Monday, July 26, 2010

Our Project Wedding

It's a little strange to think that my husband and I have been married for almost sixteen months. I still think of us as newlyweds.  Not the blissed-out, fawning-all-over-eachother type of newlyweds, but the still-working-out-the kinks, but kinda-amazed-we-still-like-eachother type.


Meanwhile, our Chewish wedding is having its second fifteen minutes of fame as the featured real wedding on Project Wedding this week.  Check it out here.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Basic cooking skills a virtue?

I'm reading Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw right now on my Kindle for iPhone, and in an essay called "Virtue," he argues that "basic cooking skills are a virtue, that the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill."

He suggests that every young man and woman should know how to perform the following tasks "in order to feel complete":

They should know how to chop an onion. Basic knife skills should be a must. Without that, we are nothing, castaways with a can – but no can-opener. Useless. Everything begins with some baseline with a sharp-bladed object, enough familiarity with such a thing to get the job done without injury. So, basic knife handling, sharpening, and maintenance, along with rudimentary but effective dicing, mincing, and slicing. Nothing too serious. Just enough facility with a knife to be on par with any Sicilian grandmother.

Everyone should be able to make an omelette. Egg cookery is as good a beginning as any, as it’s the first meal of the day, and because the process of learning to make an omelette is, I believe, not just a technique but a builder of character. One learns, necessarily, to be gentle when acquiring omelette skills: a certain measure of sensitivity is needed to discern what’s going on in your pan – and what to do about it.

I have long believed that it is only right and appropriate that before one sleeps with someone, one should be able – if called upon to do so – to make them a proper omelette in the morning. Surely that kind of civility and selflessness would be both good manners and good for the world. Perhaps omelette skills should be learned at the same time you learn to fuck. Perhaps there should be an unspoken agreement that in the event of the loss of virginity, the more experienced of the partners should, afterward, make the other an omelette – passing along the skill at an important and presumably memorable moment.

Everyone should be able to roast a chicken. And they should be able to do it well.

Given the current woeful state of backyard grilling, a priority should be assigned to instructing people on the correct way to grill and rest a steak. We have, as a nation, suffered the tyranny of inept steak cookery for far too long. There’s no reason that generation after generation of families should continue to pass along a tradition of massacring perfectly good meat in their kitchens and backyards.

Cooking vegetables to a desired doneness is easy enough and reasonable to expect of any citizen of voting age.

A standard vinaigrette is something that anyone can and should be able to do.

The ability to shop for fresh produce and have at least some sense of what’s in season, to tell whether or not something is ripe or rotten might be acquired at the same time as one’s driving licence.

How to recognise a fish that’s fresh and how to clean and fillet it would seem a no-brainer as a basic survival skill in an ever more uncertain world.

Steaming a lobster or a crab – or a pot of mussels or clams – is something a fairly bright chimp could do without difficulty, so there’s no reason we all can’t.

Every citizen should know how to throw a piece of meat in the oven with the expectation that they might roast it to somewhere in the neighbourhood of desired doneness – and without a thermometer.

One should be able to roast and mash potatoes. And make rice – both steamed and the only slightly more difficult pilaf method.

The fundamentals of braising would serve all who learn them well – as simply learning how to make beef bourguignon opens the door to countless other preparations.

What to do with bones (namely, make stock) and how to make a few soups – as a means of making efficient use of leftovers – is a lesson in frugality many will very possibly to learn at some point in their lives. It would seem wise to learn earlier rather than later.

Everyone should be encouraged at every turn to develop their own modest yet unique repertoire – to find a few dishes they love and practice at preparing them until they are proud of the result. To either respect in this way their own past – or express through cooking their dreams for the future. Every citizen would thus have their own speciality.

I'm not sure Tony's dream of reviving home ec (as a requirement for all high school students, of all genders) would ever be realized given the resource crisis in public schools today.  But otherwise, I'm pretty on board with his agenda.

That said, my knife skills are pretty wonky (I certainly don't know how to sharpen a knife, and you don't even want to know the terror I experience each time I have to pare a fruit), I like my fish pre-cleaned and filleted by the nice guys behind the seafood counter at Whole Foods, and while I'm sure I can steam a lobster, I'm not sure I want to (yes, I know their "screams" aren't really screams, but just the same . . .).

And I'd like to add to his list: everyone should know how to make pasta, al dente; to make a decent pot of tea; and to make one basic dessert, be it a cake, pie, or cobbler.

What do you think of Tony's prescription for good citizenry?   Have you mastered all of the tasks on his list?  And what would you add?

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Care for a cocktail?

Though I'm a bit of a teetotaler, my husband loves nothing more than to entertain our friends with weird alcoholic concoctions.  The guy took one semester's worth of the Harvard bartending course, and he's a master mixologist in his own mind.


Anyway, this means we have dozens of bottles of mixers, hard liquor, and wine in our pantry, stacked up behind the cans of Goya beans and Chef Boyardee.  How chic would it be, though, if we could get our hot little hands on this sweet liquor cabinet:

Marin Bar Cabinet
Isn't she gorgeous?

Apartment Therapy

And so very functional and organized on the inside.

I've been scoping Craigslist.

It will be mine . . .

It will be mine.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Spice-rubbed Beer Can Chicken

The New York Times and I are totally on the same wave length.  Days after I made beer can chicken, it publishes a new recipe for a spice-rubbed, mayonaise-slathered version.

Image Source: NY Times
This is clearly going to be the meal at some point this weekend.  I'll keep you posted.

Image Source: NY Times

Incidentally, those of us still looking for ways to get rid of our summer squash can look to Mark Bittman's grilled vegetable torte recipe.  It looks like a grilled version of the vegetable tian I so love to make in the winter.

Are you trying any exciting new recipes this weekend?

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Friday, July 16, 2010

It's not In 'n Out Burger, but at least it's Good Stuff

My farmhouse bacon cheese burger from Good Stuff Eatery in DC.


It was oh so very tref, and I felt like a very very bad Chew for eating it.  But it was delicious.  Especially paired with rosemary and sea salt fries.

Still, I really wish they'd bring In 'n Out to the East Coast.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Caramel Banana Cake

As you might remember, my niece was born last week.  And in honor of her arrival, I wanted to make something nearly as sweet and delicious as her.

The Kitchn came to the rescue with a caramel banana cake that is just to die for.  The result is a gooey, delectable heaven of a dessert that's as much pudding as cake.  The caramel adds an unexpectedly sophisticated, smoky taste that pairs really well with the fragrance and sweetness of banana.





The Kitchn recipe makes two cakes.  I didn't want to be tooooo indulgent, so I just halved the recipe.  Here's what you need for my halved version:

3/8 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups milk 
3/4 cups mashed bananas
3/4 cups caramel sauce (recipe here)






Heat oven to 325 F. Grease a 9" cake pan.

"Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy then add the eggs and beat until silky and lightened. Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt. Whisk the milk and mashed bananas in a separate measuring cup and add to the eggs and butter, alternating with the flour. Beat just until smooth.

Pour batter into the prepared pans. Pour half the caramel sauce into each pan, and swirl with a knife. Put in the oven carefully and bake for about 60 minutes, or until the center is set and a knife comes out clean."





You're supposed to let the cake cool before serving.  I dare you.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Sweet Baby Jane

Thrilling news: My husband and I are now uncle and aunt to the world's most delightful baby girl (and, yes, that is an objective assessment).




Life couldn't be more perfect.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: "Beer" Can Chicken

Here's the text message convo my husband and I had Friday afternoon:

Me: "I just stuck a can of soda up a chicken's ass and grilled it."
Husband: "Not sure what that means, but whatever turns you on."
You know what turns me on?  A perfectly roasted chicken, crispy on the outside, flavorful and oh-so-very juicy on the inside . . . cooked without my having to turn on the oven.  (Cue the food porn music.)


Pretty sexy, right?  

For years, I've heard rumors of the awesomeness of Steven Raichlen's Beer Can Chicken recipe.  But the prospect of sticking a can up a chicken's hoohoo seemed so rude, or so like a cliche prison movie, that I just couldn't bring myself to make it.

But then we got a grill.  And I ran out of shabbat chicken recipes.  And it got so unbearably hot that I couldn't fathom turning on the oven.

So there was nothing to do but to try the Beer Can Chicken recipe.



Of course, I had two dozen bottles of beer in the house but no cans.  So I made do with a can of aranciata.



The recipe calls for popping the tab on the can and then making an additional 6-7 holes on top of the can.  I didn't want to ruin my knives, so I just used a can opener to remove half the top of the can.


I prepped the chicken with a dry rub -- lots of kosher salt, pepper, paprika, herbs, fennel seeds, cayenne (anything and everything I had on hand) -- then left it in the fridge for a while so that the salt pulled some of the moisture from the skin.  About a half hour before I wanted to start grilling, I took the chicken out of the fridge to let it come to room temperature.

Then it was time for the procedure.  

I apologized to the chicken, lowered it gently on the can, and set up the drumsticks so that they acted as two legs of a tripod.



I preheated the grill, set it up to cook on indirect heat at 350 degrees, and placed the chicken on the grill. I then closed the lid and left it alone.  (I did not go through the extra step of setting up a smoker, as Raichlen suggests.  It was fine; I didn't miss it.)



An hour later, the chicken emerged looking tanned, relaxed, and gorgeous.



And after resting it for 20 minutes, the chicken was ready to be consumed.  Nom nom nom.



I didn't manage to get any photos of the carved chicken, as it was so delicious we pretty much inhaled it immediately.  But the skin was glazed and crispy, the meat was so juicy and flavorful, and I declared it even better than Zuni Chicken.

So this chicken is NSFW, but RFD (really frickin' delicious).  San Pellegrino Can Chicken might be on the menu for next week's shabbat dinner too.

Have you tried beer can chicken?  Was it worthwhile to use the smoker?

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

From Farm to Table 2

The other day I asked for some help in getting rid of my summer squash, and I received so many delicious ideas.  Apparently, I'm not the only one overwhelmed by summer squash, because summer squash is also the focus of Food 52's challenge this week.

Here are a few of the recipes I'm eager to try:

Zuccaghetti

Lemon Basil Roasted Summer Squash with Garlic Crisp

Honey Balsamic Grilled Zucchini with Avocado and Feta

Zucchini and Pecorino Salad with Truffle Oil
For more Food 52 editors' picks, click here.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Blueberry Night, or Google-what-you-have-in-the-refrigerator Pie*

* I had two movies playing in my head last night when I made this pie.  I figured it's my blog, so why do I have to choose which one to allude to in the title?!

I had quite a bit of buttermilk leftover from the scallion biscuits I made last week, and since I have a compulsive need to not waste food, I had to find something to do with the rest of the it.  Also in my refrigerator was half a carton of whipping cream, a bit of ricotta, a container of blue berries from the farm share, and an open container of maple syrup.

So made a maple buttermilk pie.



My thrown-together recipe is an homage to Elise's Fourth of July Buttermilk Pie.  The recipe is hers, with some variations. 

Here's what I used: 4 eggs; 1/2 cup white sugar; 1/4 cup maple syrup; 1 teaspoon lemon zest; 1 tablespoon flour; 1/8 cup of melted butter; 1 cup buttermilk; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1 unbaked pie crust; 2/3 cup whipping cream; 1/4 cup of ricotta; and a carton of blueberries.



Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest until well combined.  Add the flour and melted butter.  Beat in the vanilla, maple syrup, and buttermilk.  (Note: Make sure the butter is really melted, though not hot to the touch; I was lazy and left mine partially creamy, and it made the custard mix weirdly curdled-looking.  It tasted and looked fine at the end, but why take the chance?)

Pour the custard mix into the uncooked pie shell.  (To minimize spillage, you might want to fill the pie shell 3/4 full, then put it in the oven before topping off.)  Bake at 325 for 50 minutes, until the center is set; the custard might still be a bit jiggly, but make sure the center is not jigglier than the sides.  Remove from the oven and cool.  Try to resist licking or touching the custard.



Whip the chilled cream until it holds stiff peaks, then add in the ricotta cheese and a tablespoon of maple syrup.  Once the pie is at room temperature, spread the cream topping over the pie, arrange blueberries in a decorative pattern, and invite people over to ooh and aah over your accomplishment.



You might even allow them to eat some pie.

After all, despite how weird it seems, it's actually quite a good pie.  The custard has a trace of lemon and maple; the buttermilk gives it a bright, fresh note that you might not expect of such a heavy-looking pie.  The ricotta cream topping is a rich counterpoint to the custard, and is a complementary base for the tart blueberries.

What have you been doing with your blueberries this season?

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Flor Sale

Remember our Flor stair makeover?  Those carpet squares are genius.  And now they're on sale.  


15% off all styles during the "private sale" (July 6-23).  Order with code FMQA3W at Flor.com.

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

From Farm to Table

When we joined the Stillman's Farm CSA this season, I had lovely illusions of the glorious, farm-fresh vegetables that I was going to incorporate -- to great success, of course -- in all of my cooking.

But we weren't at all prepared for the reality of getting weekly a mystery box of unlabeled greens, dirt-encrusted beets, and seemingly inexhaustible supply of summer squash.  In fact, when my husband first picked up the box, he declared its contents "nasty" and shoved all of it into the fridge.  Then again, he eats Hot Pockets for breakfast, so he's really not the arbiter of what constitutes gorgeous, fresh produce.

So for the last few weeks, I've been scouring my brain and the internet for ways to use the mystery box veggies to make tasty dishes that even Hot Pocket Man will want to eat.  Here are three preparations I'm currently digging (get it?  digging?  hah!).


CRISPY KALE: At first I was flummoxed by the huge bunches of kale we've been getting in each week's farm share.  But then I discovered the unbelievable deliciousness that is crispy kale, and now I can't get enough of kale.

It's easy to make the kale awesome: Wash the kale and dry it thoroughly (very important -- otherwise it'll steam).  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 or 400.  (The higher the temperature, the closer you'll have to keep an eye on the kale to ensure it doesn't burn.)  Tear off the kale leaves into medium-sized chunks, taking care to remove the tough stem.  Put the leaves on a baking sheet and toss them lightly by hand with good quality olive oil.  You want to have good coverage, but you don't want to make the leaves soggy with too much oil.  Place the baking sheet in the oven for 5-8 minutes, until the leaves start to be crispy.  Then season the leaves with salt, paprika, pepper, garlic powder, etc. (use your imagination!) to taste and put the leaves back into the oven for a few more minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they get crispy without getting burned.  Take leaves out of the oven, try to keep your hands off them while they cool (it's going to be hard because they're so delicious), then put into a bowl and snack to your heart's delight.


ROASTED BEETS: We've been getting stunning golden, red, and chirroga beets.  Scrubbing the dirt off them takes a bit of work, but beyond that all that one needs to do to make them delicious is to chop off the greens, wrap the beets in foil, and roast them in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour.  Once they cool, the skin strips off easily.  All that's left to do is to slice them up, drizzle them with olive oil and a touch of champagne or muscat vinegar, and then top with feta cheese.  Sweet, pretty, and easy!

As for the beet greens, I've been sauteeing them with some Maggi, sesame oil, and shallots.  I'm not sure I love this preparation.  If you have any recommendations for inventive ways to use beet greens, please please please let me know.  I don't like to waste produce, and I hate wasting calories, however few of them, on bad food.


SQUASH: Summer squash is yummy, but the sheer number of zucchinis, yellow squashes, and patty pans we've been getting is turning them into the bane of my existence.  I've been putting them on the grill, chopping them up into salads, and slicing them with my mandoline into thin, noodle-like strips and sauteeing them with a bit of butter or olive oil. 

And still there are more of them in our fridge.

But then I came up with a way to use up a lot of them at the same time: squash soup.  I took five assorted squash, cubed them, and roasted them, along with one head of garlic, until they got a bit of color.  In the meantime, I sauteed in butter one red onion and a handful of aromatics from the garden (dill, tarragon, sage).  Once the onion became translucent, I added the roasted squash and garlic, sauteed all the goodness for a few minutes, then added vegetable broth.

I allowed the medley to simmer for 10-15 minutes and then processed the soup in batches in our blender. I like the soup with a bit of graininess, so that you can still feel the texture of the vegetables.  But if you prefer a smoother mouthfeel, you can put the processed soup through a strainer.  I then added a bit of curry powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper to taste.

I served it with grilled green onions and a spoonful of Greek yogurt.  It was filling, yet refreshing and fresh-tasting.  Hot Pocket Man, who had rejected my previous night's squash noodle creation, loved the soup and practically licked the bowl.

Of course, there are still five more squash in the produce bin, so if you have any additional delicious suggestions for how to use them, please let me know!

Are you part of a CSA?  How have you been using your mystery box ingredients?

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reason #829 my sister cracks me up

If you ever wanted to know what it's like to careen down a Chinese hillside in an out-of-control, never-safety-checked contraption or to enjoy Mr. Cao's camel, you have to check out my sister's hilarious account of her trip to the Great Wall.


Image Source: I Eat Therefore I Am
Yes, she's a hot skinny bitch now.  But I haven't forgotten what she looked like the last time we went to the great wall:


To be fair, I looked like this:


In addition to a surly "I'd rather be listening to Tori Amos on my Walkman" half-smile, I'm rocking a super chic Prada backpack.  And my mom's got some crazy white bug-eyed sunglasses on.  Ah, the early nineties . . . .

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