Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Category: Cooking (Page 1 of 3)

Prepperville: Population ME

Not that kind of prepper, by the way; I don’t believe the US is going to descend into madness and all the utilities will be shut off while we have a new zombie-esque revolution. I’m talking about meal prepping for the week, and holy hell, it does take a chunk of work & here’s hoping it pays off!

Between yesterday & today, I’ve made a double batch of meat sauce (using frozen home-grown tomatoes and home-canned tomato sauce), chopped vegetables and ham for split pea soup (Crock Pot Monday!), assembled lasagna (tonight’s dinner), made 2 batches of pate fermente for sourdough French bread, two loaves to be baked tonight, one batch of pate fermente into the fridge to have with spaghetti later in the week; taco meat made/seasoned/stored, fresh spinach picked for the lasagna and the hot & sour soup with pork dumplings we had for lunch today, made a baked strawberry-cream cheese French toast for breakfast, and a cream o’ goodness chicken dish we served over spaghetti squash last night. I’ve run the dishwasher like a maniac and I prefer to clean as I go, so the kitchen isn’t too bad, just the mixer bowl to hand-wash and unload the dishwasher yet again.

Whew! I also prepped for the work week ahead, typing up all my notes on an evaluation for one project, and all my summaries for a presentation tomorrow afternoon.

Now, to wait for the cake to finish and to bake the bread. Oh, yeah. There will be cake. Followed by collapse. Prepping is serious bidness! I can’t imagine how much work it would take to prep for the apocalypse!

Shopping…Like Childbirth?

Because apparently if you don’t go out during the crazy for a few years, the mind blurs and the memories fade and you think, “It can’t be that bad!” I hear this phenomena applies to childbirth, so why not post-Thanksgiving shopping?

I didn’t go out on Black Friday. Or Black Thursday. I mean, sure, I’d love a set of $35 king-size, 600-threadcount sheets, but if that’s the only thing that appeals to me, I don’t see getting trampled, shoved or waiting for an hour worth the savings. I did, however, venture out on Saturday, primarily to go to The Olive Tree, to celebrate Small Business Saturday, and then… because it’s been months and months and months…. Joann’s.  My BFF Beth even screeched at me on the phone when I said I was headed there. “Don’t you remember your blog post?! That’s crazy!” Yes, I remembered it… vaguely. But I needed a few crafty things, and Joann’s was the destination, what with three coupons, one for 25% off my entire purchase. WHY NOT?! WHAT COULD GO WRONG?!

Well, I’m surprised I made it into the store, because the fun started in the parking lot. If a car has stopped, with its turn signal on, and is waiting for the oncoming car to pass so they can turn? Should the oncoming car just pull right in, turning in front of them? NOT IN MY WORLD, MOTHERFUCKERS.  So that set the tone.

Once I got in, I knew that there would be no fabric purchasing. Not that I’d planned on it, but fabric purchasing at Joann’s is certainly one of the inner rings of hell. They’ve rearranged to make a central place (outsmarting my old trick of “go to the home dec fabric department!”) but everyone stands around with their tickets and their 8 million fucking bolts of polar fleece, and the clerks announce the numbers…repeatedly, because some people just wander off because the universe, apparently, revolves around them. So no fabric. I needed some ribbon, thread, crafty things, beads, and a glue gun. I impulse-purchased some silicone molds because they’ll be useful for jello shots AND my upcoming cookie exchange, and found myself wandering the bead section for most of my time there. I almost (ALMOST) cut a bitch who thought she’d hang out in the notions aisle (by the thread) (and by the fabric cutting area, already jammed) and TEXT MESSAGE.  BITCH YOU IS IN THE WAY! She was also one of the passengers in the aforementioned car, so residual rage was at work. I ended up helping a lady in jewelry supplies, because she didn’t realize there was more than one aisle (good luck to her and her journey in life), and then I got in line. Fortunately, they were heavily-staffed, and the line moved quickly, so I got out of there with only a fraction of the surly I expected to have by the time I’d paid.

As for The Olive Tree, I would encourage anyone with a foodie in their life to give them a visit – they’re in Hawthorne Plaza (parking there is always entertaining, I got a great spot but when I was leaving, some old man almost took out my back end because even though I was halfway backed out, by god, he had to GIT SOMEWHERE NAO). They’ve got amazing flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars  (I got Rosemary-Lavender Olive Oil and Honey Ginger Balsamic Vinegar), smoked & flavored salts, lots of other local food purveyors sell their goods (I nabbed a bag of some of THE best toffee I’ve ever had), and they even do bonuses, like if you spend $50, you get to pick from a basket of small-size oils/vinegars to sample. (Persian Lime olive oil!)  We know the owners of the store through the ever-burgeoning foodie/gardener scene here in Kansas City, and they do great corporate gifts, gift boxes for the chef in your life, and are a font of knowledge on using all of their products. I can also safely say that I’ve NEVER wanted to cut a bitch while shopping there, which is like, the greatest ringing endorsement I can give during this crazy holiday season! (Seriously, though, they’re awesome. They need to stick around and be here 10 years from now. Go! Online order if you’re not local!)

 

Church of Stove

I got up this morning & hit the ground running!

James got a Weber smoker a week or so ago, and we had a turkey in the deep freeze, so we arranged to have our gardening friends Julie & Todd over to have a late afternoon meal. The turkey will be smoked, along with a large pan of homemade baked beans, and greens are simmering on the stove. Grandparents are also rumored to be showing up as well, so it will be a full table!

The beans are my first attempt – and a salesperson I was dining with on Friday sent me her recipe, as she also loves to cook & these beans are requested over and over again from her friends and family. I modified it a little bit (of course) by adding in some frozen Serrano peppers, and omitted the bacon because we had about half a pound of smoked pork butt that I chopped and added to the mixture. I doubled the recipe (of course) so hopefully these freeze well! Three kinds of beans – pork & beans, red kidney beans, and butter beans, plus ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar & mustard.  Here’s a shot of what didn’t fit in the pan:

Moving on from there (as I was cutting up onion after onion!) I sliced up some hot Italian sausage, and got that cooking with an onion. Added chicken broth, a huge bag of fresh spinach, and about five potatoes, cut into chunks. That’s simmering on the stove, and will get a last-minute addition of some half-and-half before serving. That’s going to be “early brunch”. Homegrown spinach is so fantastic!

On to the last onion… James went out in the rain and picked a giant tub trug of Siamese Dragon greens… basically a huge mixture of all sorts of greens, including bok choy, mustard/turnip greens, some crazy escarole-like fronds, and I started sauteing the onions and browning the delicious-looking smoked ham shank. I added a pitcher of water, a few cubes of vegetable bouillon, and got to work cleaning and stripping the greens from the tougher stems. Once a sink basin was full, in to the pot they went, and the process began again. Eventually, the huge bucket of greens compressed into a stockpot, where they will simmer all day – to be dressed at the table with some Serrano vinegar!

The house is redolent with savory smells… rain is falling outside, and it’s time for another cup of coffee. Enjoy your Sunday, no matter how you spend it!

 

An Open Letter to Andrew and Dan:

In the recent issue of “Kitchen Notes” in Cook’s Illustrated, you told us all how AWESOME it is to cook bacon this innovative way: put bacon in pan, cover bacon with water, turn on the heat and let it go! According these dudes, the water keeps the bacon meat from shrinking, and then as the water dissipates, you just let it sizzle and crisp up and ZOMG you have bacon like you used to have in your Easy Bake Kitchen Suite, only your real-life bacon is made of meat and not rubber! OMG! This is so not how it fucking works! Let me save you from this experiment! Right after I go choke these foodie dudes to death with a set of circular knitting needles.

Because what happens is that the meat bubbles along in the water, and it looks nasty-ass and foamy, but you think, ok, you’re essentially par-boiling meat, it’s going to do that, it’s MAGIC, remember, and then? The water cooks off and you don’t just float into nice-and-crispy with a Zoey Deschanel ‘I’m-so-twee’ skipping move, no, my friends, you now see the fat start to render and cook off the bacon. Which is what bacon does in a frying pan. But what did we have in the pan already? Yes? Are we following? WE HAD WATER. Have you ever accidentally gotten something with too much moisture into hot oil before, have you? Do you know what happens?

BURNING HOT FAT EXPLOSIONS is what happens, that’s what. Good thing I didn’t do any tours of duty or it would have been ALLLLLLL torn up in there, what with the spattering cracks of pain and PTSD and the flashbacks and the napalm and the screams.

And, because your meat has absorbed water at varying levels, you will now balance hot burning fat explosions with the fact that parts of your bacon are charring while other parts are looking like parboiled rubbery white fat. So you try to hold the over-cooked parts out of the pan with your tongs, while the blubber tries to catch up, and you dodge esplodyness of epic proportions.

NOT FUN. Bacon, we used to be good friends. I know it’s not your fault. It’s the endless pursuit of foodiness and trying new things, but I’m never going to do it again and Andrew and Dan better never pop out into a back alley to get a quick smoke, because I’m going to be waiting. And maybe not with knitting needles. With a pan of hot bacon fat. We’ll all have matching arm scars!

Spiceh…..

James grew kale this year, for the first time – it’s lovely, sturdy, frilly, and I’d heard about all these kale chips, so I thought, hey, why not? Give it a whirl.
They’re terribly easy – you just tear out the thick stem, toss with a little olive oil & sea salt & throw in the oven at 350’F for 15 minutes. One recipe mentioned using some pepper flakes, so I grabbed the tub of smoked Thai chili peppers my MIL had brought us, sprinkled some over the fresh greens, and let the oven do the rest.

Should have washed my hands more thoroughly, it turns out – my bagel had a distinct afterburn, not something one normally gets from an Asiago cheese bagel, and that heat, combined with the fact my nose and corner of my mouth were EN FUEGO from an innocent face rub with the spiced-up hand, made me realize these weren’t ordinary chili pepper flakes.

Sensation confirmed after the chips came out of the oven. Delicious, though! And we’ll certainly be having more of them. I’m intrigued by the idea of crushing them and sprinkling on popcorn, too – with a little parmesan cheese. It looks like it can be prepared just like spinach, as well, which is good, since the spinach has run its course. My friend Jane puts kale in her smoothies all the time, thought she does have the mixer that makes things “disappear” – I’m a little skeptical about my two-speed Hamilton Beach retro-style blender doing more than macerating the leaves or chunking them up. We’ll see. For now, it’s just nommy salty-spicy goodness, with loads o’ vitamins!

 

Spinach Saturday!!!

Last Fall, James put in a bed of spinach – he watered it like crazy during the blasting heat, and then covered it up with agribond fabric (lets light & moisture through, but still protects from the elements – even a “real” winter, which we didn’t even have!) As the unseasonable weather allowed, he started peeking at it a couple months ago, and the beautiful dark-green leaves were dotting the bed. Then it just exploded! We cooked a few dishes with it last week – a  trumpet pasta with sausage, onions and cream sauce, an omelet stuffed with sauteed spinach & asparagus, and quiche this morning. Then he picked about 2/3 of the bed so we could put it up and have it later this summer:

Then I took over, and began blanching & ice-bathing all the greens. They really do cook down, so it seemed rather comical to have them go from MASSIVE SIZE ZOMG to five Foodsaver bags! But the bags are solid, heavy packets of good-for-you goodness, and will surely be a tasty alternative to store-bought.

Upcoming recipes are going to include a spinach pesto, some homemade pasta noodles (we’ve made them once before – lots of work, but worth it!) and I’m going to try frying up sliced garlic until it has a crunch, like I do for my pho topping, and then cooking a bunch of spinach with a dash of sesame oil & some chili garlic paste.  Popeye’s got nothin’ on us this Spring!  Here’s a shot of the quiche, shortly before it was devoured:

Summer’s Delight

As we hibernated indoors yesterday, away from the stifling humidity, most of our energies wound up in the kitchen. I had been wanting to make Peter Reinhart’s recipe for Casatiello, and Italian Brioche, studded with bits of spicy salami and gouda cheese. What I love about his book is the complete thoroughness of instruction; he describes the process of how the dough will evolve, and what to expect. This dough has a high butter content, and after the butter has been added, the dough is very sticky, and altogether messy, resembling cookie dough. His instructions tell you to work the dough for 12 minutes, for in that amount of time the butter will distribute evenly and your sticky mass of dough evolves into a beautifully smooth, tacky ball that cleanly rotates around the mixer bowl. It was definitely one of those angels-singing marvel moments as I watched it happen. I baked it in a square springform pan to make one loaf; you can bake it in bags and in smaller sizes more typical of Brioche, too. It’s delicious, and made me wonder about other cheeses and even adding snippets of fresh herbs, such as the French tarragon that is always looking for something to creep into…..

Italian Brioche w/ gouda, sausage

In-between my dough mixing and shaping, James took over the kitchen and used the mixer’s food grinder attachment to make an amazing tomato sauce. The food grinder is great, because you get all of the pulp and meat and juices of the tomato, while efficiently discarding the seeds and skin. We have almost all heirloom tomato plants, and the flavors of these tomatoes are out of this world. Describing a slice of Carbon uses similar language as describing wine… smokey, bold, strong finish. So when you mix all these robust, intense flavors together, and cook them down all afternoon, you have a sauce that literally sings to you. He also incorporated caramelized onions and banana peppers, plus some sauteed chicken tenders. As James put it: summer in a bowl. It was excellent.

homemade tomato sauce

So where’s dessert? Well, this is a good example of how mistakes happen – even to those of us who’ve been cooking and baking for over 30 years. We had leftover egg yolks, because earlier this week, James had made zucchini bread, and one of the most awesome ingredients he uses is candied nuts. He’d done both pecans and walnuts, and the candying process uses a bunch of egg whites. So, what to make with egg yolks? Well, certainly a custard comes to mind – and with the heat, why not ice cream? Sounded good to me. Some things you take for granted, some things you don’t think about, and sometimes, even when you’re standing right there at the stove, stirring your mixture of cream and sugar and eggs and bits of natural vanilla bean, you take your eyes off what you’re doing to talk to your spouse, and the next thing you know, you have bits of cooked egg separating rapidly from your liquid. Gah. I tried plunging it into a water bath, stirring madly, but there are chemical processes that just don’t reverse themselves. I pitched a fit, pissed-off with myself for forgetting how quickly chemistry can happen, and then had to decide what to do.

I decided to give it a try, anyway, because the flavor was amazing, and not eggy, but the big question was texture. I chilled the custard, then put it in my Krups machine that I’ve had for 20 years. And waited.
It never froze. I think it was the fact my custard was too warm, still. So what to do? This is when experience is a good thing, because it makes you more resourceful. Rather than focusing on the failure of ice cream, I focused on what was wrong with my dish, and what could I turn it into? I had it: Milkshakes. I strained the custard through a sieve, removing the bits of hardened egg proteins. Then I added frozen strawberries to the blender until it was completely full. I figured that if any of the egg had made it through the sieve, the texture would be masked by the presence of strawberries (and keep in mind, the mixture never scorched, and was utterly, vanilla-ey delicious, despite the overcooking.)

The result was stupendous. My husband declared it to be one of the top 5 milkshakes of his life.

What was leftover was poured into a dixie cup, popped in the freezer with a fork in it to make a makeshift ice cream bar. The texture on that might be a bit grainy, but at least we know it’ll taste good!

Now it’s Sunday, and I think I’d like to go out for brunch.

Ohhhh Rapiniiiiiiii You Are So Dreaaaammmmyyyyy

I love broccoli. A few years ago, the Wo planted broccoli Rabe and we snarfed it up. This year, he planted a Rapini variety called “Rapa Senza Testa”. Wellza, Weza Liked itz a Lotza!

It helps to like greens, and broccoli and spinach, if you’re going to cook with Rabe or Rapini.

Here are the cleaned leaves from the plant:
Rapini and Sausage Pasta

I picked a variety of leaves – some bigger and older, some were newer and greener. With the older leaves, I tore the leafy part into goodly-sized chunks, and avoided the stem, especially at the base. (That part can get tough.) I left more of the stem on with the younger shoots. Two plants yielded about 5 cups or so of the green stuff – and while that sounds like a lot, you will quickly see how it disappears when cooked!

I started with a big ol’ Vidalia onion, and sauteed it in olive oil until it was semi-soft. Then I added some minced garlic. (So as to not burn the garlic, since it takes a lot less time to cook.)
onions and garlic, mmmmm

Once everything’s soft and cooked, here comes the mound of Rapini:

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

Which quickly becomes this:

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

Meanwhile, a quick trip to Fritz’s yielded the protein in the dish (Sweet Italian Sausage Links):

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

Now, you can use a spicy sausage, and it doesn’t have to be in link form – you can cook it up with the onions, just drain off the fat. I’ve made similar dishes with spicy meat and it’s equally delicious. These links are pre-cooked, so I didn’t have to worry about cooking time. Just sliced them up into delicious rounds, and added them to the mixture.

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

I added freshly-ground pepper, and about a cup of water with a couple chicken bouillon cubes half-dissolved, and let it simmer. This is a brothy pasta topping, and since the bouillon already had plenty of salt, I didn’t add anything else. Since you’ve got a stronger component with the greens, balanced with the sweeter meat (or robustly complemented, if using a spicy version), you really don’t need a lot of herbs or other seasonings – of course if you want to throw in some basil, or something else, experiment away!

Spoon it over a nice curved-shape pasta – these were called “gnocchi” even though they were actually just a little fancier shell-shape. Trumpets, corkscrews, rigatoni – you want shape and the ability to grab a little extra juice. My photo got a little blurry, but you get the idea. Top it with some fancy Parmesan, or powdery, depending on what you did or did not remember to get at CostCo, pour yourself a nice cheerful white wine to keep it light, and savor the flavors!

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

In other gifts from the garden, here’s a shot of the stir fry I made the next night, with four days’ worth of snow pea harvesting:

Snowpea Stir Fry

Oatmeal Rediscovered

I am pretty much done with those little pulverized packets of instant oatmeal. (Maybe in a pinch or crisis…) But people eat it because it’s quick, convenient, foolproof and it comes in a bunch of flavors.  And there’s lots of health benefits touted about oatmeal, so we all know it’s good for you, good for your heart and treating cholesterol, and yet if you’re like me, you think of home-cooked oatmeal as a gloppy sticky mass, made only slightly more palatable by a splash of milk and some brown sugar.

Then, on one of my social networks, I kept seeing chatter about “Baked Oatmeal”.  Reviewing several recipes, I decided to give it a whirl – following the recipe but throwing in some extras. This is the recipe I used (discussion on modifications shortly).  I skipped the raisins, threw in some pecans and dried cranberries, put it all in the oven, and waited. Lordy, friends, it only took one batch to make me an instant convert. This is definitely different from dry dusty packets, and it’s a step up from stovetop oatmeal.

Things to consider, starting with the oats. This recipe calls for the quick-cook oats, which will work, and will give you a very smooth-textured end result. That’s alright, but for my taste, I don’t want smooth, it reminds me too much of my lesser-ideal oatmeal dishes.  So I crank up the texture (and fiber)  and what I usually create a mixture of various oats: a cup or so of quick oats, a cup or so of Irish oatmeal/regular oats, and a cup or so of steel-cut oats or my favorite, Bob’s Red Mill 5-Grain Rolled Cereal, which is a wonderful blend including oats, flaxseed, barley and rye.  (I looove all the Bob’s Red Mill line – all the specialty flours and grains you need!) Today’s batch was quick oats, regular oats, steel-cut oats and a handful of flaxseed. I then added about a half-cup of chopped dried apricots, a quarter cup of apricot preserves, and 3/4 of a cup of walnuts that I’d rough-chopped and toasted on the stove with a little butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. De-lish.  Other adjustments: substitute applesauce for most or all of the oil, and I have used milk powder and water instead of regular milk. (Confession: I’ve also used half-and-half and butter.) I’ve used Splenda in place of the sugar, but I’ve also used brown sugar in varying amounts every time. The nice thing about this sort of recipe is that it’s very accommodating and forgiving. I always use the eggs and the baking powder, but I’ve sometimes added more oats and had a drier mixture going in to the oven – other times it’s been pretty wet and has come out moist. Either way it’s really delicious hot with some milk poured on top, and it reheats beautifully. It’s a great weekend dish, but you can also make it the night before, leave it in the fridge and bake it in the morning. It’s filling, it keeps you full all morning, and it has lots of good fiber. It’s also a nice recipe for those of you who tend to follow every recipe to the letter, and you want to break free and experiment a bit – just keep your wet ratios in line with your dry, and try a variety of dried fruits, nuts and seeds. It’s like fun birdseed for people!

Busted

You know when you’re alone, and you make a face or react to something, and you don’t censor your muscles or reaction or words, because nobody can see you?

The other night, I was making chili for dinner. It’s been freaking cold, and it sounded like a great, quick meal. James was in the living room, on the couch, and just barely in my line of sight when I was standing at the stove. The television was on, and we’d finished our conversation. I pulled the chili seasoning packets out of the pantry – there was a small amount of “HOT” powder left, and a plenty of “Medium-Hot” in another package. (By-the-by, we get a lot of spices and seasonings from Penzeys over in old Overland Park – it’s a cook’s mecca!) I put the remainder of the Hot powder in the pot, and then started to shake out some more of the Med-Hot.

That’s when it happened. The bobble. The lurch. The shifting weight, while negligible, threw me, and suddenly I found myself dumping in a quite goodly amount of the chili powder. I felt my face contort into a “WHOA WHOOPS OH FUCK” and simultaneously,  my brain was thinking, “JWo isn’t seeing this, just don’t say anything, carry on, get control of the bag.”

Then I hear, from the living room, “That’s not a good face!”

Whups. Busted. Not that it wouldn’t have become apparent once the meal was served! It was some damned spicy chili, but I will say, those Penzeys people make a helluva spice – the depth and robustness of the peppers gives it a huge full flavor, they don’t rely on just straight hot peppers to flame it up. So it could have been a lot worse. But we had bellies o’ fire and relied on the oyster crackers a little more than usual!

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