Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Word On Dining Out

I have always loved eating dinners out; in fact, trying new restaurants is probably one of my favorite hobbies. The stranger the cuisine, the more foreign it is to my palate, the more I'm likely to try it.

However, I'm placing an embargo on eating out for several weeks after experiencing, for the first time, true food poisoning. It was the most miserable, painful, wretched sickness I've ever weathered. Taste Tester and I were both struck after eating out at a place I had never tried, and splitting the entire meal. 48 hours later we were still barely able to leave the house. I'm pretty sure it was Staph. aureus poisoning, a bug we all carry on our skin but one that can produce toxins quickly when food is left our or improperly refrigerated.

It is now 5 days past my initial illness, and my stomach is still extremely sensitive, not to mention shrunken to half its former size (an unexpected reward for the hell I went through: pants are fitting better).

I hope no one else at the same restaurant went through what we did, and I hope it inspires me to start cooking more and posting again.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wasabi Crusted Salmon wih Pilaf and Roasted Roots

(photo explanation:out-of-focus dinner and a photo of Zinkovy Castle in Czech Republic, which Taste Tester helped renovate)
Last night we had a very special guest who said this was pretty good, so I thought I should post. It was meant to be horseradish crusted salmon, but I forgot to look for powdered horseradish so I went for the wasabi. The sides were black and brown rice pilaf and roasted root veggies.

It was preceded by my favorite, steamed mussels, but no photos taken. The fishy was wild Coho(?) Alaskan salmon, which is radically better than farm raised salmon because the color is real. Atleast as far as I can tell, that's the only difference. I'm not as discerning a salmon eater as I wish, but I listen to those guys at Central Market and just repeat whatever they say.

For the veggies, which took the longest, I chopped a rutabaga, 3 turnips, and some carrots and drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roasted at 400 for about an hour while I was cooking all the rest. And drinking lots of red wine. Specifically a primitivo and a Texas brand called Red Truck.*

The topping for the fish was 1 to 1.5 cups panko, salt and pepper, wasabi, olive oil, half a lemon, a pinch of flour, and then enough water to make it a little spongy. We grilled it but next time we'll bake it because the grill didn't brown the topping well enough.

The pilaf was wild/black rice (1/4 cup) sauteed in the pan with shallots, garlic, 1 bay leaf and 1 cup white wine, then I added 1.5 cups brown Texmati and let that get hot. I added 2 cups water, plus the rest of the lemon and some salt, a simmered it for ~30 min.
That tasted like bland crap, but then a teaspon of thyme and some more lemon made it more flavorful.

*I think the key to this recipe is frequent breaks for more red wine.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I've Conquered The World

Well not really but it feels like it. I made bread. I've really never succeeded at bread-making, it's always resulted in a lump of crumbly disgusting unleavened blah, which I forced myself to toast, spread with butter, and think pleasant thoughts as I tried (often in vain) to swallow.

However last night this excellent ciabatta resulted from what I was sure was another in a long history of total abortions. The reason I thought so was that my new cookbook, a fantastic tome called The Professional Chef, has only measurements in lbs, oz, and kg, and I didn't have a scale. I did some frighteningly bad math which resulted in pancake batter in my kitchenaid rather than anything resembling bread dough. So I added flour...and added flour...until the flour bag was almost empty...then I let it rise...and it didn't.

At that point I gave up but left the oiled mound of failure on the stove, and 3 or 4 hours later before bed I discovered it had, in fact, doubled in volume. I popped it in the oven and 30 minutes later: ciabatta. I woke up my taste-tester and forced him to try it immediately. His flattering comment was, "Seriously? I'm sleeping." As my recipe was a complete luck-out, I'll provide the original one:

3 lbs water
10 grams compressed yeast
5 lbs flour
5 grams salt

Combine water and yeast in mixer until dissolved. Add flour and salt on low until just combined, then knead on medium speed for 10-12 minutes until dough clears the bowl and clings to hook. Now that I have a mixer, I'm too good to tell you how to do this without one. Figure it out for yerself.
In a lightly oiled bowl, coat the dough with oil and cover to let rise for 75 minutes (or in my case, until you go to bed), until doubled in volume. Turn onto a floured surface and stretch into a rectangular shape without punching out the gases. Chop into loaves and bake at 450 for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Brushing the loaves with water will make their tops more crisp.

Santa Loves Me

Admitting I don't yet have a kitchenaid mixer feels kinda of shameful but I'm extremely excited about using it for anything from bread to salad dressings. I'm pretty sure it could mix concrete.
Taste Tester got it for me but says it's really just to benefit himself with what I'll make.