Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thai dyed

Yes, I've been gone for two weeks. Whilst I've mostly been taking care of two little germ factories, I did manage to sneak into the kitchen and cook and bake a few things. As I don't have too much to say, we'll start off with some pictures, in no particular chronological order.

I made Valentine's Day cupcakes for the boys' party using the vegan orange cake recipe from Joy. Topped with a confectionary sugar glaze and some pink and red sugar, this is an easy recipe and a nice one to have on hand for when you really want cake but don't have eggs or butter in the fridge.

This is the chocolate version, using the Wacky Chocolate Cake recipe from Michele Urvater's book, Chocolate Cake. Good Mary do I hate the recipe title but, again, it's good to have around when the fridge is bare. Same glaze as before and full of yum.

I also made the spinach pie recipe from my Diane Kochilas book using her homemade phyllo dough. It's nothing like what comes in the packages; it's not thin and fragile and flaky. It's very much like a soft, bread-y pie dough, not rich, and I can't think intelligently enough to describe it. Dense is a good enough adjective, but not heavy. You may be able to tell from the picture what I'm talking about. Anyway, it's a lovely pie, made even more interesting with the use of fennel and onion. I'm not at all a big fan of fennel but this pie was like crack to me and I ate it every day until it was gone. On the side I served some eggplant balls I got at Altomonte's, little fried morsels of eggplant goodness, especially good when doused with hot sauce.

In the mug is a really, really nice curried vegetable soup, made with buttersquash, cauliflower, and carrots. Oh, and a can of coconut milk. It's rather similar to my original cauliflower soup but much more adventurous in flavor with the addition of ginger and the coconut. That, too, was cracklicious and went down a treat. Even the bairns ate small amounts.

I've signed up to take a Thai cooking class starting next month. It runs for two four-week sessions and I am most excited. I'm pretty good at putting together the recipe for red curry on the back of the Thai Kitchen jar of red curry paste but need to know more. It's taught by a native Thai (Thailander? Outlander? Outlander!) who either previously owned or still owns his/her own restaurant. Also, I believe it's hands-on, which is very good because sitting in a class simply watching people cook would make me nuts. The second session includes vegetable carving and, as I told Bridget, I think turning vegetables into decorations is lame but I'm in it for the long haul and as long as I can eat the radish duck well, then, okay. But I have serious doubts I'll be doing those at home. Same with those stupid carrot swans. Make me an elephant out of a turnip and then I'll be impressed.

I don't like topiaries, either. Save me from the giraffe trees, please.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Go hot mamas!

Ha! I spent two hours in the company of a group of women who, when faced with an exotic gourmet spread consisting of two (TWO!) Mexican dips, rigatoni in a velvety tomato sauce, Thai chicken curry, chocolate muffins, feta spread, eggplant & walnut dip, little Italian dough thingies dove right in and ate! And went back for seconds! And didn't bitch once about calories or fat or thighs or struffoli! That's it! Those were the little Italian thingies. Struffoli. I really have to make those one day because little balls of honey-drenched dough are certainly most lovely. I had thirds on the curry and stop counting how much dip I enjoyed.

For my part, I contributed the feta spread and the eggplant dip, two recipes from Diane Kochilas' wonderful vegetarian Greek cookbook. Jerry has seen enough eggplant in the last two weeks to render him weary so, to restore him to full mettle, I made the dip and it was, if I do say so myself, quite divine. A little rough on the breath, what with the fresh garlic overload, but it's not like we went all Girls Gone Wild and started making out with each other. That, my friends, would have been tacky.

Whilst I was partying with the hot mamas, the bairns were having their Valentine's Day party, to which I contributed gorgeous orange cupcakes. You'd think I'd post a picture but the camera is downstairs and I'm full of curry and not feeling at all like moving. I used the vegan orange cake recipe from Joy of Cooking and glazed them simply with confectionary sugar mixed with a little orange juice. If you choose to make these (and the glaze) may I highly recommend using Florida's Natural brand? I really do think it's the best out there and I really do want what is best for you. ;-)

It's really friggin' windy here and playing havoc with my online experience, meaning I cannot access my email and I'm getting twitchy.

I have to plan dinner. Still feeling Greeky, I was thinking about the GreekBakedPasta recipe from the latest issue of Food & Wine. It involves lamb and tomatoes and ricotta and rigatoni and yes, I had rigatoni earlier but I can easily, quite easily eat it twice in one day. Wait, maybe it's penne pasta. Whatever, I like my pasta. We also refilled the wine cellar (the little 9-bottle rack we have in the bottom of our coat closet) so there's no shortage there.

Yes, I think that's what I'm going to do. You'll sleep better tonight, knowing all this, I am sure.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Special K

Bridget is playing a game over at her blog and now I get to play along. Basically, you are given a letter (upon request) and must name ten of your favorite things that begin with the letter each with an explanation as to why. Three guesses what my letter is.

King Cake: You've seen the pictures, can you blame me?

Kalonji: Little black seeds, tasting faintly of onion, that I rely on heavily in my version of Indian cooking. I especially love them kneaded into naan.

King Arthur Flour: They deliver to me a 25lb bag of the best flour all for a simple exchange of funds. Bliss.

Kitchen Confidential: Tony Bourdain's most excellent bestseller about what you may--or may not--want to know about what goes on in restaurant kitchens. Hint: Eat the bread any day, stay away from brunch.

Knockwurst and kielbasa: Tubular meats of the highest order.

Killers (The): My current favorite band. I firmly believe any DJ who talks over the opening of Mr. Brightside should be fired.

Kalamata olives: My very favorite olive. Always have a container in the fridge for they do nicely when I'm in the mood for a salty snack.

Kee Kee: Bridget's niece rocks the funny. A fashionista of the highest order with supershinypretty hair, she's also a tremendous cook who could easily put Ina out to pasture. Kee Kee has a most wicked sense of humor and could truly put TMZ to shame with her spin on celebrities. She's also just plain nice. I've heard she's a bit of a tippler, but that's only because we wouldn't associate with her otherwise. ;-)

Kalustyan's: They can fulfill all of your herby culinary needs.

Key Lime Pie: My very favorite of all the custard-y pies. I would run over a basket of K-is-for-kittens for a slice of this pie.

Ketel One: My second favorite vodka. Nothing beats a vodka tonic in the warm weather. Quinine never had it so good.

Kung fu movies: Yeah. Jet Li. Donnie Yen. Gordon Liu. Jackie Chan. That guy who's in everything. Especially the crappy, old-school movies. Those rule.

King (The): Hail to the King, baby. Thank you, thank you very much.

If you'd like to play let me know and I'll give you a letter.

Eat the damn cake

Were you ever part of a group of women standing around a food spread? A pot luck, buffet, shower, whatever? And did you stand there eyeing everything up and wondering how many trips you could make because you didn't want to mix too many foods on one plate? Did you have your heart set on a slice of chocolate cake or some cannoli or perhaps the strawberry shortcake? Did you dive in and enjoy every last morsel?

And did you find yourself in the minority?

Women like compliments. They like to hear that they're pretty, they're skinny, they have a great sense of style. And yes, I am a woman and I like compliments, too, but skinny, no, that's not forthcoming anytime soon. My luck is pretty pretty hair. :-) Get a group of women around food and it becomes something far too bizarre for comprehension. Most look at it all and say "No, I can't, I'll just have some carrots" when you know damn well they've got a packet of Oreos in the bottom desk drawer to gnaw on later when they think nobody is looking. (Anyone who's ever worked in an office knows you can smell Oreos a mile away.) They often say these things loud enough so someone standing nearby will say "Oh, go on, have some cole slaw. You're not fat, you can burn it off later." Said woman will preen and think perky thoughts and maybe--just maybe--indulge in a bit of the sinful. Mission accomplished: Someone noticed her and said something nice.

Ladies, eat the damn cake. Eat the pizza. Slop down a massive pulled pork sandwich and side of slaw because you want to. Wash it down with a Mr. Pibb. Food is not the enemy. That cake--it won't give you The Cancer. It won't Go to Your Hips. That plate of tired veggies? You know, the one with the fat-free, sugar-free, however, not chemical-free dip? That, my friends, *is* the enemy. Those artificial colors and flavors and preservatives? Do you even know what the hell you're eating?

No, you don't. But think carefully. Are you sluggish? Tired? Skin not looking so good? Do you hoard Lean Cuisines when Acme has a buy-one-get-one sale? Do you have boxes of 100-calorie snack treats in every room of the house--just in case? Do you wonder why I'm so damn happy--even though my size 12s are getting a bit snug?

I eat food. Real food. I make sweets from butter, sugar, chocolate, cream...all from scratch and full of yum. Homemade soup on the stove every Sunday morning for lunches during the week. Bins in the fridge full of apples and lemons and limes and herbs and vegetables. Ice cream? Sure, in the freezer. Next to the fresh hot dogs I picked up from the farm. Got meatballs rolling around in there, too. And chicken and Illuminati pizzas. I have an entire drawer in my fridge dedicated to cheese. I love cheese.

This does not mean I can eat all of this with reckless abandon. I practice some restraint and I do try to exercise so neither I nor my heart explodes. I know when I've had too much at breakfast and eat accordingly the rest of the day. But I eat the cake. And the meatballs, with a side of pasta and some freshly grated cheese. I have a wedge of manchego with a pear and some crackers for lunch. I drink wine and beer. And I enjoy it all. I feel happy. My skin benefits greatly from the olive oil I use in mass quantities and my hair is shiny. My joints work. Do I need to lose weight? Sure, I'm 41, I've got a long life ahead of me and two kids I want to torture well into their golden years. But I'm miserable after I eat prepackaged, processed crap. Too much salt, chemicals, the works, it's just not food anymore. It's barely sustenance and, to me, that's a life that's devoid of pleasure.

Ladies, eat the damn cake. And shut the hell up.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Baby ewe-y

Saturday was me thinking it would be all kinds of fun to do some Greek-inpsired dishes. I forgot to take a picture, but I did a magnificent plate of shrimp saganaki, basically sauteed some chopped garlic in kalamata olive oil with chunks of tomatoes and kalamata olive, added a sprinkle of dried Greek oregano, the shrimp, then, before serving, swirled through some gorgeously briny feta. Served in a shallow bowl with little Italian rolls on the side to get every last bit of sauce. Full of yum.

For dinner I decided on lamb patties in pitas. I was lucky to find some ground lamb (you know where, c'mon) so I mixed it with fresh parsley, the aforementioned dried Greek oregano, and salt and pepper, then formed it into pita-sized patties. Whilst I was doing that, I grilled some eggplant to be chopped and used as a condiment; I also made my own version of tzatziki, with diced cucumber, yogurt, crushed cumin seed, and garlic, all stirred together. I removed the eggplant to cool then cooked the lamb patties. Halved the pitas and each pocket got a pattie, some eggplant, purple onion, tomato, and sauce. I like to eat my hot peppers on the side. All in all, a most excellent food day.
With the exception of the cookies. I used a Jo Pratt recipe but am not really pleased with them. Her fault, my fault, neither really, I think, they're just not to my liking. But they are very pretty and everyone else is enjoying them so nothing is wasted. I just won't make them again.

Today we went to NoneSuchFarms because we made the mistake of watching Tony Bourdain in Chicago last night and I decided we really, really needed to have hot dogs in the house. They make a wonderful dog so I picked up a dozen, along with scrapple (yes, it's full of yum, get over yourself), some more ground lamb (I want to make a moussaka-ish pasta dish), dried cherries, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and other bits and bobs for the cupboards. Also a bigass salad that I shared with my mom so I can completely justify the doggies for dinner.

Oh, I'm on the Foodie BlogRoll. Yay!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Snow, chili, brownies, and tart-y goodness

We had some nice snow late Tuesday, about 5 inches I think. I took this shot of a tree in our yard through my kitchen window at about 6:30am:


I made chili for the Super Bowl, something I've decided to name Pub Chili, simply because it used a bottle of Harp and, as it's Irish, well, pub. Naturally. Although it was tasty, I must admit that I don't understand the fascination of some British recipes calling for pancetta as a base meat. Now, I love the stuff, don't get me wrong, but it seemed out of place in this recipe and I won't use it next time; in fact, I'm not even including it in the recipe below. I think I'd have the same problem with bacon, too. I just don't know. Anyhoo, the recipe came about because I'd read something for chili con carne in one of Tana's books and decided to spin off from there. Here you go:

Pub Chili

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1.5lbs ground sirloin
1 small can tomato paste
1 bottle Harp lager (or whatever you have in the house already)
1 or 2 chilies, finely chopped (optional)
28oz can kidney beans (I like the dark)

Heat the oil in a soup/pasta/stock pot. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook slowly until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until you can just smell it, but don't let it get any color. Stir in the chili powders then add the meat, breaking it up into small pieces (unless you like large chunks, your call). Once the meat has cooked through (you don't have to brown it), stir through the tomato paste and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, just to get the rawness out of the paste. Add the beer and the chilies if you are using them and bring the to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer for an hour, then add the beans and go for another thirty minutes. I like to serve with sour cream and scallions, with homemade tortilla chips on the side:

I also made a Donna Hay recipe for brownies:

On Monday, I attempted jam tarts. I suck--absolutely suck--at pie crust but don't really care as long as the end result tastes good. I used Bonne Maman wild blueberry preserves and think they taste fabulous:

The bairns took one bite, spit it out, and demanded Pop Tarts. I was able to appease them with the same jam spread on some Ritz. Crackheads. ;-)