Tuesday, January 30, 2007

last night's dinner: we split a medium-rare steak (we had one left over from the package of three bought the day before), scrambled eggs with bacon for the boy, eggs over easy for me, and green salad for both. sounds kooky, but sometimes eggs for dinner are a good thing (very french, too). besides, we have all kinds of things in the fridge that really need to be eaten up or thrown out.

we deemed it a successful dinner.

i poured HP sauce all over my steak, which dribbled into my eggs. yummy. not very french, and in fact i think the french would be revolted at my liberal use of HP sauce, but hey. i like the stuff. i especially like it on baked potato. Mothra would be appalled.

we might get steaked out this week. while at the asian megamart this weekend, we bought an entire tenderloin for $26. that's right, only 26 bucks. the boy will be hacking it up today and placing in foodsaver bags into the freezer. there is only so much steak i can eat though, so i'll probably rebel. don't get me wrong, i love steak. but it's not part of my current Master Plan For Prime Health. i cannot eat it every single night for a week.

i'm kind of jonesing for roast chicken for dinner tonight.

Monday, January 29, 2007

on food, pho, and yogurt

i had a really good weekend. not fantastically great (i didn't win the lottery - although i should probably play the lottery if i'm entertaining thoughts of winning it), but really not too shabby either.

i did a lot of yoga, which is good because i havent taken any time off this past week to go to kickboxing. my excuse was because i was taking care of the boy and at first he needed a lot of help to get around and do anything at all, but that all changed this weekend when he was in a lot less pain, started walking around, and started bathing himself instead of me bathing him.

i have no idea what was up my butt, but i've been on an asian kick. it started with a trip to the mall and williams-sonoma. the boy needed to exercise, so off we went and ambled at his slow pace around the mall and there we ended up at williams-sonoma, with me staring at the most beautiful stainless steel all-clad wok that i've ever laid eyes on (and no, are you out of your mind? i didnt buy it. i like all-clad, but lets get real here). that eye candy led to me finding this particularly good hunanese cookbook written by an englishwoman who's an expert on chinese cuisine. i really like the book, as it's not only full of great recipes that are actually doable, but she inculded a lot of history from the hunan province as well. the dishes in the book are meant to be small servings, so for three people one should make three dishes as well as rice in order to feed everyone. saturday night i made two: beef with cumin (cumin, as it turns out, is used by the chinese muslims) and a dish called "numbing-and-hot chicken". actually, the name of that recipe is what made me decide to buy the book in the first place. numbing and hot? bring it on!

i'm not handy with a wok (yet), and the wok i have is a piece of crap (a gift from a friend, one of those Joyce Chen deals you get at bed bath and beyond). as with all chinese cooking, the actual cooking part took mere minutes; it's the prep work that kills you. it took me over an hour to prep for both recipes, although i did take my time and busied myself cleaning up broken glass from the gravy boat which fell out of the cabinet and all over the sauces, so i had to remake those. the dishes turned out decently, but i think i definitely need more wok practice, and i need a real wok. which i bought yesterday online from a store in san francisco's chinatown. incidentally, when i lived in SF back in 1994, i went to a store in chinatown and bought a hand-hammered wok, and i'm wondering if it's the same store? anyhoo.

since the boy is going back to work soon and he really needs to exercise his leg as much as he possibly can, we set out again yesterday on my quest to find sichuan peppercorns. which aren't hunanese (they're from sichuan, duh), but the numbing-and-hot chicken called for some. first we stopped at a korean-vietnamese-chinese market on buford highway (where i found said peppercorns and a bunch of other cheap housewares), then we went for pho. i had originally planned to take the boy to Pho #1, but there was a pho place in the same plaza as the market, which was packed, so we decided to go there (if a restaurant is packed, that's usually a good sign that the food is good). the boy has never had vietnamese food before, and seemed excited and curious. we had pho and it was good. that damn broth could cure any ailment. after that, we went to the Super H market in duluth, which, as it turns out, is owned by the same people who own the asian megamart we used to go to in maryland. so that was a nice discovery. it was also a lot nicer and cleaner than the one in maryland, and had a lot more prepared food vendors inside. i'll definitely have to go back during the morning when it's not as crowded, because it ended up turning into a pushy-shovy fest while in there. dinner last night was not asian-inspired (we had steak au poivre with herbed potato wedges), but i'm planning more chinesey meals in the future, especially as my new wok should get here in about a week.

i'm being particular about what i'm eating these days. even though i've always eaten what i thought was healthy food, i've never really paid attention to the ingredients list on prepared foods until just recently. which is why i'm making my own yogurt now, because a) yoplait sucks and is full of corn syrup, and b) the good yogurts i like that are all natural, like stonyfield farms and wallaby, are about a buck or more apiece. it's much cheaper and healthier if you control what you're putting in to the stuff. so even made with whole milk, each of my yogurts is 80 calories. then i can sweeten them how i want; the tastiest so far is with fruit nectar, like peach, although i've just been eating them mixed with strawberries and some kashi cereal, and sometimes a dab of honey.

anyway, that was a long food rant thing.

Friday, January 26, 2007

one of my culinary goals for sometime in the next two months is to learn how to make a proper croissant. i'm french, for pete's sake. i ought to have been able to make this since birth.

i think some quality time spent with the bread baker's apprentice will get me on the right track. now just to find that quality time and stock my fridge with copious amounts of good butter.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

this morning my alarm rang and i blinked at it. i had fully intended to get up at 5 to do yoga, but that was not going to happen, for two reasons: 1. i took a Tylenol Simply Sleep last night and was still sleeping with my eyes open, staring at the clock and trying to figure out what language it was in so that i could read it, and 2. it was warm under the covers; i had them pulled up right under my nose, and the air directly above my nose was cold and i didn't see the point of ruining some good wake-up time by immediately hopping out of bed to do some friggin sun salutations.

yesterday i started the day with yoga, and i felt great all day. i had pep. work issues slid off my back with no worries. i had errands to run after work (petsmart and publix), then came home and bathed the boy (no hanky panky, we just giggled a lot), made dinner, made today's lunch. by the time i sat down with a sigh on the couch, it was 7:30. i love my boy, but he has horrible taste in tv shows, and he was flipping channels between American Idol and Armed & Famous, and i just couldnt handle that. so i went upstairs early and went to bed. fully intending to get up early and do yoga. ha!

i did jump out of bed when i heard the coffeemaker beep in the distance, notifying me that it finished brewing. i just recently started using the timer on it, and it makes my mornings so much lovelier than they had been.

speaking of all things lovely, i made pollo alla romana (roman-style chicken) last night, and it was delectable. it is very similar to the arroz con pollo that the boy makes, which is probably why i liked it so much. when the boy makes arroz con pollo, there is never any left over, because i just can't stop eating it even if i'm full. we jokingly call it "crack", because i just can't get enough of it. i don't know why. i am a huge fan of tomato-based sauces, but my addiction to that chicken dish is just plain silly. i think i'll be making pollo alla romana again, especially as it calls for pancetta (another excuse to use it), and the pancetta just melted into the sauce (i cut it up really small). i brought some in for today's lunch.

tonight we're having short ribs, but this time we're doing them in the crock pot. i prepped everything for that last night, as it's not a good idea for the boy to be using sharp instruments while he's doped up on percocet. all he has to do this morning is hobble in front of the stove, brown the meat, and toss it and all the prepped stuff into the crockpot. serving with wide egg noodles. scrumptious.

i can't take any more of those sleepy pills. i'm sitting here totally falling asleep. not good.

on cake

my neighbor's birthday party cake:

this is not the greatest picture ever, because i was messing around with the settings on the camera and the lighting was just far too bright in their kitchen. i've made this cake before, but it's always a crowd pleaser. chocolate chip brownie cake (white brownie) with caramel buttercream, caramel sauce on top, and caramel shards on the sides.

i had the highest praise from the birthday boy; he said that it was the best cake he had ever tasted. then i got into an animated conversation with his wife, the boy, and another chef friend of theirs who is an instructor at the Atlanta Cordon Bleu about about opening a cafe in the vacant restaurant space in the publix shopping center near our house. a nice conversation fueled by wine and pipe dreams. it's nice to dream :)

then the Cordon Bleu instructor took me aside and asked me to send him the recipe. now that's high praise!

i can't find any of my pastry tips, and i think we either lost them in the move from maryland or the boy forgot them at his restaurant in annapolis (probably the latter) so the top of the cake should have all these buttercream stars, and instead i had to glob it on there haphazardly.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

phone conversation with Mothra

Me: So guess who I met today? Martha Stewart.
Mothra: Marta Stewart? Non! In Atlanta?
Me: Yeah I went to a book signing at Williams-Sonoma. I waited for hours to see her. She wasn't very nice to me.
Mothra: Non! C’est pas vrai! Well, maybe she was tired. You know, you go to those, you sign, you get tired after many people come up and say, “Oh Marta Stewart! how wonderful you are!”
Me: Mom, that’s no excuse to be a bitch. She gets paid a lot of money to show up for those. She was not pleasant at all.
Mothra: This displeases me. I do not like her anymore. Well, no matter. Tell me, how did she look?
Me: She looked nice. I guess. I mean, she was dressed expensively.
Mothra: Her hair? Did her face look nice?
Me: Well, I think she’s had work done.
Mothra: Ć©vidamment. Everyone knows that.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

on making pasta

in an effort to be more well-rounded in the kitchen (and i'm not talking about body shape here, har har), i've got it on my list of goals for this year to make pasta more often. yes, i have a "goals" list, which is vastly different than a "resolutions" list. the word "resolution" seems so desperate, and gives off that same negative vibe that the word "diet" has. so i have this goals list and it goes something like this.

(cut n' pasted from document on my desktop)

Culinary Goals for 2007:

Make bread. At least once a week.
Make pasta. At least once every two weeks.
Make one recipe from Thai cookbook at least once a month.
Make a cassoulet for the boy

Fitness Goals for 2007:

Kickbox regularly

Housekeeping Goals for 2007:

Plan the garden
Clean out gutters

how very suburban housewifey of me.

so yeah. i decided to make pasta this weekend, and as i have the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment, it makes life easier. i decided to use the pasta in one of the fresh pasta recipes from Molto Italiano (which, btw is a crazy crazy book. it's really in-depth, and it's all over the map. just like watching Mario himself when he's talking a mile a minute to his three guests and the map comes shooting out of the ceiling. anyway, i love it). i ended up adapting his Lasagna Bolognese recipe and we had that for dinner on sunday night.

fresh pasta is a dream to work with, an absolute dream. i love it. all those heavy pasta dishes you're used to? fresh pasta tastes nothing like that and isn't remotely heavy. i love to work with it. Mario's recipe uses green pasta, made from adding cooked spinach in with the eggs before you fork in the flour, but i wasnt sure how keen the boy and j were on green pasta (j was over that night), so instead i made a black pepper pasta. you have to knead it by hand for a full ten minutes, and lemme repeat what i've always said about kneading dough by hand, it is FUCKING GREAT. i love to knead dough by hand because it feels so good. it's incredibly therapeutic, especially if you're stressed out with work or life or both. it's also incredibly comforting to know that you're making the main ingredient for the meal from scratch. (side note: this is also what i love about gardening. in the summer when i have herbs and cucumbers taking over the back yard, it's so nice to eat a meal with garden components i've grown myself. it seems to taste better knowing that i grew those veggies myself. well, usually they are better. no chemicals here!)

so i'm kneading dough and kneading dough and kneading dough, don't even remember what i was thinking about except the tv in the kitchen was on and i had my back to it while standing at the kitchen island. Top Gun was on, and i remember the line where the guy who spills coffee all down his front yells out, "I want some butts!". and i cracked up, standing there staring at the clock on the microwave while kneading what seemed like just a small amount of dough. so anyway. yeah, after i ran it through the pasta attachment, i ended up with 8 million gallons of pasta. i had so much fucking pasta i didnt know what to do with it. i had it draped all over anything that was standing still in the kitchen. the boy walked in, looked at the pasta hanging over the top of the blender, the toaster, the faucet in the sink; nodded his head, turned around and walked back into the living room.

mario's recipe calls for a ragu that's not really tomato-ey, although it does use tomato paste. i guess this is traditional for northern italian dishes. anyway, there's that and the bechamel (or besciamela) which you alternate in the dish. after i was done assembling it and had shoved it in the oven, i still had left about 8 million gallons of pasta. Mental note: next time, make a half batch. i rolled it up and stored it in the fridge until yesterday, when i threw it out because, frankly, it was dirt cheap to make (flour and eggs - that's it) and i so enjoyed myself making it that i wont mind making it again. i just have to halve or even quarter that recipe, if possible.

the dish turned out most excellent, although the bechamel made it terribly rich and i couldnt finish my whole piece. but the pasta was light as a feather and just melted into the sauces and the bit of parmesan i put in there. oh! it was really delightful, even though my tummy wasnt so pleased later. however, the boy and i decided that it was missing something, nothing vital but just an herb or a spice or another small flavor. i think that if i'd made it with the green pasta we would have felt differently, because that small hint of spinach, not enough to be considered a whole ingredient but more of a flavoring, would make the recipe complete. so i might sneak it in there next time.

and i might make the green pasta this weekend, except make fettucini strands out of it and then use it somehow in some asian-inspired dish from my Thai cookbook that i coveted for years, finally got, and never made a thing out of. i do have a three day weekend after all, and i need some kitchen therapy.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

on things that make me cringe

my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Giada di Laurentiis' "Everyday Italian" for christmas, because she so enjoys it herself and wanted to share the love. what the SIL didn't know is that i totally hate this food network sweetheart - really don't care for at all. she tries to be cute, she's awfully peppy, and i just want to wipe the smile off her face with my backhand. the boy and i agree that she has no passion. she will pretend like hell that she does by grinning hugely and oohing and ahhing over chocolate, but if i have to hear her talk with her mouth full one more time, i shall scream.

having said that, i do watch her show. not religiously, but because at 4:30 in the afternoon when i'm winding down from work, it's the only thing worthwhile on tv. and one could argue that i could not turn the tv on, that i could do yoga, or go for a walk, or pour myself a glass of wine, or i dunno, go scrub the kitchen floor... but sometimes, after sitting here for hours, a bit of mindless tv dribble is what one needs at 4:30 in the afternoon. so sometimes i watch her and i am amazed at how she's able to keep her big ass bobblehead upright.

having said that, she has made a couple of things that sounded worthwhile. and also some that were not so great; in fact, really bad in idea. like taking store-bought breadsticks and wrapping them in prosciutto. wtf? what a good waste of ham. i'm down with breadsticks and i'm down with prosciutto (in fact, very much in love with prosciutto), but wrapped around bread? that sounds like something i'd concoct at 2 am after coming home from the bars when i lived in savannah and needed to get some food down to soak up all the booze. i mean, that's not a recipe. that's not FOOD. that shows NO PASSION. come on, woman.

so anyway, when the SIL gave me the book, i was all like, "oh!.... great!... thanks!" and before i could cut my eyes at the boy to shut the hell up, he let loose a torrent of hatred towards the bobblehead. i didnt want to be rude to my SIL, who loves the bobblehead so much and wanted to share her love, but he is more of a cut and dry person.

my usual nighttime reading is comprised mainly of cookbooks (last night's reading was from Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan, a fabulous book i got from the library), so that night as i lay back on my 14 bajillion pillows in bed, i picked up the book and cracked it open. i was kind of irritated to read mario batali's gushing intro about how he basically wish he'd met her earlier in his life because he's so in love with her. that part made me gag. i have much respect for mario; now, THAT man has passion. i just dont get why he is under the impression that bobblehead is full of passion. just dont get it. after a bit more reading, i will admit that there are a couple of recipes i will try, one of them being this balsamic roasted chicken that, according to my SIL, is the best thing ever. we'll see. i'm actually looking forward to trying it.

i think what it all boils down to is that i dont respect the bobblehead because Di Laurentiis is not really her name. it's a family name, that of her maternal grandfather (the producer or director or whatever it is that he did with those B movies). it's her mother's maiden name. and i'm irritated that instead of resting on her own laurels, she climbed her way to Food Stardom by riding her grandfather's coattails and using his name. . i don't know, i know a lot of actors do that (use a family name) but it still irritates me all the same. also, she's married yet doesnt wear a wedding ring. perhaps i'm old fashioned (nothing wrong with that), but if you're going to go through all the trouble of courtship and marriage, you might as well have a symbol of it with you at all times. not to show potential suitors that you're not available, but as a sign of respect for your partner.

i guess i'm old fashioned after all.