29 May 2007

Finally, soupe au pistou

This is one of the few non-baked foods I bother to make from the recipe. Most of the time I end up improvising something or other no matter what I'm making. Not in this case, though. Instead, I follow Elizabeth David's version, which she got from a 1926 Eugéne Blancard cookbook. It is worth it. Of course, none of the things Elizabeth David makes are really going to be BAD, but still. You can find the original in French Provincial Cooking, which you should definitely read whether you make the soup or not. It's totally at the library.

Soupe au pistou is clearly one of the delicious gardeny things you make when the yard is starting to overflow into the house and you not only want but in fact NEED to eat it. The fact that my garden is currently confined to a bunch of pots on the windowsill is irrelevant. The end result is completely green-tasting and intense, with a medium-bodied broth and all kinds of interesting chunks to discover. John was all, "this broth tastes like it has meat!" It doesn't actually taste Like meat; it just has complex flavors and actual body. We speculate that this is because of the tomatoes.

It also makes a cubic ton of food, and for maybe five bucks.

Soupe au pistou

olive oil
yellow onion
two tomatoes
pot of cooked white beans
handful of green beans
three potatoes
salt and pepper
thin pasta in the spaghetti/linguine/vermicelli area
fresh basil

You have to do the beans in advance, as you know.

Chop up your onion and stick it in a big soup pot with some olive oil. Let it soften while you deal with the tomatoes. We're going to skin them.

Skinning tomatoes sounds horrific but is in fact easy. You just have to know the trick. Fill a little pot with water and set it on to boil. Then score an x into the bottom of each of your tomatoes. Don't cut deeply, just part the skin. When the water is boiling or nearly, add your tomatoes. Let them sit for a minute or two, making sure to get hot water on all sides. Then fish them out and run cold water over to stop the cooking. The skin will at least have split a little, and may actually be coming off of its own volition. When they're cool enough to touch, peel off the skins with your fingers. Then core them and chop them into dice. See? Totally easy.

Add the tomatoes to the onion and cook together until the tomatoes go liquid. In the meantime, chop your beans into inch pieces, and your zucchini and potatoes into dice. I used red potatoes, but any boiling ones should work fine. Add a pint and a half of water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Then add the vegetables, white beans, and some salt and pepper. I put in a little cayenne too, since I am like that. My white beans were just normal cannellinis. Tthe first time I made this, however, I used tiny pale green flageolet beans. Both work fine, but the flageolets are a little more delicate.

With everything added, the soup ended up maybe an inch below the lip of a 3-quart pot. Be careful and don't let it overflow.

Cover and simmer for maybe ten minutes. Then add a small handful of long pasta of some sort, broken into maybe 2-inch sticks. It's important to use long, thin pasta so it can cook quickly. Cover again and simmer another five minutes, or until the pasta is done.

During the simmer, it's time to make pesto. This one is by far the simplest pesto ever. I didn't even use a mortar, as ours is too small for much besides salt, or a food processor. This was knife pesto. I just washed and de-leaved a couple huge stems of basil, smashed and peeled 5 cloves of garlic, and alternately finely chopped and squashed them all together with the flat of my knife. The whole point is to release the basil oil, so make sure you can smell it easily. Then I transferred the stuff to a bowl, added a couple glugs of olive oil, and mixed/continued to smash it all together with a fork.

When the soup is done, assemble. Take the pot off the heat and add about 2/3 of the pesto. Stir it all together to properly distribute the basil oil goodness. Serve into bowls; garnish with left pesto; continue to garnish with parmesan or romano, if necessary and available.

It is perfect and delicious and does not even need bread.

Since this does make a cubic ton of food, as mentioned, let's talk storage for a minute. Freeze it. Freeze it without any pesto added yet. Just separate things out early and distribute them among containers. That way when you want to eat it you can just smash some more basil into pesto and add it to the reheated soup. If you freeze the basil, you are going to lose all the fresh basil oil that gives this soup its actual taste. So don't do that if you can help it.

28 May 2007

Smörgåsbord; artichokes

This week and weekend was full but FULL of family. Mostly this meant John's parents. We always have fun with them since we can take them to every single restaurant we haven't been able to come up with a good excuse to go to in the past month or month and a half. So we went to Osteria, to Fiesta del Mar, to Joanie's. We ate field mushrooms in olive oil, shrimp over spinach fettuccine, hearts of palm salads, veal ravioli. We ate gigantic fish burritos and sour cream and bean burritos and vast plates of rice studded with cubed potato. We ate gigantic 3-egg omelets stuffed with avocado, then went to the store for more avocado, then made and ate two avocados' worth of guacamole at home.

I did not take any pictures of the restaurant things, however, since this project is all about cooking things at home. "You better have cooked some things at home, then, Eileen." We did.

John's dad is hereby contributing to the late theme of "stuff in California", particularly produce. This is a guy whose backyard is being slowly subsumed, season by season, in a shiny collection of raised beds filled with three layers of dirt, straw, and compost, then blackberries and raspberries, 3 kinds of tomatoes, 3 kinds of melon, 3 kinds of squash, 3 kinds of basil, various peppers, carrots, potatoes, green beans, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers: you name it and it's probably grown in their yard. I am totally jealous, even though they have to battle deer, not squirrels. So you can imagine what such a person thinks of CA produce and the farmstands you see on the way to Half Moon Bay and/or Sacramento. Our entire counter was suddenly full of bags of local fruit and artichokes.

You don't want to COOK with local strawberries and bags of grapes, especially when it is getting up to the actual summer period, so they ended up cut into fruit salad. You do want to cook the artichoke, however. Then you want to mix up a vinaigrette and set out all the sandwich equipment in the house so as to go for full perfect smörgåsbord activity.

You guys know that smörgåsbord is essentially a huge Swedish-originated buffet from which you make sandwiches and other deliciousnesses. Ours was fairly limited, due to having only three people eating. However, it did include pretty much everything people had bought at the farmstands in the past few days.

We had:
-summer sausage
-swiss cheese
-red romaine
-the first decent tomatoes
-brown porter mustard
-loaf of good wheat bread
-bowls of strawberries, grapes, and black cherries
-and the artichokes with vinaigrette.

Most of these things you just slice. The artichokes are a slightly different matter.

Artichokes are such a California thing in my head, it isn't even funny. When I was really little in San Jose we had an artichoke bush in the backyard, so I spent the first six years of my life being indoctrinated into the way of the artichoke. It is not very hard. John's dad had never had artichokes, though! So I set out to show exactly what to do with them.

Cooking artichokes is easy.

however many artichokes you want to eat
lemon juice

First, trim the artichokes. Cut off the stem at the base of the flower. You know artichokes are just big thistle blossoms, right? Eating flowers ten points! So, cut off the stem. Then cut off the top third or so of the blosson, where all the leaves come together hard and spiky. You can also trim the leaves down lower on the body of the artichoke, but it's not really necessary, since you don't eat the tops of them anyway. Throw the leaf bits away. If you want, you can peel and steam the stem with the artichoke; it's as edible as the heart and makes eating artichokes at all a bit more productive.

Bring a pot of water to a gentle simmer. Salt and lemon juice it up, then add the artichokes. You need the lemon juice so nothing turns brown and gross. If there's no lemon juice, a decent vinegar is ok. Then you can either steam the artichokes over the pot or just boil them. The time depends on the size of the artichokes. I let my tiny fresh farmstand ones go for about 25 minutes; the huge globe ones may need something like 45.

When they're done, you'll be able to smell them. Pick off a leaf and scrape the fleshy bottom through your teeth. Does it taste done? Then they are done. Get your artichokes out of the water with a slotted spoon, turning each upside down to drain into the pot on the way. You may want to squeeze them a little so as to avoid puddling later.

That is it. Now you eat your artichokes.

Eating artichokes: pull off a leaf and dip the fleshy end in whatever you like. You can use lemon juice, mayonnaise, melted butter, vinaigrette: whatever tastes good to you. I like vinaigrette best even though I grew up on mayo (GUH!). You can use bottled salad dressing or do what I did and make your own.


Put a 6:1 ratio of olive oil and white wine vinegar in a bowl/something whiskable with some salt, a lot of cracked black pepper, and some torn parsley. Add a little decent mustard if you like it. Whisk with a fork until it coagulates into tasty dressing.

Choke; no choke.

So. Dip the fleshy end of the petal into the vinaigrette. Scrape it between your teeth to get all the flesh off. Eat that part; discard the spiny petal. Repeat until all petals are gone and you are left with a little round piece with a bunch of feathery bits pointing inward. That's the choke: the undeveloped thistle blossom. Spoon out all of the choke; thistle blossoms hurt. You will be left with a little round shallow cup of artichoke. That's the heart. Eat it all, with more vinaigrette. Or you can collect them from everyone and mash them and make them into artichoke dip/something for later.

Then go on a four hour traffic-happy holiday weekend drive to Sacramento.

25 May 2007

Fagioli redux

Let's just say that this stuff is too good to let alone, especially if you are a vegetarian (or mostly-vegetarian) who is not particularly into soy-based meat substitutes. In this case, the obvious choice for substance is beans.

Beans are awesome. Beans are cheap. Beans are easy. You could easily live off beans, rice, and fresh vegetables. It would cost almost nothing and still taste fresh and new and delicious.

Things you can make with beans:
-refrieds, with either pinto or black beans
-bean soup, especially thick black bean with corn and maybe squash or sweet potato
-or soupe au pistou: brothy vegetable soup with white beans and pesto
-bean salads with lots of vinaigrette and red onion and mustard and parsley
-beans cooked in red wine, with toast and any fresh herbs you can get your hands on
-beans in burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, nachos, salsas
-baked beans with molasses
-freaking hummus!

For this batch, I really wanted to recreate the same texture of the version we had in Venice. Clearly, you always want to recreate whatever you ate in Venice, right? Maybe not the beer. Everything else, though, is pretty much up for grabs. So. In Venice, the beans were totally pureed and smooth and a little thin, like the refried beans you get, blitzed and covered with melted cheese, in some Mexican restaurants. Ok; we can approximate this texture even without a decent blender, as beans are particularly vulnerable to being mashed with the back of a spoon.

The pasta was a variety I'd never eaten before: ditalini. These are tube pasta about the diameter of regular standard macaroni, but only a quarter inch or so long. This part of the variation is even easier to achieve: just use ditalini! Of course, I couldn't find actual ditalini. I could find tubetti, though--exactly the same cut, but smaller in diameter, like the pasta in boxed gross mac and cheese--so I used those. No problem. The result was a little denser, but really, dense and filling was what I was after.

Fagioli redux

pot of white (canellini) beans w/bay leaf
half bag of tubetti or ditalini
olive oil
half onion
lots of garlic
a poblano
broth or water
splash dry vermouth
dried oregano, salt, pepper
fresh parsley

Soak and cook your beans in advance, like you do.

Cook your pasta at an appropriate moment during the bean process.

Chop your onion, garlic, and poblano. The poblano may seem a little odd here, but it definitely makes the end result more vegetable-savory as well as spicy. Be sure to chop everything really finely, for as smooth a bean mix as possible.

Warm your pan; throw in some olive oil; add the onion, garlic, and pepper. Stir to get everything good and oily. You want to use a bit more olive oil here than you might use for pasta sauces and etc: olive oil is actually a flavor in the finished product. Or you can use olive oil to finish servings; whatever. Add a little oregano or maybe marjoram or sage to give the beans some herbaciousness. Cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is soft and clearly ready for action.

Add your drained beans. You can either mash them before you add them, or mash them in the pan. I myself am lazy and so generally do things right in the pan. Add a little broth, tap water, or bean soaking water, plus a good shot of vermouth, and stir everything together to cook. It's shockingly like making refried beans, isn't it? I just use refried beans with totally different starches.

Let things cook together for a good five or ten minutes, or until they reach a happy medium. I mean, consistency. Salt and pepper. Lots of pepper is great with things as unctuous as beans.

Is everything done? Mix the beans with your drained pasta. Proportions here should be about half and half for maximum comfortfoodia. I had a little too much pasta, but whatever; it will be delicious anyway. You can also add some grated parmesan and stir it in, if you so desire. It's also good with no cheese; the flavors are already pretty complex, considering the pepper, herbs, and vermouth.

Finish with chopped fresh parsley and (more) parmesan. Gracious me, it is delicious! It cost about sixty cents, or maybe seventy, with the cheese! It is extremely filling! You can drink lots of valpolicella with it, and maybe eat a radicchio salad! It's almost like being in Venice, except for the lack of canals and cheerful waiters who spontaneously refill your glass after you knock it off the table. In this case, you have to go get your own glass. Such hardship!

24 May 2007

CA plants

Family is here and more family is yelling at me on email and I am exhausted.

The best thing in such a circumstance is to eat delicious things.

Here is one good reason to live in California: fruit. Fruit fruit fruit. There is so much fruit it falls off the trees in people's yards and gets smashed as people walk over it. I used to walk under this one tree to get to the bus. Every day I would get brown gack on my shoes. This went on for two years before I realized they were FIGS. Figs! On a tree in the front yard! The people weren't picking them!! They were just letting their bounteous purple figs fall onto the sidewalk and rot.

This is the case for lots of fruit. No one eats their entire tree full of lemons, or even makes the effort to get out a ladder and pick above head level. Instead, they let the lemons fall into the yard and mold. Same with oranges. Same with plums and weird baby mangoes and kumquats. Our apartment complex has a row of cherry trees that get picked totally dry by the squirrels and birds. Then there are the giant hedges of rosemary that line the streets practically everywhere you look. They are landscaping! This makes it really easy to make good marinades, since you just have to walk up the street and pick a branch, but still. It is infuriating! The citrus harvest in southern CA was apparently killed by frost, but I guess there are still just too many lemons to use up here!

The worst part is how lots of these trees grow in people's yards, and you get a glimpse of their abundantly full branches over the tops of the back fences, clearly never picked, never used, and never obtainable.

21 May 2007

Gross tea.

You would think that the new blooming flower ridiculous gourmet teas would have something to offer besides the fascination of unfolding gradually in water.

This one, however, tasted like rotting vegetables. Very pretty rotting vegetables, but rotting vegetables nonetheless. I guess you could use it for a centerpiece if you like that kind of thing. I, however, chucked it and made a fresh cup of green tea from the 3-language $2.99 100-pack.

It reminds me of a joke John and I have about a tiny coffee gremlin who waddles around carrying a huge styrofoam cup of coffee, so big it comes past its knees, and hissing "EGG MCMUFFIN...GREASY HASHBROWNS...GROSS COFFEE." Then it sticks its tongue just barely over the lip of the cup and slurps tiny gross rivulets of the gross coffee down.

18 May 2007

Hot hot redux


Today we actually went to the store and bought lots of food. We win groceries! I mean, we get groceries by buying them. It was great.

We went over to the butcher and stood there looking at the meat. "Do you want meat?" John asked. "I don't know," I said. "I mean, if I were going to buy meat, I'd get some of that freerange ground chicken, and I'd get some lemongrass and garlic and hot pepper and make spicy meatballs to put in some of the chicken broth."

Guess what happened next.

My whole concept of meatballs in good broth comes from Nigel Slater, King of Meat. I mean, well. Appetite has a clearly awesome recipe for just such meatballs, made with pork and bacon and aforementioned lemongrass and hot peppers and garlic. I made them with pork a long time ago, at the first occasion of their awesomeness. They were indeed awesome, but somehow pork is not really my thing. Fortunately, the basic concept really works with any meat, or so I assume after having had successes with both turkey and chicken. I don't even bother with the bacon. I don't even bother to glance at the cookbook. I just go.

Hot hot meatballs in broth

half a pound ground chicken or turkey
inch chunk of fresh ginger
five or so garlic cloves
two small hot red peppers (serranos in this case)
all the lime zest you can rip off the lime i.e. barely any
a little sea salt
some flour
decent broth
maybe some sriracha if you want to make the broth hot too

If your broth is frozen, defrost it. Put it in a pan and heat it to a simmer while you're doing everything else. Season it if you want. I am inclined to do almost nothing to the broth; it's already good. I just added a tiny bit of Sriracha to mine.

Meatballs. Start with the hot hot spice ingredients. Smash, peel, and dice garlic cloves. Trim and dice peppers. The ginger may take a little more conniving and general tricky behavior.

If you try to peel fresh ginger with a knife, half the body is lost; if you use a peeler, half the body is lost, it's stupid and blunt and takes forever, and you get really annoyed trying to get peel bits out of the blade. So sometime in the last few weeks I read something online about how to actually peel ginger. You use a spoon. I tried it for the first time tonight, with completely perfect and easy results. Do it. It will be great. Then finely dice the ginger.

Put all these in a bowl with a little salt and as much lime zest as you can get off the lime. I forgot lemongrass, so this was my escape.

Also, get out a small bowl and put a couple handfuls of flour in it. This is also a good time to start heating a big frying pan to medium-hot.

Add the chicken/whatever to the chopped spice and stir to mix well, using your hands. When all the ginger and garlic and etc is well distributed, start making little meatballs. Make them as small as you can stand, so they'll cook faster. Mine were probably an inch and a half across, and I got twelve of them out of half a pound of meat. As you finish each meatball, roll it in the flour and get a little coating on it.

When all meatballs are complete, it's time to cook. Is your frying pan hot? Yes? Put in your meatballs, setting each directly on the pan, then flattening slightly with your hand or the back of a spatula. Everything should sizzle. Everything should also fit in a single layer. If it doesn't, do two batches. I would say that you might want a little oil for frying, but this is meat. It already has plenty of fat. Just let it cook of itself.

Fry the meatballs for maybe five minutes, or until you can see the opaque cooked flesh creeping halfway up the side of each one. Don't move them until then; you want them to develop a nice crust. Then flip them all over and let cook, again without moving, on the other side. When they're entirely opaque and crusty on the other side, you are done.

Tip the meatballs into the broth. Try not to splash it everywhere. Then, quickly, while the frying pan is still hot, deglaze with a ladleful of broth. Just pour in a scoop of broth and, while it sizzles furiously, scrape up all the pan bits with your spatula. Pour the result into your broth and stir to mix.

Get yourself a nice drinky bowl and have meatballs and broth.

Little bowls make this business very appealing, both visually and physically. You can hold a little bowl up and slurp over it, for instance. You can take a straight shot of the left broth after you eat the meat. You can also clearly serve little bowls of soup to everyone at a silly dinner party, so they can be happy with their little present before the main meal. I got a present! Yay!

John is quite interested in seeing these in a coconut milk-based curry. I think that would work admirably. I also think that tomorrow I'm going to have my six leftover meatballs and their broth over a big whack of brown rice.

16 May 2007

Abject failure

The major problem with cooking at our house is that we barely ever have any food to cook. First, it's hard to go shopping on bikes, especially if you want to buy more than a backpack's worth of stuff. We're also lazy and tend not to want to make more physical effort after already biking five miles home. The obvious solution there is to stop on the way; of course, the store on my way home is the schmancy upscale one. This brings us to the next problem: having available money. Even if I do stop, I barely ever have more than about twenty viable dollars at a time, so the shopping turns out to be a head of garlic, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine. It's going to be so unreal when money becomes viable and I finally get to blow half my paycheck on every single foodstuff I can possibly desire.

So this was my issue when trying to make dinner yesterday. I wanted pasta, preferably baked. That was not the problem; we always have pasta. The problem was the lack of sauceal availability. Tomato sauce? We had maybe a quarter of a can of puree. Oil and garlic? We had less than half an inch of oil in the bottle, and four cloves of garlic on the last head. Cream sauce? The butter and flour supplies were fine, but we had only half a cup of milk. There was no way I could make enough of any of these to serve two people. Right: multiple sauces.

Sauce 1: Red, for cream and mushroom-intolerant John.

tomato puree
3 out of 4 garlic cloves
half a yellow onion
a jalapeño
olive oil
salt, pepper, basil, oregano
wilting fresh parsley

Do the standard procedure for any pasta sauce, only skimp. Smash and chop your garlic, chop your onion, and dice your jalapeño, then sauté in a tiny smattering of olive oil. Whe things are soft, add the herbs and tomato puree. Stir everything together, noticing how little red there is actually clinging to the onion bits, and cook another five minutes or so. Salt and pepper.

Sauce 2: White, for Eileen.

the last garlic clove
grating cheese

Melt a chunk of butter in a small saucepan. Make sure it's not nonstick, so you can whisk without killing anything. Add a roughly equal amount of flour, stir, and cook together into a yellow, foamy roux. Let it cook for at least a couple minutes, then add the milk and crushed garlic clove. Whisk; heat the milk; let the sauce thicken. Then add some grated parmesan or romano and whisk some more. Cook everything to your desired thickness. Black pepper.

In the meantime, cook pasta, drain, and find some baking pans. When everything is done, assemble and bake.

If I had been thinking clearly, I would not have even tried to make this into baked pasta. The first sauce worked fine. The second sauce worked astonishingly badly.

Baked red pasta: toss pasta with red sauce and cubed mozzarella cheese. (We do always have a plethora of cheese.) Spread in shallow pan; top with grated parmesan/romano/more mozz and some chopped fresh parsley. Bake at 350F until delicious. Gracious! It was delicious!

Baked white pasta: toss pasta with whatever you think would be good in a white sauce. I chopped up some red pepper and mushrooms and crumbled some goat cheese. Then I thinned down the white sauce a little, poured it over the pasta, added some parsley, and baked it with the first pan.

OK, so baking this cream sauce is clearly a mistake. The pasta just absorbed all of it and got soggier and soggier the entire time. The end result was certainly edible, but not at all desirable. It also totally killed the goat cheese texture, making it gritty and wet. The bits of vegetable were fine, but that was all. It would have been a far, far better idea to just pour said sauce over the cooked pasta and eat the hell up. Perhaps I could even have sautéed the pepper and mushroom, then tossed it over the whole business! That would have been far more edible. BUT NO.

In contrast, John came home to red sauce and was all "this pasta is delicious!"

Fortunately, the plethora of cheese let me make as many rescue quesadillas as I could possibly desire.

14 May 2007

Eggs, tomatoes, and cheese for brunch

This sunday Joann came over and we had yet another brunch. Brunch! Brunch is clearly an excellent plan for any and all sundays. This one lasted eight hours and included riesling and serious weeding involving shovels and a trip to REI and Wii tennis and eventually even dinner. Gracious! I even made scrambled eggs properly for once, and stirred them throughout the entire cooking time to make them creamy and delicious. I think they were the best eggs I've ever made. In fact, everything was so good that I completely forgot to take pictures until we were almost totally done. You can see a picture of the cheese!

That's a yogurt gouda and a goat cheese edged in herbs. Dairy goodness!

The real queen of deliciousness for the morning, however, was the extremely easy and effortless tomato salad Joann made.

first of the season's edible tomatoes
olive oil
white wine vinegar
that's it.

Get some tomatoes, wash them, and cut them into fourths. Toss them with some olive oil and vinegar. Eat them on top of your eggs. Eat them on toast. Eat them with a fork. Whatever.

I personally spent quite a lot of time spreading whacks of aforementioned goat cheese on untoasted sourdough, topping them with tomato, and eating everything immediately, before the bread got all soggy. When the tomatoes were done, I sopped the leftover bread in the leftover dressing and seepy juice. It really makes me want to make an actual bread pudding or strata, with good bread and goat cheese and tomato and oil and vinegar baked together until the bread is tomatoey and soft on the bottom yet crispy at the top, and the goat cheese has turned golden and melty, and the tomatoes have accomplished the exact fragrant collapse that all good tomatoes aspire to.

11 May 2007

Or I guess you could make lamb tagine.

This is something to make when you want cooked food but also want to make almost no effort. All you do it cut things up, put them in a pan, and put the pan in the oven. Then you wait. Then it's delicious.
Roasted vegetables and couscous

small eggplant
half red pepper
tomato sauce/pureé
olive oil
salt/pepper/dried basil
white wine or dry vermouth

Get a casserole dish. Put in enough tomato sauce to make maybe a half-inch layer on the bottom. Add some olive oil and stir to get it all mixed with the tomato, then spread to evenly distribute.

Chop up vegetables. Eggplant and zucchini are totally great in this type of thing, as they are both flavorful and able to suck up other flavors. Also, baking makes the eggplant's texture really soft and delicious. Oh eggplant! I cut mine all into rounds, but in the future I'd cut smaller pieces, if only to eliminate the skin effect, in which the eggplant disintegrates under heat and you're left with only a ring of skin. Red pepper is also great. Everyone knows that peppers like a good roast every now and again. Other things to add: mushrooms, other summer squashes, actual whole tomatoes. Layer everything in the pan. Stick cloves of whole crushed garlic all over the place. They will turn sweet and roasted and completely awesome in the end.

Drizzle the whole business with olive oil and a good glass of white (or red, whatever) wine. Salt, pepper, basil a little, and stick the whole business in a 350F oven.

Bake for maybe a half hour, or until everything smells so good you're absolutely sure it's done, seriously you guys. When it's done, take the pan out of the oven and let it cool slightly while you make instant couscous. Or you can make real steamed couscous while it's baking. I don't care. Either way, when it's done you should salt, pepper, and olive oil it up.

Serve: fill bowls halfway with couscous; finish the job with vegetables. Finish it off with grated parmesan if you list. I list.

08 May 2007

Double soup for hot weather

I bet you thought I was kidding, didn't you? BUT NO.

Hot hot soup is an excellent way to sweat and pant out all the similarly hot heat melting you from the very inside out. Have it with iced tea and you get GIGANTIC TEMPERATURE PARADOX that threatens the world at the very fiber of its being!! ! I know you love causing interplanetary paradox!


So after the whole chicken soup escapade, we discovered that our entire freezer was totally full of chicken broth. What better base for hot hot soup of this nature? Plus we need to put other things in the freezer at some time in the future. Also to use the our entire supply of tupperware in which the broth is housed.

Anyway, with a decent stock base of any type, meat to vegan, soup is fast, easy, and delightful. How often do you say that about your dinner!! ! EXCLAMATION POINT!

Hot hot soup is made possible by actual tiny Thai hot peppers, Sriracha sauce, lemon juice, and the letter s, for SOY. It also has noodles and spinach, incidentally.

Double hot soup

decent stock base, veg or meat, as mentioned
a couple fresh Thai chili peppers or substitute
Sriracha sauce or other hot chili sauce
juice of half a lemon or so
some soy sauce
appropriate noodles
raw spinach

I had to start this out by defrosting my broth enough to get it out of the container, which meant just running it under hot water until the edges were loose. You may have non-frozen broth and get to skip this step; who can say? Pour the broth in a saucepan and put it over medium-high heat to melt it/bring it to a simmer. Add your peppers, whole, and let everything simmer together (with lid, to prevent broth loss through evaporation) for five minutes or so, such that the broth gets all hot hot hot and tasty. I totally just stuck my peppers on top of the melting block of stock and let them slide into the broth of their own volition.

Once the stock has simmered a bit, it's time to season it. I added several good squirts of Sriracha, a medium splash of soy, and juice squidged from the juiciest lemon ever. It was so juicy that when John came home later he ate the other half. Yes: lemon! Let simmer a bit more, then taste and see what you think of the seasonings. I like it hot hot hot; I added even more Sriracha.

Now we can start thinking about noodles. I had Beijing noodles, which are the extremely thin long wheat noodles that cook in two seconds. This meant I could just stick my noodles directly into the broth and let them cook there. If you have more sturdy noodles, you probably will want to actually boil another pot of water for them. If you have ramen, you can just pour water boiled in the teakettle over them. Whatever. When they're done, add them to the broth.

Spinach: chop up a bunch of it. Warm your intended bowl for a couple minutes with hot water from the sink. When everything is done and ready, pour out the water and add the raw spinach.

Assembly: pour your soup and noodles over your spinach. This will wilt the spinach admirably. Fish out your hot peppers if you want; don't eat them unless you really like that sort of thing, as these little peppers are extremely hot.

Eat everything hot hot! It is hot! Slurp, because it's polite and will keep you from being burned. Chopsticks and a spoon are kind of necessary for eating something like this. Or you can just eat the noodles and spinach, then drink the soup. Then drink your iced tea. Then drink your soup again. High temperature contrast! HOT HOT HOT!

07 May 2007

pesto is delicious.

So it's summer. UGH!

Summer makes hiding inside playing videogames awfully hot, even when it's barely May. On the other hand, we live in California, so playing videogames, or doing anything at all, really, is awfully hot half the time anyway. I suppose I should talk, considering that the midwest gets much hotter than this in summer. I am, however, whiny. I enjoy a good whine every once and again. I also enjoy the excuse to have coldy cold cold dinner. No, not ice cream. Fresh herbs! I made pesto.

Pesto is really easy, despite what you may think. The only trick is to actually have the right ingredients on hand, and to have some sort of food processing solution. Our tiny terrible food processor, which has such an arduous time getting through even one bowl of soup, was totally fine with this.

We should really grow basil. The problem is that rampaging squirrels eat every single thing we plant in the backyard. It's a ridiculous curse, considering that this is the one thing California's blazing hot sun would actually be good for. I do have one tiny scrawny plant that has been sitting in the kitchen window getting woodier and woodier for the past year. It has a few usable leaves, but nothing like the quantity you need for a dose of pesto. So I had to buy some instead.


1 bunch basil
some parsley if you want
maybe half a cup of pine nuts
olive oil
parmesan cheese, if you want it and you aren't vegan
ONE garlic clove, and only if you really love garlic.

Wash the herbs, get them off their stems, and chop them up. Proportions here are not that important as long as you clearly have predominant basil. Put them in the food processor with several drizzles of olive oil, your pine nuts, and a good dusting of grated parmesan. Process until everything is a thick, chunky paste. Hey, it's pesto!

Garlic can be an issue here. I had initially thought to add one clove for each person, but the result after adding and pulsing only one clove was plenty garlicky for me. This stuff is raw: plan accordingly. I bet if you really wanted garlicky pesto you could do some interesting experiments with garlic sautéed in the olive oil, or just steeped in it and then taken out.

What to do with the pesto? The obvious choice: put it on pasta. Other not-so-obvious choices include:

*sandwiches of the roasted tomato/red pepper/mozzarella/spinach variety
*soupe au pistou, which we will cover in future, I assure you
*broil it with more parmesan on good bread

All of these were too hot, however. Pasta is really, really good at losing its heat quickly, and it's an olive oil vehicle besides, so we wanted that. I made rotini. While it was cooking, I chopped up some spinach and threw it raw on the plates, to wilt a little under the pasta. Also I made the pesto. So: pasta done, pasta drained, pasta tossed with olive oil and stuck on plates, pasta topped with pesto and some more cheese/salt/pepper.

Let it cool a little, then have it with white wine.

04 May 2007

double triple sick soup extravaganza

I should know better than to write about what to do when sick, because then I apparently jinx myself into actually becoming sick. Sick! Ugh! No more sick!

Last night I was being all pathetic in the bed when John came home and asked what I wanted. I wanted pudding cups. I had actually been to the store before on the way home (sick) from work, where I looked at every single can of terrible canned soup and discovered just how bad the salt situation is even in those supposedly low-salt canned soups, oh my god! Even they had 20% of the rda per serving; the regular ones were like "60% sorry you can't eat anything else at all today. Ok, maybe water." So I of course came home with my lowest salty soup ("chicken tortilla" i.e. marginally spicy tomato with chicken and rice and like six black beans and pieces of corn) and simmered it and ate the whole thing with two pieces of toast per bowl. Also with chamomile tea and honey, of which we are now out.

BUT the point there is that while in the store I had realized I had no money and so I could only get soup AND NO PUDDIN CUPS! It was tragic and horrible in every way! So I ate my stuff and got in bed with a suitably trashy novel and fell asleep on top of it until John came home several hours later and asked me what I wanted to eat. Puddin? Toast? Chicky soup? And so he went to the store and got puddin and gingersnaps and ice cream and lemon and celery and carrot and onion and A WHOLE CHICKEN with which to make actual real chicken soup.

Here's what happened to make the chicken broth:

6 pound chicken
lots of celery and carrots
two vidalia onions, or regular yellow ones, whatever
green onions if you want
salt and pepper
lots of water
huge stockpot

Clean the gack out of your chicken. I stayed firmly upstairs in bed drinking my hot toddy and eating gingersnaps during this business, so I cannot provide many details. This is probably a good thing in the end. Basics: get the giblets out and throw them away, or save the liver if you want it. Get rid of the neck. Cut the legs off the chicken. Wash it if you feel the need. That's it.

Get out your biggest pot, one that will hold a whole chicken and vegetables besides, and fill it maybe halfway with water. Put it on high heat and add the chicken. While that is coming to a boil, chop up your other vegetables and add them to the pot. You want roughly equal amounts of carrots, celery, and onion. Chopping size is really not important. You could even make said soup with entirely whole vegetables. Whatever. I know John left the several green onions whole. Give the broth a little salt and pepper, add enough water to cover everything, and bring the whole business to a simmer. I say a simmer as opposed to a boil since this is a huge pot of all kinds of stuff and it's going to take some time to get it up to anything resembling a boil.

Simmer everything for a long time, at least an hour, but probably more. Skim off whatever gack comes to the surface and chuck it.

After the hour or hour and a half, check on your chicken to see if it's fully cooked. John actually lifted the entire whack of vegetables and everything out of the pan, removed the chicken to a cutting board, and threw out the drained vegetables. The rest of the broth got to simmer and be skimmed some more. You should do that too, as otherwise there will be an astonishing amount of fat rising to the top of each bowl of soup while you're trying to eat it. CHICKEN BROTH!

The actual chicken noodle soup bit:

enough of the broth for two bowls or one big bowl
enough of the chicken, skinned and shredded
another half onion
and some more celery
and we ran out of carrots
but we did have delicious noodles
and also salt and pepper
and parsley.

Chop up the onion and saute it with butter in a small saucepan. The rest of the broth can continue simmering for however long while said onion softens. Chop up a couple sticks of celery, and carrots if you haven't run out of them, and let them soften too. When things are reasonable, add your stock and chicken bits. We used mostly dark meat for the soup and kept the giant shreds of white for sandwiches and potential chicken fingers in The Future. Item: do you know why people use the terms "white meat" and "dark meat"? Because in the scenic Victorian days people were too prim and hysterical to use the words "breast" and "thigh" and even I guess "leg" in polite conversation!! ! Note use of the word "hysterical" to apply to Everyone!

Ok. Bring everything up to a simmer, then add your pasta. We had very pretty and appropriately spoon-sized rotelle. Just stick in the pasta and let everything cook until said pasta is done. You may need to add a little more of the hot broth if the pasta decides to suck it up too mercilessly. Then taste and add salt and pepper. I thought this wanted lots of pepper. It also wanted lots of parsley, which John chopped up and threw in. Then he was worried there was too much parsley. Item: there is never too much parsley.

Eat it. There was no way I could finish my entire pot's worth crammed into one bowl, but I made a respectable headway. I kept eating and eating and finally put the very end bits in the refrigerator. Then today I had them for breakfast.

In the meantime, get your gigantic pot of stock off the heat so it will start to cool. The most effective cooling method is to transfer it into whatever storage containers you have around, as opposed to into a large metal heat-conducting pot. We filled I think six different containers within half an inch of the top. Lots of broth! Let your containers sit out to cool for a while before you put the lids on. If you put the lids on while things are still steaming, guess what happens to the soup? IT FERMENTS! Don't do that. Instead, let them cool for an hour or so, Then put on the lids and stick them in the freezer.