A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Carnitas, and the Evils of Too Much Entertaining

We have been cooking up a storm around here. There were people we wanted to see after our long trip, so we started inviting them for dinner.
We had a nice menu on Saturday:

Homemade salsa
Flour or spelt tortillas
Spinach Salad with Apples, Pecans, and Blue Cheese
Fresh Pineapple
Ice Cream

That cake was great, by the way. I spread the calories around the neighborhood, giving away several pieces. I used 2/3 cup each of whole spelt flour, plain white flour, and Bob's Red Mill Baking Mix. It dried out a bit the next day, but ice cream helped with that.

For general information, I make guacamole in the food processor, using 1 clove garlic, 4 fresh roasted green chiles (or a can), 2 green onions, 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, 2 avocados, seasoned with juice of a lime and salt. All to taste.

Then Dad requested carnitas for Sunday dinner with Grandma. I've had good versions in restaurants, but my favorite Mexican cookbooks basically directed me to boil pork chunks in lard until tender and brown. Not really my style. I ended up with an internet recipe which simmered the pork until tender, then browned it for a half hour in the oven. Not too bad--perhaps a little more fat was called for, but good.

Oh yeah, the evils of entertaining: it makes you fat. I tend to make lots of food and show off, and enjoy myself and eat dessert, etc.

Bread Now Lost to the World

This is the best sourdough bread I've ever made. During the week of the local food challenge I started a recipeless sourdough starter using Anson Mills flour. It was funky and foul for several days, stinking up the whole kitchen, but by the end of the seventh day it was bubbly and sweet and made an exceptional loaf of bread.

Unfortunately, it will only ever make one loaf of bread, as I forgot to save any starter when I made the final dough. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I'll make another starter soon, I guess. I probably wouldn't have been able to keep this one going strong, anyway, since I'm not a daily or even a weekly baker.

In other baking news, for this week's Free Times I wrote about that glorious microwave chocolate cake recipe that made the rounds of the internet a few weeks ago. So fun! I love microwave chocolate cake.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mountain Macaroni

Unlike the last time we went to the mountains, we brought food this weekend and cooked it.

It was a fairly eventful trip: our friends Ken and Melanie and their baby came. When we got up to the house Friday night the power had been off for several days, long enough for all the food in the freezers and fridges to spoil and for various horrendous goos and oozes to leak out all over the kitchen floor. We started up the generator, and the power company restored the power a few short hours after Lawson called them, and we avoided opening the fridge all night. The next day Mel and I cleaned it out, which involved throwing out a lot of economy sized tubs of mayonnaise and frozen shrimp and rancid orange juice concentrate. Also some odoriferous baby back ribs. Yuck.

Otherwise we were fine: we hiked, we drank, we pulled ticks off the dog.

Lawson smoked some ribs. They were salty and delicious. I steamed some okra. Lawson made a salad of Vidalia onions, red bell pepper, cucumbers, lemon, olive oil, and blue cheese.

And I made Southern macaroni and cheese, the baked kind.

I've had plenty of variations, eaten it at potlucks and holidays and barbecue joints, but I never knew much about it. Melanie explained to me that there are a few major schools of mac and cheese preference: the egg school and the creamy school. Lawson's family is the former, as is Ken's. Mel's family is split, with Mel in the creamy camp. I tend to like creamier kinds, I guess, especially because prior to moving down here I considered "macaroni and cheese" a synonym for "Kraft dinner." But I understand the appeal of egg.

I've made lame mac and cheeses in the past by following various recipes, so this time I decided not to use one, and I was very happy. I made a pretty good hybrid of the two styles unintentionally. I'm almost embarrassed to write it down, Mom...it is calorific redneck hiking food, that's for sure.

Mountain Macaroni

Cook about 12 oz. macaroni until not quite al dente.

Meanwhile, saute in olive oil until soft:
- one small fresh onion, diced
- one small fresh red chile or bell pepper (I used a mild Anaheim), diced

Remove to a bowl. Mix in:
- 1 cup half and half
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- several T mayonnaise
- salt and pepper to taste
- 12 oz (1.5 smallish blocks) sharp cheddar, cut into cubes

Mix all together with the pasta; pour into big casserole dish; bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Making Menus

I love making menus. I feel so happy when the balance is just right, using ingredients I have on hand—menu-making is not a success if I have to run to the store. Yet I don’t care to do too much meal-planning in advance, preferring to await inspiration as I get hungry or the important guest meal approaches.

I have a friend who wanted a menu cookbook, because she could never decide what to serve with anything. Wow. I like menu suggestions, they’re fun, but of course I always change them.

Katherine told me about an extended-family backyard picnic she served a few weeks ago. This seemed just perfect for that kind of summer occasion:

Pulled pork
Ciabatta rolls
Green chili macaroni and cheese
Baked beans
Pea and peanut cole slaw
Cucumbers and onions in sour cream dressing
Brownies and a heaping bowl of fresh, cleaned strawberries

I was pleased with last night’s dinner menu:

Cold Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce
White Bean Salad
Cucumbers in Vinegar
Blueberry Tart

White Bean Salad
1/2 pound dried white beans (or canned cannelini beans)
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves

Soak beans in water to cover overnight. Drain and rinse. Add fresh water and cook beans with bay leaves until tender. Drain; discard bay leaves; salt to taste.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
1 white onion, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, chopped

Heat olive oil in large skillet and sauté onions and garlic until brown and very tender, about 30 minutes.

4 plum tomatoes, cubed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Gently combine beans and onion mixture with tomatoes, lemon juice, and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Halibut and Spinach

I am trying to include a photo of where we were eating these dishes. This day we hiked to a spectacular waterfall in British Columbia, then ate a meal of fresh halibut accompanied by spinach and rice. I love having both English and French on Canadian products.

Food was SO expensive in Canada and Alaska, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. In Anchorage I paid $2 apiece for Gala apples. Russell gets a CSA box and it is so important there. You talked about sharing a CSA box with a friend--are you doing that?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hash in the Yukon Territory

My mother made hamburger hash: hamburger, onion, and cold cooked potatoes fried together and served with ketchup. Yum.

I've made all kinds of hash since then, but we really liked this one--chicken hash with garlic, red onion, parsnips, and potatoes. With ketchup. I served it with a spinach salad and Rainier cherries.
We ate this at Kluane Lake in the Yukon, where you have camped with us.

On the Road Again

We just returned from driving to Alaska and back--10,000 miles and a morally reprehensible amount of gas--but we get good mileage in more ways than one!

Here is a typical camper meal of sausage pasta sauce served over fried polenta slices with Brussels sprouts on the side. We were staying at Big Lagoon County Park in California (because the California state parks don't allow dogs on their trails).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

The ex-girlfriend of an old friend of mine used to make chocolate zucchini cakes a lot. She would sit in front of the oven on a stool watching them bake through the oven door.

I don't have her recipe. But Clotilde's version is about perfect with just one addition: 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon sifted in with the dry ingredients. I used a springform pan.

I made one a few weeks ago when I found a giant zucchini hidden under a leaf in the garden. Lawson ate the entire cake within about three days and politely requested I make another one immediately. Unfortunately, that was the week the local food challenge started...and because there is no local cacao source, I didn't make another one until late last week. It's almost gone, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Carolina Food Only Wrap-Up and More

Whoops! I guess the daily posting last week was too much for my delicate little constitution to handle and I had to take an entire week off to recover.

The last day of the Eat Carolina Local Food Challenge consisted of leftovers and beer and thus wasn't much to write about. I made it almost the entire way, but with only two hours to go in the seven-day challenge I ran out of local beer at band practice and drank one of the drummer's Coronas.

We had local steaks the day after the challenge ended, and last night I went to a wine dinner that featured a good bit of South Carolina food. So I've kept it up in some ways. I'm back on the imported olive oil, though, and non-local half-and-half in my coffee.

"It just kind of reeks of asceticism," Lawson said halfway through the week. He'd admitted he had no idea why I was doing this and thought it was silly to deprive myself of non-local things just because they weren't local. "Can't you just make a note when you can't find something around here, but then go ahead and eat it? Like, okay, there's no local olive oil: duly noted. Now have some imported olive oil."

But it was about more than the deprivation. We tried a number of things, like the Eubanks Farm New York strip steaks and the local goat cheese, that I wouldn't have sought out otherwise. I ate tons of amazing fruit. And it was instructive to see what we would be eating if a) gas prices got so high that the price of food from outside the region became prohibitive (not likely, I know), or b) we lived here before the era of mass transit, or c) we farmed and ate only our own products.

Anyway, I'm off to drink a Bass and make some homemade nachos. The cheese, at least, will be local, and the tomatoes and chiles. And the peaches for dessert.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 6: Carolina Food Only

Check out these heirloom tomatoes I bought at Rosewood Market. The light ones are Eva Pink Balls, and the dark ones are Japanese Black Trifeles. Crazy evil meaty mushroomy flavors from the dark ones, and excellent acidic balance from the pinks.

Yesterday I bought a bag of fresh onions from Ben Dubard, ending my painful five-day onion-free streak. Whew. It allowed me to make shrimp and grits using some local shrimp purchased from the shrimp guy at the All-Local Farmer's Market. I'm glad I've stuck with that guy: he gets ever better at keeping his shrimp fresh. These tasted like they'd been caught only hours before: perfect clean flavor.

Today's the last day of the challenge, and while I have some Grand Observations knocking around in my head, they're not quite ready to come out. Tomorrow, I promise, I will wax...well, not philosophical, but maybe a little think-y.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 5: Carolina Food Only

Yesterday again things got easier. It was the first day I didn't feel deprived -- I just cooked and ate some tasty food. The only thing I missed was fish sauce for the Thai stewed chicken. I guess in theory a person could make her own fish sauce -- just set some fish and salt in a bucket in the hot Carolina sun for a few weeks and then strain out the juices, right? Unfortunately I failed to plan ahead. Also we might have been forced out of the neighborhood.

For dinner we had a sort of spicy Thai stewed chicken dish over rice. It contained:
  • Chicken thighs - Oaklyn Plantation
  • Green eggplant - garden
  • Roma and cherry tomatoes - garden
  • Thai basil - garden
  • Parsley - garden
  • Garlic chives - garden
  • Poblano and Thai chiles - garden
I served it over Carolina Gold Rice cooked to be a little sticky. Supposedly Carolina Gold Rice is chameleon-like and can take on a variety of rice textures. This was convincingly Asian in texture, and the fragrance was nutty in the way jasmines and basmatis are.

Aaaaand check it out: I made South Carolina ice cream. The texture was imperfect -- a little icy -- but still delicious. I used South Carolina peaches, Colonial Plantation honey, Happy Cow creamery milk, and Wil-Moore eggs. Honey-peach ice cream.

On my pal Jason's recommendation I bought some Highland Gaelic Ale from Asheville. It's great. I also drank a few Hunter Gatherer pale ales.

Lunch was simple: cheesy scrambled eggs with chives, a leftover biscuit with homemade fig preserves (we picked the figs in Forest Acres last year), and a peach.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 4: Carolina Food Only

I'm settled in now after a few days of tumult. Tonight we ate:
  • Biscuits made from Adluh Self-Rising Flour, Caw Caw Creek bacon drippings, and Happy Cow Creamery milk
  • Pink eyed peas, already hulled, from Rosewood Market. I cooked them with a little bacon fat, a garden okra pod, and water, with a piece of bacon crumbled on top at the end.
  • A caprese salad of garden tomatoes, garden basil, and Happy Cow Creamery mozzarella
Lawson thought the biscuits tasted too bacony, but I thought they were fine -- I've not eaten a lot of biscuits in my life, so I don't really have a standard. I'll eat one tomorrow with fig preserves and decide whether the bacon interferes with that treatment.

Last night we drank a bottle of Biltmore Estate red table wine, which was actually really decent. At $11, however, it was way out of my wine price range. You know those lists of The Best Wines Under $25? Yeah. I have a personal cap of $8, with occasional forays up to $10 if I balance those out with enough $4 bottles. Do I appreciate fancier wines? Yes. Are some of those $7 wines really good? Yes. $25 my foot. But anyway, yes, North Carolina wine was pretty tasty.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 3: Carolina Food Only

Here's where everyone else is posting about their week of local food.

Today I was significantly less lame than earlier in the week. I worked at home, so I was able to make a decent lunch:
  • Slices of goat cheese rolled in Adluh cornmeal and fried in some bacon drippings
  • Chopped garden cucumbers and tomatoes with salt and dill seeds. I remembered early this morning that the dill seeds in the pantry were harvested from the garden a few years back.
Tonight's meal was a shrimp purloo. The local shrimp I bought at Publix were a bit past not very good, but we decided to eat them anyway -- I just didn't use the shells for stock, and I rinsed the shrimp and boiled them quickly before sautéing them. It seemed to kill off the yuck. I'm cavalier about bacteria and food safety, and I'm sure someday it'll bite me, but I hate the idea of throwing away food that someone carefully caught or harvested.

I used summer squash, okra, bell peppers, and a Big Jim chile from the garden -- a little unorthodox for a purloo, but both local and historically Southern. I used Carolina Gold Rice, too, and Caw Caw Creek bacon. And I used a bottle of Thomas Creek Multi Grain Ale, and some garden thyme, parsley, and chives.

Since I haven't been able to find local onions, the purloo was missing that all-important oniony flavor structure. In a rich, savory dish, it's almost like the other flavors hang on the onion -- it kind of stretches everything out and makes it more available for tasting. I'd thought about that before, but tonight it was dramatic. The chives did nothing -- added at the end, they made the dish oniony but didn't add anything more the way real onions would have.

Black pepper would also have been good. And vermouth. But it was fine.

Anyway, those tortillas I so optimistically mentioned last night? They were very much like tasty, crispy chapatti. Because they lacked baking soda or baking powder, they were not soft or pliable.

So today I was finishing up a call to the Adluh Flour company for a totally unrelated reason (Free Times cover story -- watch for it) and nearly slapped my forehead: Adluh Self-Rising Flour. Carolina-grown wheat milled in Columbia fits the challenge guidelines just fine, so those extra ingredients in there can sneak right by the censors. I found it at Bi-Lo, the third grocery store I visited. Honey-sweetened blueberry cobbler, here I come.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day 2: Carolina Food Only

Today I got HUNGRY. Again I took a South Carolina peach and a big container of cornmeal mush (made with Anson Mills blue grits) to work, and though the peach was lovely, the two-day-old mush wasn't so good. Without any fat to make it keep longer, it tasted both bland and overripe. Things that aren't fruit shouldn't taste overripe.

Some emails from this afternoon:
Me: Do you think Taco Bell uses local products? Grass-fed Carolina beef? Piedmont beans? I'm huuuuuuungry.

Lawson: Sorry, baby. When you get home you may have some crusty salt and whole milk.*

Me: Mmmm! Maybe I'll float an egg in it. And a tomato chewed by a local rat.**

* That Celtic Sea Salt I bought is in huge, crunchy crystals. I keep meaning to crush some up in the mortar and pestle.

** Rats have been putting big old ratty teethmarks in our garden tomatoes by night. Grrr.

So I drank a lot of water, and when I got home I fried a few pieces of Caw Caw Creek bacon to fix me up. After that I was fine. But still I feel unprepared for the rest of this week and somehow deprived, even though the only things I really miss so far are vinegar, lemons, chile powder, and olive oil. I guess that's a lot of things.

Dinner tonight is burritos:
  • tortillas made from Anson Mills biscuit flour (not ideal gluten content, but all I had), grease from Caw Caw Creek bacon, and water
  • sausage from Caw Caw Creek
  • eggs, scrambled, from Wil-Moore Farms
  • salsa made from tomatoes, poblano chiles, and parsley, all from the garden
It's funny, this experiment. I was just telling Lawson that I don't have any food restrictions -- not a vegetarian anymore, no major financial limitations (several years out of school), not afraid of any particular cooking method or ingredient -- so it's interesting to have some again. It's good to think about food differently for a while.

I found a good South Carolina beer: RJ Rockers Pale Ale.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day 1: Carolina Food Only

The Eat Carolina Local Food Challenge crept right up on me: starting today, for one week, I've agreed to eat only products grown and/or processed in North and South Carolina.

So I'm going to post my daily updates here.

I went to Rosewood Market yesterday and found myself in the odd position of worrying how I would get enough fat this week. I'd intended to buy some local butter, but the Happy Cow Creamery's butter only comes in giant quantities, like five pounds or something. I probably should have sprung for it and made a few cakes later this summer, but it just seemed excessive. Funny, considering I had no problem buying the gallon jug of olive oil from World Market a few months back.

On a semi-related note, here is my dog inspecting a large garden zucchini.

Anyway, here's what I ate today:
  • coffee - Sumatra Mandheling, roasted in our backyard
  • whole milk - Happy Cow Creamery, Pelzer, SC
  • peach - SC grown, from Rosewood Market
  • cornmeal mush made with Anson Mills blue grits, City of Columbia tap water, and Celtic Sea Salt
  • French rolled omelet with eggs from Wil-Moore Farms, goat cheese from Split Creek Farm, and basil from our garden
  • Tomatoes from our garden
  • Cucumbers from our garden
  • Beer - Thomas Creek Pilsner and Multi Grain Ale -- the former of which is TOTALLY FOUL. Seriously, do not drink the Thomas Creek Pilsner.
For the omelets, which need just a tiny smear of cooking fat, I ended up rendering a little 1/2" square piece of Caw Caw Creek bacon -- we got a deal and bought far too much of it a few months back, so I guess I'm all set for fat for the week after all.

Tomorrow's dinner will involve ground pork. First I have to get through lunch, though. I'm dreaming about the leftover cornmeal mush fried in bacon grease, with cherry tomatoes cut up on top. Maybe some chives scattered over the whole business.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hot Dogs

Here are some of the hot dogs I ate this week. I did not photograph the one I ate yesterday at Jason and Laura's fun party.

Okay, the hot dog thing got a little out of control. But through all this experimentation I've determined that in the future I will leave ketchup off my hot dogs. Lots of mustard, plus whatever else is around, seems to complement the hot doggy flavors best -- ketchup doesn't belong there.

White Acre Peas

Lately I've been learning more about Southern peas, which are beans, and include things like black-eyes peas, crowder peas, field peas, and these white acre peas. I think. I'm having a hard time sorting out the taxonomies and the regional variations and figuring out what's going on from my halfhearted internet research. This might need to become a real, carefully researched article.

Anyway, all these pea-beans have been amazing so far. This batch I cooked with just a little bacon, a few garden okra, and some water. I rendered the bacon, added the water and peas and okra, and gave it about 25 minutes at a half-covered simmer. We had it with grits and tomatoes.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Plain, Simple Clams

Local clams from the shrimp guy at the All-Local Farmers Market again. This time I sauteed some garlic and a dried Thai chile, then added vermouth and water, turned the heat up to high, added the clams, covered the skillet, and pushed down tight for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan every 30 seconds or so.

On the side we had orzo with parsley and butter, plus some garden tomatoes and eggplant.