Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lent Shment.

So I’m giving up french fries for Lent.

Don’t laugh, this is serious.

I’m a horrible Catholic. I go to church when I feel like it (maybe once every 4 years); swear like a trucker; get pissy on Sunday when I run out of booze and can’t buy any (Georgia is a dry state on Sundays); haven’t been to confession in 20 years; and I got married not in a church but on a boat. By the boat captain. Much to my mother’s dismay.

But I still consider myself a Catholic and feel like I ought to participate in some of the rituals, like giving up something for Lent. And it has to be really good, something that the absence of will upset me on more than one occasion, something that will make me lament and woe-is-me to nobody in particular. Of course, I could have given up swearing and drinking, but lets be real here. I do have my priorities.

This decision to give up fries also came about because I had them not once, not twice, but 5 times last week. I also had pizza twice, and this, my friends, is a big fat no-no. I’m going to a family gathering in a month, and even though I look and feel pretty good, I’m trying to mentally prepare for the onslaught of Mothra’s insults. Frankly, I don’t need to be eating so many fries and so much pizza anyway. I ended the week feeling ridiculously bloated and lethargic.

I read something a few months ago (and for the life of me can’t remember where I read it) about a woman who decided to only eat fries that were well-made fries. I thought this was a good idea, so I tried it for a while. This meant no fast food fries, no thick undercooked/undersalted fries from the greasy spoon on the ground floor of my office building, not even any oven fries straight from the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. None of these satisfy me or make me feel better once eating them anyway. The only fries that make me feel good are the skinny frites type, fried twice (once on low and the last, quick fry on high temp). But herein lies the problem. Those were the ones I had five times last week. By the fifth time, they didn’t even appeal to me anymore. So I decided to give them up for a week or so; and last night when I looked at the calendar and realized that today was Mardi Gras, that’s when I made my decision to give them up for Lent altogether.

A decision I’m sure to moan and groan about in a couple of weeks when I end up someplace where the fries will come out of the kitchen stacked tall, super skinny, and perfectly crispy and salty.

My waistline might thank me too. I hope.

above photo of steak frites was taken one night in 2007

Monday, February 16, 2009

on forbidden fruit: sauteed mushrooms and scallops

The boy is in Daytona Beach this weekend doing Very Important NASCAR Things. When I go out of town, the boy makes himself a big huge steak. I’m not really quite sure why, because it’s not like I don’t mind a good steak myself, but he’s got this tradition of eating steak when I’m not around. And the same goes for me as well; when he’s not around, I eat the things he normally doesn’t care for. The one thing the boy cannot stand more than any other foodstuff are mushrooms. Being a trained professional, he obviously has worked with them countless times; he knows how they’re supposed to look, feel, and taste. He’s made them for me before, and they’ve always turned out lovely. But it all comes down to a texture and odor thing for him. He is just not into them the way I’m into them, and that’s fine. I never cook with mushrooms when he’s around so as to not offend his senses; so when I do, it’s very special to me.

Having said that, I sometimes wonder if mushrooms are special to me because they are like the forbidden fruit. Way back in my youth, I used to date someone who was allergic to coconut. I craved Thai green curry the entire length of our year-long relationship. i do like the occasional curry, but I never crave it like I did back then. I’ll attribute this to the fact that I just couldn’t have any when we ate together; and I started to fear that his head would blow up like a melon and I’d have to cart him off to the hospital if he came anywhere near a coconut. Not a nice visual. So I sat around and moaned about my great love for Thai green curry to no one in particular, when in fact it’s not a great love of mine at all; it’s merely a like that was unattainable at the time.

I made this recipe a while back for J (who is also a huge mushroom lover) and I could have sworn on my grandmother’s grave that it was a Gordon Ramsay recipe. At that time, we had been watching a lot of Hell’s Kitchen and I’d read his autobiography, so I must have had GR on the brain. Today when I went to look for the recipe, I was surprised that I couldn’t find it in either of the two cookbooks we have by him. At that point I became a little discouraged because I have a shit ton of cookbooks and didn’t feel like sorting through them to find said elusive recipe. But then, when glancing at the topmost shelf, my eyes rested on Tom Colicchio’s book “Think Like A Chef”, and I knew it had to be in there. And there it was, pages sticking together from the butter i'd used the last time.

I adapted the recipe for 2 servings, since I’ll be eating one of the helpings for tomorrow’s lunch. Also, make and eat as many scallops as you want. I usually can do only two per serving; any more seems like too much of a good thing to me. I had today’s portion with a glass of wine for a late lunch/early dinner around 5 pm, after a grueling workout and a much needed bubble bath.

“pan roasted” mushrooms and scallops – adapted from Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio

Serves 2.

For the mushrooms:

Olive oil, for cooking
1 lb mixed mushrooms (I used shitake, maitake, portabella, and regular white button), cleaned, trimmed and thickly sliced
Salt and pepper
1 big shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
A couple of knobs of butter
1 tablespoon thyme leaves, minced
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves, minced

Heat a tablespoon or so of the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook the mushroom in batches; you want them to cook beautifully; if you crowd the pan, they will steam and not be as good. Add enough mushrooms to coat the pan. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes without touching them – this is key. You want to get good color on them, and good texture; and the only way to do this is to leave them be.

After 2 minutes, gently turn them once they begin to brown and soften . add some of the shallot, garlic, herbs, and a knob of butter, and cook until they turn brown. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, and repeat the process with the rest of the mushrooms. You can wipe out the pan in between cooking the batches so that leftover shards of garlic and shallot don’t burn.

For the scallops:

4 sea scallops (I’m thinking 2 per person, depending on their size and your appetite)
salt and pepper
Canola or peanut oil
Couple of knobs of butter
1 recipe pan roasted mushrooms
More chopped thyme and tarragon, if you’d like.

Dry the scallops with paper towels, then season on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in the same large skillet over medium-high heat; add the scallops and cook until they are beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Absolutely do not touch them or move them around during this time. You can walk away, but come back in 2 minutes to check on them.

Turn the scallops, add a knob of butter and the reserved mushrooms. Toss in a little more chopped tarragon and thyme if you’d like at this point. Baste the scallops with the butter until they become opaque, begin to firm up, and get golden on the other side; this should take another minute or two. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from skillet and plate it all.

photos were taken with my cell phone since the camera is in Daytona along with the boy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

sketti and meatballs

I figured it’s about time I blogged about food again. Don’t you think?

My dog has been ill (this will segue into food-related content, I promise you). She was diagnosed with megaesophagus. Yeah, I had to look that up too. It all started because she was put on heavy duty meds for Lyme disease back in December (which we think she caught when we lived in Maryland). Right after New Years, she suddenly became lethargic and either wouldn’t eat or would projectile vomit everywhere. Fun, right? So we hauled her back to the vet, who announced that the projectile vomiting caused some friction of some sort in her esophagus, which is why she couldn’t keep food from going down. The vet said to keep her food and water elevated and she should be fine.

Vets don’t know shit, I tell you what. That is all the vet told me about megaesophagus (and then charged me 600 dollars for the privilege), and I’m beginning to think that vets don’t know anything about this condition yet are afraid to say so. Just admit that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. We all make mistakes.

Even with elevated food and water, my dog couldn’t keep the food down. We tried baby food, liquid vitamins, liquid dog milk. Within a week, my poor Loo had lost so much weight from not eating that she couldn’t stand up. One day i had to carry her up the stairs. My dog is an American Bulldog, not small, and I’ve never been able to carry her. But I picked her up, laid her on the bed, and broke down and cried. We thought we were going to have to put her down. Anyone out there who is a dog lover knows that this is not an easy decision to make. We are childless, so our dog is our kid.

That very day, I found a yahoo message board devoted to dogs with megaesophagus, and the correct way to care for them; and since then the change in my dog has been incredible. She’s back to her normal self; well, still with megaesophagus, which she might have the rest of her life, but I don’t care. She’s back to her quirks and her waggy tails and her stop/drop/roll in the street when she sees someone coming towards us and she wants to be cute (it works, by the way. People are instantly charmed by her goofy face).

We’ve been feeding her canned prescription dog food, mixed with instant mashed potatoes and rolled into meatballs. She is a big fan of the meatball, and I’m getting very adept at making them too. I attribute part of this to one night before Christmas when I made a vat of spaghetti and meatballs. I was rolling meatballs for what seemed like an hour. Little did I know I’d be doing this three to four times a day for a good long while.

I never make spaghetti and meatballs anymore, because I always had trouble cooking them. I always made them at least half-dollar sized if not larger, and they would inevitably turn out scorched on the outside and raw in the middle, or would totally fall apart in the cooking process. So I just gave up. But one day I was craving pasta like CRAZY – it was all I could think about. I grabbed Molto Italiano, Every Night Italian, Rao’s, and Cook with Jamie, and settled on the pappardelle with ragu of tiny meatballs in the Jamie book. I always had an aversion to tiny meatballs, thinking maybe they wouldn’t be flavorful enough and not pack enough punch, but decided to get over it (and glad I did). The hint of cinnamon and the zest of lemon really make this zing.

I hadn’t yet been gifted the squiggly pasta cutter, so I just made do with some boxed ziti. You can use any pasta you want, but I’m sure it’s stellar with fresh home made squiggly cut pasta. Mid meatball making, Ken and MA called to ask what we were up to for dinner, so I doubled the recipe, plopped it in the slow cooker once done, and brought it to their house.

pasta with a ragu of tiny meatballs - adapted from Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver

your choice of dried pasta, or one basic recipe pasta dough
a good knob of butter
a good handful of parmesan cheese

1 lb ground beef
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
pinch ground cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
3 cloves minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
handful of parmesan cheese
zest of one lemon

tomato sauce:
3 to 4 cloves minced garlic
bunch of fresh basil, leaves chiffonaded and stems reserved
1 fresh red chili, split down the middle (you can use red pepper flakes, to taste, if you don’t have a chili)
2 14 oz cans plum tomatoes
swig of red wine vinegar
salt, pepper

If making fresh pasta, do that first. Several different recipes can be found here and here. For fresh, don’t cook the pasta yet, but leave it on well-floured surface covered with a kitchen towel until ready to use. Get a large pot of water on to boil.

Place all meatball ingredients in a large bowl; wash your hands really well and mix by hand. Roll into teeny tiny meatballs (I would say about the size of a nickel but no more than a quarter). Wet your hands every once in a while, as the meatballs will hold their shape better and the mixture won’t stick to your hands as much. Set to the side.

In a large saucepan, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic, basil stems, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, and red wine vinegar. Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper and let simmer for a half hour.

In the meantime, heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large skillet and add the meatballs, in batches so as not to overcrowd. Cook until they're browned, turning every once in a while, and let them drain on paper towels while the next batch cooks. When done with all the meatballs, add to the tomato sauce. Remove the red chili and check for salt and pepper seasoning. Simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.

While this is simmering, add a handful of kosher salt to the now boiling water and cook your pasta according to the directions on the box (for dried), or 1 to 3 minutes (for fresh – if you’ve done this before you will figure out how long it takes to cook – it doesn’t take long at all, so don’t walk away). Drain, saving some of the cooking water. Carefully toss pasta in with the sauce, adding the reserved cooking water if too thick. Add the knob of butter, the parmesan, half the basil leaves. Toss around gently and top with more basil.

Serve with garlic bread (that will be for another post. soon. i promise).

Friday, February 6, 2009

since i've been asked...

i've been asked to spread the word about cookbook author Jernard Wells coming to town. now, i'm not in the habit of endorsing stuff or hollering about my love for something unless i know all about it, but i'm feeling generous today and figured this couldn't hurt. I don't know much about Chef Wells, but sure Julie, i'll spread the word. Here is what i do know, cut n pasted from the publisher:

Chef Jernard will be coming to Atlanta to help lovers figure out how to whip up a romantic meal at home for Valentine's Day. He is the author of 88 Ways to Her Heart: Cooking for Lovers.

He'll be at Friday Night Live at Foxtales in Woodstock on Friday night and at Dog Ear Books on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. doing cooking demonstrations.

i can't go to either meet-n-greet as i'll be working (you know, that thing that helps pay the bills, that keeps me on conference calls on friday nights and early saturday mornings with india), and also neither of these locations is in my neck of the woods. if anyone does go for a look see, let me know how it turns out.

Fox Tale Book Shoppe
105 East Main Street, #138
Woodstock GA 30188

Dog Ear Books
142 Academy St
Madison, GA 30650
(706) 342-3460

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Never refuse any advance of friendship, for if nine out of ten bring you nothing, one alone may repay you."

the lovely, talented, and fellow redhead (although i'm more of a strawberry) Karen over at foodvox nominated me for a proximity award. karen is one of the fine folks i met through serious eats. karen's blog has multiple personalities (you'll see what i mean when you get there), and i enjoy her musings.

so what is a proximity award, you ask?

This blog invests and believes the PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and
relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to
find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement.
Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships
are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers!

i am therefore awarding my own proximity awards to the bloggers whose writings i enjoy immensely. a couple of these are totally non-food related. in order to not put any of my friends in a position they don't feel like being in, i'm letting them know that they are not obligated to pass the award on to anyone else if they don't feel like it. but i do like and admire these folks, some whom i know personally, some who came to my wedding and danced the night away with crazy French people and lived to tell the tale (here's looking at you, Flip Cub).

the non-food related:

An Unrepentant Alcoholic's Guide to Drinking in San Francisco aka Flip Cub's Beervana
this guy used to sign my paychecks, so i feel i ought to be nice to him. sorta. his blog, which is about bar-hopping in san francisco, is relatively new; but he's got quite a few posts already up there. the last time i read one of his entries, i was drinking coffee and it came spurting out of my nose because i was laughing so hard. i am a big fan of his writing style.

root and source
yet another character who used to sign my paychecks. nathan's blog is about the unitarian faith. being a relapsed catholic, i'm obviously no unitarian; but it's nice to read his blog once in a while for a reality check on life and what's important. love you, dude. we need to get together for drinks soon.

the food-related:

running with tweezers
atlanta-based tami is a food stylist and writes a lovely heart-felt blog. her recipes are great and the accompanying pictures are beautiful. she's well-known in the atlanta food blog world.

the art of the pig
adventures in (mostly) sausage-making and cured meats. i like his no-nonsense writing style.

diaries of a MODman
denver-based, new to the blogging scene. and he's got a job in the architecture world, which makes me highly jealous. that and he was grilling outside in january. in DENVER!

joe pastry
this dude already has quite a huge following, but if you're into baking and pastry and are not aware of his writings yet, you need to start following his blog. he has a theme a week and delves into his theme at 150%. no stone goes unturned in his quest to make pastry. a very gracious and witty writer, he will respond pretty quickly to your emails if you should feel so inclined to send him one.

hot potato
another karen, who blogs from maryland. her blog is vegetarian-centric and recipes are mostly slated for one. i am no vegetarian, but i also don't eat meat every day and a lot of my meals are eaten alone, so i enjoy her recipes. she hasn't blogged in a while, so i hope everything is okay on her end of the mail chute.

i am supposed to give 8 "shout outs"; know i'm only up to 7, so i owe one more. however, i need to start paying attention to this conference call i'm on. i'll award it at a later date.

happy reading!

title quote by Madame de Tencin

on Top Chef tryouts

casting calls for Top Chef 6 start this weekend; tryouts in Atlanta take place on February 22 at colicchio's new restaurant. i squealed with glee when i read about this on the innernets, and texted the boy at work.

the boy: outta my league
me: oh puleez. Dale from a couple of seasons ago got to the finals, and he hadn't cooked in something like two years.
the boy: well there is that.
me: seriously, think about it. could be fun. besides, if you win, we could pay our bills. and you could stare at Padma's boobs a lot.
the boy: true. i do like boobs.

i knew i could appeal to him somehow.