the cupcakes with candied orange peel and some leftover chocolate chips from the ganache recipe.  Hooray!

 

Cottage Cheese Sriracha Tuna

Sounds horrifying, tastes good:

  • 150g fat-free cottage cheese
  • 2-3 tsp Sriracha sauce
  • 1 can tuna in water, drained

Combine ingredients in bowl, stir to mix.

  • Calories: 220
  • Carbs: 16g
  • Fat: 2g
  • Protein: 37g

Originally taken from this video

Onion Braised Beef Brisket

So here’s a recipe that is deceptively simple, the writeup on Once Upon a Chef explains it pretty well with pictures:

http://www.onceuponachef.com/2012/12/onion-braised-beef-brisket.html

Long story short:

  • Get a brisket.
  • Salt, pepper, (maybe) flour it.
  • Pan sear both sides.
  • Put it on a bed of A LOT of sliced onions (maybe like 6?) in a roasting pan.
  • Cover the top with a thin layer of tomato paste (probably optional)
  • Throw some carrots in there.
  • 350 degrees for 90 minutes, covered tightly with aluminum foil.
  • Take it out, slice it against the grain, and put it back, keeping the slices mostly layered/overlapped.
  • Put some basting liquid on top (I use Better Than Bouillon soup base and water).
  • Bake uncovered a few more hours, putting more liquid on top if things start to look dry.

The original recipe didn’t even call for adding stock, and just uses the fat drippings and onions for gravy. I’m a fan of getting leaner cuts, and beef brisket with a smaller fat cap, so I’d prefer more control over the gravy’s fat content: in this case, we just use a low sodium beef broth. The onions cook slowly with the beef stock, making an old-fashioned onion gravy that’s really hard to beat. I intend to pack slices of this for lunch, otherwise I’d throw in some Yorkshire puddings to mop up the delicious sauce.

A cruel mockery of coq au vin

This is not coq au vin. This is a recipe for something else entirely. However, if you are having guests over who don’t care about details or know anything about French food, It Will Do, because it is pretty damn tasty anyhow. It will also do if you are alone at home and feel a bit fancy, but not TOO fancy. Notice: No lardons, no mushrooms, and no overnight soaking (seriously?). If someone French is coming over, do not make this for them, they will make fun of you.

I know I have posted two chicken braises in a row, but who cares, you’re not my boss.

A cruel mockery of coq au vin
Adapted from MY FEVERED BRAIN

  • one chicken, cut into pieces1
  • flour, salt, pepper
  • unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup chicken broth
  • one half to a whole a bottle of red wine, preferably cheap2
  • a whole “tub” of Trader Joe’s mirepoix3, or about 2 1/2 cups diced onion, carrot, and celery in equal proportions
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, halved4
  • tomato paste

Dust the chicken with flour, salt, and pepper. Melt about a tablespoon or two of butter in a hot (oven-safe) pan, and then sear the chicken in butter (which might brown, but that’s okay) skin side down until skin is brown and/or crispy. Remove chicken, add wine to the pan, scrape up the delicious brown bits, bring to a boil, reduce halfway, and then pour over the chicken. Reserve both chicken and wine (do not throw these out: coq au vin means “cock (a chicken dude) au wine,” after all).

Melt another large pat of butter in the pan, now over slightly lower heat. Inhale deeply the sweet and cloying-but-pleasant aroma of grape must mixing with butter. Add the mirepoix and sautée until just starting to brown. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, then add the chicken broth and thyme. Stir until much of the liquid has been absorbed, then place the chicken neatly on top of the mirepoix and pour the wine mixture over. Bring to a zzzesty simmer, cover it, and place it in the oven. Braise for 2-3 hours.

Remove chicken, bring pan of sauce to a bit of a boil, stir in the tomato paste, and reduce the sauce to desired thickness. (I like it thick, hahaha). Do not forget to pour this over the chicken when you serve it.

I served this aberration of French cuisine with lentils and steamed spinach, but do whatever you want. Who even cares, right?


1 Or just whichever parts you like best. I used two thighs and a breast, because that is what fit in my pan. I ended up with more sauce than I needed, but use your judgment

2 I am so ashamed of the bottle I bought (a $5 zinfandel) I am not even going to write down the brand’s name.

3 I am, however, not ashamed of this. Pre-diced mirepoix is a great idea and Trader Joe’s should be lauded for it.

4 I like them halved because sometimes I’m lazy, but also because I think it nice to bite into large braised chunks of garlic (in the same way that roasted garlic is so very pleasant and toasty).

Vietnamese-style Hainanese-style Chicken [and] Rice

Hainanese chicken rice is a storied dish, open to multicultural interpretation (Hainan being something of a cultural crossroads). My mom’s friend used to make it in the Vietnamese style whenever we visited her, and it was such a lovely, comforting dish… her house would smell totally AMAZING just like yours will soon. =D

While I’ve adapted the presentation of the dish somewhat to my tastes (cracklings?? :O), the idea is simple: Chicken boiled with aromatics (heavy on the ginger), the resulting oil and broth used to cook rice almost risotto-style, served with an array of side dishes, toppings, and sauces.

Cơm gà Hội An
(Synthesized from countless internet posts, childhood memories)

For the chicken, you will need

  • A nice chicken, dead. Preferably free-range, weighing around 3.5-4.5 lb.1
    (Cavity cleaned, giblets removed, any excess skin reserved for cooking the rice, neck reserved if possible.)
  • 2 white onions, quartered
  • A small bunch o’ scallions (about 4?)
  • An inadvisably large amount of ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • A pot large enough to hold the chicken and enough water to cover it
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4-6 tbsp fish sauce (to taste2)
  • 6-8 pods star anise (optional3)

Begin by rubbing the chicken generously with salt, wiping the salt off the chicken as you work (this is basically a cleaning step—it will mean less scum on your broth later on). You don’t have to clean the inside, but instead, stuff it with the onions and scallions and ginger within reason. The remaining aromatics go in the pot, filled with enough water to cover the chicken. I situated mine breast-up, but do whatever seems best to you. Throw the chicken neck in, too, and the wing tips if you decided to take them off for some reason (this was in a lot of recipes, but it seems pointless to me?).

Bring the whole thing to a gentle boil, and hold that boil for 15 minutes, skimming any scum off as you go. Then, add the salt, sugar, and fish sauce, cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of your bird. Take the pot off the heat, and allow to rest for 35-45 minutes. If you did it right, you will have difficulty removing the bird from the pot because it is so tender that it is falling apart. Harvest the meat and skin from the chicken, reserving separately. Reserve the broth as well, obviously. (If you have a fat separator, separate the broth from the fat, using the fat in the rice step.) Adjust the broth for seasoning.

DISCARD THE SKELETON

Place the harvested chunks of chicken meat in a shallow bowl or pyrex dish, add a few star anise pods (if you like), then pour warmed but not hot broth over. Keep the chicken (for now) at room temperature.

For the rice, you will need

  • 2 cups (uncooked) rice, rinsed several times4
  • Excess, uncooked skin from the chicken (not the skin harvested after boiling)
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbsp ginger, minced (to taste, I guess!)
  • Broth from before, at a boil5

Essentially, you will prepare this risotto style! Fry the skin in a bit of vegetable oil until the fat has rendered off as much as possible (you will need about 2 tbsp of fat, so adjust with veg oil if necessary), then add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the rice and continue to stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add boiling stock to your pot gradually, waiting for all the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. The rice is done when it has achieved the desired texture. It should be somewhat oily and delicious and infused with chickeny flavors.

Serving options:

  • Some recipes for Hainan chicken (usually the more Chinese-influenced ones) call for icebathing the chicken after it is boiled (this would mean you’d need a longer boil or simmer for food safety reasons). This “does something to the skin” but I dislike the texture of boiled chicken skin, so instead, I used the harvested skin to make cracklings: Preheat your oven to 425, grease a pan, add flat pieces of chicken skin, salt, and put it in the oven. Immediately drop the temperature to 375, and then after 10 minutes, to 200 until they seem done. Hopefully, this will produce crisp, brown cracklings, not burned black chicken skin dust. Blot dry with paper towels and allow to cool on a rack (or in the other order). Chop into strips, maybe season with chili flake, and use this as a topping.
  • I rewarmed my chicken for 10-15 minutes in a 200 degree oven. This also allowed the star anise to shine, infusing the broth with a fresh dose of aromatics. You don’t have to keep the chicken in the broth, but I find that this keeps it nice and moist while you complete the other components.
  • Chopped cilantro and scallions are NOT optional. Chopped peanuts, Nước chấm, sweet chili sauce, and wedges of lime are also encouraged.
  • Confuse your white-as-snow boyfriend with a cup of hot broth at the side (“what am I supposed to do with this? I’m scared I’ll do it wrong! D:” so cute :3).
  • A quick salad of cucumbers, rice vinegar, sugar, salt, fish sauce, and chili flakes—also a great side dish here.

Enjoy!


1For reference, mine was 4.22 lbs, Mary’s organic “air-chilled” chicken. I boiled for 15 minutes, simmered for 20 minutes, and rested for 40 minutes.

2I chug fish sauce for fun, so 4 tbsp might even be too much if you are sensitive.

3This is more editorializing on my part: star anise was mentioned in no recipes I found. I just have so much that I keep trying to find uses for it (tomato soup and mulled wine are other good applications, and in marinades for duck breast).

4Most Vietnamese recipes recommended jasmine rice, but I used sushi rice because I am a rebel. It is impossible to wash sushi rice to clear water, which probably explains why my rice came out somewhat sticky, but I like it that way. Reminded me of childhood Asian dishes in other ways (specifically my mother’s Filipino style rice congee or jook).

5The broth is excellent. I am having some right now because I may have a Christmas cold. :\

A lot of love and a little SCIENCE

My brother got me Modernist Cuisine as a PhD graduation/birthday combo present. It’s a beautiful book (the photography itself is amazing) filled with lots of helpful/intriguing food-scientific information, tables, and recipes laid out like lab procedures. It won a James Beard Award. It was written (and sponsored) in part by Microsoft’s former CTO. It is often called “the most important cookbook since Escoffier.” It’s kind of a big deal.

Sadly, most of the recipes in Modernist Cuisine are… impractical. For example, (one of) the potato purée recipes calls for a good quality juicer (okay…), a sous vide set-up (expensive!), and a centrifuge (what). Not exactly Mom’s mashed potatoes :0 … (or even Joël Robuchon’s). I could go on and on about some of the ridiculous stuff their recipes calls for but the point is that I do not have the means for 99% of the recipes in the book. I don’t even own an immersion blender, for chrissakes.*

However! They have a macaroni and cheese recipe which is totally approachable, as long as you have access to some nonstandard pantry items… namely, sodium citrate! Available, like everything else you could ever want, on Amazon (currently out of stock, but the company also sells it directly). I picked mine up at Le Sanctuaire.

So you know how when you make macaroni and cheese from scratch, you have to make a roux, turn that into a white sauce, and then add the cheese? THE WORST! I love mac and cheese, but I really dislike this method… mostly because I am almost always unsatisfied with either the cheesiness (not cheesy enough) or the texture (gets grainy if you add too much cheese, use the wrong cheese, etc.) or sometimes the flavor (starchy if you get at all impatient during the roux-making). After all that work and stress, disappointing results are just unacceptable.

Enter SCIENCE. Cheese is an emulsification of whey and fat (and delicious flavor magic), and it’s stable at room temperature, but most (real) cheeses do not hold their emulsified state when heated—especially aged cheeses. This is, as the Modernist Cuisine staff writes, “a cosmic injustice.” Sodium citrate allows the emulsification to be heated without breaking. My understanding is this: whey proteins loosely bind calcium ions, and when cheese is heated, these calcium ions get excited, ESCAPE, and then screw up the emulsification. Sodium citrate prevents this from happening by binding to (or “sequestering”) the calcium ions more strongly and at higher temperatures. Anyway, it’s synthesized from baking soda and lemons, the FDA considers it completely safe, and our government would never lie.

Modernist Mac and Cheese
(Adapted from Modernist Cuisine)

  • 1 1/8 cup water, water-beer mixture1, or milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sodium citrate2
  • 4 cups grated cheese3
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 lb macaroni4
  • toppings!

Mix the sodium citrate into your water (water-beer, or milk) until dissolved, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cheese slowly to this solution, whisking until the cheese dissolves(!) into the liquid after each addition, like magic. Behold: cheese sauce! Add salt to taste.

You can now refrigerate the sauce or just take it off the heat. It will set a bit, but the emulsification should not break,5 and whisking vigorously will bring its texture back to the desired level of creaminess.6 Boil your macaroni to al dente and drain it (BUT DO NOT RINSE IT, we want some starch on it to hold the sauce), then fold in the cheese sauce. Add toppings and ENJOY. :D

This makes about 4 servings of creamy, delicious mac and cheese. “Oh my god” is the only appropriate reaction. I promise.


1 I used a half-and-half solution of water and Hefeweizen. If you use beer it WILL foam vigorously as you whisk, which will occlude your vantage of the magical emulsification process, but it will eventually die down. Do not be alarmed, human.

2 I might bring some with me to DC next weekend if you want some!

3 I used aged gouda and sharp cheddar in a 1:2 ratio. This was a good thing. You can’t make mac and cheese with aged gouda the old-fashioned way, I think. Also, I (or John I guess!) grated it fine, but that might be unnecessary.

4 I used cavatappi. It’s what Ina would do.

5 If it DOES break, MC recommends bringing the solution to a boil, whisking, then cutting the heat. If that doesn’t work, they recommend doing that but also adding some cream. I had absolutely no problems. If you want it to set long-term (as a “constructed cheese”), you also should add 1/4 tsp of iota carrageenan (a gelling agent derived from algae) in with the sodium citrate. SCIENCE IS FUN

6 I would describe the final texture as akin to that of Stouffer’s microwaveable mac and cheese—but of course more delicious and waaay cheesier. If you like your cheese sauce thicker, you probably just take the liquid down a notch and the sodium citrate up a bit. The sodium citrate doesn’t really affect the flavor as far as I could tell (it’s mildly salty/sour on its own) but probably don’t “go crazy.” Anyway, you can use a thicker cheese sauce for nachos! \o/

* In October 2012, they released Modernist Cuisine at Home, which is far more practical for those of us that do not have ultrasonic baths or reliable sources of liquid nitrogen. Anyway, cool gift idea for the food science enthusiast in your life! I hear this book also has a baked version of the above if you like your mac and cheese gratinéed.

** This observation is essentially how Kraft got his start. You are essentially making Velveeta (with fewer preservatives, colorants, and with actual cheese instead of soybean oil concentrated milkfat and milk solids).

Taiwanese style savory soy milk soup

This is the breakfast of my people, and it is delicious.

20121209-142437.jpg

Okay, I recognize that this picture makes it look kind of like random goop. But it really is delicious!

I’m going to provide some of the posts that I followed to make this, because these are probably more useful than my write-up. Check them out:

Ingredients

20121209-150919.jpg

You will have to find an Asian grocery store to get some of this stuff. I highly recommend checking the links provided above for more examples, too.

  • Finely chopped scallions
  • Rice vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • Soy milk (NOTE: get soy milk from an Asian market or store to make sure it is the Chinese style soy milk with no additions of sugar or other flavors. For my friends in northern VA, I highly recommend Than Son Tofu in the Eden Center; they make it fresh every day. Be sure to ask for unsweetened. That place also has awesome bubble tea.
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil

Optional:

  • Pickled mustard greens or kohlrabi
  • Dried shrimp
  • Dried pork sung
  • Chinese donut/creuller
  • Chili oil

Instructions

Once you’ve gathered the ingredients,making this is pretty simple. You just need to prepare the toppings you want- for the pickled veggies and the dried shrimp, you can use a food processor to grind themes finely. Dried shrimp needs to be re-hydrated first with hot water for about 20 min.

Here is the base for the soup:
1. Heat the soy milk up until it boils. Stir occasionally.
2. In the bowls you want to serve the soup in, add a tablespoon of soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, and a dash of vinegar. You won’t need much vinegar to thicken the soup.
3. Ladle the hot soy milk not the bowls and stir. DO NOT PANIC when you see the texture change- that is the vinegar doing its work. If it gets really thick, you have too much vinegar- just add more soy milk.
4. Add toppings.

If you have the frozen Chinese donut/ creuller strip, all you need to do is heat it in the oven at 359 degrees for a few minutes. Cut into one-inch bite sized strips and add to the soup.

Add a few dashes of chili oil- it really adds some flavor to the soup.

Your finely ground shrimp and pickled veggies also add a lot of flavor- add to taste!

And that’s it! Super easy.

Frittata

What do you do when you have a bunch of veggies and leftover meat and eggs? Chop it, mix it, and throw it into a pan! Oh, and bonus points for shouting FREE TA TA over and over while you cook.

We had tons of leftover turkey and ham after thanksgiving, and some leftover veggies from our last CSA delivery (sob), so I decided to try a simple frittata for brunch. You can pretty much put any combination of veggies + meat that you want- just dice up everything to a similar size. Anything uncooked and diced goes into the pan first with olive oil, then add in any greens to wilt (I used spinach once and box chop another time). Then, comes the egg mixture. Details below:

Ingredients – the fillings are all suggestions. You can add whatever your heart desires. Actually, all of the amounts are vague estimates too.
Makes one 9 in diameter frittata, about enough to feed 3-4 people

  • 6-7 eggs
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
  • About 1.5 cups (loosely packed) of diced fillings like onion, carrot, turnip, potato, bell peppers
  • A handful of greens to wilt, Ike spinach, bok choy, chard, any other leafy green
  • About 1/2 cup of diced cooked meat, like roast chicken, turkey, ham. If you don’t have pre cooked meat but want to add some meat, just cook it separately and add it in.

Instructions

Put all the diced raw veggies into a round shallow pan that is oven safe. Sauté with some olive oil until soft. While the veggies are cooking, beat eggs and then add shredded cheese. Add salt and pepper to the egg mixture.

After the veggies are getting soft, add in any greens to wilt. They should cook pretty quickly. Then add in the pre cooked meat.

Spread everything out in the pan evenly when you think it’s all pretty much cooked through. Pour the egg mixture in, distributing it evenly. Turn the heat to medium low. Don’t touch the egg mixture- just let it sit until it looks like at least half of it is cooked through from the bottom and the top is still uncooked. As it is cooking, get ready to turn the broiler in the oven to high.

Pop the pan into the oven with the broiler on for a few minutes just to finish off the top. The egg should look lightly browned.

That’s it, you’re done! I like to serve with Cholula sauce- you can also use ketchup or any other condiment.

Delicious:

20121209-141854.jpg

Pan-fried Okra

I maintain that most of the best examples of food that really captures the essence of American cooking comes from the South.  This recipe involves okra, incidentally, an often misunderstood vegetable.  Alton Brown covered this very well on Good Eats, and I highly recommend you check out that episode.

So I basically threw this recipe together, basing it on the sort of spicy fried okra (bhindi masala) that I’d had both from my mother’s kitchen, as well as Indian buffets I’d been to.  The appeal of this dish comes from two main points.  First, the blend of spices works really well against the blank canvas of a mundane vegetable like okra.  Second, the long frying dries out the mushy insides of the okra, making the skin charred and crispy rather than gross and soggy.  I’m personally not as interested in Indian spice blends as certain roommates of mine, so I decided to go with an American spice blend, using stuff I usually keep stocked anyway.  And when I say a spice blend, I mean Emeril’s Essence, which is a blend he standardized:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

The onion powder and oregano aren’t as crucial (I’ve always subbed celery seed/celery salt) but the paprika, garlic, and cayenne are the workhorses of this blend, and the ground thyme is probably the next most important after those.  Honestly, these are probably things you should have on hand in your spice rack anyhow.

So I start with a bag of Goya frozen okra, which comes chopped up in the bag.  Take the widest bottom stainless steel saucepot you have: teflon won’t give you the sort of crust you want, and a narrow saucepan means the okra will be piled up instead of in a thin even layer on the bottom.  That’s bad because it means the okra on top is steaming and getting soggy, rather than frying and getting drier like you want.  Take a couple tablespoons of oil, enough to cover the bottom in a thin layer, and let it rock on medium to medium-high heat.  There are a few key points here:

  • Much like a sear, this dish will only succeed in giving you a nice crispy crust if you don’t touch it until it’s on the verge of burning.  Stick to somewhere between medium or medium-high heat.
  • Your food will not burn as long as it is cooking in the thin layer of oil, as opposed to sitting directly in the pan.

This is one of the dishes that took me a while to get right because you have to play chicken with it.  I generally wait until I’m convinced it’s burning, or I smell smoke, and give it another 30 seconds anyway.  Turn the okra over, scraping off anything that’s stuck.  Let the other side get the same treatment, then when things are mostly crispy, feel free to do some light stirring.  Don’t be too rough, or the okra will start to come apart.  Blackened cajun spices and crispy okra are the key, otherwise you just have a pile of vegetable mush with paprika in it.  It’s worth learning because a bag of okra is really cheap, and this is a side dish that has quite a bit of character, but doesn’t have a lot of complicated prep to it.

Three-Culture Dinner Party

Dinner parties are hard! I hosted a married couple last night where the husband had high cholesterol and the wife was a devoted vegetarian, so we ended up with a wacky hodge podge of dishes from all over the western world. By some kind of seasoning miracle, the flavors of all three melded beautifully together, and were consumed voraciously by our guests.

Despite hosting a vegetarian, Gabe was fixated on making a pork loin. On a serious time crunch, we settled on a very simple Puerto Rican recipe:

http://www.food.com/recipe/puerto-rican-pork-a-la-criolla-99717

I was a little distressed–no marinating, no brining? And when we unwrapped our loin at home, we discovered that it was secretly two smaller loins (porky surprise!) But Gabe made the pork loin exactly as stated, using a meat thermometer to gauge doneness, and it was the best pork loin I’ve ever had. The inner meat was just barely salty, and the whole thing was just delicious. Plus, low enough in fat that our high cholesterol guest had seconds.

I wanted a dish that was both main-course-y but also could serve as a side-dish for the meatatarians, so I opted for this ratatouille:

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/07/summer-ratatouille-with-pasta-recipe.html

My cubes were not as small as Kenji’s, so they didn’t cook through as consistently, (plus I ended up overcooking the initial garlic and sacrificing burnt offerings to the kitchen gods), but this also came out spectacularly. Finishing with the lemon juice gave everything a brightness, and the sweet veggies highlighted the salt in the pork.

I wanted risotto, and Serious Eats promised me a perfect one. Challenge accepted.

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/10/how-to-make-perfect-risotto-recipe.html

Risotto and I have a sketchy history. From undercooked messes to overcooked mush, it’s safe to say that I simply can’t stand anywhere stirring for an hour while liquid evaporates off my arborio (“AL DENTE??”). This recipe alleviates all my fears and simplifies the issue by putting the starch in the cooking liquid, instead of trying to draw it out during the cooking. As per all stovetop rice, toasting the grains beforehand made a perfect nuttiness. Because we were rushing and doing prep while cooking, I let the butter brown a little too aggressively, but it just captured more of that nutty flavor for the rice.

I flavored the risotto with caramelized onions and peas, and subbing in vegetable stock in place of the chicken made no noticable difference. I will say, you might want to keep an eye on it if you love your risotto strictly al dente–following the instructions exactly, mine clocked in a little overdone, just the way I like it.

Plus, my kitchen smelled like a special heaven where only cooks get to go.

I highly recommend all of these recipes, especially if you need a hasty go-to meal. Special thanks to Katy+Tim, who contributed Cotes du Rhone.