Monday, January 21, 2008

Cute Love (Tagliatelle with baby zucchini, lemon and basil)

I have a penchant for cute things. In fact, a high school teacher of mine once signed my yearbook with: "I will always remember you as the girl with the cute pencils, cute pencil cases, and cute boys." (I apologize if you just gagged)

You'd think I'd have outgrown all the "cuteness" by now, but during a recent visit to Trader Joe's, I discovered the latest cute thing...

Baby zucchini! Yes, that's right. They are even smaller than my hand. I was drooling over how cute they were (with Husband rolling his eyes) so I bought them without knowing how I was going to cook with them. Honestly, I don't even know what they are really called...Baby zucchini? Miniature zucchini? Dwarf zucchini? Smurf food? If you know, please enlighten me.

The zucchinis sort of just sat in the fridge for awhile. They brought a smile to my face whenever I opened the vegetable drawer, but I just didn't know when or how to use them. Similar to buying a sexy new dress that sort of just sits in the closet (I'm primarily addressing the female audience with this example)--especially if you're actually a jean and sweats person, like me.

After nearly a week, I decided enough was enough and I would cook them or else waste the $3.99 it cost me to buy the pack of zucchinis. So I searched the net and found this Jamie Oliver recipe:

Tagliatelle with baby zucchini, lemon and basil

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8-10 very small, very firm zucchini, sliced on the diagonal
Juice of 1 lemon
A good handful of fresh basil, picked
450 g fresh tagliatelle
salt and freshly ground black pepper
100 g parmesan, grated

Put the olive oil and the garlic into a semi-hot, thick bottomed pan and fry for about 30 seconds without colouring, then add the zucchinis and toss gently. After about 2 minutes, add the lemon juice and the basil and cook a little longer.

Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in salted boiling water, then drain. Toss it with the zucchini to mix the flavours, season to taste, and add the parmesan. Serve with some torn basil and a sprinkling of extra parmesan.

Serves 4.

The result? Not bad. I don't think there was enough zucchini for the amount of pasta though, perhaps the zucchinis I purchased were even smaller than "baby" size? Who knows. I would actually have doubled the amount of baby zucchinis (I used 10) but then again, I'm a veggie lover and would have appreciated at least a slice of zucchini in each bite (with this recipe, I had maybe a teeny piece of zucchini for every two bites).

I definitely cooked the zucchini too long, or should have used a lower heat (I used medium-low). Not all recipes are meant to be followed exactly! I would also have used a little more lemon juice (I couldn't really taste it). Also, don't let the amount of basil scare you--it shrinks quickly!


BTW, here's a cool recipe contest to enter! For a chance to win a $35 gift card to Crate and Barrel (!!!), all you have to do is post about this contest:

Jenni's Kitchen Recipe Contest Giveaway

And to double your chance of winning, all you have to do is pick a recipe, make it and blog about it. How easy is that?! (I mean c'mon, we do that anyway). I can't believe only like four people have entered. What are you waiting for?!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Face to Face With the Ugly (aka Celery Root)

Who knew the celery was related to this horrendous-looking thing...

When Husband made an oxtail dish last week, the recipe called for "celeriac" aka celery root (what's that?!). When he came home with a bag of groceries, this alien vegetable nearly freaked me out. Who the heck thought this was okay to eat?!

It actually tasted fine though--celery nuances in a translucent form. A food's tastiness is definitely not based on looks.

What is the ugliest thing you have ever cooked with?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Caramelized-Apple Spice Cake with Brown-Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Oh, when will I ever learn that trying to bake something new right before company comes over is rarely a good idea?

I wanted to make this Martha Stewart cake for a Saturday holiday party, so I started making it Friday night. The cakes baked beautifully, and on Saturday morning I started on the buttercream. I never made buttercream before, but I figured it'd be easy (how different can it be from frosting or whipped cream?) I figured it'd take me, oh, half an hour.

Why didn't anyone ever tell me that making buttercream is not a job for a novice? The first batch I made resulted in a lumpy, chunky mess, not the smooth velvetiness it was supposed to be. Husband suggested fishing out the tiny pellets of butter, but after seeing just how many there were, he changed his mind.

"You're not going to cry again, are you?" he asked. I shook my head no and turned away (because I was).

I was now running half an hour behind my cooking schedule. I rushed to the nearest supermarket, bought more butter, and rushed back home. The second batch turned out wonderfully. After I spread it around my cake, I added gingersnap leaves as a finishing touch.

The lesson I learned? As you're adding butter to the warm meringue mixture (step 2 below), you want to work quickly. Once the meringue cools, STOP or you will end up with pellets like I did in my first batch. It doesn't matter if you don't get a chance to use all four sticks of butter (might be a good thing anyway). I only ended up using three and it turned out great. The best part? The guests raved.

Brown-Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream (Martha Stewart)

Makes about 5 cups

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. Put egg whites, sugar, and salt into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until mixture registers 160 degrees, about 4 minutes.
  2. Beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Beat until frosting is smooth and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes. Buttercream can be refrigerated airtight for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature, and beat before using.