Friday, April 25, 2014

My big fat Greek dinner

I love the blog, "The World from My Window." And I particularly love Maddie Griggs' accounts of Corfu at Easter. (Read "My Family and Other Animals" if you want to learn more about the magic of Corfu and die laughing in the process.)

And, so it was, I decided to fix a big fat Greek dinner Saturday night. Fortunately, a few friends and family agreed to join us so we wouldn't be eating leftovers until the next food zombie apocalypse.

THIS is what a holiday in your mouth looks like.
I already had the cornerstone to the meal -- the Barefoot Contessa's pastitio recipe. Think FABULOUS meets your mom's shell pasta casserole: A ground beef-ground lamb tomato filling teased with a hint of cinnamon topped with a bechamel sauce amped up with cheese and a hint of more spice -- this time nutmeg. It's a holiday in your mouth.

BISSK Note: Could not, for the life of me, find Kasseri cheese so I used myzithra. We all survived.

BISSK Cut to the Chase: On a scale of 1 (BLECK!!) to 5 (Sigh. This is sublime.), Ina Garten's pastitio recipe gets 5 ouzo bottles right out of the gate.

The remainder of the meal came together with the help of Chef Google. And my sister-in-law who assembled a killer Greek salad.

We had a side of Greek-style green beans, courtesy of The Splendid Table. (Note to self: Wow, you are seriously late to the Table on this one. GREAT website.)

Folks, to be perfectly honest, I was a bit dubious about cooking green beans -- or any vegetable -- for 45 minutes, but the finished product was pretty dang close to some of the best green beans I've ever had -- those from this reedonkulous restaurant, The White House Grill, in a little freeway stop town about 30 minutes east of Bermtopia. (Not that we AREN'T a freeway stop. Hmmm. Home town paradigm shifts just a bit.)


Let me just say, You can't take White House Grill Greek-style green beans to work as left-overs. I've tried -- and nearly decimated my esteemed co-workers with left-over garlic gas. So,  I did cut back on the garlic -- knowing SOME people were going to church the next morning (I do have my filters) and we were fine.

BISSK Rating: On a scale of 1 clove of garlic to 5, it gets 4.5 garlic cloves. And, please, use more garlic if you're not worried about basic human relationships.

And, oh, I made my infallible artisan bread.

Dessert. Dessert. Dessert. I'm not a dessert gal, largely because I am baking-impaired. I can whip up a pretty mean gelato but that's about it. But I soldiered on and Chef Google led me here to The Ultimate Guide to Greek Food (no metric measurements - huzzah!). I made the Greek Easter cookies, which turned out to be the size of air-craft carriers. (I'm sure, with practice I could get them down to the size of a frigate -- I let you know next Easter.) They were served with a dollop of Greek yogurt, oozled with honey and sprinkled with chopped pistachios.

There were no cookies left -- including the four we set aside for our neighbors.

BISSK Rating: On a scale of 1 sesame seed to 5, the cookies -- and overall dessert -- gets a 5.

So, thanks Barefoot Contessa and Chef Google. It was a mighty Easter dinner. Why?

Because I said so.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gettin' goopy with Giada: Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragu

My latest issue of "Food & Wine" arrived this week, and it's a dandy. Big news -- Giada's opening a restaurant in Vegas. You know Giada, right? I mean, aren't you on first-name basis with her like me?

You know. Giada de Laurentis of Food Network's "Giada at Home" and "Everyday Italian"? The woman with the waistline of a wasp, the complexion of an angel -- who cooks. without. an. apron? With her, um, decolletage showing? A LOT of decolletage. At least by the standards of this kitchen.

I keep wondering how the woman deals with hot bacon grease.
 Yes. THAT Giada!

I got over Giada's decolletage pretty quickly, but I am still confounded how she cooks without an apron without ultimately looking like an extra serving of that day's Blue Plate Special. (Unless, thanks to the miracles of video editing, we miss the two dozen trips to the dry cleaners. But I kinda doubt it.)

Let's just say, under the same circumstances, you could stuff me in an HazMat suit, turn me loose in a kitchen and I would still end up with sauce stains on my shirt and sleeves. And that's with me not even making a sauce.


Giada's joint restaurant, cleverly named G-I-A-D-A, is in a boutique hotel, The Cromwell, which is part of the Caesar's Palace complex. So now you know. (Does it not crack you up just a bit -- a hotel within a hotel within a hotel? Vegas -- YOU ROCK.)

She shared a few of her menu items in "Food & Wine," and Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragu caught my eye: Total prep time -- 50 minutes.

Let's DO this!

Giada De Laurentis' Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragu, courtesy of the May 2014 issue of "Food and Wine"

Goddamnit. The recipe calls for fresh chopped thyme. Twice.

Come out, come out -- wherever you are.
BISSK Note #1: Escarole and skinless salmon fillets. Bermtopia is not some hick, backwater cow town -- it's actually a mining/lumber town -- but I was nervous about tracking down escarole. But there it was  -- all two heads of it -- at the very, very far, most remote end of the produce section. Obviously, Bermtopia isn't a big on escarole. Yet.

I already knew fresh skinless salmon fillets was a lost cause. This wasn't my first fresh-skinless-salmon- fillet rodeo.

My fishmonger is the meat (operative word MEAT) counter at Ye Olde Neighborhood Grocery Store. I once asked them for a skinless salmon fillet and they accommodated. The finished product resembled lox. Without the love.

We DO have a most excellent true seafood shop here in town -- Williams Seafood. Problem is, purchasing fish there usually requires taking out a second mortgage on your house. Just saying. Fortunately Williams was closed on Sunday when I was shopping so our mortgage lives to fight another day.

As a result, I did what most self-respecting cooks do when faced with finding an elusive ingredient.

Trader Joe's.

TJ's did not disappoint. Skinless salmon fillets were in the frozen food section. Frozen not my first choice -- and they did look at little gnarly -- but I'm happy to report, once thawed, they did resemble salmon.

BISSK Note #2: Prep time. As noted in my inaugural post, this time of year, I have the need for speed. (Note: We are SO over pine needles. I am now on to clearing garden beds and feeding roses.)

Giada allows 50 minutes to pull this party together. I cheated and prepped most of the ragu Sunday night (31 minutes -- damn thyme) so all I would have to do is the prosciutto, escarole and mustard sauce Monday (20 minutes - damn thyme).

It was close. The salmon took about 7 minutes so, in all, if you prepped this all at once like a normal person, it's closer to an hour from pan to table.

BISSK Note #3: Taste test. I'm glad I tasted a little dab of the mustard sauce. It was very metallic-y. Let's blame the thyme, shall we?

A small dollop of honey -- and a titch more salt -- helped.

BISSK Wrap-up: Meh. In the end, it turned out to be a very strange mix of textures and flavors. Beans and salmon, just slightly discomfitting. The prosciutto was like that odd person at a high school reunion who no one could place -- or find in the yearbook. And I quickly learned that I'm not a big fan of pairing double doses of mustard with salmon.

I might try the ragu again as a side dish, but crisp the prosciutto and use it as a topping. Maybe.

BISSK Rating: On a scale of 1 (Get This Out of My Mouth, Please) to 5 (Let's Make It Again Tomorrow Night), Giada's Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragu is awarded 2 heads of escarole out of 5. Perhaps because that's all they had the grocery store.

And why? Because I said so.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

One moment, please. A bit about this new blog.

 I don't know about you, but online reviews of recipes on celebrated sites like Food Network aren't always very satisfying. Helpful, mostly -- but satisfying, no.

Let's face it, the reviewers rarely get down into the trenches to tell what you really need to know -- about the 12 trips to grocery store to get missing elusive ingredients (even after you checked) and the actual five ZILLION different pieces of cooking equipment used (and must be washed accordingly). 

Because I Said So Kitchen doesn't roll that way. It's the truth, and nothing but the truth. It's all about bad decisions, dirty kitchens and a recreational cook who mostly occasionally bites off more than she can chew with a recipe. And I'll tell you that you should like it -- or run away screaming like it was the food zombie apocalypse. And, of course, my word is final. 

Because I said so.

So, in this inaugural post, we are cooking a 4-pound fresh turkey breast in a crock pot. Look up campylobacter if you want to know how badly this could go.

Turkey Pot Roast, courtesy of Food Network Magazine

Spring is Schizophrenia Season at my house, the Nine One Four. I approach gardening with the same haphazard enthusiasm as I do cooking. As I result, I am constantly conflicted -- do I spend three hours in the kitchen whipping up something supposedly fantastic or do I use the same three hours inflicting bodily pain on myself assuming any number of awkward garden yoga positions to remove pine needles from the flower beds?
I have issues, people.

That's why the headline "20 New Slow Cooker Recipes" on the cover of this month's issue of Food Network Magazine caught my eye in the check-out line a week or so ago. (Well, that and "Deviled Eggs!!! Dozens of fun ideas" Their exclamation points, btw -- and it's 50 ideas to be exact.)

Into the shopping cart the magazine went.

And so, as a result, I found myself trying to wedge a 4-pound turkey breast into a crock pot at 10 a.m. Sunday morning.

Here are the Because I Said So Kitchen take-aways:

BISSK Note #1: The recipe allows for 30 minutes' prep time. Unless you have the knife skills of a Galactic Ninja, this just ain't so. There's a bit of cutting. And a bit of mixing. And, oh, there WAS that one unanticipated trip to store for paprika.

And WHO, aside from a Hungarian Magyar, RUNS OUT OF PAPRIKA in their lifetime?

That would be me. 

BISSK Note #2: This is a bowl-intensive recipe in the prepping stage. It teetered on DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! on the BISSK Clean-Up-o-Meter.
Dorot crushed garlic -- the gold standard of garlics among cooks tired of dealing with thyme.
BISSK Note #3: Fresh thyme. Love the flavor, but, fresh, the herb bugs the crap out of me. Please tell me how TV chefs make it look so easy when they strip thyme leaves off their stems. After one or two spectacularly unsuccessful passes, I just chopped everything together -- stems, leaves AND probably a trace or two of whatever we had for dinner the night before.

Complaint Department is on the 7th floor.
Everybody into the pool -- a rawther crowded pool at that.
BISSK Note #4: Cook time is 7 hours with the crockpot at low. And, despite all camplyobacter alarms my raised eyebrows, sure enough, at about 6 hours, the turkey's internal temp was reading just fine on the good ole' meat thermometer -- well on its way to being done in 7 hours. Take THAT, campylobacter !

 But. The potatoes were raw. Only I could cook potatoes. in a crock pot. for 6 hours. and end up with raw potatoes. Really? I guess that's what the microwave is for.

BISSK Wrap-up: It was a damn fine meal once we dealt with the raw potato situation: Turkey breast, one of the tenderest, juiciest I've eaten (High 5 in the Left-over Department). . . gravy, delicious (the worcestershire sauce/tomato paste combo is a sneaky, inspired idea -- it plays well with the thyme). . . and vegetables, a perfect throw-back Mom's-Sunday-pot-roast days.

BISSK rating: On a scale of 1 (Food Zombie Apocalypse) to 5 (Seconds, Please), Turkey Pot Roast, courtesy of the Food Network Magazine, gets 4.5 Paprika Cans.

Because I said so.