Archive for May, 2010

Yes, there were oranges.  Lots of them!

But what I’ll remember most about my trip to Valencia (aside from the sunshine and excellent company) is the 5-course lunch I had at the Seu Xerea “lounge restaurant.”  It was easily the best 12 Euros I have ever spent.  Delicious, fresh, high-quality, creative dishes fusing Mediterranean and Asian flavors.  I also discovered a fabulous Spanish beer in the process.  That’s my idea of a perfect meal…and the perfect prelude to a siesta.

First course:

Seared octopus with creamy polenta, sesame seeds, and chives

Second course:

Mixed greens with seared chicken breast, mung bean sprouts, radish, sesame vinaigrette, and citrus aioli

Third course:

Green Thai fish curry with snow peas, mung bean sprouts, chives, coconut milk, and sea salt

Fourth course:

Asian “fideos,” i.e., lo mein with grilled calamari, shitake mushrooms, carrots, and bell peppers.

Fifth course:

Strawberry soup with basil ice cream and sesame garnish

And to wash it all down:

An ice-cold Alahambra Reserva 1925, a delicious full-flavored amber lager

Muchas gracias, Valencia! I will never forget you.

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Cooking something delicious is really much more satisfactory than painting pictures or making pottery.  At least for most of us.  Food has the tact to disappear, leaving room and opportunity for masterpieces to come.  The mistakes don’t hang on the wall or shelves to reproach you forever.

-Jean Grigson, Good Things (1971)

I was chatting with a friend of mine recently who claimed I was just being modest when I insisted that, in fact, a number of my cooking projects fail horribly. So I thought it time to share the barely-fit-for-consumption, non-blogworthy side of things.  In no particular order, here’s a sampling of the failed, ugly, inedible, or otherwise disappointing things to come out of my kitchen.  Thank goodness they eventually disappeared.

Consider yourself warned!

This sad dish was an unsuccessful hybrid of Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for Cuban-style pork chops and an ad-libbed recipe from my Cuban cooking instructor, which involved grapefruit juice.  A big “meh.”

My first attempt at Filipino chicken and pork adobo was another victim of the ad-libbed hybrid recipe.  The proportions  for soy sauce and vinegar were off in the main recipe I followed, and I made the fatal flaw of removing the chicken skin before cooking.  It was a sour, thin, bland mess.

This gluten-free almond meal bread from Cooking with Trader Joe’s was another disappointment.  Although the flavor was pleasantly nutty, the texture was way too heavy and dense.  It sat in my stomach like a rock.  I still feel guilty about the half loaf sitting neglected in my freezer.  I think separating and whipping the egg whites would help lighten things up, but someone else will have to try.

Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread is renown for being delicious–and extremely difficult to get out of the pan.  I read all the recipe comments and was confident that my well-greased, amply-floured pan would release my gingerbread in the crucial moment.  Wrong.  It stuck miserably to the pan and the top of the cake tore off. Although it tasted fantastic, I won’t be making anything this sticky again until I have a heavy-duty, extremely non-stick bundt pan.

Plain and simple: I did not heart Rachel Ray’s Eggplant Stew with Honey and Golden Raisin Polenta.  Can’t really blame Rachel; I’m just not a big fan of vegetarian vegetable stews.  The polenta was OK, but overall, this dish fell short of my high hopes.

These molasses cookies were intended to be a homemade knockoff of Archway’s famous soft molasses cookies.  I learned the hard way with the first batch that dough would spread into a giant cookie blob unless the mounds were no bigger than 1 tablespoon and placed at least 2 inches apart.  I even tried refrigerating the dough to prevent spreading, but no dice.  The second batch (pictured above) turned out slightly better (i.e., not a mono-cookie), but  the texture was still more chewy, less cakey than I remember.

Martha Stewart’s shallot cherry confit was another disappointment.  I made a batch for a Thanksgiving potluck, but the end result was very, very tart and oniony. I suspect the problem is the recipe doesn’t specify to use commercially-sweetened dried cherries.  Let’s just say that my batch made with organic, unsweetened dried cherries required a lot of doctoring before it made an appearance at the party.

Another victim of my overzealous chicken-skinning: Persian roasted chicken with dried cherry-saffron rice.  (Note to self: don’t try to “lighten up” unfamiliar dishes before at least following the recipe once).  Also, I confused ground cumin and ground coriander (their names are somewhat similar in German), which made for strange seasoning.  I am sure the original recipe is much, much better, but at least my lighter take on the saffron rice was a success.

Which is all to say: you win some; you lose some.  The important thing is to learn from your mistakes, cut your losses, and keep cooking.

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