Caitlin McGrath's Profile

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Cooking from and Commentary on the 2015 Piglet Contestants

I hadn't gone and read her response until you posted his response to her response. And his is a (blessedly to-the-point) gracious, not particularly defensive reaction to what is at best rambling, and certainly disingenuous. I mean, "Women don’t want to be judged on their looks, and neither do cookbooks"? If her second clause were true, there would be no cookbooks with sumptuous photos and considered design, and as Mel says upthread, cookbook authors who heavily feature photos of themselves are frequently criticized for it.

There's a lot of sour grapes in her post, beginning with all the ways she's repeatedly dismissive of Roberts (note that the first thing she says is that his blog fails on aesthetics [remember, no one wants their work judged on its looks!], then she refers to his "writing" [yes, in quotation marks]), carrying through to the multiple paragraphs about how she never complains. Oh, and this: "From time to time, and when I have time I like to see why they are coming, what or who has sent readers my way." No one whose blog is a business doesn't track traffic.

Bottom line, it's a real overreaction from an obviously stung first-time (I gather) book author. I hope her publisher gently reminds her that this isn't in her best interests, in terms of marketing beyond her existing reader base. Of course it can be hard not to take criticism of your work personally, but criticism is also the price of admission.

I thought I Invented Swiss Butter Cream Frosting

Not the OP here, but those are something my local (independent) cake supply store sells in little tubs, among other chocolate cake decorations.

Hasnia - Algerian restaurant (Berkeley)

I had dinner here with a friend last week. They had some issue with the grill, I guess, so no sandwiches or skewers were available. We enjoyed the complementary vegetable appetizer, but not the bread served with it; in contrast to the previous two reports of fantastic bread, that night's offering was cottony, bland, and generic, also not warm (I wonder if this was related to the equipment issue). The slice of cucumber in each water glass is a nice touch.

We ordered the chicken tagine and the vegetable couscous. The tagine was similar the lamb version flavorenhancer describes. It had a tender whole leg that had been boned, a mild and flavorful sauce, and copious green olives. The couscous dish had chickpeas and cooked-till-soft oblong pieces of zucchini and "baby" carrots. It was saved by the accompanying broth, which was murky in color, with a good depth of flavor; once we ladled it over the couscous, we spooned it all up eagerly enough, but overall, it's not something I'd order again, at least not in the all-vegetable version. We weren't offered harissa, and the tables had only bottles of ketchup and Huy Fong sriracha (or in the case of the next table, a huge bottle of Tapatio).

I might be willing to return for another try sometime, if I hear that the bread situation has been righted, and there's more of the menu available. Unfortunately, I'm at a menu disadvantage at places like this, as a non-red meat eater.

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 5, 6 & 7

These custards are plenty nice on their own, and are pretty virtuous, as desserts go. No cream, no flour, and only 2 T. sugar in the whole recipe!

ASIAN DUMPLINGS! Home Cooking Dish of the Month (February 2015)

I made pan-fried shrimp dumplings wrapped in savoy cabbage leaves instead of dough wrappers, from a recipe in Mighty Spice Express, by John Gregory-Smith. These were very good, and the concept could be used with any dumpling filling that is fairly cohesive (looser vegetable fillings might not work as well), making for an easy way to have low-carb or gluten-free dumplings.

The method for the cabbage leaf wrappers is to put the leaves in a bowl, pour boiling water over them and let soften for 2 to 3 minutes, then drain, refresh in cold water, drain again, and dry (I used a tea towel to blot them dry). Then cut out the stem and thick, lower part of the center vein. Depending on the size of the leaves, you can cut them in half along the vein and use a half for each dumpling, or leave them whole. Put the filling on the leaf (I used 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons each) and fold it egg roll/burrito style, folding the sides in. They're cooked just like other pan-fried dumplings, first for a couple of minutes in a skillet with oil, seam-side down, then with water added to around 1/16 inch depth, covered on lower heat for around 4 minutes, then uncovered with the heat raised till the liquid has cooked away. Once cooked, the seams meld together making a secure packet, and the cabbage is tender but not mushy.

February 2015 Cookbook of the Month Companion Thread: "MIGHTY SPICE EXPRESS COOKBOOK" by John Gregory-Smith

Jonny's Dumplings, p. 30

These are pan-fried shrimp dumplings made with savoy cabbage leaves in place of dough wrappers. This works very well, and would make for an easy way for folks eating low carb or gluten free to get a dumpling fix (the technique would work with other filling, as well). And while they weren't done in the 15 minutes he suggests, they did come together fairly quickly, with delicious results.

The filling is shrimp, scallions, chile, cilantro, five spice powder, and light soy sauce, all pulsed to a rough paste in the food processor. The recipe calls for 5.5 oz shelled shrimp, but I had 7.5 oz, so I adjusted the rest up by a bit. Where he calls for 1/4 red chile, I used more than half of a very long serrano, with seeds. (As an aside, I find it silly when a recipe specifies jumbo shrimp, only to have you chop it all up. I mean, why spend the extra $ on size when it doesn't matter? Although, in this case I suspect it might be an effect of transatlantic conversion, as the UK will have different types available and different classifications. But still.)

To make the wrappers, boiling water is poured over savoy cabbage leaves and they're left to soften for a few minutes, then drained, refreshed under cold water, and dried. The stem ends are cut out, and then the filling is rolled in them burrito/egg roll style. A word on proportions here: He calls for using two large cabbage leaves, cutting each in two, and dividing the filling among them to make four dumplings. I had a very small head of savoy cabbage, so I used whole leaves, cutting out the stem and thick bottom part of the center vein, then sort of overlapping the two halves to bridge the cut-out part (I'm not describing this very well, but I hope you get what I mean). With my slightly greater amount of filling, I figured on filling five or six of these, given that the four he would have you make would each get around 1.5 oz filling. Well, unless your cabbage leaves are enormous rather than simply large, I don't see how you could enclose more than 1 oz worth in each half. As it was, with the volume of filling I made I ended up with five slightly larger dumplings (from the outer cabbage leaves) and five more slightly smaller (from smaller inner leaves).

Once wrapped (though they could certainly be held in the fridge for a few hours), the dumplings are cooked like other pan-fried dumplings: They go in oil in a hot skillet, seam side down, for a couple of minutes, a bit of water is added and the pan covered to cook on lower heat for a few minutes, then the lid is removed and the heat raised until the water is mostly gone. As I gingerly moved the wrapped dumplings to the pan I was skeptical about how well they'd hold together, but I needn't have worried; once fried with the seams down, everything was effectively sealed. The cooking time given was spot-on. Not only was the filling cooked through but still juicy, the cabbage leaves were perfectly tender without being mushy. He suggests simply serving with more light soy, but I made a simple dipping sauce of soy, rice vinegar, and a few drops of toasted sesame oil. The filling is well flavored, and the cabbage integrates well (and feels a bit virtuous!).

This long post probably makes the whole endeavor seem much more complicated than it is. It's really not complicated at all and, once you determine how much filling you can fit in each softened leaf, is simple to execute.

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 5, 6 & 7

Steamed Ginger Custard Pots, p. 199

I hadn't really even noticed this recipe before reading qianning's report, despite the fact that I love, love, love all things ginger. I followed her cues in prep and serving, whisking everything in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup and pouring through a strainer right into the ramekins, and letting the custard rest for 10 minutes before serving. The recipe is meant to make four, and calls for 2/3-cup ramekins, whereas mine are the more standard (at least in the US) 3/4-cup/6 oz size. The custard mixture filled three of these perfectly, and as only three will fit in my steamer rack, that is what I made.

I may have gone a little heavy on the ginger - my "finger" was rather slender, so I used a longer segment than specified - but to no detriment. The custards were nicely gingery, yet also quite delicate in taste and texture, also thanks to the extremely restrained amount of sugar. This was lovely warm, after its rest, and also delicious cold today, albeit firmer and less delicate in texture. This was so easy to whip up on a weeknight, and would be simple to do for guests, as well. I whisked everything together before dinner, then filled the ramekins and popped them in to steam after. With ~20 minutes to cook and rest, there's enough time to stretch your legs and brew tea or coffee, but not so much as to make you restless. It also took almost zero effort to dress this up a bit by topping with a bit of diced candied ginger and adding a few crisp store-bought cookies in a complementary flavor (Anna's almond thins, in this case) to the plate.

USDA introduces new maple syrup grading system

The USDA has just introduced a new (voluntary) grade classification for pure maple syrup, so we can expect to see the change on labels coming down the pike. According to what I've read, a big reason for the change is the growing popularity of Grade B syrup, prompting a shift from the old system, in which A was presented as superior to B.

Now, instead of just Grade A Light Amber and Dark Amber, Grade B, and Commercial for reprocessing, everything but the last (which isn't considered fit for retail sale) will be Grade A, with new descriptors for flavor as well as color. Apparently, the goal is clarification for consumers, but before clarification, I'm sure confusion will reign.

Here's a short article about the changes: http://consumerist.com/2015/01/28/usd...

And here's a chart comparing the old and new classifications: http://www.maplesource.com/markets/in...

Cooking from and Commentary on the 2015 Piglet Contestants

It'd probably be worthwhile to take a spin through the COTM threads: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/977518

IIRC, those crackers got a good report. I enjoyed some of the stories, and cooked some good dishes when I had it from the library, but not enough to make me want to actually own it, though I really enjoy his blog and dessert books.

Best website to buy tea?

Chinese teas aren't my favorites, but Red Blossom is a nice place, with knowledgeable staff and a willingness to brew you a cup correctly to try before you buy.

What are you baking these days? Happy Valentine's Day February 2015 edition!

Good scones are not dry. Some types of scone have a slightly crumbly texture, by design, but they're not meant to be dry. So yeah, you were served dried-out scones. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad scones sold at coffee shops and such.

Feb 22, 2015
Caitlin McGrath in Home Cooking

What cookbooks have you bought lately, or are you lusting after? Happy Valentine's Day 2015 edition!

This dish did kind of turn me around on cauliflower, about which I was also ambivalent. Granted, all the butter and cheese don't hurt, but I really did think about that pasta for ages after having it, and would've kept ordering it if it was still on the menu.

Feb 22, 2015
Caitlin McGrath in Home Cooking

What cookbooks have you bought lately, or are you lusting after? Happy Valentine's Day 2015 edition!

I have had this book for some years (I'm pretty sure I got it from TGC), and have to date only got around to one recipe from it, which I was thrilled to find included. I had been thinking for years about the rich, earthy, delicious pasta with spicy cauliflower ragu I'd had a couple of times at Lupa when I lived in NYC, so imagine my delight when I flipped through and there it was (albeit paired with farro)! As it happens, there's also a version in the later-released Molto Gusto, which was co-authored by Mark Ladner, who's the chef at Lupa .

I really should try to cook something more from it, as there are a quite a few great-looking recipes. Some are definitely still a tad chef-y, but most seem easily doable.

By the way, here's more about that spicy cauliflower ragu (including paraphrased recipe): http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/792875

Feb 21, 2015
Caitlin McGrath in Home Cooking

February 2015 Cookbook of the Month Companion Thread: "MIGHTY SPICE EXPRESS COOKBOOK" by John Gregory-Smith

Orange & Cardamom French Toast, p. 60

I think I can say definitively that this is the first time I have ever used a recipe for French toast (other than the overnight casserole type), but the flavors and method caught my interest. And indeed, this makes a lovely breakfast, with a potent hit of orange melding deliciously with plump golden raisins and maple syrup.

To make, egg, milk, orange zest, and powdered sugar are whisked together, though I omitted the sugar (there's already plenty enough sweet going on here for me) and added a pinch of salt. I also disregarded the recipe's direction to whisk this together in a bowl and pour over the bread -- thick-sliced white bread specified; I used challah -- in a shallow dish, and simply whisked it in the dish and added the bread (why dirty a bowl?). Butter, golden raisins, cracked cardamom pods, and a bit of orange juice are heated in a skillet until the butter melts, and the soaked bread is added and cooked till browned on both sides. The French toast is topped with the raisins, more orange juice, and maple syrup (I mixed the OJ and syrup ahead of time).

This made, as noted, a lovely breakfast, but there are a couple of tweaks I think would improve it for next time (and there will be a next time). The cardamom didn't come through much, and I think that removing the seeds from the pods and adding the loose seeds to the pan would up the flavor considerably. The other thing is that, on moderate heat (perfect for cooking the French toast), the OJ cooked away and the raisins ended up blackened on the sides in contact with the pan, as you can see in the photo. They weren't really burnt, and were nicely plumped, but perhaps I'd add a bit more juice and cook on low heat for a bit, then lift them out before increasing the heat and adding the bread.

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 5, 6 & 7

Lemongrass and Ginger Rum Cocktail, p. 216

This recipe has several things I love (lemongrass, ginger, lime - in combination!, tonic), I knew I wanted to try it. However, I deviated in a number of ways. He wants you to make a *lot* of syrup, with the rationale that you need plenty of volume to cover 4 trimmed lemongrass stalks. I made a lesser amount of lighter (1:1 sugar to water) syrup with 2 lemongrass stalks, which I chopped up. I chucked these, so they didn't go into the mix with the syrup, rum, lime juice, grated ginger that are shaken with ice, then poured over ice and topped with tonic. I also used more than twice the rum called for, about 2 oz per drink rather than just under 1 oz, and a titch more syrup.

Upshot? A pleasant drink, but the flavors aren't bold enough, especially the ginger, and the tonic dominated (but then, I used more than a splash). Perhaps not a fair conclusion given how much I deviated from the given recipe, but regardless, when I want these flavors I'll return to the lemongrass, ginger, and lime syrup from Diana Henry's Pure Simple Cooking, which delivered more punch and, with gin and sparkling water, makes a delightful drink for less effort.

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 3 & 4

Chile and Basil Scallops, p. 146

Something simple and fast, but tasty was just what was needed tonight, as I cooked dinner for myself and a tired and hungry dining companion who had spent the day at the hospital on account of a loved one's serious medical emergency. I made a half recipe, proceeding with ingredients and halved quantities just as written, using a fresno chile. No scallop shells for artful presentation, but just as wonderfully delicious as promised by previous posters, served with simply stir-fried mixed baby Asian greens and a welcome glass of lean, unoaked chardonnay.

Small Right Hand Column Updates

In your future list, date of last reply would certainly be most helpful of those you list for thread and board index returns, in my opinion. And which board a thread is on would be very useful for threads on the main community index, though redundant on threads or board indexes. The more information provided about the threads, the more useful the feature.

Greasy Silicone Mats

That brand is not uncoated. See the answers provided by customers when you scroll down that Amazon link; it is coated with silicone.

Feb 18, 2015
Caitlin McGrath in Cookware

What are you baking these days? Happy Valentine's Day February 2015 edition!

If you like Medrich's best cocoa brownies, I'd also recommend trying her cocoa brownies with browned butter: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 1 & 2

Yes, that is a great dish. I've made it a couple of times, and neither time did I have pomegranate seeds (I subbed dried cranberries or tart cherries), though I'd like to do it with them sometime. And of course, it also has pom molasses in the marinade. If you haven't yet, you should make the Greek pilaf with shrimp and feta also in that book, another terrific chock-full-of-fresh-herbs recipe.

Feb 17, 2015
Caitlin McGrath in Home Cooking

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 1 & 2

Thanks! The pomegranate would add a nice pop of color, as well as flavor.

Feb 17, 2015
Caitlin McGrath in Home Cooking

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 1 & 2

Yes, you certainly can buy (or make) garam masala mixes of whole spices, but "preground" certainly sounds more like it'd mean "already ground," doesn't it? And also, in the context of the recipes, he's clearly expecting you to use a ground mixture, and says nothing about grinding. So the intended meaning may indeed be as you surmise, but it's not easily discernible (at least not to me).

Feb 17, 2015
Caitlin McGrath in Home Cooking
1

Barley

Couscous isn't a refined grain, it's essentially a micro pasta made from refined semolina (and is also available in whole-wheat versions, as is farina, aka cream of wheat).

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 1 & 2

Indian Chicken, [Pomegranate] and Herb Salad, p. 38

This is a relatively fast and fresh-tasting salad that would definitely be heightened by the juicy, sweet-tart pop of pomegranate arils as intended, but that was not to be for reasons noted below.

Bite-size chunks of chicken (recipe indicates boneless skinless breasts; I used thighs) are marinated in a mix of olive oil, garlic, salt, garam masala, and chile powder (recipe indicates mild chile powder; I used cayenne), for 30 minutes up to overnight. Mine spent two nights in the fridge to no detriment. The recipe would have you mix up the spice paste in a mini processor, but given that garlic is the only solid and my mini processor bowl doesn't create smooth pastes, I mashed the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle and stirred in the rest. The chicken is browned in a skillet on each side until cooked through. Mint leaves and cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (I only chopped the larger mint leaves, leaving all else whole), shredded carrots, and pomegranate arils tossed with a bit of lemon juice make up the rest of the recipe, and are topped with the hot chicken.

I had picked up a packet of pomegranate arils at Trader Joe's, something I've bought from them plenty of times in the past with no issues, only to have them go off rather before the use-by date which did not make me happy (and if you've never experienced ones that have gone off, they ferment, to the extent that they'll pop the lid off a plastic container). So when I mixed this up, I reached for the one sweet-tart thing currently in my pantry, dried apricots, and diced some up. I also squeezed some lemon juice over the chicken. I will note, regarding proportions, that the three large carrots called for, and I know that North American "large" is way larger than UK "large" and kept that in mind, would make this a carrot salad with herbs.

As I said, this had a nice freshness from the herbs as salad, the carrot adding a bit of crunch, and the sweet-tart element a welcome note in contrast to the spiced (and spicy, in my case) chicken. This also was just as tasty with the chicken cold, though I did, and would advise, tossing the herbs and carrots with lemon juice just before serving (I packed up the elements I wasn't going to eat when first made separately for leftovers).

February 2015 COTM "MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK" Reporting thread for Chapters 1 & 2

My understanding is that garam masala is typically used as a finishing spice, but JGS seems to use it as a shorthand in anything characterized as Indian, which helps him keep to the "no more than five spices" rubric.

Now, I went and looked at what he has to say in the spice index and am left scratching my head at this: "Thankfully, we can buy good-quality preground garam masala easily. ... The ground version is also easy to find, but it won't be quite as fragrant as the preground."

I don't know if there's some across-the-pond disconnect happening, but I parsing a distinction between "ground" and "preground" in this context is beyond me.

What are you baking these days? Happy Valentine's Day February 2015 edition!

I dislike marshmallows, with the possible exception being s'mores when actually camping (context being everything), but I used to make RKT on occasion as a treat for my ex, who loved marshmallows and RKT, and the times I threw in peanut butter and chocolate, they were actually pretty tasty thanks to those additions, if sweet as hell. If someone offered me a browned butter kosher salt one, I'd try it, and can see it being tasty. But I'm never gonna make a panful again unless there's a worthy cause.

What are you baking these days? Happy Valentine's Day February 2015 edition!

That's what I meant about your kitchen being a CCC factory! But it's certainly true about the path of least resistance being the smartest, something I embraced in a previous era of supplying goods for bake sales (I can't tell you how many pans of rice krispies treats, something I don't even really like, I made because they were guaranteed to be the thing that sold fastest).

Feb 16, 2015
Caitlin McGrath in Home Cooking
1

What are you baking these days? Happy Valentine's Day February 2015 edition!

That recipe is more like the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes, where you leave the dough in the fridge and bake part of it at a time, than Lahey's no-knead bread and similar, which is the dutch-oven-baked recipe. I'd follow the recipe directions on this one, to get the best results for your first time.

What cookbooks have you bought lately, or are you lusting after? Happy Valentine's Day 2015 edition!

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is one I got when it was new and pretty much sat unused for similar reasons. Just couldn't get inspired. And it's a big, fat book, so it was taking up space that could be better used by other books, for me, so it recently came off my shelves.

What are you baking these days? Happy Valentine's Day February 2015 edition!

As a favor for my housemate, who's hosting a meeting tomorrow for which she must supply refreshments, I baked chocolate chip cookies using the NY Times flat-and-chewy recipe with chopped 72% bittersweet chocolate and walnuts. Chocolate chip cookies aren't something I make very often (unlike roxlet, whose kitchen seems to be a CCC factory), and I don't think I've perfected the timing of this recipe in my oven, which is not to say they're not good. In fact, apropos of the conversation upthread, there's good reason for me not to bake CCC often, given the extent to which I overindulged in cookie dough today (what is it about CCC dough? None other is nearly as tempting unbaked).