Monday, July 25, 2011

The husband, the chowder, and the Great White Shadow

Yesterday, the husband and I were enjoying a lazy Sunday morning, each reading a guilty pleasure (me, In Style, him, Esquire), when he said,"Clam chowder, doesn't that sound good?"

"Mm hm," I murmured, not really listening. I was busy reading about the fall trends. Color blocking! Side braids! Peep-toe booties!

"This one isn't really a New England or a Manhattan version," he continued. "No cream or tomatoes."

"Oh yeah?" I said, half listening now. Was he talking about types of clam chowder?

I almost fell out of my chair when he began listing off ingredients. That's what I do when I'm considering making something. "Littleneck clams, bacon, smoked paprika, fingerling potatoes..."

I put down my magazine. "What exactly are you saying?" I asked him in a neutral voice.

"I want to make clam chowder," he replied evenly. "Will you help me?"

It is very rare that the husband does any cooking. It's not that he can't--the man can fry an egg and make perfect French toast. He also turns out an excellent amatriciana sauce. But generally, the kitchen is my thing. However, I do like the idea of him cooking now and then. So we shopped together, chopped together, crisped the bacon, checked the clams, fried the potatoes. It was a slightly strange recipe (remember the provenance was Esquire) but we rolled with it.

As the soup simmered away, we doted on Sophie. She's very beautiful--except for her dark golden face and ears, she is extremely light, giving her a rather dramatic look.  Because of her coloring, she gets all sorts of nicknames involving the word "white," depending on what's going on in the house. For example, if we're sitting around talking about, oh say, the time we went to Hawaii and spotted some dolphins, one of us might glance over at Soph and say casually, "Hey, White Dolphin." Or, if she's snuck up behind us, which she does sometimes --she's rather stealthy--we may say, "Hey, White Shadow."

Last night, while the clams steamed, it was, "Hey, White Clam."

Over your pet's life, you end up calling them all sorts of nicknames, but only a few of them stick. Frances had a lot of names over 15 years but the one that survived was Baby Dude. This was because in one apartment we lived in, she would put her paws on a chair at the front window, stick out her burly chest, and yell at passers-by, mostly those of the canine variety. We started calling her Little Brown Dude, on account of her toughness and her chocolate coat. But then after some angry shouting, she would go back to being a floppy, happy puppy--a total baby. So, Baby Dude was born.

We don't know yet what will stick for Soph. Right now she's just Soph. You can't rush these things. Although, I think the White Shadow has staying power. It sounds wise and benevolent, which fits her, with a noirish undertone, a reminder of her earlier life, which apparently was rather gritty, spent jumping six-foot fences, living on the streets, and being a teen mom. The dog has had a life in just two short years.

Anyway, back to the clam chowder. It turned out fairly well although we agreed that next time we would add either tomatoes or cream--these things do improve a chowder. The recipe was a good start, but I'm not going to post it here--it needs too many revisions. Stay tuned. I think a rendition with spicy sausage and tomatoes is coming shortly down the pike.

And that is the story of the husband, the chowder, and the Great White Shadow.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chocolate chip cookies with brown sugar and pecans

I keep thinking I don't need any more cookie recipes, but who am I kidding? There's always room for one more.

Awhile ago, I came across this recipe for chocolate chunk cookies with macadamia nuts. I liked lots of things about it. In addition to the obvious (hello, chocolate chunks?) it also called for dark brown sugar and browned butter, both of which I thought would give the cookies a nice, deep flavor. I liked the idea of all the ingredients stirred into one fragrant batch of cookie dough, studded with dark chocolate and salty macadamias.

When I finally got around to making the cookies, it turned out my macadamia nuts had spoiled. However, I had some buttery little pecans snuggled into the freezer, which I thought would do just fine.

I was also lacking good chocolate that I could cut into chunks. I did, though, have some great Guittard chocolate chips. Acceptable, no? And a tad easier for the lazy cook (me).

The only thing about this recipe is that it does require a little patience. After you brown the butter and mix in the brown sugar, you have to let it cool in the fridge for 45 minutes. I don't know what this does, but I did it. Maybe it kept the cookies from spreading too much in the oven? They turned out rather pudgy and cute, not flat and elegant. But, that's sort of the way I like my cookies.

They were very soft on the inside, too, with a good nutty taste from the browned butter. Honestly, a few weeks later, when I think about these cookies, I can't believe I haven't made them again.

You really ought to give them a go. Like, tonight. And if you're local, please bring me some. It's the least you could do.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shrimp curry with coconut rice

I so wanted to love this dish.

I was so pleased with the chicken kebabs with nectarine salsa I made from Cooking Light recently that I wanted to throw myself into another recipe from the magazine. If eating lighter can taste as good as that chicken, sign me up. We are planning a Hawaiian getaway in a few months, after all--dropping a few pounds couldn't hurt.

Unfortunately, this one was a dud. I'm not even going to give you a link to the recipe--that's how boring it was. I will confess that I was missing one of the ingredients--mustard seeds--which I did not realize until too late. Perhaps that single component could have saved the dish. But, I doubt it. The curry turned out rather bland and thin, not creamy the way I like it. The coconut rice, which I was excited about because the husband loves coconut (and which I desperately want to like), was flat, in spite of adding a few extras of my own invention (a cinnamon stick and bay leaf).

As an aside, I'm a little turned off by some of the Cooking Light tactics. For example, this recipe called for instant rice. I guess I'm a snob, or maybe I'm just half Chinese, but who makes instant rice? I feel like in every recipe there is a shortcut I find off-putting. With the kebabs, it was bottled garlic.  Why would I buy bottled garlic? Should I pick up some Mrs. Dash while I'm at it? It just seems so dated.

Maybe I'm just not part of the target demographic. And anyway, I know the solution: ignore the parts of the recipe I don't like and do what I want. Yeah. I guess ultimately I am still (pointlessly) mourning the loss of Gourmet, the only food magazine I have ever really loved, which, in spite of being a little over the top at times, was nearly always on point with its recipes and current in its approach to cooking.  I can't seem to get on board with Bon Appetit (don't like the format and have had middling results with the recipes), Food & Wine is fine but doesn't really light my fire, and while I love the idea and look of Saveur, I never end up using the recipes.

So while the curry turned out quite photogenic (here's another shot, its last moment in the spotlight)...

it was dull, dull, dull. Not what anyone wants in a curry.

So, all kvetching aside, who has a good curry recipe for me?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Warm summer pasta with tomatoes, olives, ricotta, and zucchini

One of the best things about cooking in the summer is that the ingredients you have lying around the house are especially delicious. 

A few weeks back, both of us were too lazy to go to the grocery store but wanting to eat at home since we'd been going out a lot. With minimal rustling in the kitchen, I pulled together some heirloom tomatoes (a pound or so) and a couple of zucchini, both from our CSA box the week before; half a container of ricotta that needed to be used up; some pitted kalamata olives that had been hanging around the fridge for awhile; and a few kitchen staples (garlic, olive oil, parmesan, penne).

While the pasta cooked, I sliced up the zucchini into half moons and sauteed it very quickly in olive oil and garlic. I just wanted to take the raw edge off of it--I didn't want it soggy. I roughly chopped the olives and tomatoes (with skins and seeds intact--I was keeping the effort to a minimum) and tossed them into the pan with zucchini for one minute, just to warm them. A dash of salt and pepper and they were done.

When the penne was al dente, I tossed it with the ricotta until the pasta had a silky coating, then folded in the vegetables and a good handful of parmesan. A spoonful of starchy pasta water brought the dish together. 

I dished it up and presented it to the husband.

"Warm summer pasta with tomatoes, olives, ricotta, and zucchini," I announced solemnly.

In spite of his claim to not be very fond of vegetarian pastas, this was a hit with the husband. I resisted revealing that many of the ingredients had been sitting around a bit and needed to be used up. While I revel in finishing things off, this translates to him as "old food" and would have surely taken the luster off this pasta he was inhaling, which, for the record, made an excellent lunch the next day, served at room temperature.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Little coffee cakes with cardamom sugar

These little coffee cakes are just right for a weekend brunch. They're simple and delicious, moist from the sour cream, and fragrant from cardamom. Oh yeah, that's not part of the original recipe, but I thought it might be a good idea, and what do you know, it was. Every once in awhile I come up with a good one.

Since I'm a little pressed for time (and don't have anything clever to say anyway), I'll just point you in the direction of the recipe but also note my changes: 

1) I added 1/4 t. salt to the dry ingredients. I think all baked goods need salt.
2) I added about 1/2 t. cardamom to the batter. Next time I'll add more, but I'm a cardamom fiend.
3) I mixed up a little cinnamon-cardamom sugar to sprinkle on top.

Hope you like them. And, happy Fourth of July! I'm spending part of the weekend in Sonoma, wine tasting and celebrating my friend Amy's birthday. We will also be eating here, which I will be sure to report back on.