Saturday, November 29, 2008

i am lebanese

what does thanksgiving day look like in a lebanese-american household?

-cooking all day. mostly this means mom and dad on their feet most of the day -- she roasted the turkey and made the stuffing , he made the turkey soup and the hummos -- and the offspring lounging around the kitchen keeping them company, getting up to bake a dessert or fix themselves a snack. mom and dad were pretty good sports about it though.

-sitting down to eat much later than most other families -- like 7 or even 8pm.

-looking forward to a just-us meal, no company or extended family this year, so that we can come to the fancied-up dining table in our sweatshirts and sockfeet. my mom used to hate that but i think she's given up.

-a roast turkey of course, but it's first parboiled to make a turkey soup and then finished off in the oven. yes, the turkey soup is a day-of dish for us, not a leftovers thing. in the bottom of the soup dish you put turkey pieces and some stuffing.

-the stuffing: it's not made with bread -- it's basically an equal-parts mixture of rice and ground beef, with aromatic spices, and topped with toasted pine nuts and almonds and/or pistachios.

-there is hummos. and the bread is pita bread.

-one sister makes apple pie from scratch and gets some vanilla ice cream to eat alongside it. this year another sister also contributed for the first time, with a cranberry-spice crumb-cake sort of thing. it was half from a box, but i was still impressed. i think she was too.

we kept it pretty simply this year by not doing roasted potatoes or even worrying about a salad. vegetables can wait. but i did make some sweet-potato biscuits, which were new to everyone else, at the last minute. we had so much food already, we didn't really bother eating them. so now i have a bunch left over.

2 cups mashed sweet potato (conveniently, this was exactly how much i got out of a large can of yams after draining the syrup; but i hear it's also about 2 spuds' worth)
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup yogurt
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 cups flour
7 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar (more if you like)
1 teaspoon salt

preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

in a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.

in another bowl, combine the sweet potato, milk and butter, mixing well.

then gently mix the dry ingredients into the sweet potato mixture to form a soft dough. it helps to add about a quarter of the dry stuff at a time. don't over-mix.

drop the dough by large tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. i got about 30 biscuits i think! bake for ~15 minutes, or until they get little hints of browning on the peaks.

set the baking sheets on wire racks to cool for a few minutes, then remove the sheets and move the biscuits from the sheets onto the racks or into a serving basket. serve with salted butter, or honey butter, or honey mustard maybe, or... etc.

notes: i think mine turned out a little underbaked. it might be because i was substituting yogurt for half the milk, so they stayed moist longer than expected; or it might be because i opened the oven halfway through, which is always a no-no.

also: i think lining the pans with a silicone baking mat would have helped prevent the bottoms from turning a lot darker than the tops.

also also: for a snack today i pulled out a leftover biscuit and sliced it in half, toasted the halves, and sandwiched some leftover vanilla ice cream in between them. it was a really good idea!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

i had a good idea: early thanksgiving, part 2

Last week I had this great idea: host a pre-Thanksgiving -- sort of like the one a few weekends ago, except intentional. Nothing too fancy or big, but just, cook some fall-type dishes, and this time invite some people over too. well, we did that... basically, there were ten of us and a ton of food and i passed out afterward. but it was all really nice.

coworker A brought over brie and crackers, mmmm creamy cheese.
coworker B brought over her boyfriend, and also some boxed stuffing crumbs and we doctored it with sauteed celery and chopped dried apple and chicken broth and butter.
coworker C came over late and didn't bring anything. quel faux pas.
melissa brought over potatoes and made Melissa's Very Own Perfect Mashed Potatoes.
i made a whole turkey all by myself, its butt stuffed with herbes de provence and a lemon quarter and an onion quarter.
i also made turkey gravy for the mashed potatoes.
jake roasted a leg of lamb with plenty of rosemary and garlic, and roasted parsnips and carrots and fingerling potatoes, and blanched and sauteed beautiful heads of broccoli and cauliflower that sarah had gotten from a farm for free.
between sarah's nonstop squash-roasting and my coworkers' avid smashing-with-forks, we ended up with a creamy orange three-squash puree (butternut, acorn and kabocha). sarah also took jake up on his challenge and made a cranberry-sauce-type relish out of beets, using orange peels and cloves and nutmeg and allumetted beets (allumette is the french word for matchstick, or a fancy word for 'like julienne but smaller').
jake's best friend brought her new fiance and a tray of cookies shaped like states.
and i also made a pumpkin-pie ice cream using some leftover pie filling that sarah had made from scratch (starting from a pumpkin). i fixed this up to be ice-cream ready by slowly cooking it over the stove so the egg thickened, adding enough sugar to make it taste too sweet (because cold things don't taste as sweet, it's a tongue thing), and stirring in cream and milk until i thought it wouldn't come out too pudding-y.

afterward we played cranium. i was on a team with jake and the boy, the most intoxicated of our bunch, and i swear to god i was sure they were going to make us lose a round when we had to take turns spelling out the letters to "calculus" backwards... but we actually kicked ass.

Monday, November 3, 2008

i love early thanksgiving.

chicken roasted in a cast-iron skillet over whole carrots and halved fingerling potatoes (stuffed with sage, rosemary, thyme, a quarter-lemon and a quarter-onion)

led to cornbread stuffing (out of a package, dressed up with lots of chopped butter-sauteed celery and onions)

led to slow-cooked green beans (jake's mamaw's, cooked in a huge pot with onions and pork fatback and sugar and apple cider vinegar)

led to classic mashed potatoes (maybe my best ever, made with hot milk and just a couple tablespoons of butter and not even any salt after salting the water)

led to roast-chicken gravy (the magic of the iron skillet: pull it out of the oven, take out the chicken and vegetables, start gravying over the stove! was lazy and didn't skim the fat off, just whisked with some flour over the heat then added some stock. it had tiny lumps but was still tasty.)

and then we all sat down to a lovely pre-thanksgiving-ish meal. by the way, the handful of halved fingerling potatoes sitting in the skillet under the chicken? golden and amazing, tender yet fried in chicken fat. and the chicken itself was golden too, flavorful with a crisp skin on top. i got so full on all our food.

and then jake and i set up a stock with the chicken bones and vegetable trimmings and pork fat-back and some bay leaves. which jake then strained and chilled, which i then reheated and reduced, which is now flavorful and delicious. now it goes back into the fridge, for further soup-making or for freezing in handy portions.

also: i pulled off the fat chunks near the tail of the chicken, rendered them down into liquid chicken fat, saved the fat in a cup, browned large pieces of onion in the fat left on the pan, chopped up the bag of liver and gizzards and added those in, salted and peppered the whole thing, buttered some rye bread, and made a liver and onion sandwich. this while-cooking snack is one of the best parts of roasting a chicken.

i will post real recipes/methods soon, because knowing how to roast a chicken turns out to be very useful, as nigella lawson says. i owe all credit on chicken-roasting knowledge to melissa though.

i made a green and brown stir-fry

1) tossed cubes of firm tofu in nutritional yeast (to absorb some moisture) and then in sesame seeds, then pan-fried them in sesame oil and chili oil. set those aside in a large bowl.

2) chopped asparagus stalks into inch-long bits (the spear-tips had gone soft so i tossed those out). then another round of sauteeing with a little more oil and some kosher salt, just until tender-crisp. put those in the bowl.

3) cut up baby bok-choy into bite-size pieces, separating so that the soft green leaves went into one pile, and the white stalks into another. then into the sautee pan: first the white bok choy stalks, joined by the leafy parts at the end. then i added some minced ginger and ground szechuan pepper, and a small splash of soy sauce and oyster sauce. i was kind of guessing here. scooped all that into the bowl.

4) finally, chopped up an assortment of wild mushrooms from the stall at the farmers' market that always smells earthy and woody and brown: oyster mushrooms, chanterelles, beech (or clamshell) mushrooms, and hen-of-the-woods. i slowly sauteed them in just a little more oil, and the mushrooms gradually got rich-looking and very fragrant. when i was satisfied with their texture i sprinkled some arrowroot over them, stirred that around, and then splashed some chicken stock into the pan; as it simmered the arrowroot thickened it, and i had a very simple, mushroomy brown sauce.

to finish it all up i put the contents of the bowl back into my giant pan and gently tossed it to coat with the warm sauce. it was pretty good.

if i did this again...
i'd toss out the soy sauce and the premade oyster sauce, and just incorporate the minced ginger and szechuan pepper into the mushroom/chicken sauce.
i'd also maybe combine the two rounds of vegetable-sauteeing to reduce the total amount of oil used.
other ideas: instead of frying tofu maybe do just the vegetables, then plate them over some cooked ramen noodles, or over rice.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

i freaking love soup.

vegetable soup -- steps in order:

2 tbsp light olive oil
chopped onion and minced garlic

2 chopped celery ribs, lots of carrot chunks (i used about 5 carrots!)

3 slices crumbled stale bread (sounds weird, but this will dissolve as you simmer and stir the soup, thickening it slightly)
8 cups flavorful broth (when we don't have homemade, i like to use Kitchen Basics brand chicken stock, but you can use water, or several cubes of a vegetable bouillon you like)

half a package of broad egg noodles (or "dumpling" size) -- i think replacing this with small-diced yukon potatoes would have been delicious too
most of a large (20-oz?) can of chickpeas
4-5 handfuls chopped dinosaur kale, curly kale, and/or mustard greens (we used all three!), or as much/little as you like

to top: kosher salt, coarse-ground black pepper, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
also crystal hot sauce if you like

it took me just 45 minutes to make a big pot of this on tuesday, and it was all gone in one sitting. i liked it so much i told all my coworkers about it, and ended up inviting one of them over for a new pot of it for sunday lunch. k is from new orleans like me, and had fed me red beans and rice and collard greens the night before when my body was starved for some real food, so a return invite seemed only fair. plus she is good company. our sunday soup pot was even bigger than the first, and it disappeared even faster. i will be making this stuff until march.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

i spent eighty dollars on groceries

...and that was after $13 in savings with my store savings card!

except for the time we bought food for a cookout last month, this was my first grocery bill over $30 since may. so it's not that i think i spent too much money, per se. so why am i bringing it up?

it's more that this grocery trip was really a series of admissions: that the CSA i joined for this growing season is pretty much over, except for the last gleaning of the year; that i will always need to replenish my pantry at the grocery store eventually; worst of all, that i can't live off peaches and tomatoes forever because summer is over and soon nothing will grow from the ground on the eastern seabord.

i made dinner in forty-five minutes: pan-roasted pork tenderloin with apple gravy

...with matching whipped sweet potatoes!

so pork tenderloin was on sale at the grocery store, so i bought three smallish ones and froze two. i also got broccoli. and i had lots of csa apples. also lots of csa sweet potatoes that i had thrown on the grill last week when the boy was making steaks, just to get them cooked and ready for use.


rinse a 2-lb tenderloin and pat it dry. sprinkle with salt and pepper -- i used a mix of green peppercorns and szechuan peppercorns in our grinder and that turned out awesome. heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a large, non-teflon skillet; sear the tenderloin all around for a couple minutes per side. toss in two diced apples and a large roughly-chopped onion. stir occasionally until the apples are slightly browned and the onions are translucent and turning gold; then add a small splash of apple cider vinegar and a large splash of broth and cover the pan. cook for about 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the tenderloin registers around 155 degrees. remove the tenderloin to a plate and loosely cover with foil; after you take it off the heat it will continue to cook a little, hopefully to an ideal temperature of 160-165. save the pan with the juices in it; these will be put to delicious use soon.

while the pork is cooking, you can put an inch of water in a tall pot and set it to simmer. meanwhile, trim two heads of broccoli and chop it into large-bite-size pieces. pile the broccoli in a steamer basket in the simmering water, and cover the pot. cook to desired doneness -- for me this is around five minutes, til tender-crisp. when it's cooked enough move the broccoli to a bowl to prevent residual cooking. we tossed some shredded cheese on top of the broccoli because we were sort of lazy and it's decently tasty.

peel a couple grilled or roasted sweet potatoes and roughly mash the insides. warm this in the microwave with a tablespoon of butter. mash some of the reserved pan juices and soft cooked apples into the sweet potatoes, to taste. mix up, adding salt or pepper as necessary.

now check out the remaining the pan juices. do you like how they look? will they make a decent sauce? if they're as runny as water, you may need to mash the apples more, or simmer again until sufficiently reduced.

slice the tenderloin on the bias into medallions. pile a few on a plate, spooning the pan sauce over them. serve with lots of sweet potatoes and broccoli. eat up, with a bottle of hard cider.

in the future: i will try this with white wine.

Monday, October 13, 2008

i made ice creams: honey fior di latte and chocolate sorbet

i made so many things in one day! thank god for federal holidays in honor of douchebags who sailed the ocean blue!

so my honey ice cream did not turn out super - it was pretty icy. i am guessing this is because instead of actual cream i used whole nonhomogenized milk from the market, which has such a noticeable creamline that i assumed there would be plenty of fat in there to compensate. but i guess not. the funny thing is, i made a chocolate sorbet -- no dairy at all -- and you might expect something like that to be too icy and not sufficiently creamy, but in fact my chocolate sorbet was smoother and richer than my honey ice cream. awesome.

well, anyway, here is the recipe i used -- i'm not saying i endorse it exactly.

1.5 cups whole creamline milk
1/4 cup honey (or less if your honey is strong-tasting)
scant 1/8 teaspoon salt

warm the milk, then let it cool. warm the honey and mix it into the milk with the salt until well dissolved. cover and chill, preferably overnight. freeze in an ice cream machine. then transfer to a covered container and freeze in the freezer. try to catch it at just the right moment when it's not too wet and not too icy, and eat it.

and here is the dark chocolate sorbet (slightly modified from the source because i was feeling lazy and didn't want to use any stove implements besides the teapot) which i heartily endorse:

1/2 cup cocoa
scant 1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1 cup boiling water
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp rum or vodka (optional)

combine cocoa, sugar, salt in a bowl. whisk in 1/4 cup of the boiling water until you get a thick paste. then stir in the rest of the water. add the vanilla and chill until cold. stir in the rum or vodka (optional - but helps keep it smooth!). freeze in an ice cream machine, then transfer to a covered container and freeze in the freezer. enjoy for weeks because it doesn't go icy -- if you can save it past the first day.

yes, you read right -- no chocolate other than regular old baking cocoa! this makes me smile so much.

i made pan-roasted honey-glazed carrots out of my own garden

they were pretty impressive i think, delicious in their simplicity.

our garden has lots of carrots growing in a tight little patch, planted by the three-year-old son of our landlords, who lived here until the summer. i know -- lucky us. we now get to literally reap the rewards from our backyard. but sometimes i can't decide what i want to do with carrots other than simmer them endlessly for a soup or something. and it's hard to commit to simmering something i plucked fresh out of the ground into a hot mush.

so. pan-roasted carrots. after lots of trimming, scrubbing, and peeling, i had cute little carrots whose sizes approximated those of my various fingers. some thumb-sized carrots, some mailman-sized carrots (remember that song? "mailman" was the middle finger- weird.), but all small enough to cook through in about twenty minutes, i figured.

warm a tablespoon or two of canola or light olive oil in a large, heavy skillet, over medium or medium-high heat. place the carrots in the pan, without overcrowding them. when they are golden-brown on one size, drizzle a tablespoon or so of honey over them all, and squeeze some lemon juice too. then stir them around and flip each carrot over so it can brown on a new side. lower the heat, strip some thyme leaves off a sprig and toss them in, stir everything again, and cover with a lid (add some vegetable broth first if it looks dry enough to start sticking). cook for 10-15 minutes or until carrots are tender. delicious.

i also made a greens-n-cream sauce for my butternut agnolotti (which are a lot like ravioli, only round) which i got at your dekalb farmers market on a recent trip to atlanta. i swear, i could live in that building and die happy. anyway, the sauce had edamame beans (i wanted fava beans but we were out), some sauteed ribbons of mustard greens, a bit of thyme, some vegetable broth and cream. it was a little odd, but not bad.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

i made another tart: baby onion, bacon, leek and tomato

i wish i had taken this -- but i stole it from ilovebutter, who ought to be me just based on that name alone but is not. even as i steal her/his photo, i am hoping someday we can be friends.

use the same damn tart dough i've been posting about for months -- i now have an index card taped to the wall above the range titled MAGIC PASTRY DOUGH and scribbled with my relatively comprehensible recipe shorthand.

use tiny tomatoes or cherry tomatoes to avoid tomato juice making everything soggy. i picked pretty babies from the farmers' market in green and orange.

also, ideally, a week or two in advance have your roommate buy a pork belly to cure with salt, brown sugar, and rosemary and thyme from your backyard. if he forgets it long enough this will turn into a huge hunk of bacon. slice it, mix it into scrambled eggs with some leeks, eat it on the best BLT you ever ate, and chop some up for your tart. fry it.

after you fish out the bacon chunks, it's tempting to use the remaining bacon fat, since you need to brown whole peeled cipolline or baby onions and then sautee sliced leeks. but unless you reeeally like the taste of pig fat (like, more than i do), you'll probably be happier if you drain the fat off and use light olive oil instead. ok, with a tablespoon of butter melted in it if you want.

the leeks, bacon, some thyme and chopped sage and rosemary, a grating of parmesan, and a spoonful of flour get mixed together (also pepper) and spread in the tart. then arrange the browned onions and the fresh tiny tomatoes amid the field of bacony leeky carnage.

bake that sucker! then eat it. it's pretty good. but it could use some kind of something, so tweak it if you can.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

i made a butternut squash & caramelized onion tart

if you know me in person you've already guessed this, but lately i've been obsessed with making tarts. i have actually made fruit tarts several more times than i have written about. because who wants to read about four fruit tarts? (except me.)

but this pastry dough recipe is just too great to put down. it takes literally seconds of active time to put together (of course, i speak from the cushy position of having a food processor - thanks, melissa!), and when you roll it out it doesn't stick or break or thin out into a hole. like i said before, it's spaz-proof. and when i succeed at something new or scary, i can't get enough of the succeeding.

so on i go with the tart-making. my next attempt, i decided, would be at savory tarts. i'd been thinking about some kind of onion tart, based on the pissaladiere of provence. then i found a recipe talking about caramelized onions and butternut squash, oooh -- uh, and also cheese and eggs and cream and butter and bread crumbs. that didn't sound like the bright burst of flavor i wanted out of my late-summer tart. i set it aside to fiddle-with and lighten-up, but in the meantime, late-summer turned to officially-fall. so i figured i'd let in a few of those heavy ingredients after all.

basically it was a compromise: a cross between their recipe and the thing i'd pictured in my head. to their recipe's credit, making a pureed, more liquidy filling and adding eggs would allow it to fluff up a bit; and to my preconception's detriment, using simple chopped-up squash would probably just shrink my filling down into scrawny, albeit intense-tasting, chunks.

and i just pulled this thing out of the oven and am waiting for it to cool. i'll let you know.

one recipe of pastry dough, prepared and chilled and ready to roll out
small butternut squash (about a pound)
2 medium onions, sliced into semi-circles about 1 cm thin
3 Tablespoons light olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon butter
1 egg
1/4 c. crumbled goat cheese
1/4 c. coarsely grated parmesan cheese
grated zest of half a lemon (scrub it well!)
3 large leaves of fresh sage, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves stripped off the stems
another pinch of salt
2 more Tablespoons butter
1/3 c. bread crumbs

preheat oven to 375F. on a lightly floured surface, roll out dough large enough to cover a 10'' pie pan. spray a pie pan with cooking spray and gently lay the circle of dough into the pan. use your fingers to make sure it is tucked into the corner all the way around, then trim the edge with scissors to leave a 1/4'' overhang. cover with foil, fill with a layer of uncooked rice (yes -- to weigh down the dough and prevent a bumpy bottom), and bake for 20 minutes. then remove the rice and the foil (the foil makes a handy funnel to put the rice back into its bag) and bake for another 10 minutes. remove to cool.

meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. cut the squash crosswise into three chunks of approximately-equal size and place them cut-side down on the foil. (yes, i know one of your pieces will have two cut sides--i'm sorry. just pick one, okay?) roast for 30-40 min or however long it takes for it to be fork-pokable. some of the pieces will be very soft and some will be at the firmer end of the definitely-edible range. that's good. remove to cool. then scoop out the pocket of seeds and strings with a spoon and peel the skin off with a peeler, and cut the flesh into small cubes (about 1cm) and move it to a mixing bowl.

while the squash is roasting, we'll get the onions ready. in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan (NOT non-stick), heat the olive oil over medium flame and then add in the sliced onions and the teaspoon of salt. using tongs, quickly toss them to coat in oil, then reduce the heat to very low and let cook, stirring occasionally to prevent burning and sticking, until the onions are soft and golden-brown. this will take 20-30 minutes. when they're about ready, add in one tablespoon of butter and stir til it's melted. then remove from heat.

with a fork, mix/mash the squash cubes with the egg; you'll get a squashy mush flecked with sturdier cubes. mix in
the sage, thyme and lemon zest, then the parmesan and goat cheeses. taste and salt and taste again. dump this filling into the tart shell and smooth out to an even thickness. in the microwave, melt the last 2 tablespoons of butter in a bowl, then dump in the bread crumbs and toss with a fork. sprinkle the buttered crumbs evenly over the filling. bake the tart for 40 minutes. cool and eat.

whew! that was longer to write than it was to cook. i promise.

and now it's cooled and i just had a piece and, well, it was delicious! jake had some too and seems even more impressed than i am. next time i'll add more salt to the filling (and also remember to find the pepper grinder) and cut back on the mass of buttered bread crumbs. i do also still want to try an eggless version that's less pureed and more just squash-and-onions, but that's definitely not to say i'm disappointed with this one; i'm really quite pleased with myself. yum yum, homemade lunch tomorrow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

i ate a regrettable sandwich: southwest chicken wrap edition

my friend said: "a regrettable sandwich". sounds like a fun post in its own... "look at these pathetic crumples of lettuce... oh dear me."

heh. here goes nothing.

this sandwich cost me six dollars and was some kind of "southwest chicken wrap". i usually really like this sandwich shop. it's right by my work, has lots of variety on the menu, uses fresh-tasting ingredients and good bread, and lets you substitute and add on without grumbling at you -- without charging extra, even. eventually they recognize you and say hello to you by name...even if they don't get your name quite right.

but this day i was sorely disappointed. i liked the idea of corn and black beans in my sandwich, and the idea of barbecue sauce as a dressing. they had something called "barbecue ranch" for the dressing, and i was sort of skeptical about the combination, but melissa said that "white barbecue sauce" was not unheard of and not weird.

but there turned out to be way too much of it, and it was too sweet and sat around in wet pockets. the chicken was flimsy deli slices instead of the grilled chunks i'd imagined, and the black beans were mushy and unevenly distributed, and the wrap bread was over-folded in some parts so that all you got was a mouthful of dry bread.

you know when something's not very good, and you find yourself speeding through bites so that you won't taste it too much? that's fucked up. yet there i was, speeding through the wet mushy barbecuey pockets of the sandwich and the dry-bread folds in hopes of finding the next well-balanced, crisp-corn-fresh-lettuce-shredded-cheese-light-sauce bite soon.

i really hate wasting food and wasting money. i use "waste" sort of subjectively here -- what i mean is i'd rather spend forty of my own dollars on a good dinner than ten of someone else's on a mediocre lunch. in a way, the real crime about the whole thing is wasting a mealtime, an opportunity for genuine enjoyment. we do it already in the pursuit of convenience or in thrall to the lifelong conditioning of our tastebuds to go nuts for sodium and saturated fats. there's so much food out there to experience and savor and understand, and so few meals in all my lifespan -- what the fuck am i doing eating this regrettable sandwich?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

i made tomato soup

melissa and i went to the farmers market this morning. one of the stalls had a few bins labeled "seconds - 99cents/lb". this meant they were the picked-over tomatoes and peppers and peaches deemed substandard and not worth three or four dollars a pound like the "firsts", so to speak. but some of the things in there looked fine except for a few bruises or spots.

so we picked over those vegetables even more. found four yellow peppers that looked just fine -- and when can you buy any kind of bell pepper other than green for a dollar per pound? and we got two pounds of slicing tomatoes (not heirlooms) that had a black spot here and there, deciding that they would make a fine minestrone or gazpacho or something like that, once we chopped out the spots and cooked them down.

back at home i noticed we had three different bottles of leftover red wine. i hate throwing things out, so i would have to either find a simmering application for at least some of that wine...or try my hand at making vinegar.

2 lbs tomatoes, cut in half
2 onions, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
olive oil
kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 cup red wine
bay leaf
fresh basil (chopped), rosemary, and thyme
a cup or two of chicken stock
half a lemon

spray a baking sheet or dish with cooking spray and fill it with the tomatoes (cut side up) and the onions and garlic. drizzle olive oil over everything, then sprinkle salt and pepper over it. roast in a 375F oven for 45 minutes -- until onions are browning but not burnt, and everything smells really good.

in the meantime, put the cup of red wine and the bay leaf in a soup pot on the stove, and simmer uncovered until the wine has reduced by half.

when the vegetables are roasted, put them in a blender and puree them. we used a stick blender, which you stick right into a bowl, but if you are using an actual upright blender, do it in portions or with the lid half-open so that the hot liquid doesn't explode out of your blender and redecorate your kitchen in lovely warm autumn tones.

pour the puree into the reduced wine, add the herbs and some chicken stock (go gradually with the stock and thin out to your liking), stir well, and simmer together for a few minutes. turn off the heat and stir in a bit of fresh lemon juice.

pour into bowls over big croutons...or just stand around the stove and dip rye bread into the pot.

by the way, those peppers? most of them turned out to have weird hardened seed clusters, and tiny baby peppers germinating inside of them. kind of like...fetuses. and you know what? those pepper fetuses were delightfully fresh-tasting and crisp.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

i made steak tacos with all the fixins

including my own salsa fresca.

the boy had grilled a pretty delicious steak when we had company on the patio sunday, and we had a decent chunk left over, so the next day when i wanted to make something relatively quick, i picked up some flour tortillas and threw together some stuff we already had in the kitchen.

i sliced the (very rare) steak in very thin slices, tossed them in a small amount of sugar and salt, heated a little oil in a heavy skillet, and put in several slices at a time to cook until they caramelized (yes, the sugar is a cheat, and a very helpful one). tried to avoid crowding the slices so they wouldn't simmer each other with their juices rather than sear.

i sliced onions and green peppers and sauteed those in a separate pan.

i chopped up three tomatoes, three tomatillos, half an onion, half a very hot tiny pepper, and half a bunch of cilantro. tossed all that together. kosher salt too. i used tomatillos because i didn't have any lime - it was good, but still a little lacking.

i set out shredded cheese from the supermarket and a thing of sour cream. think i may have also julienned a cucumber because i like that. then i held tortillas over a low gas burner for several seconds each, until they had a couple small brown spots and were warm and soft.

then we assembled our tacos, in various combinations and permutations. i've gotta say it was pretty damn satisfying. we finished everything off but the sour cream and bag of cheese. wish i had pictures but we ate everything well before i could find my camera.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

i made butternut-sage dumplings

several months ago melissa and sarah and i made these, and they were delicious, and a lot easier to make than i expected. we tried them fried, steamed, and simmered in a light brothy soup. simmering turned out to be (in my opinion) the best way to cook the wrapper so that it didn't overpower the filling, which was both delicate and savory -- light and lemony and grassy and creamy.

then a couple weekends ago sarah brought home an early butternut squash, and although i love butternut squash i am not ready to cook like autumn is approaching. so we split it lengthwise and scooped out the seeds, gave it a brushing of olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt, and put it face-down on the grill. can't get more summery than the grill. we had a great summer dinner on our new patio in our new-old patio furniture -- skewered vegetables and grilled onions and spiced sausages and my favorite mustard -- and then we checked on the squash halves and they were beautiful, tender and caramelized and striped with grill marks.

we brought the squash inside and peeled off the skin, then mashed it and tasted it different ways. it was great plain with cayenne, great with butter and white pepper. then we moved on to bigger and better things: butternut dumplings.

we improvised -- chopped sage and thyme fresh from our garden, some ricotta but not too much, lemon zest and a bit of lemon juice, salt and a little minced shallot. it tasted really good -- delicate and savory, just like the pea filling -- but with that burnt-sugar warmth in there too, not too delicate to stand up to a good dumple-ing.

to make a long story short: they were really good. and the leftover filling was awesome for lunch the next day, stirred into some spaghetti with olive oil and black pepper. i love improvised successes, and i love multi-talented food. sorry we have no pictures of the dumplings -- but anyhow the best part was on the inside.

Friday, August 15, 2008

i made an apricot tart

prologue: spaz-proof tart crust

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
¾ tsp. salt
9 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 Tbsp. ice water mixed with ¾ tsp. apple-cider vinegar

whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. cut in butter and rub together until the mixture is a coarse meal -- very small lumps are ok. gradually add water/vinegar combo, mixing until moist clumps form and you are able to squash them together. don't overmix. if the dough is too dry, add more cold water bit by bit. (i live in dc, where the insane humidity meant my dough clumped up right away and ended up too wet and sticky after just the initial 4 Tbsp of water. but it still turned out fine. i mean it -- spaz-proof.)

shape dough into a disk about 1.5" thick. wrap in saran wrap and chill, at least 2 hours and up to a couple days. allow to return to room temperature before going at it with a rolling pin.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

dirty-sounding update

so my stupid sticky dough was chillin in its plastic wrap. in the meantime, sarah informed us that she had gotten published in a pretty major journal for her field, from the research she was doing in the lab at university last year, so we decided she should celebrate. rule one of sarah's night was that nobody could talk about paladins after 8pm. hellz yes. then her plan to make bananas foster fell through because, it turns out, dc prohibits the sale of hard liquor on sundays. wtf guys, we're not in the south ok. but she did find champagne, and jake made champagne mojitos with our mint, and jim made nachos with lots of beans and chipotle sauce, and then jake's friend mark came over and they made gazpacho which was also topped off with champagne (so tasty), and now jake is cooking up chorizo to make sausage tacos.

huhhuhuhuh. sausage. taco. sausage taco. huhuhuhhuh.

okay so i just ate one. fucking delicious.


(a day in (my life in)) food

(not my picture... sorry, i know i suck)

this morning we woke up late but still wanted to go to the dupont farmer's market. lately i have avoided buying much produce because our vegetable dropoffs can be overwhelming as it is. but i really wanted apricots and was worried that i was going to miss the season entirely. i also was worried that the metro would get us there at closing time, so we took the car, the boy and jake and i.

we had to stop for gas and picked up coffee and donuts while pumping; then i had a sugary stomach-ache. we ended up parking kind of far from the market, which meant we got to walk along the very southern tail of rock creek park -- it was bright and hot but there was a lively breeze -- and i saw the creek and some sunbathers and children. it was lovely but also made my heart ache for sun and water. summer is almost over, isn't it?

anyway, our take included:
.tomatoes -- three heirloom varieties, a red lumpy one and an orange kind with funny horns and some small green variegated ones. mostly because sarah asked me to get her some (the farm has been bringing one or two a week already). 2 pounds, $4 per pound.
.beets -- regular, purple, nothing fancy. the stall was having a close-of-market sale, two bunches for $5.
.apricots -- which turned out to probably be the last of the season, judging by how few i saw. damn. freaking $8 for a quart-sized carton.
.blackberries -- damn expensive but they reminded me why i ever thought blackberries were my favorite berry so long ago: huge globules of juice clinging to one another, threatening to burst open at a glance, tasting like they had been macerating in a bowl with sugar. $7 for two tiny half-pint cartons. but then, i guess that's not even as bad as those shitty $3.99 half-pints of sour gritty grocery store berries.

jake also got hot peppers; sweet peppers; cucumbers; more tomatoes; and a three-pound slab of pork belly that he intends to slow-cure, braise and sear. (i know: whoa.) and we tried for cheese but the fresh mozzarella guy had sold out much earlier, the goat cheeses were too expensive for my blood, and the camembert lady told us she'd had to throw out three weeks' worth of product lately because "the pH was all wrong". sad.

when i got home i went to water our garden. i trimmed dead leaves off our basil and tomato plants, checked for exciting growth on the squash and found none, overwatered our mint and sage and rosemary and thyme, and came back with welty mosquito bites and dirt up to my elbows and water all over my face and bunches of lettuce and a dozen hard-won carrots. those fucking carrots were so packed together that uprooting the larger ones required grunting and sweating and digging, digging not so much through dirt as through other carrots.

the lettuce was more bitter than it ever has been, because apparently hot weather makes lettuce bitter. oh. so i cooked it down like southern greens -- with vinegar and hot sauce and sugar and salt. still tasted funny, so i ate it over leftover rice and a can of red beans that i opened, rinsed and simmered briefly. amusingly, put together like that it was actually all pretty satisfying.

then i started a dough for an apricot tart. it is way too soft and sticky, i have no idea what is going to happen once the chilling stage is over.

my life is really amusing sometimes. so freaking precious. but i love it. hey, let's talk about riding our bikes to work! community supported agriculture, microbrews, stuff white people like! etc. fuck you, i still love it.