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.


(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

  • 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)


(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!


(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.


(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.

Monday, September 6, 2010

9.6: This Week in Food


Sunday: leftover Chinese food
Monday: holiday picnic
Tuesday: steamed shrimp / Caesar salad
Wednesday: grilled mahi / sweet corn / mashed potatoes
Thursday: n/a (working late)
Friday: black bean burgers / sweet potato fries

Grocery total: $26 (!!! #Win. Because I still hadn't cooked the mahi--which was frozen--or the green beans--which got all slimy--or black bean burgers--which ingredients are fine except I bought new cilantro.)

Thoughts: I felt good about our total, until I tallied up the money spent on take-out over the extended weekend, when Dorian and I sat on the couch and worked for three days straight and couldn't face cooking. Plus take-out on Thursday because it's Parents' Night at my school. (1) Oh, and I have to do that again next week for Parents' Night at his school. WTF?? Could we have a little sympathy for parents on Parents' Night, please?


(1) Ironically, I can't bring my son to Parents' Night, so I have to pick him up from school, drive him 45 min. home, then turn around and come back. And drive back home at 9pm. I love meeting my students' parents, but this makes for a looooooooooong day.

Epic win for Lizz

Dorian is a scientist--which is a nice way to say that he refuses to believe anything until he sees it / hears it / pokes it in the eye for himself. Although it is sometimes annoying that he never gives me enough credit to accept I'm right just on faith, it usually works in my favor by upping the "Told You So" factor once he Googles whatever it is and confirms my report.

His characteristic doubt can be problematic when it comes to meal-planning, as he generally scoffs at recipes that he has not personally taste-tested and approved. You see the issue here, right? Theoretically, he'd never try anything new. However, he thoughtfully combines this neurosis with a very healthy sense of adventure, and though he might literally wrinkle his nose at a particular ingredient list, he will dive right in and try it. (1)

To wit: Pizza with Figs and Gorgonzola. Now, any of you out there with at least a passing knowledge of yummy things know that figs, bleu cheese, caramelized onions, and prosciutto is one of the Flavor Combinations Approved by the Gods. I love everything about it, and it is the non-traditional pizza topping I crave most ardently. Dorian thinks it sounds weird, especially since it features proscuitto, which he hates (2), and is called "pizza" but contains neither mozzarella nor tomatoes.

I've been trying to get him to eat this for years--decades, even--but it took another food blog (3) to convince him that such a concotion might not only be tasty but, more importantly, beautiful photo-fodder. It took 0.0000002 seconds for me to acquire the ingredients once he suggested this recipe. (4)

Anyway, here it is:

--pre-heat oven and pizza stone @ 500 for at least 30 min
--bring 1 lb pizza dough to room temp, 45 min (5) 
--divide in half; wrap both halves and rest another 20 min
--pull dough into rustic pizza shapes, repairing any tears
--brush with olive oil; bake 4 min
--top with caramelized onions, sliced figs, (6) and crumbled gorgonzola
--bake 6-7 min, until crust is brown and cheese is bubbly
--top with torn proscuitto; devour

I really, really wish I'd had some fresh arugula to put on top; nothing gets me going like a nice peppery salad on top of a pizza (this, too, grosses Dorian out).

This was ridiculously easy, as the only prep was caramelizing the onion, which I had done much earlier in the day, idly and irresponsibly ignoring them as they cooked down on the stove, not even stirring them until about 20 minutes in, while I worked on my last blog post. Everything else just got sliced, torn, or crumbled, and (not counting dough-resting time) the whole thing took about 20 minutes. Then, of course, Dorian photographed the stupid things at all possible angles, shutter speeds, and light whatevers, with NotOneButTWO different lenses, before finally allowing me to eat my goddamned dinner already.

Success! He loved it, every bite--even the proscuitto. Salty, creamy, sweet, crunchy...there are no flavors or textures that you could possibly ever want that are not involved in this pizza. Make it. NOW.


(1) Especially now that I'm blogging about our food and he can use that as his alibi to play with his camera toys.

(2) How am I married to this person?

(3) See? Anyone else's word is more reliable than mine, apparently.

(4) It was so speedy, in fact, that one might suspect me of keeping figs, gorgonzola, and proscuitto around at all times in the unlikely event that such a sea-change might occur. But that would just be ridiculous. *nervous laugh*

(5) I bought ours from Publix; it was surprisingly good, though next time I'll pick it up from Gianni's, where it's cheaper and even better.

(6) We used both Black Mission and Calimyrna figs, because they were pretty and I couldn't decide between them and they were BOGO at the market, so why not?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Review: Hickory Hollow

Well, okay, technically this meal took place on Tuesday, my Night of Shame this week, and therefore does not merit a Saturday review. But today we ate leftover steak taco filling with scrambled eggs (I told you!) and then had lunch/dinner at Tijuana Flats. For my non-Floridian friends, TF is a bit like the Bennigan's of Mexican food--a few half-steps up from Taco Bell, but nothing to write home (or a blog) about. So let's just pretend it was tacos on Tuesday and Hickory Hollow today. Fine? Fine.

Hickory Hollow is located, like most stellar 'cue joints, in a foodie's No Man's Land: Ellenton, FL, across the street from an outlet mall and a few doors down from a Wendy's, an Applebee's, and a Hungry Howie's. There is no reason to go there, ever. Still, the Hollow never has less than a half-hour wait, even on weeknights, so you know they're good.

The Hollow offers Texas-style 'cue, but I've never bothered with it. The number of protein choices alone would make Gordon Ramsay apoplectic, and there are so many fresh-made sides that they have a separate menu for them--a wooden, pig-shaped menu, I might add, with the selection Velcro-ed on in little laminated strips. Classy. (1)

The tackiness of the Hollow is part of its charm, sure, but it also makes it easy to concentrate on your food instead. I've heard the smoked catfish, fresh ham, and brisket are good, but I've never been able to tear myself away from the pulled pork long enough to care. They have ribs and shrimp and sausage, too, but again--don't care. The pulled pork is PERFECT: tender and juicy, kissed with a spicy Carolina vinegar sauce, arriving on a plastic plate and pretending to be a sandwich. There's a bun there, sure--and it's a good one, buttered and grilled--but you can barely see it under the glossy meat. And you don't even have to ask for their slightly creamy, mostly vinegary slaw, because it's already there.

It's hard to choose 2 sides from the Pig Board--unless you're me. Their fried okra is about the best I've ever had, crisp and flavorful outside, full of crunchy okra whose seeds still pop between my teeth, and their sugar snaps swim happily in melted butter, bursting with tiny peas. Dorian swoons over their black-eyed peas, but I'm weirded out by their slightly minty flavor; he also reliably chooses the summer squash, which hides under some seriously sharp melted Cheddar.

Best of all, the Hollow offers corn fritters--ENORMOUS (baseball-sized) corn fritters, 4 for $2, a little extra if you want them dusted with powdered sugar. (2) You will not have room in your stomach for a fritter after you house your pork sandwich...so eat it first.

If there is any room at all left in your belly, or if, like me, you have a medical condition that requires you to eat dessert (3), go ahead and order that fruit cobbler you've been eyeing up at the other guy's table. They talk up their bread pudding, but it is the Stephen Baldwin to the cobbler's Alec: the latter is not only better looking, but far more talented. They change up the fruit several times a year to pretend that Florida has seasons, but it matters not what's under that flaky, sugar-studded crust: it's all eye-rollingly good. Get it or regret it.

Unless they have strawberry shortcake. Real berries, sliced and simply macerated in a tiny bit of sugar, spooned over a fresh, hot, VERY short cake that rivals the cobbler topping, nearly buried under a pile of homemade whipped cream: this is the dessert that dreams are made of. You can keep your chocolate. I want the shortcake from Hickory Hollow.

Really, though, I want everything from Hickory Hollow, and I want it all for under $30. Unless I also indulge in a beer from their prodigious selection (over 100 bottled brews--again, separate menu), I can make that happen. But remember to bring cash: they refuse all credit cards or personal checks, and their ATM charges like forty dollars in convenience fees.

(1) The Pig Board is a good vignette of Hickory Hollow's decor; outside, it looks like any road-side 'cue shack, complete with a live goat and friendly turkeys, but inside...dear god. Chairs clad in a vivid turquoise vinyl, hideous pine paneling, strands of plastic flowers, tulle butterflies, and tiny white Christmas lights: horrors. Periodically, the butterflies give way to snowmen and ornaments, hearts and Cupids, or shamrocks and leprechauns, as the holiday calendar dictates.

(2) You do. You really, really do.

(3) It's called gluttony; look it up on WebMD.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First and last and always

If you know me, you know that I heart tacos. <insert Forrest Gump-esque monologue on the myriad ways to prepare tacos here> They're a go-to meal for my family, because boring meat + boring veg + random shit left in the fridge = un-boring tacos, but when I want to gussie it up a bit but not expend much time or effort, I reach for one of two Rick Bayless recipes. This is one of them, my first foray into Bayless-dom, memorially-reconstructed from a long-ago cookbook-aisle trolling expedition at Border's, originally from (I think) Mexican Kitchen, and carries the distinction of being One of Two Ways I Will Voluntarily Eat Steak. Bonus: the sauce freezes really well, so make extra.

--Broil 6 tomatillos, 4 garlic until black and squishy
--Puree w/ cumin, salt, 2-3 chipotles
--Grill steak; slice into strips
--Grill or saute 1 bell pepper, 1 onion
--Combine meat, veg in pan; add sauce, 3 min
--Add 1 C beef broth; reduce, 8-10 min
--Serve on grilled corn tortillas
--Top with cheese, avocado, crema, lime, cilantro

One of the major perks of this recipe is that the leftovers--should you, for some unimaginable reason, not invoke the Taco Rule (1)--are fricking amazing the next day, with scrambled eggs and refritos

One of the major drawbacks of this recipe is that I always forget how easy they are to make. Dorian loves them, but Dorian loves any meal that is Difficulty: 10 / Messiness: 10 / Frugality: 0 / Time Consumption: 1,000,000. Ipso facto, I generally ignore his food requests. These steak tacos, however, are easy, cheap, and quick enough that I can make them after work. They require a single pan (2), one knife, one cutting board, and one cheese grater--though if I crumbled some queso fresco instead, I could excise that last bit. PLUS, the leftovers.

Remind me to make this more often.


(1) Michelle, my personal food-blogging hero and the genius behind Thursday Night Smackdown, is responsible for codifying and recording the Taco Rule. Many of you probably already observe the Taco Rule, but didn't know how to formally recognize this fact. Michelle has kindly taken care of that for you here.

(2) To be extra lazy and environmentally un-friendly, I broil the tomatillos in a little pan I make of aluminum foil instead of using a broiler pan, which I own but which requires washing. Also, I cut up all the toppings and place them on paper towels instead of in photogenic Williams-Sonoma glass nesting bowls, which I also own but which also require washing. (3)

(3) This is why you will never, NEVER see a photograph of my mise en place. Should I ever post such a photo, you may be assured that it is A Lie, Contrived For The Benefit Of Dorian's Camera.