Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Lest you think I’m some sort of perfect kitchen goddess (aw, I know you were thinking it), I must confess to a recent string of cooking disappointments, or at least non-triumphs. Usually if a recipe turns out poorly I don’t bother to post it (don’t worry, though—if I had any really spectacularly inedible disasters I’d definitely write about them for your amusement), but in these cases it’s not the recipe that’s at fault, just my recipe-selection skills, and the results haven’t been unpleasant, just sort of…meh.

I blame the transition to autumn, which has me all confused about what’s in season, what I feel like eating, and what’s appropriate for weather that swings wildly between cool, rainy, and fallish and hot, sunny, and summery. My five-month ovenless state was also a factor, keeping at least half of my recipe collection off-limits and severely limiting which new things I could tackle. At first I approached the challenge with can-do pioneer spirit, trying to focus on what I could cook, but eventually the initial thrill of experimentation—Skillet pizza! Muesli! Puddingfest!—died down, leaving me feeling restless and deprived. I should have just hunkered down and relied on old favorites, but I still felt compelled to seek out and try new recipes to generate blog material, with decidedly mixed results. My to-be-posted queue got clogged with entries I felt ambivalent about, yet couldn’t completely discard. Maybe someone else would want to know about these recipes, or perhaps I’d try them again sometime and love them more, or hey, that photo turned out rather prettily…And so here we are. Now that I have a Brand-New Oven (I should just assign a macro for this phrase, because I’m totally going to try to work it into every blog post from now on), I’m ready to move forward, and I’ve decided a roundup is the best way to tackle all these lingering fragments.

Spinach, Mushroom, and Feta Pizza

I improvised this one after being inspired by, of all things, a pizza I glimpsed on an episode of Man vs. Food Nation. I love spinach, mushrooms, and feta on pizza, but it hadn’t occurred to me to put the three together. I made it so long ago that I can’t really remember the details to share them with you, but my approach was pretty much as you might expect. It turned out tastily, except that somehow, even knowing perfectly well how much spinach shrinks up when you cook it, I didn’t use quite enough and it faded into the background. I’m mainly mentioning this pizza here to remind myself of the concept, because I intend to make it again someday (with double the spinach) and do a full post when I’ve perfected it.

Chicken With Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce/Fresh Corn and Basil Polenta

We eat chicken about once a week, but at least half of my recipes use the oven, so I was getting desperate for new sautéed and grilled versions by the time I spotted this one, originally from Bon Appetit, at Annie’s Eats. It seemed to be getting rave reviews and looked like a super-flavorful treatment for boneless, skinless chicken breasts (oh, how I was missing chicken with actual bones in it at this point!), so I decided to give it a shot, but I wasn’t sure what to serve with it. It seemed like you’d want something to soak up all that savory-looking sauce, but I couldn’t make bread, I don’t like rice, and potatoes with tomatoes just seems weird to me. Annie’s Eats had linked to several other posts about the recipe at other blogs, and one of them, Pink Parsley, showed it being served with this beautiful fresh corn and basil polenta. As soon as I saw it, I wanted it, despite never having made polenta before. Tomatoes, corn, and basil are a perfect combo, after all, and I’ve been obsessed with corn all summer long.

Technically, the recipes turned out just fine…except it turns out that A hates polenta. I should have guessed this, knowing he dislikes other similarly-textured foods like oatmeal, not to mention the fact that he can take or leave corn. It also turns out that that recipe, which neglects to mention this so I assumed it would match the quantities of the chicken recipe, makes a TON of polenta—like eight servings. I figured I’d save the leftovers, let them firm up in a baking dish, and then cut them into squares and fry them up all nice and crispy, but alas, I never got around to it, and to my shame, I ended up throwing it all away. Personally, I liked the recipe, and normally I don’t let it bother me too much when A doesn’t care for something that I’ve made, because he always gives it a fair try and is polite and appreciative and hey, more tasty leftovers for me! This was just one of those cases where I wore myself out making two new recipes at the same time, and then by the time I sat down to eat I was so exhausted and Over It that the whole effort just felt like a horrible miscalculation and a complete waste of time. That’s the problem with having too many cooking victories in a row sometimes—the first thing that’s not a total win feels like a failure. I would definitely recommend the polenta recipe to polenta lovers (make a half-batch, though), and as for the chicken, I wouldn’t mind trying it again someday. Mine turned out a little dry, but the sauce was nice.

Asparagus and Bacon Hash

I actually just wanted to make the sweet corn hash again, but I was trying to restrain myself because it had only been a week since the first time I’d made it, plus corn season is so close to its end that I never know if it will still be there when I show up to the farmer’s market. I know asparagus isn’t in season either, but there’s always one stand selling decent hothouse stuff, and the Smitten Kitchen has never steered me wrong. Indeed, this was a great recipe, and if I’d tried it a month ago you’d definitely have been seeing a whole post about it here, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the corn hash, and I don’t know if I really love hash enough to accommodate two recipes in my repertoire. Maybe when spring rolls around I’ll feel inspired to give this another shot, and if it looks good to you I totally recommend it, but I didn’t care quite enough about it to give it the full blog treatment.

BLT Pizza With Corn

This was another improvisation on my part (I know! Who am I all of a sudden?), an homage on my favorite summer meal of BLTs and corn on the cob. It should have been a slam dunk, considering it involved diced bacon, wilted arugula, heirloom tomato slices, fresh corn kernels, and shredded mozzarella, but somehow it didn’t quite gel. It was quite moist—the tomatoes gave off a lot of liquid, the arugula cooked more than I expected, and maybe I used too much cheese?—and the bacon flavor didn’t come through as much as I expected (I’m thinking I cut the pieces too small). Perhaps I should have scattered fresh arugula on top rather than baking it on there? It tasted just fine and we certainly had no trouble polishing it off, but I was vaguely disappointed. I’m not sure whether I’ll give it another shot or whether I should just let BLTs be BLTs and pizza be pizza.

Maple Frozen Yogurt

Once I’d burned through all the homemade pudding flavors I could think of, it was luckily cool enough to start making ice cream again. I wanted something fallish, but wasn’t quite ready for pumpkin yet, and maple seemed to fit the bill. I wouldn’t describe myself as a maple fan because I hardly ever put syrup on my pancakes or waffles, but when I think harder about it, I have periodically enjoyed maple-flavored things—like Nut Goodies, Minnesota’s distinctive local candy, with which I have a fond history. (At my last job, I wrote a children’s book about candy making that was based on the Pearson’s factory, which involved many tours and all the free Nut Goodies and Salted Nut Rolls I could ever want.) That is apparently the point at which my brain stopped working. This recipe at Sassy Radish was described in such glowing terms that I never really stopped to ponder the fact that it was frozen yogurt and thus tart. Or that it involved sour cream, which is even tarter. All the frozen yogurts and sour cream ice creams I’ve made thus far have been fruity, which to some extent has masked/complemented the tartness, so all I was thinking of was how wonderfully thick sour cream ice cream can be. The maple frozen yogurt was easy to put together, and it sure felt like I was putting in a ridiculous amount of maple syrup (it feels quite bizarre to pour syrup into a bowl of dairy products, by the way), but I was surprised by how not-sweet the result was. I added a bit more syrup (and, in a moment of panic, some vanilla), but the dominant flavor was still, surprise, surprise, yogurt.

What had I been thinking? I do like yogurt, but since I’m on the fence about maple anyway, I’d geared myself up for something candy-sweet, like the interior of a maple cream See’s chocolate, and I had a hard time not being crushed that it didn’t meet my expectations. Still, it wasn’t bad enough to throw away, so it had to be eaten. I knew A wouldn’t like it—he hates that tangy yogurt flavor—but he wasn’t home anyway, so I resignedly scooped myself a bowl. I don’t know whether it was Stockholm Syndrome or what, but after a few bites I really liked it! The syrup flavor was just a subtle sweet smokiness, well balanced by the creamy tartness of the dairy. I wouldn’t make it again, just because I know A won’t eat it (he did try some later and declared his dislike) and I shouldn’t be polishing off entire batches of frozen treats on my own, but I enjoyed it and would recommend it to others. (Just remember: Is tangy!) It also inspired me to look for more maple dessert recipes. I’d like to try a maple pecan ice cream, sure, but I also had a brainwave: Why not maple pudding? It turns out there are several recipes I can try, so yay.

Crustless Broccoli-Feta Quiche

Now that I have my Brand-New Oven, I can try all the baked recipes that have been sitting in my queue for months. This simple, easy egg dish from Poppytalk seemed like a perfect Saturday-night supper, and indeed it was (it would also make a good breakfast or lunch). Not quite exciting enough to devote a whole post to, but the kind of thing I’m glad I know about because it’s so easy to throw together. Obviously, you could use put anything you want into it, but I like broccoli and feta together, and feta and dill together for that matter (baked feta is my love right now—it gets so tantalizingly crisp and browned), so this worked well for me.

So now that I’ve cleared away all my ambivalence, stay tuned for some recipes that got me genuinely excited! I’m kicking it into high gear and putting my Brand-New Oven through its paces this week—I hope it's up to the task.

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