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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Desert Camping

We escaped to the desert last week--Organ Pipe, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Mojave National Preserve--all National Park Service areas. Long live public lands!

We saw lots of wild flowers and hiked and drove in such beautiful country. We cooked in the camper every night, including meals of salmon patties, buffalo chili, chicken sausage and pasta, and finally a sort of chicken piccata with quinoa.

I sauteed the peppers and onions, browned the chicken, and then made a pilaf with the broth and quinoa. Delicious served with Brussels sprouts.

The last night we camped in our favorite sort of place, out in the wilderness with geology all around.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Deer Sausage and Mushroom Gravy

My friend Dave gave us some venison that his cousin shot and took to a processor. Item #1 was this entertainingly packaged sausage.

It looks like something you would buy from under the table at a flea market, but it is very tasty. It's seasoned like standard American breakfast sausage -- black pepper, sage, salt, red chile flakes -- and is well balanced in a way that highlights the dark, sweet deer flavor.

Item #2, unfortunately -- and Dave warned me about this -- is a packet of square patties with some kind of seasoning added such that they taste very much like fast food chicken sandwiches. They are quite alarming. The meat is too finely ground and the seasonings oddly chemical. They taste nothing like deer. They are nearly inedible.

I put some of the sausage to good use for a recent dinner. I made two sausage patties and browned them and set them aside -- they were probably medium rare at that point, but they cooked a little more in the sauce at the end.

I then used the same pan with a little extra olive oil to saute onions, garlic, shitake mushrooms, and cremini mushrooms. Then I added vermouth or maybe leftover Riesling and scraped up the pan goop left over from the sausage. There was a lot of it -- very effective. I added chicken broth, fresh sage, and thyme, and let the whole thing simmer a bit.

I thickened it slightly with cornstarch, which made for a nice glossy brown sauce.

At the end I added a bunch of parsley and reheated the sausage patties in the sauce. I served it over polenta/grits...I think I called it polenta that night.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Diagnosis: Purple Soup

The strange cooking slump continues. This has never happened to me before for more than a few days: it's like I've lost both confidence and sense. I've made some good food and some crummy food, but I haven't felt right about any of it. It's like being a pitcher or shooting free throws -- something is off, and I don't know what, but the fact that I know it's off reinforces the offness of it.

Too abstract? Here's an exhibit.

I made chicken tortilla soup a few nights ago. Homemade stock, nice roasted chicken, green chiles, tortillas fried in a mixture of peanut oil and schmaltz [I have a newfound academic interest in schmaltz thanks to Melanie] -- good stuff. I had some red cabbage in the fridge that I wanted to use up. "Cabbage would be good in tortilla soup," I thought to myself. But my cooking sense should have followed that up with "Green cabbage, maybe. Red cabbage would turn the soup purple."

But that second voice never spoke, and indeed, the soup was purple.

Tasty, but purple.

Now that I've identified the problem, I think the only way to solve it will be to ignore cooking for a short time -- to keep doing it, but to just stop thinking about it. Again, exactly like shooting free throws.

So last night we had grilled cheese sandwiches with pickles on the side. They were excellent. For lunch today I'm having black beans from a can mixed with cheddar and hot sauce and heated up in the microwave. It hardly counts as cooking. That's the idea.

Meanwhile, in the absence of cooking mojo, there has been more knitting. I made Lawson a kickass scarf. And here is part of a hat.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Calzone II

Here's another calzone, this one much more traditional. The filling was homemade Italian sausage, sauteed onions and garlic, ricotta, mozzarella, and parsley. I added some fresh thyme and dried oregano too, I think.

I have a sinus infection and am not doing much cooking, which is why I'm writing about food from a week or two back and don't remember exactly what I did. Makes for poor food blogging, I know. But the calzones are lovely, aren't they?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sunday Night Supper

"Sunday night supper" connotes comfortable food that doesn't require too much work--or possibly a lighter meal because it follows a gargantuan lunch of roast beast.

Last night our supper menu was Curry-Crusted Scallops, Quinoa Tabulli, and little carrots and snow peas from the garden, followed by black raspberry/chocolate chunk ice cream.

I loved quinoa as a substitute for bulgur in my regular tabulli recipe. This was the first time I tried it. Dad grew the parsley, so this was a big success.

Here's a product endorsement especially relevant to our times: this ice cream, which is a Kroger store brand, cost $1.30 and was just as delicious as any $5 famous stuff.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shepherd's Pie

I bought some nice grass-fed ground lamb on sale the other day. I looked at various spiced lamb meatball recipes and Moroccan lamby stews and such, but in the end I decide to make plain shepherd's pie, the sort of thing you might be served at a pub in England.

For the stew part, I browned the lamb and removed it, pouring off all but a few tablespoons of fat and adding a touch of olive oil for flavor. I browned onions and carrots next, then added some white wine and frozen peas and a mix of chicken broth and water and let the whole thing cook a bit. Oregano, maybe? Thyme? Cinnamon? Lot of black pepper, for sure. Definitely a huge handful of parsley at the end.

I made the mashed potatoes by boiling a few potatoes, semi-peeled, for a good 20 minutes or more until they were soft. I mashed them using a ricer with some butter and a good glug of half and half.

I put the stew in a pretty casserole dish, covered it with potatoes, and baked it for a while at 375 until the potatoes firmed up a little.

On the side we had a simple arugula salad with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a lot of shaved pecorino romano.

I thought the sheepy cheese would complement the sheepy pie, and it did.

I've had sheep on the brain lately because I learned to knit. Here's my second completed project: some fingerless gloves for cold nights at band practice. They're just little rectangles of Noro Kureyon yarn, sewn up above and below the thumb.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pasta Puttanesca

I had a couple of episodes of stomach pain in the last week, which prompted me to look up my symptoms on the internet. All articles advised me to examine my intake of alcohol and caffeine--uh oh.

So I began to follow Dr. Andrew Weil's anti-inflammatory food pyramid, which advises among other things to drink only green tea for caffeine, and up to two glasses of red wine per day. And we are not cooking meat at home, only fish and vegetarian for a while. I hate to admit that I feel practically reborn. I'll try this for a while since it's easy and allows for almost all of the things I like (although I did not see margaritas on that list).

Last night we had collard greens from the garden, and Pasta Puttanesca. I hadn't made that for a while--so easy and full of flavor. This is revised from Joy of Cooking. I used brown rice pasta.

Pasta Puttanesca

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes

Saute the garlic and chile in the olive oil until lightly colored. Add:

1/2 to 1 cup chopped pitted olives (Kalamata or oil-cured)
6 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Cook another minute. Then stir in:

1 one-pound can crushed tomatoes

Simmer for five minutes. Finish with:

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons capers
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss with cooked pasta.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bosnian Food in Tucson

I was away all day at rehearsals Saturday, so Dad--who understands that procuring the perfect take-out meal is an art--went to the new Bosnian restaurant nearby and brought home the most wonderful homemade meal. Our menu: Bosnian Salad Plate (like antipasto, but fresher) accompanied by homemade bread that was unsalted, a nice contrast; a vegetable stew with potato dumplings (not heavy, though--and the stew sauce was vaguely vinegary); a lamb stew with large limas (gigantes, they're called in some cuisines); and a dessert of dried fruit confection rolled into balls. A cabbage salad accompanied everything--it seemed to have been wilted or blanched and was so mild and tender.

We'll be going back there often.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lemon Meringue Pie

Sorry about the hiatus here. Other things got in the way of cooking and picture-taking.

Here's a lemon meringue pie I made before the break. I always make one for Christmas, and we usually leave it with Lawson's brother, who is a big fan. This year we felt like we needed a little more lemon meringue pie in our lives, so I made one for us to brighten up the late February gloom.

I use the 1997 Joy of Cooking recipe exactly as written (so I won't reproduce it here), and it's perfect every time. My favorite thing about it is that the yolks go in the filling and the whites in the meringue, so I don't have to figure out what to do with leftover egg components.

The second photo is very instructive in terms of the contents of my kitchen. Clockwise from top left we have: a kitchen scale, some Abuelita brand Mexican hot chocolate, a jar of homemade Tabasco sauce, a roll of yellow duct tape, a homemade shelf built from plywood and glue with the aid of the 1970s book Furniture Without Tools, which houses my collection of David Wade cookbooks and leaflets (possibly the world's most extensive private collection of Wadiana -- much larger than that of the Library of Congress), a bread machine, a wire rack with a pie on it, the edge of the dog's wet food bowl, a tin of anchovies, the lid of a small, yard-sale-sourced Coleman cooler (generally used for transporting beer to private social events), 4 lemons picked off the Moore family Lisbon lemon tree in Tucson, a dish towel, a box with a Paypal address label, and an iron.

I did not put these things on my kitchen table. Things just end up there.