Sunday, November 29, 2009

Smokey Joe


Eager to help me properly assume the role of Man of the House, The Gastronomer purchased a Smokey Joe grill and some top-notch grilling tools for me last Christmas. After browsing cookbooks and the internet for basic grilling tips and consulting with my dad, I stopped by Target to purchase some charcoal. I combed the store but could not find the charcoal anywhere. When I bumped into a store manager and asked if he could help me out, I was met with an incredulous look. "I don't know if we have any--it's not grilling season." Seriously? Sure, it was February, but isn't it always grilling season in California?

Fortunately, it turned out that they did have a couple of bags of charcoal, shoved into a corner in the Lawn and Garden section. Perhaps the age of this charcoal explained why I struggled so much getting it to light--or maybe I just didn't use enough lighter fluid. In any case, eventually I got my little pyramid of coals burning, and when the coals were covered in ash it was time to throw some meat on the grill. I started simple for my first grilling adventure: burgers and Trader Joe's hot Italian pork sausage. I mixed some salt and pepper into the ground beef and made an indentation in the top of the patties, as recommended by my cooking bible; no preparation was necessary to make the sausages taste amazing.


I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't be able to tell how long to cook the sausages without a meat thermometer, but it turned out it was readily apparent from their nice blistered appearance when they were ready to consume. In general, burgers cook for 5-8 minutes, depending how hot the fire is, and sausages cook a bit longer (10-12 minutes). One problem with the Smokey Joe is that if you're grilling more than a few things, there's a good chance the coals will cool down before the cooking is finished. However, it's quite ideal for feeding 2-4 people. On this occasion I melted some cheese on the burgers and toasted brioche buns on the grill, and we enjoyed a delicious protein feast.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Morning Glory Muffins


I made these muffins for dessert following the dates stuffed with parmesan, minty buttery peas, and salmon and leek pot pies. The recipe was chosen with The Gastronomer's fondness for fiber in mind, but in hindsight she would have probably preferred to conclude her feast with something a bit more decadent. Even though we were too full after polishing off the pot pies to properly enjoy the muffins, they were great the next day--hearty and satisfying. These were the type of thing I really used to love when I was running 60-70 miles a week and constantly needed to refuel with dense but healthy sources of calories. Now that my fire isn't burning so hot, they don't have such a well-defined place in my life, but they still make a nice breakfast.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 carrots, peeled and grated (2 cups)
  • 1 (8-oz) can crushed pineapple, drained and pressed dry with paper towels
  • 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Fold the egg mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined, then mix in the carrots, pineapple, coconut, raisins, and nuts. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 12 muffins
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Salmon and Leek Pot Pie


I never realized how awesome dill was until I tried the Vietnamese dish cha ca. The fresh version in particular adds a unique, wonderful flavor to dishes such as these pot pies. I served them alongside sauteed buttery peas with mint for The Gastronomer's Christmas meal #1.

I realize that this blog is already at risk of becoming one big America's Test Kitchen advertisement, but I must point out that, in addition to the instructions reprinted below, the Family Cookbook contains a section called Puff Pastry 101 with tips on the optimal defrosting method and pictures of the proper pastry cutting technique, a primer on removing pin bones from salmon, and instructions for buying and washing leeks. Every recipe also contains details about which steps can be made done of time. Seriously, if you're only going to buy one cookbook, I recommend this one.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

For Topping
  • Flour for the counter
  • 1 9.5-by-9 inch sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
For Filling
  • 2 pounds salmon fillets, skin removed
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 (8-oz) bottles clam juice
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill (do not substitute dried)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • pinch nutmeg
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • lemon wedges (for serving)
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Dust the counter lightly with flour and unfold the sheet of puff pastry. You can use this recipe to make one large casserole in a 9x13 inch pan, or 6-8 personal pot pies in small ramekins. If making a large casserole, cut the puff pastry into 12 rectangles; if making individual pot pies, cut the pastry sections to fit your ramekins. Brush the pastry lightly with egg, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until the rectangles are puffed and lightly browned, but not completely cooked, about 8 minutes. This pre-baking will keep the pastry from getting soggy when cooked on the pot pies.

2. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Remove any pin bones from the salmon and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Season the salmon with salt and pepper, then spread it in the large baking dish or distribute it among the small ramekins.

3. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the flour and coat the vegetables. Gradually whisk in the clam juice and milk until smooth. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thick, about 1 minute.

4. Off the heat, stir in the peas, dill, lemon juice, nutmeg, and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the salmon in the baking dish or ramekins. Use a spoon to redistribute the salmon evenly.

5. Place one pre-baked puff-pastry rectangle onto each ramekin, or arrange them attractively over the casserole pan. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the salmon is fully cooked, 13 to 15 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving with the lemon wedges.

Yield: 6-8 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dates Stuffed with Parmesan

Parmesan Stuffed Dates

These dates were the appetizer for The Gastronomer's Christmas Dinner #1. They were a nice snack, but the real legacy of this recipe has been the incorporation of toasted nuts into my daily routine. I never realized how easy it was--now whenever I add walnuts or pecans to a salad, I make sure to throw them in a frying pan for a couple of minutes first to enhance their aroma and flavor.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Toasting Nuts

To toast a small amount of nuts or seeds, put them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Simply shake the skillet occasionally to prevent scorching and toast until they are lightly browned and fragrant, 3 to 8 minutes. Watch the nuts closely because they can go from golden to burnt very quickly. To toast a large quantity of nuts, spread the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in a 350-degree oven, shaking the baking sheet every few minutes, until the nuts are lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes.

For Dates
  • 16 large pitted dates
  • 3 oz. chunk Parmesan cheese
  • 16 walnut halves, toasted
Slit the dates lengthwise but do not cut them all the way through. Cut the Parmesan into thin shards about the length of a date. Stuff a shard of Parmesan and a walnut half into each date.

Yield: 6-8 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 10 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 30 minutes

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sauteed Buttery Peas with Mint and Feta Cheese


After spending my first 24 years enjoying the fruits of others' labor in the kitchen while rarely making my own contribution to the dinner spread, my culinary career was jump-started when I decided to give The Gastronomer five 3-course dinners as a Christmas present last year. The menus were taken almost exclusively from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, a fantastic, foolproof resource for the beginning cook. These peas were served alongside salmon and leek pot pies for the main course of Menu #1.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 pound frozen peas (3 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, mint, and garlic and cook until softened. Stir in the peas (do not thaw beforehand) and the sugar. The Test Kitchen authors recommend frozen peas for their consistent flavor and ease of use. Cover and cook until the peas are heated through, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with the feta cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 10 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 20 minutes
Substitutions: We ate some of the peas without the cheese (shown above), as we found that it overwhelmed the flavor of the mint, but both ways were delicious.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Butternut Squash Tagine with Pistachio Couscous


There's nothing The Gastronomer appreciates more than coming home to a stellar meal after a grueling day at the office, so I'm always on the lookout for simple, delicious recipes for weeknight dinners. Our subscription to Cooking Light (a Christmas present from my mom last year) has been an excellent resource for this. To be honest, this one was pushing it in terms of intricateness (I'm not the most efficient cook--see the time estimates accompanying each post), but it was a great opportunity to finally use our unopened cumin and paprika, and it turned out fantastically.

Recipe by Cooking Light, November 2009

For Butternut Squash Tagine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 8 ounces peeled cubed butternut squash
  • 1/3 cup halved pitted picholine olives (about 3 ounces)
  • 8 pitted dried plums, chopped
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (optional)
For Pistachio Couscous
  • 3/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup uncooked couscous
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
Make Butternut Squash Tagine

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion; cook 8 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin and next 7 ingredients (through chicken); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, squash, olives, and dried plums; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes or until squash is tender. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Make Pistachio Couscous

Bring chicken broth to boil in a small saucepan. Add couscous; cover and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes; fluff with a fork. Stir in grated lemon rind and pistachios.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 1/4 cups)
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 30 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 2 hours
Substitutions: I left out the chicken and doubled the butternut squash, and I left out the turmeric because we didn't have any.

Statement of Purpose


Despite being incompetent with a knife, incapable of multitasking, and generally lacking all semblance of culinary instincts, every so often I bravely step into the kitchen and attempt to produce a three-course dinner. These are generally all-day affairs, fraught with danger and near disasters. When the end product is a success, I am often too tired to eat it. Luckily, my fiancee has a deep appreciation for home-cooked meals and heaps praise upon my creations whether they deserve it or not. In light of the stupendous efforts that went into these meals and my astounding inability to recall what I have made after a few months time, I recently decided it would be worthwhile to keep a record of my gastronomical adventures. This blog won't contain much text--if it's captivating prose you're after, check out Gastronomy Blog. However, rest assured, if a recipe appears on this blog, I made it, and I thought it was tasty enough that I might want to make it again. Enjoy.
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