Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All Heat and No Light

Dragonfruit! Wow! I found them in the grocery store for $7.99 apiece! I winced at the price, but paid anyway. How often does a Minnesotan get to try a fruit so exotic-looking that it had a cameo role in a futuristic movie like AEon Flux?! (I’m not the only one who spotted it; this indignant testimony contains movie spoilers, though.)

I rushed mine home and looked up instructions about how to prepare it. I cut it up, mounded the fruit chunks in the empty skin, and took a bite.

As it turns out, dragon fruit is less like a futuristic action movie than it is like one of the Kardashian sisters. It’s attractive, maybe, but hmm… after all, a bit garish. It’s expensive. And it’s pretty much tasteless.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Squished sandwich!

Paper-thin red onion, roasted red pepper, arugula, Genoa salami, provolone, Black Forest ham, tomato, and brown mustard on a whole wheat baguette

“But why are they squished?” someone asked me today as I rambled on about my lunch.

The truth is, I don’t know the historical reasons to press a sandwich. A cursory search of the Internet and a few cookbooks turned up nothing except the well-known fact that sandwiches do get pressed and that you can buy devices to accomplish this feat.

From my own experience, I can tell you that
  • The filling gets denser and the sandwich is much less likely to fall apart.
  • The bread does not merely teeter atop a pile of fixings; it is molded precisely to them. Like with German engineering. But you can’t eat German engineering.
  • You can have a good time slicing the sandwich with the panini knife your brother gave you for your birthday, if that’s how things happened in your family too.
  • Plus it is just a lot of fun to say “squished sandwich.” Squished sandwich!

The foundation, of course, is good bread. It needs to be substantial enough not to break apart, yet soft enough to give a bit, during the squishing process. Choose flavorful fillings, but avoid ones that will weep copious amounts of juice. Use a lot of thin-sliced items rather than equal volumes of thick-sliced items. Wrap the sandwich tightly in waxed paper or plastic film and weight it down overnight.

And, finally, make two of them at a time. The pressing involves balancing a weight on top of the sandwich. This is liable to topple off as the sandwich compresses. I made a little pontoon boat out of two sandwiches and a cutting board. Then I stacked on a case of sparkling water, three ears of corn, a bunch of carrots, some cucumbers, and a sweet potato. The whole pile stayed rock solid!

To serve your sandwich, just bring it up to room temperature, unwrap it, and slice it. Easy and fun!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Turn My Head Around

“That is so cool! Show me again, Ben!” I hollered.

The man in the white Open Arms of Minnesota chef’s jacket smiled and took another head of cauliflower. He placed it, stem down, on the cutting board and sliced it in half. He turned one of the sections to face him, then made two cuts across the core. He picked up the cauliflower half and, in the same motion, broke the top and bottom sections apart. The leaves and core came off cleanly in one whole piece, leaving the florets.

“Well that’s sure got my attention,” I remarked admiringly. “I’ve always just cut stuff off the core by attacking the cauliflower stem side up and wedging my knife in. I never thought to turn it over.”

Every so often, even after years of cutting up vegetables, there’s something new to learn as a volunteer at Open Arms. And because we’re always cooking for a crowd—hundreds of meals a day—I had half a case of cauliflower in front of me for practice.

My newfound skill reminded me of a mixed pickle recipe I haven’t made in awhile. All the critical ingredients are crossing paths in the farmers’ markets, so now is a great time to make them.

Mixed Cauliflower Pickles
Makes 4 pt
The great thing about hot-pack pickles—that is, the kind you simmer before packing into jars—is that you don’t have to seal them if you don’t want to (or don’t know how). You can put them in any nonreactive container and pop them in the fridge.

A 2-lb head of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 big green peppers or 3-4 banana peppers, cored and cut into 1" squares
5 big carrots, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
5 stalks of celery, sliced ½" thick
1 large onion, sliced ⅛" thick
3 T canning salt
2 qt cider vinegar
2 c sugar
1 T yellow mustard seeds
1 t powdered turmeric

Toss the vegetables with the salt in a glass, ceramic, or stoneware container and let them sit out overnight.

The next day, drain the vegetables, cover them with water, and drain them again. Put them in a pot with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer ten minutes. Seal in pint jars with two-piece caps in a boiling-water canner; about ten minutes ought to do the trick.

Or, if you don’t want to do that, just take them off the heat, pack the solids into nonreactive containers, and ladle juice over to cover.

Easy, fun, and attention-grabbing!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sugar-free Blues

These blueberries could get by without any sugar, I thought to myself as I dumped two cups of the stuff into my jam pot.

And as I stirred, I thought about the people I know who love blueberries but don’t love—or can’t tolerate—sugar. What about them? Don’t they deserve jam too?

And why didn’t I buy more blueberries at the farmer’s market that Saturday morning? They were so sweet and delicious! Was I nuts? I suddenly understood that by leaving pints and pints of them behind in the market, I had done the wrong thing

So on Sunday morning, when I went to a different market and saw the same farmer with his blueberries, I bought another pint. “They’re so good,” I said. “What did you do, go out and sing to them every single day?”

“ Well,” he replied as he handed me my purchase, “somebody did something right.”

Sugar-free Blueberry Jam with Balsamico
2½ c blueberries (a heaping pint)
⅓ c water
3 T balsamic vinegar
4 t powdered pectin (find here or here)

Pick through the blueberries to remove any stems or junk. Wash them, drain, and put in a pot. Smush them up a little with a potato masher or two wooden spoons. Add the water and balsamic, then sprinkle the pectin over the berries.

Cook them over high heat, stirring constantly, until they boil hard. Boil a minute or two, then pour into two sterilized half-pint jars and seal with two-piece caps in a boiling water bath. Ten minutes ought to do it.

Easy, fun, and oh so right!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

You Know What I Like?

I went to a part last Saturday night, I told you that story, it’ll be all right, uh huh.

It ain’t no big thing.

Late for my job and the traffic was bad, had to borrow ten bucks from my old man, uh huh. It ain’t no big thing.

But I know what you like:

With apologies to Lita Ford.

Mojitos by the pitcher
3 limes
1 handful mint leaves
1½ c simple syrup (make by shaking 1 c sugar and 1½ c water in a jar until clear)
2 trays ice cubes
1½ c rum—I like Flor de Caña and I like it dark
2 c fizzy water

Throw the mint leaves in the bottom of a pitcher. Quarter the limes and squeeze each quarter into the pitcher. Take a wooden spoon and mess things up in there; smash up those mint leaves a little. (This is the famous muddle.) Add the syrup, fill up the pitcher with ice, then pour in the rum and fizzy water. Stir and serve.

Drink while wondering, “What is she doing to that guitar? And why?? And what is that beadwork snail doing on the cutting board? What the hell exactly is this post about, anyway?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lemon Teacake

“Thank you for letting me invite myself over for cake,” said Jennifer.

“Oh, I thought I had invited you,” I replied, “when we ran into each other on the street the other day.”

She corrected, “Remember, earlier, when I missed Beth’s birthday, I said we’d have to get together for cake very soon.”

“I thought you meant you would invite us to eat a cake that you would bake sometime in the future.”

Jennifer smiled. “No,” she said.

When you have friends this smooth, you need to bake a very delicate and fine-textured cake. Or maybe they need you to bake it. I’m not sure anymore.

Lemon Teacake
It has always bugged me that this “lemon teacake” is made with lime. Sometimes I get mad and substitute another lemon for the lime. That’ll show ‘em.

1⅔ c flour
1 t baking powder
½ t salt
1 stick butter, softened
1 c sugar
2 eggs
½ c milk
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 c sifted powdered sugar
1 lemon, juiced

Heat the oven to 325° and generously grease an 8½ x 4½ loaf pan.

Stir together the dry ingredients.

Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the dry ingredients and the milk alternately, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the lime zest and lime juice (strain it!), then mix the batter thoroughly.

Spread the batter into the pan and bake 55 minutes to an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool the cake in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice (strain it!) with the powdered sugar.

At the 10-minute mark, pour the glaze all over the cake in the pan, letting it run down the sides. Try to get glaze over the entire surface of the cake crust. Cool another 15 minutes. (The cake should sponge up all the glaze as it cools.)

Cover the pan with a plate and invert it. Remove the pan, cover the cake with a serving plate, and invert again. So pretty! Serve it with blueberries and vanilla ice cream, maybe.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beet and Fennel Salad

This is it! This is the year when I do what everyone else has already done: I’m making beet and fennel salad!

To cook the beets or not? I can think of many fine arguments either way, and maybe next time I make this salad I will just peel the beets and shred them, then cut the fennel a little finer. I elected to roast them this time because then it will be easier to peel them. There is still plenty of crunch in the fennel—a nice contrast to the sweet, tender beets.

I don’t want to put anything very distracting on the vegetables for dressing, but I think orange would complement the fennel and not get in a fight with the beets. Coriander is friends with both of the main ingredients; so it can be in the dressing, too.

Beet and Fennel Salad
Equal volumes beet and fennel
Olive oil to coat each beet
Juice of one orange (about ⅓ cup)
Twice as much olive oil (about ⅔ cup)
½ t salt ½ t fresh ground coriander
¼ t fresh ground black pepper

Trim the tops and tails off the beets, scrub them, and coat them with olive oil. Wrap them in foil and roast them in a 400° oven for about an hour or until tender. Cool them, peel them, and cut them into quartered slices.

Trim the fronds off the fennel (saving some leaves for garnish), halve and core each bulb. Cut it crosswise into half-moon-shaped slices.

Shake the orange juice, olive oil, and seasonings in a jar until well blended. Taste and correct seasonings until they make you happy.

Toss the fennel in some of the dressing. In a separate dish, toss the beets in some more of the dressing. Get a third dish and pour beets into half of it, then fennel into the other half. Strew some fennel leaves artfully across the dish so that the place at the edge, where the fennel meets the beets and starts turning pink, will be concealed.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lasagna Is Not an Appropriate Summer Dish

“Why are you making lasagna when it’s 9 billion degrees outside?” tweeted @amycrea, a tweeple who has become an IRL friend. (And who ought to know better than to ask.)

Why? Why?? What do you mean, “why?”
  • I got a new blue Le Creuset earthenware pan for my birthday! Yay! Now I’m feeling adventurous!
  • I read an article about lasagna on in a series called “You’re Doing It Wrong.” Nothing pisses me off more than being told by Internet hipsters that I’m doing something wrong. Plus, for someone who’s telling everyone they’re doing it wrong, the author holds a rather shallow understanding of what makes a good tomato sauce. Rrr! Now I’m feeling vindictive!
  • I have promised to bring dinner to my friends Deb and Sean, who are new parents. Now I’m feeling all protective.
So add it up: if you had the whole clear blue sky before you; and THEN you had to one-up someone; AND you could feed it to your loved ones—well, doesn’t that equal lasagna? Weather be damned!

Ridiculous, Ridiculous, Ridiculous
I followed Slate’s suggestion and made mushroom lasagna, except they don’t know what they’re doing so I fixed their recipe. They ARE right, however, about ingredients: get the best stuff you can find. There are three parts to the recipe: sauce, cheese filling, and assembly.

The ingredients PLUS a beadwork snail
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
½ head garlic, chopped
½ to 1 lb mushrooms, chopped
1-2 sage leaves 1 t dried rosemary
3 cans crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 cup wine
1 big sprig basil, leaves plucked and torn
Salt and pepper to taste

I overfilled ol' Bluie again. Relax, though, it's a double recipe
 Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan. Sauté the onions and garlic for a few minutes until translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue sautéing until they release, then resorb, their juices. Add the sage and rosemary; then the wine, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste. Simmer this while you do the next parts, and take your time; it would be best to simmer for an hour. Or more, even! Throw the basil in right at the end before assembly.

Cheese Filling
1 lb fresh spinach
1 lb ricotta cheese
8 oz shredded parmesan, pecorino, asiago, or other dry aged Italian cheese. Hey, shut up. No jokes about my grandma!
1 egg
A dash of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and steam the spinach. Drain it, turn it out onto a cutting board, and chop it. When it is cool enough, squeeze as much water out of it as you can.
Whisk the egg in a medium bowl. Dump in everything else and blend.
Giant mess
1 lb lasagna noodles
Olive oil
1 lb mozzarella cheese (fresh or shredded, either is fine.)
Cook the noodles according to the package – I’d throw several tablespoons of salt into four or five quarts of water and boil them in that. Pull them out of the water and drain them, then toss them with a little olive oil to keep them from getting sticky.

Preheat the oven to 375°. (On this, Slate and I agree.) Grease your big old lasagna pan with olive oil, then coat the bottom with sauce. Put down a layer of noodles. Then spread another layer of sauce; drop half the cheese filling in little blobs all over the sauce and smooth it out into a layer as best you can. Put noodles atop this. Do sauce, cheese filling, noodles again. Top with a thin layer of sauce and then cover it up with mozzarella.

Just-a like-a that.
Bake the lasagna until it’s toasty on top and bubbly on the bottom. Watch it carefully, and if it is melted and bubbly but not toasty, you may want to run it under the broiler for a minute or three. Remove the lasagna from the oven and take the time to make a salad before slicing it and serving to acclaim.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When there’s just a fistful, make galette

When and where I grew up, there was a rhubarb plant in everyone’s back yard. No one ever bought rhubarb; they just stepped outside the back door and pulled up the stalks they wanted. And certainly no one ever paid for a rhubarb plant. They just waited for a friend or neighbor to offer a split. If things got dire and someone actually needed to ask for rhubarb, well, that’s what relatives were for.

Here and now, in the big bad city,* I get rhubarb from the farmers’ market or from my CSA share. Sometimes, after dividing our weekly box with my neighbor, there are only a few stalks—not enough for the overstuffed pies of my childhood.

But even if I have only a handful of rhubarb, there’s no need to go without the sweet/tart, Valentine pink, prolifically juicy extravagance that is rhubarb pie. I’ll make a galette instead!

This recipe will make four good-sized servings. You can cut it in half for an even teensier pastry. Or, if you ever have pastry dough left over after some other recipe, you can roll it out on a piece of waxed paper; roll that up into a cylinder; and then wrap it up and freeze it. Then, when you find yourself with a fistful of rhubarb, just thaw out your sheet of dough and bake this treat.

*South Minneapolis. Hey, it’s shady and my yard is small!

Rhubarb Galette
Before you start, you may find it useful to read “All Those Women on Fine September Afternoons” from Katrina Vandenberg’s collection Atlas. I consult my copy every time I make pastry. It always helps.

½ c cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
1¼ c flour
1 t sugar
½ t salt
3-5 T ice water

2 cups sliced rhubarb (¼" to ½" thick)
½ t grated orange zest
½ c cornstarch or tapioca
¾ c sugar (more or less to taste)
Pinch salt
A few small slivers of butter

First, make the pastry. Make sure the butter is cold. Blend the dry ingredients and cut the butter into them with a pastry cutter. Cut and cut until the stuff looks like cornmeal or soft breadcrumbs. Going fast is an advantage here, because things will stay cold and this is a good thing.

Sprinkle a few tablespoons of water over the pastry crumblies. Stir with a fork or a spatula until things clump together. Try to roll the pastry into a ball. If it won’t go, sprinkle on a bit more water and try again.

When you have your dough ball, cover it loosely and put it in the fridge to relax. A half hour should do it. Now is a great time to cut up your rhubarb and prepare your filling.

To do the filling, just stir together everything except the slivers of butter.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Roll out your dough onto a floured surface; make a roundish shape. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet.

Look in your filling bowl. Is there powdery stuff in there, at the bottom? Good. Holding the fruit back with one hand, shake the loose dry stuff onto the center of your pastry shape. Then let the fruit fall on top of that. Spread the rhubarb out in a layer about 1 to 1½" thick, then fold the edges of the crust over the filling. There should be a big open space on top with no crust. Kind of like a pie without a pan.

Dot the filling here and there with the slivers of butter and pop the galette into the oven. It’s done when the pastry browns and the rhubarb is bubbling; this will take far less time than for a regular pie, maybe 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve to acclaim!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just sayin'

I have been very boring lately, it's true. It's just that I mostly feel eaten alive when I come home from work at night, and the weekends have been filled with the tending of two different gardens. Thankfully, it's farmshare time again. I cooked things! And soon again I will tell you how I made things.

Green garlic, olive oil, and tomato pizza on whole wheat crust

Asparagus, red potatoes, and grilled salmon with sorrel sauce

Pot roast with overwintered parsnips!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pineapple vinegar? The hell you say!

10:00 PM, 29 May 2012


I screwed my courage to the sticking point today and tasted the foetid brew. Not pineappley. Not vinegary. Just washed-out, watery, and vaguely beery.

Here is a picture of the pineapple not-vinegar. In the background is the sink down which the not-vinegar is about to get dumped. In the foreground is a beadwork snail who will be the sole witness to the dumping.

“About time," says the beadwork snail. “To the sewers with that nasty crap.”

The experiment was a flop from start to finish. Its fruit-corpse odor never gave way to the clean vinegary tang I wanted. The white scum on the top and the thickening dregs of yeast on the bottom make it resemble nothing so much as... well, if I tell you, I’ll have violated my own comments policy. Maybe, instead of the kitchen sink, this should go down a porcelain drain in a different room.

You know that when even a pretend snail is talking smack about something, it’s time to cut your losses and move on.

4:54 PM, 20 May 2012

There are actually two installments today. Scroll down for the news at the three-week mark.

I skipped taking a picture at the four-week mark because it was just getting grosser and grosser in that jar. But at Week 5, I can't take it anymore. I no longer wish to pretend that the pink and white scum on top is a vinegar mother.

I skimmed off that nasty crap, strained out the solids, washed the jar, and put back the liquid. I don't anymore believe this is turning into vinegar, but I have little to lose and it's hard to shake the effects of the sunk cost fallacy. We'll give it more time.

4:56 PM, 6 May 2012:

After the Week 1 picture, I found a small plate to drop in there. At three weeks, the vinegar was growing a pink and white cap. I surmised the cap was made of mold, yeast, and/or bacteria. Does anyone know what a vinegar mother looks like?

Quite a bit of bubbling going on in there, too. A big old bubble of what can only be carbon dioxide was collecting under the plate:

I do not approve. But rather than make time to deal with it, I left it alone.

11:41 AM, 22 April 2012:

At one week old, the proto-pineapple-vinegar is cloudy. It smells yeasty and sickly sweet. I had to fish some moldy pineapple bits off the top, and I failed to convince the rest of the pineapple to submerge. Maybe I can find a plate or something that will fit inside this jar.

Assessment: This is not fun yet, but it’s no skin off my nose. To be continued.

7:09 PM, 17 April 2012:


Diana Kennedy, one of my food heroes, writes in The Art of Mexican Cooking that I can and should try to make pineapple vinegar. That Mexican cooks make escabeche (lightly pickled things) in it. That a fair substitute is half wine vinegar and half rice vinegar, but it’s not quite right.

She says it takes six weeks or more but that it is well worth the wait. A likely story. We’ll just see about that.

This is actually my second attempt. The first time, I stuffed the pineapple and liquid into a half-gallon juice bottle with no headroom and then screwed on the cap. On the fifth day of fermentation, I opened the cap and most of the liquid fizzed up and out of the bottle. FAIL. So I got a better jar.

It occurs to me that, for a person acting all skeptical and dismissive, I am investing rather a lot of resources in this idea.

Pineapple Vinegar
Peelings and core of 1 pineapple, plus some chunks of the good part
4 T brown sugar
1½ qt water

We mix it in a vessel. We set it in a sunny spot. We wait. Fizz happens, then stops happening. A viscous disc is to form, and then firm up, at the top of the jar. This is mother of vinegar and should be retrieved, then put in with the next batch to hasten the process. The other solids should be strained out and discarded. The liquid is supposedly the deliciousest thing ever.

I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Soba Noodle Salad

This week I realized something: I suck at grocery shopping.

I don’t suck at cooking, but I need something to cook against. I need a constraint—a limit on time or ingredients, or a request to fulfill, or a combination of dietary restrictions to take into account. Otherwise, with no rules and endless possibilities, my response is to give up and eat a cheese sandwich over the sink while swigging milk straight from the carton.

If I just had interesting food, I could cook it! But the malaise starts at the grocery store. No particular item stands out to me. They all look equally attractive; I want all of them; then, ultimately, I want none of them. Many times I’ve left even the farmer’s market empty-handed because I couldn’t decide which thing I wanted over all the others.

That’s why I’m so glad I got my CSA information in the mail this weekend. Soon someone will decide for me! Food will happen to me, I will react to it, and it will be delicious. I’m already daydreaming about the first deliveries: lettuce, radishes, spring onions, maybe some pea pods. And that’s when I realize… hey, I’m actually developing a craving for fresh things, sprouting and green…

I have to go grocery shopping!

Soba Noodle Salad
This recipe (which came off the back of a box) called for edamame, spinach, and red onion. That would be good, too; but I switched some vegetables, fixed the dressing a little, and adjusted the proportions. This will serve four people as a main course or six as a side dish.

Salad parts
1 package extra-firm tofu
A double handful of snow peas
A double handful of bean sprouts
2 scallions, sliced
Peanut or canola oil
A packgage (250g, about 8 or 9 oz) of soba noodles
1 T sesame oil
2 T crushed nori or toasted sesame seeds for garnish

3 T sesame oil
2 T rice vinegar
2 T mirin
1 t sugar or agave syrup
3 T soy sauce
½ t minced fresh ginger or 1 t minced pickled ginger

Put the tofu on a plate, put another plate on top, and put a heavy can on top of that. You’ll leave this for 15-20 minutes to press out some extra water.

Meanwhile, clean the snow peas and cut them diagonally into 1” pieces. Slice the scallions and measure out your bean sprouts. Put these all in a big bowl. Mince the ginger and mix it with the other dressing ingredients in a little bowl and set aside.

Put a pot of water on to boil.

Slice the tofu brick into four sheets, then cut the sheets into sixteenths. You’ll end up with domino-shaped pieces about 1" x 1½" x ¼".

If your water is boiling yet, then break the soba noodles in half and pop them in the pot. They will only cook for about six minutes, so watch them!

Brush a baking sheet with peanut oil. Lay each tofu slice on the sheet, then flip it over to coat it. Broil the tofu pieces until golden, about 6-8 minutes. Flip them over with chopsticks and broil until the other side is golden. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, your noodles will have finished cooking. When they’re ready, drain them in a colander and rinse them with cold water to cool them. Shake them off and toss them with 1T of sesame oil. Set aside to drain some more.

When the tofu is cool, it’s as good a time as any to mix the salad. Put the noodles and tofu in the big bowl with the vegetables and pour the dressing over them. Mix everything up well; your hands work very well. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the garnish.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Curried Red Dal

Culinarily, I think this time of year is beyond boring. It’s too early for the farmer’s market. It’s too late to make wintery things.

This year I’m working on cooking up the odds and ends of stuff that turns up in the back of the freezer, forgotten in the cupboard, or lolling around on a pantry shelf. This dish knocked out three freezer things and two cupboard things! Plus it was tasty and interesting to eat.

Curried Red Dal
2 c red lentils
2 qt water or stock (I used one of each)
2 T red curry paste
1 can coconut milk
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 bucketful of fresh spinach or a block of frozen spinach
Salt to taste
Cooked rice

Rinse the lentils and pop them in a pot with the stock or water. Bring to a simmer and cook them 15-20 minutes. Stir in the curry paste, the coconut milk, and the kaffir lime leaves. Cook another 15-20 minutes or until everything is tender.

Meanwhile, I hope you have already started the rice.

While all that is happening, cook the spinach in as little water as possible. Steaming it works great. Drain it in a colander, squeezing it against the sides to make the spinach as dry as possible.

When the lentils are tender, stir in the spinach and season to taste. Serve over rice.

Easy and fun! And soon there will be REAL spinach: market spinach, CSA spinach, homegrown spinach that lives in the same zip code as me! I can’t wait.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Just sayin'

Beet Reuben: grilled Swiss cheese on pumpernickel with sauerkraut, hard-boiled egg, roasted beet, and Thousand Island dressing.

Thanks to Deb and Sean for the idea and Jenn for the inspiration!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Puerco Pibil: A (De)composition

Cooking is creative, right? It’s constructive. You make something.

Making pibil is more like artfully destroying a pork shoulder most, but not all, of the way. First you besmirch it. Then you cook it nearly to death. You tear it down, shred by shred, with your bare hands; and then you reassemble it into a little package its mother would never recognize.

Puerco Pibil
Achiote is something you can make, or get in a Latin grocery store, or find onlines, of course, where you can find every single thing ever.

1 pork shoulder roast, 4-5 lb.
1 block of achiote
½ c of bitter orange juice, or of this bitter orange marinade stuff I found in the neighborhood Latin grocery; or ¼ c lemon juice plus ¼ c orange juice
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and chopped
2 habanero chiles, seeded and chopped
1 large onion
Salt to taste
Pickled onions, mixed pickles, or lime wedges

First, you have to unmake the block of achiote. Soak it in the juice until you can stir it into a paste. This might take awhile, i.e. hours. I gave up too soon and put the brick-hard achiote in my food processor with the juice. This caused the processor to jump all over the counter, spitting achiote across the kitchen. (The stuff stains. It’s really yellow.)

But when you do succeed at making a creamy paste, then pulverize the garlic and chiles and achiote in the food processor until things are fairly smooth.

Smear the achiote paste all over the pork shoulder and wrap it up tightly in plastic or foil. Watch out for your hands, because the habanero is kind of hot. Like 350,000 Scoville units, so be careful. Also, wear an apron, as you will have another opportunity to splatter achiote paste all over yourself. (It’s like my high school physics teacher used to say: “Entropy happens.”) Marinate overnight.

The next morning, if you are going off to work, slice up the onion and put it in the bottom of the crock pot. Set the roast on top, put the crock pot on low, and go away for 10 hours.
 I poured in a half cup of water and crimped a piece of aluminum foil around the lid to make a tighter seal. (If I were going to be home, I would have roasted the pork at 250° or 300° for 4-6 hours. Damn, that would have been even better.)
After. Whoa. I should have expected this, but I did not see it coming.

Holy crap! All the juice fell out of the roast while it was cooking. Lift the pork and the onion out of the pan juice. When it is cool enough to touch, pull the pork off the bone and shred it with your hands.
How do you like me now?
How 'bout now?

Now that the roast is totally dissembled, turn to the pan juices. Spoon off the fat and cook the juice down until reduced to about a cup. Pour this all over the shredded pork and onion. Salt to taste.
Now this is the original hot mess.

Heat up tortillas and make tacos. Put a few pickled vegetables or a squeeze of lime on the taco. Something sour will help cut the richness of the pork and highlight its flavor.

Congratulations: your food has been deconstructed and reassembled, like, four or five times.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thoughts for some friends

On Sunday I was so preoccupied with thoughts of a friend that I forgot a grocery item. That’s maybe the least bad thing that cancer ever did to anyone.

In the past month, I’ve found out that three of my friends have the disease. (Four, if you count the neighbor’s cat.) I learned about two of them within 30 seconds of each other while checking my email on the treadmill at the gym. So I guess cancer ruined my workout. Another not-very-bad thing that someone else’s illness did to me.

Of course it’s self-indulgent to get mad about such minor inconveniences. But listen: it’s just the tip of an iceberg we’re all going to crash into someday.

I’ve been thinking constantly about all these people. The friend with the worst prognosis is the one farthest away, the one I can do the least to support: phone calls, cards, emails. The friend with the best prognosis just wants to hang out, something I’d gladly do anyway. The friend in the middle has rallied her community for help, and I’m happy—even relieved—to pitch in.

Listen: nothing I can do for any of them will make this go away. The best anyone can do is heft a corner of the burden.

Listen: all of us, maybe from the moment of our creation, carry the seeds of our own undoing. They sleep inside us—latent in the tissues of organs, bones, blood. We go about our lives, never knowing when the silent seeds will germinate, grow, and bear their fruit: the horror of the body’s corruption, the perverse self-betrayal of sickness.

Listen: the whole time I’ve been friends with each of these people, a secret hand has been winding down a count known only to God. None of us knows what will happen, nor when, nor to which of us. What can one person say to another under such circumstances?

Nothing more nor less than what we should say to anyone, anytime: “I care about you. I am glad you’re in my life. I am happy to be here with you now.”

And, “I went back to the grocery store and got that last item because I wanted to cook you this.”

As long as we share this life—however precariously, whether sick or well, and especially if we hope to heal—we still get to eat together.

This is Simplest Farro and a modified Early Autumn Vegetable Roast from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Soup Series 2: Rescue Orange!

Bend your ear down to this soup: it’s so orange, you can hear a tiny siren sound.

I found some neglected carrots and abandoned squash in the crisper drawer. They had some soft spots. And a few wrinkly peels. There may have been some sprouting. All right, I admit it: parts of them were brown.

My poor vegetables weren’t going to win any beauty contests; that was for sure. But they were mostly intact and I hated to throw them out. Besides, it was I who had failed them. They deserved more from me. I owed it to them. “You will look just fine as soup,” I told them.

Cooked this way, they look (and taste) exciting and delicious again! A splash of orange juice and a sprig of tarragon rescues them from the trash can.

Carrot and Squash Soup with Orange and Tarragon
Serves 6

2 T butter or olive oil
1 c chopped onion
6 c diced carrots and/or winter squash, such as butternut and kabocha
1 qt broth
½ c orange juice
2 T chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter or oil in a stockpot. Sauté the onion until soft, about 4 or 5 minutes. Dump in the carrots/squash and sauté that for another 5 or 6 minutes, until things begin to soften up and start hinting at getting brown.

Add the broth and simmer until the vegetables are tender, maybe 15 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender or food processor. For good measure (and if you need to impress someone), force the soup through a sieve; this will make it super-smooth.

Return the soup to the pot, add the remaining ingredients, and bring it up to piping hot. Serve to acclaim.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Soup Series 1: Harira for Haters

It’s been a long time since I cooked anything interesting! My excuse? It’s late winter/early spring. And I hate it!

I hate how there isn’t anything interesting in the grocery store. Winter foods have begun to bore me and spring things haven’t arrived yet. I hate how it’s dark in the morning. Usually I hate how cold and snowy it is, but this year I hate what the drought and confusing temperatures must be doing to my flowers. My poor flowers! I hate it when winter kills my flowers.

Buh, buh, buh. All this hating and whining can work up a person’s appetite. I dug a couple of soup recipes out of the vaults, and I’ll show them to you one blog post at a time. Soup Series 1 is harira, a cheerfully yellow Moroccan dish of legumes, rice, vegetables, and meat.

As a young professional, I experimented with vegetarianism as a way to stretch my grocery dollars. I kicked the meat out of many a recipe—including this one, which originally called for lamb and chicken giblets to enrich the broth. I’m sure they would be delicious, but I’ve never made this dish with them and I’ve never missed them. You try it and see what you think!

Harira Sans Animals
I believe the original recipe came from Taste of Morocco by Robert Carrier.

1 large yellow onion, minced
1 cup lentils
1 cup chickpeas
1 t turmeric
½ t cinnamon
½ t ground black pepper
¼ t ground ginger
¼ t sweet paprika
1 pinch saffron
½ c rice
1 T dry yeast
1 fistful cilantro, chopped (minus stems)
1 fistful flat-leaf parsley, chopped (minus stems)
8 canned whole tomatoes, seeded and chopped
4 t butter
Salt to taste
Lemon wedges

Soak the lentils and chickpeas overnight in 6 cups of water.

The next day, dump the lentils, chickpeas, and water in a pot and bring them to a boil. Skim off the foam. Dump in the onion and spices, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the legumes are tender, about 2 hours.

Cook the rice in about a cup more water than the package directions call for. Be careful not to overcook it. Drain off the extra water, reserving it. Plop the rice into the soup.

Stir the yeast into the reserved rice water. Then add the herbs, the tomato, and the butter. Bring the mix to a simmer and cook it for a few minutes. Add it to the soup. Add salt to taste.

Serve the harira with a lemon wedge so your diners can squeeze it onto their bowl. Yum!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Just Sayin'

Scrambled eggs, gravlax with mustard dill sauce (thanks to my colleague Sue and her Danish-born loved ones), and a big pile of spring mix.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My New Toy

The 7" straight carving fork from Wusthof is finally mine.

2001 A Space Odyssey - 02. Richard Strauss - Main Title - Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra)
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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Just sayin'

Chocolate cream pie on graham cracker crust with whipped cream.

And I am seriously done eating dessert for awhile.