Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cookbook Recipe: Rigitoni al Forno

For Christmas Eve I made Nigella Lawson's Rigitoni al Forno, from her Feast cookbook. The cookbook itself is glorious, with Nigella's wonderful voice making it a great read. However, I found that many of her recipes turn out flat. I used her recipes for baked potatoes and yorkshire pudding for Christmas dinner, and we were all disappointed with them. Of course, I didn't have the required two cups of goose fat for the potatoes, so my substitution might have been a large part of the problem.

As for the rigitoni: since it was a recipe for 16 and we were only 5, I reduced the recipe, which wasn't hard. It originally called for 3 pounds of rigitoni and 3 pounds, 4 oz of ground beef, so I just reduced everything to 1/3-- one pound of rigitoni and one pound 1.5 oz of beef.

I did increase the amount of bechamel sauce from 1/3 to 2/3 of the recipe, due only to bad math. And in the end, it needed it!

This was the MEATIEST pasta dish ever. It was supposed to be a take on lasagna--but boy, it was saucy ground beef with some pasta noodles. In the end I had lots of meat leftover because I'd had to pick out all the pasta to serve it round.

Also, the recipe calls for cooking the meat sauce for two hours. If there were other meats in this ragu that would be called for, but I think 30-40 minutes is more than enough.

Finally, she mixes the rigitoni first with the bechamel to coat it, then adds the meat sauce. If you stir it too much it gets gray and looks like something the dog threw up.

In the end, this was a good concept that needs some tweaking to be a 100% success.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Leftover Turkey Soup

I really call this Stone Soup, because you use whatever you have in your house. But it makes a great turkey soup, and if you happen to have lots of meat leftover, it's a fantastic stew.

Stone Soup (Leftover Turkey Soup)

Two tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
One large yellow onion, chunked
Two large carrots, sliced (I like disks, but just keep it large however you do it)
Three ribs celery, chopped
Two to three cloves of garlic, minced
Turkey or chicken broth (I usually have more turkey broth leftover from the turkey than I can use, so I freeze it and use it for soup)
One bay leaf
Meaty turkey frame and leftover turkey
One large can of chopped tomatoes, with juice
If you have a potato or two that you want to use, dice them
One can white beans, slightly drained
A handful of frozen spinach (do you ever have a little bit left in a bag? Now's the time to use it as long as it's not freezer burnt)
A handful of pasta (any kind, though I like the bigger ones, like radiatore)
A cup of sliced cabbage

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot until shimmery. Add onions, carrots, and celery, and saute on medium about two minutes. Add the garlic and cook about one minute, or until fragrant. At this point, you can add any kind of raw veggies you like--cauliflower would be nice. I'd stay away from asparagus and bell peppers.

Add broth, bay leaf, and turkey, making sure your broth just covers the turkey frame. Don't add too much broth unless you like a thin soup, and too little--you just won't get all that leftover goodness.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a healthy simmer. Let cook for 20 minutes, then add tomatoes, and if you're using it, potato. Simmer for another 20 minutes.

Add the beans, spinach, cabbage and pasta. Simmer for 15 more minutes, stirring frequently so your pasta doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

Taste for seasoning and thickness. Too thick? Add some more broth or tomato juice. Too thin? Let it simmer some more uncovered or add a tablespoon of ditalini or other small pasta. (Go easy with the pasta as it sucks up ALL the liquid it can.)

I like to add a little basil and rosemary, and lots of fresh black pepper.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

My Adventures in Ice Cream

I haven't posted in eons due to a crazy work schedule and readying for Christmas. Now that that's over with and the in-law invasion has passed, it's time for me to get back on track. Sadly, I haven't cooked much in the past few weeks...but more on the cause of that in the future.

My big present for Chriistmas was a Cuisinart ice cream maker, with a bowl you freeze and then pour everything into and just leave be for 25-30 minutes.

For my first venture I set out to make chocolate ice cream. I had to go to two stores to find cream, but I found it. Safeway didn't have ANY because they didn't get their load today. Their shelves were bare all around the store.

I followed all the directions and found that after 30 minutes of mixing, the ice cream was really just cool cream. It hadn't thickened or frozen at all. I put it in an airtight container and have had it in the freezer for over an hour, and will see if anything happens.

I'll try it again after freezing the bowl for 24 hours. Any other tips for getting it to work?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

So I Like Warm Food

I realized from this weekend's experiment that I like my food cooked and warm in the winter. Heated through. Bio-chemically altered by heat. Mmmmmm. I like things that are processed, like bread and sauted onions.

I am *not* a raw foods girl.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Juiceboy's a Jerk

We started our raw food flush yesterday (well, he started yesterday, but I had a bean burrito from Taco Bell in the morning). We went to Safeway and purchased $80 worth of veggies and fruit, plus some raw sunflower seeds.

For dinner last night we had a good salad, which differed from our regular main-course salads in that there was no: cheese, egg, meat, crutons, or warmed corn. I made a dressing from honey, olive oil, and lemon & orange juice, plus added seasonings. I liked it but it had too much radishes and red onion for Juiceboy's taste.

I did fold somewhat last night and added V8 juice to my list of approved items--I was so sick of water.

All last night Juiceboy talked of ice cream, and this morning he's taunting me with descriptions of buttery pancakes, thick omlettes, and then he described a steak sandwich on a crisp sourdough roll. I nearly decked him.

And my favorite thing to do on the weekend is watch cooking shows, but there's no way I can do that and keep up with my very short, three-day experiment.

God. I have the worst willpower ever. I'm ready to fold after one meal.

Off to cut up Dulcina Watermellons.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Going Raw

Juiceboy and I are going to do a "Raw Foods Flush" for three days starting Friday...adding beans on Monday and seeing how we feel. Any suggestions? Recipes?

I eat so much meat, cheese, and dairy that I just always skip foods in their natural state. I really feel like I need to "reset."

As always, I'll be blogging it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Turkey Chilaquiles

I've been reading the Married..with dinner blog and they've got Chilaquiles all over it. They reminded me that I've been meaning to try Rick Bayless's Guajilla Chilaquiles for a while.

So, I used his recipe and added turkey right at the end. Delicious! Sadly, I had no crema or other fresh Mexican cheese, so I used a shredded blend. For veggies, this could easily be vegetarian, and even vegan.
It was a great brunch on a dreary, rainy day. And a FANTASTIC use of leftover turkey!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Bubble and Squeak

Bubble & Squeak

First, make the mashed potatoes:
About 2.5 pounds russet potatoes. peeled and cut into 2" chunks
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/3 cup cream
1 garlic clove, gently mashed
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Boil a large amount of salted water, add potatoes, bay leaves and peppercorns. Cook until fork tender. Drain very well, removing leaves and pepper corns. In cooking pot, add cream, milk and garlic, and warm for 5-7 minutes. Remove the garlic and add in the potatoes. Mash with potato masher until lumpy (NOT SMOOTH), adjusting with milk and salt & pepper to taste. Add cheese and mix. Remove all to a bowl to cool.

7-8 slices thick bacon
1/2 head green cabbage, chopped into 2" chunks
1 large yellow onion, chopped coarsley
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup colby jack or cheddar cheese, grated
Durkee fried onions

Place bacon in heavy skillet and cook on medium low. When bacon is cooked but not crisp, slice into 2-3" slices. Add onion, saute for one minute. Add cabbage and a pinch of salt. Cook until cabbage is bright green and still almost crisp. Add pepper to taste. Mix this into the potatoes.

Spread potatoes into a 13x9" pan (I line mine with foil to save cleanup). Top with cheese and then with onions. Cook for about 30 minutes in 350 degree oven.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday

Yesterday I blogged as I cooked Thanksgiving dinner. It was my first complete TG dinner ever made all by myself, having gone to potlucks for the past 12 years. But this year we weren't welcome at the potluck and I was pleased to have the freedom to cook what I wanted, the way I wanted.

I thought I'd have many problems, mix ups, and fiascoes. Surprisingly, I didn't. I planned in advance, double checked ingredients (save for the buttermilk), and expected delays. My dinner table wasn't as pretty or as fancy as I would have liked. I'd planned on turning the little gourds into candle holders, and I'd thought I would plate up in the kitchen, but at the end, I just ran out of counter space.
Here are my lessons learned:
  1. Turkey: Don't put two cups of water in the pan. I think one cup would have been enough. Also, check the temperature much earlier. When I pulled it out to check it was at 180, so it probably rose to 190. The breast meat was good, but my guess is that when it's cold it will be dry. I found I didn't need to baste it--rubbing melted butter all over it before I put it in did the trick. I also cooked it on top of a whole bunch of carrots, a really big, quartered onion, and some celery, to make the juices flavorful.
  2. Stuffing: The cornbread by itself was really dry, so I'm glad I used it in stuffing. I used the Joy of Cooking Southern Corn Bread recipe, which was dead easy (email me if you want the recipe). Then, I cooked up some Jimmy Dean Sausage, and I do think next year I'll add some andouille to that. Into that went 3 tablespoons butter, 1.5 cups of chopped onion, 1 cup chopped celery, a large clove of garlic, chopped. That cooked till fragrant, then I crumbled in the corn bread, about 1/3 cup chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage (which I'll increase to two T next year), 1 teaspoon thyme (again, I'll increase that), one beaten egg and chicken broth to soften. Next year: more onion, sage, thyme, another egg, and I think I'll take some of the liquid from the turkey pan in addition to the chicken broth--if I have as much as I did this year.
  3. Bubble & Squeak: Definitely this year's stand out winner. Juiceboy snuck back into the kitchen and had more later in the night. I'll post a separate recipe for that. It just kills me that it's a recipe for using leftovers and I made it all fresh!
  4. Corn Popovers: They were a nice idea and looked great as they puffed up in the oven, but they were heavier than I had thought they'd be. Don't know why I expected something like miniature Yorkshire Puddings when I loaded them down with corn meal and corn, but there you go. They were good with butter and I'm going to have one for breakfast. Hmmmm....what should I have on it? How about....
  5. GRAVY: My favorite part of any holiday dinner. The turkey gravy came out GREAT. First, I made a roux with about 4 T flour, and really let it cook. I think I could have let it cook a little more than I did, to darken the sauce. Then, I added room temperature chicken broth in doses, whisking like mad. All told, I probably added 1.5 cups. I took my de-fatted turkey juices and added about four cups, mixing well in between each addition, and then I just let it boil furiously for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. I was going to add some wine, but I forgot. And that was okay--it tasted great with just a shake of ground pepper. I'm happy to say I have a big container of "gravy fixins" in the freezer now for the future.
  6. Salad: I have a new sweet & savory salad dressing. Since I don't have measurements, it's not going to be its own recipe: about 1/4 cup honey, about one clove of garlic chopped fine, olive oil and red wine vinegar to taste, thyme, salt and pepper. This would be great with some crushed red pepper flakes, too. For the salad I tossed organic greens, one roasted beet that I'd julienned, about 1/4 cup dried cranberries, and some softened goat cheese. It was very good and I look forward to having it for dinner!
  7. Chocolate Trifle: Well--this went sideways. I was making Paula Deen's Chocolate Coffee Trifle, which I'd had at someone else's house. It was the best dessert EVER. However, I didn't have any Kahlua, and wasn't about to buy a bottle just for this dessert. Another missing element--I don't have a trifle bowl. So, we had pieces of cake with the fudge sauce over top, a scoop of Hagen Daaz vanilla and a little Cool Whip. There were supposed to be chopped up Heath Bars on it, but I forgot to add them. I don't think anyone noticed...not the way my guys were wolfing it down! I hadn't made the sauce before dinner because as soon as the popovers were done they needed to be served. And I was ready to eat after six hours of cooking.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I'm Sooooo Full

Wow. Dinner got on the table by 7:15. Juiceboy just said "that was a GREAT dinner".

Tomorrow I'll post all my recipes. I'm off to make fudge sauce and then we're going to roll ourselves into watch stupid shows on TV.

What a great Thanksgiving!

Stuffing done, onto Bubble & Squeak

I didn't add everything that Emeril said to add (like green peppers) to my cornbread stuffing. It's a basic cornbread and sausage stuffing. I'll put it in the oven once the turkey's out resting.

The guys are watching X-Men 2. I'm calling my parents to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving--left them the DORKIEST message ever.

Now a run to the bathroom, then onto make the Bubble & Squeak. After that, the batter for the corn popovers and the fudge sauce for dessert.


We're Getting There

The house smells like turkey. In-laws (MIL, FIL and a SIL) have come and gone. The potatoes are now mashed, turkey tented, beets roasted and peeled.

I'm about to work on the stuffing. I know I'm forgetting things.

Note to Fleagirl: If you're the only one who likes beets, don't bother roasting SIX BEETS!

Turkey's In, Only an Hour Late

So the Turkey is in the oven, finally. The beets are roasting, have been for an hour, and will probably need another hour. They started at 450 but I lowered them to 350 when it smelled like something might be burning.

Up next: Boil water for mashed potatoes and peel those suckers. I HATE peeling potatoes. HATE IT!

Invader Alert!

In-laws popping in. Corn bread out, cake in.
Burnt thumb as I was testing iron skillet to see it bacon fat was smoking. Note to me: don't touch hot skillet if you don't have a mitt on both hands.

12:05pm and Nothing Done

All I've accomplished is rendering some bacon fat and taking a shower. Off to the store now for buttermilk, sage, thyme and ice cream. Last chance for forgotten items.

Problem #1

No buttermilk. Could have sworn I got some. The expiration date was Dec. 5.

Pulling it all togeter

1) I have a crappy Kodakshare digital camera, so my pictures are not good. Also, I have no skill at photography, whatsoever. So I apologize for my crappy pictures.

2) I'm spending a lot of time planning this dinner so that I don't serve it at 9pm. (Remember, Juiceboy suggested this blog be called "Hours Later")

Here's my plan.

Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing
11:30am Bake Joy of Cooking's Southern Corn Bread at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Cook in iron skillet. Let cool.
5:45pm Bake stuffing (my recipe, which is a mix of my mom's, Emerill's, and Joy's) at 350 degrees in white baking dish.

2:00pm It's 15+ pounds and I want to serve it at 6:30ish. Plan for it to cook for 3.5 hours at 350 degrees. I'm eschewing high heat, wine-soaked cheeseclothes, and stuffing a duck inside it. Notice the time lag "If it goes in at 2, cooks for 3.5 hours (because I'll be opening the oven to baste three times), then it's out at 5:30, which is an HOUR to sit??". Lord knows I won't really get that sucker in at 2pm.

Bubble and Squeak
3:00pm Make the mashed potatoes
5:45pm Fry onions, cabbage and bacon with the mashed potatoes, put in baking dish, cover with grated cheese and fried onions, warm in oven until dinner is ready.

Noon: Put beets in a 350 degree oven to roast. Wait. Cornbread is in one at 450. Can I roast beets at 450? And should I peel them or shouldn't I? I'm not going to peel them and I'll cook in tin foil at 400 for about an hour. No added liquids. oh lordy will this work?
5:00 Make dressing and allow to sit.
6:15 Throw together salad. Toss with dressing at last minute.

5:50 Put seasoned water on to boil
6:25 Toss in boiling seasoned water for 4 minutes.

12:30 Bake cake at 350. Oh--guess I could have done the beets at 350. Well, better to have the two in separate ovens anyway. When cool soak with coffee liqueur.
4:00 Put Cool Whip in fridge to thaw. Yeah, I know. But my egg beaters are broken. No fresh whipped cream.
4:30 Make sauce

Hmm. I was thinking about making corn popovers, too. The'd be in muffin tins (do I own any?) at 425 starting at 6:00pm.

GRAVY! I forgot to plan for gravy. Oh crap. It's 11:25. I'm supposed to be putting cornbread in the oven in 5 minutes. Maybe blogging and cooking don't mix.


You know how little kids wake up on the morning of their birthday, open their eyes and kind of pop up with this "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!!!" crazed-look of joy on their faces? I think that's what foodies must do on Thanksgiving. "Yey. It's THANKSGIVING!!!"

Since we decided to not go camping due to The Bug's cold/flu (and yes, $60 later we are certain it's a virus and not strep throat), I'm doing the dinner *on* Thanksgiving for the three of us, instead of on Sunday.

I'm going to post as I go along (I know all the other foodie bloggers will too....). I'm KNOWN for my big-meal kitchen fiascos. And even more so for Thanksgiving. As this will be our first TG at home by ourselves, the chances that I screw up royally are good, if not great.

The first year Juicboy and I were together I was assigned the "relish plate." What the hell is a relish plate? It turned out to be veggies and dip. I went over the TOP, which is hard when you're a nanny, have no platters, no real knives, and are trying to make a great impression on your fiance's family. I freaked out, Juiceboy and I argued, we got there nearly an hour late and everyone was pretty much done with appetizers.

The next year I was assigned the lowly rolls. I bought about ten different kinds and had about 5 for everyone. Another year I was elevated to potatoes, which in our British/Irish/Scottish family is a key dish. Thank god my sisters in law also assigned potatoes to their mom as a back-up, because I burnt mine.

So I got busted down to appetizers after that and I showed them. I brought a KILLER artichoke cheese spread in a bread bowl with sourdough dippers, and about six other great appetizers. Everyone filled up before the actual dinner and didn't really eat the dinner food. Hostess/sister-in-law was not happy for some reason, and the next year I was demoted again to rolls. Which I forgot.

So we'll see what happens with my home-cooked TG dinner. Now is the time when karma will come into play, because I also secretly sniggle to myself about one SIL who puts her turkey into the oven at 9am, steam roasts it with a lid on for about six hours until it's falling off the bone dry, and then says, "Isn't this tender and delicious???"

Today's Menu
Roast Turkey (no brining or dry salting--as there wasn't time with my turkey still thawing)
Cornbread sausage stuffing
Bubble and squeak (Juiceboy's request for potatoes)
Corn on the cob
Organic greens with roasted beets and goat cheese
Chocolate toffee trifle (Paula Deen's recipe)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Do Baking Products Go Stale?

Lots of you are finding this blog because you're trying to find out if your baking products (sugar, baking powder, molasses, etc.) go stale. It's the night before Thanksgiving and there's a lot of baking going on.

Here's my post on that:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bistec Encebollado

Looking for something quick, healthy and satisfying while you're running around brining a 22-pound turkey? Or trying to stuff a chicken into a duck into a turkey? Or figuring out how to deep fry that sucker without burning down the house?

I sure needed something after my three-store marathon this afternoon. I really was masochistic going to Costco, the drug store and Safeway at 3pm on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. But I had to do it (I can imagine how empty the shelves will be come Wednesday!). I was patient. I smiled a lot. I breathed.

When I got home The Bug was feeling crappy with a fever and headache. I soothed him as best I could and was delighted to find out his appetite was fine (a bowl of sherbet, two bowls of plain noodles and olive oil, an orange, a mug of strawberry ice cream, and a lot of water and apple juice). Now, it was time for ME to eat!

This is fast, easy, and yummy. It's a version of a fajita.

Bistec Encebollado
One package of thinly sliced top round (round steak), sliced into 2" strips
(like for stir fry, but bigger)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 to 2 chipotles in adobo, sliced (adjust for your taste)
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
One large yellow onion, sliced thin
Two green peppers, sliced thin
1/2 ripe avocado, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 T Mexican-mix shredded cheese
Tortilla Bread (I use Tia Rosa brand--found at Raleys)

Season the sliced meat and veggies with salt & pepper--but keep
the meat separate from the onion and peppers. Combine garlic, oregano,
chipotles, vinegar and olive oil in a zippered bag, add the meat and seal well.
Let marinate for at least 20 minutes, 40 is better.

Heat large skillet (NOT non-stick--Iron is good) on medium high. Add 2
tablespoons of olive oil and quickly cook onions and peppers until onions are
soft but peppers are still bright. Remove to a serving platter.

Add more oil to the pan, turn it up to high. When sufficiently hot, add
beef and quickly cook, removing before it's well done. Test for seasoning and
then place on top of onions and peppers.

Top with chopped avocado, cilantro and 2 tablespoons of shredded "Mexican"

Serve with warm tortilla bread.

Okay--so it's not healthy compared to a seitan loaf with an organic salad dressed with hand-squeezed strawberries, but it's healthy compared to the drive-through! And it's not expensive either, which is good when you're shelling out all that money on the fricken turkey.

Ratto's Deli

How could I have worked just 8 blocks from one of the best deli's ever and have not crossed its threshold for over two years? Ratto's Deli (aka Ratto's International Market) is in Old Oakland at 821 Washington Street and is an Oakland institution, having existed for almost 110 years.

It's a deli. It's a cheese shop. It's a bulk foods store. It's an international foods store. How in the world have I missed this place?

At 2:30pm the lunchtime crowds are gone. I usually go for cheese and pick up a sandwich too. Ratto's has a gargantuan amount of choices when it comes to sandwiches. When you enter, pick up a sandwich slip at the front table, mark off your choices, and hand it to the nice lady behind the counter.

The first time I went I was overwhelmed by the choices and selected the Jenny: fresh mozzarella, fresh pesto spread, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced onion, crisp romaine on a perfect, fresh baguette. It was delicious.

My favorite sandwich, by, far is my own creation, which is a baguette with pesto, prosciutto, onion and havarti.

While you wait for your sandwich check out the international foods, the bulk legumes, the Morrocan pillows. Measure out some spice or herb you've always meant to try (but never wanted to shell out $10 for a big honking jar for). Select cheeses and olives, some nice wine, fresh bread...Ratto's is a treasure trove for cooks and foodies!

They'll call your name when your sandwich is ready. Grab a bag of yummy chips and a drink and go sit out in the sun!

Last minute changes

This year we planned on camping over Thanksgiving. But The Bug has been hit by a nasty bit of something, giving him a terrible headache and sore throat. There's no way I'm taking him up to a 32-degree cabin in three days.

So it looks like Thanksgiving at home--meaning last minute shopping on the worst grocery-shopping day of the season. The Sunday before.

My trials and tribulations to be posted tonight. If I live.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Roast Chicken, Traditional and Good

After trying a bunch of "butterflied" roast chicken recipes I've gone back to my simple roots. And I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of this pretty bird, but Juiceboy took the camera camping and I have no clue where it is in all his gear. But trust me, this was one good-looking, juicy chicken!

Roast Chicken
A 4-pound bird
Four carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1.5" wedges.
Two stalks of celery, cleaned and cut on a bias into 1" chunks
One yellow onion, chopped
One lemon
Kosher salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
Cumin, chile powder, thyme
Pre-heat the oven to 425. Clean and pat the chicken dry.

In a bowl, mix carrots, celery, onion, the juice from half the lemon, about one tablespoon cumin, one teaspoon chile powder, one teaspoon thyme, and fresh ground pepper. Toss to coat.

Generously rub the chicken with salt. Stuff the bird loosely with veggies and the
unused lemon half. Brush with olive oil.

Mound the remaining veggies in the center of the roasting pan, seating the chicken on top of the vegetables. Add approximately two cups of water to the pan to keep
veggies from burning.

Put in upper part of your oven at 425 for about 12 minutes. Then lower heat to 375. Cook, basting and turning at least every thirty minutes for approximately one hour and twenty minutes. Since ovens and beginning chicken temps vary (mine had just defrosted, so I cooked it for the full 80 minutes and it was PERFECT), check for your preferred doneness at 60 minutes.

Let it sit for at least ten minutes. I reserve the vegetables and serve with the chicken--they are roasted but not spent. I also make a lovely light pan gravy with the juices left in the pan (add water to the pan when cooking as needed).

I served this tonight with a two-bean salad, which I'll write up tomorrow.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Can You Believe Someone Actually Got Upset?

Two cops walk into a Burger King and order burgers. After eating about half the burger, one cop says to the other cop, "Hey Joe, I think there's wacky tobaccy on this here Whopper." And the other cop replies, "Shhhhh. Not so loud or everyone will want one!"

A bunch of dumb kids played a joke on some humorless cops. And now their serving time for aggravated battery on an officer. Okay, I can see them having to serve time, but now the big whiny cops have filed a civil suit: alleging personal injury, negligence, battery and violation of fair practices.

Good lordy. Some people would pay good money for a pot burger!

Here's the full story.

Scotch Broth

I've worked about 87 billion hours this week, shoring up Juiceboy and the Bug with lamb; black bean stew; and various leftovers from catered events.

Today is Saturday and I've finally had a chance to survey the fridge. I think they had one meal of each, and then opened cans of soup. JEEZ.

Since they like soup so much, I've decided to make scotch broth with the leftover lamb and stick it in the freezer for future crazy weeks. I think it's interesting that I can't find one recipe that isn't a) bland as water; b) incredibly strange (Emerille Lagasse is pushing a version with whiskey and blue cheese).

Over at Epicurious, the sole recipe for Scotch Broth has the following intro from the author:

" brother and I nicknamed "Witches' Brew." I've hated it for as long as I
can remember. I didn't start eating soup again until I was in my late 20s, and I
still dislike stewed meat and cooked carrots. I blame it all on Scotch Broth."

Mmmmm. Sounds like it's going to be a great recipe, huh?

Sure enough, it includes stewed meat and about six carrots.

So off I go to update the traditional scotch broth recipe into a delightful dish! Any tips?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bad bad burrito

I made the mistake at stopping at a Baja Fresh (say "Bah-ha!" a bunch of times really fast and it sounds the way it should, like gut-splitting laughter) tonight. I was running errands for work and oh so hungry, but didn't have time to go to someplace decent.

I ordered a black bean and cheese burrito, thinking, what can they do wrong?

Baja baja baja!

I was stuck in traffic, so I took a bite. What was that smell? It wasn't bad, but definitely metalic. After a few more investigatory bites I decided the tortilla smelled the way my cast iron skillet would if I scrubbed it with sea salt. Not a bad smell...for a skillet. Certainly not a good smell for a tortilla.

And why was the tortilla crispy? It was a flour tortilla. Ah...they grilled it up. Probably in a skillet.

The cheese tasted like plastic. The chips. OOOOOHHHHHH were they bad. And stale. And bad.

It was $4.29 and I was hungry and got my fill. But boy was it bad. Bad burrito, bad!

And who are they owned by? Wendy's. Baja baja baja baja!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Cookin

There *is* no cooking on Halloween. It's my favorite holiday and I wasn't spending this year worrying about what everyone was going to eat. Not that there was time....

Today I took a vacation day. Yes, for Halloween. Partly because I was still working on The Bug's costume. He was Gaara from the Japanese comic Naruto. We made a big sand gourd for him to carry on his back (guess who carried it 60% of the time). The gourd, for those who are trying to figure out how to do it, was made thusly:

**Two rubber playground balls, one 16" and one 12", wrapped in plastic bags, duct taped together with a styrofoam disc separating them.

**Then, we paper mached over them with three layers of newsprint and one of white paper.

**When that was dry, we spray painted with a quick-drying water-based spray paint and decorated as needed.

Paper Mache Recipe
Boil four cups water with four tablespoons salt, one tablespoon cinnamon. The salt prevents mold, the cinnamon makes the "glue" smell much better.

Mix one cup of cold water into one cup of flour till smooth. Add to simmering water. Boil until well thickened. Adjust thickness as necessary. Let cool completely before using.

Please, this is *not* a food recipe. Don't eat it!

Absolutely nothing to do with anything: I don't understand why parents DRIVE their kids around from house to house in a development for Halloween. If all this is about is snagging the most candy, save everyone the hassle and buy an $8 bag at the store and just dump it in a bucket for the kid.

The Bug and I walked for almost two hours, watching the sun disappear, the moon rise, the stars brighten. As the air cooled wonderful aromas filled the air. On leaving one house I commented that they had something good cooking inside, and The Bug said, "YEAH. Smells like spaghetti. Wish they'd given me a bowl of THAT for Halloween!" (yeah, he's my kid.)

And if we were driving in our golf carts or minivans-with-the-doors-open we would have never been "pulled over" be the neighborhood firemen in their nice truck, with lights and sirens, and given a big handful of candy by nice, sweet do-gooders.

Ahhh--it was the golf-carters loss.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

40-Minute Anniversary Dinner

We're saving money--and sinking a lot into rent--so dining out has fallen away these days. Even for our 11th wedding anniversary we stayed home. The Bug had dinner in front of a movie on the tv and I made a quick, fancy dinner. The present for Juiceboy? I cleaned up as I went along so he didn't have to do any. (He had cleaned to kitchen to sparkling for me in the afternoon. What a great present!)

Have I mentioned that one of the suggested names for my blog was "Hours Later"? So the fact that I put together a nice dinner in about 40 minutes is quite amazing. With a silver-set table and everything. What did I forget? Pictures!

Prosciutto-wrapped Tenderloin
Wanting something fancy, fast and inexpensive, I opted for a pre-marinated pork tenderloin. On sale for $5 at Safeway, this choice cut of meat was marinated in lemon and herbs, and cooks in guessed it, 40 minutes.

About 37 minutes in, I covered the tenderloin with thin slices of provolone cheese and thinner slices of prosciutto. Watch the folks cutting your prosciutto. Most of them have no clue that it should be paper-thin, and they'll try to cut it thicker than a ham steak. At $12.99 a pound, that's not a good thing.

Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomato Polenta
This is a creamy polenta cooked to bubbling in the oven.

One "log" of prepared polenta, in the refrigerated pasta section of your grocery.
About 1/4 cup 1% milk
1/8 cup Dried sun-dried tomatoes (these are not in oil, but I find them in the veggie section, under the fresh tomatoes, and under the jars of sun-dried tomatoes in oil).
1/4 cup Shredded asagio cheese or other hard italian cheese like parmesan.
About 1/4-1/2 cup Pesto, preferrably homemade with less oil.
Salt, pepper

Put the polenta in a large, microwave safe bowl, break up with a potato masher, then add milk and mash some more. Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes, mix and mash. Polenta should mix easily but not be watery or soupy. Meanwhile, soak the sun-dried tomatoes in boiling water for about ten minutes until soft. When soft, chop coarsley. Add to warm polenta with the cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

Spray an 8x8" pan with cooking spray and press polenta into the pan. Then, spoon the pesto in lines across the polenta. Fold the polenta over from the edges to cover the pesto, creating a stripe of pesto in the center of the polenta. (If you just mix it into the polenta the result is a strange color, and the flavor isn't as vibrant.)

Heat for about 15 minutes in the 350 degree oven with the tenderloin.

Tri-Color Pasta Primavera
How lucky we are that we can get asparagus in late October! This dish takes advantage of many beautiful vegetables, and is super fast to make. I like spinach noodles that are meant to be al dente. I begin heating the water before I start anything and let it simmer until I'm ready for it. (This recipe makes enough for a whole meal for four. I used more veggies and less pasta since I had a starch with the polenta already.)

One shallot, diced.
Two cloves of garlic, minced fine.
One pepper each: red, yellow and orange, cored, seeded, and sliced into sticks (bigger than julliene, can't remember the right term).
A handful of asparagus, cleaned and sliced into 1" pieces. Find the smallest stalks you can.
Splash of white wine
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
Spinach fettucine, amount depends on your preference

Heat olive oil on medium low and cook shallots and garlic until fragrant. Add peppers and asparagus, cook about 5 minutes, until tender. Add wine and season with salt and pepper, adding red pepper flakes to your taste.

Serve immediately on top of fettucine. Top with a sprinkle of grated cheese and basil sprigs.

Friday, October 27, 2006

900 Grayson in Berkeley

I had a nearly impossible task. Find a restaurant in Oakland or Berkeley with good design aesthetic, low noise level, seating for a party of 7 or 8, reservations taken, good food...that serves breakfast. And, I had about 90 minutes to find it. Somehow, I did.

900 Grayson is a new spot in an old space in the industrial section of West Berkeley. They are open only for breakfast and lunch currently, which is probably all they can handle. But given time, they should turn out okay.

Design: Clean lines, lots of light. Lemon-yellow painted walls, comfortable chairs. Some wierd paintings (being at a table of men all distracted by the naked lady on the wall was awkward). The little dishes for ketchup and jam don't work for a party of seven--especially with the big soup spoon. Keep working on the details guys.

Food: Good. Most of us ordered the gouda omlette $7, which was called a "souffle" but there was nothing souffled about it. The omlette itself was greasy and I was glad to have bright strips of fuji apple (can you call julliened apple tossed with an herb a "salad"?) to cleanse my palate.

The home fries are made to order and crispy at the edges, thick and dense in the center. I'm a crispy girl myself and thought the denseness was soggy. Everything was just slightly bland, as though the chef had held back on the salt during cooking.

The best item on the plate? One perfect bursting-with-flavor strawberry. 900 Grayson strives towards all-organic ingrediants, and if that strawberry wasn't organic, I'd be surprised. My recommendation--cut the butter when cooking.

Service: Hit and miss. When I called yesterday at 1:45 I was told they were very busy and they rushed the reservation. They open at 8am, but I was told our table would be ready at 8:15am because they open at 8 and wouldn't be ready for us. Sure enough, at 8:03 the door was locked and the sign said "SHUT." Happily, one of the nice staff opened it right away.

Speaking of the nice staff. It's staffed and maybe owned by some regular-looking 30-something guys in jeans and t-shirts. I got this feeling that they were on the edge of being frantic. It seemed hard for them to smile, relax, or put us at ease. Maybe it was fear of a big group. I don't know. However, they were attentive, and while our group dribbled in our waiter popped back each time to get the coffee order.

The plates didn't come at the same time, with cold fruit arriving after hot eggs, and one order taking about 10 minutes more than the rest. The waiter was apologetic and the guest was gracious and nice, so it wasn't a big deal. But they need to know that that's a no-no. Even if it's a large order. At least bring the guy some toast or fruit or something while he waits.

The menu has relatively few dishes, mostly egg-based. They have funky names, like "Time Life Cookbook" aka Gouda Omlette and "Make Up Kit" which is all the extras you can order. I love that basil is free (no dinero). I'd like to try the Korean Soju Marty 7.0, a cumin-laced virgin mary. The cute names do make it harder to figure out what each dish is. For lunch, would you like a Miss Piggy & the General for $9.50? (that's a pork sandwich. Don't know what the General part is...).

Overall, I think 900 Grayson fills a good void in the area. But if they want to not become a void themselves, they should think about ensuring they have enough staff to turn over the tables quickly. And bring some of that sense of humor to the staff. If you're stressed, we shouldn't know it!

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I had a big to-do last night for work. Big for us--planned for about 300 people (though less than 200 showed. Sigh.).

The caterers were to bring food for 300. It was $10k worth of food. So what happens to the $3k worth that never came out of the kitchen? It was wheeled back into the van, whisked away. As did some of the wines and beer--which we provided. They took about a case of each with them, far as we can tell.

Not knowing what happens when there's so much left over, I insisted on a visual inventory, and then to be told on what would happen with it. It would be given to charity I was told.

My question is...does the charity thing ever REALLY happen?

I didn't try anything while I was working, but this morning The Bug and I tried some of a small box that I'd made up last night. There was a LOT of bread. Stuff on foccacia, stuff in little rolls, etc. All of the passed items--not there. And supposedly they tossed anything they thought was soggy, like dolmas. (which is the one thing I like.)

I've hired this group for another event in November. How do I tell them, cut all the bread!?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Throwdown: Pancakes

It's time to throw down the gauntlet. MSNBC has posted a "Nix the Mix" article on creating the perfect pancake. The woman who wrote it is perfectly lovely, a Tracie McMillan. Her tone is a mix of awe and 4th-grade teacher. "Wow, look. Someone is making perfect pancakes from scratch like my dad used to" and "Listen closely children. I'm only going to show you how to prep this griddle once."

She doesn't address over mixing. Or letting the batter sit. Or that the first two "throw-away" pancakes are often the ones that the kids fight over. Then there's silver dollar, flap-jack, Swedish, and syrups.

And I'd like to know whose "Best Plain Pancakes" recipe that is. We wouldn't accept an article without the author's name, a movie without the screenwriter, or a building without the architect. Why a recipe without the creator?

I think I have to start seriously writing and stop piddling around. Americans are getting half-assed food news.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Curried Lentil Soup

Mmmm. What's better than curry when you're crabby? I came home after 90 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, and Juiceboy hadn't even warmed up leftovers. I was annoyed. I left the leftovers to the guys (The Bug totally groved on the Cincinnati Chili on the second night) and waited till I had a glass of wine and they ate dinner.

In a MUCH better mood, I made lentil soup, with The Bug helping out here and there.

Sorry for the non-recipe recipe:

Curried Lentil Soup

1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
1 minced clove garlic
about 1 T olive oil
about 2 teaspoons curry powder
about 1 teaspoon cumin
about 1 teaspoon cayenne
a dash of red pepper flakes
two cans beef broth (chicken or veggie would be fine, this is what I had)
about 1.5 to 2 cups red lentils
One large carrot, chopped
chopped cilantro
plain yogurt or parmesan cheese

Cook onions, garlic, and olive oil on med-low about 4 minutes. Add spices, cook another 2-3 minutes. Add broth and lentils. Bring to high heat until boiling, reduce to low, cover. In 10 minutes add carrot, stir. Check in about 20 minutes. The lentils should be soft and yummy. Test for flavorings.

Spoon into bowls and top with cilantro and yogurt or parmesan.

Picture to be posted tomorrow. Sleepy time now.

TV Recipe Trial: Cincinnati Chili

Unlike Bon Vivant, who lives the good life and seems to dine out nightly with a fabulous group of friends, I have to find interesting ways to feed my family in between finding jeans that fit The Bug, fixing the toilet, and getting some homework done.

On Saturday I made a pot of Cincinnati Chili using the recipe from America's Test Kitchen. I saw the show and thought it looked interesting. Chili and pasta? Okay!

I didn't know the origin of the recipe, but after the house was redolent with the scent of Greek-spiced meat, I thought I better check it out. Why did my chili smell like Pastisio?

Indeed, it's a Greek-based dish. From all the sites I've read it seems two Greek guys moved to (where else?) Cincinnati in the 1920s and had a go at a restaurant. Their Greek food didn't go over too well, so they adjusted their lamb stew to make it more palatable for the locals. Then they poured it over spaghetti, topped it with onions, grated cheese and at some point, throw in kidney beans.

As strange as it sounds, "Greek Spaghetti" is pretty good. The cinnimon, cocoa and allspice are rich and fragrant. I cooked the sauce down to be less soupy, which I understand is not as authentic as the water sauce. Oh well.

Serve with a nice big Greek salad and you're set!

Both Juiceboy and The Bug liked this dish and called it a keeper.

Cincinnati Chili history

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why are We Eating This?

I picked up a box of Duncan Hines "Signature Desserts" Boston Cream Pie for after Sunday dinner. I've been running around a lot and working a ton and just wanted something quick, easy and decadent.

You make the cake and split it in half after it's cooled. Then, you mix the "creamy filling" mix, spread it on the cake, put the layers together, and drizzle the chocolate glaze on top. Pretty easy.

Note I didn't say "custard filling." If I said custard you would assume the ingrediants would include some form of eggs, milk, and sugar. Or that the giant box would have a tin of Bird's Custard inside.

Imagine my suprise when, after allowing the "creamy filling" to rest for the alloted five minutes (and three more), I returned to find it not creamy but almost like styrofoam. I'd mixed a cup of 1% milk with a white powder. At first it had the consistency of cake mix. So how could it have turned to a plasticene blob in just 8 minutes?

Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate and Disodium Phosphate. Listed after sugar, dextrose, and modified cornstarch.

So what the heck ARE Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate and Disodium Phosphate? Well, you find disodium phosphate in water softeners, enamelers and detergents. Oh, and instant pudding. When used in pudding it's a stabilizer. But don't overlook that disodium phosphate is also found in lots of household items, like...Head and Shoulders. And tetrasodium pyrophosphate is a buffer and thickening agent, but also used in toothpaste as a tartar control agent.

Yum. Okay. Now I wish I'd just had a pear.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Overlooked Cooking Shows

With the glitz and glam of the FoodNetwork (I've only had cable for a year and I'm new to Rachel Ray and Alton Brown), I've overlooked some good PBS-broadcast cooking shows. Here are two of my new favorites:

Mexico: One Plate at a Time. Rick Bayless, a linguist-turned restauranteur in Chicago, travels through Mexico discovering the culture through food. Then he returns to his home kitchen and recreates dishes for us. No tricks, no shouting, no glam. This is more than tacos and burritos--but the recipes are still fairly simple.

Rick tends to get too intimate with the camera, kind of snuggling up to it and cooing. He also has a habit of rolling words around in his mouth like an olive before actually getting them out that gets tiresome if you're watching a few shows back-to-back. He's pulled a Jacques Pepin and brought his daughter into a few of them, even listing her as "co-host" in the final credits. I could do without her perkiness, and I'm grateful whenever he sends her off to set the table.

The website needs some serious focus. I've directed you to the cooking portion:

Entertainment: 4 of 5
Informational: 5 of 5
Ease of Recipes: Easy
Would I Make these recipes at home: I have and I'll continue to.
Would I want this person at a party: Maybe. There's a little schmuck factor. He could be the guy that thinks he's God's gift to the world. Or a close talker. On the otherhand, he might be fascinating. But more likely the kind of guy to talk all about HIM.

America's Test Kitchen. There's the tall dorky guy with glasses. The thin blonde chick. The less-thin blonde chick (my favorite) and the dumpy dorky guy without glasses. And then the forgettable guy. Sounds like a team made for tv, right?

Actually, the show comes together pretty well. They make at least two recipes, showing the best way to do it, with what ingrediants, and why. They test out all sorts of approaches and versions, and let us know what works. Talk about lessons learned.

Then, they go to the testers corner, where they do a "consumer reports" taste-test, with the tall dorky guy playing along. Vinegar, white rice, mustard...he gets to try all sorts of yummies that I wouldn't bother with, just getting the cheapest.

Also, they go through kitchen tools, telling us what's the best for the price. I like that--because often the most expensive is just as good as something mid-range.

I'll try their Cincinatti Chili tonight maybe, depending on the price of ground beef. While I haven't tried one of their recipes yet, they look good.

Watch you don't put an "s" at the end of their website URL. You'll get a virus-loaded site. Here's the right one:

Entertainment: 3.5 of 5
Informational: 4 of 5
Ease of Recipes: Easy to moderate
Would I Make these recipes at home: Maybe, though I haven't yet
Would I want this person at a party: Maybe. They are all pretty normal. No egos involved. They might actually be a bit dull.

Mustard Seed

I've learned the disappointing way that grinding mustard seed doesn't produce dry mustard. Okay all you experienced chefs, you can stop laughing now. I ground some up with my mortar & pestle; it tasted awful. Was it low-quality seed? Or is mustard seed something else all-together?

Checking out Wikipedia it looks like I was on the right track. Gind the seed, mix with flour and water, get mustard. What about vinegar? There are lots of recipes on Epicurious that incorporate mustard seed. So now I'm thinking my mustard seeds are poor, old, and crappy.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Roast Duck and Squished Onions

Last night I was at a work-related dinner in Berkeley and had roast duck (a step up from the usual rubber chicken!). I'd never had duck that wasn't shredded or diced or otherwise rendered unrecognizable. So having actual large cuts of duck meat was very interesting. It seemed, to me, to be a little on the rare side, though quite good. Is duck usually served rare/medium/well?

With it came a spoonful of creamy potatoes and some tender beets, it was beautifully plated. And it was topped with a squished, breaded onion.

Oh, my writing skills are really working over-time, aren't they? I'm SWAMPED with work, eating on the fly, no time for blogging. As it is, I'm late and now my commute in will be doubled (ugh). Just wanted to get this down so I could revisit later. And sadly, no pictures. Didn't see how I could do that with all the mucky-mucks around.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Free Bay-Area Dinners for All!

Have I said yet how much I love SF Survey? It's a groovy collection of SF and Bay Area restaurant reviews--and JUST restaurant reviews. The critics are usually funny, smart, and know their dishes. I've found I trust it about 3000% more than Yelp or any of the Citysearches.

Restaurant staff and chefs are known for visiting their spot's SF Survey critiques, fixing problems, and then letting us know that they did. And even better: if you review, you get chances to win free dinners!

In just one year I've received three gift certificates for quite nice dinners. I'm cheap, so these aren't places I'd usually consider going. Since there was a 1,000 word limit on my review for HOME on Union I couldn't explain how it truly was the *best* experience Juiceboy and I have ever had. The staff and food was superb, comfortable, and just plain right. And it was a great way to celebrate our Tenth Wedding Anniversary. And I wouldn't have gone there if it weren't for SF Survey.

Off we go this week to try yet another place thanks to SF Survey: Viva in North Beach. I'm a bit nervous as it's had some pretty harsh marks on service. And if you read my reviews, you'll probably notice that's what it's about for me. They know I'm coming. They better be prepared to offer me that second glass of wine!

Looking for Lentil Soup

I know it's really Fall because now I'm craving lentil soup. From organic vegetarian to meat-based and hearty, I want to know YOUR favorite lentil soup recipe. Please send them my way! I'll try them all (much to my family's horror, I'm sure).

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Can Sugar Go Bad?

Someone wanted to know if sugar can go bad. According to the October issue of Real Simple sugar can keep up to two years (and sometimes more)--if kept in an airtight, moistureproof container. And brown sugar can be softened by microwaving for 15 seconds, but, because of the molasses in it, it should be used up within a year.

Flour is more of a problem. If you're like me, you use plenty of flour in cooking and baking. Again, use the airtight container in a cool, dry spot. I have my grandmother's tins for flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and the third tin used to hold cookies but now holds sticky rice (uncooked, of course). Are you using whole-wheat flour or other whole-grains? Keep those in a big freezer bag and in the freezer--inside a Tupperware container to keep the bag from getting punctured.

What about baking powder and baking soda? I hate to say when I was young I was known to user the baking soda out of the box in the fridge. Good lordy, learn from my mistakes! That box is there to absorb bad odors--and whatever you're baking will taste like bad smells. Ieew. Use one for the fridge and one in the cupboard. And what about odors in the cupboard? I put my box in a zip-lock baggie to keep it fresh. Real Simple says Baking Soda is good for two years unopened, one year if opened. And baking powder is easy--it has a use-by date printed on the can. Why didn't I ever know that?

They didn't address powdered sugar, which for me always tastes like gym socks and I have to get a new bag if ever I need it. So of course, I never make anything that requires it.

What are your tips for storing powdered sugar?

Cream of Cauliflower Soup II

Everyone starts yearning for creamy soup in the Autumn. Tonight I gave The Bug his choice of how to cook the cauliflower and he chose soup. I decided to try a new recipe--one that's similar to my previous homeade one. This is an adaptation from 1,001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recipes.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup, II.
1 T olive oil
3/4 to one whole yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 whole cauliflower, chopped
3 C chicken or vegetable stock or broth, I like Swanson's
2 whole potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4-1/3 C one-percent milk
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 C shredded cheddar or colby jack cheese

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and lower heat to medium low, cook about 6 minutes till soft. Add cauliflower, stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer about 10-15 minutes--until all is soft.

Blend about 90% of this in a blender. If you like more cauliflower use a slotted spoon to reserve more. Return the puree and cauliflower to your pot. Season with pepper. Add milk and cheese and stir until cheese is melted. Top with paprika and serve with crusty bread.

Alton's Butterflied Roast Chicken

I do love Alton Brown. He explains things so well. So why didn't I listen to some of his reasons on why to make his Butterflied Roast Chicken the way he said to? Last night we had dinner at 9:30pm, partly because Juiceboy was home late from a trek, and mostly because dinner took forever to make. I served the aforementioned chicken, curried couscous, and a quick creamed spinach.

Here are my lessons learned:

  1. The recipe calls for a 3 to 4 pound bird because anything bigger won't cook properly. I had my 5-pounder under the broiler for close to 40 minutes, and I still had to pop individual servings in the microwave just to get it done.
  2. Grinding peppercorns takes time. I enjoyed using my mortar & pestle, but this took 15 minutes more than I thought it would.
  3. Regular scissors and kitchen scissors: yes, there is a difference. I broke a perfectly good pair of scissors cutting out the back bone of my bad boy (or girl?).
  4. Red wine makes a muddy jus. I used a nice pinot noir which tasted good, but the jus was purple. Not appetizing.
  5. At 9:30 at night, the guys will eat anything. The Bug thought this was a great dinner. Who would have guessed?

I'll try this recipe again, next time baking if I have such a big bird.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Best Soup Ever

I had leftover meat from the pork roast and decided to make soup. I was just winging it, but will try to recreate it. It was delicious! Here's the basics:

I simmered about a pound of trimmings, bone and meat from my pork roast in about 3 cups of chicken broth. In it I through a handful of baby organic carrots, about a cup of celery with leaves, a whole chopped onion (1" cubes), and about 2 mashed cloves of garlic.

I simmered that for about an hour, then let it cool and chilled it overnight in the fridge. The next evening I skimmed the fat off it, brought it back up to a simmer, then removed all the meat and reserved that. Then, I strained the veggies, but mashed them with the back of a spoon as the carrots still had flavor, and I sat the strainer in the pot as it simmered for about 20 minutes.

I threw away the spent veggies, added a handful of little Mexican alphabet pastas (I find them in the "Mexican Foods" section at Safeway for 33 cents a bag. I also added a can of chopped "petite diced tomatoes". After the pasta was almost cooked (it really puffs up), I added about a tablespoon of chili powder, cumin, and fresh ground pepper. No salt was needed. Right before the end I added about a cup of fresh, chopped cilantro.

Add the meat back in (I'd gone through it and cut it into bite-sized bits). Ladle it out and top with lots of diced avocado.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Complete this Survey on Food? Okay!

Every now and then I receive an invitation from Harris Polls Online to complete a survey. I rarely do so unless I'm on hold with a computer company or other group that likes to ignore its customers.

But today they asked me to complete a short survey on...yup, FOOD.

1) In the next 12 months, how likely am I going to buy a...fiber supplement? That's not food. Neither is prune juice. Or any kind of juice. That's a beverage.
2) How often do you read nutrition lables? Well...yesterday I was reading them on the cat food trying to decide what was less disgusting and better for them. Did you know there's a "treat" available called Baa Bits? And it's made with 100% lamb lung?
3) Do you agree or disagree that maintaining a healthy diet is important? Well, shoot, of course I agree. Now ask me if I do.
4) Do you agree or disagree that your lifestyle makes it difficult to eat right? It's not my lifestyle that makes it hard, it's my willpower. I'm weak. WEAK!
5) Another juice question. Tomato, grapefruit, cranberry, other.
6) These are NOT food questions! It was a trap to make me answer some sort of healthy-living survey!! On how many separate occasions would you say you watched news programs on TV during the past 30 days?
On how many different occasions did you do vigorous physical exercise during the past 30 days?

And the rest were demographic. Lordy. If I were to make a food survey it would have questions like:

1) Sweet or savory?
2) What is the best ice cream flavor in the world?
3) Do nuts belong in baked goods?
4) Do you own any vanilla beans?
5) How much would you pay for safron?
6) Do you know how to prepare jicima?
7) In the past three months, how many kinds of fruit have you eaten?
8) How many kinds of peppers does your produce stand sell?
9) How far would you drive for fresh seafood?
10) What is the most you ever paid for a dinner for two, wine and tip included?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mexican Pork Stew

It was our first cold day today, with overcast skies and temps in the mid-50s (remember, I'm in California--that's cool weather). I cooked some cool-weather food that satisfied my craving for spicy as well. There was enough pork left over that I'm making a nice stock right now.

Mexican Pork Stew (a Posole, minus the hominy)
One good-sized pork shoulder roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1" cubes
Salt and fresh black pepper
Olive oil, about 2-3 tablespoons
One large yellow onion, diced
Four cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 C Chardonney wine
3-4 cups chicken broth
One 4 oz can minced green chiles
One 16-oz bag frozen corn
One cup salsa verde (I like the Safeway brand)
~1 T Chile Powder
~1 T Cumin
~1 T Mexican Oregano leaf
1t Cardamon
Three medium potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
Two to three large carrots, scrubbed and sliced into disks
One tomato, diced
About one cup parsley, minced
Four to six T light sour cream
Soft-taco sized flour tortillas, steamed, enough for one-to-two each

Mix flour, salt & pepper. Dredge the cubed pork and shake excess flour from it. I like to throw it into a plastic collander and give it a few good shakes.

Heat oil in large stew pot till fragrant. Add pork and brown on all sides. Remove from pan.

Turn pan to medium, medium low. Add onion and stir till soft. Add garlic, stirring until fragrant. Add wine and stir to scrape up the yumminess on bottom.

Return pork to pot. Add chicken broth, chiles, corn, potatoes, spices, salsa, and carrots. Heat on low simmer for about 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until carrots and meat are tender. Taste for flavor. If you like more heat, add more salsa verde, or a roasted poblano pepper (or two or three).

This is a stew, so let it cool a bit and test for thickness, adjusting as necessary (I added some broth & flour to mine to thicken it. You could use masa if you have the time.).

Ladle into stew bowls, topping with tomatoes, sour cream & parsley. Fold the tortillas into quarters and serve on the side.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Food Fetish

I've changed the name of this blog from "Fleagirl's Fine Cooking" to "Food Fetish." The reason is simple:

1) As one correspondant told me, there's nothing fine about my cooking. And people just don't get sarcasm in a three-word title.

2) I think about food constantly. If I'm not eating, I'm thinking about my next meal, what I'm craving, how I'd cook something, how hard it would *be* to cook something, etc. And when I'm seriously dieting, I'm obsessed with food.

3) Leave me alone with the tv and I watch cooking shows. I read cookbooks, chef's manuals, cooking websites, restaurant reviews, and foodie blogs. The best cross-country drive I've had included a three-hour radio show got it, food. Please. The Williams Sonoma catalog came yesterday and I nearly swooned with lust.

Oh good lordy. If you don't get the WS catalog, click on the link at the right of this post and request one now. They sell linens, tableware, and cookware like all the others, but also fancy foods (prepared veal reduction in a jar, anyone?) and they include recipes.

And now I'm off to consider brunch. Juiceboy's away so the Bug and I went out last night (extremely disappointing Chinese buffet. Never go to a place with the word "Buffet" in the title.) and so I think we'll make our brunch at home. Maybe.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Corn Fritters::La Mais Frire

Sunday dinner. I was going to make shrimp and vegetable curry. It was hot today. I had lots of good ingrediants--like cauliflower, carrots and bell peppers. I had fun stuff to throw into the curry like raisins and flaky coconut and roasted peanuts.

But the guys wanted meat. Red meat. With baked potatoes. And I, stupidly, said yes.

Off to the store I went to buy a steak and three baking potatoes. I used the cauliflower (steamed) and was going to cook up some artichokes the Bug asked me to get (a buck a piece).

But I was too tired for the prep work, and opted instead to make something I saw in my "Professional Chef" book. Now, that recipe was for 87 billion fritters, so I made up my own recipe.

Corn Fritters
Serves many
1 bag frozen roasted white corn, found at Trader Joe's. Any frozen or fresh corn will do--about three cups. DON'T USED CANNED.
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 to 1/3 C one-percent milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Freshly ground black pepper
3 T olive oil
1 T butter

Defrost the corn and drain any liquid. In a large bowl mix flour, eggs, baking powder, milk, salt, pepper, and chili powder. Add corn and red pepper and mix until just blended.

Heat a frying pan to medium/medium low. Add olive oil, then butter. Drop batter in rounded table spoons, turning once brown. Remove to paper towel to drain, serve hot.

Some people eat these with honey or maple syrup. I like a chipotle dipping sauce or salsa.

Juiceboy said, "These are really good. Too bad they aren't healthy."

How to Cook Rice Noodles

I'm just an Irish girl, born to Canadians. We never had rice noodles when I was a kid, but fell in love with them after I moved to California. In the past when I cooked them they turned into a gloppy, sticky mess. Not any more. Last night I figured out the key to cooking rice noodles.

You can buy rice noodles in Asian Markets, or, if you're very lucky, in the Asian food aisle of your grocery store. I like the ones that are flat and broad like fettucine.

How to Cook Rice Noodles
Take the entire package of noodles (unwrapped, of course) and soak in cold water in a large, flat container like a covered casserole, for at least 30 minutes. Some packages and recipes state this is all you need to do. Don't believe them. If you like soft rice noodles, and you're not planning on cooking them in an additional recipe, do the following:

Bring a broad pot of salted water to boil. You'll be lowering your metal, hand-held strainer into it, so make sure you can reach that water. If you use a big pasta pot, you're going to have to fill it nearly to the top with water--so it would *not* be a good choice.

Right before you're ready to serve, place individual portions of the noodles in your metal, hand-held strainer. Place the strainer in the boiling water for about 20-30 seconds, stirring with chopsticks to seperate. When tender, strain the water out and serve.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Spaghetti Fritatta

It's Saturday Brunch and everyone wants to know what I'm making. And honestly, I don't know. Juiceboy ate the ham I was going to use for a dish. What now?

Let's Look in the the Fridge! Leftovers...leftovers...ah and leftovers. It guess it's time for leftover fritatta!

Spaghetti Fritatta
Heat your oven to 350.
Cook the following in an oven-proof skillet.

Brown some ground pork. Remove and drain on a paper towell.

Saute 1/2 yellow onion and one clove garlic in the pan. Add 1T butter. Add about two cups leftover spaghetti (really, d0n't cook this up fresh. That's just silly.).

Add 1/2 cup sliced green pepper and 1/2 cup chopped tomato.

Season with basil, oregano, fennel (for sausagey flavor) , salt and pepper.

Throw in whatever tasty leftovers you have in the fridge.

Beat a bunch of eggs--I used 10, because 6 wasn't enough. I think 8 would have been fine.
Cook for approximately 20 minutes until eggs are set. Top with parmesan and some grated monterey jack cheese (cheddar would be v. nice as well). Put back in the oven for about 10 minutes until bubbly. If you want the cheese browned, turn on the broiler for about 3 minutes.
I think chopped broccoli would have been good, too. This is not healthy cooking, I know. We're having veggie stir-fry for dinner.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hot Peppers and My Mouth do not mix

I planted some cute pepper plants in my backyard planters this summer, alongside some tomato plants. The peppers weren't really productive--every now and then I'd go out and cut off a nice green pepper about half the size of my fist.

They were sweet, bland, but added some nice color to my Saturday egg dishes.

On Wednesday of this week I took a cute little pepper with me to work. It had begun to redden, and looked happy on my desk next to some fresh tomatoes.

Late into the afternoon I was craving potatoe chips. I reached for my pepper and bit off the tip. Nice, sweet, crispy. I took a bigger bite, much the same. The third bite brought me into the red part.


My mouth burnt. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I couldn't move. I finally managed to spit out the mouthful after crying out. My eyes turned red, instantly.

I ran a block for milk.

In heels and a suit.


What happened to my sweet peppers?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Juiceboy Salad

Bon Vivant fka NoodleWhore wrote:

"Hi Fleagirl! I've tried on many occasions to post comments on your blog but I
keep getting error messages so that's why I'm writing via email.

for stopping by my blog! I've enjoyed reading both your blogs. What do you put
in the yummy Juiceboy salad?

Good luck with your enchilada gravy (don't
forget the oregano). There is a restaurant right by me that I know makes their
own (it's fabulous!) but I suspect that most Mexican places here used the canned
First things first:

Comments: I'm using the Beta version of Blogger, so maybe there's a problem with comments. I've switched to accept annoymous comments. Hey--can someone test for me please?

Thank YOU: I love traffic. I love email more. Keep it coming! And send us links to your great blogs so we know where to send other visitors to.

Juiceboy Salad
Saute two or three boneless, skinless, frozen chicken breast. Throw them frozen into the pan and fill the pan halfway with water and throw in two cubes of chicken bouillon. Cover with a lid and simmer until almost cooked.

Cut chicken into cubes. Reserve cooking liquid for another use, like good soup or enchilada gravy.

Clean skillet, add some butter, cook on high heat until browned, fragrant, and fully cooked. Season with salt & pepper.

Get a huge bowl and throw in: sliced cucumber, chopped celery, grated cheese, grated carrots, chopped hard boiled egg, chopped green pepper, green onion, a zillion fat-free crutons, chicken, and avocado.

Top with a creamy dressing.

This is an entree salad, and should feed at least six hungry people.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hog and Cow

Okay. It's time to do Weight Watchers. I lost the "10-Day Diet Challenge" to Juiceboy and now he has my $50. We shook on another weigh-in on October 15, and I'll be darned if I give him half my allowance a second month in a row.

My question for you is...what are your tastiest "healthy" meals? I want high fiber, low fat. Send them my way!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Enchilada Gravy, Clue #1

I've found some answers! It involves ancho chiles, flour, a broiler, and chicken stock...I think. He was speaking Spanish and I picked up only every third word. But I do know: NO TOMATOES!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Searching for Mr. Enchilada

There are very few taquerias that can satisfy my craving for Enchilada Gravy. This is not a tomatoey, runny mess. This is not a dark brown, thin, trickle. The best enchilada sauce is a gravy. It's viscous and thick, and congeals a bit when cold (which tells me there's fat in it). It has a meaty taste to it, though it's red in color, and absolutely smooth in texture.

Chabelas on Haight Street in SF had the best. They closed one day due to kitchen problems, and never reopened. Sigh.

Happy Burrito in Oakland has got something close. Very close. I'm afraid to ask for the recipe lest they haul out a 20-pound tin.

Anyone have a good enchilada gravy recipe?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

I'm working at home today--not feeling great with an Autumn cold. Needed something fast but comforting for lunch, so I looked in the fridge. Ack--it's the 15th, time to use up the dying vegetables. This is a quick, healthy, low-fat version of the high-fat favorite.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup.

  • Spray large soup pot with cooking spray, melt one Tablespoon butter on medium low heat.
  • Coarsley chop 2 large carrots (scrubbed, not peeled). Add to soup pot and stir to coat.
  • Coarsley chop one yellow onion and two to three stalks celery. (I had leaves left, so in they went). Add to soup pot and stir to coat.
  • Clean and cut up a head of cauliflower. I break up chunks with my hands.
  • Add one to two cloves garlic, smashed.
  • Add one large (32 oz) tin chicken or vegetable stock--low sodium is recomended as this stock reduces. If you don't have low sodium then throw in a potato to take out some of that salt. Be sure to fish out the potato later.
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes.
  • Take about 75% of the solids with some liquid and blend till smooth. Return to pot, and turn off heat. (It can burn now)
  • Add about 1/4 cup 1% milk; more if you like your soup thinner.
  • Add 1 tablespoon curry powder and lots of fresh black pepper. No salt should be needed.
  • Top with parsley and a tablespoon of grated cheddar or colby jack cheese.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bad Bean Sprouts

Someone came to my blog today because they searched for "bean sprouts how do you tell when they are bad?". My instant thought was, when they are moist, sour, or gray. Is there another way?

I know there has been some hubub recently in the Candadian press (and yes, this was a Canadian visitor) about bacteria and bean sprouts.

So--how DO you tell when bean sprouts are bad?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cream Cheese Wontons

What to do when you find out your mother-in-law is coming three hours earlier than you thought--with her best friends who are visiting from overseas? You throw together a plate of quick-to-make food, like cheese & crackers and fruit. But what if you want to really impress them? Make cream cheese wontons with your leftover wonton skins!

The picture is all that was left of about 24 wontons.

Cream Cheese Wontons
Square egg roll wrappers--I used the large ones and cut them into four.
Water or egg substitute for sealing.
Cream cheese or neufchatel cheese, softened at room temperature if time allows.

Add ins. You can make plain cream cheese filling, or add in any of the following:
Crab meat
Chopped scallions or chives
1t to 1T curry powder or paprika

Place about a half teaspoon of filling in the center of the wrapper. Dampen two sides and of wrapper and fold to create a triangle, eliminating as much air as possible. Or, twist into a little "purse".
Use a small, heavy frying pan with about 1/2 an inch of corn oil, on medium high heat. Gently place wontons and cook until golden brown, turning over when done. Then, drain on paper towel.

Serve immediately--these don't taste as good later. (And you can plan for two or three per person. They are yummy, but fattening. What did you expect from deep-fried cheese?)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Oh Good Lordy, I was Ignorant

I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Yet another email. I didn't know I had to be invited by someone else to participate in the "Things to eat before you die" fad. Good lordy, I crashed a chain letter!

Pot Roast

I was looking for an economical bit of meat that would be good for two dinners...and one that we haven't had recently. So pork roast was out. Happily, I asked the Safeway butcher to bring out more of the 7-bone pot roast, which if you get the right cut has very little boning and not much fat.

So for $6.50, we had a nice pot roast dinner for the first cool evening of the fall.

Fleagirl's Pot Roast

Season one 4-5 pound pot roast with kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Then, with a hand-held strainer, sift flour evenly across the roast.

In a wide, heavy pan, heat about 2T corn oil. Add roast and brown well. Turn and brown the other side.

Remove roast (put in oven proof pot or dutch oven). Add to cooking pan about three cups mirepoix (three large diced carrots, one diced onion, two ribs diced celery) and about five smashed cloves of garlic. Cook until tender.

Move mirepoix to roasting pot.

Deglaze cooking pan with 1/2 cup chicken broth, one can roasted tomatos, and a splash of red wine. Scrape up all the yummy bits on the pan, break up tomatos. Add to roasting pan after all is simmering.

Cover roasting pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil and tight-fitting lid. Cook in oven at 325 to 350 for two-to-three hours. During this time baste the meat every hour.

Serve with egg noodles (I throw some frozen peas into the water while they are cooking), and sauted cabbage (I like to add some thick-sliced carrots, which add color and crispness).

Cheap eats and kitchen fiascos

Sarcasm doesn't come across well in blog titles. Someone angrily emailed me this week, "Fine Cooking? Are you kidding me? There's nothing gourmet about your recipes!" EXACTLY.

I'm just poking around in the kitchen, trying to cook good, decent meals that aren't too expensive. I've never taken a cooking class in my life. I shop the sales at Safeway (watch for my pot roast recipe tonight--chuck roast is on sale). My family has a love of anything that comes wrapped in colorful waxed paper and served hot in a bag.

All I'm trying to do is share my struggles with inexpensive, healthy cooking. So what should my blog be called? Cheap eats or Kitchen Fiascos?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Beating the heck out of dim sum

My in-laws and their visiting friends were coming for cocktails tonight, and I needed something fast for dinner after. What to do with a fridge full of half-cooked dim sum? Add chicken broth!

Yes, this is my recipe for won ton soup.

Won Ton Soup

  • Spray your favorite stock pot with Pam.
  • Add one diced carrot, one diced stalk celery, about 1T chopped ginger, one chopped clove garlic.
  • Cook till fragrant but not soft.
  • Add one big huge can of Swanson's chicken broth (or the broth of your choice).
  • Cook on low heat until steaming.
  • Add leftovers from nights before, including: chopped cabbage, filled wontons, linguine, spinach wontons, pork/shrimp meatballs, and diced tofu.
  • Simmer until meatballs are cooked through. Do not boil!
  • If you made fresh wontons tonight from the leftovers, now's the time to add any beaten egg you have leftover.
  • Stir in about a tablespoon of sesame oil and one tablespoon soy sauce.
  • Top with fresh chopped scallions.
Serves Plenty

Dim Sum Aftermath

Hi, I’m Fleagirl, and I’m a food addict. I woke up this dreary, dark morning and thought, “Why did I do that?” I felt guilty and annoyed that I’d gone into a dim sum frenzy, spending my birthday money on food, most of which is in the fridge or the freezer. Of course, I could have spent that same money at Yank Sing, one of the best SF dim sum joints, and I wouldn’t have learned a thing about cooking from the experience.

My stomach feels wobbly today, as it did last night. Even though I only had two pan-fried (which is pretty much deep fried, but you turn it half way in the cooking process) spinach rolls, the grease deemed too much for my gentle constitution. Or was it something else? The Bug spent the night tossing and turning, talking in his sleep and even sleepwalking twice. (He’s an extremely active sleeper.) He only had one bite of the spinach roll.

Anyway. This post isn’t about my guilt. Well, it is. You see—Juiceboy and I made a bet to see who could lose more weight in three weeks. The winner gets half--$50—of the other one’s allowance. I was doing pretty well up until last week, and now I’m feeling bloated and gross and thick. I really want to win this challenge. But he’s able to hike and bike and swim during the day, when I’m flat on my ass in front of a computer.

I’m going to make some radical changes for the next ten days (because that’s all I have).

No alcohol.
Water water water
tons of veggies and fibrous fruits
Smaller portions
No butter, cheese, ice cream or other high-fat dairy item.
Walk every day—during lunch or at home in the dark if need be.

I have 10 days. Will I do it?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Dim Sum and Then Some

We made dim sum tonight, and it was pretty good. I'd planned to make about three or four different dim sum, with a quick veggie stir fry to go along with some sticky rice I'd made. Here's what I learned:

  1. Allot an hour, at least, for each item. I started at 5pm and we ate at 9pm. And I was smart and prepped all the veggies, etc., first, since every dish was a variety of the others.

  2. Willing little hands are great for the wrapping portion. The Bug wrapped up 16 packets of foil-wrapped chicken and countless pork & shrimp dumplings. Had I done it, it would have added an extra hour.

  3. It's best to use the tools prescribed by recipes, but if all else fails, figure out what the cooking process is and mock it up. I do not have a steamer pot and basket for sticky rice, so I steamed the rice in a damp tea towel on a metal steamer basket. Probably not the best way of doing it, but it worked. Of course, The Bug got a funny look on his face halfway through the rice and asked, "Did you put wet towel in the rice? It tastes weird." What a clown.

  4. If you're pan frying, for god's sake get a spatter screen!

  5. You need a variety of dipping sauces. Sweet, mustardy, vinegary. At the very least.

  6. There is absolutely no need to make all of the following at the same time for only three people:

Baked Foil-wrapped chicken
Steamed Shrimp & pork dumplings (kind of a sui mai)
Pan-fried Spinach & tofu egg rolls
Scallion Pancakes
Sticky rice
(I never made it to the stir fry)