Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Go There!

There are things that I really enjoy, but that I don't eat anymore. I hate admitting that I, too, am subject to the same neurotic fears that convulse through our privileged system like so much stomach flu. Appetizing analogy, eh? But of course, in order to maintain my self-composed sophisticated and worldly identity, identity composed of a teeny-tiny high- maintenance veneer, I must believe that my food fusses are morally superior to those of the mere humans around me.
But of course, starving reader, but of course. And I can stare at my own hypocrisy and not wince at all.

Thanks to this book I stopped eating tuna. Fresh, canned, or sushi. Too much wanton destruction left in its wake, and too tricky finding tuna that the author finds acceptable. Nor, thanks again to that book, can I allow myself to buy farm-raised shrimp. It details horrible conditions for the workers, as well as terrible pollution for the water and land. On the other hand, it encouraged me to buy lots more shellfish, clams, oyster, and mussels. Sustainable and delicious, too.

Thanks to my son we no longer buy those wonderfully flavorful and inexpensive cuts of beef at the grocery store. Only humanely raised will do. Did you know cattle are fed corn because it's cheap (they're built to eat and metabolize grass) and then are medicated with antibiotics in order to overcome the side effects of a corn fed diet? Yuck!

Thanks to this parasite I no longer eat farm-raised salmon. It thrives and then threatens the salmon in the wild.

Tut, tut. I suppose I always had this capacity. Back in college surrounded by the vegetarians and the kosher I felt unclean. But I wasn't going to give up my pork! (On the other hand, I recall the shock I felt when a girl shook her head against the oranges. "Shot full of sugar," she said as she passed on them.).

Fortunately, if I ever do go whole hog and embrace my inner vegan, at least I'll be able to devour my rice and beans. Minus the chicken fat. Sigh.

And you, gentle reader, what food stuffs have you foresworn, out of fear, or fussiness, or compassion?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Have a lotta burrata

Have you tried this yet? It's balls of mozzarella cheese filled with cream. Available in sealed transparent tubs at Trader Joe's, they float unappetizingly along. I never would have tried it, except a colleague served it at her home. One bite, and I was smitten!

Drain the mozzarella balls. Drizzle with top quality olive oil, scatter a bit of sea salt, sprinkle with basil. A wonderful treat particularly when it's too hot to cook. Use crusty bread to sop up the salty olive oil. Delish!

Friday, April 24, 2009

A rosé by any other name

I am a fan of rosé wine. I don't mean Almaden, Woodbridge, Beringer, or anything smacking of white zinfandel.Those are the wines that have made Americans suspicious of chilled pink stuff for the past twenty years. No, I mean a delightfully balanced easily drinkable, inexpensive bottle of pleasure.

Two of my favorites: Kenwood rosé , last spotted at Trader Joe's hovering at the five dollar mark. I should have bought a case. Another is Red Bicyclette, last purchased at Ralph's for $8, a French import and so nicely balanced. Gee, like a cyclist.

Both wines are fruity but dry; friendly, but not overly sweet. Perfect for an evening on the veranda, with the night blooming jasmine nearby, to share with a talkative friend. Whaddya think? Are you gonna give it a swirl?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hot weather stand bys

Roasted peppers, such a simple way of intensifying flavors. Great thing, you can mix up the flavors, make it ahead of time, and have it at room temperature for a first course or a side dish.
I have never quite figured out why people buy jars of peppers. Do the peppers taste better? Or do the consumers not know how to roast their own?

Just as in this recipe, you want to place your peppers over the flame, turning until evenly charred, and when they are, toss them into a plastic bag to cook and cool. When cool slip off the burned parts, remove the stem and seeds, and slice.

One version:
Top with balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts

Another version:
Mix with minced garlic, anchovies, and drizzle with olive oil. Let steep before serving.

Got another version?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Heat is On

It's just past April's mid-point, and here we are, well into the nineties, Fahrenheit speaking.
Starving reader, you already know I'm one of those obsessive compulsive cooks. But when the heat is on, I wilt.

Which is why I greedily adopted Barbara Kafka's recipes. She was an very early proponent of the microwave oven as doing something much more than reheating your stale coffee, or zapping corn kernels into explosive states. She urges us to nuke fish, risotto, and vegetables, most of the time to terrific results.

Want steamed broccoli without bringing you and your home to the boiling point?

Rinse your broccoli, and slice it into your preferred tasty portions. (I do prefer peeling the stalks, try it some time). Arrange in a glass pie plate, or similarly microwave proof container. Add salt, if you like. Cover with plastic wrap and zap for five minutes. If it seems too green or still too woody, zap for additional minutes until you're satisfied. Add a pat of butter, a squeeze of lemon. Or, for a change of pace, drizzle with sesame oil and decorate with sesame seeds and sea salt.

Salmon microwaves beautifully. Marinate your fish in your preferred mixture. I stole my marinade from my dear friend, and like to steep the fish for at least an hour. She uses liberal amounts of olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a fistful of minced parsley. Now, you can marinate your fish and grill it and everyone is happy. But say your grill is out of gas, or it's too darn hot to stand near the cussed grill, or the oventop skillet. It's time for the microwave.

Place fish and marinade in pyrex dish. Cover with plastic wrap. My microwave cooks awfully high--so for a pound of fish I press five minutes at 70 percent power. Test, of course, at the thickest part to see if it's cooked to your satisfaction. I like it still a bit rare in the center.

And for carbs? Bring out your rice cooker, and stay cool.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bourbon and me

My first encounter with bourbon was just a few years back at a delightful writers conference. My roommate, having read Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted, wanted to be sure nobody killed and cannibalized her at this event, so she came well-stocked: Oreos, Goldfish and a nifty bottle of Basil Hayden which she shared. Her strategy worked: we let her live.

Not long ago my husband and I popped into our favorite liquor store, where the friendly salesclerk recommend Bulleit, because "it's a hit with the hipsters." Not wanting to appear over the hipster hill, we snagged it, nestling it in our booze box between this and that.

Last night my former writer's conference roommate popped up in Southern Calilfornia, and we met for drinks in downtown Disney while the rest of her family partied up the street. Catal didn't have Basil's, but it did have Bookers. That double set her back a bit of change, but she shared it, I sampled it. As smooth as they come. We caught up, savoured the bourbon, and watched Disney's fireworks from the comfort of our table. It made my commute there and back so worth it.

Happy hour beckons, now it's time to track down a bottle of that stuff--

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesday Matinee at the Moulin Rouge

I know how I missed this frothy, kinetic, visually intense and musically witty film when it came out in 2001: I couldn't understand how a movie set in 1901 was singing "Lady Marmalade." I caught a bit of it on tv, and when I saw graying men in top hats singing from Nirvana's "Teen Spirit" I had to rent it. I was bedazzled by the energy and vibrancy. Seeing Roxanne set to a tango dance piece is spectacular fusion.

Movie menu:
lots and lots and lots of popcorn and diet coke.

For your dining pleasure:

Champagne is used as a symbol of the courtesan and what transpires with those wealthy enough court her.

Instead, let us honor her love of the humble writer with a supper they would have been able to afford:

marvelous cheeses, crusty bread, and red red wine.

Which movies have surprised you? I'm always looking for more--

Monday, April 13, 2009

Lemon Pudding

Our first home in Pasadena came with tenants and a lemon tree. The lemons off of the tree were a marvel: thin-skinned, and almost sweet. Vibrant taste of vibrant yellow. Later we realized these were Meyer lemons.

Meyer lemons are a hybrid of lemon and oranges. In our current home we have another Meyer lemon tree, with a crop that wanes and flourishes with the weather. It hovers quite near our air conditioning system, which can't be good for it. This year, however, it seems we've had lemons all year long, including now, competing for space with the blossoms and the just beginning green fruit. One thing to do with our excess lemons would be lemon curd, another treat would be Lemon Pudding. (Of course, another way to soak up excess lemons would be excess sidecars.)

I discovered this pudding recipe in this cook book, and have become quite addicted to it. It's kind of a cake/pudding: spongy, browned sugary top, over a lemony pudding bottom. Simple and delicious, an east coast addition would be to top with a spoonful or two of half and half or heavy cream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Into two tablespoons of softened butter beat in 7/8s of a cup of sugar. Gradually beat in 3 egg yolks, the zest of one lemon, 1/3 cup of lemon juice, one cup of milk, and one and 1/2 tablespoons of flour.

In a separate mixing bowl whip the three egg whites until you have soft peaks. Gently fold into your sugar/lemon mixture. Pour into a baking pan, which has been placed in a larger baking pan, filled with hot water, enough to come half way up to your lemon pudding container. (Think brownie pan inside of lasagna pan).

The recipe recommends baking for an hour, but I remove it when the topping is well browned, at around thirty minutes. If you love lemon bars, you'll love this ethereal version.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In honor of the Easter Bunny

Easter means this and Easter means that, but I cling to foil wrapped memories:

1) As a little girl I awoke, with my sister to what was a frosted gingerbread bunny as tall as the two of us.
2) Surprising a sick friend with an Easter basket of peeps and chocolate and candies.
3) My children tumbling out of bed, discovering their baskets, and leaving a trail of wrappers as they headed outside to sit in the sunshine, savoring their chocolates.

Bobbie Katz

Chocolate Easter bunny
In a jelly bean nest,
I'm saving you for very last
Because I love you best.
I'll only take a nibble
From the tip of your ear
And one bite from the other side
So that you won't look weird.
Yum, you're so delicious!
I didn't mean to eat
Your chocolate tail till Tuesday.
Ooops! There go your feet!
I wonder how your back tastes
With all that chocolate hair.
I never thought your tummy
Was only filled with air!
Chocolate Easter bunny
In a jelly bean nest,
I'm saving you for very last
Because I love you best.

Knock Knock jokes

Knock knock
Who's there?
Ether who?
Ether bunny

Knock knock
Who's there?
Samoa who?
Samoa Ether bunnies.

Knock knock
Who's there?!
Consumption who?
Consumption be done about all these Ether bunnies?!?!

How about you? Easter food, Easter memories, Passover knock knock jokes? I'm always looking to expand my repertoire.

Monday, April 6, 2009

How can you mend a broken heart?

This past week a very near and even dearer relative suffered a serious trauma. Or, rather, she inflicted a serious trauma, when she broke off her engagement and ejected her fiance. It was a source of much commiseration, alcohol, and a cry in the family went out for Mexican food.

Now, gentle reader, you may console yourself differently. You may reach for the bottle or the ice cream scoop. Each of us has our own idiosyncratic traditions. You, however, may have never tasted the perfect restorative: Mexican white rice, which is what I brought to the family potluck, along with a bottle of bubbly. (I will never reveal my feelings towards said fiance here. You will have to exercise your inference skills.)

Perfect Mexican white rice:

Soak a cup and a half of long grain rice in hot water for ten minutes. Drain.

Heat 3 tblsp of corn oil, (I use chicken fat) in your pot. When hot add drained rice and stir until the rice loses its raw color and becomes more golden. Add a couple of slices of onion, and a sliced clove of garlic. Saute until the vegetables are tender. Add 3 and 1/2 cups water, and a tablespoon instant chicken bouillion. I prefer Knorr. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat, cooking for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir up the rice. (Think of yourself as a union agitator). Will keep hot and tender covered for an hour.

But what is rice without beans? It's Mexico without Spain, hot dogs without mustard, x without y. Here are a couple of versions for you to try:

Rinse a pound of pinto beans, add them to your soup pot, cover with water. Add half a sliced onion and three or four peeled cloves of garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Continue to add water as the level sinks. Beans will take 2-4 hours to cook until tender. Remember, nobody likes beans al dente. Al fresco, sure--

You can add: a large jalapeno to cook with the beans, or
slices of Litsa larded bacon (or your favorite brand).

When the beans are tender add one tablespoon of salt.

For one pound of black beans add a whole sliced onion and a whole head of garlic, trimmed at the bottom for maximum flavor. In other words, trim a quarter to half an inch off of the head of garlic to expose all it is cloves. Don't worry about peeling it. Add a few sprigs of epazote, if you have that weed wildly sprouting around your back yard. If not, don't worry about it. Again, when the beans are tender add a tablespoon of salt. Be fearless!

Should you try these recipes, let me know whether or not they work out for you, or need some trouble shooting. I'm only a click away.

Saturday this goddess made the most melting yet crisp biscuits. She clearly started a trend. They were so wonderful I awoke Sunday morning with a craving and made myself a batch. Proving the point of a previous post, my biscuits would have been a complete disappointment, except that it was too beautiful a day to have room for regrets.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Diversity and Dining Guests

At a playground years ago another mother leaned over and asked me how I got my kids to eat those tacos and burritos they were munching. Easy, I said. If they didn't eat Mexican food, they'd starve. And that's pretty much true to this day, although the kids are much more capable. My son can make a pretty nifty alfredo fettucine and my daughter can microwave gyoza like a master. But the food I make has pretty much stayed the same: Mexican, Italian, mainstream American, with occasional mouthfuls from France, Ashkenazy Jewish traditions, and Asia.

Awhile back I served with a flourish one of my favorite Diana Kennedy recipes: pollo con rajas. Chicken with chile strips. Drenched in Mexican sour cream, topped with cheddar cheese, an absolute mouth-watering casserole dish served with perfect Mexican white rice.
"What makes this Mexican?" my dinner guest asked.

I wanted to whip out my machete and tell him, "Because Diana and I say so!" Instead, I realized it was a dish he had never seen on menus this side of the border, and that he remained unconvinced. Harumph. He had other problems as well, and since neither a meal nor a machete was going to fix any of those issues, I let it go. (You can tell, right? I don't take things personally).

Enough about identity politics. Let's get to the meat of the matter.

Pollo con rajas

Salt and pepper 6 breasts. I like to slice them horizontally, getting two for the price of one. Cooking takes less time and they seem more tender and delicious. Saute them briefly in a combination of butter and oil. Place the chicken breasts in a large baking pan.

For the rajas: (chile strips--pronounce the j as an h)
2 lbs chiles pasillas
1 onion

Lay your chiles on the grates of your gas stove. Turn on to high; turn the chiles until they are evenly roasted. Yeah, they'll look black.

Put the chiles in a plastic bag to sweat it out. When cool remove the charred skin, seeds and veins; cut the chiles into strips. Set two chiles aside for later.

To the skillet add the sliced onion, cooking until soft. Add the rajas, or strips. Stir to coat with oil/butter. Salt, cover, now lower the heat and cook for about 8 minutes.

In a blender add the chiles you set aside, two cups Mexican sour cream, half a cup milk, half a teaspoon salt. Blend.

When the rajas have finished, remove them from the skillet and add to the baking dish, spread evenly over the chicken. Add the mixture from the blender. Bake at 350 degrees for twenty minutes. During the last few minutes top with half a cup of grated cheddar cheese.

Serve with white rice, corn tortillas, and beans, of course. You can thank me and Diana after you've tasted it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

14 Passive-Agressive Appetizers

In honor of April Fool's day:

1. Top thick slices of country bread with fresh goat cheese. Sprinkle with herbs and bake until crusty; serve to everyone but Jeff.

2. Vegetarian friends? Try veggie rumaki: wrap a strip of imitation bacon around a water chestnut, spear with a toothpick, and broil—but instead of imitation bacon use real bacon, and instead of a water chestnut use veal.

Read the rest of the story--14 Passive-Agressive Appetizers

If you haven't read it before, you're in for a treat.