Monday, August 31, 2009

The amazing dishes gnomes

I'm not sure how we did it, but we managed to make dinner and only have our plates as dirty dishes. Weird!

It was nacho night here, and we went for straight forward: tortilla chips, taco flavored beef, shredded cheese, salsa, olives, guacamole and lettuce. The only pan was the one we did the beef in, and I washed that as we were still plating. It was so easy I forgot I even did it!

Hmmm... dinner that took 7 minutes to make and 20 seconds to clean up? It's a miracle!!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ethnic ingredients, home cookin'

Dinner tonight was a delight of colors and odd ingredients. It worked, and it was great, but didn't exactly have much of a unifying theme. Or, did it?

We made flank steak, marinated in harissa. (I was inspired by the Next Food Network Star who didn't win, and we found it in a little Asian grocery in Pittsburgh's strip district.) Harissa is a paste used in north African and related areas, such as Morocco and Algeria. We got a little can of it, which was covered in beautiful Arabic script but stated it was a product of France. The ingredients can vary, but ours listed, "beets, carrot, water, chilli, vegetable oil, sweetcorn starch, coriander, caraway, citric acid and garlic." Mmmmh. Just the smell was wonderful. I wish I had had the time to let the steak marinate all day, as I felt cheated that the flavor only stayed on the surface.

Our starch was Israeli cous cous, which is much larger than the cous cous one normally encounters. I got it as a recommended substitute for fregula, a Sardinian pasta. Regular cous cous is as fine as sand; Israeli cous cous is more like the little round pastas you find in soup sometimes. About the size of a lentil half. The flavor of Israeli cous cous is a bit toasty or slightly nutty, as it is generally toasted and regular cous cous is not. I made the cous cous just in water, not thinking to flavor it right away, but was pleased by the depth of flavor it had anyway. All this from flour and water! I added diced, dried apricot and sliced almonds.

As a side or accompaniment, we made an heirloom tomato caprese salad. Our tiny currant tomatoes are amazingly tight and sweet, popping in the mouth with wonderful snap. The yellow pears are mild and flavorful and the black cherry tomato had a deep flavor. Heirloom tomatoes. All the rage for a reason. We tossed these with basil, white balsamic, salt, pepper, olive oil and little marble sized mozzarella.

So, what was our meal direction? Yummy! Multi-ethnic and not too worried about it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Loooooooooong long beans

Long beans are an asian veggie often compared to okra. Raw, they looked like medussa's ponytail. A bit rough, a bit tough, a bit, well, snakey.
We made them into a stir fry with water chestnuts, baby corn, bamboo shoots and dried chilis in oyster sauce. Long beans have a nutty flavor and are quite tough when not cooked enough. This isn't the sort of thing to blanche; I liked them best when they were really, really cooked. I steamed them in the pan as well as stir frying them.
Eating them was another story... You can see how long the bean stretches from chopstick to plate!

My bountiful harvest

Currant tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, black cherry tomatoes, thai chilis and jalepenos all from our garden. Two zucchini and two cucumbers are still growing, as well as more tomatoes and peppers. Whoo-hoo!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Strip district

We had a wonderful excursion to the strip district in Pittsburgh this weekend while visiting Darling Husband's parents. They decided to take the morning to play with Baby Girl (we're pretty sure they actually invite her, and we're just the drivers) and so we had time together to brave the packed sidewalks and cool back alley shops. It's not a place I'd want to take her, but plenty of parents had their little ones in tow.
The shops were pretty awesome, packed with the weirdest stuff you just can't find other places. Don't get me wrong, for day to day I'd still prefer Wegman's. But this is a cool treat.

We went into a Chinese grocery that had everything from canned quail eggs to dried cuttlefish. There was fresh tofu, which had obviously just been made, cut and on a board so people could pick and bag their own pieces. We found a whole section of dried seafood, including squid and octopus, as well as what can only be described as jellyfish jerky. There were multiple offerings of preserved duck eggs, the kind that they bury in the ground and call Thousand Year Eggs. (The whites become a creepy grey and the yolks a worrying shade of brown.) It also sold all kinds of noodles made from all kinds of stuff. There were big sheets of green bean starch and dried lotus leaves. They also had a big section of fresh veggies--we couldn't resist the long beans! (Or the black vinegar, or the dried chili plums, or the frozen galangal...) On ice, they carried fresh fish. But why buy fish there, when right next door is Wholey's?

I was very excited to see Wholey's, the fish market. I could go on and on about all the many fresh fish, the sushi bar just feet away, the cool everything. I will restrain myself, though, and just talk about the tanks of live fish. I mean, it just doesn't get fresher. Ever wonder what tilapia look like? They're actually kinda cute. They look like aquarium fish, actually. With big kissy lips. My mom always says tilapia is "very mild, no bones." I used to think of this whenever I saw tilapia fillets. I now will think of this:

We found harissa at this Mediterranean store, as well as something I hesitate to even mention. Darling Husband has an insatiable curiosity for foreign drinks, which has led some interesting places. This time it picked up yogurt soda. Mint flavored yogurt soda. In case you're wondering, no, it's not better than it sounds. It's exactly what it sounds like. The ingredients are milk, yogurt, soda water, mint and salt. And that's what it is. Salty, tangy, carbonated dairy with medicinal mint flavoring. It's upsetting and sour. It made us want to gag. Sorry; you should know I'm editing out what I really think of it. I have a terrible analogy that really fits but that grosses me out and is entirely too crude. It's not good. Let's leave it there.

On a positive note, we went to Penzy's Spices. It's a playground of herbs and spices and it smells awesome. We were tempted by the vindaloo powder (incredibly intense and flavorful curry) but the price was a bit too dear. We settled instead for a few varieties of dried chili peppers.

Can't wait to go back!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The wonderful thing about jerk sauce... jerk sauce is a wonderful thing!

The not-so-wonderful thing is it has a tendency to look a bit brownish grey and dirt like. It makes it hard to see when my shrimp are nicely pink and opaque in the pan. Still, this is a pretty minor point when you balance it against the yum that happens. I'm happy to have had some left over. I had chopped large diagonals of scallions--scallions so thick they looked more like little leeks than anything. They must've been as big around as my ring fingers. I don't know if that changes the flavor any; I would think it should, but I haven't noticed it.

We served the shrimp on top of basmati rice, cooked in chicken stock and mixed with edemame and diced mango. Darling Husband brought grilled pineapple from Wegman's that had been brushed with a sweet chili sauce. It was wonderful! I loved the carmelization, the sweet and the heat. Fantastic.

So it was a pretty great dinner, all around.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What would Brian Boitano make?

This is a new show coming out on Food Network. No joke; that's the real title. It premiers Sunday at 1pm.

It's a reference, of course, to South Park. In their very first incarnation, on an ecard for Christmas that Matt Stone and Trey Parker created for their friends and relatives, the boys of South Park ask themselves, "what would Brian Boitano do?" At which point, a very flamboyant cartoon Brian B skates around saying "Bye-eee" and other such stuff, after giving his advice. When they did the movie, there's a whole musical number on this theme, as a throw back to their early days.

I think it's cool that he's embraced it, and reclaimed it as his own. Supposedly he's a good cook as well as being fun and slightly irreverent. And, there's no getting around it, flamboyant in a campy way. At least, that's how the previews make it seem. I'm interested in checking it out. Could be great, could be ridiculous... and those are not necessarily mutually exclusive. :o)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cowboy Fish

Anyone else thinking about a rockin' underwater rodeo?


Uh, yeah. Me neither...

Tonight I made a quick meal in light of both the heat of August and the fact that Baby Girl now has a cough keeping her up at night. Plus, for some reason, she decided 2 am might be a good time to play and tried to open her door and walk into the hall. She was mightily ticked that I stopped her and insisted she try to lay her head. The little squall lasted only a minute, though, before she dutifully snuggled up again to sleep. It was almost like she was just checking her options.

For side dishes, I made frozen peas and also stuffing from a box. Okay, so it's not so much haute cuisine, but it was tasty and represented appropriate food groups. Everything we eat will not be gourmet and that's a life lesson, in it's way. Who are we to turn up our noses at nourishment, when so many in this world go hungry? Besides being tasty and relatively healthy, it was also cheap. 79 cents for the peas, $1.10 for the stuffing and there's left overs of both. I refuse to apologize because I have nothing to apologize for, and yet I feel as though I'm confessing to something culinarily shameful, like liking really cheap Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot. Maybe the difference is I recognize this food for what it is. I'm not thinking all spaghetti should taste like Chef Boyardee and turning up my nose at nona's marinara. Or believing that good merlot is cloying and flavored with blackberry syrup (or whatever the Arbor Mist people do. I won't knock it completely--I drank this in college for a semester until I discovered Bully Hill Love Goat Red. I've moved on from there, but still).

The protein was cod that I wrapped in bacon and crisped in a pan. I made a dry rub with cracked black pepper, cayenne, brown sugar and a spice mix called Citrus Basil (from Pampered Chef). Once I had removed the fish (bacon mostly crispy, definitely not soggy) I made a quick pan sauce. I deglazed with a little chicken stock from the fridge, then added cayenne, pepper and about a teaspoon of barbecue sauce, for smokiness. I let it reduce, then mounted the sauce with a bit of butter. Quick, inexpensive, flavorful and rather masculine, for fish. Sort of a cowboy fish dish.

Yee-haw, y'all...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My supportive family eats my burgers

Though Sutter Home did not pick me as a finalist in their Build a Better Burger competition, I'm pleased that my parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew joined Darling Husband, Baby Girl and I for a picnic to try my burgers. Sister Dear brought chips and fruit, my mom brought drinks and plates (etc) and we brought the aforementioned burgers and also sweet potato fries.

We picnicked at Presque Isle, near the boat launch/marina. Despite my vague directions, my sister managed to find the place, which overlooks the bay and the city while giving a great view of boats passing by. Keeping Baby Girl away from the water was another story. She's my water baby, born under the astrological sign cancer the crab, and has no fear. We went swimming this morning, actually. My little fish...

Burgers with lime zest, homemade jerk sauce (with rum), baby arrugula, sharp cheddar and a slaw made from jicama, carrots and golden raisins. I wanted to put sliced mango, but the only mangos I could find were rock hard. I bought the softest, and it was still way too underripe to use. Oh well. The burgers were well received. My brother-in-law was particularly taken with the lime in it, which I felt was quite sophisticated of his palate to notice. Everyone else just made yummy, appreciative noises and comments. I'm very pleased they liked them. I bet the Sutter Home people would have loved them, too. Probably they had some pretty amazing submissions.

Of course, it's possible I was disqualified because I did something silly like put an ingredient in the wrong order. The ingredient list and the narrative step by step must match exactly, you see. So if you have buns listed before butter and you write, "butter the buns," you're out. You'd need to put "coat the buns with butter," or some such.

I invite anyone who ate one of my burgers tonight to post a comment describing them, or just commenting in general on the picnic. I had a remarkably peaceful time, considering I was keeping track of a slightly clingy Baby Girl in addition to plating up burgers. In 90 some degrees. Darling Husband was a great help and marvy grill guy, and mom, sister and the kids ran interference nicely with Baby Girl. Plus, there was a lovely breeze and I got to sit in a camp chair with my little girl on my lap and watch the bay while she drank a bottle and lightly dozed. Surrounded by my family, with a full belly. I felt very blessed. It was blissful.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A very Darling Husband sort of dish

There are certain sauces, certain taste and texture combinations that would just never occur to me, but which leap to the foreground for Darling Husband. In many ways, that's what makes our Chopped challenges so rewarding and fun. If we thought exactly the same, it wouldn't be very surprising or interesting.

I wish I could explain more of what I mean, but all I can really say is that these dishes just scream out Darling Husband's name. Tonight's fantastic pasta dish is an excellent example.

First he softened and sweated vidalia onion, to which he added microplaned garlic and tomato paste. For spice, he added salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Not long after, in went diced sundried tomatoes. Once all these items became toasty and had released their oils, he deglazed the pan with some chicken stock. It was bubbly and thick, but light colored and so very pretty.

When the penne he was boiling was perfectly toothsome, he threw raw baby spinach on top of his sauce and topped with the pasta. The heat wilted the spinach, but only just. All of this was tossed with the last of the shmear casse.

The result? Brilliant! Chewy, hearty penne hugged by a there-but-not-there sauce, dancing with the sweet onion, swirled with vivid green spinach leaves, punctuated by chewy nuggets of sundried tomato bursting with dark flavor. It was inexplicably creamy and utterly utterly, as the British would say at the dawning of King George V's reign. (That Queen Mary, what a doll. 1911, don't cha know. Record heat wave. Churchill making a name for himself already. Jam workers went on strike and everything. Railway workers, too. No, it's true. Read a book on it, I did. A whole book, just on the summer of 1911 in London, non-fiction. Read it twice, point of fact. Sounds esoteric, and it was, but bloody interesting...)

Sorry. I'm not entirely sure why I came over all British in the last paragraph. Perhaps it's my inner Anglophile struggling for release. Maybe it's all the British books I read or the cheeky British comedians I watch (Eddie Izzard and Russel Brand are my go-to good-mood people). Maybe it's the beginnings of a nervous breakdown. Who can tell? When Baby Girl is teething kind of crankily and getting over a cold, poor lamb, and my car breaks down and makes me want to kick it, and it's the end of a long week... I simply remember my favorite things...

Duck fat and basil and freshly cooked pasta,
Almonds and yogurt and sundried tomatoes,
Big pretty scallops all seared with a crust,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Mangoes and crackers and fresh avocado,
Pinot and vodka and nice dry hard cider,
Warm piece of baguette that's smeared with some brie,
These are a few of my favorite things!

When my car dies,
When my kid cries,
When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things
and then I don't feel so bad!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The perfect sear

Scallops surrounding a colorful bed of young lettuces, studded with kelly green edemame and lemony yellow tomatoes, nestled with rainbows of red onion. This was dinner. With a second course of sweet potato fries, unlovely but darned tasty. Fast, healthy and colorful. Yay!

I have always loved scallops, although I know some people don't. Personally, I think most of these people have just had overcooked, rubbery scallops (in much the same way that people are ruined on calamari). I have what I consider to be the perfect way to get a perfect sear, which is the perfect way to eat them (in my humble opinion.)

Dry the scallops of excess moisture. Dust in searing flour, a very finely milled flour. Heat olive oil in the pan until shimmery and just before smoking. Lay scallops in, being sure not to crowd the pan; don't move them. Allow them to form a crust and cook about a third to half way up. Flip, cook only until they color on that side. Remove immediately. Yes, they're underdone. They will finish cooking on the plate due to carryover cooking.

Properly seared scallops have a crispy crust, soft, pillow like interior with sweet, yielding flesh. They should not be chewy or in any way resemble a bouncy ball. We like them sitting on top of risotto, by a salad or with pasta, although there are many many uses for them. My mother marinates in soy and then pan fries without the searing flour--wonderful as well.

A quick note on sweet potato fries: this is one side dish that is tasty, healthy and quick, and yet hearty and decadent. We peel our sweet potato and cut into long, even fingers. Toss in olive oil with salt, chili powder and nutmeg. Then we pop them in the oven at 400 degrees for maybe 15 or 20 minutes. The fries become soft and the natural sugars slightly caramelize, with the spice enhancing this without overpowering it. We aren't afraid to mop up the extra olive oil with the fries--or even bread. It's wonderful tasting, having become infused with the spices and the potato flavor, too!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dinner burn out

Some days are just emotionally exhausting, let alone when the physical side catches up to you, running you down. Sometimes, the prospect of cooking is almost too much to bear.

Though I had gone shopping for dinner, I wasn't sure I was up to actually making it. We considered grabbing a Hot Pizza Now, but I finally mustered the courage to assemble my humble ingredients.

Freshly baked buns, french bread style
Chicken nuggets
Wing Sauce (Frank's, but not just Red Hot. Actual wing sauce)
Gorgonzola crumbles
Leftover blue cheese dressing in containers from the last time we got wings

I baked the nuggets, tossed them in sauce, put them into the buns (which I split) and topped with the cheese crumbles. Darling Husband and I dipped our Buffalo Chicken Sliders into the dressing and called it dinner. I had a salad and/or yams to go with, but we never made it that far.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to get stuff for dinner tomorrow night, too. A big pretty salad with edemame and seared scallops. At least, that's the plan for now...

You say "chipotole," I say "chipotle," becuase that's how it's pronounced

I used to think Bobby Flay was a cocky jerk. Now I think he's endearing, with overtones of cocky jerkiness. But they don't bother me. Mostly, he's an alpha male and a chef, on top of being a New Yorker. So, it's understandable. As Gretchen Wilson says, "a product of my raisin'." Yee-haw indeed.

I softened on him the more I watched him on various shows on Food Network. Bobby Flay, in case you missed it, is on every show on Food Network. He is a judge on Next Food Network Star, he's an Iron Chef, he does Throwdown, plus his Grill It and Boy Meets Grill. I think he might have a few other random ones thrown in, because I swear he is in a new show whenever I turn around. In addition, he just pops up from time to time in the most unusual places. For example, commercials. He's where's waldo with a santoku.

Setting aside his alpha-maleness, the man certainly knows how to cook. When he's not the only one in front of the camera, he's likable, too. You can tell he actually likes people, which helps quite a bit. Passionate about his stuff but not afraid to be real, too. I can respect that.

What I can't bring myself to accept is his insistence on using the word, "chipotole." It's chipotle! Three syllables! Do not add another, for goodness sake! It's just a jalapeno that's been smoked; the smoking does not add an extra syllable. If you're at all familiar with Bobby Flay, you know that this isn't an occasional problem because the man is obsessed with chillies of various description. It's just fingernails on a chalkboard to me when he says it.

Why the semantic rant? No real reason. We used the adobo from a can of chipotles to marinate a flank steak the other day before grilling. Then we sliced it thinly across the grain, for ease of chewing, and put it on tortillas with red onion, yellow tomato, some fresh cilantro and a smattering of shmear (labled queso fresco for the occasion). It was heavenly and almost embarrassingly simple, considering the taste. The grill and chipotle married the smoky char flavor into the meat, but the fresh tomato kept it from being overpowering. The cilantro lent a wonderful freshness and flavor, and the queso was a creamy and sweet counterpoint. A perfect meal before a night on the town, which is what we did. Fabulous Sister babysat. It's nice to be a grown up, a woman and a wife sometimes without worrying about being a mommy, too. It makes me appreciate Baby Girl that much more.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Start with a chicken...

We started with a rotisserie chicken from Sam's Club, a good deal at $4.99, particularly with the size of the bird. (The small ones at the Erie County Farms for around $3 are pretty cool, too). I carved off the breasts (a serial killer diary entry if ever I saw one) and sliced thinly across the grain. Layered on a croissant with some orange tomato and some quick spiced aioli et voila, lunch.

Aioli is actually something a little more complicated than what I made, but the truth is Darling Husband won't eat mayonnaise. He will eat things called aioli or remulade, though, so I mixed a bit of mayo with some sambol olek, black pepper and a bit of lemon zest and gave it a fancy name. It really punched up the sandwich, though.

In the past, this would have been about all I would have done with the chicken. Oh, I'd continue to carve what I could, but in the end, I'd either give it to my mother or (and I'm ashamed to admit this) toss the carcass.

My mother would pick over the bird, boil it to make stock, pick over it again and then make 200 more meals from it. I'm only slightly exaggerating.

Tonight I became very brave and, for the first time in my life, made homemade chicken soup. I don't like soup. I don't like chicken soup especially. I don't like the smell of boiling bones. But I made the soup and I'm not exactly sure why.

I put the bird in a pot and covered with water, bringing to a boil and simmering 2 hours. Then I strained out the chicken, which had fallen apart into approximately one inch pieces. The spine was particularly unnerving. I strained the broth again, then began picking over the chicken pile. I was surprised at how much good meat I found. The boiling had removed much of the connective tissue, making it very easy to extract the meat. I tossed onion, carrots, zucchini (yes, still that zucchini) and pasta into the broth, followed by the chicken meat.

It looks good. I hope it tastes good. I might even taste it myself, since it made quite a bit. I'm kinda proud of myself.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hotter than blazes

I shouldn't complain about the weather. I live in a city where complaining about the weather is practically required, like property taxes or shoveling your sidewalk in the winter. It's either too hot, too cold, too humid, too snowy, too rainy, too dry, too too too. Perhaps this is a national problem, not local. It may even be a function of being human, though I doubt it. Those who live in and around Erie, though, love to grouse.

Lately, the common lament is that it hasn't really been summer yet. It's been too mild, too wet. We haven't had proper sunny days with soaring temperatures. Not enough people are being treated for heat stroke at area hospitals and people seem to be displeased. For me? Well, rain means I don't have to worry about watering my tomatoes twice a day. It freshens the earth, makes the grass grow green (not burnt and brown and dead) and keeps the ponds full.

Okay, so there's ants and spiders galore. I could do without that. The way I figure it, though, the nice thing about living in Erie is the killing frost and long winters means the spiders only grow so big. You know those big mother *&!!@*! spiders you get in October? Come November, they're a distant memory. Bring on the snow, I say, and keep your poisonous spiders and snakes.

I've been enjoying the mildish weather, but it seems summer descended with a vengeance today. All of a sudden it was 80 degrees at 8:30 this morning, soaring to 95 by lunch. We chose to go to a baseball game this afternoon, which didn't seem like such a crap idea until about the seventh inning, when baby girl was hot and cranky and I wasn't much better. We went to the lovely refrigerated house of my parents and Baby Girl and I jumped into a lukewarm tub. Ahhhhh.

How do people in Miami and Phoenix and Houston and Jackson do it? I barely wanted to eat today, let alone cook. I told Darling Husband I wasn't much hungry, and thought I might just have a couple of crackers and go to bed. He was hungry and, fortunately, thought I probably was, too. We ordered Chinese from our favorite spot, Cathay Express, which is coincidentally just a few blocks from my office. As soon as we put in our order, I realized I was famished. I felt confident in going there despite the fact that they had two critical violations last week. Actually, it's probably safest to eat just after a violation, because everyone is on their toes. As I recall, their lo mein wasn't kept cold enough (it's just noodles, for goodness sake. And they recook them anyway) and some such.

The food at Cathay Express is good, and I can say without hesitation that they are willing to put up with any number of wacko bollocks custom orderings. Ladies at my office do not make it easy on these people. They almost always get the orders correct, and I applaud them. What do I mean? The following is a typical list of orders, which I call in to the person who speaks broken English (keep in mind the lunch specials include pork fried rice and choice of wonton or hot and sour soup):
  • Off the lunch special, Chicken and Broccoli, no chicken, with pork fried rice, no pork. Also, no soup, but a can of pop instead.
  • Chicken and Broccoli, no broccoli, with white rice and hot and sour soup.
  • Curry Chicken (which isn't a lunch special, but please make it a lunch special) with white rice, no soup but an egg roll instead.
  • Orange Chicken, extra spicy, with steamed chicken (not fried), white rice, no soup but an eggroll.
You get the picture. Nary a one of us orders straight. Yet I state again, 99% of the time, no matter how bonkers we've made the order, it's correct. Bless 'em, they know their customers.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some people just can't hold their whey

Our shmear casse came out great, in my opinion, although I'm waiting to hear what my grandmother has to say about it. It was so easy and so tasty, I'm wondering why everyone doesn't do this! You could totally make a half batch, too, if you didn't want to use it all.

What have we done with it? Tonight, I made a savory tart (which reminds me, I think Americans should emulate our British cousins and start calling people "tarts") with moroccan spiced chicken, orange tomatoes, andouille sausage, provolone, shmear casse and zucchini.

I have to say, I'm thinking of this mammoth squash we're still eating at as the Loaves and Fishes Zucchini. It doesn't matter how many times we cut and cook. It could feed a frat house for a year and still have more to go. I'm not generally given to blasphemy, and please excuse this next bit, but perhaps there weren't loaves and fishes after all. Maybe the neighbors just saw an opportunity and took it. They all ran for the left over zucchini people had in their gardens and just kept dumping it on the crowd. "Haven't we gotten to the end of the zucchini yet? Where did this come from?" "Uh..... nowhere! It was a miracle! I certainly didn't nip around to my house to get it. It must've been that guy up there!" The food stuff switch came later, when they were actually printing the Bibles. Never ending Zucchini doesn't sound nearly as poetic as Loaves and Fishes. It was changed in editing. Blame it on Guetenberg.

Back to the tart. I blind baked the crust, a store bought thin pizza crust in a tube. It has a great buttery richness but bakes to a cracker like crunch. I think it's Pillsbury. Anyway, my tip for the dough is don't let it sit for ten minutes in a hot kitchen, or it will melt the fat in the dough and you will not be able to unroll it. Instead, you will stretch and rip it, leaving you with an ugly crust with yawning rents and bloated edges. It will still taste awesome.

I drizzled a little olive oil then sprinkled the shmear casse. I should have had a heavier hand with this, because whenever I ate the finished tart, the bites with extra creamy, sweet, dairylicious ooze were my favorites. Next came zucchini slices, wafer thin and flash grilled to take the raw off but not add char. On top of these were thin slices of orange tomato. Most yellow and orange varieties are low acid, which is something you don't know you need until you have it. Raw red tomatoes, while wonderful, can be a bit overpowering in the mouth. The juice of these is more mellow, less assertive, and more reminiscent (to me, at least) of water than juice. An eau de vie, if you will.

But I digress. Over the tomatoes, I layered slices of chicken, which I had previously spiced with a moroccan blend and grilled. I sliced on the bias, the way they do to present meat in fancy restaurants, which means you're not trying to slice long tissue strands of chicken with your teeth just taking a bite. Much less messy. Also pretty. I studded the tart with slices of chicken andouille sausage, a last minute addition when I came across one lonely wurst in my freezer and decided to give it a home in this meal. I grilled it first as well.

Provolone topped the whole shebang and into the oven it went. It may not have started pretty, but it sure looked good coming out. The moment of biting into the tart was only slightly marred by my remembering I had forgotten to put fresh herbs on it. It was still good.

(It is at this point in a letter where I might sign my name, then do a P.S.. Blogs don't work that way, but let it be known that was an ending sentence and the following is, technically, a post script.)

Ah, wait. I forgot to address the blog post title. Well, it's like this. When you need a couple mint oreos to round out your evening and the only milk in the house is whole milk for your baby, and you've been drinking skim milk since you were 8, and besides you're not going to steal your baby's milk, and oreos just aren't all they can be without being dunked until soft and just about to disintegrate, and you realize that you do have a jar of left over whey from when you made cheese a couple days ago... well, you might just decide to taste it. And you might decide that, actually, it tastes like slightly sweet skim milk. So you might decide to go with it. It's also possible that you would be watching the Pirates game at the same time, and that you'd be a bit tired and punchy, so strange phrases would come from you, causing fits of nonsensical giggles.

It would be at this point that your Darling Husband would tell you that you're cut off, and mutter, "Some people just can't hold their whey."

Magically delicious

I am lucky to be able to say my husband loves to cook, does a good job, and can even clean up after himself. Darling Husband called on his way home from work and offered to stop at the store and make dinner. Actually, he offered to make dinner magically appear without me having to think of anything, prep for it, cook it or anything.

Ladies, I ask you, how many of your husbands would do this? And not bring home takeout?

Darling Husband made chicken picatta, thin breast of chicken pan seared in a lemon caper shallot sauce. With a side of linguine, tossed in the pan sauce. Mmmmmmmmmm!!!!! The chicken was moist and wonderful, the sauce was tangy and yet well rounded, the capers were little bursts of salty flavor and the pasta was the perfect vehicle.

Bravo, honeybear!

As an after thought, capers always remind me of steak tartare my mom made when I was a kid. She used to serve it with doritos and plain tortilla chips. Now that's comfort food, baby.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More veggie tales, plus exciting developments

Baby Girl, Darling Husband and I had planned to have a picnic at the peninsula this evening, but threatening clouds and the fall out from Baby Girl's 12 month check up today (four shots!) changed our plans. Instead, we had a picnic in the back yard. Hot dogs, pasta salad and grilled zucchini for us, club crackers and yogurt melts for Baby Girl. She'd already eaten her green beans while we were prepping the zucchini. She could be brave only so long.

Did you notice I said zucchini? Yes, loyal readers, we're still hacking away at the behemoth vegetable Darling Husband gleefully carted home from his office. Tonight we lopped off four large rounds, brushed them with jerk sauce and grilled them. That darned squash easily has three more meals left on it. This is, btw, left over jerk from the batch I made for my Build a Better Burger submission (more on that momentarily). The habanero really had time to build the heat--it was much hotter a sauce than it was before!

Unfortunately, the humidity is so high today that Baby Girl's crackers were turning soggy just sitting out. My mint oreo did the same, just in the span of a half hour. Sheesh!

You may have noticed my hit counter at the bottom of the blog now. I finally figured out how to put one in (thanks for tech support from Darling Husband!) and just in time, because there may be a few new visitors here for a bit. If you scroll back a few posts, you'll see that the Sutter Home blogger contacted me and asked if I'd allow them to link to my blog about prepping my burger recipe... turns out I'm the only one they featured in quite this way! They're soliciting stories and used mine to prime the pump, so to speak. I am very honored and excited. We're celebrating with a bottle of Sutter Home tomorrow night... I'm thinking Gew├╝rztraminer.

If you're stumbling on this blog and haven't been here before, I encourage you to leave me a comment! I love comments, no matter if they're from people I see every day or people I've never met. It makes me feel part of a larger community.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Food Network chose wrong

I think they picked the wrong person to be the Next Food Network Star. I don't have anything against Melissa, but Jeffrey had a passion for food and a talent for explaining things that I really loved. His pilot was all about taking a new ingredient and finding uses for it. Love it!! He inspired me to try harissa, and I was really disappointed that 1) they didn't choose him and therefore I won't have cool new things to try each week and 2) Wegman's doesn't carry harissa.

Damn. Going to have to order it online.

Good luck, Melissa. I don't really need you to tell me how to pan sear chicken, and I worry that a half hour with you will be saccharine overkill, but as a person I relate to you and your babies are cute. (Four girls under the age of five. She deserves a medal!)

I do think Food Network should give Jeffrey his own show anyway.

Ale braised beef

With my chopped ingredients (as you recall, cane sugar, spare ribs, cellophane noodles, fava beans, white balsamic vinegar) I made a dinner with elements that worked and ones that fell flat.

I braised the ribs in Sam Adam's Summer Ale, having first seared them and added onions, garlic and golden cherries. Very little can go wrong when you start this way. When the meat was finished, I removed them and reduced the sauce with a bit of cane sugar grated in with the back of a vegetable peeler to achieve a kind of glaze. It worked. :o)

The fava beans were a bit intimidating, having read that they can be poisonous raw. I shelled them and boiled them, then removed their outer casing (as one might an edemame). I added them to some boiled, rustically smash cut potatoes and doused with the vinegar. I was going for a sort of pub "chips" taste.

Four ingredients thus out of the way, this left only the cellophane noodles. Have you ever seen the footage of dropping these in hot oil and they puff up immediately like someone's pulled the string on an emergency lifeboat? Yeah, it doesn't actually work. I looked it up ahead of time and used a thermometer, even. I achieved semi-success with soaking the noodles first, but even this wasn't right. I had intended it to be a garnish. Fortunately, I had saved out about a third of the package. I put these straight into the sauce from the beef to cook that way.

The meal worked. The meat was tender, although another hour would've been perfect. The sauce had all melded and married, so much so that eating a bit of cherry just tasted like the meaty goodness of the whole. The beans and potatoes were tasty and comforting. All in all, a qualified success.

My curds and whey

Tonight Darling Husband and I made shmear casse, or a fresh, farmer style cheese. Various people/recipes call it cottage cheese, queso blanco, ricotta and farmer cheese. I think regardless of what you call it, it's pretty darn cool.

True ricotta, actually, isn't technically a cheese at all. It's made from the whey left over from making, for example, mozzarella. It's name means re-cooked.

To make this cheese, we brought a gallon of whole milk up to 180 degrees, then stirred in 1/4 cup of vinegar. We let this cook, stirring, for 15 minutes while it curdled. Then we lined a colander with paper towels (because we had no luck at WalMart finding cheesecloth) and allowed it to strain out the curds from the whey. I kept looking about for spiders, but none were up on their literary cue.

What were we left with? We'll both find out tomorrow. My father said his grandfather's final step was to hang it above the sink to drip. Ours is dripping into a big pot, because surely there's a use for the whey. I hear there's a Portuguese soup made from it, but I don't know for what our whey is destined.

I'm holding off on making plans for my cheese until I see it and taste it. Will it be more like cottage cheese or more like queso blanco? Will it melt? Hmmm... I don't even know how much it will make. I'm planning on sharing some with my father no matter how much it makes, but I'm curious if I should be planning an appetizer application or plan to have left overs.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My turn! Dinner challenge...

Darling Husband has just presented me with Chopped ingredients (yes, we still do this, but it's a pain in the tuckus to blog about regularly. We manage about once every other week).

Fava beans
Boneless spare ribs
White balsamic vinegar
Cellophane noodles
Cane sugar (as in a big, hard block of brown stuff)

I'm thinking I need to use the balsamic as a finishing flavor, the noodles as texture, and I'd better braise the ribs for tenderness. I have some ideas brewing but I'm going to be coy and not share them just yet. You'll have to wait for the big unveil.

Incidentally, I just researched fava beans quickly and found that they can be fatal to certain people if eaten raw! Oh my! Those who take MAO inhibitors shouldn't eat them. (who knew?)And that some people use them instead of viagra. Also, in Egypt, the national dish is steamed and mashed fava with spices and garlic, served with bread. This is usually a breakfast food.

Food for thought. Of course, you could just eat it with liver and a nice chianti...