Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just for the "Halibut"

So after hours of julienning (butternut squash, leeks, zucchini), I cut my carefully measured parchment paper rectangles into hearts, and went about assembling.

I had way too many vegetables, and when I put the halibut on top and tried to fold over the paper, it didn't close. Typical. So I made my own adjustments and took yards of parchment paper, wrapping everything up (very carefully, so the steam didn't escape, like Anne said. No one wants dried out fish.)

When all was said and done (around 11:00 PM), the meal turned out ok, considering the preceding few hours. There wasn't really a dramatic steam escape when we opened our little parcels, but it wasn't dry, so maybe I did something right. Note to self, though: just because you know the secrets of a restaurant chef doesn't mean you can actually use them.

Saturday Night Dinner

I love the Food Network. I do. I love to watch Ina and Giada and all my faves make delicious and seemingly easy meals, and I say to myself, "I can do that!!"

More often than not, though, when I try to recreate their masterpieces, it goes, well, bit rockier than I anticipate.

Case in point: "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef"'s Anne Burrell's Halibut in Cartoccio.

One lazy Saturday, I sat on the futon and watched Anne fold up parchment paper around a mouthwatering filet of halibut on a bed of beautifully julienned vegetables. She poured a bit of white wine into the little creation wrapped up in the paper. It looked like such a special and fancy treat as she put it into the oven, telling us, her viewers hanging on her every word, how lovely it would be when you took it out and unwrapped the paper for a "wow" moment of escaping steam and fish cooked to perfection. How hard could it really be, right?


Since that episode, I've been waiting until a humid summer night to attempt the dish. I am a big fan of heavy food (I don't like being hungry), so for something as light as fish and vegetables, I like to wait until it's so hot outside that I can't bear the thought of lasagna or steak.

So Saturday night, I decided it was time. I told my husband not to snack, because the recipe said the fish only cooked for 8-9 minutes, so I just had to spend a few minutes prepping, and we would be good to go.

Two hours later, his stares were throwing daggers my way.

It all started with the julienn-ing. I know what a julienned vegetable is supposed to look like--long and skinny like matchstick potatoes. I get it. But there HAS to be an easy way to do it. I remembered seeing Ina, the authority for me on useful kitchen gadgets (she has a measurable pepper grinder!!), use her Cuisinart chopper with an attachment that I had that I never used. So I dug through my pantry and found the attachment, only to find that it had been put away slightly dirty and had a bit of rust starting. Genius that I am, I decided I could pick the rust off the blade with my thumb nail. Well, we all know what happened next.

Here I am trying to stop the bleeding.

After searching online for the owner's manual, which I couldn't find in the kitchen, I set up the attachment and got going--only to find that it chopped my zucchini, not julienned.

Finally I gave up and decided to julienne the old-fashioned way, with a knife. Which took FOREVER. Notice the alcoholic beverage and wrapped up thumb.

Magnolia Bakery Treats Topped off by the Jersey Sunset

After dinner, I brought out some goodies that I picked up at Magnolia Bakery by the office. Since we're always eating Magnolia's cupcakes for office birthdays, I thought I'd try something different, including red velvet cheesecake, vanilla cheesecake, a brownie, flourless chocolate cake, and, best of all, a cookie filled with a rich cream. That was the hit of the desserts.

The highlight of the evening, though, was not the cream-filled cookies, the Daniel Boone wine, or even the truffle-infused olive oil. It was an unbelievably spectacular sunset. Say what you want about Jersey, but I haven't seen a sunset like this since our honeymoon in Fiji.

Thank you Katie and Anthony for a delicious meal, good times, and a great evening!

Field Trip: Jersey City

Friday night, Jeff and I hopped on NJ Transit to Jersey City to see our friends Katie and Anthony for dinner.

The two of them recently got back from a trip to Italy, where, among other goodies, they purchased a bottle of truffle-infused olive oil. If that doesn't sound like bottled deliciousness, I don't know what does.

Anthony cooked up some whole-wheat pasta with vegetables fresh from the JC Farmer's Market, including a strangely shaped yellow squash. Now, if you're like me, a strangely shaped Jersey squash is just SCREAMING for jokes. But, it was so tasty, that I can't justify making wisecracks about Jersey water or genetic mutation resulting from Jersey soil (Sorry, sometimes I just can't resist.)

Here it is, showcased with a few bottles of red wine (you can tell this was early in the evening).

Anthony cooking up goodness:

Here's how it looked on the plate:

Plantain yummy-ness

As Jeff is allergic to shellfish (major bummer, but I'm allergic to watermelon, so I guess we're even), I chose to make Chicken Skewers with Cumin. I had him marinate the chicken in Babette's Meat & Poultry Marinade while I was at work, and then I grilled them on my grill pan and topped them off with Babette's sauce (which calls for sunflower oil, which I substituted with vegetable oil, cumin, garlic, cilantro and lime juice).

But the best part of the meal was the Yellow Banana Bake. Luckily, my grocery store carries a good variety of Caribbean products, and ripe plantains were not all that hard to find. This delicious concoction consists of sliced ripe plantains soaked with a bechamel sauce with cheese on top (hence my quest for gruyere), all baked together. Yum yum yum. Here are some pics.

Slicing up some plantains:

Whipping up a bechamel (sounds fancy, right? It's really not hard!!!):

My banana bake out of the oven:

Here's the finished meal, all plated and ready to be savored at about 11 PM. I feel asleep 30 minutes later.

Manic Monday

All I wanted to do on Monday was cook. After a 10 hour work day, I bounced from one grocery store to another to find gruyere and halibut (more on the halibut later). I, of course, ended up at Whole Foods, where I descended into a buzzing hive of high strung, take-no-prisoner vegetarians and vegans that I had to fight off with stalks of organic corn and lemongrass to get into the right check-out line.

Anyhoo, I ended up getting home at around 9:30 PM, took a deep sigh, and hunkered down with a Creole cookbook I've been itching to use.

My friends Robin and Todd gave me the cookbook as a gift. Being from New Orleans, we always associated Creole food with our hometown, but the author of this cookbook, Babette de Rozieres, hails from Guadeloupe, a French island in the West Indies. The cookbook has more of a Caribbean vibe and uses more tropical ingredients than the Creole food I grew up with, and it's helped me better understand the foundation and essence of Creole cooking.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Aftermath

After retiring downstairs to the backyard to be joined by the pit bull Lola, everyone began to part ways after midnight.

It's safe to say that the next morning I fell back into my "routine" and slept until 11. But I woke up to more than just memories of the previous night's party.

Ahh, yes. The aftermath. Somehow Julia never seemed to address it.

The Lighting of the Torch (for Creme Brulee)

My time had come. Finally, my prized wedding gift, my creme brulee torch, came out of the box and got pumped full of butane for the first time.

It didn't even matter that my creme brulee hadn't set, and that basically I was carmelizing brown sugar over a liquid batch of egg yolks and heavy cream (Julia recommends using a candy thermometer when heating the mixture, and I guess I shouldn't have chosen to ignore that one piece of useful information). I got to play with fire, and that always makes for a good time.

Check it out

Thoughts on the meal

After dinner (and a few more glasses of wine), some of the guests felt compelled to give their thoughts on what we ate. Or maybe they just wanted to say nice things on camera so they'd get invited over again. Regardless, it sounds like the Tomates a la Provencale were the hit of the night!






Finally, it was time to eat!

Aubergines Farcies Duxelles (Eggplant Stuffed with Mushrooms):

Tomates a la Provencale (Tomatoes Stuffed with Bread Crumbs, Herbs, and Garlic):

Moules a la Mariniere (Fresh Mussels Steamed Open in Wine and Flavorings):

The pot that the Ratatouille was in (it didn't last long enough for a pic!):

Group shots!

Bon Appetit!

A Crowded Kitchen

With much help from our guests, the mussels were soon ready to be steamed. Julia says to cover them in a kettle and toss them so the juices distribute throughout. I'm not sure this is exactly what she meant, but I had a whole lot of fun doing it.

I guess everyone worked up an appetite during our mussel debacle, because once the word travelled to the living room that dinner was almost ready, one by one everyone left their post on the couch to come take a looksie into the kitchen and offer their services.

The Mussels

Once everyone arrived and started snacking, I sat down and sighed. After all, everything had been prepped and just had to be put in the oven. And I had to steam the mussels. I had left the mussels for last because, after all, you just had to throw them in with some wine and butter, right?


Once I looked at the page preceding the mussels recipe in "the book," I knew I was in for it. Mussels have to be scrubbed with a brush, de-bearded (who knew mussels had beards?), and then soaked in water to get rid of sand and grit.

Luckily I had some enthusastic guests who were eager to help.

Soon (well, after a few glasses of wine), the mussels became stars in their own right.

Later that day

I asked my sister, Bethany, to come over a bit early and help me prepare. My first round of Canapes aux Epinards (Spinach and Cheese Canpes) had gone ok, so I set them out as it got closer for time for everyone to arrive.

Once Bethany arrived, things started getting a little crazy. I had to put myself together, which led me to multi-task on an insane scale. All this led to the misfortune of the second round of canapes that were forgotten about in the broiler. By that time, our friends Katie and Anthony had arrived, and caught the whole incident on tape.

Eggplant and more

By noon, things were getting pretty hairy. Jeff's and my system of clean as we go (he cleans, I keep going) started backing up.

Luckily, I married a patient man who doesn't mind standing over the sink for a few minutes (hours).

So while he cleaned away, I started on the stuffed eggplant. My first encounter of the day with the broiler went relatively well, as you can see from the brown tops. Unfortunately, my good luck streak with the broiler didn't last all day--but more on that later.

Now the sight of a ruler in the kitchen did make our neighbor (and dinner guest) Bill laugh, but really, when Julia tells you that you need bread 3 1/2 by 2 1/2 by 3/8 an inch thick, what are you supposed to do, just guess? I thought I'd be a bit more precise when making the spinach and cheese canapes. In the end, my measurements really didn't matter that much (spoiler alert--the canapes are what I forgot under the broiler!)

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The Next Morning

That evening, the cooking went on until about 1 AM when I fell into bed.

The next morning, I woke up at 9 AM (an early hour for me on a Saturday--I know, I know, I like to be lazy. It's a luxury I afford myself). I turned on some Edith Piaf and sharpened by knives.

As you can tell from my onion chopping face below, things got pretty gnarly pretty fast.

I started putting together my Tomates A La Provencale next. Apparently, my discerning eye for firmness and ripeness like Julia recommends (and $4 tomatoes--thank you, Whole Foods) paid off--they were a hit that night. But more on that later. Here I am stuffing them.

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