Saturday, December 18, 2010

I love my... dutch oven

And it's not just any dutch oven. It is the mack-daddy, enameled cast iron, Le Creuset French Oven. When it arrived, I immediately named it Simba because I wanted to take it to the top of a mountain and hold it up high so that all the creatures of the forest could genuflect upon it.

There are other dutch ovens out there. I've heard that Costco's are actually very comparable and less expensive. I looked at Martha Stewart's ovens and they looked okay. But I don't own a Coach purse. I spend a reasonable amount on shoes. Is it too much to ask that my kitchen be a little brand-obsessed? (Full disclosure: Simba was a very generous wedding gift. However, if nothing else in our registry had been fulfilled, this was the item that I would have purchased for myself. When I looked at the registry, and the dutch oven had a check next to it marked "fulfilled," I, myself, felt a little fulfilled.)

Simba has been good to us. I have made Julia Child's famous Beef Bourguignon, several other soups and stews, spaghetti sauce with meatballs, and tonight I am making Stout-Braised short ribs for an early Christmas dinner. When the dinner is ready, I expect it will look a little like this.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holidays and the Compulsion to Bake

I like to bake, but I don't do it very often. Cooking is something that I do nearly every day but baking is like an extra-curricular activity, something I do after I've done my chores and cleaned my room. Also, I just so happen to live in a climate where turning on my oven is ill-advised. But every year, my bake-ological clock starts ticking a few days before Thanksgiving and thus starts the season of baking compulsion.

It starts innocently enough, bringing apple and pumpkin pie to the host's house for Thanksgiving. And then I start buying butter in bulk. I make Christmas cookies, the same ones that my mom has made my whole life, and most of them are stashed away in the freezer. They get taken out closer to Christmas unless there is some sort of a apocalypse-related cookie emergency. (I need fresh cookies right now! Oh, they have to defrost? Ok... I'll wait). After the Professor and I shacked up together he got to witness the odd cookie behavior firsthand and was wondering why they were even being frozen to begin with. My response went something like, "Cookies aren't for eating. Cookies are for saving!"

And around New Year's, when the un-eaten cookies are getting stale in the cupboard and every host, co-worker, and casual acquaintance has been given a plate of cookies, I say the same thing. "I will not make cookies next year." There's enough happening around the holidays without the self-inflicted pressure of cookie production. Plus, since these are the family recipes I usually get a batch of cookies shipped from home and they usually taste better than mine anyway.

So why do I do it? I don't think it's a true compulsion because I can certainly stop. I suppose it's part of the ritual of Christmas, my mom did it so now I do it (Nature? Nurture?). But I think there is a lot of pressure on all of us to perform and to have the "perfect Christmas." Black Friday specials kick off the shopping season so early that if it's December 10th and you don't have your shopping complete, you feel like you might as well give up. But there is lots of time, and many ways to celebrate. So this year I'm still making cookies. But next year maybe I'll just say to hell with it and give everyone on my list a fruitcake.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just Keep Stirring the Risotto

I've gotten in the habit of writing the menu for the week and posting it on the fridge. Not only is this charming habit passed down directly from my mom (like so many other wonderful and challenging traits), but it has made a lot of things easier. Grocery shopping, for example, is a lot easier when you know what you're planning to eat that week. It helps reduce the likelihood of purchasing well-intentioned produce only to have it rot in the fridge when you didn't have a concrete plan for it. I WILL buy my weight in broccoli; thanks for making it on sale, Store! Writing a menu also helps to motivate you if you're having an especially crappy day. Well, the universe obviously hates me today, but at least it's spaghetti night.

oday wasn't terrible, but it was the perfect day to make my first risotto. The only thing I know about risotto is from the only season I watched Hell's Kitchen - Gordan Ramsay kept yelling at the aspiring chefs about how bleeping terrible it was. My expectations were not high. I picked the recipe from a signed cookbook I recently received as a gift, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy. Risotto with Gorgonzola? The ingredients are right there in the title so on to the grocery list they went and on to the fridge menu for Tuesday night.

Apparently, the only trick about risotto is that you don't leave it alone...
EVER! I tried a few times to re-fill my glass of wine or make the final preparations on my salad. No, blurbled Risotto, you must tend to me! So you just stand and stir. Stand and stir. Stand and.....

Ok, so it gets old after a while. But tending to something relatively simple helps to make the rest of life's complexities melt away. If you are willing to put in a little preparation ahead of time (like going to the store to make sure you have gorgonzola on the day you need it), be patient and take the time to continue stirring (and tasting) and and repeating, something pretty awesome might come out of it. I could keep stirring the metaphorical risotto and never have it turn out right and that's okay. At least it's risotto night.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day - Get Ready to Love Me

Even though I ref
use to support an industry that jacks up the price of flowers and chocolates for a holiday that was essentially exploited by card companies, there are some things I like about Valentine's Day. It's a celebration of love and not necessarily the love you have for your partner but for all the people in your life. One of the best ways to let people know that you love them is to cook for them so I decided to exploit my new Crock-Pot and prepare the tasty brisket. I made the meal for my friends and it turned out great. Slow cookers are amazing because they take most of the guesswork out and you get to have 7-9 hours of olfactory foreplay while the roast simmers and stews. By the time it's ready to eat, you've been salivating for most of the day and it's a lot like those cheesy romantic comedies that build up with the "will they, won't they." I thought about doing a slow clap during the feast, but it's not that kind of movie.

While preparing for this feast, I noticed something interesting. I live very close to one of the best meat shops in town and visiting them to pick up my meat, I felt intimidated. I don't know very much about cuts or quantity or even what certain types of meat cost and usually this is not a problem. When you go to a typical store to purchase food (not just meat, but anything) the people behind the counter usually only know slightly more than you and depending on the product you may know more than them. Going to check out and handing a leafy-green item to the cashier who says, "What is this?" is not the most comforting thing. I realize that not everyone who's working at the grocery store is training to be a horticulturalist, but when you go to a place where they actually know what they're doing, it's a little strange to encounter that kind of elevated customer service. I went to an honest-to-goodness meat shop and told them, "I'm making a brisket for 4-6 adults" and they said, "Here's the right cut and the right amount of meat, and here's some ideas for ways to prepare it." It's sort of like dating losers your whole life and all of a sudden Prince Charming comes along and offers to pay off your student loans. Like chivalry, good customer service is hard to find.

Love and food are so similar that sometimes it feels like the same thing. Valentine's Day may be used as an excuse to shower loved ones with teddy bears and over-priced roses, but I'd rather use it as an excuse to have a good meal with my favorite people. The food will never love you back, but the people always will.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

To Market, To Market...

The professor and I went to the Mercato in Little Italy today in hot pursuit of a good farmer's market in San Diego. This quest comes on the heels of visiting, and enjoying, the Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. What I loved so much about these places was all the fresh fruit and veggies, just begging to be taken home, and the over zealous shopkeepers eagerly hoping you'll buy whatever it is they're selling. It's crowded, and smells funny, but there's something really comforting about these public markets. It's not just because most of the food is organically grown by local farmers, and it's not just because you get to try lots of free samples of infused olive oil and homemade hummus, although those are certainly valid reasons to go. (Note to vendors: I really, really would like to buy a $12 bottle of fancy olive oil from you but I can't justify the expense. Even if I did buy it, I'd feel guilty every time I used it since I know how much I paid for it so it would probably just sit in my cupboard untouched. Thanks for the sample, though. Note to readers: Infused olive oil makes a great gift.) I think it has to do with the fact that the people you're buying this stuff from actually made (or grew) it. When you go to the grocery store, the clerk doesn't know (or care) where the artichokes he's selling came from. At a farmer's market, those artichokes came from Joe's farm up north. Maybe I've read Fast Food Nation or In Defence of Food too many times, but I don't care.

So grab your reusable tote and bring it to the Mercato. It could just be the perfect inspiration for your next meal. This weekend we'll be having pancetta mixed with cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and pasta, and Sunday is jambalaya. And of course, there are fresh flowers on the table, which makes everything taste better.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brewing In The New Year - Part 3

Today is Sunday, and that can mean only one thing... it's tasting day. Our beer has been laying dormant for two weeks and this morning we placed the two tasters in the fridge and let them cool for a few hours. Then finally the moment of truth. We opened, we poured, and we tasted. The beer is a little cloudy, but with good color and a good amount of head (possibly too much but the bottles we opened were filled towards the end of the bottling process so they may have extra foam in comparison). As the weeks go by, the beer should clear up a little. The taste was bitter, but not prohibitively, with a pretty strong hops flavor and good carbonation. Our only goal (aside from learning the process, of course) is that our first batch of beer didn't taste completely awful which would inevitably cause us to re-think our new hobby. And in that, we were more than successful. The taste will change over the next few weeks and I'm optimistic that it will be ready for public consumption soon. And when all of our bottles our empty, we'll get to start the process all over again. Long live Maiden Voyage Ale!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Brewing In The New Year - Part 2

In preparation for bottling day, Saturday's task was getting all the pieces prepared and sanitized, including the four dozen bottles which our beer will call home for the next few weeks. Everything was dry and ready in time for Sunday morning's home-coming, also known as bottling day.

First, we prepared the vessel for our harvest - the beer cases. At the recommendation of my friend Brian, we lined the inside of the case with a plastic bag just *in case* one of the bottles explodes. Apparently, many first-timers experience a beer bath
when they add too much carbonation.

Then we boiled 16 ounces of water and added 3/4 cup of sugar to make the magical confection, carbonation. Pouring the syrup into the carbonation container, it is gradually mixed with the non-fizzy beer through a magic process of “gravity.” I tried to get more information from The Professor about how this phenomenon happens, but basically we put this tube in the beer in the top container, and it magically gets sucked up and dumped down into the syrup mixture. All I know is that it's supposed to be hard, but it only took two tries to get it started. Once all the beer is added to the syrup, it’s time to bottle.

After we hooked up the tube to the now-fizzed container, the tube goes to the bottom of each bottle. Press lightly and liquid (magically?) comes out and fills to the top. Then you hand it to the capper (The Professor) who applies some pressure to each cap with the red-gripper mad-capper. Now our beer is sitting idly by waiting to be ready to drink...
Our first batch yielded 50 bottles
and the tasting day is triumphantly scribbled on the kitchen calendar... two weeks from now!