Monday, December 22, 2008
Roast pork shoulder: If you read my cheapskate's guide to the holidays, you'll know already why I picked this. $10, fed seven easily, we ate leftovers for dinner yesterday, and I suspect there's more lurking in the fridge. I marinated the roast in Sam Adams, dark brown sugar and kosher salt for two days, then cooked at 325 for four hours, turning twice and basting three or four times with marinade. About half an hour before I took the roast out, I brushed it with mustard and black pepper. Nice and juicy, well-flavored meat, could have been more generous with the mustard, but the edges were nicely flavored.
Barley pilaf: I loves me some barley. It is cheap, underutilized, keeps its chew even if it has to sit for a while before serving, and its mild flavor plays well with others. I minced an onion and a couple stalks of celery, cooked them briefly in a little oil, added the barley and cooked a few minutes more, and then covered in a good homemade meat stock (mostly chicken, with a few beef bones thrown in). One cup of the stock had been used to soak about 1/3 cup of dried mushrooms, which I minced and added. When the barley was cooked, I added some smoked paprika and fresh parsley, and that was that.
Parsnip and roasted chestnut puree: Be glad there are no pictures, because this looked like gruel. Tasted good, but not good enough to warrant the effort involved in peeling chestnuts. Next time, I'm trying parsnips pureed with apples.
Beets and carrots with a maple-horseradish glaze: Beet bunches are SMALL at the Stop and Shop these days. Didn't make enough, and this was the most expensive dish of the meal, weirdly enough. Provided some much-needed color, though. Glaze was just horseradish, syrup and butter, not too strong.
Marinated mushrooms: From Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook. Have made these so many time, I don't really actually use the recipe any more. But this is my recipe dish, and it is good. Should have made twice what I did.
Apple-smoked gouda-onion tart: Still working out the kinks on this one, but the idea is right. Started with a half-cornmeal, half-white flour crust from Nick Malgieri's How to Bake. Caramelized some onions, put those in the crust first, followed by shredded smoked gouda and a layer of thinnly sliced apples. Poured a blend of sour cream/milk/egg over, sprinkled with a little more cheese and baked. Wasn't as pretty as I might have hoped, because the apples were still a little pale when the rest was done, but the flavors worked together well. I'll revisit this.
For dessert, molten chocolate cakes from The Best Recipe. The Cook's Illustrated folk get it right again, although the cakes needed two minutes longer than suggested, and my overn thermometer tells me my temp is fine. I've notices that ramekins can vary a lot in thickness and therefore heat transmission, so that can affect timing. Good anyway.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Here's my list:
1) The one I have given, because it's a good all-purpose gift: maple syrup. Who doesn't like the real stuff? Although you can get the tins that look like sugarshacks or the bottles that look like maple leaves, the best choice, gift-wise, are the teddy bears with the little knit hats form Highland Sugarworks of Vermont. Throw in some decent pancake mix, and you've got a good present for families with kids. Pemberton Farms in Somerville carries them.
2) It may be too late to order, but the best mixed dried mushrooms I've ever had were from the Oyster Creek Mushroom company in Damariscotta. Bonus - you get to say "Damariscotta."
3) Sure, local honey is easy to come by, but how local? Massachusetts-local? How about Jamaica-Plain-local? Yup, some nut is crazy enough to keep bees in JP, bless his heart, and you can get the honey at City Feed and Supply in JP.
4) West Country Cider is very good, makes for a nice change from wine for the holidays, and usually fairly widely available. Last time I checked, you could get it at the Wine and Cheese Cask in Somerville.
5) There are too many great local cheeses to pick one. Wait - forget that, I'm going to - Great Hill Blue. Widely available at good cheese shops in the area.
6) Expanding from "locally grown" to "locally made," I would encourage people showing up to functions over the next few weeks to consider bringing: fig-vanilla scones from Petsi's Pies in Somerville, mohnflowers (poppyseed swirl pastries) from Carberry's in Central Square, homemade Oreos from Fornax in Roslindale (the husband loves these), brioche or chocolate-almond bread pudding from Blue Frog in JP, the clove ice cream from Christina's in Inman Square (great for serving with holiday pies).
Now I've made myself hungry.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Just in case you're approaching household finances with the same penny-wise, pound-foolish approach I've espoused, I have some suggestions:
1) Make marshmallows. Really not hard, as long as you don't get freaked out by using a candy thermometer; people love them; and the cost is minimal. Gelatin, sugar, egg whites, corn syrup, flavoring. That's it. The $2.00 box of gelatin is the big investment here, because you'll use the whole thing. (You might be able to find a bulk version at a health food store). The corn syrup will run you about $2.75, but you'll get four batches out of it. Sugar is cheap, and you only use two egg whites. A little peppermint flavoring, or vanilla, or coffee, or what have you, and you're there.
2) Make bread. Bread flour, yeast, water, salt. Even if you go for broke and make something with eggs, milk and dried fruit, it's going to be cheaper than cookies or cakes. Make fancy shapes and everyone will be very excited. You can find a video for making a six-strand braid here. If you're baking for kids, teddy bears are pretty easy, as are turtles, and parents will probably be happy to get something less sugary, particularly if you use a little whole wheat flour and maybe some raisins.
3) Go to Trader Joe's, if you've got one. Really, their prices on nuts, chocolate and dried fruit are fantastic. A pound of pecans cost me $6. Whee-hooo. An
4) I have found in the past the my two biggest expenditures for the Christmas baking extravaganza were butter and containers. It's not easy to get around butter, unless you go with bread or meringue-based options (if you aren't up for marshmallows, plain old meringues are always good.) But containers add up fast - baskets, tins, and so one don't come cheap. Really, I believe there are two basic cheap options, neither of which are particularly original, but so it goes. You can go with your basic goodie bag, bought in packs of 10 or 20 for a couple dollars down at the party store. Or you can go for the Chinese takeout container. These are found most cheaply as restaurant supply shops, or you might be able to ask the nice person behind the counter at your favorite Chinese takeout place. The party stores have them in pretty colors, but they're a little more expensive. I know some people are capable of folding paper into charming containers, but I can NOT do this. If you can, more power to you.
5) Speaking of restaurant supply shops, if you want to go all Martha on someone's ass, and do it on the cheap, restaurant supply shops are where it's at. They have dead cheap serving ware of all sorts, which you can put your cheap marshmallows or meringues in IF you're looking to fancy-up your gift so it looks like you're not just giving food. This is good for the person who is hosting a big holiday dinner. For co-workers, neighbors, and distant relations, stick with the cellophane bags.
6) If you're the person hosting the big holiday party, think pork. Pork shoulder or fresh harm or Boston Butt: these are delicious and very cheap cuts that too few people make at home because they require time. Since you're going to spend the day at home cleaning and cooking anyway, just use that long-cooking requirement as an advantage. Trim down on hors d'oeuvres. Olives, cheese, nuts and all the other delectable nibbles can quickly cost more the actual dinner. Pick one thing and stick to it. I like cheese puffs, pate a choux with Gruyere and black pepper and a bit of dry mustard mixed in. They are delicious, everyone seems to like them, you don't need too much cheese, so they aren't terribly expensive, and they freeze
well. Just take them out of the freezer right before serving and refresh in a hot oven for about 10 minutes. Marinated vegetables can be quite affordable, too, as long as you stick to the cheaper veggies. Yes to dilly beans and carrots and pickled beets, no to red peppers and artichokes.
6) Finally, be reasonable. I mean, be reasonable with yourself - how much you want to do, how much you can do. I, um, have some issues with this, as became clear to me last night. I'm having some people over for dinner on Saturday, and I started to plan a menu - not too elaborate (featuring pork, naturally). I was considering what I wanted for dessert and remembered I had some buttercream in the freezer from a cake I made about six weeks ago, plus a little ganache left over from Thanksgiving. My mental monologue went something like this: A bouche de Noel! Easy-peasy - I don't even have to make the filling. I'll just have to make the cake, fill and roll it, make some more ganache for the outside, then make the meringue mushrooms and the marzipan holly, and it will be all set. Of course, I still have to clean the house and make all the sweets for the gift bags and make the actual dinner, and - well, maybe I should. Maybe Yule log is a bit much. Really, the easy thing would be to make something like those molten chocolate cakes that were all the craze about five years ago. Just mix it up, stick the ramekins in the fridge, and bake off after dinner. But so passe! So lacking in holiday spirit! Maybe if I freeze the Yule log on Monday - but Monday I need to do laundry and send Christmas cards...I could finally try those chocolate souffle crepes! Of course, then I have to cook while everyone's there. Finally, my conversation with myself came to an abrupt halt when I realized that making the fancy-pants dessert was all about me, me, me. My guests won't care. Formerly trendy cake tastes great. There's a fantastic ice cream shop up the road. Everything will be fine.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The above picture (which is also below, forgive me for repeating myself) is in the way of a credential. I am a true lover of pie. Evidence: my wedding cake was a pie. That's a French silk chocolate pie my mom made, her specialty and my favorite growing up. I also liked pumpkin, a standard at Christmas, and the fall apple pie, and the summer blueberry and blackberry pies. I had to grow up to learn to like mincemeat, and I still have yet to cotton onto lemon meringue, my dad's mother's favorite. But I have been a pie eater all my life.
So you would think I would like American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads.
Instead it pissed me off.
Maybe I'm just cranky, what with the end of the semester and the lack of sleep and all. But this book, which I haven't even finished yet, is just so deeply annoying. The basic thesis seems to be that life used to be slower, it's changed, pie is a metaphor for some sort of idealized American past in which people had time for pie, the pie bakers are dying, and ain't it sad? The woman writing the book asks people for recommendations of great pie bakers, and then essentially shows up at their work or homes without calling first and hovers around, hoping to be asked to dinner. She likes to frame this as a sort of spontaneity born of a spiritual quest, but it basically seems pretty rude and inconsiderate. Would the pie-hunt be less vision-quest-ish if she used a damned telephone? Also, I know plenty of people my own age (37, hardly the "white-haired grandmothers with flour on their aprons" she is so fond of conjuring) make pie. My friends with kids make pies with the apples from their apple-picking; my friends with gardens use up the rhubarb; my baker friends make whatever's in season. Pie is delicious, pie is unpretentious, pie is home-y, but pie is NOT quaint. Damnit.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
For those of you who CAN have all the fiber you like, and indeed probably need more than you get (most Americans don't get anywhere near the fiber they should), can I suggest adding pumpkin to your oatmeal? It's very good.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
(Note: Thought I had posted this before. Turns out I didn't. So here's the "wedding pie" post.)
So we got married.
It was a lovely sunny September day at the beach, and everything was casual, relaxed, and beautiful.
This is our pie buffet. I've made a lot of wedding cakes in my life, but I don't really love cake. Cake is showy, cake has flash. A wedding cake is a diva, a showstopper, an attention whore. And there's nothing wrong with that. I love a bit of flash, myself, in the right context. An Art Deco wedding in the evening at a fabulous old hotel calls for a fantastic cake to match the bride's fantastic dress and oceans of calla lilies and the sparkle of the guests' jewelry.
But this was a different kind of wedding. We had our ceremony on the beach. We walked in together. Our "attendants" wore their own clothes. I carried daisies. We ate barbecue. Our friends' children spent the day climbing on the rocks. And what we need was pie. Homey pie, humble pie, delicious pie. Pie is the dessert of summer barbecues, of winter holidays, of family dinners after a day of picking apples or berries. Pie is love to me in a way cake could never be. And so we ate pie.
Our pie list:
Pear-cardamom crumble pie
Chocolate French silk pie
Sweet potato pie
Chocolate peanut butter pie
Triple cherry pie
Pineapple cream cheese pie
Key lime raspberry pie
Whole wheat-Splenda sweetened peach raspberry pie (for the father of the groom, who is diabetic)
What did people eat the most of? The key lime, chocolate French silk, blueberry, chocolate peanut butter, triple cherry and pear-cardamom were wiped out completely. ( At least the first round, we had a few back up pies that didn't get eaten entirely). Only one slice remained of the pecan and apple, while the peach and pineapple were half-left (my mom loved the pineapple, though, so the remainder went home with her). Only one piece was missing from the sweet potato. That's okay - I got to take that home, and I love sweet potato pie.
The pies were almost all homemade. The sweet potato and the pecan came from our caterers, the wonderfully affordable and delicious Blue Ribbon BBQ. My mom made three French chocolate silk pies, her specialty, and I topped them with chocolate curls. That was the pie we cut and fed to each other. The chocolate peanut butter, key lime, and pineapple cream pies were frozen completed and just needed to thaw in the fridge the night before, while the fruit pies were all frzoen unbaked and baked off the morning before the wedding. Turns out you need to bake fruit pies almost two hours if they enter the oven straight from your deep-freeze. It's okay, the bottom crusts had time to brown, even in the aluminum pie plates. I tried to make each pie look a little different - raspberries piled on the lime pie, poached pineapple slices on the pineapple cream, the various fruit pies with different cutouts or edges or lattice. And then, of course, each one got a little bride and groom. I have to admit, dorky though it is, I loved those little bride and groom toppers.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Making pralines at Southern Candymaker. (The rum ones are the best).
My Jambalaya Supreme at Coops. I forget what Tami had, but she's looking rather bemused at my need to photograph lunch, isn't she?
At the farmer's market. It is almost physically painful to go to a place where you can buy alligator sausage, 57 varieties of tomato, and crawfish, and all sorts of vegetables - but be without a kitchen. I sulked and bought jam.
Eating in New Orleans. Okay, that was about a month ago. I still need to upload the pictures. But everything they say about food in New Orleans is true: the po' boys, the beignets, the jambalaya, it's all fantastic. My favorite dish (besides the powdered-sugar-covered Cafe Du Monde beignets I ate every chance I could get) was the oyster-artichoke soup at Mandina's. My. God. Strangely, I didn't really love the raw oysters I had in New Orleans. They were good, mind you, and quite large, but they didn't have the level of brininess New England oysters have, and I missed that zing. But the creamy oyster artichoke soup was another story entirely. I would never have though of that combination, and now I dream about it.
Dieting. Yes, heaven help me, I've been dieting. Well, kind of. More a question of tracking calories to figure out just exactly why I've become big as a house of late. I've been using Daily Plate, which has a very basic calorie-counting program that I find both useful and terribly frustrating. I'm sure it's easy to use if you generally buy food from restaurant chains, but if you cook, it's not simple. I don't use recipes most of the time, so I have to enter my approximations for the amount of tortellini, chicken sausage, red pepper, olive olive, parsley, tomato, and cheese that went into dinner, then figure out how many serving I got out of it. (Two, for dinner, and one more lunch so far). This is irritating. However, I've already learned a few things. For one thing, I overestimate the calories in meat, and underestimate the calories in baked goods like muffins. Score one for Atkins. I'm also better off having scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast than a whole wheat bagel with light cream cheese. Neither sounds like a bad option, but eggs and toast are lower in calories and keep me feeling full longer. So, that's a small change that makes sense.
Attending the big pig roast. My friends have a pig roast every year or so, and once again, I'm blown away by how much better pork is if you cook the whole damned thing at once. Something about all that melting fat saturating even the leanest cuts, I suspect. But damn is it good. I made the famous Chowhound Elvis Cake (banana cake, chocolate chips, peanut butter frosting). It rose wonderfully high and was quite moist, but almost too light for my tastes, with a crumb like a box cake. But I loved the peanut butter frosting, and the marzipan Elvis pig I made for the top went over well with the crowd. (And it shows just how far I've gotten away from blogging that I didn't take a picture. Someone did - maybe I can hunt it down).
That's all the food news, I think. In other news, I'm getting married September 20. Very exciting. Just to keep the announcement food-related, I'll tell you we're having barbecue from Blue Ribbon, a great local place, plus watermelon and lemonade and all that good stuff. Instead of cake (which I don't really love), we're going to have a pie buffet. The wedding will be on the beach, so it should be very casual and fun and lovely.
And that's all the news that's fit to post.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Monday, May 05, 2008
So, of course, I found a guy who owned a grill and convinced him to move in with me to an apartment with a porch. Problem solved.
Now, generally, I'm not crazy about the traditional barbecue sauce you buy in the stores. It's too sweet for my tastes. I prefer the vinegar-based sauce usually called "Carolina-style." But I don't object overly to the thick, sweet red sauce occasionally. I do, however, object to high-fructose corn syrup.
"What's the first ingredient?"
"High fructose corn syrup."
"Put it down. What about that one?"
"High fructose corn syrup."
And so it went, bottle after bottle. Finally, I spied a jar of Bone-Sucking Sauce, a brand I've tried before and liked. Ingredients: Tomato Paste, Apple Cider Vinegar, Honey, Molasses, Mustard, Horseradish, Lemon Juice, Onions, Garlic, Peppers, Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Natural Spices, Salt & Xanthan Gum.
Now, that I could live with. I started to put it in the cart.
"Um, babe? It's $5.99."
And so it was. For 16 oz. I put it back, but not before I had looked again at the ingredients: tomato paste, onions, garlic, vinegar, sweeteners, and spice. Really, how hard could it be?
So I bought a can of tomato paste (ingredient: tomatoes) and another of crushed tomatoes (ingredients: tomatoes, salt), and was on my way.
Now, I can't really give you a recipe, because I was winging it. I looked online, but lost patience, because almost every recipe I found started with ketchup. You know what almost all ketchup has? You got it, high-fructose corn syrup. I was starting with tomatoes, damnit, and no one seemed to have pointers for doing that. Even my beloved Helen Witty, whose cookbooks have lead me through the home preparation of banana ketchup, real grenadine, and potted cheese, had nothing to say on the subject. I was on my own.
I started with mincing two onions and about six big cloves of garlic, then cooking them until translucent in a little olive oil. Then I add the can of tomato paste (12 oz) and the can of crushed tomatoes (28 oz). At this point I was pretty much making tomato sauce. I figured that barbecue sauce was just tomato sauce with different spices, vinegar and sweetener. Which turned out to be right, but I underestimated the importance, or rather the quantity, of vinegar and sweetener involved. After everything has simmered for a little while and started to reduce, I added some dry mustard, chile powder, black pepper, cumin and salt. I didn't want to use liquid smoke, because the whole concept of liquid smoke kind of freaks me out. Instead, for smokiness I used the sauce from a small can of chipotles in adobe and a goodly-sized spoonful of smoked paprika. Then I added about 1/4 cup of light brown sugar and about 1/4 cup of cane syrup I had left over from making a pecan pie, plus about 1/2 cup of white vinegar.
Then I tasted it. It tasted very much like tomato sauce that had taken a vacation in Texas. First you tasted tomato, then smoke and spice and heat. But mostly, tomato.
More sugar. More vinegar. Taste. More sugar. Simmer it longer. More vinegar. Simmer. Simmer some more.
At this point, J. started saying that the kitchen smelled delicious. And it did. But the sauce still didn't taste quite like barbecue sauce.
I added a little more sugar.
In the end, I ended up using about 2 cups of sweetener, plus somewhere between 1 and 1 1/2 cups of vinegar. I would have preferred a nice dark molasses to sweeten, but I was out. Instead, I used up some dried-out dark brown sugar that was no longer usable for baking, the end of the cane syrup and some light brown sugar.
The sugars were the most expensive part of the mix. The paste was $1, the crushed tomatoes $1.50, the sugars altogether about $1.50. Add another 50 cents or so for the spices and vinegar, and I estimate the whole batch cost less than five dollars. I filled three pint containers. Given the minimal work involved, I would definitely say it was worth the effort.
And the flavor? I like it very much. It takes some simmering for the flavors to meld. I would say I let it go on very low for two hours, total, stirring whenever I remembered to. But the end result was exactly was I was hoping for - definitely bbq sauce, but not so sweet as the supermarket variety, with more complexity of spicing and more tomato presence. I froze two containers and kept one in the fridge. Given the high sugar and acid levels, I suspect it will keep for some time. Of course, if the weather holds, it probably won't have to.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Thursday, April 17, 2008
In case you don't feel like clicking the link (though really, you should), the Danvers (MA) Historical Society sells Christmas ornaments in the shape of heirloom vegetable varieties that originated in Danvers, including of course the famous Danvers Half Long Carrot. How cool is that? And who decided heirloom gardening and local food geeks made up a big enough demographic to be worth marketing tchotckes to? Whoever it was, bless you.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
I have been cooking, though, at least a little. More on that in a moment...
So, why the hiatus? Besides rest being good for the soul and all that, life has intervened. For one thing, I decided to move in with my guy, and we spent a month looking for affordable apartments in the Boston area (always fun), then we spent a month packing and moving (made far more complicated by the fact that we rented a "fixer-upper" that we had to clean and paint ourselves to make habitable), then we spent a month unpacking. In fact, we've spent six weeks unpacking, and we're still at it. I've decided that I'm never moving again. I'm going to grow old and grey in this apartment - which is becoming quite lovely, now that the walls are painted, the floors washed and the rabbit turds swept up. (Not kidding at all - the former tenant had free-roamin' and poopin' rabbits.)
While all this was going on, I was taking a college biology course and studying for and taking the GREs, all in preparation for an application to this program: the Master's Program in Food, Agriculture and Environment at Tuft's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Biology was hellishly hard (I'm a humanities girl all the way and took Rocks for Jocks in college to fulfill my science requirement), and I can't tell you how pathetic I felt practicing my algebra for the GREs. I was pretty certain algebra and I had parted ways forever back in my teens, and I did not appreciate the return of hated math mid-life. But I survived bio and math both, and I received my acceptance to the program this weekend. Three cheers! I hope that this education will allow me to make some difference in our food system. We'll see.
With all of that going on, I hadn't actually been cooking very much until the last couple weeks. It's hard to cook when all your pots and knives are in boxes. But the kitchen is set up now, and I have some free time again, so I've been back at the stove. Nothing spectacular, nothing unusual. In fact, I've been relying heavily on some tried-and-true favorites - tequila shrimp, steak salad, plain roasts, pumpkin lasagne, chocolate chip cookies, stuffed potatoes, glazed carrots. I'm also learning to cook for someone with Crohn's disease, which involves some significant limitations - not too much fiber or too many raw vegetables, no beans, no broccoli, no fruit/berries with seeds, no coffee, no chili peppers, and so on. The only experiment I've done in months was a chocolate steamed pudding that somehow came out dry. How could something cooked in steam come out dry? I ask you. That's what time away from the kitchen will do to you - you lose your touch. But I'm back. And I'm going to be posting. Really.