Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The photo not taken

A bit like the road less traveled, I guess. Today's lunch looked great. John suggested I take a photo of it. Sometimes, I protested, I just want to eat my lunch without taking a picture of how I made it or what it looked like when finished.

Having eaten what turned out to be a fantastic clean-out-the-fridge meal, I now regret not taking the photo.

What was it? It was a tostada of sorts. The base was a wheat-free, rectangular wrap (soy-based), topped with organic refried beans and a combination of havarti and meunster cheeses. It wasn't overly cheesey, but just the right amount to melt in the oven at 400 degrees. Right before I put the topped wrap in the oven, I used some of the leftover chopped shallot to sprinkle around the edges of the wrap that hadn't had a coating of beans and/or cheese.

While toasting the wrap on a pizza tray in the oven, I chopped up some spinach and made some of my famous (in small circles) guacamole. I use either pre-made salsa or chopped tomatoes, garlic, salt, lemon and cilantro in my guac. Today I kicked it up a notch with some crushed red peppers.

When the tostada came out, I spooned some red salsa I had pureed onto the top, sprinkled the chopped spinach and more hot red peppers on top. Then I scooped out a generous portion of the guac and some fat-free sour cream on the side.

Even John, who said qualifiyingly that he wouldn't eat it (because he doesn't like refried beans) said it looked really good and that I should take a photo.

Well, I didn't. And, it was great. So there.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The last piece of Polish pottery to arrive was this lovely vase. I went right out and bought some tulips (on sale, two bunches for US$10). It's a tall vase and holds a lot of water. It's heavy, too. I plan to always keep flowers in it.

Mmmmmmmmmmmm. The shallot was excellent. I'm definitely a convert. It was my (gasp!) first time ever cooking with one. Tragic, isn't it? I'll be 37 in March, and it took me this long to discover what so many have known for so long. Well, better late than never. I didn't intend for them to get so brown, but as some food bloggers will attest, it's tough to take photos at the same time you're cooking when there are several pans heated at once. We did finish everything at the same time for a change, though.

Ok, now I'm just showing off all the new gifts. To the left is the virgin voyage of the new 12 in All-Clad pan John bought me for Channukah. On the right, deftly browning the shallot for the green beans is the 10 in pan from the set of Calphalon Joann and Dad bought me for Christmas. In the center is the Polish pottery spoon rest that Mom and Dave bought us (see the photos in the previous date set for details). If you look all the way in the left of the photo, you can see the one-handed pepper grinder (a must!) and the dried red pepper mill. I used both for the green beans.

After thawing the fish, I had dried the fillets with a paper towel and put them back in the fridge until we were ready to cook. We divided the cooking tasks with John handling the fish duties and me with the beans, rice and general guidance. We winged it since neither one of us had pan seared fish before or had eaten tilapia. Here's John squeezing a liberal amount of lemon onto the fish.

John seasoned both sides of the fish with a little salt and pepper, tarragon and basil. He rubbed the tarragon between his hands as he applied it to the fish. It was very stylish and I'm sorry that I was unable to capture it on film. He has quite the technique.

Here's John sprinkling some King Arthur mult-purpose flour on the tilapia. I think if we tried to do this again, I'd use the bread crumbs and the old-fashioned shake-n-bake (without the bake) method of coating the fish.

For your tool-viewing pleasure, here's our new silicone spatula in the new Polish pottery spoon rest. I seasoned the green beans with salt, pepper, freshly ground red pepper flakes, and the sauteed shallot. John preferred the way I usually make the beans with garlic, but I think I prefer the shallot. Does anyone cook with both? Is there an advantage to it? Does the garlic overpower the shallot? If you know, please comment. Thanks!

Pan searing tilapia in a little olive oil.

This close-up shows the light sprinkling of flour and the spices on the tilapia. One of the things I did while I thawed the fish was to keep it in a baking dish with water. When the fish cooked, it seemed like between the lemon drenching and the soaking, the tilapia pretty well poached itself while we were looking more to pan sear the fillets.

This was our first dinner using the pottery and the serving dishes. As you can see, I also used a serving baker from another potter for the green beans, but they kept the green beans very wam, and that's what counts. The octagonal bowl held the Trader Joe's frozen jasmine rice exactly to measure. The rice was perfect (every time!) again. You can see that the tulips have opened up a bit since the photo at the top of this set because this photo was taken on date night, Friday. After dinner, we watched the Japanese anime version of Metropolis. It bothered me that Osamu Tezuka didn't give credit to the original by Fritz Lang, on which his animated version is obviously based (however loosely). I'd still recommend it, if you enjoy anime since the colors, design and animation are very high quality. John fell asleep during it, but he tends to do that when we watch subtitled films.

What a healthy dinner, Deb! On my plate is a serving of the tilapia, green beans and some yummy spaghetti squash I reheated while we were cooking the rest of this dinner. The tilapia was delicious even though the breading and most of the spices stuck to the big pan. I wish we had taken a photo of that. If anyone has any tips on how not to get the fish stuck to the pan when searing, we'd appreciate it. But, overall, I'd rate the dinner an 8. Very tasty fish with perfectly soft and flaky consistency. I do have to tell you though, we had to put the fish back in the pan when we discovered that the thicker portions weren't cooked. The package told us to cook for 3 minutes per side, but I guess these needed closer to 5 minutes per side. In the end, we both agreed that we would eat tilapia again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Restaurant Review -- The Bel Vedere in Clifton, NJ

Last night, Dad treated me to an excellent meal at his favorite restaurant, the Bel Vedere in Clifton, NJ. He knows the owner Vincent, so we had very attentive service as well. For starters, they immediately plated some fine Italian cheese and small olives (tart and firm black olives) and crunchy warm bread for us. Next, we shared a Ceasar salad for two. Although the dressing was a bit heavy for me, it was tasty and not too garlicky.

After the salad, I had the Agnolotti con Granchio E Marscapone, which were fantastic, almost pierogie-sized pasta stuffed with fresh crabmeat and mascarpone cheese in a pink sauce. The agnolotti also had a stripe of what I'm sure was squid ink embedded in the pasta. The pink sauce was light and tomato-y, with a slightly creamy texture. The crabmeat and mascarpone filling was divine. I ate the whole serving. It might have been six or so agnolotti.

Dad had his favorite dish, Gamberi E Sogiola Alla Ghiottona, jumbo shrimp and stuffed lemon sole with crabmeat in a cream champagne sauce, which he truly enjoyed.

If you're in the area, definitely visit the Bel Vedere. Tasty food, great service.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I have a new UPS man from Australia. How do I know that? Well, since I've been home during the days, and since some gifts have been coming in from our recent announcement, John and I have been seeing the UPS man almost every day. This box full of Polish pottery is our gift from Mom and Dave. Mom asked us what we wanted, and we couldn't think of anything. That is, until I looked at all the chipped, mismatched, scratched, old dishes that were in the cupboard. I looked online and made a list, not expecting the parents to be so generous, but they went ahead and got the entire list! Wow! So, when the boxes started arriving, I washed all the new things and packed all the old things up in their boxes to give away to those less fortunate. Below is a photo shoot of the new pottery. Details: the pattern is called Peacock, we received a pitcher, two platters, a spoon rest, a napkin holder, a utensil holder, an octagonal bowl, and 8 each of dinner and salad plates. Gorgeous, handpainted stuff that you can stick in the dishwasher, microwave and oven. Thanks again Mom and Dave! You'll be dining on it very soon!

It all started with a set of two bowls in the pattern on the right. I had visited my best female friend Dawn in Nashville, and she took me to a Cracker Barrel restaurant and store for a meal and some shopping. Back then, I didn't get sick from the food, but now, every time I try it, I regret it. It doesn't keep me from stopping in the store to look for more of the bowls, though. That was about 8 years ago, and just last year, John and I found a set of four of the bowls on the left at a place up in Vermont. It became a bit of a preoccupation with me, but luckily, there are quite a few places online that sell Polish pottery for a reasonable price.

Dinner and salad/bread plates. The little plates are just right for sandwiches, as both John and I have learned. They're great for lunch, so portion control is easier -- and delightful because the plates are so much fun! Dishwasher, microwave and oven safe to 350 degrees.

I'm crazy about this platter with the handles. It's such a perfect size for serving fish or meat or pie, or little hors d'oevres. It's lighter than it appears as well. Good for the hostess who likes to talk to everyone while serving them little bites before the big meal. I'm soooooo looking forward to using this platter.

The spoon rest has a hole at the top so it could be hung on a hook and displayed. I plan to use it and am keeping it in the middle of the stovetop. It holds the new silicone utensils perfectly.

Of all the peacocky patterned things Mom and Dave gave us, this is the one that looks most like a peacock. The napkin holder was essential since John and I go through napkins pretty quickly. It's cute and has the bird body with the domed shape.

Ah, the octagonal bowl. I have a bowl fetish, I'll admit it. I have more bowls than any other thing in the kitchen. This is the large octagonal bowl, however it's not too large, and would hold four baked potatoes or any other four servings of veggies for a small dinner party. It took John and I a good 15 minutes to figure out how we would arrange the dish/bowl cabinets so that we could easily reach what we would need regularly. I haven't used it yet, but I have big plans for this serving bowl.

You can see the size of this platter compared to the spaghetti squash in the background. If I were to have a small dinner party and serve the squash in it's spaghettiness (two halves open to display nature's handiwork with this unique squash), the platter would easily hold the two halves along with a small custard cup for melted herbed butter. To the right of the platter is the utensil holder. It's holding our new silicone utensils John bought me for Channuka on sale from Williams Sonoma. He also bought me two absolutely perfect All-Clad stainless steel pans in 8 in and 12 in sizes. We'll get the 14 incher another time. We've used the smaller pan for eggs mainly, but I did make a great grilled cheese in it -- the traditional way (Dawn would be proud), with lots of butter. We're saving the first use of the larger pan for seared Tilapia. Neither one of us has tried Tilapia yet, so like the grilled salmon experiment, it should be interesting. By the way, the silicone tools are weighted well and work much better than nylon. They don't scratch the pans at all and are temperature rated for up to 450 degrees.

The lovely pitcher has a parade of the peacock "eyes" painted down the handle. It sits nearly a foot tall and can hold enough ice water, lemonade or other pitcher drink for four thirsty people.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

These large, white chocolate puffy hearts are filled with a peanut creme filling. I typically use a good peanut butter mixed with honey, but I noticed that the oils in the pb kept beaking down the chocolate. So, I mixed the peanut butter with a fondant filling and that made it much easier to work with and didn't result in any bad hearts. I make these in milk chocolate as well, and call them Peanutty Hearts.

This is a very simple peppermint-filled, milk chocolate heart. I typically make these in dark chocolate for that peppermint-patty style candy. It measures about 1.5 in. tall by about 1 in. wide. It's about .5 in. thick.

This weekend I made a lot of white chocolate and milk chocolate candy, but didn't take too many photos because most of the shapes have been up here before. Here's another variation on the I LOVE Coffee candy in milk chocolate. I wanted to use the same blue as the marshmallow gift boxes, but it wasn't cooperating with me. The stuff kept crystalizing, so I chipped it away and used the yellow instead.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Valentine's Day boxes! Yay! Decorated with cute little puffy hearts and ribbons, they hold many goodies inside. I finally ordered business cards today. Can you believe it? After nearly two years of being in business, and I hadn't bought (or successfully printed myself) a set of business cards? Next, I need to find a box manufacturer. These are ultra-swanky boxes I bought from Williams-Sonoma right before I started the business. They had a huge sale and I stocked up on every color and plaid in pastels. I printed the labels myself on the color printer, but I'd like to get purple boxes and print the logo in white. In the meantime, swanky boxes are what will be shipped to some lucky chocolate recipients.

This was my image for last year's Valentine's Day chocolates. This year, I have a few new molds and flavors, but it's a neat assortment on a cake platter that was originally intended as a gift, but is now a display device.

Remember all those chocolates I made last weekend? Well, I got my first Valentine's Day order today and put together a box without nut ingredients. Primarily, the fillings are either fruit or coffee. This is the top layer of the custom dark chocolate box: cherry-filled fancy heart, ganache swirl, solid puffy heart, fiore di sicilia, strawberry or cherry fruit creme (both in pink foil), solid butterfly, kona coffee creme filled LOVE, strawberry or cherry fruit creme, cappucino rose, solid butterfly, solid fancy heart, cappucino rose, dulce de leche caramel, solid starburst, dulce de leche caramel, lemon creme, strawberry or cherry fruit creme, ganache swirl, cherry filled fancy heart. The middle and bottom layers are pretty similar, but not exactly the same. It's about a pound of chocolate in a very pretty pink box with hearts and bows on it, just for the holiday. This weekend, I'll be making the milk chocolate for the combination boxes. Lots of nuts.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ah yes. Time yet again for Valentine's Day chocolates. I've been working my tail off this weekend making the fanciest chocolates I make all year (with the exception of the super-fancy butterflies that look like stained glass). I hope you enjoy this phototour (more will be added as I continue to crank out candy for the holiday sales) and order some for your sweetie. By the way, although all of the candies I'm showing below are in dark chocolate, I'm making them in milk chocolate as well, and some in white chocolate for special orders.

These were fun and pretty quick to make, except the very fancy cherry-filled red hearts. On the left are cappucino-creme filled roses, solid puffy and mini fancy hearts (wrapped in purple foil), and underneath the fancy hearts are red-foil wrapped fruit cremes in strawberry and cherry (a different cherry filling than the fancy hearts). All are in dark chocolate, except of course, the fancy ones with the white and red colored chocolate.

This is the grouping of candies I made yesterday. Actually, I did the fancy design painting on Saturday and filled in the dark chocolate and fillings yesterday. Clockwise from the top, Caramel-filled Dark Chocolate Love, solid dark chocolate mini butterflies and starbusts, solid mini fancy hearts and puffy hearts (wrapped in pink foil), I LOVE Dark Chocolate and Kona, My Heart is Set on Kona (purple heart on white background), Lemon Delight, Orange Delight, and Two Hearts Beat for Caramel. Whew!

I hear the Love Boat theme in my head when I make these. They're on the same mold as Two Hearts Beat for Caramel, below. They are filled with Pete's caramel.

I typically fill these with coconut, like the Coconut Fantasies, but this year, I filled them with a Kona coffee flavored fondant filling. Dark chocolate, colored white chocolate. Next time, I'm going to use blue, purple, green and red. They look better against the dark chocolate.

Two Hearts Beat for Caramel. This dark chocolate candy is filled with classic Pete's caramel. Last year, I filled in each of the dots around the edge of the candy with gold colored white chocolate, but it took forever, so I abandoned it this year. Still looks cute.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

To celebrate our last date night of 2005 and a few other special things (hehehehe), we decided on a shrimp extravaganza. We bought shrimp this time from Costco. Overall, they were good, although they didn't thaw as directed in the fridge. I took them out, placed them in a colander and thawed them for another hour or so while we had some chips and salsa. John and I had decided to make a multiplicity of dishes: Thai red curry shrimp, scampi with sugar snap peas, and Essence of Emeril grilled shrimp. Yes, we remembered what happened last time with Mr. Lagasse's recipe, but we made the essence in advance and didn't use very much at all. Too little, actually, as you'll see below. When we find a middle ground, I'll hopefully be there with my camera. It was great fun, as it always is, to cook together. And, we cleaned up together too. What follows below are the some photos and experiences of the last Shrimp Extravaganza of 2005. Enjoy!

Before we started to cook any of the shrimp, we prepared the two sauces for the saucy dishes. When I opened the jar of red Thai curry paste, it smelled really hot, so I told John I'd only use half of what was called for in the recipe on the jar. Boy were we glad about that later! This photo was taken after I had added the coconut milk and was stirring to dissolve the strong paste. This is an Analon pan, by the way.

We grilled the Essence of Emeril (BAM!!! as it says on our spice container) sprinkled shrimp in my large Le Creuset grill pan. Stupid Deb! I forgot to oil the thing before adding the shrimp. Duh. they stuck, as you can see. This time, we made our own BAM!!! in advance, but used too little, having been burned last time.

Poor John was trying to snap photos while we were both trying not to over cook the shrimp dishes and the rice--and remember to stick the naan in the oven right before plating. We did manage it, but next time, only one dish at a time. This was crazy! What you see here is the Thai red chili right before we turned off the heat.

This is the inaugural recipe for this pan. It's part of the new set Joann and Dad gave me for Christmas/Channukah. I followed the heating directions, and it did cook just as it said it would. Nice to have some reliable pots and pans, finally. It's a Caphalon stainless steel. The dish is a butter-free version of shrimp scampi, minus the salt and hot pepper. I will add them next time, for sure. Also, I added the sugar snap peas at the last minute.

This stuff is great! Trader Joe's makes a frozen rice, pre-cooked jasmine rice that you make in the microwave. It comes in a special plastic bag which you slice a short cut into before cooking. In just three minutes, out comes perfect, and I do mean perfect, jasmine rice. Go try it for yourself.

This was an interesting experiment that we thought would go well with the Bam!!! grilled shrimp. Mom had recommended Trader Joe's pre-cooked wild rice in a bag. All you do is pop the bag into boiling water for a few minutes and it's done. I didn't like how it came out of the bag, kind of chunky, and not as fluffy as the jasmine rice did out of the microwave. John really liked it and thought it would go well with pork chops. I'll stick with the jasmine rice.

This is the final plating of the shrimp extravaganza. Clockwise from the top, we have Trader Joe's naan (frozen--surprisingly good). One of these could have served both of us, but we heated two of these at 450 degrees in the oven for 5 minutes. They're bulkier than what you'll find at the local Indian restaurant, but tasty nonetheless. Continuing around the plate, we have the Bam!!! grilled shrimp. Since we were so conservative with the essence, they were nearly unseasoned. We'll hit a middle ground next time, I'm sure. At 6 o'clock, the Thai red curry on Trader Joe's jasmine rice. This was way too spicy for me. Next time, twice as much coconut milk and half as much curry paste. The rice was perfect. Finally, at the top is the scampi on linguine. It was much improved after seasoning with salt and the tinest bit of peccorino romano cheese. John would have preferred it without the sugar snap peas. I agree. The peas were so sweet raw, that I've been having the uncooked ones in salad since. As always, room for improvement.