Sunday, December 28, 2008

Garden Vegetable Risotto

How often do you travel to a relative or friends, or really any place you aren't free to cook your own meals, and are inundated with cheap, processed foods with caloric contents that negate all your trips to the gym for the last 8 years? I know it happens frequently, and though my family isn't too bad about it, and for some it's due to an infrequent access to reasonably priced produce, I often find myself longing for my own kitchen to whip up something fresh and healthy that won't cause my arteries to cringe in horror.

One place Mr. TA and I frequent is the MiL and sFiL's house in the D.C. area. Blessedly the MiL is just as concerned about putting healthy food on the table as I am, coupled with a palate that commonly outreaches my own. It's a pretty happening place to be.

Last night the MiL was kind enough to whip up a soy and dijon marinated King salmon with a Garden Vegetable Risotto. If there's any other way to taste this much spring in a dreary winter on the Eastern Seaboard I am unaware of it. There's obviously no shortage of root vegetables in the winter, and with the addition of some tail-end-of-the-season zucchini and winter hardy parsley this risotto just screams of warm, breezy days and sunshine on your face.

If winter's already starting to get you down, do not fail to ring in your January with this baby. It will assuredly get you through the bleak, snowy winter to the spring budding trees, fluffy bunnies and sunshine and rainbows.

Plus snuggly puppies.

And unicorns.

Garden Vegetable Risotto

1/2 lb. baby spinach leaves
1 quart chicken/vegetable stock, more if needed
1/3 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small zucchini, diced finely
1 cup arborio rice
3/4 cup white wine
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced, for garnish
grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Wash spinach and chop roughly. Heat stock in sauce pan on stove to just below a simmer and keep warm. Melt butter in heavy bottomed, shallow pan. Add onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Stir in carrots, leeks, celery and zucchini. Season with a pinch of salt and some pepper to taste. Cook 5-7 minutes or until nearly tender. Stir in the rice and cook until the butter has been absorbed and looks transparent. Add the wine, and stirring constantly, cook until all has been absorbed. Add in the spinach and the the stock, a ladleful at a time, cooking until absorbed before adding more, until rice is tender and creamy. This should take 20-25 minutes, and do not hesitate to use more stock if needed. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Bûche de Noël

You'll have to excuse my reticence, I've been quite the busy bird lately. There's nothing like cross country travel to distract you from regular blogging, eh? Let's just say that there's been high levels of stress, anxiety and a great deal of money put out by the airline that was supposed to fly us to our intended destination. I'll be sure to fill you in on all the gory details at a later date...

But for now it's Daring Baker time!

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

I remember checking to see what the challenge was in the beginning of the month and my tummy doing a little flip-flop in response. I'm always up for a challenge in the kitch, but when my month of December was dominated by a week of brutal final exams and two weeks spent on the opposite coast for the holidays - I wasn't hugely excited to spend my one free week attempting to conquer the Herculean feat that is the French Yule Log. But, I am a baker from time to time - and I'm most definitely Daring (some would just say kind of slow...) so I pulled myself up by my very whiny bootstraps and asked my MiL if I could make it in her kitchen while we were there. She, being the general bad ass that she is, agreed, and so my journey of general frustration, utter annoyance, and bubbling internal cursing was begun.

See, I kind of have this little problem of not being too fond of the sweeter side of the kitchen. I'm not a huge fan of cookies, cakes, candies, pastries, you name it. So it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense that I'm a Daring Baker, because every month it's something sweet (thank gawd for the two savory challenges) I immediately start wondering who I can pawn all this sugary goodness off on. Usually it's the men and women that work alongside Mr. TA. This challenge I was all set to foist the 20 million calorie behemoth off on my in-laws. Always a good plan, eh? But the point of my redundant rambling is that I don't get a huge amount of joy out of making something I'm not really going to eat, but it's surely expanding my repertoire of baked goods. And I guess that's a good thing. It's just an interesting balance of learning new things in the kitchen and not really giving a damn about what I'm making. But the challenge is fun, so onward I whine.

If I could sum up my feelings about this challenge in one photo, it would be this:

I don't think there's really any other way to feel about a concoction that requires 4 layers of gelatinous mousse, a wedge of crème brûlée, a sliver of crisp, a smattering of ganache and a base of dacquoise - all topped off with a coating of gelatinous icing. Especially when you're making all of this in someone else's kitchen. Thankfully the MiL has a very, very nice kitchen with all of the lovely accoutrement needed to accomplish such a grandiose feat. She even recently bought Trogdor Jr. So, it really wasn't all that bad, just a little discombobulating.

The challenge was that we had to incorporate all six elements of a traditional French Yule Log, and assemble them in a fashion resembling a log.

1) Dacquoise Biscuit
2) Mousse
3) Ganache Insert
4) Praline (Crisp) Insert
5) Creme Brulee Insert
6) Icing

The flavor combination was left to our discretion.

I decided on a vanilla/white chocolate flavor combo for this challenge. The only way I like large amounts of chocolate is if they're infused with large amounts of mint, and we had members of the family who don't like mint chocolate. Enter the supposed-to-be-all-white vanilla French Yule Log. I'll explain the resultant appearance later.

I started off by making the dacquoise. Dacquoise is a French biscuit made of crushed nuts, sugar, flour, and egg whites. It's incredibly delicious and will assuredly be making another appearance in my kitchen. I chose hazelnut instead of the original almond flavor, because we all prefer hazelnuts. This was my favorite part of the recipe. Or, to be exact, the only part of the recipe I actually liked. Make this. Your mouth will thank you. Your hips...maybe not so much.

The next step was to make the Praline Crisp Insert. I wanted my log to be all white, and the recipe didn't allow for that, so I made a really thin rice crispy treat. Because I'm ghetto like that. I will have you know that it was pretty effin' delicious.

After that I made the crème brûlée, something I've made many times before but with different recipes. For some reason this recipe took forever and a day to set up, much longer than the stated hour in a 210 F oven. Closer to 2 hours.

After the crème brûlée I made the ganache and started on the vanilla mouse. The mousse was a pretty painless process that turned out nicely. I'm not a big fan of adding the gelatin to it though, it gave a funky texture and left little lumps because it wouldn't dissolve all the way. I realize it's required for structural integrity, but were I ever to take enough drugs to consider making this again I would omit the gelatin.

Assembly was pretty straight forward, line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and parchment paper, layer of mousse, crème brûlée, layer of mousse, crisp insert, layer of mousse, white chocolate ganache, tiny layer of mousse, dacquoise biscuit.


Then cover with the icing.

Sounds pretty painless, eh?

Not so much.

As soon as that icing hit the frozen mousse it turned into a rubberized nightmare, reminiscent of Gak. The annoying part was that I didn't notice until after I'd already started trying to embellish the top with some melted dark chocolate.

Freakin' outstanding.

So, instead I just covered it in some nice dark chocolate the MiL had around the house. No longer all nice and pretty and white all over, but at least there isn't any dilapidated, lame-ass looking, wannabe snowflakes on top.

Except I didn't think about the fact that the chocolate I melted was real nice and hot, and the log was still real nice and frozen. So it split all down the sides and you could see through it.


So I covered it in crushed walnuts.

And restrained myself from dumping the whole damn thing in the trash.

The recipe recommended leaving the yule log in the refrigerator for about an hour to thaw, but after being in the fridge for an hour and then transported in a car for about 45 minutes, it was still very cold and the crème brûlée was frozen solid. Not exactly the greatest textures in the world if you're not a fan of frozen desserts.

Final thoughts?

Mousse - meh.

Crème brûlée - meh.

Rice Crispy Treat - yum.

Ganache - meh.

Icing - GTFO

Hazelnut Dacquoise - Oh. My. Gawd. Get in my mouth.
(Mr. TA again; remember, that's "dah-koo-see".)

Everything as a whole - Not my cup of tea, but I am very glad I did it. If only so I can say that I have.

I'd like to thank Hilda of Saffron & Blueberry and Marion of Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux for giving all us Daring Bakers such a Daring Challenge this month. Even though I didn't like it, it was still a wonderful experience to be had. Please be sure to check out all the other lovely Daring Bakers this month, there are some beautiful French Yule Logs to be devoured with the eyes.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mexican Lasagna

Have you ever planned on making a meal and found out halfway through preparation that you're missing an integral ingredient? You know, no baking powder for baking powder biscuits or no buttermilk for buttermilk pancakes? How about no tortillas for enchiladas?

Well, I'd planned on making some nice yummy enchiladas for dinner this evening, and right before the final preparation - you know, rolling everything up in the tortilla - I realized that some fiendish little kitchen gremlin had devoured all but three of the tortillas in the refrigerator. Such naughty little gremlins we have...

Exactly how, I ask, can you make enchiladas with only three tortillas?

And, a show of hands please, what would you do? Throw your hands up in despair and order pizza? Throw each remaining tortilla at said kitchen gremlin? Or ingeniously decide to make Mexican lasagna? If you're me, you seriously contemplated option B, but eventually settled for option C.

This actually ended up being muy delicioso if you don't mind me saying. After all, how can you go wrong when blending several fresh ingredients, adding shredded cheese, and baking it, eh?

The key part of this is having outstanding chili powder. I prefer not to use the commercial blends, but in a pinch they'll do. My favorite is a toned down guajillo chili, but really whatever your preference in chili is, it'll work in this application. It's very easy to prepare, especially if you've already got cooked chicken/turkey/beef or vegetables on hand.

It's easily a new favorite in our household. It's easy, it's fresh, it's relatively healthy - how could you go wrong?

Mexican Lasagna

Serves 2, with leftovers

3 flour tortillas, of the 8 in. variety
1 recipe enchilada sauce, or a 12 oz. jar of whatever brand enchilada sauce you like
8 oz. cooked, shredded chicken (I used 3 thighs, baked in the oven at 375 for 25 min)
shredded cheese (Monterey Jack and Extra Sharp Cheddar go together nicely)
black beans
baby spinach leaves
cilantro/fresh coriander
sour cream for garnish

Enchilada Sauce

Makes 2 cups

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups chicken stock

In a small sauce pan over medium heat mix the olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika, chili powder, and flour until it is a thick paste. Use a couple tablespoons of the chicken stock to make a slurry with the cornstarch. Add remaining chicken stock to saucepan and mix thoroughly. Add cornstarch slurry and heat to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.


Add the shredded chicken to the saucepan with the enchilada sauce to soak. Cut the tortillas into quarters. In a round, 2 quart casserole dish cover the bottom with about three of the tortilla pieces. Top with 1/2 the chicken, removing from the sauce with a slotted spoon. Cover with torn cilantro/fresh coriander. Layer with baby spinach leaves and shredded cheese. Place another layer of tortilla pieces over the top. Lay the remaining chicken over the tortillas. Top with more torn cilantro and the black beans. Top with more baby spinach leaves and shredded cheese. Put a final layer of tortilla over the top, pour remaining enchilada sauce over the tortillas, and top with remaining shredded cheese. Bake in a 375 F oven for 20 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted and browned in spots. Top with a dollop of sour cream and some fresh, torn cilantro.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Prodigal Bird

I promise that I have not fallen off the face of the planet.


It was close there for a while, but I've got strong fingers - this baby ain't gonna fling me off.

So, on with the news.

Mr. TA and I maintain a very tech savvy home. We have three computers and no TV - look at us go. I use one of the laptops, it's "my computer." Mr. TA uses his ridiculously expensive desktop computer with the monitor larger than many TV screens. That's "his computer." Obviously the two are interchangeable, for the most part. It's not like we password lock each other out of our computers. But I have everything organized on my computer just how I like it, as he does on his. When my laptop thought it would be the appropriate time to get infected with a virus I was a little lost. Sure I can use Mr. TA's computer, but I'm the ultra-creature of habit. I even park in the same spot every time I go to the grocery store. I have to put my left shoe on first or it's like my whole day is ruined. So when presented with using his computer to blog or not at all...well, you know the rest.

Thankfully my computer is all fixed now. It did require wiping the entire hard drive and reloading Windows, but at least I can once again use the internet. I can live without a TV. I don't know if I'd make it without the internet.

My second reason for being absent was the culmination of a very intense fall semester with several finals scheduled one right after the other. They were definitely intense, but after studying until my brain probably resembled oatmeal, I think I did quite well. The one I was most concerned about, math, I walked out of the exam room with the supreme confidence that I had at least not failed. Whooo. Then I found out today I actually got an 80% and a 90% in the class as a whole. If you know me and math - we go together like cats and rocking chairs - not so much. I'm very pleased with my ability to guess very accurately on multiple choice tests pull answers straight out of my butt take tests well under pressure.

So now I just wait on the results for the rest of my classes, relax until the beginning of February, and figure out how Mr. TA and I are going to pay for my tuition next semester. I think we're the only two people on the planet crazy enough to pay for full tuition out of pocket. We's crazee like dat.

In the meantime Mr. TA and I will be traveling East for the holidays to spend time with the lovely MiL and sFil, not to mention the gMiL and the gFiL, whom I love dearly (aren't acronyms fun?). I'm sure the MiL and I will be whipping up all sorts of awesomeness in kitch for me to blog about, so I'll be attempting to post regularly once again.

Until then I leave you with this photo

This is the corporeal form of MiL taking pity on me and my woeful whining a couple weeks ago. She's so BA.

Thank you for the olive oil. You rock.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Uno Momento, Por Favor

Hello my lovely peoples, I just thought I'd let you know that since a virus has deemed my laptop prime hacking grounds...the blog's going to be down for a while. I imagine that I'll get it all fixed within a few days, but next week is finals week and I was planning on taking a week off from the blosphere during that time anyway...

Guess my temporary leave of absence is going to start a wee bit prematurely.

See you all soon, and if you'd like to get me a Christmas present - next time you meet a hacker, slap 'em in the face for me, k?