Sunday, September 28, 2008

Eggs Benedict

I hardly eat breakfast, but when I do on the weekends, it's pretty good. I've always loved pancakes and especially french toast. One of the more decadent breakfast dishes that I'd always heard about was eggs benedict. I had it on a cruise ship once and wasn't that impressed, but I had it at some amazing breakfast place around 54th and 9th in New York, and I was absolutely blown away--it was delicious. It's supposed to be a hard dish to make, so I decided to give it a try. It turns out it's actually not that bad, and it came out to be a delicious dish.

If you don't know what eggs benedicts is, it's an english muffin with canadian bacon, topped with a poached egg and hollondaise sauce. The recipe I followed was from the pioneer woman, one of my favorite blogs. Here's what it looks like:

I had trouble finding canadian bacon at first and kept looking in the sandwich meat section, which is where the bacon is in our grocery store, but canadian bacon, which has much less fat, was actually in the pork section with the meats.

I butterred the muffins and put it in the oven with the canadian bacon under the broiler.

Now poaching an eggs is supposed to be one of the hardest things, but I found it to actually be pretty easy. I just boiled some water in a pan, threw in some vinegar, swirled the pan around and dropped the egg in. The eggs I got were super-fresh from the farmer's market, so when I poached them all the whites stayed together.

I accidentally broke the yolk on one egg before putting it in the pot, but it still turned out pretty good.

For the sauce, I followed the blender recipe from pioneer woman. It amazes me how rich the sauce is. It's basically just egg yolks and butter. I also put a generous portion of cayenne pepper in there.

I tasted the sauce. I thought it was a little bland, but in the dish as a whole, it was quite good. I'm not sure if that means the sauce was messed up, or that's how hollandaise sauce is supposed to taste. Also, I ended up putting some ground pepper on top, but next time, I'll probably throw it into the sauce.

All the poached eggs turned out pretty well, except for the one where the yolk was broken. I was a little paranoid about undercooking it, and it was still a little runny when I cut into it. However, I think I'd like it a little more runny next time, though. The problem is that when cooking a poached egg, the yolk will still feel jiggly even if it's cooked pretty thoroughly.

I think the canadian bacon was a little dry, so next time I'll take it off a little earlier since the english muffins seem to take a little longer.

Here's everything assembled. Definitely pretty easy, especially given it's reputation, and it's definitely one of my favorite breakfast dishes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Homemade Pizza

One thing I've wanted to do for a while was make some pizza from scratch. One of my friends bought be a pizza stone as a gift, and I've used it to make naan and a few other things, but hadn't used it to make pizza yet.

The recipes I followed were from my favorite cookbook, America's best recipe. I made a pretty simple dough, kneaded it, and let it rest for 2 hours.

I decided to also make some pizza sauce. I just took a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomatoe sauce and threw a few spices in it, while letting it simmer for 10 minutes or so.

For the toppings, I went with some sauteed mushrooms and onions. Since it was going into the oven, I made sure not to overcook them.

And I really sucked at rolling the dough; however, Jono has sent taught me (atleast theoretically taught me) how to throw the dough, so I'll have to try it out again. I don't have a rolling pin, so my basic strategy was to just use my hands and smash it out. Then I'd pick it up and stretch it. And just keep repeating, covering any holes I accidentally made.

After the sauce, I put on th toppings and then I put on some fresh mozerella that I bought and cut up.

I had some serious trouble sliding the pizza on to the pizza stone. My pizza stone smokes like no other and burns my eyes quite a bit. After this experience, I looked up what to do, and I left the pizza stone in while I self-cleaned my oven. It smoked a lot, but doesn't seem to smoke anymore. I think the problem was that we had baked cookies on the pizza stone once. But the cookies have too much oil, and the oil soaks into the porrous stone, and a 500 degree oven goes pretty far above most oil's smoking point.

Anyways. I baked it for about 12 minutes. It's pretty easy to tell when pizza's done, so I took it out after the cheese started browning.

Although the pizza didn't look perfect, it still tasted good.

The pizza was good. I liked it better than most pizza chains, but it wasn't quite as good as some of the places in the city, especially Little Star, which i know is a different type of pizza, but it's just so damned good. This pizza definitely could've used a little more flavor (maybe in the sauce or with more flavorful toppings like sausage). Pizza was a relatively easy dish to make, and now that I have the dough made and frozen, it'll be easy to just make it and pop it into the oven.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Iron Chef Competition

For labor day, we decided to throw an iron chef competition. It was a pain organizing, but luckily Siva took the lead and organized everything. Basically we split up into two teams, team soy sauce (all asians) and team honkie (non-asian).

At 2 PM our secret ingredient was announced, and we were given 4 hours to plan, shop, and cook. Much to my surprise, our three judges chose beer as the secret ingridient. I had thought of a few different secret ingridients and beer was not one that came to my mind. So we started thinking through the first items that come to mind when we think of beer: cheese fondue, beer bread, beer chicken (a whole chicken cooked on the grill with a beer up its ass), beer batterred shrimp/chicken. The problem we kept running into was beer was always in the food, but it was never a prominent part that came through in taste.

At any rate, after looking up recipes in some books and online, we settled on a few of them, substituting beer for as many things as well could.

First up was beer, garlic soup. To make it more gimmicky, we served the soup in a cup and made some foam by beating some egg whites. The soup was mostly made with beef broth, beer, garlic, and some other spices.

I tried some, and it was definitely unique. The presentation was pretty awesome, but I don't think the taste was there. The judges seemed to agree with this :-) I think the garlic wasn't sauteed enough before the broth was thrown in, so the soup had a little bitter taste from the uncooked garlic.

To go with the soup, we decided to serve some beer, onion bread.

This was something I made, and I think it turned out really well. The texture was a little chewy compared to professional breads, but it tasted quite good.

For the entree, we decided to cook some champagne shrimp pasta. Basically we were struggling to come up with a good entree that captured beer flavor. I feel that beer can chicken and beer battered chicken (or shrimp) don't really catch much flavor form the beer. They definitely taste good, but I've always felt it's not much beer flavor (after tasting beer battered apple crisps, I think I feel a little differently because I did taste the beer, but anyways, this was my logic at the time). A long time ago, I had cooked some champagne shrimp pasta. So we decided to replace the champagne the recipe called for with "the champagne of beer", miller high life.

Overall the dish turned out pretty well. The shrimp was cooked in beer and the sauce was basically all beer and some heavy cream. Despite all this, the beer flavor was pretty weak--it's just hard to do.

There were some problems with the dish: notably, someone forgot to wash the parsley, and a judge noticed some crunchiness (i.e.-sand) in her entree. Also, one judge mentioned the pasta was a bit overcooked. I tasted the pasta and know it wasn't overcooked at first, but then I put the pasta in with the sauce and kept cooking it. Then I ended up reheating it twice for the judges, so because of that, it might've been cooked a little too long. Moreover, I totally forgot to top it with parmesean, gorund pepper, and red pepper flakes as I had planned to.

To serve with the entree, we made some country time lemonade (yeah, we're lazy), and poured htem half beer, half lemonade. I remember this drink being popular in Europe (I can't remember the name). The judges seemed to like it overall.

For dessert, we were made a guiness chocolate cake. Paul came up with a great idea of making bailey's irish creme frosting to acompany the cake, makign it a dessert irish car bomb. It was a great idea, but execution wasn't so good.

Everyone loved the cake, but I think Paul and Siva double salted the icing (i.e.-each of them put the salt in that the recipe called for). Unfortunately, no one tasted it until it reached the judges table. It's weird how an extra half teaspoon of salt can make so much of a difference.

Team asia cooked in Siva/Inbae's kitchen and then brought their food over to our place to serve to the judges.

Their first dish: crab and lobster stuffed mushrooms. For the sauce, they reduced beer and sweetened it a lot using brown sugar and some other techniques.

I liked the mushrooms. The sauce was a little too sweet for my tastes and didn't really complement the mushrooms too much.

The next course they had was beer marinated, roasted lamb with mashed potatoes and onions.

Ok, so I've got to admit, I don't really like lamb much. I like gyros and a few other lamb dishes, but I honestly don't like the taste that much. But this lamb was really good. It was cooked perfectly and quite tasty. The sides were good overall, not as good as the lamb, though.

For dessert, they fried up some beer, marinated apples and served it with ice cream and whipped cream.

I didn't get to taste any of the well cooked ones, but the "test ones" were pretty good. I was surprised I could taste the beer with the apple fritter. I'd imagine with the ice cream, it's be pretty good.

Overall the iron chef competition was a lot of fun. Unfortunately team asia was declared the victors. They had good execution, the lamb was amazing, and their presentation was outstanding. I think our food was more unique, the beer flavor a little stronger, but utlimately we had a few executation flaws that cost us the win.

If I had to do it over again, I'd probably replace the beer soup with a beer stew. I think the pasta would've been better if we did make those mistakes, but I might try something different instead of the pasta, but I still don't really have any great ideas for this one. The dessert was good--just too much salt in the icing. I'm sure we'll do it again, but probably not for another 6 months. In the meantime, I may push for a potluck competition, where one ingridient must be used.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Indian Food: Chana Masala

The last time I tried to stretch myself and cook something unique, the Korean food turned out pretty bad, atleast in my opinion. However, I figure Indian food is in my reach, as I've seen Siva make it before. So I decided to start with a pretty simple dish, chana masala. It's basically just chickpeas in a stewed, spicy tomato sauce. To try something unique, I decided to try to make some homemade garlic naan as well.

The recipes I used were from, which is a great website because it includes videos as well. So I followed the naan recipe and made the dough, which as you can see is quite sticky. I don't cook bread often enough, so I'm never sure how the bread dough should be, but I managed to oil up my hands enough and knead the dough.

I let it rest about 2 hours and then shaped the naan, brushing some butter on, and putting some garlic on top.

I put it in a hot oven on the pizza stone and took them out when they looked done. They looked really nice and tasted awesome, but it tasted more like garlic bread than garlic naan. I think it was mostly the texture, but I'll have to try it again and see what's going on--still good though.

For the naan, I cut up a lot of garlic and used my new garlic press, which is quite useful. You can see it all below. For the chana masala, I cut up some on red onions.

In a pan, I heated some oil, and threw in some cumin seeds. After a few minutes, I threw in some garlic, just a little bit, and sauteed it in. Finally I threw in the onions.

After the onions cooked I threw in a can of diced tomatoes to cook down for a while.

While this was cooking, I made some sauce. I threw in a can of diced tomatoes, some chopped jalepenos, and some ginger paste into a blender. I almost never use jalapenos, but I learned that a) jalapenos can be pretty hot b) never ever touch your face or eyes after cutting a pepper without cleaning your hands very, very thoroughly.

After the tomatoes broke down, I threw in the sauce from the blender and half a can or so of tomato sauce to make it a little more liquidy. Then I threw in some indian spices, which I don't really recal at the moment, and finally the chickpeas. I went to an Indian supermarket to buy all the spices, and I gotta admit that spices there were sooo much cheaper than at a regular supermarket. It was about 20% the price. However, it's all in bags, and I need to get some jars to store all of it rather than regular tuperware, which is what I'm using now. Also, for the chickpeas, I soaked it for about 2 hours in water with some tea bags to give them a little better color.

I let this all stew for a while and voila.

Overall the Indian food was quite good. I'd consider it a relatively easy dish to make as well. Even the naan wasn't too hard, and I definitely want to try that again as I can't tell if I screwed something up or the recipe isn't that good because it definitely looks like naan. At any rate, it all tasted quite good and would be something I'd expect from an indian restaurant.