Friday, December 19, 2008

Breakfast Blues

Doesn't that look like a sad little breakfast? No? Well, it was, let me tell you. A too dry, too sweet, too crumbly scone thing and a few bites of yogurt with almonds and agave. You see, I've got the Breakfast Blues.

I get like this every once in a while. I wake up hungry but nothing, I mean NOTHING, sounds good. Then I'm put off by the fact that nothing sounds good, then I get frustrated because I'm hungry and I don't want to eat anything but I know I have to or else things get really ugly. I've been in this breakfast slump for about a week now. Homemade granola? Yuck. Eggs? Ick. Toast? Bagel? Cereal? No, no, no.

I had a grand idea to remedy this a few nights ago. I decided to make some sort healthy, filling, yummy muffin. Problem was I was out of eggs and leaving the apartment again sounded even worse than egg-less baking. So I searched the internet and finally decided on this scone thing, something I had made before and didn't really like. But for some reason I thought making a half batch would make it taste better (what?). Yeah, it didn't, and now I'm stuck with a tupperware full of scone and the Breakfast Blues.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spiced Nuts

Spiced nuts are frequently my contribution to holiday parties and family gatherings. They are easy and tasty, and people gobble them up. Even people who weren't planning on eating at a party can't resist a handful of these. In that past I've made spiced pecans, but this time I used a recipe for spiced mixed nuts. They were easy to make and called for pantry items. In a rare fit of fussiness I even measured all of the ingredients. The only problem I ran into was that they cemented themselves to the cookie sheet once cooled. The recipe says to grease the pan, and I did, but apparently not enough. Next time I will douse the baking sheet in oil. After some scraping and breaking and bits of nuts all over my kitchen, the nuts were neatly packaged to take to my family holiday party. They were a hit there, naturally.

Sweet Spiced Nuts from Simple Suppers by the Moosewood Collective

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of cayenne (I used chili powder)
3 cups shelled nuts (I used cashews, pecans, pistachios, and almonds)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the hell out of a rimmed baking sheet.

Combine sugar, 1/4 cup water, and spices in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add nuts, mixing well to evenly coat nuts in syrup. Remove nuts with a slotted spoon and spread them on prepared baking sheet.

Bake until browned, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once (mine took longer to brown). After you've taken them out of the oven, stir again to break up clusters. Allow nuts to cool before serving.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Orange Foods and Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. It's food focused and doesn't carry the stress of the winter holidays (for me, at least). I managed to come home for most of the six years that I didn't live in Denver, with a few exceptions. To me there is nothing better than crowding around the table with family, friends, and a delicious meal.

I was in charge of orange foods this year. My Dad assigned yams to me and I ended up making a pumpkin pie. For the past few years we have eaten my aunt's pumpkin cheesecake instead of pie, but there were a few traditionalist in the bunch who requested pumpkin pie. I'll never pass up an opportunity to bake pie.

I'm not going to write up all the recipes because I found them all on the internet. And, it is sort of silly to do a full Thanksgiving recipe write-up after the fact, no? So I'll just show photos and links.

This is the recipe I used for these lovely yams. I almost doubled it and added more maple syrup than called for, but not enough to make them cloyingly sweet. I'm really pleased with how they turned out.

This is the recipe I used for the pie. I roasted my own pumpkins because I love to roast things, and because I think it tastes better. Really, it's just more fun that way.

I was very happy with this pie, even though there were a few hiccups along the way. I mixed the batter in the Kitchenaid and I found it's one flaw. The beater attachments doesn't reach the bottom of the bowl. After I had nearly filled the pie I realized that there was a pool of sugar in the bottom of the mixing bowl. I carefully ladled the filling back out of the crust and into the bowl and gave the mixture a good stir before pouring it back in. Also, the filling was really thin and I was convinced that it wouldn't set, but it did.

I had some extra filling and crust so I made us a little mini pie for lunch in my muffin tin. I forgot to snap a photo of the pie after it was baked, but I did take a picture of the mini pie.

The crust was heavenly!!! I always have trouble with pie crusts--too dry, too wet, not cold enough. This one mixed up easily and rolled out perfectly. And it was all butter so it had much more flavor than a crust made with shortening. Not quite as flaky, no, but I'll take flavor or flake any day.

I had a delightful day roasting, mashing, mixing, and baking, and eating.

This is only a small piece of the dish carnage...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Digs

Where have I been? Um, working a few jobs, look for full time employment, enjoying the first snow, and moving into a lovely new apartment with an old someone who decided to brave the Colorado cold for me after all.

We searched Capitol Hill high and low for apartments and saw a great many. We were looking for apartments that we could afford in which we could both live comfortably, as in not on top of each other, and with a little character. And I was obviously scrutinizing every kitchen, imagining where things would live and where I would chop. We are lucky in Denver because most houses and apartments are plumbed for gas, meaning most properties have gas stoves. I actually ruled out several apartments because they had electric stoves. Ha! What luxury! PDX, eat your heart out!

So this is the lovely kitchen we ended up in. I love the tile floors, the vintage cabinets, the short fridge (?!), and, of course, the gas stove. I've cooked quite a few things and even baked some bread and am quite happy with it. Running the oven makes the whole apartment feel like a sauna, and it does make some scary big flame type noises, but I don't care, I love it!!! The kitchen window is south facing and we get tons of natural light (sunlight! in winter!) throughout the day.
I am also now a proud owner of a vintage KitchenAid Mixer! My aunt had it for years (I think she got it from her ex-mother in law) but never used it because it was stored out of sight in a low down cabinet. Let me tell you, those things are beasts to pick up. So it lives on my counter with la Virgen de Guadalupe watching over it. I've only used it once (to give the bread hook a whirl) but I foresee lots of happy mixing in my future.

The only downside to this kitchen is that there is no dishwasher or garbage disposal, things that I had gotten quite used to. It actually hasn't been as tough as I imagined, although I am a bit appalled at how much food goes into the trash (trimmings, etc). With a disposal I never saw how much accumulated over a few meals. I would like to compost but how does one compost in a one bedroom apartment? If you know the answer, please tell me.

I'm feeling very inspired by my new kitchen and look forward to some blogworthy eats. And now that there's a reliable (not crappy) camera in the house I think I'll post more. (Truly, the photography block is the reason I don't post more.) I have a few pounds of roasted green chilies in my freezer and some pretty good ideas...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blog, don't you make a liar out of me!

Hmmm, it would seem that I have failed to make good on some promises around here. Every once in a while I like to read through the archives to see what I was eating and thinking and writing. And I found quite a few references and photos to recipes that I promised to post soon and never did. I'm going to work on follow through from now on.

It's really a shame, criminal almost, that I haven't posted this hot dish sooner, otherwise you could have had it for breakfast this morning. This is an old brunch standby and a crowd pleaser every time, whether the crowd is me or an actual crowd. It couldn't be easier to put together and, like so many things I cook, allows for a lot of creativity. It's a good way to use up odds and ends that may be languishing in the fridge. All sorts of herbs and veggies can be added to this savory eggy cheesy bread bake.

Now, the batch in the photo was extra special. I used about half a loaf of that famous No Knead bread that I had whipped up the day before. I left it out over night to let it get a wee bit stale, then tore it up. The contrast of the tender, airy crumb and the crisp, chewy crust were just heavenly when baked into this dish. Any old bread will do but I always try to use good, crusty artisan style bread just because I'm a snob.

Cooking time can really vary on this one. If it seems too wobbly and runny, stick it back in until it is set. Removing the foil at the end makes for a browned and bubbly crust.

Savory Egg and Cheese Bake adated from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers by The Moosewood Collective

3 tablespoon butter
12 ounces crusty bread (or enough to fill the baking dish you're using)
1 cup grated cheese (something melty, I like cheddar, and 1 cup? Yeah right, more like 2)
1 cup chopped scallions (or onions, or shallots, or herbs, or...)
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 generous tablespoon Dijon mustard (this really makes it-please don't skip this, and please do use Dijon)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in 2 quart baking dish, swirl to coat, and set aside. Cut or tear bread into one inch cubes and place in baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and scallions.

Beat eggs in a bowl, then whisk in milk, salt, pepper, and mustard (you can blend this if you're picky). Pour custard over the bread and use a spatula to push bread down into custard. Bake covered with aluminum foil for 25 to 30 minutes (baking time depends on size and shape of the dish you're using). Remove foil and bake until golden, about 5 minutes more.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cooking for Change

The Democrats called. They were hungry, so I made them some lasagne.

The other night I was sitting around with the family, about to have dinner, watching the news and lamenting the state of the world. Then Obama called. Well, not Obama himself, but his people here in Denver. They asked how we were feeling about Obama (we're in love! we said) and asked if we might like to get involved in the campaign. We said yes!

They need canvassers, people to make phone calls, places to live, and most importantly, they need to eat. We signed up as a family to make some phone calls before the vice presidential debate and I volunteered to make dinner for everyone in the campaign office. Cooking for change? Si se puede!

Now, of course, I couldn't just go out and buy any old dinner for these people. I wanted to make something because I love cooking, I had a full day to do it, and I knew they would appreciate a home cooked meal. Figuring there would be at least a few vegetarians in the bunch (these are Democrats, after all) I decided on Deborah Madison's Chard and Eggplant Lasagne.

The recipe doubled fairly well, although one pan ended up with one less layer than the other. There was a fair amount of prep work involved but it was easy stuff. On another day I probably would have made some quick homemade tomato sauce, but I used a jar of store bought sauce here.

All in all it was a fun and satisfying way to get involved in the campaign. I'm cooking lunch again next week and then the week after that. Hopefully all my hard work in the kitchen will put Obama in the White House.

Below is the original, undoubled version of the recipe.

Lasagne with Eggplant and Chard from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

1 box dried lasagna noodles
1 cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bunch chard, stems removed
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup ricotta
1 egg
3/4 cup grated pecorino Romano (I used Parmesan)
8 oz mozzarella, shredded

Salt eggplant slices and land stand 30 minutes to draw out moisture, then blot dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant with olive oil. Bake slices on a sheet pan for 30 minutes, turning once, until browned on both sides. Chop and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil and butter in large skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chard, sprinkle with salt, and cook until wilted. Add wine, cover, and cook until chard is tender and pan is dry, about 10 minutes (mine took longer). Remove from heat and chop mixture finely. In a bowl mix together the ricotta, 1/2 cup water, and egg, then stir in the chard. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Grease a 9x12 baking dish. Spread 1/3 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom and over with a layer of pasta. Spread a quarter of the cheeses, a quarter of the eggplant mixture, and a quarter of the ricotta mixture. Repeat until ingredients are used up.

Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until heated through. Remove foil and bake for 5-10 minutes more.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pumpkin Bread

My desire to crank up the oven is a little out of sinc with what's happening outside. Denver is experiencing an unusually warm fall. The trees are starting to change and the dropped leaves are piling up on my car, but I'm still biking around in short sleeves and the garden is still producing red tomatoes. Normally Denver has seen a few snow flurries by this time of year but we haven't even come close to snow yet. I'm crossing my fingers that we'll get some soon--there is nothing quite like the first snow of the season.

I seem to be on a baking bender these days. I haven't been cooking for myself that much but when I do, all I want to do is bake. Since coming home my main contributions to meal time have been sweet snacks and desserts--fruit pie, zucchini bread, last gasp peach crisp, and now pumpkin bread.

I do love quick breads. They are easy peasy, no yeast required, and can usually be thrown together from pantry items. But they are often just cakes in disguise, loaded with white flour and white sugar and tons of butter. Delicious, to be sure, but not the best everyday snack food. For this loaf I used a recipe from Joy of Cooking, slightly modified. I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all purpose, replaced half the butter with coconut oil, and skimped a bit on the sugar.

I just bought virgin coconut oil for the first time (as opposed to not virgin coconut oil) and I think I'm a convert. It is rich and fragrant and makes your whole kitchen smell delicious upon opening the jar.

Pumpkin Bread adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree

Whisk dry ingredients in one bowl to blend.

In another bowl, combine milk and vanilla. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and coconut oil until creamy, about 30 seconds. Add white sugar, beat to incorporate, then add brown sugar and beat to incorporate. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add pumpkin and beat on low speed until just blended. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with milk and vanilla mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Stir until smooth.

Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about one hour.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Capitol Reef Fruit Pie

It's been a long time since I stopped by here. Sorry about that. There have been many ups and downs and unexpected events with this move. Plus I'm still not in a regular rhythm of cooking here yet. I don't have my own kitchen yet and its a bit strange to try and recreate my old Portland routine in someone else's kitchen.

The first thing I cooked upon arriving in Denver was a fruit pie.

My dear friend S. Compton (of lamb chop fame) was kind enough to drive with me from Portland to Denver. Instead of going the boring old way, we decided to take a few extra days and have a nice road trip. My favorite pit stop was Teasdale, Utah, where S. Compton's brother, C. Compton, and some family friends live. The drive in was gorgeous and our drive out the next day was even more beautiful. I think I might love Utah state route 24. Swoon...

C. Compton made us a lovely dinner and the family friends brought peach cobbler for dessert. The cobbler topping was light and slightly sweet, and the peaches were heavenly. They came from the orchard in Capitol Reef National Park, just a few miles down the highway. Mormon homesteaders had planted the now well established orchards in the park. We were told that we had to stop and pick peaches on our way out of town the next day. Apparently we had timed our trip just right for ripe peaches.

We drove through the park the next day, down a curvy two lane road through red canyons. We stopped at a pear orchard first but they were not quite ripe yet. A few miles down the road we found the peach orchard. At first we didn't find any ripe peaches but we finally found them on some trees near the edge of the orchard. We ate a few up in the trees, filled our arms and a grocery bag with peaches and apples and hit the road.

I wanted to make a plain apple pie but hadn't picked quite enough apples to fill one. So I supplemented with some of the peaches. Both the crust and filling recipes I used are from the Joy of Cooking. My crust required a little more water than the recipe called for because of the altitude and dry air, but it turned out well in the end. I had forgotten the fun of double crust pies.

So I don't think I'll type out a recipe because any old pie crust will do. Toss the fruit with a bit of sugar, flour, and lemon juice before filling the pie. Then bake. That's all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brin Eats Denver

Whew. There it is. Out with it. This post has been in my mind for months, a sentence popping in here or there. I planned on writing it sooner. Like, at least a month ago sooner. But it was too hard, to new, a bit too sad until now.

I moved. Back home to Denver. After months of deliberation and wondering I decided that it was time to leave Portland. I have always known that I didn't want to stay there forever, or even long term. I have also always known that I wanted to return home to be with my family and play in the Rocky mountains. I also knew that leaving Portland would never be easy, and that I would never be 100% ready to leave such a wonderful city.

I leave Portland with mixed feelings. I am leaving the coolest, most liberal, most radical, and most progressive city in the country. I am leaving a region that produces some of the finest foods. I am leaving friends, an amazing dance community, and a sweet and wonderful man who I have had so much fun with and learned so much from. I will miss the endless selection of restaurants, my home away from home (New Seasons), and the abundant farmers markets. I will miss riding my bike over the Steel Bridge on an old train trestle so close to the river that it feels like my wheels are on the water.

But I am also leaving that dreadful rain, and dark and dreary winters. For the first time in five years I am looking forward to the wintertime. I look forward to skiing snow covered mountains and waking up to a snow covered city. I am with my family again and will be present for the birthdays, parties, graduations, and holiday celebrations that I have missed so much. I look forward to the sunshine. As an adult I will reconnect with the city I grew up in; I am excited to relearn Denver.

I am also looking forward to a new culinary experience, working with new regional ingredients, and seeing what Denver dining has to offer. In this space I hope to explore the tastes of the west.

Thanks for being patient and I do promise to post more from now on. I have been cooking again and have a recipe or two up my sleeve to share.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Long time no eat

It's true, I haven't been cooking at all and haven't been very hungry lately. I've had some lovely meals out at the Farm, Navarre, Pause, and Voodoo Donuts. But I am in the midst of difficult transition and for the first time I can remember, food is the last thing on my mind. Funny. I promise to come back soon, and with an appetite.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Weekend Barbeque

I am not an over-achiever. I was a solid B student for most of my academic career, excelling in what I liked and not excelling, but not doing poorly, in what I didn't like. My house is fairly neat and tidy, but tables do tend to get a bit cluttered with mail and purses and keys and recipe printouts and such. I am a pretty good sambista (samba dancer) if I do say so myself, but don't practice routines much outside of class, but rather when the mood strikes (and the neighbors aren't looking). I have been known to peruse the blogosphere with a cup of coffee before starting my workday.

But then there is cooking. And the more experience I gain, the more recipes I master, the more ingredients I experiment with, the more I want to achieve in my kitchen. Even over-achieve, if you will. Friday afternoon at work everyone chats about weekend plans. Most people say they are going to relax, see a movie, perhaps go for a hike. I am usually readily prepared with an exhaustive list of things I plan to cook over the weekend. Most people knit their brows in concern wondering why I might choose to do such a thing. "It's ok," I say, "I'm an over-achiever in the kitchen. I love to cook." They unknit their brows a bit and nod their heads.

So when my boyfriend threw a bbq over the weekend for a dear friend of his who is in town, naturally I volunteered to cook. A LOT. I love a good summer bbq, and getting together to share a meal with friends, and I love to feed people. Cooking for a crowd also gives me a reason to cook all the outlandish sweets that I crave without actually having to eat them all. Usually when I want a cookie, I really want to bake the cookies, then have one, maybe two, and then I want them to go away. Roommates and boyfriends can only eat so many cookies, too.

Oh, where to start? These cookies have been all over the interwebs since the story came out in the NY Times a few weeks ago (blogged here, here, and here). I thought if they were good enough for the NY Times and all food bloggers that I like, they were probably good enough for me. A few weeks back I went to another bbq and had just a taste of an amazing layered birthday cake. It was a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and I had been thinking about the frosting for a good few weeks by now. But cupcakes are fun and easy to transport so I decided on Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake, subbing in a peanut butter frosting. There was a frozen chicken that had been hanging out in the freezer for some time now, so I decided to take him out and brine him so that he would stay juicy on the grill (I don't know why this chicken is a "he" chicken in my mind, but please go with it). Lastly, since I was two years behind the phenomenon, I figured it was time to give that No-Knead bread a try (blogged here and here). With my shiny, new red dutch oven I finally had all the necessary equipment. Whew. Lets get started, hmmm?

I looked a few brine recipes online and settled on one that was originally based on one by Alice Waters. It called for juniper berries and cloves, but I didn't really like that so I used fresh thyme and lemon instead. I had brined a chicken before but didn't remember there being sugar in that brine, but apparently it's in all brine recipes. Hmmmm. I mixed up my salt (1 cup kosher), sugar (scant 1 cup), and aromatics (thyme, peeled garlic) in cold water and soaked the chicken for about 24 hours.

Next I mixed up my cookie dough following Orangette's version of the recipe. The original recipe called for a mixture of flours and chocolate feves, but most other people who tried the recipe used plain old all purpose flour and good quality chocolate chips so I did, too. The key with this recipe is to let the dough rest for 24-36 hours to develop the flavors. I let mine rest for 24 hours and not the full 36 because I'm a busy lady with a day job, etc.

The brining and the cookie dough mixing I did Friday night (exciting, I know) and the rest I did Saturday afternoon, post samba class.

Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake was pretty easy and fun to make. I didn't make any substitutions or subtractions with the cake batter because this recipe is simple and straightforward already. Didn't even have to adjust the cooking time. This batter made about a tray and a half of cupcakes, but I think I could have stretched it further by not filling the cake cups so much.

The peanut butter frosting was pretty good, although not quite the frosting I had been daydreaming of. I used random internet recipe that I can't remember now. I always balk at the amount of sugar called for in recipes and try to skimp. Then I taste it and think, they were right, it does need more sugar. So my frosting could have been just a tad sweeter. And I forgot to take a picture of a frosted cupcake. Damn.

And then there is the bread. Oh, this bread. All the hype you may (or may not) have heard about this bread is so true. And then some. It pains me to admit that I am not very good at making bread. I've been making it for a few years now, not religiously, just spurts here and there of all homemade bread. My loaves are always dense. Brick like. They taste good, but I cannot for the life of me figure out now much or how little to knead. This bread solved all of my bread problems, and I'm sure some other problems, too.

I mixed up the dough on Friday night and let it rise for about 16 hours. This is the dough right before it's second (two hour) rise. There are bubbles on the surface that you can't see in the photo. I folded it over twice, let it rest for 15 mintues, then let it rise for two more hours. It is dusted with wheat bran (next time I plan to use flour) and plopped into a preheated (to 450 degrees) cast iron pot with a lid. It bakes and steams, creating a chewy interior with an airy crumb and a crisp, bakery quality crust.

This is what mine looked like out of the oven. It would have looked like the perfect artisan loaf had it not been bean-shaped. But you try sticking your hands into a 450 degree cast iron pot to straighten the dough out. Ouch. Sorry about the crappy, blurry photo. I am not a great photographer.

So, what became of all these goodies? Mostly they were eaten by hungry boys and a few hungry girls. Did everyone appreciate the subtle nuances of the rested cookie dough? Uh, maybe. Mostly they just ate and said yum. The chicken was horribly butchered (by me, sadly, a few beers in) but the meat stayed juicy on the grill and everyone seemed to like it. Half the cupcakes went quickly and the other half were eaten for breakfast the next day. (Coffee + cupcakes for breakfast do not a happy tummy make).

And what became of the bread? I did not take that to be devoured by hungry, non food snob boys. Instead I saved it and made this with it...

... and brought it to a birthday brunch the next day. Not going to share the recipe today for this savory bread and cheese bake but I will share it soon.

So that was my big weekend. It was a lovely way to spend two days, cooking and feeding people. And all of the dishes worked well, I would make each one again. So.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Summer Cravings

After four days of day dreaming about this meal, I gave in and had it for dinner last night. I've been waiting patiently until the heirloom tomatoes were colorful, striped, and bumpy enough to eat. It's still a bit early here for them but a few are showing up in the markets. This particular tomato was a lovely shade of red with some hints of purple. I don't remember what variety (bad food blogger!). I tore up a good sized chunk of fresh mozzarella and scattered some shredded basil over the plate. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt and I had a light and delicious summer dinner. I skipped the balsamic vinegar because in truth, I don't like it much.

Oh, and don't forget the rose...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Update: The Kitchen Garden

Alternate (and appropriate) titles of this post:
  • The Chard Stands Alone
  • Death and Destruction

  • And then there were none
Yeah, the kitchen garden didn't really pan out, sadly. I lovingly watered my little seedlings and they grew indoors for a few weeks, then I transplanted everything outside. The beet sprouts didn't really take once they were outside and died. I pulled them out, then planted seeds directly in the outdoor planters and they seemed to like that much better. The radishes thrived and grew big leaves right away. The chives didn't like sharing a container with the parsley for some reason. The parsley didn't grow much at first but then started to steadily grow after a few weeks outside. The rainbow chard seedlings went into a large container on my front porch, which gets less sun. I have read multiple times that chard is really hardy so I stuck it in a place with less sun. I planted some lettuce from seed directly into pots and that did amazingly well. It sprouted within a few days and was almost ready to eat.

And then...

I went away for six days. And it turns out that those six days were the most horrible, brutal, hottest we've had all summer. I didn't check the weather report before I left and figured that since it had been raining some at night, my plants would be fine without me. Halfway through my trip I thought better of that and left my roommate a message asking him to please give my plants some water. Well, he knew there was a big planter of something out front, but missed the pots of lettuce, herbs, beets, and radishes outside of the back door. The back door that he uses at least twice a day. Yeah.

When I got home to sweltering PDX heat late on a Sunday night, I was greeted with the carnage. All my plants (except the parsley, strangely) had withered and died. They were limp and brown and sad, hanging over the side of their pots. I cried.

It was own fault really, for not thinking this out ahead of time. A smart gardener would have asked her female neighbor to look after her plants, or given her male roommate step by step instructions on exactly which plants to water and when. A smart gardener would not have left her little baby plants alone, parched, in the blazing heat for six days. A smart gardener I am not.

Most of these plants (except the herbs) are plants that do not like the hot weather. Beets and radishes and lettuces do much better in the late spring/early summer or in the fall when the weather is mild. So starting over mid June to harvest bitter veggies in July or August didn't really make sense. I guess I'll see how the chard fairs and try again next year.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Banana Bread

In my junior year of college I took my one and only creative writing class. It was one of the best classes I took. The teacher was wonderful, creating a comfortable atmosphere for sharing and critiquing work, and I produced some writing that I was really proud of and got to read some wonderful stuff by my classmates. The classmates were another thing I loved about the experience and I felt like we all connected as a whole. My favorite classmate was someone named Sabrina. She had wild and curly blond hair and lots of green clothing. We often partnered up to trade writing and ended up becoming friends. My masterpiece story was about a young woman who falls in love with her toaster oven, which Sabrina loved because, like me, she loved food. The first time we got together outside of class we cooked. She made me her special roasted vegetables and we baked this delicious banana bread that has been my ultimate go to banana bread recipe for four years now.

The original recipe was from a Cooking Light cookbook, I think. I have stuck pretty closely to the original recipe, but pared it down some. I don't always want nuts and chocolate swirls in my banana bread. With banana bread I think the simpler, the better. This banana bread is dense and flavorful without being as heavy and cake-like as most quick bread recipes. Yogurt replaces some of the butter and it doesn't call for any oil (I hate using vegetable oil in recipes). It is a bit heavy on the sugar, but could be much worse. I always use whole wheat pastry flour to make this a whole grain bread, with great end results.

Now, I know it sounds fairly crazy asking you to turn on the oven in this heat. But it's worth it, I promise. I've eaten this loaf mostly for breakfast, toasted, with a bit of butter or homemade apricot jam. And I think that it's cool enough at 7:15am to justify eating a slice of warm, buttery bread for breakfast.

For this go round, I was actually (shockingly, momentarily) out of my beloved whole wheat pastry flour. But I didn't want to go to the store, so I subbed in a combo of amaranth, all purpose, and mesquite flour. It was fine, but I much prefer the whole wheat version. The mesquite flour was overpowering and there wasn't enough banana flavor shining through. Plus, it darkened the bread considerably, making for a less gorgeous bread photo. Don't be like me--use whole wheat pastry flour.

Banana Bread
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 overripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1/3 cup plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a bread pan.

Combine flour, salt, and soda in one bowl; set aside. Cream butter and sugar, then add banana, eggs, and yogurt, and mix well. Add dry mixture to wet mixture. At this point you can add any nuts or spices that you like.

Bake for an hour and fifteen minutes or so, until a knife inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Heidi Swanson's Sushi Bowl

I have spent days mentally preparing a lovely post about my Dad and M's wedding and all the lovely things we did and ate, with pictures to accompany. Unfortunately, the computer gods are conspiring against me, and the disc I have of wedding photos is not jiving with my computer. My computer will show me the photos, but will not let me copy them. Hmmmm. As soon as I figure a way around this I will put up some wedding photos.

Wedding Week was hectic and fun, and food filled; family dinners and party after party. It was wonderful to catch up with family and friends over food and wine. There was a lot of catching up, and there was A LOT of food and wine. I left one party early because I was falling asleep at the table from being exhausted and absolutely stuffed. Classy.

When I got back to Portland I was craving simple, light, summery, vegetarian food. So I whipped myself up this lovely sushi bowl for dinner. I didn't have all of the ingredients the recipe called for on hand, but I did have a fridge full of vegetables and decided to just sub in what I had rather than go to the store. The meal was vibrant and refreshing and didn't leave me feeling weighed down.

A few notes: I doused everything in the citrus-soy dressing, even though the recipe only says to put it on the rice. I wish I had followed directions because it made everything taste like the dressing and it would have been nice to have the contrast of flavors. I also would have put a tad more (1/2 tbsp.) soy sauce into the dressing. I sauteed up some rainbow chard with a pinch of salt and put that in the bowl, as well as some raw zucchini cut into matchsticks, and some scallions. I also halved the rice portion of the recipe because it calls for an insane amount of rice.

Sushi Bowl
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Sushi Bowl with Toasted Nori, Avocado, and Brown Rice, from Super Natural Cooking

1 cup short grain brown rice
1 3/4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Rinse and drain rice. Combine rice, water, and salt over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until rice is tender, 45-60 minutes. Set aside.

zest and juice of one orange
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Combine orange juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for a few minutes, then add soy and vinegar. Return to a gentle boil and cook until slightly thickened, another few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in zests.

Slice tofu (as much as you want) into 1/4 inch thick slabs. Pat dry. Heat a nonstick pan on medium high heat until fairly hot (sprinkle a little water and there and see if it sizzles). When pan is hot, cook tofu until slightly browned, a few minutes per side. Remove from heat and slice into thin strips.

Pour citrus dressing over rice to taste (start conservatively and taste as you go). Add tofu and whatever veggies, cooked or raw, you like to your bowl. Eat.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Girl gone Wild

Just another wild and crazy night at my house...

Making apricot jam (recipe coming soon)...

Seasoning my new cast iron skillets...

Getting rhubarb ready for the freezer (blanching and drying).

I'm off to Denver for the rest of the week and will surely have many tales of eating and drinking and more eating when I return!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lamb dinner with S. Compton

My dear friend S. Compton and I cooked up this awesome dinner sometime last week. S. Compton is one of my favorite food buddies. She's always good for some adventure and encouragement. And she's a meat eater from way back. None of this vegetarian/vegan nonsense for her. Not ever. On her roller derby resume one of her qualifications was "eats red meat." Can't argue with that.

And not only is Ms. Compton an expert meat eater and cooker, she has a good source. Her Dad's farm in Elkton. Every time she goes home, she comes back with large quantities of frozen lamb which she kindly shares with her hungry friends and roommies.

For this dinner, S. Compton was in charge of meats and veggies while I was in charge of drinking rose (my summer 08 love) and making these fabulous potatoes. Rough life, eh?

First my friend whipped up a quick mint sauce with sugar, vinegar, and fresh mint. Don't tell her, but I was a little unsure about this concoction until I tried it on my lamb. Then I was in heaven.

Then she put two cast iron skillets over high heat and warmed those babies up good. In went the lamb (shoulder chops) to sizzle and brown for a few minutes. After one side was good and brown, she flipped them to finish. While the meat was resting, she sauteed up some broccoli until crisp-tender (my favorite vegetable state). We pulled our taters out of the oven and had ourselves a tasty meal.

Thanks for the food and love S. Compton! Let's render lard soon!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Warm Lentils with Bacon

This recipe was my starting point, although I didn't even read the recipe all the way through. I was attracted by the title as I just happened to have both lentils and bacon at home. I'm always drawn to simple and satisfying recipes since I do cook nearly every night. I'm also drawn to recipes that are very forgiving on specific ingredients and proportions and that work well in both large and small quantities. I've made this twice this week, once for dinner and once for lunch. The first time I didn't measure anything and it turned out great. The second time I did measure (uh, sort of) for the sake of blogging and it was also great. So the quantities below are roughly what I used to make one serving and they can easily be doubled or quadrupled and adjusted. Mmmmm....

Warm Lentils with Bacon

1/2 cup green lentils (not those mushy little red ones)
water to cover
pinch of salt
2 strips bacon
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
scant 1/4 cup chopped purple onions
small handful parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil

Bring lentils, water, and pinch of salt to a simmer and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.

Make dressing by whisking together mustard, vinegar, and olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.

When lentils are almost done, cook bacon over medium heat. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Pour of most off the bacon grease, leaving a thin film in the pan. (I'm decadent and save my bacon grease for other uses.) Chop bacon and set aside. With your yummy bacon grease pan over medium heat, add garlic and onions. Don't cook them too much or the purple onion will lose its lovely color. When garlic and onion are just soft, add the finished lentils and bacon. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and dressing. Stand back because vinegar steam is nasty in the nose.

A note about salt: I only added a tiny bit to the cooking lentils and none to the dressing or onions and garlic. The bacon and bacon grease have enough salt for the whole dish.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

High Tide in Tucson*

Mesquite Flour, Christmas Lima Beans, Amaranth Grains, and Rio Zape Beans

I love the desert. I love the dry air and ground, the bright and blooming succulents, the sudden thunderstorms, the wide open space, the piercing blue sky, and the hot sun. So naturally I spent Memorial Day weekend eating, sweating, squinting, and climbing in Tucson, AZ. I went to visit a dear friend from college who is working on becoming a Philosopher King when he isn't climbing, eating tacos, or drinking freshly juiced grapefruits under the blazing sun. We spent most of the weekend playing outside and eating, not necessarily in that order.

Tucson is beautiful, although not necessarily what I had pictured. Frankly, I had imagined a city more like Santa Fe--cobbled squares, adobe everything, old wooden beams, bright colors, the usual Southwest charm. Most neighborhoods had plenty of that as well as brick, ranch style houses. The houses are low and squat, better to keep out the heat I would imagine. There are plenty of classic adobe dwellings, but they have a distinct style and are not the carbon copy of New Mexico style that I had pictured. Most people in Tucson aren't foolish enough to grow grass, and instead favor a gravel lawn filled with desert plants and flowering cactus. Many people are lucky enough to have a giant saguaro standing tall in their front yard.

Tucson is connected by gigantic, four to six lane boulevards and everything is in a strip mall. Everything. Bookstores, grocery stores, coffee shops, etc. (Ok, there are a few stretches, like 4th street by the University that are less strip mall-y). In Portland, there really are no strip malls and most of the restaurants and other establishments I frequent are in some charming house or small building in some cutesy little neighborhood that is just delightful to look at. And there is not a six lane roadway with fast moving cars whizzing by. Once I got over that shock, Tucson and I got along just fine.

We spent a good portion of our time driving through the desert and scrambling around on rocks in the Catalina Mountains. It is a short drive to some great hiking and climbing and it is much cooler up in the mountains than in the city. We played on some rocks and checked out the views. Ian scrambled to the top of a big boulder and I made it about one foot off the ground, but it was a good enough start for me. The next day we spent a few hours in the rock gym (since I didn't have the required gear for serious outdoor climbing). I was climbing with the seven years olds but it was still really fun. Man, are my forearms sore! I could barely grip a pen for the rest of the day.

We did a lot of eating in Tucson, naturally. Ian was one of my first cooking and eating buddies and certainly still one of my favorites. Back in the college days were roomies in a house (along with a surly Bulgarian) and ate and cooked well beyond our means. We splurged on fancy cheeses and $8 bottles of wine (gasp!) regularly. Back in those days Ian was vegetarian so we ate many a tasty stir fry creation, as well as bowls of oat meal every day for breakfast, beet stews and veggie pancakes for dinners. A lot of what I now about beans and grains I learned when we lived together. Now that he has his wits about him, he is a serious carnivore, which allowed us to broaden our culinary friendship.

We ate a few meals out and cooked a few in. For our Saturday night splurge we went to J bar, after watching a gorgeous desert sunset. J bar is the more casual half of a restaurant attached to some fancy spa up on the hills. The food is pretty classic Southwestern with some very Mexican touches. My spicy margarita was good, and our plate of nachos was good, but my entree was a bit disappointing. There was way too much of it, for one thing, and the beans were undercooked (!). I think the $5 fish tacos I had at Pico de Gallo in South Tucson the next day were better. Oh well.

There are some culinary gems in Tucson. One of them is Native Seed/S.E.A.R.C.H., a local non-profit organization that works to “conserve, distribute and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seed, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest and northwest Mexico.” Lucky for me they have a retail store where they sell seeds, beans, flours, grains, chilies and chili powders, among other delicious goodies. I spent a few pennies there on the beans and grains pictured at top. I cooked up a little batch of the Rio Zape beans last night and oh, were they good. Creamy and flavorful and purple! I also bought a lovely hand carved spoon because I couldn't resist it. I had to leave quickly, before I drained my bank account.

My other amazing find was this signed (!) copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters. We stopped by a used bookstore for a quick look around and I found it with used cookbooks. I agonized a little because of the price but decided that I would regret it forever if I didn’t buy it. Plus, all the press says that it’s a pretty stellar cookbook and I can never find used copies at Powell’s. Whoever had it before me clearly did not cook with it; the pages are pristine. Monetary value be damned, I will be cooking with it.

My last night in Tucson we grilled up some beef kabobs marinated in a mixture of plain yogurt, lime juice, garlic, salt, and chili powder. We had oily and spicy grilled potatoes as a side and I made a chocolate cake for desert. The meat and potatoes were great but my cake was just ok. I didn’t have quite the right kind of chocolate at my disposal so the cake was a bit too sweet and not bitter chocolatey enough. I was also using bits and pieces of different sticks of butter so I guess-timated a bit on that measurement. But for a cake using the wrong ingredients and inaccurate measurements, it was great!

Alas, neither of us took any pictures. I know, we suck. But I’m new to this taking pictures thing, and it’s hard for me to remember that I have a camera that can go places with me and take photos. Sorry. But really, it was kind of nice not to think about it, just to appreciate images and commit them to memory instead. I don’t think I’ll soon be forgetting the orange Tucson sunset.

*Thank you Barbara Kingsolver, wherever you may be, for letting me borrow the title of your book of amazing essays for my blog post.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Kitchen Garden

My obsession with food, and especially with fresh, organic, local food (what my roommate calls "hippie food") has naturally led to an interest in how my produce is grown. Portland is a fabulous city in which to be an urban gardener and I am inspired by city farmers every time I walk down the street. For months I've been dreaming wistfully of raised garden beds, compost bins, weeding, and dirty hands and knees. However, condo living renders some of those things impossible. You know, like the giant raised garden bed in the yard part.

But! Wait! Hope is not lost. I grew herbs quite successfully in pots outside my back door last summer and enjoyed the fruits of my labor in butter, salads, over fish, and in pasta dishes. I had planned to do the same sort of thing this year but came across several posts on various internet sites about urban gardening and container gardens. Turns out most vegetables grow just as well in pots as in the ground! Yes!

For the moment the kitchen garden is in the living room, sprouting little sprouts in little round peat starter thingies. I am starting beets, chives, parsley, radishes, and rainbow chard from seed. I'll probably add a few more things in the next week or so, and I plan on buying an already started tomato plant. I'm not really an expert at growing things (ask my house plants) but knowing that I can eat the end result is extra motivating.

I cannot wait to eat from my own teeny tiny kitchen garden!

For inspiration check out these sites: The Kitchn and Gardener to Farmer

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What should we do?

I was moved and inspired by this post by a blogger whom I greatly respect and admire. This is the boldest reaction I have seen from anyone in the food community in response to the global food crisis. The worlds' poorest nations are running out of rice to eat, with no relief in sight, and the New York Times is running articles about luxury airport food. The shortage is so widespread that even the United States is affected--consumers have seen price increases on basic food items, and I heard on NPR that Costco is limiting its sale of rice. I wonder how far it will have to go before the US actually does something to help alleviate the hunger of other countries. I write this with all four burners working, simmering and sauteing, the smells of simmering beans and vegetable stock filling my kitchen, fully conscious of how lucky I am to be so choosy about what I eat. We live in a country where people define themselves by what they don't eat, rather than by what they do. And I ask, what should the "foodie" community do? How do we respond? Do we donate money, or stop buying rice? What do some of the most privileged eaters of the most privileged nation do during a global food crisis?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pots of Beans

Mmmm...anasazi beans on toast with cheddar for dinner.

I think I finally have the hang of this bean cooking thing. It's a bit embarassing to admit that until this past week, I had yet to make a truly respectable pot of beans. I don't know why. The crock pot method didn't really work--I came home to a stinky house and a crock of nasty, mushy beans. But I gave it another go on the stove top and was very pleased with the results. I have made two very successful batches on the stove this week and I am now sold on home cooked beans.

I consulted a few different sources. Mark Bittman has a few things to say about beans, the most valuable of which is that you don't have to soak them. I rarely attempted beans before because I couldn't commit to a two day ordeal, or forgot to put them in water in the morning, or figured that the beans would be ruined if I didn't soak them long enough. Soaking can shorten the cooking time (although not by much), especially if your beans are old, but it is not a necessary step. Several other cookbook authors confirmed this.

I learned another tasty bit of advice from the Rancho Gordo website. Adding the dried beans to a base of onions sauteed in some kind of fat (oil, butter, or lard) yields a flavorful pot of beans.

A friend at work who is a bean cooking pro told me to keep a steady level of water in the pot. Not so much that the beans are deeply submerged, just enough to keep them loose and barely covered with water. Stir and add more water as they cook.

And of course, don't salt too early or too late. If you salt your pot of beans at the beginning, they are still too hard to absorb any of the salt. If you salt them at the very end, you end up with salty water and salty tasting beans, rather than beany tasting beans. I like to add some salt half way through cooking, then let the beans absorb some more water, taste, and salt again if need be.

So, here's how I have been succesfully cooking beans. I've haven't been cooking very many at a time, maybe a cup, as they plump up quite a bit during cooking. Saute half of a thinly sliced onion in some oil until soft. Add beans, two or three peeled and smashed garlic cloves, and enough water to cover. Cook until beans are tender, beginning to salt halfway through. Towards the end there will be a lot of tasting a stirring and salting.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Little Red Bike Cafe

I found the Little Red Bike Cafe blog by clicking around on another favorite blog of mine. I thought the name was cute and so I checked it out and oh my, it happens to be written from Portland. The blog is co-written by the owners of the North Portland eatery of the same name. The blog is a sort of chronicle of their experience running the cafe. It's a fun look into the inner workings of the restaurant, with some tempting photos and teasers of what is to come on the menu. I was sold the first moment I actually looked at the menu, and put it on the official list of Things To Do On Weekends, but it took me about a month to actually get there.

Tim and I went last Saturday for a post farmer's market brunch, because looking at all that food made us hungry for the second time in one day, and were very pleased with what we found. The bright and sunny cafe has a subtly retro diner feel that is not over the top. It is an intimate and cozy space, with some tables and bar seating looking out the window. The specialty of the Little Red Big Cafe is fried egg sandwiches, most with bike themed names, with additional sandwiches and a few other breakfast offerings. We ordered and payed at the counter and took a seat at one of the few (six? eight?) small tables.

These are no ordinary eggy sandwiches my friends. They are made with fresh, local, organic meats and dairy and come on a delicious, lightly floured ciabatta. Almost everything on the menu had equal appeal. We split two egg sandwiches between us, the Messenger and the Honeymoon, and loved both of them. We may have loved the Honeymoon a little bit more, with its prosciutto, ricotta, basil, egg, and Oregon huckleberry jam filling (it was meant to come with fig spread, but they were out). I was tempted by the homemade ice creams, but decided I was too full to try one this trip.

We had already had our fair share of coffee that day so we didn't have any there, but I was won over by the ginger tea. It was pure ginger, nothing else in there mucking it up and muting the ginger flavor, producing a strong and simple tea. My own personal heaven in a cup. Mmmm...

So, the next time you are up on North Lombard, do stop in and have a fried egg sandwich, or try the ice cream. Even if you aren't up in that neighborhood to begin with, it is well worth the trip.
As an added bonus, they even have a bike through window (!) which we did not frequent, unfortunately, as it was pouring rain. But come summer, that's where we'll be.

To check out their menu and get directions, go to the website.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Beef Heart, Part Two

Is there anything more romantic than beef heart? I don't think so. In a grand gesture of romance, my lovey love took a bus across town to an unfamiliar grocery store to get me some ground beef heart. He got there and found the beef heart, only to discover that Winco has a 50 pound grinding minimum. Oh. Darn. He bought a whole beef heart anyhow, and then went to New Seasons, which is only about 5 blocks from his house. They also had beef heart and only a two pound grinding minimum, so he ordered me some. The next night he came to my house, whole Winco beef heart in hand, and told me that there would be two pounds of ground beef heart waiting for me the next day at New Seasons. Swoon. I cried, obviously.

My quest for beef heart started when I began reading and cooking from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. She advocates for a diet more like those of traditional cultures, which includes more animal fat and minimally processed foods. This book has made me think long and hard about what is "healthy", and especially about what is healthy for me. She calls for organ meats in many of her recipes--they are a great source of vitamins and good fats. But mostly, they are delicious. They are rich and flavorful and even a small addition will add so much to a dish. I attempted the recipe below without the beef heart and it was good, but with the beef heart it was a whole different story.

My beef heart waited in the freezer all week, and Saturday night we gave the meatloaf another go. Oh my goodness, it was heavenly. Rich and juicy and flavorful. We served it along with a simple salad of purple cabbage, shredded carrots, and French breakfast radishes, and rich and creamy mashed potatoes. Amazing!

This recipe calls for some rich ingredients and you may shy away at first, but please, don't skimp here. And do use high quality, organic ingredients. It is well worth it. We used ground beef for the remainder of the meat, but ground pork, veal, lamb, or some combination, would also be delicious.

Sally Fallon's Spicy Meatloaf

2 pounds ground beef or other red meat
1/2 pound ground beef heart
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cracked pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole grain bread crumbs*
1 cup cream
1 egg
4 tablespoons tomato paste or ketchup

Over medium heat saute onions, carrots, and celery in butter until soft. Add chili flakes, thyme, pepper, and salt and stir. Meanwhile, soak bread crumbs in cream.

Have a 9x13 inch Pyrex pan ready. Using your hands, mix meat with sauteed vegetables, soaked bread, and egg. Form into a loaf and set in pan. Spread ketchup over top of meatloaf. Add about 1/2 cup water to the pan. Bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours.

*To make breadcrumbs, whir crust-less bread in a food processor or blender until you have fine crumbs.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Healthy (I swear) and Delicious Fried Rice

I do not like Chinese food, not even a little bit. I'll eat it if pressed, but I never crave it. And yes, I have tried fancy Chinese food from places like PF Changs, and no, I don't like that either. So you can imagine my surprise when one evening I craved fried rice.

I looked in a few different cookbooks but wound up using Mark Bittman's recipe from his encyclopedia of a cookbook, How to Cook Everything. While I don't often love any of his recipes, he does have a recipe for everything (hence the title) and his recipes are a fabulous jumping off point. I often use them for research and ideas, or as bare bones guidelines, rather than as recipes.

Over the past few months I have eaten a lot of fried rice. It is an easy and satisfying dish to prepare, and comes together with everyday fridge items. It is great for lunch the next day. Almost any vegetable works in this recipe, so its a great way to get your greens in, and use up odds and ends before they spoil.

When I first thought fried rice, I definitely did not think nutritious meal. But using brown rice, lots of veggies, and good quality organic eggs boosts this dish's nutritional profile. I also use a combination of olive oil and sesame oil rather than canola or vegetable oil. And while I'm usually not a nonstick lover, it is great here--you only use a fraction of the oil and the rice doesn't stick.

This is the way I have come to use Mark Bittman's recipe and technique. Quantities and vegetables are easily substituted. I have yet to make this with meat, because I find the eggs to be filling enough, but I'm sure bacon, or some leftover chicken, would be great additions.

Fried Rice

slash of sesame oil
splash of olive oil
1-2 cups cooked brown rice
a few green onions, all of white and some of green stem, chopped
1/4 or so yellow, white, or purple onion, chopped
a handful of chopped bell peppers, any color
1 carrot, finely chopped
handful of frozen peas
whatever else you have in the crisper that seems like it may be good
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-3 tablespoons soy sauce, depending on your taste

Heat oil in nonstick skillet on medium high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add vegetables. Fry fast, stirring almost constantly, for a few minutes. When vegetables have softened and begin to brown, add rice. Fry fast, stirring, for a few more minutes. Make a well in the center of the rice and vegetable mixture. Pour in beaten eggs. When eggs begin to set, scramble in well. Start incorporating vegetable and rice mixture and stir, until egg is distributed throughout. When eggs are cooked, remove pan from heat. Stir in soy sauce to taste.

Bonus Rice Recipe
Don't have any rice made already? Use the homemade stock I know you all ran out and made after my last post to make the most delicious brown rice ever!

1 cup brown rice
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups stock
pinch of salt

Melt butter in pot over medium heat. Stir rice into melted butter, making sure all grains are coated. Add stock and salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, 50-60 minutes, or until rice is done. If rice seems dry at any point during cooking, add more stock.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Home Made Vegetable Stock

Making your own stock sounds fussy, but I promise, it isn't. It's satisfying (both the process and the end result) and so flavorful, and does wonders for your food. It is also a great way to use vegetables that are a bit passed their prime, but that you would rather not throw away. Boxed stock is ok, I used it for a while, but it really doesn't compare to stocks made from scratch. Michael Ruhlman wrote that your home made soup will taste better made with water, rather than from canned or boxed stock. Zing. He's a smart man, he knows.

Basically, stock is several ingredients, usually vegetables, bones, and aromatics, simmered in water until the water is infused with their flavor. Each batch of stock will have it's own flavor, based on what ingredients you use and in what quantities. You can also tailor your stock to the dish you are cooking, but I have found that this versatile vegetable stock works with everything.

The stock recipe I use is Deborah Madison's Quick Stock from
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This woman knows vegetables, so naturally her vegetable stock is the best I've tried. This is a basic one, and she provides much helpful information on how to adjust and tailor it, along with several accompanying stock recipes.

Below is Deborah Madison's Recipe as I have come to use it.

A few notes:

While most vegetables work in stock, some do not, as they will make the stock bitter. Vegetables to avoid are:
  • Turnips and Rutabagas
  • Cabbages and Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Red beets
  • Any things ground or very small (spices and seeds) that cheesecloth will not catch
  • Onion skins
  • Artichoke trimmings
  • Lots of dark, leafy greens (some are ok)
Vegetable peelings and scraps are put to good use in stocks. I often throw in bell pepper trimmings, leek trimmings, potato trimmings, squash peels, and any lettuce that I know won't be making it into any salads soon enough. I also tend to adjust my quantities depending on what I have in the fridge--extra herbs, not so many carrots, etc.

So, how about some stock, hmm?

Quick Vegetable Stock
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
4 or more garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
8 or more parsley branches

Heat oil over high heat and add the onion, carrot, and celery. Then add any other vegetables and trimmings that you are using, along with garlic and herbs. Brown vegetables over medium to medium high heat for about 10 minutes. Scrape up and incorporate any brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. When vegetables are browned, add 2 teaspoons salt and 2 quarts cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 30-40 minutes. Strain stock through cheese cloth lined colander.

Stock will keep frozen for a while, and in the fridge for a few days. I freeze mine in one and two cup amounts so that I can always have some on hand. I use it in soups, but my other favorite use for it is cooking rice. Substitute stock for water the next time you make rice. You may never go back.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Le Pigeon

If you are a foodie in any part of the country, you have probably heard about Le Pigeon. Gabriel Rucker's French inspired, Northwest centric food has been praised in several publications, both local and national. PDX Magazine voted him Top Chef of the Year and he received a similar award from Food and Wine. Willy Week and the Mercury were all over it, naturally, as was the Oregonian. So were Bon Apetit and Gourmet.

My lovey love Tim and I celebrated our year anniversary last night with a meal at Le Pigeon. We made reservations to eat at one of the three community tables (a friendly and clever solution to the problem of a very small dining room space), but ended up eating at the bar facing the open kitchen. When we first arrived, a few minutes early, they weren't ready for us and sent us out to have a pre dinner drink. The bar tender at Ron Tom's assured us that it was well worth our wait, saying that Le Pigeon is one of truly wonderful treats in Portland. Oh how right he was.

In all the times I had walked by Le Pigeon I had imagined it as a sort of hushed and quiet affair, a few young people, mostly middle aged people enjoying their fine food in a mellow dining room, and that the chef just happened to be one of the young and hip of Portland. I was wrong.

Sticky Fingers was playing at near top volume when we walked in. There were three chefs behind the bar, one wearing a sweatband with a meat clever pictured on it, and another wearing a baseball had with a silver skull and cross bones on it. Oh, right, we're in Portland, duh. Nothing is that fancy.

Oh, the food. Sigh. Sooooo good. Amazing. Worth all the hype. We started with a fois gras (because we are only unethical on our anniversary, we decided) so rich we couldn't finish it. On top of the fois gras were shaved black truffles, with toasted brioche and homemade fruit jam to accompany. I tried not to fill up on the bread and delicious salt sprinkled butter. Because there was more meat to come.

For dinner we ordered Beef Cheek Bourguignon and, because nothing goes better with liver than more liver, the Duck with liver stuffing and marmalade. Both were excellent, but the duck was just a teeny tiny bit more excellent. The house made marmalade was not too sweet, not to tart, and a nice counter to the richness of the best thing I've ever put in my mouth liver stuffing. The Beef Cheek was flavorful and tender and easily fell apart into the vegetables and sauce surrounding it.

If you know absolutely nothing else about Le Pigeon, you probably know about The Dessert. I do believe this dessert has been mentioned in all press that Le Pigeon has received, and rightfully so, for it's delicious and unusually paired ingredients. Naturally we ordered The Dessert. Bacon apricot cornbread topped with maple ice cream and bacon bits. Uh huh, that's right. Bacon on ice cream. Again, worth all the hype.

Obviously, I loved the food at Le Pigeon. But I also loved the experience of dining there. The wait staff was casual and friendly, and so were the chefs. The open kitchen created a connection between chef and diner, and the chefs were more than happy to answer questions and chat. They were the ones to hand us most of our dishes, over the bar right after they finished making them. All of the dishes and silverware were mismatched, a look that I personally love. My other favorite detail were the jars of pickled and preserved fruits and vegetables lining two high up shelves, interspersed with other eclectic odds and ends, like a pigeon skeleton in a glass case.

So, if you have not yet been to Le Pigeon, save your pennies and go, soon. Unless of course you are a vegetarian, in which case you should do some thinking and reading, and seriously reconsider that dietary choice. Then start eating meat so your stomach will be ready for Le Pigeon.

To visit the Le Pigeon website, click here.

Note: We did have wine which was delicious, but I didn't write about it because a) I can't remember what it was and b) I know nothing about wine and am therefore not at all qualified to say anything about it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Super Bowl Food or Cooking with Aunt Robin: Part One

Aunt Robin is not actually my aunt, but my dear friend. I started calling her aunt Robin because her adorable toddler niece calls her aunt Robin and it's cute. So, Aunt Robin it is.

Aunt Robin is from the Midwest, Ohio to be exact. And being from the Midwest, she eats some funny things. Not funny to her, funny to me. Back when we worked together oh so many weeks ago, Robin would bring in casseroles, dips, hot dishes, and desserts that I had never heard or conceived of. Many of them were family recipes that she had grown up eating. At first I was skeptical of Robin's strange foods, absent of whole grains and with mysterious cans of soup involved, but you know what? Her food is damn good. How could I not like a dessert called Magic Cookie Bars?

I have two favorite Aunt Robin recipes, one of which I am going to share now. It is Robin's family dip, and oh my goodness is it good. Addictive. You can never just have one bite. You go back again and again until your tummy hurts. And then maybe one more time after that. It's a very simple and forgiving recipe, easily adjusted to suit different tastes. And oh, is it yummy.

I will be bringing this to the super bowl party I will be attending tomorrow. Yes, I am going to a super bowl party. I will be watching football on HD TV, one of the most amazing inventions of our time (you can see every blade of grass! and the lines and colors are so sharp! and it's shiny!).

Aunt Robin's dip

2 80z packages cream cheese, softened
2 or more tablespoons ketchup
10-20 green olives, chopped
1/2 white onion, finely chopped.

Mix together ketchup and cream cheese. Stir in olives and onions. Chill until firm.

Some notes: You can play with the quantities of ingredients as much as you like. I think ketchup is gross, so I put in less than Robin does. Both of us like olives, so we used a lot of them. Robin's little bro doesn't like onions or olives and just likes it as cream cheese and ketchup. And yes, you really should chill it a while. It's kind of yucky when it's at room temperature. We're not sure why.

A special thank you to Robin's lovely family for their recipe. Sorry I wrote "damn" earlier.