Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sweet Potatoes

Roasted sweet potatoes are so good. Sweet plus earthy. Roast at 425 for 45-60 minutes. Just prick a few holes in them first so they don't explode. They are mad good for you and keep things very regular. Sam can attest to the latter.

I want to find out how to get just the sweet potato liquor. You only get it while roasting the whole potato, in my experience. It's like sweet potato toffee! The juices flow out of the fork pricks and make a sweet, delicious puddle. I like to roast my potatoes on a silpat so that I can peel the toffee off and eat it. If you roast on foil or straight on the pan, it burns. Keep your eye out for Jen Sorenson's Sweet Potato Toffee.

I roasted the sweet potatoes for Sam. This is the one vegetable that I can count on him eating daily. Why do I even bother varying my veggies, you ask? So my kid isn't orange, that's why! He has loved these roasted bundles of sunshine ever since he was eating "solids." And yet .... Picture sweet potatoes tumbling out of his open mouth. We have eaten them two days in a row and both times the initial bite met this expression. I jammed my hand under his chin to catch the orange goo, and then Sam and I had a long talk.

Me: You love sweet potatoes - you have since I first starting pureeing them for you, lo these many moons ago. And you ate them last night, remember?
Sam: Po-ta-to. Po-ta-to.
Me: That's right. Let's try this again and please don't spit them out because Mommy is tired and this is pushing me over the edge.
Sam: Po-ta-to. Po-ta-to.

It should be noted that "potato" is in a sing-song because I turn everything into a song and Sam seems to latch onto words when I do this. I am currently trying the multiplication tables.
The very nature of my cooking does not seem to allow me to set these photos up so well. I whipped these up and immediately put them in a tupperware and rinsed the cuisinart. You just have to be a tidying machine if you don't want it to all overwhelm you Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout style.

Are those my sweet potatoes? Yes.

I think that winter might just be my favorite vegetable season. Gotta go with summer for fruit - hands down. But for vegetables, yes, winter. Who doesn't love all those root vegetables and tubers? They just feel so right.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Restaurant Quality

Rigatoni with Spicy Sausage and Arugula
That is what Josh said about this pasta: "Restaurant Quality." It is one of Mark Sorenson's and it was, as mentioned, very good. A lot of it had to do with the sausage: Isnernio's. I have had the hot Italian pork and the Italian chicken, and they are both delicious. The spice blend is such that your dish really needs nothing for flavor other than the sausage. Fennel seed is another one of those secret ingredients, I think.

So, you brown your sausage in a little olive oil, take it out and saute your onion and garlic, then pour some dry red wine and let it boil away a bit. Throw in your crushed tomatoes and put the sausage back. Simmer for 30 minutes, then add the arugula, basil and oregano to wilt.
The herbs go in at the end and add a lovely freshness. Why, yes! Thank you for noticing! I did chiffonade the basil. I did not do the same for the oregano - too small. Speaking of which, one should always watch her step with fresh oregano because it packs quite a punch. A heavy hand with that stuff is not desirable. And don't even get me started on marjoram. Wooeee.

Did you know that "chiffonade" means "made of rags"?

Funny, if you have ever seen Mario Batali's show on the food network, he generally disdains anything French. So, when many recipes would tell you to chiffonade, he says to break the basil up roughly, with your fingers, and (paraphrasing) "there's no need to make it look French."

My Life Sucks, by Jen Sorenson

Josh: Do most bloggers blog every day?
Me: Well, it depends on the blog. The ones I am following, well, yes and no. I suppose one wouldn't be able to keep up with blogs the way people do if every blog was updated every day.
Josh: Maybe you shouldn't blog every day.
Me: I want to write every day. If I have an audience, I will. But, my shoulder and neck are hurting. My forearms, too. Maybe I can do pen and paper and the blog and just alternate.

Then my mom said something about needing more photos to break up so much text. And my dad said the entries are really long.

But here's the thing: If I write in my journal, my usual theme is My Life Sucks, by Jen Sorenson. Isn't that what everyone writes about in their journals? I mean, the whole point is to let it flow sort of therapeutically. I thought. Unless you are traveling, then it's to record. Which reminds me of Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad. He remarks about journaling - something about it being an odious task, but a task you are morally obligated to do. Anyway, if you read my journals you would think I was depressed, angry, ungrateful, and mean. And probably a bitch. Because that's what I write about! To wit: Today, so and so trespassed against me and I will show righteous indignation and then s/he will feel my wrath. The point being, when I write about food I am considerably sunnier. I could try to be so in my journal, I suppose, but who records nothing but joy in a journal? Those habitually happy people don't journal! This blog gets me focused on something other than my existential crises.

Maman est morte.

Don't worry, if you read French. That's just a nod to Camus, an existentialist.

So leftovers:

I have spoken of leftovers before, so I will not dither on the topic. I was going to write a poem, but I was so tired today and I let Sam watch an entire Sesame Street in one sitting ... followed by Julia and Jacques (for me) because I just couldn't think of what game to play and those bristle blocks looked so foreboding. Ug. So no poem today.

Let me just say that Josh figured out how to make the onions work, and they were delicious as leftovers! He is a bit of a savant in the kitchen. He simply doesn't have time, so I am allowed to be the culinary artiste. For the onions, he skimmed the fat layer off the top - since it hardened in the fridge - then boiled the port down. Yummy. The onions still had too much crunch for my taste, but the sauce made them palatable ... more than that, as I said. And you can see the potatoes in the photo! I made them with just a little butter and whole milk, and folded in a tiny bit of sour cream for lightness and a certain je ne sais quois. I definitely do not know how to spell that. And, actually, we do know quois because I just told you: sour cream.

Josh and I decided that the two English short rib recipes that we have from Mark Sorenson's Recipes are superior to this one from Best Recipes! One involves onion soup mix. Can't go wrong with onion soup mix.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Walkers - What an Epiphany!

You may recall that we were supposed to have the Walkers over on the 9th, but had to postpone, then they postponed, and here we are. The idea was to celebrate Epiphany, when the Wise Men arrived to give Baby Jesus a bouncy chair and a couple pacifiers. Really, it was an excuse to get together and I thought I might make King's Day bread for a traditional touch ... but didn't.

The Walkers are great fun. We always enjoy good conversation about child rearing, politics and religion. Matthew is their little one, and he is a whirlwind! He is so jazzed about everything and has energy that won't quit. Sam likes him quite a lot, and is always at his most enthusiastic in Matthew's presence.

I just realized that I forgot to photograph the kids' food! Sam gobbled up EB's fine meal of pesto pasta and fake chicken nuggets. The day before, he also guzzled down EB's snacks when the mommies and boys met at the zoo. Well, they were Matthew's snacks, prepared by EB. I guess whatever one's own Mommy does not make is more appetizing. Hm.

The adult menu was different. I love planning menus. I relish the time I get to spend with my cookbooks thinking of good combinations, assembling the shopping list, and making the timeline for the preparation. I get better with my timeline each dinner party. I think I was only 10 minutes late last night. Although that was after I called the Walkers to let them know that my original 5:30 dinner time needed to get pushed back to 6. The ribs had two steps, and I went to the store late, so got them in the oven late ... you get the picture. The menu: EB's fantastic and warm artichoke-spinach-camembert spread as an appetizer, then wilted kale salad, port-braised cipollini, mashed potatoes, and port-braised beef short ribs. For dessert, drunken bananas with vanilla ice cream (that Dave picked up for $1.75.) and almonds.

The onions were a disaster. Okay, that's too strong. They were an utter disappointment. Classic Jen move on this one, too. I have a port-brasied onion recipe that is really good, calling for pearl onions instead of cipollini. Is that the recipe I used? Goodness no, I went with a different one out of my new-fangled cookbook ... the cookbook that already steered me wrong on aioli. Surprise, surprise, they sucked. I think they need a caramelized flavor, and to cook longer, and the sauce needs a thickener because it was not getting thicker in the boiling down process. And, see that fat layer there? That's chicken broth and I think it thinned the port taste too much and was an ill-advised addition to the braising liquid. I didn't even finish my one onion. Oh, sorry, they're not actual onions. They are the bulbs of the grape hyacinth.

The kale salad, on the other hand, was delicious. This is a variation on a salad Josh and I have frequently. I usually make it with spinach, but I was feeling a kale vibe and went with it. You wilt the kale in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain. Saute (over barely med-high heat) four garlic cloves, sliced, with 1/2 cup golden raisins, 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes and 2 T extra virgin olive oil, until golden. Then you add your kale and turn it in the oil et. al. until it's coated, warm, and a little more wilted. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Off the heat add 2 tsp. each sherry vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle 1/4 cup of slivered toasted almonds. Delicious every time. And I know the raisins may be a bit off-putting, but they make the salad, trust me. And they have to be golden.

I didn't photograph the mashed potatoes. We all know what they look like and I only made them to sop up the beef ribs' gravy. Mashed potatoes are the furniture of the food world: totally necessary in a room, but somewhat forgettable.

I did, however, photograph the roasting pan after the rendering process. I mentioned the two steps for the short ribs, and this was the first one. 1.5 hours at 375 to melt fat and brown meat.

This would be the browned meat. Did you know that, with meat, it is not "caramelization"? When you brown meat, you are conducting (setting in motion?) the Maillard reaction. "Caramelizing" is for food with a high concentration of carbohydrates and, therefore, sugars.

So after you brown the meat, you heat up a Dutch oven (Le Creuset), caramelize your aromatics, toss in all the liquids, throw the ribs back in, and put the whole thing in the oven for two hours. The result: Nothing short of Divine. I strained the sauce so that it was nice and smooth. The key ingredient to thicken? Minute tapioca! It worked swimmingly.

Finally, the Drunken Bananas. This dish was not a jewel in my prodigious dessert crown, but it was good. I wanted the sauce to be thicker. Perhaps a little tapioca in there would do the trick while in the oven. And next time I would like to try plantains, as the recipe calls for.
Come to think of it, Jacques Pepin has a crepes plus bananas foster recipe that I will probably try first. Since I have an entire bottle of rum, I might as well use it for something delicious. I certainly won't be drinking it. Yuck.

So the difference between PCD dinners and dinners now would be that the men don't sit at the table with glasses of whiskey while the ladies gab after the meal. Now we gauge how tired the kids are, and sign off by 8:30pm. It's a different kind of fun.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Refrigerator

We need a new fridge. You cannot get this thing totally clean. I actually contemplated removing the transparent plastic part of the drawers, even though it's pretty obvious that they are not made to pop on and off, because there is mildew and rotifers in a crevice that I can't get at! Why would that crevice even exist if you can't clean it?! A man designed these drawers. I even thought, "Hey, if I can't get them back on, no biggy." Then I realized I was crazed. How does all that grime even get in there? Mildew and rotifers! IN MY FRIDGE. I busted out a toothbrush and still couldn't get it all. So, we need a new fridge.

I decided to clean my fridge on Thursday. You know, you have that moment when you open the door and say, "No more." How does hair get in there anyway? And where do those crumbs come from? Was someone eating crackers in the fridge? I used to (a mother's code for in my pre-child days, hereinafter referred to as PCD) stay on top of my kitchen. At least once every other month I scoured my refrigerator. And we're not talking just wiping the shelves, either. I pulled every drawer and shelf out to wash in the sink, then towel dry. I also washed off all the bottles AND their caps. Yeah. Hard core. But this fridge has not been cleaned since we moved in ... that would be June, people. Well, let's be fair: the end of June. I of course wiped up spills and glaring messes. I picked out hairs. But the gathering crumbs and hardened drips and other debris was always told to wait until I have a chance. "Oh, when I have a chance, I will clean the heck out of you, Fridge." You have chances. I had cahnces. But you let it be Good Enough, don't you? Good enough, until you say No More. Oh yeah! and when the husband makes a comment, you know it has gone too far. Josh, king of "I have a higher tolerance for dirt than you do." Well, since we are no longer in the PCD, the edge of my Good Enough butts up against the beginning of his Higher Tolerance - and there the twain shall meet.

And since we're discussing husbands and the kitchen, take a look at this:

Josh: Why did you take a picture of the dishes?
Me: Did I?
Josh: Are you going to write about me on your blog?
Me: Write about you?

You will note that this oblique language neither admits fault, nor nods to intent. I'm like a politician. The critics will say, "But she said she wouldn't publish it." Did I? Let's look at the transcript.

So this dish pile reminded me of college days - perhaps this is just for those of us who lived with boys at one time during our very early twenties. While living with these roommates - and I saw this repeated in other houses, so it wasn't just us - the unspoken goal was to add your clean dishes to the pile in the strainer without knocking them all over. If yours didn't fit, or made everything come crashing down, you had to put all the dishes away. It was only fair. The pile in the photo is not that bad. I just laugh because when I put the dishes away, I dry the tupperware. I like all the work to be done at once. I hate coming back to the kitchen to find a continuation of what I started earlier because, at that point, I have already physically and emotionally moved on. Luckily for Josh, he makes this pile and I put it away later.

Once, during my junior year in college, my roomate, Benoit, left his dirty dishes in the sink for three days. But this was Davis, and we had ants and roaches if we were remiss in our housework. I did not think it fair that Suzie and I suffer because of his injudiciousness, and I sure as hell was not going to do his dishes for him (what a precedent!). So I took his dirty pots and plates and put them on his bed. Typical Benoit, he just moved them back without a word when he got home and cleaned them the next day ... because he wanted to, not because of my psychological experiment.

Now, when you are a Cleaner, you get a certain satisfaction ... no ... contentment out of cleaning. I actually feel happier knowing that something that was once filthy is now spotless. But there is a trap in this identity. As a Cleaner, you almost shouldn't even embark on cleaning unless you have two full days to devote to a given project. What happens is that as you are working on a microscopic level in a filthy area of the house, like your fridge or any given spot in the kitchen, you start out feeling good within the boundaries of that job. But then you catch sight of a little filth next to the area you started on. You think, Well, if I'm doing the fridge, I might as well do the floor by the fridge and the wall and the cabinets beside the fridge ... and and and your reach extends. It doesn't stop. Pretty soon you are thinking that, yes, you can, and should, pull the entire refrigerator out all by yourself. And the stove. You have to actually cut yourself off. I allowed myself to scrub the floor around and a little under the fridge and then made myself throw the sponge away. But while I was down there I saw splatter that may or may not have been made during our brief tenure in this residence. I wanted to clean it so bad.

I have a limited time for chores like this because Sam doesn't want Mommy cleaning while he is awake. So I try to cram chores, eating, blogging, and everything else into his two-hour nap. I tell myself that this is why I let things go so long ... why I let them get so gross. It's because I want to devote a good chunk of time to doing it right. But I think there is another reason. I let the house get gross in places because I like to feel that little obsessive surge of energy that makes me keep cleaning, and then the complete joy when something is spotless. Maintenance cleaning just doesn't give me a rush.

So cleaning is more than an exercise in ... cleanliness. Perhaps this is how it is next to godliness! Because you meet your subconscious! You explore your Self. How far can I push myself? Can I control my reach? How far is too far? When is it Good Enough? Can I go for Greatness today? You are one with the whole and God and Everything.

Or, it's just a clean fridge.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Braised Vegetables

I tend to make the same vegetables over and over. Who doesn't, I guess. So I opened my Best Recipe and chose Braised Leeks and its variations, endive and fennel. Above, we have the first I chose to execute: the endive (pronounced ahn-DEEV, naturally). I respect the endive. It must be hard growing up in complete darkness and then being transported to an open air market or a grocery store. I did have my doubts as I selected the pale little guys. I liked them in my Winter Salad (from the Morgan dinner, yes, you remember!), so I thought I would probably like them carmelized, then braised in butter, wine, and chicken broth. I didn't have the sauce technique down yet, this being my first attempt with the recipe, so it was a bit runny, but good. Endive is bitter, but the steps and ingredients really mellow that out, and it went well as a side dish to Lamb Ragu.

A bit about bitterness here. I should disclose that I am a supertaster. This is not a secret identity that comes with a cape; it's a real thing. Supertasters have more taste buds per square tongue then the average taster. Of course, this does not mean that I have any more taste, per se, but I suppose the potential is there. What this means on a daily tasting basis is that what one experiences as slightly bitter, like endive or broccoli, I think is so bitter as to make me wonder how anyone could possibly enjoy said bitter item. For example, I forgot the vinegar with our collards the other night and I almost spit my bite across the room.

Next up were the leeks as a side dish to the Poulet. I did the sauce quite well and got nice color during the carmelization process. These were better than the endive and got two stars to the endive's one. A bite that combined chicken and leek with sauce - divine.

Insert diatribe re: leeks. Why are they so expensive? It's not like they are grown in complete darkness through a labor-intensive process! I feel quite upset by the fact that you buy a huge leek with all this green that you are gong to cut off anyway. Yeah, yeah, you can use it for stock. I have never used it for stock, so I'm just saying that if I can buy broccoli crowns (when the stem is the best part!) why not just buy the part of the leek that I am actually gong to use. I am seriously considering bringing my scissors next time I buy leeks.

They are good, though, aren't they?

I had my doubts about this dish, too. I cannot stand raw fennel. I have had roasted fennel before and thought it was good and fun, but still somewhat objectionable. But this! Braised fennel is to die for, people! This also went with the poulet and made a lovely combination to boot. I carmelized both sides for extra flavor ... oh, I highly recommend this dish. I suppose I could also complain about all those fronds I have to cut off the bulb, but I won't.

Recipe: Braised Leeks, Endive, or Fennel
Ingredients: 3 T unsalted butter, 1/2 tsp. sugar (1tsp. for the endive), 1/4 tsp. salt, 4 large (1in. diameter) leeks OR 4 heads endive OR 2 fennel bulbs, 1/4 cup dry white wine, 1/4 cup chicken broth, 1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme, 1T minced fresh parsley (optional), 1 tsp. lemon juice (1/2 tsp. for the endive)

Prep for veggie: For the leeks, you want only the white and pale green part. Be careful to only trim the very end of the root end because you want the layers to hold together during cooking. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise. For the endive, trim the very end and split in half, lengthwise. For the fennel, trim the bulb, removing the fronds and stalks. Halve them and cut each half into four wedges. (Don't core the bulb because you want it to hold together while cooking.)

1. Melt 2T butter in a 12-in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the sugar and salt evenly over the bottom of the pan. Add the veggie, cut side down, in a single layer. Cook, shaking the skillet occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. (For the fennel, you can flip the wedges to brown on both sides, and increase the browning time to 8-10 minutes.)
2. Add the wine, broth, thyme. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until very tender, about 10 minutes for the leeks, 12 for the endive and 15-18 for the fennel. Check with a paring knife.
3. Gently transfer the veggie to a warmed plate, leaving the liquid behind. Return the liquid to a simmer for 1-2 minutes until it is reduced to a syrupy consistency. Off the heat, whisk in the remaining T of butter, the lemon juice, and the parsley, if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve over the vegetable.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poulet en Cocotte

Have I learned nothing from cooking a turkey? Always check the temperature of poultry! Why did I think I was somehow eyeballing doneness? So, as I am sure you have figured out, I overcooked the darn bird. The breast was dry, but the rest was juicy. The gravy was awesome, so that made up for the aridity. Sort of. Not really.

A simple French bistro dish of a whole chicken cooked in a pot! Poulet en Cocotte. It is really simple. AND ... this is the first time I have cooked a whole chicken! What? I know. Amazing. This was, therefore, the first time I carved up a chicken. I have carved a few turkeys, so it wasn't hard. And I don't mind fishing necks and other things out of the cavity. I held onto the liver and neck for an hour thinking I would make pate and stock. Then I realized, Who am I kidding?

You brown the (salted and peppered) bird in 1T olive oil, 6 minutes on the breast side, with the aromatics scattered around it (1/2 cup onions, 1 celery rib, 6 whole garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, one sprig rosemary ... or thyme, you know me so well!); then flip for 6-8 minutes for second side. And, golly, when will I learn that if Best Recipe tells you to jump up and down in step 3, you better do it! So it says to insert a wooden spoon in the cavity to flip for browning the second side. What do I do? I try to use tongs and nearly wrench a leg off. Dummy. When I did what the instructions say! it flipped without incident.
Everything gets nice and carmelized as the meat browns, and your kitchen smells like Thanksgiving! Once you are all browned, put heavy duty foil over the pot, clamp on the lid, and into the 250 oven until the breast is 160 and the thigh is 170, 80-110 minutes. Do yourself a favor and check the temperature. Who eyeballs a chicken? Can a body even do that?

You take the chicken out to rest and the juices are your sauce, plus 1 tsp. lemon juice. Dump all the remains into a sieve and press to extract all the liquids. Since the aromatics have been cooking for so long, they just sort of mush in the sieve. Then skim off as much fat as possible.
Good to go! The sauce is thin, but good. The skin wasn't crunchy at all, so I took it off. I know! More garnish! The poulet goes nicely with rice and braised vegetables, which will be my next installment because they deserve their very own entry.

As I mentioned previously, for a dish like this you must start early enough in the evening. Josh and I sat down with our chicken at 9:30pm. Yikes. Now, if I had checked the temperature, it may have been only 9.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lamb Ragu

Dear La Spiga,

This is a ragu. Allow me to define: a thick, full-bodied meat sauce. I should have trusted my gut and not ordered your "mushroom ragu," but mushrooms can be meaty and, certainly, in a restaurant with a good reputation, I expected a meaty, hearty mushroom ragu. Melted butter does not a ragu make. Also, cayenne powder is not an acceptable garnish, especially when it will mix itself into the dish and alter the flavor for the worse ... which was hard to do, but you figured out how. Indeed, to say your dish was nothing special would be an affront to purveyors of Nothing Special the world over. It was a Mess. It was Terrible.

Nonetheless, I would like to thank you. The horrendous culinary experience at your establishment inspired me to join Yelp! and I now have another outlet for writing about food, etc. I also have an online community which writes about food, etc.

So, simultaneously: You suck AND thanks.

Jen S.

These are the lamb shanks of which I spoke - post-browning. So the shank is the leg, naturally. Since these are wee legs, this was a wee lamb. I discovered, upon looking up "lamb" in a couple of my cookbooks, that Americans are not fond of said cute mammal. We eat a mere 1.5 lbs. of it per person, per annum. Hm. What is the beef poundage, you ask? I dunno. I'll guess 50lbs. The Greeks, Irish, Icelanders, Australians and New Zealanders take their sheep much more seriously. I love it, myself.

So I got my lamb shanks at Uwajimaya. There was a bloody fingerprint on the packaging. Butchering hazard, I suppose. The recipe says to brown your shanks on all sides, then remove them in order to saute your aromatics. Such aromatics in this guy, too! Onion, garlic, mushrooms, crushed red pepper, fresh basil and thyme (it was rosemary, but I have thyme, so I substituted). Wow, that basil filled the air with its sweet green scent - fabulous. That's when you know you are doing a good thing. When everything is sauteed, in goes some wine to reduce, then the lamb and the rest of the liquids: beef broth and a can of tomatoes. Into the 325 oven for 1.5 hours.

I love recipes like this. With Mark Sorenson's Recipes there are a lot of stews and such, so I am getting good at the methodology. Provided you start early enough in the evening, you can have a prodigious, meaty feast on the table every night. Sam even seems to like them. He didn't sample the lamb, but he likes the chicken stews.
I would like to introduce you to my mini-chopper. I saw Michael Chiarello using one on his show. At least once every few episodes, he comments about how we cannot make fun of his chopper because his nonna used one, and it works well, so there. So I bought one. It makes a heck of a lot of noise, and I have to run through the pile of onions once with my knife because there are always a few big chunks left, but it does make quick work of onions and garlic. And we know how much chopping onions and garlic are my least favorite tasks in the kitchen. So, a mini-chopper - don't be ashamed to get one for yourself!

The finished product! I know, I know; I garnished! I do it for you!

After the lamb is done, you remove it from the liquid to let it cool a bit. Then you take it off the bone and return it to the sauce. Serve over pasta. I should have served it over rigatoni, or some other large, tubular pasta. (Any other Californians out there hear "totally tubular" in a great surfer argot upon seeing that word?) The idea is that the ragu dances in and out of the shapes. But I have spaghetti (whole wheat), so spaghetti it was.

Did I say it was delicious? It was delectable! Meat, mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs, beef broth - what's not to like?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ode to Purple Rubber Gloves

This is the oil after the zucchini fritters.

Ode to Purple Rubber Gloves

Kitchen gloves you saw me through
Mounds of dishes and piles of goo -
That muck of leftovers and stinking rot,
Especially for all of that I got
You oh so many moons ago.
But now away! to that place below
Cities, parks, fields, and promontories.
Yes, the landfills chock-full of stories,
Old hubcaps, diapers, love letters, and plastic.
Now I have to go buy a new pair. Blast it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


This stir fry was disappointing. Boo. Disappointing because I normally make a mean stir fry. I have a repertoire of sauces and, naturally, the methodology down pat. This one went horribly awry because it had to sit for too long. All the vegetables decided that they had had enough and released all their liquid, completely drowning the sauce out. Yuck. Why did they sit? Do I plan poorly? Sometimes. But last night was definitely Sam's fault for not wanting to go to bed. Grrrrrr. Your sympathy flows when your child calls your name a couple of times. But when he won't calm down and just go to sleep at 8:45 when you haven't had dinner yet, enough is enough.

You'll note the brown rice - oven-baked. What? You don't bake your brown rice in the oven? Oh, you must. Put 1.5 cups of short grain brown rice in a glass 8x8 baking dish. Bring 2.5 cups of water to a boil with 1T butter or oil and 1 tsp. salt. Pour it over the rice after it boils. Wrap the dish up with (heavy duty, if you've got it, normal if not) foil, and pop it in the 375 oven for 1 hour with no touching. Take it out and fluff. Perfect every time ... except when I don't make my measurements precise. Soggy rice is nasty.

Perhaps I will try arancini with the leftovers.
During the time when the veggies ruined their own sauce, I decided that I could make the aforementioned Simply Ming's Zucchini-Tofu Fritters. And I don't know that I will put the recipe out there because, although you see His Highness indulging, they are a serious pain. When you use lots of recipes, you come to appreciate well-written ones and despise their opposite. This recipe is not horribly written, but it lacks the appropriate specifics. For example, the corn flour that one should roll the quenelles in should be finely ground. I like the crunch on the medium grind, but it is clearly wrong. Second, had I not watched this recipe on TV, I would not have known that the quenelles do not hold together. This is the kind of thing that makes me come unglued in the kitchen - and I've been doing so well in the swearing department, you'll be happy to hear. In that, I'm not cursing, of course ... not that I am doing better in the sense that I use the words incredibly well. Mark Twain said that sometimes curses are the only appropriate words for the occasion (paraphrase), and I do think that's true, but who wants to hear a kid - my kid - dropping F-bombs with aplomb? Yeah. Not me.

Darn. I digressed again. So, the quenelles are blobs and you just scoop and drop with two spoons. It worked fine, but not superbly. Third, and last, WHAT ARE QUENELLES?! I mean, that's what simply Ming put in the recipe! What is the adverb "simply" all about? I happen to know what quenelles are because I watch way too much food TV, but come on! They are not simple.

Quenelle: a light, delicate dumpling ... formed into small ovals and gently poached in stock.

Or deep fried, apparently. And, please note, you use two spoons to adroitly caress your mixture into said ovals. Not simple, Ming. Not simple.

But they came out pretty good. My oil temperature dropped and I think that is when the oil seeps into your food instead of immediately forming a nice crust around it. This results in some soggy fritters that taste like oil, which is not yummy, especially at the end of the frying when the oil is full of detritus.
According to the recipe, I was supposed to mix balsamic and Chinese "black" vinegar (made from seaweed and mushrooms), boil it down to a syrup, and drizzle. I bought the black vinegar, but decided to go with tempura sauce for simplicity.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


If today had gone as planned, I would not have time to write. You may recall that we had to cancel our Walker dinner last week because of my tummy issues. We rescheduled. I should be right now dazzling everyone with my repartee. Foiled again! This time by a possibly sick little boy. So sad. We rescheduled again - for next week - so that is when I will go on and on about my trip to the store, my prep, my menu, etc.

But don't fret! There have been culinary happenings. First, my trip to Uwajimaya today was awesome, as usual. I went a little later than I normally do. Normally, I like to arrive right away. I get to park where I please, lolly-gag around the aisles, have my pick of the freshly cut meats and stocked produce. If they open at 9, I'm there at 9:01. This is probably some sort of obsessive thing that combines my dislike of crowds and my like of early mornings and determining my own schedule and pace. Plus, this is the time when the produce stocking is happening at island tempo and the older employees are happy to engage in conversation. I got a couple recipes last time from one guy. I still have to try those out: one for Brussels and one for parsley and steak! But today I was at the store at 11! Holy gangs of shoppers, Batman! Lots of people increase my human interaction, as well as the probability of me having a disagreeable encounter. Arg! So, most people at U are smiley and seemingly happy to be shopping there ... perhaps I'm projecting, but that's what it feels like. Today I ran into out-of-towners that made me grumpy! I could tell they were not from these parts because they cut off my shopping path (gasp) without an "excuse me" (bigger gasp), and when I made eye contact with the dad (there was a toddler in the cart), he looked immediately away, so I turned to the mom and smiled only to get a scowl. Wow. That's not what we do here. Show me those pearly whites and tap into your inner politeness. Woe is me; where can I go to feel safe and warm again? Why, the meat counter, of course.

I used to be afraid of butchers. I guess "intimidated" is more accurate. I guess I thought I should have a solid grasp of animal anatomy, know all my cuts, and be able to order while projecting meatly confidence. So I always went straight to the plastic-wrapped section. The plastic-wrapped section is great and all, but you are limited in your cuts and sizes. And sometimes you should see a big, dead slab of meat getting cut up. Plastic allows us to separate ourselves from the fact that, yes, that was an animal. And, yes, it was slaughtered for consumption. If people have to think that the slice of red all wrapped up grew on a tree, just like that, in order to feel okay about eating it, maybe they shouldn't eat it. Did I just get way off on a tangent? Yes. My fear of butchers .... Thanks to the Food Network and my cookbooks and magazines, I can now saunter right on up to my meat men and tell them what I'm making and what I think I want. The difference between then and now is certainly more knowledge about the animals I consume, but more importantly a recognition of the fact that butchers are the ones who know the animal backwards and forwards and are there to help a starry-eyed waif such as me. And, frankly, I find the butchers at U awesome in all their blood-splattered glory, cutting up God's creatures for our gustatory delight.

I got lamb shanks, by the way. More on that when I put them to use.

Second, I went out last night! Mommy had a night out with her girlfriend, Jackie (shout out!). We went to Quinn's, which is a newish (?) gastropub. Speaking of meat, this place believes in it! Jackie ordered lamb ribs and I got house-made linguica with lentils de puy. Holy moly! Dare I say Great? If you have not had lentils and sausage as a combo before, I highly recommend giving it a try - they are made for each other. And the lamb. Oh, the lamb. The spice rub definitely had cinnamon in it, and coffee, cloves, and a host of other things that reminded me of cookies and BBQ, somehow making sweet music together. I washed everything down with a Drink. I usually drink beer at these types of establishments, but I thought I would start with some liquor. I started and ended with it because it was a large glass and I am not accustomed. It was delicious: calvados, chartreuse, something else and a sugar rim. Thank you. I have been thinking about it ... wanting another one.

I still have to Yelp! this place. I'm torn, though. I want to go back again before I give it a grade. I was going to hit it with 5 stars, but think that I should sample more items. I also think my five might be unduly influenced by the enjoyment that went on at the table next to us. They ordered plate after plate and shouted things like: "Keep that coming!" and "More of that!" I think they kept a menu on the table for reference and rounds of gluttony. Juxtapose that to the table on our other side of two guys (on a date, I believe) who pretty much listened to us the whole night. I would have too! We talked about religion, books, family, marriage, kids, old friends, institutionalized racism, the suburbs. No sports.

So I didn't cook yesterday. I will be cooking tonight, however, so we should have some photos tomorrow. I kicked myself for not bringing my camera to Quinn's last night. I'm not ready to give away my blogging and Yelping identity quite yet, however.

Oven is beeping its readiness. Time to go.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Love Letter to Soup

To Soup, My Dearest:
I always want you nearest
In the winter time.

Your earthy elixir
Surely will fix 'er
Up when she's cold.

I like you with meat
Or a few peppers - sweet -
And always with garlic.

A handful of beans
Definitely means
You will be hearty.

A couple potatoes
To go with my tomatoes
Is synchronicity.

For the dregs: bread
Because the bowl surely led
Straight to this moment of sopping.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Veggie Patty and Mac and Cheese

Why do I even bother? When veggies meant nothing but roasted and pureed whatever, they went down pretty smooth. Sam loved sweet potatoes, especially. But now ... what the what? I made root vegetable chips the other week. Chips, for goodness sake! They were delicious. And they were rejected. I have also made the best veggie burger ever, from Best Recipe. The bulk of the burger is mushrooms and bulgar. It was awesome, especially with catsup. Rejected. Tempura? No, thank you. Straight up vegetable X, steamed and seasoned? Heeeeeck no.

So I turn to yet another vegetable patty here. I can be called a pessimist when it comes to many things in life - human nature, mother nature, the nature of Seattle drivers - but with vegetables and Sam, I keep on it. I got this recipe from a book I am not even going to mention because I have found nothing that Sam likes in it yet. These patties are simple: grate a couple carrots, a zucchini, a small potato; let them lose some water for 20 minutes, then squeeze; mix with some flour; throw in an egg or two to make everything stick. Then you make patties and fry. I find them delightful with tempura sauce. Sam finds no delight in them whatsoever. Arg.

Next vegetable up is something I saw on Simply Ming, whom I cannot stand, by the way. What is with the way he talks? And he always calls his audience "guys." Yuck. Anyway, he made deep-fried tofu-zucchini pillows. I love frying, so I'm game.

The thing is, you have to be ready to eat or throw away what your child does not take to. Oh, and that crap about giving it to them eight times? Yeah, crap. I can't stand wasting food, yet, I also can't stand a bulging waistline. So there's the rub. When it's veggies, no biggy, but you have to watch all those extras. A little flour here and phyllo-wrapped something there, and we're not just talking a few calories anymore.

Among the frozen options that have failed are spanikopita, mushroom-a-kopita, Trader Joe's samosas (I forgot they were spicy, and Sam was not amused.), Preager's vegetable patties of all sorts (they used to be fine!), and succotash. Every now and then peas are okay, but heaven forbid you try to give this kid the same thing two days in a row.

So mac and cheese. I hear your sniggers. This is Annie's and my genius friend EB taught me how to sneak vegetables in. Instead of using milk and butter, you use pureed vegetables. In this particular batch we find cauliflower, rutabaga, tofu, and white beans ... although the serving size is infinitesimal.

I once made real macaroni and cheese, but something about a bechamel just doesn't click for me. That was the second time I tried and the second time I failed. I was left with a grainy cheese sauce. Gross. I cried a little as I dumped the whole thing out.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Halibut with Green Bean and Shiitakes

I highly recommend the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. In it, the main character, Oscar, uses the word "shiitake" to curse. Say it out loud. Go ahead. It works, and it's funny.

So halibut is a lovely, meaty fish, low on the "fishiness" scale. I have a frozen bag of fillets in the deep-freeze, which is definitely not as good as fresh, but hey, it works. It works especially when your fishmonger isn't a hop, skip and a jump away. I recently discovered that there is a halibut season, which I should have figured out on my own because there are salmon seasons for the various species, aren't there? The season for wild halibut ended about a month ago. That would be an instance where my fishmonger - whom I have maligned in the past for not offering advice on fish substitutes - offered interesting, useful and unsolicited information that I appreciated. So he's just at -1, instead of -2.

You make the cilantro sauce there and roast everything else together. It's simple and delicious. And a good example of a meal made for two that comfortably serves just two. I haven't been including recipes because they can be tedious to type out, especially when someone still has to look at her hands to type. What?! I took Art instead of Typing in high school. I can recognize the Impressionists' work, but I don't stick to my homerow. Sue me.

Sauce: Blend/mini-cuisinart together 2 cups cilantro, 2 T lemon juice, 1 green onon, 1/2 jalapeno, 3 T veg. oil, 1 tsp. sesame oil, and 1 tsp. soy sauce. That's your sauce to serve over the fish.

Fish-veg. bake: 2 -8oz. halibut fillets, 1 lb. green beans, 1 lb. shiitakes. Prep those, like you normally would. I put them in a glass baking dish and nestle the halibut in among the veggies. The original recipe says to place everything on a baking sheet in a single layer. Then pour over the following all blended up with a whisk: 2 T veg. oil, 1 tsp. sesame oil, 2 tsp. soy sauce. I pour a bit over the halibut and the rest over the veggies. Then I mix the veggies around a bit to make sure they all have sauce on them. Sometimes I get a little overzealous with my veggies and include over a lb. of each, so I double the sauce here.

Bake at 450. The time to bake depends on the thickness of the fish. If yours are only 3/4in. or so, then 10 minutes might be enough. My fillets here were fat and they needed 15-17 minutes. I like to remove the fish when it's done, mix the veggies, and send them back for about ten minutes more.

Serving with rice is advisable.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pizza and Salad

I had spinach I needed to use, so I made a pesto and added ricotta. I prepared some pasta for night #1, then this pizza for night #2. These are Sam's dinners, by the way. Pasta is always consumed eagerly. The pizza ... was rejected. He tried. He picked up his little slices and turned them this way and that. He was unmoved by the small amount of flavor he got from licking a piece. Back on the plate it went, shoved across the table at me with a firm, "All done. All done." Fine, Cheerios it is. It would be nice if what I made for Sam got the same reception that Cheerios get: "Ohhhhhhh." This is high pitched and delivered with a sense of delight.
More spinach to use became a salad for Josh and me. This is New Best Light's Spinach Salad with Sausage and Apples. I found an apple-chardonnay sausage at Trader Joe's - excellent. You saute red onion, toast walnuts (which I didn't have, so I used pistachios), then warm the dressing of cider vinegar and mustard so that it wilts the spinach ever so slightly when you pour it on. Lovely. Apples and nuts really complete a salad, don't they?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Couscous Pudding

Today has been one of those days. The night was awful - punctuated with toddler nightmares and hours of soothing. You wake tired. The kid is tired. Everyone is working on a shortened fuse. But, hey, as the adult you need to be all smiles and patience. And it works ... until it doesn't and you are in the closet in the fetal position begging the good Lord to give you one child-free day, followed by an evening in a restaurant, and a morning that doesn't start until 7:30. I'm not greedy.

But we still need to eat, don't we. No rest for the wicked ... the tired ... the huddled mass of motherhood yearning to breathe free.

Couscous pudding: a recipe I make again and again for Sam. You soak couscous in milk and add some brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, golden raisins and yogurt. I opted here for the Trader Joe's mixed dried berry pack of cranberries, cherries, golden raisins, and blueberries, instead of the singular golden raisins. It is quite delicious. I even made up a simple ditty to go along with consuming it. Sam picked it up so that whenever I say, "Shall we have some couscous pudding?" he starts in with his quasi-humming.

I usually serve a heaping bowl, well ramekin, of the stuff so that when Sam cannot finish it, I'm like, "Oh, well. I can't let it go to waste, can I?" This could be a dessert, actually.

Speaking of which, I quite like yogurt with dried fruit and honey as dessert. I got turned onto this concoction when I was on a detox diet. Relax. It wasn't drug detox or anything, just standard imbibing-eating meat-breathing pollution detox. I highly recommend it - the dessert, that is. Of course, full fat yogurt tastes best, but you can make it work with fat free, or better, 2% Greek. Yum. Those Greeks know their yogurt. My favorite fruit to include is apricots. Oh, toasted almonds sprinkled on top aren't bad either.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tuscan Chicken

This is what it looks like coming out of the oven. The recipe calls for bread crumbs sprinkled over the top, then you stick the whole thing under the broiler. I decided to pull out my old cassoulet trick and do bread chunks instead. A fabulous idea, if I do say so myself.

"Back the truck up!" you declare. "You made cassoulet and you did not tell us? Where is it?"

Well, that was before this relationship. So, we'll just have to wait until a leftover night where I have nothing culinary to discuss, or I'll just have to make it again.
Tuscan Chicken is a classic stew in the sense that you brown the meat, take it out, throw in the aromatics for sweating, throw in the liquids, put the chicken back, cover and bake. I have executed this formula enough times to now be able to experiment, as I did with this recipe. That feels good. Why throw in only 8oz. pureed tomatoes? Hm. I've got a 15.5oz. can of tomato sauce, how about that? Sounds good. Why measure the white wine? Dunno. Not gonna do it. Add some carrots and celery because I feel like it! Outcome = nothing short of deliciousness.

And beans really complete something like this. What is it about those wee fiber powerhouses?

This recipe did remind me how much I dislike browning chicken. I keep trying to make it less messy and end up spending the first part of my browning making up for being a doofus. This time, I put the heat on mere medium. Doofus! The chicken stuck AND didn't brown right. I got to make up for that mistake in round two of chicken browning, so I got a nice crusts on the last three thighs. What I can't stand about browning is the mess. Splatter everywhere! It even gets on the floor and makes it slick. Plus, I rarely find time to clean the range, and chicken splatter just invites everyone to the stick party. Ug. Yes, I have a splatter guard. That would be another mistake I am always making, vis a vis, "Oh, I don't need that. Fat gets everywhere anyway." Doofus. Again. Just put it on there. Josh invariably walks into the kitchen during this phase of the cooking and demands to know where the guard is and why I don't have it in place. Yeah yeah. I relent, but unwillingly, like a child. I used another cassoulet trick on the chicken. Well, it's a New Best cassoulet trick. That is, remove the chicken skin after browning. The idea is that it has already lent itself to the fond, now it will only lend itself to grease. I did leave a bit on because the skin had all but melted off and left behind a really nice, crisp crust. I knew I would want that later.

After all that browning, you throw in the aromatics. Which brings me to my biggest cooking dislike: chopping onions ... followed in close second by peeling and chopping garlic. First, with the onion, that darn papery skin gets everywhere. How do I always manage to get a few pieces in my nicely minced onion? I inevitably catch it as I am tossing the bowl into the pot. And, oh yes, I do try to fish it out. I've got my chopping technique down; I know that I cannot truly avoid burning eyes; I have a great cutting board and chopping system in place. Really, the only thing that bothers me is the darned paper. Hm. The onion was definitely first when I had a narrow cutting board that allowed at least half of that aromatic - and everything else I chopped - to end up on the floor. Perhaps, in light of my new enormous board, garlic should move to first place. Yes, garlic is now first. Let's review its sins: (1) that darned paper! It sticks! It's hard to get off, then gets all ornery once it is off, trying to get back onto everything it touches. (2) Chopping it is like picking your torture. Do you want to slice through a fingernail as you use your chef's knife to mince? Are you going to slice, and risk taking off the whole tip of the finger? Mario Batali once called a garlic mincer "a Medieval torture device." I stopped using mine after I heard that, but have started right up again, accepting the inconvenience of trying to get all the gook out of the mini-tub just so that I don't have to try to use a knife. And don't think I can't see your sneers. Ah, she must have poor knife skills. No way! I use my knuckles as a backboard, like the pros, I swear. I can make eye contact in conversation while chopping, really. But garlic is so teeny-tiny. I just ... hate it. I said it. There.

What to serve with the stew? I thought of mashed potatoes to sop up sauce. But, then, I reasoned, we were supposed to have potatoes Saturday night with the Walkers, and we can't have the very same form of potatoes two nights in a row. So I went with what my sister calls Dirty Potatoes. I like this moniker. Unfortunately, I am going to have to call Mel out right here and dispel a myth she is currently living under. Dirty Potatoes were NOT, Mel, invented by your ex, one Mr. Jason Riehl. The recipe, in fact, in on the back of the onion mix packet. Sorry. I highly recommend making your own dirty potatoes because they rock the house. Look at that carmelization. I made us save some so that we could have them with bacon and eggs the following morning.

If only I had known that I was going to be sick today! Sucks. So, no fancy breakfast and no dinner with the Walkers tonight. I've got some tummy issues. Boo. What in the world will I talk about tomorrow?

Xmas Cookies

I decided on pfeffernuesse, chocolate crackle tops, pecan bars, almond balls, peanut butter kisses (with non-pareils instead of Hershey's kisses - superior!), and jam sandwiches. I usually make a gingerbread army, but I knew I wouldn't have time this year. Next year, I will make chai shortbread instead of pfeffernuesse.
This is the time of year when we (amateur, at-home) bakers learn - or relearn, in some cases - baking techniques and rules. For example, if the recipe says to let sugar and butter boil for two minutes without touching it, don't touch it. I know it looks like it really wants to be stirred. I know you wish that the cookbook would just say, because you will ruin it if you touch it, so that you know why you are not supposed to touch it. But don't experiment when you don't have another pound of butter waiting in the wings just in case.
Another thing is that, when grinding your own nuts, once you see that they are ground, stop. Just one more pulse spells the difference between ground nuts and nut butter.

I did this to my hazelnuts, which I was using for pfeffernuesse, which did not come out spicy and earthy like I wanted them to. I need another recipe. Preferably, one that does not use hazelnuts because ... this time of year, I also remember how much I hate hazelnuts. They are easy to over bake and hard to peel. You do all this work for bitter, nastiness that you throw out to the squirrels. Harrumph.

I do love baking cookies, though. A couple recipes got me really mad this year - and that is part of the fun. I forget how much work it is and how much my feet hurt and how ticked off I get when a dough sticks as I roll it, or doesn't look right, or what-have-you. But you forget all that stuff so that you bake again next year, of course. Because the best part about making cookies is handing them out.

I gave away seven or so plates, mostly to neighbors. I was invited in to three out of the five houses I visited. My husband dropped off one more plate, and I am sure I would have been invited in there as well. One house in particular - the gruff old man next door, who I absolutely love - did not invite me in, and barely opened the door wide enough. But his face when he saw that plate of cookies! 82 years old and he lit up like a toddler on Christmas morning. Then he thanked me and closed the door in my face. Ah, gruff old men.

I want to give people plates of Valentine's cookies this year. Wouldn't that be fun? Winter is lonely in Seattle, as we all hole up with our space heaters and humidifiers and fleece. I think people would be happy to get a little pink plate with heart-shaped cookies. Yes!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Linguine with Crab and Peppers

I know. I know. This is fettuccine, not linguine. It was either that or spaghetti, which would have been a major pasta foul. I had my doubts about this dish, but I love crab, and all the other ingredients, so why wouldn't they work well together? This recipe calls for that one ingredient that comes up on occasion - that one thing that makes you go, "Oh yeah ... that." I like that. That always works well in sauces and soups. That could even be a secret ingredient! Like anchovies or Worcestershire sauce. Clam juice! That's right, I said it. So, you undercook the pasta, throw it in with the peppers and garlic (that cooked in butter!), and add clam juice and a bit of pasta water to finish. Awesome. Oh yeah, wine too. Sprinkle on some parsley, pine nuts and Parmesan (you save the P items for last), and you are ready to eat.

Oh yeah, I hecka used canned crab (sorry Dad). I am all for laboring over a real crab, and I do get the flavor difference, but on a weeknight? With Junior at my feet and blogging to do? No. We still picked a bit of shell out of our teeth, so the authenticity was totally there.

There's one big BUT with this dish. I keep pushing the envelope on this lesson that I have learned repeatedly, thinking Oh, no, not this time. Not with this fish. This one is different. When will I truly learn that Fish is NOT a Good Choice for Leftovers?! Sam won't even eat his breaded tilapia if it's from the day before. You can see it in his eyes: the recognition that the not-so-crunchy crunch is because it has been reheated. Noooooo. So, don't go for leftover crab. It didn't smell as bad as the trout, but still unpleasant.

Speaking of the trout, I just revisited it as I was cleaning the sink! What? The metal, or maybe the growth that was already in the sink (gross), absorbed the scent from almost a week ago, and then released it when I was scrubbing with Bon Ami. Yum.

I had to make something to go with the linguine as a veggie - a few strips of pepper do not a serving make. I wilted some kale and threw on the vinaigrette and gorgonzola from the Winter Salad we had with the Morgans. I remembered the candied nuts after I took the photo, but before digging in. Close one.

I love greens, don't you? And they are so good for you, so that's a bonus. I find kale to be the most palatable. Oh, chard too. Sorry, chard; you are the prettiest. Have you had dino kale? I think it goes by a few different names, but it looks like a green reptile purse or something. It's delicious as well. Purple kale, too. I have tried beet, mustard, turnip, and dandelion greens - that is ascending bitterness order there - and they all have their place, for sure, but that place should be in a sauce or among pork pieces of some sort. And, the mother of greens, collards! This is one tough, f'ing green. You want to eat the stems without at least an hour of cooking? Good luck. It's winter hardy, and it shows. I think I always serve collards cooked in bacon fat and chicken stock, with bacon sprinkled on at the end. I have never cooked the stems, and I don't intend to.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ode to an Unfinished Lunch, by Sam

I sing to thee forlorn,
Oh egg and bread of corn.
I care not to test or savor
And I see this denial is out of favor
With my mother, who is vexed,
Or at least perplexed
By how I operate on calories so few
And how I routinely reject even you,
Oh, muffin and egg dressed with cheese,
As Mom begs and embarrasses us both with "please."
See, this is not a rejection of you -
Not a running away, but a running to
Freedom! To rolling about on the rug
And smearing dirt on my adorable mug.
I wish not to pain you so,
But, really, I must go



Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cornbread muffins

Surely the Pennsylvania Dutch invented cupcakes. Seems like something genius they would think up. I have five different muffins in my freezer right now: Peanut butter, blueberry, crazy grain, pumpkin, and corn. I make a batch, keep a few out for Sam and me for the week, and toss the rest in the deep freeze. I also have cupcakes - mocha. The thing is, Sam goes through phases where he loves and then rejects the same muffin. PB with jam is good today, whereas tomorrow, he will turn his nose up. Josh asked, "Why are there so many different muffins in here? Why do you make so many?" Your son and his fickle tastes, that's why.

The ones pictured above are the batch that I made using "How to Cook Everything," by Mark Bittman. This was yet another of his recipes that left me wondering why I ever turn to any cookbook except my Best Recipes. The muffins above were disgusting. Inedible and disgusting. There was a sour aftertaste, AND they were like rocks. I thought the dough looked rather thick, but I was like, "Oh, thick is good. These will really rise and ..." Do I even know what I'm talking about? No. So corn flavored hockey pucks. The sourness could have been my doing, I realize. The recipe calls for buttermilk or yogurt or soured milk. I go for the yogurt. I only had a cup of yogurt, but I needed 1/4 cup more. So I figure, Hey, sour cream is similar in texture. Now, if you're a baker you know that this was not an inane pull from the fridge shelves. There are plenty of cakes, cupcakes, and breads that call for sour cream as the viscous fat component. Not weird for me to think of this. Smart for me to think of this. And yet, I can't help but think that my 1/4 cup decision had something to do with the fact that I have thrown out TWO things in the past week. A record, for sure.

Did I mention that this was my first attempt to make cornbread muffins from scratch? I know. I know. I am a baking maven. I bake my own bread, for goodness sake. First time? Yes, friends, yes.

Those of you in the know about the cookbook I used are scolding me right now, aren't you? I hear you: "I saw Bittman on 'Spain: On the Road Again,' and know that he is not a chef." Yes, I saw him, too. He writes a column! It's like Padma Lakshmi having a cookbook (she does). I have, however, found some fabulous recipes in his book: waffles, pickles, and celeriac-potato mash. So, the jury is still out. I won't put him on the trusted list of cookbooks just yet.

So after I ditched the corn pucks I did two things: (1) I bought the failsafe cornbread mix from Trader Joe's. (2) I found a recipe in New Best. Below is the NB, and they are delicious! Funny, though, because this recipe calls for sour cream and, after I used 1/4 cup for the crap pucks, I was just a bit shy. So I used yogurt to make up the scant difference. Ha.

I'm wondering if I didn't make a mistake in taking Bittman's "bread" recipe and translating it to muffin form. But I've done that before, right? You can do that, right? Hm.

All this baking means I've got it together. I mean, if I bake then I am in control of my destiny. I am making It and doing It as a stay-at-home-mom, right? I think these little corn muffins are some sort of outward recognition that I am Okay. Because sometimes you don't feel Okay. Like when your son refuses to nap, so you sit and listen to him cry during "rest time," while you type a blog entry. Because, hey, 30 minutes in the car do not a nap make. And, hey, why fight it? And, hey, Mommy needs some rest, too, and crying in the car for five minutes doesn't count. And, hey! when the house and you look like crap because neither are clean, but muffins are there making the house smell good, then everything is good.