December 18, 2011 Comments Off on fish’n’chips


Holiday break!  The kids piled home Friday all ready for a few weeks off.  And proceeded to spend most of the weekend doing absolutely nothing, which I heartily endorsed.  It was nice enough that they could get outside–not too many more of those without the full winter gear on, I’m sure–and O’s riding lesson was chilly but not completely frozen.

L and I made them posole last night, which was amazing.  Bon Appetit had a recipe this month and it seemed readily achievable–roast a pork shoulder basically all day, shred it and add hominy, tomatoes, chicken broth, and a truckload of spices.  I made some tortillas, and the kids were impressed–O went back for seconds, and thirds.  Fortunately it made a ton, so the freezer is alive with southwestern goodness.

O announced that she’d nommed her friends’ fish sandwich Friday at lunch and really liked it.  I was not aware that the girl had ever eaten seafood before, so this was kind of a stunning revelation.  She asked whether we could have fish and chips for dinner tonight, and she appealed to her brother’s sense of adventure.  He was in, but skeptical.

We came home from Thanksgiving with a good segment of Mom’s cookbook library, including a Cook’s collection of international meals.  Sure enough, the British Isles section had fish’n’chips (what else would it have?)  When we lived in London, greasy fish’n’chips were one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  Whenever K would leave town for business I’d make my first dinner out of a dripping mass of fried cod and potatoes, usually with a pickle or two, all wrapped up in a genuine newspaper.  And, without fail, K would come home a few days later and say “ugh, you went to the chippy, didn’t you?”  Not a fan.  So it had never really been on my radar, but with my newfound love of the dutch oven and its ability to hold gallons of boiling oil, we figured this was a winner.

The Cook’s recipe was complicated, but it made sense.  The choreography went something like this: cut the potatoes into 1/2″ batons, dry out the fish in the fridge, boil the oil, drop in the fries for 6 minutes at 350°.  Take the fries out, get the oil hotter, dredge the fish in flour, a beer batter, and flour again, and fry it for 8 minutes.  Then do the fries again at 375° for another five minutes, and serve it all with peas.

It was a dance, for sure, but it worked really well.  The potatoes were crispy on the outside, and “cloud-like” (their words, not mine) on the inside.  And the fish?  Even better.  I used a nice lager for the batter–Bell’s–and the result was super-light but crunchy.  The fish was moist, tender, totally made of yum, in O’s words.  I got a high-five from her.  C ate about half of his, which is about his usual, and they said we should do it again.  I didn’t have the heart to make it an official British chippy meal, though–I left the peas unmushed, and no pickle.

It brought back London, for sure.  And the house smells like a chippy, probably for the next few days…


cacio e pepe

June 30, 2011 Comments Off on cacio e pepe

Simple to the point of being almost ridiculous, this is another recipe from the Bon Appetit Italy issue from a couple of months ago.  Cheese and pepper.  That’s almost it (except, of course, for a criminal amount of butter).

The article used this dish to make the point that pasta water is a key ingredient in a lot of sauces–it has enough starch in it that it actually absorbs moisture from the sauce and helps bind it to the pasta–in this case, spaghetti, which has a huge amount of surface area per volume.

I made this a couple of times and it got mixed reviews–too peppery for some tastes.  But I liked the combination of fire and smooth cheesiness–the pepper gets cut by Gran Padano and Pecorino, and I actually thought it could use more heat.  So I upped the pepper tonight, and it was pretty amazing.  Loud, fiery, but also velvety smooth, sort of like mac’n’cheese but with some spice and without the creamy sauce.  The kids opted for regular tomato sauce, and I put that together the same way with a splash of pasta water and some tossing.

ginger ale

April 25, 2011 Comments Off on ginger ale

This one goes in the “I did not know you could do that” category.  Didja know that you can actually make ginger ale?  And it’s about as simple as it sounds.  Another Bon Appetit experiment, this month’s issue includes a whole bunch of homemade sodas, clearly anticipating summer.  This one looked easiest, basically just make a simple sugar syrup, simmer a whole bunch of ginger and red pepper flakes in it, cool, dilute with soda water, and serve with lime.  It took a few tries to get the proportions just right–and of course the nice thing about this is you can adjust it for, say, kids who demand a sweeter beverage.  But it worked a treat, the kids even liked it, and I sort of think it may happen again soon, perhaps with a secret ingredient whose name sounds a lot like “bourbon.”  That might be this summer’s official cooler.

pasta pomodoro

April 19, 2011 Comments Off on pasta pomodoro

And yeah, there it is.  Not the food-porn shot on the cover of the magazine, but still pretty good lookin’, if you ask me.

Bon Appetit published this as part of a “pasta manifesto” that basically said put the pasta in the sauce at the end, loosen things up with a bit of pasta water, and throw in a considerable amount of butter before serving.  All common sense stuff, but I have to say this was pretty incredible given how simple a recipe it was.  Saute some onions and garlic, dump a big can of peeled tomatoes in (we found Pomi boxes at Wheatsfield–real Italian), let that simmer for twenty minutes, then put the pasta together, follow the manifesto, and hey, presto–a silky smooth, clingy tomato sauce.

The article made a big deal out of the classic Italian restaurant experience–simple ingredients, thoughtfully prepared.  You ask for a lamb chop at a trattoria?  That’s what you get.  Maybe a bit of garnish, but probably not.  This recipe was exactly that.  Want a tomato sauce?  Fine.  28 ounces of tomatoes and a little prep, finished off with just a bit of trickery and, um, yeah, butter.

One thing we did that paid off was to use a wok to cook the sauce and then to immerse the pasta.  Lots of room to get all stirry and to throw the linguini around a bunch.  Have to remember that…

oh, my freaking heavens…

April 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

When O came home selling magazine subscriptions, I signed up for Bon Appetit on a lark.  I figured it would be like watching This Old House–impressive that there are people out there who can do that, and I suppose that, given the proper tools and education, I might be able to do the same, but in fact I’m quite content to sit on the couch and watch other people raise a barn roof/fold egg whites into caviar.

But, as reported previously, I might like this mag even more than, say, Scientific American.  The boy and I pull out the dog-eared copy with the good pimiento mac’n’cheese every other week or so, we’ve managed brownies, cookies, and a handful of pasta dishes out of it and haven’t set anyone ablaze.  There’s plenty that’s way above my head, but also enough that’s relatively simple and fun.

So, OK.  This month’s issue says–can you read that?–“The Italy Issue.”  Sold.  But that sub-header says “Pizza! Pasta! Gelato! How Could Your Kids Not Love Rome!”  The article is all about dining with kids in the Eternal City, and it has that breathless sense of “seriously!  You could take the kids and find things they’d eat, even in a trendy European capital!”

Well, this is not news to us.  The kids ate plenty of pizza, pasta, and gelato (sometimes in that order) the spring we were there, and they will do again this coming year.  The big deal is that there are about two dozen recipes for Roman specialties in the article.  And I’m thinking of this as a challenge.  Can we make all of them as a kind of run-up to the trip?  (And, can we make them all here, take notes, and then make them all there, with stuff like real Italian bread flour, etc.)  With softball and track likely snowed out tonight (and yes, I said snowed out on April 19), we’re going to make that pasta pomodoro on the cover tonight.  Full report later.  One down, something like 23 to go.  Impressionante.

world’s greatest mac’n’cheese recipe, conclusion, and mini-cheesecakes

March 24, 2011 Comments Off on world’s greatest mac’n’cheese recipe, conclusion, and mini-cheesecakes

Well, you sort of knew that our last dinner before K came back would be mac’n’cheese, right?  C wanted to try a new recipe, but with a couple of alumni bringing actual, real peppadew peppers to us this week, we agreed that the Bon Appetit recipe was definitely worth one more shot.  Kris and James, this one’s for you–thanks for the peppers!

They worked a treat!  This recipe relies on a puree of peppers and cheese, and while it’s been great–very light, almost more of a pepper sauce than a cheese sauce–it definitely needed a boost.  Peppadews may be my new favorite thing in the culinary universe–they’re miniature red peppers, brined in a spicy sweet liquid.  “It’s like a party in your mouth,” I told C.  “I don’t want my jaw to get grotesquely swollen,” he said, recognizing and accurately quoting the Simpson’s reference.  Right on, kid.

Anyway, I also bumped up the pasta.  Elbows?  No way.  This sauce really calls for shapes with some scoopage to them.  The local natural foods place had durum semolina chiocciole.  This was a new one on me, but they looked perfect, like elbows on steroids.  Giant, tuba-shaped openings that were perfect for picking up–and holding on to–the pepper sauce.  It all worked well.  The kids both thought this was a definite one to show off for Mom, and C said this was the best mac’n’cheese recipe of the whole three-month experiment.  He did ask if we could have Kraft next week, and I said K could make him whatever he wanted, but I had made my last box of the stuff.

“But it’s good, too,” he said.

“Yeah, but have you ever looked at the ingredients?  It’s all chemistry–nothing in it is good for you.  Everything in this is good for you.”  I sounded like my father.

“But Kraft TASTES GOOD,” he said.

“But it is NOT AS FUN TO MAKE,” I retorted, and this stopped him in his tracks.

“Good point,” he said.  Anyway, I’m sure he’ll nom the blue box stuff just as enthusiastically, but I feel like we’ve forged some new paths with him.

OK, but what about something that’s 1) fun to make, 2) tastes good (actually quite extraordinary), and 3) is really, really bad for you?  That’s a different story, of course.  After a couple of reasonably good tries at pavlova, C asked if we had any more strawberries.  No, I told him, I thought we’d basically eaten central Iowa out of its March supply.  Too bad, he said, because he’d really liked them.  Hm.  In addition to the pavlova, this month’s Bon Appetit did have a pretty complicated recipe for little cheesecakes with strawberries on top.  Should we try those?

Cheesecake?” he said.  He’s never had one.

“Oh, this will blow your mind,” I said.  “Let me make this, and try it, and see what you think.”  He was skeptical.

But of course there was no way this wasn’t going to fly.  The recipe was a bit of a struggle–all the cheesecake ingredients, but no baking, and gelatin and white chocolate, both of which required the double boiler.  The double boiler, to me, has always implied a level of subtlety and skill that I simply don’t have, but I managed to get everything put together in the food processor and successfully blended.  The kids wandered in.

“Try this batter,” I told them, handing them the mixing bowl.

“Are there eggs in this?” O asked.  Not that it would have mattered, but no, I told her.  She tried it and gave me the big-eyed “WHOA” look.  It reminded me that cheesecake was one of the first things Mom taught me to make, and it was by far my favorite dessert as a kid.

These have a gingersnap crust for a base, which was a nice change from the traditional graham cracker crust.  And the recipe had some pretty fussy instructions for making them in a muffin pan–plastic wrap and spray oil were involved, in ridiculous quantities.  But they sort of worked, and the ginger was a nice touch.  There’s a coulis, too, and I sliced up some leftover berries on the mandoline (less finger, this time) and sugared them for an hour or so to put on top.

They were enormously popular, as you’d expect.  “You know, Dad,” O said, “you haven’t screwed up a single dessert.”  There have been some clunkers for main courses–the limp chicken parmesan and the unctuous slab of mac’n’cheese lasagna, for instance–but thinking about it, she was right.  We’ve all liked every dessert we’ve made.  That says something either about the universal appeal of sugar, eggs, flour, and dairy mixed together in whatever quantity you like, or maybe I’m a closet pastry chef.

Either way, we’re making these for K next week.  And the two remaining mini-cheesecakes?  There’s only one way to stop myself from eating them for lunch.

Eating them for breakfast.

world’s greatest mac and cheese recipe–pimiento mac

February 23, 2011 Comments Off on world’s greatest mac and cheese recipe–pimiento mac

I was pretty convinced this was not going to work.  Last week I plopped the new Bon Appetit on the front seat of the car when I picked C up from school.  “Hands Down the Tastiest We’ve Ever Made!” the headline screamed, above a luscious food porn image of mac and cheese with peppers.  It might as well have been the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.  C was in love.

It was Bon Appetit, which has proven trusty but often challenging.  And when C and I looked at the recipe he was skeptical.  “How can it be a real mac and cheese,” he wondered, “if it doesn’t have a bechamel sauce?”  Exactly, I told him.  It sounds like baked pasta, and I was skeptical, too.

Still, baked pasta with some awesome stuff in it.  Pappadew peppers, which I’ve never heard of, and which apparently only exist in the south.  We threw in a whole jar of pimientos instead.  A boiled red pepper.  Two cloves of garlic.  Tons of cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan.  It wasn’t going to be your average mac and cheese, for sure, but none of that sounds bad, does it?

As you can see, the sous chef went right to work.  He’s an excellent grater, measurer, and stirrer, and we got all the pieces assembled in good order.  Instead of a bechamel, this recipe called for the peppers, pimientos, and cheese to get whipped together in the food processor.  “Oh, cool,” C said, “A pepper and garlic smoothie.”  Right on, brother.  That goes on the pasta (whoops–not enough elbows, so I committed something of a travesty and cracked open an old box of Kraft to get the pasta out of it).  Cheese goes on the pasta, some toasted Panko, butter, and parmesan goes on top, and the whole thing goes in the oven for 25 minutes.

Crucial step, according to the magazine: let the thing cool for ten minutes after it comes out of the oven so that it firms up.  That saved us from an over-gooey plate, and as you can see the result was a light, very peppery mix–nowhere near the creamy texture of the Cook’s recipe, but really nice.  The peppers and the pimientos added some zip, and there was just enough cheese without being a stringy, overdone mess (like the last one…)  It was a pretty sophisticated dish for mac and cheese, and I worried for a minute about its reception.  But both kids loved it.  O covered it in Sriracha, as is her wont, and the boy said it was tied for first place in the cookoff.  Tied for first place, ladies and gentleman.  We have a winner!

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