Monday, November 26, 2007

The Pie We Did Not Eat for Thanksgiving

I had a long entry written about all the food we made for Thanksgiving, as well as a list of all the injuries, casualties (the work bowl for my beloved Kitchenaid food processor), and arrests (yes, someone spent in a jail due to citations for "dog at large" and petting a horse) incurred in making our feast, but the computer crashed while I was writing the entry, and it wasn't saved because I wasn't using the Blogger entry form because of shoddy networking problems here. As someone who works with technology (I almost wrote "this shit") for a living, I should know better, but alas. I'm not writing it again.

I'm sick, tired, and a bit disgruntled right now. The (pictured) pecan pie I made that we didn't eat for Thanksgiving had a filling that looked like oozy brains. The crust was the last thing my food processor made before the bowl-locking mechanism on the bowl handle broke, thus rendering the entire machine inoperable without extreme hackery. It was, however, the first pie crust I ever made, and quite good aside from its uhm... "rustic" (aka I had NO IDEA what I was doing - it was a push-into-the-pan dough) appearance up top. We had the pie that Z's boss's neighbor (get that?) made, which was another pecan pie that had better filling but my crust tasted better and had a better texture. Or so I thought.

Thanksgiving wasn't bad by any means. The Butternut Squash and Creamed Spinach Gratin is on the must-make-again list even though it's a prep nightmare, and Morningstar's vegetarian breakfast sausage patties are a fantastic replacement for the real thing as far as stuffing with sausage and apples is concerned. Z brined the turkey overnight and it turned out moist and tasty. There are a lot of leftovers, which is a good thing because I don't actually feel like cooking for another few days, mostly because I can't really taste food or smell anything right now due to being sick.

All right, back to drinking tea and wallowing in my season-changing misery. It finally dropped to a reasonable fall temperature in Phoenix (it's a crisp 65 degrees right now) and my body is taking its sweet time to adapt. Sigh.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Curried Potato, Spinach, and Chickpea Soup

Thanksgiving is upon me, and I am stressing out because for the first time ever, I am cooking and Thanksgiving is going to be at my house. This calls for easy, fast, no-brainer comfort food so that I can figure out what I am going to do for Thursday and scour my house so that guests don't get covered with the ever-present Ralphy-shed, even though they have a 160-lb Great Dane that sheds just as much.

I made this soup from epicurious a few months ago at Z's house and it was simple and delicious. I made it again tonight, adding some celery that I had left over in my fridge, and it wasn't quite as good - I think the Trader Joe's curry powder has a bit more kick than the Whole Foods brand. (The same can be said about their dark chocolate, by the way - the Whole Foods dark chocolate actually verges on being... crunchy. Uck.) Still, it's a quick dish and it's really hard to mess up to the point of being bad, so give it a whirl and use your favorite curry powder.

Quick leftover report: the polenta-kale-mushroom stuff from last week makes for fantastic leftovers! I reconstituted the polenta with some chicken stock over the stovetop, then nuked it with the kale and mushroom on top. Definitely will be making that again.

Okay, back to cleaning and Thanksgiving brainstorming. I want to make a pie but I've never made a pie before and making my first pie ever for Thanksgiving sounds like a Bad Idea. Maybe some Indian Pudding is in order instead. Also, I don't like how as soon as I rid my house of fur and dust it comes back within two days. Sigh.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kale and Mushrooms with Creamy Polenta

One of my biggest incentives for making a new dish or using a new ingredient is finding something on sale at the store and buying it, not knowing what I'm going to do with it. The other is having to use up the remains of something left in my fridge from a previous meal. I've ended up with some strange and disgusting meals this way, like chicken quinoa soup made with chicken that had been in my freezer for a year and a half (don't ask, and yes, I boiled the shit out of the chicken so that I wouldn't get food poisoning, and no, I'm never doing that again) and all sorts of egg-related abominations.

Anyway, kale for $1/bunch and the bacon leftover from my bacon cornbread (which was um... underbaked, and still taken to the potluck, but I'm just not going to talk about it anymore) ended up being a perfect reason to try the Kale and Mushroom with Creamy Polenta recipe I dug up on epicurious. Polenta is one of my favorite comfort foods, and a half dozen raw oysters with a Bloody Mary followed by a bowl of parmesan polenta and then whatever's for dessert at Zuni Cafe is one of my all-time favorite semi-inexpensive meals. I've tried making it once before, with some unmemorable results, but this was a perfect reason to try again.

I followed the recipe exactly, except for the fact I only had 3.5 cups of milk so I replaced the last half-cup with water. The polenta right out of the pot was fantastic, though after spending a few minutes taking a kind of crappy picture of my meal, I noticed it was starting to lump up and dumped the kale-mushroom-bacon mixture on it and ate it. It was tasty, and definitely complemented by the delicious topping, but not close to the Zuni polenta of lore. The recipe is a keeper, though next time I think I'll try sticking the whole skillet in the oven to bake the bacon instead of saute it - I like it crispy.

Up soon: experiments with the new 13 x 10 baking pan, pie dough (I finally bought a rolling pin), and ruminations on how the hell Z and I are making Thanksgiving dinner for ourselves and everyone else coming over. I guess I actually have to clean my bathroom now. Eep!

Leftover report:
I couldn't eat any more peanut soup. I ate all the tomatoes out of it and gave the rest to Ralphy, who not only seemed to really enjoy it, he also licked the container clean so I didn't have to scrub any peanut detritus off the insides of it before putting it in the dishwasher. Dogs are awesome.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Loaf Mania

My Cuisinart loaf panis serving me well. I made the carrot walnut bread from The Joy of Cooking last night (it's easy and tasty and involves pulverizing things in the food processor), and tonight I made a cornbread loaf from The New England Table, which I got for a mere $5 at Border's a few months ago. I love bargain books. I actually bought Cooking at Home on Rue Tatintoday on David Lebowitz's recommendation - I'm excited to Fronchify my kitchen disasters for a little while.

The cornbread loaf is actually from a recipe called "Johnny Cake", which is normally made in pancake-esque form but for whatever reason Lora Brody made it into a loaf. I've used the recipe before and rather liked it so I made it again, this time with bacon bits. I'm not sure why, but my baking time was 15 min under the recommended 45-50 min (and it was 40 min the last time I made it). Dry Arizona heat? Bacon magic? Using a 9 x 5 loaf pan instead of the recommended 8.5 x 4.5 pan? Beats me. I'm glad I like sitting in front of the oven with the light on watching things bake, or there might have been a bad scene here, especially since this is for a Thanksgiving work potluck tomorrow. I'm a little worried about my inability to taste it first, but my experience with work guys is if there's bacon in it, they'll eat it, and if they don't eat it, I'll eat it.

Speaking of bad scenes, I had a semi-brief technological battle with my microwave tonight. Given the quick baking of my cornbread, I wanted to turn the microwave timer off early. Apparently, my GE piece-of-shit rattly microwave goes into control lock mode when you try to turn the timer off. What's control lock mode, you ask? NONE OF THE BUTTONS WORK! So after hitting all the buttons multiple times and growing progressively more panicky, I went with the brute force method of flipping the breaker, which either didn't work or was mislabeled on my breaker box. I hit all the buttons some more, contemplated punching it, then gave up and looked for the manual, which in the FAQ ("how do I get out of control lock mode?") advised me to hold a button down for a while, which got out of control lock mode, but the timer was still running. I just let it run out. It just doesn't work right. Battle lost. Sigh.

Leftovers report: I am still eating peanut soup. For some reason it doesn't taste very peanutty anymore. Maybe I've lost the part of my tastebuds that recognize peanuts. I still have about three more bowls left.

I actually made a side dish of brussels sprouts (since I don't think eating peanut soup over and over is correctly satisfying my nutritional needs) from 101 Cookbooks and they were great, even though I burnt them a little. I might try it again tomorrow, since brussels sprouts at Whole Foods are a dollar a pound right now. My six sprouts were 74 cents today. How's that for a cheap side dish?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Costco Observations

Today in the Costco books section: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 & 2 (both hardcover), for $26. I somehow found enough restraint not to buy it since I'm still working through Joy of Cooking (coincidentally, $17 at Costco) to the best that I can and have sworn off other cookbooks until I get through a reasonable chunk of it, but that's a bloody good deal and I cannot resist such things. I will go back sometime this week.

The main reason I went to Costco was to get motor oil, dishwasher detergent, and cereal - oh, the excitement! I have this problem where I walk the aisles to see what else there is though, and I ended up getting a bunch of tupperware-esque things to hold all my bulk items. My pantry consists of piles of plastic bags with stuff in them right now. Every time I want something, I end up taking half the plastic bags out to find what I need. Sometimes I accidentally puncture holes in the plastic bags. It's a bad scene.

I've also been wanting to make rice pudding for a while, and so while I was at Costco I figured I'd check out what they had for rice. I don't really eat much rice, having eaten it at least once a day from ages 2-ish until 18-ish. I'm totally burnt out on the stuff. I like pasta and noodles. Sometimes I buy a pound of basmati rice from Trader Joe's for indian food.

Well, I came home with 20 lbs of rice. It was $6. And hey, it's extra fancy! That's a lot of pudding.

Leftover report: I put a can of diced tomatoes, juice and all, in the peanut soup from last night. They seemed to help. It still doesn't really taste great, but it's probably good for me, and it's not unedible. I have a half gallon of the stuff left. Sigh.

I made a carrot-walnut loaf tonight but I'll write about it tomorrow, since I accidentally killed my camera battery. There's apparently no auto shut-off when it's connected to the computer.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Senegalese Peanut Soup: Lessons about Peanuts

I have to admit that before making this, I didn't exactly know where Senegal was. Senegal is apparently a hot place.

I got this recipe from my trusty copy of the Daily Soup Cookbook, from which I've made a fair number of super tasty soups. I love soup. I eat hot soup in the dead of the Arizona summer and I never break a sweat.

Some things I learned while making this soup:
  • Chopping peanuts with a knife and cutting board is a bad idea (hellllo, flying peanuts of doom! Thank god I wear glasses, because a peanut almost took my right eye out). Use a food processor.
  • You can apparently make peanut butter in your food processor. This is cool and not hard.
  • There's apparently a difference between roasted peanuts and dry-roasted peanuts, that being regular roasted peanuts are roasted with oil, and dry-roasted peanuts are not.
  • Taking unsalted peanuts and putting salt on them is not like just buying salted peanuts. Z says the peanuts absorb the salt into them while they roast. Sigh.
The recipe called for salted dry-roasted peanuts and I managed to buy unsalted (woops, memory lapse) roasted (no idea they were different) peanuts. When you have a pound of fucking peanuts in your soup, you need to buy the right kind of peanuts, which can be done by reading the recipe and remembering it properly when you go to the store, but uh... yeah. I'm not always good at following directions. I ended up with some pretty bland soup. I need a do-over for this one.

Anyway, look out for the leftovers report over the next few days. I'm going to try to figure out how to doctor it to taste better after it sits for a bit.

P.S. Upon reading the recipe again, I realized I also put in double the amount of heavy cream called for. Dear Donger, learn2read! Fixing this will be fun. Yipes.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Holy Whipped Cream, Batman (er, Fatman?)

I didn't buy the Redi-Whip to accompany my parkin. I don't think Whole Foods even had any pressurized whipped cream, but I didn't get around to looking, because the organic heavy cream was on sale, and goddammit, I am a cheap bastard and buy things that are on sale (wait till you see what I'm getting from Amazon tomorrow). I bought two pints.

The instructions for whipped cream didn't seem hard. Put the bowl and the whisk in the freezer, make sure the cream is chilled, and once you take the bowl out stick it in a bowl of ice water and add some sugar and vanilla. Whisk until soft peaks form. Can do.

Not trusting the generic ("Chef's Essentials") 10-parts-in-1 hand mixer/food processor/immersion blender thing I found on sale for $20 (yes, cheap bastard) four years ago that I haven't used since moving to Arizona three years ago, I decided some manual labor was in order. I was chatting with Stephen about it and he said making whipped cream by hand was possible but just involved some considerable "stamina and endurance". I'm tough! I just climbed an 18,143-ft mountain. Stamina and endurance! What's some wrist-flicking?

I got the whisk and bowl out of the freezer and plopped my bowl into the ice-water bowl. Half-teaspoon of vanilla, two tablespoons of powdered sugar, a cup of cream, and whisk away! And away. And away. Zanotti goes and takes a shower. He comes out ten minutes later and I'm still fucking whisking. I asked him if my cream would deflate if I stopped, because my wrist is killing me and I'm not dextrous enough to whisk with my left hand. He says it won't, so I go look for the 10-in-1 thing in the cabinet. I find it, but it's in some weird configuration, so I go back to hand whisking and get it to some foamy state (how it gets after it bubbles) but it doesn't seem to be progressing much beyond that. I'm mortified at this point that it's too warm, get more ice to put in the water, and contemplate how happy Jake and Ralph-dog are going to be to get a batch of fucked-up whipped cream to eat.

Zanotti, being Zanotti, goes and looks at my hand mixer contraption and somehow gets the balloon whisk attachment on. We plug it in and it actually spins when I push the button. I gleefully stick it in the semi-whipped cream, and find that the button is just a pulse button - I have to keep pressing it to make the thing keep going. I see there's another button on the bottom, and I get excited there's a perma-mode, so I press it.

The goddamn whisk falls into the whipped cream.

The top part is untainted so I put it back in, and somehow not realizing what I just did, I do it again and Zanotti makes fun of me at this point so I realize I am doing something pretty stupid, and go back to holding down the medium-speed button, which cramps my hand, but after a few minutes the whipped cream is holding up enough so that the whole bowl turns by itself because it is floating in the other bowl (ghetto mixer! I have to try that with actual batter sometime), and I get enough willpower to keep holding the damn button down because it's resembling something like whipped cream. I keep at it a little longer and it magically becomes actual whipped cream, which I promptly slather on my cake and eat. It's good. I put the rest in a container in the fridge for tomorrow. I still have leftover cake, but I might just eat it out of the bowl. Ssssh.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Parkin: A Day Late and A Dollop of Whipped Cream Short

It is currently 10pm and it is 82 degrees in my unheated apartment, fine cake-baking weather if I do say so myself. I'm too much of a cheap bastard to turn on the air conditioning, and it's a matter of principle anyway - it's November! Only in Arizona would you need the bloody air conditioning in November. Poor Ralph-dog.

Anyway, I made Guy Fawkes Day cake, aka parkin, today. I meant to make it yesterday for no other reason than it's in my beloved Joy of Cookingand it's a mostly brainless, easy recipe of the "mix the wet stuff into the dry stuff" variety - might as well make it on the day it's supposed to be made, but I went out with Z and some pals and our dinner became a very extended dinner waiting for people. No cake-baking for the Donger.

Nevertheless, I'd been itching to try out the new cake panI got last week, as I used the loaf panfor some corn bread with sexy results, so easy-peasy British holiday cake for everyone! I got a Cuisinart pie pan too, but I realized I can't make pie crust because I don't, uh, have a rolling pin. Yeah. Anyway, the parkin cooked perfectly in the recommended 35-min time slot, and after cooling it for 10 min it happily slid right out of the pan with nicely crusted sides. Cake pan gets an A!

Apparently you're supposed to put whipped cream on it, but I don't have any, so I just ate it, because I was hungry (as usual). It's got a nice moist texture (the weird white dots in the picture are rolled oats) with a solid crust on top to hold it together, but since it's not a very sweet cake (only one tablespoon of sugar in the whole thing), the whipped cream would definitely help. I know what I'm buying at the store tomorrow! I don't know if I'm brave enough to make my own whipped cream yet. I also have fond memories of eating whipped cream right out of many spray bottles as a child. Endless entertainment, except for my mother, who got to clean up all the whipped cream that somehow missed my mouth.

Leftover updates: the ratatouille from two days ago tasted better today. I put some fresh grated parm on it and it was a good side to my giant hunk of beef jerky. I hate buying beef jerky because I can't stop eating it, and then my jaw and teeth get sore, and... yeah. I know. Important problems.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ratatouille Provencale

The Joy of Cookingsays that this is supposed to look like a "colorful cubist still life"... I suppose I could describe it as such, except it just looks like a pile of vegetables on a plate. It also tastes like a pile of vegetables on a plate, nothing special. I've never actually had ratatouille and just wanted to make it because of the movie, which I actually haven't seen either, though I keep meaning to (it's on my 200-movie long Netflix queue somewhere... I think). I put some red pepper flakes on it and just ate it, regressing to basic hungry-person "food is fuel" (aka "Donger Need Food") mode. Plus, they're vegetables, and they have vitamins and make you poop and I don't eat enough of them. Can you tell I'm just trying to make myself feel better?

Note to self: eggplants + vegetable peelers = no. Everyone else: you probably know that you're supposed to use a knife. Another note to self: if you ever want to try it again, try the cute little specialty eggplants at Whole Foods since they probably don't have that nasty bitter taste you get with the big normal eggplants. The cheap bastard approach does not work with eggplants, apparently.

In good news, I chopped two onions up for the first time without tearing up tonight. I'm not really sure how I managed that since it normally gets so bad I have to run to the other side of my apartment with tissues, but I can guess that washing my hands after peeling them and standing way the hell back while chopping helped. I tried the "trick" which involves putting them in the freezer a few times but it's all LIES. I read on some message board or article that some people actually cut them up underwater or at least under running water, which seems like a good way to lose your goddamn fingers (and the bottom of the sink doesn't really seem like a very clean place). Then you have wet onions to dry too. How is that even a good idea? Baffled.

Anyway, I wasn't really satisfied with the ratatouille and went and ate a huge slab of cajun beef jerky I got at the meat market. My next two meals are going to be ratatouille fortified with meat candy. How's that for a combo?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Eggs Scrambled with Carmelized Onions, Sage, and Parmesan

For the last four years of my life, I ate eggs for dinner at least two or three times a week (not counting the times I broke one into a bowl of ramen for protein's sake). My omelettes would fall apart easily. Scrambled eggs never had the right texture and would sometimes make me nauseous. I tried hard-boiling eggs once, with some very unsexy results. Same with poached eggs. Oh hell, I'm still mortified of poaching eggs... the one time I tried I got some nasty vinegary approximation of egg drop soup. Ugh.

However, the Donger can FRY SHIT. I am very good at frying shit. Including eggs. It's hard to go wrong with eggs and copious amounts of butter (though I sometimes do... broken yolks galore). Fried eggs and vegan sausage patties three nights a week apparently do a body well, as this is what I ate while training for bike races, triathlons, and mountaineering trips.

Needless to say, I got pretty burnt out on eggs a few months ago.

Anyhow, I was planning on making ratatouille tonight, but I was missing basil so I scrapped the idea. I did, however, have eight eggs that were due to expire yesterday, two onions about to make scary sprouts, and a box of sage that inexplicably isn't turning brown (I've had it for more than three weeks). I also have a block of parmesan that I purchased specifically for the rind to make butternut squash soup. I consulted The Joy of Cookingto make sure I didn't fuck up these eggs, and was on my way.

I love carmelizing onions. It is the best way to get rid of a pile of onions that are about to go bad. You can keep the carmelized onions in your fridge for other uses throughout the week. You can go do other things while the onions are carmelizing, like put away dishes, chop up sage to put in your eggs, frolic with your dog to cheesy eurodance music, and grate parmesan.

Now, grating parmesan doesn't sound like it should be hard, but I have the shittiest grater in the world. It's actually not bad for cheese, but I almost took skin off my finger in a very new and exciting way while trying to grate potatoes with it. I am terrified of my grater.

Besides the imminent physical dangers it provides, it grates stuff everywhere. I think Kitchenaid actually stopped making it because I can't find it for sale anymore. Ralphy-dog got all the cheese that missed the bowl. He likes the shitty grater.

About 45 minutes after I started carmelizing the onions, I deglazed the pan with some Ponti dry vermouth (like $5 at Trader Joe's, and no, it's not really drinkable). I broke three eggs in a bowl, put the specified amount of milk in, salted it, then mixed in my onions, sage, and cheese. I've always just mixed egg additions in in the pan, but Joy said to do it beforehand. I also used the specified tbsp and a half of butter, which even I, lover of fat and fried food, thought was a lot, but holy shit, it makes for good eggs. I've been missing the butter all along.

I'm kind of proud of myself for making up a tasty egg combination (and finally figuring out how to make scrambled eggs taste good at home). If you like eggs you can go and copy it and have a happy meal for yourself.