Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Muffins! Blueberry and Banana Pear

I love muffins. Really. Better than I love cupcakes. But I love them in a way that's what some might call... particular. Hence these blueberry muffins. They're just the red-spoon box variety, but I make them against the directions because I'm a rebel. Here's how: Forget the oil and instead put in a melted half stick of butter and the juice from the blueberrys as well as the two eggs, then mix in the berries. It makes for a violently purple batter and a muffin with no white at all. I hate when I get a blueberry muffin and it tastes like a coffeecake with a few blueberrys in it. This way maximizes blueberryness. And it's fun to have purple food, because that's not a common natural eatable.

The other muffins were the actual reason for making muffins. I had this squishy banana and two squooshy baby pears (one forelle and one seckel, which is my fav, but haven't been all that good this year and they keep getting soft). So I looked up a basic muffin recipe in my handy dandy Encyclopedia of Food. Goes like this:

2 c flour, fluffed and de-lumped
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
2/3 a stick of melted butter
1/4 c milk

Simple, yeah? So I mushed up my banana and pears, then mixed them with the milk-egg-butter slurry and threw some cinnamon and nutmeg into the flour and stirred it all together. I use a rice paddle. Nothing sticks too much and it fits my hand well. 

Fill up all the cups and cook for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 or 425. I listened to five songs on my Happy Goth Playlist and it came out perfect. Poke with a fork or something, and if it comes out clean, they're done.

The banana ones were smaller and denser than the box ones, but that might be my own overzealous stirring as much as any box-mix voodoo. Both kinds were fluffy and moist and still moist the second day, and just sweet enough. I've been eating far too many myself-- I made two dozen yesterday and there's like six left. Only about four were eaten by others. Oink oink oink.

I love this basic muffin recipe though. You can throw anything into it. I'm keeping it around to make year-round, and I'll just toss whatever seasonal fruit or sweet veg I can get my hands onto in and see how it goes. I have visions of apple-brownsugar, strawberry, mullberry, grilled plum and peach, cherry, marigold and honey-- even, if I take the sugar out, bacon and cheddar, ham and cheese, spinach and feta, black olive and sundried tomato. Possibilities are endless!

Chinese Onion Soup

A really extreme example of making something from nothing. We had rice. We had one chicken breast. We had all that broth. We had half an onion. We had Nori. We had five people who needed dinner.

Here's what I did: I put alot of rice on to cook, the usual Basmati (we have a 10lb bag that we graze from). Into the pot went the frozen broth and a few tablespoons of soy sauce, my dear old friend and humble standby. The a tablespoon of nori rice seasoning with toasted sesame seeds (usually used for rice balls), a few minced garlic cloves, that half an onion sliced thinish, and some pepper. While that cooked and mingled, I sliced the chicken as thin as I could make it, and when the soup had come to a boil, I turned it off and dropped the chicken in to poach, which litterally took about two minues with it sliced all thin like that. Then I added a little instant miso soup, the last one in the cabinet because I thought it needed just a little something more. Green onions from the garden, grown from the root-ends of old onions that we tossed into a bag full of dirt, and there you go. Pretty and yummy.

Came out tasting like a lighter onion soup. And it's wide open. I found myself wanting mushrooms sliced thin and chopped bokchoi or something equally greeny and stemmy. 

Red Rice and Stuff

Whenever I'm left to my own devices to find a dinner for myself, I fall back on asian cooking. It's good when you have not many ingredients and it uses up my fierce soysauce addiction. This meal started as an excuse to eat the rice.

See, ages ago I picked up what I thought was red rice at the asian market. Turns out it was mashed little dried red beans, and when I cooked it like rice it burned and came out horrible, and even sugaring it with the plan of making riceballs stuffed with red bean paste didn't save them. Sad.

So this time, I took the little bits and threw maybe a tablespoon in with the basmati, and that was much more successful. No burning, and it turned the rice this great Chinese red color without changing the flavor too much, except maybe the slightest hint of a sweetness. It looks kind of orangy-pinky in the picture, but it was way redder in person.

Anyway, so here I was, hungry, with red rice. What goes with that? Chicken! Salmon! Broccolli! I'm not good at stirfry (I think it's cuz I don't have a wok and those long cooking chopsticks. yeah, that's it.), but I'm great at steaming, so that's what I did. Sliced the chicken up really thin so it'd cook faster and steamed it with a little oil, a little butter, alot of soy sauce, a little rice wine vinegar and a few minced garlic cloves and alot of pepper. Then steamed the salmon without defrosting it so the fishwater helped it deglaze the chicken-yummy, and threy the broccolli in with it, and tossed the chicken back in to heat while it finished off.

Result? Yum!

Leftovers: Lentils and Smoked Ham

Once we got down just to the rinds of the ham from Thanksgiving, we couldn't make any more sandwiches or meals out of them, but they still smelled so good that I couldn't bring myself to throw them away-- so I threw them in the freezer until something caught my eye. Like the green lentils I had sitting on a shelf.

I love lentils. I love how they look and taste and smell, and I especially love how they feel pouring over my hand. I think I started cooking just because of the feeling of lentils and rice and dry beans.*

This was maybe two thirds of a cup of lentils, one ziploc baggie of frozen turkey stock that I made when we'd vultured the corpse down to bones after TDay, a few cloves of garlic, half an onion, salt, pepper, alot of thyme, a bay leaf or two, and a few chunks of smoked ham. The ham plumped back up as the lentils cooked, and the turkey flavor was entirely taken over by the wonderful hammy smokiness-- this is a fall meal like woah. If I'd had mushroom stock or mushrooms to cook in, I think it would have been even better. Just watch the salt-- ham's almost salty enough, and it's easy to over-salt, even though lentils will take alot before they start tasting briny.

*I actually started cooking because my mom got sick and I had to learn how or starve. But I KEPT cooking because of dry goods.

Leftovers: Fried Mashed Potatoes

You know how three day old mashed potatoes kind of glom up and get all stiff? I was playing with a chunk a little after Thanksgiving, and I thought, this would be great fried. And really, what wouldn't?

So I heated up, like, an inch of veggie oil and mushed the mashed potatoes into three little paddies like felafels, and fried them for a minute or two on each side until they were this lovely golden color just sort of too dark. While they were draining, I salted them like french fries, and then ate them as-is, right off the paper towel. They were awesome. Like french fries, but softer. I think they'd be great with something yummy inside. I was going to put turkey inside, but I got lazy. 

I don't regret it at all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Apples: Cameo and Johnagold

This is apple season, so when we went to the Publix the other day, all I really wanted were apples. They were so luscious-looking, all lined up in stripes from green on the left to red on the right, and so many names I haven't tried before. So I picked one of all the ones I haven't had, and I'm eating my way through them.

First was Cameo. It's a reddish apple in that stripy, blushy, speckley way that some apples have, red over orangy-yellow, but mostly red. Nowhere near as red as a Red Delicious, though. It's really white inside, crisp and juicy, and browned up before I was done eating it, but it didn't matter. It was delicious, firm and crunchy, making those apple-eating noises like apples on TV do and real apples so rarely do. It's a good balance of tart and sweet, a little more on the tart side, and assertive enough that I could have eaten it with peanut butter and it still would have tasted like an apple (this is one of my favorite ways to eat an apple, and it's always so disappointing when you put the pb on and that's all you can taste afterward). We baked an apple crisp with some of these (among others), and they held up to cooking while still getting all soft and pie-like.

Second was Jonagold. I've seen this one in seed catalogs-- it's a stable cross of Jonathan and Golden Delicious, and it's so much better than the catalogs let on, but exactly as good as the random lady who saw me picking one up said they were. It's red and yellow (I would up with two of them without noticing because the two were so on opposite sides of the red-yellow spectrum), with softer flesh that manages to be firm and smooth and not at all mealy all at the same time. It didn't brown that fast, and it cut really well and easily, and had a small core so that I had the maximum amount of apple for the fruit I picked. And the taste is just great. Damn neat perfect balance of tart and sweet, with the tart tasting like apple cider and the sweet being as complex as honey. There was one of these in the crisp, too, and I'm pretty sure it's the one that cooked down into the best applesauce I've ever had there on the bottom of the pan.

The idea of having to give up off-season apples for half of next year as I do my Seasonal Eating Experiment doesn't seem so bad if I can eat these apples when they come back in season.

TV: Diary of a Foodie

So there's this show I found on the internets called Diary of a Foodie, and I'm in love. It has a feel like it's one of PBS's higher-end and more personal productions, but it's made by Gourmet magazine, so if it's on TV, it could really be anywhere-- there's a listing to find it where you are. The premise is simple. People go all over and find good food, from monks in Rome to a lady who opens her house to strangers to show them how good home cooking can be to a big Chinese group meal in the countryside to Peking duck in the city. It shows people who love food loving food, and it's amazing-- where things are grown, where they come from, how they're chosen, how they're prepped and how they're eaten. I've watched two episodes and I'm starving. And it's great also because of the little glimpses of people's lives: the Chinese translator and her adorable husband, the Cooking Mama who insists she isn't a chef, the cutest monk I've ever seen, and how they all live and know where their food is coming from and understand what it means to make and eat good food.

I want to live in Europe more than ever.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Golden Moon Tea No.1: Sugar Caramel Oolong

The website doesn't have a decent picture; I'll come back later with one of my own.

I just discovered Golden Moon Tea through a friend's blog post, I since they have tiny samples for 99c and I am both poor and in search of new tea sources, I ordered a few that sounded good, and I'll be posting the reviews as I work my way through them.

The first I tried (really, the reason I bought enough to make shipping worth it) was Sugar Caramel Oolong. I love oolong. It's my fav of all the ways of oxidizing tea that I've tried, perfectly between green and black, with the best of both flavors without the strangeness of mixing the two, and with far more variety than you'd think. This one was my first ever flavored Oolong. It did not disappoint. The tea bewed up light and fresh, with no bitterness at all and enough assertiveness that the scents of toasted sugar and caramel didn't everpower the fact that it tasted like tea. There wasn't much flavor of either of these scents, but the scents were strong enough to make up for it, and if I were the sort to sugar a light tea (which I'm not), I think it'd take it just fine with the delicious dessertiness of the scent already there. I drank a cup fresh, then put the rest in a bottle and took it to work, and even with the leftover lychee scent of the juice I took to work two days before, it was nice hours later when I drank it. It didn't get bitter as it cooled off, and it blended nicely with the fruit flavor of the bottle.

I'm so buying this on in full size as soon as I get more monies.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bottled Tea: Inko's Blueberry White

This is a keeper. A little sweetened, but not with High Fructose, and so free of that pervasive too-sweetness that most bottled teas have. The white tea is light and not bitter at all, and the blueberry tastes like blueberry without any of that metallic weirdness blueberry can get if it's too concentrated. The price is pretty good, too, a little over 2$ a bottle at WinnDixie, which is the only place I've seen it in town. I first tired it at my mom's house in Raleigh, and it was about 4$ a bottle at the Harris Teeter, so I'm counting this as a deal. It's fresh, refreshing, and it doesn't taste like vitamin C-- it's in there, as a preservative like all the other bottled teas-- but it's not harshly sour at all, just a teeny bit as would be appropriate to the fruit involved, and somehow manages to simultaneously not taste watery like alot of these new white teas do.

This is a good one. I just wish WinnDixie would carry more of their flavors. Like Cherry Vanilla? Or Honeysuckle? Or, the one I mourn not finding the most, Lychee?

Green Bamboo Rice

I got this at the Old Spice Traders store downtown, but I found out you can buy it online, too from Barry Farm, who sells alot of different grains and rices, as well as flours and meals, and I want to buy them all. But that's for another post.

This is sweet short grained rice that's treated with young-bamboo juice as it's being milled, leaving it with a green color that stays after cooking. It's very pretty.

I made a very small amount, less than a quarter cup dry, in case I didn't like it, but it was an unnecessary precaution. It's got a texture like sushi rice, and I think it would make a really great sushi all on a green theme-- maybe cucumber and avocado? Or, branching out a little, eel, with said cuke and avo, plus, like, herbed creamcheese... But, that's another post again.

It tastes almost like normal rice, but a little bit woodyer, a little more assertive. It's the cholophyll that makes it green, but it doesn't taste green, not the way spinach or broccolli or green peppers do. Just a hint of something different, and yummy enough to eat on it's own, though I was already making a bowl of red miso, and thought the green rice would be a nice seasonal color combo. What do you think? I think it was tasty!

Leftovers: Thanksgiving Bento

Wow, that's a cruddy picture. My phone determines of it's own free will how big a picture will be, and this one kinda got jipped.

Anyway, we have tons of leftovers, still, and so when I had to make my lunch for the third day, I decided to make it pretty. The balls are roasted garlic mashed potatoes, which would have had turkey inside if I'd had the time to pick it off the bones (so I've put that idea aside-- I want to fry them with turkey and gravy and maybe some cranberry inside), and the yellow square is AH's amazing creamed corn. Then two deviled eggs, a divider made of cream-cheese and roasted walnut-stuffed celery sticks, and then greenbeans.

The corn was made with frozen corn, since it's past fresh corn season around here, cooked up with bacon grease and butter, than topped off with a whole block of light cream cheese and the bacon cooked to get the grease. Salt and pepper. No measurements, just sort of throwing stuff together. It was great. The only thing I would change, is that I'd like there to have been more bacon flavor; the cream cheese mellowed it a little too well. But it's fantastic hot and fresh, and almost as fantastic the next day when it stands up under it's own thickness, and it's really good cold in a lunchbox.

The greenbeans were big fat Italian ones cooked in a crock pot all day with butter, salt, pepper and a smoked ham bone and whatever hammy bits were taken off the bone, until they were that soft olive color of well-cooked beans.

And even on the third day after thanksgiving, this deceptively-small amount of food lasted me all day.

Classic Food: Yellow Rice Balls

This is something I made a ways back, not long after we moved back into this house, and have since made two or three other times: Yellow Rice Balls. Not really a fusion menu, since I used yellow rice and chicken entirely as we make them normally, but I don't think I ever use my riceball press enough, and I thought this would be cute. And it was.

Yellow rice was two medium bags of Viggo rice, a green pepper, an onion, a chopped tomato or so, and far too much garlic, because there is no such thing, cooked with chicken broth. This was made when I was still at the restaurant, so the broth was from there, and didn't include any boiled chicken, but it worked out better that way, because frozen chicken breast can be shredded and cooked with Spanish Spices (cumin and chili powder, mostly, with more garlic and some adobo, and alot of salt and pepper-- seasoned really strongly, because rice will steal all your flavor otherwise), and a little tomato sauce, just regular marinara we had in the fridge, to keep it moist.

Then make like a rice ball: Fill the bottom half of the mold, mine makes two at a time, and leave a little dent for filling. Fork a small ball of filling into the dent (that one on the right had too much filling and didn't stick together well, so be sure you keep rice on all sides of said filling so it can seal up), and then top with an equal amount of more rice. Put the top of the mold in, and press down hard enough to make it all stick together like sushi, but not so hard that it's one solid and impossible-to-eat mass. If they'll be cooling off before you eat them, like if they're for a bento or something, leave them a little looser, because they compact as the steam leaves them and they'll get gooey and hard.

The whole time I was making these, the cheese had been sitting on the counter, forgotten, so when they were ready, it was all soft and moldable-- so I made sharp cheddar omibushi to sit on top.

These two selft alot of space on the plate, and I wished for presentation we had a salad to put with them, but that's like two cups of rice almost, and it made a whole meal, with the addition of leftover chicken as a sort of small second course.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Leftovers: Ham Salad

In leftover news, since I still don't have the pictures of the actual foods, I have this to offer: ham salad. Like turkey or chicken salad, but with ham.

We had a huge and lovely home-smoked ham, so that's what we started with, and the fact that it got a little dry in the fridge only helped it not be slushy. Chop up said ham and drop it in a food processor. Add mayo or, in this case, miracle whip. Add sweet relish, or, in this case, some dill relish and a few chopped sweet gherkins. Blenderize until it's a nice chunky spread for a sandwich, and eat it as such. You can add lettuce and tomato, maybe some onion if you have it, and I think a nice smoky cheese like gouda might be nice. Best on thick crusty wheat bread, which stands up to bold flavors and thicker consistencies better than white.

Usually, H makes this with regular deli ham, and it's good like that, too, but the smoked-ness of it being made from the leftovers added alot of depth of flavor and a really neat saltiness that's different from the pre-packaged saltiness of deli meats.

If you try this out, lemme know how you do it?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coming Soon: Thanksgiving

Can't type. Hands too fat from twelve hours of eating. More later.

Above, clockwise: dressing, waldorf salad, bacony cream corn, home-smoked ham, candied yams, mac and cheese with Long Macaroni, and spinach caserole. Off to the side and not in this picture: brined turkey, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, southern green beans, yeast rolls, seasoned crackers, and four desserts.

EDIT: and deviled eggs, and toasted-walnut-and-creamcheese stuffed celery, and fire-roased chestnuts, and red and white wine, and sweet tea, a relish tray, and the four desserts were chocolate-peanut-butter cake, pumpkin cheesecake, peacan pie and troll pudding.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rice And Protein And Chese

I've been sick all this week, and on top of that, it's my first full week back at work, and I'm kinda busted, so when I got hungry the other night, I made an old stand-by meal: Rice + Protein + Cheese. It really should have a better name then that, but it's so mutable that it'd sound like a dozen different meals. So this one is made with basmati rice cooked in veggie broth for extra flavor and nutrients (and because I sort of wanted soup, but not really), topped with a Black Bean Veggie Burger from Morning Star Farms that I crisped up in the toaster oven and then chopped into bike-sized pieces, then with sharp cheddar cheese and mild salsa. On the side is steamed veggies-- broccoli, mostly, and greenbeans, corn and peas, cooked with some random seasonings and adobo and topped with more chese.

Ta da! A perfect meal for one: about 2/3 cup of rice, one burger, maybe an ounce of cheese and 2/3 cup veggies. And basically healthy. When made with water, it's only about 450 calories-- we ate alot of variations of this when H and I were on a diet two years ago. And the fact that any rice, any protein and any cheese can be combined makes it almost as versatile as pasta.


Roasted Chestnuts!

Yesterday, while shopping for the many small things for the Festival of Starchy Side Dishes (I'm in charge of pie and pudding and canberry and pickles), I came upon these little gems: Sweet Chestnuts! I vaguely remember eating them when I was small and living in the UK, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what they tasted like, nor could I recall having had them in anything but, like, one Godiva fall truffle since I came back oh these many and many a year ago. And, being well under ten the last time I had them, I certainly hadn't made them before. Still, they stayed in my head as something that I should be eating this time of year, and I sort of remembered reading something about a winter fair in Italy (probably in Extra Virgin or maybe it was France and A Year In Provence, but I think it was Italy), and it seemed like a fine harvesty thing to do. So when I saw these at both WinnDixie and Wal-Mart, I was all over them, despite the 6$ a pound price tag.

I started with the Wal-Mart ones to see if I knew what I was doing, and after a quick skitter around the internets, I took ten of them, made little Xs in the flat sides, and dropped them into the big skillet with a little water and a lid. Our lid doesn't really fit the skillet, so instead of shaking them up like JiffyPuff, I got out the old metal cooking spoon and kept them moving. None of them popped, so the lack of the lid was moot, and they were ready around the time as the tea I put on to boil at the same time and brewed while they finished off.

Once they were all black and the Xs had peeled back like the tops of pomegranites, I dumped them out into a clean towel and scrunched them all up with the heel of my hand to crack the shells real good before they could cool and seal themselves in again.

The biggest ones were the ones that cooked the best, coming out soft and meaty and sweet, while the smaller ones (some of which didn't even open up right, even though they were blacker then the rest, so I think it was the nuts and not me to blame), came out harder and denser, but generally still edible. The taste is pretty unique. At first, they taste almost like cooked meat of some sort-- I don't want to say 'like chicken', because it's not really like that, but I can see why they're put with chicken and turkey; the meatyness of them is complimentary to that sort of a flesh-flavor. Anyway, after that first bite, they taste sort of like grill-roased corn, sweet and tasty and nutty the way things that aren't nuts are nutty. And they remind me of cooked hazelnuts, with a similar texture and look. And they're best when they're steaming hot, which is the best sort of food for winter.

I have so many more of these. I'm going to but up all of them and eat them in small handfulls all winter, and I'm going to see if I can get a few of the fresher-looking WinnDixie ones to grow so I can add them to my baby orchard. Dutch Elm Blight be damned!

ps: This whole handling of chestnuts also reminded me of playing Conkers when I was in school, but the ones used for that are the horse chestnuts that can't be eaten, and I always thought that was a shame.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Long time, no blog!

I apologize, my one reader, for forsaking you. I started working again and have cooked a lot less. But I offer you this one consolation: the holiday season is coming, and that means lots and lots of food, and then after that, I start my Year of Eating Seasonally, and that'll be millions of new food choices and recipe tests.

I know for sure that I'll be making Troll Salad and Waldorf Salad for Thanksgiving, and I'll be doing my best to document everyone else's side-dishes and main dishes all through the winter, not to mention what we do with the leftovers. Then I'll be making All Purpose Holiday Cake and Mom's Sugar Cookies for Christmas (and probably also Tollhouse Cookie Variations and Soft Ginger Cookies and Peanutbutter Cookies, if not other classic and decadent cookies. Christmas isn't about Santa anymore; it's about how many small cake-like baked goods I can cram into one week.)

So bear with me, okay?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Scarburough Faire Fall Soup

This picture doesn't nearly look as good as it does in the bowl.

So C and I were cooking down the raw pumpkin scraps that were taking up too much space in the fridge to make pie, and realized we didn't have enough ingredients, so we decided to just drain it off and put it away till later. That left us with several cups of pumpkin juice after all the puree was squeezed like so much orange cheese. We were going to toss it, but C said 'I bet this'd make a nice base for soup'-- and buy did it ever!

Here's what we did:
In the soup pot, we sauteed an onion, a miscelaneous shallot and about six cloves of garlic in butter and oil with maybe a teaspoon of sugar and some salt until they carmelized all over the bottom of the pot.

We added one-ish carrot (it's the leftover other half of that giant carrot, that I'd chopped for a previous meal and then didn't need), and two stalks of celery, and sauteed that for a bit to get them softening a little.

In goes the pumpkin juice and an equal amount of chicken stock from the ever-present chicken boiling we do almost weekly.

Then a massive sweet potato, six redskin potatoes, one stalk of broccoli and it's stem, four or five sliced mushrooms, a handful of frozen veggie mix (the kind with greenbeans, limas, peas, corn and a little carrot). Seasoned it with more salt and alot alot alot of pepper, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (hence the name!), and cooked it until the potatoes were soft; every thing else was done just before, and had reached that perfect level of soup-softness.

It thickened up some as the potatoes cooked, and all the spooning broke up the sweet potatoes and thickened it a little more. It came out just a little sweet, a little roasty (I'm assuming from the carmelizing), and the first sip reminded me of a corn chowder but lighter as there's no cream at all. After that, it was a nice balance of salt and sweet and peppery and herbal, and the veggies were all perfect.

This one's definitely a keeper.

Forelle Pears

This right here is a Forelle Pear. In a shopping trip where I managed to only buy one pre-made item-- a bag of cookies-- I came across this little cutie next to the Seckel Pears I was looking for. It looks like a little baby d'Anjou, as you can see. Curious, I looked them up on the interwebs and found this little snippet: "Forelles are a very old variety, and are thought to have originated sometime in the 1600's in northern Saxony, Germany. The name Forelle translates to mean "trout" in the German language. It is believed that the variety earned this name because of the similarity between the pear's brilliant red lenticles and the colors of a Rainbow trout. Forelles were introduced to the United States by German immigrants in the 1800's, and they are now produced in the Northwestern states of Oregon and Washington."

Yay! An old variety! I'm not sure what makes a vintage variety, but this seems old enough to count.

The interwebs don't say anything about a relationship with d'Anjou Pears, but to me, it seemed very similar, but sweeter. The skin has the same texture and the flesh is the same juicy-but-not-drippy. I got about five bites out of it, but I have a small mouth; normal sized people with jaw hinges that function properly will likely get, like, three. There's about four to a pound, as opposed to seven a pound of the Seckels I also bought (though they aren't yet ripe enough to eat). It's tasty, a little floral, sweet, not tangy at all. I think it would be good carmelized.

In fact, I think so strongly that it would be good carmelized that I bought more and have plans to try doing just that, and eating them with plain yogurt. Or maybe in a pear upside-down cake. Mmmm, cake...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hagen Daas Acai Berry Sorbet

Aside from the freakishly smooth scoop there in the picture, this is actually a pretty accurate image. It's a deep reddish-purple, and it's trying it's best to be as smooth as sorbet should be, but acai is kind of gritty the way pears are, and that comes through in the sorbet as a bit more texture then you may be used to. I was expecting this, having become recently obsessed with acai to the point of paying a dollar a seed to grow my own, so it didn't bother me.

The carton describes the flavor as something between blackberry and sweet blueberries, and I guess that's accurate, but it's more then that, too. At first, it tastes like mixed berry, and then as you keep eating it, it starts tasting like there's bananas and apples in the flavor too, and in the end, it has a flavor all it's own, something not like the usual fruits we eat here in the US of A. But it's yummy and I love it, and I was hard put not to eat the whole thing last night.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pumpkin Cheesecake Icecream

by Ben & Jerry's
There was only one little tub left last night when we went grocery shopping, and I grabbed it without a second thought. I had it for breakfast like all good single post-college girls do, and it was pretty amazing. Thick and creamy like I've come to expect from Ben & Jerry's, smooth and perfectly balanced-- it tastes like pumpkin without tasting like a vegetable, it tastes like nutmeg without tasting like only nutmeg, it tastes like cheesecake without tasting like cream cheese like so many icecreams with that word in the title do. The gramcracker swirl is sweet and crispy, and I'm still amazed at how well Ben & Jerry's uses black magic to keep their pastry-type swirls from getting soggy.

It's limited edition, as all seasonal things must be, but it's a good one. It'll go down next to the Festivus Icecream in the History of Food I've Loved.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Super-Veg Gratin

No pictures again, because it didn't last that long. I take it as a compliment, and as a need to take pictures before I tell people it's ready.

Anyway, here's what I did:

Butter a 13 x 9 in baking dish. Use a piece of bread and tear the buttered remains up to make breadcrumbs; mix it with five crumbled saltines.

Slice up four potatoes very thin-- if you have a mandolin or one of those box graters that can do narrow slices, definitely do that; I only have a moderately sharp knife, and that takes forever and left me with a blister where the edge of the handle hits my first finger. Keep the slices in water until you're ready so they won't go gross.

Slice up carrots the same way. I used one of those monster carrots, and it equaled about two or three good sized normal carrots.

Finely chop 1 red pepper, 1 stalk of celery and it's leaves, 1 onion, and 4 cloves of garlic.

Grate 1/3 of a block of sharp cheddar and mix it with an equal amount of parmesan-- shaky-cheese is fine.

Open a carton of potato-leek soup and one of veggie broth.

Heat the oven to 450 or 475 (mine runs cold, so I did 475).

Get layering! Like so:
- Layer of potatoes topped with salt and pepper
- Layer of carrots
- Layer of mixed veg and garlic
- Layer of cheese, topped with salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary
- Repeat. Mine repeated another whole time, and then a third layer of potatoes to cover the top.
- Mix half the broth with all the potato-leek soup and pour it over the layered veg.
- Top with the bread and more salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary. Butter if you want.

Cover with foil and cook on a cookie sheet to catch drippings for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the foil and cook until the veggies are all uniformly soft. Let it sit for ten minutes until it stops boiling and sets up a little, then dig in! Even when lava-hot, it's really yummy and has a texture something like the inside of a pot pie.

First Pomagranate of the Season

picture by my good friend Rachel, featuring the hands of my other good friend Jaqui.

Usually I don't get the year's first poemgranate until winter-- somewhere near Christmas when they show up at Wal-Mart and other such cheap and publicly-accessible stores. But because of the Farmer's Market mentioned before, I got to have a wedge of a lovely shiny-red pom for breakfast. They're messy to open and kind of a pain to eat if you don't chomp the seeds (which I don't because I think they're too hard to chomp and bitter and clash with the tenderness of the fruit, as well as leaving nothing for me to plant), but they're so tasty and so... what's the word I'm looking for here? Histoical? Loaded with centuries? It's the sense that they've been around for almost as long as people have, the knowledge that they were common in the first civilizations man inhabited, the idea that they're sacred to Goddesses in the old stories that tell of the turning of the seasons...

I think not in straight lines but in clouds of ideas and references, and pomegranates, perfect and shiny and so loaded with little rubies, are more surrounded by ideas then most things, and the first one I get to eat of the year is like a sacrament-- it's absorbing the fall that fell when Persephony went underground and ate the same seeds as me, it's remembering all the times we sat around campfires eating poms and drinking tea brewed on an open flame, it's hoping the spring will come and it's enjoying the coming winter. I'm early this year, but it's still the same, and it's still wonderful, and I love them.

As soon as these seeds are dry enough not to rot, I'm trying again to sprout viable seedlings so I can still have poms when the food system collapses entirely.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

St Augustine Pier Farmer's Market

Wednesday mornings are for the Farmer's Market. I don't get to go as much as I'd like because it's far enough from my house that I can't bike, but we're hoping to change that in the future. With food costing more all the time and us not getting any less poor, the market lets us get super-fresh veggies for way cheaper then we can at the supermarket.
Here's what thirteen and a half dollars gets you in the second-ish week of October: 3 huge red sweet peppers (2$ for one at Publix last I looked), an eggplant big as my face, three big vine-ripened tomatoes, two giant yams, two equally giant carrots, a pomegranate and a really fantastic-smelling apple, and a stalk of fresh lemongrass (which is sitting in water and I'm hoping will grow roots for me). And a mollasses cookie I already ate. Everything was huge. I mean, look at this carrot! --->

We're going vegetarian tonight because we're out of meat, but with veg like this, who needs meat?

In addition to this, H got three huge portebellos, a pound of green beans, three cloves of garlic, a shallot, a massive 1$ stalk of celery, sweet potato bread and a cookie, and C got an avocado as big as a grapefruit, three yellow tomatoes, a pound of grapes, a pint of strawberries, two pounds of apples, a pomagranate, a loaf of rye bread, sweetpotato bread, and another cookie, and neither spend more than 20$. We're eating well for the next few days.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Experimental Halloween Candy Flavors

Also known as 'seasonal'.

I love experimental candy. The fact that it's out of the norm, the fact that it's limited-time-only and I may never see it again... I look forward to the candy holidays because of this one simple thing. I just finally got my hands on a tiny bit of un-spoken-for money, and C and I indulged in some sampling of the standard brands pushing new flavors at us for Halloween.

Snickers Rocky Road: Meh. The marshmallow-flavored nougat is really just non-flavored, and almonds are harder than peanuts. And it's almost too sweet. I miss the slight saltiness of the regular Snickers nougat.

Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses: Yum! They taste like the pumpkin spice fudge at Kilwins, only not as dense. Not too sweet, and they're orange with white inside, and distinctly nutmeggy rather than cinnamony, and I like it much better that way.

Hershey's Candycorn Hugs: They're so cute with their yellow bottoms and white tops and orange insides! They smell like butter cupcakes. The taste... I don't know. Not like candycorns, more like butter cream frosting flavor (not like actual butter cream frosting). And the texture was weirdly chalky, not at all like a regular Hug-- but all the ones in this bag seem to have gotten really soft and hardened up again, so it might be that. I'll give it another try when they all go on clearence November 1st and I go binge on cheap candy to hold me over until Easter.

Le Cafe

The other day, before a day of thrifting for Halloween costumes, H, A and I went to Le Cafe right on A1A where Fran and Tam's used to be.

It's a tiny place, only about five or six tables and a three-stool-bar, but it had that old timey charm that seems to be leaking out of St Augustine these days. Most of the people who were there were older, the sort of people you'd see in a Diner, if we had one anymore, and there was a steady stream of customers, so I think they were well-regarded.

I had the turkey and swiss croissant (4.50), A had the ham and swiss croissant (also 4.50) and H had the Croque-Monsieur, which is a fancy sort of grilled cheese (3.99). The food was not huge, but it wasn't tiny, either, and perfect for breakfast. Croissants make dangerously good and remarkably filling sandwiches. Afterward, we got the crepe with nutella, whipped cream and vanilla icecream, and it was devine.

There's a variety of crepes available, but none of them savory like A says were available all over Paris, but the crepes themselves are tender and fluffy and not at all rubbery like alot of small places make them. And nutella makes everything amazing, especially when it's warm.

They have breakfast all day, a small selection of icecream that can be made into milkshakes, smoothies, bagels, paninis, build-your-own sandwiches, belgian waffles, and the most adorable and tasty-looking single-serving quiches that I'm trying next time.

Cash only
Open 7:30 am to 5 pm, closed on Sunday

Monday, October 13, 2008

Variation on Mom's Stew

My mom makes a great slivered beef stew. It's on old recipe from the cookbook her mom gave her when she married my dad, and it was old then, so I'm guessing it's a 50s housewife sort of recipe. I was craving it last night, but all we had was chicken, so I used that.

Slice the chicken into narrow strips*. Dredge about half of them in flour.

Brown them in olive oil or butter in the soup pot so all the flavor stays in one place; remove them to clear way for the veggies. They don't have to be cooked through because they'll finish in the soup, but make sure they're browned. The flour will come off, and that's fine; it helps to thicken the soup into a stew later.

Add a little more oil and cook the onions (one or two, roughly chopped) while you chop the veggies: three or four potatoes; two carrots or a handful of baby carrots; a handful of broccoli; a green pepper; a handful of fresh mushrooms.**

Throw all the veggies in when the onions have started to caramelize. Throw the chicken and their juices back in.

Add chicken broth. I used more of the leftover broth from last week, about 20 oz, and topped it off with water-- the pot should be about three quarters full, a goodly portion of stew. Add in a few bay leaves (I usually do one for each person eating it) and more salt and pepper.

Boil it for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the hard veggies are all soft enough that you need a spoon to eat them. If it doesn't thicken up on it's own, make a slurry of flour and cornstarch and the hot broth, and make sure it's smooth before you add it back to the pot so it doesn't make a clumpy stew. Cook a bit longer to give it a chance to thicken, then serve with biscuits.

What're the chances of me not using garlic? I know, it's crazy, but my mom was never much of a garlic-cooker, being nowhere near Italian, and this is her recipe, so no garlic. It makes a savory, lovely stew that's good for several days.

* This would also be good with bone-in chicken or turkey. Just cook them longer.
** Peas would be good here. Maybe beans. Really, just use whatever veggies you have. It's a fall and winter recipe, so it does best with sturdy, stewable veggies-- tubers, roots, cabbage, broccolis, that sort of thing-- but any will do. If you use a lot of softer ones, cook for less time, or pre-cook the hard ones a bit before adding so the soft ones dont' become mush.

Apple-Onion Chicken with Mashed Potatoes

Yeah, I really need a new camera. Anyone got a hundred-ish dollars I can have?

Today, a nice fall offering of chicken stewed with apples and onions, done thusly:

Put potatoes on to boil.
Put onions and a peeled, chopped apple or two, and a chunk of slivered cabbage on medium heat and cook up with some olive oil.
Add the chunked chicken-- this was two large breasts, somewhere around two pounds.
Add a half cup of apple sauce and a half cup of apple butter, salt and pepper, a little butter, and some red wine vinegar.
Stew it all until it's cooked way down and the chicken is cooked all the way through. It'll be something like a chunky applesauce, and never really thickens up into a gravy, and should be tart and sweet and spicy.
Serve with the mashed potatoes.

We've made this all together in a crockpot with a pork shoulder, and it's lovely that way, too.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Three Meals: Pepperoni Pasta, Dugger Casserole, Chicken and Rice

I don't have pictures of these because I just can't look at another cellphone picture-- and because they didn't last long enough to picture-fy.

1. Pepperoni Pasta
Make ground turkey into Italian sausage by cooking it with tons of garlic, fennel seed, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Hardly takes any time and makes a really good base for everything.
Cook bowtie pasta to your desired doneness.
Sautee an onion in the same pan. Add chopped pepperoni and a basic tomato sauce to the 'sausage', leaving it a little on the dryer side-- it should be mostly meat and pasta, with just enough sauce to hold it together.
Add grated parmesan. Can be made with cooked chicken, in addition, though we left that out this time.

It's the closest we can get to Timballo since they closed down Johnny Corrino's here, and one of H's favorite one-pot-and-one-pan meals.

2. Dugger Casserole
We've been watching these Duggers on TV for years now, watching their family grow to over twenty and watching them build their own giant house. This is their famous family favorite, which we made in honor of their newest special.
Cook up ground turkey with salt and pepper, and layer it in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.
Top it with a whole bag of tater tots.
Mix a can of cream of mushroom with a can of cream of chicken and a can of evaprated milk, and dump that over the whole thing.
Cook for an hour at 350.

Tastes remarkably good, and has a rice-and-chicken-casserole sort of texture. Next time, we're adding peas and carrots and maybe a topping of cheddar cheese.

3. Chicken and Rice
One of my mainstays for when I'm cooking for myself.
Rice cooked with chicken broth (mine is left over from the Orange Rice from the other day).
A chicken breast, chopped and cooked with olive oil, chili powder, adobo, salt, pepper, cilantro and oregano. Add corn right before it's done and cook until the juices soak in.
Throw on top of the rice, and top with cheese.

Works with any chicken, veggie burgers, beef, pretty much any meat or meat-like, so long as the seasoning is basically tex-mex. Also really good with salsa and sour cream, but we're out of both right now.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Acorn Flour!

I found this post about making acorn flour. We've got billions o' acorns up in this block-and-a-half street I live on, as I discovered when I gathered a bunch for crafting last year, and I think I'd love to give this a try. Mostly because of the following:
a) acorns are so pretty-- the shape of them is something that speaks to my hobbity soul, and the color of these inside is like saffron (i wonder if it'll stay yellow?)
b) people who lived here before Europeans lived off the things, and so can I
c) it's this huge resource that isn't getting used. I mean, this is an Arbor Day Tree City, and most of those trees are oaks.

I'll keep you posted, yeah?

Orange Rice and Chicken

Damn, I really need to get a camera better than my phone...

Anyway, last night's dinner was Orange Rice and Chicken with Extra-Sharp White Cheddar.

Orange rice is made the same way as yellow rice-- this was a medium and a large bad of Mahatma Yellow Rice-- but instead of water, use chicken broth and add veggies. Directions are like so:

Boil a chicken.
This one was a big meaty one, but any chicken will do. Fresh broth is the best broth as far as flavor, so we always get the meat and the broth from the same place. Put the chicken in the pot with pepper and garlic, and boil for at least an hour.

Make the rice.
Add the rice and the broth into a big sturdy pot, and cook according to directions, but with less broth than recommended, because the veggies add extra water. If I'd followed directions, it would have been seven and a half cups and that a) wouldn't have fit in the pot I had, and b) would have been really really mushy.
Add one onion, one green pepper, and one can of fire roasted tomatoes (that's why it's Orange and not Yellow Rice).
Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until it's done like with normal rice. It'll probably burn; something about yellow rice makes it always burn, and the few times when it hasn't, it also wasn't good. I know paella is meant to burn, so maybe that's why. Anyway, just becareful you don't scrape up the burned bits if you don't want that, and it enhances the flavor of the roasted tomatoes either way.

(If the meat isn't falling off the chicken yet, refill the pot and let it boil longer while the rice cooks-- you've got somewhere around a half hour before the rice is done, and you'll get a second batch of broth you can jar up and save for later in the fridge.)

Pick the chickens.
When it's ready, pull the chicken out of the pot and debone it like a vulture as soon as it's cool enough to touch, picking out all the little bits of meat. There's really great pockets of tastiness on the backs of the hips (oysters), the shoulders above the wings, and the back. Anything that isn't gristle and skin can go in, and things like thighs and breast are better if you keep them in sort of big chunks.
Toss the bones, or save them for more stock, but I think they're pretty spent by this point if you've double-boiled them like I do.

Mix it up.
This is easiest in the pan that you picked the chicken in-- once the bones and bits are out, dump the rice on top of the chicken and fold it all together.

Top with the cheese, and eat it all up.

With this much rice, it makes enough for five people to eat twice.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Today's Tea: Genpi-Cha and Cinnamon Sunset

I drink a lot of tea. I mean, really alot. It's not unusual for me to drink an entire pot as part of breakfast, and then make another that I nurse all day long, hot and cold. I'm a fan of teas I don't have to remember to take out of the pot because of this fact. Since I drink so much, I've got a really huge collection, and I start combining them when I get bored.

Today's tea is Genpi-Cha Diet Tea from J-List and Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Sunset.

The Genpi is a base of nice oolong, which is my favorite level of oxydation, and is spiked with barley tea (mugi-cha) and various japanese herbs meant to help with weightloss and energy. The H&S is black tea with cinnamon and orange, and smells kind of like Big Red-- or like every grocery and craft store this time of year.

I've had them both separately, and I like them both, but the Genpi starts tasting more roasty and chicory-ish they longer it sits, and starts taking on more and more of the barley tea flavor that I'm not all that fond of-- it tastes to me like tea that's been made with a poorly-rinsed coffee machine, and I don't like the flavors of tea and coffee together. When I drink it alone, I keep adding fresh water to it to keep that flavor minmized. The Cinnamon Tea is STRONG. On it's own, it just takes over everything, and all you taste is the cinnamon, which tends to make it kind of flat and one-dimensional, so I usually only drink this tea with something else to minimize and mitigate it.

Together, the two teas counter eachother's weak points and make a nice aromatic tea that doesn't get bitter, warms you a little without burning your face off, and has the dietary goodness of the Genpi and the sugar-level-balancing of the huge dose of cinnamon. It makes a nice red-brown tea that smells and tastes like fall.

Fruit-Topped Waffle

For dinner last night, I made waffles on our ancient but sturdy second-hand Belgian waffle maker. Apparently, waffle irons have gotten bigger since that was made, because the recipe that the box said should make 4 came out as 8, so there were leftovers for breakfast this morning. Usually, I eat waffles with butter and jam or with peanut butter and honey, but today I wanted something more substantial. This is what I wound up with.

The fruit topping is 1 red pluot that I've had sitting in the fridge for almost a month (we won't even start on how scary it is to have fruit last a month like that) that needed eating and a handful of frozen cherries. The pluot was a little hard, a little bland and poorly ripened, and starting to dry out a bit in the fridge, so I chopped it into the pan and added a tablespoon of butter and a few tablespoons of brown sugar-- less than a quarter cup, just eyeballed in. I cooked it all together until the pluots had softened and the cherries had almost dissolved, and then dumped it on top of the toasted waffle.

Yum! Way better than the fresh pluot had been! It came out a little tart, a little plummy, just sweet enough (which is nowhere near as sweet as pancake syrup), and a little buttery. The pluots were tender without being mushy, and the sauce was almost like a home-made fruit syrup. I was going to add cinnamon and ginger, and didn't even have to-- there was enough flavor already. This combo would make a nice jam. I think it would work just as well with peaches, plums, nectarines, all cherries, pretty much any of the drupes. It'd be good with nuts. And I keep wanting to throw herbs in, but that will take more testing-- maybe fresh thyme? Basil? Anise would be good...

Review: Blue Dragon Royal Thai Green Curry

This is one of those heat and eat sauces-- this one picked up at the Scratch n Dent Grocery, so who knows which store it originally came from. The instructions say to add chicken or shrimp raw, and let them cook in the sauce to get the best flavor. I added chicken, as well as onions, green peppers and a last left-over potato to make it stretch further, and simmered it until everything was done through. Served it on a heaping pile of lovely Basmati rice.

It's a tasty, sweet-hot sort of curry, with that distinctly Thai smell and flavor-- lemongrass, keffir lime, coconut milk, ginger-- and it's pretty close to the way it tastes at restaurants, though perhaps a bit mellower and uniform of flavor. The heat is there in the first bite, but never got too much (and I'm kind of a sissy when it comes to heat, so that's good, though my room mate who likes heat said it was spicy enough for him, so I guess it's some sort of magic chili that can be mild and spicy at once. or it's the coconut milk and rice.), and went really well with both the veggies and the meat.

I think, until I can figure out how to make my own Thai curry, and when I can't afford to go to a restaurant, this is a good one. Though next time, I'll get two packs to serve five, as it's really only meant for two to three.


Semi because i sort of made it up as I went. It's a fall-time sort of pasta made of all the random bits we had laying around before we went grocery shopping. So without further ado:

Start with onions.
I had one left, a yellow from a batch that was remarkably hot and oniony, so, knowing that I'd be making most of it from olives, I decided to caramelize the onions, and did so in olive oil over medium heat while I chopped up the rest. If I'd had fresh garlic, it would have gone in here, too.

About a cup of mixed olives, seeded and chopped.
I don't use canned olives any more-- I mean, if even Winn-Dixie has an olive bar, why not get real olives? These were a mix of Garlic-Stuffed and Lemon-Stuffed green olives and oil-cured Kalamatas. Minced them up real small and dropped them in as soon as the onions were sweet and browning.

Sliced mushrooms and white beans.
I used about five or six good button mushrooms, and tossed them in with a drained can of cannellini beans.

Salt, just a little. Pepper, alot. Oregano, Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley, Garlic Powder, all dried. Fresh Sage and Basil from the garden (mostly sage, the basil's almost done, but the sage is going crazy now that it's cooler and dryer).

I used a can of Basil, Oregano and Garlic chopped tomatoes, half-drained because I didn't want it soupy. I think I might use the fire-roasted ones next time, if we have them. With fresh ones, it'd be more spring-ish.

Basically, just to let all the dried herbs soften up and to bring all the flavors together, as well as to cook it down a bit.

Our last nub of parmesan, about a half ounce or an ounce, grated and mixed in right at the end.

Dropped on top of some whole-wheat spinach pasta.

Fed all five of us, though there were no seconds and the portions weren't huge; I was expecting three or four to be home. Ah well.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Swedish Meatballs

C bought beef for the first time in months, and I wanted to do something special with it, so I made Swedish Meatballs. Mmmm, food meant for much cooler climates...

This was roughly two pounds of beef. To be entirely authentic, it should be half beef and half pork or veal, but all we had was beef and it wasn't planned, so I went with that.

Start by setting several pounds of potatoes to boil. We used red potatoes because we all like the skins. While they're cooking, make the meatballs.

To make the meatballs:
thawed raw ground beef
+/- 2 slices of bread, soaked in milk until really squishy, or a 1/2 c to a cup of bread crumbs, also soaked in milk until squishy-- about an equal portion of bread and milk
1 or 2 eggs
salt and pepper
mustard powder, allspice and nutmeg, about 1 tablespoon, 1 tbsp, 1/2 tbsp, more if you like them strongly seasoned
1 finely chopped onion, and it can be cooked ahead of time, but is just as tasty mixed in raw

Mix it all up. A fork or spoon will get it started, but to really make it uniform, take off all your rings and dive in with your hands. Gross, but faster and makes a much smoother and better mixed base, and you need to use your hands to make the meatballs anyway.

Ball them up into smallish meatballs-- about and inch and a half across. Go ahead and ball all of them up on a plate before starting to cook them.

Fry them in butter until cooked through. I usually plop them down and drop a lid over them so they start to cook on the top while the bottom is cooking, and so the moisture stays in. There'll usually be one that sort of falls apart-- sacrifice it to the flavor gods and make sure it's cooked through. This batch cooked in three installments, but I have a pretty big frypan.

Remove them to a paper-towel-covered plate to sit while the rest are finished. You may need to remove fallen onions from the pan between batches; put them aside and you can throw them back in when you make the sauce.

To make the sauce:
Once all the meatballs are done, add a tablespoon or so more butter and a few tablespoons of flour, and make a nice roux-- that sounds scary, but really you're just sucking up all the leftover meat-flavored grease with the flour. Cook it until it's just a little brown, sort of tannish. Then deglaze with beef broth or any other broth you have. I used veggie, which makes a lighter flavor sauce, but is still tasty.

Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens up into a gravy-like consistency. You can stop here, or, if it's tasting too bland, you can add a half-cup of sour cream and some mustard powder. (I actually added too much mustard, but it's still tasty, just... mustardy).

Make your mashed potatoes as you normally would, and serve meatballs and taters with the sauce, and add a dollop of lingonberry jam or cranberry sauce if you have it.

This made enough for all five of us to eat six meatballs and a huge heaping of potatoes apiece.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Salmon, Rice and Red Miso

Since I'm sick and everyone else is not home for a meal, today's dinner is simple: soy-sauce steamed salmon over white rice with red miso soup. Sounds fancy, but really it's very simple.

It's one serving of frozen salmon, dropped still frozen into a little pan with sweet and regular soy sauce, and heated on low until the sauce as become a glaze and the salmon is cooked through. Meanwhile, short-grain rice is cooked and water is boiled for the instant red miso and genmai-cha.

The miso is one of my favorite finds. Instant misos that dry out the base are always chalky and more salty; this company-- no idea what it's called because, again, it's all in Japanese, which I really should learn to read-- uses wet miso sealed in individual packs just big enough for one bowl. This ones's plain, and comes with chunks of seaweed. The pack they come in also has clam and mushroom, which add those things in addition of the seaweed.

The genmai-cha is from Yamamoto Yama, which can be expensive in American shops, but is only a buck and a half at the Asian Market, and I always buy two or three boxes, since we only visit two or three times a year. (If I didn't have so many other teas, I'd have to buy alot more to last a whole season or two!). It's a perfect balance of roastyiness and a good solid green tea, and even when I forget about my cup for ages, it doesn't get bitter, just more roasted. One teabag is strong enough to make a decent-sized pot, but smooth enough that it's fine just in a cup. The only genmai I've had that's better is the looseleaf that C brought be back from her stay in Japan's tea region.

See, easy. Just have to have the right things around. If I was better, and didn't get dizzy every time I stand for more than five minutes, I would have glazed the salmon better, and maybe put a little butter on it to contrast with the soy more. Probably would have added some veggies, too...

Lasagna-esque Pasta Bake

The camera's entirely kaput now, so there's no pictures, but here's what I made for dinner last night:

Layered in a 9x13" pan:
- Half-boiled, broken-up lasagna noodles, about half a box. We've had these forever, and we didn't have the supplies to make real lasagna, so I made the noodles about as big as, say, bowtie pasta, and pre-boiled them until they were a little short of al dente.
- One can of drained cannelini beans. Protein that doesn't require any extra effort; we're running low on chicken, totally out of turkey and sausage, and we haven't had beef in the house for months, plus, I'm sick and I didn't feel like messing with cooking and shredding chicken.
- One onion, chopped, and two cloves of garlic, minced. Onions are cheap and healthy, as are garlic.
- Button mushrooms, sliced. I used fresh ones because that's what we had (it was about five or six, cut thin), but if you drained them, you could use canned ones.
- One can chopped tomatoes with garlic, basil and oregano. Two for one last week at Publix! I drained them a little bit so it wouldn't get too wet, but left some of the juice so it would make something of a saucyness.
- About a cup and a half of leftover italian-roasted veggies-- squash, zuccini, and baby carrots with basil, oregano, and butter. These were leftovers from a wedding I didn't go to, so I don't know if there was anything else in there, but I just tossed them all on top and scraped out the butter-residue to flavor up the bake.
- Herbs. I'm a big fan of herbs. In this case, it was dried parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic and pepper. Fresh basil from the last few stalks in the garden.
- Cheese, about half a bag of shredded four-cheese blend. Parmesan would have been more theme-ish, but we didn't even have shaky-cheese for that, and the cheddar-et-al did just fine.

Cover in foil and cook at 375 on the top rack for, say, 20 to 30 minutes, then take off the foil and let it cook until the cheese gets sort of toasty, but not overcooked.

Served all five of us with enough left over that the boys had it cold for breakfast today, and we all had mini-servings of seconds last night. So, yeah, alot of food.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Leftover Curry

Because of our local British Pub, we like our thicker curries with mashed potatoes instead of rice, so last night I made a vegetable-chicken curry with mashed redskin potatoes.

Start with chunked chicken and onions, and cook them together until the chicken is cooked through and the onions are sweated. Add chopped carrots sometime at this stage. Once it's all cooked, add the other veggies-- in this case, broccoli and corn. The curry base I use for this is Golden's-- a sweet, mild Japanese curry that comes in blocks like baker's chocolate. For a batch big enough to serve everyone, I used four cubes and a coffee-cup of water, and continued cooking until it was thickened up. The mashed potatoes are just plain-- butter, milk, salt and pepper.

This curry base is easy and rich, not too salty, and thick like gravy-- in fact, over potatoes, it kind of tastes like gravy, too, but with more interest then just a regular brown. It's not a light curry like a thai one; it's closer to a British pub curry, especailly if you shred the chicken. I've used it by itself, and it's a bit salty for that, but it's fantastic with veggies and chicken, and pretty good with mini meatballs.

ps: I apologise for the crappiness of my pictures-- the viewscreen on my camara broke, and these are all taken blind.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: Japanese Green Tea Soup

I have no idea what this says as I don't read Japanese, but I think this is one of the tastiest things I've found in ages. See, there's a tradition we have-- whenever we go to an Asian Market of any sort, we chose one thing that has no English on it at all, and we try it. For one, it expands our horizons and makes up bolder, and for two, it lets us sample things we never would have tried before. This is one of the good things to come out of that little experiment.

It tastes very Japanese; I'm chalking it up to the seaweed and sesame seeds in the broth it forms when you add the hot water. It's savory without being too salty, mild without being bland. Reminds me more of miso than of tea, but has a lovely greenish color like a really perfect cup of green tea. It's easy to make, and it's tasty, and served over a pile of rice like the picture on the back shows, it's remarkably filling.

I had these little packets for a long time before I got up the nerve to try one, and now I'm sad I waited so long, because it really is delicious. My only regret is that I have no idea what it's called in Japanese, so I can't search for it online when I have no access to the Market.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pasta with Chicken and Veggies

Tonight's dinner was radiatori pasta with a doctored up sauce. I didn't have time to make sauce from scratch, and up until half an hour before dinner I was going to make curry, so I used a jar of Bertoli olive oil and garlic.

Started with onions and garlic in some good olive oil, and cooked those a bit while I chopped up the chicken-- about two or three breasts. I threw that in the pan and added chopped baby carrots, and put a lid on to keep all the juices in and steam the chicken while I chopped green pepper and button mushrooms. Once those were in, I added the whole jar of the sauce and seasoned it up with Italian spices, extra oregano and pepper, then put the lip back on and let it simmer while the pasta finished.

Once it was all ready, I served it with fresh-grated Parmesan and and there you go! Delicious Dinner (tm)!

Meet and Greet

So who am I and why do you need to read my blog? Let's see.

My name is Samantha Holloway, and I'm a freelance writer, editor and blogger, and working from home finally gives me the time to cook like I want to... that, and the fact that part of the agreement with my room-mates was that if I didn't have a day job, I'd cook and clean until such time as I do. Either way, I've been cooking up a storm, and I thought it might be fun to have a blog about it, at the very least so I can find my own recipes when I need to again.

I'm not a professional cook. Like all writers, I did my time as a waitress and restaurant kitchen staff, but aside from home ec and a food prep class a million years ago in high school, I've never been trained. I learned to cook real meals when I was ten and my mom got pneumonia and couldn't stand, let alone cook, and I've been trying out recipes since. I learned to bake at eight; the first thing I made were Duncan & Hines Blueberry Muffins, and I was so proud of myself. I'm entirely sure that without cooking requiring me to learn fractions, I wouldn't know any math at all.

So this blog is going to be about the food I make and the recipes I try out, as well as about places I eat and ready-made things I test run, but it's also going to be a way to track my progress as I learn more complicated techniques and try more ambitious things. Maybe one day I'll work my way through a whole cookbook, cover to cover, and see where it gets me.

Care to follow along?

Pie Attempt 1: Peach

For my first post ever, I decided to show the world my experiments with pie making. Peaches were on sale, so we got four huge ones and I thought a pie would be a good use for them-- we've been re-watching Pushing Daisies and it always makes me want pie, so now that it's coming back, I fully expect to keep experimenting with the whole pie concept.

I started with the recipe from Joy of Cooking, which is actually an Apple Pie recipe, but gives provisions for making it from peaches.

So! Start with peaches.
Like I said, we had four. I cut them up and skinned them and threw all the skins and pits in the compost. They made something around four of five cups. I don't think this was meant to be first, but I wanted to be sure I had enough before I committed to the crust-- should I make only the one crust? A double crust? A random amount of crust and then make hand pies instead of one big pie?

Turned out to be enough for a whole pie, so that's what I made crust for.

Next up was pastry-making. Two cups of flour sifted with a teaspoon of salt, then two thirds of a cup of butter and four tablespoons of water. Apparently, Florida is damper then I thought, because this came out very wet. I wrapped it up in plastic wrap and watched the latest episode of True Blood while it chilled, then came back and it was still really squishy. Mostly butter, even. So before I rolled it out (okay, after I rolled it out once and it broke because of it's own squishiness), I kneaded in maybe a half cup to a cup of extra four, and then rolled it out to make the crust. Still soft, but much more manageable. I also apparently suck at making pie crusts, because it was not at all circular, and it didn't come all the way up the sides of the pan, but it did well enough. Yay me! Preheat the oven to 450. I just knew it would be a mess, so I put it on a sheet pan. Top it with a little sugar, and in the oven it goes! Bake it for ten minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 and cook until done. The recipe says 35 to 45 minutes, but my oven must run cold because it took more like an hour. The crappy crustal adhesion meant that it cooked out all over the edge and onto the sheet, so I'm glad I thought to put that under, but when it came out, it was a beautiful and only slightly weird pie!
So there we go! Pie number one! It's peachy without being overly sweet, and it's a little like peach jam, which is cool. The crust is almost like shortbread rather than pastry, but that might be because of the extra kneading. Might try a different crust recipe next time, or maybe do one of those neat lattice crusts-- it was good, but double-crust pies are a bit... crusty for me. I just prefer to do new recipes as they're written the first time, you know? I think it might be good with almonds or something mixed in, maybe a little lemonjuice to make it tang a little more... maybe make it earlier in the year so the peaches are more flavorful. But overall, it's a good pie and I'm pretty fond of it!