Monthly Archives: September 2007

Lots of parties

I know that I am holding fire on announcing a Paper Chef winner – especially since the next one is due to kick off pretty shortly! So that’ll come later today.

In the meantime I just need to record a few notes about things I have cooked recently so they don’t slip my brain entirely. We hosted a few parties lately and I actually got to make some new things that came out well. So, in no particular order, with recipes to follow later:

mushroom and onion puff pastry tartlets
pork tenderloin stuffed with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese in a red wine sauce
roasted root vegetables
basic bruschetta
red wine and paprika marinated chicken
polenta slices with heirloom tomatoes
A twist on kir
Fresh heirloom tomato and garlic sauce for pasta

there was probably more but that is all I remember.

Roundup for Paper Chef #25 – The Home Edition

I guess the theme song for this should be ‘Home on the Range’ rather than something less cooking related – but it makes me think of rather different things. Tradition and a relaxed frame of mind and a relaxed approach to life. Rather more ‘slow food’ than cowboy food perhaps.

Here’s how this edition of the Paper Chef event was set up:

“The theme for this edition of Paper Chef is ‘Home.’ That means that the fourth ingredient is ‘something you already have in your home’ – you can’t go out and buy it – you have to look around and use something. If the cupboard is bare then you may have to make water the special ingredient! A reminder, the other ingredients are chile peppers, smoked swordfish (or if you can’t manage that, any smoked fish, and if you are a vegetarian, something smoked) and eggplant or aubergine.”

We got a smallish number of entrants but that’s completely my fault since this is the first Paper Chef after a six month break where I just got too busy to keep everything going.

Without further ado, here (I think in order of receipt of information) are the people and dishes that entered Paper Chef The Home Edition.

First entry in is from a brand new paper Chef participant, ‘Mrs. Anderson’ of Gild the Vodoolily. She entered a Smoky Green Curry Seafood Chowder. This soup is very rich, complex and wonderful sounding.

Another newcomer, Abby of Eat the right stuff, entered another soup, but very different, a smoked aubergine and elephant garlic soup which also sounds delicious but does come with a mild warning…

The Belly Timber crew, aka MizD and ChopperDave, honored us by taking time out of a horrendously busy schedule to play in the kitchen and – as usual – come up with a completely over the top surfeit of food. I may well miss something, but here is what I make it that they entered:

They, too, did us a soup – Smokey Spicy Fish Soup;
and Chile Roasted Eggplants;
and Smoked Cod and Eggplant ‘Tagine’
and an extra unofficial ‘Oven-roasted Indian eggplants filled with a paste made from the extras on hand: bell pepper, garlic, chives, Thai chiles, and more of that delicious cherry-smoked cod.’

on top of everything else they also sacrificed pottery to the gods to make this feast!

Ilva of Lucullian Delights, who gets an award as a patron saint of Paper Chef for her tireless support and enthusiasm for the event, also entered a feast, this time of two dishes. The first, a starter, was Hot Eggplant Rolls with Smoked Tuna, Fried Bread and Pinenuts and the second, a primo, a Pasta with Eggplant, Chili Pepper, Smoked Tuna and Pinenuts.

Finally, another new entrant, Jonskifarms of Jonski Blogski, entered a not-quite-following-the-rules, ‘smoked eggplant dip, and a green chile buffalo burger‘. It turned out that the smoked eggplant dip was actually a Maddhur Jaffrey recipe for one of the all time great Indian dishes ‘bengan bhartha’ and it sounds like it may have converted the author to at least one use for eggplant!

A little more time

Entries and recipes and photos are coming in for Paper Chef 25 and since I am stuck at work until late in the day anyhow, I am extending the deadline until the end of the day. Regular participants and lurkers already know that we don’t pay too much attention to deadlines and rules around here, so this extension isn’t much of a surprise.

I realised that in futzing around with things here over the past month I lost my old blogroll so I am going to put a new one up over the next day or two while I wait to be certain I have all the entries there there will be and post a roundup of them – maybe Friday.

When the gas grill is a lifesaver

The short answer is whenever it’s hot, which means most of the year here. But it is more complicated than that. For example, although my fancy new gas (propane) grill has a side burner, I wouldn’t make it my first choice for boiling water. In fact it is used mostly for roasting coffee. But that means all boiled foods are out when it gets too hot to cook in the house.

That in turn means getting creative when you have potatoes coming out your ears because your CSA box just keeps ’em coming. So I had to come up with some way to make something other than slabs of grilled potato – which aren’t all that great and take too long.

Grilled Potato Packets

So, I dug out my trusty chinese plastic almost-a-mandoline and sliced up lots of potatoes really thin and then did the same with a couple of onions. Then I made little packets of foil, each with a large individual serving of potatoes and onion, liberally doused with olive oil, kosher salt and sprigs of fresh rosemary. Fold them up tight, crimping the edges to seal them. Then put them all around the edges of the grill while you cook something else – taking care to make sure they aren’t over direct heat.

For this to work you need a grill with a cover so the heat gets kept inside like an oven. Turn the packets over after about twenty minutes and keep cooking for a total of about 50 minutes – your temperature inside the grill cover if you can test it should be about 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

When everyone unwraps the potato packets they should get soft, melt in your mouth potato and onions with a caramelized crust on the bottom of crisp potato and browned onion.

The last two times I did this I did them once with marinated grilled pieces of cut up chicken and the second time with a whole roasted chicken on a rotisserie spit. The first came out perfectly in every respect, but in the second I got a big grease fire when I went in the house to check something and came back to find the chicken rather blackened and the temperature in the grill at over 700 degrees! But I cooled it down and figures out that it was just the skin and that I could pull it off after it was finished cooking and everything would be good – which it was. And the potatoes were even better.

And, yes, Paper Chef ends tomorrow at Noon, so hurry and get those entries in!

Dining Out Disaster

While I wait for the Paper Chef entries to come flooding in, I’m going to resume blogging about other subjects. In this case the matter of going out to eat at restaurants. I do this less and less and especially less and less at fancy dining establishments. Why? Because I find it a worse and worse experience. The cult of celebrity has made truly high end dining so expensive that it cannot be worth it – especially at large establishments where you just cannot get truly personal attention. And mid-level restaurants just don’t seem to get it anymore – they act like high-end places but the food isn’t good enough and the service is phoney. As a result I prefer low-end dining. My favorite places to eat out are all under $20 per person total for a full meal (excluding drinks – but I rarely order much anyway – I don’t have the legs for it anymore).

I still have some favorite high-end places, but they are all very established and are clearly no longer ‘fashionable.’ Never mind that I think the food and the total experience is better – they just aren’t trendy anymore. I’m talking about places like Chez Panisse and Boulevard and Bay Wolf that are reliable and comfortable and just plain good.

What crystallized all this for me? A recent trip at the height of Summer up to Sonoma and then back through Napa. I took some visitors from England up to Dry Creek for a very nice trip around some wineries. We had lunch first in Healdsburg, did a nice circuit and then headed across to Calistoga and back down through Napa in the hopes of scoring a decent meal without a reservation at a good spot. We ended up in Yountville at a new establishment that has gotten lots of attention, highly positive reviews, and which is associated with one of the highest reputations in the world. We were seated at the bar, treated indifferently and got a meal that started on a high note and went steadily downhill to plumb the depths. I should have sent the dessert back and perhaps would have done if I wasn’t with overly reserved and polite English people (and wasn’t one myself).

And that was the bottom line. I could not have made a salad as nice as the one we started with. But I could have done better on the next two courses and ANYBODY could have done better on the dessert. Let’s just say that a raw crumble is very bad indeed.

I was not asked how my meal was – which WAS a good thing since I was prepared to say what I thought. Obviously I’m not going back. And I may very well not bother going to any of the other restaurants I associate this one with – life’s too short

Anyway, this is just one example. In fact I am more disappointed than not when I eat at high end establishments. And I am almost always disappointed when I eat at mid level restaurants. It’s only down at the so-called-bottom of the range that I find satisfaction anymore. Am I the only one?

Paper Chef 25 Starts now – the Home Edition

OK – a couple of hours late, but here we go…

The theme for this edition of Paper Chef is ‘Home.’ That means that the fourth ingredient is ‘something you already have in your home’ – you can’t go out and buy it – you have to look around and use something. If the cupboard is bare then you may have to make water the special ingredient! A reminder, the other ingredients are chile peppers, smoked swordfish (or if you can’t manage that, any smoked fish, and if you are a vegetarian, something smoked) and eggplant or aubergine. You should create a dish, cook it and write about it on your blog before next Wednesday the 12th at Noon PST. The full rules (such as they are) are here.

And as for meeting the theme – be creative. Something that reminds you of home; a homely or basic dish; a universal comfort food; etc. Have fun! And send links to the postings to my email or add them in comments here so I can go check them out…

Phase 2 of Paper Chef 25 – the first three ingredients have been chosen…

The final ingredient list after all nominations was: Chile peppers, zucchini (courgettes), crawfish (crayfish), scallions (spring onions), cocoa nibs, italian prune plums, saffron, blueberries, olives, chicken, peaches, rosemary, five spice (the chinese blend of five spices), ‘skin’ (presumably of anything), basil, smoked swordfish, cod roe, aubergine (eggplant), lard, sardines, caraway seeds, lemon cucumbers and cardamom.

A pretty wild and wacky list I thought. The next stage is to pick three of these completely at random – and for that I turn to my trusty TRUE random number generator, random.org, which uses atmospheric noise to generate random numbers, which, if true, is far better than the fake random numbers that computers generate. Anyway, they have lots of tools, including the ‘sequence’ tool that picks random numbers from a list without duplicates – which is what I want. Our numbers this time were 16, 18 and 1 which translates into:

  • smoked swordfish – which I am choosing to interpret as any smoked fish for those with difficulty or issues using swordfish and as anything smoked for those who can’t even manage fish.
  • eggplant (or aubergine) – again, you may substitute, but who would want to?
  • chile peppers – I’m tempted to break the official rules and ban substitution on this one, but what the heck – if you are allergic or have dietary issues, pick something that you classify as hot or spicy.

Remember – these are the first three ingredients of four – this gives you a chance to get a jump on grocery shopping and planning before the fourth ingredient and theme are announced on Friday. Then you cook and write about it before next Wednesday, September 12th.

Also, we carry the non-used ingredients over to next month, so they get another chance at fame and posterity next time…