Monday, August 31, 2009
So that's fun.
In any case, this set-up explains why, while attempting to make the papaya salsa that would go on top of our baked sweet potatoes and jerk chicken, I was interrupted several times by Ian's opening and closing of the cabinet in front of me. I made the mistake of putting him in charge of the spice rub for the chicken, even though I was standing in front of the spices. I even gave him a five-minute head-start, hoping he'd at least get all the bottles he needed by the time I got to my board, but no. Ian is an excellent helper, but an incredibly slow one. He made an individual trip to the cabinet for each spice. He took the bottle of cinnamon, measured what he needed, put it back. Checked the recipe. Took the bottle of cayenne, measured what he needed, put it back. Checked the recipe. Nutmeg, chives, onion powder, thyme, allspice, sugar, salt, black pepper. Each ingredient got its own trip, and I got my feathers more than ruffled--they were standing on end. Needless to say, I lost my temper a few times. Nothing major. Just some verbal barbs and some frustrated squawking, but still. I got angry. And I apologized. Several times.
But at least I've figured this out--so next time, the person by the pots will be in charge of the actual cooking and the person by the spices can make any rubs or marinades. Trial and error, I suppose. And error and error and error.
That being said, let me tell you about the amazing meal we made. It was my attempt at duplicating Claim Jumper's Jamaican Jerk Sweetpotato (don't ask me why their menu has decided that sweet potato should be one word, but they have). It is absolutely mouthwatering, and while I didn't get the exact flavor I remember from the restaurant (mainly because my grocery store didn't offer the right kind of sweet potato, I think) it is delicious. The recipe is as follows:
Jerk Chicken Sweet Potato
2 sweet potatoes (try to get the kind with orange flesh--they might technically be yams), baked until the skins are crisp and the flesh is tender (poke holes in the potatoes, spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt, cook directly on oven rack)
1 small white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large handful cilantro, chopped
1 fat clove garlic (or two small), minced
8 slices jarred jalapeno, minced
1 papaya (~1 lb), diced
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
(mix all these together, refrigerate until needed)
2 6-oz chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried chives
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp black pepper
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
(mix all spices together, coat chicken pieces w/spice mixture, cook chicken in skillet w/nonstick spray)
When potatoes are done, cut them open and add about 1 tbsp butter (optional); top with salsa and chicken; add green onions; drizzle with honey
Oh. My. Goodness. You will not believe what an incredible meal this is. And while the Claim Jumper menu had this item listed at about 1400 calories, I'm fairly certain my version doesn't exceed 600 calories--
Sweet potato: 112
6 oz chicken breast: 165
papaya salsa: 150
Of course, the cooking spray does add a few calories (I don't care what the label says, it isn't calorie-free) and so do the spices (again, they might not need to list calories because they are so negligible, but there has to be some energy in them).
Regardless of the calories, this is a sweet and spicy, hearty dish that absolutely blows my mind. It's my new favorite. And I didn't even know I liked papaya. Oh, but I do. And the sweetness of the cinnamon really jives with the sweetness of the potato, and the nutmeg...
I have to stop writing about this or there will be drool all over my keyboard.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
"They're just the worst thing," he said after she'd left the table.
"Oh, but they're the best thing," I replied. Of course, I knew what he meant. Anything deep-fried is pretty much a cardiological nightmare, especially given the use and reuse of restaurant frying oils. For a health-minded person like Grandpa, they're absolute junk. Trash. A waste of resources. But to a slightly self-indulgent person like me, they're divine.
Which is not to say that I advocate binge-frying. All things in moderation, of course. But to deny yourself all things "junk"--well, that's just cruel.
Fries, of course, are not the half of it. There are so many wonderful if slightly sinister junk foods to be had. There are the extreme cases, like the "Glorified Hot Dog" that was recently brought to my attention:
The Glorified Hot Dog
Make a slit in a hot dog; stuff it with cheese.
Wrap the hot dog in bacon; bake the whole thing.
Get out the Tums; you're going to need them.
There's the deep-fried twinkie, the deep-fried Snickers bar. Anything you can batter up and drop in boiling oil.
Then, of course, there are less threatening treats: the many, many "junk" items that, if consumed in small portions, won't send you to the doctor to get your cholesterol tested. One of my favorites is the Rice Krispie Treat. (I suppose I should call them crisp rice squares--don't want to infringe on any trademarks here.)
There's the basic treat, the chocolate treat, the peanut butter treat. There's the amazingly sinful frosted treat like the one I had at Disneyland that inspired this post. But be creative. Use those crazy flavored marshmallows and whip up a little something to top it off. Me, I like to melt down the pastel-colored mini marshmallows (they taste vaguely of citrus) with butter, stir in my krispies, and top the final production with a drizzle of white chocolate, thinned out with a little bit of orange juice. During the holidays I crush up candy canes and stir them in with my krispies and mallow, drizzle the squares with dark chocolate, and add a few more crushed canes on top. There are endless possibilities--krispie treats might actually be the world's most adaptable food.
To sum up--sure, it's called "junk food" for a reason. And don't get me wrong--I think you should eat your spinach and get all your fiber and avoid deep-fried anything for your everyday fare. But every once in a while...have a Rice Krispie Treat. Have a french fry. Enjoy yourself and your food.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I'm going to Disneyland!
Today I'll be away from the stove, eating amusement park junk and riding the Matterhorn. Since I'm not cooking, I don't have any recipes for you, but you know what? Rachael Ray does. This is today's recipe from foodnetwork.com's recipe-of-the-day program, which you can sign up for on their website. It's totally free and they don't send you a bunch of junk mail or sell your email address. In my opinion, it's a very good deal.
Have a beautiful day!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Ah, weddings. So much love, so much joy…so much food. The menu can really make or break a wedding. Some choose to really do it up with tray-passed hors d’oeuvres and elegant plated meals. Others take the buffet route, whether the steam trays hold prime rib or mac ‘n’ cheese. I’ve been to weddings with beautiful appetizers (at one wedding the chicken satay skewers were tremendous) and artfully plated entrees. I’ve chosen chicken, beef, or vegetarian (last summer, a plate of vegetable curry absolutely knocked my socks off). I’ve had cold meat sandwiches and homemade salads. I’ve been a frequenter of the buffet line and I’ve flat out chosen not to eat. But no matter the couple’s budget, no matter how long the guest list, there is one thing a wedding can’t do without. That one thing is cake.
When Ian and I got married, there were several cake questions we had to ask ourselves. Should we have fondant or butter cream? Fondant looks better; butter cream tastes better (in the end we went with butter cream). Was it OK to have peanut butter icing or would some guests suffer from peanut allergies? How much cake did we really need? And of course, are we going to feed it to each other or (as tradition demands) shove it in each other’s faces?
OK—it’s not much of a tradition anymore. I’m not sure I’ve been to a single reception where the groom smashed the cake into the bride’s face—that would absolutely ruin her makeup and probably ruin her night—nor can I recall seeing a groom get a face full of frosting. This weekend, I saw a bride and groom actually use forks for the feeding. There were shouts and catcalls—quite a few men seemed to want to see that cake splatter—but they very demurely fed each other their first bites, regardless of the crowd. Ian and I didn’t use forks, but we were gentle with each other, too. I might have put a little frosting on his nose to appease the shouting guests (man, do they enjoy cake carnage), or maybe I just thought about it—I don’t know. It was my wedding day! I was too excited to remember every little detail. Still, it wasn’t the big to-do that we see in the movies. It was sweet, not violent—just how it should be.
Then again, lots of wedding traditions have strange roots, some of them with a history of violence.
But back to the good stuff. The cake.
There is one element of the modern wedding cake that truly fascinates me: fondant. Such a strange material. Edible, but plasticky. An edible modeling clay. I had never had the stuff until last weekend, having been warned away from it by many friends and relations. It's no good, they said. It tastes funny, they said. And while I do agree that it's nowhere near as good as butter cream or cream cheese frosting, I have to say that it isn't so bad (nowhere near as bad as the choice to layer chocolate and lemon cake together in one tier). From what I hear, most people respond negatively to the texture and don't really factor in the taste. That, and they might have eaten the pre-packaged fondant you can buy at Michael's instead of making their own. Homemade fondants can taste like more than just gooey sugar. You can incorporate extracts--vanilla, almond, peppermint--to make really exceptional cake coatings.
Of course, this makes me want to make some fondant of my own. It's an irresistible experiment in playing with my food. And of course, I'll need a cake to try it out on. And I won't want to waste the cake, so I'll probably have to eat it.
If I continue with this cooking thing, I am going to be so fat.
Friday, August 21, 2009
So last night, in an attempt to sort of salvage our cooking-together time, Ian and I made grilled pizza. All I have to say is, baked goods on the grill? Amazing! The crust cooked really well, got beautiful grill marks, and although Ian's spatula-and-tongs method of flipping it over inflicted a few flesh wounds, in the end we had ourselves one beautiful pizza. And it was almost too easy. It was appropriate, though--it was a California pizza, a sort of send-off for next week's trip to the Golden State (which I still say should be the Sunshine State--I've been to Florida. They should be the Sticky State).
Since I've got nothing particularly interesting to report, here's a pizza dough recipe, given to my by my cousin as part of a cookbook she put together for Ian's and my wedding. It's an excellent recipe, works every time.
1 package dry active yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/2-3 1/2 cups flour (I find it best to go with less flour rather than more)
1 tablespoon cornmeal
Optional: garlic powder, basil, oregano
Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed mixer bowl. Add salt, olive oil, and 2 1/2 cups flour. Use dough hook to mix on medium speed about 2 minutes. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time and mix about 2 minutes or until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl. Mix for about 2 minutes longer. If you're making breadsticks, add the garlic powder, basil, and oregano.
Place dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Punch dough down.
Brush 14 inch pizza pan with oil. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Press dough across bottom of pan, forming a collar around the edge to hold toppings. Pre-bake for about 5-10 minutes at 425 before topping.
For breadsticks, brush with melted butter and bake for 8-10 minutes at 425. For a cheesier option, sprinkle with parmesan cheese before baking.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Little did I know, he knew absolutely nothing about them.
Back then--not too long ago, really--my palate wasn't particularly developed. I opened the bottles, sniffed their contents, and was overwhelmed by the smell of alcohol. Later, I would attempt a martini. That ended up going down the drain. Still, Ian wouldn't throw them out. He was determined that they would be useful for something. He spent good money on them, and dang it, they were not going down the drain. Five years and three apartments later, he still has those bottles of vermouth. But now I know of something to do with them.
You see, most modern recipes don't call for vermouth. It just isn't something the average American keeps on hand. Vermouth might be invaluable behind the bar, but although cocktail hour and homemade Manhattans might be popular in some circles, they just aren't popular enough to keep vermouth in the limelight.
Then again, was vermouth ever in the limelight?
I've been doing some reading, and I think it must have been. Did you know that martinis used to be made 2:1, gin to vermouth? Now you most commonly hear folks asking for their martinis dry, extra dry, bone dry--meaning little to no vermouth at all. Did you know that many classic French recipes call for vermouth? I've been poking around on the internet a lot lately, and one of the gems I found is the old Julie/Julia Project (the impetus for the film Julie & Julia--written by a woman who cooked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year) and it's vermouth this, vermouth that, vermouth, vermouth, vermouth! Marinades! Sauces! So much vermouth.
So yesterday, I dug out Ian's old bottles. Yes, I know they've known him longer than I have. Yes, I know they've probably been open since the day he bought them, made a Manhattan, and decided he didn't like them. Still, I opened them up--and do you know what I found? They smelled good. How did I not realize this before? The dry vermouth was floral and fruity--like white wine but better; the sweet vermouth had a gorgeous musk to it that evoked the flavors of a good pork roast. I poured myself a drop of the dry vermouth and gave it a taste. Definitely alcoholic, but very pleasant. I had planned to make chicken, but now I would use vermouth in the sauce.
I sauteed the chicken. Sauteed some onions and garlic (I didn't let the onions go long enough, though--I was too excited to try the vermouth). In went the vermouth to deglaze the pan. Now, usually when I deglaze a pan, there's this excited sizzle and a burst of aromatic steam from whatever liquid I'm using to deglaze. That's the way it's supposed to be. Maybe it's something about vermouth or maybe my pan wasn't hot enough, but in this respect, the vermouth failed me. Still, I had my hopes up. This was going to be the most wonderful sauce ever. I stirred in some thyme, let the vermouth reduce a little, stirred in the last couple tablespoons of cream I had leftover from Saturday's truffles, let the sauce reduce a little more. It smelled good, anyway. Like wine and thyme. Once the sauce was thick enough, I dumped it over the chicken and some plain old white rice and Ian and I had our dinner.
Oh, the disappointment.
I'm curious about this. Was my vermouth too old? Did I just choose the wrong elements to my sauce? Because while it smelled amazing and tasted great in the glass, in the sauce it tasted like almost nothing. That is, until after we were finished, when Ian and I both agreed that there was a distinctive vermouth-y aftertaste. I've read up on it and I'm not the only one who has thought to substitute vermouth for white wine, and many cooks have seemed to enjoy the results. It's a great way not to have to open a bottle of wine if you're not drinking. Next time, I'll try an established recipe and not just make things up as I go along.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Curried Lentils & Broccoli
1 1/2 cups dry lentils, thoroughly rinsed
1 16-oz bag frozen broccoli (or 16 oz fresh broccoli, cut into florets)
1/3 cup peanut sauce
1 tbsp curry powder (I recommend Spice Islands--it has a nice, sharp flavor)
2 green onions
1 cup coconut milk
4 lime leaves
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp light brown sugar
*Prepare the lentils and broccoli as directed on their packages. The lentils should be softened but not mushy when cooked.
*Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, combine peanut sauce and curry powder. Snip in green onions (white and green parts); allow to cook in the peanut sauce for ~30 seconds. Add coconut milk and lime leaves; cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add lime juice and brown sugar. Allow the sauce to reduce by about 1/3.
*Add lentils and broccoli to sauce and stir until completely coated. Cook 2-5 minutes more, allowing the lentils to absorb a bit of the sauce. Remove lime leaves and serve.
This recipe is tasty, low-calorie, vegan/vegetarian, and high in fiber. An all-around wonder meal!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
1. Cook meat in a pan; remove to a warmed plate.
2. Deglaze pan (using broth, wine, cider, etc.)
3. Stir in flavorings, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan along the way.
4. Stir in cream or butter.
5. Pour sauce over meat.
6. Mangez! (that means Eat! in French...)
Of course, for American pan gravy, you'd first add flour to the fat (instead of deglazing--you'd make a roux) and then add your broth, boil it up, little salt and pepper...and that's that. And that's all well and good, but man, there are better ways to do it.
I'm saying all this, of course, because of a meal we had last night. We've had it before--Nigella Lawson's Mustard Pork Chops--and every time, it is just sensational. And so easy! The sauce is magnificent--absolutely perfect for pork--and it makes me curious to try a few of my own variations on this theme. It seems easy enough. For the mustard sauce, you deglaze with hard cider or, if you're like us and don't keep hard cider on hand, white wine. You stir in a glob of grain mustard (one of the best and least-known mustards...so spicy and tangy!) and follow that with a third of a cup of cream. This time we actually had cream in the house but usually I do two tablespoons of butter and a generous splash of nonfat milk, which makes a thinner but still delicious sauce.
Some of the variations that come to my mind and must be tested:
(Using beef steak)
--deglaze with beer (probably an amber?)
--stir in tomato paste and spices/herbs (allspice? rosemary?)
--butter or cream
(Using beef or pork)
--saute mushrooms in the drippings
--deglaze with red wine
--stir in herbs (thyme?)
--butter or cream
--saute garlic in the drippings
--deglaze with white wine
--stir in lemon zest and thyme
--butter or cream (maybe even just milk--low fat even--for this one...nice and light)
For the moment these are all theoretical...which would make me feel silly, but this is a blog, not a cookbook. I would test them right now except a) I don't have a reason to cook so much meat and sauce and b) I'm writing this from a coffee house, not my kitchen.
Of course, I concede that these sauces are a lot higher in fat and calories than your average steak sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce, or what-have-you. But don't you get sick of the same old sauces, day after day? I know we do. And you can always lighten these sauces up a little by using less cooking oil for your meat (many of us tend to overdo it...more akin to frying than sauteing) and, depending on the flavors in your sauce, lightening up the dairy element at the end. Just don't tell the French I said that. Or the ghost of Julia Child. Or Paula Deen.
What about you? Do you have any killer pan sauces? Ideas? I'd love to hear them. If you do, go ahead and put them in the comments box...if you're willing to share, that is. It'll be like a recipe swap. And I promise to find a truly amazing recipe to share with you this week for my "Weeknight Wonders"...
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Of course, Ian and I are just a family of two. For the moment, we live two states away from either of our sets of parents and we are years away from having kids, so our assembly line was a little short. Ian dried the corn husks, I filled and folded them, and he tied the twine. It wasn't the crowded kitchen I imagine when I think of tamales, with gossiping grandmas and wide-eyed children trying to steal tastes, but that was OK. It was just two people making a heck-of-a-lot of food.
And tamales aren't all we made. We made "cowboy caviar" (a black-eyed pea salsa out of my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook), salsa verde (from an episode of Paula's Best Dishes that we watched that morning) and chocolate truffles (for no good reason at all). It was a regular food-fest, but we had an excuse: for the first time in quite a while, we were having friends over for dinner. Anyone who's ever been to our place for dinner knows that we love to overdo it. We had two guests on the way, and enough food for ten.
You see, I believe that food is meant to be shared, both in its consumption and its preparation. That's why I'm so excited to be in the kitchen with my husband, making tamales or jerk chicken or whatever, teaching him to cook and learning a few things in the process. It's a great way to bond, to have a common goal, and if you're going to stand around jabbering in the kitchen, why not peel a potato while you're at it?
But it's not just that. I do love cooking for my husband, letting him watch TV while I stir the pot, because it's like giving him a gift. I love cooking for my friends, because food might well be the best thing I have to give. But when we've worked together for something, we're invested in it. We can't take it for granted.
Think about Thanksgiving. I used to hate Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid. The turkey was always dry and it got cold so quickly, we ate at 3pm when I would rather have been watching TV than staring at a plate of sticky yams. Then my mom got a job in the hospitality industry and had to work Thanksgivings, putting on a buffet for families who could afford to go out for their Turkey Day celebration. I was 16 or 17, and I made my first Thanksgiving dinner--Dad did the turkey, but I did the potatoes and the stuffing and the pie...all that (Dad might have done more than I realize, but the point is that it was a lot of work!). Suddenly I realized how hard it was to get that meal on the table, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from enjoying a meal that took time and effort to produce.
I also learned how lonely it can be in the kitchen. And I wondered, why don't we all work on this together?
So yesterday, Ian and I worked together. We shared our dinner with our friends and were able to truly enjoy their enjoyment of what we had made. We didn't just make dinner to eat together in front of an episode of The Simpsons (not that that isn't good, too). And you know what? We are really starting to work well together. There was no yelling, no arguing, no insults, intentional or unintentional. That might be boring to read about. Sorry.
In response to Pinky56's comment: the estimated time for the tamales was 5 hours including prep, but I guess Ian and I made a good team because it took 5 hours (including a couple of TV breaks) to make all the dishes I mentioned.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Ian and I are having a couple of friends over tonight. We're making tamales, "cowboy caviar" (a black-eyed pea salsa), truffles, and salsa verde. Damn that salsa verde.
You see, salsa verde contains serrano chiles. Vicious, vicious little chiles.
If you ever work with chiles, wear rubber gloves and/or wash your hands 30 times after touching them.
Why? Because if you happen to chop onions after, and your nose starts to run, and you blow your nose, you could end up with vicious chile juice burning the tender skin around your nose. No fun.
The upside: I found some solutions for this predicament.
For immediate, short-term relief: rub it with butter or milk (fat counters the burn).
Water just makes it worse! However, ice does do well to numb it.
Lemon juice does nothing, despite what you'll read on the internet.
Rubbing alcohol burns at first, but after about a minute, you'll feel relieved.
Vigilance! Never let this happen to you! But if it does...at least you'll know what to do.
Friday, August 14, 2009
It took him a while, but finally he bought a can of sardines in soybean oil. He was very careful about this. He looked them up online, deliberated over what kind of packaging he should choose (in oil or in water?) and how much he should spend (would the $8 sardines be any better than the $2 ones?).
Ian walked down to the Safeway by himself (we live about a block away, which comes in handy for last-minute ingredient needs and nagging needs to eat sardines). I stayed home and folded laundry. When all the clothes were put away and Ian was still not back from his shopping trip, I hit the computer. Foodnetwork.com, to be exact. I printed out a Bobby Flay recipe for grilled sardines on toast with vinaigrette and a Mario Batali recipe for sardine fritters (fried up with cheese, even I might try those little fishies) just in case the prospect of raw sardines was not so enticing once the tin lid was peeled back and those little fish were staring Ian in the face.
Luckily, they didn't have any heads and thus they could not stare.
The can only had three little fish in it, which for some reason was far less than I expected. The fish smell was overwhelming--luckily, I was heating up a bowl of potato soup for myself, which helped keep the fishiness at bay--but Ian ate them, tucked into a piece of pita with raw yellow onion. He liked them, but he was disappointed. Evidently, anchovies are better.
He put the last sardine on a small plate for the cat. She licked it, walked away, came back, licked it again, and then abandoned it for good. This is a cat who goes nuts if someone opens a can of tuna and meows like a maniac for her seafood-flavored treats. If she won't eat sardines, why should we?
Thursday, August 13, 2009
There is no butcher in my town. I've asked for special cuts of meat at the grocery store and been greeted with blank stares. The meat isn't actually butchered there; it's pulled out of a box, defrosted, and put on display.
There's no butcher in the next town over, either. There's a Rosauer's that actually sells whole legs of lamb, but once again, the meat department does no butchery.
The closest I can come: the University of Idaho has a big agricultural and livestock department. They raise the animals, butcher them, freeze them, and sell them to the community.
I did say freeze, right? Yes--Vandal Meats (UI's mascot is a Vandal, don't ask me why) does freeze its meats, but at least it chops them into various pieces first. You don't have to buy a leg of lamb or nothing. According to their menu, you can buy it in various forms, though it can be a little touch-and-go. Because it is run by students, the level of professionalism ebbs and flows with the semesters. The best time to go is at the end of a semester, when the students have finally figured out the different cuts of meat and honed their customer service skills. At the beginning of the semester, forget about it. You're going to get a lot of wide, confused eyes, and you might just have to compromise on your cuts.
Knowing this, I am still one of their best customers. Ian is addicted to lamb--it is most definitely his meat of choice--and about once a month I make him one of his favorite dishes: a lamb curry called Rogan Josh. I'm making it again tonight.
Today's visit to Vandal Meats was remarkably the easiest I've ever had. It's not easy to get to--the road is filled with canyon-sized potholes and tucked into the back end of the campus. Once inside, the whole place smells vaguely of death and refrigeration. The walls are lined with fridges, labeled by the type of animal carcass in contained therein, and although I've never had any luck with the lamb fridge, today there were quite a few packages of meat waiting for me. I wondered for a moment if these were things reserved in advance by other customers, but since there was no one at the register, I scooped up all the stew meat they had.
I had no sooner placed my meat on the counter than a girl in a gauzy hairnet came out of the back room. Her apron and the sleeve of her pink sweater were faintly smeared with blood--disturbing, perhaps, but part of the trade--and when she didn't protest to my picking the packages out of the freezer, I figured it was OK. I recognized the girl as having served me before--she had become inexplicably confused when I asked for two pounds of lamb for kebabs and brought me stew meat instead. The stew meat was fine--it just required more cooking--and it was certainly cheaper, so that worked for me.
The girl rang up my purchases and chatted with me about the box full of beef bones--a somewhat eerie display of carnage, but I am a carnivore so I can't complain too much--and I was on my way, making sure not to total my car on their gouged-out driveway.
Now all I have to do is wait for the meat to defrost. I've got it in the sink at the moment, getting a cold water bath. It's still not going to be thawed in time. The stew takes two hours to make. Fun, fun, fun.
Ian tells me there is a real butcher somewhere in the area, but I've never been able to find it. Perhaps when I start going to school in Spokane I can bring a cooler with me and hit up a real butcher there.
There are a million recipes out there for sausage with peppers and onions. It's an Italian classic, and with good reason. It's simple and delicious, and when you need an easy weeknight dinner it is just the thing. It isn't an incredibly quick meal--the peppers and onions do need time to get nice and caramelized--but the payoff is enormous. And really, what work is there in occasionally stirring a pot? My version of the recipe is on the sweeter side, with a sharp edge of vinegar and tomato to balance it out. This recipe serves four, but has such simple proportions that it can be easily cut down to serve one or bulked up to serve 20.
Chicken Sausage with Peppers and Onions
4 Chicken Sausages (I buy pre-cooked, usually Sweet Italian or Sundried Tomato flavors)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 yellow or white onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the peppers and onions over medium-high heat until soft and slightly caramelized (the onions should be a light golden brown), about 20-30 minutes minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and vinegar; stir until everything is coated. Cut sausages into bite-sized pieces (if yours are not pre-cooked, microwave them or cook them on the stovetop, let them cool, and then cut them up) and stir into the mix. Let the sausages heat all the way through (about 2 minutes) and serve.
We eat this straight out of a bowl, but it would be fantastic stuffed into some toasted pita bread or a sandwich roll. I've also served it over polenta, which is fantastic.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Second, I want to apologize in advance for any yolks I might make about eggs. I mean jokes. I mean--I've seen Mother Goose Rock & Rhyme too many times. Remember the Humpty Dumpty scene? Anyone? Well, if you haven't seen it, it's phenomenal. Tons of '80's stars as nursery rhyme characters. Over-the-top musical numbers. Good stuff.
So--egg yolks. As I wrote a few posts ago, I had some left over from the hazelnut meringues (which are all gone now...happily nestled into my fat cells) and I wasn't sure what to do with them. After a lot of deliberation, I made a decision.
Three went into a hollandaise. The last one will go on my face, if I get up the courage. Evidently eggs are good for skin, whether eaten or applied topically. We'll see if I get up the nerve for an egg facial or not. (I'm pretty sure my mom did this to me once in high school. I know it was uncomfortable but I'm not really sure if it worked.)
But back to the hollandaise. It was my first hollandaise, you know. My first time making it and--I'm fairly certain--my first time eating it. The only way I'd ever seen hollandaise used was globbed onto Eggs Benedict--a dish that has never appealed to me--and frankly, to me it was just yellow slime. And calories. So many calories. But once I made a hollandaise of my own, I discovered I didn't care too much about the calories...I was too busy drooling.
At first I thought making hollandaise would be difficult. You hear so many warnings about curdling eggs. I'd seen Tyler Florence of the Food Network make hollandaise in a blender before--how easy it looked!--but somehow, it seemed like one of those magical things that only TV chefs can do, something that for mere mortals will result in stomach cramps and all-night bathroom parties.
So I didn't use the blender. I used a makeshift double-boiler (metal bowl propped in saucepan with simmering water) and followed the instructions precisely. Off the heat, I mixed my egg yolks, water, and lemon juice (I feared the lemon juice would cause crazy chemical reactions with the eggs, but it didn't...just kind of separated them a bit until I whisked it all together). Next, the bowl went over the simmering water and in went the first 1/3 of a stick of butter--very soft, as per the instructions--and the whisk went wild, frantically trying to turn it into sauce, fearing all sorts of egg curdling and butter separation--nasty things you hear about but don't often experience.
At this point, I said the sauce looked pretty and Ian said, yeah, it did look gritty, which would have elicited a light slap on the shoulder had my hands not been busy whisking and keeping the saucepan over the burner. Instead I just yelped like a dog with a trodden-on tail. More butter went in and the sauce smoothed out, then more butter and it began to thicken. Once it was thick, off the burner it went and into a nice, cool bowl to prevent any further cooking (the cookbook didn't say to do this, but I figured if it wanted the sauce off the heat I would take it off the heat entirely). I added a dash of salt and some white pepper, and voila. Done.
I should have taken a picture of this dinner, though a picture wouldn't do it justice. I had toasted up some thick slices of French bread (wheat French bread--I hadn't known such a thing existed but it was delicious anyway) with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I roasted some veggies (mostly leftover from Sunday's ratatouille)--eggplant, squash, zucchini, onion, potato, carrot, and celery--also with olive oil, salt and pepper, plus thyme and basil. The veggies went on top of the bread and the hollandaise went on top of the veggies.
Oh. My. Gosh. It was possibly the greatest meal I have ever eaten. Of course, it contained a half a stick of butter, so how could it not be? (You might even say it was "eggs"ellent.) Then again, if I dare think about the calorie content, my mind just boggles. I've already done an hour on my Wii Fit today and am thinking about hitting the gym for a while after lunch.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Julia was 6'2", I am 6'0". She was a newlywed living in a strange place where she knew no one, brought there because of her husband's job. I, as a newlywed, stayed in a small college town where I knew practically no one, because of my husband's job. She learned to cook for her husband, and I learned to cook for mine. She married a very nice man. I married a very nice man.
OK. I'll admit it. I have been excited for the premier of the film Julie & Julia for months. Maybe a year. Whenever it was that the local movie theater tacked up the enigmatic poster: two eggs--one brown, one white--a title, and the names of two of my favorite actresses against a black background. Back then I had no idea what it was about, but I didn't need to know. I didn't know anything about Julia Child, either. I knew she cooked, but in my mind her image was scrambled in with Miss Manners, Sara Moulton, and a series of other indistinguishable domestic icons. I most certainly didn't know who Julie Powell was. All I knew was that Meryl Streep plus Amy Adams had to equal bliss.
Of course, I was right--though contrary to my initial hopes, the actresses never appear onscreen together. Still, their stories and personalities complement each other. I've read lots of reviews that say Meryl overpowered Amy, that Amy was less fun to watch, but I have to disagree. I thought their performances were like oil and vinegar: very different, very enjoyable on their own, but together--divine.
But I digress. I was talking about my relation to Julia. While we're at it, my relation to Julie. The three of us, we all have that one thing in common; we all married very nice men.
For example, I didn't have to drag Ian to go see Julie & Julia. He specifically asked me not to see it Friday afternoon while he was at work, but to wait until Saturday when we could see it together. And you know what? He really enjoyed the movie. He is (have I mentioned this?) an engineer, which is basically just math and science, and Julia's approach to cooking was very scientific. He was fascinated by her theories on mayonnaise--heating the bowl and whatnot--and her exclamations about "scientific workability". We shall have to perform some science/cooking experiments of our own sometime.
Of course, after watching such a food-fest as Julie & Julia, we had to come home and cook. (This was Saturday, but I didn't want to miss writing about it--the meal was just too good. Though I also saw Julie & Julia by myself yesterday and then felt compelled to buy a loaf of French bread an pick at its crust the whole walk home before eating several pieces slathered with cheese.)
Our dinner: Greek-marinated steak (sirloin--yum) with grilled onions and homemade crostini with a goat cheese spread.
The goat cheese was leftover from the shrimp risotto I made last week, and we had some roasted red peppers lying around, garlic (a staple at our house), some cream cheese, some dried herbs. Inspired by the movie, Ian fried the bread in a pan with olive oil (I usually drizzle a little olive oil, hit the bread with some salt and pepper and bake it in the oven or the toaster oven)--one of the first dishes we see Amy Adams cook is a mouthwatering bruschetta that her husband eats so lustily you think he might need a nap afterward. Ours was not quite so incredible, but still very good--especially given the fact that we were winging it with the goat cheese spread--and the crostini provided an excellent nosh to tide us over until the steak and onions marinated.
We are, apparently, incredible marinade-forgetters.
The steaks were supposed to marinate for 8-24 hours. Yowza! We fumbled around. We'd bought feta specifically for this dish (you sprinkle it on top of the steak...get a bite of steak, feta, and onion, and you're in heaven)...was there any way to make a rub with similar flavors? No. Could we just do something different? Noooo! We had to have the steaks. So, long story short, Ian jabbed at those suckers with a fork until it looked like they'd had enough, I whipped up the marinade, and they spent 3-4 hours soaking in their juices instead of the 8-24. They still turned out well, but if you can, you must try this recipe and you must let it marinate for the proper amount of time. It comes from a book my favorite aunt gave Ian when they came out for the wedding:
Betty Crocker, Grilling Made Easy: 200 Sure-Fire Recipes From America's Most Trusted Kitchens; 2005, Wiley Publishing, Inc. ISBN: 0-7645-7453-1
It might not be a recipe Julia Child would ever have tried (though oeufs en gelee is a recipe I would never try, so we're even), but man alive is it good. And that's why we cook, right? Why we spend so many hours mastering the art of it. Good food is, to those who appreciate it, a joy.
Monday, August 10, 2009
You see, when you make a meringue you only need the egg whites. You carefully separate the eggs, whip up the whites, and if you are the average American, you toss the yolks in the trash. I have done so on several occasions. But you see, this time I have four whole yolks left. Four yolks! What is a girl to do?
Unfortunately, recipes that star egg yolks minus the whites are notoriously unhealthy. Ice creams, pots de creme, mayonnaise: all star egg yolks, cooked or not, in all their cholesterol-soaked glory. I do love food and I do want to make good use of the entire egg, but I have to admit that my health-conscious side screams STOP when I think of all those extra fat calories (I do like to watch my weight, you know), especially on a weeknight, especially in addition to those cream-covered meringues.
If only I could store those yolks indefinitely. If only there wasn't such a thing as shelf life. According to saveonfoods.com, I've got 2-4 days.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
So of course, since we are trying to learn to cook and cook together, since we love the film so much and since so many vegetables are still in season, we absolutely could not resist making a batch of the movie's signature dish. Ratatouille--a French "peasant dish"--is easy, cheap, and healthy. It is completely vegetarian--vegan, even--and although it makes for a lot of slicing and dicing, it is incredibly simple. Chop the veggies, throw them in hot oil with herbs, salt, and pepper; cook. Done.
OK. It's not quite that simple. Different veggies have different cooking times, the eggplant absorbs more than its share of oil, etc. But still--it's easy. Unless, of course, you've decided to make ratatouille, potato soup, and hazelnut meringues with coffee cream all at the same time.
Ian and I spent our Sunday morning in Coeur d'Alene, two hours away, running errands and generally spending time away from our oppressively small town. We got home around 3:00 pm, unloaded the car, and realized we were already late starting our evening meal. The ratatouille wouldn't require too much time at all, but the meringues--oh, the meringues. I've made meringues before, but somehow these seemed more demanding. I ground up hazelnuts, folded them into the puffy egg whites, squeezed the flecked fluff into the rounds Ian had made with his compass on parchment paper. Meanwhile, Ian flitted around the apartment with his camera, photographing a pair of whisks in strange places in an attempt to hone his photography skills and to capture an image to accent my blog (I hope you like it--he spent a lot of time on it and deserves the credit).
I could continue to bore you with the specifics of our evening of cooking, the reasoning behind making both ratatouille and potato soup (which could have easily been made tomorrow) but I won't. We spent our share of time chopping and sauteing, arguing over whether it was OK to have wine on a Sunday night, but that's not what I want to tell you.
I want to tell you that my darling husband is, at this minute, as the Ratatouille credits roll on the TV screen (of course we watched Ratatouille--how could we not when we had created such a delicious pot of the same?) in the kitchen, putting herbs in plastic baggies. He makes sure to fold a paper towel into each baggie--he's very fastidious, you know--and as he does so, I can't help but fall in love with him a little more. Maybe it's the pinot gris that I had chosen to accompany the meal. Maybe it's the four hours we spent together in the kitchen. But as he moves from bagging herbs to shelving dishes, I know this project is worthwhile. I watch him sorting silverware, and I can't help but smile. I chose a good one, and I don't mean the ratatouille recipe (though that was good too--thank you Emeril).
Tonight, Ian and I will not be able to dine together. I have an evening class and he has been working exceptionally long hours lately. I will, however, whip something up and leave it for him. It's definitely a favorite, and it reheats very well.
Thai-style Ground Turkey (or Beef, if you like)
1 cup thinly sliced leek
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 lb ground turkey or lean ground beef
3 teaspoons red curry paste
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon lime zest
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add leek; saute for 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add beef; cook 7 minutes until lightly browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in curry paste and tomato sauce. Cook until liquid is reduced by half (about 2 minutes). Add coconut milk, brown sugar, lime zest, lime juice, and soy sauce. Cook 2 minutes, until slightly thickened.
Serves 4. Serve over white rice.
This is a recipe I got from recipezaar.com and then tweaked to my own liking. The original recipe calls for fish sauce instead of soy sauce, so you can use that if you like. The original recipe also only calls for one teaspoon of curry paste, but Ian and I both found the final product insufferably bland. Experiment with it. You might like less spice than we do.
The curry paste and the coconut milk might seem like exotic ingredients, but you can almost always find them in the Asian or international section of your grocery store (ask someone who works there--sometimes these things are tucked away in odd places). If they have them in Idaho, they'll probably have them anywhere.
Anyone who loves food, who is a "foodie," if you will, should love food in all its forms. Any true chef can make beautiful dishes out of whatever food she is given--even offal. But the truth is, I would much rather try sweetbreads, brains, kidneys, or liver than eat one very popular type of food. It's seafood. Any type of fish, shellfish, crustacean--no matter how much others try to convince me that any given fish isn't "fishy," I can still smell it. Lobsters, oysters, crabs: I understand why rabbis have deemed them "unclean". I look at a trout and I can't help but remember my father's catches on camping trips, skewered on a sharpened branch with their eyes fogging over as they cooked. There are so many contributing factors to my distaste for all food that once swam, and although I have tried, I can't seem to get over it. Even pet fish give me the creeps.
Of course, it only makes sense that someone like me would marry someone who drools over commercials for Red Lobster. Ian's main seafood craving: shrimp. Now, when I was small, shrimp was the only seafood I could deal with. Battered, fried shrimp at Long John Silver's, globbed with tartar sauce or that really sweet red cocktail sauce that they only seem to serve with shrimp. But that's not fair. At that age, I would have eaten a dirt clod if you dipped it in batter and fried it. Slather it in sauce, and fuggedaboudit. Later in life, during a brief stint as a cook for a catering company, I got stuck de-tailing and skewering 20 pounds of raw shrimp. Afterward, I felt like I had just won a prize. I had spent four hours dealing with seafood and never once had I even gagged. Perhaps I had finally overcome one of my silly seafood blocks.
For Ian's birthday last year, I made shrimp scampi. Well, "made" might be too strong a word. It came out of a yellow bag that I found in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. I still couldn't bring myself to eat any, but I felt I was growing. The next time I cooked shrimp, I would eat some for sure.
Today was the next time I cooked shrimp.
I found the recipe in Cooking Light Magazine. It looked fantastic: risotto with spinach, goat cheese, and shrimp. How could the shrimp be bad when it kept such good company? I bought a package of pre-cooked, previously frozen shrimp from the store, not wanting to be responsible if the shrimp turned out to be rubbery. Ian was working late--he still isn't home, as a matter of fact--but I turned out the risotto anyway, stopping along the way to sample some of the extra goat cheese. I hadn't been able to find arborio rice at a reasonable price, but some generic medium-grain rice did the trick. I pulled the shrimp out of the fridge to take the chill off of it. As the rice absorbed more and more of the chicken stock, I started to get nervous. The shrimp was next, and I wasn't sure how I would react.
I cut the package open with my chef's knife and tossed the first little pink creature onto the cutting board. I know how to take the tails off shrimp--as I said before, I have mass experience in removing shrimp tails--but already, that plasticky, fishy, seafood smell was in my face. I chopped the first tail off with my knife, and the second, too--but the penny pincher in me just couldn't keep it up. That's a significant proportion of meat to lose--meat my husband would miss--and I couldn't do it. I didn't have any disposable gloves on hand and the risotto was getting thicker by the second, so I went for it. I pulled the tails off those little bugs, watching their juice run out onto the cutting board with dismay. Soon enough it was time to stir them into the pot, and when they hit the heat they really let their aroma into the air. I didn't gag, exactly. It's not quite vile enough a smell to make me retch. But still, I had to get rid of it. It's like that horrible soap they have in airplane bathrooms: malodorous, and something to be avoided.
Still, I wanted to grow. I wanted to take a bite of that risotto, shrimp and all, but--how could I? I felt like such a child. It was a beautiful dish--creamy, flecked with pink and green, something that would entice even a picky eater--but I could not take a bite. It was as if my mouth had been wired shut.
I packed the risotto into a portable container and drove it over to Ian's office. I'm sure he and his coworkers will have eaten very well tonight, if Ian was willing to share. I just hope I didn't curse anyone else who might have a seafood aversion like mine. I'm afraid to get back into my car now because I'm certain it smells like shrimp, and I've been running the fan in the house to rid it of any lingering odors. Still, I'm glad I made the risotto and not something more to my liking. Ian rarely gets seafood, and I know that's my fault.
Maybe one day I'll have a revelation. Maybe one day I'll find some dish that will open new culinary doors. Maybe my senses will dull, or someone will prepare seafood so skillfully that I don't even know I'm eating it.
Last night, for our first foray into truly cooking *together*, we decided to go simple: grilled jerk chicken (breasts, not pieces, because we always keep a bag of frozen chicken breasts on hand), marinated cucumbers, and (because we had two ears of corn in our crisper and some wilting cilantro) corn & bean salad. We were running behind; we'd seen a movie that afternoon that ran longer than predicted. By the time we were through the monumental Sunday-afternoon grocery lines and back to our apartment, we were two hours late to get both the chicken and the cucumbers marinating.
But did we let it get to us? No! This was supposed to be romantic, after all, not stressful. We'd get the marinated items marinating and then tuck into the corn and bean salad, which required no soaking time at all. It was fine. We were happy.
Now, I know there are things you're allowed to cry over and things you're not. Things that warrant a little boiling blood and things that should be dealt with at room temperature. But somehow, when Ian finished chopping cilantro and threw the cutting board in the sink before I could slice the onions, I lost it. I had been trying so hard to make this a pleasant experience. I was dealing with the fact that my husband chops at a rate of one bunch of herbs per year. I put on some music--peppy '60s rock that seemed to match the tone of our spicy-and-cool dinner--and tried to make it the most relaxing experience it could be. I tried to avoid the teacher-and-student roles that we have fallen into in our past endeavors together in the kitchen, but when that cutting board hit the sink, I have to say, I wished I had a ruler on hand to crack his knuckles.
Of course Ian, being the fantastic husband that he is, had that cutting board out of the sink and fully sanitized before I could even get into my hissy fit.
Eventually, after we had an appetizer of corn and bean salad, washed down with a couple of beers we had sitting in the fridge, the chicken and cucumbers had been marinated almost long enough. It was getting late and we were getting hungry. We threw the chicken onto the grill (actually, the indoor grill pan--we didn't want to have to wait for the outdoor grill to heat up). The chicken took an unearthly amount of time to cook (I knew we should have pounded them thinner but had been too lazy to suggest it), but thankfully, Ian's one major culinary trick saved the day. He covered it with tinfoil. Any time anything isn't cooking fast enough, Ian covers it with tinfoil. Or, if the pot happens to have one, a lid. Or, if he's out of tinfoil, one of his cheap 1970s plates. I've yelled at him for it many times--some things are supposed to reduce, you know--but this time, it was just right. The chicken was ready very soon after, juicy and flavorful but definitely cooked through. Maybe it was the beer or my over-eager stomach, but right then he was my knight in Reynold's Wrap armor.
But back to the food. I have to tell you, if you make jerk chicken, make sure you get as much meat into the marinade as you can--we wasted several cups of it, and what we used ended up crusted to the grill pan (it's still soaking by the sink--I don't relish getting my hands in that later). However, the marinade did its job. The chicken was earthy and spicy--one of those flavor revelations that make you wonder why you never thought of it--but it didn't burn our mouths out. You see, while the recipe called for two habanero peppers, it didn't say to de-seed or not to de-seed. I de-seeded. I kept the seeds on a plate, just in case the marinade wasn't spicy enough before I put it on the chicken, but the heat level was just perfect for us, so the seeds went in the trash. The chicken still had a good burn, which was nicely cooled by the cucumbers.
So, our first Sunday in the kitchen came to a close with only one real rough spot (unless you count the burning on my eyelid from where I touched it after touching the habaneros--I had washed my hands twice, but still something spicy managed to cling to my skin). I managed, as was my goal, to suppress most of my snarky comments (though I certainly thought them loudly), and it was generally a pleasant evening. Now that I know we can peacefully share the kitchen, we can turn up the heat of our culinary adventures.
Think about it: how does it feel to bite into a truly scrumptious dish? Do you sigh? Do you groan? Do you scrape every drop of sauce from your plate? When you’re done, how do you feel? Not just full, but satisfied. Maybe a little tired, even. Your eyelids droop, your tongue searches your lips for any lingering morsel.
But what about cooking?
I say cooking is sexy, too. It’s so sensual. Imagine the feeling of your hands punching down a ball of dough, the yeasty, sugary smell of it rising through the air. Imagine the heat of the oven, warming the kitchen air and the mouth-watering smell of bread baking. The sound of the crust crackling under your knife. And the taste, of course--the cook’s reward for all that foreplay--nothing can compare.
Cooking is, unfortunately, also very practical. It is that element of cooking that scares so many people away from it. In the kitchen, there are rights and wrongs. There are methods and measurements. A pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon can make or break a dish. Souffles collapse, cakes fall, steaks dry out. Cooking is as delicate and easily ruined as love itself. It takes time, care, and consideration.
So what better project could a husband and wife undertake?
Ian and I have been married for just over two years. We were very young when we made our vows--Ian was 24 and I was a rattle-shaking 22--and while we love each other like peas love carrots, we often find ourselves divided by schedules and interests. The one thing we both truly love to do is to eat.
A few months after the wedding, I discovered a passion and a talent for cooking. Ian has always expressed an interest in cooking, and after a hard day at the office, the dull metronome of a knife running through tomatoes has always seemed to soothe him. It has been, in a small way, a uniting force. Together, we enjoy the process of planning our meals and shopping for the groceries, the challenge of finding certain gourmet ingredients in the stores and farmers’ markets of the Palouse. The bulk of the cooking has always fallen to me, while Ian has become a master bargain-hunter and dishwasher. We’ve each gained and then lost about twenty pounds (my New Year’s resolution involved an exchange of olive oil for butter and chicken breasts for beef steaks).
Now, as we begin our third year of marriage, we have decided to undertake a project. We will both hone our cooking and--hopefully--communication skills. Every Sunday (or at least once a week), we will make time to cook a meal together. This is especially important for us now, as I will be heading off to grad school in Spokane, and we will only be together about half the week. I am hoping that these Sundays in the kitchen will help us remain close, even though we will so often be apart.
The project begins this Sunday.