Thursday, November 25, 2010

Food is Love

And I am very thankful for both this year. I just have some quick, unedited pics of Chinese Turkey Day. Pete and Cynthia hosted, he cooked, I played a supporting prep-and-consult role. The menu was:

1. Potstickers
2. Salad- I think dad called this 'four happiness', it only has 4 things in it. I forgot to get pictures of these things.

3. Lion's head soup, which is just very big meatballs

4. Fried rice- Josh's contribution, and mighty tasty. Missed the photo op.

5. Steamed turkey & chestnuts

6. Sweet and sour turkey- Edwin's hands-down favorite; he was jumping up and down. That's a compliment for you.

7. Authentic chow mein. I'll post a link to the noodle videos, whenever Pete gets them up.

8. Lots Of Desserts! Which I wish I'd taken pictures of, especially the almond curd which is traditional. Next time.

I am going to bed early so I can fetch my mommy from the airport tomorrow. Why is mom flying during the holiday? Because my niece Beatrice is here. Bea is one week old, and looks like an ice cream cone. This is the sound of me dissolving into goosh. *blub blub blub blub*

Happy holidays and good wishes to you all!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Warm Spinach And Grilled Apple Salad

...with goat cheese and hazelnuts.

This is a good means for eating spinach and under ripe apples in nasty weather when you are afraid that if you succumb to the call of comfort food one more time you will come down with scurvy.

1 apple, kinda tart and green, of a variety that holds its shape well when cooked. I'm sorry I have no idea what this was. It sat in the kitchen for over a month and was nearly as hard and green today as it was when I got it at the apple festival back in October.

a sliver of butter

2 handfuls of spinach
some hazelnuts, toasted, no salt
a sprinkle of herbed goat cheese, this was from TJ's
splash of sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and good olive oil

Core the apple, slice it about 1/4" thick, and put them in a single layer in a frying pan. You want the pan to be just above medium-hot so the apples get nice and brown but you don't scorch the butter. Don't poke them around, they'll get all mushy. When the apples are brown on one side, turn them over and do the other side, then shove them to the side of the pan and put in one handful of spinach. Stir it around a couple times, then stir in the apples, and as soon as the spinach is starting to look wilted, dump it onto a plate. Toss it with another handful of spinach and fling in the nuts and cheese. Shake a few drops of vinegar and oil over it and eat it before the fried bits get clammy or the fresh bits go limp.

I have lots of reasons to like this salad. I used up that damned apple. It is not cold, which is very appealing when it gets full dark before 5 pm. It has fat and protein in it, which makes it satisfying to eat, and it has all that leafy stuff you are supposed to eat, which allows me to feel virtuous doing it. And the nuts were the leftovers from another recipe I am Plotting, which calls for hazelnut butter...of which more later. It tastes way more complicated than it is, which I attribute to the 2 kinds of vinegar and the magic of caramelization. And it was fast- cooking, styling, photography, photo editing, eating and writing has all taken me less than 90 minutes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bacon is Indeed the Answer

I was in a very serious funk of uninspired-by-food, and then this recipe appeared in the paper. I went right out and bought cornmeal and bacon. Here's my version:

Bacon Bread!

1 large red onion- I think it was about a pound
3 (or 4) slices of trader joe's applewood smoked bacon
pinch of salt

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons molasses
2 eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Use a heavy, oven-safe skillet about 9" across. Fry the bacon until it's crispy, and remove from the pan. Slice the onion no more than 1/4 inch thick. Fry the onions in the bacon fat until the are very soft and have lost about 90% of their volume. A pinch of salt in the pan helps with this, besides keeping the onions from being one dimensionally sweet from the caramelization. When the onions are about done, Chop up the bacon. Mix all the dry ingredients and the bacon bits in a large bowl, put all the wet ingredients in a small bowl and whisk them together, then pour the wet into the dry and stir to combine. It doesn't need a lot of mixing. Pour the batter over the onions in the pan, and bake for about 35-40 minutes. Let the bread cool for 5 or 10 minutes and invert onto a plate.

My thoughts: NOM NOM!

Other than that, I got the batter a bit too moist. This is probably because I both under-measured the flour a trifle, and because I subbed molasses for the sugar in the original recipe. Next time (and there will be one, never fear!) I'll make the batter a little more stiff. This may cut my cooking time down some. I am starting to think, though, that my oven thermostat is a little cool. Every time I try a new recipe, the cooking time is way longer than recommended. Lastly, be aware that this bread has the same atomic weight as plutonium. Eat it with lots of fresh greens dressed with a splash of good vinegar.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wears Like Iron

Among many other family artifacts my Mom sent out to Portland were a couple cast iron pans. I got 'em, cuz my sibs are already fixed for that kind of stuff.

These weren't the first ones I've owned- in the last year or so I picked up 2 excellent ones at goodwill. Of course, the ones Mom sent have personal value due to their being the ones Dad used since Idunnowhen, but there are things I like about the goodwill finds too. They came from goodwill, duh, so they're awesome. I think I paid about 8 bucks a piece for them, which is about what they would have cost new. In another class of item (hellllooo!?! IKEA svalka wineglasses retail at $4.99 a 6-pack-don't think I'm gonna pay 99 cents each for a bunch of dinged up ones!), paying the same as for a new one would be foolish. In a cast-iron pan, years of hard use are a material advantage. The skillet on the right rear burner also has the inscription "D. Baldyy" scratched into the oxidized material of the handle. At least, I think that's what it says. I couldn't say why I like that so much. The pan in front of it I got a couple weeks ago. It's smaller, and weighs a lot less. Also, it's ambidextrously cast, that is, it has pouring "ears" on both sides. Baldyy has a spout only on the left side, which means it assumes that you'll pick it up with your right hand. Since it weighs a ton, and I'm right handed, that makes a certain amount of sense until I go to scrape the pan out and realize that I'm clumsy with a spatula in my left hand. I'd rather lift left-handed and scoop right. Dweebity, whatever. The little pan works well either way and is a pound or more lighter.

On the left are the pans mom sent. In front is a skillet that, while it is the same diameter as the larger of my goodwill scores, still weighs less. This runs with what I've heard about vintage cast iron: that one of the desirable features of some really old pieces is that it was cast in thinner molds. They have the same dimensions and durability as newer items, but are easier to sling around. This one was coated with dust & polymerized grease, and had a couple mouse turds adhered to it for lagniappe. Oh yeah. Plus, it's also got the two spouts. The thing in the back is larger and deeper than I think I'm ever likely to need, but I might try making bread in it. The seasoning on it had degraded pretty badly and it was showing a lot of rust when Jej pulled it out of the box. Does anybody remember if Dad used that thing to cook his picnic hams? Or bake bread in? Anyway, it's a no-foolin' piece of ironmongery.

So what did I want to take on these grotty old things for? It took about half an hour of elbow grease, baking soda, and cooking oil to get those 2 pans back in really decent shape. I'm pretty confident that they'll cook really well when I try them out, but it was kind of an effort.

Because they are simply better than anything else at what they do. There's a reason there are so many teflon pans at goodwill- the damn things wear out. They also aren't safe at high temperatures. You heat up a teflon pan under a broiler and everything you eat is gonna get a nonstick coating. You could invest in fancy enamel LeCreuset or some shit. I mean, I love mine, but again- I thrifted it. Enamel is easy to clean and safe at high temperatures, but once you whang a hole in it, you might as well throw the pan out, and some of that stuff is mighty costive. Or you could buy stainless. You'd pay the same or nearly as much for All-Clad, or something else that would give you equally good heat distribution, and you'd save on weight. Or you could pay a tenth the amount for cast iron. At any rate, unlike either teflon or enamel, the nonstick coating that develops on a cast-iron pan is continuously self-repairing. I think that's the feature that beats the heck out of all other choices for me. Low-tech beats high tech on safety, durability, and effectiveness, plus throws in the magic Accio Reparo! function at the end. I love that.