Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Distracted Cook and The Daring Baker

Just when you thought I had done it all, here it is again! Yes, another episode of The Daring Baker! And this time, it is really a multitasking challenge. Or rather, a multi-dimensional challenge.

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

Although I have made Panna Cotta before, there wasn't much about it that I remembered other than "we liked it a lot" and that it had been an easy, fun recipe to make. And so it was again this time!

The recipe is very easy to follow and even qualifies as "fun" for those who love a quick adventure in the kitchen. Below are some of the various steps outlined in the recipe  - you can see that almost everything gets done in this same one pot!

After the  mixture is cooked on the stove top it rests in the pan until it has cooled enough to be poured into the molds or serving glasses, then it's into the refrigerator for at least six hours.

The next recipe is for the Florentine Cookies which is one recipe that I had never even entertained the thought of baking. So this was a real "dare" for The Distracted Cook. After reading the recipe and seeing that I could actually do this all in one bowl, I decided to just use that cleaned up pan from the Panna Cotta and make this entire adventure a one-pan challenge.

After a few struggles with actually getting the baked cookies to behave and having to adjust the baking time a bit, The Distracted Cook did what she usually does when making cookies and that is to throw in the towel and just bake one big cookie!

 Impatience is never a good thing to have around when you are trying to bake cookies! The result is a lovely "regular" Florentine cookie drizzled with chocolate:

And then a plateful of The Distracted Cook Style Florentines!

Either way you want to make or bake them, they are delicious. You can read all about this challenge at The Daring Kitchen. And if you want to join The Distracted Cook in these exciting baking and cooking challenges, just do it!! I dare you to join The Daring Kitchen and have as much fun as The Distracted Cook is having each month. Come on, you can do it!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Distracted Cook is The Daring Cook!

Oh yes, The Distracted Cook has another exciting adventure to share with you. Remember that last dare? Well here is another one, this time The Daring Cook threw down the challenge.

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including,, and

With all good challenges, you have to start somewhere. The Distracted Cook started by reading the recipes and then driving off to Whole Foods. This is what came home:

 There were many things in these bags that I had never tried cooking before. The first of these was the soba noodles. I have often seen them on grocery shelves, but was never even tempted to try making them. Now was the time to break out of that rut!

We were required to make the noodles and the recipes also included two dipping sauces for them. I decided to make them first as a warm -up exercise. And it was really easy, just like the recipe said it would be. 

Here you can see the ingredients for the two sauces. I will have to confess that the first sauce, although probably the most traditional, was the one I liked least. The second sauce was really flavorful with sesame oil, finely chopped green onion, some dry mustard and other really great things. This one was just a pour and shake type sauce, while the first involved actually cooking! No wonder I liked that second one. By the end of dinner, I had poured my little bowl of Sauce 1 into the bowl of Sauce 2 and I really liked the combination.

After making the sauces, I decided to get the vegetables chopped and sliced for the tempura. I usually never think ahead enough to do the customary "prep", but this time, Oh Yes! 

You can see the sweet potato slices taking a nice cold ice bath after being blanched. I also had shrimp, mushrooms, and red and yellow bell peppers for the tempura. Now I have never done a tempura before either - around here we fry shrimp in cornmeal and flour, just like we do our oysters. So I learned a new way to do this and it is perfect! Such a delicate taste - almost like a cloud. The taste of the actual shrimp or vegetable is what you get, not just what you dredged them with. I will definitely do this again!

This is what the soba noodles looked like after they had been rinsed and set aside to cool. When you visit Lisa's site you will find links to wonderful videos that show you how to properly cook the noodles. All I will say is that it isn't what you would think, and it is fun to watch! 

After the sauces and the noodles were done, it was time for the tempura. I got so busy that I forgot to grab the camera and record some of the progress. So you will have to settle for seeing the end result and not the process itself.

One of the comments about deep frying the tempura is that you don't want to leave it in the hot grapeseed oil too long or it will begin to brown. Well, believe me, around these parts you will be shot if you call something fried and it isn't"golden brown" at the very least. I followed directions, but next time? You bet  - I will leave them in and go for a nice golden brown finish. 

And here is the final product! Two dipping sauces, some grated daikon, some toasted nori (that is the name for toasted sea vegetable.)  We had two different kinds of Sake with dinner and it was a lovely dinner that is for sure.

I thank Lisa and The Daring Cook challenge for bringing me to the table for Soba and Tempura. If you would like to join us in these exciting culinary adventures, just go to The Daring Kitchen and join us. I promise you won't be disappointed!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Distracted Cook and The Therapeutic Kitchen

The Weekword for this week is therapeutic.  Domestic Scribbles chose this word and it is always interesting to see how each of use uses the word. Everyone needs a little therapy somewhere, somehow. And I have determined that the place for The Distracted Cook to encounter therapeutic methods of treating a disease or condition is in The Therapeutic Kitchen. I am going to just jump to the bottom line here and say outright that cooking is therapy for whatever ails you.

Try standing there with a knife in your hand and tell me that isn't therapeutic. It's just the legal and polite way to get rid of those aggressions, to just release all that tension, and to get dinner underway all at once. Yesterday was a really cold day around here and everyone was thinking "soup." If you've been to the grocery store at all this week you know that they all are talking up the Super Bowl and Buffalo Wings. So this is the perfect time to make some chicken soup and some chicken stock while the stores are overflowing with chicken wings.

A dear friend gave me her recipe for chicken stock and I have been using it for a long while now. But, of course, The Distracted Cook makes changes - or just plain forgets what's what and starts tossing things in the pot. It's a simple recipe, or maybe a method, for making this stock. All you need is:

Therapeutic Chicken Stock

2# chicken wings (this is just an estimate in The Therapeutic Kitchen - more or less is just as good)
Olive oil - a few slugs or glurgs worth
1 carrot - chopped
1 onion ( or half an onion if you are not keen on onions) -chopped
1 stalk celery (more or less) - chopped
a handful of garlic cloves - skins removed, garlic cloves left whole

Turn the oven on as high as it will go -( or until your smoke alarm goes off because the remains of that last baked cake have caught on fire) and let it preheat while you prepare the chicken wings.

Cut the chicken wings apart at the joints.

Place cut wings  into a shallow pan so that they make one layer.

Pour Olive Oil over wings and mix so they are coated with oil.

Open the oven door and step back! SMOKE!  Wait until you can see into the oven and find the racks. Place pan on rack and shut the oven door, fast!

Set your timer for about 15 minutes or until the kitchen fills with smoke again. Stir the wings and check to be sure they are browning well.

Here is where The Distracted Cook makes some changes. The original recipe said to leave the wings in the oven at 450 -550 degrees for about 30 to 45 minutes or until they were all golden brown and crunchy. The Distracted Cook turns the heat down after the first 15 minutes and lets it finish out at about 350 degrees and it takes about 30 minutes. I suppose if you had a professional kitchen with all those great vents and fans it wouldn't make such a big mess, but in my kitchen - the fire trucks are on the way!

Take the pan out of the oven and place the wings into a stock pot on the stove.

Take the chopped vegetables and garlic cloves that you have waiting and dump them into the hot pan from the oven, stir them up in the oil that is still hot from the first round in the oven.

Place the pan back in the oven and let these vegetables roast for about 15 minutes, turning them every so often. The original recipe said to dump the vegetables in the pan with the chicken still in there and put it all back in the oven for the final 15 minutes. Well, if you like blackened vegetables and charred chicken wings, go ahead and do it that way! Not me. I learned the hard way.

Remove the pan of vegetables from the oven and put the vegetables into the stockpot with the chicken wings.

 Place the pan from the oven  on the stovetop. Pour about two or three cups of water into the pan and stir it around to loosen all the golden bits of chicken and vegetables from the bottom. Let it come to a boil, then pour it into the stockpot.

Add about 4 more cups of water to the stockpot and bring to a low simmer.

Simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool and strain the stock into a clean container. Let it come to room temperature and then refrigerate - or make soup right then and there for dinner!

If you want some good soup right now, chop some more vegetables, add the meat from the chicken wings and maybe some noodles,rice, or dumplings. If you want to add a secret flavor to all of this, go cut some fresh tarragon and put a few leaves in the soup. Of course if your tarragon has already frozen from this winter weather it may be hard to get some fresh leaves. I had to dig down underneath the oak leaves and acorns to find some baby leaves just emerging. But that was enough! Magic! Therapeutic! Brilliant!

It is easy to see how this can become a therapy session right here in the kitchen. All that chopping, stirring, jumping back from the hot oven and all that smoke - therapeutic and you get your aerobics in too!