Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lots of eating in Paris!

Greetings from a chilly winter Paris!

You may have noticed posts have been virtually non-existent this month, there has been some cooking but no time to organize photos and write them up. They are coming, I promise. The reason for this lack of on blog entries, is because I'm currently in Paris. The Eiffel Tower is literally right outside my window. Ok, well it's somewhere in the city...I'm not sure where as I actually haven't seen it!

For the most part I've been holed up in a super swank hotel working and eating lots! The French do cheese and bread phenomenally! Cheese and bread are two things that are seriously lacking in the United States.

First, the cheeses in the United States tend to be quite bland - ultra-pasteurized and wrapped in plastic. This is not conducive to quality in my opinion. I wonder if it's because of the regulations for bacteria in the sales of dairy products due to health concerns. This is the reason at least that you are not allowed to bring cheese through customs into the United States.

It is possible to buy quality cheeses in the United States, if you are willing to pay an arm and a leg for them. It's a major area of lack in our cuisine. Though I do love a nice extra sharp cheddar.

France also does bread very well. White breads better than probably anywhere. (Germany has amazing dark breads.) It's all about freshness. You can buy fresh bread at bakeries all over the country everyday and very inexpensively. In fact, when you buy bread, especially baguette, you should eat it the same day. While this isn't very single girl-friendly, you can't argue with it from a quality aspect. Most bakeries and even grocery stores also allow you to buy half a loaf of bread which is amazing. The United States is largely lacking in fresh bakeries and the majority of bread has so many preservatives in it that it will keep for about two weeks.

Granted when living in the Netherlands, I was very irritated when my bread grew mold after only a few days because I had no chance to eat it! However, I appreciated the quality and freshness of the bread. You just can't argue with the taste!

So I have very limited internet access while in France, so more on some of the culinary delights later, right now that's all I have to say - the United States is seriously lacking in quality (reasonably priced) cheese and fresh breads. Le sigh.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Feta topped chicken

I read recipes online all the time, I bookmark lots of them but how many do I actually try? Very few. However, this looked so yum-tastic that I made it just a few days after I saw it.

I found the recipe in question, for Feta Topped Chicken, on the Mixing Bowl. The Mixing Bowl is a good recipe site because they have various communities that you can join or follow based on what kind of recipes you're interested in - brown bag lunches, quick dinners, ect. There are drawbacks also, personally, I think they send me too many emails about comments and updates, which I frankly have no interest in.

I had high hopes for this recipe and it was something I could see myself just whipping up when there wasn't much to eat around the house but I was really disappointed. I found it to be lacking in flavor, which seems almost impossible given the ingredients! You can find the recipe here, you'll notice in the comments that I'm the only person who did not love it!

Aside from finding it lacking in flavor, the cheese did not melt! It just started turning brown and I basically ended up with chicken that had a tomato slice on the top and feta that kept falling off. Look at how sad it looks in the photo! I might try this again with some fresh basil (or pesto because my basil shows no signs of wanting to grow) a tomato slice and a slice of provolone or mozzarella both of which would melt better than the feta. Too bad because I like my feta!

I will say that broiling the chicken was really quick and easy, so with a few changes this might be a possibility.

Monday, January 18, 2010

SGG 2010 Resolutions

Since the new year I've been thinking a bit about what my cooking goals for 2010 should be. 2009 brought several milestones:
1. I started the Single Girl Gourmet (SGG) blog
2. I made mussels for the first time
3. I gave a half-hearted and somewhat disastrous attempt at a wine reduction sauce

So what do I want do for 2010?

The first project is something that my cousin prompted me to consider on Christmas. My cousin is something of an armature chef also, though perhaps a bit further along than myself. He actually wants to leave his engineering firm and bake pies for a living. Hilarious. Though, he does make a pretty tasty pie, could give grandma a run for her money! So we were discussing pies and specifically a if it's worth the time to make a crust from scratch, taste-wise. I'm not so sure that it is but my cousin maintains that's the only way to go and as I said he bakes a good pie. So I'm going to try it. I'm going to bake a pie entirely from scratch. When I find an entire day to do nothing but bake that is.

I'm going to give the wine reduction sauces another shot. I think I'm just too impatient to let the sauce cook long enough to reduce. I might have to start cooking before I'm actually hungry. That might help.

This is also going to be the year I finally make Spanish tortilla. I love Spanish tortilla and I've been planning to try and make it for about 5 years. I'll be visiting Spain soon so I'm hoping that will prod me into action.

I also want to try and make my own marinara sauce. I gave a disastrous attempt last year at making fresh pesto. I was doomed from the beginning because I don't have a food processor, or other chopper to use but if my basil ever grows I might give that another go too. However, I can still make marinara!

In summary, SGG 2010 cooking goals:
1. Make a pie crust from scratch (hopefully filling too)
2. Give a wine reduction sauce the college try
3. Finally make Spanish tortilla
4. Make homemade marinara (and possibly pesto)

Four goals that I have an entire year to accomplish, hopefully I won't be doing all four next December.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cheese ball: The name says it all

Cheese is possibly the world's most perfect food and forming it into a ball for a party appetizer is ingenius. Cheese balls that you buy at a store are ok but they are basically round blocks of cheese, not nearly as good as the ones you can make.

Homemade cheese balls typically use some portion of cream cheese to get everything to stick together. They are fairly simple to make and only require a few ingredients. For the holidays, I tried out two out two cheese ball recipes. To make both took less than 30 minutes. The also transport easily, I took these to a party and carried it on the metro with no issue.

The first was a dried beef cheese ball, the recipe can be found here. I skipped the MSG. This turned out ok but it was a little salty. I suspect I might have been a little heavy handed with the Worcestershire sauce. I also did not roll the ball in dried beef but chopped it up and mixed it into the cheese ball and then rolled it chopped walnuts. Generally, I find rolling a cheese ball in chopped nuts is the easiest way to keep it from sticking and adds to the flavor.

The second one I made was a feta cheese ball. How could that not be delicious? Feta! The recipe can be seen here. I skipped the olives and onions because I don't like them, but if you do, I'm sure they could only add to the flavor. I also rolled this one in walnuts, and would suggest this to anyone who makes it because it was quite sticky. I took both of the cheese balls to the same event and this one disappeared much faster!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cook it slow, eat it fast!

I'm really excited, I just got a crock pot! I had a crock pot in college and used it all of about 4 times but it got broken when I moved to DC. Ever since I've been seeing all these fabulous looking crock pot recipes and thinking how nice it would be to have one waiting for me after work. So, after Christmas I headed over to Bed Bath & Beyond and bought one. Now, I have to use it.

This week I made scalloped potatoes from the recipe book that came with it - only three more times and I'll beat my old record! I changed the recipe a bit and it really did not work out so I'm going to put up the original and mine - make at your own risk.

Original Recipe

1/2 cup margarine/butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 16oz package of frozen hash browns
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 cup of milk
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 small green pepper chopped
1 cup cheese cracker crumbs

Lightly grease crock pot. Stir together the margarine, onions, hash browns, soup, milk, cheese, green pepper and 1/2 cup of crack crumbs. Top with remaining cracker crumbs. Cover and cook on high 3-4 hours.

Lacey Version

1/2 cup margarine/butter
3-4 sliced potatoes
1 can of cheddar cheese soup
1 1/2 cup of milk
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 small green pepper chopped
1 cup bread crumbs

So when reading this, I thought fabulous idea - slow cooked scallop potatoes but why use frozen hash browns when I could use fresh potatoes? I don't like mushrooms, so I though hey extra cheese and I omitted the onions because I'm not a fan. I also subbed bread crumbs for cracker crumbs. I cooked it on low for about 8 hours because I wanted to make it while I was at work. What I got was a mediocre, slightly over cooked, somewhat greasy, cheesy mess. Well, it did not taste that bad really but I'm not going to make it again.

I would say using the cheddar cheese soup instead of a cream base is where I went wrong. Using something like cream of potato would probably have worked out alright. I'm also wondering if I put it on the warm setting for the entire day instead of the low if it would be cooked enough but not burnt around the edges.

It anyone tries to make the original version, let me know how it turns out! Hopefully, the next crock pot adventure will be more successful.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Produce miles

GOOD has compiled a very interesting graphic showing the distance that produce travels when it's local or "conventional" (I don't like this terminology). I originally found this on TheKitchn but the original graphic can be seen here and it really informative. I do have a few points though...

1. The food miles were calculated for Iowa and they say it should be generally applicable, but I live in DC. A long way from Iowa! A lot of produce is grown on the west coast so if I'm eating a lot things grown there vs things that can be grown somewhere on the east coast it's going to make a big difference for my food miles.

2. This doesn't include international produce, only produce that is grown in the US. This is a big problem, a lot of produce is shipped in from other countries and has huge food miles - especially in the winter, leaving it out greatly reduces the impact of this information. I've definitely been eating Clementines from Spain all week (yea I know...but I LOVE them). However, I imagine it would be harder to calculate international food miles.

3. I dislike the term "conventional" when referring the internationalization of the food system. There is nothing conventional about shipping produce around the world, it's an entirely modern phenomenon. Eating foods that are produced locally is the conventional way to eat! I would prefer saying local vs non-local.

A perk to my new place is that it's just a quick jaunt to DC's Eastern Market. It's one of the largest and oldest markets in the US and has everything including seasonal produce. Unfortunately it's really far from where I live now, so I've never quite made it there to check it out. After the move, I'll have to go on a walking road trip.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Carne Português

Carne Português means "Portuguese Meat" and that's not what this dish is actually called. A Portuguese friend of mine taught me how to make this and told me the name in Portuguese, something Carne...yea no idea. If anyone knows, let me know!

In any case it's delicious and the leftovers attracted several comments around the kitchen at work. It's somewhat similar to meatloaf. Without further ado...

3/4-1lb ground beef (half beef and half turkey works too)
1-2 slices of bread
1 cup of milk
1-2 cups of wine
1-2 large potatoes
1/2 cup chopped each of 2-3 "stuffings" (suggestions: cheese, bacon pieces, bell peppers, spicy peppers, olives, onions)
salt, pepper and garlic to taste

Place bread in bowl and pour in milk, use your hands to mix the bread and milk together until the bread is saturated. Mix the bread, meat, salt, pepper and garlic together. Flaten meat out on a cutting board, you will eventually roll it up into a loaf.

Mix in the your chosen stuffings, this time I used turkey bacon, bell peppers and cheese. You can either mix them up in the meat so the small pieces are distributed or roll the meat around them to form a core. I mixed in the cheese and peppers but put the bacon in the middle. Roll the meat up and form into a loaf and place in baking pan.

Pour the wine over the roll and sprinkle additional salt and pepper on the top. Chop up potatoes and put in the wine around the meat roll. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-60 minutes until both the meat and potatoes are fully cooked. If it's not finished after 40 minutes, you can turn the oven up to 425 degrees.

The flavors in this dish are spectacular. The meat soaks up a nice flavor from the wine and the potatoes soak up both the wine and meat flavors. If you use red wine, they will turn pink. Delicioso!

*Note: This will be the last post from my current place, new year and cooking from a new kitchen!