Sunday, December 12, 2010

#CookTeaseThanksgiving

Normally, I am crap at cooking big fancy dinners. In theory, I love to do it, but really what I like is the impressing-the-hell-out-of-people part and not so much the actual execution of it. This year, however, I made the same Thanksgiving meal for the third year in a row and, I must admit, it went swimmingly. I actually planned ahead, cooked things in advance, and stuck to a schedule. Yes, I forgot to make the cornbread until the last possible second, but otherwise I count this year's Thanksgiving a tremendous success.

I tweeted the steps as I completed them, which was fun for me, if not necessarily for everyone who had to read my incessant, smug tweets. It kept me focused and entertained. I had every intention of writing a for-reals blog post about the meal, but the tweets were pretty sufficient, I thought. Hence, I'm going to plead lazy and overworked, and I'm just going to post them below with pictorial accompaniment. Naysayers, this is all I can muster up right now, so tell yourself it's better than nothing.

Oh, and by the way, my entire menu comes from the greatest Gourmet menu of all time. You can get all the recipes (and see the shit I was too lazy to make) at Epicurious.com.

1/50: Groceries purchased, sorted, and minimally prepped.

2/50: 10 poblanos have been roasted, peeled, seeded, and made into rajas.

3/50: rum and nutmeg custard base for ice cream.

4/50: Chiles guajillo, ancho, New Mexico, chipotle, and de arbol toasted and soaking in boiling water.

5/50: Adobo red chile rub for turkey pureed and in the fridge.

6/50: Onions caramelized and joining yesterday's poblano strips in the rajas bin.




















7-10/50: Dishes washed, dried, put away; plastic containers for leftovers washed, dried, and stacked.

11-12/50: roasted pineapple and onion for cranberry salsa; made salsa.



















13-14/50: Roasted squash; mixed with coconut milk and brown sugar; pureed.

15-16/50: Rum ice cream frozen; cornbread for stuffing baked.

17/50: Turkey rubbed with red chile adobo; marinates for 24 hrs.



















18-21/50: Potatoes peeled, sliced, and fashioned into gratin strewn w/ poblano and onion rajas; gratin baked.













22-24/50: Cooked veggies, chorizo for stuffing; browned giblets, neck; simmering w/ veg and broth for turkey stock.

25-29/50: Toasted cornbread; baked stuffing; made piloncillo syrup; prepared apples/syrup, poured into pie shell.















30/50: Took break to make pumpkin-butter filled pancakes for my family. Haven't fed them properly in three days.

31-33/50: Apple-pilocillo pie baked; pomegranate, mango ready for guac; scraped caramel from pie off bottom of oven.














34/50: Made emergency pumpkin pie. Well, actually, my 5-year-old made it. Read the recipe and everything. LOVE him.

35/50: Pomegranate-mango guacamole done.













36-40/50: Dishes.

41/50: Round of Pomegranate Kir Royales made, toasted, and working its way into our bellies. Ahhhh.

42/50: Green beans blanched and sauteed w/ lemon, garlic, thyme.













43-47/50: Red-chile roux made; gravy simmering; sides reheated; turkey resting.













48/50: Emergency #2--gratin is still cold, but everything else is ready. Fail. Jack up oven temp to 450.

49/50: Turkey sliced. Possibly by beavers, from the looks of it. 














50/50: And...done. Everything superb. Standouts: poblano gratin, cran-pineapple salsa, mango-pom guac, caramel apple pie.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Choose Your Own (squash) Adventure!

In the past week, I made butternut mac and cheese TWICE. This is unprecedented, as I repeat meals less frequently than Victoria Beckham repeats outfits. I don't even eat leftovers. This fact alone should help convince you that both of these recipes were very, very good. [Food blogger fail: I have pictures of neither dish. Sorry.]

They are also extremely different. Both are easy and delicious. Only one has any nutritional value to speak of, and one is decidedly grown-up food. So, I'll let you choose.

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M-N-C #1
Last weekend, my family joined forces with another awesome family and rented a cabin near Unicoi State Park in north Georgia. On the first full day of the trip, we took the kiddoes to Burt's Pumpkin Farm for hayrides and...well...pumpkins. There were about 30 different varies of squash and pumpkin, laid out in the sun and bunched together in wooden trays under a rustic lean-to, and every one of them called out to my root-vegetable-loving heart and demanded that I Cook Them That Very Night.



Enter the first squash success: butternut mac-n-cheese. Quick, kid-friendly, delicious, and surprisingly good for you. Since we're all friends here, I'll admit that, if I had read the recipe carefully and realized how healthful it was, I probably wouldn't have made it. Because anything calling itself mac-n-cheese that has so little cheese it in would just piss me off on principle. But hear me out, because it really was delicious. Just, maybe, don't think of it as mac-n-cheese--more like a butternut pasta casserole or something.

Saint's Butternut Mac-n-Cheese
--Cut 1 large butternut squash into 1 1/2" cubes.
--Boil squash in mixture of mostly water w/ some stock and a little 2% milk (enough liquid to just cover squash), 15-20 min.
--Puree or mash squash w/ liquid; add pinch dry mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
--Mix squash with 1/2 C part-skim ricotta and 4T grated Parmesan.
--Taste and adjust seasoning.
--Combine squash with 1 lb cooked penne pasta. Mix well.
--Coat lasagna pan w/ cooking spray; add pasta.
--Sprinkle with panko crumbs (mixed with 2T Parmesan and 1t of butter or oil).
--Bake at 375 for 10-15 min, or until brown.


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M-N-C #2
In the middle of the week, I needed an emergency dinner idea. I was really hungry, and I actually had some time to prepare a decent meal (as opposed to the twenty minutes in which I normally have to cram prep, cooking, and eating). I had a butternut squash in my fridge (don't you? at all times? just in case?) and a large block of Cheddar, so I thought, what the hell?, and I went for my second m-n-c of the week.

Browsing around Tasteologie always gets my creative juices flowing, and it has pretty enough photos to convince Dorian to try almost anything, so I relied on those fine contributors for my recipe. This one is adapted from A Good Appetite. They have buckets of yummy recipes, so go check them out! At any rate, it was far easier than I'd anticipated, what with the whole roast-the-squash-then-make-a-cream-sauce thing. By the time the pasta was cooked, the squash was roasted and the sauce simmered patiently on the stove.

Sinner's Jalapeno Butternut Mac-n-Cheese
--Roast cubed butternut squash w/ olive oil, salt, and pepper until browned.
--Cook 1 lb penne pasta (I used whole wheat to great effect here).
--Melt a little butter in a saucepan, and saute 1/2 minced onion and 2 chopped jalapenos.
--Add 2 T flour and cook, stirring, for 1 min.
--Whisk in 1/2 C heavy cream and about 1 C milk; stir for 2 min. until thick.
--Stir in 10 oz grated sharp Cheddar and 1 T dry mustard.
--Season with salt and pepper.
--Combine pasta and squash in saucepan.
--Pour mixture into buttered/sprayed lasagna pan.
--Sprinkle with panko (tossed with Parmesan and olive oil); bake at 425 for 10 min.

If I had planned this meal instead of throwing it together at the last minute, I would have also made a fresh pico de gallo with tomatillos. Nothing makes cheese more delicious than tomatillos and onions and chiles. Seriously. Try it.

I also put some broccoli on the plate for this, as an alibi.

I will warn you, in advance, that the first m-n-c gets a little dry when you reheat it, so add a little stock or water or cream. The second m-n-c gets a little oily when you reheat it, as the cream and cheese begin to separate into their components. Still tastes awesome, though. And maybe it's a good thing--you can pour some of the grease out and then you don't ingest it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Victory for the Forces of Democratic Freedom!

Well, okay. There’s nothing intrinsically democratic about vegetarian cuisine. Egalitarian, maybe. Ethical, certainly. But democratic is a stretch. I was just going to go with “Victory!” but then the little David Foster Wallace in my head forced me to submit to his perverse will.
Back to the victory: two delicious meatless meals last week, both wild successes, neither eliciting any form of “this would be good with meat” commentary from Dorian. Unfortunately for you, gentle reader, we once again put this food in our bellies before the camera could climb out of its case. But no matter—curry isn’t the most attractive foodstuff in the world. Damn tasty though.
Before the curry, I made a zucchini taco filling from Rick Bayless’ Mexico: One Plate at a Time, which has been my kitchen bible for over a decade. Bayless’ tome is my Joy of Cooking, my Mastering the Art of French Cooking; it’s how I taught myself to cook. If I’d had the foresight, I could have blogged my way through it and scored a lucrative book deal. Except I had no particular desire to change my name. (To Ricki. For the blog. Ricki and Rick. Like Julie and Julia. Get it?)
And but so, I’ve made nearly everything in the Bayless book except these tacos, which I have oft eyed up but never had the courage to serve to my family. Zucchini? In a taco?? Blech. That’s what their faces said, anyway. But I finally did it, and I’ll have you know, it was freaking amazing. Dorian LOVED it, and begged me to make it for dinner again as soon as possible. Say it with me, people: VICTORY FOR THE FORCES OF DEMOCRATIC FREEDOM!
Zucchini Taco Filling
--Broil 2 poblanos 10 min or until black all over. Put them in a bowl covered with a kitchen towel for 10 min. Rub the blackened skins off and pull out the seeds and stem. Slice into ¼” strips.
--Saute 1 chopped onion in a little veggie oil until browned, 8 min.
--Add 2 cloves minced garlic; sauté 1 min.
--Add 1 small can crushed tomatoes (or 4 small tomatoes, pureed); reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 5 min.
--Turn up heat to medium-high; add 3 zucchini, diced into ½” pieces, 1 C corn kernels, and poblano strips; add 3 T chopped cilantro, 2/3 C whipping cream, and 1 t salt. Sauté 8 min.
--Serve on warm corn tortillas with crumbled feta or queso fresco.

The second win of the week was this sweet, spicy, rich-but-healthy veggie curry from a deviation on a recipe found Cook’s Illustrated. I don’t want to impinge on their copyright (they guard those recipes very closely!), so I can’t give exact measurements here. But if you are a moderately adept cook, you’ll find great success in just throwing stuff in a Dutch oven and letting it simmer. Note that you can also change the veggies to suit your tastes.
Curry with Eggplant, Sweet Potato, and Green Beans
--Saute 2 chopped onions in a couple T veggie oil. Use a Dutch oven or large sauté pan.
--Add a large sweet potato, cut into ½” dice; sauté until potato and onion are browned.
--Add aromatics: a dollop of minced garlic, a couple dollops of curry powder, a sliced jalapeno, a dollop of garam masala, and some grated fresh ginger. Don’t fret; you really can’t screw this part up as far as amounts/ratios go. Saute 1 min, until fragrant.
--Add other veggies. I used a diced eggplant, a couple of handfuls of fresh green beans (cut into 1” lengths), and a can of chickpeas. Cauliflower would also be good. Stir around until veggies are coated with the spices.
--Throw in a small can of diced tomatoes (make sure you avoid the basil-flavored ones; I almost had a disgusting kitchen misstep because of these insidious bastards), a dollop of tomato paste, and about ½ C water, and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 min, or until the veggies are tender.
--Swirl in just a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream or coconut milk.
This was delicious by itself, but its yummy factor was amped up tremendously by the addition of some mango chutney and a Greek yogurt-cilantro-mint—grated cucumber-garlic mixture. And a generous squeeze of fresh lime.
This curry reheats exceptionally well, and so is ideal for a weekend meal with weekday leftovers. AND it takes about a tenth of the time that most curries require. AND it’s meatless (vegan, even, I think, if you use the coconut milk). AND it has no butter, unlike much Indian food. The only potential drawback is that my son couldn’t eat it; it was just too spicy for a kindergartner. Next time I might leave out the jalapeno, and grate it into the raita instead.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stir Monday

Wish it were the end of the week...then I could've called it "Stir Fry-day." *sigh*

Tonight was just a simple weeknight dinner, but it was really delicious. I was supposed to be making a cold soba noodle salad, but all of my local grocery stores chose this week to not have any soba noodles, thus making preparation of said salad pretty difficult. So I defaulted to my favorite stir-fry sauce and just tossed all the veggies together. I don't care how inept you are in the kitchen, you can totally throw this meal together. Plus, you can toss the protein right into the stir-fry, thus making a one-pot meal. Bonus.



I took cues from two stir-fry recipes for this: one from the dreaded South Beach Cookbook, and one from a truly spectacular Epicurious.com dish (pork with tangerines and bok choy--look it up and make it!). Here's how it goes down:

--Veggies, variously sliced and prepared for stir-frying
--Chinese 5-spice powder
--Sugar-free apricot jam
--Soy sauce
--Minced fresh ginger and garlic
--Scallions
--Chili oil (optional; also could use red pepper flake)

Ages and ages ago, when "cooking show" meant public television programming hosted by Julia Child, Pierre Franey, Justin Wilson, or Lydia Bastianich, I learned from Martin Yan (who, it turns out, can actually cook) that the secret to stir-frying is "hot pan, cold oil." This advice has never led me astray, so I pass it onto you now. Get your wok (or non-stick pan) really, really hot, pour in some cold or room temp vegetable oil (grapeseed oil works great for this b/c of its high smoke point), then add the aromatics: ginger, garlic, scallions. STIR.

After about 30 seconds, you should smell the aromatics. Immediately add the longest-cooking veggies; I started with green beans, trimmed and sliced into 1" lengths. Keep stirring--this is why you need to have all ingredients prepped in advance! After a few minutes, toss in some other veggies and maybe a little more oil to keep it all from burning. I used mushrooms, quartered; I let those go for few minutes, then added 1/2" squares of red and yellow peppers. Push 'em around a bit, then let them hang out. The peppers will give off so much liquid that your veg won't burn if you walk away for a minute or two.

While they are doing their thing, mix together in a small bowl some 5-spice powder (about 1 T) and the apricot jam (1/3 C, maybe??). Loosen it up with 1-2 T of soy sauce. Please do not use low-sodium soy sauce, as you need the saltiness to even out the sweet from the jam. When the veggies are about done, add the sauce and stir. Let it heat through so the jam melts a bit, toss with a small stream of sesame oil and a teaspoon or so of sesame seeds, if you want to be fancy, and serve.

On this particular occasion, I served the veggies with brown rice and very simply broiled fish. But, as I say, you can stir-fry up some thinly sliced meat or other protein, or toss in some shrimp, and it'll all work together merrily.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Epcot Food and Wine 2010 (redux)

I am veering from the usual format today, both to save time and to keep your attention focused on these delectable images.

We did the Food and Wine Festival again last Saturday. We had some truly outstanding dishes, and some Disney-esque culinary disappointments. Thankfully, the former outweighed the latter. I feel obligated to say, too, before you scroll down and see the repugnant amount of food that we consumed, that we both shared every plate (except the cake...we got our own cake) and ate our way through this stuff over a 6-hour period. So it's not as heinously over-indulgent as it might look. Oh, also...no booze. AND an hour-long break while we watched the stylings of one Mr. Howard Jones--bonus throw-back free concert! I've never seen anyone but like John Secada and Taylor Dayne at the Festival, and so I usually avoid that pavillion like the damned plague, so Howard Jones was a fun treat.

Anyway, onto the food!

Chile: Roasted Corn and Farmer's Cheese Empanada
Creamy, sweet, salty, delicious. Not improved by the last-minute addition of chimichurri, which I only asked for because I like to dip shit in sauce, and the empanadas did not feature any such accompaniment. Note: do not follow in my footsteps.


Chile: Grilled Beef Skewer, Bonito Puree, Chimichurri
Delicious on all counts--smoky, good grill flavor, tons of spice/garlic/sass from the ubiquitous Andean herb oil...a win, even for this girl who doesn't favor beef.


Poland (obv): Pierogi, Kielbasa, Caramelized Onion
Unimaginative, perhaps, but still yummy. Onions nicely caramelized, kielbasa smoky and garlicky. Pierogi pretty much in line with the frozen ones, but fine. A good snack for $2.


South Korea: Pulled Pork Lettuce Wrap with Kimchee Slaw
I'm pretty sure this is about as authentic for Korean food as Chicken Chow Mein is for Chinese food, but it was tasty. The pork was bland, but a decent pillow for the flavorful quasi-kimchee and spicy mayo.


South Korea: Braised Short Rib with Cucumber Kimchee
I'm thinking that Disney realized they just have to put some pickled veggies on a plate and call it "kimchee" and everyone will think it's really Korean. This was a hit, though--the rib was tender and sweet, the spice rub and sauce redolent with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and all manner of other things my American palate failed to identify. Dori and I both really liked this, and we vowed to try more Korean food. Maybe even real Korean food!


Spain: A Taste of Spain
Yeah, right. Spain, your pavillion is worse than Italy's!! And that's a horror to me, because I like your food so much better. How can a country that is positively brimming with spectacular cured meats, unique cheeses, and outstanding olive oils possibly be represented by this lame deli tray? Even at $2, this was a FAIL. Canned olives, tasteless chorizo (how do you even make that happen???), dry bread (not, as promised, a pan con tomate), a "manchego" that tasted like dried glue, and some cheap proscuitto masqueradiing as Serrano ham. Blech. If you're going to go simple on a dish, everything must be of the absolute highest quality. This, dear Epcot-Spain people, will not make anyone want to travel to Iberia. And that's a damned shame.


Spain: Seared Tuna with Romesco
Seared, my ass. This was more insulting than the cheese plate. This tiny spit of tuna was grilled to within an inch of its life; it had the color and texture of canned tuna--only drier. Covered in some sort of salty red stuff at I can only assume was intended to recall pimenton, the tuna was not improved by the addition of a decent, if mundane, romesco. True, I am a romesco snob-and-a-half (it is one of the Top 5 Sauces of World Cuisine, in my estimation), but this was pedestrian by any standards. Little of the bit or nutty smoothness of a good romesco, this one just served to moisten that god-awful fish. The microgreens were tasty, though.


Ireland: Lobster and Scallop Fisherman's Pie
This is always so, so delicious. I wrote about it last time, so I won't re-bore you with details. Just, if you go, get this. If there are two of you, consider getting your own. Best part? The surprise of fresh tarragon. It really sets off the lobser beautifully. Other best part: The recipe is in this year's Food and Wine Cookbook. Hell yes, I bought one. Did you really need to ask?? I think this might replace my traditional Lobster Pot Pie recipe on New Year's this time around.

Ireland: Chocolate Lava Cake with Bailey's Sauce
Not so much a lava cake (it doesn't ooze from the center), this is more like an outsandingly fudgy brownie, slathered in a boozy, rich, Bailey's-spiked chocolate sauce. Amazing in every single way. Notice how happy I was while eating it. This is by far the least pornographic photo Dorian took of me mid-cake.


Canada: Maple-Glazed Salmon with Lentils
I guess because Canada also runs the best restaurant at Epcot, it follows that they'd also run the best booth at the Food and Wine Festival. They do the same thing every year, and I'm glad for it, because every item is fantastic. I do miss the little arugula salad that used to top this sweet, perfectly grilled salmon, but it's still top-notch. The maple flavor pairs surprisingly well with the nutty lentils and sweet corn. Simply put, YUM.


Canada: Chipotle Chicken Sausage with Sweet Corn Polenta
I know this looks obscene, but it was completely delicious. The sausage was smoky and spicy and delicious, and it was paired with three sweet sides: caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and the titular polenta. I never in a billion years would have teamed up chipotles with so much sweetness, but it was spot-on. We'd never ordered this before, but we'll totally be ordering it again.


Canada: Cheddar-Beer Soup
This has got to be the single tastiest morsel in all of Epcot. I've tried to duplicate it at home with miserable results. How do they get such sharp Cheddar to melt so smoothly? What kind of fan-fucking-tastic beer is that, with its bitter bite? What is lending the back-of-the-throat spice? And, dear lord, are those chunks of BACON in there? Why, of course, they are. Because nothing compliments a healthy bowl of cheese and beer like bacon. Oh, pork fat...I love you.


Dessert Tent: Trio of Flavors
I'd be embarrassed to admit this, but pretty much everyone that reads this is related to me and y'all already know what a glutton I am. We each got our own trio. They are too delicious to share and I was heady from all the food I'd already ingested. I was weak, and the whole plate was only $3. Mostly, though, I just wanted my own pear tart. I've already described these desserts on the last Epcot post, but I will take a moment to remind you that shortbread + pear + custard + crumble = utopia.

Final thoughts: Avoid Spain and Italy at all costs. Try just about everything else. Bring a friend or five so you can taste as many things as possible.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2010

Yes, we have a small child. Yes, we both have the entire summer off of work. But the real reason that we keep our Disney annual passes is so we can go to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival every year. In fact, we renew our passes in October each year, so that if we ever decided not to renew, we'll still be able to go to the next year's festival. This just by way of background.

Friday last was the opening night of the 2010 festival, and we braved the crowds to get an early taste of the food. There were lots of returning favorites and some new booths to celebrate the festival's 15th anniversary. There is also a cookbook, which I am totally buying next time we go.

It's always tough to choose whether to start to the left or the right; this year, we chose right, and It Was Good. Before hitting up a country's booth, we stopped at a random beer tent for some Prosecco and cheese fondue. The fondue was superb: tons of bite from the Swiss, a little extra acid (lemon?) compared to most fondue, and accompanied by chunks of sourdough baguette and fingerling potatoes (also doused in lemon). The Prosecco was really nice for cutting through the richness of the fondue. Now if they'd just dispense with those ridiculous tiny plastic cups!

We look forward to Canada every year, even though their offerings are actually regular menu items from the Le Cellier steakhouse. Technically, we could get that spicy beer-cheese soup and maple-glazed salmon with lentils any time of year, but we never manage to dress up enough to eat there. The line was insane this time around, though, so we'll wait until we can escape to the festival on a weeknight.

Speaking of old favorites, we (rightly) stood in line for about half an hour at the Ireland tent for lobster and scallop fisherman's pie (creamy, rich, and brimming with chunks of sweet shellfish), molten chocolate cake smothered in Bailey's (past its prime as a trendy recipe, but still freaking delicious), and Meade's honey wine (which smelled like honey and tasted like ass).

Primarily, we started to the right this year to ensure we got to France as quickly as possible. In recent years, they have abandoned the goat cheese and caramelized onion tartlets of which I was so inordinately fond, but they still serve garlicky escargot inside three tiny, buttery, crunchy bread bowls. Couple them with a pomegranate Kir royale (or, in our case, several pomegranate Kir royales) and you've got yourself a lovely evening on the water, watching the sunset with the Eiffel Tower at your back.

Reluctantly, we moved on, only to discover that our festival experience took a downturn. I've always cautioned Dori against eating at the Italian restaurant at Epcot, both because I know that institutionalized Italian food has little chance of being decent and because said restaurant is called "Alfredo's"--and no self-respecting, authentic Italian restaurant would go for something that ridiculous. (1) Still, Dori pressed on, and we made our way through the Italian tent for cheese ravioli with bolognese and polpettini in tomato sauce. Seriously. And it was every bit as bland and disgusting and institutional as I'd feared; it was even served in what looked suspiciously like airline-food containers. Ugh.

Stuffed to the gills, but needing something to redeem our faux-Italian experience, so we stopped at the China tent for street-vendor-style BBQ chicken and crispy black pepper shrimp over chile-garlic noodles. The former was a little too dark-meat-y for my tastes, but it was perfectly charred on the outside and tender inside, and had the complex flavors of a homemade 5-spice rub: sweet, smoky, salty. The shrimp were largely unnecessary on my plate (and notable for their complete lack of black pepper), but the noodles on which they sat were tremendously good. Intensely spicy and garlicky, with sharp flecks of scallion and--oh, THERE you are, black pepper! I love you on the noodles, but the shrimp really could have used your help!

The garlic breath was really persistent from that point on, so we made our way to the dessert and champagne booth at the end to balance things out. Unable to properly decide on a dessert, we got all three offerings, plus two more itty bitty glasses of champagne, and took them to the water's edge to watch the fireworks. On our delicious little plate was a delicate trifle of strawberry, vanilla custard, and angelfood cake (Dorian's clear favorite, which surprised the hell out of me, as I'm usually the fruit dessert person), a pear-and-custard tart on an extremely short pastry crust (my favorite, as I'll eat anything with fruit and a buttery, flour-y pastry), and a dark chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (a yummy counterpoint to the fruit, but nowhere near as good as the pear thing).

Full of champagne bubbles, we settled in to watch Epcot's extremely lame fireworks display (we are so spoiled by the show at Magic Kingdom, which is fucking EPIC) with its stupid floating globe-on-fire, and let our food digest a bit. We headed out before the grand finale and drove home, sated and excited about our next visit, when we will start with Canada, Belgium (moules frites and a fruit-slathered waffle), Argentina (roasted corn empanadas), Poland (kielbasa and pierogies), and the US (bison chili with wild mushrooms). Maybe Australia (last year's barramundi with arugula salad and lemon oil) and another go at France. Haven't decided on South Africa, which kept last year's Grilled Beef with Sweet Potato and Mango BBQ Sauce (Dori's favorite) but ditched, mysteriously, their amazing Mealie (a corn chowder with a lethal drizzle of chile oil). Can't wait.

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(1) Disclaimer: I did also openly mock a restaurant in Delaware called "La Casa Pasta" on the same grounds, only to find out that it was the single best and most authentic Italian restaurant I'd even found in the US. So, I can be overly judgmental at times.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

You'll never guess what I made.

BLACK BEAN BURGERS!

No shit. I really, really did. I think I used the fourth bunch of cilantro I've bought in preparation for these damned things, but it happened. We had a full-on work weekend and I didn't go to the grocery store (#CookFail), but luckily...we had all the ingredients for these burgers. Excepting maybe the cilantro, you probably do, too.

Note in advance: This recipe is super-forgiving. Amounts are really not important. And you can add anything you want or top any way you want. You could probably also bake them. And they reheat well!

--Drain 2 cans black beans; add about 2/3 of them to bowl.
--Mash w/ back of fork or potato masher.
--Stir in 1 egg (1), minced garlic, onion powder (2), salt, cayenne, cumin, oregano.
--Gently stir in 1/4 C panko, ton of chopped cilantro, and remaining whole beans.
--Shape into patties (smaller ones don't break up as much).
--Crisp up in non-stick pan, 4-5 min. per side, until they look a little dry.
--Serve w/ cheese, salsa, guacamole, radish slices, lettuce, sour cream...whatever.
--Put them on a roll if you're not carb- or gluten-conscious. Or in pita.

I always serve this with those frozen spicy chipotle sweet potato fries, which are extra delicious if you mix together some ketchup and Sriracha (Thai hot sauce) for dipping (3). A little mixed greens salad is nice, too.

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(1) You can use a couple of glops of mayo instead if raw egg grosses you out. It grosses me out, but it does cook while the burgers are in the pan. And literally NOTHING grosses me out more than mayonnaise.

(2) It'd be delicious if you felt like chopping and sauteeing an actual onion, along with the garlic, but that totally ruins the appeal for me, because this meal is supposed to be fast, easy, and virtually mess-free.

(3) And I hate ketchup, mind. So you know this is good if I'll recommend it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I am totally backdating this post.

Because I made these chile rellenos like two weeks ago. (1)

It was an exhausting, emotionally harrowing couple of weeks. And I know I should blog anyway, because I have a responsibility to my readers and all that crap, but you know what? There's like ten of you. And I love you dearly. But I was just too damned tired.

So but anyway. Chile rellenos.

I should preface all this by saying that I make outlandishly good chile rellenos, normally. Dorian loves them--which means that they are a giant pain in the ass to make. I do it maybe twice a year. So I'm always on the lookout for ways to capture that deliciousness without destroying my kitchen and my sanity. Rick Bayless has never let me down before, so I didn't see this coming AT ALL. And it sounds so good: roasted poblanos stuffed with pulled smoked chicken, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, and fresh corn. Yum! Bonus: They are baked in a casserole dish, smothered in cinnamon-tomato sauce, with just a touch of crema drizzled over top. So they are not only easier than The Good Ones but way healthier, too.

This recipe is great because it uses up those tiny bits of chicken you salvage from the carcass between dinner and stock-making. And it can be made ahead. If you remember to do either of these things, you're golden. (2)


Anyway, they weren't tough to make, just time-consuming. And I got the traditional Bayless Scars on my forearms from flying speckles of nuclear tomato sauce (3). But the dish was, overall, surprisingly bland. Okay for a first try, but certainly not worth to the time/effort/money that went into its preparation.

The take aways:
  1. Roasted poblanos make anything taste good.
  2. The chicken was wholly unnecessary; Dori confirms. (5)
  3. The method is sound. Easier by far than battering and frying, and with little reduction in taste/texture. At least not in proportion to calories/mess.
I'll do it again, sans chicken, plus more mushrooms and some black beans. Maybe even butternut squash. I'll probably even do it in layers, like a lasagna, so I get more of those roasted poblanos in every bit--and don't have to stuff them. Also, no worries about searching the sketchy Latin grocery universe for nine--NINE!!--unblemished, uncreased poblanos with stems still attached. In my town, that is like searching for the Holy Grail...or meaning in a Katy Perry song.

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(1) Which I guess means the leftovers in the fridge are no longer a valid backup meal plan.

(2) Of course I did neither of those things. Because I am a masochist.

(3) WTF, Rick? Who heats a cast iron pan until it smokes, THEN adds tomato puree?!?! (4)

(4) Answer: People with maids.

(5) This is bliss, because here is a typical conversation at our house:
DORI: We should be vegetarians.
ME: Awesome. Here is your vegetarian dinner.
DORI: This would be great with some meat!
ME: ...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

9/12: This Week in Food

Menu:
  • Monday: chile rellenos w/ smoked chicken, shiitakes, spinach
  • Tuesday: black bean burgers / sweet potato fries
  • Wednesday: tacos / refritos
  • Thursday: Night of Shame
  • Friday: breakfast for dinner (Max's choice)

Total: $42, and that's counting stuff for Max's lunches this week. In reality, dinner planning only cost me about $28, and only that much because we were out of all possible Tex-Mex ingredients: cheese, sour cream, tortillas, beans, cilantro, limes, you name it. These are pantry staples for us, so it's weird that we ran out of all of them at the same time--especially since cheese is another one of my Derrida items.


Thoughts: I KNOW. I still haven't made the damned black bean burgers. They really are delicious, and easy, and fast, and cheap. But they also require only pantry staples, so they are the first thing to be jettisoned when I'm too tired to cook. This week is going to be their week. I will do it, I swear. (1)

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(1) Yeah, right.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tomorrow, our trash will REEK.

I live on a peninsula--actually, a peninsula of a peninsula (and on the very bottom of it, too). I can reach open water by driving ten minutes in nearly any direction--or by walking, if I travel south. We have beaches galore, palm trees to spare, and even our weeds look like tropical flowers. These are some of the blessings of living in Florida.

On the other thand, we also have alligators, bugs that can swallow a small dog, the highest number of batshit crazy people per capita of any state in the US (1), and zero fucking ability to grow produce with any flavor. The water, though, is teeming with delicious life-forms: mahi, snapper, hogfish (3),bonefish, cobia, mullet, pompano, amberjack, sheepshead, swordfish, and, of course, grouper (which should just be polite already and swim around with a good roll and a slice of provolone wrapped around it).

I offer all this by way of noting how incredibly difficult it is to find simply cooked seafood in Florida restaurants. Everyone has a grouper or mahi sandwich and some sort of Cajun-spiced blah-fish (tilapia, mostly), but the fresh fillets described on menus are reliably salmon or tuna--neither of which thrive in warm Florida waters. Why are we flying or trucking in fish, especially frozen fish, when we could step out our front doors and rustle up some fantastic grub? Don't want to offer "sheepshead," ye timid restaurants? Call it something else: if Bonefish Grill can re-brand tilapia as "California longfin," you can christen a weird-sounding or pedestrian fish however you like. Just go local, for god's sake!

No doubt tired of my constant bitching about the lack of decent seafood at area restaurants, Dorian disappeared to the grocery store last night and came home laden with clams, mussels, lobster tails, and snow crab legs. (8) We went with the classically French technique (4) of cramming it all into a pot with some other stuff and boiling it. I picked everything out, piled it into a bowl, doused it in garlic butter, patiently waited for Dorian to photograph it (5), and then dug in.


--Scrub some small red potatoes; pile into giant pot.
--Roughly chop a sweet onion; add to pot with some fresh thyme.
--Throw a coupla cloves of garlic in there, too--and some lemons.
--Fill with a few quarts of water; cover; boil 10 min.
--Meanwhile, clean a shitload of shellfish. (6)
--Cram the shellfish into the pot; break 2 corn cobs in half; add.
--Cover; boil 5-7 min.

Side project:
--In small shallow saucepan, melt 1 stick butter.
--Add at least 1 T minced garlic, juice of 1/2 lemon, some white wine.
--Add pinch of red pepper flake, sprig of thyme, a little salt.
--Melt together over low-ish heat while seafood boils. (7)

Seriously, this took like 20 minutes and about $30. We ate like kings: gluttonous, greasy, crab-splattered kings. Seafood restaurants have NO EXCUSE for not offering something this cheap, easy, and fucking fantastic. Get on the ball, Conch Republic! Do you hear me, the Hurricane? What's up Backfin Blue? Even you, Keegan's--step it up!

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(1) Carl Hiaasen once said that only Floridians understand that his novels are non-fiction. (2)

(2) Still skeptical? I discovered this morning that the "balloon boy" family recently relocated here. We didn't even notice.

(3) Hogfish are an excellent exemplar of the Ugly Fish Taste Especially Delicious rule. If you've never had it, you need to hightail it down to the Keys and git yerself some. It makes grouper taste like canned tuna.

(4) Not. This was an American-style seafood boil, all the way.

(5) Yeah, right. I was HUNGRY. You know I whined and wheedled and sighed loudly the entire time.

(6) No, I'm not listing them again. Did you not read up there? I already told you what we had. You could also throw in shrimp or some firm fish chunks, like cod.

(7) This is when I had my Genius Moment for the night. Rather than throwing the clams and mussels in the steamer pot with the other seafood, I poached them in the garlic butter, covered, for about 6 minutes. OH-EMM-GEE this was a good idea. The shellfish were buttery, tender, and garlicky, while the butter melded with their brine--which payed off hugely when I tipped the butter over the giant bowl of potatoes, onions, corn, crabs, and lobster.

(8) Yes, I realize that none of these things qualify as "local seafood," but my point here is that seafood restaurants never just serve steamed or grilled seafood--if you can even find a shrimp, it's fried. Crab? Forget it. At Hooter's, maybe.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Et tu, Bruce?

The title of this post will be funny to the following people: me.

Listening to me talk about food and my family, or perusing the comments left on this blog by said family, one might suppose that, were one to turn up on one of our doorsteps feeling peckish and tilting one's head to the side in an adorably pathetic way, one might be instantly rewarded with a gourmet banquet worthy of Henry VIII. One would be surprised, then, to discover that our go-to Meal For Guests is much more humble...shrimp and Caesar salad.

It's my dad's fault. He is a foodie and a half, and has literally never served me a meal that didn't send me back into the kitchen for more. And more. And then pie. He has even tricked me into eating rare roast beef by performing a virtuouso bit of magic, which he mysteriously called "making it taste good." But his signature dish is Caesar salad.



I think he got the recipe in the islands somewhere, but he learned quickly that success here calls for tools and technique more than specific quantities. I am going to share the recipe with you tonight because I aim to send you out into the world, my little minions, to put an end to the HORRORS that are being perpetrated by restaurants in the name of Caesar salad. Romaine + ranch + stinky cheese from the green can + two miserable croutons does not equal Caesar salad. (1) 

Don't even TRY to make this unless you are properly equipped. It does not work unless you have a solid wood bowl of vast proportions. (2) Got a bowl? Be honest. Friends doubt me until they try it and fail. Okay, then. Proceed.

--Smash 1 garlic in bowl with fork (or use garlic press, you lazy cheater)
--Keep your fork flat against the base of the bowl for the rest.
--Add a sizeable pinch salt and healthy dollop of anchovy paste
--Mash into disgusting grey-brown goo with fork
--Add a dollop of mustard (I like the really coarse Dijon); stir (3)
--Add juice of 1/2 lemon (yes, it must be a fresh lemon!) 
--Add dash of Worcestershire, splash of red wine vinegar; stir
--Stirring, mix in as much olive oil as you want; taste
--Tear 1 large head of Romaine into bowl
--Grate in a sizable pile of Parmesano-Reggiano
--Add fresh cracked black pepper
--Toss to coat; serve (4)

This salad is a complete, cheap, fast meal package if you add any grilled protein or toss with cubed roasted root veggies, but as I say, we go with steamed shrimp. If you buy yours steamed and seasoned from the fishmonger, I won't tell. I rarely do my own shrimp. But for true Lizz's Dad authenticity, you must peel the shrimp before serving, which adds Class and removes Annoyance (but also the fun of sucking the Old Bay off your fingers). Spicy homemade cocktail sauce, too. Obv.

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(1) And why must you charge extra for it when your embarrassing bowl contains zero fresh vegetables? That better be some high quality ranch dressing you've got there.

(2) Seriously, it must be gigantic and unable to fit comfortably anywhere in your kitchen except on top of the fridge, where it will become a receptacle for colanders and other ungainly kitchen items of dubious utility. (5)

(3) This would be a good time to add a raw egg yolk, if you were a raw egg yolk kind of person. Me, I can barely eat them cooked. It does make the dressing silky, but I like mine piquant and rather acidic. And not containing raw egg yolk.

(4) Dorian is a heathen and insists on tomatoes. I'm a purist, but I do comply with this one...most of the time. My dad uses these amazing pumpernickel croutons, but I've never found comparable, so I go without. Feel free to make your own.

(5) Some families have coming-of-age rituals, like a family heirloom that gets handed down through generations on an eighteenth birthday or a diamond necklace for your quinceañera. In my family, the year Dad got you a Caesar salad bowl for Christmas was the year you knew you had grown up. It was the most anticipated Christmas gift of my life. My sister and brother pitched in with the necessary accoutrements: a rotary grater, a hunk of Reggiano, top-shelf extra virgin olive oil, matching wooden salad tongs. I probably wept with joy and gratitude. Yeah, we're food geeks like that.