Monday, February 28, 2011

Day Fifty-Nine: All Pruney

Today is the last day of my second month of this resolution, and while I won't be halfway through this first stage until tomorrow (since February's so stinkin' short) I feel a sense of accomplishment. That might also have something to do with the beautiful dish I cooked for tonight's dinner. The only mistake I made was forgetting to garnish with parsley (the picture would probably be much prettier had I remembered), but still, this was basically restaurant food. It's all thanks to the wonderful Emeril Lagasse, who wrote the recipe for pork chops stewed with apples and prunes, with mashed sweet potatoes.

You may recall that I tried a prune once before, and it did not go over well. On their own, prunes are another of those foods for the toothless, or those whose lives could be a little more regular. I wondered, for a long while, whether anybody actually ate these things outside of nursing homes. I was up on my anti-prune high horse. And then I searched the internet for recipes containing prunes, and I was knocked back down.

It seems that prunes are often good with pork or duck. I found a recipe for prune clafoutis, which sounds strange but interesting. Prune tarts. Prune jams. Chickens with prune and prune ice cream. I guess people really eat them. And I have to say, with pork and apples, they are really, really good.

The key to a good prune recipe, I think, is that everything be cooked down. You have to expect a more mushy, stewed-type texture, so the prune won't throw you off. Every recipe I found seems to cook them a fairly long while, in stuffings or in puddings, and that makes sense to me. That's playing to their strengths, really. And while I still don't think I'll be eating them as snack food, I am really interested in trying more dishes a la prunes. Also, I would very much like to see them appear as a secret ingredient on Iron Chef America --prepared by Mike Symon or Cat Cora. Do you hear me, Food Network producers? Hop to it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Day Fifty-Eight: Screaming with a Mouthful of Anchovies

COLIN FIRTH JUST WON BEST ACTOR!!! (Thus the screaming. There is no such joyous explanation for the anchovies.)

Tonight, I had pizza with anchovies. It seems not a lot of pizzerias have anchovies on their menus these days, and I was feeling a little lazy, so Ian picked up an onion-and-black-olive pizza on his way home from his curling match. We put anchovies on it before we threw it in the oven, and I had my first pizza with anchovies. I was not amused.

Mostly, the anchovies were salty, which was okay. But then, while munching happily on pizza, I would realize quite suddenly that I was eating fish. Salty, salty, salty--FISH! Not cool, man. Not cool. (I feel I'm channeling the Dude, who was nominated for Best Actor, but who lost to my English dreamboat--it's okay, he won it last year.)

And now, as I write this, THE KING'S SPEECH WON BEST PICTURE!!!

So any discomfort I experienced with my anchovies feels very small in comparison. I don't know that the film I've backed has ever won. Maybe that positive association will follow me in my future endeavors with anchovies.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day Fifty-Seven: We'll Have Manhattan

Tonight, I faced two fears--one greater than the other. I had a Manhattan, which isn't my favorite drink in the world, and along with it, I had cherries.

That's right. I ordered extra cherries. Four of them, which I ate. I did this in the company of people who didn't necessarily know I was eating/drinking something I didn't like, so I had to be cool about it. I couldn't groan or make faces. I had to act like I liked the things. And I think that helped.

Ultimately, I don't think a Manhattan is an awful drink, and it gets better with every sip (that's a lot of booze in one glass...I'm pretty warm as I write this). The cherries were okay. Kind of tart and sweet, but I still don't love their consistency, and the flavor just isn't enough to wow me on its own. It was a good counterpoint to the alcohol, though. So it wasn't a terrible experience. Plus a certain guy friend of mine tried very hard to tie one of the cherry stems in a knot with his tongue (he eventually succeeded) and so did I (I nearly choked, but that's about it).

So, in conclusion: Manhattans are okay, cherries need revisiting.

And now I have a party to go to. Hurray for issue 67 of Willow Springs!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day Fifty-Six: The Best Possible Egg

I realized today that I haven't done any hard boiled egg posts in recent weeks, and that while I did force a lot of eggs on myself, I still don't like the suckers. So I can't stop eating them. The point of this whole thing is exposure, so I have to keep exposing myself. To different foods, that is. Foods I don't like. Until I like them, goshdarnit.

So tonight, when the hubby and I went to Hills' Restaurant in Spokane, I saw a golden opportunity on the appetizer menu. A golden brown, deep-fried opportunity. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I speak of the Scotch Egg, a delightful concoction wherein the hard boiled egg is wrapped in sausage, then battered, then deep fried. Here is where a hard boiled egg meets its optimal preparation. It mingles so nicely with the sausage, provides a creamy contrast to the crust. Only the good elements of the egg are brought out. Those Scots know what they're doing when it comes to eggs.

Also at Hills' tonight: my love affair with the Reuben continued. How I ever disliked sauerkraut, I don't know, cuz it's definitely my buddy now. Also, Ian ordered the catfish special, and I had a bite of that. You're probably thinking that the reason I only had a bite was that I was repulsed. That was my fear, yes, and the reason I didn't order the whole plate myself. I've heard that catfish is one of the fishier fishes and not to be eaten by beginners. But really, with the breading and the tomato sauce, I tasted very little fish, and what I did taste blended nicely with the other flavors. So this has taken the fear factor out of catfish, at least. Whether I'll enjoy it in the future is another question, but I know I will eat it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day Fifty-Five: Please, sir, can I have some more?

When I was a kid, usually after reading Little Women and/or watching A Christmas Carol, I liked to dress up in a long skirt and shawl and create a little hovel (fort) for myself in the dining room. I would get a little cup from the kitchen and, if I could get my hands on them, a few candlesticks (though I was not allowed to light them). As members of my family passed from kitchen to dining room to living room, I would beg them for alms. I don't think I ever got any.

After breakfast this morning, I'm thinking Mom missed an opportunity with me. I always hated oatmeal and Cream of Wheat and other such porridgey breakfast foods, but had she introduced me to Oliver Twist, she could have gotten me to eat Cream of Wheat any time. Gruel! It would have played wonderfully into my make-believe game. Though, who knows how much I would have eaten. It might have just been a prop.

I was advised, after my oatmeal post, that if I ate Cream of Wheat I should cook it in milk instead of water. The box told me it might be good with some maple syrup, and I had some left over from my bacon-wrapped dates, so I put about a teaspoon of that in, too. And while it tasted exactly like I remembered it, I found that on this snowy morning, it was oddly comforting. Warm. Slightly sweet. Easy to eat. The milkiness helps. I think there's something in us mammals that cries out for milk and milk products when we are in need of comfort. Sorry if you find that gross. But really, what did we eat as babies? And what's more like baby food than Cream of Wheat? (There is actually a set of instructions on the box for use with infants and toddlers.) Now, I know I've railed against adults eating food that's best for babies, but that was cold applesauce; this is warm cereal. So maybe there's something to a little culinary regression now and then.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day Fifty-Four: Tuna Helper

If there was one product I thought I'd never purchase at the grocery store, it was probably Tuna Helper. I'm familiar with a few varieties of Hamburger Helper, and although it's edible, it's also incredibly salty and pretty simplistic in flavor. Add fish, and you've got something I'm just not interested in.

So, naturally, I had to have some. I wandered the grocery store looking for things I would normally never eat, and this was one of the first things in my basket.

What I got from my tuna helper experience is this: I could do better. It was fine. It didn't repulse me. But it got me formulating a more flavorful, homemade version of the creamy broccoli tuna thing. It will take more than fifteen minutes, of course. It's the speedy nature of the Helper products that make them most appealing, I think. But my creamy tuna noodle dish--a white sauce with some parmesan, steamed broccoli, whole wheat pasta, tuna, maybe some herbs--is going to be so much better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day Fifty-Three: If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

I've been to Belgium. Briefly. I spent one day in Brussels, at the tail end of a European backpacking trip. It was the only city on our trip that we hadn't really researched, a last minute addition that replaced Amsterdam on the agenda. Mostly, I saw a square dedicated to martyrs and a beautiful park with a lot of Belgian ducks (I don't know if Belgian ducks are different than American ducks, but there were a lot of them, and they were probably bilingual). I did not have Belgian waffles or Belgian beer or Belgian fries. And, though I was in their namesake city, I certainly did not have Brussels sprouts.

Brussels sprouts are just one of those vegetables that gets a bad rap (rep?) along with lima beans and broccoli. We decide during childhood that we don't like them, and that opinion tends to stick. Even if we've never had them before. We see these little ugly green things (green, in childhood, being the color of evil) and we close our minds. Which isn't fair. Brussels sprouts (and broccoli, actually, but we're not really talking about that) are just a form of cabbage. I like cabbage. So why wouldn't I like Brussels sprouts?

To be fair, I have had one form of Brussels sprouts that I enjoyed. It was at Thanksgiving this year, and my aunt brought balsamic Brussels sprouts, a recipe she got from Rachael Ray. They were good, but mostly I tasted the balsamic and not the sprout. So I had to have them again, to be sure. I had them alongside a pork chop. I boiled the sprouts briefly, then sauteed them with shallots in olive oil. Salt and pepper. Your basic preparation. I ate them plain and with a little grainy mustard, which I always like with my pork chops. Both ways, they were lovely. They were vegetables, yes. They have a vegetabley taste. But can you really expect veggies to taste like candy?

Actually, I might start making Brussels sprouts whenever I have pork chops. It was a really good combination.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day Fifty-Two: That's Lobstertainment

That fellow on the left there, he's a lobster. Well, really, he's a Decapodian, a native of the mud planet Decapod 10. He's a regular character on the hubby's and my favorite animated broadcast, Futurama. And no, we didn't watch Futurama tonight, though we might a little later, come to think of it. We did, however, have dinner and a movie. We saw The King's Speech and I had lobster.

Well. Lobster and crab bisque. Which was less of a bisque than a chowder. Kind of a lobster corn chowder with some crab thrown in as filler. Lobster is expensive, after all, and my bowl of soup only cost eight bucks. Lobster and corn are known as excellent bedfellows (or soupfellows, as the case may be) and though I must say that the corn in my soup was the predominant flavor, in certain ways they complemented each other beautifully. I was rather afraid to order this particular soup (I was going to order halibut, but they were all out) and I found that when it arrived, it was mercifully light on the crustacean flavor, though it was the characteristic lobster pink. You see, my last experience with lobster bisque was quite the unpleasant one, but that was a true lobster bisque, no corn or crab involved, and it was eaten when I had not had seafood in many years. It was at the French restaurant in Moscow, ID, where they serve you a special amuse bouche with every meal. I didn't want to be rude and refuse the bisque. I was trying to be very elegant. So I tried it. I had a few spoonfuls, even (those tiny spoons that come in the tiny shot-glass bowls, but still). And then my husband finished the rest, and I chugged some wine--as delicately as possible, of course.

I'm not sure if that last lobster bisque had more lobster per ounce or if I was just more sensitive to the seafoody flavors or both. I'm not sure if there was much lobster in my soup tonight at all, though I know there was some. Perhaps tonight's dinner was so enjoyable because things were balanced or because they were skewed toward the more familiar flavors. Either way, I feel encouraged. Red Lobster might have my business soon.

Also, if you haven't seen The King's Speech, you must see it as soon as possible. And if Colin Firth doesn't win an Oscar, I give up on the Academy.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day Fifty-One: White Food Tastes Good!

My current favorite Food Network chef, Anne Burrell, has a few phrases she likes to repeat. She calls everything a "shootin' match" and makes sure to let us know when she's a "happy girl." But my favorite of these is probably, "Brown food tastes good!"

If you look at the picture of tonight's dinner (left) you'll see that there is, in fact, a little brownness on my piece of fish. This is the type of brown Anne is talking about, not the natural color of the food. She doesn't mean the brown rice my fish is sitting on is inherently yummier than the white fish atop it, or the beurre blanc drizzled on top of that. She is simply hammering home the principle that seared food, roasted food, food that's cooked to the point of coloring, develops flavors beyond what wimpier types of cooking can achieve. Which, basic as it is, is a handy tip to know.

But tonight, I learned that white food also tastes good. I sauteed some cod with salt and pepper, steamed some cauliflower, and made my very first batch of beurre blanc, which is butter in a white wine vinegar reduction. I feel compelled to quote the movie Julie & Julia here. "You whisk them together and the vinegar works on the milk solids in the butter until you get this light, frothy..." (from there Julia goes into a delighted tizzy, trying to figure out the perfect word...her husband lands on "tangy" and she goes to pieces with admiration). Yes, the rice it all went with was brown. You have to have some variety, right? And don't forget that nice browning on my fish. It's mostly covered with sauce, but it really is there.

Other delicious white (or off-white) foods: mayonnaise, butter, milk, buttermilk, white asparagus, potato, and cheese (yellow cheeses aren't actually yellow, they're dyed).

What's most exciting for me about tonight's dinner is not that I ate fish or cauliflower or both in one meal. It's not that I got to use my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for the first time in months, though that does get me all giggly. It's that I thought I might never get to try beurre blanc, since it's a sauce that classically goes with fish. I did discover, in reading the recipe, that it is also known to go well with certain vegetables (cauliflower, for one, but also asparagus, broccoli, etc) but without the courage to try it on fish, I might never have perused that recipe at all. I would have thought it was useless; most French sauces have ideal mates, and if you're not going to pair them properly, it might not be worth having them at all.

I'm moving on from cod. I keep going back to it because I actually like the stuff, and while that is super exciting (since it is still the only fish I've enjoyed in every preparation, not counting the time I overcooked it) I need to push my limits. This doesn't mean I won't be able to have cod from time to time. I will! That's the cool part. I might eat cod fairly regularly. But I have to eat other fishes.

Since both cod and cauliflower have become enjoyable to me, I will also have Jell-O for dessert. Though I don't hate that either. I did have a bit of a berry crisp this morning that I didn't like. I prepared it myself and I know it was technically good, but I don't really enjoy macerated berries or the products derived from them. So I'm not breaking my resolution. I'm not!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day Fifty: Everything's Better With Bacon

Tonight was quite the night for food adventures.

First: I made a wonderful treat out of dates, cheese, bacon, and maple syrup. This is, without a doubt, the best way possible to eat a date. It's salty and sweet, creamy and a little crisp: the all-around perfect bite. I shared these stuffed dates with quite a few friends (this weekend, I'm on an annual ski trip with friends from college) and it was a definite crowd pleaser. So while dates have not been my favorite thing (whether fresh or dried), stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, they are absolutely great.

Second: we went to the restaurant at the foot of the mountain for dinner, and the husband and I shared a plate of pesto shrimp alfredo, which is exactly what it sounds like it is. Noodles, a pesto alfredo sauce, and shrimp. Bigger shrimp than I've been accustomed to, too. Somehow, I thought larger shrimp would have less shrimpy flavor—like they would have the same quantity of shrimpiness as a small shrimp, but distributed through more flesh—but I was wrong. It was fine, but I still can't seem to make myself love that shrimpy flavor. Dangit! Someday I will crave those suckers. I will! I will!

Third: As is becoming tradition on these annual ski trips, a couple of the guys built something called the Bacon Explosion, which is a log of pork composed of bacon, sausage, and more bacon. Last year, its inaugural year, I couldn't bring myself to eat it. As it was cooking, it smelled delicious; once it was done, it smelled like dog food. To me. Others loved it. But this year, I was determined to try it. In theory, I should find it delicious. And (surprise, surprise) I did! Actually, it was one of the most amazing pork products I've ever put in my mouth. Part of this, I think, is owing to the fact that superior sausage was used this year. At this point, I'm already looking forward to next year. This weekend may end up bacon-themed. There may be bacon cake involved (if you had anything to do with the Mira Costa College 2000-something production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, you totally get that joke).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day Forty-Nine's Lunch Is Brought To You By: The Color Red

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I had intended to eat Jell-O for dessert, but sadly, the gelatin had not yet set. Well, it's set now. The top of it was slightly foamy--I probably wasn't supposed to use a whisk to mix it--but it jiggled and was no longer liquid, so I ate some. It wasn't as hard-set as some gelatin dishes I've had, so it didn't have that near-plasticky feel that I can't abide, but it was still jiggly, which is weird for me. The flavor (cherry--I might not love the fruit itself but I do like the artificial flavor) was fine; it's the texture I have a hard time with. But I thought to myself as I was eating it, What should I like about this? It's cold. Sweet. The texture isn't that far off from a lot of candies that I do enjoy--it's just not as chewy. It squishes between your teeth, which provides a sort of childlike wonder. It looks silly. It would be good as brains on Halloween. Plain, it's okay. Next, I'll have to float fruit in it and top it with whipped cream. That poses, for me, a much greater challenge.

Of course, Jell-O was not my whole lunch. It was a grab bag of sorts. I also had diced peaches (orangeish, not red)in light syrup (I'm getting used to them, though they still don't drive me wild) and a little can of V-8 (more red).

Ah, V-8. Bane of my childhood. Enforced nutrition. Not that my mom made me drink these very often, but she would buy them from time to time and I know I've had it several times. I haven't tried it in years, but I did have a Bloody Mary maybe six months ago and couldn't abide it. I know that's just tomato juice, not full-on vegetable blend, but it's close enough. So my V-8 made me a little wary. But--it was not as bad as I remembered. In fact, there's nothing wrong with it unto itself. It's kind of tasty. But it's like drinking cold soup (another thing I don't like: gazpacho). I had the strongest urge to heat it up and dip in a grilled cheese sandwich. That would have been amazing. But V-8 doesn't market itself as soup. It's juice. So I drank it, cold, as such. I've got five more tiny cans of it in the fridge. Boy, will I be healthy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day Forty-Eight: Real Quick

I'm starting to run out of new foods-I-don't like. It's getting harder to plan. The posts, as I'm sure you've noticed, are getting a bit less interesting. But that doesn't mean I'm giving up.

Today, I'd planned on having fish for dinner. Then, for lunch, I had a little pasta salad and a little farro salad, which contained golden beets. So that was cold salads and beets, both of which I've sort of crossed off the list of things I don't like, but neither of which has climbed to the top of my list of favorites. Also, I justify these as qualifying for the resolution today because I hadn't had either pasta salad or golden beets multiple times. Also, I'd never had golden beets cold, and I must admit it was a less pleasant experience than when I had them hot. They were nice when I got a bite with beet, feta cheese, and farro, but on their own that had that characteristic dirty beet taste. I think it's heat that overcomes the dirt taste; when beets are cold, they just taste like the earth. They also have their own sweet, root-vegetable characteristics, but the dirt flavor is definitely present.

To augment my food-I-don't-like experience for the day, I'd planned on having Jell-O tonight. But since I don't really like Jell-O, I'm not that familiar with the process of making it, so it hasn't set yet. Which means I'll have to put it off. Oh well.

I promise these posts will get more interesting soon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day Forty-Seven: Criss-cross Applesauce

I can't imagine two foods more different than pork chops and applesauce. One usually requires a tough set of teeth, the other requires none. One is animal, one is fruit. Savory, sweet. Fatty, fat-free. And so forth. But it seems that the nature of food, color, art, life (I know, I'm expanding pretty far here, but go with me on this) is to put opposites together. We crave contrast, whether visually or on our palates. What if Abbott and Costello were both fat guys? It wouldn't be nearly as funny.

All this blathering on is going somewhere, of course. It's my way of building up to the fact that I had a pork chop with applesauce for dinner tonight, and despite my distaste for applesauce, it was a nice combination. And strange as it may sound, I had a bit of a revelation. Applesauce is SAUCE. Sauce! It's not a dish unto itself. It's a condiment. So why don't people eat it that way? Granted, it's not as delicious as hollandaise or honey mustard or regular mustard or ketchup, even. It's blander, obviously, which is perhaps why many find it palatable on its own. But think about this: applesauce is one of the few foods doctors recommend to patients with tummy troubles. But with pork chops, it's okay.

Also tonight, I had a few spoonfuls of rum raisin ice cream. I don't think I've ever had it before, but it tasted exactly as I imagined it. Maybe worse. Rum and raisin. Quite literal. There's a slight ice creamy taste to it, since it is ice cream, but mostly it's rum and raisin. And while I do like a good rum and coke or mojito or what-have-you, rum on its own is not my favorite flavor. As for raisins, it's taken me years to get used to them. I like them covered in yogurt or tucked into oatmeal cookies. I'll occasionally snack on them alone. But I think the rum and the cream don't quite bring out the best in them. It's kind of a sickly, vomititious flavor. (I know vomititious isn't a real word, but I think it should be.)

Anyway, there's that. I still don't love applesauce but I do like it with pork chops, so if I go to someone's house (my parents' included) and they serve that combination, I'll be happy. Rum raisin ice cream might be more problematic. But I still have most of a pint in my freezer, so that, too, will be overcome.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day Forty-Six: Sexy Shrimp?

Quite a while ago, my husband bought a packet of Fusion Flavors shrimp dip base after tasting it at a gourmet food store. I tried it, too, and couldn't taste the shrimp in there, so it came home with us for future use. At last, it's met its destiny atop linguini and shrimp for lunch.

That's right, I had shrimp again. And I still can't say that I love them. I loved my shrimp fra diavolo, but those were better masked than the shrimp in this dish, which had only pasta, olive oil, and a few dried spices to contend with. Again, my reaction to shrimp is that it's fine. But I do find myself twirling pasta around each piece of shrimp, hiding it from myself. I find that I don't like to eat the shrimp without a heavy cloak of sauce and preferably pasta as well. I don't think I'll be able to count this one conquered until shrimp seems appealing unto itself, without lots of hoopla to get me interested. I should see those little sea-bugs and get hungry, right? I should smell them (on their own) and salivate. As of yet, that just isn't happening.

It probably didn't help that this morning, I watched Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, an episode in which Chef Anne shelled and de-veined some gargantuan, head-on shrimp. Their little eyes and legs remained intact. While my shrimp were tiny, headless, and legless, that image stayed with me. She said they were sexy. Sexy, I said? Absolutely not! Slimy, perhaps. And then I wondered if she intended to eat their brains, too. Some people like to suck the gunk out of shrimp heads, apparently. I saw it on Iron Chef America. Is that sexy? I think it's nauseating. But, I suppose, to each his or her own.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day Forty-Five: Happy Valentines! Here's Some Cabbage.

I have a new sweetheart (sorry Ian--I still love you, too). I never expected this. But I guess I should have been listening to the romantic comedies; it's usually those we hate in the beginning that we love in the end.

That's right. I'm having a love affair with sauerkraut. Judge me if you will.

I knew I was headed down this trail. Maybe I should have stopped myself. I gave kraut a chance when I put it on a Reuben, and I was intrigued. I kept ordering Reubens in restaurants. I had to hold myself back. I thought, it's just the corned beef, the rye, all the trappings and the Russian dressing. It's just an infatuation. If I stripped it down, saw it for what it really was, my infatuation would be over.

I was so wrong. Today, I had sauerkraut on a hot dog. A little mustard. Not much to disguise the sauerkraut's true personality. I even had a few bites of kraut on its own. Now I have to face facts; this isn't a fling. This might be a lifelong relationship.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Day Forty-Four: Plain Jane

After last night's super-rich chicken-liver-and-mussels-and-steak-and-fries dinner, I thought breakfast ought to be a little bland. Balance and all that. So when my husband went down to the hotel breakfast room, he brought back oatmeal.

Oatmeal is one of those things that I generally shy away from, not necessarily because of its flavor, but because it's more akin to glue than to food. When I'm dieting, I sometimes force oatmeal on myself because it's filling and it's good for me, but in those cases, I severely undercook it, allowing the oats to absorb just enough water to be chewable. I'm sure most people would think my way is the disgusting way. But, as with applesauce, I'm not a fan of food you don't really have to chew. And the way most people cook oatmeal, you could gum it. You could just let it slide down your throat if you wanted.

I do, however, see the appeal of this pile of brown mush. It's an excellent vessel for other flavors. You can dump brown sugar and half-and-half on it, and still feel like you're eating healthy (my aunt introduced me to the half-and-half idea, and it was the best bowl of oatmeal I ever ate). Another friend of mine likes it with pecans and raisins, which would give it a little crunch, a little chewiness. So I guess oatmeal can be good; you just have to doctor it up. Me, I ate mine relatively plain (it was apple-cinnamon flavored, but it only tasted slightly sweetened to me).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day Forty-Three: Flexing my Mussels

Tonight, I am out of town. More specifically, I'm in Walla Walla, Washington, on a wine-tasting trip with my hubby. It's Valentine's Day weekend, after all. Tonight we had dinner at the amazing, awesome, wonderful Brasserie 4. It's a French restaurant, so of course we had to order the pate, which in this case was made with chicken livers instead of goose. So that was thing-I-don't-like number one. The pate (which, to me, seemed like more of a mousse) had a bit of a sickly taste to it--perhaps owing partially to a bit of white wine in the recipe (this was not confirmed, only suspected). We had it on a wonderfully crusty French bread--my favorite combination was bread, grainy mustard, pate, and pickled red onion. There were also cornichons and golden delicious apple slices on the plate, and many combinations were tried.

For my main course, I ordered steak frites. Nothing I don't like there. Brasserie 4 has the most amazing fries I've ever had, and the steak was nothing short of impressive. But here's where I get adventurous--Ian ordered moules frites. Which is mussels. And guess what? I ate six of them. Six whole mussels, all by myself. I had expected them to be rubbery, fishy, gritty--similar to the clams I had in my clam chowder, but worse. I could not have been more wrong. While they were not the most aesthetically charming (Brasserie 4 has lovely low lighting--in more fluorescent light I might have had a harder time) they were tender, with no chewiness about them, and they had the faintest sweet breath of the sea. For a long time I didn't understand what people meant when they said fish shouldn't smell like fish, but like the ocean--I couldn't discern the difference. These mussels, however, had a very oceanic taste, and no fishiness at all. They had absorbed a good deal of the broth in which they were cooked, and had a salty, winey, herby taste to them. I'm surprised to say I enjoyed them. There was a point at which I asked my husband to stop heaping them onto my plate (he was trading them for slices of my steak) but a lot of that had to do with my ever-expanding stomach.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day Forty-Two: Loaves and Fishes

Last night a friend and I saw Legally Blonde: The Musical at the INB performing arts center in Spokane. Before that, we went to dinner at Hills' Restaurant, where I voluntarily ordered the smoked salmon panini. Which was awesome. Not only was it delicious, but even though I'd already had applesauce as my thing-I-don't-like for the day, I was brave and committed to my project. I ordered a fish sandwich and dang if it wasn't satisfying.

The trend continued tonight. I got back from school at about seven and I met my husband at South Fork, the hubby's and my favorite eatery in Pullman. It was clam chowder Friday, and I saw an opportunity. But when we got there, the market fish special was a swordfish sandwich, and I jumped at the opportunity to try something new.

Granted, I've had swordfish before. Once. I tried to make swordfish fajitas a few months ago, before this project began, and I almost vomited. This time, the fish was in the hands of a professional. Plus I've developed a thicker skin when it comes to fish. I had high hopes that I would absolutely love the stuff this time around. The sandwich certainly had the right elements to charm me. Ciabatta roll, tartar sauce, baby greens, tomato, red onion. It was all delicious...(drum roll, please) included.

Okay, there were a few bites where I recoiled at the fishy taste. But mostly, it was delicious. Fish sandwiches. Who knew? I certainly didn't. But I would order either of these two sandwiches again, of my own free will. Especially the smoked salmon panini. Smoked salmon, I think, no longer qualifies as something I don't like. The swordfish is fishier and will be harder to conquer completely. But man, I'm getting closer and closer!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day Forty-One: Hold Your Applesauce

I was small when Disney's Aladdin came out (smallish--I was eight) and I remember laughing out loud at a particular scene in which the genie is playing game-show host in the cave of wonders, right when Aladdin first meets him. I laughed wholeheartedly when the sign flashed "Applause" because I thought it said "Applesauce," which was hilarious because, well, it was silly.

Now I'm twenty-six and guess what? I still think applesauce is silly. For adults, that is. For babies it's awesome. Also for those without teeth. People with jaws wired shut, and so on. But really, as an adult, I see very little use for applesauce as a food on its own. I use it in baking. Every muffin recipe I've ever devised contains either applesauce or mashed banana (or sometimes pumpkin puree) to keep it moist. But eating it with a spoon? I just can't figure why any adult would do that. Unless, like me, they were trying to make themselves like foods they don't like, and walked around their apartment eating it from a plastic cup (I had to pace because applesauce on its own is so boring and my eyes are already sore from a long morning of reading).

My dad (and probably many other Americans) loves applesauce with his pork chops. I have to concede that the flavors of apple and pork go nicely together. There was a time when pork chops topped my I-won't-eat-that list, but once I discovered how to cook them properly (they're done long before they turn to rubber) I started to love them. But why have a pork chop and applesauce when you could have a lovely chunky apple chutney? Apple stuffing? Baked apples? I know there are recipes for chunky "applesauce" out there, but it seems that the favorite way of eating pork chops and applesauce is with the plain puree, out of a jar. What about an apple juice reduction with a few herbs thrown in? That sounds pretty good to me.

So, you see, I'm still not sold on applesauce, or any sort of fruit puree, I'd say. I love apples. I have all my powers of mastication and digestion. Applesauce on its own doesn't make me retch, but I think I'll leave it for baking.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day Forty: Kimchi "Flavored"

Today, I thought I'd exercise my newly-forming kimchi tastebuds by having a nice bowl of kimchi flavored ramen. I haven't had ramen in years--as a kid, I would eat the noodles raw, would beg my mom to buy the stuff, but I haven't really eaten it since I was an undergraduate. I suppose it's okay. It's not on the list of things I don't like, but I don't jump for it in the grocery store, either.

Anyhow, I boiled up my ramen as directed on the back of the package (thankfully, it had directions in English, as well as several other languages and alphabets). I thought, as it cooked, that it didn't really smell like kimchi, but that maybe it would taste like it. It didn't. I think there are certain elements of fermented vegetables that can't really translate into a powdered soup mix. It was hot like kimchi. Maybe it had more kimchi flavors than I thought it did, but it was lacking the acidity and sort of old-foot smell I associate with kimchi. I liked it, though. I guess that's a bit of a boring result.

So--since my kimchi ramen didn't really challenge me, I added another element to my lunch. I had diced peaches in light syrup, challenging both my fruit cup and peach declivities. Neither of those are on my most-hated list, but neither are my favorites. I ate them and I think I appreciated the sweetness and the texture, though I did throw most of the syrup away (am I supposed to do that? or drink it? seasoned fruit-cup-eaters, let me know). It was all very lackluster. Fine. Okay. Nothing special, really.

But I guess not every day can be the Fourth of July.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day Thirty-Nine: It's Not Easy Being Green

I'm a little bit baffled right now. In a good way, I think. Mainly, I'm wondering: Why the *%$@ did I think I didn't like lima beans?

As a kid, I know my mom served them, but I can't remember how they were prepared. Boiled? Sauteed? Mixed with anything? My main memory is that they were incredibly bitter, terrible, unswallowable things. Part of me wonders if it's because they were green, and to an eight-year-old, all things green are intimidating (except, perhaps, Kermit the Frog). I know my mom had to blitz veggies in the blender to sneak them into our meatloaf (I'm going to say my brother was more a veggie hater than I was but I'm probably wrong... I do know at some point when he was very small, he pretended to be a brontosaurus and ate broccoli because they looked like trees).

But still, after having had them for lunch today, how oh how did I not like lima beans? Right now, my apartment smells gorgeous. I sauteed a little garlic and black pepper in olive oil, added a can of limas, sauteed awhile longer, salt, cherry tomatoes, basil, and white vinegar. So so so so good. I've had to stop myself from eating the entire batch to avoid stomachache. Good good good good good. The beans are so creamy and I'm not tasting any of the bitterness my childhood palate so detested. They are beans. Creamy, buttery beans. What changed between then and now?

Of course, part of me says you could saute rocks in olive oil with garlic, add tomato, basil, and vinegar, and it would be the best meal of your life. But mainly, I think it's me. Growing up and all that. Because I also remember hating navy bean soup, and about a year ago I made it for myself, out of curiosity, and I loved the heck out of it. So my palate just changed. So anything I haven't had since I was a kid is probably going to taste different to me now, for better or for worse.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day Thirty-Eight: All Hail the Well Composed Dish

Let me preface tonight's post a little bit. I know I tout the glory of Food Network a whole lot, and let me reassure you, they are not paying me. In fact, I feel a little bit like a dupe when I go on and on about them, their shows, their magazine, but in all honesty, it was Food Network that taught me to cook. My mother taught me a few things, but cooking was never a huge interest for her. Later, when she'd gotten into the hospitality business, she got me interested in things like red wine reductions, though we both had to sort of blindly figure out what that meant (she used to work with chef Gavin Kaysen, who I doubt had time for many cooking lessons what with busy nights at the restaurant and his stint on The Next Iron Chef--more Food Network, I know). My grandma on my dad's side was known for her breads, cinnamon rolls, divinity, etc. but she didn't really work from recipes and she passed before cooking really became an interest of mine. That saddens me now. Once I was humming Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" while hunting for ingredients at my parents' house, and my dad told me she used to sing that while she was cooking, too. It wasn't until I was married and unemployed that I really took an interest in cooking, and at first it was really just a way of keeping myself company. I turned on the Food Network and let Paula Deen babble about fried okra while I made jewelry or tried to write (I know it's weird to have background noise while writing but it works for me...sometimes). And, well, I started to watch the shows. It was Halloweentime and a lot of the recipes appealed to the kid in me. Then I got interested in techniques, especially knife skills, since I was at that point a hopeless chopper. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So here comes the reason for that huge, much-longer-than-I-expected-it-to-be preface. Tonight's dinner comes from Food Network magazine (again). Tuna and beans and kale, oh my!

It was absolutely delicious, actually, despite containing tuna and kale (while I have now officially enjoyed kale, I still had never cooked it until tonight). It was a bit of a complicated recipe as far as prep goes, but I enjoy chopping, slicing, and dicing, and I absolutely love putting small quantities of things into my little glass prep bowls (it appeals to my left brain, I think). And my husband had a bit of a revelation tonight, too. He likes tuna but he hates celery and grape tomatoes, both of which are contained in this dish. I think that tuna (the canned kind--I haven't tried it fresh) and celery are natural buddies, but he doesn't even put celery in his tuna salad. And grape tomatoes can have an over-sour quality, but I think they work in a lot of dishes. Here, he had to admit that they were both delicious. So maybe we're both making progress. I like tuna and kale; he likes grape tomatoes and celery. All hail the well composed dish.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Day Thirty-Seven: Hot Crab and Pigskin

I thought, since it's Super Bowl Sunday, it would be appropriate to have appetizers for dinner... early dinner... some sort of mid-to-late-day meal. Even if I'm not watching the Super Bowl. Right now, the hubby and I are watching The Princess and The Frog, which I much prefer to football. And the husband isn't much for football, either. Which probably makes you wonder, what do I mean by pigskin?

Well, I mean just that. Pig skin. Deep fried and spiced up, sold in a plastic bag. That's right, I sampled pork rinds today. I believe I've only had one pork rind before today and I recall being thoroughly repulsed, but today, while the first bite was more piggy than I was prepared for, I thoroughly enjoyed them. In fact, I had to have the hubby take the bag away from me, for fear I would overindulge. He, however, maintains that they are disgusting. And I know, it's fried skin. But if you called it cracklins you could serve it at a gourmet restaurant. Granted, it would look different than the puffy things I had out of a bag, but essentially, it would be the same thing. Pig skin, deep-fried.

I also tried real crab today. I've been eating a fair share of imitation crab, in crab salad, won tons, and once in sushi, but this time I bought real lump crab and turned it into hot crab dip. Which means I mixed a good deal of crab meat into some neufchatel cheese, light sour cream, scallions, parsley, Old Bay, etc. And when I had my first bite, my reaction was unfavorable. I believe I screamed a little. I expected the same mellow flavor I had in my imitation crab, which has mostly been served cold. It was much crabbier than that. But, true to my experiment, I kept eating. And with every cracker dipped into this dip, I felt myself acclimate to the crab until it was almost enjoyable. And I think I'll go back and have a few more crackers' worth. Plus, the shadow man is starting his big musical number, so I should get back to my movie.

If you're watching the Super Bowl, I hope whatever team you like is winning!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Day Thirty-Six: The Many Charms of Fra Diavolo

Fra Diavolo, or "brother devil" (Italian) is a spicy sauce, usually served with seafood. According to Chef Mario Batali (who, for the record, I just want to hug), it's an American creation that's rarely served in Italy. But dang is it good. Its namesake, if there really is a connection, would be Michele Pezza (1771-1806), an Italian revolutionary, who resisted the French occupation of Naples. He received this name not for his revolutionary acts, but because as a child he suffered from a serious illness, and when he recovered he participated in a ceremony in which children who survived such illnesses dressed as monks on the second Sunday after Easter. Apparently, when he was in the hospital, he was quite a pill. So he was given the name Fra Diavolo, and it stuck.

Of course, there is no real evidence that Michele Pezza has anything to do with the dish fra diavolo, but it sure is a fun fact. And I do love to learn these fun facts and use them against my friends while playing trivia games.

At this point, you may be wondering, What on earth does this have to do with me? Well, it's simple. This week, the latest issue of Food Network Magazine appeared in my mailbox, and in the "weeknight cooking" section, a recipe for shrimp fra diavolo. And guess what? I cooked it. And I ate it, too. It was the most delicious pasta dish I've ever made. Spicy, salty, tomatoey, shrimpy--yes, shrimpy, but under these circumstances the shrimp took on almost a sausagey quality--and the sauce contained anchovies, to boot. I served it with some homemade bread I made yesterday (Nigella Lawson's basic white loaf recipe) during a study break. Alongside it, a glass of Basalt Cellars Semillon (a quarter cup of which also went into the sauce). It was a really lovely meal. And it contained shrimp! And anchovies! Huzzah! I feel like I've conquered something here. I'm getting real-live proof of a principle I've known for a long time but never been 100% sure of: any ingredient can be delicious in a properly composed dish.

I'm going to make this one again. I know Food Network thinks it's weeknight cooking, but I think this is a show-off dish. And I hope to show it off soon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day Thirty-Five: Where I Am

So, this might be a bit of a boring post to read, because it's going to be so positive. I think I love cauliflower. I know I had it last night, but I had leftovers and I thought I should go ahead and finish it off before it started to turn. So this time, instead of drowning it in cheese and marinara, I roasted it in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper, alongside some white and sweet potatoes. It was a rip-roaring success. I think any vegetable is best roasted this way. For me, a pile of roasted vegetables is enough to constitute a meal. I know, there's no complete protein involved, but I can get protein at the other two meals, right? And which is worse: roast veggies or cake? (I have had cake for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch.)

So, since it was such a simple day, I don't have a ton to say. But I can say that cauliflower is off the list. Actually, since I don't have much to say, let me recap the foods I feel I've fully conquered so far:

1. cauliflower
2. marmalade
3. grapefruit
4. kiwi
5. oranges
6. fried shrimp
7. peach yogurt
8. egg salad
9. potato salad
10. kale
11. beets
12. tofu
13. Irish cream
14. Spam
15. sauerkraut, when it's on Reubens (I had a Reuben for dinner two nights ago, by the way, and the leftovers for lunch the next day. It was awesome.)

So that's where I am. It dismays me a little that there is only one seafood item on that list, but seafood/fish is much harder for me, much more deeply ingrained, than any of the others. And I could probably put tuna salad on the list, but I've only had it once recently. I will have to make sure to have it again soon, and I think I'll prepare it myself, so I have to absorb the full tuna-ness of it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day Thirty-Four: Cabbage Patch Kids

Here is one of the many fun facts I've learned from Alton Brown, this one from Iron Chef America: cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family. The word cauliflower, in Latin, means "cabbage flower," which makes sense, given the cauliflower's lovely bouquet arrangement and cabbagey base. And tonight, while prepping my cauliflower, I made sure to taste some of it raw. Guess what? It tastes like cabbage. It just has a different texture. And color. And shape. (Though there are green and purple varieties of cauliflower, it's just that outside Wikipedia, I've never seen them.)

I don't know where my aversion to cauliflower comes from. It's probably one of those prejudices I developed in elementary school, and since cauliflower is not one of my parents' favorite vegetables, either, I was never really forced to eat it. In fact, I could not remember what it tasted like when I cut into it today. I just knew I didn't like it. My husband was not enthused about the whole cauliflower thing, and when he tasted it at last he said, "Oh" with a dour look on his face. He said it was fine (which is sometimes his way of saying he hasn't thrown up yet, so things could be worse) and that he hadn't remembered what it tasted like. Oh, the way we rule out foods. Sometimes, without ever trying them.

So--tonight, I made a sort of cauliflower gratin, though if I had placed it in front of you, you might have thought it was a creamy tomato soup with cauliflower in it. I like to improvise, and while it came out well, I think, it might have baffled many. I don't know why I didn't look up a real recipe. Okay, I do. I like to play around. And I like to use ingredients I already have. How annoying to have to walk to the grocery store. Which is funny, because my new issue of Food Network Magazine arrived today, including what looks like a delicious cauliflower risotto, which I might have to make with my remaining florets. Sounds like a plan to me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day Thirty-Three: Good Morning!

Today I woke up with a stiff back, having slept uncomfortably most of the night. But I couldn't go back to sleep. So I got up and unfurled my yoga mat for the first time in months. I started with just a little basic stretching, then moved into some sun salutations--not much, since I'm out of my yoga habit, but enough to get my blood flowing and my muscles loose. The water in my bathroom was lovely today (no scorching or freezing) so I had a fantastic shower. And then, continuing the trend, I had a very healthy breakfast. Or--what I consider very healthy. I'm sure there's a lot of argument about things like this.

Anyway, I had half a grapefruit. You might remember that my last grapefruit encounter was less than pleasant, but this time instead of pre-separated grapefruit segments in a cup, I bought a whole piece of fruit, halved it, and dug in with my spoon. And this grapefruit, I liked. Isn't that always the case? Unlike my last grapefruit, it wasn't very bitter at all, and there was something fun about digging out the segments with my spoon (though, since I'm a novice at this and don't possess the specialized equipment, I did leave some grapefruit behind). I especially enjoyed the appearance of the hulled-out fruit (see photo--sorry if it's blurry, I took it with my phone) which looked, to me, like a Technicolor sun. Or something.

Also, I had a peach yogurt. This one might sound pretty silly, but I do have a love-hate relationship with peaches, mostly their texture, and I'm a little picky about fruit finding its way into my yogurt. Which isn't to say I don't like fruity yogurts or chunks of strawberry, blueberry, what-have-you. I just think that peach has a less-than-optimal texture for mixture with yogurt, and I'm not used to it. So I ate a peach yogurt today and I'm on my way to getting used to it.

All that and it's not even 9:00 a.m.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Day Thirty-Two: Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny

I find it interesting that sometimes, it's the smallest things that are the scariest. Like fish. And I'm not talking about fish you eat, though that's a little scary, too. I mean, I'm a little afraid of fish in general. I've been trying to get over it. I confused a store clerk the other day by standing in front of the fish tanks just staring at the little hoping-to-be-pet fish, the ones with the bulgy eyes, the ones whose spines you can see through their bodies. They kind of freak me out, you know? I know there's glass between us and they aren't going to hurt me, that they probably wouldn't try to hurt me if they had the chance. I know it's irrational, but I'm trying to get over it (thus the fish staring and the confused clerk).

But there's that concept--why should big things be afraid of small things? Why should elephants be afraid of mice? (See video, below--if they aren't afraid, they're at least respectful.)

And why, oh why, should I be afraid of anchovies?

Which is my roundabout way of saying, I had anchovy for lunch. Well, anchovy paste. On a pizza. I'm not brave enough for the fillets yet--I don't think I could make myself bite into one--but I took my little piece of flatbread and spread it with about a teaspoon of anchovy paste. Then on top of that, tomato sauce, turkey pepperoni, garlic, and parmesan cheese. So yeah, I added a lot of extra stuff to my feared food of the day. But I don't feel to bad about it, because I'm taking baby steps, people. Also with my flatbread pizza, I had a little salad with some homemade vinaigrette. Kitchen tip: when your dijon mustard bottle is running low and you can only squeeze out splattery mustard juice, add some oil, vinegar, salt, maybe some dried herbs, and shake it up into a vinagrette. Just make sure to mark the bottle so you don't accidentally drench a sandwich, thinking it's really mustard.

Anyway. As my pizza toasted in the oven, I smelled the fishy, anchovy smell. The fear was palpable. I had already endured its oily pungency while putting my pizza together, and now I was afraid it wouldn't meld with the other flavors; it would overpower them. But by the time I pulled the pizza out of the oven, the smell had dissipated, or else I'd just gotten used to it. And when I bit into my pizza, I discovered that, with the exception of a few spots where the anchovy paste peeked out from under the sauce, the anchovy flavor was an awesome complement to the others, but not fishy at all. Salty, savory. Something I felt I'd tasted before but couldn't really pinpoint. Probably reminiscent of Worcestershire sauce, which contains anchovies, though I didn't know it until about a year ago.

Still, I don't know if I could handle full-on anchovy pizza. My husband likes anchovies on pizza, he says. So at least I'll have support when I try it full-on. I didn't have him to help me today, because he had an important meeting at work (tie and cufflinks important--he looked very dapper this morning) and couldn't come home for lunch. If he were here, my pizza probably would have been slathered in anchovy.