30 March 2007

Cream sauce: bane of existence no longer.

I finally had a night where all things coincided. I had fresh cream. I had beautiful handmade ravioli. I had fresh parsley. I had pasta in cream sauce.

Cream sauce is not as hard as you think, although it is harder than opening most jars of cruddy factory-made alfredo. Except, you know, those jars of alfredo whose lids have been screwed down so tight you practically break the industrial glass itself trying to wrench the thing free. That aside, those jars are full of grode. A real cream sauce has three ingredients: butter, flour, and cream. A real cheese sauce also has cheese. Then you can add some seasonings if you want. That is it.

I am less strenuous in my criticism of premade pasta. I like premade pasta pretty well. This time, I just happened to want GREAT pasta. So I went to the store and found a container of handmade cheese and spinach ravioli with the refrigerated pasta. I buy this stuff from a local company called Saporito. Their main office is in Redwood City, three towns away, so they can deliver fresh pasta to stores practically every day. Also, check out the ingredients: flour, egg, ricotta, spinach, and nutmeg. this is almost exactly what I would do were I making the ravioli myself. Except, you know, I would probably also end up with ravioli filling all over the pan. With their stuff, I do not.

So. Ready?

Ravioli in cream sauce

2 people's worth good ravioli
pint cream (or milk for part)
parmesan or romano cheese
black pepper
maybe a little salt
fresh parsley

Fill a pot with water and cook your pasta at an appropriate moment.

To start the cream sauce, warm a deep pot over medium heat. Make sure you have a whisk that is acceptable to use in this pot; people with metal whisks and nonstick pans, beware.

So. Add a couple tablespoons of butter and swirl it around to melt. When the butter is all melted, add a couple spoonfuls of flour. Whisk it into the melted butter; it should start to foam with the heat. Proportions for a good cream sauce vary; I would say to use slightly less flour than butter, but I also don't measure, so. Let the flour and butter cook together for a few minutes to cook off the floury taste; this is now called a roux, which is really just a sauce thickener.

When the flour and butter have started to turn a bit golden, after about five minutes, add your cream. You can sub milk for part of it, or even all of it, if you aren't feeling particularly decadent. Just try not to use all skim milk; that's not really equipped to carry a sauce like this. You need some fat.

Immediately whisk the cream into the roux. Continue stirring as the cream heats. You're supposed to just stir constantly, but this makes it take longer to heat. It also prevents burning or boiling, though, so take that into account, and do what makes you most comfortable.

After maybe five or ten minutes, depending, your cream mixture should start to thicken. It will look shinier, and will coat the back of a spoon. At this point, start grating cheese into the mix. I like romano on everything, as you may have noticed, so I generally use romano here. However, any good grating cheese is worth trying. Add the cheese a little at a time, stirring to melt it evenly into the sauce. You can add as much or little as you want (or have). After you've added the cheese, the stirring becomes much more important, so watch that sauce! Don't let it burn or boil!

Season the sauce liberally and well with fresh ground black pepper. I also like fresh parsley. Salt is iffy, as cheese has lots of salt in it already, but you can add a pinch if you want.

Serve pasta with generous amounts of sauce, and a green salad to keep your heart from stopping. Good bread is also very welcome here; it makes it easier to get every last drop of sauce. Drink a crisp white wine, like sauvignon blanc or pinot gris. We had some madeira, which also worked. For dessert, you want fresh fruit of some kind. Go out in the backyard with glasses of cut strawberries doused in the end of your bottle of wine. It will be delicious.

28 March 2007

Late night rice salad

This is what to have at eleven at night when you realize you want dinner but your body has turned strongly against any sort of processed food.

Rice salad

wild/brown rice mix
dry vermouth
olive oil
red onion or shallot
green beans
dry or fresh basil
fresh parsley
optional: romano or feta cheese

Make the rice in the rice cooker, substituting vermouth for, say, a third of the required water. This will make it delicious. I made 3/4 cup of rice for two people.

In the meantime, chop up a shallot or half a red onion. Warm some olive oil in a saute pan and stick in your onion. Cook slowly to soften. Defrost your peas by immersing in hot water; top/tail and chop your green beans into tiny pieces. Add the peas and beans to the onion mix with a couple shakes of dried basil and maybe another splash of vermouth. Cook until nice and tender, then salt and pepper.

When everything is done, tip the vegetables into the rice cooker, add some vinaigrette (or olive oil and a little vinegar), fresh parsley, and/or fresh basil, and stir to combine. Eat warm or cold, plain or with cheese. I really wanted mild feta here, but had to settle for romano. It was delicious nonetheless.

26 March 2007

Alternate egg salad

This weekend was interesting. We went on a thirty-mile bike ride.

Such a thing not only encourages but requires breakfast if you don't want to end up collapsed hyperventilating on the side of the road. I got up and looked into the cold, cold refrigerator. Er. Some eggs. Eggs are delicious, but you can't eat a stomach full of grease before such a day. You have to balance them out with something besides hashbrowns, too. Toast? No bread. No tortillas, even. It would have to be vegetables. So what could I make involving non-greasy eggs and vegetables together?

I made an egg salad.

Most people know egg salad as chopped hard-boiled eggs in a mix of mayo and mustard. I like this business just fine, especially when you add as much chopped dill as humanly possible. However, the mustard-mayo business is really heavy and greasy and you guys, mayonnaise is made of raw eggs and oil! You know that, right?

So that was not an available option. Instead, I made an egg and green bean salad based heavily on salade nicoise: a French (Nicoise!) salad generally consisting of salad greens with boiled potatoes, green beans, tuna, and hard-boiled eggs, among other things. I love salade nicoise with a blinding passion, so much as to have come up with at least two or three variations I eat on a regular basis. This was perhaps the most pared-down version so far.

Alternate egg salad

green beans
salt and pepper
maybe some parsley

This is very easy. Find a small pot with a lid, add your whole eggs, and add with water to cover. Bring the pot to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for about eight minutes. In the meantime, chop up some green beans. Add them to the pan and continue cooking for about two more minutes. Drain the pot, remove the green beans to a serving bowl, and run cold water on the eggs. When they're cool enough to handle, whack them all over with the back of a spoon, peel them, and chop them up roughly. Add to the green beans; dress with vinaigrette, salt and pepper; maybe add some chopped parsley if you want some; eat in as warm and immediate a fashion as possible.

After that, I lay on the couch for an hour or so, reading Mansfield Park and digesting slowly until it was time to go. I didn't cramp up; I didn't die; I was fine and well and had nearly enough energy to do everything. It was a good idea.

23 March 2007

Delicious tempeh

Our friend Ryan taught us how to make totally delicious tempeh. He marinates it in soy, ginger, brown sugar, vinegar, rosemary, and olive oil, then sears it until totally delicious. Clearly, this knowledge has made me exceptionally likely to experiment with different marinades.

The essential preparation is always the same: marinate tempeh for at least an hour, then sear until browned on all sides. From there the preparation can vary. We can go in the salad direction, and cut up a hundred vegetables over which to arrange the tempeh artfully. I think this is the most common way we eat tempeh, actually, now that we know the awesomeosity of marinades. However, last night we were not really in the salad family. We didn't have any greens of any type, for one thing. We did have vegetables that want cooking. Clearly, we would have to make a stirfry.

Seared tempeh and vegetables over wild rice


wasabi teriyaki sauce
powdered ginger not fresh boo!
actual fresh rosemary


package of tempeh
half a red onion
several big garlic cloves
a zucchini
most of a green pepper
handful of green beans
dry vermouth
cup of wild/brown rice mix and appropriate water

First, make marinade. I just combined several big glugs of teriyaki sauce with some ginger and a branch of fresh rosemary. Go ahead and experiment with whatever sounds good to you; just make sure there's enough liquid to cover your tempeh.

Cut your tempeh into cubes, or whatever shape you like, and lay them in the marinade. I never make quite enough marinade to cover, so I end up turning the pieces instead. It's no big deal. Let the tempeh marinate for at least an hour, such that it will be savory and delicious.

Make wild rice in the rice cooker while everything else is going on. Wild rice was a substantial part of what made this so good, according to John. Wild rice and tempeh go together like That, apparently. I thought it was pretty good myself.

Get a sauté pan warm and add your tempeh in a single layer. Let it start to crisp and brown while you chop up your red onion and peel your garlic. The red onion was a better choice than yellow here, considering the general tones of teriyaki sauce: it was sufficiently savory, but still a little sweet. When the tempeh is relatively brown on one side, flip it all over, then add the onion and garlic. I left my garlic cloves whole, or cut them in half if particularly huge. This way you get big chunks of sweet garlic along with the other sweetness later. Add the leftover marinade (but no stray bits of rosemary branch!) and stir it all up together. If at any point the bottom of the pan gets all sticky with marinade, deglaze it with dry vermouth. Oh, my sweet dry vermouth.

Look at that!

Cook relatively slowly until the onion softens and the garlic starts to caramelize. Chop up all your vegetables while you're waiting. I would particularly recommend zucchini here. Zucchini LOVES this stuff. I mean, I also love zucchini in a more general sense, but still. This is perhaps the best use of zucchini. The green pepper and beans worked excellently as well. Other vegetables that would be good: red pepper, mushrooms, other summer squashes, maybe some snow peas.

Add your vegetables and cook, making sure both sides of the tempeh get browned, until everything is tender and clearly delicious. Deglaze if necessary; add a bit of olive oil if necessary. Taste a piece. Is it good? Does it need anything? I'll tell you what it doesn't need: salt. It is criminally easy to oversalt tempeh, especially with a soy-based marinade. Did you know: teriyaki sauce is just soy sauce with more seasonings! So: no more salt.


When everything is done, add a bit of olive oil to the rice and stir it up a bit, to get it moist. Serve the tempeh and vegetables over said rice. It is delicious.

We had Guinness with this, because it was be kind to Guinness night. Be kind to it by putting it in the freezer, getting it ice cold, then drinking it. Happy Guinness!

21 March 2007

Tempura night

Hey I know! Let's deep fry!

Actually, this was more like pan frying, albeit with a prodigious amount of peanut oil.

I had been wanting tempura for days on end. Days! Of course it is an excellent idea to fry the living guts out of the entire crisper drawer, especially since its contents were bought specifically for just that purpose. Behold:

red peppers
green peppers
serrano peppers
little anaheim peppers
red jalapeno peppers

and not just peppers! also:
whole garlic cloves
yellow onions

You can clearly add whatever other vegetable your heart desires, or things like shrimp, if you happen to swing that way. We happened to swing toward hot peppers.

Apparently, when you deep fry peppers, their heat is entirely killed. I don't know what the deal is chemically, but I do know that I was able to eat every single one of these as finger food with no qualm whatever. It was great. So if you like the taste of hot peppers but don't want to spend an hour with a milk poultice on your tongue, this might be the way to go.

I also hold the mushroom in extremely high regard. If I were the only one eating, I would have upped the proportions so severely as to ascend to deep-fried mushroom heaven. However, I was not. This does mean I got all the mushrooms to myself, though! Yay!

The onion and garlic family was pretty awesome as well, if a little hard to turn due to slice curvature. For garlic, I used whole, peeled cloves. The tempura batter doesn't like to stick to them, since they're rounded, but that's ok--the end result is strongly like oven-roasted garlic, but firmer. Scallions were also a good idea, since you got the green vegetable meltiness along with the onion flavor. Everyone dove for the scallions. The yellow onion tasted great, but was hardest to cook. Onion slices do not like to lie flat. You also definitely want to separate layers of onion and fry them individually, as otherwise they have a tendency to fall apart in midair over hot oil. Good idea!

This experience made it apparent why so many people use frozen poppers for deep frying (if they're going to fry anything at all). The batter? If it is in liquid form, it will be very excited (ha! almost a physics joke!) and try its best to fly all over the kitchen when you put it into the pan. Hey, so will the oil! Double trouble! The solution to this is to NEVER DROP ANYTHING. Make sure to place each vegetable directly on the pan, and you should be fine. Frozen batter, in contrast, is unable to fly anywhere. Be aware. I might even do some experimental battering and freezing for use in future. That's what we should have done with the leftover batter! Damn it!

Ok ok.

First, choose vegetables. Wash and dry them thoroughly; water plus hot oil equals lots of splatter. Cut them into pleasing chunks. Use anything you want; it will be awesome. The only thing to take into consideration is whether anything will end up totally doughy in the middle. For instance, broccoli has a tendency to trap batter so far inside its bits that it won't get cooked. You also might not want to use vegetables that are eaten raw, such as radish, although who knows? You might want to try it. Other than that, though, I think you're home free.

Make the batter.

1 egg
1 cup cold water
1 cup flour

Beat the egg in an adequate bowl. Add water and flour and stir to mix. Everything I've seen online tells you not to overmix, but our batter turned out fine even though we ended up beating and beating to get out all the lumps. It's also apparently important to keep the batter cold. This was no problem on our end, as the flour lives in the freezer.

Do not double the recipe unless you are feeding a party; you will have had plenty of oil by the time you're mostly through the first batch.

Now it is time to fry.

peanut oil
adequately deep frying pan
paper towels and cookie racks for draining

Put your pan over high heat for a few minutes. It should be pretty hot for tempura. Add several good glugs of peanut oil. If you were using a traditional deep fryer, or even a more traditional deep frying method, you would want more oil. We decided to just see what we could do in a shallow pan, since a grease fire is clearly an excellent bad idea. Heat your oil until hot but not smoking. You may need to adjust the heat down a little, but not too much. The oil will conduct the heat, keeping it uniform and preventing most scorch.


Using the tongs, dip a piece of vegetable into the batter. Let the excess drip off, then set it directly onto the pan. Watch out for oil spatters. Repeat until the pan is full. Let your veggies sit for a few minutes, then check to see if they need to turn. (In a deep fryer, of course, you don't need to turn anything.) You want a nice golden brown crust. Let cook a few minutes on the other side, then remove to paper towels. Salt immediately, so it gets absorbed well.

Eat as soon as you aren't going to burn your fingers. Repeat until glutted with oil. Bring the plate you can't eat next door and share it with your neighbors. Delicious.

19 March 2007

Cylindrical dinner

This weekend was all about lying around the house, a project I like quite a bit. Well, we WANTED it to be all about lying around the house. We didn't exactly accomplish this plan, at least at first. After a Friday with no dinner, lots of hanging out with neighbors, and several vodka appletinis, not to mention a Saturday morning consisting of two and a half relentlessly fun-filled hours at the dentist, we were certainly ready to accomplish a different goal than, say, the "moving ever again" goal. Perhaps the "actual dinner" goal?

Friday night I had brought home two big bags of ziti, a bottle of champagne and one of sauvignon blanc, and a bag of goldfish crackers, half of which I'd already scarfed down in the staff room. What could this possibly inspire? I rejected the tomato soup with goldfish in favor of scarfing the rest of the bag before dinner. Pasta it is, then.

This business is easy and classic. It's more or less a variation on the general aglio e olio, which we have pretty frequently due to its quickness, easiness, and deliciousness. In this case the ziti inspired me to make everything cylindrical. Not that anyone would be fooled into thinking a green bean was actually pasta, or vice versa. It's more that a plate full of uniform shapes is pretty, and everyone likes to eat pretty food.

Cylindrical dinner
i.e. Pasta with garlic and green beans

1/2 package ziti
couple big handfuls green beans
at least 6 or 8 cloves garlic
olive oil
dry vermouth
basil, cayenne
couple stems fresh parsley
salt, pepper
parmesan/other for grating

Cook pasta at an appropriate moment in the following procedures. You're not an idiot, and I'm not going to act like you are.

Smash, peel, and mince garlic. Throw it in a decent saute pan with a substantial glug of olive oil, a little dried basil, and a shake of cayenne. Cook on medium-low until things are soft but not browned. My garlic, of course, started to go golden and look threateningly crisp. If this happens, you can add a cup or so of water to evenly distribute the heat and keep the garlic from burning. It works pretty well, but not as well as actually keeping the heat low enough.

Top and tail the green beans, and cut into maybe inch and a half pieces. I didn't try all that hard to get these perfect, just reasonable. Green beans curl; it's not a problem. Add them to the pan and stir to combine. You may want a little more oil at this point. I would also probably turn the heat up a bit, since green beans will release at least a little liquid. Give them a few minutes with just the garlic mixture, then add a couple glugs of dry vermouth. Cook togther until the green beans are done to your liking. Maybe 5 minutes should be plenty. While they're cooking, strip the leaves off a few stems of parsley and chop them roughly.

When everything is done, add first the parsley and then the drained pasta to your pan of garlic and beans. Salt and pepper. Stir it all up and top with more pepper. This stuff likes pepper.

Eat with lots of grated cheese and some sauvignon blanc. If you were so inclined, and if you had the right ingredients, you could add some pesto to this mix with excellent effect. Whole pine nuts would work, or maybe some lemon zest if you're into the sweet and sour. Or you could go whole hog with the hot pepper content and add whatever spice you want early on. I myself had it plain. It was delicious that way, too.

16 March 2007

Improv curry

I am too exhausted to drag groceries home today. What is in the kitchen?

This is based off a yogurty Pakistani curry I found lurking somewhere in the depths of the internet years ago. It was originally made with chicken; while I do eat chicken sometimes, tonight was not one of those times. I wanted vegetables. Ok, here are some vegetables.

Improv curry

half yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
fresh ginger
olive oil
waxy potatoes
a little tomato puree
couple spoonfuls plain yogurt (or soy yogurt, for those of you)
fresh spinach
cumin, coriander, turmeric

Chop half an onion into chunks; mince two cloves of garlic; peel and pulverize an inch-long stem of ginger. Throw it in the pan with a good couple glugs of olive oil. Cook until soft, then add cumin, coriander (seed), turmeric. Get it all mixed up deliciously. When you can seriously smell the spices, add two or three chopped potatoes, a couple spoonfuls of tomato puree, another couple spoonfuls of real decent plain yogurt, and some water. Bring to a simmer, cover, and turn down. Cook until potatoes are tender, then throw in the end of a bunch of spinach, stemmed and washed. Stir it all up to get the spinach blanched, then serve over rice and/or with naan. I had rice.

Naan is hard because I am far too lazy to do it on a regular basis. We did make it once, and it was perfect and puffy and amazing. Perhaps at some point I will be less lazy and thus do it again. Perhaps at some point I will not have any rice. This is certainly feasible.

14 March 2007

Make red beans and rice.

Points in favor of such a thing:

* vegan food for masses
* cheap, plentiful, easy
* only requires small amounts of forward planning
* delicious

I actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make a decent pot of red beans and rice. This experiment mostly took place in college. Then, it always failed. However, now I seem to have acquired a wider range of cooking skills. The secret here seems to have been using actual hot peppers of some type. I've used pretty much every kind we've ever had lying around, and as we live in California, that's a lot. Serranos, anaheims, red or green jalapeños: pretty much anything besides a habañero has at one point or other ended up in my pot.

Such an explanation might send a sensitive palate running for the hills. Well. I can't say my palate is particularly sensible to spice at this point, but I can say that this is significantly milder than one would imagine, and that you can further control the spice by changing the type and amount of hot pepper. If you use anaheim, for example, you get the rich vegetal pepper flavor, but practically no spice, at least to my tongue. If you use red jalapeño, my favorite, you get a reasonable spicy kick mellowed by the long simmer. If you use habañero--those of you who would choose to cook with habañero have a better idea what you're getting into than I do. Proceed.

Red beans and rice

a pot (or I guess a can) red beans
rice and appropriate cooking water
olive oil
half onion
6 cloves garlic
couple carrots
couple stalks celery
a hot pepper of some type
a green pepper
veg broth
dry vermouth
cayenne, thyme, oregano, adobo, paprika
bay leaves
salt, pepper

Soak the beans overnight, then boil for an hour or until tender. I like to stick a bay leaf in to boil with the beans. Take it out when they're done.

Put on a pot of rice. Let it cook during the whole bean and vegetable procedure.

Chop up the onion and mince the garlic finely. Sauté to soften in a glug of olive oil. Add spices, chopped celery and carrot, minced hot pepper, and chopped green pepper. Red or yellow pepper are also fine. Spicing is not so complicated. I tend to use Some of everything, and then More paprika. Of course, I have also made this with No paprika. You can get good results either way.

When all the vegetables have softened up a bit, add a bay leaf, two or three cups of vegetable broth, and your pot of beans. You should use enough broth to cover everything, so the beans and veggies can stew in it. If you don't have veg broth, you can use water, but it's better with broth. Plus, broth is easy, and can be done simultaneously: just throw all your onion and garlic trimmings in a pot of water with a few bits of carrot and celery, plus any other vegetables you have lying around, then simmer while you're letting the main vegetables soften.

Bring things to a simmer and cook for maybe 15 minutes or so. Then add a shot or two of dry vermouth. Stir it up and simmer some more, until the alcohol has cooked off. Salt and pepper to taste: a little salt, lots of pepper. Find and eliminate bay leaf. Is everything hot? Then you're ready.

Serve beans over rice, with maybe a little butter or oil on the rice first. It is tasty. Eat lots. Save the rest and bring it to work for lunch on Monday. Good job.

12 March 2007

Breakfast couscous

I have to eat breakfast because I bike five miles to work. If I don't have breakfast, this is enormously painful. This situation necessitates Breakfast Experiments. My breakfast has to be fast, easy, and ready in five minutes. It also has to be savory, not sweet. Fortunately, this is not so hard to achieve. It just requires you to consider food differently.

Today: Breakfast couscous.

some couscous
hot water in the teapot
red pepper
lemon juice

First, set tea on to steep with some water out of your teapot. Tea drinking bonus: 5 points.

Pour some couscous into a bowl. I use about half a cup. Add hot water to cover, stir, and let it steam while you chop vegetables. I just had these vegetables, but any that are good raw are fine. Chop them into small chunks and dump them over the cooked couscous. Proportions: you want slightly more vegetables than couscous. Add some torn parsley, black pepper, and lemon juice. You might want a little olive oil or something as well. Stir it all up to get the juice/oil on everything.

By this time, your tea is steeped. Eliminate the tea leaves. Eat couscous and drink tea. Good morning.

09 March 2007

Huge dinner spectacular

Weekend part 2: dinner.

John made nearly 100% of the dinner. I just sat around and talked and ate tasty niblets. If I asked to help, I got to do something like "open the wine". It was pretty great.

The whole concept of this particular dinner came from John sitting around looking up videos on YouTube. We certainly have good productive Sundays. HA ha! Sunday is not for productivity! Screw that! So he came across a video of Julia Child making chocolate mousse cake and Steak Diane with actual beef stock. Suddenly we also had to make Steak Diane and beef stock, although we felt no compunction or longing toward the chocolate mousse cake.

This just tells you our palate toward cake. I will eat sweet things if they are lying around, but only if there's nothing else to eat. John eats almost no sweets ever. So even if we make a cake for birthday week, we'll each have one piece, and then the rest of the cake will sit around and congeal until we throw it out. In conclusion, no cake at our house.

So we went up the street and bought onions and shallots and garlic and bordeaux and champagne and madeira and steak and stew beef and giant horrifying beef bones and potatoes and peas. We also decided it was time we had two chef's knives, so each of us could develop our own hand on our own knife. So we got one of those as well. It is shiny and light and going to be John's.

The first object was stock. John brought a huge pot of water to a boil and added chopped onion and garlic and carrot and celery. Then came the stew beef (fine) and the big terrifying beef bones (entirely gross but full of sustenance anyway). John spent a long time skimming gack off the top of the pot with a ladle while we split a Guinness and hung out talking about how awesome this was going to be and look at that, the knife is so well balanced I can balance it on my finger!! ! Skimming broth is not as hard as it looks; you just barely submerge the rim of the ladle, so the sudden change in surface tension sucks the top layer of broth and bone gack in. You just have to do it eight hundred times, as more and more gack rises.

Finally, when things looked relatively clear, we left it to simmer and instead had some extremely late afternoon mimosas with ridiculous tangerine juice and actual segments for garnish.

Easy mimosas

cold champagne
orange/approximate orange juice
bits for garnish if they happen to be lying around

Fill a champagne bowl with half champagne and half juice. Garnish with orangey bits. Drink. Fill your glass again. Repeat until bottle of champagne is gone.

I think we let the stock go for about two hours. Then we got hungry and went downstairs. John made us a tiny snack for interim: peas and shallots. It took two seconds and was awesome.

Peas and shallots

frozen peas
a shallot
butter or olive oil

Warm butter or oil in a small frying pan. Slice the shallot finely and tip it into the butter. Saute for a few minutes to soften, then add peas. I think he just left them frozen. Saute on medium until the peas are tender and any melt has evaporated off. Sprinkle with pepper and eat. Yay!

Then we got down to business. John's business included the Steak Diane; my business included sampling the madeira we'd gotten for said Steak Diane. Madeira turns out to be pretty good, as long as you buy a decent one. Ours was a rainwater Madeira, made in Portugal, or maybe the Canary Islands. You can apparently use port instead of madeira in the steak, and it's obvious why: good madeira and good tawny port share the same dark, sweet, raisiny musk tones. They are also the same color.

At this point our neighbor Noelle came over. I have much fuzzier ideas of what went into the actual cooking of dinner afterward. I do know that the dinner produced was excellent, though oddly in line with the meat and 3 veg thing that we pretty much never do. This did not interfere with its excellence, fortunately.

Steak Diane

From what I saw, this was essentially about making the sauce, then poaching the steak in said sauce.

super thin or pounded-thin steak
olive oil and butter
chopped shallot
chopped parsley
1 cup beef stock mixed with a teaspoon each of mustard and cornstarch
lemon half
slug madeira
worcestershire sauce

Pound your steak, if necessary. Ours was just thin already. You want it 1/4 inch thick so it cooks really quickly.

Get out your huge awesome saute pan and warm it up. Slug in some olive oil and a good couple tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted, add a chopped shallot and a good palmful of chopped parsley. Stir it all up and let the shallot soften.

Now is the time to use your vat of stock. Ok, not the whole vat. Some of the stock. Take your some of the stock and mix it with a spoonful of mustard and one of cornstarch, then whisk to combine with no ugly cornstarchy lumps. Then add it to the pan. Julia does it this way; I think John just chucked everything in the pan and whisked there.

Add the juice of half a lemon, a slug of worcestershire sauce, and a slug of madeira. Whisk everything up (or just stir it, but if you have the whisk out, whatever) and cook for a minute or two, until the cornstarch thickens everything.

Then it's time for steak. Lay each steak gently in the pan, so you don't kill yourself with spattered sauce. Sear for maybe 45 seconds on each side. I would probably have tried to wash a pan in the interval, but John didn't, so everything came out perfectly.

You are now done. Plate, with sauce and sides, and eat swiftly.

Sides: peas (no shallots, just regular) and mashed potatoes.

You guys know how to make these, but I'll give a quick synopsis nonetheless.
Peas: steam or boil until tender; butter if you want.
Potatoes: peel, boil, mash with butter, milk, salt, and pepper.

It was pretty sweet.

07 March 2007

Huge brunch spectacular

Sunday was Big Food Event day this weekend. Normally food is not that big a deal, really, although we obviously like both the cooking and eating of it, but not this time.

AM: huge brunch spectacular.
PM: huge dinner spectacular.
It was like that.

Technically, we didn't have huge brunch spectacular until about 12:30, since I had to go to the dentist first thing in the morning, but it was brunch nonetheless. Brunch is perhaps the best thing to do with a Sunday. I made us huge plates of scrambled eggs and hashbrowns, and a frenchpress pot of coffee. Coffee is pretty rare at our house; brunch is almost the only time we ever have it. It's brunch! You must have coffee. So I cooked, and John came down and made a huge pile of toast, and we poured Bushmills into our coffee to see if we wanted Irish coffee, which we decided we didn't. We drank it nonetheless.

I've been trying to make a decent pan of hashbrowns for ages. I haven't ever been able to make decent ones, although homefries are achieveable. Usually I end up with a plate of grey, oily mush, as opposed to a plate of crispy, peppery, browned potato. Not this time, however. I had some tricks up my sleeve.


waxy potatoes
olive oil and butter
salt and pepper
optional: garlic

First, grate the potatoes. I used the biggest hole of our box grater. This was a little too fine of a texture for authentic diner hashbrowns, but oh well. We had two big red potatoes for two people, but this is obviously very easy to multiply. Also, if you like garlic, you may want to mince up a couple cloves to add to the potato.

Stick the potato in a colander, rinse it, and squeeze it to get out as much starch and water as possible. Then parboil it for about five minutes, to reduce the time frying later. Rinse it one more time and let it drain. Finally, wrap it in a towel and press to get even more water out. Yay: dry potato. Trick #1.

To fry, heat your pan to medium high. Once the pan is hot, add a lump of butter and some olive oil. When the butter is melted and everything is hot, tip in the potato, garlic, and a good dose of salt and pepper. Flatten things with your spatula for flat potato-cakey action. Then try to cook the whole mess as fast and hot as you can without either burning or moving it, so as to achieve the correct golden-brown hash brown crust. Don't move anything until you want to turn the business over. I know it's hard. You must resist the temptation to stir things around. Trick #2.

After 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your stove, your hashbrowns should have developed the correct crust on the bottom. Do your best to flip over the entire potato lump, keeping things as intact as possible. This did not work so much for me, but I still achieved some golden browniness.

When the hashbrowns were verging on done, I made the eggs. Scrambled eggs are easy, especially if you don't care that much about how fluffy you get them. I Could have bothered to stir the eggs nicely for the entire cooking time, but I didn't. Oh well. They were plenty delicious anyway.

You know how to make scrambled eggs.

salt and pepper
some parsley (yes.)

Crack the eggs into a bowl or pitcher. Add a little salt and a lot of pepper. Mix it all together with a fork. Then heat up your pan, melt some butter, and pour in the eggs. Throw some parsley on top of the eggs if you want. Stir it up and cook until the eggs achieve your desired degree of stability. I like them as hard as possible without browning and rubberizing. Eat instantly, with your now-done hashbrowns; eggs are only good while they're hot.

Then there was

Make it. Add Bushmills or not at your leisure. Drink it.


Put four pieces of bread in toaster oven; toast; butter. Eat quickly, while it's hot. Repeat until you run out of bread.

05 March 2007


I am all about the herbs in general. Herbs are great: you throw some seeds in a pot on your windowsill, water every couple of days, and lo! plants! Herbs are the best kind of plants, since you can just pinch off some leaves and use them whenever you want. As long as the plant is not technically dead, there is always some part to use. Even those gigantic terrifying late summer bolted flowering creatures are useful: just let them die, dry them out, and harvest their seeds. I have a huge sack of parsley seeds which I harvested by this very method.

The parsley plant loved our backyard. It was also one of the few plants not to be ravaged by squirrels. I assume this was because there was no obvious fruit. The tomatoes definitely did not fare anything like as well. Jalapeno peppers, on the other hand, did extremely well, as the squirrels took one bite and died of heat. Anyway.

I had initially had said plant in a terracotta pot on the kitchen windowsill, i.e. the usual place for herbs at our house. It grew and grew and eventually severely needed a repot. I didn't have any bigger pots, and it was spring, so I dug a hole in our backyard and stuck it in. That plant shot up a foot in two weeks. It loved the backyard without hope or reason. "FREE! FREE!" it shrieked. It kept us up at nights with its loud parties and drunken debauchery. It had a pretty excellent life back there: unpinned by any barrier, roots flung far and wide, soaking in its boggy corner. It only had to cough up for its glamorous lifestyle every couple days, as I clogged it outside to collect my handful of leaves.

Then I made soup and salad and pasta and potatoes and more pasta and salad and sandwiches.

Eventually the last of the California summer did it in. The parsley flowered, and I did not pinch off the buds. I let it bolt, let it dry, let it stand in the backyard until it was good and October. Then I uprooted the whole thing and proceeded to shake the seeds down. Now it's time to plant them.

In the meantime, it is still spring, and I want greens, now, no waiting. So we have big dark bunches of store parsley. Maybe some people have trouble using up this much parsley. Ok, so let's get creative. Can you eat parsley in every single meal for two days? I did. You saw dinner the other night: pasta with parsley, veal with parsley. Easy. You can add it to anything. Or you can make it the star of the show. I did this today (and yesterday) with my excellent lunch.

Salad sandwich

pita, tortilla, or flatbread
green onion greens
black pepper

Take a tortilla (or whatever you have that is workable for a roll/stuff sandwich of this type) and slather it with hummus. Add sliced mushrooms, sliced carrots, green onion, and parsley. Pepper voluminously, and don't skimp on the parsley. The parsley makes this sandwich.

Were I having this at home, not storing it for four hours at work, I would definitely have added some lemon juice or even a little vinaigrette. I also would recommend radishes and cucumber. People: this thing was great, even with a cheap flour-flavored tortilla. I can only imagine the glory were I to have had decent flatbread.

Then there is the dinner I had last night. Clearly you can't have pasta every day, although I find that the easiest way to use nearly any fresh herb. However, this time, it was not pasta. Instead I had couscous.

Couscous with vegetables and herbs

dry couscous
boiling water
butter or olive oil
green onion
black pepper
lemon juice

Everyone has a clear idea of what lives in my refrigerator by this point, I assume.

Set the teakettle on to boil with a cup or so of water. Warm up the bowl out of which you want to eat with some hot water from the tap. This way you won't shatter your bowl when you pour boiling water on it. Do it.

While things are boiling, chop up whatever vegetables you want on your couscous. These are going to be raw, so plan accordingly. I sliced all my vegetables as thin as I could, because I like them that way.

When your water is steaming and about to boil, take it off the heat. Dump the now-lukewarm water out of your bowl and pour in some couscous. Just add as much of it as you want to eat. I maybe used 2/3 cup. Then add hot water to cover, stir, and let sit for a five minutes. If the couscous soaks up 100% of the water in under a minute, or if it still tastes hard in the middle, add some more water. Seriously, I don't measure things like this. If you add too much water, just add some more couscous. It is easy. When it's done, stick a couple little chunks of butter on top to melt. Or add olive oil. Or don't add anything. It's fine either way.

Add your chopped vegetables, lots of pepper, and at least a couple good squirts of lemon juice. Lemon juice is the essential dressing, but I added some vinaigrette also. Maybe add some salt if you want. Stir it all up and eat. It is awesome, it costs about fifty cents, and it only takes you 5 minutes to make dinner.

Other good things to add: roasted red pepper, pine nuts, feta cheese, quartered cherry and/or grape tomatoes. Oh man, if I'd had grape tomatoes and feta! Imagine the deliciousness! Or you could change the herb palette completely and add fresh basil with the roasted red pepper and some chopped olives. Fresh basil. Hmm.

02 March 2007


I started doing the thing where I ride the bike to And from work as opposed to taking the train up and only riding back. My body loves this in every possible way, as you might imagine. I am not at all tired or hurty! Ha ha! The other big effect is that I am constantly starving. I've been to the grocery store two days running to get enough food to fill myself up. Then I come home and eat and eat and am still hungry.

Last night I brought home a backpack full of parsley, hummus, bread, carrots, spinach, veal, cranberry juice, two kinds of onion, garlic, and probably several other things I am forgetting. Then I came home and started cooking.


Garlic pasta with spinach.
Hot chocolate.

Well, I technically had the hot chocolate later.

1. Garlic pasta, i.e. aglio e olio, is a weekly standard (though not The weekly standard) at our house. We eat garlic nearly every day. I heart garlic. I want as much garlic as possible. Besides that, aglio e olio is astonishingly cheap and comforting and quick. You can start cooking and sit down at the table in less than twenty minutes.

Aglio e olio

olive oil
long pasta such as linguine
black pepper
optional: fresh parsley, grated cheese
and I added steamed spinach.

Put on pasta water; cook pasta while the garlic is on.

Get at least a good six or eight cloves of garlic smashed and de-skinned. Chop them roughly and throw them into a wide saute pan with several good lashings of olive oil. Cook slowly on medium-low. This will depend on the size of your garlic chunks, but I find it rarely takes more than about ten or fifteen minutes.

As the pasta is boiling, wash several handfuls of spinach leaves and throw them in a steamer. I have one that fits the top of my pasta pot, so I just stick it over the pasta for a minute to get the spinach wilted, then add to the garlic. You can either do this or chuck the leaves straight into the garlic and oil, stirring to get them all garlicky.

Drain your pasta and toss it in the pan with your garlic and oil. Mix it all up, add plenty of black pepper and any other garnishes you desire, and serve.

2. Veal.

But we thought you were a vegetarian! Look at all that tofu! Well. I am not a vegetarian. I just don't eat meat very often. The end.

Veal scaloppine are tiny and razor-thin, and thus extremely cheap to cook yourself. I keep getting two of them for two dollars and change. Take that, restaurant anything! I win! This time I even managed to cook them such that they were still pink inside, which is an achievement, as I usually try to do things like "wash a pan" while said dudes are searing. This does not do much for the timing. This time I managed to wash a pan And get the veal turned over in time. In conclusion, I win again.

My veal prep is a basic takeoff of a Nigel Slater technique, which is pretty near the general technique for searing anything at all, only with pan juices afterward. It's also damn near instantaneous.

Seared veal

veal scaloppine
salt, pepper

Mix a little flour with salt and pepper on a plate. Coat the veal with the flour. I never have any excess, as I literally use one handful of flour out of the cold, cold, freezer-living bag, but if you have excess, shake it off. You just want a faint powdery coating. Also pepper. You want the pepper.

Get a wide saute pan good and hot. I didn't even rinse out my garlic-infused garlic pan, and it was already mostly hot. I win again! When things are pretty hot, stick in a lump of butter and let it froth. As soon as it's melted, slap in the veal. Leave it for maybe 45 seconds to a minute (while you wash a pan), then immediately turn it over. Leave for another 45 seconds or so, then remove to a hot plate (or on top of your hot pasta).

You will notice that your pan now has some brown bits and pieces sticking to it. Good. Pour in a couple good glugs of vermouth, or possibly any wine you may be having. White will work better, in my opinion. The alcohol will hiss and foam and try to turn itself entirely to steam. While it's doing that, scrape up all the bits on the bottom of the pan with your spatula. A metal one works best, but things like wooden spoons are also ok. Then add a handful of fresh parsley and another lump of butter to the pan. Stir it all about, and then, when the butter is melted, pour over your veal. Eat as instantly as possible.

3. Juice.

I was using vermouth as a cooking standby, as I was not having any wine. No. I was having juice. This did not go especially well with the veal and pasta, but it was still good in and of itself. So. I mixed a couple glugs each of black cherry and cranberry 100% pow ouch no anything extra juices to fill half a glass, then added sparkling water to the top. I might prefer tonic to the sparkling water, but still. Juice!

4. Hot chocolate.

So yeah. This was not enough for me. After an extremely green-flavored leftover Halloween sucker, I ended up tooling around the kitchen in search of dessert-oriented snacks. Of course, I hadn't bought any good chocolate. Good job, me. However, I had bought milk, and we did have a container of cocoa stashed up in the back of the cupboard. So I whipped some cocoa into milk, heated it on the stove, and: hot chocolate. Incidentally, I wonder how much of the difference between "cocoa and "hot chocolate", when referring to the actual liquid as opposed to powder, is a regionalism.