The Final Frontier

Posted in Quick and Simple Dinner Delights, Travels to Distant Lands on February 4, 2008 by theredkettle

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The time has come, the Walrus said, to post about Chris’s SURPRISE birthday party. The Thai food we made for it turned out very well. I think I will post individually about a few of the dishes and sauces that seem most important, but here are photos of the final spread:

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Spring Rolls: tapioca flour wrappers, and filled with glassy vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, mint, basil, cilantro, carrots, and tofu, followed by a piece of soft-leaf lettuce.

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Spicy Garlic Shrimp with Snow Peas

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Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad

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More Spring Rolls

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Chicken Satay with a Simple Thai Fish Sauce Marinade

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Tangy Tamarind Sauce

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Sweet and Syrupy Soy Sauce and Thai Peanut Sauce

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Corn Fritters and two very Spicy Dipping Sauces, one involving vinegar and chile flakes, and the other involving Thai bird chiles

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Thai Toasts, made with SmartGround, along with eggs, green onions, cilantro, white pepper, tamarind liquid, fish sauce, and stale white bread.

Tasty Trifles at the Table

Posted in Quick and Simple Dinner Delights on February 4, 2008 by theredkettle

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Well, I realize it’s no longer January, and I am now back in Oberlin, not Montana, but I have just a couple more posts to finish off the cooking-blogging project. And I also have an update on the banana-bread front… Caleb said he liked it. That, unfortunately, is all the information I have on the subject, as I did not speak to Caleb directly, but rather to my mom, who simply said that he liked it. But it must be said that based upon The New Best Recipe‘s track record, it is likely to have been very, very good.

First, I must post about a meal I made long before all the catering began, which was TRULY delicious and included MANY of the items that must most certainly be on the Red Kettle’s menu:

Oven-Droopified Grape Tomatoes with Garlic and Olive Oil

Sweet Potatoes, Baked and Sliced

Mashed Potatoes with Basil and Garlic

Spicy Crispy Tofu

Very-Hot-Oven-Cooked Green Beans with Garlic, Soy Sauce, and Olive Oil

It was after this meal that I decided that the restaurant should, perhaps, serve largely a la carte options. Which is not to say that it couldn’t have more pre-arranged meals, but I do like the idea of being able to choose many of what might normally be thought of as side-dishes, rather than a main dish with one or two sides. It is something to consider, anyway.

What explanation of this meal shall I offer?

The tomatoes are done by simply putting some in a baking dish with a ton of olive oil and a bunch of garlic, depending on your taste, and cooking them at a very low temperature for a very long time– several hours. The trick is not to leave them in so long you forget about them and then burn them. Truly, that is the trick.

The sweet potatoes need few directions, I imagine, although it could be recommended that to cook them first in the microwave for a time, before placing in the oven does speed up the process, with little detectable difference in final product.

The mashed potatoes did inspire some research in the good ole New Best Recipe, which reported that after extensive testing, it was discovered that mashed potatoes are most flavorful in the end if when boiling them you leave them whole and unpealed, which does add to the total cooking time by quite a bit, but could be worth it. The test cooks also explained that it is best to first add butter to the potatoes having been mashed (preferably with a ricer), rather than milk, as it coats the somethings and makes for a smoother, creamier, less soggy final product. These I look forward to making with many additional ingredients, but the garlic and basil were certainly a good idea.

The tofu I sauteed in olive oil having rolled it in cornstarch, which made the result quite crispy, and I also cooked curry powder in the oil before adding the tofu, which gave it a more interesting flavor than it might otherwise have had. I would like to experiment here with more spicy ingredients, and other not spicy additions.

And finally… the green beans! These, in my estimation, FAR FAR exceed the taste, texture, and overall dining experience one can get with a French fry. It is my contention that they should replace French fries with these trusty vegetables, which are indeed reminiscent of thinly sliced potatoes except in color, in all fast food restaurants. The world would certainly be a better place for it, I think. To make them: Place, with some olive oil, soy sauce, and garlic, in very hot oven, and wait ’til they seem like the right texture. If they are left in long enough they become crispy, almost like a French fry. Sea salt also works very well for seasoning.

Try them out. These are some of my Favorites.

Banana Bread for my Bro

Posted in All Baked on January 28, 2008 by theredkettle

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One morning, at the suggestion of my mom, I decided to quickly throw together a loaf of banana bread to send to Brother John in Seattle (Funnily, my brother’s middle name really is John.) There really isn’t too much to tell. Naturally, the recipe came from The New Best Recipe, with one slight tweak, which was that I added to the top, prior to baking, for the purpose of creating a sugary, crispy crusty component, a whole bunch of brown sugar and some extra toasted walnuts. The recipe was pretty straightforward. It did include plain yogurt, which I had never used in banana bread before. A very snappy baking delight. But I actually don’t know just how delightful, as I’ve not yet heard how it was from dear Caleb. Soon, though, we shall make a determination as to its status… will it be on the menu?? We’ll just have to wait and see.

An Evening of Thai!

Posted in Travels to Distant Lands on January 28, 2008 by theredkettle

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As I mentioned earlier, I was recently asked to cook a simple supper for a book club gathering, and it was requested that the food be Thai. With the help of Mrs. Kelly, who is an exceptionally good cook and organizer, I found a recipe online for Spicy Curry Noodle Soup with Sweet Potato and Chicken, which seemed like it would be suitable. Sheila also suggested a good salad dressing with Thai flavors for a wilted baby spinach salad. And, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, I decided on a Fallen Chocolate Cake for dessert. Pictured above is the spread at the dinner table, which I had no part in setting, but which I think is quite lovely.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stick around long enough to take any pictures of the soup after it was served and garnished, but I do have a few of the process. The recipe can be found at epicurious.com, and a lovely picture of a bowl of soup not mine, but probably quite similar in appearance to that which these ladies ate.

Because it was such a production, and because it was my first real catering job, I shall give you the blow by blow. The soup was relatively simple to make. I began by cooking in oil garlic, shallots, a little each of ginger and galanga root, lemongrass, curry powder, green Thai curry paste (I didn’t have the yellow the recipe called for), and spicy red chili paste in the bottom of a large pot until fragrant. I then added a lot of coconut milk and chicken broth, and some fish sauce, and brought it all to a boil. This was done a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.

Separately, and also a day ahead, I blanched snow peas and cooked cubed sweet potatoes and rice vermicelli noodles, which I then refrigerated along with the vegetables for garnish: red onion, sliced thin, green onion, and cilantro.

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The day of book club, I boiled the broth and added the sweet potatoes and thinly sliced chicken thigh which cooked quickly. This was a new experience for me– I am a vegetarian and haven’t cooked much meat before, but this went pretty smoothly despite my worries.

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Now for the salad. I dressed the baby spinach leaves fairly early in the day in order to let them wilt a bit– they seem to be easier to eat when they’ve had a chance to soften some. The dressing was of Sheila’s invention, and contained canola oil, natural peanut butter, ginger, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, and later after tasting it post-food processing, a couple handfuls of peanuts and some soy sauce. Although at first it tasted too citrus-y, when eaten with the spinach it turned out very well. I later added to the salad some mango, cucumber, and red onion, which looked very pretty pre-tossing.

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Because the cake is meant to be eaten warm or at the very least, fresh, I timed it to be removed from the oven at the last possible moment. The soup too is designed for last minute assembly, so my mom helped me pack the peas, noodles, and garnish items in Ziplocs, and we put them with the salad and whipped cream (for the cake) in a large box to be transported to the party house. The cake remained in its springform pan, to be unmolded and dressed up later. The soup remained in my lap during the car ride, which proved tricky and a bit messy, since snowy roads do in no way make for a bump-free trip. But all arrived safely!

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I later received word that the food was enthusiastically received and that there were recipe requests. I’ve been thinking it could be an outstanding summer job, if I organized well and could muster enough courage, and enough customers. Here’s hoping the next job goes as well as this one did.

Oh, and I can say for myself that the soup turned out well, because I did set some aside with no chicken so that Sheila, my dear consultant, could try some, and I got a bite as well. A winning recipe. Definitely Red Kettle material.

These ravioli were balanced perilously on the boring-exciting divide…

Posted in Quick and Simple Dinner Delights on January 28, 2008 by theredkettle

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Luckily, we fixed them just before they fell into that deep and dark abyss…

On a couple of occasions, it has been decided that store-bought ravioli and tortellini can make an excellent meal, with only a little bit of sprucing. My take on the sprucing this time around(which you can see pictured here)was the addition of as much basil as I could get my hands on, chopped up, a whole bunch of Parmesan cheese (or goat cheese, which I’ve pretty much decided is good on everything) and some kind of soft-ish nut, like pine nuts, walnuts, or I suppose pecans, though I’ve not yet tried that (all toasted). And be sure to use plenty of butter. I do not stand for this leaving-out-the-grease business. No sirree.

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This picture (which I couldn’t rotate, though I gave it my best effort… don’t hurt your neck, please, I just could never forgive myself) and that of the ravioli are from the dinner my mom and I had with a friend of ours who happens to be a graduate of Oberlin College, and who because she knew I was going there brought along her old co-op cookbook. It holds some recipes certainly representative of another era. Helen pointed out a hamburger and cheese casserole-ish dish, which I decided not to read.

Tapas!

Posted in Travels to Distant Lands on January 28, 2008 by theredkettle

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This particular cooking endeavor I can take very little credit for– I was merely one of several contributors to this evening of good food. My mother and Mrs. Kelly and I decided one day that some night we should experiment in Spanish cooking, and so sure enough, soon we were making tapas! Sheila taught me all about how to make Tortilla Espagnol, which will certainly be on the Red Kettle menu, among many other things from the other night. The list of menu items on this particular evening included: Crostini of numerous varieties, the Tortilla Espagnol, broiled green beans with sea salt, stuffed mushrooms, several experimental appetizers involving cheese, and of course, olives (because what would any evening of good food be without olives??)

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Featured above, top, then left to right:

Tortilla Espagnol: potatoes and onions cooked in a ton of olive oil, with beaten eggs poured over, in a casserole dish and popped in the oven.

Very thinly sliced Parmesan, topped with really high quality, syrupy balsamic vinegar.

Mushrooms, stuffed with Parmesan, garlic, and something else (I took no part in this– mushrooms are not my fave.)

A Spanish raw sheep’s milk cheese the name of which eludes me, topped with roasted red pepper and thyme.

In the upper photograph are some of the several renditions of Crostini we made using ciabatta, including some with winter squash-goat cheese-smoked sea salt-red pepper flake-roasted garlic-paste and topped with sliced figs, some with anchovies, capers, and roasted red peppers, some with pear-mustard jam, some with olive tapenade, and some with pesto and goat cheese.

Not pictured here, prosciutto and spicy pickled red pepper-wrapped mozzarella, and the broiled green beans with sea salt and tons of olive oil, which I, personally, think give French fries a run for their money. You know those money-laden French fries.

Things I learned (which I’d heard, but which it is important to experience for oneself):

1. Presentation ought to be high on the list of priorities, because who’d have thought cheese and balsamic vinegar could look so tasty — so much tastier — all lined up?

2. Tortilla Espagnol is perfect for a college-girl’s budget: potatoes, eggs, onions, and olive oil– a cheap and tasty meal that can look truly fab (see number 1).

3. (I kind of already knew this, but…) I want to go to SPAIN.

I’m done.

Quiche, take 2.

Posted in Morning, Noon, and Night on January 26, 2008 by theredkettle

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I decided to have another go at the quiche, but to change it up a bit, I made it with a potato crust, which I think should definitely be an option in the case of savory pie-like items at the restaurant. My mom has been making potato crust for a long time, but I’ve never made this quiche using her technique, so I thought I’d give it a try. It is very simple; if you’re interested, have a look below:

1 baking potato, grated (in the Cuisinart is easiest)

EVOO

Salt

After buzzing the potato in the food processor, use your hands to squeeze as much water as possible out of the potatoes, into the sink, and mix in some olive oil and salt, and anything else you think should be in the crust. Smash into the pie plate, and bake for about 5 minutes at something like 400 degrees to allow some more of the water to evaporate. After this step, add your filling as you would with a normal pie or quiche. Certainly different from the traditional flour crust, but equally yummy, and much less time consuming (and with much less potential for screw-up.)