Tuesday, October 13, 2009

OPPOSITE DAY: Quiet houses...

Just a quick update for everyone: I'm not frenching it up this week, as hubby is away on business and it's just me and puppy, so I don't have a good excuse to cook ridiculously rich foods. Good for my cholesterol, I'm sure. Instead I've been hard at work on my internship application materials, and today triumphantly finished my first draft of the 4th of 4 standard essays that get sent to every place I apply to. Hooray! And I actually got it written today in between things. As in, I didn't come home and waste away 3 hours watching TV or playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook (my nemesis), as I have been wont to do. Instead I actually wrote the most boring of all the essays, one about my research experience. And it's done! So now the mountain I'm climbing toward internship is a bit smaller, with only my CV, a case summary, and an assessment write-up to go! (I also have to write a supplemental essay for one site, but that's gonna feel like a picnic compared to the others.)

So, as much as I hate hubby being gone, I really am getting alot done, so I guess I have to say I'm a bit ambivalent about quiet houses, as opposed to blatantly disliking them.

Now I'm going to head upstairs, queue up "Modern Family" on my laptop (it's getting rave reviews, so I must check it out), and put away a mountain of clean laundry that's been sitting in the basket at the foot of my bed for weeks. Maybe I'll eat a Klondike bar first...Exciting times, I know.

I'll be returning to French cooking soon, I'm itching to make Julia's famed Boeuf Bourgignonne (or however you spell that), so I know it'll be next up as soon as I have a good excuse!

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

OPPOSITE DAY: Store-bought pie crusts...

When I created this blog, I thought there might come a day when I'd feel compelled to post about something that I did not like at all, and I thought I'd title those posts "Opposite Day". Well, folks, that day has come.

It all began with Pate Brisee....Or, should I say, it began with me deciding I would not be attempting Pate Brisee today. Pate Brisee is homemade pastry dough/pie crust. No thank you, Julia!

I'd ended up with a free Wednesday night again, and thought I shouldn't waste the chance to cook another yummy french dish, so I flipped through the quiches and decided on Quiche Aux Fruits de Mer (Shrimp, Crab, or Lobster Quiche). The recipe looked short and simple, I could use store-bought crab, and I already had the eggs. Perfect!

I made my requisite trip to the Stop and Shop for the crab meat (6.99 for 8 oz, not too bad!), the pie crust, and some shallots, which have been an optional ingredient in every recipe I've tried so far (you can either use shallots or green onions, and I opted for green onions up to now, b/c I didn't really know what a shallot was). Turns out, these are shallots, "fresh" from France...

When you cut into them, they're basically little, milky red onions. I'm not really sure what makes them "shallots," but apparently, they're very French, so fine.

I was being very ambitious today, aiming to eat at 6:30. The quiche would only take 30 minutes in the oven, and the prep was really quick, so I did some other work until about 5:15, at which point I minced two shallots and cooked them in butter for a few minutes, than stirred in the crab meat and simmered it all for a few minutes, then added a few shakes of Madeira (red wine), heated it to a boil, then set the mixture aside. Doesn't it already look good?

Then I beat eggs, a lot of cream, some tomato paste (?), and salt and peper in a bowl, and added the crab meat to it.

And that's when the trouble started....

Now, I've seen my mother make countless quiches in store-bought frozen pie crusts and I had never seen her take the crust out of the tin before filling it. And yet, being the goody-goody I am, when the back of the pie crust packaging said to take the frozen pie crust out of the tin and let it thaw for 15 minutes before filling it, I did it, even though I didn't really see how that would work. Well, guess what? It didn't. The first one thawed so much before I even tried to fill it that it fell apart and was just a flat sheet of dough. Oops. You'd think I would have taken this as a sign of the fortitude (or lack thereof) of these pie crusts, but nooooooooooo. I try again, thaw the crust for only a few minutes, then pour the heavy, thick quiche filling into the pan. I quickly realized that this was going to be a problem, as the pie crust immediately started to become oval shaped, buckling under the weight of all that cream. I started hopping around screaming "no, no no!" as I raced to throw some Swiss cheese on top and jam the thing in the oven to start firming it up before it completely fell apart, but as I started shredding the cheese on top, creamy crab started oozing out of the bottom of the pie crust, and I started wailing and shrieking and I'm sure the dog thought I was in grave danger. Crisis was averted by me tilting the whole leaking thing back into the bowl, but, um...this is what I had left of my only remaining pie crust. A moment of silence, please.

*sigh* So I had to go back to the freakin' grocery store and get more freakin' pie crusts. I was pissed. Stupid pie crusts and their stupid lying instructions, what the hell!! Clearly they know good and well at Acme Pie Crust company that their little dinky crusts cannot actually support anything if not in the aluminum pan they're created in! Why must they lie to me and risk the demise of my crab quiche?? Why!??

Needless to say, we didn't eat until 7:30. But the quiche came out beautifully in the end.

I also made my favorite veggies, peas simmered in chicken broth, butter, and green onions. It was super yummy, and made up for the absurdity of the pie crust debacle of '09.

Butter Count: .5 sticks
Cream Count: 1 cup

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Kitchen gadgets...

A short post today, I've got a looooooooong day tomorrow and must sleep, but I wanted to post quickly about my new-found love of kitchen gadgets!

Today I had to make another batch of Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne (oh, darn) because I'd bought too much of everything that goes in it, but still had enough of the delectable creamy white wine sauce leftover from the first time around to skip that laborious step (yay!). So I did the cooking in stages today, in between other things, which I've realized is totally the way to go with french cooking, since most things keep well for several hours, and/or Julia tells you where in the recipe you can prepare up to in advance, so I actually heeded her advice today, and poached the fish around 3, made the risotto when I got home from supervision around 5:30, and stuck the fish under the broiler right before hubby got home and everything was perfectly hot and ready when he walked in the door! (I know this sounds sooooo Stepford, but it benefited both of us that I was so timely (finally) with dinner, since I was starving and we had somewhere to be at 7:30). I think the fish was actually better this time, because I poached it in a mix of white wine and dry white vermouth (picked up at my new favorite wine store, "Wine Country" next to my favorite store store, Target! It's so nice when the stars align!) this time, which I think gave it a nice little kick. Hubby and I both hate Vermouth (and gin) usually, but for cooking it's divine.

Anyway, I digress. The point here is that today I got over my fear of my huge food processor (a very generous...christmas gift, I think, from a few years ago), which I have only ever used to make pesto, which I've only made twice. I remembered a few days ago that it comes with a slicing/grating blade, and I've been reading Julie Powell's old blog, and she mentions how fantastic her Cuisinart was for chopping onions, which as we all know, is my least favorite thing. So, I pulled it out, blew off the dust (ew, that sounds gross, it wasn't really that dusty), figured out how to put it together (much easier than I thought) and it sliced two onions in about 30 seconds. Woot! I will now use that thing any chance I get. Fantastic.

I also used my little onion chopper (for the onions that went into the risotto), and it minced them up nice and quick with very little tearing up from me--this is huge, because when I cut onions, my eyes tear to the point of mascara running down my face, and my eyes burn for about the next 3 hours. Not pretty. So I also love my little chopper that I got at BBB for $9.99.

I also used my Microplane today! (The gadget love is overflowing). I always forget I have it, because I bought it with a wedding gift card we got to Williams Sonoma, a store that I never set foot in usually, since the nearest one is 30 minutes away and feel like an imposter in there, and I bought it because it seemed so fancy-pants and like the kind of thing that "real cooks" have, which I am only now even getting close to becoming, so...needless to say, the Microplane hasn't been appreciated around here, but that's all changing! I used it to grate the Swiss cheese onto the fish, and it was super easy, super fast, and you can grate right into the pot, quickly, which is good for fresh cheese because otherwise it all lumps together while you wait to sprinkle it. Did you know that about fresh cheese? I didn't, until about 6pm tonight, but Microplane saved the day!

So that's all today! Bon soir!

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Heavenly eggs...

In Julie and Julia, Julie Powell swears by Oeufs en Cocotte with Sauce au Cari (Eggs baked in ramekin dishes, with Curry Sauce). She claims that it is the absolute best meal to have the morning after a wild and crazy night out with the girls.

Well, I didn't have a wild and crazy night on Saturday, but I did decide that it was time to see what all the fuss was about, and tackle Oeufs en Cocotte myself. This led to me doing another unimaginable thing on Sunday morning: I got up relatively early, much earlier than I had to, to go buy groceries and bakeware so that I could make my eggs. I was ready to leave the house even before most of the stores that could actually sell me ramekins were open! Madness. Have I mentioned that I typically avoid going grocery shopping like the plague, and make hubby do as much of it as possible? My behavior of late is truly bizarre, I cannot stress this enough! I'm realizing, though, that what I really love to do is eat good food, and cooking recipes out of MAFC pretty much guarantees deliciousness, so apparently that's the only motivation I need to get my ass out of bed, get to the grocery store, and get cookin'.

So, I headed to Target for ramekins and curry powder, stopped by Pathmark for the onions and milk, and headed home with excitement for the delightful brunch bounty that awaited.

And oh man, was it worth the wait. Of course, everything took longer than I expected, especially making the curry sauce. I had to chop up onions (using my handy new chopper!) and cook them in butter for 10 minutes, than add tons of curry powder and cook that a bit...

then add boiling milk that I actually had the presence of mind to start boiling ahead of time (proud of myself for that one!)....

Meanwhile, I was heating up water in a pan that would eventually hold the ramekins full o' egg and sauce (oh, and mushrooms, which were left over from the poached poissons. Julia suggests adding pretty much anything you want to the bottom of the ramekin before you add the eggs, so I did!). Here's what the ramekins looked like with curry sauce and mushrooms in them, before I cracked the eggs in, topped them with more sauce, a "dot" of butter, and stuck them in the oven for 10 minutes...They came out looking like this...
Again, not entirely appetizing, but I swear, they were sooooooooooooo freakin' good!! I'm already looking for a reason to make them again next weekend! Fantastic! The eggs were cooked perfectly, just the right texture, the yolks weren't runny (which grosses me out), though I could have pulled them out a tad earlier to get runnier yolks, and the curry sauce was a perfect complement. Mmmmm, I can't gush about them enough. I made 4, with two eggs each, way too much for hubby and I, but we of course stuffed ourselves because oeufs en cocotte are too good to be denied. Trust me, if you ever want a taste, give me a heads up and I will make them for you at any time. It's a life changing experience, my friends! (Okay, so some of my gushing could be due to the fact that it's almost 1 am and I'm getting a little loopy, but really, these eggs are so good.)

Butter count: oops! forgot MAFC downstairs, will update tomorrow!

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Saturday, October 3, 2009


I'm tired of working on real stuff (though today, I did tons of real stuff: edits of internship essays 1 and 2, AND my first draft of essay 3! Woot! Of course, all essays are still 200 words too long, but I'll deal with that later. Also, if you don't really know what I'm talking about, consider yourself blessed), and owe you all a post about something other than butter, so now, for something completely different, allow me to tell you about an awesome website, iTrain.com.

I don't remember how I discovered iTrain, though I wish I could give credit where it's due. I do know that I found it when I was on my uber-diligent healthy lifestyle/weight loss kick in the months leading up to my wedding in 2007 (*sigh* those were the days!). Anyway, iTrain provides tons of downloads (300+) that you can buy, download, put on your iPod (or other mp3 device) and listen to/follow as you sweat yourself healthy! Back when I was trying it out, the company was pretty new, and their website was a little janky, so they ended up charging me about 6 times for my 3 month membership, which I fussed so much about that they gave me tons of free download credits that were supposed to expire but never did and ended up (accidentally, I think) refunding all the charges and never charging me anything, ha! It turns out I got lucky, because over the past two years, the price for individual workouts has soared to an average of $10/workout, which is kind of insane, but the workouts are really good, so...I still recommend giving it a try if you're looking for a new workout technique to try, especially if you use the gym alot.

My favorite workouts are the iTread and iClimb workouts, which give you awesome music and really good routines for the treadmill and elliptical machine. They also give you a lot of motivation to push through the horrible pain (can you tell how much I despise working out?), and make the workout a lot harder than it would be if you just walked/jogged while you watched TV (ahem, not that I would ever do that, of course :p ) There are downloads for every kind of workout imaginable: iRow, iStretch (which goes through yoga and pilates moves), iSculpt (both Traditional, which is more calisthenic-type stuff, squats, lunges, push ups, etc., and light weights, and Ballet, which I've never tried, but is probably awesome), iCycle, iStrength (weight training) and various packages that are tailored to specific goals. Each different type of workout usually has options for working out home or at a gym. In short, it's pretty much a go to place for kicking your workouts up a notch, without paying for a trainer or buying the Wii Fit :o).

It's serendipitous that I joined a gym last month, and remembered that I had a library of iTrain workouts, since I'm now learning the joys of cooking meals require two sticks of butter, so hopefully it'll all balance out!

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Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne...

Okay, so I lied. All I actually want to talk about is food. Sorry! :)

So, yesterday I decided I was going to tackle fish, primarily because in Julia's memoir My Life in France, she gushes over the french way of preparing fish, which is to poach it and serve it with a delectable sauce. Sold.

So I flipped to Fish, chapter 5, and decided first on Filets de Poisson Gratines, a la Parisienne (Fish filets poached in white wine w/ a cream and egg yolk sauce). Sounds delectable, right? Well, I realized that it was ridiculously unhealthy and artery clogging, and, since Julia says that when serving a "beautifully sauced fish...a salad or vegetable should come afterward, so as not to disturb the harmony of the fish, the sauce, and the wine" I knew that by the time we finished eating the main course, I'd be too lazy to actually prepare a salad, so I settled on Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne instead, which is filets poached in white wine and a julienne of vegetables. (Btw, I just have to say that, though it's very persnickety, I kind of love the fact that Julia makes sure we don't spoil our wonderful fish dishes with pesky things like vegetables. I love her.)

So, I'm feeling a little daunted by the recipe this time around, because I'm really making a combination of 3 recipes, as Julia tends to provide a master recipe, than variations of the master recipe, and then variations of that recipe, so there's a lot of flipping back and forth, and a lot of room for missing steps and screwing things up. But it sounded so tasty, I was willing to take the risk.

First thing I had to do was find a "10- to 12-inch fireproof baking and serving dish, 1.5 to 2 inches deep," which I didn't buy during my cookware spree at Home Goods. But I figured it'd be easy to find, right? Absolutely and utterly WRONG. I went to a different Home Goods, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Macy's, and there were no fireproof baking dishes to be found. So upsetting! I wasted about 2 hours on my hunt, but did pick up some fun kitchen gadgets at BBB, including an onion chopper, yay!!

Anyway! I finally made it home around 5, and was shooting for dinner at 7 again, so I immediately set myself up with 3 lbs of potatoes and the Amazing Race premiere and started peeling. (I was making the Pommes de Terre Sautees again, per Julia's recommendation for good dishes to accompany the fish.) After peeling, I started julienne-ing the veggies (carrots, celery, onions--I sadly realized I would not be breaking in my chopper just yet), and if you've never julienne'd anything before, a word of warning: it's annoying. I hate chopping on the best of days, and making little matchsticks out of carrots will never be my idea of fun...but Julia said julienne, so I said, "how tiny?" and chopped away.

By then, hubby was home, and I thought I'd set him to work actually trying to make "elongated olive shapes" out of the potatoes, which is what you're supposed to do to make sure they cook evenly, but which I was never actually going to try, because it sounded too absurd. But for hubby, it sounded like the perfect task! :p And, as it turns out, I was imagining a lot more work than it actually is, as the measurements Julia gives for the ideal olive-shaped potato are actually about the size of a new potato to begin with, so it wasn't actually that much work after all. Good to know. From that point on, hubby was pretty much in charge of the potatoes, which was nice, but also a bit difficult, since I'm a bit of a kitchen control freak. I also forgot to tell him to dry the potatoes before cooking them, so they didn't turn out as delectable as last time, but now we know how important it is to dry them first! They came out fine, though siginificantly less buttery. They did look pretty though! (Good job, hubby :o) )

I then set to work on the fish. I slowly cooked the veggies for 20 minutes while I prepared the cod filets by lightly seasoning them with salt and pepper and layering them in a buttered casserole dish (which worked out fine in place of the baking dish I needed, but was a little cramped). When the veggies were tender, I layered them on top of the fish. Next, I added the "liquids" that the fish would poach in. Julia offers several options, which I appreciate, and I picked the white wine/clam juice/water option, mainly so that I'd have enough of the wine left over to drink with the meal! (Priorities, people.) I then brought the whole thing to a simmer, covered it with buttered wax paper, and poached the fish in the oven for about 10 minutes. When I pulled the pan out, I really had no clue if the fish was done, since I couldn't actually see the fish under all the veggies and liquid, but I crossed my fingers and pressed on.

Next I drained all the cooking liquids into a saucepan and started making the sauce that was going to make the whole thing so amazing, at least according to Julia.

I boiled down the fish juice (yum), then beat in a "white roux" I'd made earlier out of butter and flour, and some cream. Heated it up again, added more cream, added some lemon juice, gave it a taste, it was great, and dumped it on top of the fish again.

Almost there! I then sprinkled swiss chesse on a top and dotted it with more butter (sigh), and stuck it under the broiler for a few minutes, and it came out like this! Beautiful!!!

We then sat down and watched the new NBC show 'Community', which is actually pretty good, and then a lame episode of Buffy, Season 3, "The Zeppo." I should probably explain here that we are on a mission to watch all 7 seasons of Buffy, due to the recommendations of about a thousand people, and thanks to the fact that one of our friends owns the whole series, so there will probably be lots of Buffy watching as we eat our french food for a long while. (Funny side note: it turns out that Julie Powell is actually obsessed with Buffy, and on her blog from 2002 about cooking the entirety of MAFC, she mentions Buffy a lot. It's really funny how my Julia experience is also linked with Buffy.)

Anyway, I'm rambling, mostly because when I finish this post I need to spend the rest of the day working on internship application essays, which is clearly not that much fun. But I must....I'll leave you with a shot of the plated food. Again, it doesn't look nearly as good as it tasted, but that fish was....mmmm, perfection.

Butter Count: 2 sticks

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Unexpected free evenings...

Yesterday morning, my 6pm client called and canceled his appointment for Wednesday night, gifting me with an entire evening of blissful nothing that I hadn't dared to dream of. So what did I do? I decided to fill it with domesticity the likes of which have rarely been seen in my vicinity. I decided I was gonna cook up a(nother) storm, Julia style.

Last night, I flipped around MAFC, looking for a chicken dish to tackle. I decided on Supremes de Volaille Archiduc (Chicken Breasts with Paprika, Onions, and Cream), with Risotto and my new favorite veggie, frozen peas a la JC. Yum. I scanned the ingredient lists and the instructions, and it all looked pretty straight forward, even the risotto, which I always imagined was something that only first class chefs can cook, but Julia made it seem do-able, and I was feeling brave.

Then I realized that both the chicken and the risotto called for things that were nowhere to be found in our house. Things like cheesecloth, and cast iron pots, and Madeira cooking wine. And, just like that, my otherwise lazy Wednesday became a kitchen-stuff buying spree that I actually really enjoyed!

My first stop this morning was Home Goods, my go-to shop for kitchenware, especially the fancy stuff that I can always count on them having half off. Both the chicken and risotto called for very specific pots: "a heavy, covered, fireproof casserole about 10 inches in diameter" for the chicken, and "a 6-cup fireproof casserole about 8 inches in diameter with a tight fitting cover" for the risotto. Okay, Julia, geez, you're so anal!

I headed for the cookware (after waiting for 10 minutes for someone to surrender one of the 5 shopping carts they had in the freakin' store today, ugh) and straight to the Le Crueset section. Not being a cook, I don't know why I even know about Le Crueset cookware, but I do. I know it's the best out there, and that it's probably what Julia had in mind for me. But something I did not know about Le Creuset cookware is that it is insanely expensive. I mean, wow. $120 for one small casserole. No, thank you! I got the "Palm restaurant" versions instead, which were still pretty expensive, but they're beautiful (see pictures below) and will last a really long time, and make me feel like I'm actually cooking for real. Cool.

So I bought my specifically-diametered casseroles, plus 2 more skillets, a baster, and more measuring spoons (I'm realizing you can never have too many), then high-tailed it back to my 4 hour chunk of meetings that were rudely interupting my day of domesticity. Then I picked up the Madeira and a bottle of Pouilly-Fusse (a White Burgundy that Julia suggested would be perfect with the chickent), went to S&S for a few essentials (and more butter), and then went to, get this, a hardware store for the cheesecloth! So ridiculous, and in the opposite direction from home, but I was gonna make me an herb bouquet, damnit! (More on that in a sec.)

By the time I got home, it was already after 5, and I'd invited a friend over for dinner at 7, and there was a mountain of dishes I had to clear out of the sink before I could start cooking. (To be fair, I could have started cooking with the sink full of dishes, but that always skeeves me out, and I never cook with the sink full if I can help it.) So, even though dishes are hubby's designated chore, I happily loaded the dishwasher, then handwashed stuff I needed immediately, and was amazed all the while that I was voluntarily cleaning the kitchen so that I could cook. So bizarre, but a nice change.

Finally, finally, I started working on the risotto. Aside from the onion chopping (bane of my existence), and almost breaking a sweat trying to get the plastic thingy off the casserole dish so that I could actually take the lid off, the prep was pretty easy. I nervously read and re-read the instructions, though, knowing I was gonna screw it up, and almost did, when I was almost ready to add liquid to the rice and hadn't made the herb bouquet yet! The horror!

(Sidebar: Okay everybody, so this is an herb bouquet. It's basically a bunch of herbs-parsley, thyme, etc.--tied up together in a little cheesecloth bag tied with string. Very cute, very french. And I made one! See?

So I made my herb bouquet, was very proud of myself, threw it in the pot with the rice, put the casserole in the oven to cook undisturbed, started the broth (and butter) for the peas to boil, and then realized that I still had to prepare the entire chicken dish. The time? 6:40. Oh well.

The chicken to a lot more time than I thought it would, for various reasons. For one thing, I had to freakin' mince more onions (*groan*) and then cook them (I think I blanched them? What's blanching? I don't know), rinse them, and cool them before sauteing them with butter (shocker) and paprika, and that whole thing took 15 minutes. Then I had to cut out a 10-in diameter piece of wax paper and butter it (which hubby and friend watched amusedly, as it was pretty ridiculous), which I pressed on top of the chicken before covering it in the casserole to cook in the oven. Why, Julia, why?? She doesn't even explain why this silly wax paper step is necessary! But I'm realizing that it's this little, fairly neurotic, steps that make the food taste so damn good, so...I'll do it. So then the chicken took twice as long to cook because I put extra chicken in to make sure I had enough for everyone, and then the freakin' sauce wouldn't...sauce! I was supposed to boil down the broth and wine until the liquid was syrupy before adding the cream, and this, of course, did not ever happen. So I said screw it and made the freakin' sauce. And it was still really good, so there, Julia!

Long story slightly shorter, we didn't eat until after 8. See how excited hubby and friend were to finally have food in front of them?

The chicken:

The risotto, which actually came out really well!

The meal (it doesn't look very impressive, but was quite tasty! We all kept getting more sauce to smother everything in):

Phew! So now I'm tired. Appropriately equipped, and tired. I think I'll french it up again this weekend, so stay tuned! (I also do have some none-Julia/food related things to write about, so if you're bored with buttery food talk, never fear!)

Today's Butter Count: 1.25 sticks

(9/28/09 Butter Count: 1.75 sticks. Yowza!)

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