I was in my local Indian market the other day and they had the nicest looking small yellow bell peppers and for only 50 cents each. Thoughts of what to do with them raced through my head. I've been wanting to branch out and utilize the Persian Jeweled rice or versions of it for more dishes so I decided to pick up some yellow bells and stuff them with Persian Jeweled rice. This turned out really good but possibly the peppers are too small. You find yourself digging through the pepper trying to get a bigger bite of the rice because it's so incredibly flavorful. The jeweled rice has caramelized carrots and orange rind in cardamom and cinnamon spiced basmati with butter and yogurt. Topped with caramelized onions and soaked berry mix with a touch of pomegranate seeds.
There's this dish so pretty that a man once got on a bus with his three kids in a very southern city in Mexico and rode for 4 hrs to the town where it originated just to experience the decadance. This is a true story and the dish is that pretty. The dish is called Chiles en Nogada (pronounced Nuh-God-duh) and is yet another invention of the Spanish nuns in Puebla for the first Emporer of Mexico after they gained their independence from Spain. The other famous dish that nuns in Puebla created is Mole Pablano which of course I ate many plates full the last time I was there.
There are many ways to make Chiles en Nogada but the variation I had in Puelba (yes, that was me mentioned above) had a Poblano chile stuffed with a combination of shredded meat, tomatoes and dried fruits like raisins, nuts and fresh pomegranate seeds. This chile is then covered with a white sauce made of Queso Fresco (Mexican Cheese) and Mexican sour cream with ground walnuts and topped with pomegranate seeds and parsley leaves. The red, white and green symbolize the colors of the Mexican flag. It's customary to only eat it in August but I was lucky enough to find it in January at one small restaurant. My take on Chiles en Nogada got it's start when I was perusing the aisles at Grocery Outlet when I found a package of sweet yellow, orange and red peppers. These weren't bell peppers but longer almost Jalepeno shaped peppers. Even though the Poblano pepper is traditional I decided to use these instead and it worked out wonderfully.
When I was a kid about 7 or 8 years old I knew what I wanted to do for a living. Most kids wanted to be Firemen, Police officers, Basketball stars etc.. I wanted to be a baker. I don't know why and I apparently didn't know anything about the hours they keep but I wanted to bake. I'm sure it had to do with my love for bread. When most people go to the cupboard late at night to get some sweets I go for bread. When I want to treat myself in the early morning I go to the donut shop. I've fallen in love with France for their pastries and many many types of breads. So why didn't I grow up to be a baker? Because bakers keep odd hours and the only way I could be a baker is to do all the baking BEFORE I go to bed. That and the little fact that most bakers don't spend three months a year traveling around the world. Although this year my travel schedule probably resembles a bakers travel schedule more than one of an IT consultant for fortune 50 corporations but I digress.
So there's rarely a time where I wouldn't appreciate the smell of dough rising in my house and the aroma of fresh bread baking in the oven waifing up the stairway to my nose parked in front of the computer is a very warm thought indeed. The problem is I'm a very spontaneous person and making bread is not a very spontaneous activity. You can't just whip up a loaf of bread and eat it 15 minutes later. You can however whip up a loaf of bread and eat it two and a half hours later. This might seem like a long time but I've started to realize that most of our meals take nearly this long to cook so if I get the dough rising first thing we'll have fresh bread for dinner. This is the plan anyway. If I mix the dough and get it on it's first rise at 5 pm we'll have bread at dinner. The other night I tried this theory with the Squash and mascarpone lasagna and it worked perfectly. The squash was going to take an hour to cook and then the lasagna was going to take another hour plus prep time so the bread got done exactly when the lasagna did.
With the Lasagna we were only involved twice - once to scoop out the squash and put it in the oven and then to scoop out the cooked squash and prepare the lasagna. That's about 20 minutes out of a 2 hr meal. Making bread is like that. People complain about it taking so long to make bread and how much work it is. It isn't really, you'll just need to trust me on this.
Drop your yeast in baby bottle warm water
Put all ingredients in the mixer bowl and turn it on for 10 minutes.
Cover and wait
Cut into shapes and wait
So easy even a baby could do it! If you're using rapid rise yeast or instant yeast either one you can skip step 1 and let's be honest step 3 (waiting) and step 5 (baking) aren't really steps - they're too easy to be steps. So with the lasagna I make buttermilk pull-a-part rolls. Of course we had to have real butter in them as well because anything else wouldn't be civilized.
My cousin Robin sent me a link to a food blog that had posted one of Wolfgang Puck's creations that sounded interesting - Pumpkin Lasagna. I almost didn't try it because I've had Wolfgang Puck's frozen pizza (a word of advice to other chefs - don't!) and I've seen his junk cookware but it sounded like it would be fun and maybe even good. In Italy it's very common to have Pumpkin or Squash puree in stuffed noodles and they've become a favorite in our house. My other reason for making the recipe is that I don't really like Lasagna. This may sound counter-intuitive but it's not. Classic Lasagna is about as interesting as classic Spaghetti (sorry Spaghetti lovers) in that it's well - boring. There's nothing interesting about a tomato sauce and noodles topped with cheese. Yes, kids like it but that's because they don't know any better. Why make Pumpkin Lasagna? Because it isn't boring! So we followed the recipe as posted at the One Perfect Bite food blog which made it according to the original recipe (I assume) by using Pumpkin and Chevre. The one red flag was the amount of salt used in the filling - ONE TABLESPOON! That seemed excessive to me but I hate it when I go through the trouble of making a recipe and people substitute cheese whiz for Froie Gras then complain so in the 1 Tbsp of salt went. I didn't have enough fresh Thyme so I had to commit the ultimate evil and dig through the cupboard for the dried version. I had fresh sage and ground some nutmeg. The recipe called for "goat cheese" (whatever that is) or Mascarpone which sounded good so I used that. We had a ton of Delicata Squash in the garage so we baked it cut side down the way I do pumpkins and it turned out real nice.
Conclusion: I think this recipe has real promise. If you like eating Squash then you'll love Squash Lasagna. However I was right on the money with the salt issue. I'm fairly certain that it was meant to be 1 tsp (teaspoon) and not 1 tbsp (tablespoon) as we had to gag it down. We'll be making it again later this week with a bit less Thyme, Sage and Salt. I believe this is the first time I've not doubled the herbs in a recipe and in fact pulled them back. Usually recipes lack flavor and need kick.
One of my favorite meals is a Persian dish called Korescht-e Fesanjan or the slang term Fesenjoon. It's a meat "soup" of sorts with a Pomegranate and Walnut sauce. It's quite wonderful but also quite elusive in the dining world because of the lack of great Persian restaurants in the Seattle area. I've taken it to task to reproduce it at home. The first time I made it Jade proclaimed that he felt like he was "throwing up". Thankfully I've made progress since then. What I fixed last night got a thumbs up from everyone and Piper begged me to not change it (she knows me too well). I'm not satisfied but I'm on the right track. The texture and color are off and the flavors will need to be tweaked still. I paired it with fresh home made wheat pitas, steamed basmati and apple tea (really apple cider).
On occasion I check out frozen stuffed pasta at the local grocery but almost always pass over them unless they're dirt cheap or they sound especially interesting. I've learned that fresh homemade pasta is just plain better. I have found though that there are several types of fresh (packaged) pasta available in the store - most are unaffordable by anyone but a first year Microsoft investor. QFC (our local "charge whatever they want because they have rustic tile floors" grocery store) had fresh packaged chicken and bacon borsetti that looked interesting. Interesting because it's not cheese or sausage ravioli. The pasta was usually $7 but was on sale for $4 and because of a special promo had a dollar off coupon so I bought it on impulse. The first night I cooked it I served it in the old standby - browned butter and sage sauce - and it worked fairly well. My kids couldn't place the flavor of bacon in the pasta because they weren't expecting it. The second time I cooked it I decided to put a little effort into it and make sweet pepper cream sauce. The sauce turned out very good but clashed with the strong flavors of the pasta. Oh well, live and learn.
I do however, think I'l be spending more time with borsetti. In case you don't know what they are they look like cute little bags of gold. I thought that maybe they'd be visible in the photo but they really aren't. You can see the top of the bag all bunched up in the right side of the pasta bowl. They seem really easy to make since they're just squares of pasta bunched up with filling. I think you'll be hearing more of borsetti in the future. Next time I'll just make them fresh. It's not that the chicken and bacon ones were bad, they just don't match what I had in mind.
So far I have $10 invested in the quarry tiles that I'm using as a poor mans brick oven. To get a flat surface I was looking into placing them in a baking sheet, bonding them onto a sheet of metal and other things. Because we were going to have a pizza party I basically ran out of time so I just laid the tiles on the metal racks in the ovens and winged it. I'm still going to work on a better solution because one rack of tiles weighs 16 lbs so the rack sags in the middle. My long term plan (at this moment) is to sand down the edges of the tiles so they fit together very tight and bond them to a sheet of metal some how. I think that if I bond them with the metal sprung a bit in the convex direction the tiles themselves will provide the structural strength. My only concern is replacing a tile if one breaks. I may look into fastening them a different way. Maybe I'll bond bolts to them and fasten those to the metal. Who knows, it's just ideas at this point.
To test out the tiles we made homemade pizza and set the oven to 550 degrees. I also had my old pizza stone on the bottom rack for comparison. The tiles worked wonderfully and even though I've not made any of the changes above I had no problem with them just laid on the racks and they had no problem with the heat.
We made pizza for us and made sure there were ingredients for people with narrower palettes as well. I poached pears in Chardonnay, simmered down our own BBQ sauce and made a marinara for standard pizzas. The pears I paired (ahem) with an herbed Chevre, rubbed the crust with a branch of rosemary dipped in olive oil and sprinkled with Balsamic Vinegar. The pizza in the photo I made the next night the same with but added shallots caramelized in Muscatel Sherry and pomegranate seeds.
For the narrower palette we made the BBQ sauce which we teamed up with grilled chicken breast and slices of smoked Gouda and sprinkled with cilantro. For the even narrower palette I made sure we had marinara, mozzarella and pepperoni available. Most of the kids ate that.
I think I need to say something about the dough for a minute. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about homemade pizzas and it mostly centers around the dough. I remember as a kid trying to make pizza at home and it always tasted funky but it was because we were trying to cut corners. We'd buy pizza dough in a can, pizza sauce in a can etc... Just skip to the chase because none of those things work very well. Pizza sauce (marinara) is a no brainer so I won't spend any time there. The dough however can be very picky so I've included the pizza dough recipe that we use in the recipe section. It's a bit more complex than some doughs (eg. Cooks Illustrated pizza dough) but I like it much better. It's such a wonderful dough to work with that it makes making pizzas a joy. You wil lneed to find durum flour and the recipe calls for bread flour as well but I cheat on that a lot and use a combination of bread flour and all-purpose depending on what I have. The recipe is in weights and is for 16 small pizzas so you'll probably want to do the math to cut it down.
I'd love to have a big wood fired hearth oven but that's just not happening anytime soon. In the past I've used Pizza stones to approximate the same but after a while they crack and can be a bit expensive ($25) to replace. They also don't fit my oven since they're round and for the same reason only allow one pizza per stone to be cooked. What I've really been looking for was one large square pizza stone that would better cover the rack and allow me to cook several pizzas at a time. I've found a few square stones but strangely they don't fit my standard sized oven very well. It baffles me as to why someone wouldn't make it the same size as the oven. Maybe cost is the reason, it usually is.
Another option is a full hearth kit for the oven which provides stone walls and lining but costs a lot more money. My solution for now is to line the shelves of the oven with unglazed quarry tiles. I need to trim a little off one line of tiles to get it to fit and I'm also going to attach them somehow to a sheet of metal so they'll all remain flat when I have them in. I'm thinking of picking up the cheapest unrimmed cookie sheet for this purpose and using Kent HT silicone (food safe and withstands heat to 600 degrees). I paid $10 for enough quarry tiles to cover two racks so I may even experiment with a double layer of tiles to hold more heat. A hearth kit for $20 and a little elbow grease, not bad.
Wow, it's been nearly a month since I've posted to my food blog. So this is what it's like to have a job...
The other night H-mart had a great deal on snow crablegs so I bought a few pounds and took them and 2lbs of shrimp home to cook. I threw my Emeril Lagasse signature double boiler/steamer engineered by All-Clad on the stove with water in it. We then proceded to shell and devine the shrimp which took longer than expected. During this time I hadn't noticed that the steamer was no longer steaming. Natalya turned around and asked if there was still water in it at which time everyone jumped up and ran to the stove because we all knew what that means to a pan. No matter what your pan is made of it's not going to withstand high heat for too long if it's dry. The pan was in fact dry and the burner was bright red and something curious was happening - there was a stream (literally) of aluminum pouring out of the bottom of the pan. We dumped 4 cups of water in the pan which turned to vapor on contact. I knew the pan was completely destroyed but was just trying to contain the damage. There was a pool of aluminum under the burner and a lake on the stove top. A little poured onto the floor and just as fast as you could say Bam! Natalya stepped in it. Thankfully she only got a small burn.
Now before anyone gets cute and says "you're not supposed to do that" let me say this - stick a fork in it. Having said that I'd like to focus on the pan. This is very clearly advertised as a copper and aluminum core pan engineered by the most renowned American pan company - All-Clad. Here's the wording from Emerilware.
The triple-layer encapsulated base of stainless steel, aluminum and copper are bound together to ensure fast and even heat distribution.
So the triple-layer encapsulated base is made of stainless which is the outside and aluminum/copper bound together for the inside, or so it would seem. If you look at the outside you will see that it appears to have about 4mm of copper in the base. I've never doubted this fact since you can very clearly see that there's a great deal of copper there. Since I only use it for boiling pasta, steaming etc. I've never really cared outside of the fact that I knew I had a fairly reactive pan. I do admit though that I bought this pan because I've loved how well my Mauviel copper performs and we all know that copper is a better heat conducter than aluminum by several times. Granted this is only a $100 pan and I shouldn't expect too outside of the fact that you have two well known qauntities felt it important to slap their names on it.
So what came out of the pan was very clearly NOT copper which is not in itself the problem. All-Clad makes their copper core line under their own name and if you look at the drawings you'll see that there are multiple copper and aluminum cores sandwiched together. I asked a Williams-Sanoma employee why they'd use multiple cores since copper was the superior conductor and his response comically was "the more the better". Somehow I don't think a lot of metalurgists would agree.
Anyway when you look at this pan you see copper but after the other nights incident it is very clear that the core is made up of only aluminum core and the outer millimeter or less is a copper veneer to make you think you have a copper core. If you take a knife and scratch the "copper core" you will hit aluminum.
So the question isn't even whether an aluminum core is bad because we all know that Calphalon and All-Clad Alluminum core pans perform beatifully but rather what is Emeril and All-Clad trying to pull? I think it has to do with wool and a pair of pearly blues set deep in my skull. They very easily could have made an aluminum core pan and nobody would have thought less of them. The fact that they made an aluminum core pan, sprayed copper on the outside and sold it to me as a copper core pan doesn't set well with me. It makes me not want to believe what either say. I wonder now if you took a knife to All-Clads copper core line ($450 for an 8qt stock pot) you'd hit aluminum or copper. Looking at the side profile drawing again of their pans it looks like there's only a minimal amount of copper in their pans as well, perhaps 1mm at most. No wonder The America's test kitchen said there's no difference between All-Clad copper core and their standard aluminum core pans. I think this is just their strategy to keep people from going to a real copper pan. You get the shiny benefits of copper without the hassle and weight!
In researching this article I see All-Clad has something called Coper-chef now that appears "all copper". Looking at the cutaway diagram it looks like this is yet another All-Clad alluminum pan with copper sprayed on the outside. Now you get none of the benefits of copper with all the hassle. I think the most irritating thing about all of this is that All-Clad makes great pans and the marketing department just needs to go take a walk and let the engineers do their work. I don't buy large All-Clad pans though because the handles are the worst I've ever seen anywhere. If I were to pay $400 for an All-Clad pan I'd drill the rivets out and put the handle from a $20 Cuisinart on it so I could actually use it. But as far as their cooking performace goes, they're top notch.
After this though I'd think twice about buying anything with Emeril or All-Clads name on it.
I've said this before and I'll say it again - simple things are sometimes harder to cook than complex things. If you have a lot of ingredients in a dish you can usually recover it if something goes wrong. If you only have 3 ingredients (like some breads) it may be difficult to master a recipe. To drive this point home Julia Child after having attended and graduating from Le Corden Bleu went through 200lbs of flour trying to make a decent baguette and failed. It wasn't until she got invited into a boulangerie and saw the tricks could she pull off a decent baguette at home. Baguettes if you don't know have 4 ingredients and one of those is water.
I've mastered making pita at home but for Indian dinners we really want naan. So far I've been a complete failure making naan. The last dinner we had I made both naan and pita and in case the naan wasn't right - we ate the pita. A local restaurant gave me a tip - they cook it twice, once in the oven and once in the tandoori. I don't have a tandoori and I never will but this gets me closer.
So I'm here to say that I'm going to figure out naan. To start things out right I just bought 20lbs of Chapati flour that Indians use for making Chapati (of course,) Roti and Paratha. I've heard it's also good for making naan, we'll se about that.
The way I figure it I have enough flour to screw naan up 40 times which might be what it takes. I hope I don't have to use as much a Julia Child did but I WILL figure out naan.
P.S. Before emailing me links of naan recipes please try them. I've tried many and they all make glorified pita. If you however have been successful in making naan then by all means drop me a line.