Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pork tenderloin with rhubarb chutney

Sorry to break it to you, but I'm still on a rhubarb kick. Why not? It's only in season for a little while. Go big or go home, I say.

I had some rhubarb left over from the snack cake, and then I went and bought some more. I'm addicted, I tell you. What goes with rhubarb? I pondered during a slow moment at work today. Duck would be delicious. Lamb, too. But what I decided on was pork tenderloin with a rhubarb chutney.

I had a funny experience making this recipe. I had conceived of the combination in my head, and then I went and found a recipe for it. As I was putting the chutney together, it occurred to me that I'm pretty sure I made this exact recipe once before, a long time ago. But then I guess I forgot about it. And here I was about to take credit for making it up, i.e. remembering it.  Jeez.

I followed the recipe pretty faithfully, except that I used dried cranberries instead of raisins, as that's what I had on hand. It came together very rapidly, always a plus for a weeknight dinner. The result? A brightly-hued, sweet-tart accent to a cumin-spiced pork tenderloin. We all enjoyed it, even Frances, who got a bit of the meat minus the chutney. Feeding a dog chutney just seems like a bad idea.

I won't forget this recipe again: it's definitely going into my annual rhubarb repertoire. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Almond-rhubarb snack cake

What is it about rhubarb? I'm sure not everyone loves it, but it seems that those of us who do are obsessed with it.

Like duck and cardoons, if I see rhubarb on a menu, I want it. Even if it's in an odd form, like last week at the Slow Club when I ordered pan-roasted black cod with a rhubarb and red onion puree. Turns out that was a bit of a misstep, but like a trooper, I ate it. You can take me anywhere! (Incidentally, I had decided against a dish with duck and cardoons--because it also contained lentils, which I avidly dislike. Side dishes are often the determining factor, no?)

Anyway, I saw this recipe for an almond-rhubarb snack cake in the San Francisco Chronicle years ago. It belonged to Flo Braker, who for reasons I cannot fathom, has not changed her name to Flo BAKER, which would make much more sense. I was lured by three factors: 1) Rhubarb and almond sounded dynamite together. 2) It called for using my springform pan, which I love. 3) The phrase "snack cake" is cute. So I cut the recipe out and stuffed it in my to-make file where it sat for years, untouched.

Last fall, though, I bought Flo's Baking for all Occasions  and was thrilled to note that it contained the snack cake recipe. And finally, I got around to making it yesterday.

The cake turned out lovely, moist and tender from the buttermilk, with an intoxicating aroma of almond and vanilla. Which reminds me, I found an error in the recipe. In the ingredients, Flo lists sliced almonds under both the "cake" and the "topping", but in the directions, she only refers to almonds for the topping. I opted to leave the almonds out of the cake. I don't like nuts in cake, but on top is fine.

The topping, which is made of almonds, butter, flour, sugar, and a little cream, all heated together to form a thick syrup, then drizzled over the cake and topped with the almonds, adds a crunchy and delicious layer to the cake.

The cake could take a little more rhubarb. It calls for one cup, and while I had more rhubarb at my disposal, over-rhubarbing seemed risky. But in the end, I would have liked to see more rhubarb running through the cake, as its color is one of the fruit's best features. As it is, the rhubarb pieces seemed few and far between and looked more like a melancholy lavender than rosy pink, which didn't make for the best photos. Ergo, no inside shots of the cake.

Want the recipe? Email me and I'll scan and send it to you. Sorry, I can't type all these recipes out. I have the time, just not the inclination.

Also, thanks for your nice comments on my last post. I am doing fine, and I'm pretty sure that the changes I see coming are going to be good, although it's hard to say. The unknown is, well, unknown, after all. I've never been one of those people who says, "Everything always works out for the best." I'm a little unsure how you could be a full-grown adult and believe that; I think you must have lived a life without anything sad happening to you. However, I do believe that you can always try to make the best of a situation, or learn something from it. Maybe not right away, but eventually. I mean, you have to think that, right?

Don't say I never gave you words to live by.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I'll be right back...

Hello, friends!

I've got a lot of stuff going on right now and am having trouble keeping up at The Hungry Dog this week. There are some rumbles of change on the horizon...which is exciting, for me, if not for you. Anyhow, I haven't had much time to cook new and interesting things to post about. But I promise I'll be back soon. I've got some rhubarb that I'm planning on turning into a little cake, so check back later in the week.

In the meantime, here's a little picture of me and Frances that the husband took recently. Apropos of nothing, just for fun.

Hungry Dog

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cavatappi with butternut squash, asparagus, and peas (plus the winner of the Spring Chicken Giveaway)

I once discussed with a friend how there are certain types of dishes that you can make almost anything into. "Pasta, salad, or stir-fry--you can make anything into one of those!" this friend said, and he was right. I'd also add soup to the list. How well these off-the-cuff concoctions turn out is another thing altogether, but with a little skill, knowing your own tastes, and occasionally stealing from other people's recipes, you can often turn out something quite delightful, even with an unusual pairing of ingredients.

Take this pasta I made the other night. I had some peeled and cubed butternut squash from Trader Joe's that I was contemplating roasting, as squash generally wants to be roasted. But then I remembered what a lovely surprise it was last fall when I made this pasta which called for steaming and pureeing the squash into a creamy sauce. I decided to crib Giada's idea for the squash but tweak the other components.

The method is: saute some squash with oil, salt, and pepper. Add some broth, cover, and steam it until soft. Then puree it in a food processor.

When I'd transformed the squash into a bright orange puree, I tossed in some asparagus that I'd roasted separately, as well as a handful of frozen peas, and a pound of cavatappi. But it needed something more. So I rooted around in the fridge and found some ricotta that needed to be used up. In went half a cup, a hefty grating of parmesan, and a little pasta water to make it just right. A sprinkle of chives (my go-to garnish!) and I was done. Not bad for an impromptu weeknight pasta!

There was something else I was going to say...

Oh yes, the winner of the spring chicken giveaway. Thank you to everyone who entered! What fun it was to read all of your responses. I had a hard time choosing with such great entries, but the prize goes to HollowPeas, who wrote:  

I am going to go against the 'flowers and grass and birds' grain here and say my favorite part about spring is the thunderstorms. It is honestly one of my favorite times to spend all day in the kitchen. I crack open the windows so I can hear the rain and the thunder and spend all day baking bread or roasting a chicken, something warm and comforting. The bonus is the next day when it smells like fresh rain and everything is green and vibrant.

HollowPeas, drop me an email with your mailing address and CSN will have your gorgeous Le Creuset roasting pan in the mail to you quick as a wink.

Everyone else, thanks for playing!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ham and corn chowder

I have a new favorite cookbook.

When a publicist from Abrams Books contacted me to ask if I'd be interested in reviewing HAM: An Obsession with the Hindquarter, the new cookbook from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, I leaped at the chance. You know I'm a friend of the pig. Well, I guess when you get down to it, I am an enemy of the pig, which is something I am occasionally racked with guilt about. But in any case, I said Yes please! and shortly later this stunning book arrived in the mail.

I spent a day or two pouring over it, ditching my Michael Connelly mystery and the Sunday Times for its elegant, matte pages. Periodically I would hold up a recipe or photo for the husband to admire.

"Doesn't that sound good?" I'd gush. "Doesn't that sound amazing?"

In addition to being straight-up gorgeous, the book is well-written, with enough details to provide substance but not so much that you feel bogged down. The writing style is funny and breezy.

Now, about the recipes. The way recipes are written in a cookbook is directly related to how much I want to cook from it. For example, I have Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. Great book, in philosophy and method. But, I don't care for the way the recipes are written. She doesn't list the ingredients all at the top--instead she intersperses them throughout the directions. I don't like this format, as it makes it likely that I'll miss something for the grocery list. So, although in theory that book is good, I don't use it much.

HAM's recipe are written traditionally, with the ingredients listed at the top and the directions below, clear and concise. It also has groovy side notes, such as ways to "slash your grocery list" or ideas to "round out the menu": a recipe for roasted country ham suggests serving creamy jicama slaw and chile-braised black-eyes peas alongside. There's even a section on throwing a party around a ham (hey, why don't I have friends like this?), with the sides that would go best, like pickled cippolini and fig ginger jam. To drink at your ham party? Ginger pear cosmos and pomegranate caipirinha, of course.

But the real reason I love this cookbook is because I want to make almost all of the recipes. Such as: pork cracklings, ham and potato savory cakes, shirred eggs in prosciutto cups, and stewed mussels with jamon, serrano, chickpeas, and saffron. And perhaps as my last meal, as I'm sure that's what it would be, someone could make me the brie, grits, ham, and apple casserole.

But for my first attempt to cook from HAM, I decided to keep it basic: Ham-and-Corn Chowder.

This soup is divine. Creamy, rich, and full of salty ham and sweet corn, it's brightened by lemon zest, which is genius, and given earthiness by marjoram. But the real kicker is making the beurre manie and slowly thickening the soup with it at the very end. The result is a velvety, dreamy soup you simply want to inhale.

HAM is a winner and I highly recommend you check it out. And if you make that grits casserole, please invite me over.

Ham-and-Corn Chowder
from HAM: An Obsession with the Hindquarter

3 T. butter, two softened to room temperature and set aside
12 oz. smoked, wet-cured ham, chopped
3 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels (I used frozen)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, chopped
2 t. minced fresh or 1 t. dried marjoram (I used dried)
1 t. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 t. celery seeds
1 c. dry white wine or vermouth (I used vermouth)
3 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 t. salt or to taste (the cured ham is quite salty)
1 t. pepper
2 T. flour

1. Melt 1 T. unsoftened butter in a large soup pot or saucepan. Add chopped ham and cook, stirring often, until frizzling and quite fragrant, about 3 minutes.

2. Stir in the corn, onion, and potato. Cook, stirring often, for 3 more minutes.

3. Add marjoram, lemon zest, and celery seeds, and continue cooking for about 20 seconds. Pour in the broth and wine. As the soup comes to a simmer, use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the interior surfaces of the pot.

4. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the potato bits are meltingly tender, about 45 minutes.

5. Stir in the cream, salt, and pepper. As everything simmers for a couple of minutes, use a fork to mash the flour with the 2 T. softened butter in a small bowl until the mixture is quite uniform. (This is the beurre manie.)

6. Stirring all the while, drop this butter mixture by dribs and drabs into the simmering soup, taking 6-8 additions to get the whole paste added and stirring well after each before adding the next. The whole process should take about 3 minutes. Taste for salt, add more if necessary, then dish it up.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring chicken, and a giveaway!

As many of you know, blogging can lead to some surprises. Most importantly, I've found it to be a creative outlet that I clearly needed but didn't know I needed. It's also introduced me to a wonderful international community of like-minded, food-obsessed folks that I have found to be nothing but welcoming and warm, when all you hear about the Internet is that they're creeps.

Perhaps most surprising of all to me is that it has led to some freebies!

For one thing, cookbooks. I have two at home that were sent to me recently that I'll be reviewing for you shortly. For another, sometimes people contact you to do a giveaway.

Not long ago, a nice lady named Jessica contacted me from a company called CSN. CSN runs all sorts of websites to meet all kinds of needs. From dog beds to corner tv stands, you're covered. They run the website, which is where I picked my giveaway prize from, natch.

It was tough to choose from so many lovely items, but the one I finally settled on was a 12 x 9.5" Le Creuset baking dish in cobalt blue... this one. Isn't it pretty?

Everyone should have a dish like this, one that can go from oven to table. It's fabulous for lasagnas, gratins, or roasted chicken with honey, cherry tomatoes, and rosemary, which I made earlier in the week.

I've been making this recipe for years. How many? I don't know. Six or seven. It's delicious, a breeze, and works every time. Sometimes I make it for company, sometimes just for us. People love it. Make it! But don't do it with skinless chicken breasts like I know some of you might be thinking. That's ridiculous. The skin gets crispy and brown from the honey and olive oil. Follow the recipe and thank me later. Serve it over rice to soak up all the lovely sauce.

To win this gorgeous baking dish, all you need to do is leave a comment telling me what your favorite thing about spring is. This might be a good way to scare out some of you readers who don't like to comment!  I'm on to you, you know.  Just kidding. I'm a little shy in real life myself.

The best response wins, with the winner announced on Friday, April 16. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hungry Dog stew with gremolata

I finally learned how to make beef stew.

I mean, I've made it many times before, sometimes with recipes and sometimes not. Using recipes, I always felt like I was missing out on the real fun of making stew--not being beholden to a list of ingredients and directions, instead stirring and seasoning and simmering and tasting. But recently I've made it twice, just winging it, and it's turned out just right.

My method is basic, with amounts varying to taste:

Toss some cubes of beef with salt and pepper and a light dusting of flour. Brown them in a big pot with some oil and remove. Add some finely chopped celery, onion, and garlic and let soften. Add some wine to deglaze and let simmer, briefly. Return the meat to the pot with juices and add chicken or beef broth, chopped canned tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cover and put in the oven at 350 for about 2 hours, stirring once or twice. About 20 minutes before it's done, add chunks of carrots, and little frozen pearl onions if you'd like. At the very end, toss in a handful of frozen peas. Season to taste.

I made the Hungry Dog stew over the weekend, half of which was nice and half of which was rainy. I made the stew on the rainy day. Out our back window it looked like this.

I could look at the Pacific Ocean all day. I fear we'll never be able to leave this apartment because of that view. Who doesn't want to wake up and look at the ocean? On a clear day it takes your breath away. Even on a rainy day it's not so bad.

As the stew simmered snugly in its Le Creuset, I considered something to brighten it. While I love braises and stews, sometimes they can seem a little heavy. A long-cooked dish can benefit from something sunny and sharp. A fresh herb, squeeze of lemon, or splash of vinegar can sometimes do the trick, but in this case I decided to make gremolata.

Gremolata is simply minced parsley, raw garlic, and lemon zest. I'd never made it before but it took about two minutes. I found a recipe that called for three garlic cloves, a quarter cup of parsley, and the zest of one lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler--all finely chopped together.

Once the stew was dished up over buttered egg noodles, I sprinkled it with the gremolata. The gremolata made the stew sing. The deep, muted flavors of the stew from long simmering came to life under the pungent and citrusy notes of the garlic and lemon.

Perfect for a rainy night.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Salmon bulgogi, and something new

Sometimes I'm attracted to weird recipes. Like this one for Salmon Bulgogi. It sounded curious. Salmon what?

Just kidding. I know a little about bulgogi. Usually it's made with beef. But I was in the mood for some nice healthy salmon--omega 3, y'all!-- so I decided to give it a whirl.

I changed a few things, of course.

The temperature seemed too high, for one thing. 500 for 8 minutes! I'm not looking to serve salmon chips for dinner. And since I didn't have center-cut fillets but tail pieces, I knew it would cook faster anyway. So I reduced the heat to 450 and cooked the fillets for 6 minutes. For my taste, they were still overcooked, but for a normal person, like the husband, they were just right. I like my fish pretty much raw, though, so you have to take what I say and adjust it.

I also doctored up the veggies with some ginger and mirin, and served the whole thing over rice. I'm half Chinese, and Chinese people can't eat fish and stir-fried vegetables straight up. That's just not right.

Final verdict? Bright and flavorful, with a kick. I'd like a little more of a sauce--next time I might turn the glaze into one. The husband is less sauce-happy than me and liked it just the way it was.  Definitely something I'll do again --next time maybe with beef or chicken.

One last thing, but not about the bulgogi. I started a new blog. "What the what?!" you're saying. Yeah. I had this idea, so I'm trying it out. It's not about food, if you can believe it. I decided I wanted to start noticing things a bit more thoughtfully--sometimes small, pedestrian things strike me but I quickly forget about them. Having an iPhone is a nifty way of capturing these moments, and reminding you about them later.  I want to fit a little more creativity into my daily life, and I suppose that's the gist of this new blog: observe, capture, reflect.

It's a tiny baby newborn blog, so be kind. You can find it here.