mad grilling skillz: a love story

What do you want for dinner, he says.

And I says:

, I says, but I’d be happy with

or

.

Well, says he, then I can do:

And I says, that’s ok, sweetie, I says, whatever is easiest. I just don’t want:

!

But he was already, like,

and

so I’m all, ok then, would you mind

?  And he says ok.  And then

ensued, and we lived happily ever after.  The End.

blogger craves tunafish, details at 11

On Sunday, it was hot and we were moping around the house, looking for entertainment.  When that failed, we turned to food.  I didn’t feel like cooking, and I especially didn’t feel like eating the salad greens, carrots or radishes populating the crisper.  And we didn’t want to go out, either.  So I did what any reasonable foodie would do: turned over her kitchen to the creative wiles of her husband.

Retrogrouch loves sandwiches.  I couldn’t care less about sandwiches.  Undaunted, he opened a can of tuna, drained off the juice carefully.

“Give this to deserving individuals,” he pronounced solemnly.  “Of your choosing.”

One deserving individual happened to be begging at my feet.  I put the bowl o’ juice on the floor.

He dumped the tuna in my food processor.  A healthy scoop of the dill relish I had made that morning joined the party.  A few fat blurbs of mayonnaise invited themselves, too.

I looked pained.  “You’re going to blend that?  How about some green onions,” I asked, “or some herbs or vinegar or tomatoes?”

Retrogrouch brushed off my anxieties.  “Nope,” he said, and hit pulse.

A few seconds later, we had a creamy, dilly tuna spread that we slathered liberally on toasted wheat bread.  I don’t really like sliced wheat bread, either.  But it was so damn good I am drooling over it and I want his tunafish for breakfast now and for every meal for the rest of my life.  So I’m going to make an effort to do sandwiches for dinner more often, or better yet, make him do them!  Yay!

with this food i thee wed

Just returned from a sorely needed mini-vacation to the San Francisco Bay Area.  Retrogrouch was at a conference in Canada, so we had to celebrate our tenth anniversary when we returned.  And what better way to do it than by sharing a meal with friends?  Ah yes, sharing the meal we had catered for our wedding ten years ago, with the same wine.

La Méditerranée in Berkeley is still going strong, serving the same pomegranate chicken, fruited garbanzo pilaf, Middle Eastern dips and salads, dolmas and chicken filo fingers it did in 1998.  The 2006 Husch Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley was no 1995, alas, but it was still good enough to remind us of how delicious life can be together.

I decided to pick up the food when I was driving down College Avenue, and saw the restaurant.  Packed in airtight plastic containers, layered with icepacks, and carefully ensconced in the cooler I’ve started taking along with me everywhere I go in the car, it was just fine on the journey back home.  The restaurant didn’t bake the filo, so I just popped it in the oven to crisp up the top, and microwaved the other items that needed heat, and we were good to go.  May the next ten years be as easy as that.

a post formerly known as “look at the size of that artichoke!”

Spring has sprung! Huge artichokes at Market of Choice this week, yo. I wanted to tell you all about them, then mention my new favorite dry Riesling by using the bottle to show off the size of the artichoke. Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 2006 Dry Riesling, judged my favorite after obsessively trying all the rieslings in town that fell into the $10-and-under category, is currently on sale at an astonishingly low price of 7 bucks at Albertson’s on 18th. The 2007 just won a top award at the Riverside International Wine Competition in Riverside, CA, just a stone’s throw away from The OC.

As I’m carefully setting up the shot, Retrogrouch comes home and decides he wanted to show his favorite springtime treats, too. Soon enough, we have a veritable photo essay.

So: look at the size of that artichoke!

Why am I the only food blogger who has to put up with this malarky?

while the cat’s away, the mouse will eat garlic chicken

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When I eat garlic, it lingers on my breath for days. For some reason, I am extra sensitive to its effects. It oozes out of my pores. I leave a faint (or not so faint) whiff of garlic as I breeze through a room. Because this is unpleasant to my close associates (read: my husband), I am forbidden to indulge in some of my favorite binge eating. Do other people do this, too? I wonder what the taboo foodstuffs are in other relationships.

Sometimes, I dream of being single again. When I lived alone, I used to roast a head of garlic or two and spread the creamy, carmelized cloves on hunks of baguette. Now I just save these gloriously gluttonous moments for when Retrogrouch goes away for several days. I’m very responsible about it, too. I plan for mid-week, so I’ll have a couple of days to clear the stuff out of my system.

This week, I decided to binge like a mofo. I started planning for a Thai garlic pepper chickenfest. I haven’t had much chicken since I taught the food politics class in the fall. The articles we read, and the papers my students wrote, really made me re-evaluate eating cheap chicken. But suddenly, I wanted good chicken, and I wanted it with garlic, and I wanted it NOW.

One of the miracles of Thai food is garlic pepper squid — squid flash-fried with white pepper and a bit of coating, then mounded over lettuce leaves with a huge pile of fried, chopped garlic. A friend took classes with the celebrated Bay Area Thai cookbook author and teacher, Kasma Loha-Unchit, and then he practiced on us. My eyes nearly rolled back in my head when he introduced us to this dish.

I soon discovered you can make this with any seafood or meat, but chicken is particularly good. I think tofu would work as well, but since it takes a longer time to fry up golden than meats, be sure that the pieces are small. And by all means, check ahead to confirm that your dining companions and loved ones are ok with garlic eau-de-cologne.

And sorry, sweetie, I know you’re in England, where the food is not exactly jolly good, and I know you love this dish, too, but believe me, I’m doing it for our relationship.

Love,

me

Thai Garlic Pepper Fried Chicken

(adapted from Kasma Loha-Unchit’s recipe in It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions, and the Joys of Thai Cooking)

4 chicken half-breasts (i.e., one small package)

2 heads as-fresh-as-possible garlic, chopped

2 t. ground white pepper, or more to taste

2 T. fish sauce

2 t. cornstarch

3 T. white flour

vegetable oil for frying

Slice chicken breasts into thin strips. Chop all the garlic by hand into small pieces. Smashing the cloves with the back of a cleaver first will help make this process easier. Add to bowl with chicken. Add rest of ingredients to bowl, and mix thoroughly, being sure that each piece of chicken is coated well. The chicken and garlic will look dry. If it looks wet, add a bit more flour.

Fry chicken in several batches to avoid over-crowding in a wok with about a cup or two of vegetable oil. Watch carefully, since the garlic can burn. When chicken and garlic are golden brown, remove to dish with paper towels, then transfer to platter lined with lettuce leaves. Between batches, be sure to remove ALL stray garlic pieces with a fine strainer so they don’t burn in the oil. The oil can be cooled, strained and reused in stirfries, since it will pick up a nice garlicky odor.

Serve with other, more reasonable dishes with vegetables and jasmine rice. Or, if you’re completely alone and without hope for future alliances, half the recipe and serve with kimchi radish pickles and rice. I like to wrap up the chicken pieces in the lettuce with bits of garlic. Heaven.

Serves 2-3, if you can restrain yourselves.

and he cleans, too!

dscf6597.jpgMy husband is better than your husband. Sometimes he goes on cleaning jags, zipping around at lightening speed, totally focused and totally thorough. Yesterday, he decided it was time to clean the kitchen floor (and he had a point). He swept, vacuumed, mopped, scrubbed and swabbed the corners with a rag on his hands and knees. No, I don’t get it either. But I’m sure glad he’s around.

This isn’t going to be a food blog that goes on and on about how wonderful my partner is — there are enough of those already and I have to admit I find them kind of annoying. But dang. That man can sparklify. And someone needs to know about it.

Homes, said I, can we make this a weekly gig?

Not on your life, he replied, now get to the grocery store while the gettin’s good.

eating down the freezer

In our effort to eat more locally and sustainably and healthily, my husband and I have decided to buy better meat and less of it. We started eating down our freezer, getting rid of the cheap cuts of meat and other processed frozen stuff. I have been freezing soups and chicken stock and baked goods and fresh fruits and veggies for years now, and about half of the small freezer (alas, we don’t have a chest freezer) is devoted to homemade stuff, but there’s also too much crap in there. He loves the fake meat vegan products, so we have (literally) a dozen nibbled packages of fake bacon, fake sausage, fake dscf6163.jpgIndian burgers, fake Mexican burgers, fake chicken strips, fake breakfast patties, etc., etc. I’d really like it if these things went away, too, but we’ll have to make some compromises.

My freezer is also the story of the year. I have little containers of berry puree tucked in here and there from my liqueur and jam-making. I managed to get one precious quart of the terribly sparse sour cherry crop last year, and made brandied cherries and cherry bounce (cherries in vodka) last June, and still have enough for Hungarian sour cherry soup come spring. I also have frozen sweet corn to finish up from August, and my melange of roasted late summer veggies — cherry tomatoes, garlic, red peppers and red onions — to use as a pasta sauce or on flatbreads. There are pesto cubes, too, pretty little things that can be dropped into soup. And soupbones and packages of fried ground pork to add to braised Japanese pumpkin and hot tofu dishes. I have frozen streusel topping and cookie dough and still quite a few tamales leftover from my annual New Year tamale project.

In short, we’ve got a few months’ good eats ahead, at least, before everything begins again with my garden and the wonderful local products we get all spring and summer long at the Saturday Market.

how to cut an orange for a sick man

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I learned this trick in Japan.  Try Cara Cara navel oranges, if you can find them. They’re the best orange I’ve had in a long time. They sell them in Eugene at the Market of Choice on 29th.  Cut an orange in half, but cut through the stem ends, i.e., perpendicular to the way you usually cut through the middle of an orange. Then, segment the orange by cutting each half into four pieces. For each piece, trim off the white pith, then run the knife between the fruit and the peel. Only cut 2/3 to 3/4 of the way along the peel, so a part of the orange is still attached to the peel. The bedridden recipient of your gift of orangey goodness will be able to hold the orange by the peel and free the last bit easily. Serve with a warm, damp paper towel to protect your sheets.

savory coeur à la crèmes: appetizers for valentine’s day

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These recipes for Bresaola Coeur à la Crème and Lox Coeur à la Crème were inspired by my disaffected husband. On Valentine’s Day, I usually make the French dessert coeur à la crème, a sweetened, cream-cheese-based concoction that is molded, chilled, and served with fresh berries. It’s pretty, fresh, creamy, light…and fattening as hell. Coeur is French for “heart,” so it always seemed appropriate.

Because I had been using the recipe for years, and it seems that there weren’t too many innovations on the Web, I decided to experiment with flavors this year (I’ll post the outtakes, for your amusement, tomorrow). Gamely, my beloved spooned away at the new flavors (well, except for one). Finally, he confessed that he has never been that fond of sweetened cream cheese.

This, my friends, is marriage.

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So I set about making a coeur à la crème that he might like, my Valentine. One of his favorite breakfasts is nova lox and cream cheese on a salt bagel. It occurred to me that the base of the coeurs could be easily shifted to a savory, better-than-cream cheese foundation for all kinds of spreads that could be shaped into molds and chilled. And what better recipe than a smoked salmon, caper, lemon spread for Valentine’s brunch or as a canapé? Aha, maybe a variation on the good old-fashioned chipped beef dip, a holiday specialty of my stepfather, but fancied up with a bit of the Italian dried beef called bresaola and shallots? Even better, what about both! My husband liked his small sample of these spreads so much I was worried he’d sneak into the refrigerator in the middle of the night and break my heart(s).

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The coeurs are traditionally molded in a special heart-shaped mold with holes on the bottom to allow liquid to drain out as it sets up overnight. Two sizes are available in the US, one a bit over 7-in. and the other 4-in., both of which are available year-round at select stores on the Web, and around Valentine’s Day at local kitchen stores and Sur La Table. You’ll want two of the 4-in. molds for each of the recipes below. You mix up the filling, lay down cheesecloth in the mold, and let it sit overnight on a plate to catch the small bit of liquid that will seep out. Alternatively, you can use a small mesh colander or strainer propped over a bowl, then form a heart shape with your knife and spatula.

Bresaola Coeur à la Crème

You will also need two 4-inch (small) coeur à la crème molds and two squares of dampened cheesecloth to line the molds with plenty of overhang.

(A) Base:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened*

1/2 c. sour cream or crème fraîche

1/4 c. whipping cream

(B) Add-ins:

1/2 c. bresaola, finely chopped, or jar of chipped beef, finely chopped**

5-6 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 T. horseradish

2 T. finely chopped shallots

2 T. chopped parsley

freshly ground pepper, to taste

With a hand blender, blend together ingredients in (A) until smooth and creamy. Be sure to get out all cream cheese lumps (softening the cream cheese first is key here). Fold in the rest of the ingredients with a soft spatula. Scoop out the mixture and place it in the cheesecloth lined molds. Do not skip the cheesecloth, as it will help you unmold the coeurs. Place molds on a plate and tap plate on counter gently to settle mixture. Fold the extra cheesecloth on top of the molds, then refrigerate overnight. Unmold and garnish with chives, parsley and/or black pepper, and serve with any cracker.

* A local company, Nancy’s, makes a good, non-stabilized cream cheese with active cultures. It is slightly sweeter than Kraft, though, and I’m not sure why since it doesn’t contain extra sugar. Sweeter cows, maybe? ;)

** Available at deli counters of upscale markets. Buy about 1/4 lb. and have them slice it very thinly, then roll, cut in thin ribbons, and chop ribbons with a thin, sharp blade. Keep bresaola refrigerated both before and after chopping while you prepare the other ingredients. You may substitute (as in my family’s recipe) chipped beef, the air-dried beef sold by companies like Armour and sold by the jar near the tunafish in supermarkets. The chipped beef will be less salty and the flavor milder than the bresaola.

Lox Coeur à la Crème

Prepare as above, using (A) for the base and substituting (B) with:

(B) Add-ins:

1/2 c. chopped nova lox or cold-smoked salmon***

2 t. lemon juice

zest from 1/2 lemon, chopped finely

1 t. horseradish

1 T. grated red onion (or shallots)

1 T chopped chives (or green onions)

4-5 dashes tabasco sauce

1 T. capers

Follow procedures as above. For garnish, you can use 1 T. of seeded, juiced tomato, 1 t. chopped red onion, and 1 t. capers. Serve with baguette slices or water crackers like Carr’s.

*** You could use the thicker hot-smoked salmon for a smokier flavor and chunkier texture, but I like the way this spread becomes a silky, creamy version of lox-and-cream-cheese.

Edited to add: I submitted this recipe to my first food blog contest! If you have a heart-shaped or otherwise hearty treat for Valentine’s Day, please consider submitting it here by February 15, 2008. If you need inspiration, check out the recipe roundup with all the entries.