Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Approach of Phase Three

September 1 is right around the corner, which means the year is almost two-thirds over, which means my project is set to switch gears. Switch gears? you might be thinking. Were you in gear in the first place? Touche, you. I have been sitting around idling lately, it's true, not blogging about food at all. I've been attempting to lose weight while battling a difficult bout of post-graduate depression (the economy is bad enough, but living in an armpit college town while not attending college means that most jobs are hogged by college kids and professors' spouses, or the spouses of the engineers at the town's one major business--all of whom have more specific qualifications than I do while not having the overqualification of a master's degree... plus I'm a depressive sort, anyway, and I've had some difficult rejections for my fiction lately... who cares, right?).

SIDENOTE: Let me ask you a question. If you had the opportunity to be a full-time writer, no pressure to contribute financially, would you do it? Or would setting your own deadlines/working alone/risking total failure without even a pittance of a salary to make you feel like time wasn't totally wasted be too daunting? Or would you rather get a job assembling electronics? (That really was one question... with sub-questions.)

Here's where my life stands right now. I've applied for just about every non-customer-service job opportunity in town, and I'm currently waiting for a phone call about an interview for a job I actually want (most of the other applications were for jobs I didn't care much about, which I'm sure showed in my cover letters and led to my not being hired). I'm volunteering at the animal shelter once a week, and have a scratch down my arm from one particularly feisty kitten that could make someone think I tried to commit suicide. I'm getting a little bit of writing done, but not enough. I have no local friends. I've dropped cooking/eating for this project because it seems pointless to me right now, and because for me, weight loss often means eschewing food as pleasure. I do have a ton of time right now, but I'm crossing my fingers that I won't soon, because I'm always happier when I'm busy. And if I do get busy, here's how I want to handle phase three: Instead of one recipe a day, I will cook seven new recipes a week.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thoughts on the Lentil Festival

Every year, Pullman hosts the National Lentil Festival, which is a pretty big deal. I mean, for Pullman. This event, which the town spends a good amount of time and energy on (usually the poster designs are better than this year's), lasts a whole weekend--the weekend before school starts. This means that as WSU students pour into town with their modular furniture in tow, they stop at the giant pot of lentil chili and browse the booths before (or after) redecorating their dorms. Which means the Lentil Festival is the most crowded you will ever see downtown Pullman. Ever.

Somehow, every year, the Lentil Festival incites in me a sort of amnesia. It goes like this: I hate the Lentil Festival, but in the weeks leading up to it, I remember only a few highlights from my first Lentil Festival: a used book stand, a craft stand, and the novelty of lentil chili. Unfortunately, those booths were only there the first year. The rest of the booths feature fried foods, which I just can't find joy in with the crowd and the heat, or are advertising radio stations, WSU organizations, and various other town junk I couldn't care less about. There's also a beer garden, which I've never gone to, but which each year I think will be the highlight until I actually get there. After fighting my way through the shoulder-to-shoulder foot traffic, I find myself faced with a parking lot--no shade at all--and a line of people waiting (in the sun) to get a table (in the sun) to listen to mediocre music (which you can hear from the shade by the train tracks, anyway) and drink beer that is available all year round if you just poke your head into the local breweries (both of which are less than a mile from my apartment). And suddenly, seeing this, the lovely picture I had of the Lentil Festival is gone, replaced by stinking crowds and sunburns. What is the opposite of festive?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's Happening

So, you might have noticed that I haven't been posting lately. This doesn't mean I haven't been trying new foods and recipes. I've attempted to make cheese out of buttermilk (not wonderful results). I've had some new salad greens that I forgot to ask about. I turned leftover duck into burritos and put it on a pizza. Just today, I tried yellow tomatoes. I haven't been inactive.

The thing is, I get a little lazy. And if a particular food doesn't have a great story behind it, I start to think, what's the point in blogging about it? It's just going to be disappointing. You know what I mean?

Of course you do. You read all the little disappointing posts. Or maybe you don't. I don't really know.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 221: Yucky Ducky

The other day, I roasted my first duck. Which means I also ate my first whole-roasted duck. Not that I ate the whole thing; I'd just never had duck cooked that way. It's always confit or seared duck breast. Whole roasting produces very different results. Of course, I can't be certain--the ducks I've eaten in the past might have been full grown, but by the portion sizes, I think they were ducklings. Canetons. You see, I used Julia Child's recipe for roasting this duck, so I figure I ought to use the French term. Even if my duckling was American.

Basically, my duckling drove me crazy. I got it all set up in the roasting pan, which turned out to be too big, which meant that the vegetables I strew around it burned to ash instead of absorbing all the duck fat and caramelizing. I discovered I didn't have any string that wasn't green (if you need to know why I didn't use that to truss my bird, watch Bridget Jones' Diary and watch her make blue soup), and I didn't trust my cat alone with the duck, I made do with toothpicks, until my duck looked like it was receiving acupuncture. Which is okay, really, because you need to prick the duck to let the fat drain out. Then I cooked it, stirred the burnt veggies, spooned out the fat (my turkey baster is apparently useless; I threw the darn thing away), and when it was done I let it rest and then carved a beautiful breast off the carcass, grabbed it the with the tongs, and attempted to put it on my husband's plate.

It was slipperier than I thought.

So, though I'd managed to take my other duck obstacles in stride, when that breast hit the floor, I started to throw a tantrum. You might have called it a hissy fit. I jumped up and down, slamming my feet into the linoleum and yelled a stream of profanities that I won't repeat here. My husband, ever the pragmatist, quickly grabbed the breast off the floor and washed it, telling me it was okay, he'd still eat it, it was okay. Me, I retired to the living room for a few minutes to cool off. And then I came back and attempted to eat the other breast.

The skin was far from crisp. It was kind of disgusting. The meat was tender but nothing like I was used to being served in restaurants, the meat paler than I had imagined. I hadn't been able to make Julia's sauce since my vegetables were charred, so I stupidly opened the packet of orange sauce the company I bought my duck from provided. Beyond disgusting. That, plus leftover polenta that had congealed strangely. I ate one bite before switching to popcorn for dinner.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 220: Sausage and Grapes

Did you know that roasted sausage and grapes are a traditional Italian combination? I certainly didn't. Credit that, of course, to the fact that I've never really been to a good Italian restaurant--the good Italian food I've had outside my own kitchen is usually in noncommittal Mediterranean restaurants where the menu is mostly Greek, some Italian, and maybe a little North African thrown in. I am part Italian, but none of my family exudes that Italian zest you see so often on TV. The English and German blood strangle it out, I think.

But: sausage and grapes. I am so thrilled to have tried this, and I will definitely be making it again. I used chicken sausage instead of pork, generally using this recipe, though with adjustments for portion size and the fact that my sausage comes already cooked. Also, I didn't serve it with bread, but with a lighter version of rosemary polenta, made with skim milk. It is amazing how well grapes turn savory. Part of me says, duh! Grapes are in wine, and wine is in a lot of sauces, so why not put grapes in sauces? It's particularly good for me, not being the biggest fan of fruit in the world, to find new ways of exploring savory fruit applications. This exploration will continue as I begin experimenting with duck, per Julia Child's recipes. Tonight I'll begin with a plain roast duck, but there are ducks with orange, ducks with cherries, ducks with peaches. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 219: Playing with Blueberries

Last night, I made a grand discovery. I made my very first savory blueberry sauce and had it over a pork chop--you must try this immediately. I got the idea from a roasted raspberry barbecue sauce that got me wondering if I could innovate my own roasted berry sauce, plus a fancy blueberry and mustard reduction I had with venison sausage at West of Paris when it was still open. I couldn't get my hands on any venison, but I certainly could find an abundance of pork, and I figured pork goes with mustard, pork goes with beer--this will be good. And it really was.

Here's how I did it:

Toss about two cups of blueberries in a tablespoon of olive oil, plus salt, pepper, and a half teaspoon of dried thyme. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 5-10 minutes, until the berries start to pop.
Meanwhile, cook your pork chop on the stove top.
Once the chops are done, let them rest and ditch any excess fat you had in the pan. Deglaze with wheat beer (a couple turns of the pan) and add a generous tablespoon of grainy mustard (you could even go up to two). Stir until combined, then add your roasted blueberries to the mixture and allow the mixture to cook and reduce for about five minutes.
By then your pork chops should be rested. Spoon the berries and their lovely sauce over the chop.
Eat your heart out.

I also made something I could call Blueberries Ender, kind of like Bananas Foster, but its recipe was less perfect. It did involve white sugar, butter, and orange juice being cooked awhile in a saute pan before berries were thrown in and cooked, then alcohol was added in the form of Grand Marnier, which isn't alcoholic enough to produce a good flame but gives a lovely depth to the syrup. But that's the thing--I didn't really cook this long enough to get it to where I wanted it to be. Too thin, with too much alcohol. But it was still yummy, and I will perfect the recipe next time. I did, however, meld several pound cake recipes together to create what I will now claim as my own. It was fantastic with the blueberry syrup or even solo:

Orange Honey Pound Cake

Preheat your oven to 325F, with the rack in the center of the oven.
Butter and flour a standard loaf pan.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
the zest of one orange
2 tbsp honey
1/3 cup light sour cream

Sift together the first three ingredients; set aside.
Cream together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time until they are incorporated. Add vanilla, orange zest, honey, and sour cream; mix until smooth.
On low speed, add the sifted flour mixture in three batches, allowing each batch to fully incorporate before adding the next.
Scoop batter into loaf pan; bake for 60-70 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 218: To-Smoothie

The hubby and I are heading out for the weekend, camping on the lake. To fuel us on our journey (car trip) I blended up a mango, some almond milk, ice, and another of those tofu desserts. Interesting. Pulpy. Very sweet. If I ever go vegan/vegetarian, I might make this again.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 216, Part Two: My First Mayonnaise

My arms are sore. Seriously. My upper back is feeling the burn, too. I didn't lift any weights yesterday or go to the gym and use those upper body machines. I did something far more interesting. I made mayonnaise.

I'm sure you're thinking, Why didn't you use the food processor? In this day and age, who whisks egg yolks and oil for forty-five minutes? Who doesn't take advantage of technology? Me, apparently. Partly because I'm "old-school." Partly because both my food pro and my blender had pieces that needed washing. But mostly because, if I was going to make mayonnaise, I wanted to do it right. I was using the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I wanted to do it Julia's way.

Did you know that the average American large egg yolk can hold up to 3/4 cup of oil in the mayonnaise making process? I guess you do now. I learned that from Julia as I thoroughly read the recipe and instructions before cracking my egg yolks into the bowl (well--almost thoroughly--it turned out there were a few more instructions on the next page, but they were sort of "just in case"). For three egg yolks, you want a minimum of 1 1/4 cups oil. I don't think I got that much in. My measuring cup was dirty, too, and I was using a bottle with a small pour spout so I could get that drip-by-drip pour that you need in the first phases of mayonnaise. That side of my body, the one holding the oil bottle, is actually more sore than my whisking arm. I did about half the bottle. My mayo was fairly thick but not even close to grocery store thick. But you know what? I was okay with that. And it was still delicious.

Have you ever spread mayo on bread with pepper and had that as a snack unto itself? I don't think it would occur to me with grocery store mayo, and I'm not sure how much I'd like it, but with my homemade mayo, it was divine. Dangerously so. I could have eaten mayo all night and had a stomachache all day.

Day 216, Part One: Playing with Pesto

It might be a little silly, and I probably shouldn't even confess this, but I've been working on an audition tape of Food Network Star--the show where finalists compete for their own show on Food Network (basically, a contract for like six shows--which is often extended). I realize I'm no Aarti Sequeira or Guy Fieri, but I need some goals in my life right now. I've been working on my food knowledge all year, and with my acting background, I enjoy being on camera. So, though I'm entirely self-taught (with food TV and cookbooks for my textbooks), I thought I'd give it a try. And since my point of view on food is one of exploration and discovery, I thought I'd concoct a pesto recipe for the occasion, using some leftover items I had lying around:

Smoked almonds
Honey roasted sunflower seeds
Olive Oil

I have a tendency, I think, to put too many nuts in my pestos so that they overpower the herbs. But this combo was a really interesting one and it was great to get some built-in seasoning from the snack nuts (leftover from making trail mix). I still have some of each ingredient and I think I'll try again today with feta cheese in place of the Parm--really mix it up, you know? Because it's fun to play with your food.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Day 215, Part Two: To-fruity

Tofu, tofu, tofu. I keep thinking I'm done playing with it and then I find a new incarnation. Tofu dessert! Mango flavored! How could I resist that?

I have to say, though, curious as I was, I was nervous about sweet tofu. I keep forgetting tofu's texture when I haven't eaten it for a while--also, the savory versions I've tried have often involved changing the texture by draining away moisture. This tofu was very moist. In fact, if you hadn't told me it was tofu, I might have thought it was a very jiggly flan.

Oh the things you can do with soy beans, huh?

Day 215, Part One: Va va voom

I'm not sure if the Zsa Zsa pepper's namesake would approve of how I used them tonight. They went into fajitas, which I can't imagine Ms. Gabor ever eating. Then again, I can't really imagine Zsa Zsa eating anything. I just imagine her wearing feather boas and diamonds, saying "daaaaarling."

The Zsa Zsa pepper, I would imagine, is so named because of its blonde color, maybe because of its sleek, dainty shape. Well, maybe not dainty. But not big either. Two Zsa Zsas produced about as much flesh as one grocery store green bell.

The Zsa Zsas were very mild in flavor, with a hint of citrusy zest. They were quite good in the fajitas, though my husband didn't detect them on his palate, or even visually (cooked down, they looked quite similar to the sweet onions). Next time I use them, I'll probably showcase them more--if I use them again. I'd never seen them at the farmer's market before, and since I won't make it to the market the next two weekends, the season might be over before I have a chance to grab more. But I'm sure I'll encounter them again one day, and give them the superstar attention they deserve.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 214: Couscous To Go

Yesterday's lunch was a bit of a gourmet cup-o-noodles. I brought it to the WSU library, where I've been spending a lot of time writing, reading, and generally killing time, and brought it to the CUB (Compton Union Building) to heat it up. I haven't eaten a lot of this type of food in my life, and for some reason, I thought this one would exceed my expectations. And truly, when I opened the lid, the spices smelled delicious. Unfortunately, the flavor and texture was underwhelming. I hate when food smells good and tastes like nothing.

I guess I had a little misconception when I bought this little cup. I thought all the water would absorb into the couscous, providing a more hearty meal. But I didn't read the back thoroughly enough--it was all in a "savory broth," and I must say, couscous soup is a strange phenomenon. If I didn't know what it was, I would have just thought the soup was gritty. So that isn't an experiment I'll be trying at home. In general, I think I'm going to stop bringing prepackaged foods for brown bag lunches. Homemade food isn't that hard to pack, and it's so much more delicious.

Day 213: Avocado Slaw

A while ago, on an episode of Food Network Star, one of the contestants made a coleslaw with an avocado base rather than mayonnaise. I thought that was brilliant. I like the base elements of coleslaw and I'm okay with the mayo, but avocado sounded like a much nicer, much healthier way to make it. So I conjure up my own recipe and it was highly successful with me and my husband.

Avocado Coleslaw

1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, grated
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 smallish avocados
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup salsa verde

In the food processor, combine avocados, lime juice, vinegar, and salt. Stir that mixture in with the veggies and the salsa verde. You can serve it immediately, or let it sort of marinate in the fridge.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Day 202: Orange Marshmallows

So here's something new that I did have during my lapse in blogging--I just forgot to write about it. I made orange marshmallows! They were amazing and they toasted really well over the campfire, lots of beautiful caramelization instead of the usual flare-up-turned-ash situation. All I did to make them was switch up my regular marshmallow recipe a bit by substituting half of the water the gelatin dissolves in with orange juice, and then adding orange zest at the end, along with less vanilla than usual. Easy and delicious. You could do it with any citrus.

Day 212, Part Two: Tostadas

It's been a long time since I've had a tostada--not since I was a kid--and given that until recently I couldn't palate seafood, I've certainly never had one with fish. Until last night, that is. You see, quite a while ago I bought a cookbook that is designed to help you track your calories and stay within a certain goal. If you eat a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks out of their book, you will never break 1500 calories. If you only eat one serving and don't add any extras, of course. Anyway, I've finally gotten to cooking from it, and last night I tried the fish tostadas, which turned out to be really good--500 calories for two! (I love a bargain.) They were better than any fish taco I've eaten, and just really simple. They also gave my husband the chance to make his famous salsa verde, both with fresh tomatillos from the farmer's market and with canned ones that I bought because, well, I'd never tried them canned. Of course, the batch with the fresh was better, but the homemade salsa with canned tomatillos was still better than jarred salsa verde, so if we have a hankering for Mexican in the winter, we know we have that option.

Day 212, Part One: Soy Yogurt

Yesterday morning, I had my first cup of soy yogurt. Since I'm not a huge fan of soy milk, I didn't expect to like it, and at first, I was right. The soy flavor pushed past the key lime flavor (I'd chosen key lime because it sounded good and because I routinely eat Yoplait's key lime) and while it didn't make me cringe, it certainly didn't make me salivate for more. But then, as things go, I started to get used to it. And, as you can see from the photo above, when I was done the cat was willing to lick up the dregs--and my cat is one picky eater. Of course, it was key lime flavor and she does like acidic things. So maybe it was that.

But back to the yogurt. As far as texture was concerned, I was impressed. I expected it to feel more synthetic or lumpy. It contained live cultures, as all yogurts do, and it had a pretty similar underlying yogurt taste, with the soy flavor sort of intruding. Not something I'm going to start adding to my grocery list, but if I have breakfast with vegans, it will be perfectly fine.

(Side note: apparently soy agrees with my cat, as she has not had any intestinal troubles--though she did only have a tiny bit--something I only worried about after I had fed it to her. I, however, suspect I might have some sort of soy allergy because I have been breaking out more than usual, starting--though perhaps coincidentally--about the day after I had my vegan cheese.)