Saturday, May 31, 2008

Waffles three ways, and how to poach an egg

13 ways of looking at a waffle... or, well, three, at least.

Breakfast for dinner is one of William's favorite meals. That might be primarily because bacon features a starring role on his plate, but there are lots of delicious breakfast foods that are way too good to be reserved for the a.m. Waffles? French toast? Fruit-filled pancakes? Muffins? Breakfast potatoes?

Not too long ago I gave in to my craving for waffles and bought a cheap waffle iron at the thrift store. Of course, that meant it was waffles-for-dinner time!

The waffles are standard Joy of Cooking, with whole wheat flour subbed in for some of the flour. From left,one has a poached egg and salsa (wish I'd had some bell peppers), one is topped with bananas and chocolate, and the third has strawberries and bananas in it. Overall it was pretty delightful. I wasn't sure if the waffle-and-egg thing would work, but it was even better than eggs on toast. I should have gone ahead and added some cheese -- then I would have been really living on the edge.

I might have mentioned my inability to poach eggs... but that one doesn't look too bad, right? Flat, but at least in one piece. My father gave me some advice, in a roundabout fashion:

-Add vinegar to the water right before the eggs
-Make sure that the water is the right temperature, just hot enough that tiny bubbles on the bottom drift up slowly.
-Crack the egg right above the water, so that the eggshell is partly underneath the water as you split it open. Your fingers should get barely wet if you have the shell close enough.

And it helped! Thanks, Tom!


Friday, May 30, 2008

Peanut sesame noodles

Smitten Kitchen is the creme de la creme brulee among food blogs, in my oh-so-humble opinion. The photography is stellar, the posts consistently interesting and covering a wide range of foods... check it out, yo.

While you're there, why don't you check out the recipe for peanut sesame noodles? Those are some seriously yummy noodles. I know because I made them! And once again I almost exactly followed the recipe. I'm beginning to think that's a really good idea.

The sauce, in particular, emphasized that particular fact. Peanut butter, soy sauce, water, vinegar, sesame oil, a little ginger, garlic and hot sauce -- exactly the ingredients I use whenever I make a peanut sauce. But when I followed her proportions, the sauce was so much better than anything I throw together, it was downright ridiculous. Down. Right. Ridiculous.

My pictures, of course, are nowhere near as lovely as hers, but I'm trying:

You might notice I added radishes. There were a few other modifications, all very small, because I followed the recipe, remember? But I won't bother to tell you about them because I am 110% sure that the original version was better.

I think I'm getting better at it!

True story: I bought a white plate just so I could take pictures of food on it. Is that silly?

Sometimes I get very jealous reading the really good food blogs. It's not just that I am jealous of their beautiful kitchens and wealth of knowledge and photography skillz and beautiful plating and stunning, diverse dishes and general talent. It's a combination of all of that, plus they are just cooler than me. I read their blogs and think, "ooh!", and then I think, "man, I feel like such a cooking loser." I pout for about three seconds, then I perk up. I'm not good at staying down for too long.

But SOMEDAY I am going to be a perfectly BRILLIANT cook. I'm going to have a wealth of knowledge and a massive cookbook collection I've read cover-to-cover and a lovely, huge black and stainless steel kitchen with an excessive amount of counter space. I'm going to cook stunningly ornate feasts and deceptively, beautifully simple meals and talk intelligently about where my ingredients came from and everybody who eats my food will be blissfully happy, because it will not only be made with love but also with SKILLZ. I will have MAD CRAZY SKILLZ.

And do you know what I'll do? I'll write all about it on the internet to make kids like me super jealous (and maybe inspired.) This will be my vengeance.


Curried pea and green onion frittata

When we left my grandma's house after Memorial Day weekend, she spent the last hour steadfastly heaping up a mound of food we absolutely had to take home with us. "It's a long drive," she said, putting enough vegetables in baggies to last us all week.
I understand the motivation; for me, too, food is an expression of love. Still, we could not help but laugh as the pile grew higher and filled one bag, then another, then another. "What kind of cookies would you like, oreos or macademia nut?"

"Grandma, we don't need any cookies. We don't want any cookies!"

"Okay, how about oreos?"

My aunt, meanwhile, offered us not only food, but EVERYTHING. Not just strawberries and brownies and cheesecake, but also science fiction novels, massive blue beanbag chairs, a full-length mirror, a cheese grater, a stack of magazines... any time I complimented something, it seemed her next words were, "Do you like it? Do you want it? I'll buy another!"

I did give in when it came to the magazines and the books... because, books! I can't turn down books. I think it's coded in my genome that I am a sucker for books. And the magazines were, more specifically, issues of Bon Appetit. For the cover pictures alone, I had to take them.

And from the very first one I opened, I found a keeper! Curried Pea Frittata with Fresh Tomato Chutney. Or in our case, without the fresh tomato chutney, as we lacked fresh tomatoes.

The real miracle here is that we had just gotten back from a weekend away, and hadn't had a chance to go shopping, and the recipe happened to call only for ingredients we had. Even the green onions -- a couple of weeks ago there was a huge bunch at the dollar store, in one of those special breathing bags for vegetables. As it hadn't been opened, they were still good, which is both impressive and scary, if you ask me.

So I basically followed the recipe, something I've been doing rarely enough lately, and it turned out pretty excellently. I used a little less curry powder than the recipe called for, since I only had Madras curry powder, which is rather on the hot side. Alas, my adjustments were unnecessary; I could have used the full allotment just fine. Heat and quantity aside, adding the curry powder is a stroke of genius.

And I'm sure the chutney would have been delicious.

Curried Pea Frittata with Fresh Tomato Chutney
, from Bon Appetit, June 2008.

1 12-ounce container grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1 1/8-inch-thick round peeled fresh ginger, chopped

8 large eggs
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 green onions, chopped
1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Preheat broiler. Place tomatoes, brown sugar, cumin, garlic and ginger in processor. Using on/off turns, blend just until tomatoes are coarsely chopped. Transfer chutney to small bowl; reserve processor bowl. Season chutney to taste with salt and pepper.

Beat eggs thoroughly with a whisk. (The original recipe called for a food processor, but definitely not necessary. Add the cheese, curry powder and salt, and whisk until completely blended.

Heat oil in large, broilerproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add green onions and peas. Saute until onions wilt, about 1 minute (Or two, maybe three. Just saying.) Add the egg mixture. Cook until top is almost set and the bottom is golden, lifting edges to let uncooked egg flow underneath, about 7 minutes. (Mine took a tad longer.)

Place frittata in broiler until top is set, about 1 minute. Run heatproof rubber spatula around frittata to loosen and slide out onto plate. Serve warm or at room temperature with tomato chutney.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Speaking of making your own pasta...

Last night we ate at my aunt and uncle's house, which is pretty much the best Italian restaurant I've ever been to. My aunt is on a fondue kick right now, so we started out with an awesome cheese fondue... I used to think I wouldn't like cheese fondue. Why did I think that? What was wrong with me? And then we finished up with a chocolate fondue, which was a-freaking-mazing.

She had frozen cheesecake cubes.

Cheesecake. On a stick. Dipped in chocolate. Where have you been all my life? World, why were you hiding this from me?

My life has been transformed. I have experienced the ultimate indulgence of dipping frozen cheesecake into a vat of molten chocolate. I will never be the same.

In between, we had gnocchi (which I finally learned how to say correctly, and promptly forgot. En-yoki. Enyoki. Enyoki... ah well.) and home-made ravioli. I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen, watching Uncle Tony make that ravioli.

By the time we got there, he'd already made the dough -- a pity, because I'd wanted to see that magical transformation of flour and egg. He was cutting pieces off, pressing them flat, and sending them through a magical rolling machine over and over and over again. "The real old-fashioned way to make it is with a rolling pin," he said with a chuckle, adjusting the width settings on the side of the simple gadget. "They even have electric ones, so you don't even have to turn it... but this isn't so bad."

One through at 1, fold in half, again. Once at 2, 3, 4 -- fold in half, and again. Each time the strip of dough got mysteriously longer, even thinner, growing and stretching delicately until he had to fold it over on itself to pick it up. Once each at 5, 6 and 7, then spread out beneath a damp towel -- and again with the next hunk of dough.

Over and over again he stretched out the pasta dough, until he had several layers of them spread out beneath the towel. It took hours from flour to delicate strips of dough, but it was a beautiful thing to watch.

And then the assembly -- spread out, marked with a cup, spoonfuls of cheese (ricotta, parmesan, and a bit of egg), more dough on top and then neat circles cut out with a cup. Real fancy equipment required for this part. This whole time, the pomodoro sauce was slowly simmering away on the cooktop -- "Tomatoes, onion and garlic." "That's it?" "A bit of olive oil." "No basil? No oregano?" "Bit of salt and pepper." "That's it?" "That's it. That's how they make it in Italy, after all."

With a fork or a little cinching gadget, he pressed the edges of the circles of dough together, then placed them in a dish, layer after slow layer. Another hour.

The pomodoro simmering away, the kitchen smelling better and better as time went on, as we cut up a baguette for the cheese fondue, as the cheese was grated and melted and the baguette vanished and the fondue pot was cleaned out and the gnocchi popped out of the plastic into the pot and finally, at the very last minute, the ravioli were delicately dropped into the hot water -- and bare minutes later, pulled out.

Those just-cooked ravioli and the long-cooking sauce and a slight shake of cheese -- so delicious. So delicious it might even have been worth all the work, if it had been work. It hadn't, of course. "I love cooking," he said, a vanilla soda in his hand and a grin on his face. "Making that ravioli -- it relaxes me. I don't know why, but it just relaxes me." It certainly was fun to watch.

I powered through my ravioli. I'm a slow eater, usually, savoring every bite, but some things are just so good you can't wait to have more. I couldn't wait. I downed them. The edges were maybe a little bit thicker than with frozen ravioli, but the texture of the filling was so much better than any I remember having. There was something undeniably but indefinably fresh about it all -- something in its smothness, its bite. Absolutely AMAZING.

And did I mention the cheesecake? On a stick? Covered in chocolate?


Sunday, May 25, 2008

How to Pick a Peach

It takes 30 years to develop a new variety of citrus fruit, six years to find a new sort of strawberry. California produces over half of the nation's fruits and vegetables. Artichokes are the unopened flower bud of a plant called the "improved cardoon." Iceberg lettuce is becoming the hot new thing in Europe, now that romaine rules the lettuce world here. Climacteric fruits, like peaches and mangoes, will ripen after picking; so will cantaloupes, but honeydews won't. Leeks are so gritty and dirty because farmers heap dirt around their bases to block sunlight, prevent the formation of chlorophyll and maintain the white color; a similar process is used to make white asparagus.

I'm barely 100 pages into "How to Pick a Peach: The Search For Flavor from Farm to Table," by Russ Parsons, and already I am learning an incredible amount about my produce. So far, the advice on how to determine quality produce has been less than earth-shattering -- look for unwilted lettuce, firm green pea pods, onions without fungus. Not exactly rocket science. The essays about the economics, politics, and problems of farming are interesting, and the introduction he gives to each plant is enlightening -- history, chemistry, biology, culinary science. The gambling act played by iceberg lettuce growers is absolutely astounding, as is the chemical behavior of artichokes. It's a pretty fantastic book so far.

After all the philosophical, guilt-inducing food books I've been reading lately, Parsons has a refreshingly different point of view. He claims he doesn't particularly care about the health value or environmental impact of the food he eats, and morality has yet to come up. He is in hot pursuit of flavor -- the best vegetables are the ones that taste the best, period. It's not exactly the way I look at food, but it's pretty close, and I certainly appreciate the clarity of his focus.

Parsons does make me feel incredibly behind the times. He says, "'Eat local; eat seasonal.' How many times have you heard it?" And, well, I guess pretty often -- but it still seems like a recent trend to me. Guess I'm just out of the loop. He writes, "It's surprising that in this do-it-yourself world of cooking, where people brag about making their own bread, fresh pasta and chicken broth, jam making is still so little regarded." Am I wrong in thinking that the home-made movement is still rather the enclave of foodies? I'd say that organic is going mainstream, but do-it-yourselfing and local-eating still seem to me like they have yet to enter the habits of the general populace. (I fear that may just me wanting to feel special, but I reacted to that fear with some more thought... and I still think making your own stock, bread and pasta is unusual, at least if you look outside the narrow confines of foodie culture.)

I could be totally wrong, of course, but I think Parsons is revealing just how specific of an audience he thinks he's writing to -- culinary sorts who already try to eat local, who make their own pasta, who have an opinion on "composed salads" and for whom the phrase "heirloom tomato" needs no explanation. "Foodies now have no trouble at all explaining brunoise (and even pronouncing it correctly) or expounding on the differences between the Maillard reaction and caramelization. Yet many are completely in the dark about the very ingredients they're so expertly chopping and browning," Parsons writes.

He does his book a disservice if he thinks it would only serve those foodies. l may be well on my way to becoming a foodie, but I have only the vaguest idea that the Maillard reaction might involve meat changing colors, and had never heard of composed salads. Not to mention, of course, that my only attempt at making pasta was a gummy, gluey failure. The point is that absolutely none of that knowledge is necessary to understand this book. Parsons describes selecting, storing and cooking techniques in great, for-dummies detail -- he includes an explanation of how to hard-boil an egg, for heaven's sake.

This book should, in fact, be marketed to the interested but clueless, to those who want to eat better food but aren't quite sure where to start. I would submit that most foodies do, in fact, know more about their produce than Parsons suggests. It's the rest of us who need his help.


Friday, May 16, 2008

links: crazy, impressive, crazy/impressive

(I will probably never try any of these -- but wow, are they fun to look at!)

Potato Bagel Stars, at Bread Blog. Not just home-made bagels. Not just home-made potato bagels. Home-made potato bagels shaped like stars.

Baumkuchen - Tree Cake (aka. Happy Belated Birthday Josh), at Baked. Omigoodness. Look at how many LAYERS are in that cake. The layers are brushed on, for heaven's sake. Now that is just ridiculous.

Tuile Cookies, at VeganYumYum. Now those are very, very pretty cookies. I love to look at them! But I would hate to make them. The end. Well, not the end. Lolo insists that it is easy, but I know that I would end up with scorched fingers and sorrowfully misshapen cookies. Not today, thanks.

Springy Flower Pot Desserts: A Blast From My Past, at The Pioneer Woman Cooks. Ha! The Pioneer Woman outdid herself again. These are HILARIOUS.

Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake, at JoyTheBaker. Joy the Baker is an amazing blogger. She has also only been blogging for, like, five months! But she rocks. This, my friends, is a cake inside a cake. It is pretty much as awesome as the billion-layer cake above, but tastier-looking! And she says it is a great last-minute dessert, so maybe it is not so hard, but it looks tough enough for me to want to wait it out. Plus, I don't have a bundt pan. Ah well.

Papaya Shikai Maki & How to Roll Them - recipe, at For the Love of Food. Just go look at them. They are adorable and amazing and I really want to try to make them because if I could I would feel sooo proud of myself, but I really don't want to, because I'm sure that I can't. Gah!

Chocolate Covered Bacon, at Slog via Accidental Hedonist. This qualifies under "Crazy." Also, under "Barf-inducing" and "Disgusting" and "Nauseating" and lots of other gross words. Ew.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

links: pretty pictures and tempting recipes

Carrot-Pecan Bread at Cookie Madness. It's from Southern Living! Man, I remember Southern Living. What a sweet magazine. Did they write about anything but food? I don't really think so. The moral of the story is, in the South, Life = Food. Not a bad deal.

Jamie Oliver's Fish And Chips, at Almond Corner. Not pretty... but certainly tempting. I wanna make it and wrap it in newspaper and take it to the river, and pretend that it is cold here. That would be amazing.

Chocolate Muffins, at Almond Corner. Almond Corner makes me wish I had a scale, or the will to do conversions. The recipes are so pretty! So interesting! So metric!

Bollywood Cooking: Aachari Alu - Potatoes in Mango Chutney Sauce, at What's For Lunch Honey. This is a very different kind of Indian food than I usually eat... and it looks amazing!

Berry my heart in a galette, at What geeks eat.... I don't believe I have ever had a galette, although I've seen them mentioned several times since I started lurking around the food blogosphere. Flogosphere? Sounds violent. Anyway. Now I want a galette.

Tuesday Techniques: French Apple Tart, at The Amateur Gourmet. I like tarts!

peanut sesame noodles, at I adore Smitten Kitchen. Look how pretty her pictures are! Look how pretty her food is! And she's funny, too. Are you jealous? 'Cuz I'm jealous.

brownie roll-out cookies, at Did I mention that I adore Smitten Kitchen? Read this post, all the way down to the bottom where she offhandedly mentions making ice cream sandwiches with these lovely brownie/cookies. YES, PLEASE.

Lemon Tart, at Simply Recipes Food and Cooking Blog. I have been craving lemonade lately. Maybe that has something to do with why this looks so dang delicious.

Cranberry Orange Almond Oatmeal, at JoyTheBaker. I eat a lot of oatmeal. My oatmeal suddenly feels very drab and dull, and it is hiding in a corner. Come out, little oatmeal bowl! Come over to where I can reach you with my dried cranberries!

Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce,at JoyTheBaker. What? You want more than that? It's Joy. I trust her. This will blow my mind when I make it, I am sure.

Black Raspberry Muffins, at JoyTheBaker. So I maybe have a girlcrush on Joy the Baker. So sue me! Those muffins look darned delicious enough to justify a world of crushing.

Sweet Potato Fries - recipe, at For the Love of Food. I think Steph told me to make these. I think I will!

The ephemeral party - Gâteau fondant au chocolat, at foodbeam. This is a baked chocolate mousse. Go look at the pictures. Then come back and tell me how very very very badly you want one. And if you don't like chocolate, then go away for a little while. The rest of us are bonding.

Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey Crepes, at Closet Cooking. What a great idea! Why haven't I had that idea yet??

Orange Kiss-Me Cake, at Baking Bites. California-flavored cake for breakfast; does life get much better? I submit that it does not!

Chocolate&Espresso Crêpes, at Almond Corner. More crepes! What can I say? I have a weakness for coffee. And chocolate. And crepes. Together? I'm helpless!

Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies
-- Anna of Cookie Madness made these wine-infused cookies, and they sound scrumptious... if the cherries were left out, that is. Anybody want to buy me a decent dry red wine? Anybody? I'll share the cookies with you!

Sigrid's Carrot Cake at The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Carrot Bundt Cake at Baking Bites

I think we need to hold a carrot cake-off (bake-off? cakebake-off?) and compare the two. On the one hand, I pretty much adore The Pioneer Woman. Do you read her blog? You should. Every now and again I sigh and say, "William, wouldn't it be fun to move out into the middle of nowhere and have a working cattle ranch and spend our days wearing wranglers and cowboy boots and raising a swarm of children and doing great things like slicing the testicles off of calves?" and he look at me with terror and worry in his eyes, and I say, "but The Pioneer Woman has so much fun!"

On the other hand, Nicole says a great strength of her cake recipe is that it is lighter and fluffier than most carrot cakes, and that is pretty much the only thing I have against carrot cake -- sometimes it's just too darn dense. And there comes a point where if it's oily and thick enough, you can't pretend that it's healthy any more -- and that just takes all the fun out of it!

I don't know. I think I'll have to make them both. Anybody else have a favorite carrot cake recipe? Want to toss your hat into the ring? Send me a carrot cake recipe!


Monday, May 12, 2008

links: interesting reads

a taste of yellow: lemon petits fours, at use real butter. In this lovely, poignant post, Jen writes about her fight with cancer, alternating between anecdotes/introspection and lovely pictures of very complicated petits fours she baked for LiveStrong day. An amazing post.

And two fantastic posts about the food shortage -- one emotional, one intellectual.

No Words, at Tea & Cookies, and The Ultimate Guide to Understanding the Food Crisis: How it Started, Who it Hurts Most, and How to Solve the Problem, at Cheap Healthy Good.

Travel Thursday #9: London in Winter with Flowers, at A Life (Time) of Cooking. This may not be interesting for you, but it does bring back memories for me.

Russian black bread for my mother, at Tea and Cookies. Together with an older post of Tea's, A Very Special Day, this post provides a great glimpse at the personalities of a mother and her daughter, and a brief illumination of the fascinating, complex, and contradictory relationship between the two women. The first post is also wrapped around the baking of Russian Black Bread, one of the most fascinating, complex and contradictory recipes I've ever seen. Shallots and vinegar and chocolate and fennel, espresso powder and cornmeal and bran... Appropriate, I'd say. Strange and sometimes conflicting ingredients, a long arduous process, and a result that both Tea and Deb from Smitten Kitchen proclaim extraordinary. Mothers and Daughters, eh?


Sunday, May 11, 2008

On dreadful food

We are here in Mississippi, waiting for the Carter Work project to begin so we can start swinging hammers. And as lowly Americorps, we are housed in the Isle of Capri casino, where the food is TERRIBLE. Not just bad: really, really terrible. I was eating hard-boiled eggs on dinner rolls, because everything else was so greasy, so salty or so foul that I simply could not stomach it.

"Guys," James said, "Come on. This isn't so bad."

We just looked at him.

"I've had worse," he said cheerfully as he wolfed down more food. "I mean, it's not great, but it's certainly not that bad."

I sighed. "James, life is just too short to eat shitty food."

He shrugged. "I eat to live, you know?"

There he sat, wolfing down a plateful of pathetic substitutes for sustenance, and I struggled to think of a way to convey the fullness of my reaction. Because life IS too short to eat shitty food, and just because you may not live to eat doesn't mean you have to feed your body foulness.

So I said, thinking that this was a totally irrefutable argument that would cause him to see the gloriously delicious light of day, "James, you breathe to live, right? But you wouldn't walk around with -- with a canister of smog attached to your face."

"Um... I smoke cigarettes."


"Sorry," he said, with a grin, a shrug, and a raised fork.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

links: things the blogosphere has taught me

Cumin is Egyptian. Cumin, in spicy pinto bean ravioli. The Perfect Pantry is always good for a fascinating read and some great new facts. In this edition -- all about cumin, which I use in everything -- I learned that cumin is related to caraway, is native only to the Nile River Valley, though it is used in cuisine around the world, and it treats indigestion and morning sickness while stimulating the appetite. I've met my new knowledge quota for the day already!

Herbs need water... How to Store Parsley, Cilantro, and Other Fresh Herbs, at Simply Recipes Food and Cooking Blog. The idea seems to be that you treat fresh herbs a little like cut flowers, keeping them alive in water. How clever is that?

...and I need appliances. The A.G.'s Guide To Equipping Your Kitchen, at The Amateur Gourmet, taught me that my kitchen is amazingly under-equipped. Like I didn't know that already! But seriously, his "few, high-quality" kitchen supplies would break my budget like Bush broke the country's. And when he "covers all the bases?" Yeah, that's my dream kitchen right there. Man. Someday...

Semolina is complicated. Semolina Flour: Don't be Confused, at Cupcake Project. Semolina flour is not the same as semolina, which is not the same as couscous. The first is made from durum wheat, the second is Cream of Wheat, and the third is different all-together (mostly.) Got that?

Artificial vanilla works just fine. A Vanilla Taste Test, at Baking Bites. Surprise! In most recipes, super-expensive real vanilla extract is pretty indistinguishable from super-cheap artificial vanilla. Who knew? I sure didn't! I have a freaking $12 bottle of vanilla extract sitting on my shelf right now, because I may be cheap, but I have my standards. And it turns out my standards are all wrong!

Pyrex rocks. Metal, glass and ceramic pie plates, at Baking Bites. A handy little analysis of the differences between different kinds of pie pans.

Rhyme and greason. Wow, that was bad.Greasing and flouring vs greasing a pan, at Baking Bites. Greasing vs. flouring is way more complicated than I thought it was! Baking Bites breaks it down pretty easily, though; it is all about the sugar.

Fluff, scoop and level.
Flour 101: Accurate Measurements
, at Smitten Kitchen. I knew this was how you were supposed to measure flour... but I didn't know why. Now I do!

Condiments go bad fast.
How long can you keep open condiments,
, at The Kitchn. Salsa only lasts a month, huh? Sure wish I'd learned this before my two-month-old salsa was opened and spread on my chips! (Actually, I think I did read this before I performed that particular action. Ooops. And yes, it was most emphatically bad. Bad, bad salsa.)

Potatoes shouldn't be green. About Green Potatoes, at Simply Recipes Food and Cooking Blog. Did you know green splotches on potatoes are toxic? Me neither! But now that I do, I cut them off... because it may not kill you, but it can't hurt to be safe. Right? Right!

Microwaves can do more than reheat. You use it every day, but can you make it cook?, atThe New York Times. Mark Bittman on cooking with the microwave... apparently, it's not an oxymoron after all!


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Vegetable stock

What's the difference between broth and stock, really? Can it be as simple as "stock is an ingredient, broth is a dish?" Because I'm not sure that it can. Isn't it french? French things are never that easy, I think.

Anyway. Stock! I'm making my own roasted vegetable stock. It should be done simmering away even as we speak. I found two handy recipes, and the second one even came complete with a forum with step-by step, illustrated instructions

Since I had such a great resource, of course the first thing I did was read all the way through it, carefully and completely, looking at the pretty little pictures. So or course I saw that it was recommended to use the leaves of the parsley, not the stems, and that the parsley was supposed to be added to the roasted vegetables and water. Carefully considering that advice, i decided to use leftover parsley stems, and roast them with the vegetables, because... um... I thought it would create a deeper, more complex flavor. Uh huh. That's it.

Gosh, I'm stupid. How do I keep missing the 'read the recipe' part of cooking? Once or twice would make sense, but you'd also think I would LEARN. I also got distracted and let it boil for a while before turning it down to a simmer. Isn't that bad for it somehow? I don't know. I just don't know.

Anyway. Yeah. That illustrated forum was great. Are you planning to make roasted vegetable stock? Do it like they do it! (As I say, not as I do!)


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tofu, carrot and squash stir-fry

Stir-fry is my default dish, my lazy option, my fallback, my "ah shoot what are we gonna eat tonight" standby. Stir-fry is what I make when I haven't planned far enough ahead, or left myself enough time, or worked up the energy or motivation to put a real effort into dinner.

So stir-fry is something I make a lot, in other words.

But it doesn't mean I make it well. Practice doesn't always make perfect, you know. You were lied to all along.

Or maybe not. Maybe practice does sometimes lead to perfection, because I actually managed to make really good stir-fry! I was excited!

(That's right, eating it straight out of a tupperware container. On dance lesson nights, we really class it up.)

I mean, making stir-fry is simple. Chop stuff up, heat the wok, toss stuff in and stir. Add sauce, cover and steam, then serve over rice. But simple doesn't mean easy, and like many deceptively simple things, there is a definite art to making stir-fry. I think it's actually a pretty even combination of science and art. The science is in the prep work; slicing, dicing and chopping so that the food is all of a consistent size and thickness is very important. The art is in the timing.

Oh, the timing! When to throw in the vegetables so that the protein is browned but not overdone, all the vegetables cooked, but not mushy... how long to let it steam with the sauce, so that everything is flavorful but nothing overdone. I almost never get it perfectly right, but tonight, I think I really almost did!

Of course, that means I totally bollocksed the rice. Crunchy and wet. Mm. Delightful. But it's okay! I'm over it! It keeps me humble! Sure, I thought I had conquered the whole inability-to-make-rice thing months ago, but it's okay! I improvised.

Those noodles that look all cool and asian, maybe like soba noodles or something? Leftover whole-grain spaghetti! That's what I'm talkin' bout!

Anyway, stir fry is an awesome Young Broke and Clueless meal. While it may be very difficult to make really excellent stir-fry, it's quite easy to make decent stir-fry. It's also very quick; not counting the half-hour that the tofu was pressing dry, it took my 40 minutes from 'oh, should I start making dinner?' to stuffing my face. And despite all those books advertising '30-minute meals' and '20-minute meals,' I'm not sure I can cook anything worth eating quite that fast. 40 minutes is pretty good.

Best of all, it's cheap! Tonight's meal used 1/2 a block of tofu ($.50), 1 carrot ($.08), 1/2 an onion ($.07), 1 squash ($.50), 1/4 of a green pepper and 1/4 of a red pepper ($.50 total), 1 egg ($.16), a clove of garlic, a bit of ginger, and a tablespoon or two each of canola oil, soy sauce, and sesame oil. I won't even bother adding the cost of that up. If I'd used rice, like I'd planned to, that would have been 1 cup, and my bag (50 cups) cost twelve bucks (wonder how much it would cost me now...), so that's $.24.

All told? $2.05 for two people, generously. I think my math might even be right!

Long story short? Stir fry is amazing!


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

cookie catastrophe

I blame the butter.

Baking cookies. Fun, right? Easy, right? I mean, this cooking thing is pretty hard, but I have been baking cookies for years. what a great way to relax! What a lovely way to spend the evening!

Peanut butter cookies. How delicious! How delightful!

I blame the butter.

You know these new kinds of butter boxes, where the sticks are shorter and wider, the boxes longer and thinner? Isn't it crazy?

When you're looking at those short little sticks of butter, doesn't it just look like so much less than it is? Like, the 1/2 cup stick looks like 1/4 cup?

Like, you really really feel inclined to add TWO?

I seriously did not figure it out until I was putting them on the pan, thinking, "these aren't holding any shape at all." Despite the fact that it tasted so much like butter, and so little like peanut, that I had already increased the amount of peanut butter -- despite the fact that it was totally the wrong color all along -- despite all of that, I never did figure out that I had added TWICE as much butter. Until that first, sad cookie went plop on the pan.

So I did the logical thing. I wailed and cried. And then I doubled everything else. But gosh, what a nightmare. Whoever invented the special order of cookie-mixing -- beat butter, beat in sugar, mix in dry stuff -- was a GENIUS. It is so much harder other ways! I know, I've tried! And what I have learned is that if you forget the butter, you have to knead it in at the end, and it is difficult and greasy. And if you double the butter, you have to knead more of everything else in at the end, and it is difficult and, believe it or not, greasy.

Huh. Who'd have thunk?

I think that, despite my very best efforts, these cookies might still turn out edible. But I sure wish I would start, you know, paying attention to things. Little things like recipes, and the markings on sticks of butter, and common sense.

Stuff like that.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Grocery budgets and COUPONING

I have successfully managed to reduce our $50/week grocery expenses down to $40/week. Whew. Fortunately, the challenge of working meals around what's on sale, and comparing prices between stores, is one my brain appreciates and enjoys.

Unfortunately, I think that to get our food costs down to $30, my real goal, will take something a little extra -- especially with rising food costs. I fear it may take COUPONING.

Don't get me wrong, I use coupons. Sometimes. When I see them in the paper for something we buy anyway and remember to take them to the store. But I don't... I don't coupon. Coupon, for me, is not a verb. And I'm not sure I have what it takes.

Anyway, this week, for 37.32, we bought: three cans of broth, four cans of frozen juice, four little yogurts, arborio rice, 3 bell peppers, gallon freezer bags, 2 boxes of eggo waffles, a pound of squash, a gallon of organic milk, three pounds of onions, three pounds of grapes, a bunch of spinach, a bit of chile powder, 2 pounds of bananas, a pound of carrots, a bunch of celery, two mangos, and a bunch of cilantro. Oh, and a mother's day card.

As I look at that, I guess couponing won't quite be necessary. Granted, this week we had a full pantry that meant we didn't need to buy any beans, rice, or nuts, and we were all set on butter, cheese and eggs... but still. The rice and the mangos were luxuries (for a total of $2 -- yeah, I'm crazy like that), and the organic milk was a combination of my guilty conscience and a serious sale, but was still several bucks more than the good-old-fashioned hormone-filled junk. If you subtract those and the mother's day card, that would put us right about at $30.

And while we usually need to buy a few more staples, we also usually don't buy as much produce. So maybe I can do this without becoming a coupon-downloading, coupon-doubling, fanatic savings-seeking COUPONER. I mean no insult to couponers, really. In fact, I am jealous of your mad skillz. But I think these are not skillz I was meant to have.

(If you have sharp eyes, you may have noticed the arborio rice... oh yes. I am going to make risotto. I don't believe I have ever even had risotto. And all those vegetables? Yup, I'm going to make my own stock, too.

Ambition, thy name is Camila. *wibbles*


Sunday, May 4, 2008


Watch out, world: Camila has a MINERAL song, too!

In case you are new to this game, Camila makes up songs about vitamins. They are vitamin songs. Someday she will make a cd and it will be played in children's nutrition classes all around the world and she will be rich. Someday there will be children's nutrition classes all around the world.

Camila refers to her vitamin songs in the third person because she is more than a little embarrassed by them.

But minerals? This is new! New and exciting! The melody hasn't been nailed down yet, and is hard to type, anyway, but it goes a little like this:

Calcium strength-ens your teeth and your bones,
Calcium flows through your blood-stream!
So drink lots of milk, and jog all around,
Or else you'll discover a truth that is mean...

If you don't get enough calcium or exercise,
a theft will occur before your very eyes.
Your blood will take minerals from your ske-le-ton,
and before you know it life won't be much fun.

(Very deep and solemn) Oooooost-eoooooo-poroooooo-sis.



Saturday, May 3, 2008

On cluelessness and mango-corn salsa

I am hanging out at the apartment of our buddy James, a cool dude who apparently subsists on peanut butter sandwiches and granola. How... how is that possible?

I guess I've just got a skewed perspective. I spend most of my time with myself (obscenely fond of cooking), William (thinks popping an Eggo in the toaster counts as dinner, bless his heart, but he does appreciate good food) and Andrew, who is a kick-ass cook. So from that sample, cooking seems a perfectly normal pastime for folks my age.

James' cooking supplies, as far as I can tell, consist of: 1 very small skillet, 1 small saucepan, currently full of markers, and a small knife. His pantry consists of olive oil, chili powder, a bag of sugar, lots of peanut butter, and precious little else. We were having a taco night, and I innocently inquired as to the existence of a cheese grater, or a can opener, or a cooking sheet/baking pan -- and he blinked at me, said, "You're asking quite a lot, you know," and handed me a knife and some aluminum foil.

James just glanced at what I'm writing, and he's laughing at me. What? What can I say? I would kill myself if I had to live like that! (William and Andrew both submit that buying more cooking supplies would probably be a better bet than killing myself. Oh voices of reason.)

Right now, I guess I don't feel quite as clueless as I usually do. Or rather, I feel just as clueless -- it's just a reminder that I do, indeed, have plenty of time to figure this all out. After all, by my standards, James is fully adult. I still feel, sometimes, like I'm just playing house and pretending to be all growned up. Every failure makes me feel more like an imposter.

Sometimes it is nice to remember that home-cooked gourmet meals aren't actually expected to be part of being 19 and on your own -- or 25 and on your own. It's sort of a bonus. Totally optional! No pressure at all.

Except that I'm broke, and have a fondness for really good food. So if I want it, I have to make it myself... and boy, do I want it. Mm. Good food. Just thinking about it...

I made some mango-corn salsa that was actually quite good. It consisted of:

1 mango, diced
A cup or so of frozen corn, defrosted
maybe 1/4 of cilantro, chopped
1/2 t paprika
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lime juice

Mixed together and refrigerated while the flavors got to know each other... I really liked it. Would have been better with onions, but ah well. Other people respect my dietary restrictions -- it's the least I can do.

Seriously, though. 1 skillet. 1 tiny, tiny saucepan. I just... I can't even imagine.

"What do you eat??"

*Shrug* Leftovers from site. Sandwiches. I dunno!"

I just can't... *shudder*


Capers on pizza

Last night I made pizza -- ham, bacon, and roasted bell pepper for William; eggplant, roasted bell pepper and capers for me; sauce-less eggplant, roasted bell pepper, ham, bacon and capers for Andrew. Gracious, that makes us sound picky.

I bought capers because they seemed like a foodie sort of thing. Did I know what they were? No. Did I know what they tasted like? No. But I had read the words "capers" and "pizza" used together in gourmet contexts before. What more did I need?

Newsflash? Capers aren't that tasty. I always had the vague idea that they were something like raisins. Newsflash? Not really. Well, maybe really sour, salty, pickled raisins. Mmmmmm.

Of course, now that I actually read about capers, I learn that maybe I should have washed them first. Who knew? I sure didn't. I still don't think I'd like them too much, though; they weren't dreadful. But they didn't really add anything I enjoyed to my pizza.

Let's count that experiment as a failure.


Friday, May 2, 2008

enchiladas, spanish rice and refried beans

Dinner last night was quite an adventure. It started the day before, when I first tried to make enchiladas, rice and beans for dinner. I got home very early, at 5, and our balboa lesson wasn't until 7 -- so I had plenty of time, right?? And so I lounged around while William cleaned dishes, and read the paper, and made tortillas (with more jumping on the cast-iron pan, oh yes) and then -- and then it was 6:15! I spazzed and freaked out and moaned at my stupidity, and we had sandwiches for dinner.

So last night, I had plenty of time... and a good thing, too, because it wound up taking me well over two hours to make dinner. The drama started when I was researching enchilada sauces, and couldn't decide between Homesick Texan's chile gravy, or a tomato-based sauce. There was much wibblage.

So then I decided on Homesick Texan's, except I didn't have chile powder. No big, right? And I had fresh cayenne peppers, so I just tossed those in with the oil (chopped up real little) and then made the roux and added the spices (eyeballing most of them, no big, right?) and a little cayenne pepper powder, just in case it wasn't spicy enough (taste it first? are you crazy?), and then a little bit more. And THEN I tasted it, and, well...

Yup, absolutely dreadful. CRAZY hot, but with absolutely no middle tones. Is that what fancy professional tasting-people call it? It was hot, but it had no flavor, if that makes sense. I tried looking online for ways to save my super-hot sauce, and added lime juice and sugar and even cocoa powder, but then I had lime-flavored, sweet, darker-colored super-spiciness without any depth. So that got chucked.

This all took at least forty-five minutes, by the way. It involved the flinging of shoes, much cursing, more spazzage... After I calmed down a bit, with William trying to say soothing things, my second sauce was: 1 can diced tomatoes, pureed; a splat or two of salsa; extra cumin and oregano. I threw up my hands in despair, and declared it done.

I started the spanish rice (Steve's mom's recipe -- how cool is that?) and reheated the tortillas in oil. The tortillas were too thick, and some of them were falling apart, and as I reheated them I could see my future failure unfolding before me. What a disaster. I persevered, filling the tortillas with colby jack and onions like Homesick Texan recommends. Topping the whole thing off with more sauce and cheese, I threw it in the oven and felt like crying.

At the eleventh minute, as it were, I started the beans. Recipe:

1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small bell pepper, diced (or 1/2 a green bell pepper and 1/2 a red bell pepper)
1 carrot, chopped
1 can black beans, drained, with liquid reserved
1 can kidney beans, drained
Cumin -- maybe 2 teaspoons?

Saute the onion, garlic, bell pepper and carrot. (I put the carrot in first, because it seems to me to take longer than the onion, but that might not be necessary.) When the onion is just starting to turn translucent, add the beans, cumin and about 1/3 cup of the reserved black bean liquid. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the beans are softened; mash with a potato masher, adding more of the bean liquid to achieve the right consistency.

So for dinner we had enchiladas, which caused me a great deal of mental suffering, and rice, which took considerable effort, because I wanted to get it right, and the beans, which I threw together -- and of those three, guess what was the highlight? (I also had some corn that I heated up with lime juice and paprika; it was a nice sort of garnish.) That's right. It was the least-effort, least-worry, last-minute side dish. Why do I even try?

Fortunately, even those poor, sad enchiladas turned out okay. I think the rice suffered a little from the absence of chicken that the recipe called for; I'll have to find some way to properly vegetarian-ize it. But those beans -- I'll go ahead and say it -- were pretty fantastic.

Is it because I have more practice making refried beans? Because I worried less about it? I haven't a clue. But after a stressful night of nearly-disastrous cooking, having at least one really excellent dish cheered me up incredibly. Perhaps I will add a side dish of refried beans to every meal I make, no matter how incongruous it may seem -- just in case.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

bread books

I am just about finished with "The Bread Bible." I learned a lot from it, and now I think it's time to move on and see some other perspectives on bread baking. I've definitely gotten a keeper-recipe from it: her "heart of wheat" bread, with wheat germ in it, is pretty darn delicious. It was also so easy to work with that I'm very concerned I was doing something wrong; it wasn't "extremely sticky" at all.

At any rate, the Bread Bible is headed back to the library. Unfortunately, the three books I want to try next aren't available at that venerable institution.

I've seen "Bread Alone," by Daniel Leader recommended in several places in the blogosphere. In some cases, it is recommended quite enthusiastically. But since Farmgirl is even more fond of his "Local Breads," which is at my library, I guess I'll be using that one, instead.

I started reading "The Bread Baker's Apprentice," by Peter Reinhart, on Amazon. That Search Inside function is brilliant; after reading the excerpt, I am dying to buy this book. Because deep down inside, I wish I was a bread baker's apprentice. I think that's the only way I'll really learn a lot of the things I wish I knew. Again, the library fails me... but they do have his "Crust and Crumb." I guess I'll try it out, as a substitute... *heavy sigh.*

Finally, of course, I want to get my hands on a copy of "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day." If you haven't read fifty posts raving about this book, then you must not read many food blogs. It is No-Knead Bread, 2.0. And I wants it, my precious, I wants it!

You know what else I want? I want a name like Crescent Dragonwagon. How awesome is that?!

Anybody have other bread-book recommendations?