Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 27, 2012 - Thai Chicken Pizza

Okay, so its my 2nd weekend without my cooking cohorts, and I decided that I wanted to try a pizza recipe that had been sitting in a recipe box for over a year now.  I had found a Thai Chicken Pizza recipe that had so many flavors that I loved - peanut sauce, cilantro, cucumber... how could this go wrong?  So I fashioned up a menu that focused around Asian flavors.

Final determination - quite like our last attempt at Thai - I need to just wave the white flag and stick to the restaurants.

Cocktail - Thai Coco Cocktail

This cocktail was divine, but did require a little changing up to suit my tastes.  I followed the initial recipe exactly at first, using Bacardi Rock Coconut Rum.  (I couldn't bring myself to buy Malibu at the liquor store.  It brings back too many memories of my youth.)  The lemongrass simple syrup was easy to make and smelled amazing.  However, the measurements on the recipe were off to me - way too sweet.  So... I halved the simple syrup that was written and topped with some lemon seltzer water and it was perfection!

Appetizer - Thai Cucumber Salad

Perfect blend of flavors!  The rice wine vinegar and sugar give a tangy but sweet taste, and the cilantro gives a nice bite accompanied by the spicy jalapeno.  I have made this recipe many times before, it's always a hit, and for me - the perfect cucumber salad that doesn't include any mayo in it.

Entree - Thai Chicken Pizza

Conceptually, this could work.  The flavors are all there however the flavors just didn't harmonize well to me.  In fact, I think the thing that really screwed this recipe up for me was the plum sauce.  I made the pizza, ate the first piece and rather enjoyed it.  By piece two, I realized how sweet the underlying sauce was, and was completely turned off.  Perhaps instead of plum sauce, a light layer of sesame ginger salad dressing?  Or put a light layer of jarred peanut sauce instead of using peanut sauce on the chicken?  I'm sure this recipe can be fixed, but I'm just not going to take the time to try it again.  Thai food - you've beaten me!  I give up!  I will stick to take out only from now on.

Dessert - I am an epic failure

I know I promised last week... but alas, the holiday weekend was calling and I completely failed on coming up with a dessert to test.  I promise I will dedicate an entire week to just desserts in the near future.

Wine - None

I know we always include a wine and I apologize to our fellow oenophiles out there.  However, it's a holiday weekend, 80+ degrees and humid, and I had a fridge stocked with cold beer and no work the next day.  So I had a couple more cocktails than I normally would have and then switched to beer. 
For shame, I know.

Bonus Recipe - Sesame Chicken Pasta Salad

My office had a pot luck this week, and I had brought this pasta salad.  I've been making this dish for years, mostly because its a great thing to pack for lunch - especially for anyone who doesn't have a microwave to heat up meals.  Just throw some ice packs around it in a cooler, and you'll be good to go!  The flavor is amazing, the ingredients are simple, and it can be left as is or doctored up to your choosing.  I've added sweet chili sauce, sriracha sauce, orange juice, fresh ginger, teriyaki sauce - you name it!  (Just cut the vegetable oil to 1/3 cup.)  If you're still rather new to cooking, or rather nervous - this is a great starter recipe.   You will not go wrong... trust me!

Programming Note:  I'm gone next weekend.  I'll be in New Orleans enjoying the food, the booze, the jazz, and the debauchery of one of my favorite cities.  John and Jenn will be back from the French Riviera (still hating them), and they'll be cooking up a Culinary Sunday meal without me.  I'll post their meal when I return on Wednesday.  Thanks for hanging in there with me while I was flying solo!

Next Week - TBD

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 20, 2012 - A New Twist on Lasagna

Good Morning, fellow Culinary Sundays followers!  For the first time since the inception of our little blog, I was on my own last night in the kitchen!  But I hope I did my fellow partners-in-food justice while they were out enjoying the beautiful country of Monaco.

When I think of Monaco, I think of casinos, the French Riviera, glamorous yachts, and of course - James Bond.  So in honor of their absence... I chose a special cocktail.

Cocktail - The Vesper Martini (aka 007 Martini)

"Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it's ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.  Got it?" - Casino Royale, Chapter 7

Okay... first off, you can tell my lemon peeling skills leave something to be desired.  That is why I don't handle the cocktails normally.  I'm not a huge gin fan, so while my dinner guest said it was very tasty and he finished it easily, I ended up adding a bit of lemon seltzer to mine just to water it down a little.  But hey, at least I can say I've had the official James Bond martini.

Appetizer - Spinach Sauteed with Garlic, Dried Fruit, and Honey


This was fabulous!  I did make some substitutions based on what I had in the kitchen.  The original recipe calls for using dried figs while I used dried fruit pieces.  And I used regular bagged spinach and not baby spinach.  I don't think these alterations had any effect on the flavor, and I am excited to try it again with baby spinach and figs.  Regardless, the flavor was spot on and the fruit and honey helped jazz up the spinach!  This could have been a light dinner in itself.

Entree - Caramelized Onion and Pancetta Lasagna

I am so glad I trusted my gut on this one and didn't let my overwhelming doubts cloud my judgement.  This was an amazing meal!  The sweetness of the onions balanced the pepper in the pancetta and went so perfectly with the gooey-ness of the mozzarella!  Let's discuss some cooking methods/changes/etc.

Take the time to caramelize your onions.  It took me the 15 minutes covered and then almost an hour uncovered for them to be the perfect texture.  Don't rush this process becuase then you may as well not make it at all.  Secondly, I know you're thinking "holy crap, that's a lot of sliced onions."  Trust me - they cook down to barely anything. 

Double the pancetta.  And then crisp it in a saute pan until the fat renders out.  Otherwise, you have chewy pieces in the lasagna which is not very attractive.  I also used up some thinly sliced mozzarella from Sargento that was in my fridge - easy and hassle-free.

Assembly.  There is no way this can make 5 layers of lasagna.  If you double the onions, then maybe.  I could barely get my two layers of filling.  You want to spread the onions out very thinly, too.  It's kind of like that fake spiderweb material at Halloween which you just keep stretching and stretching.  If you pack on the onions too thickly, it will be overwhelming. 

With those changes, this was flawless.  My dinner guest ate up multiple servings, and I already have some leftovers packed for lunch today!

Wine - 2009 Benton Lane Pinot Noir

Wine Advocate - 90/100

Compared to your traditional pinot noir, this Oregon red was very deep and complex.  It had great aromas of cherries, blackberries, and even mushrooms with a savory taste of raspberries with a hint of spice.  It balanced the sweet of the onions and the pepper in the pancetta very well and was extremely drinkable even after the meal was over.

I didn't do a dessert tonight, and I apologize to the avid dessert followers out there.  I will make sure to do something great next week.

Next Week - Thai Chicken Pizza

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 13, 2012 - Lobster Thermidor

This meal came about because of a bottle of wine.  A month or so ago when we were going through John and Jenn's stockpile, we came across a bottle of 2007 Shafer "Red Shoulder Ranch" Chardonnay - and upon some research, realized this was a really good bottle of wine.  So we figured we would need to do a fabulous dish to go with the wine, and instead of regular old lobster, we wanted to try some gourmet lobster creation.  So we agreed that once lobster went on sale, we would try our hand at a lobster thermidor.  And even if the food didn't turn out well, at least we had some great wine to drink.  Well, guess what was on sale this week?

Cocktail - Hard Lemonade

Fresh squeezed lemon juice, orange zest, simple syrup, clementine vodka

Perfect start to the evening!  This cocktail was light and fresh, and was almost palate-cleansing before the big meal.

Appetizer - Endive and Snap Pea Salad with Parmesan Dressing

Amazing.  This salad (which actually had no "lettuce" of any type) was a fabulous neutral start to the evening.  The flavors were clean and organic without a heavy overpowering taste.  The only change we made was using white wine vinegar instead of champagne vinegar and all extra virgin olive oil instead of sunflower oil.  The fresh herbs really made all the difference.  The bitter-ness of the endive matched beautifully with the sweet tartness of the cocktail.  And we were initially afraid of the parmesan - don't be!  It worked so well as a finished product.

Entree - Julia Child's Lobster Thermidor

At least once in your life, you will need to try a lobster thermidor.  Not many restaurants offer it these days because its time consuming and a pain in the butt to make - but  make it at home!  This meal was absolutely divine.  (It better be with that much wine, cream, and butter!)  So let me walk you through it and hopefully convince you that its something you can do at home!

Steam the lobsters in the wine and herbs as instructed.  You will be using these juices later, so don't think you can just boil in regular water and go from there.  This is an important step.  Let them cool, crack them in half and scoop out the good stuff.  (Keep in mind, the recipe tells you to completely half the lobsters, and one half would be a serving... we simply cracked them open and stuffed - the presentation was better.)  You can do this step earlier if you'd like, because the lobster meat will be re-cooked on the stove, so you're in no rush at this point.

It's the sauces where you get confused.  There are a lot of pots and pans and if you're a cook, you know Julia Child isn't known for her organization and is rather scattered in her cooking methods.  Saute down the mushrooms, put the mushrooms in a bowl and put the juices in the simmering lobster stock.  Cook down the lobster stock as instructed.  Once again, this can be done early on.

Combine the drained stock with the roux and then with the egg/cream/mustard mixture.  Then return to pan to thicken and you're done!  (See, it seems simpler when I break it down for you.)

Cook your lobster meat in the butter and then the cognac.  (Yum.)  Add the mushrooms, ladlefuls of the cream sauce until your desired consistency and stuff your lobster!  Pour more cream sauce over, top with parmesan, dot with butter and bake!

Start to finish, this meal took us about an hour to prepare.  Jenn handled cooking the lobsters and then cleaning and taking care of the meat while I did all the sauces.  When executed properly, it was fairly easy!

So once again - if you're even slightly interested... make this dish!  Cheat on the diet... we won't tell anyone.

Wine - 2007 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay

Wine Enthusiast - 94/100

This Napa chardonnay was unreal.  It was comfortably oak-y and loaded with tropical fruits, green apple, and pineapple.  It had a crisp, mineral finish that lingered comfortably on the tongue.  Truly, a fantastic wine.  (Many thank yous to M&L for bringing this back from your last Napa vacation.  We can't wait to plan a meal around the red you brought as well!)

Dessert - Fresh Berry Tart with Chambord Sauce

Let me put this in perspective for you.  It's 7am on Monday morning and I'm trying to get this blog post done before I get ready for work.  And for breakfast, I'm eating leftover white chocolate custard covered in fresh berries.  Yum.  So good.  Amazing.  Perfect summer dessert!

Okay... we used individual puff pastry shells instead of making our own.  (You can buy them from the grocery store... save yourself the trouble.)  Followed the custard recipe pretty much to a T, but used vanilla extract instead of a vanilla bean.  The custard can be made in advance, and it was made that morning and just kept in the fridge.  The Chambord sauce/glaze seemed rather confusing to me in this recipe, so we simply just combined some raspberry preserves with a few splashes of Chambord.  Easy.  Done.  Assembly... slightly reheat a previously baked tart shell, fill with white chocolate custard, top with berries, cover with raspberry sauce.  Soooo good.  I think I may even bring it for lunch today. 

So overall, a dynamite meal to add to our Sunday repertoire.  We were so proud of the final result, and so excited to share with you all.  But I do have some disappointing news for you.  Over the next 2 weeks, John and Jenn will be travelling to Monaco (so jealous), so you'll be stuck with just me.  My cocktail creations are not nearly as good, and my kitchen is about half the size, and my camera skills leave a lot to be desired.  I'm just warning you.  So go easy on me.

Next Week - A New Twist on Lasagna

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 6, 2012 - Cinco de Mayo

So this was a fun holiday weekend.  Not only did we have Cinco de Mayo but we also had the Kentucky Derby!  (We had drawn Sabercat in a bar pool... he didn't do too well.  On a different note, a horse named "I'll Have Another"... priceless.)  Regardless, we were excited to break out the tequila and celebrate the classic Mexican holiday!

Cocktail - Margarita

It would have just been wrong to make any other cocktail.  However, we did switch up the simple syrup for a few squirts of agave nectar, and it was fabulous.  We did the lime/salt/sugar rim - delicious!  Don't skip this step.  This margarita had the perfect balance of sweet, tart, and tequila.  If you're still using the mix in a bottle, time to start using real margarita recipes - you'd be amazed at the different in quality.

Appetizer - Southwest Quesadilla with Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream

So good!  We excluded the refried beans (not so tempting sounding) and used leftover white cheddar instead of the pepper jack cheese.  These had a good spice kick, were not overpowering, and paired extremely well with the cilantro sour cream.  This would also be a perfect way to use up leftover veggies in the future... just throw them all together in an quesadilla!

Entree - Grilled Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw, Tomato and Avocado Salsa, and Pineapple Hot Sauce

Okay, before I dissect, I'd like to point a few things out.  First off - if you thought we did a lot of Emeril recipes in the winter, just wait until you see what we do with Bobby Flay during the summer.  Secondly - Bobby Flay recipes look very labor intensive.  Do not shy away for that reason.  We ended up making everything the morning off, and then when it was time to cook, there was no work involved at all.  A little kitchen strategy and you'll be fine.

So let's start with the fish.  The fish department was out of mahi mahi, so we settled for cod.  (You will never see a tilapia recipe on this blog - just personal preference.)  And because cod is rather flaky, we sauteed it in the pan instead of frying.  Sue us.  We put the citrus vinaigrette over the fish as soon as we took it off the stove and let it sit while we finished the meal.  That vinaigrette is amazing.  (Please note - you do not marinate the fish, you top the cooked fish with the mixture.)

The tomato and avocado salsa was divine.  The flavors melded so perfectly together, and it was such a complement to the rest of the factors in the meal.  The red cabbage slaw was just as delicious and the sugar and rice wine vinegar really brought it to new levels.

Grilled pineapple hot sauce.  You can grill a pineapple!  Who knew!  And we got so excited watching it grill, because the juices were starting to squeeze out and the backyard was starting to smell tropical... ahhhh.  Anyways, so you peel the pineapple, chop it up, and followed the rest of the recipe.  Instead of 2 habaneros, we settled for 1 jalapeno. (We're heat wimps.)  Everything else was exactly as written.  And honestly, we probably could have used a little more heat... maybe 1 habanero next time.  And we blended everything together but did not strain as the recipe asks to, because we simply didn't see what it would be necessary.  (And the mixture is so thick, I really don't think that would have worked.)  This was honestly the best part of the dish.  Refreshing, cold, sweet, a little fire - perfection.  However, this makes a LOT - so be prepared to freeze leftover sauce.

Overall, a fantastic meal that will become a summer staple.  Mid-week meal is going to be using that citrus vinaigrette to marinate some lamb or pork kabobs and then grilling it and topping with the pineapple sauce.  (Perhaps wrapping up in a leftover soft taco shell!)

Wine - 2010 Couly-Dutheil Chinon les Chanteaux

Wine Spectator - 90/100

This nicely-bodied white was the perfect accompaniment to the Mexican meal.  It had a beautiful pale yellow color with a bouquet of mineral and citrus.  It was a dry wine with flavors of apple, grapefruit, and grass with a clean finish.  Thanks, Greg!

Dessert - Apple Empanadas

No recipe

We're still a little tired from last week, so we wanted a no-fuss dessert.  We used last week's empanada shells, filled them with (gasp) canned spiced apple pie filling, and baked them about 20 minutes or so at 350.  Topped with some (store bought) whipped cream and voila!  This was a wonderfully tasty dessert, and it was nice to have the crisp of the empanada shell after the softness of the fish taco.  Not ashamed to say we cut corners on this one!  (We'll go back to something a little more home-made and gourmet next week.)

Aperitif - Patron XO Cafe

Coffee liqueur flavored with tequila?  It's actually rather sweet and light... best served neat.  (Stick to just 1 or else you'll have trouble the next morning.)

Next Week - Not Sure Yet