The Newbie Cook
- 19,442 forkfuls since 16.Oct.10
Making everything for the first time
If you live in Saudi Arabia, you surely know that arugula (aka rocket or gerger) is best partnered with chicken. Given the number of local kabsa restaurants, you’re probably sick of the combination by now. But then again maybe not. Kabsa – the local roast chicken – is boldly spiced and extremely delicious. And the sharp taste of arugula complements it.
Back to the chicken. The breasts were frozen solid and I had to quickly defrost them by leaving them under cold running water for around 10-15 minutes. Never use warm water as it might cause bacteria to grow. Next, I did the usual salt-exfoliation before seasoning.
They turned out quite well. While the chicken was in the oven, I also made pumpkin rice (check this recipe, with the pumpkin pureed and minus the spinach) with shallots while the chicken was cooking to match since we Filipinos just cannot eat a meal without rice.
As with the previous post, this was made and photographed during the night when my “good” camera was out of commission. But no matter how great the camera, I was reassured that most cranberry upside-down cakes really look awful on pictures so I suppose my cellphone cam could only ruin visuals so far.
I had about a cup and a half of cranberry that I was saving. I didn’t know what to do with them and considered making muffins. But since me and my friends decided to have dinner, I thought about using them for an upside down cake.
I considered using a chiffon cake for the base or perhaps a sturdier mocha. But when my friend Jovett told me that she had 3 extremely ripe bananas in her apartment – so ripe that they looked a little sorry and ignored – I finally had the answer. Why not a classic banana cake?
For this cake, I used two of Deb’s recipes and combined them (I really should use other sources but SK is such a wonderful reference for baking). I was afraid of how it would turn out since I’m not really sure about mixing cranberry and banana flavors. The cake turned out to be a hit and I was asked to bake the same thing for a bridal shower the week after.
Tip: A lot of people have trouble turning an upside down cake without the middle sticking on the pan. Use wax paper or foil to cover the bottom of the pan so when you flip it over, the whole cake comes out foil and all. If the berries stick to the foil, stick the cake in the freezer for 30 minutes before peeling it off.
First, let me apologize about the photos. My dSLR’s battery ran out of energy and I left the charger in Apartment #1. Of course, I was crushed when I saw the little flashing red light. I had to take pictures using my cellphone and if you’re used to clear, bright photos, cellphones will always let you down. It’s a good thing that my luck held when it came to dinner because the chicken didn’t fail me.
Or rather, Smitten Kitchen’s Zuni Cafe Chicken didn’t fail me. I just love this woman and her recipes. My mother was also on Skype and shared the useful trick about covering the chicken. She said that this will allow the chicken to cook fully without drying. I had to use dried herbs since I stopped buying them fresh for the time being. Whenever I buy fresh ones I never get to use them all and find it painful to throw a big bunch of parsley or thyme away. Good thing rosemary keeps its flavor even when dried.
I had to cook dinner for nine women and decided to serve the chickens whole in the same pan where I baked them. And because I made orange chocolate cake for dessert, I had so much orange juice that I didn’t want to waste so I just made easy soy-orange sauce based on a recipe I found on Cooks.
Okay, I’ll start yapping and just give you the recipe. 🙂
Until recently, I didn’t know that the ribbon-shaped pasta is called farfalle. Apparently, the word is from the Italian farfalla, which means “butterfly”. I used to skip recipes with fancy-sounding names since I figured that if I can’t pronounce it, then I probably can’t cook it. At least now, I no longer feel ignorant in case someone mentions farfalle. Hah.
Have you ever opened your fridge and asked for inspiration because you have absolutely no idea what you want to cook today? That’s what I did when I got home from work.
A while back, I picked up a pack of Swedish meatballs from IKEA – the same kind they serve in that cute cafe of theirs (I only go there for the salmon). There was still 1/3 of the pack in the fridge so I decided to use it. Then I remembered Tita Dina’s creamy carbonara from two weeks back so I grabbed the can of Nestle cream that I was originally saving for something else.
I tried to imagine the kind of basic sauce that I like. There’s the token butter and tomatoes. But what I really focused on was the flavor. In this case, lots of garlic, onions and black pepper equaled yummy. This means sautéing the chopped onion and garlic until the onion is translucent and faintly brown and the edges of the garlic pieces are crisp. The butter is also integral. Don’t you DARE skip the butter! If you’re on a diet, go graze on the front lawn as this isn’t the recipe for you.
I’m a mushroom addict so I added that as well. They’ll go nicely with the meatballs.
Please don’t judge the pictures. 🙂 Apartment #1’s kitchen lighting is awful and unless I cook at broad daylight and open all doors and windows, everything I shoot will end up looking like I cooked them while moonlighting at a seedy bar.
A special note on the black pepper: The packaged powder labeled pre-ground black pepper is not black pepper. Ok, maybe 30% of it actually is. But if you love your taste buds and the rest of your family’s, then please don’t subject yourselves to that unrecognizable stuff. Buy a pepper mill and fill it with real black peppercorns. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just functional. If you’re already in IKEA buying the meatballs, you may as well pick up their cheap but serviceable 365+ spice mill ($6.99).
So how was the farfalle? (I’m still practicing saying it so I can impress the waiter next time.) It’s pretty good. 🙂 Now excuse me, I’m just going to do the dishes while you read the recipe.
My friend, Kim, a first-time baker who wants to learn how to cook, joined me last Wednesday in Apartment #2’s kitchen. We chose to make caramel apple bread instead of the originally-planned pumpkin cinnamon rolls because I forgot to buy any pumpkins. Donna Currie has a lip-smacking recipe in SE’s Bread Baking and it didn’t look too complicated (er… hopefully).
We made a few minor mistakes like peeling and grating the apples before they were supposed to be mixed into the dough, which made them turn brown very fast. The biggest mistake was putting twice the amount of apples into the dough. By the time we realized that half was supposed to go into the filling it was too late. My bad! It was me who was reading the recipe. *headesks*
Me: Um, Kim… @_@ I think half of that was supposed to go into the filling.
Kim: Oh no! ^o^
Me: No wonder it’s so wet.
The wet dough refused to rise. It was just my third try at making bread so I didn’t yet understand the physics between yeast and dough yet so we wasted a lot of fruitless hours waiting for it to rise. In the end, we just added a lot of flour. We even called a friend (Jovett) and asked for more flour.
We didn’t have a fancy stand mixer so we kneaded it pioneer woman style: with our (very clean) hands. By this time, we had enough dough for 3 loaves of bread so I made extra filling. As usual, we had to use a substitute for an ingredient. In this case, we couldn’t find dulce de leche so we used commercial condensed milk instead.
To kill time while the dough was rising, we watched movies in Jovett’s apartment. We might as well since we already stole her flour and some of her apples. But we were nice and helped her cook dinner. 🙂
Kim was afraid that the bread would be a total failure. But after an hour of baking, I took the bread out of the oven, ran back to Jovett’s apartment with one loaf and two oven mitts (ignoring weird looks from the girls at the poolside) and sat down to have a late but very filling dinner with the girls.
It was certainly a nice, quiet night. And, yes, the bread turned out very well. The 6 hours of kneading, waiting, mixing, more waiting and more kneading did pay off! We even had enough to bring to Kim’s mom and my dad.
NOTE: I will not classify this as a disaster since the cake tasted great overall. However, the frosting was not blended properly. It should have been smoother. Will not make this mistake again in the future.
For Mom’s 50th birthday, I couldn’t think of a nice cake to bake. We’re all a bit tired of the standard chocolate. I thought about dimply plum cake, then a plum pie, but decided that I’m not in the mood for pie. The reason why I didn’t ask Mom what she wanted is because she’s far, far away in the Philippines with the rest of the kiddies while Dad and I are in Riyadh. But we still celebrate each other’s birthdays as if we’re geographically together. 🙂
Just before I slept last night, I settled on orange chocolate cake.
When I woke up this morning, Dad laid a big glass of fresh orange juice on my desk. I instantly panicked.
“Oh. My. God. Did you throw the orange rinds away?!”
“No, they’re on a bowl. I haven’t cleaned up yet. Why?”
“I’m making cake!”
I instantly went to work with the small grater, making sure there wasn’t a smidgen of zest left in those rinds. For the nth time, I wished I had a microplane zester/grater because the grater just isn’t very hand-friendly, especially if one needs a lot of zest.
I stayed faithful to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe and did just as she instructed because I didn’t want this cake to fail. (I had no oranges left for a second cake.) But since I had no chocolate chips, I skipped that part. And because I keep on forgetting to buy a bundt pan, I used a rectangular teflon-coated. I also used a different recipe for the ganache.
The smell of the cake while it was baking was heavenly and the kitchen was infused with a warm citrus scent. The result was a light orange, springy, moist cake with a rich flavor. Yum! The ganache was ever so slightly lumpy with teeny-tiny dots of cocoa (my fault… didn’t mix it enough) but it was still very delicious.
Or at least I thought it was delicious. This…
… quickly turned into this.
(Clearly, judging from the lower-right photo, Dad agreed with me.)
We called Mom on Skype, wished her a loud happy birthday and showed her the long-distance birthday cake which we promised to eat in her honor.
This dish is another one I cooked for the girls yesterday. I made this with Chris in mind because he’s half Italian. And it turns out that he has never even had risotto because his grandparents are from Sicily. He had to explain the differences of food from Northern, Central and Southern Italy and risotto is a northern Italy thing.
Hmph. At least the rice was good.
I wanted to add a lot of vegetables and chose butternut squash and spinach. Because squash goes well with rice and it was spinach that I happened to pick up in the grocery store yesterday. This way, everyone will get their daily veggie serving whether they want to or not, mwahahaha.
Risotto should be a tasty stand-alone dish but since Filipinos eat their rice along with another dish, usually meat, I intentionally made it more bland and slightly less creamy to complement the taste of the honey glazed chicken (which is another story).
I love the resulting texture and colors of the veggies in the rice. But I would puree the squash if I would serve this to children or adults like my brother (who will skip veggies if he could).
This afternoon, I cooked in Apartment #2 from noon ’til 5 pm. It was my turn to sponsor a dinner and I was determined to make things from scratch and not do the cowardly thing and call Domino’s. I decided that one of the four dishes would be pumpkin pie because I have an obsession with pumpkin and I have never made or even eaten a pumpkin pie. Thankfully, Serious Eats published a list of great pumpkin pie recipes. I selected one that looked most attractive and doable.
Due to my annoyance with my not-so-stellar pie crust the last time, I decided to try the attached pie crust procedure in the caramel pumpkin pie recipe from Gourmet. The result was much better! There was no dough shortage, the crust was perfectly thin, perfectly golden, and perfectly flaky.
I did change the procedure a little. Instead of molding the dough into a disk and chilling it for an hour before rolling it flat, I rolled it straight after making it. It was much more pliable, of course, and I transferred it on the pan and chilled it afterwards, pan and all.
After blind-baking, the result was a pale, golden yellow crust, which would turn into a richer color after baking with the filling. (I still need to work on my pie crust decorating skills, hehe.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures while making the filling. 😦 I was probably way too busy making the honey-glazed baked chicken at the same time and didn’t even think about photos. But I was excited about using ground cloves for the first time. I’ve never used cloves before in spite of it being a common ingredient in recipes involving pumpkin.
We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the Philippines or even here in Saudi Arabia so this is a very unusual dish for us, although I understand it’s quite common in Northern America. My friends thought it was odd but delicious… Unless they’re puling my leg. 🙂
I made two so the big one is for the dinner and the small one is for my roommate and a couple of friends. I forgot to mention that it was also my roommate’s last day in Saudi Arabia – she left for good after 19 years here – so we took her to the airport and I brought the small pie for snacks.
Okay, enough chatting. Here’s the recipe!
Yes, yes, I know that it’s really a Thanksgiving pie. But I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving so I made it for my birthday picnic instead.
This wasn’t made solely by me but was a group project: I did the combining and directing, Kim flattened the hard dough into a circle, Chie strained the filling, and Ina contributed arm power in whipping the cream.
I’ve never made a pie before so this was all new to me. First time and I still chose not to buy a pre-made crust. How cocky of me! Luckily, my friends were around to help out.
I used Smitten Kitchen’s pie crust 102 recipe, the non-alcoholic one without the shortening. I don’t have a pastry blender but I discovered that my potato masher worked just as well in combining the butter with the flour. The mesh shaped masher helped form the butter into little pea-sized beads. After that, it was easy enough to mold it with my hands into a ball and chill it for a few hours.
Rolling the very cold dough out was harder than I thought. I rolled the first pie and Kim did the second. She was laughing the whole time because it was shaped like Europe (or was it Australia?) instead of a circle. But Kim was a trooper and kept at it.
I completely underestimated the size of the pie crust. I had no idea that it would shrink while baking! Next time, I’ll remember to leave a lot of room for shrinkage. I found out that it’s also better to punch little air holes with a toothpick into the crust before sticking it in the oven – this prevents it from creating air pockets and ruining the shape of the bottom.
The filling gave us less trouble. At first. We were planning to skip the whole “pour through a wire mesh strainer” part but the filling did end up having solid, round, floury bits in spite of our best efforts to keep it smooth. So Chie held the strainer and forced the filling through, I scraped the bottom with a spoon and Kim ate the floury bits.
The next day, after the pie was appropriately chilled, we were in a hurry to prepare the whipped cream. I forgot to bring the electric mixer (which was in Apartment #1) to Apartment #2 where the pies were. So, using female arm power, Chie, Ina and I whisked the whipped cream and sugar into a serviceable topping for the pies. Here’s Ina with a pie:
For a first-time effort, it really wasn’t bad. The crust may have been less than stellar and I believe the fault lay in my preparation rather than the recipe. The pie was still delicious according to the guests. Perhaps they were just being loyal, supportive friends… or maybe they really were telling the truth. 🙂 This is a pie that I would love to make for my family’s Christmas Eve dinner.
What’s my favorite chocolate frosting?
This one’s a family classic and is a wonderful companion to your favorite chocolate or mocha cake recipe. This doesn’t have the consistency of buttercream or even whipped cream. Think peanut butter only more chocolatey. It is very pliable and firm and can be smoothened with a spatula, drizzled with toppings, or simply roughened with a fork. It is also best stored in a cool room and not in a fridge since it tends to harden in a fridge.
The recipe is very simple but it’s labor-intensive, especially for your legs and your patience. Fortunately, the results are worth it. (Recipe under the cut.)