I have finally cracked open Peter Reinhart‘s new book for more than just perusal! After last week’s nasty flu virus which eradicated all interest in food, my excitement about food has been renewed by my return to health.
I am having a few people over for a potluck this evening and really wanted to make some bread for the evening. I got a late start on planning, so the 5 days of sourdough process were definitely out. I needed something that I could start last night and bake up this evening. Reinhart’s recipes yield some of the best bread I have ever had, and I am really looking forward to seeing how his simpler versions of them hold up to taste testing.
I made up the dough for his basic french bread last night – super easy, especially with the addition to my kitchen of a scale. No more measuring cups and cups of bread flour!
I will report on results tomorrow. If bread is going to be this easy, it is going to be happening all the time. =)
I am finally getting around to posting about the tasty things that I made with my cotija cheese. I got nine delicious ounces of it to take home a few weeks back and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it as I had never made anything with it before.
I found two recipes that sounded good, Cauliflower Gratin with Cotija Cheese (found on myrecipes.com and apparently taken from Sunset magazine) and Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas (found on recipezaar.com and apparently originally from Williams Sonoma in some fashion).
I didn’t have quite enough cheese for both recipes, so I ended up doing reduced portion versions of both items (albeit on different days). Both dinners ended up being a bit of a study in what you can do wrong and how it is wonderfully tasty anyhow. =)
Cauliflower Gratin with Cotija Cheese
(adapted from what I found on myrecipes.com and apparently taken from Sunset magazine)
1 large cauliflower head, trimmed of the stem and leaves (roughly 1.5 lbs)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound poblano chilies
6 ounces cotija cheese
Salt and fresh ground pepper
First, deal with your poblano peppers. The original recipe calls for roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into strips.
(If you are like me, and skimmed the recipe, you may have ended up doing this bit somewhere in the middle and having to delay other parts while you do it. I ended up doing a combination of two things, some dry pan cooking to toast them and then some time in the oven to bake them through. Ideally, you would bake them til they got very soft and peeling would be easy. I ran out of time, so I went ahead and seeded them, peeled what I could, and then diced them with bits of skin left on. This seemed to work fine.)
Next, trim, rinse, and cut your cauliflower. You want relatively small floret pieces, perhaps 1/4 inch wide. Try for fairly uniform pieces, as it will help them have a similar consistency once they are cooked. Prep a large pan of boiling water to put the cauliflower in. Cook them at a boil for about 3 minutes. Rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside.
Take your heavy cream and stir the cayenne into it. Turn your oven on to 450 degrees F.
Assemble the gratin. In a baking dish (I did mine in a round casserole dish, which I believe was 2.5 quart capacity) layer about a quarter of the cauliflower across the bottom. Cover this with a quart of the cream. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. Add a layer of poblano pieces and some of the crumbled cotija. Repeat this process until you have used all the ingredients, ending with the cheese on top.
(If you accidentally forget to layer the cheese in, like I did, and you can choose to stick it all on top or to mix the whole thing and just sprinkle the top. I would recommend mixing it all up, as the large layer of cheese on top didn’t let the dish get the proper texture through out. It was still incredibly tasty, however.)
Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, keeping an eye on how brown the cheese top is getting. Let the dish rest for about 15 minutes prior to serving.
My best friend and I were supposed to head out to a nice dinner last night (we both share a love of fine restaurants and dressing up), but the weather was stunning and we got side tracked into a Coldstone Ice Cream appetizer. We wandered a bit outside and ate our treats in the sun.
When we finally were starting to be hungry again we headed over to Northwest Portland. We drove down 21st, and I thought we were heading to Lucy’s table, but he had some place new in mind. We browsed one of my favorite shops for a little bit and then headed for the Italian place he was thinking of. Turns out it was Serrato, which is a place I have passed by many times (always admiring their cute little snail decals on the windows) but had never been in.
It was your usual sort of Italian restaurant atmosphere, rather dim, with white table cloths. The space was L shaped and had a fair bit of room for tables in addition to the bar. The blue wall in the back of the restaurant really caught my eye. It was the color of dusk or of certain summer storm skies that I have seen. I really appreciated that they had a rather larger candle at the table, as I was able to read my menu without trouble, the lack of visibility being something that tends to plague nearsighted people in dim restaurants.
We ordered the calamari for a starter, though the kitchen didn’t bring it. We ended up receiving it at the end after I mentioned that it hadn’t arrived. They comped us the appetizer. It was quite nice. Tender calamari takes care in picking how long you cook it for.
He ordered the special, which was a lamb shank served over polenta and topped with tomato sauce. The bite of polenta I had was lovely. Just the right amount of additional flavor to make the polenta interesting, but not overwhelm its natural appeal. It was creamy and buttery. The lamb (by report) was very good, but not quite good enough that he felt he had to convince me to try a bite.
I order the seared sea scallops. They were served with diced Yukon Gold potatoes, zucchini slices, sautéed chanterelles and onions with greens, and drizzled with a saffron-citrus cream. The scallops managed a wonderful crust on top and bottom that drew out that savory Maillard reaction, but very tender everywhere else. The potatoes would have been extremely dangerous had there been slightly more of them, as they were very tasty. They were cooked just enough to be soft, yet retain their structural integrity and had obviously been slow cooked with herbs of some kind. Probably at least a bit of rosemary and garlic. The mushrooms and vegetables were also good. Over all, the flavors balanced very nicely.
We were quite full after our meal (especially after snacking on the calamari which came mid-course with the entrées) and didn’t end up ordering dessert, though there were a few things that looked like they would be worth trying. We certainly plan to go back another time.
I know I am behind the times, in that I didn’t catch this move immediately, but I just ran into the fact that Steve’s Cheese is no longer in Northwest. It was one of the non-restaurant food highlights of that part of town for me. The cheese counter would sport sometimes a couple hundred unusual and interesting cheeses, some of them difficult to find elsewhere in Portland.
They have apparently moved to Southeast Portland and are now located on Belmont. I have been resisting the pull to move into Southeast, being as yet unwilling to give up my twenty minute walk to work in the mornings. But the pull is increasing exponentially as the months go by. There are tons of hidden gems to be found in Beaverton, but the plethora of amazing restaurants, food spots, and other engaging locations and events to be found on the East side of Portland (not to mention a large number of my friends) may pull me in at the end of my current lease.
For those of you on the East Side, go check out Cheese Bar. I haven’t been to the new location, but a trip will now have to be arranged. I will be out that direction on Saturday, so perhaps I will make a detour their way.
Well, I lucked out on Friday and got some tasty stuff to take home. Part of which was 9 ounces of Cotija cheese. Cotija is rather salty and often crumbly, though there is a less salt and more cohesive version out there as well, which I believe is called Tajo cheese.
I went digging around on the net, and there were recipes for many tasty things. But what struck my eye (and appetite) most, were two things: a cauliflower, poblano, cotija gratin (I already have a cauliflower that has been languishing in the fridge), and a fantastic looking quesadilla recipe. If I follow the recipes to the letter I don’t have enough cheese, but seeing as it is just me at home most of the time, I am planning on halving the recipes and making both of them part of my week. I haven’t yet managed to settle on which one to make this evening.