Sunday, November 26, 2006

Caveat Emptor

My pyrex exploded in the oven on Thursday. I had spent 2 days making stuffing for Thanksgiving day--a whole day ahead making the cornbread and chicken stock, and then the actual prep day. Thankfully, since I was making enough stuffing for 20 people, I prepared 2 trays. I have no idea why it exploded, since I've used that pyrex hundreds of times before.

I found this on Wikipedia:

Safety issues

Pyrex, while more resistant to thermal shock than other types of glass, should never be subject to drastic or uneven temperature changes, such as when taken from the oven and placed on the stove elements (an excellent heat conductor) to cool, or immersed in cold water when hot. This can crack or shatter the dish.

However, recent reports suggest that due to the change in manufacturing, notwithstanding the claims made for Pyrex, the glassware can shatter violently and unexpectedly, even when used in accordance with manufacturers instructions. Claims have been made of severe personal injury during these events. Some reports have suggested that older Pyrex was not as susceptible to these problems as currently produced Pyrex. It is unknown whether this has anything to do with the recent change in ownership and location of manufacture of the Pyrex brand.

Crazy, eh?

Thanks for RUINING Thanksgiving Day, Pyrex.

At least some good came of oven is now cleaner than it's ever been!

Thanks Pyrex. You're the best.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Maximizing your Oven - Part II: Tomato Soup

PHOTO: Quyen's Roasted Tomato Soup with Basil Oil and Chiffonade

I've noticed that a lot of people don't like tomatoes. I wonder what it is about them that is unlikable. Is it the texture? The taste? I know some only like cooked tomatoes. Why? Why?

If you DO like tomatoes, though, you're in for a treat if you've never made your own tomato soup. I like to use three types of tomatoes for my soup, which I think gives it much more depth than just fresh or canned alone. Since heirlooms can be quite pricey, it's hard to find really delicious "regular" tomatoes, so I find that roasting them concentrates the flavor. Here's how I make it:

Several pounds of Roma or Vine-Ripened Tomatoes, cleaned and halved
Olive oil
Sea or grey salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed chili flakes
1 12 oz. can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
Couple onions
Chicken (preferably homemade) or vegetable stock
Several large handfuls of basil leaves, washed and dried
2 heads of garlic

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a sheet pan spread out your halved tomatoes, and generously drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Save a couple fresh tomatoes to add to the soup later. Prep your garlic heads for roasting. Cut off tops, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, and wrap in foil. Roast tomatoes and garlic for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until caramelized and tomato skins wrinkle. When cool enough to handle, the garlic should easily squeeze out--add a touch of olive oil and set aside. (I like to roast garlic whenever I make a savory dish in the oven...maximize baby.)

In a large Dutch oven, sweat onions and a couple cloves of fresh garlic in olive oil until translucent, about 10 mintues. Add chili flakes, roasted tomatoes, half the basil, canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and enough stock to just cover the veggies, and simmer for about an hour. Add the rest of the basil and blend together until desired consistency. If you have a food mill, process your soup to get rid of the skins. Be careful when pureeing hot liquids. Use a dish towel to hold down the top and work in small batches, or use a hand immersion blender.

Garnish with basil chiffonade (roll up basil leaves and slice thinly into long strips), and serve with bread or crostini and roasted garlic oil.

If you want an even richer soup, you can add the roasted garlic to the soup near the end of the simmer, and / or add a dollop of cream, creme fraiche or goat cheese before serving.

I prefer it without cream, though, for a change :)

Wish you could have a bite,

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Maximizing your Oven - Part I

PHOTO: Quyen's Espresso Gelato, made from beets...well, maybe not. OK, more heavy cream I know I know. But, the beets balance out the cream!

If I'm going to use the oven, I'm getting the most out of making the house a toasty place. A few days ago I think I completely maximized oven time--here's what I made for dinner.

OVEN-roasted Beets with Frisee and Goat Cheese
OVEN-roasted Tomato Basil Soup with OVEN-roasted Garlic
Salmon en Papillote
Chocolate Souffle with Espresso Gelato

Unfortunately, however, I forgot to charge my camera batteries, so I don't have any pics from the actual night.

Anyway, beets are fantastic and good for you. It sounds a little wasteful, but you must individually wrap them in foil before roasting. Just drizzle with olive oil, wrap, and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until tender. Let cool, and the skin should come right off. I use a towel for more friction. Expect to get your hands dirty, and don't be scared later on when you use the restroom...

Beets were created to be dressed with an acidic dressing. For this occasion, I made a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, and fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, and basil) which I tossed with the frisee right before serving. Other times I'll make a dressing from orange and lemon juice and zest, white vinegar, and olive oil, and also serve orange wedges (blood oranges if they're in season). They're also high in folate, dietary fiber and antioxidants.

Eat some beets!

PS I will describe the other items on the menu in upcoming entries. Stay tuned for Parts II - IV of "Maximizing Your Oven."

Saturday, November 18, 2006


PHOTO: Bacon, arugula, tomato on toasted bagel with herb butter and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Recently my friend Lillian in Singapore sent me a link to this website.  Although I do love bacon, I'm holding off on buying that bacon bracelet (for now.)

In the meantime, this morning I made a BLT for breakfast.  Instead of lettuce, though, I used arugula (or rocket lettuce for those of you from outer space, or South Africa).  I also made an herb butter the other day, which I spread on my perfectly toasted bagel.  It's always great to have herb butter on hand.  It'll up the gourmet factor for any meal, especially those "spontaneous" dinner parties where ya just throw somethin' together.  "Oh, I didn't have that much time to cook.  I only made a 5 course meal as opposed to a 12.  Apologies."

Here's how I make mine:

Stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
Herbs that have been fully washed and DRIED
teaspoon of Honey
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Finely mince any herbs you may have on hand--rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, chervil, oregano, sage, dill, etc.  For this occasion I had rosemary, thyme, basil and parsley on hand.  You can also add garlic or shallots if you'd like, also finely minced.

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon.  If you are using salted butter, you don't need to add salt obviously.  Salt helps to preserve the butter, but you can buy unsalted and keep it in the freezer.  I always have a pound or two or butter in my freezer for those buttercream emergencies.  Buying unsalted also helps you control your sodium intake.  Anyway...

Using parchment paper or saran wrap, shape the butter into a cylindrical log using your spatula.  Roll tightly, and place in freezer or refrigerator until needed.  You'll have perfect herb butter to spread on your crusty, homemade bread, (or storebought baguette from Gelson's...YUM).  Place a medallion of butter atop grilled fish, or to finish off that wine reduction for your steak au poivre.  Off the heat, of course.

It's the little touches that count.  Basil oil, for example, which I made as well this week, but that's a future blog.

I love bacon.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Curry in a Hurry

PHOTO: Quyen's Shrimp Curry with Cauliflower

After a long day of work, who wants to then spend a couple hours in the kitchen (besides me, of course?) One of the best quick dishes you can make is curry. Well, that is if you have all the ingredients...

Here's how I make a quick shrimp curry:

In a mini food processor, puree together garlic and ginger into a paste. Set aside. Slice a couple onions.

Heat vegetable oil in a dutch oven or heavy braising pan. Add whole cardamom, cloves, dried chiles, and allspice. Toast until fragrant. Add the garlic ginger paste and saute for another minute. Add the onions and a couple tablespoons of garam masala (you can buy at a specialty store, or curry powder at a regular supermarket.)

Sweat the onions until translucent, about 10 minutes. You don't want for them to caramelize, so turn down the heat if they start to brown. Your house should be filled with an amazing aroma by now!

Add a couple diced tomatoes, making sure to squeeze out excess juice, and also a can of coconut cream, as well as a bay leaf. Simmer until thick, about 8-10 minutes. Add a couple cups of chicken stock and simmer some more. At this point you can simmer away until your girl or boy comes home, or your guests, or that sassy neighbor you've been have over for dinner.

Finally, when ready to serve, add your wholly defrosted shrimp, cover, and cook until just cooked through, about 5-7 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

Stir in freshly chopped coriander, or cilantro, and serve with lime over rice. (To give some color to your rice, add some saffron and a touch of turmeric.)

While your curry is simmering, make a healthy side dish. For this meal I steamed cauliflower, then finished off in the saute pan with garlic, ginger, and turmeric.

Enjoy! You should be able to have delicious shrimp curry in about 45 minutes total. It's worth it :)

You CAN have a bite,

Friday, November 10, 2006

Steal of the Day - Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis

Photo: Quyen's Vanilla Panna Cotta with Fresh Raspberry Coulis

In my last post I mentioned how expensive raspberries were. I spoke too soon. Yesterday, while shopping at my favorite local produce store down the street, they were selling a half flat of raspberries for $1.99. That's 14 South African Rand, 3.10 Singapore Dollars, 32,009 Vietnamese Dong. It's hectic. It's manic. I love it. I bought three. I asked the owner what was wrong with them. They were PERFECT. For a coulis, that is.

So I asked myself, what do I do with all these raspberries? I can't pass up a good bargain, whether it's clothes, food, or men. It's in my nature. Naturally, eating them fresh with a sprinkle of sugar came first. Then, a raspberry coulis:

Simmer together raspberries, sugar, water for about 10 minutes. Sieve to get rid of all the seeds and you'll be left with a thick, smooth coulis. Add a little lemon juice and / or liquer and you're ready to drizzle it over ice cream, chocolate souffle, or panna cotta, or "cooked cream." I made a vanilla bean panna cotta (because I'm in my vanilla bean phase, plus I have like, over 100 beans dying to be used).

Panna cotta is one of the easiest, most rewarding desserts you can make. You dissolve unflavored gelatin in milk, simmer it for a few minutes, stir in sugar, add vanilla steeped heavy cream, place it over an ice bath, stir until thick, strain, pour into molds and refrigerate until set. How easy is that???

Wish you could have a bite,

PS I know it looks bad, but my diet is not comprised merely of heavy cream and berries. Heavy cream, berries, AND vanilla beans.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ay ay ay ay-scream!

I made up a song about ice cream to the tune of that famous song, which I can't recall the name of because every time I think of it, I replace the lyrics with my own. I think it's either in Italian or Spanish...

ANYWAY, here's a picture of my ice cream with strawberry compote. I boiled together fresh strawberries, water, and sugar, then simmered until desired consistency. Near the end, I added a little lemon zest and a splash of Grand Marnier (of course) to the compote. Yum!

There are so many variables in making good ice cream, but what makes good ice cream? Below are criteria for tasting ice cream as described in the book FROZEN DESSERTS by Liddell & Weir. It is most excellent for food snobs.

Appearance: No ice crystals on the surface, even distribution of fruit, nuts, etc. Color should match flavor.

Body: Note resistance of ice cream when scooping. If too firm, ice cream will be too cold and uncomfortable to eat. Body shouldn't be waxy, gummy, crumbly, soggy, or fluffy. (Cheaper ice creams incorporate AIR into the ice cream, which is why premium and homemade creams are denser.)

Texture: Smooth. Large ice crystals present = faster melting, rough on roof of mouth. Sandy texture is due to lactose crystallization. Yuck.

Flavor: Should taste like what it is. Shouldn't be too rich to swamp the flavor, nor flavor so rich you can only have a couple spoonfuls (and not because you're on a diet, in which case you don't know what you're missing.) Pleasant aftertaste, no cooked-milk flavor, or metallic or rancidness.

Melt: Should melt to a creamy liquid, not like shaving cream, or separate or worse, curdle.

Try varying the balance between fat and sugar, and total solids and water. Since taste is subjective, you can create your own specialty ice cream. Or, just buy Haagen Dazs. Never skimp on ice cream. If you're gonna eat it, then go for it.

Wish you could have a bite,

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Save those VANILLA BEANS!!

Photo: Artichokes in acidulated water. To prevent oxidization, squeeze lemon juice in water. Drain right before use.

Photo: Preparing the custard for French vanilla ice cream.

If you have vanilla beans that have already been used to make, say, a silky panna cotta or decadent French vanilla ice cream, do not discard the used bean. Instead, rinse it off, let it dry out and throw it into your sugar jar. You'll have delicious vanilla scented sugar. If you're REAL fancy, scoop out the fresh beans into your sugar (along with the pod) and pump up that ordinary cup of joe. You'll never go back again--none of that "Vanilla Half & Half" stuff. Ugh, gross. Use extract at least, please!

Also, don't refrigerate your vanilla beans, else they will crystallize. Who wants that? Just store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. They should stay moist and malleable...

Speaking of which, I am going to prepare my French vanilla ice cream now to go with a strawberry compote. (Raspberries are WAY expensive right now!)

On tonight's menu:

Roasted leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary
Artichokes with mint and garlic
Fennel Gratin with pecorino
French vanilla ice cream with strawberry topping

It's nice to be back in the kitchen again. I actually have been WORKING, for crying out loud. I'll let you know how the dinner turns out!


PS Dinner was delicious, but I realized after we ate everything that I hadn't taken any pictures :( Also, the wine didn't help.