Thursday, October 29, 2009

tasty peas (not really a recipe)

Amazing the things you can find lurking in your freezer. There I was leaning into the deep freezer in the garage, digging around for nothing in particular, when I came across several half-full bags of frozen vegetables. I was looking for a side to go with a seared piece of fish for lunch, so I immediately put on a pot of water to boil.

Tossed that half a bag of peas (about 8 oz) into the boiling water which I’d salted liberally, and let the peas swim around for a minute or two; then drained them and tossed into a bowl. Chopped up some mint I had leftover from a chimichurri marinade I made for last night’s dinner; tossed that into the pea bowl. Used up the half an avocado leftover from last night’s salad; chopped that up and threw into the bowl. Grated in some lemon zest; squeezed in the juice from half that lemon. Salted liberally. Drizzled in a wee bit of olive oil. Gently mixed it all together, and there I had enough for two lunch sides for me (one for today and one for tomorrow).

Really nice and bright, and a great way to use up the random things one can find in the fridge and freezer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

breaking news: this just in!


i bought turkey bacon today.

i feel like i'm cheating on my good friend Regular Bacon. do you think Reg will ever forgive me?

the true test is in the taste, so we'll see how that goes when i chop Fake Bake up into bits and toss it into a pot of beans later. we shall see....

ah, who am i fooling.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

my friend Ryan's turkey chili, with which I ran off and did my own thing

A detestable dish sold from Texas to New York City and erroneously described as Mexican.**

Hoo wee! Lemme tell you right now that I am in no way going to add to the controversy over “Which state has the best chili” or “What is authentic chili”. For many years we, in this house, made only Texas-style chili because the boy didn’t like beans. Well, he likes them now – or if he doesn’t, he eats them because they are pretty good for you, plus it gives him endless fodder for fart jokes. And who doesn’t love a good fart joke?

One of the best quotes I’ve found which encompasses how I feel about chili is this one by Carroll Shelby, the race car driver and chili-starter-kit-maker (which I totally borrowed from the International Chili Society site)

The beauty of chili to me is that it's really a state of mind. It's what you want when you make it. You can put anything in there you want, make it hot or mild, any blend of spices you feel like at the time. You make it up to suit your mood.

And that settles that for me.

Over the weekend when the first cold winds blew through Atlanta, we began using our fireplace for the first time this season. I love the change of seasons, and I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love all the foods associated with the change of seasons. All the lovely fall vegetables, pears, apples, and an endless list of stews and soups. Last Saturday night while I was trolling Facebook, my friend Ryan posted that she was making turkey chili with her stepdaughter, which immediately sparked my interest. I’ve never made turkey chili before. Our chilis are usually beef-centric. In the last month, the boy and I have spent a lot of time really thinking about the food we’re eating, due to that whole Lifestyle Change thing I wrote about in the previous blog post, which has led to less red meat in our diet. I tell ya, healthy eating is not easy. And by that I mean you have to really consciously put effort into meal planning. You can’t just grab a Stouffer’s frozen lasagna, toss that in the oven and call it a day (not that there is anything wrong with Stouffer’s lasagna – I realize it’s a great convenience to have and we’ve eaten our fair share of them when we didn’t have the time to plan anything, but have you seen the list of ingredients?). Here’s the thing: we still may not have the time to plan meals, but we make the time. That’s the thing about Lifestyle Changes, you must force yourself to make the time for working out and planning meals, and next thing you know it becomes second nature. If that means devoting a few hours on the weekend to sitting down and making a list, and cooking big vats of soup that will feed your family all week, well, make that time. Besides, you can cook together, and I find that cooking with people you love is a very harmonious and nice way to pass the time.

So anyhoo – Ryan was busy making turkey chili and I immediately commented on her FB status that I wanted said recipe, which she graciously typed up and sent over. The original recipe was her own creation, so I was really honored that she took the time to put it down on paper for me. She is good people. We are going to start a project together soon, but I’m not going to say much more about that now. It’s still brewing in the dark part of our brains, although we really do need to get on that. Ryan, let’s talk soon!

I took her recipe and ran with it, put my own twist on it. Keeping with Mr Shelby’s quote from above, I think you should do the same. I’d love to hear what variations you made!

My friend Ryan’s turkey chili, with which I ran off and did my own thing

1 lb. ground turkey
1 lb. turkey sausage (hot or sweet, depends on what you like) removed from the casings OR 1 lb. turkey kielbasa (smoked or not, up to you), chopped up into pieces
4 cups chicken stock
1 small can diced green chilies
3 cans of beans, drained (great northern, cannellini, red kidney, black beans, a combo of whichever you prefer)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped up small
2 celery ribs, chopped up small
1 can of corn, drained
½ green pepper, chopped up (you can use a whole pepper. I only had a half left in the fridge)
½ jalapeño, chopped up small (keep the seeds if you want it spicy. Hell, use the whole jalapeno)
½ of a 28 oz can of whole tomatoes
Chili powder
Dried oregano
Cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Black pepper

1. Heat a nonstick skillet to medium /medium- high and brown the turkey meat and the turkey sausage together, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until it’s brown. If you are using turkey kielbasa instead of turkey sausage, leave this out for now and just brown the ground turkey. When there is no more pink left, drain the meat and set it aside.

2. In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, add one tablespoon of olive oil and heat it on medium. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, green pepper, and sauté this together, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon and scraping up the bottom as you go along. Add the drained turkey meat and if using, the chopped up kielbasa. Then add (to your liking):

• a tablespoon (or more) chili powder (start with a couple of teaspoons if you want it less spicy)
• a tablespoon (or more) each of cumin, paprika, and dried oregano
• ½ teaspoon cayenne powder (you can always add more later if you want more spice)
• ½ teaspoon of salt (you will probably add more later, so keep the salt to a minimum now and add later on – you can always salt more but you can never take it back)

3. Using half of the canned whole tomatoes, squeeze a few of the tomatoes into your pot to break them up a bit (using your impeccably clean hands!). {Save the remaining tomatoes for another day or for pasta}. Add the can of green chilies. Let this cook together for a bit, stirring occasionally.

4. Add 3 to 4 cups of chicken stock or chicken broth, and stir. Bring to a simmer, and let that cook for a few minutes. You can add more broth if it’s too thick. Then add all the beans (that you’ve drained), stir well while scraping up the bottom, and let the whole thing simmer. Let simmer for however long you want, half hour or so. Taste for seasonings – salt, maybe more chili powder or cumin or cayenne. You can always add hot sauce to your bowl when you eat it.

** Quote from a Mexican dictionary, courtesy of Food Timeline

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

the D word.

Things are changing around here. In my last post I wrote about eating enjoyable (read: really fattening tasty yummy stuff) in moderation, as I’m a firm believer in that (moderation, that is). In the past two weeks, the boy and I have embarked on what I’d like to call a “lifestyle change”. I use the term “lifestyle change” as opposed to “diet” – the word “diet” is so negative, don’t you think? In modern times we’ve put such a depressing twist on the word. I remember as a kid watching Dexatrim ads on TV which brainwashed women (including my mom, who as far back as I can remember has always been on a diet) into thinking they could take pills and lose a ton of weight quickly! Almost instantly! And the energy they had! A positive side effect to this is that they’d also have an impeccably clean house.

The word “diet” means a “Habitual course as of living or, esp., feeding; hence, food and drink regularly provided or consumed; fare” (my 1941 version of Webster’s Collegiate never steered me wrong. And yes, I still consult books and sometimes prefer to do that over searching the internet. I find books so much more romantic; so be it). The Latin diaeta came to be associated with the Latin word for day, dies. Which then ran off with ‘day’s journey’, ‘day’s work’, ‘day appointed for a meeting’, hence the modern use of the word diet not only referring to food but to daily conference. Anyhoo.

So for a short while (or maybe a long while) we’ll be engaged into eating lighter meals, as in: lighter in calories and fat. This has, as you can imagine, been a little weird getting used to. I’ve had to rediscover how to sauté onions without a good pat of butter and a nice drizzle of olive oil. I’ve actually been forcing myself to measure out by teaspoonfuls how much oil I’m using, if any. EGAD. I KNOW. THE SKY IS FALLING.

I’ve started to adjust my habits; it will take some time. It’s like learning how to cook again, in a way. It’s also bizarre to be reading every label of every jar and container I put in the grocery cart at the store. You’d be amazed at how much crap we willingly ingest on a daily basis. it's pretty gross.

Part of this lifestyle change has also meant that exercise is a huge part of it. We’re working out 6 days a week, for at least one hour. Part of this is because we are now embarking on what I like to call The Big Eatin’ Months, celebrating food holidays like Thanksgiving and all the office parties and cocktail parties that lead up to Christmas. The other part of this is because I hit 40 this year and I’ve noticed changes in my body – not reacting as it should, not able to drop a pound as easily as I used to, hangovers harder to get rid of – major discrepancies from when I was younger. And also, I recently saw a picture of me from behind, and WOW was that ever disappointing. But I’m not going to bore you all with that melodramatic crap; after all I am here to talk about food. When you think of that old word “diet”, the kind my mother would go on ( is still on, has been on as far back as I remember), you immediately think of deprivation. Here’s the deal: if I want French fries, by God I’m going to have them. I just won’t have any more of them for the rest of the week (or month). If I want French fries cooked in duck fat with a side of crispy bacon dripping with maple flavor, I sure as shit am going to eat them. But I’ll not eat them again for a while. I will feed the craving, and then I don’t need or crave it again for a while.

In order to make lighter food taste appealing, you have to season it properly and use a lot of herbs (this is not a new idea, I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but it makes total sense). The other day while stretching after one of the most strenuous workouts I’ve ever endured, I got to thinking about tomato basil soup. Actually, the guy on the DVD I was following was talking about tomato basil soup, and the idea stuck in my head. And now that we’ve solidly moved forward into my favorite season of all time, soup is welcoming. This particular soup is also a great way to use up the last of the summer basil, mine which is wilting and yellowing outside, not knowing what to make of this weather. I could also make pesto and freeze it for one dark, dismal winter day when I’m needing a bright burst of sunshine; and as much as that sounds appealing, I do not want to tempt myself with gobs of olive oil and parmesan cheese at this moment. I can see myself caving and tilting my head far back, mouth open wide, and dropping handfuls of freshly grated parm into my mug. Not a good idea.

This recipe is adapted from one in the first Barefoot Contessa book. As much as I do love basil, I thought the original amount called for was pretty hefty (four cups worth), but you can always add more if you feel the need to.

This will make 3 to 4 quarts, and I’m thinking it might freeze beautifully.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup, adapted from The Barefoot Contessa

3 pounds Roma or plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise (they don’t have to be super ripe, as the roasting will help bring out their flavor)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 for tomatoes, 1 for onions)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
2 medium onions, chopped
4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust to your spice likeness)
1 28-oz can of plum tomatoes
2 ½ cups (packed) basil leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or vegetable stock

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a large rimmed sheet pan, toss together the tomato halves, the two tablespoons of olive oil, the salt and the pepper. Line the tomatoes cut side up and roast for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and move to the side while you get your stock pot on.

2. In a large stockpot on medium heat, heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the onions, the garlic, and the red pepper flakes for 10 minutes. You may find that you need more olive oil, but I found this amount to be plenty. Once onions start to brown and caramelize, add the canned tomatoes, the basil, thyme, chicken or vedge stock, the roasted tomatoes and whatever juices that accumulated on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently and breaking up the whole canned tomatoes, then bring to a simmer for 40 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat.

3. Blend with a stick blender, regular blender, food processor, or food mill. If you are using a regular blender or food processor, remember to blend very small quantities at a time, lest hot liquid come shooting out, burn the crap out of you and leave you with a nice aromatic mess to clean up. Not that I have any experience in that.

4. Taste for seasonings (salt and pepper); chances are you will need a copious amount of salt, but salt a little at a time, tasting as you go until you are satisfied. If you’re making this to eat at a later date, wait until the soup has cooled to room temperature before salting. Why do I do this? I’m not sure. I probably saw it on TV someplace.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

good side effects spoken here

Remember when WOW chips first came out? Do they still even make WOW chips? I was a student living in Savannah at the time (late 1990s), and my landlady was the first to tell me about them. My landlady, Alice, was a loud Southern character who grew up on an old plantation outside of town. She was very skeptical of foreigners and non-Southerners (once calling a Chinese student That Chinaman), but decided I must okay because my Dad was born in Mississippi. She mostly talked to me about food and dieting. One afternoon she treated her tenants to a cookout and brought over several bags of this new WOW potato chip, then spent the rest of the afternoon yakking my ear off about how wonderful they were because even though she considered them “diet food”, they were just like a greasy potato chip, and Alice was all about the greasy potato chip. So I’m sitting there listening to her and eating WOW chips by the ton, and I started to agree with her. Those things didn’t taste half bad! But as the afternoon wore on, my stomach started to feel a bit odd, and later that evening I found myself in the bathroom a whole hell of a lot. I won’t take you down that visual of a road, but let's just say that it wasn’t until the next morning that I saw the warning label on the side of the bag that announced to no one in particular that said chips could potentially cause you to have a case of what my friend Patty calls The Dire Rear. Good times.

Anyway, all that to tell you that if you want a chip, eat a real chip. I mean, how often does a person eat chips anyway? (Ok don’t answer that question). It’s the same for me at Starbucks. I never go to Starbucks anymore; but if I do, and if I happen to order a Mocha, why on earth would I order it fat free and with no whipped cream? Why deny myself the simple pleasures of life? It’s not like I’m downing Mochas every day. Everything in moderation. You have to balance it all out. Yin and yang. You catch my drift.

Duck fat is one of those things that should be eaten in moderation. It’s also one of those “simple pleasures of life” that I hold right up there with clean sheets, eating an Oreo that’s been dunked into a very cold glass of milk, and riding a bike with no hands (look Ma!).

You can purchase duck fat or obtain your own by slowly cooking a duck on low heat. It’s kind of hard to find a place that will sell the fat raw unless you’re super friendly with your butcher (you can find it rendered and packaged ready to go via Froogle, but frankly i'm a bit skeptical of that finished product). The average grocery store will not carry it. In Atlanta we have this wonderful institution called the Dekalb County Farmers Market, and they sell it there. They also sell pig fat for those days you get a hankerin for some rillettes.

So what exactly is confit? The general definition is a duck (or goose, or piece of pig) cooked very slowly in its own fat, then stored in the same fat used to cook it in. A newer definition of the word describes confit to be a vegetable or fruit cooked to a jam-like consistency; if you watch Top Chef you’ll have noticed the chefs like to throw that one around a lot. But I’m not talking vedge here, I’m talking duck.

Duck fat by itself is a wonderous thing and will freeze beautifully. I’m not sure how long it’ll stick around in the fridge, I’ve seen reports varying from two months to whenever. I lean on the side of whenever. Fats were used as a preservative back in the old days before refrigeration, so I’ve no trouble keeping a container of it around in the fridge to have handy.

Earlier this summer, the boy and I made the pilgrimage to DCFM; since it isn’t exactly la porte à coté, we make the most of these trips and stock up on all kinds of dried goods and spices. The main reason for our trip, though, was to secure some duck fat and buy a duck or two, as we were making duck confit. I could bore you with the details of what we did to render out the fat, but instead I’ll direct you to the Very Excellent blog Sugarlaws, which demonstrates it and shows gorgeous photos of goldeny goodness.

so now we have containers of duck fat in the fridge and freezer to have around for when you need a tablespoon or two of it. To use in what, you say? How about some fried potatoes? Or as my friend Darrel likes to call them, Fancy Duck Taters.

In order to get your taters to be Ducked and Fancied, you will need to start by par-boiling some potatoes until they are nearly cooked all the way through, then let them cool. how many potatoes per person? that depends on your appetite. one medium sized Yukon should yield enough fries to serve one person, but if you're a glutton or just simply really enjoy fries, i would err on the side of More Potato.

Add some of your rendered and saved duck fat to frying pan or large skillet. You’ll need enough to coat the bottom of the pan, plus a couple of tablespoons. Turn the burner on high, then when the fat has melted and is hot enough , kick it back down to medium-high. An old trick to figuring out if the oil (or fat in this case) is hot enough is to stick the handle of a wooden spoon straight down in it, and if bubbles form around the spoon, then it’s ready.

You can do a test run, like we did in these pictures, by frying up a few potato slices to see if the fat is hot enough; and besides it’s nice to have some fries to snack on while the main batch are cooking away. Slide your potato slices into the fat and cook, occasionally basting them with the fat. When they are crispy brown on one side (this should take a few minutes), flip them over to cook on the other side.

When the potatoes are golden brown on both sides, remove them from the fat and place them onto one of those wire cooling racks you use for baking that you’ve placed over a cookie sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. If you don’t have one of these cooling racks, you could use a paper towel-lined bowl and toss the potatoes around, salting and peppering liberally.

We ate these with a spatchcocked chicken (otherwise known as butterflied chicken or chicken-under-a-brick, which we’ve made here and here).

We don’t eat this way every day, in fact I’d say for obvious reasons, you shouldn’t eat potatoes cooked this way very often. Remember that whole “Everything in moderation thing”? however, the side effects of these potatoes are quite the opposite from WOW chips: a case of the full and happy belly. No Dire Rear here.